As we saw last time, everything that G-d1 created was “supremely good.” We know, though, the “supreme goodness” of creation isn’t the end of the story. Not by a long shot. In fact, that’s just the beginning of the story.
“Sometime”2 after the creation of humanity and G-d’s stamp of approval, everything starts to spin way out of control. G-d gave a rule to the first humans, “Eat your fill from all of the garden’s trees; but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!” Well, the first humans ate from that tree and there were dire consequences. Before this, men and women were equals -- both genders were given the same privileges, honor, and responsibilities. But as a consequence of their decision to “eat from the tree,” women were now placed in a “subordinate” place -- they were now “beneath” men. Furthermore, instead of them falling down dead, they suffered a worse fate -- exile. They were driven from their home and their close relationship with each other and with G-d was broken.3
As the story continues to unfold, there’s murder, more lies, more murder, incest, the slaughter of animals for food, the slaughter of peoples for their lands, slavery, etc., etc.
And that’s all in Genesis!
But there’s good things, too. Love. Peace. The building of communities. Nations. Governments. Industry. Architecture. The evolution of humanity.
And the plan to fix it all.
That’s right. At the beginning, with all creation falling apart, G-d puts together a plan to fix everything. And, for some of us, this plan will be somewhat of a shock. The “fix” is not the destruction of everything, visible and invisible. It’s not the annihilation of the cosmos. It’s not the complete decimation of creation.
Not even close.
The plan is a rescue operation. The plan is a reconciliation operation. G-d’s plan is to restore creation.
G-d’s rescue plan all starts with a couple -- Sarah and Abraham, an elderly couple who didn’t have any children. G-d makes a covenant (a special type of agreement) with Sarah and Abraham and thus begins a long and deep relationship with them. Part of the promises that G-d makes with them is that Sarah will conceive and deliver a child. There’s more to this covenant than just Sarah having a child, though. G-d has a special purpose for this family. In Genesis 12, G-d tells Abraham,
“I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (1-3; NLT4).
In other words, G-d is going to work through Sarah and Abraham’s family, through humanity, to rescue and reconcile and restore creation. It won’t be an easy mission. But, I guess when you’re G-d, you’re used to difficult tasks.
However, there’s a big snag in this plan. I’m sure it didn’t take G-d by surprise,5 but it does take the reader by surprise. The people through whom G-d would restore everything is in need of rescue themselves! It’s like when the coast guard goes out to rescue someone in a hurricane only to find that the hurricane kicks it up a notch and the coast guard finds themselves in trouble. Then the Navy goes in!
So, Sarah and Abraham’s family are part of the problem.
As their story unfolds, we see all of the things I mentioned above unfold -- lies, trafficking (one group of brothers actually sells their brother into slavery6), deceit, incest, and so on. In other words, the story of the Bible shifts from one about the entire cosmos and centers in on this little family.
And rightly so.
Just like in a movie, the story teller paints a broad brush overview -- the basic plotline -- but then zooms in on one aspect of the story to show how the plot line will be carried out. It’s the main point to the rest of the story. It’s how the story will be played out; how it will reach the big climax at the end of the summer blockbuster.
The story of G-d’s promise to Sarah and Abraham is sort of like that. They’re like a microcosm of creation, if you will. They represent humanity and by extension, the whole cosmos. Through a series of ups and downs, ins and outs, we follow the story of the Hebrews (i.e., Israel; Sarah and Abraham’s family) as they move throughout history. There’s times of peace. Times of war. Times of feast. Times of famine. But one of the main themes that comes up again and again is that of exile and return. Just like we saw in the story above, Israel will be driven (or taken) from their homeland, held captive for several years, and finally allowed to return.
The first, and perhaps biggest, story that sets the pattern for the exilic theme throughout the history of Israel is the story of the Exodus. It’s such a big story that it starts in the second book of the Bible -- aptly named Exodus -- and continues on through three other books until we get to the book of Joshua. It’s a very familiar story. There’s been some great movies made about this event (being a lover of old movies, one of the greatest was the 1956 classic, The Ten Commandments, directed by Cecile B. DeMille and starring Charlton Heston).
In this story, Sarah and Abraham’s descendants, the Hebrews, went to the nation of Egypt because of a famine. The person in charge of all the food in Egypt just happened to be a man that was sold into slavery by his brothers when he was a child (yep, the same one I mentioned above). That man was named Joseph, the child of Rachel and Jacob (who later changed his name to Israel), the grandchild of Rebekah and Isaac (the promised child of Sarah and Abraham). Because of the famine, all of Joseph’s ancestors move to Egypt and live and grow there. They grow so large in fact that the new Pharaoh (or king), who doesn’t know the story about Joseph’s family, decides to enslave them since they out number the Egyptians.7 But no matter how difficult Pharaoh makes it for the Hebrews, their numbers continue to grow.
After a while, the Hebrews started “crying out” to be rescued from their slavery. Upon “hearing” the cries of the people and “remembering” the covenant with them (remember, the promise was made to the entire family), G-d put together another rescue operation. This time, however, it’s on a much smaller scale than before. But, as we mentioned above, -- the story of Israel is the story of the whole cosmos. What G-d does for Israel, G-d does for the whole of creation.
G-d selects Moses, one of their own people, to be the leader -- a stuttering murderer who is also in exile. (Are you starting to see the pattern here?) In one of the most famous scenes in all history, G-d “appears” to Moses on a mountain in a “burning bush” that’s not consumed by the fire. G-d tells Moses that he’s been chosen to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
- See my note on the first article about why I spell the word “God” in this way.
- Again, too much time has been wasted on whether the “days” in the creation stories are “days” in how we in the 21st century understand them, or if they’re some ancient way of understanding them, or if they represent different ages/stages of evolution.
- Genesis 2-3.
- Passages marked NLT are from the: Holy Bible. New Living Translation, copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
- Isaiah 46.9-11.
- Genesis 37.
- Personally, I’ve never understood this point in the story. It seems to me that you wouldn’t want to enslave a group of people that outnumber you. They might decide to revolt and then you’re in trouble. But, I guess that’s why I’m not a national leader.