Who Does God Love?: Genesis

This is part of a blog series entitled “Who Does God Love?” The series explores how God’s love for the world is to be understood in light of his hatred for those who do wrong (Ps. 5:5-6). In this post, we will examine what the book of Genesis has to say on this matter. Click here to see other posts in this series.

Who Does God Love? Genesis

I’ll be honest. I didn’t think I would find much in Genesis about God’s love. But to my surprise, I found more than I knew what to do with. Here is my best attempt at condensing it all into a single post.

God’s Universal Love

In various places, the Bible speaks in terms of God’s universal love for all people (Ps 145:9; cf. John 3:16). Genesis certainly supports that theme, since God is good and kind to such a variety of people throughout Genesis and in such a variety of ways.

The blessings of the Lord upon all people are too numerous to count, but I will list a few of them here that are found in Genesis:

  • life and breath: the Lord has given us life, even though he knew that in Adam we would all be plunged into sin (Rom. 5:12ff)
  • mercy: the Lord will never again destroy us with a flood, even though we are wicked at heart (Gen. 8:21; cf. 6:5)1For other examples of God’s mercy, see: Gen. 4:1 where he gives Adam and Eve a son after they have fallen into sin; Gen. 4:15 where he protects Cain from murder even after punishing him for it; Gen. 20:6 where he mercifully prevents Abimelech from falling into further sin; Gen. 50:20 where he saves the lives of many people, not just his covenant people
  • restraint from sin: God is active in restraining the corruption of man, warning various people such as Cain, Abimelech, and Laban not to sin. In the case of Abimelech, he actually says, “I kept you from sinning.” (Gen. 4:6-7; 20:6; 31:24)
  • family, wealth, and nations: all sorts of people, including the wicked, are given wives, children, wealth, and nations (for example, Cain and Lamech in Gen. 4:17-24, the nine kings in Gen. 14, and the pharaohs of Egypt)

These are blessings that God even now grants to people all over the world. Such is God’s universal love for mankind, which is often referred to as his common grace.2Although Genesis speaks explicitly of a covenant love (chesed), it does not speak explicitly of a universal love. The concept of a universal love is rather inferred on the basis that kindness and benevolence constitute love. However, if we define love differently than this, it may no longer be appropriate to speak of God’s universal benevolence in terms of “love.” Therefore, I offer “common grace” as an alternative term.

If we are rich with possessions or loved by our families or proud to have avoided evils or if we have any good thing at all in our lives, whether big or small, we should praise the Lord for it, since apart from him we have no good thing (Ps. 16:2). Rather than boast in our blessings, as though we are so mighty, we should “ascribe to the LORD the glory and strength . . . due his name” (Ps. 29:2).

Although the Lord is abounding with love for all of mankind, his universal love is not fixed.

At one time, he blesses the people of Sodom and Gomorrah with beautiful land, “like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt” (Gen. 13:10); at another time, he rains down burning sulfur, destroying both them and their land (Gen. 19:24-25). At one time, he blesses Laban with a great increase of wealth (Gen. 30:30); at another time, he takes it away and gives it to Jacob (Gen. 31:1, 16).

Common grace can be a slippery thing, and we should not be surprised if a day starts with sunshine but ends with showers.3I mean this as a figure of speech, but if you live in South Florida, it is actually quite literal. What should astound us, though, is God promising to go beyond common grace and bless somebody forever.

God’s Covenant Love

This is exactly what he did with Abraham. The Lord chose him of all peoples to be the object of his love—not his universal love, mind you, but his covenant love.

Three things should be observed about his covenant love:

