Continuing on with the series and keeping the overview in part 1 in mind, the significance of Genesis is that it lays the foundation for what God is establishing with respect to his creation. The beginning explains the how and why God started everything. To reiterate what I said in the overview, God is revealing to us who he is and his expectations for his creation. Also, it’s important to remember that when I reference creation that means all of it, humanity and the earth.
A couple of points are noteworthy here. One, Genesis was written by Moses to the children of Israel while they were wandering through the wilderness. Now think for a minute what was going on with them. They had been called as a people of God’s own possession, delivered as a people from the hand of oppression and delivered with promises of a land where they’re position would thrive as a light to all nations. But for the time being, they were slogging through a seeming nothingness and feeling forsaken. The Genesis account informs Israel of how and why they were formed in accordance with the God of creation.
And this leads to the second noteworthy point. The creation account unfortunately gets bogged down with dissections about the earth’s age. In my opinion, this is a distraction from the purpose of the text. Moses is not revealing to Israel the creation account as some sort of scientific treatise about the genesis of the earth, but to tell them THAT God created everything, out of nothing and had a plan for his creation. His plan was that man (man and woman working together) being made in the image of God was to subdue the earth, to reflect his glory. What God intended for humanity cannot be dismissed for what would happen in Genesis 3 but bear important implications for how his people would work together for the sake of his kingdom.
Another significant aspect of Genesis 1-2 is that it demonstrates that we cannot divorce the spiritual aspect of reconciliation to the Father with what he desires for creation. He said ‘it is good’ which means that the physicality of creation is important.
The events in Genesis 3 reverse what God intended. Just as God intended man to be blessed through obedience to him, now disobedience brought on the curse. We definitely see this theme of blessings and cursings play out through the trajectory of Scripture.
Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, you shall not eat of it, cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall not eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return. (Gen. 3:17-19).
A few points are worth noting. The Fall plunged creation into a sin soaked condition in which rebellion against God would ensue. As a result, man will want to use creation for illegitimate purposes, something we see play out in the trajectory of Scripture. The man and woman were banished from the garden, subjected to bear the consequences of disobedience. We also see that death is introduced, which intrudes on how God created man to be-a whole person. This is why Paul refers to death as an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26).
But God’s rescue of this wretched transaction is what sets the stage for the rest of Scripture. First note, that God always uses a mediator because the separation of sin requires it. Consider Adam’s role as a steward to mediate God’s glory. But disobedience disarmed God’s good intention that requires an ultimate mediator (see Romans 5:12-21). In the meantime, God will work through a series of mediators to reconcile his creation to himself. Keep in mind when I say creation, that means people but it also means the physical earth, which is how this whole thing plays out at the end. I’ll talk about that more in future segments and will be obvious in terms of how God reconciles people to himself.
Here is where I’m going to put a plug in for covenant theology. God’s rescue involves a unified plan starting with the promise made in Genesis 3:15.
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 (Gen. 3:15).
Who is God talking to? Certainly not the snake but the one that used the snake for his sinister purposes to rebel against God. Who are the offspring? The children of the promise or rather the children of the blessing vs. the children of the curse. The children of promise are those who God calls to himself who demonstrate faith and obedience to him. The children of the curse are those who rebel against him. So we see two entities at play here: God and his offspring and the agents who rebel against God–Satan and his minions and those who are his children. This is a theme that will replay throughout the redemptive historical narrative under a covenant of grace, explained further here.
The story of Noah continues the theme of the blessed vs. cursed. Man’s rebellion became so great that God had to do something drastic.
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he made man on earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them. But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (Gen. 6:5-8)
The creation that God deemed good is now so utterly corrupt that it evoked his wrath. Why? Because of rebellion; it ran contrary to his good intentions. But also notice that in the midst of wickedness, there was a representative of righteousness who God chose, one through whom God would rescue his creation. It was the one who believed in God’s promise, who would act in righteousness. So as we see this them of fall and redemption play out throughout the Old Testament, it points to the one who would act perfectly in righteousness who would redeem fallen creation. Notice also the theme of sacrifice;
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, I will never again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease. (Gen. 8:20-22)
Unfortunately, this passage has been twisted by some for a formulaic prescription of sowing and reaping. This sadly misses the point. Rather, God is looking back at his intentions for creation that he created good and promises to uphold his good intentions and redeem it. Note what he says in 9:1–God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ Where have we heard this before? Yes, back in the garden.
God expands his promise and intentions with the promise to Abraham;
Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you, I will curse, and in you all families of the earth will be blessed.’ (Gen. 12:1)
God continues to ratify his covenant oath with Abram;
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make a covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly. Then Abram fell on his face, and God said to him, ‘Behold my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. (Gen. 17:5)
Here we see God expanding his promises through a righteous representative. The requirement was for Abraham to walk blameless before him. Now, it doesn’t take too much reading in the book of Genesis to know that Abraham failed and faltered at times. But, Abraham was chosen by God and believed the promises of God.
Here is where the concept of covenant becomes crucial to understand for how the rest of the Bible’s story will play out. Unfortunately, in my earlier Christianity I heard very little of this and no wonder I gravitated towards distortions. Covenants were normal transactions in the ancient world, typically entered into between kings for the sake of their kingdoms, for their thriving, safety and protection. They were treaties in a sense, that required bi-lateral agreement. But here God is making a unilateral promise through one righteous representative of his care, protection and rulership over those who would descend from Abraham.
Who were these Abraham’s offspring? We’ll following along in Genesis we see that it is Isaac, then Jacob, then the 12 tribes of Israel. But this is where the New Testament informs us that ultimately, it is not the physical descendants of Abraham but those who are people of God, who believe his promises, which are ultimately fulfilled in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). Note Paul says in Galatians
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, and to your offspring, who is Christ. (Gal. 3:16)
The continuation of Genesis shows how God is building his rescue plan through the patriarchs based on the promise he gave to Abraham. Therefore, Isaac finding Rebekah is not a dating formula nor is Joseph’s imprisonment a model for how God will work in our life. Surely, we can glean wisdom from these situations but the overall point is what God will ultimately do through the Son.
So when Jacob blesses his sons (Gen. 48-49), this is related to what God plans for his people to subdue the earth as originally intended. An important shift will occur in the New Testament on how that gets accomplished. But for now, the land blessings with the 12 tribes and the expectation for occupying certain territories become important for what God will do in the New Testament.
Genesis ends with Israel in Egypt, a further set up for God’s redemption. (See part 3 here)