The book of Genesis lays the groundwork for God's relationship with humanity and his plan for our salvation. Hughes explores this book with the care and insight that are the hallmarks of the Preaching the Word series.
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About the Author
R. Kent Hughes (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is senior pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and former professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hughes is also a founder of the Charles Simeon Trust, which conducts expository preaching conferences throughout North America and worldwide. He serves as the series editor for the Preaching the Word commentary series and is the author or coauthor of many books. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, and have four children and an ever-increasing number of grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
Beginning GENESIS 1:1, 2
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IT WAS THE CUSTOM IN ANCIENT TIMES to name a book by its opening word, which is what the Hebrews did in titling this initial Bible book Bereshith, which means "in the beginning." When the Old Testament was translated into Greek about 250 B.C. the Greek equivalent of the title was rendered Genesis, which both the Latin and English translations have adopted letter for letter. It is an exquisitely perfect title because this book gives us the genesis (the beginning) of the doctrine of God, which rose to tower high over the pagan notions of the day. It is the genesis of the doctrine of creation, which likewise rose far above the crude mythologies of the surrounding nations. Genesis gives us the doctrine of man, demonstrating that from the beginning we are both wonderful and awful. The doctrine of salvation too has its genesis in Eden and its grand development throughout the whole book.
Astounding! What we know about God, about creation, about ourselves, and about salvation begins in Genesis. It provides the theological pillars on which the rest of the Bible stands. Jesus, the Messiah, has his prophetic genesis in the opening chapters of Genesis (cf. 3:15). The importance of Genesis for the believing heart can hardly be overstated.
At the same time, as deep and weighty as the book of Genesis is, it is no dry textbook. Its narratives of the garden, the flood, and the tower of Babel have captivated hearts for over three millennia and have provided inspiration for the world's greatest poetry. The earthy, epic lives of Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob and Esau, and Joseph in Egypt are so primary and universal and so skillfully told that they have never ceased to enthrall listeners. The last decade of the twentieth century and the opening years of the twenty-first century produced a renewed public interest in the narratives of Genesis, and even a PBS special, and numbers of books on the shelves of popular bookstores. Genesis is in as literature. And what grand preaching material it is!
An overview of Genesis reveals neatly structured themes. It is widely accepted that chapters 1 — 11 cover primeval history (the early history of Planet Earth) and chapters 12 — 50 patriarchal history (the history of Israel's founding fathers). The famous Hebrew term toledoth, literally translated "generations of," occurs ten times in Genesis. Five refer to primeval history and five to patriarchal history. Closer examination reveals that five of them variously introduce narratives, and five introduce genealogies. Genesis is finely crafted.
Primeval history. The first eleven chapters, which give us the primeval history (universal history) of the world, do so by relating five stories that all have the same structure. The stories are of the fall, Cain, the sons of God marrying the daughters of man, the flood, and the tower of Babel. All five stories follow this fourfold pattern: a) Sin: the sin is described; b) Speech: there is a speech by God announcing the penalty; c) Grace: God brings grace to the situation to ease the misery due to sin; and d) Punishment: God punishes the sin. See an instructive chart on this in the footnotes.
Here is amazing grace — amazing because though in all five stories there is an increasing avalanche of sin and resulting punishment that necessarily becomes increasingly severe, there is always more grace. Adam and Eve are punished, but God graciously withholds the death penalty. Cain is banished from his family, but God graces him with a mark of protection. The flood comes, but God graciously preserves the human race through Noah. Only in the case of Babel is the element of grace muted.
Patriarchal history. But this lack serves to set up the continuation of grace during the following patriarchal section of Genesis 12 — 50. In this section Abraham receives the gracious promise that through him all the peoples of the world will be blessed (cf. 12:3). And then the patriarchal period unfolds the fulfilling of that gracious promise. Despite the patriarchs' repeated sins, God's promise stands. The salvation history of the patriarchal narratives functions as the gracious answer to mankind's scattering at Babel.
Genesis is about grace. The Apostle Paul's aphorism, "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Romans 5:20) sums up this major theme of Genesis. Genesis, far from being a faded page fallen from antiquity, breathes the grace of God. What a time we're going to have as our souls are worked over by the sin-speech-grace-punishment pattern of chapters 1 — 11, and by the overall "where sin increases, grace abounds" theme of the whole book. This is good soul medicine — strong meat. It was grace from the beginning — in both primeval and patriarchal history. It always will be grace.
