Genesis

The Righteous

Have you ever wondered why bad things to you? Have you ever questioned God’s goodness? Questioned God’s kindness and love for you? William Cowper was a wonderful English poet and hymn writer who also deeply struggled with depression. Cowper’s poetry helped him process the pain and emotional angst in his life. He did not always understand why his life was so hard; why he felt alone, depressed and forgotten. Cowper lost his mother at the age of six and was sent to a boarding school by his father. He lost his mother and virtually his father in short period of time. Although he never fully recovered emotionally, Cowper came to see that God was with him in the midst of the valley of despair. He wrote this beautiful hymn, God Moves in Mysterious Ways,

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

 

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

 

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

 

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

 

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

 

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

 

Cowper came to interpret his pain and trials through the sovereign plan and purposes of God.

            Joseph would learn to interpret life the same way. Joseph was stripped of his robe and his special relationship with his father. He was forsaken by his brothers and sold into slavery. The narrative does not also share Joseph’s thoughts, but we can imagine his struggle. I pray that you will interpret the joys and trials of your life through the sovereign purpose and presence of God.

The Lord’s Righteous Servant Rises in Egypt

            Genesis 37:36, “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar; an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.” The story continues after Moses highlights the sexual immorality of Judah and Tamar with Genesis 39:1-6a,

Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.

God would use Joseph’s pain and slavery to bless others. God was with Joseph. This is the most important and profound aspect of Joseph’s story. He was a slave in Egypt, betrayed by his family, taken from his father, but the Lord was with him.

            If we only focus on our individual lives, it will be hard for us to see the purposes of God. American Christians tend to struggle with God’s sovereignty in using our pain for the good of His Name, because of the individualism that permeates so much of our society. It is hard to see how much individualism has infected our thinking. If you were to ask a fish, “how is the water?” He would probably respond, “What water?” The fish cannot tell you about water, because he is so familiar with it. It is so intertwined with his life that it is hard for him to see it. This is the challenge facing Western Christians. We live in a society where individualism is to us as water is to a fish.

            When we read Joseph’s story focusing on Joseph, we may miss how God is using Joseph to bring about His purposes. Genesis 39:5, “From the time that he made Joseph overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field.” The repetition of the Lord’s blessing is extremely important. Remember Genesis 12:1-3, the great promise of the Bible,

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

Through the offspring of Abraham will come the blessing of all the families of the earth. Joseph’s slavery is bringing the blessing of God to Egypt.

Joseph brings the blessing of God to one Gentile family, as Jesus brings the hope of the gospel to all Gentiles, Galatians 3:13-14, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” Your ability to believe in Jesus and experience the blessings of eternal life through faith in his death and resurrection is seen here in seed-form. Do you see how God used Joseph as way not only to bless Potiphar’s house, but you and I as well?

            Do you interpret the things in your life through the plans and purposes of God? God is doing far more through our joys and trials than we realize. Trust him. God’s presence with Joseph in the valley of slavery brought God’s blessing to a wicked nation. As God’s people we can know that when God prospers us as he did Joseph in Potiphar’s house that He is with us. God is with us in our prosperity and our prosperity is not merely for us. It is for those around us. Maybe your promotion at work was primarily not for you, but was given so that you could bless others in need. Maybe the great deal you got on your house was primarily not for you, but was given so that you could be hospitable your church family. Jesus said, “Everyone whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him whom they entrusted much, they will demand more” (Luke 12:48).

            Fight against the water of individualism and see how God is blessing you for the sake of others as he did with Joseph. God uses rise of his righteous servant to bless others.

The Lord’s Righteous Servant Resists in Egypt

            Things are starting to go well for Joseph. He is now in charge of everything in the household and is honored by the master of the house, but Joseph’s righteousness will get him in trouble.

Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master's wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her. (Genesis 39:6-10)

Joseph is the only male in the Bible who is described as handsome and good looking.[1] Potiphar’s wife pursues Joseph and commands him to “Lie with her.” Joseph resists temptation in Egypt far different than Judah who was with Israel.

            Joseph resists the temptation to sleep with Potiphar for three reasons. First, he cannot betray his master’s trust since everything has been put in his care. Second, he cannot take his master’s wife, because that would be disobeying his master. Joseph clearly states that Potiphar has given him everything except his wife. (Not all scholars agree, but some believe that the reference to Potiphar’s appetite for food in verse 6 is a euphemism for sex). Lastly and the most important reason, to lie with her would be great wickedness and sin against God.

            The last reason is truly remarkable for there has been no indications in Joseph’s life that he has come to know the Lord. We can assume that he learned of God from Israel, his father, or God gave him further understanding of his dreams, but there is no explicit statement of his trust in the Lord. It is amazing because one would think that Joseph would not want to honor God after trials of his life. How many people do you know who turn from God in the mist of hardship? How often do we see people justify their grasping for pleasure because of hardship? The thought of being entitled to pleasure because of one’s pain is very real temptation. It manifests in numerous ways. “I have had a long hard week of work (pain) therefore I can sleep in our Sunday (pleasure).” Do you ever feel “entitled” to experience sin’s pleasure because of your trials? Again, I would this is a greater temptation for Western Christians because we swim in the cultural sea of comfort and convenience. We think that when life is hard, it is our right to experience ease from that pain. Not all ease is sin, but it is one way the evil one tempts you to sin by encouraging you to take your eyes off of God and place them on yourself.

            Joseph did not feel entitled to sin, but he resisted temptation. Notice that in Gen. 39:10, he had to resist temptation, day after day. “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Joseph’s righteousness would bring persecution.

But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.”

As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. (Genesis 39:11-20)

Joseph’s righteousness led to prison. Potiphar’s wife calls Joseph a Hebrew slave insulting his race and the position in the house. As Joseph brothers used his robe to lie to his father, now Potiphar’s wife uses the garment to lie to his master.

            Have you ever been persecuted because you tried to do what was right? Joseph foreshadows the One who will resist temptation. Jesus, like Joseph, was innocent of claims brought against him. Jesus was not put into prison, but put on the cross. Jesus willingly laid down his life to be identified with sinners. Jesus endured hostility and lies from sinners like Potiphar’s wife. Potiphar’s wife was the unrighteous one, but Joseph was the one punished. But beloved, remember why Joseph was in the house, he was there so that the Lord’s blessing would come to the Egyptians as well as to his own brothers. God would use Joseph to save his brothers and to save Egypt from the famine as God would use Jesus to save his brothers, the Jews, and to save the Gentiles from death.

            Beloved, I am sure you have heard this story countless times to be encouraged to be like Joseph and to resist temptation. And we are called to resist temptation, but the only way we can resist temptation is if we align ourselves with the one who resisted temptation on our behalf.  As Gentiles, we are not Joseph in this story, but Potiphar’s wife. We are the unrighteous, adulterous people who need the promised blessing of Abraham. It is only when we repent of our sins and trust in Christ that we become one with the righteous servant who resists sin. Our Sprit-led repentance and faith bring us to Jesus. We become united with Him. Jesus overcome temptation because of the joy of honoring God and saving us. So now, we look to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. We consider him who endured hostility from sinful men so we will not grow weary or fainthearted. In our struggle against sin we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.

Christ’s blood was shed so we would be declared righteous. We are righteous because of the mercy of God and only because the mercy of God. Jesus died so that we could be counted righteous. This is the story of Genesis. How can God save unrighteous sinners? The answer again and again is through the righteousness of the offspring of the promised seed, fulfilled in Christ. Beloved, you can resist temptation because of Christ. Christ is our example and Christ has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to give us the power to overcome temptation. You cannot be like Joseph and resist temptation until you turn to Christ. We must be united with Jesus. Our salvation is not bound up in our ability to resist temptation, but in our union with the One who has resisted it ultimately for us. John Murray writes,

Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation not only in its application but also in its once-for-all accomplishment in the finished work of Christ. Indeed, the whole process of salvation has its origin in one phase of union with Christ and salvation has in view the realization of other phases of union with Christ.[2]

All of salvation, justification, sanctification and glorification, begin with being united with Christ. Joseph is not our Savior, but foreshadows the great Savior who is to come. Jesus, our Savior, died for our sins and was raised for our hope. If we are united in his death through faith, we shall certainly be united in his resurrection (Romans 6:5).

The Lord’s Righteous Servant Remains in Egypt

            Joseph resisted temptation and was thrown into prison. We may view prison as a harsh treatment of a righteous action, but the penalty of Joseph’s alleged crime was death. We must interpret life through God’s purposes. 

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Joseph story continues, Genesis 39:20-23,

And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph's charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.

The Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love. God was with Joseph in his rise in Egypt and God was with Joseph when fell from his position in Egypt. Psalm 37:23-24, “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.”

            God was not done with Joseph in Egypt. God would continue to use Joseph’s trials to bring salvation bringing to be in prison with the king’s prisoners. Beloved, God may keep you in “Egypt.” God may continue to give you tremendous trials and pain, but he has his reasons.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

 

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

 

Beloved, God is with you in your joys and God is with you in your trials. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10) Whatever joys or trials come our way, take courage for we have our Immanuel who has given us Himself so that we will always be with him and He will always be with us.

 

[1] This point is made by Wenham who makes the connection that Joseph’s mother Rachel also receives the double honor Gen. 29:17

[2] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 161.

The Slave

Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds was captured by the Nazis at the Battle of the Bulge. He along with 1,000 captives were sent to a German POW camp. As soon as the men arrived at the camp, they were questioned on their religion. At the time of the capture, the largest death camps had been liberated, but all Jewish officers were sent to a slave-labor camp where survival was also minimal. American Jewish officers were trained to destroy their dog tags upon capture so as not to reveal their Jewish heritage. As the leading non-commissioned officer, Edmonds was the first one questioned. He turned to his men right before the questioning began and told them, “We are all Jews here.”

The German commander came to Edmonds, took out a pistol, and held it to his head. He gave him one last chance to reveal the truth. With a gun held against his head, Edmonds replied, “If you are going to shoot, you are going to have to shoot all of us because we know who you are and you'll be tried for war crimes when we win this war.[1]” The German officer relented and Edmonds’ bravery saved 200 Jewish-American soldiers that day. God used the capture and courage of a soldier to save the lives of his brothers-in-arms. God has used, and will continue to use, the evil actions of men to accomplish his purposes. 

Beloved, we cannot escape evil. The evil actions of wicked men dominate our news headlines. How do you respond to it? Are you overwhelmed with it? Do you ever ask, “Where is God in the midst of this?” How about the evil done to you in your own life? I am sure that many of you know people who have turned away from God, not because of the evil in the world, but the evil in their world. The story of Joseph helps us to see how God uses the evil actions of sinful men to bring about his ultimate purposes. As God would use the capture and the courage of a soldier to save his brothers, so also God would use the capture and the courage of a slave to save his brothers.

The Beloved Son

            Joseph was the youngest son born to Jacob with Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife. Joseph was the delight of his father, but his father’s extravagant delight created a prideful, spoiled child which did not help Joseph’s relationships with his brothers. Genesis 37:2-4,

These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. (Genesis 37:2-4)

Joseph was the beloved son. And the favoritism that Jacob showed Joseph did not help form strength of character. The picture of Joseph is that he is a spoiled teenager who annoys and tattles on his brothers.

            Jacob gave Joseph a robe of many colors or more, literally a robe with long sleeves. The robe was Jacob’s way of showing his love for his youngest son, but also to give him prominence. Bruce Watke comments that many “suggest it (the robe) has something to do with royalty…By this regal apparel Jacob publicly designates Joseph as the ruler over the family…Jacob thereby designated his son as his special heir.” This special designation did not help Jacob’s relationship with his brothers. They hated him and could not even speak peacefully with him. Joseph got under his brothers’ skin so that his mere presence annoyed them to the point they could not stand being nice to him at all. Child favoritism does not help anyone.

            Notice that through this section of Scripture there is no reference of God. Although we know that God is working, the narrative does not give him an active role…yet. Joseph has a dream, clearly these dreams are from the Lord, but the story leaves him out,

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. (Genesis 37:5-11)

Jacob did not keep his dreams to himself. The text says that his brothers hated him because of his dreams (which Joseph could not control) and for his words (which he could control). The root of the brothers’ hatred was jealousy. We must guard our hearts from the bitter fruit of jealousy.

            On commentary of Song of Solomon 8:6, “Love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave,” Charles Spurgeon writes,

Jealousy has often proved itself “cruel as the grave.” You have only to recall the most appalling murders that have been committed within your memory, or, if you please, those you have read of in the history of nations, and you will find that jealousy has instigated those that were most vindictive and relentless. When jealousy begins to turn its sharp tooth upon a man’s heart, his reason fails him. Madness takes possession of his faculties. A determined purpose, which he would not have dared to contemplate under the influence of a well-balanced judgment, prompts, plans and performs almost without premeditation, an atrocious crime, when jealousy rules the cruel hour! We believe it and we deplore it! No revenge has ever been found too bitter, too malicious, and too lawless for jealousy to inflict. Relentless as the grave, it spares not youth nor beauty, respects neither fame nor fortune, but accounts all comers for its prey![2]

Are you prone to jealousy? Is it easy to envy the goods or the lives of others? Beware, of the bitter fruit of jealousy. We must guard our hearts with contentment in the Lord. John Flavel writes, “Every man loves the mercies of God (his gifts), but a saint loves the God of His mercies.” Love the God who give gifts rather the gifts that come from God and you will have contentment.

            Jacob did not appreciate his son’s dreams, but kept the saying in mind. For Jacob knew that God spoke through dreams, but was not ready to fully trust that which was revealed to Joseph. Was Joseph God’s beloved son who would rule over his brothers?

The Brothers’ Sin

            The scene changed with the brothers going to keep the flock in Shechem while the favored Joseph stayed at home. Israel (Jacob) sent Joseph to check on his brothers. We see the bitter fruit of jealousy take hold of his brothers’ hearts,

Now his brothers went to pasture their father's flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan. They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:12-20)

They could see his robes from afar and their jealous anger burned against him.

            The plan was simple. They were going to kill him and throw him in a pit and deceive their father by saying he was devoured by fierce animals. The natural animal-like instinct of the brothers obscured the fear of God. Reuben, the oldest brother, provided a middle ground solution. He did not confront his brothers’ sin, but worked a plan to rescue Joseph. Half-way obedience is not obedience. Genesis 37:21-24,

But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

The once talkative Joseph is no longer heard from again in his story. He now suffers in silence. Rueben planned to come back and rescue him while his brothers were going to let him starve. They stripped him of his robe and his special status. And by stripping him of their robes, they hoped to silence his dreams and to control the will of God.

            Reuben leaves his brothers and while he is gone, the narrative takes a turn. Judah speaks up and offers another plan,

Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt. When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” Then they took Joseph's robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son's robe or not.” And he identified it and said, “It is my son's robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. (Genesis 37:25-35)

Jacob, like his father, receives the deception of his sons. Jacob refused to be comforted and chose to live in his grief.

            The brothers’ sinned against their brother, their father and against God. Their selfish jealousy gave birth to grievous sin. James 1:13-15,

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

We must sever the root of sin, lest it grow and give birth to sin in our own lives. We are tempted to say that we could never do something as horrible as Joseph’s brothers, but in all our hearts we have the capacity for all kinds of grievous sins. Do not be deceived by the deceitfulness of sin. It lures, it entices and it tempts in many ways. If we are honest, we are probably more like these brothers than we realize. We may not have attempted to kill our brother and sell them into slavery, but we may hold on to the same root sin of jealousy and anger and bitterness. Friends, we are sinners like these brothers. And we, like them, need salvation. They, like we, will receive salvation, when the Beloved Son, becomes the Beloved Slave.

The Beloved Slave

            As grief fills the home of Jacob and his brother, the story ends with the beginning of how God is going to use this captured slave to save his brothers, “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.” (Genesis 37:36) Joseph, the beloved son, has become a slave. It is only through Joseph’s slavery that he can save his brothers. Joseph’s story foreshadows the story of Jesus Christ. As one scholar notes,

Through his suffering and eventual ascension to rulership Joseph saved God’s people Israel, Jesus, similarly, through his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension would save God’s people…as Joseph’s brothers “conspired to kill him” (Gen. 37:18), so, according to Matthew, Jesus brothers, the chief priests and the elders, “conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matthew 26:4); as Joseph’s brothers sold him for twenty pieces of silver, so Jesus disciple Judas sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15); as Joseph’s brothers handed him over the Gentiles, so Jesus’ brothers “handed him over to Pilate the governor” (Matthew 27:2); as Joseph suffered in silence, so Jesus suffered in silence (Matthew 26:63); and as God used the evil deeds of Joseph’s brothers to save his people, so God used the evil deeds of Jesus’ “brothers” to save his people.[3]

Salvation came when the Beloved Son became the beloved slave to save his brothers from their sin.

            Joseph will save Israel from famine while Jesus Christ will save his people from eternal death. Jesus took on the very nature of slave, being made in human likeness. The sinless Son of God was killed as sinful servant so showing that Jesus was not ashamed to call us brothers (Heb. 2:11). As Roddie Edmonds identified with brothers-in-arms, saying, “We are all Jews” so, too, Jesus identifies with us. Jesus was poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; and yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12). Jesus died and rose again so that now anyone who repents of their sin and trust in Him, will be adopted as children of God with Jesus Christ as our elder brother who ever lives to intercede for us.

            Beloved, we are more like Joseph’s brothers than we realize. Our jealousy may be for our neighbors, but our greatest form of jealousy is our desire for God’s glory. We desire the glory that rightfully belongs only to God. We are sinners deserving of eternal punishment, but God sent the Son to be a slave so we could receive mercy, being adopted into God’s family. Romans 8:16-17, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” We can be children and heirs if we suffer with him. We identify with Christ’s death and resurrection first in baptism then in communion. The Lord’s Table is the Christian’s way to publicly proclaim the death of Christ until he comes. Jesus invites you to his table as members of his family.

The Lord’s Table is for sinners, but it is only for those sinners who have trusted in his death and resurrection for salvation. If you are a baptized believer and a member in good standing of a church in like faith and order, you are welcome to come identify yourself with the “death” of Christ by symbolically feasting on the body and blood of Christ. If you have never made the decision to publicly identify with Christ, I ask that you allow the elements to pass and reflect on how the Beloved Son of God became a slave to save you from your sins. As God would use the capture of Joseph to save his jealous, hateful brothers, God uses Jesus Christ to save jealous, hateful sinners by becoming like them so that by the grace of God might taste death for everyone. As we taste the bread and the cup, let us proclaim that Christ has tasted death for us and made us children of God.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/roddie-edmonds-american-wwii-vet-first-soldier-honored-for-saving-jews/ accessed. 5.28.16

[2] http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols61-63/chs3516.pdf accessed 5.29.16

[3] Syndy Griedanus, 356.

The Struggle

In the 1988 Olympics, 10 minutes before the start of the 400-meter race, Derek Redmond had to withdraw due to an injury in his Achilles tendon. Can you imagine struggling hour after hour in training to make the Olympics, only to withdraw from the medal round 10 minutes before the race due to an injury? Redmond left Seoul without a medal. The following year Redmond experienced 5 separate surgeries. He worked hard to recover from his injuries and finally qualified for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

            Redmond made it all the way back to the semi-finals. This was finally going to be his time to show the world that his struggle would pay off in gold. He was the top finisher in two qualifying heats. He lined up at the starting line, with years of struggle behind him, the gun went off, and he burst from the line. Redmond had the lead going into the back half of the race when he heard a pop. His tore his hamstring. His dreams of winning the gold medal were over, but the race was not. The medical team raced out with a stretcher to help, but Redmond picked himself off the ground and continuing struggling toward the finish the line. His face grimaced in pain with every step. He struggled for this day for four years. He was going to finish the race, but he could barely walk.

            As Redmond continued to struggle towards the finish line limping in agony, his father jumps the railing, barrels past a security guard and runs towards his son. Jim Redmond made it to son. His son threw his arms around his father sobbing as his father softly said, “I’m here son. We’ll finish together.[1]” As father and son struggled towards the finish line together, arm in arm, several people tried to tell Jim that he could not help his son, but he brushed them off. He would not leave his son. Derek Redmond’s struggle did not earn him the gold medal, but it enabled him to cross the finish line. He finished the race with a limp, being carried by the love of his father.

            As Redmond lived his whole life to cross the finish his race at the Olympics, we are called to finish our race to glory. The Christian life is a race. We are called to struggle to finish the race. Hebrews 12:1b, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1b-2) At the end of Paul’s life, he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Are you struggling to finish the race? Are you struggling for the promise land?

            Jacob was in the promise the land, but was forced to leave the land because he deceived his father into bestowing upon him the blessing of the firstborn. His brother, Esau, wanted to kill him, so Jacob went to his grandfather, Abraham’s, homeland. While in Haran, Jacob would be locked in a battle of deception with Laban. Laban would deceive Jacob into marrying Leah, securing seven more years of labor from Jacob to marry Rachel. Jacob would deceive Laban to receive the healthy flock securing great wealth. Jacob would flee Laban and try to make his way back to the land of promise. Jacob, the deceiver, would need to change if he was going to enter the promise land. As we examine Jacob’s struggle, I want to ask you two questions to see if you are struggling to finish the race to cross into the promise land. First question,

Are you Struggling in Self-Sufficiency against God?

            Jacob had struggled against God his whole life. He struggled with Esau in the womb holding on to his heel at birth. He struggled against Esau, deceiving him into selling his birthright for stew. He struggled against his father, Isaac, deceiving him into blessing him with the blessing of the firstborn. He struggled against Laban, deceiving him to receive the healthiest among the flocks. Jacob left the promise land alone and had become a wealthy man with a large family and 11 sons. Jacob was a self-made man. He was independent and self-sufficient. He was wealthy and prosperous. By worldly standards, he had achieved it all, but he was still outside the promise land.

God will not allow self-sufficient, independent people to enter the promise land. Jacob must change before he will be allowed to enter the promise land. After Adam and Eve were sent out of the garden, God made sure that no one would return to His land without trusting him. Genesis 3:22-24,

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24)

God placed his angels to guard the entrance into the promise land. Jacob decides to return home to the land of promise and on his way we see in that Genesis 32:1, “the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, ‘This is God’s camp!’” God could not allow the self-sufficient, independent Jacob into his “camp,” just as God will not allow self-sufficient, independent people into his heaven.

            Years later, Jesus looked at a self-sufficient, independent rich young ruler and told him that if he was going to inherit eternal life, he must go and sell all and give to the poor and then follow Jesus. The rich, self-sufficient ruler walked away sad, because he did not want to give up his wealth. Jesus then said to his disciples,

Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” [In other words, how can we cross the finish line of our race to the promise land?] But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:23-26)

Genesis is about salvation. Genesis answers the question, “who then can be saved?” As Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness, so, too, when we believe God’s Word about the promised Son it to will be counted to us as righteousness (Romans 4).

            Jacob was trying to enter the promise land. Jesus said, “For many, I tell you will seek to enter and will not be able.” (Luke 13:24) How will Jacob be able to enter the promise land? God must break Jacob’s proud, self-sufficiency, as God must break ours. We will not enter the promise land if we struggle in our pride and independence against God. If we think our good works will allow us to enter the promise land, we are struggling against God. If we think we deserve to enter on the basis of anything other faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are striving in self-sufficiency. Friends, many will try to cross into the promise land, but will not be able to enter.

            C.S. Lewis called pride the great sin. He believed man’s quest for self-sufficiency without God was the spark that brought the world into misery. He writes in Mere Christianity,

According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.[2]

And Jonathan Edwards similarly writes of Christians,

The first and worst cause of errors that abound in our day and age is spiritual pride. This is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christ. It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit to darken the mind and mislead the judgment. Pride is the main handle by which he has hold of Christian persons and the chief source of all the mischief that he introduces to clog and hinder a work of God. Spiritual pride is the main spring or at least the main support of all other errors. Until this disease is cured, medicines are applied in vain to heal all other diseases[3]

How do we know we are struggling in self-sufficiency against God? We neglect prayer. Our prayer life is an indicator of whether we are struggling in self-sufficiency or humility. This was true for Jacob’s life. Jacob had many reasons to pray and submit himself to God, but we do not see him pray until fear overtakes him.

            There are several times in Jacob’s life where he gives honor to the Lord for his success. He built an altar after seeing the ladder where angels were ascending and descending from heaven. He gave God credit for the success in working among Laban’s flocks. Although there were moments he gave God credit, we never see him make his decisions in submission to God. It isn’t until he is about to cross over into the promise land to see his brother Esau that Jacob realizes that he cannot enter on his own. He cannot face Esau alone. Jacob must have the hand of God. Jacob sent messengers to try to soften Esau’s anger, promising him wealth, but the messengers returned saying, Genesis 32:6, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” Four hundred men. Esau is coming towards him with a small army. What is Jacob to do?

            Jacob’s first response shows his self-sufficiency. The first thing he does in response to his fear is to try and solve the problem himself. Genesis 32:7-8,

Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.”

Jacob is still scheming using his human cunning to minimize the consequences of deception. And yet, he knows deep down that his only hope is Lord, so we see him pray. It is the longest prayer in Genesis and the first time we see Jacob pray.

And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’” (Genesis 32:9-12)

Jacob finally admits that he is not worthy of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. Jacob admits his need. And he confesses to the God of his fathers. This confession is the beginning of Jacob’s change, but he still has scheming heart.

            Jacob sends his wealth over in phases to soften Esau’s anger. He is still hoping and resting in his scheming to save him. Jacob thought to himself, Genesis 32:20, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me.” Jacob didn’t know how to struggle with God for his entire life was lived against him. Can you relate?

Second Question,

Are you Struggling in Self-Sacrifice with God?

            Jacob has sent most of his wealth ahead to meet Esau, but he can’t sleep. He knows that this is the day of reckoning. Genesis 32:22-23, “The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had.” He sacrifices all. Jacob is surrendering his life and possessions creating a sense of suspense in the narrative, but in theological retrospect, we see that Jacob must face God alone.

And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Genesis 32:24-26)

The narrative does not reveal who the man is that Jacob struggles against. The man touches Jacob on the hip and cripples him. Jacob is still fighting for the blessing. In asking for the man to bless him, we realize that Jacob believes this either to be God or one of his messengers. Either way, he has the power to bless him.

            Jacob wants a blessing from the man, but the man first asks Jacob a question. He said to him, “What is your name?” Remember this question has been asked Jacob before when he was in his father’s tent the last time he asked for a blessing. His father asked him his name only for him to lie. This time, when the stranger asks, “What is your name?” he says plainly, “Jacob.” I am the cheater; the deceiver, the schemer, the liar, heel-grabber. I am Jacob. He is finally able to admit his sin. He is able to confess who he really is; a prideful, self-sufficient cheat.

            Friend, do you realize how hard it is to answer that question? We are taught from birth to try and defend ourselves and to justify our mistakes by comparing ourselves to others or minimizing the offense, but we are “Jacob.” We are schemers, deceivers, and prideful, self-sufficient cheats. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” All have robbed or cheated God from his glory. Jacob confesses the truth and God shows him grace. It is the last thing we expect to happen to him as it is the last thing we expect would happen to us. The stranger reveals who He is by saying,

Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

God changed Jacob’s name. He no longer is one who struggles against God in deception, Jacob but now one who struggles with God for his blessing, Israel.

Jacob received his blessing because of God’s grace. Now God’s people would always be known as those who struggle with Him to experience His blessing. Every time they would hear Israel, they would remember that they are not worthy of the steadfast love and faithfulness of God, but God showed them mercy.

Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob's hip on the sinew of the thigh. (Genesis 32:29-32)

Many scholars believed that Jacob was wrestling with the pre-incarnate Christ known as a Christophany. For God, the text says, met Jacob face to face. Jacob was delivered just as he asked the God of his fathers in his prayer. Jacob thought he needed deliverance from Esau, but he really needed deliverance from God. God only used earthly circumstances to expose his real need. What earthly circumstances is the Lord using in your life to expose your real need?

            Jacob, now Israel, would meet Esau face to face and experience the earthly deliverance and reconciliation with his brother. Jacob says to Esau, “For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me.” The main human obstacle from keeping Jacob from entering the promise land, Esau, steps aside and allows Jacob, now Israel, to enter, “And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan (the promise land)….There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel (meaning God, the God of Israel). (Genesis 33:18; 20) Jacob no longer addresses the God of his fathers, but now addresses his God, the God of Israel. God made a way for Jacob to enter the promise land. God had to change Jacob to Israel before he was able to cross into the land. He walked with a limp, but he crossed the finish line.

            The people of Israel would have heard this story as they were about to enter the promise land. Their forefathers were proud and self-sufficient and perished outside of the land of promise. Israel would have been reminded that they needed to trust God, for He has already given them a new name. They are no longer Jacob, but Israel. They are called to struggle with God for his blessing. As Jacob met his enemy Esau and was delivered, so too Israel would be delivered from the Canaanites. God was calling Israel to trust him and to remember that He will go before them. God said to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9). God is with you. It is as if God is asking, “What is your name?” You are Israel. Always remember your name.

And like Israel, God must change us before we are able to enter the promise land. The only way we are able to cross the finish line if receive a new name. We must receive the name of Him who chose to walk with a limp on our behalf. Genesis 3:15 says to Serpent that he would bruise the heel of the promised seed. Jesus would experience the “bruised heel” on the cross. Jesus would die to pay for our pride and self-sufficiency. He would be identified as “Jacob” on the cross so we would be able to be grafted into “Israel.” Jesus was bruised on the cross, but he crushed the head of the serpent in his resurrection from the dead. Jesus delivered us from our greatest enemy, death, giving us the opportunity to enter into the land of promise by the mercy of God. He invites all to enter, but we must be changed first. We must receive the name of Jesus Christ. We must lose our life for Jesus. We must sacrifice our self-sufficiency for the way of the cross. We must forsake all and follow Jesus.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Jacob humbled himself and became Israel. Saul humbled himself and became Paul. Simon humbled himself and became Peter. Have you humbled yourself to become One with Christ? Have you received the name “Christian” by turning from your sins and trusting in bruised heel of Jesus (the cross) and the crushed head of the serpent (the resurrection)? Are you with Christ?

I love the picture of Derek Redmond struggling so hard to finish the race only to realize that he could not cross the finish line without the help of his father. “I’m here son. We’ll finish together.” God does that for us. God sent Jesus from heaven to become a man so that we could enter the promise land. In the incarnation of Jesus, God says to you and me, “I’m here my children. We’ll finish together.” Beloved, we must “walk with a limp.” We must admit our sin and identify ourselves with the bruised heel of Christ. It is only then that we realize that God is the one who will carry us across the finish line into the promise land. Therefore, let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus who says, “I am with you. We will finish this together.”

 

[1] http://espn.go.com/espn/espn25/story?page=moments/94 accessed 5.21.2016

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster Touchstone edition, 1996), 109, 111.

[3] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 1:398–404.

The Deceiver

I grew up watching sports. I do not believe I ever had the desire or the inclination to watch a musical, but love makes you do funny things. Ellen was once a part of the famed Troubadours of Northwestern High School. She grew up singing and going to musicals. As a couple, I have introduced Ellen to the NFL and rivalry weekend while she has introduced me to musicals. New Year’s Eve 2004, I got Ellen and me tickets to see Les Miserables in Washington D.C. I had no idea what to expect. The performance was absolutely incredible. I walked into the theater still skeptical of musicals only to leave deeply moved by the glorious redemption and the transforming love of the thief Jean Valjean.

In Victor Hugo’s classic Les Miserables, Jean Valjean was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s baby. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison. After his release, he landed at the home of a local bishop. In the middle of the night, Valjean wakes up and can’t sleep. All he can think of is the silver that was sitting on the table. He battled his conscience for an hour before deciding to steal the silver and leaving the bishop’s house in the dark of night. He stole the bread for his starving nephew, but this time, he stole the goods from an honest, faithful man who opened up his home to bless him. He stole from a man acting like a father. Valjean was arrested the next day and brought back to the Bishop. Hugo magnificently writes,

The door opened. A singular and violent group made its appearance on the threshold. Three men were holding a fourth man by the collar. The three men were gendarmes; the other was Jean Valjean. A brigadier of gendarmes, who seemed to be in command of the group, was standing near the door. He entered and advanced to the Bishop, making a military salute. "Monseigneur" said he. At this word, Jean Valjean, who was dejected and seemed overwhelmed, raised his head with an air of stupefaction… "Ah! here you are!" he exclaimed, looking at Jean Valjean. "I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?"

Jean Valjean opened his eyes wide, and stared at the venerable Bishop with an expression which no human tongue can render any account of… "In that case," replied the brigadier, "we can let him go?" "Certainly," replied the Bishop. The gendarmes released Jean Valjean, who recoiled. "Is it true that I am to be released?" he said, in an almost inarticulate voice, and as though he were talking in his sleep. "Yes, thou art released; dost thou not understand?" said one of the gendarmes. "My friend," resumed the Bishop, "before you go, here are your candlesticks. Take them…”

Jean Valjean was trembling in every limb. He took the two candlesticks mechanically, and with a bewildered air. Jean Valjean was like a man on the point of fainting. The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice: "Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man…

"Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and give it to God.

