This is a manuscript of the teaching done this morning at our local church’s women’s bible study. In it there is discussion of the value of being in a small group. We recognize that not all of our readers are a part of our local bible study, but it is still our hope that you are able to find a small group to gather with in search of God’s truth in His Word.
This morning, I want to ask you, why are you here? Why study the bible? Why do it in a group like this? I hope you are here because you want to know who God is. If we want to know who God is, the best place to go is to his Word – this is where God has revealed himself to us. I hope you are also here because you want to be changed. I hope your desire is to be different at the end of the year than you were at the beginning. Not because the bible is some manual for life that will give you the directions to change, but because after learning WHO God is, you desire to be conformed to his image in response to what you learned. This year, we are going to study scripture with our hearts AND our minds.
Romans 12:2 says:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
So, where does that change we desire start? In our minds. This year, we are going to seek to engage with scripture intellectually. Then we will allow our intellect, our minds, to inform our emotions. We want to see the picture that God intends, not what our own sinful hearts and desires wish to see.
That is why it is so great that you are here in this group. I hope you are also here for the accountability being in a small-group brings. Not only for the accountability of actually doing the homework – that is surely valuable. But also accountability in how we handle the scripture. It is so easy to allow ourselves to begin to justify and believe incorrectly what scripture says when we study it alone. There is no one to counter us. But here, in the context of a small group, we are able to help each other rightly understand the truth of what scripture actually says.
I want to talk with you more about HOW we are going to study the bible this year. The easy answer is – not that differently than in the past few years. However, maybe not all of you have been here. And, it never hurts to remind ourselves that the way we study is not random. So, here we go.
First, we are going to study purposefully. What does that mean? Well, we are going to study the bible, all the while keeping in mind our goal of knowing who God is as our primary purpose. We will then, after we understand elements of who God is and what He has done, seek to determine how we need to respond to that knowledge.
Second, we are going to study inductively. Ooh! There’s that big, bad word that everyone seems to be turned off by! All it means is that we are going to pay attention to context, style, and audience to help us understand how each passage fits not only in Genesis, but how it fits into the Old Testament, and then how it fits into the whole of scripture. God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, inspired each of these men to write each of these books in such a way that every word we read is the word that God intended us to read. He has protected these books through history in such a way that we can be assured that what we are reading is reliable and true. To try to pull a passage out of that context would be to distort the intended purpose.
Some suggestions here, encouragements, but by no means rules or exclusions.
- If you are willing to, consider doing your homework without commentaries or study notes in your bible. The author of our curriculum, Jen Wilkin, expects and intends you to come to small group discussion time with even more questions to discuss than what she prepared for you to consider! Allow yourself to be uncomfortable, to wrestle with a passage, so that you can push through to what she calls “the aha moment”. In her book, Women of the Word, she says this:
We love the “aha moments” – those moments when something that has confused us suddenly makes sense. What we sometimes overlook about the “aha moments” is that they occur after a significant period of feeling lost. Could it be that those periods of feeling lost were actually preparing us for the understanding that was eventually going to come? Could it be that feeling lost is one way God humbles us when we come to his Word, knowing that in due time he will exalt our understanding?
Contrary to our gut reaction, feeling lost or confused is not a bad sign for a student. It is actually a sign that our understanding is being challenged and that learning is about to take place. Embracing the dissonance of feeling lost, rather than avoiding it (giving up) or dulling it (looking for a shortcut) will actually place us in the best possible position to learn. We must extend ourselves permission to get lost and patience to find our way to understanding.
When we push through to those “aha moments” they stick with us better, the learning lasts longer.
- Try other translations of the bible. Different translations choose different words to convey the meaning of the original language, and sometimes when I am stuck, I reach for another translation to see what other word might work there. (Just a note, a paraphrase is NOT the same as a translation. They are sometimes helpful, but their wording or phrase choices should not be given the same weight as an actual translation of scripture.)
- Another resource I would highly recommend is an English dictionary. The scholars who labored to translate the bible into English chose the English words they did for a reason. It would be helpful if you are struggling to understand a passage to see if there is a definition of the English word that would shed some light.
- Lastly, colored pencils. I know, so many people have been resistant to the marking and color-coding of their bibles for bible study. In reality, there is really not much of that asked for in this guide. When it is asked of you, she has provided printed text for you to mark up. In the few instances she recommends you do this exercise, it has been helpful.
I also recognize that not everyone has the time and space to wrestle or research for very long. Most of you have small children at home who demand much of your time. This group is a place of grace and understanding. There will be weeks when you won’t even have looked at the homework, and may wonder if you should come. The answer to that is, YES!!!! Here’s why: We need you here as much as you need to be here! Our study guide this year is heavy on the comprehension or observation type of questions. There are some interpretation and application questions in there, but for the most part, your homework time is going to be focused on WHAT does the passage actually say. The interpretation and application will be developed and investigated here, together, both in the small group discussion and in the teaching from up front. All of us benefit from the interaction with each other about what God is saying. So please, don’t let the fact that your homework did not get done keep you from coming.
