God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4:25-26 (b)

See:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4:25-26 (a)

4:25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, for Cain slew him.” 26 To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time men began to call upon the name of the LORD.

Seth has a son named Enosh, but no wife is mentioned, unlike Lamech who though in a discredited lineage mentions the names of his wives.

The “name of the Lord” seems to imply that the relationship with God is being made “personal” – now on a named basis do people approach God.   The claim that people begin to call upon the name of the Lord is unusual since earlier in Genesis 4:3 Cain and Abel are both offering sacrifice to the God who has a name.  LORD (Lord in all capital letters) in English bibles is used to replace the name of God (YHWH in the Hebrew) and follows the practice of Hebrew Scriptures where God’s Name is too sacred to actually say.   

“men began to call upon the name of the LORD.”    The scriptures do not give a totally consistent picture as to how Israel came to worship the God whose name is YHWH.  In Exodus 3:14, God first reveals His Name to Moses at the burning bush, which is why the Monastery of St. Catherine at Mt. Sinai is such a holy place.  But in Genesis 4:26 the implication is that from the earliest times people knew the Name of the Lord and worshipped the God whose name is YHWH – long before the Name was revealed on Sinai. How thy learned the Lord’s Name is not detailed in Genesis.  Certainly they didn’t learn the Name from scriptures as they weren’t even written yet.  But it is to be assumed that God wanted humans to call upon His Name and so He revealed it.  The holiness of God’s name is never in doubt throughout the scriptures.  God’s name (YHWH) is in the name of the Word incarnate, for the name “Jesus” means “YHWH saves.” 

Seth is honored in both Jewish and Christian tradition.   “Seth’s fervor for the Creator is sung throughout the world, for he served Him truly with a blameless life and disposition of soul.  Now in the land of the living, he cries aloud: ‘Holy are You, O Lord!’”  (From the Canon of the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers)

‘…began to call upon the name of the LORD.”     If this is meant to imply prayer, it is the first mention of prayer in Genesis.  There is no record of  Adam and Eve praying to the God who has a Name.   The word “prayer” in fact occurs only once in the entirety of Genesis in chapter 25.  The word “prayed” occurs only twice in Genesis, the first time in chapter 20.   There is very little mention of, let alone emphasis on, prayer in the Book of Genesis and none in the opening 11 chapters.  Abel, Cain and Noah will each offer sacrifice to God, which implies some type of ritual.   But prayer itself does not seem to have been a major part of their lives.   Is this perhaps because they still felt closeness to God that will be lost later as the effects of the fall widen the divide between humanity and divinity?  Noah is given in the building of the ark a superhuman project to complete but is not recorded as ever praying to God, or asking for God’s help or mercy.   No one before the Flood ever asks God for anything in prayer – for themselves or for others.   Nor does anyone ever offer thanksgiving to God or express any form of love for Him.  Cain’s lament in Genesis 4:13 that his punishment from the Lord is too severe is as close to prayer as we can find in these opening Genesis stories.

 Next:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4:25-26 (c)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4:25-26 (a)

See God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4:19-24 (c)

4:25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, for Cain slew him.” 26 To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time men began to call upon the name of the LORD.

Christ Raising Adam & Eve from Sheol

Though her name is not explicitly used in the text,  this is the last reference to Eve in the  canonical Jewish scriptures.  Eve speaks as she did when Cain was born and she is the one to name the son.  Adam who had little to say in Paradise remains mute after the fall of humankind.  Adam engages in no conversation nor are any more words attributed to him.   Despite being a man of so few words, his name will be remembered throughout the history of the people of God.

As with Cain, Eve names the child – an interesting twist since the mother’s name is excluded from the text and women will not be named in the genealogical lists until long after the flood when Abram takes Sarai to be his wife.  Sarai will be the next named wife and mother in the Sethite lineage. 

It is through the lineage of Seth that St. Luke will trace Christ the son of God back to Adam the son of God (Luke 3:38).  In the Jewish Septuagint we find these words: “Shem and Seth were honored among men, and Adam above every living being in the creation” (Sirach 49:16).

With the murder of Abel, Adam and Eve lose both sons – Abel to death, and Cain is banished from their company.  Eve laments only her dead son and finds comfort in the new child who replaces the deceased Abel.

