God and Man in Genesis
We have to keep in mind the context of Genesis, that this is the prologue, as it were, the introduction to the Pentateuch which provided the foundation for the nation Israel. So in Genesis Moses is answering the question that is being asked: Where did we come from? Why are we as Jews the special people? What is God’s plan for us? What gives us the right to the land? God clearly addressed why they were going to go into the land and why there was a reason for them to annihilate every man, woman and child among the Canaanites, and what gave them a right to take that land from the Canaanites. This is the function of Genesis, to explain why God had to call out a special nation from among all of the nations, what the purpose for that nation was, and how God would use that nation to bless all of the nations. So the foremost message that we get in Genesis, if we want to summarize much of it, is to the Jew. In other words, if you were a Jew sitting on the plains of Moab about to go into the land of Canaan, about to go into battle and take this land from its current inhabitants, then what would you be learning as the main idea from Genesis? That would be that the God who created all things, the God who created man, the God who sustains all things, is the same God who called Abraham, the same God who created Israel as a nation, the people as a new race, and it is the same God who sustains Israel through all her travails. We can take that a step further in terms of application for us, that the same God who created all things from nothing, the same God who sustains the universe, the same God who can bring about the incredible judgments of the flood, the judgments against Sodom and Gomorrah, is the same God who can protect us and preserve us, no matter what crises we encounter, no matter what national travail we may go through, no matter what kind of difficulty men and women may face in combat, is the same God who sustains the universe and who sustains Israel and is the same God who can sustain us and protect us.
Having said that there is a tremendous amount in Genesis that we can learn about God. What do we learn about God? This is one of the main reasons that Moses wrote Genesis: to teach the Jews about this God who had called them out and what that God could do. We learn a number of things about God in Genesis but the first way we learn about God is by observing the names of God in Genesis. Remember that to a Jew, a Hebrew, to someone in the ancient world, a name is not simply nomenclature, not simply a tag. A name says something about its inherent nature, its essence, its character. The names of people said something about their character, their background, their attributes, and so the names for God tell us something about who He is and what He can do.
Eleven different names that are used in Genesis to refer to God, primary names that are used of God to teach us, and would have taught the Jews, something about who this God was who had called them as a nation.
1) El or Elohim is the standard or generic name in Semitic languages for deity. The word El is roughly a cognate for the Arabic word Al or Allah. But that does not mean that they are the same God. The form Elohim where you have that plural ending him, that indicates plurality. Writers often emphasize that the term Elohim is a plural of majesty, so don’t try to read the Trinity into this. But in disagreement with that, in many places this plural noun is used—e.g. Genesis 1:26, 27, “and God [Elohim] said, Let us make man in our image.” So you not only have a plural noun but a plural pronoun that goes along with it. Although that does not necessarily teach the Trinity it certainly suggests a plurality in the Godhead. That is later developed and there are other passages on the Old Testament that give a much clearer indication of the Trinity, but to just dismiss this as a plural of majesty does it a tremendous amount of injustice.
