Sunday, February 28, 2010

Genesis 38

The death of Judah’s first two sons (vs. 1-10)—This is an absolutely fascinating chapter which, at first reading, might cause one to wonder why it is even in the Bible. What’s the point? Well, there is a very valuable point and I’ll discuss it before I’m through. We don’t know exactly when “at that time” was (v. 1), but almost certainly not right after the selling of Joseph into slavery. Remember, exact chronology is not always important to ancient writers. But, for the chronology to fit, Judah was probably no more than 15 or 16 years old. He leaves his family, finds a Canaanite woman, and marries her. She bore three sons—Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er, via Judah’s arrangement (v. 6), married a woman named Tamar. “But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD killed him” (v. 7). So Judah told Onan, “Go in to your brother's wife and marry her, and raise up an heir to your brother” (v. 8). But Onan didn’t want to do it, and “therefore [the Lord] killed him also” (v. 10). So Judah had lost his first two sons.  There's a purpose behind the Lord killing these two men; He doesn't just capriciously kill people He doesn't like.

Tamar’s deception (vs. 11-23)—Now, remember, Tamar is the wife involved with Er and Onan. Judah had the third son, but he wasn’t of marriageable age yet, so Judah told Tamar to stick around and when Shelah was old enough, she could have him for a husband. So she did.

Well, Judah’s wife died, so she wasn’t going to give him any more sons. Tamar then works up a scheme, “for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given to him as a wife” (v. 14). Judah had gone to a place called Timnah to shear his sheep. Tamar followed him, and covered herself with a veil. Judah saw her, thought she was a harlot, and asked if he could go in to her. She inquired what the payment would be, and he said “I will send a young goat from the flock.” Well, okay, Tamar replied, but “will you give me a pledge till you send it?” (v. 17). So Judah gave her his signet and cord, and his staff (v. 18). He went it to her, and apparently she didn’t remove her veil because Judah never recognized her. But she conceived (v. 19). Judah did send the goat but Tamar was long gone. It’s probable that he didn’t think much of it besides the fact he got to keep his goat.

Tamar’s child (vs. 24-30)—Or children, actually, because she gave birth to twins, though only one is important. She started showing her pregnancy in about three months and Judah was appalled that she had played the harlot. “So Judah said, 'Bring her out and let her be burned!'" (v. 24). As far as Judah was concerned, she was the wife of Shelah, his third son, though she had not been given to him yet. But, in Judah’s eyes, what Tamar had done was commit adultery, thus she should be put to death. Tamar replied, “’By the man to whom these belong, I am with child.’ And she said, ‘Please determine whose these are--the signet and cord, and staff’" (v. 25). Judah knew he had been had, but he also recognized that he had been unfair to Tamar by not giving his third son to her as he had promised. So he didn’t put her to death.

Well, six months later, Tamar gives birth to twins. The oldest was named Perez and the youngest Zerah. And that’s the end of the chapter.

So what does it all mean? A rather sordid tale of wicked sons, a debauched father-in-law, and his daughter-in-law whom he gets pregnant when she pretends to be a prostitute. The point is Perez. Dear reader, remember: what is the theme of the book of Genesis, yea, the whole Old Testament? Correct—Christ is coming. Now, we’ve been so engrossed with the interesting stories over the past few chapters that that theme may have slipped our minds. Let’s review. What’s the Messianic line? Adam-Seth-Noah-Shem-Arphaxad-Abraham-Isaac-Jacob….the latter has 12 sons. Through whom is the Messiah going to come? Well, we don’t actually learn that until Genesis 49:10, and then later; but David and Jesus come from the line of…Judah. But not through Er. Not through Onan. And not through Shelah. Perez, the oldest son of Judah by Tamar, is the son of Judah through whom Christ will descend. This whole chapter is perfectly in harmony with the entire premise of Genesis and the Old Testament—Christ is coming. And that’s the whole purpose of chapter 38—the convoluted, and indeed, wicked means through which that child was born.

The mind and ways of God never, never cease to astonish me.

Genesis 37

Jacob’s favoritism (vs. 1-4)—I reckon that most parents have their “favorites” among their children, but it’s not a good idea to overtly demonstrate that. Jacob did. “Now Israel [Jacob] loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him” (vs. 3-4). Joseph was 17 years old at the time (v. 2), and probably the best of the sons. He was also the child of Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife. So it all added up to nepotism and that will be the source of much sorrow and then much gladness.

Joseph’s big mouth (vs. 5-11)—It didn’t help anything that, either out of ignorance or some sense of pride, Joseph related two dreams he had had to his father and brothers. In both of the dreams, it appears as though his family is going to bow down to him. You can imagine how that made his brothers react. It simply added fuel to an already simmering situation.

Joseph sold into slavery (vs. 12-30)—The circumstance boils over into calamity. Jacob’s sons are feeding their flock at first near Shechem and then at a place called Dothan. Israel sends Joseph to find them. But when the brothers “saw him afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him” (v. 18). Reuben, the oldest, tries to save him, and does keep him alive. But Reuben leaves the group for some reason. The other brothers grab Joseph, rip off his coat of many colors, and toss him into a pit to decide what to do with him. A company of Midianite (Ishmaelite) traders happen by, and Judah suggests “What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh" (vs. 26-27). So selling him into slavery was better than killing him. There isn’t a whole lot to commend these men to us at the moment. They indeed sell Joseph and he’s headed for Egypt. Reuben returns and is quite upset because he had wanted to “deliver him out of their hands, and bring him back to his father” (v. 22). So the oldest brother—the one who, in the chapter 35, had lay with his father’s concubine—shows a bit more maturity and decency here. But it’s too late. Joseph is gone.

Reporting to Jacob (vs. 31-35)—Reuben wasn’t so mature and decent that he was above deceiving his father. The brothers rip Joseph’s tunic and dip it blood. They take it back to Jacob, who recognizes it as Joseph’s: “It is my son's tunic. A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt Joseph is torn to pieces" (v. 33). It really caused distressed in the father: “And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, ‘For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning.’ Thus his father wept for him” (v. 35). Hopefully, the brothers felt some sense of shame, but that isn’t indicated. Plus, they couldn’t force themselves to tell their father they had sold Joseph into slavery; as far as they were concerned, deception was better than the truth. And they had gotten some money for him--20 shekels of silver, no small sum.  Not a great a bunch of guys.

