Over the last couple of months, I have been reading the Genesis account to see if I could glean something from it that I had missed before. I think I've struck gold.
Its evident that the creation account, the fall of man, and the story of how God established a covenant with Abraham and his decendents are the highlights of the story. Then, the entire narrative of Joseph is placed before us to show us how God is always at work - even when in the middle of it, it may appear that He has abandoned us.
However, I never liked looking at the book of Genesis as merely a series of sequential stories that just convey what happened. Without a doubt, you can see elements of God's nature and character throughout the book. You see His creativity as you read the creation account in the first two chapters of Genesis and then see an invitation to participate in a creative process as He calls Adam and Eve to rearrange the garden . You see that the form in which we have a place with him is through believing in Him and His promises as demonstrated through the statement, "He believed and it was counted to Him as righteousness." You see His patience as demonstrated in the life of Methuselah (I got this from my cousin Peter) whose name means "his death shall bring." We know what happened in the story of Noah and the ark. Those of us who went to Sunday school know that Methuselah was the oldest person to ever live at 969 years. It was upon Methuselah's death that the earth experienced the great floods and Noah was saved because he chose to believe God when everyone else thought he was a lunatic for building the ark. But the fact that Methuselah lived so long gives us a picture into how God does not delight in destruction, but in extending His mercy for as long as possible with fair warning. You see His involvement in our lives, not as a God who rules from above, but one who gets into the muck of things to bring about redemption to humanity. You see his sovereignty and providence as demonstrated through the life of Joseph.
As wonderful as these things we're, they did not connect the Genesis narrative in a way that was satisfying until now. I didn't want episodes, but a seamless movie from beginning to end with a clear picture of what was being painted. This is what I believe the book of Genesis' theme to be: the Father's story.
You see, we are set up in the beginning of Genesis with harmony that is broken through infidelity. God asked Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree not because the tree was evil, but becasue it would break the trust relationship that existed between them. Pride caused Adam and Eve to question God's goodness in their lives, and that led them to draw the conclusion that they needed to know what God knew. This is foolishness for even those who have just a conceptual idea of what God mihgt be like would draw the conclusion that if God existed, then He would know more than we could ever fathom to understand.
Once this peace was broken with God, we recognized we needed to be saved from the consequences of brokenness. In other words, we needed to be put together to be made whole. For all of history until now, we can see the effects of this as people are trying to find meaning in things that can only provide meaning temporarily, to find fulfillment in things that cannot ultimately fulfill, and to make something of themselves so they are someone worth loving, caring for, and knowing completely. We strive to find ways to satisfy our need to be loved by building up an image that we think will withstand scrutiny. We try to find ways to save ourselves from despair and hopelessness and a lack of motivation to live. We attempt to prove to the world that we are worth noticing. We search for significance in things like success and relationships only to find that they lack their luster once we are ingrained within them as we hold them to the highest esteem, and then justify the menial existence as just "the way things are."
We then either drop our standards and our hope for fulfillment or find ourselves depressed as we jump from one thing to another thinking that the next relationship, a little more money, a few more friends, another car, a different hobby, an extra purse, or earning a new title will give us everything our hearts are crying out for. The thing is, this plague called sin made our appetite for fulfillment so ravenous that it has forced us to search out satisfaction until it is met. The problem is that the type of satisfaction we can obtain can only come at the ultimate price, the priceless life of an eternal King who chose to humble himself as a sacrifice for his rebellious subjects. There is no sacrifice that could satisfy the brokenness that existed in the severed relationship between God and humanity except the sacrifice of God Himself. This, as we who have read the Bible know, came through Christ (God the Son) being severed from a perfect relationship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Throughout all of eternity existed a perfect unity between the three, all of whom are equally and fully God. As Christ was severed from God, he crossed over a barren desert to rescue us from the eternal thirst we had and quenched it as we returned to Him. Genesis, is the story of what the Father went through.
