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By Stephen Green.
(Based on an article first published in Christian Voice: January 2003)
The book of Genesis includes around half the timescale of human history. The title, Genesis, is from the Greek word for 'Beginning', and indeed the book sets the scene for the whole Bible. It is probably true to say that all the doctrines of Christianity can be traced back to some kind of a beginning in Genesis. In particular, the origins and structures of human society are set out in some detail.
MAN AS CREATED BEING
Genesis starts, of course, with two complementary accounts of creation. You could not devise a more appropriate way to begin the account of God's dealings with man. It is important that the Sovereign of the Universe, sets out His claims to be the Almighty Creator from the start. Important, that is, for our benefit. If we start from a position that we have evolved and are thereby self-existent with responsibility to no-one but ourselves, we shall fail to grasp how we fit in to creation and why man-made plans for the ordering of society will always fail to deliver peace and justice. Only by accepting that we owe our existence to an Omnipotent Divine Ruler will we make sense of the world and of how to run human society.
Creation makes academic sense. One of the newest academic disciplines is that of information theory, which became a necessity in the computer age. Information theory has coined the phrase 'garbage in, garbage out,' which states that information cannot arise spontaneously. Information, whether binary digits or DNA, is always the product of a higher intelligence. If that is true, and there seems no likelihood of it being disproven, then not even the DNA of the humble woodlouse, or a forest flower, came about by chance.
A second plank of information theory is the understanding that it is impossible for any organism completely to understand as more complex organism. In fact, information theory goes further, and suggests that an organism cannot even understand itself. That means the human brain will never understand the human brain. So man can never understand himself, and as human society is far more complex than a single man, it follows that no man, be he ever so highly exalted as the greatest philosopher the world has ever seen, will never understand human society.
THE DESIGNER WRITES THE HANDBOOK
It is good to read Psalm 19 alongside Genesis 1 and 2, which we do with the Christian Voice Lamplight Bible Reading Plan. This great psalm, quoted by Paul in Romans 10:18, portrays three linked facets of God. In verses 1-6, we see the awesome Creator, whose glory fills the heavens and whose voice goes out into all the world. In verses 7-10, the focus dramatically shifts to God as the holy and righteous Lawgiver. Finally, in verses 11-14, God is spoken of as the One who can release us by His grace both from the stain of sin and the power of sin.
It is highly significant that God as Creator comes first in this Psalm and first in the whole Bible. Only by first establishing His credentials as Creator can God reveal Himself as Lawgiver. To put it another way, if a human being designs a machine, he has the right to tell other people how to make it work and how to repair it if it goes wrong. Indeed, not only does he have the right, he has the moral duty to write both an instruction book and a workshop manual. In the same way, because God created the world, with mankind at the pinnacle, by His great might and wisdom, He had not just the right, but the obligation to set down in His law-word how creation, including human society, is to work. If God had given us no clue in the pages of the Bible how to ought to live and relate one to another, and no machinery for putting things right when they go wrong, we should have grounds for complaint. We exclude Him and His Commandments from our individual, family, church or national life at our peril. So how does God say it ought to work?
The answer lies in the social institutions God has set up, of which the foundational one is that of the family. The institution of the family is set out in Genesis 2:23-24. When the man leaves his mother and father and cleaves to his wife, a new family comes into being, headed by the man (Gen 2:18, 23) and in God's time blessed with children (Gen 1:28 and 4:1). God does not intend human beings in the normal course of events to be isolated or on their own. "It is not good that the man should be alone," God said in Gen 2:18, and formed a woman from the man's side to be his ideal companion, a helper "meet," or fit, for him. A wonderful hymn of praise to God's generosity says "God setteth the solitary in families," (Psalm 68:6) using a word which means "households" with all the fellowship that word implies.
The man is intended to rule his family in righteousness with God-given authority (1 Peter 3:1-7). The man owes his authority to God, and the woman owes hers to the man (Eph 5:22-23). Both have dominion over the animal kingdom (Gen 1:28, Gen 2:19-20) and they, which means we, must exercise good stewardship over God's creation precisely because they and we are also created beings who must answer to God. But although the family is God's foundational human social institution, it is not enough, and Genesis chapters 4 to 6 show what happens when the only social institution is the family.
In Chapter 4, we read of Cain's murder of Abel and of his punishment of banishment. There is no system of justice where the only social institution is the family. As we build up to the flood, especially in chapter 6, we see how the unrestrained patriarchal society is degenerating into anarchy. We need to say quickly that a matriarchal society would do no better. The point is that under this social system where the only social institution was the family (Gen 5:23, 6:1-5), both men and women could do what they wanted and what they and their women wanted to do was evil. A wicked man, Lamech, is able to boast of murder and of getting away with it (Gen 4:23-24). It appears that people were engaging in ritual magic and demonic activity (Gen 6:1-4). God saw the wickedness of man "great in the earth". "Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" or "everyday." In the face of such evil, with what appear to be beings of demonic descent (Gen 4:6) walking the earth, the flood became inevitable. A fresh start was needed, from the family of the only righteous man alive, Noah. When the flood was over, a further kind of restraining authority would be urgently set in place.
THE STATE AND THE SWORD
God's covenant with Noah and his sons includes and means all mankind in perpetuity. Genesis 9:9-12 speaks of "your seed after you" "for perpetual generations" and the rainbow, the sign of the covenant, is there forever, as an "everlasting covenant" (v16). From the last verse of the preceding chapter, we know that the days and the seasons will continue without a world-wide flood "while the earth remaineth." It is God's common grace that gives His creation the stability we all need to plant and to harvest for food and it is good always to remember that.
