God’s Covenant Plan, Lesson 1.4

God’s Covenant Plan

Lesson One: How a Catholic Starts to Read the Bible

Lesson Objectives

  1. To learn how to read the Bible the way the Catholic Church has always read it.
  2. To understand the concepts of “salvation history” and “covenant” and their importance for reading the Bible.
  3. To learn the key points of the creation story in the Bible’s first book, Genesis.

IV. Starting in the Beginning: An Introduction to Genesis

A. The Story of Creation

We’re ready now to start reading the Bible! We’re going to start at the beginnings, with Genesis, Chapter 1.

The best way to begin is by reading Genesis, Chapter 1, right now. Then you’ll be ready to read what follows.

Too often people read the story of creation in terms of a religion vs. science debate. Yet, that imposes our historical situation on the text and misses the literary clues that explain to us the "religious" meaning the story had for ancient Israel, and the religious meaning that God intends for us in the 21st century.

Genesis 1:1 tells us that in the beginning the world was "formless and empty." The plot proceeds by showing us how God sets out to fix this - first, by giving the world form and then filling it.

In Days 1-3, God creates the "form" or the "realms" of the world - the day and the night; the sky and the sea; the land and the vegetation.

In Days 4-6, God fills these realms with "rulers" or "governors" - the sun, moon & stars (which "rule over the day and over the night"; verses 14-19); the birds and the fish to fill the sky and the seas; and man and beast, which rule the land.

There’s a perfect order to all this. First God creates the "structure" of the world, then He fills that structure with living beings. It’s like He’s making a house and then putting inhabitants into it. And the individual days match up, too.

On Day 1, God creates day and night. On Day 4, He creates the "rulers" for the realms of day and night - the sun the moon and the stars.

On Day 2, He makes the sky and the sea. On Day 5, the sky and the sea are given their "governors," the fish and birds.

On Day 3, the land and the vegetation are created. And on Day 6, animals and the first humans are given dominion, rule over that land.

After each day of creation, God sees that His work is "good." After the six "work days" are through, God sees that His work is "very good." The word "very" is used to mark the end of the creation cycle, since God had finished creating the realms and the rulers.

B. The Word and the Sabbath

Something also to note, as we read these first few verses of the Bible. How does God create? By speaking His Word. He says "Let there be…" and things come into being. We know by reading the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, that the Word of God by which He created the world is Jesus (see John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16-17).

That’s something to remember - not only when you read the rest of the Bible, but everytime you go to Mass, too. God’s Word always does things. God’s Word does what it says it’s doing. When He says, "Let there be light," His Word creates light, really and truly. God’s Word does what it says it’s doing.

This same power of the living Word of God is at work in the sacraments of the Church. When the priest speaks the Word of Jesus: "This is My Body," the bread and wine at the altar become the Body and Blood of Christ. When the priest speaks the Word of Jesus: "I absolve you" or "I baptize you," that Word creates the reality it speaks about.

The creative power of the Word of God is one of the most important things to learn from these early verses of Genesis.

One more interesting thing to point out. We may have a hint of the Church’s doctrine of the Trinity in these early verses of Genesis.

Notice that we have three divine actors here - there is God, there is the Word that He speaks, and there is the Spirit that’s describe hovering over the face of the deep (seeGenesis 1:2). Note that the New American Bible translates this "a mighty wind." But it’s more accurately translated in the Revised Standard Version: "The Spirit of God," which follows the Vulgate, the Church’s official Latin edition ("spiritus Dei) and the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament ("pneuma Theos").

Notice, too, that God appears to be talking to Himself in the plural: "Let Us make man inOur image, after Our likeness" (Genesis 1:26-27). Why didn’t God say, "Let Me make man in My image, etc."?

We don’t know. Scholars and saints have puzzled over this for years. We mention it here because it may be our first hint of what Jesus will later reveal - that God is three divine Persons in One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (see Matthew 28:19).

On the seventh day, God rests and blesses His creation. Now we’re into the next chapter of Genesis (see Genesis 2:2-3). It’s not that God got tired. We should see this cosmic rest and blessing as the first of the cycle of covenants that we will see throughout the Bible.

God, by His act of establishing the Sabbath, is making a covenant with His creation, and especially with all of humanity, represented by the man He created in His own image. That seems to be what Jesus is getting at when He says: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27-28).

It makes sense, when you think about it: God doesn’t create the world for no reason - to be detached or somehow unrelated to Him. He creates the world, and the human family out of love. The Sabbath is the sign of that covenant and that love.

God explains this later when He gives Moses the Sabbath laws for the people of Israel. He says the Sabbath is "a perpetual covenant" (see Exodus 31:16-17). That’s why theCatechism calls the creation story the "first step" in God’s covenant-making and "the first and universal witness to God’s all-powerful love" (no. 288).

