Since pre-Christian times authorship of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, has been attributed to Moses, an enormously influential Israelite leader from the second millennium BC with an aristocratic Egyptian background. Even though Genesis is technically anonymous, both the Old and New Testaments unanimously recognize Moses as the Torah’s author (Jos 8:35; 2Ch 23:18; Neh 8:1; Mk 12:19,26; Lk 2:22; Rm 10:5; Heb 10:28). At the same time, evidence in Genesis suggests that minor editorial changes dating to ancient times have been inserted into the text. Examples include the mention of “Dan” (14:14), a city that was not named until the days of the judges (Jdg 18:29), and the use of a phrase that assumed the existence of Israelite kings (Gn 36:31).
The Torah (a Hebrew term for law) was seen as one unit until at least the second century BC. Sometime prior to the birth of Christ, the Torah was divided into five separate books, later referred to as the Pentateuch (lit “five vessels”). Genesis, the first book of the Torah, provides both the universal history of humankind and the patriarchal history of the nation of Israel. The first section (chaps. 1–11) is a general history commonly called the “primeval history,” showing how all humanity descended from one couple and became sinners. The second section (chaps. 12–50) is a more specific history commonly referred to as the “patriarchal history,” focusing on the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants: Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s twelve sons. Genesis unfolds God’s plan to bless and redeem humanity through Abraham’s descendants. The book concludes with the events that led to the Israelites being in the land of Egypt.
Genesis lays the groundwork for everything else we read and experience in Scripture. Through Genesis we understand where we came from, how we got in the fallen state we are in, and the beginnings of God’s gracious work on our behalf. Genesis unfolds God’s original purpose for humanity.
Genesis provides the foundation from which we understand God’s covenant with Israel that was established with the giving of the Law. For the Israelite community, the stories of the origins of humanity, sin, and the covenant relationship with God helped them understand why God gave them the Law.
Genesis is chiefly a narrative. From a narrative standpoint, God is the only true hero of the Bible, and the book of Genesis has the distinct privilege of introducing him. God is the first subject of a verb in the book and is mentioned more frequently than any other character in the Bible. The content of the first eleven chapters is distinct from the patriarchal stories in chapters 12–50. The primary literary device is the catchphrase “these are the family records.” The phrase is broader in meaning than simply “generation,” and refers more to a narrative account. This was a common practice in ancient Near East writings. This phrase also serves as a link between the key person in the previous narrative and the one anticipated in the next section. Genesis could be described as historical genealogy, which ties together creation and human history in one continuum.
“In the beginning.” When that beginning was we cannot tell. It may have been long ages before God fitted up this world for the abode of man, but it was not self-existent. It was created by God; it sprang from the will and the word of the all-wise Creator. When God began to arrange this world in order, it was shrouded in darkness, and it had been reduced to what we call, for lack of a better name, chaos. This is just the condition of every soul of man when God begins to deal with him in his grace; it is formless and empty of all good things.
How there was light before there was any sun, for the sun was not created until the fourth day of the week, is not for us to say. But God is not dependent on his own creation. He can make light without a sun. He can spread the gospel without the aid of ministers; he can convert souls without any human or angelic method, for he does as he wills in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.
1:1 “In the beginning.” When that beginning was we cannot tell. It may have been long ages before God fitted up this world for the abode of man, but it was not self-existent. It was created by God; it sprang from the will and the word of the all-wise Creator.
1:2 “Formless and empty.” When God began to arrange this world in order, it was shrouded in darkness, and it had been reduced to what we call, for lack of a better name, chaos. This is just the condition of every soul of man when God begins to deal with him in his grace; it is formless and empty of all good things.
1:3-4 “Let there be light.” God had but to speak the word, and the great wonder was accomplished. How there was light before there was any sun, for the sun was not created until the fourth day of the week, is not for us to say. But God is not dependent on his own creation. He can make light without a sun. He can spread the gospel without the aid of ministers; he can convert souls without any human or angelic method, for he does as he wills in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.
