A Bible Lesson on Genesis 50

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Jacob/Israel has come to Egypt with all his household, making a total of 67 people.  He’s lived there as a sojourner in a land that was not his own from the age of 130 to the age of 147 and has now died.

Gen 50:1  Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him.

2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel.

3 Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.

There is a purpose for the embalming in God’s scheme of things.  The body is not going to be buried in Egypt, but rather be carried back to Canaan.  It’s the physicians, not the professional embalmers that do the job, possibly because the embalmers would have been connected with the Egyptian religious scene.  The mourning goes on for 70 days, just 2 short of the 72 days that were prescribed for mourning a dead Pharaoh.  Jacob, as Joseph’s father, was clearly a respected figure in Egypt.

4 And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying,

Chances are that Joseph is ceremonially unclean from the funeral, not acceptable in Pharaoh’s court and so Joseph sends word to the court asking permission to go bury his father.

5 My father made me swear, saying, ‘I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.’ Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.”

Strictly speaking, the burial place is a cave, and there was probably not all that much hewing that Jacob did.  But the Egyptians were quite elaborate in their personal preparation for death and could be expected to understand digging one’s own grave.  They would be inclined to honor this request, especially as phrased in terms of a respected person’s preparations and wishes.

6 And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.”

7 So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt,

8 as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen.

So Joseph and the adults of his family and a large entourage of the Egyptians go to Canaan to bury Jacob.  The kids and the livestock are left behind.  On one hand there would be no reason for them to go, and on the other hand, the fact that they don’t serves as a guarantee that the trip is about a burial and not about a permanent return to live in Canaan.

9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company.

This is a procession fit for a real dignitary, involving both military and civilian elements.

10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days.

11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan.

“Abel-mizraim” is a play on words and can mean “mourning of the Egyptians.”

12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them,

13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place.

The family was well off in Egypt.  But this was reminder to all that Egypt was not home.  The family being in Egypt was a temporary matter.  It was for the saving of the family, but was not their inheritance.  That was Canaan, where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were buried.

14 After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father.

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.”

The brothers at least call evil “evil.”  Evil they understand.  What they don’t really grasp is divine forgiveness.  They’ve lived well for 17 years here, but their consciences aren’t really clear.  They aren’t altogether sure that despite 17 years worth of evidence to the contrary, Joseph isn’t going to exact revenge.  They really aren’t sure that they won’t get what they deserve.  They don’t really know or trust him.

16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died,

The brothers try to feel Joseph out without getting close enough to be in danger.  And they appeal to him on the basis of an almost-surely-made-up instruction from Jacob.  It’s pathetic, really.  If you and I can guess this is made-up, don’t they think Joseph is smart enough to see through this if he really is against them?

17 ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him.

Don’t give us justice, because we are your brothers and we go to your church.  The fact that they don’t understand his motives or trust his long-ago-freely-given forgiveness, and grovel in this way is probably a good part of what brings Joseph to tears.  Forgiven people should be grateful people, not be people who repeatedly testify to their skepticism about their forgiven state.

18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”

Joseph’s answer to his brothers is as good as it gets in the Old Testament.  It is as thoroughly Christian as an Old Testament saint gets.

19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?

First, the righting of wrongs is to be left to God.  The brothers ought to fear God, but Joseph isn’t going to settle any score.  That’s God’s to do.

20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Second, you meant evil, but God meant it for good.  Joseph sees (and we’re to see) the providence of God even in man’s malice.  In Chapter 45 (17 years before this time) Joseph said essentially the same thing … “you sold, but God sent.”  This is really first rate applied theology, real understanding of the providence of God, an understanding that has been Joseph’s his whole life, and has given him freedom to see sin for what it is and yet forgive completely.  From the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q:  Christian, how does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?

A:  We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love.  All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move or be moved.

21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

 Joseph returns not only forgiveness but also genuine affection in exchange for evil.  This is no teeth-gritting matter on Joseph’s part.  The “I” is emphatic.  He personally will provide.  The word “comforted” is the same word that God later uses through the prophet Isaiah to promise comfort to Judah in captivity (40:1; 49:13; 51:3;12,19; 61:2).  There is real tenderness here.

 22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years.

Joseph and his family remain in Egypt.  He’s 56 when his father dies and lives another 54 years.  110 years was apparently the ideal or perfect lifespan in the mind of the Egyptians.  That the blessing of God is with Joseph is evident to all, including the pagan Egyptians.

23 And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own.

What a deal.  Grandkids, great grandkids, great great grandkids.  This is good, really good.  He lives a full life, and when it’s time to die he’s got things completely in perspective.  Life has been blessed in Egypt, but the fundamental things are God’s presence and the covenant promise.

24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.”

There will come a time to leave, and when it comes, Joseph wants his bones carried out.  This is a way of saying clearly and in a permanent tangible way that Egypt is not home.  “In God’s time and in His way, He’s going to bring you out of here.  Keep that before you, and my body will be a reminder that this is coming.  My body goes with you when God brings you home.”

There could have been the kind of grand funeral procession back to Palestine that was given Jacob’s body, but that’s not what Joseph wanted.  It’s a profound fact that in spite of being a thoroughly admirable and Godly character (whose story takes up a large part of Genesis) Joseph is hardly mentioned in the New Testament.  He is mentioned only in Stephen’s summary of the Old Testament and in Hebrews 11 in the hall of fame of faith.  There, it is for these dying words that he’s commended.  It is for his steady gaze at the promise of God.

Heb 11:22  By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

What is the most important thing that can be said concerning any human?  It is that the person is looking ahead with firm faith in the promise of God, that he or she has taken Him at His word, that the person is wholly relying upon His gracious covenant and eternal presence.

26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

Joseph dies and his body is preserved.  His embalmed body—in a coffin but apparently not buried—stood as reminder of the promised exodus.  400 years later it’s still around and ready to go.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Genesis 28

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This lesson is about Genesis 28.  But in order to do that justice, we really need to back up and consider how we get to Genesis 28 in the lives of the characters Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob.  After 20 years of barrenness, Rebekah becomes pregnant with Jacob and Esau, and God tells her that she’ll have twins, the older to serve the younger.  In their youth, Jacob schemes to help that along by taking advantage of his somewhat dim and spiritually dull twin brother, buying the birthright of the firstborn for a mess of lentil soup.  Mom loves Jacob best and Dad loves Esau best.  There is surely strife in the family.  It sees like Isaac thinks he’s near death (he’s not even close, as he lives until long after Jacob returns from 20 years with Laban, but he thinks he’s close to the end) and despite knowing from Rebekah that it is Jacob through whom God intends the line of the covenant to pass, he decides to behind closed doors give his final blessing to Esau.  Rebekah gets wind of this and (not content to leave things in the hands of God) she and Jacob trick the old man into blessing Jacob instead.  All these people are supposedly adults here.  Jacob and Esau are at least 40 (the age at which Esau married the two Hittite women who made life miserable for Rebekah and Isaac) and possibly as old as 80.  They are old enough that they ought to know how to behave.

The upshot is that Esau plans to kill Jacob as soon as his father dies, and Rebekah now feels she has to scheme how to get Jacob out of town to safety.  Notice that up front God has said that it’s Jacob through whom the promise will pass, but nobody in the story acts honorably in regard to this truth.  Jacob and Rebekah can’t just stand back and let God be God, they have to scheme and meddle to “help” God along.  Isaac actively works against God’s revealed will.  And Esau is dim and (understandably) hostile.  But the providence of God will not be thwarted, His constant grace and mercy will not end.

As we pick up the story, Rebekah has decided that a way to get Jacob out of town and to safety is to send him back to Mesopotamia to get a wife from her clan.  In this scheming, she ultimately works the will of God in terms of Jacob not marrying one of the pagans from the surrounding peoples.  But we must keep in mind that this whole thing costs her dearly.  She loses both her sons.  She’ll never see Jacob again, nor her grandchildren by him.  Esau lives out in the boondocks and is no comfort or help to her.  We humans ultimately don’t break the anvil of God’s providence, but when our actions are bad, we do reap corresponding bad consequences.

Genesis 28:1 Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women.

