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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

Genesis study guidse, part 1.2 – by Archbishop Dr. Uwe Rosenkranz

Genesis, creation of man, Michelangelo

 

 

 

 

Lesson 7

 

Jesus, the “Seed”
(Genesis 3:15)

 

In our lesson on Mary as “the woman” of Genesis 3:15, we observed something surprising begin to emerge. Studying the details of her life, we began to understand that the mother and son foretold in Genesis would not only appear someday to begin God’s victorious battle against the devil, but they would, in a mysterious way, undo what went wrong in Adam and Eve. This is even more glorious than what we might have expected. It satisfies the longing all of us develop as we read the first three chapters of Genesis. Saint Paul is the one who alerts us to this grand plan, in his references to Adam as “a type of the one to come.” The earliest Christians bear testimony in their writings that the Church continued to reflect on the relationship between “the woman” and her “seed” and a New Adam and New Eve. Already we have noted the comparison between Eve and Mary: Eve’s conversation with a fallen angel led to the loss of God’s likeness in human flesh; Mary’s conversation with an angel led to the Incarnation, God taking on human flesh.
Eve, left exposed by her husband, talked herself out of being embarrassingly gullible in believing God’s word about the forbidden fruit; Mary, full of grace through the work of her Son, chose God’s will for her life, knowing the potential for embarrassment over her unusual pregnancy.
Eve, having broken the covenant she and Adam had with God, heard God’s curse on her life, which would be pain in childbearing; Mary, having accepted God’s plan, heard a voice of blessing on her and her childbearing.
Eve, Adam’s helper, assisted him in entering the devil’s bondage; Mary, at the wedding in Cana, assisted Jesus in showing Himself to be the Messiah who had come to free Israel.
Eve became the mother of the dying; Mary, the mother of the living. Eve was expelled from Paradise; Mary appeared as the Queen of Heaven.
Now we will continue our examination of the promise of Genesis 3:15. Having recognized “the woman” in Mary, we will also see the “seed” in Jesus, her Son. We will want to watch the details of Jesus’ life to see why Saint Paul refers to Him as a second Adam. Was Adam’s life, without the fall into sin, recapitulated in Jesus?
There’s one more question we ought to ask ourselves. What does all this mean? If Jesus and Mary, in the details of the lives they lived, undid the wrong of Adam and Eve, what were the implications for humanity? Dare we let ourselves think that if we find within human history a New Adam and a New Eve, we might also find a new Garden of Eden, complete with beauty, goodness, and truth?
This lesson follows the format of the previous topical study.

 

“He Opened to Us the Scriptures”

Before we read God’s Word, we ought to take a moment to humble ourselves before Him, remembering that His Word is primarily a conversation with us, not a textbook. “Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears” (1 Sam. 3:10) can be the prayer on our lips. In this lesson, because of the variety of texts, use the “Our Father,” the prayer that Jesus gave His disciples, to prepare you to hear what God has to say to you.

 

Now, ask for His help as you work on the questions below.

 

Questions

Jesus and the Devil
Read Mt. 4:1–11
Read Lk. 22:39–46
1. In an earlier lesson (lesson 3, question 6c.), we observed that the serpent in the Garden of Eden tempted the humans to cast off the mantle of creaturely dependence on God and to listen to the voice of pride and autonomy.
a. Read Matthew 4:1–11. Look carefully at how Satan tempted Jesus in the desert. How were those temptations similar to the one in the Garden?

b. How did Jesus counter them?

c. Read Luke 22:39–46. In this Gospel scene, which took place in another garden, Gethsemane, do you see any evidence of another kind of temptation?

2. See that Jesus’ sweat fell to the ground “like great drops of blood” in this scene. Remember the Garden and God’s punishment on Adam (see Gen. 3:19). What do you think is the significance of Jesus sweating in His own garden of temptation?

 

3. Read Hebrews 5:7–10. This text reveals how Jesus met His temptation in Gethsemane. What difference might this kind of reaction have made for Adam in his garden?

 

Jesus, the New Adam
It wasn’t just a coincidence that Jesus happened to be in a garden when He had to make His decision to choose God’s will over His own, no matter what the cost. This was the moment when Jesus completed His work as the New Adam. The first Adam was silent and passive in the face of temptation. Jesus, well aware of what it would cost Him to obey God, put the will of the Father first. The pride of the first Adam was replaced by the humility of the Second Adam. If Adam shrank from the danger in his garden, giving into disobedience, Jesus rose to the challenge of the danger in His garden, surrendering Himself freely to God’s plan. The undoing of the devil had begun. As the Catechism says, “The evangelists indicate the salvific meaning of this mysterious event: Jesus is the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation.… In this, Jesus is the devil’s conqueror: he ‘binds the strong man,’ to take back his plunder [cf. Ps. 95:10; Mk. 3:27]. Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father” (no. 539).

“Here Is the Man!”
Read Jn. 19:1–11
4. Challenge question: See that Pilate declared to those seeking to kill Jesus, “Here is the man!” (v. 5). How was that announcement by Pilate an unwitting fulfillment of Genesis 1:26?

 

5. Read verses 10–11. What was the source of the courage Jesus showed here which Adam lacked in the Garden?

 

A Return to Paradise
In Luke 23:43, Jesus promised one of the criminals next to him on the Cross: “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” As Tim Gray says in Mission of the Messiah:

The word ‘paradise’ is only used two other times in the New Testament. Paul uses it to describe heaven (2 Cor. 12:3), and it is used in Revelation to describe heaven as the new Garden of Eden that Jesus promises to those who persevere in faithfulness: “To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). Jesus completes on the Cross the return from the ultimate exile, the exile from the Father. With Jesus’ last breath on the Cross, the exile from Eden ends, and heaven is reopened to Adam and his descendants.

An Opened Side
Read Jn. 19:31–37
6. Look at verse 34. Recall that an opening in Adam’s side produced his bride, Eve. Then read the Catechism, no. 1225. What was the significance of blood and water flowing from a wound in Christ’s side?

 

Jesus, the Gardener
Read Jn. 20:11–18
7. Challenge question: We know that Jesus was buried in a garden (John 19:41). Thus, the Resurrection took place in a garden as well. Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus to be “the gardener” (20:15). What is the connection we can make between Jesus and Adam in this scene?

 

Suffering and Death
Read Heb. 2:5–18
8. Challenge question: Look at verses 9–10 carefully. The writer says that “it was fitting” that God made Jesus “perfect” through suffering. This does not mean that Jesus was imperfect. “To perfect,” in this context, means to advance to the final and complete fulfillment. Knowing what we know about life in (and out) of the Garden, why was it “fitting” for Jesus to suffer in order to reach His fulfillment as the “pioneer” of our salvation?

 

9. Challenge question: Look at verses 14–15. In Genesis 3:15, God said to the serpent, “he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heal.” According to these verses, Jesus delivered that bruise through His own human death. His death destroyed the devil, who “has the power of death.”
a. What do these verses suggest is the “power” the devil has in death?

b. Why would the death of Jesus have destroyed the devil’s power?*

A Surprising Solution
Read Jn. 3:1–15
10. In the Garden, we realized that Adam and Eve (and all their descendants) underwent a radical, systemic change in their human natures. In this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, what did Jesus present as the solution to this radical problem?

