October 2, 2016.
Today I am beginning a class on Genesis of which a friend asked me to cover the first four lessons. We are going to be discussing topics in Genesis throughout the class and drawing truths and applications to our own lives. We aren’t going to go through every chapter, verse by verse, but rather pick out some of the prominent themes in the opening book of the bible to discuss and dive into. Since it has been my experience that I usually don’t have enough time in class to get through all the material that I want to present, and because the class can only be given to a limited audience, I have decided to write a post about what I am going over each of the four weeks for reference and a wider audience, if anyone cannot make the class. This will be somewhat of a pilot run for future classes that I want to teach, and should open up some time during class to get into good discussion. Without further ado, let’s begin.
Introduction and background.
The book of Genesis is perhaps one of the most criticized books of the bible in our day an age. Further, the opening chapter, which will be the focus of the lesson today, is probably at the top of the list for polarizing the Christian worldview and other worldviews. We aren’t going to get into that argument too much today1, as that is beyond the scope of these lessons, but it is worth mentioning as we open our thoughts to God as creator and sustainer. The book of Genesis is the first of the books of law, the Pentateuch (or in Jewish circles, the Torah), and traditionally credited to the hand of Moses, though the book itself never claims Mosaic authorship. Throughout the New Testament and Jewish writings it is associated with Moses. As a side note here, the term “law of Moses” doesn’t necessitate that it was written by the hand of Moses specifically (though it certainly is open to that possibility), but rather that it is associated with Moses.
The book of Genesis begins the story of a God who pursued a people, ultimately to pursue the whole world. It tells us of the Creator who was and is and is to come. It opens our relationship with Him, God and man, in the garden, the paradise of God. It is no coincidence that the opening of the book and the closing of the book, the last chapters of Revelation, end up in the same Edenic scene. The bible, though written by many individuals over a period of hundreds to thousands of years, tells one complete story. The story of a Creator, who loves His rebellious creation enough to become one of them, in the form of a man, to suffer at their own hands and to die, that He might reconcile His creation back to Himself as it was in the beginning. This is the opening of Genesis and the hope that ends Revelation.
God, Jesus and the Spirit: Let there be light.
When God created the heavens and the earth, the record states that the earth was without form and darkness covered the earth. Then God sounded “Let there be light,” and there was light, and it was good. This concept has been applied to truth and salvation throughout the scriptures, not the least of which in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:
“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 4:5-6)
It may seem a little weird to bring up Jesus when talking about Genesis one; however, we see that the New Testament writers couldn’t help but see Jesus from the beginning. THere are many connections that could be made here, but I think the most telling is the way that John introduces Jesus in the beginning of his gospel.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
This passage seems to be an echo of the way it all started.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
Since we see Jesus from the beginning, God as creator in Genesis one and the Spirit of God hovering over the waters in verse 3, the triune God is noted from the beginning. Genesis is setting up the ultimate message for mankind, even as the author sets the scene of creation. We see how both Paul and John connect Jesus not only with God in the beginning, but also with light, following the message that Genesis gives us early on:
“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.”
John and Paul find an analogy here as God speaks light into the world with Jesus coming to be the light of the world. From the beginning, God and His goodness have been paired with light. John goes on in his gospel to explicitly record Jesus claiming to be the light of the world (John 8:12). It is only fitting then that we too are to be the light of the world, as we are ambassadors for Christ.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
We are to be his witnesses here on earth, walking in light and not in fellowship with darkness. We were indeed once in darkness, but now we are in the light.
“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
This is the message of the gospel. And it’s grounded in the beginning.
God’s good creation.
As the story in Genesis one unfolds, we see that each thing that God creates is called good. Five times the text states, “And God saw that it was good.” This is not just a saying in the way that we might call something good- this is a divine appointment of goodness. When God creates, His creation is good. It is functional, operational, and proper. In the beginning, things work in the way that they are designed (we will get into the downfall of this good world next week). The psalms praise God for His goodness and the works that He has done (e.g. Ps. 34, 127 and 145).
The first thing that God says is “not good” is that man, the centerpiece of creation in Genesis 1-3, should be alone. Don’t miss the significance of this statement. It is true that this is a statment of the goodness that of the complete complementarinism of man and woman in the bond of marriage, however I think it is even more than that. I think this is revealing a foundational truth about our need for relationships. Here is the first time in all creation that God says something is not good. He spoke light into existence and called it good. He created the moon and stars and called them good. He made all living things and ultimately man, calling each step of the process good. But when God sees man alone, he says it is not good. I think we should take note of this and realize that we were created to have relationships. A relationship with The Lord, a relationship with creation and also a relationship with other people. I’m sure most of us have had the experience of being alone at some point in our lives. I’m convinced that loneliness is one of the worst pains that we can experience. One of the greatest gifts that our maker has ever given us is other people.
