|How to study the Bible
THE BIBLE STORY
Volume I 1982
Chapters 1 - 10
Table of Contents
by Herbert W. Armstrong
NEVER HAS THERE BEEN A BIBLE STORY BOOK LIKE THIS. THAT IS NOT A RASH STATEMENT INDULGING IN SUPERLATIVES. IT IS THE TRUTH. I WOULD LIKE TO EXPLAIN THE REASON.
For years, in my ministry, I felt an overpowering sense of responsibility, mingled with a feeling of inadequacy, for getting the proper teaching to children. It was a frustrating consciousness, for my time was so completely filled in the ministry to adults.
I picked up many of the run-of-the-mill type of Bible stories for children. They failed utterly to solve the problem. I could not endorse or press into use any one of them. They seemed to have only one objective -- to compete with exciting fiction or violence that youngsters heard on radio, later on television and read in cheap novels or comic books. They consisted of dramatized blood-and-thunder stories of certain biblical incidents. The murder of Abel by his brother, Cain; the cataclysm of the Flood; young David killing the giant Goliath; the seducing of strong-man Samson; Daniel in the lions' den; all these disconnected stories, shorn of their real meaning, degraded the Bible in plastic young minds to the level of nursery myths.
Bible stories up to now, it would seem, have had no mission but that of providing exciting entertainment. Biblical incidents are taken out of context, their real connection with the very PURPOSE of life ignored.
I knew that all these incidents commonly seized upon as exciting child-fiction material actually have deep MEANING, contain vital lessons, are directly connected with the revelation of God's purpose and the true Gospel. But if the true Gospel of Jesus Christ has been hidden from adults by perversion, deception and injection of pagan superstitions, how could blinded adults write interestingly for children the vital truths they themselves do not comprehend?
There was an even more important reason for this sense of responsibility toward children.
In my research into the history of education, the truth emerged of the diabolical master conspiracy for deceiving the whole world. This world deception has been accomplished through the system of education. It begins with infants and children of elementary school age. Long before Christ brought the Gospel, the pagan teacher Plato introduced the first school of organized curriculum, called the Academy. The system developed with passing generations. In the era of Christianity's earliest appearance, the Roman Empire was dotted with these pagan schools.
These schools taught pagan philosophies and ways of life diametrically opposite to Christ's teachings. Participation in pagan holiday exercises, and pagan customs, was a required part of the curriculum.
During first-century apostolic evangelism, many converts received into their very hearts the eye-opening Gospel TRUTH and rejected the pagan heresies. They were truly converted -- CHANGED in mind and belief and ways of living. But their children were victims of the established system of education. A second generation became nominal Christians only. A third, reared in basic paganism, accepted the addition of certain Christian beliefs and the NAME of Christ.
It was impossible for church leaders, during the second, third and page sections, editorially, to him and his work. The news magazine "Time" wrote him up a number of times. His work appeared in more than 70 national magazines. He also was a trained writer, experienced through long years in writing for children.
He became an elder in the Worldwide Church of God. He was a student of the Bible and taught a Bible class.
He accepted this very important commission. "The Bible Story" is definitely NOT a series of disconnected stories of excitement and violence with no special meaning. Our purpose is to tell simply, in language children can read and understand, plainly, yet interestingly, the plain story of the Bible itself. It begins at the beginning. A continuous story thread runs through the entire Bible. Not many have ever grasped this amazing yet important fact. Most people read a verse here or a Chapter there, failing to properly connect them, or understand the true continuity of the Bible story.
This book is not merely written for children. Adults by multiple thousands followed the installments avidly when they first appeared in "The Plain Truth". Adults will gain an understanding of the WHOLE BIBLE -- of its continuous story thread -- from this book.
Mr. Wolverton has written in language of about the nine-to twelve year level. This makes it interesting reading also for adults. As written it is a little advanced for younger children when read by themselves, but parents may read it to children as young as four or five, and, with a little simplified explanation of portions they would not comprehend clearly by themselves, it will become quite understandable, interesting and profitable. Mr. Wolverton stuck tenaciously to the literal biblical account. He took, where it was felt necessary, AUTHOR'S LICENSE to portray certain portions or sequences in conversational style -- but he was zealously careful not in any way to "add to or detract from" the real meaning and truth of the sacred Scriptures.
It is our fervent hope that this volume of "The Bible Story" in book form, now published in memory of Basil Wolverton who died in December 1978, and presented to you as a ministry of love, without money and without price, will bring you and your children abundant blessings.
"In the Beginning"
HAVE YOU ever looked down on the Earth from a high hill or a mountain or an airplane? From such high places the planet we live on looks very huge, even though we can see only a small part of it.
Perhaps it is difficult for you to imagine how something so big could be built. But someone planned and built it, just as someone planned and built the home you live in.
Wouldn't you like to be whisked back into the long ago and see some of the amazing things that happened before the Earth came to be the way it is now? And wouldn't you like to learn about who lived on this planet long before men lived here? And how and why YOU came to be here?
A Time Machine
Then let's suppose we have a wonderful machine by which we can tune into the Stream of Time. This machine would be able to show on its screen things that happened long before now and things that will happen in years to come!
Suppose that you live in a small town or city in North America and that you would like to know what that town or city was like in the year 1800. You press a button on the time machine and say into its microphone what you want to see.
The screen lights up with a picture you don't recognize. It shows mostly a deep forest. The scene changes, and now you see familiar things. There is the big hill south of your town and the river that flows by it! But there are no buildings, no streets and no cars. Instead, there is heavy forest. But what are those things in the little clearing at the river's edge?
Indian teepees! As the screen picture zooms in for a close-up of Indians moving about, you realize that your town hadn't even started to be built back in 1800.
Just as there was a time when your town and your parents didn't exist, there was also a time when the planet we live on didn't exist. And just as there was a reason for the Earth coming into being, there was a reason for YOU coming into being. Do you know what it was?
If you know the exciting answer to that question, then you have a wonderful bit of wisdom most people don't have. Even most men who are thought of as being very wise can't give you the truth about why man exists.
To learn what really did happen a long time ago, let us ask the time machine to show us how things looked before there was anything in the vast space where our universe is now. It's difficult for our minds to imagine back over such a long period of time when there was nothing to see. But there was something else there in place of stars and planets.
The time machine screen is inky black. You are gazing into cold, empty, dark space!
At first the screen appears dead, but as it begins to pick up something that is more than of a material nature, a strange, hazy glow comes in sight. (I John 1:5; John 1:4.) It emanates from an invisible Personage, and gradually spreads out to become so big and bright that it entirely fills what at first appeared to be an expanse of nothingness. Now something that isn't material is brilliantly clear. WHO could it be?
It is GOD. "In the Beginning -- God"
God had to be there first because He made everything that ever was. (Genesis 1:1.)
Probably one of the first things you wonder about God is where He came from. He didn't come from anywhere. He has always existed right here in space because there never has been any place outside of space. God inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15.) He had no beginning (Hebrews 7:3.)
Because we are physical, these things are hard for us to understand. We have to realize that there are matters that God keeps secret from us. Many other things He reveals to us, especially if we are obedient. (Deuteronomy 29:29.) God always was and always will be. (Revelation 1:8.)
What is God like? We know what people are like because we can see them. Your parents and brothers and sisters -- if you have brothers and sisters -- are a family of human beings made of flesh and blood in the image or shape of God. (Gen. 1:26.)
God is not just one person, but is really a Family (Ephesians 3:15) of very special Spirit Beings. (John 4:24.) Spirit is eternal. It never dies. (II Corinthians 4:18.) It is not subject to the laws of time and space.
Spirit is something human beings can't usually see or feel or hear. That's why you can't see God by looking into the space of millions of years ago, even though God was all that existed then. However, we can sometimes see some of the things that God produces.
There are two Spirit Beings now in the God Family. One is God the Father. The other is Jesus the Son. Each Person in the God Family is called God, just as each human person in your family is called by your last name. God the Father and Jesus are both composed of spirit, and they are holy and perfect. Their Spirit, like their light that radiates from them, goes out from them everywhere, and is called the Holy Spirit. (Psalm 139:7.)
Now we know that we have gone back in time as far as we can go and still learn something. Next we should ask the time machine to show us something of what happened when God later created the great universe in the vast expanse of space.
We don't know just when the universe was made nor how long it took to make it, so we'll simply ask for a view of it after it was created.
The black curtain of depthless space becomes jeweled by millions of specks and patches of light of various hues. Each of those brighter specks of light is a gigantic, flaming sun, some of which are millions of times larger than the one that gives us our light. And though the distant suns, or stars appear to be grouped together like clusters of diamonds, they are many billions of miles apart! (Isa. 54:2.) The universe is so big that we can see only part way through it. Our minds can't even begin to realize its tremendous size, but this should give us some idea of how much wiser and more powerful our Creator is than we are. (Job 22:12 and 38:4-6.)
In those clusters of beautiful stars our Earth was created. Men have thought up various theories of how it came to be there. Many foolishly believe and teach that all the stars and planets just "happened" without God having anything to do with their creation. This idea is the subject of much study in most schools throughout the world. (Psa. 53:1.)
WHY the Earth was created should be more important than HOW it came into being. If we were to ask our time machine to show how it looked after it was made, we would see a huge blue-green globe of great beauty hanging against the star-studded backdrop of space. You wouldn't recognize any of our planet's continents or markings, because when it was first formed it was quite different.
To create all objects in the universe, God had to provide material just as carpenters needed material to build the place where you live. (Heb. 11:3.) As you already know, God is composed of Spirit. As light shines from a lamp throughout a room, God's Holy Spirit emanates from Him to all the universe. This mysterious and wonderful power is the very essence of God. By its power the universe was created and by it every physical force and celestial body is controlled.
God didn't make the universe just so He could admire His work. He also created millions of spirit beings, or angels, to live in it. Many of them served Him in the third heaven, the place of His throne. (II Cor. 12:2.) We are not told where the third heaven is, but possibly it's somewhere in the northern sky. (Isa. 14:13.) We do know that it is invisible to human eyes, just as spirit beings can't be seen by us (II Cor. 4:18).
A long time ago there was a chief angel in heaven. His Latin name "Lucifer" meant "Light Bringer", or "Shining Star of the Dawn". God created Lucifer to be very wise, good and capable. He was perfect in his ways when he was brought into being, and brilliant in knowledge and appearance. Therefore God made Lucifer ruler over the newly created Earth, where millions of angels were sent to dwell. Lucifer was to govern the angels of the Earth by carrying out all of God's orders and laws.
Because God created and owns the universe, He is the supreme ruler over it. Lucifer at first was subject to Him. He did all that God commanded. There were years and years of happiness and contentment among the angels while they and Lucifer obeyed every one of God's laws. This was because God's laws are given to make beings happy. Matters went very well as long as Lucifer obeyed every rule and instruction. (Ezekiel 28:13-15.)
But in time he permitted wrong thoughts to come into his mind.
"I am king over millions of angels," he thought. "From them I could form a great army powerful enough to attack God's angels. If I could seize God's throne in heaven and depose God, I could become supreme ruler of the whole universe!" (Isa. 14:12-14.)
The mere thought of conquering and replacing God caused great pride and ambition to grow. With it grew greed and a burning desire to carry out his desires.
At last Lucifer made his plans known to those who were most likely to succumb to his tempting promises to make them rulers, under him, of other worlds, and to give high offices even in heaven to those who would rebel with him. He was elated to learn that a third of all the angels were foolishly willing to risk their happiness by joining his evil cause. (Rev. 12:4 and Job 4:18.) The other two thirds remained loyal to their Creator.
The pride, lust and greed that had grown from an evil idea caused Lucifer's great wisdom to become perverted. Otherwise, he would have know that successful war against his Creator would be impossible. His thinking was so distorted that from then on his reasoning became false. Filled with the belief that he could actually conquer his Creator, Lucifer moved to carry out his rebellious plan. With millions of angels willing to obey him, instead of God, he swept up to heaven with them for the attack.
The war that resulted between vast numbers of spirit beings was an incredible, awful thing. Human beings know nothing of the strange and cataclysmic forces that were used. Even hydrogen or cobalt bombs are puny compared to the powers at God's command. God has always been the most powerful Being to exist. No armies of human beings or spirits are strong enough to dethrone Him.
Lucifer ran into dreadful defeat. The terrible power of the Creator was unleashed with such frightful force that the attackers were blasted out of heaven and back down to Earth. (II Peter 2:4 ,and Isa. 14:15.)
God wasn't done with the rebellious angels, however. Lucifer's sin of rebellion against the rule of God turned him into a devil. His name was changed to Satan, which means ENEMY in Hebrew. (Rev. 12:9.) Those angels who had followed him were from then on known as demons. Demons are hateful, bitter, unhappy spirit beings whose pure spirit light has gone out forever, and who have only a miserable, hopeless future (Jude 13).
Awful Penalty of Sin
Whenever God's laws are broken, suffering, trouble and destruction are bound to follow. During the great battle when Satan and his demons tried to conquer God, an awesome change came over the Earth. (Gen. 1:2.) What had long been a beautiful planet had been turned into a cosmic wreck because Lucifer rebelled against his maker. The atmosphere was filled with smoke and poison gases so thick that nothing could live in it.
The raging elements pounded the Earth. Little or no physical life could survive through that terrible time. (Ps. 104:29.)
The only living beings left on the planet were the evil, restless demons whose lawbreaking had broken the perfect balance, harmony and beauty of a world God had lovingly created for His creatures.
For a time our world stayed buried in a deep blanket of gases, smoke and water. Oceans covered the whole Earth. There was no longer any dry land. The atmosphere was so clogged with clouds of tiny bits of matter that no light could reach the seas. We don't know how long this condition lasted, but later came the time when God started preparing for a very important event in His great plan. That was the bringing of human beings into existence.
There are several other planets besides Earth swinging around our sun, and probably there are more here and there in the universe. As far as we know, Earth was the only planet God chose and prepared to be the home of human beings patterned after His image.
How God Creates
For five days God worked at making Earth over into a place that would be just right to support human life. (Gen. 1:23.) It took mighty power and awesome forces to alter the whole surface of the planet in less than a week.
Remember that God isn't just one Person, but the Divine Family. The Father does the supreme planning. He decided what to do. Then He told the second Person of the God Family to do it. The second Person is called the Word of God because He is the Spokesman who does the speaking as the Father commands Him. This second Person is the one who later was born as a human, and became Jesus Christ. So this second Person, or the Word, commanded what God the Father decided to do. Instantly the mighty and all-powerful Holy Spirit produced whatever the Word commanded. That is how God created and formed everything by Jesus Christ. (John 1:3.)