1. God’s covenant love endures forever. Unlike common grace, the covenant God established with Abraham is an everlasting covenant. God promised to bless him and his descendants with blessings that would last forever (cf. Gen. 13:15; 17:7-8, 19).4In Hebrew, this covenant love is represented by the word chesed (חֶ֫סֶד), which denotes a kindness and goodness that is lasting and faithful. In Genesis there are only four people whom God is explicitly said to love, and in each case the word chesed is used: Lot (Gen. 19:19; rendered “kindness” in the NIV), Abraham (Gen. 24:12, 14, 27; “kindness”), Jacob (Gen. 32:10; “kindness and faithfulness”), and Joseph (Gen. 39:21; “kindness”). Since Lot is not an heir to the covenant, we may wonder why the Lord shows him chesed too. I offer two possible solutions. First, we must note the fluidity of language: it is a mistake to think chesed is invariably a technical term used only in covenant contexts (although the author of Genesis normally uses it that way). Second, it may be that what these four men really have in common is righteousness. Abraham is righteous by faith (Gen. 15:6). Lot is also said to be righteous (Gen. 18:23ff; 2 Pet. 2:7-8), and when we consider the fullness of the gospel revealed later in Scripture, we see that Lot’s righteousness could only have been by faith as well. So although Lot is not an heir to the physical promises of the covenant, it may be that through faith he is an heir to the more important spiritual dimensions of the covenant (Gal. 3:7; cf. Rom. 4). As for Jacob, Joseph, and the other heirs of the physical covenant, they are not explicitly said to be righteous. But this does not matter as far as chesed is concerned, because the Lord keeps his covenant for Abraham’s sake (Gen. 26:5, 24). So it seems that Abraham’s righteousness stands in for theirs, similar to how Christ’s righteousness stands in for us.

2. God’s covenant love is unconditional. The pattern in Genesis is that people forfeit common grace through foolish and wicked behavior, but God’s covenant love is different. Abraham was guilty of idolatry and deceit (Jos. 24:2; Gen. 12:18-19; 20:9), Isaac was a liar (Gen. 26:1-11), and Jacob was a coercive swindler (Gen. 25:31; 27:36). Nevertheless, God kept his covenant with them and their descendants.5If God’s covenant love is unconditional, what shall we say about Er and Onan in Gen. 38? They were descendants of Judah and heirs of the covenant. Even so, the Lord put them to death because of their wickedness. The answer is rather plain. God did not promise Abraham that his descendants would be invincible or morally perfect. What he promised Abraham was that his descendants would be many and that they would have Canaan forever and that all nations would be blessed through them. Therefore, it is not inconsistent with the covenant for God to deal harshly with Er and Onan. They were wicked, and they paid for it. But Israel would still be fruitful and would still inherit the Promised Land. God would still keep his covenant. A good New Testament example of this is 1 Corinthians 11:29-30, where believers under the new covenant of Christ’s blood are afflicted by God, even to the point of death, because of their irreverent abuses of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord did not break his covenant with the Corinthians, as we can assume their sins were still forgiven and they are in heaven now. Nevertheless, he did see it fit to discipline them.

3. God’s covenant love is an electing love. Though Ishmael was the firstborn of Abram, the Lord chose Isaac to inherit the covenant instead (Gen. 17:21; 21:8-13; 26:2-5, 23-24). Though Esau was the firstborn of Isaac, the Lord chose Jacob to inherit the covenant instead (Gen. 25:23; 27:27-29; 28:1-4, 13-15; 35:11-13; 46:3). After Jacob, the Lord did not reiterate the covenant again, indicating that all twelve of Jacob’s children inherited the covenant. Many nations would come from Abraham (Gen. 17:5-6), but only one nation—Israel—was chosen by God to inherit his covenant with Abraham.

If God deserves praise for his common grace, he should be praised even more so for his covenant love. Abraham’s servant recognized this when he said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master” (Gen. 24:27 ESV). 6When we get to the New Testament we will see that Christians likewise are coheirs with Christ of a great covenant love that is enduring (1 Pet. 1:3-4), unconditional (Rom. 5:8), and electing (Eph. 1:4-5). Like Abraham’s servant, we can say of the Lord, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

Vehicles of Blessing

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.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Gen. 12:2-3)

One last observation from Genesis: the object of God’s love is the vehicle of God’s blessing—the object of his covenant love, mind you, not his universal love.

