Chapter Five—Adventuring Through the Bible
The Story of Faith Begins
Henry Ward Beecher was a prominent U.S. minister in the 1800s. He was once visited by a friend, attorney Robert Ingersoll. The friendship between Beecher and Ingersoll was an odd one, since the attorney had a national reputation as an agnostic and a caustic critic of the Bible. But Beecher never gave up his efforts to convert his unbelieving friend.
During one visit, Ingersoll told Beecher all about a “wonderful” new book he had read by Charles Darwin, and how it explained that everything came into being without God.
“Well, where did human beings come from, according to your Mr. Darwin?” asked Beecher.
“From apes,” Ingersoll announced smugly.
“Ah,” said Beecher, “and the apes came from?”
“Lower animals,” Ingersoll replied. “And the lower animals arose from still lower forms, and on and on, until you go all the way down the chain of life to the one-celled creatures that first formed in the seas.”
“And where did the seas come from?” asked Beecher. “And the world itself? And the sun, the moon, and the stars?”
Ingersoll spread his hands. “They just happened. We don’t need some mythical deity to explain such things.”
Later that evening, Beecher took Ingersoll into his library to show him some new books he had just purchased. Ingersoll’s attention was immediately captured by a unique globe on Beecher’s desk that depicted the stars and constellations of the night sky. Ingersoll examined the globe closely, trying to find the manufacturer’s name so he could buy one for himself. “This is a wonderful globe,” he said. “Who made it?”
“Why, nobody made it,” said Beecher, grinning ever so slightly. “It just happened.”
The book of Genesis, as we shall see, is not very much concerned with how things happened. But it is very concerned with who made them happen. The opening thrust of the book is bold and unmistakable: The first four words of Genesis make it clear that everything that exists had a divine Author:
“In the beginning God . . . .”
In the previous chapter, we scanned the book of Genesis (along with the other four books of the Pentateuch) from an “orbital perspective,” examining its outlines and contours. In this chapter, we attach a magnification lens to our camera and zoom in closer.
In our familiarity with the Bible, we sometimes fail to consider what an ancient book Genesis is. The Greek philosopher-historian Herodotus, who lived some 300 years before Christ, is called the father of history. He is the earliest historian whose writings have been preserved for us. Yet Moses, who wrote the first five books of our Bible, was in his grave over a thousand years before Herodotus ever saw the light of day. That’s how ancient Genesis is.
This book—the book of beginnings—takes us back to the dawn of history, yet its insights are as fresh and timely as this morning’s news. So much richness, drama, and understanding of human psychology are captured in Genesis that it is easy to forget how astoundingly ancient it is.
With what other writings of its time can you compare Genesis? If you are familiar with the findings of archaeology, then you know that the ancient columns, slabs, and shards of pottery that have been unearthed over the past couple centuries have given us some insight into the true nature of life in ancient civilizations. From these sources, we can find no ancient writings of other early cultures that come close to Genesis in the liveliness of its human drama, the reality of its human characters, or the richness of its language and description. It is a real book about real people who lived in a real place and time.
But Genesis is not only a book of history. It is a book with a profound message that can be summed up in a single statement: Human beings are inadequate without God. That is the whole theme of the book, and as such it strikes the keynote of all subsequent revelation of God. It is a personal message, for we see our own stories reflected in its storyline. You and I can never be complete without God, nor can we ever discover or fulfill the true meaning of life without a genuine personal relationship with an indwelling God. Our inadequacy apart from God is revealed to us by Genesis in three realms:
1. The realm of natural science: cosmology (the study of the universe, its origin and makeup), geology (the study of the earth’s structure and features), and biology (the study of life in all its manifestations). These natural relationships circumscribe our contact with the physical world around us, yet within them, human beings are seen as inadequate without God.
2. The realm of human relationships: sociology, anthropology, psychology, and psychiatry. The beginnings of all these are traced in Genesis, and again humankind is set forth as inadequate to function without a relationship with God.
