If we want to follow the story of the Bible, we need to take a moment and become familiar with the characters we’ll be following. In the first 3 chapters of Genesis, we are introduced to the protagonists and antagonists as well as the fundamental conflict that will persist throughout the whole Bible.
Each of these chapters introduces one new character in an evolving drama. By the end of these three chapters, everything is messed up, and we’re left wondering what God will do to restore the situation.
The protagonist is the person that the story is about. We tend to think of them as the “good guy or gal” that we want to cheer for.
In the Bible, the protagonist is identified by the fourth word:
- In the beginning, God…
God is the protagonist. He’s the author of the story, as we’ve already discussed, but He’s also one of the main characters. It’s pretty easy to say that God is a good guy.
The entire first chapter of the Bible (Genesis 1) is all about God in action. Through the revelation to Moses, who wrote the book of Genesis, we begin to meet God and understand what He’s like.
The first thing we see is God’s power. Genesis 1:1 summarizes that idea when it says “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This simple sentence points us back to God as the creator of everything.
We are all familiar with creation. We talk about creating a painting, or a kitchen table, or a blanket or even a tasty meal. We call this activity “creation”, because it seems like at one point the object didn’t exist, then it did!
The truth is that whatever we created did exist before we got involved. It was just in a different form. The paint was still in the tube, the table was a stack of lumber the blanket was just a fold of fabric and the meal was uncooked and unseasoned. What we call creation is probably more like transformation.
God’s take on creation is quite a bit different than that. When God started His creation, nothing existed. He didn’t transform matter from one form to another. He actually created. Scholars call this ex nihilo creation: Creation from nothing.
When we read Genesis 1, if we are paying attention, we recognize right away that God’s kind of creation is way above what we have ever seen or done. The amount of power it would take to call matter into existence and then give it a specific form is pretty spectacular.
Another thing we see about God is that He was pleased with what He created. By the end of Genesis 1 we see that God has moved through six periods of creation. At the end of each one, God reviewed it and passed judgment: “It is good.”
We all have varying standards of what constitutes “good”. Some of us have high standards, others have relatively low standards. But God’s standard is fixed. To be good, something has to be completely good. It can’t have any aspect that isn’t good.
When God called His creation good, he was saying that it was exactly what He intended to create. No part of it fell short of His creative intention. He didn’t have to guess in a few spots and figured it would work. He envisioned all of creation, and what He made perfectly aligned to that vision.
We also see the trinity in action in this first chapter. In verse 26, God says “Let Us make man in Our image.” This is not the royal we, used by monarchs on earth. This is God having conversation amongst the perfect community of the trinity. We don’t get a lot of details about how this worked. We only see that it does work and did happen.
The Flawed Protagonist
At the end of chapter one, we see the second main character introduced: men and women. We know them today as Adam and Eve. In this part of the story, they are the only human beings in existence. As time passes, they will have children and the human race will grow to the billions that we see on Earth today.
God is very particular about creating human beings. He holds a council with Himself and declares two intentions:
- To make human beings in His own image
- To give them dominion over all of the things that He has created.
The first decision is interesting because it implies that everything else that God created was not in His image. This sets the man and the woman apart from all of the rest of creation. They were not like other created things (fish, birds, animals, light, dark, sun, moon, starts, water, etc.). God invested some aspects of Himself in people that He held back from the rest of creation.
The second decision helps us understand what it meant to be created in God’s image. God goes on to say that the function of human beings would be to have dominion, or rule over, the other stuff He had created.
Genesis 2 drills into the story of Adam and Eve with even more detail. It zooms in and just focuses on what happened with Adam and Eve in a way to give us better insight the part of the story that we will most identify with.
God put Adam in the Garden of Eden and told him to take care of it. Adam was like God’s on-site manager for all of the creation. His job was to tend the garden on behalf of God. It’s hard to imagine what kinds of gardening God needed Adam to perform for him. But the Bible is clear that caring for the garden was Adam’s responsibility.
God also gave Adam permission to eat of any tree in the Garden. Beyond just being the caretaker, Adam was allowed to use the garden for his own benefits. He needed to eat, and God told him that the entire garden was available to him.
