Class 2 Devotional:
What Origins Have to Say about Where Israel [and We] Find Ourselves

Everyone loves a good origin story.

Origin stories form characters, introduce themes, and set the stage for the unraveling tale at hand. For example, look at Spider-man. Since 2000, there have been several different cinematic portrayals of Spider-man, all with their unique origin stories. When and where is Peter Parker bitten by a radioactive spider? What powers does he gain as a result? Is he brainy but awkward, or instead sharp and snarky? Who are his primary influences in life, a friend, Uncle Ben, Aunt May, or another? What is going on around Spider-man that paves way for a compelling villain?
These questions are addressed to paint a picture that Spidey’s later choices and actions will align with, deepening the established themes and exposing the depths of each character.

Yet, when we read the Story of God from Genesis to Revelation, we often can get distracted with an entirely different set of concerns on page 1! As soon as “God created” is read off the page, modern debates about whether God exists, how long creation took to form, and making sense of or debunking evolution enter the conversation. We get our brains tied up with the language of a dome separating waters above and below to create the sky (1:6-8), or how it is that light appears on the first day (1:3-5), yet without the sources of light that appear on the fourth day (1:14-19).

Though there is a place for wrestling with scientific evidence and seeking to understand how the world was formed, we must seek another lens for engaging with Genesis. Otherwise, we could miss the importance of Genesis 1-11 as an origin story for its audience (Israel) and implications for us as Christians today.

Traditionally, the authorship of Genesis is attributed to Moses (circa 1400-1200 BC), who spoke as a prophet to the Israelite people as God carried out their exodus from slavery in Egypt. Genesis likely would not have been written out at the time, but carried on by oral storytelling. Putting ourselves in their shoes (err, sandals or bare feet?), an origin story passed on from one generation of Israelites to another would be more valuable if it answers questions like:

Who is God?
What is this world supposed to be like?
What are humans to God?
How did this become a place where we experience slavery, violence, and death everyday?
Will there be rest from our labor?

Quibbles about evolution or supernatural details in the story would not be relevant to the real plights of the Israelite people. Instead, reading with Israel in mind, we can see the significance in the primeval narrative from Genesis 1 to 11.

When Israelites read that “God created humanity in God’s own image [tselem], in the divine image God created them” (Gen. 1:27a), this would have set off their radar, detecting a massive change in how God thinks of them within their cultural milieu.
The tselem in the world around them referred most often to statues of deities or rulers. Oftentimes, the gods themselves would be connected to or represented by the king of a nation. In the Enuma Elish, another ancient Near-Eastern origin story, the remaining humans are relegated to labor so the gods can indulge in lives of leisure.
So, for Israelites, an enslaved people, to hear that all humans are made in God’s tselem gave them dignity and empowerment–afterall, the humans are then called to fill the earth and rule over it (1:28). If they were treated as such and not under the oppression of Egypt, it surely would be a “supremely good” (1:31, CEB) world!

For Israel, the Genesis origin story both pictures God’s goal for creation and displays the descent of humanity and the world into the mess of sin and violence. From the first signal of violence in the consequences of the original sin (3:15), to Cain brutalizing Abel (4:8), to Lamech’s vengeance (4:23), to cosmic rebellion (6:2), it becomes evident that humanity has wandered far east of Eden. The continual episodes of injustice continue to show their relevance to Israel, as Ham, who had dishonored his father Noah, fathers Egypt and Canaan, two people groups that facilitated the oppression and lure of idolatry Israel would face during their exodus and arrival to the Promised Land.

Pondering what this origin story means for Israel does not leave it void of meaning for ourselves. Though we are not Spider-man, an entirely fictional character, we recognize the weight in Uncle Ben’s statement, “with great power comes great responsibility”, both for Peter Parker and ourselves.

With an origin story rooted in actual people of faith before us, the Israelites, we can read Genesis with renewed hope. This origin story shapes our understanding of reality, acknowledging that, like the first humans, we “see” and “take” (3:6) on our own terms. We see the consequences of sin as descriptive of current suffering, seen in the pain of childbirth and battle for control between men and women (3:16). Yet, this origin story also calls us higher, as we recognize that God’s desire for creation is for it to be a place of abundant goodness, where humans take charge in reflection of His will and work together without fear or shame.

Questions to Reflect On
1. How do modern questions frustrate my discovery of the narrative value of Genesis?
2. As I read Genesis 1-11, what details could be of value to understanding the world as an enslaved or now free Israelite?
3. What aspects of modern living reflect the descent of creation into mess, and how can I take part in managing creation as the image bearer I was made to be?