Genesis also provides us with a grand revelation of God's faithfulness as it recounts God's fidelity over and over again in the lives of the patriarchs. We see that God remains faithful even when the people to whom the promises are made become the greatest threat to the fulfillment of the promise. Such is God's faithfulness that the sinful, disordered lives of the promise-bearers can't abort the promises. This is the way God has always been. The New Testament puts it this way:
if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)
Faithfulness is a primary reality about God — the Genesis reality. It's nothing new, but it is everything.
In regard to man, Genesis is eloquent: He is at the same time truly wonderful and truly awful. The bulk of Genesis affirms our terrible sinfulness. Even the best of the patriarchs are helpless, hopeless sinners. Not one ever comes to merit salvation. So we understand that from the first, salvation could come only through faith. Moses makes it clear that is how Abraham, the greatest of the patriarchs, was saved: "And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6). Paul would allude to this multiple times in the New Testament, saying of Abraham in Romans, "The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe ... so that righteousness would be counted to them as well" (4:11). There is only one way that fallen humanity can be saved — the Genesis way — by faith. There never has been another.
Who wrote Genesis? The Scriptures, both Old Testament and New Testament, affirm that Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible (Genesis through Deuteronomy; cf. Exodus 17:14; Deuteronomy 31:24; Joshua 8:31; 2 Kings 14:6; Romans 10:5; and 2 Corinthians 3:15). Most significantly Jesus himself confirms Mosaic authorship (cf. John 5:45-47). Of course, Moses' writing was somewhat revised and added to by others. Moses would have had a hard time writing Deuteronomy 34, the last chapter of the book, which describes his death!
Internal biblical dating points to the late fifteenth century B.C. at the time of or following the exodus when Israel wandered in the wilderness. In the dynamic context of the wilderness journey, as God's people dreamed of the promised land, they would naturally ask about Abraham and the patriarchs who had brought them down to Egypt. And beyond that they would ask about their ultimate origins. Thus God met Moses with his Word, giving him not only Genesis but what we call the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible.
As we now consider the opening lines of Genesis, we must carefully note that Israel had just escaped the oppressive polytheism of Egypt's temples and pyramids with its solar and lunar gods. In Egypt, the pagan mythologies had opposed Israel's monotheism. In opposition to a single creator, the Egyptians taught pantheism and shored up their beliefs with elaborate myths of love affairs and reproduction among the gods, of warfare marking out the heavens and the earth. Their priests annually mimed their myths, hoping that by reenacting them they would create life. And that was not without effect. Some of God's people had succumbed to the lavish liturgies of the Nile.
So Moses took them on. These opening lines would forever establish a true understanding about God, the universe, and humanity. Moses began with a radical and sweeping affirmation of monotheism over polytheism.
His style was one of calm, majestic, measured grandeur. Moses did not condescend to mention the pagan worldviews but answered them through deliberate, solemn utterances that dismissed the opposing cosmologies by silence and subtle allusion: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" (vv. 1, 2). The emphasis is threefold: first God, then the universe, and then the earth.
God and the Beginning
Derek Kidner, one-time warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge, has pointed out that it is no accident that God is the subject of the first sentence of the Bible because his name here, Elohim, dominates the whole chapter — occurring some thirty-five times in all, so that it catches the reader's eye again and again. Kidner's point is that this section and indeed the entire book of Genesis is about God from first to last — and to read it any other way is to misread it. We will keep this advice in the forefront, especially as Genesis begins to focus on God the Son as the beginning and end of history.
Remarkably, the mystery of the Holy Trinity is embedded in the first three Hebrew words of the text (Bereshith bara Elohim) because the name "God," Elohim, is in the plural, and the verb "created" (bara) is in the singular, so that God (plural) created (singular). On the one hand the Bible teaches that God is a unity: "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4; cf. 1 Corinthians 8:6). On the other hand, it is equally as explicit that God is three persons (cf. Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14) — and that all three Persons were active in creation (God and the Spirit in Genesis 1:1, 2; God and the Son in John 1:1-3, 10; and the Son in Colossians 1:15-17 and Hebrews 1:1-3). So it is that we meet the awesome Triune God in the first three words of Biblical revelation!
God was there in the beginning. And here the context means "the beginning" of time itself, not sometime within eternity. Later Moses would give God's presence at the beginning wonderful poetic expression when he sang,
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:2)
Whichever way we look — to the vanishing points of the beginning or the end — God is there, having always been there.
