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Deception - The key to Genesis? ::

Grant Thorp discovers a thread that might just unravel the mysteries of the book of Genesis…
Source: Perspective Vo1 No3 ©Perspective 1999

IT’S THE FOURTH cold grey rainy day in a row. My bored, not quite two year old, reaches for his trusty chair and climbs up to adjust the settings on the video. I give the stern parental “Get down!” He stares back knowingly. Wide blue eyes. Half smile. Almost audibly he thinks, “He doesn’t really mean it,...did he really say…” In the end it takes a firm parental hand to clear away this misconception. I don’t want him to be deceived.

This familiar standoff is as old as parenthood. In fact, it goes back to the original place, when the propagator of evil put a similar argument to some thoughtful but gullible children of God.

Deception is a key idea to unravelling the rich complexities of Genesis. It is an idea that appears frequently, beginning with the garden and continuing through every major character to the story of Joseph. It exposes the guts of sin and the character of God.

One of the problems I have when I come to preach on one of the large OT books is how to get a handle on it. I suspect I’m not alone. The sheer amount of material scares me off, often before I’ve begun. Rut if I can find an entryway into it, I can cope. Is ’deception’ such an entryway into Genesis? The question is almost shocking. “Genesis is about creation” “It’s about beginnings.” At least that’s what I was told when I asked some friends what it was about. But is that what it’s about? Have we been so sidetracked by the creation/evolution debate that we have failed to see other major themes that provide a way into the whole book and not just a part of it?
Genesis begins by picturing an idyllic scene-the garden of Eden. Cool winding streams, shady trees, succulent fruit are the order of the day. There are no diseases, no taxes, no commands. Except one. “The fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden you must not eat for on the day you eat of it you will die.” Into this idyllic setting slides the serpent, with his familiar argument: “Did God really say “You must not eat from any tree in the garden?”; “You will not surely die.” Subtly and deceptively he paints himself as an angel of light, and God as the deceiving villain. He bites them and the venom spreads.

From this point on Genesis reads like a Who’s Who of the world’s great deceivers. Virtually every character is in on the act, vying with the others to see who is best. Adam and Eve begin in grand style by trying to deceive God himself. Abraham, the man whom God calls to bring blessing to the world, turns out to be a deceiver. In order to save his own neck he passes his wife off as his sister. His son Isaac does the same with his wife. The family trait continues in Isaac’s son Jacob. With the help of his mother he pulled the goatskin over his father’s eyes and obtained the blessing which was rightfully his brothers. For his trouble, Jacob is in turn deceived by his father-in-law. Laban marries his short sighted daughter off to Jacob and makes him work another seven years for Rachel. He is then done over again by his children who deceive him into thinking his favourite son, Joseph, is dead. Joseph completes the circle by deceiving his brothers about his identity. It’s hard to imagine a more distinguished group of liars. You wouldn’t buy a used car from any of them.

Deception features in practically every major character and incident in the book. We must conclude that it’s an important theme. But what theological mileage can be gained from that conclusion? It’s seems evident that creation is a theological rocket with lot’s of sparkle, but isn’t deception by comparison a lame duck?

It depends if you consider the nature of sin, God’s control and grace to be lame duck ideas or not?
All of these ideas are tied to the theme of deception.

Every day we are surrounded by sin, but what is it like? Essentially sin is deception. Genesis clarifies that for us in the seduction of Eve and the portrayal of the other characters in the book. Our own experiences bear it out. All sin involves some level of compromise with the truth, from obvious lies to the subtle deception of pride, seeing ourselves as better or more important than we are. We are enticed by something that appears to be what in reality it is not.

What about God’s control? Through their deceit the characters in Genesis try to carve out a future apart from the promises of God. Abraham, to save his own neck, passes off Sarah as his sister. In doing so he endangers God’s promises. Despite that threat, God proves himself to be powerful to bring truth and fulfilment out of the deceptive situation. God is truth and through the truth God shows himself to be in control. God’s truth-is more powerful than man’s lies.

Not only does deception allow us to see the nature of sin and of God’s control, it also sheds light on the grace of God. Repeatedly Genesis illustrates that you don’t have to be good for God to back you. All of Abraham’s descendants are shifty, but God still chooses them, works with them and redeems them out of their deception. He even chose Jacob over his brother Esau, despite the fact that Jacob’s name meant “he grasps the heel” or figuratively “he deceives.” God eventually renamed him “Israel” meaning “he struggles with God.” The true Israelite, the true child of God, has of course been redeemed from deception. Like Nathaniel whom Jesus described as “a true Israelite in whom there is no guile,” the true follower of Christ will be a person who does not practise deceit.

Deception is a key idea in Genesis. As a theme it provides a skeleton for the book. It shows us the core of sin which is untruth, and the character of God which is grace and truth. God shows himself to be the God who consistently keeps his promises, rescuing his people from the destructiveness of their own deceptions by the power of his truth.

At the time of writing, Grant Thorp was the minister of Wee Waa Presbyterian Church.

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