is the story of
in which God makes a
God of Creation
Genesis is the story of how God created us, and we rejected him, but he would not give us up. This book creates an unbroken narrative from Adam to Joseph of how God continued to speak, to promise, and to reveal his purposes.
Genesis takes a childlike view of life in which God’s activity is visible everywhere. His activity is not always explained or accounted for explicitly. His presence is unquestioned. God never seeks to prove himself through argument. He presents himself through activity.
Other holy books present God as a partisan, or only caring for one group of people. In the Bible he cares for all people from the beginning, and the whole earth is always his dominion. He cares for all that he has created.
God in Covenant
The Bible’s narrative is shaped like an hourglass, and Abraham is the pinch point.1A few generations after the Flood, God chooses Abraham for his plan of redemption, a plan which would afterwards involve “all the families of the earth.” (12:3) He narrows his plan down to Abraham, that he may afterwards bless all people in Christ.
Genesis shows God in covenant. Covenant is the continuation of the purpose he had for his Creation. He continues to reach out to the covenant family, that of Abraham, and extend promise after promise that he is advancing his plan and will fulfill his first promise to Abraham (12:1-3) as well as his original intentions expressed in Creation.
Creation and covenant go hand in hand in the Book of Genesis. God creates with intentions; he maintains those intentions and purposes through his covenants. The KJV says “for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Rev. 4:11)
Creation and Fall (1-5)
Genesis is not really a book of beginnings but a book of the Beginning. The title comes from verse 1:1, and has reference only to a time when God existed without his Creation.2 Since God existed before his Creation, he does not depend on it. The first thing we learn about God is that he is our self-existent Creator (Rom. 1).
Yet God chooses to involve himself in this Creation, so Genesis 1 and 2 comprise two different accounts of Creation. The first account calls God “Elohim” in Hebrew because it shows God in authority; the second account calls God “Yahweh” because it focuses in on God in relationship with mankind. Yahweh (or Jehovah) is his covenant name.
Adam and Eve are called to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it” (1:28). This is the First Commission, leading up to the call of Abraham, as well as the Great Commission (9:1, 9:7, 12:1-3, 35:11). The First Commission represents man’s call not only to obey God, but to be king of the Earth. God had a job for us to do that has, in one sense, continued in spite of the Fall.
Watchman Nee comments that God’s week began with work: man’s week began with rest. In the Gospel, man must rest before he can work. In this the Sabbath summarizes the whole Gospel: it is the work of God and the only true rest for man. The Sabbath was created so that man would know that it is God who sanctifies (Ex. 31:13, Ez. 20:12). God supplies all our lack in Christ.
“The Fall” is the common name for the first disobedience of God in Genesis 3, a theological event with global implications. But when Eve and Adam disobey God, it is not so much a “fall” or a “slip” as it is a “rebellion,” and every other human has followed in their train. Human rebellion is the basis for all the problems that have followed, and all the injustices of our present world have their root in this “fall.” Paul explains this using the Eastern concept of corporate personality; “as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). We have identified with the rebellion of Adam, but we may partake of the righteousness of Christ through his death and resurrection.
The genealogy in chapter 5 (as well as others) creates a continuous narrative, and provides authority to the story in the Eastern world. But as these genealogies progress, they focus closer and closer on the promised “seed of the woman,” whom we now know as Jesus Christ.
Flood and Babel (6-11)
The Flood is all over a story of mercy. God uses all possible means to save and restore his Creation. Creation is corrupted by man’s choice. Noah was not only “blameless” but, according to Peter, “a preacher of righteousness.” He gave his contemporaries a chance to be saved.
Salvation out of water is a repeated theme in the Old and New Testaments3; Peter uses it as a picture of baptism. Judgment and mercy intersect.
After the Flood, God repeats to Noah the same commission he gave to Adam and Eve (9:1), and Noah is the first person in Scripture to enter into covenant with God.
Noah also represents all humanity in a second covenant in which God promises that he will not destroy the earth by flood again. The confusion of Babel and the Table of Nations explain how all ethnic and linguistic groups are traced back to Noah. This explains why flood traditions are a global phenomenon.
The rest of the book of Genesis focuses on the biographies of just four men: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, known as the patriarchs, and Joseph, who preserves the people of Israel and leads them to Egypt.
All of the patriarchs trust the Lord, but God’s way of dealing with them differs. Abraham has repeated visions and promises and covenants, about ten times in total. Isaac and Jacob have fewer revelations, until we find Jacob saying, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen. 28:16).