At one level, Isaac has been manipulated here. But this is, in fact, the same command that Abraham gave his servant about a wife for Isaac.  This situation is a mess, but this is consistent with the revealed will of God.

2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take as your wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother.

Those who live by the sword die by the sword.  Jacob has been a cheat and a user of his brother.  Now he’s headed to Laban’s house, where he’s going to spend 20 years getting some of his own medicine.  He’ll find out what it’s like to be on the receiving end of what he’s dished out.

3 God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples.

Isaac really rises to the occasion here.  He thinks this may be the last he sees of this son, and the blessing he pronounces is from the heart.  May God Almighty, El Shaddai, bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you that you may become a company of peoples.  Commentators will tell you that always before in the covenant promises and blessings, there has been the notion of “many” offspring, but this “company of peoples” is the first mention of community/coherence among them.  This sees its fulfillment in the NT church and in eternity, where the redeemed make not just a separated multitude, but a connected community of those who know God.  There’s a sense here already in Genesis 28 that the reality of faith in God creates a living assembly of those redeemed.

4 May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!”

The covenant promise was both for offspring and a land.  That is seen again and again in Genesis.

5 Thus Isaac sent Jacob away. And he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother.

6 Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women,”

7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram.

8 So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father,

9 Esau went to Ishmael and took as his wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.

This is sad and pathetic.  You get the impression here of an inept fellow tripping over himself trying to make a good showing, but not really knowing what that might mean.  Surely adding a 3rd wife to the other 2 isn’t going to make life any more harmonious in this family.  Kidner says Esau’s “… attempt to do the approved thing was, like most religious efforts of the natural man, superficial and ill-judged”  1 Cor. 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran.

He’s got about a 500 mile journey to make here on foot and alone.  He’s not the family adventurer on a lark.  He’s in flight for his life. If he has a conscience at this point, it is guilty.  He’s headed away from family and friends, to a place he’s never been. As far as he can see, he’s alone and on his own.

11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.

He’s done about 50 of those 500 miles. As the hymn says: “Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down, Darkness be over me, my rest a stone.”  Darkness is truly over Jacob at this point.  It’s not just night literally, it’s night figuratively regarding his earthly circumstances.  He may indeed be the son of the promise, but the harsh realities of life (many brought on by his own sharp dealings) leave him without an earthly friend.

12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!

But here’s the glorious truth: fallen, frail, crooked, and unlikable though he might be, Jacob is not alone.   The God that Isaac asked to bless Jacob is with him. There is a ladder/stair/ramp between heaven and earth.  On it the messengers of God circulate back and forth between heaven and earth, carrying out the work of God.

13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.

The I AM speaks.  The self-existent One, the Creator and Sustainer of all that is, says that He is the God of Jacob’s father and his grandfather.  As the ESV renders it, God stands at the head of the stairs.  Apparently, instead of the rendering “above it,” another/?better? possibility is “beside him.”  That is, the I AM stands beside Jacob.  In any case, Jacob hears from the LORD Himself that Canaan belongs to him and his offspring.  He’s heard about this promise from his parents, but now he hears it from God Himself, and there is more.

14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

The promise made to Abraham that he and his family would be a source of blessing to all humans is spoken to Jacob.  God is not going to be only the God of Abraham, or the God of Abraham and Isaac, but is going to have relationship with him.  God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This in spite of all seamy stuff he has pulled.  God’s grace and steady hand extends even to him.

15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Behold I am with you and will keep you.  That is the fundamental promise of God.  God doesn’t promise easy circumstances or a pleasant trip through this earthly life.  What He promises is His presence and care.  And that is, at the end of the day, the most glorious promise that He could possibly give us.  It is life and light for eternity.  It survives all circumstances of this life and right through death.

16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

This is one of those times that a person has touched something and doesn’t quite have the right categories to describe or understand it.  Jacob knows that this is good, really, really, really good.  But he can only think in earthbound terms.  He thinks the place is special.  He doesn’t quite know that what he has been shown is not localized to Bethel.  It’s not as if God will take the escalator down at Bethel and follow him around.  But to Jacob’s credit, he recognizes that it’s a profound thing that the I AM, El Shaddai has pledged Himself to such as Jacob.  Would that modern people would have such a reverence for the kind grace of God.

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.

Jacob’s grandfather Abraham had built an altar at Bethel (Genesis 12:8) and worshiped God there.  Jacob stood the stone he’d used for a pillow on end and anointed it as an act of worship.

19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.

“Bethel” means “house of God.”

20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,

21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God,

22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

This probably ought not be read as Jacob making a deal or bargain with God.  It seems to me that the “if God” is a given and this has more the nature of “in light of the fact that God …”  That is,  Jacob is talking out loud to Himself, thinking of appropriate outward commemoration of the faithfulness of God.   That is, it is quite likely that he’s responding with all the piety that he could possibly be expected to be able to produce.  But even if this is a kind of Thomas-like “if I can see the nail prints and put my hands in His side,” God is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love, and God will be with him and keep him in his way.  Just as Thomas saw the nail prints and was embarrassed by his frailty, Jacob will see the mighty hand of God at work.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Genesis 22:1-19

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

In Genesis 22 we have some of the most profound foreshadowings of the sacrificial work of Christ and the great grace of God the Father in the entire Old Testament.  It also teaches us yet more about the nature of true faith in the I AM.

The elements of the account are intensely real and gut-wrenching, aren’t neatly allegorical (admitting a simple-minded “this means this and that means that” exposition), and offend the unbelieving sensibilities of rebellious modern humanity.  But read for what it is—a vital part of the revelation of God to man—it is simply wonderful.

Gen 22:1  After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.”

God has given Abram a son of promise, the embodiment of His covenant with him, one through whom the promises will be fulfilled.  Abram has learned in hard things of life and God’s provision to trust Him, take Him at His word, and to obey Him.  God has renamed Abram as “Abraham” and now comes to him to “test” him again, to work in him a yet deeper understanding of His goodness and provision, to confirm again His great love for His people.

2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

So here it is, what sounds to modern ears as an absolutely abhorrent command.  Indeed God hates hideous practices that are (or amount to) child sacrifice.  But this is not about crass evil human sacrifice.  This is not just any son.  This is the very covenant itself, this is God’s promise personified.  This is “your son,” “your only son,” “whom you love.”  One must be purposely blind or very dull to not see in these words a foreshadowing of God’s only Son, Christ Jesus.  Abraham has a firm promise from God (see again Genesis 15) of offspring through Isaac (and, from them, eventual blessing for the whole of humanity), and is now given a glimpse of the great price to be paid by the Father for that promise to be enabled to hold good.  There is indeed a sacrifice of an only Son required.

Moriah is almost certainly what we know today as Jerusalem and the mountain either the temple mount or more likely Calvary.

3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

Abraham doesn’t delay.  He knows the I AM.  He’s walked with Him and he’s learned obedience.  We moderns worry about how Abraham processes all this, how he reconciles the promise and the command, how he copes with his agony as a father.  The Scriptures concern themselves with what he does.  At this point Abraham has many years of experience with God.  He knows God’s nature and he knows his place as a human being.  So he rose early, ready to do what the I AM has commanded.

4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.

It’s the third day.  Again, one must be dull or purposely blind to not hear an echo of Easter here.  It’s a nice turn of phrase that he saw this “from afar.”

5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”

We need to take this as it stands.  The servants are here by Abraham’s bidding, but now he and Isaac must go on alone.  What he says to the servants is absolutely true.  The obedience of Abraham and Isaac is true worship of God.  The “will … come again” are not just some meaningless words to smooth over what he expects to be a personally horrible outcome.  They are his confident expectation, on the basis of the promises and nature of God and His good will towards them.  Abraham surely has no idea of the particulars of how this is going to play out.  But he knows that the promise is sure and that the good will of God is to him and his son Isaac.  So he can say “I and the boy” will come again, and absolutely mean it.

6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.

The son carried the wood, much as the Son carried the cross.  The fire and the knife were in the hands of Abraham, much as the completely pure and righteous judgment of God were the Father’s on Calvary.  They went both of them together, the two of them only.  No other human had a part in this.  Ultimately, on Calvary it was the Father and the Son alone at work, dealing with your sin and mine.

