What's in It For Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives
I. Creation: Religious—Not Scientific--Instruction
Neither science nor fairy tale, the Story of Creation in Genesis reveals the overarching hope of biblical thought: That life has purpose and meaning, and for better or worse, we human beings are in charge of and responsible for this earth.
II. Eden: Would You Want to Live There?
Many think of the Story of Eden as “The Fall of Man.” Quite the contrary, we might better think of it as the “Elevation of Humanity.” Eve, rather than being the villain that much of religious history has made of her is the true hero of the story.
III. Cain and Abel: “The Symbol Story of the Human Soul”
Nobel laureate John Steinbeck considers Cain and Abel, “the symbol story of the human soul” because it is the story of each and every one of us. It is about rejection--which all of us have faced-–and how we deal with it.
IV. Noah: The Purposeful Choice of a Purposeful God
Many accounts of a deluge emerge from various cultures of the ancient near east. The biblical flood story is unique in two important ways: Only in the Bible does the flood occur because of humanity’s moral failure, and only in the Bible is the hero chosen not for capricious reasons but because of his righteousness.
V. The Tower of Babel: God Opts for Diversity
The brief account of the Tower of Babel should be understood as “the last straw” in God’s attempt to have humanity as a whole create a just, caring and compassionate society.
VI. Abraham: God’s Covenantal Partner
After three attempts to have humanity create a just, caring and compassionate society (in Eden, after Eden until the flood, and after the flood) the Eternal One chooses Abram as Covenantal partner and launches a new vehicle for humanity to understand God’s desires. Now one family and its descendants will become a vehicle to teach the world the ideals and values we all hold dear.
VII. Jacob: Is This the One to Inherit the Covenant?
A punk kid who extorts the precious birthright from his brother and misrepresents himself before his blind father grows through many trials to emerge as a responsible partner in God’s Covenant. If we understand the relationship between the crimes of Jacob’s youth and the tribulations he endured because of them, his journey can transform our lives as well.
VIII. Joseph: A Model for Change
Like his father Jacob Joseph grows from a spoiled, selfish brat into a leader whose bold policies saved the biblical world from famine. His story and the parallel story of his brother Judah are stories of suffering, growth and forgiveness. The lessons they learn through bitter experience can inspire us as we seek meaning and purpose in our lives.
IX. Slavery: Sensitized to Suffering
“A new king arose who knew not Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8) In this verse we have the paradigm of all Jewish history. It is a pattern that has repeated itself wherever Jews have lived.
X. Six Women Heroes: Where Would We Be without Them?
Moses is the hero of the Exodus, but Moses would not have gotten as far as uttering, “Let my people go…” (Exodus 7:16) before Pharaoh were it not for no fewer than six women. It offers strong testimony that the Bible affirms and exalts the power and role of women.
XI: Moses: He Answered the Call to Conscience. Will We?
Why did God choose Moses? The Bible gives us hints, but for the rabbis the partnership was based on a careful examination by God of Moses’ character. Like Moses we each have a destiny if we choose, as Moses eventually did, to embrace it.
XII. God’s Role in the Exodus
If God represents goodness and kindness, why does God “harden Pharaoh’s heart?” To understand the story of the Exodus we must see it as a war between God and the pagan deity Pharaoh. Their divergent value systems cannot coexist. The story and the Passover celebrations based on it bid us to ask which set of values we choose for ourselves: a life of self-centered greed or a life of caring, concern and service to others.
XIII. Crossing the Sea: Balance Due
In the Hebrew Bible’s most dramatic miracle, God splits the Red Sea allowing the apparently trapped children of Israel to cross through on dry ground. The Egyptians follow and are drowned when the Almighty orders the sea waters to cover them. One of the vital questions the drowning of the Egyptians raises is, how should we react to the downfall of our enemy?
XIV. A Visit from Jethro: Management 101
Jethro’s visit to Moses and the Israelites marks, perhaps the first management tutorial in recorded literature. Moses, Jethro warns, risks burnout unless he develops a plan to share and delegate authority.
XV. Standing at Sinai: Highest of Highs
This chapter examines different perspectives on the meaning of God’s revelation at Sinai. We shall look at a number of midrashim that offer contradictory perspectives on what might have occurred at Sinai and ask the more important question: what do these different points of view teach us today?
XVI. The Golden Calf: Lowest of Lows
Almost as soon as Israel agrees to the Covenant with God, they break faith in the worst way imaginable by worshipping a golden calf. Certainly we do not build idols and bow down to them yet the story of the golden calf truly still speaks to our human condition and poses vital questions to us today.
XVII. The Spies: Moses Stays God’s Hand Again
In the second year of the Israelites desert journey Moses sends out twelve spies to report on the land God has promised them. Ten of the spies come back and say the land is unconquerable. Two, though, Joshua and Caleb demur and say we need to have faith and confidence in God’s promise. What we can learn from this story?
XVIII. The Waters’ of Meribah: Was God Unfair?
For nearly forty years Moses has been God’s faithful servant. He slips up once--in what seems like a minor way—by hitting a rock to give drink to the thirsty people instead of asking the rock to brings forth water in God’s name. God punishes Moses by not allowing him to enter the Promised Land. Is this fair? Perhaps not, but the lesson of the story is vital to each one of us.
XIX. What If I Don’t Believe in God?
As discussed throughout the book, the Hebrew Bible assumes the existence of God, who wants human beings to establish a just caring and compassionate society. The simple fact is not everyone believes in such a God. This chapter discusses how the ideals and values of the journey can speak effectively and meaningfully to those who do not.
Conclusion: The Meaning of the Journey
This summary of the journey and its meanings reviews the vital lessons we learn from the Genesis’ story of creation to the edge of the Promised Land where Moses’ dies on Mount Nebo.
Repeatedly in the Bible, it is the woman who gets it and the man who is clueless. Eve has been maligned for generations for the supposed fall of man, when in fact; she is the heroine of the elevation of humanity. ~