Genesis: Beginnings and Blessings
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by R. Kent Hughes
Description: The book of Genesis lays the groundwork for God's relationship with humanity and his plan for our salvation. R. Kent Hughes explores this book with the care and insight that are the hallmarks of the Preaching the Word series.
eBook Publisher: Crossway Books, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: June 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [1.4 MB]
Reading time: 806-1129 min.
GENESIS 1:1, 2
It was the custom in ancient times to name a book by its opening word, which is what the Hebrews did in titling this initial Bible book Bereshith, which means "in the beginning." When the Old Testament was translated into Greek about 250 B.C. the Greek equivalent of the title was rendered Genesis, which both the Latin and English translations have adopted letter for letter. It is an exquisitely perfect title because this book gives us the genesis (the beginning) of the doctrine of God, which rose to tower high over the pagan notions of the day. It is the genesis of the doctrine of creation, which likewise rose far above the crude mythologies of the surrounding nations. Genesis gives us the doctrine of man, demonstrating that from the beginning we are both wonderful and awful. The doctrine of salvation too has its genesis in Eden and its grand development throughout the whole book.
Astounding! What we know about God, about creation, about ourselves, and about salvation begins in Genesis. It provides the theological pillars on which the rest of the Bible stands. Jesus, the Messiah, has his prophetic genesis in the opening chapters of Genesis (cf. 3:15). The importance of Genesis for the believing heart can hardly be overstated.
At the same time, as deep and weighty as the book of Genesis is, it is no dry textbook. Its narratives of the garden, the flood, and the tower of Babel have captivated hearts for over three millennia and have provided inspiration for the world's greatest poetry. The earthy, epic lives of Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob and Esau, and Joseph in Egypt are so primary and universal and so skillfully told that they have never ceased to enthrall listeners. The last decade of the twentieth century and the opening years of the twenty-first century produced a renewed public interest in the narratives of Genesis, and even a PBS special, and numbers of books on the shelves of popular bookstores. Genesis is in as literature. And what grand preaching material it is!
An overview of Genesis reveals neatly structured themes. It is widely accepted that chapters 1--11 cover primeval history (the early history of Planet Earth) and chapters 12--50 patriarchal history (the history of Israel's founding fathers). The famous Hebrew term toledoth, literally translated "generations of," occurs ten times in Genesis. Five refer to primeval history and five to patriarchal history. Closer examination reveals that five of them variously introduce narratives, and five introduce genealogies. Genesis is finely crafted.
[Footnote 1 : 1) 2:4a: "of the heavens and the earth"; 2) 5:1a: "of Adam"; 3) 6:9a: "of Noah"; 4) 10:1a: "of the sons of Noah"; 5) 11:10a: "of Shem"; 6) 11:27a: "of Terah"; 7) 25:12a: "of Ishmael"; 8) 25:19a: "of Isaac"; 9) 36:1a, 9a: "of Esau"; and 10) 37:2a: "of Jacob." ]
[Footnote 2 : Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1--17, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), pp. 2, 3.]
Primeval history. The first eleven chapters, which give us the primeval history (universal history) of the world, do so by relating five stories that all have the same structure. The stories are of the fall, Cain, the sons of God marrying the daughters of man, the flood, and the tower of Babel. All five stories follow this fourfold pattern: a) Sin: the sin is described; b) Speech: there is a speech by God announcing the penalty; c) Grace: God brings grace to the situation to ease the misery due to sin; and d) Punishment: God punishes the sin. See an instructive chart on this in the footnotes.
[Footnote 3: See D. J. A. Clines, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, No. 38 (1976), pp. 487, 488. Clines explains that Gerhard Von Rad initially observed a pattern of sin, mitigation, and punishment. Then Claus Westermann discerned another element, that of divine speech. Though he did not include it in the pattern, Clines does. Thus the following chart:
3. Sons of God
Here is amazing grace--amazing because though in all five stories there is an increasing avalanche of sin and resulting punishment that necessarily becomes increasingly severe, there is always more grace. Adam and Eve are punished, but God graciously withholds the death penalty. Cain is banished from his family, but God graces him with a mark of protection. The flood comes, but God graciously preserves the human race through Noah. Only in the case of Babel is the element of grace muted.
[Footnote 4: Ibid., p. 490.]
Patriarchal history. But this lack serves to set up the continuation of grace during the following patriarchal section of Genesis 12--50. In this section Abraham receives the gracious promise that through him all the peoples of the world will be blessed (cf. 12:3). And then the patriarchal period unfolds the fulfilling of that gracious promise. Despite the patriarchs' repeated sins, God's promise stands. The salvation history of the patriarchal narratives functions as the gracious answer to mankind's scattering at Babel.
[Footnote 5: Ibid., pp. 502, 503.]
Genesis is about grace. The Apostle Paul's aphorism, "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Romans 5:20) sums up this major theme of Genesis. Genesis, far from being a faded page fallen from antiquity, breathes the grace of God. What a time we're going to have as our souls are worked over by the sin-speech-grace-punishment pattern of chapters 1--11, and by the overall "where sin increases, grace abounds" theme of the whole book. This is good soul medicine--strong meat. It was grace from the beginning--in both primeval and patriarchal history. It always will be grace.
Genesis also provides us with a grand revelation of God's faithfulness as it recounts God's fidelity over and over again in the lives of the patriarchs. We see that God remains faithful even when the people to whom the promises are made become the greatest threat to the fulfillment of the promise. Such is God's faithfulness that the sinful, disordered lives of the promise-bearers can't abort the promises. This is the way God has always been. The New Testament puts it this way:
If we are faithless, he remains faithful--
for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)
Faithfulness is a primary reality about God--the Genesis reality. It's nothing new, but it is everything.
