Dominion in Genesis, Part 3/8: Do You Serve Two Masters?

In part 2, I explained that if we take Joseph seriously as a type of Christ, it’s clear that his suffering and reign prefigured Christ’s suffering, resurrection, and ascension. Joseph reigned over both Israel and Egypt, which were symbolic of the Church and the world, respectively. This signified that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, was also destined to reign over both.

We don’t have to rely solely on this symbolic interpretation since the Apostle Paul held this same belief, based on this explicit statement in 1 Corinthians:

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (15:24-26)

Christians who believe in “Left Behind” theology think Christ is waiting to reign over resurrected people on a new earth, where sin will continue. However, this contradicts the above passage, which states that the last enemy to be destroyed is death. Jesus’ victory over death will be manifested through the General Resurrection, in which He will raise all deceased believers to eternal life. This will occur at the end of time, after our Lord has destroyed all other enemies by reigning through His people on this earth.

Over the centuries, Christ has indeed been destroying the spiritual enemies of mankind, and of the Christian faith in particular. Largely through the influence of the Christian West (though it has lately become post-Christian), the world is emerging from the ignorant ways of tribalism, animism, and polytheism. We’ve also left, or are leaving behind animal and human sacrifice, nature worship, ancestor worship, belief in the divinity of a ruling class or family, and various forms of systemic injustice. This allowed for the development of civilization through cooperation and progress in fields such as science, medicine, and law.

 

Problems of the Modern Era

All of this doesn’t mean that the world is now solidly set on a path of freedom, peace, and prosperity. Unfortunately, the “Age of Reason” brought its own imbalances, which are also enemies of the cross, and of human progress. Specifically, antiquated belief systems have been replaced by dualisms such as the following:

Extremist Beliefs Related, Imbalanced Theories
Individualism Laissez faire capitalism*
Collectivism Nationalism, Socialism
Trust in authorities Communism, Fascism (Totalitarianism)
Distrust of authorities Anarchism, Democracy**
Rationalism Materialism, Anti-supernaturalism
Subjectivism Supernaturalism

*The problem isn’t capitalism but the emphasis on “laissez faire,” which assumes that greedy people need virtually no constraints. All forms of lawlessness are unbiblical.

** The American media tells us we live in a democracy, as if our politicians truly represent us, the people. It’s more like an oligarchy due to our their dependence on big money.

As C. S. Lewis wrote that the devil “always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites.” This choice gives us a sense of freedom, and yet “he relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one” (Mere Christianity). Thus, we err because we don’t love the truth—a choice that is seldom clearly presented to us.

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The Sleep Of Reason Produces Monsters by Francisco De Goya y Lucientes

The unresolved dualisms of the modern era have led to ceaseless arguments, conflicts, and wars. So-called “free thinkers” reject the very idea of God, but they can’t give our lives purpose, meaning, or spiritual fulfillment. Postmodernism also doesn’t answer our most important questions since it rejects the concept of absolute truth.

 

Our Need of Faith

No scientific laboratory can produce the answers that we seek. The dualisms are irresolvable apart from a faith-based response. In this regard, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is indispensable for mankind. It accounts for the existence of spirit, body, and soul, and is an example of unity with diversity. In contrast to materialist philosophies, the Bible affirms that all life is sacred and, specially affirms the dignity of every human being.

Nearly every Christian knows, and will readily admit that Christianity hasn’t been the only positive influence in the world. This isn’t a problem because the Bible tells us God revealed His truth through nature, and to the hearts of people who know nothing of His written revelation (Ps. 19:1-6, Rom. 2:14). Even with this other revelation, however, Christianity has arguably been the primary driver of positive change in the world. In particular, the Bible has stood the test of time. Whenever evil has been done in the name of Christianity, it’s because Christians have either misinterpreted the Bible or willfully disobeyed its teachings.

