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Believer's BIBLE COMMENTARY
By William MacDonald
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 1995 William MacDonald
All right reserved.
"The first book of the Bible is for several reasons one of the most interesting and fascinating portions of Scripture. Its place in the Canon, its relation to the rest of the Bible, and the varied and striking character of its contents combine to make it one of the most prominent in Holy Writ. It is with a real spiritual insight, therefore, that the people of God in all ages have fastened upon this book, and given it their earnest attention." —W. H. Griffith Thomas
I. Unique Place in the Canon
Genesis (Greek for "Beginning"), called Bereshith by the Jews (Hebrew for "In the beginning"), is well named. This exciting volume gives the only true account of creation by the only One who was there—the Creator!
Through His servant Moses, the Holy Spirit traces the beginnings of man, woman, marriage, the home, sin, sacrifices, cities, trade, agriculture, music, worship, languages, and the races and nations of the world. All this in the first eleven chapters.
Then, from chapters 12—50 we see the beginnings of Israel, God's "test-tube nation," to be a spiritual microcosm of all the peoples of the world. The lives of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his twelve sons—especially the attractively devout Joseph, have inspired untold millions, from young children to advanced OT scholars.
A solid grasp of Genesis is necessary for an understanding of the rest of the sixty-five books of the Bible. They all build on its beautifully proportioned literary base.
We accept the ancient Jewish and Christian teaching that Genesis was written and compiled by Moses the man of God and Lawgiver of Israel. Since all the events in Genesis are pre-Mosaic it is virtually certain that Moses used ancient documents and perhaps oral accounts as he was guided by the Holy Spirit. See Introduction to the Pentateuch for a discussion of Mosaic authorship.
The most conservative scholars generally date the Exodus about 1445 B.C. Hence Genesis would probably have been written between this date and Moses' death about forty years later. It is always possible, of course, that this one book of the Pentateuch was written before the Exodus, since all the events in Genesis predate that great event.
See Introduction to the Pentateuch for further details.
IV. Background and Themes
Except for those who are extremely biased against the Bible, Judaism, or Christianity, nearly everyone agrees that Genesis is a fascinating account of very ancient times and contains narratives of great beauty, such as the story of Joseph.
But just what is the background of this first book of the Bible. In short, what is it?
Those who reject a personal God have tended to class Genesis as a collection of myths adapted from pagan Mesopotamian, myths and "cleaned up" from their worst polytheistic elements for monotheistic Hebrew edification.
Others, not quite as skeptical, see Genesis as a collection of sagas or legends, with some historical value.
Yet others see the stories as explanations of the origins of things in nature and culture (technically called etiologies). There are etiologies in the OT, especially in this book of beginnings (the origin of sin, the rainbow, the Hebrew people, e.g.) but this by no means makes the explanations unhistorical.
Genesis is history. Like all history, it is interpretive. It is theological history, or facts narrated in a framework of the divine plan. It has been well said that "history is His story."
Though Genesis is the first book of the "law" there is very little legal material in it. It is "Law" (Torah, Heb. for instruction) in that it lays the foundation for Exodus through Deuteronomy and God's giving of the Law through Moses. In fact, it lays the foundation of all Bible history—yes, of history itself.
The twin themes of blessing and cursing are carefully woven throughout the fabric of Genesis, and indeed, the whole word of God. Obedience brings enrichment of blessing, and disobedience the opposite.
The great curses are the penalties of the Fall, the universal Flood, and the confusion of tongues at Babel.
The great blessings are the promise of a Redeemer, the salvation of a remnant through the Flood, and the choice of a special nation to be a channel of God's grace, Israel.
If Genesis is factual history, how could Moses have known all the ancient genealogies, conversations, events and correct interpretation of these events?
First, let it be said, that archaeology has supported (not "proved but confirmed and illustrated) the Genesis account in many areas, especially regarding the patriarchs and their customs.
Some nineteenth century liberals, such as Hartmann, taught that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch because writing had not yet been invented! Now we know that Moses could have written in any one of several ancient scripts, being learned in all the lore of Egypt.
Moses no doubt used accounts left by Joseph, and the tablets, parchments, and oral translations brought from ancient Mesopotamia by Abraham and his descendants. These would include the genealogies, the major sections, known as "the generations of Adam," etc.
In the final analysis this is still not enough. The Holy Spirit of God inspired Moses to choose exactly the right materials and to ignore the rest. He probably supplied details of conversations and other things by direct revelation.
It comes down to a matter of faith. Either God is capable of producing such a work through His servants or He is not. Believers of all generations from primeval times to today have set their seal that God is true.
Archaeology can help us reconstruct the culture of the patriarchs to make the Bible accounts more vivid, but only the Holy Spirit can illuminate the truth of Genesis to our hearts and daily lives.
As you read the Believers Bible Commentary on Genesis—or any of the OT books-you must be dependent on the Spirit's illumination of the Holy Word itself to really benefit from the comments. A true commentary is not an independent means, but an arrow, pointing to a "thus says the Lord."
