Lecture 2: Genesis
Course: Understanding the Old Testament
Lesson 2 - Genesis
In lesson two we are going to start our study of the Old Testament itself. And as I said in lesson one, we will begin by treating the books of Moses, the law, that is: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. And as we start our study of the law, of God’s instruction to us, there are a few introductory matters I would like you to consider.
Introduction to the Law
I want you to know that practically every important Old Testament idea is introduced somewhere in the first five books of the Bible. These books are called the ‘Torah.’ Torah being the Hebrew word for ‘instruction’ in the Jewish tradition. Often times in the Christian tradition they are called the Pentateuch after the Greek words penta which means ‘five’ and teuchas which means ‘book.’ These five books certainly contain God’s law. But I want to caution you about something. To most current readers the word ‘law’ means rules, regulations, and restrictions. Now, certainly the Pentateuch has such material. The law has such material. But Torah, remember, also means ‘instruction.’ These books are trying to help us know how to live.
There are at least two types of actual laws found in these five books. The first is a command, such as those that occur in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17. The second category of law is the case law such as you will find in Exodus 21:1-11. Case laws tell the people what punishment fits specific crime. And case laws are built on commands. But before we ever reach Exodus 20, the first five books of the Bible offer us a different kind of instruction. These books tell us how the world came into existence. How sin began. How the Jewish nation was born. How Israel went to Egypt and how Moses led Israel to freedom. These chapters tell us that after creation the world fell into sin. And that God called out a single family to bless all nations. And He made them a kingdom of priests to proclaim His glory to all nations so that all the world might know Him. These books tell us about the fore fathers, the patriarchs, and of the first mothers, the matriarchs of Israel. And these books tell us that God is the creator, the covenant maker, the sustainer and the deliverer of His people. So these five books offer lots of different types of instruction.
It’s important to know who wrote the Pentateuch, who wrote the law, these first five books of the Bible. Biblical scholars have debated this question for hundreds of years. Many experts believe that Moses wrote all but a few versus of the books. While others say the material was written by many people over a long period of time. These books themselves say that Moses was writing them. See Exodus 24:4, Exodus 34:27, and so forth. The book of Leviticus, in particular, states that God gave these words to Moses. The book of Deuteronomy states that Moses is speaking out these words. And the New Testament and the rest of the Old Testament certainly consider the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, the Pentateuch, the words of Moses.
Of course Moses may have had scribes help him write his words. They may have taken words down at his dictation, at his command. But the Bible is clear that the books that we have before us have their origin in Moses. Most likely Moses lived about 1,450 years before Christ. It is possible he lived a little bit later, but most likely 1,450 to 1,400 would be the time period in which he ministered to Israel and he gave the materials we are about to study.
So the audience of the first five books of the Bible were originally people who had recently been slaves. People who needed to find their way in the world. People who were developing a new nation. People who had come out of a land that worshipped many gods so that they might worship the one, true and living God. But like us they were people confused by the cultures around them. They were tempted by money, sex, and power. They had many failings. And many of these failings are noted in the first five books of the Bible. But never forget that there are great heroes and heroines of faith in the first five books of the Bible. We see there Abraham and Sarah, we see Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel and Leah. We find Moses and Aaron and Miriam. We find Joshua and Caleb and others. So there are great examples of faithful people in these books. And we would do well to learn from their example just as Hebrews 11 says that we should.
Let’s look together at the book of Genesis. Genesis emphasizes that God creates, God judges sin, and God redeems His people. Again God creates, God judges sin, and God redeems. Let me give you an outline for the whole book that helps us see this overview and then we will come back to details.
The first section of the book is Genesis 1:1 through 11:9. And in these chapters we see God creating the heavens and the earth and human beings and sustaining the heavens, the earth, and the human beings. But we then see the human beings chose to sin against God. And suffer the effects of that sin. And we see God doing His utmost to redeem human beings from their sin. And we see God developing a plan by which people may be redeemed from those sins.
Genesis 11:10 – 25:18
Next Genesis 11:10 to Genesis 25:18 we see God calling out a people who will take His message to the nations. He calls the family of Abraham. Abraham becomes God’s special friend. Abraham is a man of faith. A flawed man, but a man of faith, who becomes the father of the people of Israel.
