Following Abraham’s death, God reveals to Isaac’s wife Rebekah that she will soon give birth to two sons who will represent two nations, one stronger than the other. When Rebekah delivers, Esau is born first and is extremely hairy. Jacob, who is smooth skinned, is born immediately after, grasping the heel of his brother. Isaac’s two sons grow to be opposites. Esau is a hunter and a brash man. Jacob stays at home, soft-spoken but quick-witted. One day, Esau comes home famished, demanding to be fed, and agrees to give Jacob his inheritance rights in exchange for a bowl of soup.
Like his own father, Isaac prospers in Canaan and, despite occasional errors in judgment, enlarges his property, making alliances with area rulers and continuing to erect monuments to God. One day, when he is old and blind, Isaac instructs Esau to catch some game and prepare him a meal so that he may give the elder son his blessing. While Esau is gone, Rebekah helps Jacob deceive his father, preparing a separate meal and disguising the younger son with hairy arms and Esau’s clothing. When Jacob presents Isaac with the meal, Isaac—smelling Esau’s clothing and feeling the hairy body—proceeds to bless Jacob, promising him the inheritance of God’s covenant and a greater status than his brother. Esau returns to discover the deception, but it is too late. Isaac, though dismayed, says that he cannot revoke the stolen blessing.
Jacob flees in fear of Esau, traveling to the house of his uncle Laban in upper Mesopotamia. En route, Jacob dreams of a stairway leading up to heaven, where angels and God reside. In the dream, God promises Jacob the same covenant he previously made with Abraham and Isaac. Jacob arrives at Laban’s house, where he agrees to work for his uncle in exchange for the hand of Laban’s daughter, Rachel, in marriage. Laban deceives Jacob into marrying Leah, Rachel’s older sister, before marrying Rachel. The two wives compete for Jacob’s favor and, along with their maids, give birth to eleven sons and a daughter.
After twenty years, Jacob heeds God’s urging and leaves to return to Canaan, taking his family, his flocks, and Laban’s collection of idols, or miniature representations of gods. Rachel, who has stolen the idolic figurines from her father, hides them under her skirt when Laban tracks down the fleeing clan in the desert. Unable to procure his belongings, Laban settles his differences with Jacob, who erects a pillar of stone as a “witness” to God of their peaceful resolution (31:48). Jacob continues on and, nearing home, fears an encounter with Esau. Jacob prepares gifts to appease his brother and, dividing his family and belongings into two camps, spends the night alone on the river Jabbok. Jacob meets God, who, disguised as a man, physically wrestles with Jacob until dawn. Jacob demands a blessing from his opponent, and the man blesses Jacob by renaming him “Israel,” meaning, “he struggles with God.”
The next morning, Jacob meets Esau, who welcomes his brother with open arms. Jacob resettles in Shechem, not far from Esau, who has intermarried with the Canaanites and produced a tribe called the Edomites. Jacob and his sons prosper in peace until one day Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, is raped by a man from Shechem. Enraged, Jacob’s sons say they will let the Shechemite marry Dinah if all the members of the man’s family will be circumcised. The man agrees and, while the greater part of his village is healing from the surgical procedure, Jacob’s sons take revenge and attack the Shechemites, killing all the men. Isaac and Rachel die soon thereafter.
Jacob’s sons grow jealous of their youngest brother, Joseph, who is Jacob’s favorite son. When Jacob presents Joseph with a beautiful, multi-colored coat, the eleven elder brothers sell Joseph into slavery, telling their father that Joseph is dead. Joseph is sold to Potiphar, a high-ranking official in Egypt, who favors the boy greatly until, one day, Potiphar’s flirtatious wife accuses Joseph of trying to sleep with her. Potiphar throws Joseph in prison, but—ever faithful to God—Joseph earns a reputation as an interpreter of dreams. Years pass until the Pharaoh of Egypt, bothered by two troublesome dreams, hears of Joseph and his abilities. Pharaoh summons Joseph, who successfully interprets the dreams, warning Pharaoh that a great famine will strike Egypt after seven years. Impressed, Pharaoh elects Joseph to be his highest official, and Joseph leads a campaign throughout Egypt to set aside food in preparation for the famine.
The analysis and synthesis approach to biblical studies applied here to Genesis is a methodology developed by the author (DeCanio, 2007) in conjunction with his doctoral studies at the University of South Africa. An abbreviated version of this work entitled, Biblical Hermeneutics and a Methodology for Studying the Bible will be posted on bible.org.
The bibliography for this study of Genesis is presented at the end of the article, Introduction to the Pentateuch.
Analysis of the context of Genesis
The aim of this analysis is to consider aspects of the context in which the book of Genesis was written, such as its authorship, recipients, time period of historical events and composition, and its biblical context, which may be useful in understanding the book as a whole.
The authorship of the Book of Genesis is, like the authorship of the other books of the Pentateuch, anonymous. Both internal and external evidence is lacking to reasonably establish the author of Genesis. While the NT speaks of the Law as 'Moses' or the 'books' or 'law' of Moses, it nowhere points specifically to Genesis by itself in these terms. Portions of the Pentateuch record the strategic role Moses played in its making. This is seen from his first written records of the curse against Amalek (Exod 17:14) and the book of the Sinai covenant (Exod 24:3–7) to the writing and safekeeping of his initial exposition of the law (Deut 31:24–26). It would seem that, as argued in the Introduction to the Pentateuch, the core and substance of the books of the Pentateuch from Exodus to Deuteronomy are the work of Moses. Yet the NT, in attributing the Pentateuch as a whole to Moses, would seem to imply Mosaic authorship for Genesis as it does for Exodus through Deuteronomy. Thus, Mosaic authorship of Genesis may be established on the basis of its unity with the other books of the Pentateuch and on the basis of the outstanding qualifications that Moses had for writing such a book which is foundational to an understanding of the remainder of the Pentateuch. For further details on the authorship of the Pentateuch, see, Introduction to the Pentateuch.
As discussed in the Introduction to the Pentateuch, the most immediate recipients of the Book of Genesis would likely have been the Exodus generation. Yet it is clear that the intended audience was to extend to all future generations of the elect seed of Abraham who would be born under the Mosaic covenant (see, Deut 29:14–15).
Time period of historical events and composition
Date of events
The events recorded in Genesis span from the creation of the world until the death of Joseph. While it is not at all possible to date the beginning of the world, the dating of events during the life of the patriarchs can be determined with reasonable accuracy with respect to modern reckoning. In the Introduction to the Pentateuch a discussion is presented on the chronological aspects of the Pentateuch. There it was determined that events beginning with Abram and ending with the death of Joseph span about 350 years going from about 2166 B.C. to 1806 B.C. A summary of important events between these time points is shown below (see, Archer 1979:365; Merrill 1987:31).
Date of composition
Assuming Mosaic authorship, the date of composition for the Book of Genesis would have to be between 1446 B.C. (the date of the Exodus) and 1406 B.C. (the death of Moses). A likely possibility is during the year that Israel spent encamped in the wilderness at Sinai when Moses probably composed most, if not all, of the Books of Exodus and Leviticus. Such an assumption would place the date of composition of Genesis between 1446 and 1445 B.C.
