Discussing Torah matters because the Torah matters

Showdown in the Wilderness

The serpent wouldn’t appear unless the odds were in his favor. Like in the Garden, he waited until Adam and Eve were away from God’s immediate presence before he spoke up. So Jesus knows the serpent won’t emerge from the shadows until he has the advantage. Jesus knows what He has to do.

Venturing out like a trapper, Jesus disappears into the wilderness, alone. He makes Himself very weak, eating and drinking nothing week after week. He senses the serpent watching Him from a distance, monitoring His strength as it dwindles more and more everyday. The serpent is cunning, and patient, so he waits. And waits. And waits. Finally, after 40 days, the serpent sees that Jesus is very near death. The time is right. He comes out of hiding and strikes. 

Here we ask a relevant question. In the Garden, why did the enemy manifest as a snake? Of all creatures, why a snake? What is the deeper meaning of this? The answer is, in short, that the snake most embodies the essence of the enemy. 

Consider a snake’s unique motion. It slithers forward, its body weaving back and forth. In a spiritual sense, this is how the enemy approaches his prey. Pay close attention to your next experience: a temptation will enter your mind, cross through your consciousness, then disappear. You’ll carry on as you normally would. But then, again, the temptation will slide across your mind, this time gaining more attention. Nevertheless, your focus returns elsewhere. Moments later, it will weave back into your thoughts. The temptation will come in and go out, come in and go out, each time returning a little sooner than it did before. What is happening? It is the enemy snaking his way through your mind, drawing closer and closer to your will, positioning himself for the kill. Eventually, you may begin to entertain the temptation, and that’s when you know the serpent has struck and his poison has activated.

Consider a snake’s unique use of constriction and method of consumption. Some snakes employ the force of constriction to take the life of their prey. We can imagine a circle’s circumference tightening inward, squeezing around the center. This is constriction, an outside-in motion. Not all snakes constrict, but all snakes consume their prey from the outside-in. The prey is swallowed whole then digested from the outside-in. This is so instructive because the enemy, too, works from the outside-in. Examples may be helpful. 

We see his affect on Eve, for she saw that (1.) the tree was good for food, and (2.) that it was pleasant to the eyes, and (3.) that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, so she took the fruit and ate. Good for food has to do with the body, which is the outermost part. Pleasant to the eyes has to do with the intellect, which is inside the body. A desire to make one wise (like God) has to do with the spirit, desire being the innermost part. Suffice to say, the enemy’s deception took hold of Eve from the outside-in. 

In the Book of Job, the enemy moves in on Job. Reading the account, we find that Job’s servants and animals are first struck down in the surrounding fields. After this, his house and family are targeted. Finally, Job’s own body and health are attacked. Once more we find this principle in effect: the enemy bringing death from the outside-in.

Study the characteristics of a snake and you will learn a great deal about the enemy. The snake epitomizes the enemy more than any other living creature. Therefore, the enemy finds expression as a serpent in the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden is a zone in which physical reality perfectly translates spiritual reality, where the truth of one’s essence comes through and there is no denying it. In the Garden, the enemy has no choice but to manifest as a snake, because that is his essence. Outside the Garden, the enemy gains a new power, an ability to manipulate his appearance. When the outside doesn’t reflect the inside––when something is not what it seems––it makes a mockery of God’s design, and so by manipulating his appearance, the enemy mocks God’s design. He didn’t have this power in the Garden, but man set him free, and now he exploits that power constantly. Understand, though, that his essence never changes even though his masks often do. 

Out in the wilderness, the tempter approaches Jesus probably not as a snake, but as something else. The text isn’t explicit. Knowing the enemy likes to mock what is holy and good, it wouldn’t surprise me if the enemy approaches Jesus looking like someone He already knows and trusts. No matter what mask he wears, the enemy is what he is. Once a serpent, still a serpent. He presses Jesus from the outside-in. His first temptation takes aim at the body, which desires food. His second temptation aims at the mind and the emotions, as he invites Jesus to take a shortcut to being proclaimed Messiah. The enemy’s third temptation takes aim at the spirit, it being a matter of worship. 

We read that the tempter first says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answers with a verse from Deuteronomy: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’” (Quoting Deuteronomy 8:3)

The enemy then takes Him into Jerusalem and has Him stand on the pinnacle of the Temple. He says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”

The enemy is referencing Psalm 91:12 & 14. Notice he skips over Psalm 91:13. Why does he skip over this verse? Because verse 13 says, “You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.” The enemy neglects this verse for obvious reasons.

Jesus answers the enemy with a verse from Deuteronomy: “It is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Quoting Deuteronomy 6:16)

Now comes the third act. The enemy won’t hold back. As I imagine the scene, I sense the wind blowing against His sun burned face as He stands on a high mountain alongside the enemy. Before them history is distilled into a single moment. Draped over the landscape beneath them, all the kingdoms of earth stretch out as far as the eye can see. Their brilliance lights up the sky. Each kingdom is portrayed in its highest grandeur. Greece at its best; Rome in its prime; Persia in its fullness; Britain at its pinnacle; the United States with its towering skyscrapers; first century Israel with His beloved Jerusalem. 

The enemy remains quiet and lets Jesus take it in. The enemy pretends to look too, but he has grown accustomed to this view. Besides, the one kingdom he really wants is not included in this panorama. This kingdom he eyes secretly. This is the kingdom still safeguarded within the thin frame of the Man standing next to him. So the enemy––the serpent known for its guile––remains patient. He keeps Jesus in his peripheral vision. Both of them are cast in the glow of this glorious summation of world history. The light reflects in Jesus’ eyes, and when the enemy finally turns to face Him, he is reminded of how the light reflected in Eve’s eyes when she beheld the stunning beauty of the Tree of Knowledge. The enemy smiles and speaks. “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”

We must note that the kingdoms of earth were the enemy’s to give, meaning the enemy had to have the authority to offer them to Jesus as a temptation. It’s not a temptation if he doesn’t actually have them to give. For instance, if I say, “I’ll give you a million dollars if you commit some sin,” it’s not a real temptation unless I actually have a million dollars to give you. If I don’t really have a million dollars, it’s a joke. It’s silly. There’s no true temptation unless I genuinely have the means to give you the money. And so in the same way, the enemy really had to have the authority to give these kingdoms of the world to Jesus. How did he acquire such authority? Well don’t blame God! God didn’t give it to him. Man did! God gave man dominion over the world (Genesis 1:28-30), but when man took and ate the forbidden fruit, he succumbed to the will of the enemy. It was a trade off: the enemy gave what he had to man (the feeling of being like God) and man gave what he had to the enemy (the dominion of earth). So now, here’s the enemy and the second Adam. The enemy wants to make another trade: the enemy will give Jesus the dominion of earth if Jesus will make him God. The enemy is trading up! From being like God to being God! Of course, the enemy holds his cards close to his chest. He doesn’t show his desperation.

“All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me,” he says to Jesus. Underneath his calm demeanor, the enemy screams: “Jesus, no one will notice! It’s just you and me out here! This is the deal of a lifetime! The whole history of the world––in your possession! Just you ruling the world as you see fit, and me staying out of it––if you’ll simply do the smallest action in this private place. No one will see! Come on, what do you say?”

No terrorism. No holocaust. No inquisition. No crucifixion. Jesus closes His eyes and the world’s brilliance disappears from his pupils. When they reopen, his eyes are illuminated from the inside, by the light of God’s Word. Jesus turns to the enemy and answers with a verse from Deuteronomy: “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’” (Quoting Deuteronomy 6:13)

The enemy’s countenance falls through his feet and tumbles down the mountain. He’s been caught, bested, and beaten. But note! The serpent’s head is not yet trampled, so he departs until another opportune time will present itself. Jesus is left alone, and we’re told the angels come and attend to Him. Had they not strengthened Him, it’s likely Jesus would have died in the wilderness. He was that close to death!