Genesis 25:19 – 36:43
Then, in Genesis 25:19 through Genesis 36:43 we see God protecting Abraham’s family in these chapters. Abraham passes from the scene but his son Isaac carries on the tradition of faith. And then Isaac’s son Jacob, a quite imperfect man, carries on the faith in his day. Abraham only has the one son, Isaac, who is the child of the promise, though he does have another son Esau. But Isaac is the son of promise who carries on the faith. Isaac has a son named Jacob and a son named Esau. Jacob becomes the carrier of faith and he has 12 sons who become the 12 tribes of Israel. And God has to protect Isaac from many enemies. He has to protect Jacob from all sorts of enemies and difficulties and troubles. But God does this in 25:19 through 36:43.
And finally in Genesis chapters 37 through 50, we have God preserving His people through His servant Joseph. Joseph is one of the sons of Jacob. His brothers are jealous of him and they sell him into slavery. He is taken down into Egypt where he becomes the means that God will use to preserve the family so they might become a blessing to all nations.
Let me recap those: Genesis 1:1 to 11:9: God creates the heavens and the earth, judges the sin of mankind. Genesis 11:10 to 25:18: God calls out the family to bless the nations. Abraham is the father of that family. Genesis 25:19 to 36:43: God protects that family through many trials and troubles and that family grows into a large number as Jacob has twelve sons who become the tribes of Israel. And then chapters 37 to 50 God preserves the people through His servant Joseph.
Contents of Genesis
Now let’s take a look at the contents of the book of Genesis together. We won’t be able to go through every verse in detail, but hopefully we will be able to hit some high points that will help us understand what follows in the Bible.
Of course we begin with creation, in Genesis 1 and 2. The text begins with an astounding statement in the Ancient Near Eastern context. It says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” What is astounding is here is that there is only one God acting here. And as the Bible proceeds we will find that it teaches that there is only one God. And that God rules all things, all people, and all history. This was an astounding claim in the ancient world and it is an astounding claim today. In the ancient world there was a general belief there were many, many gods. That belief is called polytheism. They believed there were gods who ruled different places, gods who were in charge of different functions, and gods who had chosen specific peoples to rule over. But the Bible was against that basic belief, teaches that there is only one God. That God has created the heavens and the earth.
And in our world today there is a major belief in many gods. One only has to consider the nation India, that great nation with over a billion people. One of its major religions is Hinduism. And Hinduism, of course, believes that there are many hundreds, if not thousands and millions, of gods. And that each one of these gods has power and each one of these gods has a roll in the universe. But the Christian witness, the witness of the Scriptures, the witness of the Old Testament, is there is only one God, and that He is the creator.
The text goes on to tell us that God creates the heavens and the earth. That the heavens and the earth were without form and void and darkness was over the face of the deep. But the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. God was working to bring order out of all of this chaos. And as the text unfolds in 1:1 through 2:4, the text tells us that God creates the following: day one, light; day two, skies above the earth; day three, dry land, seas and vegetation; day four, sun, moon, and stars; day five, water animals, and birds; day six, cattle, land, animals, and human beings; and day seven, God creates rest.
We can see right away that this is a very orderly account of creation. It moves from the creation of light, to vegetation, to cattle, to human beings on the land. We can see it’s not as detailed as we might like. In thirty five short verses we move from chaos and nothingness to a full earth that is thriving. The Bible doesn’t tell us how bright the light was on day one. It does not tell us how many species of animals were created by day six. But it does tell us that God Himself has created this. It is not here by chance. It tells us that the world is an orderly place; it is no longer in chaos. And it tells us in Genesis 1:26-31 that human beings have a special role in creation.
Genesis 1:26 says “Then God said let Us make man in Our own image, after Our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish in the sea and over the birds in the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in His own image. In the image of God He created them. Male and female He created them. And God blessed them and said to them: be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. And subdue it and have dominion over the fish in the sea and over the birds in the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Human beings are given special responsibilities. In fact, they are a bit of a sub regent. That is they are assigned a role as rulers over the earth under the authority of God.
