The Bible opens by saying, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The purpose of the creation account was not to answer twenty-first century scientific skeptics, but to teach the people of Israel about their God. The God who had delivered Israel in the exodus, who now revealed Himself through the pen of Moses, is the true God and Maker of everything that is. God is the source of all things; in the beginning He already is, and, by His Word, the very universe was made.
In the Beginning
Genesis chapter 1 reveals God’s agenda to make a world and a people to display His glory. The first three days of creation provided lights in the sky, water, land on the earth, and seed-bearing plants for food — a garden world. Days four to six provided fish to swim the seas, birds to soar in the skies, and animals to walk the earth. As the climax of creation, God made mankind to rule for Him in this paradise world. God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Man was made to reflect God’s glory, to worship Him and know Him, and, as Ephesians 4:24 tells us, to be like Him “in true righteousness and holiness.”
The pattern of Genesis 1 will prevail throughout the Bible: a home and a people. Later God would come to Abraham with a Promised Land and promised descendants, and the Bible concludes with a picture of a glorified city, the New Jerusalem, in which God’s people will live forever in glory.
Life in the Garden
In Genesis 2, we observe that the portrait of life in the Garden is of vital importance to our identity as human beings. Here, we learn that we were made for fellowship with God: God made the man by breathing into him the breath of life (Gen. 2:7), and the two walked and talked as they strolled through the Garden. Furthermore, we learn our calling as a human race. Genesis 2:15 provides what is often called the “cultural mandate”: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” The word for work means to cultivate and nurture, to make it grow. The word for keep means to protect and preserve. Man is to be a nurturer and a guardian; this is the servant-lordship to which the human race (and especially the male) is called.
Moreover, we see that bearing God’s image requires not only holiness but love. “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and Adam was called to reflect this love in relationship with the woman God made for him. Genesis 2:18–25 provides the Bible’s most profound teaching on marriage, which God provided for mankind to be fruitful and multiply through a harmonious union of intimacy and commitment.
The Fall and Its Results
Genesis 2 teaches one more important truth: Adam’s obligation to obey God. This was manifested by “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” from which God forbade Adam and Eve to eat. This command established God’s “covenant of works” with Adam; mankind’s standing before God and his enjoyment of life depended on perfect obedience. Adam was further tested by the presence of the serpent, through which the devil was working for mankind’s ruin. The serpent lied to the woman, telling her that if she ate from the forbidden tree: “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). She ate the fruit, and when Adam also ate of it mankind fell from its original relationship of blessing with God.
That first sin had several definitive results. First, Adam and the woman knew shame and guilt, manifested by their pitiful attempt to cover themselves with woven fig leaves. Second, they were alienated from God and fled at His approach. Moreover, when God confronted Adam for the sin he had committed, Adam blamed the woman for all his woes. This first of countless male blame-shifting episodes demonstrates the third result, alienation among mankind. Adam’s complaint, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12), reveals how hard and how fast God’s most prized creature had fallen through sin.
Especially noteworthy are the curses from God that followed. God first cursed the serpent, requiring its kind evermore to crawl on its belly. But God was really talking to the devil, promising eternal frustration and defeat: “Dust you shall eat all the days of your life” (Gen. 3:14). Most important is Genesis 3:15, called the protoevangelion, the first Gospel proclamation. God promised that from the woman would come a Savior who would undo the damage caused by the Fall. God told the devil: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Thus was prophesied the drama of the cross, where Satan inflicted unspeakable anguish to our Savior Jesus Christ but in the process received a mortal blow to his kingdom of sin and death.
God then turned to Adam and his wife, each of whom received curses with which we are all-too familiar today. God promised the woman “to multiply your pain in child-bearing,” as well as strife within the marital bond (Gen. 3:16). For his part, Adam would be cursed with a lifetime sentence of sweat and hard labor: cast out from the Garden, Adam would now have to work for his food in a cursed, thorn-filled wilderness (Gen. 3:17–19). Moreover, Adam would himself return to the dust in death, as the punishment for his sin.
Adam had broken the covenant of works. God responded with punishment, but also with the promise of a Savior, through whom God grants a new way of salvation, a “covenant of grace.” Before Genesis 3 ends, God applied the benefits of this salvation to restore our first parents to Himself. Genesis 3:21 forever set the pattern of biblical redemption: “The Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” God slew an innocent sacrifice, anticipating Christ’s atonement for the forgiveness of our sins. God then covered them in the sacrifice’s spotless skin, pointing forward to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to all who trust in Him. Adam was saved as the first believer: he “called his wife’s name Eve” (Gen. 3:20), showing his faith in God’s promise that her offspring would save them from their sins.
From Adam to Noah The generations that followed Adam and Eve demonstrated the reality of both sin and redemption. The first children, Cain and Abel, represent the two religious options in this world: Abel’s way of faith in the promised Messiah’s atoning blood and Cain’s way of works-righteousness (see Gen. 4:1–7). These two religions produced two different cultures. Proud Cain murdered Abel, and Cain’s offspring produced a culture of violence. Cain’s descendant Lamech wrote the first recorded human song to celebrate his murder of a rival (Gen. 4:23). Meanwhile, the godly line walked with God, who preserved them in a sin-darkened world.
Sinful human culture degenerated to the point that the Lord could take no more. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (Gen. 6:5). God’s response was the great flood, destroying all the wicked but also showing God’s grace for those who trust in Him. One man held fast in faith: righteous Noah, and God saved him through the flood. Noah and his family passed through the waters and landed safely in a bright world now cleansed from sin. The New Testament reveals this as the prototype for the final judgment to come, through which believers will pass safely in the ark that is the cross of Christ, to land safely into the eternal glories of a “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
In the aftermath of the flood, God made covenant with Noah, renewing through him His original calling for mankind: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1). In the Noahic covenant, God promised to preserve the world until the Messiah’s coming (Gen. 9:11). God gave a sign to display His promise: “I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Gen. 9:12).
A Shining Hope
Creation, Fall, and promised redemption: that is the drama with which the Bible begins its story. Towering above it all is the great God, whose holiness demands judgment on sin but whose grace resolves to redeem a people for His love. In these chapters, we discover history’s great problem — the problem of sin — to which God responds with a promise that is greater still, a Savior for the world. If you want proof of that, just look up into the sky next time after it rains. There you will find God’s rainbow shining still, revealing a hope that extends beyond judgment, through God’s grace in Jesus Christ.