 

Eat and Live Forever
Read Jn. 6:47–59
11. Here is another occasion in which Jesus startled Jews with His teaching. Why was Jesus’ offering of Himself as food and drink for immortality a sign that Eden could be regained?

 

The Church, the Goal of Eden
The signs are everywhere in the New Testament that the Woman and her Seed—Jesus and Mary—preside over new life in a regained Paradise, which is the Church. The Church is the family of God, people who are born anew through faith and baptism into the life of supernatural grace that was lost in Eden. It was always God’s intention that men would have communion with His divine life. As Saint Clement of Alexandria tells us, “Just as God’s will is creation and is called ‘the world,’ so his intention is the salvation of men, and it is called ‘the Church.’ ” The plan of God has never been thwarted. The Catechism assures us that even the fall of angels and men was only permitted by God in order for Him to demonstrate more magnificently His love for us and His power to save us (no. 760). Evil never has and never will triumph over Eden.

12. Challenge question: The Garden of Eden was both a spiritual and physical reality. The same is true today. The Church exists spiritually, among God’s people, and it also exists in a physical way, when Christians gather together to give public demonstration of their faith in God and their desire to keep covenant with Him. They do this in churches.
Picture the inside of a traditional Catholic church. What are some of its features that evoke the Garden of Eden?

 

“Did Not Our Hearts Burn within Us?”

Our hearts will burn with joy when we consciously open them wide to God’s Word. Scripture memorization is a good way to get that started. Here is a suggested memory verse:

Father, if thou are willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
—Lk. 22:42

Continue to welcome Him into your soul by reflecting on these questions:

In the Catechism, we read an amazing statement: “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of recapitulation. All Jesus did, said, and suffered had for its aim restoring fallen man to his original vocation” (no. 518). And also, “Christ enables us to live in him all that he himself lived, and he lives it in us” (no. 521). Think about your life as one who has been readmitted to the Garden of Eden. Is your love being tested? Do you hear a temptation to deny yourself nothing? What have you learned in this lesson about the power of Jesus’ life that can see you through every struggle this day will bring?

 

We understand from this lesson that Jesus defeated the devil by conquering death and the fear attached to it. If fear has a grip on you anywhere in your life, recognize it as a sham. Name that fear, and ask the New Adam to set you free.

 

“Stay with Us”

The Scriptures leave no doubt that all the stirrings of hope and anticipation we experienced in our study of the first chapters of Genesis, in spite of the tragedy of man’s fall from grace, were not without foundation. As the Gospel story unfolds, we have seen all the clues that Mary and her Son, Jesus, are the long-promised “woman” and her “seed” from Genesis 3:15. By their faithful obedience, not only do they bring ruin to the devil, but they also become the human faces and bodies of a New Adam and New Eve. God’s lost children, barred from the Tree of Life, have now received a way back into Eden. The Garden of the Church is a haven of safety in a hostile world. Although the children of the Church are still battered by an enemy, his time is short. In this Garden, the children enjoy the presence of the New Adam and New Eve and the community of love and holiness that was supposed to fill Eden. They eat freely of the Eucharist, the food that will give them eternal life. Theirs is a blessed, happy life.
The prayer that sustains these children in their life is the “Our Father.” Think for a moment about this prayer. Knowing what we know about everything that happened in the first Eden, what kind of prayer do you think men and women would pray if they were allowed back in? What would they have learned from the experiences of Adam and Eve? With their restored spiritual sight, what would they say to God in their profound gratitude for being restored to what was lost, entirely through His goodness and grace?
Surely, they would adore and honor Him. “Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” They would recognize the need for obedience to His plan for creation, and that no other plan will do. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” They would know that God provides the food they need. They would have no need to lust after forbidden fruit. “Give us this day our daily bread.” They would be ready to confess their faults, which Adam and Eve tried to avoid. They would recognize the need to forgive others rather than laying blame. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” They would live in dependence on God, knowing that an enemy stalks them. Their lives would be lived in humility and faith, not pride and autonomy. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
The “Our Father” is the prayer of the New Eden. It says everything.

 

Lesson Summary
✓ The Gospel details of the life of Jesus lead to an inevitable comparison between Adam and Jesus. Not only was Jesus “the seed” of Genesis 3:15, who did battle with the devil, but He was also the Second Adam, undoing what went wrong in Eden:
• He chose to obey God in His garden of temptation, even though it meant terrible suffering and death.
• He cried out in faith to His Father instead of remaining silent in doubt, as Adam did.
• He began to take the curse of man’s sin onto Himself, with sweat and thorns.
• A wound in His side while He was on the Cross became a symbol of His Bride, the Church, just as from a wound in Adam’s side, God created Eve; the water of Baptism and blood of the Eucharist create a community of believers in union, body and soul, with Him.
• Jesus is the “gardener” of the New Eden; Mary, His Mother, is the first fruit of that Garden.
✓ In fulfillment of God’s promise in Genesis, “the seed” defeated God’s enemy, the devil, through a great reversal. Although His death on the Cross had the appearance of defeat, it was actually the beginning of victory. Because Jesus perfectly obeyed God, loving not His life to the end, God raised Him from the dead, breaking the bondage that comes through fear of death. The devil was left powerless in his battle with a human being (“he shall bruise your head”), just as God promised.
✓ The death and Resurrection of Jesus in a garden is meant to help us understand that He has made it possible for men to return to Eden. He took upon Himself the punishment of God on man’s rebellion. The innocent suffered for the guilty. As a result, the guilty can be washed clean in the water of Baptism and receive the new life of a second birth through the Holy Spirit. They can once again live as God’s blessed family.
✓ Jesus offered Himself as food for those who desire to live forever. In the Eucharist, men will enjoy “the medicine of immortality,” just as they would have in Eden, eating from the Tree of Life.
✓ The Church, the New Eden, is the family of God, which is primarily a spiritual reality. But Catholic life in its physical expression, especially in churches, evokes many features of the original Garden. This preserves what God intended for man from the very beginning. It is a life that is very good.
For responses to Lesson 7 Questions, see pp. 127–32.

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson 8

 

Life Outside of Eden
(Genesis 4–5)

 

It is time now to return to the story of Genesis. We have been fortified by our knowledge of what the New Testament reveals as the fulfillment of the promise of God in Genesis 3:15. We have allowed ourselves to peek ahead to see if the hope of a restoration and return to Eden, which we felt so strongly when Adam and Eve were expelled, could be possible. Now the challenge for us is to continue our study of Genesis as if we do not know what lies ahead. This will take some discipline, of course, but our study will be better for it.
We are now ready to see what happened to Adam and Eve once they left the sanctuary of Eden. Remember that when they left Paradise, even though they had lost their supernatural grace, and were consequently subject to sin, suffering, and death, they also left with concrete reasons for hope (read about these again, by way of review, in lesson 5, response 10). We ought to be full of questions about their new lives outside the Garden. What kind of relationship will the “dis-graced” humans have with God? What will they pass along to their offspring? What kind of civilization will develop from these people?

