by Glenn Harris | January 01 1970
This Shabbat marks the beginning, the starting again of the yearly cycle of synagogue readings. Genesis is called in Hebrew B’resheet, because that is the very first word, not only of this book, but of all the books, all the words that God has given to mankind. B’resheet means “in the beginning” and how you and I deal with the beginning, with the origins of life, makes all the difference! Your cosmology is critical! If, for example, you regard this book as a collection of mythological tales, you might just as well pack up and forget everything. You see, not one other word in all this Book holds any significance, any authority, unless you believe these first words:
In the Beginning, God created.
We’ve just completed D’varim, Deuteronomy, and have come back around to Genesis. You’ve just passed “go”. But unlike Monopoly, your objective is far loftier than merely collecting another $200 or acquiring more property and rental income than the other guy. And unlike Monopoly, this is the perfect time to stop what you’re doing. Ask yourself, “Shall I go on with my life, such as it is? Will it be ‘business as usual’, or do I take this opportunity to be renewed in my walk with the Lord, and to be immersed in His Word?” You must answer that for yourself.
If our lives are like a house being constructed, then it is imperative that the foundation be absolutely level, and constructed of suitable materials. Genesis does that for us. If we integrate the teachings of these early chapters of Genesis into our world-view, everything else will be strong, steady and attractive. If your house is well-constructed, you have the luxury of thinking about colors and furnishings and window treatments, instead of wondering whether it’s even going to survive its first rain storm, let alone a long Michigan winter. So let’s review some of the foundational truths of the first six chapters of Genesis.
The Earth and the Universe were summoned into existence by fiat, simply at the word of an infinitely powerful, intelligent and good Being we call God. The universe had a beginning; God did not. While our finite minds may struggle to comprehend the infinite, we are capable of believing this truth. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. These are not just the first words of the Torah, they are immutable fact. Just as the laws of physics are unavoidable, which you violate at your own peril, so the spiritual realm is governed by inviolable truths, and the well-being of your eternal soul depends on your conformity to them.
This isn’t a matter of personal opinion, it is set forth in Genesis. Everything God made He regarded as “tov” – good! But only of mankind did God say, “Let us make (him) in our image, according to our likeness.” I am personally in awe of the wild creatures God made, their beauty and diversity and power. I am saddened when they are abused, but I recognize the biblically-sanctioned allowances for eating meat and poultry, and that the animals were created, in part, for mankind’s purposes. I love and enjoy domesticated animals (dogs more than cats, but that’s me). I love my dog, Harley, and he is the most loyal, protective, fun-loving, adorable dog you could ever wish for. But Harley does not bear the image of God.
I say this because there are profound implications for those who would deny mankind’s uniqueness and highest place in the created order. If, for example, we don’t believe that man is uniquely created in God’s image, then the life of a human being is no more sacred than that of an earthworm, and that opens wide the door to callous disregard for human life.
We have, tragically, gone down that very path, thanks in large part to the pseudo-intellectuals over the past century who have convinced our children that we are descended from the lower species and are consequently nothing special. If Darwinism is correct then there is nothing inherently immoral in killing a baby, in or out of the womb, nor for that matter killing any other human being for one’s personal advantage, since there is no higher law than the survival of the fittest – no sacredness to human life. Four thousand times each day, in our country alone, wrong beliefs result in the taking of human lives through elective abortion. Four thousand times each day God is murdered, as it were, in effigy when we murder those bearing His image. What you believe matters!
In addition to endowing human beings with unique and wondrous emotional, physical, mental and conceptual capacities, the Creator set us in a most desirous location, Eden. He surrounded man with richness and beauty. He further demonstrated His great love and favor to man when He created woman to be his wife, his love and his joy. Small price to pay for giving up one rib! God then gave mankind complete dominion over the planet, affording them the opportunity to act as His viceroys – those vested with the authority to act on behalf of the King. Understanding the nature of God’s love and favor towards mankind is essential to a life of peace and accomplishment.
Anthropologists who study the religious beliefs of ancient pagan societies note that most of these peoples were terrified of their gods, and were preoccupied with doing everything possible to appease the never-ending wrath of those false gods. By contrast, those societies that have had the Bible brought to them and have embraced Yeshua as Messiah have enjoyed advancements in science and medicine and the arts which otherwise would not be possible when one’s entire existence hangs by a thread and the malevolent whims of false gods. What you believe matters!
Genesis chapter three, if we will believe it, is the key to making sense of the world and what is wrong with it. Genesis chapter three chronicles Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God, and the short and long-term consequences of their actions. God included among the many and lovely trees in Gan Eden two of particular splendor and with unique properties. One, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, by God’s prohibition on it, was designed to prove obedience and trust; the other, the Tree of Life, was designed to impart an eternal blessing.
We are also introduced in Genesis three to the serpent. On the one hand, just one of the many creatures God made and put in the Garden. On the other hand, a willing accomplice to Satan, to bring mankind, this pinnacle of God’s creation, to utter ruin. God had warned the man and woman not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, or else they would surely die. The serpent caused the woman to question God’s truthfulness and kindly intentions, saying “You shall not surely die! God knows in the day you eat from it you will become like God…” Faced with the choice of continuing to trust God and His word, and the enticement to eat what was forbidden and acquire divine powers, the man and his wife ate from the tree, and in that instant were corrupted and spiritually died.
God proved His love for mankind by expelling Adam and Eve from the Garden, before they could eat from the Tree of Life and be forever sealed in their now-fallen condition. God covered them with garments of skin to cover their newfound shame and embarrassment. Where did He get the skins from? From innocent animals that had to die in order to cover the sin and shame of fallen mankind. Thus we learn even in the early chapters of Genesis that “the wages of sin is death” – but the death of a substitute. These things foreshadowed the eventual death of Messiah Yeshua, who would Himself make bring about the ultimate atonement for sin and enable our reconciliation to God and give us the promise of eternal life. Remember, that Tree of Life still awaits us in the Paradise of God (Rev. 2:7)!
The effects of Adam and Eve’s rebellion were immediate and dire. The very next chapter tells of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, and following that the moral decline of all mankind and the proliferation of evil. Sin pervaded mankind like a virus, spreading to every person and to every ensuing generation. Genesis 3 is the answer for why you need locks on your doors, locks on your cars, alarm systems, PIN numbers for ATM’s, sworn oaths in courts of law and laws governing everything from fraud to murder. Genesis 3 is the answer for why there is so much bad news in the world, and also for why newspapers sell more copies when the news is bad.
But our parsha doesn’t end without some hope. In spite of all the wickedness of the world, chapter six, verse eight begins, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” Genesis also lays the foundation for hope. God intends to redeem mankind. That, too, is part of the essential truths of Genesis, part of what is needed to build these houses on a level and firm foundation.
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Bereshit בְּרֵאשִׁית. Other transliterations: Bereishit, Bereishis, B’reshith, Beresheet, or Bereishees