Joseph sold in Egypt (v. 36)—The chapter ends with this statement: “Now the Midianites had sold him [Joseph] in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard.” Keep in mind, Joseph is 17 years old. The Scriptures don’t tell us what was going through his mind, but no doubt he was greatly distressed. But, as we shall see, he made the best of it and never lost his faith in God. What a test he went through, though!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Genesis 36

The genealogy of Esau (vs. 1-43)—There’s not a lot of action in this chapter. It simply records the genealogy of Esau. Some of Esau’s children were born in Canaan (v. 5), but he became very wealthy as well, and he moved south of Canaan. Apparently, at one point, he and Jacob tried to live together, but Esau “went to a country away from the presence of his brother Jacob. For their possessions were too great for them to dwell together, and the land where they were strangers could not support them because of their livestock. So Esau dwelt in Mount Seir. Esau is Edom” (vs. 6-8). Four times in the chapter it’s emphasized the “Esau is Edom” or “the father of the Edomites” (v. 43).

Edom was a mountainous region near the southern end of the Dead Sea; indeed, it was totally mountainous.  Sometimes the Bible refers to it as Mount Seir; in fact, it does so in Genesis 36:8.  In Numbers 20:18-21, they refuse to let the Israelites pass through their territory as Moses led the people to the Promised Land.  Then they disappear from Biblical history for about 400 years.  Saul and David both have victorious wars against Edom, and then later they unsuccessfully attack Israel during the reign of Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 20:22).  They help Nebuchadnezzar besiege Jerusalem, and for this are roundly condemned by some of the prophets (notably Isaiah and Jeremiah).  The one chapter book of Obadiah is given totally to a denunciation of the Edomites for their treachery against Israel.  After helping Nebuchadnezzar, they settle in southern Palestine, where they appear to prosper for about 4 centuries.  However, during the Jewish revolt against the Greeks in the early 2nd century B.C., "they were again completely subdued, and even forced to conform to Jewish laws and rites, and submit to the government of Jewish prefects. The Edomites were now incorporated with the Jewish nation." —Smith's Bible Dictionary.  The whole region of Edom was full of caves and grottos, and that appears to be where many of the people lived. 

Some of their descendants remained into New Testaments times. They were no longer called "Edomites," but were known as "Idumeans;" they are never referred to with that name in the Old Testament. Herod the Great, the king when Jesus was born, and his family were Idumeans. Anyway, Genesis 36 gives us a long list of Esau’s offspring, especially those who ruled over the next few centuries. 

Friday, February 26, 2010

Genesis 35

God commands Jacob to go to Bethel (vs. 1-5)—Because of what happened in chapter 34, Jacob was fearful that the peoples of the area would gather together and attack him (34:30). The Lord solves the problem by commanding Jacob to go to Bethel and by putting “the terror of God…upon the cities that were all around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob” (v. 5). Jacob orders his household—that would be servants and all—to “put away the foreign gods that are among you” (v. 2). It’s a little surprising he hadn’t done so earlier, but it might have been because of his own wife. Remember that Rachel had stolen her father’s idols (Genesis 31:19), perhaps because she still believed in them; it was the environment in which she was raised. Well, regardless, Jacob wasn’t going to tolerate it any more.

Jacob at Bethel (vs. 6-15)—The patriarch did as ordered, went to Bethel, and built an altar to God. Bethel was the location where Jacob had his famous dream when he fled from Esau; it was here that God first appeared to him and gave him the promise He had given Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 28:10-22). The Lord briefly repeats the promise here (vs. 11-12). An interesting and peculiar sidelight in this section: verse 8 records the death of Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse. Rebekah’s death is nowhere recorded, but that of her nurse is. I have no idea why. Something to ask the Lord about in heaven.

The death of Rachel (vs. 16-20)—Jacob and his entourage then left Bethel, but sadness strikes. Rachel gives birth to the final son, Benjamin, but she dies in the process. She was buried “on the way to Ephrath, (that is, Bethlehem)” (v. 19), but how near to that city, we aren’t told.  Bethlehem, which still exists today, is a very ancient city, at least 4,000 years old.

The list of Jacob’s sons (vs. 21-26)—Jacob “pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder” (v. 21), which is supposed to be near Bethlehem, and a tradition has it that it’s the location where the angels appeared to the shepherds announcing Christ’s birth. To show further the debauchery of Jacob’s sons, “Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine; and Israel heard about it” (v. 22), but we don’t know what Jacob—or, remember his name is also Israel—did about “it.” Apparently, nothing. Verses 23-26 lists his sons, according to their mothers.

The death of Isaac (vs. 27-29)—At some point after that, Jacob moves on to Mamre, where his father Isaac lived. And at some point after that, Isaac died. No chronological data is given here, but these events were doubtless fairly close together. Israel comforts his father in his declining days. Isaac lived 180 years, and was buried by his two sons, Esau and Jacob. Moses doesn’t say where.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Genesis 34

Dinah raped (vs. 1-7)--Over the next few chapters we’re going to see some mighty corrupt young people in the house of Jacob. Perhaps seven or eight years have passed since Jacob settled near Shechem. Dinah is probably 14 or 15 by now, and she “went out to see the daughters of the land” (v. 1). Some commentators have condemned her for mingling with heathen women, but she’s a lone daughter with a houseful of miscreant brothers; it’s not surprising she’d want some female companionship. But, one of the young men of the city, confusingly named Shechem, rapes her. Yet he loves her and wants to marry her. He asks his father to approach Jacob about it; arrangements have to be made between parents, it’s not an individual choice of the two young people. Jacob’s brothers are very angry about the mistreatment of Dinah, “because [Shechem] had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, a thing which ought not to be done” (v. 7). Not just the rape, but rape by an uncircumcised man. It will lead to horrible consequences. 

The "pact" between Jacob’s sons and the men of Shechem (vs. 8-24)—Hamor, Shechem’s father, does indeed ask Jacob to allow Dinah to marry his son. And he suggests a little more than that: “And make marriages with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters to yourselves. So you shall dwell with us, and the land shall be before you. Dwell and trade in it, and acquire possessions for yourselves in it" (vs. 9-10). Shechem apparently really loved Dinah: “Then Shechem said to her father and her brothers, 'Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. Ask me ever so much dowry and gift, and I will give according to what you say to me; but give me the young woman as a wife'” (vs. 11-12). And the Bible indicates that, in spite of the rape, he was an honorable young man, or at least more so than his father (v. 19).  We have absolutely no idea what Dinah thought about all of this.

Nor do we know what Jacob thought.  His sons step up and take charge—and behind their father’s back, as we shall see. They told Hamor and Shechem they could not intermarry with the people of the city unless all the men were circumcised. This was acceptable to Hamor and Shechem and they broached the men of the city of Shechem with the idea. Hamor sweetens the pot a little by saying, “Will not their livestock, their property, and every animal of theirs be ours? Only let us consent to them, and they will dwell with us” (v. 23). There wasn’t really any reason why the men of Shechem should agree to being circumcised; after all, Jacob and his family had lived in the area for several years now. But the possibility of gaining some of Jacob’s wealth for their own was sufficient to convince the men to be circumcised. So they were (v. 24).