And human beings are to take care of the earth, to manage it, to use its recourses wisely and to fill the earth in an effective way. They are not to abuse the earth. They are not to act as if they own the earth. They are to use it in appropriate, helpful ways. The human beings are the crowning glory of God’s creation. The world is made for us but we are made responsible for this creation. And then on day seven God rested. He gave an example to us that work is not to consume us. That doing is not all there is to living but rather He gave us an example of resting. Not because He was tired but because we needed to know that our resources, our physical resources, our financial resources are not endless. We need rest. And the word simply means ceasing. And leaves it up to our wisdom to help us know how best we should rest.
Once God created the heavens and the earth He placed mankind on the earth. And in Genesis 2 it tells us that God gave the man work to do. He was indeed a keeper of the ground. And he was a keeper of animals. And a namer of animals. And then God created for the man a helper suitable for him. A mate, He created woman. And the first man and woman were naked and they were not ashamed. They were walking with God and having a relationship with Him. They were in perfect harmony with one another. And of this relationship, 2:23 says, “The man says of this at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman because she was taken out of man. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall now become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and they were not ashamed.”
Genesis 1:2 shows us that God created a beautiful world. A world in which there is no sin, no suffering, no sorry, nor any death. And over and over in Genesis 1 God says “and it is good” “and it is good” “and it is good.” He created the world and human beings: good and able and true.
The Fall into Sin (3)
But in Genesis 3 we find that the good creation has become marred by sin. Genesis 3 tells us without any introduction that there was a serpent who was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. And the serpent said to the woman: “Did God actually say you shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” You recall in Genesis 2 that God had said to them you may live in this garden; you may continue this wonderful life you have together. But there is one rule: you must not eat of this tree. The serpent reminds her of this: “Did God say you should not eat of any tree of the garden?” So he makes God’s command look even worse. He has expanded it; it’s not just that she could not eat of the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden. He says did God say you can’t have anything.
But the woman says “We may eat of the fruits of the trees of the garden. But God said you shall not eat of the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it lest you die. God had indeed said to them in Genesis 2 that if they sinned against His word, if they broke His simple law of not eating of the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden, death would be the result. The woman understands what God has said. But the serpent says to the woman, “You shall not surely die” in other words the serpent denied God’s word. He goes on to defame God’s character. He says in verse 5, “for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God knowing good and evil.” He denies God’s word, he defames God’s character. Now of course the woman should know better. She knows God. She knows He has created the world. She knows that He has given them a wonderful place to live. She knows that He has only given them one standard they must keep.
Nonetheless, verse 6 says, “So when the woman saw the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes. That the tree was to be desired to make one wise she took of its fruit and ate. And she also gave some to her husband who was with her and he ate. Both of them break the standard that the God who made them, the God who walked with them, the God who provided for them, the God they knew, they broke His word. Verse 7 “In the eyes of both were open and they knew that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together. And they made themselves loincloths. They were ashamed now that they were naked. They couldn’t look at one another.” Not only that, in 3:8 on through verse 13 the text tells us that God comes to speak with them as He has before. Remember they have a relationship with one another. And yet the people have sinned against this relationship. And they are afraid to see God for they know they have sinned. The man blames the woman for the sin. The woman blames the serpent.
Sin always carries consequences. And here are the consequences for the very first sin: 3:14 the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock, and above all beast of the field. On your belly you shall go and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 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.” The first consequence of what has happened comes to the serpent. God tells him that he will not prevail. There will come a child from the woman who will crush the serpents head. Yes, the serpent will bruise His heel, but the serpent will be destroyed. He will have the worse of this encounter.
As the Bible unfolds we learn that this is the first promise of grace. When mankind began to sin God immediately showed His grace. And He made a promise that there is coming One who would defeat the serpent. A promise that is fulfilled as the Scriptures unfold is fulfilled through Jesus. As the Old Testament unfolds it gives us more details about what this Person who will defeat the serpent will be like. We don’t have all the information in this first passage, it is but the beginning. But we do see God’s grace at work immediately. And the promise is that Someone will come through the woman who will defeat the serpent.
But what about the people? What is the consequence for them? Verse 16 the text tells, “To the woman I said I will multiply your pain in childbearing, in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” Scholars have long debated what this means but I think the gist of it is this: the woman has found out that her relationship with her husband will be changed now. It will not be the perfect relationship they had. She will desire one thing at times and get another. There will be pain between the two of them. And there will be pain in her child bearing and in her child rearing. What once would not have been a difficult experience now will be. And as the Scriptures unfold we see all sorts of pain between mothers and their children. We see all sorts of pain between husbands and wives. We see many wonderful things as well. It is not all gloom and doom and pain and sorrow. But no longer is the relationship perfect by nature.
