“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1
The title for our English Bibles(Genesis) comes from a word that means “origin”
It first of the five books of Moses…the Torah
It was written by Moses to encourage the people during the wondering in the wilderness.
It was to given them (and now us) to gain perspective on God’s plan to redeem his people from the consequences of sin.
To answer important questions like…
How did we get here?
Why is life like this?
Does God care about us?
Of course Moses was not there at the beginning…but God did speak to him face to face, like a man speaks to friend (Ex.33:11).
Genesis divides into two main sections: chapters 1-11 and chapters 12-50
The two sections are tied together at the end of chapter 11 and the beginning of chapter 12 by the rise of a single-family line, Abraham.
This is very significant because Moses has been sprinting for 11 chapters…epochs of time…multiple generations.
Then he moves very slowly through just four generations of people…Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph.
It becomes clear that the first eleven chapters were necessary for laying the foundation for what was to come.
You can outline Genesis in different ways…we will stick with the two-part approach, because it is clear and simple.
Chapters 1-11: Universal concerns. The origin of the world and the nations. The origin of sin and its consequences. At least 20 generations. Fast moving lots of gaps but again, it is there to lay a foundation.
Chapters 12-50: Focuses on a single family line. Four generations. The story really slows down. Because this is where the author wanted to get us.
After describing how the world became evil, the focus is on God’s plan to redeem humanity through his chosen people.
Genesis doesn’t finish this storyline…it only begins it.
It serves as the basis for making sense out of the rest of the Bible and human history…and my own life.
It answers the questions:
- Where did the world come from? (where did I come from)
- Why is it so messed up? (why am I so messed up)
- Is there any hope for it? (for me?)
A general Map of Genesis…we will look at some key points later but for now just a map.
1-11: (General concerns)
- Creation of the cosmos, creation of Adam and Eve
- Fall into sin of Adam and Eve
- Devolution (not evolution) of humanity…shame, murder, finally reaching the low point where…”Every inclination of man’s heart was only evil all the time.”
- God in his sorrow washes the world to save it. Sets aside a single family who are part of a faithful few on the entire earth. Noah’s family. Even these few are seriously flawed.
- Post flood the people remain unchanged, they form a coalition of evil in Babylon and so God scatters them and they spread out into nations.
So part one: How got into this mess
Then there is the Link for the two parts: The rise of and focus on a single family
In Abraham…God has initiated his plan to save humanity…the solution to this mess has been inaugurated.
- Abraham receives the covenant promise.
- It is renewed with each generation: Isaac, Jacob, Joseph
- Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, through amazing interventions by God he is able to save his family.
Conclusion of Genesis: A summary of the story thus far and a hint of the story going forward…all seen in a single verse…but first the background on the verse.
Joseph’s brothers who had terribly mistreated him all those years earlier suddenly became terrified.
Their father, Jacob, had died and now they believed Joseph was going to exact his revenge…I mean why wouldn’t he?
Except that Joseph was a man who had learned through suffering of the larger purposes of God.
He only wept when he was told of his brother’s fears…he spoke words of comfort and encouragement to them…and words of faith and understanding of who God was and what he was doing.
“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” Genesis 50:19
This was extraordinary…Joseph was essentially the vice-King of the world’s most powerful nation, Kings killed for far less than what had been done to him.
But here at the end of the book of beginnings…we see the story line that will thread through the entire Bible.
God turning human evil into good through his own intervention in our lives.
Genesis ends with the family line of Abraham in Egypt and it leads naturally into Exodus…the next part of the story.
Before we see how Genesis fits into the overall narrative, let’s look at one issue of ongoing concern and controversy regarding Genesis.
We will call it…Genesis and Science. Though that is not entirely accurate because it implies a problem between science and Genesis…but many scientists have and do believe Genesis is the accurate record of beginnings.
Sir John Houghton, member Fellowship of the Royal Society(one of the world’s most prestigious scientific awards) wrote “Our science is God’s science. He holds the responsibility for the whole scientific story…the remarkable order, consistency, reliability and fascinating complexity found in the scientific description of the universe are reflections of the order, consistency, reliability and complexity of God’ activity.”
So there is no real conflict between Genesis and Science…but let’s address the perceived conflict.
I have read many books on this topic over the years and there are many more out there.
If you are interested and so motivated I can recommend one to you.
But if you are not interested in reading about this…please feel free to not read…no pressure…probably not even a need if there is not a felt need.
Again, truth does not depend on your ability to defend it.
My goal is not that you read books about this…but that you have a sense of confidence regarding the factual reality of Genesis…and its place in your own life.
So let’s look very briefly at the topic of science and Genesis (very briefly)
First…there is more room for diversity, among believers, on these chapters than is often assumed.
