Setting Up the Section
The initial recipients of this story are the Israelites of Moses’ day. Because it is written to the people of God, not as an apologetic to convince those who do not believe, Genesis is much more of a declaration than a defense. These chapters are not intended to give an account of the Creation that would answer all of the scientific problems and phenomenon. Rather, there is an air of mystery that permeates these two chapters, and within that mystery is the fact that God created this world and it exists within His control.
The Summary of Creation:
|God Formed the Earth||God Filled the Earth|
|Day 1: Light (1:3-5)||Day 4: Lights (1:14-19)|
|Day 2: Air (1:6-8)||Day 5: Birds (1:20-23)|
|Day 2: Water (1:6-8)||Day 5: Fish (1:20-23)|
|Day 3: Land (1:9-13)||Day 6: Animals (1:24-31)|
|Day 3: Plants (1:9-13)||Day 6: Man (1:24-31)|
There are two purposes in the opening of Genesis (1:1):
The Genesis account does not imply that absolutely nothing existed or had happened before this. The separate creation of angels and other heavenly beings is already assumed (1:26).
The first three words (“In the beginning”) translate a single Hebrew word, bereshit. This word does not necessarily connote a brief period of time, though the creation event is described in terms of days in later verses.
The next keyword is God, a rendering from the Hebrew word Elohim, a plural noun. This implies that God is plural, even as God is singular.
The Hebrew word translated created is used throughout the Bible, only with God as its subject. This word stresses the newness and perfection of that being made.
The last four words in verse 1 describe the entire universe. The Hebrew language had no word for universe, so instead the author uses the phrase “heavens and earth.” This figure of speech refers to everything in creation (sun, moon, stars, plants, rocks, rivers, mountains, and so on).
Some understand a gap of an indeterminate period of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. The construction of the verses in the original languages, though, does not support a consecutive statement (this happened, then that happened) but rather something included in verse 1.
In the Old Testament, the word often translated deep refers to the ocean, which the ancient world regarded as a symbol of chaos and evil. In the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) it has the connotation of a wasteland.
The word earth can be translated “land” as well. In this context, land is preferred. To the original readers of Genesis, the term earth did not connote a planet. The development of science did not yet support an understanding of the universe as we know it today. Earth typically refers to a specific section of land, such as the land of Egypt (45:8), the dry ground (1:10), or the land promised to Abraham (15:18).
Verse 2 describes the earth as yet unfashioned and uninhabited. When read from a New Testament perspective, it also provides the first reference to the Holy Spirit in the Bible. Many believe it gives us an idea of the constant action of the Spirit.
On day one, light appears through the darkness (1:3). The word light can be interpreted several ways, and the sun is not listed as a creation until the fourth day. Nevertheless, like the sun, this light distinguishes day from night (1:4-5).
Regarding the word day, several interpretations have been suggested:
When this same word is used elsewhere in the Old Testament, it refers to twenty-fourhour periods of time. However, those that disagree with this view hold that these are days of God’s activity, not human work, and it is therefore unlikely that they are supposed to be literal twenty-four-hour periods of time. Indeed, the Hebrew word for day covers a variety of periods: the hours of daylight (29:7), a twenty-four-hour day (7:4), or an indefinite period (35:3). All these differences indicate that verses 1:1-2:3 serve as an overture to the rest of the book, and that it may not be intended to be taken as literally as what follows.
The expanse, or space, that God speaks into being on day two is a reference to the sky (1:6, 8; see also 1:8; 7:11-12). The water above is a reference to clouds, and the water below is a reference to the water of the earth (1:7).
On the third day, God carries out two distinct acts: He separates land from seas, just as He earlier separates light from darkness (1:3) and waters from waters (1:6), and He creates plant life. The distinct varieties of plants (1:11-12) bear witness to God’s organizing power.
In contrast with day two, God’s acts of creation on day three are called good. They are good because both are accomplished for humanity’s benefit. The third day shows the provision of dry land, on which humanity can live, and plants to sustain life (1:29-30).