I think the last sentence, though true, allows Christians too much room for error as we attempt to move forward with thousands of different denominations. We’ve been divided by different interpretations of the Bible, and by succumbing to dualistic fallacies. We all profess to be following the same Lord, but Jesus prayed that we would all be united. We need to show the world that we’re all following the same God by being obedient in this area. I think Christians not only should, but can agree substantially on how to interpret the Bible, and on its main teachings. To this end, I presented a Bible-based plan for Christian unity in Chapter 26 of Return to Genesis.

 

Our Need of Faithful Leaders

When we study biblical heroes such as Joseph, we should be inspired to put our hope and trust in God. Since God mightily helped people such as Joseph thousands of years before the coming of Christ, we should trust Him to do even greater things in our generation. Unfortunately, most Christians aren’t prepared for victory because our theology has effectively reduced us to second-class citizens.

We’ve elevated Jesus to a superhuman and other-worldly status. That’s why we’ve been reluctant to compare Jesus with Adam, let alone with any other biblical figure. It’s also why we confess that Jesus reigns from His Father’s right hand, but don’t want to fully appreciate that He can only reign over this world through us, His people.

Incidentally, all the talk about “WWJD” only helps substantiate my point. That was a feeble attempt to bring Jesus back down to earth. God wants to raise Christians up to Jesus’ level, not for us to bring Him down to ours.

The Christian Right movement also doesn’t spring from a deep understanding of the Bible, but only from a vague sense that Christianity is supposed to have a meaningful impact in the world.

Since we’ve largely rejected the examples set by Joseph and other bold heroes of the faith, neither have we had much to say to Christians who experience significant financial, social, or political success in our time. It’s as if God has nothing special for them. Christians seldom see beyond the possibility that the brother or sister who achieves some degree of success in this world might contribute more in the offerings.

We’ve emasculated the gospel by stripping it of its authority and its kingdom message. Jesus reigns in heaven, and we plead with Him to lead people to our local church. We’ve treated the Bible an outdated book having little practical value other than to teach individuals how to be “saved.” We’ve even reduced salvation to a spiritual benefit having little worldly significance. Imagine how irrelevant this has made the Christian faith appear to Christians whose horizons may suddenly extend far beyond their local church and community.

No, I’m not suggesting that Christians must be successful and influential in this world before they can become a hero or heroine in God’s eyes. I’m also not preaching a “health and wealth” gospel. God doesn’t want to make all Christians prosperous in every way. We should keep in mind that Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor” (Lk. 6:20). When we have unmet needs, it keeps us humble and spiritually needy. Moreover, it would be environmentally unsustainable if all Christians became wealthy.

What I’m proclaiming is the scriptural truth that God wants to transform this world, and that His choice method of doing this is through us, His people. The Bible records many occasions in which the Lord raised His prophets and servants to positions of authority and influence, even to where they could communicate directly with kings, not only of Israel and Judah, but also of foreign powers such as Babylon and Rome. You may think you could never be so influential, but God raised Joseph even from a prison to a place of great influence.

With God’s help, spiritually mature Christians can overcome the temptations and pressures of worldly or material success. We are weak, but He is strong (2 Cor. 12:10). God’s taking care of heaven. He’s not physically present to take care of this world, but He sent His Spirit to help us do that.

 

The Spiritual and Material Gods of Modern Christianity

Assuming that we all understand that God is concerned about, and died for this world and everyone in it, why do we view salvation as little more than an individual, spiritual experience? The problem, again, is toxic dualisms, which are the legacy of modernism. They’ve infiltrated every church and denomination.

The primary dualism would likely be the division of all human activity into two sectors. Christians have allowed our “religion,” including God, to be marginalized into a little, private sector that the secular world doesn’t want to take seriously, or even to hear about. This is the realm of all that is “unreal,” or not scientifically verifiable. It encompasses all that is private, subjective, supernatural, or metaphysical. This includes even moral instruction. We recognize the God of Jesus Christ as being sovereign over this realm.