2) The second word that we find in the text is the word Yahweh. Elohim is used in Genesis chapter one exclusively, you do not find any other name for God in the chapter, and it is not until Genesis chapter two that we are introduced to the title, or God’s personal name, Yahweh. This is based on the sacred tetragrammaton, which means four letters, because in early Hebrew especially there were no vowel points. All there they had were consonants. So there were four letters: YHWH. What has happened is that over the years there have been a tremendous number of Germans working on Hebrew. There were a number of Jews living in the area of Germany who have contributed to this. Remember that in German the Y is written with a J, and the W is pronounced like a V. So that is where the letters J and V are picked up, and then you had JH and VH. Another word that is used in Hebrew which is a generic term for Lord, is the Hebrew word Adonai. It was actually vocalized as having more of an E at the front. So if the vowels E, O, and A are inserted you come up with the name Jehovah. But Jehovah is not a Hebrew word at all, it is a compound of Yahweh plus Adonai. The Jews treated the name of God with reverence, so they would never pronounce Yahweh. Actually they added different vowel points so that the vowel points would remind the reader to read Adonai instead of Yahweh. It was that compound of the consonants from one name and the vowel points from another name that produced this sort of hybrid word, Jehovah. This is one of the problems with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They think that you have to pray everything to Jehovah but Jehovah doesn’t really exist! Yahweh is the personal name for God, and it is emphasized as the covenant name for God for Israel. So whenever they see that name it is going to remind them that this is the God who entered into a personal covenant relationship with Abraham and with Moses, and that this is the God who is the specific God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The key verse for Yahweh is found in Exodus 3:14, “I AM WHO I AM.” This name Yahweh is based on the Hebrew verb hayah, the verb to be or to exist. So it is generally understood that the name of God emphasizes His existence, that it refers to God as the self-existent one and that He is the one who has no beginning and no end.
3) Frequently we have these first two names in compound: “The LORD God,” Yahweh Elohim. You will always know when Yahweh is at the back of the English word Lord, because in most English Bibles they will make those four letters L-O-R-D in small caps. If you see a name for God, Lord or God, in small caps what underlines that in the Hebrew is the term Yahweh. So Yahweh Elohim takes the generic term God and focuses it on the Yahweh who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
4) Genesis 14:18, 19, 20, 22, “The Lord God Most High.” “Most High” is the term El Elyon. This name emphasizes the exalted status of God; that He has overwhelming power. It emphasizes His supreme majesty, and it was the sin of Lucifer to want to be like the Most High. It is referred to in the Psalms. It is El Elyon who is the place of shelter. He is the Rock in the midst of our adversity, our ever-present help in time of trouble. In the Psalms it id God who is referred to as El Elyon who has the deepest concern for Israel and for Zion: Ps. 46:6; 87:5. In Genesis 14:22 God is referred to first as the Lord God Most High [El Elyon], and then He is described as the possessor of heaven and earth. That word translated “possessor” is the Hebrew word which means to own something, to possess something, to acquire or purchase something. So it refers to God as the Most High God, the owner of heaven and earth; that He is above all gods and everything that occurs in heaven and earth is under His dominion and under His sovereignty. So this term, El Elyon, is going to emphasize God as the owner of the heavens and the earth and therefore the one who has the right to rule the heavens and the earth. Several times in the Psalms God is referred to as the Most High God, El Elyon: Ps. 47:2, His parallel to a great king, emphasizing His sovereignty, His rule over the universe; 97:9; 91:1, 9, an emphasis on the protection of God for all believers; 78:35.
5) El Roi, Genesis 16:13, Hagar says, “You are the God who sees.” She uses the verb to see to indicate God’s perceptiveness about people. He knows the future, He knows Hagar’s predicament, and He comes along and predicts her future and the future of her son, Esau. He is the God who sees, and the God who sees her travails and her problems and difficulties is the same God who sees and knows about all of our difficulties and problems.
6) El Shaddai. This term is used twice in Genesis, 17:1 & 35:11, and it means God the Almighty. It emphasizes God’s power. This term is used most often in Job. It is used 48 times in the Old Testament, 31 of them in Job. Job is the book where we see the hero, Job, going through the most difficult suffering imaginable. It is in the context of that suffering that God is referred to as God the Almighty; that He is more powerful than any difficulties we can face in time. The name emphasizes His omnipotence, His ability to perform whatever He desires.
7) El Olam, the eternal or everlasting God, Genesis 21:33. Here it emphasizes God’s attribute of eternal life, that God has neither beginning nor ending. He is the self-existent one, not simply an uncaused cause; He is a person. He has no beginning and no ending and all of His attributes are infinite.
8) Jehovah-jireh, which actually in the Hebrew is Yahweh-jireh. It is found in Genesis 22:14 in the context of Abraham following God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. The emphasis in the name is that God supplies all of our needs, especially our need for salvation.