 

“He Opened to Us the Scriptures”

Before we read God’s Word, we ought to take a moment to humble ourselves before Him, remembering that His Word is primarily a conversation with us, not a textbook. “Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears” (1 Sam. 3:10) can be the prayer on our lips. Then, read all the way through Genesis 4 and 5. Think about what you understand and what you don’t understand. Make a simple response to God in terms of what you do understand. Write your prayer in this space:

 

Now, ask for His help as you work on the questions below.
(Prayer hint: “Lord, please grant that I will always accept Your invitation to ‘do well’ rather than evil.”)

 

Questions*

Firstfruits of the Fall
Read Gen. 4:1–7
1. Look at Eve’s comment after the birth of Cain (v. 1). She recognized that this son was a gift from God. Why was Eve’s statement a hopeful sign in this new life outside Eden?

 

The Offerings of Cain and Abel
It is interesting to see that the sons of Adam and Eve both understood that offerings to God were necessary. Where would they have gotten that idea? Undoubtedly they had learned it from their parents. We can assume that Adam and Eve told their children everything that had happened to them in the Garden. They would have explained how they had disobeyed God and paid dearly for it. They would also have been able to testify to God’s continued love and kindness for them, especially in the promise of defeat of God’s enemy. The first knowledge that Cain and Abel had of God would have come to them through their parents.
The details about God and His creation that Adam and Eve passed on to their children would have been their offspring’s first encounter with grace. Because of original sin, men, outside of Eden, would know that a Creator existed and that He was entitled to their reverence, but they would be dependent on additional information to know more than that. The story of Eden, with details of God’s nature revealed in His actions both before and after the Fall of man, would have provided that extra knowledge. The creation story was a source of grace to Cain and Abel. It gave them what they couldn’t have gotten for themselves. How did they respond to it?
Abel’s response to the God of his parents was wholehearted and generous, which pleased the Lord (Heb. 11:4). He gave the best of the best; he must have believed that God was worthy of it. Cain, on the other hand, did not please the Lord, and his offering was not acceptable. It is important to see that “for Cain and his offering,” God had “no regard” (Gen. 4:5). It was not simply that Cain had made the wrong offering. There was something in Cain himself that the Lord found displeasing. What could that have been? We don’t know for sure, but perhaps Cain had made the offering perfunctorily, without generosity or gratitude. Perhaps he had offered the leftovers and not the “first” portion of his crop. God knew that Cain’s offering reflected his heart. He knew that Cain was capable of something better, something more appropriate for creatures who are made in God’s image. So, He rejected the lesser, in hopes for something better.
These two men give us the two responses possible to God’s grace in the world. One response to the fact of God’s existence is humble generosity of heart. The other response is proud resistance. Thus begins the story of life outside of Eden.

2. Cain was very angry over God’s response to him and to his offering. What does this suggest to you about the kind of man Cain was?

 

3. God gave Cain the opportunity to worship Him in the right way, which opened wide the door to forgiveness and restoration (v. 7). It was a lavish offer of grace.
a. If Cain refused God’s offer and did not “do well,” what problem did God tell him he would face?

b. Challenge question: God’s warning to Cain about not doing well (doing evil) suggests that sin has two consequences, not just one. Read Romans 6:16. What does Saint Paul say is the second consequence of sin (one that happens in addition to the first consequence, which is broken communion with God)? (Read also Catechism, no. 1472.)

4. Cain and Abel were born to the same parents and presumably had the same upbringing. What do you suppose explains the difference between them?

 

Cain Is Cursed
Read Gen. 4:8–16
5. See the details of Abel’s murder in verse 8. What more do we understand from these details about the kind of man Cain was?

 

6. Surely God knew where Abel was; why do you think He asked Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” (v. 9).

 

7. Read Cain’s answer to God’s question in verse 9. What becomes increasingly clear about the man Cain?

 

The Blood of Abel
In verse 10, the word “blood” is mentioned for the first time in Scripture. Abel’s blood cried out to the Lord. It seemed alive. Although Abel had been murdered, somehow his life had not been completely snuffed out. Throughout the rest of Scripture, blood will have potent meaning for man’s life, both natural and supernatural. It will come to represent the life of man, and, liturgically, the means of atonement for man’s sin. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; … it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life” (Lev. 17:11). At the Last Supper, Christ said, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Lk. 22:20). In the Book of Revelation, the final victory over the devil was won “by the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 12:11). Thus, we have a consistent witness to the vitality of blood in Scripture, beginning with Abel’s blood crying out from the ground.
What do we think Abel’s blood said when it cried out to the Lord? Sometimes we think that Abel’s blood must have been crying out for justice, which is a reasonable deduction. Yet, because Abel was a righteous man who had faith in God, is it possible that he was crying out for mercy for his brother? In Hebrews 12:24, there is a reference to the blood of Abel, comparing it to the blood of Jesus. The writer of Hebrews says that the blood of the New Covenant speaks “more graciously” than the blood of Abel. The possible implication is that Abel’s blood spoke graciously—that is, it gave more than what was deserved. If Abel’s blood spoke graciously, then it must have been asking God to show mercy to his murderer, Cain. The blood of Jesus, who also begged forgiveness for murderers, speaks “more graciously” because He was a willing victim of murder, whereas Abel was an unwilling victim. He had been accosted and killed, without any opportunity to choose life or death.
This is an idea worth pondering. If Cain and Abel represent fallen mankind, making their way through life outside of Eden, their story suggests that among the descendants of Adam and Eve, throughout all the ages of human history, there will be some who respond to God and others who will not. Those whose lives are touched by God are willing to offer their suffering to obtain mercy for those who harden themselves. Think of Jesus on the Cross: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:43).

8. Look at Cain’s response to the punishment God gave him.
a. What was completely lacking in Cain’s response to God?

b. What was his primary concern?

We Reap What We Sow
Cain is an example of the moral axiom that will appear over and over in Scripture—we reap what we sow. Adam and Eve wanted autonomy from God, and that’s exactly what they got, even to the point of being expelled from Eden. Cain’s original problem with God was that he was unwilling to give Him the best of himself or his harvest. God’s punishment was that Cain would experience from the earth exactly the treatment he had given God; the ground would be hard and unyielding, just as Cain had been in the offer of grace God extended to him. In addition, his desire to be autonomous and not responsible for his brother would have its fulfillment in his life as a “fugitive and a wanderer on earth” (v. 14). His covenant-breaking act would result in him being away from his home and family, God’s covenant-keeping community.
Cain’s punishment suggests that the worst that can happen to us in life, when we are in rebellion against God, is for Him to give us what we want. If we insist on having life on our own terms, God will give it to us. We will make our own misery.

9. Why do you think God marked Cain so no one would kill him?

 

10. After the Fall in Eden, we saw signs of God’s continued tender care of His creatures. During this second episode of human rebellion, do you see similar signs of God’s love for humans?

 

Two Cultures Develop
Read Gen. 4:17–26
11. Cain departed from the presence of the Lord and began a family.* Among his descendants, seventh in line from Adam through Cain, was Lamech.
a. What type of man does Lamech appear to have been?

b. What does this suggest about the kind of civilization that developed among people who lived “away from the presence of the LORD”? (v. 16).

