Managing Editor: David Sper
Cover Photo: Stock Imagery
©1991 RBC Ministries--Grand Rapids, MI 49555 Printed in USA
Each book of the Bible reveals God's character to us in a unique way. As we look at Genesis, the book of beginnings, it stands to reason that we will discover vital information about God's nature and character. And first impressions are often the most accurate.
It's our prayer that this booklet, written by David Egner, will help you to know God more intimately by giving you glimpses of Him as first revealed in Genesis.
Martin R. De Haan II, President of RBC Ministries
Table of Contents
Roots. They tell us about ourselves: where we've come from, what we're made of, and maybe even where we're going. Beginnings give us a sense of perspective, a standard of measuring, an awareness of the place and flow of our lives, a glimpse of our destiny. They give us clues to the answers of gnawing questions that take us back beyond our fathers, our grandfathers, and our ancestors to the beginning of time--even before.
That is one reason the book of Genesis is so very important. The first book of the Bible tells us how things began. It gives us our first recorded information about God, ourselves, and our world.
Not everyone, however, takes the book of Genesis seriously. Many reject its claim to be the God-inspired record of the beginning of the world and man.
According to the witness of the Bible itself, however, the book of Genesis is the true account of what actually happened in the beginning. Jesus and the New Testament treated Adam, Eve, and Noah as real people who actually lived and did what the book of Genesis says they did.
Genesis, then, is of tremendous value to the inquisitive mind. It puts man in his cosmic setting, telling us how he began and how the world got its start. It shows man's uniqueness, how he is different from the animals and from his environment. It shows him how sin entered our world, bringing trouble, pain, suffering, and heartache to all.
It also tells us how salvation began. It tells us how the same God who took the initiative in creating us also took the initiative in providing for our rescue.
We might wish Genesis would also have told us how God began. Instead, it joins the rest of Scripture in treating Him as the One who had no beginning, the One who always was. In that sense, Genesis provides us with a first introduction to the One who is beyond our understanding.
And what better place to begin than with a knowledge of our own beginning
in the mind and from the hands of the one, infinite, eternal, personal God?
Table of Contents
Genesis is the first of the five-book section at the
beginning of the Old Testament known to the Jews as the Torah, the Law.
These five books form the foundation for all that God has revealed to man.
Moses wrote the Pentateuch (penta means "five" and teuchos means "scroll"). Although this claim has been disputed, the evidence shows clearly that Moses is the author of the first five books of the Bible.
A brief walk through the five books of Moses will
show where Genesis fits into the flow of God's master plan. It will also
underscore the unity and sense of completeness that mark these five books,
indicating a single author.
Genesis: The Book of Beginnings. The foundation of the entire Bible, Genesis is the record of God's early acts through four beginning events and four key men. It records the creation and fall of man, the flood, and the aborted project at Babel. It goes on to trace God's works among men as focused through four patriarchal leaders: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
Exodus: The Book of Salvation. Exodus traces the deliverance of Israel (Abraham's offspring) from cruel oppression in Egypt. God raised up Moses to stand up to Pharaoh and unite the people. He led them out of Egypt and into the desert of Sinai, where he received the Law on Mount Sinai from the hand of God Himself.
Leviticus: The Book of Worship and Purification. It is God's detailed instruction for worship and sacrifice, for the priesthood, and for individual purity.
Numbers: The Book of Wanderings. The Israelites left Egypt with strong resolve, but their faith faltered. Numbers tells of the 40 years God made them wander in the desert until the faithless generation had died.
Deuteronomy: The Book of Review. This book looks back on Israel's experience before concluding with the farewell address of Moses. At their great leader's death, the Israelites were poised on the east bank of the Jordan River, ready for Joshua to lead them into the Promised Land.
Table of Contents
One reason Alex Haley's book Roots and the
subsequent television docu-drama were so popular is that we are all interested
in beginnings. We want to know about our grandparents, how our parents met,
and what the early days of our childhood were like.
