Alive in the Garden | Genesis 2:4-17

Though we were told explicitly that the seventh day was the final day of creation, the bulk of chapter two reads much like an alternate tale of the creation of mankind. For some scholars, this has led them to believe in the documents theory of Genesis, which claims that the book was written by multiple authors whose writings were compiled together much later. However, there is no reason to view this section of Scripture as conflicting with the verses that we have studied thus far. Instead, the narrative of the seven days of creation serves as the broad overview of God’s creating work, while the current verses of our focus provide a closer view of the creation of humanity.

THE LORD GOD // VERSE 4

This verse marks the beginning of the first major narrative section of Genesis with the words “these are the generations”. The same phrase is used ten other times as well throughout the book, each time to mark a new arch of Genesis’s story.[1] Furthermore, the rest of the verse serves as a transitory bridge between the broad and narrow focuses of Genesis 1 and 2, and it poetically does this in chiastic form. This means that the components of the verse mirror one another. Here is an outline to help, using the key words of the verse:

(A) heavens
(B) earth
(C) when they were created
(C’) in the day that the LORD God made
(B’) earth
(A’) heavens

This poetic form of structuring is frequently used throughout Genesis, as even this section of Scripture through chapter three is organized in this fashion.

Also, significant about this verse is the usage of a new name for God: LORD. We have already discussed the meaning and implications of Elohim as denoting the majestic glory of God, but now we are introduced to what is often called the personal name of God: “Yahweh” or sometimes “Jehovah”. While God is more generic, Yahweh is the specific and glorious name for the God of the Bible. Together, Elohim and Yahweh are by far the two most common names of God throughout the Old Testament. Thus, it is important when reading our English translations to understand that whenever we see the word “LORD” in all capital letters that the name Yahweh is being used. In fact, translators’ reasoning for using LORD gives light as to what meaning is implied at its using. Throughout the history of the Judaism, this name of God was considered to be so holy that the people would completely avoid speaking it for fear that they would use it in vain. However, this posed quite a problem since it is used so often in Scripture, which was regularly read aloud to all the people. Thus, the reader would say Adonai (the actual Hebrew word for Lord) instead of Yahweh during the reading of Scripture. Building upon this tradition, most English translators opt to use LORD.

Yahweh, therefore, seems to reflect primarily the holiness of God. Holiness, after all, is a term that only truly belongs to God, the characteristic of God that the Bible is most emphatic to express. Ancient Hebrew did not have underlining, bolding, or italics, so in order to provide emphasis they used repetition. This is significant because God is described as being holy, holy, holy.[2] Though God has many other glorious and wonderful attributes, only holy is used thrice in repetition. Therefore, every time that we see LORD throughout the Bible we should be quick to recall that God is holy, unique and separate from all others. Paradoxically, it also denotes the intimate personal nature of God. It is no mistake that Elohim is used throughout Genesis 1, where the focus on creation is large and epic in scope. Yet Yahweh is primarily used in Genesis 2, in which the perspective has greatly narrowed to accentuate the intimate dealings between God and humanity.

THE BREATH OF LIFE // VERSE 5-7

As mentioned briefly in the opening section, many people today view chapter two as distinctly separate from the creation account of chapter one. The description of the land and field not yet yielding shrubberies and other small plants has led some to consider this a contradiction to the first chapter. There man was created after the plants, but here it seems that man is created before them. However, this is not the case; the words “bush” and “small plant” indicate exactly what they are: particular types of plants. Instead, it seems that verses 5-6 are providing a flashback to the condition of the world before the creation of man. And the picture appears to be wanting. The reason given for the nonexistence of the shrubberies is apparently dryness, as it had not yet rained nor was man there to irrigate. The conditions appear to be incomplete without humans. However, God does provide for His fledgling creation by causing a mist to rise from the ground.

Though we were told in chapter one that humans were created in the image of God, we do not get a sense of how intimate that creation really was until now. Verse 7 sheds further light upon the special distinction of humanity from the other creatures.

First, notice that mankind’s position as image-bearers of God did not negate our lowly origin. It is fitting for us to always remember that we are fundamentally dust, lest we think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Since the ancients of Moses’ day were prone to believe that humans were descendants from the gods, our earthly beginning certainly sets us in our proper place.

Second, God formed the first man from the dust of the ground. Even though we are dust, God displayed His love by molding us into creation like a potter molds clay. There is a certain thoughtful and artistic care invoked from this statement.

Finally, the LORD breathes the breath of life into man, which makes the human a living creature. God graciously takes dust and forms it into a creature that would reflect Him. This means that, at the end of the matter, we are nothing more than dust that has been infused with the grace of God.

It is also important to note that when God exalts man from the dust, there is abundant life; however, when man exalts himself in chapter three, there is only death, a returning to the dust. The work of God breeds life, but sin will always reap death. Thus, in our sin-dominated and fallen lives, we can give thanks to God that He has done this process a second time through the work of Christ. Like Adam in the beginning of this verse, the ingrained sin within each of us left us nothing more than dust spiritually (and, eventually, physically). As the dust of the ground had no way of forming itself into a living creature, we had no hope of coming to life out of the death that our sin purchased for us. However, just as the breath of God came into man so the Spirit of Christ came into us, making us new creatures in Him!

