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The first book in the Bible is Genesis. Genesis means "the origin or mode of formation of something (google.com)" in the case of the Bible, Genesis begins with the beginning of everything. The outline of the book of that is found here divides the book into two topics. The first being primal history of the beginning of the world with the second being the story of the Patriarchs. The Patriarchs are the beginning of what will become the nation of Israel. Abraham, the first Patriarch is called out of the rest of the world to become a nation. What happens to the nation, which is also called out of the rest of creation to live for God, is the balance of the Old Testament.

Perhaps a simpler approach is the break the larger story down into shorter stories or Pericopes. While there is often much to be gained in the shorter stories they need to be considered in the wider context of the book as well as the wider story of redemption of creation that is contained in the rest of the Bible.

 

Genesis begins with God. God creates the world and all that is. In this creation story man is seen first as the crowning achievement of God's creation, made in His image, and second as center of His creation, to fill the earth and subdue it. Man is created to enjoy the rest of God's creation and to have fellowship with God. Unlike many other creation stories, man is not an afterthought, accident or servant in a real sense he is the purpose.

The creation story is followed immediately by what Christians call The Fall; the close fellowship between mankind and God is destroyed by an act of Sin. Mankind's fall from direct relationship with God and God's plan to redeem all of creation are the main themes of the rest of the Bible. Indeed redemption is promised in Genesis 3.15. At first that this looks like part of the curse resulting from the sin, but it is a promise within the curse of the eventual deliverance from the curse. The stories that follow the fall are not stories of perfect people living perfect lives. They are the stories of all too human people trying to live life, just not forgetting God.

We find that the society that man produces apart from God deteriorates into violence. Cain and Able are the first two sons born to the first couple Adam and Eve. Cain murders his brother Able. God responds to this with mercy. Cain is not executed but is marked so that he will not be killed by his fellows who might seek revenge. Although not much of the story is chronicled society deteriorates further.  

The next major story is Noah and the flood. By the time of Noah there is only Noah who is walking with God. God judges the world by a flood but He protects Noah, his family and the animals by having Noah build an Ark. The Noah story is different from the other flood stories from around the world in that Noah and his family are warned by God and delivered by God from the judgment. It may be that others could have been delivered too if they had been willing to listen to Noah's preaching.

Having washed away all but the "righteous," one might think that all would be well. But society after the flood is not really much different as man begins almost immediately to stray. Through several generations we arrive at the story of Nimrod. We see in the story of Nimrod that the pride of mankind is growing once again and along with it violence. Mankind is commanded by God to disperse and fill the earth but rather than doing that they decide to build a city and say together. They build it with a waterproof foundation as if to protect themselves from another flood. The city they build is Babel which means confusion but the place eventually becomes Babylon. Babylon becomes synonymous with false religion in much of the rest of the Bible. Indeed there is a school of thought that man's notions of astrology and polytheism originated in Babylon.

The name Abraham is used here because it is a bit less confusing. In the beginning of his story his name is Abram. He is renamed Abraham by God when God makes a covenant with him in Genesis 17.5.

Abram means exalted father.

Abraham means father of many.

Again God is able to find one man who is willing to listen. Abraham is that man and he is called out of his home and his family to go to a new land where God will make him a great nation and through him all nations will be blessed.

The story of Abraham is not the story of a perfect man. He falters many times. It is not the story of a classic hero who triumphs over overwhelming odds. He is a man who walks humbly with God and believes in God's promise even though they seem impossible. Because he recognizes who God is, he accepts a blessing that will not really be his but will belong to his offspring. God leads Abraham through the land that his children will possess but it will not be given to him. Even in this story we see the mercy of God poured out even on that sinful people who currently occupy the land. Abraham's descendants will posses their land but God's judgement of them will wait until their "... sins have reached their full measure (Genesis 15.16)." Nonetheless Abraham believes that God will keep that promise even though he does not yet have an heir.

Abraham and Sarah try to help God along with His promise with the resulting son Ishmael born to Abraham and Sarah's maid. Ishmael is not to be Abraham's heir and is eventually sent away, but he reemerges in some of the stories that follow. From a human perspective we see that Abraham has accepted a blessing that will belong to his descendants when he has no children. He then tried to have a child by a means that is customary in his society but that did not worked well for his home life. Years later, Abraham and his wife Sara have a son when they are 100 and 90 years old respectively. This son is Isaac. Abraham is called on to sacrifice Isaac in what is a great test of faith for Abraham and an object lesson to Isaac. Isaac is not sacrificed and goes on to take a wife and have two sons.

Securing a wife for Isaac (24.1-67) is an interesting story in that the hand of God plays a big role. The other objective of the story is that Isaac should not marry into the people that are in the land that Abraham is living. This thread of the wider story is important, not from an ethnic point of view, but from the point of view of faithfulness. Abraham is aware that he is living in a strange land among a people that have forgotten God. Thoughout the Bible it is important that God's people marry with in the group of God's people. We see as the story develops that when marriages from outside of Israel occure and the people coming in are people who know God things work out. If they bring in their other gods the faithfulness of the family is negatively effected.  

There is not really much else said about Isaac but he does have two sons; Jacob and Esau. Isaac does not really inherit the covenant from Abraham it is confirmed with him when he is an adult. That covenant is not an inheritance as it is passed on through Jacob even though Esau is the first-born. There is a bit family intrigue to get there. Esau sells Jacob his birthright for a bowl of soup and Jacob cheats Esau out of Isaac's final blessing. Needless to say, Jacob and Esau are at odds with one another from the beginning and even in the end only have an uneasy peace.

Part of this story of Esau is that married two Canaanite women--women from outside of the faith. He tries to make amends with his mother by taking a third wife from the children of Ishmael but that is also to miss the point. The test is not one of blood line but faithfulness to God.

Jacob, after cheating his brother, he goes to get a wife from his fathers kin. (Runs from Esau.) More family intrigue follows as the cheater gets cheated. He returns to Canaan with essentially 4 wives and 12 sons the youngest of which is Joseph

Joseph has a dream that indicates that he will eventually rule over his brothers. This does not go over well with his brothers as they are all older and they sell him to the Ishmaelites. The Ishmaelites take him to Egypt and sell him as a slave to a nobleman of the land.

Being a slave has its down side but that is not the worst of it as Joseph ends up in prison. But he becomes the trustee of the prison. From prison he then rises to be the prime minister of Egypt.

Genesis ends with the family reunited in Egypt. Joseph, through his sons, is given the double portion of inheritance that would be due to the eldest. God does not operate as the traditions of men do.