Updated: Dec 21, 2018
Periodically and over the next several years, we are going to use this space to provide for you brief surveys and overviews of each of the books of the Bible.
The name of the book of Genesis is derived from the opening words of the book. The Hebrew title of the book is Bereshith, which means “In the beginning.” The Greek title, Genesis is based on this and means “origin.” Both titles speak to the opening content of the book, namely the beginning of history.
The book is technically anonymous, but it is part of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) which is properly attributed to Moses. The New Testament also hints at Moses’ authorship of Genesis in John 7:22 and Acts 15:1 when it speaks of circumcision being given by Moses. The sign of circumcision given in Genesis 17.
The book of Genesis can roughly be divided into two sections. There is the Primeval History (Gen. 1-11) which is followed by the History of the Patriarchs (12-50). The first part covers the creation of all things in the span of six days. It details broadly in chapter 1 and then with more specificity in chapter 2 the creation of man and woman. The Primeval History then moves to the Fall of mankind and the progression of sin throughout the world. The effects of sin reach a crescendo in chapters 6-9 with the Flood and God’s redemption of mankind through Noah. After the flood, the population is rebuilt and spreads abroad on the earth.
The second section of Genesis details the history of Abraham and his descendants. God calls Abraham to “go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen 12:1-2). Abraham follows this call and enters into a covenant with God. This covenant is a promise that God will be his God and Abraham will be God’s people. This promise is made with Abraham and his offspring after him throughout the generations for an everlasting covenant (Gen. 17:7).
God blesses Abraham with the birth of a son, Isaac. Just as God had appeared to Abraham, he appears to Isaac. The promises of the covenant to Abraham are repeated for Isaac (Gen. 26:1-6). God promises to Isaac that, “I will be with you” (Gen. 26:3). This promise is then repeated to Isaac’s son, Jacob (Gen. 35:11, 12). God remains faithful to his covenant promises as they pass through the offspring of Abraham.
Jacob has twelve sons. Through their mischief and deceit, their younger brother Joseph ends up in Egypt. Eventually, famine brings the sons of Jacob to Egypt looking for help. In Egypt, they find their long-lost brother, Joseph, who is now the right-hand man of Pharaoh. Joseph saves his family by bringing them to Egypt. They settle in the land of Goshen, where the twelve sons of Jacob prosper. The book ends with Jacob and Joseph’s deaths in Egypt but with a promise that their bones would be carried up out of the land.
The book of Genesis introduces us to three critical themes that run throughout the whole of the Scriptures: Creation, Fall, and Redemption. The opening verses of Genesis lay out the creative work of God. God spoke and everything came into being. God demonstrates his primacy, his power, and his providence in creation. The creation account is fundamentally about God, not the creation. God created man in his image (imago dei). God is to reflect this image in what he does. He is to subdue creation, fill creation, and rest.
But a problem enters into this creation. Man falls into sin (Gen. 3). The serpent tempts the woman, and man falls into sin. The serpent twists and distorts God’s Word. He provokes the pride and fear of man. And man takes of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and eats. At this rebellion of God’s Word, sin enters into creation. Death, disease, and decay are not part of creation. Every atom of creation is affected by this rebellion. Things are no longer the way they should be. From now on the history of man will always be punctuated with “…and he died.”
The Lord is gracious and merciful. A word of prophecy is spoken in the midst of the curses of sin. “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” (Gen. 3:15). There is a battle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of woman. This seed of the woman is promised Messiah. He will strike a mortal blow to the head of the serpent, but in doing so, he will receive a blow to his heel. Thus, God promises a Redeemer to crush the enemy. The rest of the Bible begins to unfold this promised Redemption. God’s covenant with Abraham becomes the vehicle for his redemptive blessing to the nation. The blessing of Jacob on his son Judah is that “the scepter shall not depart from Judah” (Gen. 49:10), meaning that God’s promised Messiah will come through the line of Judah.
This creation, fall, redemption theme finds its consummation in Revelation. A new heaven and new earth with a Tree of Life are described (Rev. 22:1-5). The defeat and judgment of Satan is finalized with his being cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:1-10). And people of God worship Christ as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev. 7:9-10). A glorious wedding feast is portrayed as the consummation of the story of Genesis that started with “in the beginning.”