Was blind, but now I see.

2 : 11 October 2003


Professsor Mike Leeming

Professor Mike Leeming and his wife Karen Leeming were missionaries to Mexico for many years. Presently Mike teaches Cultural Anthropology, English, and Bible courses in Bethany College of Missions, Minneapolis. He is an avid reader of Christian fiction.

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Mike Leeming


The intent of this paper is to discuss the extent to which God's Law was known and obeyed in Genesis.

In Genesis 26:5, we read this about Abraham - "… Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws" (Genesis 26:5 KJ21).

God here refers to the fact that the patriarch "Abraham obeyed… My laws." The question most careful readers of this verse would have is, what laws? Wasn't the Law given at Mount Sinai in the covenant that God made there with the children of Israel? Isn't that where we first see the Ten Commandments? Wasn't Moses the lawgiver? Doesn't John's Gospel tell us "the law was given by Moses" (John 1:17)? Although all of this is true, there must have been some law known before the time of Moses.


In Genesis, we see that almost immediately after the creation of Adam and Eve, God gave them something to obey -

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" (Genesis 1:28 KJ21).

So we see that even at the very beginning, there was law in the form of a spoken command from God for the first man and woman to obey. There are five verbs in the command form in this verse-"Be fruitful… multiply… replenish… subdue… have dominion."


Victor P. Hamilton notes that here "God gives two assignments to the male and to the female: procreation and dominion."1

In the next chapter, God gives Adam more things to do -
And the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it. For in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:15-17 KJ21).

Adam was expected to "dress" ("work"-NIV) and "keep" ("take care of"-NIV) the Garden of Eden. Hamilton enlarges on this -

There is no magic in Eden. Gardens cannot look after themselves; they are not self-perpetuating. Man is placed there to dress it and keep it. The word we have translated dress is abad, the normal Hebrew meaning 'to serve.' So again the note is sounded that man is laced in the garden as a servant. He is there not to be served but to serve. The second verb-keep or 'tend' (Heb. Samar)-carries a slightly different nuance. The basic meaning of this root is 'to exercise great care over,' to the point, if necessary, of guarding.2

He was also given a very specific command about not eating from "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," which we all know he disobeyed. Calvin comments on this passage-"A law is imposed upon him [Adam] in token of his subjection."3 So we see that even before the Fall, from the very beginning, some form of law was given to Adam and Eve, something they were obligated to obey.


If we move on to chapter 4, there is something we should note. When Cain killed his brother, Abel, he knew he had done something that he shouldn't have done. We see this in the dialogue between Cain and God.

And Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him. And the LORD said unto Cain, "Where is Abel thy brother?" And he said, "I know not. Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:8-9 KJ21)

The question Cain asks God, "Am I my brother's keeper?", indicates that he was trying to escape the responsibility for the murder of his brother. There is no record up to this time in Genesis of God forbidding murder, although it appears to come very shortly after this, when God forbids the killing of Cain (Gen. 4:15). Yet it certainly appears that Cain knew the wrongness of what he had done.


The moral condition of the world before the time of the flood is described for us in the following verses in Genesis 6.

And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagining of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5 KJ21).The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence (Genesis 6:11 KJ21).

The words used here certainly indicate the violation of some form of known law - "wickedness… evil… corrupt… violence."

Commenting on these verses, Hamilton says,

God is moved to anger by man's deliberate violations of the code by which God wills his world to live.4

Walter Brueggemann makes an insightful observation about 6:5 -

The conjuring, day dreams, and self-perceptions of the world are all tilted against God's purpose.5

God's law is a reflection of His purpose for man. The very fact that God made such a distinction between Noah and the rest of the population indicates that Noah was obedient to God's law in a way that the rest of the world was not.

"These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6:9 KJ21).

The word for "perfect" here is rendered "blameless" in the NIV. The question that comes to mind is, blameless of what? Obviously he was blameless of the evil that the rest of the population was guilty of.


The Noachian Covenant contains some specific laws. Let's look at them here.

And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it" (Genesis 9:1-7 RSV).

