Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Life of Abraham - Genesis 20

I apologize for being away from publishing for a few days. I had a death in the family that resulted in some necessary family obligations. Even in grief, we truly saw the glory of God manifested over the past few days. I give all praise to Him for getting us through this.

Today we pick up where we left off with Genesis 20. It is a chapter that really doesn’t have a whole lot in it that I can see, but there is still a reason it is here. Once again, Abraham’s wife Sarah was taken from him and Abraham felt the need to lie in order to keep both of them alive. I think this is another place where we can see Abraham’s humanity in his story. You’ll remember that a similar thing happened to Abraham and Sarah when they met the Pharaoh in Egypt. This was in Chapter 12 of Genesis. There Abraham also passed Sarah off as his sister in order to hide the fact that she was his wife.

6 Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. 7 Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die." – Genesis 20:6-7

Why would God do this? Well, God’s wanted to show that Abraham was a prophet by making him an example for all nations in the future. Even though this is the second time he had to go through with this, Abraham still struggled with fully trusting God to protect him. Here, he conveniently forgot God’s promise made at most a few months before that he would have a son with Sarah. God was even merciful on Abimelech, preventing him from disaster due to Abraham’s mistake. The important thing to take from this chapter is to remember that Abraham did learn from this instance. Otherwise, he would not be the pillar of faith we see him as.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Life of Abraham - Genesis 19

There is some messed up stuff going on in Chapter 19 of Genesis. Abraham is not directly involved, but we saw his intervention in the previous chapter on behalf of his nephew Lot. This is also a hard chapter for me to study with a straight face because I have a hard time not seeing the two angels mentioned in this chapter as Bartleby and Loki from the Kevin Smith film Dogma. I’ll do my best to get through this chapter in a serious tone.

This chapter deals primarily with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. These were Canaanite cities that are believed to be located in a present-day location underneath the Dead Sea. They were also incredibly evil and perverted. The culture of the day was one that was known for many deviant sexual practices. Lot and his family were the only people in the two cities that followed the Lord. Lot went out of his was to care for the two angels that visited him. They were on a scouting mission of sorts. They wanted to see exactly how bad the city was and if there was anyone worth saving.

This is where the story takes a weird turn. These men had barely been in town, yet all the men of the city came to have sex with them. Because Lot had taken them into his home, their safety was his responsibility. Even though he was doing the right thing, Lot’s own views had been distorted by living there fore so long. This is why he offers his own daughters. This character trait would end up hurting Lot during the destruction of the cities.

23 By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. 24 Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the LORD out of the heavens. 25 Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. 26 But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. – Genesis 19:23-26

This provides an example of how we can be hurt when we are torn between this world and God’s world. Lot and his family followed the Lord. Still, their perspective was skewed by this world. The Lord was clearly asking them to leave everything behind for His sake. There was no reason to look back on this evil city, even if it was to look back and gloat that God was smiting His enemies. Lot’s wife couldn’t let go of her past life in the city, and unfortunately had to pay the price for looking back.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Life of Abraham - Genesis 18

When I started writing about the life of Abraham, one of the distinguishing characteristics that I wanted to talk about was his faith. We have seen that faith in action numerous times already in just a few chapters. For almost 25 years of his life, Abraham waited on God’s promises, as we have seen in the past few chapters. Another character trait becomes apparent here in chapter 18 of Genesis when we see Abraham’s mercy come through. That mercy was directed at the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Here, Abraham pleads his case for even a few, and it is an early indication of how Christ pleads our case individually for us before God.

The first part of this chapter deals with Abraham receiving three mysterious visitors. These visitors were none other than God Himself manifesting Himself in human form. Abraham didn’t know this, and easily could have turned the visitors away because of his limited resources in this harsh desert climate. Instead, Abraham welcomed them and treated them as family. He provided the choicest calf as a meal and welcomed the Lord with open arms. As a result, God remained faithful in his promise and stated he would have a son with Sarah by the time he returned the next year.