12. What was different about the line of descendants of Adam through Seth (v. 26)?

 

Summary of Genesis 5
The next chapter in Genesis begins with a genealogy of Adam through Seth, the son God gave him to replace the slain Abel. In the first verses, however, there is a beautiful recapitulation of the creation of man, male and female, in the likeness of God (vv. 1–2). The text tells us that Adam “became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth” (v. 3). Adam was like God, Adam’s son was like his father, and thus Adam passed along to all his human descendants the imprint of divine likeness.
The genealogy of Adam through Seth produced many people, who lived many years. One of the most interesting of his descendants was a man named Enoch, who was seventh in line from Adam through Seth. “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (v. 24). If we look back through Adam’s descendants through Cain, we discover that the seventh in that line was Lamech, a proudly violent man, as we have seen. What a contrast in Enoch! He is the first man described as a “prophet” in Scripture (Jude 14–15; cf. Heb. 11:5–6). The difference between Lamech and Enoch helps us understand the difference between the two families of humans who developed through Adam and Eve, typified first by Cain and Abel. There are those who live “away from the presence of the LORD” (4:16), and their lives bear the fruit of that separation, tending towards pride and violence. There are those who “call upon the name of the LORD” (4:26) and respond generously to Him; their lives, too, bear the fruit of that choice.
Enoch is the first biblical example of what we call a “saint”—a human being in whom God does an extraordinary work of His grace. Apparently, he is also the first human to be taken up into heaven (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5). Elijah, the prophet, was another taken that way (2 Kings 2:11), as was the Blessed Virgin Mary. This reference to Enoch, so early in the Scripture, begins the long and wonderful line of humans who walked in the friendship of God.
Genesis 5 also includes the account of another man named Lamech; he was a descendant of Seth. He had a son and “called his name Noah, saying ‘Out of the ground which the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands’ ” (v. 29). Lamech’s simple statement of hope for his son Noah gave voice to the expectation of the humble human descendants of Adam through Seth that, someday, a male child would grow up to deliver relief from God’s curse on sin. Lamech acknowledged the authority of the Lord and did not chafe against the curse. He was not complaining. He was only looking for deliverance. Lamech’s hope showed that he was living out God’s plan for humanity in the right way; he had a realistic understanding of man’s basic predicament, and he clung to exactly the kind of hope that the promise of God in Genesis 3:15 was meant to produce. What a beautiful thing to see!

 

“Did Not Our Hearts Burn within Us?”

Our hearts will burn with joy when we consciously open them wide to God’s Word. Scripture memorization is a good way to get that started. Here is a suggested memory verse:

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.
—Gen. 4:7

Continue to welcome Him into your soul by reflecting on these questions:

In her teachings about sin, the Catholic Church preserves the very serious warning that God gave Cain (Gen. 4:7) and that Saint Paul wrote to the Romans that sin is a form of slavery (6:16). Each time we decide to do the wrong thing, we make it easier for ourselves to do wrong the next time we are tempted. Think about the little sins in your life that you have grown accustomed to. Take seriously God’s challenge to Cain, and resolve to turn away from them. Even small sins form calluses on our souls. Ask God to help you find and rid yourself of them.

 

When you give to God, whether it is time or money, service, attention, or anything else, do you give your best or your leftovers? Consider in your heart what has been given you and what you should return out of thanks to God.

 

“Stay with Us”

This first lesson on life outside of Eden packs quite a punch. So much of what has characterized human life through all the centuries of our history appears in embryonic form in Genesis 4 and 5. First, there was a mother’s announcement of the birth of her son (4:1), a gift from the Lord. The icon of Mother and Son began to take shape. We saw men worshipping God with offerings and that their offerings represented what was in their hearts towards God. Cain and Abel showed us the two kinds of responses that men can have towards their Creator—humility or pride. There was the clear, loving choice God gave to man to choose to live righteously, even after failure. There was the sober warning that sin begets sin and that resisting it means a battle. Cain became a living example of how sins like jealousy and hatred, if not mortified, give birth to betrayal, lying, and murder. Those sins harden the soul, leaving it callous and impervious to God’s approach. We saw that physical death didn’t mean the end of a life; Abel was still able to “speak” through his blood. Perhaps his voice was one that cried out for mercy for his brother, true evidence of the righteousness that characterized his life, which had so enraged his brother. We observed God as the loving Father who sought explanations, who punished in order to reform, and who held open the possibility of reconciliation. We recognized the disastrous consequences for human life and development when men live away from the presence of the Lord. We were cheered by the evidence that the descendants of Adam and Eve were still loved deeply by God and that they could, in spite of everything, walk in friendship with Him.
The final scene from Genesis 5, in which Lamech expressed hope for his son Noah, prints indelibly in our minds a conviction that all who love God have shared through the ages. Even among men who acknowledge God—calling upon His Name and responding to His grace, sometimes heroically—there is still the clear understanding that deliverance from God’s curse is necessary, that things are not as they should be, either in the earth or in the heart of man. They wait patiently for God to act within human history. Lamech focused that hope on the birth of his son. Thus, the lesson began and ended with a human baby. These chapters perfectly set the stage for the rest of the story of redemption. What we see in outline form here will grow in detail and drama as we wait to see what God has planned for the creation He loves.

 

Lesson Summary
✓ From the very start, the discord Adam and Eve’s sin brought to the world was evident in their children. The internal conflict that would reign between will and emotion was dramatized in the conflict between Cain and Abel: Abel gave God his best while Cain gave only the minimum. Abel’s sacrifice pleased God because it reflected a heart of gratitude for God’s provision and a desire to please Him. In contrast, the Lord had no regard for Cain’s offering because it reflected his heart’s desire to keep the best for himself.
✓ Cain’s jealousy and anger were apparent to God, who extended an offer to him to set everything right by choosing to live righteously. God warned him that to capitulate to the rage he felt inside would make him subject to sin, like a slave to a master.
✓ Cain chose his way rather than God’s. He murdered his brother. God approached him, extending grace to him by calling him to be accountable for his actions. That would have been the first step to forgiveness and restoration. Cain’s heart hardened, however. The trap that sin had laid for him snapped shut.
✓ God punished Cain, allowing him to experience in his own life the effects of the choices he had made. His life would be preserved by God, however, perhaps to make reconciliation possible.
✓ Cain left the covenant, which made him a fugitive and wanderer. The civilization that grew from him bore the continuing marks of pride and violence. His descendants became a living picture of human development apart from a humble acknowledgement of God.
✓ Seth, the son born to Adam and Eve to replace Abel, was a man who called on the name of the Lord. Among his descendants, were men like Enoch and Lamech who lived in friendship with God and who patiently waited for deliverance from the curse that rested on man’s life because of disobedience.
✓ Noah, whose name means “rest,” was a descendant of Seth’s. He was so named by his father in the hope that he would be a deliverer of God’s people.
For responses to Lesson 8 Questions, see pp. 132–35.

