Genesis: A Story of Blessing
The following sermon series is a paper I submitted for Preaching and Teaching Genesis, taught by Prof. Glen Taylor this past year. The article is unchanged from the paper that was submitted. The thesis of the sermon series is that Genesis is primarily a book about blessing. Though there are many other themes contained within the book that can be explored, the theme of blessing is a central idea presented. The sermon series seeks to highlight various stories within Genesis and present the different ways that God provides blessing. Another chief focus of the sermon series is to account for all of the major characters and story arcs that weave through Genesis. – Neil
Genesis is a sweeping narrative of God’s grace and blessing. Wrapped up within the unfolding of God’s grace are stories of misbehaviour and misadventure. Very real human stories play out and interact with God’s will for all creation. This sermon series on Genesis seeks to highlight the blessings that are present within the text. However, nine sermons on God’s blessings might become stale and there is a good amount of human drama present within Genesis. Intermingled within the stories of blessing are also the stories of human frailty and failing. Humanity is constantly looking to establish right relationship with God, inevitably these attempts fail. It is only God who is able to establish a divine covenant and relationship with humanity. The stories of human failing demonstrate God’s grace.
- Three Blessings – Genesis 1:1 – 2:4
- The Apple Drops – Genesis 2:4 – 3:24 *
- A Bow in the Sky – Genesis 6: 1-8; 8:1 – 9:17
- Abram is Called – Genesis 12: 1-9
- A Question of Obedience: The Sacrifice of Isaac – Genesis 22: 1-19
- To Steal a Blessing – Genesis 27: 1-46
- Jacob Wrestled the Angel, and the Angel was Overcome – Genesis 32:1-32 *
- A Brother Sold, An Opportunity Lost – Genesis 37: 2-36 *
- Mortal and Divine Forgiveness – Genesis 48:1 – 50:21 *
* These sermons are described in greater detail.
Brief Sermon Synopsis
Blessings Three – Genesis 1:1-2:4
The creation story demonstrates God’s love for creation. It provides an orderly account for the creation of the universe. However, buried within the story are God’s initial blessings. In 1:22 God blesses the creatures of the sea and the sky, asking that they be fruitful and multiply. After the creation of humanity God also provides a blessing in 1:28, once again repeating the command to be fruitful and multiply. However, man is also given dominion over every living thing that lives on the Earth. In 2:3 God provides his final blessing. This is for the seventh day, it was set apart as God had completed the act of creation and rested. These three blessings form a theme that runs through Genesis, God is continually providing blessings and various characters are striving to receive a blessing. The sermon title suggests not only the theme of the sermon, but of the series as well. To consider Genesis through the lens of God’s divine blessing.
A Bow in the Sky – Genesis 6: 1-8; 8:1-9:17
The story of Noah begins with a story of humanity’s wickedness. The approach here is to look at the flood narrative as a whole. Why did God decide to flood the Earth? What behaviour got humanity in trouble? Are we still prone to behaviour that can separate us from God? The sermon moves towards God’s blessing of Noah and his sons as found in 9:1. Contained here is the same blessing that we find in Genesis 1:22; 28, the command to be fruitful and multiply. Found in the story of Noah is the first mention of God establishing a covenant relationship with humanity.
Abram is Called – Genesis 12: 1-9
Abram continues the theme of blessing. In 12:2 God informs Abram that he will bless him and make him a great name. However, with this blessing is a command to go out and leave all that Abram knew. A sojourn is begun, a walk of faith with God. Much of the story of Abram centers on Abram’s obedience to God and walking in faith. This sermon in the series will begin to look at the nature of this obedience and its consequences to Abram and to the modern hearer.
