The Ten Happiness Principles: #1

Finding Happiness and Finding God: 

One of the greatest minds of this era, and one of the greatest thinkers in Judaism is, in my opinion, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (the very recently retired, Chief Rabbi of London). He gives what he believes are the top ten most important things we can do to find happiness. I wish to give his top ten and expand a little on each one through the next 10 short blog posts.

Some research studies have shown the Westerners, despite years of improving economic conditions, are generally no more happy than they were, and continue to seek the answers to their lack of happiness, through the masses of pop psychology offerings.

Research does appear to suggest that the wealthier people are, the happier they are (to some degree at least) and yet, research also seems to suggest that when adults have children they end up being less happy!!?

Given all the significant challenges of trying to quantify such as elusive emotion, or state of being, as happiness, perhaps we shouldn’t rely to heavily on such research!

At the same time, we all can reflect on our own personal experiences and on anecdotal evidence from the life experiences of our closest family members and friends, and how their happiness has changed through various significant life events.

For example, I saw first-hand how someone, very close to me, overcame a life-time of severe depression by taking on a job which involved taking significant responsibility for the welfare of vulnerable members of society.

I believe that these 10 Happiness Principles are 10 action steps which are foundational to a good and happy life. elizah1

Happiness Principle #1:  Give thanks:

Being appreciate for what we have is always a good approach that demonstrates a good attitude. There seems no question that those who are appreciative for whatever good, no matter how small or great, that comes their way, are generally much more content with their lives, and hence less jealous of others and consequently happier.

Part of this appreciation is the recognition that we normally have no control over the circumstances, or country, or economic state we are born and grow up in, but as adults, we do have control over how we respond to our personal circumstances.

As Rabbi Sacks states it: “For it is not what happens to us on which our happiness depends.  It depends on how we respond to what happens to us.” 

Of-course, that’s easy for him to say!  In reality, the practice of a good attitude is never easy!

To awake and start the day by being thankful that you have the day, that you are alive is a great start. Even being thankful that your normal bodily functions are working helps to engender a sense of calm and serenity.

The first waking prayer of Judaism fits this mold. It states: “I thank You, living and eternal King, who has restored my soul in mercy. Thank You, God, for giving me back my life.”

Giving thanks to the Almighty is a very common refrain in the Psalms. Just a few examples are Ps 7:17. 9:1.18:49, 30:4, 33:2, 35:18. 44:8, 45:17, 53:9, 54:6. 57:9. 75:1, 79:13 and so on.

The wording of Psalm 107:1 is often repeated: Give thanks to YHVH, for he is good, for his loving kindness endures forever.”

This attitude or thankfulness is also quite common in the Apostle Paul’s writings. For example see 1 Thessalonians 5: 14-18

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Messiah Yeshua for you.

If  you take the time to read through just some of the many Psalms that speak of giving thanks you will also see what Happiness Principle #2 is.

Next: Happiness Principle #2

Distressed by the Tragedy of Loss of Life

This weeks Torah Portion, Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43) contains the story of the reunion of Jacob and Esau. In Genesis 32:8 we read: Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.”

Many Rabbi’s have asked why the Tanakh repeats the verb here. Many of them go on to argue that Jacob’s being afraid, was because of his fear of the consequences of Esau and his men coming and attacking him. They then suggest that Jacob’s distress was over the moral issue that if he killed Esau or one of his men in self-defense, he would still be greatly distressed at the death of a man created in the image of God.

This brought to mind the tragic life of my PNG brother, Gus.

Gus was living in a secure complex in Port Moresby some years ago and had got up early around dawn, one morning to take his wife and children to the airport. He had some security downstairs, but he heard two of the ‘rascals’ climbing over the balcony to enter upstairs where he and his family were. They would most likely have killed them in the process of stealing their possessions.

Gus a giant of a man both physically and spiritually, went out on to the balcony and fought with them. In the process he ended up knocking one of the men over the balcony and the man died.

When I next met up with Gus after this tragic event and some time had passed, Gus was still struggling with the reality that he had killed another human being. Even though he had, in all likelihood saved his wife and beautiful young children, he still found it difficult to live with. He may have been ‘morally right’ but that did not make his involvement in the tragic loss of a man’s life easy to bear.

