Catch-Up Day – Genesis Overview

Today and tomorrow are catch-up days in the bible reading plan. We’ll resume on February 1, with Leviticus 1. In the meantime, to review what we’ve covered in the first 30 days, I’m posting a sermon overview of Genesis today, and Exodus tomorrow.

This overview of the entire book of Genesis was preached by Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. in 2002, and is included in his book, The Message of the Old Testament, published in 2006.


Genesis 48-50

Genesis 48-50…Jacob puts Joseph’s younger son first, instead of his firstborn, Jacob blesses his own sons, then dies, and Joseph reassures his brothers that he will show them mercy and kindness.

At the end of the book of Genesis in chapters 48-50, we see three themes which are indicative of the entire book, as well as the whole of scripture.

1) God fulfills His promises despite man’s sin

In Genesis 48:3, Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’” God is perfectly faithful. He promises us that He will preserve us until we die, or Christ return, whichever comes first. The God who we read about in Genesis, who did everything He said He would do despite a hard-hearted people, is the same God who came and rescued us, and offers the promise of eternal life in Christ. We should be filled with joy and thanksgiving because of his grace and mercy to us, in saving us from our sins.

2) God’s ways are not man’s ways

As humans, we’re all wired to think that God is like us. But, He doesn’t tend to choose those who are important from a worldly standpoint. This is the opposite of how we tend to think. In other words, the people we’ll be most likely to care for and love are the ones who are important. In Genesis 48, Jacob chooses Joseph’s youngest son to bless, which is a picture of God blessing the least important. It is this perspective that we often miss, because we want to appear as being important and worthy. The Pharisees thought this way, and pretended to love God to appear righteous. We’re no different, and like to get cleaned up each Sunday, and go to church to show that we’ve got it all together. But we don’t have it all together. We need a Savior, desperately. And, we need to pursue God each day, with just as much fervor as we do when we get excited about our favorite songs at church.

3) God’s people will take on God’s character

If we are saved, we will grow in holiness. Without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). This applies not only to our vertical relationship with God, but also to our horizontal relationships as well. In Genesis 50:19-21, Joseph displays God’s mercy and love. He says to his brothers:

But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

We are not justified by our own holiness, but Christ’s. Therefore we need to run to Him daily, and place our faith in Him. If we do, we will grow in becoming more like Him.

Genesis 45-47

Genesis 45-47…Joseph makes himself known, Jacob goes to Egypt, and Joseph leads Egypt during the famine.

After having patiently held back his true identity, Joseph finally tells his brothers who he is, and he shows them mercy. This represents the Divine compassion toward repentant sinners. “I am Joseph, your brother.” This would humble them even more for their sin in selling him, but would encourage them to hope for kind treatment. When Christ converted Paul, he said, I am Jesus. When he comforted his disciples, he said, It is I, be not afraid. When Christ manifests himself to his people, he encourages them to draw near to him with a true heart. Joseph does so, and shows them, that whatever they thought to do against him, God had brought good out of it.

Jacob travels with his entire family to Egypt. We have here a particular account of Jacob’s family. Though the fulfilling of promises is always sure, it is often slow. It was now 215 years since God had promised Abraham to make him a great nation. However, the branch of his seed, to which the promise was made sure, had only increased to seventy, of whom this particular account is kept, to show the power of God in making these seventy become a vast multitude.

There is rich symbolism in Genesis 47, where Joseph gives life (via food) in return for the material things of the Egyptians. It is plain that the Egyptians regarded Joseph as a public benefactor. The Egyptians believed that Joseph had saved their lives. Similarly, we will gratefully say to Jesus at the last day, you have saved our souls from the most tremendous destruction. The Egyptians parted with all their property, and even their liberty, for the saving of their lives. How much more should we count all but loss in this present world, in return for eternal life.

Genesis 42-44

Genesis 42-44…Joseph’s brothers go to Egypt, they return home and then go back to Egypt, and Joseph plants a silver cup on Benjamin.

Joseph was hard on his brothers, not from a spirit of revenge, but to bring them to repentance. Not seeing his brother Benjamin, he suspected that they had treated him harshly as well, and he gave them occasion to speak of their father and brother. God, in his providence, sometimes can seem similarly harsh with those he loves, and can bring about difficulties for His children.

Joseph decided that one of them should stay, and the rest go home and bring Benjamin. It was a very encouraging word he said to them, “I fear God.” This assured them he would do them no harm. With those that fear God, we can expect to be treated respectfully. We should examine ourselves to be sure that we do fear God. To be clear, this is not the kind of fear a prisoner has for his tormentor, but rather, the fear that a child has for his father. This fear involves respect and love, and deep desire to please. It can be implied from Genesis 42, that treating others disrespectfully shows we do not fear God.

In Genesis 43, Joseph’s brothers return to Egypt. They show great respect to Joseph, and his previous dreams were fulfilled more and more. Joseph showed great kindness to them in return, and this is another example of a Christ-type in the Old Testament. Joseph was a sinner, and is not our savior, but the Lord uses examples like him as well as Noah and Moses and David as a picture of the coming Messiah. Joseph makes his brothers see that he is their only refuge from destruction. He overcomes their unwillingness, and brings them to himself. Then, as he sees fit, he gives them some taste of his love, and welcomes them to the provisions of his house, as a preview of what he further intends for them. Christ does the same with us.

Though all of the brothers show repentance for the way they had treated Joseph when they kneel before him (Genesis 44:14), it is Judah who stands out as the godliest of them all. Only the irresistible work of the Holy Spirit can explain such a transformation in Judah’s life. It may have taken years to get him to this point, but the Spirit’s sanctifying work, seen in its beginning stages when Tamar convicted Judah of his selfishness (38:1–26), shows its profound results in the face of danger in Egypt. Having been humbled and put in place by Tamar, Judah now willingly puts himself last, revealing a self-sacrificing love that will give up everything so that his father, who might never love him as he does Benjamin, will not grieve. Truly, as Matthew Henry writes, Judah surpasses all his brothers “in boldness, wisdom, eloquence, and especially tenderness for their father and family.”

Genesis 39-41

Genesis 39-41…Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker meet Joseph in prison, and Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams and is put in charge of Egypt.

Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, and was taken down to Egypt. Genesis 39-41 is a remarkable part of God’s history as He continues to use the most unlikely circumstances to bring about His glory. In these chapters, we can observe three things Joseph did which demonstrate his love for the Lord.

1) He trusted God’s sovereignty. If anyone had reason to grumble and complain about unfair circumstances, it was Joseph. Clearly God had given him a miraculous ability to interpret dreams, but on the surface it seemed that this gift only resulted in trouble. Later, in Genesis 50:20, Joseph explains what God was doing when he tells his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Joseph’s trust in the Lord’s goodness was not shaken one bit. Our Father in heaven loves us and disciplines those He loves, so we need to trust His plan, even if we don’t understand it. He will undoubtedly bring us trials in this life.

2) He remained faithful. Joseph was put in a very difficult circumstance with Potiphar’s wife. She tried to seduce him, but he resisted. Notice the way in which he avoided sin in Genesis 39:10; “And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even to be with her.” This is the kind of vigilant faith Jesus described in Mark 9:47 when He talks about pursuing holiness. He says, “And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.” Joseph was wise enough to know that it wasn’t enough to simply avoid sleeping with her. His faith was big enough and his love for God passionate enough, that he decided he could only remain pure by avoiding her altogether. A helpful example of how we should approach similar situations.

3) Joseph sought to change his circumstances. A common misconception of reformed theology, especially by those who are not reformed, is that it removes free will and human responsibility from the equation. However, this would be hypercalvinism, which is wrong. Any teaching that assumes we must sit back and let God do whatever He is going to do because we have not control over anything is false. The scriptures are full of imperative commands, as well as examples of saints throughout history who took action. Joseph certainly understood God’s hand in his difficult circumstances, but he aggressively tries to change them to better himself. In Genesis 40:15, when he interprets the dream of Pharaoh’s cupbearer in prison, he says, “But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.” The story of Joseph is a great example of both God’s sovereign hand orchestrating events, as well as man’s responsibility to act, and his freedom in doing so. This is difficult to grasp in our finite humans minds, but God is 100% sovereign and man 100% responsible. This is true throughout scripture, and therefore is to be believed.

Genesis 36-38

Genesis 36-38..The genealogy of Esau, Joseph’s dream, Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery, and the sin of Judah and Tamar.

The genealogy in chapter 36 shows the faithfulness of God to his promise to Abraham. Esau continued the lineage of a people who would be opposed to heavenly things. His family had many possessions, and were influential to all those around. Chiefs and kings from Esau’s line ruled. In outward prosperity and popularity, the children of the God are often behind, and those that are attractive to the world are loved. This is a trial that all of God’s people will face if they are faithful. Jesus told us this:

John 15:18-20

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”

In Genesis 37, Joseph dreams that his family will bow down to him, and then out of jealousy, his brothers sell him into slavery. The Genesis narrative consistently teaches us that sin against others is never isolated. When we commit one sin, we try to conceal it with another. In order to hide actions which are opposed to God, humans throughout history have turned to lying. For the Christian, this is insanity, because God knows everything. There is great freedom when we repent and place our faith in Christ, but hiding sins will only result in shame and more sin. Therefore, we should confess our sins to one another, as we’re told in scripture (James 5:16). If we’re keeping our sins hidden, it reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel. We aren’t saved by our own righteousness, and a recognition of our desperate need for Christ is a fundamental first step in a right understanding of God’s rescue plan for us.

Genesis 38 is a beautiful chapter, despite Judah’s sin. On the surface, one could read this chapter, and pridefully boast that our conduct is better. But, if we’ve been saved, this is exactly what we’ve been rescued from. While the behavior of Judah and his family is disgusting, the story demonstrates God’s grace to sinners. It is truly amazing, that of all Jacob’s sons, our Lord should spring out of Judah (Hebrews 7:14). But, this is just like God, to redeem and restore the most unlikely, in order to make His glory known. This is what we see in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’”

Genesis 33-35

Genesis 33-35…Jacob meets Esau, Dinah encounters the Shechemites, and Jacob returns to Bethel.

Jacob was no doubt afraid of what would happen when he met Esau’s 400 men. But, he prayed, preparing his heart and mind to trust God, then went on his way. There is nothing to fear for the one whose heart is fixed on trusting God. For the believer, death has already lost it’s sting. When Jacob came face to face with this massive group, he bowed to Esau. A humble, submissive behavior can often turn away anger. Esau embraced Jacob. God has the hearts of all men in his hands, and can turn them when and how he pleases. Jacob’s wisdom in praying beforehand serves as a model for us in trusting God, and calling upon Him in the day of trouble. Being constant in prayer shows spiritual maturity, and an understanding that we need God.

In Genesis 34, we see an example of how exercising wisdom even in the small, daily things can be prudent. The young Dinah goes alone out to visit the women of the land, which proves to be a foolish decision. Prayer in even the seemingly small, menial decisions each day is important. God wants this from us, because He loves when we depend on His guidance. Dinah is taken advantage of, which leads to vengeful murder in response, by Simeon and Levi. Our sin rarely stays contained to our own circumstances, and often impacts others. We should pray for wisdom in all decisions, and seek counsel from those in authority over us. For children this involves asking parents. For adults, this involves transparency with the elders in your church.

God renews His covenant with Jacob in Genesis 35. He says, “I am God Almighty.” God is all-sufficient, able to fulfill all His promises in due time, and to support and provide for us in the meantime. Two things are promised here: 1) that he should be the father of a great nation, and 2) that he should inherit a good land.

These two promises had spiritual significance, which Jacob had some notion of (Genesis 3:15), though not as clear and distinct as we now have. Christ is the promised Seed, and heaven is the promised land. Christ is the foundation of all God’s grace toward us, and He is all we need.

Genesis 30-32

Genesis 30-32…Rachel’s envy results in a tangled web of sin; then Jacob flees from Laban, prepares to meet Esau, and wrestles with God.

Rachel envied her sister. Envy is despising the good of another, which is hateful to God, and hurtful to our neighbors and ourselves. It also shows that we don’t trust God’s provision for our own lives. Envy leads Rachel to disobey God, and her selfishness and unbelief lead others to sin. Our culture tells us to take what we want in order to ensure our happiness. As we see in Genesis 30, this approach creates a mess, and the temporary happiness wears off very quickly for Rachel. Most importantly, she had offended God, and this is crucial for us to grasp. Repentance from sin does not mean sorrow over the circumstances created by the sin. Repentance includes a recognition that we’ve offended the holy God of the universe, and involves turning away from that sin to Him.

Disagreement over money leads Jacob to move away from Laban’s family in Genesis 31. The foolish consider money and possessions to be their own, and greed can often destroy families. Our over-valuing worldly wealth is an error which is the root of greed and envy. The bible tells us that our money and possessions belong to God, though. Haggai 2:8 says, “All silver and gold belong to me, says the Lord God.” This truth does not fit with the popular, prosperity gospel, which claims that accumulation of wealth demonstrates our faith. This is false, destructive, and does not align with scripture, nor does it consider for one second the life of Christ.

