Sermon on the Mount, The Emmaus View

Appendix T: The patriarchs and Genesis 3:15 (Version 1.1)

Gen 3:15 introduces the significance of the Seed of the Woman, with its precedent of authority transfer. That principle is then alluded to in the accounts of Tamar and Judah, Deborah and Barak, the wise woman at Abel of Beth-maacah, and Bathsheba and David (see Chapters 5 and 8). Matthew makes it the focus of his genealogical additions and omissions (see Chapters 8 and 9), and Paul appears to revisits it (1 Tim 2:14-15). Yet, if that principle is so vitally important, where is the evidence of it in the generations between Seth and Judah? Re-examine the sweep of patriarchal history with this in mind and such transgression driven transition of authority appears to lie behind many of the significant events. Moreover, there seems to be a definite link between the shifts in authority and the re-statement of covenantal promises, as if to confirm that the change did not affected the promise.

Let me recap briefly on the situation in Gen 3:1-4:16 (as explored in Chapter 5). After Adam sinned, the divine authority to act as priest over mankind passed to his wife, so the couple’s sins could continue to be covered. However, as her desire for Adam allowed him to overrule her, so she too fell, leaving the family condemned to lose Eden and enter a life of painful toil. After Eden was destroyed, salvation lay in childbirth and the production of a seed acceptable before God. The account of Cain and Abel then addresses who that would be. After Cain’s failed sacrifice disqualifies him, Abel’s successful offering showed him to be the heir of Gen 3:15’s promise. Although Cain then murdered his brother, he too set a precedent by finding salvation and a continued place within the family through the role of bond-servant. Eve then bore Seth, another seed fit to adopt the mantel of Abel.

We find the events surrounding Adam’s family echoed in the life of Lamech, when he murdered a man for striking him. Appealing to the precedent of Cain, Lamech came under his wives’ spiritual authority and, confessing his bloodshed before them (Gen 4:23-24, cf. Gen 4:15), he anticipated that he would share Cain’s experience of protection as God’s bond-servant. Later, when his land was again accursed to the point of requiring painful toil (Gen 5:29, cf. Gen 3:17), we may assume Lamech’s wives’ covering had ceased to be effective, for he then anticipated that the birth of a seed would bring relief (Gen 5:29). The seed was Noah.

Only those who accepted Noah’s authority survive the cataclysm that destroyed the world of Lamech. Thus, after the flood Noah is presented as a new Adam and his drunkenness as a new fall (see Chapter 6). With Noah left vulnerable and his priestly role in the balance, Ham saw this opportunity to expose his father’s weakness as an opportunity to be grasped. Noah’s other sons proved more faithful and, refusing to see the nakedness, they provided a covering. Once recovered, Noah recognised that for Ham, this recognition of nakedness was a sign that he had chosen to follow in Adam’s footsteps, a choice that would leave his son Canaan destined, like Cain, to servanthood.

Genesis’ next block of narrative introduces us to Abram, who would go on to become Abraham. Whilst Abraham may provide an exemplary model of faith (e.g. as suggested by Rom 4:9-16, Gal 3:9, Heb 11:8-19), he had to exercise that faith within the constraints of God’s already-revealed judgements. Therefore, it is reasonable to factor in the promise of Gen 3:15 when interpreting his life story and the results of doing so are rather interesting.

Abraham came to Moreh already assured that through him all nations would be blessed (Gen 12:1-3), i.e. that he carried the authority of the Seed. Once there, he received the further assurance of land for his offspring (Gen 12:7). Then came a famine (Gen 12:10), signalling that Abram’s land was unclean and therefore that his priestly credentials were no longer sure. Mid-flight to Egypt, he released Sarai to act as his sister rather than his wife. Maintaining such a subterfuge would have required Abram to release her from his authority and allow her to act in her own right, just as when Eve became the mother of all the living1. Moreover, Abraham’s life now depended upon the intercession of Sarai (Gen 12:12-13), a role that required him to come under her authority. Authority had transferred and it remained that way when the couple returned to Canaan. Abram, still under Sarai’s authority, found restored favour with God, defeating kings and rescuing Lot, entering the priesthood of Melchizedek, and establishing a new covenant (Gen 15:1-19). Thanks to Sarai’s covering, God would be Abram’s shield, an heir will come from the patriarch’s own body and his descendants will be like the stars. Moreover, even if they were to be landless wanderers in other nations for four hundred years, God would still remain faithful to the promise that they would inherit the land. Jewish tradition sees behind the persona of Melchizedek an elderly Shem, handing over the legacy of Noah before he dies. It is an interesting thought, for here would be Shem handing over lands of his servant Canaan (Gen 9:26), about four hundred years after the flood (Gen 11:10-11). The age of Shem when Abraham was born was about 390- 4002 and he lived 500 years. So, as Abraham was between the age of 75 (Gen 12:4) and 86 (Gen 16:16) when he met Melchizedek (Gen 14:18), the timing more or less fits. Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3:36), following the Septuagint text (Gen 11:12 Sep), inserts an extra generation between Arpachsad and Shelah, which we may reasonably suggest was 35 years3, placing the meeting with Melchizedek even closer to the time of Shem’s death.