Second…there is much more dissension among scientists regarding origins than is often realized.
- Room for diversity.
There is room to take the Scriptures seriously and yet have different views on these chapters.
Take the seven days of creation for instance:
*Hebrew word for day “Yom” can mean
-Epoch of time
-Part of day
*Some believe these are seven consecutive 24-hour periods of time…in Gen. 1,2
*There are those who believe they are actual 24-hour creative periods separated by vast spaces of time between.
*Some see parts of chapters 1 and 2 as being more of a logical order than a chronological one: (Augustine, John Lennox)
A builder describing the construction of a hospital: “We laid the foundations, then we set the walls and roof, then finished out the building.” Chronological description.
A surgeon describing it from his perspective (reason for the hospital) “We put the operating rooms on the second floor, with the recovery rooms above and below, floors one and three.” Logical, or prioritized description
No one would think the surgeon was describing hanging the second floor in mid-air or that he was not describing a real building.
Likewise in Genesis 1, 2 there is evidence of a logical rather than mere chronological order.
Isaiah wrote frequently of how God created the earth, the cosmos and people. At times he put the earth and people before the cosmos…he was not confused…he was not writing in order of chronology but in terms of his own priority of communication.
There are many other variations on these views…but it’s important to note…again…that there is room for people to have different views and yet take the Scriptures seriously.
- Second, there is no real consensus in science on these matters.
E.O. Wilson (renowned American biologist) says there is no evidence of intelligent design in the world.
Alan Sandage (who before his death in 2010 was considered the world’s greatest cosmologist) wrote: “The world is too complicated in all its parts and interconnections to be due to change alone. I am convinced that the existence of life with all its order in each of its organisms is simple to well put together.”
This back and forth…is not just between Christians and non-Christians who are scientists…but scientists at large.
*I say this because there is the impression that they all have it nailed down and believe the same things…they don’t.
Again, there are many books you can read on this…(Science and faith) I won’t list them here
But in one book by John Lennox, “God and Stephen Hawking” he describes some of the grasping for straws that is going on in Science as some try to avoid the obvious…that is “In the beginning, God”
At the end of his life Hawking settled on a theory that is called different things…but often the “multi-verse theory”
Of course because of Marvel’s Avengers Series on science we now know this is a reality.
But seriously, Hawking settled on this theory with no real evidence for it, in order, some believe, to avoid the crushing evidence of the anthropic principle.
Anthropic (man) Is the principle that the universe looks like it has been designed (not just our planet) to support human life
There is an overwhelming amount of evidence regarding this principle.
The amount of evidence for the universe’s narrow design…could lead to faith in God…or a faith in disbelief in God…both belief and disbelief…are of course…based on faith.
For Hawking this leap of faith to not believe…was to believe that there are an infinite number of universes and we happen to live in the one that looks like it has been designed.
Robert Jastrow, who was founder of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, was agnostic, he said he was uncertain as to whether God exists or not…yet he was honest and so he wrote that “according to the physicist and the astronomer it appears that the universe was constructed within very narrow limits, in such a way that man could dwell in it. This result is called the Anthropic principle. It is the most theistic result to ever come out of science in my view.”
Indeed…there is a lot of data on this now, more all the time.
It was the reason one of the world’s leading atheists, Anthony Flew, abandoned his atheism…much to the dismay and anger of his followers.
He said he must go where the evidence leads him…and the evidence in nature…design… took him away from atheism to theism.
Stan Longhoeffer sent me an article about how evolutionists are trying to deal with the reality of “non-useful” or non-pragmatic beauty in nature.
Lots of things in nature are just beautiful…with no utilitarian purpose…but according to traditional Darwinism and even current versions of evolution…this should not be.
The article shows the dissension among scientists even in regards to the “purpose” or reason for beauty…whether there is one.
For me it is another case of jumping through hoops to avoid the obvious…beauty exists because God is creative, and he loves beauty.
There are things in the cosmos no human eye will ever see…but God enjoys them.
And he has generously allowed us to share in his enjoyment of some of it…and I am grateful for that.
Science cannot answer ultimate questions…the questions that matter most to us as humans…listen to Nobel Scientist Peter Medawar’s advice to young scientists…
“The existence of a limit to science is, however, made clear by its inability to answer childlike elementary questions having to do with first and last things–questions such as ‘How did everything begin?’ What are we all here for?’ ‘What is the point of living.'”
Francis Collins, led the Human Genome Project agrees:
“Science is powerless to answer questions such as ‘Why did the universe come into being?’ ‘What is the meaning of human existence?’ ‘What happens after we die?'”
