Above all powers, above all kings Above all nature and all created things
Above all wisdom and all the ways of man You were here before the world began
Above all kingdoms, above all thrones Above all wonders the world has ever known
Above all wealth and treasures of the earth There’s no way to measure what You’re worth
Crucified, laid behind a stone You lived to die, rejected and alone
Like a rose, trampled on the ground You took the fall and thought of me Above all — Michael W. Smith
In spite of its name “Genesis,” which means “beginning,” and in spite of its position as the first book in the Bible, the Book of Genesis isn’t the beginning of everything. Genesis 1:1 reminds us, “In the beginning God.” So, before we study the basics that are laid down in Genesis 1-11, let’s acquaint ourselves with what God did before what’s recorded in Genesis. After that, we’ll examine what He did that’s recorded in Genesis, and finally, what occurred after Genesis. This will give us the kind of broad overview we need to study the rest of God’s revelation in the Bible.
Before Genesis: Redemption Planned
What was happening before God spoke the universe into existence? That may seem like an impractical hypothetical question, like “How many angels can stand on the point of a pin?” but it isn’t. After all, God doesn’t act arbitrarily; and the fact that He created something suggests that He must have had some magnificent purposes in mind. What, then, was the situation before Genesis 1:1, and what does it teach us about God and ourselves?
God existed in sublime glory. God is eternal; He has neither beginning nor ending. Therefore, He is totally self-sufficient and needs nothing more than Himself in order to exist or to act.
A.W. Tozer: God has a voluntary relation to everything He has made, but He has no necessary relation to anything outside of Himself.”
God needs nothing, neither the material universe nor the human race, and yet He created both.
If you want something to boggle your mind, meditate on the concept of the eternal, that which has neither beginning nor ending. As creatures of time, you and I can easily focus on the transient things around us; but it’s difficult if not impossible to conceive of that which is eternal. Contemplating the nature and character of the Triune God who always was, always is, and always will be, and who never changes, is a task that overwhelms us. “In the beginning God.”
Moses wrote, “Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God” (Ps. 90:2, niv).
Frederick Faber expressed it like this: “Timeless, spaceless, single, lonely, Yet sublimely Three, Thou art grandly, always, only God in unity!
“Process theology,” an old heresy in modern dress, affirms a “limited god” who is in the process of becoming a “greater” god. But if God is God, as we understand the word, then He is eternal and needs nothing; and He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere present. In order to have a “limited god,” you must first redefine the very word “God,” because by definition God cannot be limited.
Furthermore, if God is limited and “getting greater,” then what power is making Him greater? That power would be greater than “God” and therefore be God! And wouldn’t that give us two gods instead of one?
But the God of the Bible is eternal and had no beginning. He is infinite and knows no limitations in either time or space. He is perfect and cannot “improve,” and is immutable and cannot change.
The divine Trinity was in loving communion. “In the beginning God” would be a startling statement to a citizen of Ur of the Chaldees where Abraham came from, because the Chaldeans and all their neighbors worshiped a galaxy of greater and lesser gods and goddesses. But the God of Genesis is the only true God and has no “rival gods” to contend with, such as you read about in the myths and fables from the ancient world. (See Ex. 15:1; 20:3; Deut. 6:4; 1 Kings 8:60; 2 Kings 19:15; Ps. 18:31.)
This one true God exists as three Persons: God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 3:16-17 (ESV)
16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
John 3:34-35 (ESV)
34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.
John 14:15-17 (ESV)
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
Acts 2:32-33 (ESV)
32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
Acts 2:38-39 (ESV)
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Acts 10:36-38 (ESV)
36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
1 Corinthians 12:1-6 (ESV)
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
2 Corinthians 13:14 (ESV)
14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Ephesians 1:3-14 (ESV)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 4:1-6 (ESV)
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 (ESV)
13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Titus 3:4-6 (ESV)
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
1 Peter 1:1-2 (ESV)
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
This doesn’t mean that one God manifests Himself in three different forms, or that there are three gods; it means that one God exists in three Persons who are equal in their attributes and yet individual and distinct in their offices and ministries.
As the Nicene Creed of A.D. 325 states it, “We believe in one God—And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father—And in the Holy Ghost.”
The doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t clearly revealed in the Old Testament, because the emphasis in the Old Testament is that the God of Israel is one God, uncreated and unique, the only true God. Worshiping the false gods of their neighbors was the great temptation and repeated sin of Israel, so Moses and the prophets hammered away on the unity and uniqueness of Israel’s God.
