Tag Archives: Book of Genesis

Do the Genealogies Allow Us to Date the Events of Genesis 1-11?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

A few Christians have mistakenly supposed that they can use the genealogies in Genesis 5-11 to add up the number of years between Adam and Abraham.  By doing this math, they surmise that the world was created somewhere around 4000 BC.

Hebrew scholars, however, have pointed out that the genealogies are not meant to give exact lineages, such as one might find on ancestor.com.  They often would skip many generations, as they were focused on particular ancestors for particular reasons.

We know that the biblical authors did this.  For example, Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus consists in three sets of 14 generations.  The number 14 was important because 7 was thought to symbolize completion or perfection.  But we know that when Matthew says that “Joram fathered Uzziah,” he omits three generations (see 2 Ch 21:4-26:33) so as to accomplish the desired pattern of 14.  In Hebrew, to say someone “fathered” someone else can also mean that they are an ancestor or forefather of that person.  It does not always mean that they are the parent of the person.

The bottom line is that one has to be very careful with interpreting genealogies in the Bible.  They cannot be used to precisely date any event without other corroborating data.

Commentary on Genesis 15 (Abrahamic Covenant)

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In verses 1-6 in Genesis 15, Abraham has an incredibly important conversation with God. First, in verse 1 God reassures Abraham that he should not be afraid, that God is his reward. In verses 2-3, however, Abraham questions God about the promise God made to Abraham previously. Recall that God promised Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation in Genesis 12.

Abraham complains to God that because he has no children, his only heir will be one of his servants, Eliezer of Damascus. How can God’s promise be fulfilled if Abraham has no children? He and his wife are very old and his wife is barren.

In verses 4-5, God reassures Abraham that a biological son would be his heir. In fact, God lets Abraham know that his descendants will be numbered like the stars in heaven. What is Abraham’s response to God’s promise?

In verse 6, we see one of the most important sentences in the Bible.  “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” It could be argued that the entire narrative of God’s redemptive plan for mankind revolves around this verse. Because Abraham believed God, he was known as righteous. Abraham’s obedience flowed from his belief, and this is why the person who believes will also obey. It is not either/or. It is both/and.

After God reiterated to Abraham that he would have natural descendants that would be numbered like the stars, God also reminded Abraham that he would receive the land promised to him in Genesis 12. When Abraham asks God how he will know that he will receive the land, God instructs Abraham to get a “heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

The heifer, goat, and ram were cut in two, but not the birds.  In verses 12-21, God makes a covenant with Abraham with an amazing pyrotechnical display. “A smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.” In the ancient world, parties to a covenant would sometimes walk between slaughtered animals as part of the ceremony. In this case, God is the only one passing through the animals, because he is making the promise on his own.

This covenant is an unconditional promise to Abraham that his descendants will be given the land of Canaan, land that is bordered by the Nile River and the Euphrates River. Notice that these borders are coincident with the borders around the Garden of Eden. God would return his people to a land of paradise.

Before all of this would happen, though, Abrahams’ descendants would be enslaved in a foreign land for 400 years. This, of course, foreshadows the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt for 400 years. Remember that the book of Genesis is being written to the Israelites prior to their entering the Promised Land. This covenant of God made with Abraham would be especially poignant to them as they wondered whether they would ever see the Promised Land. Moses, by recording God’s promise to Abraham, reassures them that they will.

God’s promises are always kept, but they may take longer than we like. Abraham would not receive the land immediately, but only after centuries would pass. Yet, we see that Abraham still believed.

Commentary on Genesis 11-12 (Call of Abraham)

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

The calling of Abraham (his name would be changed from Abram to Abraham in Genesis 17) in Genesis 12 is one of the first biblical events that historians can date with any kind of precision.  Many scholars believe that Abraham moved to Canaan around 2100 BC, or 2100 years before the birth of Christ.

