Overview of the Old Testament: Genesis
‘Genesis’ means ‘beginning’. God comes first. Before anyone else is mentioned, He is there. Before any human word is spoken, there is the Word of the Lord.God speaks, and it is done (1:3,6-7,11). God is pleased with what He has done (1:4,10,12). In chapter 1, we have read about the beginning of creation. In chapter 3, we read about the beginning of sin. Once we were innocent. Now we are guilty. The story of Adam and Eve is repeated over and over again. This is our story as well as Adam and Eve’s story. Even in the face of sin, we see something else. We see the God of love, seeking to restore the fallen to Himself. Having chosen the way of sin, we are ‘naked’ and ashamed (10). The Gospel teaches us that ‘there’s a way back to God from the dark paths of sin’. We can be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. We can bring the ‘filthy rags’ of ‘our righteous acts’ (Isaiah 64:6) to God, and we can exchange them for the perfect righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Sin has consequences. Human life could never be the same once sin had entered it. The effects of sin can be seen in the whole of life. The most profound effect of sin is summed up in 3:22. We cannot reach out our hands and take hold of eternal life. There is no way to heaven which begins with the word ‘I’. We must begin with God - ‘God so loved the world...’ (John 3:16). In the story of Cain, we see the development of sin. Jealousy leads to anger, and anger leads to murder. In this story, we see ourselves in the ‘mirror’ of God’s Word. Here, God emphasizes our exceeding sinfulness - ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt’ (Jeremiah 17:9). Our sinfulness leads us away from ‘the presence of the Lord’ to ‘the land of wandering (Nod)’ (4:16). This is the work of Satan in our lives - Genesis 4 is an extension of Genesis 3. Chapter 4 ends with hope: ‘At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord’ (26).
Enoch's story was the story of God at work in his life. So many life-stories end with the words, ‘he died’. Enoch's life on earth points beyond itself (5:24). Enoch had ‘walked with God’ (5:22,24). Building his life upon the God of grace, Enoch had, by faith, stepped out of this present world and into ‘what we hope for’, ‘what we do not see’ (Hebrews 11:5,1). What a testimony Enoch left behind him! Not much is said about him, but what power of the Spirit of God there is in these few words! The story of Noah is the story of God’s grace - ‘Noah found grace’ (6:8). Noah lived in very difficult times (6:5-7), yet ‘Grace found Noah’. His testimony could be summed up: ‘Amazing grace...I once was lost but now am found.’ To view the flood exclusively in terms of judgment is to see only one side of what God was doing. As well as judging, He was also saving - ‘In this ship a few people - eight in all - were saved by water’ (1 Peter 3:20). ‘The Lord closed the door behind them’ (7:16). What was going on outside of the ark is contrasted with the haven of salvation inside the ark. What was it that made the ark a place of salvation? - The Lord. What is it that makes Jesus Christ the Source of our salvation? - God has given Him the Name that is above every name, the Name of our salvation (Philippians 2:9-11; Acts 4:12).Following the flood, we have this simple yet striking declaration: ‘the ground was dry’ (8:13). Safe from judgment! This is the message which comes to us from the Cross: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). The judgment has fallen upon Christ. We are no longer swept away in the judgment. We can stand on solid ground: ‘On Christ the solid Rock I stand.’