3. The realm of spiritual relationships: theology, soteriology, angelology, and philosophy. In all of these vital areas, the book of Genesis reveals that you and I are totally inadequate apart from God . . . .
. . . Genesis opens with the greatest material fact in life today: We live in a universe. We exist on a specific set of coordinates in space and time. If we know anything at all about modern science, we are aware that our planet is part of a solar system, which is part of a hundred-billion-star galaxy, which is one among billions of galaxies in a universe that is vast beyond our comprehension. Whenever we look up into the night sky and see the glory of the stars, a sense of awe settles over us and we become aware that we live in a universe.
The Bible opens in a majestic recognition of this fact: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). What a strange conjunction—to put all the vast heavens on one side and our tiny planet Earth on the other. But the book moves right on to tell us that humankind—what modern science pictures as “man the insignificant,” a tiny speck of life clinging to a minor planet at the edge of an unthinkably vast universe—is in fact the major object of God’s attention and concern!
Verse 2 tells us that the earth began as a planet covered by an uninterrupted ocean, which was itself wrapped in darkness. It was “formless and empty,” that is, featureless and without life. There was no land, no mountain range, no coastline to catch the eye; simply a great world of water, without life. With this picture of the beginnings of the world, science fully agrees. But the revelation of God’s Word adds a key factor that many scientists do not acknowledge: the fact that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” God was at work in His universe, interacting with it. Something comes out of nothing. God is moving. The Spirit of God brings light out of darkness, shape out of shapelessness, form out of formlessness, life out of lifelessness.
The first step that God took, according to the record, was to create light: “ ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” Light is absolutely essential to life of any sort. With the advent of light, we are now ready for the record of the six days of creation. Each day, except the seventh, includes an evening and a morning and each, except the seventh, records a progressive order of creation. Controversy has raged over whether these are literal twenty-four-hour days or geological ages. This controversy completely misses the point of the Genesis account. It should be clear to anyone upon reading the passage that Genesis does not focus upon the question of time. Important as this may seem to us, it is not God’s focus. His focus is to show that, in Creation, He was moving toward a goal through a progression of successive steps that logically succeed one another. Creation does not happen all at once with a snap of His fingers. God chose to accomplish the Creation in stages, and these stages are clearly evident throughout this passage.
Despite all the knowledge we continue to acquire through space probes, radio telescopes, and the Hubble space telescope, the universe is still a great mystery to us. We know very little about it, and in any direction we choose to go, we soon come to a place where we can go no further. A nuclear physicist once described to me the complexity of the nucleus of an atom, what was once thought to be the most simple and basic building block of matter. Discoveries of new “species” in the “particle zoo” had made the once-simple atom a thing of incomprehensible complexity, organization, and activity. Clearly, many forces and kinds of particles that we have not yet discovered exist within the atom.
Here, at the very outer limits of human knowledge, the very frontiers of human ignorance, the Bible begins to answer the perplexing questions of the scientists: Who or what set the universe in motion? What keeps the universe going? Where did we come from? What, if anything, is its purpose? What is the place of humanity in the cosmic scheme? Why are we here?
Genesis supplies the only answers that fit. It reveals to us that the key to human life and to the mysteries of human existence and the material universe are inextricably bound to the spiritual realm. Without an understanding of God, we cannot understand our universe, ourselves, or our relationship to the world around us. Microscopes and telescopes can give us only a partial view; the spiritual scope of the Bible enables us to complete the picture that science only begins to sketch in for us.