Also, the Hebrew word for "oath-swearing" is sheba, a word that’s based on the Hebrew word for the number "seven." In Hebrew, to swear an oath, which is what you do when you make a covenant, is "to seven oneself" (see Abraham’s oath in Genesis 21:27-32).

So, what God seems to be doing here on the seventh day, is not resting, but binding Himself to His creation in a perpetual covenant relationship. And we’ll see this pattern of covenant continuing throughout the Bible.

By reading the creation story according to the "content and unity" of the entire Bible, we see something else that’s important about the story of creation.

We see that the creation account is describing God’s creation of the world as the building of a temple, a holy place where God will dwell and meet His creatures. Like the Temple He later ordered to be built in Jerusalem, the "temple" of creation is a holy place where He will dwell and where men and women will worship and offer sacrifice.

We see this in the Book of Job, Chapter 38, where the creation of the world is described in terms of temple building.

In fact, if we compare the creation account with the accounts of the building of the tabernacle and the Temple, we’ll see that both of these holy dwellings are described in terms very similar to those used to describe the creation of the world.

For instance, when Moses constructs the tabernacle, God speaks to Him 10 times ("The Lord said to Moses"). It’s no coincidence that God spoke 10 times in Genesis 1 ("Let there be…"). And there are more parallels:

God beholds that His creation is good (Genesis 1:31). Moses beholds that his work has been done as the Lord commanded (Exodus 39:43). Compare also Genesis 2:1 and Exodus 39:32 and Genesis 2:2 and Exodus 40:33.

Also: God blesses and hallows the Sabbath when He is done and Moses blesses the tabernacle (Genesis 2:3; Exodus 39:43; 40:9). Finally, both accounts end with a declaration that the Sabbath is holy (Genesis 2:2-4; Exodus 31:12-17).

You’ll see the same patterns in 1 Kings 6-8 which describes the building of the Temple. King Solomon consecrates the Temple in the seventh month, on the seventh day of a seven-day feast, offering seven petitions - another not-so-subtle allusion to the creation story.

As the Spirit "hovered" over the primordial waters, the Spirit of God fills Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:10), as it also did when Moses consecrated the meeting tent (see Exodus 40:35).

In the Temple, it was the "sanctuary," the "holy of holies" that was truly the dwelling place of God, the holiest of places.

And in the creation account in Genesis, the Garden of Eden, where God placed the man and the woman, is described in terms similar to those used to describe the inner precincts of the Temple.

The Garden was entered from the East, as was the Temple sanctuary. The cherubim posted by God at the entrance of the garden resemble those posted in the sanctuary of Solomon’s temple (see Genesis 3:24; Exodus 25:18-22, 26-31; I Kings 6:23-29).

God "walks" in the garden (Genesis 3:8) as He is said to dwell in the Temple sanctuary (see Leviticus 26:11-12; Deuteronomy 14:23; 2 Samuel 7:6-7).

We’ll see more parallels in our next lesson as we look more in-depth at the creation of man and woman and their "fall."

Continue to Section 5

Other Lessons

  • Lesson Two: Creation, Fall and Promise
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read Genesis 1-3 with understanding.
    2. To learn God’s “original intent” in creating man and woman.
    3. To understand the sin of Adam and Eve and understand God’s promise of a New Adam and a New Eve.

    Begin Lesson Two

  • Lesson Three: East of Eden, Headed to Egypt
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read Genesis 3-50 with understanding.
    2. To understand God’s covenants with Noah and with Abraham and to see how these covenants look forward to, and are fulfilled in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
    3. To appreciate the key figures in the story of Abraham - Melchizedek, circumcision, the sacrifice of Isaac - as they are interpreted in the Church’s tradition.

    Begin Lesson Three

  • Lesson Four: On the Way to the Promised Land
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy with understanding.
    2. To understand God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai and to see how this covenant looks forward to and is fulfilled in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
    3. To appreciate the key figures and events - Moses, the Passover, and the vocation of Israel as “a kingdom of priests” - as they are interpreted in the Church’s tradition.

    Begin Lesson Four

  • Lesson Five: To Kingdom Come
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To finish reading the Old Testament (from Joshua to Malachi) and to read with understanding.
    2. To understand the broad outlines of the history of Israel in light of God’s covenant with Abraham.
    3. To appreciate the crucial importance of God’s everlasting covenant with David.

    Begin Lesson Five

  • Lesson Six: Into the Kingdom of the Son
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To read the New Testament with understanding.
    2. To understand how the New Testament depicts Jesus as the fulfillment of the covenants of the Old Testament.
    3. To appreciate, especially, the importance of God’s everlasting covenant with David for understanding the mission of Jesus and the Church as it is presented in the New Testament.

    Begin Lesson Six