THE GARDEN OF EDEN // VERSES 8-15

Another act of grace is given to the man by God creating a garden home for him to dwell within. God does not simply create man and then leave him to fend for himself; instead, He provides for the man a paradise home. Most people tend to imagine the garden and Eden to be synonymous terms; however, Eden is likely a region upon the earth with the garden only covering a portion of that land. Nevertheless, the emphasis here is certainly upon the joy and goodness of the garden. The name Eden means delight or pleasure, and He causes pleasant and good trees to fill the garden. Thus, the LORD has spared no expense for the first man by giving to him a garden that is pleasant, good, and full of delight.

The final compound sentence of this verse is rather mysterious. After God causes all the trees to spring up into the garden, two particular trees are mentioned as being in the midst of the garden. Both are trees of significant importance since they are the trees of life and knowledge of good and evil. Very little is known about these trees except for what chapters two and three of Genesis say, which is limited. Thus, we will not divulge into too great of speculation. We know that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the only tree that God forbids to be eaten, and that the result of Adam’s eating of the fruit results in the entering of death. As for the tree of life, we only know that it was not forbidden until after the Fall. We will discuss both trees to greater degrees as they are mentioned further in the narrative.

Next, we find in verses 10-14 a surprisingly detailed description of the garden’s geography. Though some like to view the garden in Eden as figurative or metaphorical, the description’s usage of proper names for rivers and regions (which the audience likely knew) grounds this account into reality. Of the four rivers mentioned, two are still in existence today (the Tigris and the Euphrates) and are located in Mesopotamia. Thus, the garden seems to have been in the general area of the Promised Land. Personally, I have a slight hesitation of attempting to give a certain geographic location for the garden because the Flood could likely have changed the landscape significantly or even moved Noah into Mesopotamia. However, the theological significance is clear. The garden of Eden was defined by the favor and blessing of God, and the Promised Land was meant to serve as a representation of that grace being restored to Israel.

Of course, even in the Promised Land and under the Mosaic covenant, the people still rebelled against God time and time again. Jesus, however, is the perfect fulfillment of the grace and blessing of God returning to humanity. In Christ, we are not only restored to paradise with God (as in Eden), but we now have been adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High. Eden was full of gold and onyx, and the Promised Land flowed with milk and honey, but in Christ, we find the fullest joy and delight in knowing the Creator God as our Father.

Once more, in verse 15, we are told that God placed man in the garden of Eden, yet two aspects make this account differ from that of verse eight.

First, though the putting of man in the garden is translated the same way in English, this verse uses a different Hebrew word than verse eight. While the word used in verse eight is the normal term for putting an object somewhere, the word in fifteen gives an added connotation of rest and safety. God did not merely throw man into the garden, but rather He lovingly placed him there, knowing that it was the best place for him.

Second, man’s purpose in the garden is made known: to work and keep it. These two verbs make man’s role in the garden distinctively priestly. In Numbers, God will command the Levites to the minister and guard the tabernacle, which are the same two words as given to Adam in the verse.[3] Thus, the tabernacle and the temple were both means of bringing humanity back into the presence of God as they were in Eden. Though man is given the task of working and maintaining the garden, the central goal of man is worship. Just as the tabernacle was worked by the priest and was the center of worship, so it is with the garden. Man’s working and keeping of the garden was simply the primary way that man worshiped God in the garden. Obedience to God’s commandments is always one of the highest forms of worship.

Finally, consider two more thoughts on Adam’s task in the Eden.

First, work is not a product of the Fall. As humans, we have been created to be productive and hard working. This is a good thing. However, as we will see in the next chapter, the Fall will fundamentally shift man’s relationship to work.

Second, the garden, along with the tabernacle and temple, is foreshadowing of the work of Christ. The crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ accomplished at once far more than all the sacrifices offered in the temple or tabernacle. By Jesus’ sacrifice, communion with God was restored and even made better. Jesus is a better Eden and temple because through Him the Holy Spirit now dwells within believers!

THE EDENIC COVENANT // VERSES 16-17

The LORD’s commandment to man here is sometimes called the Edenic covenant. Like all other covenants in the Bible, this serves as an agreement between God and man. Also like other covenants, there are two basic components: provision and restriction. First, God graciously permits Adam to eat the fruit from any tree in the garden. These are all trees that we previously described as being pleasant to the sight and good for food. Second, God restricts one tree. Out of the abundance of provision, God provides one prohibition, a means of testing the faith of the humans. Tragically, Adam and Eve will come to view this one tree as being pleasant to the sight and good for food. Such is the human heart. We desire that which is most poisonous to our souls, while repeatedly spurning the gracious love of God.

