The Creation Story
The story of how God made everything is, naturally, at the very beginning of the Bible:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was empty, a formless mass cloaked in darkness. And the Spirit of God was hovering over its surface. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that it was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.” (NLT, Genesis 1:1-5)
That was the first day of God’s creation.
On the second day, God created the sky.
On the third day, God created the land, the oceans and all the plants.
On the fourth day, God created the sun, moon and stars.
On the fifth day, God created the birds, fishes and other sea creatures.
On the sixth day, God created all the land animals and people.
On the seventh day, God rested:
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (NIV, Genesis 2:2-3)
Who created God? How did God make everything out of nothing? And why? Unfortunately, these mysteries are not explained in the Bible, and they are probably just too deep for us to understand.
Did God really create everything in six days and in the order listed in Genesis? The Bible story of creation was written in a way that made sense to the people of thousands of years ago who did not know anything about science. Since then, scientists have discovered some new things about how God created everything. If the story were written today, it might mention galaxies, black holes, the age and vastness of the universe, the solar system, the development of plants and animals, and other scientific discoveries. But, we are still not much closer to understanding the mysteries of God’s creation.
People have strong opinions about whether or not God really created things exactly the way it says in Genesis, but what this story tells us about God, Himself, is much more important:
Long before there were any Christians, Genesis was part of the sacred scripture of the Hebrew people. Most people in the ancient world were pagans who believed in many different gods and goddesses, but the Hebrews believed in one all-powerful God. The Bible story of creation tells us that God is so powerful that He could create everything out of nothing! So, the people should worship only God and not the false gods of the pagans. In our own times, we must give our devotion to God and not to today’s “false gods” such as money, power, success and beauty.
God created everything with love and with a purpose. Unlike the sometimes evil gods of the pagans, God cares about His creation and is actively involved with the world. From the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation, the Bible tells of the one true God who created everything and loves all His creation. We can worship God and receive His divine love today as much as the ancient Hebrews did.
God rested on the seventh day as an example for us. Reserving a day for rest and worship, the Sabbath, became one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11). There is more to life than just work. We should also reserve time for rest and worship.
The Garden of Eden
Adam was the first man that God created, and he was very special. He was created “in the image” of God Himself.
God planted a beautiful garden, the Garden of Eden. It had beautiful trees with delicious fruit – everything a person would need to eat. Right in the middle of the garden were the “tree of life” and the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Then,
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (NIV, Genesis 2:15-17)
Adam was all alone in the garden with no one to help him. So, God put Adam into a deep sleep and took one of his ribs and formed it into a woman to be Adam’s wife. Adam named her “Eve.”
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and pleasant to the eyes, and would make one wise, she took the fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.
Of all the animals God created, the serpent was the most tricky and deceitful. He came to Eve and asked, “Really? None of the fruit in the garden? God says you must not eat any of it?” “Of course we can eat it,” Eve replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree tree of the knowledge of good and evil that we cannot eat. God says we mustn’t eat it or even touch it, or we will die.”
“That’s a lie!” said the serpent. “You won’t die! God knows very well that when you eat it you will become like Him – you will know good from evil!” Eve looked at the fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and saw that it looked fresh and delicious. She thought the fruit would make her wise like the serpent said it would. Eve was convinced! She picked the fruit and ate it, and she gave some to Adam to eat, too.
The fruit did not make Adam and Eve very wise, but they did realize for the first time that they were not wearing any clothes! They were embarrassed and made themselves skirts of fig leaves.
God was Angry
Later that day, God was walking in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were ashamed of what they had done and afraid to face God, so they hid in the trees. But God knew they had eaten the forbidden fruit. Adam tried to put the blame on Eve, and Eve tried to put the blame on the serpent, but God was angry with all three of them!
God punished the serpent by cursing his kind. They would forever have to crawl on their bellies in the dust and be enemies of mankind.
God punished Adam and Eve, and all their descendants, by making their lives hard. No longer could they live in the perfect world of the Garden of Eden. Men would have to struggle and sweat for their existence. Women would have to bear children in pain and be ruled over by their husbands. Adam and Eve were thrown out of the beautiful Garden of Eden forever.
This is more than a story about the first man and woman; it is a story about all of us. Adam and Eve thought they would get pleasure and wisdom from eating the forbidden fruit, but they got neither. Their lives were ruined because of their sin.
We may know right from wrong, but sometimes, like Adam and Eve, we give in to temptation and convince ourselves that doing wrong is actually a good thing. Also, like Adam and Eve, we often find that doing wrong gets us into trouble and has other bad results.
Was the forbidden fruit an apple? The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is often pictured as an apple, but the Bible never says what it was.
