Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Bible, Episode 1

Last night The History Channel debuted a new 10-part mini series called "The Bible". The series is produced by Mark Burnett, the well known producer of "Survivor". Having seen my fair share of Bible documentaries and docudramas (which this series is), I was skeptical when I first heard about the series. But Sunday night rolled around and there were no new episodes of Heather's and my current Netflix shows, so I decided to give it a try. Less then one minute in and I was completely hooked. It was fantastic to watch and I am eagerly looking forward to the coming episodes. Most of the characters were cast incredibly well and brought a refreshing human element to familiar stories.

In my enthusiasm, I am not overlooking some flaws, historically and theologically. I will speak to those as well.  But first, there are 4 themes in Episode 1 of "The Bible" that caught my attention: 1. "The Bible" clearly displayed the majesty and awesomeness of God through creation. Episode 1 opens with a scene of the ark being tossed in a turbulent sea. Inside the ark Noah is comforting his family by telling them the story of creation from Genesis 1. Quoting scripture, Noah describes what God did on each of the 6 days of creation. I was amazed at the way it portrayed the creation of the sun, the animals, and especially the way God formed Adam out of the dust. Burnett portrays creation as being spoken into existence by God over the course of 6 literal, 24-hour days. Having Noah tell this story to his family in this setting, when his family would have been filled with doubts and questions about God's goodness and his purpose in creation, was brilliant.

2. The theme of judgment was evident throughout Episode 1. Episode 1 begins with Noah, moves through much of Abraham's life, and concludes with Moses, the 10 Plagues, and the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. I was not expecting this from a History Channel docudrama. Many people reject and revile the notion of God's judgement. The idea that God would pour out his wrath on people is unacceptable to many. Yet these truths are clear in the Scriptures, and were very evident in Episode 1. Noah explains to his family that the flood is God's judgement on the wickedness of man. The story of Sodom is clearly portrayed as God pouring out judgement on their sin, (though the true Biblical reason is left out; keep reading). The plagues show the story of God's judgement on Egypt and Pharaoh for enslaving God's covenant people and refusing to let them go. I think it would have been possible to create a compelling story in Episode 1 without the theme of judgement, but the fact that they made it the centerpiece was impressive.

Abraham and Sarah
3. The theme of faith. Following the commands of God oftentimes does not make sense, and appears foolish to outsiders. Episode 1 brought to life in a powerful way the irrationality (from a human perspective) of following some of God's commands. This is evident in Noah's response to God's command to build an ark, in Abraham's departure from Ur to the land God would show him, and in Moses going before Pharaoh to demand Israel's release. As Bible teachers and readers, it can be easy to overlook the human element in familiar stories. But when you see Abram's wife counseling him not to leave Ur, it reminds you of the overcoming faith required to follow God's call.

4. Finally, the theme of sacrifice plays a prominent role. Again, this was somewhat of a surprise to me. The idea that God would require a sacrifice as payment for sin, let alone a blood sacrifice, is unacceptable to many. Episode 1 tells the story of Abraham and Isaac from Genesis 22 in way that grips any viewer, and especially any parent, with the terror of God's command to Abraham to sacrifice his son. Later, the story of the passover is shown in a very real way. Families slaughtered sheep and spread the blood over their doorposts to keep away the promised death. Christians know that it is only by the self-giving sacrifice of Jesus and his death on the cross that we can be forgiven of our sin against God. Episode 1 begins to show that this truth had its beginning from the foundation of the earth.

While there are many things worth getting excited about, Episode 1 of "The Bible" has several serious flaws. I am not speaking here of artistic license, which I generally appreciated. Rather, there are things included, or left out, of the episode by design which were not faithful to scripture.

1. The sin of homosexuality is an essential element in the Genesis 19 story of the destruction of Sodom. The men of the city attacked Lot so they could gain access to the male angelic visitors in lots house. Episode 1 does show Sodom to be a wicked city, sexually promiscuous, but leaves out the aspects dealing with homosexuality.

2. The character of Moses is not true to the biblical story. In the scriptures, Moses continually questions his calling from God, making excuses and asking to be relieved of his duty. Eventually God allows Aaron to be a spokesmen for Moses after he continues to declare his inability. Episode 1 portrays Moses as a man extremely confident in his calling and assured of his success.

In conclusion, my recommendation is to watch Episode 1 - and the rest of the series - with your Bible open on your lap. The book is always better than the movie, right? Especially true in this case. But this is still worthwhile. This series is appropriate for families to watch together, with parents sensing when cover their young children's eyes and pausing (if you use DVR) to read the Biblical story together from scripture. I'm thankful for Mark Burnett (who professes to be a follower of Jesus Christ) having the courage and vision to make this series.

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