Following Melchizedek’s fleeting appearance, Abram continued to be answerable to Sarai, obediently taking Sarai’s Egyptian maid, Hagar, as his wife (Gen 16:2). However, once Hagar began to act as if mere conception gave her authority, Sarai showed a less-favourable side. First she tried to blame Abram for the harm done to her by his wife (Gen 16:5), even though her claim to Hagar’s obedience over-rode his own (Gen 16:6). She then resorted to treating Hagar so harshly that the maid fled into the wilderness. However, as Abraham had reminded God (Gen 15:2-3), a childless individual’s heritage would pass to one born in their house, which would usually be their servant’s child. So, provided Sarai remained childless, Hagar’s return to serve Sarai would leave Ishmael first in line for the promise to the Seed. Therefore God intervened, urging Hagar to serve Sarai, reassuring her that there was nothing to stop Ishmael inheriting the blessings promised to Abraham, but that it was Sarah’s seed which would count (Gen 16:9-10).

Sarah’s increasingly harsh ways necessitated another transfer of authority, but that would require an heir to reach the age of responsibility, which Judaism traditionally holds that to be 13 for a boy. Therefore, as Ishmael reached that age we would expect to find a change of authority, as the family came under the son of the Egyptian Hagar. Indeed, thirteen years after Ishmael’s birth4, we find God visiting Abram and making another covenant (Gen 17:1-14), the necessity for which is confirmed by laughter at God’s pronouncements (Gen 17:17, 18:12). This time there are some extra terms, a variant on the Egyptian practice of circumcision and a renaming of the sort usually associated with a change of nationality (cf. Joseph, Gen 41:45, and Daniel, Dan 1:7). The exalted father (Abram) became the father of many (Abraham, Gen 17:5), no longer standing through his own virtue but through that of his offspring. The princess (Sarai) lost her touch of royalty to become a noblewoman (Sarah, Gen 17:15). Authority over the family had transferred to Ishmael. Yet, as the angel revealed to Hagar (Gen 16:12), her son was more like Cain than Abel. Abraham coming into the promises of God is now dependant upon his children (Gen 18:19).

After the circumcision the Lord appeared again, but this time he had come to judge. Matters had come to a head, the family’s judicial authority was foundering (cf. Gen 19:9) and the cry from Sodom had reached heaven. Ishmael had disqualified himself by failing to attend to it and so the Lord was seeking Sarah. It was time to announce Isaac’s birth (Gen 17:18-19). Yet faced with the news, Sarah can only laugh with incredulity. As the judge moves on to consider the fallen Eden amidst which Abraham’s family lives (cf. Gen 13:10), Abraham’s intercessions included a confession that he, like fallen Adam, had become no more than dust and ashes (Gen 18:27, cf. Gen 3:19, Job 30:19). The valley of Sodom was about to be overturned amidst fiery brimstone (Gen 19:24-25), but this time Abraham no longer has the power to save Lot himself, so all he can do is hope that there will be righteous people in the city for God to spare it.

With the land unclean and, to judge by its attitude to Lot, antagonistic toward Abraham’s family, they moved into the comparative sanctuary of voluntary exile amongst the Philistines of Gerar. Abraham again sheltered behind Sarah, but this time God intervened to ensure Sarah’s legacy did not pass to Abimelech’s son (Gen 20:3-7). From the point of Isaac’s birth the family’s salvation depended upon Sarah’s faithful stewardship of the child. So, when Sarah heard Ishmael laughing in derision at their celebration of his brother’s first step toward independence, she told Abraham to send him away and God confirmed that Abraham was to obey (Gen 21:1-8).