This is also the first mentioning of death. The phrase “in the day” is idiomatic for expressing certainty, so combined with the word “surely”, God is doubly declaring the punishment for disobedience. God is just and fair. Though it may seem a bit extreme to punish humans so severely for a seemingly minor disobedience, we must understand who is issuing this command. The nature of this commandment is nothing like a mom instructing her child against a second cookie; this God spoke light, land, and stars into existence. There is no such thing as petty disobedience against God. There is only cosmic treason against the LORD Most High. Thus, God is completely just in extending the punishment of death because of disobedience. By this, His grace is also further accentuated. We deserve death, but He freely imparts to us life, through the death and resurrection of His Son.


[1] The others can be found in these places: 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2

[2] Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8

[3] Numbers 3:7-8

Advertisements

The Creation of Man | Genesis 1:26-2:3

As human beings, we are creatures of thoughts and questions, in constant search for meaning and purpose underlying our existence. Almost inevitably, these ponderings will lead to the nature of our species’ beginning. Were we created differently than all of the other creatures on earth, or were we merely the only animal to evolve a reasoning and intellectual brain? Questions of our beginning, like these, have lasting impacts on our present and our future. Fortunately, the holy Scriptures are not silent on this topic. Within these short eight verses, we will begin our look at the beginning of humanity and role to which God designated for us within His creation.

LET US MAKE MAN // VERSE 26

This verse is the beginning of the second act of creation on day six, and this creation is significantly different from all other creations discussed so far. The creation of humans is the capstone of the creation narrative. Throughout the days of creation, God sovereignly molded the heavens and the earth to make them capable of sustaining humans. There is evidence of this special distinction from the first word that God speaks, “Let us make…” Now, there is a plethora of thoughts to be give about these simple words, so I will strive to be concise. First, with all other creations, God said, “Let there be…” Light, air, land, and all living creatures were created through the mighty command of Elohim; however, the creation of humans seems to display a greater level of consideration. Obviously, it is important to understand that God is not human; therefore, He cannot be constrained to human qualities. Indeed, every time that we speak about God, we are speaking using anthropomorphic language, expressing an aspect of God’s nature in the only terms that we can understand: our own. Thus, we need not believe that God literally took more time considering and debating, or that He even did so at all, amongst Himself about whether or not to create humans. Instead, God is using our own concepts to give us the understanding that the creation of humanity is distinctly unique amongst the rest of creation. God deliberately decided to create humans different.

Nevertheless, since the words “let us make” seem to imply a sort of counsel taking place in heaven regarding the creation of mankind. Both Christianity and Judaism before it have sought to understand to whom the “us” is referencing. Many scholars have entertained the notion that God is referring to the angels around Him; however, given the remainder of Scripture, this seems to be a ridiculous thought. Why would the Almighty God consult created beings about the forming of the capstone of His creation? Others have argued that the plurality emphasizes the supremacy and totality of God in much the same manner of the name Elohim. Many Jewish scholars have leaned upon this interpretation. More likely, I believe, it is a subtle reference to the Trinity. Though a strong case cannot be built for the Trinity from this verse alone, the other sixty-five books give credit to this interpretation.

“In our image, after our likeness.”

If the uniqueness of mankind’s creation was not evident before, these coupling phrases should present more than enough proof. While all of creation was created by God, humanity holds the sole title of being made in the image of God, in His likeness. Recall our study of the first verse of Genesis, wherein we discussed the implications of God initiating the beginning of existence. We concluded that, since God alone stands outside of all created things, He is altogether different from anything that we could possibly comprehend. Because of God’s utter uniqueness as being the only non-created being, we are far closer to understanding every single aspect of the universe than we are to knowing a fraction about God. We then remarked upon the miracle of both the written and the embodied Word of God as God’s revelation such lowly creatures as us, and verse 26 only further enlarges this miraculous grace of God. God did not only choose to reveal Himself to humans, but He elected to imbue within us His very image. We, as humans, display aspects of God’s likeness, fractions of His character.

Throughout the years many have wrestled with the question of what exactly it means to bear the image of God. Does it mean that our physical features somewhat resemble what God looks like? Or does it mean that display the same types of emotions that God experiences? First, though many have traditionally viewed God as an old man upon a throne, the Bible is quite clear that God is not a man.[1] In fact, God does not even have a physical body; instead, He is spirit.[2] He is of an entirely different nature than us. This truth is what makes the incarnation so miraculous: God became flesh and dwelt among us![3] Therefore, I do not believe that this verse refers to our physical resemblance of God. Instead, it appears to refer to at least two aspects of human nature: the totality of the human consciousness and the complementarian relation of men and women, though we will discuss the latter within the context of verse 27. It is a secret to no one that we are different than animals, and most people attribute these differences to the complexities of the human consciousness. Animals, though they have cerebral systems, do not process the reality around them like we do. We are, at once, able to reason and feel. Logic and emotions both come from the same lump of neurons inside our skull. Animals simply do not have these defining characteristics as image bearers of God.

