Conclusions from Genesis 1-11
In the opening chapters of the Bible, God creates the world and brings us forth to join him in further creativity. He creates us in his image to exercise dominion, to be fruitful and multiply, to receive his provision, to work in relationship with him and with other people, and to observe the limits of his creation. He equips us with resources, abilities, and communities to fulfill these tasks, and gives us the pattern of working toward them six days out of seven. He gives us the freedom to do these things out of love for him and his creation, which also gives us the freedom to not do the things for which he created us. To our lasting injury, the first human beings chose to violate God’s mandate, and people have continued to choose disobedience—to a greater or lesser degree—to the present day. As a result, our work has become less productive, more toilsome, and less satisfying, and our relationships and work are diminished and at times even destructive.
Nonetheless, God continues to call us to work, equipping us and providing for our needs. And many people have the opportunity to do good, creative, fulfilling work that provides for their needs and contributes to a thriving community. The Fall has made the work that began in the Garden of Eden more necessary, not less. Although Christians have sometimes misunderstood this, God did not respond to the Fall by withdrawing from the material world and confining his interests to the spiritual, nor is it possible to divorce the material and the spiritual anyway. Work, including the relationships that pervade it and the limits that bless it, remains God’s gift to us, even if it is severely marred by the conditions of existence after the Fall.
At the same time, God is always at work to redeem his creation from the effects of the Fall. Genesis 4-11 begins the story of how God's power is working to order and reorder the world and its inhabitants. God is sovereign over the created world and over every living creature, human and otherwise. He continues to tend to his own image in humanity. But he does not tolerate human efforts to "be like God" (Gen. 3:5) in order either to acquire excessive power or to substitute self-sufficiency for relationship with God. Those, like Noah, who receive work as a gift from God and do their best to work according to his direction, find blessing and fruitfulness in their work. Those, like the builders of the tower of Babel, who try to grasp power and success on their own terms, find violence and frustration, especially when their work turns toward harming others. Like all the characters in these chapters of Genesis, we face the choice of whether to work with God or in opposition to him. How the story of God’s work to redeem his creation will turn out is not told in the book of Genesis, but we know that it ultimately leads to the restoration of creation—including the work of God’s creatures—as God has intended from the beginning.
For Further Reading
Mark Biddle, Missing the Mark: Sin and Its Consequences in Biblical Theology (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2005).
Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (Atlanta: John Knox, 1982).
Victor Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990).
Walter Kaiser Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983).
Thomas Keiser, Genesis 1-11: Its Literary Coherence and Theological Message (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013).
John Mason, “Biblical Teaching and Assisting the Poor,” Interpretation 4, no.2 (1987).
John Mason and Kurt Schaefer, “The Bible, the State, and the Economy: A Framework for Analysis,” Christian Scholar’s Review 20, no. 1 (1990).
Kenneth Mathews, The New American Commentary: Vol. 1A Genesis 1-11.26 (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1996).
Gerhard von Rad, Genesis rev. edn. (London: SCM, 1972).
Bruce Vawter, On Genesis: A New Reading (New York: Doubleday, 1977).
John Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).
Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11 (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984).
Albert Wolters, Creation Regained (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).
Christopher Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004).