In just a very short time, a lot has happened in the Bible. The first three chapters of Genesis are loaded with events that set up everything else that follows for the rest of the Bible.
God has been established as the “Good Guy” of the story. He created everything that we see (and even the bits that we don’t see) out of nothing. Such was His creative power that every single thing He made was good. That is, it was not missing anything. In every respect, it aligned exactly to what God intended.
We met the “Bad Guy” in the serpent of the garden. He cannot stand all the goodness that God created, and decided to spoil God’s crowning creation, the one thing God created “in His own image.” So the serpent attacked Eve with crafty words and convinced her that it was in her best interest to eat from the tree of which God had said “in the day you eat of it, you will die.”
Finally we see Adam as the guy in the middle. Once he saw Eve eat of the forbidden fruit, he knew he had a choice. Despite being created in God’s image, despite being placed in the middle of a perfect garden, despite chats with God in the cool of the evening, he made a selfish decision and chose to go where Eve went, even if it meant the grave. In this moment, Adam aligned himself with the serpent.
The Bible refers to Adam as our “head” (Romans 5:12). That means that in his actions, he represented all of us. Even though we didn’t get the chance to experience the garden or chats with God, the same consequences he earned come to us. Of course, we ratify his decision when we individually sin and fall short of God’s standard.
God kicked everyone out of the Garden of Eden and posted a cherub with a flaming sword at the gate to ensure that nobody came back and ate of the Tree of Life. At this point, humanity was moving in one direction, and it was the opposite of the direction God intended.
This leaves us with a question: “How is all of this going to be set right?” It’s frustrating to see how good it could have been, but then in one moment everything was destroyed. Was there any hope for humanity? Would God’s original order ever be restored?
With these questions in mind, we move into the rest of the book of Genesis. It’s a big book, fifty chapters long. It tells the story of six people:
- Adam – which we’ve already read.
- Abel (and Cain)
- Abram (later called Abraham)
- Isaac (Abraham’s son)
- Jacob (Isaac’s son)
These six people get us going as we look at the next chapter of the total biblical story. God’s first move is to choose a people who He can call His own. The remaining five people set that story in motion. They answer the question “Who will God choose as His own?”
Cain and his brother Able Genesis 4:1-8
Straightaway, after the expulsion from the garden, we read of Eve giving birth to two brothers. Cain was the older and Abel the younger. As they grew, these two boys chose very different paths. The Bible describes Cain as a “worker of the ground” and Abel as a “keeper of sheep.” In other words, Cain was a farmer and Abel was a rancher.
When the time came to bring an offering to the Lord, each young man brought the fruit of his hands. Cain brought the most succulent produce he had grown. Think of the reddest tomatoes and the biggest cucumbers you’ve ever seen. Abel brought a lamb or two, and sacrificed them.
God accepted Abel’s offering, and rejected Cain’s. We aren’t told how God’s choice was communicated. It could have been something dramatic like fire consuming one and leaving the other (that’s how God communicated to Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:38). Or perhaps it was a communication in a dream. Either way, both men knew that God had accepted Abel’s offering and not Cain’s.
Later in the Bible we gain some additional insight on this. Hebrews 9:22 says “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” So it’s possible that only Abel’s sacrifice covered his sins because it involved the blood of a lamb.
Hebrews 11:4 looks back at this story and proclaims that Abel gave his offering in faith. Perhaps Cain did not. It’s possible that Cain was just going through the motions, and because of that God rejected his gift.
It’s clear from this that not everyone would be God’s people. While it might be nice to think of universal acceptance, this is not the way that God seems to work – or that people seem to behave. From the very beginning, some people gained God’s approval through faith. Others lacked faith and did not gain favor.
From this story alone, we begin to get the idea of what it takes to become one of God’s people. The writer to the Hebrews describes this as “faith.” However, we also see that those who do not have this faith are not accepted as well. The rest of the story of Cain and Abel is God delivering punishment on Cain and his path being set away from God.
Noah Found Favor (Genesis 6:5-9)
The next story we encounter is that of Noah. Most people know this story in that God told Noah it was going to rain when it had never rained before. His instructions to Noah were to build a big wooden ark in which the animals of the world could be saved from drowning.
Before Noah pounded the first nail, however, we need to look at the run up to the story. God looked down from heaven upon the situation on the Earth and rendered a judgment:
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
This is exactly the opposite of the “it is good” judgment that followed each of the steps of creation. After letting humans have their way for a while, God was full of regret for His creation because it no longer reflected Him or His glory.
If we stop at Genesis 6:7, it sounds like this story is going to be really short! God declared that the situation on Earth was so bad that His only option was to destroy all living things. To answer the question, “How will God restore the lost relationship?” it seems that the answer was “He won’t.” Maybe He would start over again.
In one of the great turnarounds of the Bible, Genesis 6:8 says, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”
The Bible describes Noah himself as righteous and blameless and one who walked with God. Noah did not participate in the wickedness of his day. Rather than living for himself, he lived for God. We don’t know the details of Noah’s daily practice, but it is clear that he understood who God was and that God had a different standard than everyone else.
Because Noah found favor, God did not need to destroy life on Earth. I don’t think God ever intended to destroy all life. I think in His power, He raised up Noah to carry on life and allow Him to execute punishment on all the wicked people who were living in such an abominable fashion. The discussion of global destruction was included as a way for God to communicate to Moses how He felt about all the rest of the people of Noah’s day.
With the plan for a major rainstorm coming, God gave Noah the plans for the ark and kicked off the century-long building project. Noah endured the curiosity, then the ridicule of his neighbors as he slowly built this enormous vessel. He and his sons labored alone to craft it according to the specifications God provided. And then God brought the animals, two-by-two as we like to sing. And Noah ushered them all into the ark.
