Overview: Blessing and Cursing; The Origins of God's Chosen People
The author of Genesis is Moses. Moses is the one who put together the final rendition or the final edition of the Pentateuch. That does not mean that everything in Genesis was originally written by Moses, as we will see. There are ten points in the Hebrew text where it uses the word toledot, and it is usually translated, “these are the generations of, this is the history of,” and most scholars believe that these sections were taken from scrolls, oral history, and written history that went all the way back to Adam. So when Moses was in the wilderness with the Israelites during the 40 years of divine discipline before the nation could enter the land he had in his possession there earlier documents. Under inspiration, under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit, he took from those documents the information he needed in order to present the history of Israel. So Moses is the final author, he wrote between 1446 BC, the time of the exodus, and 1446 BC which is about the time he went to be with the Lord. During that time he penned the entire Pentateuch which is a term that refers to the first five books of the Bible—Genesis through Deuteronomy, sometimes referred to as the Torah or the Law, the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses.
The title “Genesis” as we have it in our English Bible really derives from the Latin Vulgate. The Hebrew title is taken from the first word in the first verse. It is the Hebrew word bereshith. It is the preposition be, meaning “in,” and then the term “the beginning.” It doesn’t have a definite article there because in Hebrew when you attach a preposition as a prefix to the word it supplants or replaces the definite article. So it should be translated “In the beginning,” the Hebrew title for the book. The Latin Vulgate derived the title from the phrase, “The book or the history of,” the translation in the Vulgate of toledot, Biblos Genesios, meaning “The book of beginnings.” As such it emphasizes the origins, that Genesis is the book of origins.
Moses wrote this to Israel. This is important to understand to catch the framework for why Genesis was written. There are a number of reasons that we could come up with but the primary reason is that Moses is sitting out in the wilderness with about two to three million Jews who are about to go into a land that God has promised them, and they are going to go into military conflict and take this land forcibly from its possessors, the Canaanites. So the question he is answering is: Why us? What is our right to the land? What is the source of divine blessing? What is the historical basis for God’s covenant with Israel? So he goes back to the beginning. But the thrust of this book has to do with the beginnings of Israel. That is why it is divided the way it is. The first eleven chapters have to do with the beginnings of mankind, and then it is from chapter twelve to chapter fifty that you get the emphasis on the four individuals, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. So if we look at where the emphasis lies we can see that there is a lot of information and time covered in those first eleven chapters that Moses just seems to skip over—it leaves us with a lot of questions—but the thrust in those chapters is simply to provide an introduction to why God calls Abram in Genesis chapter twelve.
Genesis is the book of beginnings, and there are numerous beginnings in Genesis.
1) It is the beginning of the space-time continuum. Before Genesis 1:1 there is just God and the third heaven, there is no universe, no such thing as space or time.
2) It is the beginning of the universe. He creates a space-time continuum, which is a special location for the universe.
3) It is the beginning of our solar system.
4) It is the beginning of vegetation and animal life on planet earth.
5) It is the beginning of earth as the home for the human race, not necessarily the beginning of earth as a planet but the beginning as a home for the human race.
6) It is the beginning of the human race.
7) We see the beginning of the institution of marriage.
8) We see the beginning of the institution of family.
9) We the first sin and the beginning of sin.
10) We see the first divine judgment on sin.
11) We see the announcement of God’s plan of salvation.
12) We see the beginning of law and the judicial system.
13) We have the beginning of economics—buying and selling, and principles that should undergird all economic theory.
14) We have the beginning of labor. Labor begins before the fall.
15) We have the beginning of society and social structures.
16) We have the beginning of language and learning.
17) We have the beginning of cities and the first urban development.
18) We have the beginning of God’s grace because man is no longer deserving and is fallen.
19) We have the beginning of animal sacrifice as a picture of the future work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
20) We have the beginning of music.
21) We have the beginning of metallurgy.
22) We have the beginning of demonism.
23) We have the beginning of idolatry.
24) We have the beginning of globalism and internationalism, and the first United Nations comes about in chapter eleven.
25) We have the beginning of government and national distinctions.
