Prologue

The Need for Redemption (Genesis 1-11)

Genesis 1-11 introduce us to real human history, but the events are virtually impossible to date. Theologians, archaeologists, and scientists have studied the evidence this passage gives to help date the creation of the universe and the creation of mankind. Genesis is claimed as evidence for both “old earth” and “young earth” theories. The riddle remains unsolved. The way around this impasse is found by recognizing that this part of the Kingdom Story answers the question Why? rather than the question When?

Religions other than historic Christianity have always asserted that mankind can do enough good deeds or perform enough religious acts to earn acceptance with God and a place in heaven. The story of Genesis 1-11 leads to the opposite conclusion. The main thing to observe in these chapters—the Prologue to the Kingdom Story—is that they describe events involving the entire human race. They show that mankind has rebelled against God since the beginning. In three crucial events, the fall, the flood, and the tower of Babel, the whole race of humans demonstrated that we are a race of sinners in full revolt against God.

As the Introduction to this book has noted, the grand summary of the Bible is, The Lord God through His Christ is graciously building a kingdom of redeemed people for their joy and for His own glory. If this is true, then Genesis 1-11 demonstrates why God takes all the initiative in redeeming mankind in the rest of the Bible: All humans are sinners who cannot save themselves. He must save, and he does all the saving.

Creation and Fall

God created everything. GENESIS 1-2 affirms that the universe, including the first man and woman, came about by the deliberate plan and power of God. God declared that His creation was good. This passage unquestionably describes that the first human couple was created in His image as a special divine act. He declared this to be very good.

 

Evolution—theistic or non-theistic—is not supported by this account. The later words both of Jesus and of Paul can be true only if all humanity has descended biologically from one man and one woman uniquely created by God (Mark 10:6-9; Rom. 5:12-14; 1 Cor. 15:45-46).

It doesn't matter when God created mankind as much as it does that He did so. If we miss the point that the first human pair was created and made accountable to their Creator, we will miss the meaning of the rest of the Kingdom Story, which tells how God has remedied human rebellion against Him. (A perfect garden with a mysterious tree of life, humanity's home during its time of innocence, will be reestablished in the final everlasting home of those God redeemed, Rev. 22:1-2.)

GENESIS 3 describes how Adam and Eve—the whole race—deliberately disobeyed God and fell under His curse. The story as told leaves many people frustrated by the questions it doesn't answer: How long did Adam and Eve live in innocence in the garden of Eden? Where did the serpent come from? How did evil enter the universe to begin with? The point of the narrative lies in another direction: all people have rebelled against their holy Creator. He does not tolerate such disobedience or affronts to His holiness. The husband and his wife were both cursed by God. Moreover, they were expelled from their perfect environment and doomed to die. (Yet even at the moment of pronouncing His curse, God pledged that evil would one day be utterly defeated, Gen. 3:15.)

The events and genealogies of GENESIS 4-5 summarize all the centuries between Adam and Noah. They show humanity as a sinful, cursed race. With distressing regularity the words “and he died” occur, showing that the divine command for disobedience had full effect (Gen. 2:17). There is murder (Cain) and polygamy (Lamech). Despite great progress in agriculture, technology, and the arts, only three persons from many generations were commended later in Scripture as rightly related to God. As far as the biblical record shows, these alone came to God by faith rather than by works: Abel, Enoch, and Noah (Heb. 11:4-7).

Flood and Babel

What should a holy God do when the race He created in His image thought only of doing evil and offending Him (Gen. 6:5)? His justice required Him to judge mankind. He did this by sending a global flood. God could have destroyed the entire race, but He didn't. He extended grace to Noah, who in turn believed God and lived a righteous life that showed itself in obedience to God's word (Gen. 6:8-9; Heb. 11:7). The main point of the flood story, however, is not Noah's righteousness. The flood demonstrates both the sinfulness of sin and the holiness of God.

