In their loss of innocence, the caretakers changed in ways they could not have anticipated. For the first time they didn’t want to see the king. Suddenly they felt a need to cover themselves and hide. Never before had they blamed each other for anything. In the hours that followed, they learned the meaning of fear. When the king found the couple, he gently pressed them for answers. Why were they hiding? Who told them they needed to cover themselves? Had they taken the path he told them to avoid?
The caretakers were caught. But they were not ready to accept responsibility for what they had done. The man blamed the woman. The woman blamed the rebel. And though the rebel didn’t speak, there was contempt for the king in his eyes. The caretakers were confused and frightened. A few hours earlier they had enjoyed affection for each other and the king. Now they were afraid.
Although the king wanted to forgive the couple for their failure to trust him, he didn’t ignore the results of their choices. He could not allow them to remain in their garden home. If he gave them access to the tree of life now, they would reverse the aging and dying process that had already begun.
With unlimited time and freedom, the caretakers could become increasingly self-absorbed and alienated not only from the king but from each other as well. So that they would not live forever in their altered states, the king removed them from the garden. Outside the garden, the king continued to provide for the couple. But the relationship had changed. The caretakers no longer trusted the king as they once had.
THE LEGACY OF A CHOICE
Even though the king stayed close to the first family, trouble stalked them. As the caretakers tried to rebuild their lives outside the garden, their firstborn son broke their hearts. In a moment of anger, he resisted the gentle counsel of the king. Then in a fit of blind rage, he killed his younger brother. Their lives would never be the same again. There was no turning back. The knowledge of good and evil had become more than a mysterious tree of freedom. It had become a legacy of regret and loss.
The son became a fugitive. Unable to live with his parents’ grief, he became a rootless wanderer. Always on the move, never at rest, he could not escape the memory of what he had done, and who he had become. In time, more sons and daughters were born to the first couple. Children of the caretakers multiplied with an ever-diminishing knowledge of the king. Around watering holes and campfires, older members of the family told stories about the great king. But most of the children were more interested in the present than the past. The willingness of each new generation to live and die without regard for the king became as repetitive as the rising and setting of the sun.
Even after a catastrophic flood wiped out most of the earth’s caretakers, the children of the survivors continued to declare their right of self-rule. Those who were true to the king remained few in number and inconsistent in character. As the king’s citizens drifted from his values and vision, his likeness in them became more difficult to see. The strong oppressed the weak. Family disputes increased. Bad blood caused family members to put distance between themselves. Leaders became alarmed. To reverse the trends that were driving them apart, the family needed a plan that would pull them together.
A vision emerged. The family would build a city big enough to keep the children from moving away. With a city center that touched the clouds, all who saw it would be proud of their achievement. Everyone who walked its streets would be inspired by the endless pride and possibilities of human cooperation. But the builders had forgotten the vision of the king. As a new day broke, there was confusion on the construction site. Communication was disrupted. Members of the same family could talk among themselves, but they couldn’t understand anyone from another clan. Within hours, all work on the great city came to a standstill. Before long, caravans kicked up dust in all directions as each language group went looking for a place to call their own.
THE KING’S PLAN
Even with the loss of their own dream, most of the family didn’t recall the vision of the king. They talked about what had gone wrong and why they weren’t able to live together in peace. But they didn’t have a place in their heart for a free world where everyone shared the values of the great king and helped one another the way he cared for them.
So the king took a new approach. He introduced himself to a 75-year-old caretaker and made a proposal: “Leave your home and follow me. I’ll give you a new homeland, many children, and a legacy of my love for all the families of the earth.” The old man and his wife had lived for many years without being able to have a child. Both had long since given up hope of having a son or daughter of their own. Their childlessness must have been a painful subject—especially since the caretaker’s name meant “exalted father.”
So they waited. But for almost 25 years the couple’s promised offspring never came. The king eventually repeated his assurance to the caretaker that through his children the world would find hope. He even gave the old man a new name that meant “father of many.” Then, when the man was 100 years old and his wife was 90, the impossible happened. The old woman gave birth to a son. His birth was so amazing and brought them so much joy that his name, which meant “laughter,” was a perfect fit.
THE KING’S FAMILY
Within two generations the family had become a clan of 12 sons, their wives, and many children. Even though they were still a small family by comparison to the families of other caretakers, the children of a “childless old couple” had become a family of destiny. In the years that followed, the king unfolded his plan to use this chosen family to reveal himself to all the families of the earth.
The early years of the family were fairly normal. Other than some family arguments and fights with the neighbors, the most significant event occurred when about 70 members of the clan left home and traveled south looking for food during a severe drought. Because the great king worked behind the scenes to prepare the way for them, the family found refuge and favor among southern neighbors. The prince of the south not only gave them food but land to plant their own crops in the rich soil of a fertile river delta. Even though this southern refuge was not home, the family found conditions on the delta comfortable. There they built homes, raised their children, and harvested their crops.