In regard to man, Genesis is eloquent: He is at the same time truly wonderful and truly awful. The bulk of Genesis affirms our terrible sinfulness. Even the best of the patriarchs are helpless, hopeless sinners. Not one ever comes to merit salvation. So we understand that from the first, salvation could come only through faith. Moses makes it clear that is how Abraham, the greatest of the patriarchs, was saved: "And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6). Paul would allude to this multiple times in the New Testament, saying of Abraham in Romans, "The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe ... so that righteousness would be counted to them as well" (4:11). There is only one way that fallen humanity can be saved--the Genesis way--by faith. There never has been another.
Who wrote Genesis? The Scriptures, both Old Testament and New Testament, affirm that Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible (Genesis through Deuteronomy; cf. Exodus 17:14; Deuteronomy 31:24; Joshua 8:31; 2 Kings 14:6; Romans 10:5; and 2 Corinthians 3:15). Most significantly Jesus himself confirms Mosaic authorship (cf. John 5:4547). Of course, Moses' writing was somewhat revised and added to by others. Moses would have had a hard time writing Deuteronomy 34, the last chapter of the book, which describes his death!
[Footnote 6: Gleason Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1964), p. 257 explains:
Only chapter 34 is demonstrably post-Mosaic, since it contains a short account of Moses' decease. But this does not endanger in the slightest the Mosaic authenticity of the other thirty-three chapters, for the closing chapter furnishes only that type of obituary which is often appended to the final work of great men of letters. An author's final work is often published posthumously (provided he has been writing up to the time of his death). Since Joshua is recorded to have been a faithful and zealous custodian of the Torah, Moses' literary achievement, it is quite unthinkable that he would have published it without appending such a notice of the decease of his great predecessor.]
Internal biblical dating points to the late fifteenth century B.C. at the time of or following the exodus when Israel wandered in the wilderness. In the dynamic context of the wilderness journey, as God's people dreamed of the promised land, they would naturally ask about Abraham and the patriarchs who had brought them down to Egypt. And beyond that they would ask about their ultimate origins. Thus God met Moses with his Word, giving him not only Genesis but what we call the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible.
[Footnote 7 : Ronald Youngblood, The Book of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991), pp. 14, 15 writes:
...archaeological evidence (primarily from Ebla in northern Syria) has tended to push back the dating of the patriarchal period. These factors in particular have strengthened the position of those who old to the 1445 date--a date that, in any case, fits better with a literal understanding of the internal biblical chronology than the 1290 date does. According to 1 Kings 6:1, Solomon began to build the temple in the fourth year of his reign over Israel, which was "the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites had come out of Egypt." The fourth year of Solomon's reign was about 966 B.C., and 480 years before that would give us a date of 1445 for the exodus. Israel's wanderings in the Sinai desert, under the leadership of Moses, would then have taken place during the forty years immediately following 1445 B.C. It would herefore seem safe to assume that Moses--a man suitably qualified for the task in terms of possessing the necessary education, motivation, energy, and time--wrote the Pentateuch, including the book of Genesis, late in the fifteenth century before Christ. ]
As we now consider the opening lines of Genesis, we must carefully note that Israel had just escaped the oppressive polytheism of Egypt's temples and pyramids with its solar and lunar gods. In Egypt, the pagan mytholo gies had opposed Israel's monotheism. In opposition to a single creator, the Egyptians taught pantheism and shored up their beliefs with elaborate myths of love affairs and reproduction among the gods, of warfare marking out the heavens and the earth. Their priests annually mimed their myths, hoping that by reenacting them they would create life. And that was not without effect. Some of God's people had succumbed to the lavish liturgies of the Nile.
So Moses took them on. These opening lines would forever establish a true understanding about God, the universe, and humanity. Moses began with a radical and sweeping affirmation of monotheism over polytheism.
[Footnote 8: Bruce Waltke, "The Literary Genre of Genesis Chapter One," Crux, Vol. XXVII, No. 4 (1991), pp. 2, 3.]
His style was one of calm, majestic, measured grandeur. Moses did not condescend to mention the pagan worldviews but answered them through deliberate, solemn utterances that dismissed the opposing cosmologies by silence and subtle allusion: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" (vv. 1, 2). The emphasis is threefold: first God, then the universe, and then the earth.
[Footnote 9 : U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1989), p. 7.]
GOD AND THE BEGINNING
Derek Kidner, one-time warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge, has pointed out that it is no accident that God is the subject of the first sentence of the Bible because his name here, Elohim, dominates the whole chapter--occurring some thirty-five times in all, so that it catches the reader's eye again and again. Kidner's point is that this section and indeed the entire book of Genesis is about God from first to last--and to read it any other way is to misread it. We will keep this advice in the forefront, especially as Genesis begins to focus on God the Son as the beginning and end of history.
[Footnote 10: Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), p. 43.]
Remarkably, the mystery of the Holy Trinity is embedded in the first three Hebrew words of the text (Bereshith bara Elohim) because the name "God," Elohim, is in the plural, and the verb "created" (bara) is in the singular, so that God (plural) created (singular). On the one hand the Bible teaches that God is a unity: "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4; cf. 1 Corinthians 8:6). On the other hand, it is equally as explicit that God is three persons (cf. Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14)--and that all three Persons were active in creation (God and the Spirit in Genesis 1:1, 2; God and the Son in John 1:1-3, 10; and the Son in Colossians 1:15-17 and Hebrews 1:1-3). So it is that we meet the awesome Triune God in the first three words of Biblical revelation!
[Footnote 11 : Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1--15, Vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), pp. 13, 14 explains:]
God was there in the beginning. And here the context means "the beginning" of time itself, not sometime within eternity. Later Moses would give God's presence at the beginning wonderful poetic expression when he sang,