7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

This is a most fundamental question.  Where, indeed, is the lamb?  There must be an adequate and appropriate sacrifice for sin … but from whence does it come?  The covenant is sure, God has guaranteed it Himself.  But Genesis 17 also makes it clear that the human side of the covenant must be kept.  How does this impossibility get resolved?  Where is the lamb?

Kidner points out that Abraham clearly and wonderfully answers the question posed much later by Micah.

Mic 6:6  “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Gen 22:8  Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

“God will provide for himself.”  God will take responsibility for satisfying Himself.  Exactly how?  Abraham surely can’t see that in detail for either the short or the long run.  But it can be no other way than in God alone.  The promise is sure and the command to sacrifice has been clear.  Exactly how what looks to finite human minds like a contradiction is to be reconciled is not obvious, but the solution must lie with God.  God will provide for Himself the Lamb.

9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.

Isaac is of necessity a willing participant here.  He’s at least a late teenager, if not older.  Abraham is an old man.  He doesn’t put Isaac on the altar against His will.  Christ went to the cross without disputing the will of the Father.  He agonized in Gethsemane, but went willingly to Golgotha.

The pace of the account is changing to excruciating slow motion.  This is agony for Abraham.  There is no cheap easy believism or playacting in this.  If God doesn’t intervene he will kill Isaac.  If God doesn’t provide the Lamb, the covenant promise dies.

10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.

11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.”

12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

The question “Does Abraham revere the I AM?” has been definitively answered.  Abraham has acted in accord with a real understanding that God is God, that He keeps His promises, and that He is to be trusted in all things, whether or not Abraham can see to the end of them.  Abraham has confirmed again the judgment of Genesis 15:6, that he believed God (and it was counted to him as righteousness).

13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.

In the short run, God has indeed provided the lamb.  In the long run He will provide the Lamb.  As John the Baptizer said of Jesus:

Joh 1:29b  … Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Abraham responds in gratitude and great joy.

14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

“The LORD will provide” might be rendered “The LORD sees.”  James Boice did a great job of expounding the sense of the phrase as “The LORD will see to it.”  What a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful truth.  The I AM will see to it.  He’s the blessed controller of all and loves His people.  He will provide propitiation for their sin.  On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.  Abraham acts and speaks prophetically of Calvary.  He provided the lamb for Abraham and Isaac.  He will (as Abraham speaks of the future) provide the Lamb for all who believe.

15 And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven

16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,

17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies,

18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Abraham’s obedience that made real/clear his reliance upon God became blessing for you and me in Christ.  His example stands in Hebrews 11 as pattern for all who will love God.

Heb 11:17  By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son,

Heb 11:18  of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”

Heb 11:19  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Gen 22:19  So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.

How matter of fact this is.  The basic attitude of heart of Abraham is not to be extraordinary but simply the common life of believing people.  Those who know God, His nature and His promises, are to face life unafraid that anything can separate them from His covenant love.  He will see to it.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Genesis 12:1-5, 15:1-21

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

We move ahead from Noah’s time to the time of Abram (Abraham, as God renamed him).  Genesis 11 puts the birth of Abram about 350 years after the flood.  Abram was descended from Shem, the son of Noah.  There are 8 generations between Shem and Abram. Chapters 10 and 11 of Genesis recount the repopulation of the earth and the story of the tower of Babel.  Theologians identify Chapter 12 of Genesis the beginning of redemption history.  In some ways, there have been two beginnings before this: creation itself and the fresh start after the flood.  Both have gone badly from the point of view of the condition of humanity.  Chapter 12 provides a beginning that culminates in Christ and salvation by faith, the only salvation there is.  It opens with the call of and promise to Abram.

Our part, if we are to know God, is to obey Him and take Him at His word.  How could it be otherwise?  If indeed He made all and owns all — is who the Scriptures say He is — could mere creatures possibly truly have relationship with Him and simultaneously be willfully disobedient or maintain that He lies?  Adam and Eve did both, and the end of it was misery for all human beings.  Redemption history begins with another command and God’s promises.

Genesis 12:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Kidner comments “Abram’s part is expressed in a single though searching command, while the heaped up I will’s reveal how much greater is the LORD’s part.  At the same time their futurity emphasizes the bare faith that was required: Abram must exchange the known for the unknown (Heb. 11:8), and find his reward in what he could not live to see (a great nation), in what was intangible (thy name) and in what he would impart (blessing).”

In verse 3 we find the second Messianic promise.  (The first was in Genesis 3:15.)  This is the most important part of the I will’s.  This is the core promise of God to Abram.  While Abram’s trust in God’s good intentions for him personally and temporally is important, his belief that from him would come One that would truly bless humanity in an ultimate sense (One who would deal with our misery and sin) is the faith through which he is ultimately reckoned as righteous.  This is the Apostle Paul’s argument in Romans 4 and 9 and in Galatians 3.

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Abram is characteristically obedient.  God says “go” and Abram goes.  God tells him how things are and will be and he takes God at His word.  That is true faith.

Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.

5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. …

The New Testament version of this comes to every believer.  Jesus called the disciples to drop their fishing nets and follow Him.  He passed by and demanded that Matthew immediately leave the tax collection booth and follow Him.  All those who will truly know God will break with their old familiar fallen ways and cultural assumptions, and follow Him, not knowing where they are going, except that it is with Him.  They will cast themselves upon Him.

We jump now to the official ISSL lesson passage, another pivotal episode in the life of Abram.  As we pick up the story, Abram, a sojourner in the land of Canaan has been on a military expedition and rescued his nephew Lot and others from some of the local warlords.  He has given Melchizedek (as God’s priest) a tithe of the spoils of war, but has refused to keep anything else for himself, especially anything that would make him in debt to the king of Sodom.

Genesis 15:1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

The word of the LORD came to Abram.  The knowledge of God had by Abram’s time become extremely clouded (there has been the flood, there has been the tower of Babel, etc.).  The Scripture says that Abram’s father was an idol worshiper.  Abram had been brought up in Ur in a pagan culture where they worshiped the local moon goddess.  Quite literally, they were worshiping the creation instead of the Creator.  Out of this situation, God had sovereignly called Abram.  Now He comes to him in a vision.

God says “Fear not.”  Possibly God is speaking of not being afraid of His appearance.  Another strong possibility in context, is that Abram is brooding over the way that he has potentially antagonized the warlords of the area with his recent military excursion (see Chapter 14), wondering if in fact what he’s done will stir up retribution.  His expedition with 318 fighters had been successful through a surprise night attack, but he’s surely way outnumbered, and what if the kings who have laid waste to whole large cities and peoples reorganize and come for him and his?

“I am your ‘shield'” (or possibly, sovereign/king).  In the context of the recent military outing, this is reassurance from God, that ultimately it is God who is responsible for the safety of Abram and his household.  That is the way that it always has been and continues to be.  It is God who is the protector of His people.  It is not their numbers, weapons or political power that guarantees their safety.

“your reward shall be very great” says God.  Abram is reminded of the promises of the covenant of Chapter 12.  Abram is a wealthy man.  He has just had and passed up the opportunity to acquire more wealth through keeping the spoils of war.  But God says that what Abram has that is most precious is Abram’s relationship to Himself.

2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

Abram recalls that God’s promise to him includes the provision that he would be the father of a great nation and one through whom humanity will be blessed.  To this point, he sees little evidence of that coming to pass.  In fact, he’s childless.

The custom of the time and place was that a man’s main estate passed on to his oldest son.  If there was no son, it was possible to adopt one to serve as a primary heir and guardian of the estate.  It seems here that Abram either has, or is thinking about adopting this person Eliezer, possibly a servant he’s acquired on his trip from Ur to Palestine.

Kidner points out that a lesser person would have simply taken comfort in the promise of verse 1.  Abraham remembers the original promise of Chapter 12 and asks for clarification concerning the whole business of offspring and a great nation.  This question is not lack of faith, but rather the very opposite.  It is calling into memory the very real and specific promise of God and not simply taking some general comfort in some vague good will.

3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”

4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”

At this point, Abram is a minimum of 75 years old.  (12:4 says that he was 75 when he set out from Haran.  16:16 says he’s 86 when Ishmael is born.)  His wife Sarai is 10 years younger, but presumably beyond the age of child bearing.  God is promising Abram something that Abram can’t really put together from his finite, human perspective.  This is a natural impossibility.