We have four personal climaxes in the life of Abraham: 1) Leaving his father’s house; 2) leaving Lot; 3) dismissing Ishmael; and 4) the sacrifice of Isaac.4 All of these involve what Abraham left behind; he was also called to take up the covenant of faith, a new name, the covenant of circumcision, and the election of Isaac. God repeats his promises to Abraham over and over, sealing the promise of the seed of the woman. His life makes us ask, what has God asked us to leave behind? And what is he leading us forward to?
The offering of Isaac and the testing of Abraham (in ch. 22) is an especially important example of Abraham’s obedience, as well as a type of the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ. The writer of Hebrews comments, “[Abraham] considered that God was able even to raise him [Isaac] from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Heb. 11:19). Church fathers have written that the sacrifice of Isaac became for Abraham a revelation of the suffering and resurrection of Christ.5 After the angel stays Abraham’s hand, God confirms his covenant yet again: “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (28:16).
Abraham’s life includes the beginning of the tithe, the continuation of the lineage of Jesus, as well as the call of God for Abraham to a personal walk of faith. He may be the best example of faith in the entire Bible.
Isaac is the least known of the patriarchs.
Genesis 24 is the best picture of engagement in the Bible.
Rebekah receives a prophecy of the birth of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25, but she is told that they will not have the same place in God’s plan. These twins are the Bible’s clearest picture of divine initiative, as Paul teaches in Romans 9. The Messiah would not be born by human choice; we do not teach God what his plan for the nations will be. Although we pray and ask by faith that his plan will advance, God holds the initiative, and God creates the plan.
Jacob struggles with God, and indeed his whole walk with God is a struggle of faith. Throughout his life, Jacob associates God with special places, but has a hard time remembering his constant nearness. Alexander Whyte says, “it is not that God is any more there, or is any more likely to return there; but we are better prepared to meet Him there.”6
Jacob uses betrayal to secure his brother both Esau’s inheritance and Esau’s blessing. In the West this is often condemned as deception; recent theology points out that this is not condemned in the text. The story itself seems to see Jacob’s use of skill as advancing the plan of God.7
However, Jacob’s family life is one of the most dysfunctional in the whole Bible; his parents choose favorites; he has children by four women; his children embarrass him grievously.
Jacob famously wrestles a theophany while waiting to face his twin brother Esau. All of the patriarchs face many fears and fights, but in the end they find they are always face to face with God.
Jacob pronounces a double verdict on his life at the end of the Book of Genesis: First, he says, with an ounce of bitterness, “My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.“ (47:9) He adds later, though, in his prayer for his sons, that “the blessings of your father are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents” (Gen. 49:26).
Although Jacob is still in the picture as the patriarch until the end of the book, chapters 37 through 50 are mostly concerned with Joseph’s betrayal into slavery, the favor he eventually found in Egypt, and the preservation of life that resulted. Joseph’s biography does not include the same promises that are repeated to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is not part of the lineage of Christ; however, Joseph is a type of the life of Christ in that he is “beloved, hated, and exalted,” to use F. B. Meyer’s words.
Joseph’s story is one of the most complete and beautiful story arcs in Scripture, and in regard to God’s words and promises, Joseph’s life is the ultimate example of fulfillment delayed and faith rewarded. Psalm 105 adds, “until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him.” He bravely acknowledges that God’s plans for him were all good (Gen. 50:20).
Finally, Joseph’s prophetic request that they would bring up his bones creates continuity with the Book of Exodus (Gen. 50:25). Moses made sure that this request was fulfilled (Ex. 13:19).
On the first eleven chapters of Genesis, the writings of Erich Sauer are the best. See The Dawn of World Redemption and The King of the Earth. Sauer has a wealth of theological and devotional input. The theme of all his books is “the history of redemption.”
If you are interested in scientific aspects of the Book of Genesis, I recommend the works of Arthur Custance. He has many books and some are very difficult, but I recommend especially those that deal with Adam and Eve such as The Seed of the Woman and The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation. Custance was a minister, a scientist, and a theologian.
On the patriarchs, I recommend a short devotional by Watchman Nee called Changed into His Likeness.
1 John York. Missions in the Age of the Spirit.
2 In Hebrew it is named after the first phrase, In the Beginning, and in Greek this was shortened to simply The Beginning—which is Ἡ γεννησις, Genesis.
3 For example, the salvation of Moses in the Nile (Exodus 1), the story of Jonah, and the figure of baptism all bear resemblance to the Flood story.
4 Erich Sauer. Dawn of World Redemption, p. 100.
5 Chrysostom and Erasmus believed this in reference to John 8:56: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad.”
6 Alexander Whyte. Concise Bible Characters, p. 68. AMG Publishers.
7 John E. Anderson. Jacob and the Divine Trickster.