Discovering Genesis

For whatever reason, we like to learn about our ancestors, our history and our family tree. We like to show our kids the places we lived and did things when we were kids, and we like to attend family reunions (sometimes). The first book of the Bible and of the Old Testament, Genesis, helps us in our quest to discover our roots, taking us back farther than any other resource can do.

It is the first of five books written by the prophet Moses. We call these five books the Pentateuch; they are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These books spoke to the nation of Israel during a forty-year period between the time that God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt and provided a permanent home in the land he had promised to them.

The title of this book comes from the Greek word geneseōs, which means “beginnings.” It is a translation of the Hebrew word tôledôt (toledoth), which means “generations” and refers to important historical and genealogical records. This word appears eleven times throughout the book and underscores the reason why this book was written (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2). In a sense, these eleven occurrences serve as the backbone of the entire book.

Genesis is an introduction and foundation for the rest of the Bible. It gives a permanent record of the beginning and origin of nearly everything.

  • The universe and the physical world
  • Human life and cultures (especially the nation of Israel)
  • The problem of sin and death
  • God’s promise and plan to rescue us from this problem

In fact, this book tells us the beginning of nearly everything and everyone but one – that is God, who is eternal and has no beginning. The first words of this book testify to this, saying, “In the beginning God” (Gen 1:1).

Furthermore, nearly every important doctrine and concept in Scripture has roots in the book of Genesis. For this reason alone, everyone who believes in Christ as Savior should make it a personal goal to become very familiar with this book.

Genesis divides neatly into two halves. The first half records the beginning of the human race, and it spans a period of more than 2,000 years (Gen 1-11). This section describes the earliest interactions between God and the world. The second half records the beginning of the Jewish nation, and it spans a period of about 300 years (Gen 12-50). This section describes the initial interactions between God and the family of Abraham.

By revealing to us the origins and early development the world and the human race, Genesis communicates a crucial message – that the God who made everything good promised to restore what sin had threatened to destroy.

God created everything good.

This book begins by introducing us to God. He is the only God, the one true God. He is eternal, without beginning or end. Unlike everything else, he has no genealogy and no record of origins. As Genesis 1-2 announces, he created everything, yet he was created by no one.

These chapters record the way that God created everything, (1) out of nothing and (2) by speaking it into existence. By creating everything out of nothing (ex nihilo), he demonstrated his absolute and immense power to do things. No other god has such power. Also, by creating everything by speaking it into existence, he showed his absolute and indisputable authority. Who should ever say no to a God like this? No one. Notice the recurring phrase, “Then God said,” throughout the first chapter (Gen 1:3, et al.).

After each stage of creation, God affirmed that what he made was totally good. After he created everything, he exclaimed, “Indeed it was very good!” (Gen 1:31). Not only is he all-powerful and completely sovereign, but he is also perfectly good. There is nothing bad about God, and there is nothing bad about anything that he says or does.

Sin disrupted the peace between God and his creation.

Genesis 3 reveals the origins of the dark side of our world and of our nature. When we act contrary to what God has said, things turn out bad not good, worse not better. Being good, God warned that this would happen (Gen 2:16-17).

When the first human beings, our original parents, disobeyed God’s clear instructions and ate from the one tree he had forbidden, they experienced guilt and shame for the first time and hid from God’s presence. Their sin separated them from God and ushered physical death into the world. Their close fellowship with God was broken and all realms of planet Earth descended into darkness and decay.

God promised to restore this peace.

No sooner had the curse of sin entered the world and God immediately offered hope. He promised to resolve the problem of sin and restore the fellowship which God desired to have with people (Gen 3:15).

This promise (the protoevangelium or “first gospel”) is the first glimpse in the Bible at God’s plan to save us from sin. He promised to raise up a future descendant of the human race who would crush, once and for all, the problem of sin and death. Even so, this victory would not happen immediately, but would include a long, cosmic struggle throughout history featuring difficult, but non-decisive resistance from Satan.

People continued to be unfaithful to God.

