In the Beginning – studies in Genesis part 2

Session 7 – It’s murder out there

We all know how viruses spread. A bug gets into a hospital ward, or a restaurant, and before you know it, it has struck down many of the patients or the diners. Or a virus gets into a computer system, and before long it has spread to computer systems around the world, leaving them unable to operate, and sometimes permanently disabled.

Today as we move on to Genesis 4, we are starting to look at life after the fall. And although the chapters beyond Genesis 3 seem strange to us, and are often full of long and difficult names, the one theme that runs throughout is the spread of sin. What began as one act of rebellion against God moves outwards and onwards, bringing death and violence and pain.

And this leads us on to the story of Cain and Abel. Not exactly in the truest sense of the word a murder mystery – we know right at the beginning “whodunit”, more the work of a psychological investigator explaining why a story that began so beautifully in a peaceful garden ends up in murder of an innocent victim and in torment for the murderer.

So on that cheerful note, let’s pray and then turn to Genesis 4:1-16

1.    Read verses 3-5 carefully. How do the offerings Cain and Abel bring to the Lord reveal their different attitudes to Him? How willingly do we offer what we have to the Lord?
2.    How do we master the power of sin in our lives? (verse 7) What practical resources do we have to overcome temptation, and how we do use them?
3.    Why does Cain murder Abel? How do we avoid letting past hurts and resentments build up and spoil our lives and the lives of others?
4.    We may say we would never murder anybody – but read Matthew 5:21-24. How do we put Jesus’ teaching into practice (a) in the church (b) in our families?
5.    Cain was right – as a murderer he would from that point on be a marked man. Yet despite all this the Lord shows him grace and spares his life. How do we deal with those who appear unlovable and perhaps have done things which have put them beyond the bounds of society?
Session 8

Session 8 – Judgement

The story of Noah needs no introduction. We learnt it at our mother’s knee. We all know about the ark, and the animals going in two by two, and the raven and the dove. We know about the flood and the rain pouring down for forty days and forty nights. We have drawn the rainbows, sung the songs, played with the toy arks, and we know the story inside out.

So what more do we need to say about it? Well, although we have turned the story of Noah into a charming tale for children, it is in fact a horrific tale of judgement:

Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. (Genesis 7:22-23)

The real question when we come to the story of Noah therefore is not whether this is a true story of a worldwide cataclysm or whether the ark really did end up on Mount Ararat, but it’s this: how can God allow such a thing to happen? Only six chapters back we saw how God declared his world to be good. Now he is intent on destroying it. All we can ask is why??

So let’s pray and then we’ll read Genesis 6:5-8, 7:6-23

1.    Read Genesis 6:5. Would the Lord’s assessment of human nature be accurate today? Is it necessary or helpful for us as Christians to believe in “original sin”?
2.   Read Genesis 6:6. How does the Lord react to the sin He sees in the world? What stops us from caring deeply about the things we see happening around us?
3.    Read Genesis 6:7. How do we reconcile the God of judgement with the God of love? Is there a difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the new?
4.    Read Matthew 24:36-44. How does the story of Noah act as a warning to us? What does it mean for us to keep watch?
5 .   If the Bible ended at Genesis 6:7, then there would be no-one left to read it! But the good news of the Bible is that despite everything judgement is never the final word. As we come to the end of this session, thank God afresh for His salvation, and ask Him how we can apply this teaching about judgement to our lives today.

Session 9 – Salvation

The last few sessions have been pretty heavy going, haven’t they? So if you’ve made it so far, well done! It hasn’t been easy reading how God’s beautiful world was spoiled, and how this world has descended so quickly into a downward spiral of violence, corruption and sexual immorality. And while we might like to say Genesis 3-6 reflects an older, more primitive state of affairs, we know that in reality its description of human nature is as relevant still today, and in many ways acts as a mirror on our own society. We only have to pick up a newspaper, or turn on the TV, to see similar tales of murder and war and hatred.

So the question is, where is the hope? The answer to a large degree depends on what you believe we need to be saved from. To some, it is ignorance. To some, it is religious superstition. To some, it is our genetic defects. To some, it is our upbringing. All of which may partly be true. But the Bible sees the basic problem as going much deeper than that, and it shows us that no amount of education or science or genetic engineering can alter the fact we are out of relationship with the One who made us and who loves us. And if we are to seek a real solution to the problem of the human condition, then we need a salvation which deals once and for all with the problem of sin.