9) Yahweh the God of the heavens, Genesis 24:7. That indicates his sovereignty over all of the heavens; that God is the king of the heavens, the ruler of the heavens, the ruler of the earth and the affairs of mankind.
10) El Elohe Israel, the God of Israel, Genesis 33:20.
11) The final name is really a title, a description of God, The Shepherd or Rock of Israel. Genesis 49:24. This emphasizes God as the leader of Israel, the shepherd of Israel. He is the one who takes care for Israel. It is God who protects and provides for Israel in the wilderness. It emphasizes His role as the leader and protector of Israel.
These eleven names and titles emphasize the character and attributes of God that are learned in the book of Genesis.
There are several different attributes of God that are emphasized in the book of Genesis.
1) The first is that God is a living God who is deeply involved in His creation. So that the laws of nature are really the laws of God, the laws that He set in motion and that He continues to watch over, and the laws that He continues to sustain. God is eternally existing and He is distinct from all creation: Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” This statement stands in marked contrast to every other statement in the ancient world or even modern times about creation.
2) We see God in Genesis as one who interacts with man. He comes and walks in the garden in the cool of the day and teaches Adam and the woman before the fall. He is the one who seeks out and takes the initiative to spend time with him, to find out what the problem was after they disobeyed Him. He is the one who takes the initiative to provide a solution to the problem that man has created. It is God who speaks; it is God who sees; it is God who hears the problems of man; it is God who rests at the end of the creation week. God is intimately involved with His creation. He interacts with mankind throughout creation. We see this in Genesis chapters 1, 2,3, 17, 18, and other chapters.
3) He is the one who created mankind as a reflector of Himself. Man is created in the image and likeness of God. We are to reflect God’s character, His attributes; we represent God. We were originally created to represent God and to rule over creation—Genesis chapter one.
4) God is the one who enters into the human arena with a human form and human acts—Genesis 12, 18, 32. This shows the divine initiative of grace.
5) He reveals Himself. God is not hiding from man. He is not playing sort of a cosmic hide-and-seek game with man. He is continually giving testimony to Himself. The psalmist says the heavens declare the glory of God. Paul says in Romans 1 that the invisible attributes of God are clearly seen in the creation. If people don’t see God it is because they don’t want to see God. Yet He is the one who is continuously seeking man, saving man, disclosing Himself, and revealing Himself to mankind.
We see the emphasis on the sovereignty of God in Genesis.
1) God is the ruler of the heavens and the earth, the one who disposes as He wills. He is called the Most High God, as we have seen already. He is, as we see in Genesis 1, the creator of everything. There is nothing in the heavens or on the earth that does not owe its existence and its sustenance to God. He controls everything.
2) We see His acts in Genesis 1 as a God who names some things and individuals. He names the light day and the darkness night. His naming of things indicates His control. He determines the limits: the animals will procreate after their kind. He determines the limits, the boundaries of the waters and the land, and He determines nature. It is God who determines that something that is what it is, it is not what it is because of chance. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, if you believe the Scriptures, if you believe that Genesis one is a clear statement of a seven-day creation and restoration, as we will see, then if you look at an oak tree you do not se the same tree that an unbeliever sees. You see leaves and acorns and branches, but what you see is something that was intricately created and designed by God, and what they see is something that is there by pure random chance. That means that whatever else is said about that tree believers do not see the same thing as unbelievers. The implication of that is profound because that means there is no neutral ground. We cannot go out there in the creation and say: Well let’s find some common ground in the creation we can agree on. We can’t agree on anything. The tree you see and believe in is not the tree they see. What they see is the product of time and chance and it just happens to be there. What you see is something that was purposely put there and designed that way by an omnipotent, sovereign God. And that makes all the difference in the world.
