I have divided this material into 4 large sections for our study. Obviously, there are numerous ways to organize this material and explore its meaning. These 4 sections will give you options in your own study of what you may choose or feel led to study more in-depth. I will attempt to give you enough background and overview information to stimulate your thinking and prompt you to further study.
I have a couple of “favorite” resources for the study of Genesis. Probably my all-time favorite is the commentary on Genesis by Derek Kidner (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary, Inter-Varsity Press, 1967). A bit more “heady” but helpful is the commentary by Walter Brueggemann (see the quotation in Lesson1 – Planted on Earth for a Purpose).
I am going to focus in on the topic of “purpose” in my reflections on this lengthy passage of Scripture. We will encounter texts that point to God’s purpose for His creation as well as individuals who discovered their purpose for existence. For the sake of discussion of this topic, I will center in on the life of Noah and how God used Him to accomplish His will. Hopefully, we will emerge with a better understanding of God’s design for His creation as well as some helpful hints for discovering our own purpose in it all.
This section of material completes the creation narrative that is found in Genesis 1:1-2:3. There is an obvious end to the opening narrative in Genesis 2:3. The rest of chapter 2 is a re-telling of creation with a focus on human beings and their relationship with God, each other and creation itself.
Note the intimacy of the language in Genesis 2:7 – God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” – this is beautiful and communicates the special nature of God’s relationship with humans.
We also find in Genesis 2 the original design for a married couple. Adam finds no love or partnership with any representative from creation. He “names” the animals, but he has no affinity for them. He remains incomplete in some sense. This is not a condemnation of singleness – it is more a celebration of community and innocence in a marriage between a man and a woman.
Genesis 2:18 – the first “not good” in the Bible. Mankind is designed to live in community with each other. We are social beings. This special relationship between a man and a woman is designed and blessed by God. Here are Kidner’s comments on this passage:
The naming of the animals, a scene which portrays man as monarch of all he surveys, poignantly reveals him as a social being, made for fellowship, not power: he will not live until he loves, giving himself away (2:24) to another on his own level. So the woman is presented wholly as his partner and counterpart; nothing is yet said of her as childbearer. She is valued for herself alone.
-Kidner, Genesis, p. 65
Genesis 2 ends on a high note. Adam and Eve are in an exclusive relationship that is characterized by mutuality, unity, harmony and intimacy. They are in complete harmony with God and His purposes. They are in harmony with each other and with God’s creation. It is a beautiful picture indeed.
God has complete His creative work and it was a masterpiece. His glory was on display throughout. There was perfect harmony in the universe. All the “pieces” fit together as they should. His character and presence were on display through human beings as they bore His image and likeness. His purposes were connected to the human family that now was co-ruling with Him and tending to His creation. What could go wrong?
Genesis 3 recounts the sordid tale of the tempter and the failure of human beings to sustain their place in creation. Instead of obeying God, both Adam and Eve chose to follow their own way and they fell into the tempter’s trap. Consequently, judgment fell swiftly and comprehensively from God. The tempter was judged and cursed. Adam and Eve were both judged. God cast them from the Garden and the Age of Innocence came to an abrupt end.
The Old Testament does not provide a great deal of theological reflection on Genesis 3. This is further evidenced by the fact that most Jewish rabbis and theologians today do not believe in original sin (Muslims also reject the idea of original sin). However, there are glimpses of theological reflection in the Old Testament (Psalm 51), but the idea of original sin and its connection to this text actually is a New Testament idea. Paul gave attention to this doctrine and placed it in the center of his understanding of the nature of redemption (Romans 1-5). Christianity will become the only major religion in the world that truly believes in original sin and consequently, focuses on the need for the salvation of humanity through a Savior.
So – how did humanity fare after the banishment and the Curse! Unfortunately, not too well. In fact, the summation given in Genesis 6:6 says it all, “The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” How did it get so bad that quickly?
I think sometimes we underestimate the power of sin and its effect on humans in particular and creation in general. The biblical writers do not gloss over sin and its consequences. On the contrary, they tend to deal with sin directly and record its impact on the human story. So, we shouldn’t be surprised by the horrible story in Genesis 4 of Cain’s murder of his brother, Abel. But, still it is a shocking development when you consider that Cain’s parents are Adam and Eve!
Genesis 5 offers a genealogical record that signals the importance of every life. People matter to God. They are not just names on a list, but image-bearers who can reflect His glory in creation. Who knows why they lived so long in those primeval times? Easier to populate the earth? Who knows? There are no easy answers.
Genesis 6:1-7 recounts the strange story about “sons of God” and “daughters of humans” and how they related to each other. There are numerous theories about what this passage is saying and what it means. It is an intriguing passage for us. The truth is, we don’t know for sure what happened. Who were the “sons of God” and why were they drawn to these particular women? And what about the giants? As I said, we don’t know for sure.
Here is one possible interpretation. We have to consult 2 Peter 2:4-8; Jude 6-7 and 1 Peter 3:18-20 for help. These passages seem to indicate that a segment of the angel community disobeyed God during the days of Noah and were imprisoned in a special part of Hades, awaiting final judgment. Perhaps Jesus even went and proclaimed the truth of His redemptive purpose during the intervening time between His death and resurrection. This action on behalf of these angels demonstrate just how damaging the effects of sin are upon God’s intended order.
Regardless of how you interpret these few verses, the darkness of bleakness of the human condition is undeniable at this point in the human story. God decided to respond once more with an unforgettable judgment.
In the midst of a sea of sinfulness and rebellion, a righteous man emerged. Noah was a “righteous man, blameless among the people of his time” (Genesis 6:9). Those two words describe what Kidner refers to as “a remarkably complete man of God” (Kidner, p. 87). Noah was a man who was in right relationship with God and with people. Notice the comment in Genesis 2:9 – “he walked faithfully with God.”
What unfolds before us in this passage of Scripture is a remarkable story that has captured the imaginations of generations of God’s people. God is unmistakably in control of it all. He is the Lord of the flood (Psalm 29:10). He commands Noah and Noah responds in faith.
God sent a devastating flood to destroy humanity and the bulk of all created beings. Only a remnant survived. Just one man’s family was rescued and representatives of the creatures of creation. All were nestled safely on the ark (not a ship) until the flood waters subsided and planet earth was hospitable for habitation again.
It is an amazing story of faith and judgment. A story of redemption and hope. It clearly demonstrates the sovereignty of God over His creation and His desire to continue to fellowship with the human race. On the one hand, God judged the sinfulness of humanity and on the other hand, He redeemed them at the same time. He provided both the means of judgment and cooperated with Noah to provide the means of rescue. His plan was embraced by Noah and Noah lived into his purpose for his life.
Our large section of Scripture ends with this passage. It is filled with hope and replete with God’s promises. God has accomplished His work of judgment and He has displayed his grace in the redemption of Noah’s family. He would now re-populate the planet with Noah’s family. He invited them to participate in a covenantal relationship that foreshadows how God will relate to His people throughout history.
Genesis 8:15-22 reveals how God led Noah and his family out of the ark and ushered them into this new era. He promised them that He would not destroy creation again (Genesis 8:21). He pledged the consistency of natural law that continues to undergird our trust in His creation to this day (Genesis 8:22).
Genesis 9 records God’s covenant with all of creation procured through Noah. He will never flood the earth again. The opportunity to live in partnership with God was restored and the possibility of serving as co-regents with Him was re-established (Genesis 9:1-3). God expressed His desire for humans to acknowledge the sacredness of human life (Genesis 9:6). The original command to humanity was given again (Genesis 2:7). The rainbow was placed in the heavens to remind us all that God is a God who keeps His promises.