Saturday, July 13, 2013

Genesis 12 - 18

File:Molnár Ábrahám kiköltözése 1850.jpg
Image: Abraham's departure - József Molnár. 

Preamble to today's tour:
Our reading today starts at Chapter 12. Allow me to show you some background information which is pertinent to Abram and today's reading.

Even after all these punishments - exit from Eden, the great flood, failed project of tower of Babel, people were still not walking in the ways of God. During the time of the failed project of Babel, Nimrod, the great grandson of Noah, was the king of Shinar - Bible does not say that Nimord specifically order the construction. The land of Nimrod is a synonym for Assyria or Mesopotamia. One of the ancient wonders of the world is attributed to 'the hanging gardens of Babylon'.

Nimrod had inherited the 'coat of Adam' - the one that God made for Adam. Adam had given his coat to Seth, who passed them down to Noah, and eventually reached Nimrod. It is said that all animals on earth obeyed whoever wore this garment. Further, every king on earth recognized Nirmod's authority. He was allegedly, the first king to wear a crown studded with jewels. Technically, Nirmod was the very first king to wear a robe (Adam's clothes) and a jewel crown, to display sovereign authority over everyone - humans and animals. Nimrod did not stop there - his image was displayed all over the country and people were to serve him and bring him offerings.

Terah, a great grandson of Noah's son Shem, and Abram's father, was a prominent member at Nimrod's court. The night before Abram was born, a discovery was made by few of Terah's astrologers by reading the constellation of the stars. This discovery was about a newly born child who was to become the chief and the father of a mighty nation. This news was communicated by Terah to Nimrod, who became afraid that the new star might darken his own. Jealous Nimrod asked Terah to bring that child to him so that he can kill the child. Terah did his best talking Nimrod out of it, but did not listen. After much thought, Terah risked his as well as his family's life and substituted his servant's child instead of Abram. Nimrod killed that child with his own hands, while Abram was hidden in a cave. For his loyalty, Nimrod offered Terah higher honors in the court, and he accepted any new idols introduced by Nimrod.

In the meantime, Abram stayed in the cave until he was 10 years old. Watching the sun, moon and stars, he reasoned in a Higher Power which was invisible, and perceived the existence of God. God revealed Himself to Abram and later Abram went and stayed at Noah's house for many years, where he studied about God. When Abram heard about the idol worship. he decided to do everything in his power to crush that belief. He used to talk to every visitor at his father's house and did his best at convincing many. Terah, Abram's father refused to listen to his own son and continued idol worship.

One day, Abram took an axe and destroyed all those idols except the large one. When Terah learned about this, he of course, suspected Abram and inquired about this. Abram said, "The largest idol was unhappy with the offerings made by the smaller ones, and therefore got into a fight and killed them." Terah was furious and said, "That is impossible, since idols do not quarrel or fight."  He knew his son Abram had tricked him and was extremely angry. Forgetting the whole episode of hiding Abram in the cave, he went and complained to Nimrod about his son's disrespect towards idols.

Nimrod had Abram imprisoned and condemned death by fire. People all over the country came to witness the son of Terah being burnt alive. Abram was vocal and accused Nimrod for reducing his people to the state before great flood. When accused and condemned, Abram shouted in the court that Nimrod had no power over the will of God, and God was the one who gave the burning power to fire itself, which he could take away.

Abram was thrown into the fire and for three days and three nights people watched Abram walk in the midst of flames without any harm. Nimord had to acknowledge this truth and ordered Abram out of the furnace. Later, Abram was sent home with several gifts. About 200 people of noble descent from Nimrod's court followed Abram to learn about God. Among them was Eliezer of Damascus, who would become Abram's most trusted servant.

Abram weds Sarai:
Abram married Sarai, who was extremely beautiful (see below). Sometime later, Nimrod sent men to secretly kill Abram. Learning this, Abram fled to Noah's house where he lived as a child. Later his father, Terah joined him and they go towards Haran in Mesopotamia. People in Mesopotamia did not worship God, but idols. Abram was the only righteous man there. In Mesopotamia, Terah dies at the age of 205.

This is where our tour for today starts, at chapter 12:

God appeared to Abram, who was 75 years of age, and said,

“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household 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.”

Abram took is nephew Lot, and left Haran (Mesopotamia). When they were in Canaan, God spoke again, "

“To your offspring I will give this land.”

Abram's trip to Egypt:
Abram built an Altar for God and proclaimed the word of God wherever he went. A famine was going on everywhere. Egypt, located on the fertile banks of river Nile was Abram's next destination. Abram had heard enough about those evil ways and low morality of Egyptians at that time. Abram was indeed worried because his wife Sarai was extremely beautiful, and he even feared for his own life - those Egyptians may kill him and keep his wife. He then comes up with a plan - to hide Sarai along with his luggage, and smuggle her into Egypt. He also tells her to say that she is Abram's sister. The customs officers discover Sarai and the news about such a beautiful woman reaches the ears of Pharaoh. Sarai was taken into Pharaoh's house, and in exchange of her, Abram was given several presents. Pharaoh was planning to make Sarai his wife and with that in mind, he gave in writing all his substance, whether silver or gold, or servants or farms, and also the land of Goshen as an inheritance. Later, the children of Israel dwelt in the land of Goshen, saying, "This is Sarai, our mother's, land."

In the night, God appeared to Sarai and assured her that no harm would come to her. Soon, a plague comes over Pharaoh and his men so that they could not go near Sarai or even touch her. Next, Pharoah called Abram and rebuked him for not having revealed to that Sarai was his wife. The Phraaoh let Abram & Sarai keep all the gifts he gave them and have them leave his country immediately.