The murder of the men of Shechem (vs. 25-31)—But Jacob’s sons were not serious in this agreement made with Hamor and Shechem. On the third day after the circumcision, when the men of the city were virtually helpless with pain and recovery, Simeon and Levi entered into the city “and killed all the males” (v. 25). “They killed Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem's house” (v. 26); they “plundered the city," (v. 27), and “took their sheep, their oxen, and their donkeys, what was in the city and what was in the field, and all their wealth. All their little ones and their wives they took captive; and they plundered even all that was in the houses” (vs. 28-29). This was atrocious, of course, and Jacob knew it: He said to Simeon and Levi, "’You have troubled me by making me obnoxious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and since I am few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and kill me. I shall be destroyed, my household and I’" (v. 30). The only excuse Simeon and Levi gave was “’Should he treat our sister like a harlot?'" (v. 31). What Shechem did was no doubt wrong and totally inexcusable; he probably could have had Dinah if he had just controlled himself and asked. But rape doesn’t justify lying, wholesale murder, theft, kidnapping, and enslavement. As noted, we will see further examples of the utter depravity and wickedness of Jacob’s sons. Whether he was just a lousy father, or whether this was some of the fruit of polygamy, we do not know. Perhaps a bit of both. We do know that he favored Rachel’s children (Joseph and Benjamin) and that’s going to lead to disagreeable consequences as well.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Genesis 33

Jacob and Esau meet (vs. 1-16)—Jacob, still afraid of what his brother might do, aligns his family in such a way as to protect them as best as possible. Rachel and Joseph, his favorites, are in the back—maximum protection (vs. 1-2). He then prostrates himself before Esau seven times (v. 3), but it was unnecessary: “Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (v. 4). It’s nice to see this from Esau, who hadn’t shown a lot of character or spiritual maturity in our earlier encounters with him. The two men have a most congenial conversation, very Oriental, but almost sickening to our Occidental, western ways. Jacob introduces his family (vs. 6-7), and insists that Esau accept the gift that Jacob had sent to him (see previous chapter). Esau politely refused: “'I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself'" (v. 9). But at Jacob’s repeated urgings, Esau acquiesces.

Esau wants them to travel together (v. 12), but Jacob is afraid he’ll slow the procession down with all that he has (v. 13). So he suggests Esau go on and “I will lead on slowly at a pace which the livestock that go before me, and the children, are able to endure, until I come to my lord in Seir" (v. 14). We can suppose that Jacob was sincere about going down to Edom to see Esau—at least it appears that his brother thought he was—but circumstance will prevent him from doing so. Esau left that same day for home (v. 16).

Jacob settles in Shechem (vs. 17-20)—If Jacob did intend to go to Edom to see his brother, it wasn’t an immediate intention. He “came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan…and he pitched his tent before the city” (v. 18). He bought a piece of land, built an altar, and called it “God, the God of Israel” (v. 20). The Lord had brought Jacob securely back to Canaan, but the story will turn very ugly from here. Jacob’s sons—most of them—are scoundrels and debauched miscreants, but they are still young—Reuben, the oldest, was about 13 now, so they are going to sow their wild oats in a most egregious fashion, as we shall see.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Genesis 32

Jacob met by angels (vs. 1-2)—There is no reason given why these angels came to Jacob; perhaps to comfort him after his stressful encounter with Laban. Jacob names the place “Mahanaim,” which means “two hosts,” or “two camps.”

Esau is on his way to meet Jacob (vs. 3-8)—The background here is not given. For some reason, Jacob sends messengers to Esau in the land of Seir, or Edom. That was far south of where Jacob was going; why bother? And then messengers come back, saying “We came to your brother Esau, and he also is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him" (v. 6). How did Esau know Jacob was coming? Well, again there is some information lacking, but the bottom line is, they were going to meet and Jacob, remembering how he had twice cheated Esau many years before, is afraid his brother is coming to do him harm.

Jacob’s prayer (vs. 9-12)—Jacob then prays a very humble, pleading prayer to God for protection against Esau. “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children,” (v. 11), and then reminds God of the promise He had made to Jacob—as if Jehovah would have forgotten (v. 12). Yet, God wants us to acknowledge His blessings and promises so Jacob’s prayer here was no doubt pleasing to Him.

Jacob sends Esau a gift (vs. 13-21)—With the stated idea of appeasing his brother (v. 20). It wasn’t an insubstantial gift, either: “two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milk camels with their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten foals” (vs. 14-15). Jacob is obviously very concerned about this meeting.

Wrestling with God (vs. 24-33)—This is a significant event in the life of Jacob for the Lord gives him the additional name of “Israel” (v. 28). It appears that this represents a struggle of Jacob with his own faith: “for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed" (v. 28). It was a severe test for the patriarch, and all of us will face such tests in our lives as we journey on the road to our eternal destiny.  Jacob thinks he has seen God "face to face" (v. 30), but it was probably only an angel he skirmished with.  Hosea 12:4 reads, "he struggled with the Angel and prevailed."  It pays to be cautious when labeling heavenly beings.  Which ones are true manifestations of God and which ones are only angels is not always easy to determine.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Genesis 31

Jacob leaves Padan Aram (vs. 1-18)—Jacob’s prosperity caused envy among Laban and his sons; in verse 1, the sons complained, ”’Jacob has taken away all that was our father's, and from what was our father's he has acquired all this wealth,’" which was just as false as it could be, of course. But, wealth and prosperity—others—will do that to a lot of people. In verse 3, God tells Jacob to return home. The patriarch explained all of what had happened to his wives Rachel and Leah (vs. 4-13), and they agreed that he should leave and that they would go with him. They weren’t very happy with their father, either: “’Are we not considered strangers by him? For he has sold us, and also completely consumed our money’” (v. 15). So Jacob gathered all his belongings and headed for the “land of [his] fathers” and the Lord had instructed him (v. 3).

Laban pursues Jacob (vs. 19-24)—Jacob didn’t tell Laban that he was leaving, for reasons he explains later in the chapter. This probably wasn’t very wise, because he had to know his father-in-law would pursue him. He certainly wouldn’t be able to move very quickly, given the amount of livestock he had. Sure enough, Laban heard, three days later, that Jacob had left, and went after him. And may have had some evil intent in mind because God appeared to him in a dream and said “’Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad’" (v. 24). So Laban was restrained from any harm he might have contemplated. One important thing this section also says is that “Rachel had stolen the household idols that were her father's” (v. 19). Whether she did it just out of spite or whether she still had some idolatry in her isn’t stated, but that Jacob did have some idolaters in his entourage is indicated in a later chapter, so it’s probable that Rachel, having grown up in that atmosphere, didn’t have it completely washed out of her yet.

