Thursday, October 18, 2018

Genesis 15:1-21


When God appears to Abram in a vision saying that his reward shall be great (15:1), Abram questions how that could be the case considering he would have to adopt Eliezer among his household as heir (15:2). In the ancient world the greatest tragedy imaginable was childlessness because no one would remain to carry on the family line.

Yet, the Lord tells Abram that his descendants shall be greater than the number of stars in the sky (15:5). Genesis 15:6 subsequently stresses a truth that transcends the moment. We read, "Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness."

Below under TAKE TIME TO REVIEW, I quote from Gordon J. Wenham to highlight just a little bit of the theological magnitude associated with Genesis 15:6 and its connection to our being justified by faith alone. In this blog entry, however, I wish only to comment on a few characteristics about Abram's faith and its connection to us.

1. Faith and Feelings:

In our culture when we introduce ourselves, one of the first questions anyone asks us is: "What do you do?" It is something of an identifier. 

It might prove a bit uncomfortable if I were laid off as a teacher and someone asked me what I did. If I said, "I'm a teacher," what would likely be his or her next question - "Oh, where do you teach?"  

In Abram's culture, a primary identifier often accompanied your actual name. Consider that Abram means "Exalted Father." Then, in Genesis 17:5, the Lord expands his name to Abraham, meaning "Father of a Multitude."

When Abram introduced himself, I doubt it absurd that someone might ask, "Tell me exalted father, how many children do you have?" I imagine it could prove awkward to say, "Well, actually, none." Or, "You must have a lot of children father of a multitude?" Only to say, "I have but one" (cf. Gen. 16:16).

Could you imagine how the meaning of his name and the circumstance of his life might have impacted his sense of being? Still, in Genesis 15:6, Abram does not let his feelings dictate his faith; rather, his faith shapes his feelings.

Put it like this: You are a singer who is at risk of losing your vocal chords. Or you are a parent dealing with a son who has a drug addiction. Or you are a single woman who has always wanted to be married with children. 

In various circumstances of our lives, it is easy for the way we feel amid uncertain or trying situations to dictate whether we trust God or not. Things look bleak, so we doubt and perhaps try to take control of matters for ourselves. 

But at least in Genesis 15:6 Abram's faith is to say, "Even though things don't seem to add up right now, I will not live discouraged but will stand on the promises of God." The quality of Abram's faith in Genesis 15:6 is the precursor to why we call him the Father of our Faith. 

Indeed, all who would place their faith in the coming Messiah (Old Testament) followed by all who will place their faith in the resurrected Messiah (New Testament) are children of Abraham. His descendants outnumber the stars!

2. Promise and Patience:

The Lord's promise to Abram is not just for many children; it is also for a land. That promise is made through a covenant that God establishes with Abram (15:18), of which circumcision becomes its sign (cf. Gen. 17:10-11). 

The covenant with Abraham finds its completion in the New Testament era, only the sign of baptism replaces the sign of circumcision (cf. Col. 2:11-12). The land of promise is not Canaan but the Celestial City (cf. Heb. 11:8-16). 

In establishing the Abrahamic covenant, God tells Abram that his descendants would have to wait to enter the land of promise. Along the way, before possessing it, they would encounter obstacles and hardships and suffering (15:13). One day, though, the people of promise would enter into the place of promise.  

Jesus Christ fulfills the covenant made with Abram/Abraham. Abram was promised a seed in the miraculous birth of Isaac, through whom the nation of Israel would emerge. Isaac's birth was but a precursor to the true seed - the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ, from whom a spiritual nation of a royal priesthood emerges (cf. Gal. 3:16; 1 Pet. 2:9).

While those in the physical lineage of Abraham would eventually inherit the land of Canaan for what would prove to be a season, those who place their trust in Christ (the spiritual lineage of Abraham) will inherit a celestial land of promise for eternity. However, before possessing it, Christians can expect along the way to encounter obstacles and hardships and suffering in this life. The promises of God require patience. 

3. Example and Encouragement:

Not all examples are positive. Abram was a man in process. 

