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The Expositor’s Bible Commentary—Abridged Edition: Old Testament

Copyright © 1994 by Zondervan

Formerly titled Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary: Volume 1: Old Testament

Requests for information should be addressed to:

Zondervan, 3900 Sparks Dr. SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

The Zondervan NIV BibleCommentary / Consulting editors, Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III

p. cm.

An abridgment of The expoitor’s Bible commentary, retaining the interpretative material but missing the text of the NIV and the detailed scholarly notes and discussion.

Includes Indexes.

Contents: v. 1. Old Testament.—v. 2. New Testament.

ISBN 978-0-310-36430-5 (v. 1) — ISBN 978-0-310-57840-6 (v.2)

1. Bible—Commentaries. I. Barker Kenneth K. II. Kohlenberger, John R. III. Expositor’s Bible commentary.

BS491.2.Z65 1994



ePub Edition © May 2017: ISBN 978-0-310-55550-6

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

Any Internet addresses (websites, blogs, etc.) and telephone numbers printed in this book are offered as a resource. They are not intended in any way to be or imply an endorsement by Zondervan, nor does Zondervan vouch for the content of these sites and numbers for the life of this book.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other—except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher.

15 16 • 28 27 26 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15



About the Editors


Pictures, Maps, and Charts

A; bbreviations

Genesis: John H. Sailhamer

Exodus: Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

Leviticus: R. Laird Harris

Numbers: Ronald B. Allen

Deuteronomy: Earl S. Kalland

Joshua: Donald H. Madvig

Judges: Herbert Wolf

Ruth: F. B. Huey, Jr.

1 Samuel: Ronald F. Youngblood

2 Samuel: Ronald F. Youngblood

1 Kings: H. J. Austel & R. D. Patterson

2 Kings: H. J. Austel & R. D. Patterson

1 Chronicles: J. Barton Payne

2 Chronicles: J. Barton Payne

Ezra: Edwin Yamauchi

Nehemiah: Edwin Yamauchi

Esther: F. B. Huey, Jr.

Job: Elmer B. Smick

Psalms: Willem A. VanGemeren

Proverbs: Allen P. Ross

Ecclesiastes: J. Stafford Wright

Song of Songs: Dennis F. Kinlaw

Isaiah: Geoffrey W. Grogan

Jeremiah: Charles L. Feinberg

Lamentations: H. L. Ellison

Ezekiel: Ralph H. Alexander

Daniel: Gleason L. Archer, Jr.

Hosea: Leon Wood

Joel: Richard D. Patterson

Amos: Thomas E. McComiskey

Obadiah: Carl E. Armerding

Jonah: H. L. Ellison

Micah: Thomas E. McComiskey

Nahum: Carl E. Armerding

Habakkuk: Carl E. Armerding

Zephaniah: Larry Walker

Haggai: Robert L. Alden

Zechariah: Kenneth L. Barker

Malachi: Robert L. Alden

Index to Goodrick/Kohlenberger Numbers


The publisher of the Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary wishes to thank the two editors who undertook the massive task of reducing eleven volumes of Bible commentaries into two: Richard Polcyn, who did the Old Testament, and Verlyn D. Verbrugge, who did the New Testament. Thanks also to Dr. Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, who offered invaluable assistance as consulting editors.

The publisher also deeply appreciates the assistance of Neal and Joel Bierling, who served as consultants for, and provided, most of the pictures used in this two-volume commentary. Unless otherwise noted, all pictures are theirs. Finally, thanks to the Bible Department of Zondervan for allowing us to use many of the charts and maps from their best-selling study Bibles.

About the Editors

John R. Kolenberger III is the author or coeditor of more than three dozen biblical reference books and study Bibles, including The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, NIV Interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament, NRSV Concordance Unabridged, Greek-English Concordance to the New Testament, Hebrew-English Concordance to the Old Testament, and the award-winning NIV Exhaustive Concordane and NIV Bible Commentary. He has taught at Multnomah Bible College and Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon.

Kenneth L. Barker (Ph.D., Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning) is presently serving on the Committee for Bible Translation of the International Bible Society (the committee that oversees the New International Version of the Bible), is the general editor for the upcoming revised NIV Study Bible, and authored the commentary on “Zechariah” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary.


The NIV Bible Commentary has been in the making for a long time. In 1976 the first volume of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Volume 10) was released, containing commentaries on Romans to Galatians, under the general editorship of Frank E. Gaebelein. The final volume in this series was published in 1992, with commentaries on Deuteronomy to 2 Samuel.

Contributors for The Expositor’s Bible Commentary were solicited from among the best evangelical scholars on both sides of the Atlantic. Each expositor was committed to the divine inspiration, complete trustworthiness, and full authority of Scripture as God’s Word. Each author’s work aimed to provide preachers, teachers, and students of the Bible with insights into the Scriptures that were scholarly yet practical to everyday life. The full text of the New International Version of the Bible was printed along with the commentary section. The units of discussion were often followed by technical notes of interest mainly to scholars.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary has fulfilled its goal admirably, judging from the positive reviews it has received, the awards it has earned, and the tens of thousands of sets that have been purchased. It was felt that this excellent series could serve well as the basis for a two-volume commentary set designed primarily for lay persons. Consequently, the commentaries from Genesis to Revelation in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary have now been abridged, retaining all the important interpretative material of the larger set but without the text of the NIV and the detailed scholarly notes and discussions.

This two-volume commentary has two additional features not found in the original set. First, both volumes are replete with maps, charts, tables, and pictures that are relevant to the passages under discussion. Secondly, throughout the commentary, where specific biblical words are discussed at some length, the Goodrick-Kohlenberger numbers (abbreviated GK) have been added. These numbers, which appeared first in The NIV Exhaustive Concordance, are based on the numbering system for each Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek word in the Bible developed by Edward W. Goodrick and John R. Kohlenberger III (a numbering system similar but superior to the ever-popular Strong’s numbering system). An index of the words that are referred to is found in the back of each volume.

It is the hope of the publisher that just as The Expositor’s Bible Commentary has served so well the needs of pastors and teachers, this two-volume commentary will serve the needs of average lay persons in the church who want to learn more about the Bible in their personal study or prepare themselves to lead a Bible lesson in a small group study.

The Bible is the greatest and most beautiful book of all time, the primary source of law and morality, the fountain of divine wisdom, the infallible guide to life, and above all, the inspired witness to Jesus Christ. May this work fulfill its function of expounding the Scriptures with grace and clarity, so that its users may find that both Old and New Testaments do indeed lead us to our Lord Jesus Christ, who alone could say, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Pictures, Maps, and Charts


Babylonian Flood Account

Site of Sodom and Gomorrah

Scarab Rings

Papyrus Plants

Pharaoh Ramses II

An Egyptian Bull

View from Mount Sinai

Site Where Moses Received the Ten Commandments

Model of the Tabernacle

High Priest’s Garments

Canaanite Bull Calf

View of the Inner Tabernacle

Seleucian Silver Coin

Priestly Utensils and the Altar

Present-day Tourist Symbol (from the story of the spies)

Ark of the Covenant and Contents

Hills of Edom

Stone Basin

Pomegranate Flower and Fruit

Ancient Altar Stones

Mount Nebo Seen from Moab

Site of OT Jericho

Site of Gibeonite Well

Site of Biblical Shechem


Site of the Gate to Dan

Philistine Camp and Soldier

Ancient Near-Eastern Oxcart

Kophesh Sword

David’s Hiding Place; Crags of the Wild Goats

Mount Gilboa

City of David

Rums of Geshur

Temple Furnishings

Megiddo Stables

Ascension of Elijah

River Jordan Where Naaman Washed

Ivory Pendant

Traditional Site of the Cave of Machpelah

Stone Reference to the House of David

Jerusalem Entertainers

Site of Solomon’s Port of Ezion Geber

Ruins of Judah’s Fortress

Sela, Edomite Capital City

Hezekiah’s Water Tunnel

Excavated Wall from the Time of Nehemiah

Ruins of the Palace of King Xerxes

Persian-Period Relics

Flocks Like Job’s

An Olive Tree

Apep, Mythical Egyptian Serpent

Ibex, “Mountain Goats”

Depiction of an Assault on City Walls

Sunset over the Mediterranean

Bedouin’s Flock

King Jehu

A Citadel (Fortress of Montfort)