Even today, the faithful Jewish worshiper recites “The Shema” each day: “Hear [shema], O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5, nkjv).
The God revealed in Scripture has no peers and no rivals.
But the Old Testament does give glimpses and hints of the wonderful truth of the Trinity, a truth that would later be clearly revealed in the New Testament by Christ and the apostles. The “let us” statements in Genesis (Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; see also Isa. 6:8) suggest that the Persons of the Godhead worked together in conference; and the many instances when “the angel of the Lord” appeared on the scene indicate the presence of the Son of God. (See Gen. 16:7-11; 21:17; 22:11, 15; 24:7; 40; 31:11; 32:24-30; Ex. 3:1-4 with Acts 7:30-34; 14:19; 23:11; 32:33-33:17; Josh. 5:13ff; Judges 2:1-5 and 6:11ff.)
Though the word “trinity” is nowhere used in the Bible, the doctrine is certainly there, hidden in the Old Testament and revealed in the New Testament. Does this profound and mysterious doctrine have any practical meaning for the believer today? Yes, because the three Persons of the Godhead are all involved in planning and executing the divine will for the universe, including the plan of salvation.
The divine Trinity planned redemption. The wonderful plan of redemption wasn’t a divine afterthought, for God’s people were chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4; Rev. 17:8) and given by the Father to the Son both to belong to His kingdom (Matt. 25:34) and to share His glory (John 17:2, 6, 9, 11-12, 24).
In the counsels of eternity, the Godhead determined to create a world that would include humans made in the image of God. The Father was involved in Creation (Gen. 1:1; 2 Kings 19:15; Acts 4:24), but so were the Son (John 1:1-3, 10; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2) and the Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:2; Ps. 104:30). God didn’t create a world because He needed anything but that He might share His love with creatures who, unlike the angels, are made in the image of God and can respond willingly to His love.
The Godhead determined that the Son would come to earth and die for the sins of the world, and Jesus came to do the Father’s will (John 10:17-18; Heb. 10:7). The words Jesus spoke were from the Father (John 14:24), and the works He did were commissioned by the Father (5:17-21, 36; Acts 2:22) and empowered by the Spirit (10:38). The Son glorifies the Father (John 14:13; 17:1, 4) and the Spirit glorifies the Son (16:14). The Persons of the Holy Trinity work together to accomplish the divine will.
According to Ephesians 1:3-14, the plan of salvation is Trinitarian: we are chosen by the Father (vv. 3-6), purchased by the Son (vv. 7-12), and sealed by the Spirit (vv. 13-14), and all of this is to the praise of God’s glory (vv. 6, 12, 14).
The Father has given authority to the Son to give eternal life to those He has given to the Son (John 17:1-3). All of this was planned before there was ever a world!
When you seek to fathom the depths of the divine eternal counsels, you will be overwhelmed. But don’t be discouraged, for over the centuries, good and godly scholars have disagreed in their speculations and conclusions. “Try to explain these things and you may lose your mind; but try to explain them away, and you will lose your soul.”
Moses said it best: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29, nkjv).
The important thing is not knowing all that God knows but doing all God tells us to do. “For we know in part” (1 Cor. 13:9).
Genesis: Redemption Promised
When He wrote the Bible, God didn’t give us a ponderous theology book divided into sections labeled God, Creation, Man, Sin, and so forth. Instead, He gave us a story, a narrative that begins in eternity past and ends in eternity future. It’s a story about God and His dealings with all kinds of people and how they responded to His Word.
As we read these narratives, we learn a great deal about God, ourselves, and our world; and we discover that our own personal story is found somewhere in the pages of Scripture. If you read long enough and honestly enough, you will meet yourself in the Bible.
In our versions of the Bible, there are fifty chapters in Genesis; but the original Hebrew text isn’t divided. After describing the Creation (1:1-2:3), Moses listed eleven “generations” that comprise the Genesis narrative: the heavens and the earth (2:4-4:26); Adam (5:1-6:8); Noah (6:9-9:29); Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth (10:1-11:9), with an emphasis on Shem, father of the Semites (11:10-26); Terah, father of Abraham (11:27-25:11); Ishmael (25:12-18); Isaac (25:19-35:29); Esau (36:1-8), who is also Edom (36:9-37:1); and Jacob (37:2-50:26). These are the individuals presented in Genesis.
The first eleven chapters of Genesis deal with humanity in general and focus on four great events: Creation (1-2), the fall of man and its consequences (3-5), the Flood (6-9), and the rebellion at Babel (10-11).