We’ve effectively relinquished everything else to the non-religious or secular realm, and to its power brokers in the media, Hollywood, the government, and elsewhere. Presumably, our political and business leaders are not only attuned to and respectful of the pluralistic, democratic consensus, but are voices of pure objectivity and reason. Therefore, they’re doing a fine job of hearing and representing us Christians, right?

Most Christians, if we’re honest, don’t see the public realm as belonging to God. A person doesn’t have to be an atheist to be of the opinion that God has little or no place in the public sector. We either keep God in the prayer closet or we put Him in remote positions such as Creator (past), Redeemer (past, or present for Christians only), or Judge (future, except in the case of AIDS victims, hurricanes, etc.) We see the public realm as belonging to secular people or, according to some Christians, to the prince of darkness himself.

Although I believed such things for most of my life, I now recognize this as a form of idolatry. The first century equivalent would have been to confess both Jesus and Caesar as deities. Although Christians obeyed most Roman laws and decrees for the Lord’s sake, they didn’t bow the knee to Caesar, or to anyone who dared to supplant God’s authority. This should be a matter of principle for Christians today, and we ought to know precisely when a human ruler intrudes into God’s sphere of authority.

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Christmas Prayers 1872 by Henry Bacon 

Most Christians today recognize and serve two masters. One is the spiritual God Who lives in our hearts; the other is the material god who rules the world. However, Jesus warned us against this temptation:

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Mt. 6:24)

I believe God uses spiritual laws such as this to judge worldly Christians and the world itself. Every developed nation today is internally divided. Materially and spiritually minded people have always been at war against one another, and always will be. True spirituality begins with the worship of our transcendent God, not with the exaltation of earthbound humanity. This division has lately been coalescing into a more open division between unbelievers and Christians.

Christians ceded the victory in this battle long ago. Today, we’re stuck in a trap that was mostly of our own making. Under the influence of a late 17th to mid-18th century movement called pietism, believers began to focus more on personal spirituality than on practical, kingdom-centered theology and activism that could have benefited both the Church and the broader society. As Christians shifted from engagement in the world to navel-gazing, secular humanists were more than happy to fill the power vacuum.

 

Freeing Ourselves From the Pitfall of Pietism

I’m not suggesting that any Christian should neglect spiritual matters. Each of us needs to guard our own heart and maintain our relationship with the Lord. However, God also has called us to be a prophetic voice—His voice—in the world.

Personally, I don’t know how any Christian can talk with God every day for years on end without becoming genuinely concerned about the world beyond themselves, their church, and a few unbelieving friends or relatives. That world, teeming with billions of people, is also subject to Christ’s Lordship.

Although I’m not a pietist, I incorporate encouragement and inspiration into my writing, mainly because I see no other way of understanding the Bible’s message of salvation. Good theology promotes spiritual growth, but bad theology such as pietism limits it.

That, by the way, is how Christians can escape from the trap that pietism has put us in. We can’t demand the world’s respect, but we can earn it by understanding and practicing theology in a way that honors both God and His highest creation, mankind.

Christians should be optimistic, joyful people who respect science, honor authorities, and bless the world in practical, tangible ways. Good theology has, and will again make meaningful contributions in key areas such as economics, ethics, history, politics, and sociology. The Bible has specific input in each of these areas, but every aspect of human life is sacred. No matter what your occupation, you can do it to the glory of God.

If Joseph had been a pietist, he might have refused the offer to rule over Egypt. However, like most people in his cultural setting, he didn’t recognize an artificial, dualistic distinction between the sacred and the secular. Since he had a healthy and holistic perspective on life, Joseph knew God wasn’t confined to his prison cell. He didn’t accept the new position so that he could lock himself in a luxurious prayer closet, complete with carpeting and musical accompaniment.

We can begin to recover a more holistic perspective on faith and life by studying the Bible with a view to understanding the parallelisms, metaphors, and symbols. That’s why the primary emphasis of this blog is on premodern wisdom. We can’t claim to have a biblical worldview if we don’t reject or reconcile confusing dualisms that only lead to strife and warfare. We shouldn’t only read the last one-fourth of the Bible, but should learn from God’s initial revelation to mankind through our distant ancestors in the faith.