We somehow feel that if we know about our beginnings, we will better understand the present and be able to cope with the future. It provides us an anchor that keeps us from feeling that we are adrift.
Genesis tells us about our beginnings. It gives us accurate information about the creation of earth, this spinning ball we call home. It tells us how stars and planets, sky and seas, plants and animals began. It holds the only accurate record of the first man and the first woman. It tells us about the beginning of sin and the first promise of spiritual rescue.
And, in a narrowing-down process, Genesis gives us the story of the first 300 years of the family of Abraham--that nation singled out by God to be the people through whom He would make Himself known to man, and through whom He would bring the blessing of salvation through a Messiah-Redeemer. This "book of beginnings" also tells us volumes about God--the One who had no beginning.
Table of Contents
The chart on this page shows how we will study Genesis. We will divide Genesis into two parts: Four Events (Gen. 1--11), and Four Men (Gen. 12--50). As we look at these four beginning events and four patriarchal leaders, we will focus on the insights they give us about knowing God.
Table of Contents
The book of Genesis, and the entire Bible, begins with the words, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."1 Bible commentator William Hendriksen wrote, "Like a granite rock, this majestic sentence stands before us at the very dawn of human history." In the 10 brief words of this verse we are plunged with magnificent suddenness into our world of time and space.
The Bible traces the origin of all living creatures and things back to the living God. In the record of the creative process, the name God appears 32 times. According to the Bible, this God who created is a personal God--different from the idols of men.2 He said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness."3 The New Testament makes it clear that God the Son took an active role in the creative process.4
How did God create? God created by His word. He literally spoke the land and seas, animals and plants, sun and stars into existence.5 He made all things out of nothing.6 An artist creates a picture, but he uses acrylics or oils. An engineer constructs a building, but it is made of glass, steel, and concrete. Just think of what that tells us about the power, wisdom, and glory of God. And how right it is for us to worship Him!
The creative process took place over 6 creative days and involved two phases: the forming of things and the filling of things. This was followed by a day of rest, of "ceasing."
What about man? The crown of creation was man. Often in the Bible, the most important part of a sequence is given special emphasis. The creation of man, introduced in Genesis 1, is explained in detail in chapter 2. Adam was formed out of the dust.7 Then, in answer to his aloneness, Eve was made from one of his ribs,8 and they were brought together in marriage.9
The Bible treats Adam and Eve as real people. To the Hebrew mind, this was not a mythological or symbolic representation. Adam and Eve were actual people who lived exactly as the Bible describes. Other Bible passages treat them as part of history, giving credence to the Genesis account.10
Adam was different from the rest of creation in that he was made in God's image.11 This distinguishes him from the animals. Because he was made in God's image, man has tremendous value. As persons, Adam and Eve were able to relate to God, a privilege denied the rest of creation. Personhood always involves responsibility. So Adam was given the task of caring for the wonderful garden paradise into which he and Eve were placed.
When the creative process was finished, all God had made was at peace. Adam and Eve were at peace with God. Almost forgotten was the tree of testing.12
Table of Contents
Imagine what life must have been like in Eden Adam and Eve were living in perfect harmony with the animals. They had meaningful work. God came regularly to talk with them. And, in turn, Adam and Eve had the wonderful opportunity to demonstrate their love for Him by obeying the only prohibition He had given them. We are told:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat it you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:16,17).
Love demands a choice. The love of the creature toward the Creator, of man for God, was to be expressed in obedience. Love without choice is meaningless, so the opportunity was placed squarely before our first parents in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Now, the tree itself was not evil. Nor was God evil in presenting man with a choice. Rather, it was the provision of a loving, all-wise God who knew that it was right to give man the opportunity to show his trust and his love through obedience. Besides, God clearly warned Adam of the consequences. The evil would come through man's deliberate choice to disobey the Lord.
