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Introduction to Genesis




The book of Genesis is the great book of beginnings in the Bible. True to the meanings of its Hebrew and Greek names (Hb bere’shith, “In Beginning” [based on 1:1]; Gk Geneseos, “Of Birth” [based on 2:4]), Genesis permits us to view the beginning of a multitude of realities that shape our daily existence: the creation of the universe and the planet earth; the origins of plant and animal life; and the origins of human beings, marriage, families, nations, industry, artistic expression, religious ritual, prophecy, sin, law, crime, conflict, punishment, and death.

A caravan of camels casts a long shadow in the desert.

A caravan of camels casts a long shadow in the desert.


AUTHOR: Since pre-Christian times authorship of the Torah, the five books that include the book of Genesis, has been attributed to Moses, an enormously influential Israelite leader from the second millennium bc with an aristocratic Egyptian background. Even though Genesis is technically anonymous, both the Old and New Testaments unanimously recognize Moses as the Torah’s author (Jos 8:35; 23:6; 1Kg 2:3; 8:9; 2Kg 14:6; 23:25; 2Ch 23:18; 25:4; 30:16; 34:14; 35:12; Ezr 3:2; 6:18; Neh 8:1; 9:14; Dn 9:11,13; Mal 4:4; Mk 12:19,26; Lk 2:22; 20:28; 24:44; Jn 1:17,45; 7:19; Ac 13:39; 15:21; 28:23; Rm 10:5; 1Co 9:9; Heb 10:28). At the same time, evidence in Genesis suggests that minor editorial changes dating to ancient times have been inserted into the text. Examples include the mention of “Dan” (14:14), a city that was not named until the days of the judges (Jdg 18:29), and the use of a phrase that assumed the existence of Israelite kings (Gn 36:31).

BACKGROUND: The Torah (a Hebrew term for “law” or “instruction”) was seen as one unit until at least the second century bc. Sometime prior to the birth of Christ, the Torah was divided into five separate books, later referred to as the Pentateuch (literally, five vessels). Genesis, the first book of the Torah, provides both the universal history of humankind and the patriarchal history of the nation of Israel. The first section (chaps. 1-11) is a general history commonly called the “primeval history,” showing how all humanity descended from one couple and became sinners. The second section (chaps. 12-50) is a more specific history commonly referred to as the “patriarchal history,” focusing on the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants: Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s twelve sons. Genesis unfolds God’s plan to bless and redeem humanity through Abraham’s descendants. The book concludes with the events that led to the Israelites being in the land of Egypt.


CREATION: God is the sovereign Lord and Creator of all things. God created everything out of nothing. No preexistent material existed. He is the Creator, not a craftsman. This indicates that he has infinite power and perfect control over everything. He is separate from the created order, and no part of creation is to be considered an extension of God. All that God created is good, because he is a good and majestic God. God is Lord, maintaining sovereignty and involvement with his creation. God’s control over human history is so complete that even the worst of human deeds can be turned to serve his benevolent purposes (50:20).

HUMAN LIFE: Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, unique from the rest of creation, to have fellowship with him. Humans are a paradox. On the one hand, people are the capstone of all God’s creation, created in God’s image (1:26-27) and possessing Godlike authority over all the created order within their realm (1:28-29; 9:1-3). On the other hand, they are sinners—beings who have used their God-given resources and abilities in ways that violate God’s laws (2:17; 3:6) and hurt other people (3:8-11; 6:5,11-12). Even so, during their lifetime God expects people to follow his laws (4:7), and he blesses those who live according to his ways (6:8-9; 39:2,21). God wants to work through individuals to bring a blessing to every human life (18:18; 22:18; 26:4). Nevertheless, Genesis teaches that because of sin all human beings must die (2:17; 3:19; 5:5,8,11). Since all human life is created in the image of God, no person or class of humans is superior to others. Humanity was created to live in community. The most fundamental unit of community is the family: a husband (male) and wife (female) with children.