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson 9

 

Noah and the Flood
(Genesis 6–8)

 

Whenever genealogies appear in Scripture, as they did for the first time in our last lesson, they are meant to signify the passing of time and the unfolding of human history. The story of man, begun in the first chapters of Genesis, is now going to proceed in a way that will spread out in many directions. What was it like when the family of man began to fill the earth? We know from the account of Cain and Abel that the human story is going to be marked by violence and tragedy, as well as by faith and hope. These two men are examples of how differently each of the descendants of Adam and Eve will respond to God. Abel loved God; Cain loved himself. Cain murdered his brother, an act that was the fruition of his rebellion against God. His hard, unyielding heart, revealed first in his inadequate offering to God, eventually turned against his brother. His departure from the presence of the Lord meant that his descendants would live and develop away from the light of the truth and the covenant God had made with Adam and Eve. Among Cain’s descendants, we noted, was arrogance and violence.
Seth, however, was a son given to Eve to replace the murdered Abel. He was a man who called on the Lord’s name, a covenant-keeping man. His descendants showed faithful obedience and friendship with God.
We discovered in Genesis 5 that men were waiting for a deliverer. Even in this ancient era in the story of man, a picture begins to take shape of men who know that they are justly under sin’s curse and who are waiting for a male offspring to make some kind of difference for them. Remember Lamech naming his son “Noah,” a name that means “rest.”
In this lesson, we will watch the further development of man’s history, formed out of the two lines of descendants from Cain and Seth. How will the violence and pride of Cain’s line coexist with the covenant-keeping of Seth’s line? Why does God send such a devastating flood upon the earth? God has shown Himself to be remarkably patient and unconquerably loving to His human creatures. Will this continue?*

 

“He Opened to Us the Scriptures”

Before we read God’s Word, we ought to take a moment to humble ourselves before Him, remembering that His Word is primarily a conversation with us, not a textbook. “Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears” (1 Sam. 3:10) can be the prayer on our lips. Then, read all the way through Genesis 6–8. Think about what you understand and what you don’t understand. Make a simple response to God in terms of what you do understand. Write your prayer in this space:

 

Now, ask for His help as you work on the questions below.
(Prayer hint: “Lord, let me not forget that my choice to sin grieves Your heart.”)

 

Questions

Wickedness Reigns on Earth
Read Gen. 6:1–10
The first four verses of Genesis 6 are notoriously difficult to interpret conclusively. Some of the difficulty is removed, however, by determining who the “sons of God” and “the daughters of men” were. We know that there were at least two lines of human development from Adam and Eve, one through Seth and one through Cain. If Seth’s descendants were those who called on the name of the Lord, and Cain’s were those who lived independently of God, then it is possible that “the sons of God” were male descendents of Seth and the “daughters of men” were female descendents of Cain.
It appears that intermarriage between the two human communities led to a weakening of goodness on earth. Instead of the faith of the one group lifting up the other, wickedness and evil imagination prevailed. Throughout Scripture, there are sober warnings about marriage between people of faith and people without faith or those with false religion. In the history of Israel, one of the greatest dangers the nation faced was the threat presented when Israelites married idolatrous women. Likewise, in the New Testament, Saint Paul speaks specifically against marriage between a believer and an unbeliever (2 Cor. 6:14–16). Because human nature is frail and prone to sin, a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever introduces the possibility of a weakened commitment to keeping God’s covenant in the believer. If the unbeliever is the wife, as it seems to be the case here in Genesis, the danger is even greater, since she is the one who will nurture children in that family. The Catholic Church continues to guide Christians away from mixed marriages (Catechism, nos. 1633–34). In the case of early human civilization, it is possible that mixed marriages led to a widespread collapse of righteousness on the earth.
The Hebrew of verse 3 is difficult to translate. God said His Spirit would not abide or “strive” with man forever, indicating a kind of withdrawal from him because “he is flesh.” That meant that men were living according to their disordered natures. The reference to one hundred and twenty years could mean either the length of time before God withdrew from men, as He did in the Flood, or a reference to a shorter life span in man; the former is most probable. Likewise, it is hard to translate the word “Nephilim” with certainty. It can mean “giant” or “tyrant.” It has within its possible range of meaning “separated ones.” It could be a reference to men who, like Cain, left the covenant of God. In that case, it is perhaps describing those who became notorious (“of renown”) for their aggression and presumption, as we saw in the case of Lamech in Genesis 4:23–24.

1. Look at verse 6. This description of God is anthropomorphic, which means the ancient writer described God as if He were a man. We must not understand it to mean that God thought He made a terrible mistake in making man.
a. Read verses 11–13 in the next section. What was it that caused God such grief over men?

b. Challenge question: God’s intention was to blot out every living thing except Noah, his family, and the animals in the ark (7:4, 21–23). Think about what you have seen in God’s reaction to sin thus far in Genesis. He did not blot out Adam and Eve; He did not blot out Cain. But now, He would blot out almost all living things. What do you think is the significance of this?

2. Challenge question: Why do you suppose the animals and creeping things were included in God’s plan of punishment? (Read also Rom. 8:19–23.)

 

3. Noah found favor in God’s eyes. He was a righteous man. Think for a moment what a statement like this represents about the man Noah. Human society had become so corrupted by wickedness that God wanted to blot man out, but Noah lived righteously in their midst. Read Hebrews 11:1–3, 7. Describe the kind of person you picture Noah to have been.

 

The World Saved through Noah
Read Gen. 6:11–22
4. Verses 11–12 reveal how completely evil had covered the earth. Yet God found one righteous man and planned to save the world, humans and animals, through him.
a. What does this suggest about God’s knowledge of men as distinct individuals? (See Mt. 10:29–31.)

b. What does this suggest about the power of one righteous life?

Summary of Genesis 7
Genesis 7 recalls the onset of the Flood. Although brief, it helps us understand that the destruction of life on earth and the preservation of Noah, his family, and the animals were God’s plan to restore His creation to its original destiny. In the early verses of the chapter, we see many references to the number seven. Remember that this number had covenantal significance for the ancient Hebrews. God’s hallowing of the seventh day of creation sealed all of the universe into a covenant of love with Him. The covenant was fractured by man’s disobedience, but the repeated appearance of the number seven in the text reminds us that God had not forgotten that covenant.
When the water arrived on earth, it first came from the ground, then the sky (7:11). This helps us remember that the primordial earth was also watered from the ground and from the sky (Gen. 2:4–6). The earth was completely covered by water (7:19). This reminds us of how everything began in the first chapter of Genesis—the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2). These parallels to the creation story show us that God was undertaking a re-creation of the earth and, in a sense, even of man himself. He wanted to renew the covenant. We should not mistake this for just another attempt to get things right. Rather, we are to absorb from all the details that evoke the creation that God desired to free man from his problems. God’s unrelenting initiative in seeking to restore man to his original destiny is unequivocal proof of His love for us. The enormity of God’s persistent love should rise up above all the details of man’s early history as the sun rises in the morning sky. We dare not interpret any of it apart from the illumination of that bright light. Behind, above, beneath, before, and throughout everything is the glorious love of God for mere mortals. “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is thy Name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8:9).

The Waters Subside
Read Gen. 8:1–12
5. Noah and his family had to wait quite awhile before they could leave the ark.
a. If God had miraculously made the waters appear, what question might they have legitimately asked while they waited for the waters to disappear?

b. Challenge question: Why do you think God just let nature take its course?