In Genesis 16, Abram lets his feelings dictate his faith, rather than vice versa. He loses patience in the promise and tries to assume control of matters himself by agreeing to take Sarai's handmaid Hagar for a wife and conceiving a son by her. In Genesis 20, Abraham lets fear overtake his faith, rather than vice versa. He lies to the foreign king Abimelech - not acknowledging Sarah as his wife - instead of trusting the Lord's protection. 

In this way I conclude by suggesting that we should let both the positive and negative examples of Abraham's faith be an encouragement to us. At times we will be stronger in our faith; other times we will be weaker. 

Our Father in the Faith was not a giant in the faith from the start. His faith constantly grew - through moments of unyielding trust and after times of undeniable doubt. His faith was not perfect, and neither will ours yet be. The moments in our lives when we lack patience in God's promises or when we grow fearful in our predicaments should not deter us from the ongoing journey.

The character of Abram's faith should thus teach us three practical lessons: (1) let your faith in the promises of God dictate your feelings rather than your feelings amid uncertain moments dictate your faith, (2) the fulfillment of God's promises for God's people require patience, and (3) do not allow times when you fail in your faith fool you into believing that you cannot continue to grow spiritually and serve God significantly. 


Right now in my faith journey, I need to believe God for:



from Best Devotional Commentary - "One of our problems is that we are always looking down. Essentially, we are looking at ourselves, and that leads to doubt. We look at ourselves and say, 'I don't see how I can do that. I don't see how I can believe what God is promising.' If we were in Abram's shoes, we would say, 'I don't see how I am going to have children at my age.' The problem is that we are looking at ourselves. We are not the one who gives the promises. God is. So we need to stop looking down and start looking up. We need to have our minds stretched by God's greatness. ...
     The ultimate question in life is whether you believe God. It is not a question of whether you believe in God. Many people say they believe in God. There has to be a God, in their opinion. But this does not mean anything to them. The real question is whether you believe God, who makes these promises, and whether you live by what God has promised. Has God spoken? If so, has God spoken clearly? If God has spoken clearly, can God be trusted to do what He has promised? Wise is one who answers yes to those questions and lives by faith in those promises" (Boice).  

from Best Academic Commentary - "Abram is a model for all his descendants to imitate: whatever their circumstances, they must have faith in God. The importance of faith is underlined by the following clause, 'it was counted to him as righteousness' (v. 6). Righteousness is a guarantee of salvation, of acquittal in the day of judgment. It involves conformity to God's will set forth in the law. Here, however, faith counts for righteousness: it is the response of believing obedience to the word of God, not righteous deeds, that counted for righteousness. To be sure, such faith, when genuine, issues in righteous deeds, but that it is not what the text says: faith counts for (instead of) righteousness.
     It is therefore natural and right for the NT writers to refer to this text in describing how salvation is available in Christ. Paul stresses that faith for Abram meant believing in God's promise of a child, an attitude to God that preceded his acts of obedience (Rom. 4). While Genesis implies that the sons of Abram must be men of faith, Paul turns the words around and explains, 'it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham' (Gal. 3:7)" (Wenham).

from Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "The principles in this chapter are essentially the same for any age. Today people become the people of God by faith as well, and their faith brings righteousness before God (Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6). To New Testament believers God has also made great promises (Heb. 9:15, et al.), but those promises seem to be greatly delayed in the face of suffering and death (2 Peter 3:9). By His covenant which He made by His own blood, however, our Lord has guaranteed that His Word is sure and that neither death nor oppression can destroy His promises (Heb. 7:20-25; Rom. 8:31-39)" (Ross).

Friday, October 12, 2018

Genesis 14:17-24


At a university where I previously taught, I asked the late Dr. Rev. Charles Roach of Trinity Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Florissant, MO, to speak to a group of students about a few distinctive marks of the African-American church experience. In doing so, Dr. Roach essentially preached a sermon from Proverbs 3:1-10. 