Summary of Important Events in the Pentateuch
The biblical context consists of three components; the historical element, the socio–cultural element, and the theological element.
Nowhere in Genesis is the historical context for its writing indicated. However, if the date of its composition is, as noted above, during the period of time Israel spent at Sinai, then the historical context for the writing of Genesis would necessarily have been Israel’s redemption and Exodus from Egypt, and Israel’s entering into covenant–relationship with Yahweh. The historical context for understanding Genesis, however, is not the occasion for its writing, but rather the historical circumstances which are revealed in the progressofthenarrative as it moves from the Creation to the death of Joseph.
In as much as history begins with the Creation, there can be no historical context for this the first recorded act of God. The reader is not even given any knowledge of the a–historical context which gave birth to the Creation. From that point on, however, the historical context for succeeding circumstances is documented in Genesis to the extent needed to understand the narrative flow and theological progression of God’s relationship with man. It is important to recognize, therefore, that there is not one historical context for the book of Genesis. Rather, this context is changing as the Genesis narrative progresses from the beginning to the end. In view of the significant progressive development of this context, it will not be discussed here but will be noted and made use of to the extent needed in the process of understanding the book as a whole.
Aspects of the socio–cultural context of the Pentateuch can be determined from the text of the Pentateuch itself, and from any number of works such as Livingston (1974). Knowing this context is helpful in providing the reader with the socio–cultural framework for understanding more fully the lives and movements of the Patriarchs. It provides the setting for the narratives, and it is therefore helpful in understanding certain passages of the text more completely. However, it is not critical to understanding Genesis as a whole. Therefore, the socio–cultural data that comprises this element will not be set forth here, but will be brought into play to the extent needed to enhance an understanding of those passages which are socio–culturally dependent.
Of the three elements which comprise the biblical context, the theological element is by far most important for understanding the book of Genesis both as a whole and in part. This component is complex because there is a progressionoftheologicalrevelation as the narrative moves from the Creation to the death of Joseph. For this reason, it is both necessary and helpful to partition Genesis into six major contexts—Pre-creation, Creation (Gen 1-2); The Fall (Gen 3-4); Noah through the Flood (Gen 5-10); The Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9); and The Patriarchal Era (Gen 11:10-50)—which can be identified from the Genesis narrative. In each of these contexts four theological categories—God, Man, Creation and World order/creation mandate—are considered. Note that there is a progression of theological revelation even within the framework of these contexts, and that a particular theological context comprises the prior theological contexts and the theological revelations for that particular context.
Analysis of the text of Genesis
The goal of the analysis of the text of Genesis is to consider such aspects of this written document as a broad descriptive overview of it, its major theological themes, and its literary characteristics, in order to derive a synthetic structure of the text as a whole.
Broad descriptive overview
The creation of the heavens and the earth;
The Creation mandate/world order for the heavens, the earth, and all living creatures;
The creation of the man and the woman in the image of God;
The planting of a garden in Eden as a habitat for the man and the woman;
The fall of the man and the woman into a state of sin;
The judgment against the man, the woman, and the serpent;
The expulsion of the man and the woman from the Garden;
The murder of Abel by Cain;
The judgment against Cain;
The descendents of Cain;
The birth of Seth;
The descendents of Adam from Seth to Noah;
The universal wickedness of all mankind except for Noah;
The pronouncement of judgment against all mankind except for Noah;
The deliverance provided for Noah, his family, and representative living creatures from the coming flood;
The building of the ark;
The entry of Noah, his family, and the representative living creatures into the ark;
The coming of the flood and the destruction of all living beings and creatures except for Noah and his family;
The recession of the flood and drying of the land;
The coming out of Noah, his family, and all the representative animals from the ark;
The sacrifice Noah offered to God;
The promise God made with Himself to never again destroy all living things by means of a flood;
The new world order;
Confirmation of God’s covenant with Noah, his descendants, and with all living creatures;
The sign of the covenant;
The sin of Ham;
The judgment against Canaan;
The descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth;
The Tower of Babel and the settling down of the people;
The judgment of confusion of languages, and the separation and scattering of the people;
The line of descent from Shem to Abram;
The move of Terah, Abram, and Lot from Ur to Haran;
The call of Abram;
The promises of seed and blessing to Abram;
The obedience of Abram;
The arrival of Abram and Lot in the land of Canaan;
The promise of the Land to Abram;
The sojourn of Abram into Egypt due to famine in the Land;
The separation of Abram from Lot;
The confirmation of the promises to Abram;
The rescue of Lot by Abram;
The blessing of Abram by Melchizedek;
The promises made to Abramconfirmed by God;
The promise of an son from Abram’s own body;
The covenant God cut with Abram as a guarantee of His promises to Abram;
The informing of Abram that his descendants would be oppressed as slaves for 400 years in a foreign land;
The conception and birth of Ishmael through Hagar the Egyptian slave;
The confirmation of the covenant with Abram and his descendants;
The changing of Abram’s name to Abraham to reflect the fulfillment of God’s promise to make Abram into a great nation;
The sign of the covenant God made with Abraham;
The changing of Sari’s name to Sarah;
The promise of an sonreaffirmed through Sarah;
The visit of the Lord on the way to destroy Sodom and its surrounding towns;
The promise of a son through Sarah;
The intercession of Abraham for the righteous of Sodom;
The reaffirmation of a son through Sarah;
The rescue of Lot and his daughters;
The sin of Lot’s daughters;
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah;
The deceptiveness of Abraham toward Abimelech in his sojourn in Gerar;
The birth of Isaac in fulfillment of God’s promise;
The casting out of Hagar and Ishmael;
The covenant Abraham made with Abimelech;
The testing of Abraham’s faith through God’s command to sacrificeIsaac as a burnt offering;
The reaffirmation of the covenant;
The death and burial of Sarah;
The purchase of a burial plot in Mamre by Abraham;
The provision of a wife (Rebekah) for Isaac;
The marriage of Abraham to Keturah;
The provisions Abraham made for his sons;
The death and burial of Abraham;
The descendants of Ishmael;
The births of Esau and Jacob;
The contempt of Esau for his birthright;
The confirmation of the Covenant with Isaac;
The deceptiveness of Isaac toward Abimelech;
The conflict between Isaac and Abimelech over water rights;
The reaffirmation of the Covenant with Isaac;
The witness to God’s blessings on Isaac;
The covenant between Isaac and Abimelech;
The stealing of Esau’s blessing by Jacob;
The hatred of Jacob by Esau;
The sending of Jacob to Paddan–aram;
The dream of Jacob at Bethel;
The confirmation of the Covenant with Jacob;
The arrival of Jacob at Paddan–aram;
The deception of Laban in Jacob’s marriage to Rachel;
The children born to Jacob through Leah;
The children born to Jacob through Rachel’s maid Bilhah, Leah’s maid Zilpah, and then through Leah and Rachel;
The contention between Jacob and Laban;