The goodness is culminated in the garden of Eden, the sacred space that God makes for man. Note the lush foliage and flowing waters in the place where man dwells with God. In the ancient world, the dwelling place of gods were often depicted as a lush garden or mountain.2 We see Eden depicted as both (as a garden here in Genesis one, and refered to as the holy mountain of God in Ezekiel 28:14,16). God’s dwelling place was truly paradise, and He placed man in the garden to dwell with Him. This was His plan from the beginning, and is still His plan now. Though we have rebelled, and sin and death have entered the world to separate us from the God who loves us with an unfathomable love, His plan for reconciliation and redemption has been put into place, and one day we will once again dwell with God in an Edenic paradise (Isaiah 66:18-24, Romans 8:18-25, Revelation 21-22).
This point, that what God creates is good, will be important for our lesson next week.
The love of God and man.
“And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'”
The greatest commandment, cited by Jesus from Deuteronomy 6:5 and the second cited from Leviticus 19:18, is rather well-known in Christian circles. Though these commands are not explicitly stated until later books of law, I think we see God displaying the principle here in the first two chapters of the book of Genesis. It is east to see where the love of God would come from Genesis one, as it is grounded in who He is. He is our Creator, the Almighty, the One who speaks live and light into existence. If it were not for God, we would have no being at all. Genesis one shows us why God is worthy of our worship, for our identity is found in Him. We get a sense of His ultimate omnipotence and omniscience as we learn from Job who we are in relation to Him:
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
As if that were not enough, however, not only do we see God as Almighty and Creator, we see His unfathomable love for mankind. Even though Genesis 1-2 is a story clearly about the Creator, it is centered around His creation, and climaxed at the creation of man. Sometimes we forget how small we are compared to the omnipotent Creator- yet for some reason He cares about mankind more than we even know. We will see as we continue our study, that even when the creature rebels and forsakes, the Creator continues in His steadfast love for man. And this is why we love Him- because He first loved us (I John 4:19).
We saw in the previous chapter that it is not good for man to be alone. This also teaches us the second greatest commandment. Relationships with one another are a divine gift, set up before the fall. Love for our fellow-man did not enter the world with sin and death, but rather was designed in the creation. With this, we should easily see “love your neighbor as yourself” in
“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”
Every human is created in the image of God. How could we insult God by demoting our fellow-man? Though this has been done throughout history, from the beginning it was not so, and we as His imagers ought not to let the world influence us to think of anyone as less than the Creator made them to be. From the very beginning, the two greatest commandments ring loud and clear. Love God, the Creator, and love man, the imager of God. We would do well to dwell on these ideas.
There is a lot more that can be said about the creation, but I have highlighted these points to get a picture of what Genesis one is trying to convey to us in relation to who God is. The discussion of the days and creative events, along with different interpretations and implications of the creation account will be left for another time. Right now, what I am asking you to do is dwell on the nature of God as our Creator3, and learn what we can from the opening chapter of the book of life.
Suggested Reading: Genesis 1-2, John 1, Revelation 21-22.
All praise to Him.
1. When the book of Genesis is mentioned, how do you initially respond? What lessons to you take from the book in general?
2. What power does the word of God have, literally? How does this relate to Jesus?
3. How do we let light shine out of darkness today?
4. What are your views of Jesus/the Spirit in the beginning with God?
5. How do you picture Eden? How do you picture the renewed Eden (New heavens/new earth)?
6. What do you think “and it was good” means here?
7. Do we praise God for every good and perfect gift (James 1:17)? Why or why not?
8. If man had never fallen, would we still be here? What was man’s purpose/task before th fall? (Genesis 1:28-31)
9. What does being made in the image of God mean? Do you bear the image of Christ in your daily life?
10. If all humans are created in the image of God, how should we treat one another? How have we failed at this in the past? How can we change this in the future?
11. What does your relationship with your fellow-man mean to you? How can you cultivate it deeper?
12. We talked about God as Creator. Do you also see God as sustainer? If yes, how so?
1. If you want to look into this argument further in terms of what the ancients believed and what Genesis One and Two have to say about material creation (and whether or not science stands in opposition to the biblical worldview), I would recommend The Lost World of Genesis One and The Lost World of Adam and Eve by John Walton. Walton is an ancient near eastern scholar, and he puts the accounts in the context of their writers and culture. The books are a little tough to get through, but he does offer a way of looking at the text that is different from what you may hear today, all while staying true to the text. I’m not saying you need to agree with him, just that it would be worth your time if you are interested or even conflicted.↩
2. For more information about ancient near eastern thought and how it relates to both the garden of Eden and the mindset of the biblical writers, see The Unseen Realm by Michael Heiser. Chapters 6 and 7 specifically deal with Gardens and Mountains in ancient thought and the garden of Eden.↩