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The Beginning of the Beginnings

• Daniel Baker

Posted in Bible, Sermons

The beginning of everything except God himself is found in this book we call “Genesis.” It is at once thrilling and intimidating to dive into this book, for “the truth—and this may sound shocking—is that almost every important church doctrine is found in ‘seed’ form in the book of Genesis.”[1]

The title of the book is a word that has come to mean “origin” or “source” in English just because of this Old Testament book. It was called genesis in the Greek Old Testament, because the word is found in key places throughout the book (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; etc.). The Hebrew Old Testament referred to this book by its first word, “in-the-beginning.” Both are fitting. As Bruce Waltke says, “this book deals with beginnings and origins,...of the cosmos (1:1–2:3), of humanity (2:4–11:32),...and of Israel (12:1–50:26), God’s new initiative to save the world.”[2]

This Sunday we begin our sermon series in Genesis. The whole sermon schedule is here. To prepare for it, try and read Genesis this fall. And as you do, consider these five ways to read it (and don't miss the last point about "The History of Redemption"):

1. Read Genesis in Light of Your Walk with God.

Before we get to other matters, it’s good to start with the basics. Genesis is “breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16) and is the very word of God (Matt 19:4–5). That means in a real way it’s like God speaking directly to you. As he speaks he’s revealing himself to you and essential truth about yourself. Read Genesis well, but also read it personally. 

2. Read Genesis in Light of Genesis Itself.

First is to read Genesis like you would read any individual book—as a complete book and not some strange conglomeration of historic fragments. It has a powerful unity that reveals both the great abilities of its human author and the glory of its Divine Author.

The "Toledot" Formula

Genesis has a unique organization in that it has a prologue (1:1–2:3) followed by ten "books" that are marked off by the phrase, "These are the generations of" (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1; 37:2). Think of these as chapter headings in the book. One interesting thing with this is that 11:27 speaks of "the generations of Terah," and this is actually where Abraham's narrative is contained. The word "generations" in the Greek Old Testament is genesis, and thus the name we've attached to the book.

Genesis 1–11 and 12–50

But as a book there's also a division between chapters 1–11 and 12–50 (technically it's 1:1–11:26 and 11:27–50:26). Chapters 1–11 takes us from creation to Babel (so much humanity being all about "progress" and "evolution"). Chapters 12–50 concern Abraham and his progeny. The cosmic history is followed by the history of all nations, but then Genesis narrows down to the history of a single people, Israel. That's where Abraham fits in. At the end of the book this single man Abraham is now a sizable clan of 70 people—in Egypt with Joseph second in command only to Pharaoh. Egypt? Yes. We sometimes overlook this fact, but in terms of God's promises this is a problem. God's people were promised Canaan, not Egypt (Gen 12:5–7). This leads to the next way to read Genesis.

3. Read Genesis in Light of the Pentateuch.

Genesis is written as part of a collection and not an individual work. It's within the first of five books of the Bible or the Pentateuch (which just means “five books”). These are the five books of Moses found in the beginning of our Bibles: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. They are sometimes referred to by the Hebrew word torah, which means “law” or “instruction,” because one of the most important parts of the Pentateuch is “the law (torah) of Moses”—all those commandments like the ones found in the Ten Commands in Exodus 20.

Moses the Author

These books are all written by Moses, which is clear from the Pentateuch (Exod 24:4; Deut 31:9, 22, 24), the Old Testament (Ezra 6:18; Daniel 9:11), Jesus (Matt 19:7–8; Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:46), and the rest of the New Testament (Acts 3:22; 15:21; Rom 10:5, 19). There are a few place names and editorial comments here and there, which might reveal the work of a later editor(s) as well (compare Gen 14:14 and Judges 18:29), but all five books are fundamentally the work by one of the central human figures in the Pentateuch itself, Moses.

Moses is uniquely prepared to write the Pentateuch, being an Israelite but also one raised in the court of Pharaoh and educated in the myths and literature and legal sophistication of the Egyptians. This is why he can write with a beauty and complexity that is stunning at every level. When we read the exalted prose of Genesis 1, the dramatic telling of the flood (Gen 6–9), and the careful detail of the law of Moses (Exod 20–24), we recognize that God has not only inspired the words of this man, but he also prepared him for this sacred task.