Abram and Lot part ways:
After the famine ended, Abram and his household, among them his nephew Lot, returned to their old place in Canaan. By now, Abram was wealthy and rich. Both Abram and Lot had an abundance of sheep and cattle. The shepherds of Abram abided the laws of their master, while those of Lot were rough and did not always respect the law. This created constant arguments and strife between these two groups. When word reached Abram, he called Lot and decide to separate, giving Lot the option to chose.

The valley near Jordan was fruitful and Lot decided to go towards Sodom. Meanwhile, God pledges to Abram, “I shall make your seed as the dust of the earth, so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then your seed shall also be numbered. Arise, pass through the land, in its length and in its width; for to you I shall give it.” Thus, Abram headed towards Hebron.

Rescue of Lot:
Jordan had 5 old cities and two among them were Sodom and Gomorrah. The king of Elam attacked these cities and later took possession of all it's wealth, women, slaves and prisoners.  When news reached Abram that his nephew has been taken prisoner by king of Elam, he immediately gathered 318 men and attacked the army by night. With the help of God, aided with several divine miracles, the small group defeated the king's superior army. Later, he recaptured everything and brought back all his wealth, freeing prisoners, women and slaves, all while singing praise for God. When the king of Sodom heard this, he offered his entire wealth to Abram. Abram turned down the offer stating he cannot accept wealth of idol worshipers - even a thread, but let his leaders Aner, Eshkol and Mamre have their share.

God again appeared to Abram and offered further protection and great reward. Abram now shares his worry about not having children and his plan about sharing his inheritance to Eliezer of Damascus. God promised him a son and Abram believed it. To enhance His promise, God asked Abram to come out of his tent, look heavenwards and count the stars. He believed in God's promise, and God gave him credit for his faith. Shortly, God again appeared to Abram and shared a 'not so good news' that his seed will be strangers in a land for 400 years. Abram offered sacrifices for God and God reappeared and assures him that his children will have the rand from river of Egypt to river of Euphrates.

Abram accepts Hagar:
Everything was going well with Abram except the concern that he did not have children and both his and Sarai's biological clock was ticking. On his 85th birthday, Sarai asked Abram to take Hagar per the code of Hammurabi (see below). Hagar, prior to becoming Sarai’s maid was a princess in Pharaoh’s house. Hagar preferred being a maid slave at Abram's house, rather than a princess.

Abram accepted Sarai’s advice and took Hagar as wife. Upon hearing about Hagar's pregnancy, Sarai mistreats her, and Hagar ran away into the wilderness. There, an angel of God appears to Hagar and asks her to return to her home. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Islamic traditions consider Ishmael to be the ancestor of certain Arab people (see below).

The Covenant: 
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, God appeared unto him again and changed his name from Abram to Abraham, meaning “the father of a multitude of nations.” Sarai (meaning princess), received the direct blessing of God and got her name changed to Sarah, meaning 'noblewoman'.

Now, God made a covenant with Abraham, and per this covenant, his future generations should follow the path of God, and the land of Canaan was promised along with His protection and care. As a command for circumcision was then given as a symbol of this protection. Every newborn boy should be circumcised at the age of 8 days.

Finally God told Abraham that he and Sarah will have a child. Hearing this, Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”

God finally, said they should name him Isaac.

Abraham at the age of 99, Ishmael 13, along with all other elder male members of his household underwent circumcision.

The Three Guests:
Abraham was still in pain from his circumcision, recovering on a hot day when he saw three Arabs wandering. 

Abraham, forgetting his pain, urged these Arabs not to pass by, but to rest beneath the shade of the trees, while he fetched water to wash their feet, and bread for refreshment. There were no servants readily available to prepare the meal. Sarah herself baked the cakes of fine flour, while Abraham got some curd, milk and also got a young and tender calf, which was made ready soon. While having their food, the Arabs announced that a year from that day Sarah would give birth to a son. Sarah, who was 90 at that time, heard this and laughed, as if treating it as a joke.  Abraham soon realized who these visitors were, was extremely happy and walked along with them to seen them off.

It is believed that out of these three people, one was God Himself, and the other two were angels - all disguised as Arabs.

Two of these Angels went towards Sodom, and God stayed back with Abraham. At this time, God decided to reveal to Abraham, His future plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  Listen to how Abraham bargains desperately with God:

Abraham: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it. Far be it from you to do such a thing - to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

LORD: “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

Abraham: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?”

LORD: “If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”

Abraham: “What if only forty are found there?”

LORD: “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”

Abraham: “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”

LORD: “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

Abraham: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”

LORD: “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”

Abraham: “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

LORD: “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

Why did God make up his mind to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? Let's look at it tomorrow.

Reading Assignment: 
Genesis Chapter 12 - 18
Estimated reading time: 26 minutes

Food for thought:
"Is anything too hard for the LORD?"

------------------Additional Information 1: 
Tower of Babel:
The Tower of Babel was supposed to be a tower to get into heaven. Rather than a vertical structure, it is best understood as a Ziggurat (house whose foundation creates terror). A Ziggurat was a man-made structure with a temple at its top, built to perform idol worship for sun, moon and stars. Below is an image of Zigguart of Ur, located in Dhi Qar Province, Iraq.