And even more, God created everything out of nothing. "It is correct to say that the verb bara, 'create,' contains the idea both of complete effortlessness and creatio ex nihilo, since it is never connected with any statement of the material" (Von Rad). Believing God's word, the writer of Hebrews gave it precise explanation, "By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible" (11:3; cf. Isaiah 40:26; Revelation 4:11).
Moses' assertion that nothing existed before God spoke it into existence was an attack on the polytheism and pantheism from which his people had just escaped. Today it stands as the answer to philosophical materialism and naturalism, which hold that the only real things are material, physical things — or as the opening line of Carl Sagan's best-seller Cosmos puts it: "The cosmos is all there is, or has been, or will be" — matter is God! As we all know, this worldview has dominated the sciences for the last one hundred years. And it is defended, by some, against all logic — for fear that a Divine Foot might get in the door. In particular, absolute devotion to materialism has been the creed of Darwinian evolution and its dubious and increasingly discredited doctrine of natural selection.
Significantly, the emergence of the Intelligent Design Movement and the appearance of books the caliber of Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box have moved some old-line Darwinists to retreat. Intelligent Design asks questions that the Darwinists can only answer by faith in metaphysical materialism. Thus William Dembski writes in his introduction to Mere Creation:
Darwin gave us a creation story, one in which God was absent and undirected natural processes did all the work. That creation story has held sway for more than a hundred years. It is now on the way out. ... In The End of Christendom Malcolm Muggeridge wrote, "I myself am convinced that the theory of evolution, especially to the extent to which it has been applied, will be one of the greatest jokes in the history books of the future. Posterity will marvel that so very flimsy and dubious an hypothesis could be accepted with the incredible credulity it has."
Well, what do you know? The Bible was right. Creation could not happen without God!
In the beginning God existed in plural unity as the Holy Trinity. In the beginning God was existing from eternity to eternity. In the beginning was God — before there was as much as a material atom of the cosmos.
God and the Universe (v. 1)
"In the beginning," says Moses, "God created the heavens and the earth" (v. 1). Moses uses very specialized and honed vocabulary here. "Created" is only used of God in the Bible. Only God creates. And in Genesis 1 the verb "created" is reserved only for the most crucial items in God's plan: the universe (1:1), animate life (1:21), and man (1:27). The combination of the words "heavens and earth" is also very specialized. It is a merism (a statement of two opposites to indicate a totality), so that the sense is, "In the beginning God created the cosmos." God created everything there is in all creation.
Cambridge University physicist Stephen Hawking, who has been called "the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Einstein," says in his best-selling A Brief History of Time that our galaxy is an average-sized spiral galaxy that looks to other galaxies like a swirl in a pastry roll and that it is over 100,000 light-years across — about six hundred trillion miles. He says, "We now know that our galaxy is only one of some hundred thousand million that can be seen using modern telescopes, each galaxy itself containing some hundred thousand million stars." It is commonly held that the average distance between these hundred thousand million galaxies (each six hundred trillion miles across and containing one hundred thousand million stars) is three million light-years! On top of that, the work of Edwin Hubble, based on the Doppler effect, has shown that all red-spectrumed galaxies are moving away from us — and that nearly all are red. Thus, the universe is constantly expanding. Some estimates say that the most distant galaxy is eight billion light-years away — and racing away at two hundred million miles an hour. Finally, the fact of the expanding universe demands a beginning, though Hawking now doubts that a Big Bang was its beginning.
Not only that — God created every speck of dust in the hundred thousand million galaxies of the universe. He created every atom — the submicroscopic solar systems with their whimsically named quarks (from James Joyce's Three Quarks for Master Mark) and leptons (the same Greek word used for the widow's mite) and electrons and neutrinos ("little neutral ones") — all of which have no measurable size.
The awesomeness of creation has been the subject of famous biblical poems like Job 38, Psalms 19, 33, 136, and Isaiah 45. Isaiah 40 references creation repeatedly, culminating in this expression:
To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing. (vv. 25, 26)
The force of Moses' words, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" was not lost on the children of the exodus. The night skies of Sinai, the diaphanous veil of the Milky Way, the paths of the comets, and the intermittent meteor showers sang to them of an omnipotent Creator who cared for his people. No wonder the poetry! How we need to rise above the congestion and smog of our existence and see our Creator, our cosmic caregiver.
