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As you might know, the first five books of the Bible are called the “five books of Moses” because the Jewish nation always believed that God wrote them through Moses. (They believed that some men guided by the Spirit did some structuring of Moses’ words after he died—see Deuteronomy 34:5-8). The Jews called those books the torah, which is usually translated “law” though it doesn’t mean “law” in the sheer legal way that we normally do. These books are filled with history and promises and explanations as well as commandments and that’s not the kind of “law” you find in our law-books is it?
Genesis through Deuteronomy rises out of Israel’s relationship with God under Moses so while the story begins with Creation it is written to teach Israel who their God is, what he is like and what he has in mind for them and the world. It’s as if a stunned nation watched God dismantle oppressive Egypt in the plagues (see Exodus 1—14) and asked Moses, “Who is this God and what does he want?” In Leviticus 18:1-5 God said they were not to think of him or serve him as the Egyptians served their gods. And he was taking them to Canaan and they were not to think of him or serve him as the Canaanites served their gods. They were to commit to God and serve him in the way he would make clear and they would enjoy fullness of life with him. That’s what Genesis through Deuteronomy is about. Getting to know and love God and work with him to fulfil his purposes.
The gods of Egypt and the true God
Israel had lived in Egypt for something like 400 years and everything in Egypt was a god or a manifestation of a god. The soil, the river, the animals, the sky, the desert, the crops, the sun, moon and stars and the king himself were all gods. That’s what the Egyptian priests taught the children in school. If a child wanted to know why the sea didn’t come up over the whole land of Egypt, if he wanted to know how you could bury a seed and a plant come up, why the sun came up every day or why there was desert--if he wanted to know anything he was told stories about gods. He was told about gods fighting each other, marrying, dying, lying and so forth.
Moses wrote Genesis to explain that the creation and all the things in it are servants of the one true God. He teaches Israel that these elements were not gods to be feared and they were not to be worshiped. He shows that they were the creation of one God and that they were not his enemies that he had to overcome (as the stories of the gods said). No, Genesis 1 is written to say there is one God who created and so provided all things and that that one God is to be worshiped and served in love.
Genesis and the Fall and God’s redeeming purpose
Moses wrote Genesis to explain why everything is in a mess and what God had undertaken to do about it. If God had made everything and it all worked together in harmony (the sun and moon doing their jobs, the fish in the sea and the birds in the heavens etc) and man and woman rejoicing as lord over it in God’s image how come there was bedlam and oppression and desert now? Moses records the Fall in Genesis 3--11 (these chapters are to be taken as one continuous description of humanity’s rebellion against God and his judicial curse on humanity).
Our sin fragmented us and the result was loss of relationship, peace and home. The loss of home is shown in the expulsion from the garden (Genesis 3), Cain’s loss of home (Genesis 4) and the flood and the scattering of the nations in chapter 9--11. But these judgements by God were redemptive in purpose, that is, he wasn’t washing his hands of us. Sin would be our utter destruction so he moved in judgement to redeem us. Since Israel descended from these nations Israel should resists the later temptation to think that she was some elite nation, she had come from sinful stock like the rest of us.
Immediately following our Fall and scattering (chapters 3--11) God called Abram to be the father of Israel and the one in whom he would work to bring humanity back to himself (end of chapter 11 and into chapter 12). As Adam represents us well on our way from God so Abram (later Abraham) represents us well as on our way back to God. God sent us away in Adam and brings us back to himself in Abraham (see Genesis 12:1-3). Abraham and his seed (Israel) were the elect (not elite, they were no better than the rest of us!) through which God would bless the world and not just Abraham and Israel. Genesis was written to teach Israel that she was not an end in herself and that God was the God of all nations and was working through Israel to bless them all.
Redemption is God’s work and not man’s
Genesis 11:1-9 shows our anger with God and our refusal to accept his judgement. In our arrogance we said we’d make a centre for ourselves, built a reputation for ourselves and make a home for ourselves and put an end to our wandering. Everything we said we’d do for ourselves God put a stop to! Then he called a man with a prematurely old body and with a barren wife and said he would give to them all that he refused to let us make for ourselves (see Genesis 12:1-3 and Read Romans 4:16-22). Abraham and Sarah were incapable of all God had in mind and that is precisely what God wanted to make clear. Throughout Genesis this same note is sounded. Abraham, the other patriarchs all had their flaws and got in trouble and God delivered them and brought good out of evil. All the stories develop the one Story: God is faithful and we are faithless, we are helpless against the powers and forces we have set loose but God is able, we fight and cut one another off and God works to reconcile us all to him and one another.
(You might find my Genesis & Us helpful. See McGuiggan books on the home page.)