------------------Additional Information 2: 
Beauty of Women:
Beauty is a relative thing, prized in every culture and must always be viewed in a cultural context. For a woman, there exists an external beauty and an inner beauty. Most of the times, we only talk about external or physical beauty. Below are few women considered beautiful in their own region. A woman considered beautiful in one culture may not be considered beautiful by someone raised in another culture. The inner beauty of women remains the exact same in every culture, regardless of time. Sarai was beautiful in her own culture and land. 


------------------Additional Information 3: 
The Code of Hammurabi:
It is a well-preserved Babylonian law code, and is one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in the world. This Code consists of 282 laws, with scaled punishments, adjusting "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." Nearly one-half of the Code deals with matters of contract, establishing, for example, the wages to be paid to an ox driver or a surgeon. 
When Sarai let Abram have children with Hagar, she followed this particular code: 
- A childless wife might give her husband a maid (who was no wife) to bear him children, who were reckoned hers. She remained mistress of her maid and might degrade her to slavery again for insolence, but could not sell her if she had borne her husband children.

File:Foster Bible Pictures 0032-1.jpg
Image: Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, imagined here in a Bible illustration (1897).

------------------Additional Information 4: 
Abraham's Lineage:

Image: Abraham meets King of Salem after Lot was rescued, who offered him gifts, which Abraham refused - Peter Paul Rubens, 1626 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Genesis 6 - 11

We read about the enigmatic story of great flood during the days of Noah in the coming chapters. Notice a drastic decline in ages at death, around the time of the great flood. God instituted cutbacks on human life in few stages.

Stage 1 - Eternity
Originally, man was designed to live for eternity, while at the Garden of Eden.

Cutback #1 - Adam's Sin (Around 900 yrs)

Cutback # 2 - Before Great Flood till Joseph (Process began towards 120 yrs)

Cutback # 3 - Joseph to Moses (Avg 120 yrs)

Cutback # 4 - Moses to present (Avg 70 - 80 yrs)

After suffering and toiling for several hundred years, man experienced death as a punishment towards Adam's sin. Having created earth and inhibiting it with man, it's been few thousand years when God decides to demolish the human race. Now, there has to be a compelling reason for God to bring death to all mankind (except Noah's family) thus eradicating humanity. Back in Sunday school, the great flood is described in mild language because it is aimed towards young children. The next few verses shed light onto the cause: The sons of God, and daughters of Men.

Dead sea scrolls and Jews accepted the view that the “sons of God” were supernatural beings. The same expression is used in the Book of Job to describe Angels - both holy and fallen (including Satan). What infuriated God was the sexual relationship of these fallen angels with those beautiful women on earth, and their offspring. These fallen angels chose any women they liked. Further, there were sexual relationships between Nephilms - men of great physical stature, also called as giants. Many suspect that the offspring of the fallen angels and the women were these giants themselves. When the seed of Satan entered human race, it kept spreading like a wildfire.

With Satan's blood flowing in the veins of man, every inclination of human thought in his heart was only evil - all the time. Corruption and violence was everywhere. Sin was committed in all places, by all sorts of people, and was fashionable, even when it was gross, heinous, and provoking. It was committed daringly, and with a defiance of heaven. No care was taken by those who that had power in their hands to restrain and punish it. We probably cannot even visualize the extend to which evil had culminated. Ultimately, this improper mating of heavenly beings and earthly women was an attack on the boundaries that were meant to separate the heavenly and earthly realms. This was the prime reason why God decided to destroy everyone except Noah and his family.

Noah was a righteous man who walked in God's ways. His family was the only one who stayed pure, and hence God gives him an assignment to build an arc of cypress.

The next part is an easy read - pretty straightforward, the one which we and our children are familiar at Sunday school. We see the covenant God made and the rainbow in the sky. This covenant made by our Lord about four thousand years ago, is still true to this hour.

In Chapter 9, you will notice a case and proof of human weakness and imperfection - the drunkenness of Noah. The great evil of the sin of drunkenness is that it discovers men; whatever infirmities they have, they betray while they are drunk; secrets are then easily got out of them; it disgraces men and exposes them to contempt. As a consequence of Noah's drunkenness, he brings shame upon himself.

We also see his two sons clothing their drunk and naked father. The blessing of God attends on those who honor their parents, and his curse lights especially on those who dishonor them.

At the age of 950 years, Noah dies - 350 years after the great flood.

Chapter 10 gives the lineage of Noah, and Chapter 11 tells us the story of Babel - most of us know this as well. Babel means 'confusion'. It is surprising how soon men forget the most tremendous judgments, and go back to their former crimes. Here we notice the bulk of mankind united to build a city and a tower to prevent their separation. Idolatry had begun, and Babel became one of its chief seats.

When God confound their language, it was not like every individual was speaking a distinct language. If that was the case, there would have no society at all, and even man and woman could not converse. It is believed that there were approximately 75 languages and God grouped families accordingly, whoever was to be a nation or colony, designed for the same place of habitation. Even here, we can see the love and care of God once again.

Towards the end of chapter 11, we are introduced to Abram and Sarai.

Reading Assignment:

Genesis Chapter 6 - 11
Estimated Reading Time: 23:30

Next day:
Genesis Chapter 12 - 18

Additional Info:
Noah's arc was claimed to be discovered in Turkey by National Geographic. Here is the news article.