That one act kindness to a thief was the beginning of the redemption of Jean Valjean. Valjean cared for silver, but the Bishop cared for his soul. Valjean is redeemed, then becomes a tool of redemption.

            God saves thieves. God saves and uses deceivers to accomplish his purposes. If you are deceiver, God can save you. If you are one who has been deceived, God can use it to save others. God will use all kinds of peoples and all kinds of activities to bring about his purposes.

The Dying Wish of Blessing of a Father

            Last week, we saw how God appointed a wife, Rebekah, for Isaac. There was a mother in Israel who would carry the seed of the woman, but there was a problem. Rebekah, like Sarah, was barren. The problem does not take up much of the narrative for Isaac prayed to the Lord and the Lord answered his prayer and Rebekah conceived. It was a challenging pregnancy which began a challenging marriage. Genesis 25:22-28,

The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau's heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

There was a prophecy given to Rebekah that Jacob, whose name means ‘deceiver’ rule over his older brother Esau. In that day, the firstborn son would receive everything from his father. Isaac loved his strong, skillful, manly son Esau while Rebekah loved her thoughtful, pensive, quiet son Jacob. The home became divided as these parents put their children before their marriage. Parents, the best thing you can do for your children is to honor your marriage above your children.

            God reaffirmed his promise to Isaac saying, “I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give your offspring all these lands. In your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 26:3b-4) The promise of God is still the central theme of Genesis. Isaac knows that his offspring will carry on the promise. It must be his firstborn son, Esau, right? Genesis 27:1-4,

When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”

The dying wish of Isaac is to bless his son Esau. Remember Isaac loved Esau, but Esau is not worthy of God’s promise.

Isaac is blind in his love for Esau. There are several reasons why Esau is not fit to be the bearer of the promise. First, he sold his birthright for some red stew. Genesis 25:29-34,

Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

(Remember years later when Israel heard this, they would have been arch enemies of Edom.) Esau did not think much of the promise if he sold it for a cup of stew.

Secondly, Esau was not worthy because he married women from Canaan. He would have known how and why his parents met. Abraham sent his servant to his homeland because he was adamant that Isaac could not take a wife for the Canaanites, for they were destined to disinherit the land.

When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. (Genesis 26:34-35)

Isaac and Rebekah both knew what these marriages meant. Their life was bitter because their son disregarded God’s promise. Isaac should have known better than to desire to bless Esau, but he was blinded by his love for his son. As one scholar notes,

He should have noticed Esau was not worthy of representing God’s special people. But Isaac pushes blindly ahead. Isaac, like Esau, is controlled by his appetite. In his chapter, the narrator repeats the word game eight times and tasty food 6 times. Before he dies, Isaac wishes to savor once more the delicious game…[1]

Isaac, like Adam and Eve before him, was governed by his appetite (fruit was good for food). His love for Esau made Isaac turn from the love of God.  How often do we choose our love for people, even with the best of intentions, over the love of God?

The Deceptive Ways for Blessing of a Family

            The dysfunction of Isaac and Rebekah’s home continues to be put on display. Rebekah hears Isaac’s plan and decides to use her son to deceive her husband.

Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the LORD before I die.’ Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.”

And Jacob hearing his mother’s plan does not object on the basis of his moral compass, but on whether he feels it will succeed.

But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me. So he went and took them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicious food, such as his father loved. Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.” (Genesis 27:5-17)

This is an intricate, premeditated plan of deception. This was no momentary lie for passion or fear, but willful deception.

            Jacob had followed his mother’s command and was ready to deceive his father, but would he go through it? Could he walk into his blind, dying father’s tent and lie to him to steal his blessing from his brother?

So he went in to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” (First lie.)

But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the LORD your God granted me success.” (Second lie, actually blaspheming the LORD)

Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands. So he blessed him. He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.” (Third lie)

Then he said, “Bring it near to me, that I may eat of my son's game and bless you.” So he brought it near to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son. So he came near and kissed him.” (Genesis 27:18-27a)

Isaac tests Jacob three times and Jacob lies to him three times. He was so bold in his betrayal that he walked up and kissed his father. And his deception is rewarded,

So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said, “See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed! May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!” As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. (Genesis 27:27-30)

As narrative progresses, it is apparent that Jacob is not worthy of the blessing just like Esau. Jacob is a deceiver. Does Jacob receiving God’s blessing mean that God approves of this deception? Jacob acted wickedly, but was blessed. Where are his consequences? And what of Rebekah, who masterminded the deception?

            Jacob and Rebekah would both pay for their deception. Rebekah is forced to send Jacob away to her brother Laban and never sees her beloved son again. Her death not even mentioned in the Bible, but only alluded to with the death of her nurse. Jacob, the deceiver, would be deceived. Laban would deceive Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. He also would be deceived by his sons, who told him his beloved son Joseph was killed. “Jacob deceived his father with two young goats; his sons deceive him with the blood of a goat.” Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-12) You reap what you sow. Never mistake delayed consequences as approval. God will not be mocked.

The Divine Will of Blessing of the Father

            When I first read this account, I felt so bad for Isaac and Esau. The raw emotion of the deception and loss is gripping. It is hard to read, but remember that Isaac and Esau were governed by their appetites. They both were blind to the promises of God. The pain and anguish you see here is only a glimpse of the pain caused by sin. It is a sad day when one experiences the harsh consequences of sin.

He also prepared delicious food and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son's game, that you may bless me.” His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept. (Genesis 27:31-38)

The day is bitter for all involved. And yet, God’s promise continues.

            The purpose of the narrative is to show how God’s promise continues even in the midst of people of a sinful people. God will use the worst of people to bring about his pre-determined plan. Israel needed the reminder as they stared into Canaan that God’s plan cannot be thwarted. We know that God can use evil to bring about his purposes. God would use the greatest act of evil the world has even seen in the slaying of the sinless son of God to save his people from their sins. Isaiah prophesied how the Messiah was going to die by the will of God. He said, “It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.” During the Last Supper, Jesus said speaking of his coming death, says, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.” God would use Judas’s appetite for silver to betray his friend with a kiss. Isaac betrayed his father with kiss as Jesus was betrayed by his friend with a kiss. And yet, it was all part of the plan of God. Peter preached at Pentecost,

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22-24)

God used a deceiver to extend his promise to Jacob, a deceiver. God used a deceiver, Judas, to extend his promise to deceivers, like you and I. We all have deceptive hearts. Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” No one can understand it. We all have a heart problem. We need new hearts. We need redemption. God promised his people in Ezekiel 36:26a, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” God sent Jesus to the cross to solve our heart problem. He died, but God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death. The resurrection of Jesus is the verification that if anyone calls upon the name of the Lord they will be saved. Have you experienced a new heart? Have you confessed your deception to God? Confess today and receive a new heart by the Holy Spirit.

We are not saved by our birthright or by our works, but on God’s mercy. When Paul taught on Jacob and Esau, he used it as an illustration on the immense mercy of God. Romans 9:10-16,

And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:10-16)

Salvation depends on God.

            Jean Valjean was a deceiver, but the bishop showed him mercy. He responded to that mercy, by asking, “Is it true?” When we, fellow deceivers, hear of God’s mercy, and ask, “Could it be true?” Beloved, remember the great hymn of the faith,

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

 

His mercy all, immense and free, for O my God has found out me. God’s promise cannot be stopped, for salvation is all of mercy. Have you fallen on God’s mercy? Do it today.

 

[1] Sydney Griedanus. 273.

The Bride

The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln said, “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Men are what their mothers made them.” A Jewish Proverb states, “God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.” Oliver Wendell Holmes also wrote, “Youth fades; love droops, the leaves of friendship fall; A mother’s secret hope outlives them all.” The history of the world is told through great books, great wars, and great leaders, but it could be told through the labor and love of mothers. The impact of mothers cannot be overestimated. As the impact of a mother is staggering in the world, the loss of a mother is just as powerful. The loss of a mother is devastating and the effects ripple throughout someone’s life.

Abraham just buried his wife Sarah and Isaac was left without his mother. There was now no mother in Israel. Sarah’s tent was empty. Sarah had the secret hope for her child, Isaac, that he was the promised seed that through him would come the blessing of all the families of the earth. Abraham was well advanced in years and Isaac was still without a wife. The promise could not continue without a mother. Isaac needed a wife and Israel needed a mother. Abraham has already learned that God will provide when he was on the mountain with Isaac. The question is not if God will provide, but how?

I pray that as you see God’s hand you will grow in your trust of the Lord and providential care for his people.

The Lord Goes Before

            The narrator sets up the problem at the outset of this chapter. Genesis 24:1, “Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.” Abraham was old and he was wealthy and he was blessed with an heir Isaac. Although he had a son, he was yet without the blessing of grandchildren. Grandchildren were essential if his family would grow into a great nation. As Genesis unfolds, we have to keep Genesis 12:1-3 at the forefront of our minds. Genesis 12:1-3 is the great promise of God and the rests of the Bible is the unfolding of how God is going to fulfill that promise. After God has given Abraham his miracle Son of Laughter in his old age and then provided a lamb in the thicket, Abraham trusts that God will go before and appoint and/or preordain circumstances to meet the needs to fulfill the promise first uttered in Genesis 12. Genesis 24:2-4,

And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

Abraham makes his servant take an oath that he will not take a daughter from the Canaanites, but go back to his kindred.

            If you read the narrative of Abraham in one sitting, you would anticipate this request. After God provided the lamb for the sacrifice in Genesis 22:20-24,

Now after these things it was told to Abraham, “Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.” (Bethuel fathered Rebekah.) These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham's brother. Moreover, his concubine, whose name was Reumah, bore Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah.”

If you are just focusing on Chapter 22 this ending seems out of place. What do Abraham’s relatives have to do with the sacrifice of Isaac? The narrative turns to the death of Sarah in the next chapter leaving Israel without a mother and leaving Sarah’s tent empty.

The goal of the narrative never breaks from the overarching promise of how God is going to fulfill his promise. The overarching narrative is key for us to interpret the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. How is God going to make Abraham a father of many nations to bless all the families of the earth; a nation as innumerable as the stars in the heaven and the sand on the seashore? If you are not regularly asking that question as you read the Bible, you are going to get lost in the interpretation. It is vital to approach the Bible as one story and approach each section a part in that one story.

For example, if we are focusing on that one story of God making Abraham a great nation and giving his descendants a land, we will see why it is so important to Abraham that Isaac take a wife from his kindred and not from the Canaanites. “The descendants of Canaan live under a curse while the descendants of Shem (and of Abraham) live under God’s blessing.[1]” God promised to give the land of the Canaanites to Abraham and his offspring and remove the land from the Canaanites. Genesis 15:15-16, “As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites (Canaanites) is not yet complete.” As one scholar notes, “If Isaac is to inherit the land, he must not marry among those who are destined to disinherit the land.[2]” The story of Isaac finding a wife from his kindred only makes sense if place it in the context of overarching narrative.

The servant responds to Abraham with a potential problem he sees in the plan. The servant is going to travel 400 miles and a month’s journey to meet a stranger and invite her to travel 400 miles away from family to marry a man she has never met. “Um…Abraham…what if she doesn’t want to go?”

The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father's house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter. (Genesis 24:5-9)

Abraham replies, “God’s got this.” The Lord, the God of heaven, will go before to give success to the journey. Two important things to note: First, Abraham trusts in the covenant that God has made to him. Every time you see LORD (all caps) in the Bible is a reference to God being the covenant making and keeping God of Israel. Abraham trusts in God’s promise to him and his offspring. Secondly, he notes God is the creator of the earth. The Creator has both the power and sovereign control to orchestrate his world. God will do whatever He wills and there is nothing that can stop Him. (c.f. Romans 9:19-26)

            We may bristle and/or debate the idea of God’s orchestration and sovereign control of the world, but the Scripture does not leave it to debate. The Bible rejoices and celebrates God’s ultimate control. When we bristle at the idea that God is in complete control of this world, it reveals that we do not fully understand our role as creatures in God’s world. We are creatures and God is the Creator. Do you trust God’s sovereign control of your life?

            During the first battle of Bull Run, General Tom “Stonewall” Jackson earned his nickname for as the bullets and shells were flying around him, Jackson stayed on his house, calm and peaceful as if nothing was going on. General Bernard Bee saw Jackson and told his men, “There stands Jackson like a Stonewall. Men, let’s determine to die here with him.” Jackson had an unwavering trust in the sovereignty of God. Someone asked Jackson how he could remain calm in face of war, he answered, “My religious belief teaches me that I’m just as safe on the battlefield as I am in my bed. The Lord has already appointed the day of my death so I need not worry about that. I live my life and prepare myself so I will always be ready to meet my Lord, when death does overtake me.” Abraham, like Stonewall Jackson, trusted in God’s sovereignty. Will you?

The Lord Gives the Bride

            The narrative continues as the servant heads towards his master’s homeland. He travels 400 miles and arrives at a well and prays to LORD to show steadfast faithfulness to fulfill his promise,

Then the servant took ten of his master's camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor. And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water. And he said, “O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.” (Genesis 24:10-14)

The servant prays for a sign to confirm God’s will for he wants to know the one God has appointed for Isaac. God is in charge of these events.

            The test would show two things. First, it would show that the woman would be kind to strangers by offering them a drink. Second, it would show her persistence and work ethic for providing water for the 10 camels would have been difficult task. As one scholar notes, “A camel that has gone a few days without water usually can drink as much as 25 gallons. Ancient jars used for drawing water usually held no more than three gallons, in other words, this offer involves perhaps 80-100 drawings from the well.[3]” The servant wanted to affirm God’s will rather than test his will. He wanted to see who God appointed. And of course, as promised, God gives a bride, Genesis, 24:15, “Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder.” This is no random meeting, but the orchestration of the God of heaven.

The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the LORD had prospered his journey or not. When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, and said, “Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father's house for us to spend the night?” She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” She added, “We have plenty of both straw and fodder, and room to spend the night.” The man bowed his head and worshiped the LORD and said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master's kinsmen.” Then the young woman ran and told her mother's household about these things. (Genesis 24:16-28)

The servant gives all the credit to the LORD (all caps). The covenant-making God of Israel continues to show he is the covenant-keeping God of Israel. The LORD has appointed a bride.

            The church should not be surprised that God has appointed a bride for Isaac for we know that God continues to appoint a Bride. The church is the bride of Christ and God is the one who appoints or elects or chooses people to be part of the Bride. God’s sovereign and appointing hand is woven throughout the New Testament, but let me draw attention to a few verses to explicitly show God electing love.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:16)

And when the Gentiles heard this (the gospel), they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

There is no controversy here. God is in complete sovereign control. He appointed a bride for Isaac and he appoints a Bride for the Messiah. The LORD shows steadfast love and faithfulness to his people, because of his promise which is why when the Bible speaks of God’s sovereign control it elicits praise to God, not controversy.

            We were dead in our trespasses and sins and were made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:3-4). We were alienated and hostile in mind and we were reconciled through the body of Jesus on the cross. We were slaves to sin and were made slaves to righteousness. God would have been right to leave us in our sin, but he appointed his Son to redeem us from our sin and to bring us into his family. Galatians 4:3-5,

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:3-5)

The reason the doctrine of election elicits praise is because we know what we deserve. We know where we would be without God. We deserve hell, but God sent Jesus to experience hell for us on the cross. After bearing the wrath of God, Jesus was raised from the dead ascended to heaven to the right hand of God receiving the name that is above all names. He sent his Holy Spirit from heaven to call us to God so that we would be called the Bride of Christ. We were appointed by grace to believe. We did not earn it, but we received it. God appoints His Bride.

Non-Christian, God invites you to be part of his family. He invites you to be united or wedded with Christ. God invites all sinners to repent or turn from their sins and trust in Jesus death and resurrection for your salvation. Jesus is the perfect bridegroom who laid down his life for His bride. He pursues us with his love. The Christian life is an intimate relationship with God so much it is pictured as a Husband and Wife. Do not resist his call, turn from your sin and trust in his death on your behalf. He is the Redeemer and the Bridgegroom.

Rebekah ran home and told her family. The servant recounts Abraham’s story to Rebekah’s father, Bethuel and he brother Laban (who we will see later) of God’s covenant faithfulness. After retelling the story of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, the servant turns to the family and asks, will you do likewise? Genesis 24:47-49,

Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master's kinsman for his son. Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.”

Will they see God’s hand? Will the accept or reject it?

Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing has come from the LORD; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master's son, as the LORD has spoken.” When Abraham's servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the earth before the LORD. (Genesis 24:50-52)

It is clear to all involved that God appointed a bride for Isaac. After the family accepts God’s will, will the bride?

The Lord Guides the Bride

            God has prospered the journey of the servant, but Rebekah still has not chosen to leave. Rebekah’s brother and mother ask for her to remain for 10 days before the journey, but the servant is adamant that they must not delay. “And they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” Remember how difficult this decision would have been. She was being asked to leave her entire family and home and her life to go with a stranger. Will she leave it all for the promise of God? Will we? We know the end of the story, but in that moment, Rebekah is faced with the question, “Will you leave all for the LORD?” It’s a question that Rebekah had to answer, but it’s a question we all have to answer. Will you leave all for the LORD?

Rebekah responds, “I will go.” Rebekah trusted God’s promise as she left they blessed her saying, “Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate him!” (Genesis 24:60) Rebekah was leaving all for the promise of God to become the mother in Israel.

            God guided Rebekah. He enabled her to trust Him. God will always guide his people. Genesis 24:62-67,

Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel and said to the servant, “Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.

There was now a mother in Israel to continue the promised seed of the woman. Rebekah came into the tent of Sarah to continue the line of mothers who would bear offspring all the way to a young Jewish teenager, Mary. When God told her she was going to bear the promised seed, Mary, like Rebekah, before her, said, “I am your servant. (I will go) …let it be according to your word.” (Luke 1:38).

            God used a long line of obedient mothers to bring forth the one and only Son of God who would save his people from their sins. And God will continue to use mothers to shape men and women to trust in the providential care of God. God has always guided his Bride and will always guide his Bride. Sarah’s hope for Isaac far exceeded her wildest imagination as Mary’s hope for her Son, Jesus, far exceeded the things she treasured and pondered in her heart. The world was saved through the seed of a woman. Let us always be reminded of the precious gift of mothers and the precious gift of life that comes through them. Mothers are an ever-present reminded not only of the gift of life we possess, but the gift of eternal life we can possess by trusting in the One born of woman and born of God. As God has provided a mother for us so also God has always provided a mother in Israel to bring forth the Son. Beloved, let the gift of mothers provide you a window to see the hand of God’s providential appointing gracious love.

 

[1] Greidanus, Sydney. 237.

[2] Hamilton, Genesis 18-50, 140.

[3] Walton, Genesis 530.

The Sacrifice

“Dad, will you come with me?” It may seem like a simple question from child to his father, but it is pregnant with meaning. Will you come with me to comfort me in my fear? Will you come with me to encourage me along the way? Will you come with me so I am not alone? It is a parent’s job to comfort and encourage their children. We want to protect them from suffering and pain, and yet, we know that is only through suffering they can learn how to truly rely on God. Trials are the chisel in God’s hand to cut off worldliness and self-righteousness. The world looks at our suffering and says, “Why me?” while the Christian looks at suffering and says, “Teach me.”

            How do you view suffering? Is suffering a tool in the hands of God Almighty to mold and shape you into the image of Jesus, or is suffering the cruel hand of circumstances designed to ruin your life? God’s Word says,

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:16-18)

No one enjoys suffering in the moment, but we can rejoice because we know what suffering will produce in us. Suffering is preparing us for the hope of glory.

            As a child looks to his parents and says, “Will you come with me?” when they are heading onto fear, we often look to the Lord during our trials and say, “Are you with me? Will you take care of me? Will you get me through this?” The Lord shows his people in Genesis 22 that He will always be with them. I pray that whatever trial you are in and whatever trial you will go through that you will trust God’s heart as Charles Spurgeon writes, “God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace His hand, I can always trust His heart.” Allow God’s Word to chisel away your self-reliance and self-righteousness by transforming your view of trials.

The Lord Tests His People through Sacrifice

Abraham and Sarah waited for 25 years for God’s promise of a child. They laughed in disbelief when God told them they would have a child. Their disbelief turned to joy when God gave them Isaac, the son of laughter. After waiting for 25 years for an heir, they finally received a child, but now God gives a seemingly impossible request. Genesis 22:1-2,

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

God tests Abraham. A “testing” shows what someone is really like usually through hardship and trials. Will you trust me Abraham? Abraham had demonstrated several times in his life a distrust of God in the midst of trials. During his years of waiting for a child, he attempted to fulfill God’s promise himself through Sarah’s servant, Hagar. When he was tested in a foreign land, he lied and claimed Sarah was his sister twice. Abraham believed in God’s promise, but during times of trials his actions did not always demonstrate that belief.

God is not indifferent or unaware of the difficulty of the request. God says, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.” The repetition is not random. God understands this test will be difficult for Abraham as he understands the test will be difficult for us. Unlike in the past, Abraham did not question God, but he obeyed. Genesis 22:3-4,

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.

One can only imagine what Abraham was thinking during this 3-day journey. His mind would have gone to God’s promise to make him the father of a multitude of nations through Isaac. He would have thought about what to tell Sarah. He would have thought of how God miraculously gave him Isaac in the first or maybe how he didn’t trust God by having Ishmael.

 We don’t know what he thought, but we know he obeyed. It is interesting that God made him take a 3-day journey to obey. This decision would be one that would require deep resolve. Abraham believed God, Genesis 22:5, “Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Notice that Abraham confessed his faith to the servants. The boy and I will come again to you. Hebrews 11:17-19,

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Abraham did not know what was going to happen, but he believed God. He believed that God was able even to raise him from the dead. How? God had already given life through his body which was as good as dead. Romans 4:20-21,

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

Notice the phrase in both accounts, Abraham believed, “God was able.” God had the ability to deliver. After a 3-day journey, Abraham was convinced concerning the promise of God and grew strong in his faith.

Beloved, do you believe God is able? Abraham’s story of faith is to encourage you to believe. God asked him to give up the Son of promise, he may not have been able to trace his hand, but he trusted his heart. God was able. He gave him Isaac so he could give him Isaac again. God is able to give life, even from the grave. God’s people have always been tested to believe in God’s resurrection power, whether it was Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, or the Scottish martyrs tied to the pier to burned. We have to believe that God is able to raise the dead.

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue
  Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
  I’ll sing Thy power to save

In 2 Corinthians Paul writes why God gave him trials,

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)

Genesis to Revelation is God’s story of deliverance. It is the story of God’s people trusting in that deliverance. Do you trust in God’s deliverance?

The Lord Provides for His People through Sacrifice

            We can trust in God’s deliverance because he has shown over and over again that He will provide for his people in the midst of their trial. The Lord will provide. Genesis 22:8-14,

Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

The Lord provided the lamb for the sacrifice. Isaac was saved through his trial because God provided the sacrifice. God provided a substitute to take his place.

            Israel would have been reminded of God’s faithfulness to them in Egypt when he said to sacrifice a lamb and take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the house as a sign. When God saw the blood of the lamb, He passed over their houses, and struck the first born of Egypt. Israel would have known that they deserved the same fate of the Egyptians, but it was only because of the blood of the lamb that they were spared. The Lord provided the sacrifice. The lamb died so Israel could live.

            Israel would have heard this story on the verge of entering the promise land. They would have known how their fathers tested the Lord with their disobedience and were made to wander in the wilderness until everyone in that generation died. Would they be like their fathers or would they be like Abraham? Would they trust that the Lord would provide deliverance?

            Israel did not deserve God’s deliverance. The story of Israel is a story of rebellion. They complained about God’s provision in the wilderness. They turned to false gods when they entered the promise land. They became more like the nations than the people of God’s treasured possession. They bowed before false gods and were sent into exile. Israel did not deserve deliverance. Beloved, we do not deserve deliverance. We like, Israel, have rebelled against God. We have questioned His love and complained about his provision. We have bowed out hearts to the false gods of comfort and ease. We have lived for ourselves and not for others. We do not deserve deliverance and yet the Lord promises to give us what we do not deserve by providing a sacrifice.

            John the Baptist was baptizing people in the wilderness when he saw God’s provision, John 1:29, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The Lord provided a sacrifice. Jesus is the atonement for our sins. He did not come to be served, but to give his life as a payment for sinners. God did not spare his own Son, but give him up for us all. Jesus, the lamb of God, was slain so that Israel would live. Jesus died my soul to save. Which is why the saints have always loved to sing, the great hymn of the faith,

 

Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; 
Sin had left a crimson stain, 
He washed it white as snow. 

And when, before the throne, 
I stand in Him complete, 
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
My lips shall still repeat. 

Jesus died our souls to save. He was raised from to the dead so now God is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Christ for Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us. Do you believe that?

            The cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is an ever-present reminder when you are going through your trials that God is willing and able to deliver you. The Lord will provide because He has always provided. He provided the Lamb so that we will live. Stop for a moment and think about your trials. Meditate on your suffering. God using your suffering so that you will not trust in yourself, but in God who raised the dead. Turn from your self-reliance and give all your trust to God. He provided the Lamb of God to take away your sin. And if he provided the lamb, how will he not also with him graciously give you all things? Who will condemn you?

Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Beloved, the Lord has provided the lamb. God understands your suffering, but has given you a resurrection. He has delivered you and therefore he will deliver you.

The Lord Blesses His People through Sacrifice

            The Lord speaks to Abraham one last time. This is the 35th time he has spoken to Abraham, a multiple of seven, a sign of perfection. The Lord gives the only divine oath in the book of Genesis to highlight its importance. Genesis 22:15-19,

And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba. (Genesis 22:15-19)

God reiterates his promise again to Abraham his offspring will be like the stars of heaven and now as the sand that is on the seashore and they will possess the gate or cities of his enemies and a blessing will extend to all the nations of the earth. What an amazing promise. God gives a divine oath that he will keep his promise. As we have seen, God fulfills that promise in offspring of Abraham, Jesus Christ.

            We are the offspring of Abraham if we believe in Jesus Christ, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. How do we know we believe? God allows trials in our lives to confirm our faith. Suffering produces perseverance and perseverance, character and character, hope. Suffering must finish its work so that we can be complete, lacking in nothing. When our trials come, let us not say, “Where are you?” but proclaim, “Here I am.” The Lord has provided the Lamb of God in death, and the Lord will provide the Lamb in resurrection. “God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace His hand, I can always trust His heart.” Beloved, whatever comes your way, you can trust His heart.

The Birth

What do you see when you look upon the world? In 249 AD, Cyprian of Carthage wrote to his friend Donatus,

Donatus, this is a cheerful world indeed as I see it from my fair garden, under the shadow of my vines. But if I could ascend some high mountain, and look out over the wide lands, you know very well that I should see: brigands on the highways, pirates on the seas, armies fighting, cities burning, in the amphitheaters men murdered to please applauding crowds, selfishness and cruelty and misery and despair under all roofs. It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world.

Cyprian saw the atrocities of this world. If he saw the evil in the world in his day, how much more can we see the evil in ours? The growth of global news coverage and instant information to worldwide events compound the reality of evil our world.

We can stand in our backyard and watch our children playing with the neighbors and see joy and happiness, but as soon as we open our newspapers, computers, and phones, cruelty, misery and despair fly towards us as airplane toward the runway. “It is a bad world, an incredibly bad world.” Cyprian continued his letter to Donatus,

But I have discovered in the midst of it a company of quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not: they are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians, —and I am one of them.

It was the joy of Christians that softened Cyprian’s heart to believe the gospel and turn to Christ. He said that they are, “masters of their souls.” He saw their joy in the midst of persecution. It makes no rational sense for Cyprian to become a Christian. Christians were despised and rejected by society. They were outcasts and marginalized. Cyprian lived a comfortable life. He had received an inheritance from his family and after pursuing law had become a senator. At 45, when most people are indisposed to change, he left his comfort and wealth to follow Christ. He left his worldly riches because he desired eternal joy. He wanted the joy he saw in Christians.

            Beloved, do you have joy? Do people see joy in our community? Would people say of us that we have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of a sinful life? Would our joy attract people to Christ? Of course, I am assuming that Christians should have joy. Christians should be joyful people. US Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., one of the most influential judges in our nation’s history, remarked of his choice of career, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers." I pray we would be a people of joy who would draw others to the Lord.

            In Genesis 21, we see the birth of Isaac. The birth of a child is a great reason for joy, but the birth of Isaac is especially a reason for joy. In order to understand Abraham and Sarah’s incredible joy in the birth of Isaac, we first must understand their grief.

The Joyless Laugh of Present Grief

            Abraham was 75 years old when God called him to leave his father and journey the land of Canaan. God promised to make him a great nation through his own body, but there was a problem. Genesis 11:30, “Sarai (Abraham’s wife) was barren, she had no child.” Abraham and Sarah waited and waited for a child and began to complain and question God’s faithfulness. Genesis 15:2-3, “But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And God reassured Abraham and reminded him of his promise to give him a child of his very own. And Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. And yet, time went on and he was still childless.

            Have you ever wanted to something so bad and waited for something so long that each passing day you felt more and more hopeless? Genesis 16:1, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had born him no children.” Now in that culture it was customary if a woman could not bear children, the husband was to produce children with a slave-girl. Sarai gave Hagar to Abram and Genesis 16:15, “And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.” Problem solved, right? Abram now has a son.

 God waits thirteen more years until Abraham is 99 years old and reminds him of his promise to make him a multitude of nations by giving him offspring through Sarah. Abraham and Sarah have been waiting for 24 years for God to fulfill his promise. They have been waiting for over 60 years for a child. At this point, they did not have a lot of hope of ever have a child. Their present grief constrained their joy. God has not changed his mind. He has not shifted from his promise. God is the same yesterday, today and forever, but Abraham laughed at God. Genesis 17:15-18, 

And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”

Abraham laughed at God. It is the laughter of disbelief. He begged that Ishmael would be the heir. Abraham loved Ishmael. He had watched him grow into a young man who was 13 years old at this point. God replayed to Abraham, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” (Gen. 17:19)

            God visits Abraham and Sarah again in the next chapter and we see further disbelief, this time in Sarah, Genesis 18:9-15,

They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

Abraham laughs in disbelief. Sarah laughs in disbelief. Oh, how many times have we laughed in disbelief?

They were longing for a child and they waited for years, but nothing had changed. When we look at our present grief it is easy for it to create a joyless, disbelieving laugh. The joyless laugh of a wife waiting for a husband would change. The joyless laugh of a mother waiting for a child to come back to God. The joyless laugh of a man waiting for a job to provide for his family. The joyless laugh of a young woman waiting for relationship and to start a family. The joyless laugh of chronic pain to cease. The joyless laugh of depression to lift. The joyless laugh of overcoming sin. The joyless laugh of disbelief comes for many reasons, but its root is exposed with a question from God, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Remember that this book would have been written to Israel as they were in the desert about to enter the promise land. They had been wandering for 40 years waiting. Waiting to enter a land of giants. Waiting to enter a land of strong armies. Waiting to enter a land of pagan gods. Waiting and waiting. And God tells them as he tells us, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Is God able to save? Is God able to deliver his people? That question would have resonated with Israel as that question should resonate with us. After the rich young ruler turned away from Jesus because he did not want to give up his wealth, Jesus said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” Is it possible for God to give a child to old man and a “worn-out” woman? Is it possible for God to save a sinner? “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

      I believe that God has given this long story of waiting and disbelief to teach us of our inability to solve our greatest need. The greatest problem of man is their separation from God. Man is dispelled from the garden in Genesis 3. They were cut off from God unable to enter His presence. And we know why. It is their sin. We know sin. We know how our hearts condemn us and convict us of how unrighteous we are before God. We want to justify ourselves before God, but we know in our heart of hearts, the depth of our depravity. We are depraved. The question of the disciples, “Then who can be saved?” If God will not accept the rich and powerful, then there must be no hope for the rest of us. Have you ever been there? How could God save me? I am an unrighteous, unworthy, desperate sinner. And God says, “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?” He wants to turn our joyless laugh of disbelief to a joyful laugh as we trust in his promised grace.

The Joyful Laugh of Promised Grace

            The Lord always keeps his word. He had promised Abram a child at 75, and now, 25 years later, God fulfills His Word. Genesis 21:1-2 says, “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.” Notice the repetition, “as he had said,” “as he had promised,” and “at the time of which God had spoken to him.” God keeps his Word. John Sailhammer notes, “The plan not only came about, but, more importantly, it happened as it was announced. Thus the narrative calls attention to God’s faithfulness to his word and to his careful attention to the details of his plan.” God will keep His Word.