Ur of the Chaldeans, where Abraham’s family originated, is thought to be located southwest of  the ancient city of Babylon, located in what is now Iraq, near the modern town of Hilla, and on the eastern bank of the Euphrates river.  Babylon was founded near the end of the 3rd millennium BC, and lasted through the 2nd century AD.

On to the verses….

In chapter 11, verses 27-30 introduce the reader to Abram’s family (his name would later be changed to Abraham by God).  We learn that Abraham’s father is named Terah and that Abraham has brothers named Nahor and Haran.  Abraham’s wife is named Sarah (her name is changed from Sarai to Sarah in Genesis 17) and Nahor’s wife is named Milcah.

Then in verse 30, out of the blue, we read that Sarah cannot conceive children.  In the ancient near east, for a woman to be unable to conceive a child was devastating to her and her husband.  The author of Genesis 11 is letting the reader know that if Abraham is going to have any children with Sarah, God must intervene.  The need for God to intervene will strike the reader as we read the first verses of chapter 12, where Abraham’s descendants are promised blessings.  How can Abraham have any descendants if his wife is barren?

In verses 31-32, we learn that Terah actually had left Ur and made it as far as the city of Haran (not to be confused with Abrahams’ brother). See this link to a map showing Abraham’s journeys.

As we come to chapter 12, we read some of the most important verses in the entire Bible.  Here the author of Genesis tells us about God’s plan to bless mankind after the disasters that had occurred at the Fall, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel.  We learn how God will create for himself a people who acknowledge him as the one true God, and who have as their homeland a place called the Lord’s Land.

According to the Zondervan NIV Study Bible,

In the ancient world of the OT, all the various gods that were worshiped and relied on were gods of a particular place and/or a particular people (a family, tribe, or nation—the choice of the gods to be venerated by the social unit resting in the hands of the communal leader[s]). The most effective way for the true God to break into such a religious world and gain world recognition was to establish a relationship with a patriarchal head of household and call him away from his idolatrous clan and from the place(s) with which its gods were linked and to establish that patriarch’s household as the beginnings of a people who acknowledged only him as their God, and then locate them in a place/land that he claimed as his own. That is the program that Yahweh initiated with his summons to Abram.

Note the seven parts of God’s promise to Abraham in verses 2-3 of chapter 12.  First, “I will make you into a great nation.”  Second, “I will bless you.”  Third, “I will make your name great.”  Fourth, “You will be a blessing.” (Some scholars read this fourth part as a command to Abraham, not a promise).  Fifth, “I will bless those who bless you.”  Sixth, “Whoever curses you I will curse.”  Seventh, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  Because of the Hebrew literary style used in this section containing the promises, the original readers would have understood the first and seventh promises to be the most important, that God would make Abraham into a great nation, and that all peoples on earth would be blessed.

In verses 4-9, Abraham’s journey into Canaan is described.  We learn that Lot, who is Abraham’s nephew, accompanies him to Canaan.  Lot will be an important figure in the coming chapters of Genesis, and that is why the reader is alerted to his presence.

There are three particular places mentioned in Canaan that Abraham visits, all of which are later visited by Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, when Jacob returns to Canaan, and all of which are mentioned as sites occupied by Joshua in the conquest of Canaan some 700 years later.  These three sites are 1) Shechem, 2) a place between Bethel and Ai, and 3) the Negev. At Shechem, and between Bethel and Ai, Abraham builds altars to the Lord.  At Shechem, God appears to Abraham to reassure him that his offspring would have the land.

Commentary on Genesis 6-8 (The Flood)

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In verses 5-7 in chapter 6, we learn that God is deeply grieved by the wickedness of mankind.  Since the days of Adam and Eve, mankind has become more and more sinful.  The wickedness has become so extreme that God decides he will exterminate the entire human race.  Only one family will escape his judgment: the family of Noah.

Why is Noah to be spared from the impending flood?  “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.”  The answer is simple: Noah obeyed God, and this is what God desires from human beings.