There are numerous commands here that God gives to Noah and to his descendants-"Be fruitful… multiply… fill the earth… you shall not eat flesh with… its blood… Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed." Here we see the institution of numerous laws that we did not see before. God institutes capital punishment as the penalty for murder, and thus establishes the sanctity of human life. This appears to be the first formal code of law given to man by God. Calvin calls it "the old law."6

According to John Skinner -

"The Rabbinical theologians were true to the spirit of the passage when they formulated the idea of the 'Noachian commandments' binding on men generally."7

So there are specific commandments here, laws, which many believe are still binding. Gordon Talbot believes that this passage provides the foundation for the establishment of human government -

"This brief passage [Gen. 9:5-7] is very significant for at least two basic reasons. First, it provides the foundation for the practice of capital punishment. Any man or beast guilty of murdering a person was to be executed. Obviously, this law had reference to deliberate killing, not to accidental killing. It did not prohibit legal executions or the slayings required in defensive warfare or personal self-defense.Second, it provides the foundation for human government. It was 'at the hand of every man's brother [fellow-man]' that God would require the life of a murderer. The reason for execution of murderers was that their victims were made in the image or likeness of God himself. Even unbelieving government officials are given power by God to execute murderers and to exercise other necessary functions of government (Rom. 13:1-4). Government according to Scripture was instituted by God for the welfare of man."8

Arthur Pink makes some similar comments in his book, Gleanings in Genesis --

"Here [9:6] we have instituted the principle of all human government. The sword of magisterial authority is, for the first time, committed into the hands of man. Before the flood, there does not seem to have been any recognized form of human government designed for the suppression of crime and the punishment of evil doers. Cain murdered his brother, but his own life was spared. Lamech also slew a man, but there is no hint that he had to defend himself before any tribunal that had been ordained by God. But now, after the flood, capital punishment as the penalty for murder is ordained, ordained by God Himself, ordained centuries before the giving of the Mosaic law, and therefore, universally binding until the end of time."9


The man who was the great-grandfather of Noah must have known something about keeping God's Law. His name was Enoch.

"And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begot Methuselah. And Enoch walked with God after he begot Methuselah three hundred years, and begot sons and daughters. And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him" (Genesis 5:21-24 KJ21)."By faith Enoch was translated, that he should not see death, 'and was not found because God had translated him.' For before his translation he had this testimony: that he pleased God" (Hebrews 11:5 KJ21).

Although we're not told a lot about Enoch, we know that he "walked with God" and that "he pleased God." Hamilton's comments on Enoch are enlightening.

"Twice we are told (vv. 22, 24) that Enoch walked with God (yithallek et-ha elohim), a description applied also to Noah in 6:9. This expression may be compared to halak (or yithallek) lipne, which indicates the service of a loyal servant, who goes before his master (sometimes human but mostly divine), paving the way, or who stands before his mater ready to serve. Thus Hezekiah walked before God (2 K. 20:3 par. Isa. 38:3), as did the patriarchs (Gen. 17:1; 24:40; 48:15). A bit more intimacy seems to be suggested by 'walking with' as over against 'walking before.' Walking with' captures an emphasis on communion and fellowship. In a number of passages, all addressed to a king or his dynasty, 'to walk before God' strongly suggests obedience and subordination (1 K. 2:4; 3:6; 8:23, 25; 9:4), rather than worship and communion."10


The confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel seems to have come about, at least partly, as a result of an attempt to violate one of the commands given above in the Noachian Covenant-to "fill the earth" (Gen. 9:1). This is what we read of the intent of the builders of the Tower of Babel in Gen. 11 -

And they said, "Come, let us build us a city and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth" (Genesis 11:4 KJ21).

There was a deliberate attempt to keep themselves from being "scattered abroad upon the face of the earth," which the very thing God had commanded the sons of Noah to do. They were, therefore, guilty of a violating a law that they should have known.


Many years later, when God was about to judge Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness, He said something about Abraham that coincides with what we read at the beginning of this paper when we looked at Gen. 26:5.

And the LORD said, "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD to do justice and judgment, that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him" (Genesis 18:17-19 KJ21).

