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In the BeginningGenesis
By Edward (Les) Middleton
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2005 Thomas Nelson, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Creation
Before We Begin ...
In the beginning, the earth was without form—a void. What statement by God changed the disorder into order and the emptiness into fullness?
Within the first seventeen words, the book of Genesis introduces four concepts that should make the entire world sit up and take notice.
Four Basic Truths
1. First, in addition to being what we have already called an extremely profound statement, "In the beginning God" could well be the most underestimated in the Bible, as well. When we look at the sentence as a whole ("In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth") it's possible to glide completely over the significance of those first four words.
In the beginning ... God! There was nothing before Him; everything that is or ever will be came after Him.
2. Second, God created everything out of nothing. In the original Hebrew, the word used for "created" was bara (and was actually the second word in the Hebrew original), which is reserved for God alone. No one else can create matter where none existed before, and nowhere in the Bible does this word reference the acts of anyone but God.
3. Third, God created all. "The heavens and the earth" takes in all that is—what we commonly call the universe. Thus God is also the undisputed sovereign over everything that exists, for the creator is always superior to the thing created.
4. Fourth (and this truth can be drawn from all the above), right there in the first few verses of His own Book, God defined and established, once and for all, the foundation of all the other laws He gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, and thus to all of humanity: "I am the Lord your God."
The Bible tells us that God created everything by simply speaking the words. For example, He said, "Let there be light." But what language did He use?
The Sequence of Creation
Once we move past the opening verses of Genesis we begin to get the details of creation itself. The following list shows the main events only, in order as they happened, as detailed in Genesis from the third verse of chapter 1 through the second verse of chapter 2.
1:3–4—God created light and divided it from darkness.
1:5—God called the light Day and the darkness Night.
1:6–8—God made the firmament and separated the waters of Earth from those in the atmosphere.
1:8—God called the firmament Heaven.
1:9—God gathered the waters of Earth together and commanded dry land to appear.
1:10—God called the dry land Earth, and called the waters Seas.
1:11–12—God created grasses, herbs, and fruits.
1:14–17—God created the sun, the moon, and the stars, and set them in the heavens.
1:20–21—God created all sea creatures and birds.
1:22—God blessed all the above and told them to "Be fruitful and multiply."
1:24–25—God created all the beasts of the earth.
1:26–27—God created man in His own image, then gave him dominion over all fish, birds, and living things on the earth.
1:28—God blessed man and told him to "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it," having dominion over all living things as described above.
1:29–30—God said that He had given man every seed-yielding herb and every seed-yielding fruit as food.
2:1–3—On the seventh day God ended His work, rested, and both blessed and sanctified ("set apart") that day.
Do you observe a "sabbath"—a day of rest, reflection, and worship? If so, what do you do?
Previously, we said that the ancient Israelites used a system of "trumpet blasts" and signal fires to communicate from group to group. What various forms of "signaling" are used in our society to signify the beginnings and endings in our worship services?
Note how, in the complete biblical text, in addition to the "godly pattern" mentioned elsewhere in this chapter, God also used essentially the same creation sequence each time:
1. First, He spoke the appropriate words.
2. Second, He told us the result.
3. Third, He called it "good."
4. Fourth, in some cases He gave names to what He had created.
5. Fifth, He indicated when each day ended via the "evening and the morning" comment.
Also Worth Noting ...
God Himself explained that He created and positioned the celestial bodies (primarily the stars but also the planets and other bodies, too) to serve as signs for seasons and days and years. Because of their relatively fixed positions (even though the stars themselves actually do move in their own individual orbits), the stars have also been used for navigation since ancient times. For centuries, no commander of a sailing vessel dared to venture onto the open sea without knowing how to "shoot the stars" and figure out where he was.
As Psalm 19:1 makes clear, the wonders of heaven were also put in place in a way that purposely displayed the handiwork of God. Thus we could have no doubt of the wondrous nature of our Creator. The only thing they were definitely not put there for was to be worshiped in place of God Himself. Sadly, in the name of astrology, men and women have done so from ancient Babylonian times right down to the present day.
The Bible tells us that man was made "in the image of God." At the same time we are told that God is spirit and doesn't have a "regular" or "constant" physical form (although, obviously, He could take on any physical form He wanted anytime He wanted to, as Christ did when He came to live among us). Thus we have to assume that "image" refers to His attributes, His essential nature, which we were meant to emulate within our own spirits so that we could have spiritual fellowship with Him. These attributes, incidentally, will be discussed in greater detail as we move farther into the Bible and examine more of God's communications with humanity.