Anytime you hear of a claim from science to be able to answer these larger questions…how are we here, why are we hear, what will happen in the end…you can be sure that that scientist…no matter how intelligent he or she is…they are out of their depth…over their heads.
It is important, whether you read other books or not, to be confident that actual science is not at odds with the Christian faith or the story of Genesis.
Bill Bryson gives the current scientific description of how our cosmos came to be
“In a single blinding pulse, a moment of glory much too swift and expansive for any form of words, the singularity assumes heavenly dimensions, space beyond conception. The first lively second (a second that many cosmologists will devote lifetimes to shaving into ever-finer wafers) produces gravity and the other forces that govern physics. In less than a minute the universe is a million billion miles across and growing fast. There is a lot of heat now, 10 billion degrees of it, enough to begin the nuclear reactions that create the lighter elements — principally hydrogen and helium, with a dash (about one atom in a hundred million) of lithium. In three minutes 98% of all the matter there is or will ever be has been produced. We have a universe. It is a place of the most wondrous and gratifying possibility, and beautiful too. And it was all done in about the time it takes to make a sandwich.”
Arno Penzias who won the Nobel Prize for physics for discovering the echo of the beginning of the cosmos in microwaves…wrote “The best data we have…are exactly what I would have predicted had I had nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Bible as a whole.”
Again…there are volumes of material on this if you are inclined…but the point is…there is no conflict between Gen. and science.
And Genesis speaks to what science cannot…how and why we are here…but much more than that.
So let’s go back to the Genesis story line.
In the beginning God created everything.
He made mankind in his image
Then came sin…man defining good and evil on his own terms.
Then, the downward spiral, then God in sadness, cleanses the earth.
Then he scatters humanity.
Then he picks a family from all of the human race…and through this family he will bring about his rescue plan. (all that is 1-11)
Now here’s how it fits into the larger storyline:
Chapter 12: God makes a covenant with Abraham…turning point of the story…and the lead in to the rest of the Bible.
A covenant was an agreement, or a kind of relationship.
Like being a part of NATO
-If you stay in this alliance and do your part, we will not attack you and we will band together if anyone outside attacks you.
So Abraham gets this offer of a covenant relationship from God.
They will be a great nation, with a land, and they are to make God’s great name known to the nations of the world.
God made his covenant promise to Abraham in chapter 12.
Later on Abraham remains childless and God renews his promise to make him into a great nation.
Abraham is struggling to believe but he chooses to do so and so God affirms his faith.
Genesis 15:6 “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness”
There it is…all the way back in early Old Covenant days we see the heart of the New Covenant.
Then God said…”Okay, not only will you have your own son…I will give you this land as your inheritance.”
Again, Abraham struggled to believe…because there were a lot of enemies in that land.
So here’s where it gets really interesting…and a little weird.
God told him to collect 5 animals, to cut them in halves and lay out those halves with space to walk between them…this is weird to us, but it would not have been to Abraham.
This is God acting in line with the customs of the time to make his point.
The idea was that if either side of the covenant relationship broke faith then they should be treated as these animals were…torn in half.
This is much worse than being sued by a lawyer for breach of contract.
Then Abraham fell into a deep sleep and he had a very troubling dream.
And in his dream God spoke and said:
“Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
Okay, so he had this great promise of the future…but now God is telling him the fuller story…and it is a hard story.
In this dream he tells Abraham the story of his people in slavery in Egypt, then their Exodus, then their return to the promised land…all would happen.
And he adds “For the sin of the Amorites has not reached its full measure” (this is the mercy of God demonstrated)
Amorites were one of the nations in Canaan that Joshua would defeat…God was being patient with them…giving them plenty of chances to change…like hundreds of years of chances.
Then, presumably Abraham woke up…and a flaming torch passed between the torn halves of the animals and God confirmed his covenant again with Abraham.
The torch represented God making the covenant promise.
But notice…Abraham watched as God walked the covenant path between the torn animals.
God was making this covenant, he was going to keep it…Abraham would merely watch God be faithful.
Abraham had conditions if he was to experience blessings…but God was making an unconditional covenant promise…from Abraham all nations of the world would be blessed…God would see to it.
Let’s jump to the New Testament…we could look about anywhere there to make the connection
But let’s look at Galatians a book written to instruct a group of churches that were struggling to really grasp the true nature of the gospel promises. (we looked here on Dec. 30)
Paul goes back to Genesis, and Abraham and the Covenant to help them understand that God has done in Christ.
Gal. 3:6 Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. 8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
He then goes on to explain how observing the law was never able to work…because we are not able to keep the law.
But when people trust in Christ what is true of him becomes true for them.
We are right with God not because we obey the law but because of what Jesus did for us.
He was the faithful one who loved God and neighbor…kept the law perfectly.
