“God blessed them, and God said …”

Questions for our preaching series, “Here am I, Send Me” (Sunday, 8 July 2012)

Key Passage: Genesis 1:24-31

Listen to this text being read aloud. This is the first ‘sending’ of humankind. What picture comes to your mind as you listen to this text? Share this with your neighbour.

After some feedback, discuss the following question:

 What words are used in verses 26 and 28 to describe the relationship between humans and the environment, and what kind of relationship do they seem to imply? Compare how different translations translate these verses.

After some feedback from each small group, listen to the following short input, and then discuss the question that follows:

In the Hebrew language the word usually translated as ‘to rule’ (‘radah’ in Hebrew) and the word usually translated as ‘to subdue’ or ‘to have dominion over’ (‘kabash’ in Hebrew) can have a very harsh meaning. Biblical scholars have reflected on these words (‘radah’ and ‘kabash’), wondering whether they can be understood in a different way. Some biblical scholars have argued that the words need not be understood here in their normal harsh sense.

They suggest that because these words are associated with creatures (humans) who are made in the image of God, who is revealed here as creating and caring, these words might be understood to convey the notion of ‘to shepherd’ (‘radah’) and ‘to take possession of/to stand within’ (‘kabash’). The basic idea of this interpretation is that human beings are God’s representatives on earth, being located within the environment (‘standing within it’) and caring for it (‘ shepherding it’).

Other biblical scholars point to a similar word in verse 16, ‘mashal’ (‘to rule’). Here it is clear that the idea of ‘ruling’ or ‘governing’, repeated three times, is not meant in a harsh way. The sun and the moon are created “to give light on the earth”. They are made to do good to the earth and not damage (see verses 14-18). The basic idea of this interpretation is that humans beings are ‘to rule’ in the same way as the sun and the moon ‘rule’.

Other scholars place this narrative in its ancient historical setting. They argue that the ancient Hebrews who wrote Genesis 1 were responding to ancient Babylonian creation stories. In the Babylonian stories of creation ‘the sun’ (‘shamash’) and ‘the moon’ (‘yareah’) were gods! So these biblical scholars suggest that Genesis 1 might be responding to and critiquing the Babylonian understanding. In Genesis 1 “the greater light” (‘the sun’) and “the lesser light” (‘the moon’) (verse 15) are clearly “made” (verse 16) BY God, and they are certainly NOT gods.

The main point of verses 26 and 28 according to these scholars is that it is humans who are ‘in control’ of the earth, under God, and not the Babylonian gods! The basic idea of this interpretation is that humans are the primary agents on earth (under God).

Another dimension of the ancient context of this text is the harshness of the life for the majority, most of whom were subsistence farmers struggling to survive in the dry and rocky hill country of Israel-Palestine. Most had little access to even the limited technology of the plough, so life had to be ‘struggled for’ amidst the harsh landscape. From this perspective the text is a call to persist in this struggle and to make a place for humankind.

QUESTION – How does this information help you to understand the relationship between humans and the environment in Genesis 1:24-31?

After some feedback from the small groups, discuss the following three questions:

1. What are the most common understandings of the relationship between humans and the environment in your local parish and community? In what ways are these common understandings helpful or harmful?

2. How do we balance theologically the needs of our people in our South African ‘developmental state’ with our responsibilities to and our stewardship of our endangered ecosystems?

3. What other practical things could we do to respond to this Bible study so that we are ‘sent’ to engage responsibly with our environment? What other biblical texts are important for our understanding of how God has sent us into creation?

The Bible study is brought to close in prayer in the following way:

Write a prayer (on your own or with a partner) that expresses what this Bible study has ‘said’ to you about how God has sent us to engage with the environment. Share these prayers in a time of prayer together.

NOTE: This series was first used by the cathedral and is available through the diocesan office.

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