20 Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know."

22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" – Genesis 18:20-25

Abraham did not need to plead for the righteous people of Sodom. He easily could have sat back and said, “That’s great, Lord. Smite those sinners.” Instead he saw the city as Christ sees humanity. We are all lost, but there are still those that seek him and are worthy of saving. Abraham intervened for those that stayed faithful even when surrounded by wickedness. This is very similar to how Christ sees us. We live in a broken and lost world, yet Christ has promised to intervene for us if we only seek him. This was against the standard of the day when groups were often judged together, instead of individually. Abraham showed the same love to the worthy that Christ shows us.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Life of Abraham - Genesis 17

When we met Abram at the beginning of this study, he was 75 years old. That is when God began establishing His covenant with him and promised him a son. Last week we saw that when Abram was 86, he had grown impatient and took matters into his own hands by trying to force God’s promise. Today, we go ahead 13 years after the birth of Ishmael. This is where God fully establishes His covenant with Abram. We see where his name is changed to Abraham, and once again he is promised a son through his wife Sarai, now called Sarah.

That period took 24 years very late in his life. I can’t imagine waiting 24 years for a promise like that to be fulfilled. If that happened in my life right now, I would be 54 when that promise was fulfilled. It was also a promised that Abraham had to remain faithful to God for the entire time. Realistically, he couldn’t think it was possible, at least in human terms. In that, God remained faithful to him as well.

5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8 The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." – Genesis 17:5-8

This is an incredible honor that is bestowed upon Abraham, all because he remained faithful to God. You can trace Jesus’s own earthly lineage back to Abraham and this moment in Biblical history. We see that Abraham has his one end of the covenant that he had to keep, but this is the beginning of God’s great plan for humanity. Abraham was found blameless before God because of his faith. This reconciled him from his sins even though he could not be found faultless.

Finally, we are presented with the covenant of circumcision here. As a male, this is no small commitment. It is a sign that Abraham would remain faithful to God, lest he be cut off from God as his foreskin was cut off. It is a tangible reminder to remain faithful to God at all times. As we saw in the New Testament books of Acts and Romans, this is no longer required because of the new covenant established through Christ’s sacrifice, but it is still an important symbolization here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The life of Abraham - Genesis 16

I know control is an illusion. The rational part of my mind knows that I am like an ant on top of a truck tire. If it starts to move, I have a vague sense that something important is happening. More likely, I don’t know what it is until the tire goes around and squishes me. I know that God is in full control of my life and it could take decades for His plan to be fulfilled in my life. My impatient nature, however, makes me want to take control of the situation. This provides me with enormous amounts of stress. Often, I feel like if I am not working toward changing my situation at that very second it is wasted time.

That is where I find today’s reading about the life of Abraham interesting. Today we’re in Genesis 16. Abraham knew of God’s promise that he would have a son, yet he had been living in the land of Canaan for more than 10 years since that promise. Keep in mind, he was 75 when he was given the promise, and obviously was not getting younger. While he was a faithful man, we see several times that he wasn’t exactly a patient man. Of course, he had already shown an extraordinary amount of patience in waiting 10 years already.

3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. – Genesis 16:3-4

Because of the social conventions of the time this was not considered and infidelity. Women were expected to contribute children as part of a marriage. This kind of arrangement was common if they couldn’t. The child would still be considered Sarai’s in this case. As we see further, Hagar developed a superior attitude and her relationship with Sarai became strained. The same is true with the relationship between Sarai and Abram. As a result, Hagar was driven away and the situation became very complicated. We see, however, that God still was in control of the situation.

11 The angel of the LORD also said to her:
"You are now with child
and you will have a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the LORD has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;

his hand will be against everyone
and everyone's hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward all his brothers." – Genesis 16:11-12

We know that this was the beginning of the split between Judaism and Islam. Verse 12 specifically sounds like the world’s modern perception of the religion of Islam, which traces its roots back to Ishmael. This does not mean God is against these followers. God, in fact, promised to take care of Ishmael and his descendents. This promise is very similar to the one he made to Abram, in fact.

