Genesis Simplified For Kids

This is a work in progress. The intent is to offer parents a way to read the stories of the Hebrew Bible alongside wisdom stories from other traditions. As such, we’ve chosen to use the word Yahweh to refer to deity in this text — a word that situates the stories in a particular cultural context. It’s not a perfect solution, and some may understandably prefer Elohim or God or LORD (or a variety of each, depending on the original use of certain root words in the text). For the sake of simplicity and to use a word that has consensus in many academic circles, we’ve used Yahweh here.

In any case, we encourage flexibility as you read (choosing the word that works best for you) and hope this resource is helpful for parents who want their kids to know these stories through a non-fundamentalist lens.

Yahweh Creates the World

In the beginning, Yahweh created the heavens and the earth.

On the first day, he created light and separated it from darkness.
On the second day, he divided the water and the sky.
On the third day, he created dry ground and plants.
On the fourth day, he created the sun for the day and the stars for the night.
On the fifth day, he created creatures in the ocean and birds in the sky.
On the sixth day, he created animals on the land, including men and women.
On the seventh day, he rested.

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden

Yahweh formed Adam from the dust of the earth and blew the breath of life into his nostrils to make him come alive.

Yahweh then planted a garden in Eden and put Adam there, telling him that he could eat fruit from any tree in the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eating from that tree, Yahweh said, would lead to death.

Adam named the animals, then Yahweh put Adam to sleep and formed Eve.

Soon after, a snake appeared to Eve to persuade her to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge. Understanding that the fruit would make her wise like Yahweh, Eve ate the fruit. Then she gave some to Adam, who ate it too.

When Yahweh found out what had happened, he cursed the snake and sent Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden into the wilderness forever.

Cain and Abel

Adam and Eve gave birth to two sons named Cain and Abel.

Cain farmed fruits and vegetables. Abel was a shepherd of sheep.

They each brought a sacrifice to Yahweh: Cain brought fruits and vegetables, Abel brought the best portion of his best lamb.

Yahweh rejected Cain’s offering and accepted Abel’s. This made Cain angry — so angry, in fact, that one day while they were out working in a field, Cain killed Abel.

Later, Yahweh asked Cain where Abel was, but Cain only said that he didn’t know and that he wasn’t in charge of Abel.

So Yahweh cursed Cain such that he couldn’t grow food any more and sent him away into the land of wandering, east of Eden.

The Great Flood

Adam and Eve had more children, and time passed.

But Yahweh was disappointed with everyone — everyone, that is, except for one man named Noah.

Yahweh told Noah to build an enormous boat and gather his family and two of every animal together there, so he could destroy everyone else.

Noah did what Yahweh commanded. And then it began to rain.

It rained for a long time, and the waters rose. Noah and his family and the animals stayed in the boat.

Eventually, Noah sent out a few of the birds. After one of them didn’t return, Noah assumed it had found dry land. Soon enough, he did too, and the family got off the boat.

Noah and his family saw a rainbow, and Yahweh told them that the rainbow was a sign that he would never flood the world again.

The Tower of Babel

Long ago, everyone spoke the same language. They worked together to make baked bricks and stones and tar.

Then someone had the idea to build a tower so tall it touched the sky and make a name for themselves so they wouldn’t be scattered.

The people started building this tower, but Yahweh wasn’t fond of the way that everyone was working together and could accomplish whatever they proposed to accomplish, so he caused them to speak different languages and scattered them all over the earth.

Abraham and Isaac

Many generations passed, and Yahweh chose a man he named Abraham to have many descendants. The only problem was that Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were very old and still did not have any kids.

Years passed, and finally Yahweh told Abraham he would have a son named Isaac.

Isaac was born and grew.

Then one day Yahweh commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on an altar. Abraham obeyed, taking Isaac up the mountain for the sacrifice. As they approached, Isaac noticed that they had coals and wood but no lamb to slaughter. He asked his father where the lamb was, but Abraham only said that Yahweh would provide.

Then Abraham took Isaac, tied him to the altar, and raised the knife to kill him. But a messenger stopped Abraham, telling him that Yahweh now knew that Abraham would sacrifice anything for him and that he would be blessed as a result.

The Birthright of Esau and Jacob

Isaac had twin sons: Esau and Jacob. Esau was older by a few seconds, and so, as was customary, he was chosen to be given a birthright — a special blessing and gift that would be passed along when his father died.