Albert Einstein put his finger squarely upon the inadequacies of science when he said, “Science is like reading a mystery novel.” You go down to Barnes & Noble and buy what used to be called a “dime novel” (they cost $29.95 today!), and you take it home, wait until everyone else has gone to sleep, prop yourself up on your pillows, and you read it alone in a darkened room with only a reading lamp for company. In the first chapter are two or three murders, and the whole story soon focuses on one theme: whodunit? Clues appear as you read on. In about the third chapter you’ve decided that the butler did it. Continuing on, the finger of guilt points more and more to the butler. But then you reach the last chapter in which suddenly all the previous evidence is upset and it wasn’t the butler after all. It was the little old lady in tennis shoes who lives on the third floor. Einstein says science is like that. It is always struggling from hypothesis to synthesis, from clue to clue, sometimes running up a blind alley or following a false trail, never seeming to get much closer to the ultimate answer.
But Genesis starts where science leaves off. This is not a criticism of science, because science was never designed to answer “Why does the universe exist?” The scope of science is intentionally, deliberately limited to certain avenues of inquiry. Genesis answers the “why” question—and, more importantly, the “who” question. Genesis gives answers addressed to faith, not an irrational “leap of faith” but a reasoned faith. The more science learns about the fundamental nature of the universe, the more science seems to agree with the Bible.
Thus the Bible consistently remains true to the most complex discoveries of science while at the same time retaining a simplicity of statement that the most uneducated can understand, even though it is not the intention of the Bible to be a textbook on science. God has deliberately made the physical universe to reveal and manifest an inner spiritual reality. Since the world is made for man, it constantly reflects God’s truth to him. This is why Jesus found the world of nature such an apt instrument with which to teach men spiritual realities, as His parables reveal.
Genesis 1:26 shows us that God holds a divine consultation about man, saying, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” This divine conversation clearly is the first hint given to us that God consists of more than one person. The key phrase about man in this verse is that he was created in the “image” and “likeness” of God. That image is found not in man’s body or his soul, but in his spirit. As Jesus told the woman at the well in Samaria, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
What is godlike about our spirit? If our spirit is made in the image of God, then it can do things that God can do but no animal can. Three things are suggested throughout Genesis 1 that God alone does: first, God creates; second, God communicates; and third, God evaluates, pronouncing some things good and others not good. It is here that the image of God in man appears. Man can create. Man communicates as no animal can possibly do, sharing ideas that affect others. And man is the only creature who has a moral sense, recognizing some things as good and others as bad, feeling the impact of conscience upon his own actions. Thus, man shares the image of God.
Chapter 2 finds the man walking in the garden in communion with God, functioning as a spirit living within a physical body and manifesting the personality characteristics of the soul. At this point, God gives him a research project, to investigate the animal world in search of a possible counterpart to himself. God knew that the man would not find what he was looking for, but in the process, the man discovered at least three marvelous truths.
First, he learned that woman was not to be a mere beast of burden as the animals are, because that would not fulfill his need for a helper and companion. Second, he realized that the woman was not to be merely a biological laboratory for producing children. This is what the animals use sex for, but that was not sufficient for Adam’s needs. Sex in humankind, therefore, is different from that among the animals. Third, Adam learned that the woman was not a thing outside himself, to be used at the whim of the man and then disposed of. She was made to be his helper, fit for him, corresponding to him, complementing and completing him.
So, in a remarkable passage, we are told that Adam fell into a deep sleep and God took a rib and from it made a woman and brought her to him. This period of Adam’s unconsciousness suggests what modern psychology confirms, that the relationship of marriage is far deeper than mere surface affection. It touches not only the conscious life, but the subconscious and the unconscious as well.
In chapters 3 through 5, Genesis next examines the realm of human relationships. The human race enters the picture. These chapters trace the story of humanity from Adam through Noah and reveal that the basic unit of society is the family. That pattern has remained absolutely unchanged for ten to twenty thousand years of human history. The family is still the basis of human society. When people ignore that fact and begin to destroy family life, the foundations of a society disintegrate. Why? Because a nation is an extension of the family. The nations of the world are simply large complex family groups!
When a president dies, when an earthquake devastates a city, when hundreds die in a collapsed building, when a space shuttle explodes, what happens? An entire nation mourns! Why? Because, as Americans, we have a common identity, a common bond, a common connection. The more we lose sight of our connectedness as a family-society, the more fragmented and agitated our nation becomes.
