I am a child of the 80’s. Besides Elvis, it is my favorite genre of music. One of the popular rockers of the day was Bryan Adams. He went on to expanded his career outside the days of parachute pants, and began working on an album in the early 2000’s. One of those songs was called “East Side Story.” It is about falling in love with a woman he saw on the East Side of town, like so many before him. Blah, blah, blah.
There was also an 80’s movie named “East Side Story”, along with a German documentary, a set of novels and even the name of a band. Many sitcoms have used the name for an individual episode. You may have heard of a few of these, but did you know there is also an “East Side Story” found in Scripture? As we read through Genesis, we notice this nautical direction more than once and for deeper meanings than pointing something out on a map.
We go back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve have eaten of the forbidden fruit. Sin’s consequences are being laid out, one of which, was to be cast from the Garden.
Genesis 3:22-23, So the LORD God sent him away from the garden of Eden… He drove man out and stationed the cherubim and the flaming, whirling sword east of the garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life. (emphasis mine)
The writer isn’t interested in us knowing the geographical location they were sent, but rather introducing us to a recurring theme: east. Incidentally, the garden was planted on the east section of Eden (3:8). East becomes a key word the author often uses to indicate one sent away from God’s presence. After Cain murders Abel, Yahweh has a discussion with him about his sinfulness. It ended this way:
Genesis 4:16, Then Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (emphasis mine)
In my last blog, There’s Something About A Name, we talked about the sinful people who tried to build a city and tower to make a name for themselves. The author gives us an interesting detail.
Genesis 11:1-2, At one time the whole earth had the same language and vocabulary. As people migrated from the east… (emphasis mine)
The people went against God’s plan and blessing for humans (Gen. 1:28). As Sailhamer put it, “It is a scheme that contrasts God’s way of blessing (e.g., Eden and the Promised Land) with humanity’s own attempt to find the ‘good.’ In the Genesis narratives, when people go ‘east,’ they leave the land of blessing (Eden and the Promised Land) and go to a land where their greatest hopes will turn to ruin (Babylon and Sodom).”
Let’s talk about Sodom for a moment. When God calls Abram to leave his country and to the land of promise (Gen. 12), his nephew, Lot, went with him (v. 5). In the next chapter the two families separate because of the size of their livestock’s on the land. Abram gives lot his choice, which is a whole other story, and heads toward the Jordan Valley. But listen to the way the author put it.
Genesis 13:10-11, Lot looked out and saw that the entire Jordan Valley as far as Zoar was well watered everywhere like the LORD’s garden and the land of Egypt… So Lot chose the entire Jordan Valley for himself. Then Lot journeyed eastward, and they separated from each other. (emphasis mine)
These verses should draw our minds back to the Garden. Just as Eve saw the forbidden tree was good for food and delightful to look at (3:6), so Lot saw the land east as good and delightful as the garden of Eden. Both of their choices led to separation from the Creators good land. Lot moves away from the Promised Land and into the lands of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yeah, THOSE cities.
Most know the dysfunctional account of Abraham and his two sons – Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael was the result of Abraham and Sarah’s lack of trust in God to bring about the child of promise. Like in Eden, they wanted to determine what was good in their own eyes. They wanted to usher in the promise of God by their own means. Of course, this produced Ishmael. From the very conception, we learn their lack of faith created hostility and separation (16:4-6; 21:8-13). Years later, in Genesis 25, the writer prepares us for Abraham’s death. He remarried after Sarah’s death and had other children. It is interesting what the text says:
Genesis 25:5-6, Abraham gave everything he owned to Isaac. And Abraham gave gifts to the sons of his concubines, but while he was still alive he sent them eastward, away from his son Isaac, to the land of the East. (emphasis mine)
None of the sons of his concubines were to share the promised blessing and were sent east. That may sound cruel, but what God was doing was preparing the way to bless all the nations of the earth. The intent here is to see east was away from the Promised Land.
However, the east isn’t always used in a negative sense. In the next blog I will talk about the hope for those who return from the east.
*All Scripture comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible
*Blog resources: The Pentateuch as narrative, John H. Sailhamer; the Bible Project guys, Tim Mackie.