The word Genesis means ‘beginning’, and the book of Genesis is the beginning of the Bible. It’s quite narrative in style for the most part, easy to read, and full of action. Genesis covers one of the longest periods of history of any book of the Bible: from the Creation up to the death of Joseph, the grandson of Abraham. It sets the scene for many key doctrines and many key people who will feature throughout the rest of the Bible.
Chapters 1-2: The Creation
Genesis 1 gives us the account of what God created on the six days of Creation: light on day one; water and sky on day two; land and vegetation on day three; the sun, moon and stars on day four; sea creatures and birds on day five; land animals and man on day six. Notice how often God declares ‘It was good’ (including twice on the third day, Tuesday – leading to this day being called ‘the day of double blessing’ and the tradition of Jewish weddings often being conducted on Tuesdays). God was pleased with His creation – not because of what it meant to Him, but because it was good for man. Man is the pinnacle of God’s creation, formed in the image of God and created to be in fellowship with Him. Genesis 2 gives us more detail about the creation of man and woman, and the instructions He gave man with respect to the trees of the Garden of Eden, which will appear again in chapter 3.
Chapter 3: The Fall
In the third chapter of the book, we come to the Fall of Man. Satan, manifested as a serpent, tempts Eve into eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – something that God had forbidden them from doing. Adam knowingly joins Eve in eating the fruit, and both of them experience separation from God for the first time because of their sin. Their fellowship with God was now broken, and a curse was now upon them. In uttering the curses upon the serpent, Adam, and Eve, we also see the first prophecy of a coming Messiah: “He will crush your [the serpent’s] head, and you will strike His heel” (Gen. 3:15).
Chapter 4-5: Pre-Flood
In chapter 4 we are introduced to the first generation of Adam and Eve’s descendants, namely their first two sons, Cain and Abel. Here we see an interesting thing introduced with little elaboration: namely, sacrificial offerings. Somehow (we aren’t told), Cain’s offering of grain was rejected, while Abel’s offering of a lamb was accepted. This led to Cain killing his brother out of jealousy, for which he was cursed by God and given a special mark of protection as he went out into the world as a nomad. We are then given a brief genealogy of Cain’s lineage – bearing in mind that at this early stage of the human race, there were no genetic mutations to speak of and so Cain was able to marry a sister or niece, as were the other people mentioned.
Similarly, chapter 5 contains a brief genealogy outlining the lineage from Adam to Noah, the next key figure in the book. There was a population explosion at that time, with many people living in excess of 900 years. One interesting figure we see mentioned briefly is Enoch, who, along with Elijah, was taken up into heaven without seeing death. In the latter stages of the New Testament, Jude refers to a quotation of Enoch’s prophecy concerning the second coming of Christ to judge the world. It would seem that the people living at this time still had a close connection with God.
Chapter 6-9: The Flood
The Flood of Noah was a cataclysmic event that changed the world dramatically from how it was created, to how we see it today. Before the Flood, the ‘firmament’ (the ‘expanse’ separating the waters above the earth from the waters on the earth, Gen. 1:7) maintained a temperate climate all over the world. It is thought that this acted as a protective atmospheric layer promoting the extreme longevity. The earth’s climate was completely different at the Creation; for instance, there was no rain, but the earth was watered by mist (Gen. 2:5-6). There are many thoughts as to why God brought the Flood to destroy everything on earth except for Noah and the people and animals with him in the ark. Firstly, we know that the earth was corrupt and society had largely turned away from God (Gen. 6:11-12). But we also see reference made to the ‘sons of God’ (a term used elsewhere in the Old Testament of angelic beings) marrying the ‘daughters of men’ and having children by them, an act which led to the Nephilim coming on the scene. Later, when the nation Israel first explored the land of Canaan, another group of Nephilim are seen, and described as gargantuan people (Num. 13:32-33). Therefore, another reason for the Flood may have been a cleansing of the gene pool of mankind from the influence of these Nephilim, whatever they were.