Gus went on to do an incredible job of raising his daughter and three sons and then before he had reached the age of 40, with his eldest girl, Yuana still only around 16, Gus had a heart-attack at work and died.

Receiving the news of his untimely passing was one of the most upsetting days of my life. The sun shines less brightly without the great impact of this man of God who was cherished by so many.

Rabbi Sacks writes a great article on this Torah Portion and this moral issue. In it he relates the mixed feelings that the Israeli soldiers had after the great victory of 1967 and quotes Yitzhak Rabin, the Chief of Staff during the war.

“We find more and more a strange phenomenon among our fighters. Their joy is incomplete, and more than a small portion of sorrow and shock prevails in their festivities, and there are those who abstain from celebration. The warriors in the front lines saw with their own eyes not only the glory of victory but the price of victory: their comrades who fell beside them bleeding, and I know that even the terrible price which our enemies paid touched the hearts of many of our men. It may be that the Jewish people has never learned or accustomed itself to feel the triumph of conquest and victory, and therefore we receive it with mixed feelings.”

 Sacks goes on to state: “A people capable of feeling distress, even in victory, is one that knows the tragic complexity of the moral life. Sometimes it is not enough to make the right choice. One must also fight to create a world in which such choices do not arise because we have sought and found non-violent ways of resolving conflict.”

What very wise words, but what a huge challenge, that today, after the UN vote to recognize the ‘State of Palestine’, seems even more challenging and further from resolution.

I recommend reading the whole of Rabbi Sack’s article on Aish –  http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/180748221.html

For some insightful commentary on the UN vote I recommend these articles:

‘Into the Fray: Israel’s infuriating impotence’ By Martin Sherman

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=294033

‘Accomplices in a campaign to annihilate a UN member’ By Shlomo Slonim

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-EdContributors/Article.aspx?id=293826

and ‘I Stand Ashamed that My Country Voted for the New Nazis’ by Giulio Meotti

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/12511#.ULimw46ZQsk

Isaac and Rebekah: A Failure to Communicate?

At the heart of the world is the family. At the heart of the family is the relationship between a husband and wife.

This relationship is the foundation upon which a family is built, children are raised and they in turn become contributing adults and normally marry and become parents and begin the whole cycle over again.

For a marital relationship  to work well, good communication is vital and yet, there are few courses that offer the in-depth and strenuous training needed for couples to enter into a relationship with the communication skills needed to cope with the inevitable tensions and relationship break-downs that occur.

No marriage is immune (or at least I am not aware of any). Few, if any couples, begin a marriage with perfect skills in communication. Effective, supportive and helpful communication is easy when times are good; when the full bloom of the relationship is in its ascendancy. When the inevitable disagreements arrive and the tension and separation occurs, good communication is difficult. If the tension escalates; normally the emotional separation grows and the barrier to effective resolution rises and begins to seem insurmountable.

A wall is built up, a dividing wall of pain and misunderstanding, of hurt and frustration and fear. How is this dividing wall to be torn down, but even more importantly, how can the communication skills be improved so that it rarely begins to build in the first place?

Well-developed communication skills are needed in great measure. It is at this point that we all need guidance. This guidance surely includes an appreciation of how serious the consequences can be to relationship breakdown and poor communication, even while the marriage remains intact.

This brings me to this weeks Torah Portion, Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9). In this parshah, we read about the deception of Rebekah.

While some may search hard to excuse Rebekah’s apparently immoral and unethical behaviour, on reading and reflecting on the narrative here, most would feel that Rebekah acted in a deceptive manner. Rather than try to find excuses for her behaviour, let us instead accept it at face value and ask the question, what can we learn from this mistake of Rebekah’s? What lead to this inappropriate behaviour and what life lessons should it teach us.

There is a link below to a brilliant article from Chief Rabbi Sacks of London about this very situation. He argues that there was most likely a power/position imbalance in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah that made it difficult for Rebekah to be as direct and up-front with Isaac as she should have been. This meant she kept things to herself and when suddenly faced with a potential calamity in her eyes, her reaction was underhanded instead of open and trusting.

