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The Storyline of the Bible
By James L. Nicodem, Jim Vincent
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2013 James L. Nicodem
All rights reserved.
I NEED TO SEE the big picture—especially when I'm trying to figure out travel directions. If I am about to drive through New York City, for example, the two- by three-inch GPS picture on my iPhone of the immediate vicinity will not suffice. I want an AAA road map of the entire city at a glance—the kind that opens up to three feet wide and can never be refolded the right way.
God has given us a road map for our lives. It's called the Bible. God's Holy Word. The Bible is the best place to turn for direction for our lives. But we need to have a sense of the Bible's big picture in order to understand its individual parts. So, how are we going to get a sense of that big picture? We won't find it summarized in a couple of paragraphs on the back cover of our Bible, right above a picture of the book's author. (God won't hold still while His photo is taken.)
No, the Bible is not like other books. In fact, the Bible is not "a" book. It's actually a compilation of sixty-six books in one. Sixty-six books that were written over a period of 1,500 years, penned by forty different authors. And those forty different authors lived in ten different countries, worked in more than twenty different occupations (including king, shepherd, general, tax collector, fisherman, and doctor), and wrote in three different languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic).
What are our chances of ever being able to get a sense of the Bible's big picture, the Bible's storyline? And speaking of the Bible's storyline, does it even have a clear storyline? After all, the Bible mentions, by name, 2,930 different characters. Is it really possible that all these people belong to the same drama, that they're part of the same plot?
Yes, the Bible has a storyline: a single, overarching, comprehensive storyline. A storyline that amazingly ties the whole book together, from Genesis to Revelation. And once we grasp that storyline, we'll be able to make sense of the Bible's individual parts. We'll be able to use God's road map to gain direction for our lives.
But before we dive into the Bible's opening book of Genesis, let me say a word about the general theme of the Bible's storyline. We can capture this general theme in one word, redemption. Look up redemption in the dictionary, and one of the first definitions you'll see is deliverance or rescue.
The Bible is a rescue story. It begins with a crisis. There are people in grave danger. Who will save them? A lot of good stories begin this way. This is what immediately grabs our attention. This is what hooks us.
If you were ever a fan of the blockbuster TV series 24, you know what I'm talking about. Each season the show began with an emergency. Lives were at stake. There was a plot in motion to assassinate the president, or suicide bombers were on the loose, or a nuclear bomb was about to be detonated, or a deadly virus was about to be released. These situations called for the rescue efforts of super-agent Jack Bauer.
Now, not every story that we read or watch begins with that much of an adrenalin rush. But a lot of good stories do begin with people in dire straits. And those dire straits prompt a rescue effort.
The Bible is no exception to this pattern. In fact the Bible opens with the mother of all crises. A crisis so big that it prompts the greatest rescue effort in the history of humanity. That rescue effort—redemption—is the theme of the Bible's storyline. After the description in Genesis 1 of an awesome God creating earth and its inhabitants, Genesis 2–3 tells us about the crisis that prompted the rescue operation. I encourage you to grab your Bible and follow along as I identify five stages to: Redemption Prompted.
In the first chapter of Genesis, the opening pages of the Bible, God creates the world and everything in it. This includes the original human couple, Adam and Eve. Mister and missus are then placed in a virtual paradise, called the garden of Eden. We pick up the story in Genesis 2:15–17: "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.'"
This command in Genesis 2:17 immediately raises a couple of objections in the minds of some readers. First off, it seems so silly, so arbitrary: Don't eat from this tree! C'mon. That's the best that God could come up with? I mean, this is the very first prohibition that we come across in the Bible. We expect something significant, right?
Hebrew scholars tell us that it's worded exactly like some of the famous Ten Commandments. You remember the Big Ten? They include, "You shall have no other gods before me.... You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:3, 13–14).
But ... You shall not eat from this tree? In the words of an old Sesame Street jingle: "One of these things is not like the others." Is this really God's best shot for the Bible's opening prohibition? How random! If God didn't want Adam and Eve to eat from that tree, why did He put the tree in the garden of Eden to begin with? Was He deliberately trying to trip them up?
May I suggest that objecting to God's command along these lines reveals a rebellious streak in our hearts? It reveals a resistance to the notion that God is God. As God, He has the right to command us to do whatever He pleases. If some of God's commands seem silly or arbitrary to us, the problem is not with God; it's with us.
