THE FIRST BOOK OF MOSES CALLED GENESIS
The English title, Genesis, comes from the Greek translation (Septuagint, LXX), meaning "origins"; whereas, the Hebrew title is derived from the Bible's very first word, translated "in the beginning." Genesis serves to introduce the Pentateuch (the first five books of the OT) and the entire Bible. The influence of Genesis in Scripture is demonstrated by being quoted over thirty-five times in the NT, with hundreds of allusions appearing in both testaments. The story line of salvation begins in Genesis 3 and is not completed until Revelation 21 and 22 where the eternal kingdom of redeemed believers is gloriously pictured.
Author and Date
While (1) the author does not identify himself in Genesis and (2) Genesis ends almost three centuries before Moses was born, both the OT (Ex. 17:14; Num. 33:2; Josh. 8:31; 1 Kin. 2:3; 2 Kin. 14:6; Ezra 6:18; Neh. 13:1; Dan. 9:11, 13; Mal. 4:4) and the NT (Matt. 8:4; Mark 12:26; Luke 16:29; 24:27, 44; John 5:46; 7:22; Acts 15:1; Rom. 10:19; 1 Cor. 9:9; 2 Cor. 3:15) ascribe this composition to Moses, who is the fitting author in light of his educational background (cf. Acts 7:22). No compelling reasons have been forthcoming to legitimately challenge Mosaic authorship. Genesis was written after the Exodus (c. 1445 B.C.), but before Moses' death (c. 1405 B.C.). For a brief biographical sketch of Moses, read Exodus 1–6.
Background and Setting
The initial setting for Genesis is eternity past. God, by willful act and divine Word, then spoke all creation into existence, furnished it, and finally breathed life into a lump of dirt which He fashioned in His image to become Adam. God made mankind the crowning point of His creation, i.e., His companions who would enjoy fellowship with Him and bring glory to His name.
The historical background for the early events in Genesis is clearly Mesopotamian. While it is difficult to pinpoint precisely the historical moment for which this book was written, Israel first heard Genesis sometime prior to crossing the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land (c. 1405 B.C.).
Genesis has three distinct, sequential geographical settings: (1) Mesopotamia (chs. 1–11); (2) the Promised Land (chs. 12–36); and (3) Egypt (chs. 37–50). The time frames of these three segments are: (1) Creation to c. 2090 B.C.; (2) 2090–1897 B.C.; and (3) 1897–1804 B.C. Overall, Genesis covers more time than the remaining books of the Bible combined.
Historical and Theological Themes
In this book of beginnings, God revealed Himself and a worldview to Israel which contrasted, at times sharply, with the worldview of Israel's neighbors. The author made no attempt to defend the existence of God or to present a systematic discussion of His person and works. Rather, Israel's God distinguished Himself clearly from the alleged gods of her neighbors. Theological foundations are revealed which include God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, man, sin, redemption, covenant, promise, Satan and angels, kingdom, revelation, Israel, judgment, and blessing.
Genesis 1–11 (primeval history) reveals the origins of the universe, i.e., the beginnings of time and space and many of the firsts in human experience, such as marriage, family, the Fall, sin, redemption, judgment, and nations. Genesis 12–50 (patriarchal history) explained to Israel how they came into existence as a family whose ancestry could be traced to Eber (hence the "Hebrews"; Gen. 10:24, 25) and even more remotely to Shem, the son of Noah (hence the "Semites"; Gen. 10:21). God's people came to understand not only their ancestry and family history, but also the origins of their institutions, customs, languages, and different cultures, especially basic human experiences such as sin and death.
Because they were preparing to enter Canaan and dispossess the Canaanite inhabitants of their homes and properties, God revealed their enemies' backgrounds. In addition, they needed to understand the actual basis of the war they were about to declare, in light of the immorality of killing, consistent with the other four books that Moses was writing (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Ultimately, the Jewish nation would understand a selected portion of preceding world history and the inaugural background of Israel as a basis by which they would live in their new beginnings under Joshua's leadership in the land that had previously been promised to their original patriarchal forefather, Abraham.