5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Hartley points out that God doesn’t debate with Abram or point out the weakness of his logic, but rather simply reaffirms His promise and gives a sign that is at once most powerful and (to a disbelieving heart) most ordinary.  The stars are a good object lesson for Abram.  To begin with, there is the very number of them.  But there is also the object lesson that the God who is speaking to Abram is the God who made them.  A look up into the sky ought to remind Abram of the creative power of the One who is speaking.  The same God who made all is the One who is reiterating His promise to give Abram offspring.  What more reliable guarantee could there be than the word of the God who made everything that is?

Next comes one of the key verses of all of Scripture.  Many call it the very “hinge” of salvation.

6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

This verse is reiterated in Romans 4, Galatians 3, and James 2.  This is the first time “belief” is explicitly referred to in the Scriptures.  The Hebrew word means “to support/to hold firm/to rest upon as firm.”  That is, the meaning is “to accept as true/to recognize as valid.”  It is the word from which our English word “Amen” (“it shall be so”) derives.  When Abram believed God, he said “Amen” to God’s promise, fully trusting that it would be so.  He took God at His word.  The result of that is that God credited righteousness to him.  God reckoned him to be both judicially innocent and in right relationship to Himself.  It is worth noting that there is no such statement earlier, when Abram believes God and moves out from Ur and then Haran.  That too took faith.  But here the faith makes Abram righteous in the sight of God.  It is no accident that the subject here is God’s promise of offspring for Abram.  By believing that God will give him a physical heir and fulfill 12:3 (whether Abram completely understands it or not) he is looking forward to God providing the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, through his descendants.  Saving faith is a faith that believes God in the matter of His provision of a Savior, the Lord Jesus, and fundamentally that’s to what Abram looks forward.  It’s a real righteousness, because it’s the righteousness of the perfect Christ imputed to a person who believes.

Kidner pointed out “Note that Abraham’s trust was both personal (in the LORD) and propositional (the context is the specific word of the LORD in verses 4,5).”

James Boice commented on the verse “The ultimate question in life is whether you believe God. It is not a question of whether you believe in God.  Many people say they believe in God.  There has to be a God, in their opinion.  But this does not mean anything to them.  The real question is whether you believe God, who makes these promises, and whether you live by what God has promised.  Has God spoken?  If so, has God spoken clearly?  If God has spoken clearly, can God be trusted to do what he has promised?  Wise is the one who answers yes to those questions and lives by faith in those promises.”

Christians are people who “believe God” in all things, and most fundamentally in the matter of His provision of a Savior.

7 And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.”

8 But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”

Not only will God give Abram heirs (both literally and spiritually), but He promises to give him the land of Canaan.  This too is pretty impossible-looking from where Abram is standing.  His household is good-sized, but not by any means big enough at this point to force out the Canaanites.  The 318 trained men in his military force make not a bad-size local police force, but hardly an army adequate to dislodge the current inhabitants of the land.  God answers Abram in a way that sounds very foreign to our ears, but makes perfect sense in the context of the time.  God makes a covenant with Abram.  God enters into a solemn political and social convention, the most binding form of agreement among men of the time and place.

9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”

10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half.

The Hebrew description of making a covenant actually means to “cut” a covenant.  The agreement was sealed through the death of animals and splitting apart of the carcasses.  The parties (both of them) making the agreement would then walk between the halves of the bodies, effectively saying “may the same happen to us if we go back on our word.”

11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

The birds seem to be a reminder/picture of the fate of a covenant breaker.  Consider, for example, this passage from Jeremiah.

Jer 34:17  “Therefore, thus says the LORD: You have not obeyed me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor; behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the LORD. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.

18 And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts–

19 the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf.

20 And I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives. Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.

This is a picture of people who have made and broken a covenant with God.  The birds of prey will feast on their carcasses.  Abram protects the sacrifices from the scavenger birds until sundown.

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.

The thick darkness reminds of the darkness that shrouded Mt. Sinai at the giving of the law.  Abram is going to see the awesome presence of God, but he’s going to do so only while in a deep sleep.  (We might speculate that anything more would be too much for him.)  God proceeds now to give Abram more details of when and how his offspring will possess the land.

13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.

This is probably not what Abram was expecting or wanting to hear, but God gives him a glimpse of the Egyptian captivity and the Exodus.  The time is not ready for Abram to possess the land.  It will be for Joshua to lead the Israelites in conquest of the land.  In the mean time, Abram will go on being a tent dweller in the land his descendants will possess.

14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.

15 As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.

16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

God is speaking generically of the people of Canaan.  It was a truly pagan culture.  Their worship was polytheistic, included child sacrifice, idolatry, religious prostitution, and divination.  This is the first reference to a common Old Testament theme, namely God graciously restraining judgment on a people, but finally bringing destruction on them through another people when their behavior becomes so outrageous as to absolutely demand His intervention.  In this, God is shown to be completely impartial, bringing this kind of judgment on both pagan nations and His own people who forsake Him and His ways.  The point here is that Abram’s descendants taking the land will be a form of judgment on the Canaanites, and the time is not yet ripe for that to come.

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.

God now passes between the halves of the carcasses.  Note that Abram is out cold.  He has no part in making a vow or promise.  Abram doesn’t pass through the carcasses.  This is simply the grace of God,  God obligating Himself to provide Abram with descendents and the promised land.  There is nothing that Abram or we can bring to this covenant with God, except the willingness to take God at His word.

Boice summarizes the nature of what has happened here as God’s provision of His unilateral, eternal/unchangeable, and gracious covenant with those who will take Him at His word.

18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,

19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites,

20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim,

21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Genesis 9

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Genesis 9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

This is a second beginning, a second chance for humanity.  One of the things that good commentators do concerning this passage is to lay out and stress the similarities between Adam and Noah and between their situations.  Adam fell and following from him humanity became more and more wicked until God has judged the world and only Noah and his family of 7 others have been spared.  Now they are sent to repopulate the earth and to act as God’s stewards/caretakers of the earth.

2 The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered.

God gave Adam dominion over the animals, and that authority is renewed to Noah and his family.  In particular, humans are given both plants and animals for food.

3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.

But this power over the earth and the animals that live on it is not indiscriminant.

4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

There is declaration and reaffirmation here that life is God’s.  He gives it.  It is not to be treated lightly.  Blood, in particular, has from the first been tied by God to sacrifice and the forgiveness of our sin.  Adam and Eve sinned and animal skins were given by God to cover their nakedness.  Blood will be part of Old Testament sacrifices instituted by God for human sin.  The blood of Christ, God’s own Son will be spilled as the final and complete provision for our sin.

5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

Bible scholars see here the first delegation to man by God of the responsibility for human government.  And the nature of it is that in light of the fundamental fact that human life is in the very image of God, it is to be protected and the taking of it is to be punished by force.  If we understand that human beings bear the likeness of their Maker, to kill one is to spit in the face of God.  And not because He isn’t capable of defending His own honor, but that we would be brought to recognize the seriousness of the offense, humans are given the responsibility to punish the taking of human life with death.  The misery of having the responsibility to impose capital punishment is an unmistakable reminder to society of the sacredness of human life.

7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it.”

God, who in Genesis 1 gathered the waters into one place to make dry ground, and who in punishment of man’s wickedness has had to come close to undoing that good act in the flood, sends Noah forth with the commission to try again.  Recall Genesis 1:26-31.

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.

30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

God sends Noah forth with a gracious promise.

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,

9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you,

This is wholly on God’s gracious part.  It is God who establishes this promise, absolutely independent of Noah’s ability to bring anything to the table.  And, knowing who we are and that in and of ourselves we have nothing to bring, that is a very good thing.

10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth.

You and I are made in the image of God.  But this verse reminds us that we err if we presume that we are “the whole show” as regards God’s concern and love for His creation.  He repeatedly looked at creation on the first 5 days (before He made our first parents) and called it good.  Now God speaks to Noah and tells him that the promise is not only for humanity, but all of earthly life.  Tree-hugging environmentalism that ends up worshipping the creation instead of the Creator is horribly wrong.  But so is a callous indifference to the beauty and worth and wonder of what God has made.  To unnecessarily trash God’s creation would be to show contempt for Him and His work, to show contempt for that which He values.