And here is the video.

noahs ark replica

Image: A giant replica of Noah's Ark built in the Netherlands

File:Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Tower of Babel (Vienna) - Google Art Project - edited.jpg

Image: The Tower of Babel - Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1563)

Image: The Drunkenness of Noah - Giovanni Bellini (1515)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Genesis 1 - 5

Welcome to the first episode of our guided tour consisting of Genesis 1:1 to 5:32. This part of Bible tends to be a bit lengthy, as there are numerous things happening (all together) in the beginning, including the creation of the entire universe, man, woman, life at Eden Garden, temptation from the serpent, the fall of mankind, etc,. For our next sessions, I do not anticipate them to be this long and complex.

Dear Readers, we have to accept what is written in the first chapter of the Bible, as it stands and by looking at these verses, we ought to understand that God revealed only so much of His infinite wisdom to us.

Creation is something within God's authority, which stays to man as a mystery. Man can modify existing matter, but not create anything new. Before creation, all there was just eternity and no duration (no time). At first, only the Heaven and the earth was created and not the Hell. Now, everything remained in fluid form as water. This is consistent with Hindu beliefs as well as Greek mythology. The Holy Spirit was moving over these waters. We will read about the divine power - wisdom, standing next to God during His creations in Proverbs.

Darkness, now was not a creation of God, and Light, the great beauty and blessing of the universe was created to represent purity and power, brightness and beneficence. Pay attention to the order in which a day begins and ends in verse 5 - first evening, followed by morning. Now, does it ring a bell as to why the traditional Christian liturgical day starts at sunset? The ancient Jews reckoned days from sundown to sundown, and we inherited this from the Jews. However, we follow the Roman calendar in defining a day from midnight to midnight,

Next, there was the sky and everything above earth, and the height of the sky should give us an idea about the distance between God and us. The creation follows land, trees, seasons, sun, moon, stars, fish, birds and animals. The first creation of light (verse 3) was now controlled and collected into luminaries as sun, moon and stars to be serviceable to earth.

Creation of Man
The final creation was man, as God's ambassador to earth. God created the physical body and breathed the life into him, making us in His likeness - with freewill, knowledge, righteousness, true holiness and soul. Next, God gave man dominion over the earth and it's creatures even while God was taking care of earth and providing shelter and food for all it's creatures.

After seeing everything God created, He saw it was not just good, but very good. At that time, things were in perfect balance and harmony. Man always aims for speed and asks, "Why did God take six days to create everything, and why not in just on instance?" God created the universe according to His own will, His own time, and His own way, so that His wisdom, power and goodness can appear to us, setting an example of working six days a week and resting on the seventh, making it Holy.

Garden of Eden
God's ambassador was put into the garden of Eden, with painted heaven as it's roof and richly inlaid earth as it's floor. Eden was enriched with every tree that yielded fruit grateful to the taste, and useful to the body. Eden had two extraordinary trees peculiar to itself:

(1) The tree of life in the midst of the garden - as a sign to Adam, assuring him of the continuance of life and happiness upon preserving his innocence and obedience.

(2) The tree of the knowledge of good and evil - which contained instant revelation to learn about good and evil. The distinction between all other moral good and evil was already written in the heart of man (by God).

There was a warning not to eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, threatening death - leading not only mortal death, but also spiritual death.

Picture God giving Adam the authority to name all of His creation, the animals standing in a long line to be named, Adam meeting them for the first time, gifting them with a name, and God watching all these from the heavens.

Creation of Eve
Finally, the creation of woman, as a result of Adam being alone and in need of a companion. God put Adam under a good sleep - similar to being under anesthesia during a surgery, so that it will not hurt Adam, and the surgery God performed on Adam would not have even left a scar. Further, sleep is an essential element in the nature of man as ordained by God. Woman is deemed to be an essential companion to man in every regard. A woman can visualize numerous aspects of life which a man fails to see, and vice-versa. Thus, to promote a healthy family life, it is imperative that the man and woman partake in family affairs hand in hand - that is how God designed us.

The Temptation
The serpent appeared here as a delicate and mysterious creature to Eve, who on the surface was difficult to understand, but above all, was wise. The serpent approached Eve with the promise of making her wise. Some Jewish writers say that as soon as Eve first resisted the serpent's proposition, the serpent pushed her against the tree and said, “See, you have touched it, and are still alive; You may therefore safely eat the fruit, for surely you shall not die.” Eve believed the Serpent's half truth, saw the fruit to be beautiful with an inviting taste, and proceeded towards eating it. Legend has it that Eve gave Adam the fruit without telling him where it came from. When Adam started eating it, Eve revealed to him that it was the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and immediately Adam clutched his throat tightly, thus forming the lump called, 'Adam's apple' in men's throat.

Here, Adam is the one held accountable in front of God's eyes. When the eyes of Adam and Eve opened, the first thing they came to realize was they were naked - both physically and spiritually. They felt their nakedness due to the absence of purity, innocence, and righteousness. The fig leaves were chosen because of it's largeness and what they sewed together was only to cover their private parts.

Exit from Garden of Eden
In the evening, when God visits them, this time they 'hear' the voice of God, though perhaps now in another tone, and very terrible, which before was mild and gentle, pleasant and delightful. Adam, now is under the scrutiny of God's law. Pay attention that God is holding Adam accountable, and not Eve. When questioned, Adam tries to confess and shifts the blame partly to his wife and partly to God Himself. Eve does the same, pointing finger at the serpent. Adam had confidence in Satan, while Jesus had confidence in God. As a result, Adam was defeated and Jesus achieved victory.

The Loving Father is disappointed and even while He is furious and busy kicking them out of Eden, He remembers to display His token of love by making coats of skins, and clothing them.