A Question of Obedience: The Sacrifice of Isaac – Genesis 22: 1-19
The command to sacrifice Isaac is a troubling account. It presents Abraham as an uncaring, almost robotic individual for a part of the narrative. Father and son walking towards the sacrificial altar, all the while having the father know or think that he will kill the son. The reader of this text knows that it is a test, but Abraham does not. This text forces the reader to examine questions of obedience amidst life’s most trying circumstances. It also draws attention to the true sacrifice; from a Christological perspective, the text points to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. It assures the reader that God will provide. However, this sermon will explore the theme of God’s providence amidst trying times, asking the question ‘will God provide a ram or an alternate sacrifice for me?’ Embedded within this text are issues of theodicy, how do we remain obedient to God in the face of an impossible task? With the theme of the sermon series being God’s Blessing, how is that blessing evident in the call to sacrifice Isaac?
To Steal a Blessing – Genesis 27: 1-46
Leave it to Jacob to trick and steal his brother’s birthright and blessing. This story focuses on Jacob’s successful attempt to have Isaac pronounce a blessing on him over Esau. It is a continuation of the blessing that God provides to Abraham and so it is significant. Of course the blessing comes with a cost and Jacob is forced to flee and finds himself living a life where he both deceives and is deceived. The thrust of the sermon is to show that Jacob’s desire for blessing, though he was used by God, comes from an innate desire to get ahead. It illustrates the broken nature of human relationships, but highlights the divine grace of God.
Outline of Four Sermons
The Apple Drops – Genesis 2:4-3:24
The story of Adam and Eve is well-known having been told countless times. The trick will be to put a new spin on an old tale. By focusing on the theme of blessing the sermon will be able to stay away from the usual topic of original sin. Instead the sermon can focus on the human drama playing out in the story and the divine grace and wisdom displayed by God.
Outline of Sermon
Introduction: The second sermon in the series appears to put a full stop towards the idea of blessing. On the surface the opposite of blessings appears to be occurring. Adam and Eve go against God and eat of the Tree of Good and Evil, God pronounces two curses and then they are cast out of the garden. If curses are the opposite of blessings, then things are not going well for the theme of the sermon series. However, closer inspection reveals that it is the serpent and the ground that are cursed. Adam and Eve, while subject to hardship, do not receive a curse from God. The sermon will focus less on the act of eating the fruit and more on the consequences of that action. The sermon will juxtapose the beginning and end of the narrative: Humanity living in the garden, humanity being expelled from the garden.
- In order to set the stage, the act of eating the fruit needs to be discussed. It does not need to be belaboured. The serpent demonstrates that it is shrewd, for it manipulates God’s command to Adam while it converses with Eve. Eve is convinced and eats the fruit sharing it with Adam. For his part Adam does not stop Eve or refuse the fruit, even though he knows he should. This is the Christological link, Adam is tested and fails. Jesus was also tested, but he prevailed. A link has been established, regarding the broken nature of humanity and the whole or complete nature of Christ. Where humanity falters, Chris is steadfast.
- The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden is a simple consequence. From the narrator’s point of view it is used to explain the present situation of the ancient hearer of this text. It provides an explanation about the brokenness of life. Or as Wenham writes, “Finally, when set against the affirmation of Genesis 1:31 that everything God made was very good, it seems likely that chapters 2-3 are explaining why the world fails to exhibit that perfection today.” This is the second Christological link, in 2 Corinthians 5:17 ‘So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.’ Reading Christ into the story allows the narrative to continue beyond Adam and Eve. It provides natural redemption, found in the grace of Christ. Yes, Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, their actions corrupting God’s good creation. However, in Christ all of that is wiped away and we are made whole.
- God does not directly curse Adam and Eve. Rather, God states that life will be difficult at times. God does not bless them either, beyond the blessing in Genesis 1:28. However, God does provide for Adam and Eve. In verse 21 ‘The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.’ So God does not leave Adam and Eve empty handed, a basic need of clothing is provided for. When we sin against God, we also have the assurance that not only are we forgiven in Christ but that God will still provide for us. We may not have things as they were, we cannot go back to the garden, but God is good and God does provide.
