Did you ever resolve to read the Bible from cover to cover—all sixty-six books?

You did? And how far did you get? Probably not as far as Revelation. The chances are you got lost in Leviticus, or chickened out in Chronicles, or became jaded in Job.

But I bet you managed Genesis OK. And that is not just because, since this is the first book, the wave of beginner’s enthusiasm carried you through. It is also because we are all kids at heart, and kids like picture books, and Genesis is a picture book.

Not literally, of course. Its pictures are word-pictures, but no less colourful for that. Even the book’s two main parts are graphic. The first part—chapters 1 to 11—portrays four major events, and an artist would have a field-day with any of them: God’s creation, the grim events in Eden, the Flood of Noah’s day, and the Tower of Babel. Part two—chapters 12 to 50—portrays four equally colourful characters: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

All the Genesis pictures have hidden depths. They are a bit like holograms: you look at them and think you have seen what is there, but then tilt the page only to see something different that was there all the time but not apparent at first glance. I have called this chapter Pictures of Salvation because when you ‘tilt the pages’ of Genesis you will enjoy glimpses of the New Testament, where God’s salvation is plain for all to see.

We will take a look at four such pictures, two from each section of the book.

1.  Creation

Let’s begin at the beginning, with the creation as recorded in the first chapter. God created the universe in six days. If you were to examine what bits he made on each day you would come up with a chart something like this:

1. 2 Corinthians 5:17. See also Ephesians 2:10 and Ephesians 4:23-24

2. See Ephesians 2:8-9

GENESIS

Pictures Of Salvation

 

This is one essay in the Windows On The Word series. Click the Next and Previous buttons to move through the series, and Up to go to the list. Footnotes appear in the right-hand column. Hover over Bible references to see the text.

 

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3. Philippians 2:13

4. Ephesians 2:10

5. Philippians 1:6

6. Genesis 3:7

7. Genesis 3:21

10. 1 Peter 2:24

Genesis

Day 1    v3-5    Light

Day 4    v14-19    The sun, moon & stars

Day 2    v6-8    The sea & the atmosphere

Day 5    v20-23    Sea creatures & birds

Day 3    v9-13    Dry land

Day 6    v24-31    Land creatures & man

Now look carefully at this chart. Can you spot any pattern in what God created and when? Any ‘shape’ to his creative programme?

Here’s a clue: look at the two items in each row. Do you see a connection between Day 1 and Day 4, between Day 2 and Day 5, and between Day 3 and Day 6?

Yes, once you see it, it’s obvious. On the first three days God created a basic environment, then on Days 4 to 6 he filled in the details. So on Day 2, for example, he made the sea and the atmosphere, then on Day 5 he made the sea creatures to populate the sea and the birds to fly in the air. Check out the other pairs and you’ll see that the pattern is the same.

Now tilt the page a little and a New Testament truth comes into view—to do with another creation. Paul says, ‘If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come’.[1] You become a Christian the way the universe came into being: through a creative act of God. And the two-stage pattern of the first creation applies also to the new one: first God makes the basic environment, then he fills in the details.

If you are a Christian this is what is going on in you. God first gave you a new status: he declared you righteous. In God’s legal record-book you are now down as ‘acquitted’ and no longer as ‘guilty’. This isn’t something you earned by your performance, because salvation is ‘not by works’.[2] Only Jesus was truly righteous, and it is his righteousness that God has credited to your account. God will accept you at Judgment Day, not because of the good deeds you have notched up, but because Jesus was righteous and because you, through faith, are joined to him. Wonderful!

So that’s your legal status fixed, your spiritual environment created. Now comes the filling in of the details. These are the details of everyday godliness that show up as God forms your character, and this stage takes time. The first stage of your new creation was an act of God’s grace, the second is a process. In that process you work with the Holy Spirit to become righteous in practice, gradually bringing your everyday experience into line with your righteous status. As Paul puts it: ‘It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.’[3]

This second part is a long job—a lifelong job, in fact. Do you sometimes think, ‘If I was truly saved I wouldn’t still be battling with this temptation’? Or, ‘I wonder if I really am a Christian, because I don’t seem to be any more godly now than I was a year ago’? Most of us think that way sometimes, and it can be discouraging. But don’t despair! Just remember that there are two stages to the new creation, just as there were to the original one, and that the second stage is a process, not an act.

So don’t give up. Press on in your Christian walk. God the Creator is still working on you. When the New Testament says, ‘We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works’,[4] ‘are’ is present tense. In other words, God hasn’t finished with you yet. Column Two of the chart is still in progress.

One day, however, God will finish the job, just as he finished the Genesis creation: ‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’.[5] And he will declare then, as he did when the universe was finished: ‘Very good!’

2.  Garments of skin

Our second ‘picture of salvation’ comes from Eden. It concerns Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God’s command and so fell into sin.