There are several indications here of a known law-"command… keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment." All of this indicates that, as we already have seen, Abraham was obedient to some from of known law. The phrase "I know him" that God makes about Abraham at the beginning of 18:19 means "entered into personal relations with,"11 indicating intimate, personal knowledge. This would make sense, since Abraham is the only man in Scripture who is identified as "the friend of God" (James 2:23). Yet, Hamilton brings out another aspect of this Hebrew word -

"One obvious thrust in Yahweh having 'known' Abraham is that Abraham is intimate with God and vice versa. But the choice of this verb may have further implications. For one thing, there is a growing consensus among OT scholars that yada is, in places, a technical term for a treaty or covenant terminology that refers to mutual legal recognition on the part of the suzerain and the vassal. Of particular interest here are those passages where the subject of the verb is Yahweh himself. For Yahweh to 'know' someone may mean not 'take notice of, be aware of, look after,' but 'recognize as a legitimate servant, grant recognition' ... With Abraham's position as a covenant vassal of Yahweh comes certain responsibilities. He is to instruct his family ... to observe the way of Yahweh by practicing righteousness and justice."12


This puts a new perspective of the thought that God "knew" Abraham. We could paraphrase this idea, "God recognized Abraham as His legitimate servant in covenant agreement with Him." In other words, Abraham was obedient to God's Law.

Now, let's look more closely now at Gen. 26:5 -

"... Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws" (Genesis 26:5 KJ21).

The Anchor Bible renders this verse-"… Abraham heeded my call and kept my mandate: my commandments, my laws, and my teachings." And notes that the three nouns that follow the word "mandate"-"commandments… laws, and ... teachings"-spell out the contents of "mandate."13 Hamilton's analysis of this verse agrees with this interpretation -

Yahweh concludes the revelational content of this theophany by talking to Isaac about Abraham (v. 5). Yahweh's evaluation of Abraham's life is that the patriarch obeyed me, keeping my mandate (wayyismor mismarti), which is broken down into three constituent parts: my commandments, my laws, my instructions. Both the verb and the nouns following the verb are close to the sequence one finds in passages like Deut. 11:1 and the Deuteronomistic 1 K. 2:3. In living by Torah, Abraham models the quality of response to God that should characterize the people of Israel.14


Calvin comments on this verse are enlightening -

Although laws, statutes, rites, precepts, and ceremonies, had not yet been written, Moses used these terms, that he might the more clearly show how sedulously Abraham regulated his life according to the will of God alone - how carefully he abstained from all the impurities of the heathen - and how exactly he pursued the straight course of holiness, without turning aside to the right hand or to the left: for the Lord often honours his own law with these titles for the sake of restraining our excesses; as if he should say that it wanted nothing to constitute it a prefect rule, but embraced everything pertaining to absolute holiness. The meaning therefore is, that Abraham, having formed his life in entire accordance with the will of God, walked in his pure service.15

Gordon Talbot comments on Gen. 26:5 as well.

Verse 5 indicates that some collection of divine principles of conduct existed before the Mosaic code was revealed. The revelation of truth was progressive in Old Testament times. From Adam on the known truth was transmitted either in written form or by word of mouth.16

Deuteronomy 11:1 can be compared to Gen. 26:5, as Hamilton suggests.

Therefore thou shalt love the LORD thy God, and keep His charge, and His statutes, and His judgments, and His commandments, always (Deuteronomy 11:1 KJ21)."... Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws" (Genesis 26:5 KJ21).

In these two verses, three of the four nouns describing God's ordinances, to use a general term, are exactly the same-"charge" (mishmereth)17 , "commandments" (mitzvah)18 , and "statutes" (chuqqah)19. The word contained in Gen. 26:5, which is not found in Deut. 11:1 is "laws" (torah)20. And this is the first time that this word-torah-appears in the Hebrew Scriptures. So the two verses are nearly identical, and yet, Genesis 26:5 was written about Abraham before the Law (the torah) of God was given by Moses.

In Genesis 17:1, God gives this command to Abraham -

And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram and said unto him, "'I am the Almighty God. Walk before Me, and be thou perfect'" (Genesis 17:1 KJ21).