26) We have the beginning of Israel, the Jews as a distinct race.
When we look at the overall structure of Genesis there is a literary organization of the text that occurs in the Hebrew. It is not necessarily obvious in the English because the English translators do not always translate the Hebrew in the same way. The Hebrew word is toledot. Sometimes it is translated “record,” sometimes “generations,” sometimes “history.” But the best way to understand this is “these are the records of so and so,” or “this is what happened to so and so.” So these are structural markers that occur throughout Genesis. The first occurs in 2:4, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth,” and it should be translated “This is what happened to the heavens and the earth.” After God creates [recreates] the heavens and the earth in Genesis chapter one, and you have perfect environment on the restored earth, what happens? How did it get from perfect environment to the state it is in now? That is covered from 2:4 to 4:16. Then in 5:1 we have “This is what happened to, or this is the record of, Adam and Adam’s descendants,” and that goes down to 6:8 which is where the flood is announced. Then in 6:9 we have, “This is what happened to Noah,” and we have there the story of the world-wide flood. In 10:1 to 11:9 we have, “This is the record of Noah’s sons.” That concludes with the episode at the tower of Babel. From 11:10 to verse 26, a short section, there is the record of Shem and his descendants. That concludes with Terah, the father of Abram. In 11:27 we have, “This is the record of Terah and his decendants,” and that goes down to the death of Abraham in 25:11. From 25:12 to verse 18, another very short section, “This is what happened to Ishmael.” This is not tracing the line of the seed but it is going to wrap up the loose ends related to Ishmael and his descendants. Then from 25:19 to 35:29 we have, “This is what happened to Isaac and his descendants,” and that includes Jacob. In 36:1 to 37:1 we have Esau. From 37:2 to the end of the book, 50:26, we have what took place for Jacob and his descendants, and that entire section focuses on Joseph.
By way of an overview we organize Genesis into two basic sections. The first revolves around four events. This is the primeval history of mankind. The word “primeval” means early, or ancient. We have four events covering the history of mankind or the Gentiles, starting with creation and the restoration; the fall; the flood; and the story of the tower of Babel. That is the primeval history of mankind, the introduction to the book. The second section revolves around four people. This is the patriarchal history of Israel—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.
The theme of Genesis is the theme of blessing. What is blessing? What does blessing mean? Blessing in the Scripture is not just happiness, it is the place of life—real, genuine life—in relationship to the creator, happiness, a place of enrichment and prosperity. Especially in the Old Testament there is a strong element of physical and financial prosperity and enrichment. In contrast to blessing we have the theme of cursing which is to be defined as the imposition of a barrier to life and happiness. Often this cursing is judicial in nature, it is the judgment of God.
The creation and restoration in Genesis 1:1-2:3. We see the beginning of the universe in 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” But there is something amiss by the time we get to verse 2, which should be translated “And the earth became formless.” Something takes place, there is now darkness on the planet, and this indicates there has been some element of divine judgment. Then God the Holy Spirit begins to move on the face of the waters in verse 2 and there is restoration. In the face of cursing in the second verse there is restoration and blessing in verse 3. Specifically we are told in chapter one that animal life was blessed, human life was blessed, and the seventh day, the Sabbath, is blessed. There are three specific blessings in this chapter. Mankind begins in a state of blessing, a state of perfect environment and a state of harmony with God. Mankind, we are told in verses 26 and 27, is created in the image and likeness of God. Man is created in order to represent God to the creation and to rule the creation. The fall begins in 2:4 and it is in this verse that we have our first toledot. Chapter two is a repetition of creation from a different perspective and it sets the stage for chapter three. The focal point of chapter two is the creation of the man and the woman, and the test of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It sets the stage to the fall so it is the precursor to the fall and in that chapter we see the beginning of human responsibility, the first divine institution; we see the beginning of marriage, the second divine institution. Then chapter three is the episode of the fall itself. So there is the loss of the original state of blessing that is replaced by the curse on sin. A curse from a biblical viewpoint, remember, is defined as a barrier that is erected in a position to prevent blessing. A curse in Scripture is God’s announcement of divine judgment on people as a result of their disobedience to Him. It is an explanation of the consequences of sin. The penalty for sin is spiritual death. The curse that is outlined in Genesis 3 is the outline of God’s judgment for sin on the different people who were involved.