This principle is stated first in Genesis 12:3 (quoted above) and then repeated in various ways in Gen. 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 27:29; 28:14. It is also illustrated all throughout Genesis. Some examples are given below. Notice how often prayer and family relations play a role:

  • Lot is saved from the destruction of Sodom because of Abraham’s prayer (Gen. 19:29; cf 18:16ff).
  • Ishmael is made into a great nation because of Abraham’s prayer and because he is Abraham’s offspring (Gen. 17:18, 20; 21:13).
  • Abimelech and his household are spared a punishment of death and infertility because of Abraham’s prayer (Gen. 20:7, 17-18).
  • Laban is blessed because of Jacob (Gen. 30:27-30).7This may also be seen as an answer to prayer. Jacob had prayed previously that the Lord would be with him and provide for him (Gen. 28:20-22). Laban would not be blessed because of Jacob if the Lord were not with Jacob. And if the Lord was with Jacob, then this must be seen as an answer to Jacob’s prayer.
  • Esau is made into a great nation (Gen. 36). Like with Ishmael, this is probably because Esau is Isaac’s offspring.
  • Potiphar and his household are blessed in everything they have because of Joseph (Gen. 39:2-6). We may infer the same about the prison charge he is given since similar language is used there (Gen. 39:21-23).
  • Egypt and the neighboring peoples are also blessed by Joseph’s leadership, and many lives are saved because of him (Gen. 50:20).

Of course, on the flipside, those who curse God’s people will also be cursed, according to the covenant. It seems the Lord is protective of his people and will avenge any mistreatment of them.

We see this play out with Abimelech in Gen. 20. When he took Sarah, he and his household were cursed by God with infertility and the threat of death. Taking Sarah was a sinful act (albeit committed in ignorance), and the Lord avenged Abraham in accordance with the covenant.

Laban is another good example of this. At first, the Lord blessed him with wealth, but when Laban treated Jacob unfairly, God took away Laban’s wealth. Furthermore, when Laban showed some aggression toward Jacob by pursuing him, quite possibly with the intent to harm him (Gen. 31:29), the Lord warned him sternly not to sin against him (Gen. 31:24). In accordance with the covenant, he was protecting Jacob from Laban.

In Short

The Book of Genesis teaches us three main things about the objects of God’s love.

1. God has a universal love for all of mankind, called common grace. But this love is not fixed. It fluctuates, especially according to the moral choices people make in their lives.

2. God has a special covenant love that he has established with those whom he has chosen to be his people. Unlike common grace, this love is enduring, unconditional, and electing.

3. God wants his chosen people to be a tremendous blessing upon the earth—a blessing to all peoples. But he also protects them from and at times avenges them against those who mistreat them.8On that point of divine vengeance, please keep in mind we are talking about the Abrahamic covenant, not Christ’s covenant. There are definite parallels between the two but not always one-to-one correspondence. We will get into this in more depth later in the series, but for now, consider Luke 10:16 as a possible New Testament parallel for this divine vengeance. Those who reject us reject Christ. If they do not repent, they will face judgement for this on the last day. Please pray for their salvation.

This is a lot of theological information from Genesis, and there is even more found in the footnotes. My hope is that this is not merely data for you to sort through but rather a faithful exposition of the living Word that will help you to better understand who God is.

Now go be a blessing to the world! Be the salt of the earth and the light of the world by walking faithfully before the Lord (Gen. 17:1) and directing your children and household to keep the way of the Lord (Gen. 18:19). Be a blessing to all nations by making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). And praise the Lord daily that he will never abandon his love for his people.

In the next post, we will examine what the book of Exodus teaches about the objects of God’s love. We will also see how the teachings in Exodus relate to what we have learned from Genesis. Click here to read the post on Exodus.

To access footnotes, hover mouse over the footnote numbers, or click “+” next to “Notes” below.

Notes   [ + ]

7 thoughts on “Who Does God Love?: Genesis

  1. Totally enjoyed this. You broke down a long book of the Bible into understandable chunks focused on your subject of God’s love. It made sense. It was rich with meaning and hope. And I loved it. Thank you,.

  2. Thanks for these thoughts. I especially loved the pattern of family relationships and prayer. For whatever reason, God chooses to work through the prayers of His people, and I am reminded to continue to be fervent in prayer for loved ones, for those who believe, and for those who do not!

    1. I’m glad I included that part then! The family and prayer connections didn’t really occur to me until I was proofreading, and I considered leaving it out since the post was already long. But it’s definitely an important point to include. It will be interesting to see how this theme develops in the rest of the Bible.

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