Whether it is the mysteries of the antediluvian world, or the incredible promises of God to the patriarchs, the content of the book of Genesis is gripping. We read of mysteries such as the sea monsters in Genesis one and the sons of God coming to the daughters of men and birthing giants. We read of mundane things, such as the harvesting of crops and the digging of wells. While many of you could tell me several stories of the book or even give me a good summary of the whole book, how many of you could tell me what the message of the whole book of Genesis is? What is the point of Genesis? Why did God need to give us the book of Genesis? Can the book of Genesis be summarized in a theme? The answer is, yes, and the answer may surprise you. The message of the Genesis is that intends to bless the world through the Abraham and his descendants. In one words, the message is blessing.
You may be surprised that this would be the theme, but track with me a little. Let me share with you some interesting data about blessing in the whole of the Bible. The word blessing appears 399 times in the OT, and 89 of which are in Genesis (which is 22% of total occurrences in all of Bible) with Psalms in second place (84x). Compared to other historical-narratives, Genesis contains 42% of the total occurrences of the term, while the other books only rank in the single digits. Of all the OT books, God uses blessing more times in Genesis than in any other book. Therefore, it seems that blessing is a predominate theme in the book of Genesis. But is it the theme? As we go through the book, we’ll see how the theme of blessing encompasses all the other major themes in the book of Genesis.
We begin our trek, trailhead of the Garden of Eden, where the first blessing on man appears in Genesis 1:28. As popularly conceived, Genesis 1:28 is called the Creation Mandate: that man must fill the earth and have dominion over it. However, a friend of mine, Dr. Brian Collins, points out this verse is really not a command, but that it is a blessing. And so, he relabels the Creation Mandate to Creation Blessing and since it is God’s blessing, “the Creation Blessing is not a command that Christians need to obey. Rather, it a blessing that humans cannot avoid.” What he means is that the whole verse, not just the multiplication aspect, should be considered as the blessing and people will fulfill this blessing on the earth. Notice also, connected to the blessing, God provides Adam and Eve with plants for food (1:29-30). We see this blessing all around us today: man has no trouble multiplying, wherever man goes, he controls his environment, and for the most part he has the resources necessary for life.
However, when Adam sinned, God came and limited the blessing with a curse. Into the blessing of multiplication, God introduced pain into Eve’s fertility (3:16). Into the blessing of dominion, God introduced strife between the ruling parties (man and wife, 3:16) and between the woman and the serpent (3:14-15). Additionally, He cursed the ground so that food would be hard to grow (3:17-19, cf. 1:29-30). This curse continued through the pre-flood world with the hope that the seed which was promised to the woman would remove the curse (3:15, 5:29).
Toward the end of that world, Noah became one of the last few men who were righteous (6:7-9). So, God rescued him from the flood through the ark (8:15-19). At this point, God gives Noah and his sons a blessing, which included the three parts of the Creation Blessing. First, God includes the blessing of multiplication (9:1, 7). Second, God expanded the menu of the humankind to include animals (9:2-4, cf. 1:29-30, 3:17-19). Third, the dominion theme comes with the establishment of capital punishment (9:5-6). At the end of the blessing, God again mentions the multiplication blessing, indicating that what lies between is a part of the blessing (9:7).
The Noahic Blessing, however, is different from the original Creation Blessing because it mitigates the effects of sin, whereas the Creation Blessing did not have any sin to mitigate. Thus, though this blessing included helpful developments, it did not undo the effects of the curse.
The Patriarchal Blessing
Before we move to the Patriarchal Blessing, there is a small, but critical observation that must be noted at this point: Moses records that the blessing on Abraham’s family comes from his righteousness. God chose Abraham and blessed him “to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice” (emphasis added, 18:19). Abraham was to command his children and household in this way for this purpose: that God would fulfill his promises to Abraham (18:19). Later, God blesses Isaac because “Abraham obeyed me” (26:3-5). Therefore, it seems that God’s blessing only comes through righteousness. And looking back at Adam and Noah, Adam received the blessing being righteous in the original creation. Also, Noah received the blessing because he “walked with God” and was righteous.
Yet, while Adam lost the full Creation Blessing because of unrighteousness and suffered from the curse, God will bring back the fullness of that blessing to the earth through the righteousness of Abraham. While on the one hand, we know that Abraham was unrighteous by his actions, he was declared righteous by faith (15:6), as noted by Paul (Gal. 3:6-7), and through his righteous actions his faith was displayed (22:1-19), as noted by James (Jam. 2:21-23). Thus, Abraham receives this blessing through the righteousness of faith, and through him “all the nations of the world shall be blessed” (12:5, 18:32, 26:4, 28:14, cf. Gal. 3:7-9). And, when the blessing of Abraham is fulfilled, it will reverse the curse and reestablish the full joy of the Creation Blessing, as we will establish later.