Verse 3:22 “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil" is generally understood as an irony or sarcasm at man's deception by Satan. It is also believed that Adam and Eve did not want to leave the Garden of Eden and a certain amount of force had to be exerted (by God). The positioning of the Cherubim to guard the 'Tree of Life' was to show us that life and salvation were not to be enjoyed, unless the law and justice of God were satisfied; It was not to be expected by the work of men alone, but being in likeness of Jesus Christ.

Cane and Abel
In Chapter 4, we read about the birth of Cain and Abel. The Bible does not mention about where their wives came from, as Adam and Eve were the only parents. Jewish writers are generally of opinion, that with Cain and Abel were born twin sisters, who became their wives.

When both brothers Cain and Abel make offerings to God, we read that God accepted only Abel's offering and was not pleased with Cain's. Here, God was not pleased because it was not offered in faith and sincerity - but in a formal and hypocritical manner. Noticing Cain being sad, God asks him, "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?" We ought to learn that God knows our true intentions and weighs our hearts during any offerings we make. Our offerings and sacrifices may 'look colorful' in the eyes of the public, but what really counts is whether God accepts them or not. A sincere and cheerful gift is what God expects.

Murder of Abel
Next, we see the plot for the first murder - Cain murdering Abel. God questions Cain, maybe the next time he offers his sacrifice all by himself. We also read about the first lie being spoken, along with a counter question to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” which was very saucily and impudently spoken. Here we can read the mind of Cain how hardened his heart had become now. Now-a-days, when we hear about murder (news, movies, conversations etc.) it hardly means anything to us because it is a common phenomenon - it is a reflection of how much our own hearts have hardened as well. But to God, it was an heinous crime. Corruption and evil had started to spread all over.

Cain had a son, Enoch, who was well liked by God. Enoch probably heard and witnessed the evil his father committed and made a sincere attempt to please God, on his father's behalf. Scripture tells us that Enoch walked faithfully with God. God was so impressed that Enoch did not die, but was taken to Heaven alive. This is the first man to be taken alive into God's presence - the next is Elijah. Enoch was taken into the heavens at a relatively young age of 365 years. In a world filled with corruption and injustice, when someone does his/her best to be righteous, God acknowledges it, and rewards accordingly. Our Loving Father would go the extra mile to take care of that individual.

Now, Seth is born to Adam & Eve to overcome the loss of Abel. They later have other children as well. Adam lives for 930 years and then dies. Legend has it that Adam was buried at the foot of Golgotha. During those days, lifespan stretched to hundreds of years and we read many of those early men living 700, 800, and 900 years - clocking nearly 1,000 years. Methuselah, the son of Enoch lived the most - 969 years. This long stretch of human lifespan was shortened to just 120 years - which we will see soon.

Towards the end of chapter 5, we are introduced to a man named Noah.

Reading Assignment: 
Genesis Chapter 1 - 5 (link included for easy reading)
Estimated Reading Time: 22 Minutes

Tomorrow, we will visit Genesis Chapters 6-11.

----------Additional Reading 1:
The process of sin:
The eye inflames passion -> Passion masters the resistance of the will -> The body obeys its impulse -> The act of gratification -> Immediate following of remorse and guilt -> Sin brings shame, which it deeply feelt but cannot hide.
Solution: Only if the soul of man is holy, a temptation can be overcome.

----------Additional Reading 2:
Food for thought:
Science tells us that nothing in nature, not even the tiniest particle, can disappear without a trace. Nature does not know extinction, only transformation. If God applies this fundamental principle to the most minute part of His Universe, doesn't it make sense to assume that He applies it also to the soul of man?
- Wernher Von Braun (a German rocket scientist, aerospace engineer, space architect, and one of the leading figures in the development of rocket technology)

Creation of Adam, from the Sistine Chapel - Michelangelo (1511)

File:Jacob de Backer - Garden of Eden - WGA1125.jpg
Garden of Eden - Jacob de Backer (1540 - 1545 AD)

Garden of Eden - Wenzel Peter.
Satan entering the Garden of Eden

The concept of the "Tree-man", the hybrid organism - Giuseppe Arcimboldo (AD 1563)

File:Pierre, Jean-Baptiste Marie - The Temptation of Eve.jpg
Temptation of Eve Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre (1714–1789) 

Temptation of Eve

Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden - Masaccio (1427)

Image: Cain and Abel - Titian (1542-44)

Cherubim & A Flaming Sword - J. Kirk Richards

Intro to Old Testament

Dear Family and Friends, 

Let's look at the Old Testament at a high level. Most of us know these, as part of our Sunday school lesson, and is just a recap. 

Organization of Old Testament:
The Old Testament is a library of Jewish writings. As a canon, it is collection of books that passed the test of authenticity and authority. Further, it also means that these books that we are about to learn, are the very rule of life - both in this world and the next. Our Old Testament, written over about 1500 years, contains 39 books, and is grouped into 3 groups: 

- The Pentateuch
- The Prophets
- The Writings

The Pentateuch, also referred as 'The Law', is made up of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. 

The Prophets contain writings of former prophets such as Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. Major Prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Further, another twelve prophets have made contribution. 

The Writings contain Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles. 

History of Old Testament:
Brief history on the history itself: 
Moses wrote the Pentateuch -> The Pentateuch was put into the Ark of the Covenant -> Other inspired books added to Ark of the Covenant -> King David put books in treasury -> Books were looked after by priests -> More books were added during Hezekiah -> Jewish exile, and scripture is scattered -> Ezra restored scripture and added last books -> Scripture stored in Ark constructed for second temple -> Scripture copied meticulously to be preserved -> Printed into Holy Bible. 

