Great Truths from Genesis
By Paul Robison

People in America are fiercely independent.  In fact, a researcher from the Netherlands noted on a scale of 1-100, that Americans would get a score of 95 for their love for independence.  In our culture, we focus greatly on the individual, and not on the group.   So we could make a bold statement about our culture and say that one of the greatest values in America is that of independence. 

Here are some bold statements with regards to Italian culture: The greatest civilization is Italy, and the greatest place is one's city of birth.  The greatest motivator is ambition, and the greatest farce is morality.  The greatest value is what's practical, and the greatest expression is noise.  The greatest threat is depersonalization, and the greatest fear is death.  Now, those are very broad statements, but they do help us to understand better how our Italian neighbors think and view the world.  So why the culture lesson in this introduction?  Because taking this cultural approach towards the book of Genesis can help us to understand it better. 

Let's get just a little background before launching into our lesson.  Let's look at authorship, audience, and purpose.  Luke 24:44 tells us: “Then He said to them, 'These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all the things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms concerning Me.'”  Jesus is speaking to His disciples, and He notes how each part of the Hebrew Bible talks about Him: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (and Psalms is the largest book of this part).  Notice He also says the Law of Moses.  So Jesus definitely believed that Moses was the author of the law or the first five books of the Old Testament.  On another occasion, Jesus again emphasizes Moses' authorship of the these books.  Look at Mark 10:2: “The Pharisees came and asked Him, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?'  And He answered and said to them, 'What did Moses command you?'  They said, 'Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.'  [Their answer is based on the book of Deuteronomy.]  And Jesus answered and said to them: 'Because of the hardness of your heart, he wrote you this precept. [ Who wrote?  Moses did.  Now notice how Jesus answers His own question as to what Moses commanded.]  But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. [What book is Jesus referring to?  It's Genesis isn't it?  It's as if Jesus is saying, 'Yes, Moses did write one thing in Deuteronomy, but he also commanded something else that even goes further back.'] For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh; so then, they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.'”  So this shows us that Jesus believed the author of Genesis was Moses.  Why mention this?  When you start reading commentaries on Genesis, you'll find many writers who no longer believe in the authorship of Moses.  They believe that the book evolved over many centuries with 3-4 authors and a final editor as well.  So beware that Jesus' view that Moses wrote Genesis is no longer being upheld by many writers.  Now for whom did Moses write Genesis?  The book never answers this directly, but the contents give us some helpful clues.  The first eleven chapters give us the history of mankind and show us how all nations come from the family of Noah.  But in chapter 12, God narrows the focus down to one man, and then we learn about the history of the Jews.  There are four major events in chapters 1-11: the creation, the fall, the flood, and the tower of Babel, and there are four major characters in 12-50: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  So, the book is focusing on the history of the Jewish people.  So the audience Moses was targeting is the Jews.  One commentator notes: “Since Moses was aware that one of the major tasks was to weld the Israelites into a nation and to prepare them to enter the land that God had promised to their ancestors, he would have had proper motivation and divine guidance to write a history of the patriarchs and to record the laws which were to be Israel's guide in Canaan.  During the forty years in the wilderness, he would have had the time necessary for such a challenging task” (Willis).  After those 40 years, there was a new generation of the Jews ready to enter into the Promised Land.  Someone made this good remark: “Now, here they were again, having come full circle. The dramatic tension was high. Would they or would they not be obedient and faithfully embrace the future that God had set before them?  It was in the midst of all this that they were given the Books of Moses in general, and Genesis in particular. ...  It was in this situation that they heard — as they needed to hear — of God’s gracious provision and promises toward them in spite of their great and repeated sin and rebellion and unworthiness.  And it is this context that will guide us in our own understanding and approach to this book” (Lindsay).  You see, the new generation of Jews, ready to enter the Promised Land, needs to know who they are and what their own culture is all about.  So Moses helps them to understand their own culture by providing some great truths in Genesis, some broad strokes that will help them to understand better themselves and the culture God wants them to be.  So, as we approach Genesis, another writer challenges us: “So, let's join Israel in the desert.  Pack up your tent.  Leave your modernized campers behind.  Come as you are—and bring an appetite for manna!  As Israelites, we own our allegiance to Jehovah God in a world where many gods are worshiped” (Baylis).  Let's look quickly now at nine of these broad strokes or great truths. 

F
irst of all, the greatest God is Jehovah.  All the cultures around Israel believed in many gods: Baal, Molech, Ashtoreth, Anath, and El, to name just a few.  These gods were very much like most people—sometimes even worse.  Take El, the father of the gods; he was “a brutal [and] bloody tyrant.  He not only dethrones his own father ... but also castrates him.  He slays his favorite son, and cuts off his daughter's head. ... Intrigue and murder, deceit and incest are what you get from these gods. ... [They] were not sterling examples” (Baylis).  Moses knew this, and knew that people become like the god they worship.  This is why He tells of Jehovah, the most worthy God who is holy, righteous, gracious, and just.  This is the God who was the Creator and spoke all things into existence.  Did you ever notice how on days 1-3 God made the environments, and then on days 4-6, He made the inhabitants to go in each of those environments?  This God is in complete control, and all the other gods are really nonentities.  This God takes a special interest in mankind; man is the climax of God's creative work, and being made “in His image” distinguishes us from all things created earlier!  This great Creator can also be the a great Destroyer!  He floods the whole world, and every living thing is wiped off the face of the earth, except for Noah and his family and the animals in the ark.  This God is also a great Preserver!  He sends a severe drought in all the world, and yet His preserves His chosen people.  The greatest God is Jehovah!  

