(This part can be read independently from Part I, “Are the creation story, Adam and Eve and the fall from grace scientific accounts?” which is found on this blog.)
THE STORY SO FAR:
“When Adam and Eve were seduced by the devil and ate the forbidden fruit, they lost for themselves and for themselves and for the whole human race the friendship of God. Up to the moment of their sin they had lived familiarly with God; they had been His faithful children; their human wills had been subject in love to the divine will. By their sin they rebelled against the will of God; they sought to achieve their own happiness and perfection in a way forbidden by God.
Their rebellion against God brought swift punishment upon them. They lost the gift of bodily immortality; they lost the perfect control of their bodily passions which God had given them; they were condemned to work out their livelihood, to procreate and to raise their children with pain and difficulty. Last of all, they were expelled from the paradise of pleasure which God had made for them.
GOD IS JUST AND MERCIFUL
In this first fateful episode of the story of the encounter of the devil, man and God, it might seem that the devil had won, and man and God had lost. But God is almighty and just and merciful. His might and His justice are shown in the punishment to which He condemns both the devil and man. His mercy appears in the promise of ultimate victory which He promises to man.
HOW IS THIS VICTORY OVER THE DEVIL TO BE WON?
God’s first promise of victory to man is made in the most general terms. The woman and her seed will war against the devils and will triumph over them. God foretells and promises the final victory of some men, at least, over the wiles and deceits of the devil. But how is this victory to be won? How is it being won? Since the participants in the struggle are innumerable – Satan and the devils allied with him, the whole human race from Adam to the end of this world, and God – only the infinite mind of God can know all the details of the victory. But God has seen fit to reveal us at least the general plan of the reconciliation with Himself. Moses tells us the earliest elements of the plan in the Book of Genesis.
BOOK OF GENESIS, CHAPTER 4 TO CHAPTER 11
From all the descendants of Adam God chose Abraham and his descendants to be the first historically significant actors in the drama of man’s reconciliation with God. From chapter four to chapter eleven of the Book of Genesis Moses traces the genealogy of Abraham from Adam to Thare, the father of Abraham. Since Moses takes such great pains to establish this genealogy, and since the genealogy itself is subject to misunderstanding, it may be useful to pause a while to reflect upon its real meaning.
First of all it is apparent that Moses intends to show by these genealogies that the human race is one, that all men are ultimately descended from Adam and Eve. But it is equally clear that Moses had no intention of listing the complete genealogies of all the known races of men. At the moment when Cain kills his brother Abel, Cain and Abel are the only children of Adam and Eve mentioned by Moses. Yet Cain fears that others may find him and kill him because of his crime. This implies that there other descendants of Adam and Eve, perhaps many in number, already living on the earth. It would be fruitless for us, therefore, to attempt to see in the genealogies of Genesis a complete history of the parentage of all the races of mankind.
What is more important is the central fact that Moses is chiefly concerned with the task of relating the descent of Abraham from Adam. When a particular family ceases to be of interest from this point of view, it is dropped from the story. In this way, for example, the family of Cain is not mentioned, at least by name, after the fourth chapter of Genesis. The chief centre of interest always is the descent of Abraham from Adam. Since salvation is to come to mankind through Abraham it is important to see how Abraham is the descendant of the parents of the race of man, the parents to whom God promised ultimate victory over the devil.
CAIN AND ABEL
Embedded in these genealogies we find moral elements which are of the utmost significance for the understanding of man’s history. The murder of Abel by Cain shows how quickly serious sin enters the history of the descendants of Adam and Eve. But God’s words to Cain show that man is free not to sin: ‘If thou do well, shalt thou not receive? But if ill, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door? But the lust thereof shall be under thee, and thou shalt have dominion over it’ (Genesis 4:7). Temptation to sin may afflict Cain, but he can master it if he will.
A MIXTURE OF GOOD AND EVIL
BEGINNING OF CIVILISATION
Again, the early history of mankind shows that curious mixture of good and evil which is the constant characteristic of mankind since the fall of Adam. This mixture of good and evil appears in several guises. Cain and his descendants are portrayed as the bearers of material good to the human race. They appear as the first agents of human civilisation. Cain himself builds the first human city. Jubal introduces mankind to music, Tubalcain invents the art of metal-working. On the other hand, Cain is the first murderer and Lamech the second; Lamech is also the first polygamist. The Cainites, then, bring the world many material blessings; to that extent they realise God’s plan for the mastery of the world by man.