Jacob and Laban meet (vs. 25-55)—Laban rebukes Jacob for having left unannounced, and it’s hard to believe some of what he says. For example, v. 27: “’For I might have sent you away with joy and songs, with timbrel and harp?’” Probably not. His main concern, however, seemed to be his missing household gods (v. 30) and he wants them back. Jacob explains that he left because he “’was afraid, for I said, “Perhaps you would take your daughters from me by force”’” (v. 31), and pleads innocence regarding the idols that had been stolen: “’With whomever you find your gods, do not let him live’” (v. 32). Oops. “Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them” (v. 33).

Laban searches, but doesn’t find the gods because Rachel stuffs them under a camel’s saddle, sits on the saddle, and then doesn’t arise when her father enters her tent, pleading “’the manner of women is with me’" (v. 35). Slick. Laban doesn’t find his gods, of course, and Jacob, angry, unloads on Laban, fairly stating what had really happened, i.e., that he worked for what he had and “’unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night’" (v. 42), which is almost certainly true. Laban tries to save face with a bald-faced lie: “’These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and this flock is my flock; all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne?’” (v. 43). When we first meet Laban back in Genesis 24, his character is admirable and favorable. By the time this chapter is over, it’s hard not to loathe the man. Jacob and Laban then make a covenant, setting up a pillar as an agreement that “I will not pass beyond this heap to you, and you will not pass beyond this heap and this pillar to me, for harm” (v. 53). Laban left the next morning (v. 55), and as far as we know, Jacob never saw him again. And was probably very happy about it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Genesis 30

Jacob and the handmaids (vs. 1-13)—Rachel was a little petulant, or maybe a lot: “Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or else I die!’" (v. 1). Jacob’s response was reasonable: "’Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?’" (v. 2). So Rachel gives her handmaid Bilhah to her husband so that she will bear children. Keep in mind that the handmaid is the sole property of her mistress, and thus any children she bears will belong to Rachel. Over the next two years, Bilhah bore Dan and Naphtali. When Leah didn’t have a child the fifth year, she gave her handmaid Zilpah to Jacob, who also bore two sons, Gad and Asher. Remember that all of this is going on the second seven years that Jacob is serving Laban. Eight sons have been born so far; there will be four more, and a daughter. One has to feel for Jacob, being bounced around like this. And there will be more enmity in the family (besides Rachel’s jealousy), which is not surprising given the polygamous relationship.

Two more sons for Leah, and a daughter (vs. 14-21)—Little Reuben—he must have been about five or six years old at the time of this incident—sees some pretty flowers—mandrakes--picks some of them, and gives them to his mother. A mandrake has purple flowers and will produce a small yellow fruit that has a very pleasant odor and is believed to perhaps have aphrodisiacal qualities. Rachel trades Jacob for the night for Leah’s mandrakes. As a result, another son is born to Leah, Issachar, and the next year she bears Zebulun. That is six sons in seven years for Leah, and “Afterward she bore a daughter, and called her name Dinah” (v. 21). We don’t know how long “afterward,” but given subsequent events, probably within the next year or two.

Rachel bears Joseph (vs. 22-24)—Whether the mandrakes had anything to do with it or not, “God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb” (v. 22). Joseph was born, and he will prove to be the best of the lot.

Jacob’s wages for the next six years (vs. 25-36)—The second seven years of Jacob’s service ends, and he’s ready to go back to Canaan. Laban, knowing a good worker when he sees one, doesn’t want Jacob to leave: “'Name me your wages, and I will give it'" (v. 28). Jacob wants to build his own herd of sheep: “’Let me pass through all your flock today, removing from there all the speckled and spotted sheep, and all the brown ones among the lambs, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and these shall be my wages’” (v. 32), and, from that point on, “’every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the lambs’” (v. 33) would belong to Laban. Thinking it good deal, Laban agreed. I personally have never seen any brown sheep or speckled goats, but they do exist and Jacob is going to build his flock with them.

Jacob becomes prosperous (vs. 37-43)—These two verses—“Now Jacob took for himself rods of green poplar and of the almond and chestnut trees, peeled white strips in them, and exposed the white which was in the rods. And the rods which he had peeled, he set before the flocks in the gutters, in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink, so that they should conceive when they came to drink” (vs. 37-38)—have long baffled commentators who have no idea how rods from various trees produce fertility. I don’t know, either, but Jacob obviously had some insight that we don’t have. Regardless of the scientific—or perhaps miraculous—rationale, within a few years “the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys” (v. 43). Jehovah blessed him, as He had promised.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Genesis 29

Jacob and the sheepherders (vs. 1-8)—Jacob arrived near the home of Laban, his mother’s brother. He sees some sheepherders who have gathered their flocks near a watering well. He asked them if they knew Laban, to which they responded in the affirmative (v. 5). It’s a little confusing why these sheepherders were around the well. Jacob pointed out the them that it was still “high day,” so water your sheep and go feed them. But they say that they could not water their flocks until all the sheep were gathered and someone rolled the stone from the mouth of the well (v. 8). Why they weren’t out with the sheep is unknown. But perhaps it was near watering time because here came Laban’s daughter, Rachel, to water her flock.

Jacob meets Rachel (vs. 9-12)—Rachel was a shepherdess, which means she wasn’t kept shut up in the house until marriage. When she arrived with her flock, Jacob rolled the stone from the well and helped water her flock. We don’t know the conversation that ensued during all of this, but Jacob eventually told Rachel who he was and she ran and told Laban (v. 12).

Laban’s treachery and Jacob’s surprise (13-30)—Laban greeted his nephew warmly and Jacob stayed with the family. Obviously he started working for Laban for the latter asked him, “’Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what should your wages be?’" (v. 15). In the few weeks Jacob had been there so far, he had fallen in love with Rachel. So he tells Laban that he’ll work for him seven years for Rachel. Laban agrees. “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her” (v. 20). So far, so good.

But Laban had another daughter, whose name was Leah. Moses, trying to find something nice to say about her, said her eyes were “delicate,” or “tender,” and the word seems to indicate that she had pretty eyes. But apparently that was all, and she didn’t compare with the beauty of Rachel. Well, when the seven years were up, Jacob wanted his wife (v. 21). Laban put together a great wedding feast (v. 22), but did something dastardly. Somehow, without Jacob knowing it—and Rachel must have been in on it, too—Laban snuck Leah into the wedding bed. Whether Jacob was too intoxicated to know who he was with that night or what, in the morning “behold, it was Leah” (v. 25).  Jacob understandably complains, but Laban explains, and correctly, “’It must not be done so in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn’” (v. 26). That was the custom of that region. Jacob apparently wasn’t aware of it, and Laban was less than honest, to say the least, in not explaining it to him. But Laban probably also saw an opportunity to get Leah married off, the prospects of which apparently hadn’t looked too good up till then. He told Jacob to fulfill Leah’s week and he would give him Rachel, on condition that Jacob serve him another seven years (v. 27). Jacob had little choice in the matter. Each of the daughters was given a handmaid as well—Bilhah for Rachel and Zilpah for Leah. That’s important, as we shall see.

