Genesis and Israel

It can be helpful to remind ourselves that Moses wrote Genesis (and the rest of Pentateuch) not to us, but to Israel as they were about to enter the land of Canaan. They had a language, they had a land, and they had a law, but they needed something more to have the solidarity He desired for them. God wanted to make sure they knew their story.

Of course, the story already existed and was circulated among them by Moses, Aaron, and others who were gifted by God to speak in this capacity. Then too, I’m sure there was something of what Exodus 13:44ff, and other passages mention going on as well. Since all of this was happening and God still desired another avenue for their story, we get an idea of how important it must be. He wanted Israel to have no doubts about who they are, where they came from, or why they were here. Therefore, the story was written down and preserved. It was standardized, centralized, and prioritized in a way it had not been before.

As Israel read about creation, they would see that all of the things the Egyptians worshipped (the sun, moon, water, land, etc.), were not gods, but rather made by the one God. As others have pointed out, it would be hard for them to read about the Spirit of God bringing order out of chaos (1:2), separating the water from the water (1:6ff), without thinking about the chaotic plagues under Yahweh’s control or how He separated the waters in bringing them out of Egypt. This was also undoubtedly intended to immunize them from the idolatry they would encounter in Canaan.

I think we’re to look at Genesis in terms of the big picture: there is creation, re-creation, and creation again in the nation of Israel. In each of these there are prominent characters (Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob & Joseph). There is sin in the garden, on the earth before the flood, and throughout the lives of the patriarchs. There is redemption extended and experienced through animal skins, an ark, and a blessing. There are genealogies to connect everything and everyone. And there is land.

Man is made from the earth and placed in a garden (2:7-8). When he disobeys God he is not only banished from the garden, but told that due to his actions the ground is now cursed and will yield its produce only as the result of painful toil (3:17). Cain, who stained the earth with his brother’s blood, is told that “you will be a rest wanderer on the earth,” (4:10,12). The flood bought on by the wickedness and depravity of Noah’s generation, covers the land (6:5,7:19-20). The rebels who attempt to thwart God’s judicial scattering are further scattered (11:4,8-9).

But in Abraham everything changes. Jim McGuiggan says, “If the history of mankind before Abraham can be summarized as expulsion from land, the new history of Man which God creates with Abraham can be summarized as coming home. Adam is a fit representative of rebellious Man being driven from home. Abraham is a fit representative of faithful Man being called home by God (Romans 4:11 and 5:12-19).” Since land mirrors man’s relationship with God—Abraham is called to receive a land (Genesis 12:1,7).

All of this is recorded for the benefit of the people of Israel as they prepare to enter the land promised to Abraham. In receiving the land, they were to see something more than them possessing favored nation status. God was calling man home and they were to lead the way. Are we to see anything less in the church ?



Published by A Taste of Grace with Bruce Green

I grew up the among the cotton fields, red clay and aerospace industry of north Alabama. My wife and I are blessed with three adult children and five grandchildren.

%d bloggers like this: