Genesis begins with the story of the creation of the world, the fall of Adam and Eve and the subsequent, quite sinful, history of the children of Adam. It tells of Noah and the great flood, the tower of Babel, and Abram and Melchizedek.
It then tells of God's call and promise of salvation to Abraham, and the story of Isaac and Jacob, whom God named Israel, ending with the settlement of the twelve tribes of Israel (the families of the twelve sons of Jacob) in Egypt, during the time of Joseph's favor with the Egyptian Pharaoh. In traditional Church language, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are called the Patriarchs and are also Forefathers of Christ.
The creation narrative in Genesis can be split into two sections - the first section starts with an account of the Creation of the universe by God, which occurs in six days, the second section is more human-oriented, and less concerned with explaining how the Earth, its creatures and its features came to exist as they are today.
Within the first section, on the first day God created light; on the second, the firmament of heaven; on the third, he separated water and land, and created plant life; on the fourth day he created the sun, moon, and stars; on the fifth day marine life and birds; on the sixth day land animals, and man and woman. On the seventh day, the Sabbath, God rested, and sanctified the day.
The second section of the creation narrative explains that the earth was lifeless, how God brought moisture to the soil and how man was formed from the dust (Adam translates from Hebrew to mean 'Red Earth').
Adam and Eve
God formed Adam out of earth ("adamah"), and set him in the Garden of Eden, to watch over it. Adam is allowed to eat of all the fruit within it, except that of the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil." God then brings all the animals to Adam (2:19). In verse 2:18, God says he will make a helper for Adam, singular, and then creates the animals. In 2:20, Adam studies all the animals and names them. He does not find his helpmate and notices that all the other animals have helpmates for them (the male and female). When Adam realizes this, God then puts him into a deep sleep, takes a rib from his side, and from it forms a woman (called later "Eve"), to be his companion (his helpmate).
Later, starting in verse 3:1, Eve was convinced by Satan, in the form of a serpent, to eat of the forbidden fruit, the only freedom that God had prohibited Adam and Eve in Eden. This turning from God is also considered the original sin in traditional Christian interpretation. As punishment, the ground is cursed, Adam and Eve become mortal (because they no longer have access to the Tree of Life), and they are driven out of the garden. The entrance to the garden is then guarded by cherubim with a flaming sword.
Adam and Eve initially have two sons, Cain and Abel. Eventually Cain grows envious of the favor found by his brother before God, and slays him. The first murder is that of a brother. Cain is sentenced to wander over the earth as a fugitive. He finally settles in the land of Nod.
From Adam to Noah
Cain, the son of Adam, builds the first known city in the Bible and calls it after the name of his son, Enoch (Genesis 4:17). Further down the line of genealogy, Lamech takes two wives (Genesis 4:19). Lamech's sons are the first dwellers in tents and owners of herds (Genesis 4:20, Jabal is called the "father of such as dwell in tents"), and they are the earliest inventors of musical instruments (Genesis 4:21) and workers in brass and iron (Genesis 4:22). These descendants of Cain know nothing about God (Genesis 4:16).
Another son of Adam, Seth, has in the meantime been born to Adam and Eve in place of the slain Abel (Genesis 4:25). Seth's descendants never lose thought of God (Genesis 4:26). The tenth in regular descent is Noah (Genesis 5:1-29). Adam and Eve also have other sons and daughters (Genesis 5:4). In line with most of the other biblical characters born before the flood whose ages are provided, Adam lived until the age of 930 (Genesis 5:5).
Chapter 5 provides a genealogy of descendants of Adam till Noah: Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah
Noah and the great flood
In Genesis chapter 6, verse 2, the sons of God (the men who turned back to God after the original fall), took daughters of men (women who were in rebellion against God) to be their wives. Then, in Genesis 6:3, the Lord said; "My spirit shall not put up with humans for these lengths of time, for they are mortal flesh. In the future, humans shall live no more than 120 years." Then God looked down on the earth and was very displeased. He saw that the beautiful world He made was filled with the violence and hate of mankind; so He decided to cleanse the world with a flood and start again. God selected one man, Noah, and his family, to survive the flood, as Noah's family is still perfect genetically (Genesis 6:9). God commanded him to build a large ark, since the work of destruction was to be accomplished by means of a great flood. Noah obeyed the command, entering the ark together with his family, into which they also brought a mating pair of each kind of animal and bird on Earth. Water burst out of the ground and fell from the sky, and the world was flooded, destroying all living beings except those in the ark. When the flood had subsided, Noah's family left the ark, and God enters into a covenant with Noah and all his descendants, the entire human race. Noah soon planted a vineyard (ix. 20) and drank of its wine. While he is intoxicated, Noah is shamelessly treated by his son Ham; upon awakening, Noah cursed the latter in the person of Ham's son Canaan, while his sons Shem and Japheth are blessed.