It is tempting to spend time while dealing with this passage talking specifically about the fall, the nature of sin or the origin of the serpent. However, each of these items distracts from the true purpose of the text and the sermon series. This is, an explanation of humanities present condition in the world and the affirmation that God provides for the needs of God’s creation.
Jacob Wrestled the Angel, and the Angel was Overcome
‘Jacob wrestled the angel, and the angel was overcome’ – U2, Bullet the Blue Sky
The story of Jacob wrestling on the banks of the Jabbock is one of the most bizarre stories in Genesis. On the surface it makes no sense. Why doesn’t Jacob cross the river with this family? Who is the man who appears out of thin air and why is a wrestling match necessary?
In order to maintain the intensity and suspense of the story the sermon will need to be framed within the context of a struggle. Intense and fast paced illustrations will assist in keeping the hearer on the edge of their seat. At its heart this is a story of perseverance, where a character typically viewed as a villain has a moment of triumph.
Outline of Sermon
Introduction: If Genesis is about blessing, then Jacob serves as chief protagonist who seeks out blessings. From birth to death, Jacob is intent on a struggle to obtain blessings. Yet, the encounter at Jabbock/Peniel stands out for its bizarre circumstances. It is on its face, seen through the eyes of Jacob, a rather frightening experience. Who is this man wrestling me, for what purpose? One thing is certain, it is a physical altercation as Jacobs injured leg attests.
- Read in its original context the story of Jacob is “For Israelites … an example of the wise person who knows how to act wisely in the presence of threatening power.” This understanding of Jacob is often contradictory to a typical Christian reading of Jacob. “Christian readers of this narrative are tempted to be in full sympathy with Esau and judgmental of Jacob for his manipulative lying words.” It is very easy to fall into this trap of seeing Jacob as the ‘bad guy’ and then turn that image into a sermon on how God uses people despite their personal attributes. However, care needs to be taken to respect the intentions of the author of Genesis. Nowhere in the Pentateuch is Jacob criticised for his actions. Even God is not troubled by the extremes that Jacob took to receive a blessing. If this is the case, then it is entirely unfair to criticize Jacob for his actions.
- How then is this text explored for a modern audience, who might take offence to Jacob’s actions? Many of which do seem immoral and self-centered? There is an element about Jacob that appears to be Machiavellian in nature. Greidanus writes that a sermon theme might be “To warn the church that God will not allow independent, self-sufficient people to enter his kingdom but only those who rely on God.” As support for this argument Greidanus looks to the words of Jesus found in Luke 13:24 “Strive to enter the narrow door.” Griedanus contends that it is not until Jacob prays to God in 32:9 that he begins to rely on God. Only then is he able to meet his brother. However, this does not address the wrestling match and why the author of Genesis included it in the narrative. If the theme of the passage were to be reliance on God, why does Jacob prevail at the wrestling contest?
- The theme then is not so much reliance on God as it is reliance on God and wrestling with the divine purpose for our lives. This struggle manifests itself in two ways:
- i. Part of the struggle of Jacob is an inner battle. While the wrestling match is a physical contest, in order to gain his blessing Jacob is confronted with a question. What is your name? In responding to this question honestly Jacob wrestles with his past of deception and dishonesty. In confessing his name, he discloses his character. This is where the reliance on God enters the narrative. To trust enough to confront your own past, not knowing whether God will accept you or not. Jacob makes this decision in a calculated effort to gain a blessing.
- ii. The second struggle is the one where Jacob wrestles with the angel/God, both physically and metaphorically. The physical contest certainly demonstrates that Jacob is an individual of some prowess. That he is able to hold on until dawn against a divine power demonstrates a tenacity of will and purpose. Holmgren notes that Jacob does not win the wrestling contest and it is Jacob who leaves limping. However, Jacob does not lose the wrestling match and does come out ahead with the blessing. The adversary here, whether angel or God, does not reveal himself, he maintains control. However, out of respect for Jacob’s ability he grants the blessing. The metaphorical battle is determining the purpose for our lives in light of God’s holy laws and purpose for us. Jacob is not afraid to question God’s purpose for our lives, to challenge it. The result is a change in name to Israel, and Jacob then becomes the father of a people.
