Genesis 24: Prayer, Providence and…nose rings

“…the Lord has led me on the journey.”  Abraham’s servant Eliezer clearly embraced his master’s faith in the Creator God.  This story is a powerful demonstration of purposeful, specific prayer and faith in the Providence of God.  Eliezer had a mission: to find a wife for Isaac from among Abraham’s relatives.  So he headed in the direction of Abraham’s homeland, praying as he went: “Lord, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”  

Eliezer took his mission seriously, and he prayed very directly and specifically about it.  I think sometimes we are afraid to just say what we want.  We dance around the request with a lot of “if you will” and “if it is best”.  But if we are surrendered to God’s will and believe that He is good and always does what is best, do we need to sandwich our prayers between phrases like that?  Eliezer said plainly “make me successful” and he spelled out exactly what he wanted.  God knew that his heart was in the right place–that he was seeking God’s will and trusting in His Providence; so God honored his request and gave him exactly what he had asked for.

Today I suppose if you meet the girl of your dreams and immediately put a ring in her nose, well, you might not get a favorable reaction.  But Rebekah didn’t seem to have a problem with it.  We can assume her nose was already pierced!  Seriously, though, Rebekah’s response to all of this is equally as beautiful as Eliezer’s faith.  She recognizes God’s Providence in Eliezer’s story and agrees to leave with him, to journey to a far land and marry a man she has never met.  You might say her faith was greater even than Eliezer’s.

I can imagine a young man or woman today praying a similar prayer about their future mate: “God lead me to just the right person.  Please let it be than when we meet, she immediately identifies herself as a follower of Christ and that her life backs it up with godly character, biblical convictions and true Christlike compassion for others.”  That’s the kind of prayer God will answer!  It is right on target with His will and shows a desire to honor Him in your relationships.

I’m thankful for the Providence that led me to my wife, Kim.  I knew from the start that she loved God and lived the faith she professed.  And “lucky” for me, she saw the same Providence and agreed to marry me!  The marriages that God makes are always best.

Reading: Genesis 24

Genesis 23: Til death do us part

Considering the epidemic practice of polygamy in the ancient world and even among Israel’s patriarchs, Abrahams and Sarah’s marriage was remarkable both for its monogamy and longevity.  We don’t know how long they were married but it could have been as long as 80-some years.  Granted, Abraham took Hagar as a concubine, but there is no indication in Scripture that he continued the relationship after Ishmael’s conception.   Other than that “one-night stand” with Hagar, Abraham was faithful to Sarah, and the two enjoyed a long healthy committed partnership.

Isaac followed his father’s example with a monogamous marriage to Rebekah, but his sons chose polygamy and took multiple wives and concubines.  Why?  Because it was culturally prevalent, because it was convenient, because they wanted to.  Men can come up with a dozen reasons to do their own will rather than God’s.   Abraham’s grandsons and great grandsons knew the pattern God had established with Adam and Eve, about Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah.  But they wanted their own way.

When you look at the prevalent attitude toward marriage in our culture today, you can see this same selfishness and rebellion.  Why do so many marriages end in divorce?  Why do men and women cheat on each other?  Why do many skip marriage altogether and just move from one lover to the next?  Because modern man, much like ancient man, puts his own personal “happiness” first.  The ironic thing is, what we think is happiness often brings a lot of regret, guilt and sadness in the end.

In fact, the only way to experience true happiness (joy) is to embrace God’s way.  When a man chooses to obey God and follow his pattern for love and marriage and family, he steps into the path of optimal blessing.  What I mean by that is, the man who has submitted to God’s will in a matter has the greatest potential for blessing.  He might experience some blessings and moments of happiness on another path, but he will experience far more on the path of obedience to God.

When you look at it this way, I think the decision is a bit clearer.  Do you want to be truly happy?  Get in line with God’s design and stay there.  We can’t look ahead and see the outcome of our choices; but we can make a fool-proof bet on the choice to obey God.  It always results in blessing.

Reading: Genesis 23

 

Genesis 22: The Moriah Test

What do you value above all else in your life?  Excluding spiritual blessings like salvation, you might answer your significant other, your home, your parents, your career, maybe your health.  We all have something or someone that we “couldn’t live without”, right?  In Genesis 22, Abraham’s faith is put to the test in a way we cannot imagine.  After 25 years of waiting and praying, he finally had the son God had promised, Isaac.  Abraham must have cherished every minute of Isaac’s childhood.  The boy was the dearest thing in Abraham’s life.

So imagine the suffocating nausea and cold sweat he felt when God said: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering.”  The request to give up Isaac was itself shocking, but add to it the idea that Abraham himself was asked to kill his son.  At that time, child sacrifice was not unheard of.  Some of Abraham’s Canaanite neighbors practiced it.  How a parent could do such a thing is beyond my comprehension.  Yet here is Abraham, at the request of God Himself, climbing up a mountain to sacrifice Isaac.  Every step must have tested his resolve to obey God.  Doubts must have bombarded his mind:  Did God really say that?  Did I understand Him correctly–what if I misunderstood Him?  What will my son think?  What will SARAH think?