Isaac was much older than Rebekah when they met and married. It was also some 20 years before Rebekah fell pregnant with her first babies, the twins Esau and Jacob. And yet, Isaac knew the promises that the Almighty had made to his father Abraham, that through him (Isaac) would come a great nation. The tension of these barren 20 years would have had some impact and perhaps negatively affected their communication and harmony.

Add to this the great, yet troubling message that Rebekah received while pregnant: “And the LORD said to her, Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” – Gen 25:23.

It appears she never shared this prophecy with Isaac. So when the time of the blessings arrives, it is quite possible that there was a significant communication barrier, a dividing wall, between Rebekah and Isaac, and therefore she looked for an ‘easy way out’.

I would suggest that there are at least two central lessons we can take away from this:

1)   Honesty and good communication are central to all relationships and in particular to the relationship at the centre of this world, the marriage;

2)   We can often learn more from the imperfect lives of the great characters of the Bible, than from the explicit teachings contained therein. Often, it is the mistakes that the Biblical heroes make that help us to better see ourselves reflected in their human frailty, and in turn, this enables us to reject their mistakes and instead turn from error to truth, from distance to close communication, and heal our relationships. I believe an appreciation of the conflict of the ‘good’ and ‘evil inclinations’ also helps with this – see the 2 part series of podcasts on the Hebraic Mindset for some more details on this – at http://aubreyandpaul.podomatic.com/

The great Chief Rabbi of London, Lord Sacks explains this all brilliantly in his blog post ‘The Tragedy of Good Intentions’, which I strongly recommend – at Aish.com –  http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/134230588.html

Update: 2nd December 2016

Since writing this short reflection over 4 years ago, I have revisited this Torah Portion and few times and read a number of books that discuss these events surrounding Rebekah (including Gary Rendsburg’s brilliant ‘The Redaction of Genesis’ and Rabbi Sacks great ‘Not in God’s Name’.

I wrote a couple of articles related to insights gained from Gary’s book – see Feeling for Rebekah – http://circumcisedheart.info/Feeling for Rebekah.pdf

I have also read a number of books on marriage, and now would argue that the best book on marital relationships that I have ever read (of 10’s of books on Marriage and Divorce), is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s ‘Kosher Lust: Love is Not The Answer’.

I strongly recommend all three books!

Hopes and Fears

This weeks Torah portion ‘Chayei Sarah’ describes two events in the life of Abraham, which may not appear that significant, but which actually carry an incredible depth of meaning and insight.

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks writes a great article on this Parshah which brings out the amazing lesson and conclusion, that God’s great promises to Abraham do not mean that Abraham can sit back and have it all come to him without his total involvement. As Sacks’ states: “Faith does not mean passivity.”

The Hebrew language and the Hebrew mindset is all about action; about movement, energy, courage, passion, will, drive, and of course, trust (faithfulness).

Trust that God is involved; that He will support our righteous actions and even guide them through his teaching (His Torah) and His covenants, but that ultimately, we must act, we must step out with faith and courage and create the future that God has promised us. The Almighty wants to work with us, to work alongside us, to build our future together, to repair the world together (Tikkun HaOlam), and ultimately reward us with Eternity!

This was true in Abraham’s day and it is true today. It was true for the first Hebrew, the first man who ‘crossed over’, Abraham, the father of Israel and it is true for all Israel today, but it is also true for all the peoples of the many nations who call Abraham their father and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob their One True God and Saviour.

I strongly recommend reading Rabbi Sacks short article on the Aish.com site – see ‘Hopes and Fears’ at http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/177159951.html

Hebraic Mindset Part 2: From Actualizers to Hyperbole

This is Part 2 of our series on the Hebraic Mindset.

In this Podcast we discuss some of the principles that help to empower the Jewish people as well as further explaining how an appreciation of some Hebraisms help with Biblical interpretation and understanding.

Links: http://www.israelinsidethemovie.com/

Pastor Aubrey’s podcasts on the Covenants are at pfherring.podomatic.com

The article ‘Righteousness Before Messiah’ is at the website: www.circumcisedheart.info

Listen to the Podcast here

The Hebraic Mindset: Part 1

In our latest Podcast, we look at a few of the more significant issues related to reading the Bible through Hebraic eyes.

The Hebraic perspective is all about doing; the Greek or Hellenistic perspective is all about knowing.

