Since the book of Genesis is considered as one of the five volume books in the Pentateuch, the immediate recipients of this book were the Israelites in the generation of the Exodus. But the writer of the book of Deuteronomy mentioned that God made His covenant not only with those who were present before Him that day—“[their] leaders and [their] tribes] and [their] elders and [their] officers, all the men of Israel, [their] little ones and [their] wives...also the stranger who [was] in [their] camp” (Deut 29:10-11)—but also with those who were not present that day as well (Deut 29:14-15)—mainly “the coming generation of [their] children who [would] rise up after [them], and the foreigner who [would come] from a far land” (Deut 29:22). Hence, the recipients also include the future descendants of the seed of Abraham through faith in Christ Jesus, according to the apostle Paul (Gal 3:26-29).
The writer of the book of
The writer of the book of Genesis used the phrase “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” as the first sentence of his book (Gen 1:1). The writer’s emphasis on the word “beginning” reflected the purpose of the book. Through the highlight, not only did the writer show the beginning of the historical narrative of the origin of God’s creation but he also revealed the beginning of the narrative of the personal and intimate relationship between God and His people.
The book was written in a historical narrative, recounting the creation of the heavens and the earth and of mankind. Furthermore, the book was uniquely divided and marked by several “genealogies” and each of the genealogies focused on the life story, the struggles, the hopes and the faith of the character. Lastly, the final part of the book used similar key phrases such as “the servants of Pharaoh,” “go up” and “God will surely visit you and bring you out” to project its transition to the next book of the Pentateuch, Exodus.
“...I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (28:13-14).
“...God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (50:24).
The entire book of Genesis can be divided into several sections of “histories” or “genealogies.” Depending on the writer’s focus, the length of each of those sections varies with each section directing the readers to a specific historical event or a lineage of one’s character.
The entire book consists of 11 separate sections based on the indication of the word “history” or “genealogy”:
- The beginning (Gen 1:1-2:3): The creation narrative; The creation of man and woman.
- The history of the heavens and the earth (2:4–4:26): The temptation and the fall of man; the first murder; the legacy of Cain.
- The genealogy of Adam (5:1–6:8): The legacy of Seth; the wickedness of man; the righteousness of Noah.
- The genealogy of Noah (6:9–9:29): The Ark and the Great Flood; the rainbow-covenant; the curse and blessing of Noah.
- The genealogy of the sons of Noah (10:1–11:9): The descendants of Noah; the Tower of Babel.
- The genealogy of Shem (11:10–26): The list of Shem’s descendants.
- The genealogy of Terah (11:27–25:11): The calling of Abram; the promise of God to Abram; the rescue of Lot and king Melchizedek; the covenant of God with Abram; the maidservant and her son; the intercession and the judgment of Sodom; the birth of the promised son and the departure of the maidservant and her son; the test of Abraham; the death of Sarah and the bride for Isaac; the death of Abraham.
- The genealogy of Ishmael (25:12–18): The sons of Ishmael and their generations.
- The genealogy of Isaac (25:19–35:29): The selling of Esau’s birthright; the deceit of Jacob; the vow of Jacob at Bethel; the marriage of Jacob; the escape of Jacob; the wrestling between God with Jacob; the meeting of Esau and Jacob; the violation of Dinah; the return to Bethel and the death of Rachel.
- The genealogy of Esau (36:1–37:1): The sons of Esau; the kings and the chiefs of the Edomites.
- The history of Jacob (37:2–50:26): The selling of Joseph to Egypt; the righteousness of Tamar; the temptation of Joseph; the interpretation of dreams; the coming of Joseph’s brothers; the journey of Jacob and his households to Egypt; the blessings and the last words of Jacob; the death of Jacob and the death of Joseph.
God’s goodness in His Creation
The writer of the book of Genesis began with the historical narrative of the creation of the heavens and the earth. And God saw that His creation “was good” (1:10, 12, 18, 25). The Lord proceeded with the creation of man, the one whom He created in His own image (1:26). After He finished “everything that He had made,” God saw that “it was very good” (1:31). Through the creation-prologue, the writer emphasized the goodness of God’s every creation before sin entered the world.
Sin and Redemption
The theme of “sin and redemption” is evident during the early sections of the book. Although man and his wife disobeyed God’s command (3:6-11) and they were judged because of it (3:16-19), the Lord made them “tunics of skin, and clothed them” (3:21). After the fall, the writer also highlighted the sinful desire of man through the example of Cain (4:6-7). Towards the end of the book, the concept of “sin and redemption” was reiterated again. The brothers of Joseph were guilty of their sin and evil against Joseph and they wanted to redeem their guilt by willingly offering themselves to be the servants of Joseph (50:17-18).
