Sunday, January 31, 2010
Esau is somewhat lost in the story while Jacob is away with Laban. Since he was not chosen to carry on Abraham’s blessing, he is somewhat forgotten. But after Jacob’s time with Laban, he discovers that he will soon encounter his brother once more, and he is afraid. Jacob has a right to be afraid after all he had done to Esau in the past. It is at that moment that he remembers how he had stolen the birth right and the blessing away from Esau. Esau has every right to be mad at Jacob and to hold a grudge against him. So Jacob begins taking measures to protect his family. He divides his family and servants into two groups so that at least some of them will be spared shall Esau attack. He also sends a messenger ahead of him, telling Esau that he is his servant, hoping to mend the broken relationship.
What is interesting however is that it appears as if he comes to God last. He has already prepared for his encounter with Esau in every way he knows how, and then He turns to God for help (almost like insurance in case his plans fall through). But why harp on Jacob when this is exactly how we (or least I) do it all the time. We try to come up with the best plan that we can develop in our own minds, and if all else fails, we turn to God. How different would it be if we turned to Him first, and went from there? Thankfully, God does help us through our situations at times, even when we turn to Him last. For Jacob, He had already promised a great future and was not going to let His plans fall through. But we can learn a great deal from Jacob about where to turn when faced with adversity, and it should never be ourselves.
So that night he sends his servants ahead of him, hanging out in the back to be the last to meet with Esau. In some ways this seems almost like bribery. He is sending presents and gifts ahead of him to appease Esau (to help lessen Esau’s anger towards Jacob). Each group that would meet Esau was then instructed to say that Jacob was on his way as well. Jacob’s hopes were that Esau would forget all that had happened in their past and start over. But it would not be easy for Esau to do that. He had been wronged so many times, Esau could have rejected every gift, seen it all as an act, and taken his anger out on Jacob. But Jacob was trusting that God would take care of Him. Jacob believed that God would use his actions for His purposes and protect Jacob in his upcoming encounter with Esau. This passage does show that Jacob was putting a lot of faith in God’s promises to him
The end of Genesis 32 is the story of Jacob wrestling with God. This is a very confusing passage, and the idea of Jacob seeing God face-to-face can be controversial. Was it an angel or was it really God? That question is debated all across the board. But beyond the theological controversies of this passage, I think it shows a development in Jacob’s spiritual life. Why would a person wrestle with someone else? The answer is that they are struggling over some idea, or fighting over something that both parties want. In this case, Jacob was struggling with how much he could trust God. All throughout his life we have seen him go back and forth. At times it seems as if he is growing in God and trusting Him more and more. At other times it seems as if he is trying to depend on his own strength and not even thinking about how God could help him. The thing is that we do this very thing, forgetting that the God who helped us in past situations could help us now as well if we would just turn to Him. Maybe the discussion here should not be over who this person might have been but over how this is a picture of our spiritual lives, of our relationship with the Lord. For it is in this passage that Jacob’s name is changed to Israel, and as we will later see, Israel struggled with this very thing. They turned form God countless times, forgetting what He had previously done for Him. What a fitting time for Jacob to have his name changed.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
After Jacob’s escape, Laban acted out of anger, angry that he had been tricked by Jacob as Jacob fled from Laban’s presence. Laban really should not be shocked that Jacob left, for he had treated him wrongly on multiple occasions. But what Laban was really upset about was the fact that his “gods” had been stolen from his home. Jacob was quick to point out that anyone who worships those false gods would find punishment, but Laban was finding some type of false hope from them. This is particularly odd when Laban saw how the one, true God (the God of Jacob) had blessed him as a result of Jacob for so many years. Why could he not see the truth, and why did he continue to place his hope in these other gods of his? Then God speaks directly to Laban in a dream, telling him not to speak good or evil to Jacob. After encountering God personally, how could Laban not understand who the Lord is?
This is something I struggle with. There are people I know or have known who have had all the answers laid out in front of them. They know the truth, or at least know of it. They see how so many who believe in God are blessed (even in the hard times life throws at them). Yet, they continue to deny that it is true. They continue to suggest that they would be exempt from those blessings. They continue to remain blind of the truth. It is so frustrating when to me it seems that they have all the answers in front of them and all they have to do is reach out and take them. But for them it is so hard, because it would mean a total life change. It would mean that they would have to give up all that they had placed their hope in and do a complete 180. Although I know that that is what they should do, it does not mean that it is easy for them to do. That is what Laban was struggling with at this point, and he had not yet come to the point of realizing the truth.
Laban then searches Jacob’s entire house for the gods that he had lost (for Rachel had taken them and Jacob did not know this). After searching every tent, Laban did not find them (for Rachel had hid them well). This angered Jacob, and rightfully slow considering that he had known what Rachel had done. To Jacob it appeared that he was being falsely accused by Laban and that Laban was invading his privacy of the things that were his. Now true, one of the reasons he had his family and flocks were because of Laban, but that did not give Laban the right to continue to pursue him. He and Laban both knew that God had blessed Jacob with these things, and it was God’s will that Jacob acquire such great wealth for His purposes.
After coming up empty handed, Laban made a covenant with Jacob. He tried to make a peace deal between the two men, and he told Jacob to never take wives other than Leah and Rachel. The pillar that they built was the boundary of their two lands. The deal they made was that neither should cross that boundary if they are seeking to cause harm to the other. This would keep them away from each other, where they could both rebuild their lives separately. It is unclear as to Laban’s opinion of God at this point, but it does appear that he recognized God’s authority. His father Nahor was Abraham’s brother, so he was from the same lineage as Jacob and should have known who God was. Maybe this incident was a way for him to begin to understand the truth.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
After the birth of Joseph, Jacob prepared to head back to the Promised Land, as he had been instructed by Isaac and Rebekah. But before he left, Laban asked that he remain with him, for he knew that he had been blessed by Jacob’s presence. As promised, God continued to bless Jacob, even while he was living in the land with Laban. As a result, Laban had received part of that blessing. But before Jacob left, Laban asked what he could give him in the way of thanks. Jacob declined any gift, but later said that he would take Laban’s speckled and spotted livestock as payment. Laban agreed to these terms initially, but he once again tricked Jacob. After agreeing to the deal, he secretly sent those very lambs out to his sons, not allowing Jacob to have them. Whether it was out of fear that he would no longer be blessed when Jacob left or out of sheer deceit is uncertain, but Laban once more showed his true nature when he tricked Jacob upon his departure.
But Jacob did not let that setback hinder him. Instead, he bred his lambs and sheep so that he could have his own flock distinct from that of Laban’s. God blessed him and aided him in this process, and once more Jacob became far richer than Laban and anyone in the surrounding area. God’s plan was beginning to unfold as he had blessed Jacob with many children and great riches and was now leading him back to the Promised Land.
But the journey home was not easy for Jacob and his family. The primary reason that he had to head back was because of Laban’s resentment toward Jacob. After tricking Jacob out of the livestock that he had promised, God blessed Jacob with more. Laban and his sons then responded out of jealousy (much like Leah and Rachel had done previously), wanting to harm Jacob. Yet God was still in control, and He protected Jacob from Laban’s reproach. Through a dream, God spoke with Jacob, giving him clear instructions on how to regain the flock that he had been promised. He then gave him instructions on heading back to his homeland, back to Isaac and Rebekah. Jacob told Leah and Rachel all that the Lord had commanded, and he explained how he was going to follow the Lord’s instructions. Jacob was finally beginning to come around, understanding the importance in walking in obedience to the Lord. His influence was also beginning to rub off on his family, for Leah and Rachel did not hesitate to agree, saying that since the Lord had commanded it, they should go. Jacob immediately prepared to head out, sending all of his possessions ahead of him. He then prepared for his family to leave, having to trick Laban in the process so that Laban would not know that they were actually fleeing without him knowing.
Jacob received a clear set of instructions, through a dream. Today, I do not know of anyone who has had such a dream from God. I think that this causes many of us to wonder how we are to discern God’s will for our lives. How do we know what we are to do next? I faced this problem on deciding where to go to college, but God gradually began opening doors in my life that showed me the way. He did not speak audibly or in a dream, showing me Union, but He did start giving me small signs in my everyday life. Now I face a new challenge, figuring out which seminary to go to this Fall. Will God tell me in a dream? Maybe. Will He open up doors and give me signs along the way? Maybe. I do not know how God will show me this time around, but I do know that when we stay in His word and follow Him daily, He will take care of us. The Christian life is one of obedience, and God will help us know where to go every step of the way.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Due to Jacob’s mistreatment of yet another close family member, God sent him a new wave of consequences. Yes, Jacob had been mistreated by Laban and received Leah as a wife in the process. On the human level, I can sympathize with Jacob over desiring another woman and ending up with less than anticipated. However, from a spiritual standpoint, sometimes life deals us circumstances that we never expected, and at those moments we have to decide how we are going to react. We can either deal with it and move on or get angry and only cause more problems, which is exactly what Jacob did. Due to the hatred he showed Leah, the Lord closed Rachel’s womb so that she could not bear children for the time being. At the same time, He opened Leah’s womb, and she bore 4 sons to Jacob: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. With each new son, Leah grew in her relationship with God. At first she recognized God’s presence in her life, but she tried to throw it in Jacob’s face so that he would love her. But by her 4th child, she realized that all the praise should go to God instead. Leah learned her lesson in this situation, but Jacob and Rachel were still far from where God wanted them.