Okay, then, all of that being said, are you ready to jump in? Turn in your study guides to page 2, just past the introduction. By the way, if you have not read the introduction, I would recommend it. Much of what I have said is repeated there, but it is sometimes helpful to see it organized or phrased differently. On page two, there is a series of questions about Genesis. Before we answer these, I thought I might take a minute to explain a question many of you may be wondering – Why Genesis?
Well, simply stated, we are in Genesis this year because it is the beginning. Remember from the Sound of Music? “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.” We want to study scripture in context, and Genesis is THE context giver for all the rest of scripture. This is where everything starts, where the foundations are laid. We are studying Genesis because so many of the patterns we see in the rest of scripture start here. We have the privilege of viewing it all through the perspective of history, which allows us to learn so much more about God when we search and see how the pieces fit together.
The Old Testament is not made obsolete because we have the New Testament. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:6,11
“Now these things (speaking about the Old Testament, specifically the books Moses wrote) took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. . . Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”
And in Romans 15:4 he says,
“ For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
We are studying Genesis because it was written for US that we might have hope.
Jesus also says in Luke 24:44, right before his ascension,
“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’”
So, we are studying Genesis because Jesus himself says we will find HIM in the pages of Genesis.
So, back to the questions on page 2. The author calls this part, these questions, “reading the envelope.” Think of it like this. If you were to receive a letter in the mail (I know, who gets those anymore, right? Stick with me), what would you do? Would you rip into it right away and skip to page three, then to the end and finally see who it is from? You’d probably be pretty confused and miss out on a lot of information if you did that. Instead, we tend to first look at the return address – Who sent the letter. Then the main address – Who is the letter to. Sometimes we even look at the postmark – When was it sent. Then we open the letter, and starting at the beginning read the entire thing. We assume the person who wrote the letter did so intentionally to communicate specific information. We would miss out on that information if we jumped around and did not take those contextual clues into consideration. So, we are going to spend the rest of our time today “reading the envelope.”
- Who wrote the book of Genesis? Well, we know that person to be Moses. It is not mentioned anywhere in Genesis who wrote it, but in that verse from Luke we just read, Jesus himself tells us that Moses wrote it. We won’t actually encounter Moses in Genesis. If you are not familiar with the Old Testament, Moses does not come onto the scene until Exodus, the second book in the bible. Moses is the author of the first five books of the bible, often referred to as the Pentateuch or the Torah.
- When was it written? Moses wrote these five books sometime between 1600 and 1400 BC, approximately 3500 years ago from our perspective. He wrote them during the 40 years that Israel was wandering, waiting for the time they would be allowed to enter the Promised Land. Imagine, with all the other responsibilities of leading this people, he was also looking forward and writing down what they needed to know – what we need to know.
- To whom was it written?
- It was first written to the generation of Israelites that were preparing to enter the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership. Remember, in Numbers chapter 20, Moses is told he would not be allowed to enter the land, but would die in sight of it. Now, the title “Promised Land” sounds really nice right? Land flowing with milk and honey? But, there was a problem! This land was filled with people. People who were not Israelites. Pagans, idol worshipers, people and things that were not only opposite of Israel’s world view, but actively opposed to it. Moses wasn’t going to be there with them, and he wanted to remind them of who they are, where they have come from, and what they will need to remember to live in that land.
- It was also written to you and me. Remember what Paul said about this being examples for us. This Law of Moses was not just for people under that Law, but also for those of us under Grace – why else would Paul reference it when teaching?
- In what style was it written? It contains a number of styles, but it is primarily written in the style of historical narrative. So what does that mean? That means it should be approached and believed to be a literal history – documentation of sorts. These were actual people and places and events that took place. We know this because Jesus and the New Testament authors take them as fact, not figurative. The book breaks down into two parts, which we will be following. The first part, the one we are starting, is chapters 1 through 11. This is Pre-flood, or Primeval history. These chapters will carry us into January. Then we will spend the rest of the year in chapters 12-50, Post-flood, or the Patriarchal history. This division is affirmed by Peter in 2 Peter 3: 5-7 “For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” The earth that was then – pre-flood, and the earth that now is – post-flood.
- What is the central theme? Obviously this is a book about beginnings. Beginning of the world, of history, of sin, of redemption, of God’s Kingdom, of Israel. Patterns are established. We will see themes of beginnings and of Kingdom throughout. Most importantly, though, we will see Christ. If you were here for the kick-off last week, you heard Whitney refer to the serpent crusher. In Genesis we will read over and over as the blessing is passed down of the promise. Read with me in John 5:31-47. This is Jesus speaking,
“If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not deemed true. There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal live, and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?
3500 years ago, 1400-1500 years before Jesus was born, Moses was writing of the promise, of the serpent crusher on whom we can set our hope. These stories in Genesis are seemingly very simple stories on the surface that teach great moral truth. But, as we break them down this year, I hope you’ll get the sense of God’s intentionality from the very beginning in his desire to bring us back into relationship with him. My prayer for us this year is that God would be glorified by our faithful study of his word.