How to Read Genesis 1–2

When you read Genesis with the Pentateuch in view, you get clear help on how to read Genesis 1–2. For instance, we learn about how long the "days" of creation were and what actually happened on those "days." Passages like Exodus 20:11 and 31:16–17 tell us that "in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth." In other words, Genesis 1:1–31 takes place within the span of "six days" that are just as long as the six days we are to work in a given week. And it's obvious the history begun in Genesis 1–2 continues seamlessly into the rest of the Pentateuch's history. Thus, there's no sense that we interpret the opening chapters any differently than we interpret how God delivered Israel from Egypt or the giving of the law in Exodus 20. We read these accounts as factual and true history—loaded with aesthetic beauty and profound theology, yes, but also factual and true history.

The Promises to Abraham

One of the most important connections between Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch has to do with the promises made to Abraham and the covenant made with him (Gen 12:1–3; 15; 17:1–14). There are three key promises made to Abraham: a land, a great nation, and that he will bless all nations. Later there's a promise that "kings shall come from you" (17:6). Throughout the Pentateuch there are references to “the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Deut 30:20; cf. Exod 6:8; Lev 26:42; Num 32:11). The growth of Abraham as a "great nation" continues throughout the Pentateuch as well, such that they become 601,730 men (plus another 23,000 Levites and all the women and children for all twelve tribes) in the census in Numbers 26. Deuteronomy is a final commissioning to the Israelites before they enter Canaan (in Joshua). 

In other words, the promises made to Abraham in Genesis 12:1–3 are progressively being fulfilled until we get to the end of Deuteronomy. The Pentateuch is giving us one sustained historical narrative. "The great nation" is just about to enter "the promised land," as God said they would.

But the reverberations begun in Genesis don’t end with Deuteronomy. They continue throughout the Old Testament.

4. Read Genesis in Light of the Old Testament.

There are different orders of Old Testament books in the various Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament. But in all of them, Genesis and the Pentateuch are first.[3] It was always clear that Genesis set the stage not just for the Pentateuch but for everything that followed. I’ll mention a few of the ways this is true.

God the Creator

God in Genesis 1–2 is the Creator of "the heavens and the earth," and often that's how he's identified in the Old Testament. The title sets him apart from all the false gods and pretenders who bear the name of “god”: “All the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD (Yahweh) made the heavens” (1 Chr 16:26). As the Creator of all things he is worthy of our trust: “My help comes from the LORD (Yahweh), who made heaven and earth” (Ps 121). Israel's God, Yahweh, is no territorial god but the living and very God who created all things. 

Israel’s Enemies

Israel’s historic foes appear in Genesis and set the stage for millennia of conflict. In the Table of Nations, Noah’s son Ham is the great ancestor to Egypt, Canaan, Babylon, Assyria, and even the city of Nineveh (Gen 10:6–11). Casluhim is identified as the one “from whom the Philistines came” (Gen 10:14).

But it's those promises to Abraham we mentioned above where Genesis really sets the stage for the entire Old Testament storyline.

The Promise of the Land

We noted above the significance of the “land” promise in the Pentateuch, God saying he would give the Israelites the land of Canaan (Gen 12:1, 5–7). Joshua records the occupation of the land, and then follows the period of the judges (Gideon, Samson, etc.) when Israel occupied the land but did not look like any kind of model for the surrounding nations (Judges, Ruth). Eventually the monarchy would arise and establish Israel in the land in a very new way. Yet, sin’s shadow was always lurking and the monarchy would not endure (1–2 Samuel, 1–2 Kings, 1–2 Chronicles). Israel would be taken from the land into Babylon for seventy years, returning to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple (Daniel, Ezra–Nehemiah, Esther). They remained in the land until Christ himself walked in the very places promised to Abraham almost two thousand years earlier.

The Promise of a Great Nation

God promises to Abraham that he would make him “a great nation” (Gen 12:2). The rest of the Old Testament will tell the history of this nation in all its rising and falling, captivities and deliverances. Where other peoples come and go on the world's stage, Israel remains to such an extent that Christ is unmistakably a Jew and Paul can say, “I myself am an Israelite” (Rom 11:1).

The Promise that Kings Shall Come

God promises to Abraham in Genesis 17 that, “Kings shall come from you” (Gen 17:6). This promise would take almost a thousand years to be fulfilled, but eventually it would come true dramatically. Most importantly it would be fulfilled by David and then his heir to the throne, Christ himself. Of Christ it is said, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah [fulfilling Genesis 49:9–10!], the Root of David, has conquered!” (Rev 5:5).

The Promise of Abraham Blessing the Nations

But there’s another promise made to Abraham that is fulfilled in the Old Testament in small ways but then exploding globally in the New Testament: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3); “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen 22:18).