I. EARTH'S EARLIEST AGES (Chaps. 1—11)
A. The Creation (Chaps. 1, 2) B. The Temptation and Fall (Chap. 3) C. Cain and Abel (Chap. 4) D. Seth and His Descendants (Chap. 5) E . Widespread Sin and the Universal Flood (Chaps. 6—8) F. Noah after the Flood (Chap. 9) G. The Table of Nations (Chap. 10) H. The Tower of Babel (Chap. 11)
II. THE PATRIARCHS OF ISRAEL (Chaps. 12—50)
A. Abraham (12:l—25:18) 1. The Call of Abraham (12:1-9) 2. To Egypt and Back (12:10—13:4) 3. Experiences with Lot and Melchizedek (13:5—14:24) 4. Abraham's Promised Heir (Chap. 15) 5. Ishmael, Son of the Flesh (Chaps. 16, 17) 6. Sodom and Gomorrah (Chaps. 18, 19) 7. Abraham and Abimelech (Chap. 20) 8. Isaac, Son of the Promise (Chap. 21) 9. The Offering of Isaac (Chap. 22) 10. The Family Burial Place (Chap. 23) 11. A Bride for Isaac (Chap. 24) 12. Abraham's Descendants (25:1-18)
B. Isaac (25:19—26:35) 1. Isaac's Family (25:19-34) 2. Isaac and Abimelech (Chap. 26)
C. Jacob (27:1—36:43) 1. Jacob Cheats Esau (Chap. 27) 2. Jacob's Flight to Haran (Chap. 28) 3. Jacob, His Wives, and His Offspring (29:1—30:24) 4. Jacob Outwits Laban (30:25-43) 5. Jacob's Return to Canaan (Chap. 31) 6. Jacob and Esau Reconciled (Chaps. 32, 33) 7. Sins at Shechem (Chap. 34) 8. The Return to Bethel (Chap. 35) 9. The Descendants of Jacob's Brother Esau (Chap. 36)
D. Joseph (37:1—50:26) 1. Joseph Sold into Slavery (Chap. 37) 2. Judah and Tamar (Chap. 38) 3. Joseph's Test and Triumph (Chap. 39) 4. Joseph Interpreting the Butler's and Baker's Dreams (Chap. 40) 5. Joseph Interpreting Pharaoh's Dreams (Chap. 41) 6. Joseph's Brothers in Egypt (Chaps. 42—44) 7. Joseph Reveals Himself to His Brothers (Chap. 45) 8. Joseph's Reunion with His Family (Chap. 46) 9. Joseph's Family in Egypt (Chap. 47) 10. Jacob's Blessing of Joseph's Sons (Chap. 48) 11. Jacob's Prophecy Concerning His Sons (Chap. 49) 12. Death of Jacob and then of Joseph in Egypt (Chap. 50)
I. EARTH'S EARLIEST AGES (Chaps. 1—11)
A. The Creation (Chaps. 1, 2)
1:1 "In the beginning God...."
These first four words of the Bible form the foundation for faith. Believe these words, and you can believe all that follows in the Bible. Genesis provides the only authoritative account of creation, meaningful for people of all ages but exhaustible by no one. The divine record assumes the existence of God rather than seeking to prove it. The Bible has a special name for those who choose to deny the fact of God. That name is fool (Ps. 14:1 and 53:1). Just as the Bible begins with God, so He should be first in our lives.
1:2 One of several conservative interpretations of the Genesis account of creation, the creation-reconstruction view, says that between verses 1 and 2 a great catastrophe occurred, perhaps the fat1 of Satan (see Ezek. 28;l1-19). This caused Gods original, perfect creation to become without form and void (tohû wavohû). Since God didn't create the earth waste and empty (see Isa. 45:18), only a mighty cataclysm could explain the chaotic condition of verse 2. Proponents of this view point out that the word translated was (hayetha) could also be translated "had become." Thus the earth "had become waste and empty."
The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters, preparatory to the great creative and reconstructive acts to follow. The remaining verses describe the six days of creation and reconstruction which prepared the earth for human habitation.
1:3-5 On the first day God commanded light to shine out of darkness and established the Day and Night cycle. This act is not to be confused with the establishment of the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day. In 2 Corinthians 4:6 the Apostle Paul draws a paralIe1 between the original separation of light from darkness and the conversion of a sinner.
1:6-8 Prior to the second day, it seems that the earth was completely surrounded by a thick layer of water, perhaps in the form of a heavy vapor. On the second day God divided this layer, part covering the earth with water and part forming clouds, with the atmospheric layers (firmament or "dome") between. God called the firmament Heaven—that is, the expanse of space immediately above the earth (not the stellar heavens, nor the third heaven, where God dwells). Verse 20 makes it clear that the heaven here is the sphere where the birds fly.
1:9-13 Then God caused the dry land to appear out of the waters that covered the face of the planet. Thus were born the Earth and the Seas. Also on the third day He caused vegetation and trees of all kinds to spring up in the earth.
1:14-19 It was not until the fourth day that the Lord set the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens as light-bearers and as means for establishing a calendar.
1:20-23 The fifth day saw the waters stocked with fish and the earth stocked with bird-life and insects. The word translated birds means "flying ones" and includes bats and probably flying insects.