11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

In truth, we take this for granted.  But consider what one would be thinking upon emerging from months on the ark, knowing that the rest of humanity has died.  This is a promise that it’s not futile to carry on, to obey and go forth and repopulate the earth.  No matter what, the steadfast mercy of God guarantees that He’s not going to give up on humanity and next time wipe us out.

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:

“The sign …”  It is not necessary or even probable that this is the first time a rainbow has been seen.  Biblical signs are more often than not more or less “ordinary” things that are given holy significance.  This sign is a thing of great beauty, befitting its significance as the sign of God’s promise to preserve His glorious creation.  It marks a promise that is wholly on God’s part.  Noah has not made a deal with God here.  God has promised in His own great mercy.  Humans no more have a part in making rainbows than they have in the provision of God’s mercy.

13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,

15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

The Hebrew word rendered “bow” here is the one ordinarily used for the weapon.  The obvious symbolism is that God has laid down His weapon and is graciously bearing with us.  He will always remember His promise to humanity and all that lives.  Kidner does a nice job of reminding of the “glory of the rainbow … against the gloom of the clouds” as a wonderful picture and “token of grace.”

The reformed folks have it right in saying that in this picture is not only a promise for the preservation of humanity on earth, but a shadow of God’s gracious provision for the eternal care of our souls.  God won’t destroy all humans from physical earth and He won’t allow all made in His image to suffer eternal death from sin.  It’s no accident that when John recounts his vision of heaven in Revelation 4, there is

Rev 4:2  At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.

3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.

17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

It would be convenient if the chapter (and indeed the Genesis revelation of the state of humanity) ended here.  It might appear that all is well.  God is gracious, the family of one of the most righteous men of all time is going forth to repopulate and act as caretakers for the earth.  Surely this is a promising second beginning.  We’ll get it right this time, won’t we?  But here is the real “inconvenient truth” about humanity.  We aren’t equipped to get it right on our own.  This is life in God’s world post-Genesis 3.  There is Genesis 6:9b … Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.  But there is also this.  We’re not in the garden here; we’re in a fallen world that is both God’s good creation and remains presently abnormal.

18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.)

19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.

20 Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard.

21 He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent.

Apparently the wording here is such that Noah’s “laying uncovered” is not just accidental.  Noah is drunk as a skunk and is behaving badly.  This “preacher of righteousness” finds himself in a sordid compromised state.  In the garden, Adam’s sin resulted in the necessity of God covering him with animal skins.  Here is Noah drunk and naked, in and of himself frail and unable to hold it together across a short time, let alone a lifetime.

22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside.

It seems that one of the four kids who survived the flood with his parents has contempt toward his dad.  Rather than cover him and try to minimize his dad’s failing, he prefers to blab what he’s seen to his brothers.  People with some sense of their own lack/frailty/need of God’s grace take no pleasure in broadcasting the failings of others.  Ham, it seems, has none of that humility in him.

23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.

Shem and Japheth do their best to minimize dad’s failing.  They act with respect and love.

24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him,

25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

“he said” is as much prophetic as it is judicial.  Canaan is the youngest of Ham’s sons.  How this curse comes to him is not completely clear.  Some commentators reason that if Ham is the kind of disrespectful person he seems to be, that has consequences, and that one of his kids winds up being worthy of this kind of curse is not completely surprising.  There is a reality in the sins of the fathers finding their way to their sons.  On the other hand, the families of Shem and Japheth are blessed.

26 He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.

27 May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.”

28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years.

29 All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died.

And he died.  The fall has its effect.  God’s steadfast love for His world and Noah are absolutely true and inviolable.  But eternal life comes only through Christ.  There is death waiting for every human being until the 2nd coming and the complete fulfillment of Christ’s kingdom rule.

For purposes of reminding ourselves of the whole flow of Scripture and the veracity of the accounts it provides, note carefully that Noah lives at least right up to and possibly extending 50 years or so into (by Calvin’s calculation) the life of Abraham.  There is solid continuity provided by overlap in these early generations of mankind.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Genesis 3

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

We come now to Genesis 3 and the fall.  This is a fundamental, key passage of Scripture.  Without it, we don’t know the real condition of man.  We have no explanation of why and how things are the way they are.  We can’t account for them.  Blaise Pascal, the famous Christian mathematician put our state this way: “What sort of freak then is man?  How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, glory and refuse of the universe!”  Gut level, we know the world we live in is both wonderful and grand, and at the same time broken and flawed.  Gut level, we know that’s the way all humanity is too.  But how is that???  Francis Schaeffer rightly said that we must either maintain that the world is normal, and pronounce all of the misery, heartache, and evil in it to be normal, or have a real explanation of why it is abnormal/flawed.  Only the truth of the account of Genesis 3 provides a sane explanation of the way the world is.  The space and time reality of the account gives us sanity in understanding the way we and the world are.

Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

The serpent, directed by Satan, approaches Eve.  He begins his work on her with a fairly innocuous sounding question, as if to engage her in a theological discussion.  But the intent is to plant the seeds of doubt in her mind and flatter her.  Kidner: “The incredulous tone—’So God has actually said…?’—is both disturbing and flattering: it smuggles in the assumption that God’s word is subject to our judgment.”

Notice that the serpent misquotes God, but more important than that, deliberately misrepresents the real intent of God’s command.  Genesis 2:16-17 is a statement of freedom, granting real liberty to man, but graciously warning him of the limits of that freedom and the sad but inevitable consequences of violating those limits.  Man, as a creature, can have real liberty only within bounds.  Outside those bounds is not liberty, but disaster, and God lays that out for Adam.

2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden,

3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ”

Eve (and any one of us for that matter) is no match for Satan outside the protection that God had provided.  She has God’s Word on the matter.  That is her protection.  But she is a dead duck already when she begins to dialogue about its appropriateness with her Creator’s sworn enemy.  Who in the world does she think she’s talking to here?   Who is this creature to be questioning God’s Word?  Who is she to be discussing the matter?   For her to do so, to put herself somehow in the seat of a judge or authority, has already sent her sliding down the slope from which there is no recovery.

Compare again Genesis 2:16-17 to 3:2-3 and notice the difference in tone.  In 2:16-17 there is the tone of liberty.  Here, as Eve represents the situation, there is the tone of oppressive restriction.  “We may eat fruit (ho hum) … but God did say …”  Notice too what Eve does here.  She adds to the Word of God.  She says “neither shall you touch it.”  Can’t you hear here the whining of a kid “my parents are so mean, they won’t ever let me do anything”?  We have no record that God said any such thing.  It’s almost as if Eve wants God’s Word to them to be heavy and burdensome, so that she can get some sympathy from the serpent.  Satan knows how to play her like a violin.

4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.

The conversation began with a question intended to plant doubt.  Now there is a plain denial that what God has said is really true.  Think how totally crazy this is!  Here is a creature saying that the very One that made him and that personally defines goodness and truth is not to be believed.  Here is another creature listening to and believing a fellow creature in the place of the Creator.  It is flat insane.  It makes no sense, and that is the nature of our sin and rebellion against God our Maker.  Does the God of universe speak the truth or does He not?  The origin of human sin is denial of the truth of God’s speaking, and the goodness of His will for His creatures.  And the first truth denied is the truth of judgment.

5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The serpent not only makes God out to be a liar, but gets Eve to replace God’s wonderful, generous, loving, protective motives with a mean-spirited, selfish kind of outlook.  He tells Eve that God is holding onto some good stuff that He doesn’t want to share with her.

Notice the two things that the serpent holds out to Eve here.  First is the lure of knowledge.  You will know the deep stuff that only God knows.  Second, the knowing of this stuff will put you in God’s class.  You, Eve, the creature, will be godlike.  It’s not enough that you were created in the image of God or that God created you for relationship with Himself.  If you will only break that fellowship and disobey, why Eve, you the creature will be a little god yourself!!!  Remember that it is exactly this desire to be god that caused the fall of Satan in the first place.  That temptation and false promise is one that human beings never seem to quit falling for.  Humans are not content to be creatures, but wish instead to be “gods” of one sort or another.