Throughout the Old Testament, God raised believers such as Joseph, David, Nehemiah, and Daniel to positions of great influence. One thing these men had in common is that they all had a high view of God, and of His ability to work through them. They didn’t resign themselves to the rule of Satan, but worked to establish God’s reign on the earth.

Even though Jesus revealed the good news of God’s salvation in His words, life, death, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Holy Spirit, and present reign (as first manifested through judgment on Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D.),* most Christians are less optimistic than the Old Testament saints. They didn’t continually talk about things like Satan ruling the world, the Antichrist, or Armageddon.

*We can only hope to feel halfway decent about three things at most—our words, how we’ve lived our life, and how we die. By contrast, Jesus displayed perfection in each of these seven different areas!

In part 4, I’ll explain why most Christians in America and elsewhere became gloomy about the future, and why their predecessors in the faith were much more optimistic. Our reason for optimism is related to the fact that Jesus is reigning over the world, as stated in the first and last (above) paragraphs of this post. We’ll review both true and false teachings about that ever popular subject of speculation, dread, and humor—the “end times.”

How do you think Christians should respond to the dualisms of modernism and the ennui of postmodernism? Feel free to comment on this or anything else.

Dominion in Genesis, Part 2/8: What Would Joseph Do?

Since the 1990s, countless Christians have asked themselves the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” The acronym “WWJD” was once visible nearly everywhere on bracelets and bumper stickers.

The truth is, it’s often difficult to know what Jesus would do. In one sense, He had more options than ourselves. He could perform miracles, and was free born as the Son of God. Jesus was always in close communication with His heavenly Father.

In another sense, our Lord had fewer options. Unlike ourselves, Jesus had to keep the Law perfectly. He also had to know about and fulfill many prophecies, including the ones related to His suffering and death on the cross.

In this post, we’ll learn about Joseph, and what he do. This may lead you to wonder…

Does It Matter What Joseph Would Do?

The Old Testament helps us answer the difficult question of what Jesus might do in various situations because it presents forerunners or “types” of Christ. For example, like Jesus, Abraham left a comfortable home to sojourn in a foreign land. Isaac was also like Jesus because he trusted in his father Abraham. Isaac, who would have been a strong young man at the time, allowed his elderly father to nearly sacrifice him on an altar. Jacob was Christ-like because, as Jesus took on human flesh, Jacob wore Esau’s garments to obtain a blessing. Both men also went to a distant land (Christ descending from heaven to earth) to obtain a bride.

Without belittling the accomplishments of any other patriarch, I believe Joseph set the example that we most need to learn from today. If, like Joseph, we’re prepared to be either greatly humbled or greatly empowered, we’ll be ready for anything and everything that life may have in store for us.

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Joseph Being Sold Into Slavery by Alexander Maximilian Seitz

Joseph and Jesus had much in common, to include the following:

  • Both were specially beloved of their father.
  • Both let it be known that they were destined to rule over others.
  • Both knew what it was like to be envied, hated, betrayed, and falsely accused.
  • Both were in possession of a special garment that was stripped from them.
  • Both were sold in exchange for silver pieces and handed over to Gentiles.
  • As Joseph was raised from a “pit” to the pharaoh’s side, Christ ascended from the grave to His Father’s right hand.
  • Both Joseph and Jesus received all the power of the pharaoh and God the Father, respectively.
  • Joseph preserved lives by feeding people. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus freed us from every sin and affliction. He feeds us spiritually through the communion bread and wine.
  • They each reigned over both Israel and the Gentile world.
  • While Joseph’s brothers were thinking he might have died, he was reigning over Gentiles. Similarly, adherents of Judaism are taught that Jesus is dead, and yet He presently reigns over Christians of all races.