Noah’s Ark
The ark that Noah was to build was going to be the means of salvation for Noah, his family, and the animals taken into it. It was going to be roomy and well-stocked with food. The door to the ark would be in its side. God would make a covenant with everything inside of it. It was going to ride through water to safety.
The Fathers of the early Church saw the ark as a figure of the Church. Saint Augustine writes:

God ordered Noah to build an ark in which he and his family would escape from the devastation of the flood. Undoubtedly the ark is a symbol of the City of God on pilgrimage in this world, that is, a symbol of the Church which was saved by the wood on which there hung the Mediator between God and men—Christ Jesus, himself a man. Even the measurements of length, height and breadth of the ark are a symbol of the human body in which He came. […] The door open in the side of the ark surely symbolizes the open wound made by the lance in the side of the Crucified—the door by which those who come to him enter in the sense that believers enter the Church by means of the sacraments which issued from that wound.”

6. Read verses 6–12. Think of the picture of the dove going back and forth from the ark, looking for habitable land.
a. Eventually, the dove did not return (v. 12). What did that mean to Noah?

b. Challenge question: Read Matthew 3:16–17 and the Catechism, no. 701. What meaning does the Church help us to see in the Gospel scene when the Holy Spirit descended “like a dove” on Jesus?

“Go Forth from the Ark”
Read Gen. 8:13–22
7. Look at the command God gave Noah in verse 17. Read also Genesis 1:28. What does this language, so reminiscent of creation, help us to understand about the meaning of this moment when Noah and his family came out of the ark?

 

8. Look at the very first thing Noah did when he got off the ark (v. 20).
a. What was it?

b. Why do you suppose this act pleased the Lord greatly?

Incense at Mass
The Lord was pleased with the smell of Noah’s sacrifice (8:21) because of what it represented. The aroma was an expression of Noah’s gratitude and worship. In the Mass, whenever incense is used, we reproduce this moment of pleasure for God. The smell of the incense represents our act of worship and praise, as we offer up the perfect sacrifice of thanksgiving—ourselves and the Eucharist.

c. Challenge question: Remember that Noah’s name meant “rest.” Read verses 21–22. Did Noah live up to his name?

 

“Did Not Our Hearts Burn within Us?”

Our hearts will burn with joy when we consciously open them wide to God’s Word. Scripture memorization is a good way to get that started. Here is a suggested memory verse.

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.”
—Gen. 8:20–21

Continue to welcome Him into your soul by reflecting on these questions:

Noah was a man who was unaffected by the great wickedness around him. He remained faithful to the ways of God. We recognize this as a difficult thing to do, because our human nature, even after Baptism, is still bent in the direction of sin. Take the time to examine yourself to see if you are being influenced for bad instead of for good by the people around you. Perhaps you are not being dragged into great wickedness, but do others make it easier for you to gossip, to complain, to be dishonest, to be too attached to worldly possessions, to neglect your spiritual life, etc.? If so, build an ark to protect yourself. That should include confession, resolve, self-discipline, and prayer. Ask Noah to pray for you to live as a bright light in your world.

 

There are no unobserved moments in a Christian’s life. Think about how this truth can both save you from danger and give you the deepest possible joy. Be specific.

 

Noah had to wait patiently for the waters of judgment and devastation to recede. Is there a place in your life now where you must do the same? Is there anything in this lesson that will help your waiting to lead to holiness in you?

 

“Stay with Us”

When you read the account of the Flood, realizing that everyone except Noah’s family died because of God’s judgment, did you have a twinge of wondering if that was fair? After all, if some human civilizations developed away from the covenant-keepers, thus becoming intensely evil, perhaps we want to say that they didn’t know any better. Maybe we think they never really had a chance to live their lives the way Noah did.
Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, helps us to better understand just exactly what was going on among men whose lives were given over to wickedness. It is worth examining what he has to say in the first chapter of that letter:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. (vv. 18–24)
Here we see that Saint Paul says that anyone who lives on the planet Earth, whether he lives among covenant-keeping people or not, knows enough about God to live in the right way. Why? Because God has revealed Himself in His works. Looking around at the world in which he lives, a man is capable of recognizing that (1) there is a God, (2) He is powerful, and (3) He deserves to be honored and thanked (Rom. 1:20–21). When a man chooses not to act on what he knows to be true, he suppresses truth itself. It isn’t that he has been deprived of it—he simply refuses to live by it.
When that happens, things go downhill fast. As Saint Paul tells us:

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them. (Rom. 1:28–32)

This is a description of what happened in the early history of man and what continues to happen when men, like Cain, know what is right to do but refuse to do it. When that happens, the most merciful thing God can do is to punish them. It is often only when men are faced with suffering and death that their autonomy crumbles to ash, and they are willing to cry out to God, whom they are finally ready to acknowledge as the only One who can help.
The Flood was just such an occasion. It was the just, merciful response of God to the mess man had made for himself. We may ask, suppose some people, as the waters of the Flood overwhelmed them, cried out to God for mercy? What if, in the very last seconds of their lives, they repented of their great offense against God? Saint Peter, in 1 Peter 3:18–22, tells us more about the Flood, lest we have any misgivings:

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

The Church tells us that “Christ went down into the depths of death so that ‘the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live’ ” (Catechism, no. 635). When Jesus entered “the depths of death” to preach the Good News of salvation, if there were any who had been humbled by the Flood, even in the last moments of consciousness, surely they responded to Him. But those who, like Cain, had hardened their hearts through sin might well have had the same reaction to Christ as Cain had to God—“Thanks, but no thanks.” We should never worry about the justice and fairness of God (see Catechism, nos. 632–35).

 

Lesson Summary
✓ Over time, and possibly as a result of intermarriage between men who called on the name of the Lord and women who did not, great wickedness spread throughout the human community on earth. There was unchecked violence and evil imagination everywhere.
✓ God decided to judge this wickedness by sending a great flood to blot out all living things. There was, however, one man who still lived the way God intended men to live—Noah. He found favor in God’s sight.
✓ The righteous man, Noah, was to build an ark to preserve some life—that of his family and of the animals God instructed him to carry into it. He obeyed and prepared for the onslaught.
✓ The earth returned to a time of watery chaos as a result of God’s judgment. Because of language evocative of the first creation story, we recognized in this account that God was re-creating the earth and man’s life in order to cleanse it from the great evil that pervaded it.
✓ When God caused the waters to subside, a dove became the symbol that the earth was ready to receive renewed life upon it.
✓ As soon as he was off the ark, Noah made an offering to the Lord. This act deeply pleased God (as the wickedness had deeply grieved Him). He made a promise never to repeat this kind of judgment on the earth in the history of man. Noah’s obedience and reverence was the human agency of God’s blessing on the earth and “rest” for troubled man.
For responses to Lesson 9 Questions, see pp. 135–37.

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson 10

 

The Covenant Renewed
(Genesis 9–11)

 

In some ways, for people closely studying the early chapters of Genesis, the story of the Flood comes as a kind of catharsis. Rebellion in and out of Eden, the spread of wickedness throughout the earth, and the profound sadness that comes from knowing how all this grieved God does make us want to cry out for an end to it all, and for a fresh start. In the account of Noah, who was a human being who still loved God more than he loved himself, we had reason to breathe a sigh of relief and hope. Perhaps with the earth washed clean of violence and with the continuation of human life through a righteous man and his family, we can expect better things. Surely the scene from Genesis 8 gave us some basis for this hope. God was once again pleased by what He saw on earth (an echo of the “very good” of the first creation); He took delight in the aroma of Noah’s sacrifice.
Genesis 6–8, with the frequent use of language evocative of the first creation, prepares us to expect to see a renewal of the covenant that God graciously made with all creation at its beginning. We expect that He will make it clear how He wants life on the renewed planet to be lived. And because God is Goodness itself, we are counting on some demonstration of His deep, abiding, persistent love for man—the kind of love we have already seen in our study, which reaches down to man in his dependent, helpless condition and gives so much more than he deserves. We will not be disappointed.
That is, we won’t be disappointed in God. But what about the humans? It’s hard for us to forget that the problem in Eden was man’s doing. Were men’s hearts also washed clean by the Flood?