After the fall, and the continued rebellion of humanity against God, God knew that there would be nothing that humanity could do to once again be restored to Him unless if He came 100% of the way to us. We learn elements of what God the Father had to endure through the picture he painted with the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Abram, who later become known as Abraham is one of the most well known figures in history. His story about how he was called by God to father the nations and how he was given a son at the age of 100, an age far beyond the years of reproduction and child rearing. After receiving a son, we see that God tells Abraham to kill him. Of course as we continue to read, we see that Abraham is stopped as he is about to, but what was that about?
Isaac, we know, had to learn a tough lesson early on as he probably lived with the image of his father trying to kill him. Must've been traumatic. He married Rebekah and almost got conned by Laban, who was actually his cousin's child. He clearly favored Esau his first born as his wife Rebekah favored the younger, Jacob. But apart from a close call with Abimelech, we really don't see much happening through the life of Isaac except for an experience with flourishing.
Jacob was michevious an opportunist at heart. Early on, he got his brother Esau to sell his birthright in exchange for a bowl of food. Then he stole the blessing by disguising himself as his brother. Then he served Laban, who this time succeeded in the con, by getting 14 years of labor from Jacob in exchange for his two daughters Leah and Rachel. Through a series of birthing competitions, they had 12 children between the two of them and their servants, a cause of much tension in the family. One of their children was Joseph, whom most of contemporary culture knows as the boy with the technicolor dreamcoat.
So what is it about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that is so significantly intertwined with the Gospel? I think that their lives depict the very heart of God as a process that God had to engage in, in order to release His Son Jesus to be slaughtered so that we may live for eternity with Him. In Abraham, we see that as Abraham learned what it meant to be willing to give up his son Isaac, that God had to first be willing to give up His Son Jesus for us as a sacrifice.
In Isaac, we see that Isaac had to esteem the younger above the older. We are the younger brother, and in no way, do we deserve the inheritence that was Christ's. However, as in the story of the prodigal son, we notice that in order for the younger to be restored, the elder had to give up a portion of his inheritence. For us, though, Christ had to give up everything in order that we may be able to gain what He had and to share in the kingdom with Him. God says in the Bible that "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." This has thrown, and continues to throw people off as one of those things we have to learn to simply accept. Until now, it has been a great source of frustration for me in my own theology to reconcile what it would mean for God to hate His own creation. When I examined this further, my attention was brought to how Jesus said, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." Clearly, God calls us not to hate, but to love. But He always calls us to prioritize our love. That is why a husband or wife takes precedence over all other earthly relationships, because it depicts the relationship closest to that of Christ and the church. So when it was said that God loved Jacob and hated Esau, it was a deliberate choice to elevate the less valuable son to the level of most valuable. This was the only way God could give up His Son as a ransom for our sins.
As Abraham had to experience what it meant to be willing to give up his son, and Isaac had to experience what it meant to "hate" the more valuable son so that the less valuable son could be loved, we learn that Jacob actually had to experience what it meant to lose his son. For Jacob, there really was only one son, Joseph. Sure, he loved them all, but he most loved Joseph, as is demonstrated through the coat that was given to him. This coat was significant because it displayed the position of Joseph as a signet ring or a crown would in Medieval times. As Jacob loved Joseph, he was stripped and sold off into slavery in Egypt. We learn that God had greater purposes through this horrible experience which include Joseph's development as a leader, but more importantly as a humble servant of God, and eventually as the savior of Jacob's clan as he was charged with managing the harvest of the land during a famine and could provide them with food. But we must not forget that the experience of Jacob was one of complete agony and pain as his prized and precious son was stripped from him. This is what God the Father must've known He would experience as Jesus would be stripped from Him.
The beauty of the Gospel is that it is indeed good news. That means that what we hear and what we experience through it is a work that goes beyond what we only see in the here and now. That what we see extends beyond our past and present into a reality far greater in the future. What we see portrayed through the life of Jacob is that Joseph is restored to him after he completes his mission to save the world from a brutal famine. This is the truth that is illustrated for us: we are all in a famine. We may not realize it the implications of how severe this famine is, but God has made a way for us to be able to live through it, and not just live, but to thrive. As the world turned to Joseph during the time of the famine in his days, he was able to provide them with food that would bring them life. As we come to Jesus, we see that there is salvation from this famine we are experiencing, and that is the message of the Gospel - that God so loved the world, He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have everlasting life.