Our course starts with Genesis. The word “genesis” means “beginnings,” which comes from the Greek title for the book. This is a story about beginnings. Moses is the writer of the book, and he has organized the book in a very careful way. It starts first with what we call the prologue, the story that many of us think of as the beginning of the Creation story—on the first day this, on the second day that, and so on—the story of how God created the world that we know, starting with light and ending up with human beings and their important role in taking care of this world.
Then there follows ten sections. When you read through Genesis you might not at first notice how these ten sections are labeled, but they are there. They indicate how Moses thought of the stories that make up the book of Genesis. We will talk about those ten sections. They come under the category of what is translated in some Bibles as “generations,” in other Bibles as “origins,” or in other Bibles as “lineage.”
II. Prologue: Story of Creation (1:1-2:4a)
A. Day One and Day Four
When we begin looking at the book of Genesis we observe that there is an overview. The overview starts with the very first words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And it ends in chapter 2 with the simple words in verse 3 of that chapter; it just says, “He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.”
What is in this overview? There is a pattern that Moses has organized this material in. If you look at your Bible where it says day one, it says that on that day God created light, “Let there be light.” If you will skip down to where the description of what was created on day four, you will find that the verses devoted to day four describe the creation of the sun and the moon and the stars. In other words, light was created on the first day and then the things that give light from our point of view on the fourth day—the sun, moon, and stars.
B. Day Two and Day Five
Look what was created on the second day: the sky and the seas. That is what the firmament language refers to in some of the translations: a space or barrier between all kinds of atmospheric water—and the waters that cover the sea, what we call the sky and the sea. This corresponds to what gets created on day five. On day five is the creation of the fish, all creatures that live in the sea, and then birds—in other words, the sky and the sea animals. So again, there is a correspondence.
C. Day Three and Day Six
Then finally, we start with day three on which was created dry land and plant life. We observe that it corresponds to day six, because on day six we have the description of the land animals eating those plants. Of course, the last of the land animals is human; we are at the end of the story. This is kind of interesting because it might well be that if a human had thought this up, as many humans did many creation stories in our world, the human might have said, “Well, I will put man at the beginning of the story. Men and women will be created first, not last.”
But, God did it in the manner that much of science suggests and that Scripture makes very clear, progressing to a recent point in the whole story, from the whole big picture, where human beings are at the end of the entire process. This is quite interesting in terms of modern genetic study, where geneticists are fairly well-united in concluding that the people that we call human beings, that is, modern man, was created very recently. All human beings come from one woman many thousands of years ago, but certainly not anywhere near as old as the creation of many other forms of life.
D. Day Seven
It is also important even before we get to our description of the seventh day, which ends this account, to mention the fact that “day” is used here in a somewhat specialized way. Note that these days appear to be chunks of time. The Bible can use “day” that way. It does structure the story with evening and morning, day one; and evening and morning, day two; and so on. But, it does that in correspondence to the usual normal system that the Israelites favor—thinking of the day as beginning with the conclusion of the prior day so that as the sun sets, at twilight the new day is beginning. This then becomes a framework for understanding the seventh day.
E. God Rested
We read that on the seventh day God had finished the work that He had been doing. And so on the seventh day, He rested from all His work and blessed the seventh day and made it holy. In other words, this story has been told not just to give an overview of the entire creation of things right through our own creation, but also to set the scene for a teaching about the Sabbath.
God Himself rested on the seventh day. Did He need to? Of course not. He is the last person who would need to rest, but He did it as an example for us. The story is told in such a way as to not merely give coverage to the general sense of things, but also provides the first kind of instruction about how humans are to behave. Human beings need rest. They need sleep at night and they need a day off once a week. God has ordained that it should be so. And if we believe the Bible, then we ought to be following it as one of the procedures that God has revealed to us.
III. Origin Stories of the Heavens and the Earth (2:4-4:26)
After the material that goes from 1:1 to 2:4, we start with the so-called “generations,” or “origin stories,” or as one of the versions calls it, just “the account.” This is the account of the heavens and the earth, when they were created. There are ten of these: this is the account, this is the origin story, or this is the genealogy of. We are going to look at each of these ten divisions very briefly.