The increase of Jacob’s wealth;
The fleeing of Jacob with his family and wealth from Laban;
The pursuit of Jacob by Laban;
The treaty between Jacob and Laban;
The preparations made by Jacob for meeting Esau;
The prayer of humility and petition made by Jacob to God;
The wrestling of Jacob with God at Peniel;
The meeting and reconciliation of Jacob with Esau;
The safe arrival of Jacob at Shechem;
The defilement of Dinah by Shechem;
The revenge taken against the men of Shechem by Simeon and Levi;
The return of Jacob to Bethel;
The reaffirmation of the Covenant with Jacob;
The death of Rachel in giving birth to Benjamin;
The defilement of Bilhah by Reuben;
The death of Isaac;
The descendants of Esau who moved to the hill country of Seir;
The descendants of Seir, the original inhabitants of Seir later known as Edom;
The account of Jacob and his family after he settled again in the land of Canaan;
The two dreamsJoseph had when he was 17 years old;
The selling of Joseph into slavery;
The unrighteous behavior of Judah;
The blessing of Joseph in Potiphar’s house;
The tempting of Joseph by Potiphar’s wife;
The casting of Joseph into prison by Potiphar;
The interpretation of the dreams of Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker by Joseph;
The interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams by Joseph;
The making of Joseph ruler over Egypt under Pharaoh;
The fulfillment of Pharaoh’s dreams just as Joseph had said;
The first visit of Joseph’s ten older brothers to Egypt to buy grain;
The appearing of Joseph’sbrothers before him;
The testing of the brothers by Joseph;
The return of Joseph’sbrothers to Egypt after Judah offers himself personally responsible for Benjamin’s safety;
The dinning of Joseph with his brothers;
The testing of the brothers by Joseph by means of his silver cup;
The offering of Judah as a substitute for Benjamin;
The revealing of Joseph to his brothers;
The instruction given by Joseph to his brothers to return to Canaan, get their father Jacob, their families, and herds, and move to Egypt;
The setting out of Jacob to Egypt;
The reaffirmation of the Covenant with Jacob;
The assurance of God’s presence with Jacob in Egypt;
The arrival of Jacob in the region of Goshen;
The audience of Jacob with Pharaoh;
The management of Pharaoh’s resources by Joseph during the famine;
The blessing of God on the children of Jacob in Egypt;
The preparations made by Jacob for his death;
The reminder of Jacob to Joseph of the Covenant God made with Abraham and confirmed with him (Jacob) and which extends to his descendants;
The blessing of Jacob on Joseph’s sons, claiming Manasseh and Ephraim as two of his sons with an equal share in the inheritance of the Land ;
The prophecy of Jacob to his sons regarding what will happen to each of them in the days to come;
The charge of Jacob to his sons to bury him in the cave that Abraham had purchased in the land of Canaan;
The death of Jacob;
The mourning for Jacob;
The burial of Jacob in the land of Canaan;
The assurance of Joseph’s his good intentions to his brothers;
The charge of Joseph to his brothers concerning what to do with his body when he dies;
Major theological themes
It is not the intent of this section to develop and discuss in detail all aspects of the major theological themes identified in Genesis. Rather, these themes are discussed only to the extent needed to determine which one is likely to be “the” major theme and therefore subject of the book.
God and creation
The book of Genesis begins by introducing God who existed before the Creation (Gen 1:1a). Genesis does not argue for the existence of God, rather it is written with the fundamental presupposition that before the world was created, God was––“In the beginning God”. Genesis also claims that it was God who created the world (Gen 1:1b). The theological implication of Genesis 1:1 is that God is self–existing, that He is eternal, that everything exists because He created it, and that He transcends the Creation.
The Book of Genesis is clear that it was God who created the world and all that it comprises (Gen 1–2). This includes the heavens, consisting of the sun, moon, and stars, and, of noted prominence, the earth and all that it contains, including the land, seas, vegetation, animals, birds, and sea creatures. Genesis also is clear that God created man, and that He created man in His own image. While Genesis does not provide the details of God's act of creation, it makes it very clear that evolution was not a part of the process, and, in particular, that man did not evolve from other creatures.
Genesis further informs the reader that God created the world by the power and authority of His word; “Let there be . . . , and it was so” (Gen 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24). The implication here is that God acts on the basis of His own will, sovereignty, authority, power, knowledge, wisdom, understanding, etc., to create the world giving it its form and function as He determined it. He is the One, therefore, the only One who is Sovereign and Lord over the universe, for He is the One who spoke the Creation into existence (Gen ch. 1). There can be no higher authority than the One who speaks and brings into existence what did not exist before except as a concept within His own understanding.
Genesis also reveals God as the One in whom life exists. The implication here is that life is inherent in God. “Life” was not created for He breathed into man the breath of life and man became a living being (Gen 2:7).
Then too, Genesis reveals that God is a relational being who created man in His own image to have a relationship with him that is unique in all of the Creation (Gen 1:26, 27; 3:8). Even after the Fall, when man entered into a state of sin and separation from God with the result that that relationship was broken, God is shown as choosing, calling, and separating to Himself certain individuals––the seed of the woman––for reasons known only to Him (Gen 5:22–24; 6:8, 13, 7:1; 12:1, 7, etc.; Gen 26:1–3, 23, 24; 28:10–22; 31:3; 32:24–30; 35:1, 9; 46:1–4). While God is mysterious to man, it is clear from the text of Genesis that He nevertheless wants man to know Him to the extent man can within the limitation of the capacities He has given man. We see this, for example, in God’s interactions with Adam, Cain, Enoch, Noah, and then especially with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with whom He entered into a covenant–relationship, and through that, a unique relationship with all of Israel.
God and judgment
Genesis also reveals God as the One who judges the actions of all beings––human and otherwise (i.e., the serpent)––and executes judgment by pronouncing punishment upon those who violate His commands, decrees, order of life. This is seen in the case of Adam, Eve, and the serpent (Gen 3:8–19), Cain (Gen 4:9–15), all mankind in Noah’s generation (Gen 6:5–7, 12), all mankind in the generation after the Flood (Gen 11:5–9), and in the case of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:20, 19:29).
The implication here is that it is God alone who establishes what is good and what is evil based on His own inherent nature. That it is God alone who has the authority and power to hold all beings accountable to Him. And that it is God alone who pronounces and executes judgment not through an army of angelic beings but through His word of judgment. Thus Genesis reveals God as the Judge, the One to whom all beings are accountable.
God and promise
Genesis reveals God as “covenant maker.” He is the One who enters into an unconditional covenant with Noah and all mankind, promising that He would never again destroy the earth by flood (Gen 9:8–17). More significant is the revelation that God makes an unconditional covenant with Abraham promising to bless him and his descendants (Gen 12:1–3), and to bless all the nations of earth through his seed (Gen 12:3, 22:18). It is through this covenant that God works to reestablish His relationship with, not all mankind, but only with those whom He chooses. Thus God is revealed in Genesis as giving His word of promise in the outworking of His plan and purpose for the world and for man in particular. The major portion of the Genesis text is concerned with God’s word of promise to Abraham.
