Bible history restarts
Let’s look at the repeated stories in which God makes an eternal covenant with his people. There’s an ending, then the story moves on with another reboot.
Reading time: 3 minutes
The Bible is a book with a history spanning over a thousand years, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that it also has reboots.
(A reboot is a new version of a story in comic book, movie, TV series or other form that abandons continuity with previous versions to start from scratch, unhindered by the decisions of plot in any previous version.)
The Bible, take one (the story of Adam)
In the story of the six days of creation in Genesis 1, God created mankind in his own image.
God blesses them and says to them: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
He then promises them all the fruits and vegetables of the earth.
(This one is debatable because it doesn’t mention an “eternal covenant”, but I’m including it because some Christian sources do.)
The Bible, take two (Noah)
Adam and Eve leave the Garden, their son Cain kills his brother Abel, then there is a long genealogy that ends with Noah. God is annoyed with how mankind has turned out, so he hits the reset button and everyone drowns. But there is a happy conclusion: Noah, his family and his ark full of animals survive the storm.
Everyone in the world (currently only eight people) is safe on earth again. God as Elohim blesses Noah’s family with authority over all living things. He lays down some rules, and in return he promises, “I establish my covenant with you: never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood” (Genesis 9:11). The rainbow (think: the kind of bow that shoots arrows) will appear in the clouds and remind everyone (including God) of this “eternal covenant” (Gen. 9:16).
So there you have it, God’s covenant with mankind.
See also: Simplicity: the missing trait in Christianity
The Bible, take three (Abraham)
But there is more, as the story progresses. The descendants of Noah populate the earth, there’s this whole Tower of Babel thing, and then we’re introduced to Abraham. For some reason, Abraham (born Abram) is not already in Israel but lives in Ur, an ancient city on the Persian Gulf coast, now in southern Iraq. God (now Yahweh) guides him to Canaan.
God must be forgetful because he keeps making the same promise to Abraham. The promise is that you will have many descent (D), you get ground (L), and this covenant is perpetual (P).
- In Genesis 12, Yahweh says, “I will make you a great nation (D)… To your seed (P) I will give this land (L)” (ie Canaan).
- Other stories intervene, then in Genesis 13, God begins again: “All the land (L) that you see [Canaan] I will give you and your offspring forever (P). I will make your posterity (D) like the dust of the earth.
- In Genesis 15, guess what God is doing. He gives Canaan to Abraham. In fact, he gives much more than that, listing ten tribes (L) whose land will be owned by the descendants of Abraham. It gives as borders the Euphrates in the east and Egypt in the west.
- In Genesis 17, God felt generous, so he gave Canaan to Abraham. “I will make you very fruitful (D)…. I will establish my covenant as an eternal covenant (P) between me and you and your descendants after you for generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. All the land of Canaan (L), where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give to you in eternal possession, and to your posterity after you. This is the first time we see Abraham’s contribution to the covenant: he and his male descendants are now to be circumcised. (If you know the documentary hypothesis, this is from source P. The previous three were from source J.)
- Source E’s Elohim also feels generous, so in Genesis 22 he rewards Abraham for (almost) sacrificing Isaac with another gift from Canaan. “I will surely bless you and make your descendants (P) as numerous (D) as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies (L).
God (in his various forms) has stuttered many legacies from Canaan and promises from many descendants. It was a little clunky and contradictory, but we kind of got the message.
Just kidding, there’s more. This is concluded in part 2.
Science has never killed or persecuted a single person
for doubting or denying his teachings,
and most of these teachings have been true;
but religion has killed millions
to doubt or deny its dogmas,
and most of these dogmas have been false.
– epitaph of George P. Spencer