The serpent. Suddenly, unexpectedly, trouble came into the garden paradise. The serpent, a creature "more cunning than any beast of the field,"1 approached Eve to tempt her into disobeying God's command. In his conversation with her, he (1) asked a question he already knew the answer to,2 (2) bluntly denied God's word,3 (3) accused God of having an unworthy motive,4 and (4) presented Eve with a deceptive half-truth.5
Satan spoke through the serpent to deceive Eve. God's archenemy had already chosen to exalt himself above God.6 He had desired to be like God, and his end would be the eternal abyss. Now Satan promised Eve that she would be like God.
Eve looked, wavered, and then decided. Reaching out her hand, she plucked the forbidden fruit and ate. In that brief moment, she chose to satisfy herself, to suppress her love for God, and to toss aside the wonderful relationship she had with Him. Then Eve offered the fruit to Adam and he ate. The terrible deed was done! In that single act, the entire human race fell.
Consequences. The immediate and most devastating result of Adam and Eve's choice was the entrance of sin into their world. Their moral purity was gone. They had sinned, and their sinful nature would be passed on to the entire human race.
With sin came the overwhelming reality of guilt. Our first parents expressed their guilt in three ways:
God is righteous and He keeps His word, so He had to bring judgment. He did so in the following ways:
The consequence of the fall was illustrated dramatically in the first two sons born to Adam and Eve. Cain, the older, offered a sacrifice to God of fruit from his field. Abel, however, sacrificed a lamb from his flock. When Abel's sacrifice pleased God because of his faith,14 Cain was so furious that he killed his brother.15 Perhaps the worst of sins, murder, was committed by the first of Adam's race. Look at how quickly, how deeply, how disastrously
man had fallen!
Yet there was hope. In these grim chapters we have three clear indications that man would someday be redeemed from his sin and guilt.
These are dark chapters. Man had started so high, so near the heart of God. But now he had fallen into trouble, disgrace, and confusion. He needed rescue.
Table of Contents
The human race was growing and spreading throughout the earth, but it became terribly wicked. Mankind was obsessed with evil,1 and the earth was filled with violence.2 Grieved,3 the Lord decided to destroy mankind along with all the animals.4 He would do so by sending a great flood.
One man, Noah, found favor with God, and he and his family would be spared. It appears that he alone remained faithful, for we are told that he "found grace in the eyes of the Lord." So God told him two astounding things: (1) "I will destroy man."5 (2) "Make yourself an ark."6 God Himself gave Noah the plans for the ark. It would be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. It was a mammoth boat for a man to build with hand tools! Its total 3-deck capacity was 1,518,750 cubic feet of space.
Man of faith that he was, Noah did everything God commanded him.7 And it took real faith! Consider that apparently it had never rained.8 Consider too the folly of building an ark on dry land. It would be like building an ocean liner in the middle of a Nebraska cornfield because you heard that a flood was coming.9 And while Noah built, he preached--for 120 years!
Noah's faith did not end when the boat was completed. Noah and his wife, his three sons and their wives, and the animals entered the ark. The Lord Himself shut the door.10 And for 7 days, nothing happened.11 Even so, Noah stayed in the ark.
Finally the floods came. For 40 days the waters flowed from two sources: (1) as rain from the skies for the first time ever, and (2) in the unleashing of waters from the earth. All nonaquatic life outside the ark was destroyed. By the time it came to rest on Mount Ararat, only Noah's little family had survived.
After testing to see if it was safe to leave,12 Noah left the ark.13 He build an altar and offered sacrifices to the Lord.14 And God gave him a series of promises that we call the Noahic Covenant. Here are the specifics:
Table of Contents
When the ark came to rest, mankind entered a new era.
Here was a chance for a new beginning--to walk in God's pathway and experience
His blessing. But once again that was not the case. These chapters tell
an all too familiar story of degeneration and decline. Although the majority
of these verses trace the beginning of nations (Gen. 10) and the line of
Shem (Gen. 11), they include one significant event--the incident at Babel.