What a showdown, though! The very best against the very best. Examining their dialogue, we find that Jesus relied on the Torah to do battle. There were five books in the Torah He could have chosen from, but a single book––Deuteronomy––was enough to put down the enemy.

I am reminded of another great showdown: David vs. Goliath. Interestingly, when David went against Goliath, the account says that David “chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine . . . David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.” (1 Samuel 17:40,48,49)

David relied on these stones to do battle with Goliath. There were five stones in his bag he could have chosen from, but a single stone was enough to put down the enemy.

Although the enemy was beaten, the showdown wasn’t all the way over for David. Neither is it for Jesus. Luke 4:13 tells us that “when the devil had finished every temptation, he left Jesus until an opportune time.” This opportune time wouldn’t arrive until later, when Jesus (again near death) hangs on the cross. The enemy, speaking through those in the crowd, calls out, “If you are the Son of God, come down from that cross!” (Matthew 27:40). Think back on the temptations: “If you are the Son of God...” “If you are the Son of God...” and now: “If you are the Son of God, come down from that cross!” This is the fourth great temptation, and it goes to show that the showdown isn’t quite over between the tempter and the Son of God.

Neither was it over between David and Goliath. After dropping him with a stone, David stood over Goliath and drew Goliath’s sword out of its sheath. Using Goliath’s own weapon against him, David cut off Goliath’s head. 

Hanging on the cross, Jesus looks down at the enemy. Before this, He had struck down the devil with a single book, but now, Jesus will use something else to finalize his victory. Death is drawn up in the hands of Jesus. Using the enemy’s own weapon against him, Jesus dies on the cross––and with that death, He crushes the serpent’s head.

John 9: Apply as Needed

“Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul.” 

This is how Genesis 2:7 reads in our English translations. In the Hebrew, it looks like this (reading from right to left):

וייצר יהוה אלהים את־האדם עפר מן־האדמה ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים ויהי האדם לנפש חיה׃

Hebrew readers will notice something peculiar. The first word of the verse is misspelled! The first word is vaiyitzer (ויצר), meaning “to form” or “formed,” and it is supposed to be spelled with a single yod. Yod is the letter that resembles an apostrophe (י). Yod is the second letter of the word vaiyitzer: ויצר. 

Yet in every Torah scroll in the world, the word is misspelled in Genesis 2:7, written with two yods instead of one. Elsewhere it is spelled with a single yod, but not here. Why is this? Why have the scribes so faithfully copied what seems to be a simple typo?

We have to be mindful that each letter in the Hebrew alphabet is a symbol. For example, the letter aleph symbolizes an ox; the letter beit symbolizes a house; the letter gimel represents a camel; the letter dalet represents a door. What does the letter yod represent? The letter yod represents a hand! 

Here we find meaning. When God formed adam (man) from the adamah (clay), He used both of His hands to do it! That’s why there are two “hands” in the vaiyitzer of Genesis 2:7––because God formed man from the clay using both of His hands. (At least, that’s the picture we get in the Hebrew.) 

If we jump forward to John 9, we find God reaching down and using both of His hands again. In John 9, Jesus spits on the ground and works His saliva into the mud. He then applies the mud to both eyes of a blind man. He tells the blind man to go wash in the Pool of Siloam (which means sent). Though the blind man cannot see Jesus, he listens to His voice and obeys the command. The blind man finds his way to the Pool of Siloam. There he washes, and his sight is restored. What just happened?

Writing this, John has to be thinking of Genesis 2. In Genesis 2, God formed man from the clay. Man’s creation was perfect, the highest design in the universe. But soon enough man sinned, and sin marred his image. It caused a great deal of damage. So Jesus comes to correct that damage. What does Jesus do? He goes back to the way God made man to begin with––with clay. But this time He doesn’t have to start from scratch. All He has to do is make some new clay, apply as needed, and form a new creation of the eyes. Once again something from God’s mouth (breath in Genesis 2, saliva in John 9) combines with the clay of the earth to raise up a man.

Why does Jesus go back to Genesis 2 to heal the man? Because the problem of blindness arose in Genesis 3. Of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, the serpent said, “...in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The woman then saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and so she ate. Notice how much eyesight is involved at the fall. Yet the moment “their eyes were opened,” they immediately started blocking things from their sight. They made themselves coverings, and they hid from God. They put God Himself out of view. 

Jesus is surrounded by people suffering the effects of the Tree of Knowledge. But the people overlook their condition because the effects were inherited from Adam and Eve. Like the blind man’s blindness, the effects of the fall trace back to birth in every case. And since everyone is equally effected, the damage is then perceived as no damage at all. In principle, it takes a man with sight to know that a blind man is blind. An isolated group of blind people will not realize they are blind. But this is the predicament in which Jesus finds Himself. He’s amid a group of people who are spiritually blind, yet they don’t realize it. So what does He do? He singles out a beggar who is physically blind, and for this man Jesus performs a miracle of restoration. Baffled by this change in condition, the question they ask is, “How were your eyes opened?”

Eyesight is a central theme in John 9. We find various groups of people going back and forth as to whether or not Jesus is a prophet, a man of righteousness, a man sent by God. One group recognizes Him as such, and even though they can’t understand it exactly, they are humble enough to recognize the truth before them. However, the opposing group refuses to recognize Jesus for who He is, because, well, they are “like God,” determining good and evil, boxing in the law according to the boundaries of their own understanding. For this group, the Tree of Knowledge stands in the way of the Tree of Life. God Himself remains out of view. 

To the latter group, Jesus says “...your sin remains.” But for the beggar, for the one in a position of humility, He makes a new creation of the eyes and says, “Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.” Why does Jesus send the blind man to the Pool of Siloam? Why not somewhere else?

This is an important part of the story, and the choice is not accidental. This particular pool, the Pool of Siloam, has a rich history. It was already 700 years old when the events in John 9 take place. It had been built during the reign of King Hezekiah. It was designed to bring water inside the City so that, during a siege, Jerusalem could still have safe access to a water supply. The pool is fed by water from the Gihon Spring (which is outside the City Walls). From this spring, water is channeled into Jerusalem via an underground passage. And this is why the Pool of Siloam is called Siloam which means sent, because the water is “sent” into the City.

How they made this thing bewilders the mind. In order to channel the water into the City, Hezekiah had to carve a tunnel through the earth no less than 583 yards long! He instructed his men to work from opposite directions. One set of workers started cutting into the rock on one end (from inside the wall) while a second set started cutting into the rock on the other end (from outside the wall). It’s an amazing feat of engineering that they met up in the middle! (Google Hezekiah’s Tunnel for more information.)

In 1880, an ancient plaque was discovered inside the tunnel. Today the plague is kept in a museum, it being among the oldest extant records written in Hebrew using the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet. On the plague is an inscription that describes how the tunneling was completed. “The stone cutters wielded their picks, each crew toward the other, and while there was still 3 cubits to go, the voices of the men calling each other could be heard since there was an increase of sound on the right and the left. The day the breach was made, the stonecutters hacked toward each other, pick against pick, and the water flowed from the source to the pool, 1200 cubits.” (The Siloam Inscription)

Now there are a lot of places where this blind man could have washed the mud off. But Jesus said I want you to go to this pool. The pool that was created when Hezekiah was king. The pool that was created by two groups tunneling through rock toward each other. The pool that means sent. This is where I want you to go. 

