Genesis 20: Little white lies

“She’s my sister.”  Technically, Abraham and Sarah were closely related–she was his father’s daughter by different wife.  But Abraham’s intention was to deceive.  Earlier he told the Egyptians the same lie; now he tells Abimelech, the Philistine king of Gerar.  Sarah was either an unparalleled beauty or Abraham was just paranoid.  She was an old woman by this time, well over 80.  I suppose it may have been a combination of the two.  She did seem to attract the interest of other men.  But did Abraham need to lie about their relationship?

The amazing thing about this story is that Sarah cooperates with Abraham’s scheme and indulges his paranoia.  I cannot imagine many women would do so!  As a husband myself, I see a lesson in this story about putting my wife first.  Clearly, Abraham provides a BAD example here.  If he had put her first, he would have risked his own life (if indeed it was at risk) to protect her, instead of putting her at risk like this.  He loved himself more than he loved his wife here.

Yet he remained God’s chosen, His child, in spite of his mistakes.  God’s love continues unwavering toward Abraham and Sarah.  He protects her, and even blesses Abraham in spite of it all.  But we’ll never know what might have been if Abraham had been honest here.

Reading: Genesis 20

Genesis 18: Sacred separation

I just realized that I never published this one and so skipped Genesis 18.  Please forgive the oversight and the lack of posts over the holidays.

In Genesis 18, Abraham says to God: “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” And God answered: “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”  Hearing that the Lord planned to destroy Sodom and Gomorra, Abraham pleaded for mercy on behalf of the innocent there.  Surely Lot’s family and friends would constitute 10 people who feared God.  This conversation is a good example of intercessory prayer.  It gives a glimpse of the friendship between God and Abraham.  They’ve had several exchanges at this point, but this is the most familiar.  Abraham entertains a theophany, God in human form, with rest and refreshment.  Then God reveals His plan to Abraham.  By doing so, He gives Abraham a chance to intercede, to pray for the people of S & G.  He also prepares Abraham for an important lesson about the corrupting effects of embracing a sinful society.  In the end, it would be clear that S & G had corrupted even Lot’s family, and Lot had lost literally everything.  Abraham would understand the importance of separation and distinction, an important thing for God’s people then and now.  

I didn’t expect my meditation on this reading to go in this direction.  Separation is not the first thing that comes to mind here.  Yet it is an important concept which has a role in this passage.  What does biblical separation look like for the believer?  I have known Christians whose idea of separation is avoidance and even isolation.  They keep a careful distance between themselves and unbelievers.  Their society is sanitized and homogenous, populated solely by other “separated” believers.  They interact with the lost only in controlled situations–through what they call “ministries”.  I’ve also known Christians who live holy lives, who are separated from sin, but still make an effort to interact and befriend the lost.  They do not avoid but reach out to the unbelievers around them, not just through charity but in friendship, hoping to demonstrate the love of Christ.  Which approach is God’s desire for us?

It is good to have a healthy fear of the corrupting effects of sin and respect for the power of temptation.  Lot would have done well to practice both.  God clearly instructed Abraham and his descendants to be separate from the peoples around them–even forbidding intermarriage.  Israel’s gravest mistake was its failure to be separate from its pagan neighbors.  In the end, that is what destroyed Israel and led to its captivity.  Many “Christian” groups have tried to pattern themselves after Israel in a literal sense.  But I think they have missed the message or purpose behind God’s instructions for Israel.  But as Paul explains repeatedly in his epistles, “These things were written to teach us” (Rom.15:4) and “These things happened to them as examples” (1 Cor.10:11).

