Thursday, December 04, 2003

Repitition, repitition

I love to read the Bible in its original languages. For one thing, it's a constant reminder that the Bible is ancient. For another, and it's often a struggle, but it forces me to absorb one word at a time. I find when I'm reading my English translations I seem to gloss over the text much as I would any other book or magazine article. But wrestling with the original languages allows me to catch literary technique like repitition.

For instance, I've been reading the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and been impressed with the number of times the author hammers home the idea of father, your father, your father in heaven, your heavenly father, your heavenly father who sees what is secret. This radical new relation to God is a theme that the author of Matthew establishes from the very start of Jesus's ministry.

Then there's Genesis 5. I can't say I've ever heard any sermon or devotion on Genesis 5. It's the first of many geneologies throughout the OT, of which pretty much every American Christian will tell you is "boring." But here's what I find fascinating: The chapter follows a rigid structure. "When ____ had lived _____ years, he became the father of _____. _____ lived after the birth of _____ _____ years, and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of _____ were _____ years; and he died."

We get this for Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah and Lamech--nine generations. With the exception of a brief interjection explaining that Enoch doesn't die but rather vanishes one day during his "quiet time," there is no deviation of the pattern. No biography. No gory details. No characterization. No hint at all in the character of these men or their contributions to the establishment of mankind and civilization. Nothing but names, ages and sons.

Nothing, that is, until we come to Lamech and the birth of the 10th generation from Adam. At the birth of his son, Lamech names his child Noah, with the exclamation, "Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands" (NAS).

The footnotes of your Bible probably tell you that "Noah" sounds like the Hebrew word for "comfort" or "relief," depending on your translation. And that is true; the root verb translated as "bring us relief" is NHM. But also, a simple juxtaposition of the Hebrew characters NH gives you HN, or hen--"favor, grace."

The NIV translates Lamech's proclamation in Genesis 5:29 as, "He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed."

The New King James translates, "This one will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord has cursed."

The Hebrew is: Zeh yinahemenu mimaasenu umeitsibon yadeynu min-haadamah asher arrah YHWH, or literally, "This will bring comfort from our work and from the sorrow of our hands from the ground that Yahweh cursed."

Why would Lamech say this? Why does the Genesis author preclude the details of the eight preceding fathers of mankind and all of a sudden slip this in? Why this? And why here?

I'm reminded of the mythologic prophecy of the one promised to deliver humankind from suffering, and here it is, right in the opening scenes of time. From the very beginning, mankind longed for, pined for, desparately hoped for a savior.

In Genesis 1, we see the creation of the world, God's good paradise. In Genesis 2, we see yet another tradition of creation and detailed account of God's relationship to mankind. In Genesis 3, everything goes terrible wrong. In Genesis 4, the seeds of death bear fruit. And in Genesis 5 we see the passage of time in generation after generation after generation. And then one man finally cries out in hope.

But Lamech got it all wrong. Noah did not bring comfort. He did not relieve the suffering of mankind. He did not lift Yahweh's curse. In fact, Noah lived to see all of mankind annihilated by the wrath of God. Sorrow reached a climax and began again through Noah's lifetime.

More than ever before I'm aware of the Advent season. I'm constantly dwelling on the hope it brings. I don't know why exactly. Perhaps it's the current season in my own life and my own renewed desperate cry for hope to see the shackles of darkness shattered and a new dawn break.

For it is Jesus who came to "bring comfort from our work and from the sorrow of our hands from the ground that Yahweh cursed."

Advent is the long-awaited fruition of Lamech's cry.

posted by Peter at 9:41 PM
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