Wickedness and Judgment
The keyword “wickedness” was also underlined in the fourth section of the book. The disobedience of mankind was explored through their wickedness and their continual evil intentions of the thoughts of their hearts (6:5) and their violence and corruption (6:11-12). Thus, the Lord brought upon His judgment to mankind and all living things “in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life” (7:22). The wickedness of mankind was also portrayed through the men of Sodom (18:20-21, 19:6-7) who tried to assault the two angels of God (19:1, 4-5). After saving Lot and his family, the Lord judged the outcry of the Sodomites’ grievous sin by overthrowing the cities and “all the inhabitants of the cities” (19:25). Through those examples, the writer of the book revealed that God would surely judge those who were wicked and evil.
Righteousness and Faith
While the writer narrated the wickedness of mankind, he also recorded the righteousness and the faith of God’s people. Just as “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (6:5), He found Noah just and “perfect in his [violent and corrupted] generations” (6:9, 11). Noah believed the warning of the Lord and “did [the floodwaters-ark] according to all that God commanded him” (6:14-17, 22). Furthermore, the theme of righteousness and faith was seen in the example of Abraham. Even in his childless condition, Abraham still “believed in the LORD” (15:6) when the Lord promised him that his heir “[would] come from [his] own body” and that his descendants would be like the stars in heaven (15:4-5). The LORD “accounted it to him for righteousness” (15:6). Lastly, righteousness and faith was also expressed in the example of Judah and Tamar. In his confession, Judah acknowledged that “Tamar [had] been more righteous than [he]” by faithfully waiting to raise up an heir for her husband through the lineage of Judah (38:6-11, 25-26). Throughout the book, the writer described that one’s righteousness must go hand in hand with one’s faith and one’s belief in God’s words would be accounted as righteousness by God.
Anger and Vengeance
Moreover, the writer also pointed out “anger and vengeance” as one of the themes in the book. In the early section of the book, the writer narrated the story of Cain who was angry at his brother, Abel, because of Abel’s accepted offering by the LORD (4:4). His burning anger caused Cain to sin and to take vengeance of the rejected offering by killing his brother (4:6-8). In addition, the writer recounted the story of the sons of Jacob who were “very angry” at Shechem for violating Dinah, their sister (34:2-7). Ruled by their anger, the sons of Jacob “spoke deceitfully,” tricked them and “came boldly upon the city and killed all the males” of the city of Shechem (34:13-25). Through the historical narrative, the writer exposed the examples of the people who were ruled by their anger and took vengeance and did evil things out of their burning wrath.
Hatred and Forgiveness
The theme of “hatred and forgiveness” can be found throughout the book. The writer recounted how Esau hated Jacob “because of the blessing with which his father blessed him” (27:41). But many years later, instead of fulfilling his intention to kill Jacob as he had planned (27:41), Esau embraced Jacob, “fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (33:4). Apart from Esau’s hatred, the writer also mentioned about the hatred of Joseph’s brothers toward Joseph (37:4, 8) which caused the selling of Joseph to Egypt (37:36). But when they met again years after, Joseph comforted the brothers about their guilt (45:5-7) and reassured his forgiveness toward the evil which they had meant for Joseph (50:17-21). Not only did the writer portray hatred as part of mankind’s sinful nature and jealousy against each other, but he also depicted forgiveness as a strength of mankind’s godly nature throughout the narrative of the book of Genesis.
Furthermore, the writer emphasized the concept of “covenant” of God throughout the book. After God’s judgment upon the evil of mankind through the Great Flood, the LORD established His rainbow-covenant with Noah and his descendants after him and “with every living creature” that “never again [should] all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood” (9:9-13). Later, the writer mentioned another covenant of God in the middle section of the book. To Abraham, the LORD established His covenant, promising him and his descendants the land of Canaan—the land of promise (15:18) “as an everlasting possession” (17:8)—and promising him to be “a father of many nations” (17:2-8). Throughout the book, the mentioned covenant and its promise was passed on from generations to generations—Abraham to Isaac (24:7), Isaac to Jacob, Jacob to Joseph (48:3-4) and Joseph to the children of Israel (50:24-25)—even to the generations of the book of Exodus to Deuteronomy.
Throughout the book from the beginning to the end of all sections, the theme of “God’s blessing” to His people was dominant. In the early section of God’s creation, not only did the LORD bless the creatures of the earth but He also blessed mankind—male and female (1:22, 28). After the Great Flood, the LORD blessed Noah and his sons to be “fruitful” (9:1), similar to Adam and Eve’s blessing. When God called out Abram, He blessed him (12:2) and later He also emphasized in His blessing to Abram that “in [Abram’s] seed all the nations of the earth [would] be blessed” because of his obedience to God’s words (22:17-18). In addition, the writer of the book underlined that after the death of Abraham, “God blessed his son Isaac” (25:11, 26:3, 24). Later, Isaac passed on the blessing of God to his son, Jacob, giving him “the blessing of Abraham” to him and his descendants with him (28:1-4). In his life journey, not only did God blessed Jacob (32:26, 29, 35:9) but He also blessed Leah, his wife (30:13), and Laban, his father-in-law (Gen 30:27). Toward the end of the last section of the book, the blessing of God was also outpoured to the people around His chosen one. The writer emphasized how Potiphar and his house were blessed by the LORD “for Joseph’s sake” (39:5). At the end of the section, the writer continued how Jacob passed on God’s blessing to his twelve sons, “each one according to his own blessing” (49:28). In the book, the writer was describing how the LORD had continued to bless from the beginning of creation to the period of the forefathers; and His blessing would be carried on to the next generations of His people in the book of Exodus.