Within a few generations, however, the family’s growth and ever-increasing numbers frightened the neighbors. The prince who had done so much for them had long since passed from the scene. New leaders were concerned that they would be overrun and dominated by the family that had found refuge within their borders. So while leaders of the south still had the upper hand, they pressed the family into forced labor. By the crack and sting of the whip, tough field bosses made them work long hours under a hot sun making bricks for southern building projects. Under growing oppression, the family began to groan. Where was the king? He had made promises to their fathers. Why wasn’t he keeping them? Rising with the dust and smoke of the brickyards, their cries grew louder and louder. Where was the king? Why had he left them alone?
A RELATIVE TO THE RESCUE
The questions stopped when a stranger walked into the brickyards. His voice was not that of a southern neighbor. There was no whip in his hand. And his story sounded familiar to some of the older members of the family. According to the stranger, he was a child of the family. For 40 years he had lived as a fugitive on the other side of the wilderness to the east. Then one day while looking after his father-in-law’s sheep, the relative had heard the voice of the king. The king said he had heard the family’s cries and was sending the relative to lead them out of slavery and back to a “promised land.”
All eyes were on the stranger. Who did this visitor from nowhere think he was? Was he mad? Or had he really heard from the great king? The family’s questions were answered when the relative showed them powerful signs that proved the king had sent him. To the disappointment of everyone, however, the first efforts of their new leader only made matters worse. When the relative appeared before the prince of the south, and when he quoted the great king as saying, “Let my people go,” their problems multiplied. The prince was furious and made life even more miserable for the family.
In the dark days that followed, the prince of the south got more than he bargained for. The great king unleashed a series of national disasters on the prince of the south and his people. He sent plagues of flies, lice, and frogs. He polluted the national water supply and sent devastating storms and darkness. Then the king planned a final act that would break the will of the prince. To keep the family safe, the king told them to kill a lamb and put its blood on the two sides and upper door frames of their homes. That night a spirit of death moved through the land. Wails of anguish could be heard in every neighborhood as the families of the south learned they had lost their firstborn sons. But the spirit of death passed over and did not touch the homes with the blood on the door frames.
As their neighbors grieved, the family gathered some belongings and quickly walked out of the brickyards. When the prince regrouped and sent his armies after them, the king used his power to open up a path through a large body of water. Only when the family was safely on the other side did he release the waters to stop their pursuers. The family was delivered in such a dramatic way that word of the great king’s power soon spread through the entire region. Around watering holes in the daytime and around fires burning late into the night, the neighbors wondered out loud what would happen next with the king and his family.
A TIME FOR LEARNING
In the days that followed, the family found themselves with new problems. After a dreamlike deliverance, they woke to find themselves in a barren, no-man’s land. Before long, the children were hungry. Arguments broke out all over the camp. Mothers’ faces turned pale with fear. Men yelled at one another in frustration. No one could live for long in a place like this. They had not brought enough food, water, or clothing. A quick retreat back to the prince of the south seemed the only way to save the children.
Once more, however, the great king showed that he had not forgotten his family. In this forsaken place where food could not be bought and where water could not be found, the king showed his ability to provide for his people. In ways they could never have imagined, he gave them the food and water they needed. Later, at the foot of a mountain that burned in the king’s presence and shook at the sound of his voice, he taught the family how to live with one another and with him. The family soon learned that the king was a master teacher who used visual drama to make a point. One often-repeated lesson stirred up many emotions. The king required the head of each household to bring a carefully selected animal to a pre-appointed place of sacrifice. Depending on what the family could afford, the owner of a lamb, goat, or bird placed his hands on the innocent creature’s head and admitted his own wrongs. Then, in the king’s presence, the offerer killed the animal with his own hands.
As members of the family watched the sacrifice, the children asked a lot of questions. If the king created the animals, why would he want them to die? What had the animals done to deserve this? How could this be fair? While parents couldn’t answer all the questions, one thing was clear: The king wanted them to know that wrong choices were matters of life and death. He wanted his family to be thoughtful about what their first parents had learned under the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The family learned the same lesson again on the threshold of their new homeland. Scouts were sent ahead to check out the land. But when they returned they brought back a frightening report. In addition to finding plenty of food and water, they had seen strong warlords in the land.
The faces of the family turned pale. Eyes wet with emotion glared at their leader. What had he gotten wrong this time? What was the king doing? Had the family walked all this way under a hot sun only to die at the hands of a powerful enemy? They had to think about the children. They couldn’t raise them in a war zone. At moments like this, they wished they had never left the prince of the south. Under his fist and whip, they at least knew what to expect.