Many archaeologists have dismissed the notion of a worldwide flood. There are two main reasons for believing that it literally happened. First, if the flood was only a regional event, then why did God ask Noah to preserve the animals in the ark? Why wouldn't Noah have simply moved the animals and his family to a safe location? Second, the way both Jesus and Peter spoke about the flood requires that it be taken as global rather than local (Luke 17:26-27; 1 Pet. 3:20). We are right to understand that GENESIS 6-8 presents as historical fact that all humanity except for eight persons perished in a divinely-sent, worldwide flood. Thus, everyone alive today has descended biologically from Noah and his wife.

Just as the original fall of mankind in the garden contained a promise of future redemption, so did the flood. For the first time the Kingdom Story describes a covenant initiated by God and given to mankind. In GENESIS 9 the rainbow became the God-ordained sign that no worldwide flood would ever come again (although the same chapter shows Noah and one of his sons engaged in grievous sin).

The events and genealogies of GENESIS 10 summarize many centuries after Noah. The entire human race is described in three great family lines, the biological descendants of Noah's three sons. As in the post-Adam period, there was much human achievement, yet the culminating event shows, once again, that the entire race of human beings had rebelled against the Creator.

GENESIS 11 is the first biblical description of organized religion. (So far only individuals had offered sacrifices to God.) The tower of Babel, perhaps a model for surviving ruins of pyramid-shaped temples (ziggurats) in Mesopotamia, was built expressly for a religious reason. Arrogant people desired collectively to reach heaven by their own works, to build the “Gate of God” (the meaning of Babel). This was now the third event (first the fall and then the flood) in which the entire human race was guilty. The unity of the race is clearly indicated by the reference to everyone speaking the same language (Gen. 11:1).

Just as God cursed the whole race after the fall, so He cursed the whole human race at Babel by multiplying the languages and scattering all the people (Gen. 11:9). From that day until now, however, our race has kept on forgetting that God always rejects the arrogance of supposing that human-inspired religion can help people get to heaven.

From this point on in the Kingdom Story, the focus narrows to the smaller group of people whom God will graciously redeem. These are the kingdom people of the rest of Scripture. The genealogy at the end of Genesis 11 traces the lineage of humanity from Noah to Abraham. Beginning in Genesis 12, the narrative zooms in on one chosen man and the kingdom people.

The worldwide perspective will return only many centuries later. First, the commission the risen Jesus gave to spread the gospel is worldwide. Second, at the consummation of the ages, the returning Jesus will bring a global judgment not of water but of fire (Matt. 28:18-20; 2 Pet. 3:7-12). After that time God will undo the curse of Babel when redeemed people from all the languages and nations gather before His throne praising Him forever (Rev. 7:9-10).

Summary

The Prologue for the Kingdom Story, described in Genesis 1-11, has now been established. The following statements summarize what has happened. As noted earlier the dates for these events cannot now be determined.

From this point on, the Kingdom Story focuses not on all people but on God's chosen people.

Genesis 1-11 clearly shows that mankind is in rebellion against God. We are sinners beyond the ability to redeem ourselves. If there is to be any salvation, it must come from God alone. That is the story that Chapter One of the Kingdom Story begins.

Reflective Questions

  1. Why is it important for God's people today to affirm that God created everything? Is it harder or easier for those who deny God as Creator also to believe in God as Redeemer? Why do you say so?
  2. In what ways has the curse that came on mankind at the fall impacted your own life?
  3. How does the concept of “unconditional covenant” affect your relationship with God? your relationship to others?
  4. Suppose archaeologists discovered ruins that were proven to be the remains of Noah's ark. Would that make people you know more likely to accept the Bible as trustworthy? Why or why not?
  5. Compare Genesis 11 (the multiplication of languages as a curse) with Revelation 7 (the redeemed praising God in many languages). How are these accounts similar? Does Revelation show a reversal of Genesis 11? Why do you think so?
  6. “All humanity is so sinful that it cannot save itself.” What personal experiences have you had that confirm (or deny) this conclusion?
  7. How is the glory of God seen in Genesis 1-11?

