Genesis: The Book of Beginnings
Author: Traditionally Moses
Focal Point: Beginnings
Genesis is the first of the five books of the First Testament and is called the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch is regarded as one book by the Jews. It is broken into five smaller books for the sake of convenience. The name of Genesis comes from bereshith (pronounced ba ra sheeth), a Hebrew word which is translated for us as in the beginning. The Septuagint provided us with the name Genesis.
Traditionally Moses is believed to be the author. Certain sections are attributed to him (Ex. 17.14; 24.3-7). Moses was most likely responsible for the choice of the material. This does not mean that he had to write every word of it. Conservative scholarship suggests that the choice and arrangement of the material is the work of Moses.
There are two-part to Genesis. Primeval history is covered in the first eleven chapters. While it has often been tried, no specific time can be fixed to the events written about in the first eleven chapters. It is apparent that a shift takes place at Genesis 11.27. This shift begins the story of Abraham and his family.
It is usually believed that Moses lived around 1450 B.C. Others, however, believe that the date of his life is to be placed around 1250 B.C. The date for Genesis is often set at one of two periods. First, during his stay in Midian (before 1445 B.C.). Second, soon after the Exodus or during the wilderness experience (after 1445 B.C.). The stories in Genesis were especially helpful to a nation on the verge of entering into a land that had been promised but was filled with polytheism. Genesis plus the Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were to help Israel understand who their God really was and how he acted toward his children.
Four Specific Events Genesis 1-11.26
Creation Genesis 1.1-2.25: The first two chapters of Genesis provides a summary of creation given from two differing perspectives. This story demonstrates the value God placed on his creation, especially humankind, the crown of his creative power.
Fall Genesis 3.1-5.32: A turn from the bliss of paradise to the painful plunge into corruption. The storyteller wishes his readers to understand that the present condition of humankind cannot be laid at God’s feet. This is the story of Adam and Eve’s eviction from the Garden as a judgment for their sin. Within the story is the beginning promise of redemption.
Flood Genesis 6.1-9.29: While used to spellbind children with tales of animals gaining access to the ark two-by-two, the story of the flood is a horror story. Sin had penetrated every fiber of ancient life. The result: God punished. To save his human creation who found God’s favor, Noah built an ark. While humankind has a new start, sinful ways have not been eradicated.
Nations Genesis 10.1-11.26: The apex of sinfulness is found in the story of Babel. Once again God stepped into history and confused the languages of humankind to put a halt to the incessant desire of humans to want to become God. From the chaos of confusion comes the new focus of blessing: the story of Abraham begins.
Four Special People Genesis 11.27-50.26
Abraham Genesis 11.27-23.20: This section begins with the story of Abraham who left his home in Ur and moved to Haran. From Haran, Abraham journeyed into Canaan where God told him that he would become the father of a nation of people and he would be given the land he has set foot on as a home for that nation. Within this story, we find the substories of Abraham’s separation from Lot, Sara’s desire to help God deliver his promise shared in the story of the birth of Ishmael, and the birth of Isaac, who the true heir of the promise of God.
Isaac Genesis 24.1-26.35: The story of Esau and Jacob, born to Isaac, confirms the covenant of God to Isaac.
Jacob Genesis 27.1-36.43: Jacob, a follower of his name, stole the covenanted birthright from his brother Esau. Jacob had to flee for his life but God provided safety during the family separation until Esau and Jacob reunite.
Joseph Genesis 37.1-50.26: Young and impetuous, Joseph prematurely shared his visions with his family about his destiny in life. His brothers did not understand and sold him into slavery. As a young man, he was soon to find temporary prosperity in the house of Potipher until false accusations from the wife of Potipher caused her husband to send Joseph to prison for life. God guided the life of Joseph from the pit to the pinnacle of leadership in Egypt. It’s hard to keep a good man down.
Thought To Contemplate
Because you are created in the image of God, your destiny will be discovered as you live out that image in the midst of the circumstances of life. We are the light to a darkened world that shines on others so they can find their genesis in God.
Theology in Genesis
Who is God and who are his people? Genesis begins the answer to this question. Genesis was written in a period of time when people believed and worshipped many gods. Each god in the ancient was believed to have its own sphere of influence. Each was worshipped at specific times of the year for specific reasons. As an example, fertility gods were worshipped during the season for planting and harvesting. The gods of war were worshipped before a tribe would go to war with another tribe. During national holidays, the national god would be worshipped.
The world for Israel was small and it had many gods. It was a difficult lesson to learn that she would be unique and worship one God.
The book of Genesis shows that the God of Israel is the Creator God. It demonstrates that…
- human rebellion, which is called sin, is not from the hand of God but from the free choice of his created beings.
- we are created in the image of God, our potential still is great.