1:5 “God called the light ‘day.’” Darkness first and light afterwards. It is so with us spiritually—first darkness, then light. I suppose that until we get to heaven, there will be both darkness and light in us. And as to God’s providential dealings, we must expect darkness as well as light. They will make up our first day and our last day, till we get where there are no days but the Ancient of Days.
1:6-8 “Let there be an expanse.” Note those four words, “and it was so.” Whatever God ordains always comes. It is true of all his promises that whatever he has said will be fulfilled, and we will one day say of it all, “And it was so.” It is equally certain concerning all his threats that what he has spoken will certainly be fulfilled, and the ungodly will have to say, “And it was so.” These words are often repeated in this chapter. They convey to us the great lesson that the Word of God is sure to be followed by the deed of God. He speaks and it is done.
1:9-13 “Let the earth produce vegetation.” What a strange place this world must have been with its plains and hills and rooks and vales without one single blade of grass, or a tree, or a shrub! So at once, before that day was over, God threw the mantle of verdure over the earth and clad its mountains and valleys with forests and plants and flowers, as if to show us that the fruitless is uncomely in God’s sight, that the man who bears no fruit unto God is unendurable to him. There would be no beauty whatever in a Christian without any good works and with no graces.
1:24-25 “God saw that it was good.” After each day’s work, God looks on it; and it is well for us, every night, to review our day’s work. Some people’s work will not bear looking at and tomorrow becomes all the worse to them because today was not considered and its sin repented of by them. But if we mark the errors of today, a repetition of them may be avoided tomorrow. Only God can look on a day’s work and say of it, as a whole and in every part, that it is good. As for us, our best things need sprinkling with the blood of Christ, which we need not only on the lintels and side posts of our house but even on the altar and the mercy seat at which we worship God.
1:26-28 “Let us make man in our image.” The earth is completed now that man has come upon it, and man is completed when the image of God is upon him, when Christ is formed in him the hope of glory, but not till then. When we have received the power of God and have dominion over ourselves and over all earthly things in the power of God’s eternal Spirit, then are we where and what God intends us to be.
THE FIRST PROMISE
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
This is a most glorious promise, the first and only one until the time of Abraham. We will notice:
Jesus and his elect, the seed of the woman, all who believe on and partake [of] the spirit of Jesus, Satan and the wicked who bear a likeness to him, Scoffers, Sinners, Self righteous, Rejecters of the gospel. Between these two parties there is a conflict.
The only way to repel Satan’s subtlety is by acquiring true wisdom.
However far we may get away from God, we will have to come close to him one of these days. Like the comet that flies far off from the sun, wandering into space for an altogether inconceivable distance and yet has to come back again—however long the time its circuit takes—so we will have to come back to God, either willingly, repentantly, believingly, or else unwillingly and in chains to receive our sentence of doom from the lips of the Almighty whom we have provoked to anger by our sin.
3:1 “Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals.” The only way to repel Satan’s subtlety is by acquiring true wisdom. Again I repeat it: man has none of that in himself. What then? Herein is true wisdom. If we would successfully wrestle with Satan, we must make the Holy Scriptures our daily resort. Out of this sacred book we must continually draw our armor and our ammunition. We must lay hold on the glorious doctrines of God’s Word—make them our daily meat and drink. So will we be strong to resist the devil and joyful in discovering that he will flee.
3:8 “The Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.” It would have been the worst thing that could have happened to our race if God had left this planet to take its own course and had said, concerning the people on it, “I will leave them to their own way, for they are given over to idols.” But God waited until the evening. This suggests to me God’s great patience with the guilty, and it should also teach us to be patient with others. The second thing I gather from the Lord’s coming to Adam and Eve in the evening is his divine care for the guilty. He could have left them until the morning. But God would not leave Adam and Eve in suspense through the whole night after they had sinned against him. He seemed to say, “I will not leave them all night without the promise which will brighten their gloom.”