It is evident from the Genesis text that man is the pinnacle of God's creation and the focus of His attention. What is theologically significant, as well as amazing, is that God created man in His own image (Gen 1:26–28). Implied in the creation account of man, therefore, is that man is not only a material being, but a spiritual being as well in that God is a spiritual being. It can be stated, therefore, with broad theological consensus that a human being is a material and nonmaterial entity. Eichrodt (1967:131). has observed that the distinction between an inner, spiritual aspect and a physical aspect of human nature which was to be found in both creation stories is not simply an opinion peculiar to these accounts, but a constituent element of the whole Old Testament view of humanity. A biblically–based conceptualization of the immaterial aspect of human nature is generally characterized by three anthropological concepts; spirit, soul, and heart. Thus when God informs Adam that if he disobeyed His command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would surely die, He had in mind not only physical death, which did not immediately occur, but spiritual death which did occur immediately and which can be understood broadly as separation from God.
Genesis also reveals that man was not created to be a free agent but was responsible to God for his actions. This is seen in the responsibility God gave him to rule over his habitat, to cultivate and keep the Garden, and to obey His command. Very significantly, in creating man in His own image, God created man with the capacity to choose between good and evil and thus able to rebel against Him.
Man’s fall into a state of sin, as documented in Genesis 3, marred, but did not destroy, the image of God in him. Further, the fall of man into a state of rebellion against God leads to the pronouncement and execution of judgment which forces man to live out his life under the immediate dominion of the evil one instead of under the immediate dominion of God. While man’s fall into a state of rebellion against God resulted in the breaking of his personal relationship with God, God made provision for the eventual restoration of that image and relationship.
Hope is promised through the seed of the woman who will enter into conflict with the seed of the serpent (the evil one). This is revealed in God’s judgment against the serpent—“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). Conquest of the serpent (evil one), who led mankind from a state of fellowship and blessing into a state of separation and cursing, is guaranteed as the promise is given that the seed of the woman will mortally wound the serpent (evil one). The theological implication of this text is enormous. In effect it says that there will be a battle between good and evil in the history of man, and in that battle the seed of the woman will destroy the serpent (evil one). The one who led man into rebellion against God will be defeated by the seed of the woman, a man! Though not stated explicitly, there is in this the root of a redemption which would restore the original image of God in man, and, with that, restore man to that personal and unique relationship with God. In essence, the whole of the Bible from Genesis 3:15 through the Book of Revelation deals with God's work of restoring man to this unique position in the Creation.
With a new world order set in place, man embarks into a world in which personal relationship with God is no longer possible and man, in his state of sin, can do nothing to change it. Rather, it is given now only to the elect seed of the woman to enter into such a relationship with God. In the plan and purpose of God, He now elects a seed in every generation who can enter into personal relationship with Him, and to whom it has been appointed that he should stand against the serpent (evil one) and his seed. We see this starting with Abel and going through to Abraham. However, beginning with Abraham, the elect seed narrows down to the elect seed of Abraham.
It is through Abraham and his elect seed that God will now effect His plan to reestablish personal relationship with man and to rule over the Creation through man. Not just a seed through Abraham, but the chosen seed of promise through Sarah. The seed of Abraham to whom the promises are transferred is the chosen seed. Thus, God unilaterally promises Abraham that He will bless him and his seed, making him into a great nation by multiplying his seed, and giving to him and his descendants the land of Canaan as an everlasting inheritance, and that through Abraham and his chose seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed. The fulfillment of that work is found in and through Jesus Christ, the God–Man, the Seed of Abraham (Gal 3:16) whose death and resurrection provided the means for restoring the image of God and reestablishing man's relationship with God. The whole of redemptive history is moving in this direction.
Biblical evidence for relationships between God and man is extensive. The first is found in the beginning of the book of Genesis where God and Adam are shown to be in personal relationship in the Garden, and the last is found at end of the book of Revelation where God and all those whom He has redeemed are observed to be in relationship with Him in the new Jerusalem. Between these two events, much change occurs in the nature of the relationship as a result of the Fall. In spite of man’s fall into a state of sin and spiritual separation from God, God never abandons man but rather at critical points in history He redefines the basis for, and the nature of, God–man relationship. A most important aspect of that change is that God now enters into personal relationship only with those whom He calls to Himself.
Evidence of God–man relationships can be inferred from God's creation of man in His own image (Gen 1:26–27, 5:1, 9:6) as they came into being possessing qualities of life which are unique to God, though obviously not to the same extent (Erickson 1985:515). This has great implications with respect to God–man relationships, for man has been given the inherent capability to relate to and interact with God in a way that is unique in all of the creation. Since God reveals Himself as a social, relational being within the triunity of the Godhead (Gruenler 1986:1–3, and, 1989:178–179), the implication is that man is also a social, relational being, and able, therefore, to relate in this way not only to other humans but to God as well.
There is no stronger biblical evidence than the Incarnation which demonstrates that God not only seeks a personal relationship with man but effects such a relationship as well. This is seen in the mission of the Incarnate Son who proceeded from the Father (John 8:42) to reveal the Father to man (John 1:18, 12:45, 14:7–9, 17:6, 25–26; 1 John 5:20), and then to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin (John 10:11, 15, 27–28) so that those who received Him might be reconciled to the Father (Rom 5:10; 2 Cor 5:18–20) through faith in the Son (John 1:12; Acts 16:30–31), and receive the right to become a child of God (John 1:12) and thus enter into a personal relationship with God. Christ spoke of this relationship in clear and certain terms in His so–called high priestly prayer. Among other things, He prayed for all who will believe in Him (John 17:20–26) asking the Father that they may be one just as the Father and Son are one—‘just as you are in me and I am in you.’ He then asked that in the same way they too may be in the Father and the Son. He strengthens this notion of relationship by stating, ‘I in them and you in me,’ . . . that ‘the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.’
Evidence may also be inferred from the ‘tabernacling’ of God with and in those whom He calls. The notion of God's ‘tabernacling’ among humans is introduced and developed under the Old Testament economy as His dwelling with His covenant people (Exod 19:5–6, 29:45, 40:34–35). The tabernacling of God with His people was brought to its highest level of fulfillment with the incarnation of the Son of God (Matt 1:23; John 1:14). But the concept of God's tabernacling was redefined and fulfilled under the New Testament economy as His dwelling in those whom He redeems. Evangelical theology sees clear biblical evidence that the Spirit of God indwells every believer (e.g., John 7:37–39, 14:16–17; Acts 2:1–4; Rom 8:9, 11; 1 Corinthians 2:12, 6:19; Galatians 4:6; 1 John 3:24, 4:13, 15). This indwelling is an abiding presence of the Spirit in the believer's heart (Gal 4:6) and includes the Spirit's witness to the believer's spirit about his/her relationship to God (Rom 8:16–17).
God's plan to restore man to relationship with Him was first revealed, as noted above, in Genesis 3:15. God’s efforts to accomplish this act of restoration took on more specific form with the call of Abraham and the covenant He made with him, for that covenant, though oriented toward the descendants of Abraham, had all mankind in view as God promised Abraham to bless all mankind through his seed (Gen 12:3; 22:18). That seed, the Apostle Paul has noted, was Christ (Gal 3:16). Thus on the grand scheme of the Bible as a whole, God is at work at restoring man to a right relationship with Him. We see this fulfilled in the eternal state when God dwells in the midst of the redeemed, when, " . . the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God" (Rev 21:4).