- The story of Jacob’s blessing has the image of Jacob as a man reframed. Holmgren writes, “Jacob, in the eyes of the narrator of these stories, was a wise man; he was a survivor who preserved life for himself and for those who followed him … they [the Israelites] viewed Jacob as a model for wisdom and strength.” This makes Jacob less of a deceiver and more of a survivor. While the picture is not necessarily rosier it does provide a new perspective on Jacob. A Christological link to Jacob as a model of wisdom are the words of Jesus “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16).”
Holmgren sums it up best in the introduction to his article where he writes “The community of faith finds blessing for itself when it gives due weight to the Old Testament insight that nearness to God is found by those who, like Job and Jacob, assertively engage the Covenant Partner.” The theme of Genesis is blessing and the narrative of Jacob wrestling for a blessing seeks to have the hearer grapple with the question of how God has blessed their life and how they can move more fully into relationship with God.
This passage from Genesis is used in the movie ‘Here comes the boom!’ with Kevin James. Mixed Martial Arts fighters apparently take inspiration from Jacob’s wrestling match with the angel. How does this additional reading impact our understanding of Jacob’s struggle?
A Brother Sold, an Opportunity Lost
This sermon would best be served with an inductive method, beginning with a modern story or analogy surrounding the issue of bullying and its consequences. The sermon will weave in the elements of the Joseph narrative and come to rest on Reuben and his inaction. The sermon will inform itself and allow the hearer to come to their own determination about whether Reuben could have acted differently or not. The question will be left open, would Reuben doing more have changed the outcome of the story and should that matter?
Outline of Sermon
Introduction: The sale of Joseph by his brothers is one of the great tragedies of Genesis. It demonstrates the length that individuals will go to remove a nuisance and illustrates the hatred that can be displayed to another human being. However, the story also demonstrates how easy it is to stand by and allow events to unfold. Reuben attempts to do the right thing, however he is unwilling to go all in and commit. This results in Reuben’s efforts being thwarted. The questions asked by this sermon are: how do jealously and anger take root in our hearts? In the face of opposition, do we have the fortitude to speak up against injustice and oppression?
The Bullies are in Town
The decision by Joseph’s brothers to kill him is the first element of the sermon. Why did the brothers hate him so much, in Genesis 37:4-8 the text illustrates that the brothers stated they hated Joseph three times. This emphasis is no doubt a combination of two things: Jacob’s favouritism of Joseph and Joseph’s dreams. The combination of these two elements places Joseph on a higher pedestal than his brothers, which sows the seeds of resentment and hatred. The actions of the brothers shows a callous disregard for their fathers feelings. They clearly knew that Joseph was the favoured son. Jacob’s grief upon hearing the news of Joseph’s death and his refusal to stop mourning would be a constant reminder to the brothers of Jacob’s affections.
While the text informs the reader that something is clearly happening with Joseph, it is the actions of the brothers that are problematic. Their behaviour is little better than that of a school yard bully. The sermon will attempt to channel the emotions of hatred and injustice of the hearer. To form a parallel story to the text that relates to the issues of bullying and cyber-bullying that exist today. It will seek to remind the hearer of the devastation that can be wrought through these actions.
Reuben attempts to do the right thing. He convinces his brothers not to kill Joseph and instead to throw him into a pit. The text informs the reader that Reuben intended to come back later and rescue Joseph. However, Reuben seems to have wandered off and in that time the remaining brothers sell Joseph. While Reuben’s idea had merits, it still left the original problem unsolved for the brothers; what to do with Joseph? The story has Reuben attempting to exert his authority as the elder brother. While he might feel hatred towards Joseph, the text leaves this as an unknown lumping all the brothers together. Reuben seems to understand the consequences of killing Joseph and the effect it will have on Jacob. It is with these intentions that Reuben seeks to save Joseph.
