THE BOOK OF THE BEGINNING
Genesis is about Jesus: Jesus our Creator, Jesus our Sustainer, Jesus our Redeemer. Writing millennia after the Genesis text itself had been penned by Moses, and reaching back across those ages to the patriarch’s very words, the apostle John reveals Jesus in the Creation account: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1-4, NKJV).
What did John write here? “In the beginning” all things that were made, all things that once didn’t exist, came into existence — by Jesus. All creation — from galaxies hurling across the cosmos in staggering pinwheels of fire and light to the meticulous DNA woven miraculously into the cell to quantum waves — Jesus created and sustains it all. And the book of Genesis is the first story in Scripture of both this creation and the redemption of this creation. Here, in this book, is the world’s only “official” account of our origins.
The English word Genesis is derived from the Greek genesis, which means “beginning,” itself derived from the Hebrew bere’shit, “in the beginning” — the first word of the book (hence, the first word of the entire Bible!). Genesis gives us the foundation, the base, upon which all the following Scriptures rest. Because it is first, and so foundational to all that comes after, Genesis is probably the most quoted or referred to book in the rest of the Scriptures.
Genesis is important because it is the book that, more than any other work, anywhere, helps us understand just who we are as human beings, a truth especially important now, in a day when we humans are deemed as nothing but accidents, chance creations of a purely materialistic universe. Or, as one physicist put it, we humans are “organized mud,” (which is to some degree true, though for him the laws of nature alone organized it!). Genesis, however, reveals to us our true origin, that we are beings purposely and perfectly made in the image of God in a perfect world. Genesis also explains the Fall; that is, why our world is no longer perfect and why we as humans aren’t, as well. Genesis, however, also comforts us with God’s promise of salvation in a world that, in and of itself, offers us nothing but suffering and death.
With its dramatic stories of miracles (creation, births, rainbow) and judgments (the Flood, Sodom, and Gomorrah) witnessing to God’s holy presence, Genesis is awe-inspiring. But Genesis is also a book with moving human stories of love (Jacob and Rachel), of hatred (Jacob and Esau), of birth (Isaac, Jacob, Jacob’s sons), of death (Sarah, Rachel, Jacob, Joseph), of murder (Cain, Simeon, and Levi), and forgiveness (Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers). It is also an instruction book with lessons on ethics (Cain, Babel), on faith (Abraham, Jacob), and on the hope and promise of redemption (crushing of the serpent, Promised Land).
During this quarter, we will not only read and study the book of Genesis — we will enjoy its beautiful stories and learn to walk better with the Lord of Creation, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Meanwhile, the geographical movements of the book — from Eden to Babel, to the Promised Land, to Egypt, to the prospect of the Promised Land — remind us of our nomadic journeys and nurture our hope for the real Promised Land, the new heaven and the new earth. As we follow the various characters across the pages of Genesis, we will discover that — regardless of how different the time, place, culture, and circumstance — often their stories are, in many ways, ours, as well.
Jacques B. Doukhan, DHL, ThD, is emeritus professor of Hebrew and Old Testament exegesis in the SDA Theological Seminary, Andrews University.