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GENESIS: Failure and Faithfulness Session 1 Introduction and Overview, Part 1

Opening Question: What happens when people try to determine good and evil for themselves?

INTRODUCTION

Torah. Genesis is the first book of the Hebrew Torah (“teaching,” “instruction”). The Torah contains the first five books of our Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Christians often call it the Pentateuch, from a Greek phrase meaning “five scrolls.” These scriptures are also called “the Law” because they contain all the conditions of God’s covenant with his special people Israel. The basic terms of this agreement are ‘Love God, love people, and I’ll bless you.

Although there are 613 commands contained in these books, their main purpose is to tell the story of God’s relationship with humans. Despite our continual failure to honor that relationship, God makes a way for the whole world to be blessed through the descendants of one man Abraham. The Torah points forward to a time when the relationship is restored and all life can flourish once again.

Jesus. After the Torah, the story continues with the Prophets and finally culminates when Jesus comes to earth as a man. He’s the descendant of Abraham who fulfills all the obligations of the covenant and brings blessing by inaugurating God’s kingdom (his gracious rule and reign) on earth. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus established a new covenant that enables all humanity to be made right again to have new life.

Genesis (Heb. reshit, i.e., “beginning”) introduces this story of God’s world. The book reveals the purpose of God’s creation and humanity’s role in it. Genesis also expresses repeatedly and in graphic detail – humanity’s failure to fulfill that role. This is a story of utter human collapse. Our rebellion brought decay, disease, and death to everything the Creator had pronounced, “Good!”

But Genesis is also full of hope, because it’s ultimately a story about God. He’s patient and kind. He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. His love never fails. He sticks with people and doesn’t give up.

Genesis is a story about God’s faithfulness despite continual human failure. And if we read on, we’ll eventually reach the place in the story where God’s faithfulness (and our failure) was most clearly revealed on the cross.

How does thinking of the first five books of the Old Testament as a unified story change the way we read and understand them?

How has God been faithful to you despite your failures?

BASIC OUTLINE of GENESIS

Chapters 1-11: God and the Whole World

SUMMARY: God keeps giving humans a chance to do the right thing in his good world, but they keep blowing it.

Chapters 1-2: Order out of chaos, the cycle of work and rest, humanity’s purpose Chapter 3: Humanity’s rebellion and exile Chapters 4-6: More broken relationships, a world out of control, God’s grief Chapters 6-9: Reboot and failure Chapter 11: More human rebellion and exile

Chapters 11-12: God and Abraham

SUMMARY: God makes a covenant with Abraham and launches the mission to rescue his good world through Abraham’s family.

Chapters 12-50: God and Abraham’s family

SUMMARY: Abraham and his family keep failing, but God remains faithful to his rescue mission.

Chapters 12-25: Abraham Chapters 25-36: Isaac’s family Chapters 37-50: Jacob’s family

OVERVIEW OF GENESIS 1-11:

God and the Whole World

SUMMARY: God keeps giving humans a chance to do the right thing in his good world, but they keep blowing it.

Order out of Chaos (1:1-2:25). God speaks into the formless universe to establish order, beauty, and goodness so that all life can thrive. God makes humans (Heb. adam) “in his image” to reflect his character into the world and to rule it according to his design. Although creation is already “good” (i.e., ‘it works’), God directs man and woman to use their strength and creativity to fill the earth and cultivate it so there can be even more flourishing. God blesses the humans and places them in a garden paradise with the Tree of Life, but he gives them a choice: Will they rule the earth by trusting his definition of good and evil, or will they try to define good and evil for themselves?

God made everything, and it all worked (i.e., it was “good”), but he left room for people to contribute to creation’s goodness. How are “image-bearing,” work, and creativity all related? What are we here for?

Rebellion and Exile, Part 1 (3:1-24). One of God’s creatures – a rebellious snake argues that eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil won’t cause death – it will make the humans like God! (Tragic irony: The humans are already in the image of God.) The humans doubt God’s goodness and seize their independence. Their choice results in suspicion and shame with one other and destroys intimacy with their Creator. God pronounces judgment on the snake: One day he’ll be crushed by a descendent of the woman – even as he delivers a fatal strike to the man. God also sentences the humans: ‘Life will no longer be a walk in

the park – your work in the world will be brutal and will end in death.’ He exiles them from the garden, barring access to the Tree of Life.

Which is the actual root of sin: Eating the forbidden fruit, or doubting God’s goodness?

What happens to us when we’re alienated from God?

