Here is a summary of the first ‘The Bible, our story’ evening, in which we read from the beginning to the point where Abram enters the story:
The earth is in a state of chaos. God introduces his kingdom, in which the inhabitants experience fruitfulness, by calling light out of darkness, air out of water, land out of water, vegetation out of the land, seasons into rhythm, life out of the waters, life out of the earth. God creates human beings, with a dual purpose: to be in relationship with him, and to be the agents through whom God’s kingdom will be exercised. These two themes run through the rest of the Bible.
Humanity starts in a nursery, located between the Tigris and the Euphrates. This is the place from which we are to spread out throughout the earth. This place will become a recurring theme, the expression of people choosing to reject the invitation to be agents of God’s kingdom. In the garden, God has planted a tree of life and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but prohibits the human from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil...yet. In this chapter we see the beginnings of the kingdom theme, as the human names the animals. Moreover, ‘Adam’ only becomes a personal name at the point where Eve is created. Until then, it is ‘the adam’ or earthling. So we see that we are only fully human in relation to others, not in-and-of ourselves alone.
The serpent enters the story, a shadowy figure who resents the human made in God’s likeness. His deception is that God does not want them to be like God, when, in fact, God has purposely made them in God’s image. The question arises: will they grow into the knowledge of good and evil in God’s time, or will they attempt to fulfil their destiny in their own strength? Their choice brings a distance in their relationship with God which did not previously exist. But, God makes a decision: rather than moving to a ‘Plan B’ by taking back the rule he has entrusted humanity with, he will stick with ‘Plan A’ and work through the offspring of the humans to restore his kingdom rule.
The account of Cain and Abel poses the question: how will we respond when God chooses someone else over us? No reason is given why – God does not need to justify himself – but God tells Cain that our response is what matters. Now possessing the knowledge of good and evil, we must use that knowledge to guard ourselves against the sin that seeks to devour us. Ready or not for such a task, we must now master sin, before it consumes us. This chapter reveals the conflict we must all wrestle with: on the one hand, we see the birth of music and technology, and a calling on the Lord; on the other hand, murder. Also, Cain establishes the first city.
A genealogy that takes us from Adam to Noah; Enoch is a gem in the list.
A strange story about heroes who have gods, or angelic beings, as fathers and human mothers, which violates God’s intentions. Then the flood story. The motivation here is God’s grief, his heart being filled with pain that humanity has turned away from him. But God makes another decision: he will stick with his intention to act through a human being (not a demi-god hero), even if only one righteous man can be found. Noah walked with God, or, lived in the relationship with God that God hoped for us. And so God reveals to Noah the particular kingdom work he has for him to do: to guarantee the survival of life on earth. Noah is obedient.
Noah in the ark, hovering over the waters of chaos. Harks back to genesis 1:2. Then, God was alone. Now, he is choosing to work through the human. Noah shares in something of who God is. ‘Noah’ means ‘comfort’ and as the story expands, eventually Jesus will identify the Holy Spirit, who hovered over the waters, as the comforter. So, God shares in something of who Noah is. This ‘exchange’ or sharing of identities is a key component of a covenant relationship between two parties.
As in Genesis 1, so God calls creation out to be fruitful and increase, re-affirming the original plan. The flood has no consequence for humanity – as in 6:5 so in 8:21, the inclinations of the human heart remain evil. But God has made another decision: that he will still work to bless creation, and to do so through the human, despite this being the case.
God establishes a covenant with Noah, as the representative of all life. Humanity begins again from Noah’s three sons, whose response to their father has consequences for the story.
The descendents of Japheth spread out across the earth, in obedience to God’s mandate. The descendents of Ham, who has been cursed by Noah, do the opposite: they return to the beginning, to the site of Eden, and establish cities including Babylon – at a later date, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, harking back to Eden, will be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - and Nineveh. These stand for rebellion. As the story expands, we will see God’s response: using Babylon to discipline his chosen people; sending a prophet to save Nineveh from destruction...From Hams descendents we also get the peoples of Canaan, who will be displaced for God’s chosen people. The greater blessing lies with the descendents of Shem.
A group of people choose to return to the place of origins, and to build a city in deliberate defiance of God’s mandate to spread throughout the earth. God intervenes, confusing their speech. The consequence, however, lies in their inability to listen to one another, to do the hard work of understanding the other (the development of different languages does not appear to pose the same problem for the descendents of Japheth, 10:5, who are obeying God’s mandate to spread). As the story expands, this inability to listen and understand will eventually be reversed at Pentecost. The line of Shem is picked up again, running to Abram. Abram’s story is the next major turning point in the big story. Before we begin, we pause to listen to the account of his father, Terah, who sets out but can go no further when he reaches a place that rubs open a raw wound in his heart. In direct contrast to God’s blessing on all creation to be fruitful and multiply, Abram and Sarai are childless; her womb is barren.
God comes to Abram, and reveals his intention to bless Abram in order that all peoples on earth should be blessed through him. When Abram arrives at the destination his father Terah had set out for, God tells the childless Abram that he will give the land to his offspring. Again, the question is posed: will Abram allow God to fulfil his promise in his own time, or will Abram try to fulfil his destiny in his own strength? As Abram’s story unfolds, we will see him oscillate between the two ways. At this point, he chooses God’s way: though God has promised this land to his offspring, Abram travels down the east (desert) side of the hill spine along which settlements have been built, not the west (fertile) side – which would have been taken as a hostile act.
UPDATE: audio recording here.