- when sin occurs, judgment follows. God does not ignore or tolerate sin.
- win hurts us, our relationship to others, and our relationship with God.
- God redeems from sin.
- we are blessed by God to bless others.
- God is in control of the world.
- our identity centers in the extended family of God.
- God reveals himself through his acts of grace and faithfulness.
Genesis provides us with the foundation for the rest of Scripture. It covers Creation and Fall and begins the story of Redemption. One has to wait for the last two chapters of Revelation to see the Re-creation. In those chapters, there is a wonderful picture of a restored relationship with God with his people which is not unlike the pictures in the creation story in Genesis. The story ends with a new heaven and earth. God’s purpose and plan for his creation was and always has been paradise. The story of Scripture begins and ends with this picture.
The Theology Of Genesis 1–11
Let’s examine some theological highlights of the Genesis 1-11. Our purpose here is to whet the appetite of the reader rather than give a thorough theological treatment of this section of Genesis.
| Creation: Genesis 1-2
It is our natural tendency as Westerners to what to know how something works. We might ask the question: What was the process of creation? But for the Easterner form whom this was first written and spoken, the focus of creation is to demonstrate how God is the sole cause behind the creation of the universe and humankind.
The first two chapters illustrate the power of God in his creation and that humankind is dependent on him. The recounting of this story does not allow us to be dogmatic over the question about the length of time it took or the order in which God created. It seems apparent that if these matters would have been important to the Spirit as he inspired the writer of Genesis, they would have been explained.
The theme of the first two chapters is not how God created, but that God created his creation from out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Other Near Eastern beliefs did not take this position. Their ancient gods were thought to have created the world out of something which preexisted.
One should take notice that God pronounced the creation that he made as good. This becomes an important statement set in the context of an ancient world that was filled with sin and injustice. The reader of this section of Genesis comes to realize that the present sinful world (this present evil age) did not come from the hand of God. The world is the way it is because of the choices made by his humankind.
| The Problem of Sin
In Genesis chapter 3 when the story of the fall is told, the problem of sin and its effects can be observed. Sin and its consequence occur in a snowballing effect.[ref]William Sanford LaSor, David Allan Hubbard, Frederic Wm. Bush. Old Testament Survey. 26). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.[/ref] First, Eve sins, then Adam and then Lamech; the world is flooded because of sin and finally in a corporate sense, all of humankind is seen as bent toward sin. From a small seed came a large harvest: from one person sinning to the whole world in sin. If you read Chapter 1 – 11 in this way, you will have a glimpse of the sin enlarging like an avalanche.
| God Reaction To Sin
The second thing which can be seen is God’s reaction to sin. How does he react to it? First, he reacts in judgment. Adam, Eve and the serpent were all judged for their sin. Cain was judged for his sin – Lamech for his sin. The flood was a judgment on humankind for their sin. The tearing down of Babel was a judgment of the corporate effects of sin. How does God answer the problem of sin? He answers it with judgment.
| Divine Mercy
There is a third arena – divine mercy. After each judgment, God shows mercy. To Adam and Eve, he showed mercy. In Genesis 2:17 he said that they would die, but in God’s forbearance, their death was postponed. He judged them, but he showed them mercy. He clothed the couple, enabling them to live in spite of the shame which they had encountered. Cain was protected by a mark. He told God that his judgment was more than he could bear. God’s response was mercy. He gave him a mark to protect him. In the flood narrative, the mercy of God is shown by the saving of Noah and his family. But, when we look at Babel there was no mercy shown; everyone was judged.
Thus God’s response in every case is judgment and mercy toward the people who are sinning, except in the story of Babel, where there is no mercy shown on the human race. Why is there no specific act of mercy stated for the story of Babel? The exclusion of a mercy story begs the question, “What is the future of the human race?” The answer or solution to the whole problem of sin and its infection of the human race is given in Genesis 12:1–3. The answer is encapsulated in the promise of a “coming one” who will bless all nations. Genesis 12:1–3 is a bridge to help us cross from the stories of the primeval age in the first eleven chapters to the time of Abraham and the stories of the patriarchs.
I believe Genesis 1–11 reflects a theological interest that tells its reader that there is one God who created humankind in a sinless condition. He is not responsible for the sin in the world. When sin occurred it was met by the judgment and mercy of God.
The Theology Of Genesis 12–26
The Election and Promise of God
First, observe humankind’s circumstances over against God’s promises. Scan the contrast presented in Scripture. Abraham is told that he is going to be a great nation (Gen. 12.2). This was God’s promise to him. On the other hand, Sarah is barren (Gen. 11.30) which displays humankind’s circumstances. In Genesis 12.6–7 we are told that Abram passed through the land at Shechem and the land was occupied by the Canaanites (humankind’s circumstances). God’s promise was that he was going to give Abraham the land. Here again, is a contrast between man’s circumstance and God’s promise. Look for the paradox throughout these chapters. The author of these stories wishes for his readers to encounter the great truth that regardless of man’s circumstance, the promises of God will come true. It didn’t matter that the Canaanites occupied the land, God was still going to give it to Abraham and his descendants. So what if Sarah was barren! God’s promise of a child was still going to be a reality.