The second truth is that the greatest provider is God.  God provides clothing for Adam and Eve, He provides a means of salvation for man to escape the flood, He provides water and lineage for Ishmael, He provides a son when Abraham is 100 years old, He provides a ram for a sacrifice (as seen in our reading), He provides a wife for Isaac, He provides wealth and a large family for Jacob, He providers leadership for Joseph, He provides a new home for the Jews.  Yes, Abraham's words were never truer, “The Lord will provide.”  And the new generation of Jews needed to be reminded: God would be their Provider as well.  Have we forgotten this wonderful truth as well?  Jesus admonished us in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, clothing] will be added to you.”  If you keep God first, He will provide your necessities.  The apostle Paul encouraged the members at Philippi with these words: “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).  A missionary once said, “God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply” (Taylor in Rowell).  Are we trusting in God to provide?  Truly, the greatest provider is God. 

The third great truth is that the greatest virtue is obedience.  Adam and Even were forced to leave paradise because of their disobedience, Enoch did not see death because he obediently walked with God, Noah and his family were saved because they obediently followed God's instructions, Abraham was blessed because of His willingness to obediently sacrifice his own son, Jacob responded obediently when God told him to move to Egypt, and Joseph was eventually exalted for his obedience as well.  Obedience is underscored in the New Testament as well.  Hebrews 5:9 states that Jesus “became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.”  1 Thessalonians 1:8 tells that Jesus will return “taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey [His] gospel.”  Jesus Himself taught that only those who do or who obey God's will will enter into heaven (Matthew 7:21).  Someone has said, “If you want to grow the fruit of the Spirit, then you'd better be working in the garden of obedience” (modified Fullam in Rowell).  Someone else gave this little parable: “In the third grade, I was condemned to live under the law of nearsightedness.  Then I later discovered the law of corrective lenses.  The nearsightedness was still there, but it was overpowered by this new law.  Here's the irony: You would think if I want to be free, I should throw my glasses away.  But it's only by obeying the law of corrective lenses I that became truly free” (Holm in Larson/Elshof).  Substitute “nearsightedness” with “sin” and “corrective lenses” with Christ, and you'll get the point!  The greatest virtue is obedience.

The next truth is that the greatest sin is deception.  The serpent deceives Eve, Abraham deceives the foreign kings into thinking that his wife is his sister, Isaac does the same, Jacob deceives his father into giving him the blessing, Laban deceives Jacob by giving him Leah, Jacob deceives Laban later by returning to his homeland without saying goodbye, Simeon and Levi act deceptively against Hamor and Shechem, Tamar acts deceptively against Judah, Joseph's brothers act deceptively against their father by giving him Joseph's stained coat, and Joseph even acts somewhat deceptively towards his brothers for a time until he reveals himself to them!  The New Testament speaks of the deceitfulness of false teachers, of riches, of evil company, of vain words, of sorceries, and of Satan himself (Matthew 24:11; Mark 4:19; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Ephesians 5:6; Revelation 18:23, 12:9 and 20:10).  And it warns us time and again not to deceive ourselves (1 Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 6:7; James 1:26; 1 John 1:8).  The old proverb of Sir Walter Scott still rings true: “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”  Did you hear about the butcher who pulled his last chicken out of a barrel and flung it on the scales behind his counter.  The lady who was his customer said, “I really need more than that, do you have a larger one?”  So, the butcher puts the same chicken in the barrel, and then makes noise like he's rummaging around, and pulls out the same chicken, and places it on the scale saying, “This one is one pound more.”  The women then ponders her options, and says, “OK, I'll take them both!”  The greatest sin is deception.  

The next truth is the greatest asset is family.  It's interesting that we find the expression, “Now these are the generations of Adam, of Noah, of his sons, of Terah, of Ishmael, of Isaac, of Esau, and of Jacob” (5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:27; 25:12 and 19; 36:9; 37:2).  Every time this happens, there follows a genealogy of the descendants of that person.  This shows the importance of families.  “God created man to live in a family, not to be a hermit or a recluse or an unsocial or antisocial being.  God declared: 'It is not good for man to be alone' (Gen. 2:18). ... Children are [seen as] God's gifts to parents ... [and] since both parent and child are made in the image of God, each deserves the respect of the other” (Willis).  Genesis opens with the creation of the world and the creation of family, and it closes with a family reunion, Jacob blessing his sons, and Joseph forgiving his brothers.  Do you see your family as an asset?  Someone said that every family needs a garden with three rows of squash—squash gossip, squash criticism, squash indifference, four rows of turn ups—turn up with a smile, turn up with a new idea, turn up with determination, turn up with politeness, and five rows of lettuce—let us be loyal, let us be prayerful, let us be unselfish, let us be loving, and let us be truthful (Swindoll).  The greatest asset is not your job, nor your education, nor your money, but it's your family!

