Summary: God lays the foundation for all of life and godliness in Genesis.
Last week Rebekah and I bought a ball of twine for our pole beans. It came wrapped in plastic with a hole through the middle so that the string was dispensed from the inside. As I wrapped the bean-poles, the packaging held the shape of the outer shell of string, even as the ball was emptied of its substance. When the last of the string was pulled out, the cellophane collapsed.
I would suggest that might be an apt metaphor for our culture’s interaction with the Bible and that “righteousness which exalts a nation” (Proverbs 14.34). During the last 100 years or so, the truths taught in the first 11 chapters of Genesis have been pulled from the structure of our society, but the results were not at first evident. As with our twine, the outer form remained intact through the 1920s and 30s, and even into the 50s. But the weakening proceeded, and the rebellions of the 1960s and 70s made clear that this “religious” nation was losing her soul. Now we see more plainly signs of collapse: confusion about marriage and gender, the inability to distinguish the church from the world, overdependence on the state, uncertainty about the purpose and goals of education, economic turmoil, rise of promiscuity and immorality…. The complete list would overwhelm us. What shall we do?
I think God would not have the primary response from his people to be crying, nor complaining, nor even condemning, though we may do some of each. Our main work, however, is to rebuild. When the lawnmower breaks, the wise man finds the owner’s manual. When the world is broken, we return to the beginning to lay again foundations that cannot be shaken. Thus we will study for several months the structures or “parameters for life” (Michael Ross) which God gives us in this book. To introduce the series, I have three texts to read; as I do so, please give your attention to God’s word.
We call the first book of the Bible, Genesis, after the way in which the Jewish scholars entitled their Greek translation “the beginning of the world.” The Hebrew name is simply the first word of the text: “in the beginning.” That title is appropriate, for Genesis is all about beginnings. The beginning of the universe, the beginning of time, of life, of humanity, of male and female, of sin, grace, judgment, marriage, economics, worship, death, sacraments, the church, the gospel. Nearly every doctrine pertaining to life and godliness begins here.
That helps explain why some people so stridently attack this book. The essential truths of the Bible, so hated by sinful men, remain intact and protected only as the ball of twine stays whole. To crush Bible doctrines, pull the string from where it starts. Discredit Genesis and the faith falls, for God here lays the foundations on which true religion must be built.
To get us started, I think it would be helpful if we answer three question: First, who wrote Genesis? Is the author reliable and from what sources did he draw his teaching? Second, why should we study Genesis? Are ancient writings relevant for modern people? Then, third, how do we prepare for Genesis? What heart issues threaten our hearing God in this Scripture?
1. Who Wrote Genesis? (Numbers 12)
The human author was Moses, and Numbers 12 tells us of his character which helps to verify the truthfulness of the text. At the same time, neither Moses nor any other person was alive “in the beginning,” so we need to know his source and if that is trustworthy.
1.1. Moses’ Humility Bolsters Our Confidence Numbers 12.3 tells us: “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.”
Without a doubt, Moses was a great leader. His courage shone when he faced down Pharaoh, a terror among men and the worst of tyrants. His wisdom was obvious, thus people waited for hours to have him decide disputes. His leadership skills were second to none – he lead a million slaves into a new land. He was determined, forceful, visionary, charismatic. Like many great leaders, Moses moved large mountains.
But he also had a quality which many leaders lack. Worldly management programs may think it unimportant, but real people know it is essential. Not cowardliness or compromise, but (as C. J. Mahaney defines humility), that willingness and ability to “honestly assess ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness” (Humility, 22). Moses was not confident in himself, but in his God; he was not proud of his accomplishments, but of God’s. In this he was especially like Jesus, for meekness or gentleness (as it is sometimes called) was a particularly winsome trait of the Lord. He calls you to himself, saying: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11.28-29).