September 10, 2012 by Jason Hood
Yes, I’m that species of dinosaur that thinks Moses might have had something to do with Genesis. (Footnotes: I’m not aware of an evangelical scholar who believes in “plenary” Mosaic authorship; everyone acknowledges the possibility of added editorial comments and updated language, not to mention the fact that Moses probably didn’t write about his own death. I’d wager that these stories were transmitted orally well before they were written. And people aren’t going to hell over whether these stories come from Moses or not.)
Rather than argue the case, let me show how Mosaic authorship can lead to an appreciation of the Mosaic agenda…which leads straight to killer NT application. We don’t have time for the whole text, so I’ll limit the discussion to the patriarchal narratives. And even here, we only have time to be partial in our description.
Genesis 11:31-32 The first generation stops along the way and fails to make it all the way to Canaan. That sounds vaguely familiar! Then in Genesis 12 God makes promises to a man who can’t accomplish them ( I will make of you a great nation…I will give you Land I will show you). God promises and then provides offspring and land miraculously, just as he does for the Israelites in Exodus 1 and Joshua. After 12:10, Abraham goes down to Egypt because of a famine. Like Moses, Sarai joins the royal court, then leaves it, just as Moses will centuries later. They return from Egypt after the Egyptians voluntarily give them riches, just as his descendants would do centuries later. And how does God facilitate the exodus (I can’t resist) from Egypt they didn’t earn? Genesis 12:17 has the answer. Boom go the intertextual connections.
A number of passages like chapters 13–14, 18, 36, etc., tell us about Abraham (Israel) and his (their) neighbors. The Canaanites are incredibly wicked, and God will work miraculously to bring judgment on them if they don’t repent, and if no righteous are found among them. Those who want to be righteous shouldn’t settle in their cities, as Lot and family illustrate; nor should the children of Abraham marry the children of Canaan, as Esau and Judah demonstrate. But other neighbors are to be respected and helped. Israel should strive for good relationships and shalom, not hostility.
The stories of Jacob and Esau, Jacob and Joseph’s brothers, Abraham and Lot, and Abraham with Melchizedek and Abimelech show us how Israel can expect to relate to its neighbors. For instance, Edom comes in for so much criticism in Torah and the Prophets because they’ve opposed and failed to help a brother (see especially Numbers 20, which shows how things should work in theory, and how they worked out in practice; Obadiah 10; Psalm 83; Amos 1:11). This interest in neighbors helps explain why we need an entire genealogy of Esau (Genesis 36).
So among other points:
“Genesis is surely suggesting to its readers that they too should forgive even their long-term enemies, if they show sincere contrition . . . . Thus Genesis is not simply a justification for Israel’s occupation of Canaan, it embodies a practical appeal as well. It urges brothers to make peace with each other and forgive past wrongs. It insists that Israelites should live peaceably with their relatives, with fellow countrymen of different ethnic origins, and implies that as a nation it should not be afraid to make agreements with surrounding nations when they seek peace” (Gordon Wenham, Story as Torah, 38-39)
It’s not hard to draw comparisons to the NT teaching on dealing with the family of faith and outsiders.
In Genesis 28 – 32, Jacob finds blessing despite being outside the land and “under threat”; like Isaac and unlike Esau and Judah, he marries within the family rather than with Canaanites. Moreover, Abraham and family are shepherds, not “city people,” a theme that becomes important for describing the relationship between Egyptians and Israelites (46:24 makes this clear). At the end of Genesis 34, Jacob is in fear of the inhabitants of the land. But he doesn’t need to be afraid. 35:1-5 shows that when his family consecrated themselves to YHWH, put away their idols, and trusted and obeyed YHWH, the Canaanite city folk were struck with fear. Again, all that should sound familiar to readers familiar with the rest of the Torah.
Genesis 37 – 50. Again, Israel goes down into Egypt because of famine…but isn’t supposed to stay there. The redeemer is an Israelite in Pharaoh’s courts. These stories give Israel a picture of tribal relationships—leadership roles belong to Judah (Caleb, later David) and Joseph (Ephraim/Manasseh, Joshua). And leadership is typified by wisdom (Joseph) and by laying one’s life on the line for the brothers (Judah; for more on this, see these posts on Judah).
And we haven’t even mentioned YHWH showing up as smoke and fire (Gen 15:17).
So here’s the thesis. Moses wrote Genesis not only to inform Israel of their origins, but to get them to see that Canaan, not Egypt, was their homeland, and to give them guidance for life in the land as one big family under covenant with YHWH, with distant relatives around them and enemies among them.
And as we read Hebrews 3-4 and 11:8-16, it becomes clear that the NT thinks this message matters to us. After all, we’re on the way out of slavery into the promised land of New Creation.
And we’d better not turn back, because Joshua has already secured our victory.