Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Finished Genesis

Currently in my attempt to read all of Scripture this summer, I am finished with Genesis, a fifth of the way through the Psalms, and halfway through the Gospel of St. Matthew. In order to keep in mind what I have read, it seems fruitful to spend some time summarizing what is contained.

I once heard it said that the genealogical lists divide the major parts of the book of Genesis, so we'll start with these:
  • Generations of the heavens and the earth (2:4)
  • Descendants of Cain (4:17)
  • Generations of Adam (5:1)
  • Generations of the sons of Noah (10:1)
  • Descendants of Shem (11:10)
  • Descendants of Nahor (22:20)
  • Sons of Abraham by Keturah (25:1)
  • Descendants of Ishmael (25:12)
  • Descendants of Isaac (25:19)
  • Sons of Jacob (35:22)
  • Descendants of Esau (36:1)
  • Descendants of Israel (46:8)
Those are the ones I could find by quickly looking back over the book. Given that the book is called "Genesis", it is probably not only divided according to births but its parts are each about beginnings.
  • Beginning of all creation (Chapter 1)
  • Beginning of man (2-11)
  • Beginning of the chosen people (12-36)
  • Beginning of their presence in Egypt (37-50)
There is some overlap in these, but they seem to be the main divisions. The reason for breaking between 11 and 12 is that Noah is the father of all men who survive the flood, whereas Abram is chosen from among these men and his descendants only make up a part of all peoples. There is a lengthy list of generations before 37 which indicates an important break. Israel has received his name, his descendants, and his promise. If one reads the Genesis as a prologue to the Exodus, one still needs to place the Israelites within Egypt so that they may make an Exodus from it. Once they whole family enters into Egypt, there is one more list of the names of those who are entering the land. What remains are the blessings of the sons of Israel and finally his funeral, which is attended by many of the Egyptians as well his sons.

Whereas the first 11 chapters and the last 14 chapters seem sufficiently graspable, the genesis of the chosen people is the lengthiest section in Genesis and therefore is worth further subdividing. The main persons here are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so this seems like the most natural division, yet Isaac has very little time compared to the other two. He primarily shows up in his relation either to his father or to his sons. I'll start with chapter summaries, just to recall what happened:
  • Abram leaves his kinsmen (12)
  • Abram separates from Lot (13)
  • Abram wars against kings to save Lot; encounter with Melchizedek (14)
  • The Lord speaks to Abram about land and descendants (15)
  • Abram goes into Hagar; Ishmael is born (16)
  • Abram is named Abraham; covenant; circumcision; a son by Sarah is promised (17)
  • Three men visit Abraham; he tried to intercede for Sodom and Gomorrah (18)
  • Two men visit Lot; Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed; Lot and his daughters (19)
  • Abraham and Abimelech (20)
  • Sarah gives birth to Isaac (21)
  • Abraham brings Isaac to Moriah (22)
  • Sarah dies; Abraham buys burial ground in Canaan (23)
  • A wife, Rebekah, is found for Isaac (24)
  • Abraham dies; generations of his descendants (important division); birth of Jacob and Esau (25)
  • The Lord makes promises to Isaac; Isaac and Abimelech; Isaac travels and digs wells (26)
  • Isaac blesses Jacob mistakenly (27)
  • Jacob is sent to find a wife; vision of the ladder (28)
  • Jacob marries Leah and Rachel; has 11 children (29-30:24)
  • Jacob leaves Laban (30:35-31:55)
  • Jacob anticipates Esau; wrestles with the angel and receives a name, Israel (32)
  • Jacob encounters Esau (33)
  • Jacob's sons plunder Shechem (34)
  • Jacob goes to Bethel; generations; Isaac dies (35)
Perhaps the broadest division would be:
  • Abraham and his sons (12-25)
  • Isaac and his sons (25-36)
The section starting in 37 is even titled "The history of the family of Jacob," as if until then the story of Isaac was still being completed in some way. This twofold division has each section begin with a genealogy and end with a death, so there is something complete about them. In order to further subdivide the sections, it may be necessary to attend more closely to journeys taken, in what direction and for what reason. Chapter 17 seems extremely important since it is the beginning of the covenant and of the sign of that covenant which will remain. Many important beginnings happen for Israel: his birth (25), his blessing (27), his children (29), his name (32). As said above, once all of these are established, it remains for his descendants to enter the land of Egypt, which happens through Joseph.

Reading all that happened to Joseph seems to point to the Christ in many ways. He is thrown into the Pit by his kinsman (as Christ is handed over by the Jews), he taken up from the Pit (as the resurrection; or perhaps one can see in this the Jews handing Christ to the Gentiles), he rises up to a high position which differs from Pharaoh's in name only (as the ascension, by which Christ sits at the right hand of the Father and and will judge), he gives benefits to his brethren although they do not know him (just as Christ leaves our sight so that he might give us the Spirit). The whole chronicle is also a sign of how Christ, betrayed by his kinsmen, will ultimately become a source of life to all the nations. Many signs of this sort exist throughout Genesis.

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