“let them have dominion”

Within the latter part of this verse, we behold another astounding characteristic of mankind: they are given dominion over all other creatures. This means that God granted to humanity the governing authority of upon the earth. Such a thought should have far reaching implications upon any who read it! Not only did God choose us to be the bearers of His image but He also imparted to us a level of authority with which to rule over His other creatures. This biblical view of humanity stands in stark contrast to the predominant view of today known as secular humanism. Secular humanism holds both a higher and lower view of humanity than the biblical thought. First, they hold a lower view of humanity because they argue that we are nothing more than highly evolved animals. The only special characteristic of humans is that time and chance favored our species. Yet, somewhat paradoxically, they also hold a higher view of humanity in that they elevate humanity to the status of practical deification. Since the human heart inherently longs for something greater beyond itself, the humanists answer that urge by elevating humanity’s superiority to a god-like status. Because humans are the highest of the evolved animals, then all meaning and purpose in life is found within the human race. The biblical account is almost exactly antithetical to this view. Yes, we are more than animals; we are image bearers of God. No, we are not gods ourselves; we simply bear some of the characteristics of the one true God.

IN HIS OWN IMAGE // VERSE 27

This verse is likely the first poem within the Bible, though there is some disagreement among scholars as to what exactly constitutes biblical poetry and biblical prose. The entirety of Genesis 1, for example, has highly poetic elements; however, it seems to me that this verse is deserving of being classified as poetry for its poetic symmetry and parallelism. If this is the case, then verse 27 probably serves as a sort of poetic emphasis to the image bearing nature of mankind. Within this verse, it is twice mentioned that humanity bears the image of God, and in all three lines, it is stated that God created humans. It almost seems as though God is anticipating the man’s desire to be like God, and so He is preemptively striking at its core by declaring that man is unique among creation but still a creation of God.

This is also the first mention of humanity being composed of male and female. Since many today read the Bible as emphasizing male chauvinism, it is important for us to realize that God created humanity to exist in two genders. God did not create man to fully embody humankind, while merely creating the woman to be his personal servant. No, God always meant for mankind to have both male and female. And though we will discuss the nature of males and females in more detail in Genesis 2, I will say that man existing in male and female is a reflection of the nature of God and perhaps is part of what is meant by being image-bearers. Notice this: God is triune, one God existing in three persons. Father, Son, and Spirit are all God, but each has a different and unique role and personhood. Thus, God is both plural and singular. In this verse, we find a similarity being made with mankind. First, the word man is used, along with the singular masculine “him”, but then male and female are used along with the plural “them”. Thus, male and female are both different and unique but also distinctly human. Each is human, but both are different. Michael Reeves argues that the humanity’s existence in male and female is the clearest picture the Bible gives for how we are to think of the Trinity.

There is something about the relationship and difference between the man and woman, Adam and Eve, that images the being of God—something we saw the apostle Paul pick up on in 1 Corinthians 11:3. Eve is a person quite distinct from Adam, and yet she has all her life and being from Adam. She comes from his side, is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, and is one with him in the flesh (Gen 2:21-24). Far better than leaves, eggs, and liquids, that reflects the personal God, a Son who is distinct from his Father, and yet who is of the very being of the Father, and who is eternally one with him in Spirit. [4]

THE FIRST COMMISSION // VERSE 28

After God creates humans, male and female, He blesses them. Blessing is one of the predominant themes of Genesis. To be blessed of God is to have the favor, or grace, of God upon one’s life. Thus, God begins by humanities existence by blessing them, by giving to them unmerited grace and favor. But how does God display and distribute His blessing to them? He commissions them in a series of commands. Too often, we think of God’s commandments as being burdensome, but God intends for us to be blessed through them. And what a blessing this is! God gives the cultural mandate for humanity to be fruitful and multiply. This alone shoots down many of the Christians who find it uncomfortable or even sinful to speak about sex. There is often the tendency to refer to sex as a byproduct of the Fall; however, here humanity has yet to fall into sin and God is still commanding Adam and Eve to come together and enjoy the fruits of their union. God created sex to be good and unifying in marriage, but like other good gifts, it is now often distorted and maimed by the corroding effects of sin.

Also, we must note that God issued this command to produce offspring as a general command to humanity, not as an absolute command to each individual. In fact, Paul speaks to the Corinthians that he wished that all were single like him.[5] Though to be fair, singleness still does not excuse the Christian from this mandate; instead, Christ has given to us a new commission that greatly reflects this one. The Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:18-20, gives a wonderful parallel to this first mandate to humanity; therefore, let us walk through the similarities. Here in Genesis, the man and woman are given four commands: be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Likewise, Jesus gives His disciples four instructions: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. Both sets of commands have the same goals. Both are meant to spread throughout the earth. Both are intended to multiply. Both are envisioned as being instruments in God’s continual shaping of earth. In both the creation of Genesis and the recreation that Jesus began, we must understand that God intentionally left His work unfinished. By the pure grace and blessing of God, He has chosen to use us to fulfill His plans. God did not need humans to subdue the earth and continue bringing it to order, but by grace, He allows us to be a part of His plans. Likewise, God does not need us to reach the world with the gospel of Jesus, but by grace, He lets us join in the spreading of His glory.

