Everyone loves a story. I think that is one of the reasons the Old Testament is primarily a story. However, many of the stories of the Old Testament often lack the kind of details that help you understand the characters. A good practice for you is to think through certain stories of the Old Testament and seek to create some depth to the characters. Of course, you have take some freedom and read between the lines, but it can be a lot of fun and very enriching to you and others. It can also serve as a discussion starter. I am offering you one such story based on Genesis 11. I simply try to draw the reader further into what it was like to be a character in the story. Happy reading!
A Story of Genesis 11
“And he walked west.”
As the cold breeze rushed past him on its way up the summit rising before him, Eber (10:24-25) pulled back into the shadows and assessed the situation. He had come east to Shinar, (11:2) because his sons, Joktan and Pel (10:25), had gotten themselves into some trouble. Joktan, his firstborn, was dead. Stabbed in the back by ruthless criminals, void of any hint of the beautiful humans Elohim had created, just because he was majority owner of the land where they were building the tower. Evil was not difficult to find in this boomtown…it never was when the lure of riches loomed in the air. His sons had eagerly made the journey east to this new settlement, which had sprung up out of nowhere, and they had made a name for themselves…but what they lost was more costly. They had turned their backs on Elohim to worship the gods of the east. And, even though this evil venture had taken Joktan’s life, Pel was hell-bent in his rebellion, denying Elohim and throwing his entire life into building this tower, a shrine for empty and vain worship. It was called “The Forbidden Fruit.” Eber’s heart sank at those words. He stood motionless, and his thoughts began to drift while the smell of tar danced toward his nose, the sounds of men stacking brick upon brick (11:3) echoing through the canyon. The tower was growing in size; dreams that the gods would bring prosperity were kept alive as the tower slowly reached toward the heavens.
East. It was always east. Eber rolled the thought in his mind. East is where it all began. He rehearsed the stories passed down from his fathers, pausing to remember each one fully. It was in the east that Elohim had planted a garden … toward Eden (2:8). Life was good for the first man and his woman. They lived under Elohim’s rule and reign with complete delight. He smiled as he imagined them holding hands and walking through the garden, laughter echoing through the trees. Eber looked upward. Although the smoke from the kilns had somewhat diminished the magnificent display of stars, he still marveled at their brilliance. No doubt, the first man and his woman laid under the same panoply of stars, stretching across the vast sky, gazed at their beauty, and with muffled voices sharing the events of their day, they slowly drifted to sleep. Their life was indeed good. They adored Elohim and all of his creation…and one another. A warmth ran through him even though the cold winds of nightfall continued to swirl around him. This story, the oldest one passed down from his fathers, was a comfort to him. He wanted to hold onto it; he wanted it be the only reality this world has ever known. Absolute joy. Complete love for Elohim and for one another; but that was long ago. And the situation, he now faced, offered no hint of the goodness of those days. Could it have even been true?
He shuffled his feet, trying to deny what he was feeling, loneliness. This feeling made him uncomfortable and it always brought to his mind a person. Naomi. Life had been different for him since she passed. He never thought he could settle down with a woman even though he knew it was good in the eyes of Elohim. And, then, Naomi. He could still smell her perfume, could still feel her lips, and could still hear the softness of her voice. The memories of these were fading, but the ache in his heart remained. Elohim had sustained him through the most difficult times, but, with Naomi gone, a pain lingered. And now Joktan. A tear worked its way through the deep wrinkles that shot from the side of his eye, one of the few tears his face had felt through the years. He was always the strong one, but death made him vulnerable to face the realities he worked so hard to deny. Death would continue to cause a similar pain for many people and for many years to come; until the promised seed would come. Another tear flowed as his longing for this day began to well up within him; for it, he would have to wait. His thoughts returned to Naomi. Why? Why did Naomi have to die?
Eber paused, wiped his eyes, breathed deeply, and dropped his head. He knew the answer even before the question squeezed out of his aching heart. Memories are a gift when life is at it should be. But there were more stories from his fathers, stories that bring another kind of memory, the kind that tears at one’s heart when the slightest thought is given to it. This kind of memory is best forgotten, but one of these stories vividly entered Eber’s mind. These are the times he wished his memory would fail him. He felt his muscles tense, causing the wind to feel even colder against his neck. He tightened his scarf and rubbed the neck of his horse, who patiently waited for his next move. Questions pounded his mind: Why? Why did they? How could they? The impact of their decision so long ago continued. It was devastating. This was the story he wanted to forget, the whole world wanted to forget.