Leah bears four sons (vs. 31-35)—Verse 30 indicates that Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah; this is not surprising news. But the Lord was touched by Leah’s situation: “When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren” (v. 31). And over the first four years of marriage, Leah bore Jacob four sons, Rueben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. She hoped with each son that it would produce a greater love in Jacob for her. But it never happened. And, indeed, the whole situation should never have happened. Polygamy simply was not God’s plan for man and woman. Yet the Lord will work all of this out for His purposes and the benefit of man.

Genesis 28

Isaac sends Jacob to Padam Aram (vs. 1-5)—Just as Rebekah requested at the end of the previous chapter, Isaac dispatches Jacob to the home of his family to “take yourself a wife from there of the daughters of Laban your mother's brother” (v. 2). So Jacob will marry a near relative, too—first cousin, in this case. Again, this wasn’t unusual in ancient times; sometimes, it was physically harmful, but not always. However, Jacob will end up with far more than he bargained for, as we shall see.

Esau marries again (vs. 6-9)—The older brother “saw that the daughters of Canaan did not please his father Isaac” (v. 8). So ”Esau went to Ishmael and took Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham's son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife in addition to the wives he had” (v. 9). Let’s give Esau credit for sincerely trying to please his father here. Ishmael was Isaac’s half-brother, of course, and we don’t really know what kind of relationship the two had. Whether this new wife pleased Isaac or not the text does not say; but he didn’t send Jacob to find a wife among Ishmael’s people, either. So it might be fair to assume that a daughter of Ishmael was better than a Hittite, but still not ideal. Esau’s heart appears to be right, though his actions might not have been quite up to standard.

Jacob’s dream and vow (vs. 10-22)—On his way to Padam Aram, Jacob had his famous dream—a ladder all the way from heaven, with angels ascending and descending. During the dream, the Lord “stood above it”—the ladder, surely—and repeated to Jacob the promise He had made to father and grandfather: God would be with him, his descendants would be numberless, they would inherit the land, and—most importantly—“in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (v. 14), the Messianic promise. This is the last time God will make this grand promise to an individual; Jacob will have twelve sons, and we will discover later which one is chosen for the Messianic line.  Do you know?

When Jacob wakes from his dream he was in awe of what had happened: “’How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!'" (v. 17). He took the stone he had used for a pillow, poured oil on it, in effect consecrating it, and called the place Bethel, or “house of God.” He then made an interesting vow: “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God” (vs. 20-21). Was Jacob implying here that if all these things didn’t happen that he would resort to pagan worship? Well, it’s moot because the Lord did take care of him, but I do find the language peculiar. In verse 22, he ends the vow by promising God a tenth of all he earned--the “tithe,” which was part of the Old Testament, but is not part of the New. We are to give, of course, but “as [we] may prosper” (I Cor. 16:1-2), and as we “purpose in our heart” (II Cor. 9:7). That may be a tenth, it may be more, it may be less. The Lord is looking at our hearts here—“how much do you love me?” That makes the decision a little more difficult than just knowing we can give a tenth and be done with it.

One final interesting historical anecdote: “There is a foolish tradition that the stone set up by Jacob was afterwards brought to Jerusalem, from which, after a long lapse of time, it was brought to Spain, from Spain to Ireland, from Ireland to Scotland, and on it the kings of Scotland sat to be crowned…Edward I. had it brought to Westminster; and there this stone, called Jacob's pillar, and Jacob's pillow, is now placed under the chair on which the king sits when crowned!"—Adam Clarke's Commentary. Clarke wrote about 200 years ago, but if I understand correctly, that stone is still there, in Westminster Abbey, under Edward I’s throne, and British monarchs have been crowned upon that throne ever since. Clarke thinks the idea that the stone is actually Jacob’s pillar is “foolish,” and I agree with him wholeheartedly. But it’s a nice tale.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Genesis 27

Isaac’s request to Esau (vs. 1-5)—Isaac is old and he thinks he might be near death, but actually he’s going to live another 40 years or so. He calls his favorite son, Esau, to him and asks him to “make me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die" (v. 4).

What Isaac is doing here is not right. God had made it plain that “the older [son] shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23), which means that Jehovah intended for Jacob to have the superior blessing, not Esau. Remember that a “blessing” from one of the patriarchs was, in effect, prophetic, so whatever Isaac wanted to give Esau would come to pass. But the plot of this story thickens rapidly...

Rebekah’s chichanery (vs. 5-17)—As noted earlier in the story (Genesis 25:28), Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite son. She overheard what Isaac had said to Esau, so while the older son is out hunting, Rebekah has Jacob act quickly in order to procure the blessing. It doesn’t appear that she does this because she overly concerned about what God wants; she’s just trying to aid the son she favors. She told Jacob to kill two goats from the flock (v. 9—Isaac must have been hungry!) and she would prepare them just like Isaac liked, and Jacob could then take the food into his father and get the blessing. Jacob protests that he is a smooth skinned man while Esau is hairy: “’Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be a deceiver to him; and I shall bring a curse on myself and not a blessing’" (v. 12). Rebekah took care of that by putting some of the goat’s hair on Jacob’s hands and the smooth parts of his neck. Then she also had Jacob wear some of Esau’s garments. It was going to be tricky….

Jacob gets the blessing (vs. 18-29)—Tricky, but it worked. Isaac was suspicious, but he felt Jacob’s hands, and they had hair on them. Still, “’The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau’" (v. 22). Isaac had one more test:  Verse 26 reads, “’Come near now and kiss me, my son.’ And Jacob came near and kissed his father, and Isaac smelled the smell of the clothing, and was convinced: ‘Surely, the smell of my son Is like the smell of a field’”—i.e., Esau. So Isaac then gave Jacob quite a prophetic future: “’Therefore may God give you of the dew of heaven, of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be master over your brethren, and let your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be those who bless you!’" (vs. 28-29). If that was the blessing Isaac intended to give Esau, then that was not God’s plan at all. More on that when Isaac finally does bless the older son.