An implication from God's Covenant with Noah and his sons is the establishment of the restraining authority of the nation state. This is very clear from reading chapter 9 in the light of the following chapter 10. Immediately after the sorry incident of Noah's drunkenness, we read how the nations were set up from the sons of Noah. Genesis chapter 10 records seventy nations plus one, the one being the line of Shem. Seventy is the Hebrew number of completeness, so what we have in Genesis 10 is a list of 'all the gentile nations'.
Obviously the most dramatic element of God's covenant with the sons of Noah is the institution of the death penalty in Gen 9:5-6. Firstly, the words "by man shall his blood be shed" shows that God requires man as a partner in putting right what goes wrong in human society. God could just strike down murderers, thieves, adulterers and blasphemers, but He does not work like that. He is humble enough, and generous enough, to involve ordinary human beings in His divine purposes, and those include the administration of justice.
So far as the death penalty for murder is concerned, the only penalty revealed in Genesis chapter 9, a compelling reason for it is given. Man is made in the image of God. The taking of an innocent life has a spiritual dimension for that very reason. What has been done wrong by murder puts creation out of balance and can not be put right by a fine or by imprisonment. We discover in Exodus that God's judicial law is based on the principle of restitution. What has been done wrong must be restored to the victim, and by that act of restitution, the balance returns. In the case of murder, jarring as it is to our liberal 21st-century minds, only the life of the murderer can restore the balance.
When she was crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1953, the Queen was given the Sword of State as her instrument of justice. Until very recently it was understood that the ultimate penalty was the defining article of a rule of law. The point being made in these two chapters of Genesis is that only in the context of the nation state may such a rule of law, or indeed any rule of law which governs a whole society, be applied. At the time when Cain slew his brother, the only societal institution was that of the family. We do not even have the institution of the church at this time of human history. Although Gen 4:26 hints at public worship, the setting up of a structure for devotion for God, with a class of men dedicated specifically to that purpose, comes much later. Even so, the church, or the temple, is not given the death penalty and a rule of law outside its own sphere. Cain could not be put to death in the absence of the institution of the state with all its machinery of justice. The only penalty, a penalty which could only be carried out by God Himself, was banishment. We are intended to understand from Cain's banishment that a family may not put any of its own members to death.
It must anger and grieve the heart of God that today in Great Britain we have abolished the death penalty upon the guilty by the state, where it belongs, and we have substituted, by the evil practice of abortion, the death penalty on the innocent by the family, where it does not.
THE SONS OF NOAH
It is plain from Genesis that it is as a result of the fall that sin began to rule in the hearts of men. It is clear also that the nation state and its mechanisms for the punishment of evil-doers derive their authority from Almighty God Himself and are clearly necessary because of the fall. Ministers of the state are ministers of God to do good (Rom 13:4).
Thus the Christian position is that man is born wicked, and needs the structures of society to restrain him. He also needs a Redeemer to reconcile him back to God. If we start from the other point of view, that man is born good, then he needs no God and no Redeemer and to explain human wickedness we must say that the structures of society corrupt him. The latter, of course, is the view of Rousseau and Karl Marx. There is another view, the feminist view that all men are born evil and all women virtuous, but we can safely leave that absurdity on one side, here at least. Only the Christian view and the Marxian view are logical from where they start, but Marx starts from a wrong assumption, and his system ends in tyranny.
There are actually pure socialists still around today, who argue against law and money. If the state and its structures were abolished, they say, mankind would live in peace and harmony in anarchy (which means 'no law'). But God gave mankind the opportunity to try that, before the flood, and it ended in tears. According to the Bible, anarchy as a system is positively ante-diluvian.
Each social institution, family and state, is intended to work in harmony with the other. We are given strong indications that neither may trespass on the terrain of the other. Both are subject to Almighty God, but neither is subject to the other. The family may not operate in defiance of righteous national law, but equally the state must recognise its limits and not try to become a surrogate father to families. But just as families had thought (Gen 3:5-6 & 6:5) to usurp God, and had been judged by the flood, so nations now had the same rebellious idea. Genesis 11 records what happened.
The ziggurat tower of Babel was to have had layers dedicated to heathen deities, and at the top, or so the idea was, the president or ruler of all the nations would perform idolatrous and adulterous acts with the demonic moon-god. The nations would come together and make them "a name", over and above the name of God. They would take to themselves collectively the authority owed to God alone. God had instituted a rule of law which was to be administered by each nation state. Just as the smaller unit of the family could not function as a nation state, because it had no power to administer the death penalty, so all the nations could not come together and make a 'united nations' rule of law. That is precisely what the nations were trying to do under Nimrod, the first antichrist character in history.
The judgment of God in Genesis 11:6-9 put matters right. He separated the nations by language. The name of the tower and city of Nimrod, 'Babel' means 'confusion.' That is why we should be suspicious, at best, when nations try to come together in their own name, either as a League of Nations, or a United Nations, or a European Union. The demonic realm is most likely still behind it. God has plainly set the boundaries of nations (Acts 17:26) for His own righteous purpose.
To sum up, the family is the primary social institution of God, and it means a man and woman united as one flesh with children as God grants them. A second social institution, that of the nation state, was founded by God to maintain peace and order according to His judicial laws. Both these societal institutions owe their authority to God alone, each has its own sphere of operation. Each should respect the other, and the leaders of each should at all times be humble enough to give all glory to the God who made them.