The Book of Genesis opens with the story of the origin and meaning of human life. Then, after recounting how humanity willfully sinned, Genesis sets out the Lord’s blueprint for the reconciliation and salvation of fallen humanity. Under this plan, God would gradually reveal himself and, through a chosen people, progressively prepare mankind for Christ, his Gospel, and the Church, which are prefigured in this history.
The natural consequence of sin, of turning away from God who is the source of life, is death. Yet, when the scourge of sin had filled the earth and that death came, the righteous Noah and his family were saved in the ark, which in a sense signifies the Church, while the waters washed away the sin in the world, prefiguring baptism (Genesis 6:8-9:17; CCC 1094, 1219). Seen from this perspective, the story of the Flood is really one of God’s mercy. Although evil and sin may surround us, God’s faithful people in his ark, the Church, will be saved. With creation renewed, God then formed a special bond – a covenant – with Noah and his family and their descendants.
Generations later, the Lord chose the family of Abraham through which he would be made known to the world, which also anticipates the Church (CCC 762). The Lord made a great covenant with the patriarch and his descendants, binding himself to his people in a relationship of fidelity and care as a husband pledges fidelity to his wife and promising to make them a great nation in a land of plenty (Genesis 12:1-22:19, cf. Hosea 2:21-22). In this way, the heavenly kingdom is also foreshadowed. The sign of the covenant was marked in the flesh of Abraham and his male descendants, just as the sign of the New Covenant in the Holy Spirit is marked on our hearts.
This covenant was renewed with Isaac, who was born to the elderly Abraham and his wife Sarah after his birth was foretold by three visitors whom Abraham addressed as one, manifesting the Trinity. When Abraham proved his total faith, offering to give everything to the Lord, even his beloved son Isaac, the Lord himself provided the sacrifice, just as God would provide his own Son Jesus as the sacrifice on Calvary.
God continued his covenant with Isaac’s son Jacob, whose twelve sons prefigure the twelve Apostles (Genesis 28:10-35:15). After depicting his initial character negatively, Genesis tells how Jacob wrestled with a mysterious stranger, later revealed to be the Lord, who gave him the name, “Israel.” Pope Benedict XVI interpreted this incident as “a long night of seeking God, of the struggle to learn his name and see his face.”
The covenant God made with the patriarchs and the divine plan of forming one people are not just the stuff of history, but a continuing and unfolding reality. As God’s assurance of his never-failing love for his people, the covenant is fulfilled in Christ and through our baptism, we become heirs to the promise (cf. Galatians 3:26-29).
This is the second post in a series on the Book of Genesis.