What about the man? In verse 17 to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and eaten of the tree of which I have commanded of which you shall not eat of it, cursed is the ground because of you. In pain you shall 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 until you shall return to the ground for out of it you were taken. For you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Adam finds out that he will continue to work. And he will continue to do what God has made him to do: take care of the animals, to take care of the ground. But now he will work at things and things won’t always work out. He will plant and yes the ground will give forth what it should give forth but it will also give forth thorns and thistles. He will have to struggle now with an imperfect world. The animals that once were at peace with him some of them will become his enemies. Things will not be as they were. As the Bible unfolds we see men and women struggling to do their work. We see them achieve great things but we also see that sin mars what they do. That no longer can we expect our work to always to be blessed as it was before.
Effects of Sin on the Human Race (4–6)
From this point on in the Bible we see the effects of sin and the suffering and the pain and the death that comes with it. We have early examples in chapters 4, 5, and 6. We see that Adam and Eve’s children, Cain and Abel, are unable to get along and Cain kills his brother. We go on in the text and we see the human race do great things in chapter 4 verse 17 and following. We see them learning to play musical instruments. We see them learning to make bronze and iron implements. But we also see in 4:23 to 24 a man named Lamech who is brutal and ruthless and vengeful. We see corruption in the earth in chapter 6 to the extent that when we get to verse 5: “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.” Sin accelerates at a tremendous rate, so that the world is filled with corruption, with wickedness and with violence. From the original sin in chapter 3 to this point, we see sin taking over the good world that God had created.
New Beginning with Noah and His Family (6–9)
But God is not left without a plan or without power. He is not helpless. Chapter 6 and verse 6 says “And the Lord was sorry that He had 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.” In other words, sin will be punished. God said I will remove it all from My earth. But then in verse 8, chapter 6 “but Noah found favor in the eyes of God.” God had not left Himself without any followers on earth. There was Noah and his family. And God’s grace extended to Noah. And as you probably know from the famous story God asks Noah to make an ark, a boat. Why? Because God has decided to destroy all the wicked people on the earth and to begin afresh with Noah and his family. The Bible tells us that God uses a great flood to destroy the wicked on the earth. And that Noah and his family and the animals that he has gathered survive this flood. And God begins again with Noah and his family. In chapter 8 verse 20 as Noah and his family and the animals they have with them come from their boat, Noah builds an altar as a place of worship to the Lord. And Noah took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offering on the altar. That is, Noah did what ancient men knew to do: he offered a sacrifice to God. A sacrifice had many purposes. It could be for sin. It could be out of joy that God had done something wonderful. It could be offered to help priest be sustained. We will see all these things later in our story. But for now Noah is giving a burnt offering, he has killed an animal, and will burn it up completely on an altar to give thanks to God that he has been delivered through this flood. And in 8:21, “The Lord smelled the aroma and said, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.’” God had decided that this one punishment, that this one great catastrophe because of sin will be enough. He will not judge sin again in this manner again. This is His grace to the world. Then in 9:1, “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.’” In other words He gives them the same command that He originally gave Adam and Eve. Verse 2, “The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” And so as in Genesis 1:26-31 God gives Noah and his family the responsibility and the power over the earth.
Verse 4, “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I’ll require a reckoning. From every beast, I will require it of man. For his fellow man I’ll require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed. For God made man in His image. But you be fruitful and multiply, teaming on the earth and multiply in it.” Then God said to Noah and his sons with him “Behold I establish My covenant with you and your offspring after you and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock and every beast of the earth with you. As many as came out of the ark. It is for every beast of the earth, I establish My covenant with you that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood. And never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said this is the sign of the covenant that I make with Me and you and every living creature that is with you for all future generations. I have set My bow in the clouds, it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.”
