Implicit divine sovereignty in Genesis

I entitled my recent book, The Generations of Heaven and Earth, from the words of Genesis 2:4, which is the first “toledot” passage in the book.

As I describe in the book (and as is the scholarly consensus) each of these “These are the generations of…” passages introduces a new section of Genesis, and the “generations” in question apply both to the children of the person named, and (more subtly) the events that result from his life. The book itself doesn’t start with such a statement but, as you well know, with “In the beginning, God created…”

Genesis 2:4 deals with the “generations” of the inanimate heavens and earth, and I take that as meaning that the events of the garden and what follows are to be seen entirely as the kind of metaphorical “fruit” inherent in toledot statements – ie, mainly the events that emerge after creation.

In Genesis these of course primarily refer to the circumstances up to the next such toledot, in 5:1, but in my book I have extended the idea to include the whole Bible’s unified message. This again is mainstream biblical theology – my main “USP” has been to view this in terms of conventional world history, with people coexisting with Adam outside the garden, according to the Genealogical Adam and Eve paradigm.


Anyway, today I came across a perhaps comparable metaphorical use of “generations” (though a different Hebrew word, dor) in my daily reading in Isaiah. In the fairly literal NASB version, ch 41 begins with a triumphant prediction by the Lord of the future rise of Babylon to judge the nations, stressing his power to bring this about, and to announce it in advance, as contrasted with the peoples and their useless idols.

Verse 4 reads thus:

Who has done this and carried it through,
    calling forth the generations from the beginning?
I, the Lord – with the first of them
    and with the last – I am he.’

Implicit in this statement is the idea that both the events in question, and those people born to bring them about, are “called forth” by God’s sovereign power from the beginning (note the Genesis pre-echo of that word), whatever freedom of will and action those people employed even to procreate the next generation.

Transferred to Genesis, such an understanding of God’s relationship to “generations” has massive theological implications. Rather than the great spiritual drama of Eden, of Genesis, of the Torah, the Tanakh and the whole Bible being unfortunate events to which God cleverly reacts, “the generations of heaven and earth,” just like (and including) the rise of Babylon described in Isaiah 41) were “called forth from the beginning” by the Lord.

This is nothing new for traditional theology, though of course it cuts across Open Theologies of all sorts, for it merely confirms the prescience and determining will of the Omnipotent Alpha and Omega – the First and Last.

Still, it seemed to me an interesting instance of how Scripture establishes key doctrines not by proof-texts, but by the intertextual commentaries of the prophets on what was already written.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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