There are two main divisions in the book.
But Genesis is unique because one characteristic of the stories of all other cultures is the fighting of the gods. The prevailing god would then impose his will upon all the others, thereby bringing order into the world. In Genesis, God acts alone and creates with an economy of words, rather than a plethora of weapons.
1:1-31 -- The six days of Creation
- This is a beautiful account of the progression from chaos to cosmos.
- There are six units of time, perfectly balanced into two parallel groups, describing four creative acts in three days. Each day begins with the formula "God says," and ends with "evening and morning" of that day. The first three days of creaton undo chaos through the progressive formation of the heavens, the waters, and dry land. The second three days of creation populate these entities in identical order, culminating in the creation of man made in God's image and likeness.
2:1-3 -- The Seventh Day
- All of creation is pronounced good, and God rests, thereby providing the essential foundation for the Sabbath, though this word does not appear.
2:4-25 -- The creation of Adam and Eve -- oftentimes referred to as the Second Creation Story
- If it is a creation story, its focus is totally different.
- God breathes the breath of life into this creature of the dust (clay) and plants a garden where man can live. Man was to care for the garden but not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Apparently he lived in the garden, but he was lonely. So God fashioned woman as a helper fit for him, to serve with him in the garden.
3:1-24 -- commonly referred to as the "Fall", but there is no such reference in the Hebrew Bible, nor is there any other reference to Adam and Eve in the OT.
- It is an attempt to explain why the human condition is so different from the vision of God's ideal world. It tries to answer the question, "How did evil begin?" It does not make a case for primordial evil; evil was the result of man's poor choices.
- The mysterious serpent convinces Adam and Eve that life will be better if they eat the fruit from the forbidden tree. They're convinced. God interrogates them, states the consequences, and banishes them from Eden, but not before making clothes for them.
4:1-26 -- Cain and Abel
- The children of Adam and Eve offer further comment on human nature. Jealousy and strife lead to the murder of Abel, and Cain's denial of it to God. Further banishment is the result, ending in Cain's genealogy, which passes into extinction. Eve bears a son, Seth.
5:1-32 -- The Book of Genealogies
- Humanity is given a fresh start. Beginning with Adam, it records ten generations, culminating in Noah. This lays out an orderly and divine unfoldment of history.
6:1-8 -- The Intermarriage of Celestial and Terrestrial Beings
- What is one to make of this? This story has many parallels in other ancient cultures. Here, though, their activity remains under God's control and introduces his judgment of "great wickedness" and his "regret" at making humans in the first place. Only Noah remained faithful.
6:9-9:17 -- The Great Flood
- This is actually the undoing of creation. But alongside judgment stands the promise of renewal.
- God instructs Noah how to save himself by building the ark. Noah follows those instructions to the letter, and only his family is allowed in. After it rained for forty days and nights, it took almost a year for the earth to return to its pre-flood condition.
- When dry land appears, Noah and his family disembark and offer sacrifices to God symbolizing the restoration of harmony between God and humanity.
- God responds by making a covenant ratified with the sign of a rainbow.
9:18-29 -- The Blessing and Cursing of Noah and his Sons
- Noah was blessed with a vineyard and cursed by the fact that he got drunk on its wine.
- While Noah was inebriated, his son, Ham, did something to him, which is left unspecified.
- Upon awakening, Noah cursed "Canaan" (Ham) and blessed his other two sons.
10:1-32 -- The Table of Nations
- Seventy peoples are listed, the number suggesting completion. The entire human race can be traced back to one of these three sons.
- The Japheth nations are to the north and west.
- Ham includes Canaanites and Egyptians.
- Shem is the forerunner of the Israelites and the people of Mesopotamia and Arabia.
11:1-9 -- The Tower of Babal
- In this final story, people have once again turned from God. They intend to build a "tower" to the heavens to honor themselves.
- God responds by confounding their speech and scattering them over the whole earth.
11:10-32 -- Transition to the Patriarchs
- The incorrigible nature of mankind leads the author to focus on one line of descent -- Shem's.
- Ten generations lie between Shem and Abraham, just as 10 generations separate Adam from Noah.
- Previous stories have shown the breadth of God's blessings to humanity.
- Now one family will be invited to know God more intimately.
The Ancestral History of Israel
The ancestral history records the traditions of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The time is estimated to be roughly 2000 and 1500 BCE - the middle Bronze Age.
12:1-7 -- God chooses Abraham
- The command is abrupt, uncompromising -- "GO!...to the land I will show you."