In this age of grace, we are called to be agents of redemption, and that is a mission we cannot achieve in isolation.  God called Abraham and Israel to be physically separate for a reason: to give us a physical illustration of the spiritual separation we are to practice.   Our challenge is to learn the spiritual truths of Israel’s experience and live them out as God intended.  What does spiritual separation look like?  Jesus gave us a good example.  He spent time with sinners, talked to them, ate with them, served them, taught them.  Yet he never accepted or approved of their sin.  He was spiritually separate but physically present and a part of the society around him.  He did not isolate Himself but intentionally injected Himself into society, not just among the “upright and respectable” but among those whose lives were messy.   We are called to do the same.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt.5:13-16)

Reading: Genesis 18

Genesis 19: The rescue of Lot

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is often viewed as God’s judgment on homosexuality.  But there is so much more to this story.  Ezekial wrote, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.  They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” (Ezek.16:49-50) Homosexuality was not the only problem here.  In fact, it is last on the list!

So why did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah?  Because the people of these cities had completely rejected God’s design and authority and descended into total depravity and corruption.  “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” (Rom.1:25)  The real problem here was pride.  They put their own will and desire before God’s.  As a result, they had lost all sense of right and wrong.  They had no morals, no sense of decency and order, no respect for others, no kindness or compassion.  They lived for self-indulgence, feeding every depraved appetite of mind and body without regard for the harmful effects of their actions on self or others.

The men of Sodom came to Lot’s house for one purpose: to gang rape the two men (angels) who had come to their city that day.  But what is more shocking to me is that  Lot offered to them instead his two virgin daughters “to do with as they pleased.”  What?  Forget the homosexual gang rape for a moment; what kind of father offers to pimp his young daughters to a hoard of perverts?  Keep in mind that Scripture calls Lot “righteous”.  He was a believer, a follower of God.  But the sin of Sodom had touched even him, clouding his moral judgment.  He had become calloused to the evil around him, blinded to its effects on him and his own family.  If this was a man who feared God, how did the unbelieving man of Sodom think?

The angels’ response to the gang outside Lot’s house was both practical and symbolic.  They struck the men with blindness.  Notice the men were so driven by lust they still tried to get in, but they could not.  Sin blinds men to the truth of God’s word, to what is truly good.  It leaves them groping for the door, helpless and frustrated in their effort to find satisfaction and fulfillment.  In reality all of the population in these cities was hopelessly lost in the darkness of sin.

Even Lot’s family had disintegrated, destroyed by sin.  Any married children he had were consumed by the rain of fire on Sodom.  His wife was dead, transformed into a statue of salt when she turned back with longing toward Sodom.  And his youngest daughters were so morally confused that they were willing to seduce their drunken father and sleep with him.  This final scene demonstrates better than any, I think, how morally bankrupt this society had become.  The children born and raised there literally had no morality, no fear of God, no concept of right and wrong.

So God destroyed both cities and by doing so removed a cancer from the land he had promised Abraham.  Such a great hub of evil so near God’s chosen people would have threatened their survival; consider its effect on Lot’s family.  Israel had enough trouble with the idolatrous Canaanites.  It would not long withstand the poisonous influence of neighbors like Sodom and Gomorrah.  So God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, cut off this cancerous society to protect Abraham and His descendants.  It’s hard for us to see the love in destruction like this, but it’s there if we will look in faith that God is good and just.  The Judge of all the earth ALWAYS does what is right.

There is so much in this passage that we can relate to our world today, so much we can learn from Lot’s mistake and God’s response.  But I am drawn to one truth, and that is God loves His children, flaws and all.  Lot had failed miserably as a husband and father.  But God remembered him and still claimed him as His own, flaws and all.  As His children we may face consequences for our sin and suffer pain for bad decisions or associations made in this life.  But we can count on God’s love and mercy to follow us “all the days of our life” and into eternity.

Reading: Genesis 19

Genesis 16: The importance of waiting

The root cause of the strife in the Middle East, an ancient rivalry driven by jealousy, comes to light in Genesis 16 with a story about impatience and an unwise choice.  The reasoning behind the choice is understandable maybe, but considering the consequences, this may be the worst choice in history.  It can be blamed for multiple wars and probably for most of the terrorism in the world today.  First, what was the motivation?  I’d say it was to fulfill God’s promise to make of Abram a great nation–to give him offspring.  There is no suggestion in this story of selfish motives on Abram’s part, like lust for Hagar the young Egyptian slave.  In fact, it was Sarai Abram’s wife who had the idea and urged him to do it.  So the motivation was good, right?

