I just finished reading through the book of Genesis again — this time, in the YouVersion online version of the New Living Translation. To read Genesis is to read an epic drama! At some points along the way as I read, I found myself in tears, and found my heart renewed and re-committed to join God’s story, and to continue to partner with him in what he began to do in the story told in this ancient text.
The book of Genesis has two big divisions…
Chapters 1-11 – Creation and the primeval history of the world. This section covers the story of creation, the emergence of the human race, the fall of humanity, God’s promise to eventually crush evil through a human person, the story of the Nephilim (which is the precursor to), the Flood and Noah, the re-emergence of the human race through Noah and his children, God’s assurance that his plans for the world remain in place, the re-emergence and global spread of human evil, and the tower of Babel — the story of the scattering of the nations. The first section ends with the account of the family of Terah who had three sons, Abram, Nahor, and Haran. It is through Terah’s son Abram that the rest of the book of Genesis takes shape.
Chapter 12-50 – The call of Abraham, and the stories of his descendants. These include the call of Abram (who became Abraham) to be the father of faith, and the human being through whom God would continue his plan to bless the whole world. Following Abrahm’s story is the story if Isaac (and his brother Ishmael), and the story of Isaac’s son Jacob — who became Israel — (and his brother Esau). Following this is the story of Israel’s twelve sons, and the evil that they did to one of their brothers, Joseph.
You meant evil, but God meant good…
There is an important verse at the end of the book of Genesis. It is Gen. 50:20, where Joseph says to his brothers,
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good… to save the lives of many people.”
If we’re not careful, we may think this verse is only about this story. I have come to see the verse as the key to unlocking the entire book of Genesis. In fact, each major story in the book could easily end with… “And so, once again, people did evil, but God kept working for good to save the lives of many people.”
That is the DNA that runs through the story of Genesis. It is the story of God’s good intentions for the world (which includes his good intentions for people), and the tragic stories of what people do to work against him.
Joining the story the right way…
I found myself identifying in very visceral ways with the people in the story who did wrong. In that sense I, along with every human being, am part of the Genesis story.
- We are like Adam and Eve. They stand for us. God gives us a good world and instructions to live in the world on his terms. We make up our own rules and we ruin the good things God has given us.
- We are like Noah and his family. God gives us second chances, and when we start over, we often bring corruption with us into the new thing too.
- We are like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (and his sons). We are people through whom God wants to fulfill his good purposes for his world. But we are inconsistent. In the end, we find that much of our energy has been spent trying to ruin the good things that God intended.
- We are like Joseph’s brothers who cry to Joseph at the end… (Gen. 50:17) “Please forgive us — your brothers for the great wrong we did to you—for our sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.”
And in Joseph’s voice we can hear God’s own voice:
You intended to do harm, God remained true to his purposes and intentions to bring about good for many people
At the end of the story, I am filled with a renewed commitment to jump back into God’s story the right way. In the Biblical story, God is working through and with people who are available to him. That is always how the story unfolds. In reading, we too are invited to join the story the right way — not to be like Adam and Eve and those who come after them to bring ruin to God’s good world. But rather to be like Abraham (and others) who believe God, and who become the people through whom the whole world can become what God always wanted (and still, even today wants) it to be.
Thanks be to God for the amazing book of Genesis…