Rachel only became jealous of Leah’s 4 children and demanded that she have children as well. But Jacob finally realized that it was not up to him, but to God. He did not understand yet why God had chosen to allow Leah to have children and not Rachel, but he was beginning to notice God’s presence in the situation. Rachel on the other hand, had not. To counteract Leah’s blessings, she allowed Jacob to have children through her servant Bilhah, considering these her own children. Through Bilhah, Rachel named Dan and Naphtali. She thought she had beaten out her sister, and continued to only see this as a contest. So Leah did the same and gave Jacob her servant Zilpah, which gave 2 more sons to Jacob: Gad and Asher.
Remember that these sons that are being born to Jacob will eventually become the 12 tribes of Israel. What is interesting to note is that they were all born out of jealousy and hate. The first 4 came due to Jacob’s hatred of Leah. The last 4 came out of jealousy between Leah and Rachel. To these two sisters, having children was only a contest, and although Leah did give thanks to God for one of her children, it seems as if she soon forgot who was blessing them with these children in the first place. We must never get so caught up in our lives that we miss out on God’s blessings. There have been times in my life that I have missed out on recognizing God’s blessings in my life all because I was too busy to take notice.
The war between Leah and Rachel only escalated, and it eventually led to a trade off (similar to that of Jacob and Esau). Wanting a specific type of food that Reuben (one of Leah’s sons had gathered), Rachel traded a night with Jacob for that food. As a result, Leah had a 5th child for Jacob, Issachar. She then conceived a 6th time, and Zebulun was born. Finally, she had one daughter as well, Dinah. Neither sister was in the right at this point, but it still appears as if Leah’s “success” in child bearing is all due to the way that she had been mistreated by both Jacob and Rachel. Now whether the two of them learned their lesson or not, God finally allowed Rachel to have a son, her first son, Joseph. It is obvious that God had this in the plan all along, for Joseph will later become a major instrument in God’s protection of His people. But it will be interesting to note later on that it is not Joseph that God chooses to continue Abraham’s line through. Is that due to the way his parents acted prior to his birth? I am not sure. Joseph is about to play a key role in the story of God’s creation of His people, His nation, but his arrival on this earth may have been delayed by Jacob and Rachel’s disobedience.
God always has a plan. In fact, He has a plan for all of our lives at this moment. What is even more amazing is that He knows exactly how it will play out, and what choices we are going to make in the process (whether good or bad). We are not God’s robots, being dictated to make certain moves along the way. We have free will, and our choices do affect the outcome. In this particular instance, it appears as if Jacob and Rachel’s choices delayed the birth of their first son. If they had only obeyed God from the start, the story of the births of the 12 tribes of Israel might have played out a little differently. But at the same time, God had a plan the whole way through, and He worked it out for His good, using Joseph in mighty ways years later.
The beginning of Genesis 29 is a picture of obedience. Despite all that Jacob had done in his life, tricking his brother more than once, it now appears as if he is beginning to travel down the right path. He has traveled to see Laban so that he might find a wife, just as he had been instructed. He has not searched anywhere else, and he finds a woman, Rachel, who is of his mother’s family. He then takes it upon himself to help the shepherds out in their daily routines. As they did every day, these shepherds were gathering their sheep together to water them, and Jacob steps up to get the well ready for them that morning. Afterwards, Laban hears of Jacob’s arrival and welcomes Jacob into his home, where Jacob stayed for a month.
At first it appears as if Jacob has really found a good place, staying with family who loves him and in the process of finding a wife from his mother’s family. Jacob even served there without being paid. Because they were family, it appears as if Jacob does not mind working for Laban in exchange for a place to stay. But Laban does not feel right about not paying Jacob (or so it seems). So he asks Jacob what his wages should be, and Jacob replies by asking to have Rachel as a wife. Laban agrees to Jacob’s request, and the two men settle on a 7 year deal. After 7 years of work, Jacob will be able to marry Rachel. Everything appears to have worked out at this point. Jacob has straightened up his life, worked hard in this new land (while working to get back to the Promised Land), and God is fulfilling His promises as well in helping Jacob find a wife.
But when the 7 years had been completed, Jacob became a product of his own deception. After years of deceiving his brother, quite shamelessly, Jacob learned what it felt like to be on the receiving end of deception. At this point in the story, it still seemed as if Jacob had gotten away with his previous actions, but Laban’s trick puts things back into perspective. We may sometimes think that we have gotten away with our sin. We may think that there will be no consequences for actions. We may even go years (as Jacob did) without receiving any consequences. But there are always consequences for our sins, and in Jacob’s case, he received what he had dished out for so long. So Jacob made a second deal with Laban, and Laban gave Rachel to Jacob after another 7 years of service.
Now Rachel was the one that Jacob really loved, for she is the one who Jacob had worked 14 years for. As a result of Laban’s deception, Leah received a lot of grief. She was not loved as much as Rachel (by Jacob), and she noticed it. She knew that she had just been given away to Jacob, and that he had not married her out of love but out of duty. The only reason she was with Jacob was because Jacob wanted to be with Rachel as well. You have to feel sorry for Leah. She has become the latest person to be hurt by Jacob, and just as Jacob endured the consequences of mistreating Esau, he would soon experience some more consequences for his treatment of Leah. But God had promised that Jacob would be the next man in Abraham’s line as He built this nation of people. God was not going to let Jacob down no matter how many times Jacob messed up. God was still there for Jacob, waiting for Jacob to seek repentance and get his life back on track. Thankfully, God is still here for us too when we mess up like Jacob and get off track in life. Like Jacob, He will never leave us, no matter how many times we mess up. All we have to do is turn back to Him in obedience and seek His repentance.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
After all the confusion that arose in the previous chapter, Genesis 28 begins with Isaac officially sending Jacob to Laban to find a wife. Despite all the controversy that can arise over Jacob’s acceptance of the blessing, Isaac prayed that God would grant Jacob with the blessing that had passed from Abraham, to Isaac, and now on to Jacob. To keep with the terms of the covenant, Isaac strictly charged Jacob not to take a wife from the Canaanites (just as Abraham had done for Isaac). So Isaac traveled to Laban to find a wife from his mother’s family. The important thing to notice at this point is that everything was beginning to fall back into place once again, and God was using this messed up situation to continue to accomplish His will.
Yet there was Esau who was still bitter at Jacob’s receiving of the blessing. Esau had a right to harbor bitterness toward his brother. Jacob had taken was rightfully Esau’s. However, we later learn that this was God’s plan all along. So at this point, Esau is left with two choices. He can either move on from what had happened, forgetting about the blessing and choosing to follow the Lord, or he could continue to harbor bitterness and drift further away from the Lord. Sadly, Esau chose the latter option, wishing to do anything that would displease Isaac. Since Isaac had commanded Jacob to not take a Canaanite for a wife, Esau decided to go against his father’s wishes. But he took it one step further. He also found a wife that was a direct descendant of Ishmael (Abraham’s other son). Not only was this a slap in the face to Isaac, but also to God. When unfair situations arise in life it is easy to be bitter and try to get back at those who hurt us, but we are called to a higher standard of living. We are called to move on from that situation, continue to depend on God (trusting that He knows what He is doing), and continue to live for Him.
As Jacob made his way to Laban, he stopped for the night. On that night, God spoke with Jacob, revealing the same covenant He had given to both Abraham and Isaac before him. God promised to give him a large family and the inheritance of the Promised Land. Notice God does not say that if Jacob does certain things then these promises will come true. God made a promise here that He intended to keep no matter the circumstances. Jacob recognized the Lord’s presence and was rightfully frightened. After all that he had done to his brother Esau, he had a right to fear God. But this fear turned into worship, and as Genesis 28 comes to a close, Jacob begins creating a closer relationship with the Lord. I would say that at this point it does not appear as if Jacob has reached the level of faith that Abraham and Isaac had in the Lord. For instance, Jacob tells God that if God keeps His promises, then he will have no problem trusting in Him. In some ways Jacob appears to want to trust God immediately, but in other ways, there seem to be things in his life that are holding him back as well.
But what is important in the life of Jacob at this point is that he is growing. Does he have all the answers? Is he where he needs to be in his relationship with the Lord? No! But he is learning that God can be trusted. He is beginning to see firsthand how God cares for His children. Now that God has made the same promise to him that He had done with Abraham and Isaac, Jacob is beginning to realize that there is something to this faith. Although Jacob’s life is not much of a model for us to live by at this point in the story, there is one important application we can draw here. We must always be growing in Christ, for we will never be where we need to be this side of Heaven. We should never stop growing and learning in Christ.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Think back to when Jacob and Esau were first born. We discovered that Isaac loved Esau more than Jacob, and Rebekah loved Jacob more than Esau. This comes into play once more as Isaac is on his death bed. Wanting one last good meal, Isaac sends Esau to catch some food for him, making him one of his favorite dishes. Rebekah overhears Isaac’s request and quickly runs to Jacob to let him know that Esau is about to be blessed. So she has Jacob go out and get some lambs so that she might prepare that exact same meal for Jacob to deliver. As a result, Jacob would then receive the blessing rather than Esau. Now on the spot this makes no sense. Wouldn’t Isaac know the difference between his two sons? Jacob thought about that very thing, realizing that although his father did not have great vision any longer, he would know who it was based on whether they were hairy or not (for Esau was).