3:9 “Where are you?” God makes them realize their lost condition. This is implied in the question. Adam was lost—lost to God, lost to holiness, lost to happiness. God himself says, “Where are you?” That was to let Adam know this, “I have lost you, Adam. At one time I could speak with you as with a friend, but I cannot do so any longer. You were once my obedient child, but you are not so now.”
3:11-12 “The woman you gave to be with me.” There is no sign of true confession here. We can see how completely death was brought into Adam’s moral nature, for if it had not been so, he would have said, “My God, I have sinned. Can you and will you forgive me?” But instead of doing so, he laid the blame for his sin on his wife, which was an utterly evil action. He almost seemed to lay the blame on God because he had given him the woman to be with him. He was guilty of unkindness to his wife and of blasphemy against his Maker in seeking to escape from confessing the sin he had committed.
3:13 “What is this you have done?” By her action and her husband’s, the floodgates had been pulled up, and the flood of sin had been let loose on the world. They had struck a match and set the world on fire with sin.
3:14-15 “He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” The Lord God did not ask the serpent anything, for he knew he was a liar. There is no creature so degraded as that once bright angel who is now the devil. That which is foul, material, carnal, he delights in. And his head is bruised. Blessed be the name of the woman’s promised seed. The old serpent’s head is bruised with a fatal bruising, while the wounded heel of our Savior is the joy and delight of our hearts.
3:21 “Clothing from skins.” Some creature had to die in order to provide them with garments, and we know who died in order that we might be robed in his spotless righteousness. The Lamb of God has made for us a garment that covers our nakedness so that we are not afraid to stand even before the bar of God.
4:6 “Why are you furious?” Many ungodly people in the world are not happy in the condition in which they find themselves. They have a religion of their own, but it yields them no comfort. They would like to have peace of conscience. They would like to be uplifted beyond all fear of death, and they would like to be as happy as Christian people are, but they do not want to pay the price—namely, obedience to God by faith in Jesus Christ. They play the part of the dog in the manger, who could not eat the hay himself and would not let the horses do so. They will not accept Christ and yet grumble because others have him. Although Cain was in such a bad temper that he was angry and looked despondent, God, the infinitely Gracious One, came and spoke with him and patiently reasoned with him. It is wonderful that God should speak with man at all, considering man’s insignificance. But for the Lord to speak with sinful man is a far greater marvel. And for him to reason with such a man as Cain, a murderer in heart and soon to be a murderer in deed—impenitent, implacable, presumptuous, blasphemous—this is a miracle of mercy.
4:9 “Am I my brother’s guardian?” The cool impudence of Cain is an indication of the state of heart that led up to his murdering his brother, and it was also part of the result of his having committed that terrible crime. He would not have proceeded to the cruel deed of bloodshed if he had not first cast off the fear of God and been ready to defy his Maker. Having committed murder, the hardening influence of sin upon Cain’s mind must have been intense, and so at last he was able to speak out to God’s face what he felt within his heart and ask, “Am I my brother’s guardian?” Save us, O God, from having our hearts hammered to the hardness of steel by sin! Daily keep us, by your grace, sensible and tender before you, trembling at your Word.
4:10 “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” Perhaps Cain went his way dreaming that the terrible matter was all over. He had done the deed, and it could not be undone; he had struck the blow, rid himself of the presence of one who was obnoxious to him; the blood had been swallowed up by the earth, and that was the end to the business which need cause no further thought. It was not so, however, for though that blood was silent in the seared conscience of Cain, it had a voice elsewhere. A mysterious voice went up beyond the skies; it reached the ear of the invisible God and moved the heart of Eternal Justice, so that breaking through the veil that conceals the Infinite from man, God revealed himself and spoke to Cain. Then Cain knew that blood could not be idly spilt, that murder would be avenged, for there was a tongue in every drop of the vital essence that flowed from murdered manhood, which prevailed with God, so that he would interpose and hold a solemn inquest.