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Just as Abraham walked through the land that he was promised without settling down to inherit the land, so we walk through the Bible, the land of promise, not yet in full possession of all that has been given to us. We have it already, we don’t have it yet.
As we will have occasion to repeat as we work our way through the Old Testament, the New Testament identifies some of the foundational books of the Old Testament simply by how often they are quoted. By this measurement, the most important books of the Old Testament are Genesis, Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Isaiah. This is one of many reasons why we must pay close attention to the book of Genesis.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth . . .” (Gen. 1:1).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Our usual practice is to take a text and then drill down into it. For this series of messages, the approach will be a bit different. We will take our text as a starting point, and then walk through the rest of the book that passage is in, trying to grasp the larger picture. Our approach will be more inductive than deductive, going from the smaller to the greater.
As our text indicates, this is the book of beginnings. Genesis gives us the Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and the call of Abraham and his seed. We have the beginning of the world, the beginning of work, the beginning of marriage, the beginning of music, the beginning of cities, and the beginning of God’s covenantal dealings with mankind. Everything starts here. If you get this book wrong, there will be a great deal wrong later on.
Genesis is framed or bookended by contrasting stories. God delivers His people from a great flood near the beginning of the book, and He delivers His people from a great drought at the end of it. Consider the respective roles of Noah and Joseph.
What are the dates of Genesis? How much time does it span? The book of Genesis extends from the Creation to the death of Joseph in Egypt, which happened circa 1600 B.C. Taking the date of creation as 4004 BC, as calculated by the good Bishop Ussher— the last theologian of note who was also good at math—this gives the book a span of multiple centuries, 24 of them to be exact. One book of the Bible encompasses 40% of all human history. This means that Joseph was as close in time to Charlemagne as he was to Adam. This is a few centuries more than the time of Christ until the present, so this should give us some perspective. So we have to read this one book, Genesis, beginning to end, with a time lapse camera.
The book divides naturally and readily into two sections. The first is found in Gen. 1-11, and has to do with human origins, the Fall, the history of the antediluvians, and the story of Noah. The second section tells the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was renamed Israel, and the twelve tribes of Israel came from his sons. The two sections deal respectively with the beginning of everything, and with the beginning of Israel—the beginning of the world, and the beginning of God’s redemptive purpose for that world.
THE AGE OF THE EARTH
As my earlier commendation of Ussher may have indicated, my perspective on Genesis is that which is called “young earth creationism.” Whether Mahalaleel was Jared’s father, grandfather, or great-grandfather, the fact remains that Mahalaleel was 65-years-old when somebody begat Jared (Gen. 5:15). Just get out your calculators.
But to take this position is not to argue that there are no literary or poetic elements in the first chapters of Genesis. Quite obviously, the first two chapters tell the story of creation from two different vantages, and in two different ways. This is a topic that needs far more time to treat it in adequate detail, but let me just say now that the presence of poetry does not automatically necessitate the presence of extended eons of time.
The issues involved are much greater than how many moments or years have ticked by. Obviously, by itself it is a matter of indifference how much time has elapsed or ticked by. It is nota matter of indifference to say that Scripture is mistaken, or that God used blood- soaked eons to create man, when the Bible plainly teaches that man was the one who created all the blood-soaked eons (Rom. 5:12). So do not, for the sake of a false peace with infidel geologists, give away the biblical answer to the problem of evil.
We have the foundation of what may be called the antithesis (3:14-15). Throughout all human history, we have a long war—perpetual antipathy between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman.
That antithesis takes shape through covenants, covenants on both sides (Gal. 4:24). Throughout Scripture, God is a covenant making God, and He begins making them with His people in Genesis. He makes a covenant with Noah (9:8-17), and through him, with all mankind. He makes a covenant with Abraham (12:2-7; 15:1-21; 17:3-8), which He renews with Isaac (26:3-5), and again with Jacob (28:13-15).
THE COVENANTAL JUKE MOVE
But the covenant is never made out of clunkity clunkity two by fours. Genesis also establishes God’s pattern of what we might call “election and a twist.” God calls out Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees. This shows God’s sovereign authority to recruit His
children from the children of idolaters. But then Genesis also shows God’s sovereign authority to recruit His heirs from unlikely places among His own children—Isaac, not Ishmael, Jacob, not Esau, Joseph, not Reuben, but then Judah, not Joseph. This pattern started at the very beginning—Abel, not Cain, and then Seth instead of Cain. Another riff on this same kind of pattern is His way—which begins in Genesis—of choosing barren women in order to accomplish this. Remember Sarah.
With this in mind, it is important to follow Judah’s story line. It does not begin in a promising way, but it ends with a promise (49:8-12). Judah starts out with his sins well exposed, but he ends by offering himself for his brother Benjamin (43:8-9).
YET ANOTHER COVENANTAL REVERSAL
One important story in Genesis links to another story in Joshua. Tamar tricked her father- in-law Judah into sleeping with her, and she conceived twins as a result. The first one out had a scarlet thread tied to his wrist (Zarah, 38:28), but his brother Pharez still got out first. Years later, at the battle of Jericho, Achan was executed for his treachery, and he was a descendant of Zarah. Rahab was delivered from the destruction of Jericho because she put a scarlet rope out her window. She and her household were saved, and she then married Salmon, a descendant of Pharez. The scarlet marker of the messianic line was transferred.
JESUS IN GENESIS
A preacher is tasked with the proclamation of Jesus. However valuable Bible survey courses might be, they have no place in the pulpit unless it culminates in the proclamation of Christ. Fortunately, every page of the Bible provides us with material, including every page of Genesis.
The book of Genesis ends with the set-up for the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt. Jacob’s household goes down into Egypt as part of a great deliverance. But however great the crop was this year, there will always be weeds in it the following spring. God always delivers His people, which means He always has to get them into a jam first. God always tells death and resurrection stories.
We have the same death and resurrection pattern in the Genesis flood—and this flood, Peter tells us, is a type of Christian baptism (1 Pet. 3:20-21).
Hagar and Sarah represent two covenants, Paul tells us in Galatians. One represents flesh- service rendered to God while the other represents evangelical heart-service (Gal. 4:24).
There are many ways to do this, but let me finish with the first great gospel promise, found in Genesis, just a few pages in from the beginning of the world. We learn a wonderful thing as we overhear what God said to the devil.
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).