 

“He Opened to Us the Scriptures”

Before we read God’s Word, we ought to take a moment to humble ourselves before Him, remembering that His Word is primarily a conversation with us, not a textbook. “Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears” (1 Sam. 3:10) can be the prayer on our lips. Then, read all the way through Genesis 9–11. Think about what you understand and what you don’t understand. Make a simple response to God in terms of what you do understand. Write your prayer in this space:

 

Now, ask for His help as you work on the questions below.
(Prayer hint: “Lord, help me to make the most of every fresh start You give me.”)

 

Questions

A Blessing from God
Read Gen. 9:1–7
Read Genesis 1:28–31 and Genesis 9:1–7. These two scenes are very similar, which is not a coincidence.
a. What do you think we are meant to understand by this similarity?

b. Challenge question: There is a dramatic difference between these two scenes: the second one is punctuated by fear and dread. What does that help us to understand about the re-creation?

2. Recall that in Genesis 4, Cain feared that someone would kill him because he murdered Abel, his brother. Yet God preserved his life. In the renewed world, those who kill others will lose their lives. What do you think explains this change?

 

3. In verse 4, God prohibited eating the flesh of animals that had any blood in it. Why do you think that God announced this strong taboo on blood?

 

Capital Punishment and Genesis 9:6
How can we reconcile God’s declaration of capital punishment for murder, recorded here in Genesis 9, with the tireless campaign of Pope John Paul II, in his pontificate, against it? The Catechism tells us:

Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent” (Catechism, no. 2267, quoting Evangelium Vitae 56).

The Church teaches that for much of human history, beginning with Noah, executing certain kinds of criminals was the only way to protect society against them. Now, however, in the modern era with its penal institutions, some societies are capable of curbing violence without killing those guilty of it. Pope John Paul II has been a strong voice speaking out against capital punishment in those societies because of his unwavering commitment to the dignity and sacredness of human life, even when men sin greatly. As God says here in this passage: “God made man in His own image” (Gen. 9:6). If, by imprisonment, we can protect society and prevent danger from a criminal, we should not take his life. Governments should respect life, not taking it unnecessarily. Further, they can aim to rehabilitate criminals to live a more productive life, while the Church prays for their repentance, conversion, and reconciliation with God.

The Sign of the Covenant
Read Gen. 9:8–17
4. God made a covenant with Noah and his sons. (A covenant is an agreement between parties that creates a family relationship among them.) God promised that He would never again destroy all life on the earth again with a flood. His just wrath had been spent. There was no need to fear any further destruction. God told Noah that the rainbow would represent this covenant promise.
a. In the rainbow, God closely identified Himself with something beautiful in the sky. What potential risk did God take when He chose to use a rainbow as the covenant sign?

b. Challenge question: Why do you think God took that risk? (See also Catechism, no. 1146.)

God and the Rainbow
In the Garden of Eden, everything that existed—trees, animals, fruit, sun, sky, moon—gave testimony to Adam and Eve that God exists and that He is good. In the re-creation, God chose one element in creation, the rainbow, to restore man’s confidence in His goodness and power. How? He told Noah that whenever the rainbow appeared in the heavens, He would do something: “When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature” (9:16). This made the rainbow much more than a sign. If it had been only a sign, God would have told Noah, “When the bow is in the clouds, remember the covenant.” The rainbow would have reminded Noah to do something. Instead, when the bow appeared, God committed Himself to doing something on behalf of every living creature. He would do the remembering.
In this, God used an ordinary element in nature to do an extraordinary thing for man. This is what the Church calls a sacrament. God does a gracious work for man in conjunction with an element in nature—bread, wine, water, oil. The rainbow was the first “sacrament” of the re-creation.

The Sons of Noah
Read Gen. 9:18–29
5. Read verse 20. Noah was a gardener (of a vineyard) who abused the fruit he had there. What kind of warning do you think this might be?*

 

6. What kind of son did Ham appear to be (v. 22)?

 

7. What strength of character did Shem and Japheth show (v. 23)?*

 

Summary of Genesis 10
The picture in Genesis 10 is one of slow but steady repopulation of the earth. As the Catechism says, “After the unity of the human race was shattered by sin, God at once sought to save humanity part by part. The covenant with Noah after the flood gives expression to the principle of the divine economy toward the ‘nations,’ in other words, toward men grouped ‘in their lands, each with [its] own language, by their families, in their nations [Gen. 10:5; cf. 9:9–10, 16; 10:20–31]’ ” (no. 56).
Because all humans have descended from Noah and his family, we are reminded that the human community is really a family. We knew this at the time of the creation, and we are seeing it again here. The longing that men have for universal peace, the end to wars, and respect for human life stems from this deep awareness that we are all related to each other and ought to live together in familial peace. In addition, of course, all men are God’s children, even when their national religions have lost much of the truth about God that Noah and his family would have possessed. As the family of man spread out over the earth and through the centuries, various cultures may have preserved elements of some truths about God even as they lost others. With additions and subtractions, with distortions and misunderstandings, those elements could have become the basis for various religions of the world. It is not difficult to imagine a process like that—a fracturing of the covenant story handed down through Noah’s generation. The Church teaches that many non-Christian religions contain some of these elements of truth; it is the Christian Gospel and the teaching of the Church that give men the possibility of knowing and experiencing the fullness of the truth (Catechism, nos. 842–45).
Of special interest to us in this chapter is Nimrod (10:8–11), who was a descendant of Ham through Cush. He is described as one who gained a certain ascendancy and was mighty “before the Lord.” This phrase is not meant to suggest that he had a great relationship with the Lord. Rather, it is used to express the degree of his notoriety. It is reminiscent of “the mighty ones” who were on the earth at the time of the Flood (6:4). Thus, Nimrod’s reputation would have been one of great might, not goodness. He was the founder of the first Mesopotamian kingdom and the civilizations that became known as Assyria and Babylonia. This is the first place in the Bible where the term “kingdom” occurs. It suggests the start of nations that were characterized by prideful opposition to the Lord (Gen. 11:1–9; cf. Rev. 17:1–18).

The Tower of Babel
Read Gen. 11:1–9*
8. Nimrod, a descendant of Ham, built the city of Babel (Gen. 10:10).
a. What appears to have been the motivation of this city’s builders, especially in the creation of the tower?

b. What threat to mankind did God see in their building project?

c. Challenge question: The solution to this offense in Babel was for God to fragment human civilization by different languages. What then, does the diversity in human language really represent? (See also Catechism, no. 57.)

The Descendants of Shem
Read Gen. 11:10–32*

9. This genealogy leads up to one family, Terah, and his sons, Abram and Nahor. They lived in Ur, a large city of Mesopotamia. Read Joshua 24:2–4. What had become of Shem’s “family religion” by this time?