So what was wrong with this decision?  Several issues come to mind.  First, Hagar was a slave; both the fact that Abram owned her AND the fact that he took her like this is problematic.  Also problematic is the fact that Abram was already married to Sarai.  If not adultery, it was at the very least was bigamy (the passage does say he took her as a second wife).  But even if you set all of these concerns aside, there is a problem.  In fact, if Abram had been single, Hagar a free woman, and their union truly consensual, there would still be one problem with what happened.

Abram tried to fulfill God’s promise in his own way and time.  He didn’t wait on God.  The idea itself came from Sarai’s doubt and self-determination.  In fact, Sarai actually says, “Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”  Notice the “I can”.  Abram doesn’t appear to seek God’s will on the matter at all.  He should have had some reservations about sleeping with this slave girl; he did not appear to have any other concubines.  Why would he go along with this idea?  Because he was tired of waiting.

It’s easy to criticize Abram for this decision.  But we can see the far-reaching consequences.  We have not been waiting for 20+ years for a promise which seems more impossible every year.  In fact, it is very likely that we would have done the same thing, and we probably have or will do something like it.  No we won’t sleep with a slave girl, but we might rush a decision without seeking God’s will or waiting for Him to lead.  We might take a job, leave a church, rush into a business partnership, or make an investment because it seems like a good thing–like something that will accomplish God’s will in a way–without waiting for God to confirm the decision or even seeking His confirmation.

What’s the lesson here?  Why does God tells us about this ancient mistake?  I don’t think God shares stories of failure like this to shame men or entertain us; there is a critical message here: Wait on God.  Let your faith endure delay and doubt.  Be still, watch and listen for God to direct you and fulfill His promises.  You can be confident that He will.  “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 1 Thess 5:24

Reading: Genesis 16

Genesis 15: Promises

“Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.”  It’s interesting that God didn’t always speak to Abram in the same way.  Sometimes He came in bodily form, as a theophany, sometimes He spoke from heaven and here He speaks through a vision.  God knows exactly what we need to hear and how we need to hear it.  Here in Genesis 15, Abram was doubting his call.  He had followed it from Ur to this wild, pagan land, because God had said He would make of Abram a great nation.  Yet Abram had no children, and the land God had promised him was occupied by kingdoms now more or less against him since he had defeated the kings who captured his nephew Lot.  At this point of uncertainty, God speaks in a way that is memorable and clear.  He not only affirms His promises to Abram, but he expands upon them, foretelling the sojourn of Israel in Egypt and their redemption from slavery.  “On that day God made a covenant with Abram.”  It wasn’t just a promise anymore; God sealed the deal with a contract.  I’ve always loved verse 1; it’s a promise that all of God’s children can claim.  All of us at times need to hear that: Don’t be afraid.  I AM both your defense and your reward.  He is our refuge in this troubled world, in dark times, in times of doubt and fear; we can run to Him in dark times and find comfort and security.  Yet He is more than that: God, Himself, is our “reward”–not just our Rewarder but the reward itself.  In Him, we find riches this world cannot offer, such as love, joy and peace; strength and courage; power for living here and now; the Word of truth; salvation and eternal life.   More than just these things He gives us, we have the reward of WHO he is.  I think of friends who are a blessing just by virtue of their personality or gifts; the one who is just always encouraging, the one who is positive and upbeat, the one who is wise in counsel, the one who just loves you thoroughly.  Through Jesus Christ, we can experience God in that way.  HE IS our reward!   