Amid a number of poignant comments, Dr. Roach sought to drive home one central idea. He stated that in many African-American churches the true worship of Christ does not begin until the people have first offered their tithe (cf. Prov. 3:9-10). Why? Because our giving back to God is a proper response to the manifold blessings He has bestowed on, for, and over us. This is precisely the point that Abram's actions in Genesis 14 reflect. 

Abram learns of a circumstance that demanded his attention. Certain earthly kings had engaged in war (cf. Gen. 14:1-9), and Abram's nephew Lot - along with many other people - had been taken prisoner (cf. Gen. 14:10-12). Consequently, Abram organizes his "trained servants" and goes to battle in order to assist Lot and others who were held captive (cf. Gen. 14:13-15). 

After Abram's success in battle (cf. Gen. 14:16), a curious meeting occurs. We are introduced to the mysterious king Melchizedek from Salem (cf. Gen. 14:18-20). Either Melchizedek is a type of Christ or he is an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ:
1. The name Melchizedek means, "My King is Righteous."
2. Some scholars believe Salem is an older, shorter name for the city of Jerusalem, and it is the root word from which we derive the word "peace."
3. Melchizedek occupied the office of Priest and King, two distinct offices in Israel that no one other than Jesus held simultaneously.
4. The Priest-King sets before Abram bread and wine in what may very well prelude the body of Christ broken and the blood of Christ shed at Calvary.

No matter how we perceive the person of Melchizedek, the clear purpose he plays is to direct our attention to the source of our victory and peace. The blessing that Abram enjoyed and the spoils of his victory came as a result of the God Most High, the Creator of all things and the One who delivers us from our enemies (cf. Gen. 14:19-20). It certainly has a redemption ring to it.

We have victory over Satan, sin, and death, and we enjoy the peace of eternal life solely as a result of Christ's work. It is the redemption story.

Apart from the High Kingly-Priest after the order of Melchizedek (cf. Heb. 7), we have no hope. Nowhere is Abram or Abraham ever depicted as a man of military prowess, yet he experiences deliverance because of what God does. Nowhere are we ever depicted as righteous individuals, yet we can receive the righteousness of God because of what Christ has done on our behalf (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21).

Thus, as partakers of such an inexplicable blessing, we worship. What was Abram's immediate act of worship? It was to give. Therein is the point Dr. Roach had made. We do not truly worship until we truly give back to the One who is the sole source of our victory and our peace.

Perhaps beginning our worship by giving back to the Lord also helps prepare us to be living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service (Rom. 12:1). It certainly appears to prepare Abram to resist worldly temptation. 

Immediately following Abram's engagement with Melchizedek, he meets with the king of Sodom. No doubt, Sodom's king reflects the god of this age (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4), which seeks to tempt and to destroy. He promises us riches and spoils at the expense of souls (cf. Gen. 14:21). Only we are less likely to yield to the wiles of the various forms that this Sodomite king assumes if we have already emptied ourselves in selfless giving and praise at the feet of our Redeemer! (cf. Gen. 14:22-23)

The take home lesson for us from Abram's exchanges between the King of Salem and the King of Sodom is this: If we have a heart of gratitude that freely gives to the Lord, then we will be far less likely to be taken by or with the enticements of this world (cf. Matt. 6:21).


I sometimes struggle to give from my financial resources as an act of worship because:



from Best Devotional Commentary - "Abram drew close to God before he drew away from Sodom. And since he was blessed by God, he did not need whatever blessing he might have supposed the world could give. I do not think it an accident that we are told that when Melchizedek came out to meet Abram he brought with him 'bread and wine,' which Abram partook of and perhaps shared with his soldiers. Nothing more is said about this gift in Genesis. But we can hardly miss the fact that these are the communion elements of the New Testament era and that they symbolize the most intimate communion with God. Bread is the symbol of life (John 6:50), and God is the source of life. Wine is the symbol of joy (Ps. 104:15), and God is the source of joy. In an even more dramatic way, these are the gifts of Jesus, who said, 'I am the resurrection and the life' (John 11:25), and 'I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of My joy within them' (John 17:13). ... 
     Drawing upon the life and joy of God in close communion with Him was Abram's secret weapon. It should be ours as well. As long as we are far from God, the world will present its temptations and we will succumb to them because there will be nothing deep within to warn us away. If we are filled by God, who comes to us at the end of the day of battle and fills us with His bread and wine, we will be filled to overflowing and will want nothing more. It is said that John Knox, the great Scottish reformer, was once asked if he was not afraid to face the Queen of Scotland. He replied, 'How can I fear a mere earthly monarch when I have just spent four hours with God?' The one who lives close to God cannot be intimidated by any earthly king" (Boice).  