“To Seth also a son was born…”     Unless the text is suggesting that the men of yore were able to bear children, we have to assume there was a mother. Mothers and wives get short shrift in the Seth family tree.  They are implicit in the text, but never explicitly mentioned.   The question is often asked, “Where do the wives of these men come from anyway?”   While some think the wives were their sisters and that early on God allowed incest, this seems unlikely as nowhere in the text is incest ever blessed.  Polygamy was mentioned in the text in relationship to Lamech son of Cain.  Incest is not mentioned let alone approved.   In fact, incest is needed to explain the source of the nameless wives only if one reads Genesis literally and assumes there are no other people on earth other than those specifically mentioned in the text.   Genesis does not deny the existence of people outside of the purview of the text, and seems to imply their existence.   The story only focuses on a very particular lineage, and is already developing the Biblical theme of the chosen people.  The text mentions the main characters have “other sons and daughters” but it has no interest in these other children and gives us no account of what becomes of them.   Genesis narrowly follows a very particular geneaology, shows little interest in the mentioned “other” children of the main men (they are in fact called the “other” son and daughters – those children not pertinent to “our” story), and absolutely no interest in the humans that are unrelated to the chosen lineage.  The story does not deny the existence of other humans which God created, it ignores them.  Ignoring the “other sons and daughter” is indicative of the author’s focus and his totally disinterest in people who are not of this particular pedigree.  The Bible contains truth, it is the revelation of God, but it never claims that all the facts of human history are contained in Genesis.  It never claims that it is co-terminus with all that can be known about humankind and human history.  It does in fact give strong hints of “other” peoples not part of the main story – the Nephilim for example.    When it comes to people, the Bible has a very narrow and precise focus and interest.  It is showing how God worked in and through a very particular people on earth.   The sense of election and favor are essential to the biblical revelation and message.  Genesis does offer us the truth about being human, but does not claim to give the history and name of every human that ever existed.  Genesis is the true story of what it means to be human – it really is doctrine in the guise of narrative as St. Gregory of Nyssa claimed.   In this sense in every generation it is the story about “us.”    St. Paul wrote about Adam being a prototype (1 Corinthians 15) – his story is  the story of all humans that ever existed.   We don’t have to be genetically related to Adam to be spiritually related to him.  The same is true of Christ who is the new Adam, the new prototype of all humans.  St. Paul who knew nothing about genetics sees our human relationship in this way:  “For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical.  He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God. … We say that faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised”    (Romans 2:28-29, 4:9-12).   This is as close as Paul gets to a genetic conversation.   He is not much interested in those related to Adam or Abraham according to the flesh.  The real issue is if we are people of faith.  The importance of Genesis 1-11 is not lost if we are not all related genetically to Adam.  The fact is Adam is a prototype of all humans – we are related to him spiritually and are his descendants because we have his same mortal nature not because we have his genes.

Next:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4:25-26 (b)

Thus Says the Lord: The Fast I Choose is to Share Bread with the Hungry

Probably the most common activity Orthodox Christians today associate with Great Lent is fasting from food.  One can wonder why simply denying oneself food got emphasized in Orthodox spirituality more than denying oneself food in order to give charitably the food to the needy, especially if one thinks about the teachings of Christ that in giving food to the hungry we give it to Him.  “When did we see you hungry Lord and not feed you?”  (Matthew 25:44)   It doesn’t seem to me that our Lord ever taught us simply to refuse God’s bounty, but He did teach us to act in love toward one another.   We deny ourselves in love – meaning we deny ourselves in order to turn our attention to the need of others.  Denying ourselves food and then ignoring the need of the hungry is hardly commandment of Christ!  If Great Lent consists only of abstaining from certain foods, that alone does not fulfill the commandments of Christ that we love one another.

All of us Orthodox also are well aware of God’s own teachings on fasting in Isaiah 58:3-11:    

“’Why have we fasted, and thou see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and thou take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.  Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist. Fasting like yours this

Prophet Isaiah

day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a rush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?  Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? … If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,  if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”

The fast that the Lord commands fulfills the teachings of Jesus Christ our Lord in the Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46).

My guess as to why our Great Lent ended up being so totally focused on giving up of food is that once Great Lent lost its catechetical nature, it became an ascetical endeavor.  It fell under the purview of monks – the ascetics of the church.  Monastics, by tradition, are those who have given up everything to follow Christ.  Because they already gave up everything to follow Christ (embraced voluntary poverty) they could hardly emphasize giving to the poor and needy as a spiritual endeavor.  Instead they pushed their asceticism and self denial to a new level – to what they still had and needed – food.   So Great Lent under monastic influence became a mostly food fasting endeavor.  The charitable part of fasting was put on the back burner as they technically had nothing to give and so all they could do was further deny themselves through food fasting.

Great Lent is a period of spiritual disciple in which we are learning how to be disciples of Christ.  The discipline of self denial is not to help us forget others as well, but to deny the self in order to love God and neighbor.  Great Lent is the time to learn the difference between self-love and the love that Christ demonstrated to us, taught us, and then commanded us to love others as He has loved us.  We don’t need to learn how to be monks, we who have not followed the monastic path need to learn how to be Christians in our daily lives.  This means we must learn how to love the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters or face being judged like the goats at His left hand and cast into the eternal fire prepared not for humans but for Satan (Matthew 25:41-43).

Becoming a disciple means becoming more human – loving, being generous, charitable, merciful, giving and forgiving.  It doesn’t mean becoming more food oriented, or concentrating more of one’s self and salvation.  As St. John Cassian said, “He who does something good and expects a reward is serving not God but his own will.”    If we fast for our own salvation, we are serving ourselves.  If we fast as God wishes us to fast (Isaiah 58), we fast for the good of others – to love and serve them, rather than ourselves.

Bonobo Mother & Child

I was very struck by a recent scientific study done with Bonobos.  Bonobos are chimpanzees who happen to be genetically our closest relative in the animal kingdom.  Whether or not one accepts the theory of evolution, it is still a fact that Bonobo and human DNA is said to be 98.4% identical.  Bonobos in this study showed an amazing willingness to voluntarily share food with other Bonobos.  Placed in a cage by themselves with their favorite foods, Bonobos will go out of their way to unlock doors and allow another Bonobo without the food to come in and share the favored foods.  You can watch a video showing this at Bonobos Opt to Share their Food.   There is a sentiment expressed in some Orthodox hymns that all creation obeys God, except for us humans, or more personally and not pointing the accusing finger at others, except for me.  This Great Lent, we would do well to imitate the Bonobos and share our food and our blessings with those less fortunate and in need – the least of the brothers and sisters of Christ.  If chimps can get it right, so can we.  We are after all supposed to be reason endowed sheep and capable of behaving morally.  Perhaps the Bonobo study will show that altruism is in fact in our genes, and that we have to go against human nature to be stingy and begrudge the hungry food.  Perhaps our genes really do precede the Fall, and embedded in them is the goodness which God originally placed in and saw in all creation.

See also my blog Fasting: Curbing the Desires of the Heart