On the fourth day, the lights that God had created are given a purpose, namely, to separate day from night and serve as signs for seasons and days and years (1:14).
The moon is called (only here) the lesser light, and the sun is called (also only here) the greater light for a reason. Among Israel’s neighbors, their pagan contemporaries, the sun and moon were designations for deities. Even today in astrology people use stars and planets for guidance, but here they are simply referred to as lights. They were appointed to regulate the fundamental rhythms of human life by defining day and night and the seasons of the year.
On the fifth day God populates the land with many kinds of living creatures (birds and fish). This is the first time God blesses something in the Bible. The word is used more than eighty times in Genesis, where it usually speaks of fertility.
Living creatures created on the sixth day are categorized in three groups. In today’s language, these three groups would probably best be described as domesticated animals, small creatures, and what we would consider game or wild animals. The idea of creeping animals has more to do with their style of movement than modern scientific categories like that of reptiles.
There are parallels in the six days of creation which provide a flow to the account:
|Preparation Phrase||Day 1||Day 2||Day 3||Day 4||Day 5||Day 6|
|“God said, ‘Let there be’ ”||1:3||1:6||1:9||1:14||1:20||1:24|
|“And it was so”||1:3||1:7||1:9||1:15||---||1:24|
|“God saw that it was good”||1:4||---||1:12||1:18||1:21||1:25|
|“There was evening and there was morning, the day”||1:5||1:8||1:13||1:19||1:23||1:31|
The plural pronouns in verse 26 are seen by many as a hint of the Trinity, but also as a reference to the complete fullness of God. The idea that humanity is created in God’s image has far-reaching implications: A relationship can exist between God and humanity, and men and women can reflect God’s nature. As part of that reflection, people rule over nature. The idea of ruling carries with it the connotation of responsible management rather than dictatorial control or exploitation.
Verse 27 is in the form of poetry. While some translations use the word man, this is a reference to all of humanity, not simply to Adam. God created humanity, both male and female.
Understanding the importance of God’s blessing in verse 28 is essential. Throughout the remainder of the book of Genesis, the blessing remains a central theme. Blessing denotes all that fosters human fertility and assists in achieving dominion. Interpreters have generally recognized “be fruitful and multiply” as commands to Adam and Eve (and later to Noah; see 9:1) as the heads of the human race, not simply as individuals. That is, God has not charged every human being with begetting children.
Humanity is supposed to subdue the earth. While the word translated subdue means “bring under bondage,” it doesn’t mean to destroy or ruin. As with the idea of ruling in verse 26, this is a requirement to act as manager with God-given authority.
Many interpret verses 29-30 to mean that both people and animals were vegetarian prior to the flood, and that it is not until after the fall of humanity, and perhaps after the flood, that meat is given as food (9:3-4). Keep in mind, however, that this writing in
Genesis is not primarily concerned with whether people were originally vegetarian but with the fact that God provided them with food.
According to verse 31, God evaluates only this day’s work as very good.
It is likely that, in 2:1-3, the author intends for the reader to understand the account of the seventh day in light of the “image of God” theme of the sixth day. We are expected to copy our Creator.
Verses 2-3 make it clear that the seventh day is set apart from the first six by not only stating specifically that God sanctified it as holy, but that God did not work. This theme is repeated three times in these three verses.
Genesis 2:4-25 begins a descriptive account, with humanity as the central theme. This section is not meant to be chronological. Genesis 2:7 is simply an elaboration of 1:27. The two accounts look at a similar series of events from two distinct points of view. Genesis 1 simply notes that God created male and female, adding a few remarks about their relationship to the rest of creation. The first chapter emphasizes man as one created with authority; Genesis 2 emphasizes man as one under authority.
The phrase “the heavens and the earth” (2:4) is a figure of speech that refers to the entire universe. In the second part of the verse, though, the phrase is reversed. When this happens, the phrase takes on a more literal meaning: the land and sky.