On the first day of reforming Earth's surface, God prepared periods of night and day by clearing away much of the smoke, gases and matter that filled the skies. Thus a little light came through to Earth for the first time since Satan and his demons were cast back from heaven. (Gen. 1:3-5.)
On the second day God produced a vast layer of fresh air over the Earth. Through it much of the water vapors seeped upward to form massive, clean clouds high in the sky, and healthy air that could be safely breathed. This combination of healthy gases (Gen. 1:6-8) was necessary to keep man alive. God called this atmosphere heaven. (Gen. 1:8.) He also spoke of two other heavens: one is the space beyond our atmosphere (Gen. 1:14), and the other, called the third heaven, is where His throne is. (Acts 7:49 and II Cor. 12:2.) He doesn't tell us where it is, and astronomers have never seen it because it's invisible.
On the third day, the Creator molded Earth's crust so that some of it was high and some of it was low. The great layer of water surrounding the planet drained into the low areas, causing various shapes of seas. Large areas of land were left above water, forming continents. (Gen. 1:9-10.) On the continents God caused vegetation -- trees, bushes, flowers, grass -- to grow out of the ground. In that same day the lands began to be green with plants of all kinds springing up from the soil. (Gen. 1:11-13.)
On the fourth day the Creator swept the last of the dust and harmful gases from the skies, thus letting the sun, moon and stars shine in their full brilliance on the lands and seas. (Gen. 1:14-19.)
On the fifth day he planted whales and many kinds of water creatures in the sea. On that day He also formed various types of birds to fly through the air. Soon the skies and the waters were swarming with living things.
The Creator had renewed the face of the Earth and had bedecked it with numerous kinds of life in five days. At last He was almost ready to bring man into being. But before creating man on the sixth day, there were special land creatures to be brought on the scene. Those included elephants, cattle, horses, rodents, worms, insects and every kind of thing that walks, creeps or crawls. (Gen. 1:24-25.)
Finally God performed the most important task of physical work. Using the material from which He formed the Earth, He made a human being! (Gen. 1:26-28.)
The first human being was fashioned in such a way that he looked very much like God. It was as if God were a sculptor, making a statue of Himself in flesh and blood and bone. Actually, He made this first man out of the dust of the ground and then caused him to breathe air and become alive, so that he became the first living soul of his kind. (Gen. 2:7.)
God named this first human being Adam. He was the first living mortal man on this planet. (I Cor. 15:45.) The Creator had already prepared a beautiful park for Adam to live and work in. This was in Eden, a land on the other side of the world from North America.
God knew that Adam would become lonely if he were the only human being. He took one of Adam's ribs, while he was sleeping, and formed it into a woman. She was given to Adam for a companion. Adam named the woman Eve. (Gen. 2:18-22.) Thus ended the first week in the history of the refashioned planet on which human beings have lived for almost six thousand years.
On the seventh day God rested from His six days of tremendous labor. He called that seventh day the Sabbath (Exodus 16:26), thus creating a special day of rest and setting it apart as a twenty-four hour period as His particular day. He made a law that man should observe that same day every week by resting and assembling for worship. God made that day holy time, and commanded all people to always keep it holy. The first six days were for man to work and play, but the last day of the week God kept for Himself. (Ex. 20:8-11.)
God's Sense of Beauty
Let us turn to the time machine again to get a view of part of the beautiful garden of Eden, the park where Adam and Eve lived. The screen shows a deep green, grassy slope leading down to a stream of sparkling, blue water. The slope is decked with graceful shade trees, fruit trees and colorful clusters of plants and flowers. Beyond the fern-banked stream is a towering cliff of red and yellow agate, over which falls a foamy ribbon of glistening water. At one side, in the distance, are rolling hills covered with green groves of leafy trees and flowering bushes. In the distance on the other side is a lush jungle of amazingly beautiful vines trailing thickly between tall, graceful palms. (Gen. 1:31.)
Close-ups on the time machine screen show birds of bright hues flying from tree to tree. Their songs fill the air with soothing music that tells that here is real peace and happiness. Another view shows Adam and Eve beside the stream. They are amusedly watching the antics of fish, turtles and other water creatures playing in the clear, cool water.
Still another view later shows Adam contentedly pruning some lush shrubs. Eve is close by happily choosing and plucking fruit for their next meal. The ability to talk and sing has been instilled in them. They spend much of their time singing together, even while they work. In their leisure time they enjoy walking in the park. Then there is the greater pleasure of often communing with their Creator.
You will notice that Adam and Eve have perfectly formed bodies. Adam is muscular and handsome. Eve is beautiful and graceful. This is very evident because they are unclothed. No clothes are needed to keep them comfortably warm, and there are no thistles or thorns to scratch them. Being naked is a natural condition that gives them no discomfort of mind or body. (Gen. 2:25.)
The screen shows a huge lion moving quietly out from the deep shadows of the thick trees, and creeping slowly up behind Adam and Eve! The two human beings are so occupied with the water creatures that they are unaware of the nearness of the great beast. Then Adam's keen sense of hearing causes him to turn and look. He swings a strong right arm out to seize the lion's heavy mane -- and fondly scratches the head of this beast that has come for a friendly visit!
Before Eve was created, God asked Adam to name all creatures. (Gen. 2:19-29.) In that time of perfect peace, all creatures were friendly and harmless. They will be that way again in another time of peace to come to the world in just a few years. (Isa. 11:6-9.)
In looking at these scenes from the distant past, probably you have paid little attention to what the time machine looks like. Observe it closely.
It's the Bible! Perhaps for the
first time you realize that it is shaped much like an open book.
Still closer examination will reveal that what you thought was
the machine's viewing screen is actually the open pages of the
most important of all books -- the Bible!
"Thou Shalt Surely Die"
LONG AGO God put true facts into the minds of a few men whom He chose. These men wrote out those facts in words God put into their minds. It was like God writing by using human minds.
God does not lie. (Titus 1:2.) He does not make mistakes. Therefore every word written by those men is true. Since then the Bible has been put into many other languages, and the meanings of a few of its words have changed a little in time. But the Bible as it was originally written is entirely true and without mistakes. Many men who thought they had great wisdom have tried to point out mistakes to prove that the Bible is not true, but all of them have failed. If they had been truly wise, they would have recognized that the Bible is the ONLY true book that has ever been written.
If we study the Bible with the idea of gaining wisdom for a better way of life, it can tell us a great deal about what happened long ago, what is happening now in the world and a lot about what is going to happen.
Animal Brain Versus Human Mind
Although the Bible wasn't written until long after the garden of Eden, something happened there that caused all the unhappiness and suffering in the world. God made animals each after its own kind. He made cattle after the cattle kind, dogs after the dog kind. But He made humans after His own kind -- after the God kind. He made man in the form and shape of God. God has hands and feet. But animals have hooves and paws and birds have claws. Animals have brains and animal brains have instinct. A dog has an instinct to bark when someone is coming. The dog doesn't have to think, "Shall I bark?" and then decide whether to bark. The dog just barks automatically by instinct. But a boy or girl or man or woman has to think and decide what to do and whether to do it.
Humans have brains, too, but instead of natural instinct humans have to know and think and decide what to do.
God made man out of matter from the dust of the ground, just as animals were made of matter out of the earth. Just like animals, man was made with only temporary physical existence. This existence comes only from breathing air, and a heart constantly pumping blood through the veins. And even this breath and blood circulation must be refueled by food and water from the ground. Man does not have real self-containing LIFE within himself any more than animals. Some babies die soon after birth. Some live eight or ten years. Some seventy to ninety years, but then all people die. God is different. God is composed of Spirit and has self-containing LIFE eternally, that never dies. God is immortal.
Man has only a temporary existence like animals, but man was made in the image and likeness, or in form and shape like God.
God made the first man, Adam, with a mind that could learn to work with matter or things that grow from the ground. But in order to have a relationship with God and get along with and work with other people, man was made to need to have the Holy Spirit of God added to his mind. Through it God would reveal to man's mind the knowledge to get along with other people as well as with God in peace and good companionship.
The Two Trees
So God tested the first man, Adam. He put the first man and woman in the beautiful park God had made, called Eden. In the midst of this beautiful park God had put two very special trees which had very special meaning. One was the tree of LIFE. Although God had not created man out of Spirit with self-containing immortal life, in this test God offered to give Adam and Eve the Holy Spirit and make them immortal just as God is immortal, if they would receive it by eating of the fruit of this tree of LIFE. And they had to reject the fruit of the other special tree, called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But in this test if they took to themselves the right to determine what is good and what is wrong and harmful, while rejecting the tree of LIFE, they would surely die. You see, they were going to die anyway, unless they received the LIFE-giving Spirit from God. The Holy Spirit is LIFE imparted from God -- God's very own immortal LIFE.
Now this tree of LIFE meant first receiving the Spirit of God which would impart into their minds the spiritual KNOWLEDGE from God of right and wrong in a close relationship with God and with other people. This was SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE -- the way of LOVE to God and LOVE to man.
God had made man so that he could learn by himself how to work with matter, but without this spiritual knowledge revealed through God's Spirit direct from the mind of God, man could not learn by himself how to get along with other people in peace and cooperation and contentment and happiness. Neither could he have a close loving relationship with God.
So you see the tree God offered Adam and Eve was not only a tree of LIFE, but also a tree of spiritual KNOWLEDGE from God. And the other tree was that of carnal self-produced knowledge which led to DEATH. These trees represented two kinds of knowledge. One, human self-thought-out knowledge resulting in death, and the other, God-given spiritual knowledge leading to eternal LIFE.
Now WHY did God give them this test? The only kind of knowledge a human person can come to know by himself is knowledge that comes into his mind through his eyes, ears, or senses of smell, taste or feel. Unless God specially reveals it by His Spirit you cannot know anything except what you see, or hear, or smell, taste or feel. Try it on yourself.
Now God loved Adam, just as He loves you and all people. God wanted him and all people to be happy, to enjoy living and to live forever. But Satan deceived Eve, and she led Adam to make the wrong choice. So he disobeyed God, rejected the tree of LIFE -- which meant receiving spiritual knowledge from God's Spirit, and he decided to make up his own mind and decide by himself how to live.
Now when Adam had sinned, GOD CLOSED UP THE TREE OF LIFE. That is, God shut off His Holy Spirit from Adam and all his children -- the whole world -- UNTIL Jesus Christ, the "second Adam," should come and pay the penalty of every person's sins so humans could be forgiven and then have the Holy Spirit offered to them. Otherwise, God would have been obliged to allow people to take the tree of LIFE, gain immortal life in discontent, unhappiness, sorrow, and suffering which would last forever!
So God planned how all Adam's children, dying meanwhile, would one day be resurrected back to life AFTER Jesus Christ had paid the death penalty for their sins in their stead, and then, in that Judgment Day, all Adam's children will have the tree of LIFE opened to them. God is a very loving and merciful God.
A Closer Look
Satan and his fallen angels were still roaming the Earth in the form of evil spirits. God allowed Satan to still be the demon ruler of Earth. Satan was enviously angry when human beings were put on Earth to have power over all physical creatures. He looked for some way of turning Adam and Eve against their Creator, so that he could become their master.
His opportunity came one day when Eve walked off by herself in the park. Suddenly she came upon a snake, which was formed quite differently then than the snakes that now exist. There was nothing unusual about meeting a snake, because all the animals were friendly with and obedient to Adam and Eve. What surprised Eve was that the snake, now under the power of Satan, spoke to her!
"Did God tell you that you would die if you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?" asked the snake.
"He did," Eve answered. "We don't want to die, so we haven't touched the tree."
"But human beings have immortal souls, and therefore they can never die," lied the snake. (Gen. 3:4.) "If you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will receive great wisdom instead of death. You will probably even become as wise as God."
The more Eve thought about what the snake said, the more eager she became to eat some of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Finally she could resist no longer. She went to the tree and plucked the first bit of fruit she could reach. It was pleasant to taste, so she took some to Adam, who also ate of it even though Eve told him what it was.
By taking the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve took to themselves the right to decide what is good, and what is evil. In so doing, they rejected the God-centered way of God's spiritual Law. They chose the way that transgresses it!
They pioneered in deciding for themselves what is right and what is wrong -- what is righteousness and what is sin! And humanity has been doing what seems right in its own eyes ever since. In so doing, they rejected the fact that God's living, inexorable spiritual Law is the way of good -- the cause of all good -- and its transgression the way of evil -- the cause of all evil. Since they and humanity in general after them have taken to themselves the determination of what is good, they of necessity have followed the way contrary to God's Law. They have followed the way that has produced all the vast mountain of evils that has descended on this sick world!
They Made Themselves Competitors of the Living God
Even though Adam and Eve rejected the voice of God, He did bequeath to mankind His revelation of basic knowledge. We have it in writing! The Holy Bible is that revelation. It contains history, instruction, revelation of basic knowledge and prophecy.
It does not contain all knowledge. It contains that basic knowledge we could not otherwise find out.
After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve for the first time experienced the unpleasant feeling of gnawing guilt. They knew they had disobeyed God. They also had a discomforting awareness of being naked, and they felt ashamed. They wanted to cover themselves, so they laced fig leaves together to fashion aprons to put around themselves.
Because they had disobeyed God by doing just one of the things He had told them not to do, Adam and Eve committed the very first human sin. That simple wrong act changed the life of every human being who has been born since then.
Just as the super-angel Lucifer ran into trouble when he went against God's rules, human beings also fall into trouble when they break the rules they should live by for their own good. The laws we obey come from those over us in power. The act of causing people to obey rules is called government. God's laws and His government are LOVE. (Romans 13:10.) His rules are that people must first of all love God by obeying Him, worshiping Him, praying to Him, trusting Him and keeping His Sabbath holy.
Next to those most important laws are the laws that people should love other people. Children should respect and obey their parents. (Ephesians 6:1-3.) They must never hate or kill or try to harm others. Instead, they should love everyone, including even their enemies. They must be loyal and honest to others. They must not want to take anything away from others. They should remember that it is better to give than to take. (Ex. 20:12-17.)
Why the World Is Unhappy
After Satan began having rebellious thoughts, he soon came to believe just the opposite of God's laws. His way of life has come to mean doing just the opposite of what was mentioned in the two preceding paragraphs. (John 8:44; I John 3:8.) God allowed Satan to rule over the Earth only until MAN should be created and prove that he was worthy to rule by obeying God. A continuance of Satan's rule would have brought on only increasing unhappiness and suffering.