As the two boys grew up, Isaac loved that Esau was interested in hunting, while their mother, Rebekah, loved that Jacob was quiet and stayed near home.

One day, Jacob had been cooking a stew when Esau came back from a hunt empty-handed and terribly hungry. He begged Jacob for a bowl of stew, and Jacob, in response, said that he’d give him the bowl in exchange for their father’s birthright. Figuring that the birthright wouldn’t be much use if he died of starvation, Esau agreed.

Years later, when Isaac was old and nearly blind he called Esau to go out hunting for him so they could eat together and then give Esau his birthright.

Rebekah overheard the request and told Jacob to fetch a lamb from the flock, prepare a meal, and pretend to be Esau so that Jacob would receive the birthright instead.

So Jacob took the meal to his father, dressed in fur to seem hairy like Esau. Isaac was wary, saying that the voice was Jacob’s, but Jacob insisted that he was Esau, and eventually Isaac relented and gave him the birthright — bestowing most of his possessions to him.

Just then Esau returned and, upon discovering what had happened, felt furious. He pled with Isaac to bless him too, but Isaac refused, saying he couldn’t. The birthright had been given to Jacob.

Soon after getting this birthright, Jacob receives the new name of Israel. His descendants would be known as the Israelites, the people who most of the Hebrew Bible focuses on.

Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors

Jacob had 12 sons.

Of all his sons, Jacob loved Joseph the most because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. To show his favor, Jacob made Joseph a coat of many colors, which caused Joseph’s brothers to despise him.

One night Joseph had a dream that he and his brothers were out in a field collecting bundles of wheat, and his bundle stood upright while his brother’s bundles bowed down to his. Sometime later, he had another dream that the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowed down to him. All of this made his brothers despise him even more and made his father wonder what it all meant.

Then one day when the brothers were out with the sheep, they made a plan to get rid of Joseph. Some of the brothers said they should kill him, but the oldest, Reuben, said they should throw him into a pit (since he planned to rescue Joseph later). The brothers agreed and took Joseph’s coat from him and threw him into a dry well.

Afterward, a group of the brothers were eating lunch nearby when a caravan approached, making its way to Egypt. They decided to pull Joseph from the pit and sell him to the caravan as a slave for money. Then they ripped Joseph’s coat and put goat’s blood on it, leading Jacob (Israel) to believe Joseph had been eaten by a wild animal. Reuben was heartbroken, but didn’t tell his father the truth about what happened.

Meanwhile, Joseph was sold to an Egyptian leader named Potiphar.

The Dreams of Joseph

The pharaoh of Egypt dreamed two strange dreams.

In the first dream, he was standing on the banks of the Nile river when seven fat cows emerged from the river, followed by seven thin cows. Then the thin cows ate the fat cows. In the second dream, he saw seven plump ears of grain growing on one stalk of wheat, followed by seven ears of thin grain growing on another. The thin grain swallowed the plump grain. Then the pharaoh woke up, his spirit troubled.

He asked for someone to interpret the dream, and one of his servants mentioned Joseph, who had gained a reputation for having this skill. So the pharaoh called Joseph in, and Joseph said that the dream was a sign there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and that the pharaoh should store the abundance from the seven years of plenty to use during the seven years of scarcity.

The pharaoh gave Joseph power in Egypt for interpreting his dreams, and did as he suggested.

As a result, the kingdom prospered.

Joseph and His Brothers Reunite

During the years of famine, Joseph’s family ran out of food. To save themselves, Jacob sent his sons, except for his youngest, named Benjamin, to Egypt to get grain.

When they arrived, Joseph recognized them and accused them of being spies. The brothers tried to protest, explaining that they were from the land of Canaan and had a father and brother still back home, but Joseph threw them in prison and ordered them to choose one person to stay behind while the rest went back to fetch their youngest brother.

Hearing this, the brothers spoke amongst themselves, saying that this was a punishment for what they’d done to Joseph long ago. Hearing this, Joseph turned away and wept. Then he returned and gave them provisions, keeping one brother in Egypt and sending the rest back home.

At first Jacob refused to send Benjamin, but after time and pleading, he relented, and the brothers returned all together.

Joseph was excited to see his brothers, revealed his identity to them, and then invited them all, including their father, to move to Egypt.

At last, the family was reconciled, and the people of Israel settled near Egypt.

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