Commentary on Parashat B’resheet – Gen 1:1 – 6:8

B’resheet/Genesis 6:5   And the L-rd saw that great wickedness of mankind was on the earth, and every thought of the designs of his heart was only evil every day.

There’s an old contemporary worship song written by Gerald Coates and Noel Richards that we used to sing twenty or more years ago, whose first verse starts like this:

Great is the darkness that covers the earth; oppression, injustice and pain.
Nations are slipping in hopeless despair, though many have come in Your name.
Watching while sanity dies, touched by the madness and lies.
Come, Lord Jesus …[1]

It’s a “second coming” song, calling Yeshua to return, to come and sort out the mess, but also looking forward to the celebration on that day and the end of sorrow and darkness. It is also predicated upon a certain view of the way the end-times will play out that may not be shared by everyone. But with everything that’s going on in the world around us – successive waves of financial crisis, increasingly severe weather and geological phenomena, terrorism and religiously inspired war, more refugees and migrants than ever before, rising youth suicide rates, political corruption and incompetence, food scandals and more – you could be forgiven for feeling that there is some truth in the song’s opening words.

Sforno splits the verse in two and comments, “‘the wickedness of man was great’ … in the past … ‘and every thought of the designs of his heart’ … for the future – they did not hearken to the (words) of the admonisher, since there was no hope that they would repent.”

Saadia Gaon goes further, saying this was, “absolute evil all the time.” With the flood only just over the horizon, Nahum Sarna explains that the opening of the verse, “and the L-rd saw” has “juridical overtones: implying both investigation of the facts and readiness for action.” We find the same at the start of the Exodus narrative, when HaShem instructs Moshe to tell the Children of Israel, “I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered My covenant” (Shemot 6:5, ESV). The evidence is in and, as the True Judge, HaShem is about to act.

The Hebrew Scriptures nevertheless paint quite a consistent picture of mankind. Job is perhaps the most pessimistic – “What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?” (Job 15:14, ESV) – but the Psalmist runs him a close second: “The L-RD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after G-d. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:2-3, ESV). King Solomon has several bites at the issue, first during the dedication of the Temple – “If they sin against You — for there is no one who does not sin — and You are angry with them and give them to an enemy” (1 Kings 8:46, ESV) – then in the book traditionally attributed to him, Qohelet: “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20, ESV) and “the hearts of the children of man are full of evil” (9:3, ESV). Jeremiah makes a complete canon of condemnation: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV). Even Rav Sha’ul joins in with perhaps the most well-known verse on the subject: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of G-d” (Romans 3:23, ESV). How are we to get away from all this darkness?

From the very beginning, when G-d “separated the light from the darkness” (B’resheet 1:4, JPS), He planned a way to bring light into the world. It is another prophet that shows us the first glimmer of light for those who are in darkness: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2, ESV). This is quoted (and slightly paraphrased to follow the Septuagint translation) by Matthew – “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16, ESV) – and echoed a little less obvious by Luke: “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79, ESV). G-d’s light was coming: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9, ESV). This light would not only shine, but would disperse and break up the darkness; it would not be put out or extinguished: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (v. 5, ESV).

Who or what is that light? He is Yeshua, who told the people, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, ESV). And Yeshua came at the right time and in the right place, as Isaiah told the people of Israel: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the L-RD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the L-RD will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:1-3, ESV). The Roman empire had covered most of the known world – with its pantheon of gods, worship of the emperor and lots of consumer culture – and had reduced the world to a state of spiritual darkness. And into that darkness came the light; a breaking through of the kingdom of G-d into this world. That forced people to make a choice: would they live in the light or remain in the darkness? “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in G-d” (John 3:19-21, ESV).

Yeshua, in turn, passed the baton of light on to His disciples and – across the generations down to the present day, whenever His words are read – to us. In the Sermon on the Mount, He told the disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14, ESV). We are now that light and just like Yeshua we have been intentionally placed and called to be seen: “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 16, ESV). It is Messiah in us who shines His light in all the places where we have been sent; just like the city of Tz’fat (modern day Safed) that would have been clearly visible on the side of the hill towards the northern horizon from where Yeshua was teaching the crowds that day, we cannot be missed as people look around. Just as even the smallest candle or bulb in a dark room or building is instantly visible by everyone, so it is G-d’s intention that we should be seen by what we do, what we say and the way we live our lives: quietly and gently subverting the way of the world and refusing to be co-opted by society, living the kingdom and displaying its values, demonstrating that there is a viable and compelling alternative narrative in our day. Great is the darkness, but “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4, ESV).

Rav Sha’ul and Barnabas refused to be put in a box, only sharing the message of Yeshua with some people, instead telling the crowds and the non-believing Jews who were contradicting the gospel, “For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth'” (Acts 13:47, ESV). Sha’ul knew that he was a carrier of that light and as he handed it on to the congregations that he planted, told them, “Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Messiah will shine on you'” (Ephesians 5:7-14, ESV). Followers of Yeshua are not to participate in or practice darkness. When we become believers, our lives change; we become light and we follow The Light. We become visible, noticeable by everyone who is still in darkness, including the forces of darkness.

Thirty seconds of news headlines are enough to show us that the days we live in are times of great darkness, fear and uncertainty. We are called to be channels or focus points of light in these dark days. This is the way the darkness is relieved, no matter how dark it may seem. The light of Messiah in you will not be overcome.

Further Study: Isaiah 2:5-8; John 12:35-36; Romans 13:11-14

Application: Do you live in the light, reflecting the light of Yeshua to those around you? Is your glass clean and transparent so that the light can be clearly seen? Speak to the Lamplighter to get more fuel and fresh wicks today!

1. – ‘Great is the Darkness’, Gerald Coates and Noel Richards, © 1992 Thankyou Music, administered by