6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

IJohn 2:16 speaks of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life as coming not from God, but the world, and as leading men into sin.  The pattern there is the pattern here.  Eve sees that the fruit will satisfy hunger, that it is real nice looking, and thinks about the possibility of being god-like.  It’s too much for her.

It is an important contrast to look at the temptation of Jesus in Matt 4:1-11.  Satan tempted Him to satisfy His hunger (the lust of the flesh), showed Him the kingdoms of the world (the lust of the eye) and tempted Him to do something spectacular by throwing Himself from the pinnacle of the temple (the pride of life).  In all cases, Jesus answered with the Word of God … “it is written.”  Instead of clinging to what God had plainly said to Adam, Eve treated it lightly, misquoted it, twisted its intent.  In the end, she had abandoned her protection and was no match for the devil.

Then she wasn’t content to have broken God’s command herself, but felt compelled to secure Adam’s participation in her evil.  That too is characteristic of the human condition.  We seem to want company in the pigpen of sin.  We tend to delight when someone else falls into what has ensnared us.

Eve was suckered/deceived.  She played around with ideas she had no business considering, and was suckered step by step into eating.  Adam doesn’t have that excuse.  There is no record of the serpent speaking with him.  He seems to decide in cold blood that he’s going to follow Eve against the clearly stated Word of God.  His sin is deliberate.

7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

Their embarrassment at being naked is somehow indicative of their sin and loss of innocence.  Having chosen to step outside the boundaries that God set for them, they need to be covered in each others presence and in the presence of God.  They are separated from each other and from God.  Because they’ve broken fellowship with God, they are embarrassed to be seen for what they are and sew together fig leaves to cover themselves.

8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

How absurd, both for Adam and Eve and for us.  They know that they have done wrong and that in doing so, have assaulted the honor of their Creator.  So what is their response (and that of most humans ever since)?  They try to hide … like God can’t see them???  Really?  He doesn’t know every thought and intent of their hearts and ours?  Do we think that by making ourselves busy or otherwise ignoring God, that He doesn’t notice our rebellion?  Adam and Eve are here playing ostrich.  They are out in plain sight, but somehow think that they can hide.

9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

Can’t God see?  Of course God can see.  This is the plea of an injured party for the transgressor to come clean, to come out into the open and admit guilt, to be honorable enough to accept the just consequences of real moral wrong.  I don’t think there is a thundering, earthshaking voice full of wrath here.  Instead, it’s the voice of a heartbroken parent whose kid has just made a sham of the family’s most cherished trust and has consequently, in a permanent and serious kind of way, really harmed fellowship within the family.

10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

The honorable and right thing to do (indeed the only rational thing to do) would be to confess immediately and take the consequences.  That’s not the human way, however.  It is part of our nature that we prefer to stonewall things, to try to pretend that all is OK until we are unmistakably cornered.

Notice what Adam and Eve got in trade for their righteousness and freedom within God’s boundaries.  FEAR!  They had no reason to be afraid of God prior to the fall.  They had freedom to live unconcerned within God’s boundaries.  They chose instead to cower in the trees because of their moral choice to disobey.

11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

Apparently before the fall, their nakedness meant nothing to Adam and Eve.  The fact that it had come to mean something was evidence that all had changed.  Adam is beating around the bush (no pun intended).  God gets to the point, still giving Adam a chance to admit his guilt.  But (sigh) look what Adam says.  Anybody that doesn’t understand that this story is true hasn’t paid attention to human behavior.

12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”

What an attempt to weasel out of responsibility.  And do not miss the fundamental attack on the good providence of God here!  Adam tries to put the blame for his willful sin onto God.  After all, it was God that made the woman, wasn’t it!!?? When we try to excuse ourselves for wrong on the basis of our circumstances, it is the same deal.  We’re accusing God of evil.  If He orders our circumstances and it’s not our fault but that of our circumstances when we do wrong, God must be the problem.  Adam may not recognize it, but this is blasphemy.  God neither does wrong nor causes anyone to do wrong.  And if it’s not God’s fault, it’s the woman’s fault, right?  Anybody but me God!  Finally, Adam admits that he did eat.

13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Eve’s confession is not much cleaner.  She speaks the truth in that she was suckered by the serpent, but fundamentally, she ate and the guilt is her own.

The consequences of this are cataclysmic.  The next 6 verses describe the curses that followed on the heels of the rebellion of Adam and Eve.  Not only were Adam and Eve estranged from God, but the very nature of the physical universe was changed by the fall.  Decay and death entered the world.  The physical world was broken in parallel with Adam and Eve’s relationship with God.

As we look at those verses, we must think in proper terms about what has happened here.  We by nature look at them from our now-fallen position and think of humanity as the big loser in this whole story.  But that is off the mark.  It is first God who has suffered here, who is the injured party.  HIS world that He repeatedly delighted in and pronounced as good, is now broken/cursed.  The humans He made in His image have broken relationship with Him and defaced that image.

But His marvelous grace is already evident in verse 15.  God, at infinite cost to Himself, will at the proper time provide the means to rectify the mess that Adam and Eve have made, and redeem us their offspring and the whole universe with us.

14 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.

15  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

16  To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

I don’t know exactly all that is implied here.  I do know that family life post-Genesis 3 is not always the wonderful harmonious edifying cooperative joyous situation that Adam and Eve experienced before the fall.

17  And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

18  thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.

 19  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Human beings, both made of dust and breathed into by the Spirit of God, having defaced the latter become fully subject to the former.  We face hardship and return to the dust.  We hear these statements as primarily punitive.  But truly they are redemptive.  Without the need to labor and face hardship and die, we’d be in even worse shape than we are in this time after the fall.  The tough stuff of life works to keep us busy and out of moral trouble, and constantly reminds us of our utter dependence upon our Creator.  If we are paying attention at all, we are brought up short in our foolish assumption that the universe centers around us and that we are self-existent and immortal.  And that drives men and women to regain sanity through salvation in Christ.

20  The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

There may be here a Messianic reference in Eve’s name.

21  And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

22  Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever–”

23  therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.

24  He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Adam and Eve chose to try to make life independent of God, their Creator.  That can’t somehow be overlooked.  Things can’t go on they were before.  Their choice is honored.  Moral choices are taken seriously by the I AM.  And with moral choices for wrong comes human misery.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Genesis 2:4-25

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

At this point, Moses goes back to fill in some details of the creation that were not included in the grand overview of Chapter 1, particularly details that relate to the condition of man.  This focuses in on the place of man in creation history.

Genesis 2:4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

The “LORD God” made.  This is Yahweh (Jehovah) Elohim, the personal name and title of the God of the Bible.  (The far more common “Lord GOD” of the Old Testament is literally “Lord Yahweh,” something different.)

5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground,

6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—

7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

There is in this verse a wonderful statement of our condition.  God formed Adam’s body from the earth.  We’re made of dust.  The word “formed” carries the picture of a potter forming clay.  We are in one way “earthlings.”  But beyond that, He breathed into Adam the breath of life. That is we are more than dust, more than just creatures of planet earth.  The LORD God “mouth-to-mouth” breathed life into our first father!

Human beings have life because God gives it, and we die when He chooses to take it away.  It is His.

Psa 104:29  When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.

30 When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.

Job 27:3  as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils,

We are creatures, but unlike other creatures we specially have life from God’s intimate act of giving it through His Spirit.

8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.

The tense in verse 8 is probably better rendered “had planted.”  Apparently, a careful study on the use of the word here rendered “put” elsewhere in Genesis shows that it is associated with both “rest” or “safety” and “dedication” (to God).  Man is put into the garden for rest and safety and where he is in God’s presence and can have relationship with Him. That was God’s purpose for humanity from the very beginning.

Note, by the way, that the mention of Eden and other details like the names of real rivers clearly put this in time and space.  This is not a fairy story, myth, or legend.

9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Atkinson points out that it wasn’t man that was in the center of the garden, but rather the trees of life and the knowledge of good and evil.  They served as reminder to man that he isn’t God, that there are bounds on his activity.

