Where Sin Abounds: The Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives
By Robert R. Gonzales Jr.
Reviewer – John Reuther – Jan. 28, 2010
It is the author’s express purpose to focus on the spread of sin, while covering the origin, nature, and divine restraint of human sin in the Genesis narratives. He accomplishes this purpose commendably. The author is quite convincing in his demonstration that Moses continues the theme of the infiltration of sin (Gen. 1-11) even in the patriarchal history (Gen. 12-50) which is either missed or denied by not a few. The basic structure of the book then is to demonstrate the spread of sin and the resulting curse in the three large blocks of the Book of Genesis: the Fall Narrative (1-3), the Primeval Narratives (4-11) and the Patriarchal Narratives (12-50).
In addition to the defense of this important thesis and the setting forth of the doctrine of sin in the Book of Genesis, Gonzales has also given us something of a commentary on much of the Book of Genesis. The careful reader will realize that this is a book that will be consulted in exegesis and the preparation of lessons or sermons. This outstanding study also offers great devotional matter for Christian meditation on any part of Genesis. It is an invaluable resource in its collation of a massive amount of writing on Genesis across a broad spectrum of theological thought, while maintaining the authorship of Moses, the divine authority and inerrancy, and the structural unity and integrity of the entire book. The interaction with commentators will save the student of Genesis a great deal of searching, and enable the student to get a good handle on the thought of the many authors whose works are quoted and analyzed.
Gonzales is strong in Hebrew exegesis, drawing conclusions from nuances in the text, weighing divergent views, making parallels and comparisons from one narrative to the other, seeing patterns, drawing sound and satisfying conclusions, uncovering ironies, and many keen insights into the personal and family relationships among the patriarchs and the culture in which they lived. The book not only helped me to understand the nature and spread of sin more clearly, it has also brought me nearer to the world of the fall, the primeval world, and the personal lives, sinful struggles, and faith of the patriarchs and their families. It is also clear in revealing the grace and gracious covenants of God in their lives.
The author helps the student to see the infiltration of sin in the many comparisons discussed: Adam & Cain (63), Shechem & the “mighty men” of Gen. 6:2 (99), Noah & Lot (125), Adam/Eve & Abraham/Sarah (131, 133), Abraham and Sarah’s laughter & Ishmael’s laughter (133, 142), Rebekah & Eve (160), Esau & Adam/Eve (167), Jacob/Esau & Cain/Abel (172), Jacob & Lot (194), Joseph/Brothers & Cain/Abel (214, 219), Esau & Judah (221).
The author offers sober and sensible Scriptural analyses of the attempts to defend some of the more serious questionable actions of Abram (113, 134), Isaac (145, 151), Rebekah (158), and deals with the vital subject of deception throughout the treatment of the lives of the Patriarchs (e.g., 146 and the respective narratives).
The text of the book is very readable and supplemented by rich footnotes which contain many important discussions which the serious student would not want to miss (If the footnotes intimidate at first, then I recommend reading the text without the footnotes as a great way to start). These footnotes include the important topics of: the fall narrative (37-44); man’s original constitution (50); the “door” of Gen. 4:7/Cain (61); Cain’s punishment (62); Scripture teaching on the heart and human depravity (79f.); the emotivity of God (80); the Spirit striving with man (82); wine (84); Ham’s sin (85); Babel (87-90); the wife-sister motif (114); the Kings of Sodom and Salem (122); Lot (123-125); the curse of people groups (126); the contemporary “new perspective” on sin and justification 128, 262); Abraham’s positive spiritual growth (139); on moralizing narratives (150, 151, 177); Isaac’s failure as father (153-155); Rebekah (162); Laban, Leah, and Rachel (163); Jacob a quiet man? (164); Esau & apostasy (166, 175, 176); what did Esau seek with tears? (170-171); Jacob’s family (186-191); the rape of Shechem and guilt of Simeon and Levi (99, 196-207); Jacob’s response to it good or bad? (216); Judah & Tamar (224-231). These are all more extended discussions found in the footnotes, and contribute to the otherwise outstanding research found in all of the footnotes.
