For the week of October 29, 2005 / 26 Tishri 5766
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 1:1 - 6:8
Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5 - 43:11
Getting Our Bearings
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." (Bereshit / Genesis 1:27,28)
It is this week that we again return to the beginning of the Torah with the reading of the first chapters of the book Bereshit, or as it is commonly called in English, Genesis. The Hebrew title, Bereshit means, "in the beginning" and is taken from the very first word of the book. The so-called English title, Genesis, which is derived from the Greek, means "origins." So either way we are looking at beginnings.
According to historian Thomas Cahill, author of The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, the Jewish people introduced to the human experience a new way of thinking about time. Prior to the emergence of Abraham and his descendants, time was understood as a repeating cycle. It was through the Jews (I would prefer to say, though God's revelation to the Jews) that life is seen more like a journey or a process with a destination, rather than something that simply keeps repeating itself.
It is not difficult to understand why ancient peoples would perceive life as cyclical, since nature follows an annual pattern. Every year things grow, die and then grow again. That anyone might look at human life in the same way might seem strange to us in our day, but according to Cahill, it is because of the influence of Hebrew thought that we see life as a progression.
The Bible is very clear that life is progressive. Human history in general, as well as each of our individual lives, has a beginning and a destiny. Life will not simply continue as it always has. We will all face God in the end. Life as we know it will culminate in a judgment and a great renewal. How we live our lives today will affect our quality of life in the age to come.
At the same time, while life as we know it is moving toward a goal, there are aspects of life that are indeed cyclical just as the ancients thought. The course of nature does repeat itself. We have daily, weekly, monthly, and annual cycles around which we organize our lives. For the most part these cycles are both predictable and helpful.
It might be correct then to say that while the Scriptures view life as a progression there is a cyclical aspect - not that life actually repeats itself - but that God built into history recurring familiar themes. Those themes remind us of God's intentional design and dependability, providing us with a point of reference through which we may keep our bearings as we journey on to our life's destination - both as individuals and as the entire human family.
Each generation, while in some way is an expression of the cyclical aspect of life, makes a unique and essential contribution to the ongoing human saga. Each new generation represents God's continued commitment to his plan and purposes for our planet. Each new generation has the opportunity to participate in the mandate God established for us in the Garden and later developed through his covenant relationships with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and finally the Messiah, Yeshua.
Every year at this time we read again that it was God who initiated life, that he created human beings in his own image and put us on Earth with a purpose. Every year we are reminded of our origins, our mandate, and thus our destiny. After whatever things we have gone through the past year, the opening chapters of Bereshit help us to get our bearings once again as we prepare to face the next stage of our life's journey.
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