‘When you see a rainbow, remember God is love’. The rainbow reminds us of the gracious promise of God (9:13-15). If the love of God is revealed in the rainbow, it is more fully revealed in the Cross. Noah's fall into sin teaches us that past grace is no guarantee of present growth. We must keep our eyes on Jesus, ‘the Author and Finisher of our faith' (Hebrews 12: 2). What a lot of names! Why is all this included in God’s Word? It may describe the historical context of God’s unfolding purpose of providing salvation for sinners, but what does it say to us? The inclusion of so many obscure names emphasizes that everyone - however obscure - is important. ‘God so loved the world’ (John 3:16) - not only the ‘important’ people but all people. Human pride sets itself up against the authority of God. This is the oft-repeated story of the ‘Tower of Babel’. The end of godless men is sure - ‘Tower and temple, fall to dust.’ What a contrast there is between the Tower of Babel and the great declaration of Proverbs 18:10 - ‘The Name of the Lord is a strong tower’. In Babel there is scattering (11:9). In the Lord, there is safety - ‘A righteous man runs to it and is safe’. Do not imagine yourself to be strong (Proverbs 18:11). True strength is in Christ alone (1 Corinthians 1:27). Another list of names! Again, there is something here for us - God is moving on. History can be tedious, until we see it as His Story.
This is a divine Story, carried forward by God’s grace and power. Life is full of choices. Lot made a selfish choice (13:10-12). Abraham made a godly choice, and he was blessed by the Lord (13:14-17). The worldly man takes for himself (13:11). The spiritual man receives from the Lord (13:15).Our sin comes from ourselves. Our salvation comes from the Lord. Confess your sin. Receive God’s forgiveness. In Melchisedek - ‘See how great he is’ (14:4), we see Jesus. In Hebrews 7:3, we learn that Melchisedek resembles the Son of God. We read of Melcisedek and, in our hearts, we say, ‘How great is our Lord Jesus Christ’. Abraham was full of questions. In 15:2, he asks, ‘What can you give me?’ This is the question of salvation. What does God give? He gives salvation. In 15:8, he asks, ‘How can I know?’. This is the question of assurance. God gives us the assurance that salvation has been given and received. From salvation and the assurance of salvation in chapter 15, we turn, in chapter 16, to Satan and the activity of Satan. Listening to the voice of Satan, speaking through Sarai, Abraham walked straight into immorality. We must not imagine that Satan will win the victory over the Lord and His purpose of salvation. Satan will try to overcome God's gracious purpose, but he will not succeed (Revelation 20:10). Abram became Abraham (17:5). Sarai became Sarah (17:15-16). What they were belonged to their sinful past. What they became was the work of God's grace. "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (18:14). We need to hear these words as God’s call to greater faith. In the face of the threatened judgment of God upon Sodom and Gomorrah, we find Abraham engaging in mighty intercessory prayer. He is not concerned only about himself and his own salvation. He is prayerfully committed to seeking the salvation of others. This is a mark of spiritual maturity - a deep concern for the salvation of sinners, leading to earnest intercessory prayer for them.
Sin leads to judgment - that’s the lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is sadness in the story of Lot. A compromised believer for whom the world had no respect, he chose Sodom. This choice brought him nothing but sin and shame. Devotion to the Lord needs to be renewed day-by-day. Otherwise, we will be vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy and overcome by him. Abraham concealed the whole truth by telling a half-truth (20:12). Abraham was regarded as ‘a prophet’ (20:7). He ought to have lived the life of a prophet, a true life. We are to be true - the people of God. Ishmael was born as a result of impatience, the failure to wait upon the Lord. In the birth of Isaac, the initiative belonged with God, and the glory belonged to Him. In Christ, we are the children of promise - ‘born of God’ (John 1:13). In the testing of Abraham, we catch a glimpse of ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). Christ is the Lamb whom God will provide (22:8). ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided’ (22:14). On Calvary’s hill, Christ died to bring us to God, so that we might learn to live for Him in this world (1 Peter 3:18; 2:24). After the renewal of God’s promise (22:15-18), Abraham went to Beersheba (22:19). He returned to the place where he had ‘called...on the Name of the Lord, the Everlasting God’ (22:33). This is a good ‘place’ to be, the ‘place’ of calling on the Name of the Lord, the Everlasting God. The servant was sent on a mission. He was ‘to get a wife for... Isaac’ (24:4). When Christ entered Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11), He was on a mission. He had come for His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:25; Revelation 21:2-3). ‘Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the gates of their enemies’ (24:60). This refers to the long-term fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham. Through the death of Christ, the Lamb of God, ‘a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation,’ will sing the song of salvation, ‘Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb’ (Revelation 7: 9-10).