Genesis 12:1–3 established a primary focus on God's promises to Abraham. This narrowed their view from the entire world of peoples in Genesis 1–11 to one small nation, Israel, through whom God would progressively accomplish His redemptive plan. This underscored Israel's mission to be "a light to the Gentiles" (Is. 42:6). God promised land, descendants (seed), and blessing. This threefold promise became, in turn, the basis of the covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:1–20). The rest of Scripture bears out the fulfillment of these promises.
On a larger scale, Genesis 1–11 sets forth a singular message about the character and works of God. In the sequence of accounts which make up these chapters, a pattern emerges which reveals God's abundant grace as He responded to the willful disobedience of mankind. Without exception, in each account God increased the manifestation of His grace. But also without exception, man responded in greater sinful rebellion. In biblical words, the more sin abounded, the more did God's grace abound (cf. Rom. 5:20).
One final theme of both theological and historical significance sets Genesis apart from other books of Scripture, in that the first book of Scripture corresponds closely with the final book. In the Book of Revelation, the paradise which was lost in Genesis will be regained. The apostle John clearly presented the events recorded in his book as future resolutions to the problems which began as a result of the curse in Genesis 3. His focus is on the effects of the Fall in the undoing of creation and the manner in which God rids His creation of the curse effect. In John's own words, "And there shall be no more curse" (Rev. 22:3).
Not surprisingly, in the final chapter of God's Word, believers will find themselves back in the Garden of Eden, the eternal paradise of God, eating from the Tree of Life (Rev. 22:1–14). At that time, they will partake, while wearing robes washed in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 22:14).
Grasping the individual messages of Genesis which make up the larger plan and purpose of the book presents no small challenge since both the individual accounts and the book's overall message offer important lessons for faith and works. Genesis presents creation by divine fiat, ex nihilo, i.e., "out of nothing." Three traumatic events of epic proportions — the Fall, the universal flood, and the dispersion of nations — are presented as historical backdrop in order to understand world history. From Abraham on, the pattern is to focus on God's redemption and blessing.
The customs of Genesis often differ considerably from those of modern times. They must be explained against their ancient Near Eastern background. Each custom must be treated according to the immediate context of the passage before any attempt is made to explain it based on customs recorded in extrabiblical sources or even elsewhere in Scripture.
Genesis by content is comprised of two basic sections: (1) Primitive history (Gen. 1–11) and (2) Patriarchal history (Gen. 12–50). Primitive history records four major events: (1) creation (Gen. 1; 2); (2) the Fall (Gen. 3–5); (3) the flood (Gen. 6–9); and (4) the dispersion (Gen. 10; 11). Patriarchal history spotlights four great men: (1) Abraham (Gen. 12:1–25:8); (2) Isaac (Gen. 21:1– 35:29); (3) Jacob (Gen. 25:21–50:14); and (4) Joseph (Gen. 30:22–50:26).
The literary structure of Genesis is built on the frequently recurring phrase "the history/ genealogy of" and is the basis for the following outline.
I. The Creation of Heaven and Earth (1:1–2:3)
1:1 This description of God creating heaven and earth is understood to be: (1) recent, i.e., thousands not millions of years ago; (2) ex nihilo, i.e., out of nothing; and (3) special, i.e., in six, consecutive, twenty-four-hour periods called "days" and further distinguished as such by this phrase, "the evening and the morning." Scripture does not support a creation date that makes the earth any more than about ten thousand years old. In the beginning. While God exists eternally (Ps. 90:2), this marked the beginning of the universe in time and space. In explaining Israel's identity and divine purpose for being to her on the plains of Moab, God wanted His people to know about the origin of the world in which they found themselves. God. Elohim, which means "supreme one," is a general term for deity and a specific name for the true God, though it is used also at times, in a relative sense, for pagan gods (31:30), angels (Ps. 8:5), men (Ps. 82:6), and judges (Ex. 21:6). Moses made no attempt to defend the existence of God, which is assumed; nor did he explain what He was like in person or how He works, which is treated elsewhere (cf. Is. 43:10, 13). All are to be believed by faith. (cf. Heb. 11:3, 6). created. This word is used here of God's creative activity alone, although it occasionally is used elsewhere of matter which already existed (Is. 65:18). Context demands, in no uncertain terms, that this was a creation without preexisting material (as does other Scripture: cf. Is. 40:28; 45:8, 12, 18; 48:13; Jer. 10:16; Acts 17:24). A simple decree from God brought the created thing into being. Matter emerged from that which was immaterial. Out of nothing, in an instant, the universe — with all its space and matter — was made by God's decree. The universe — at least its energy and mass — began to exist in some form. theheavens and the earth.All of God's creation is incorporated into this summary statement which includes all six, consecutive days of creation.