These chapters also reveal the failure of human beings in their most basic relationships. People tried to be human without God, and the result was the introduction of the sin principle. Sin is the monkey wrench that has been thrown into the human machinery. It is the reason why we behave in ways that are destructive to ourselves and others— even when we know better and want better for ourselves and others. Keith Miller has called sin “the ultimate addiction,” because no matter how much we may want to be free of it, the destructive habit of sin is impossible for us to break in our own power.
As you read these chapters in Genesis, you’ll see how Adam rejected God’s plan and lost Paradise. You’ll see how Cain rejected God and became a murderer; he then went out and founded a civilization that ended in apostasy and the flood. You’ll see how, after Noah and his family were spared in the flood, this wise and godly man fell into the snare of sin and alcohol abuse, bringing shame on his family. Later in Genesis, you’ll notice how men like Jacob and Lot bring enormous hurt upon themselves and their families. We hear a lot these days about “dysfunctional families,” but it is clear, as we read the book of Genesis, that God already wrote the book on that subject.
Genesis 3 explains over one hundred centuries of human heartache, misery, torture, and bloodshed. Remove this chapter from the Bible, and the entire book becomes incomprehensible. But the most striking thing about it is that we find ourselves here. The temptation and the fall are reproduced in our lives many times a day. We all have heard the voice of the tempter and felt the attraction of sin—and we all know the pangs of guilt that follow.
Many biblical scholars feel that the tempter in the garden was not a snake but a “shining one,” which is what the Hebrew word for snake means. Snakes were undoubtedly created to represent the punishment that fell upon this being when he brought about the fall of man by his cunning and deceit. It is clearly the devil, in his character as an angel of light, who confronts the woman in the Garden of Eden. His tactic with her is to arouse desire. First he implanted in her heart a distrust of God’s love, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1). Next, he dares to deny openly the results that God had stated will occur, “You will not surely die” (3:4), he says. Then he clinches his attack with a distorted truth, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” All the devil wishes to do is to leave Eve standing before the fruit that is hanging there in all its luscious fascination, tantalizing her, offering her an experience that she never dreamed would be possible.
Now the mind comes into action. Without realizing it, Eve has already experienced an arousing of her emotions so that she longs for the tantalizing fruit before her. Thus, when her mind acts, it can no longer do so rationally. Already the will has secretly determined to act on the facts as the emotions present them and thus the mind can only rationalize. It must twist the facts so that they accord with desire, and the result was that Eve took the fruit and ate.
But there was still hope for the race. Adam had not yet fallen, only Eve. A battle has been lost, but not the war. In the innocent but ominous words, “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (3:6), we face the beginning of the darkness of a fallen humanity—what the Bible calls “death” immediately follows.
This is followed by banishment from the garden, not, as we so often imagine, to keep them from coming back to the tree of life but, as the text specifically states, “to guard the way to the tree of life” (3:24). There is a way to the tree of life, but it is no longer a physical way. In the book of Revelation, we are told that the tree of life is for the healing of the nations (see Rev. 22:2). It is surely to this that Jesus refers when He says, “I am the way.” Spiritually and psychologically (in the realm of emotions and mind) we are to live in the presence of God because a way has been opened back to the tree of life.
From the tragic sin of Adam proceeds the criminal sin of Adam’s son Cain, who kills his brother Abel out of bitterness and jealousy when Abel’s blood offering is accepted over Cain’s grain offering to God. From Cain, we trace the beginnings of civilization and especially the part that urban life plays in shaping human society. To Cain is born Enoch, who builds his city on ground that is yet red with the blood of Abel. The city that Enoch builds contains all the ingredients of modern life: travel, music and the arts, the use of metals, organized political life, and the domestication of animals. It is impressive but built on shaky ground. Violence, murder, and immorality abound as the state rises to replace the family as the focus of human interest. The trend toward urban over rural life is evident and increasing toleration of sexual excess appears.