Was the serpent the devil or Satan in disguise? Many people think the serpent was Satan or one of his agents. The serpent’s acts of deception, temptation and ridicule are the same as the methods used by Satan, but the Bible does not say for sure.
Where was the Garden of Eden? The Bible story mentions the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which means Eden was in the region of modern Iraq. It is impossible to determine the exact location, however. Many people believe Eden was not an actual place but a symbol for the perfect life and closeness to God that mankind has lost because of sin.
The descendants of Adam and Eve had become evil and wicked, and God was sorry He had ever created mankind. He decided the only thing to do was destroy them all and start over! But there was one man, Noah, who was obedient to God and found God’s favor.
Noah Builds an Ark
God told Noah to bring a pair of every living animal into the ark to keep them alive during the flood.
God told Noah to build a big boat, called an ark, and He told Noah exactly how to do it. The ark was to be 450 ft. (137 m) long, 75 ft. (23 m) wide and 45 ft. (14 m) high. It was to have three decks, be divided into rooms and have a door in the side.
Noah was to find one male and one female of every kind of animal and bird and take them into the ark. He also had to take food for all those animals. It took Noah 120 years to build the ark and find all the animals to put in it, but Noah obeyed God and did just as he was told.
The Great Flood
Noah was 600 years old by the time everything was ready. God told Noah to go into the ark with his wife, his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives. Then it started to rain. It rained without stop for forty days and nights! The water got so deep that even the mountains were covered. Every living creature on earth died in the flood. But the ark floated on top of the flood waters and the people and animals in the ark were safe.
Noah knew the dove had found dry land when it returned to him carrying an olive branch.
Eventually, the water started to go down again, and the ark came to rest in the mountains of Ararat. After being on the ark about 11 months, Noah sent out a dove to see if it would find land, but it found no place to rest and returned to the ark. Seven days later, Noah sent the dove out again. This time it flew back carrying an olive leaf, and Noah knew it had found land. After a full year on the ark, God said to Noah,
Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you — the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground — so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it. (NIV, Genesis 8:16-17)
God Makes a Promise to Noah
After leaving the ark, Noah built an altar and worshipped God. God was pleased with Noah, and He promised never again to destroy the earth with a flood. Then God placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign of that promise. The descendants of Noah and his sons filled the whole earth with people again.
Except for Noah and his family, all the people of the world were going about their evil and wicked ways. The earth was filled with violence. Mankind had lost sight of God and the way He wanted them to live together in harmony. God rewarded Noah for his righteousness, but He decided there was no choice but to destroy the wicked people of the earth.
Similarly, those of us who love God and obey His commandments will be rewarded with eternal life, but God will not let that life be corrupted by evil people. Those people who have shown themselves to be evil will be destroyed in hell (Matthew 5:22, 5:29-30).
Jesus said His second coming will be very similar to the Great Flood. Referring to himself as “Son of Man,” as he often did, Jesus said,
When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the Flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the Flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes. Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left. So be prepared, because you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. (NLT, Matthew 24:37-42)
Did the Great Flood really happen, or is it just a story with a lesson? There are many ancient stories of a flood that are remarkably similar to the story of Noah and the ark as told in Genesis. The names and places are different, but the story is similar. There are different opinions, but many people believe all these stories are based on some event that actually did happen sometime in the distant past.
What became of Noah’s ark? The mountains of Ararat, where the ark came to a rest, are in the region of eastern Turkey, southern Armenia and western Iran. At 16,946 feet, Mt. Ararat, in eastern Turkey, is the tallest of these. Some people think Noah’s ark landed there. A number of explorers have gone up this huge mountain looking for remains of the ark, but they have not found anything definite.
Why is everything in the Bible story of Noah repeated twice? Bible scholars believe the book of Genesis was made up of several different ancient versions of its stories. The two main versions are the so called “Priestly” and “Yahwist” accounts. These two versions can be easily spotted in the original Hebrew because of the different names used for God and the different styles of writing. (These differences are lost when the story is translated into English.)
The two sources are very obvious in the story of Noah, where they are woven together and almost every detail is told twice. Sometimes there are differences between the two accounts as in Genesis 6:19 and Genesis 7:2.
The Tower of Babel
The people of Babel said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (NIV).
The descendants of Noah all spoke a single language. As they increased in number and began to spread eastward, they found a fertile area called Shinar and settled there. They decided to build a city with a tower that “reached to the heavens.” They wanted the tower to be a proud monument to themselves and a symbol that would keep them united as a powerful people.
However, God was not so pleased. He came down and looked at the city and tower and said,
If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.(NIV, Genesis 11:6-7)
So God made the people speak many different languages so they could not work together on building the city and tower. The He scattered the people around the world and the city was abandoned. The city was called “Babel” because God confused their languages.