Because Adam was the first man, God gave him the chance to rule the Earth. (Gen. 1:28.) The condition was that he had to remain obedient to God and have nothing to do with Satan's ways. Satan knew that if Adam failed m obedience, God would take away his chance to rule. Satan's scheme, because he hated Adam, was to trick him into believing that the wrong ways were the right ways. If Adam could be made to fall for that, he would be in trouble.
God had made the man to be the head of his wife and children. (Eph. 5:23, 25.) Just as God rules with love over angels and human beings, so must the man rule with love over his own house. A man who fails to do this will also fail in becoming a ruler in the Kingdom of God that is coming to Earth very soon. Satan knew that God expected Adam to be the head over Eve. That is why he waited to catch her alone. After he had tempted her to pick the fruit she wasn't to touch, Eve tempted Adam. (Gen. 3:6.) Adam wasn't strong enough to keep from disobeying along with Eve. This proved that he couldn't be strong enough to obey God in all things, and therefore wasn't worthy to be ruler of the Earth.
Satan Still the Unseen Ruler
The way it turned out, Satan got to continue as the unseen ruler of the world until one should come who would conquer him by obeying God and never sinning. That man, Jesus Christ, finally did come and qualify to be that ruler. (Luke 4:5-8.) He has not yet returned to the Earth as its chief ruler.
God let Satan stay on Earth, but he wasn't given the power to force anyone to sin. Satan has power only to try to lead or tempt people. As for human beings, God gave them minds capable of thinking for themselves and deciding whether to obey God or Satan. (James 4:7.)
Ashamed that they had believed the things spoken through the snake, Adam and Eve tried to hide in the park. But God knew where they were hiding. (Gen. 3:8.)
"Have you disobeyed me by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge?" God startled them by asking very near them.
"Eve gave me the fruit," Adam finally answered, trying to shift the guilt to his wife. (Gen. 3:12.)
God was disappointed. He had allowed the man and woman to make their choice of whom to obey. They had chosen the way that would bring only unhappiness. It was too late now for anything except painful regret, and that wouldn't do them any good. All they could look forward to was punishment. (Deut. 30:15-19.)
They were given leather clothing to wear and were banished from the beautiful park that had been lovingly made just for them. God knew that if they were to stay there, they might also eat of the Tree of Life. That would have meant that they would have lived forever in unhappiness and shame. (Gen. 3:21-23.)
To prevent their returning to the Garden of Eden, a huge flaming sword in constant motion guarded the only entrance. (Gen. 3:24.)
"Because you have sinned and tempted Adam to sin, you will suffer pain any time you give birth to a child," God told Eve. "So also shall it be with human mothers in the future." (Gen. 3:16.)
Thus the first human beings, because of believing Satan instead of their Creator, lost the right to live on in peace, happiness and good health. How different it could have been if they had obeyed God and then have eaten the fruit of the Tree of Life. They would have lived happily forever!
As another result of their sin, God put a curse on the ground outside the park. For the first time since the Earth was remade, weeds and thistles and thorns sprang out of the soil. (Gen. 3:17.) This was a hardship for Adam, who had to rely on difficult farming for their food.
After a time a son was born to Adam and Eve. This first baby in the world was named Cain. Another son was soon born whose name was Abel. (Gen. 4:1-2.) Cain became a farmer, and raised fruit, vegetables and grain. Abel was a shepherd, and took care of sheep, which Adam and Eve found were also good to eat when cooked. (Gen. 4:2.) Cain and Abel learned to make sacrifices to God on stone altars. This was their way of contacting God and asking forgiveness for things they did that were wrong.
Today we don't make sacrifices because Jesus Christ the Creator came almost two thousand years ago to die for all of us. Now, if people are truly sorry because of disobeying God, they can show it by repenting and being baptized. (Acts. 2:38.) Then God puts the power of His Holy Spirit into their minds so that they can understand and obey the Creator's laws. Thus they can be close to God and know that He hears them when they pray and that He speaks to them when they read the Bible.
It was different with Cain and Abel. One day when they brought their sacrifices to the altar (Gen. 4:34) their attitudes turned out to be quite unalike. Abel picked from his flock the best lamb he could find. It was a little animal he had grown fond of, but he was willing to give it up. Although Cain raised mostly fruit and vegetables, he had a few animals. Among them was a lamb he prized very highly because he knew it would grow into an especially fine sheep -- if he didn't kill it while it was a lamb.
"Why should I give up this special lamb?" Cain thought. "Surely God should be satisfied with some of the best vegetables I have grown."
Cain's heart wasn't right. He felt that God's way wasn't the best way for him, so he did what seemed right in his own mind. That is the very thing most people have been doing ever since. The Bible states that the way that seems right to a man is nearly always wrong, and can bring death. (Prov. 14:12.) God's way is always right, whether or not it seems right in human minds. That is a lesson not yet learned by most highly-educated people. If you can learn it now, you will be a very wise person.
The First Human Murderer!
God could not accept Cain's sacrifice, which wasn't the kind God said it should be. (Gen. 4:5.) When Cain learned that his sacrifice wasn't pleasing to God, he became very envious of his brother, who had done the right thing. The envy turned to anger and then to hatred. Later, when the two brothers were out in a field alone, Cain furiously turned on Abel and struck him with such force that he killed him. (Gen. 4:8.)
The first baby born in the world thus became the first murderer! When Cain realized what he had done, he foolishly tried to hide. Of course God knew where he was, and confronted him.
"Where is your brother?" asked the Eternal. (Gen. 4:9.) "I don't know," lied Cain, hoping that God wouldn't come across Abel's lifeless body. "How should I know my brother's whereabouts?" (Read Prov. 28:13.)
Here was more unhappiness for Adam and Eve. Besides losing their second son, they learned that their first one was a murderer and a liar. As punishment for Cain, God put a curse on him. He had to leave his family and become a lone wanderer in the world. Furthermore, God made Cain a marked man because he had murdered Abel, but he made it plain that Cain should not be murdered by anyone. Instead, he was to live on with the miserable memory of killing his brother. (Gen. 4:11-15.)
Adam and Eve had more children. They grew up and had children. Cain had married one of his sisters, and they had children. (Gen. 4:16-17.) Another son born to Adam and Eve was named Seth. He, too, took a sister for his wife, and they had children and many grandchildren.
Many people came into the world as the years passed. The more humans increased, the more they fell away from their Creator. It wasn't a very happy throng. Men were naturally mean and greedy. Instead of working for things they needed and wanted, many of them cheated and robbed and killed for them.
Adam lived a long time to see some of the results of his disobedience. He was nine hundred and thirty years old when he died. That's only thirty years short of a thousand. He was able to live so long because of being created with a perfect physical body. But he did die -- just as God said he would if he ate of the Tree of Knowledge. (Gen. 2:17.)
By the time of Adam's death there were thousands of human beings on the Earth. Even with unlimited space to live in, they banded together in towns instead of spreading out as God intended. (Gen. 4:17.) Huddled together by adjoining dwellings led only to more strife and misery. Men were so much against God's ways that it wasn't possible for them to love one another. Living too closely together made matters much worse. The more they gathered in towns, the greater the need for one group to protect itself against another group. Other bands of men formed to attack towns and seize their wealth. Nothing was safe from the cruel and greedy.
So it was that wars started on
the Earth. Men became so evil that killing other men became one
of their greatest sports. (Gen. 6:5.)
Noah Builds the Ark!
GOD LOOKED with sorrow on these human creatures He loved. He was so displeased at their refusal to abide by His rules for happy living that He decided to do an awesome thing.
He would blot them out of existence by a worldwide Flood! (Gen. 6:7).
God knew that if human beings were to continue in their evil ways, they would destroy themselves more painfully. His way would be more merciful. Then He would bring them back to life thousands of years later when Jesus Christ would be ruling Earth. They would then realize how much wiser it would be to obey their Creator.
At that time God saw only one man who was willing to live according to His laws. His name was Noah. (Gen. 6:8.) He warned the people who lived around him that their lives depended on their turning from their evil ways and obeying God. His warnings were ignored.
One day he was startled to hear the Eternal speaking to him. Said God: "Because men have disobeyed me and become so evil, I am going to take away their lives. But because you have obeyed me, I am going to spare your life and the lives of your family. All other people will be drowned in a great flood that will cover the whole planet.,'
"But how can my family and I escape such a flood?" Noah asked.
"I will instruct you in building a large ship," God answered. "It will be of such size that it will hold at least one pair of every kind of creature on Earth." (Gen. 6:14-16.)
Noah Builds an Ark
Although Noah was four hundred and eighty years old when he and his three sons later started the task of ship-building, old age wasn't a drawback in very early times when human bodies were probably closer to being as perfect as the bodies of Adam and Eve.
When people heard what Noah and his sons were doing, they came for many miles to stare and laugh at what was going on.
"Noah must be crazy!" they jeered. "Who ever heard of building a ship that size? There isn't even any water around here to float it in!"
"He thinks there will be a sudden big flood!" others scoffed. "He's going to have all that work and expense for nothing!"
Years passed. The ship, or ark, grew larger. The closer it came to being finished, the more onlookers ridiculed the patient Noah and his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, who carefully carried on for nearly a hundred years, probably with many other men helping them, to work by the ship plans through which God directed them.
Meanwhile, Noah continued reminding his scoffers that the Flood would come in due time because of their disobedience, but that those who would repent and obey could be spared. No one outside Noah's family believed what he said.
"You've been saying that for a hundred years, and there still isn't the slightest sign of a flood!" people sneered. "You are only a religious crackpot!,'
The Ark Is Finished
Twenty more years passed (Gen. 6:3) while onlookers jeered at the sight of a mammoth ship sitting far from any place where it could float. God had patiently given them one hundred and twenty years to think about their sins and decide to live differently. (II Pet. 2:5.)
People must have admired Noah and his sons, however, for their ability to build such a craft. It was higher than a four-story building, and ten times as long as it was high! It was designed to be a huge, floating zoo. The interior was divided into stables and cages for the many creatures that were to be loaded into it. There were runways, ventilator shafts, feeding troughs and everything that would be needed for the strange, live cargo.
By the time the ship was finished and smeared with waterproof pitch, Noah was almost six hundred years old! His sons were then far older than most people are today when they die of old age. But more work had to be done. There was the task of gathering and storing in the ark the many tons of food that would be needed by the animals. Hay, grain, dried fruit and dried meat were hauled from the surrounding country and stowed aboard along with huge tanks of fresh water.
People continued to laugh at this activity. They wouldn't believe that worldwide disaster was at hand. Instead, they felt that there was a glorious future for man as he spread out to conquer the whole Earth. It was much as it is today, when a few men chosen by God are warning all nations of a great calamity that will sweep the world within the lifetime of most people living today. Instead of heeding these warnings, people are looking forward to an increasingly easier life with more money and less work. And just as foolish hopes were shattered in Noah's time, so will they be shattered again. Even a little child who will heed the warnings is wiser than the so-called educated man who shakes his head at them.
"Where are all the animals you plan to take for a boat ride?" was the question jeeringly put to Noah so often. Then the scoffers would add, "It will take you another hundred and twenty years to round up enough creatures to fill that thing you've built!"
The Animals Seek Shelter!
It wasn't easy for Noah to listen to these taunts decade after decade. But he believed God. He was so sure that his live cargo would somehow soon be on hand that he built a ramp up to a large door in the side of the ark, so that the animals could walk in. This was just another act of faith in the hundred and twenty years of trusting God while the ark was being built and the people warned.
One day those who came to scoff stood and wordlessly stared at what they saw. All kinds of animals and birds were gathering around the ark! (Gen. 7:8-9.) If the amazed onlookers expected Noah and his men to have trouble getting the creatures into the ship, they were wrong. God had given the creatures an impulse to seek shelter here. They entered the ark in an orderly manner, even though many were ferocious by nature!
Of animals and birds clean enough to be eaten by man, seven pairs went into the ship. Of unclean creatures, only one male and one female entered. Soon they were in the stables and cages that would be their homes for many months. Then Noah and his wife and Noah's three sons and their wives entered the ark. The growing throng of onlookers was still jeering, but some of the people were so amazed at having seen the animals entering the ark that they began to wonder if Noah's predictions from God were true. But most of them simply refused to take Noah's warnings seriously. Then, as now, people couldn't recognize the truth because they didn't want to obey God.
A day passed. Then another and another. Still there was no sign of a flood. Almost a week went by. (Gen. 7:4.) Many of the onlookers went away laughing. Others joined the crowd for the first time. News of this great ship on dry land had spread everywhere, and there was growing curiosity.
Noah and his sons had built a
door to shut up the opening in the side of the ark. God caused it
to be closed and sealed. (Gen. 7:16.) If onlookers saw this
happen, they must have been quite startled.
"And the Flood Came"
PERHAPS few noticed on that morning the wind was a little stronger than usual. By noon there were violent gusts that grew into gales. People were forced to shelter. Strong winds weren't very unusual, but when swift-moving masses of unusually dark clouds boiled up over the horizon, residents began to worry.
To add to the growing concern, there were strange rumblings within the ground. The darkness grew worse. The rumblings became so strong that the Earth quivered. Then, just seven days after God had told Noah to go into the ark, Earth's crust broke open here and there, and giant streams of water shot out of the ground. (Gen. 7:11.) At the same time, huge waves roared in from the seas and spread over the coastal areas. Lightning flashed and cracked, followed by deafening roars of thunder. Torrents of water burst from the darkened skies.
This, at last, was just the start of the terrible thing Noah had warned would come upon the world!
It was the most awesome thing that had happened to the planet since Satan's sin had resulted in all of Earth's surface being torn up so that nothing could live on it.
By now most people were becoming crazed with fear. No matter what they did or where they went, water came at them. No one could survive without shelter, but there was no lasting shelter. Rivers flooded the valleys where most people lived. Because of the constant cloudbursts, climbing to higher elevations was almost impossible. Swift torrents of water from the hills and mountains swept brush, trees, rocks, mud and people into the rising waters below. Only the strongest were able to battle their way to higher ground, and then only eventually to lose their lives by drowning or violent injury or murder.
Meanwhile, water had swirled up around the ark and slowly lifted it free of the ground. Many who had jeered at Noah had realized that the inside of the ship was the only safe, dry place left. (Gen. 7:18.) A few who hadn't been able to flee elsewhere had waded up to the ark and screamed to be let in. With rain pounding loudly on the ship, no one inside could hear the frantic shrieks. Hands clawed feebly at the pitch-smeared siding, and then disappeared in the rapidly rising and turbulent water.
In His great mercy, God had given the people one hundred and twenty years to heed His warnings through Noah., The people had ignored Noah, which was the same as ignoring their Creator. Now it was too late to change or to pray for help. It is often too late to expect God to help us if we postpone asking for help beyond the long periods of mercy God extends to us.