Esau’s blessing (vs. 30-40)—Not only was Rebekah’s plan tricky (and successful), but it was close, time-wise, too: “Now it happened, as soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting” (v. 30). Esau prepared his food and went in to his father. “And his father Isaac said to him, ‘Who are you?’ So he said, ‘I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.’ Then Isaac trembled exceedingly, and said, ‘Who? Where is the one who hunted game and brought it to me? I ate all of it before you came, and I have blessed him--and indeed he shall be blessed’" (vs. 32-33). Perhaps Isaac realized now that he had violated God’s will. Jehovah will see His plans through, and not even great and godly men like Isaac can thwart it. Here’s the blessing Esau received, which apparently Isaac intended for Jacob: “Behold, your dwelling shall be of the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; and it shall come to pass, when you become restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck" (vs. 39-40). Notice especially: “You shall serve your brother.” Indeed, “the elder shall serve the younger…” Esau was understandably upset, but he had also sold his birthright to Jacob, so he really had nothing of which to complain.

Rebekah strikes again (vs. 41-46)—Esau was angry enough that he wanted to kill his brother: “"The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob" (v. 41). That information got back to Rebekah and so she acted again; Jacob would have to be sent away till Esau’s wrath cooled. But how do it without upsetting Isaac?…another ingenious plan. “And Rebekah said to Isaac, ‘I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth [Esau’s wives]; if Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth, like these who are the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?’" (v. 46). That’s the last verse of the chapter, but Isaac will understand and in the next chapter will send Jacob to the relatives at Padan Aram to find a wife, where Rebekah had come from.

As I wrote extensively in my series “Who Can Say To Him, ‘What Are You Doing?” (see my Bible blog), God’s ways and thoughts are far higher than ours. And He can use even sinful actions to accomplish His purposes. As noted, what Isaac was trying to do—give Esau the greater blessing—was contrary to Jehovah’s will. So the Lord uses the deception of Rebekah, and outright lies of Jacob, to get what He intended in the first place. The Lord’s will simply cannot be defeated. And in this case, it had Messianic overtones and had to be implemented. How wonderful, yet mysterious, are the ways of Jehovah.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Genesis 26

Like father, like son (vs. 1-11)—There was a famine in the land, but God told Isaac to stay where he was rather than go down to Egypt as Abraham had done (chapter 12). He’s living near Gerar, the same area of the Philistines where his father had once dwelt. God came to Isaac and repeated to him the great promise that He had made to Abraham and that He would keep that promise through Isaac: “And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (v. 4). Except for the “I will make your name great” guarantee, it’s the same thing Jehovah had said Abraham. And notice especially, “in your seed ALL the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” Remember—Christ is coming. Question: Can you recall the Messianic line? Answer at the end….

In Gerar, just like Abraham had done with Sarah, Isaac asks Rebekah to claim she is his sister. And just like what happened to Abraham, his deception was discovered. Whether this is the same Abimelech that Abraham had dealings with is extremely doubtful, but he proved to be an honorable man as well—at least regarding Rebekah—and wouldn’t let any of his people touch her.

Conflict with the Philistines (vs. 12-22)—Isaac grew very wealthy; well, no doubt, he had inherited a lot of that from his father, but he prospered nonetheless. “So the Philistines envied him,” (v. 14), and Abimelech asked him to leave, “for you are much mightier than we," (v. 16), indicating again, not only the size of Isaac’s retinue, but how small and insignificant the city-state of Gerar was. Even though Abimelech was a Philistine and no doubt there were others of that tribe around, they obviously weren’t united. The reader might recall ancient Greek history, Athens and Sparta, etc. They could unite against a serious common enemy like Persia, otherwise all they did was fight amongst themselves. That’s probably the situation here with Isaac and Abimelech. Later, the Philistines would unite and give Israel fits.

Isaac kept digging wells but the jealous Philistine herdsmen kept stealing them. Isaac could have fought them, of course, but he didn’t. He just moved on and finally found a location where he could live in peace.

The covenant between Isaac and Abimelech (vs. 23-32)—Abimelech must have been really worried about Isaac, and he had good reason to since his people were taking all of Isaac’s water. So Abimelech goes to Isaac. The latter is somewhat disgruntled: “’Why have you come to me, since you hate me and have sent me away from you?’" (v. 27). Abimelech is less than honest in his reply. Since he sees that “the LORD is with you,” (v. 28), he wants to make a covenant with Isaac, “that you will do us no harm, since we have not touched you, and since we have done nothing to you but good and have sent you away in peace” (v. 29). This “we have done nothing to you but good” might have caused Isaac to snicker a bit since Abimelech’s people had been confiscating his water wells, but the patriarch shows restraint and his peaceful intent by making a feast and swearing an agreement. If indeed Isaac was stronger than Abimelech, he had nothing to lose. His servants had found the water he needed (v. 32).

Esau’s wives (vs. 34-35)—We’ve already seen that Esau wasn’t a terribly spiritual man, and he further proves it here by marrying a couple of Hittite women. “And they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah” (v. 35). No doubt Esau’s parents would have preferred he marry among his own kinsmen as Isaac had done. And, as we shall see in a later chapter, Isaac will send Jacob back to his family to find a wife there.

Messianic line:  Adam--Seth--Noah--Shem--Arphaxad--Abraham--Isaac...more to come...

Genesis 25

Abraham’s family and death (vs. 1-11)—Verse one says that Abraham took another wife, Keturah. It’s not impossible that he married Keturah while Sarah was still alive; ancient writers often write according to purpose and not necessarily chronologically. So all the “important” material was discussed by Moses first, and now he goes back and picks up some other threads. Romans 4:19 also indicates that, at 100 years of age, Abraham’s body was “dead.” Plus, verse 6 of this chapter (Genesis 25) speaks of “the sons of the concubines which Abraham had.” So all in all, Keturah was perhaps Abraham’s wife at an earlier age. He had six sons by her. But “Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac” (v. 5). It is almost a surety that Sarah was Abraham’s first wife and his favorite. And, of course, Isaac was the son of promise. Abraham, however, did not leave the rest of his children destitute (v. 6). He died at the age of 175 and Isaac and Ishmael buried him next to Sarah in the cave of Machpelah, which he had purchased in chapter 23.

Ishmael’s genealogy (vs. 12-18)—God had promised Abraham and Hagar that Ishmael would be the father of a large offspring as well. A brief genealogy of Ishmael is given here, and then Moses, as he always does in Genesis, moves on to the more significant person, Isaac.

The birth of Esau and Jacob (vs. 19-28)—Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebekah, but it wasn’t until 20 years later that the sons were born. The pregnancy was apparently difficult for Rebekah and she asked the Lord about it. Jehovah comforted her: “’Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.’” So she was going to have twins. The first son to appear was hairy, so they named him “Esau,” which means “hairy.” Interestingly, as he was coming out of the womb, his brother grabbed his heel, but Esau made it out first. “Jacob” means “supplanter,” and that will fit his personality perfectly.