Although Jacob initially protested against this request, not wanting to receive some type of curse rather than a blessing, he eventually gave in to his mother’s request. As she prepared the meal, they found some skins to use to make Jacob appear to be hairy. He then grabbed the food and took it to his father. Isaac was quick to realize that it was not really Esau who had brought the food, but Jacob’s disguise was enough to convince him otherwise. So Isaac did not protest the situation any longer and gave the blessing to Jacob.
Not long after that Esau came in with the food that he had gathered expecting the blessing that Jacob had stolen. It is then that Isaac realizes his mistake, but even more so Jacob’s deceit. He had to feel terrible at that moment knowing that he could not retract the words that he had previously given. His disappointment is seen in Esau’s despair. Esau expected that blessing and had even longed for it, and now all he wanted was some sort of blessing to help make up for what he had lost. Was it right that Jacob had received the blessing? Of course it wasn’t, especially under the circumstances in which it occurred. Did God approve of Jacob’s underhanded ways? I do not believe He did either. But He was able to use this awful situation for His purposes. From even before these two were born, God had chosen Jacob over Esau, allowing Abraham’s blessing to continue through Jacob’s line. So even though it came about in an underhanded manner, God’s purposes were still fulfilled. I do not believe that Esau would have received the blessing even if Jacob had not been deceitful. God had chosen to continue the blessing through Jacob and would have seen it happen some other way.
It is easy to get caught up in how wrong this situation actually was and how it appears that Jacob was rewarded for what he did. But the end of Genesis 27 and the next several years of Jacob’s life tell a different story. As a result of Esau’s anger toward his brother, he plots to kill Jacob. So Rebekah sends Jacob back to the land in which Abraham had originally come from for safety, to live with Laban (her brother). This is all great in protecting Jacob (thus protecting the lineage), but this is not what God had intended. The land in which Jacob had been living was his, but now he had left it because of some bad choices that he had made. For a good chunk of his life, Jacob was unable to live in the Promised Land, and this was all because of a bad decision. At times it may not seem that those who do wrongly receive a just reward, but always remember that they will get their reward one day. It may not come in the quick manner that we expect, but it will come.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
After Abraham’s death, God reaffirmed the covenant with Isaac, telling Isaac the same things that He had told Abraham. It is interesting that He appeared to Isaac at the time of a famine. Abraham had previously endured a famine, which is why he had once traveled to Egypt. Now Isaac was going through a famine, and he was instructed not to travel to Egypt, so that he would not fall into a similar trap that his father had. Instead, he was to remain in the Promised Land, as this land would be the land of all of his descendants, which would be quite numerous. Also, his son Jacob would endure a famine later on when Joseph was in Egypt. Even the great patriarchs of the faith had to go through many of life’s storms, but as God told Isaac, God remains with us through them all, and all we have to do is trust in Him.
At first Isaac obeys God’s commands, remaining in Gerar and not traveling to Egypt. However, he still falls into the same trap that his father had done twice. He told the men of the land that Rebekah was his sister (this should sound familiar). The king of the land, Abimelech, later realizes that Rebekah is actually his wife and condemns Isaac for lying to them, afraid of what might have happened had one of the men decided to take her as his wife. Much like Abraham, Isaac was only thinking of himself, not considering how his sin might affect those around him.
After this encounter with Abimelech, Isaac got back on track with God, and he was blessed for his obedience. He received great wealth. Now not all who are obedient become rich (for that would be the health and wealth “gospel”). True, sometimes the blessings God gives us for obedience is good health or great riches, but not always, so we should not expect it. It just so happened that Isaac did gain great riches, so much so that Abimelech asked him to leave the land. So he traveled to another part of Gerar and began digging wells to get water by. These wells that he dug were wells that Abraham had used but had since been filled in by the Philistines. So Isaac began digging them out again for a water source, but he encountered conflict with the locals. He knew that God had promised the land to him, and he did not want to cause problems. Therefore, he kept digging until he found one that the locals had not claimed. It was there that he settled and set up camp. It was there that God began blessing Isaac all the more so that he could become fruitful in the land.
Isaac settled down in the land, and Abimelech noticed that although he had forced Isaac to move, he was still acquiring great wealth. He also noticed that it was all because of the Lord. This story seems to mirror that of Abraham and Abimelech. In both accounts, Abimelech noticed the faith that each had in God. He noticed that God was truly with them and that they could be trusted. So he made covenants with them, peace agreements, knowing that they would not break that agreement. Once more we see a life (that of Isaac’s) that points to the Lord. Abimelech had not spoken with Isaac for quite a while, but just through observation it became clear to him that Isaac could be trusted.
The end of Genesis 26 shows one picture of contrast, the life of Esau. Esau married at the age of 40 and began his own family, but as seen in Genesis 25, Esau was not a follower of the Lord. He was bitter, most likely over how Jacob had tricked Esau out of his birthright. For that reason (and possibly many more) Esau made life hard for Isaac and Rebekah. Scripture is not clear as to what he did to them, but I would dare say that it came from seeing how blessed Isaac was. In not following the Lord, Esau did not receive God’s blessings, and he did not have God to turn to in difficult times. The same is true today. Most people become jealous over those who appear to be more blessed. Those who have much receive a lot of grief from jealous friends or family members. And even if it is not monetary blessings, those who trust in God do receive great blessings in life, as opposed to those who do not make God their number one priority in life. I feel as if that is where Esau was in life, reacting against Isaac’s blessed life.
There are several factors that will be weighing in on my decision as to where I will go, and I will have to begin the application process fairly soon. But for now I will be getting ready for my final semester at Union. The semester begins in a little over a week and will begin with the opening of our new Commons. The Bowlds Commons opens February 2, 3 days before the anniversary of the tornado. On February 5 there will be a chapel service of praise to commemorate the anniversary.
It will be a busy semester as I finish up with some big projects at Union. But I will also stay busy as I begin to fill out applications for seminary. There is a lot to do over the next few months, as many big decisions will be made. Thus begins my final semester at Union.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Genesis 25 gives us the account of Abraham’s death. He lived approximately 40 more years after the death of Sarah. It is interesting to see that he had many more children with a second wife after Sarah’s death. The Lord truly blessed him in his old age once Abraham began putting all his trust in God. Before his death, Abraham was sure to leave things in order to help Isaac (the one chosen by God). Much like Ishmael, these other children of Abraham did not receive the blessing that God had promised to Isaac. They were still blessed for being Abraham’s children, but they were not given the same blessings as Isaac. So Abraham sent all of them east, out of the Promised Land, and possibly closer to the land in which he was originally from. This left Isaac in Canaan with Rebekah to start a family so that God could continue to fulfill the covenant that He had made with Abraham.
As for Ishmael, the next portion of Genesis 25 gives us some historical notes on who his people were. There is a lengthy listing of the children of Ishmael, but once again none of the names jump out at me. Much like it did with Nahor’s family, some of these names may resurface later on in the text, but at this point I do not see any immediate connections. But this passage does help us understand where Ishmael’s family traveled. They consisted of 12 tribes (which sounds much like what Israel would one day become), and these tribes were near Assyria, which was also east of Canaan. Much like Abraham’s other children, Ishmael was sent off away from the land that was promised to Isaac, showing that it was not meant for him.
The rest of Genesis 25 picks up the story with the life of Isaac, beginning with the birth of his two children, Esau and Jacob. Notice that Isaac was faithful enough to pray that he and Rebekah would have a child. He did not just expect God to give them a child, although he knew the promise that God had made with Abraham. Even with the promise, he still prayed, making his requests known to God. God granted his requests, and not only gave them one son, but two. Yet problems arose even while the children were in the womb. It appears as if Rebekah suffered quite a bit, feeling the children fight within her. So she went to God to see why, trusting that He would have an answer. His answer was actually a prophecy (promise) of what was to come. He told her from the start that Esau and Jacob would be brothers divided. They would not get along, and as a result, two nations would arise that would become enemies. The other promise God made was that Esau (the oldest) would serve Jacob (the youngest), showing how the promise would continue through Jacob one day.
Knowing what comes next in the story, where God chooses to bless Jacob and not Esau, it is interesting that Isaac’s favorite of the two was Esau (Rebekah’s was Jacob). The promise did not continue through the son of Isaac’s choice. Again this shows that sometimes man’s thoughts or plans are not the ways of God. We may have good intentions or think we know what is best, but once again God showed that He was doing things His way, sometimes what we least expect. God was going to once again choose the younger son (totally against the ways of the culture) to continue His blessing.