Chapter 10 reviews the peoples descended from Japheth, Ham, and Shem. The dispersion of humanity into separate races and nations is described in the story of the Tower of Babel. Humanity is dispersed by a "confusion of tongues," which God brought about when men attempted to build a tower that should reach up to heaven. A genealogy is given of Shem's descendants.
Abram and Sarai
However, Abram is forced by a famine to leave Canaan for Egypt. Once there, the Pharaoh of Egypt takes possession of the beautiful Sarai (whom Abram has misleadingly represented as his sister; she was in fact his half-sister). God afflicts Pharaoh with a disease, which the ruler recognizes as a sign from God; thus Pharaoh returns Sarai to Abram. Abram returns to Canaan and separates from Lot in order to put an end to land disputes. God again appears to Abram, promising him the whole country.
Abram and Melchizedek
Lot is taken prisoner by invading kings from the East. Abram pursues the victors with his armed retainers. Returning with his warband after rescuing Lot and his clan, Abram is met by Melchizedek, the king and high priest of Salem (Jerusalem), who blesses him; in return Abram gives him a tithe of his booty, refusing his share of the same. After this exploit God again appears to Abram and promises him protection, a rich reward, and numerous progeny. These descendants will pass four hundred years in servitude in a strange land, but after God has judged their oppressors they shall leave the land of their affliction, and the fourth generation shall return to Canaan.
Hagar and IshmaelAbraham" and that of Sarai to "Sarah," and institutes the circumcision of all males as an eternal sign of this covenant. This meeting, in which three angels appear to Abraham and Sarah, is the subject of Andrei Rublev's famous icon, called either The Hospitality of Abraham or simply The Trinity.
Sodom and Gomorrah
Next, Abraham also hears that God intends to send angels to execute judgment upon the wicked inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. He intercedes for the sinners, bargaining with God for the lowest number of righteous people required to save the cities. God agrees that he will spare the cities in their entirety if only ten righteous people are to be found therein. Two angels go to Sodom, where they are hospitably received by Lot. The men of the city, however, pound on Lot's door, demanding to have sexual relations with the visitors. Having thus shown that they deserved their fate, Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed by fire and brimstone.
Only Lot and his two daughters are saved. Lot's incestuous relationship with his daughters, which resulted in the births of Ammon and Moab, is also described.
Abraham journeys to Gerar, the country of Abimelech. Here once again he represents Sarah as his sister, and Abimelech plans to gain possession of her. He desists on being warned by God.
The birth of IsaacAt last the long-expected son of Abraham and Sarah is born and receives the name of "Isaac" (Itzhak: "will laugh" in Hebrew). At Sarah's insistence Ishmael, together with his mother Hagar, is driven out of the house. They also have a great future promised to them by God. Abraham, during the banquet that he gives in honor of Isaac's birth, enters into a covenant with Abimelech, who confirms his right to the well Beer-sheba.
The near-sacrifice of Isaac
Now that Abraham seems to have all his desires fulfilled, having even provided for the future of his son, God subjects him to the greatest trial of his faith by demanding Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham obeys; but, as he is about to lay the knife upon his son, God restrains him, promising him numberless descendants. On the death of Sarah, Abraham acquires Machpelah for a family tomb. Then he sends his servant to Mesopotamia, Nahor's home, to find among his relations a wife for Isaac; and Rebekah, Nahor's granddaughter, is chosen. Other children are born to Abraham by another wife, Keturah, among whose descendants are the Midianites, and he dies in a prosperous old age.
Esau and Jacob
After being married for twenty years Rebekah has twins by Isaac: Esau, who becomes a hunter, and Jacob (Ya'akov: "will follow"), who becomes a herdsman. Jacob persuades Esau to sell him his birthright, for which the latter does not care; notwithstanding this bargain, God appears to Isaac and repeats the promises given to Abraham. His wife, whom he represents as his sister, is endangered in the country of the Philistines, but King Abimelech himself averts disaster. In spite of the hostility of Abimelech's people, Isaac is fortunate in all his undertakings in that country, especially in digging wells. God appears to him at Beer-sheba, encourages him, and promises him blessings and numerous descendants; and Abimelech enters into a covenant with him at the same place. Esau marries Canaanite women, to the regret of his parents.