from Best Academic Commentary - "He gave him a tenth of everything. Tithing was an old and widespread custom in the ancient orient. Tithes were given to both sanctuaries and kings. Melchizedek qualifies on both counts. Here, however, it is probably in virtue of his priesthood that Abram gives him a tithe. For as Abram has received a priestly blessing from Melchizedek, it is fitting that he should respond in the customary fashion. Here Abram, father of the nation, sets an example for all his descendants to follow ..." (Wenham).

from Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "In this sequence we have the king of Sodom going out, the king of Salem bringing out, the king of Salem blessing, and the king of Sodom bartering (Sodom-Melchizedek-Melchizedek-Sodom). The central thrust of the story is clearly the action and speech of Melchizedek - it separates the action and the speech of the king of Sodom. Abram was far more prepared to resist the offer from Sodom after receiving the blessing of Melchizedek" (Ross).

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Genesis 11:26-12:4


My wife Brooke often tells me that she desires "safety, security, and stability." She wants me to put down an anchor rather than just throw out a fish bobber. 

During our marriage, I confess to having submitted my resume in the past to some places without talking to Brooke about it first. Others probably can appreciate the vexation she felt over this. My wife just wants to plant roots and establish community.

Yes, it is purely speculation on my part to say that Abram's wife Sarai would have longed for that as well. If she did, however, she never experienced much in the way of safety, security, and stability in her marriage to Abraham, the father of our faith.

I contend that Abram received the call from God twice to go where the Lord would lead him. The first time he had left Ur with his father and other family members, but he stopped short of the intended destination (Canaan) and stayed in Haran (cf. Gen. 11:31). The second time Abram finally fully obeyed, leaving behind his father Terah to go the rest of the way (cf. Gen. 12:4).

In other words, in a span of a very short time, Abram had uprooted Sarai not once but twice. To go where? Abram was not entirely sure  (cf. Gen. 12:1). Because why? God said. 

Only for Sarai, she might wonder which "god" Abram had heard from. Typical of people from Mesopotamia (cf. Gen. 11:28), Abram and Sarai were probably pluralistic in their religious practices at this point. Sarai might question if Abram should follow "this particular god's" voice. 

Plus, if Sarai was anything like my wife, she would not want to leave the safety, security, and stability that accompanied living alongside Abram's father. Brooke certainly would have wanted to know more about where I was taking her:  what were the school systems like, would she find new friends, did it have a Target, were there good medical facilities nearby, etc.? 

This biblical account reminds me somewhat of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Gandalf the Wizard invites Bilbo on an adventure, but Bilbo is resistant to the idea because it would make him "late for dinner." While Bilbo at first expresses an unwillingness to step outside his comfort zone, he ultimately embarks on an unexpected journey. That journey would change Bilbo for the better and impact Middle-earth for the good. 

If I am correct that Abram twice received the call from God "to go," why did he initially stop short of the destination? There is no way of knowing, but I contend perhaps he too was comfortable in the safe, secure, and stable existence that he knew at his father's side. Allen P. Ross further suggests that Haran was their ancestral home. It appears, then, that Abram did not want to be "late for dinner." 

Yet, while Terah remained in Haran (cf. Gen. 11:32; see Wenham below), Abram eventually does fully embark on the journey God called him to make (cf. Gen. 12:4). That journey would change Abram for the better and impact humanity for the good (cf. Gen. 12:2-3). 

Herein resides the lesson every believer who follows Christ should take away from the call of Abram. We cannot settle down in our safety, security, and stability for comfort's sake. No, we must be ready to answer God's call wherever He leads us and whenever He beckons us. 

