19 Sep 2021
Genesis in 20 minutes
Speaker Chris Haley
Series Bible Books in 20 Mins
Now there are many different angles that we could take on this because Genesis is a really important book, isn't it? It's the foundation of the whole Bible. It's the history of our world. It's the first book of the Pentateuch, that's the first five books of the Bible. We'll touch on that, but that won't be our focus this evening.
We could spend all our time, couldn't we? Just spend 20 minutes telling the story. Couldn’t we? Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. But I want to look at Genesis as a book with a purpose. Along with Jesus, I believe that Genesis was written by Moses, which means it was written in those years wandering in the wilderness before they got to the promised land. It was not that Moses was bored and sort of thought, "Oh, I'll write a history book. This will be a bestseller." He wrote this as part of his teaching ministry. He was trying to teach something by writing the book of Genesis. This was part of his role as a prophet in teaching God's people. But equally, that means that Genesis was written to a specific people at a specific time with specific goals in mind. Moses is selective in the stories that he tells us and what details he picks up on.
Let me put it this way: whatever your view on creation, it deals with 2,000 years of history, at least in Genesis. And yet, out of the 50 chapters, the last 29 of them deal with just four people, and they're all in one family. That's a very selective world history, isn't it, if you think about it? He's choosing what to put in. We skim over the rise and fall of empires, and yet we're told specific things like a baker's dream and disputes over random wells that we don't know where they are anymore. So, what is the point that Moses is trying to make throughout all this? Well, here it is in a nutshell: going back to Egypt and the gods of your fathers is a bad idea. Pressing onto the promised land is a good idea. That's really the nubbin, the nutshell of what Genesis is about. Richard L. Pratt, theologian and author, puts it like this: "Leaving Egypt and possessing Canaan was God's design for Israel." That's what he says the book of Genesis is about. That's what Israel needed to hear. So, how does God show that from their history? Well, firstly…
God determines the right places for things, separates them, and fills them
That's what he's doing. God determines the right places for things, separates them, and fills them. Again, leaving scientific and philosophical discussion aside, what do we see in Genesis 1? God makes the places on the first three days and puts in boundaries, doesn't he? Light and dark, sky and sea, sea and land. And then he determines what fills them and rules them: sun, moon, and stars; fish and birds; animals and men. That's what's going on in the six days of creation. God is the one who determines where things go. By his command, he determines that his image bearers will fill the earth and multiply. But this is spoiled, isn't it, by man's rebellion? Instead of multiplying, they begin to kill each other. Cain kills righteous Abel. Mankind is separated. Those who descend from Cain and those who descend from Seth, who's the child born to replace Abel. Violence begins to fill the earth. God's image is destroyed by others.
The lines of separation between those two that God set in the beginning begin to be confused. The barrier is broken, the godly line of Seth marries the godless line of Cain. So, those barriers that have been set up are brought down. God begins to bring barriers down too that He has set in place. Water and land that were separated now mingle again in the flood. And we see that in the tremendous chaos that happens, it's a harkening back to Genesis 1 when the world was in chaos. After the flood, God again commands humanity to fill the earth and multiply, designating nations of peoples in Genesis 10.
Paul picks up on that in Acts 17:26 ESV And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling places. So, God is determining where they're all going. But mankind rebels again, refusing to fill the earth as God has told them. So, God confuses their languages and causes His image bearers finally to go and fill the earth. He separates them and puts them in their own places.
The focus then falls to just one man who will become a great nation, Abram. But Abraham is not in the place that God wants him. So, God separates him from his father's house and commands him to go to the place He wants him: Canaan. God separates Abraham from Lot, his nephew. Abraham separates Isaac from Ishmael, his half-brother. God separates Jacob and Esau, his twin. And God separates Joseph from his brothers and puts him in Egypt. We see the pattern throughout: God determines where things go, God determines who separates from whom, God determines who lives where, and God determines what people fill the land. It's God who decides.