Straight away they knew they were naked. Instinctively aware that this was shameful, ‘they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.’[6] Not the most durable of garments—which is why, in spite of their sin, God in his grace stepped in to fix the situation: ‘The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.’[7]

Tilting the page here reveals some colourful New Testament truths about the way people are today. ‘All have sinned,’ says the New Testament.[8] And Adam’s descendants, having sinned, do exactly what Adam and Eve did: they realise the mess they are in and try to fix it themselves. To cover their shame they assemble ‘fig leaves’—things like donating to cancer research, giving a day a month to help at the local youth club, or seeing a blind person across a busy street.

Nothing wrong with any of that, of course. Fig leaves are fine in themselves; it’s just that they make useless garments. Good deeds are fine, too, but they are useless for covering our moral nakedness. It will take more than this to make us acceptable to God. And here’s where God himself steps in, as he did for our first parents. In their case he provided garments of skin, which tells us three things. There was an innocent victim—the hapless animal that provided the skin. There was a substitute—Adam and Eve were the ones who deserved to die because of their sins, but this animal died instead. And there was shedding of blood—for the skin garments to be theirs the animal had to die.

What a picture of salvation we have here! The innocent victim is Jesus, who ‘committed no sin’.[9] On the cross he became our substitute: ‘he himself bore our sins in his body on the cross’.[10] And to cover our sin he had to die: ‘the blood of Jesus…purifies us from all sin.’[11]

As Christians we are well clothed, but at what an enormous cost! ‘Garments of skin’ don’t come cheap.

3.  Abraham sacrifices Isaac

God tests us all. He does it to keep us on track and to shape our character. Some of the tests may be stiff, but none as stiff as the one God put Abraham through.

Genesis chapter 22 tells the story. Abraham and his wife Sarah had been childless, but in their old age God had at last given them a son, Isaac. What doting parents they must have been! Here at last was their very own boy, through whom God’s promise of many descendants would be fulfilled.

Imagine, then, how the old couple must have felt when God said to Abraham, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.’[12] It seemed crazy, a contradiction of all that had gone before.

The page is already beginning to tilt. ‘Your son, your only son, whom you love’ offers a glimpse of the New Testament truth that Jesus was God the Father’s ‘one and only Son’.[13] What’s more, God ‘did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.’[14]

But let’s return to the story. Abraham obeyed God. He and Isaac set off with some servants and a donkey. When Mount Moriah came into view Abraham told the men to stay with the donkey while he and the boy went on to the place of sacrifice. Then he added these remarkable words: ‘We will worship and then we will come back to you.’[15] What did the old man mean? Did he intend to opt out of this understandably stiff test? Maybe he planned to go through with killing Isaac and was just lying to avoid alarming the servants? Or did he really believe he would kill him and still somehow bring him back alive?

The New Testament gives the answer: ‘By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.’[16]

So that was it! Abraham did intend to go through with killing Isaac, trusting God to restore him to life so that the two of them could go home with the servants! And go home together they did! God intervened as the old man was about to plunge the knife into his son. The deed had been all but done, with Isaac as good as dead, but he escaped the knife by a whisker and lived to tell the tale.

Here we note that every Old Testament picture falls short of the salvation-truth it portrays. This one is no exception, for there was no last-minute reprieve for God’s one and only Son as there was for Abraham’s boy. Jesus really died. A Roman soldier’s spear pierced his crucified body to make sure of it. But death couldn’t pin Jesus down, and on the third day he rose victorious from the tomb! God the Father ‘received him back from death’.

But let’s run the video-tape back a bit to where the old man and Isaac were climbing Mount Moriah. Isaac must gradually have realised what was in store for him as he climbed at his father’s side. He had been on sacrifice-trips before and knew the routine, so he had some questions. He noticed that they had wood and a fire-pot for lighting it but no sacrificial animal—no lamb. When he raised this, Abraham replied, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.’[17] And God did. He who had miraculously provided a son for this aged couple in the first place was now asking them to give him up. Isaac himself was the ‘lamb’ of God’s provision.

In this picture Isaac represents Jesus, ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’[18] Though himself God, he also came as the provision of God the Father. In Jesus, God wonderfully ‘provided for himself a lamb’ in every sense.

But let’s not forget that Calvary was a joint enterprise. Twice Genesis notes of Abraham and Isaac that, en route to the place of sacrifice, ‘the two of them went on together’.[19] I’m sure this implies more than just travelling together. Have you ever thought how old man Abraham managed to tie up his fit young son and get him onto the altar? Isaac could easily have got away. The only reasonable way to explain his ending up bound on the altar is that he grasped the situation and somehow co-operated in the act—which thus became an act of partnership in sacrifice.

Certainly that is true of the divine Father and Son whom Abraham and Isaac portray. We must never think that God the Father foisted Calvary onto an unwilling Jesus, or somehow tricked him into it. No, Jesus himself said, ‘The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No-one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.’[20] Calvary was a ‘together’ thing between Father and Son.

Now one last aspect of the story. Isaac escaped death because the angel who at the last moment held back Abraham’s knife-hand then turned the old man’s attention to a ram caught by its horns in a nearby bush. Releasing Isaac, the old man ‘took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.’[21]

We need to look hard at the hologram here because some of the actors in the drama swap roles at this point. Up to now, Abraham has played the part of God the Father and Isaac that of our Lord Jesus. Now a third character, the ram, comes onstage, so who does that represent? Clearly the ram must be Jesus, who dies on the altar of sacrifice ‘instead of’ us. So if  Jesus is now pictured by the ram, and no longer by Isaac, who does Isaac now represent?