Of course, this freedom did come with some boundaries. One specific tree was off limits. This tree had dire consequences attached. Adam was clearly warned about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
God also told him to name all the animals. So Adam went around and started giving names to everything he saw. Aardvark, Alligator, Armadillo… In doing this, Adam exercised his dominion over all the created animals. It was his right to give them names and have those names stick.
At this point Adam figured out that he was alone and didn’t have a companion like the animals he had just finished naming. So God provided Eve as his perfect compliment. Adam was overjoyed over this. God blessed them both and commanded them to be fruitful and populate the world He had given them to administer for Him.
So far we have a pretty happy story. God created a great world and put Adam in Eve in it to take care of it for Him. If you thought that sounded too good to be true, you’d be right.
In Genesis 3 we are introduced to the third major character: The Serpent.
While we would think of a serpent as a snake, it’s clear that this snake is not anything like snakes that we know today. So we’ll assume that this serpent is much more than just a snake. Later on we’ll give him different names like Lucifer or Satan. But in Genesis, he’s just called “the serpent”.
Based on the words that come out of the serpent’s mouth, it’s clear that he is not a part of God’s good creation. His first recorded conversation is trying to undermine God’s authority and subvert the management structure that God put in place. Pretty quickly, we can deduce that he has positioned himself as the enemy of God.
What’s totally amazing is that God had to know the serpent was there. And God chose not to destroy him. Certainly for a God who can create the entire universe out of nothing, getting rid of a troublesome snake wouldn’t be difficult. But God chose not to take such extreme measures.
We don’t get to see a lot of the serpent in Genesis 3. We watch him deceive Eve with some tricky words about God’s real intentions and motivations. Eve agreed with what he said, and broke the Great Restriction to eat of the forbidden tree.
Apparently Adam was there because Eve was able to simply hand him the forbidden fruit. Adam knew she had broken God’s rule and would suffer the consequences. He was still so smitten with her that he chose to follow her and eat as well, rather than living forever and watching her suffer alone for her transgression.
At this point, the serpent stepped back and the story shifted focus to Adam and Eve as the consequences of their actions set in.
- They suddenly gained knowledge of their nakedness – and that seemed to matter a lot to them.
- They found that they were afraid of God and wanted to hide.
- They instantly learned to make excuses for their actions.
Every story needs a conflict. And now we have a conflict of Biblical proportions. Literally.
This is the fundamental conflict that runs throughout the rest of the book. It’s the primary conflict that dominates our lives, even to this day.
- God created everything from nothing and declared it good.
- God created humans in His image and tasked them with managing this creation.
- The serpent introduced an alternate theory about what was going on “You could be like God.”
- Adam decided to follow the serpent’s logic and reject God’s, effectively changing sides, and transferred his “dominion” to his new master (if this sounds crazy, look at what Satan offers Jesus in Matthew 4:8-9)
So what happens next? How will God restore His creation? How will He get His image bearer back?
The conflict is tremendously sad. God literally created paradise and put Adam and Eve in the middle of it. Adam rebelled against this goodness and became God’s enemy, aligned with Satan and opposed to God.
This raises the big question: How will peace be restored? How will what was lost be redeemed?
The Great Promise
Genesis 3 ends with a flaming sword stationed at the entrance to the garden of Eden, denying Adam access to the Tree of Life. But before that, God lays out a prophecy of how He planned to resolve this situation.
It didn’t take very long for God to show up and unveil hints of His plan for how to address this terrible conflict. It boils down to a Child which will be born to woman who will oppose the serpent. Satan would bruise His heel (painful, but not deadly), but the Promised One would crush Satan’s head. This would then introduce a new set of affairs which would change the course of the story.
While Genesis 3 ends with affairs in a sad situation, hope is on the horizon. Adam and Eve are going to die at war with God. The serpent has effectively hijacked God’s good creation. But God has not given up, and has plans to address everything which just went off the rails.
The Bible is the story of this plan playing out. It begins with this sad situation and rolls forward into all the actions and steps that God takes to redeem what was His.