‘After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac’ (25:11), ‘Ishmael’s descendants lived in hostility toward all their brothers’ (25:18) - What will we leave behind us? What will we pass on to the next generation? Grace lifted Jacob. The glory belongs to God. ‘Wonderful grace of Jesus, Greater than all my sin!’ ‘History repeats itself’. Sin has a ‘like father, like son’ quality about it - Isaac is like Abraham (26:7; 12:13, 20:2, 12-13), Jacob is like Isaac (26:7; 25:31,27:19). Grace repeats itself. God is faithful. He gives forgiveness and victory over temptation (1 John 1:9; 1 Corinthians 10:13). The deception of Isaac by Jacob (prompted by Rebekah) is a sad episode, yet God - in grace - really bestows His blessing on Jacob.This had nothing to do with ‘Jacob’s righteousness’. It had everything to do with God’s faithfulness. The good work begun by God, will be completed by Him (Philippians 1:6). This was true for Jacob (28:15). It is true for us. What a tangled web! Jacob has cheated Esau. Now, Esau is saying, ‘I will kill my brother Jacob’ (27:41). What are we to make of all this? We must look beyond the human scene. Behind it all, there is ‘God Almighty’ (28:3). God will fulfil His promises. Nothing will distract Him from His ultimate purpose of salvation.God came to him with His wonderful promise of love: ‘I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you’ (28:15). Out of love for Rachel (29:18,20), Jacob served Laban for an extra seven years. We would serve Christ better if we loved Him more. Jesus still asks the question, ‘Do you love Me?’ (John 21:15-17). ‘Rachel was barren’ (29:31) yet the Lord gave her this testimony: ‘God has taken away my disgrace’ (30:23). We move from one Joseph to another - the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. We see an even greater work of grace: the birth of our Saviour. Rachel rejoiced in the gift of a son, her son. We rejoice in the gift of the Son, God’s Son. Through the Spirit of God’s Son living in our hearts, we are God’s children and He is our Father (Galatians 4:6). Jacob was still a complex character, trying to arrange his own prosperity (30:37-43). There is, however, another, better reason for his prosperity - God had promised to bless him, and God did bless him (28:15).
As we try to unravel the complexities of Jacob’s dealings with Laban, we must remember this one thing: ‘If God had not been with me’ (31:42). This is the spiritual dimension. We must not lose sight of this. Life can be complicated at times, but we must not forget this: God is with us. Jacob, soon to be renamed Israel (32:28), was preparing to meet Esau. There is, in his prayer, the way of being prepared for a more important meeting: ‘Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!’ (Amos 4:12). At Peniel, Jacob ‘saw God face to face’ (32:30). We see ‘the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Jacob wrestled with God and became an overcomer (32:28). Christ wrestled with the powers of evil, and has won a mighty victory for us. When He cried out from the Cross, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30), this was His declaration of victory. The victory has been won. The victory is complete. Jacob said to Esau: ‘truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God’ (33:10). Jesus said, ‘as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me’ (Matthew 25:40). Jacob is still turning out to be a big disappointment. Despite all Jacob’s potential (28:15-17,20-22; 32:28-30), there is still, in him, a great deal of self and not very much of the Lord. It seems that he has become so preoccupied with himself and his own interests that he has forgotten all about God. God was still calling him to higher things. What love! God doesn’t give up on us. He keeps on calling us back to Himself. ‘God appeared to Jacob again ... and blessed him’ (35:9). The Lord’s blessing does not come only once. Again and again, He blesses His people, leading us on to a closer walk with Him. God knows what we have been - ‘Your name is Jacob’ (35:10). He knows how often we have failed Him, yet still, He loves us. Still, He holds out before us a new and better future - ‘Israel shall be your name’ (35:10). There are two ways of looking at every situation - 'Benoni' (son of my sorrow), 'Benjamin' (son of the right hand) (35:18). Esau’s hardness of heart was more than personal. It has continued for generations - ‘two nations, two peoples’ (25:23). He has ‘spiritual’ descendants too. God’s Word warns us: ‘See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God...like Esau’ (Hebrews 12:15-17).