Temple Courts


The Idol Asherah


Broken Pottery Used for Casting Lots

Bedouin Girl

Gold Rings

Caperberry Flower

Perfume Bottle

Restored Winepress

Depiction of an Assyrian Attack

The Mesha Stele of Moab

The Cornerstone in the Wall of Old Jerusalem

A Cylinder Recording Sennacherib’s Campaign

Desert Camels

A Small Egyptian Idol

Words from Isaiah Etched in Jerusalem’s Wall

Broken Cistern

Siege Ramps

Clouds Over Jezreel Valley

A Vulture

A Potter’s Wares

Fruit-Bearing Fig Tree

Jar and Scroll

Cistern at Avdat

Silver Pendant Etched with the Image of Ishtar


Jeremiah’s Grotto

A Scroll

Large Cooking Pots

Smelter at Timnah

Remains of an Edomite Town

Mount Tabor

Giant Locusts

Ruins of Ashkelon

Farming Tools

Depiction of King Assurbanipal

Remains of Ekron

Donkeys Used for Transportation

Maps, Charts, and Tables

Table of Nations

Map of Jacob’s Journeys

Chart of Israel’s Tribes

Map of the Route of the Exodus

Chart of Old Testament Sacrifices

Map of Israel’s Wilderness Camp

Chart of Old Testament Feasts

Map of the Cities of Refuge

Chart of the Major Social Concerns in the Covenant

Map of the Conquest of Canaan

Map of the Land of the Twelve Tribes

Map of the Philistines’ Five Cities

Map of Gideon’s Battle

Chart of the Book of Ruth

Map of Samuel and the Philistines

Chart of David’s Family Tree

Map of David’s Exploits

Map of David’s and Solomon’s Kingdom

Map of David’s Conquests

Map of the Floor Plan of Solomon’s Temple

Map of the Divided Kingdom

Chart of the Lives of Elijah and Elisha

Map of the Campaigns of Tiglath-Pileser

Map of Sennacheril’s Campaign Against Jerusalem

Map of the Conquest of Jerusalem

Chart of the Kings of Israel and Judah

Chart of the Covenants in the Old Testament

Chart of the Chronology of Ezra and Nehemiah

Map of Persian Palestine

Map of Jerusalem in the Time of Nehemiah

Chart or Types of Hebrew Parallelism

Chart of Concern for the Poor and Oppressed

Chart of Miracles of the Old Testament

Chart of Parables of the Old Testament

Chart of Character Traits in Proverbs

Chart of Old Testament Prophecies Fulfilled in Christ

Chart of Chronological Order of Chapters in Jeremiah

Map of Egypt in Ezekiel’s Day

Diagram of the Gate System of Ezekiel’s Temple

Diagram of Ezekiel’s Temple Complex

Diagram of Ezekiel’s Temple Sanctuary

Diagram of Ezekiel’s Altar of Sacrifice

Map of the Neo-Babylonian Empire

Chart of the Four Kingdoms in Daniel

Chart on the Ptolemies and the Seleucids

Map of Places in the Book of Jonah

Chart of the Dates of Haggai and Zechariah


Books of the Bible

Ge Genesis

Ex Exodus

Lev Leviticus

Nu Numbers

Dt Deuteronomy

Jos Joshua

Jdg Judges

Ru Ruth

1Sa 1 Samuel

2Sa 2 Samuel

1Ki 1 Kings

2Ki 2 Kings

1Ch 1 Chronicles

2Ch 2 Chronicles

Ezr Ezra

Ne Nehemiah

Est Esther

Job Job

Ps Psalms

Pr Proverbs

Ecc Ecclesiastes

SS Song of Songs

Isa Isaiah

Jer Jeremiah

La Lamentations

Eze Ezekiel

Da Daniel

Hos Hosea

Joel Joel

Am Amos

Ob Obadiah

Jnh Jonah

Mic Micah

Na Nahum

Hab Habakkuk

Zep Zephaniah

Hag Haggai

Zec Zechariah

Mal Malachi

Mt Matthew

Mk Mark

Lk Luke

Jn John

Ac Acts

Ro Romans

1Co 1 Corinthians

2Co 2 Corinthians

Gal Galatians

Eph Ephesians

Php Philippians

Col Colossians

1Th 1 Thessalonians

2Th 2 Thessalonians

1Ti 1 Timothy

2Ti 2 Timothy

Tit Titus

Phm Philemon

Heb Hebrews

Jas James

1Pe 1 Peter

2Pe 2 Peter

1Jn 1 John

2Jn 2 John

3Jn 3 John

Jude Jude

Rev Revelation

Other Abbreviations

c. about

cf. compare

ch(s). chapter(s)

EBC Expositor’s Bible Commentary

e.g. for example

etc. and so on

ff. following verses

Gk. Greek

GK Goodrick/Kohlenberger number

Heb. Hebrew

i.e. that is

lit. literally

NT New Testament

OT Old Testament

v(v). verse(s)

ZPEB Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible



1. Background

Little is known about the origin and authorship of the book of Genesis. It is part of the Pentateuch, which Jewish tradition and the NT have ascribed to Moses (cf. Jn 1:17; 5:46; 7:19, 23). Generally, the question of the authorship of Genesis is taken up within the context of theories regarding the literary history of the Pentateuch as a whole.

We must distinguish at least two kinds of background material in the book of Genesis: (1) the historical background in which the book was written, and (2) the historical background of the context of the events recorded in the book. The first concerns a specific time and place for the composition of the book. The second covers a wide-ranging array of settings (e.g., the Garden of Eden, the Flood, the city of Babylon, Canaan, and Egypt).

Genesis records two types of events: those that happened on a global or even cosmic scale (e.g., Creation, the Flood) and those that happened in a relatively isolated, localized way (e.g., Noah’s drunkenness, Abraham’s vision). By far most events in Genesis happened in a limited sphere of time and location and can best be described as “family matters.”

2. Unity

The book of Genesis is characterized by both an easily discernible unity and a noticeable lack of uniformity. Much like the writers of the NT Gospels and the later historical books of the OT, the writer of Genesis appears to have composed his work from “archival” records of God’s great deeds in the past. We know from references within the early historical books that such records were maintained at an early stage in Israel’s history (Ex 17:14; Nu 21:14; Jos 10:13); so perhaps similar records were kept at far earlier stages within the individual households of the patriarchs and their tribal ancestors. The narratives within Genesis appear to be largely made up of small, self-contained stories worked together into larger units by means of various geographical and genealogical tables. Thus one should not expect to find absolute uniformity of style, vocabulary, etc., among all the individual narratives, any more than an absolute uniformity can be expected in the later historical books. Indeed, we would more likely expect the writer, working under the direction of God, to have preserved his records just as he had received them, sacrificing uniformity for the sake of historical faithfulness.

3. Authorship

The question naturally arises as to who wrote or composed the final account of the book of Genesis. Who put all the narratives together? The composer of Genesis, which is part of the Pentateuch, seems most likely to be the same as that of the Pentateuch as a whole. Nowhere in the work does the author refer to himself or identify himself. Early and reliable tradition has ascribed the authorship to Moses; and it is a fact that throughout the pentateuchal narratives it is Moses who is most closely associated with the writing of the material contained in the Pentateuch (Ex 17:14; 20:1; cf. also Jos 8:31–32). It appears certain that Jesus and the writers of the NT believed that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch (e.g., Jn 5:46).

4. Purpose

Since the purpose of the book of Genesis is intricately bound up with the purpose of the Pentateuch, we shall address briefly the question of the overall purpose of the Pentateuch. The task of discovering the purpose of a work that is so large and diverse is best achieved by means of compositional analysis, which basically describes the method and techniques used by an author.

The final shaping of the canonical Pentateuch involved the sorting and placement of material consisting of at least four distinct literary types: narrative, poetry, law, and genealogy. The genealogical texts play an important role in the early sections of the Pentateuch, especially in the book of Genesis, but do not lead to fruitful conclusions about the shape or structure of the Pentateuch as a whole. A similar verdict can be drawn from a consideration of the large legal collections within the Pentateuch. The importance of such collections is beyond dispute, but they do not appear to be the means by which the whole of the Pentateuch has been shaped.

A close study of the author’s use of narrative and poetic texts, however, sheds considerable light on the final shape of the work. The technique of using a poetic speech and a short epilogue to conclude a narrative is well known in biblical literature and occurs frequently within recognizable segments of the Pentateuch itself. The Creation account in Ge 1 and 2 concludes with the short poetic discourse of Adam (2:23) followed by an epilogue (v.24). The account of the Fall in ch. 3 concludes with a poetic discourse (vv.14–19) and an epilogue (vv.20–24). The account of Cain in ch. 4 concludes with a poetic discourse (vv.23–24) and an epilogue (vv.25–26).

That this same pattern can be found throughout Genesis suggests that it was an important part of the compositional technique of the author. Most notable is the occurrence of this pattern in the Joseph story (chs. 37–48), which concludes with the poetic discourse of Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh (48:15–16, 20). More importantly, however, the poetic speech-short epilogue pattern recurs at a much higher level within the entire Pentateuch, suggesting that the technique was extended as part of the structure embracing the whole of the five-volume work.

Another literary seam in the Pentateuch can be expressed by the term narrative typology. One cannot read the Pentateuch without recognizing definite similarities among narratives (e.g., Ge 12:10–20; 20:1–18; and 26:1–11). It is even possible that the sojourn of Abraham in Egypt and later in Gerar (both because of a famine), and Isaac’s sojourn in Gerar (also because of a famine), foreshadow Ge 41–Ex 12, Israel’s sojourn in Egypt that came about as a result of the famine recorded in the Joseph story. What the author wants to show is that the events of the past are pointers to those in the future.

5. Literary Form

Except for scattered poetic sections in Genesis, its overall literary form is historical narrative, which is the re-presentation of past events for the purpose of instruction. Two dimensions are always at work in shaping such narratives: the course of the historical event itself and the viewpoint of the author who recounts the events. Thus we must not only look at the course of the event in its historical setting, but we must also look for the purpose and intention of the author in recounting the event.

No historical narrative is a complete account of all that occurred in a given event or series of events. The author must select those events that most effectively relate not only what happened but also the meaning and significance of what happened.

A close study of Ge 1:1–2:4a shows that the author made a careful and purposeful selection in the composition of the Creation account. Rather than give details about the creation of the angels, stars, and galaxies, the author has chosen to concentrate on the creation and preparation of the land. In fact, he has only three specific subjects in his account of Creation: God, man and woman, and the land. Although the creation of the sun and moon is given considerable attention, neither of these bodies is mentioned in its own right but only as it relates to the affairs of humans on earth (1:14–15). What, then, does Ge 1:1–2:4a tell us about the land? It tells us that God is its owner. He created and prepared the land, and he can give it to whomever he chooses (Jer 27:5).

Another interrelationship between structure and selection that Ge 1:1–2:4a shows is in the view of God. He is the Creator of the universe. Because Israel came to know God in a close and personal way, a certain theological pressure existed that tended to localize and nationalize God as the God of Israel alone (Mic 3:11). Over against this lesser view of God stands the message of Ge 1 with its clear introduction to the God who created the universe and who has blessed all humanity. From the point of view of the author of the Pentateuch, the Creator of the universe has a plan of blessing for all people. This is the theological foundation of all subsequent missionary statements in the Bible.

Finally, Ge 1:1–2:4a serves as a backdrop for the central theme of the Pentateuch. The most prominent event and the most far-reaching theme in the Pentateuch is the covenant between God and Israel established at Mount Sinai. That covenant relates directly back to God’s initial desire to bless the human race. About that theme we can say three things: (1) The covenant at Sinai was God’s plan to restore his blessing to the human race through the descendants of Abraham (Ge 12:1–3; Ex 2:24). (2) However, the covenant at Sinai failed to restore that blessing because Israel failed to trust God and obey his will. (3) But the author goes on to demonstrate that God’s promise to restore the blessing will ultimately succeed because God himself promised to give Israel, at some future date, a heart that would trust and obey him (Dt 30:1–10). In other words, the entire outlook of the Pentateuch is “eschatological,” for it looks to the future as the time when God’s faithful promise (blessing) would be fulfilled.

To summarize, therefore, Ge 1:l–2:4a: the author of the Pentateuch intends his Creation account to relate to his readers that God, the Creator of the universe, has prepared the land as a home for his special creature, the human race, and that he has a plan of blessing for all of his creatures.


I. Introduction to the Patriarchs and the Sinai Covenant (1:1–11:26)

Chapters 1–11 introduce both the book of Genesis and the Pentateuch. They set the stage for the narratives of the patriarchs (Ge 12–50) as well as provide the appropriate background for understanding the central topic of the Pentateuch: the Sinai covenant (Ex 1–Dt 34).

A. The Land and the Blessing (1:1–2:24)

1. The God of creation (1:1)

1 The Creator is identified as “God” (Heb. Elohim; GK 466), the God of the Fathers and of the covenant at Sinai. The proper context for understanding 1:1 is the whole of the book of Genesis and the Pentateuch. By identifying God as the Creator, a crucial distinction is introduced between the God of the Fathers and the gods of the nations (i.e., idols). This verse also explains the origin of all that exists in the universe, affirming that God alone is eternal and that all else owes its origin and existence to him. The term “beginning” marks a starting point of a specific duration (cf. Dt 11:12), namely, the beginning of the story of God and his people.