Where was the Tower of Babel? Bible scholars think the Tower of Babel refers to a ziggurat, the ancient pagan temple tower of the Babylonians. Babylon was located on the Euphrates River about 30 miles (49 km) from the modern city of Baghdad in Iraq. The Babylonians bragged that their tower reached up to the heavens.
What does Babel mean? Babel was the Hebrew name for Babylon which means “gate of god.” But It was similar to the Hebrew word balal which meant to confound or confuse. The Hebrews despised the Babylonians, and there may well be a humorous play on words here: Far from being the “gate of god,” Babylon was actually the site of much confusion!
On the surface, the story of the Tower of Babel offers an explanation for the many different languages spoken on earth. But there is much more to the story.
In ancient times, people thought the heavens were not far above the earth. If only they could build a tower to the sky, they could climb up and be like gods themselves. Mankind had once again lost sight of God and become arrogant and self-sufficient.
God, of course, saw this as pure arrogance. He put an end to the people’s delusions of being powerful and important like gods.
We may be tempted to think we no longer need to trust and obey God. We may believe our learning, sophistication and technology are all we need to be self-sufficient and guarantee our security. The lesson of the Tower of Babel is that such self-sufficiency is a delusion. History has shown that many nations and their leaders have fallen into the trap of arrogance and self sufficiency. Like Babel, those nations have eventually ended up in ruins.
God Calls Abram
Sometime around 2000 B.C., God spoke to a man named Abram [A brum] and said,
“Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (NIV, Genesis 12:1-3)
So at age 75, Abram left the land of Haran and set out for the land of Canaan. He took his wife, Sarai [SAYR eye], his nephew, Lot, and all their possessions and slaves.
Ishmael is Born
Abram was worried about God’s promise that he would be the ancestor of a great nation of people. He and Sarai had no children, and Sarai was beyond the age of childbearing. But Sarai had an Egyptian slave girl named Hagar, and she gave Hagar to Abram as a second wife. Hagar bore Abram his first son, a boy named Ishmael [ISH may ell].
A covenant is an agreement, and God made an agreement with Abram when he was 99 years old. God appeared to Abram and said,
“I am God Almighty; serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to make you into a mighty nation.” At this, Abram fell face down in the dust. Then God said to him, “This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of not just one nation, but a multitude of nations!”(NLT, Genesis 17:1-4)
God also gave Abram and Sarai new names, Abraham [A bruh ham] and Sarah [SAYR uh], to mark their entry into this new covenant.
Isaac is Born
One day, as Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent, he looked up and saw three men standing there. Abraham instantly recognized them as messengers from God and bowed down to worship. One of the men told Abraham that Sarah would have a son within the next year. Sarah overheard this and laughed at the idea that she could have a child; she was already almost ninety years old!
However, just as promised, Sarah became pregnant and had a son the next year. Abraham named him Isaac [EYE zik]. When Isaac was born, Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90.
Hagar and Ishmael are Driven Away
Abraham forced Hagar and Ishmael out of the family because of Sarah’s jealousy.
After Isaac was born, Sarah became jealous of Hagar and Ishmael. She did not want them around anymore and did not want Ishmael to get a share of Isaac’s inheritance. Abraham cared for his son Ishmael, and he was greatly distressed by Sarah’s demands. But God assured Abraham that Ishmael would also be the ancestor of a nation of people, so Abraham reluctantly sent Hagar and Ishmael away forever.
The Supreme Test of Faith
Abraham was willing even to sacrifice his own son in obedience to God.
God tested Abraham to see how strong his faith really was. Was Abraham really worthy to be the ancestor of two great nations of people? Would Abraham go so far as to sacrifice his only remaining son if God asked? So God said to Abraham,
“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” (NRSV, Genesis 22:2)
Abraham did not hesitate. He took Isaac and set out for the land of Moriah. He gathered firewood. He built an altar and placed the wood on it. He tied up Isaac and placed him on the altar. He took his knife and lifted it up to kill his son as a sacrifice to God.
At that moment the angel of the LORD shouted to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Yes,” he answered. “I’m listening.” “Lay down the knife,” the angel said. “Do not hurt the boy in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld even your beloved son from me.” (NLT, Genesis 22:11-12)
Abraham had passed the test. He had demonstrated that he was willing to obey God – no matter what!
Father of Three Great Religions
Three great religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – trace their spiritual heritage to Abraham.
Ishmael had twelve sons who became princes of twelve Arabian tribes. The Muslims of today trace their heritage to Abraham through Ishmael.
Isaac had twin sons – Esau and Jacob. Jacob had twelve sons who were the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Jews trace their lineage to Abraham through Isaac and Jacob.
Because of their shared heritage with the Jews, Christians also count Abraham as their spiritual father.