Day after day the water kept rumbling out of the sky and up from the ground. It swelled to the tops of the highest mountains. Any people or animals who were strong enough to fight their way that far must have battled among themselves for the last gasps of air before they were swallowed up.
Within a few weeks the water was so deep that the peaks of the highest mountains were well below the surface of the water. (Gen. 7:20.) By then every person on Earth had been drowned except the eight in the ark.
For forty days and nights water gushed supernaturally from the heavy, gloomy cloud layer. Then the rain stopped. By this time the blanket of water covering the planet was a few miles deep above the land and normal sea surfaces. But Noah and his family and cargo floated safely as high as some of our passenger planes now fly above the clouds!
For a hundred and fifty days the water stayed at its deepest. (Gen. 7:24.) During this time, the people in the ark weren't idle. Whatever the tasks, they must have been hard to perform in the weeks in which the ark pitched and rolled through massive waves pushed up by the wind. God caused this strong wind to blow so that it would evaporate the water as fast as possible.
The Waters Lower
One day soon the tops of the highest mountains began to appear above the water. The ark drifted up against one of the mountains. (Gen. 8:5.) The water level kept lowering, leaving the ark stranded high on the side of the mountain.
Noah waited more than two months while the water kept going down. After that he sent out birds to see if the distant land below was still flooded. At last one of the birds returned with a green leaf in its beak, after which it flew away and failed to return. This proved to Noah that the water had drained off to where plant life had started redeveloping, and that the valleys were ready to live in again. (Gen. 8:11.)
The men opened the top of the ark, then the only eight people left on Earth excitedly came out on the top deck to view land for the first time in more than a year. (Verse 13.)
After being cooped up for so many months, the sight of dry ground was a wonderful welcome sight to Noah and his family, but it was strange to look down on a silent world where there was nobody to scoff at them.
A New Life Begins
"Come out of the ark," God told Noah. "Bring the creatures with you. I want all living beings to spread out over the Earth and produce families.', (Verse 17.)
The large door in the side of the ark was broken open, and a wide ramp type of gangplank was built from the door to the ground. Then all the creatures were freed from their stables and cages to return to a new life amid the new greenery of the Earth.
But Noah didn't set all of the animals and birds free. He was so thankful to his Creator for sparing him and his family that he built an altar on the mountain, and sacrificed some of the clean creatures as an offering to God. (Verse 20.)
God was pleased with Noah. He blessed him and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. They were told to rebuild homes and raise children, so that many people would again live in the world from which the disobedient had been purged.
"I shall never again bring a flood over the whole planet", God told Noah and his sons. (Gen. 9:11.) "As a promise to you that it will not happen again, look at this sign that will sometimes be seen in the sky." (Verses 12-17.)
Thereupon the Eternal caused a
beautiful arc of many colors to appear from horizon to horizon.
Whenever people see this colorful arc, called a rainbow, they are
seeing the sign of the promise God made to man more than four
thousand, three hundred years ago!
The Tower of Babel
FROM then on, all the people who came into the world descended from Noah's three sons and their wives. (Gen. 9:19.) After some years had gone by, there developed many inhabitants in the plains area south of where the ark had landed. Some of them moved farther down into the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, the two main rivers of what later became known as the land of Assyria.
As the years passed and people increased in numbers, many of them moved southeast over the lower plains to what is now known as the Persian Gulf. There the soil was rich, and wonderful crops sprang out of it. The ground was best in the region where the Tigris and Euphrates flowed closest together in a land called Shinar. (Gen. 11:2.) More and more families chose that area in which to live.
There were very few rocks or trees there. Probably no great city would have been built there if it hadn't been discovered that much of the soil was just right for making excellent bricks. These were made by pressing moist clay into block shapes and baking them in the sun or around fires. Furthermore, there were places where a thick, pitchy liquid oozed from the ground. This liquid, called bitumen, was the very thing needed to hold the bricks together. (Gen. 11:3.)
Human Beings Huddle Together
Men began putting up homes, barns, warehouses and all kinds of buildings. Before long towns were sprawling over the plain of Shinar. People were massing together again just as they had done before the Flood.
This did not please God. He knew that when human beings huddled together in crowded buildings, they failed to get the best out of the good things He had created for men to find in the fields, the forests, the mountains, the streams and even in the seas and deserts. Besides, men were more likely to break God's rules of happy living when they existed in masses. God had told Noah and his family that people should spread out over the Earth.
Noah lived for three hundred and fifty years after the Flood. (Gen. 9:28.) During that time he publicly proclaimed God's wishes whenever he had the opportunity. Through him, many people understood something about God's plans and laws. Unhappily, most people were living further and further from the ways they should have been living, and had little interest in bettering themselves by obedience to their Creator.
Nimrod Becomes a Hero
At this time in human history there was a man who came down from one of Noah's sons, Ham. The man's name was Nimrod. Most of Earth's inhabitants today wouldn't have any idea who this man was, although in one way or another he has had a powerful effect on the life of most every one who has lived in the past four thousand years.
Nimrod was a very large, strong, fierce man with dark skin. Because of his power and skill as a successful hunter of wild beasts that attacked people, he became a hero and a leader among his tribesmen. (Gen. 10:8-9.) Like most others of his time, he knew of his Creator's laws, but he hated those laws. Just as many people today have been led to believe, Nimrod believed that if he lived by God's rules he wouldn't enjoy life. He lived by his own laws, and tried to prove to others that they would be happier if they would live the same way.
Nimrod became chief over the people who grouped together in the main sprawling town in the land of Shinar. Probably there were many families who didn't like the way he ordered them about, but whenever wild animals attacked, Nimrod and his warriors fought to protect the townspeople. Nimrod later built a wall around the growing town. Deeds like these helped make him a strong leader, and caused more families to move in and settle under his rule.
Before many more years had passed, the town had grown into a city. It was the first large one to be built on the Earth after the Flood. It was such a wonder that people came from afar to gaze on the vast mass of buildings and high walls. That country later came to be known as Babylonia, and the name of the city was Babel or Babylon. (Gen. 10:10.)
Nimrod Begins Idol Worship
Nimrod was not only ruler of Babylon, but he became the most feared man in the land. His power and wealth grew as Babylon grew. He made the laws, and those laws decreed that Babylonians should not look to the God of Noah as their ruler, but should be ruled by human governments. One of Nimrod's schemes to hold people together under his rule was to build a tower so gigantic that it would excite everyone's awe and wonder. It was to be the highest temple ever built, and a monument to the sun god in the center of a world-ruling government. (Gen. 11:4.)
Men slaved for a long time just to erect the base of the tower. Then little by little the temple took shape toward the sky. Nimrod's plan for a brick monster to loom up over the plain was working out well.
Then God stepped in. He saw that Babel was only the beginning of far-fetched things men would try to do, and that they had to be stopped. (Gen. 11:6.) Imagine what it would have been like if men such as Nimrod had been able to develop weapons such as we have today!
Many Languages Begin
Since the Flood there had been only one language. Men hadn't moved apart in different tribes long enough to start speaking in different ways as do the people of today in various sections of the Earth. (Gen. 11:1.) Then something happened to the men working on the tower. They began to accuse each other of not talking plainly. Some talked one way, while others talked other ways. The less they understood one another, the more they argued. Arguments grew into fights. Work came to a halt. (Gen. 11:7-8.) Not every workman necessarily spoke a different language, but God caused them to speak in so many different ways that the lack of communication made it impossible to continue working on the temple. The tower was thereafter called "Babel" because "Babel" meant "confusion" in Noah's language.
Not understanding their neighbors, many of the families living in or near the city of Babylon moved away to seek a living in distant parts of the land. This was what God intended for them to do. (Gen. 10:25 and Deut. 32:7-8.) His way of scattering them by confusing their language was a great blow to Nimrod's scheme for quick growth of his kingdom and greater control over man's religious habits.
But during the next few years, while people were scattering out over the land, those who stayed at Babylon were increasing in numbers. Besides, many who had never been there stopped there in their travels. In time, there were so many in or near the city of Babylon that Nimrod again put men to work on the tower. Nevertheless, it wasn't God's will that the tower should be finished. It never was.
Noah Dies of Old Age
At the time Nimrod's kingdom had spread, Noah was still living! He was about seven hundred years old when God scattered men from Babylon. Still he was not feeble, and because he remained faithful to God, God gave him many more years of abundant life. He became a successful farmer who was nine hundred and fifty years old when he died!
That is a long time to live, especially when we consider how short a time we live today. Yet those who are wise enough to turn from the wrong kind of living and seek God's ways will enjoy even longer lives. They will get to live forever as spirit beings (I Cor. 15:44-45, 53), and many of them will start that long life by ruling the Earth soon with Jesus Christ for a thousand years! (Rev. 2:26-27 and 5:9-10.)
Later, they will dwell in a
beautiful, jeweled city God will send down from Heaven to Earth.
(Rev. 21:2.) This is one of the many wonderful things God has
prepared for those who love Him.
Abram Journeys to Canaan
TWO YEARS after the Flood, when Noah's son Shem was a hundred years old, Shem had a son called Arphaxad. (Gen. 11:10.) When Arphaxad was thirty-five years old, he had a son named Salah. (Gen. 11:12.) Several generations went by in this manner. When about three hundred years had passed, a man by the name of Abram was born. (Gen. 11:26.)
Abram was brought up in a city in Mesopotamia (Acts 7:2) called Ur, not very far from the spot where Nimrod began to build Babel. (Gen. 11:28.) Like Noah, Abram learned to obey God's laws, while again the people of that world were worshiping idols and living further from God's ways. Abram was one of the few who didn't take part in pagan ways. When he was about seventy-five years old God told him to move with his family to another country.
Abram Obeys God
God promised him that if he would obey all His instructions, Abram would become the father of the most famous nation on the earth, and that in time this nation would enjoy some very special blessings. Abram didn't know what the land he would go to would be like, and he didn't know what the blessings to his people would be, but he trusted God and obeyed.
Besides his wife, Sarai, Abram took along a nephew named Lot, Lot's wife, shepherds to take care of flocks of sheep and herdsmen to handle herds of cattle. It was no small task for Abram to move his family and their possessions to a distant land. (Gen. 12:4.)
After many weeks of travel, they arrived in the land of Canaan, where God had said Abram should go. (Gen. 12:5.) Canaan was a very fertile land where there was good soil and plenty of growing things. But the people of the land were evil. Therefore God caused a famine to come on that area. This famine occurred just after Abram reached Canaan. (Gen. 12:10.) Lack of rain caused the fruit trees, vegetable plants and grass to dry up. There was little food for the animals Abram and Lot had brought to Canaan. And without cattle or sheep, there wouldn't be enough food for Abram and those with him.
Abram Goes to Egypt
Reports came to the travelers that down in the land of Egypt there was no lack of rain, so Abram and his family went down into Egypt to save their flocks.
In the land of Egypt a great civilization had grown up since the flood. The Egyptian kings, or pharaohs, had become wealthy and powerful in spite of their worshiping of idols. They enjoyed all the good things that came from the ground. Whatever they lacked they took from others.
Because Sarai was a beautiful woman, and that the king of Egypt might want her for one of his many wives, Abram asked Sarai to pose as his sister instead of his wife. (Gen. 12:12-13.) Sarai was actually only Abram's half-sister, because her father was Abram's father, but her mother wasn't Abram's mother. Abram wanted to convey this half truth because he feared that if it were known that he was Sarai's husband, the Egyptians might kill him so that Sarai would be free to be married.
The thing that Abram feared soon happened. Although about sixty-five years of age, Sarai still appeared as a young and beautiful woman. She was of lighter skin than Egyptian women. Before long it was reported that this unusual woman might find special favor with Pharaoh, who commanded that she be brought to his palace. Believing that she was unmarried, he had her lodged in a place where his future brides were prepared for marriage.
Pharaoh was so pleased at the prospect of Sarai becoming his wife, that he gave Abram costly gifts that included livestock, servants and a fine residence. But God didn't want Sarai to become Pharaoh's wife. To prevent it, He sent plagues on Pharaoh's house. This misery and discomfort to the king and his family was rightly guessed to be because of Sarai when it was learned that she was Abram's wife. Pharaoh was angry at Abram because of not telling him all the truth at first, but God was pleased that Abram finally disclosed to Pharaoh that Sarai was Abram's wife. Pharaoh sent Sarai back to her husband, and gave orders to his men to see that Abram and his family and property were safely escorted out of Egypt. (Gen. 12:14-20.)
Back to Canaan!
Abram and Lot and their wives and servants then moved their livestock back to Canaan. Abram went to a spot where he had built an altar to God when he first came to Canaan. There he asked for forgiveness and strengthening. (Gen. 13:1-4.)
By this time the famine in Canaan was over. The flocks and herds belonging to Abram and Lot had become much greater in number. They could feed well on the new, lush grass. But because the animals were so numerous, Abram's men and Lot's men began quarreling over the places where there was the most grass and water. Abram didn't want to have any trouble with Lot, so he suggested that they choose separate regions in which to dwell.
God had promised this land to Abram. It was Abram's right to have first choice where he wanted his animals to graze, but he unselfishly told Lot to take the first choice. Lot looked down on the rich soil in the Jordan River valley, and said he wanted that. That left the upper lands to Abram, but Abram was satisfied because Lot was satisfied. (Gen. 13:5-12.)
After Abram and Lot separated, there was a day when Abram was on a high mountain. There God spoke to him again, telling him that all the land he could see in all directions would forever be his and his descendants" whose number would be equal that of the number of specks of dust on the earth. (Gen. 13:16.) This was a wonderful promise to Abram, who was nearly eighty years old and without children.
Meanwhile, Lot and his family pitched their tents near the city of Sodom in the rich Jordan valley. Lot thought he had made a wise choice in going there. He didn't realize what trouble he would have with the people who lived there. They were exceptionally vile. As a godly man, Lot should never have come near them.
War Breaks Out in Canaan
Shortly after he moved close to Sodom, war broke out between the kings of the five cities of the Jordan valley and four kings of the land where Nimrod began his kingdom. The four distant kings won the battle. The people of the two main valley cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, were pursued to the mountains, where some of them escaped. Most of them were captured to become slaves of the victors. Among the prisoners were Lot, his family and his servants. Lot's possessions were taken from him. Evidently it had been unwise to choose to live in the valley.