2. Preparation of the land (1:2–2:3)

a. First day (1:2–5)

2a Verse 2 describes the condition of the land just before God prepared it for the human race. The immediate context suggests that the land was “formless [GK 9332] and empty [GK 983]” because “darkness” was over the land, and it was covered with water. It was in its “not-yet” state, i.e., not yet inhabitable for humankind (cf. Isa 45:18). Thus the remainder of the account portrays God’s preparing the land for man and woman. When Israel disobeyed God, the land became again “uninhabitable” (GK 9332), and the people were sent into exile: “I looked at the earth, and it was formless [GK 9332] and empty [GK 983] and at the heavens and their light was gone. . . . the fruitful land was a desert” (Jer 4:23–26). In other words, the land after the Exile was depicted in the same state as it was before God’s gracious preparation of the land in Creation. The land lies empty, dark, and barren, awaiting God’s call to light and life.

2b The second part of v.2 describes the work of God, or the Spirit of God, in the initial stages of Creation, hovering over the “not-yet” world like an eagle “hovering” (cf. Dt 32:11) over its young with great concern. There is an interesting parallel between the Creation account (Ge 1) and the account of the construction of the tabernacle in Exodus. In both the work of God (Ge 2:2; Ex 31:5) is to be accomplished by the “Spirit of God.” As God did his “work” of creation by means of the “Spirit of God,” so Israel was to do their “work” by means of the “Spirit of God.”

3–5 Verse 3 has often been taken to mean that God created light before he had created the sun, since not until v.16 does the narrative speak of God making the sun. But the sun, moon, and stars are all to be included in the usual meaning of the phrase “heavens and the earth,” and thus according to the present account these celestial bodies were all created in v.1. Verse 3 describes the appearance of the sun through the darkness (cf. 44:3; Ex 10:23; Ne 8:3). The division between “the day” and “the night” leaves little room for an interpretation of the “light” in v.3 as other than that of the sun.

The frequent repetition of “And God saw” (vv.4, 10, 12, et. al.) describes the “seeing” activity of God. This is obviously an element that the author wishes to emphasize about God. The first name given to God within the book is that of Hagar’s: “El Roi” (the “God who sees,” 16:13; cf. 22:1–19, where the verb “to see” is rightfully translated in its secondary sense of “to provide”). Other significant places where the author records God seeing are 6:5; 11:5; 18:21; these verses, however, record a tragic reversal of Ge 1, where God sees what is good.

The “good” (GK 3202) is that which is beneficial for the human race. On the second day (vv.6–8) the narrative does not say that “God saw that it was good,” for on that day nothing was created or made that was directly “good” or beneficial for humankind. The heavens were made and the waters divided, but the land where people were to dwell remained hidden under the “deep.” Only on the third day, when the sea was parted and the dry land appeared, does the word “good” (GK 3202) again appear (v.10). Throughout ch. 1 God is depicted as the one who both knows what is “good” for the human race and is intent on providing the good for them. Thus the author prepares the reader for the tragedy of ch. 3, where the rebellious attempt by man and woman to gain the knowledge of “good and evil” for themselves is seen not only as sin but also as folly.

b. Second day (1:6–8)

6–8 The sense of the account of the second day is largely determined by one’s understanding of the term “expanse” (GK 8385). Does it reflect a cosmological perspective or an immediate, everyday experience (e.g., the “clouds” that hold the rain)? The text assigns it the meaning “to separate water from water” and calls it the “sky” (GK 9028), a term that refers not only to the place of the sun, moon, and stars (v.14) but also to where the birds fly (v.20). Is there a single word or idea that would accommodate such uses of the term “expanse”? The word “sky” appears to cover this sense well. The “waters above” the sky is likely a reference to the clouds (cf. 7:11–12; 2Ki 7:2; Pss 104:3; 147:8; 148:4).

c. Third day (1:9–13)

9–13 There are two distinct acts of God on the third day: the preparation of the dry land and the seas, and the furnishing of the dry land with vegetation. Unlike the work of the second day, both acts are called “good,” doubtless because they are for the benefit of humankind. Both acts relate to the preparation of the land (see comment on vv.3–5), a central concern of the author (cf. 12:7; 13:15; 15:18; 26:4). Water is an obstacle standing in the way of inhabiting the dry land; it must be removed before humans can enjoy God’s gift of the land (cf. the Flood, chs. 6–9, and the parting of the “Red Sea,” Ex 14–15).

In his second act on the third day, God furnished the land with bushes and fruit trees. If in fact the author intended a connection to be drawn between God’s furnishing the land with fruit trees in ch. 1 and his furnishing the “garden” with trees “good for food” in ch. 2, the focus of the Creation account, then, is on the part of God’s creation that ultimately becomes the location of the Garden of Eden. The selectivity of the Creation account can be seen in the fact that it focuses only on the “seed-bearing plants” and “fruit trees,” plants that are designed for human food. No other forms of vegetation are mentioned.

d. Fourth day (1:14–19)

14 The narration of events on the fourth day raises several questions. If the text states that the sun, moon, and stars were created on the fourth day, how could “the heavens and the earth,” which would have included the sun, moon, and stars, have been created “in the beginning” (v.1)? Could there have been a “day and night” during the first three days of Creation if the sun had not yet been created? Were there plants and vegetation on the land (created on the third day) before the creation of the sun? A common viewpoint is that though “the heavens and the earth” were created “in the beginning,” they were not completed until the fourth day or were even possibly obscured by the waters until the fourth day.

There is another way to look at this text that provides a coherent reading of 1:1 and 1:14–18. First, if “the heavens and the earth” means “universe” or “cosmos,” as is most probable, then (as already suggested) the whole of the universe—including the sun, moon, and stars—was created “in the beginning” and not on the fourth day.

The second step concerns the syntax of v.14. Verse 6 suggests that when God said, “Let there be an expanse,” he was in fact creating an expanse where there was none previously (“creation out of nothing”). So clearly the author intended to say that God created the expanse on the second day. In v.14, however, God does not say, “Let there be lights . . . to separate,” as if there were no lights before this command and afterward the lights were created. Rather the Hebrew text reads, “And God said, ‘Let the lights in the expanse of the sky separate’ ” In other words, God’s command assumes that the lights were in existence and that in response to his command they were given a purpose, namely, “to separate the day from the night” and “to mark seasons and days and years.”

15–19 A third observation comes from the structure of vv.15–16. At the end of v.15, the author recounts, “and it was so.” This expression marks the end of the author’s “report” and the beginning of his “comment.” Thus v.16 is not an account of the creation of the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day but a remark that draws out the significance of what has previously been recounted: “So God [and not anyone else] made the lights and put them into the sky” (pers. tr.). Behind this narrative is a concern on the part of the author to emphasize that God alone created the lights of the heavens, and thus no one else (and certainly no other god) is to be given the glory and honor due only to him.

e. Fifth day (1:20–23)

20–23 The creation of living creatures is divided into two days. On the fifth day God created the sea and sky creatures. On the sixth day (vv.24–28) he created the land creatures—including man and woman. The word for “created” (GK 1343) is used six times in the Creation account (1:1, 21, 27; 2:3). Elsewhere the word “to make” (GK 6913) is used to describe God’s actions. Why is “created” (GK 1343) used with reference to the “great creatures of the sea” (v.21)? One suggestion is that here we have the beginning of a new stage in Creation, namely, of “living beings” (cf. vv.1, 2, 26). The orderliness of the account is evident, as the author shows the creation of all living creatures in three distinct groups: on the fifth day, sea creatures and sky creatures, and on the sixth day, land creatures.

For the first time the notion of “blessing” (GK 1385) appears. The blessing of the creatures of the sea and sky is identical with the blessing of the human race, with the exception of the notion of “dominion,” given only to man and woman. As soon as “living beings” are created, the notion of “blessing” is appropriate because the blessing relates to the giving of life.

f. Sixth day (1:24–31)

24–25 The account of the creation of the land creatures on the sixth day distinguishes two types: the “living creatures” that dwell on the land and humanity. In turn, the former are divided into three groups: “livestock,” “creatures that move along the ground,” and “wild animals” (v.24). Humanity is distinguished as “male” and “female” (v.27).

Once again the author begins with the divine command—“And God said”—and then follows with a comment—“God made.” Verse 25 adds the important clarification that although vegetation was produced from the land, the living creatures were made by the Lord God himself (cf. ch. 2).

26–27 The beginning of the creation of the human race is marked by the usual “And God said.” However, God’s command that follows is not an impersonal (third person) “Let there be . . .” but rather the more personal (first person) “Let us make.” Second, whereas throughout the previous account the making of each creature is described as “according to its kind,” in the account of the creation of humankind it is specified that the man and the woman were made “in our [God’s] image,” not merely “according to his own kind.” Their image is not simply that of the human being; they share a likeness to the Creator. Third, the creation of humankind is specifically noted as a creation of “male and female.” Previously gender was not considered to be an important feature of the creation of the other forms of life, but for humanity it takes on importance. Thus the fact that God created “man” as “male and female” is stressed. Fourth, only human beings have been given dominion in God’s creation. This dominion is expressly stated to be over all other living creatures: sky, sea, and land. Thus the text portrays humanity as a special creature different from the rest of the creatures but like God, made in the image and likeness of God.

Many attempts have been made to explain the plural forms: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness”: e.g., (1) the plural is a reference to the Trinity; (2) the plural is a reference to God and his heavenly court of angels; (3) the plural is an attempt to avoid the idea of an immediate resemblance of humans to God; (4) the plural is an expression of deliberation on God’s part as he sets out to create the human race. The singulars in v.27 (“in his own image” and “in the image of God”; cf. 5:1) rule out explanation 2, since in the immediate context the creation of man and woman is said to be “in his image,” with no mention of them in the image of the angels. Explanations 3 and 4 are both possible, but neither explanation is specifically supported by the context. Verse 27 states twice that “man” was created in God’s image and a third time that man was created “male and female.” The same pattern is found in Ge 5:1–2a. The singular “man” is created as a plurality, “male and female.” In a similar way the one God (“And God said”) created humankind through an expression of his plurality (“Let us make man in our image”). Following this clue the divine plurality expressed in v.26 is seen as an anticipation of the human plurality of the man and woman, thus casting the human relationship between man and woman as a reflection of God’s own personal relationship with himself.

28–31 The importance of the “blessing” (GK 1385) cannot be overlooked since it remains a central theme throughout the book of Genesis and the Pentateuch. The living creatures have already been blessed on the fifth day (v.22); thus the blessing here extends to the whole of God’s living creatures, including human beings. The blessing itself is primarily posterity. Thus already the fulfillment of the blessing is tied to man’s “seed” and the notion of “life”—two themes that will later dominate the narratives of Genesis.

g. Seventh day (2:1–3)

1–3 The seventh day is set apart from the first six because God “sanctified” it. On this day God does not “speak,” nor does he “work” as he had on the previous days. On this day he “blessed” (Gk 3385) and “sanctified” (NIV, “made it holy”; GK 7727), but he did not “work.” The reader is left with a somber and repetitive reminder of only one fact: God did not work on the seventh day. While little else is recounted, it is repeated three times, emphasizing God’s “rest.” If the purpose of pointing to the “likeness” between humans and their Creator was to call on the reader to be more like God (e.g., Lev 11:45), then the seventh day stresses the very thing that they elsewhere are called on to do: “rest” on the seventh day (cf. Ex 20:8–11; cf. Ps 95:11; Heb 3:11).