God instructs Noah to build an ark, and then He brings two of each kind of animal (and seven of every ‘clean’ animal) to be preserved through the Flood. After the Flood the world is greatly changed, and God makes a covenant with Noah, promising to never destroy the world by a flood again, and giving the sign of the rainbow as a reminder of this promise. He also establishes capital punishment as the penalty for murder, and instructs Noah and his family to multiple and fill the earth, as He had instructed Adam in the beginning.
Chapter 10-11: Post-Flood
Genesis 10 gives us a list of names of the descendants of the three sons of Noah (Shem, Ham, and Japheth). It is often called the table of nations, as the major people groups are mentioned. It is worth reading through these lists, as many of the names occur throughout the rest of the Bible.
In the first part of Genesis 11 we see the account of the Tower of Babel, which led to the development of different languages as God sought to bring confusion among the people building the tower, since it was an act of idolatry and rebellion against Him.
In the second part of Genesis 11 we have a continuation of the genealogy begun in ch. 5; this time, following the line from Shem the son of Noah down to Abram. Notice how the lifespans of each generation is dramatically shortened after the Flood compared to those before the Flood.
Chapter 12-23: Abram (Abraham)
In the latter stages of Genesis 11 we are introduced to Abram, a son of Terah, who lived in a city called Ur in the land of Chaldea. From this point on the narrative of the book becomes much more focused, particularly on four generations of men: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
Abraham is called the father of faith (Rom. 4:16). God called him to relocate from Ur to a land he would be shown. Abram obeyed, and when he reached the land of Canaan God made a covenant with him to give him the land. In fact, God made two distinct covenants with him: one concerning the land, and one concerning his descendants (Gen. 13:14-17, Gen. 15:4-5). These covenants become God’s basis for dealing with the children of Israel: they are unconditional promises, which God recalls time and time again in the Scriptures.
Along the way, we see other episodes in the life of Abram: the events surrounding his nephew, Lot (Gen. 13-14, 18-19), the events surrounding his concubine Hagar, and Ishmael, the son she bore to Abram (Gen. 16), the institution of circumcision by God as a sign of His covenant to make Abram the father of many nations, which came with a name change for Abram to become Abraham (Gen. 17), Abraham’s lapse in faith in his attempt to deceive Abimelech (Gen. 20), leading up to the birth of Isaac as the son God had promised (Gen. 21) and the death of Abraham’s wife Sarah (Gen. 23).
In Genesis 22 we see the well-known account of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. This event is deeply prophetic; if we don’t understand this it can warp our view of God. God does not condone human sacrifice, but here He was calling on Abraham to act out a prophecy. It is a prophecy of how another Father would have His only Son (see Gen. 22:2, noting that Isaac was not Abraham’s ‘only’ son) die on the same mountain. Abraham seems to know this, and acts in faith (see Gen. 22:8, Gen. 22:14, Heb. 11:17-19).
Chapter 24-27: Isaac
Only a few chapters are written about Isaac. Unlike his father Abraham and his son Jacob, Isaac apparently did not leave the land of Canaan in his lifetime. In Genesis 24 we see Abraham sending his chief servant back to his own family in the town of Nahor to find a suitable wife for Isaac. This leads to Isaac marrying Rebekah. To her was born twin sons, Jacob and Esau, accompanied by a prophecy that the two would be in conflict their whole lives (Gen. 25:23). In ch. 26 we see Isaac repeating the mistake of his father by trying to deceive a foreign king about the identity of his wife. And like his father, we also see God reaffirming the covenant He made (Gen. 26:24).
Genesis 27 contains the well-known account of how Isaac called his son Esau to go and hunt game so that he might prepare a meal and Isaac would pronounce his blessing upon him. Rebekah overhears and encourages Jacob to deceive his father and receive the blessing in Esau’s place. This is the second time Jacob had taken away from Esau the privilege of the firstborn: first it was the birthright (Gen. 25:29-34), now it was the father’s blessing. Yet God’s hand was upon this, for He had prophesied to Rebekah that ‘the older will serve the younger’ (Gen. 25:23), and the author of Hebrews noted that Isaac blessed Jacob by faith (Heb. 11:20).