            How do we need to be reminded that keeps His Word? The entire story of God’s people rests on His Word. Will we trust him? Again and again he has shown Himself faithful to his people throughout history and throughout our own lives. He causes the sun to rise each day. He will never leave us nor forsake us. The promise of God is a true as the completion of that promise. The Old Testament is full of promises made to God’s people while the New Testament is full of promises kept. God was faithful to Abraham and Sarah. God was faithful to Israel entering the promised land. God was faithful to David. God was faithful to Nehemiah. God was faithful in sending forth his Son.

            The name of Isaac, the son of the promise, means laughter. Isaac would forever be a reminder of Abraham and Sarah’s disbelieving laughter as well as the joyful laughter of promised grace. “And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” (Genesis 21:4-6) Israel would have been reminded to laugh with Sarah at God’s faithfulness. They would have been reminded to trust God in the days ahead. Psalm 126:1-3,

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.

Israel was called to be a joyful people as they lived in trust of God. As Israel has been called to live in joy, how much more are we?

            Beloved, we live after the coming of the promised Messiah. God promised to send another child to a virgin whose name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God and Prince of Peace. If the birth of Isaac was a miracle, how much more the birth of Jesus Christ to the virgin Mary. Mary exclaimed,

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation…He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-50; 54-55)

God gave a Son to Israel, a Savior in whom we can now rejoice. Jesus is the Savior of the world. He was born of God so that he is without sin. He was born of woman so that he could become sin. Jesus died on the cross bearing the sin of the world. He was crucified, dead and buried, but God raised him from the dead. He now sits at the right hand of the majesty on high to ever live to make intercession for his people. God did the impossible by sending the promised Son to be the Savior of the world. Isaac was the first fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham and Jesus Christ was the final fulfillment of that promise.

            Christians should live in joy because of the redemption that has been purchased through the death of Christ. We have been bought with a price. We are redeemed. We are saved, not because of anything we have done, but only of his mercy. Christians live in joy. Christians should want to bring that joy to the world. Listen to the description of Philip in the city of Samaria in Acts 8:4-8,

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.

I love that last line. “There was much joy in that city.” As Christians live and share the glory of God, the city should experience joy. Heaven will experience joy as sinners repent and are filled with the joyful promise of grace.

The Joyful Laugh of a Powerful God

            God asked, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” We can almost hear that question being answered in Genesis 21:7, “And Sarah said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” Who would have said it? And yet, God did it. There is nothing that was too hard for the Lord. The Lord is a God of power. The birth of Isaac is just an example of the power of God. The ultimate display of his power is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the power that conquered the grave and left an empty tomb. His resurrection power is displayed throughout all eternity as scores of Christians have trusted Christ even in the face of execution and martyrdom. Christians can live in joy because, regardless, of our circumstances here, we know that we are but are strangers and exiles on earth. Our hearts long for a better country, a heavenly one. We are looking forward to that great city whose designer and builder is God.

Cyprian of Carthage saw the joy of the early Christians and turned from his sins and followed Christ. He believed in the promised grace of God because he believed in the power of God displayed in the resurrection of Christ. The joy he saw in Christians became his joy. On the 14th of September, 258 AD, he was sentenced to death. As he was led to the execution, no pagan was shouting, for he had won their respect with the grace of his life. He lived with joy in the midst of despair. Here is the account of his death.

Cyprian took off his cloak and knelt silently in prayer. After a few moments he got back on his feet and took off his tunic, handing it to his friend (Pontius). “Bring out the executioner.” A tall, muscular soldier stepped forward with a heavy sword and guided Cyprian, clad only in his linen garments, to his last seat as bishop. Cyprian turned to the crowd of supporters. “Please show some kindness to this man and pay him for his services,” he cried. The assembly murmured, but several hands came forward. Pontius collected the money and gave the executioner twenty-five gold pieces. Then he embraced the bishop and tied a bandage over Cyprian’s eyes.

The executioner guided his victim to position…The experienced hands that held the sword began to tremble. Never had the executioner seen such resoluteness in a condemned man, or such generosity of the witnesses. He aligned his sword with the outstretched neck before him, but he couldn’t swing. Instead he nudged the blade into the dirt and drew back to steady himself. “Executioner!” shouted the centurion. “You will follow through.” “Yes sir,” was the reply. But he didn’t move. The centurion grabbed the sword and glared at the executioner and said, “It is an honor to serve the emperor.” Cyprian whispered, “It is an honor to serve the king.” With a single decisive swing, the bishop’s head fell from his body, preaching his last sermon.[1]

Cyprian died for Christ and experienced the joyful laughter of the resurrection as he entered the Lord’s presence. Cyprian’s martyrdom, reminds me of the words of another martyr, Philippians 1:19-21, “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:18-21).

            Beloved, I pray you would find joy in the resurrection of Christ. God has promised grace and he has the power to give it. We can rejoice in life and in death. Rejoice in Christ in the trials of today for you know you will rejoice in Christ in triumph of eternal tomorrow.

 

[1] Mindy and Brandon Withrow. Perils and Peace: Chronicles of the Early Church. Scotland, Christian Focus; 2015 85-86

The Covenant

Every organization that does not recruit new members will become extinct. Every year thousands of young teens are recruited to join gangs. Teens who have a dysfunctional family and little support are lured into the prospect of belonging to the “family” of the gang. They are proposed loyalty, support, and a true sense of belonging. Many of the initiation rites of gang members are designed to show the seriousness of their commitment and the courage of their conviction. There are a variety of initiation rites, everything from fighting your way out of a circle of gang members, to participating in a theft or in extreme cases committing murder. Whatever the initiation rite, it is designed to cost the prospective member so that they show their commitment.

        Gangs have a high cost of membership. Their membership is costly because the promised reward is great. They get to belong to something beyond themselves. Many of the gang members have never experienced the true loyalty and love of a family are desperate to belong and feel that sense of support from people who claim will always have their back. Sadly, gang loyalty is a mirage. A good friend of mine joined a gang in his earlier teens with the promise of people that will always be there for him. One day he was arrested and facing up to 40 years in prison. While he was standing in the court room, he turned towards the gallery to see his loyal “family” who promised to always be there for him. Except when he turned, he saw no one. He was alone. The loyalty and belonging was a mirage.

        Gangs make promises that they cannot deliver. And yet, their promises of belonging and connection are woven into our very make up as individuals. We want to belong to something beyond ourselves. We want loyalty and commitment. We want people to stand with us regardless of what comes our way. We want our membership to a community to mean something. Gang members want to experience “family.” And we are no different. We all want to experience “family.” It is easy to see the powerful allure of gang affiliation, which is why thousands of teens choose to walk through the painful and costly initiation every day. And without even knowing it, gangs are dimly reflecting a story that is far greater than the loyalty of fallen man.

        God promises loyalty and belonging to his people. The difference is that his commitment to keeping his promise or covenant is not like that of a gang member who bails at the first sign of real trouble, but a promise that is an everlasting covenant. Genesis 17 sets up the requirements and initiation rite of his covenant community. Genesis 17 pictures one of the greatest events in all of redemptive history. God makes his covenant with Abram, which marks off the boundaries of the covenant community of God with a sign.

The Covenant Stated

            Abram has already been received promises from God. Genesis 12:1-3, Abram is called to leave his country and his kindred to go to the land that God will show him to make him a great nation and to ultimately bless all the families of the earth. Genesis 15:1-6, God promises to give Abram a son and asks him to go out and look at the night sky and to number the stars to see how numerable his descendants would be and it says of Abram that, “he believed the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6).

Abram did not earn righteousness, but it was given to him. Abram has not been given requirements of the promise until Genesis 17.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” (Genesis 17:1-2)

The LORD appears to Abram, who is now 99 years old, and introduces himself as God Almighty, or El Shadday. El Shadday is used throughout Genesis to show God’s ability to keep his promises specially to make the barren fertile. Thirteen years had passed since Abram tried to fulfill the promise himself by uniting with his maidservant Hagar to provide an offspring. Hagar gave birth to Abram’s first son, Ishmael. God reminds Abram with His name that He and He alone has the power to fulfill His promises. How often have we tried to take God’s place to do what only He has the power to accomplish?

            God tells Abram that he must walk before him and to be blameless. The language would have reminded the readers of Noah in Genesis 6:9, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” Literally, Abram is to walk before God wholly devoted to Him. Abram must totally surrender to The Lord, God Almighty, his Eternal King. As God made a covenant with Noah by putting his bow in the clouds, He is ready to make a covenant with Abram. The covenant is the Lord’s. Nine times in this chapter we see God refer to the covenant as “my covenant.” Abram gave the perfect response, Genesis 17:3, “Then Abram fell on his face.” Abram bowed in humble submission.

            God inaugurates this new era in redemptive history by giving Abram a new name to clearly identify his promise.

Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:3-8)

God changes Abram’s name to Abraham to symbolize him being the father of a multitude of nations. Remember in Genesis 12, God says to Abram that, “I will make you a great nation,” but here it is a multitude of nations clearly alluding to his promise to bless all the families of the earth. The heart of this covenant is in the last five words, “I will be their God.” God promises an everlasting covenant to be the God of the descendants of Abraham.

Notice the verb tense in Genesis 17:5, “for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” God has already made Abraham into a multitude of nations before he even has received the child of the promise. God’s Word always accomplishes its purpose. Isaiah 55:10-11, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11) God will fulfill his promise.

The Covenant Sign

            We know that God will fulfill his promise, but how will Abraham and his descendants show that they believe? God gives them a specific requirement in a covenant sign so that they will be a clearly identified as his people. God has already said what he is going to do, but now Abraham is receiving his marching orders. Genesis 17:9-14,

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

The sign of given to Abraham is different than the sign given to Noah. Circumcision, unlike the rainbow, has to be performed by human beings to show their partnership in the covenant. Circumcision was a sign for the people to be marked off as God’s covenant community. They were to show that they were totally committed to God.

            Circumcision was a permanent sign in the flesh as a permanent reminder of the permanency of the everlasting covenant of God. Circumcision was a painful, bloody initiation rite into the people of God. It was not easy obedience. And yet, circumcision was appropriate because it was a physical reminder that God promised physical offspring to Abraham. That which provided the seed would carry the mark of God’s people and would be a constant reminder of the promised seed that was to come.

God establishes the seriousness of his covenant by providing a poignant word play for his hearers, Genesis 17:14, “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” One scholar notes,

The warning that he “shall be cut off from his people” involves “a word play on cut. He that is not himself cut (i.e. circumcised) will be cut off (i.e. ostracized). Here is the choice: be cut or be cut off.” The one who will not submit to this painful rite of covenant membership has disobeyed the covenant stipulation and thereby broken God’s covenant. Therefore he has forfeited his privilege of being part of God’s covenant community, and God requires his excommunication from the community.

God takes his covenant very seriously. Circumcision played a huge role throughout the history of God’s people.

            How would the Israelites in the wilderness have received this command? The Israelites were being encouraged to continue with covenant faithfulness to God as they entered into the land of the Canaanites. Israel needed to be distinct from the surrounding world. God was very clear in his commandments, so wouldn’t all the Israelites already have been circumcised? God commanded Joshua 5:5-7,

Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD; the LORD swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the LORD had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised. For they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way. (Joshua 5:5-7)

A whole generation had not been circumcised because of the sin of their waywardness of their parents. Now as they were becoming adults, they needed to fulfill the covenant obligations. Understanding that the original hearers were not circumcised underscores the importance of the covenant sign. Will Israel continue to walk with God?

            Outward circumcision is no longer the sign of God’s people. God is not after an outward circumcision, but the inward circumcision of the heart. Circumcision has been replaced with baptism. Baptism is now the covenant sign of God’s people. Paul makes this point explicitly in Colossians 2:11-14,

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Being buried with Christ in baptism is a sign that you have experienced the circumcision of Spirit.

Paul makes this point also in Romans 2. Circumcision is no longer outward and physical, but it is a matter of the heart. It is done by the Spirit. Paul was only drawing on Moses’s words in Deut. 10:12-16,

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. (Deuteronomy 10:12-16)

The only way we can experience the circumcision of the heart is through the new covenant. Jeremiah 31:33-34,

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

And we demonstrate that we are children of New Covenant through rites of baptism and the Lord Supper which ensure we live in righteousness as God’s covenant community.

Baptism helps mark the boundaries for the people of God. As circumcision clearly identified the people of God in the Old Testament, baptism clearly marks the people of God in the New Testament. We all were at one time dead in our trespasses and the uncircumcision of our flesh. God fulfilled his everlasting covenant when he sent Jesus Christ to the cross. Jesus canceled the record that stood against us. The demands for our sin was literally nailed it to the cross and was paid in full by Christ. Therefore, for anyone who turns from their sin and calls upon Christ in repentance and faith is made alive by the Spirt. We are born again. We are new creatures in Christ.

The challenge in the West is that baptism does not have the same cost as it does in the rest of the world. Circumcision was painful and it was costly. It signified a permanent change. It is not uncommon in America to have people baptized two or three times, but in places where Christianity is vilified like in the Middle East and Asia, to be baptized is costly. Many of our brothers and sisters enter into the baptismal waters knowing that it may cost them their life. They literally understand the meaning of being buried with Christ. Their baptism literally may mean their death. Baptism is always costly because it says that you have died. You are no longer your own, but you belong, both body and soul, in life and in death to God and his Son Jesus Christ. Baptism is always costly because it came at the expense of the death of God’s own Son.

Let us not trivialize membership in God’s covenant community. In Abraham’s day, God said if you are not circumcised you will be cut off from God’s people. So today, if you have not experienced the circumcision of the heart, you will be cut off from God’s people. Baptism does not save you, but is a sign that you have been saved. Have you experienced the circumcision of the heart (i.e. believed by faith?) Have you been buried with Christ in baptism? The New Testament does not see those as mutually exclusive, but intimately connected.

The New Testament never explicitly baptizes infants. Infant baptism became popular in the church in the 3rd century under the leadership of Cyprian of Carthage. Paedobaptists, (those who baptize infants) believe that as babies were circumcised, so to should babies be baptized. Peter proclaims at Pentecost those all must, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins are forgiven,” and then says, “for the promise is for you and for your children,” recalling this passage in Genesis 17. Paedobaptists make their argument from anaology and silence. (By analogy see above). When I say by silence, this means that when they see households being baptized in the book of Acts, they assume there would have been infants. The Jewish believers would have connected baptism with circumcision so they would have naturally baptized infants. And yet, they miss Peter’s clear exhortation to repentance and the end the end of his quotation of Genesis 17 when he adds, “and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself,” and who, “received his word.” Circumcision is no longer outward and physical, but of the heart. Infants cannot experience repentance and thus they should not be baptized.

We cannot lose the distinctiveness of the covenant community. We are God’s people. We, like Abraham, are called to walk before God and be blameless. Baptism cuts us off from the world and unites us to Christ. Baptism is the entrance rite of the New Testament church as the Lord’s Supper is the continual rite that marks us off from the world. We need to celebrate baptism and the Lord’s Supper. God takes these signs very seriously. He took circumcision in the Old Testament very seriously (even excluding Moses from entering the promise land for failure to circumcise his children) and thus, we should take baptism in the New Testament just as seriously. It is not an add on for the Christian faith, but central to our expression as the New Testament covenant community.

Abraham took the command of the Lord very seriously. After receiving the sign, Abraham went that very day to obey. Genesis 17:22-27,

When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him. (Genesis 17:22-27)

The very first act of circumcision was done to all the people of the house including Ishmael, the house servants, and even foreigners. We see the beginning of the covenant people of God who chose to fully surrender to God.

The Covenant Son

            Abraham was not the only one who had their name changed that day. God changed Sarai’s name to Sarah because she was going to bear a son. Remember God’s introduction, He is El Shadday, God Almighty, Genesis 17:15-21.

And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”

Abraham didn’t fully believe God right away. He laughed at God’s suggestion that Sarah could bear a child. We know he still trusted God because he was willing to be circumcised and to circumcise his house.

Abraham walked in obedience even when he did not fully understand, because he fully convinced that God was El Shadday, God almighty who had the power to bring about his promises. Let me close today with a call for all of us to have hope. In hope to believe against hope that God is able. God is mighty to meet your needs. God is mighty to heal your sickness. And God is mighty to save. Romans 4:18-25,

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:18-25)

The promise made to Abraham was written for our sake so that we would be counted as righteous who believe that God delivered up Jesus for our trespasses and raised him from the dead for our justification. God promised an everlasting covenant to Abraham so we would always have hope in Christ. Beloved, walk before God and live in righteousness as we await the blessed hope of the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. 