Reading: Genesis 15

Genesis 14: Abram the Brave

When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan.  During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus.  He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.” This is where Abram surprises you.  Up until chapter 14, Abram seems like just a wealthy businessman.  But here you find out he was much more.  Notice he had 318 TRAINED men in his household– nice little private army.  Also note his strategic offensive.  Abram knew what he was doing and had a bit of the Braveheart in him.  One takeaway here is that Abram was prepared for battle.  In the last chapter, we read about how he humbly let Lot choose the land and left the outcome to God.  But here we see that He could also take initiative and act swiftly to an immediate need.  I think there is both a practical and spiritual lesson here.  We should be this way spiritually too: prepared to do battle.  Of course in the end we see Abram giving God the credit for his victory–and seeing that his allies and his men are rewarded, even when he himself refuses reward.  Abram was a true hero in every way.

Reading: Genesis 14

Genesis 13: Divine intervention

So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.”  When Abram surrendered his rights (he was the elder, after all) and let Lot choose, he probably knew that Lot would choose the better land.  He must have known Lot’s character and temperament well enough to guess his choice.  But Abram left the outcome to God.  It seems like Lot got the better end of the bargain here in chapter 13, but if you know the end of the story, you know Abram was actually the winner.  The well watered plains of Jordan came with a wicked pair of cities whose moral corruption would infect Lot’s family.  Abram didn’t know this, or I think he may have cautioned Lot.  But God knew and by divine intervention Lot chose what was best–for Abram.

Reading: Genesis 13

Genesis 12: Nobody’s perfect

I should qualify that title–no HUMAN is perfect. Even Abram, the “friend of God” and father of God’s chosen people, made bad choices from time to time.  Here in Genesis 12 he lied for selfish reasons, putting his wife in a compromising situation.  He got caught and had to leave town, so he had consequences.  But God was faithful to forgive, and Abram left Egypt a blessed man.  What do I take away from this?  There’s hope for all of us to be friends of God.  God doesn’t expect His friends to be perfect.  He “knows we are dust”–that is, He knows our weaknesses, our broken natures.  And He loves us anyway.  He’s just looking for men and women who desire to know Him, to love Him better.

Reading: Genesis 12

Genesis 11: Babel

“The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”  This is one of the most intriguing verses in the Bible.  Some say the Tower of Babel was an attempt by mankind to build a bridge or stairway to heaven, perhaps as a means of escaping future catastrophes like the flood or even as a means of waging war on God.  Those are just theories, of course; the only hint Scripture gives to their motive is what they (presumably their leaders) said: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”  

God had commanded them to spread out–to multiply and fill the earth.  He never intended for Noah’s descendants to remain in one place.  Yet mankind was already in rebellion again, refusing to obey God’s command.  “Make a name for ourselves” sounds pretty ambitious–and humanistic.  Funny how millennia later, mankind is still in love with itself and humanism is the theme of art, entertainment and philosophy.  

Well God took care of the problem; He confused their one language and used their linguistic divisions to break up the party and get mankind to spread out.  I think of the internet today as the “one language” of mankind.  Knowledge of good–and evil–abounds and is at our fingertips.  How long will God let it go on, I wonder?

But this chapter concludes with a man of faith who, like Noah, caught God’s eye: Abram, a descendant of Shem from the city of Ur–not far from where the old Tower of Babel stood.  I always enjoy reading the life of Abram or Abraham.  Any man dubbed “a friend of God” by God Himself is worth studying.  I’m looking forward to a fresh look at his life.

Reading: Genesis 11

Genesis 10: The birth of nations

“These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.”  Genesis 10 gives us a geneology of Noah’s sons, grandsons and great-grandsons.  It describes the birth of the first nations.  What is the point–why is this important?  I always ask that question when I come across a passage in Scripture like this.  I believe every book, chapter, verse, word in the Bible is given for a reason.  God doesn’t waste words.  So why did He share this genealogy with us?  One truth I take away from this reading is that EVERY nation, every race, every people is significant and important to God.  From the beginning, God’s love has been for all men and women.  He sees no color, hears no language or dialect, only men and women who are created in His image and who He loves dearly.

Reading: Genesis 10