Chapter 27-36: Jacob
After the incident with deceiving his father for his blessing, Jacob flees to get away from his brother Esau. He travels to Paddan Aram, and spent time with his uncle Laban. Along the way God appears to him in a dream and reaffirms the covenant He made with his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham, to give him the land of Canaan and to make him into a great nation (Gen. 28:13-15).
In Paddan Aram, Jacob meets his match in the deception stakes: he agrees to work for Laban for seven years in order to marry his daughter Rachel, but on the wedding day Laban gives him his older daughter Leah instead. Jacob works another seven years for Rachel, and a further six years for flocks and herds of his own (Gen. 31:41). During this time, his two wives and their two maidservants, who became Jacob’s concubines, bore twelve sons to him, who would go on to become the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. After twenty years with Laban, God tells Jacob to return to the land of Canaan (Gen. 31:3). When he is nearly there, he receives word that his brother Esau is coming. Thinking he is coming to attack him out of revenge for stealing his blessing, Jacob panics and prays to God. He makes preparation to protect his wives and children, but during the night an ‘angel of the Lord’ (who is apparently Jesus, before His incarnation – see Gen. 32:30) wrestles with him and wrenches his hip. He also pronounces a new name upon Jacob: Israel (Gen. 32:28). Instead of the deceiver (Jacob), he is now a prince with God (Israel). Jacob returns to Bethel, where his wife Rachel dies giving birth to his youngest son Benjamin (Gen. 35). In Genesis 36 we have a genealogy of Esau’s descendants. They would go on to become the nation of Edom, who feature throughout Israel’s history – as do the Ammonites and Moabites, who descended from Lot (Gen. 19:36-38). The blood relationship between these nations features prominently when Moses leads the children of Israel out of Egypt back into the land (Deut. 2:2-9) and in Bible prophecy (e.g. Dan. 11:41).
Chapter 37-50: Joseph
Joseph was the eldest son of Jacob’s favourite wife Rachel, and after her death giving birth to his brother Benjamin, Jacob showed favouritism towards him thta sparked jealousy among his brothers. One day the opportunity arose and they sold him as a slave while they were out keeping their father’s sheep (Gen. 37). But God’s hand was upon Joseph’s life, and he ended up as the head servant in the house of Potiphar, an Egyptian official. While he was there, he was falsely accused of rape and thrown in prison (Gen. 39). While in prison, Joseph had opportunity to interpret the dreams of a baker and cupbearer who were servants of Pharaoh (Gen. 40). This led to Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s own dreams, which concerned a seven-year famine that was imminent. Pharaoh was impressed and made Joseph his deputy (Gen. 41). In the course of time Joseph’s family back in Canaan were also affected by the famine, and Jacob sends his ten sons to Egypt to buy food, since under Joseph’s guidance they had been stockpiling grain in preparation. What happens next would make a great movie. Joseph gives them the grain, but warns them that next time they must bring their younger brother. He is testing them to know whether their attitude has changed towards the son whom their father favoured more than them. In ch. 44, when Joseph threatens to take Benjamin away, Judah offers himself in Benjamin’s place, so that his father’s heart would not be broken. At this, Joseph reveals himself to them as their long-lost brother. He instructs them to bring his father back to Egypt, where they would be provided for (Gen. 46-47). Joseph has two sons, who are adopted by Jacob as his own (Gen. 48). This is why in the rest of the Bible, when the ‘twelve tribes’ of Israel are mentioned, sometimes they include Levi and Joseph, and other times Levi is omitted (being the priestly tribe and forbidden to engage in warfare) and the two sons of Joseph are substituted instead. The book finishes with Jacob blessing each of his twelve sons, prophetically; and dying in Egypt.
There are many parallels between the life of Joseph and the life of Jesus. Indeed, the whole book of Genesis has many parallels with other aspects of the Bible: what begins in Genesis is completed in Revelation; the prophetic roleplay of Abraham in Gen. 22, and the life of Joseph are worthy of study in greater detail. Notice God’s unconditional grace given to people in the book of Genesis: although they failed from time to time, God reaffirms His promises to them. And He does the same with us.