History of the Human Race
In the opening pages of Genesis God has given us a record of the beginning of the world, the universe, and everything that these contain. The events described are of great interest and significance to people everywhere, and they have had far reaching consequences for all humanity.
This lesson deals with material from chapters 1–11 of Genesis. In these chapters we meet some of the most important characters and personalities of the Bible: Adam, Eve, Satan, Noah, Shem, and Abraham. We read, too, about some of the most fateful events of human history: the creation of man and his fall into sin, the destruction of the sinful human race by the Flood, and the selection of a godly family through whom God would bring about His purpose for humankind.
As you study this lesson you will learn about these characters and events and find answers to many questions about the origin of the world and of the people of God, to whom we belong.
Beginnings in Genesis
Genesis is a Greek word meaning “beginning or origin.” It is certainly a suitable name for the first book of the Bible, for the book of Genesis tells us of the beginning of everything except God himself who is without beginning or end. Genesis satisfies humanity’s natural curiosity about the past and how the world came to be. As Christians we accept its record as the only authentic account of God’s creation of the universe and His purpose for it. The further revelation of God to man is built upon the foundation formed by the events and truths it records. There are, for example, more than 60 quotations from Genesis in 17 different books of the New Testament.
The Genesis God
Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God . . .” Who then is God? In Genesis He reveals himself as the divine Creator, the one who has always existed from eternity to eternity. He has no beginning of days nor end of life. And although He created all things, He exists separate from all things. The trees are God’s handiwork, but God is not a tree. God created the sun, but the sun is not God.
The Genesis Event
Three times in Genesis 1 the word create appears (1:1, 27). This word is used to translate a Hebrew word which means to “make something out of nothing.” The fact that God made the world out of nothing is an indication that He has all power. When we understand this idea we have taken the first important step towards understanding our relationship to God. The Bible teaches us that it is by faith that we can know God created the world. Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
This belief in God’s Word is the basis of a person’s relationship to God and of his or her Christian experience. Without such faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). As Christians, we must rely on God’s Word, not on our frail and partial human knowledge.
It is far more important to understand that God created everything than to have an opinion on exactly where or when the events of creation took place. The author of Genesis, for example, gives no timetable for the events. He does not suggest a date. Neither does he give exact geographical details about the garden of Eden, man’s first dwelling place. These matters are not dealt with. Nevertheless, the important central truth is clear: God created the world from nothing, and His work of creation was characterized by purpose, design, and order. This truth is the foundation and background for the rest of God’s revelation which is gradually unfolded in the Bible.
After giving an account of the origin of the heavens and the earth, the opening chapters of Genesis quickly move to a description of man. Man is clearly the most important being of God’s entire creation. Made in the very image or likeness of God, he becomes the center of interest in the revelation of God’s purpose.
Man was given both responsibility for and power over creation. God intended that man should rule it (Genesis 1:26, 28). He placed man in a garden in Eden. Man was different from the animals. This difference is made clear by the events described in Genesis 2:18–23. Man could find no satisfactory companion until God created Eve from Adam’s own body. This was perfection—an animal and plant kingdom in perfect harmony with humanity. And God was very pleased!
God wanted man to rule over creation, but He also wanted him to have fellowship with Him. There was perfect order in creation, but within man’s being was a powerful force—his will. Initially, the first two humans, Adam and Eve, chose to have fellowship with their Creator (Genesis 3:8). What a wonderful time that must have been! But for humans and God to have true, lasting fellowship, people must freely choose it.
God had given humans freedom of choice. He wanted people to love Him because they chose to do so. The rest of creation—the stars, the sun, the trees—has no freedom of choice. It must move according to its design. But God wanted human beings to freely choose to do His will and to delight in doing so.
The Great Human Tragedy
The Fall and Its Shadow
Adam and Eve’s disobedience, which is described in Genesis 3:1–7, is referred to as the Fall. We have already found out what God’s original purpose was for humankind. It was from this height that humans fell.
As the events of Genesis 3 unfold we find Adam and Eve in the Garden. They had complete freedom of choice. But there was another personality present also—Satan. He too had been created for a high purpose. But he had rebelled against God and lost his place (Luke 10:18), and now he attempted to cause God’s plan to fail, to draw humans into his own rebellion. He tempted Adam and Eve to use their self-will against God’s will. The specific issue was God’s command concerning a tree in the midst of the Garden.