It’s a picture. To the humble, Jesus says in essence, “If you draw near to me, I will draw near to you. You want the living water. You want life. You want back in the Garden. Well I’m working toward you, tunneling out from God’s Presence. You work toward me, tunneling in toward God’s Presence. You might be operating in darkness. But you can hear. You can hear Me working toward you. I am sent for you; you are sent by Me. Keep faith, and you will soon see as you ought to see.”

Genesis 23: Part of a Larger Portrait

In our English translations, Genesis 23 probably starts this way: “Sarah lived 127 years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.” But note, this is not how every Torah scroll in the world reads. What the translators have covered is a curious rendering of Sarah’s length of years. The Hebrew in verse 1 actually says: “And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.”

It is as though the life of Sarah is being divided up into distinct time periods. Why this peculiar rendering? The Sages tell us: it is because Sarah had the wisdom of a 100 year old woman, the heart of a seven year old girl, and the beauty of a 20 year old young lady. At least, in Abraham’s eyes. Having withdrawn from the public, Abraham mourns her passing, and I can imagine sitting next to him and asking something like, “How old was Sarah? 127?” And thinking of her, he’d say after a moment, “She was a hundred. She was seven. She was twenty.” 

Abraham rises to find a place worthy of her burial. “His wife is to rest in a place that will be her permanent, everlasting burial site, and for this purpose Abraham seeks to acquire a piece of land in perpetuity. For many years he has dwelled in Canaan as a stranger; despite all his wealth, he has never sought to acquire even a square foot of land. After all, his calling is to be a wanderer. But now the necessity to bury his wife forces him, for the first time, to make a permanent acquisition of land. His wife’s grave is to be the first bond that will tie him to the land; it is to be the place that will draw him and hold him” (The Hirsch Chumash, Bereshis, pg. 503).

He goes to the Hittites (aka. the sons of Heth) in Hebron and there, at the city gates, he negotiates a real estate deal. Abraham has a certain cave in mind, so he speaks directly to the property owner. The person who owns the cave and the surrounding field is a man named Ephron. Ephron and Abraham go back and forth, and Ephron says the property is worth 400 shekels. A high price according to all commentators, but without complaint Abraham pays the 400 shekels in full, and having acquired the property, he buries his wife in the cave of the field. In time, Abraham himself will be buried alongside Sarah in this very cave, then later Isaac and Rebekah, and even Jacob and Leah. Today the site of the cave can be visited in Hebron. (One of my teachers has been there, and he said there is something very special about this place. A spirit of holiness seems to preside there. Even his non-religious cab driver noticed it.) 

Examining the whole of Genesis 23, we’ll find that the chapter is characterized by ongoing repetitions, with every point being reiterated to rule out ambiguity. Statements are repeated to the point of sounding superfluous. Verse 17 enumerates literally every article of the property: “So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, was made over to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, before all who went in at the gate of his city.” The next part further adds: “…the cave of Machpelah, before Mamre, that is Hebron in the land of Canaan . . . the field and the cave deeded to Abraham by the sons of Heth as a property for a burial place” (23:19-20). The Torah itemizes the conditions, the details, as well as the individuals involved, not leaving any room for doubt or mistake. From this we have to conclude that Genesis 23 constitutes a kind of legal document, a contract or deed with all of its stipulations, ensuring clarity of ownership while also citing the many witnesses who were present. Such a document protects one of the most historic transactions ever made, for it is the first piece of Holy Land procured by a Hebrew. If nothing else, chapter 23 is significant for this reason alone.

It becomes even more meaningful if we stand back and behold the wider panorama that Genesis 23 fits into. To see this, we must understand that the stories in the Bible (as well as the lives of the people) have a purposeful sequence and flow to them. It is not haphazard. God is telling a story and He’s making intentional choices as to how it goes (as would any master story-teller). The sequence of events is important. In Genesis 23, Abraham procures a field. In Genesis 24, Abraham seeks a bride for his son Isaac. So we can ask: what do the events in chapter 23 have to do with the events in chapter 24? Answer: everything. Because the field and the bride are always connected. Permit me to elaborate. 

A theme we find throughout the Bible is the field and the bride, the field and the bride, the field and the bride. The two go together. In this regard, the story of Ruth is classic. In the last chapter (Ruth 4), Boaz approaches a guy and says basically, “There is a parcel of land that used to belong to our relative. I wanted to tell you to buy it” (4:3-4). The guy says “Sure I will buy it.” Boaz says, “The day you buy the field you also acquire Ruth the Moabite” (4:5). It’s like: You want the field? Then you have to take the bride as well. But the guy declines. He wants the field but he doesn’t want to marry Ruth the Moabite. So the guy tells Boaz, “You buy it for yourself” (4:8). So Boaz does. Boaz himself redeems the field and the bride. 

Keep in mind, Jesus tells us what “the field” represents. “The field is the world” Jesus explains to His disciples in Matthew 13:38. Jesus then tells His disciples two short parables that run like this: 

(#1) “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” 

(#2) “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. Upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

In both parables, a man gives up all that he has in order to acquire that which he truly desires. But in the first illustration, the man buys the field to get the treasure. In the second illustration, the man buys just the treasure itself! He buys it––a pearl of great value. What’s the pearl a picture of? Well, Proverbs 31:10 CJB says: “Who can find a capable wife? Her value is far beyond that of pearls.” The writer associates the great value of an excellent wife with the value of pearls! Taking this into account, I think there are hints here to Jesus’ redemption of the world and the Bride. He is the one who gives up all that He has to purchase the field and the treasure itself, the pearl of great value––the excellent wife. You know, we often talk about how Jesus wants to redeem His people, and of course He does. But He also wants to redeem the earth––the creation itself. He’s not content until both are restored fully and completely. 

Paul raises his hand with a comment to make. He says: “For the creation (the world) waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God (His people) . . . For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Roman 8:19, 22-23 ESV). In other words, the world is longing for redemption just as we––the Bride of Messiah––are longing for redemption. The world and the Bride are in this together: both fallen, both groaning, both eagerly awaiting the return of our Kinsmen Redeemer––the One who has redeemed the field and the Bride. 

Our need for redemption traces back to Genesis 3 when man sinned and the earth was cursed. “To Adam God said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you’” (3:17). Here pain was introduced, and death and mourning were introduced. Man was exiled from God’s Presence and the earth began its time under the penalty of man’s sin. The field and the Bride, joined together and fallen. 

But we leap to the other end of the Bible where John writes: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:1-5 ESV). How awesome! We witness here the correction to Genesis 3. The earth is made new, and man is returned from exile to once again dwell in God’s Presence. The redemption of the field and the redemption of the Bride––together they fell, together they are restored.

We return to our question: what does Genesis 23 have to do with Genesis 24? Let’s zoom out even more to include Genesis 22, the chapter in which Abraham goes to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. Chapter 22, 23, and 24... what is the panorama portrait here?

The grandeur of this is so impressive that I struggle to communicate it, but there is a far greater story being alluded to by these chapters. The story is that of the New Testament: God the Father gives up His only begotten Son, Jesus. What follows is then the death of His beloved Jerusalem. Jesus foretells of Jerusalem’s death, as we read:

“And when Jesus drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you...’” (Luke 19:41-44. Note that Jesus personifies Jerusalem as if it is a mother.)

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 23:37-39, Jesus speaking to Jerusalem.)

Upon its death, Jerusalem goes “underground” so to speak, its people fleeing to areas around the Mediterranean. The tent” goes vacant... temporarily. Because the Master is not done; the story is not over. He sends His Spirit to seek the people out, both Jews and Gentiles, to return them to the land, to be His Son’s Bride. His Spirit goes out into the world and finds a Bride who is willing to take the cup and commit her life to the Son, sight unseen. The Spirit guides the Bride to the Son, and testifies on her behalf (read Genesis 24 for these details). And in the end, she––the new Jerusalem––is brought to the same space where the Father’s beloved Jerusalem once dwelt before her death. (Sarah’s tent!) And here, in this special place, the New Jerusalem resides. The New Jerusalem is a bride adorned for her husband. She and the Son are married, and He loves her. From that day on, they never depart from the land––just like Isaac and Rebekah never leave the land.  