When word reached Abram about what had happened, Abram set out in pursuit of the victorious kings with only his three hundred and eighteen men. (Gen. 14:14.) It took courage to face an army with many more men than Abram had. Abram looked to God for help, and God helped him by giving him a chance to quietly encircle the camp of the four invading kings by night. Their men were taken by surprise. In the darkness they couldn't tell how much of a force was attacking them. Fearing that it could be a huge one, they fled to the mountains near Damascus to the north, leaving behind all the prisoners and loot seized in the Jordan valley. (Gen. 14:13-16.)
The king of Sodom came with his remaining men to honor Abram for what he had done to the enemy, though he wasn't aware that Abram had done it because of Lot and his family. This meeting took place at a spot near the city of Salem, which later was called Jerusalem.
Melchizedek, king of Salem, also came out to meet Abram. Melchizedek's servants brought out bread and wine to Abram and his weary men. (Gen. 14:13-16.)
There's nothing unusual about a king providing nourishment to tired soldiers, but this was an unusual king. The Bible refers to him as "King of Righteousness." (Heb. 7:1-3.) There are no completely righteous beings except those in the God Family. Therefore Melchizedek must have been Jesus in human form!
Melchizedek blessed Abram for rescuing the people who had been taken captive. Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the goods that had been left behind by the attackers who had fled, even though Abram kept none of it for himself. (Gen. 14:20-24.) This was according to God's tithing law, which states that anyone who fails to give a tenth of his earnings to God's priests, or ministers, is robbing God. (Mal. 3:8-11.) All possessions are God's. Giving back a tenth is one of the right ways to honor Him.
The king of Sodom offered to reward Abram for all he had done, but Abram refused to accept anything. He preferred God's blessings to the wealth an earthly king could provide.
The Lord Makes a Promise to Abram
Some years later, when Abram was living peacefully in his tents in the hills above the Jordan valley, the Lord spoke to him in a vision. He told him again that because of his obedience he would become the father of a great nation. Inasmuch as Abram and his wife were becoming too elderly to have children, Abram was puzzled by God's promise. He reminded God that he was childless and had no heir. (Gen. 15:1-3.)
God replied that Abram's heir would be a son of his, and that if he could count the stars on a dark night, he would know the great numbers of people who would descend from that one son!
Abram believed God and God blessed him for his belief. (Gen. 15:6 and Rom. 4:20-22.) Nevertheless, God intended to show Abram a sign that the promise would be kept. The Creator told him to slaughter some clean animals and birds and lay them out as for an offering.
Abram obeyed. A little later a deep sleep fell on Abram. He dreamed that he was in intense darkness, and that God's voice came to him out of that darkness, telling him things that would happen many years after Abram would die. (Gen. 15:8-12.)
"The people who live after you shall continue to be as strangers in the land", the Voice said. "Later they shall become slaves to a foreign nation for four generations, but in about four hundred years they shall return to this land with great possessions." (Gen. 15:13-16.)
Abram awoke to see a very hot flame passing over and between the carcasses he had laid out. When he saw this amazing sight, his faith in God became even stronger. (Gen. 15:17.)
God has always promised good things to those who obey Him. His promise to Abram is one that has had a great effect on the whole world for thousands of years. We who are Abram's descendants today are being affected by it now. We are enjoying greater wealth and material blessings than most of the other nations.
Abram's First Son
Sarai, Abram's wife, was about seventy-five years old at that time. She believed she was too old to bear a child, and couldn't understand how it was possible for her and Abram to become the parents of a child from whom would descend millions of people. Sarai had an Egyptian maid, Hagar, who was a much younger woman. Sarai told Abram that he should take Hagar as a second wife, with the hope that Hagar would have a child for Abram and Sarai. In those times a man often married more than one wife. Abram did as Sarai suggested, and in time Hagar had a son named Ishmael. (Gen. 16.)
Thirteen years passed. Abram came to be ninety-nine years of age. One day a figure appeared before him and said:
"I am God Almighty! Live according to my laws!" (Gen. 17:1.) Trembling, Abram bowed with his face to the ground while God told him that because he was learning to obey His laws, He would keep the promises He had made years before. He informed Abram that his name would be changed to Abraham, which meant "father of many people". (Gen. 17:3-6.) Sarai's name, God said, would be changed to Sarah, which meant "princess".
God then promised Abraham that Sarah would surely have a son, although she was already eighty-nine years old. The son was to be named Isaac. (Gen. 17:15-16, 19.)
Abraham Learns that Sodom Is to Be Destroyed
Not long after that, three strange men came to Abraham's tent. Two of these men were angels, and one was Jesus appearing in the form of a man. (Gen. 18:1-2.) In those days, because travel was more difficult and tiring, hospitality was greater. Abraham invited the three to rest and eat. A meal was prepared for them, including bread, butter, milk and meat. (Gen. 18:3-8.) After they had eaten, Abraham was informed that within the year Sarah would have a son. This was wonderful news to Abraham and Sarah. Sarah, especially, could hardly believe it. (Gen. 18:9-15.)
Two of the men went on to Sodom. The third, Jesus appearing as a man, stayed and told the astonished Abraham that His two angels were going to Sodom to find out just how evil the people were there.
"If they find that most of the residents are vile and perverted, I shall destroy the whole city!" Jesus declared. (Gen. 18:16-22.)
"If you find fifty good people there, wouldn't you spare the city so that those fifty wont die?" Abraham asked.
"If I find fifty good people in Sodom I will not destroy it", Jesus replied.
Abraham then asked if Sodom would be spared if only forty-five good people could be found there. The answer was that if that many good people could be found there, the city would be spared. Abraham kept on asking about the matter, each time lessening the number of people. Finally he was told that if only ten good people could be found in Sodom, it would be spared. (Gen. 18:23-33.)
Lot, the nephew whom Abraham had rescued from the kings who had attacked Sodom, had unwisely returned there to live. That evening, the two angels, appearing as men, arrived at Sodom and met Lot, seated by one of the city's gates. (Gen. 19:1.) Lot saw that they were strangers, and graciously asked them to his home for food and rest. He didn't know they were God's messengers. At first they declined, but when they saw that Lot was different from the other people, they agreed to go.
Lot had a special meal prepared for his guests. Later, as they were about to go to bed, a noisy crowd surrounded Lot's house. These people knew that there were two strangers in the house. They yelled to Lot to put the two out into the street, where they intended to treat the strangers shamefully. (Gen. 19:4-5.)
Lot went outside and pleaded with the crowd to go away. He was so concerned about his guests that he even offered to turn over his two daughters to them if they would leave. The shrieking, evil mob wouldn't listen to Lot. Some of the men rushed at him, pinning him against the door. The two angels inside reached out, pulled Lot in, and slammed the door shut. (Gen. 19:6-10.) The angry crowd rushed against the house to break into it. Then a strange thing happened. The attackers began to stagger and grope aimlessly about. Their angry yells turned to moans. God's messengers had struck them with sudden blindness! (Gen. 19:11.)
When the rest of the mob saw that something awesome was happening, it drew back from the house. But something still worse was about to happen. All the men in the city had joined the crowd. (Gen. 19:4.) Inasmuch as all had the same base desires, that meant that there weren't as many as ten good men in Sodom. There was no reason for God to spare it.
"If you have relatives in Sodom you want saved, tell them to leave the city at once!" the angels told Lot. "Sodom and its people are about to be burned up!"
Lot hurried out to find the young men who had married others of his daughters. When he told them what was about to happen, they refused to believe him. (Gen. 19:14.) He was so disappointed that he decided to stay at his house until they decided to join him. The angels warned him that he must leave at once, but Lot lingered. Even after they seized him, his wife and two unmarried daughters and forced them outside the city, Lot still hoped the rest of his family would show up. (Gen. 19:15-16.)
"Hurry to the mountains!" the angels insisted. "Don't stop or even look behind you at what is about to happen!"
"It's too far to the mountains", Lot argued. "There's a town over there in the valley we can reach sooner. Let's go there!" (Gen. 19:17-22.)
The angels, patience was almost at an end with Lot, who was still hopeful that his married daughters and their husbands would somehow follow him. The party hurried on. The sun was just coming up as they reached the town of Zoar, several miles from Sodom.
Back in Sodom and in Gomorrah, the other main city on the plain, there was a sudden ground tremor. In the nearby area of the flammable bitumen pits, the earth cracked open to loudly spew out oil, salt and sulphur high into the sky. In an instant these mingled and exploded with a deafening roar, blowing glowing chunks of matter even higher. Seconds later the chunks rained back, hundreds of them plummeting on Sodom and Gomorrah like so many blazing meteorites. There was no way for the people in or nearby the cities to escape.
Even much of the plain near the two cities withered under the terrible heat. Nothing was left alive in that region. The greenest bushes and grass ignited and burned. Other asphalt deposits were set on fire, causing a chain reaction that made devastation there complete. (Gen. 9:24-25.) God thus dealt with the people there because they were harming themselves by living in their evil ways instead of by His laws.
At the beginning of the fire storm, just as Lot and part of his family were about to enter Zoar, Lot's wife was so curious to see what was happening that she turned and looked back on the scene of destruction. Lot and his daughters hurried on to Zoar, but Lot's wife never arrived with them. She had been turned into a piece of rock salt the shape and size of a human being! (Gen. 19:26 and Luke 17:29-32.)
Thus Lot lost his wife because he chose to live in an area of sinful people. God was merciful to him in sparing him and his two daughters.
Abraham Views the Frightful Scene
Safe in his peaceful home in the mountains, Abraham got up early to look down in the direction of Sodom. He was startled to see clouds of smoke rising above the blackened plain and its cities. (Gen. 19:27-29.) It was clear to him that God had failed to find as many as ten good men in Sodom.
At first Abraham must have thought that his prayers for Lot had been in vain. Later he learned, to his great joy, that God had answered his prayers. The town of Zoar, even though it was on the plain area with Sodom and Gomorrah, had been spared so that Lot would have refuge.
Realizing that by staying in
Zoar he would still be dwelling among people who had no respect
for God, Lot and his daughters fled to the mountains. (Gen.
19:30.) He would have been richer and much more trouble-free if
he had chosen not to live among the wicked people of Canaan.
Abraham Gives Up His Son
AFTER the destruction of the cities on the plain of Jordan, Abraham moved southwestward to a land called Gerar. As God promised, a son was born to Abraham and Sarah. An angel had already told them to name the baby Isaac. Abraham was a hundred years old when Isaac was born. Sarah was ninety. (Gen. 21:1-3.)
In those days it was a custom to hold a feast in honor of a child between two and three years old. When Isaac was that age, Abraham held such a feast because his son had grown out of babyhood and into a little boy. Having become a greatly respected man in that region, Abraham invited important men to the feast, probably even the king of Gerar.
When Hagar and her son Ishmael saw what special attention Isaac was receiving from so many people, they became envious. Ishmael was Abraham's first son, and Hagar was bitter because Ishmael hadn't been so honored when he was that age. (Gen. 21:8-9.) During the dinner, Hagar and Ishmael made some unkind remarks about little Isaac. His mother became very angry when she overhead them.
Even though Sarah had suggested that Abraham have a child through her maid Hagar, Sarah had disliked having Hagar and Ishmael living in the same tents with Abraham and her. She went at once to Abraham to ask him to send Hagar and Ishmael away. This was a problem to Abraham, who knew that there could be little happiness in a household where there were two jealous mothers.
"Do as Sarah wishes and send them away," God told Abraham. "But don't feel sorrowful about it, because I shall take care of them. Isaac, not Ishmael, will be your heir, but from Ishmael I will make a whole nation!" (Gen. 21:10-13.)
This promise greatly relieved Abraham. He obeyed God. Early the next morning he prepared provisions for the immediate departure of Hagar and Ishmael, whom he hoped could reach a place where they could rest out of the hot afternoon sun. Probably he also hoped that they would not go too many miles distant to live.
While it was yet cool in the morning, Hagar and Ishmael took food and water and started out afoot from Abraham's tent. Hagar, who was an Egyptian, set out with her son across the desert to the south, probably intending to go back to her native land. (Gen. 21:14.) She believed that if they could reach the main caravan trail to Egypt, they might meet a caravan that would take them along to the southwest.
It didn't happen that way. Hagar failed to find the caravan trail. By the middle of the hot day they had drunk all their water. The shadeless desert became so warm that by the middle of the afternoon Ishmael fell to the burning sand, and was unable to get back on his feet. Because he was a growing teenager, he required more refreshment than did his mother, who realized that if she didn't find water soon, her son would surely die of thirst within hours!
Hagar became frantic. There seemed no possibility of finding water in that great expanse of hot sand and rocks. By the middle of the afternoon, when the heat was at its worst, Ishmael was only partly conscious. Hagar struggled to roll him into the weak shade of a wizened desert shrub. There she left him and walked far enough away to be unable to hear his groans. That and her bitter sobs were the only two sounds in the painful heat of the wilderness.
After a while there came a startlingly different sound. It was the voice of an angel speaking to Hagar!
"Don't worry about your son, Hagar", the angel said. "Go help him. God will cause a great nation to come from Ishmael!" (Gen. 21:17-18.)
Hagar looked up. She didn't see the speaker, but she saw something she hadn't noticed before. It was a spring of clear, cool water bubbling out of the sand only a few feet away! Hagar lunged for the spring, filled her empty leather bottle, and thankfully hurried to pour some of the water between Ishmael's parched lips. God had promised Abraham that He would look out for Ishmael and his mother. He began by saving their lives in the desert.
After Ishmael recovered, he and Hagar were still unable to find the caravan trail. They traveled to the southeast to a desert area where Ishmael became so skillful at archery that he was able to shoot plenty of birds and animals for food for the two. They kept on living in the desert for so many years that he became almost like a wild man. (Gen. 16:12.) Hagar managed to bring him an Egyptian woman for a wife. (Gen. 21:21.) Ishmael and his wife had children, and those children grew up and had children. In time, a whole nation sprang from Ishmael, just as God had foretold. Today we know those people as Arabs.
Abraham Put Through His Greatest Test
Down through the years Abraham had shown by his obedience that he was truly God's servant. God planned to put him to one more test that would be the hardest of all. At that time he was living at a place called Beer-sheba, north of where Hagar and Ishmael had gone into the desert. There Isaac grew up. Abraham was thankful that God had given him this fine, young man. He was shocked one day when he heard God say: "Take Isaac to the land of Moriah and offer him for a burnt offering!" (Gen. 22:2.)
Abraham could hardly believe what he had heard, but he obediently began to plan carrying out the instructions because he knew they were from the Creator God. He had his servants prepare to start on the journey early next morning. He was almost overcome with sadness when he saw them chopping the wood on which he was to offer the son for whom he had waited so many years. The provisions for the trip were loaded on a burro. Then Abraham, Isaac, two servants and the loaded burro set out for Mount Moriah, a high hill to the east.