Then as the faithful one…without guilt…he took our curse on himself.
3:13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…”
3:14 “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
Then Paul makes an interesting connection between way back in Genesis 12, and 15 and Jesus
He said God’s promises to Abraham were to his “seed” meaning one person, who is Christ.
He is the one God promised to blessed the world through way back when he made that unconditional promise walk through the bloody path of the torn animals.
The gospel story begins in Genesis…the first book…God intiated his rescue plan through the family of Abraham…and ultimately his “seed”…Christ.
But Christ shows earlier even than Genesis 15, back in Genesis chapter 3…the chapter that describes the fall into sin.
God said to Eve that her seed (singular) would one day crush the enemies head…this was speaking of Jesus.
This is sometimes called the “first gospel”…and it is in the same chapter as the first sin.
So Genesis tells us:
How are we here
Why we are here
Why we are in the mess we are (and why there is beauty and purpose)
What God will do to redeem us. (The beginnings of his plan are there)
Three things that are sad, or even tragic about some approaches to Genesis:
- When people trip over things that are not the point and miss the point.
Imagine someone rushing up to you and saying…”A storm is coming, it has already hit south of us, and its path will take it right over the top of us. But you can bring your family into my storm shelter and you will be safe.”
Your response is…”When you say ‘coming’ that could mean, near future, distant future, a metaphor.”
Genesis was written as a description of real things…but it was written in a way that God intended it to be written…not as some demand it should have been.
It tells the truth of factual, historical realities…these are accurate in description and prescription….what is, and what can be if we align with God’s purpose.
- Miss the fact that God’s relationship with men and women is primarily about blessings…not conditions.
-Many people…just like Adam and Eve did…focus on the condition of the blessing rather than the blessing itself.
Condition was…Let God determine good and evil…don’t eat that single fruit.
Blessings were…They were in a garden, they were image bearers, they had rewarding and creative work to do, they had no shame, they had no sin, they had relationship with God, they had multiple trees to eat from.
*Who knows…when they had matured…perhaps God would have served them from that very tree that was forbidden.
God’s will involves both what and when…there are things that are wrong because of the wrong time…and are right in the right time.
God offers blessings still…with conditions.
-Condition of faith in order to be saved.
-Condition of obedience in order to live the thriving life of abundance.
We must not miss the blessing by being hung up on conditions of those blessings.
The conditions behind the blessings I experience with my wife are:
-faithfulness to her alone
-commitment to her no matter what
-and life together as one family (rather than she does her thing and I do mine and maybe we will occasionally cross paths)
Those conditions…lead to the blessing of our relationship
In fact, it turns out those very conditions are the biggest part of the blessings of our relationship.
Genesis opens with multiple blessings…and a single condition.
*How do you perceive the conditions of God’s blessings?
- Turn it into morality and hero stories and miss the fuller biblical narrative.
When you read Genesis you will find no human heroes there…you will just find humans.
And you will find God alone to be the consistent one…he makes and keeps promises, he pursues people through the generations.
He keeps bringing good from evil to accomplish his purposes.
He uses imperfect people for his own purposes.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1
What are the implications for this in your life?
Meaning: Your meaning is derived from him, he made you.
Purpose: You exist for him
Right and wrong: He determines the good and what is not good. Not your desire, or your culture, or even your wiring or biology.
-How could this be? How could my own heart and body be wrong?
-Because the world has fallen…the physical world, including our bodies are out of sync with the way they were designed.
Just because something is…doesn’t mean it ought to be.
Romans 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
Control: He is in control, we are not. So we must stop destroying ourselves, and relationships with others through our “demandingness.”
We demand from God and others…but he will not submit to us…and all we do is force others away from us with our demandingness.
So Let’s conclude with one more tie in with Genesis and the Gospel:
Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth
Col. 1:16 For by him(Jesus) all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Then this King of the universe…a being of unspeakable glory and power…took on human form and now…
Let’s read Phil. 2 in reverse order:
Verse 6, 7, 8: Jesus, who being in very nature God… made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!
Verse 5: And your approach to life and to others should be the same as that Jesus
Verse 3: So do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility put the interests of others ahead of your own.
The creator, took on human flesh, showed us what true humanity is (real life)…he served out of humility…now we are able to live this way.
So there you have a really good application of Genesis…approach life in the way the king and creator did…seek to serve others, seek to make others successful.
Therein we experience his life and his joy.
Genesis is the beginning of human sorrow and the beginning of God’s redemption plan.
Mark Twain: Laughter is born from sorrow, therefore there is no laughter in heaven.
Twain was often witty and he was often wrong…
God’s plan to redeem us from our sorrow…was Jesus, the man of many sorrows.
And now through his redemption we have the only hope for lasting human joy.