Genesis 22, 23, and 24 are hinting at a much bigger plot. And Genesis 23––the part where Abraham withdraws to mourn the death of his wife Sarah, his paying a high price to secure a place for her in perpetuity, her going underground––is all the more meaningful when understood in this greater context. To spell it out: Abraham pictures God the Father; Isaac pictures Jesus, the Father’s Son. Sarah pictures Jerusalem, the City of David; Rebekah pictures the New Jerusalem, the City of the Son of David. And Hebron? Well Hebron itself has its connections to Jerusalem (read 2 Samuel 5 & 6). Give it some thought and see what you think.

Before we finish here, we must note one last thing about chapter 23. It is a detail revealed only in the Hebrew. The high price that Abraham paid to secure the field in perpetuity was 400 shekels. 400 happens to be the numerical value of the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet: the letter tav (ת). The letter tav represents a crossBecause it is with the cross that God paid in full, acquiring the title deed of the earth (see Revelation 5:9) and securing a place for which His family can together spend their future at rest.

Genesis 24: Eliezer and the Holy Spirit

67 verses! No doubt, Genesis 24 is the longest chapter in all of Genesis. 

In a book that includes the invention of the universe, the creation of man, the destruction of the world, the scattering of peoples and languages, all of these epic occurrences that could fill many pages, it’s extraordinary that this particular story––a servant’s mission to find a bride and bring her to the masters son––is the book’s longest chapter. Can it be because it is among the book’s most meaningful chapters? Certainly! 

To review it in two paragraphs, the chapter goes as follows: Abraham tells his head servant to go and find a wife for his son Isaac. The servant swears he will, and he departs. After a long journey, the servant sits down at a well and prays to God. God promptly answers his prayer as along comes an attractive woman named Rebekah. Abraham’s servant runs over to her and says, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” She says, “Drink, my lord.” Then she says, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” The man gazes at her in silence as she draws water for his ten camels. When she finishes watering his camels, the servant gives her a gold nose ring weighing a half-shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten shekels (one shekel’s weight for each camel she watered). He says to her, “Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” She tells him who her father is, and she invites him to spend the night. The servant bows and worships God because he knows he has found the one! 

Rebekah’s brother Laban invites the servant into their house. The servant tells Rebekah’s family who he is, what mission he is on, and what happened at the well. Laban listens to the story and realizes it is a match made in Heaven. He says, “Take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has spoken.” Again the servant bows. He brings out jewelry of silver and of gold, and garments, and gives them to Rebekah. He gives to her brother and to her mother precious things. They eat and drink together, and he spends the night. In the morning, Rebekah departs with Abraham’s servant. A journey ensues, and soon enough Isaac sees in the distance his father’s servant leading his bride-to-be toward him. And as Rebekah gets closer and closer to Isaac, she asks, “Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?” The servant answers her, “That is my master.” She dismounts the camel and veils herself. The servant greets Isaac, tellings him all the things that he has done. Isaac then takes Rebekah into the tent of Sarah his mother, and Rebekah becomes his wife. “He loved her,” we are told by the very last verse.

Recapping the story, Genesis 24 reminds me of a scene where two guys are flying over the Pacific Ocean in a commercial jetliner. Hours and hours go by, and still there is no end in sight to the water. Finally one guy turns to the person sitting next to him and says, “Man the ocean is big!” The other guy says, “Yeah and that’s just the top of it!” This chapter, the biggest and broadest in Genesis, is like an ocean of profound meaning. Meaning so deep that it will take the New Testament 27 books to map it all out. It’s like here in Genesis 24, God sits down, smiles and says, “I’d like to tell you a little bit about the Holy Spirit.”

Who is Eliezer?

Eliezer is not once called by name in Genesis 24. Instead the chapter refers to him only as “Abraham’s servant” or as “the servant,” the man who “had charge of all that Abraham had” (24:2). But we know it’s a man named Eliezer because back in Genesis 15:2, Abraham says that if he should remain childless, the heir of his house would be Eliezer of Damascus. From this we learn that Eliezer of Damascus is Abraham’s senior servant, the oldest of Abraham’s household, the one set to inherit the estate. It is this Eliezer of Damascus who scores the starring role in Genesis 24 as he seeks to find a wife for Abraham’s beloved son Isaac. 