Finally, we notice that God gives humans dominion of all other creatures on earth; however, there is a very real sense in which this dominion has been marred by the Fall. We no longer have the dominion that we were meant to possess, and with our sinful nature, it is good that God has stripped us of such control. But where humanity could not hold onto the dominion given us by God, Jesus Christ is more than able. Thus, Jesus informs us in the Great Commission that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him. Adam, and by consequence us, could not be faithful with the ruling of even the creatures on earth, but Jesus, the second Adam, has been deemed faithful to receive the authority over all of creation.

PLANT FOR FOOD // VERSES 29-30

Here God gives humans and the other animals the plants and vegetation for food. Once again, the emphasis is that God created the other creatures to be in service to humans. However, even though nature was created to serve man, this does not give us the right to abuse the other created works of God. We are meant to be faithful stewards over the creation that God has placed under our dominion. It is also interesting to note that there is no mention of the eating of meat. Thus, it would seem that humans and animals were originally herbivores. Though, before vegans and vegetarians begin to grab their battle gear, God will give, in Genesis 9, the animals to Noah for food, so there does exist a biblical foundation for why we are currently omnivores.

Man is the climax of creation, and instead of man providing the gods with food, God provided the plants as food for man (1:29).[6]

VERY GOOD // VERSE 31

After having declared His creation good six times thus far, God looked upon everything, including His newly created humans, and declared it all very good. With all of the evils around us every day, it is incredibly difficult for us to imagine the world as being very good, yet this was the original state of creation. God did not make a broken world; He made a beautiful world to reflect His beauty. Furthermore, the world inhabited by humans was considered good. Some of the eco-extremists believe that humanity is the bane of the earth, and to be fair, we have not been the most faithful stewards of God’s creation, especially for the last few centuries. Yet it has not always been so. God created humans as a part of His good creation. Despite all of the violence and injustice, the world was once very good.

THE SEVENTH DAY // VERSES 1-3

Since chapter and verse divisions were added into the Bible only a few hundred years ago, it is quite fine to disagree with them from time to time. These verses are, for me, one such occasion. The seventh day of creation discussed here brings about the closing of the days of creation; thus, it seems to belong better with chapter 1. It is here that we are told that after finishing the process of creation God used the seventh day to rest from His work. Obviously, from what we know of God through the remainder of Scripture, He was not exhausted after the six days of creating. Instead, we find another reason for His resting: to distinguish the seventh day from the other days. God blesses and makes this day holy. It is from this text that the doctrine of Sabbath originates.

Today it is difficult to find many believers who observe Sabbath, and since it is apparently not a direct sin to skip the Sabbath, some find it hard to create a case for observing it. However, it seems clear to me that God is our loving Father, who did not need to rest following creation but still did so to set a precedent for us. The doctrine of Sabbath, in particular, is formed by God completely for our good. It is His desire to give us respite from our labor.

Though the concept of Sabbath was not repeated as a commandment in the New Testament, we should not be excused from upholding it. Perhaps the main reason why Jesus seemed so defiant against the Sabbath was because the Pharisees were abusing it. God created the Sabbath to be a day of rest for His people, a day to stop their work and remember that He is God. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. But the religious spurned this great truth, trying to make it a sin to even heal on the Sabbath. Yet in reality, the Sabbath is a gift from a loving Father to His children, so that we can pause from our daily work and reflect on everything that He has done for us.

So for the Christian that would like to start observing Sabbath but does not know how, let me offer some advice. First, God made the seventh day holy; He consecrated it for Himself. This means that God called the seventh day unique from all other days. The first six days are normal and common, but the seventh day is called holy, set apart exclusively for God. Thus, for the greatest rest, give your Sabbath over to God. Do not focus so much upon how you shouldn’t do any work, but focus upon how you might glorify God. Second, by Jewish tradition, Saturday is the Sabbath. Because of this, there are some groups of Christians that believe we should return to using Saturday for our church services and our Sabbath. However, the first Christians had a fairly good reason for completely shifting the central day of their worship to Sunday: the resurrection of Jesus. This is why we meet on Sunday, and why we might in general consider it our Sabbath. Nevertheless, Paul warns us in Romans 14 not to bicker about the importance of days or weeks; instead, we are meant to worship God. Thus, if Sunday or Saturday are not practical for you as a day of Sabbath rest, please choose another day of the week. The specific day is not nearly as important as actually setting apart a day to spend with God.

[1] Numbers 24:19

[2] John 4:24

[3] John 1:14

[4] Reeves, Michael. Delighting in the Trinity. p. 37

[5] 1 Corinthians 7:7

[6] Wenham, Gordan. Genesis 1-15. p. 49

Let There Be Light! | Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Genesis 1:1-5 ESV

 

We begin this season of Advent by going back to the very beginning, the creation of all things. In Genesis 1, we meet the Author of all existence, God the Creator. Because the miracle of the incarnation (the first advent of Jesus) is all about God becoming man, we must spend time gazing upon the holiness of God in order to grasp even a fraction of the significance of Christ’s birth.

Let’s be honest right from the start: these verses can be taught from an infinite number of angles. In fact, I’ve already preached through them once before. Our focus, therefore, will be far from exhaustive; instead, I desire to structure our study around three questions, from which we will derive points of application as well.

WHO IS GOD?