3. The gift of the land (2:4–24)

a. Creation of man (2:4–7)

4–6 This account begins with a description of the condition of the land before the creation of the first man (cf. 1:2). The focus is on those parts of the land that will be directly affected by the Fall (3:8–24). The narrative points to the fact that before man was created (in v.7), the effects of his rebellion and the Fall had “not yet” been felt on the land. In the subsequent narratives, each part of the description of the land in vv.4–6 is specifically identified as a result of the fall of humankind. The “shrub of the field” and “plant of the field” do not refer to the “vegetation” of ch. 1 but anticipate the “thorns and thistles” and “plants of the field” that come (in 3:18) as a result of the curse. Similarly, when the narrative states that the Lord God had not yet “sent rain on the earth,” we can sense the allusion to the Flood narratives (7:4).

The reference to “no man to work the ground” points to the time when the man and the woman are cast from the garden “to work the ground” (3:23). Thus, as an introduction to the account of man’s creation, we are told that a land had been prepared for him. In the description of that land, however, we catch a glimmer of the time when humans would become aliens and strangers in a foreign land.

7 At first glance the description of the creation of the first man here is quite different from that of ch. 1. No two descriptions could be more distinct. Though made in God’s image, man did not begin as a “heavenly creature”; he was made of the “dust of the ground.” This anticipates his destiny in the Fall, when he would again return to the “dust” (3:19). In Creation man arose out of the dust; in the Fall he returned to the dust.

b. Preparation of the garden (2:8–14)

8 An inordinate amount of attention is given to the description of the “garden.” We are told that the Lord God planted the garden and “put” man there. Later this is repeated with significant differences. Then, too, the garden was planted “in the east, in Eden.” The word “Eden” (GK 6359) appears to be a specific place; it means “delight” and evokes a picture of idyllic delight and rest. “In the east” is striking because elsewhere in Genesis “eastward” is associated with judgment and separation from God (e.g., 3:24; 11:2; 13:11). For example, when the man and woman were expelled from the garden, the cherubim were placed “on the east side” (3:24) of the garden, giving the impression that the garden itself was not in the east. Such an apparent difficulty in the coherence of the passage may account for the fact that in v.8 the garden is not actually called the “garden of Eden” but rather the “garden in Eden,” a designation found only here. Thus the garden was planted in Eden, which apparently was a location larger than the garden itself; and, if “in the east” is taken with reference to Eden itself, the garden was on its eastern side.

9–10 In the garden were beautiful, lush trees, including the elusive “tree of life” and “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” as well as a river with four “headwaters.” Care is given to locate the rivers and to describe the lands through which they flowed. The lands were rich in gold and precious jewels, and their location was closely aligned with the land later promised to Abraham and his descendants. Later on associations were made between the Garden of Eden and the land promised to the fathers (cf. Isa 51:3; Eze 36:35; Joel 2:3).

11–14 The location of the Garden of/in Eden has long been a topic of debate. Two rivers mentioned can be identified with certainty, the Euphrates and the Tigris. It is difficult to identify the other two. Since the “land of Cush” is identified in the Bible as Ethiopia, the “Gihon” is most likely the river that passes through Ethiopia, perhaps the “river of Egypt.” “Havilah” cannot be identified.

Most attention in the narrative is given to the “Pishon,” but there is little certainty about its identification and location. On the other hand, the narrative merely states that the River Euphrates is the fourth river. The mention of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers can be linked to the identification of the Garden of Eden and the Promised Land. It can hardly be a coincidence that these rivers, along with the “River of Egypt,” again play a role in marking boundaries of the land promised to Abraham (15:18).

c. Man’s place in the garden (2:15–24)

15–24 The author had already noted that God “put” (GK 8492) man into the garden (v.8b). Now he gives the purpose for this. Two important points are in danger of being obscured by the English translations. The first is the change from the Hebrew word for “put” to a term that the author elsewhere has reserved for God’s “rest” or “safety” (GK 5663), a safety that he gives to people in the land (e.g., Ge 19:16; Dt 3:20; 12:10; 25:19), and the “dedication” of something in the presence of the Lord (Ex 16:33–34; Lev 16:23; Nu 17:4; Dt 26:4, 10). Both senses appear to lie behind the word here. Man was “put” into the garden where he could “rest” and be “safe,” and he was “put” into the garden “in God’s presence” where he could have fellowship with God (3:8).

A second point is the specific purpose for which God put man in the garden. Most translations have “to work it and take care of it.” Although that translation is as early as the LXX (2d cent, B.C.), there are serious objections to it. For one, the suffixed pronoun in the Hebrew text rendered “it” in English is feminine, whereas the noun “garden” is masculine. Only by changing the pronoun to a masculine singular, as the LXX has done, can it have the sense of the EVs, namely “to work” and “to keep.” Moreover, later in this same narrative (3:23) “to work the ground” is said to be a result of the Fall, and the narrative suggests that the author had intended such a punishment to be seen as an ironic reversal of the man’s original purpose. If such was the case, then “working” and “keeping” the garden would not provide a contrast to “working the ground.”

In light of these objections, a more suitable translation would be “to worship and to obey.” Man is put in the garden to worship God and to obey him. His life in the garden was to be characterized by worship and obedience; he was a priest, not merely a worker and keeper of the garden. Such a reading not only answers the objections raised against the traditional English translation, it also suits the larger ideas of the narrative. Throughout ch. 2 the author has consistently and consciously developed the idea of man’s “likeness” to God along the same lines as the major themes of the Pentateuch as a whole, namely, the theme of worship and Sabbath rest.

A further confirmation is the fact that in v.16 we read for the first time that “God commanded” (GK 7422) the man whom he had created. Enjoyment of God’s good land is contingent on “keeping” God’s commandments (cf. Dt 30:16). The inference is that God alone knows what is good for the man and what is not good for him. To enjoy the “good” man must trust God and obey him. If he disobeys, he will have to decide for himself what is good and what is not good. To people today such a prospect may seem desirable, but it is the worst fate that could have befallen the human race; for only God knows what is good for them.

Having put this in general terms in vv.16–17, the author turns in the remainder of the chapter to set forth a specific example of God’s knowledge of the “good”—the creation of the woman. When he sees man alone, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” At the close of ch. 2, the author puts the final touch on his account of what it means for man to be “in God’s image and likeness.” In the first chapter the author intimated that the creation of the human race in the “image of God” somehow entailed being male and female (v.27). In the narrative of the creation of the woman in ch. 2, the author returns to develop this theme by showing that man’s creation “in God’s image” also entails a “partnership” (NIV, “a suitable helper [GK 6469]”) with his wife. The “likeness” that the man and the woman share with God in ch. 1 finds an analogy in the “likeness” between the man and his wife in ch. 2.

For the first time since the account of the creation of the man and the woman in ch. 1, there is divine deliberation. The plural “Let us make” is replaced by the singular “I will make,” perhaps because only the woman is being created. In ch. 1 the divine plurality found its analogy in the creation of “male and female,” whereas here the divine singular appears to be a curious reflection of man’s being alone. The divine intention for the woman is that she be a “partner.” The point is that there is no helper to correspond to man. A special act of creation of the woman is necessary. Man needs a helper to care for the garden and to provide support in a general sense. But in light of the importance of the blessing in 1:28, most likely the “help” envisioned is in the bearing of children. Furthermore, the woman’s judgment relates specifically to her role in bearing children (3:16).

Just as at other crucial points when a new relationship is initiated (e.g., 15:12; 28:11), the recipient of God’s provision sleeps while God acts. The purpose of the sleep is not merely anesthetic but portrays a sense of passivity and acceptance of the divine provision (cf. Ps 127:2). A homiletic midrash says that “just as the rib is found at the side of the man and is attached to him, even so the good wife, the rib of her husband, stands at his side to be his helper-counterpart, and her soul is bound up with his.” The man’s jubilant response—“bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”—goes beyond the narrative account in vv.21–22, where only “rib” is mentioned. “One of the ribs” anticipates “bone of my bones.” Moreover, the mention of the closing of the “flesh” anticipates “flesh of my flesh,” and “the rib and the flesh” show the woman to be in substance the same as the man.

Clearly the naming of the animals is part of the story of the creation of the woman, for in the conclusion of v.20 the author remarks, “But for Adam, no suitable helper was found.” The author saw in man’s naming the animals his search for a suitable partner. That no suitable partner was found shows that man was not like the other creatures. In contrast, his words “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” show that he recognized his own likeness in the woman.

B. The Land and the Exile (2:25–3:24)

1. Disobedience (2:25–3:7)

A more-studied attempt to treat the problem of evil and temptation to sin cannot be found in all the Scriptures.

a. The transition (2:25)

25 Verse 25 clearly links the account of the land and the blessing (1:1–2:24) with that of the Fall (2:25–3:24). The reference to the “two of them” (NIV, “both”) looks back to the previous narrative, while their description as “naked, and . . . no shame” anticipates the central problem that follows.

Two different but related words are used to describe the “nakedness” of the man and his wife. The choice of arom (“naked”; GK 6873) at the beginning of the narrative is likely motivated by the alliteration between arom and arum (“crafty,” 3:1; GK 6874). This provides an immediate connecting link with the previous narrative and a presage to the events and outcome of the subsequent story. It also gives an immediate clue to the potential relationship between the serpent’s “cunning” and the innocence implied in the “nakedness” of the couple.

Second, there is a difference in meaning between arom (“naked”; GK 6873) in 2:25 and erom (“naked”; GK 6567) in 3:7. The latter is used in Dt 28:48 to depict Israel’s exiles who have been punished for their failure to trust and obey God’s word (cf. Eze 16:39; 23:29). In distinguishing the first state of human nakedness from the second, the author introduces a subtle yet perceptible clue to the story’s meaning. The effect of the Fall was not simply that the man and the woman came to know they were “naked” but that they were “naked” in the sense of being “under God’s judgment.”

b. The tempter (3:1)

1 The author discloses an important clue about the snake: he was more “crafty” (GK 6874) than any of the creatures. This word is not primarily a negative term but suggests wisdom and adroitness. This description suggests a relationship between the Fall and humankind’s quest for wisdom. Man’s disobedience is not so much an act of great wickedness or a great transgression as much as it is an act of great folly. He had all the “good” he would have needed, but he wanted more—he wanted to be like God.

