God is both engineer and artist, left-brained and right-brained, and His Word to us reflects both aspects of His character. He opens the Bible in the classic form of the best of authors. All is well and beautiful in His perfect, new creation. But evil quickly enters the scene, as the enemy of all enemies deals a devastating blow against mankind. Yet, in the midst of the devastating fallout of Adam and Eve’s sin, God gives the first premonition of coming rescue.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.
And so the gospel in Genesis begins. God said to Satan in essence, “You will have enmity or warfare with One born of woman. You will wound Him, but He will destroy you.” God then killed an animal for the first time, covering Adam and Eve’s nakedness. In that moment, we first see the Scarlet Thread, that poetic trickle of blood running throughout Scripture that points to Jesus’ death on the cross. The Old Testament is not a series of moral lessons and weird stories to be filed away in separate folders in a filing cabinet. Instead, it is the connected, coherent story of God’s redemption of His children through Jesus’ sacrifice, which blooms into its fullness in the New Testament. As we follow the Scarlet Thread throughout Genesis (and eventually in this series into the Law, through the Psalms, and then the Prophets), we too are prepared to recognize Jesus when He emerges in person in the Gospels as Simeon and Anna did in Luke 2.
After killing an animal to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness, blood next pores in Genesis as Cain kills Abel in a jealous rage. The story of Abel’s death may seem relatively unimportant, a moral lesson to be filed away, but later in Hebrews, we learn that Abel’s blood speaks something specific to us about God’s plan to save His children. Abel joins hands in the long line of characters in Scripture ultimately pointing to Jesus.
Hebrews 11:4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.
Abel died walking forward in his faith, obedient to God. His blood was shed in faith, and his story is in the Bible to communicate something to us about faith … and blood … and death. Yet Hebrews also teaches that Abel’s story is an imperfect allusion to Jesus’ better sacrifice.
Hebrews 12:24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
The Bible is the best commentary on itself. When we let the Bible explain the Bible, we learn from Hebrews that these first moments of humanity in Genesis are already giving us hints toward what Jesus will come to do once and for all on the cross.
After giving us small glimpses in the opening chapters of Genesis to His big plan for redemption, God moves the narrative to an entirely different level with the story of Abraham. Abraham isn’t an allusion to what God is going to do. Abraham is where God actually starts doing it. Abraham first shows up in Genesis 11, and his story continues through Genesis 25. Hear how the Apostle Paul describes Abraham’s story:
Galatians 3:6-8 Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham “All nations will be blessed through you.”
When did God first announce the gospel in advance to Abraham? Paul is referring to a long interaction between God and Abraham in Genesis 12-17.
Genesis 12:1-3 The LORD had said to Abram, … “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. … all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Genesis 15:5-18 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars-if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the LORD , and he credited it to him as righteousness. He also said to him, “I am the LORD , who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD , how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. … When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates…”
This covenant in Genesis 15 feels foreign to most 21st century believers. But such a blood covenant was familiar to the people at the time – a symbolic contract between two parties to seal a relationship. The unique thing about this particular covenant is, though God tasks Abraham with assembling the parts of the ceremony, the ceremony itself had only one active participant, God Himself. Abraham was asleep the entire time. God made a covenant with him, and Abraham never spoke a word. A smoking firepot and blazing torch passed between the bloody sacrifice, both symbolic pictures indicating God’s presence, not Abraham’s.
It may not be until God gives us the story of Hosea and Gomer much later in the Old Testament that we start to fully realize just what God was communicating in Genesis 15. God instructs Hosea, as a picture of God’s love for His people, to take a bride who runs from him and ends up in slavery. Hosea redeems her from her slavery despite her betrayal of him, setting her back up in his household, not as a slave, but as his honored wife. Though the bride is faithless, even running away from her commitment to her Groom, God still pursues her. Gomer wasn’t saved from her slavery because of her reciprocal faithfulness to Hosea, but because of Hosea’s unconditional favor on her alone. Likewise, God took both sides of the covenant with Abraham, His and His children’s, and has never given up on either. In His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15, God first demonstrates this persevering Scriptural truth. He takes both sides of the covenant, and we know that this covenant will be fulfilled, for it doesn’t depend on Abraham’s faithfulness, but on God’s.
2 Tim. 2:13 If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.
At this point, there is very little written Word of God, and Abraham is learning of God’s plan through conversation with God. God did not dump onto Abraham a 2000 page treatise of systematic theology. Instead, God slowly unfurled His plan for redemption, one step at a time. In Genesis 12-17, God gives us just the bud of this flower of redemption. We know God is doing something special through Abraham that will eventually bless all nations (Gen. 12:3), and we know He’s going to do it through Abraham’s descendants (Gen. 17:16, 19). Beyond that, we aren’t sure what this flower will look like when it has fully bloomed. The climax of God’s story doesn’t take clear shape until Jesus rises from the dead. Then, suddenly, much that was written before makes sense. After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the apostles under the inspiration of the Spirit put the final touches on this Story, and we finally clearly recognize that the bud given in Genesis 12-17 is indeed what we now call GOSPEL or good news.
Galatians 3 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.”… 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
After making this covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12-17, the next twenty chapters focus on Abraham’s son Isaac and his sons, Jacob and Esau. The progression of the story slows down in Genesis 37-50 to focus on one of Jacob’s younger sons, Joseph.
Joseph was sold into slavery by his older brothers and ended up in Egypt. There, God maneuvered circumstances so that Joseph became second in command of Egypt, moved by God through a dream to prepare the area for a severe famine. At the height of the famine, Joseph’s struggling family, including his father Jacob, his brothers, and their wives and children (who would eventually become the nation of Israel), was close to being wiped out by starvation. His brothers showed up in Egypt desperate for food, which Joseph provided for them along with respite and safety.
Joseph recognized the profound meaning of that moment that he was able to save his family from being wiped out by famine. He said to his brothers,
Gen. 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
God sent Joseph to Egypt to prepare a way for his family to be preserved. The winding story of the tiny family of Abraham that grows to great strength and influence is full of moments like this. Again and again, God steps in to preserve these people that He says will ultimately one day be used to bless all nations, through whom Jesus ultimately comes.
The Scarlet Thread began with an allusion to Satan’s defeat and the first sacrifice of animals. It continued through Abel’s death and the blood sacrifice at the covenant between God and Abraham. The Scarlet Thread of blood sacrifice and the familial thread of the sons of Abraham are major themes in Genesis pointing to the good news of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham, the final blood sacrifice for the sins of the world.
By Wendy Alsup
Recommended Resource: The Promised One: Seeing Jesus in Genesis by Nancy Guthrie