SIN: Evil and sin did not originate with God. Adam and Eve were created innocent and with the capacity to make choices. Sin entered the world at a specific place and time in history. Adam and Eve chose freely to disobey God, fell from innocence, and lost their freedom. Their sinful nature has passed to every other human being. Sin resulted in death, both physical and spiritual. Sin has led to a world of pain and struggle.

COVENANT: Genesis is a narrative of relationships, and certainly relationships grounded in covenants with God. These covenants provide a unifying principle for understanding the whole of Scripture and define the relationship between God and man. The heart of that relationship is found in the phrase, “They will be my people, and I will be their God” (Jr 32:38; cp. Gn 17:7-8; Ex 6:6-7; Lv 26:12; Dt 4:20; Jr 11:4; Ezk 11:20). God’s covenant with Abraham is a major event both in Genesis and throughout the Bible. God called Abraham out of Ur to go to Canaan, promising to make him a great nation that in turn would bless all nations (Gn 12:1-3). God repeats his oath in Genesis 22:18, adding further that it would be through Abraham’s offspring (Hb zera‘ “seed”) that all nations would someday be blessed. Paul applies the singular noun seed as a reference to Christ (Gl 3:16). It is through Christ, Abraham’s prophesied descendant, that the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant would come to every nation.


Genesis lays the groundwork for everything else we read and experience in Scripture. Through Genesis we understand where we came from, how we got in the fallen state we are in, and the beginnings of God’s gracious work on our behalf. Genesis unfolds God’s original purpose for humanity.

Genesis provides the foundation from which we understand God’s covenant with Israel that was established with the giving of the law. For the Israelite community, the stories of the origins of humanity, sin, and the covenant relationship with God helped them understand why God gave them the law.


Genesis is chiefly a narrative. From a narrative standpoint, God is the only true hero of the Bible, and the book of Genesis has the distinct privilege of introducing him. God is the first subject of a verb in the book and is mentioned more frequently than any other character in the Bible. The content of the first eleven chapters is distinct from the patriarchal stories in chapters 12-50. The primary literary device is the catchphrase “these are the family records.” The phrase is broader in meaning than simply “generation,” and refers more to a narrative account. This was a common practice in ancient Near East writings. This phrase also serves as a link between the key person in the previous narrative and the one anticipated in the next section. Genesis could be described as historical genealogy, which ties together creation and human history in one continuum.


I.Creation of Heaven and Earth (1:1-2:3)

A.Creator and creation (1:1-2)

B.Six days of creation (1:3-31)

C.Seventh day— day of consecration (2:1-3)

II.The Human Family In and Outside the Garden (2:4 - 4:26)

A.The man and woman in the garden (2:4-25)

B.The man and woman expelled from the garden (3:1-24)

C.Adam and Eve’s family outside the garden (4:1-26)

III.Adam’s Family Line (5:1-6:8)

A.Introduction: Creation and blessing (5:1-2)

B.“Image of God” from Adam to Noah (5:3-32)

C.Conclusion: Procreation and perversion (6:1-8)

IV.Noah and His Family (6:9-9:29)

A.Righteous Noah and the corrupt world (6:9-12)

B.Coming judgment but the ark of promise (6:13-7:10)

C.Worldwide flood of judgment (7:11-24)

D.God’s remembrance and rescue of Noah (8:1-14)

E.Exiting the ark (8:15-19)

F.Worship and the word of promise (8:20-22)

G.God’s covenant with the new world (9:1-17)

H.Noah’s sons and future blessing (9:18-29)

V.The Nations and the Tower of Babylon (10:1-11:26)

A.Table of Nations (10:1-32)

B.Tower of Babylon (11:1-9)

C.Family line of Abram (11:10-26)

VI.Father Abraham (11:27-25:11)

A.Abram’s beginnings (11:27-32)

B.The promissory call and Abram’s obedience (12:1-9)

C.Abram and Sarai in Egypt: Blessing begins (12:10-13:1)

D.Abram and Lot part: Promises recalled (13:2-18)