Do not think it strange that the only test involved a tree and fruit. God often tests our obedience by using simple, everyday things. Satan came to Eve in the form of a serpent. Both Adam and Eve failed the test. This failure and disobedience brought about the most crucial change in man’s relationship to God. It is the most tragic event in the history of the human race and is referred to repeatedly throughout the Bible (see Romans 5:12, 18–19).
Let us take a closer look at what actually happened when Adam and Eve sinned. Their action is an example of a pattern we find in the New Testament. This pattern is that we try in the wrong way to satisfy three normal desires God has given us: the desire to possess things, enjoy things, and achieve or attain. In 1 John 2:16 the satisfaction of these three desires outside of God’s will is identified as 1) what the sinful self desires, 2) what people see and want, and 3) worldly pride or boasting.
And so our first parents joined Satan in rebellion against God’s commands. Immediately, they became conscious of themselves and of their being lost. So they hid from God’s holy presence and used leaves to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:7). The Lord God, later, killed an animal and made clothes from the animal skins for them.
Adam and Eve’s spiritual life died as God had said, and their physical bodies came under the threat of death. They were cut off from God—orphaned. Thus, the first humans chose to step down from God’s fellowship to Satan’s control. From the height of God’s purpose they fell into the depths of bondage.
God judged everyone who participated in the Fall. The serpent was judged above all animals (Genesis 3:14). Women and men were made subject to suffering, hard toil, and physical death. The story ends with the first humans being exiled from the blissful Garden (Genesis 3:22–24).
When God gave humans freedom of choice, He knew there was a danger that every person would turn from good to evil. But though He knew the ultimate possibilities, He still chose that path. Some people have been tempted to wonder if God’s purpose has failed, for they look at a world filled with the consequences of sin. But God’s plans cannot fail (Isaiah 46:10). He would have never created the world if the gain of His salvation would not far surpass the loss brought about by people’s disobedience. God saw that some would make a deliberate choice to reject His deliverance. This truth convinces us of how wonderful the future will be for those who do accept His salvation
God promised ultimate victory through the woman’s offspring (Genesis 3:15). This was a prophecy about Christ, who would come to redeem humanity. Isn’t it wonderful that the Christian who overcomes will one day eat of that tree of life? Revelation 2:7 tells us that “the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” will be given to those who win the victory. What a promise this is to those who choose to live for God and refuse to follow the advice of Satan or to join in his rebellion!
The apostle Paul writes “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments?” (Romans 11:33). God’s purposes will not be defeated. One day uncountable multitudes from every nation, people, and language, will sing the song of salvation (Revelation 7:9–12). The eternal purpose of the true God will come to pass!
Descendants and Destruction
Cain, Abel, and Seth
Adam and Eve had three sons mentioned in the Bible by name—Cain, Abel, and Seth. The story of Cain and Abel given in Genesis 4 particularly illustrates the condition of humankind following Adam and Eve’s sin. Both Cain and Abel worshipped God by bringing an offering. Abel’s animal sacrifice was accepted by God, but Cain’s offering of vegetable produce was rejected.
These offerings by Cain and Abel early in Bible history echoed the experience of their parents, Adam and Eve. As Adam and Eve had tried to clothe their nakedness and sin by their own efforts, so Cain brought an offering to God of his own works. And as the Lord killed an animal and made coverings for Adam and Eve, so Abel brought an animal sacrifice. In these early events God revealed an important principle: To cover sin there must be blood shed, either death of the sinner or death of a substitute for the sinner.
From Adam, Cain, and onwards, God points forward to the cross of Jesus Christ, for God made it clear that the Savior who had been promised would have to die to pay the penalty for humanity’s sins. Every animal sacrifice in the Old Testament pointed ahead to Jesus as the true lamb of God (John 1:29). The sacrifices pictured the death Jesus would suffer to remove sin.
Cain and Abel represent possible attitudes of two groups of people. One group sees no need for a Savior. They feel sufficient in their own goodness. The other group knows that they will be lost unless they accept the sacrifice God has provided for their sin and trust Him for their salvation.
Cain displayed an attitude of deliberate disobedience since God had warned him that sin would try to master him (Genesis 4:7). He murdered his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8) and was driven off the land away from the Lord’s presence (Genesis 4:14).