The entire human race descended from the sons of Noah.1 As they scattered from the ark, they migrated to the plain of Shinar (Babylonia), where they decided to make three things: a city, a tower, and a name for themselves.2 Their scheme to build a tower was wrong for two reasons: (1) it was an expression of pride ("let us make a name for ourselves"3), and (2) it was a violation of God's command to "fill the earth"4 ("lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth"5).
The tower itself was probably a Babylonian ziggurat, a staged or stepped temple tower. One climbed the tower by ladders that ascended from one stage to another--each stage dedicated to a different heavenly body and painted a different color. At the top was a temple to the god of the city and an altar where sacrifices were offered. These towers were often decorated with the symbols of astrology and used for the worship of planets, stars, and the zodiac.
Construction began. The people, directed by the priests, worked hard. And the tower rose higher into the heavens. But suddenly, in the midst of all their activity, God stopped their ambitious undertaking!6
God acted by separating mankind in two ways: (1) He made them speak different languages,7 and (2) He scattered them across the earth.8 They could no longer communicate freely. And the tower, once a proud symbol of man's ambition, was left to crumble in the dust.
The remainder of Genesis 11 traces the generations of Shem from Noah's day to Abraham. It is genealogical in purpose, not chronological. Therefore, a number of gaps appear in the lists, with only the important people being named. The record concludes by introducing Abraham, which takes us to the next phase in God's unfolding plan for the ages.
Table of Contents
Genesis 11 closes with man once again in a state of spiritual decline. Because of his disobedience at Babel, mankind had been dispersed. The trend was downward, but once again God stepped in. He singled out a man who lived in Ur, a city of the Chaldeans (Babylonia). If Abram (his name would later be changed to Abraham) obeyed God, he would become the father of a nation that would be known as God's own people--a nation through whom all the earth would be blessed.
Genesis 12:1-3 records God's initial call to Abraham. Here is what was said:
Now the Lord God had said to Abram: Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those that bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Over the years, the call of Abraham was confirmed several times. We refer to this call and its promises as the Abrahamic Covenant.
Once again, God asked a man to trust Him--to let go of all that he had and follow Him. In exchange for leaving his home, his countrymen, and most of his family, God would give him something new and far more wonderful.
Believing God, Abraham packed up his belongings and went to the place God led him. His faith was so strong, in fact, that he was referred to as "the father of all who believe.''1 He first journeyed to Haran.2 Then, when God instructed him to leave there, Abraham obeyed, even though he did not know what his destination would be.3
When he and his family arrived in Palestine, God said, "To you and your descendants I will give this land."4 The specific boundaries were spelled out when the covenant was confirmed a few years later.5 In all, the covenant was reaffirmed to Abraham four times.6
But God was not finished with Abraham, for He had promised him both a land and a seed. He and his wife Sarah were in the land, but they were getting old and they still did not have a son. By this time Abraham was 86 and Sarah 76.7 So, in her impatience, Sarah told Abraham to father a child through Hagar, her handmaid.8 Hagar conceived, but the son, Ishmael, was not the child of promise.9
God again appeared to Abraham to affirm the covenant, and He specifically stated that the aged couple (now 99 and 89 respectively) would have a son whom they were to name Isaac.10 It seemed impossible, but once again God showed Himself to be a God who keeps His word, and Isaac was born.11
Abraham's faith was tested often: in his calls to leave Ur12 and Haran,13 and in offering Lot the most desirable land in Palestine, leaving himself the dry desert region.14 But the most severe test of his faith came when he was instructed to take his son Isaac to Mount Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice.15 Once again Abraham obeyed God--even though the death of Isaac would have made impossible God's promise of a nation through him. But Isaac was spared, a ram was offered in his place (a picture of Christ), and the covenant was reaffirmed.16
After Sarah's death,17 Abraham sent his servant back to his homeland to find a bride for Isaac. He was led to the granddaughter of Nahor, Abraham's brother. He brought back Rebekah as a bride for Isaac. When Abraham died, he was buried beside Sarah.18
Abraham was called to father a great nation--a nation singled out to be the focus of God's continuing relationship with man. For example:
Yes, Abraham was a great patriarchal leader and a man of steadfast faith. The remainder of Genesis tells of the growth and preservation of his bloodline through three important men: Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
Table of Contents