In this podcast we address such questions as:

“What does this mean?

What is the significance of this difference, especially with respect to how we approach the Scriptures?”

 “The aim of Hebrew religion is the Knowledge of God); the aim of Greek thought is Know thyself.  
Between these two there is a great gulf fixed.  We do not see that either admits of any compromise.  They are fundamentally different in a priori assumption, in method of approach, and in final conclusion…
The Hebrew system starts with God.  The only true wisdom is Knowledge of God.  ‘The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.’  The corollary is that man can never know himself, what he is and what is his relation the world, unless first he learn of God and be submissive to God’s sovereign will. 


The Greek system, on the contrary, starts from the knowledge of man, and seeks to rise to an understanding of the ways and Nature of God through the knowledge of what is called ‘man’s higher nature’.  According to the Bible, man had no higher nature except he be born of the Spirit.
We find this approach of the Greeks no where in the Bible. The whole Bible, the New Testament as well as the Old Testament, is based on the Hebrew attitude and approach… “  Prof. Norman H. Snaith  “Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament”

Listen to Part 1 here – http://aubreyandpaul.podomatic.com/player/web/2012-10-21T14_30_55-07_00

Here is a link to a Powerpoint from a Sukkot Presentation on this topic as well: Hebraic Mindset

Noah and Violence

This weeks Torah Portion contains the following verses on the Days of Noah:

“These are the generations of Noah. Noah was in his generations a man righteous and whole-hearted; Noah walked with God. And Noah begot three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God  saw the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah: ‘The end of all flesh is come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” Gen 6:9-13 (Tanakh JPS)

The world is evil; the world is ‘as in the days of Noah’ – a time of great violence (some versions translate the Hebrew as ‘robbery’ rather than violence).

What is the greatest violence than man can perpetrate?

Surely, it is the violence against his fellow man, and here the greatest violence is surely that against the most innocent and most vulnerable of human beings! Who are they? The unborn!

What is the great robbery or theft that man can commit?

Surely, to steal from God; to rob from God’s design; His plan and the gift of each life that He gives to the world to enjoy and embrace.

There is a great Jewish saying (that is derived from the fact that the word for ‘blood’ in the story of Cain and Abel is plural): “Save a man, save a world; kill a man kill a world”.

When an innocent unborn baby is murdered, the life taken could have been the father or mother of a whole ‘world’ of people.

There is a great poem that starts: ‘The greatest gift of God, it would seem, it the gift of life. The greatest sin of mankind, it would seem, it to return that gift, ungrateful and unopened’.

As we read of the great flood of Noah in this week’s Torah Portion, may we reflect on this massive holocaust that silently confronts us today. Each year some 50-60 MILLION unborn human beings are murdered through forced abortion.

These numbers beggar belief; this is around 190,000 per day and 8,000 per hour! Some 40 per day here in Queensland, Australia alone.

There are now a great many studies that show that these abortions, while doing the greatest harm to the unborn child who is murdered, also do great harm to the mothers who turn their wombs into graveyards; and even to the husbands and boyfriends and families. We are all affected by this much more than we probably realize. The damage can last a life time.

“Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not He who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
 and will he not repay man according to his work?
Proverbs 24:11-12

Follow-up reading:Where is the outcry – why is the church silent’http://circumcisedheart.info/Christian site/Where is the outcry – CETF Version Apr 07.pdf

 

Genesis Repunctuated – Part 2:

In the last two posts I tried first to show that God’s Words have the power to create.

I referred to some verses from both the Tanakh and the NT such as:

“By the word of YHWH were the heavens made, and by the breath of His mouth all their hosts… For He spoke and it was done, He commanded and it stood firm” Ps 33:6,9

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.” Ps 148:5

“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which were visible.” Heb 11:3

“…by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water” 2 Peter 3.5

God speaks and it must happen.

I then suggested an alternative approach to understanding the Genesis account of Creation. Before time and space existed, in the ‘eternity’ before our Universe existed, the Creator declared (proclaimed or gave a series of  ‘fiats’) to the Host of Heaven what would happen.

Thus His fiats were separate to the outworking of them. They stand alone as a summary of His intent, His plan, His purpose (echoed in the Gospel of John’s proplogue). This has many significant implications. For example, it means the process of creating, especially in terms of its timing, it largely independent of the order of His fiats.