Based on the typology and symbolism in the life of Joseph, I wrote the following in my June 2012 press release, “New Book Reveals Hidden Poetry and Symbolism in Genesis” (with minor editing):

Although Joseph’s reign didn’t last long, it presents a picture of heaven and earth in harmony. The pharaoh, representing people in power, accepted wise counsel from Joseph, the lowly prisoner; he, an unjustly imprisoned man, had been set free; Joseph, a type of Christ, married a Egyptian (a Gentile); the hungry were fed; former enemies (i.e., Joseph and his half-brothers) were reconciled; the pharaoh, a government leader, honored Jacob, God’s spiritual leader; and the Hebrews, representing Christians, lived separately from, but at peace with the unbelieving Egyptians. In other words, all was well with the world.

As I further explained, “Joseph extended the Garden of Eden typology from a husband and wife to the broader world of both fallen and redeemed people.” The Garden of Eden was a real place, but it was also symbolic of paradise, or heaven on earth.

Joseph experienced spiritual victory through difficult and heartbreaking trials. After he had grown in faith and character over many years, the Lord exalted him and allowed him to save many lives.

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Joseph Interpreting Pharaoh’s Dream by Arthur Reginald (1871-1934)

As was explained in part 1, we often have difficulty seeing biblical heroes as types of Christ because we perceive either real or imagined faults. For example, we may inwardly judge Joseph for having reigned in Egypt together with a pharaoh; for having married Asenath, the daughter of an Egyptian priest; and for not having led Egypt to believe in God.

In response to these objections, the pharaoh was a type of God the Father because he raised Joseph (a type of Jesus) from a pit to a throne. The pharaoh’s actions show that he trusted in the God of Israel. Whether they chose to believe or not, all the people of that region heard about God’s foreknowledge and His power over life and death.

We also have no reason to assume that Joseph compromised his faith. It’s simply wrong to judge Joseph and Asenath based on who her father was. This appears to have been a politically arranged marriage, intended to appease the priests. Asenath was unsuccessful in converting Joseph, if that was the plan, and I suspect that she became a worshipper of Yahweh.

One of the problems with understanding Joseph, as well as some of our politicians today, is the simple fact that Joseph was a politician. Therefore, he had to respect other people’s wishes in much the same way that God respects our free will. I will explain and defend some of Joseph’s other actions in part 7.

Although the primary legacy of Genesis is the Fall, by no means did this precious book leave mankind without hope. In particular, God gave Abraham the messianic promise, as well as promises of descendants, land, and a nation that would be a blessing to the world. These promises found their initial fulfillment in the lives of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. These men were types of Christ in the following ways:

Patriarch Role Action
Abraham Prophet, Visionary Pilgrim traveler who saw into the future by faith.
Isaac Priest Willingly laid down his life when his “old man” nearly killed him. Represents life from God at conception and after Mount Moriah.
Jacob Warrior Wrestled with the Angel. Like Jesus, he led a twelve-man “army.”
Joseph King Reigned over Egypt (the world) and over his brethren.

 

Dominion in the Lives of Joseph and Jesus

The life of Joseph shows that God wants us to have a significant, positive impact in the world for His glory. Even from a prison in a pagan land, God raised Joseph to the top rung of Egyptian society. This was merely a “down payment” on the Lord’s promise that the world would eventually be filled with Abraham’s children through faith in Jesus. The New Testament makes it clear that this promise pertained to the spiritual children through the promised Seed, which was Christ (Gal. 3:16, 29).

Obviously, Joseph’s story wasn’t meant to teach us that God wants us all to attain a high political position. For that matter, even Joseph had to die to the dreams of power that he’d experienced in his youth. The primary lessons that I derive from this are that God wants His children to bless this world in every possible way, and that there’s no limit on what He can do through us.

For Christians who may, for whatever reason, may be reluctant to accept Joseph’s example, similar events are repeated later in the Old Testament, especially when David and Solomon extended Israel’s dominion to foreign lands. Even in the prophetic writings we find a predominantly earthly vision for national Israel, not individualistic expectations of an other-worldly salvation.