There are several things we need to unpack here. Let’s remind ourselves in Genesis 1 and 2 God has created the heavens and the earth. And He has put human beings in charge of it. And all is good. But in Genesis 3 to 6 human beings have so sinned against God and so defiled the earth that God has decided to judge the earth with a great flood. This great flood comes and in chapter 8 it ends and Noah comes out of the ark and offers a sacrifice of praise to God. In response, God does certain things. First, God begins again with Noah. He tells him to fill the earth. And he and his family do that. He is told to rule over the earth, to take care of it. And he begins the process of doing that. And then God says that the whole human race shall be careful not to shed blood that is chapter 9 verse 6. In particular they are not to do violence to one another. God will hold the whole earth accountable for this command. And as the Old Testament unfolds we see that God will hold nations accountable who shed innocent blood. He holds individuals accountable for shedding innocent blood.
Now there is a very important word that God uses in 9:11. It is the word ‘covenant.’ And it is an extremely important concept for the rest of the Bible. In fact, it is hard to over-emphasize how very important it is. The word ‘covenant’ means a binding agreement that reflects a relationship between two parties. A covenant is always made between persons or nations who have a relationship already. God had a relationship with Noah and with his family. God had a relationship with the human race then. And a covenant reflects that relationship by setting standards for the relationship. And God says in this case the covenant requires that you not shed innocent blood, that you take command of the creatures and that you rule the earth appropriately. “And I will give you a sign that I am blessing this covenant. I will give you the sign of the bow in the clouds.”
So any time we see a rainbow we need to be reminded not just of the beauty of the earth. But we need to be reminded God has made a covenant with the human race by making a covenant with Noah. He will hold us accountable for how we live before Him particularly in the area of violence, and oppression and abuse. That He promises to not to destroy the earth by flood again. That He has given us His bow. Again let me emphasize the importance of seeing this covenant and understanding the concept. A covenant reflects a relationship. It does not create it. The standards of the covenant reflect the relationship. And always the standards as they are kept bring a blessing to the faithful person. But when a covenant is broken there will always be consequences.
Covenants are always made between a greater person and a lesser person. God is the greater person, Noah is the lesser person. The lesser person must obey the greater or suffer the consequences. As the Bible proceeds we will see individuals making covenants. But we will also see God make different covenants with different people for different purposes. We will also see that nations make covenants with one another. But the covenants always have these elements: they reflect a relationship that already exists, they give structure and standards for how the relationship will unfold, they give blessings for obedience, and they give consequences for disobedience. And this first covenant that God makes with Noah is one that is made with the whole human race, for the whole human races’ benefit, so the whole human race may avoid the sins that have already degraded the human race so greatly.
Rebellion at the Tower of Babel (11:1-9)
So the world has a new start through Noah. And in chapter 10 the Bible tells us that the family of Noah expands and the world is filled with people. But chapter 11, verses 1 to 9 tell us sadly the world has not learned its lesson. They build a great tower out of disobedience to God and desire to exalt themselves above God. And God has to scatter the people throughout the world, scattering them with different languages. They no longer can have the unity that they had before because when human beings have unity, unfortunately, they often try use it to sin against God and to exalt themselves above God. So when we come to the end of the first section of Genesis we see that God has created a good world, He has created human beings to lead this world but that we have a terrible, terrible problem. And this problem is sin. And it is pervasive; it is throughout the world. It is in every human being.
The Call of Abraham (11:10 – 12:9)
What will God do about this sin? What will God do about this world wide problem? We find out in the second section of Genesis, chapter 11, verse 10 through chapter 25:18 that God will deal with this problem by calling a man and his family to be His special people. This man’s name is Abram. And toward the end of his life God changes his name to Abraham. We are told of the existence of Abram in 11:10-32. That he is a man from Ur in the land of the Chaldeans.
When we get to the time of Abraham we begin to be able to date events with some accuracy. Abram lived about 2,000 years before Christ. At this stage of history we do well to get within one or two centuries of the right time frame. We simply do not have enough evidence outside of what we have in the Bible to be able to fix the dates any better than that. There are other ancient records from the time of Abraham that help us understand that the Bible gives an accurate portrait of what life was like in those days. Abram is from the city of Ur. That is about 186 miles southeast of modern day Bagdad. And Ur was founded near the Euphrates River. So when we think about Abram we need to think that he was from what we know today basically as the land of Iraq.
