Over the last year or so, I have found myself reviewing most of the non – fiction books that I read. Partly, this was for the intention of giving other people information about the book before reading it themselves, but primarily it has served to keep myself accountable when reading a book. It has forced me to read more slowly, more deeply, more critically, and to think more broadly about the structure of the book as a whole. As a result, I find that I have benefitted more from the books I have read recently than in times past.
In light of this, during my read through of the Bible in 2020, it has seemed a good idea to me to continue the same practice, but for the books of Scripture instead. It is my hope that it will help me to understand more fully the Word that God has so graciously preserved.
Here are 5 things I have learnt from the Book of Genesis.
The Generosity of God’s Provision
In a narrative so well – known that it has become almost synonymous with the book itself, the Genesis account of creation and the fall contains a lot of misrepresented and half understood passages.
One such passage is of God’s warning to Adam, where He says “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). This verse can sometimes be used to show God as cruel, or even taunting, to place a tree in the garden to tempt Adam. God is portrayed as a miser and as restricting humanity where He can.
Yet the actual Genesis account is far from this distorted version of events. In the preceding verse, Genesis 2:16, God says to Adam “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden” before saying “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and eveil you shall not eat”. Contrary to a miserly attitude in God, He is abundantly generous to Adam, in creating for Him a garden with as many trees and animals as he could possibly want. With exception only of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God gives Adam every type of seed and fruit (Genesis 1:29), as well as all animals and plants for food (Gen. 1:30). Furthermore, although the garden of Eden was a specific location of limited size, it was God intention to expand the garden, allowing Adam and Eve dominion and subjugation over the whole Earth and everything in it (Genesis 1:28). This is far from a restrictive, parsimonious Creator, but One pleased to shower humanity with His goodness.
The Importance of Genealogy
Several times in the book of Genesis, we comes across one of those chapters that I often pretend to read, but almost never actually read. Full of bizarre, sometimes comical names, Biblical genealogies often are a chore to read and to extract meaning. While it is true in a sense, that the specific name of the individuals listed are of little consequence to us, we should be glad that the genealogies are there.
After the fall, God curses Adam and Eve, and exiles them to the garden. In Genesis 3, God is clear about the consequences that result from humanity’s fall into sin: fruitless toil of the ground for Adam, multiplied pain in childbirth for Eve. Yet, in the midst of this curse of God, there is a ray of hope. For God says, when cursing the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15).
Here, in this picture, God tells us the answer to man’s sin problem. In doing so, God declares a spiritual war between the serpent and the offspring of the woman. God is saying that He will ultimately defeat the serpent through the promised offspring of the woman.
Immediately after this war is declared between the serpent and the offspring of the woman, the very next chapter of Genesis records the first murder. The offspring of the serpent, Cain (c.f. 1 John 3:12) kills the offspring of the woman, Abel. The spiritual war has been declared, and Abel is the first casualty.
Whilst this looks like dire reading, we are reminded at the end of chapter 4 that Adam knew his wife, Eve, and they have another son, Seth. Then, we have a genealogy in chapter 5 that serves to connect the hope of the promised offspring, through Seth, down ten generations to Noah. So, when the flood comes, we know that the promised offspring is still alive.
Through the rest of the book of Genesis, we are tracing the promised offspring of God. Amid the hope that the promised offspring, there is always doubt. Abraham is promised a son but Sarah is beyond childbearing years and so the link in the chain appears to be broken, until God defies the belief of Abraham and Sarah and fulfils His promise in the birth of Isaac.
Next, there are twins. But when the eldest son, the presumed offspring of the promise, surrenders his birthright, God ensures that the promised offspring is not lost by preserving it in Jacob.
Jacob has twelve sons and God chooses Judah, son of the woman that Jacob didn’t even want to marry, to carry the promised offspring. The relentless pattern of Genesis is a hunt for the promised offspring that will lift the curse of God from the garden.
This helps us understand, in the beginning of Exodus, why Pharoah (offspring of the serpent) seeks to kill all the Hebrew first – born boys, in order to eradicate the promised offspring. Similarly, Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy in order to connect the promised offspring, from Abraham, all the way to Jesus, who is the true promised offspring and the one to crush the head of the serpent and claim decisive victory.
Each genealogy in Genesis, and indeed in the whole Bible, serves as a reminder that God is preserving His promised offspring.