To reiterate, given that God speaks before His Creation unfolds, the order and timing of events need not be identical to the order in which they were first pronounced. Thus for example the fossil record, while similar to the order in Genesis 1, is not, and need not be the same.  Assuming that all of the creative processes were started in the same order as the proclamations, but acknowledging that different processes may take differing lengths of time we would then expect some overlap in the various periods of active creation.

Many critics accuse Genesis 2:4-25 as being a second and contradictory creation account. They argue for example, that in Genesis 1 God created the vegetation on the 3rd day and Adam on the 6th, yet in Genesis 2 Adam is created before the Garden of Eden and then placed in it. We also read in Genesis 1 that God created animals on the 5th day and Adam and Eve on the 6th, yet in Genesis 2 we read that after God had created Adam he created the animals to see if one would be a suitable partner for Adam and only then did he create Eve.

When we view Genesis 1 as divine proclamations we no longer see any conflict here as having declared what was to take place the timing and order is left unstated. It seems obvious (especially with the great cosmological understanding of the Universe’s evolution that we now have), that the stars and planets need to be formed; and the vegetation on the earth established before the many animals were created and all this long before the earth was ready for the arrival of man.

Is there any other approach within Judaism that seems consistent with the ‘fiat theory’? The Talmud (Chagiga, Ch. 2) argues that Genesis 1 to the beginning of Genesis 2 is given in parable form, but particularly as a poem with a text and a subtext. This understanding is certainly supportive of the re-punctuation approach I mentioned in the last post.

It appears that some early Jewish sources (eg. Nachmanides – 13th century Spain) believed that the Bible’s calendar is in two-parts. They argued that in the closing speech that Moses makes to the people, where he states “consider the days of old, the years of the many generations” (Deut. 32:7), Moses was indicating that the ‘days of old’ are the Six Days of Genesis and that ‘the years of the many generations’ is all the time from Adam forward. Again, this understanding finds some harmony with the Fiat Theory in that a distinction is made where the Six Days are measured differently.

So what are the broader implications of the Fiat Theory if it is correct? Firstly, its internal consistency is very strong as it fits so well with the principle that the ‘word of God’, or the breath or plan of God, once expressed will be fulfilled.

Further though, it means that science (specifically astronomy and cosmology) and biblical creation are not in serious conflict. We can therefore accept that the scientific understanding that the universe is some 13 (currently thought to be 13.7 Billion +/- 200 Million) Billion years old may prove to be correct and that man may well have lived on the earth thousands of years earlier than 4000 BCE. It also means we don’t need to reject the great many legitimate scientific tools and methods for measuring time and ages.

It certainly seems to me that the Fiat Theory carries the lightest burden of proof and offers the greatest degree of freedom as well as very good agreement with much of established science.

It also fits beautifully with the rising paradigm that is Intelligent Design, the new appreciation of the glory of God.

I also think though, that it is important to recognize that the Tanakh and in particular Genesis is not a ‘Book of Science’. The brilliant Chief Rabbi of London, Jonathon Sacks puts it very well:

Torah is not a book of history, even though it includes history. It is not a book of science, even though the first chapter of Genesis – as the 19th-century sociologist Max Weber pointed out – is the necessary prelude to science, because it represents the first time people saw the universe as the product of a single creative will, and therefore as intelligible rather than capricious and mysterious. It is, first and last, a book about how to live. Everything it contains – not only commandments but also narratives, including the narrative of creation itself – is there solely for the sake of ethical and spiritual instruction.

It moves from the minutest details to the most majestic visions of the universe and our place within it. But it never deviates from its intense focus on the questions:

  • What shall I do?
  • How shall I live?
  • What kind of person should I strive to become?

It begins, in Genesis 1, with the most fundamental question of all. As the Psalm (8:4) puts it: “What is man that You are mindful of him?” …

As the rabbis put it (Bereishith Rabbah 8:1; Sanhedrin 38a): “Why was man created last? In order to say, if he is worthy, all creation was made for you; but if he is unworthy, he is told, even a gnat preceded you.”

The Torah remains God’s supreme call to humankind to freedom and creativity on the one hand, and on the other, to responsibility and restraint – becoming God’s partner in the work of creation.”

