INTRODUCTION Genesis is the first of five books written by Moses during the Exodus period, about 1450-1400 B.C. Using as sources direct revelation from God and the written and oral traditions of his people, Moses surveyed history from the Creation to his own day. The Book of Genesis is divided into two parts. Genesis 1–11 tells of God’s dealings with the whole human race from Creation to the time of Abraham, about 2100 B.C. Genesis 12 introduces a vital theme. God makes a covenant with one man and with his descendants. God will work through this man, Abraham, and his family, Israel, to reveal himself to humanity and ultimately to provide a salvation available to all. OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
|I.||God’s Dealings with the Human Race||Gen. 1–11|
|A. Creation||Gen. 1–2|
|B. The Fall||Gen. 3–5|
|C. The Flood and aftermath||Gen. 6–11|
|II.||God’s Dealings with Abraham’s Family||Gen. 12–50|
|A. Abraham||Gen. 12–25|
|B. Isaac||Gen. 22–27|
|C. Jacob and Esau||Gen. 25–36|
|D. Joseph||Gen. 37–50|
Reading 1 THE CROWN OF CREATION Genesis 1–2“God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).Each day’s work of Creation closes with the divine evaluation, “it was good.” Only the work of the sixth day, on which the Lord created humanity, earned ultimate approval—“very good.”
God created the heavens and the earth (1:1). The orderly process described here moves from formation of a unique setting for life (vv. 3–19), to populating earth with animal life (vv. 20–25), to the creation of beings in God’s own image (vv. 26–27). Man, the crown of the completed Creation, is destined for dominion (vv. 28–31). Genesis 2 returns to examine more closely these beings intended to be the crown of God’s Creation.
Understanding the Text
Create Gen. 1:1. The Hebrew word bara˒ does not mean to “make something out of nothing.” It means to begin or originate a sequence of events. Genesis affirms that God is the cause of all that exists. God, not chance, originated all life and uniquely shaped human beings. Contemplating God as Creator is a source of great comfort. “Formless and empty” Gen. 1:2. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that, left alone, any system will decay. Yet our earth contains life-forms that are highly organized and complex, far from the “formless and empty” state this universal law of nature predicts. In Russia Dr. Boris P. Dotsenko, then head of the nuclear physics department in the Institute of Physics in Kiev, began to think seriously about the nature of the universe. “It suddenly dawned on me,” he wrote later, “that there must be a very powerful organizing force counteracting the disorganizing tendency within nature, keeping the universe controlled and in order. This force could not be material; otherwise it too would become disordered. I concluded that this power must be both omnipotent and omniscient. There must be a God—one God—controlling everything” (Larry Richards, It Couldn’t Just Happen [Fort Worth: Sweet, 1989], p. 17). Later, in Canada for further studies, Dr. Dotsenko picked up a Bible. There he met the God he had decided must exist, and became a Christian. “The first day” Gen. 1:5. Christians debate the implications of “day” in Genesis 1. Some believe “day” is used loosely to indicate an age. Others, noting the “morning and evening” mentioned in the text, conclude a 24-hour day is intended. Even here there is debate. Were the 24-hour days consecutive? Or might they have been separated by millions of years? Scripture does little to satisfy our scientific curiosity. Why? Perhaps because it is “by faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb. 11:3). Even if the details were known, those without faith would scoff and still hold fast to their fancies. But there is another reason as well. Genesis calls us to look beyond the material to the immaterial-beyond the Creation to the Creator. Nothing should distract us from the reflection of God that we see in what He has made. “Let there be” Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, etc. All but one of God’s creative acts was accomplished by the simple expedient of speaking the word. The psalmist picks up this theme and cries, “He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:9). The echoes of God’s speech still are heard in the creation that then sprang into being. Psalm 19 says that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” It adds that “there is no speech or language where their voice is not heard” (vv. 1–3). Creation’s witness to the existence of God is a cornerstone of Paul’s argument that human beings have wandered far from God. In Romans 1:20–21 Paul says that “since the Creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” They are without excuse because “although they knew God, they neither glorified Him nor gave thanks to Him.” What a reminder for you and me. As we walk by the seashore, gaze in wonder at the stars, or smell the fragrance of a flower, we are to sense God speaking to us through His creation. And, seeing Him, we are to worship and give thanks. “Let them rule” Gen. 1:26. The concept of dominion stated here is not a “right to use” but an “obligation to guard and protect.” Modern man’s responsibility for earth’s ecological well-being is stated here in Genesis, long before “advances” in modern science threatened the balance of nature. “Fruitful and multiply” Gen. 1:28. The Bible maintains a positive, healthy attitude toward human sexuality. Sexual intercourse was not, as some have wrongly taught, the “apple” Adam and Eve were forbidden to taste! Here we find evidence, long before the Fall, that God has always intended human beings to enjoy and to use their sexual capacities. “Good” Gen. 1:10, 12, etc. The Hebrew word used here has a wide range of meanings, from attractive and pleasing to beneficial and useful. God created our universe for a purpose. As it was originally constituted, the