Despite the severe and unattractive consequences of sin, people continued to display a deep-seated sinful nature. They persistently preferred to disobey God and rely on themselves rather to obey and rely on him as he had created them to do.

Cain was angry with his brother and murdered him (Gen 4:5, 8). Lamech murdered an unknown person and gloated about it (Gen 4:23-24). Things became so bad “that every intent of the thoughts of [people’s] heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5,11).

As a result, God sent a worldwide flood to purge the Earth from such pervasive wickedness (Gen 7). Even the man, Noah, and members of his family who survived the Flood sinned (Gen 9:21-23).

Following the flood, people banded together in defiance of God by building a tower up to heaven rather than dispersing into the world to care for it as he had commanded (Gen 11:1-9; cf. 1:28-30 and 2:15). In some quarters, they engaged in rampant sexual sin, such as homosexuality in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:1-11). They also went on to worship false gods rather than the Creator God (cf. Gen 41:45, 50).

Even the upstanding, primary characters of Genesis sinned. Abraham lied and committed adultery. Jacob lived a manipulative life and often relied on himself rather than on God. Jacob’s sons kidnapped and sold their brother into slavery, then lied about it; they committed a variety of other appalling sins as well.

In all these instances and more, people persistently proved to be incurably bad. Even so, God continued to show himself to be continuously and perfectly good.

God continued to be faithful to his promise.

God made a promise to Adam and Eve and he set out to fulfill that promise at once (Gen 3:15). He provided Adam and Eve with another son, Seth, after Cain killed Abel (Gen 4:25). Through this man, he preserved a godly line of people all the way to Noah (Gen 5). Then he preserved Noah’s family in the Ark through the Flood and introduced the rainbow as a promise never to Flood the earth again – a promise which he has upheld to this day (Gen 7:1-9:17).

God called Abraham away from Ur and from his idol-worshipping family (cf. Josh 24:2). He answered his prayer and preserved his nephew Lot from destruction (Gen 18:16-19:21). Most importantly, he promised blessings to Abraham and to his generations after him (Gen 12:1-3; 13:14-17; 15:1-5; 17:1-8). He even ratified his covenant to Abraham in a unilateral way, meaning that the outcome of this covenant was based upon the character of God alone and not on Abraham in any degree (Gen 15:7-20).

God showed the same faithfulness to Isaac, Abraham’s son, by providing him with a wife and by providing her with a child despite a barren womb (Gen 25:19-21). He repeated the Abrahamic covenant to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob (Gen 46:1-4; 48:3-4). Jacob reiterated this covenant to his twelve sons (Gen 48:3-4).

God preserved Joseph (the great grandson of Abraham) through many trials and elevated him to second-in-command over Egypt, preserving Jacob’s entire family and that entire region of the world through a 7-year famine (Gen 47:13-26). Ironically, the book of Genesis begins with a close relationship (between Adam and Eve and God) in the perfect, idyllic environment, the Garden of Eden. More than 2,000 years later, Genesis closes with a shattered family relationship between Jacob’s children being restored in the pagan land of Egypt in a famine.

God justified those who followed him by faith.

Even though Jesus had not come into the world yet and would not do so for multiple centuries, God still provided a way for people to restore their relationship with him. Abel worshipped the LORD as God (Gen 4:3-4). Other men began calling on the name of the LORD (Gen 4:26). Enoch walked with God (Gen 5:22, 24), and Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD and walked closely with him (Gen 6:8-9).

On the other side of the flood, Shem – son of Noah – associated himself with the LORD (Gen 9:26). Isaac, son of Abraham, expressed his faith in God (Gen 27:27-29, cf. Gen 31:42; 46:1, 3). Jacob, son of Isaac, worshipped and expressed faith in God (Gen 33:20; 35:1; 48:15), and so did his son Joseph (Gen 48:9).

The key example of this, however, is Abraham. Though Abraham’s faith shines through at various points throughout Genesis, a key statement appears in Gen 15:6, which says, “He [Abraham] believed the LORD, and he [the LORD] counted it to him for righteousness.” This verse is so important that in the NT Paul refers to it four times and James quotes it one time (Rom. 4:3, 9, 22; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23).

