Genesis isn’t the introduction of the Bible. Genesis is the introduction of everything. As such, it needs careful study and reflection as we read the rest of the Bible. It is in this book that we are introduced to the Bible’s main Character, God. Rather than simply giving us information about God like a theological textbook, Genesis gives you a much richer approach. If you read a theological textbook, it will be a series of statements that are designed to impart to you information about God, much like a resume would tell you about an employee. Fact one: God is powerful because He made the world. Fact two: God is faithful because He keeps His promises. This has its place, but Genesis does something more. Genesis works like the next stage in the hiring process, the face-to-face interview. A good interviewer will say something like, “Tell me about a time in which you faced a difficult situation at work and creatively solved it.” The employee is then prompted to give the manager a narrative that paints a picture about how they operate.
Genesis is God’s face-to-face interview. Remember the context of the original audience. The Hebrews, God’s chosen people, have just been set free from four centuries worth of slavery in Egypt. They have seen signs, wonders, plagues, and miracles, and now, from the pen of Moses, they are going to be introduced to the God behind it all, and so will we. The knowledge that they (and we) will encounter in this book is going to set the stage for how they (and we) should view everything else.
This face-to-face interview is going to reveal to us a number of things, and the way that I have structured this series is by dividing Genesis into four parts. The first part is chapters 1-11 that I titled, “Who is the King of Glory?” I see this as the introduction to God Himself. Obviously in the first couple of chapters we behold His creative power. With just a word, stars, planets, oceans, fish, crickets, and subatomic particles suddenly exist. Without our aid, He did us make, as the Psalm says, which demonstrates the awesome quality of a God who needs nothing. This is going to be summed up in our two points today: God is powerful and God is faithful.
God is powerful
Chapter 2 tells the story of God entering into a relationship with the highest of His creatures, human beings. We find that He is a gracious God who can make an entire universe and then decide to pay attention to the smallest corner of it. More than paying attention to it, God loves it. Indeed, God binds Himself to humanity in covenant promising immortality to humanity if they would obey a single command in the midst of amazing kindness and provision.
Chapter 3, unfortunately tells the story of humanity’s rebellion. While God’s creatures, including Man, were made holy and without sin, they were liable to corruption, and so they disobeyed and plunged the world into chaos. Disease, decay, and ultimately death enter into God’s good creation. God, in right response to injustice, must punish, but He does so in mercy. Instead of simply executing the newly made humanity, He allows them to keep their work, tending to the ground and multiplying, but now it will be done with struggle and pain. But these hardships won’t be forever. Even in the midst of punishment, God makes a promise, another one, a new one, that all things will be set right. This promise we will need to keep in mind as we go through the study of this book. This is going to come up as the term “covenant.” We will see these promises made in chapters 2, 3, 9, 12, 15, and 17, and then we will see them alluded to and even advanced in 26, 35, 37, and 49. This is a critical concept to get because a lot of Scripture overall is going to be structured by the promises that God makes to His people ultimately being fulfilled in Christ. One of my old professors, Allen Ross, points out that blessing and cursing are concepts that will show up again and again in this book (Allen Ross, Creation and Blessing, 65).
As this section goes onward, we will see humanity get worse and worse. The first murder is already committed by chapter 4, but only two chapters later, humanity has multiplied and their sin has multiplied exponentially. Now humanity is so evil that every intent of their heart was only evil continually. What a far cry from a humanity created with only the possibility of evil, to now their only possibility is evil. As such we get a look into God’s capability of judgment. God is merciful, but God will only be merciful for so long. In chapters 6-9, we see God execute judgment on a planetary scale. A flood is going to consume the world such that there is nowhere for man to hide from God. Scale the tallest mountain, and behold, God’s waters are there. Run to the deep, and behold, God’s waters are there, too. Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
But God is merciful, and humanity is reborn and begins to re-multiply. Unfortunately, sin didn’t die in the flood (Paul House, Old Testament Theology, 69). The people didn’t trust God’s promises, nor obviously obeyed His command to multiply and spread out over the Earth. They gathered up in their tower, ready to reach up to heaven. We find God isn’t limited to one trick. God comes down and confuses their languages, and now they are forced to cover the face of the earth.
From there, we will notice a device that this book uses to structure itself. You know all of those “begats” in your Bible that people tend to skip through? So and so begat this unpronounceable name who went on to beget this other name? Well it turns out that those are rather important. In fact, according to one of my old seminary professors, Kenneth Matthews (we will be hearing a lot from him. He’s handled the Dead Sea Scrolls!), sees these begats as the hinge points in the book (Kenneth Matthews, Genesis 1-11:26, NAC, 34). These begats are going to show us the bloodline of the people of God. We will see this bloodline seem to be in danger of confusion and obliteration, but we will see the faithfulness of God preserving His people through many dangers, toils, and snares.