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with God. Nothing requires more unceasing exertion than wrestling. This is an image in scripture for prayer as well (Colossians 4:12). It is an emblem of the true spirit of faith and prayer. Jacob kept his ground, though the struggle was long. This length of the struggle did not shake his faith, nor silence his prayer. If we are to grow spiritually, we need to wrestle in prayer in this way. Praying takes effort, and is a spiritual discipline everyone Christian should want.

Genesis 27-29

Genesis 27-29…Jacob and Rebekah deceive Isaac, Jacob has a dream, then goes to Paddam Aram (Northern Syria) and marries both Rachel and Leah.

Rebekah knew that Isaac’s blessing was intended for Jacob, and expected he would have it. But, she wronged Isaac by working to deceive him; she wronged Jacob by tempting him to sin. She put a stumbling-block in Esau’s way, and gave him a pretext for hatred toward Jacob and God. All were to be blamed. It was one of those crooked measures we often adopt when we don’t trust God. Since the fall of man, we’ve always been a people lacking trust in God. Even though we know the truth about Him, we choose to not believe and trust.

In Genesis 28, Jacob’s famous dream occurs (Jacob’s ladder as it’s well-known). Jacob saw a ladder which reached from earth to heaven, the angels going up and coming down, and God himself at the head of it. This represents:

1. The providence of God, by which there is a constant interaction, kept up between heaven and earth. This let Jacob know that he had both a good guide and a good guard.

2. The mediation of Christ. He is this ladder; the foot on earth in his human nature, the top in heaven in his Divine nature. Christ is the only way for this relational interaction to occur, and all God’s spiritual favors come to us, and all our services go to him, by Christ, John 1:51. By this way, sinners draw near to the throne of grace with acceptance. By faith we perceive this way, and in prayer we approach it. In answer to prayer we receive all needful blessings of providence and grace. We have no way of getting to heaven but by Christ.

Jacob was drawn into the sin of multiple wives in Genesis 29. He could not refuse Rachel, for he had espoused her; still less could he refuse Leah. As yet there was no express command against marrying more than one wife. It was in the patriarchs a sin of ignorance. Today, God’s will is plainly made known by the Divine law, Leviticus 18:18, and more fully since, by our Savior, that one man and woman only must be joined together, 1 Corinthians 7:2.

Genesis 21-23

Genesis 21-23…Isaac is born, Ishmael and Hagar are sent away, Abraham is tested, and Sarah dies.

It is just like God, to use the most unlikely circumstances for His glory. He would take stiff-necked people, with fluctuating faith like Abraham and Sarah, and bring about something so miraculous in their lives that they would grow in their trust in Him. Isaac is born, and is the son of a couple who are too old to have children. He is the promised seed, but there would be one to come in his lineage, who would ultimately save sinners. Christ would also be born into circumstances which would seem strange and unlikely from a human perspective.

Upon Isaac’s birth, Ishmael was jealous, and mocked him. Sarah requests that Hagar and Ishmael leave, and God agrees. God, however, did not abandon Hagar and her child. They were stranded in the desert of Beersheba, dying from thirst. An angel of the Lord came to Hagar, showed her a well, and they were saved. Hagar later found an Egyptian wife for Ishmael and he fathered 12 sons, just as Isaac’s son Jacob would. Two generations later, God used the descendants of Ishmael to save the Jewish nation. Isaac’s grandsons sold their brother Joseph into slavery to Ishmaelite traders. They took Joseph to Egypt and sold him again. Joseph eventually rose to become second in command of the entire country and saved his father and brothers during a great famine. This is a great example of how God can use anyone, and can save anyone. There is no one out of the reach of the Lord. Isaiah 59:1 confirms this truth: Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. We need to keep praying for those in our lives who are lost. If God saved you, He can save them.

Genesis 22 is a demonstration of how much Abraham had matured in his faith. God requests that he sacrifice Isaac, and Abraham obeys. The Lord is testing him to see if he really trusts Him. In Genesis 22:8, Abraham says, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” God does provide the sacrifice, and Isaac is spared. This is also a foreshadowing of God’s love for us. He was willing to give up His own Son, whom He loved, and sacrificed Him for our sake.

Sarah dies in Genesis 23. The longest life must shortly come to a close. How loose then should we hold on to all earthly attachments? Let us seek rather to store up treasures in heaven.

Matthew 6:19-21
19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.