How is Eliezer a picture of the Holy Spirit? 
  1. Eliezer had charge of all that Abraham had. Understand, the Holy Spirit is God’s own Spirit! And it’s His Spirit that controls and moves and accomplishes things. The One who travels into the world and seeks a Bride for the Son.
  2. Eliezer is sent by the father just like the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father. Eliezer acts on the father’s behalf. Eliezer works to fulfill God’s covenant with Abraham, just as the Holy Spirit continues to do to this day. 
  3. Eliezer is not mentioned by name in the whole chapter. He’s identified as Abraham’s servant. In other words, Eliezer’s identity is always connected to the master. The two characters are intertwined. So, too, the Holy Spirit’s character is always intertwined with the Father.  
  4. Three times in one chapter we see Eliezer bowing and worshiping the Lord. This is the spirit of the Holy Spirit, so to speak. It makes sense that we find the Holy Spirit in worship, humility, and prayer, because this is where the Holy Spirit finds expression.
  5. Eliezer travels to the city of Nahor (24:10) to find Rebekah. He goes to the slayer or piercer, because according to Hebrew scholar Julius Fürst, the name Nahor means slayer or piercer (Source). Jesus was slain. Jesus was pierced. We executed our Messiah, and yet God sent His Spirit to call from us those who would be part of His Bride. So the Spirit comes to a place where there’s been a slaying, a piercing, and there He finds the people who have a heart like Abraham, who are willing to leave Nahor behind and become the Bride of the Master’s Son.  
  6. Eliezer does not act according to human logic. Abraham says go to my family. Yet Eliezer goes to a community well and says, Lord may the first girl that gives me water be the one for Isaac. This is not logical! After all, the whole community uses this well! The first girl to give him a drink is likely not related to Abraham’s family, so Eliezer would seem to be wasting his time. A logical person would have done this instead: he would’ve approached someone in the city and said, “Hey, do you know where the descendants of so-and-so live?” “Oh they’re in that house down the street, there on the right.” He would have gone to that house, knocked on the door, introduced himself and said, “I’m Abraham’s servant. Any eligible women here? I’m looking for a girl to marry Abraham’s son.” Logical, right? I mean, that’s what you and I would do! Because that is what makes sense on paper. But see, the Holy Spirit isn’t very concerned with making sense on paper. The Holy Spirit defies formulas, defies description, defies logical reasoning. Eliezer does not abide by human logic just as the Holy Spirit does not abide by human logic.
  7. Eliezer runs to Rebekah (24:17). He initiates their interaction. Likewise, the Holy Spirit eagerly comes to you. The Holy Spirit initiates. You must respond. If you are not willingly to follow, the Holy Spirit is not held responsible. (See 24:8.)
  8. Eliezer gives Rebekah a nose ring weighing one half-shekel. What is this about? Well a half-shekel represents a contribution to God, per Exodus 38:26 & 30:11-13. Half a shekel is very meaningful when you consider it in light of Jesus’ conversation with Peter in Matthew 17 (click here to see why). And it’s significant that he gives her a nose ring. Why not an earring? Or a ring for her finger? Why does he put it in her nose? Because the nose is where life is breathed in. God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life. The nose is also the instrument of smelling, and smelling is the most spiritual of the five senses. You see, two of your senses (seeing and hearing) can sense something far away without any physical contact. Taste and touch, on the other hand, require you to be in direct contact with the thing you are sensing. But smelling is unique, because it is in between the others. It can sense something far away, yet invisible molecules of that thing are making direct contact with your nose. Smelling combines the direct contact of taste and touch with the far-awayness of sight and sound. So where physical and spiritual connect, where life is breathed in, that is where Eliezer places the ring of gold. 
  9. Eliezer doesn’t pass out applications and pick the best applicant. He doesn’t look for the richest girl. He looks for the girl with kindness and compassion in her heart. Notice, her test involves two aspects. First she has to answer the spoken request: “Give me a drink of water.” She gives him a drink of water. But then she also has to sense a need that is not verbalized, and meet that need as well. This is the kind of bride that God is seeking for His Son. Not one who follows the letter of the law alone, but the spirit of the law as well. To look beyond the obvious and sense what is unspoken, the spirit of the matter. Rebekah thought, “Okay here’s a man who is thirsty. He asked for a drink; I’ll give him a drink. But what about his camels? He didn’t say anything about his camels, but they must be thirsty as well. I want to meet that need too.” Rebekah has a heart that Eliezer, like Holy Spirit, gets excited about.  
  10. Eliezer is like the Holy Spirit in that he manages everything, but everything belongs to the son. Reference John 16:13-15 where the Son says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” 
  11. After their meeting at the well takes place, Eliezer goes back and tells Rebekah’s family what happened, how they met. Everything between Eliezer and Rebekah is retold to her family. And it’s when Rebekah hears this retelling that she finds out what her destiny is. Back when she was drawing water for the camels, she didn’t realize what would become of her actions. She doesn’t really put it together until she hears it through Eliezer’s voice as he recounts the story. And in this way, it is through the Spirit that we have a testimony, and it’s by the Spirit that we discover what our destiny is. 
  12. He gives gifts, garments, and precious things. In my translation it says costly ornaments. I know other translations say precious things. But note, “this term rendered precious things, as may be seen in Songs 4:13, is used to express exquisite fruits or delicacies, and precious plants or flowers” (Source). Rashi concurs, as he translates v.53 to say delicious fruits. So Eliezer gives gifts, garments, and delicious fruits (Source). I like this translation better because it yields an insight. Eliezer gives gifts to the bride, and he gives her a new garment. But he does not give her the delicious fruits. Those he gives to her brother and to her mother. After all, the fruits are not for Rebekah. The fruits are because of Rebekah. They are for the others. In like manner, the Holy Spirit gives us gifts (1 Corinthians 12), but the fruit of the Spirit are for everyone around us. 
  13. Eliezer does not accept delay. When Laban wants Rebekah to stay for another 10 days before leaving, Eliezer doesn’t want to wait around. He wants to act. He wants to move. He tells them, “Do not delay me” (24:56). This is indicative of the Holy Spirit. 
  14. Eliezer leads the bride home. He guides her to the son. It’s interesting that she is carried by the very camels that she watered the night before. It’s like her good deeds service the thing that bring her to the son. But it’s Eliezer who is leading the way. Now Rebekah has never seen Isaac before. She asks Eliezer, “Who is that man walking toward us?” And Eliezer says, “That is my master.” I love this so much, because we serve a Messiah whom we’ve never seen. But we know Him through the Word. Through the promises He’s extended to us. We know Him through what the Spirit is revealing to us. Just as Eliezer introduces Isaac to Rebekah, it’s the Spirit who introduces the Bridegroom to the Bride. And the Spirit tells the Son all that He has done. And then we, the Bride of Messiah, enter into Sarah’s tent. We are grafted into Abraham’s family, and we are loved by the Son. 

What's So Interesting about Genesis 5?

Genesis 5 is a connect-the-dots chapter, where God draws a line from Adam to Noah. What we have at the surface level is a list of descendants ranging 10 generations. If we look just beneath the surface, the meaning of each name preaches the Gospel message:

Man (is) appointed mortal, sorrow, (but) blessed God shall come down, teaching. His death shall bring, the despairing, rest. As Chuck Missler says, You will never convince me that a group of Jewish rabbis conspired to hide the Christian Gospel right here in a genealogy within their venerated Torah!”

Just as the Gospel message relates to every man on earth, it’s interesting to think that these ten men are related to every person on earth. These guys are the fathers––the great(x) grandparents––of the beggar in rural India and the Queen of England, of Napoleon Bonaparte and Napoleon Dynamite. It’s very possible that when God looked upon these ten men, in them He saw you and me. He saw every person we will ever meet. He saw the girl who dumps your great-great grandson; He saw the woman who convinced your great-great-grandpa to give in and buy a new horse. For seeded within these ten men was God’s vision for all of humanity. This is a legitimate concept especially in light of the previous chapter. In that chapter, Genesis 4, Cain kills his younger brother Abel, and after the murder takes place, God says to Cain, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s bloods cries out to me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10). That’s no typo! In Hebrew, the word “blood” is plural! Abel’s bloods cried out to God. Hold up... his bloods cried out to God?

The commentators have puzzled over this for many years. Its plurality must have implications. One thought is: when Cain killed Abel, he didn’t just kill Abel. He also killed Abel’s entire lineage! Here’s how Matthew Poole’s Commentary puts it: “In the Hebrew it is bloods to charge Cain with the murder of all those that might naturally have come out of Abel’s loins” (Source). So it wasn’t just a single murder that Cain committed––rather, it was a mass murder. And the victims of Cain––Abel’s unborn descendants––cried out to God. 

Maybe we can think of it this way: imagine that God has carefully arranged a long line of dominoes. He touched the first one and set the whole line into motion. Well, if you interrupt the process––if you remove a single domino from the line up––every domino afterward is affected. The kinetic energy is lost, and the rest of the line up is wasted. And so it is when a person is murdered: the person is prematurely removed from the system and those coming afterward go unrealized because the movement is lost. Of course, you and I don’t sense the lost potential, because we see only those dominoes that have already activated. Nevertheless the potential cries out to God, for He visits all potential. And so when Cain killed Abel, all of Abel’s descendants––his bloods––were forever jailed in a state of potential,. They cried out from the ground (the ground being the clay that desires to be used by God to form man). Abel’s bloods soaked into the raw material of a human, as it were, but since there was a break in the order, the ground could no longer bear God’s image. The life in Abel’s bloods would go forever unformed by the ground. 

This notion sounded far-fetched to me until I remembered how Jesus paralleled unforgiveness with murder. In Matthew 18, we read, “Then Peter came up and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’ Jesus, a master at the Torah, is borrowing the language of Genesis 4. 

In Genesis 4, we read, “Lamech told his wives, ‘Adah and Zillah, listen to what I have to say: You wives of Lamech, hear what I’m announcing! I’ve killed a man for wounding me, a young man for bruising me. For if Cain is being avenged seven times, then Lamech will be avenged 77 times’” (Genesis 4:23-24 ISV). Lamech used this language in the context of murder, but Jesus used this language in the context of forgiveness. Because you see, unforgiveness is akin to murder. If I do not forgive you, then I essentially cut you out of my life. You cease to exist in my world. I rise up and strike you from your place. This is murder, in a spiritual sense. And when I do this––when I choose the path of unforgiveness––the relationship between us dies, and the fruit of that relationship never takes life. Like the lost lineage of Abel, our potential goes unrealized. Surely, it has to break God’s heart when the act of unforgiveness kills the unborn fruit He had so carefully arranged in the line up of our time together. But this is what unforgiveness does––it ends the movement, and murders what could have been. Thinking back on Abel’s bloods being his descendants crying out to God from the ground, I think it goes to show how appalling murder and unforgiveness are to God. Cain’s murder wasn’t just a murder; it was a mass murder. Unforgiveness isn’t just a small violation; it’s a big violation. 