Was it a sin for Abram to take Hagar as a wife? In cases where a wife could not bear children, it was a common practice in the ancient world for the husband to take a second wife to bear his children. Nothing in the laws of that time prohibited such an arrangement.
Was it a sin for Abraham and Sarah to own slaves? Slavery was very common in the ancient world, and owning slaves was considered normal and proper at Abraham’s time in history. Later Jewish law did not prohibit slavery, but it did prohibit mistreatment of slaves and allowed them to gain their freedom after six years. Slavery is incompatible with Jesus’ message of love and respect for all people. However, it took many hundreds of years for human societies to abolish slavery.
It was not Abraham’s wealth, intelligence, power, race or nationality that qualified him to be the ancestor of whole nations of people. It was his faith and willingness to obey God – no matter what. He left his home and his homeland when God called him. He proved his obedience by his willingness to sacrifice his own son, if God told him to do it. Throughout the Bible, men and women who were willing to put their whole trust in God were the ones God used to accomplish His great works.
The Birth of Jesus
Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2
The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” (TNIV)
An Angel Visits Mary
One day about 2,000 years ago an angel named Gabriel appeared to a young Jewish woman named Mary. Gabriel told Mary she would have a son, Jesus, who would be the Son of God! Mary was confused and worried about this sudden news, but she had faith in God and said, “I am the Lord’s servant; let it be as you say.”
Journey to Bethlehem
Mary and her husband-to-be, Joseph, lived in a town called Nazareth. But they had to travel to the city of Bethlehem to register for a census ordered by the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. Both Nazareth and Bethlehem are in the country now called Israel. It is about 65 miles (105 km) from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and the trip probably took them several days.
When Joseph and Mary got to Bethlehem, there was no place for them to stay because the inn was already full. They ended up spending the night in a stable, a place where animals were kept. There was probably fresh hay on the floor that they used for beds.
That night, Jesus was born. There was no crib, so they laid baby Jesus in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. The manger probably had fresh hay in it and made a nice bed for the baby.
Shepherds Visit Jesus
Jesus was born in a stable and laid to sleep in a manger. The shepherds came to see firsthand the things the angel had told them.
That night, some shepherds were in the fields near Bethlehem, keeping watch over their flocks of sheep. An angel appeared to them and gave them the good news that a Savior, the Messiah, had been born. The angel told the shepherds they could find Jesus lying in a manger. Suddenly a whole group of angels appeared saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
The shepherds hurried into Bethlehem and found Jesus in the manger, just as the angel had told them. After they had seen Jesus, they spread the news, and everyone who heard was in awe.
Wise Men Visit Jesus
Wise men from the East came to worship Jesus, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Some time later, wise men, or magi, from eastern countries saw a star in the sky that signaled the birth of a new king. They came to Judea, the region around Jerusalem and Bethlehem, to worship Jesus, the new king.
A man named Herod was the king of Judea. He called the wise men to a meeting and told them to find the new king so he could go and worship him, too.
The wise men continued on to Bethlehem and followed the star until it was directly above the house where Jesus was. They found Mary and Jesus in the house and knelt down to worship Him. They brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, some of the finest things in the ancient world. Frankincense was burned to make a sweet smell, and myrrh was an expensive perfume.
After visiting Jesus, the wise men had a dream that warned them not to go back to King Herod, so they took a different route home.
Journey to Egypt
King Herod lied when he told the wise men he wanted to worship Jesus. He was afraid this new “king” would replace him as king of Judea. He did not understand that Jesus would grow up to be king of God’s spiritual kingdom, not king of Judea.
What Herod really wanted was to find Jesus and kill Him! Herod was furious when he realized the wise men had not come back to tell him where to find Jesus. He sent his soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all the children under two years old, thinking Jesus would certainly be one of the ones killed.
But God had told Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt. Joseph took Mary and Jesus to live in Egypt where they would be safe from Herod. Joseph, Mary and Jesus stayed in Egypt until Herod had died, and then they returned to Nazareth.
Was Jesus born on Christmas day? We celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas, but no one really knows what day Jesus was born, or even exactly what year. In 336 A.D., the Western Church, based in Rome, chose December 25 to celebrate as Christmas, meaning “Christ’s Mass.” The Eastern Church chose January 6. The day was named Epiphany, meaning “appearance.” Eventually the period from December 25 to January 6 became known as the Twelve Days of Christmas.
The stories of Jesus’ birth link to both the past and the future. The circumstances of Jesus’ birth show He fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies of a Messiah (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23). He was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:5-6). He was called out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:15).
Jesus was born in a stable – the most humble of circumstances. Similarly, Jesus showed us how God’s favor rests with the poor and downtrodden. The Gentile wise men came to worship Jesus. Later, the Gentiles would make up most of the Christian world. Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus foreshadows His crucifixion about 33 years later.