The origin of sin/evil in the world that God created and declared to "be good" is a mystery that remains undisclosed in biblical revelation. What is clear from the very beginning of the Book of Genesis is that rebellion against God existed in the Garden prior to the fall of man. This is manifested in the serpent's attitude toward God which questions God’s truthfulness and challenges His authority. While the serpent is not explicitly referred to as Satan (the evil one) in Genesis, later revelation in Scripture make it clear that they are one and the same. For example, Revelation 20:2 identifies Satan as "the serpent of old,” and John 8:44 declares Satan to be "the father of lies".
What is also clear from Genesis is that sin, in its most basic form, is rebellion against the revealed will of God and is manifested in disobedience to what He has commanded. Further, it is clear that there is a penalty associated with sin. In the case of the original sin, that penalty consisted of an awareness of guilt, a curse upon the creation, the man, and the woman, all of which brought pain and suffering into life through the broken relationships between the man and the woman and between man and God (which is seen in their expulsion from the Garden), and through the prospect and reality of physical death. Though all the descendants of Adam are judged for their individual sins, it is apparent that the judgment executed on Adam has been passed on to all of his descendants (see Rom 5:12–19).
Thus, what is clear from Genesis is that sin is a reality and that it alienated man from God. In some mysterious sense, man had become like God. "The man," God says, "has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:22). By attempting to reverse the roles and assert his independence of limitations, man became a marred and defective image, one who could no longer represent his sovereign in an unhampered and perfect way. Sin had introduced an alienation that affected not only the God–man relationship and the man–woman relationship, but also made man a dying creature who could never hope to fulfill the creation mandate as long as he remained in that condition. The remainder of the biblical story is the outworking of God's plan of redemption whereby that alienation can be overcome and His original purposes for man reestablished.
Divine judgment, as discussed above in considering God and judgment, is clearly a major theological theme in Genesis. This is seen, first of all, in the judgment that God executes on the man and the woman for their disobedience to His command, and on the serpent/evil one for his opposition to God as manifested in his deceiving and tempting of the woman (Gen 3:14–19). In this act of divine judgment God is not a distant participant but is present in some way holding all participants accountable and pronouncing judgment on them. This act of divine judgment resulted in radical change in the world order; the relationship between God and man is now broken; the relationship between the man and the woman is now strained, and the earth has become contrary to the man’s efforts in farming. In stead of work being a joyful act it now becomes one of tiresome toil. In addition to this, there is now a struggle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent that is to be carried out on the stage of world history. The scope of this judgment, though seemingly personal, falling as it were upon Adam and Eve, was in effect universal as from that point on it affected everyone born of Adam (Gen 5:1–31; Rom 5:12–19).
Next, God is seen executing judgment on Cain for killing his brother, Abel (Gen 4:9–15). Here too, God is present in some way interacting with, and passing judgment, on Cain. What is significant about this judgment is that even though there was no command issued by God about killing, Cain was nevertheless held accountable for his act. The scope of this judgment was individual and personal.
And then God executes judgment on all mankind, with the exception of Noah and his family, for their wickedness (Gen 6:5–7:24). In this case God is not acting directly to pronounce judgment, but indirectly through Noah of whom it is written in Hebrews 11:7 that, “By his faith he condemned the world . . .”. The scope of this divine judgment was universal, as it fell upon all of mankind in Noah’s generation except Noah and his family, all living things except the representative ones God directed to Noah, and the earth which likely was changed drastically as a result of the flood. This divine judgment also resulted in a change of world order as God gave man everything that lives and moves as food, and put the fear and dread of man upon every creature that moves on the ground, flies in air, or swims in the sea. Thus there was now a radical change in relationship between man and all the animals, birds, and fish. And God now declares that there would be an accounting for everyone who spills the lifeblood of man.
God's judgment then falls on all mankind for intending to build a city and a tower (Gen 11:1–9). Here God is seen as coming personally to investigate the situation and then passing judgment on the people, apparently without manifesting His presence. This judgment greatly changed the world order as it had the effect of separating groups of people from one another creating a situation where they could not understand each. The scope of this judgment appears to be universal.
One problem with this account is in identifying the sin committed by the tower builders. Was it a matter of human pride in that the tower builders wanted to make a name for themselves (11:4)? Or were the people on the plain of Shinar defying God's command to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth (Gen 9:1) as the three references to being scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth (Gen 11:4, 8, 9) suggest? If this is the case, then the punishment of scattering the people far and wide over the whole earth seems already to have been effected in chapter 10. Thus, it would seem that the Tower of Babel episode took place prior to the dispersion of the families of the three sons of Noah and was the likely cause of their dispersion. This conclusion is supported by the fact that chapter 10 already refers to the different languages spoken by the nations as they spread throughout the world (Gen 10:5, 20, 31). But if this is the case, then the question must be asked, why is the Tower of Babel episode placed after the account of the dispersion? One possibility is that the Plain of Shinar is the likely geographic location for Ur of the Chaldeans, the home of Abraham whose story is next presented.
Lastly, we are informed of God's judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah for their great wickedness (Gen 19:23–29). Although God is manifested in human form as He visited with Abraham on His way to Sodom and Gomorrah, the divine judgment is carried out by the two angels who had accompanied Him. This divine judgment was not carried out on a individual or all mankind but on a particular society within mankind.
Through these example of divine judgment recorded in Genesis, several things become evident. First, there is a progression of evil as the human race multiplies and settles the earth. Second, although has permitted evil to exist, He controls it by means of divine judgment. There is implied in God’s judgment against the serpent (Gen 3:15––“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”) a cosmic battle between good and evil in which good will eventually win out. So the divine judgment against evil is seen to impact man both personally and corporately.
Election, calling, and separation
The result of sin was death, both physical and spiritual death. Physical death was delayed in coming, but the conditions which would bring about that death were immediately set in place through a process of physical deterioration. Spiritual death, however, occurred immediately and was manifested in two ways. First there was a separation from the presence of God as Adam and Eve were physically driven from the presence of God in the Garden and not permitted to return. And secondly, they were now in a spiritual state of enmity with God. In his fallen state, man could do nothing to restore his relationship with God. It was, however, in the plan and purpose of God to do so. But that plan did not include all mankind. Rather, God was now going to work out His plan and purpose through the seed of the woman, that is, through all those whom He elects/chooses, calls, and separates to Himself. The Genesis text reveals this implicitly up to Noah. However, beginning with Noah and continuing through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the text explicitly reveals God's sovereignty in electing, calling, and separating to Himself a seed whom He will bless, and through whom He will bless all the nations.
In the course of events recorded in the Book of Genesis, God makes two unconditional covenants; one with Noah and all his descendants after him (9:8–17), and another with Abraham and all his elect seed after him (see, for example, Gen 12:1–3; 13:14–18; especially Gen 15 and Gen 17:1–14; 22:15–18). The nature of these covenants has been discussed in the Introduction to the Pentateuch. What is presented here are the specific details of the Noahic and Abrahamic covenants.