The very end of this chapter seems to be so conniving that God could not have possibly chosen Jacob over Esau. Jacob forces Esau to trade his birthright in for food. Now it does appear that Esau is over exaggerating in saying that he will die if he does not have any food at that instant, but does that excuse Jacob’s trickery? It would not appear so, but as Romans 9:13 shows, God had loved and chosen Jacob over Esau from the start. Man cannot mess up God’s plans. We might make mistakes, or do things that we know are wrong. But with God there is always forgiveness, and we cannot mess up the plans of God. This passage also shows why these two brothers began hating one another (as would their descendants) and that Esau’s descendants would one day become Edom.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
When Laban saw the servant standing outside his house, and after hearing Rebekah’s account of what happened, he recognized the servant as one who followed the Lord. Esteemed at what he had heard, he also went all out to make the servant comfortable in his house. This shows the amount of trust that Laban had in this servant. Once again it is clear that when our lives reflect Christ, it will be evident to others.
As the servant explains to Laban why he had come, he is careful to tell it exactly as Abraham had commanded. He could have taken shortcuts. He could have tweaked the story to make it sound better to assure that Rebekah would go back to Canaan with him. He could have made it really easy on himself. But instead of taking these shortcuts, he told it like it was, knowing that God would provide. God was in control of the situation, and He did not need the servant to help him out. The servant showed that he had placed full trust in God to point out the correct woman for Isaac, and so he just sat back and let God do all the work. So many times we try to “help” God out, as if He really needs our help. I am not saying that God cannot use us, for He does, but it is not because He totally depends on us. If we were not here, He would still accomplish all He intended to accomplish. We must be like this servant who allowed God to work through Him rather than trying to “help” God out, which typically makes the situation worse.
Even as the servant recounted how he had met Rebekah and what he had requested of God, he was sure to tell the story as it had actually happened. He did not need to add any fluff to make the story sound good. He told the truth, and showed how God had already begun to work. We saw yesterday that the servant was quick to praise God after He had sent Rebekah. Now we see him retelling the story, and once again he makes sure that God receives all the glory. He does not praise himself for being faithful to Abraham or for finding the woman so quickly. Instead, He points straight to God, giving God all the glory for working this situation out so perfectly. While the servant told the story, Laban noticed God’s hand at work and stated that he could not argue with the Lord. It was obvious to Him that God had a plan for his daughter, Rebekah, and he chose to send Rebekah to Canaan to be with Isaac. Once more, the servant immediately praises the Lord (not himself, not Laban, and not Rebekah).
The end of Genesis 24 tells the story of when Isaac and Rebekah first meet. It is interesting to note that Isaac was meditating in the field when they first rode up to meet him. Obviously, he was still upset with the death of his mother (which had not been that long ago and is shown in v 67). So part of his meditation and prayer could have been over the grief that he was experiencing. Whatever Isaac was thinking about, it does appear that he too was developing a close relationship with the Lord, much like his father had done. This is a perfect example of how one should be prepared spiritually before marriage (which also takes place at the end of Genesis 24). He had prepared himself for the day when he would receive a wife, and now that day had come.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
As Abraham began to prepare for life on earth without him, he gave strict orders to his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac. Abraham remembered that God had made a promise to him that the land in which he was dwelling would be the land of his descendants. For that reason, he did not want Isaac traveling back to Ur (where Abraham originally lived). However, Abraham did want Isaac to have of wife from back home rather than the Canaanites. So the servant left to find Isaac a wife, obeying the words of Abraham.
It becomes quite obvious that Abraham’s faith was not a faith of his own. It was something that he was teaching his entire household. He did not keep it sealed in a bottle, only to be brought out during his encounters with God. Instead, he lived it out every day, and those around him were learning to follow God as well. This can be seen by the servant as he was praying to God in the city of Nahor. He was still in search for a wife for Isaac, and he immediately went to God for help. Instead of depending on his own strength, he turned to God, asking God to once again provide the answer. Not only should we be that trusting of God that we do not hesitate to ask Him for guidance in life’s tough decisions, but our faith should also be so evident that we have a great influence on others, helping them to serve and follow God as well.
In writing about the end of Genesis 23 I made mention of not knowing what the significance of the reference to Abraham’s brother was. Now, reading Genesis 24:25, I notice that the names mentioned here tie back into Genesis 24:20-24. Again, we do tend to get bogged down in the names thinking there is no significance, but they were not written in vain. Sometimes we just have to do a little more reading, paying closer attention to detail. This has served as a reminder for me to be sure to not just skim over Scripture and rush through but to read it verse by verse.
Rebekah was the woman who God sent the servant’s way while he was still praying. She did exactly as the servant had prayed she would, and he once again turned to God to make sure this was the right one. After learning that he could return with her to her house to discuss matters further, the servant immediately praised God for His help in this journey. This is a good reminder of the two sides of prayer. In working with the kids at the daycare, I wanted them to make sure that they understood these two sides. They always had prayer requests but hardly any praises. But I noticed that that is exactly how my prayer life is most of the time as well. I get so caught up in asking God for help in a number of situations, but I neglect to thank Him for the things He has given me. When He comes through for me, at times, I forget to praise Him for what He had done. May we all learn a lesson from this faithful servant who did not hesitate to ask for help when he needed it, but who also gave all the glory back to God after that need had been met.
Despite all the times that Abraham doubted God and thought that God was not going to come through on His promise, when God told him to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham did not seem to hesitate. He did not argue with God and he did not question God. I feel that I have would have asked God “why?” How can the promise of his descendants numbering the number of stars in the sky and the number of grains of sand on the beach become reality without Isaac, the chosen son? Abraham may have been thinking these things, but he did not question God. Instead, the text tells us that he got up and did exactly as God had commanded. He gathered the wood, he went and got Isaac, and the two of them headed out to Moriah just as God commanded.
Upon arrival, Abraham took Isaac alone and headed to the mountain, telling the men with them that they were going to worship. That takes a lot of faith. Not only is he preparing to sacrifice his son, but he is even calling it worship. Abraham has finally come to a point in his life where he trusts God completely. He has no doubts that whatever God decides, He will still provide. Either God is about to provide another lamb for this particular sacrifice, or God is going to provide Abraham with another son to replace Isaac. Either way, Abraham seems to believe that despite the outcome of the day, God will still be able to be trusted.
As Abraham prepares to sacrifice Isaac to the Lord, God calls out to him to tell him to stop. Just as Abraham had told Isaac, God provided. Seeing that Abraham had complete faith in him, God sent a ram to replace Isaac on the altar. God once again proved that He is trustworthy, and Abraham expressed that He trusted God. This is the ultimate picture of God’s provision. In the same way, we can trust that God will provide for us today. It may not look like we had imagined. We may have had different plans for our lives. But if we have faith in God like Abraham did, then we will always recognize that despite the circumstances, God will always provide for us.
Afterwards Abraham received the promise once more, as a reminder. Abraham’s family would indeed be blessed. His descendants would be so numerous it would be nearly impossible to count. God was about to create a people for Himself out of Abraham. Genesis 22 closes with more historical information, this time about Abraham’s brother, Nahor. This may seem insignificant, but remember that it is Scripture. I do notice any connection right off the bat, but I guarantee that these names would have been familiar to the original audience. They are probably some tribes that are later mentioned in Scripture.
In Genesis 23, the death of Sarah is recorded. Abraham, living near the Hittites at the time asked for a place to bury her. Like Abimelech, the Hittites recognized Abraham’s face, calling him a prince of God. They noticed something different in him and knew that he could be trusted. So they gave him the choice of tombs in which to bury Sarah. The leader of the Hittites was Ephron, and he too saw the faith of Abraham. He saw it so much so that he was willing to give the land to Abraham, not allowing Abraham to pay for it. Abraham ended up paying full price, because he did not feel comfortable accepting the land for free. But still, Abraham’s faith was so evident that those who came in contact with him knew that he could be trusted as well. Now I am not going to restate what I wrote yesterday about how our lives should look to the outside world, but once again we see that Abraham lives out his faith, and it becomes obvious to those around him.
Monday, January 18, 2010
Sarah’s encounter with Ishmael appears to be very cruel on the outset. She no longer wants this child around because she is seeing the mistake that she and Abraham made in him every day. Ishmael is a living reminder to her that she had lost faith in God. She wants him to go because she is once again afraid that God will backtrack on His promise and give Ishmael Isaac’s blessing. It seems right for her to be upset with Ishmael, but she must realize that is partly her fault that she has to deal with this problem now. However, God promised that Abraham’s descendants would be the fathers of great nations, and this now includes Ishmael. God had promised Ishmael and Hagar years prior that Ishmael would indeed be a great nation, but because He chose to continue Abraham’s line through Isaac, God allowed Ishmael and Hagar to leave Abraham and Sarah’s presence.
But just because Ishmael was not the chosen one by God, God did not leave them stranded. He first sent them away through Abraham with supplies. When those supplies ran out, Hagar and Ishmael cried out to God for help. He heard their cries and provided more water for them through a well. This is an early example of how our God is not just the God of one nation. He may have chosen the Israelites (or who would one day become the Israelites) to be His chosen people, but that did not mean that He left all of the other nations out to die without hope. God is God of the entire world and is not limited to one country or one set of people. Here, not only did God provide for Abraham and his family, but He also provided for Ishmael and allowed Ishmael to become a great nation. Even today, we must never forget that God is not limited to the United States or to any other country. God is a God of the entire world, and He desires that all men (from every nation) come to Him. The Gospel is global, and it is our responsibility to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to hear it.
