Genesis Wrap-Up

Jimmy JoGenesis, O.T. Survey, SermonsLeave a Comment

In a Nutshell…

Last week we finished up the book of Genesis by closing out the story of Joseph and his brothers. We found the descendants of Jacob settling in Egypt, safe from the famine, the beginning of the people of Israel.

Through Genesis, we’ve looked at several important themes and several motifs that may help us understand what is going on in Genesis. Keeping in mind the major divisions (1-11 and 12-50), we see the consequences of sin and the promise of covenant.  Standing over all of this, however, is the faithfulness of God.  Another way to think about this is that, if not for the faithfulness of God, if not for the fullness of God, the mercy and grace of God, there would be no story to tell.

If not for the faithfulness of God, Abraham would never have been chosen. There would have been no son Isaac who begat Jacob who begat the twelve sons – the twelve tribes of Israel.  We saw throughout that none of these were chosen because they were particularly good.  They didn’t do much to prove themselves worthy of God’s calling.  They were chosen because God was faithful.

If not for the faithfulness of God, Noah would never have been the Noah that we know – the Noah from the story of the Ark. Because the ark is the story of God’s determination to save humanity, even though humanity did not deserve to be saved.  Some of us hear the story of God’s judgement – wiping out the earth with a flood.  But the way we are able to tell ourselves that story – that we deserve to judge God – is by ignoring the fact that human beings were judged for something.  As Genesis 6:5 tells us, “…every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”  But in spite of the judgement that was deserved, God had a better plan.  So in the story of Noah, we see a God who determines not to give the earth what is deserves but to give it a new beginning.

If not for the faithfulness of God, Adam and Eve would have been the end of the story. There should have been no more.  Because, in spite of knowing God and talking with God, and knowing exactly the one thing that they were told not to do, Adam and Eve chose to be gods unto themselves, rejecting God who alone is God.  By rejecting God for the sake of themselves, they rejected life because God is the giver, the source of life.  By rejecting God, they chose death.

But Adam and Eve were not the end of the story. With Adam and Eve, we see the beginning of the story of the faithfulness of God.  We see a God who loves His creation so much that a massive plan of redemption, of salvation, is set in motion.

Genesis is a story of beginnings. It’s a story about a lot of things, actually.  But what I hope we have noticed, what I hope we pay attention to, is the faithfulness of God.

Deuteronomy 7:6-13 says:

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. 10 But

those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction;

he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him.

11 Therefore, take care to follow the commands, decrees and laws I give you today.

12 If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors. 13 He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and olive oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.

Now this passage in Deuteronomy is part of the address by Moses to the Israelites before they enter the land of Canaan. The Israelites have been rescued out of Egypt and they’ve been wandering the desert for years.  Moses wants to remind them of who they are and by whom they’ve been called.  Moses wants to remind them of the faithfulness of God.

Now I want you to hold this passage in your mind as we think about finishing Genesis and moving on to Exodus. After Jacob’s family settles in Egypt and before we meet Moses in Exodus, we have an intervening period of about 400 years.  What’s been going on in those 400 years?  What have the Israelites been doing?  Why haven’t we heard anything about what God has been doing?

We don’t actually get a specific answer to how the Israelites ended up as slaves in Egypt (as per the beginning of Exodus). We know that Joseph’s family entered Egypt as honoured guests.  But it’s not too hard to imagine that the Egyptians, after the death of Pharaoh and after the death of Joseph would have been pretty unhappy to have the Israelites there.  These foreigners, taking all of our land, using up all of our resources, taking our jobs, marrying our sons and daughters.  It’s not too difficult to imagine that the attitude towards the Israelites would have shifted pretty quickly.

And we don’t have to stretch too hard to think what might have been going on with the Israelites. We can imagine that the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and would have been passed on between brothers, from parents to children, from children to grand-children.  We can imagine that the story of God speaking to the patriarchs, of God instituting a covenant, and of God promising to make a people and a nation to be blessed and to bless would have been an integral story to these people.  It would have been an identity story.

And likely, as their circumstances began to change, and as their circumstances changed drastically, I can imagine that these stories would have been something to hold on to. The stories of promise and identity would have become hope stories.

