Genesis: Beginning the Blessing

By R. Kent Hughes
Wheaton, IL : Crossway (2004). 702 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
17.2 (Fall 2006) : 243-244

Genesis: Beginning and Blessingpresents readers with a pleasantly readable expository commentary on the Book of Genesis. As the senior pastor of The College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and a popular Bible conference speaker, Kent Hughes is a skillful biblical expositor. Comparing this volume with two sources Hughes frequently cites helps to classify this commentary. On the one hand, the two volumes by Kenneth A. Mathews in the New American Commentary series (Genesis 1–11:26 and Genesis 12–50; Broadman & Holman, 1996, 2002; see review in TMSJ 8/2 [Fall 1997]:244-47) are more exegetical in nature. On the other hand, Creation and Blessing by Allen P. Ross (Baker, 1998; see review in TMSJ 11/2 [Fall 2000]:269-70), instructs preachers how to expound the text of Genesis. Hughes’ commentary is a great example of building upon the foundation Ross laid.

Endnotes (625-70) provide readers with pertinent quotations from a wide range of key resources for interpreting Genesis. Five excurses (perhaps representing individual topical sermons) summarize key theological topics: “Man and Sin in Genesis” (579-87), “Faith and Righteousness in Genesis” (589-97), “Grace in Genesis” (599-606), “Messiah in Genesis” (607-14), and “God in Genesis” (615-24). Indexes (Scripture, 671-85; General, 686-97; and Sermon Illustrations, 698-702) round out the volume of seventy-five sermons—approximately one and a half years of Sundays.

Hughes’ expositions deal forthrightly with the text of Genesis. He chooses his illustrations with care and employs them to heighten the focus of the text itself. Applications are judicious, contextual, and often tied to equivalent NT truths. Expositions through Genesis 12–50 provide rich character studies of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Judah. One of the most memorable of his expositions, “Guilt and Grace” (493-99; regarding Gen 42:1-38), hammers home the truth that “True guilt is a grace because it brings the guilty to seek forgiveness and to repent” (496). Hughes’ presentation of Judah’s transition to a godly leader superbly balances Judah’s spiritual development and Messianic prophecy about his ultimate descendant (451-57 and 549-54).

Normally, sermons dealing with the theological intricacies related to the fall of mankind propel the expositor headlong into matters many in the pew find difficult to understand. Hughes, however, succeeds in simplifying without sacrificing theological depth (57-99). H is success is partly due to dividing Genesis 3 carefully into four sermons, enabling him to serve the information in digestible bites without losing continuity.

The series of nineteen sermons on Abraham (181-329) is especially masterful and provides passionate, sound expositions based on accurate exegesis. However, the series of eighteen sermons on Joseph (435-577), though superbly presented, are uneven in their exegetical accuracy. To his credit, Hughes correctly reminds the reader that Joseph’s coat was most likely “a sleeved coat that reached to the wrists and ankles” (438), rather than a multi-colored garment. On the other side of the exegetical ledger, however, dating Joseph’s imprisonment to 1500 B.C. (465) is inaccurate. It is possible that the date might be a typo rather than an intentional late-dating since Hughes gives 1720-1570 B.C. as the dates for the Hyksos rulers (460).

At some points factuality appears to suffer from a lack of accurate information. For example, domesticated camels were not a “rarity” (193) in the time of Abraham (see John J. Davis, “The Camel in Biblical Narratives,” in A Tribute to Gleason Archer, ed. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., and Ronald F. Youngblood, 1412-52 [Moody, 1986]). Likewise, it is inconsistent with biblical usage to claim that “the superior always blesses the inferior” (219)—see 14:19-20, where Melchizedek employs the same word for the blessing of Abraham and God in the same statement (cp. Pss 16:7 and 72:15, too often translated “praise”; cf. Michael L. Brown, NIDOTTE, 1:764 [#9]). Whether Hughes adopts a late date for the exodus from Egypt is difficult to ascertain. He identifies Goshen with “the land of Rameses” (520) and his endnote cites Kidner favorably regarding a Ramesside context for Moses (666), and at 47:11 he ignores the problem the text presents regarding the early date (533).

In a few places Hughes implies that some textual details in the prepatriarchal period are nothing more than Moses’ own inserted ideas or concepts. For example, he declares that “The designation ‘in Eden, in the east’ is from the perspective of Moses, in the Sinai” (53). In addition, with a touch of anachronistic reasoning, he proposes that Moses’ account of the building of the tower of Babel is colored by a Palestinian perspective (170).

This reviewer’s greatest disagreements with Hughes reside in his exposition of 1:1–2:17 (15-56). Reference to “the primeval chaos” (21) at the earth’s creation unnecessarily assumes a chaotic rather than orderly condition of the earth in 1:2. A chaos viewpoint leads to the depiction of the darkness as evil (cp. 30, “Christ the Creator, who brings order out of the dark chaos of our lives”), rather than as God’s good creation. Interestingly (amusingly?) disagreement over the length of the “days” of creation evokes an appeal “to employ good will and magnanimity” (24), but later Hughes implies that some interpreters exhibit “ignorant arrogance” (26) in their attempts to deal with this problem. Arguing that the seventh day had no end (26, 43, 45, 46) seems to go beyond the natural reading of the text and produces a conflict with the clear implications of the Fourth Commandment in Exod 20:10-11. Forcing this unending day interpretation on the preceding six days (27) seems equally precarious and unnatural.

At other times Hughes takes a certain degree of artistic license—such as his description of Abraham’s and the heavenly guests’ faces as “leathered” (262). Who among us, however, has not waxed eloquently in the same fashion without supporting evidence? Occasional lapses in archeological, cultural, or historical details might briefly distract those who know better, but no one can read these expositions without God impacting heart and mind with His Word. Every preacher of Genesis should read this volume.