Abraham's stalwart faith and exemplary obedience
are a high point in the history of man. Then came Isaac. Even though he
was the child of promise, he was the least conspicuous of the four patriarchs
of Genesis. He apparently traveled very little and avoided conflict. Although
he lived the longest of the patriarchs (see diagram), the least is said
about him. We do know that he became very wealthy. When he planted crops,
for example, his harvest was a hundredfold.1 The envious Philistines filled
his wells with sand, but he simply moved on a little, dug more wells, and
continued to prosper.2
Even so, God was still there. He was still at work through this quiet, unspectacular man, making sure that His plan for the ages would be carried out. Twice he confirmed with Isaac the covenant He had made with his father Abraham.3 He promised Isaac the land of Canaan, descendants numbering as the sands of the sea, and blessing on all nations through his offspring. Thus Isaac was an important spiritual link in the chain of redemption through the promised Messiah.
Isaac and Rebekah had twin sons, Jacob and Esau.4 When Isaac was old and nearly blind, he called Esau in to bless him,5 since he was the firstborn. But Jacob and Rebekah succeeded in deceiving Isaac into thinking that Jacob was Esau, and he stole the blessing.6
Table of Contents
The men God chose to establish the nation of Israel, through whom salvation would come, were certainly different in character. Abraham was a man of faith. Isaac was a quiet man. But then came Jacob, and what a difference! The name Jacob means "supplanter"--and Jacob certainly lived up to his name. When we first meet him, he is scheming to get his brother Esau's birthright. Finding Esau near starvation, Jacob bargained with him and offered his famished brother some lentil stew in exchange for the birthright.1 When we next see Jacob he is plotting with his mother Rebekah to deceive Isaac and steal the patriarchal blessing. Their plan succeeded, for the dim-sighted Isaac could not see that Jacob's smooth arms were covered with goatskins so that they would feel like Esau's hairy arms.2
Esau was so furious when he found out what happened that he plotted Jacob's death.3 When Rebekah heard what Esau wanted to do, she persuaded Isaac to send Jacob to Padan Aram (modern Syria) to find a wife from the daughters of her brother Laban.4
On his journey, Jacob was given a night vision of a ladder ascending to heaven with angels climbing up and down. Then God spoke to Jacob, reaffirming the covenant He had made with Abraham. God also said He would watch over him and bring him back to the Promised Land.5 Jacob named the place Bethel, which means "house of God."6
Jacob fell in love with Rachel, one of Laban's daughters, and agreed to work for Laban 7 years if he could marry her.7 But Jacob the deceiver was himself deceived and was given Leah the older daughter, instead.8 Still in love with Rachel, he agreed to work an additional 7 years to have her for his wife too.9
God blessed Jacob so that his wealth increased10. The sisters were in bitter rivalry to give Jacob a son, and through them and their maids he fathered 12 boys.11 After Joseph, the 11th, was born, Jacob and his growing clan prepared to return to Canaan.12 A property dispute with Laban erupted, and once again Jacob combined trickery with a hasty flight.13
On the return journey he learned that Esau, along with 400 of his men, was waiting for him. Afraid, he sent gifts--only to learn that Esau had forgiven him and welcomed his return to Canaan.14
The night before he was to meet Esau, Jacob wrestled all night with an angel of the Lord. Although his thigh was injured, Jacob held on to the angel until he received a blessing from God. His name was changed to Israel, "he struggles with God"--a name that has described the Jews ever since. Jacob named the place Peniel, "the face of God," because he had seen God face to face and lived.15
After a brief stay in Shechem, Jacob again settled in Bethel. His last son, Benjamin, was born, but his beloved Rachel died in childbirth.16 Some years later, his son Joseph disappeared. His jealous brothers had sold him into slavery17 and deceived their father into thinking he had been killed by a wild animal.18 The final days of Jacob's turbulent life were spent in Egypt.19
Table of Contents
In the concluding chapters of Genesis, the focus of attention is on Joseph, the "missing son" of Jacob. As his story opens, he is seen as Jacob's favorite, probably because his mother was Rachel. This was demonstrated in the multicolored coat given to him by Jacob.1 His brothers, born of different mothers, resented the special treatment Joseph received.2 They also resented his dreams about how he would rule over them and how they would bow down and serve him.3 So one day when Joseph came out to the fields where his brothers were working, they conspired to kill him.4 But at Judah's insistence, they settled for selling him to a passing band of Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt and sold him into slavery.5
Now, Joseph had developed a deep faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was determined to stay true to Him. And it soon became clear that God was in control of the events of his life.