There in the east, (yes, it was always the east) that first man and his woman rebelled against Elohim’s majesty, the One who had brought them nothing but blessing in those amazing garden of Eden days. Elohim had but one command, but they disregarded it, turned away, and yielded to the deceiver (3:1ff). They ate the forbidden fruit. As a result, all humanity would live doubtful of God’s goodness, seeking to find life in the deceiver who could deliver nothing more than pain and emptiness and who wanted nothing more than to steal what would never be rightfully his. Eber glanced at the tower, which now celebrated such rebellion. This deceiver had since bruised many a heart and wreaked much havoc in this world, turning many away from Elohim. Only pain and tears would be left in his destructive path, followed by shame, regret, emptiness, and death. This deceiver brought only death, tears, and pain.
Eber’s wrinkled brow narrowed, and his heart sank. There was no hiding his pain. His heart broke for what was lost, and a part of him was angry because of what he now faced. As he again glanced toward the tower, growing larger and larger, he knew he was looking that deceiver straight in the eyes; Pel, his only remaining son, was caught in his clutches, following hard after the fantasy of something supposedly better but would only bring emptiness in the end. He cursed in his anger; the words just flowed off his tongue.
Eber knew that whatever pain and anger lay behind his cursing was shallow. Elohim was the one who most deeply felt the pangs of that rebellion. Elohim’s pain was deeper than anyone could ever know or even imagine; his just anger would have to be poured out on all who give their lives to rebel against his majesty and cast their hopes to emptiness, yielding to the deceiver. Rebellion would have to be stopped, and Elohim acted swiftly. But what he did next was not what you would expect; he was gracious.
Eber dropped to his knees and put his face in his hands as he remembered the story of how gracious and loving Elohim was in response to that rebellion. Amazing love, how can he be? Elohim’s first move made it possible for their rebellion to be forgiven.
Thinking on this, Eber remembered his animal skin cloak. He reached in his saddle bag, pulled out the cloak, and draped it over his shoulders, hoping it would provide additional protection from the cold that only seemed to grow colder as each brick was laid. He broke off a twig from the bush next to him and began to chew on it. Naomi had thought it to be a bad habit, but Eber enjoyed it because it brought clarity to his thoughts. He continued the story in his mind, one that he believed he would never fully comprehend: Elohim slaughtered the animal, which suffered punishment and death in the place of the first man and woman, so that they could live. Then he clothed the first man and his woman with its skin. It was this same animal skin cloak he had just put on. It had been passed down to him from his fathers; he pulled it tighter around his shoulders. The cloak was nothing more than animal skin. He felt the hairy vest and thought of the first man’s fingers running through the same hair. But it was also a physical reminder of the substitutionary shedding of blood for sin, life for life - forgiveness was possible. The same Elohim who had been rebelled against had offered forgiveness to those who rebelled against him. He looked at the cloak again, this time his eyes saw a cloak of righteousness: for the first man and his woman, for Eber, and for all who looked to Elohim in faith. Eber wore the cloak with the same faith of that first man. They both had rebelled, and they both were forgiven. The smile returned to his face. The pain was not gone, and it would not be for some time, but it would not destroy (nor would it have the last word). For on that day so long ago, Elohim set his face for Jerusalem, a city yet to be named, with a plan to bring forgiveness by the shedding of his own blood, and hope was borne. Eber, like many who had gone before him, believed.
Hearing the pounding of iron against rock, he glanced at the peak and the tower. The kilns were fired up and bricks were stacked high all around, but their efforts were futile. The men, including Pel, were working 24/7, putting their hopes in the emptiness that the deceiver made so appealing.
They wanted a better life, better than the offer of Elohim, and they believed that this shrine would restore the favor of the gods to humanity and make life better. They desired to reach the heavens (11:4) and position themselves as a people above all peoples. To do so would mean that they had made it (11:4). “Look at us,” they would be able to say. And, if they were successful, people would flock to the east and to this city (10:30). With so many people and so much attention on the tower, there was money to be made, and Pel was positioned to make it big. He was giving his life (all of it) for this. It was why he came east, but it would only lead to his ruin and Eber’s pain.