During this time period there were many people moving about in the ancient world and Abram was one of them, 12:1, “Now the Lord said to Abram go from your country and your kindred from your father’s house to the land 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 the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This is an extraordinarily important passage. The great sin problem that has been set up in Genesis 1 through 11 will be dealt with through Abraham. Just as all nations have sinned, so all nations will be blessed through Abram.
And God makes promises to Abram. He tells him, “Go from your county and I will make you a great nation.” And as the Bible unfolds we see he is the father not only of the nation of Israel through his son Isaac, but also the father of many other nations through his son Ishmael. God blesses him with much wealth and God gives him a great name, makes him quite famous to this very day. As we are going to see, promises that all nations are will be blessed through him.
Remember in Genesis 3:15 God said that the serpent would not always triumph over men and women, but that the women would eventually produce a child who would defeat the serpent. We don’t know in the Bible at this stage who that child will be but we can see whose family he will come from. All nations will be blessed through Abraham’s family so we begin to think that the serpent will also be defeated through Abraham’s family. Turn to Genesis 12, “Having heard these promises Abram went as the Lord had told him and Lot went with him. Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran.” That is verse 4. Now verse 5, “And Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son and all their possessions that they had gathered and the people they had acquired in Haran and they set out to go to the land of Canaan.”
This was a great journey from the land of what we know as Iraq to the land we know as Israel. Verse 6, “Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem to the oak at Moreh and at that time the Canaanites were in the land.” These were the original inhabitants of what we know as Palestine, Israel, Gaza Strip, Northern Egypt. Verse 7, “The Lord appeared to Abram and said to your offspring I will give this land. So they built there an altar to the Lord who appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country to the east of Bethel and pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord and Abram journeyed on still going toward the Negev that is to the Sinai desert.” He was heading south toward Egypt.
God not only promised him he would have a great name. And that he would be blessed and he would be a blessing to all nations. God said He would give him the land of Canaan, the land we know as the Holy Land. Now we need to understand that God promised to give him this land so that he could be a blessing to all nations. This land was not given to him or to anyone else so that they may fulfill their own plans, their own wishes and carry out their own agenda. That land was there to be a blessing to all people. That they might come to know God the Creator. They might come to know God the one who promises to defeat the serpent. That they may come to know God who made promises to Noah. And they would come to know God who called Abram out of the land of Ur to the land of Canaan.
Abraham’s Struggle for Faith (12:10 – 25:18)
During his lifetime, Abram shows himself faithful in a number of ways but also a quite frail human being in a number of others. He has the faith to follow God’s commands and go to a land he had never seen before. Yet when he gets there according to chapter 12:10-20 he doesn’t always trust God, fears for his life and tells lies about his wife. Yet God delivers him. In chapters 13 and 14, he is threatened by war and by loss yet he is a faithful man and God delivers him.
Several years pass and we come to chapter 15. You remember that God has promised to make Abraham a great nation. Yet Abram and Sarah have no child. There is no way that they can become a great nation without a child. In 15:1, “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Fear not Abram, I am your shield, your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me for I am childless and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus.’ And Abram said, ‘Behold you have given me no offspring and a member of my household will be my heir.’” You can see he is quiet discouraged by his lack of a child. God has been good to him. God has forgiven him of his sins. God has protected him and blessed him everywhere he has gone and yet there is no son, there is no child.
Genesis 15:4, “Behold the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man will not be your heir. Your very own son shall be your heir.’ And He brought him outside and said look toward heaven and number of stars if you are able to number them. And He said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he [that is Abraham] believed the Lord and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness.” God makes a promise to Abraham that though there has been no child there will be a child and the descendants that will come from that child will be as numerous as the stars.
Abram believes God. The One who has called him. The One who has blessed him. The One who has made promises to him. He believes God and God’s promises and God counts that as righteousness, counts his believe as if he has done the right thing. Counts it as if it is real, because it is. This chapter is cited many times in the Bible but it begins our understanding, a clear understanding, that our relationship with God is based on faith. God has made a covenant with us because of who He is. He reaches out to Abram, He reaches out to Noah, and He reaches out to us today saying, “I am the Creator. I am the One who sustains you. I am the One who loves you. I am the one who forgives you and leads you wherever you go.” And by faith we put our trust in Him and we live according to His standards. Genesis 15:6 is a formative verse to biblical writers. We will see it again in Habakkuk 2:4. We will see it again in Romans 4.