SUCCUMBING TO SEEKING HAPPINESS IN MATERIAL THINGS
But on the other hand they succumb to the lust for material happiness and fall victim to sin. In the race of Seth, the third son of Adam mentioned by Moses, and the forefather of Abraham, we find also this admixture of good and evil. Enos, the son of Seth, is apparently a holy man, for it is said of him that he ‘began to call upon the name of the Lord’ (Genesis 4:26). Henoch [Enoch] and Noe [Noah] are holy, for Henoch ‘walked with God’ (Genesis 5:22) and Noe ‘found grace before the Lord’ (Genesis 6:8). But of the contemporaries of Noe, Moses writes, ‘And God seeing that the wickedness of men was great upon the earth, and that all the thought of their heart was bent upon evil at all times, it repented him that he had made man on the earth’ (Genesis 6:5-6).
It seems clear, then, from the beginning that the history of the human race will always appear as a mixture of good and evil. As men freely submit to God or freely rebel against Him, so good or evil will cast light or darkness over the face of mankind. Nor is the promise of victory over sin, the devil and death to be fulfilled only through a line of men of constant goodness in the sight of God. Even the Sethites from whom Abraham is descended were in their time corrupted by sin. From the beginning, the ultimate victory of God and man waits obscurely behind the dark clouds of satanic and human evil.
NOAH: THE DATES AND CIRCUMSTACES OF THE GREAT FLOOD
Abraham, through whom the divine promise of deliverance is fulfilled, is the descendant of Adam through Seth and through Noe. With the tale of Noe and the great flood, the story of Moses enters for the first time into relation with humanly recorded history as we now know it. The ancestors of Abraham lived for some time in the territory of the empire Babylonia. In the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh there is an account of a vast flood and of an ark in which the hero Utanapishtim and other persons are saved. There is also evidence of severe floods at Kish and at Ur in ancient Babylonia. These floods are dated by historians as occurring between the years 3400 and 4200 B.C. It seems quite probable the flood recorded by the Babylonians and that mentioned by Moses are the same flood. But it is not possible at present to give the exact date of the flood.
If we accept this identification, then it is probable that the flood of which Moses tells us was not universal, that is, it did not cover the whole earth and it did not destroy all men and living things upon the earth except those which Noe saved in his ark. When Moses says that all men and all living creatures were destroyed he means that all living beings in the world known to his ancestors, that is, in the world of the ancient Babylonian empire, were destroyed by this great flood.
It will follow also from this fact that not all the races of men known historically to us are the descendants of Noe. The divine plan for the salvation of all men will be working even for those who are not descended from Noe. On the other hand, it is not working through them at the time of Noe. Such peoples, then, as might have been dwelling in far eastern Asia or Europe or in the Americas at this time in human history do not enter into the main lines of the development of God’s plan for ultimate triumph over evil.
‘GO FORTH OUT OF THY COUNTRY… INTO THE LAND I WILL SHOW THEE.’
Abraham is the descendant of Noe through Noe’s son Sem. He was, therefore, of the race of Semites. His own father, Thare, lived at Ur of the Chaldees, in the confines of the Babylonian empire. Thare seems to have been, like his neighbours at Ur, a polytheist, a worshipper of many gods. By this time, then, the descendants of Noe have lost any certain knowledge of the existence of the one true God. It is at this moment in human history, when the first great civilisations known to us have already come into existence, the great empires of Babylonia and Egypt, when the knowledge and understanding of the true God seem to be lost to mankind. God speaks directly to Abraham, the son of Thare: ‘Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I shall show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and magnify thy name, and thou shalt be blessed. I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee, and in thee shall all the kindred of the earth be blessed’ (Genesis 12:1-3).
As God, in the paradise of pleasure, had told the devil, Adam and Eve, that the woman and her seed would triumph over the devil, so now He tells Abraham that through him all men will be blessed. God is renewing His promise, and precisely at a moment when it might seem as if man was totally lost, for he had forgotten even the existence of the one true God.
MANKIND BEGAN ITS SLOW ASCENT TO GOD
It is permissible to see in the history of Abraham a second divine test for mankind. In the paradise of pleasure God had tested Adam, and in Adam all humanity failed. In Abraham mankind was tested again, but this time Abraham was faithful and mankind began its slow ascent to God.
