INTRODUCTION: Immediately it becomes clear that we will have to race through a lot of material and be unable to hit everything or deal with each episode in detail. Sad though that is, remember that the purpose of this course is to provide a broad overview of the Old Testament. There is simply too much material to marvel at it all in length.
The organization of Genesis 1-11 is an attempt to collect the various tales embedded in this section (often referred to as the primeval history) and understand how it conveys a unified portrait. Genesis 1-11 provides an answer to the question, ‘Why is the world the way that it is?’ These stories should not be viewed as history in the same sense in which we might study the American Revolution as history. That is to say that these narrative pieces are untrue or ahistorical. It is simply to point out that these stories are not intended to be read in that way. These stories are not designed so much to answer questions about the past; what happened, when and why. They are meant to answer questions about the present; the world that we live in today. For that reason these stories are timeless and as contemporary as our daily lives.
Once again, these are marvelous stories skimmed over here with brevity. The teacher may choose to select only one of these stories to explore in depth, merely touching on the others. But the end result should be to give the students a narrative picture of a world gone wrong. And although we have a tendency to want to focus on the topic of why things went wrong, the Genesis narrative is more concerned with what we do with sin once it has occurred than it is with why it happened.
When God first made the world it was perfect. Everything worked just exactly like it was supposed to. The sun came up every day. The ground was well-watered so that all the plants could grow and provide food for all of the animals that God made. God’s most special creation was human beings. God made men and women, boys and girls; to live together, take care of each other, talk to and listen to each other and love each other. It was also their job to take care of the beautiful world that God made, especially the garden of Eden, their special, little home. God gave the people he made, Adam and Eve (those were their names) everything that they needed to be happy. God only asked that they should trust him and listen to him.
But you know how it is. Sometimes we get ideas of our own. We think that maybe there is more to be had, and that we are being cheated out of something better. That bad idea came to the minds of Eve and then Adam by way of a tricky snake. The devilish serpent made the suggestion that God is really rather stingy and that He doesn’t have in mind what’s best for human beings. Maybe he doesn’t love them at all, the snake suggested.
Well, bad ideas quickly turn into bad actions. Adam and Eve disobeyed God.
It’s easy to dwell on how it happened when mistakes are made. But maybe the more important question is–once a mistake is made, what do you do next?
That’s where Adam and Eve really messed up. Instead of admitting to their mistake (we call such mistakes–sin), Adam and Eve began blaming everyone and everything but themselves. Adam said it was Eve’s fault. Eve said it was the snake’s fault. And Adam even went so far to say that it was God’s fault. “Why did you make that snake? Why did you plant a tree in the garden with fruit on it and then tell us not to eat from it? Why did you make a woman,” Adam complained, “who was only going to get me into trouble?” Adam and Eve played the blame-game. And once they had turned against each other, they were no longer able to love one another and get along like they had before. Instead of working together they were against each other.
Well, once a husband and wife starts to quarrel, it impacts the kids. Adam and Eve had a couple of sons, Cain and Abel. And these two brothers, though they should have been best of friends, they sometimes argued with each other too. A rivalry grew up between the two of them. And one day, Cain, feeling that he had gotten the short-end of the stick, killed his brother, Abel. That was really bad. And Cain had to leave home. But Cain wasn’t killed. He didn’t die because of what he did to his brother Abel. And so, people got to thinking that they could do whatever they wanted and get away with it, no matter how bad it was. And so people got bad and then worse. It got so bad and the world was in such a mess that people everywhere had pretty much wrecked everything good that God had made. And so, sadly, God decided He would have to start over. But God didn’t want to destroy human beings, those special creatures He had made with so much hope for their future. So God selected one man; the best man that he could find; a fellow named, Noah. And God told Noah to build a big boat, big enough to fit a pair of every kind of animal in the world on it, so that when the world that wicked people had ruined flooded, Noah and his family would be saved. And so Noah did just like God told him. He built a big boat. He gathered all of the animals. And when the flood came, Noah’s boat floated on the top of the waters.
Of course, the flood eventually ended and dry ground began again to appear. God promised, “No more floods.” And to seal his promise, He gave us the rainbow as a sign that the world would never be flooded out like that again.
Noah was very grateful to hear that. And so he went out to celebrate and got drunk. So, it just goes to show: even people who you would think would have learned their lesson can still make mistakes.
People didn’t want to ever go through anything like that great flood again. So they got together and decided to build a great, big, high tower. I guess they didn’t believe God’s promise in the rainbow. They figured, the next time it floods, we’ll have a high place to escape to. It was quite a grand idea, and quite a grand project. But when towers get too tall they get shaky and fall. And that’s just what this tower did. People scattered after their dreams were dashed and moved to different parts of the world, deciding it was too much work to try to get everyone to live together, and maybe it was time they tried to live apart.
From where the world had started, it had gone a long way in the wrong direction. And, in a lot of ways, it still is today. The world is not always the nicest place. But there is always this recollection that the world was nice once. And so, with that, there always remains this hope that things could be good once more. The big question is: how does that happen? Part of the answer is in our story for today; because what changed? It wasn’t the world that made people bad. It was people who made the world bad. And so what would have to change is people.
CONNECTING TO THE CATECHISM:
The fifth chief part of the catechism treats the question of confession and absolution. What sins should we confess? The biblical narratives of Genesis 1-11 deal with this issue. Adam and Eve decline to confess. Instead they lay blame. Cain, after killing Abel tries to cover it up. The generation of Noah, having lost all sense of shame or wrongdoing doesn’t even consider confession of sins. ‘What sins,’ they would say? And Nimrod (according to tradition the instigator of Babel’s Tower) is anything but a penitent. He is a pursuer of glory, fame and celebrity.