1:2 without form, and void. This means "not finished in its shape and, as yet, uninhabited by creatures" (cf. Is. 45:18, 19; Jer. 4:23). The Hebrew expression signifies a wasteland, a desolate place. The earth was an empty place of utter desolation, existing in a formless, barren state, shrouded in darkness and water or mist of some sort. It suggests that the very shape of the earth was unfinished and empty. The raw material was all there, but it had not yet been given form. God would quickly (in six days) decorate His initial creation (v. 2–2:3). deep. Sometimes referred to as primordial waters, this is the term used to describe the earth's water-covered surface before the dry land emerged (vv. 9, 10). The earth's surface was a vast ocean — a global, primordial sea that covered the entire planet. Water, so vital to the nourishment of the life that was to come, was already earth's most prominent feature. Jonah used this word to describe the watery abyss in which he found himself submerged (Jon. 2:5). Spirit of God. The earth's creative agent enveloped, surrounded, and guarded its surface. Not only did God the Holy Spirit participate in creation, but so did God the Son (cf. John 1:1–3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2).
1:3–5 This is day one of God's creation.
1:3 God said. God effortlessly spoke light into existence (cf. Pss. 33:6; 148:5), which dispelled the darkness of verse 2. light. That which most clearly reveals and most closely approximates God's glory (cf. Dan. 2:22; 1 Tim. 6:16; James 1:17; 1 John 1:5). Like Him, light illuminates and makes all else known. Without light, all creation would remain cold and dark. What form this light took is not clear. But light itself, the reality of light, was created on day one and instantly separated day from night. The greater and lesser lights (the sun and moon) were created later (vv. 14–19) on the fourth day. Here, God was the provider of light (2 Cor. 4:6) and will in eternity future be the source of light (cf. Rev. 21:23).
1:4 good. This light was good for the purposes it was intended to serve (cf. v. 31).
1:4–5 divided ... called. After the initial creation, God continued to complete His universe. Once God separated certain things, He then named them. Separating and naming were acts of dominion and served as a pattern for man, who would also name a portion of God's creation over which God gave him dominion (2:19, 20). The creation of light also inaugurated the measurement of earth's time by periods of day and night. Regular intervals of light began to be interspersed with intervals of darkness.
1:5 first day. God established the pattern of creation in seven days which constituted a complete week. Day can refer to: (1) the light portion of a twenty-four-hour period (1:5, 14); (2) an extended period of time (2:4); or (3) the twenty-four-hour period which basically refers to a full rotation of the earth on its axis, called evening and morning. On the other hand, this cannot mean an age, but only a day, reckoned by the Jews from sunset to sunset (vv. 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). Day with numerical adjectives in Hebrew always refers to a twenty-four-hour period. Comparing the order of the week in Exodus 20:8–11 with the creation week confirms this understanding of the time element. Such a cycle of light and dark means that the earth was rotating on its axis, so that there was a source of light on one side of the earth, though the sun was not yet created (v. 16).
1:6–8 This is day two of God's creation.
1:6 firmament. The Hebrew word speaks of something spread out. God commanded the water to separate, and He placed an expanse, or a "firmament," between the water that remained on the earth and the water that now rose above the expanse. The imagery is that of a vast expanse, a protective layer that overlays the earth and divides the waters below from the waters above. The expanse in-between includes the earth's breathable atmosphere.
1:7 under the firmament. This refers to subterranean reservoirs (cf. 7:11). above the firmament. This could possibly have been a canopy of water vapor which acted to make the earth like a hothouse, provided uniform temperature, inhibited mass air movements, caused mist to fall, and filtered out ultraviolet rays, and thereby extending life.
1:9–13 This is day three of God's creation.
1:9–10 dry land. This was caused by a tremendous, cataclysmic upheaval of the earth's surface, and the rising and sinking of the land, which caused the waters to plunge into the low places, forming the seas, the continents and islands, the rivers and lakes (cf. Job 38:4–11; Ps. 104:6–9).