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Let’s pause our Genesis series here. Before we begin the Abraham story, it would be good to review why we are using a kingdom perspective, and how the story sounds so far. We will then provide a taste of how this perspective reshapes the way we hear familiar texts like John 3:16.
Why are we reading Scripture from a kingdom perspective? For Jesus, the kingdom of God was the centre of everything: his teaching, parables, healings, exorcisms, and passion. It was his mission. It was the mission he gave his followers. But when you read the literature today, you find a confusing array of ideas about what Jesus meant by the kingdom. That’s largely because of the enormous cultural gap between his original audience and us today. Jesus did not need to define what he meant by the kingdom of God, because the people he was speaking to all knew it was the story they were living in. But we do not understand it as our story: we live in a democratic world characterized by individual choice, so we actually filter out the ancient kingdom concepts as arcane. There is a major disconnect between how Jesus and his audience thought, and how we today think.
That means we need to go back to the start and re-read the narrative of Scripture the way Jesus and his contemporaries saw it: as the story of the kingdom. It’s staggering how the Genesis narrative holds together when read from this perspective.
Sip this slowly: the espresso version of Genesis 1 – 11:
- Our world is the territory of our heavenly ruler. Earth is designed to be under heaven’s rule. Our sovereign called us into partnership with him. He empowered us to represent him and to manage the other creatures as he manages us (Gen 1).
- King YHWH placed us in his palace garden, supplied with an abundance of food and water flowing from his presence. He helped us realize we were other-centred creatures. We were thrilled with all he provided (Gen 2).
- Instead of subduing the creatures, humans rebelled—grasping the power to decide good and evil for ourselves. The sovereign investigated our crime, explaining the conflict/struggle we had introduced into his realm. By choosing independence, we disconnected from our life-source (Gen 3).
- So we grasped the power of death and started to kill each other. By the seventh generation, human society celebrated the power of death. If the killers live to produce offspring, is there any justice? (Gen 4)
- But our sovereign still had a people who called on his name for justice. Throughout their generations they reflected his image, walked with him, and looked to him for release from suffering (Gen 5).
- Then the distinction between these two groups disintegrated. No one partnered with YHWH: everyone had corrupted their ways. With deep grief, the sovereign announced his intention to wipe his corrupted world clean (Gen 6).
- YHWH saved Noah, calling on him to save the animals. As the rains fell and the floods destroyed the earth, the sovereign rescued his people, and they fulfilled their responsibility to rescue the animals. In this way, the sovereign replanted his kingdom (Gen 7–8).
- In the renewed kingdom, the sovereign addressed the issue of violence by giving the community the power of life and death. He vowed to never give up ruling the world, no matter how difficult his subjects were. Out of his own shame, Noah abused the power given to him, instituting slavery (Gen 9).
- Nations developed as a consequence of the sovereign giving the human community the power of life and death. Nimrod instituted war as the means by which kingdoms take control. YHWH didn’t stop him (Gen 10).
- YHWH did intervene when people tried to establish a city to rule the whole earth. That’s his prerogative. Kingdoms like Babylon cannot take the world from the heavenly ruler (Gen 11).
Are you surprised how the plot of the story develops once you see the kingdom as the unifying theme? Are you seeing other kingdom angles that I have missed?
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What others are saying
If you are aware of anyone who is reading Genesis as an integrated story like this, please let us know.
It’s far more common to treat these chapters as merely an introduction to the Christian doctrine of soteriology (salvation). That approach is a bit like peering through a keyhole: it gives you a certain angle, but you miss most of what’s in the room.
Here’s a typical example. William Sanford La Sor, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic William Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 31:
The primeval prologue prepares the way for the history of redemption. The relationship is that of problem and solution. Its chapters carry utmost importance for understanding all of Scripture. The desperate problem of human sin so poignantly portrayed in Gen. 1–11 is solved by God’s gracious initiative, already intimated in the prologue, but sounded strongly in the promise of land and posterity to Abraham.
Read Genesis 1–11.