The rest of Genesis focuses on Israel in particular (12-50) and recounts the lives of four great men: Abraham (12:1-25:18), Isaac (25:19-27:46), Jacob (28-36) and Joseph (37-50). We call these men the “patriarchs” because they were the founding fathers of the Hebrew nation.
As you study Genesis, keep in mind that Moses didn’t write a detailed history of each person or event. He recorded only those things that helped him achieve his purpose, which was to explain the origin of things, especially the origin of the Jewish nation.
Genesis 1-11 is a record of failure, but with the call of Abraham, God made a new beginning. Man’s sin had brought God’s curse (3:14, 17; 4:11), but God’s gracious covenant with Abraham brought blessing to the whole world (12:1-3).
You will also notice in the Genesis record that when man does his worst and reaches his lowest, God gives him a new beginning.
Dr. G. Campbell Morgan said that the cycle in Genesis is “generation, degeneration and regeneration.”
- Cain killed Abel, but God gave Seth to continue the godly line.
- The earth became violent and wicked, so God wiped out humanity but chose Noah and his family to carry on His work.
- Out of pagan Ur of the Chaldees, God called Abraham and Sarah and gave them a son, Isaac; and the future of God’s plan of salvation rested with that son. Isaac and Rebekah had two sons, Esau and Jacob, but God rejected Esau and chose Jacob to build the twelve tribes of Israel and inherit the covenant blessings.
In other words, from beginning to end, Genesis is the story of God’s sovereign will and electing grace. This doesn’t suggest that the persons in the story were mere robots, because they made mistakes and even tried to thwart God’s plans.
But whenever people resisted God’s rule, He overruled and accomplished His divine purposes anyway. ‘The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations” (Ps. 33:11, nkjv).
I want us to close this introduction of God in eternity with some of his statements to Job, which were intended to make certain that Job get a grasp of God in His greatness so as to quiet his constant, nagging need to answers he had about life and death:
Job 38:1-41 (ESV)
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone,
7 when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb,
9 when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place,
13 that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?
14 It is changed like clay under the seal, and its features stand out like a garment.
15 From the wicked their light is withheld, and their uplifted arm is broken.
16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.
19 “Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness,
20 that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home?
21 You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!
22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war?
24 What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?
25 “Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt,
26 to bring rain on a land where no man is, on the desert in which there is no man,
27 to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground sprout with grass?
28 “Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?
30 The waters become hard like stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.
31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?
32 Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children?
33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?
34 “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you?
35 Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?
37 Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
38 when the dust runs into a mass and the clods stick fast together?
39 “Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
40 when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in their thicket?
41 Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food?
Job 39:1-30 (ESV)
1 “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the does?
2 Can you number the months that they fulfill, and do you know the time when they give birth,
3 when they crouch, bring forth their offspring, and are delivered of their young?
4 Their young ones become strong; they grow up in the open; they go out and do not return to them.
5 “Who has let the wild donkey go free? Who has loosed the bonds of the swift donkey,
6 to whom I have given the arid plain for his home and the salt land for his dwelling place?
7 He scorns the tumult of the city; he hears not the shouts of the driver.
8 He ranges the mountains as his pasture, and he searches after every green thing.
9 “Is the wild ox willing to serve you? Will he spend the night at your manger?
10 Can you bind him in the furrow with ropes, or will he harrow the valleys after you?
11 Will you depend on him because his strength is great, and will you leave to him your labor?
12 Do you have faith in him that he will return your grain and gather it to your threshing floor?
13 “The wings of the ostrich wave proudly, but are they the pinions and plumage of love?
14 For she leaves her eggs to the earth and lets them be warmed on the ground,
15 forgetting that a foot may crush them and that the wild beast may trample them.
16 She deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers; though her labor be in vain, yet she has no fear,
17 because God has made her forget wisdom and given her no share in understanding.
18 When she rouses herself to flee, she laughs at the horse and his rider.
19 “Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane?
20 Do you make him leap like the locust? His majestic snorting is terrifying.
21 He paws in the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons.
22 He laughs at fear and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword.
23 Upon him rattle the quiver, the flashing spear, and the javelin.
24 With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground; he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet.
25 When the trumpet sounds, he says ‘Aha!’ He smells the battle from afar, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.
26 “Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south?
27 Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?
28 On the rock he dwells and makes his home, on the rocky crag and stronghold.
29 From there he spies out the prey; his eyes behold it from far away.
30 His young ones suck up blood, and where the slain are, there is he.”