The first toledot covers the section from 2:4 down to 4:26 and it actually covers more than simply the fall. It goes down through the early civilization section which takes place prior to the fall in Genesis 3 and 4. This shows the outworking of sin on the human race. There is the episode of Cain versus Abel in chapter 4 where Abel is obedient to God and Cain is disobedient to God, and as a result of Cain’s disobedience there will be cursing upon Cain and he will be cut off from others on the earth. Abel is murdered but is replaced in terms of a believer in the family line by the birth of Seth. Adam has other children and they marry one another. There is intermarriage at this time, there is no difficulty or problem between siblings. In fact, there is not a law against siblings until you get to the Mosaic law and we will discuss the reasons for that when we get there. In the early stages of the human race when there were limited options there was intermarriage within the family. It seems strange to us but when you look at what the options were there weren’t any. In chapter three is the development of chaos within the family as a result of sin, and there is cursing.
Then we come to the second toledot in 5:1: “This is the book of the genealogy of Adam.” Chapter five really describes the area leading up to the flood. This is what happens to Adam’s descendants and it begins with blessing. It reminds us of the status of blessing which Adam enjoyed at the creation: “In the day that God created man He made them in the likeness of God.” He created them male and female, blessed them, and called them mankind in the day they were created. Then we are reminded again and again as we read through this chapter that that blessing has been turned to cursing, and we are reminded of death at every step of the way, that each of these men died. So death and cursing pervades the fifth chapter. It is a reminder that the earth is not what it was originally created to be and that the reason that there is evil, suffering and death in human history is because of Adam’s decision to disobey God. And that evil increases in the world at this time because men get further and further away from God, and the more that mankind disobeys God, the more they get away from the Lord, the more there is a fragmentation of society and the more that chaos enters into human history. This is exemplified finally by the time we get down to chapter six when there is a demonic invasion of the human race. As a result of that the Lord makes a comment in verse 5: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” So there is no hope for the entire human race, with the exception of Noah and his immediate family, and a few others who all die before the flood. But the second toledot ends with a note of hope in verse 8: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” So 6:1-8 announces the extreme curse of catastrophic world-wide death/judgment on man that would come through a world-wide flood.
This brings up the third toledot, the toledot of Noah which begins in 6:9 and extends to 9:29. Again, the theme is judgment, cursing, divine judgment on the entire world with the exception of Noah and his family through the world-wide flood. But nevertheless there is blessing in the midst of cursing. God’s grace preserves a remnant in Noah. It is through that remnant, and through Noah who functions as a second or new Adam that God will begin to repopulate the earth. What we see in the episode of the flood is a restoration of the chaos that occurred in the original primeval chaos of Genesis 1:2 where the earth was covered with water. So the flood restores the earth to the primeval chaos of judgment on Satan. Noah is a new Adam. He is set to repopulate the earth, and at this point God institutes a new covenant with Noah. He promises that there will be no more global watery destruction, that there will be meteorological stability for the most part, and delegates responsibility to mankind to govern himself. So with the Noahic covenant we have the beginning of the fourth divine institution which is human government. Nevertheless, though God has blessed Noah and his sons in 9:1, man is still sinful. At the end of the chapter we discover that Noah gets drunk from the wine of his vineyard, and then there is the episode where he is found lying naked in his tent and his grandson comes in and covers him.
There is an interesting twist at the beginning in Genesis one where Adam and the woman are naked and are not ashamed. Now nakedness is something to be ashamed of and something to be covered, and by treating that lightly there is a curse placed upon Canaan. This clearly reveals the disrespect that Canaan has for his grandfather, and it reveals certain tendencies in his line that will become more evident, specifically in the Canaanites. When Ham comes in to cover him Noah doesn’t curse Ham, he curses the grandson, Canaan, because he knows that these tendencies that the father showed are going to be developed more fully through Canaan. What is happening when Moses is writing this? Moses is in the plains of Moab and the Israelites are getting ready to go into the land to take it forcibly and violently from the Canaanites. So there is a rationale developing for why the Canaanites are not worthy to keep the land, because they have become so perverse and so sinful that it is now time for God to remove them in divine discipline.
