(revised January 27, 2015)
The Bible was read to me by my parents from infancy well into my teen years when I began to take personal responsibility for reading God’s Word. As an adult, I’ve had a fairly consistent pattern of reading through the Bible every year or two so that I suppose I’ve been exposed to all of it 30 or 40 times in my 62 years.
But in the past ten years something has changed. I understood something of the unity of the Bible before this, fulfilled prophecy, etc., but what has been transforming is reading the Bible as one story, seeing how Israel’s story illustrates the Gospel, how the prophets tell the Gospel in advance of it being fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, how the church is in process of communicating the story to the world.
Why did it take so long? Other than just being slow to catch on, God used a key person, D. A. Carson and a fresh Bible reading plan that I started using in 1999 that has helped me to see the bigger picture of God’s story, his rescue plan for the world. I introduced the M’Cheyne Carson Bible Reading Plan to Faith Church more than four years ago and reintroduced it again this year , suggesting just two of the four daily readings. We started in Genesis and Matthew, and are now in Exodus and the Gospel of John.
What do you find in the Gospel of Genesis? Oh, you’ve never heard of that book in the Bible? Well, it isn’t normally called Gospel, it is just Genesis. But the unfolding of the Gospel becomes evident early on. Consider these examples:
Genesis 1 – Man is made male and female and in the image of God, made to be in relationship with the God who made us.
Genesis 3 – When the man and woman are tempted by the serpent and rebel against God, there are severe consequences, but at the same time, the hope of restoration is declared that the offspring of the woman will crush the serpent’s head. Additionally, the idea of a substitute sacrifice is presented, the hope that one’s sins can be covered and the judgment taken by another. Do you see that this was fulfilled in Jesus Christ?
Genesis 12, 15, 17 – God speaks to Abraham, makes promises, and makes a covenant with him that will result in global blessing.
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
This promise was passed through Isaac and Jacob, beginning to be fulfilled in the twelve sons of Jacob, the tribes of Israel.
Genesis 22 – The idea of a substitute sacrifice for sin becomes more vivid as God asks Abraham to offer his own son as a sacrifice. When Isaac asks about the sacrifice, Abraham said in faith, God himself will provide the lamb for the burn offering, my son, and proceeds to the place. Up to the moment before Isaac is about to be killed, Abraham proceeds with obedience, even to the awful point of lifting the knife to kill his own son. But God intervenes with a substitute sacrifice, a ram caught by its horns in a thicket.
One of the most dramatic stories in Scripture is told in Genesis 37-50, the story of Jacob’s favored son, Joseph. Hated by his brothers, sold into Egyptian slavery, rising to be second in command under Pharaoh himself. Joseph, the rejected one, became the savior of his family from a severe famine. That temporal salvation in Egypt became the place where a family of 70 persons became a nation of perhaps 2 million over the next 400 years, another major step in fulfilling God’s outlandish promise to the sonless Abraham.
Yet, ironically, Egypt, the place of salvation, became the place of slavery, setting up the primary example of salvation in the Old Testament, the Exodus under Moses, the limited salvation of the Old Testament that was a foretaste of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ.
One more key Gospel theme emerges in Genesis in chapters 44 and 49. Jacob’s fourth born son, Judah, is in focus, whose tribe would become the dominant tribe of Israel. When Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt to buy food, Joseph recognized them, but did not reveal his identity. He demanded they return with their little brother, Benjamin, holding Simeon a prisoner as security. Jacob refused to let Benjamin go until the famine became so bad that he must relent or starve. Joseph, still hiding his identity, prearranged to have it appear that Benjamin stole his silver cup, then demanded that Benjamin be held as his slave for his crime. That’s when Judah stepped up. It was Judah who had the original idea to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelite traders (37:25-28), so he bore a greater measure of guilt. But now his leadership has taken a turn for the positive. He pleads with Joseph that he, Judah, take Benjamin’s place and remain as Joseph’s slave.
Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 44:33
Thus, Judah, offers himself as a substitute for his brother, another prefiguring of the substitute sacrifice of Jesus for us all. Indeed, it would be a descendant of Judah would be that substitute. Chapter 49 is the blessing of Jacob’s sons just prior to the patriarch’s death. Most significant is his blessing for Judah, which includes these words,
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.
This verse is prophetically fulfilled first in King David, but ultimately in Jesus Christ, who is both the substitute sacrifice for sin and the eternal king.
Genesis doesn’t reveal everything of the Gospel, but it introduces the primary themes of salvation – a substitute sacrifice, redemption from slavery, and the eternal reign of a righteous ruler. Keep reading through the Old Testament and discover how these themes develop.