The word Genesis in Hebrew means ‘beginning’ which is fitting, given Genesis is the first book in the bible. Genesis has lots of different stories which are familiar to us and bring back nostalgic memories of singing about Noah’s ark in Sunday School. But merely splitting Genesis down into its separate stories means that we may miss the overarching story of the book of Genesis.
Genesis is split into two parts, chapters 1-11 and then chapters 12 – 50.
Chapters 1-11 tell the story of God and His relation to creation and the whole world. The story of creation in Genesis is a story poem which points to God, and His power and sovereignty over creation. God creates a good world, but due to the stubbornness and disobedience of humanity, God’s good world is broken. The following chapters of this first section demonstrate humanity’s downward spiral into sin, finishing with the story of the Tower of Babel, in chapter 11. This first section of Genesis leaves us wondering where the hope is for humanity and what God will do with this broken world.
The answer to these questions comes in chapters 12-50. Enter Abram (later known as Abraham) and God’s promise to Him in chapter 12. God says to Abram in Genesis 12:2-3:
“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you.
I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
This blessing marks the beginning of God’s mission to rescue His world. Abram’s descendants will be God’s people, also known as ‘Israel’. God makes a covenant with Abram, a promise that he will have as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. The rest of Genesis follows Abraham’s descendants, from Isaac, to Jacob and Esau, Jacob’s sons focusing especially on Joseph.
Genesis tells story after story of God’s people messing up, but God turning the situation round for good. At the end of the book, we’re left with the question: how will God turn this situation around and enable God’s people to come back into relationship with him, as it was when God first created the world? We’ll have to read the rest of the bible to find out!