Verses 5-6 are a flashback to conditions before Genesis 1:26. This is the setting of the stage. The land is set up and poised for humanity to enter the scene.
The word translated formed in verse 7 describes the activity of a potter, forming vessels out of clay—ground and water. The fact that God forms man out of dust reflects man’s lowly origin (see also 3:19). The Hebrew word for man (Adam) sounds like, and may be related to, the Hebrew word for ground.
It’s significant to note that God creates humanity with hands, not just words. He does not simply speak people into existence as He does with the lights of the universe; God breathes life into man. Since Adam’s life came from God’s breath, he is a combination of dust and divinity.
The description of Adam as living is the same term that is used of animal life in Genesis 1:24. In this phrase, we see how humans and animals are similar, but this breath of life makes humans distinct from all other creatures.
In 2:8-9, God’s care is made evident by His provision of a garden paradise with two trees—the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Verses 10-14 describe the boundaries of this garden. Of the four rivers mentioned, the Pishon and Gihon are unknown in the modern world (though the land of Havilah is probably an area of southwestern Arabia). The Tigris and Euphrates are now in Babylonia. The name Eden means “delight, pleasure.” This rather extensive description sets the stage for Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden in 3:24. It also probably signifies to the Israelites an anticipation of the promised land. Two of these rivers are exactly the ones that God uses to explain to Abraham where the promised land will be (15:18).
The Hebrew word translated put (2:15) connotes more than simple placement, but rather rest and safety, as well as dedication in God’s presence. The man’s caring for the garden is actually the idea of serving. It’s a word that is translated worship elsewhere in the Old Testament.
It is interesting that God seems to tell Adam, alone, that the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil must not be eaten. It is important to note that there is a positive aspect to this command: God gives man the enjoyment of all of the luscious trees in the garden, and all of God’s creation is pronounced “good.” The tree is not a sinister tree in and of itself. The temptation to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is the temptation to seek wisdom without reference to the Word of God.
Verses 18-25 are considered the apex of the first two chapters. Everything up until this point is called good, but now the Lord says it is not good.
Adam naming the animals means that he is studying their nature (2:19-20). Names in the ancient world were descriptions. The text does not necessarily mean that Adam named every individual animal; he apparently gives names to the different kinds God brings before him. This exercise demonstrates Adam’s authority over the animals.
The word translated helper (and sometimes companion) does not mean a servant (2:20). In fact, following His ascension, Jesus Christ uses the Greek equivalent of this word to describe the Holy Spirit, who would help believers following the Lord’s ascension (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). It signifies the woman’s essential contribution, not inadequacy. The description of this companion as suitable, or corresponding, suggests something that completes a polarity, as the North Pole corresponds to the South Pole.
The Lord meets Adam’s need for companionship (2:21-22). God builds woman from one of man’s ribs, which could also be simply translated side.
How does Adam respond? He rejoices. When Adam says the woman is bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, he is giving the ancient equivalent of the modern marriage vow “in weakness and in strength” (2:23).
One of the meanings of the verb behind the noun bone is “to be strong.” “Flesh,” on the other hand, represents weakness in a person.
Chapter 2 closes with a description of the marriage partnership. Notice that the man is responsible for leaving his family of origin. This implies faithfulness, permanence, and loyalty as the responsibility on the part of the man. Elsewhere in the Old Testament these are covenant terms.
Take It Home
Some say that the naked condition of the man and woman, as described at the close of chapter 2, goes beyond a physical description; it also has application regarding the psychological oneness and transparency required for a marriage relationship. Physically they are naked and share their bodies with each other openly, and psychologically they are not ashamed and hide nothing from each other. They are at ease without any fear of exploitation for evil.
The Fall of Humanity
Setting Up the Section
This passage reveals how sin enters the world and how sin can be overcome. At the end of Genesis 2, life seems ideal—paradise. Then the events described in this section forever change the world. Fear and shame enter and judgment begins. But the seeds of redemption can be found as well.