As the boys grew, Esau became “a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents” (v. 27). It’s not terribly surprising that “Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob” (v. 28).

Esau sells his birthright (vs. 29-34)—Always keep in mind the law of primogeniture—the firstborn is to receive a larger share of the inheritance, and in the case of the patriarchs, extra spiritual blessings as well. In medieval Europe, the firstborn would receive the farm, a second son would go to the army, and a third son would enter the Church (don’t ask me about any beyond that, I don’t know). The point is, the first son was the most blessed (girls were to marry, of course, and I suppose they hoped they got the first son). Well, Esau came in from hunting one day and Jacob was brewing up a mess of pottage. Esau was hungry, wanted some of it, but Jacob, the “supplanter,” demanded his older brother’s birthright in exchange. “And Esau said, ‘Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?’" (v. 32). Esau wouldn’t have died; surely there was something else around there for him to eat. He simply didn’t care about his birthright and the blessings that might go with it. Indeed, the contempt he had for the whole thing is indicated in verse 34: “He ate and drank, arose, and went his way.” And the chapter ends by saying “Thus Esau despised his birthright.” His mind was simply not affected very much by spiritual and family matters. That birthright is something he should have been willing to die for. A “profane man” is the verdict of Hebrews 12:16.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Genesis 24

Abraham sends a servant to find a wife for Isaac (vs. 1-9)—Abraham doesn’t want his son to marry among the pagans in Canaan; he prefer he marry among the pagans in his own family. I’m being a bit facetious, but not much. We will learn later that there was, indeed, some idol worship in the family, but that’s not surprising since Abraham’s father was a polytheist (Joshua 24:2). So the servant is sent to the city of Nahor (Abraham’s brother), which may have been the name of the city or simply the “city where Nahor lived.”

The servant’s prayer (vs. 10-14)—The unnamed servant arrives where sent, and stops at a well outside the city, at about the time the women of the city come out to draw water. He offers a unique prayer to God for the success of his mission. “Lord, let the woman who comes out to the well and gives me a drink, and also offers to water my camels, be the one whom You have selected for my master’s son.” And the Lord will answer his prayer…

The servant meets Rebekah (vs. 15-27)—Rebekah, as noted in chapter 22, was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother, Nahor. She came out to draw water and met all the conditions Abraham’s servant had placed before the Lord. The servant, upon finding out who Rebekah is, believes that she is the one chosen. He doesn’t explain everything fully to the girl, but she’s impressed enough that she runs into town and tells her family.

The servant speaks to Rebekah’s family (vs. 28-49)—Rebekah’s brother, Laban, comes out to greet the man and invites him to dinner (the servant was going to spend the night with them anyway—Oriental hospitality again, vs. 23-25). This section of some 20 verses is pretty much a recounting of what has gone on earlier in the chapter—the servant’s mission, his prayer, Rebekah’s appearance. It’s largely a repeat.

An agreement is made (vs. 50-60)—It’s interesting that Rebekah didn’t appear to have much to say about whether she would go with Abraham’s servant or not. The decision seemed to be left in the hands of Laban and Bethuel (and this appears to a brother with the same name as the father, who must be dead). The brothers said, “Here is Rebekah before you; take her and go, and let her be your master's son's wife, as the LORD has spoken” (v. 51). Of course, arranged marriages were the custom of the day, in fact, have been the custom of most cultures down through history. And, for the most part, they seemed to have been very successful.

Rebekah meets Isaac (vs. 61-67)—Rebekah went with the servant, met Isaac (with modesty, “she took a veil and covered herself,” v. 65, another custom of the time), and “she became [Isaac’s] wife, and he loved her” (v. 67). A touching story, and Rebekah proves to be a pretty shrewd woman, as we shall see.

Genesis 23

The death of Sarah (vs. 1-2)—The chapter records the death and burial of Abraham’s wife, Sarah. She was 127 years old. She is mentioned as a great woman of faith in Hebrews 11.

Buying a burial plot from the sons of Heth (vs. 3-20)—Abraham wanted a certain cave of Machpelah from a man named Ephron, a Hittite, or “sons of Heth.” Heth was a son of Canaan, who was the son of Ham, Noah’s offspring. At the time, the Hittites were not a very numerous or powerful people, but they would become so. Indeed, they had quite a huge empire based in what is today Turkey, and for several centuries during the 2nd millennium B.C., were quite active, and feared, in Middle Eastern affairs.

Extreme (often feigned) courtesy, bargaining, and haggling were quite common among the Oriental/Asiatic peoples of Abraham’s day, and indeed, still are. Ephron first offers simply to give Abraham the cave, and field in which it existed, probably assuming Abraham would not take a free gift. And he was correct. Abraham asked a selling price; Ephron said 400 shekels of silver. Most commentators don’t seem to be bothered with this figure, but one suggested that the asking price was outrageous, that Ephron fully expected Abraham to wrangle with him. I’m inclined to agree, since that was a very common custom (Jacob bought a field for 100 shekels of silver in Genesis 33:19. Of course, we don’t know the differing sizes.). But haggling over money is not the height of spiritual maturity; I wouldn’t condemn it, it can be humorous, and again, expected in certain cultures. But Abraham wasn’t going to do it. Buying a burial plot for his wife (and eventually himself Genesis 25:9-10) was a serious matter to him and he wasn’t going to condescend to bickering over it. So he paid what Ephron asked, much to the latter’s delight, I’m sure. And Abraham inters Sarah there. The cave, verse 19 notes, was near the city of Hebron in southern Canaan. No one today knows where it is.

This story is not one of the most imperative in the Bible but the Lord does ask us to pay final respects to a godly woman. Nothing wrong with that.

Genesis 22

God’s command to sacrifice Isaac (vs. 1-2)—We are not allowed to have any higher love or allegiance than that to God (Matt. 10:37). Abraham loved Isaac dearly—the son of his old age, by his legitimate wife Sarah, and apparently a very respectful lad (v. 7). Abraham was in danger, in a way that he probably didn’t recognize himself, of coming to the point of loving Isaac more than he loved God. That problem has to be consciously faced and worked through; we need to focus our minds on loving God supremely, regardless of the cost. God’s command was “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you" (v. 2)—“your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love”—sort of rubbing it in there. Isaac, of course, wasn’t Abraham’s only son, but again, he was his only real legitimate son. And the one he loved the most. The Lord is testing the patriarch; He had no intention of having Abraham kill Isaac. It was simply a priority issue that Abraham had to face. What a great story.

