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Genesis is about Jesus: Jesus our Creator, Jesus our Sustainer, Jesus our Redeemer. Writing millennia after the Genesis text itself had been penned by Moses, and reaching back across those ages to the patriarch’s very words, the apostle John reveals Jesus in the Creation account: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1-4, NKJV).
What did John write here? “In the beginning” all things that were made, all things that once didn’t exist, came into existence — by Jesus. All creation — from galaxies hurling across the cosmos in staggering pinwheels of fire and light to the meticulous DNA woven miraculously into the cell to quantum waves — Jesus created and sustains it all. And the book of Genesis is the first story in Scripture of both this creation and the redemption of this creation. Here, in this book, is the world’s only “official” account of our origins.
The English word Genesis is derived from the Greek genesis, which means “beginning,” itself derived from the Hebrew bere’shit, “in the beginning” — the first word of the book (hence, the first word of the entire Bible!). Genesis gives us the foundation, the base, upon which all the following Scriptures rest. Because it is first, and so foundational to all that comes after, Genesis is probably the most quoted or referred to book in the rest of the Scriptures.
Genesis is important because it is the book that, more than any other work, anywhere, helps us understand just who we are as human beings, a truth especially important now, in a day when we humans are deemed as nothing but accidents, chance creations of a purely materialistic universe. Or, as one physicist put it, we humans are “organized mud,” (which is to some degree true, though for him the laws of nature alone organized it!). Genesis, however, reveals to us our true origin, that we are beings purposely and perfectly made in the image of God in a perfect world. Genesis also explains the Fall; that is, why our world is no longer perfect and why we as humans aren’t, as well. Genesis, however, also comforts us with God’s promise of salvation in a world that, in and of itself, offers us nothing but suffering and death.
With its dramatic stories of miracles (creation, births, rainbow) and judgments (the Flood, Sodom, and Gomorrah) witnessing to God’s holy presence, Genesis is awe-inspiring. But Genesis is also a book with moving human stories of love (Jacob and Rachel), of hatred (Jacob and Esau), of birth (Isaac, Jacob, Jacob’s sons), of death (Sarah, Rachel, Jacob, Joseph), of murder (Cain, Simeon, and Levi), and forgiveness (Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers). It is also an instruction book with lessons on ethics (Cain, Babel), on faith (Abraham, Jacob), and on the hope and promise of redemption (crushing of the serpent, Promised Land).
During this quarter, we will not only read and study the book of Genesis — we will enjoy its beautiful stories and learn to walk better with the Lord of Creation, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Meanwhile, the geographical movements of the book — from Eden to Babel, to the Promised Land, to Egypt, to the prospect of the Promised Land — remind us of our nomadic journeys and nurture our hope for the real Promised Land, the new heaven and the new earth. As we follow the various characters across the pages of Genesis, we will discover that — regardless of how different the time, place, culture, and circumstance — often their stories are, in many ways, ours, as well.
Jacques B. Doukhan, DHL, ThD, is emeritus professor of Hebrew and Old Testament exegesis in the SDA Theological Seminary, Andrews University.
Lesson 1 March 26-April 1
Read for This Week’s Study: Ps. 100:1-3, Genesis 1-2, Exod. 20:8-11, Exod. 40:33, Matt. 25:14-30, Matt. 19:7-9.
Memory Text: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, NKJV).
The book of Genesis and, hence, the whole Bible begins with God’s acts of Creation. This fact is very important because it means that our creation marks the beginning of human and biblical history. This truth also implies that the Genesis Creation story has the same historical veracity as other events of human and biblical history.
The two Creation texts in Genesis 1-2 contain lessons about God and humanity. As we study this week, we will understand better the profound meaning of the seventh-day Sabbath. We will ponder God’s act of creating humans in His image, and out of the dust too. We will be intrigued about the purpose of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and about its connection with the tree of life.
The most important lesson of the biblical stories of the beginnings is a lesson on grace. Our existence is purely an act of grace. God created the heavens and the earth while humans were not yet present. Just as our creation was, our redemption is, too, a gift from God. And how profound it is that both concepts, creation and redemption, exist in the seventh-day Sabbath commandment.
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, April 2.
Sunday ↥ March 27
Read Psalm 100:1-3. What is the human response to the God of Creation, and why?