Much has been written about God's establishment of the seventh day as a day "set apart" for rest. God also blessed it and made it holy ... but why? Certainly He Himself didn't need "rest" per se. He never sleeps because He never gets tired! Thus the correct answer is undoubtedly twofold. First, we do need physical rest. But second (and more important), we truly need to dedicate a definite amount of time each week to focusing on God, learning more of Him, and worshiping Him to the best of our ability. In that way we can be refreshed both physically and spiritually.
Psalm 19:1, mentioned earlier, tells us: "The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork" (NKJV). What are some things in our world that declare the handiwork of God—from the visible, physical "things in the heavens" to those things that are invisible or unseen by our eyes?
Pulling It All Together ...
The first verse of Genesis establishes God's preeminence above all else. Only He was "in the beginning." The first verse says that He created everything out of nothing. The first verse also proclaims that God created all. The remainder of this portion of the book of Genesis (Gen. 1:1–2:3) gives a straightforward accounting of God's creation of the world.
The final three verses of this portion tell us that God purposely rested on the seventh day, both blessing and setting apart that day for that specific purpose.
Chapter TwoSin Enters A Perfect World
Before We Begin ...
What people or events first come to mind when you think of the book of Genesis?
What principles do you tend to connect with those same people or events?
This section of Genesis begins with a striking example of a Hebrew stylistic technique that is not always familiar to readers of English translations. We are accustomed to thinking in linear terms. We expect a narrative to begin at the beginning (as in chapter 1 of Genesis) and then proceed in a straight line, with each event recorded in succession. This is how Western authors write the majority of our textbooks, novels, and news accounts.
Much of the time the Bible uses the linear model, too, but it does not always record historical events in strict, straight-line fashion. In chapter 2, verses 4–7 give us a superb example of a typical recapitulation (or "recap"), in which the author briefly summarizes what has gone before. In this particular case, verse 4 makes it very clear that "This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens ..." (Gen. 2:4 NKJV).
The next three verses then complete this brief summary, ending by recapping the creation of Adam, even though we have already read about it earlier:
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Gen. 2:7 NKJV)
It's almost as though God, through Moses as His scribe, wanted to make absolutely sure that we were right there with Him, listening carefully as He unfolded the story of creation before He went on to the next subject.
Of what significance is it that God Himself breathed life into man only? Why not into the other animals, as well?
In what respects was man made "in the image of God"? Does this mean that we literally look like God Himself?
The Garden of Eden
Next, God begins the last two acts of His creation as recorded in Genesis—except that He is no longer creating "from nothing." Now He begins refining elements of what He had already brought forth. First He set apart a beautiful home for Adam, called the Garden of Eden. He then filled it with every tree that is "pleasant to the sight and good for food" (Gen. 2:9 NKJV).
The exact location of the Garden of Eden remains a mystery, although most scholars believe it was positioned northwest of the Persian Gulf. The four rivers mentioned in Genesis 2:10–14 included the Euphrates and probably what we now call the Tigris, as well. The Garden might have been located between these two rivers, in part of an area called the "fertile crescent" that extended from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. This area has also been called the "birthplace (or cradle) of civilization." Its Greek name, Mesopotamia, meant "land between the rivers."
In Genesis 2:15, God put Adam in the Garden, to "tend and keep it." He also instructed Adam, very clearly, that he could eat of every tree in the Garden except one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, "for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:17 NKJV). He then brought all the animals before Adam and allowed him to name each one.
At that point God either realized or simply acknowledged, as a way of explaining what He was about to do, that Adam needed companionship. This is when He put Adam to sleep, extracted a rib, and fashioned Eve, literally, from Adam's own body. Adam then called her Woman "because she was taken out of Man" (Gen. 2:23 NKJV). At that point God also established the institution of marriage, both sanctifying it in the literal "setting apart" sense and giving it His obvious blessing:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Gen. 2:24 NKJV)
Why do you think God created man before He created woman? Why not the other way around?
God obviously recognized our human need for companionship. What does His deliberate creation of a companion for Adam tell us about the importance of living in community with others?
Enter the Wily Serpent ...
In the centuries that have gone by since God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, millions of words have been written about what happened next, with all its profound theological, cultural, and moral implications. Genesis records the complete story, including the universal and eternal consequences, in chapter 3. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you read through the verses.
1. Eve herself has often been blamed for what happened, but let's be fair. The serpent was actually Satan himself, at once the most evil and one of the most clever beings in the universe. In her innocence, Eve was simply no match for him. This was his big chance to ruin the paradise God had created. If Satan hadn't been able to fool Eve in the manner he first chose, surely he would have tried something else—and probably many more deceptions until he found one that worked. The history of the world since that time shows that he had barely begun to reach into his bag of tricks. (See also "Was It Really Eve's Fault?" on the following page.)