But in the midst of this deterioration, God has another plan ready. After Abel is slain and Cain is banished by God, Adam and Eve have another son, whose name—Seth—means “appointed.” Noah will eventually come out of Seth’s line.
The rest of Genesis explores the realm of spiritual relationships. It is the largest part of this book because it is the most important to people. It is the story of the human spirit in relationship with God, told through the lives of five men. If you remember the lives of these five men and what they mean, you will have most of Genesis in the palm of your hand. They are Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Genesis reveals in the stories of these men what human beings are always seeking.
Most of us think we spend our lives seeking things. The popular T-shirt slogan puts it this way: “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” But story after story of the final moments of people with the most toys, the rich and famous of this world, show that those who die with nothing to show for their lives but a huge collection of things and toys— castles, cars, fame, wealth, empires—tend to die miserably, clutching at a life that they can no longer grasp, regretting that they have invested their lives in things that don’t last. Materialism is bound to disappoint us in the end.
All the restlessness of our age can be understood as an attempt to acquire the right things in the wrong way. What are the right things? I believe there are essentially three things people want: righteousness, peace, and joy. But because our understanding is warped by sin, our search for these things gets skewed.
Deep inside, we want righteousness, a sense of being right and justified. But instead of seeking the righteousness of God and being justified by faith in the righteous sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we try to justify ourselves! When anyone accuses you of something wrong, what do you do? You start justifying yourself! You make excuses for yourself! That’s human nature. Even when we know we are wrong, we want to somehow make it right. But the only righteousness that is truly right is the righteousness of God. That is why we are inadequate apart from Him, and that is why we are complete with Him. His righteousness covers us and justifies us. Only the righteousness of God can truly satisfy our hunger and searching for righteousness.
The second thing we seek is peace. John F. Kennedy once said, “The absence of war is not the same thing as peace.” How true! Even when our society has enjoyed so-called peacetime, we have known a sense of national tension, unease, and dissatisfaction. As a people, we are not at peace with each other nor with ourselves. Why? Because we seek it in the wrong places, in the wrong ways. We seek money and a higher standard of living as the key to peace of mind; yet the more we have, the more we want. We never come to a place where we truly know peace. But God gives us, even in uncertain times, a very different and transcendent peace, the peace that passes understanding.
The third thing we all seek is joy. We want a sense of gladness, of happiness, of adventure in life. Tragically, most of us seek our joy-substitute in the form of kicks, highs, and sinful pleasures. The purpose of the last part of Genesis is to introduce us to God, the one of whom the psalmist wrote, “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Ps. 16:11).
Where do we find the true satisfaction of all three of these unseen, almost unconscious, goals of life—righteousness, peace, and joy? Romans 14:17 tells us: “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Only God offers these things to human beings, and that is the story of this book.
If Genesis reveals the inadequacies of people without God, it also demonstrates the adequacy and completeness of people with God. That is the great positive message of Genesis. In the garden before Adam fell, you see Adam as the lord of creation. God has given him dominion. If only we could have known Adam back in the days before the Fall! What a rich personality he must have been. What tremendous power and knowledge he must have had. He knew the world’s mysteries and controlled its activities. Humanity can no longer do that. We have the urge to do so, but we cannot.
When we look at the New Testament and read of the miracles of the Lord Jesus’ walking on the water, changing the water into wine, stilling the storm with a word, we say to ourselves, “That is God at work.” But the Old Testament says, “No, that isn’t God; that is unfallen humanity. That is what human beings were intended to be: rulers of the world.”
You find it reflected in Psalm 8:4 and 6. Gazing into the heavens, David says, “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” And then he answers his question, “You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet.” Since the fall, the only human being in whom we have seen these words fulfilled is Jesus. That is why the writer of Hebrews says, “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus . . .” (Heb. 2:8–9).