The book offers most helpful discussions, such as: The identity of the Serpent as not an ordinary snake but an angelic being (21-28); Drawing the right implications from the fact that Eve’s representation of God’s original statement was close but not exact (30f.); Where was Adam during the temptation? (35f.); Does Ezekiel 28 refer to Satan or Adam who falls into sin because of pride? (37); Is unbelief or pride the root sin in the Garden? (38); What is the woman’s desire? (3:16) (46); The ecological ramifications of human sin in the OT (48f.); Was God’s displeasure with Abel’s offering because of his vocation or the type of gift which he brought? (59f.); Helpful analysis of Cain’s punishment (62f.); Insights into advancements in human civilizations, the development of the city, culture, etc. (66-69, 86-91)); Insightful comparison of the Cainite genealogy with the Adam-Seth genealogy (70-74); The union of the sons of God and daughters of men in Gen. 6:2, 4 (75-77); The spread of sin among pagan societies (95-107); Was Abram’s departure from Ur really an unqualified response of faith? (109-112); Lot’s spiritual decline and moral depravity (118-127); Was Sarah wrong to use Hagar to obtain a child? and the relationship of this incident to the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden (127-133); Was Abraham right to use deception in dealing with pagan Kings? (134f.); The ironies of Abraham and Sarah’s laughter at the Isaac announcement (140-146); Isaac’s scheme to bless Esau (148-157); Rebekah’s indecorous manipulation (157-162); Esau’s apostasy (164f.); how to assess his “change of heart” (172-174); Does Hebrew תָּ֔ם signify moral integrity or something else in the description of Jacob in Gen. 25:27? (174-176); How are we to assess Jacob’s polygamy and favoritism (182-192)?; A thorough treatment of Gen. 34 and the characterization of the “rape of Dinah” with the proposal that it be viewed as the “rape of Shechem” (194-208); Was Jacob really passive in his response to the destruction of Shechem as many say? (196-200); Extended treatment of Reuben and Judah’s distinctive sin in the Joseph “virtual murder” (208-220); Judah’s blindness and the opening of his spiritual eyes in the incident with Tamar in Gen. 38 (220-232).
Each of the discussions listed above is thorough, satisfying, and convincing. Not once did I experience the disappointment so often experienced when reading a commentary where the author skirts or ignores a pressing question for which the reader is looking to find an answer (at least a discussion!). Rather, the author thoroughly explores every important issue (even many that are beyond the spread of sin theme) with painstaking research and sensible, level-headed analysis of divergent opinions.
In the extensive quoting of so many authors in the footnotes, I was amazed to see just how highly-charged statements about the rightness or wrongness of the actions of the patriarchs and their wives and relatives really are. In each case the author offers a commendable exegetical and theological response. And this point highlights the careful attendance to details of Hebrew grammar and philology throughout the book, lending further support to the author’s determinations.
A major contribution of this book is how it traces the “protoevangelium” of Gen. 3:15 throughout the history recorded in Genesis. The initial treatment (43-44, 50-51) is considered in Eve’s reference to her firstborn son Cain (is he the promised offspring of Gen. 3:15? – p. 58). Then we see Cain aligning himself with the Serpent and giving vent to his enmity against the woman’s seed (61); how the Hebrew name “Seth” sounds like the verb in Gen. 3:15; how Seth is another seed to replace Cain (70); Cain and his descendants inheriting the Serpent’s curse (86); Jacob unwittingly employing the Serpent’s tactics in obtaining the blessing (182); and how the sons of Jacob reveal themselves to be the seed of the Serpent (!) in the raping of Shechem (207).
The book contains helpful discussions on the sin of deception throughout, the tendency to blame-shifting, and the inner workings of sin in the “saw – took” dynamic (34, 76, 120, 167, 198, 223). I found all of the historical and cultural insights particularly helpful. But most sobering in reading this book is the realization which the author points out in a footnote on p. 239, quoting Ward, that “we are given the impression (in Genesis) of time running out, of a deterioration which ought to make us look more expectantly for the promised Deliverer.”
I look forward to digging into Where Sin Abounds whenever my thoughts or studies turn to Genesis. I commend this book heartily to you in the sincere belief that the more we learn about the spread of sin in the Genesis narratives the greater appreciation and devotion we will have to the One who delivers us from it (Rom. 5:20, 21).
John Reuther – Covenant Baptist Church, Lumberton, NJ 08048 / 609 267-9424 / firstname.lastname@example.org