This easily could be perceived as Abram screwing things up because he tried to take matters in his own hands. We see that God was still in control. The plan he had for Abram was not messed up or even delayed. It would be accomplished in its own time, and that is something that I especially need to learn.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The life of Abraham - Genesis 15

Abraham’s faith is what drew me to study his life in closer detail. Faith is something that is easy at times, but difficult in others. We have the advantage of knowing about Christ’s life when it comes to our faith. We can study the texts about Him. We have the living word of God with the Bible. We have countless examples of heroes who have lived and died for their faith, therefore giving us hope.

What is amazing about Abraham is that he did not have these advantages. In a way, however, that is what makes his life such a great example of faith. His was so simple. It was based merely on this relationship with his Creator. He couldn’t see God. He doubted at times whether God had abandoned him or not. Still, his faith was very simple because he completely trusted God every step of the way. Even when he took matters into his own hands he trusted God because he was often just trying to make God’s plan happen because of his own actions.

1 After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:
"Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward."
2 But Abram said, "O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3 And Abram said, "You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir."
4 Then the word of the LORD came to him: "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir." 5 He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."
6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. – Genesis 15:1-6

What is it that set Abram apart from everyone else except for his faith? Remember, at this point Abram was in his seventies and his wife Sarai was advanced in age as well. In human terms, it was absurd to think that he would have an heir. Not only that, but we will see that it will be some time before Isaac is born to him. Still, Abram had faith that God would provide. I see Abram’s life and wish that I had his faith. At times, it seems like he simply sat back and said, “Okay Lord, you know what you’re doing.”

We’ll see another instance tomorrow of Abram trying to take matters into his own hands, but the point is that he still had faith that God’s plan would be fulfilled. God rewarded him countless times for this faith, just as we are rewarded for our own faith. It is proof that the only true way to salvation is by grace through this faith.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The life of Abraham - Genesis 14

When looking on the surface at chapter 14 of Genesis, it doesn’t seem like there is much that we can learn about the life of Abram. We’re still getting to know his character. Many of his more famous exploits, such as the birth and sacrifice of Isaac, are far into the future. When I first read this chapter this morning I thought it was another dry historical account of an Old Testament battle. It made me want to ask the question of why this dusty old battle was in the Bible at all.

Well, God has a plan in everything, and that plan includes this small part. The lesson we can learn in this chapter comes near the end, and it is one about thankfulness. Abram placed a lot on the line in this battle to go rescue his nephew Lot. He united several kings in the area around him and risked much not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of others. This is a servile nature that we see in Abraham and is later represented in the ultimate sacrifice that Christ laid down for us.

20 And blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand."
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself."

22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, 'I made Abram rich.' 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share." – Genesis 14:20-24

For winning this battle, Abram was certainly entitled to all the spoils of war. His actions here reflect two things. First, he was still the new kid on the block. He didn’t want trouble with his neighbors who probably viewed him, at least cautiously, as a threat because of his wealth and influence. Not taking the spoils of the battle raised their opinion of him. As a result, he developed further friendly relations with them in the event he needed their help in the future.

The second thing his actions reflected is the thankfulness I mentioned earlier. We see the first instance of a tithe when he gave a tenth of everything to Melchizedek. When I wrote about the book of Hebrews, I saw that Melchizedek was viewed as a very powerful Canaanite priest. He was a very early symbol of Christ in that he was a priest that offered sacrifices on behalf of others. Abram’s thankfulness comes through here in that he knew God was responsible for his victory. We can learn from this in knowing that God is responsible for everything we have.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The life of Abraham - Genesis 13

In Genesis 13, we see a slightly different picture of Abram. Upon his return from Egypt, it was time for him to take control of the land the Lord had promised him. He was traveling with his nephew, and they had quite a menagerie between them. Between all their herds and people, plus the people already living in the land, they couldn’t possibly stay together. The resources were limited in this arid climate. They had to split up if everyone was going to survive. As is His nature, God used this as a chance to test Abram’s faith.