Israel was bound to fail, but not because the prophets were mistaken in having focused on what God wanted to do in this world. Simply put, Israel failed because of disobedience. In a typological sense, she was destined to fail because the nation had been founded on types of Christ such as Abraham and Moses, not on Christ Himself. Adam’s sinful legacy had only been reversed in a symbolic sense, through sacrifices and offerings.

These events happened, and were recorded for our instruction so that we would recognize the true Messiah; understand what He did for us; and know what God intends to accomplish through His universal nation, the Church.

Jesus was qualified to reverse the curse of Adam because He had authority, both as the Son of Man and the Son of God (1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45-47). The symbolism of Joseph’s reign will be fulfilled by the completion of Christ’s millennial reign (Rev. 20:4).

We talk a lot about Adam, but God also intended for Eve to play a central role in His plans. Figuratively speaking, the Church is Eve to the new Adam, which is Christ.

You’re beginning to witness one of the beautiful things about Genesis, which is how it gives us a preview of the entire Bible. Genesis sheds light on the rest of the Bible, and vice versa.

In order to understand the significance of Joseph’s reign over Egypt, we must first learn what it means for Christ to reign in the world, or to have a kingdom in the world today. That will be the topic of part 3.

We’ve all come under the influence of biblical literalism in some way because it’s part of our modern worldview. The scientific or analytic mind prefers propositional truth over artistic expression. Thus, it’s understandable that fundamentalist Christians want to cling to the Bible’s literal teachings. Do you agree, or do you think the study of Bible symbols and types could shed further light on the text? Feel free to comment below.

Dominion in Genesis, Part 1/8: Honor God by Honoring His Prophets

This is the first in a series of eight articles on the topic of Dominion in Genesis, as exemplified in the life of Joseph. For your reference, the post titles in this series are as follows:

  • Part 2: What Would Joseph Do?
  • Part 3: Do You Serve Two Masters?
  • Part 4: Three Perspectives on End Times Prophecy
  • Part 5: Joseph’s Rise to Power
  • Part 6: The “Missing Link” Between Adam and Jesus
  • Part 7: Did Israel Prosper at Egypt’s Expense?
  • Part 8: The Three Freedoms

Jesus told a parable about wicked tenants who, after being hired to tend a vineyard, gave no fruit to the owner (Mt. 21:33-45). The owner sent servants to collect the rent, but the tenants killed them. Finally, the owner sent his own son in the hope that they would show him some respect. The tenants even killed the son. They thought that, with the son out of the way, the inheritance would become theirs when the old man died.

God had sent His servants, the Old Testament prophets, to the nation of Israel, including both ordinary people and their leaders. They spoke God’s words and urged the people to repent of their sins. Israel had not only killed the prophets, but Jesus prophesied that this would become His own fate as well (Mt. 23:29-36).

The parable of the wicked tenants calls attention to the need to respect God’s prophets. The implication is that if we disrespect or hate those who speak God’s word to us, we would do the same to the Son of God. Jesus didn’t walk around with a halo over His head to identify Himself. He didn’t demand an elite or privileged status, but humbly served the people around Him. Jesus warned that, for better or worse, how we treat other people is how we treat Him (Mt. 25:40).

Christians typically see no problem here with respect to God’s prophets. The Pharisees either misinterpreted or rejected the prophecies of the suffering Messiah, but we Christians have embraced them. We further respect God’s prophets by upholding the Bible, including both the Old and New Testaments, as the inspired and authoritative Word of God.

This argument assumes that respect for the Bible’s words is identical to respect for God’s saints and prophets. However, the Bible text isn’t equivalent to its authors, or to the heroes and heroines of the Bible. Unfortunately, we’ve tended to extol the words of the Bible far more than the godly people of the Bible.

In addition to presenting information, the Bible is very much about God’s saints. It’s about their relationships with the living God, and the ways in which our Lord revealed Himself through them. Although there is only one Son of God, many people in the Bible bore some resemblance Him by God’s design and purpose for their lives.