– see http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/173307801.html – I strongly recommend reading the whole article – Sacks is most insightful!

For more on the Creation of the Universe, as well as the creation of the Next Universe, see my podcast from a speech I gave to Christian Restoration Fellowship (Australia) some years ago – http://pfherring.podomatic.com/player/web/2009-02-21T16_17_38-08_00

The background paper is here: It’s Life Jim, but not as we know it

Next: Other approaches worthy of consideration …
Coming Soon: Aubrey and I present a podcast on the Hebraic Mindset 

The Fiats of God – Genesis Re-punctuated

In the last post on this weeks Torah Portion I shared how the world was created by the very words of the Almighty. His words made things!

In fact the Hebrew word ‘Davar’ that has been translated as “word” here also means “thing”!  What an awesome synergy!  By words things were created. ‘Davar’ = word = thing

Words are the creative energy of the world. God spoke, and through words brought the universe into being!

I want to develop this concept a little more deeply now though. To do so it is important to appreciate that the writers of the Tanakh and even the NT, were much given to the use of parentheses. That is, they would often insert a secondary thought into the middle of their primary message. Here is an example from the Messianic Writings (New Testament):

“In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty), and said, ‘Brethren …’” (Acts 1.15)

Observe how the main sentence makes perfect sense if we read it on its own, ignoring the bit in brackets. Afterwards we can usefully go back and read the words in the brackets, as a separate but related thought.

As Bullinger said of the first edition of the KJV: “The Edition of 1611 abounded in parentheses. In the subsequent editions there has been an increasing tendency to discard them; and to supply their place by commas; or to ignore them altogether.”

In the original texts of the Bible there were apparently a great many parentheses. Some are marked as such in many modern translations, but many others are not. These parentheses go right back to the creation narrative.

The earliest one marked in the RSV is in Genesis , where a pair of dashes encloses a lengthy parenthesis:
“In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up – for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground -then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2.4-7)

The NIV also has a parenthesis in Genesis 2:
“A river watering the garden flowed from Eden, and from there it divided; it had four headstreams. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush.” (Genesis 2.10-13.)

Genesis 1 Repunctuated:

Using this approach it is possible to re-punctuate Genesis 1 and perhaps gain a new perspective:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1.1.)

The next verse tells us to imagine the curtain rising on an already created planet, but a shapeless and empty one. God’s spirit is about to start fashioning it and then populating it:

The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1.2)

So here is a repunctuated version of the whole passage up to Genesis 2.3, with the parentheses printed in brackets:

And God said, ‘Let there be light.’

(And there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.)

And there was evening and there was morning, one day. 

And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’

(And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven.)

And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’

(And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. )

And God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth.’

(And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.)

And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.

And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’

(And it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.)

And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens.’

(So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”)

So the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind”;

(and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.)

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth,’

(So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them, And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘ Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ And God said, ‘ Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit,’ you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food,’ And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.) 

An there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation. – Genesis 1.3 -2.3

Now just go back and try re-reading the above verses and ignoring the sections in brackets. Does it read well; does it flow logically and effectively?

Another way of presenting this re-punctuation is as below:

God said: “Let there be light”:
Narrator said: ” and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.”
God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
Narrator said: “And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”
God said, “Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear:”
Narrator said, “and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth:”
Narrator said, “and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day.”
God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years. And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth:”
Narrator said “and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.”
God said, “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.”
Narrator said, “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.”
[Note that the narrator talks of God in the 3rd person]
God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind:”
Narrator said, “and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
Narrator said, So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat:”
Narrator said, “and it was so. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day
[1].

Hopefully, a careful read and reflection on these verses with this approach should see that there is a proclamation or fiat announced by God, followed by a commentary on its impact and fulfilment.

With this approach the fulfilment need not be instant and certainly need not be on the same ‘day’ as the announcement.

If this approach and understanding is valid then who were the Fiats uttered to? Perhaps the Host of Heaven, that is the angels. Many passages such as Genesis 1:26 where the Creator speaks to those assembled before Him, ‘let us make man in our image’[2].

It would certainly appear from Job 38: 4-7 that it was the angels[3] (called ‘morning stars’ and ‘sons of God’) were present at the creation of the universe.

