It is a real joy for me to lend my blog over the next few days once again to extracts from my friend Phil Moore’s new series of books that aim to get “Straight to the Heart” of the Bible’s message (available on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com). I have previously shared extracts from his other volumes which you can also read. I commended this series of books as follows:
Want to understand the Bible better? Don’t have the time or energy to read complicated commentaries? The book you have in your hand could be the answer. Allow Phil Moore to explain and then apply God’s message to your life. Think of this book as the Bible’s message distilled for everyone.
The Genesis and 1 &2 Corinthians volumes are both being launched in the UK this week, and the first three volumes are also about to be launched in the USA and Canada. I am therefore going to take another blog break and leave you with extracts from Phil Moore over the next few days:
STRAIGHT TO THE HEART OF GENESIS
INTRODUCTION: IT ALL BEGINS WITH GOD
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
“To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to remain a child always,” claimed the Roman orator Cicero. Perhaps that’s why Genesis is one of the most loved and hated books ever written. Genesis – the name is simply the Greek word for “Origins” – is the God-inspired history of the world from its inception, and right from the outset it was always controversial.
Jesus and the writers of the New Testament refer to Genesis and the other four books which make up the Pentateuch as “The Book of Moses”. 1 It contains facts which no human being could ever know, because Moses heard them from God personally during his eighty days and nights at the top of Mount Sinai.2 They were God’s way of turning a ‘childish’ rabble of Hebrew ex-slaves into a mature and obedient nation he could use. They are still the way he chooses to mature his People today.
Imagine what the book of Genesis must have done for the Hebrews. They had been born into slavery in Egypt under the pompous propaganda of the insecure Pharaohs. They had been brought up on the culture and stories of Egypt, and at times had even been tempted to worship Egypt’s gods themselves.3 They had been taught to address Pharaoh as “My Lord, my God, my Sun, the Sun in the sky,”4 and that the history of the world was really Egypt’s history. Then God gave them Genesis, which told a scandalously different story. It claimed that the world did not in fact revolve around Ra and the many other gods of Egypt. The universe began at the command of the only true God, Yahweh, the same God who had just delivered them from slavery. It urged them to distrust the lies they had heard from the mouths of their former slave-masters in Egypt, and to listen to God’s story of how they got where they were and why it mattered.
Part One of Genesis contains eleven chapters which describe the world’s earliest millennia. It doesn’t try to prove that God exists or even that he is the only true God. It simply begins with the four words “In the beginning God…”, and then tells us that the universe all began with him. He spoke and the world came to be. He breathed and the human race came to life. He warned them to remember that it all began with him, and provided them with one tree with which to submit to that fact and one tree through which they could try to resist it. When they chose the wrong tree and fell under sin’s judgment, God showed them that salvation all began with him too. Whether judgment at the Flood and at the building-site of Babel, or salvation in the ark and through the blood which he told them to shed on their altars, the message of Part One of Genesis is consistently the same: Everything begins with the true God, Yahweh.
Part Two of Genesis gets more controversial still.5 When God chooses a people to reflect his glory to the rest of the world, he does not choose the superpower nation of Egypt, but an obscure and unimpressive Mesopotamian herdsman. From chapters 12 to 50, Abraham and his descendants sin, deceive and show themselves utterly unworthy of the God who has chosen them, yet this simply serves to reinforce the same message. God did not choose to turn the Hebrew family into his Holy Nation because they were worthy or qualified. He did so to demonstrate his grace and mercy towards weak people who do not deserve it. From the calling of Abraham to the arrival of the seventy Hebrew founding fathers in Egypt, their remarkable blessing began with God alone.
This made the book of Genesis very good news for those Hebrew refugees at Mount Sinai. They had just crossed the Red Sea and could smell the sweet air of freedom, but they needed to look back if they were ever to move forward. They were in spiritual no-man’s-land, saved from the lies of Egypt but unsure of what was true, knowing that God had saved them but not altogether sure why. Genesis explained to them what their God was like and what was on his agenda for their lives and for the world. It was not merely the first of the books of Hebrew Scripture. It was the foundational book which helped turn them into a nation – strong and mature and ready for God’s purposes.
This also makes the book of Genesis very good news for you and me today. Don’t be put off by descriptions like the one in 13:10 that a patch of land was “like the land of Egypt as you come to Zoar.”6 Even though you probably do not know where Zoar was, let alone what it looked like, the book of Genesis is still very much your story. Paul told a group of Galatian Christians fifteen centuries after Genesis was written that “those who believe are the children of Abraham.”7 The ancient history, the family trees and the Middle Eastern adventures were “written down … for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come.”8 God still saves people from their spiritual ‘Egypt’, still leads them through the ‘desert’ of discipleship, and still brings them into his ‘Promised Land’ through the same book of Genesis. He uses it to teach us that the world began with him, that salvation begins with him, that our mission begins with him, and that our fruitfulness must begin with him too.
I have written this book to help you understand the timeless message of the book of Genesis. I want to unfold for you what Moses heard at Mount Sinai about God, about his purposes, about the universe and about yourself. Most of all, I want to help you to grow up into Christian maturity, because the story which began in Genesis has not yet reached its conclusion. I want to help you make a difference at your own stage in history by stepping out in faith that it all begins with God.