The Noahic covenant
In the aftermath of the Flood, God made an unconditional and everlasting covenant with Noah and his descendants and with all flesh on the earth (Gen 9:8–17). The components of this (the Noahic) covenant include:
1. a unilateral declaration by God to fulfill what He promises (Gen 9:9–11a)
2. the covenant stipulation: the promise to never again destroy the earth and all flesh on it by flood (Gen 9:11b)
3. the covenant sign, the rainbow (Gen 9:12–17)
It is significant to note that the Noahic covenant is preceded by the command originally given to Adam to "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth" (Gen 9:1, 7). The next part of the command given to Adam––"subdue it (the earth)" and "rule over the fish," and so forth––is, however, radically different in its Noahic form because now the earth was cursed and alienation had fractured the harmonious structures of sovereignty that had attended the pre–Fall creation. "Subdue" and "rule" now have come to be expressed as "The fear and dread of you will fall upon the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea" (Gen 9:2). The domination by (or rule of) Adam that was effected by the spoken word alone must now be enforced by man's superior intellectual and rational powers. Voluntary subservience in the animal world has been replaced by coercion, and man and animals now will live in uneasy coexistence.
The Abrahamic covenant
The provisions of the covenant
The covenant made with Abraham in Genesis 12:1–3, and confirmed and enlarged to him in Genesis 12:6–7; 13:14–17; 15:1–21 (where it is formalized); 17:1–14; and 22:15–18, defined certain basic promises God made to Abraham:
1. that Abraham's name shall be great;
2. that a great nation would come from Abraham ;
3. that in Abraham all the families of the earth shall be blessed;
4. that to Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan shall be given as an everlasting inheritance/possession;
5. that the multitude of Abraham's seed would be as the dust of the earth;
6. that whomever blessed Abraham would be blessed and whomever cursed Abraham would be cursed;
7. that Abraham would be the father of many nations;
8. that kings would proceed from Abraham;
9. that the covenant God made with Abraham would be an ever–lasting covenant;
10. that God would be the God of Abraham and his seed;
11. that Abraham's seed shall possess the gate of their enemies;
A consideration of these promises indicates that they consist of three fundamental components: land, seed, and blessing, and that they apply personally to Abraham, to national Israel and universally to all the nations. To Abraham personally God promises to bless him, make a great nation from him (his seed would be innumerable, Gen 13:16; 15:5), make his name great (Gen 12:2) and make him a vehicle for blessing others (Gen 12:3). Further, Abraham is promised the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession (Gen 13:15; 17:8). And this covenant which God is establishing with Abraham (Gen 17:2–4), would be an everlasting covenant, for God promises to establish it not only with Abraham, but with his seed after him throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant (Gen 17:7).
In Genesis, the nations are blessed through Joseph’s provision of food during the time of severe famine (Gen 41:57). This, however, is only a typical fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. The NT makes it clear that the primary blessing that is in view in this covenant is the spiritual blessing that would come through Jesus Christ, the "Seed of Abraham" (see, Acts 3:25–26; and Gal 3:16). Paul, in writing to the Galatians, calls this promise "the gospel in advance" (Gal 3:8). In this application of the promise, all those who have faith in Christ "are blessed along with Abraham" (Gal 3:6–9; 14) who believed God and God "reckoned it to him as righteousness" (Gen 15:6; Gal 3:6).
Formalization of the covenant with Abraham
Normally, says Wolf (1991:109–110), covenants are ratified by solemn ceremonies. Genesis 15 contains an account of such a ceremony. In the words of Wolf, Abraham was instructed to kill a heifer, a goat, and a ram, and cut them in two, and arrange the halves in two rows. Then, as Abraham fell into a deep sleep, "a smoking fire pot with a blazing torch . . . passed between the pieces" (Gen 15:17). It would seem from the text that the "fire" passing between the slaughtered halves of the sacrifices was God. By passing between the pieces God was committing Himself to the terms of the covenant with a self–maledictory oath. If He violated the covenant, He would in effect be subject to the same fate as the animals. In this regard, it is significant that the Hebrew expression for "make a covenant" is literally "cut a covenant," an expression which likely has reference to the sacrifice of animals in connection with the ratification ceremony.
There is only one other reference in the Bible to the actual passing between the pieces of an animal from which biblical support for this understanding can be obtained. That is in Jeremiah 34:18–19, where Yahweh condemned the men of Judah for breaking a covenant guaranteeing freedom for the Hebrew slaves. For even though they cut a calf in two and "walked between the pieces," they violated their agreement and earned God's wrath in the process.
Nature of the covenant
It is theologically significant that in Genesis 15 only God walked between the pieces, not Abraham. This is a clear indication that this was a unilateral covenant in which God unconditionally guaranteed that His promises to Abraham would be fulfilled.
The Abrahamic Covenant as presented in the Book of Genesis and referred to throughout all of Scripture is always treated as unconditional in nature. In a conditional covenant, that which was covenanted depended on the recipient of the covenant for its fulfillment, not on the one making the covenant. Certain obligations or conditions would need to be kept by the recipient of the covenant before the giver of the covenant would be obligated to fulfill what was promised. This type of covenant has an "if" attached to it. The Mosaic Covenant made by God with Israel is such a covenant.
In an unconditional covenant, on the other hand, that which was covenanted depended solely on the one making it for its fulfillment. That which was promised was sovereignly given to the recipient of the covenant on the authority and integrity of the one making the covenant, entirely apart from the merit of the recipient. It was a covenant with no "if" attached to it whatsoever. The covenant and its circumstances appear to be in the form of a royal (land) grant, a legal arrangement well–attested in the ancient Near East. The so–called "Covenant of Grant" is discussed in the Introduction to the Pentateuch as the model for the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant.
While the fulfillment of the covenantal promises is unconditional, it is important to recognize that an unconditional covenant may have blessings attached to it that are conditioned to the response of the recipient. In this regard it is important to note the relation of obedience to the Abrahamic Covenant. Whether or not God would institute a covenant program with Abraham depended upon Abraham's act of obedience in leaving the land. When once this act was accomplished, and Abraham did obey God, God instituted an irrevocable, unconditional program. Whether there would be a covenant program with Abraham depended upon Abraham's act of obedience. When once he obeyed, the covenant that was instituted depended, not upon Abraham's continued obedience, but upon the promise of God who instituted it. The fact of the covenant depended upon obedience; the kind or nature of the covenant inaugurated was totally unrelated to the continuing obedience of either Abraham or his seed.
This obedience, which became the basis of the institution of the covenant, is referred to in Genesis 22:18, where Abraham's obedient offering of Isaac is presented not so much as evidence of Abraham's response to God for blessing, but as a vindication of God's unconditional promise to Abraham. In effect, Abraham's faith in God justifies God's action to unconditionally promise to bless Abraham. This would suggest that while God promises unconditionally to fulfill His covenant with Abraham, faith in God and His covenant is necessary in order to enter into the blessings promised. That faith is required to enter into the unconditional blessings of the covenant is clearly seen in the sign of the covenant.