How do we experience suspicion and shame in our relationships today?

Read 3:15. To whom does this verse point?

Out of Control (4:1-6:1-8). The effects of human rebellion multiply, and life on earth continues its downward spiral. Adam’s son, Cain, is so jealous of his brother, Abel, that he murders him. Cain then builds a city where greed, corruption, and violence abound. One of his wicked descendants, Lamech, sings a song about being a bad dude badder than Cain ever was! Time marches on. The “sons of God” (evil angels or ancient kings who claimed divine descent) acquire woman like property and produce mighty warrior offspring. Humans build bigger kingdoms through increasing violence and corruption. God grieves over his once-good world and the condition of his ruined image-bearers.

What similarities do you notice between Genesis 4-6 and the state of the world today? Why is the world in such bad shape?

Is God angry or sad about sin? Or is he both? Why?

Reboot and Failure Noah (6:9-9:28). God decides to cleanse the world of evil by sending a flood to wipe out most of humanity, but he spares Noah and his family (and two of each animal!). As he blessed and commissioned Adam, so he now blesses Noah and appoints him to the good work of filling, cultivating, and ruling the world. But Noah like Adam fails. He plants a vineyard, gets drunk, and his son does something shameful to him inside his tent.

Was God’s judgment motivated by love or hostility? Why does God’s judgment pose a problem for sinful humanity?

Rebellion and Exile, Part 2 (10:1-11:9). Life on earth spirals out of control again. People multiply and develop new technology bricks! Now they’re able to build bigger cities than they’d ever dreamed. A group from Babylonia decides to build an enormous tower reaching to the sky and “make a name” for themselves – the ultimate expression of arrogance and prideful rebellion. God knows nothing good can come from this, so he scatters everyone and confuses their language.

How do people today try to “make a name” for themselves? How have you personally struggled with this issue?

Was God’s scattering the people of Babylonia mean or merciful?

How does God restrain evil today?

CONTEXT

When we study an ancient text, it’s always important to remember the Big Picture. To read “out of contextmeans we extract bits and pieces of information from their surroundings and try to interpret them all by themselves. Extraction cuts pieces away from the whole. When little ideas are no longer held in place by the Big Idea, we’re free to choose from a whole array of possible meanings. Ignoring context enables us to make a text say whatever we think it “should” say. This is called spin.

Our goal is to find the author’s intended meaning.

We want to “hear” the text as the original audience would have “heard” it. And to do this well, we have to do our best to understand the whole arc of the story the Big Picture.

The Bible is written in sentences. These sentences form paragraphs that make up sections which comprise longer movements. These movements, when they’re assembled, comprise the arc of entire books. These books then form another immense arc a story that stretches from Genesis to Revelation. And it’s this vast arc that gives meaning and purpose to every movement, section, paragraph, and sentence we read.

If we don’t know the whole arc, we won’t understand the individual sentences.

That’s why each guide in this series will begin by setting the text in context. We’ll look at where we are, where we’ve been, and where everything is going before we jump into the details.

APPLICATION

We encounter two types of writing when we read the Bible. First, there are passages that inform us. Second, there are passages that direct us.

With a text like Genesis, finding direct life application can be difficult. Much of the text is narrative, and there’s very little for us to do. The commands we encounter are directed to men and women in the story and not to us. God doesn’t (necessarily) expect us to leave our neighborhood, family, and friends and move to a place he’ll show us later on. He was dealing with Abraham as an individual. God is personal like that.

Even so, there are patterns the author of Genesis intended for us to notice patterns that will recur frequently as we keep reading the rest of the Bible. We may experience Genesis today from a vast distance of time and place, but the patterns we discover will often bear an eerie resemblance to the familiar patterns of our own lives.

This is not a coincidence. These familiar patterns remind us that the story of Genesis is still going on and we’re in it. This is the ongoing story of Gods world, of which were a part. And while he might not be telling us to cut ties and physically leave everything behind, most of us know just how Abraham felt because we’ve experienced God calling us to stop what we were doing and follow Jesus.

These parallels are everywhere, and learning happens as we see them and make the connections. Nevertheless, we should be careful not to “apply” the text in ways the author never intended. Good study depends on setting our own agendas aside and giving the author a fair hearing. He wrote with a purpose in mind a divinely-inspired purpose and it’s our mission to find out what it was. Stretching ideas to make the text more “meaningful” to us almost never works and always diminishes the intended effect of divine revelation. A helpful way to combat this is to ask: Is this a matter of faith, or of action?