"The major themes of Scripture may be compared to great rivers, ever deepening and broadening as they flow, and it is true to say that all these rivers have their rise in the watershed of Genesis"
Genesis means "beginning" or "origin." It tells of the beginning of the world and of God's redemptive work. Virtually every major Bible doctrine begins in Genesis. Herbert Lockyer said, "The roots of all subsequent revelation are planted deep in Genesis and whoever would truly comprehend that revelation must begin here."
As a book of beginnings, Genesis includes a number of firsts, such as the first days of creation, the first people, the first sin, and the first death. Most importantly, Genesis records the beginnings of the nation of Israel. It tells of God's dealings with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the patriarchs of the nation.
Three things God promised to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 were
Abraham was a hundred years old when his heir, Isaac, was born (Gen. 21:5). In turn, Isaac became the father of Jacob whom later God would name Israel, meaning, "he strives against God" (since he struggled with God's angel, Gen. 32:28). According to Genesis 35:22, Jacob had twelve sons, destined to become the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Author. From ancient times, Moses has been recognized as the author of Genesis and the four following books. Together, these five books are sometimes called the Pentateuch (meaning "five scrolls"). Among the Jews, they are called the Torah (meaning "the Law," since they contain the laws given to Israel at Sinai). While some critics deny that he wrote these books, biblical writers recognized Moses as the author, including Joshua (Josh. 1:7), Jesus (John 7:19), and Paul (Rom. 10:19). In addition to the Bible's own teaching, ancient Jewish and Christian sources also attribute the Torah to Moses.
Date of writing. Solomon began building the temple 480 years after the Exodus from Egypt (see 1 Kings 6:1). It is fairly certain that Solomon's work on the temple began in 966 B.C. Therefore, the Exodus would have occurred in 1446 B.C. Assuming Genesis was written a year or two later, a date of composition around 1445 B.C. seems likely.
Theme. The Book of Genesis begins by describing the creation of the world. While the creation itself is "very good" (1:31), it is marred by the entrance of sin (chap. 3). Thereafter, humanity grows progressively worse spiritually (6:5). Even the flood does not stop the downward slide (chaps. 6-11). When humanity seems beyond remedy, God implements his plan to bless all the families of the earth. This plan involves the call of Abraham who would become the father of the nation of Israel. God makes a covenant with Abraham in which he promises him a land, a great nation, and blessing. The importance of the call of Abraham is seen in the proportion of the book devoted to the story of Abraham and his descendants. Thirty-nine chapters, from chapter 12 to the end of the book, are about Abraham and his descendants, whereas only eleven chapters are given to the time preceding him. Given this emphasis on Abraham, the theme of Genesis might be stated as God calls Abraham.
Purpose. Genesis was written to explain the role of the nation of Israel in the plan of God. It gives the historical and theological basis for God's covenant with the nation.
History and archaeology. Archaeological investigation into the times and customs of the second millennium before Christ has demonstrated that the stories of the patriarchs fit what is known of the period. Even beyond that, numerous flood legends from around the world bear testimony to the Genesis account of the flood of Noah. Howard F. Vos writes:
Flood stories have been discovered among nearly all nations and tribes. Though most common on the Asian mainland and the islands immediately south of it and on the North American continent, they have been found on all the continents. Totals of the number of stories known run as high as about 270, of which more than 220 are definitely know to the writer of this article.
Geography. The geographical span of Genesis reaches from Mesopotamia to Egypt. It traces the journey of Abraham to Canaan and the later move of the family from Canaan to Egypt and back.
The arch of land from Ur up to Haran and down to Canaan is called the "Fertile Crescent" due to its agricultural fertility. Abraham followed the this rich land area on his migration. The land directly between Canaan and Mesopotamia is arid.
Map 1: The Migration of Abraham
The creation of the world by God (chaps. 1-11). Four major events take place in these chapters.
After describing the creation of the world in six successive days, the creation of man is given special attention (chap. 2). Placed into an ideal environment, the man and woman fail to obey God and come under his curse (chap. 3). Sin and death spread (chaps. 4-5). To temporarily halt the spread of sin, God sends the flood (chaps. 6-9). He graciously spares one man, Noah, who, along with his family, builds an ark to escape the flood and brings some of every kind of animal aboard. Following the flood, people again fail to obey God's command to fill the earth; instead they cluster around an idolatrous tower. As a result, God confuses their languages and disperses them across the earth (chaps. 10-11).
The creation of Israel by God (chaps. 12-50). Four major characters dominate chapters 12-50. They are
When it seems that humanity is incorrigible and beyond saving, God calls Abraham. Three promises are made to him, the promise of a land, a nation, and blessing (12:1-3). These promises are repeated several times (13:15-16; 15:12-21; 17:1-8; 22:16-18), and they provide the basis for the development of the rest of the Bible. The Old Testament tells about the acquisition of the Promised Land and the growth of the nation. The New Testament tells how the promised blessing comes to all nations of the earth. Galatians 3:8 says this about the blessing: "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed."
The promises to Abraham are reiterated to his son Isaac (26:1-5). The faith of Abraham is tested when he is told to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Once Abraham demonstrates his great faith, God tells him to spare Isaac (22:1-19). The promises are then given to his son Jacob (chaps. 27-36), whom God renames Israel (32:28). Jacob has twelve sons who become the heads of the tribes of Israel. Prominent among them is Joseph who is hated by his brothers but is favored by God. This man, rejected by his kinsmen, becomes their deliverer, making him a type of Christ (chaps. 37-50). With his help, the family escapes a famine in Canaan and moves to Egypt.
Genesis makes many contributions to biblical theology. Certainly, the creation account provides the basis for belief in one God, which is called monotheism. In addition, the call of Abraham sets in motion the theme of redemption.
Christians find both prophecies and pictures of Christ in Genesis. Three notable prophecies and their New Testament fulfillment include the following:
Pictures of Christ include Adam (Rom. 5:12-14); Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20; Heb. 6:20-7:25); Isaac, the son who nearly was a sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-14; Heb. 11:17-19); and Joseph, the man rejected by his brothers who became their deliverer (Gen. 37-45; Rom. 9:1-11:26).
Genesis 12:1-3: "Now the Lord had said to Abram: Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
Chapter 1: Creation
Chapter 12: Abraham's call
The most personal lesson to emerge from Genesis is that God plans to bless fallen man. The creation gave a pattern of this blessing. Just as God brought order out of chaos, light out of darkness, and life out of life-lessness, so he will step into people's personal chaos, darkness, and death to bring sanctification, illumination, and eternal life.
If imposed on the U.S., the Old Testament lands would extend from the Great Lakes almost to the Gulf of Mexico and from Virginia to Texas.