Tour of Old Testament:
During our tour of the Old Testament, we will just follow the order in which the books appear in our Bible - i.e., Genesis to Malachi. However, during the tour of New Testament, we will take a slightly different approach. We will not visit the birth of Jesus four times and nor will we witness His crucifixion four times - how it appears in those first four gospels. Instead, we will tour New Testament in the chronological order - as the story unfolds. That's the major difference difference between our OT and NT guided tour. 

First of all, please read the summary I compile. Next you can read the scripture all by yourself. I request you to ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and heart to receive His word, before you start reading the scripture. The reason is because we believe that the Holy Spirit inspired few men to put God's words into writing. The mind and the will of these human authors were somehow influenced by God to write what was written without taking away the author’s own will or ability to write or power to express things in his own way for the people for whom he was writing; God guided these authors in their choice of what writing was to be included in the final version of the Bible available to us. Now, we need the help of the same Holy Spirit to interpret and understand what God really meant. 

In the coming days, if for some reason, you find the Old Testament hard to understand, please remember this allegory. The Bible contains a wealth of information - similar to a goldmine. If we were told the exact location of a goldmine, we would not be just walking in, expecting nuggets to be scattered around, and start picking up those gold nuggets. Instead, we have to dig harder and deeper to arrive at the treasure. Once we are willing to dig harder and deeper, we arrive at the yellow metal and the reward is immense and has incredibly valuable. This principle holds good for anything and everything in life. So, stick around and work a bit harder than you did earlier - results will start appearing soon. One of the many divine qualities of the Bible is that it does not yield it's secrets to the irreverent and the censorious. 

Starting tomorrow, we will begin taking a dive into the actual book of Genesis. Keep your Bible near you and stay tuned. The specific area for tomorrow is from Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 5:32. 

Thank you,
Jacob Cherian

Additional Reading 1---------------------
Chapters and Verses:
The Bible was not originally written in the current form, with chapters and verses. Since it was a large book, readers had to scan through the entire book in order to arrive at a particular passage. To resolve this, the Archbishop of Canterbury introduced the concept of 'chapters' in 1226. Later in 1551, a French printer divided these chapters into 'verses'. Today, all of us, we refer to a passage within the Scripture using the book, chapter and verse to arrive at the exact location. 

Additional Reading 2--------------------- 
Apocrypha meaning 'hidden' or 'secret' contains 14 books and 11 of them, accepted by the Catholic Church was contained in the original version of King James. We will not cover the books of Apocrypha as part of our Old Testament tour - we will look at them at the very end. 

Additional Reading 3--------------------- 
Few interesting facts:
It's quite popular that the middle verse in the Bible is Psalms 118:8, which reads, "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man."
A physician once place dying patients upon a scale to measure the weight of human soul. 
A computer program was written to count the verses and words contained in the 1611 King James Bible. 
Lightning struck a church during a sermon, soon after preacher identified thunder as 'The voice of God'. 
The shortest OT verse is 1 Chronicles 1:25, which reads, "Eber, Peleg, Reu"
The shortest chapter, as we all know, is Psalms 117 (now, that's what I call inspiration). 

Why Study the Bible

Dear Family and Friends, 

Let's look at why study the Bible today. 

How nice and convenient it would have been, if God presented His words to us in the form of a video file and uploaded it to youtube. Instead, He gave us a thick book filled with all necessary information for us to read and understand. He did this for a reason. I am sure most of you will agree that the 'trip of reading a book' versus 'watching the movie' is totally different - typically, the movie is a big disappointment, for those who read the book. Six times in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus asked different people, "Have you not read?" Knowing Jesus, we can be assured that He will pose the exact question, when we come face-to-face one day. 

Origin of the Bible: 
For most part of the human journey, the Bible was on scrolls and parchments, written by hand even during middle ages. Further, people were not literate enough to read its contents, or even afford it. Until the invention of the printing press, Bible could not be mass produced. Those who wanted to learn the word of God either had no access nor the literacy to understand the scripture. We should consider to be extremely fortunate in that regard, but seldom see it as a blessing. During middle ages, those skilled at art were commissioned to capture Biblical images on canvas and as a result, we see numerous paintings related to the life of Jesus Christ. As Bible gained circulation with time, we saw the decline in art. 

Top reason for not reading the Bible: 
The number 1 reason for not reading the Bible is because we cannot understand it. As stated earlier, the Bible is full of ancient history, genealogies, instructions for priests and kings, bizarre-sounding visions and there is hardly anything which is meaningful to the reader. Just because it is a sacred book, and majority of us are unaware of it's content - we opt to maintain silence and keep the book closed. The New Testament seems bit easier to understand - but most of us stop at the 4th Gospel. This time, let's sit tight and cross that hurdle. 

How to read the Bible:
Treat the Bible differently. Consider it as a Father's long letter to you - explaining how you came into existence. Most of us, we maintain an album or scrap book about the growth cycle of our own children. Keep Jesus in view throughout your study. Let the Bible show you the glory and love of God, and as you discover it, your love for Him will bubble-up - I guarantee it! You are not doing God a favor by reading and studying the Bible. We humans tend to feel guilty of missing some days of Bible reading and think God is unpleased. For those on the guided tour, you will see how Mighty of a God we have, how much we are being eternally loved & accepted by our Father, and how much He blesses us every single moment despite our faults. People who have completed the Bible stick to a reading plan. In our guided tour, we have a plan and let's stick to that plan - with the blessing from above, we should reach our goal on time. 

