The Importance of Genesis
Both the Jewish and Christian Bibles start with the Book of Genesis. This fascinating book provides an account of the earth's origins, the creation of mankind, sin, redemption and the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The first two chapters provide the Creation Story. While the story of Abraham covers fourteen chapters, the Creation Story only takes up two.
The Genesis account of Creation is not the only one to come out of ancient literature. The Babylonian story, "Enuma Elish," for example, provides an interesting account of creation. It tells of multiple gods who were themselves part of creation. There are definite pantheistic elements in this story and the other ancient creation accounts.
The Genesis account of creation, however, is very different. It starts with the phrase, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1) The writer of Genesis starts off by making it clear that God the Creator existed prior to creating the world. The Creation Story in Genesis is also different from many of the other accounts because it is obvious that God is outside of creation and not part of it. Another clear difference between Genesis and other ancient creation stories is the fact that there is no hint of polytheism in Genesis. God alone created the world and from the very beginning of the Bible, the idea of monotheism is firmly established.
Genesis is also the story of the first man and the first woman, Adam and Eve. God created a wonderful environment for them to enjoy and live in. God only placed one restriction on the man and woman. They could not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That was the only rule on the new earth. Genesis chapter three records the conversation that the serpent had with the woman. In essence, the serpent was able to convince Eve that God, by placing that one rule in effect, was withholding something good from her.
The serpent promised enlightenment if she would eat the fruit. Eve did eat, doing what God had forbidden, and encouraged Adam to eat, as well. The enlightenment that they were seeking was the fact that they realized they were naked and attempted to make coverings for themselves out of fig leaves. This sin led to their being banished from the Garden of Eden and also introduced sin into what had been a perfect world.
As mentioned, the story of Abraham occupies fourteen chapters in Genesis. Abraham is, by far, the biggest personality in Genesis, and one of the biggest in the entire Bible. The reader is not told how Abraham came into contact with God. His home town, Ur, was known for its idolatry. Somehow, Abraham had an experience with YAWEH, who told him to pack up and move South, to the land of Canaan.
This story is built around a series of seven encounters that Abraham had with YAWEH over more than twenty-five years. Most of these encounters involved God's speaking to Abraham and promising to bless him. The most significant parts of the blessing that God promised Abraham were land and descendants. God told Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan. He also said that Abraham would have more descendants than the "sand of the seashore" or "the stars in the sky."
The tension throughout the first part of Abraham's story was the fact that he and his wife, Sarah, were childless. Their story had opened when Abraham was seventy-five and his wife was sixty-five years old. Abraham is commended for his faith, especially in the New Testament. It was not easy, however, for Abraham to stay strong in faith. At one point, Abraham and Sarah decided to try to have a child through her servant girl, Hagar. She gave birth to Ishmael. This was an accepted social practice of that day. While God never rebukes Abraham and Sarah for this, YAWEH does make it clear that his intention was that Sarah would give Abraham a son.
When Abraham was one hundred and Sarah was ninety, Isaac was born. "Isaac" means "laughter." It is not hard to imagine the joyful laughter after Sarah gave birth to a son. At some point after the birth of Isaac, God tested Abraham one final time. "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and sacrifice him to me." The writer does not mention the anguish that Abraham must have felt that night. The author does record that Abraham set off the next morning to obey YAWEH's command. The altar was prepared, Isaac was bound and placed upon it, and Abraham picked up the knife and raised it overhead. At that moment, God's voice called out to Abraham and stopped him. God then reaffirmed His promises to Abraham. Abraham becomes known as the "friend of God."
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