In verses 11-22, Noah receives detailed instructions from God on how to build the ark that will house his family and the animals that God will spare from the flood.  The details are provided by the author to demonstrate the meticulous obedience of Noah.  Noah is an example to the reader of how a person is to follow God.

In verse 22, we read, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.”  The fact that Noah was spared from the flood because he did as God commanded is repeated three more times in chapter 7 in verses 5, 9, and 16.  Obedience to God is a central theme for the book of Genesis and the entire Pentateuch.

In chapter 7, the flood begins and Noah’s family is safe inside the ark.  God gives specific instructions about taking extra “clean” animals on board the ark so that Noah’s family will not have to eat “unclean” animals during the flood.  These instructions foreshadow the instructions by God to bring unblemished animals to be sacrificed at the tabernacle constructed by the Israelites as they wandered the desert for 40 years.

Remember that Genesis 7 was most likely given to the Israelites during the 40 years in the wilderness, so it is important to consider how they would have heard the account of Noah, given their experience in the wilderness.  Likewise, the forty days and forty nights of rain parallel the forty years in the wilderness.

As the flood is described, we don’t hear about those who perish until verse 21 of chapter 7.  Here we are reminded of the animals and humans that were killed, and that only Noah’s family and the animals on the ark are saved.

In chapter 8, the inhabitants of the ark are finally able to emerge.  Verse 1 reminds us that God remembered Noah and sent a wind over the waters so that they would recede (reminiscent of the parting of the Red Sea).  Noah must wait for God to act before the ark rests on dry land and everyone can exit.

Theologian John Sailhamer notes, “The image that emerges from this narrative is that of a righteous and faithful remnant patiently waiting for God’s deliverance.”  Henceforth, the Flood, in the Bible, symbolizes God’s judgment of sin, and Noah symbolizes the salvation of the faithful.

Commentary on Genesis 3 (The Fall)

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Genesis 3 describes the rebellion of Adam and Eve against God and the immediate consequences of that rebellion.  In verses 1-7, we see Eve being tempted by a serpent, which the author describes as crafty.  Later in the Bible, in the book of Revelation, this serpent is identified as Satan.  The serpent tells Eve that she can become like God, knowing good from evil, if she will only eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree that God forbade Adam and Eve to eat from.  The serpent also denies that Eve will die, as God warned.

In essence, Eve wants to gain wisdom that she thinks God is withholding from her.  She takes the fruit from the tree and then gives some to Adam, who also eats the fruit.  Instead of becoming like God in wisdom, disaster occurred.  Before eating the fruit, they were unashamed of their naked bodies, but after eating the fruit, they became ashamed and hid themselves from each other and God.

God had already given them every good thing they would ever need, but they instead desired to know good and evil apart from God.  They thought they could improve themselves by eating from the tree that God had forbidden.  They doubted God’s promise of the consequences of their disobedience, and they believed the serpent’s lies.

In verses 8-13, God confronts Adam and Eve with their disobedience.  Notice what has changed.  Before, Adam and Eve conversed with God openly in the garden, and now they are hiding from him, out of shame.  Their newly gained knowledge of good and evil has not made them more like God, it has distanced them from God.  Not only are they distanced from God, but Adam now blames Eve for giving him the fruit, and he even blames God for creating Eve in the first place.  What a difference!

In verses 14-19, God explains to Adam and Eve the consequences of their disobedience.  The serpent is cursed, but in this curse God promises that Eve’s offspring will battle with the serpent’s offspring, and one day Eve’s descendant will crush the serpent – a foreshadowing of Jesus’s victory over Satan on the cross.

There were also consequences for Eve and all women after her.  First, the joy of childbirth would now be mixed with extreme pain.  Second, the perfect marital relationship that Adam and Eve possessed would be corrupted.  As Eugene Peterson paraphrases God’s message to Eve, “You’ll want to please your husband, but he’ll lord it over you.”