God is faithful
Now, you might think that these chosen people, this protected bloodline, will be easy to see as the good guys. In American media, we like to present the hero and the villain insultingly clearly. The physically attractive hero enters the screen to dramatic lighting, triumphant music, and an obvious and uncomplicated moral code to execute. The villain is often done the same way in reverse. In fact, in the opening scene of Star Wars, the bad guy, Darth Vader is introduced. He is dressed in all black and enters to scary music. You know immediately that that is the baddie of the film.
Genesis doesn’t really work like that. We find that God’s people are actually extremely complicated and inconsistent people. The first section of Genesis 1-11 I called “Who is the King of Glory?” In this one, 12-26, I have titled it, “God is Faithful to the Scared.” This is the story of Abraham. God calls Abraham (called Abram when we first meet him), out of all the other people on Earth, to go out to a land that he doesn’t know, to have kids that aren’t biologically possible, to become the Father of many nations that don’t exist yet. This promise in Genesis 12 is of a land, a seed, and a blessing, something that is going to come up again and again. Incredibly, he goes! He goes through harrowing fights, rescue missions, and border crossings, but, after going though all of that, is scared that someone may think his wife is pretty in another country and kill him. He lies and puts his wife (rather than himself) at risk not once but twice! Even after God has not only protected them from that fate but actually enriches them because of it, when Abraham doesn’t immediately see God’s promise of a son arrive, he decides to force the issue and gets one of his servants pregnant. This will lead to all kinds of problems later, but God eventually comes through and grants the son He promised in the way He promised. Abraham is a complicated character, but on balance, he seems to surpass his failings with a great faith that is even willing to sacrifice his own son if God commands it in the end.
Jacob, his grandson, is much more complicated. Genesis doesn’t spend much time with Isaac and instead focuses on Jacob, taking up chapters 27-36. I have titled this section “God is faithful to the Scoundrel.” If you didn’t know the whole story, you would simply assume that Jacob is actually the bad guy! In contrast to his brother, the strong, skilled hunter (traits admired in a culture like that), Jacob is a soft, beardless man who likes to hang around in the tents, make soup, and, you know, occasionally, constantly undermines his entire family by taking advantage of his brother, and tricking his old, blind father with multiple lies and with help from his mother. Once all of that has taken place, Jacob continues his deception appropriate to his name with his uncle to get a bunch of animals and wives. Eventually, Jacob finds himself with four wives and family dynamics that could rival the Kardasians, and yet still, he is part of the bloodline, the line of blessing. In fact, he was chosen by God, over Esau, in spite of what Jacob would become. By the time we get to the end of his story, we find him, like his grandfather before him, renamed Israel and remade into the father of the twelve tribes of Hebrew people. The promise of a land, seed, and blessing is still transmitted even through the scoundrel.
One of his sons, Joseph, dominates the rest of the book of Genesis in chapters 37-50. Unlike the rest of the cast we’ve seen so far, Joseph looks pretty moral. He might not have the best discretion at the beginning of the story (telling his dream that everyone in the family bows to him when he is for some reason unpopular already with his brothers), but other than that, you’d be hard pressed to find anything this guy does wrong. In fact, if you were just reading Genesis, you might think that this is the one promised in Genesis 3 to put the world back together. If anyone deserves the promise of a land, seed, and blessing, it is Joseph.
Yet almost nothing good happens to him for the first half of his story. He goes out in obedience to his father to check on his brothers, when they decide to kill him! Only by the quick thinking of one brother, do they only decide to “just” sell him into slavery instead! He gets trafficked all the way to Egypt where he is sold to Potipher. After making the best of his situation, Joseph becomes the focus of the unwanted attention of the mistress of the house, and for his honor, he is thrown into prison. After helping people in the prison who are able to free him, he is forgotten for, you know, just a couple years, before finally he is lifted from the prison to the throne with a plan to save the world from a global famine, which he does.
This is why I titled this section “God is faithful to the Suffering.” Because He is.
I would imagine that the newly-freed Hebrews could see themselves in each of these stories, and so can we. And what we find is how God interacts with each of us in these stories.
Of course, there is so much more to see in this book than what I have just briefly laid out here. In this book we have the foundations to marriage (Gen. 1-2), government (Gen. 9), and our approach to the created world, especially each other (Gen. 9). We see God’s design for sexuality, gender, and even the gospel. We will see the surprising depth of human sin, the awesome height of God’s mercy, the mystery of His sovereignty, and God’s unabashed freedom to elect who will be the inheriter of His promise.
Of course, we are also reading this book as not just the introduction to the Old Testament, but the introduction to the New Testament as well, a fact John acknowledges in the opening of His gospel by going back to the beginning. All these threads that start in the book of Genesis will find their culmination in Christ living, dying, and rising again to defeat sin and death. Further, we will see allusions to Genesis as far away as Revelation when we will see The Tree of Life first offered to Adam and Eve now opened to all those who are weary, heavy laden, poor in spirit to buy without price and rest in the open arms of Christ.
That is what we will be studying over the next couple of years together. I hope you will join me.
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