Based on the imputed righteousness of Abraham, God will bring the three aspects of the Creation Blessing into the Patriarchal Blessing. Again, those three things are multiplication, dominion, and provision. I will start with the last.
The Blessing of Provision
While provision is not the central aspect of the Creation or Patriarchal Blessing, God attaches provision to the idea of the blessing found throughout the Genesis. As already indicate, both in the Adamic and Noahic blessings, God gave provision for food. In the patriarchal accounts, God blesses Abraham “in every way” (24:1, 35) and Isaac as well (25:11), with a focus on material provision. God prospers Isaac with an abundant harvest, extreme riches, and livestock (26:12-14, 28-29). God prospered Laban because Jacob worked for him (30:27-30) and Potiphar because of Joseph (39:5). The blessing of provision is necessary, because as men multiply and rule, they need resources.
The Blessing of Multiplication
God’s blessing focuses on the multiplication of offspring. God blesses both man and beast during creation (1:22, 28) and Noah and his sons after the flood (9:1, 7). God promises Abraham (12:1), Sarah (17:15-16), and Jacob (28:14, 35:11, cf. 48:4) to make a great nation from each of them. God additionally promises Abraham that not only with the nation be great, but it will be innumerable (22:17). People also called for God’s blessing on others, such as Rebekah’s family on her (24:60), Isaac on Jacob (27:28, 28:3), Jacob on Joseph (49:25) and Joseph’s sons (48:16).
A Multiplied Seed
The theme of the Seed Promise is central to the Multiplication Blessing. What seed are we talking about? It is not a promise about seed which Abraham would plant in the ground, rather it is about the descendants that would come from Abraham—Abraham’s Children. The word descendants in the book of Genesis is often this a translation of the Hebrew word for seed. Hence the label of the Seed Promise.
God promises repeatedly to the patriarchs that he will multiply their descendants. The first time He promises multiple descendants is in Genesis 13:16, illustrating the innumerable nature of the comparing them to the dust of the earth. This illustration repeatedly comes up, including similar ones like the stars in heaven and sand on the sea shore (15:5, 22:17, 26:4, 28:14, 32:12). God continues this promise through the patriarchs “for the sake of My servant Abraham” (26:24).
His descendants will become so great that they will push to the four corners of the compass (28:14). This promise is in direct fulfillment of the Creation Blessing, which emphasizes that men should “fill the earth.” The seed of Jacob, who is the promisee in the passage, will do the exact opposite of what happened at Babel (11:1ff). There Noah’s sons resisted the inevitable effects of the Noahic blessing (that they should fill the earth) and bound themselves together to build the tower so that they should not be scattered across the earth. But, God changed their language and scattered them. In contrast, Jacob’s seed will push to the utter most parts of the globe. But what is to keep them from rebelling like the sons of Noah? The answer is in the next verse (28:15): God’s presence. Unlike the Babel event where God “came down to see” (11:5), God promises Jacob that He will be with him “until I have done what I have promised you.” Thus, God’s presence guarantees the fulfillment of this blessing.
A Blessing Seed
The ultimate manifestation of the Seed Promise is that by Abraham and his descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed. At the first, God says that by Abraham the world would be blessed (12:3). Later, when God and the angels are eating with Abraham, God again pronounces that the world would be blessed by Abraham (18:18). God connects the descendants to the universal blessing after Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, saying, “In your seed [descendants] all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (22:18). God makes similar promises to Isaac and Jacob (26:4, 28:14).
While Genesis does not clarify the exact fulfillment of this blessing, Peter does. In his second sermon, Peter quotes Geneses “In your seed [descendants] all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 22:18, Ac. 3:25) and says, “For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you” (Ac. 3:26), indicating that Jesus as the descendant who blesses the earth. Peter also clarifies the process by which this blessing takes place: “By turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” Unfortunately, Peter’s sermon is interrupted here, so we do not have further details (Ac. 4:1). We can only assume that since Peter started with the phrase “for [Jews] first,” that he was also going to get to “the gentiles second” later (the blessing on the gentiles is made clear by Paul in Galatians). Yet, what will this blessing look like in its final fulfillment? Peter indicates earlier in the passage that it is the coming “times of refreshing” and “the period of restoration of all things” (Ac. 3:19-21), pointing back to Edenic conditions. Thus, the Universal Blessing to Abraham fulfills the Creation Blessing through the work of Christ who is Abraham’s ultimate descendant.