Unfortunately, his actions are too little, too late. The remaining brothers have decided that Joseph is to be eliminated. While Reuben leaves the scene the brothers sell Joseph. Reuben’s reaction to Joseph being sold demonstrates his affection towards Joseph as he emulates a traditional posture of mourning.
- A key question to address in looking at this narrative about Joseph is where is God? During the entire sequence nothing is said or mentioned about God. Sidney Greidanus writes, “Where is God in this story? God is not mentioned even once. Yet God is not absent. Only God gives dreams that foretell the future … Joseph’s dreams of his brothers bowing down to him foretell God’s plan for his life, as the brother understood all too well.” Care will be needed not to explore the issue of God using the brother’s actions for good in too much detail as this subject is captured in the final sermon of the series. However, the issue of dreams and their representation will need some attention. This is best done while illustrating the motivation for the brother’s behaviour.
- There are no direct messianic undertones to this passage, neither are there any direct New Testament parallels. In order to reflect Christ into the sermon, it will be necessary to have the hearer reflect on how they might have behaved if they had been in Reuben’s place. Reuben allows Joseph to be cast into the pit. His inaction results in the fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams. Greidanus makes the connection between Joseph’s suffering in silence with the Suffering Servant of the Lord as described in Isaiah 53:7. ‘He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and a like a sheep that before it shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.’ Joseph suffering in silence prefigures the silent suffering of Jesus. Weaving this image into the narrative of the sermon while exploring Reuben’s actions will allow the hearer to make the connection between Joseph and Christ. The question will be left open, how does the hearer of the sermon respond when they see suffering and injustice? Do they see the face of Christ in the oppressed?
Mortal and Divine Forgiveness
Family reunions are always an enjoyable time. However, beneath the surface of jovial conversation there is always a hidden tension. The cousins who do not get along, the estranged uncle or the black sheep of the family always had an element of drama to the occasion. The concluding chapters in Genesis feature a similar cast of characters and the tension is wire tight. This tension requires attention. While the concluding theme of this sermon and of the series is on the divine blessing of God, blessing does not come without a cost. The road to the end of Genesis has been filled with twists, turns, and unforeseen bumps. All of these elements need to be teased out demonstrating a level of tension in the sermon as the series moves towards conclusion and the receipt of final blessing and forgiveness.
Outline of Sermon
Introduction: This is the end of Genesis and the grand finale of both Jacob and Joseph. Jacob pronounces his final blessing on his sons and it brings together the great theme of tension that has existed around Joseph and his brothers. Joseph’s final act of forgiveness foreshadows God’s great act of mercy in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. What humanity did for evil in killing Christ, God used for good and salvation. As a result through Joseph and Christ all families on earth receive God’s blessing.
- In Genesis 1 the first blessings are received. Here at the end is the final blessing, offered by Jacob to his sons before his death. The blessing that Jacob offers acts as a prophecy and establishes the twelve tribes of Israel. It closes the chapter on Jacob, perhaps one of the most colourful characters in Genesis. Jacob provides insight into a man who was deeply flawed, driven to receive blessings and ultimately used by God to complete the covenant established with Abraham. However, it is in the death of Jacob that the story is then able to turn to the reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers.
- With the death of Jacob, Joseph’s brothers fear that Joseph may seek revenge upon them for the way they treated him all those years ago. The brothers approach Joseph indicating that Jacob had asked him to forgive them. Now whether Jacob was ever aware of the brothers deception is in an unknown. The brothers seek to gain Joseph’s mercy on four levels:
- i. They seek to use an intermediary by sending instructions. The brothers are afraid of a direction confrontation with Joseph. Unsure of his motives they seek to leverage the memory of their father Jacob .
- ii. The brothers twice plead for forgiveness through the words of Jacob.
- iii. The words used to describe the brothers behaviour are: crime, sin and evil. According to Gordon Wenham these are three of the four principal terms in the Old Testament to describe a sin. Only iniquity is missing from the list. The use of these words underscores the significance and the perhaps the fear that the brothers felt. The admission of these crimes hints at a desire for forgiveness and a desire to repent.