So, if God tells you to go, then you go. If God promises you a land, you believe His promises. Abraham did, didn't he? He told them to go and he went, an example of faith. The Israelites in the wilderness wouldn't go, would they? They wouldn't possess the land. But God promises to make Abraham a promise that would turn the world around, and Abraham, as God makes this promise, is right to trust Him. He promises Abraham three things, really: a place, which is for a people who've been kicked out of Eden but not got a place anymore; a people, when giving birth is so hard; and blessing in the place of cursing. Those are the three things that He promises Abraham: a people, a place, and blessing.
But these are more than just a sort of fun lesson; they're actually a plan to remake the world, to put what went wrong in the fall right. And they were to trust in God's promises. That's what Abraham is famous for, isn't it? For trusting in God's promises, having faith. And we too must trust in God's plans because actually, for us now, God determines the position that we're in. We're in the place that we're in for a reason. He determines our place. It's almost an epilogue to the book, but in the end at Genesis 50 ESV, Joseph says this, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 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." One of the big lessons is that God had placed Joseph exactly where He wanted him, with a purpose. His brothers meant it for evil, but God had meant it to save lives. So, God puts us where He places us. He puts us there for a reason. And for the Israelites, that meant Egypt. Out of Egypt into Canaan. For us, it's the position that God puts us in. So, He needs them to know that. The second thing that He needs them to know is that…
Going back to Egypt means trouble!
All the three major patriarchs have a spell in a foreign land, taking refuge. Abram goes to Egypt because of the famine in Genesis 12 and then returns. Isaac goes to Philistia, the home of the Philistines, because of the famine in Genesis 26. But, having been warned not to go to Egypt, he goes there and then returns. Jacob goes to Haran in Mesopotamia to flee his brother and then returns. And then, towards the end of the book, the whole family of Jacob goes to Egypt for a famine. But the book ends without them returning. They don't fit the pattern yet. All the other patriarchs have returned, but the Israelites haven't returned as a people. It's like watching one of those annoying films that finishes without actually finishing the story, you know what I mean? So, you've got to watch the sequel because the actual end of the story's in the sequel. Well, that's what Genesis is like. The end of the story is actually further on.
Egypt is a place of refuge for a while. Mary and Joseph treat it as such in the New Testament. But it's not a place to stay, and it's certainly not a place to go back to. Again and again, it's the one that God separates off that has the links with Egypt. So, Lot in Genesis 13 picks the land to the east, which looked like the land of Egypt. Ishmael is the son of Hagar the Egyptian, who then settles near Egypt and marries an Egyptian. Esau marries two Hittites and then one of the daughters of Ishmael the Egyptian. There could be subtle digs as well at Egypt and its idolatry throughout the book. They served animal gods. You know, you see those pictures, haven't you, with god-human bodies but animal heads? Well, back in Genesis 3, it's an animal that Adam and Eve decide to listen to rather than God. Not just any animal, an animal that crawls in the dust. It's like a worm with scales if you think about it, a snake. They choose to serve an animal over the living God. It's a one-off sin for them, but for the Egyptians, that's what they did every day, wasn't it? They worshiped animals instead of the living God.
Egypt is also the place that Abraham believes he'll be killed in if he tells them that Sarah is his wife rather than just being his half-sister. Egypt is where an adulteress tries to entice Joseph, who refuses and is thrown in prison by the husband, even though he's innocent. Egypt is foretold as a place of slavery to Egypt at Abraham in Genesis 15. So, I'll read that to you, Genesis 15:13-15 ESV: 'Then the Lord said to Abraham, "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there. They will be afflicted for 400 years. But I will bring judgment on that nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete."' So even in Genesis, God told Abraham that they would go to Egypt and they would return, but Egypt was not going to be a good place. They were going to be afflicted there.
And Egypt is founded by a man called Egypt. He's actually called Mizraim, but that's what they call Egypt, so we call him Egypt. Egypt is a descendant of Ham, who is cursed by Noah after he exposes his father to the spawn of his brothers, quite literally exposes him. In fact, nearly all Israel's enemies come from Ham, including his firstborn son called Kanan, who is singled out for cursing. But more of that in a minute. Egypt, though, if you think about it, is portrayed as not a very nice place. It's not a place that you want to go back to. And yet, don't remake the same sort of mistakes as New Testament believers. That's exactly where we find ourselves, like the Israelites in the wilderness. We often drool over our past lives when it was easier, when life wasn't so hard, when we had things that we liked. Like the Israelites, we look back with rose-tinted glasses.
