Digging Deep in the Torah: Genesis
For many years, I have spent time reading sections of the Old Testament as a story or hearing the same accounts of the Bible preached (Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, Joseph and his dream interpretations, the Ten Commandments, Moses in Egypt, Abram being called Abraham, Daniel in the lion’s den, Jacob’s twelve sons, etc). It was easy to see these accounts as isolated events that tell a good moral story about a good God and how to be better humans.
Over time, the more I regurgitated them or heard them from sermons in isolation, the more my heart became dry as if I was missing something deeply significant about the Sacred Scriptures. It has not helped to know culture also plays a notable role in the way Scripture is read. While the Tanakh (known today as the Old Testament) was written in the ancient Near East, our modern Western culture has the tendency to draw Christians away from understanding the Bible in its proper historical and cultural setting. In short, it personally feels like God’s word has been watered down, and we miss an enriching, sacred encounter with the Holy One. Instead of seeing His word as a collection of stories, I’m redirecting my mind to see it as one Grand Narrative of God restoring His original intention and redeeming humanity through Jesus the Messiah.
Consequently, I decided to go back to reading through the first five books of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) in depth because they are the central foundation or framework of the entire Bible. I recognize this study can only do so much—there is always something written not yet noticed by me as I read. Additionally, there is much I have to learn, so I eagerly welcome discussions about this and different perspectives. Finally, this study should be seen merely as a stepping stone to understanding the Torah or as a brief overview; I understand there will be many points I didn’t discuss, so this is to encourage the readers to study Genesis for themselves. May God be ultimately glorified.
The Overview of Genesis
The book of Genesis (also called the Bereshit in Hebrew) means “in the beginning” and is about the origins of the universe and humanity created by God. Genesis is about not only the beginning of creation but also why God intentionally created the universe, why He created humans in His image, the significance of humanity damaging that sacred image, the weight of sin, and His intentions of restoring His original plan.
There are many overlapping layers to the Book of Beginnings that are admittedly difficult for me to structurally set up. So here are some points I observed:
The core foundation: Genesis 1-3 serves as “the core” piece to understanding the entire Bible and “God’s ultimate intention for all creation and how He plans on achieving that aim” (1). Whenever we’re reading through books of the Bible, we have to make sure to keep this perspective in mind.
On creation and His intended purpose: The creation account tells the inhabitants that we belong to the Sovereign Creator and He delighted in all He had made (Genesis 1:31). We are not here by chance, we are here purposefully. We are meant to experience the fullness of God’s goodness through our relationship with Him, through our relationship with each other, and through our relationship with the earth.
The earth has multiple purposes: 1) to declare the praises of God (Psalm 66:4), 2) to showcase God’s power and divine nature (Romans 1:20; Psalm 19:1), and 3) to be humankind’s flourishing dwelling place and be subject to their rulership (Genesis 1:26b-28). Eden was humanity's Paradise.
God intended human beings to have an intimate relationship with Him and be His physical representatives over all the earth. In terms of relationship, He “walked [among Man] in the Garden in the cool of the day” (3:8). In the beginning, humans were immortal dwelling in Eden’s garden harmoniously with God. He was making His abode among humankind, causing heaven to permeate the earth and interlock with it. His space and our space connected. This is important to remember as God mentions this intention throughout the Bible (Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:38; Ezekiel 37:27; 2 Corinthians 6:16; John 1:14). In terms of being His physical representatives, our humanity is based on being made in the image of God. Our biological sex is sacred, for our maleness and femaleness serve as physical reflections of the invisible God–“male and female He created them in His image” (Genesis 1:26). We reflect Him by the way we have dominion and rulership over the earth and the way we encounter one another. We also see God’s intention for gender/sex (1:26; 2:18, 20-23), sexuality, and marriage (2:24-25). Genesis shows that being truly human is living our lives as image-bearers of God.
On the weight of sin: Adam and Eve’s disobedience serves as the catalyst to where we are today. The gravity of sin affects not only humans but all the earth (Genesis 3:17; Isaiah 24:5; Romans 8:20-22). Sin separated heaven and earth, and it separated God and humanity. It causes all things to miss the mark of God’s good intention; sin is the inversion of God’s created order and the dethroning of God: friendship becomes enmity, love becomes hatred, obedience becomes disobedience, life becomes death, truth becomes lies, peace comes conflict, life with God becomes life without Him, and humanity’s identity in the Holy One becomes marred so we self-affirm and craft our own identity.
Consider some damaging effects of sin once separated from God:
Death, physically and spiritually (Adam and Eve–thus all humanity)
The first murder (Genesis 4:8)
The first record of polygamy (4:23)
The potential for humanity to become continually monstrous (6:5, 11)
Humans trying to become God (11:2-4)
A city of debauchery, perversion, and homosexuality (19:1-9)
Sibling rivalry (Joseph and his brothers, Jacob and Esau, Cain and Abel)
Deception (27:34-36; 29:23-25)
Death by childbearing (35:16-19)
Human trafficking (37:25-28)
Sexual harassment (39:7-19)
Sin puts humanity and earth in bondage; it will only take the Almighty to rescue, restore, and redeem His creation. Though we see the continual mess that humans make, God remains consistently merciful, holy, good, just, and wonderful. He instituted a promise of restoration in the Garden that will slowly begin to unfold throughout Scripture.
God’s promise of restoration: God providentially works to bring about His promise of restoration. Providence means, “God working behind the scenes of human activity to bring about His will without violating human’s freedom of choice” (2). Though we will make choices for the benefit or detriment of our well-being, God will use every decision we make for the ultimate good. We see this in action throughout Genesis, but to give a few examples:
Adam and Eve made the decision to disobey God’s command, but He enacted His work of redemption by promising the Seed to triumph and restore the revolt that occurred in the Garden (3:15).
God called Abraham and made this promise: “In you all nations of the earth will be blessed” (12:5). The apostle Paul revealed that this was the gospel preached beforehand. The Lord has always planned to rescue and redeem His creation (Galatians 3:8). The covenant of promise was given.
Esau made the decision to give up his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25:29-34). Such poor choice caused Jacob to receive Isaac’s inheritance and blessing of the Abrahamic covenant (27:27-29). Though Esau gave up the precious inheritance, God would still work to bring about His plan of restoration, and He used the actions of the two brothers to do so. Jacob would become Israel, serving as the symbol and name of an entire nation of God’s chosen people later on in the Torah.
Shadows of the Messiah: We see shadows of the Messiah permeating the book of Genesis: Hagar and Sarah’s sons being shadows of the old covenant and new covenant (Galatians 4:21-31); the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision shadows the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11-13), and the first Adam serves as the image of old humanity while the second Adam, Christ, is the image of the restored, new humanity (Romans 5:12-14; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). The idea of the Messiah shadowing through Scripture ties into God providentially fulfilling His promise of restoration.
Overall, Genesis tells the Grand Story that we were intentionally created for deep, meaningful living; sin will not overcome keeping all of creation in bondage and in death, for the Almighty will achieve His purpose of renewing all things through the Promised Seed prophesied in Genesis 3:15. We'll see how this begins to set in motion in the next chapter of the Digging Deep series: Exodus.
Beale, G. K., & Gladd, B. L. (2020). The Story Retold: A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament. InterVarsity Press. P. 1.
This definition of providence was given by my former Bible professor, Bob Gregg, almost five years ago.