This question is easy to ignore, to bypass on our way to deeper discussions. However, God is not merely our subject; He is the very context of our discussion.

What exactly does this mean?

First, we see that God is the subject of this text. He is the only person performing actions here, and, as the rest of the Bible makes clear, He is the ultimate and primary protagonist of Scripture. People like Moses, Abraham, and David play crucial roles in the storyline of the Bible, but they remain secondary characters. God Himself is the hero of the Bible, no one else.

This, of course, should impact how we are meant to read the Bible. Scripture is not a self-help manual, a history book, nor many of the other ways people often think of it (although it does contain elements of those things). God’s Word is, rather, the revelation of Himself to us. The Bible primarily shows us God, which includes for what purpose He made us, how we rejected Him, and how He rescued us from our rebellion. Reading the Bible will certainly always apply to you, but it is not about you. It’s about God.

But God is not only the Bible’s main subject; He is also its context. Notice that in Genesis 1:1 God creates everything. The phrase the heavens and the earth is a merism (much like searching high and low for something) that means everything that exists. So if something exists, God made it. This means that God began the beginning but was never begun Himself. Side note: meditating in your bed on truths like this will probably give you that slightly dizzying sensation that kind of feels like looking out over the edge of a cliff. Existence itself is dependent upon God for its being. As people who exist, we are dependent upon God for continuing to be. The Apostle Paul rightly applies these words of a pagan poet to our relationship to the one true God: “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). God is the context for both our study and the Bible’s story because we can only read these words from Him, by Him, and through Him.

Of course, all of this is just a more complicated way of saying that God is the Creator. He is the Author, not only of the Bible, but of soft-shelled crabs, trees, the color spectrum, and everything else. He stands outside of time as the One who eternally is, without both beginning and end. Beside Him stand no equals. He alone is supreme, holy. He is God, and there are no others. As Creator, He began creation, and He will ultimately judge all His creatures.

Consider the reality of what this means. You are not a god. You are a creature created by God. You, therefore, do not know what is best for your life or how to be fulfilled; God does. He designed you, so He knows how you are meant to live and function. And particularly if you are inclined to reject the claims of the Bible, consider what even the possibility of this God existing would mean. If there were even the slightest chance that this Creator is real, would it not be advantageous to investigate these matters further?

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS?

On the first day of creation, God brings light into creation establishing day and night. Like almost everything else in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, these two concepts are a reoccurring theme throughout the Bible. The light and darkness here are literal, yet as they continue to be used, we begin to understand their symbolic significance. Allen Ross clarifies this point:

It is natural light, physical light; but its much more. The Bible shows again and again that light and darkness signify mutually exclusive realms, especially spiritual matters of good and evil. Through Scripture light is the realm of God and the righteous; darkness is the domain of the Evil One and death. Light represents that which is holy, pure, true, life-giving, and gladdening. (108)

It is no small thing that we are more at ease in the light. By light, we are able to see whatever is around us, surveying and understanding our environment. Because of this, light is also often symbolic for knowledge, while ignorance is represented by darkness.

Yet this first act of creation also provides a further glimpse at answering our first question. In 1 John 1:5, we learn that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” God brings light into the creation because He is light. His very presence chases away darkness, so it is only natural for Him to begin creation by forming light. As if to emphasize that light flows from Him, the creation of the sun, moon, and stars (objects that give light) does not occur until day four.

WHY WAS THERE DARKNESS IN GENESIS 1:2?

Our final question is certainly one of the most intriguing from the creation account. If God, who is light, makes light on the first day, why was there already darkness in verse 2? The attempted answers for what exactly is happening in verse 2 are multitude.

The gap theory is particularly popular, which posits that a large gap of time exists between verses 1 and 2. Satan’s rebellion in heaven occurred during this time period, and the ensuing heavenly battle left creation in the condition of verse 2.

Although the gap theory quite possibly might be the correct answer, I lean towards the idea that verse 2 describes the raw state of the world from when God began to create in verse 1. Indeed, verse 2 has a chaotic undertone, while the remainder of the chapter centers around God bringing order from chaos.

But why would God create the cosmos in a state of disorder and chaos just to put it into order over the span of one week? Of course, we know that God could have created everything in working order in an instant, no days of creation required. But He didn’t. He chose to create through a process, which can only mean that it is significant. It is not a stretch, therefore, to view God as creating the world disordered and primordial, so that He could shape it properly. In fact, this is God’s mode of operations throughout the rest of the Bible too (even from chapter one, He is revealing to us His character). Consider God’s promise to give Abraham the Promised Land, which was only fulfilled more than four hundred years later by his descendants under the leadership of Joshua. Or think of David’s long road to being king after being anointed by Samuel as a boy. Our own salvation is quite another process, as we struggle through the already-not-yet of both wrestling with and being freed from sin. We see this in nature as well (i.e. photosynthesis and the water cycle). The examples are endless because God works through processes.

This also explains why our obsession with instant gratification, deep down, feels so wrong. Sin corrupts our desires, making our wants prone to contradict God’s perfect design. We long to escape the systems that God designed, which is just a repackaging of the first sin.