1:24, 25 On the sixth day God first created animals and reptiles. The law of reproduction is repeatedly given in the words according to its kind. There are significant variations within "kinds" of biological life, but there is no passing from one kind to another.
1:26-28 The crown of God's work was the creation of man in His image and according to His likeness. This means that man was placed on earth as God's representative, and that He resembles God in certain ways. Just as God is a Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), so man is a tripartite being (spirit, soul, and body). Like God, man has intellect, a moral nature, the power to communicate with others, and an emotional nature that transcends instinct. There is no thought of physical likeness here. In contrast to animals, man is a worshiper, an articulate communicator, and a creator.
There is an allowance for or even an intimation of the Trinity in verse 26: Then God [Elohim, plural] said [singular verb in Hebrew], "Let Us [plural] make man in Our image...."
The Bible describes the origin of the sexes as a creative act of God. Evolution has never been able to explain how the sexes began. Humanity was commanded to be fruitful and multiply.
God gave man a mandate to subdue creation and have dominion over it—to use it but not abuse it. The modern crises in the earth's environment are due to man's greed, selfishness, and carelessness.
1:29, 30 It is clear from these verses that animals were originally herbivorous and that man was vegetarian. This was changed after the Flood (see 9: 1-7).
Were the six days of creation literal 24-hour days, or were they geological ages? Or were they days of "dramatic vision" during which the creation account was revealed to Moses? No scientific evidence has ever refuted the concept that they were literal solar days. The expression "the evening and the morning" points to 24-hour days. Everywhere else in the OT these words mean normal days. Adam lived through the seventh day and died in his 930th year, so the seventh day could not have been a geological age. Wherever the "day" is used with a number in the OT ("first day," etc.) it means a literal day. When God commanded Israel to rest on the Sabbath day, He based the command on the fact that He had rested on the seventh day, after six days of labor (Ex. 20:8-11). Consistent interpretation here requires the same meaning of the word "day."
A difficulty, however, is that the solar day as we know it may not have begun until the fourth day (vv. 14-19).
As far as the Bible is concerned, the creation of the heavens and the earth is undated. The creation of man is undated also. However, genealogies are given, and, even allowing for possible gaps in the genealogies, man could not have been on the earth for the millions of years demanded by evolutionists.
We learn from John 1:1, 14, Colossians 1:16, and Hebrews 1:2 that the Lord Jesus was the active Agent in creation. For the inexhaustible wonders of His creation, He is worthy of endless worship.
1:31 At the end of the six days of creation God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.
2:1-3 God rested from His creative activity on the seventh day. This is not the rest that follows weariness but the rest of satisfaction and completion of a job well done. Although God did not command man to keep the Sabbath at this time, He taught the principle of one day of rest in seven.
2:4-6 The name Lord God (Jehovah [Yahweh] Elohim) appears for the first time in verse 4, but only after the creation of man (1:27). As Elohim, God is the Creator. As Jehovah, He is in covenant relation with man. Failing to see this, some Bible critics have concluded that these different names for God can only be explained by a change in authorship.
This is the history (v. 4) refers to the beginnings described in chapter 1. Verse 5, which reads, "before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown," describes conditions on the earth in 1;10, when the dry land appeared but before vegetation appeared. The earth was watered by a mist rather than by rain.
2:7 A fuller account of the creation of man is now given. God formed his body from the dust of the ground, but only the impartation of the breath of God made him a living being. Adam ("red" or "ground") was named after the red earth from which he was made.
2:8-14 The garden that God planted in Eden was toward the east, i.e., east of Palestine, the point of reference for Bible directions. It was located in the region of Mesopotamia, near the Hiddekel (Tigris) and Euphrates Rivers. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil provided a test of man's obedience. The only reason it was wrong to eat of that fruit was because God had said so. In different forms, that fruit is still with us today.
2:15-23 The penalty for violating the commandment was death (v. 17)—instant spiritual death and progressive physical death. In the process of naming the animals and birds, Adam would have noticed that there were males and females. Each one had a mate that was similar to itself, yet different. This prepared Adam for a helper who would be comparable to himself. His bride was formed from one of his ribs, taken from his side as he slept. So from Christ's side, His Bride was secured as He shed His life's blood in untold agony. Woman was taken not from Adam's head to dominate him, nor from his feet to be trodden down, but from under his arm to be protected, and from near his heart to be loved.
God gave headship to man before sin entered. Paul argues this fact from the order of creation (man was created first) and the purpose of creation (woman was made for the man) (1 Cor. 11:8, 9). Also, although it was Eve who sinned first, it is by Adam, the head, that sin is said to have entered the world. He had the position of head and was thus responsible.
Verse 19 is clearer with the English pluperfect tense: "The Lord God had formed ... every beast," i.e., before He made man.
2:24 With the words of verse 24 God instituted monogamous marriage. Like a11 divine institutions, it was established for man's good and cannot be violated with impunity. The marriage bond illustrates the relationship that exists between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:22-32).
2:25 Although Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden without any clothes, they were not ashamed.
Excerpted from Believer's BIBLE COMMENTARY by William MacDonald Copyright © 1995 by William MacDonald. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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