Genesis reveals that when human beings live with God, they are able to live at peace and in harmony with other human beings. One of the most beautiful stories in this book is that of Abraham’s dwelling under the oaks of Mamre with the Canaanites all around him, a race that for many years had been his enemy. But God so worked in the life of Abraham that even his enemies were made to be at peace with him. The story of Abraham closes with the Canaanite tribes coming to him and saying, “You are a mighty prince among us” (Gen. 23:6). So is fulfilled what God says elsewhere, that when a person’s ways please the Lord, He makes even that person’s enemies to be at peace with him. This is the key. This is the secret of life in all our relationships.
Genesis declares that only human beings in fellowship with God can know supreme happiness—the righteousness, peace, and joy that people always hunger for. Realization comes only as people discover that the indwelling God is the answer to all their needs.
This is revealed in five ways, through the lives of five men:
Noah is a man who went through symbolic death. That is the meaning of the flood. Noah was surrounded by the flood, he rode upon it, he was preserved through it, he was saved from it. The waters of judgment, the waters of death could not overwhelm him. He was carried into a new world and a new life by His faith in a redeeming God.
Many books have been written depicting what the world might be like after an atomic holocaust. Yet this is virtually the same scenario produced in the days of the flood. Human civilization was destroyed, and Noah and his family were forced to begin afresh on a new earth. Here is a picture of regeneration, of new life. The beginning of life as a Christian is a transition from death into life in Christ, just as Noah passed from death to life in the flood.
Note the numbers associated with the flood. The flood began when the fountains of the great deep burst forth and the windows of the heavens opened up, and the rain continued for 40 days and nights, then ceased. At the end of 150 days the waters began to abate and the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat on the seventeenth day of the seventh month.
The seventeenth day of the seventh month is exactly the same day of the year when, centuries later, Jesus rose from the dead. After the exodus from Egypt, God changed the beginning of the year from the seventh month (in the fall) to the first month (in the spring) when the Passover was eaten. Jesus rose on the seventeenth day of the first month, which would be the same as the seventeenth day of the seventh month in the old reckoning in this passage in Genesis. Thus, clearly, the emergence of Noah from the ark is intended to be a picture of the new beginning of life that every Christian experiences when he or she enters into the resurrection life of Jesus Christ by the new birth!
Abraham teaches us that we are justified by faith. Here was a man who was far from perfect, yet who lived by faith. Everything Abraham achieved was a result of God’s grace, not Abraham’s merit or effort. As God led him along and Abraham stepped out in faithful dependence upon the promises of God, he found that God’s promises were true. Eight times Abraham’s faith was dramatically tried, and eight times he passed the test. If you are ever in a trial of faith, read the life of Abraham. You will find in his life circumstances that are similar to the ones you are going through. Abraham teaches us what it means to be justified, to be the friend of God by faith.
One of the greatest demonstrations of Abraham’s faith is his reliance upon God’s promise of a coming son, despite Abraham’s advanced age. It is at that point in Abraham’s walk of faith where we read for the first time in Scripture that marvelous statement, “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (see Gen. 15:6). It is because of his faith that Abraham was called “God’s friend” (James 2:23).
Isaac is a beautiful picture of sonship, what it means to be a child of God. If ever a boy was spoiled and pampered by his father, it was Isaac. He is the darling of his father’s heart. I doubt that any message could be more welcome today than the one that is so beautifully exemplified in Isaac: that God loves us, values us, and calls us the darlings of His heart. “Dear friends, now we are children of God,” says 1 John 3:2, “what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him.” We shall be like Christ.
Jacob was the rascal of Genesis. He was the schemer, the man who thought he could live by his own wits and his own efforts. He went out trying to deceive everybody and ended up being deceived. He troubled his own household by playing favorites, indulging one of his sons over the rest, creating bitterness and resentment among his sons.
