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Relevant Biblical Passages: Genesis 3, 4, 6-9, 11

Dangerous Freedom. In some ways the early chapters of Genesis mirror the “action” of biblical narratives where God “allows” his creatures to be free. In the New Testament, the father of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) sadly allows his boy freedom to leave home and to depart from his Father’s values. In Job 1-2 in the Old Testament, God allows Satan a certain freedom to test Job, a test which would only make sense if God already had confidence that his man Job would use his God-given freedom to stand firm for the good in the face of the satanic test.

Similarly, the events of Genesis 3-11 imply that Satan and the forces of evil had a certain freedom to experiment with God’s creation, and that God had granted his creatures the freedom to respond positively or negatively. The end result of this extended period of freedom is a progressive and ever more radical departure from God. By the time God returns more actively with Abraham in Genesis 12, God is speaking to a man who came from a idol-worshiping home, for Joshua 24:2 states that Abraham’s own family “served other gods.”

The successive steps in this avalanche-like invasion of sin are worth noting:

  1. Genesis 3: Adam and Eve succumb to the serpent
  2. Genesis 4:1-16: Cain murders his brother Abel
  3. Genesis 4:23-24: Violent and vengeful threats from Lamech, Cain’s descendant
  4. Genesis 6-9: Rampant human wickedness destroyed by the flood
  5. Genesis 11: Rebellious humanity dispersed from the site of the tower of Babel

Crucial Old Testament developments:

  1. Violence countered with violent forms of justice:
    1. Death penalty. In the additional Mosaic legislation, the death penalty is mandated as the penalty for breaking each of the ten commandments except the last one (coveting).
    2. Cherem (the Ban). Entire nations or tribes (Amalek [1 Sam. 15]), entire cities (rebel towns in Israel [Deut. 13:6-18]; Jericho [Josh. 6], Jabesh-Gilead [Judges 21]), and families with all their possessions (Achan [Josh. 7]) could be destroyed because of the custom of cherem. Its presence in non-Israelite contexts has been confirmed by the Moabite Stone (Mesha Stele) discovered in 1868. In the inscription King Mesha of Moab boasts of dedicating an entire Israelite city to destruction.
    3. Blood vengeance. The selection of six cities of refuge in Israel served to temper some of the more violent aspects of the custom of blood vengeance. It represented a significant half-way house in God’s efforts to meet the people where they were. Ellen White comments on this divine adaptation as follows:”The appointment of these cities had been commanded by Moses, “that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares. And they shall be unto you cities for refuge,” he said, “that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgment.” [Num. 35:11-12] This merciful provision was rendered necessary by the ancient custom of private vengeance, by which the punishment of the murderer devolved on the nearest relative or the next heir of the deceased. In cases where guilt was clearly evident, it was not necessary to wait for a trial by the magistrates. The avenger might pursue the criminal anywhere, and put him to death wherever he should be found. The Lord did not see fit to abolish this custom at that time; but he made provision to insure the safety of those who should take life unintentionally.” (Patriarchs and Prophets, 515)
  2. Violent forms of worship
    1. Animal Sacrifice. The first death recorded in the Bible would have been the animals killed by God to provide clothes for Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21). The first sacrifice recorded was that made by Abel (Gen. 4:4), with its tragic and murderous aftermath.
    2. Child Sacrifice. God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:2) confirms that child sacrifice was seen as the highest gift to the gods, a conclusion confirmed by God’s plan to have Israel “redeem” their firstborn (Exod. 13:11-16), and by the prophet Micah, who put the “fruit of my body for the sin of my soul” at the top of his list of (unacceptable) sacrifices (Micah 6:6-8). God intervened with Abraham to show that God would provide the sacrifice, not Abraham. The all of the evidence together points to the clear conclusion that the practice of child sacrifice was already deeply embedded in the human psyche.

Crucial questions:

  1. If God is seen as radically adapting to violent human customs, what does this tell us about the character of God and the issues in the great cosmic battle?
  2. Is it possible to understand the cosmic battle without a clear view of the life and death of Jesus Christ?

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