Meanwhile, Abraham had another encounter with Abimelech (the man that Abraham had initially viewed as an enemy). Abimelech remembered how Abraham’s God had protected him in their previous encounter and could also tell that Abraham was a man of God. It was evident in Abraham’s life (at least at this point in his life) that Abraham was a follower of God. As a result, Abimelech expected more out of Abraham. He expected Abraham to deal honestly with him in any sort of business matter. Their particular business deal was over some land and a well within that land. There the two men made a covenant as to the ownership of the land, and Abimelech trusted that Abraham would uphold his end of the deal.
Is it obvious that our lives are characterized by God? If a man like Abimelech came up to us randomly would he know that we were a follower of God? Would he be able to trust us with important issues in life such as a business deal or even a form of accountability? If not, then we must strive to be like Abraham, a man whose life obviously showed that he trusted and followed the commands of his God. In a world full of sin and scandals, our lives should stand in stark contrast to those of the culture. We should never blend into the culture around us. Instead, we should stand out as one who is separate from the sin in our world.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
After seeing all that God had done for him and his nephew Lot, you would think that Abraham would be in full obedience at this point. You would think that he would not slip up again, forgetting how much God had taken care of him in the past. You would think this, but just like we do so many times, Abraham slipped. While he was traveling throughout the future Promised Land, Abraham met Abimelech. It was here that he repeated a previous mistake that he had made in Egypt. Afraid that he might once again lose his wife Sarah or that he might be killed, he told Abimelech that she was his sister. There are two major problems with this decision. One, he should have known that this would end badly just like the time before. But two, God’s promise of him having a son through Sarah had not happened yet. He should have known at this point that God was going to come through on that deal, therefore not letting him or Sarah die. But like we do so many times, Abraham neglected to trust God with even the smallest details of his life.
Abimelech may seem like the enemy in this passage. Abraham was in fear of his life in Egypt, and Genesis 20 later reveals that he felt the same way in the presence of Abimelech. So he lied about his relationship with Sarah, making the reader want to think of Abimelech as the enemy. But Abimelech was actually innocent in this passage, not knowing who Sarah was. So God stepped in not only to preserve the promise he had made to Abraham but also to keep Abimelech from making a great mistake. Abimelech then obeyed God’s commands without hesitation and returned Sarah to Abraham. Because of his obedience and Abraham’s repentance, the consequences of Abraham’s sin were reversed. Initially God made all of the women in Abimelech’s house barren, but with Abraham’s repentance, God allowed them to bear children again.
The beginning of Genesis 21 is the first step in God fulfilling the promise that He made to Abraham. Finally, years after initially promising that Abraham would be a great nation dwelling in the land he was living in, God gave Abraham and Sarah a son, Isaac. Although this was the first step of the promise, Abraham would not see the promise fully come to pass. It would not be until the time of Joshua that his descendants (who would number over 2 million by that time) would finally reinhabit the Promised Land. I think that is why it was so easy for Abraham to forget all that God had done for him. He wanted the results of the promise to be immediate, for God to act quickly. So when God tarried for so long, Abraham began to lose his faith in God. But before we begin to condemn Abraham for his lack of faith, we must do a quick self-checkup. How many times have we lost patience with God because the timing in our life was not as we thought it should be? Abraham was only human, just like us. Although that does not excuse his lack of faith, we can definitely relate to it and learn from it. But the important thing is that God came through on His promise and gave Abraham a son at the old age of 100 (Sarah was 90).
Saturday, January 16, 2010
The next day, after being warned about Sodom’s destruction, Lot was warned that it was time to leave the city, but he lingered. Hesitation before God can be quite costly. God had a plan that day, destroy the city for their unrighteousness, and now Lot was fooling around, about to get caught up in the middle of the destruction. But God was merciful and still protected him and his family despite their flaws. Once again, God did not have to come in and protect Lot, but because of the promise He had made with Abraham about protecting the righteous, He did so (even if Lot was not acting very righteous at this point).
Lot escaped the destruction and was able to find rest in a small city not far away, but the instructions were clear, do not look back to Sodom. After arriving in the new city with a chance to start over, you would think that Lot and his family would understand what the Lord had done for them. You would think that this would give them such joy that they would want to obey the Lord’s commands. Yet, Lot’s wife could not help but wonder what had happened to their former city. And although it might appear to be a small command, she disobeyed the Lord and looked back to the city. For that, she was killed instantly, being turned into a pillar of salt.
One might wonder if that punishment was too harsh for Lot’s wife, but when you think about how much God had protected Lot and his family already, He deserve some respect (and obedience). This was the second time God had saved their lives (once when Sodom was attacked by another king and most recently when God destroyed Sodom). And there was actually a third time if you consider the fact that they lingered when they were told to leave immediately. All God asked was that they not look back to Sodom, that they start anew in a new land, following Him. But Lot’s wife could not obey even one simple command. In some ways her punishment may seem harsh, but considering that they served a perfect God (and considering all He had done), the punishment was adequate.
What comes next is Abraham arising that very morning. Imagine how he must have felt when he saw the smoke on the horizon, knowing that the city he had prayed for so earnestly had been destroyed. He had bargained with God the day before hoping that God would be able to find 10 righteous men in the city. Yet when he saw the smoke he must have felt awful to know that God could not find even 10 righteous men. This makes me think of those people we pray for who seem to be so far from the Lord. How many people have we tried to witness to that seem to be so far from understanding the Gospel? Just like Abraham, some cases seem to be lost causes. But we must never give up praying, begging God to show them mercy, so that they might come to Him before it is too late. Never give up praying for them! The result may end up being the same as it was for Abraham, but we must be faithful to tell them about Christ and pray that they will receive Him!
The last scene of Genesis 19 seems to sum up how far Lot and his family had drifted from the Lord. Lot may have still been a righteous man in his old age, but he had not taught his daughters to fear the Lord. Afraid that their line would end with their generation, his two daughters made sure that Lot became drunk so that they could bear children through him. It is obvious that the influences of Sodom had affected Lot’s daughters in tragic ways. They did bear two sons through their father, and these children became the fathers of the Moabites and Ammonites. These two groups of people would have great conflict with Israel in the future, a result of the sins of their ancestors.
Friday, January 15, 2010
After Abraham is finally convinced that God is going to stay with Him and keep His promises, he discovers that God is now preparing to destroy Sodom, the city where his nephew, Lot lives. I think that one of the problems troubling Abraham at this point is the fact that God is taking care of him, who has not always been righteous but is now attempting to place all his trust in God, and yet He would go to Sodom and wipe out those who were living a righteous life. So Abraham inquires of God if He would really destroy the city if 50 righteous men could be found. He goes on to question God’s justice asking how a righteous God could treat the righteous just as He treated the wicked. Isn’t this a common question today? Only we state it differently. We ask, why do bad things happen to “good” people? First off, we must remember that no one is righteous, and for the Christian, righteousness comes only from Christ. Secondly, God is just in whatever He does, and Scripture teaches that all men suffer in life, the righteous and the wicked. Abraham’s request in this passage is just another form of the problem of suffering that we have today.
But despite all the theological points behind how God treats the righteous and the wicked, in this particular instance God does choose to spare those who are righteous within the city. But the discussion did not stop with 50. Abraham, apparently unsure that there actually were 50 righteous men in Sodom, gradually lowered the number, going all the way down to 10. Even at 10, God promised that He would not destroy the city for the sake of 10 righteous men. Of course, the whole time God knew that He would not find those 10 men. How many times do we find ourselves bargaining with God? Now, how many of those times are for the sake of others? Many people will pray prayers like this: God if you get me through this one rough time in my life, I promise that I will give up (fill in your sin). But how many times do we keep those promises? We are good about bargaining for ourselves, but I wonder if we pray for others as well. I have found that my prayers can be very self-centered, not just in the instance of bargaining. I tend to pray for the trials entering my life, the big decisions in my future. However, I have to constantly remind myself to pray for my friends and family, not just for the trials in their lives but for their spiritual state as well. Abraham had it right here, life is not all about us. Yes we need to make sure that we are where we should be spiritually. But we must also walk alongside our brothers and sisters, looking out for them as well. So as this chapter comes to a close, God sets out toward Sodom with a promise not to destroy the city if 10 of Abraham’s “brothers and sisters” are there.
Genesis 19 begins with two of the men who appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18 appearing to him. Like Abraham, Lot does not appear to know who they are yet he invites them into his house and provides for them. But when the men of the city come to his house wishing to be with these two foreigners sexually, Lot strongly forbids them not to. At the start, it appears as if Lot might be on the right track, but he makes a horrible mistake. Instead of just refusing and asking the men to leave, he tries to bargain with them. He wants to trade his daughters for these two men. So basically, instead of these two men being the victim, he asks that his daughters can be. This sounds awful at first, but sadly we do the same thing today. Instead of just saying no to whatever temptations may arise in our lives, we try to substitute it for something else. We may back down to one temptation, but we quickly get caught up in another one. The lesson to learn from Lot is to stick to your convictions and not compromise what you believe. It was great that Lot wanted to protect these men (who were really angels), but he should have stayed true to what he believed rather than trying to place his daughters in such an awful situation.