 

10. Challenge question: Think about how the civilization of man developed from Noah and his sons. Although Noah was a righteous, faithful man, his drunkenness made him vulnerable to an outrage by one of his sons. He had to put some of his own descendants under a curse. As the sons of Noah had families, there were some who gained reputations for all the wrong reasons. This all looks strangely familiar. Did the re-creation of the earth work?

 

What Happens Next?
As we conclude our study of this section of Genesis, it is appropriate to ask, “What happens next?” The best way to prepare for the answer to that question is to ask two more: (1) what has happened already? and (2) what needs to happen next? We have already seen something of a pattern develop, in just eleven chapters of Genesis. We have recognized, in an unmistakable way, that God desired the existence of human creatures on earth so that He could share His life with them. Made in His image and likeness, with a vocation that matched His, man and woman were truly the crown of God’s creation. However, they abused their freedom and rebelled against Him. Although they experienced severe punishment for their disobedience, they discovered (and so did we) that there was a “deeper magic” at work in the universe (as Aslan, the Lion in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, once said about Narnia). God did not give up on His plan for humanity. Once man and woman stepped out of Eden, God began His relentless hunt to return them to Paradise, their true home.
Just as we have seen a pattern of God’s goodness in Genesis 1–11, so we have seen a pattern of human weakness and failure. A massive expansion of wickedness on earth precipitated God’s judgment in the Flood; one man’s righteousness saved the human race from it. Before long, however, God had to visit the earth in judgment again, striking down a tower built by men who were attempting to storm heaven. He confused the one language that had made it possible for men to use their unity for all the wrong purposes.
Still, we know that God had a future for humanity. We know that plan included a woman and her seed, who would turn the tide in a cosmic battle. We know that God desired to bless, not curse, His human family. Even though Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden, the memory of the blessedness there would always beckon to their descendants.
So, what needs to happen next? We need to see more of God’s plan for His creation. We need to know how He will overcome the persistent pattern of man’s weakness and sin, which overpowered goodness wherever it existed. How would God contain man’s rebellion, as nations developed and expanded over the earth? Before the Flood, one man’s righteousness countered the evil intent of many hearts. After the Flood, will one nation’s righteousness make a difference in all that had gone wrong on earth?
The answer to that question lies in our study of the next section of Genesis, God and His Family (Gen. 12–50).

 

“Did Not Our Hearts Burn within Us?”

Our hearts will burn with joy when we consciously open them wide to God’s Word. Scripture memorization is a good way to get that started. Here is a suggested memory verse:

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
—Gen. 9:12–13

Continue to welcome Him into your soul by reflecting on these questions:

Sometimes Catholics are accused by others of caring more about the outward forms of sacraments than about the direct encounter with Jesus that they are meant to give. This shows up in people who would never miss Mass, who go to Confession, who have all their children baptized and confirmed, but who seem not to have a living, vital relationship with God. If they are people who do not exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in their lives—such as kindness, self-control, and especially charity—then they appear to outsiders as people who could gaze on a rainbow and not meet the God who set it in the sky. Would anyone be able to say that of you? It is always good for our souls to check to see if we have fallen into ritual presumption. If we love the sacraments, our lives should bear the fruit of divine encounters. Ask God to help you be honest with Him about this today. Perhaps He has a word for you.

 

Look around your world today. Even if you don’t see a rainbow in the sky, what is there in your line of vision that is a powerful reminder of who God is and how much He loves you? Thank Him for it.

 

“Stay with Us”

Did you feel disappointed when Noah, a man so bright in faith and obedience, succumbed to drunkenness, which led to something even darker? In the bleak wasteland of a world given over to evil, Noah seemed like a man we could trust. He looked like a hero.
Why is it so difficult to accept flawed heroes? Is it because all humans long for a perfect human, one who will not disappoint us and let our dreams die? Ever since Adam, we have been looking for one who won’t botch things up. We want to see a human be all that God meant for us to be.
The characters of the Old Testament, such as Adam and Abel and Noah, begin to prepare us for just such a Person. Even though humans in the story of the Old Testament disappoint us from time to time, we should never let their humanity sour us or tempt us to be contemptuous of them. We must never forget that God’s promise in Genesis 3:15 to defeat His enemy through humans means that in this battle, step by step, God’s work will have a human face on it. This is the magnificent condescension of God to man. It is also God’s resounding confirmation that He did not make a mistake in creating man. God knows very well what weaknesses beset humanity. Nevertheless, He works relentlessly to make sure that someday our dream of human perfection will be a reality, not a dream. To be a Christian means not being squeamish about human beings doing divine work. This is especially true for Catholics, because sometimes our Protestant brethren protest that we have too many “mere humans” in our understanding of redemption. We have Mary, “just a woman,” as Queen of Heaven and Mother of the Church. We have a pope, “only a man,” who sits in the line of Peter and holds the keys of the kingdom. We have saints, men and women who are “just like us,” to serve as our examples and advocates in their lives as God’s friends. When this charge is raised against us, we should bow our heads, give thanks to God, and smile deeply in our souls. A “human” Church? Exactly.

 

Lesson Summary
✓ When Noah and his family got off the ark, God blessed them and gave them a command to be fruitful and multiply. Although the earth and life on it underwent a renewal, there was still evidence that men were not as they had once been in Eden. The dread that animals would experience toward man would be a sign of the loss of that harmony.
✓ Man was to respect the blood of every living thing, even that of animals, because it is a sign of life, a gift from God. God instituted a law of capital punishment for murder in order to keep in check the violence in man’s nature that too easily overwhelms the good.
✓ God established a covenant with Noah and his family, promising to never again destroy all life on the earth or disrupt its order by a flood. He used an element in nature, the rainbow, to seal this promise.
✓ Noah became drunk in his vineyard, making it possible for his second son, Ham, to sin against him. Ham lacked respect for his father, reflecting in him a spirit of insubordination and rebellion. This was evidence that although God had renewed the earth, sin was still present and active in men, wreaking its destruction.
✓ Shem and Japheth, the oldest and youngest brothers, did what they could to rectify Ham’s offense. Noah blessed Shem, perhaps indicating his role as an example to his brothers as one who respected and honored his father’s dignity.
✓ Noah cursed Canaan, the son of Ham. He and his descendants were to serve Shem and his descendants.
✓ In a city, Babel, built by descendants of Ham, men decided to band together and make a name for themselves, establishing a center of power and autonomy. Their pride led them to try to build a tower to heaven, a demonstration of their insubordination and arrogance.
✓ God opposed this abuse of man’s unity by confusing the one language men spoke into many different languages. They had to quit building the city and tower because they could not communicate. The separation of men into nations speaking different languages is a sign that men used their unity for the wrong goals. It would take a miracle of redemption and new birth to give men natures in which they would use their unity to love and serve God. That restoration began on the day of Pentecost and continues today.
For responses to Lesson 10 Questions, see pp. 137–40.

 

 

 

 

Genesis, creation of man, Michelangelo

Appendix A

 

Johnston, G. S. (2004). Appendix A:How to Read the First Chapter of Genesis. In Genesis, Part I: God and His Creation (Genesis 1–11) (S. 59–101). Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing.

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