Kidner (regarding the forbidden tree) says “As it stood, prohibited, it presented the alternative to discipleship: to be self-made, wresting one’s knowledge, satisfactions and values from the created world in defiance of the Creator.”

10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.

11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.

12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.

13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush.

14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

This rendering makes the “it” refer to the garden.  Linguists will us that there is a problem with that, in that the gender of the “it” doesn’t match the gender of “garden.”  If the rendering is correct, this is a picture of man as God’s gardener/caretaker.  But it’s quite possible that the rendering really ought to be more like “to worship and obey” instead of “work it and keep it.”  Man was in the garden originally as God’s priest, not simply as His gardener.

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,

17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

This is the fundamental fact of our existence.  God is God and we are not.  He is Creator and Lord.  We are created, and His rightful subjects.  We can’t turn that upside down without insanity.  Limited freedom is the only true freedom for human beings.  That’s the way things are.  For the first man Adam, and for us, freedom without boundaries and without restraint quickly produces bondage and death.  There is real freedom only within the bounds of God’s divine Word and revealed will for our lives.  Outside of that is not enhanced life, but a diminished one, in fact death.

There is nothing in these verses that makes the tree to be physically unusual or somehow magical.  But it had fundamental meaning in putting a definitive statement of God’s will before Adam and Eve.  Kidner said “The fruit, not in its own right, but as appointed to a function and carrying a word from God, confronts man with God’s will, particular and explicit, and gives man a decisive Yes or No to say with his whole being.”  The tree set before our first father the choice whether to love and obey and have fellowship with His benevolent Creator or to be a rebel.

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

As God has looked at His creation in Chapter 1, all has been “good,” even “very good.”  Here is a first “not good.”  It is not good for man to be alone.  From eternity past, there was in the Godhead, relationship.  There was plurality.  There was the Father in harmony with the Son and the Holy Spirit.  That pattern is part of the way things are and how we were made.  We kid ourselves when we think that we’ll do fine as lone rangers, or that “just us and God” is all we need.  The fact is that we need other human beings in our lives.  Adam did, and we do too.

God made a helper “fit” or suitable for him.  A helper provides support for what is lacking in one.  The word translated “fit” (or in older versions, “meet”) is one that primarily indicates correspondence or likeness.  God provided a companion who stood/was fit to stand before Adam, opposite him, his counterpart and complement in his honored place as God’s appointed overseer of the earth.

19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.

20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

The naming here indicates man’s God-given authority over the earth.

21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.

Matthew Henry is often quoted regarding the rib being the part God uses.  It was not a skull bone, not a foot bone but a rib, near Adam’s heart.  God made Eve neither above Adam, nor below him, but on a plane with him, near to his heart.

22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

This is hardly popular reading in our time.  The evolutionist and liberal theologian mock this passage. Feminists react with rage.  But truly Christian people must embrace it as God’s revelation of the space and time creation of our first parents.  The plain statement is that far from evolving, mankind began with the creation of Adam and the making of Eve from Adam.  The hope of the Gospel rests on this literal description of the first two people, without sin, living in the garden in space and time.  If Scripture is not to be trusted on this point, it is not to be trusted at all.

23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

It is worth reflecting on what is really to be heard in verse 23.  I hear Adam whooping for joy!!!  Contrary to feminist attack on the name “woman,” there is nothing degrading in Adam’s use of the term.  It is a term of complementation.  God has provided a companion that is his equal.  He is overjoyed that there is really someone on the scene who is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone!  He says “this at last.

The word rendered “called” is in the passive and doesn’t include the notion of naming.  Adam isn’t naming, he’s enjoying their simultaneous likeness and their differences.  (The relationship between these two people is much different from that between humans and the animals … that Adam did name.)

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Here’s the Bible’s first instruction on marriage.  It is intensely practical.  There are all kinds of examples of much trouble caused by parents that wouldn’t let go, and children that wouldn’t understand that marriage means that one’s first human allegiance must be to one’s spouse.

They shall become one flesh.  That’s much more than a statement about the physical.  They will share all of life: goals, pain, joy, work, blessing … They will be of one heart and mind.

25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

There is here a moral innocence and perfect harmony between the humans and between them and their Creator.  That will soon be shattered by the fall.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

A Bible Lesson on Genesis 1:1-2:3

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

The ISSL lessons this quarter are a study of parts of Genesis and Exodus.  When we think about how much there is in these books, we must conclude that these lessons can only scratch the surface.

Genesis is the book of beginnings, the beginnings of all things:  beginning of the world, beginning of man, beginning of sin, beginning of God’s work of redemption.  It is the beginning of everything.  Francis Schaeffer, in his evangelism of modern men, always began in Genesis.  If a person doesn’t know the whole story of God’s work, man’s rebellion and God’s redemption, then just jumping in with the story of Jesus and God’s offer of salvation makes no sense.  We must begin with the beginning, and that’s what Scripture does.  So we begin with Genesis 1 and the first part of Genesis 2.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

This magnificent statement is a kind of chapter heading or summary statement for what is to follow in the rest of the chapter.  It is an absolutely perfect opening statement, any other would have been inadequate.  The subject of the first sentence of the Bible is “God.”  This is the book (Genesis and the Bible) that is first and fundamentally about God.  Derek Kidner rightly said “… to read it with any other primary interest (which is all too possible) is to misread it.”

It is vital that we have clearly in mind what the assertion is here.  What are we told is the starting point of all things?  Before all was God: not matter, not God plus matter, not several gods … but God alone.  Secularists will sometimes point to ancient creation stories from the mid-east and try to argue that Genesis somehow derives from them.  In doing so, they ignore the very starting point.  Those other, pagan, mid-eastern stories presuppose matter and several gods.  The Bible starts with God alone.  This is a God who is more than the pantheist’s sum of all material things.  This is a God who is transcendent, who stands apart from, and has existence separate from His world.  This is, if anything, a repudiation of the mid-eastern pagan myths, not a borrowing from them!

God “created.”  This is a special Hebrew word used only in reference to God.  Humans are never, never, never spoken of as creating in this same way.  That’s a vital point in our time where it is so fashionable to talk about creativity and to talk about man as a “creator.”  That kind of talk can easily become rebellion against our Creator, the only One who has independent existence and can genuinely create anything.  The Hebrews understood that.  We in our 21st century arrogance don’t.  You can even hear people who think that they are Christian talking about us being “co-creators” with God.  That is plain blasphemy.

The Hebrew word for God used here is “Elohim” and is a plural form.  But the verb “create” is a singular form, as it always is when referring to the one true God.  The use of the plural expresses intensity rather than number.  It is sometimes referred to as the plural of majesty.

God created “the heavens and the earth,” that is, everything that is not Himself.  He created totality, the part that we inhabit (earth) and all else as well.

2 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.

A good rendering here would be “Now the earth …”  There is an air of mystery and disorder about the picture here.  We are told that God did the creating of the world in a progressive fashion, beginning with an unordered and chaotic situation and bringing greater and greater order and structure to His creation.  That is the nature of the work of God, both in creation and in our lives in redemption.  The saints of old understood this and expressed it clearly by saying that “order is the first law of the universe.” Genesis tells us that order is God’s doing, and is therefore a reflection of His divine nature and character.  God alone brings form out of chaos.  Again, anarchists, be they outside or inside the church, are in clear rebellion against this truth that has its first expression in the first few verses of Scripture.

Notice the picture of the Holy Spirit hovering over creation like a mother bird over its offspring.  This is not a picture of God being some kind of grand clock-maker, constructing a universe and setting it to ticking, then going on vacation.  It is, rather, a picture of God brooding over creation, actively involved in it.  Notice also the linking, from the very beginning, of the work of God’s Spirit and the Word of God.  In this verse we see the Holy Spirit hovering over the unformed world and in the next, God speaks and things happen.  The work of the Spirit of God is from this first glimpse in harmony with God’s speaking, with the Word of God.

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

God speaks and there is light.  What is the physical source?  None is named.  We’re not told and that boggles our minds.  The fact is that previous to this there has been no light, and perhaps there is no physical source intended.  Ultimately, the invisible God is the source.