Why Study the Bible? 
Studying the Bible will make us a better individual in every respect. You can still continue in your current profession and become superlative. The Bible can change your way of thinking and your outlook towards the world and other human beings, elevating you to be better citizens (Christians) - both in front of God as well as your own consciousness. Teachers can become more informed, parents can see the love of God and treat children better, businessmen can learn few new traits of human character and conduct better business... and the list goes on and on. Allow the Bible to serve you as a guiding lamp for your feet, in the profession of your choice. 

May the Force be with you!

Thank you,
Jacob Cherian

--------------------------------- Additional Reading 1 ----------------------------------

The Bible story in 300 words
In the beginning, the all-powerful, God created the universe. This God created human beings in His image to live joyfully in His presence, in humble submission to His gracious authority. But man rebelled against God and in consequence, must suffer the punishment of his rebellion: physical death and the wrath of God.

Thankfully, God initiated a rescue plan, which began with His choosing the nation of Israel to display His glory in a fallen world. The Old Testament describes how God acted mightily on Israel’s behalf, rescuing His people from slavery and then giving them His holy law. But God’s people failed to rightly reflect the glory of God. 

Then, in the fullness of time, God sent His one and only Son – Jesus Christ to renew the world and restore His people. Jesus, as a man, perfectly obeyed the law given to Israel. Though innocent, He suffered the consequences of human rebellion by His death on a cross. But three days later, God raised Him from the dead.

Now the church of Jesus Christ was commissioned by God to take the news of Christ’s work to the world – described in New Testament. Empowered by God’s Spirit, the church calls all people everywhere to repent of sin and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. Repentance and faith restores our relationship with God and results in a life of ongoing transformation.

The Bible promises that Jesus Christ will return to this earth as the conquering King. Only those who live in repentant faith in Christ will escape God’s judgment and live joyfully in God’s presence for all eternity. God’s message is the same for all of us, “My children, repent and believe, before it is too late; lead a life filled with wisdom and righteousness – for, I Love You Dearly.” 

--------------------------------- Additional Reading 2 ----------------------------------

Bible in America Today
The most recent survey conducted by American Bible Society in April 2013 showed the Bible is still firmly rooted in American soil. 
88 percent of respondents said they own a Bible, 
80 percent think the Bible is sacred, 
61 percent wish they read the Bible more, and 
The average household has 4.4 Bibles
Almost a third of respondents said moral decline was a result of people not reading the Bible. 

--------------------------------- Additional Reading 3 ----------------------------------

Evolution of present day Bible
Without going much into the evolution history, read for yourself how the most popular verse, John 3:16, took it's current form. It will speak for itself, the need for refining the Bible. 

995 AD - Anglo-Saxon Proto-English Manuscripts: “God lufode middan-eard swa, dat he seade his an-cennedan sunu, dat nan ne forweorde de on hine gely ac habbe dat ece lif."

1380 AD - Wycliff: "for god loued so the world; that he gaf his oon bigetun sone, that eche man that bileueth in him perisch not: but haue euerlastynge liif,"

1534 AD - Tyndale: "For God so loveth the worlde, that he hath geven his only sonne, that none that beleve in him, shuld perisshe: but shuld have everlastinge lyfe."

1539 AD - Great Bible: "For God so loued the worlde, that he gaue his only begotten sonne, that whosoeuer beleueth in him, shulde not perisshe, but haue euerlasting lyfe."

1560 AD - Geneva: "For God so loueth the world, that he hath geuen his only begotten Sonne: that none that beleue in him, should peryshe, but haue euerlasting lyfe."

1582 AD - Rheims: "For so God loued the vvorld, that he gaue his only-begotten sonne: that euery one that beleeueth in him, perish not, but may haue life euerlasting"

1611 AD - King James Version 1st Edition: "For God so loued the world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne: that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life."

2011 AD - New International Version (NIV): "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

Who is God

Dear Family and Friends: 

Man's thirst to know (more) about God is not new - it existed ever since mankind was created. And man wanted to learn more about God - only to be equivalent to God. 

Myself being a human being cannot possibly explain about Almighty God. However, for the sake of today's tour, we are going to use the definition of God contained in the Bible - creator of the universe (matter, energy, space, and time). God is the self-existent One, having no need of being created by anyone because He existed for ever. 

God lives forever:
When we talk about 'forever', we are referring to the dimension of time. God is not subject to the time dimension. There are several Biblical verses which indicate that God Himself created the time dimension. Pay attention to the letters in bold.

No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. (1 Corinthians 2:7)
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9)
The hope of eternal life, which God... promised before the beginning of time (Titus 1:2)
To the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all timeand now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:25) 

Plato, the great philosopher talks about the time dimension: 
'Time, accordingly, was created along with the heavens; in order that, coming into being together, they might also be together dissolved, if ever their dissolution should take place.'

There are couple of theories that say that if anyone exists outside the time dimension, He need not be created by anyone. When time dimension is not applicable to someone, or if that person could travel in two dimensions of time, then that individual can go into the future, and into the past - literally everywhere at the same time. We humans travel only in one dimension of time, be only at one place and cannot go backwards in time. 

Therefore, God lives outside time dimension and the laws of time are not applicable to Him. 

God's image: 
Again, it is impossible for me to paint the image of God. Unless God Himself reveals His image to us, we will not be able to see Him. This is even true with ourselves - our friends know about us, so much to the extend what we have revealed about ourselves (to them). With our limited understanding, let's attempt to understand God's image. 

