What can we learn from the Book of Genesis? What in particular may we gain from this book? Here are 5 things we can learn from the Book of Genesis.
In the Beginning, God
The first lesson from the Book of Genesis is that from the beginning, actually before the beginning, there was only God (Gen 1:1; John 1:1-2). Theologian and author R.C. Sproul said that “If there ever was a time that absolutely nothing existed, all there could possibly be now is nothing.” God’s existence cannot be refuted by empirical knowledge. It is impossible to disprove His existence. Many will say that the burden of proof for His existence is on the believer but there is nowhere in the Bible that believers are told to defend the existence of God for the creation is evidence in itself that it had a beginning. What in the universe did not have a cause? For anyone to say categorically that, “There is no God,” is to make an absolute statement for which cannot be proved. The universe did not create itself and we know that there was a beginning in space and time for the universe. Without concrete evidence or proof, how can the atheist declare with absoluteness that there is no God? The Book of Romans says as much when Paul wrote “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Rom 1:19-23).
God’s Promises Are Certain
The story of Abram in Genesis 12 and his calling by God contains particular genre characteristics that are unique. The original context of his calling and obedience to go from his country, his kindred, and his father’s house resulted in blessings that had eternal implications. This royal grant-type of a covenant “is a golden thread stitching together the whole Scriptural fabric.”1 This thread is interwoven throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament (Gen. 12:1-3, 18:18, 22:18, 26:4, 28:15; Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:8). The covenant made to Abraham was unconditional and there are many such narratives in the Bible of this oft repeated covenantal promise throughout the Old and New Testament with a thematic promise “the just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11, Heb. 10:38). By Abram leaving his own nation of Ur, which was one of the most powerful and wealthy in the known world (Gen. 15:7) to become the father of nations and the one through whom all families (nations) would be blessed, clearly insinuated that this blessing would come through the Promised Seed, Jesus Christ (Gen 12:3).
The genre of Genesis 12 is in the narrative form beginning with a prologue (Gen. 11:31-32) which is embedded within an historical context (Gen. 12:1-3) and contains historical accounts (Gen. 11:27-30; 12:4-7). The irony is that the “father of the faithful” lies (in a half-truth) about his wife being his sister when he goes to Egypt to protect his own life (Gen. 12:10-20). This occurred right after God had just promised him, unconditionally, that he would be a father of a great nation (Gen. 12:2). Even though Abram knew that he was called to be the father of a great nation because of the covenantal promise given by God, he shows a lack of trust by trying to protect his life.
God’s sovereignty is displayed in Abram’s calling. This calling, like the effectual call of all believers, is that of election by grace (Eph 1). Abram never sought God but God sought Abram. This may be why Moses restated the promise of Abraham when the children of Israel came out of Egypt (Ex. 19:3-8). Israel was not called because they were the greatest in number or that they were the most prominent of nations (Duet 7:7). The account of Abram’s call and subsequent obedience to that call is frequently repeated in the Pentateuch and for the nation of Israel’s benefit however it is also written for the church today and is just as relevant for Christians today (1 Cor 10:6). Author and Bible critic Michael David Coogan, who has been a vocal critic of the book of Genesis and its associated historical accounts and of the individuals in this book, fails to mention the archeological evidence that has been unearthed that appear to prove that Abram(ham) actually did exist.3
Archeological Evidence for Genesis
I have already touched on the historical fact of the accounts of Abraham but there is also clear evidence that the Sumerian civilizations as described in Genesis chapter 12 did exist, contrary to the suggestion of some scholars to the contrary. Even the fact that Abram’s name was discovered on an Akkadian tablet dated 1554 B.C. does not assuage biblical critics. 4 Gleason Archer indicates archeological confirmation that in the first half of the second millennium that both Ur and Haran were flourishing cities and that the name Abram appeared in cuneiform records during that time period.5 This clearly refutes some scholars who question the fact that Abraham even existed while some go so far as to include not only “the individuals [but] the events described in Genesis.”6 Not only this, many Bible critics don’t believe in the God of the Bible and believe that “[t]he deity who reveals himself to Job is not the lord of history but a god of nature.”7 Several Bible critics not only deny the existence of God but also “[t]he ethnic and genealogical boundary of the people as a whole is deﬁned by descent from…Abraham.”8
The image of Abraham as a simple nomad of the Bedouin-type doesn’t match the reality of just how much he left behind in the city of Ur. Archeological evidence indicates that Ur was a magnificent city with spacious “two-storied private villas which had 10-14 room in each residence [and] had one of the highest standards of living in the civilized world [with] highly organizes city squares, exquisite shrines, brick-paved roads.9 The city of Ur was rich in documentations about the adjacent city-states that lie in the fertile crescent. Contained in these documents were the names of the leadership, provincial rules, and the names of prominent people and kings. Ur was strategically located in an area where “large caravans carried supplies to and from distant lands while ships carried precious cargos of trade to the known world holding copper and quarried stone and many of the world’s valuable goods and commodities.”10 Most students of the Bible may not realize the comfort and security that Abram and his family left and he left not knowing what exactly he would find (Heb 11:9). This is reminiscent of Moses who left the lap of luxury and the passing pleasures of sin to exit Egypt. What these men left is symbolic of what the believer leaves behind in the world; sin and pleasure (Heb 11:24-27).