Through Abraham, God’s blessings would rain down on all nations and not simply the Israelites—Joseph blessing Pharaoh, Daniel blessing Nebuchadnezzar, Ruth the Moabitess being in the line of David, Rahab from Jericho marrying into that same family tree. But in the New Testament we’ll see it go truly global as the church expands after Pentecost. Ultimately, God’s redemptive work will extend to “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev 7:9).

Covenant with Abraham

These promises are part of the covenant with Abraham, the covenant inaugurated formally in Genesis 15 and 17:1–14, the covenant sealed by the sign of circumcision. When God established his covenant with Abraham, this forever connected him to his people: “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (Gen 17:7). This promise isn’t fulfilled in all Abraham’s  mere physical descendants, but only in his spiritual descendants. Paul alludes to these spiritual descendants when he speaks of being a Jew “inwardly” and not just “outwardly” (Rom 2:28–29). After this covenant and then the restatements of it with Isaac and Jacob, God will often be called “the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob” (1 Kings 18:36; 1 Chr 19:18).

There’s so much more we could say here, but let’s turn to the last way we want to read Genesis.

5. Read Genesis in Light of the New Testament.

When we consider Genesis in light of the New Testament, once again we are stunned by the number of connections. I can only mention a few.

The Creator

God the Creator in Genesis 1–2 is referred to in the New Testament as the one who “created all things” (Rev 4:11). We’ll also learn of role that the Son of God played in the creation (John 1:1–3; Col 1:16).

The Protoevangelium

When the Lord speaks to the serpent in Genesis 3 after the fall he says, “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” (Gen 3:15). This is often called the protoevangelium, “the first gospel,” since “the offspring” of the woman in view here is Christ. It is through Christ that the Serpent, Satan himself, is finally crushed. And because we are in Christ, we, too, are part of “the offspring” who will triumph over the devil (Rom 16:20).

Federal Headship of Adam/Christ

God established that Adam’s decision to obey or disobey would impact all of humanity. He is the “federal head,” the representative of all humanity, in this role. But he’s more than simply a representative. We are actually “in Adam” as descendants of this one man: “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). Did you catch that? It’s not just that Adam sinned but that when he sinned we “all sinned.”

This union with Adam is parallel to our union with Christ: “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22). My union with Adam is because I’m a person. My union with Christ is because God has regenerated me through his Spirit and I have responded in faith.

Jesus as Son of Abraham

When we consider Abraham, we realize the massive importance of Genesis. Jesus is introduced in the first verse of our New Testament as “Son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1). He is the “offspring” of Abraham who will enable Abraham to bless all nations (Gen 22:18; Gal 3:14). And because of Christ, we, too, are recipients of this blessing: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29). As a Christian, I’m not just a child of God, but I’m also a “child of Abraham.”

New Heaven and New Earth

To pick one more theme, we’ll turn to the last chapters of our Bible. In Revelation 21–22 there are many echoes of Genesis 1–2. John sees first “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev 21:1). And then skipping ahead to the next chapter, “the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (Rev 22:1-2).

In other words, that paradise we see in the beginning of our Bibles is not just our starting point as people made in the image of God. Through the great redemption accomplished in Christ, it’s also our final destination, only this time it’s a paradise never to be lost through sin and one even greater than the original.

The History of Redemption

When you see Genesis in light of these different perspectives you begin to understand your Bible at a whole new level. Suddenly you see this collection of books from Genesis to Revelation is not a random assortment of stories about unrelated people, but a single over-arching story that reveals God's plan of redemption as it's being accomplished in a history he is sovereignly directing. It is a redemption accomplished through Jesus Christ, the serpent-crushing "seed" promised to Eve (Gen 3:15) who is also the "seed" promised to Abraham who would bless all the nations (Gen 22:18). History is not just unfolding as somewhat random causes and effects but is like a river with a source and a destination. History is going somewhere. It's going toward the fulfilment of God's great plan of redemption. He is creating a people for himself who will live forever with him in the enjoyment of all his great promises: 

And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. (Gen 17:7)
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:3-4)


So, yes, there’s a lot in Genesis! May its message and the God it reveals transform you forever.


[1] John Currid, Genesis Volume 1, EP Study Commentary (Leyland, England: EP, 2015), 15–16.

[2] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan, 2001), 17.

[3] Andreas J. Köstenberger and Gregory Goswell, Biblical Theology: A Canonical, Thematic, & Ethical Approach (Wheaton: Crossway, 2023), 83.

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