What Are Some Patterns and Themes in the Book of Genesis?

Moody Bible Commentary
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Genesis, by virtue not only of its place in the canon but also in the timeline of biblical and revelatory history, is filled with events and concepts that are intended both logically and theologically to be viewed as patterns, or paradigms. These paradigms are for understanding those same or similar events and concepts whenever they appear later on, both in Scripture as well as in history generally. In this vein Paul wrote that some of the experiences that befell Israel “happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction” (1Co 10:11). By studying the details of the biblical record, in other words, one can better understand the details and patterns of behavior, both positive and negative, divine and human, as seen time and time again in both biblical and post-biblical history, within Israel as well as within the church. The following are some of the significant patterns and concepts established in Genesis.


Blessing is the bestowal or experiencing of something favorable, whether material or immaterial. Considering the blessings at the outset of the two thematic sections of Genesis (e.g., in chaps. 1 and 12), readers can see that blessing has to do with the expansion of life. The expansion of spiritual life, however, was inhibited by Adam’s sin. Therefore, though all men possess a “living soul” (Gn 2:7), the full and “expanded” life of that soul is realized only when reconnected to the divine by grace through faith (Eph 2:8). Thus “blessing” is the expansion, that is, the full realization, of spiritual life that God intended when He established the path of man’s redemption in His initial expression of the Abrahamic promise— that in Abraham’s seed “all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gn 12:3; cf. 22:18; Gl 3:16-17.).


Genesis 3 not only tells of the past event of humanity’s first encounter with temptation, but it also gives a present paradigm by which to understand the process of temptation. Though the forms of temptation may change over time, the fundamental lure of every temptation remains the same—specifically, as delineated in Gn 3:6, the lure will be to improperly “satisfy” one or more of the following three “needs” fundamental to humanity: our physical need (“good for food”), our intellectual-emotional need (“pleasing to the eye”), and our spiritual need (“desirable for gaining wisdom”). These three “needs” or “categories” encompass all temptation in the world a person in any place or time will ever face. The apostle John affirmed this in 1Jn 2:16, and Jesus experienced victory over the same three categories of temptation (Lk 4:1-13).


The typical understanding of death as the “cessation” or “termination of life” contrasts with the overall biblical data on this topic. God told Adam that “in the day that you eat from it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you will surely die” (Gn 2:17). Of course when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they did not cease to live physically. The fundamental idea of death is not cessation, but separation. In death the soul is separated from the body, and for the unredeemed, from God.

God’s Paternal Mercy

God responded to the first sin not with anger but with gentle patience and loving mercy. Knowing what they had done, “the Lord God” entered into the garden, in the form of a man, “walking” among the trees (3:8). He asked gentle, leading questions intended to draw the first couple out of the dark seclusion prompted by their awareness of having sinned and into the light of confession to their Father. After they confessed, God chastised them and forgave them. This shows how He will respond to the sins of all those who are likewise His children.


After responding to the first sin with gentleness and merciful chastisement, God undertook a profound act of forgiveness which clearly set the pattern for the way in which all future sin is to be properly forgiven. In Gn 3:21, three indispensable elements of the atonement process (e.g., forgiveness conclusively realized on a divine level) are presented. (1) Atonement requires a blood sacrifice (cf. Heb 9:22: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”). (2) Providing the sacrifice is ultimately God’s work alone (the subject of both the verbs “made” and “clothed” is God alone). (3) God’s work of atonement, once achieved, is durable (e.g., permanent) as born out by the clear contrast between the fig leaves with which the couple attempted to cover their shame and the leather garments (animal skins) God applied. For more details on this, see the comments on 3:21.

Human Depravity

Gn 3:22–4:26 describes three consequences of the fall epitomizing characteristics of the overall human experience—both throughout the Bible as well as in human history generally, up to the present day. These three are (1) exile for disobedience (as would later happen to Israel for disobedience to the Torah (3:22-24), indicating communal depravity; (2) first-degree murder (4:1-18), expressing personal depravity; and (3) wrongful execution (4:19-26), signifying legal depravity.

God’s Grace in Election

In Gn 2, immediately after creating Adam, and before Adam did or said anything (hence underscoring the absence of merit), God proceeded to “set him at rest” (lit., v. 15), an expression that throughout the Bible denotes the granting of spiritual rest, through faith and God’s grace (cf. Ps 95:11; Heb 4:1-11). In Gn 12:1-3 God chose Abram to be both the recipient of personal blessing (material and spiritual) as well as the means through whom that same blessing will be extended to “all the families of the earth” (v. 3). Nothing that Abram did or said prior to God’s choosing him indicates he merited that choice.

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