Abram tried his best to help God by altering his circumstances. Again the author is viewing these stories from a theological standpoint. What does this teach us about how Abraham responded to God, how God responded to Abraham, how Abraham responded to his fellow beings? What does this teach us about responding to God, God responds to us, and our response to our fellow human beings? These are tough questions you should ask as you individually or as a group proceed in your reading.
Genesis 15:2–3, reads, “But Abram said, ‘Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.’”
This idea of descendants was an ancient custom; If parents did not have any children, they could purchase a slave, and upon the death of the husband the slave would become the rightful heir. Abram simply goes out and tries to alter his circumstances by partaking in an ancient custom. God says I am going to give you this land, I am going to give you a great nation, I am going to bless you, and Abram knows that all of that calls for children, an heir; and because he remained childless he partakes of a custom to try and alter his circumstances. Look at the response,
Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Gen. 15.4-5)
Abraham is unable to alter his circumstances to receive God’s promise.
Observe Genesis Genesis 16.1ff. – the story of Hagar and Ishmael. Their story is formed from another custom of the day. Sarah remains barren and gives her maid to her husband. Here Abram’s wife is trying to alter his circumstances. At Genesis 21.1-2, we read: “Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.”
Sarah was old and most likely beyond the age of childbearing and that is the point of the story. When old age appeared to make everything impossible, God made it possible.
There are two other aspects of theology that one can discern in Genesis 12–50. The first has to do with faith and righteousness. The second with covenant relationship. In each of the stories of the four great figures of Chapter 12–50, one should look for these three things: 1) The circumstances of humankind is compared with the promises of God, 2) The faith and righteousness of the characters, and 3) Their covenant relationship with God.
The Theology Of Genesis 27–50
Righteousness and Change
In the story of Jacob, we discover the difficulty of trusting in the promises of God, especially when they have been given to a previous generation. Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham had been called a righteous man (Gen. 15.6). As conceived in the modern era, righteousness is seen as conformity to a set of moral values and codes. However, from a biblical perspective righteousness is understood as faithfulness to a relationship. A righteous man was one who was faithful to the claims of all of his relationships. This does not mean that a righteous man does not conform to a set of values and codes, but that he can conform because of his faithfulness in a relationship. In short, one does not keep a set of moral values to become righteous, but righteousness occurs because of the faithfulness of a relationship and the end result is that one will cherish keeping the moral values.
Scripture presents us with the picture of Jacob as a worldly–man full of guile and self–reliance. He was a deceiver from his birth (Gen. 25.26 NIV footnote). He was scheming and crafty just like his mother (Gen. 27.5–17, 41–45). He worked for twenty years for his uncle Laban. The story is full of plots of each one trying to out-scheme and get the best of the other.
But God refused to let Jacob live this way forever. At the Jabbok River, Jacob met his match. It was not until later that Jacob knew that his opponent brought to him a divine visitation. It was only by God’s actions that Jacob the deceiver became Israel the overcomer (Gen. 32.28).
Reconciliation with his brother Esau followed this dynamic encounter with God (Gen. 33.1–11). Other changes also occurred in Jacob’s life. He realized he and his family need to turn to God. The overt action which pictures this transformation is the story of his command to throw away all the foreign gods (Gen. 35–2–5). The stories of Jacob, after the encounter with God, describes a person who was no longer self–reliant, but one who had been mastered by God.
Righteousness and change! They appear to be different subjects. In fact, they go hand in hand. Remember, righteousness is being faithful to a relationship. If one chooses not to be faithful, God will continually pursue humankind to give an opportunity for change.
Righteousness and Change
In the story of Joseph God is seen as one who is in control of the events of a person’s life and the details of history. While Joseph was arrogant and got himself in a fix with his brothers, and while they made poor choices about how to solve their family problem. God used all of those events to turn history by Joseph being in the right place at the right time to become a second-chair in Egypt. It may be fairly stated that the theology of this story is that God overrules the wicked intentions of men and women in order to save his people. While this theme runs through the First Testament, it is explicit in the story of Joseph.