3) God sets forth mandates and prohibitions for all things. After creating the animals in Genesis chapter one He says they are to multiply according to their kind, and He blesses them and gives an order to all living things to be fruitful and multiply. This indicates that He rules, nothing is there by chance.
4) God brings about judgment in the curse. When He is disobeyed He judges that disobedience, and He outlines the consequences of that disobedience in the curse in Genesis chapter three. He brings about judgment on the evil of man at the time of the world-wide flood under Noah. He brings about another judgment on rebellious mankind at the tower of Babel. And He brings about judgment on Sodom and the cities of the plain.
5) God is able to prophecy and predict the future, indicating His control of human history. God controls human history and brings about His purposes in history, and that is why He can prophecy the future—Genesis chapters 15 & 46.
6) God disposes of people and property. He gives Canaan to His people. Notice that He gives Canaan the right to the land. He tells Abraham in Genesis 12 that their evil has not reached its fullness yet, so He does not take the land away from the Canaanites until the proper time, and then He takes it away and gives it to His people. This shows that God has the right to determine who will live where and who own what property.
7) God promises kings to Sarah. He says: "You will have kings that come forth from you". He is able to control who their descendants are and what their powers will be—Genesis 17.
8) God controls people’s dreams. Abraham has dreams in Genesis 15; Jacob has dreams in Genesis 28, 31; Joseph interprets dreams in chapters 37, 40, 41. God controls people’s dreams and communicates through those dreams.
9) God establishes and removes people in political power. He raises up some, and He removes others. Genesis 41, God sustains Abimelech in his rule over the Philistines.
10) He tests people—Genesis 22. He tests Abraham’s faith by ordering him to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
11) God rules over nations, economies, and life—Genesis 40-41. Ultimately, economics are not determined by the market; they are determined by God.
12) God chooses whom He will bless. He chose to call out Abraham; He chose to make a special people out of Abraham; He chose to bless him. The choosing of Abraham did not involve his eternal salvation, it involved God’s special plan for Abraham and his descendants, that God would bless them and use them to bring about His redemptive plan.
Then we see an emphasis that God is omnipotent throughout Genesis.
1) He is the one who creates the heavens and the earth, and every detail within the earth. God is in control of all of the details of creation, and certainly God can oversee the details in our lives.
2) He creates the human race, mankind, and sustains mankind. God is all-powerful.
3) He prevents Enoch from dying in Genesis chapter five. Enoch walked with the Lord and he was not. He did not die; he just walked off into heaven with God one day.
4) He controls the time, the duration, and the extent of the world-wide flood at the time of Noah.
5) He protects Abraham—Genesis 15—from the assaults of the four kings.
6) God controls the womb. In many cases He closes the womb so that Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel could not give birth. This is not because God was mean-spirited, but God was teaching that He alone brings life where there is deadness. It is a picture of our spiritual life where there is spiritual death. Genesis 20, 21, 25, 30.
7) God controls the fertility of the flock, so that when Jacob is raising his flock separate from Laban’s flock, and Laban sets up conditions, all of a sudden all then sheep are giving birth to spotted lambs. So Jacob is blessed. Whatever conditions Laban set up Jacob continued to prosper because God is the one who controls the fertility of the flocks.
8) God is the one who can cripple a man. He cripples Jacob with simply the touch of His hand—Genesis 32.
Then we see that God is righteous and just in Genesis, that He is not a capricious God but a God who is righteous and just in contrast to the gods of the Gentiles.
1) He punishes disobedience with death. Spiritual death is the punishment for the disobedience of Adam and the woman in the Garden of Eden.
2) God is the one who announces a just judgment on sin or disobedience to Him. So He applies His righteous standard to the affairs of mankind.
3) He punishes Cain for murder, but because it is at such an early stage of the human race He does not take Cain’s life but puts a mark on him and protects him. That is a sign of God’s graciousness in Genesis.
4) We see in Genesis 6 that God destroys the inhabitants of the earth because man is evil and the thoughts of his heart are evil continuously.