Abraham had told the others that he was going to make a sacrifice to God, but he didn't say what that sacrifice would be. For more than two days they walked toward where the sacrifice was to take place. (Gen. 22:4.) Meanwhile, many thoughts went through Abraham's troubled mind. God had promised him that through Isaac there would become nations whose people would number as many as the stars in the sky. But if Isaac weren't to live, how could this be? Would God bring Isaac back to life? And why should God ask him to sacrifice his son? This was a terrible ceremony begun by Nimrod and practiced by certain idol worshipers in those days. Could it be that God wanted His followers to do the same?
The more Abraham thought about these things, the more depressed he became. Nevertheless, he refrained from trying to argue with God or give excuses for not sacrificing his son. He knew that God was far wiser and more merciful than any human being. He simply obeyed, no matter how he felt about what he was asked to do.
After Abraham had sighted the mountain on which the sacrifice was to be made, and the group had reached a point close to its base, Abraham told his two servants to stay with the burro while he and Isaac went up alone to worship. (Gen. 22:5.)
Abraham Obeys God Without Question Carrying a knife, a torch, some rope and the wood for the fire, father and son set off for the top of the hill. Not knowing what part he would have in the sacrifice, Isaac began to wonder what was to be offered.
"We have the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" he asked his father. (Verse 7.)
"God will provide the lamb, my son," Abraham replied. (Verse 8.)
When they reached the top of the hill, Abraham chose a brushy spot where the servants below couldn't see what would take place.
"Bring stones for the altar," Abraham said, and together they built up a flat pile of rocks large enough for a person to lie on. Abraham then arranged the wood on the stone altar.
At this point the Bible doesn't state in detail what happened next. It simply tells that Abraham bound Isaac and put him on the altar. (Verse 9.) Very likely Abraham told Isaac at the last moment that he, Isaac, was to be the sacrifice.
With his son lying helpless on the altar, Abraham picked up the sharp knife with which to slay his son. Isaac stared in sudden, shocking alarm at the white knuckles of his father's hand as it lifted the knife. Then he tore his gaze from the point of the knife to the sad face of a father who felt that within seconds the son he loved so much would be dead. Abraham would have chosen to take his own life, but that wasn't what God had told him to do. Abraham knew that one cannot do better than obey the Creator, no matter how difficult it may be.
Abraham tensed his arm for the blow. At that instant a strong, clear voice called out his name. He crouched motionless and listened.
"Do not harm Isaac", the voice spoke. "Because you have been willing to give up your son, I know that you fear me!" (Gen. 22:10-12.)
Abraham knew that God was speaking to him through an angel. He tearfully fell to his knees, overcome with joy and thankfulness because God hadn't required him to take his son's life. When at last he looked up, he saw a ram thrashing about in nearby brush. The ram's horns were locked so tightly in a bush that it was trapped. Abraham realized that here was an animal for the sacrifice in place of Isaac. (Verse 13.)
Isaac, too, was very thankful as his father slashed the ropes that bound him. They then prepared the ram and offered it to God.
Perhaps one might think that it was cruel of God to cause Abraham to almost slay Isaac. God is never cruel. He is always loving and merciful. Sometimes He gives some very hard tests to those who choose to obey Him. This is to prove obedience or wisdom, just as sometimes school teachers or parents give tests to find out how much is being learned.
In Abraham's case it proved that Abraham loved his Creator more than any other thing or person, including his son. The proof was good for Abraham and a good example for millions who would later read of this event. It also pointed to a time two thousand years later when God Himself would be willing to give His only son, Jesus, to be killed because of all the evil things done by man.
But there's more to the story. Abraham's Descendants Promised Prosperity
Before Abraham and Isaac started back down the hill, the angel spoke again to Abraham.
"Because you have been willing to give up your son for me," promised God, speaking through an angel, "I will indeed bless you. Your descendants will be AS MANY AS THE STARS OF THE HEAVENS and as the sands of the seashore. They shall be able to conquer their enemies. All the nations of the world shall seek to be as prosperous as those who descend from you. All this will happen because you have obeyed me!"
Those who have come down from Abraham are today numbered in the hundreds of millions, but most of them have no knowledge of who they are and the real reason why they are so prosperous.
After Abraham and Isaac had returned to where the two servants were waiting, they set out to go back to Beersheba.
Later, Abraham moved to Hebron
in the southern part of the land of Canaan. There Sarah died at
the age of one hundred and twenty-seven years. This mother of
many millions of people now living around the world was buried in
a cave in a field belonging to Abraham.
Esau Sells Jacob His Birthright
ABOUT three years after his wife Sarah had died, Abraham began to think about Isaac getting married. By then Isaac was forty years old. Abraham was concerned lest his son pick a wife from among the Canaanites, who were idol worshipers.
Abraham instructed his chief servant to take men, camels and provisions on a trip to Mesopotamia, Abraham's native land, and bring back a wife for Isaac from among his own people. (Gen. 24:3-4.) It was the custom then, as it still is in some countries, for parents to choose whom their sons and daughters would marry.
Abraham felt certain that there were many people still in Mesopotamia who worshiped God. He had a brother, Nahor, who still lived there and had a large family. (Gen. 22:20-24.) He knew that it would be more pleasing to God for Isaac to marry within his own family than take an idol-worshiping wife.
Abraham's Servant Finds Rebekah
After days of journeying to the northeast, Abraham's servant and his caravan arrived one evening at a well just outside the city of Nahor. (Gen. 24:10.) In those days the women were generally the ones who went to the wells to draw water. Abraham's servant prayed that among them would be one that would turn out to be a good wife for his master's son. He also prayed that God would point out such a woman by causing her to volunteer to draw up water for him and the camels. That would seem to be asking a lot of God. What woman would be willing to draw water for ten thirsty camels?
But even before the servant's prayer was finished, a beautiful young woman approached the well. As she drew up water, Abraham's servant came up to her and asked her for water to drink. At once the woman held out her water jar. (Gen. 24:11-15.)
"Drink, my lord," she said. "This could almost be an answer to my prayer," thought the servant. "She is willing to give me a drink, but surely she won't want to go to more trouble than that."
Abraham's servant was surprised, therefore, when he heard the young woman say, "I will be glad to draw water for your camels, too! I'll give them as much as they can drink!"
This was a direct answer to the prayer made only minutes before. Abraham's servant was sure that this was the woman for Isaac. To pay her for her trouble, he gave her a gold ring and gold bracelets of great value. (Gen. 24:22.) When he asked her name, he received another surprise.
"I am Rebekah", she told him. "I am the daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son."
Nahor was Abraham's brother, so this young woman was a second cousin to Isaac! It was good news to the servant to learn that he had found a woman who was of Abraham's people, and one who knew about God. Abraham's servant immediately thanked God for helping him.
Laban Invites Him In
Rebekah ran to her home to excitedly tell her family what had happened, and show the ring and bracelets. When her brother, Laban, saw the costly jewelry and heard Rebekah's story, he hurried to the well to invite Abraham's servant in. (Gen. 24:29-31.) The servant was thankful for the invitation, but before accepting it, he made sure that the men with him unloaded, fed and made straw beds for the camels. He and his men were then brought water with which to wash their feet. This was a custom that was very helpful in arid lands where travelers' feet became dusty and weary.
Food was then set before them, but the servant wouldn't eat until he had told his hosts why he had come. (Verse 33.) He related to Rebekah's family what had happened to Abraham since he had left Haran many years before. He told how Abraham had obeyed God in the lands where other people would have nothing to do with God, and how Abraham had become wealthy and the happy father of an obedient son, Isaac.
When the servant told them about his prayer for a good wife for Isaac, and how Rebekah had fitted in with what he had asked for, Rebekah's family were convinced that God had led him to Rebekah.
"We believe that it's God's will that Rebekah become Isaac's wife," they told the servant. (Verse 50.)
The servant was so pleased to hear this that he again thanked God. Then he had gold and silver and beautiful clothing brought to Rebekah, and costly gifts for her family. (Verse 53.) Then, at last, all enjoyed a happy feast. If the reader believes that it was unfair to Rebekah because she had little or nothing to say about all these plans, it must be remembered that in those times wives were picked in a different manner. In this case, Rebekah was undoubtedly pleased and excited, even though she hadn't met Isaac. What matters more is that God had a hand in the matter, which would insure the happiness of the people involved.
Next morning, Rebekah's family asked if she could stay a few more days at home. Abraham's servant reminded them that because God had so quickly led him to Rebekah, no part of the matter should be postponed. Rebekah stated that she was quite willing to leave at once, so the caravan set out on the way back. On the return trip it was enlarged by the addition of camels carrying Rebekah, her nurse and her maids. Rebekah's family was sad to see her go, but its members were happy that she would obviously have a good man for a husband. (Verses 55-61.)
Isaac Meets His Bride
Days afterward, as Isaac was out walking in a field, he saw a caravan approaching. He went to meet it, hopeful that it was the one his father had sent to Nahor. When Rebekah saw a man hurrying toward them, she asked who he was. On being told that he was the man she had been brought to marry, she was pleased. She quickly and modestly attired herself in a long veil before stepping down off her camel to meet her future husband. (Verse 65.)
Isaac and Rebekah were married shortly after their meeting. Because they had God's blessing, they were very happy. (Verse 67.) Through them, the Creator moved a step nearer starting the nation that would do important work in the world through succeeding generations.
By that time Abraham was one hundred and forty years old, and quite content to leave matters to Isaac, who managed his father's business well. Thirty-five years later, at the age of one hundred and seventy-five years, Abraham died. (Gen. 25:7-8.)
The Bible refers to eight children Abraham had. All were sons. If there were others, the Bible doesn't mention them. (Gen. 25:1-4.) Most of those sons were born to Abraham's second wife. The first two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, buried their father in the same cave where Abraham's first wife, Sarah, was buried. (Gen. 25:9-10.) Thus ended the life of one of the most obedient of men. Because of that obedience to his Creator, Abraham became wealthy and lived a long time.
There was one thing God promised him that he didn't receive then, however, even though God always keeps His promises. It is everlasting life in God's Kingdom, which will come to Earth only a few years from now. Then Abraham will become, along with others who obey God, one of Earth's mightiest rulers. (Heb. 11:8-14.) At that coming time, strange as it may seem, many of you who read these words will get to meet Abraham and talk with him.
Although Isaac and Rebekah were happy in their marriage, the years passed without their having any children. They became so disappointed that at last Isaac asked God to send them a child. (Gen. 25:21.) God answered the prayer. After twenty years of marriage, Isaac and Rebekah realized that at last they would soon become parents.
At the same time, Rebekah suffered unusual pains that were so severe that she prayed for relief. God told her, probably in a dream or a vision, that she would give birth to the beginnings of two nations. One nation would turn out to be stronger than the other, she was told, and that the first one born would serve the other. God gave her strength to continue in her condition until she became the mother of twin boys. The first one born was called Esau. The second was named Jacob. (Gen. 25:22-26.)
As the boys grew, it was plain to their parents that they were very different in manners and characteristics. Esau loved to hunt and roam about, as did his uncle, Ishmael. Jacob wanted to follow his father's kind of life by raising animals and crops. But Isaac liked the delicious meat that Esau brought home, so Esau became his favorite son. Rebekah's favorite was Jacob because he chose to do the things that kept him close to home. (Verses 27 and 28.)
Esau Sells His Birthright
One day Esau went on a long hunting trip. He went so far that by the time he returned he was staggering with weariness. As he arrived home, he saw that Jacob had prepared a savory lentil soup. Esau was so weak and the soup smelled so good that he begged Jacob to give him some at once lest he faint from lack of nourishment.
It was a custom then that the first son born in a family would receive more gifts and rights than any brothers born later. Because Esau was the first born, he naturally had what was called the birthright. This meant that if the father died, the birthright owner would inherit a larger share of the father's property than would any other children in the family. In this case, it also meant that the descendants of the oldest son would receive the greatest share of the promises God made to Abraham and those who came after him.
The birthright was of great value. Jacob realized that, and he selfishly desired it. He knew that here was an opportunity to get it.
"I will give you all you want to eat if you will turn over your birthright to me", Jacob smiled shrewdly.
Esau was so hungry that he feared he would faint any minute from lack of strength. In that condition, his birthright didn't seem very valuable to him. Food was mostly what counted at the moment. The delicious aroma of the steaming lentils bubbling in garlic and butter was enough to sway Esau into deciding what to do.
"I promise you my birthright for those lentils!" Esau eagerly exclaimed. (Verses 29-33.)
Jacob shoved the bowl of soup toward Esau, who cooled it a little by dipping chunks of bread into it. After Esau had bolted it down and his strength started to return, he strode away with his game, not seemingly caring about the great price he had paid for something to eat. (Verse 34.)
Isaac and Rebekah didn't know about this matter at the time. Otherwise, Isaac especially would have been greatly displeased because of Esau being his favorite son.
Years later, Esau brought grief to his parents by marrying two wives. In those days it wasn't unusual to have more than one wife. The worst part of the matter was that both of Esau's wives were Canaanites. The Canaanites worshiped idols, and had little knowledge of God. (Gen. 26:34-35.)
Jacob Steals the Blessing
One day when Isaac was well past a hundred years of age, and had become blind, he sent for Esau to come and listen to what he had to say.
"At my age, death could come to me at any time"' he explained to Esau. "I want to ask God to bless you before that happens. Take your bow and go out after a deer. Then cook the meat as I like it. After I have eaten, I shall ask God to give you the blessing that should be on the son who has the birthright."
If Esau had been honest, he would have told his father that he had promised his birthright to Jacob. Instead, he said nothing about it, and set out to hunt for venison. (Gen. 27:1-4.)
Rebekah had heard Isaac talking to Esau. She wanted Jacob, her favorite son, to receive the blessing Isaac would ask from God. She believed that Jacob was better fitted to be Isaac's heir. A plan came into her mind. She hurried to Jacob to tell him about it.
"Do as I say, and you will receive the blessing your father is about to ask for Esau", she told Jacob. "Go out to the flocks and get two young goats. I'll cook them just the way your father likes them cooked. After you take some of it to him and he eats it, he'll give you the blessing before Esau returns!" (Gen. 27:5-10.)
Jacob believed he should have the birthright advantages because Esau had promised them to him years before, but he couldn't understand why his mother thought it could be accomplished so easily. There was too much difference between him and his brother. For one thing, Esau was a very hairy man. In fact, hair all over him was so thick that his skin felt almost like that of an animal.