We see that those who put their trust in God are right with Him and they walk with Him and they love Him and He saves them. Salvation comes by faith, not by our works. Our works are the result of our relationship with God and our faith in Him, they are not the cause of them. From cover to cover the Bible teaches that it is faith in God and in His word and in His promises and in His provisions for salvation that make us right with Him. So Abraham is a man of faith even though he is an imperfect man. We see in chapter 16 he doesn’t wait on God’s promise he has a son named Ishmael through a woman named Hagar, a surrogate mother provided by his wife Sarai.
Nevertheless, God continues with him. God, in chapter 17, establishes circumcision as the sign of the covenant with Abraham. Tells Abraham that all his children shall be circumcised. All his people throughout the years will be known as the people of circumcision. That the males shall be circumcised as a sign of God’s covenant with Abram. And it is in chapter 17 that God changes the name of Abram to Abraham. The name Abraham means father of a multitude of nations. Whereas Abram had meant exalted father. I want to apologize to you for all the times in this tape I’ve already said Abraham when I should have been saying Abram. It is just a habit of mine. But it is not until chapter 17 that as God establishes circumcision as a sign of the covenant that He changes the name from Abram to Abraham. And from this time forth, circumcision becomes the sign of the covenant.
Chapter 17 and 18 we also have the great news that God finally gives Abraham a son, will give him a son. And in chapter 21, a son is born. His name is Isaac. And it is through Isaac that God will keep the promise to bless all nations through Abraham. Abraham’s son Ishmael is greatly blessed of the Lord. He becomes the father of nations himself and God gives him great gifts, wealth, and honor. But it is through Isaac that the focus of God’s promises come.
In chapter 22 God tests Abraham’s faith. He tells him to take his son Isaac, the son of promise and to make him a human sacrifice. Abraham obeys without question. He is ready to do what God asks him to do. He is ready to sacrifice the only son he has and according to the New Testament it is because he knows God can raise him from the dead. But at the last second, God stays his hand and tells him not to sacrifice the boy and provides a lamb. He says these words in 22:12, God says, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him for now I know you fear God seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son from Me.” Abraham proves himself to be a man of faith. He trusts God, he trust God’s word. He will do whatever God asks. And God gives him his son back and they continue on in their lives.
God provides a wife for Isaac named Rebecca and then in 25:1-18 the Bible tells us Abraham dies. Just to give a brief summary 11:10–25:18, remember that the world is in a terrible predicament, filled with sin and yet God has a plan that through Abraham all nations will be blessed. And He gives Abraham a son named Isaac through whom the promises continue. This son believes in the one, true, living God the way Abraham did. This son is also a man of faith. But God is showing us all nations will be blessed, the sin problem will be resolved, it will be resolved by God’s promises, by our faith in Him through His covenant with Abraham and with Noah.
This is a very brief course so I will have to pick up some speed here. I hope you will see that I tried to spend a little extra time in Genesis so we can lay the foundation for what follows.
Isaac: The Promise Continues (25:19–26:35)
I will just note a few things: Genesis 25:19–36:43, God does protect Isaac and Jacob. And He makes certain that Jacob has twelve sons who will become the twelve tribes of Israel. They are the fathers of all the future Israelite clans. Isaac is a quiet man. A man who journeys quite a bit in his life. Who endures a great deal of opposition from the people of the land. Like his father he lives in Canaan. Like his father he is promised that this land will eventually belong to his descendants. But like his father is greatly in the minority and the land is not his yet.
He is also an imperfect man. He favors his son Esau over his other son Jacob. He and his wife don’t have a great open and honest relationship. Yet Isaac trusts in the God who created the heavens and the earth. The God who made a covenant with Noah. The God who made promises to Abram. He serves no other God. His faith is intact.
His son Jacob is also an imperfect man. Jacob tricks his brother Esau at many points. The first time he tricks and bests his brother is in the issue of their birthright, the future leadership of the clan. One day Esau comes back from hunting and he is very hungry. He sees his brother cooking some stew and asks for some food. Jacob asks that he give over his birthright which usually went to the older son in exchange for the stew. Oddly Esau makes the bargain. The text says he despises his birthright. He doesn’t care anything about leading the clan. He gives it over for just a little bit of food.