- The promises (seven, in all) are equally clear -- "you will be a blessing to others."
- Abram gets up and goes, leaving his father, kin, and country.
12:9-25:11 - Chronicles the story of Abraham
12:10-20 -- Abraham and Sarah in Egypt; Sarah in Pharoah's palace
13:1-18 - Arrival in the promised land, separation of Lot and Abraham
14:1-24 - Abraham rescues Lot
15:1-21 - God makes a covenant with Abraham
16:1-16 -- Introduction of Hagar and the birth of Ishmael
17:1-17 - God reiterates covenant, institutes circumcision
18:1-15 - God promises a son to Sarah
18:16-33 -- God informs Abraham about problems in Sodom
19:1-29 - Depravity and destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
19:30-38 -- Lot's daughters give birth to Ammon and Moab
20:1-18 - Abraham and Sarah in Gerar; Sarah in Abimelech's palace
21:1-21 - Birth of Isaac and explusion of Hagar and Ishmael
21:22-34 -- Abraham's covenant regarding the well at Beersheba
22:1-19 - The Binding of Isaac
22:20-24 -- Digression to Bethuel, introduces Rebekah's father
23:1-20 - Death and Burial of Sarah
24:1-67 - Abraham sends servant to find wife for Isaac
25:1-6 -- Abraham's descendants by wife, Keturah
25:7-11 - Death and Burial of Abraham
25:12-18 -- Follows the line of Ishmael, Abraham's first son
25:19-28:9 - The Story of Isaac, including the birth of the twins: Jacob and Esau
25:19-28 -- Birth of Esau and Jacob
25:29-34 -- Esau sells his birthright
26:1-33 - God reiterates His promises and recollections regarding Abraham and Sarah
26:34-45 -- Esau's Hittite wives
27:1-46 - Jacob deceives Isaac and receives the blessing intended for Esau
28:1-22 - Jacob flees to Paddan-aram and encounters God in a dream
29:1-35:27 - The Adventures of Jacob
29:1-30 - Jacob's marriages
29:31-30:24 -- Births of Jacob's sons and daughter
30:25-43 -- Jacob and Laban make a new contract
31:1-21 - Jacob and his wives and children leave for Canaan; Rachel steals the household gods
31:22-35 -- Laban pursues them
31:44-54 -- Jacob and Laban make a pact at Mizpah
32:4-33:31 - Jacob encounters Esau
34:1-31 - The rape of Dinah
35:1-15 - Jacob returns to Bethel
35:16-20 -- The death of Rachel and the birth of Benjamin
35:21-29 -- Family issues and the death of Isaac
36:1-43 - The Line of Esau
37:1-50:24 - The Trials and Triumphs of Joseph
37:1-36 - Joseph is sold into slavery
38:1-30 - Digression involving Tamar and Judah
39:1-23 - Joseph in Potiphar's household in Egypt
40:1-23 - Joseph in prison
41:1-56 - Joseph is released from prison and rises to power in Pharaoh's palace
42:1-28 - Joseph's brothers come to Egypt to buy grain, Simeon remains
42:29-38 -- Brothers return to Jacob, ask for Benjamin
43:1-34 - The Second Journey to Egypt; Joseph and his brothers -- again
44:1-12 - Joseph plants his cup in Benjamin's bag
44:13-34 -- Brothers return, plead for Benjamin's life
45:1-28 - Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers
46:1-47:10 - Jacob and his family migrate to Egypt
47:11-27 -- Joseph provides for his family in Egypt
47:28-31 -- Jacob prepares for his death
48:1-22 - Jacob adopts and blesses Joseph's two sons
49:1-33 - Last Will and Testament of Jacob -- blessing of his sons
50:1-14 - Jacob dies and is buried
50:15-20 -- Joseph's brothers fear retaliation upon Jacob's death Joseph tells them: "Although you intended me harm, God intended it for good....."
This concludes the formative period of Israel's history. The divine promises have been fulfilled. They are a nation, though in a foreign land. Next month we will examine the issue of slavery and their nation's liberation through God's saving acts in Exodus.
Farmer, William. The International Bible Commentary. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998.
Gibson, John. Genesis, Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981.
Hartlet, John. Genesis, New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrikson Publishers, 2000.
McGrath, Allister. NIV Bible Commentary. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988.
Mills, Watson and Richared Wilson. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1995.
Sarna, Nahum. Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary. New York: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989.