5) God scatters the nations because of their rebellion—Genesis 11.
6) He curses and blesses people due to how they treat Abraham’s seed. This is a major theme throughout the rest of Genesis. Blessing by association.
7) God refuses to judge the innocent along with the guilty. He will not judge Lot and his family if they are righteous along with all the unrighteous in Sodom and Gomorrah.
8) Go treats the kings of the earth justly. When Abraham goes to Abimelech and says Sarah is his sister God warns Abimelech and instead of destroying him He protects him, He treats him justly, even though Abimelech is an unbeliever.
9) God is the one who protects and vindicates His people. Rachel and Leah, the two daughters of Laban, are treated unjustly by their father Laban, yet God vindicates them and they finally leave and head back to the promised land. Jacob works for Laban and even though he is treated harshly and mistreated by Laban, God protects and ultimately vindicates Jacob.
10) God made things right for Joseph, even though Joseph was unjustly charged and unjustly imprisoned. Eventually he was released and placed in the second highest position in Egypt. God exercised His righteousness toward Joseph and so the supreme court of heaven took care of the details. It was not up to Joseph to vindicate himself.
We see an emphasis in Genesis on the grace of God
1) God provides everything for mankind in the perfect environment of the garden. There is nothing left to chance. God always supplies everything; His grace is sufficient.
2) Then, after their disobedience, God provided a physical covering for them, the sinners, despite their disobedience, and He provides salvation and life for mankind. They do not deserve it or earn it but God graciously provides.
3) He protected Cain from avengers and put a mark on him to warn off those who would avenge him, that they would suffer the justice of God if they avenged the death of Abel.
4) He gave grace to Noah and the earth. It took Noah 120 years but it was a 120-year warning period to warn the earth about the coming judgment. It was during that time that Noah and his sons went throughout the world preaching the gospel and yet there was no one who responded.
5) He remembered Noah in Genesis 8 and Abraham in Genesis 19, and God blessed them and protected them.
6) God provided water and protection in the wilderness for Hagar in Genesis 16.
7) God preserved the righteous in the covenant in chapter 19.
8) God intervenes time and time again when people fail (chapters 12, 20, 26) and he always supplies what is needed.
9) He freely established His covenant and blessed deceptive Jacob.
10) It is God who graciously sent angels to watch over and protect Jacob in Genesis 28 32. He watches over and protects us even when we don’t deserve it, even when we are in rebellion.
11) He gave prosperity to Jacob in chapter 33; He prospered him.
12) He blesses Egypt with the future knowledge of a coming famine, and provides Joseph as someone to lead them through the crisis, in chapters 39ff.
Finally, we learn 8 things about mankind.
1) Man is created with a mortal body framed from the dust of the earth.
2) Man’s immaterial nature comes directly from the breath of God.
3) Human life is composed of biological life, the physical life formed from the chemicals of the soil, plus soul life, the immaterial life that is breathed into man by God. This makes man in the image of God. He is unique from all other creatures because his life comes from God.
4) Man is the image of God, and this term refers to his function, not his form—his function and his fellowship with God. He is to serve God and obey God, and he is to rule over creation and administer the kingdom for God.
5) Man was created male and female and they are to compliment each other. The man is the leader and the woman is to assist him in fulfilling the mission that God has given them.
6) Man is created perfect, but his disobedience destroys the perfection of the universe and brings horrendous consequences upon himself and the universe. His sin doesn’t just affect himself, it doesn’t just bring a fall to man, it affects the animal kingdom, nature, everything in creation. That one bad decision that Adam made reverberates throughout the entire universe.
7) Man now has a disposition for evil, toward rebellion, toward self-sufficiency and autonomy. Man is a rebel against his creator and seeks to be like the Most High, following in the footsteps of Lucifer.
8) That means that man is in desperate need of a savior. But it is God in His initiative that is going to provide a savior and provide salvation.