When God finally closed the door, it was shut and would not open, even when the mocking neighbors beat on the door, begging for access. When the rain began to fall, it was a novel concept until the water on the ground started to puddle, then rise up. For forty days and nights the rain fell until water covered the face of the earth. In that deluge, all life was drowned.
In this we see the judgment God desired in Genesis 6:7. All humans, animals and things that creep about on the earth were destroyed in the flood. But God preserved Noah and his family through the flood. And in order to restore life on earth, God preserved one family of every living thin on the face of the earth.
In the story of Noah we see that God actively chose people to be the recipients of His favor. We also see that those living lives of wickedness were most definitely NOT the people God would choose to be His people and bring about the promise of Genesis 3.
Noah’s righteousness stands as testimony for what pleases God.
Abram the Patriarch of a Nation (Genesis 15)
Using the genealogies of Genesis as a guide, Noah was still alive when Abram was born in Ur. The world was three hundred years post-flood and it seems that Noah’s lesson hadn’t penetrated very deeply into the mind of humanity.
When he was seventy-five years old (middle age in those days), God called Abram out of Mesopotamia to a new place. In faith, Abram picked up and moved, not sure where he would end up. His faith pleased God, and God decided to zero in on Abram and his family to be a special people.
Genesis 15 describes the conversation between God and Abraham when God made an unbreakable vow with Abram to be singled out of all the families on the earth and have a special contractual, covenanted relationship with Himself.
The strange sacrifice which was described is actually the kind of symbol that was used when two kings made a treaty. The person walking the path between the animal halves was basically saying “may I be like these animals, split in half, if I break the word I have given to you.” It was the strongest kind of language and imagery that was available in Abram’s day to swear that a promise was good.
Genesis 15 describes that God alone walked between the animal halves. This means that God unconditionally bound Himself to Abram and his descendants. Abram could not break the treaty, because he never swore to perform anything. All the commitment was upon God.
The treaty God made with Abram had several components:
- Abram’s family would be vast and numerous – at that time, Abram and his wife Sara were childless.
- God would give Abram a land to call his own – at that time, it was occupied by numerous Canaanite tribes.
- God bound Himself to Abram and his family to come.
- Through Abram’s family, God would bless all families.
Prior to this four-fold covenant, God had chosen individual people who lived righteously and walked by faith in Him. Genesis mentions Abel, Enoch and Noah as three such people.
The covenant changed everything. Now rather that God choosing those who lived properly, he had bound himself to one family line, regardless of how they chose to live.
This means it was possible for God to be bound to His people, but they could reject Him and live any way they wanted. As we study further, we’ll see that’s exactly what happened. But for now, we see that God was all about picking one family tree and binding Himself exclusively to that family to accomplish His goals as promised in Genesis 3.
When Abraham had died, and his son Isaac was carrying on the family line, God appeared to him as well. In Genesis 26, God re-affirmed His commitment to Isaac.
I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. (Genesis 26:3)
In ratifying the covenant with Isaac, God made it clear that He was choosing the line of Isaac to affirm His promise. Abraham’s other son, Ishmael, was not included in this promise. Ishmael received a different blessing and commitment from God in Genesis 21:15-21.
Isaac had two sons as well. The oldest was named Esau and the youngest Jacob. As these boys grew, they chose very different paths through life. Esau was the hunter, and Jacob was the gardener. Unlike with Cain and Abel, Jacob was not rejected by God for an improper offering.
God actually chose Jacob to receive the ratification of the blessing he had offered to Abraham and Isaac. In Jacob’s famous vision of the stairway to heaven, God reiterated yet again the same promise that He had made to Abraham and Isaac.
- Numerous descendants
- A land to call their own
- God would be with them
- Though this great people, God’s blessing would extend to all peoples.
Once again, Esau was cut out from this line of this promise. If flowed down through Abram, Isaac and Jacob. By the end of Genesis, we read that Jacob (by then renamed by God to Israel) had twelve sons. These sons each because the leader of a clan or tribe of their own descendants. From this we get the twelve tribes of Israel.
Over three generations, God narrowed down and focused the scope of His attentions to a single family. He bound Himself to them and promised them great numbers and a land to call their own. Through this one family, He would work to accomplish all of his promises in Genesis three.
The Proof is in the Pudding
In the last act of the book of Genesis, we see God’s active care and protection of this family He had chosen. Ten of the sons of Jacob became jealous of one of their brothers. In an act of unimaginable cruelty, they sold him into slavery and told their father the lie that a wild animal had killed him.
What they didn’t know was that God had a plan for this family. While they meant it for evil, God used this one rejected son to provide a path of salvation for the entire family. For while Joseph was sold as a slave, God arranged for him to become a grand vizier of Egypt, second in power only to the Pharaoh.
Joseph knew God and knew how to follow Him. While in Egypt, he did not abandon his faith, but held true to God. Because of this, he was warned of a great famine coming and told Pharaoh to stockpile grain against the lean days to come. Through God’s provision, while the region suffered in hunger, Egypt had grain to spare.
When Jacob’s family ran out of grain in Canaan, God used the bounty of Egypt to save them. Joseph, the rejected son, reached out his hand and arranged a favorable settlement in the delta of the Nile River.
God was holding up His end of the bargain. He took the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be His own people and set them up with the provisions they needed. Against all odds, they prospered when all others struggled.
This brings us to the end of the book of Genesis. It ends on a favorable note. God has chosen His people. He has saved them from famine, and set them up in a good situation in Egypt. They are not yet as numerous as the stars of the sky. They do not yet have a place to call their own. But It’s is clear that they are enjoying the favor of God.