I once heard a sermon years ago that said Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of chili and I think that’s about right. He was not about to starve to death, the family was rich, he just thought so little of being the leader of his family that he sold that right to his brother for a little bit to eat, for a snack. Later on however there is the issue of the blessing. The blessing was the spiritual leadership and the financial leadership of the family. And Isaac was ready to give that blessing to Esau. Jacob outmaneuvered his brother again.
Jacob: The Reluctant Heir of Faith (27–36)
Chapter 27 tells us Isaac has grown old and his eyesight has failed. He doesn’t know how long he will live so he prepares to die. He tells Esau to go get him some food to cook him a meal and he will give him the blessing. Isaacs’s wife Rebecca, who favors her younger son Jacob over her older son Esau, cooks up a plan of her own. She has Jacob dress up like Esau and go in to deceive his father into blessing him. And the deception works. Isaac blesses Jacob.
It is Jacob who has the leadership in the family. It is Jacob who is the spiritual head of the family. It is Jacob who has the financial leadership of the clan. And when Esau hears this he is enraged and threatens to kill his brother. So Jacob is sent far away. And his mother who works so hard to help him get ahead of his brother never sees him again.
But God protects Jacob while he is away and He brings him back to the land, and reconciles him with his brother. God protects the family. God protects the family even from its own sins and its own divisions and its own failures. And God protects the family so that there are plenty of children to build the nation promised to Abraham. By the end of chapter 36, Jacob has 12 sons and a daughter. His family is beginning to multiply. God is keeping His promise.
Joseph: The Completion of the Promise (37–50)
In chapters 37 through 50, we see that the divisions in Jacob’s family have an ugly result. Jacob favors his younger son Joseph over all the others and puts him in charge of the brothers. Out of jealousy, they sell him as a slave and Joseph goes down to Egypt. Joseph spends a great deal of time in prison. He endures much trouble and persecution and sorrow.
But he is able to interpret dreams and the day comes when Egypt’s leader Pharaoh has a dream that no one can interpret but Joseph. He interprets the dream as follows: there will be years of plenty followed by terrible years of famine. Egypt should prepare for the famine. It should lay up lots of food against coming hard times. And Egypt should do so now. Pharaoh makes Joseph, who has been a prisoner till now, prime minister of Egypt. He puts him in charge of laying up the food against the time of famine.
Meanwhile, the famine does begin. Back home Jacob and his remaining sons are about to run out of food. So the sons come to Egypt to buy food. And unknown to them they are standing before Joseph, their brother, the prime minister of Egypt, asking for food. Joseph has a dilemma. He could seek revenge; he could do to his brothers what they have done to him. But he decides to take a different course. He forgives them. He tells them that worse times are ahead, that God has sent him ahead of them to preserve life. The brothers and their families come to Joseph in Egypt. He provides for them food and work and homes. And they settle in the land of Egypt.
Their father Jacob comes to Egypt and he rejoices to see his lost son. Jacob dies in Egypt but he makes his sons promise that when he dies they will take him back and bury him in the land of promise, back in Canaan, where Isaac is buried. Back in Canaan where Abraham is buried. This burial will be a down payment on the promise that God will give them the land. It is an act of faith that the land that God promises will be theirs someday. So that that their family might bless all nations by living for God in that land.
By the end of Genesis, God has kept His promises to Abram in the following way: He blessed and protected Abraham. He gave Abraham a son. That son had a son who had 12 sons. And from those 12 sons grows a great nation. God kept His promise to give Abraham descendants and to make him a great nation.
But what of the promise to bless all nations through them? And what of the promise that they will have the land of Canaan? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob are buried there but the people are not there. They are in Egypt. They are becoming a great nation but they have no homeland. They have blessed other nations, particularly Egypt by their presence but they are yet to become a blessing to all nations. So when the book of Genesis ends we see quite clearly that God creates the heavens and the earth. And He judges sin through the flood, through the scattering of the people, through the muddling of their languages and yet that He has a plan of redemption for all the nations that will come through Abraham. And that Abraham’s descendants will be a great nation in a great land with a great purpose. What we need to see next is how all of this unfolds.