Rightly Dividing

Framing a Generation

There may be no better book in the Bible to confront our culture’s current issues than the book of Genesis. Our generation’s confusion about the roles of men and women is precarious, as is our understanding of marriage and family. We are a people thirsty for identity and purpose, yet our generation may be the emptiest ever. We are distressed about the condition of our planet, afraid we’ll wreck it or nuke it and deplete all our natural resources, so we campaign to save the whales and save the planet by thinking green. We argue about men descending from monkeys while simultaneously trying to build up their self-esteem. Personal and national standards of morality are weak, if existent at all. We are uncertain and unhopeful about the future, or simply unthinking and apathetic towards it.

We are disconnected. We are disconnected from each other. We are disengaged from dreams and drive and determination. We are dissociated from history and heritage. Most of all, we’re disconnected from God. So we are isolated and aimless. We have little, if any, structure of conviction to stabilize us. We are a wandering, wicked, formless generation disconnected from any story.

We need Genesis. In the book of Genesis, Moses tells the story of creation, of life, of humanity, and of God’s people. He doesn’t simply report the historical facts, he frames our entire way of looking at the world. Moses records the story of our ancestors, their relationships and their experiences, their triumphs and their defeats, their strengths and their defects, their rebellion and God’s faithfulness. More than that, he reveals the beginning of God’s eternal story of redemption through generations.

To tell this story, Moses built the book of Genesis on a pronounced literary structure. After a prologue/introduction in 1:1-2:3, the first seven days of creation, Moses weaves together 10 sections, all starting with the heading “These are the generations of X.”

The key word is “generations.” It is the Hebrew word toledot (‏תּוֹלֵדוֹת). The word refers to that which is born or produced, in other words, the historical result. Half of the generation formulas in Genesis initiate a genealogy, a simple list of descendants owing their origin to the head figure (5:1; 10:1; 11:10; 25:12; 36:1). Those family trees establish historical context and credibility.

The other half of generation formulas, however, introduce more than lineage, they launch into “the story of X.” For example, “this is the story of” creation (2:4), the flood (6:9), Abraham’s life (11:27), Jacob’s life (25:19), and Joseph’s life (37:2). Moses uses this phrase to frame the narratives of Genesis.

The illustration of framing is probably obvious to most of us. When we frame a picture or painting, we mount the painting with borders that protect and typically accentuate it. When we frame a house, we shape the footprint and the floor-plan and create structural stability. In a figurative sense, we frame an argument or debate by directing attention on a particular issue and constructing boundaries so the participants know what is out of bounds.

So Moses framed the broad outline (the Roman numerals) of Genesis by generations. But through the story of ancient generations, he also builds the framework our generation needs for interpreting our observations and experiences, for responding to moral questions and hot button topics, and for what it means to live in relationship with fellow creatures and with our Creator.

This is why we need to study Genesis. In the book of Genesis, God–through Moses–builds and defines and supports and sets in place exactly some of the most necessary truths for framing any generation, including our own. Genesis gives six studs that frame our beliefs.

  1. Genesis frames our beliefs about HUMANITY.
  2. Genesis frames our beliefs about FAMILY.
  3. Genesis frames our beliefs about SOCIETY.
  4. Genesis frames our beliefs about HISTORY.
  5. Genesis frames our beliefs about MORALITY.
  6. Genesis frames our beliefs about THEOLOGY.

One of the words thrown around during any study of Genesis is “worldview.” Genesis frames and defines our perspective and way of thinking about life on earth.

By framing our beliefs about humanity, family, society, history, morality, and theology, we learn who we are and what we’re to do, we learn where and when we do it, and how and why we do it.

What we think about elections and laws, our convictions about abortion, our attitude toward modesty (and clothing, it’s origin and purpose), our perspective on calling and vocation, our appreciation of marriage and family and kids, our approach toward art and culture, our position on the environment and global warming and tree-hugging, our outlook on the past and hope for the future, and our attitude toward science, are all framed by how we understand Genesis.

Moses framed Genesis by telling God’s story in generations to define and support his generation of God’s people. Genesis does the same for our generation, and frames our worldview and God-view. Genesis has divine, inerrant answers for every current cultural debate and international conflict. May God increase the convictions and confidence of His people in this generation, building them up and framing their beliefs according to His story in Genesis.