Because of God’s promise to Abraham (and not because of anything that Lot had done) the two men protected Lot and his family, striking the men outside the home with blindness. They then asked Lot to gather his family together so that they could flee the city before the destruction came. But his sons-in-law to be ignored the warning, thinking that Lot had to be joking. When God speaks, whether to us directly or through someone else, we must be quick to listen. Sometimes the consequences are no immediate, and we are able to get by for some time, even having a chance to repent. But there are also those times when the consequences are swift, and we do not have time to change our minds. That was the case for Lot’s sons-in-law, and we will soon see that they did not make it out of the city.
This weekend is also the next round of the NFL playoffs, and let me list who I want to win (not necessarily who I think will win):
- Colts vs. Ravens --- Colts
- Chargers vs. Jets --- Jets (although I think it will be the Chargers)
- Saints vs. Cardinals --- Cardinals
- Vikings vs. Cowboys --- Vikings
This may or may not happen, but I am hoping that these will be the four teams playing in the AFC and NFC championships. Ultimately, I want it to come down to the Colts and the Cardinals. I absolutely do not want to see the Vikings or Cowboys in the big game! There is still a lot of football to go, and it is the playoffs, so anything could happen.
Even as God continues to lay out His covenant with Abraham, Abraham has trouble believing that it will actually happen. Once again, Abraham cannot get past the physical possibilities of him and Sarah actually conceiving a child at such an old age. You would think that in having a one-on-one, personal conversation with the Lord, Abraham would refrain from arguing about God’s capabilities. But should we really be surprised at Abraham’s unbelief? How many times do we find ourselves arguing in the face of God? We may not physically be speaking with the Lord, but we still have contact with our Lord today. He still leads us and shows us what to do in our lives each day. Yet, we too argue, try to do things our way, think that we know what is best for our lives. Like Abraham, there are many times when we laugh in the face of God.
But what is amazing is that despite our unwillingness to believe that the impossible can happen, God still comes through. When He makes a promise, He keeps His word, even if we try to interfere, even if we think we know what is best. That is what Abraham was doing when he tried to offer up Ishmael as a substitute to the covenant God had made. But God would not listen to Abraham. Instead, He did it His way and continued to promise Abraham that he and Sarah would soon bear a son, in one year, and his name would be Isaac.
It appears as if Abraham finally understood that God would not change His mind. It may have been years and decades since the covenant was first established, but Abraham now knew that God could be trusted. So he stepped out on faith and in obedience he circumcised all the men in his household just as God had commanded. This was the sign of obedience between Abraham and God, and it showed that Abraham was now ready to trust God to see Him through the next chapter of his life, the birth of his son.
As Genesis 18 begins, there can be some great confusion as to who these three men mentioned are. Instead of discussing my opinion on the matter here, you can check out a paper I wrote on this topic last semester by looking under November 2009 in “The Angel of the Lord” posts. Nevertheless, I do believe that in some way this is God that visits Abraham in the form of three men. Abraham is oblivious to the fact that he is once again speaking with the Lord, but he does not hesitate to bring his best before these visitors. I do not believe he recognizes who these men are until God starts inquiring about Sarah. Still, this scene shows that we must always be doing our best. For one, God is always with us, always watching, so we must be at our best anyways. But also, we never know who else might be watching and what they might see radiate out of our lives. Would they see Christ or something different?
What is interesting as this passage continues is Sarah’s reaction to God’s promise. Surely she knows about the covenant God had made with Abraham by now, but if she does, it does not appear as if she has ever truly believed it. For when God mentions that she will have a child within one year, she laughs. Just like Abraham, she laughs in the face of God out of disbelief. But when she is confronted on this issue, she flat out denies it. Why is it that we try to hide our sins? When we know that we are in the wrong, we tend to just try to skip over it or pretend like it never happened. But remember, God is always there, He sees it all, and we can never run from our sins and pretend like they never happened. It did not work for Sarah, for God called her out on it, and it will not work for us either.
As God leaves Abraham, He reiterates the promise that He had made. Despite all the “setbacks” that came along, God still plans on remaining faithful. He will surely deliver a son to Abraham, but first He has one more matter of business to take care of. Although Sodom had gone through one demoralizing defeat already, the city was still full of wickedness. What was worth was that Lot and his family still lived there. God had had enough of the unrighteousness that was coming out of that city. So His next stop would be Sodom, where He would deal with the sin problem (much like He did in the days of Noah).
Thursday, January 14, 2010
The dangers in not trusting God are great. When we decide that we are tired of waiting on God and choose to do things our way, the consequences will come. That is what Abram and Sarai experienced when they decided that they were tired of waiting on God to give them a child. Abram had shown great faith in God up to this point, except for his detour in Egypt. It appeared as if he had turned around and placed all his trust in God, especially in his trip to rescue Lot. But after God prolonged the coming of his son, Abram and Sarai decided it was best to take matters into their own hands.
Now one might want to place the blame all on Sarai who came up with the idea and was the one who grew angry over the decision they had made. But really both are at fault equally, much like Adam and Eve. Sarai may have come up with the idea for Abram to take Hagar as a wife and eventually have a child with her, but Abram went through with it. Just as Lot should have fled Sodom when he saw what an evil place it was, Abram should not have put himself in that situation with Hagar. It expressed distrust between him and the Lord. As a result, Hagar and Sarai began to hate each other, just one of the many consequences for their actions. Then, Hagar had to flee because of the conflict that had arisen.
But the most striking consequence of all is what would happen to the child, Ishmael. As a result of Abram’s bad decision, Ishmael would one day be up against everyone. His descendants would be great, as promised through God’s covenant with Abram, but they would also be cursed. They would have enmity with all around them, and everyone would be against them. The real strife would come between the descendants of Ishmael and the descendants of Abram’s future son Isaac. Once more it becomes clear that our actions do not only affect our lives but the lives of others as well, sometimes our own children.
Thirteen years after this incident, God once again reestablishes His covenant with Abram, assuring Abram that He will keep His promise. Abram is 99 at this point, well past the age of bearing children. His own father was 70 when Abram was born. But God continues to assure Abram that he will have a son, by Sarai, that will be the father of many nations. At the same time, God changes his name to Abraham, declaring that he will be the father of many nations. Also, God promises that this covenant will be everlasting. This means that there will never be a point where God will break the covenant and Abram’s descendants will be no longer. God promises that His descendants will last forever, and to this day they are physically on this earth. But even more than that, we are those descendants. Many “nations” includes the Gentile world as well. Read through Paul’s writings, such as the letter to the Romans. Abraham may have been the father of Israel (and Ishmael for that matter). But through Christ, he is our father as well.
Finally, God sets up one of the first pieces of the “Law” that would one day come about. For the first time in Scripture, circumcision is mentioned. Now while circumcision, or any law, for that matter is necessary for salvation (for salvation does not come through works), at this point in time it was a sign that sealed the covenant between God and Abraham. All men who were born into the covenant were to be circumcised, and those who were not would be cut off from that covenant. This was to be a form of obedience. For us, works do not bring about salvation, but obedience is still important. Although breaking a command does not eternally separate us from Christ, disobedience does hinder our relationship with Him. Therefore, we must desire to live a lifestyle of obedience, showing God where our true devotion lies.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
After Abram’s victory and his rescue of Lot and his family, the honor and glory was given to God. Not only did Abram know that it was through God’s power that Lot was protected, but even people who did not know Abram recognized God at work. Melchizedek, who is further mentioned in Hebrews, recognizes that it was God who helped Abram rescue Lot. Like Abram, he does not hesitate to honor God, even declaring that God is the Most High. God does not always make His presence known as He did in Genesis 14. He could have easily left Lot where he was and allowed Lot to suffer the consequences of His actions. God did not have to rush in and save the day, giving Lot a second chance. But out of His love, He did. So to bring glory to Himself, God protected Lot.
It is the same way today through the different trials that we go through. When we are diagnosed with some deadly disease or find that we are unemployed, God does not have to rush in and cure us or get us a job immediately. In fact, He does not have to do anything at all. We must remember that much like Lot, it is never about us. It does not matter if we have made some awful mistake and are now about to face the consequences, or if life has just turned south on us, the righteous and the wicked suffer in the same way. But the point we must remember in those times is that God is still with us, whether the situation works out as we would like it to or not. God never leaves us, and we must always depend on Him, knowing that what He wills is best. Maybe things will work out the way we like, and if they do then all the glory must go to God. But even if they do not, we must still praise Him for always being there with us, knowing that He is still watching over us even in those tough times.
In Genesis 15 God mentions the covenant He had made with Abram in Genesis 12 again. But in the opening verses we see some of Abram’s doubts creep in. It is natural for us to wonder if God is going to act when we do not see the results in a short time period. That is what Abram was going through at this point. He knew that he had been promised a great family, but at this point, he still had no children. He did not understand how God would fulfill His promises if Abram continued to remain childless. I think we can relate to Abram. It is easy to doubt and question God, but just like the situation with Lot, we must always trust that God knows what He is doing. In this case, when He promises us something, He is not going to turn back on that word. But as God shows Him the stars in the sky that night, Abram’s doubts fade away. He trusts in God’s words and once again finds himself depending on God’s promises, even if it is taking longer than he would have liked.