But back to the original question: why was darkness present in verse 2? I believe it is to show that God is the dispeller of darkness. Here He forms light and establishes the division between darkness and light, but in our final sermon, we will see God dispel darkness completely. Creation begins with no light but ends with no darkness. This is the Creator’s plan. This is the good news.

Unfortunately, God’s dispelling of darkness is also a problem for us since Adam and Eve plunge the world into deeper chaos in Genesis 3. That chapter tells how our ancestors rejected God’s glorious design for creation. While God made them His stewards, exercising dominion over the earth, they wanted to be like God Himself. They attempted to usurp God’s throne, and because of that sin, we and all of creation have become corrupt and broken. We now follow the same pattern. We sin. We reject God’s design, choosing instead our own wants and desires. We elevate ourselves above the God who formed us from the dust and breathed life into our bones. This is folly defined, the rejecting of light in favor of the dark.

Fortunately, God would not leave us to grope about in the dark. He would come to rescue His people. During Advent, we celebrate the glorious coming of God in the person of Jesus Christ. By becoming human (while still retaining His divinity), Jesus walked the earth as the second Adam, the perfect human who (unlike Adam) rejected each opportunity to sin. He walked the earth, drawing some into His light, while others shrank away further into the dark. Then, at the end of His life, He willing submitted Himself over to death, suffering the righteous wrath of God in our place, and after rising from the dead, He freely grants us His righteousness.

This is the gospel, the good news and grand message of the Bible. This is the story that God has been telling from the beginning. Like the primordial chaos of creation’s beginning, God made us knowing that we would sin. Even before He said, “Let there be light”, the advent of Jesus was planned. This is His story, His process of creation and redemption, the revealing to His people His glory and splendor, His justice and wrath, His grace and mercy, His love and His compassion.

 

The Providence of God

Dwelling in Egypt | Genesis 46:31-47:31

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents. (Genesis 47:11-12 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

The book of beginnings, Genesis perfectly sets up the story and themes for the remainder of the Bible. After describing creation, humanity’s fall into sin, and the great flood, the narrative shifts onto the family of one man, Abraham. The LORD gave his family three promises: they would become a great nation, possess the land of Canaan, and bless all the families of the earth. Both Abraham and Isaac, his son, died without seeing these promises fulfilled.

Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, had twelve children, and drama ensued. He loved Joseph, the eleventh son, most of all, so the older ten brothers sold Joseph into slavery to get rid of him. By the providence of God, Joseph went for slave, to prisoner, to ruling all of Egypt. Also by providence, God used Joseph to rescue the world from a severe famine, which also gave him the opportunity to be reconciled with his brothers.

With his father and brothers in Egypt, Joseph must now present his family to Pharaoh. The meeting with the Egyptian king is made tense by the Egyptians disdain for shepherds, but God uses Pharaoh to graciously bless Jacob’s family. In turn, Jacob pronounces two blessings upon Pharaoh. We are then told how Pharaoh came to be blessed through Joseph wise management of Egypt during the time of the famine.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read 46:31-47:31 and discuss the following.

  1. Which verses stood out most to you as you read Genesis 46:31-47:31? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  2. Through Joseph’s shrewd management, he saved Egypt from the famine while also prospering Pharaoh richly. Why does Genesis present Joseph’s actions in a positive light? How do our tithes and offerings resemble the people of Egypt’s tax to Pharaoh? How does the gospel impact our giving?
  3. Our text ends with Jacob demanding that Joseph pledge to bury his body in Canaan. Why was Jacob so adamant about ensuring that his body was carried down to Egypt? Like Jacob, how are you planning to display your faith in God’s promises beyond your own life?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you in obedience to His Word.
The Providence of God

The Journey to Egypt | Genesis 46:1-30

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” (Genesis 46:1-4 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

Because Genesis is the Bible’s introduction, we cannot properly understand the rest of the Scriptures without knowing this book. Here we learn that God made the world good and created humans in His image, but we rejected God’s paradise, choosing rebellion instead. But God did not give up on us. In fact, He promised a Savior that would one day defeat sin and death for good, and that Savior would come from the family of a man named Abraham.

Although none in Abraham’s family have proved to be the Savior, God miraculously uses Joseph (Abraham’s great-grandson) to save his family. After being sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph went from being a slave, to being a prisoner, to becoming Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Through divine wisdom, Joseph guides Egypt through a devastating seven year famine, and now he beckons his brothers to bring his father Jacob down to Egypt.

Regularly fearful and nearing 130 years old, the journey to Egypt would have been frightening for Jacob, but God speaks to the patriarch, encouraging him to make the journey down to his long-lost son. Just as Joseph, the grain supplier in Egypt, is an image of Jesus being the bread of life, so Jacob’s journey into Egypt is similar to the journey we must all make toward Christ.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read chapter 46:1-30 and discuss the following.