There were also consequences for Adam.  Because of his disobedience, the ground would be cursed, which meant that he would have to work extremely hard to get any food out of the ground.  In the garden, food was provided by God, but now man would have to “sweat in the fields from dawn to dusk.”

Finally, in verses 20-24 God banishes Adam and Eve from the garden so that they cannot eat of the tree of life, and live forever.  In addition, they would also be cut off from God’s immediate presence they had enjoyed in the garden.  The one silver lining is that God did not destroy the garden, so we are left with hope that some day we will be able to re-enter it.

Commentary on Genesis 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In Genesis 2 the creation account of Genesis 1 is continued, but now with focus on the creation of humankind.  In Genesis 1, we saw that mankind was the pinnacle of God’s overall creative work, so Genesis 2 gives a more detailed account of how the first man and first woman were created.

In verses 4-7, we learn that before man is created, and before the Fall of mankind, the world is different.  Shrubs and plants of the field do not yet exist because there is no rain and no men to farm the fields. God takes dirt from the ground and forms man (Adam), and then God blows into his nostrils the breath of life.

Note that God is not described blowing into the nostrils of any other creatures.  Also, recall from Genesis 1 that only humans are made in the “image of god.”  The first two chapters of the Bible give great prominence to human beings during God’s process of creation.  Human beings are not a mere afterthought; they appear to be the very reason God created the heavens and the earth.

In verses 8-15, we are told that God places Adam in a paradise, a garden located in an area of the world called Eden.  There is plenty of food for Adam in the garden, food that God has provided for him.  There are also two trees in the middle of the garden, one called the tree of life and another called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Adam is told to keep the garden orderly, to take care of it.  The Hebrew in verse 15 can also be translated to indicate that Adam is to worship and obey God.  God is providing everything Adam needs at this point.

Foreshadowing the events of Genesis 3, the Fall, God commands Adam to “not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”  Aside from God’s desire for Adam to worship and obey him, and care for the garden, this is the first command God gives Adam with negative consequences if he fails to obey.

Verses 18-25 then shift the focus to the creation of the first woman, Eve. What is incredibly important to notice in verses 18-20 is that no animal is suitable to be a helper for Adam.  Although Adam is given the privilege of naming the other animals, Adam sees that he is completely unlike all the animals he names.

So God performs the first ever human surgery and creates Eve out of the bones of Adam.  When Adam sees Eve, he immediately realizes that she is just like him – “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”  Verses 24-25 introduce the institution of marriage between one man and one woman, and they indicate that one of the primary purposes of the married couple is to sexually reproduce.

What Is the Point of Genesis 1?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

There are several possible interpretations of the individual verses in Genesis 1, but if we step back and look at the overall theme of the Book of Genesis, chapter 1, what is it about?

The creation account of Genesis 1, as the preamble to the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible), announces that the God of Israel, the covenant Deliverer of his people, is Creator of all that exists. The opening verse says it all: the God of covenant and the God of creation are one and the same.

God is depicted as the autonomous Master who has by his uncontested word commanded all things into existence and ordered their design and purpose. In the ancient near east during the second millennium BC, there were other creation stories.  In those, the ordered universe owed its existence to a struggle between a hero deity and a beast which represented chaos and disorder. The gods of creation were depicted primarily as re-ordering unruly matter, not creating matter.

The ancients’ understanding of origins was tied to their concept of the natural world as alive and personal. They believed that natural phenomena were related to the activities of the gods. Ancient myth, then, tells of a threatening and unpredictable world where the gods operate, placing society at their mercy.

Against this backdrop the Genesis 1 account speaks volumes regarding the uniqueness of biblical revelation.  Indeed, God’s Word was required to liberate antiquity from its superstitions and fear of the world that was viewed as a playground for fickle and cruel gods.  Genesis 1 teaches that God is and that he is Sovereign Lord above and over nature. God created the universe by his speaking it into existence.