A. Garden of Eden
The first one is called the account of the heavens and the earth. This includes the story of the Garden of Eden and also of the first family. It goes to the end of chapter 4. The story of the Garden of Eden very obviously to any reader refocuses the way that the Creation story is told. The concern is not to give you a full picture of everything that happened, but to concentrate on humans and their relationship to God. Here is where Adam and Eve come in and where we read about the garden into which God placed them. A beautiful place. Everything was provided for them, but with one big prohibition: “Don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
B. Good and Evil
Why would God do that? Isn’t that the tree that He should have said, “ . . . be sure to eat”? Does He not want them to know good and evil? Isn’t the difference between good and evil an ideal for people to have? Isn’t that exactly the tree that God would send them to eat first? Now the answer comes in the meaning of the phrase “good and evil” in Hebrew. It has a little bit different sense. It is intended to be what is called in language study a “merism.” A merism is a category of speech in which totality is expressed by polarity. So if you want to indicate the totality of something you might say, “It is as big as the east is from the west.” Or if you want to say God is everywhere you can say, “He is in the highest heaven or in the lowest hell.” So “good and evil” means everything.
What God is forbidding is that human beings should know everything. And of course, that is exactly what Satan tries to get them to know. He says, “Hey, if you eat from that tree you will be like God (or like the gods).” It can be translated either way. In other words, he tempts Adam and Eve to want to know everything.
C. The Fall
Adam and Eve do eat of that tree eventually, and there comes the fall from God’s grace and the entrance of sin into this world. Sin is disobedience of what God wants done. They really do get a knowledge of everything, not of course all knowledge, but knowledge of everything in the sense that human beings are characterized by knowing more than they can handle. This is the dilemma in which every human being lives. We know more than we can handle. We have the ability with our knowledge to do good things or horrible, evil things. The same skill that can create some kind of machine to do good can create some kind of machine to kill. The same ability to speak so as to encourage people is used so as to hurt them. The same interest level that gets us into art and creativity can get us into pornography and all kinds of other debauchery. We have more knowledge than we know how to handle.
D. You Will Surely Die
The other part of the prohibition says, “ . . . for when you will eat of it, you will surely die,” means that human beings after the Fall live with mortality. And an awareness of that mortality. We live in a condition knowing that we are headed for death, and we have got to have some means to escape from death if we are going to continue in our relationship with God. In other words, the story points the way for the need for a Savior who can rescue from death—sin and death—sin producing more knowledge than we can handle and also mortality. This is the human condition described in that first origin story.
IV. Origin Stories of the Family of Adam (5:1-6:8)
Then in chapters 5, 6, and part of 7, we have the stories about Adam. These are called origin stories of Adam but go on to talk about Cain and Abel and what they do. It is noteworthy that they carry on the sin that Adam and Eve started. Cain kills Abel in jealousy. He kills him because his attitude toward worship was wrong. God did not accept it but did accept Abel’s attitude toward worship. And from the beginning we see the sinfulness of the Garden of Eden manifest, carried on, through the lineage of the children.
V. Origin Stories of Noah (6:9-9:29)
Then as time goes by, we come to the origin stories of Noah in chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9. These stories bring us to an account of how the earth had become largely inhabited, a lot more than it was in the very beginning in the Garden of Eden. We find, among all of the people living on the earth at that time, one righteous individual and his family. Imagine you have all this population, and people are doing things, and there is the beginning of technology and commerce as described in some of these chapters. And yet, God finds the wickedness of the earth so great that He determines to eliminate almost all its people. However, there is one man who is good and that is Noah.
Noah has always reminded people of the need to live righteously no matter what everybody else is doing. Noah is a character that many of us may have to identify with when it seems like our culture and the people we know are headed in directions other than pleasing God. Noah reminds us that one lone individual makes a difference, one lone person and his family can take a stand and please God.
B. The Flood
The Flood is the means that God chose to eliminate all but that first group: Noah and his wife and his three sons and their wives. Noah, by means of a huge boat-like box, preserved animal life and human life. Naturally, the fish did not have to be preserved, birds will do fine, and vegetation grows back rather easily. Yet, it is a story that is one of real faith—faith of a man who is the new representative of life on the earth, a man from whom the rest of us are descended. Noah’s job was to please God by being faithful. He does this up until the time of the Flood, yet we should not think that because the Flood occurred, eliminating all those bad people, that humanity is then going to be just fine; everybody is going to be good because they are all descended from a good guy and his good family.
C. After the Flood
Noah, after the flood, gets drunk and his son Ham in some way debauches him. Though it is not exactly clear what that story means in every way, the fact that it says he saw his father’s nakedness usually indicates something sexual. So human beings are back on the track of sinning and displeasing God. Again, the need for a Savior who can rescue from sin is evident in these stories.