The Extent of Human Sin
It is virtually impossible to read Genesis without being struck by the potent culture of sin, ranging from prideful boasting (e.g. Genesis 11) to perverted sexual ethics (e.g. Genesis 19) and a whole host of other shameful words and actions. In a certain sense, the book of Genesis serves to show that the disease of sin has corrupted every aspect of the human life and experience. Humanity became so wicked in God’s sight that He (quite justly) brings about judgement in the form of the flood (Genesis 6). Even the more godly individuals in Genesis are not without their serious moral shortcomings. Abraham lies about his wife being his sister (Genesis 20) and attempts to bypass God’s promise to him by having children, not by Sarah, but by a servant, Hagar, instead (Genesis 16). Jacob, having blackmailed Easu for his birthright (Genesis 25), procedes to have children by four separate women (Genesis 29 – 30). Lot offers to trade the virginity of his daughters in order to protect two strangers (Genesis 19), and Noah gets drunk in his own vineyard (Genesis 9).
Throughout the book of Genesis, man’s complete ruin in sin is exposed and shows two great Biblical truths. The first is that the capacity for man to sin and to invent evil is beyond comprehension; not just in the book of Genesis, but in every generation. Secondly, God displays His faithfulness and His mercy again and again. God relents in His judgement upon His people over and over again, even when their sin reaches new heights. Not only is that true in the book of Genesis, but throughout human history.
The Beauty of God’s Covenant
God reveals Himself in the book of Genesis to be a God of relationship and covenant. He is not an aloof creator with no interaction with His people, and nor is He simply a God who occasionally ‘intervenes’ in one way or another. Rather, the God of Genesis engages into a relationship, a covenant, with His people.
Initially, God makes a covenant with Adam (Genesis 2:17) that promised eternal life to Adam if Adam were to be obedient to God. However, if Adam were to break this covenant God said “on this day you shall surely die”. Yet, God shows Adam and Eve incredible grace. Instead of ending the lives of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He instead institutes another covenant, in Genesis 3:15, that the offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, as referenced above. This covenant promises to deal with the sin of mankind, rather than removing humanity from the face of the Earth.
Later on in the book of Genesis, this second covenant, the Covenant of Grace, is found and re – affrimed in the covenantal promises to Noah (Genesis 9:8 – 17) and to Abraham (Genesis 12:1 – 3). This covenant, first established in Genesis, is a thread of God’s relationship to His people that runs through the Bible and is still in effect today. We do not preach ‘do this and live’ but instead preach ‘look to Christ, the promised offspring, in faith and receive eternal life’.
The Freedom of God’s Sovereignty
In a culture that is influence much more by secular humanism, materialism, and paganism than Christianity, the Bible’s teaching on the will of man and the sovereignty of God can be difficult to understand. Yet, in the first book of the Bible, God provides two very clear examples of His sovereign purpose.
First, the case of Esau and Jacob. Esau, the older, was due to receive the inheritance due to him as the first born son of Isaac. However, as has been noted above, Esau forsook his claim to his inheritance, and instead gave that right to his younger brother, Jacob. When the time came for Isaac to bless his children, he was blind, and did not realise that he gave the blessing of his first born son he had intended for Easu to Jacob instead (Genesis 27:27 – 29). As we trace the promised offspring through Genesis, it is clear that God honours Isaac’s blessing and chooses the tribe of Jacob, later renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28), as His chosen people and the ones through whom the promised offspring is to be found.
It seems like God has had to follow the whims and the choices (that Genesis always portray as real, genuine choices) of those involved in the Jacob and Esau narrative and that God’s plan has been disrupted. However, we are specifically told in the New Testament (Romans 9:10 – 13) that God “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad” (v. 11) had chosen that “the older would serve the younger” (v. 12). In fact, it was God’s plan all along for Jacob to father the promised offspring. It was, ultimately, His sovereign decree that defines His chosen people.
Similarly, and even more bluntly, the narrative of Joseph and his brothers establishes this relationship between human responsibility and Divine sovereignty. Joseph’s brothers, driven by jealously, stripped Joseph and threw him into a dry pit (Genesis 37:24) and ultimately sold him to slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:28). The text is clear about their motivations: they did this out of their hatred for Joseph (Genesis 37:4). The responsibility for their actions rests clearly on their shoulders.
However, once Joseph rises to the rank of Prime Minister in Egypt and the brothers seek food in Egypt after a famine, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. The brothers beg for forgiveness, recognising that they have done evil to Joseph (Genesis 50:17 – 18). Yet, in one of the most elucidating verses in the Bible, Joseph states “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20). The very actions that the brothers purposed for evil, God intended, through His ultimate, sovereign purpose, for good.
God is working out His sovereign plan, whilst we all still remain responsible for each decision that we make. It is because we have a God who is able to work out His sovereign plan through our sinful actions that we can hope and rely on His promises!
Of course, there is much more to the book of Genesis than just these 5 points, but they are the ones that stood out to me as I read through Genesis in 2020. Enjoy reading it for yourself!