E.Abram rescues Lot: Abram’s faithfulness (14:1-24)

F.Covenant promises confirmed (15:1-21)

G.Abram’s firstborn son, Ishmael (16:1-16)

H.Covenant sign of circumcision (17:1-27)

I.Divine judgment and mercy (18:1-19:38)

J.Abraham and Sarah in Gerar: Promises preserved (20:1-18)

K.Abraham’s promised son: The birth of Isaac (21:1-21)

L.Treaty with Abimelech (21:22-34)

M.Abraham’s test (22:1-19)

N.Family line of Rebekah (22:20-24)

O.Sarah’s burial site (23:1-20)

P.A wife for Isaac (24:1-67)

Q.Abraham’s death and burial (25:1-11)

VII.Ishmael’s Family Line (25:12-18)

VIII.Isaac’s Family: Jacob and Esau (25:19-35:29)

A.Struggle at birth and birthright (25:19-34)

B.Isaac’s deception and strife with the Philistines (26:1-35)

C.Stolen blessing and flight to Paddan-aram (27:1-28:9)

D.Promise of blessing at Bethel (28:10-22)

E.Laban deceives Jacob (29:1-30)

F.Birth of Jacob’s children (29:31-30:24)

G.Birth of Jacob’s herds (30:25-43)

H.Jacob deceives Laban (31:1-55)

I.Struggle for blessing at Peniel (32:1-32)

J.Restored gift and return to Shechem (33:1-20)

K.Dinah, deception, and strife with the Hivites (34:1-31)

L.Blessing and struggle at birth (35:1-29)

IX.Esau’s Family (36:1-8)

X.Esau, Father of the Edomites (36:9-37:1)

XI.Jacob’s Family: Joseph and His Brothers (37:2-50:26)

A.The early days of Joseph (37:2-36)

B.Judah and Tamar (38:1-30)

C.Joseph in Egypt (39:1-23)

D.Joseph, savior of Egypt (40:1- 41:57)

E.The brothers’ journeys to Egypt (42:1- 43:34)

F.Joseph tests the brothers (44:1-34)

G.Joseph reveals his identity (45:1-28)

H.Jacob’s migration to Egypt (46:1-27)

I.Joseph, savior of the family (46:28- 47:12)

J.Joseph’s administration in Egypt (47:13-31)

K.Jacob’s blessings (48:1- 49:28)

L.The death and burial of Jacob (49:29-50:14)

M.The final days of Joseph (50:15-26)

2200 BC

Job 2100?-1900? Abraham 2166-1991


Earliest pottery in South America 2200

Construction of Ziggurat at Ur in Sumer 2100

Abraham moves from Haran to Canaan. 2091

Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah 2085

God’s covenant with Abraham 2081?

Ishmael born 2080?

2000 BC

Isaac 2066-1886 Jacob 2006-1859

3RD DYNASTY OF UR 2113-2006


Contraceptives are developed in Egypt. 2000

Chinese create first zoo, Park of Intelligence. 2000

Babylonians and Egyptians divide days into hours, minutes, and seconds. 2000

Mesopotamians learn to solve quadratic equations. 2000

Code of medical ethics, Mesopotamia 2000

Courier systems of communication are developed in both China and Egypt. 2000

1900 BC

Benjamin is born; Rachel dies. 1900

Potter’s wheel is introduced to Crete. 1900

Use of the sail in the Aegean 1900

Egyptian town of El Lahun gives evidence of town planning with streets at right angles. 1900

Mesopotamian mathematicians discover what later came to be called the Pythagorean theorem. 1900

1800 BC

Joseph 1915-1805

Joseph sold into Egypt 1898

Khnumhotep II, an architect of Pharaoh Amenemhet II, develops encryption. 1900

Musical theory, Mesopotamia 1800

Multiplication tables, Mesopotamia 1800

Babylonians develop catalog of stars and planets. 1800

Book of the Dead, Egypt 1800

Horses are introduced in Egypt. 1800

Wooden plows, Scandinavia 1800