Joseph’s situation seemed hopeless: ‘cast... into a pit’, ‘sold’ into slavery (37:24,28). God was in this situation. Each of us is in a ‘pit’, but we are not alone. Jesus has gone into the ‘pit’ for us, and He has come out of it victorious. God was with Joseph. He is with us. Joseph was put into prison, ‘but the Lord was with him, and showed him steadfast love’ (39:20-21) - ‘persecuted, but not forsaken’' (2 Corinthians 4:9). Joseph the dreamer (37:5-11) becomes Joseph the interpreter of dreams. Joseph may be viewed as a prophet: ‘Surely the Lord does nothing, without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets’ (Amos 3:7). As a true prophet, he gives the glory to God alone: ‘Do not interpretations belong to God?’ (40:8). In the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph directs attention to God: ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favourable answer... God has revealed to Pharaoh what He is about to do... God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do... the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass (41:16,25,28,32). Joseph spoke with divine authority because ‘the Spirit of God’ was living in him (41:38).
‘Joseph’s brothers... bowed themselves before him’ (42:6). Remember Joseph’s dream (37:5-11)! God is fulfilling His purpose. This has nothing to do with the glory of Joseph. It has everything to do with the glory of God. Joseph was exalted to a place of honour because he was a man of God: ‘I fear God’ (42:18). God is fulfilling His purpose: ‘the brothers fell before Joseph to the ground’ (44:14; 37:7,10). God’s purpose is moving towards its ultimate fulfilment: ‘that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow’ (Philippians 2:10). Bowing the knee to Jesus Christ begins here and now. As God’s purpose moves forward, the brothers are being changed from men who sold their brother into slavery to men who will welcome him again as their long-lost brother (37:28; 45:15). God wants to change us. He wants to make us more like Jesus. In the reunion of Joseph with his brothers, there is a great testimony to the God of grace: “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth … it was not you who sent me here, but God... God has made me lord of all Egypt” (45:5,7-9). Joseph was the pioneer. He went ahead of the others. He paved the way for them. Jesus is ‘the Pioneer of our salvation’. He will ‘bring many sons to glory’. He will welcome us as His ‘brothers’ (Hebrews 2:10-12).
Jacob goes to Egypt. There was no need for fear because God would be with him (46:3-4). Joseph provided food for his family (47:12). Jesus has provided for us something better than food (Matthew 4:4) - ‘an eternal redemption’ (Hebrews 9:12). Grateful to Joseph for what he had done for them, the people said, ‘You have saved our lives... we will be slaves’ (47:25). Saved by Christ, we are to be ‘slaves’ of Christ (Romans 6:17-18). Jacob said, ‘I am about to die’ (48:21). Jesus says, ‘I died and... I am alive for evermore’ (Revelation 1:18). Jacob blesses his sons, ‘blessing each with the blessing suitable to him’ (28). ‘God... has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 1:3). What blessings He has given to us - the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, eternal life (Ephesians 1:7,13-14)! It was a time of ‘very great and sorrowful lamentation’ (50:10). Jacob had died (49:33). Soon, Joseph would be gone (50:26). God was still there. He had been there in the past (50:20). He would be there in the future (50:24-25). Times are hard. We rejoice: ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases’. An earthly life has ended. We say, ‘His mercies never come to an end’. We cannot cope. We discover that ‘His mercies are new every morning’. Everything seems to be changing. We trust in God’s unchanging love: ‘Great is Thy faithfulness’. It seems hopeless. We say, ‘I will hope in the Lord’ (Lamentations 3:22-24).