Which leads us on the story of Noah, which as we saw last time is not just a children’s tale about an ark and animals going in two by two, but a gritty, hard-hitting story that tackles head on the twin themes of judgement and salvation. So let us pray, and then we’ll read Genesis 6:9-7:5, 8:1-22.

1. What caused Noah to find favour in God’s eyes? What assurance do we have as Christians that we will be saved?

2. How did Noah respond to God’s word to him? Why do we find obedience so hard in today’s society?

3. Imagine what it must have been like waiting so long for the flood waters to go down. What lessons about patience do you think Noah must have learnt?

4. Read Genesis 8:20-22 again. We have here the first direct reference to sacrifice in the Old Testament. Explain in your own words why sacrifice is so important. How do you explain such a concept to non-believers?

5. What is the significance of Genesis 8:22? Use this verse to lead you into a time of praise.

Session 10 – A Fresh Start

Think about a time when you faced a fresh start in your life. It might have been a new school, or a new job, or a new home. How did you feel? What was it like going into a completely new situation? What were your hopes and fears as, say, you stepped into the classroom for the first time, or first walked into the office?

Now imagine what it must have been like for Noah and is family coming out of the ark. What would have been his hopes and fears? What opportunities and challenges do you think he faced?

In many ways it’s quite difficult to answer these questions, but presumably what Noah needed above all else was the assurance that the Lord was still with him, and still there to guide and to lead him. And this leads on to today’s reading, Genesis 9:1-17 where we find Lord’s words of blessing to Noah and his sons. As we read this passage, let’s pray that we too – whatever situation we are facing at the moment – will discover His timeless words of encouragement and hope.

1.    Read Genesis 9:1-3, and then compare these words to the words spoken to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:26-30. How is life now similar to, and different from, life before the fall?
2.    What are the principles that the Lord gives to Noah in Genesis 9:4-6?
3.    Do these principles still apply to us as Christians today?
4.    In Genesis 9:8 onwards we read of the first covenant God makes in Scripture. What is a covenant and why are covenants so important to our faith?
5.    What evidence do we see in creation of God’s ongoing goodness to us?
6.    Read Acts 14:9-20. How do Barnabas and Paul connect with the goodness of creation with the gospel message?

Session 11 – Father Abraham

Let’s sum up where we have got to so far with our studies in Genesis. We began by taking some time looking at the accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, and we saw how God made the world to be good and perfect, under the wise stewardship of both men and women. But then in Genesis 3 we saw how creation was spoilt by sin, and how Adam and Eve forfeited their place in Eden through their rebellion against God. From then on mankind entered a downward spiral of hatred and violence and murder, until at the beginning of Genesis 6 the Lord is so grieved that He has made man on earth He decides to wipe them away with a catastrophic flood. That sounds like the end of the story, but there is one man – Noah – who has found favour in His eyes – and as we all know the Lord tells Noah to build an ark to save him, his family and the animals from the coming disaster. Last time we left Noah in Genesis 9 coming out of the ark, with a new commission from God, and with a new covenant relationship, and that too sounds like the end of the story, where everyone gets to live happily ever after.

But sad to say, events once again quickly degenerate. Noah decides to plant a vineyard and gets him drunk on the proceeds. His three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth branch out into different tribes in competition with each other. True, there is a grand plan to build a huge city with a common language at a place called Babel, but the Lord steps in to stop the building of this monument to human pride. We end up with a situation where diverse groups are being scattered over the face of the earth, and it seems that once again sin has the upper hand.

So what is the Lord’s reaction? His answer, as is so often in the Old Testament, is to make a covenant, as a sign of his continued (and undeserved) mercy. Let’s turn therefore to Genesis 12:1-20 and see what lessons we can learn from it for our faith today.

1.    Has the Lord ever told you to leave one place and to go another? What was your reaction?
2.    What does it mean for the Lord to bless us? (Are we talking physical well-being, or answers to prayer, or something else??)
3.    How did the Lord bless Abram?
4.    What relevance does the story of Abram have to us as Christians? Look at the way Paul answers this question in Galatians 3:7-9, 16-18 and consider what he teaches us about our faith in these verses.
5.    Yet despite these wonderful promises, and despite his worship of the Lord, Abram still takes a dramatic wrong turn when he gets to Egypt. Why do we find it so easy to compromise our faith when the going gets tough? What we can do about it?

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