1. God Builds His Nation

Israel Chosen as the People of Promise, 2091-931 B.C.

The Prologue to the Kingdom Story told in Genesis 1-11 focused on the rebellion of the entire human race and God's three judgments on all mankind. First was the curse when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden; second was the flood during the time of Noah; and last was the confusion of languages at Babel. Beginning in Genesis 12, the thrust of the Kingdom Story changes from judgment to mercy. As we will see, God chose to call a single man and his descendants. The time from Abraham to Solomon was more than a thousand years. It was, however, only the first chapter in God's plan to build an everlasting kingdom. The goal was to build an earthly nation in a particular time and place.

As the Introduction noted, the grand summary of the Bible is, The Lord God through His Christ is graciously building a kingdom of redeemed people for their joy and for His own glory. If this is true, then Genesis 2 through 1 Kings 11 shows how God began to make eternal kingdom people. These passages can be compressed to a simple truth, God builds His nation. Chapter One of His plan involves a particular group in a particular place. God takes all the initiative in calling Abraham, redeeming Israel from slavery, making them a nation with a royal dynasty, and giving them a temple for worshipping Him properly. All of this displays His glory to His redeemed people. This chapter carries the plot from the original family with whom God made His covenant (Abraham and Sarah) to the full splendor of national Israel at its grandest expression (under David and Solomon).

The Foundation:
from Abraham's Call to Jacob's Migration
to Egypt (2091-1876 B.C.)

Genesis 12-50 describes four generations of one remarkable family. People of these generations, often called the patriarchs, formed the foundation, the underlying structure, for what would become the nation of Israel. Based on His own purposes, God called Abraham, who then received God's unconditional promise to become the ancestor of a great nation and to be a worldwide blessing. This covenant promise extended to Abraham's son Isaac (but not to his son Ishmael). Then from Isaac the promise extended to Jacob (but not to Esau, the older twin). In turn the promise passed to Jacob's many sons. The events told in most detail surround Joseph, great-grandson of Abraham. Through Joseph God moved the covenant people into Egypt where they multiplied into numbers worthy of being called a nation.

Abraham and Sarah

The historical foundation of God's kingdom plan lay with one married couple. Their names, meaning “father of a multitude” and “princess,” were changed by God (from Abram, “exalted father” and Sarai, “princess”) as reminders of divine blessing. Their father was Terah, but they had different mothers. As Isaac's parents, Abraham and Sarah became the direct ancestors of the people of Israel and were the first people to be called “Hebrews.” According to the New Testament, both Abraham and Sarah have become models of faith for all kingdom people who came after them (Heb. 11:8-12; 1 Pet. 3:6).

Abraham's Years

From a human perspective Abraham was just a migrating pagan who married his beautiful half-sister Sarah and had a number of exciting adventures. He had done nothing righteous for the seventy-five years he lived before God called him. From a divine perspective, however, Abraham was to become the spiritual forefather of all who are righteous by faith, both Jews and Gentiles. Although Abraham's place of origin was Ur (in Mesopotamia), he had moved to the city of Haran (north of Palestine) before God called him into a covenant relationship. The main description of Abraham's years is GENESIS 12-25.

The Abrahamic Covenant

Genesis 12:1-3 is the initial statement of God's covenant with Abraham. God gave His unilateral divine promise (1) to make Abraham's descendents into a great nation, (2) to bless Abraham and give him a great name, and (3) to use Abraham ultimately to bless all the earth's peoples. Genesis 15 and 17 expand on God's covenant-promise. Genesis 15:6 is remarkable for noting that Abraham believed a specific word from God (that he would have a biological son even though he was very old). His faith was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham is called the father of faith in the Kingdom Story (Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23). The covenant terms in Genesis 17 included both the promise about the land of Canaan to Abraham's descendants and the covenant sign of circumcision for all male descendants.