God instructed Abraham to be "perfect" or "blameless" (NIV). This is the same word used to describe Noah in Gen. 6:9. This word is tamiym21, and the meaning of this word is "upright and undefiled." Abraham was a man who, like Noah, knew God's law and obeyed it from the heart.

As Hamilton suggests earlier, this expression "walk before," "indicates the service of a loyal servant, who goes before his master… or who stands before his master ready to serve."22 All of this indicates that Abraham was obeying God's laws.


One reference to the Law outside the book of Genesis that may date back to the time of the early patriarchs is found in Job. Eliphaz the Temanite, one of Job's friends, is talking to Job, and he councils him -

Receive, I pray thee, the law from His mouth, and lay up His words in thine heart (Job 22:22 KJ21).

Job, in the following chapter, answers him and says --

Neither have I gone back from the commandment of His lips; I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food (Job 23:12 KJ21).

The interesting thing about both of these references in the book of Job is that they seem to emphasize the oral law-"the law from His mouth… the commandment of His lips… the words of His mouth." The book of Job is believed to be very old. Many evangelical scholars believe that the story recorded in Job probably took place about the time of Abraham, since Job is said to have lived 140 years after the time of his trial (Job 42:16). That means that he probably lived to be between 190 to 210 years of age, which would put him into the time period of the early patriarchs. So the "law" that is referred to in the book of Job appears to be what is commonly called the "Oral Law."

The word in Job 22:22 for "law" is torah, and John E. Hartley, author of The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Job, comments that here the word "torah" -

means the precepts passed down through the wise… to whom God has given insight into his ways. [Job] listens to God's words with eagerness and internalizes them in order that he may obey God spontaneously.23

Hartley also gives some insight to the word "commandment" in Job's response in Job 23:12 -

[Job] has not departed from God's commandment. The commandment is identified as the teaching that comes directly from God's lips or mouth.24


The reality of the existence of the Law before the time of Moses, the lawgiver, is underscored by Henry M. Morris in his comments about the book of Job -

The Book of Job may ... be the oldest book in the Bible, with the possible exception of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. There can, at least, be no question about its setting in the patriarchal period, certainly before Moses and possibly even before Abraham.

The events described in Job obviously took place before the establishment of Israel as God's covenant nation. There is no hint in the book of the nation of Israel-no mention of Moses, or Abraham, or any of the judges, kings, or prophets of Israel. Yet the Book of Job has always been accepted by the children of Israel as one of the canonical books of Scripture.

Even more significant is the fact that there is no mention of the Ten Commandments or any of the Mosaic laws. Many of the discourses in the book center on the question of right and wrong, sin and judgment, reward and punishment, but they never are placed in the context of God's Mount Sinai revelations.

Divine laws were given to men and women long before Moses. Abraham was guided by such laws: 'Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws' (Gen. 26:5).

Exactly how these primeval laws were given, and in what form, we do not know, for they have not been preserved… They were known by Abraham, however, and no doubt by his ancestors. They were also known by Job, for he testified: 'Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food' (Job 23:12). Job's friends were also aware of them. Their chief spokesman, Eliphaz, urged Job as follows: 'Receive, I pray thee, the law from his mouth, and lay up his words in thine heart' (Job 22:22) ...

Job lived 140 years after the events described in the book (Job 42:16). By figuring in the approximate number of years he lived prior to those events (the exact number is unknown, but at least enough to have ten grown children), we can place him in the time of the early patriarchs, perhaps around 2000 B.C."25