Potiphar, Joseph's Egyptian master, soon recognized his superior abilities and gave him important responsibilities.6 Potiphar's wife, however, saw his handsomeness and tried to seduce him.7 When Joseph would not give in to her advances, she kept his coat as evidence for her false charge that he had accosted her.8 As a result, Potiphar had him thrown into prison.9
In prison, God showed that He was still with Joseph by giving him the ability to interpret dreams.10 When Pharaoh had a dream his astrologers could not interpret, he was told about Joseph.11 The young Hebrew interpreted Pharaoh's dream as a prediction of 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine.12 Impressed, Pharaoh appointed Joseph to a powerful position. He was put in charge of gathering, storing, and dispersing grain.13
The famine hit Palestine hard, so Jacob sent Joseph's brothers (except Benjamin) to Egypt to purchase grain.14 Joseph recognized his brothers,15 but he did not reveal his identity until they brought Benjamin down on a return trip.16 After a joyous reunion,17 he sent them back to Palestine to bring back his father Jacob.18 On the journey, God appeared to Jacob to reaffirm the covenant and to assure him that Israel would one day return to the Land of Promise.19 The little clan settled in Goshen, safe under Joseph's watchful care.
Joseph is important to the Genesis record because:
The history of Genesis ends with Abraham's family
in Egypt, saved from the famine but out of the Land of Promise. It would
be 400 years before the nation returned to Palestine. But that is another
Table of Contents
We should not be surprised to discover that the "book of beginnings" contains, among the other "firsts," the initial revelation of what God wanted us to know about Jesus Christ. These foreshadows appear in two forms: prophecy and type.
Prophecy. The prophecies of Christ in Genesis begin at the fall and become more and more specific.
A study of the lineage of Jesus Christ shows that these prophecies were literally fulfilled (see Matt. 1:1-18).
Type. Genesis also reveals Christ in type. A type is defined as a historical fact that illustrates a spiritual truth. These are the major types of Christ in Genesis.
Table of Contents
How do we respond to this book of beginnings--this book that takes us back to the very roots of human existence and tells us how it all began?
The evidence for its authority and accuracy is too strong to let us take it lightly. It cannot be merely a book of Jewish legends and hero stories. Most people will agree that it corresponds with what we know about ourselves and our world.
Genesis is an honest book that speaks in straightforward terms about our sin and guilt. And in the same straightforward terms it tells us about God's salvation offered to all who trust in Him.
Yes, in unmistakable terms, the book of Genesis points forward to the coming of Jesus Christ as our sacrifice for sin, our ark of salvation from the righteous judgment of God.
Believers in Christ can rejoice in the great love of God and the redemption He gives through faith in His long-promised Son. But if you are not a believer, you must squarely face the reality of your own rebellion against God and your need for rescue.
Right now, place your trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior. The Bible says, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22). That new life comes through faith in Jesus Christ. He alone is the ark of our salvation. The Bible records these words of the Lord Jesus: "Most assuredly, l say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life" (John 5:24).