No doubt the greatest human event in the life of Abraham and Sarah was the birth of their son Isaac (to a 100-year-old father and a 90-year-old mother). What's more, Abraham enjoyed a number of fascinating adventures:

The greatest adventure for Abraham was his obedience to God in offering Isaac as a sacrifice. God's purpose in doing this was to test Abraham. Other translations use the word prove.

God commanded Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah about fifty miles to the northeast and there offer him as a burnt offering. From this point forward, Mount Moriah figures prominently in Scripture. It became the location where Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem.

According to Genesis 25:7 Abraham lived 175 years (about 2166-1991 B.C.).

Sodom and Gomorrah

Included in the story of Abraham is the tragic account of his nephew Lot in Genesis 19. He settled with his family in Sodom, a city near the Dead Sea. When the citizens of Sodom demonstrated their unspeakable moral perversion, God destroyed Sodom and its sister city Gomorrah so totally that archaeologists have never uncovered their remains. Perhaps the ruins lie at the bottom of the Dead Sea. A judgment of fire and burning sulfur became the standard way for later biblical writers to speak of the outpouring of God's wrath on sin.

Melchizedek and Job

The times of Abraham also included two independent characters—strange and unusual in that they were worshipers of the true God, yet evidently not part of the Abrahamic covenant family. They show God's freedom to work graciously in surprising ways. The first is Melchizedek, the king-priest of Salem (early Jerusalem) to whom Abraham gave a tithe (Gen. 14:18-20; Heb. 7:1-10). The second is Job, a righteous man from Uz, east of the Jordan River. His long life (Job 42:16), the measurement of wealth in livestock, and the fact that he acted as personal priest for his family suggests that he lived during the time of the patriarchs. His story, recorded in the book of JOB, became a test case for the question, Why do the righteous suffer? The man Job is best known for the following:

Isaac's Years

Less information is given about Isaac than any of the other patriarchs. His biography is found principally in GENESIS 21-28. As the only child born to the aged Abraham and Sarah, he was reared with lavish care. The formative event for his life came when he was a young man. The famous story told in Genesis 22 of the sacrifice of Isaac at Mount Moriah (later the site of Solomon's temple) is usually given in terms of Abraham's obedience to God, yet surely this was just as much a test of Isaac's faith and obedience. Isaac as well as his father passed the test, yet for Isaac the experience was terrifying. From that time God was known by a new name, “The Fear of Isaac” (Gen. 31:42,53).

That the people in God's kingdom are to stand in fearful reverence of their holy God has been a biblical theme that began with the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22:12). This event also stands as the first clear incident in which the shed blood of an animal substituted for the shed blood of a human being.

The other adventures of Isaac preserved in Genesis generally have to do with his wife Rebekah in one way or another:

Jacob's Years

Jacob, the younger twin son of Isaac, was born when his father was sixty and his grandfather Abraham was one hundred sixty. His life was one of conniving and constant rivalry, first against his brother Esau, then between his principal wives (Leah and Rachel), and third against his father-in-law Laban. The greatest struggle came when Jacob wrestled with God Himself. GENESIS 25-36 is the main account of Jacob's life.

Jacob stands as an example of a scoundrel who nevertheless received God's unmerited favor. When Jacob was running away from home to escape his brother's well-deserved anger, God revealed Himself in a wonderful dream. Jacob saw a ladder (or stairway) between heaven and earth, a renewal of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 28:12-19). He named the place where he had dreamed “Bethel,” meaning “House of God.” God planned for Jacob's children to be the founders of the famous “twelve tribes of Israel.” The sons of Jacob (with their birth order in parentheses) are as follows:

When Jacob returned home to Isaac after twenty years, he came with wives, children, and great wealth. On this journey God revealed Himself again to Jacob, with whom He wrestled all night in the form of an angel (Gen. 32:24-30). Jacob named this place Peniel, “Face of God.” God, in turn, gave Jacob the new name “Israel.” This was, of course, the name by which Jacob's descendants (and the place they later settled) was known.