VI. Origin Stories of Shem, Ham, Japheth (10:1-11:9)
In chapters 10 and 11, we find the origin stories of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. We get a feel for the way that the nations of the world are becoming increasingly pagan and working away from God, and in that section of the book we have the story of the Tower of Babel, a story of people getting together to do their best to see if they can get up to heaven by building a tower to reach it. It seems to us a bit funny, but that is because in our age we know that by getting up somewhere high you do not automatically get to heaven. But for these people living on a plain the thought that you might somehow be able to do it, get up in the clouds and see the gods and live among them, was an idea that fascinated them and they tried it. There was no real threat to God in this, but there was a need to keep people from doing that. God in His grace did confuse the languages of the earth. God actually separated us one from another by linguistic barriers as one means of suppressing that kind of tendency, as foolish as it was and as it ought to be seen.
VII. Origin Stories of Shem (11:10-26)
When you move on from there, you come to a very short section in chapter 11 called the origin stories of Shem, just focusing on his lineage compared to those of his brothers. It is that lineage from which will come then the people involved in the next group of stories that start with the end of chapter 11 and goes all the way to chapter 25.
VIII. Origin Stories of Terah (11:27-25:11)
These are called the origin stories, accounts, or genealogies of Terah. Now Terah is not a big character in the book, but he starts something because he is the father of Abraham. It is interesting to note in chapters 1-11 the whole history of the world as we know it, from its very origins down to about 2000 B.C., is covered. And then, it is as if the Bible story slows down, almost comes to a screeching halt, and goes in a more normal pace. We actually have more chapters devoted to the story of Abraham than we have to the whole history of our universe up until Abraham.
Moses has designed this as God had inspired him, to give a rapid coverage with a certain sampling of the material and to really start the story with Abraham. The story of God’s people begins with Abraham and, because it goes from chapters 11-25, it actually covers more space than everything prior to that point. Abraham is a crucial figure. He is very important to the story, the story of the Bible, the story of Genesis as Moses has written it. The story especially concentrates in the early chapters on his call. Abraham is a person who responds to God and in that way is an example for every generation thereafter. God called him and he responded. Paul reminds us in the New Testament that Abraham believed God or trusted God, and that was what was accounted to him as righteousness.
B. Abraham’s Faith
Was Abraham a perfect individual? Certainly not. Even though God had made His covenant with him in chapter 12 and given him promises in 12, 13, 15, and 17, Abraham was also a person whose faith wavered. He had strong faith, but, like all of us, his faith wavered. In chapter 12 and in chapter 20 we read about him being afraid when he is in a foreign land. Afraid maybe he will get into trouble because of his attractive wife, and maybe they will kill him and take her, so he lies about her and alleges that she is his sister. You can see his son, Isaac, did the same thing in Genesis 26. Nervous about what they will do to him because of his wife, Rebecca, he figures “well, if it worked for my dad twice, maybe it will work for me once.” These patriarchs, as we call them, were able people. They were powerful, they were strong in their determination, and they were strong in their faith. But their faith was not perfect. Like us, they were a mixture of faith and lack of faith.
IX. Origin Stories of Ishmael (25:12-18)
After that we have in chapter 25 a very brief account of the story of Ishmael. He is the father, as it were, of the Arabs. And we should remember that from Abraham came not only the Jews but also the Arab nations.
X. Origin Stories of Isaac (25:19-35:29)
Then we come to the stories of Isaac in chapters 25-35, which include stories about Jacob. There are interesting accounts of Jacob’s travels, of his relationship to God, of his relationship to twelve sons—those we call the sons of “Israel” as his name was changed to, and thus the Israelites.
XI. Origin Stories of Esau (36:1-37:1)
This leads then to a brief account in chapter 36 of the origins of Esau. Jacob’s brother Esau is the father of the Edomites. This again is another little instance in the book of Genesis, concern is shown not just for the Israelites but also for other people—Moses has paid attention to the Arabs and the Edomites, because God is a God of all peoples. Even in these ways the book of Genesis begins pointing us in the Bible story toward God’s plan for all the world, not just for one particular people.
XII. Origin Stories of Jacob with Special Reference to Joseph (37:2-50:26)
It is true God is going to work through one people, and He is especially going to do that in the remaining chapters of the book, starting in chapter 37 and going right to the end, chapter 50, with the stories of Joseph. Joseph is the key figure and the key statement is “God was with Joseph.” He first was sold as a slave, then rose first in family service as a household servant. By God’s grace, Joseph moved to civil service, finally coming into the position of being, in effect, the prime minister of Egypt. Joseph represents God’s protection, benefit, provision, care, and the outworking of everything that started in the beginning of the book of Genesis.
God has a people. Now they are going to be cared for, protected, and placed in a situation where they can grow to be a huge nation. At the end of the book of Genesis we see thousands upon thousands of Israelites ready to go in a story that the book of Exodus will tell us about.