Let’s consider, as one example, king David. Surely, we shouldn’t be judgmental toward a man who killed a giant; endured many trials; united Israel; defeated her enemies; wrote many psalms; made preparations for the temple that Solomon built; received covenant promises from God about his throne being established forever; was a father to Jesus (the “Son of David”); resembled Christ as a shepherd and king; and was called a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14). Despite all this, many teachers are quick to rag on David for a temporary lapse, for which he later repented (Ps. 51).

It all began when David didn’t go to war with his army. Instead, he stayed home and viewed the city from his palace. One thing led to another, and soon he was guilty of adultery and murder.

If we’re honest, I suspect that we’ve all been guilty of the first two sins—not fighting God’s battles and loitering about the house. Why should we think the latter two sins are incomparably more horrendous in God’s sight than the former? Moreover, I don’t know what makes so many of us guys think we would not let our eyes linger at the sight of a beautiful, naked woman, and not have a servant “invite” her to the palace.

My point is that, while we shouldn’t condone David’s sins, neither should we be judgmental, or puffed up with the thought that we haven’t sinned in similar ways.

 

Judging the Patriarchs

While studying Genesis, I’ve found it helpful to give the patriarchs the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. One reason is that, just as in real life, once we judge someone, we lose either the desire to further examine motives and actions, or any sense of objectivity when doing so. This is true of everyone, not only Bible characters.

I believe that in all cases, even though it takes effort on our part, we should seek to understand, and if possible, to exonerate other people when they appear to have sinned.

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The Creation of Adam and Eve by Isaac van Oosten (1613-1661)

I fear that a judgmental attitude toward the patriarchs has negatively impacted our understanding of Genesis. For example, haven’t we all thought “sinners” when reading about the creation of Adam and Eve? Even though we anticipate the negative outcome, God had no impure thoughts or ill intentions. The Lord didn’t create Adam and Eve for the express purpose of letting them sin. As God was enjoying the beauty of His most glorious creations, so should we as we read the text.

Personally, I find Adam and Eve to be the most interesting people in the Bible, apart from Jesus Himself. For a brief period of time, they were perfect people. It’s a huge hypothetical, but if Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned, they would have been our spiritual father and mother in the most positive sense. As it is, they’re still our original parents. Since I believe in the Bible, I can’t help but feel some attachment to them.

Unfortunately, there has been little concern about studying Adam and Eve, even to identify their time and place in history. Instead, the couple has been spiritualized practically out of existence as the first sinners, as if that’s all we needed to know. For both moral and political reasons, we’ve also been reminded of the “profound” insight that Adam was a man, and Eve a woman. (I’m privileged to be able to say that I’ve partially filled this gap in our knowledge about Adam and Eve by having written extensively about them in Return to Genesis).

Many Bible teachers are critical of Noah for having gotten drunk, and for having cursed his grandson, Canaan. However, even Jesus drank wine, and the Bible doesn’t charge Noah with having sinned during this incident.

Both Christians and critics of our faith judge Abraham for having “lied” when he told the Pharaoh and Abimelech that his wife Sarah was his sister. Whatever we may think of the incident, Abraham didn’t lie, though he told a half-truth. Sarah was his half-sister. Also, God didn’t rebuke Abraham, but blessed him. Therefore, since our knowledge of the circumstances is limited, we’re in no position to judge Abraham.

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Jacob Tricks Isaac by Henry Davenport Northrop, 1894 (Wikimedia)

Bible studies on the life of Jacob often brand the poor fellow as a liar and a scoundrel. Okay, Jacob did lie to his father Isaac. Seriously though, can there be a purer motive than wanting to be blessed by God? Esau had already surrendered the blessing voluntarily, and God had made it known that He favored Jacob. Therefore, Isaac was mistaken in having wanted to bless Esau. Let’s tar and feather Isaac instead! Winking smile

If you seek evidence that some of our most learned Bible scholars have a bias against Jacob, turn in your Bible to Genesis  25:27. There, you’ll see Jacob described as a “quiet,” “peaceful,” “plain,” or “mild” man, based on the Heb Greek Septuagint. The Hebrew word, widely ignored by translators, means “blameless, “perfect,” or “upright.”