Abraham believed that God would provide a son to him, even though he and his wife were too old to have children (Gen 15:4-6, cf. 12:1-3). By believing God in this specific way, Abraham was turning away from false gods decisively to believe in the one true God and his promise of redemption. It was through the ancestry of Abraham that God would eventually provide the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who would rise to crush the power of sin and death (cf. Gen 3:15).

Today, we have the benefit of not looking ahead to a promise of deliverance but of looking backward to the fulfillment of this same promise through Jesus Christ instead. But whether you believed God by looking forward to this promise being fulfilled (as Abraham did) or whether you look back (as we do today), God restores his relationship with you on the basis of faith in his promise, not on the basis of your personal effort or religious works.

Abraham believed in the one true God of the Bible and in the promise that he gave. Adam and Eve turned away from God’s Word and plunged into sin. Abraham returned to believe in God’s Word and his relationship with God was made right.

That is how anyone in the history of the world from the beginning has been restored to a relationship with our Creator God – by believing in him and his promise of salvation.

Personal Application

As a person living in the world today, many years removed from the beginning of the world and nearly four centuries removed from the writing of Genesis, how should the book of Genesis influence your life today? You should read it for sure! When you do, you should:

Expand your knowledge of God.

He is sovereign. In Genesis, you discover that the true God has no beginning. He created everything out of nothing. He alone provides a complete solution to the problem of sin and death, and he methodically works out his perfect plan throughout history, despite the pervasive influence of evil.

He is good. Genesis reveals that everything God said, made, and did was good from the beginning and throughout history. What’s more, he placed Adam and Eve into a magnificent garden – a perfect environment – and gave them access to every tree that he made, except for one (Gen 2:16). That’s lavish goodness for sure.

He is just. He provided a clear, fair warning against sin (Gen 2:17. Then he issued swift and appropriate consequences for sin when it occurred (Gen 3:8-24). Furthermore, he punished sin, both on an individual level (i.e., Cain), a local scale (i.e., Sodom and Gomorrah, cf. 18:25) and on a universal scale (i.e., the worldwide flood).

He is faithful. He promised salvation through a deliverer. He preserved the family line of this deliverer and made an everlasting covenant to never flood the world again. Then he called out Abraham from Ur and promised to provide him a son despite impossible odds. He also promised him an endless genealogy, a permanent land, and to bless him and make him a blessing to the world. God based this covenant promise with Abraham on his good and sovereign character alone

He is patient. He reveals himself to people and gives them time to learn about him, to believe on him, and to become more obedient to him. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s sons did not immediately follow God in genuine faith. Through history and the course of our individual lives, God patiently works to bring about the faith and change that he created us to exhibit.

Believe God.

Once you realize the awesome nature of your Creator God, the way that your disobedience has separated you from a close relationship with him, and how faithful and relentless he is in his pursuit of you, there is only one reasonable response. Like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Seth, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, you should turn from all other gods to worship and believe in him alone, trusting in the promise of salvation he has given.

Today, you must believe more than that God will someday provide a deliverer. Believe in Jesus Christ who is God and who is this Deliverer that God promised in the beginning.

Live by Faith

Even believing people like Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, etc. faced daily challenges that required them to rely on God’s faithfulness rather than resort to their own dishonest or self-reliant solutions. What difficult and complicated circumstances are you facing that may seem to contradict what God has promised or may seem to indicate that good is triumphing over evil. In such cases, learn to make choices based upon the clear teaching and promises of God’s Word. Resting in the faithful, sovereign goodness and justice of God is the most comforting and faithful thing you can do. Joseph recognized this when his hateful brothers who had virtually ruined his life for many years sought his forgiveness.

“Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Gen 50:19-21).

The book of Genesis enables you to arrive at this same conclusion and perspective of God at work in history and in our lives. Do you need to exercise this kind of faith in God today?

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