In the midst of Abram’s doubts, God reminds him of where he had been. So many times when we find ourselves in life’s tough situations, we tend to forget what God has already done for us. We forget that He was faithful in the past, and that as a result He will be faithful now. God reminded Abram of how He had been with Him from the beginning and would that He would not leave him now. He then promised Abram that He would also be with him and his descendants in the future, giving Abram a glimpse at what was to come. Abram’s descendants would end up in a foreign land as slaves, but because God is faithful, He promised Abram even then that they would return back to this very land that was promised to them. Likewise, God will be with us wherever life takes us. We may not get a glimpse of the future like Abram, but we can depend on God just the same, that He will see us through our futures as well. We must remember that at all times, God is faithful.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Speaking of the unexpected... what about Lane Kiffin? The coach that Tennessee fans were so excited about getting has just betrayed us all. Now granted, he had no clue this job opportunity would arise when he took the job at UT a year ago, but a true coach dedicated to the program will not leave no matter the call. After a year of big talk, adequate performance, and a promising future, Kiffin has left all that he promised and the big promise that his future held to start from scratch yet again. Is it a wise decision? Only time will tell. But he has lost respect from the entire Volunteer State, and when football season comes around, there will be a lot more USC haters in the Southeast.
So after all the disappointment that the last few days has brought, I guess I am left with only one hope in the sports world... NASCAR. In a little over a month, NASCAR returns with the Daytona 500. At this point, I cannot wait. The Playoffs were supposed to keep me occupied long enough to make it until then. Now I will anxiously be awaiting the Daytona 500.
Monday, January 11, 2010
This chapter begins with Abram’s return to the Promised Land. He heads back to where God had first spoken with him about the land, where he had first set up an altar. So after the detour that Abram literally made but also spiritually made, he was finally back where he began. He returned to the place that he had last been with God faithfully so that he could begin again. That is what we have to do many times in our lives. At times we drift so far from God, although He never leaves us. He is always by our side waiting for us to turn back around to Him for guidance. We have to return to the last place in our lives that we were faithfully following Him and start over. But that does not mean that everything will run smoothly again.
For Abram, the return only brought more conflict. Yes, he was following God’s commands, settling in the land that God had promised him. But with his house (being the herdsmen and animals he kept) growing so much, conflict arose. Not wanting this to mess things up again, Abram tried to find a quick solution. He did not want conflict, especially among family. So he made a deal with Lot, giving Lot the choice of land. Lot immediately chose the land that was pleasing to the eye. Seeing that it was kept, had an abundant wealth of resources, and that it was well populated, Lot journeyed east. But he headed to land of wickedness, Sodom. Granted, Lot may not have known this at the time. However, once he found himself in a land of wickedness, he should have known not to associate himself with the men of the city.
Like Lot, there are times when we tend to go to what is pleasing in our own eyes. Just because Option A physically looks better, we sacrifice our ethics, our morals, and turn away from God. Now this may not be some radical, life altering decision that we make (such as turning to drugs), but we all do it. We all find ourselves trapped in sin from time to time. But unlike Lot, we must never remain in the camp just hoping that it will all go away. We must physically remove ourselves from that situation and not live with the sin.
As for Abram, he inherited what Lot saw as the lesser of the two lands. But God blessed Abram, giving him all that he could see in every direction. God promised that this land would be the land of his descendants forever. They would inhabit the land for generations to come, and they would be as numerous as the sands of the sea. God made several promises to Abram, but it would be sometime before Abram would see them come to fruition.
Returning to the story of Lot, Lot soon found himself in quite a predicament. Remember, he was the one inhabited the land that looked better, and he soon found himself in a wicked town. But instead of leaving Sodom and seeking out a better place to live, Lot remained in the city of sin. As is always the case, there are consequences for our sinful choices. Lot experienced this when war broke out in the land. Kings from cities abroad found themselves in a huge battle, and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were at the center of it all. When they lost in the battle, the opposing forces wiped out the cities, taking all who lived within the cities with them. Lot and his family were one of the families who lost their home and all that they owned. We must learn from Lot that the choices we make will always affect our future and quite possibly the future of those around us. But Lot was protected in this instance, for God allowed Abram to come to his rescue and take back his family and all of his possessions. God will always come to our rescue when we call out to Him, but He might not always restore our lives to the way they once were. Lot was fortunate enough to gain his wealth back. Either way, we must never forget that even in life’s lowest of lows, God is always there to come to our rescue, ready to forgive.
For the common man today, the call of Abram is one of the most ridiculous statements ever made. What would you do if someone told you to just leave all that you know and go to some unknown place? But the catch is that you have no idea where it is or which direction you should go or even what should really be doing. I do not think that many of us would be too quick to adhere to this command. Now what if that command was coming from God? Would it be a different story? Furthermore, what if the promise you received for being obedient was that your name and family would be blessed and that you would be the father of many nations? The reward does sound pretty nice.
This is exactly where Abram found himself when God called him to head off to Canaan. He had no idea where he was going or what was about to happen in his life, but the amazing part about this story is that out of faith Abram got up and left, leaving it up to God to do the rest. An even more amazing part about this story is the fact that Abram was 75 at the time. If he lived as long as his father, which was about 200 years, then Abram was almost halfway through his life. So imagine being around 50 and setting out to begin something completely new in life, leaving all that you have known for 50 years. But still, Abram did this out of faith.
Taking Lot with him, Abram eventually made his way into Canaan. He knew he was in the right place because God spoke to him and told him that he had reached the land that would be promised to his descendants. At that point, Abram began establishing cities, marking off certain portions of the land.
Then, Abram’s first storm arrived in the new land. With a famine in the land, Abram had to move away so that he could survive. So he and Sarai traveled down to Egypt, to live there awhile to get away from the famine. Now remember, Egypt is one of the sons of Ham (who received the curse from Noah), but this will be more relevant later on. It is not really those in Egypt who are in the wrong in this passage. Instead, the problem comes with Abram. Abram became frightened for his own life and decided to hide behind Sarai so that he could live. By calling her his sister, he escaped death, but he subjected her to live in Pharaoh’s house, as Pharaoh’s wife. Instead of depending on God to get them through the famine, Abram took it upon himself to travel to Egypt and then lie about his relationship with Sarai. What Abram thought of as a wise move ended up backfiring.
The lesson here is that we should never forget how much God can provide. When we are in life’s darkest moments, God is still there waiting for us to turn to Him for help. He is our Provider, and we can always depend on Him to help us through anything that comes up in our lives. This is the lesson that Abram needed to learn, but it is also something that we must not forget. We are so much like the Israelites and the Disciples who continued to see God display His power, but when hard times came, they too forgot about what they had seen in the past and forgot to trust God. For Abraham this resulted in him and Sarai being kicked out of Egypt and sent back to Canaan. It also caused great plagues on the house of Pharaoh. The results of our mistakes and sins will affect not only us, but also those around us.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
The first interesting piece of information that I notice at the beginning of this chapter is that the human race had progressed enough to know how to make stone, which also meant that they knew how to make fire. They are building a tower, which also suggests that they were now able to construct homes, which also means that they were probably living in civilized groups (such as towns). Considering that this is taking place after Noah, the earth was once again populated. On a side note, this also means that it is possible that the pyramids in Egypt were being constructed, or were going to be in the near future. These assumptions may seem unnecessary, but it is important to understand some of the historical context when studying a passage of Scripture. These assumptions help us see where civilization was at that given time period.
The problem was that advances in civilization were actually driving the people further away from God. Sound familiar? These people had discovered that they now had the capabilities to provide for themselves in ways that they had not been able to previously. This lessened their dependence on God and possibly caused them to forget that it was He who had provided all of these materials in the first place. Again, does this sound familiar? So when the people began to construct a tower to show how great and advanced they were as one united group of people, God quickly showed them that He was still the one in charge.
God understood that a large group of people all focused on the same goal would figure out a way to accomplish it. So is that a bad thing? Really it depends on the intentions. This should give us encouragement knowing that we can accomplish great things on this earth. When we work together (such as a church body), we can see our greatest dreams come true. But if God is not at the center of our pursuits, then it is all futile. When we leave Him out of the equation, the one who gave us the minds to plan and the desire to pursue and the materials to use, then we really have nothing. That is what the people in Babel had done. It was not wrong for them to build such a great structure. The problem was that they had forgotten about God and thrown Him to the wayside. As a result, they were dispersed. No longer were they one group of people who understood the same language. As smaller groups, they had to learn to start over, create new societies, build new towns, and once again be driven away from what they knew, what they had grown accustomed to.
The next part of this chapter introduces yet another list of descendants. This time it goes on down to Abram (Abraham). Abraham was a descendant of Shem, one of Noah’s sons who was blessed in Genesis 9. So as a result of Shem’s obedience to God, he was able to be one of the ancestors of the man that God would choose to father His chosen people. But before we move on to the story of Abraham, it is interesting to note that the lifespan of each generation gradually decreased. As a result of the Fall, people no longer lived 800 or 900 years. The average lifespan now appeared to be around 200 years.
Just as we sometimes struggle with genealogies, we also seem to struggle with the details of some of the Old Testament stories. The end of this chapter may be one of those overlooked passages, but it really contains some vital information for the stories ahead. The last few verses outline the family tree. It shows where Abram, Lot, and Sarai came from. It also explains how Abram’s family ended up living in Ur, which was just east of Canaan, close to Babylon. This all sets the stage for God’s call on Abraham’s life and shows where Abram’s journey began.
