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 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 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 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

Genesis 9: Over the rainbow

Rainbow
Credit: Petr Kratochvil

“I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”  Rainbows are one of those natural phenomena which inspire awe every time you see them.  I know there is a scientific explanation for the formation of rainbows, but they are still a little magical to me.   The rainbow Noah saw wasn’t necessarily the first; God simply chose here to declare it a sign of His promise to never again destroy the earth by Flood.  It was a fitting symbol; rainbows are formed by rain, the very thing which brought the floodwaters.  No doubt, the sight of a rainbow in the sky, a sign of rain in the distance, might have filled Noah with dread, and with good reason.  But then God made that promise, and suddenly the beautiful arc of color became a symbol of hope.  We don’t live in fear of global floods today.  But we do have plenty of fears. Has God given us any signs or symbols to remind us of His promises–to give us hope?  How about the cross?  For the believer, the cross should have that same magical inspirational effect as the rainbow.  It should fill us with hope and assure us that God is faithful to keep His promises, from His promise of a Savior to His promise of an eternal home with Him in heaven.

Reading: Genesis 9

Genesis 8: When the storm has passed

“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.”  It took some faith to sacrifice those animals.  At the moment, they like all living things were on the “endangered” list, in a way.  Yet, in the tradition passed down by his godly heritage, Noah worshiped God with burnt offerings–notice it is plural.  He sacrificed more than one animal here.  It was a big family barbecue in honor of their Savior.  With this act, Noah celebrated the salvation of his family from the utter devastation apparent all around him.  He recognized the power and authority of God, as well as the great love and mercy He had shown to them.  It’s a good reminder for us.  We may pass through many trials and even devastating circumstances.  How do we respond when the hardship has passed and we are standing in the aftermath?  It’s easy to forget to thank God when the storm has passed.  But it’s critical that we take time to remember His goodness and offer Him our loving worship.  Those moments are His delight.

Reading: Genesis 8