There's a funny bit in Numbers 11:5 where it talks about them remembering the fish in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. When, in fact, they were in slavery and they were being beaten daily and afflicted. And they're looking back, they say, 'Oh, we should go back, it was amazing.' But we do the same, don't we? But Israel was not to go back to Egypt. They were not to attempt to go back to their old lives. And neither are we. Hebrews again tells us not to be like that wilderness generation but to seek to enter God's rest. And that's our last point. We must press on to the promised land. There will be battles to be fought, but it's not enough just to leave Egypt.
We must press on to take hold of the Promised Land
We must press on to take hold of the promised land, take hold of the rest that is promised in the promised land. The book of Genesis ends like this, Genesis 50:24-26 ESV: 'And Joseph said to his brothers, "I'm about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, "God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here." So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.' Even there, right at the end of Genesis, there's a reminder that they were always supposed to come back to the promised land. Actually, it happens throughout the book. That's what God had told Abraham in the same breath as telling them that they would go to Egypt. And He promises Abraham the land at least three times. He repeats the promise to Isaac and to Jacob. God is clear. He wants them in Canaan. But for that to happen, the Canaanites have to go.
There have been subtle and not so subtle reminders all the way through Genesis. Noah cursing Canaan, son of Ham, rather than Ham. Canaan seemingly being named after Cain, the murderer of righteous Abel. Tubal-Cain is mentioned as well as being a murderer in Genesis 4. So if you like naming your child, you know, something like Shipman or Brutus, you know, naming him after a murderer, it's a very strange thing to do, isn't it? God's dramatic destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah foreshadows what will come, and in such a way God will crush the Canaanites before them.
Right back in Genesis 3, He promised Eve that a serpent crusher would come and crush evil, one who would crush the serpent's head while being injured himself. When He would defeat their enemies. But again in Genesis, no serpent crusher comes. They survived the serpent, but they've not crushed him. The serpent crusher is still to come at the end of Genesis. But it's a reminder that God will fight their battles for them.
So the Israelites must press on to the promised land. They will take it. I mean, if you look at the story of Abraham, Abraham, by himself, well, with his personal army, takes on five of the mightiest kings of the day to rescue Lot in Genesis. And if Abraham can do it by himself, well, shouldn't you? Anyway, you can see that they promised Joseph that they take his bones back. Obviously, that's great, you know, that I'm going to be put in a coffin, but you're going to take my bones back. And they do, though eventually, don't they? But it's a reminder, 'You promised you would do this. Abraham left and came back. Isaac left and came back. Jacob left and came back.' And so the Israelites must return. Staying in the wilderness is not an option. They must press on. And Genesis is there to show them that that is the right choice.
And the same is true for us. We await a promised land, don't we? The same land or city that we're told Abraham was truly looking for in Hebrews 11, whose designer and builder is God. The heavenly country, the eternal city of Melchizedek, the priest-king, the king of peace, the king of righteousness, who mysteriously foreshadows Christ in Genesis as king of the earthly Jerusalem, just called Salem in those days, who, interestingly, shares bread and wine with Abraham. That's another interesting detail, isn't it? Just as they needed to press on to the promised land, so we need to press on to that new creation promised by Christ. The promises to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob find their fulfillment in Christ. And so, He is the one who can promise us a new Eden, a true Sabbath rest like the one foreshadowed on the seventh day in Genesis 2 when God rested.
Hebrews 4 speaks of us as having entered that rest by faith. So Hebrews 4:3 ESV, 'For we who believe enter that rest.' But we're also told, 'If you prefer, strive to enter it.' 'Let us strive, therefore, to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.' So we need to strive. We need to keep going to make it to the promised land. So that is Genesis in a nutshell. God using their history to show the Israelites that they were right to leave Egypt and to press on to the promised land, and reminding us that we're right to leave our old way of life and that we need to press on to take hold of the new Eden that God has promised us in Christ.