Tuesday, July 19, 2011

And the rest of the story...

Since I've been asked, here are the details to answer regarding the conundrum of Genesis 10:21 "To Shem also, the father of all of the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born."

Is Eber an elder brother of Japheth, making him a previously unmentioned fourth brother with Shem, Ham and Japheth? Was there some kind of Levirate marriage going on wherein Eber, the eldest, died and Shem took his wife and children for himself, in effect stealing his lineage?

Actually, the answer is much more simple than that, and this will reveal one of the dangers of the more literal translations (which I am still in favor of). In Hebrew the word "av" means both "father" and "ancestor." It is a type of usage which also exists in English. "ben" (or its plurals) can mean both "son" and "descendent." This makes the count-the-people method of determining biblical dates somewhat flawed. When you go from one generation to another there can be skipped generations. And then if two different biblical writers decide to skip different generations in their lists, then you end up with two lists that don't match. But that wasn't a problem for them, because they all understood that a "son" (direct heir) could be meant or a "descendent" could be meant. Not a big deal.

So here, Shem is the "father" (ancestor) of all of the children of Eber and Japheth's elder brother. Shem is listed because he is the beginning of the line after Noah. Eber's sons are listed because Eber's line is the most important (10:25-29). Eber gives birth to Peleg (who has one claim to fame) and Joktan, from which the godly line continues.

In this section the lines of Noah's three sons are given in reverse order of importance, and it would be helpful for the translators to have section heads that say at verse 1, "Noah's Sons," verse 2 "Japheth's Sons," verse 6 "Ham's Sons," and 21 "Shem's Sons." If you look at the whole section with that knowledge, it should come into focus.

There is an "art" to how biblical writers constructed genealogies and presented them and we tend to pay little attention to that (including me!) and so we often miss "the point" and end up confused or we quickly rush through reading them until we get to the "important" part of the narrative.

Kudos to Noah and Miriam for reading carefully enough to catch this!

An Important Question from Genesis

As a pastor who desires to be faithful in teaching God's Word, I encourage people to come to me with their biblical questions so that I can help keep them from going astray in their reading of the Word. I recently received this email from a particularly thoughtful member of my congregation and I thought many of you might have the same question. I have reproduced the question and answer for your edification

Dear Sir,

I write to you for guidance in answering a most distressing point of detail in the book of Genesis. My wife came to me for spiritual instruction (for as the head of the household I am most wise) about an item of note in Chapter 10, the 21st verse. In it is stated (and I use the English Standard Version for correctness, accuracy, and salvation), quote, "To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born."

Was there then a 4th brother, a son of Noah named Eber? According to my wife (who is most distressingly educated), the custom of the day was that, if a man died childless, his wife should go to one of his brothers, and that any children produced from this second union should in point of fact be the heirs and children of the first, somewhat deceased brother, and not considered the children of the livelier, more virile second brother. Furthermore, is it possible then that Eber was the eldest son, and Shem the youngest, and that in taking Eber's wife for his own, Shem the youngest son, and father of Israel, took the inheritance and lineage of the eldest and made it his own, thereby irritating the descendants of Ham and Japheth?

Yours truly etc.,

Noah Barnett

Dear Noah,


In Christ,


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why the Casey Anthony Jury Was Right

Like many people I felt sad and angry when I heard the Casey Anthony verdict. I wasn't surprised that they didn't convict her of first degree murder - I knew the evidence wasn't there. But not even manslaughter? This woman is most certainly guilty. The prosecutor did a masterful job of destroying her alibi narrative ("My daughter died in the pool and my dad and I covered it up out of fear.") Taking the entire story down in one blow the prosecutor asked, "What kind of grandfather covers up an accident by making it look like a murder and tosses his grand daughter's body in a swamp?"

But upon reflection, I realized that the Anthony jury was right - and perhaps heroically so.

This was just a bad case. They didn't have the evidence. The prosecutor was able to prove that Casey was a self-centered woman of low morals and a liar. But as legal analyst Dr. Bill Anderson points out on his blog, "...having a bad character does not mean one is a murderer. If that were so, then Washington, D.C., would be the murder capital of the world."

The prosecutor believed that she killed her daughter. I believe she killed her daughter. The jury probably believed that she killed her daughter. But their job was to determine if the prosecution PROVED that she killed her daughter. And that, they did not do. They proved exactly what Dr. Anderson pointed out. Casey Anthony is a terrible human being, an awful parent and a liar.

The system worked, and often it doesn't, because it's times like these that the integrity of our system is tested and tried: unsympathetic defendants, horrible crimes and shaky evidence. Our system is engineered to let guilty people go free rather than take undue risk of convicting an innocent.

Really, our justice system is actually based on faith in God. We do the best we can with all of the evidence, err on the side of letting guilty go free, and then trust that what God will do to them far exceeds anything we can do. No one escapes justice forever.

Any time a police officer plants evidence, or a DA withholds exculpatory evidence, or a jury decides to convict even when the evidence is not there, someone has played God. And the problem with that is that none of us is God. When we play God we make terrible mistakes and ruin lives. The agents of justice bring injustice. And it only starts with the self-centered wretches like Casey Anthony. It moves on to all of us.

Casey Anthony didn't get off scot free. She will either repent or fall into the hands of a living God. And THAT is a terrible thing.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Prayer Needed

Dr. Marshall St. John, the pastor of Wayside Presbyterian Church in Signal Mountain, Tennessee (and my dear friend) has been diagnosed with stage IV malignant melanoma in his lungs. Please pray for Marshall and his wife, Grace as Marshall begins treatment for this very aggressive cancer. Marshall had to immediately retire from Wayside. Please pray for God to heal Marshall and grant him great faith to receive God's providence with gratitude. Please pray for Grace as she walks with her husband as he faces this battle. Please pray for Wayside as they grieve for their pastor and losing his ministry from the pulpit while at the same time facing a pulpit committee to call a new pastor.