A Brief Review
In Part 1, we laid out the overall purpose of Genesis as describing mankind’s fall into sin and establishing his hopelessness to bring about restoration of purity and relationship with God, then laying a groundwork for God’s plan to restore humanity through the line of Abraham. We traced the repeated demonstration of humanity’s inability to redeem itself despite God’s promise that one of Eve’s offspring would gain final victory over the serpent.
In Genesis 1-11, which covers the primeval history of humanity, Adam, Cain, and Noah are particularly emphasized as chances for mankind to maintain or restore its perfect relationship with God. Adam is created in a state of perfection, but falls to temptation. Cain is the first offspring of Eve, but instead of bringing life and peace, murders his brother and brings further discord. Noah is described as “a righteous man, blameless in his time” (Gen. 6:9, NASB), but when he is established as the new father of a flood-cleansed world, he immediately falls into sin and shame, even cursing his own son.
The wickedness of mankind is particularly emphasized in the generation of Noah’s flood, when God saw that “the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5, NASB), and in the story of the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9), where God must shatter the language of mankind to thwart his hubristic bid for heaven.
Part 2 – The Hope of Humanity
The second major section of Genesis, chapters 12-50, moves from an account of all of humanity to the story of a single family, that of Abram son of Terah. It begins with God calling Abram to leave his country, his relatives, and his father’s house – the chief sources of identity and security in the ancient Near East – to go to a land God would show him. God promises Abram that he will make him a great nation, bless him, and bless all the families of the earth through him. Abram obeys, in a defining act of faith that launches God’s plan to restore humanity to unashamed relationship with Him.
(Note here the contrast with the builders of Babel in the previous chapter. In defiance of God, they refused to spread abroad to populate the earth, and banded together to establish permanent security by their own power. Abram, in faith and obedience to God, voluntarily left his homeland for a new country God would show him, leaving behind every normal source of security available to him to trust God’s blessing.)
As the story proceeds, God promises to give Abram a son (despite his wife Sarai’s barrenness and their great age) and, in a solemn unilateral covenant – a contract binding on God Himself, requiring no condition from Abram! – promises to give him and his descendants the land of Canaan forever. During the time between the promise and the fulfillment, Abram has a son named Ishmael by his concubine Hagar. God promises to bless Ishmael, but makes it clear that the promised son will be by his wife Sarai. Furthermore, God renews His promises to Abram and Sarai, renaming them Abraham and Sarah, respectively, as a sign of His blessing, and institutes circumcision as the sign of those who are participants in His covenant.
After many years of waiting, Abraham and Sarah miraculously conceive and give birth to Isaac, the son God had promised. During Isaac’s youth, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son, and in another great act of faith Abraham obeys – but is stopped by God just before he kills Isaac. Thus Abraham proves once again that he bases his security entirely in God, and not even in the blessings and fulfilled promises God has given him (of which the greatest by far is, of course, Isaac). In response, God once again confirms His promise to give Abraham great blessing, many descendants, and to bless all the nations through him.
By the time Abraham dies, all he has seen of the fulfillment of God’s promises is material blessing in his own life, his son Isaac (first of a multitude of descendants), and the single field he buys in Canaan as a burial plot for his wife Sarah. The faithfulness of God’s promises is greatly emphasized, however, as the coventant and the promises are renewed with Isaac in his adulthood, and then with his son Jacob in turn.
After a life-altering encounter in which Jacob wrestles with an angelic visitor through the night and insists on the visitor’s blessing, God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. Israel has a total of 12 sons by his two wives, Leah and Rachel, and their two maidservants, whom he takes as concubines. These 12 sons’ descendants will become the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel.
In yet another magnificent story of faith and personal refinement through many long tests, Joseph, Israel’s favorite son, is betrayed by his jealous brothers and, after years of slavery and imprisonment, rises to a high position in Egypt and makes accommodations for Israel and his whole family – now totalling 70 in number – to live in a fertile part of Egypt during an international famine.
This sets the stage for what will in time become Israel’s subjection as slaves in Egypt for several generations, as predicted by God (Gen. 15:13-16), and Genesis ends with the death of Joseph. Even here, though, there is a note of hope, as Joseph, looking ahead, declares that God will fulfill his oath to bring Israel’s descendants up from Egypt and give them the land of Canaan.
Genesis sets the stage for the whole of God’s plan to recover humanity. In Exodus (the next book of the Bible), He works through Moses, who delivers Israel from Egypt, then as the story continues Moses and his successors walk with God to lead Israel into conquest and posession of the land of Canaan, as God had promised. In time, Jesus is born. It is notable that he is linked immediately back to his ancestor Abraham in the very first verse of the New Testament, Matt. 1:1, and linked back to Adam in another genealogy (Luke 3:38). Jesus comes bringing the message of the Kingdom of God, and is crucified in punishment for the sins of humanity and resurrected as a sign of the acceptance of his sacrifice. The story of the New Testament – that is, the New Covenant or Contract – is largely taken up with the growing understanding of how non-Israelites (Gentiles) can now gain access to the promises and covenant of God by faith in Jesus, and how Jesus’ death has defeated sin and Satan (the serpent) and restored mankind to God. Thus Jesus is the offspring of Eve who crushes the serpent’s head, and the fulfillment of God’s promise that through Abraham all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Without a proper understanding of Genesis, the history of Israel, the life of Jesus, and the entirety of God’s plan to rescue humanity is lacking its proper context and therefore will lose much of its significance.