We don’t get any further stories of what happened in the in-between time; in the 400 years. We don’t know what God was doing in those 400 years.  But what I imagine He was doing was working those stories into the hearts and minds of the people.  That through those stories, he was shaping them.  I imagine that God was forming

And – with apologies for the spoilers – I think this is what is happening in the stories of the Exodus. In their 40 years of wandering – and beyond, actually – God is forming the people.  They have spent 400 years in exile (in Egypt), many of those (probably most) as slaves.  They have been rescued by the miraculous hand of God, by numerous displays of his mighty works.  All of a sudden, they’re free.  But just because they are released, it doesn’t mean they know how to live that way.  They have to learn what it means to be free; they have to learn what it means to listen to the voice of God; they have to learn how to be a kingdom-of-God people.

So Moses reminds them: remember where you came from; remember who saved you; remember the faithfulness of God.

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

We see this in Genesis too. When Abram hears the call of God, he doesn’t instantly become a good person.  He doesn’t instantly leave all sin behind.  He doesn’t instantly trust God in every step and in every way.  Abram has to be formed.  He has to become.

Now we don’t have the time and space, and neither do I have the ability and expertise, to explain why it has to work this way. But I think it has a lot to do with God’s interest being not just in saving me, but because God’s intention is in redeeming creation and redeeming history.

Nevertheless, the point that I want to make is that, like the Israelites, we are in the in-between time. We are in between Jesus’ saving work on the cross and the final fulfillment of the kingdom.  In our in between time, we are likewise being formed.  We are (hopefully) becoming the people that God has intended us to be, and which we will fully and perfectly be on the last day.

This is what we are doing here. This is what we are doing in this place, with the time that we have.  It’s what we are doing by paying attention to the Gospel of John, the letter to the Ephesians, and the book of Genesis.  Now, a few closing thoughts on formation – on being formed as the people of God.

Firstly: Ultimately, formation is something that God does.  Abraham didn’t become the person he was supposed to be because he was so smart, or industrious, or spiritual.  He didn’t stumble upon some magical formula for spiritual formation.  Pretty much, what we see is that Abraham simply walked where God told him to walk (and even that, not all the time).  This is true, I believe, of all the patriarchs.  One of the things that we learned through Genesis is that God does it.  We respond as best as we can, but it’s God’s work.

Secondly: Formation is located.  What I mean by that is that it takes place in a place (and a time, and in a community, etc.).  Another way to think about this is that formation is not an abstract idea.  We don’t think our way into it.  It’s not about reading and memorizing enough of the bible or studying enough theology.  Not that these things aren’t good and useful but they are only good and useful if they are lived.  Formation happens in the living.  We are formed by God as we walk with God and as we live for God.  In all of the characters in the scriptures, they become the people of God in the place, in the time, and in the circumstances that God has placed them.

Lastly: Formation takes time.  We’ve touched on this and it’s probably obvious, but remember that it was 25 years after the call of Abraham to the birth of Isaac.  Joseph was in Egypt for (what is traditionally believed to be) about 20 years.  The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years.  They were in Egypt for 400 years.

Now the timing of these things don’t really matter – my point is simply that these things take longer than we probably think they should. In fact, again, it is not completed until Jesus comes again.  But we are impatient. We want things quickly and we want things easily.  But formation does not work that way.  Formation is often hard and painful, sometimes tedious and exhausting.  It’s especially when it’s hard and painful and tedious and exhausting that we need to remember that formation is God’s work.  And it’s especially in these times that we need to remember that God is faithful.

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

Oftentimes when we read the bible, we look for “what are we supposed to do.” It’s a natural tendency and it’s not really wrong per se.  But we run the risk of missing what’s going on.  As we read through Genesis and as we read through Exodus, I hope that we have been paying attention to and will pay attention to what God is doing.  As we reflect on our lives, as we try to understand where and why we are, I hope that we are developing the capacity to understand what God is doing in our lives.  We wish it were faster.  We wish it were easier.  We wish that God would read the books and blog posts that promise 7 easy steps to spiritual success.

God doesn’t work that way.  He isn’t interested in catering to our whims and wishes.  Instead, He is slowly and powerfully forming us where and when we are.  He is making and molding us into a redeemed people.  And He is faithful to complete the work that he has begun in us.

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