God demanded of Adam that he not eat from the tree of knowledge; Adam could eat the fruit of any other tree in the Garden of Eden, but not that of the tree of knowledge: "And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress and to keep it. And the lord God commanded the man, saying, of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:15-17). Eve, Adam's wife, was the first to break God's commandment. She encounters the serpent, who tempts her to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. He lures her by saying that she will not die if she eats the fruit and that, indeed, she will be like God. Eve, who is later to blame the serpent for her actions, is tempted by motives of power.
"And the serpent said unto the woman, ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:4-5). Eve wants to be on the same plane as the gods; she wants wisdom so that she can be like God; she wants to have god-like power, which is the power of knowledge. "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat" (Gen. 3:6). Adam eats because his wife persuades him to eat. He breaks faith with God; his wife's influence upon him at that moment is stronger than God's. This is Adam's failing; he places more trust in a human being than in the divine God. His motives are not explicitly to gain power and be like the gods, although that may be said to be a part of it. When God later confronts him, he blames Eve for tempting him, just as Eve blamed the serpent. The covenant was made between God and Adam, not between God and Eve. The woman intrudes in the relationship between God and Man; she becomes an obstacle to the faith of man in God, which suggests that all men should be wary of the guiles of woman, of their sexuality and their ability to come between God and Man.
Noah is commanded to build an ark, told to take animals and his family into that ark, told that he will survive the flood that God will send down to destroy mankind, and that he and his family will alone survive and repopulate the earth. Noah must have faith in God and in God's covenant with him. God's reason for destroying mankind is that it is corrupt: "and God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5). God conveys this motive to Noah; Noah knows what God's opinion of mankind is: "and God said unto Noah, the end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth" (Gen. 6:13). In order for Noah to carry out God's instructions, to concur with God's plan, Noah in a sense has to subscribe to God's opinion of mankind. Noah, after all, will have to leave the rest of mankind behind, except for his immediate family. He must, in a sense, break faith with the rest of mankind in order to keep faith with God. He must also have enough faith and belief in God to believe that he and his family will survive the great destruction that is to come. Noah never really hesitates. He follows God's commands right down to the "T" without expressing any doubts. God has expressed confidence in Noah's righteousness - "and the Lord said unto Noah, come though and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation" (Gen. 7:11) - and Noah must believe in that view of himself as righteous and of being precious to God and worthy; otherwise he would suffer the same fate as the rest of mankind. The rest of mankind, if they observed Noah building his ark and placing the pairs of animals inside it, would naturally think it extremely odd behavior. They would consider Noah a screwball and he would be regarded somewhat like millenists are viewed today by mainstream society. His actions certainly deviate from normal social behavior. But his faith is strong. Moreover, like any man, he wants his line to continue, to have children and have his children prosper. God told him about the covenant, which he reaffirms after the flood: "and God spoke unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, and I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; and with every living creature that is with you" (Gen. 9:8-10). And Noah knows that it is through his line alone that mankind will continue; he has abandoned the rest of mankind in order to ensure the survival of mankind as a species. If he refused to obey God, then the likelihood would be that mankind would be completely destroyed. Part of the justification for Noah's actions, therefore, is that only in this way will mankind as a species be spared.
Abraham, or Abram, as he is first known, is commanded by God first to get out of the country and out of his father's house, depart for a land (Canaan) that will be shown to him. God tell him that "I will make of these a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great... and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:2-3). Later he is told by God that he will have a son. This defies credulity because of Abram's advanced age. But Abram doesn't question it: "look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, id thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, so shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:5-6). It has been Abram himself who complained of having no seed; this indicates Abram's desires and motives; he wants to have seed, to continue his line. But then when God tells him that Sarah will bear him a son, Abram is not so convinced; Sarah, after all, is old and apparently beyond child-bearing age: "then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old? And shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?" (Gen. 17:17). It seems fantastic, but Abraham, after expressing his astonishment, does firmly believe. Sarah, his wife, however, doesn't believe it at all; however, after she is admonished by God, she retracts her unbelief.
And the Lord said unto Abraham, wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is any thing too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son. The Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, nay; but thou didst laugh. (Gen. 18:13-15)
Sarah's desire for a son of her own is very strong, and when she does have her son she sends Hagar away out of spite and jealousy.
God's real test of Abraham comes when he commands him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. Abraham never wavers, though he is sorrowful and heart-broken at having to kill Isaac. But it is a matter of faith; he must obey God in everything.
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said. Behold, here I am. And he said, take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Mori'ah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. (Gen. 22:1-2)
Killing one's son and offering him up as a sacrifice is certainly outside the bounds of normal social behavior. But Abraham's faith and belief in God is rock-solid; his motives purely are obedience to God and an unshaking faith in God. As he is about to kill Isaac, the angel of God appears and stops him. He tells him that it was a test, and thus Abraham's motives, his justification for his actins, are validated. He has proved his obedience to God, proved his faith.
And he said, lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me. (Gen. 22:12)