THE BOOK OF GENESIS
Written by Doug Ponder on August 22, 2013
This article is first in a series summarizing the books of the Bible and connecting them to Jesus. After all, he said the Scriptures are all about him (Luke 24:27, 44-45; John 5:39)—and that includes the book of Genesis.
The book of Genesis is an introduction to the Bible. Kind of. It’s actually an introduction to the Torah, which is the complete introduction to the Bible. That makes the “book” of Genesis more like the first chapter in a five-chapter book. The other four are Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Together they form the first major division of the Old Testament, which is called Torah (“instruction” or “law”) in Hebrew and the Pentateuch (“ five-fold scroll”) in Greek. Throughout the Scriptures, they are collectively referred to as “the law” or “the book of the law.”
Genesis was written to introduce God’s people to their Creator, to explain how the world got to be in the sorry state that it’s in, and to show what the Creator God is doing about the mess we made. The major characters are God (obviously), Jesus (though some people overlook him), the first human beings, and a man named Abraham and his descendants. The main themes of Genesis are human failure, God’s grace, and the Messianic hope.
The End of the Beginning
Genesis begins with the narrative of the world’s creation, including God’s special creation of human beings “in his image and likeness” (Gen. 1:26). The creation story is mainly about who created, what he created, how he created, and why he created. In that order, the Bible’s answer is that God created all things from nothing for his glory and our good. As the pinnacle of his creation, God created mankind to reflect him and to represent him in the world, cultivating and creating under the blessing of God and filling the world more image-bearers who would do the same (Gen. 1:28).
The first man and his wife had one basic mission: trust God and delight in him. Had they done so, the world would have been filled with people who glorify God continually as they joyfully obey him from the heart. Foolishly, however, they did not listen to God. The man and his wife turned their backs on him, seeking to find life and joy apart from God . Their sin brought disorder and unrest into the world, along with death and despair: they were exiled from the garden of Eden (ch. 3); their first child became a murderer (ch. 4); the first civilization became so corrupt God destroyed it by flood (chs. 6-9); and the first great city was left in ruins after they rebelled against God himself (ch. 11). The rest of Genesis continues in the same fashion, full of stories involving lies, feuds, theft, famine, murder, slavery, polygamy, homosexuality, and incest. This is what the world looks like when humans turn their back on God.
The Son of Hope
In the midst of all this sin and brokenness, however, we find God’s gracious promise of redemption. He has not left us to ourselves to drown hopelessly in the mess that we’ve made. He promised to send a redeemer, one of Eve’s own sons, to crush the head of God’s enemy and ours, though his own body would be pierced in the process (Gen. 3:15). God also covered their shame by providing them with the skins of some animals that he killed—the first bloodshed as a result of their sin—and he gave them a son to remind of them of the promise he made (the promise that someday, one her own sons would rescue the world).
This is the hope that echoes throughout the remainder of Genesis, indeed, throughout the rest of the entire Bible. So when God speaks to a man named Abraham and tells him, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3), we already know how this will happen: one of Abraham’s descendants will be the Son of God’s promise. It isn’t Isaac, though. And it isn’t any of Isaac’s sons, either. In fact, by the time we reach the end of Genesis, we’re beginning to wonder, “Will the Son that God promised ever come?” It’s then that God speaks through Jacob to announce that God’s promise will be fulfilled through one of Judah’s sons: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come, and the obedience of the nations shall be his” (Gen. 49:10). The Son would come. God had not forgotten his promise.
Grace Trumps Sin
The narratives in Genesis make it very clear that only God can fulfill his promises. Not only that, they show that God is willing and able to fulfill his promises in spite of our sinful rebellion. He provided a son (Isaac) to an undeserving couple in old age so that his promise would not fail. From that lineage, an entire nation entrusted with the message of God’s hope for the world would be formed. God blessed a man (Jacob) who lied to his family and stole his birthright from his brother. God rescued a spoiled brat (Joseph) from death, and raised to him a place of power so that he might bless his family and spare them from famine. God even turned the scandalous sex of a father (Judah) with his own daughter-in-law into a pregnancy that brought one of Jesus’ ancestors into the world.
As we finish the book of Genesis, the reader is left waiting for the Son that God promised, the seed of a woman who will crush the head of the serpent, the descendent of Abraham who will bless the world, and the “Lion of Judah” who will establish God’s rule over all the nations. Many centuries would pass before he was born, but God was already preparing his people for the arrival of Jesus, asking them to trust that he would keep his promise in spite of his their continual failures.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.