In Genesis 1, the first message of the Creation account is “God.” We already hear it in the translation: “In the beginning God” (Gen. 1:1). In the first line (Gen. 1:1), the word “God” is placed in the middle of the verse and is underlined by the strongest accent in the Hebrew liturgical traditional chanting in order to emphasize the importance of God. The Creation text begins, then, with an emphasis on God, the author of Creation.
The book of Genesis begins, in fact, with two different presentations of God. The first Creation account (Gen. 1:1-2:4) presents God as infinitely far from humans, the transcendent God, Elohim, whose name speaks about the supremacy of God. The name Elohim denotes preeminence and strength, and the use of the plural form of the word Elohim expresses the idea of majesty and transcendence.
The second Creation account (Gen. 2:4-25) presents God as up close and personal, the immanent God YHWH, whose name many believe denotes closeness and relationship. The Creation text as a whole is, then, an implicit appeal to worship God; first, to be aware of God’s infinite grandeur and power, and at the same time to acknowledge our dependence on Him because He created us “and not we ourselves” (Ps. 100:3). This is why many of the psalms often associate worship with Creation (Ps. 95:1-6; Ps. 139:13, 14 [compare with Rev. 14:7]).
This twofold view of a God who is both majestic and powerful, and who is also close, loving, and in a relationship with us, contains an important point about how we should approach God in worship. Awe and reverence go along with joy and the assurance of God’s proximity, forgiveness, and love (see Ps. 2:11). Even the sequence of the two presentations of God is meaningful: the experience of God’s proximity and the intimacy of His presence follows the experience of God’s distance. Only when we have realized that God is great shall we be able to appreciate His grace and enjoy, in trembling, His wonderful and loving presence in our lives.
Think about the vast power of God, who upholds the cosmos, and yet can be so near to each of us. Why is this amazing truth so amazing?
Monday ↥ March 28
Read Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31, and Genesis 2:1-3. What is the significance of the refrain “it was good” in the first Creation account? What is the implied lesson contained in the conclusion of Creation (Gen. 2:1-3)?
At each step of the Creation account, God evaluates His work as tov, “good.” It is generally understood that this adjective means that God’s work of Creation was successful and that God’s observation that “it was good” means that “it worked.” The light was illuminating (Gen. 1:4). The plants were yielding fruit (Gen. 1:12) and so forth.
But this word referred to more than the efficiency of a function. The Hebrew word tov is also used in the Bible to express an esthetic appreciation of something beautiful (Gen. 24:16). It is also used in contrast to evil (Gen. 2:9), which is associated with death (Gen. 2:17).
The phrase “it was good” means that the creation was working nicely, that it was beautiful and perfect, and that there was no evil in it. The world was “not yet” like our world, affected by sin and death, an idea affirmed in the introduction to the second Creation account (see Gen. 2:5).
This description of the Creation radically contradicts the theories of evolution, which dogmatically declare that the world shaped itself progressively through a succession of accidental happenings, starting from an inferior condition to a superior one.
In contrast, the biblical author affirms that God intentionally and suddenly created the world (Gen. 1:1). There was nothing happenstance or chancy about any of it. The world did not come about by itself but only as the result of God’s will and word (Gen. 1:3). The verb bara’, “create,” translated in Genesis 1 as in the beginning God “created” the heavens and the earth, occurs only with God as its subject, and it denotes abruptness: God spoke, and it was so.
The Creation text informs us that “everything” had been done then (Gen. 1:31), and according to the Creator Himself, it was all judged “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Genesis 1:1 states the event itself, the creation of heaven and earth; and Genesis 2:1 declares that the event was finished. And it was all completed, including the Sabbath, in seven days.
Why does the idea of billions of years of evolution completely nullify the Genesis Creation story? Why are the two views incompatible in every way?
Tuesday ↥ March 29
Read Genesis 2:2, 3 and Exodus 20:8-11. Why is the seventh-day Sabbath related to Creation? How does this connection impact how we keep the Sabbath?
It is precisely because “God ended” His works of Creation that He instituted the Sabbath. The seventh-day Sabbath is, therefore, the expression of our faith that God finished His work then, and that He found it “very good.” To keep the Sabbath is to join with God in the recognition of the value and beauty of His creation.