Genesis 4:17–24 describes the history of Cain and his descendants. They built cities, made tools, and raised livestock. This was the beginning of civilization. The events and the activities described in these verses took place over a long period of time. The civilization which was developed provided a false sense of security, as shown by the boast of Lamech (Genesis 4:23–24), one of Cain’s descendants.
While Cain and his descendants were building their civilization, Adam and Eve had another son of whom Eve said, “‘God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him’” (Genesis 4:25). Abel was a godly man. If he had lived, one of his descendants may have been the Savior God had promised. His murder was Satan’s attempt to destroy this possibility. But God gave Adam and Eve another son, Seth, through whom God would fulfill His promise. During the lifetime of Seth’s son, Enosh, people began to worship using the Lord’s name (Genesis 4:26).
For God’s plan of redemption to be carried out, there had to be a human line of ancestry from which the Savior could come. It was necessary for God to become a man so He could offer His life in payment to restore humanity’s broken relationship with himself. Seth proved worthy to head this line of ancestors of the coming Savior.
In your list of Jesus’ earthly ancestors you named Enoch. Notice how his life is described in Genesis 5:21–24. Compare this description to the one in Hebrews 11:5–6. Enoch did not experience death! He lived in fellowship with God and his life had a special ending. God took him away!
The grandson of Enoch was named Lamech, and Lamech’s son was Noah. During Noah’s days godlessness increased as violence, wickedness, and corruption abounded. God determined to destroy all the wicked. But God was pleased with Noah. For 120 years God warned everyone through Noah that He was going to destroy the world with a flood. Still only Noah found favor in God’s eyes and kept an acceptable relationship with Him.
God commanded Noah to build a large ark. Noah obeyed, building it to the exact proportions God gave him. Scientists today would agree that a boat like the one Noah built would be seaworthy and would have room enough for all the life that was to be spared. In building the ark, Noah exercised faith in the words of God. Hebrews 11:7 says, “By faith, Noah when warned of things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.”
Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives, and a representation of every kind of animal and bird life went into the ark as God had commanded. God then sent the Flood. The world was judged by God, and the sinful human race was destroyed. For about a year, Noah and his family and all of the creatures that had been saved had to stay in the ark. Then the waters receded and humankind faced a new opportunity.
Noah began the new civilization by building an altar and offering many sacrifices. God then made a covenant or promise with Noah concerning the future of His relationship with humankind. God’s action shows us what was His ultimate purpose for judging the world—to restore its relationship with Him.
After Noah and his family became settled in the land an incident occurred which is described in Genesis 9:20–27. This incident shows us that even a righteous man like Noah could be tempted and sin. It also reveals the character of Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham treated his father with disrespect, while Shem and Japheth acted in respect. It was upon Canaan, Ham’s son, that the curse of Noah’s prophecy fell (vv. 25–27). Centuries later the united Canaanites received terrible judgment when the Israelites occupied their land.
Genesis 10:1–32 is a description of where the descendants of Noah’s sons settled. Today, scientists who study the history of humans are finding more evidences that this description is correct. It is the only adequate explanation we have of how people came to live where they do throughout the world.
The sons of Japheth settled in the area of the Black and Caspian Seas all the way west to Spain (Genesis 10:2–5). It is likely that the Greek and Germanic peoples descended from him.
Three of Ham’s sons went into Africa (vs. 6–14). Later they spread northward to Shinar and Assyria. They built cities like Nineveh, Babel, and Accad (also spelled Akkad). Canaan, the fourth son of Ham, settled along the Mediterranean, extending from Sidon to Gerar near Gaza. The Canaanites used a language similar to the descendants of Shem although they were descendants of Ham
The descendants of Shem occupied the area north of the Persian Gulf (vv. 21–31). They were also known as the Semites or the Semitic race. Elam, Asshur, and Aram are names associated with the Semites.
Abraham and His Descendants
The Holy Spirit now narrows our attention to the Semites (Genesis 11:10–32). We are given a ten-generation account beginning with the family of Shem and ending with the family of Terah, who migrated from the city of Ur to Haran. It is to this family that Abram (later called Abraham) belonged. Abraham is an example of a man who acted on the revelation of creation as described in Psalm 19. God kept His promise to Abraham and led him by faith.
Abraham’s seed or descendants—both natural and spiritual —occupy the center of interest throughout the rest of the Bible. They are called the people of God.