The Call

A few days before the 1980 Olympics, The Russian national hockey team clobbered the United States in an exhibition game 10-3. The United States entered the Olympics as a 7th seed with the odds of winning the gold medal as 1,000 to 1.[1] Herb Brooks coached the US into a rematch against the defending gold medal champions and number 1 seeded Russia. Russia was supposed to crush the Americans again, but the improbable happened. America held a 4-3 lead with a minute remaining with Russia charging hard for a tie. As the waning seconds were ticking off, Al Michaels gave the greatest “call” in modern sports history. With five seconds remaining, Michaels, bellowed, “Do you believe in miracles?” Michaels helped coin America’s gold medal win as the “Miracle on Ice.”

            Although Michaels owns the greatest call in sports history, the greatest “call” in all of world history asks us the same question, “Do you believe in miracles?” God created a very good world only to see it corrupted by sin and death to the point that God had regretted that he made man on the earth and said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land…for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Gen 6:7). God sent the flood cleansing the world and restarting his covenant relationship with Noah. The first thing Noah did after hitting dry ground was to build an alter for Lord. Noah was reclaiming the earth for the worship of the Lord. Tragically, sin continued in the hearts of man forcing Noah to curse Canaan and leading to the great rebellion against God in at the tower of Babel where the man attempted to make a name for themselves. In response to man’s effort to make their name great, He confused their language and scattered them across the world. Things have only gotten worse since Adam and Eve took of the fruit and ate it in Garden. Rebellion and sin abounded on the earth. It would take a miracle to fix this problem. “Do you believe in miracles?”

            God’s call to Abram is so glorious and its implications are so extensive it shapes the rest of the Bible. If we understand the call of Abram, we will understand the gran-metanarrative of the entire story of human history. John Stott writes, “God made a promise to Abraham. And an understanding of that promise is indispensable to an understanding of the Bible and of the Christian mission. These are perhaps the most unifying verses in the Bible; the whole of God’s purpose is encapsulated here.[2]” The greatest challenge in preaching this passage is to preach it in such a way that drives home its beauty and significance. I pray that you will glorify God as we see his immense mercy in the call of Abram, beginning in a barren land.

The Call from Barren Land

            In order to fully appreciate the miraculous call of Abram, we must first understand the origins of Abram and his family when he received the call. Abram’s story begins with the announcement of the generations of his father Terah. Genesis 11:27-32,

Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.

The writer, Moses, highlights that Abram’s wife, Sarai, was barren. There is the double emphasis in 11:30, “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.” Abram had no future. His line was going to end with him.

Abram was not have been the ideal choice to re-establish the kingdom of God. Noah had three sons and daughters-in-laws and was righteous. Abram was childless with a wife who could not bear children and was an idolater. Joshua 24:2, “And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.” Abram worshipped the pagan gods of his homeland Babel as John Calvin notes, “Abram was plunged in the filth of idolatry.[3]” Abram brings nothing to this new endeavor to establish God’s kingdom. He is childless idolater with no future and yet God chooses to this unlikely candidate to establish his kingdom on the earth.

      Friend, God delights in using sinners to accomplish his purposes. Abram was a sinner in rebellion against God and God in his kindness extends his hand of grace to call Abram to His glory. God repeatedly calls unlikely sinners to service in his kingdom from the idolatrous Abram, to the swindler Jacob, to greedy Zacchaeus, and the terrorist Saul. The prologue of Israel’s history, Genesis 1-11 shows that pervasive nature of sin. The amount and degree of sin is designed to highlight the beautiful grace of God, but before we can see the beauty of grace we have to see the grossness of sin. DA Carson writes,

Sin is so warping that it corrodes every facet of our being, our wills and affections, our view of others and thus our relationships, our bodies and our minds. Sinners incur guilt, yet they need more than forgiveness and reconciliation to God (though never less), since the results of sin are so pervasive: they also need regeneration and transformation.[4]

The point is that because of the fall sin spreads to all in men in all ways. Sin has affected every aspect of our lives. Our sin incurs God’s wrath and justice. We deserve to die, like Abram, for our sin. Without God’s call, we, like Abram, are in a barren land, with nothing of value and no hope for a future. We are sinners awaiting God’s judgment. “Do you believe in miracles?”

The Call to a Blessed Land

It is out of the utter hopeless and idolatry that God calls Abram to re-establish his kingdom. Hear the glorious and miraculous call of Abram,        

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

In my living room sits a trunk with the inscription, Marlla Melas 1843. It was the trunk that held all the belongings of from my ancestors who left Norway to America. We live in a nation of immigrants who have ancestors like mine who left their homeland to restart their life here in the United States. Our world has become transient and it is not uncommon to leave family and travel across the world, but for ancient man to leave his people and his father’s house would have been almost impossible. Abram was identified by his relationship with his father for he was, “Abram son of Terah.” God was asking Abram to live his father’s goods and his father’s gods. God was inviting Abram to leave all and follow Him.

The call of Abram to leave all and follow God is nothing less than what God calls us to do. Jesus said,

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39)

God demands all. He wants all of our life. When you heard God’s call to come to Him, did you understand the full ramifications of what He was asking you to do? When God calls us, He asks us to leave all behind and become fully devoted to Him. It sounds hard, but that is only if we do not understand the call. If we understand how glorious the call God extends to sinner, we would not consider the call hard at all. Remember that Jesus says,

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46)

Abram believed in the immense value of the call of God and was willing to leave all behind. So what did God promise Abram?

            According to Sydney Greidanus, the call of Abram is wrapped up in three promises. First, God promises to bless Abram personally. He tells the childless Abram that he will become a great nation and God will make his name great and will be blessing in a land that he will show him. The settlers at Babel wanted to make a name for themselves while here God is going to give Abram a great name. Second, God promises to bless his contemporaries, “I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonors you I will curse.” Lastly, God will bless all the families of the earth through this one man. God has not abandoned his creation, but will spread his glory over the whole earth.

            Another way to group these great promises which I believe help to frame the rest of the Bible is God promises Abram: Land, Nation, Name and Blessing. If we focus on these headings, it sheds light on the rest of the biblical storyline. First, God promises to bring Abram into a land. When Abram heard the call he did not know it was going to be a land flowing with milk and honey, but he knew it was going to be his inheritance. Hebrews 11:8, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” The promise of land is a key theme throughout the Bible. One can trace the entire idea of land from Genesis 1- Revelation 22. God prepared a land for his people in Genesis 1, God expelled his people from the land in Genesis 3, God is now promising a new land in Genesis 12, God brings his people into the promise land in Joshua, God removes his people from the land again in the exile, God promises his people a new land in an eternal inheritance in the New Testament, and God fulfills his promise by giving the land of the new heavens and new earth to his people in Revelation. The story of God’s people is a story of entering the promised land.

            Secondly, God promises to make Abram a great nation. Abram has no child and his wife is barren. The only way that Abram will become a great nation is with offspring. Abram’s offspring will not only become ethnic Israel, but all who are Abram’s children by faith. The Lord shows his love for Israel not because of their greatness, but rather because of His. Deuteronomy 7:6-9,

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.

A key question throughout the Bible, “Is who are God’s people or who belongs to the nation?” One of the main conflicts in the New Testament is the whether Gentiles belong to the nation and can be part of God’s people. A misunderstanding of God’s covenant people will wreck havoc in the church from the 1st century to now.

            Thirdly, God promises to make Abram’s name great. As the story unfolds, we will see that Abram will receive a great name not because of what he had done, but because his name will become wrapped up in God’s name and be identified in what God has done. In Genesis 17, God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and reiterates his promise to Abram.  As Abram will be identified with God’s name, our greatest treasure is that we bear his name. We are Christians.  We belong to Christ.

            Lastly, God will make Abram a blessing to all the families of the earth. The goal of Abram’s call was cosmic in scope. It brings a reminder to the reader of the seed of the woman that was promised in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” We know that the blessing promised to Abram was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Galatians,

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith; so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatian 3:7-9;14).

Jesus Christ came to redeem his people from the curse of sin by becoming a sin for us and was raised on the third day to give us living hope for our glorious inheritance through faith. Jesus is the blessing to all the families of the earth.  He is the hope for all people. For everyone who receives Christ Jesus as Lord has been given the right to become children of God. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Gal 3:28-29)

            The great promises to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3 are the great promises given to all of God’s people in seed form. Genesis 12:1-3 provides an outline of the rest of human history in how God is going to fix the problems of Genesis 3. God is going to establish his kingdom on earth through the offspring of Abram, Jesus Christ, and all who bow to Him as Lord. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Those who understand their sin and desperate need and turn to God in faith will receive the glorious promises of Genesis 12:1-3. “Do you believe in the miracle of the promise?”

The Call to Build a Land

            How do we show we believe? Abram believed in God’s promise because we see his response to God’s call. Genesis 12:4-5,

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan.

Abram obeyed God. We show that we trust in God’s promise by obeying his word. “By faith he (Abram) went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land…For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:9-10) Abram lived by faith.

            Abram left his father’s gods to believe in the one, true God. Abram believed in the glorious promise of God, but was faced with a decision as soon as he entered the land for, “When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” The land was not empty, but occupied with the cursed Canaanites. Abram realized that when he entered the land that the task was not going to be an uneasy one. He trusted God, but now was met with difficulty. Would he turn back or continue to trust God? The oak of Moreh was the center of Canaanite worship where they came to offer their sacrifices to their gods. It was at this place that the Lord spoke again to Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land.”

            Imagine a group of Israelites gathered looking over at the land of Canaan. Their fathers had gotten to the edge of the promise land like they had, but turned their hearts against God and were forced to wander in the wilderness. Now they are again in the same place. And they see their forefather receive the great words from God, “To your offspring I will give this land,” and then they see his response at the place of Canaanite worship, Abram, “built there an alter to the Lord, who had appeared to him.” Abram was claiming Canaan for God. As Noah built an altar after God cleansed the earth, Abram was reclaiming this land for the worship of God. Abram would travel throughout the land of Canaan and strategically build altars in the places of false worship. The Israelites were on the edge of the promise land confronted with the choice: will they turn like their fathers in fear of the mighty Canaanites or will they reclaim the promised land for God like our forefather Abram?

The message would have been clear to the Israelites. God has promised to give us this land. We must enter the land and reclaim it for the worship of God. Canaan was just the beginning. God’s goal in the promise to Abram was never to stop at there, but to see his glory fill the earth. The Israelites knew of God’s great promise to bless the whole earth. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14) Israel knew of God’s call to bless the earth, but sadly, their light never fully reflected the glory of God. The charge to fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord has been given to the church. Jesus told his disciples after his resurrection, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46-48)

Beloved, we are witnesses of the promise. We have been called to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ is all nations. And we, like the Abram, are in a land full of “Canaanites,” called to reclaim the land for the worship of God. We reclaim our land for the worship of God not by building altars, but by going to make disciples by baptizing people in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them all that the Lord has commanded. Will we shrink back in fear or will we boldly believe in the promise of God and work to build the kingdom through proclamation of the gospel?

Abram could have turned back. The Disciples could have turned back. We could turn back. Abram believed in God’s promise and built altars for the Lord. The Disciples believed God’s promise and built God’s kingdom through the gospel. They both believed the miraculous call of God to save sinners through the promised seed, Jesus Christ. Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe in the miraculous call of God to save sinners through the promised seed? Do you believe that God wants to bless all the families of the earth? If you believe in the miracle of salvation, go and reclaim our city and world for Christ by faithfully sharing the promise of God that He will save all sinners who trust in Jesus.

 

 

[1] http://vancouver2010.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/22/how-miraculous-was-the-miracle/?_r=0 odds ranged from as high as 1 in 1000 to as low as 17-1 depending on various calculations.

[2] John Stott. The Living God is a Missionary God. 3.

[3][3] Quoted by Dereck Kidner in his Genesis commentary.

[4] DA Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited. 50

The Proud (Genesis 11:1-9)

 “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” and “He that lies down with dogs, shall rise up with fleas,” are only a few of the witticisms of Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin is known as a key figure in American’s quest for liberty and one of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence. Although he was a key figure in the early days of the American experiment, his wit and wisdom published in his Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1732 continues to find its way into American culture. At the age of 20 Benjamin Franklin created a list of 13 virtues that he tried to instill in his life every day:

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.[1]

 

Benjamin Franklin tried to cultivate these virtues throughout his life.

A man who is a giant in American history, known for his intellect and common sense, reflected on these virtues in his autobiography saying,

In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.[2]

Pride is devastating. Franklin is right, we can disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as we please, but there it remains.

Pride is a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in conduct. Pride, the inflated opinion of our own importance, is devastating for marriages, friendships, societies, and churches. Have you ever experienced the devastating effects of pride? I have seen too many times how my pride has harmed relationships with people whom I love and with my God who loves me. Friends, we must deal with our pride, or it will be dealt with. There are four aspects of pride I want us to consider in this text. First, let’s focus on how pride hinders our mission.

Pride Hinders Mission

            The story of the Tower of Babel has many parallels to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. As I have shared before, the wordplays throughout Genesis help to focus the narrative in a particular direction. Israel passed on its history orally through storying which makes word plays significant to the original audience. We pick of the story after the flood and with Noah’s descendants. The flood was a cleansing of the Earth and Noah was given the same charge from God that Adam and Eve had in the Garden, Genesis 9:1, “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Noah and his sons were tasked to fill the earth. And they begin to fulfill that mission before they settled in the plain in the land of Shinar. Genesis 11:1-2,

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.

The whole earth had one language and the same words. There was unity on the earth so that God’s people could accomplish their mission to fill and subdue the earth, but instead of fulfilling their mission, their pride forced them to stop.

            The people chose their desires over God’s words. They followed in Adam’s footsteps choosing to be wise in their own eyes rather than submitting to the Eternal King’s decree. Their pride caused them to settle rather than fulfill God’s mission. Pride hinders mission. What motivated the people to settle? What motivates us to settle rather than to fulfill God’s mission? It could have been a desire for comfort. It would have been difficult to continue to travel throughout the earth. It would have been much easier to settle and lay down roots. It could have been a desire for community. It would have been hard to send away friends and relatives to new places. It would have been much easier to stay together and united.

            Regardless of their motivations for settling, we do know that they did not want to be scattered across the face of the earth (Verse 4). They did not want to fulfill God’s mission. They placed their desires above God’s desires. Their pride hindered the mission of God as human pride will always hinder the mission of the God. Has our desire for comfort or a “closed” community hindered our desire to share the gospel? Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” but too often we just “settle” here and try to build something for ourselves.

            Beloved, God has given us a mission to fill the earth of his glory by calling all nations to the obedience of faith in Jesus Christ. Our goal is not a full sanctuary, but to impact the lostness of our city, county, state, nation, and world with the power of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I wonder how much of our mission has been hindered because our pride has exalted our desires above the Lord’s? How many times we have drifted from our mission of making disciples to focus on the complaints of people’s prideful preferences?

Pride Highlights Man

            Pride hinders mission, because it highlights man. After settling in the plain, men speak to one another. Notice how similar the language here in Genesis 11:3-4 is to Genesis 1:26,

And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

First, notice the two main motivations for building a city, to make a name for themselves and to avoid being dispersed over the face of the whole earth.

They wanted to build a city and a tower with its top in the heavens. This could mean that they just wanted to build a really tall building like our modern-day skyscrapers as it is used in other parts of Deuteronomy (1:28, 9:1), but the language more accurately points to how they are trying to build a city without God. This is prideful autonomy. They do not want to acknowledge God, but want to serve themselves. Like Adam and Eve’s desire to be wise in the Garden, they desired to make a name for themselves. Mankind is attempting again to usurp divine prerogatives and trying to live without him.[3] They are attempting to place Man at the center Earth’s story.

We see a picture of the secular city that is opposed to God. Babel, which is where we get “Babylon”, is a common theme of the worldly kingdom that is set against God. Israel was on the edge of the promise land and saw the great strength of the Canaanite nation states and was filled with fear. The mighty kingdoms of this world often strike fear in hearts of God’s people, but all the kingdoms of this world will not stand against the power of God. God’s people need to remember that the kingdoms of the earth will fall. Revelation 18:1-2,

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.” “Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.” (Revelation 18:1-2;10;16)

Babylon, and mighty kingdoms that are set against the Lord will fall.

            Throughout Scripture, Babylon is the symbol of the world while Jerusalem is the city of God. God’s people have a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Hebrews 12:22-24, says that we,

have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

With which city do you identify: the city of the man or the city of God? Babel highlights man as the center of things while Jerusalem places God at the center of life. Are you trying to make a name for yourself, or do you rejoice in being identified with the name of God?

            Christian, we are called to be in the world, but not of the world. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. America is not Israel. America is Babylon. My fear with the church is that we care more about building a great nation on earth than we do with filling the earth with God’s glory. One Day God is going to call his scattered people out the nations of this world into his eternal kingdom. We, like Israel, need to be reminded not to fear the power of the great kingdoms of this world, but rather to trust in power of our God.