The trial of Abraham was difficult and long. Think first of all of the fact that Abraham lived in the empire of Babylonia. His father was a worshipper of the gods of Babylonia. Before God called Abraham, Abraham himself was no doubt a worshipper of the gods of his native land. He is asked to give up the worship of the gods to which he was accustomed and to accept a God whom he has never known before. Then he is asked to leave his native land and journey through strange lands until this God who speaks to him gives him a new land for himself and his descendants. This is surely a great trial of faith. But Abraham obeys and journeys from Ur to the land of Canaan, from Canaan to Egypt and then to Palestine once again.
A GREAT TRIAL OF FAITH
Moreover, Sara, the wife of Abraham, was barren, yet God promised him: ‘I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: if any man be able to number the dust of the earth, he shall be able to number thy seed also’ (Genesis 13:16). When Abraham thought that he would not have any heirs, God said to him, ‘Look up to heaven, and number the stars if thou canst… So shall thy seed be’ (Genesis 15:5). When Abraham and Sara are in their old age, God fulfils his promise and gives them a son, Isaac. God’s promise to make of Abraham a mighty and numerous nation seems possible of fulfilment. But then God tests his fidelity even more severely. ‘Take thy only begotten son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and go into the land of vision: and there thou shalt offer him for an holocaust upon one of the mountains which I will show thee’ (Genesis 22:2). To Abraham it must have seemed as if God were withdrawing his promise to give him numerous descendants. If Isaac were killed, how could Abraham have any legitimate descendants at all? Yet Abraham was obedient to God, and he set out to fulfil God’s command. At the last moment, satisfied with Abraham’s faith and obedience, God intervened and said, through an angel, ‘Lay not thy hand on the boy, neither do thou any thing to him. Now I know that thou fearest God, and hast not spared thy only begotten son for my sake’ (Genesis 22:12).
Where Adam was tried and was found unfaithful and disobedient, Abraham was tested and found faithful and obedient. In Adam the whole human race fell away from God. In Abraham the race begins to come back to God. In Adam the whole of mankind was cursed. In Abraham mankind is blessed again. The first pact which God made with mankind in Adam was broken by the sin of Adam. Through Abraham God makes a new pact with men and the pact is ratified by the firm faith and obedience of Abraham.
THE PACT WITH ABRAHAM
Two things are remarkable in the pact which God makes with Abraham. First of all, God seems to be promising to Abraham only material blessings. He promises him numerous descendants, land, great power and possessions. To a man of Abraham’s time and place these promises would seem attractive. It is possible that Abraham may not have seen beyond these material things to the truly heavenly blessings which God would restore to men through him and his children. If this be so, then God, in so speaking to Abraham, is stooping to the level of the spirituality of the men of Abraham’s time. We must remember that Abraham lived some time in the second millennium before Christ. If the human race is as old as many scientists say, then a very long time intervened between the creation of Adam and the time of Abraham. In all that time, through the weakness and sinfulness of men, the knowledge of the true God and of man’s true destiny was gradually weakened and men’s thoughts and desires tended to the material blessings of this world. God in His wisdom and divine condescension would lead men gently to Himself, raising them slowly but surely from the pleasures of this world to the far more precious realities of the world of the spirit.
‘THE WEAK THINGS OF THE WORLD HATH GOD CHOSEN…
Lastly, it is not without significance that God chose Abraham to be, as it were, the vehicle which would carry deliverance to all mankind. At first sight it might seem strange that the choice was made. Instead of choosing Abraham and his descendants, the Jewish race, God might have chosen the Babylonians or the Egyptians. Or He might have chosen the Assyrians who appear a little later, or the Persians or the Greeks or the Romans, or even the Chinese or the Japanese. In short, God might have chosen one of the great civilising nations which have arisen in the course of human history. But He did not. He chose one of the small nations of the earth, one of the weak nations of the earth. The Hebrews were not chosen because of their military preeminence, or their economic prosperity, or their cultural superiority. God’s choice of Abraham and his descendants will always remain somewhat mysterious to us. But it is perhaps legitimate to see in it a foreshadowing of St Paul’s words,’…the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that He may confound the strong… That no flesh should glory in His sight’ (1 Cor 1:27, 29).”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959