Yet, despite all his faults, Jacob is a beautiful picture of sanctification, that marvelous work of God in which we in our folly, attempting to live life in the energy of the flesh, are led into the very situations that drive us to God. Sometimes we give God no choice but to corner us and contend with us until we discover His speaking to us, and we surrender. With our surrender, God is able to take over, and we are able to truly live.
That is what Jacob did at the brook of Peniel. There, knowing Esau was waiting with a band of armed men ready to take his life, Jacob waited alone. There, an angel in the form of a man met him and began to wrestle with him through the long night. As the day broke the angel sought to disengage himself, but Jacob clung with stubborn persistence. The angel touched Jacob’s thigh and threw it out of joint, but still Jacob clung in helplessness to the divine messenger, refusing to let go until he was blessed of God. Then the divine being changed the name of Jacob to Israel, which means “he who prevails with God.” As the sun rose, Jacob limped off to meet Esau with a totally different attitude in his heart. He no longer feared people but was confident that God would fight his battles for him. Jacob learned the great principle of sanctification: that God was his strength and his refuge and is fully capable of working out all the problems with which he may be confronted.
Jacob’s life can be seen in three distinct stages: (1) His early years at home when he was basically a deceiver of others, epitomized by his theft of Esau’s birthright. (2) The middle period of his life, when Jacob learns what it is like to be deceived, as illustrated in the story where Jacob labors for seven years to win Rachel as his wife only to be tricked into marrying Rachel’s sister Leah first. (3) Finally, Jacob learns to live as a man devoted to the word and will of God, when he wrestles with—and is blessed by—the angel of God.
Joseph is a picture of glorification. Joseph is the young man who was loved by his father, Jacob, and mistreated by his brothers. They pounce on him and sell him into slavery, yet even in the chains of a slave, Joseph is exalted by God. His life is a roller coaster of highs and lows: he is given a position of prestige by Potiphar, then cast down into prison by the lies of Potiphar’s wife, then is again exalted, taken out of prison, and made an advisor to the pharaoh of Egypt himself! Ultimately, he becomes the second highest leader in the land.
Here, in the life of Joseph, is a symbolic picture of the hope of all believers. What do we look forward to after death? Deliverance from the darkness and pain of this earthly existence, and from the prison house in which we have lived our years—deliverance and exaltation to the very throne and presence of God Himself!
And how did Joseph appropriate God’s deliverance and exaltation in his own life? Faith is the only method by which human beings can reach God and appropriate His delivering power. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” says Hebrews 11:6. As you act in faith, it all becomes true. Note that in Joseph’s life and in ours, faith does not mean giving intellectual credence to God’s promises but stepping out and acting on His promises; when we act in faith, it all becomes true in our experience.
Joseph’s character is presented to us with almost unblemished consistency. He is often considered symbolic of Christ, since he was beloved of his father but rejected by his brethren, sold into slavery for twenty pieces of silver, and seemingly died (or so his father thought) and was “brought to life” again as a triumphant king instead of a suffering servant. Like our Lord, he forgave his brothers for their treatment of him and was used to save them from death and preserve the family line.
The thread that runs throughout all fifty chapters of Genesis is that there is a secret to living and that we will never experience completeness of life until we have learned and experienced this secret. The secret is simple—yet so many people in this world tragically miss it. The secret is friendship with God. Without God you cannot understand the world around you. You can’t understand yourself or your neighbor or God Himself. You will never have any answers without God. But with Him, everything comes into focus, everything makes sense.
The secret of life is a personal, daily relationship with the living God who was in the beginning, who made the heavens and the earth, who created the human race in His own image, and who wants to have fellowship and a living relationship with the people He has so lovingly created.
This is the first note sounded in the very first chapters of Genesis, and you will see that when we have concluded our adventure through the Bible, it is also the concluding note sounded in the book of Revelation. From beginning to end, the Bible is a love letter to the human race. And we have examined only the first chapter of that love letter.