Second Things First!

18 August 2010 13:00:29

In a regular series of unique observations, Phil Greenslade reveals a fresh view of God and His Word. Here he asserts that Exodus, not Genesis, is arguably the first book of the Bible!

To say this is to remind ourselves that what is revealed in Genesis was first given to Israel, to those ex-slaves delivered from tyranny in Egypt.

It was in Israel that this revelation was cherished and preserved.

In other words, Genesis is best viewed from the standpoint of the events recorded in Exodus.

From this perspective, what we find in Genesis are answers to the kind of questions that would inevitably have arisen among these uniquely elected former slaves.

At least three questions spring to mind:

Question One: How did we get into Egypt in the first place and why were we liberated?

Genesis 12–50 provides the answer to this question.

The answer is summed up in Exodus 2:24 as 'God heard their groaning and remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.' The immediate pretext for the Exodus is the story of Joseph, which explains why Abraham's descendants ended up in Egypt (Genesis 37–50).

Beyond this stand God's original promises and foundational commitment to Abraham (Genesis 12).

God turns this relationship into covenantal partnership (Genesis 15), later reiterating the promise to Isaac (Genesis 26:3–5) and Jacob (Genesis 28:13–14).

God's promise is the thread that connects the patriarchal stories and governs the future beyond them, becoming 'a power which shapes the course of history' (Paul and Elizabeth Achtemeier).

How God's promise works out through the vagaries of the participants' real-life stories makes for gripping drama!

Will there be, given Abraham's and Sarah's age, any descendant at all (Genesis 12, 21)?

Will Abraham's wrong move (with Hagar to produce Ishmael) jeopardise God's plan (Genesis 16)?

Will the son of promise survive (Genesis 22)?

And what about the so-called 'ancestress in danger' theme – the barrenness of Sarah, Rebekah (5:21) and Rachel (29:31)?

Can the story outlive the fraternal rivalries: Isaac v Ishmael, Esau v Jacob, Joseph v his brothers?

Frequent famines threaten the plot (12:10; 26:1; 41:54; 47:13), but one eventually sends the sons of Jacob to Egypt where a hostile Pharaoh enlists them as slave-labourers and where liberation begins!

'You intended harm, God intended good' sums up the paradoxical providence of the Genesis story (50:20).

Question Two: Why were we, Israel, exclusively chosen by God?

Genesis 1–11 is placed there to answer this question: Israel exists and is chosen for the sake of the whole world.

Abraham is called from the world of nations (Genesis 10) to be the means of God blessing all nations (12:3).

He leaves the city that man is building (Genesis 11:5) to move in faith towards the city that God is building (Hebrews 11:10).

There will be no way back to the garden – only forward through redemption to the garden-city, home to an international multitude of Abraham's descendants (Revelation 7:21).

Israel inherits this destiny which touches not only the world, but the whole of the created order.

Preserved by God at the flood, Noah and his family become downpayments on humanity's future on an earth whose continued existence is guaranteed by covenant as the stage for God's redemptive work to be accomplished.

So Israel becomes the sample new human race heading for the promised land – the microcosm of the renewed earth God has set his eyes on!

So Genesis 1–11, in setting the scene for Abraham, sets Israel on a world stage.

Question three: Who is this God?

The text of Genesis 12–50 highlights – above all else – the amazing grace of God in working out his purpose through the emotional resistance, and even moral failures, of his chosen partners in the venture.

These are realistically noted but, as Brevard Childs puts it.

'The narrative is read to illustrate something entirely different: namely the faithfulness of God'.

Genesis is not interested – nor should we be (preachers take note) – in parading the patriarchs as spiritual or ethical models but as reluctant heroes plucked from domestic obscurity to be key players in God's bigger story.

(And what applied to them applies to Israel: Deuteronomy 7:7–9.)

Genesis 1–11 encapsulates Israel's joyous discovery that the God who has redeemed them and covenanted with them at Sinai is no mere tribal, ethnic or even national god, but is in fact the one creator God of the whole world!

Imagine being exiled in Babylon when the Torah began to take shape.

Imagine feeling the force of Genesis 1 as it counters rival Near Eastern versions of the world's origins and sharpens your sense of special identity as the people of the one true God.

Israel's God is the One who has chosen not to abort the creation experiment at the Flood but reserves the resources to redeem what he has created.

This God responds to the needy and oppressed, makes promises and keeps covenant.

He also entertains redemptive intentions for all he has made, which will in time bring the full glory of a 'new creation'.

'Who among the gods is like you, O LORD (Exod 15:11)?'

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