universe and all in it were ideally suited to display God’s glory and to accomplish His purposes. The tragedy of sin, introduced in Genesis 3, has warped original Creation. Even so, the beauty and value God invested in it can still be seen. “Let Us” Gen. 1:26. Some suggest the plural word, Elohim, used here of God, is a “plural of majesty.” As human royalty at times speaks of “we” when “I” is intended, so God is said to refer to Himself as plural. Christians, however, see in this earliest expression evidence that Scripture’s one God exists in the three Persons fully unveiled only in the New Testament. “A Garden in the east” Gen. 2:8. The Genesis description of Eden is significant. God not only designed Eden for beauty (v. 9), but also to occupy the time and the talents of the beings God intended to place in charge. The Garden reflects the fact that man truly does bear God’s image. Like God, Adam could accomplish meaningful work (v. 15). Like God, Adam had a capacity to create (v. 19). Like God, Adam also had freedom of moral choice (v. 16). God did not plant the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” to trap Adam, but to give him the opportunity to choose that which was right and good, even as God chooses to do good. “Suitable helper” Gen. 2:20. The phrase does not imply inferiority, for the same Hebrew word (˒ezer) is used to identify God as man’s helper in Psalm 33:20 and several other passages. Surely God is not inferior to man because He offers us help! Actually “suitable helper” teaches the full equality of women with men. It indicates that in Eve, in contrast with all in the animal kingdom, Adam found a being who fully shared his nature and thus could relate to Adam physically, intellectually, and spiritually. “From the rib” Gen. 2:22–25. The Jewish rabbis early noted that the mode of woman’s creation is significant. If Eve had been made of the original clay, Adam might have viewed her as a secondary and inferior creation. By shaping Eve from Adam’s own substance, God affirmed the full identity of men and women as persons who bear the divine image. Adam saw the implications immediately and accepted them fully. Eve was welcomed as “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” What a lesson here for Christians to take to heart!
The Image and Likeness of God(Gen. 1:26–27)
One of the most stunning expressions found in Scripture lies here in Genesis 1. “Let Us,” God says, “make man in Our image, in Our likeness.” And the text continues, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” The two Hebrew words used here to define the human essence are selem, meaning “image” or “representation,” and demut, which implies comparison. When linked they make a decisive theological statement. The essence of human nature can only be understood by comparison with God Himself. We can never understand man by referring back to some supposed emergence from prehistoric beasts. In a totally unique creative act, God gave Adam not only physical life but also personhood—his own capacity to think, to feel, to evaluate, to love, to choose, as a self-aware individual. The Genesis account itself emphasizes human uniqueness. All other aspects of Creation were called into being by God’s spoken word. Yet for man God stooped to personally fashion a physical body, and then gently, lovingly infused that body with life. In order that there should be no mistaking God’s intent, God fashioned Eve from one of Adam’s ribs. Genesis is clear. Adam and Eve share the same substance. They participate alike in the image and likeness given to beings alone. This account does more than explain man’s origins. It has the power to shape our most basic attitudes toward ourselves and others. Consider. If I am made in the image of God, then I must have worth and value as an individual. It’s irrelevant to compare myself with others if my essential being can be understood by comparison with God! Knowing God made me in His image, I learn to love and to value myself. Have you ever noticed how we handle things we value? We wear the new watch or pin proudly. When we lay it aside, we do so carefully, putting it in a drawer where it won’t be damaged or harmed. If you and I grasp the value of being created in God’s image and likeness, we will come to appreciate ourselves too. We’ll refuse to be degraded by others, and we will reject temptations that would harm us physically or spiritually. Because we bear the image and likeness of the Creator, we are too significant to mar. Consider. If others are made in the image and likeness of God, they must have worth and value as individuals, whatever weaknesses they display. When I understand that every human being shares the image-likeness of God, I will treat others with respect. I learn to overlook failures and to communicate love. I realize that the existence of God’s image-likeness, however distorted by sin, means that the other person can respond, as I have, to the love of God displayed in Jesus Christ. So I reach out to him or her in love. Consider. If men and women truly share the image and likeness of God, each must have a worth and value that is independent of sex, race, or social status. When I truly understand that every human being shares with me God’s image and likeness, I begin to set aside the prejudices that drive so much of human behavior. I learn to see women as people and appreciate all they have to contribute in the family, the workplace, and the church. I become color-blind, and set aside categories like black and white, rich and poor, and begin to treat each person I meet with respect and affection. When this happens, I have learned the lesson of Genesis 1:26–27, and begun to understand how precious others are to the God who made them, and who made me.
“Lord, help me to look at others with new eyes. Enable me to see each person as You do, and in practical ways to communicate respect and love.”