The Blessing of Dominion
Now for the final point before we get to the application. When the Dominion Blessing appears in the patriarchs, God mentions several aspects of the dominion. First, God promises that Abraham would become a nation (12:2). Then, He promises the Land of Canaan for Abraham’s descendants as a gift (12:7). God promised Abraham that he and his descendants would possess the land and the gates of their enemies (15:7-8, 22:17, 24:60, 28:4). In the covenant of Genesis 17, God swears that Kings will come from both Abraham and Sarah (17:6, 16).
The accounts of Jacob further develop the Dominion Blessing. In Isaac’s lifetime, his wife Rebekah is told that she has two nations in her womb, one (who was Jacob) of which will dominate the other (25:23). When Isaac is approaching death, he blesses Jacob with dominion, saying, “May peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; be master of your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you” (27:19). Later, God promised that kings will come forth from Jacob (35:11). In God’s providential work, God gave the dominion of Egypt to Joseph so that he could protect the Jacob’s family (41:38-46). When Jacob is about to depart from Canaan, God promises Jacob to make his family a great nation in Egypt (46:3). When Jacob is on his death bed, he blesses Judah with dominance over his enemies and with a King who will be obeyed by many people (49:8-10).
Part of the Blessing of Dominion is the promise of the land of Canaan, which Abraham and his descendants would have dominion over. The first reference to the land is in a vague promise that God would show to Abraham the land which He would give him (12:1). When Abraham arrived in Canaan, God specified that it was this land (12:7). After Abraham divided from Lot, God detailed the expanse of the land to be as far as Abraham could see in every direction, which included the land which Lot just took (13:14-17). The first geographical boundaries appear in Genesis 15:18: from the Nile to the Euphrates, which literally encompassed all the land which Abraham set his foot on.
Yet, the land promised to the patriarchs seems to be only the base from which dominion over the whole earth is exercised. Paul says that God promised Abraham and his descendants that they “would be heir[s] of the world” (Rm. 4:13). What will it look like when the descendants of Abraham rule over the world? Micah predicts that in the last days, all the nations of the world will stream into Zion hoping to learn the Law of the Lord (Mic. 4:1-2). Yahweh will rule the earth from Zion (Mic. 4:3). The military might of Jacob in that day will be unstoppable (Mic. 5:5b-9). Thus, the land becomes the center from which the universal Dominion Blessing is exercised.
In the end, God’s intention to bless the world through the sons of Abraham appears to be the center of the book of Genesis. Although this theme seems to be the center, there are many other worthwhile themes that play a critical role in the book of Genesis. For example, origins, sin, strife, divine intervention, etc., all are significant themes to be explored. But they are all smaller tributaries, flowing into the greater river of God’s intent to bless the world.
The theme of Blessing fits into the larger concept of Kingdom in the Scripture. In Genesis, the Kingdom has its roots. It begins with the promise of the descendant who will come and undo the curse. While the world degenerated, God kept the hope of that future descendants alive. Abraham receives additional revelation that not only would there be a descendant, but a future kingdom as well. As Abraham’s descendants multiply, the nation comes into existence. But that kingdom under the Mosaic Covenant could not last because both the king and the people where unqualified to receive the full blessing of Abraham—they were unrighteous. As unrighteous people, they rebelled and turned from a blessing to the nations to an abomination before all.
So, while He was judging them, God promised that he would make them righteous in the New Covenant, which was put into effect by the death of the descendant who is Jesus. And this righteousness, which is needed to fulfill the blessings of Genesis, is obtained in the same manner that Abraham obtained it—through faith. It is these people of faith that become the sons Abraham and inherit his blessing. While most believers are gentiles today, in the future the whole physical descendants of Abraham will become his spiritual seed. When that condition is met, then they can partake of the blessing.
In the end times, God will use that nation promised in Genesis to bring back to the earth the blessing he intended from the beginning. Having the law of God on their hearts and being clothed in the righteousness of Christ, they will rule and reign with Him for a thousand years. After that time, they will continue to reign in the fullest portion of that blessing in the new heaven and new earth. In that new earth, forever they will reign and manage the earth, building that ultimate culture which will glorify God forever.
But how does this affect our lives today? I want to discuss our role in what people call the Creation Mandate. This mandate is taken out of Genesis 1:28, where God says to fill the earth and subdue it. As discussed before, many people, reformed in their theology, take this verse to be a mandate for the Christian life, in other words, the Christian should attempt to infiltrate the world’s system and spread the rule and decree of Christ through the world. These Reformed people apply this concept in many different applications. Some use it to justify a whole-sail engagement in the arts. Others use it to motivate people to get involved in politics and reform our government. Still other use it to support engagement in environmentalism.