I said earlier that Abel’s descendants were jailed in a state of potential, crying out behind bars so to speak. Well keeping with that analogy, God heard their cries and saw fit to bail them out. By God’s gracious intervention, Abel’s descendants escaped the actions of Cain even though Abel did not. At least, this is how Eve saw it. This is what Eve herself concluded.

Genesis 4:25: “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.’” This amazing verse holds the key. For context, there is an article posted by Creation Ministries that is relevant to Genesis 4:25. The following is an except from that article: “Seeing as Adam and Eve were commanded to reproduce, it might be assumed that Cain was born pretty early, perhaps a year or two after Creation Week. Abel was born after that, but not necessarily next. His name appears next, but this is because he is an important part of the story. Yet even if Abel was the second child, it is unlikely that Seth was the third. 

“Since Seth was prophetically named by his mother (his name sounds like “he appointed” in Hebrew), it is reasonable to suspect that he was the first son born after Abel died. This means there may have been sons born between Abel and Seth.”

Seth wasn’t Adam and Eve’s third child. More likely, Seth was the son born immediately after Abel’s death. In fact, I would entertain the thought that Seth was born on the day that Eve found out Abel had been killed. Such a timeline would explain Eve’s peculiar connection between Abel and Seth. Had this happened on the same day, anyone would have said exactly what Eve said: that God had predestined one to replace the other. But regardless of when he was born, Eve saw in Seth something special: he wasn’t just another child; he was an instead of child. According to Eve, Seth would take Abel’s place. You see, Seth was Abel

This will take some Hebraic understanding. And stay with me, because I promise to return to the subject at hand. In Greek thought, a substitute is different than the thing being substituted. But in Hebraic thought, a substitute for something becomes the something! So for instance, the words and actions of a substitute teacher are the very words and actions of the real teacher. The substitute teacher is acting as the teacher. The two are one in the same. If this concept remains unclear, let’s use some examples from Scripture. When the ram became a substitute for Isaac, the ram was sacrificed as Isaac. Understand, Isaac died that day! And yet, he didn’t. Because the ram died in his place. Isaac’s substitute died on Isaac’s behalf; it died as Isaac. Take and apply this idea to Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus died in your place. He took the punishment of sin instead of you. But that’s you on the cross! Then again, it’s not. Because He died in your place. He died as you, even though it was Him. 

The Hebrew word is tachath (תחת); it means instead of. I am about to give you a chunk of information condensed into a few paragraphs, so I encourage you to study it out for yourself. All of this can be second and third verified through other sources online. But tachath is the word used in Genesis 22:13b: “Abraham went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.” It’s the word used in Exodus 21:23-24: “If there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” The principle here is restitution, and the word translated “for” is the word tachath. You might say, “eye instead of eye, tooth instead of tooth...” Here’s what it means: if I damage your eye, then I must pay you what is equivalent to the value of an eye. The money will be in place of your eye. If I damage your hand, then I must pay you what is equivalent to the value of a hand. The money will be in place of your hand. Again, the idea is restitution. If I do you harm, how can I substitute something for your loss and make it right? The money will stand in place of what was damaged. The word tachath is the word used in Genesis 30, when Rachel offers her husband to Leah in exchange for Rueben’s mandrakes. Genesis 30:15 reads: “But Leah said to Rachel, ‘Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?’ Rachel said, ‘Then he may lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.’” In the past, mandrake was often thought to cure sterility, and Rachel, at the time, was sterile. So mandrake represents Rachel’s greatest hope (which was to have children). Rachel was willing to give her husband to Leah in exchange for mandrake. In other words, Rachel would give the life of the father (Jacob) in exchange for the hope of the life of the father. She would give the reality in exchange for the hope. This is heavy stuff. We’ll come back to it.

Look at the word tachath in Hebrew, and a meaningful picture is revealed: 

All Hebrew letters have a meaning, and all Hebrew letters are a number. In Hebrew, the letter chet is the number 8, and the number 8 represents new beginnings, or new life (click here to see that connection made). In Hebrew, the letter tav represents a cross (online reference). This is so even in the grammar textbooks of Orthodox Jews (The Hebrew Teacher, Hyman E. Goldin, Hebrew Publishing Company, New York, 1923). So get the picture: to the left and to the right, we have a cross. And between them, in the middle, we have the number 8 representing new life. The word tachath is a picture of Calvary, where Jesus died instead of you. Where He made restitution for what was lost in the Garden. Where He exchanged the life of the Father for your hope for the life of the Father. A picture of Calvary is hidden right there in the very letters of the ancient Hebrew word. What an amazing thing!

Returning to our subject at hand: Genesis 4:25, “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.’”

It’s our word: tachath! You see, as far as Eve was concerned, every child that Abel was supposed to have, Seth had instead. For Seth was appointed to be in Abel’s place. The Messiah would have come through Abel’s bloodline. But Satan murdered the Messiah when Cain murdered Abel. But God is the Ultimate Restorer. He appointed a man named Seth to take the place of Abel. And so Seth, in Abel’s place, had children who had children who had children who gave birth to the Messiah. We might say that Genesis 5 lists Abel’s descendants, those born to Seth instead. The bloods that cried out to God in Genesis 4 are the very people born to Seth in Genesis 5. We see that God answered their plea. He used a substitute to reach them. And in Abel’s bloods was the very voice of Messiah! Messiah Himself was calling out to God! What an interesting thought to think, that God used a substitute to save the Messiah, so that Messiah, through the act of substitution, could save the whole world, and bring the despairing rest. 

The Tower of Babel

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9 ESV)

Heres how I would pitch the movie: the camera pans across a wide plain, and mankind says, “Come, let us make bricks...” And then, “Come, let us build a city and a tower into the heavens . . . let us make a name for ourselves...” And then God says, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language...” So when Babel is calling together the nations and saying let’s go up!, God calls together His legions and says let’s go down! It’s like a battle scene, where two sides rush the field toward one another. Except in this case, the field is vertical. It’s heaven versus earth. Earth is attempting an invasion into heaven. But God, with his army of angels, falls upon the city, infiltrates the tower, and confuses the frequency of their radios. The people don’t know what to do, so they scatter. The defeat is great for mankind is no match for the Heavenly Host! God and His angels return to Heaven, victorious. The credits roll and Psalm 89 plays...

Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord,
    your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!
For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord?
    Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord,
God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones,
    and awesome above all who are around him?
O Lord God of hosts,
    who is mighty as you are, O Lord,
    with your faithfulness all around you?
The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours;
    the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.

I must say though, in Genesis 11, mankind has come up with something unique. They have devised a plan in which they would effectively recreate Adam. With all of humanity concentrated into a single structure, under one name, with one language, in theory mankind would wield as much power as Adam had. Nothing would be impossible for them. But as the people migrated and gathered together for the first time, the first thought that occurred to them was not “Let us glorify God as Adam did; let us serve Him with our united energies” –– but “Let us make a name for ourselves.” 

Hearing this phrase, we realize that “we are standing at the threshold of world history, Rabbi Hirsch writes. “Mankind gathered in a plain where they sought to manufacture the needed materials by their own strength and ingenuity. They came to recognize the great power of a community: If all join forces and work together, man can overcome and master nature. They decided to create a structure that would be an everlasting monument to the power of the community and its preeminence over the individual

“Here lies the danger. An individual will ultimately realize by himself that his powers are limited. Not so the community. For the community is indeed strong, and so it may easily come to regard itself as the highest goal––as though the individual has value only through the community. The individual is thus nullified by the collective. 