The forbidden tree is the tree of the knowledge of “good and evil.” When the woman and the man took of the tree and ate, it was because she “saw that the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom” (v.6). Thus even the serpent is represented as a paragon of wisdom, an archetypical wise man. However, the serpent and his wisdom lead ultimately to the curse (v.14). It should not be overlooked that the serpent is said to be one of the “wild animals” that God had made (cf. 1:25; 2:19). It was not a supernatural being.

c. The temptation (3:2–7)

2–7 The story of the temptation is told with subtle simplicity. The snake speaks only twice, but that is enough to offset the balance of trust and obedience between the man and the woman and their Creator. The centerpiece of the story is the question of the knowledge of the “good and evil.” The snake implied that God was keeping this knowledge from the man and the woman, while the sense of the narratives in the first two chapters has been that God was keeping this knowledge for the man and the woman (e.g., 1:4, 10, 12, et al.). In other words, the snake’s statements are a direct challenge to the central theme that God will provide the “good” for the human race if they will only trust and obey him.

The woman’s thoughts in the last moments before the Fall were that she “saw that the . . . tree was good.” Up until now the expression has only been used of God. Thus the temptation is not presented as a general rebellion from God’s authority but rather a quest for wisdom and “the good” (GK 3202) apart from God’s provision. How quickly the transgression comes once the decision has been made! The thrust of the story, with all its simplicity, lies in its tragic and ironic depiction of the search for wisdom. Ironically, that which the snake promised did, in fact, come about: the man and the woman became “like God” as soon as they ate of the fruit. The irony, however, lies in the fact that they were already “like God” because they had been created in his image (1:26).

The possibility that they would know only the “evil” and not the “good” is not raised in the narrative prior to their eating the fruit. Yet when they ate of the fruit and their eyes were opened, it was not the “good” that they saw and enjoyed. Their new knowledge was that of their own nakedness. Their knowledge of “good and evil” that was to make them “like God” resulted in the knowledge that they were no longer even like each other: they were ashamed of their nakedness, and they sewed leaves together to hide their differences from each other. They sought wisdom, but found only vanity and toil.

2. Judgment (3:8–20)

a. The scene (3:8)

8 The judgment scene opens with the “sound” (GK 7754) of the Lord’s coming, a common form of expression for the Lord’s call to obedience (cf. Dt 5:25; 8:20; 13:18; et al.). Appropriately the scene of the curse opens with a subtle but painful reminder of the single requirement for obtaining God’s blessing.

The coming of the Lord at the mountain of Sinai is foreshadowed here. There too the people “heard the sound of the LORD our God.” In both instances fear prevailed. In the present instance, Adam and his wife fled at the first sound of the Lord in the garden. They fled to the trees. Trees play a central role in depicting humanity’s changing relationship with God. In chs. 1–2 fruit trees symbolize God’s bountiful provision. In ch. 3 they become the ground for inciting the man and the woman to rebellion and the place where they seek to hide from God. Finally, when the man and the woman are cast out of the garden, their way is barred from “the way to the tree of life” (v.24; cf. Dt 21:22–23; Gal 3:13).

b. The trial (3:9–13)

9–13 Before meting out the judgment, God’s only words to the rebellious pair come as questions (cf. 4:9–10; 18:21). Skillfully, by the repetition of “naked,” the author allows the man to be convicted with his own words. Then, to show that alienation between the man and the woman as a result of their sin went far beyond the shame that each felt in the presence of the other, the man cast blame on the woman and, obliquely, on God. The man’s words are an ironic reminder of God’s original intention in 2:18. As a measure of the extent of man’s fall, he now sees God’s good gift as the source of his trouble.

c. The verdict (3:14–20)

Although much can be said about the curse of the snake, the woman, and the man, very little is written. We get the impression that this is not their story but the story of humankind. With great skill the author presents these three participants as the “heads” of their race. The snake, on the one hand, and the man and the woman, on the other, are as two great nations embarking on a great struggle, a struggle that will find its conclusion only by an act of some distant “seed” or “offspring.”

14–15 Whereas once the snake was “crafty” (arum, v.1; GK 6874), now he was “cursed” (arur; GK 826). His “curse” distinguished him “above all the livestock and all the wild animals”—he must “crawl on [his] belly and . . . eat dust all the days of [his] life.” This curse does not necessarily suggest that previously the snake had walked as the other land animals. The point is rather that for the rest of his life, when the snake crawls on his belly, he will “eat dust,” an expression of “total defeat” (cf. Isa 65:25; Mic 7:17).

As representatives, the fates of the snake and the woman embody the fates of their seed. At first in v.15 the “enmity” (GK 368) is said to be between the. snake and the woman and between the “seed” (NIV, “offspring”; GK 2446) of the snake and the “seed” of the woman. The second half of v.15, however, says that the “seed” of the woman (“he”) will crush the head of the snake (“your head”). The woman’s “seed” is certainly intended to be understood as a group (or individual) that lies the same temporal distance from the woman as the “seed” of the snake does from the snake itself. Yet in this verse it is the “seed” of the woman who crushes the head of the snake himself. That is, though the “enmity” may lie between the two “seeds,” the goal of the final crushing blow is not the “seed” of the snake but rather the snake itself; his head will be crushed. In other words, it appears that the author seems intent on treating the snake and his “seed” together, as one. When that “seed” is crushed, the head of the snake is crushed. More is at stake in this brief passage than the reader is at first aware of. No attempt is made to answer the question of the snake’s role in the temptation over against that of a higher being—Satan. Later biblical writers, however, certainly saw Satan behind the deed of the snake (cf. Ro 16:20; Rev 12:9).

Verse 15 contains a puzzling yet important ambiguity: Who is the “seed” of the woman? The purpose of this verse has not been to answer that question but rather to raise it. The remainder of the book is the author’s answer.

16 The judgment against the woman relates first to her sons and then to her husband. She will bear sons (children) in increased pain or toil. Her “desire” will be for her husband, and he will “rule over” her. The sense of this judgment within the larger context of the book lies in the role of the woman that is portrayed in chs. 1 and 2. The woman and her husband were to have enjoyed the blessing of children (1:28) and the harmonious partnership of marriage (2:18, 21–25). The judgment relates precisely to these two points. What the woman once was to do as a blessing—be a marriage partner and have children—had become tainted by the curse. In those moments of life’s greatest blessing—marriage and children—the woman would sense most clearly the painful consequences of her rebellion from God.

We should not overlook the relationship between the promise of v.15 and the words to the woman in v.16. In that promise the final victory was to be through the “seed” of the woman. In the beginning, when the man and the woman were created, childbirth was at the center of the blessing that their Creator had bestowed on them (1:28). Now, after the Fall, childbirth is again to be the means through which the snake would be defeated and the blessing restored. In the pain of the birth of every child, there was to be a reminder of the hope that lay in God’s promise. Birthpangs are not merely a reminder of the futility of the Fall; they are as well a sign of an impending joy (Ro 8:22–24; cf. Mt 24:8).

17–20 Because of the curse the man could no longer “freely eat” of the “good land” provided by the Creator. Throughout chs. 2–3, humankind’s ongoing relationship with the Creator is linked with the theme of “eating.” At first God’s blessing and provision for man are noted in 2:16. Then it was exactly over the issue of “eating” that the tempter raised doubts about God’s ultimate goodness and care for the man and his wife (3:1–3). Finally, the pair’s act of disobedience is that “she ate it . . . and he ate it” (3:6). Significantly, then, “eating” is related to the judgment on the man. (On “eating” and the relationship of man to God, see Lev 11 and Dt 14 on clean and unclean food and Lev 23 on eating as participation in the feasts of God.)

The description of the “land” is a reversal of that in ch. 2. The present condition of the land is not the way it was intended to be but is the result of human rebellion (see comment on 2:4–6). This opens the way for the motif of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1; cf. Isa 65:17; Ro 8:22–24). Similarly, v.19 shows the reversal for the man’s condition. Before the Fall he was taken from the ground and given the “breath of life” (2:7). Now he must return to the dust he was taken from. Thus the verdict of death had come about (2:17). A further reminder of the effect of the Fall is the connection between the man’s name, “Adam” (adam, v.20; GK 134), and the “ground” (adamah; GK 141) from which he was taken. Adam again named his wife, this time calling her “Eve” (GK 2558) and pointing to her destiny (“the mother of all the living [GK 2645]”), whereas her previous name (cf. 2:23) pointed to her origin (“out of man”).

3. Protection (3:21)

21 The mention of the type of clothing that God made—“garments of skin,” i.e., tunics—is perhaps intended to recall the state of the man and the woman before the Fall: “naked” and “no shame” (2:25). The author may also be anticipating the notion of sacrifice in the animals slain for the making of the skin garments (cf. Ex 28:42).

4. Exile (3:22–24)

22–23 The verdict of death consisted of being cast out of the garden and barred from the tree of life (Ex 31:14), cut off from the protective presence of the community in the garden (cf. Ge 4:14). Ironically, when the human race, who had been created “like God” (cf. 1:26), sought to “be like God” (vv.5–7), they found themselves after the Fall no longer “with God.” Their happiness does not consist of their being “like God” so much as it does their being “with God” (cf. Ps 16:11).

In 2:15 (see comment) the man was put into the garden for “worship” (leobdah; GK 6268) and “obedience” (leshomrah; GK 9068); but here in v.23, after the Fall, he is cast out of the garden “to work [laabod; GK 6268] the ground,” and he is “kept” (lishmor, NIV, “to guard”; GK 9068) from “the way to the tree of life” (v.24).

24 The depiction of the garden and of the tree of life after the Fall guarded by cherubim anticipates God’s plan to restore blessing and life to the human race in the covenant at Sinai and in the law (Ex 25:10–22; cf. Dt 31:24–26). Only through the covenant can human fellowship with God be restored (Ex 25:22). In the covenant humans return to the state enjoyed in Ge 2:15, as people who serve God, obey his will, and enjoy his blessing. At this point in the narrative, “east” only signifies “outside the garden” (but cf. 11:2; 13:11).

C. Life in Exile (4:1–26)

1. Worship (4:1–8)

1–2 Eve’s first words after the Fall raise many questions. Her acknowledging God’s help makes it look as though she were hopeful that the promise of a “seed” to crush the head of the serpent (3:15) might find its fulfillment in this son. Her words, however, can also be read in a less positive light as a boast that just as the Lord had created a man, so now she had created a man, expressing her confidence in her own ability to fulfill the promise of 3:15. The latter interpretation is more likely. First, the recurring theme in the narratives of this book is that of human effort in obtaining a blessing that only God can give (cf. ch. 11; 16:1–4). A second consideration is the contrast in Eve’s words. At the beginning Eve said, “I have brought forth a man,” whereas at the close of the narrative she acknowledged, “God has granted me another seed” (v.25). Moreover Eve did not say that Seth was given to replace Cain, but he was to replace Abel, which suggests that she had not placed her hope in Cain but in Abel.