God and the Earth (v. 2)
The second half of Moses' introduction brings us down to earth: "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" (v. 2). The perspective is geocentric — from earth level — and from that view earth is seen as uninhabitable. The Hebrew of "without form and void" is rhythmic (tohu wabohu) and served as a common expression for a place that is disordered and empty and and therefore uninhabitable and uninhabited — the very opposite of what the earth would be after the six days of creation.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Genesis"
Copyright © 2004 R. Kent Hughes.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Word to Those Who Preach the Word 13
1 Beginning (1:1, 2) 15
2 Forming the Earth (1:3-13) 23
3 Filling the Earth (1:14-31) 31
4 God Rests (2:1-3) 41
5 East, in Eden (2:4-17) 49
6 Man and Woman (2:18-25) 57
7 Paradise Lost: The Fall (2:25-3:7) 65
8 Paradise Lost: The Confrontation (3:8-13) 75
9 Paradise Lost: Curse and Judgment (3:14-16) 83
10 Paradise Lost: Judgment and Sin (3:17-24) 91
11 The Way of Cain (4:1-16) 101
12 The Song of Lamech (4:17-26) 109
13 He Was No More (5:1-32) 117
14 Great Sin, Greater Grace (6:1-8) 123
15 De-creation: The Biblical Flood (6:9-7:24) 131
16 Re-creation: The World Restored (8:1-9:17) 141
17 Noah: Curse and Blessing (9:18-29) 149
18 Hope for the Nations (10:1-32) 157
19 All Man's Babylons (11:1-9) 167
20 From Shem to Abraham (11:10-32) 175
21 The Life of Abraham: Faith Answers the Call (12:1-9) 181
22 Starting and Stumbling (12:10-20) 189
23 Magnanimous Faith (13:1-18) 197
24 Magnanimous Living (14:1-24) 205
25 Melchizedek the Priest-King (14:18-20 with Psalm 110 and Hebrews 7:1-10) 213
26 Faith and Righteousness (15:1-6) 221
27 God's Covenant with Abram (15:7-21) 229
28 Shortcutting Faith (16:1-16) 237
29 Covenant Confirmed (17:1-27) 245
30 Is Anything Too Hard for the Lord? (18:1-15) 253
31 God, Righteous and Just (18:1-15) 253
32 Molten Rain (19:1-29) 269
33 Finishing Un-well (19:30-38) 279
34 Old Sins (20:1-18) 285
35 Two Laughters (21:1-34) 291
36 The Lord Will Provide (22:1-19) 299
37 Promise and Purchase (23:1-20) 307
38 Faith and Providence (24:1-67) 315
39 The Death of Abraham (25:1-18) 323
40 Infamous Grace (25:19-34) 331
41 Weakness-God's Presence-Blessing (26:1-33) 339
42 Pilfered Blessing (27:1-40) 347
43 An Angel-Freighted Ladder (27:41-28:22) 357
44 Deceiver Deceived (29:1-30) 365
45 Birth Wars! (29:31-30:24) 373
46 The Greening of Jacob (30:25-43) 381
47 Mesopotamian Exodus (31:1-55) 389
48 Jacob Becomes Israel (32:1-32) 397
49 Brothers Reconciled (33:1-20) 403
50 Fierce Grace (34:1-31) 411
51 Residuals (35:1-29) 419
52 The Generations of Esau (36:1-43) 427
53 Joseph's Call (37:1-11) 435
54 Sold into Slavery (37:12-36) 443
55 Tamar and Judah (38:1-30) 451
56 Succeeding in Egypt (39:1-23) 459
57 Preparation for Greatness (40:1-23) 467
58 From Pit to Pinnacle (41:1-41) 475
59 Life at the Top (41:42-57) 485
60 Guilt and Grace (42:1-38) 493
61 Mercy in Egypt (43:1-34) 501
62 Transformation in Egypt (44:1-34) 509
63 Reconciliation in Egypt (45:1-28) 517
64 Preservation in Egypt (46:1-34) 525
65 Prospering in Egypt (47:1-31) 531
66 Faith and Blessing (48:1-22) 541
67 The Testament of Jacob I (49:1-12) 549
68 The Testament of Jacob II (49:13-33) 555
69 Jacob's Exodus (50:1-14) 563
70 Good Providence (50:15-26) 571
71 Man and Sin in Genesis 579
72 Faith and Righteousness in Genesis (15:1-6) 589
73 Grace in Genesis (6:7, 8) 599
74 Messiah in Genesis (3:14, 15) 607
75 God in Genesis (2:1, 2) 615
Scripture Index 671
General Index 686
Index of Sermon Illustrations 698
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