Pride Humbles Man

            Man has set up its mighty city to build a name for themselves so that they would not have be dispersed over the face of the earth. The mighty city of man, the Lord had to stoop down to see.

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:5-9)

The Lord saw that the unity of rebellion set against God would hurt the children of man. He saw that they were one people with one language and this prideful autonomous city was only the beginning of what they would do. It was going to get much worse so God confused their language and forced them to fulfill his command to fill the earth.

            Babel was known in the ancient world as the gate of god. It was viewed as the center of civilization and power. And this mighty city was so low that God had to come down to see it. It was not the gateway to God, but a place of confusion and folly. Anyone who stands against the Creator-God is one who is confused and foolish. It will not end well. Psalm 2:1-6,

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

The Lord looks at the plans of the nations and laughs. It is a fool’s errand to stand against the Lord. It may look like the nations are winning, but they will all come to an end.

The pride of Babel lives in our hearts. And Psalm 14:1-3,

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

And Romans 1:21-23,

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…

It is foolish to stand against God. It is foolish to exalt ourselves in the place of God. It is foolish to live in pride. God opposes the proud. Benjamin Franklin is right; pride is the hardest passion to subdue. We cannot subdue it so God sent his Son to destroy prideful boasting on the cross.

Pride Hammered by Meekness

            The only way to overcome pride was to kill it on the cross. Jesus overcame human pride through humility and meekness.  Jesus did not overcome pride by making a name for himself, but by humbly submitting to the Father. He lived to make God’s name great. And through his perfect obedience, God gave him the name that is above every name. Philippians 2:5-11,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus Christ hammered pride to the cross. The Cross is an indictment on human pride.[4] The cross shows that no man can make a name for themselves, for the cross destroys boasting. “The cross describes a way of salvation which according to 1 Corinthians 1:29 has this purpose: "that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”[5] Jesus Christ removed boasting in the cross, but he did so much more.

            Zephaniah prophesied of a day when God would convert the speech of the nations: “For at that time I will change the speech of the people to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.” Jesus was crucified, dead and was buried, but rose on the third day. He ascended to heaven and sat at the right hand of the throne of God. The ascended Christ sent forth his spirit on earth at Pentecost. Acts 2:1-12,

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

This means that through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ that God began to reverse the curse of Babel. This means Jesus has restored the unity of diverse peoples through the power of the Spirit. This means Christians are one in the Spirit. This means that you have more in common that a Christian Syrian Refugee than you do with your lost American neighbor. This means that God is asking you to lay down your pride by joining with his people in the local church. This means that God wants his people to fill the earth with his glory.

            The cross has removed human pride. No one can come to God except through Christ. Pride was hammered to the cross. If we boast, we boast in the cross. Paul writes in Galatians 6:14, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” We cannot master our pride except through the cross. We must repent of trying to make a name for ourselves. We must humble ourselves by repenting of our pride in all its manifestations and boast fully in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

            On the plains of Shinar, God said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” Imagine if God now looked at the people of Park Baptist and God said, “Behold they are one people in Christ and they have all one language by the Spirit, and this is only the beginning of what they will do for my glory. And nothing that they propose to do in Christ will now be impossible for them. For with God all things are possible.” What if God wanted to take our small, old Baptist church and use us to fill the earth with this glory? What if God wanted to take our unity and display the power of the cross? What if God wanted to display his manifold wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places through the church?

Beloved, kill your pride. Do not live to make a name for yourself, but let us live for the name that is above every name, Jesus Christ, who was ransomed for people from every tribe and language and people and nation. He who has made us into an unshakeable kingdom and priests to our God that shall reign on the earth forever.

 

[1] http://www.thirteenvirtues.com/ accessed 3.5.16

[2] http://www.ushistory.org/franklin/autobiography/page42.htm accessed 3.5.2016

[3] Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15., 240.

[4] http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/how-the-spirit-helps-us-understand access 3.6.16 Piper uses this line, but I had thought of it before I looked it up. I did like his reference to 1 Corinthians 1.

[5] Ibid Pipe

The Flood (Gen. 6:9-9:17)

The southern rainfall of 2015 felt like it was never going to end. The South Carolina rain caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage. Many people were left without power for weeks while others lost homes due to water damage. There were others who didn’t just lose their property, but they lost their lives. No one who lived through the mild, local yet horrific South Carolina flood in Columbia and Charleston is going to underestimate the damage that water can cause. No one who lost loved ones is going to turn their flood story into a cute, fun story for children. The flood produced devastation. The flood of South Carolina changed families forever. Homes were lost. Lives were taken. The flood was no laughing matter.

            One of the saddest events in human history is the day the Lord flooded the earth. Many people either have turned this dreadful event to a cute children story or put it in the category as pure fiction. The devastation that was seen in South Carolina last year is only a small glimpse of the devastation that God brought upon the earth. The flood is not fiction, but a real event that showed the consequences of human rebellion. The flood was an awful reality.

            The New Testament writers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, believed the flood to be a real event. They believed that the flood was meant to teach the world about the reality of sin and the coming consequences of a world that rejects God. The flood was also meant to give hope to believers who are struggling for righteousness in a world of rebellion. We want to look at the familiar story of the Flood through the eyes of the New Testament writers. The New Testament provides the interpretation of the flood and teaches us why it matters for us today.

God Punishes Sin in the Flood

            We pick up the story of the world after the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden. The serpent deceived Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam who had received the command from the Lord did not stop his wife, but followed her into sin. Their sin brought death into the world and banished them from the garden. The spread of sin continues over the next two chapters. In Genesis 4, Cain murdered his brother Abel out of jealousy. In one generation, we see the drastic effects of the Fall. Sin always spreads. God keeps his word to Adam that eating the fruit that he commanded not to eat that he, “will surely die.” In Genesis 5, we here the constant refrain, “and he died.” Sin continues to spread throughout the earth. Genesis 6:5-8,

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

The sin of man grieved the heart of God. Always remember that your sin and my sin grieves the heart of God. God hates sin. He hates sin because it destroys the relationship with his creatures and causes devastation in their lives. A righteous and holy God must hate sin. And good God has to punish sin.

            The story of the flood formally begins in Genesis 6:9 with the announcement of the generation of Noah,

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. (Genesis 6:9-13).

God will deal with sin by dealing with sinners by destroying them with the earth. God continues to explain to Noah how he is going to destroy the earth. Genesis 6:17, “For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die.”

            The dramatic event of the flood unfolds under the direct hand of God. There are other flood narratives in the ancient literature. The most well-known is the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Epic of Gilgamesh speaks of the gods being angry with human noise and overpopulation. When the flood waters begin they became “frightened of the deluge, They shrank back and went up to Anu’s highest heaven.[1]” The biblical narrator paints a much different picture as the flood is under the control of the sovereign Lord who causes the rains to fall and the sends the wind to cause the waters to subside. The theme of God’s sovereignty is a constant theme throughout the book of Genesis. God sends the rain,

In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:11-12)

The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days. (Genesis 7:17-24)

The rain came and there was nothing that anybody could do to stop it.

            Noah’s neighbors were eating and drinking and enjoying life. They lived according to their own reality. “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Although they were living in their reality, they were not living the reality of the Lord God. The Flood is an example of the final judgment. The Flood is an awful reality. The Bible doesn’t give the accounts of those that perished, but we can imagine. We can imagine families trying to escape the rising waters. We can imagine the horror of seeing loved ones washed away before their eyes. We can imagine the dread of knowing that there was no hope, but certain death.

The New Testament speaks of the Judgment in the Flood as a sign of the Coming Judgment of God. Jesus said,

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (Matthew 24:36-42)

Those in Noah’s day were not prepared for the flood, are you prepared for the coming of the Son of Man?

            I remember my grandmother writing me a letter on this passage. I was a new believer and starting reading my Bible and talking to my family about Jesus. My grandmother was a lifelong Lutheran and she was reading this passage one day and was scared. I remember reading her letter and sensing the fear she had of the coming judgment of God. Do you feel weight of this passage? Do you see how God is going to punish sin? Are you ready? Are you ready for the coming of the Son of Man? When he comes, your secret sins will be disclosed. Your bank accounts will be revealed. Your inner thoughts will be made known. Are you ready?

            God will punish sin. In Peter’s day, there were those who questioning the return of Jesus. They did not believe the Lord was going to hold them accountable for their sin. Peter writes,

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3:4-7)

There is a Day coming of destruction for the ungodly. Are you ready for that Day?

God Protects Saints in the Flood

            The Flood teaches us that God will punish the ungodly, but it also teaches us that God will protect his saints. God will protect those who trust in Him. Remember the beginning of the Flood narrative, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” Noah was a man of godly character. He was not without sin, but was above reproach. His life was characterized by righteousness, right living before God. God protected Noah from the coming disaster,

And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks. For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.” Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. (Genesis 6:13-22)

God spoke to Noah and Noah obeyed God. This will always be the sign of the righteous. When God speaks, his people listen. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) Noah showed himself to be righteous in how he responded to the Word of God. Do you do the same?

            Noah continued to demonstrate his trust in the Lord when the Day of judgement came. Genesis 7:1-10,

Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” And Noah did all that the LORD had commanded him. Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth.

And,

They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the LORD shut him in. (Genesis 7:15-16)

The Lord shut Noah in ark to protect him from the judgment.

The literary climax is Genesis 8:1, “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.” God remembered Noah. Noah honored God and God remembered Noah. Peter uses these words to encourage the church who was being persecuted by the world as a reminded that God will punish the ungodly and protect his people. He writes, “if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly…then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment. (2 Peter 2:5,9)

Are you going through a trial? The flood is a reminder that God protects the godly from their trials. Do you see how understanding the flood as a real historical story of judgment of the ungodly and the salvation of the righteous serves us today? God will protect us. God will protect the godly from unjust government. God will protect the godly from unjust accusers. God will protect the godly from Himself on the day of wrath.

God Promises Salvation after the Flood

            The story of the flood is the awful reality of consequences of sin. However, the story does not end only in judgment, but in hope. There is always promise of hope in the midst of judgment in the Bible. Genesis 8:20-22,

Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

God officially changes his dealings with men even though their hearts doesn’t change. Human beings will still be inclined to do evil. The next two chapters we see Noah getting drunk and men uniting together against God to try to create the Tower of Babel, so what changed? God is shifting from dealing with humanity with strict justice to pure grace.[2] God will begin to establish his kingdom on earth through Noah and his descendants.

God makes a covenant with Noah which reminds us of Genesis 1 and his covenant with Adam and points us forward the covenant with the New Adam, Jesus Christ. Genesis 9:7-17,

And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

God repeats the word “berit,” covenant seven times. The covenant God makes with Noah and all living creatures is a “perfect, all-encompassing covenant.” And this covenant is not conditioned like the one to Adam, but God places no conditions of obedience for maintaining this covenant, for he has already explicitly stated, “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth.” (Genesis 8:21)

            God offers a sign of the covenant with a rainbow that he hangs in the cloud. A sign that only He can control; an unconditional sign. Israel would have viewed a bow as a sign of war. The picture is that God now hangs his bow in the clouds as a sign that he is no longer actively at war with the world, but has offered peace. The beauty of the bow in the clouds is that it can only be controlled by God. God has offered a peace treaty with this world by no longer aiming his bow at the world, but aiming the bow at his own heart. God will fulfill his covenant by taking the bow and shooting the arrow at his own heart. He will send His Son to the cross to be pierced for the transgressions of man. We have hearts that are inclined to evil from our youth. We need new hearts. And now through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has offered us peace and new heart. For, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) The old world of strict judgment was washed away with the flood so that now if anyone turns from their sin and trust in Christ, they will be a new creation.

God brought Noah through the flood as a sign that we could be cleansed from our sin through the appeal to God for a clean conscience. God sent the “arrow” through the righteous one making peace through the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20). Peter writes,

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Peter 3:18-22)

God brought Noah safely through the water so now through repentance and faith we may be cleansed from our former sins being buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in the newness of life (Rom. 6:4).

            The flood shows us that God will punish sin and He will protect the godly, but the flood ultimately shows us that the only way we will be ready on our day of judgment is if we have appeal to God for a new heart through faith in the coming Son of Man, Jesus Christ. The Flood is an awful reality of the judgment. The cross is an awesome reality that our judgment has already been paid for all who turn to Christ. God promises salvation through the Coming Son. God has hung up his war bow and now offers you peace through Jesus Christ. Have you accepted his offer?

 

[1] Gilgamesh, Tablet XI, lines 113-114.

[2] Sydney Greidanus,. Preaching Christ in Genesis. 116.

The Fall

Have you ever struggled with sin? Fallen to temptation? Attempted to cover up your shame? Have you ever been hopeless in your pursuit of holiness? The third chapter of Genesis explains the root answer to all these questions. The Fall is the Second Act of God’s story. I pray that in a close study of this text, you will better understand how we are tempted to sin and to see God’s glorious grace, even in the midst of judgment.

The Tempter in the Fall

            We are introduced to a new character at the beginning of Genesis 3. A character that will play a prominent role in the rest of the story of the Scriptures. Genesis 3:1a, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field the LORD God had made.” The serpent was a creature that was made by the Lord. Although he was a creature, he was different than the other beasts of the field, for he speaks. Genesis 3:1b, “He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” His opening lines reveal his craftiness is directed against the Lord as he questions His command. Scripture reveals to us that this serpent is not a mere serpent, but the Devil.

            The Devil is given many names in Scripture. Jesus speaks of him in the New Testament as the father of lies for, “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John8:44) Revelation 12:9, “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” He is the Accuser of God’s people (Rev. 12:10). The prince of the power of the air who leads the sons of disobedience, the god of this world who blinds the minds of unbelievers and the adversary who roars around like a lion seeking someone to devour. From his introduction we see a creature who is crafty and who stands against the Lord.

            It is important to note that the serpent knows the commands of the Lord. The evil one knows the Word, but he twists it for his own purposes and for the destruction of God’s people. Before we examine his tactics, we must first believe that Satan is real and active in God’s world. The narrative does not explain why the serpent is in the Garden, but simply states that he is there. The serpent is a creature of God, but the passage does not explain the nature and origin of evil. The passage explains the origin of human sin and guilt, but does not attempt to answer all the questions of evil. We know that the Bible never attributes God as the author of evil, but as One who uses evil to bring about good (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28).

The Temptation of the Fall

The tempter begins his temptation by questioning God’s Word. He wants to cause God’s people to doubt his word. Satan loves half-truths. He presents truth mixed with lies. Genesis 3:1-5,

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5)

Satan twists God’s word, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” If you remember God said, “You may freely eat of any tree in the garden.” The beginning of the temptations starts when Eve start to question God’s word. The tactics are still alive today.

            The voice of the evil may not be from a serpent, but may be from a friend, or a news article, or a preacher. Did God actually say, “marriage can only be between a man or a woman?’ One mark of false teachers is those who twist the scriptures for their own benefit. We were promised that in last days there will be false teachers and false hearers. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4) Temptation begins with doubt, but it leads to denial.

            The woman’s response to the half-truths of the serpent reveals how she has already been subtly deceived,

First, she omits those elements in the command, “any” and “freely,” which placed the prohibition in a context of liberality. At this point she still is thinking collectively with her husband, from whom, as the narrator implies, she received the command: “we may eat” (v. 2). Second, Eve identifies the tree according to its location rather than its significance; and third, she refers to “God” as the serpent had done, rather than “the Lord” (v. 3). Fourth, she also adds the phrase “you must not touch it” (v. 3), which may make the prohibition more stringent. Yet to her credit the fear of touching the fruit may have been out of deference for God’s command. For Israel “touch” was associated with prohibition and death or with consecration to God. Finally, she failed to capture the urgency of certain death, “You will [surely] die” (v. 3).[1]

The woman appears to fight temptation, but she has already begun down the path of doubting God’s Word.

The serpent picks up his attack by outright denying God’s Word and questions his character. Genesis 3:4-5,

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The serpent denies that death will happen and then questions God’s motives. The serpent tells the woman what she will gain, but nothing of what she will lose. Satan told the truth. The man and woman’s eyes would be opened and they would be like God knowing good and evil, but he does not what that will mean. The serpent intentionally focuses on all the positives while obscuring all the negatives. Doesn’t temptation begin the same way today? It holds out the promises of happiness, pleasure and comfort without showing the heartache, the emotional guilt and the people hurt in walking in sin.