3–4 The narrative of Cain and Abel teaches a lesson on the kind of worship that is pleasing to God—that which springs from a pure heart. How does the narrative teach a lesson about a pure heart? The difference between the two offerings is not explicitly drawn out by the author. Contrary to the popular opinion that Cain’s offering was not accepted because it was not a blood sacrifice, it seems clear from the narrative that both offerings, in themselves, were acceptable—they are both described as “offerings” (GK 4966) and not “sacrifices.” Furthermore, they were both “firstfruits” offerings; thus Cain’s offering of “fruits of the soil” was as appropriate for a farmer as Abel’s “firstborn of his flock” was for a shepherd.

5–7 Whatever the cause of God’s rejection of Cain’s offering, the narrative focuses our attention on Cain’s twofold response: (1) anger against God (v.4b) and (2) anger against Abel (v.8). By stating the problem in this way, the author surrounds his lesson on “pleasing offerings” with a subtle narrative warning: “by their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt 7:20). God pled with Cain to “do what is right” or face the consequences of shedding innocent blood and exile from the land (cf. v.12; cf. Jer 7:5–7).

8 Possibly the present narrative is to be read in light of the legislation of the “cities of refuge.” The purpose of the cities was to ensure that “innocent blood will not be shed in your land” (Dt 19:10), which, of course, is the central point of the Cain and Abel narrative (v.10).

The law (Dt 19:11) specifies that a guilty murderer is one who lies in wait for his neighbor, “rises up” (NIV, “assaults”) against him, and slays him. Here it states that “while they were in the field, Cain attacked [lit., rose up (against)] Abel and killed him.” According to Deuteronomic law, Cain’s offense was punishable by death. That God showed mercy on Cain and that later in the story God’s mercy was connected with Cain’s building a city suggest more than coincidental relationship between the story of Cain and the cities of refuge.

2. Repentance (4:9–15a)

9–12 Again (cf. ch. 3) when the Lord came in judgment, he first asked questions (v.9) and then meted out the punishment (vv.11–12). The picture of Cain’s judgment is remarkably similar to the exile Israel was warned of in Dt 28:16–18 (cf. Isa 26:21; ch. 27).

13–14 Both the sense of “bear” (GK 5951) and the Lord’s response to Cain in v.15 suggest that his words are not to be understood as a complaint about his punishment but rather as an expression of remorse over the extent of his “iniquity.” In v.14 Cain acknowledged that God’s punishment (v.12) would result in his own death since he would not have the protection of an established community. Like his parents, Adam and Eve, who were driven out of their home, the penalty of death was to be carried out against Cain by banishment from a protective community.

15a By themselves Cain’s words do not necessarily suggest repentance, but the Lord’s response implies that Cain’s words in v.13 are words of repentance.

3. Protection (4:15b–24)

15b–18 The background of the cities of refuge (Nu 35:9–34) may provide a clue to the sense of the “sign” or “mark” (GK 253) given to Cain. Its purpose was to provide Cain with protection from vengeance. Most English versions state that the “mark” was put “on” Cain, though the passage states that the sign was given “to” or “for” Cain (lit., “and he appointed to Cain a sign”; cf. 21:13, 18; 27:37; 45:7, 9; 46:3 with 21:14; 44:21). Though the sign is not explicitly identified, the narrative continues with an account of Cain’s departure to the land of Nod, “east of Eden,” where he built a city. In light of the purpose of the later cities of refuge, it may be significant that the “sign narrative” is followed by the “city narrative.” Cain’s city may have been intended as the “sign” that gave divine protection to him, since the purpose of the “sign” was to provide protection for Cain from anyone who might attempt to avenge Abel’s death (cf. Nu 35:12). Even in Lamech’s day Cain’s city was a place of refuge for the “manslayer” (see comments below). Thus Cain’s city may be viewed as a “city of refuge” given to him by God to protect him and his descendants from blood revenge (see Dt 19:11–13). The remainder of the chapter is devoted to the “culture” that developed in the context of the “city” that Cain built.

19–24 The primary components of city life were animal husbandry (Jabal, v.20), arts (Jubal, v.21), craftsmanship (Tubal-Cain, v.22), and, apparently, law (Lamech, vv.23–24). Lamech’s words to his two wives are frequently read as an example of a boasting arrogance and rebellion. But in the context of the Mosaic law and the teaching regarding the cities of refuge, Lamech’s words appear to be an appeal to a system of legal justice. The Mosaic law provided for the safe refuge of any “manslayer” until a just trial could be held (Nu 35:42). Lamech, by referring to the “avenging of Cain” (cf. v.24), made it known that in his city he too had been “avenged.”

To show that he had not shed innocent blood, Lamech appealed to the fact that he killed a man “for wounding” and “for injuring” him. He did not “hate his neighbor, lie in wait for him, rise up against him, and kill him” (cf. Dt 19:11), as Cain had done, but rather based his appeal on a plea of sell-defense. Lamech’s appeal bears striking resemblances to the principle of lex talionis (Ex 21:25). The force of the principle was to ensure that a given crime was punished only by a just penalty. Thus Lamech killed a man for wounding him, not because he “hated him” (Dt 19:4–6). If Cain, who killed his brother with malice, could be avenged, then Lamech would surely be avenged for a killing in self-defense, that is, for “wounding” him. The point is not that Lamech’s sense of justice was correct or even exemplary but that Cain’s city and descendants had a system of law and justice representative of an ordered society.

4. Blessing (4:25–26)

25–26 Though Cain’s sons have prospered and have become the founders of the new world after the Fall, the focus turns from the line of Cain to the new son born “in place of Abel.” In such narratives as these, the author betrays his interest in the “seed” of the woman. A pattern is established that will remain the thematic center of the book. The promised seed will come not through the heir apparent but through the one whom God chooses. Cain takes his place as one of those who were not to become a part of the line of the “seed” (cf. Japheth, 10:2–5; Ham, 10:6–20; Nahor, 11:29; 22:20–24; Ishmael, 17:20; Lot, 19:19–38; Esau, ch. 36). The importance of the line of Seth is underscored by the fact that in his days people already practiced true worship of God.

D. The Story of Noah (5:1–10:32)

A major break is signaled at the beginning of ch. 5 by the new heading: “This is the written account of Adam’s line.” This section, which concludes at 9:29, is built around a list of ten of the descendants of Adam, concluding with Noah. After the death of Noah is recorded (9:29), a new list of his sons begins, ending with the birth of Abraham (11:26). Several narrative passages, varying greatly in size, are interspersed within these lists of names. The interweaving of narrative and genealogical lists is a characteristic feature of Genesis.

1. Prologue (5:1–3)

1–3 The prologue first redirects the reader’s attention back to the course of events in ch. 1, reiterating the “likeness” of God motif. Second, vv.1–3 tie ch. 5 together with 4:25–26 by continuing the pattern of “birth” and “naming.” There is a similarity between the picture of the first parents and their sons and that of God and Adam. God’s naming of Adam appears here for the first time in Genesis, casting God in the role of a father who names his son. This role of God as a father is heightened even further by the parallels between his creating Adam “in the likeness of God” and Adam’s giving birth to a son “in his own likeness, in his own image.” Clearly, although Adam is the father of Seth and Seth the father of Enosh, etc., God is the Father of them all. The return to the theme of God’s “blessing” (GK 1385) humankind (cf. v.2) recalls a father’s care for his children, a recurring theme in Genesis. The picture that emerges is of a loving father ensuring the future well-being of his children through an inherited blessing. God’s original plan of blessing, though thwarted by human folly, will be restored through the seed of the woman (3:15), the seed of Abraham (12:3), and the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” (49:8–12; cf. Rev 5:5–13).

2. The sons of Adam (5:4–32)

4–32 The genealogical list in ch. 5 is nearly identical in form to that of 11:10–26, the genealogy of Shem. A comparison of the two shows that the only difference between them is the inclusion of the clause “and then he died” (ch. 5). The reason is because Enoch did not die. The death of each patriarch in ch. 5 is underscored to highlight the exceptional case of Enoch. He “walked [GK 2143] with God.” The phrase is used of Noah (6:9) and of Abraham and Isaac (17:1; 24:40; 48:15).

In Enoch the pronouncement of death is not the last word. A door is left open for a return to the tree of life. Enoch found that door by “walking with God” and has become a paradigm for all who seek to find life. Significantly, this theme recurs at the opening of ch. 17, where God establishes his covenant with Abraham. “Walking with God” is the way to life, not just a mere “keeping” of a set of laws. This theme is associated with those who could not have had a set of “laws,” which shows that there is a better way to live than merely a legalistic adherence to the law.

The genealogical list in ch. 5 has been purposefully restructured at its conclusion to accommodate the Flood narrative, which has been inserted into the genealogy between the notations of Noah’s age at the time he begat his three sons (5:32) and the total length of his life and his death (9:29). Two points in particular call for attention. First, we are told that Noah will bring comfort from the labor and painful toil of the curse (v.29). Likely the comfort Noah brought was the salvation of humankind in the ark as well as the reinstitution of the sacrifice after the Flood (cf. 8:21). Second, it is then significant that the narrative of the Flood is inserted into the genealogical list just before the final word about Noah’s death, where it, in effect, is part of the following table of nations (ch. 10). The same explanation for Enoch’s rescue from death (“he walked with God”) is made the basis for Noah’s rescue from death in the Flood.

By means of a brief genealogical note, the story of Noah’s drunkenness is appended to the close of the Flood account (9:18–27). This strikingly different picture of Noah provides a basis for the final word concerning him: “and he died” (v.29). Noah’s deed was one of disgrace and shame (he took of the fruit of his orchard and became naked), which parallels that of Adam and Eve (who took of the fruit of the garden and saw that they were naked).

This tablet contains a Babylonian flood account. Now located in the British Museum.

3. Epilogue (6:1–4)

1–2 At the conclusion of the list of patriarchs and before the account of the Flood, the author summarizes the state of affairs of Adam’s descendants (cf. 10:31–32; 11:27–32; Ex 1:7.) Historically there have been three primary views of vv.1–4. The “sons of God” are (1) angels (the oldest); (2) royalty (also very old); and (3) pious men from the “line of Seth.” The first view has not been widely held since it appears to contradict Mt 22:30. The commonly accepted view is that the “sons of God” refer to the godly line of Seth. This assumes that vv.1–4 introduce the account of the Flood and are to be understood as its cause. If, however, vv.1–4 summarize ch. 5, there is little to arouse our suspicion that the events recounted are anything out of the ordinary. This little narrative, therefore, is a reminder that Adam’s children had greatly increased in number, had married, and had continued to have children; i.e., a picture of everyday affairs (cf. Mt 24:38–39).

3 The sense of v.3 is clear if read within the context of what precedes and follows. After creating humans as male and female, God “called them man [adam; GK 134]” (5:2), which obviously had a wider scope than the personal individual of ch. 4. In the remainder of ch. 5, the focus was on the lives of individual men again. Here in v.3 God speaks a second time, again speaking of “man”(GK 132) as “humankind.” Between these two statements of God about humankind is the list of ten great individual men, whose length of life stands in stark contrast to the “one hundred and twenty years” of the life of humankind. The inference is that it was God’s Spirit dwelling with these men that gave them their long lives. The sad reality is that such long lives belonged to another age and that they were exceptions rather than the rule. The shorter life marks humankind’s fall and separation from the Creator. Thus the author continues to show the ages of the men of the book and notes that generally their ages grow increasingly shorter (cf. 11:10–26). At the close of the Pentateuch we finally reach an individual who is specifically mentioned as dying at the age of 120 years (Dt 34:7).