The next truth is the greatest assurance is covenant.  In the ancient world, a covenant was like a contract, and both parties had obligations to fulfill.  When God made a covenant, you see time and time again how He keeps His end of the deal.  The rainbow reminds us of His covenant to never again flood the world.  God made a covenant with Abraham that He would make His family great, and we Jacob's large family heading to Egypt in chapter 46.  He tells Abraham that He would give the Jews the land after 400 years in slavery, and the story of Joseph shows us how God is beginning to work that out.  God tells Abraham how all the nations of the world would be blessed through his family, and that is seen in Joseph's feeding all the nations!  And it is seen even further when Christ enters the world.  The apostle Paul explains this in Galatians 3:8-9: “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith [or their faith in Christ and His work] preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand saying, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed.'  So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”  Jehovah is reliable and dependable.  We live with assurance under a better covenant, and God has guaranteed that if we live faithfully to Him (that our side of contract), then He will give the victor's crown of eternal life (Revelation 2:10)! 

The next truth is that the greatest positive motivator is identity.  We see how the whole book of Genesis is helping the new generation of the Jews to understand who they are.  Or maybe it would be better to say Whose they are.  Their ancestry can be traced back to the beginning of history.  They are not only children of Abraham, but eventually of God Himself!  The God who had covenanted with Abraham to give them the land is now reminding this new generation of Jews that He is on their side and will be them.  Wouldn't this have been a tremendous comfort to these Jews to know God had promised the land to their ancestors, and now He is ready to make good on that promise!  They are the children of Israel!  And even more so, they are the children of Jehovah!  Isn't this much the same idea of the apostle Paul when He writes in Romans 8:29ff: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.  [The Jews could point back to creation and say, “We have been created in God's image”, but Christians can point back to before the creation and say, “We have been predestined to be created in Jesus' image!].  What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?”  God is on the side of those who follow Christ!  Look Whose we are!  The greatest positive motivator is identity. 

The next truth is that the greatest negative motivator is punishment.  “Punishment” may sound like an ugly word to some today, but God uses it throughout Genesis in an effective way to teach His people that there are consequences to our conduct and to help them get back on the road towards improvement.  The disobedient Adam and Even are driven from the garden, the wicked world is destroyed by a flood, the boastful people of Babel are divided and scattered over the earth, Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed by fire from heaven, and Jacob is punished by having to stay away many years from his original family and by having to put up with the craftiness and dishonesty of Laban, Simeon is punished with imprisonment, and Benjamin is threatened to be punished with slavery until Judah intervenes for him and arouses Joseph's compassion.  Genesis shows that Jehovah holds all peoples accountable for their actions—both the pagans and the Israelites are punished because there is a just Judge, and Abraham can ask in 18:25: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”  In contrast to Genesis, the New Testament also speaks of eternal punishment.  Jesus said of those who did not help others in Matthew 25:46: “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteousness unto eternal life.  Someone has observed: “If we follow the New Testament, the essence of hell lies assuredly above all in its endlessness (Von Huegel in ZPE “punishment”).  The greatest negative motivator is punishment. 

A final truth is that the greatest question is “What have you done?”  God asks this of Eve and Cain (3:13; 4:10).  Pharaoh and Abimelech ask this of Abraham (12:18; 20:9).  Jacob asks it of Laban, and Laban later asks it of Jacob (29:25; 31:26).  Joseph asks it of his brothers (44:15).  This is a personal questions that forces us to reflect on our conduct.  We might revise this question just a bit since we are under the new covenant: “What have you done lately in the name Jesus to serve, to teach, or to encourage others?”  “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these, My brethren, you did it to Me.”  The greatest question is “What have you done?” 

Moses challenged the new generation of Jews to be the great culture that God was expecting them to be!  God wants you to be part of a great culture too that's based on the life of His Son.  There was a girl whose father was successful lawyer.  He was handsome and also blind.  Renee said she was glad that her father was blind since her mother was very plain and homely: “If my father could compare my mother to other beautiful women, I'm afraid he might not love my mother as he does.  Because he is blind, he only sees and loves her heart” (Shank HUL91).  May God blind us to this world so that we can recognize Him as our provider, be obedient to His will, live up to our identity in Christ, and love His amazing and wonderful heart!  What have you done to secure eternal life?  Have you repented of your sins?  Have you put on Christ by being baptized into His name?  Have you lived the Christian life like you should?  Have you supported the church?  Have you been a blessing to others?  Have you loved God's heart with all your heart?  Don't be deceived any longer!  Let Christ add you to His forever family!