- iv. Finally, the brothers appeal to Joseph to act like the God of Jacob. This appeal foreshadows the verses 19-20.
- Verses 19-21 are the key to the Joseph narrative. The message is that through sinful people God works out God’s saving purpose. As Von Rad writes, “The statement about the brothers’ evil plans and God’s good plans now opens up the inmost mystery of the Joseph story. It is in every respect, along with the similar passage in ch. 45: 5-7, the climax to the whole. Even where no man could imagine it, God had all the strings in his hand. But this guidance of God is only asserted; nothing more explicit is said about the way in which God incorporated man’s evil into his saving activity.” The author of Genesis is interested in the fulfillment made to the promise of Abraham, in the fulfillment of the patriarchs. The fulfillment of this promise is seen in Joseph’s forgiveness.
The sermon concludes with the assurance that despite being broken, humanity is still used for God’s purposes. That life was brought to the world through Joseph’s suffering. Joseph’s suffering points to continued messianic promises. First this is demonstrated in the line of David, however a further saviour is promised. Christ. Only through Jesus can humanity know true forgiveness as Joseph’s brothers sought and only in Christ is the final blessing received. Greidanus writes, “Today we are much like Joseph and the Israelites – waiting, waiting for God to come to us and fulfill his promise of land – to restore Paradise on earth.”
Comments on the Sermon
The outline above highlights the main themes of the text and illustrates the major themes of the sermon. The amount of scripture covered is large and could be broken into smaller more manageable segments. However, the object of the series is to demonstrate God’s blessing. With the story of Jacob and Joseph ending together it is preferred to keep them combined within the story. Demonstrating the line of succession from father to sons. However, the blessing Jacob provides is incomplete and unsatisfactory. Only by looking forward to the promise of Christ can the series end with the assurance of blessing and the promise of eternity.
While the sermon covers Genesis 48:1 – 50:21, this whole chunk of scripture may not be read. Rather a smaller section may be read, specifically 50: 15-21. This focuses solely on Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers. This provides a manageable segment of scripture for the hearer.
The sermon will flow from blessing, to seeking forgiveness, to the reception of pardon. In other words the form of the sermon will follow the course of the narrative. As the story demonstrates heights of tension and emotion, so too must the sermon demonstrate comparable moments. The sermon seeks to be a dialogue with the text, used to inform the hearer of God’s salvific plan.
Greidanus, Sidney. Preaching Christ from Genesis: Foundations for Expository Sermons. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007.
Holmgren, Fredrick Carlson. “Holding Your Own Against God : Genesis 32:22-32 (in the Context of Genesis 31-33).” Interpretation 44, no. 1 (January 1, 1990): 5–17.
Wenham, Gordon. Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 2, Genesis 16-50 556pp. Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Wenham, Gordon J. Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1: Genesis 1-15. Thomas Nelson, 1987.
 Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Genesis, 64.
 Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1, 73.
 Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Genesis, 84.
 Ibid., 66.
 Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1, 91.
 Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Genesis, 71.
 Ibid., 315.
 Holmgren, “Holding Your Own Against God : Genesis 32:22-32 (in the Context of Genesis 31-33),” 12.
 Ibid., 14.
 Ibid., 10.
 Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Genesis, 326.
 Ibid., 334.
 Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 2, Genesis 16-50 (wenham) 556pp, 296.
 Holmgren, “Holding Your Own Against God : Genesis 32:22-32 (in the Context of Genesis 31-33),” 11.
 Ibid., 13.
 Ibid., 5.
 Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 2, Genesis 16-50 (wenham) 556pp, 360.
 Ibid., 355.
 Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Genesis, 341.
 Ibid., 346.
 Ibid., 352.
 Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 2, Genesis 16-50 (wenham) 556pp, 490.
 Ibid., 493.
 Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Genesis, 472.