We can rest from our works just as God had rested from His. Sabbath keeping means saying yes to God’s “very good” Creation, which includes our physical bodies. Contrary to some ancient (and modern) beliefs, nothing in Scripture, Old or New Testament, denigrates the body as evil. That’s a pagan concept, not a biblical one. Instead, Sabbath keepers are grateful for God’s creation — which includes their own flesh — and that is why they can enjoy the Creation and why they take care of it.
The Sabbath, which marks the first “end” of human history, is also a sign of hope for suffering humankind and for the groaning of the world. It is interesting that the phrase “finished the work” reappears at the end of the construction of the sanctuary (Exod. 40:33), and again at the end of the building of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:40, 51) — both places where the lesson of the gospel and salvation had been taught.
After the Fall, the Sabbath, at the end of the week, points to the miracle of salvation, which will take place only through the miracle of a new creation (Isa. 65:17, Rev. 21:1). The Sabbath is a sign at the end of our human week that the suffering and trials of this world will have an end, as well.
This is why Jesus chose the Sabbath as the most appropriate day to heal the sick (Luke 13:13-16). Contrary to whatever traditions the leaders were stuck in, by the Sabbath healings Jesus pointed the people, and us, to the time when all pain, all suffering, all death, will be over, which is the ultimate conclusion to the salvation process. Hence, each Sabbath points us to the hope of redemption.
How by resting on the Sabbath day are we experiencing the rest and salvation that we have in Jesus now and that will be fulfilled, ultimately, in the creation of the new heaven and new earth?
Wednesday ↥ March 30
The creation of humans is God’s last act of Creation, at least in the Genesis account. Humans are the culmination of the whole earthly creation, the purpose for which the earth was made.
Read Genesis 1:26-29 and Genesis 2:7. What is the connection between these two different versions in regard to the creation of humanity?
That God has created humans in His image is one of the boldest statements of the Bible. Only humans have been created in the image of God. Though “God made the beast of the earth according to its kind” (Gen. 1:25, NKJV), “God created man in His own image” (Gen. 1:27, NKJV). This formula has often been limited to the spiritual nature of humans, which is interpreted to mean that the “image of God” is understood to signify only the administrative function of representing God, or the spiritual function of relationship with God or with each other.
While these understandings are correct, they fail to include the important physical reality of this creation. Both dimensions are, indeed, included in the two words “image” and “likeness” describing this process in Genesis 1:26. While the Hebrew word tselem, “image,” refers to the concrete shape of the physical body, the word demut, “likeness,” refers to abstract qualities that are comparable to the divine Person.
Therefore, the Hebrew notion of the “image of God” should be understood in the wholistic sense of the biblical view of the human nature. The biblical text affirms that human individuals (men and women) have been created in God’s image physically, as well as spiritually. As Ellen G. White clearly comments: “When Adam came from the Creator’s hand, he bore, in his physical, mental, and spiritual nature, a likeness to his Maker.” — Education, p. 15.
In fact, this wholistic understanding of the image of God, including the physical body, is reaffirmed in the other Creation account, which says that “man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7, NKJV), literally, “a living soul” (nefesh), as the result of two divine operations: God “formed” and God “breathed.” Note that the “breath” often refers to the spiritual dimension, but it is also closely tied to the biological capacity of breathing, the part of the man that was “formed … of the dust of the ground.” It is the “breath of life”; that is, breath (spiritual) and life (physical).
God will later perform a third operation, this time to create the woman from the body of the man (Gen. 2:21, 22), a way to emphasize that she is of the same nature as the man.
Thursday ↥ March 31
As soon as God created the first man, He offered him three gifts: the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8), food (Gen. 2:16), and the woman (Gen 2:22).
Read Genesis 2:15-17. What is man’s duty toward creation and toward God? How do these two duties relate to each other?
The first duty of man concerns the natural environment in which God has put him: “to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15, NKJV). The verb ‘avad, “tend,” refers to work. It is not enough to receive a gift. We have to work on it and to make it fruitful — a lesson that Jesus will repeat in His parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30). The verb shamar, “keep,” implies the responsibility to preserve what has been received.
The second duty concerns his food. We have to remember that God gave it to humans (see Gen. 1:29). God also said to Adam that “you may freely eat” (Gen. 2:16, NKJV). Humans didn’t create the trees, nor the food on them. They were a gift, a gift of grace.