We learn from the scripture that man was created in God's image. This is not merely the physical image. Bible never says that God looks like a grown up physical male with while beard. It is just the likeness in which He created man and woman, as in Genesis 1:27: "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."

Spirituality: Jesus is the only one who traveled from Heavens and came down to earth (from the other world). His account of God is, "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth." - John 4:24. Therefore the first attribute we can use to define God is His spirituality. The spirit itself is not visible to naked eye. In Hebrew and Greek, the spirit refers to wind or breath. In Genesis 2:7 we can see God breathing life (providing spirit) to man. Next, when we search for truth, we arrive at God Himself. Scroll below to read an excerpt on God and Truth by Mahatma Gandhi. 

Love: In 1 John 4:8 we read, "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." This is the next attribute. Many religions do not speak about God's love at all. However, in Christianity, that is the central message which we hear all the time, being preached by Jesus during His ministry. Love for fellow humans and for the entire universe falls under this category. 

Freewill: God delegated freewill to humans and certainly has that executive power in His control. He did not create us as robots and gave us the choice to pick between right and wrong. He has the power to do what He likes, and nobody can ever question Him whatsoever. 

Pure and Holy: Among other characters, there are several such as Goodness, Justice, Purity and Righteousness. Pay attention to the word Righteousness - it is a word containing solid meaning and we will talk a lot about it during our tour. For now, just know that righteousness is related to being right and justice. God's righteousness is supreme. 

There were encounters with God which will will see later during our tour. Let us talk more about it at that time. 

What God cannot do: 
There are just couple of things which God cannot do. 

Sin - He does not sin. 
Lie - He does not lie and always speaks the Truth and nothing but the Truth. 

Our God - shared among religions: 
The God we pray to, is the very God Jews and Muslims pray to. Christianity originated from Jewish religion and followed the same God. Unlike other religions like Hinduism, we have only one God. That is why whenever we write about our God, we write God with with an uppercase G. If there are several gods, like the Greek, we use lowercase g to write god. In the Hebrew Bible, it is written as YHWH and pronounced as Yahweh or even Jehovah. In early days, there was a problem using the word YHWH (see below for more details). 

In the Bible, during our tour, you will notice God written in couple of ways - LORD (all in uppercase - in Old Testament) or Lord (with just L uppercase). When the translation came from Hebrew Bible, which referred the Hebrew word for Jehovah, it uses LORD in all capitals. When it came from the Hebrew word Adonai or Greek word Kurios, it is represented as Lord (L uppercase). 

Where to find God:
The quest to find God is a very old story. The best place to find God is within ourselves, in the midst of truth. 

What does God want me to do:
God wants us to attain perfection by leading a sinless life. The why and how are contained in those most sacred texts - The Holy Bible. Since you are part of this guided tour, may this lead to finding your own purpose in life. 

In short, God is the BIG BOSS of the entire universe, and the MOST LOVING FATHER one can ever have. 

Thank you,
Jacob Cherian. 

--- Extra reading on YHWH -------------

According to Jewish teachings, the Ten Commandments forbid anyone to misuse the name of Yahweh, stating:

“You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh your God, for Yahweh will not hold anyone who misuses his name guiltless.” (Exodus. 20:7; and Deuteronomy 5:11).  so that no one could even get close to breaking them, they ruled that no one should speak the name of the Yahweh ever. The only exception to this was during one feast day of the year when the priest would intone the actual name Yahweh once during the liturgy.

This prohibition on saying “Yahweh” created a problem for people reading the Bible out loud in synagogue liturgies. Since the name of Yahweh was freely used in the Scripture texts, how were they to read the Bible out loud? The solution they came up was to say the word 'Adonai' - the Hebrew word for 'my lord' and later the Greek word 'kurios'. Since many of the New Testament writers were Jewish, they used 'kurios' in their writings. 

----Extra Reading: About God and Truth by Mahatma Gandhi-----------------

THERE IS an indefinable mysterious Power that pervades everything. I feel it, though I do not see it. It is this unseen Power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses. But it is possible to reason out the existence of God to a limited extent.

I do dimly perceive that whilst everything around me is ever changing, ever-dying, there is underlying all that change a Living Power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves, and re-creates. That informing Power or Spirit is God. And since nothing else I see merely through the senses can or will persist, He alone is.

And is this Power benevolent or malevolent? I see it as purely benevolent. For I can see, that in the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists. Hence I gather that God is Life, Truth, Light. He is Love. He is the Supreme Good.

I confess… that I have no argument to convince… through reason. Faith transcends reason. All I can advise… is not to attempt the impossible. I cannot account for the existence of evil by any rational method. To want to do so is to be co-equal with God. I am, therefore, humble enough to recognize evil as such; and I call God long-suffering and patient precisely because He permits evil in the world. I know that He has no evil in Him and yet if there is evil, He is the author of it and yet untouched by it.

I know, too, that I shall never know God if I do not wrestle with and against evil even at the cost of life itself. I am fortified in the belief by my own humble and limited experience. The purer I try to become the nearer to God I feel myself to be. How much more should I be near to Him when my faith is not a mere apology, as it is today, but has become as immovable as the Himalayas and as white and bright as the snows on their peaks?

- Mahatma Gandhi on 11-10-1928

----------------------------------Extra: Popular paintings of God---------------------

God the Father 1779

God the Father (1779) - Pompeo Girolamo Batoni

Michaelangelo painting of God
God by Michaelangelo

Creation by Michaelangelo

God the Father - Quellin