Isaac now becomes you and me! Like him we escape death because Jesus, God’s Lamb—or Ram—has died as our substitute! What a marvellous picture of salvation!

4.  Joseph: saviour of the world

Some of the best pictures in Genesis appear in the story of Joseph. You might think it a bit over the top to call him ‘saviour of the world’, but that very phrase is, I’m sure, already tilting the page and highlighting someone who fits that description more completely.

If you are a bit rusty on the story of Joseph read Genesis chapters 37 to 50. Thirteen chapters might seem a lot to read, but it’s gripping stuff, and we can summarise it as follows.

Joseph was the eleventh of Jacob’s twelve sons, and his favourite. Jacob, seeing in him qualities that made him the best candidate to be his heir, gave him the ‘coat of many colours’ as a sign that this was indeed to be his destiny. His older brothers were jealous and, to get him out of their lives, sold him into slavery in far-away Egypt. In that foreign land Joseph worked hard to improve his lot, ending up in charge of the household of Potiphar, a high-ranking officer in the Egyptian army.

Potiphar’s military duties took him away from home a lot and, in his absence, his wife tried to seduce Joseph. When he refused she turned spiteful and told Potiphar he had tried to rape her. So Joseph ended up as an innocent in prison. There God enabled him to interpret the dreams of two fellow-prisoners, both employees of Pharaoh. One of these got back his job at the palace and later, when Pharaoh himself had a puzzling dream, mentioned to him the young Israelite whose interpretation of his own dream had proved so accurate.

Thus it was that Joseph came straight from the prison into the presence of the mighty Pharaoh. He described his dream perfectly and went on to explain what it meant: their part of the world would enjoy seven years of bumper harvests followed by seven years of famine. Not stopping there, Joseph went on to offer some unsolicited advice: that Pharaoh appoint a manager to oversee grain-storage during the seven fruitful years so that supplies would be plentiful when the famine came.

Impressed with the young man, Pharaoh appointed Joseph himself to that position, making him Number Two in the land. Joseph rose to the challenge, made a good job of the grain-storage programme and went on to oversee food distribution during the famine. Because Egypt was the only source of food as supplies dwindled elsewhere, the whole Middle Eastern world came to buy from Joseph. Among those who came were Joseph’s brothers, and in time he made himself known to them. Eventually his aged father Jacob and the whole family moved down to Egypt, and the family was thus reunited.

Quite a tale, and I imagine you have already spotted some parallels between Joseph and Jesus.

At the start of the story Joseph is the object of his father’s love and the one through whom Jacob intends to put his long-term plans for the family into operation. It doesn’t take much page-tilting here to see Jesus as the Father’s beloved Son who will bring the Father’s plans to fruition: ‘The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.’[22] Yes, the Father has big plans for Jesus. His aim is ‘to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.’[23]

Before Joseph reached the heights, however, he was rejected by his brothers and became a suffering servant in Potiphar’s house, in spite of his total integrity. How exactly like Jesus, who took ‘the very nature of a servant’[24] and who ‘came to his own, and those who were his own did not receive him.’[25] Instead, ‘he was despised and rejected by others.’[26]

But Joseph’s situation changed in an instant when, straight from prison, he came to stand before Pharaoh and received a position of splendour and authority. From there Joseph provided food to satisfy the hunger of the whole known world. How exactly like Jesus, who burst out of the prison of death to ascend to the Father’s right hand and receive ‘all authority’.[27] He is the one who now ‘gives life to the world’ by offering to all the ultimate ‘bread of God’, which is his very self.[28]

Many more pictures of salvation fill this wonderful book of Genesis. We could pore over Abel’s acceptable sacrifice, over Noah’s ark and many more. But I hope the ones we have looked at will whet your appetite for more. One thing is already becoming clear: the Bible is all about Jesus. In picture-form he is right there in Genesis, the book that sets the tone for the rest of Scripture.

Bet you can’t wait to get into Exodus!

Copyright © David Matthew 2009

 

8. Romans 3:23

9. 1 Peter 2:22

11. 1 John 1:7

12. Genesis 22:2

13. E.g. John 3:16

14. Romans 8:32

15. Genesis 22:4

16. Hebrews 11:17-19

17. Genesis 22:8

18. John 1:29

19. Genesis 22:6, 8

20. John 10:17-18

21. Genesis 22:13

22. John 3:35

23. Ephesians 1:10

24. Philippians 2:7

25. John 1:11 NASB

26. Isaiah 53:3

27. Matthew 28:18; see also Philippians 2:9-10

28. See John 6:33-35

The gist of this article

Centuries before the New Testament era and the first coming of Christ, the book of Genesis painted vivid word-pictures of the work of Jesus, the wonders of salvation and the nature of the Christian life. We look at four of these pictures.