The 120 years was taken by Luther and others to refer to a time of reprieve granted by God to humankind before sending the Flood. This apparently is an attempt to resolve the discrepancy between the limit of 120 years and the record of 11:10–26. The reprieve interpretation may also reflect the influence of 1Pe 3:20, which many take to refer to the period of 120 years in Ge 6:3.

4 “Nephilim” (GK 5872) elsewhere in the Pentateuch refers to the great men who were in the land of Canaan at the time of the Exodus (Nu 13:32–33). Here “Nephilim” appears to refer to the great men of antiquity. Since the author has just referred to ten such great men (ch. 5), perhaps these were the “men of renown.” Numbers 13:33 indicates that there were still survivors of the “Nephilim” in the days of the Exodus, which would appear to conflict with our taking them as the ten great men of ch. 5, unless the word is a generic term that means “great men.”

4. The Flood (6:5–9:17)

a. The decree (6:5–12)

5–8 These verses form the introduction proper to the Flood story. The cause for the Flood is tied directly to the earlier account of the fall of humankind (ch. 3). Although humans had obtained the “knowledge of good and evil,” it had not been beneficial. They were far better off when they had to trust God for “the good.” The grief and pain of human sin were not something that only people felt. God himself was grieved over it. The purpose of v.8 is to say no more than that Noah found favor with God. Verses 9–12 explain why God found him to be an exception.

9–12 The Flood account begins with the description of Noah’s being “righteous” (GK 7404). It seems that the main purpose of the story is not to show why God sent a flood but rather why God saved Noah. Noah’s “righteousness” is contrasted with the “violence” of “all flesh.” The message is quite straightforward. God saved Noah because he “walked with God” and did not “corrupt” God’s way (cf. 5:22–24). The picture of Noah that emerges becomes a model of the kind of life that finds grace in the sight of God. It is simple obedience to God’s commands and trust in his provision by faith (cf. Heb 11:7).

b. The command to build the ark (6:13–22)

13–15 The list of specifications for the ark is not so much that we might be able to see what the ark looked like but rather that we might appreciate the meticulous care Noah exercised as he obeyed God’s will. The size and shape are described only in general terms. The word rendered “ark” here is an Egyptian loan word that means “palace” (not “chest” or “coffin”) and is a different word than “ark” in Ex 2:3, 5. The term focuses on the structure as an abode.

The exact nature of the material the ark was made from is unknown. NIV’s “cypress wood” rests on the doubtful association of a Latin word and a Hebrew word as well as on the fact that such wood was commonly used for shipbuilding. The exact meaning of the term remains a mystery. This wood was sealed with “pitch,” another rare word found only here. For a wooden vessel, the ark was enormous. By modern standards it is comparable to a small cargo ship.

16 The ark was constructed with three stories, or decks, of “rooms” (v.14) or separate compartments; it had an opening for light and a door in its side. Obviously the structure consisted of more features than those enumerated in this brief description. We should not conclude from the brevity of the narrative that Noah and his sons built such a vessel on their own.

c. The command to enter the ark (7:1–5)

1–5 The command to make the ark had been given and followed to its completion (6:22). The next scene opens with the command to enter the ark before the coming rains. The emphasis of the section lies in the special provisions for the “clean animals” to be taken into the ark. The specific mention of the “clean animals” suggests that while in the ark Noah and his family ate only “clean meat” (cf. Lev 7:19–21). As entrance into the tabernacle was possible only with an offering of unblemished animals, so too Noah’s entry into the ark is tied to his taking with him “seven pairs” of every clean animal. The sacrificial importance of these “clean animals” is seen in 8:20–21.

d. The floods (7:6–24)

6–24 What is most apparent in the description of the onset of the Flood is the focus on the occupants of the ark. With great detail the procession of those entering the ark passes by the impatient eyes of the reader. Facts like Noah’s age, the month and the day of the beginning of the rain, the source of the waters, the kinds of animals and their number suggest that first and foremost this is a picture of Noah’s salvation. It is only at the conclusion of ch. 7, when the ark is resting safely over the highest mountains in the surging flood, that the author casts his glance in the direction of those who did not seek refuge in the ark (vv.21–23). But even then the author’s attention on those who did not survive the Flood is motivated by the reason why they perished: “Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark” (v.23). Thus when it is repeated four times that those who survived the Flood were those who had done “as God had commanded” (7:9, 16; cf. v.5; 6:22), the point is clear. Obedience to the Lord is the way to salvation.

e. The floods abate (8:1–14)

1 While those in the ark may have been safe, they had not yet been saved. The author does not finish his story until Noah and his family are back on dry ground (v.14). But those in the ark had to wait before God sent his deliverance. So the story passes over the time of waiting in the ark and proceeds immediately to the decisive moment when “God remembered Noah and all . . . that were with him in the ark.”

2–14 Again it is noticeable how the author has prolonged the picture of God’s deliverance. God is depicted at work stopping the flow of the waters and removing the sources of the floods. But it still takes time before Noah can be back on dry land. He still has to wait. With this picture of God at work as background, the author turns his attention to Noah inside the ark and focuses on his patience as he waited on God’s deliverance. At the end of forty days, Noah began to look for signs of his impending deliverance. He sent out a raven and a dove, but no signs of dry land appeared. Noah continued to wait. When the sign of the return of the dry lands finally appeared and the dove did not return, Noah had waited exactly one year (cf. 7:6, 11 and 8:13–14). But even then Noah could only open the window to look out of the ark. He still had to wait for God’s command before leaving the ark (vv.15–17).

The image that emerges from this portrait of Noah is that of a righteous and faithful remnant (“Only Noah was left,” 7:23), patiently waiting for God’s deliverance (cf. Isa 8:17–18; 40:31; Jas 5:7–11). Henceforth “the Flood” is synonymous with eschatological judgment (Isa 8:7–8), and Noah’s deliverance is an image of the salvation of the faithful (Mt 24:37–39).

f. The command to exit the ark (8:15–19)

15–19 Noah left the ark only at God’s command. The description, though condensed, closely follows the Creation pattern in Ge 1. The picture is of a return to the work of Creation “in the beginning.” Significantly, at this point the author takes up a lengthy account of the covenant (8:20–9:17). The restoration of God’s Creation was founded on the establishment of a covenant.

There is a striking thematic parallel between the picture of God’s calling Noah out of the ark (8:15–20) and the call of Abraham (12:1–7). Both Noah and Abraham represent new beginnings. Both are marked by God’s promise of blessing and his gift of the covenant.

g. The altar and the covenant (8:20–9:17)

8:20–9:17 In the account of Noah’s altar and covenant, the author continues his close associations with ch. 1. As a result of this altar and offering, the whole of the state of humankind before the Flood is reestablished. The human race is still fallen (9:21), but through an offering on the altar they may yet find God’s blessing. It is significant that just as in Ge 1, the focus of the author’s interest in “man” after the Flood is his creation in God’s image (9:6).

Just as significant as the associations of this passage with the Creation account, however, are the several close associations between Noah’s altar and Moses’ altar at Mount Sinai following the Exodus (Ex 24:4–18). These similarities between God’s “covenant” (GK 1382) with Noah and the covenant at Sinai suggest that God’s covenant at Sinai is not a new act but rather a return to God’s original promises. The covenant with Noah plays an important role in the restoration of blessing, for it lies midway between God’s original blessing of all humankind (1:28) and God’s promise to bless “all peoples on the earth” through Abraham (12:1–3).

5. Noah’s drunkenness (9:18–29)

18–19 These verses conclude the Flood story and introduce the short episode of Noah’s drunkenness. What should not be overlooked in this particular transitional unit is the identification of Canaan as one of the sons of Ham. This is crucial to what follows (cf. vv.22, 25).

20–21 Just as in the Creation God planted a garden for people to enjoy, so now Noah plants an orchard. The outcomes are remarkably similar. Noah ate of the fruit of his orchard and became naked. That is, even after the salvation from the Flood, enjoyment of God’s good gifts by the human race could not be sustained. Noah, like Adam, sinned, and the effects were felt in the generations of sons and daughters to follow. As in ch. 3, the effect of Noah’s sin is seen in his “nakedness” (cf. 2:25; 3:7).

22–29 Ham looked on his father’s nakedness. Shem and Japheth instead covered it without looking on him. All speculation concerning the nature of Ham’s sin aside, what the author apparently wants to show is simply the contrast between the deeds of Ham and those of Shem and Japheth. That contrast becomes the basis for the curse and the blessing that follow. The significance of the contrast between the actions of the sons is seen from the author’s account of the Fall in ch. 3. In covering their father’s nakedness, Shem and Japheth were like Adam and Eve (3:7) and God (3:21), who did not look on human nakedness but covered it (cf. 2:25). Ham did not follow that lead. His actions were more like those of whom God warned later in the Torah, those who “expose their own nakedness” before God and others (cf. Ex 20:26). Since some scholars interpret Ex 20:24–26 as a prohibition of Canaanite forms of worship, there may be an intended link between Ham and the Canaanites in the notion of “nakedness.” The sons of Noah belong to two groups of humankind, those who like Adam and Eve hide the shame of their nakedness, and those who like Ham, or rather the Canaanites, have no sense of their shame before God. To the one group, the line of Shem, there will be blessing (v.26); but to the other, the Canaanites (not the Hamites), there can only be curse. These three sons—as later the “seed of Abraham” and the “nations”—represent two responses to human guilt and disobedience. It is not simply because one is born into a certain family line that he or she is blessed or cursed.

6. The line of Noah (10:1–32)

The author’s purpose in giving a list of names at this point can be seen in the statement at 10:32. These names give a panoramic view of the nations as a backdrop for the rest of the book and beyond. There are exactly seventy nations represented in the list, which symbolizes the totality of nations. In other words, “all nations” find their ultimate origins in the three sons of Noah.

Though he is on the verge of narrowing his focus to the “seed of Abraham” and the “sons of Israel,” the author first lays a solid foundation for his ultimate purpose in God’s choice of Abraham: through his “seed” God’s blessing will be restored to “all people on earth” (12:3). It is not without purpose that the author reminds his readers that the total number of Abraham’s “seed” at the close of Genesis is also “seventy” (46:27; cf. Ex 1:5). Before Abraham, the nations numbered “seventy.” After Abraham, at the close of Genesis, the seed of Abraham numbered “seventy.” He who was taken from the nations has reached the number of the nations.

a. The sons of Noah (10:1)

1 Chapter 10 is bracketed at either end with an identification of the list of names as “Noah’s sons” and the temporal marker “after the flood.” The author was concerned that the list in ch. 10 not be read outside its context. Such conspicuous attention to context is another indication that the author has a plan to unfold and that he did not want the reader to lose sight of it.

b. The sons of Japheth (10:2–5)

2–5 The list begins with those nations that are considered the “islands of the nations” (cf. v.5), i.e., those that make up the geographical horizon of the author, a kind of “third world” over against the nations of Ham (Canaan) and Shem. Later, when the focus is on the establishment of God’s universal kingdom, these nations again come into view to show that his plan includes all peoples (Ps 72:8, 10).