The word translated serpent is the same root as another Hebrew word that means “bronze” (3:1). The word translated crafty, or shrewd, often suggests wisdom, though here it has a clearly negative connotation.
The question asked by the serpent is the first question recorded in scripture (3:1). In this case, the question casts immediate doubt on God’s command.
Instead of shunning the serpent, the woman obliges him by carrying on a conversation (3:2-3). In her reply to the serpent, she does not quote the commands exactly as they are listed in Genesis 2, but instead she lists them with subtle changes.
|Original Command (2:16-17 NASB)||Eve’s Reply (3:2-3 NASB)|
|“From any tree of the garden you may eat freely.”||“From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat.”|
|“But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”||“But from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’”|
As verse 4 reveals, the first thing Satan does is deny God’s judgment. To make this direct contradiction of God’s Word seem reasonable, Satan invents a false motive for God (3:5). Thus, the serpent stands in direct conflict with God as He has revealed Himself.
Having set the trap, the serpent lets the woman’s natural desire for food carry her into the trap (3:6). The fruit looks good to her. She will (seemingly) better herself in the taking of it. Not only does she sin, but in her distorted thinking and false sense of accomplishment, she also gives the fruit to her husband.
While Adam’s companion is deceived, the scriptures have already revealed that Adam has been directly warned by God about eating this fruit. It would seem that he ate willingly, aware of the consequences.
The effects described in verse 7 raise the question, why did Adam and Eve not die immediately? Genesis 5:5 reveals that Adam lived to be 930 years old.
Although God’s warning may have referred to physical death, primarily in view was spiritual death, which entails the loss of fellowship with God and with one another. When the man and woman eat from the tree, they immediately change their relationship with God and with each other. From their lack of shame (at the end of chapter 2) to the moment of suddenly covering themselves (3:7), an eternal shift has occurred.
The cool time of the day (3:8) can be translated the wind or spirit of the day. Often, in the Bible, the wind is a symbol of God’s presence (see 1:2). A more complete transformation could not be imagined than the one described here, as Adam and his wife attempt to hide from God. The trust of innocence is replaced by the fear of guilt.
God’s question (3:9) carries the implied question of why Adam and Eve are there. It is a demand that Adam take personal responsibility for his actions. Adam’s response (3:10) does not express personal responsibility, but it does acknowledge something important: Life has changed. Shame, fear, and guilt have entered paradise. (Verse 10 is the first time fear is mentioned in the Bible.) Fig leaves aren’t enough to cover Adam up; spiritual vulnerability is the real issue. The only solution he can devise is denial and avoidance.
Adam answers God by making excuses for himself and playing the blame game. God then addresses the woman, and she blames the serpent (3:13). God addresses the serpent with a curse. In the Bible, to curse means to invoke God’s judgment. Some commentators take this literally and conclude that the snake had legs before God cursed it. Others take it figuratively, as a reference to the resultant despised condition of the snake. This is confirmed by the word picture of the snake eating dust.
Genesis 3:15 is one of the foundational verses of the Bible. Many see this verse as the first glimpse of the gospel of Jesus. The hostility described here certainly exists between snakes and people, but God’s intention in this verse seems to include the person behind the snake (Satan) even more than the snake itself. The snake’s offspring would remain in opposition to the woman’s offspring. In this case, Eve’s offspring points to one individual—the Messiah, Jesus, who would come forth from the Jewish people.
Verses 16-19 include God’s judgments on all involved. The woman will experience suffering in having children and in her desire for her husband. Adam will suffer in his attempts to control his domain. The very dust he came from will force him to struggle to survive. Man’s natural or original relationship to the ground—to rule over it—is reversed; instead of submitting to him, it now resists and eventually swallows him.
Adam expresses confidence in God’s promise about his wife’s offspring by finally giving her the name Eve, which means “living,” “the mother of all living,” or “she who gives life.” Some see this as a kind of play on words: Not only will the human race descend from Eve, but spiritual life will come from her as well.
