1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis can save your marriage.
Genesis can help you become a better parent.
Genesis might just even save your business.
I mean it.
In the book of Genesis we find the foundational truths of scripture and are equipped thereby for the living of life. I agree with the 16th/17thcentury reformer Christopher Pelargus who said of Genesis:
Genesis itself, explained methodically, encompasses a mirror of all of life, or rather is rightly called a theater of life, whether one wishes to consider divine matters, or politics, or household affairs.
All of this is so, yet to put these things first—our needs, our success, our families—is to risk missing the whole point of Genesis, which is this: we have a great God who has created everything, who holds the whole world in His hands, and who has made us for Himself. That is, to put your marriage or your family or your business as the main point of Genesis is to risk ultimately harmingyour marriage or your family or your business. However, to get the main point right does indeed open the door for renewal in all of these other areas. Which is simply to say what Jesus said in Matthew 6:
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you
So let us do that. Let us seek first the kingdom of God and God our King! There is no better place to do this than at the beginning.
- The first verse of the Bible dethrones us from being the main character in our own stories.
They are some of the most famous words in the world:
1a-b In the beginning, God
We know these words and we know that they are important, but when is the last time you have really dug down deep and considered what the first words of scripture truly mean? When is the last time you allowed these unbelievable and majestic and powerful words simply to wash over you in their full force and with all of their amazing and startling implications. Hear them again:
1a-b In the beginning, God
I want first to argue that the first words of scripture challenge us and humble us insofar as they dethrone us from being the main character in our own stories. We are born thinking that the story of the world begins like this: “In the beginning, me!” We instinctively recoil at the idea that we are not the main character of our own story. Think back on your life and tell me that this is not so. Are we not ever and always tempted to retreat back into ourselves and our own inward fixation? Is it not all about me? Should it not be all about me? Indeed, most people live their lives on the basis of that assumption: that we are the main characters of our own stories.
This is why we need the first words of the Bible. No, it does not say, “In the beginning, you!” It says, “In the beginning, God!” In our fallen natures, there is something that hates this fact.
In 1932-1933 Dietrich Bonhoeffer lectured on the beginning of Genesis at the University of Berlin. Near the beginning of his lecture, he spoke about the fact that we instinctively hate the first words of scripture. He said this:
Humankind no longer lives in the beginning: instead it has lost the beginning. Now it finds itself in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that it is in the middle. It knows therefore that it comes from the beginning and must move on toward the end. It sees its life as determined by these two factors, concerning which it knows only that it does not know them. The animals know nothing about the beginning and the end; they therefore know no hatred and no pride. Humankind knows itself to be totally deprived of its own self-determination, because it comes from the beginning and is moving toward the end without knowing what that means. This makes it hate the beginning and rise up in pride against it.
That is beautifully put and beautifully said! Think of it like this: the very first words of scripture call on us to bend our knees in humility before the greatness of God. I propose an exercise: each morning, when you wake up, when you begin your day, say aloud, “In the beginning, God!” Then say it to yourself throughout the day: “In the beginning, God! In the beginning, God!”
We are not the main character of our own story. God is. It all begins with God. It all ends with God. Therefore, everything in between must be given to God. For, “In the beginning, God!”
- The first verse of the Bible establishes a purpose and Godward trajectory for our lives.
These first words are deep words. We can never reach the bottom of them. For instance, consider that word “beginning”:
1 In the beginning, God
There are two things about that word that we should understand.
Substantive and Not Merely Temporal
The first thing is that this word “beginning” is not one-dimensional. It is not merely trying to get us to think of our watches. Yes, on the one hand, “beginning” can simply mean the first act of time, as in Matthew Henry’s memorable explanation of the word “beginning” as “when that clock was first set a going.”This understanding is also reflected in Robert Alter’s translation of Genesis 1:1, “When God began to create heaven and earth…”But on the other hand it can mean something more than mere chronology, as R.R. Reno explains:
When considering Gen. 1:1, the problem becomes still more difficult, because the concept “beginning” has different shades of meaning. A point of departure can refer to a discrete moment in time [i.e., temporal]. We might say, for example, “The train began its trip at 7:25 p.m.”…Yet a point of departure or beginning can also refer to a basis or a rationale, a purpose, or a reason [i.e., substantive]. A scientist can say, “The second law of thermodynamics is the basis—the beginning—of my love of science.” This sense of “beginning” as source and origin is associated with the Greek term arche, the word used to translate Gen. 1:1 in the Septuagint and repeated in John 1:1.
Reno goes on to point out that this understanding of “beginning” as substantive, as communicating something about God’s reason for creating, has roots in Jewish tradition when he quotes “the great eleventh-century rabbinic commentator” Rashi as reflecting “an earlier rabbinic opinion that the Pentateuch should have begun with Exod. 12:2 and not Gen. 1:1.” The first two verses of Exodus 12 read:
1The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.”