Let me suggest that the only sense of safety, security, and stability we should cling to in this life resides in Christ's eternal grip (cf. John 10:28). Let us not fear being "late for dinner." Let us never become so settled wherever we are or whatever we are doing that we resist the adventure to which God is calling us. 

Such an adventure might involve moving to a new place, or it might mean doing something outside our comfort zones right where we are. If it is a God-sized adventure, though, do not count on it being easy, just count on in it being life-changing. While the call certainly will move us beyond categories of safety, security, and stability, if it is truly from the Lord it will transform us for the better and impact others for the good. 


An adventure that I sense God calling me on that I am resistant to take is:



from Best Devotional Commentary - "The second thing that needs to be noted about God's call to Abram is that it probably came to him on at least two occasions, which suggests that Abram started out after receiving the first call but faltered and stopped along the way. ... This means that although Abram believed God enough to start out on his journey after God had appeared to him in Ur, his faith was still weak and needed much cultivation. It is a way of saying that one does not need to be a spiritual giant to become a follower of God - after all, none of us is a spiritual giant. All one has to do is begin to follow Him" (Boice).  

from Best Academic Commentary - In light of Genesis 12:4, Gordon J. Wenham writes: "Seventy-five years old implies that Abram left Haran sixty years before his father died; cf. 11:26,32. Without spelling it out explicitly, this remark shows Abram putting the call of God above loyalty to his family (cf. Deut. 13:7-11 [6-10]; Matt. 10:37). Cassuto notes that Abram's life shows an interesting symmetry:  
75 years with his father
25 years without father or son
75 years with his son."

from Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "The message is, indeed, that faith is demonstrated by obedience, but the circumstances in the story make this message especially powerful. Abram's obedience was not a simple act of faith (if we dare speak of such); his was the conversion of a pagan. Abram was advanced in years, probably prosperous and settled, but in a thoroughly pagan world. The Word of the Lord came to him - although we do not know how or in what form - and he left his world and his relatives to follow the Lord's command. ...
     The divine imperative simply instructed Abram to leave. He was told very specifically what he was to leave - his land, his relatives, and his father's household (note the repetition of min, 'from'). But he was told nothing of the land that God would show him. Indeed, divine imperatives seldom give the details of what is to happen, although they often specify what is not to be done" (Ross).

Monday, October 1, 2018

Genesis 11:1-9


In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve desired to be like God (cf. Gen. 3:5-6). As a result of their disobedience, they were cast out (cf. Gen. 3:23).

After sin entered the world, civilization increasingly lived as if it did not need God and evil spread rampantly (cf. Gen. 6:5). As a result of their wickedness, God judged the earth through an all-encompassing flood (cf. Gen. 6:17).

At the Tower of Babel, humanity sought to create a political and religious system apart from God (cf. Gen. 11:4). As a result of their hubris, God confused and scattered the people (cf. Gen. 11:8-9).

The first 11 chapters of Scripture accentuate the great desire of sinners to live outside the rule of God and to glorify self. Consequently, the pre-history of Israel ends by showing us that such a desire never bodes well.

The people sought to build a tower "topped by the heavens" (11:4). In other words, they began to establish a false religion with the marks of the zodiac. "Turn to any book on astrology and you will find that it was the Chaldeans (another name for the inhabitants of Babylon) who first developed the zodiac" (James Montgomery Boice). They wanted a system of life that excluded God and exalted self.

Life at the exclusion of God would have simply resulted in the profuseness of wickedness that the world knew before the Great Flood (11:6). The Lord would not let such horror reign again, so He confuses and scatters the people in order to stymie their godless political and religious aspirations (11:7-9). I think this interpretation correct, for the same type of ziggurat structures or stepped pyramids began to pop up across the world after Babel - a sign that even a divided people still maintain the inclination to exalt self and their idols.

The attempt to exalt a political and religious system at Babel is merely a precursor to Babylon and its symbolic representation of Satan's effort to lead the nations against God (see Rev. 17). Only God has control of Satan, and the wicked one will never triumph. The Lord confounds all the Babels throughout history so that truth, mercy, grace, and love will prevail over falsehood, misery, viciousness, and hatred.