God provides special clothing for Adam and Eve. Instead of fig leaves, He clothes them in skins. God does for the couple what they cannot do for themselves. While some see the skins as a foreshadow of redemption, it is more likely simply the practical meeting of a need.
In verses 22-24, God says that humanity has become “like one of us.” This is a reference to the newfound knowledge of good and evil. This is critical because the Tree of Life perpetuates physical life in the perfect environment of the garden. When people acquire a sin nature in the physical body, they begin the process of physical deterioration, which ultimately leads to physical death. If Adam were to eat of the Tree of Life at this time, it would perpetuate his physical life forever with the presence of the sin nature.
This passage contains a certain amount of irony, in that the human race, which has been created in God’s image (1:26), seeks to be like God by eating the fruit (3:5-7) but afterward finds themselves no longer in union with God.
Angels called cherubim surround and symbolize God’s presence in the Old Testament (Exodus 27:7-9; Ezekiel 10:15). They are similar to bodyguards. Genesis 3:24 pictures them defending the Tree of Life with a flaming sword to keep humanity away. This is an apt picture of the separation established between God and His creation. Humanity is completely excluded in this picture, with no resources of their own that would allow them to cross into God’s paradise.
Chapter 4 opens with the birth of Cain and Abel (4:1-2). The name Cain means “to acquire” or “possess.” The literal rendering of Eve’s reply is, “I have gotten [or have acquired] a son, the Lord.” Some suppose that she understood enough of the prophecy in 3:16-19 that she believed her son would be the one to conquer the serpent. Certainly her response expresses enthusiasm and gratitude.
Unlike Cain’s name, Abel’s name is not explained. However, the Hebrew word Abel means “vanity,” or “breath.” Traditionally understood, Abel’s name reflects on the temporary nature of his existence.
Genesis 4:3-5 describes the vocations of the brothers. Both vocations are noble; one is not better than the other. And there does not appear to be anything wrong with offering fruit as opposed to animal sacrifice. Certainly grain offerings were a legitimate part of Israel’s worship practices.
There may be clues in the description of the offerings themselves as to what was the problem with Cain’s offering. Abel offers the first of his flock (4:4; see Exodus 34:19; Deuteronomy 12:6; 14:23) and the fattest (4:4; see Numbers 18:17). Abel gives what cost him most—the firstborn and the most choice selections. On the other hand, Cain’s offering is not described as his first or his best, merely as the fruit. This difference in quality and attitude may be the key to God’s differing reactions to the offerings.
When Cain learns that God is displeased with his offering, he becomes angry (Genesis 4:5). In response to Cain’s anger, God asks him questions. His questions demonstrate that He is more displeased with Cain’s response than with the actual offering. It is not the style of the offering, but the substance of Cain’s heart that is called into question (4:6-7).
Not all of the earliest manuscripts of Genesis include Cain’s request to Abel to go out to the field, but the detail is significant. According to Jewish law, the fact that Cain leads his brother to a private place would have indicated premeditation, and thus would have incurred an even harsher punishment (4:8).
God’s question to Cain in verse 9 mirrors His question to Adam in 3:9. And like his father, Cain responds with a lie and defensiveness. The fact that Cain dispassionately denies what he has done shows a lack of care and concern that parallels Adam’s lack of regard for his wife (3:12).
Verses 10-16 reveal God’s judgment on Cain—that Cain would be an outcast wanderer. This is the first instance in scripture where a human is cursed. When God pronounced judgment on Adam, it was the ground that actually was cursed. While in modern culture, the death penalty is considered the ultimate punishment, in this ancient world, disenfranchisement was possibly worse than death. It was a loss of roots and a loss of all that defined someone.
Cain’s character is revealed in his negotiation. His concern is not his dead brother or displeasing God; his concern is self-preservation. Cain settles in the land of Nod, which means, “wandering.” We do not know what ultimately happens to him.