“If the community declares: We want to join forces so that we may establish ourselvesif the individual is called upon to be a servant of the community but not to serve God; if the community presents itself as an end, instead of a means to an end––then mankind’s whole moral future is lost. The result is that man discovers his own power and becomes proud of the artificial means at his disposal. The idol of hollow aims is created, aims that bring about no blessing. For the sake of these aims, the individual is expected to sacrifice his life, and the community renounces its allegiance to the individual. Individuals, of course, weep at the loss of a loved one, but when the community builds its edifice of glory the toll in human life is of no importance. The community says: “Let us burn whatever there is, never mind what we destroy, as long as it will aid in building the edifice of our fame, renown, and glory.” Millions may die, yet the community is easily comforted and adds new layers onto the edifice of glory. Thus, the community becomes an end in itself. The community no longer exists for the sake of the individual. Instead, individual members are compelled, or enticed by artificial means, to submit and to sacrifice themselves for the whole.

“Tradition has it that this project was undertaken under the leadership of Nimrod. [The Torah supports this idea, as it says in Genesis 10:8-10: Cush fathered Nimrod. Nimrod was the first on earth to be a mighty man . . . The beginning of his kingdom was Babel . . . in the land of Shinar.] Indeed, only a mighty man like Nimrod can sway people to make such a sacrifice. Not even he will succeed if he doesn’t know how to kindle their enthusiasm for his aims, if he does not know how to identify his own glory with that of the masses who sacrifice themselves for him. A Napoleon or an Alexander knows how to charm the masses and win their devotion not with promises of gold and riches, but merely with a bit of ribbon in the lapel of a jacket.

“The event in Genesis 11 is not the only instance in history where lust for glory prompted the building of a “tower” and the indiscriminate consumption of all else. This event is a reoccurring phenomenon in world history. History, for the most part, tells only about towers of imaginary glory, which Nimrod and his successors enticed, or forced, their nations to build. But simple human values, a person’s conduct in the privacy of his own home––about such things history books do not tell. Such things are recorded only by Elijah and the Messiah, the heralds and agents of mankind’s ultimate redemption, and signed by God as witness.” (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Hirsch Chumash, Bereshis, pg. 266-269.)

Suffice to say, Genesis 11 is an ancient warning given to all citizens throughout history. The tower represents the State, and its suppression of the individual. But God values the individual more than He does the State. After all, with the exception of Israel, no State is saved. There will be no Rome in Heaven. The flag of Greece will not fly behind the Pearly Gates. The United States Congress will not convene in God’s Kingdom. God is not interested in spending eternity with a global superpower. Rather, He wants to spend eternity with you, an individual. 1 Peter 2:5 tells us what God is accomplishing with individuals: “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house...” Stones, like people, are each unique; there are no two exactly alike. God––a master stone mason––skillfully handles our differences and patiently works with them. Using love as His mortar, He brings us together to accomplish His great work. But the State would seek to accomplish something else: to turn stones into bricks. Bricks are manufactured to be exactly the same. They are interchangeable, easily stacked, and easily replaced. The State, if given absolute power, would margin off our differences and mold us into a thing that can be used to prop itself up. It would do this to you, your son, your grandson, and his son, because you see the State is never big enough. Construction seemingly goes on and on and on. The Tower of Babel went unfinished in Genesis 11 because the State is always unfinished. It requires more and more bricks to satisfy its endless desire to rise. And what does the State use for mortar? What is the slime holding the bricks in place? Materialism. Materialism is the tar that entraps the bricks. At least that is the case in 21st Century America.

It seems like Americans are being made into bricks, set to the form of political correctness. Notice, we are increasingly limited in what we’re allowed to talk about publicly. What is deemed “acceptable social dialogue” is a packaged language, uniform in many ways. Tolerance and diversity are proclaimed in the streets, but only if you agree with the terms of those declaring it. You see, if your beliefs differ from popular science and secularism, then you best keep quiet. Leave your religion at church––don’t bring it to the voting booth! Don’t talk about it in public. Don’t express it in writing. “Fit into this shape and be part of what we’re building here, understand? If you find it hard to accept, here’s a new house, a new car, a new trip, a new TV, a new TV show. Whatever it takes to get you quiet and get you comfortable.” Certainly the materialistic hold on us makes for a sticky situation. But it’s the kind of thing Christians are up against today in our country. Indeed, the spirit of the tower remains alive and well. It was never finished.

Again, the tower represents the State and its suppression of the individual. As we think about this, I want to compare two structures that are not far apart in the Bible: the tower constructed by the people in the plain of Shinar and the altar constructed by Noah in the mountains of Ararat. Both of these structures were built (banah, בנה) by man, and in both cases, a large portion of humanity was involved. (Noah was an eighth of the world’s population when he built that altar.) However, there are some key differences: Babel’s structure was made of bricks; Noah’s was made of stone. Babel’s was a collective work; Noah’s was a personal work. Babel’s was dedicated to man’s glory; Noah’s was dedicated to God’s glory. Babel’s elevated Babel; Noah’s elevated all the earth (as it is said, his altar of stone was a continuum of the earth, lifting it heavenward). Babel’s sent up a spirit of pride; Noah’s sent up a spirit of humility. Babel’s tower rose high into the sky; Noah’s “tower” was only a few feet tall, and yet, his ascended far higher. Babel’s tower merely wanted to reach the heavens, but Noah’s actually did! For we read that Noah’s made it all the way up to the Lord as a pleasing aroma. But for Babel, God had to go down and see it. He had to step down from Heaven. So we can infer that Noah’s efforts ascended higher than Babel’s. Meaning: the efforts of a single man devoted to God will surpass the efforts of an entire nation devoted to itself.

Let’s conclude with one last comparison. Genesis 11:6-7 reads: “And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’”

We compare this to an earlier passage from Genesis: “Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—’ therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken” (Genesis 3:22-24). 

In both passages, God reaches into the course of history and intervenes directly. If God hadn’t intervened, man would have lived forever and anything we proposed would have been possible. Now these may seem like good things at first... Living forever? Doing the impossible? Why would God intervene and prevent such things from happening?

Well, the context is important. In the context of Genesis 3, to live forever is to be separated from God perpetually. In the context of Genesis 11, to accomplish anything we propose is to accomplish nothing that you propose. God separates us from the Tree of Life (temporarily) so that we may break free from our fallen state. God separates us from one language (temporarily) so that we may break free from a fallen State.  

Cain: From Messiah to Mob Boss

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:1-8 ESV)

Before killing his brother, the Torah tells us that “Cain spoke to Abel his brother.” Why is this detail preserved for us? It’s because it is part of the plot, it’s connected to the murder. Just like the serpent used words to lure Eve to her fall, here Cain uses words to lure Abel to his fall. In doing so, we see it’s not a crime of passion he commits, but a crime of calculation, a premeditated murder of the first degree. He intentionally leads Abel into isolation, and there in the field, rises up and strikes him down.

Regarding Cain, there is a question that wants to be asked. God even asks it Himself: “Why are you angry...?” God tells Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” This is insightful because it reveals Cain’s core problem: one of acceptance. Cain wants so badly to be accepted, but when his offering is disregarded, Cain is offended. His feelings are hurt. It is an emotional wound that he converts to resentment and directs toward his brother Abel, and his poor brother never sees it coming. 

The question that wants to be asked is: just why is Cain so angry? Is Cain simply a hot-head? Or is there something else, something more to the story? If you ask me, there is something more to the story. We’ll have to color in between the lines, but let me give you a plausible scenario that nowhere contradicts Scripture.

