God’s Covenant Plan, Lesson 3.1

God’s Covenant Plan

Lesson Two: Creation, Fall, and Promise

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.

I. East of Eden, Before the Flood

A. Cain the Wicked

In our last lesson, we left our first family, Adam and Eve, on the outside of paradise looking in - exiled by their sin and disobedience, their failure to live up to the demands of God’s covenant.

The chapters that follow (see Genesis 4-5) show us the "fruits" of Adam and Eve’s original sin: We see that human seed now is mixed between the good and evil. The tension between the two seeds - already prophesied by God in the garden (see Genesis 3:15) - shapes much of the remainder of Genesis, especially the book’s first 11 chapters.

The "first fruits" of Adam and Eve - their son Cain - is born of bad seed; his younger brother, Abel, of good. Cain kills Abel, becomes the world’s first murderer. As Adam and Eve, the first children of God, rejected the Fatherhood of God, their bad seed rejects the family of man that God intended to create. This is symbolized in Cain’s pitiless, spiteful words to God: "Am I my brother’s keeper?" (see Genesis 4:9).

Cain’s wicked line grows and one of his descendants becomes the first to take two wives - a perversion of the order of marriage God established in the garden (see Genesis 2:21-24) - and boasts of his murderous, vengeful ways (see Genesis 4:23-24).

B. Seth the Righteous

Then Adam and Eve produce a good seed - Seth. It’s the children of Seth, born of Seth’s son, Enosh, who first begin to develop a personal, prayerful relationship with God - they "invoke the Lord by name" (see Genesis 4:26). The word name in Hebrew is shem. Just remember that for now, it will become important later.

Chapters 4 and 5 of Genesis give us a kind of comparison of the "bad seed" and "good seed" of Adam. We read of the sons of Cain (see Genesis 4:17-24) and the sons of Seth (see Genesis 5:1-32). From the first, come the unrighteous sons and "daughters of man" and from the latter, the righteous "sons of heaven" (see Genesis 6:2).

But sin infects even the righteous. And Seth’s descendants, seduced by the beauty of the daughters of Cain’s line, take them as wives. Worse yet, they follow Lamech’s example and take more than one wife - "as many of them as they chose" (see Genesis 6:1-4).

The fruits of the "intercourse" of the sons of Seth and the daughters of Cain were men of even more violence and wickedness - "men of renown," which Scripture elsewhere calls "proud giants…skilled in war" (see Wisdom 14:6; Baruch 3:26-27).

Finally, God is overcome with "sorrow" and "regret" at "how corrupt the earth had become, since all mortals led depraved lives" (see Genesis 6:5,7,12). Remember: God doesn’t actually get sorry or repent or change His mind like humans do - this is just a figure of speech to tell us how awful things had become (see Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6).

C. Saved Through Water

In the flood, God totally obliterates the line of Cain, drowns it out. The line of Seth continues through Noah, who "walked with God" and "found favor" with Him (see Genesis 5:27-29; 6:9-10).

The story of the flood (Chapters 7-9) is told as a new creation story, with lots of subtle and obvious references back to Genesis 1. In the context of the entire book of Genesis, the flood story shows us God giving the world a new start, starting His family anew in the line of Seth.

Noah is like a new Adam. Like Adam, Noah is given authority over the animals (compare1:26 and 9:2-3). He is also given the same command as God gave to Adam: "be fertile and multiply and fill the earth." (compare 1:28 and 9:1). Finally, as He did with Adam, God makes a covenant with Noah and through him with all living beings (compare 2:1-2 and 9:13).

With this covenant with Noah, God renews the covenant He made with creation in the beginning. The rainbow sign is like the Sabbath, a symbol of God’s communion with His creation. We have here, the second of the major covenants that form the "organizational principle" of the Bible.

Remember what we said in our first lesson: The Bible is organized according to a series of family-making covenants. With each covenant God reveals a little bit more of Himself to us. In the covenant with Noah He gives the family of God the shape of a nuclear family - Noah and his wife and their children. We’ve moved beyond the husband and wife model that He revealed in the covenant of creation.

Remember what else we said about the covenants in the Bible: Each one points us toward the new and everlasting covenant of Jesus. The covenant symbolized by Adam and Eve pointed us towards the covenant bond between Christ and His Church, which is to be a marriage-like union (see Ephesians 5:21-33).

The covenant with Noah points us to the sacrament of Baptism, by which we become, like Jesus and Noah, beloved sons and daughters in whom God is well pleased (compare Genesis 6:4,8 and Matthew 3:17). The Baptism He brings, like the flood, will destroy sin, and bring us the gift of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove (compare Genesis 8:8-12 and Matthew 3:16).

As Peter tells us, the flood "prefigured Baptism." In both the flood and Baptism, the human race is "saved through water" (1 Peter 3:20-21; Catechism, nos. 701, 1219).

Continue to Section 2

Other Lessons

  • 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.

    Begin Lesson One

  • 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 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