Isaac marked a new beginning, but before he could inherit the land their remained the problem of the sentence of death his family had brought upon it as each in turn laughed at the judgements of God. A new creation was needed; a jubilee at which anything given to God stayed the property of God (Lev 27:16, 20-21), breaking the chain of heritage; a cataclysm, in the midst of which God could remember the seed and act to preserve him; a dying through which all Abraham’s hopes and aspirations became formless and void, that God could resurrect them in a new Eden. Thus, God called Abraham to offer up his son (Gen 22:2) and the failed authority over the land, by his obedience in totally offering the seed of the woman to God, liberated the seed and those who served him from the bondage of his family’s history of laughing at God. The seed, by laying down his life in obedience to his father, restored the cleanliness of the land and the possibility of future blessing for his people within it (Gen 22:15-18).

Abraham, having learnt his lesson with Ishmael, is very particular where Isaac’s bride should come from. This proves critical as Isaac’s fall is marked by famine, exile, and another covenant re-statement. During his time in Gerar he emulates his father, coming under Rebekah (Gen 26:6-7). However, as Isaac nears the end of his life Rebekah has lost control (cf. Gen 26:34) and relying on subterfuge to ensure that her spiritual legacy will go to Jacob (Gen 27:11-13). The treacherous method by which this is achieved leaves Jacob fallen and forced out of the land and into service (Gen 27:43).

Following Jacob’s treachery he is without a partner whose ‘one flesh’ relationship can cover his failings, so the matter of a wife come to a head and Isaac sends him away to Laban to find a wife. En-route, God meets with him and offers the same covenant terms under which his ancestors continued to enjoy provision and security in return for their service (cf. Gen 15:13-14). His ‘brother’, Laban, being a bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh (cf. Gen 29:13), then steps into the place of a wife until Jacob has earned one5. Through Laban, God ensured that Jacob was treated his brother, thereby forcing him to appreciate the impact of his deceit; The man who took advantage of his weak eyed father to avoid serving his brother, is forced by a weak eyed woman to render double service to his ‘brother’6. Once he finally becomes one flesh with Rachel7, she is presumably already compromised by the idolatry that will prove her downfall, for it was not until she bore a seed that Jacob sought release from Laban to return to Canaan (Gen 30:25). Laban refused, but Jacob’s request nevertheless provided the opportunity to divide the camp, so, as Jacob begins to serve the interests of his family, God can differentiate between those who serve the interests of the seed and those who don’t. Jacob’s life then begins to establish precedents for the later Exodus. In time the people amongst whom he lived came to resent Jacob’s increasing power (Gen 31:1-2, 15, cf. Ex 1:8-10), so God called Jacob back to Canaan. Then, Jacob stole away like a fugitive slave (Gen 31:20), fleeing through the waters of the Euphrates, to find safety in the wilderness hill country of Gilead. Once there, he was no longer under Laban’s authority, so God intervened to prevent the Aramean harming him (Gen 31:24). Due to Rachel’s idolatry the return did not play out quite as Jacob might have expected. Joseph is too young to provide a covering for him, so With Rachel’s death Jacob continues committed to serving the interests of Joseph and fails to be entirely surprised at the content of Joseph’s dream. However, Joseph’s apparent death necessitates a further switch of allegiance, Jacob’s standing before God now depended upon him serving the interests of Benjamin, Rachel’s ‘remaining’ son. As Jacob’s son, that commitment transferred to Joseph, as Joseph appears to have understood.

From the above evidence, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Gen 3:15 judgement indeed provided a precedent for God’s dealings with the patriarchs, just as it did in God’s dealings with later generations.

1The appearance that Sarah was his sister would also have conveniently saved Abraham loosing face whenever she acted independently of his authority.

2Estimated from the figures in Gen 11:10-26, allowing some latitude for the uncertainty introduced by 11:26

3In the Septuagint of Gen 11:10-25 generational gap is 100 years larger than the equivalent Hebrew text. Therefore, its 135 years (Gen 11:12 Sep) for the gap between the births of Arpachsad and Cainan, would equate to 35 in the Hebrew text.

4Ishmael was born when Abram was 86 (Gen 16:16) and the covenant preceded Isaac’s birth, when Abraham was 100 (Gen 21:5) by about a year (Gen 17:21).

5Note how Laban assumes Jacob has to serve like a slave (Gen 29:15), but graciously offers a reward. At Genesis 30:26 Jacob describes his service with the same word used in Exod 1:14, 6:9 for the service of a slave.

6 See Strong, “251 אָח ,” Concordence

7 Rachel was first wife by contract (Gen 29:18-25), even if not by order of union.