(The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio, 1590-1610; oil on canvas)

Genesis (which means “origin”) is a book about beginnings.  Most importantly, the book of Genesis details the creation of the earth, the start of humanity, the introduction of disharmony, and the initiation of God’s plan of salvation that would see its culmination in Jesus Christ.  In this sense it is one of the most important books in the whole of Scripture.  Genesis forms the foundation upon which the rest of the Bible stands and it is the backbone of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).  It is quoted 31 times in the New Testament (9 of which occur in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans).

If you’ve been keeping up with the chronological Bible reading plan, you have recently resumed reading Genesis, starting in chapter 12 with the call of Abram.  An overview of where we’ve been and where we’re headed might help orient you amidst all of the names, places, and plot developments in this rich historical book:

Where we’ve been:

  1. Genesis 1-2  God the Creator makes the world and everything in it
  2. Genesis 3:1-6:4  God judges sinners justly and establishes Himself as Savior of His people
  3. Genesis 6:5-11:9  God punishes rebellion and rewards repentance

Where we’re headed:

  1. Genesis 11:10-25:18  God covenants with His people and promises to bless them (He would make them a great nation [Israel] in a great land [Canaan] where they would be a blessing to the nations)
  2. Genesis 25:19-28:9  God provides for His people through faithfulness to His covenant promises
  3. Genesis 28:10-36:43  God elects and protects
  4. Genesis 37-50  God accomplishes His purposes despite man’s rebellion and disobedience

Genesis is a colorful and interesting story spanning roughly 2 millennia of history.  It is not intended to be an exhaustive record of everything that happened or exactly how it came to be.  Rather, Genesis is a story about God, the problem of sin, and God’s solution to that problem – an unfolding plan of redemption through a particular family (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph).  The author was Moses and the audience was the people of Israel after their exodus from Egypt (about 1445 B.C.).  The context of the primary audience is important in considering the key themes that thread throughout the book (nation, land, blessing, covenant, obedience, and worship to name a few).

Something that will be helpful to keep in mind as you read: anytime one of the leaders of God’s people acts foolishly, selfishly, or disobediently (e.g. Abraham concealing Sarai’s identity in Egypt in Genesis 12:10-20) the reader should identify with him/her.  In other words, in Scripture, when a follower of God screws up, the reader should read from the perspective of the guilty party (rather than God who is righteous).  At times it can be easy to assume the place of judge against the follies and waywardness of the Bible’s main characters, but only God is Judge.  The reader never escapes the lessons of Scripture – and Genesis is full of them.  I hope you find the journey rich and compelling.


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