While the great desire of sinners revealed at the Tower of Babel leads to separation, death, and destruction, the great grace of God manifest at Pentecost (cf. Acts 2) leads to togetherness, life, and renewal through Christ.

Even in the light of this truth, the world around us continually attempts to exalt systems that exclude the necessity of God. The great desire of sinners flourishes because the father of lies continues to deceive. We assume that we can do it ourselves through hard work, that we can find the cures we need through science, that we can overcome injustices through altruism, and so on.

Who would ever deter someone from working hard? Who doesn't want to find a cure for various forms of cancer? Who would not want to see an end to starvation, brutality, and so forth?

All those things are good until we exalt our own efforts above God, and we view ourselves as so self-important that we have no need for Him. Plus, examine reality for a moment:
1. No matter how hard we work, sometimes our labors do not yield the results we desire.
2. No matter how much science discovers, people will continue to die.
3. No matter how widespread our altruistic efforts extend, suffering and injustice will still exist.

Too often our great desire is to exalt ourselves, but the overwhelming truth is that we desperately need the grace of God. Do you notice in the Tower of Babel account that no matter how elaborate the people might have built their city, God had to "come down" to see it? (11:5) No matter how much we think we can achieve, God stands above it all.

Therefore, the lesson for us to heed in studying the Tower of Babel is quite plain: Our great desire for self-exaltation must be replaced with our great need for Christ's sufficiency.


I recognize how "the great desire of sinners" can materialize in my life whenever:



from Best Devotional Commentary - James Montgomery Boice brilliantly breaks down this text by addressing three uses of "Come." The first important come involves sinful humanity's desire to construct a city for their own glory (Gen. 11:3-4). The second important come involves God's immensity as contrasted with human inadequacy, and the Lord's confusing human language (Gen. 11:7).
     He then concludes, "It would not be right to end without noting that the Bible also knows a third use of the word 'come' in which an invitation is extended by God to man for man's benefit. God says, 'Come now, let us reason together. ... Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool' (Isa. 1:18). Jesus says, 'Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest' (Matt. 11:28). 'The Spirit and the bride say, Come! And let him who hears say, Come! Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life' (Rev. 22:17).
     What is the result when we who hear God's invitation come to Him? It is just as He says! Our sins are washed away. Our burdens are lifted. Our spiritual thirst is quenched. Moreover, the effects of the curse are overturned and the proper desires of the human heart are provided for, not by man in rebellion against God, to be sure, but by the gracious and forgiving God Himself from whom all truly good gifts come" (Boice).

from Best Academic Commentary - "With heavy irony we now see the tower through God's eyes. This tower which man thought reached to heaven, God can hardly see! From the height of heaven it seems insignificant, so the Lord must come down to look at it! 'He sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers' (Isa. 40:22). God's descent to earth to view the tower is no more proof of the author's primitive anthropomorphic view of God than is God's asking Adam and Eve where they were hiding in the garden an indication of His ignorance. It is simply a brilliant and dramatic way of expressing the puniness of man's greatest achievements when set alongside the Creator's omnipotence. ...
     But though man's highest achievement was pathetic in God's eyes, the motives that prompted his efforts were horrific. The desire to displace God from heaven, to make a name for oneself rather than allow God to do this, and to scheme without reference to His declared will, prompts one final judgment that will hobble man's attempts at cooperation once and for all. The confusion of languages prevents community living and technological cooperation: people cannot trust or work with those they do not understand" (Wenham).

from runner-up to Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "The new beginning after the flood was soon spoiled by human power grabbing: Nimrod, a descendent of Ham, 'was the first on earth to become a mighty warrior. ... The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shiner' (10:8,10). By reversing the chronological order from the confusion of language of Babel (Gen. 11) followed by various nations with different languages (10:5,20,31), the narrator concludes this toledot with the major power grab at Babel and God's judgment. For some reason, he wished to end Israel's prehistory on a note of judgment. Left to themselves, there is no hope for humanity" (Greidanus).