Copyright ©1991 Zondervan Publishing House.

A pattern in the author’s selection is clearly discernible in the list of the sons of Japheth. Fourteen names are listed in all: seven sons of Japheth, then seven grandsons. The author has omitted the sons of five of the seven sons of Japheth (Magog, Madai, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras). He lists only the sons of Gomer and Javan. Thus his intention is not to give an exhaustive list but rather a “complete” list, one that for him is obtained in the number “seven.”

c. The sons of Ham (10:6–20)

6–12 The list of the sons of Ham begins as the list of the sons of Japheth does, with the simple naming of Ham’s four sons. Then, as also in the Japheth list, the grandsons of the first listed (Cush) are given. But before going on to the next son (Mizraim), the great grandsons (sons of Raamah) are listed. The end result is a list of “seven sons”—a complete list. Immediately following are the exploits of Nimrod and his cities, introducing the city of Babylon, the subject of 11:1–9.

The deliberate association of Assyria with Babylon is significant because it takes Assyria out of its natural associations with Shem and identifies it with Babylon. Thus the way is opened for an association and identification of any city with the city of Babylon (Isa 13–14; Rev 17:5). The prophet Micah can already speak of Assyria as the “land of Nimrod” (Mic 5:6).

13–20 The genealogy of Ham continues with a list of the sons of Mizraim, again seven names. This is the last list of the numerical pattern “seven.” The remainder of the lists of names appear to be influenced by no particular numerical pattern except that of the total number of “seventy nations” that dominates the list of names as a whole. The focus of the “non-seven” lists (vv.15–29) is more comprehensive because the Canaanites and the sons of Shem play prominent roles in the book of Genesis and the Pentateuch. The exact boundaries of the area of Canaan are singled out since that area lay at the heart of the purpose of the book. This was the land promised to Abraham, though “at that time the Canaanites were in the land” (12:6).

d. The sons of Shem (10:21–31)

21–31 The reference to Shem and Japheth without Ham recalls Noah’s blessing of Shem and Japheth in 9:26–27, where there also Canaan is excluded. The mention of the “sons of Eber” anticipates the genealogy that yet lies ahead and results in the birth of Abraham (11:10–26).

The list of descendants of Shem is also highly selective, going to the two sons of Eber and then following the line of the second son, Joktan. Significantly, another genealogy of Shem is repeated after the account of the building of Babylon (11:1–9), and there the line is continued to Abraham through the first son of Eber, Peleg (11:10–26). Thus a dividing line is drawn through the descendants of Shem on either side of the city of Babylon, falling between the two sons of Eber, Peleg and Joktan. One line leads to the building of Babylon and the other to the family of Abraham. A hint to this division is in v.25. Typically, the “earth” refers to the “inhabitants of the land.” Thus not only is the land divided in the confusion of languages (11:1), but two great lines of humanity diverge from the midst of the sons of Shem: those who seek to make a name (shem; GK 9005) for themselves in the building of the city of Babylon (11:4) and those for whom God will make a name (shem, 12:2; GK 9002) in the call of Abraham.

e. Epilogue (10:32)

32 The final verse of ch. 10 again takes up the theme of the division of the nations, providing a context for the narrative of the city of Babylon that follows. What has been described “geographically and linguistically” in ch. 10 is described “theologically” in ch. 11, namely, God’s judgment of Babylon and his dispersion of the nations.

E. The City of Babylon (11:1–9)

1–9 The oneness of the people up to this point divides in the two sons of Eber (10:25). One line ends in Babylon, the other in the Promised Land. The first scene opens with a movement “eastward” to the “plain in Shinar.” Thus the starting point of the events of the story was a land west of Babylon. Both the man and woman and Cain moved eastward after being cast out from the presence of God (3:24; 4:16). When Lot divided from Abraham, he moved “toward the east” (13:10–12). When a man goes “east,” he leaves the land of blessing (Eden and the Promised Land) and goes to a land where his hopes will turn to ruin (Babylon and Sodom).

The word “name” (shem; GK 9005) plays a central role here. First, the builders of the city wanted “to make a name [shem]” for themselves. Second, the conclusion of the story returns to the “name” (shem) of the city, ironically associating it (Babylon/Babel) with the confusion of their language. “Scattered” (GK 5880) is another key word. The purpose of the city was so that its inhabitants would not “be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Ironically, at the conclusion of the story it is the Lord who “scattered” the builders from the city “over the face of the whole earth,” a fact repeated twice at the conclusion. The expression “the whole land” is a third key term in the story. The people had left “the whole land [NIV, world]” to build a city in the east. The purpose of the city was to keep them from being scattered throughout “the whole land.” But in response the Lord reversed their plan and scattered them over “all the land.”

The focus of the author since the beginning chapters of the book of Genesis has been both on God’s plan to bless humankind by providing them with that which is “good” and on human failure to trust God and enjoy the “good” God had provided. The characteristic mark of this failure has been the attempt by humans to grasp the “good” on their own. The author has centered his description of God’s blessing on the gift of the land (1:28). The good land is the place of blessing. To leave this land and to seek another is to forfeit the blessing of God’s good provisions. It is to live “east of Eden.”

F. The Line of Shem (11:10–26)

10–26 This list of ten descendants of Shem, like that of Adam in ch. 5, draws the line of the “faithful” (Noah to Abraham) and bypasses the “unfaithful” (10:26–30). In ch. 5 the list of ten patriarchs from Adam to Noah provided the link between the “offspring” promised to the woman (3:15) and the offspring of Noah, the survivor of the Flood (7:23). Not only does the list mark the “line of the promise,” it also bypasses the line of Cain (4:17–22)—the line of the builders of the city (v.17) and the civilization (vv.20–24) that was destroyed in the Flood.

Verses 10–26 show that God’s promise concerning the seed of the woman cannot be thwarted by the confusion and scattering of the nations at Babylon. Though the seed of Noah were scattered at Babylon, God preserved a line of ten great men from Noah to Abraham.

II. Abraham (11:27–25:11)

A. The Line of Abraham (11:27–32)

27–32 The genealogy that precedes the narrative of Abraham provides the necessary background for understanding the events in his life. Thus far the author has followed a pattern of listing ten names between important individuals, but this short list has only eight names. This raises the question of who the ninth and, more importantly, the tenth names will be. As the narrative unfolds, the ninth and tenth names are shown to be the two sons of Abraham, “Ishmael” (16:15) and “Isaac” (21:3). The genealogical introduction, then, anticipates the birth of Isaac, the tenth name.

Interspersed in the list of names is the brief notice that Terah and his family, including Abraham and Lot, had left Ur of the Chaldeans and traveled as far as Haran, en route to the land of Canaan. There is no mention of the call of God until 12:1, and that appears to be after the death of Terah (v.32b). The initial impression is that while in Haran Abraham was called to leave his homeland—after the death of his father, Terah, and not while in Ur of the Chaldeans. That impression is further sustained by the narrative in 12:4–5, which recounts Abraham’s obedient response to the call of God and explicitly states that he “set out from Haran,” not mentioning Ur of the Chaldeans. A second look, however, suggests that the author intended us to understand the narrative differently.

Verses 27–2 show that it was Ur of the Chaldeans, not Haran, that was the place of Abraham’s birth. Thus the command given to Abraham to leave the place of his birth (12:1; NIV, “your country”) could only have been given at Ur of the Chaldeans. Putting the call of Abraham within the setting of Ur aligns this narrative with themes in the later prophetic literature and connects the call of Abraham (12:1–3) with the dispersion of the city of Babylon (11:1–9), thus making Abraham prefigure all those future exiles who, in faith, wait for the return to the Promised Land (cf. Mic 7:18–20).

Marked similarities are evident between the introductions to the Abraham and the Isaac narratives (25:19–26). Abraham’s brother, Haran, died “before” his father; Isaac’s brother Ishmael died “before his brothers” (25:18b). Abraham took a wife, and she was barren; Isaac took a wife, and she was barren (25:20–21). Both narratives contain an element of struggle between brothers. Abraham was accompanied by Lot from birth, and Jacob was accompanied by Esau from birth (25:22–24). In the struggles that ensued, Abraham was “separated” from Lot (13:9, 11, 14) and Jacob was “separated” from Esau (25:23).

B. The Call of Abraham (12:1–9)

1–5 Abraham, like Noah, marks a new beginning as well as a return to God’s original plan of blessing “all peoples on earth” (cf. 1:28). Notable is the frequent reiteration of God’s “blessing” throughout the narratives of Abraham and his descendants (12:1–3; 13:15–16; 15:5, 18; et al.). Abraham is here represented as a new Adam, the seed of Abraham as a second Adam, a new humanity. Those who “bless” (GK 1385) him, God will bless; those who “curse” (GK 826) him, God will curse. The way of life and blessing, which was once marked by the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (2:17) and then by the ark (7:23b), is now marked by identification with Abraham and his seed.

The identity of the seed of Abraham is one of the chief themes of the following narratives. At the close of the book (49:8–12), a glimpse of the future seed of Abraham is briefly allowed. This one seed who is to come, to whom the right of kingship belongs, will be the “lion of the tribe of Judah” (cf. 49:9); and “the obedience of the nations is his” (49:10).

6–9 The account of Abraham’s entry into the land of Canaan is selective. Only three sites are mentioned: Shechem, a place between Bethel and Ai, and the Negev. Significantly, these are the same three locations visited by Jacob when he returned to Canaan from Haran (chs. 34–35), as well as the same sites occupied in the account of the conquest of the land under Joshua.

C. Abraham in Egypt (12:10–13:4)

12:10–13:4 Verse 10 opens with a notice that a famine forced Abraham to seek refuge in Egypt. The recurring theme of the threat to God’s promise in 12:1–3 is first noted in the present story. In nearly every episode that follows, the promise of a “numerous seed,” “blessing to all peoples on earth,” or the “gift of the land” is placed in jeopardy by the actions of the characters of the narrative. The promise looks as if it will fail. In the face of such a threat, however, God remains faithful to his word and safeguards the promise. God can bring about his promise, despite human failures.

The account of Abraham’s sojourn in Egypt parallels in many respects the account of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Ge 41–Ex 12). Both passages have a similar message. The past is not allowed to remain in the past. Its lessons are drawn for the future. That is, Abraham’s stay in Egypt prefigures Israel’s later stay in Egypt (both initiated by a famine). Behind the pattern stands a faithful, loving God. What he has done with Abraham, he will do for his people today and tomorrow. In light of such para