Was one of your resolutions for the new year to read through the Bible? Me, too! It can be a daunting task for sure, but there are lots of great reading schedules available on the web. My personal favorite is one developed by my friend Mark Roberts – check it out here. It follows a five-day a week schedule, giving you a chance to catch up if you miss a day here or there. For some other plans head over to Bible Gateway for a wide variety of options.
If you have already started a read-through-the-Bible plan, most likely you are in the
Book of Genesis. It was not until my freshman year of college that I seriously studied the first book of the Bible. Until then, my knowledge of Genesis was frozen at the Sunday school level of understanding. Genesis was simply a collection of loosely connected stories.
The primary insight that helped me move beyond this elementary view of Genesis was the reminder that we should read the Bible in its context – what did the Scriptures mean to their original readers? In the case of Genesis, its context is Israel’s recent delivery from Egypt and its imminent conquest of the Promised Land. In this light, Genesis is answering these fundamental existential questions for Israel: Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going?
This contextual background of Genesis means that it is really a book about going home. Israel is heading to its home in the land of Canaan after a long time of exile in Egypt. The theme of exile and time away from home connects the two major sections of Genesis. Chapters 1-11 focus on mankind’s exile from the presence of God in the garden, moving ever eastward (Genesis 3:24; 4:16; 11:2). And chapters 12-50 focus on three men who spend the bulk of their lives away from home: Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph. The book concludes with Joseph’s death in Egypt, but that is not to be the final chapter of his story (or Israel’s). His deathbed request is for his bones to be transported to the Promised Land some day (Genesis 50:25), and a few centuries later, Israel will rise from its grave in Egypt and find new life in the land of promise.
So as you read through Genesis and encounter stories that don’t make a lot of sense to you, ask yourself this question: What would this story have meant to ancient Israel as it departed Egypt and headed toward Canaan? You’ll be surprised how many mysteries evaporate!