But there is a commandment here, as well: they were to receive and enjoy God’s generous gift “of every tree” (NKJV). As a part of this grace, though, God adds a restriction. They should not eat from one particular tree. Enjoying without any restriction will lead to death. This principle was right in the Garden of Eden and, in many ways, that same principle exists today.
The third duty of man concerns the woman, God’s third gift: “man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife” (Gen. 2:24, NKJV). This extraordinary statement is a powerful expression that highlights human responsibility toward the conjugal covenant and the purpose of being “one flesh” (NKJV), meaning one person (compare with Matt. 19:7-9).
The reason it is the man (and not the woman) who should leave his parents may have to do with the biblical generic use of the masculine; hence, perhaps, the commandment applies to the woman too. Either way, the bond of marriage, though a gift from God, entails human responsibility once the gift has been received, a responsibility that rests upon both the man and the woman to fulfill faithfully.
Think about all that you have been given by God. What are your responsibilities with what you have been given?
Friday ↥ April 1
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “Science and the Bible,” pp. 128, 129, in Education; “The Creation,” in The Story of Redemption, pp. 21, 22.
“Since the book of nature and the book of revelation bear the impress of the same master mind, they cannot but speak in harmony. By different methods, and in different languages, they witness to the same great truths. Science is ever discovering new wonders; but she brings from her research nothing that, rightly understood, conflicts with divine revelation. The book of nature and the written word shed light upon each other. They make us acquainted with God by teaching us something of the laws through which He works.
Inferences erroneously drawn from facts observed in nature have, however, led to supposed conflict between science and revelation; and in the effort to restore harmony, interpretations of Scripture have been adopted that undermine and destroy the force of the word of God. Geology has been thought to contradict the literal interpretation of the Mosaic record of the creation. Millions of years, it is claimed, were required for the evolution of the earth from chaos; and in order to accommodate the Bible to this supposed revelation of science, the days of creation are assumed to have been vast, indefinite periods, covering thousands or even millions of years.
Such a conclusion is wholly uncalled for. The Bible record is in harmony with itself and with the teaching of nature.” — Ellen G. White, Education, pp. 128, 129.
Students mocked the Laissa Samila Yassine for skipping classes on Saturdays in Mozambique. “You came here to this university to study, not to follow your church’s teachings,” said one. “You’re crazy,” said another.
It all began when Laissa was struggling with her mechanical engineering studies during her first semester at a public university and she found relief listening to music shared by a Seventh-day Adventist classmate, Belizario. Then she and Belizario began to study the Bible together. Laissa had other new friends, and they also studied the Bible.
The more she studied, the more she felt confused. The two Bible studies didn’t agree on the Sabbath. She quit both to search the Bible for herself. Prayerfully, she read the fourth commandment in Exodus 20:8-11, which begins, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (NKJV). She read the Lord’s call in Isaiah 58:1-3 to “turn away … from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight” and Jesus’ words, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). She decided to keep the Sabbath.
At first, Laissa hid her decision. She was afraid of being ridiculed, and she didn’t want to ask teachers to be excused from Saturday classes. She also worried about what her parents would say. However, she couldn’t keep her convictions to herself for long, and she announced at the end of the second semester that she would become an Adventist. Her worst fears materialized. Former friends taunted her and, when they saw her walking with Belizario, sneered, “Oh, those Adventists.” Teachers refused to reschedule Saturday classes, and her grades dropped. “If you don’t like it here, just leave,” teachers said. Her mother was furious, and her father disowned her.
Then Laissa met a visiting student from Mozambique Adventist University at her church on Sabbath. She was excited to learn about an Adventist university in Mozambique, and she begged her mother to allow her to transfer. Her mother initially refused but unexpectedly changed her mind after Laissa, like Queen Esther, prayed and fasted for three days for God to intervene. A short time after changing universities, she told her mother that she no longer needed help with expenses. Her new library job covered her costs. Her mother was astonished. “Indeed, the Lord is not your stepfather but your real Father,” she said.
Laissa, 22, now a second-year nutrition major, plans to become a missionary in Mozambique, where malnutrition is a serious problem.
Part of the Thirteenth Sabbath Offering three years ago helped Mozambique Adventist University expand its nutrition department with new classrooms and equipment.
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