Joseph: An Arch-Type of Jesus
The Old Testament contains prototypes or imagery of Jesus Christ throughout all thirty nine books. One example is the astonishing similarities between Jesus Christ and Joseph. Here are only a few examples:
Joseph was sold into slavery and betrayed by his brothers for twenty pieces of silver which was about the selling price of a slave in that day. Jesus was sold out and betrayed by His people, and one of His disciples, for thirty pieces of silver, the selling price of a slave in that day.
Joseph saved His people and nation from starvation, literally rescuing them from physical death. Jesus saved His people and nation and rescued them from eternal death.
Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife and yet without sin. Jesus was tempted by the devil and yet without sin.
Joseph was wrongfully charged and condemned without cause and was completely innocent of the charges. Jesus was wrongfully charged and condemned without a cause and was completely innocent of the charges.
Joseph becomes the perfect model of holiness and sanctification. Jesus was not only the perfect model of holiness and sanctification but He was perfectly holy.
Joseph’s life has a contemporary application to the believer today where we are told to flee temptation (2 Tim 2:22). Jesus, having the full measure of the Spirit, conquered every temptation. There are many more similarities between Joseph and Jesus that space will simply not allow but it would be nearly impossible for the reader to miss at least some of these similarities. Clearly, Joseph’s life as recorded in Genesis was symbolic of Jesus Christ.
Mankind Has Freewill
In the Garden of Eden, mankind chose for themselves to obey or disobey God. They chose to disobey by taking for themselves the right to make decisions without God. Having freewill does not mean being free to decide what is right and what is wrong but since they seem to know better than God, God has given mankind the fruits of their decision. Apart from God, mankind will chose to do good but also chose to do evil. Parents know this inherently about their children. Children have freewill and still choose to disobey even though they have been taught to obey. They didn’t have to learn how to disobey. Mankind is inherently choosing to do good but also to do wrong. Shortly after birth, children freely chose make their own decisions but they are not at the stage of human development to be able to choose what is best for them. If given the choice, children would almost always bypass a nutritious meal while splurging on sweets.
The idea that God predestines people to go to hell is contrary to what the Bible teaches. God did not make Adam and Eve disobey. They were given freewill and could freely make their own choices and when they chose to do whatever they thought was right, they choose for themselves the right to decide what is good and what is bad and mankind has been paying for it ever since. To believe that God sends someone to hell is to disregard what Jesus taught in John 3:16-18 where He said “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him [but] whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” God didn’t send Jesus into the world to condemn people but to save them but when people chose to not believe that is a choice to reject Him and they condemn themselves by their willful disbelief. Jesus didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery, instead He told her to go and sin no more. The hypocrisy of the religious leaders was in not bringing the man who was also caught in the act. Why didn’t they bring him too? Why wasn’t he brought before Jesus? God doesn’t send anyone to hell…they send themselves there by their rejecting the only way to heaven and the only means of forgiveness of sins (Acts 4:12; 16:30-31; Rom 10:9-13).
The Book of Genesis is still as relevant to readers today as it was during the time that it was written. To choose to reject Jesus as Savior is to choose to go one’s own way. By this disbelief, they willingly choose to be cut themselves off for all eternity from the God that wanted to save them because God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Pet 3:9) and so “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life [however] whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). Today, God has “set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Duet 30:19). To not choose is to actually refuse.
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want to Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon.
1 Andreas J. and Kostenberger and Richard D. Patterson. Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011), 180.
2 Gleason L. Archer. A Survey of Old Testament: Introduction. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 208.
3 Ibid., 99.
4 Ibid., 142.
6 Michael David Coogan. The Old Testament: A Very Short Introduction. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 115. Accessed January 23, 2014. EBSCO Host Library.
7 Ibid., p. 109.
8 Ronald S. Hendel. Remembering Abraham: Culture, Memory, and History in the Hebrew Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2005), 33.
9 Magnus Magnusson. Archeology of the Bible. (New York: Simon and Schuster Publishing, 1977), 34.
10 Denise-Renee Barberet. Abraham and Sarah. (Broomall: PA, Mason Crest Publishers, 2008), 28.