We do not know what sign God gave to Cain before He expelled him. Some have supposed it was a mark of some kind on Cain himself, while others suggest a special hairstyle. One of the ancient rabbis argued that the sign was a dog that accompanied Cain on his wanderings. Others think it was some sign in the external world, such as an intensified fear of killing another human being. Whatever form it took, the mark God gave Cain was not a stigma, but rather a guarantee of safe passage (4:15)—an act of mercy on God’s part.
Of course, the other mystery concerning Cain is whom he married (4:17). He had probably married a sister or possibly a niece. Marriages between close relatives would have been at first unavoidable if the whole human race came from a single pair. Marriage between siblings and close relatives was not prohibited until the Mosaic Law, instituted thousands of years later (Leviticus 18:6-18). There would have been no genetic imperfections at the beginning of the human race. Genetic defects resulted from the fall and only occurred gradually, over long periods of time.
Verses 17-18 begin a history of Cain’s descendants. Verse 19 introduces Lamech as a man with two wives. Bigamy was common in the ancient Near East. It is not unheard of even among the fathers of the faith. Jacob had two wives and two concubines. Solomon, famously, had thousands of wives. These men are notable as exceptions, though, among the Israelite nation.
In verses 20-22, we see that Cain prospers even though he rebelled against God. Cain’s descendants take the lead in building cities, developing music, advancing agriculture, creating weapons, and spreading civilization.
One can easily see that the lines that make up verses 23-24 are parallel and poetical. Lamech is singing a song about polygamy, murder, and revenge. Lamech wears violence as a badge of honor.
Verses 25-26 are not events that fall chronologically after verses 17-24. Instead, at verse 25, Genesis picks up an alternate branch of Adam’s family tree. Seth’s birth is strategic. After God’s promise that Eve’s offspring would defeat the serpent, her oldest son takes the life of her youngest. That doesn’t leave many offspring to champion the cause. But here is another birth, which can continue the hope of God’s promise through the line of Seth, a name that means “to set,” or “place.”
Verse 26 reveals the beginning of the worship of the God of creation, who is the focal point of the Old Testament and the Israelite nation.
Genesis 5 begins a second genealogy (the first is Genesis 4:17-34). This fifth chapter is a list of the ten descendants of Adam to Noah. The technique of mixing narrative and genealogy is found throughout the book of Genesis. A primary purpose seems to be to show the development of the human race from Adam to Noah, and to bridge the gap in time between these two major individuals.
Verse 2 returns to the theme of God blessing man (see 1:27). Throughout the remainder of the book of Genesis, there is a recurring theme of fathers blessing their children (9:26-27; 27:27; 48:15; 49:1-28). In keeping with such a theme, the author shows, at each crucial turning point in the narrative, that God Himself renews His blessing to the next generation of sons (1:28; 5:2; 9:1; 12:3; 24:11). Seen as a whole, the picture that emerges is that of a loving parent insuring the future well-being of His children through the provision of an inherited blessing.
In the description of each generation, the same literary structure is followed:
This genealogy covers at least 1,600 years. Within the timeline of the Bible, this chapter covers the longest period in world history. The average age of the ten people listed in this genealogy is about 900.
One of the most important elements of this genealogy is the phrase that closes the account of each person: “and then he died” (NIV). This phrase (the translation of only one Hebrew word, muth) occurs eight times (5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, and 31) and serves as a reminder of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s fall. One of the most powerful functions of this phrase is the effect the one time it does not appear—Enoch does not die.
The phrase “walked with God” (NET) is only used of two men: Enoch and Noah (5:22; 6:9). Walk is a biblical figure for fellowship and obedience that results in divine blessing. It describes the closest communion with God—as if walking at His side.
Rather than dying, verse 24 tells us that Enoch disappears (5:24). There are no other details. In a similar situation, the prophet Elijah is picked up by a chariot (2 Kings 2:11-12), but no such details are given here.
Even though the death motif is strong in this chapter, there is even more emphasis on God’s grace. We see this in the references to life, fertility (sons and daughters), Enoch’s translation from this life, and other blessings.