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
[4] (Job 38:4-7)

This ‘fiat’ or ‘proclamation’ approach then is consistent with both the Hebraic principles (Hebraisms) of foreordaining and parenthesis. With this approach the ‘days’ of creation can be viewed as consecutive literal days (where their length is actually unimportant but could conceivably be 24 hour days).

This approach also then pre-shadows and even foreordains the ‘divine’ week of 7 days with every 7th day (Shabbat/Sabbath) being a day of ‘rest’ or ‘ceasing’.

The Hebrew Bible is also very poetic and intended to be sung or at least spoken out loud in a rhythmic manner (i.e. chanted).

Again, this is also consistent with God speaking his proclamations out loud and using some form of melody in the process. The table below may help visualise the poetic structure contained in Genesis 1:

Day 1  Light appears

Day 2                                     Waters are divided

Day 3                                                      Land appears, with vegetation

Day 4                  Lights appear

Day 5                                    Waters bring forth living creatures,

Day 6                                                      Land is populated

This structure also makes use of Hebraic parallelism, that is, repetition at measured intervals. For example, consider Psalm 38:22 Don’t forsake me, Yahweh. My God, don’t be far from me. (WEB). This repetition or parallelism is extremely common and is evident in many ways such as in the Shema (Deut 6:4. 11:13-21) where we are called to love God with all (1) our heart, (2) our soul and (3) our might.

This is Hebrew parallelism as the Hebrew understand man to be a single entity and therefore the words heart, soul and might here are just a way to emphasise, by repeating three times, the call to love call with all of your being.

Like all theories that attempt to reconcile the Biblical creation accounts with our modern understanding it does still leave some questions unanswered but overall seems to satisfactorily answer the greatest number and to fit so well with the Hebraic mindset, approach and understanding of God’s ‘modus operandi’.

Given this repetition then, coupled with the prospect that this ‘days’ were all prior to the actual creation itself, we can view the creation of the sun on Day 4 as a reiteration but with more detail of the creation of light on Day 1. This repetition with further detail is used for all three days.

In the next post I will look at some of the issues with the more traditional interpretations and how this approach and Dr Schroeder’s approach address these issues.

[I am indebted to Physicists Alan Hayward and Hill Roberts for this understanding and re-punctuation]


[1] This arrangement courtesy of G.R. Morton –  http://home.entouch.net/dmd/daysofproclamation.htm

[2] The best commentary of the ‘us’ texts such as in Gen 1:26 that I have ever heard is a talk given by Sean Finnegan. The Podcast is available from Christianmonothesism.com and a pdf version at http://www.christianmonotheism.com/media/text/Let%20Us%20make%20man.pdf
Update: May 2015:  Uriel Ben Mordechai in his book ‘If: The End of a Messianic Lie’ gives, what I now believe to be, the best answer, and that is in summary, that the ‘us’ is the actual Creation which has a physical component (the Earth, etc.) and a spiritual component (the Heavens, etc.). I think, you really need to read his complete commentary on Gen 1:26 to appreciate this perspective though.

“In Breishit [Genesis] 1:26, the US, the OUR, and the OURSELVES refer to none other than the Heavens and Earth, for from both realms (His own and that of the Earth) did HaShem take, in order to create man. Man’s flesh He created from the dust of the earth, the “Adamah” and for man’s soul, HaShem took the elements found only in the realm of the Heavens of G-d, even from the breath of the Almighty. For this reason, HaShem says, “Let US, in the respective image and likeness of all of US present, the celestial and the terrestrial, each of them separately give their portion, so that in combination, the creation of man emerges from the image of both, and from the likeness of both.” For this is what sets man apart from the rest of creation. If he were to have been created with only the celestial elements, he would have lived forever, and would not have died – forever locked into a condition of impurity. If he were to have been created with only terrestrial elements, he would have been unable to inherit eternal live, for eventually this Earth is destined to pass away.”
Also see Deut 4:26, 30:19, 31:28 where God calls upon the Heavens and the Earth as witnesses as well.

[3] FF Bruce, New International Bible Commentary p546.

[4] When God or man lays the cornerstone to a ‘building’ of God there is always great rejoicing. For example see Ezra 3:10-11