Reno writes that Rashi and others meant this as a commentary on Genesis 1:1 and not a critique of it. Meaning, they clearly did not disagree with Genesis 1:1 being the beginning of the Bible. Rather, they were trying to make a statement about what was happening in Genesis 1:1.
In rabbinic tradition, Exodus 12:2 represents the first commandment God gave man. It had to do with preparation for the Passover. So in saying that the Bible should have begun with Exodus 12:2, Reno explains, they were thereby “dramatizing an important theological judgment: God creates for the sake of his commandments, for the sake of the Torah.” Reno agrees in essence and concludes, “The divine plan or project, however spelled out, is the beginning out of which and for which God creates.”
For this reason, we may say that the word “beginning” in Genesis 1:1 is not merely temporal, it is substantive. It is not merely saying something about the first act of God in what we know as time, it is also saying something about the reason why God acted. Therefore, “In the beginning, God” is telling us why God made a beginning: namely for God’s own self and glory. He made us, in other words, for Himself! This is reflected beautifully in the first question and answer of the 17thcentury Westminster Catechism.
Q1. What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.
To recap: the first thing about the word “beginning” is that it is telling us something about God’s own purpose in or reason for creating. Namely, it is telling us that God created all things, including your life and your marriage and your business and your family, for Himself!
The End Reflected in the Beginning
In addition to the word “beginning” having a substantivedynamic, it also has a comprehensivedynamic. Old Testament scholar Kenneth Mathews has pointed out that:
“Beginning”…is often paired in the Old Testament with its antonym “end”…indicating an inclusive period of time…If so, the author has at the outset shown that creation’s “beginnings” were initiated with a future goal intended, an eschatological purpose.
In other words, to say “beginning” was also to say “end.” The word “beginning” pointed to a completion, a fulfillment. We can see another example of this in Isaiah 46:
9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’
Notice that in this amazing verse we see both of the nuances of the word “beginning” that we have spoken of: (1) it says something of God’s purpose and (2) it says something of the end. In other words, “In the beginning, God” means that God has made you for Himself and that your life, beginning to end, is His. Furthermore, there is what Mathews calls “an eschatological purpose.” We were made to live for God, to reside in His presence, and then to live with Him for all of eternity! Your earthly end is therefore itself a beginning in the presence of God in glory!
III. The first verse of the Bible prepares our hearts for Jesus.
We must recognize something else about this amazing passage of scripture. The New Testament writers saw in its words a connection to the coming of Jesus our Savior. Hear again the first words of scripture:
1a-b In the beginning, God created…
Now listen to John’s words in John 1:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Later John tells us that this “Word” who was “in the beginning” is none other than Jesus Himself!
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
How unbelievably beautiful and powerful: John takes the first words of Genesis and links them to the coming and the person and the work of Jesus Christ! In less dramatic fashion, Mark does the same in the beginning of Mark 1:
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The New Testament writers seemed to be saying, “In the beginning, God,” that is, “In the beginning, Jesus.” Jesus is therefore the creator God who is with us and for us. He was there “in the beginning.” This helps us understand further what we said above: Jesus is the cause and purpose of creation as well as its intended end. God creates so that we might live in the presence of His Son, Jesus.
You were made to live your life with God through Christ who is God with us!
Who is the main character of the story, of your story? Jesus is! And, in Him, we find purpose and meaning and a reason to be!
“In the beginning, Jesus!”
With this in mind, consider Jesus’ amazing words from Revelation 21, there near the very end of the Bible:
6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.”
Yes! Jesus is the beginning and the end! He is the beginning who had no beginning and the end in whom there is no end!
“In the beginning, God.”
“In the beginning, Jesus.”
In the beginning, you were given a purpose: to honor and glorify God!
In the beginning, God knew how He would accomplish this: through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son.
If you get the beginning right, you will get the ending right. But that is not all. If you get the beginning and ending right, you will now be able to get the middle right. You can now follow Jesus and bring your marriage and your family and your career and your finances and all of these other things to Him. Yes, you can! But, seek firstthe kingdom of God and His righteousness or you will miss all the rest.
God, the kingdom of God, and King Jesus our Savior: this is why you were created.
John L. Thompson, ed., Genesis 1-11. Reformation Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed., Timothy George. Old Testament, vol. I (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), p.4.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. vol. 3 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1997), p.28.
Matthew Henry, A Commentary on the Holy Bible. vol. I (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, date not known), p.2
Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses. The Hebrew Bible. vol. 1 (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 2019), p.11.
R.R. Reno, Genesis. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010), p.29-32.
Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1:11-26. The New American Commentary. Old Testament, vol. 1A (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, Publishers, 1996), p.126-127.