So there are three sons of Noah: Ham, Shem and Japheth. Ham is not cursed but one of his sons, Canaan, is cursed because of his father’s misbehavior in relationship to Noah’s drunkenness. Then the other two sons are blessed. Noah blesses Shem in v. 26, “And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.” It is through Shem that the Hebrews come, that revelation comes, that the Bible comes, that redemption comes through Jesus Christ, and that Christianity therefore is going to have its largest impact on Japheth, the Gentile descendants that we would relate to mostly western Europeans, and mostly North Americans are descendants of Japheth.
In chapter 10:1 we have another toledot: “This is what happened to the sons of Noah.” So 10:1-11:9 is going to tell us what happens to the sons of Noah as a whole, and this focuses on their failure to disperse and the curse of the division of languages which begins national distinctions. That takes place at Babel where instead of expanding and filling the earth as they were commanded to do mankind decides to unite. They are going to make a stand against God, disobey God; they are not going to voluntarily take control of the earth, so God has to scatter them. He announces that judgment in 11:4.
Then we come to the fifth toledot, which is still part of the Babel episode—this section between the flood and Abraham. It is given in 11:10. “This is the genealogy of Shem.” This sets the stage for God’s renewal of blessing through the descendants of Shem. The genealogy here goes from verse 10 down through verse 26 where it talks about Terah, so it is specifically Abraham through whom God’s redemptive plan will transpire.
This brings us to the second major division of the book where we talk about the four people in the patriarchal history of Israel. It introduces the sixth toledot, beginning with Terah in 11:27 and goes down through 25:11, and that whole section really tells the story of Abram who is renamed Abraham. It is, again, and extension of the theme of blessing and cursing but now it is localized to Abraham and his seed. In Genesis 12:3 we read, “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curse thee lightly.” This takes us to the Abrahamic covenant which is specifically divided into three sections: a land promise, a seed promise, and a blessing promise. We need to pay attention to these three words (land, seed, blessing) because these three ideas: the tracing of the land promise from generation to generation; the tracing of the seed, God’s preservation of the seed through Isaac, Jacob and Joseph; and then we find the motif throughout this last part of Genesis of how God blesses the descendants of Abraham, and He blesses by association those who are friendly to them and He judges those who are hostile to them.
Starting in 12:10 through 15:21 the emphasis is on the land. God is going to develop this theme and show how He is going to protect and preserve the land for Abraham and his descendants. So there is an emphasis on the land, and first there is a famine test. Abram leaves and goes down to Egypt. Rather than relying upon God he decides he is going to handle the problem on his own and he leaves the land. So God has to work to destroy his human viewpoint strategy and get him back to the land. Then in chapters 13 & 14 there is a problem developing with Lot, his nephew. Abraham is to divide and separate from Lot. God told Abraham, “And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.” So there is the promise of the land and the division of the land. Then in chapter 14 there is the invasion of the land by the kings of the east. It is Abraham who eventually destroys the armies of the four kings. He came back and instead of giving a tribute to the king of Sodom he gives tribute by way of the tithe to Mechizedek. His name means King of Righteousness. He was the king of Salem, which is now Jerusalem, and he is seen as a religious leader. In chapter 15 God reaffirms and confirms His covenant with Abraham. This is where the Abrahamic covenant is actually, formally ratified. There is an emphasis on the land. God continuously throughout this period says, "This land is yours, I am promising to give you this land". And as Abraham understood that to be a physical piece of land, we should too.