Kidner’s commentary on Genesis does a wonderful job of saying how profound this simple “Let there be … ” is.  We think about giving orders and having things happen.  But we are always thinking about the moving around of things and beings that already exist. But here, in this speaking, is every smallest detail of the existence of the things spoken into being!  In the creation of a toad is not just the design of an external appearance of a toad, but every piece of DNA that makes it up, every function of every one of its organs, everything that a toad will naturally want to do, everything that makes a toad a toad.  That’s true of a toad, and it’s true of the details of light in this verse.  Humans don’t really know how to even adequately describe light, let alone invent it from scratch.

4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.

The light was “good.” It couldn’t be otherwise, but the Scripture is making a point here.  It is telling us in no uncertain terms, that as created, the universe was right, it was in order.  The lack of order, the chaos, the evil that we see around us has some other source than God’s work in creation.

Notice also that not only is light biologically absolutely necessary for life, but it is a primary Christian symbol of how God redeems us.  He brings us light, causes us to see.  It is thus appropriate that early in creation God speaks light into existence.  Note, by the way, that light precedes the sun in creation.  And in Revelation, we see that it will outlast the sun!  Rev. 22:5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

God separates and names.  Again there is progressively more order being brought here.  It is “evening and morning,” the first day.  The sense of it is “evening came and morning came,” not that (like the Jews) we are to count a day as beginning at sundown.

6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”

7 And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so.

God made “an expanse.”  Presumably this is means the band of atmosphere that surrounds the earth and gives us a place to breathe.  What mechanism did God use to do this?  Again, we’re not told, and it’s not clear that Moses really cares.  That’s a 21st century type question, that even if we did have an answer for, wouldn’t really profit us much of anything.  The fact is that God did so, separating the clouds above from the water below with an atmosphere.

For what it is worth, the word translated “made” here in verse 7 is a different word than the “created” of verse 1.  This is a making out of stuff that God had already created.

8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

There was a second day.

9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.

The picture is one of God creating topography for the earth and the water, instead of covering everything, running to the low areas.  Imagine (what are by our finite standards) the cataclysmic forces that had to be operating to produce this!  This whole chapter ought to take our breath away.

10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

The statement that God called the land “land” and the seas “seas” can appear almost as a truism.  But the significance of God naming things should not be overlooked.  To name something both in ancient times and in our own connotes/indicates ownership.  I don’t name your kids.  You do.  The message here is that the earth and all that is in it are God’s!

It is also significant that ancients thought of the seas as almost god-like in themselves, if nothing else, at least very mysterious and dangerous.  In some of the middle-eastern creation stories the “god” had to do battle with the dark powers of the seas.  The statements here give man comfort and sanity.  The seas are simply part of the creation of the one true God.

God’s work of creation and bringing order and form from chaos is partly a work of differentiation or separation, setting things into their appropriate places.  It is also a work of fullness.

11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so.

12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

There is no hint here of any gradual evolution of plant life from a single organism.  The plain meaning is that at the same time there came into being a variety of types of plants and that those plants reproduced not something different from themselves, but plants of their own kind, plants appropriate to the earth on which God has placed them.  Note that fertility, often worshiped by pagans, is here plainly identified as a created capacity.

As we daily partake of food that ultimately traces back to plant life, we ought to stop in wonder and awe, giving thanks for God’s creative Word that set this all in motion and now sustains it.  Calvin put it this way: “If therefore we inquire, how it happens that the earth is fruitful, that the germ is produced from the seed, that fruits come to maturity, and their various kinds are annually reproduced; no other cause will be found, but that God has once spoken, that is, has issued His eternal decree; and that earth, and all things proceeding from it, yield obedience to the command of God, which they always hear.”

13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

On the third day, the dry land and plant life were brought into being.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years,

15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.

16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.

This is a fascinating set of verses.  Ancients worshiped the sun, moon, and stars.  If we have any sensitivity to vastness of the universe, looking up into the sky ought to inspire us with awe.  These verses say that all these heavenly bodies are simply part of the creation that God called into being.  Verse 16 doesn’t even mention the sun and moon by name, possibly to avoid calling up pagan notions of worshiping these heavenly bodies.  The mention of the stars (which again were a major concern of ancient people and are truly awe-inspiring if we take the time to look up and see) is a short sentence in the grand litany of what God did in creation.

17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth,

Why are they there?  To be worshiped?  Hardly!  They are there for the benefit of the earth.  That’s pretty amazing and humbling if we have sense enough to take it correctly.

18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.

19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

The heavenly bodies “rule” only as light-bearers, not as powers.

Again, it was good.  God is bringing more and more order to His creation, creating a place more and more ideal for our existence, and it is good … in harmony with His character and purposes.

20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.”

21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”

Again, the ancients lived in fear of sea monsters and went so far as to think of them as supernatural.  Here the statement is one of God’s dominion over and ownership of all creatures in the oceans.  This repudiates the wrong views of the other creation stories that were common in the mid-east.  Again, this is not borrowing from them, but speaking against them!

23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so.

25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Everything is in place, except man, and it is good/right, made in accord with who God is and with His wishes.  Next we see man’s place in this creation.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

God said “Let us …”  As earlier in the chapter, this is possibly the plural of majesty and likely a foreshadowing of the revelation of the Trinity.

Humans are made “in our image, after our likeness.”  This is an absolutely key/pivotal phrase for our understanding of who we are.  We are creatures (we are made by God), but at the same time we were made “in His image.”  In one sense, this phrase refers to what capacities we have, and what we can do.  It means that we have personality, rational intelligence, moral will, the ability to communicate in a sophisticated manner, self-awareness, etc. But the phrase has meaning beyond those things that man can do that are unique among the created beings.  It has meaning in terms of our unique relationship with God among all His creatures.  We are made in his image in the sense that we are invited to know and have relationship with Him.  We are made in His image in that we can have a history with Him.  We are made in His image in that we are in some ways His representatives on earth.  Colossians 1:15, speaking of Christ, says He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  The fundamental characteristic of Jesus is His relationship with the Father, His perfect harmony with the purposes of the Father.  This was such that He could say to the disciples that if they had seen Him, they had seen the Father.  To be made in the image of God means that we can know, have relationship with, and in some limited way represent Him on earth.

Humans “have dominion.”  In the light of what has just preceded it, this is a solemn phrase indeed.  Contrary to the claims of the evolutionists, we human beings are more than just another animal species.  The life of a human has infinitely more significance than that of a dog.  On the other hand, we are not here as exploiters and spoilers.  We are here as God’s representatives and caretakers in His world.  He made the earth and the life on it and declared it good.  It is not our business to abuse it or spoil it simply for our convenience.  We are here as stewards.

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

From the beginning, Scripture gives men and women dignity and a place from which to reason.  We are all, male and female, created with wonderful capacities to think, will, do, and most importantly to know, represent, and be related to God.  It is from here that our worth derives (and not from some silly psychobabble about “self esteem”).  We ought take most seriously all people as ones made in the image of God.  We are all made by Him and owned by Him, whether we acknowledge that or not.

Kidner said: “Vis-à-vis the animals, man is set apart by his office and still more by his nature; but his crowning glory is his relation to God.”

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Good blessed them.  Kidner: “To bless is to bestow not only a gift, but a function, and to do so with warm concern.”  God blesses man’s procreation and stewardship of the earth.  The rule that man is told to exercise is again the rule of a caretaker, watching over a master’s estate.  Throughout this first chapter of Genesis, we’ve seen God progressively bringing order and organization to the world.  Here man is given responsibility to continue in that vein.

29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.

30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Notice that several times before this point, Scripture has declared God’s creation to be “good.”  It is now complete (with the creation of man) and the pronouncement is that it is very good.  This has spanned 6 days, and now comes the 7th.

Genesis 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.

3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

God rested.  Was this because he was tired and needed a break?  Hardly.  The job was done.  Everything was in perfect order; there was nothing left to do.  This surely doesn’t mean that having finished, He left His world to take care of itself.  He presently and always sustains that which He created.  But there is here a feeling of what we would call satisfaction, of joy in the perfection of what He has made.

This cycle of 6 and then 1 is something that we are told that God has built into the way things are.  6 days of being about what He’s given us to do and then 1 to reflect on our relationship to Him and the quality of what we’ve done in light of that relationship.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.