Seventeen months ago I started my study of Genesis. I’ve always had a great esteem for the Old Testament, and during the last year-and-a-half I’ve realized that Genesis in particular is one of my favorite books in all of scripture. Ever since I was a child, I have loved legends and fairy tales, life lessons wrapped in a fable, and Genesis is full of that same sort of mythic storytelling. It has larger-than-life individuals, people who discover important morals, and cautionary tales.
In the beginning we had the story of Adam and Eve, and during my study I focused on how their experiences are an archetype for common experiences that we all pass through, and thus can be interpreted on an individual level. The story of Adam and Eve shows a state of innocence, the loss of that innocence, and the need to be saved from the resultant corruption. The story of Adam and Eve might be completely literal, but even if it is, it also has great value to us as an allegory of our own selves.
Then we had the decline of civilization, the prevalence of evil, and the eventual flooding of the world. I noted at the time that this was a sort of rebirth of the world, a second beginning. Also, it sets up the theme of man being prone to losing his way and that the truly faithful are a great minority.
The rest of Genesis was then dedicated to some examples of those faithful few. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were each an island of faith in a pagan world. Though each faced different challenges, they did share common themes and patterns. In one way or another each of them was a stranger in a strange land, was taken from their usual comforts, was thrust into the wild world where they discovered the true nature of God, and each learned to trust Him above all else. They were imperfect men, but through their trials they grew into the unique identity God had called them to, often receiving a new name to signify this. And usually with those new names came promises, some to be fulfilled immediately, but some to come in God’s own good time.
Of course, this is only a brief summary. Genesis also has a tremendous number of individual lessons scattered throughout. It covers topics such as sacrifice, admitting one’s wrongs, duty, forgiveness, redemption, inner peace, patience, and faith. It illustrates how the good prosper overall, even if not in the moment. It gives example of how to live peacefully, even among those of different beliefs. It makes clear the importance of acting in accordance with one’s conscience, no matter the danger in so doing.
In conclusion, the book of Genesis teaches us how to live in honor with God and also our fellow man. It teaches by example the principles of virtue. Later on, we will have Moses and his explicitly spelled out law, we will have Jesus Christ and his clearly delineated gospel, but here at the beginning we have no formal set of commandments. This does not mean that there isn’t a law being taught, though, there absolutely is, it’s just that the reader is expected to derive what that law is from the stories. Thus, this is an interactive sort of law-giving, one that demands interpretation and application. If we don’t understand exactly why each of these principles exists, or if we don’t know how to abide by them all, that’s alright, more detailed explanation and instruction will come later. For now, though, we have enough to start living a life of faith.