One author said that Genesis is bad science and bad history but great theology. Of course the fact is that the early chapters of Genesis isn’t history at all, it is pre-history. Untold thousands of years of human development are conflated into a few chapters which begin in a garden and conclude with human industry, ingenuity and depravity — and divine disillusionment. From a human point of view the high point is the Tower of Babel incident. The period closes with a segue story, the story of Noah where God starts all over again. God created a garden, planted it with the best God could imagine and entrusted it to humanity for its nurture and care – and so ripe was God’s disappointment in the outcome that God wiped the slate clean and started all over.
33“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” 42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
My daughter who delights in teaching literature to middle schoolers told her mother that she had learned that her family history goes back to the Arden family in Great Britain. Then she pointed out that William Shakespeare’s mother was an Arden. I find that convenient for a literature teacher, if not factual. At Genesis 11:10 we have a fascinating table of “begats”. It is Abram’s family history, ostensibly tracing his lineage back to one of the sons of Noah. It’s the way to connect Jacob’s ancestry and Israel to diluvian prehistory.
One author said that Genesis is bad science and bad history but great theology. Of course the fact is that the early chapters of Genesis isn’t history at all, it is pre-history. Untold thousands of years of human development are conflated into a few chapters which begin in a garden and conclude with human industry, ingenuity and depravity and divine disillusionment. From a human point of view the high point is the Tower of Babel incident. The period closes with a segue story, the story of Noah where God starts all over again. God created a garden, planted it with the best God could imagine and entrusted it to humanity for its nurture and care – and so ripe was God’s disappointment in the outcome that God wiped the slate clean and started all over.
We watched the new True Grit movie the other evening. I liked the old one better. The story of Israel that begins with Genesis 12 is a remake. In “creation take two” God promises and then delivers to Abram’s progeny another veritable garden, a land flowing with milk and honey. We learn that Abram trusted God to show him the way to a “land that I will show you”. It is a story of boom and bust. The people involved aren’t nice. He got rich but due to a drought he and his wife fled to Egypt. Then with Lot he migrated north into southern Judah. He and his extended family looted the Canaanite tribes and drove them off their lands. Again, rich in property and livestock he had no children and thus no future. That’s where Hagar and Sarah and their children Ishmael and Isaac enter the picture. The story concludes sadly with Hagar and her son being driven off into the desert and Abraham taking Isaac up the mountain with every intent to slay him—and God intervenes. Then Isaac gets married and has two sons. Jacob steals Esau’s birthright by bribery and deception. Jacob has a dozen sons but the competition for Dad’s attention became so toxic that Joseph is sold into slavery. Tragically, because of global warming or something like that, for a second time the family flees to Egypt. Because of his managerial skills Joseph was positioned to see that his father and family receive special treatment. What seemed a blessing turned into a curse as Israel, the name for the children of Jacob, are impressed into slavery.
After years of oppression God calls Moses to lead them north from bondage in Egypt to the land shown to Father Abraham. They complained about leaving Egypt. They complained about the threats they feared in the land of promise. They complained about the food and water as they wandered the desert until one whole generation died off. And finally they entered Canaan which became a period of conquest and settlement. God gave them Judges to lead them but they wanted a king like everybody else. God gave them a king – a whole series of kings – few did anything that was pleasing to God.
In the 80th Psalm David wrote: 8You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. 9You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. 10The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches; 11it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River. 12Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? 13The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it. 14Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, 15the stock that your right hand planted. 16They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
There was no justice in the gates. There was no mercy. The religious institutions supported graft and greed. The political institutions formed alliances with other nations through marriage, bringing the gods of other nations into the very heart of Israel indirect contradiction to God’s instructions. God told them it was mercy, justice and humility that was needed, not more sacrifice. They didn’t listen. Finally things got so bad that God told them through the voice of the prophets that because of their merciless injustice and unrighteousness God would utterly destroy the that had been created for them.
What begins as a poetic love story ends as the prophet’s lament in Isaiah 5:1-7, listen:
Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.2He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.4What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
5And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.6I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 7For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!
What had become a royal family was abruptly ended. The political and religious structures were razed. The leading families were carted off into servitude – this time to Babylon and Assyria. And God started all over.
After years of languish, Darius the Great, King of the Persian Empire, the only non-Jew ever called Messiah by the Jews, allowed the people who had been taken into captivity to return to the homeland. It was is ruins. The stories of Ezra and Nehemiah tell of the beginning of what became a renewed Israel with a new Temple. Because of the political and commercial importance of the eastern coast of the Mediterranean they would never be free again. When some 500 years later Jesus came on the scene Israel was a garrison state under the the Roman Empire. By then the religious institutions, political leaders and economic elite had again succumbed to the same old temptations.
The words of Jesus found in Matthew 21:43 are Jesus preaching on the Isaiah text. The text reads “45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.” Jesus draws his comments from the ancient story of creation, from the poetry of the Psalmist and from lament of Isaiah. He says the Lord of the vineyard expected good grapes and got only wild ones. He expected justice and righteousness and instead heard the pleas of the suffering and saw bloodshed: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”
History tells us that it wasn’t long after the Pharisees and chief priests crucified Jesus that Jerusalem was utterly destroyed. And for the last two thousand years the place God showed Abram, the land promised of the children of Israel, the boundary up to which Moses led the those who escaped Egypt, the vineyard revered by the Psalmist, the place to which Israel returned from the Diaspora – has been a smoldering piece of scorched earth.
God had started over. This time it wasn’t with promises of wealth, progeny, lands, covenants or commandments but with a Kingdom of the Spirit, lead by Christ. A community of faith with Christ dwelling within the hearts of God’s people. And God’s intention for humanity is still the same as ever, to have a society of justice and mercy. God’s vision for humanity hasn’t changed – it is of a place where every person has their needs met, simple needs like meaningful employment, shelter, adequate nutrition, clothing — where family life can flourish. Paul in Galatians 5 describes the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” In what kind of environment can such fruit grow?
He entrusted that vision to a simple group of men and women who labored, sometimes mistakenly, sometimes sacrificially, to bring that vision to reality. It is the kingdom of God. Listen again to what Jesus said: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”
When we pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray and say “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” do we need to ask ourselves are we producing fruit for the kingdom? Will God again need to start over? If so, to whom will God will give the kingdom?