Rebekah persuades Jacob to dress himself as Esau, and thus obtain from his blinded by old age father the blessing intended for Esau. To escape his brother's vengeance, Jacob is sent to relations in Haran, being charged by Isaac to find a wife there. On the way God appears to him at night, promising protection and aid for himself and the land for his numerous descendants. Arrived at Haran, Jacob hires himself to Laban, his mother's brother, on condition that, after having served for seven years as a herdsman, he shall have for wife the younger daughter, Rachel, with whom he is in love. At the end of this period Laban gives him the elder daughter, Leah; Jacob therefore serves another seven years for Rachel, and after that six years more for cattle. In the meantime Leah bears him Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah; by Rachel's maid Bilhah he has Dan and Naphtali; by Zilpah, Leah's maid, Gad and Asher; then, by Leah again, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah; and finally, by Rachel, Joseph. He also acquires much wealth in flocks.
Jacob wrestles with God
In fear of Laban, Jacob flees with his family, but soon becomes reconciled with Laban. On approaching his home he is in fear of Esau, to whom he sends presents. While sleeping, a being (variously regarded as God, an angel, or a man), appears to Jacob and wrestles with him. The mysterious one pleads to be released before daybreak, but Jacob refuses to release the being until he agrees to bless him. The being announces to Jacob that he shall bear the name "Israel," which means "one who wrestled with God," and is freed.
The meeting with Esau proves a friendly one, and the brothers separate reconciled. Jacob settles at Shechem. His sons Simeon and Levi take vengeance on the city of Shechem, whose prince has raped their sister Dinah. On the road from Bethel, Rachel gives birth to a son, Benjamin, and dies.
Joseph the dreamerJoseph, Jacob's favorite son, is hated by his brothers on account of his dreams prognosticating his future dominion, and on the advice of Judah is secretly sold to a caravan of Ishmaelite merchants going to Egypt. His brothers tell their father that a wild animal has devoured Joseph.
When the famine comes it is felt even in Canaan; and Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to buy grain. The brothers appear before Joseph, who recognizes them, but does not reveal himself. After having proved them on this and on a second journey, and they having shown themselves so fearful and penitent that Judah even offers himself as a slave, Joseph reveals his identity, forgives his brothers the wrong they did him, and promises to settle in Egypt both them and his father. Jacob brings his whole family, numbering 66 persons, to Egypt, this making, inclusive of Joseph and his sons and himself, 70 persons. Pharaoh receives them amicably and assigns to them the land of Goshen. When Jacob feels the approach of death he sends for Joseph and his sons, and receives Ephraim and Manasseh among his own sons. Then he calls his sons to his bedside and reveals their future to them. Jacob dies, and is solemnly interred in the family tomb at Machpelah. Joseph lives to see his great-grandchildren, and on his death-bed he exhorts his brethren, if God should remember them and lead them out of the country, to take his bones with them. The book ends with Joseph's remains being put "in a coffin in Egypt." This, however, does not imply that his family was unfaithful to his wishes, but rather this burial is only temporary. Obviously, they could not have left him unburied for the remainder of their stay in Egypt. They do, in fact, take his bones with them on their journey and bury him at Shechem, a plot of ground already owned by their family (Joshua 24:32).
Purpose and Interpretation
Genesis is not treated as mere history, but as a source of spiritual wisdom, a book inspired by God himself. Out of all historical information available to Moses, he selected only what was related to the religious life of people. It most likely has been edited for this goal over time.
At Vespers before the Nativity of the Theotokos, the reading is from 28:10-17, the story of Jacob's vision of a ladder which unites heaven and earth. This passage indicates the union of God with men which is realized most fully and perfectly, both spiritually and physically, in Mary the Theotokos, Bearer of God.
- In the Beginning God Made the Heaven and the Earth
- The Earth Was Invisible and Unfinished.
- On the Firmament.
- Upon the Gathering Together of the Waters.
- The Germination of the Earth.
- The Creation of Luminous Bodies.
- The Creation of Moving Creatures.
- The Creation of Fowl and Water Animals.
- The Creation of Terrestrial Animals.
- w:Genesis (Source of Contents section.)