2. To help put the above into perspective, Christ Himself was also tempted by Satan. He won the battle of wits by quoting God's own Word, but Eve didn't have the same weapon. She had only her memory of what God had forbidden her and Adam to do. Now, whether she purposely chose to disregard what she knew to be true is an open question ... but then Adam would have to answer the same question, too, for he soon joined her in eating the forbidden fruit.
3. God's immediate actions, and the judgment He brought against Adam and Eve, involve many subtle nuances. Here are just three ...
a. God sacrificed an animal to provide clothing for Adam and Eve, symbolically covering their sin. Later on, He would require similar sacrifices from the children of Israel to cover their sin—essentially a life for a life. The connection of this concept to the atoning sacrifice of Christ Himself is equally clear and direct.
b. Adam (and thus all of humanity) was formed from dust. Rather than living forever in a sinless state, Adam (and Eve—and all of us) would now return to dust.
c. Other aspects of Adam and Eve's existence were also forever changed. For example, all women would now bear children in pain, and all men would now earn their bread by the sweat of their brows.
4. Note that the Bible does not tell us that Eve actually had a name of her own, and had just been called "the woman," until Genesis 3:20. There we are told that "Adam called his wife's name Eve [Chava, in Hebrew], because she was the mother of all living" (NKJV). This is probably another example of the Bible's occasional non-linear nature. At the very least, it seems unlikely that Adam would choose that precise moment, between God's judgment on him for his sin and his resulting expulsion from the Garden, to give his wife a name.
How do you believe the world—and mankind itself—might have evolved if sin had not entered into the picture?
Cain Kills Abel
The first few verses of chapter 4 give us the familiar account of Cain and Abel. It might be hard to find any story in the Bible that has been repeated more often, to more diverse audiences, than this short, abrupt tale of unprovoked killing, the first of more than thirty instances of murder in the Bible. The story contains a number of interesting "threads," any of which you might pursue at length. For example ...
1. To use the wording of the New King James Version of the Bible, why did God "not respect" Cain's offering? Was it because it was not a blood offering, which is mainly what the Lord required of the Israelites many years later? Or, was there something inherently inferior, or second class, in the actual fruits Cain offered? And one more possibility—did it have anything to do with Cain's attitude?
2. Obviously Cain was angry, but why did he take it out on Abel? Was it simple blind jealousy, unrestrained and spilling over? Or, crude as this might seem, was Cain in effect saying to God, "You want a blood sacrifice? All right—I'll give you a blood sacrifice!"
3. What did God mean when He told Cain, in Genesis 4:7, "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it" (NKJV). What criteria was God referring to when He spoke of "doing well" and "being accepted"?
4. Cain also initiated the world's first cover-up when he attempted to avoid responsibility for what he had done, via the famous "Am I my brother's keeper?" question. In other words, one sin leads quickly to another, each one easier than the first.
5. No one has ever been able to positively identify the "mark of Cain" that God put upon him to protect him from the vengeance of others. Some say it was an actual physical mark of some kind, while others claim it was an attitude or a demeanor that inspired pity. What do you think?
Why do you think God chose to protect Cain, even after what he did?
In a larger sense, chapter 4 is about the rapid spread of godlessness into other parts of the known world of that era. For without God as its focus, ruler, and source of inspiration, the world fell quickly into degradation. One of the best examples of this is the ancient story of Lamech, seventh in succession from Adam himself.
First, Lamech defied God's original intent for one man to be married to one woman as "one flesh," and took a second wife. He then killed a young man merely for wounding him, by implication an accidental offense that could have been as slight as a mere bumping together of their two bodies. Nonetheless, Lamech extracted the ultimate penalty. Worse yet, he boasted about it to his two wives and then demanded of God a far more lenient treatment than anything Cain might have received. And Cain, of course, was his role model, for Lamech was simply following in Cain's footsteps, indulging his own evil instincts by striking out and harming others.
Chapter 4 then concludes on a positive note with the birth of Seth to Adam and Eve. In the words of his mother, Seth was appointed by God as "another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed" (Gen. 4:25 NKJV).
To Seth was then born Enosh, at which point "men began to call on the name of the Lord" (Gen. 4:26 NKJV). Certainly a hopeful ending for the fourth chapter of Genesis!
Excerpted from In the Beginning by Edward (Les) Middleton Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.. 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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