There is an emphasis on the seed through chapters 16-21. There is a human viewpoint solution to the seed in the 16th chapter where Sarah suggests that Hagar should be taken as Abraham’s wife, so he follows her instructions, gets himself in trouble, Hagar is pregnant and she gives birth to Ishmael. This, of course, is the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In chapter 17 we have the introduction of circumcision as the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. This is to keep the line distinctive, that there would be a distinctiveness to the Jewish males because of circumcision. Then in chapters 18 & 19 is the episode of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This is the protection of the seed. God is going to protect the seed from coming under their perverted influence. Next is a second human viewpoint solution in chapter 20 where Abraham is living near the Philistines. He has Sarah pose as his sister. But Abimelech closes the wombs of all the Philistine women, and he wakes up realizing that something is going on and that Sarah is actually Abraham’s wife. Sarah is kept from possible sexual relations with someone else and the interference with the promise of the seed. Then in chapter 21 there is the birth of the seed: Isaac. Abraham is then tested in chapter 22 where Abraham is told to take his only son and sacrifice him. Abraham is willing to do that, when know from Hebrews 11, because he knows that God can raise Isaac from the dead. His faith is now so strong that he understands that God’s plan will come to pass whether he sacrifices Isaac or not. God, of course, stays his hand, provides a substitute ram in the bush which is a picture of Jesus Christ who dies on the cross as our substitute.
Then we have the conclusion of this section in chapters 22-25 where Abraham purchases land for burial for Sarah, and this is a sign or guarantee for future ownership of the land. The seed is protected because Isaac gets a wife, Rebecca, and than Abraham blesses Ishmael and sends him on his way, and this shows that God is going to protect the land from any kind of inheritance conflict and protect the seed from conflict with Ishmael.
The seventh toledot is in chapters 25:12-18 which ties up the loose ends related to Ishmael and his descendants. That covers up to Abraham.
Then we come to Isaac. Not much is said about Isaac. Most of what we know about him is really told in terms of the story of Jacob. This is the eighth toledot, 25:29-35:29, it covers Isaac and Jacob. Isaac is 40 years old when he marries Rebekah. Initially she is barren. This is a major theme that runs through here, the women are all barren. But that is to show that God is a God who brings life where there is death, He brings blessing where there is cursing, and due Isaac’s prayer and his dependence upon the promise to Abraham God opens Rebekah’s womb. She conceives and the story of the seed continues. Isaac abuses his birthright, trades it for a bowl of pottage, and that shows that he has no concern or care for his inheritance in relationship to Abraham. There is a test of famine in chapter 26. Isaac keeps the family in the land, which is a sign that he has learned something at least from his father’s leaving the land during times of famine. He goes and associates himself with the Philistines and is a blessing to others. In chapter 27 there is the story of the deception and manipulation to get the blessing, where Isaac tells Esau to go hunting and bring back some wild game for his favorite meal. By this time Isaac is very old, is blind, can’t hear well, but he wants his favorite son Esau to make him a good meal of wild game. When Esau is gone Rebekah comes along and because she wants her favorite, Jacob, to get the blessing she creates a deception and the manipulation works. The thing is that God was going to bless Jacob anyway, so what we see here is God’s grace and His control of history which overrides all the manipulations and deceptions of mankind. Jacob has to flee because Esau is understandably angry with him. He flees to his relative, his uncle Laban in the area of Mesopotamia, and there he finds a wife, Rachel, and the perpetuation of the seed. In the story of Jacob in chapters 28-35 we have his conflict with Laban. Laban is a conniving, deceiving, duplicitous man who just cheats his nephew in any way he can. Remember Jacob’s name means “heel-grabber, the deceiving one.” Jacob ends up working 14 years for two women, and then another six years to get his finances in order, and during that time Jacob is blessed by the Lord. His flocks, his herds all multiply, despite the conniving of Laban. Finally, Jacob flees Laban, he needs to get back home, and God blesses and protects him.
During this time Jacob has twelve sons and one daughter, and these become the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel. These twelve sons had no spiritual interest whatsoever, they are on negative volition and in rebellion against God, and when they get back to Canaan they want to take Canaanite wives. Abraham and Isaac and their wives, Sarah and Rebekah, had made sure that their children would not marry Canaanite women. That would destroy the line. But there is no concern here for maintaining the distinction from Canaanite culture among the 12 sons. Judah marries a Canaanite wife. Several others marry Canaanite women, and this is why God is going to ultimately take them to Egypt. It is to protect the line because in Egypt the Egyptians hated the Jews. They were extremely prejudiced against the Jews and wouldn’t even eat in the same room with the Jews. So they didn’t want to have anything to do with the Jews and that would preserve the line so that there wouldn’t be this intermarriage with the pagan Gentiles and introduce false religious beliefs into this line of redemption that God was developing.