We often forget that Abraham also had a wife who loved Isaac.  Sacrificing Isaac would also mean sacrificing his relationship–a marriage of many decades–with Sarah.  That thought must have also weighed heavily on his mind.  What God had asked Abraham was essentially to give up everything in this world that he loved.

Now that we’ve attempted to understand the gravity of this situation and how Abraham must have felt about it, we can think about how he responded.  Abraham obeyed.  He chose to trust God.  He packed up and took Isaac to Moriah, where they climbed the mountain and prepared for the sacrifice.  And when Isaac asked where the lamb was, Abraham replied in faith, “God Himself will provide a lamb.”

Which, of course, is exactly what God did.  Abraham had learned in 25 years of waiting on God, that God keeps His promises and answers prayer.  So he knew that somehow, some way, God would preserve Isaac.  Because God had said, “through Isaac that your offspring[b] will be reckoned.”  Isaac was the heir God had promised.  Abraham would father a great nation through Isaac–God had promised it, and Abraham believed it.  He passed the test of a lifetime.  How?  By choosing to trust God in spite of everything.

I once found myself in a “Moriah” test–a mountain-sized test of my faith.  My eldest child lay in an ICU unit, victim of a tragic accident, with life threatening injuries.  On the long drive from our home to the hospital 9 hours away and over the next 2 weeks she was there in the ICU, three thoughts kept running through my mind, truths I clung to like a lifeline: God is good, His mercy is new every morning, Great is His faithfulness.  They were bits of Scripture I had read many times before.  But they never had so much meaning as they did then.  I didn’t know how we would live if God took our daughter, if our family would survive the loss, but I knew I could trust Him somehow to see us through it.  For me, that dark time was a test–not of God’s faithfulness but of my faith in it.  What did I learn? I learned that my faith was real and it could lead me through dark valleys where only eyes of faith can see.

You see, I don’t think God tests us for His benefit–to satisfy Himself that we really believe in Him.   He tests us for OUR benefit–to show us whether or not our faith is real and to demonstrate to us His faithfulness.  I wouldn’t choose to go through that test again, but I am thankful for it because through it I was assured of the power of God’s Word, of the power of prayer, and of the power of God’s love channeled through His people.  If you haven’t faced your “Moriah test” yet, make sure you’re ready.  Anchor your faith in the Word, dig deep into the truth about Who God is and hold on to it.  Because God IS good, He IS merciful and He IS faithful.  And best of all, He loves you and will carry you through every dark valley you may face.

Reading: Genesis 22

Genesis 21: God keeps His Word

The holidays hit and though I’ve kept reading I’ve fallen behind in my writing.  Today I pick it back up with a long-awaited answer to prayer, the birth of Isaac. “Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.” (Gen 21:1-2)  It had been 25 years since God first called Abraham and promised him offspring.  Imagine waiting that long for a prayer request.  How many of us would still expect God to answer it?  But true to His character, God kept His word.  I like that Sarah called the baby “Isaac”, which means laughter.  It’s appropriate given that she laughed once at the idea of giving birth as an old woman.  But the literal meaning is “he laughs”, which makes me wonder if she was thinking of God or Abraham.  No doubt both were laughing that day.

In the middle of this happy story, however, there is a heartbreaking scene: the departure of Hagar and Ishmael.  What grief Abraham must have felt sending his son away.  Ishmael would have been about 14 when Isaac was born.  He had watched the boy grow up and loved him.  He did not want to send him away.  But God told him to do so, and promised to watch over him (inherent in the promise that Ishmael would father a nation of his own).  The separation of a father and son like this seems so cruel.  Yet we have to remember that our decisions have consequences.  Abraham’s choice to sleep with Hagar the slave girl in attempt to fulfill God’s promise in his own way and time was wrong.  God had allowed Abraham to enjoy Ishmael’s childhood but the arrival of Isaac changed everything.

Even in this tragic moment we can see God’s mercy.  He assures Abraham that Ishmael will live and prosper (“ I will make the son of the slave into a nation also”).  And as Hagar and Ishmael journey, we see how God protects and provides for them.  God loved Ishmael as well as Isaac.  But He had chosen Isaac.  We can argue all day about why.  In 1 Peter 2:9, God calls us (believers) a chosen people.  Why did God choose us?  If He loves everyone, why only choose some?

I think the answer has to do with God’s foreknowledge of OUR choice to accept Jesus as Savior.  In other words, God’s choice is rooted in His knowledge of who will choose Him, who will accept His free offer of salvation.  That is the only way I see to reconcile the seemingly contradictory facts that 1) “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16) and 2) “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,” (Eph 1:4-5).  Romans 8:29 helps explain the concept pretty well: “For those whom He foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. ” (Rom 8:29)

Another equally valid answer is that God as sovereign Lord and Creator can do what He wants!  Knowing that God is good, loving, just, righteous, etc., we can trust His choices.  I’m content with that answer as well.

Reading: Genesis 21

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