As we saw in the last chapter, Abram failed a minor test of faith when he didn’t trust God to protect him from the Pharaoh. Abram took matters into his own hands and God had to protect him by punishing Pharaoh. This time, Abram passes the test by allowing Lot to have the first choice of land. It seems like a simple gesture, but Abram basically trusted that God would provide for him with whatever choice was left. Because of this, God rewarded Abram with not only the land he was given, but promised him Lot’s as well.

We will see in the coming chapters that Abram is quite a dynamic character. One moment he shows an abundance of faith, like what we see here. In other moments he lacks faith. The moment where he lacked faith in chapter 12 is not the last time. To me, this shows his humanity and allows us to relate to his experience. Abram is clearly one of the most important figures in all of the Bible. He is a pillar of faith and the patriarch of God’s promise for humanity. It would be easy to install him to some lofty status that we cannot reach. Instead, his humanity shows that he was just like us. He was weak, fallible, and at times, confused.

It is also an opportunity to see God’s patience. This patience not only manifests itself with Abram, but with us as well. There are a number of times where Abram took God’s plan into his own hands, and failed as a result. When he patiently waited for God to act he had success. In a way, God never lost faith in Abram even though Abram briefly lost faith in Him from time to time.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The life of Abraham - Genesis 12

It looks like I am back at this sooner rather than later. It is likely that I won’t be publishing as regularly as in the past, but I do want to keep up with this. I’d also like to thank Deb for stopping by and leaving the first comment in a very long time. That was encouragement enough to keep going. I must remember that I am not doing this for my own glory, but for God’s glory.

In my return, I wanted to touch on matters of faith. To me, there is no greater example of faithful living than that of Abraham. Over the next few weeks, I want to write on his life and how he became a great biblical example of faith. In that, God began His plan through Abraham to provide a plan of salvation for all nations. His story truly begins in Genesis 12. At this point, we had already seen the Creation as well as the flood. Man had fallen because of the original sin committed by Adam, therefore mankind needed redemption. When we studied much of the New Testament we obviously saw that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise, but it had to have a beginning. Abraham, or Abram as he is known at this point, is the beginning of that promise.

1 The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.
2 "I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you." – Genesis 12:1-3

It is appropriate that this appears in Genesis, as it is a book of beginnings. We know very little of Abram at this point. It is clear, however, that he is a man of great faith. He has to be a man of great faith if God chose him to express His heart and purpose for mankind. This is an incredible honor that God bestowed upon Abram. At the time there were thousands, if not millions, of people on the earth. Out of all of them, God chose one to be the beginning of his plan for humanity.

This is where faith can come in. At this point in his life Abram was already a wealthy and powerful man. God asked him to essentially uproot his entire life at the age of 75 and move. Moving across several hundred miles in a desert climate was a lot harder thousands of years ago than it is now. Abram wasn’t exactly a spry young buck at the age of 75 either. This shows great dedication. If God has put me in a similar situation my first reaction would have likely been, “You’re joking, right?”

Abram was made of different stuff, however. He listened to God’s promise and not only went, but praised him along they way. He built several altars in God’s name in many places where other gods were worshipped to show that God was the true God. Abram was far from perfect though. As we see while he was in Egypt, he lied to protect himself and that often had drastic consequences. Even in this imperfection God remained faithful to His promise, gently guiding Abram to where he wanted him to be. This makes Abram’s life a lesson in God’s patience and mercy with us as well. Abram was far from this pillar of perfection, yet God used this fallible, normal human being to start His plan for the ages. Think about that today.