Sign of the covenant
When Abraham was 99 years old, almost 25 years after the original promise, God appeared to him and reaffirmed His covenant again promising both the land and numerous descendants which would come through a seed born to be born to him by Sarah (Gen 17). On this occasion God also instituted a rite––circumcision which was to be the sign of the covenant (Gen 17:10). The circumcision of a child by his father was to be a sign of the father's faith in God and in the covenant He made with Abraham and his descendants. In circumcising a son the father indicated that he believed the covenant would be fulfilled if not in his own day, then in his son's day, and he wanted his son to bear the sign of faith that would bring him the blessings of the covenant.
Conversely, those without faith, those who did not submit to circumcision were excluded from the benefits of the covenant, for God commanded, "Any uncircumcised male . . . will be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant" (17:14). Without the exercise of faith, one could not partake of the blessings of the covenant. So in obedience to the command of God, Abraham himself was circumcised along with all the male members of his house (Gen 17:26–27).
A major aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant, and, as we learn from the Book of Exodus, of the Mosaic Covenant, is that of covenant–relationship. The Abrahamic Covenant establishes a covenant–relationship between Yahweh and Abraham and his descendants after him; Yahweh will be their God and they will be His unique people. Whereas the Abrahamic covenant is unilateral and unconditional, and therefore can never be broken, the Mosaic covenant, which is bilateral and conditional, can be broken. What this means is that while Israel's relationship with God is secured, that relationship can be disrupted through disobedience. Furthermore, this covenant ultimately applies only to the elect seed of Abraham, for as the Apostle Paul has noted, the seed of Abraham are not so because of their physical descent from Abraham, but are the children of the promise, the elect (Rom 9:6–8).
A major theological theme introduced in Genesis is that of blessing. It is apparent from the Book of Genesis that God seeks to bless mankind, but such blessing is not unconditional for God does not tolerate disobedience and unbelief. It is evident from the creation narrative that God blessed man (Gen 1:28). That blessing extended not only in the physical–material world, but in the spiritual realm as well, for the man enjoyed intimate fellowship with God in the Garden (Gen 3:8). But with disobedience came a lack of blessing. Fellowship with God was broken (Gen 3:22–24), and the blessing of the earth was turned into a curse, as it no longer cooperated with the man but worked contrary to his desire (Gen 3:17–19). Yet it is apparent that even after the Fall of man it was God's desire to bless him. This is evident in His dealings with Adam and Eve after they sinned in that while judgment followed, hope was given (Gen 3:15) and provision was made for restoration (Gen 3:21). Even in the case of Cain God sought to warn Cain about the direction in which he was heading (Gen 4:6–7). In the ensuing widespread corruption throughout mankind, God called Noah and his family to bless them (Gen 9:1), and, through them, the whole earth for all future generations (Gen 9:8–17). Nowhere is God's desire to bless man more apparent than in His dealing with Abraham and his descendants to whom He unconditionally promised to bless and to be the means through which He would bless all the families of the earth (Gen 12:1–3).
While God's word of promise to Abraham concerns the building of a great nation and the possession of the land of Canaan, the immediate issue in the realization of the promise involves the provision of a seed, not just any seed, but an elect seed coming through Sarah, for if Abraham had no seed there could be no fulfillment of the promise. Consequently, in God's delay in providing a seed, the focus of attention becomes the giving of a seed for Abraham through Sarah. Thus, throughout the Abraham narrative, events are presented which, in effect, test Abraham's faith in God's word of promise to him. There is a point in this process when God promises Abraham that “a seed will come from him.” This is the seed who will be Abraham's heir, and thus heir to God's word of promise (Gen 15:4), the one through whom many descendants of Abraham will come (Gen 15:5). Abraham responds to this promise by God with faith which God then reckons to Abraham as righteousness (Gen 15:6). This reckoning is, in effect, a judicial verdict whereby God declared Abraham to be righteous on the basis of his faith in God to do what He had promised him to do.
The climax to this sequence of events comes when God commands Abraham to offer up Isaac as a burnt offering to Him. Not only does this command place Abraham in the position of killing his son whom he greatly loved, but also of destroying the heir to the covenant. But by this time in his walk with God, Abraham's faith in God has developed to the point where he believes that God must and will raise Isaac up from the dead in order to keep His word of promise. Evidence for this is seen in Abraham's statement to his men that he and Isaac would go and worship and return (Gen 22:5). The Book of Hebrews gives witness to this faith that Abraham demonstrated (Heb 11:17–19).
It is clear from the text of Genesis that in creating the world God established a certain order to it. For example, world order in the physical realm is seen in the separation of the heavens and the earth and in their movements so as to provided for day and night, and for signs for seasons, days and years. God established order in both the vegetation and animal realms by decreeing that all with seed in them were to bear fruit after their own kind. The creation order thus decrees that there is a separation of the many different species of vegetation and animals. World order is seen in the creation of man in the image of God. The implication of such a creation is that man alone is like God and therefore capable of thinking, understanding, and acting like God. Of all the creatures of God's creation, man alone is created with the necessary nature to enter into a personal relationship with God. World order is clearly established by man's relationship to God. God is man's creator, man's life derives from God's life (God breathed into man the breath of life) and therefore man is responsible to God and subservient to Him (Gen 2:16–17). Created in the image of God, man functions as God's agent on earth and is given the authority to rule over the creation (Gen 1:26–28). Thus in the creation order man stands over the rest of creation.
World order is also manifested in the relationship God established between the man and the woman—a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh (Gen 2:24). Lastly, world order is seen in God's action to bless His creatures (man and animal), and in His decree that they should all be fruitful and multiply filling the earth and the seas.
The world order established by the relationship between man, the animals, and the rest of creation is such that although man has been given a mandate and authority to rule over the creation as an agent under God, there existed harmony between man and the animals/living creatures (Gen 1:29–30) and harmony between the man and the woman (Gen 2:25).
From the time of the Creation until the Fall a world order existed in which everything was good. Man was in harmony with God, man, and the creation. There was nothing but blessing and joy in the life of man as he lived in personal relationship with God and his wife, and the earth willingly brought forth its fruit for man. However, all that changed with the Fall.
As a result of sin man not only was in a process of dying physically, but also he became separated from God and was now spiritually dead. Thus, as a result of man's sin, the personal relationship that existed between God and man was, from man’s side of the relationship, irreparably damaged as God cursed the man and drove him from His presence. Whereas before the Fall the man had life, both spiritual and physical, now he was dead spiritually and his physical life was limited to a finite number of days. While it was the plan of God to reestablish a personal relationship with man, the basis for that relationship could no longer be same as it was before. A new basis must be established. That basis, which is at first implied by the text, is God's election, calling, and separation of a seed, the seed of the woman, to Himself. That election, calling, and separation of a seed manifests itself in the life of the individual by faith in God. This becomes explicitly clear in the calling of Abraham.