The writer’s historical narrative of the creation account in the book serves as a lesson for present-day christians. Through the emphasis that man was created in the image of God, according to God’s likeness (1:26-27), we are reminded that as followers of Christ we ought to direct our words, thoughts and conduct into His likeness and put off the sinful deeds of the flesh (Col 3:5-9; Eph 4:25-32).
Throughout the book, the writer described various examples of human sinful nature: from the anger of Cain that led to the murder of Abel (4:6-8), the evil intent of the thoughts of mankind’s heart (6:5), the selfishness of Lot who “chose for himself all the plain of Jordan” (13:11), the decision of Abraham to follow his own way in obtaining an heir instead of following God’s way (16:1-6), the deceit of Jacob to obtain the blessing from Isaac (27:35), the anger of the sons of Jacob which led to the murder of all the males of the Shechemites (34:25) to the hatred of Joseph’s brothers that led them to sell their brother and lied to their father (37:4, 8, 27, 31-32). All these examples remind us that if we fulfill the lust of the flesh, we will fall into the works of the flesh described by the apostle Paul in his letter, such as: “hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions…envy, murders” (Gal 5:19-21). And the apostle Paul warned the Galatians that one who continually “practice[s] such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21).
Hence, the above examples teach us that wickedness and evil will eventually be judged by the LORD. The writer of the book of Genesis stressed the example of Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities that were overthrown by God’s brimstone and fire because of their sin (19:1-29; Lk 17:29). Similarly, the event of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah who had suffered “the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 7) will serve as “an example to those who afterward [will] live ungodly” (2 Pet 2:6).
Apart from mankind’s wickedness and evil intents, the writer also depicted the godly nature of mankind throughout the book. The examples are as follows: the just and perfect Noah among the violent and corrupted generations (6:9-12), the obedience of Abram in following God’s words (12:1-4), the faith of Abram in believing the promise of God (15:1-6), the patience and gentleness of Isaac in facing the quarrel of the herdsmen of Gerar (26:19-22), and the love and forgiveness of Joseph toward his brothers who had done evil and sinful things against him (50:17-21). These examples teach us to pursue godly virtues such as “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (1 Tim 6:11) for the benefit of our walk of faith, laying hold “on eternal life” (1 Tim 6:12).
In addition, the writer of the book narrated different examples between mankind’s lineages who continued to call on the name of the LORD and the ones who decided to follow their own ambition and desire. The writer described the comparison of those two different examples, such as: The family of Cain (4:16-24) versus the descendants of Seth (4:25-5:32), the choice of Lot (13:10-13) versus the choice of Abram (13:14-17), the son of the flesh, Ishmael (16:1-5, 25:12-18), versus the promised son, Isaac (21:1-7, 9-10, 25:19-28), and the despiser of the right of firstborn, Esau (25:30-34), versus the pursuer of the right of firstborn, Jacob (27:24-29, 36). These contrasts serve as a lesson for us about our faithfulness toward God. While pursuing our self-ambition and satisfying our sinful desire will distance us from God and will lead us to death (Rom 6:20-21), calling on the name of the LORD and faithfully following His commands will lead us to “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:22-23).
Lastly, the writer of the book did narrate that the LORD Himself established His covenant with those who were faithful to Him. Throughout the book, the writer expounded how God passed on His everlasting covenant—the land of promise (15:18) “as an everlasting possession” (17:8)—from generations to generations—Abraham to Isaac (24:7), Isaac to Jacob, Jacob to Joseph (48:3-4) and Joseph to the children of Israel (50:24-25)—even to the generations of the book of Exodus to Deuteronomy. Today, the covenant of God is still passed on to the people who call on the name of the LORD. While the land of promise now refers to the city “whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11:9-10), the descendants of Abraham refers to the seed of Abraham—the children of God who have attained righteousness by faith in Christ Jesus (Rom 9:6-8, 30). Therefore, the central message of the book of Genesis has been passed on to us. Just as the forefathers in the book of Genesis had faithfully held on to the promise of an everlasting possession—the city of God; we, as the seed of Abraham by faith in Christ Jesus, ought to faithfully cling on to the promise of the city of God, the New Jerusalem (Rev 3:12).
Map & Chart
Survey of Genesis