In Genesis 1, God not only creates all matter out of nothing, he then orders and designs that matter to become productive. He separates light from darkness; the sky from waters below; the land from the waters. Vegetation, birds, fish, land animals, and finally human beings, fill God’s creation.

In summary, the God of Genesis 1 is not re-ordering an already existing natural world. He is not fighting against other pre-existing gods. The God of Genesis 1 is creating the natural world from scratch, and then giving it order and design – making it productive. Although Christians who take the Bible to be the Word of God may differ on the details, we should all agree that this is what Genesis 1 is ultimately about.

The Distance Between Man and Everything Else

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most striking evidences for the Christian God is the uniqueness of man among all of the animals.  God exalts in The Book of Genesis, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”  The Bible dramatically lifts man over the remainder of creation.

G. K. Chesterton, in his book  The Everlasting Man, wonders what the world would be like if other animals reached the heights of man in this passage:

If there was ever a moment when man was only an animal, we can if we choose make a fancy picture of his career transferred to some other animal. An entertaining fantasia might be made in which elephants built in elephantine architecture, with towers and turrets like tusks and trunks, cities beyond the scale of any colossus. A pleasant fable might be conceived in which a cow had developed a costume, and put on four boots and two pairs of trousers. We could imagine a Supermonkey more marvellous than any Superman, a quadrumanous creature carving and painting with his hands and cooking and carpentering with his feet. But if we are considering what did happen, we shall certainly decide that man has distanced everything else with a distance like that of the astronomical spaces and a speed like that of the still thunderbolt of the light.

Nobody says things quite like Chesterton does.

Does Genesis 2 Contradict Genesis 1?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

A common misunderstanding of the Book of Genesis is how chapters 1 and 2 are related.  Specifically, chapter 1 claims that land animals were created before Adam (see Gen. 1:24-26), but chapter 2 seems to claim that Adam was created before land animals (see Gen. 2:19).  Is it possible that these two creation accounts are contradictory?

The alleged contradiction is refuted when we look more closely at Gen. 2:19.  The NIV translates the verse, “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”

Notice that the verse says that God had formed the animals, meaning that the animals were already formed before Adam.  So the contradiction evaporates.

Some translations (e.g., NAS), however, don’t translate the word had, but leave it out (either translation of the verse from Hebrew to English is permissible).  Does this make it a contradiction?

No, not really.  When we look at the focus of chapter 1, it seems to be on the order of creation, but the focus of the passages surrounding Gen. 2:19 is on the naming of animals and the creation of Eve.

According to Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe,

Genesis 1 gives the order of events; Genesis 2 provides more content about them. Genesis 2 does not contradict chapter 1, since it does not affirm exactly when God created the animals. He simply says He brought the animals (which He had previously created) to Adam so that he might name them. The focus in chapter 2 is on the naming of the animals, not on creating them. Genesis 1 provides the outline of events, and chapter 2 gives details. Taken together, the two chapters provide a harmonious and more complete picture of the creation events.

A footnote in The Apologetics Study Bible explains:

Chapter 2 is a second creation account only in the sense that it gives a more detailed accounting, not a contradictory one.  While chapter 1 provides a general description, chapter 2 is specific.  Twofold accounts were common in ancient theories of creation (e.g., the Babylonian story of Atrahasis).  The differences in the order of the creation events are due to the narratives’ respective purposes.  The first gives a loosely chronological account, gathering creation events into a discernible pattern to show the symmetry of creation’s purpose.  The second is topical, focusing on the sixth day by expanding on the creation and the relationship of the man and the woman.  Genesis 2 presupposes chapter 1 and does not duplicate all the creation events.

So Genesis 2 does not contradict Genesis 1 at all, once we see the different purposes for the two different creation narratives.  In fact, they are complementary to each other, with Genesis 2 filling in details from the creation account of Genesis 1.