Let me illustrate what I'm saying here. Last summer, I was looking for a place to take my family on vacation, and so I emailed a friend of mine who lives on Cape Cod. I asked him if he knew of any inexpensive rental cottages on the Cape. Preferably something near the ocean. My friend is a retired banker, a wealthy man. He emailed me back, saying: "My wife and I have a vacation house up in Maine. Why don't we go there for a week, and you and your family can have our house on the Cape?" That sounded reasonable to me.
When we got there, we realized it was a really sweet deal. Their house is massive. It has a beautiful swimming pool, a private theatre, and a gorgeous view of the ocean. Soon after we arrived we spotted a piece of paper on the kitchen counter, explaining where we could find everything. And in the middle of all this information, my friend had given us a directive: "Please water the house plants while you are here." My immediate thought was: What a stupid directive! Doesn't he know we're on vacation? With all his money, he could've hired somebody to do the watering. So we just let the house plants wither and die.
Of course we didn't! It would have been foolish and ungrateful to defy my friend's instructions.
And yet, when it comes to God's commands, we're constantly pushing back. It's as if we reserve the right to determine which commands deserve our obedience and which commands are worthy of disdain.
A second objection that people have, when they read the "Don't eat from this tree" prohibition in Genesis 2:17, is that the penalty seems overly severe. What does our Bible say would happen to Adam and Eve if they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? They would surely die.
The death sentence? Are you kidding me? For eating an apple? (Actually, the Bible never says that this was an apple tree. That's just how artists have depicted it.)
What's the deal with the death sentence? It's really quite simple to explain. For the first two chapters of Genesis, the Bible has been referring to God as the source of all life. He brought the world into existence, creating stars and oceans and forests and wild animals. And when He created Adam, God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7).
If God is the source of Adam's life (and of ours), what would be the natural consequence of unplugging from God by rejecting His commands? Death. Isn't that what happens when you're vacuuming your house and the plug pulls out? The vacuum dies, right? Well, people who unplug from God—the source of life—die.
The Con Job
The main characters in this drama now begin to distort God's original command. As you read Genesis 3:1–6, see if you can detect the truth-twisting that's going on:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"
The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"
"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Who is the serpent in this story? Satan. Now, the fact is Genesis 3 doesn't tell us who the serpent is. But the last book of the Bible identifies the serpent for us (Revelation 12:9): "The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray."
So the serpent who approaches Eve in Genesis 3 is indeed Satan—God's archenemy! But please note in verse 1 that God made Satan. It's important for us to understand that even though God and Satan have been engaged in a cosmic battle of good vs. evil since the beginning of time, Satan is not God's equal. Satan is not God's exact polar opposite. God is the Creator of all things. Satan is a created being. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Satan is none of those things.
And because Satan lacks God's power, he must fight his battles using trickery and deceit. The Genesis account refers to him as more crafty than any of God's other creatures. Just look at the first words out of Satan's mouth to Eve: "Did God really say ...?" (v. 1) There's something subtly sinister about this question. Satan's use of the word really drips with sarcasm. Can you detect his you've-got-to-be-kidding-me attitude? Although God has just given Adam and Eve a fairly straightforward command, Satan is about to twist and distort that command so as to get them to disobey it.
Why? Because, if Adam and Eve disobey the command, they unplug from the source of life. They die. Satan is out to destroy the pinnacle of God's creation. And he uses trickery—a con job—to accomplish his goal.
Satan's Three Deceits
Let me note three strategies with which Satan deceitfully counters God's original prohibition (strategies that he's still using on us today).
The first is exaggeration. His first deceit is a misleading question: "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" Is Satan accurately quoting God? No. There was only one tree that God said not to eat from. So why is Satan exaggerating God's Word? To make God's command look severe, overly demanding, unreasonable, ridiculous.
Once Satan has us believing that God's commands are severe, overly demanding, unreasonable, or ridiculous, we feel like we have the right to disobey them. Don't we? Like when we drive 45 mph in a 30 mph zone because it's so stupid to drive the speed limit on that wide-open stretch of road. Like when we come in at midnight (if we're high school age), even though our parents have told us that curfew is 11 p.m., because it's so lame to go home by 11 p.m. When we exaggerate God's commands, we make them easier to dismiss, because they're so over-the-top.