The ninth toledot comes up at the end of this episode with Jacob. It deals with Esau, mentioned twice (36:1 & 36:9), and in chapter 36 what happens to the descendants of Esau. That is important because it establishes the identity of all of Israel’s future neighbors.
In chapters 37-50 we come to the story of Joseph. We have the various tests of Joseph. Initially he is given these dreams and visions where he can understand what God’s plan is for his life. He tells his brothers because he is not very humble and so he fails the humility test. They get angry at him, sell him into slavery, and he is taken down into Egypt. This time there is an interlude and Judah, one of the brothers who wanted to kill him, is tested. His sons end up marrying Canaanite and they die because they are so wicked that God kills them both. Tamar, one of the wives of his sons, survives. She is supposed to be married to the third son. Judah forgets all about that so she prostitutes herself, disguises herself, and he goes to her as a prostitute. She gets pregnant and it eventually comes back on Judah. It shows that Judah’s evil is judged and righteousness is established. Judah is going to turn around as a result of that and become a hero later on. After that there is a second cycle of suffering and testing. Joseph still remains faithful. He is sold into slavery, he is faithful to Potiphar, despite his wife’s advances on Joseph, and he is faithful to God.
Joseph is thrown into prison and tries to get the butler, also imprisoned, to help get him out when he is freed. In other words, he is relying on his own scheming to get out rather than resting in the provision of God. Then after he is finally released and because he correctly interprets dreams about the future of Egypt, Pharaoh elevates him to the second highest position in the land. There are seven good years during which time he administers the kingdom and he builds tremendous storehouses. When the seven years of famine begin in all of the Middle East, everyone has to come to Egypt to get grain because he has done such an excellent job of storing the grain.
Back home Jacob and the boys are growing hungry so Jacob sends the boys, except for Benjamin, down to Egypt to get grain. They come across their brother but they don’t recognize him. This is another test for Joseph. Is he going to yield to mental attitude sins of vindictiveness? Is he going to want top destroy his brothers? Or is he going to treat them in grace and blessing. Of course, he treats them in grace. He tells his servants to put all of their money back in the grain bags. This was a test for the brothers to see if they had learned honesty. As they head home they discover they have all this money back in their bags and they know they are going to get in trouble. But they go home and tell their father about it, and when they run out of grain their father sends them back and they take all the money back to show their honesty. They don’t know they are being tested. It shows that over time they finally got the picture and decided that they were going to have some integrity in their lives.
They get back on the second journey. Joseph had told them that when they come back to bring their younger brother. Jacob doesn’t want to release the youngest son, his favorite, he has already lost one son; he thinks Joseph is dead. The brothers had left Simeon there. They were just going to leave Simeon to hang out to dry there, it seems, but Jacob sent them back to get Simeon out of hock, as it were. They brought all of the money back that had been restored to them, plus more money to purchase grain. When they come back the test that Joseph has for them is, will they still protect Benjamin’s life? In other words, have they learned their lesson of brotherly love. They have and they pass the test, especially Judah.
In chapters 45-50 is the epilogue which shows how the Jews ended up in the womb of Egypt and how God is going to protect them and preserve them in the midst of the famine, and how God is going to use that time to make a great nation of them. All of this sets the stage for the beginning of the book of Exodus.
What do we learn from this?
1) That Jesus Christ controls history; that no matter what man does God controls history.
2) Blessing and cursing in history is ultimately related to God’s plan for Israel.
3) God’s grace overcomes all obstacles, evil plots, conniving, manipulation, mental attitude sins of mankind. God’s grace overcomes everything; nothing is too great for the grace of God.
4) God’s plan of redemption cannot be thwarted by human schemes. God will bring about our redemption, He will bring about our salvation, because it is not dependent upon who we are or what we have done, but on who He is and what He has done.