The relationship between the man and the woman was also drastically changed as there was now suspicion of motives between them (Gen 3:12) and a ruling of the man over the woman (Gen 3:16). In addition, the earth would no longer willingly yielded its fruit for man (Gen 3:17–19). Rather man would now have to toil with hard labor in order to get the land to produce the food needed to live. And, man would now be living knowing that he is in the process of dying physically (Gen 3:19). Lastly, man would now be living under the dominion of the evil one, and, in this environment, God decreed that there would be enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the evil one (Gen 3:15). There would no longer be harmony in the world that God had created.
The world order changes again in the aftermath of the Flood as God, in making an everlasting covenant with Noah, promises He would never again destroy the earth by flood. However, the harmony between man and the animal world was greatly changed as God put the fear of man on the animal world and gave every moving thing that is alive to man for food. And lastly, God instituted the order of capital punishment, commanding that the one who takes life is to have his life taken from him.
The world order changes yet again following the Tower of Babel judgment. Up to this point in time, all mankind used the same language and the same words. However, because of the nature of their sin—they refused to obey the creation mandate, “Be fruitful and increase in number ; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1:28 / Gen 11:1–4)—God confused man's language so that the people could not understand one another's speech. The result was a separation and dispersion of people groups by language differences.
Lastly, the world order changes with the call of Abraham as God promises unconditionally to bless all the nations of the earth through the seed of Abraham. We now know that that seed is Jesus Christ (Gal 3:8, 16). Thus, in this new world order, it will be through the seed of Abraham that God is going to not merely restore the world order that existed before the Fall, but establish an eternal world order in which sin is no longer possible and God Himself dwells among His redeemed people in personal relationship with them (Rev 21:1–22:5).
The literary characteristics of Genesis are considered in terms of its literary form and structure with a view toward determining a structural organization that represents the book as a unified and coherent whole, that is, as a synthesis of the book.
Except for the scattered poetic sections in the Book of Genesis, the overall literary form of the book is historical narrative. Recall from the discussion on history and narrative literature in, Introduction to Literary Forms found in the Bible, that the purpose of this narrative type of literature is not the recording of past events for the sake of presenting a complete history, but rather for the purpose of instruction through the development of a theological message based on the historical events. Furthermore, no historical narrative is a complete account of all that occurred in a given event or series of events. To accomplish his intent of instruction, the biblical author must select those events that most effectively relate not only what happened but also the meaning and theological significance of what happened.
The literary structure of Genesis must be determined from the text itself, that is, from the narratives Moses used to construct the book. There are several possibilities that arise naturally.
A structure based on the use of the term toledot
The structure of Genesis is marked by an initial section and then 11 sections with headings (see Ross 1985:22–24). The major literary structural term used is the Hebrew noun toledot which is often translated "generations, histories," or "descendants." In the context in which this term is generally used, toledot has the sense of "these are the generations of . . . ". The word has been traditionally viewed as the heading of a section. According to this view the book has the following structural arrangement:
Toledot of the heavens and the earth (2:4–4:26)
Toledot of Adam (5:1–6:8)
Toledot of Noah (6:9–9:29)
Toledot of Shem, Ham, and Japheth (10:1–11:9)
Toledot of Shem (11:10–26)
Toledot of Terah (11:27–25:11)
Toledot of Ishmael (25:12–18)
Toledot of Isaac (25:19–35:29)
Toledot of Esau (36:1–8)
Toledot of Esau, father of the Edomites (36:9–37:1)
Toledot of Jacob (37:2–50:26)
The views on this understanding and arrangement, however, vary. Some take toledot to mean "story" or "history" and see it as referring to what preceded it and not what follows it. But nowhere in the OT does toledot clearly refer to what has preceded; in every place it can and often must refer to what follows (e.g., in Ruth 4:18 the word looks forward to Perez's line). This observation is justified on the basis of the root from which the noun comes. Since toledot is derived from a Hebrew verb which means, to bear, to generate, it refers to what is "brought forth." This formula word for Genesis, then, marks a starting point, combining narrative and genealogy to move from one point (or toledot) to the end (or the next toledot). It would seem, therefore, that it is used by Moses to move along the historical lines from a beginning to an ending. With this understanding, the toledot heading introduces the historical result of an ancestor and could be loosely rendered, "This is what became of . . . . ". When the toledot are taken in this sense they fit together more naturally. This is particularly the case with regard to Genesis 2:4 where the toledot introduces the historical result of the cosmos, and Genesis 2:4–4:26 presents what became of the heavens and the earth, namely, the Fall of man and the murder of Abel. The story does not present another Creation account; instead, it carries the account from the point of the climax of the Creation (the creation of man made in the image of God) to the corruption of the Creation as a result of sin; “This is what became of the heavens and the earth”.
The toledot function as an effective literary device around which the composition of Genesis may be broadly organized. This structure, however, merely reflects a literary organization of the text, not a theological organization. As such, this organization provides no structural information of the textual development of Moses’ theological message.
A structure based on a progression of narratives
Alternatively, Genesis could be structured in terms of the major stories developed in the text. This literary organization, which is readily determined from the text, takes the following form:
Jacob Story (Pt. 1)
Jacob Story (Pt. 2)
While this organization provides insight into the relationship of the narratives developed in Genesis, and in that sense is perhaps more appealing from a literary perspective, it too provides little if any understanding into the theologicalorganization of the text and therefore of the theological message it develops. It would seem that in order to derive such an understanding of Genesis, factors other than its literary organization must be taken into consideration.
Synthesis of Genesis as a unified and coherent theological whole
The analyses discussed above contribute to an understanding of Genesis as a unified and coherent theological whole. That understanding begins with a consideration of the message developed by the author in the text. Based on this information, a synthetic structure and synthesis of the text is then derived.
Development and statement of the message of Genesis
In determining the message statement of Genesis it is helpful to remember that most likely it was written for the generation of Israelites whom God redeemed from bondage in Egypt. From a theological perspective, it would seem, therefore, that Genesis serves the purpose of instructing the Exodus generation, and succeeding generations as well, concerning Israel's origins and the promises God made to the Patriarchs, promises that were now about to be fulfilled. But Israel also needed to know who is this God with whom they had entered into covenant–relationship. Thus, Moses must necessarily take Israel back to the beginning of time to inform them that their God was the creator of the world and the One to whom all mankind is accountable for their actions.
With this in mind, an examination of the “Broad Descriptive Overview” presented above reveals that from a theological perspective there are three pivotal events in Genesis which seem to be determining factors in the development of its message. They are:
- the creation (chs. 1–2);
- the fall of man (ch. 3)
- the call of Abraham and the covenant God made with him (ch. 12)
More specifically, these pivotal events involve:
- the creation of the world, and man made in the image of God to have a personal relationship with God and to rule over the earth under God (1:26–28);
- the fall of man into a state of sin (3:1–13), and the ensuing judgment of God which established conflict between the seed of the evil one and the seed of the woman resulting in the eventual conquest over the evil one through the seed of the woman (3:14–19);
- the promise of God to Abraham to bless him and his descendants, and to bless all the families of the earth through him (12:1–3; 13:14–17; 15:14–17; 17:1–21; 22:16–18).
In these three major events there is a progression from the "very good" world which God created purposefully, to the fallen world in which God is working to bring about His purposes in creating the world and man.