Pel (Eber’s only remaining son) was now, in a sense, reaching for his own fruit - much like the first man and his woman had done. The deceiver was once again trying to steal what would never be rightfully his: Pel’s heart and all those who pursued the vain worship of the tower. Eber’s heart ached for it all to be different. He could only hope that he would wake from this dream.
Removing his hat and wiping his brow with his scarf, Eber’s thoughts returned to the first man: he was a man just like him, perhaps even the same size (the first man’s cloak fit him perfectly). And the first man had been in this same situation: a man with two sons, one of his sons murdered (4:8); only it was his brother who murdered him - double pain. That first man had also watched his surviving son live in rebellion against Elohim (4:1ff). Faith in the substitutionary shedding of blood of animals (until the promised seed would come) was the way that Elohim had made for people to remain in relationship with him. The first man’s son (like his own son, Pel) thought he had found a better way. He, too, yielded to the deceiver and rebelled against God’s gracious provision. He reached for his own fruit, doubting God’s goodness. And in his rebellion he, too, went east - the way that humanity continued to go as they walked away from Elohim - all the way to this tower, a tower of rebellion, built in absolute disregard for Elohim.
Eber knew the first man’s pain. He fell on his horse’s neck and wept, for the first man or for himself, he did not know. The tears flowed. He cried out to Elohim for him to be gracious to his son. His prayer reminded him that his son still had time for he still had life; Elohim was gracious. He was patient. He was waiting for Pel to turn to him and receive forgiveness, like he was waiting for all those building the tower in their rebellion.
And that was why Eber stood in the shadows assessing the situation, here in the east. He glanced again toward the fires that burned so brightly, lighting the rebellious activity to which the humans poured all their effort and all their hope. There was overwhelming evidence that the deceiver was winning. With that thought, another story raced through his mind. He shook his head and turned the twig around in his mouth. Previously, things had gotten so bad that Elohim had to actually destroy the whole world by a flood (6:1ff). At that time, fathers and sons probably died an agonizing death together. They had probably breathed their last, looking into one another’s eyes, realizing that, in their attempts to gain their lives, they had actually lost them. The deceiver had stolen their hearts too, holding out the promise of hope, inviting them to turn away from Elohim. But the deceiver always brought death. How could such empty hope seem to hold so much promise? It was the ruin of humanity, and the path that many had chosen and were choosing.
But there were more stories to be written. Elohim saved Noah (6:9ff), preserving his life when the rest of the world perished in that flood; the promised seed would indeed come. The deceiver would not win. Elohim himself had said so, and he was making a way; some were walking in it. He glanced again and spotted Pel in the crowd. This time he didn’t curse. He prostrated himself on the ground, facing the west, away from that tower of pain and death, and cried out to Elohim for mercy. He fell asleep, exhausted.
Before the break of dawn, Elohim came down in a rushing wind, extinguishing the fires lighting the tower. The kilns and the piles of bricks were reduced to mud, while the tower disintegrated into nothing - a mere pile of dust rested in its place, its glory gone. People sat, stunned, in silence. All was quiet for those who were awake. It was so quiet that Eber woke. He wiped his eyes and sat up, unaware of what had transpired. He only knew the constant noise of building had ceased and, where the tower once stood, there was only emptiness.
As the sun began to appear, chaos erupted in the city. Languages were confused, and people were ranting at one another, only the rants were gibberish to those who heard. The lack of communication intensified the anger. Friends became foes. Husbands turned against wives. Families were ripping apart. Fights broke out all around. People began to break away in gangs as they found a language they could understand. These would become their people. Quickly, they scattered throughout the countryside to plan their next steps; and they were moving east, further east. They were resolved to not be defeated. They were stubbornly committed to life without Elohim and to a life following the deceiver. They would find a way. They would make a name for themselves.
But Elohim would not be stopped. His face was set toward Jerusalem, a city yet to be named. It would not be long before a man named Abram (11:27ff) would go west (yes west), and more stories would be written. The promised seed would come of this, Eber was confident. But, for now, he sat down before the lifeless body of Pel and wept (tears that would one day be wiped away - this he believed in hope). He laid the cloak of animal skin on Pel and offered up another prayer. Then he picked up his animal skin cloak; he would be needing this. It was his reminder of the great cloud of witnesses who had lived faithfully before him: Adam, Enoch, Noah. More importantly, it was his reminder of the forgiveness that he had received in faith. Eber looked at all those who were walking east. And then, turning from the east, with tears streaming down his face and holding tightly to his cloak, Eber walked in faith, and he walked west.