|Agry (Ararat) view from plane under naxcivan sharur by Самый древний (Wikimedia Commons)|
“In the beginning…” This is the opening of the first book of our Bible, hence its title in Hebrew: בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית (Bereshit, “In the beginning”). Two stories are shared: The first tells of an all-powerful God who speaks the world and everything in it into existence out of a watery chaos. He creates people in His image and charges them with reproducing and ruling over the rest of creation. The second story is about God’s intimate relationship with these people, shown by how He provides for their needs and sets rules for them to follow, including those concerning what to eat. The relationship intact, man works in a fertile garden paradise, naked and unashamed. However, this relationship is damaged when man violates God’s law.
Next comes a series of accounts of ancient men, their families, and their deeds, each account introduced as “the book of [the] generation of [X],” hence the collection’s Greek title: Γένεσις (Genesis, “generation”/“birth”/“descent”/“lineage”). Across all of these accounts is an apparent theme: mankind’s perpetual sinfulness. There are two ways God addresses the problem: divine punishment and divine plan.
The use of punishment is illustrated through the first cycle of stories from Adam to Noah. Adam and Eve disobey God by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As a result, they are exiled from the Garden of Eden and prevented from accessing the Tree of Life. The ground is also cursed. Cain kills his brother and is also exiled, doomed to become a fugitive and wanderer, who ironically builds the first city. Sin continues as Cain’s descendant Lamech also murders. Sin also continues as other descendants of Adam engage in wickedness, which may have included cult prostitution. Because of this sinfulness, God decides to destroy mankind.
Yet out of this evil rises one righteous man named Noah, a descendent of Adam’s son Seth, a man who walks with God rather than hiding from Him. Noah’s father, the other Lamech, prophesizes that he will be the one who will put an end to God’s curse upon the ground. God recognizes Noah’s righteousness and chooses his family to be saved from destruction. The world returns to a water chaos, and a new world emerges. The second cycle begins: Noah is a sort of a second Adam, and the ground is no longer cursed. When Noah builds a sacrifice to God, He is appeased and promises never again to curse the ground because of man’s sin. Then God charges Noah with reproducing, settling across the land, and ruling the rest of creation. New laws are set concerning what to eat and the killing of one’s fellow men. God also makes a covenant (i.e., agreement, contract, promise) with Noah to never send the flood waters again to destroy mankind.
The ground now free from a curse, proves bountiful for Noah. He enjoys the fruit of his labor, naked and unashamed, in a new paradise. However, one of his sons, Ham, sins. In response, Noah curses Ham's son Canaan. Then the descendants of Noah’s sons refuse to settle across the land, preferring to congregate in one place. God forces them to scatter by confusing their languages. Generations later, God calls Abraham, a descendant of Noah’s son Shem. Abraham becomes sort of a second Noah. God makes a covenant with him, promising to make his descendants a great nation and bless all of the nations of the world through him. What then follows in the rest of the book are the accounts of the generations of Abraham’s descendants, called the patriarchs, telling their stories leading up to the creation of this promised nation.
What does this story mean for those of us reading it today? In these first chapters of Genesis, we are given an idea of what God is like and how He’s chosen to deal with humanity. Like the ancient Israelites, we can see the book as sharing their “origin story,” explaining how and why they came to be. As Christians, we can see how mankind has sinned and continued to sin through the ages, but also God’s plan for mankind’s ultimate redemption beginning to unfold.
Note: This Bible study lesson was written for and presented at the July 3, 2015 meeting of a young women’s Bible study, for which I am currently facilitator.