Look at how Eve quickly picks up on Satan's bad habit of exaggerating God's Word. She starts to do it herself. In the middle of verse 2, Eve says (my summary): "It's only the tree in the middle of the garden that we're not to eat from—and we're not supposed to touch it either, or we'll die." Not supposed to touch it? When did God say not to touch that tree? He didn't. Now Eve is exaggerating.
A second clever strategy that Satan uses to counter God's command is flat out denial of consequences. In verse 4, Satan promises Eve: "You will not surely die." Satan's denial of the death sentence that God had attached to His command (Genesis 2:17) is even stronger in the original Hebrew. Satan actually begins his sentence with the word not. His denial is literally: "NOT—you will surely die!"
Isn't it interesting that the very first doctrine Satan ever contradicts is the doctrine of divine judgment? "God doesn't punish sin. Disobedience to God doesn't unplug you from the source of life. There's no such thing as spiritual or eternal death." People are still buying this lie today. We all buy it to some extent. We convince ourselves that God will shrug His shoulders at our sin. We don't really expect to pay for sin in any significant way.
A third strategy Satan uses to counter God's command is the promise that disobedience will bring tremendous satisfaction. That deceit remains today a great weapon in Satan's arsenal. He guarantees Eve that the forbidden fruit will make her "like God, knowing good and evil" (v. 5). That sales pitch was actually half-true. Eve would know good and evil if she ate the fruit. But not like God.
God knows evil like a cancer doctor knows cancer. But Eve would know evil like a cancer victim knows cancer. Do you see the difference? If Eve ate the fruit, she would know evil from personal experience. That wouldn't be a good thing, even though Satan tried to dress it up as if it would be tremendously satisfying.
Satan is still in the business of dressing up evil and trying to pass it off to us as something wonderful. "You'd feel much better if you got some revenge." "You'd really enjoy a shopping spree." "You'd laugh yourself silly over this raunchy movie." "You'd be a lot happier if you got out of your difficult marriage." "You'd loosen up with a few more beers."
Eve fell for Satan's con job. She ate from the tree that God had said not to eat from. So did her husband Adam. And we've been falling for Satan's con job ever since.
What happened after Eve and then Adam bit into the fruit? According to Genesis 3:7–13:
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?"
He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."
And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"
The man said, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."
Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?"
The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate it."
This is the cover-up—also called the Shame and Blame Game. This is what sin always leads to in our lives.
First, there's shame. Adam and Eve were embarrassed by their nakedness, and so they tried to cover it up with fig leaves. (I'll bet that was pretty uncomfortable.) We're still trying this same approach today. We don't use fig leaves. But we do our best to hide our sinfulness from other people, to keep them from finding out the worst about us. We'd be mortified if others knew some of the things we've thought, said, or done.
Adam and Eve not only tried to hide their shame from each other, they tried to hide it from God. When they heard the sound of God walking in the garden (v. 8), they hid from Him. How crazy is that? Hiding from God? I was in a clothing store with my wife, Sue, recently. A little boy was standing next to a rack of dresses. He pulled one of the dresses across his face and, with 90 percent of his body still showing, he called out to his mom, "Come and find me!" How childishly amusing. How very like our own attempts to hide from God.
The psalmist dumps a bucket of cold water on those of us who are inclined to try this approach. He addresses God with the rhetorical question (Psalm 139:7–8): "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there." We have no chance of hiding from God—even though our shame drives us away from Him.
So, hounded by our shame we resort to blame. We try to cover up our sins by blaming them on other people, blaming them on our circumstances, blaming them on our personality, blaming them on our upbringing.
Adam blamed Eve. Look at verse 12: "The woman," Adam says. "She gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." The woman. I'm sure that Adam spit that out with disgust. But ironically, when God first created Eve and brought her to Adam, Adam looked at this beautiful naked lady and joyfully exclaimed (Genesis 2:23): "She shall be called 'woman.'" My grad school Hebrew teacher said that the proper translation of this exclamation should probably be: "She shall be called 'Whoa! Man!'" But in Genesis 3, it's no longer "Whoa! Man!" It's now a derisive "the woman," as Adam blames Eve for his sin.
Excerpted from Epic by James L. Nicodem, Jim Vincent. Copyright © 2013 James L. Nicodem. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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