"I can't pass for Esau", Jacob argued. "When my father puts his hands on me and feels my smooth skin, he'll know I'm not Esau. Then I'll probably receive a curse instead of a blessing."
"Don't worry about that," his mother said. "I'll take care of matters. Hurry and get those kids. If there's a curse, let it be on me instead of you.
Jacob didn't know what Rebekah intended to do, but he reasoned that if she were willing to take the blame for anything wrong, he should be willing to do as she asked. He brought her the two kids. Rebekah hastily made from them a meat dish cooked and seasoned just the way Isaac liked it.
Next, she had Jacob put on one of Esau's coats. Over his hands, forearms and his neck she carefully wound strips of the hides from the young goats that had just been slaughtered.
"Now take this meat and bread to your father," she said to Jacob. (Verses 11-17.)
Jacob must have felt that this was a wild scheme for getting what he and his mother wanted. Nevertheless, he went to Isaac's tent and tried to sound like Esau by calling "Here I am, father!"
"Who is it?" asked Isaac. "This is Esau", Jacob answered. "Sit up and eat this meat I've brought for you. Then give me the blessing you promised."
"How can it be that you've brought back a deer so quickly?" Isaac asked.
"God led me where to find one", Jacob lied. (Verses 18-20.) Isaac was puzzled. This wasn't Esau's manner of talking. He asked Jacob to come near so that he could put his hands on him. Jacob stepped close to the bed and almost held his breath as his father reached out and moved his aged hands over the hairy strips of goat hide on his son.
"Your voice is like Jacob's, but your skin feels like Esau's", Isaac said. "Are you really Esau?"
Again Jacob lied by saying that he was his brother. "Give me the food, and I shall eat it and then bless you", Isaac promised.
Jacob suddenly felt great relief, though at the same time he felt guilty because of lying and tricking his father with the goat hide. Quickly he put the steaming meat before Isaac, and brought bread and wine. (Verse 25.)
When Isaac had finished eating, he asked Jacob to come close and kiss him. When Jacob did so, Isaac smelled the grasses and aromatic herbs of the fields on his coat. It deceived Jacob into believing that Esau was beside him. This was because Esau spent so much time hunting. It didn't occur to him that another could be wearing Esau's coat. (Verses 26-27.) Isaac then asked a blessing on his son.
"God, give to this young man, who smells of a field you have blessed, many well-watered fields," Isaac prayed. "Give him plenty of grain and fruit of the vines. Cause people to serve him and nations to bow down to him. Give him power to rule over his brothers. May a curse be upon any who will try to put a curse on him, and may a blessing be upon any who would bless him." (Verses 28-29.)
Esau Comes in from the Field
Having received the blessing, Jacob left at once. He went just in time to avoid Esau, who had meanwhile shot a deer and cooked part of it for his father.
"I have returned with the venison you asked for!" Esau called out as he came near Isaac's tent. "Sit up, father, and eat it!" (Gen. 27:30-31.)
Blind Isaac was just leaning back on his pillow, content in thinking that he had just performed an important duty. The sound of Esau's voice brought him back up suddenly. In that moment he knew something wasn't as it should be. He found himself trembling as he spoke.
"Who are you?" he asked. "I'm Esau, your firstborn son," Esau replied. (Verse 32.) "Then where is the one who brought food to me and left just now?" Isaac inquired. "He said he was Esau. I asked God's blessing on him. And God will bless him!" (Verse 33.)
Esau was so puzzled and surprised that he almost dropped the food he was holding.
"Then ask a blessing on me, too, father!" Esau excitedly begged.
"But your blessing has obviously been stolen by your brother Jacob", Isaac explained, recalling how much the voice had sounded like Jacob's.
"I should have known it was Jacob who did this thing!" Esau exclaimed bitterly. "He has cheated me twice. First he took my birthright. Now he has stolen my blessing. Can't you ask God for anything for me?" (Verse 36.)
"I have asked for special things for Jacob", Isaac replied. "I can't ask for the very same things for you."
"But surely there is something you can ask for me, your firstborn son!" Esau cried out in a shaking voice. Even though he was a strong man physically, he broke down and wept aloud. (Verse 38.)
Isaac felt great pity for his favorite son. He meditated prayerfully for a few moments.
"Here is what shall be for you, Esau my son," Isaac finally said. "God shall give you and those who live after you a land far away from the best things this Earth has to offer. You will have to hunt and fight for what you will get. You and your people will serve your brother and his people, come a time when you will be free of them." (Verses 39-40.)
Esau wasn't thankful for anything his father asked for him. Instead, he was very angry because Jacob had received the greater blessing.
Esau Plots to Murder Jacob
"My father will soon die", Esau thought. "Then I will do away with Jacob because of what he has done to me." (Verse 41.)
In his anger, Esau must have told someone what he planned to do. His mother heard about it, and was afraid for Jacob. She warned him of what might happen, and begged him to go stay with her brother back in the city in Mesopotamia where she had been born. (Verses 42-43.)
Rebekah became so worried about his safety that she thought up a plan to get Jacob to leave. She knew that he would probably do anything his father told him to do, so she went to Isaac.
"If Jacob lives here much longer, he is likely to marry a Canaanite woman", Rebekah told Isaac. "I think you should send him to Haran to choose a wife from our own people before he is trapped by some woman from among the idol worshipers around us."
Isaac had been greatly disappointed before because his favorite son, Esau, had taken pagan wives from among nearby nations. He didn't want Jacob to do the same thing. Probably Jacob didn't intend to, but Rebekah had fostered concern in Isaac's mind. After a time he had a talk with Jacob.
"If you're considering marriage, don't choose a wife from any except your own people", Isaac told Jacob. "Perhaps you will find a wife in Haran, where your mother was born. If you make the trip, God will surely bless you. May He cause you to have many children and much good land when you return."
Jacob welcomed this good reason
to escape from his brother. He started off for Haran by himself
with few provisions. He wanted to travel light and fairly fast,
and off the direct route east in case Esau decided to pursue him.
Taking side trails, however, made parts of his trip more
Jacob Meets Rachel
JACOB'S efforts to escape his angry brother, Esau, were in vain. Esau didn't pursue him after all. Instead, he tried to please his parents, after leaving his first two wives, by marrying a third who wasn't a Canaanite. Unfortunately, she was from Ishmael's family. That still wasn't very pleasing to Isaac and Rebekah. (Gen. 28:6-9.)
Jacob Stops at Bethel
After Jacob had left for Haran, one of his first stops was on a lonely, rock-covered mountain slope. There he slept on the ground with his head resting against one of the stones. He was very weary because of the long walk during the day, but instead of sleeping deeply, he had a strange dream. He dreamed of a huge stairway leading from the Earth to very high into the sky. Many angels moved up and down the stairway, at the top of which stood a powerful looking being.
"I am the God of Abraham and Isaac", came a voice from the Figure at the top of the stairway. "I will go with you on your trip, and I will protect you. The land on which you lie will become yours, and those who come after you will own it. They will spread out over the Earth, and through them all nations will receive a blessing. I will bring you safely back to this land again. I will keep all the promises I am making to you now." (Gen. 28:13-15.)
When Jacob awakened from the dream, he was filled with a strange fear. He realized that God had spoken to him for the first time. The unusual experience left him weak and trembling. (Verses 16 and 17.) He felt that this was such an important event in his life that he should mark the spot where the dream occurred. He anointed the stone against which he had rested, and set it up like a pillar as a special landmark. He was so thankful for God's promises to protect and provide for him that he promised to give God a tenth of all that came to him. (Gen. 28:18-22.)
Jacob knew that the first tenth of what anyone earns should be returned to God. After all, God owns all things. Whatever man has comes to him as gifts from his Creator. Even the air he breathes is a wonderful gift, because it keeps him alive. In asking man to give back only a tenth of what he earns, God is being very generous. Besides, He promises that He will provide well for those who are faithful in giving back a tithe, or tenth. (Mal. 3:8-11.)
Jacob Falls in Love
With the pleasant knowledge that from there on God would protect him, Jacob proceeded eastward. After days of trudging over stony mountain trails and hot desert sands, wading through creeks and crossing the great Euphrates River, he came to the land of Mesopotamia.
One day when he was approaching a city, he noticed some shepherds and their flocks of sheep gathered about a well that was protected by a large, flat rock. Jacob went up to the men and asked them where they were from.
"We're from Haran"' they answered, pointing to the city in the distance. (Gen. 29:1-4.)
Jacob was happy to learn that his long, wearying trip was about at an end. Then, on inquiring about his mother's brother, Laban, he was surprised to learn that Laban lived nearby, and that his daughter, Rachel, was at the moment approaching the well with some of Laban's sheep. (Verses 4-6.)
Jacob was anxious to meet one of his own family alone. It was such a special event that he didn't want strangers around. He politely inquired of the shepherds why their flocks weren't out in the pastures grazing. When told that all the animals had to be watered at one time, Jacob started helping the men move the stone cover from the well. By this time Rachel had arrived. Jacob couldn't help noticing how beautiful she was. After he had drawn up water for her sheep, he stepped up to her and kissed her. (Verses 9-11.)
"I am Jacob, your cousin", he informed the startled young woman. "My mother is Rebekah, your aunt."
Rachel was so surprised and pleased that she took her sheep and hurried to tell her father about Jacob. This gave Jacob a chance to shed some tears of thankfulness and joy because of God leading him to his people.
When Rachel's father heard about Jacob, he hurried out to meet him and welcome him to Laban's home.
Jacob visited with his uncle's family for a month. During that time he did his part in the work that had to be done around Laban's home and in the fields. The more he saw of Rachel, the more he cared for her. She had an older sister, Leah, who was closer to Jacob's age, but Jacob was interested only in Rachel.
Laban could see that Jacob could be a profitable addition to the family. He couldn't expect Jacob to keep on working, however, for only food and lodging. (Verses 12-14.)
"If you wish to keep on working here, I would like to pay you fair wages", Laban told Jacob. "Tell me what you think would be fair pay."
"I shall work for the next seven years for you if you will then give me Rachel for my wife", was Jacob's surprising answer. (Verse 18.)
Laban was of course pleased. Seven whole years of service from a good worker was like an offer of much money. Laban agreed, but only after purposely hesitating. He didn't want it obvious that he was elated at this bargain.
Jacob Marries Someone Else!
Seven years can be a long time. For Jacob, who was happy in seeing Rachel every day, the months went by quickly. When at last it was time for the marriage, Laban gave a feast that lasted a week. It was a time of great celebration by many people in that area.
At the time of the ceremony, Jacob's bride wore a long, heavy veil that hid her almost from view. Jacob was very happy. He felt that it was well worth seven years of labor to finally have Rachel for his wife. Later, when the veil was removed so that he could look on the woman he had married, his happiness suddenly left him.
His bride wasn't Rachel. She was Leah! (Gen. 29:20-25.) Filled with anger, Jacob went at once to Laban. "Why have you cheated me this way?" he demanded. "You know I didn't ask to marry Leah! I asked for Rachel!"
"I'm sorry, my nephew", Laban explained, "but in this land it's a custom that the older daughter must marry first. I can't change the custom. I had to give you Leah."
If Laban had been fair, he would have told Jacob about the custom. What he really wanted was to get Leah married, and he chose a dishonest way to do it.
Jacob was disappointed and bitter. This trick by his uncle reminded him of the way he had tricked his brother and his father in order to obtain the birthright and a special blessing. Perhaps he then realized that it was just that he should be the victim of a dishonest act. Later, he was surprised at what Laban had to say.
"If you feel that only Rachel should be your wife, I will give her to you if you will do two things", Laban told Jacob.
"But Leah is my wife" Jacob said. "What two things could change that?"
"If you will be a good husband to Leah for the rest of the marriage feast this week, then I shall see that you will be married to Rachel at the end of the week", Laban replied.
"I am willing to be a good husband to whomever is my wife", Jacob said. "That is the answer to one thing you ask. What is the other thing?"
"You must work for me seven years more for Rachel," Laban replied.
Jacob was stunned by Laban's words. For a while he said nothing, leaving Laban to wonder if he had asked too much of Jacob.
"I agree to those terms"' Jacob finally replied. "Rachel is worth more to me than fourteen years of work." (Verses 27-28.)
Perhaps the remainder of the seven days of feasting seemed almost as long to Jacob as were the first seven years of service to his uncle. At the end of the week, he and Rachel were married. Thus he had two wives, which was a common thing in those times. Rachel was the one he loved, however.
Jacob carried out his promise to work seven more years for Laban whose scheme to marry off both his daughters later brought grief to this deceitful man.
Six More Years of Work
By the time his fourteen years of labor for Laban were finished, Jacob had little more than a large family and tents to live in. As it happened, only one son of his eleven boys was born through Rachel. Meanwhile, because of Jacob's careful planning and willingness to work hard, Laban became wealthy in sheep and cattle. Jacob couldn't see a very profitable future for himself in keeping this up. He told Laban that he wished to take his family and go back to Canaan to visit his elderly father. This worried Laban, who didn't want to lose such a valuable man.
"If you will continue working for me" Laban told Jacob, "I shall pay you any wage you ask."
"I don't want wages," Jacob said. "I'll look after your animals for a while longer if you will give me those with spots or ring marks on their hides."
Jacob was surprised that Laban agreed at once on this arrangement. (Gen. 30:25-32.) Next day he found out why. Laban had his workmen and sons quickly remove and take away most of the animals Jacob had asked for. (Verses 35-36.) Jacob had counted on taking sizeable flocks and herds with him back to Canaan. Now he would have to wait for more of those kinds of animals to be born.
God had promised Jacob that He would look out for him. God had kept that promise. During the next six years that Jacob continued to take care of Laban's animals, God miraculously increased the animals with spots or rings. So many of the cattle, sheep and goats became Jacob's, having come mostly from the small number Laban had allowed him to have, that Jacob became a wealthy stockman in those last few years with Laban. By careful trading and buying, he also acquired many camels, burros, tents and other expensive equipment.
At the same time, Laban's animals weren't increasing as he wanted them to. It had long been plain to Jacob's uncle that he had become prosperous because a man who relied on God was managing his business. But now that Jacob was prospering, Laban wasn't pleased. He feared that Jacob would leave him at any time.
Jacob Leaves Laban Secretly
As Laban became less friendly, Jacob's desire to leave grew. One day God made it plain to Jacob that he should go back to Canaan. (Gen. 31:13.) Fearing that Laban might forcibly try to prevent his leaving, Jacob waited until a time when his father-in-law had gone several miles away to oversee the shearing of his sheep. Then Jacob had his workmen take down his tents and pack them and his belongings on his camels and burros. Jacob was careful not to take anything that belonged to Laban. With all his family, flocks and herds, it was a big moving job. Cattle, sheep and goats had to be herded. The caravan couldn't move very fast. (Verses 17-18.)