            We see the crafty serpent’s trickery deceiving the woman into the first sin. Genesis 3:6, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” The woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food like all the other trees and a delight to the eyes like all the other trees, but this tree would make her wise. She would be like God, so she took of the fruit and ate. The root sin here is pride. The man and woman usurp their roles as creatures and put themselves in the place of Creator. They did what was wise in their own eyes. Beloved, the root of our sin will always begin with pride.

            The Bible speaks of the woman being deceived, but her husband was right there with her. The language of the passage always uses the plural “you” implying that the husband was there during this entire conversation. He could have at any point stopped his wife. He could have spoken up and defended the Lord, but instead he was silent. The Bible said that woman was deceived, but it never says that Adam was deceived. Adam’s silence leads to destruction of the garden. How many times does our silence lead to the destruction of people’s lives? Adam will be the one who is held primarily responsible for this breach of God’s Word.

            The temptation in the Garden is still the pattern of temptation today. The apostle John writes,

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

The desires of the flesh…our appetites…good for food. The desires of the eyes…our lust…pleasing to the eye. The pride of life…to be like God. Nothing is new under the sun. The best way to overcome an attack from an enemy is to know where he will attack. What are your appetites that can lead you from the Lord? What are your desires of the eyes that tempt you? How are you tempted to make a name for yourself rather than for the Father? Know your weaknesses and plan accordingly. 

The Try after the Fall

            Immediately after the fall, we see how man and woman tried to cover their shame. They first make their own coverings. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” (Genesis 3:7) Their eyes were opened and they realized (became aware) that they were naked and they covered themselves. The first reaction to being exposed in their sin was to try and deal with it themselves. Don’t we do the same today? We are exposed in our sin and try to cover it up ourselves. And yet we know that our coverings are insufficient.

            Man and women covered themselves because they had become like God knowing good and evil. Genesis 3:8, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” They lost their innocence and immediately hide from God. They fear God. Their perfect communion with God is broken and they are spiritually separated from him. All sin breaks fellowship with God and with each other.

            And although fellowship is broken, the Covenant continues to pursue his people. He knows what has happened, but he calls out to his people giving them the opportunity to admit their guilt. Genesis 3:8-13)

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Neither the man nor the woman take responsibility for their actions, but pass blame onto another. Adam blames God for giving him the woman and the woman for giving him the fruit. The woman blames the serpent. The Lord graciously calls out to his people, but instead of turning to him they justify their actions. They both admit their sin as they both said, “I ate,” but never confessed their guilt in the transgression.

            Beloved, the sin of the man and the woman in the garden is why sin. We are all spiritually dead and separated from God because of sin. Romans 5:12. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” We are all sinners. This is the doctrine of original sin. The core of every human being is no longer good, but evil. We are born in sin and our hearts are inclined to evil because at our very core we are sinful. We all know this to be true. We all have our ways of trying to cover up and blame others, but we all know that we are at fault. We cannot deny our guilt. Sin brings judgment.

The Trouble because of the Fall

            The Lord responds to the rebellion in the garden with the pronouncement of judgment towards the rebels,

The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:14-19)

In Genesis 1, we see God three times call out his blessing: God blessed the animals, God blessed human beings and God blessed the 7th day. And here we see God issue the first of three curses at the beginning of the fall by cursing the serpent and cursing the ground (He will later curse Cain).

            The judgment that God gives is directly related to the purposes in which man and woman were created. The woman was created to bear children and to be a helper fit for her husband, so a woman will now experience pain in childbearing and will have a desire to rule or dominate her husband in marriage. The desire to criticize and control one’s husband has its beginning in the fall. The New Testament teaches that women are called to submit and respect their husbands’ leadership, for those desires are not natural to a fallen world. Adam was placed in the garden to work the land, but now the land will work against him and it will be difficult for him to exercise dominion over it. Work will become hard and the ground will eventually rule over man as man will eventually return to dust. The ultimate punishment of sin is death. Sin brings judgment.

            God completed his judgment against Adam and his wife by sending them out of the garden, banishing them from his presence and guarding the way to life.

The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:20-24)

Sin brings judgment. Genesis 3 is clear reminder of the consequences of sin, but it is also full of the glorious hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Triumph over the Fall

            Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves after the fall, but their covering was insufficient. Only God could provide a covering. Genesis 3:15 has been termed the protoevangelium, the first gospel. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” There is going to come one from a woman who is going to crush the head of the serpent. Genesis 3:20, “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.” Despite the pain of childbirth, woman would still fulfill her purpose. Eve would bring forth a son. Genesis traces the seed of the woman, Seth to Noah to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah. And the rest of the Bible traces seed of the woman the line ultimately to One who is going to fulfill the promise of Genesis 3:15, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the seed of woman. Jesus is the New Adam. Jesus would face the temptation of the serpent, not in a Garden, but in the wilderness. After forty days without food, Jesus would stand against the crafty deception of Satan by trusting in the LORD God. Where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded. Jesus was tempted three times and each time overcame temptation with the Word of Truth.

The LORD God made a provision to cover Adam and Eve in the garden. He covered them with the skin of an animal. Blood was shed to cover their nakedness. This covering was only a sign of how the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent; he would first have to be bruised and bleed, taking the curse of God on a tree. Matthew 27:45-46 speaks of Jesus as he hung on the cross, “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We know why Jesus was forsaken on the curse.

 We know why he was cursed. He was cursed because he loved us. And Jesus was the only way to get us back to the presence of God. Genesis 3:24, “He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” A Cherubim was a symbol for God’s people reminding them that they could not enter God’s presence. The cherubim was placed on the curtain in the Temple that separated the Holy place from the Holy of Holies. Matthew 27:50-51, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split…” “When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54) Through the shed blood of the Son of God, the curtain was torn and the cherubim no longer blocked the way to the presence of God. Jesus triumphed over the fall through his death.

Jesus died to pay our curse, but was raised to give us new life. Salvation only comes through judgment. We were saved because our Savior was judged. We celebrate the victory of the Lamb who was slain by enjoying a foretaste of the meal to come. We feast today with the bread and the fruit of the wine as a reminder of what Christ has done in his death and what awaits us in the coming resurrection. The Lord’s Supper is a promise. We come together and proclaim the Lord’s death as the only way to God. The Lord’s Table is for sinners, but for sinners who have repented of their sins and trusted in Christ. We demonstrate our trust in Christ publicly through baptism and by committing ourselves to Lord’s church which He purchased with his blood.

 

[1] Mathews, K. A. (1996). Genesis 1-11:26 (Vol. 1A, pp. 235–236). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The Beginning

Isis. Gun Violence. Economic Collapse. Unsafe Drinking Water. Global Warming. Racial Tension. Political Instability. Worldwide Pandemics. Technological Blackout. Meteor Collision. Zombie Apocalypse. Fear is everywhere. We cannot escape the constant barrage of news stories or television shows that are designed to incite fear into our lives. And fear doesn’t appear only in the main stream media, but in the pews of our churches. We constantly hear, “The church is dying,” “The culture is moving away from the Lord,” “The younger generation do not like tradition,” “The older generations like tradition too much,” “We are not making budget.” We live in a world that wants us to be fearful. 

      Fear is a lack of faith. Fear underestimates the power of God. We are taught to believe Psalm 118:6, for “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” The reason we do not have to fear is because the Lord is on our side. If people know that the Lord is on their side, why do people fear? Why are people so afraid? I believe that people live in fear because they do not understand who the Lord is who is at their side. It is one thing to say the Lord is on my side, it is quite another to say the Lord the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, Sovereign King of the Universe is on our side. The Bible is a book about God. The Bible teaches us what God has done and what He is like. The foundation to understanding the character of God begins in Genesis 1. Genesis was not fundamentally written to explain all the details of gravity or the various types of dinosaurs or how Cain found a wife. Genesis was written to a fearful Israel so that they would properly understand who God is and why Yahweh is the most powerful God over all others. 

Moses probably wrote Genesis after Israel’s exodus from Egypt and before their entrance into the promise land immediately following his death. Israel had lived in the pluralistic culture of Egypt with their various gods and were going to face the pluralistic gods of Canaan. Moses wanted Israel to know that they did not need to fear because their God was far greater than any other gods. Yahweh is greater, because He is the Creator King and is over all the universe.

The situation of Israel is not much different from our situation. They were tempted to fear the strength and the gods of the culture as we are tempted to live in fear. The words of Genesis may not answer all your questions about science, but they should reveal to you the power of the Creator King of the universe. I pray that you will not fear, but rather that you will know who the Lord is that is on your side.

The Creator King Systematically Speaks Creation

            The reason we should have confidence in God is because he created an ordered world out of chaos through his powerful word. Genesis 1 is a beautiful passage of Scripture. The Hebrew structure and arrangement of the chapter echo God’s perfection and power in creating the world. English Bibles end after the sixth day while the Hebrew structure is clear that it should end when God rested on the seventh day. Moses begins new sections with the “toledot” or “these are the generations” throughout the book of Genesis to help the reader understand the structure. There is also a chiastic inclusion at with Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 2:3. This means that the same words that are used in Genesis 1:1 are the same words used in Genesis 2:1-3, but in reverse order. The structure is important to fully grasp what God is communicating to Israel through Moses.

            Moses systematically orders the text as God systematically orders Creation. The first sentence, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” provides a worldview for all believers. Derek Kinder observes, “It is no accident that God is the subject of the first sentence of the Bible, for this word dominates the whole chapter and catches the eye at every point of the page: it is used some thirty-five times in as many verses of the story.[1]” God is the main character of the Bible and Genesis 1 highlights the complete perfection of God.

            Moses systematically structured the text using the perfect number 7 to show how God perfectly ordered the cosmos. There are seven days, seven times God said, “And it was so,” seven times, “God saw that it was good/very good,” heaven and earth are both mentioned 21 times (a multiple of seven), and God is mentioned 35 times, another multiple of seven. God perfectly and systematically ordered creation. The days of creation are structured in two sets of three days, three being another number of completeness. The two sets of three days solve the problem stated in Genesis 1:2, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The earth was without form and void. The first set of three days solves the form problem while the second set of three solves the problem of the void.

            Each day has a very similar structure: an announcement (God said), a command (let there be), a report (and it was so) an evaluation (it was good) and a chronology (the first day). We can see this structure in the first day. Genesis 1:3-5, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” On the first day God solved the form problem by separating light from darkness. On the second day he separated sky and water and on the third day he separated water from the land and made vegetation. Then on the second set of three days God solved the problem of the earth being void. He filled the earth with the luminaries of the Sun and Moon to light the day and night. He filled the sky with birds and the sea with fish. He provided animals and man to fill the earth with man being the pinnacle of creation to subdue and exercise dominion of the earth.

The all-wise, infinite God perfectly ordered creation. There are scores of books and theories written about the age of the earth and how scientific discovery mesh with the creation account of Genesis 1. There is value in studying and defending particular theories on the creation account, but we do not want those discussions to overtake the main thrust of the passage. The main point of the passage is that God created the heavens and earth. He, and He alone, gave the earth form and filled its void. An old age creationist and a young-earther can agree on that and thus can cooperate and have fellowship in the same church. Israel would have seen Genesis 1 as displaying God’s power and control over the earth rather than trying to figure out exact details of the creation account. Genesis 1 was written to give comfort and hope to Israel as they were surrounded by other gods so we have to be careful not to read Genesis 1 only through our western, rational, scientific minds, but also to see the original intent of the book.

God solves the problem of an earth without form and void by His Word. Creation came into existence out of nothing, or “ex nihilio,” by the Word of God. The One who always existed brought a world into existence by his word. Ten times in the creation account we see, “And God said…” Think of Israel’s history and how they would have heard Genesis 1. They were in bondage in Egypt and God brought Ten plagues upon the Egyptians. God brought them to Mount Sinai and gave them ten commandments to live by. And here Moses explains how God created the world by providing ten words to his creation. In those days, the King spoke a decree and it was done. We see in Genesis 1, God speaks and it is done showing that God, Elohim, is the King of Universe.

God brings order out of chaos with his powerful word. The New Testament continues this theme in John 1,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5; 14)

Jesus Christ is the Word of God the Father. Jesus is One with the King of Universe. He is the Sovereign Creator and creation was created for His glory. Colossians 1:15-17,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

All things were created through him and for him. Genesis 1 repeats Ten Words, “And God said,” as a sign of His perfect work in creation, but now God has spoken his perfect work in the finished work of his Son. Hebrews 1:1-4,

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

As God spoke to solve the problem of an earth that was without form and void so now God has spoken to solve the problem of sin and death through the Word made flesh. Jesus emptied himself of his glory to become a servant being made in our likeness.

The Creator became like one of his creatures, being made in the likeness of man to solve our problem of fear. Hebrews 2:14-15 help us understand the Word that Jesus now speaks, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” The Israelites were subject to lifelong slavery until God spoke his Ten Perfect Words against the Egyptians and we were subject to lifelong slavery until God spoke his Perfect Word against death and the devil. Jesus freed us from slavery by dying in our place on the cross and being raised on the third day. God has promised to save anyone from their fear of death by offering eternal life through faith in Jesus’ perfect work of redemption.

Beloved, Genesis 1 is a picture of how God has spoken and how He still speaks. The great problem of Genesis 1 was solved through God’s Word and our great problem today is solved through God’s Word. Jesus still speaks, have you heard His word?

The Creator King Sovereignly Rules Creation

            Moses shows that God is the One who is the Sovereign King of creation not the gods of the opposing nations. Israel would have known and been exposed to the gods of the Egyptians. The Egyptians believed in the pagan gods of the Sun and the Moon. Moses shows how the “powerful” pagan gods are merely God’s creatures along with the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea. Israel always struggled with fear. Many of those who first heard Genesis 1 were those who got right to the edge of the Promised Land only to spend their lives wandering in the dessert because they feared the size of Canaanites. They feared the Canaanites because they did not understand who was on their side. The Lord, the Sovereign King of the Universe, rules heaven and earth. We should not fear those who can only kill the body, but can do no more. We should fear God who is in control of our earthly life as well as the life to come.

            What are you fearful of today? What anxieties keep you up at night? What fears creep into your soul to doubt God? Beloved, our world trains us to fear, but our God is in control. It is a simple message. God is in control. God is not surprised by cancer. God is not surprised by Islamic terrorist. He is not surprised by economic collapse or a shrinking American evangelical church. God is in control. Creation is God’s testimony of His Sovereign power. Jesus says in Matthew 6,

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34)

Look at the birds of the air. The same birds I spoke into existence on the 5th day of Creation. Those birds are an ever-present reminder of my power.  Look at the lilies of the field. The same vegetation I caused to sprout on the 3rd day of Creation.

            When your fears and anxiety start getting the best of you, take a walk and observe creation. Remind your heart that God is in control. You do not need to fear; you need to remember. God is in control. Remember that our Lord Jesus Christ is the One who has been given all Authority in heaven and earth. The One who has all authority is the One whose hands have been pierced for you. You can trust the power displayed in Creation as you can trust the heart of the Creator.

The Creator King Safely Restores Creation

            One of the dominant themes of Genesis 1 is not only that God is the created, but that the creation is good. God looked over all that he had made and said that it was very good. It was perfect. It was excellent. It was spectacular. The creation account ends in Genesis 2:1-3,

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

God rested on the 7th day and made it holy. We gather on this Sabbath Day, the day that God has set apart for us as we look forward to the Sabbath rest of the people of God. The Sabbath is a reminder that God will restore his creation. He will bring about a prefect redemption. Genesis 1:1-Genesis 2:3 does not speak of sin or the Fall. It does not speak of a world that has been subjected to futility, but the original audience would have known of the Fall. Their backs would have born the scares of Egyptian whips. Their eyes would have seen death and decay in the wilderness. We do not see sin in creation, but we all have experienced the effects of sin. The effects of sin are a reminder that the world we live in is not the way it was supposed to be. God rested on the 7th Day because all that he created was very good.

            Today, and every Sabbath day, we model what God did at the end of his creation. God rested. We gather as God’s people and remember that we have rested from our labors. We no longer try to earn God’s favor with our work, but we rest in the finish work of God’s Incarnate Word. Jesus Christ has finished God’s Work. He now sits at the right hand of God ready to come again and fully restore this world to its perfection. Have you experienced that rest? Are you still trying to earn your salvation? Or have you rested in Christ? Our gathering this morning is a reminder of the finished work of Christ. God has brought salvation to his people. Jesus hung on the cross and said as he gave up his spirit, “It is finished.” Beloved, your salvation has been purchased through the blood of Christ. Rest in Him as we wait for the Sabbath rest of the people of God. God saw the Word spoken in the Son and saw that it was very good. The Lord is on our side, let us not fear.

 

 

 

[1] Greidanusm Sidney. 4