Section 2: Patriarchs -- Genesis 11-50
This is the account of Shem (Gen 11:10).
This short verse marks the great transition in the Book of Genesis from all mankind to one individual. Until now, the Bible has been concerned with the common origins of all humanity. But from this point in chapter 11, it narrows its focus to just one of the descendants of Noah. It briefly outlines the genealogy of Shem, the progenitor of the Semites, and passes through nine generations until Abram.
The intervening time is "dead" time, time in which God does not manifest Himself by any words or actions. It is not that He is absent or uninterested, but there is no revelation of Himself to the individuals listed in the records. History is on "auto-pilot" from the time of the Tower of Babel till Abram. This provokes the related question: what was God doing outside of the family of Shem?
This course takes the position, following Paul in the New Testament, of "general revelation," that God gave to all men in all times and cultures a measure of knowledge of Himself and His laws:
For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (Rom 1:20).
This general revelation was preparatory and partial, and awaited the later full revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And, indeed, mankind as a whole remained in estrangement from God, enduring in their own lives and bodies the outworkings of the sin of Adam and Eve.
The Old Testament is not only the history of one family -- one branch of the descendants of Abraham -- but it is also the unfolding of God's method of bridging the separation that occurred between Himself and His creation because of sin. It is not just human history, it is sacred history -- it tells us God's story: His words, His actions, and most important, His purpose for us. And in fact what God was doing was building a bridge in history for man to walk across, to enable him to once again walk with God "in the garden in the cool of the day" (Gen 3:8). So while the focus of the Bible changes in Gen 11 -- narrowing to one man, one family -- we must not forget that God's plan is larger than this in scope: it embraces the world and all generations.