  1. Which verses stood out most to you as you read Genesis 46:1-27? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  2. Jacob responds to the news that Joseph is alive in Egypt by worshiping God through sacrifices. Do you regularly turn to God in worship upon receiving blessings? What does that worship look like?
  3. Even in his old age, Jacob must make the perilous journey into Egypt to meet Joseph and save his family from the famine. How does this journey parallel our daily walk as Christians? How is Judah similar to Jesus in preparing the way for his brothers? In what ways does discipleship help others on their journey toward Christ?
  4. The always fearful Jacob finds peace to die upon reuniting with Joseph. How is this similar to Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8? How does the gospel remove the sting from death?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you in obedience to His Word.
The Providence of God

Joseph Tests His Brothers | Genesis 44

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.” (Genesis 44:16 ESV)

Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. (Genesis 44:33 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

As the first book of the Bible, Genesis sets up the story and themes for the rest of God’s Word. It opens with the account of God creating the world good, but humanity quickly ruins paradise by rebelling against the LORD. In order to save humanity, God narrowed His focus upon one man’s family, Abraham. Though Abraham is called the man of faith, he was not humanity’s savior, nor was his son Isaac or grandson Jacob.

The story now focuses upon Jacob’s twelve sons, particularly Joseph. Being his father’s favorite, Joseph’s ten older brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. As a slave, Joseph displayed the favor of the LORD… until he was wrongfully accused and thrown into prison. But God’s providence worked to move Joseph from prison to Pharaoh’s right hand man. As second-in-command of Egypt and with a severe famine ravaging the world, God ordained that Joseph’s brothers would travel to Egypt for food, meeting their lost brother.

For two chapters, Joseph has tested the hearts of his brothers to see whether they have changed for the better. With Jacob’s beloved son, Benjamin, in Egypt, Joseph is now ready to orchestrate the final test. By framing Benjamin for stealing from him, Joseph gives his brothers a chance to betray one of their brothers again. Most notably, we are able to see the change God has worked in Judah’s heart, when he passionately pleas to be a slave in Benjamin’s place.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read chapter 44 and discuss the following.

  1. When Joseph’s servant finds the cup in Benjamin’s sack, all of the brothers tear their clothes in anguish. This quite a change from when they torn off Joseph’s coat and felt no remorse. Likewise, a softened conscience is a distinctive mark of being saved by God. What examples have you seen in your life of God’s work in softening your heart?
  2. When the brothers stand before Joseph for stealing the cup, Judah admits guilt even though they did not steal it. What guilt is weighing on Judah? Why is guilt a blessing from the LORD?
  3. How does Judah’s offer to take the place of Benjamin reflect the gospel? Why is Judah’s speech such an important development in the story of Joseph and his brothers?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you in obedience to His Word.
The Providence of God

Joseph’s Brothers Return to Egypt | Genesis 43

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” (Genesis 43:14 ESV)

He replied, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them. (Genesis 43:23 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

When it comes to understanding the Bible, Genesis is a crucial book to know. Its first eleven chapters establish how the world was made and why it is now broken by sin. The rest of the book concerns itself with how God plans to fix humanity’s problem of sin. God promises to do this through the family of Abraham. Even though Abraham was a man of faith, he was just as marred by sin as anyone else (and his son, Isaac, and grandson, Jacob, were the same).

But the narrative now follows the life of Joseph, Abraham’s great grandson. After being sold into slavery by his brother, Joseph rose to a prominent rank as a servant only to be falsely accused and cast into prison. As a prisoner, Joseph was placed in charge of other prisoners, like Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. After correctly interpreting the cupbearer’s dream, Joseph beg him to mention Joseph to Pharaoh, but two whole years passed before the cupbearer remembered Joseph. In a blur of a moment, Joseph found himself removed from the prison, interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, and placed as second-in-command over all of Egypt. But God’s providence is displayed even greater when Joseph’s brothers come before him in Egypt.

Our present chapter deals with Joseph’s brothers’ return to Egypt. We find two major sections of the text. First, the brothers must convince their father, Jacob, to allow Benjamin to travel with them to Egypt. The patriarch’s struggle to entrust his beloved son into the hands of his other sons and ultimately God is a battle with which many of us can relate. Second, the brothers are invited to a lavish dinner with Joseph in Egypt, wherein Benjamin is given five times the portion of his brothers. Here Joseph’s brothers are forced to confront their envy, jealousy, and covetousness, the very sins that caused them to sell Joseph so many years ago.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read chapter 43 and discuss the following.

  1. The chapter opens with the brothers needing to return to Egypt, but Jacob is still hesitant about sending Benjamin with them. How does Judah’s answer to his father differ from Reuben’s in the previous chapter? Why might we call Judah a wise leader? Why might we call Reuben foolish?
  2. Jacob eventually realizes that he must let Benjamin, his treasured son,  go to Egypt, trusting God and Judah to bring him home safely. What do you similarly treasure? Have you similarly experienced leaving them in the hands of God and others? What benefit is there in surrendering our treasures over to God?
  3. At the banquet, Joseph gives Benjamin five times the portion of his other brothers. This is meant to test the jealousy which they had for Joseph long ago. How does your heart respond when other receive more from God than you? Why is jealousy such a destructive sin? How can we combat jealousy in our lives?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.