An extra-biblical record of the existence of an established code of law known in the ancient Near East before the time of Moses would be the "Code of Hammurabi.""The most important Mesopotamian law codes are the following: the laws of the Sumerian king Urnammu (hereafter called LU, 2111-2094 BCE); the laws of King Lipit-Ishtar (LL, 1943-1924 BCE); the code of the city Eshnunna (CE, eighteenth century BCE); the code of the Akkadian king Hammurabi (CH, 1793-1750 BCE); the Hittite laws (HL, c. 1600 BCE); the Assyrian laws (AL, eleventh century BCE). (These texts are collected by Borger, 1982).The most famous code is of course the code of Hammurabi. It was written on a diorite stela, topped by a bas-relief showing Hammurabi receiving from Shamash, the sun god and god of justice, the commission to write the law book. The stela was carried off as a trophy of war to the Elamite capital Susa. The code of Hammurabi is particularly valuable because it reveals something of how such a code was intended to function. The epilogue speaks about the motives of the kind and the function of the stela. The kind set up the stela with the aim of protecting the weak against the strong, procuring justice for the orphan and the widow, and establishing equity in the land (CN 47)… A citizen who has been injured shall read the stela, recognize his legal claims, and thank Hammurabi. If a subsequent king disregards the words of the stela, kingship shall be taken away from him (CH 48f)... 26

The author of this article goes on to say that the code of Hammurabi forbids such things as "killing a free man or woman… theft of cattle… stealing from someone's house… adultery, rape, and sexual offenses."27 Infractions that are "punishable by death" include "murder, false testimony, theft of property, kidnapping, hiding a slave, burglary, robbery, sorcery."28

Was there a law before the time of Moses? There was some form of law that would have been known and understood before the time of Moses both within the community of worshippers of Yahweh -- as the lives of such people as Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Job attest -- and also outside of that community of the worshippers of Yahweh-as we see in the code of Hammurabi. We also see in the biblical record of Genesis, that people often did not obey the Law of God, and suffered dire consequences for their disobedience. The Fall, the Flood, the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel, and the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah are all episodes of God's judgment for violation of His Law.


1. Victor P. Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991) 139.

2. Hamilton, 171.

3. John Calvin, Genesis (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1984) vol. 1, 125.

4. Hamilton, 273.

5. Walter Brueggemann, Genesis Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox, 1982) 77.

6. Calvin, vol. 1, 293.

7. John Skinner, The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures Old and New Testaments: Genesis (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910) 169.

8. Gordon Talbot, A Study of the Book of Genesis: An Introductory Commentary on All Fifty Chapters of Genesis (Harrisburg: Christian Pub., 1981) 69-70.

9. Arthur Pink, Gleanings in Genesis (Chicago: Moody, 1922) vol. 1, 115.

10. Hamilton, 258.

11. Skinner, 304.

12. Victor P. Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995) 18, 19.

13. E.A. Speiser, The Anchor Bible: Genesis (New York: Doubleday, 1962) 198, 201.

14. Hamilton, vol. 2, 194.

15. Calvin, vol. 2, 60.

16. Talbot, 164.

17. James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible; With Their Renderings in the Authorized English Version (MacLean: MacDonald, 1980) 74.

18. Strong, 71.

19. Strong, 42.

20. Strong, 123.

21. Strong, 125.

22. Hamilton, 258.

23. John E. Hartley, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Job (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988) 333.

24. Hartley, 340.

25. Henry M. Morris, The Remarkable Record of Job (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988) 12, 13, 14.

26. Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 3 (New York: Macmillan, 1987) 554.

27. Eliade, 554. 28. Eliade, 555.


Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Atlanta: John Knox, 1982.

Calvin, John. Genesis. 2 vols. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1984.

Eliade, Mircea. ed. The Encyclopedia of Religion. 16 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1987.

Hamilton, Victor P. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.

---. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

Hartley, John E. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Job. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.

Morris, Henry M. The Remarkable Record of Job. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988.

Pink, Arthur. Gleanings in Genesis. Chicago: Moody, 1922.

Skinner, John. The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures Old and New Testaments: Genesis. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910.

Speiser, E.A. The Anchor Bible: Genesis. New York: Doubleday, 1962.

Strong, James. A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible; With Their Renderings in the Authorized English Version. MacLean: MacDonald, 1980.

Talbot, Gordon. A Study of the Book of Genesis: An Introductory Commentary on All Fifty Chapters of Genesis. Harrisburg: Christian Pub., 1981.


Mike Leeming
Bethany College of Missions, Suite C
Bloomington, MN 55438, USA.