Jacob didn’t shut the mouths of his critics, even after having been transformed by his trials and his encounters with God to receive the name “Israel.” The meaning of this name is uncertain, but it may mean “Prince of God.”

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Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife by Wenceslas Hollar, 1606-1677 (Wikimedia)

I never knew it was possible for anyone to disrespect Joseph, except for having been boastful during his youth. However, while attending a seminary class on biblical interpretation, I had to read the following:

You will look in vain for any other moral than the one the Bible itself supplies: “God was with Joseph.” The entire process of Joseph’s fall and rise to power was God’s doing… Joseph’s lifestyle, personal qualities, or actions do not tell us anything from which general moral principles may be derived. If you think you have found any, you are finding what you want to find in the text; you are not interpreting the text.
(p. 86 of How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, 2nd Ed. boldface was italics in original).

I admit there’s nothing here that’s overtly critical of Joseph. The problem is the demand that readers refuse to learn anything from life of Joseph. This would include his flight from sexual temptation, his humility and endurance through trials, his reliance on divine wisdom, his heartfelt forgiveness, and his unwavering faith in God’s providence. Don’t learn from Joseph, even though the Bible commands us to do all these things? It makes no sense to me.

 
We Can Even Learn From the Villains

Each of the Bible’s heroes and heroines was, in some manner, a forerunner of Christ. As I will explain in Part 2, God wants us to follow the examples set by people in the Bible who were like Jesus, not only that of Jesus Himself.

It’s true that, as in the case of David, even some of the greatest saints in the Bible experienced occasional, sometimes spectacular failures. The Bible also gives us tragic stories about rebels who refused to obey the Lord. Some of them started out as decent people, but turned into hypocrites. Their sins, and the backslidings of Israel and Judah should serve as warnings to us, lest we become prideful and feel that we’re not in danger of stumbling.

The Bible’s stories often reveal negative character traits and habits that we might recognize in ourselves or in others. God reveals the evil in our hearts to humble us and lead us to repentance, not to condemn us. God shows us the evil in other people’s hearts so that we can learn to understand and forgive, and so we may cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He guides them to the truth (Jn. 16:13). We don’t have the power in ourselves to convince anyone that a particular behavior is sinful.

 
The Key to Understanding the Bible

We have much to learn from everyone, ranging from megachurch pastors to our worst enemies. God also wants us to share our knowledge with other people, based on what He’s revealed to us. Whether we go into a ministry or share our faith informally, it’s about helping others, not gratifying our personal ego and desires. The authority doesn’t come from ourselves, but from God.

As we saw in the quote related to Joseph, Bible colleges and seminaries often teach future ministers what to believe when the main focus should be on teaching them how to think. In particular, fundamentalist Christian ministers have taken it upon themselves to prevent heresy. Unfortunately, this approach perpetuates institutionalized errors and stifles expectations of finding new insights into the Bible.

The primary source of false teachings today is biblical literalism. Literalism leads its devotees to idolize the Bible’s words and their literal meanings at the expense of the stories, the poetry, and the overall flow or “big picture” message of the Bible. I wrote extensively about the problems with biblical literalism in Part 1 of Return to Genesis.

As you read through this series on Dominion in Genesis, I believe you’ll gain fresh insight into how to interpret the Bible, even though that won’t be the main point. My hope is that you will gain a better understanding of, and appreciation for the Bible as a compilation of inspired literature that is rich in poetry and symbolism.

God has promised us that we can understand the Bible with the help of the same Holy Spirit Who inspired it (1 Cor. 2:13-15, 1 Jn. 2:27). Spiritually minded people will find truth in the Bible, but those who are in the flesh will deceive themselves and others. Nothing will ever change that.

Do you agree that a spirit of non-judgmentalism and seeking the good in Bible characters is a sure path to gaining a better understanding both them and the surrounding Scripture text? Please feel free to leave a comment below. This series is continued in part 2.