While none of these things are wrong, I want to ask if these applications are what we are to be pursuing? Remember that we noted that the Creation Mandate should be called a Creation Blessing. And we spent the time tracing those three aspects of the Creation Blessing through the rest of Genesis, especially in the lives of the Patriarchs. Further, think about how we noted that God is working through Jesus to bring this blessing to the entire world, and it is by faith in him that people are justified to receive that blessing. If these things are the case, then it is God who will bring about the Creation Blessing and not us. God will reform the world, not us. God will reform the arts, the government and the environment, not us. Therefore, it is not our goal, our life pursuit, to attempt to reform these institutions, for God will reform these thing in the end.
What then is our responsibility? If these things are not what we should pursue, what should we do? The answer is found in this: that those who receive the blessing of the new world receive it by faith in Jesus. Thus, our responsibilities are threefold: First, evangelism is the primary means of effecting God’s reform in the world. We must spread the Gospel. The world puts their hope in new governments, better policies, a simplified tax code, etc. We too put our hope in a new government, but one that is not from this world. And entrance into that government is through faith, and those who believe must hear the Gospel first. Thus, we need to present the Gospel to every person. Whether through example or through word, our pursuit should be the spread of the Gospel in the world so that all men may enter the Creation Blessing. I need not tell you of the many ways and opportunities that you have to share the Gospel, I’m sure that you’ve heard many of them before. The most important part of sharing the Gospel is by just taking the first step, to move the conversation to the Gospel.
Our second responsibility: while evangelism is the primary means of entrance into that blessing, let us not forget that those who are saved need to be discipled. We enter the Creation Blessing by faith, and we must then live by faith. Sometimes, I fear, we spend so much time on evangelism that forget those who are in the faith to disciple them. Discipleship is more than just a 10-step program or an informal get together at a coffee shop. Discipleship, at the roots, is strengthening the faith of your fellow brother. On a foundational level, discipleship is you being with someone, as a fellow solder, fighting the war and having each other’s back. It’s you encouraging the brother when the days are dark. It’s you going beyond yourself to listen to people as individuals and to hear their feelings and requests. It’s you fellowshipping with someone and being a friend, loving them as Christ commanded. These foundational things do more to strengthen the faith of a brother than all the discipleship programs, the books, and Sunday School programs ever could.
Beyond these fundamentals, however, knowledge is necessary for the Christian life. Hopefully, in evangelism, we have laid the foundation of salvation by faith in Jesus apart from good works. But let us not stop there. Let us move to deeper things, as the writer of Hebrews encouraged his fellow believers—and the deeper things he was talking about was the theology of the Melchizedekian Priesthood. Therefore, as fellow-disciples, we must pursue knowing more about what God teaches, and we must be engaged in teaching others the same. While not all will pursue higher education in theology, everyone of you can share what the Spirit teaches you with another believer: some to a Sunday School class, others in conversations in church, still others through Facebook or through blogs. Let us find ways to disciple each other and grow each other in the faith, so that being strong in faith we may enter that Creation Blessing when our Lord shall return.
Finally, our third responsibility: while we evangelize and disciple, let us live in obedience to God, like our father Abraham. Being in the faith and members of that Patriarchal family, we must live out our faith in righteousness. Some of you may have questioned me when I said that we are not to pursue reformation of our world, because God will reform it. But let me clarify. I do not mean by this that we should live a secluded life away from the affairs of this world. Nor do I mean that we should ignore societal evils. Nor do I mean we should reject the arts. What I do mean is that the Christian should not focus on these things. It is not the church’s prerogative to make our government’s Christian or to fix the environment. It is our prerogative, however, to live as lights in this world. As those around Abraham knew that He followed Yahweh, so let our lives be distinctive that those who see us know we follow Yahweh as well. Thus, when we engage in the arts, let Philippians 4:8 control our minds. When we vote each election, let us vote for a ruler who will best follow the Bible as far as he may go. When we engage in environmentalism, let us point to the Creator who will one day restore his broken creation. And all of life—work and play—let us follow the principles so laid out in Scripture so that we live as salt in this world.
In the end, “this world is not our home, we’re just a passing through.” As Abraham sojourned in Canaan looking for that blessed hope, so we too live our lives considering the future: looking for the day when our Lord returns and brings that Kingdom and that restored creation, and when we enter the blessings he has for us.