After Jacob's return, he continued living in Canaan until he moved with all his family to Egypt to escape a severe famine. According to Genesis 47:28, Jacob lived the last 17 years in Egypt, a total of 147 years (2006 to 1859 B.C.).

Joseph's Years

Joseph's story emphasizes God's grace and His sovereign plan to work out redemption according to His plan. The boy who rose from prisoner to prime minister of Egypt sets an important theme that the rest of the Kingdom Story tells. Joseph's story is the focus of GENESIS 37-50. God's plans are so great and good that what evil-minded people do actually accomplishes His divine purposes (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28) The greatest and most wonderful example of this is, of course, the crucifixion of Jesus.

Joseph's exciting life story (1915-1805 B.C.) falls into three unequal parts:

Although in the beginning Joseph was spoiled and arrogant, from the time he was sold as a slave to Egypt he illustrates incredible faithfulness and obedience to God.

Joseph's role in the Kingdom Story was more immediately important than that of his brothers. Joseph's work preserved the chosen family, and all seventy members of the covenant family of Jacob entered Egypt. Jacob later adopted Joseph's sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, as his own. For this reason the descendants of Joseph's two sons were counted as separate tribes that later received land in Canaan. (This kept the total number of tribes at twelve, since the tribe of Levi later received the priesthood instead of land.) Ultimately Joseph's brother Judah (another immoral man undeserving of God's favor) was the most important brother. From Judah's line the Israelite royal dynasty was established, beginning with David and culminating with Jesus.

The Redemption:
from Egyptian Slavery to Wilderness Freedom
(1876-1446 B.C.)

Exodus 1-18 describes the next step in God's plan to build a nation. After His people multiplied from seventy to millions, God called a leader for the nation, Moses. Through Moses He sent ten plagues to redeem the Israelite nation from slavery in Egypt. He revealed the full significance of His glorious covenant name, “the Lord” (YHWH or Yahweh in Hebrew). Israel's exodus became the most powerful Old Testament portrayal of salvation. The period from Jacob's entry to Egypt until the exodus was 430 years (Exod. 12:40-41). Traditionally Bible scholars have dated the exodus around 1446 B.C.

Slavery

About 1876 B.C. the Egyptians had welcomed Jacob's family of seventy because Joseph had exhibited brilliant organizational leadership in preparing for seven years of famine. They settled in Goshen, a fertile section in the Nile Delta. Under these conditions God made His people flourish to such an extent that they threatened the security of the native Egyptians. EXODUS 1 gives few details of how the Israelite people gradually came to be enslaved. The barbarity of their condition is highlighted by the pharaoh's decree that all male Israelite newborns must be drowned in the Nile River. According to archaeologists, the 350-year period between Israel's entry to Egypt and Moses' birth (1876-1526 B.C.) saw major political and social changes in Egypt. Israel's deliverance came during the time known as the New Kingdom.

Moses' Preparation

Moses' first eighty years are told in EXODUS 2-6. The account of the infant Moses' rescue by a princess is well known. He was educated as Egyptian royalty, although he knew his Israelite identity (Acts 7:22; Heb. 11:24-25). At age forty, after killing an Egyptian on impulse, he escaped the pharaoh's anger to relative obscurity in the Sinai Peninsula. There in the Sinai Peninsula Moses was taken in by Reuel, priest of Midian. Reuel gave his daughter Zipporah to be Moses' wife. Their first son was Gershom whose name means “stranger or sojourner in a foreign land.” Moses served as a shepherd for his father-in-law for forty years and then came a life-changing event.

The crucial event came when Moses was eighty. God revealed Himself and His name, “I Am,” at the burning bush on Mount Sinai. Despite his objections Moses was appointed and returned to Egypt to prove his authority to Israel's leaders and to pharaoh.