Leah and Rachel were glad of the chance to leave. They felt that their father hadn't been fair to them or to Jacob.
Laban didn't find out what had happened until the caravan had been gone for three days. (Verse 22.) Of course he was very angry. His anger was even greater when he found that some small idols he prized highly, and which Rachel had stolen, were missing. He was certain that Jacob had taken them.
"Saddle my fastest camels for a trip to the west!" Laban roared at his foreman. "I will overtake Jacob if we have to go all the way to Canaan!"
After seven days of hard travel, during which the camels were forced to move at top speed, Laban and his men came within sight of Jacob's caravan encamped for the night beside the main east-west trail. (Verse 23.)
"We'll stay back here tonight out of their sight", Laban told his men. "Early tomorrow morning we'll overtake them. Then Jacob will regret leaving me as he did!"
By next morning, however, Laban wasn't very intent on revenge. That night God spoke to him in a dream (verse 24) warning him that if he harmed Jacob, God would deal with him harshly. Laban was so disturbed by the dream that he dared not carry out his intent to cause Jacob any trouble. By the time his caravan overtook Jacob's, his anger had subsided.
"Why did you sneak away as you did?" he demanded of Jacob. "If you had told me, I would have prepared a great feast. I didn't even get to tell my daughters and grandchildren good-bye." (Verses 25-29.)
"I left while you were away so that there wouldn't be any arguments," Jacob answered.
"I would more than argue with you," Laban said, "if God hadn't warned me in a dream last night not to oppose you."
"You're wise to obey that warning", Jacob said. "Probably so", Laban agreed. "I respect your belief, but you obviously don't respect mine. Otherwise you wouldn't have taken my little idols. I demand them back!"
"If you think I have them, search my belongings", Jacob replied." If you find them with the property of any person in this caravan, let that person die!"
Jacob didn't know that Rachel had the images, or he wouldn't have made such a promise. While Laban and his men searched for the images, Rachel rested in her tent on a camel saddle in which she had hidden the idols. Soon the search brought Laban to Rachel's tent.
"Get up from that saddle so that I may search there", he gruffly muttered to his daughter.
Rachel stopped further inspection of her things by telling Laban that she didn't feel well and didn't want to be disturbed. Laban irritably left to go tell Jacob that the images couldn't be found. Jacob was angry because of the search. He asked Laban why Laban had been unfair to him through twenty years of devoted service, and why he now treated him as an enemy.
Laban knew that Jacob deserved better treatment. Because he wanted the reputation of a fair man, Laban suggested that they make an agreement that there wouldn't be any more unfriendliness toward each other. As a monument to this agreement, they had their men erect a large pile of stones where they were. Then they dined together as a further sign of friendship.
Next morning Laban said good-bye to his daughters and their children, and set back toward Haran. (Gen. 31:35.) Jacob's caravan moved on westward.
Jacob Tested by God
The closer Jacob moved to Canaan, the more concerned he became about meeting his brother, Esau. For a long time Esau had lived in the rough, wild country of Seir, through which Jacob's caravan would almost travel on the way to Canaan. Jacob feared that there would be trouble if Esau heard that he was coming that way. Jacob was certain that Esau hadn't forgotten how he had been tricked many years previously. Esau had threatened to kill Jacob, and it could be that he was still awaiting Jacob's return.
In an attempt to find out how Esau felt about him, Jacob sent messengers ahead to try to contact his brother. They were instructed to tell him that Jacob was about to pass through the land with much wealth from Haran, and that Jacob hoped they could meet as friends.
Not long afterward the messengers returned to report that they had met Esau, and that he was not far behind them with four hundred men! (Gen. 32:3-6.)
The report shocked Jacob. He knew that all the people in his caravan couldn't stand against four hundred men led by a man who had promised to kill him. He gave orders for the caravan to divide into two groups and to separate. He reasoned that if one group suffered an attack by Esau's men, the other group might escape. (Verses 7 and 8.)
Jacob then did the thing that would be more helpful to him than anything else he could do. He asked for God's protection. He admitted to God that he wasn't worthy of it, at the same time reminding God, though that wasn't necessary, that God had promised him protection.
God wants us to look to Him for Him for help, but if there is anything we can do to help or protect ourselves, He expects us to do it instead of being lazy. Jacob didn't stand idly by and wait for his Creator to do what man could do. Probably God inspired him to act as he did. Out of his animals he picked five hundred and fifty of the choicest cattle, goats, sheep, burros and camels. Then he divided each kind of stock into groups, and each group was sent out at a different time to approach Esau as one of several gifts.
"Tell my brother that I hope he will accept my presents", Jacob instructed the men who departed with the stock in the direction from which Esau had been reported to be approaching. (Verses 13-21.)
Thus Jacob hoped to make Esau feel friendly toward him. After the animals intended for Esau had gone on, Jacob moved the two sections of his caravan on ahead a short distance to camp for the night. (Verses 22 and 23.) He remained behind to be alone and pray.
That night a strange thing happened. Suddenly somebody seized him and held him down as though trying to prevent his completing his trip to Canaan. Before long Jacob and his attacker were engaged in a furious wrestling match! Soon Jacob realized that his opponent wasn't an ordinary man. Instead, he was an angel sent from God. (Verses 24-25.) Years later the prophet Hosea was inspired to write that the angel with whom Jacob wrestled was actually the One who later became Jesus! (Hosea 12:3-5.)
That was a trying night for Jacob. When he realized that he was dealing with more than a human being, he struggled to be able to get the blessing of this Superior Entity. (Verse 26.) Before dawn, Jacob was blessed and praised for determination greater than that of his brother Esau. Jacob was determined to strive with all his might to not lose God's blessings and eternal promises. He proved by his physical wrestling that he had the strength of character to overcome his spiritual problems. The wrestling match was a test of character!
Before Jacob's wrestling partner left, he informed Jacob that his name should be changed from Jacob to Israel, which meant one who overcomes, or proves to be a champion. (Verse 28.) God wouldn't give His blessing and a birthright to a man who had taken them from a weaker brother unfairly. Therefore He appeared as a man to give Jacob the chance to prove himself with one who appeared as his equal.
When dawn came, Jacob found that he was very sore in one hip, showing that God's blessings don't come without hardship and suffering. (Verse 31.)
Later, when he joined his
caravan, he was troubled to see a growing cloud of dust in the
distance. There was no doubt that it was Esau and his four
hundred men swiftly riding toward Jacob's caravan.
Joseph's Adventures in Egypt
TRUSTING that there would be little trouble, Jacob nevertheless arranged for Rachel and her son Joseph to stay behind the other people in his caravan. That was because Rachel was the wife he especially loved and Joseph was his favorite son. Then he moved up past his family and servants on his way to meet Esau. (Gen. 33:1-2.)
Esau and his four hundred men came to a halt a short distance from the front of Jacob's caravan. Jacob, ahead of the others, was so close that he could see his brother staring at him. He bowed seven times toward his brother, as was the custom then when one party wished to show respect for another party. After each bow, he moved a few paces closer to Esau.
After the seventh bow, he straightened up to look squarely at his brother for the first time in twenty years. (Verse 3.)
Jacob Meets Esau Face to Face
For a few moments there was a strained silence. Then Esau, who had dismounted from his camel, rushed forward to seize Jacob -- and hug him! The two brothers were so happy to see each other that they wept.
Thus God answered Jacob's prayer. When Jacob's family saw that the two brothers had met as close friends, the wives, children and servants came near and bowed. Jacob explained that they were his two wives, his twelve children and his servants. Esau was pleased at sight of the courteous people. Then, looking behind him, he saw an approaching crowd of sheep, goats, cattle, camels and donkeys.
"What's this?" Esau asked. "I passed it on the way to meet you."
"You passed it too swiftly," Jacob smiled. "These are gifts I sent out ahead for you!"
"But I have no need for stock," Esau said. "I have plenty. Keep them for yourself."
"I am so thankful that God has spared you and caused you to be friendly with me that I want to give you these things"' Jacob said.
Esau could see that Jacob would be disappointed if the stock were refused, so he gladly accepted. (Gen. 33:8-11.) Then he suggested that their caravans go together back to Seir, where Esau lived. Jacob knew that with their children and greater numbers of animals, they would tiresomely hold back his brother and their men, who would naturally move much faster. The two agreed that Esau's group should go on ahead, and that Jacob's caravan would follow at a slower pace until turning off to the north into Canaan, where Jacob later bought land for his many animals. (Verse 17.)
After Jacob and Rachel had arrived in their new land, there was a twelfth son, Benjamin. Unhappily, Rachel died at the time. (Gen. 35:1620.) Before this sorrowful event, Jacob's daughter Dinah attended a pagan festival of the Canaanites and got into trouble. Some of Dinah's brothers were so enraged that they acted in a brutal manner that was distressing to their father. (Gen. 34:25-31.)
As time passed, Jacob's favorite son, Joseph, grew into a young man. At age seventeen he was helping take care of his father's livestock. His brothers did the same kind of work, but they disliked Joseph because their father favored him. (Gen. 37:3.) To make matters worse, Joseph told his brothers that he had dreamed about becoming an important person. (Gen. 37:5-11.)
Later, when the ten older sons had moved their animals about sixty miles away, and had been gone for several days, Jacob began to worry. He feared that they might have been attacked by men who had reason to dislike them. He sent Joseph to find them and return with any news.
It was a difficult task for young Joseph, but after many inquiries and much travel, he came upon his brothers herding their animals. When they saw him coming, they decided that the opportunity had come to handle him as they had long wanted to without interference from their father.
Excited at having found his brothers, Joseph hurried happily toward them, shouting their names. He halted when he came close enough to notice deep scowls on most of their faces.
"Well!" one of the brothers sneered. "If it isn't Joseph the dreamer!"
Suddenly Joseph felt his arms pinned painfully behind him by those who had stepped up to seize him.
"Rip his coat off!" someone yelled. The coat Joseph was wearing was a bright, many-colored one his father had given him. Because it was special, it was one of the reasons why his brothers were envious. After they jerked off the wanted coat, they dropped Joseph into a nearby deep but narrow pit. The lad landed on loose, dry gravel at the bottom of what had been a well, and so was unhurt. He got to his feet and tried to scramble out, but the loose rock fell in when he touched it. He could see that it was useless to try to climb out.
Joseph at first thought that his brothers were playing a trick on him. He repeatedly called up to them to help him. The only response was an Occasional laugh as they started eating their noon meal.
One of the brothers, Reuben, wasn't cruel enough to laugh at his young brother's plight. He had gone to watch the flocks while the others ate together, and planned to return and rescue Joseph after the others returned to their animals. (Gen. 37:22.) He didn't see the caravan of Midianites approaching that area. They were traveling southwest to Egypt to sell spices. When the other brothers saw the Midianites, and that they were going to pass by very closely, an idea came to one-of Jacob's sons.
"These Midianites buy and sell almost everything, including slaves," Joseph's brother Judah observed. "Why not sell Joseph to them? They could resell him at a profit in Egypt as a slave!"
There was instant agreement among the brothers. They waved down the approaching caravan, and told the caravan captain that they had a young man they wanted to sell as a servant. The captain was urged to dismount and look at Joseph. After he saw the lad, there was much arguing and bargaining. Finally it was agreed that Joseph would be sold for a small sum. It was a ridiculous price for a human being, but the Midianites felt they had out-bargained Joseph's brothers, who were relieved to get rid of their young brother for any amount.
With ropes the Midianites pulled their purchase out of the hole. Not knowing exactly what was happening at the time, Joseph struggled to get free and shouted to his brothers for help. They only watched idly as he was dragged away, and divided up the twenty pieces of silver the Midianites had paid them.
Reuben Returns to the Well
A little later Reuben came back to the well pit. On finding that Joseph wasn't there, he rushed back to his brothers, who had gone back to their flocks, and excitedly informed them that Joseph was missing.
"He must have escaped!" some of them said, and all pretended to be concerned.
Reuben was so disturbed that he ripped some of his clothing apart. His brothers dared not tell him what happened lest he tell their father, to whom they knew they would have to make some kind of explanation. Later, they took Joseph's coat and smeared it in the blood of a goat they killed. A few days later, when they returned home, they acted very sad.
"Is this Joseph's coat?" asked one of the sons, holding out the blood-stained garment.
"It is!" exclaimed Jacob, staring fearfully at it. "I had it made for him. Where did you find it?"
"We found it out in the desert", was the reply. "I didn't know about that!" Reuben spoke up. "We kept it from you because we didn't want you to worry," was the explanation to Reuben.
"My son must have been killed by some wild beast!" Jacob moaned.
He was so sad at the thought of losing his favorite son that he was close to illness for many days. His sons tried to comfort him during that time. Jacob would have been better off to have known the truth but his sons were fearful of his anger.
Joseph Reaches Egypt
While Jacob was feeling depressed about what he thought was his son's death, Joseph was taken down into Egypt by the Midianite traders. There, in a slave market, he was put up for sale to anyone who would pay the best price. He was bought by Potiphar, the captain of the guard for the king of Egypt. His rank was that of a powerful and important man. (Gen. 37:36.)
Potiphar put Joseph to work in his household doing all kinds of tasks. It wasn't long before he noticed that this new servant was more capable and trustworthy than others. That was because Joseph followed God's laws. Honest, energetic and anxious to do his best, he was soon put in charge of all the servants in Potiphar's household. God's blessing had been on Laban's household because Jacob served God. Now there was a blessing on Potiphar's household because of Joseph's obedience to his Creator.
Joseph wasn't aware of it, but he was beginning to be used in God's plan that would affect the whole world for thousands of years.
Matters went well until Potiphar's wife began to like Joseph as much as she did her husband. Joseph knew that shouldn't be, and told her so. (Gen. 39:7-8.) This so displeased her that she snatched off Joseph's jacket as he was leaving the house. She called for other servants. When they hurried in, she held up Joseph's jacket, and told them that Joseph had been very insulting to her, but had fled when she had cried out. Her husband later was told the same untrue story. He angrily ordered soldiers to find Joseph and put him in the king's prison. (Verses 12-20.)
Time passed, during which the man in charge of the prison noticed that Joseph was unusually obedient to the rules, and that he was an intelligent person who helped keep order there. (Verses 21-23.) God caused Joseph to find such favor with those in charge that before long he was next in authority under the head jail keeper. However, he had to go on living in the dungeon, even though he enjoyed a fairly high office.