Rewinding the timeline a number of years, we see that the serpent tempts Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. Shortly thereafter, God asks Eve, “What is this that you have done?” She says, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” God then turns and curses the serpent, saying, “...I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Now Eve, overhearing this, is particularly interested because she is the woman and this involves her directly. She carries these words with her as she and Adam are escorted from the Garden. Later, in the wake of Eden, wiping the sweat from her husband’s brow day after day, she gets more and more angry at the serpent. She hates the serpent! That crafty devil tricked her and stole so much from them! But she closes her eyes and clings to the promise that God made before them: that her offspring will crush the serpent’s head. Indeed, he will kill the serpent and then, just maybe, get them access back into the Garden where they belong. 

Enter Cain. Cain is Eve’s firstborn son! In her eyes, he is the promised child! He is the fulfillment of God’s promise! He is the one who will get them back to the Garden! 

We have to understand that Eve is a human like you and me, and we humans tend to be very near-sighted. Eve believes the fulfillment of the promise will come to pass in her lifetime. She underestimates God’s plan for salvation. She does not foresee the big picture: how God will come to Mary, the woman, thousands of years later, and deposit within her the Son of God, God Incarnate, and that He will be the One who crushes the serpent’s head to fulfill the prophecy once and for all. No! She can’t possibly foresee such a wonder. She thinks in terms of human logic, which again is so often near-sighted. She naturally assumes that her offspring––literally, her offspring––will fulfill the promise. She has no reason to think otherwise. And lo and behold, her firstborn child is a son. They name him Cain, for “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord” she says. As far as Eve is concerned, he is the appointed one!

Cain grows up thinking this, too. From a young age, his parents tell him about the Garden, tell him about serpent, tell him about the promise. His eyes widened every time he hears it: his mother saying, “God promised that my seed will crush the serpent’s head.” Cain is infatuated by the idea that he will be the one to redeem his mother, to save his family, to return them to the Garden that he so desperately wants to see. He works the ground everyday in preparation for their return to the Garden. The promise comes to define his identity. It gives him purpose. It drives him. Working the fields as he does, he encounters a snake every so often, and the thrill of killing it––crushing it with his heel––is intoxicating. He continually waits for the day it will happen––the day when he encounters the serpent. For that is the day he will prove his worth; that is the day he will save the world.    

But something else happens that shakes Cain to the core: God turns to Abel and his offering rather than to Cain and his offering. Wait! This makes no sense! Because according to Cain’s thinking, Cain is supposed to be the chosen one! Why was his offering not accepted? Why was he not accepted? The issue is larger than the offering alone. It’s about Cain’s very identity. It’s about his role in life. You see, Cain has come to develop a messiah complex, but God’s rejection causes him to question everything. And he can’t handle it. After all, he is a man who has spent his life nurturing an anger toward the serpent, an anger he could always justify, an anger that fueled his strength. But now, with this sudden spark of jealousy, he is burning with rage. Is Abel the chosen one?

Using his cunning, Cain lures his brother to follow him into the field. Seeing no one around, he unleashes his wrath upon Abel. He puts Abel underfoot in the blink of an eye. It happens fast. Cain finds himself breathing hard and looking down at his brother’s motionless body, the stolen life of a man he tricked. And then it occurs to him, a thought he tries to put away quickly: that in his jealousy, he has become the serpent! He has become the very thing he was supposed to kill!

Again God speaks to Cain. “Where is your brother?” God inquires. Now something a teacher taught me is that whenever God asks a question, it’s never because He needs the answer. He already knows the answer! He asks the question because He wants you to think about the answer. He asks for your sake, not His.  

But Cain refuses to go there. Whereas his parents hid behind a tree, Cain hides behind his ego. He responds, “I don’t know! Am I my brother’s keeper?” You know, not that long ago, Cain used to think so. He used to look out for his family. He used to delight at the thought of saving them. But not anymore. Not with his brother still laying in the open field. Now the idea of being a savior is sickening to him. He rejects the notion altogether. And in so doing, he rejects his place within the family. It is decided: he will leave them all behind. He will go his own way. God tells him as much, declaring, “You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” And that is exactly what happens, but not before Cain is cursed from the ground. God tells him, “When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength.” Cain then departs from the presence of the Lord and, with his wife, settles in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

In the land of Nod, Cain begins a new enterprise: the city. He builds a city and names it after his son, Enoch (Genesis 4:17). He compares himself to the boy. Whereas Cain was the son who grew up in the shadow of a place he could not have, Enoch his son would grow up in a place he would possess and call his own. The thought of this pleases Cain a great deal. We soon see the city flourishing with activity: Cain’s children have children who have children who have children. The urban qualities of city-life surface: production, technology, art and music. The City of Enoch is the first of its kind. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. 

Why does Cain build a city? As Rabbi Hirsch explains, “Cain was cut off from the soil; the land no longer supported him. Unlike the countryside, the city is detached from the soil and from agriculture. In the countryside, the fields are cultivated; in the city, man is cultivated. In the city, the slumbering capabilities of man are awakened. Man, as it were, is awakened. Now Cain no longer needs the ground to yield him its produce. He is his own field. His mind produces mechanical skill, the mighty lever for industry, and thus landless Cain regains his ground. The villages bring the produce of the fields to the cities, obtaining in return the benefits of urban industry” (Hirsch Chumash, Bereshis, pg. 140, 144). You see, Cain positions himself such that others come to him. Let them work the ground. Let them bring the produce to him. And in exchange, he will offer them technology and entertainment. In the Garden he was not welcome, but in Enoch, all are welcome. And what happens in Enoch stays in Enoch. 

In his later years, Cain becomes a kind of mob boss. And please, allow me to elaborate. First of all, everybody knows who he is. He’s a powerful man; it’s his city; he pulls the strings. His reputation precedes him. When he walks into a room, heads turn and no introductions are needed. And everyone knows, too, that he’s a killer, a murderer. What they don’t realize is that, emotionally, he never stopped running away from that event, that image of his brother’s motionless body beneath him. Emotionally that makes him calloused and brutal, if need be. Secondly, God put a mark on him such that, if anyone attacks him, he will be avenged sevenfold. In other words, you don’t mess with Cain. He’s a made man. He’s protected. He does as he wants in the City of Enoch. And you definitely don’t want to mess with his boys. He’ll come have a talk with you, maybe like the one he had with Abel on that fateful day. 

But away from the public, somewhere alone with his thoughts, I suppose the mob boss would occasionally reflect on his former life, the life he left behind. At that time so long ago, he really did believe he would kill the serpent. But now he shakes his head when he thinks about it. He pities that boy out in the field crushing the head of a worthless garden snake. How deceived he was. How much he has changed. Now he loves snakes. In fact, he keeps several as pets. They remind him just how far he has come.  

Deep down he remains bitter toward God, even though they haven’t spoken in years. Why didn’t God accept him as the chosen one? That is, after all, all Cain ever wanted as a young man. Didn’t he earn it? He comes to doubt the promise altogether.

He remains bitter toward his parents, even though he hasn’t seen them in years. In his mind, it is their fault that he believed something so foolish. It is their fault that his offering was rejected by God. He brought it believing that he was the messiah! But clearly there is no such thing. Yes, Cain concludes once more that they are the ones to blame for his punishment. They are to blame for his false perception of himself. And so he goes on, blaming them. But little does he realize, Cain has again become the thing he hates. His own children––separated from God, raised to think they own the world, raised to believe city-life is the only life––take from Cain a false perception of themselves, one that will ultimately result in the destruction of all of them down to the last descendant. 

It’s the tragedy of a man who wanted acceptance, but himself wouldn’t accept what he needed to accept in order to be the person that God would accept.