Plagues on the Egyptians

The encounters between Moses and pharaoh were merely surface exhibitions. The true encounter was between “the LORD” and Egypt's idols (Exod. 12:12). The first nine plagues may have been divine intensification of natural phenomena, but no natural explanation accounts for the Israelites being spared the destruction sent to the Egyptians.

The order of the plagues, told in EXODUS 7-11, is as follows:

  1. Water to blood
  2. Frogs everywhere
  3. Gnats
  4. Flies
  5. Livestock killed
  6. Boils on people
  7. Hailstorm
  8. Locust swarm
  9. Darkness
  10. Firstborn killed

The parts in Chapter One of the Kingdom Story about the plagues demonstrate, once again, God's absolute sovereignty in bringing about His plan to redeem. For the last five plagues God is specifically stated to have hardened the pharaoh's heart in order to bring about the salvation of His people. (Yet for the earlier five plagues Scripture emphasizes that the pharaoh hardened his own heart. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are never at odds with each other in the Kingdom Story.)

Death of the Firstborn
and Crossing the Sea

In EXODUS 12-18 the descendants of Jacob left Egypt after 430 years of waiting for God's mighty hand of deliverance (Exod. 12:40). Because this event marked the true beginning of Israel's national life, its religious calendar began each spring with the month in which the exodus occurred. In ancient times a new moon marked a new month. Thus, the moon was full the night Israel left Egypt (the fourteenth of the month, Exod. 12:6).

In preparation for this, God instructed the Israelites to sprinkle the blood of slaughtered lambs on their doors and to eat the lamb's meat. God said that in His search for the first born that He was going to kill, He would “pass over” the houses with blood on the doors. This was the origin of “the Passover,” which became the most important yearly Israelite religious festival and was the season in which Jesus the Lamb of God was crucified. (Contemporary Jews, of course, still celebrate this festival annually.)

The death of all Egypt's firstborn may seem to be unfair, but this is part of the biblical evidence that God will not allow people to reject Him with impunity. His justice must always be satisfied. Further, it made God's people keenly aware that the price for their redemption was extremely high. God orchestrated this event and the miraculous crossing of the sea in order to bring glory to His name, one of the great themes of the Bible (Exod. 14:4). It must not be forgotten that the reason God let His people go was so that they could worship (serve) Him (Exod. 5:1; 7:16; 8:1, 20-21). Assuming the 480 years mentioned in 1 Kings 6:1 are literal, then Israel left Egypt around the year 1446 B.C.

Moses not only led God's kingdom people out of Egypt, he brought them through the amazing miracle of crossing the sea on dry ground. In the Hebrew Scriptures this sea is called Yam Suph, which literally means “Sea of Reeds.” Most English Bibles have translated it “Red Sea,” following the lead of the ancient scholars who translated the Bible into Greek and Latin. The place where Israel crossed Yam Suph is not known and is highly disputed. Some believe the reference is to Lake Menzaleh, east of the Nile Delta and adjacent to the Mediterranean, or to the Bitter Lakes area somewhere along the present Suez Canal. Still others have argued for the northern end of the Gulf of Suez (one of the northern fingers of the “Red Sea” found on modern maps).

The point of the miracle was not where it happened but that it happened to display God's great goodness and power for His people. (The victorious “Song of Moses” of Exodus 15 is also sung in Revelation 15 by those kingdom people finally and forever redeemed by the Lamb of God.) The days immediately following this deliverance demonstrate the pattern of obedience/victory and disobedience/punishment that characterized the rest of Chapter One of the Kingdom Story:

The people arrived at Mount Sinai in the third month after they left Egypt (Exod. 19:1). Everything recorded in the Bible from Exodus 19:1 to Numbers 10:10 took place at this location. The people God had redeemed would now come to understand that they were also obligated to Him to be His holy people. Before they left Mount Sinai, they were bound together not only in leadership, but also in laws and in worship.