Friday, January 8, 2010
One of the great lists of Old Testament begins in this chapter. Here we see the descendants of the son of Noah. Now remember the curses and blessings from the end of Genesis 9. Because of the way the sons reacted to Noah’s drunkenness and nakedness, Ham received a curse whereas Shem and Japheth were blessed. Now look at what happened to the sons of Japheth. These people groups traveled by their clans, and they settled along the coastlines. There is not mention of any struggles that they had within the first few generations of their existence.
As for Ham, look at some of the names that are mentioned, particularly Egypt and Canaan. Knowing that he received the curse, think about Israel’s future. Abraham’s family eventually travels from his hometown to Canaan, the eventual Promised Land. When the family endures a detour with Joseph, they travel to Egypt, a land that they eventually overcome. Pharaoh’s armies are destroyed during their escape. These events are still hundreds of years away, but just as God always keeps His promises, He also remembers what He had promised to Ham. Furthermore one of Ham’s descendants is Babel, and as we will see in the next chapter, that was yet another city that drifted from God and was destroyed by the Lord. Near the end of Ham’s listing we finally see Sodom and Gomorrah, two more cities that drift so far from God that they are destroyed by fire. Much of the conflict that occurs throughout the rest of the book of Genesis comes from Ham’s descendants: Babel, Sodom, Gomorrah, and the land of Canaan, and all of this is due to one man’s sin. We do tend to get “bored” with the genealogy lists, but by taking a closer look, it becomes obvious that these lists can help provide some important background for other texts.
Finally we come to Shem, Noah’s third son. None of these names really stick out to me, and I cannot think of any connections that these men would have to future stories. However, it is important to note that Abraham would eventually be descended from Shem. The man that God would eventually choose to be the patriarch of the Hebrew people came from one of Noah’s sons that received the blessing.
The closing verses of this chapter also show a fulfillment of God’s commands. Just like God had commanded Adam, He told Noah and his sons to multiply and repopulate the earth. These last few verses say that the descendants of Ham, Japheth, and Shem did this very thing. They spread out across the entire earth (or at least of what was known to them at the time). So the aftermath of the storm turned out to be successful. God’s decision to begin anew with the human race through one man, Noah, ended up working just as He had planned.
As to not ruin one of the surprises that comes with chapter 20, I will continue no further with the rest of the novel. But I will say that this a book that considers what happens when our pasts come back to haunt us. How do decisions you make in life affect you future? For Janael, she had to figure this out. Do you let your past determine the course of the rest of your life, or do you attempt to change that and chart a new future? But for Janael, that change does not come without some drastic consequences. As you read Burn, you cannot help but wonder how you would respond in the same situation.
In a return to some of Dekker's earlier books, like Thr3e and Blink, Burn will leave you wondering what will happen next. Always expecting a twist and never wanting to get comfortable with one of my theories of one his stories, I never trust what I read. That is how it was when I read Thr3e, and in Burn, it kept me wondering if he was being serious as the novel drew to a close. The main twist is big but earlier in the book than normal. Yet it is still effective, and in the end plays right into the title of the book.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
After the waters had completely subsided, God reestablished His creation on the earth. Much like He had originally done for Adam, God placed Noah in charge of everything around him. It was Noah and his family’s responsibility to watch over the creative order. It was also this very thing that would provide Noah and his family with all that they needed. Just as God had not abandoned them as the flood came, He did not abandon them after the storm either. Sometimes the hardest part about life’s storms is figuring out how to start over. There are so many pieces to pick up afterwards that the aftermath can almost be more overwhelming than the storm itself. But once again we see how God always provides for us and will never leave us stranded. Yet at the same time, He also expects us to stay obedient to Him. God did provide everything that they would need, but He also told them not to commit murder.
After all of this God established His covenant with Noah, a covenant that is still in effect today. Very early on in Scripture we learn that God is one who will always keep His promises. This is one of those moments. He promises that He will never again kill off all of mankind through a flood. He then used the rainbow as a symbol of this covenant. I think we tend to overlook the significance of this promise because we hear this story so many times. The promise of the rainbow may have lost its effect in many ways. But considering that this covenant was established thousands of years ago and that the rainbow is still a sign of that promise so many years later, it should also be a reminder that God’s promises will never be broken.
We all break promises, and I daresay that it is a rare exception for someone to keep a promise for an entire lifetime. Yet God, over the span of thousands of years, has kept the promise that He made with Noah. Think about our culture and how far away from God we have drifted. Our culture is probably close to what Noah’s was like. It would make sense for God to wipe us out just like He did in Noah’s day. But even if He wanted to, He would not, all because of this promise. There are no loopholes with God.
The end of Noah’s story is a reminder that we are all sinful and can all fall into the trap of sin. Just like Adam and Eve, Cain, and David, even Noah fell to the ways of sin. We must never think that we are too good to get trapped in sin. When we least expect it, it could happen to us, and we can find ourselves in places that we had never imagined. But not only do we find Noah in the wrong here, but also his son Ham. Why is it when we see someone in the wrong that we tend to want to go and expose their mistakes to others? Today, we would call this gossip. Instead of either helping the person through their problems or just keeping it to ourselves, many times we decide to expose them. We must not follow in the ways of Ham, but we should be more like Shem and Japheth, who when they found out about their father, helped him through his troubles and kept themselves away from the sin. They walked backwards so that they would not see their father’s sin, and they helped him out by covering his body. Instead of exploiting him like Ham, they stood by his side and helped him through it. As a result, they were blessed, and Ham was cursed. In fact it says that Ham became the father of Canaan, and if you think to the future a little ways, Canaan is the land that God eventually hands over to His chosen people, Israel. Once more we see that our sins will not only affect our lives but the lives of others, even years down the road.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
The opening verses of this chapter make me wonder what would have happened had Noah failed to follow the clear instructions that God had laid before him. It says that God told Noah to go into the ark because He had found Noah righteous. If Noah had neglected to follow God’s commands, he too would have been left out in the middle of the storm. But as seen in Genesis 6, Noah did all that he was asked, and as God continued to give him instructions as the flood drew nearer, Noah did not falter.
The floods then came just as God had promised, and Noah and his entire family were saved from the flood because of Noah’s righteousness and God’s mercy. It is not much of a stretch to see this as an image of our salvation. God does not have to reach out to us. God does not need us to do anything. In fact, our righteousness compared to God is as “filthy rags.” It does not compare. But out of God’s mercy, He chooses to reach out to us and give us those opportunities. Noah is a clear picture of God’s love, God’s choice to give mankind a second chance. But this would not have been an option at all if Noah had not shown obedience to God as he had done.
As the storm came, the world experienced its most catastrophic event, even more so than anything that we have seen recently. Nothing that has happened since the Great Flood can compare to what God did that day. The rest of the chapter outlines how everything on earth was killed. Now the population may not have been that great, and the number of lives lost may not compare to some of the statistics we have today. But consider this; we know that only eight people out the entire earth’s population were saved. I would guess that it is safe to say that more than 99% of the earth’s population, man and animal, was wiped out in one event. Our world has never seen and will never see an event of this magnitude until the end.
So what does this say about God? The question most people would have at this point would be about God’s love. How can a loving God do such a thing? It is true that God is loving, but it is also true that our sins have consequences. Just as a parent punishes their children, God punishes His children for their sin. Remember, in God’s eyes we are all sinful. So truthfully we all deserve death (Romans 6:23). But it goes back to God’s mercy. He gives us the opportunity to turn away from that sin and turn to Him. That is what Noah did, and that is why God chose Noah to board the ark with all the other animals. That is why Noah was chosen to be the one to repopulate the earth.
After the storm, God was still with Noah. In the middle of life’s storms we tend to forget that God is still there ready to help. Many times we lose sight of Him and think that He no longer loves us or that He has abandoned us. But at the beginning of Genesis 8 the text says that God remembered Noah and all who were with him on the ark. God knew exactly how the storm would be, and He had plans for Noah’s life after the storm. He did not put Noah on the ark, send him through a ferocious storm, and then just decide to let Noah figure out the rest on his own. He always provides us with the wisdom to conquer life’s hardest battles. Noah did this by sending out the birds, testing to see how far the water’s had subsided. Think back to this storm. The waters were high enough that they covered the earth’s highest trees! The ark rested on a mountain after the flood! This was not just a 1-2 foot flood or even a 10-20 foot flood. It was a huge storm! But God had provided all that they needed to survive not only the flood but the days they would spend in the ark waiting for the water to subside.
Noah was 600 when the flood came, and he was 601 when he left the ark. He spent an entire year waiting for this particular storm to end. Waiting is so hard to do for us. We know that God has plans for our lives, but so many times we want it to be immediate. We do not want to wait for God to give the all-clear. But that is exactly what Noah did. I am sure that he was antsy to get off that ark, having been on it for almost a year, but he patiently waited for God. When the time was right, God called them out of the ark and allowed them to live on the earth again. No matter how hard it might be, sometimes we just have to wait. In life’s tough decisions, in life’s storms, we must remember that God is in control. He is still with us. He will be the one to see us through.