As we have come to understand the kingdom of God, it means the rule and reign of God in his created world. The idea of kingdom is peppered through the stories presented in the First Testament. In Genesis 1–11, kingdom theology is very prevalent. Here are some points to ponder and meditate on:
1. GENESIS 1: The first hearers lived in a world that believed in many gods. Our world is more likely not to believe in any gods. We call this atheism, while the belief in many gods is called polytheism. Genesis 1 provides us with a basis to believe the universe was created by God. This was to combat the belief in polytheism. Some ancients believed that their fate was in the stars and as well as the sun and the moon. Some moderns believe the same thing. Genesis 1 demonstrates that the function of the stars is merely to provide warmth and light for the created universe. They were all made by God and are not gods themselves. Thus Genesis 1 demonstrates the essence of kingdom theology for the Hebrews – God created his universe to rule.
2. GENESIS 2–3: This text provides the first hearers with a theology for why the world was like it was. Humankind had chosen to usurp the privilege for which God humans were created, i.e., to rule over the earth and replenish it. Humankind had decided to take the place of God and become like him.
3. GENESIS 6–9: God took control of his universe and judged it for its sin. The kingdom of God is in full swing. God will control his world and call it to account for its sins. In the flood, we have the power of the age to come invading the present evil age.
Genesis is the foundation on which we build our understanding of the rest of the Bible story. It helps us understand who God is, what he has done, how God acts on behalf of his children, how we are supposed to respond to him.
The first eleven chapters of Genesis gives is an introduction to the remainder of Scripture. Chapter 1 clearly states that God exists and that he is the creator of the universe that we live in. Chapter two demonstrates that humankind is a unique creation of God. Chapter 3 shows that God cannot be blamed for the sin of the world, it is indisputably humankind’s fault. Chapter 4 displays that the sin of Adam and Eve infects all of humankind. Chapters 6-9 tells the story of the judgment and grace of God. He punishes those who disobey him and rescues those who obey him. Genesis 10-11 portrays the scattering of humankind and it’s growing malignant sin in the story of Babel.
The story of salvation history, the restoration of his creation, is introduced in Genesis 12-50. God promises Abraham a land and a people through whom he would bless the world. It confirms his promise to Abraham with a covenant.
Question Genesis Answers
The book of Genesis answers the crucial question of who God’s people are and what we are about in the face of rival gods and values. It does this by providing us with the beginning of many beliefs. It discusses creation, God, sin, salvation, the family, what the mission of God followers is: judgment, mercy, grace, and hope.
- The trouble we face comes from rebellion toward God which is called sin. Sin is missing the purpose which God has created us for, to live in fellowship with him.
- God gave humankind the care of the universe and created us in his image. We have the potential to be and do great things.
- When we sin, God will punish. The sin we commit not only hurts us and those around us, but it breaks our fellowship with God.
- God is constantly seeking to find us and rescue us from our sin in order to bless us. He blesses in excess of what we actually deserve.
Thoughts for Today
- We need to be reaffirmed that we are God’s creation.
- We need to accept responsibility and care for the world we live in.
- We need to understand that we are the only scripture some people will ever read and join in the mission of pointing people to God.
- We should understand that when we sin we have willfully rebelled against God and that sin left in an unforgiven stage will become malignant in our lives.
- We must understand that the flip side of God’s judgment is God’s grace to forgive us for our rebellion.
- Knowing, believing, and living God will make us different from those we live around. Because of this, we will relate to others differently.
- God is one who seeks us out.
Toward The Second Testament
Four Definite Events: 1.1–11.26
The creation of the world and humankind by God is the foundation for beginning to understand the First and Second Testament. God created a perfect environment for his creation to live in and enjoy. Through sin, humankind lost all that God had provided. The rest of the First and Second Testament tells God’s story of the redemption of his fallen creation. In the book of Revelation (Rev. 21–22), we are told that there will be a new heaven and new earth which will mirror many of the comforts of the garden. God’s ideal for his creation has always been paradise.
When Adam and Eve fell in the garden, God judged them, which included a judgment on the serpent. The curse of the serpent points toward the ultimate sacrifice to remove the curse, the crucifixion of Jesus. While the First Testament readers may not have understood this to mean a messiah, a somewhat later development, it would nevertheless point toward a hope that God would reverse the judgment which they had suffered in the sin of Adam and Eve. It is a fact that the Gospels in the Second Testament present their message within the context of the war between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. On the cross, the ultimate victory over Satan occurred and God reversed once and for all time the judgment suffered in the garden.
Four Specific People: 11.27–50.26
The last section of Genesis provides its reader with a picture of God’s selection of a man and a promise of a nation and a land. Through this nation, Jesus would arrive in the world in the fullness of time. This promise of land and nation was fulfilled by the end of the book of Joshua. The Second Testament demonstrates that the ecclesiae is the New Israel of God who was the remnant promised in the First Testament. We are Abraham’s seed (Gal. 3.26–29). The story of Joseph is a living illustration of Paul’s message in Romans 8. God does work in everything for good. God can and does overrule evil and the evil intentions of others by bringing good out of every situation in our life.