Abraham obeys (vs. 3-14)—Immediately, the very next morning, Abraham heads for the place God told him to go. When he got near enough, we see the real point of the patriarch’s faith: “And Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you’" (v. 5). God had told Abraham that his descendents would be numberless through Isaac. Now Jehovah is commanding Abraham to kill that son. Did Abraham believe God’s prior promise? Indeed, he did, even to the point of having faith that God could raise Isaac from the dead, if necessary. Hebrews 11:19 makes this very point: “concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead.” Abraham arrives at the appointed location, goes through with the preparations for the sacrifice (one wonders what Isaac was thinking), and even raises the knife to slay the boy. The angel of the Lord stops him: “now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me" (v. 12). Abraham would withhold nothing from the Lord. One of the greatest examples of faith and obedience known to mankind.

God repeats the promise (vs. 15-19)—Once more the Lord promises Abraham the wonderful blessing of his inheritance. It may seem to us that Jehovah is saying this a lot to the patriarch, but keep in mind that years are passing during all this time. God isn’t speaking to Abraham every day, and the godly man doesn’t have Scriptures he can turn to for comfort and solace. So no doubt these repetitions of the promise are a tremendous source of encouragement to Abraham. As great as he was, he was human.

The children of Nahor, Abraham’s brother (vs. 20-24)—We get a brief genealogy here of Abraham’s brother, Nahor, and nephew, Bethuel. One daughter of Bethuel was Rebekah, and she will soon be a major player in the story. More on that in chapter 24.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Genesis 21

The birth of Isaac (vs. 1-7)—God keeps His promises. He doesn’t always keep them within the time frame that we would prefer, but He does what is best. Abraham, as commanded by God, circumcised Isaac on the 8th day (v. 4). And Sarah’s “laugh” this time was fully justified—laughing from joy (vs. 6-7).

Hagar expelled again (vs. 8-21)—Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned (probably around 2 years old). Ishmael, who would have been about 15 now, was “scoffing,” or “mocking” (v. 9); what exactly that entails we don’t know, but it upset Sarah and she demanded that Ishmael and Hagar be banished from the camp (v. 10). This distressed Abraham, because Ishmael was his son, too. Of course, he wasn’t Sarah’s so she didn’t have the same feelings. Ishmael mocked HER son, and that angered her. God, however, told Abraham to do as Sarah demanded, but that He would make “a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed” (v. 13). So, the next morning, Abraham provisioned Hagar and Ishmael, and they departed for the Wilderness of Beersheba. Of course, the wilderness was a hot, dry place and they soon ran out of water (v. 15). Hagar thought the boy would die, but an angel came to their assistance and showed her where to find more water. “So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer,” (v. 20). We’ll hear more from Ishmael soon.

The covenant with Abimelech (vs. 25-34)—Abimelech’s servants seized a well that Abraham had dug (v. 25). The patriarch complained to the king about it, who protested his innocence, which from prior indications of his conduct, was probably true. Abraham then gave Abimelech some livestock as a sign of a covenant between the two men—that the well was indeed Abraham’s. He named the place Beersheba, literally, “the well of swearing, or of the oath.” The chapter ends by stating that Abraham “stayed in the land of the Philistines many days,” (v. 34), which indicates an amiable relationship between himself and those people. It will be just about the last time in the Bible a Hebrew and a Philistine got along well.

Genesis 20

“She is my sister” (vs. 1-2)—Abraham and Sarah journey to a region controlled by petty kings of Philistia. Just as he had done in Egypt (chapter 12), Abraham asks Sarah to claim that she is his sister. We wonder why Abraham would make the same mistake again, but, reader, have you ever committed the same sin twice? The previous instance with Abraham would have been some 25 years before, so it wasn’t like he made a habit of it.

God warns the king of Gerar (vs. 3-13)—“Abimelech” was probably just the common name for Philistine kings at the time, like “Pharaoh” in Egypt. This Abimelech was ruler of a small town, and he exercised the right that every Oriental monarch has ever exercised of taking into his harem any woman he can get his hands on. So he takes Sarah. He no doubt has plenty of other concubines. It wasn’t just a property thing with Abimelech; Abraham was a powerful lord and making an alliance with him wasn’t a bad idea. But God comes to Abimelech in a dream: “You are a dead man” (v. 3) because you’ve taken another man’s wife. Abimelech pleads innocence and rightfully so, but God tells him to restore Sarah to Abraham, which he does the next morning. Abraham explains, as he did in Egypt, that he was afraid that he would be killed if Abimelech thought Sarah was the patriarch’s wife. And Sarah was his half-sister, so again, it was only a half-lie. But Abraham deceives Abimelech and that deception was wrong and almost cost the king his life.

Abimelech gives Abraham wealth and land (vs. 14-18)—The last verse in the chapter says that God had shut up the wombs of the women of Gerar because of Sarah. Abimelech, having been told by God that Abraham is a prophet, needs his help. So he gives Abraham a lot of money and livestock and offers him any piece of land he wants in the area. The king is almost certainly hoping that Abraham the prophet would beseech God in his behalf, but again, he no doubt wanted to stay on good terms with the powerful patriarch. Abimelech was the king of a small city-state, Gerar, so it wasn’t impossible that Abraham could have put more men onto a battlefield that Abimelech could. And it never hurts to have powerful friends who have a powerful God. Abraham does pray for the women of Gerar and God restores their ability to bear children.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Genesis 19

Lot meets the angels (vs. 1-3)—We see the same reaction from Lot that we saw from Abraham in the previous chapter. Goes to them, bows down, refers to them as “lord,” and invites them into his home and feeds them. It was typical hospitality among decent people of the day.

The men of Sodom show their degeneracy (vs. 4-11)—Before the evening was out, the wickedness of Sodom exposes itself. Men, “both old and young, all the people from every quarter” (v. 4) surrounded Lot’s house and demanded he give up his visitors for homosexual rape. Lot begs the men not to do such wickedness and offers his virgin daughters to the scoundrels instead. Only the fact that a person was expected to defend to the death guests he had invited to his home could excuse this atrocious offer of Lot. This affair could have really gotten ugly if the two angels had not intervened, pulled Lot back into the house, and struck the men of Sodom blind (v. 11). If the Lord needed any more confirmation about how wicked Sodom was, He had it in this event.

Lot and family given time to escape (vs. 12-22)—The angels urge Lot to gather all of his family—wife, sons-in-law, daughters, “and whomever you have in the city” (v. 12) and get ready to flee because the Lord was about to act. His daughters weren’t married yet, given the information from the previous section. They were only betrothed, which constituted a legally binding commitment—stronger than our “engagement,” but not yet married. It was why Joseph, though not yet married to Mary, had to “put her away” rather than just break the engagement. Anyway, the sons-in-law didn’t believe Lot (v. 14), so only his wife and daughters escaped with him. They waited till the next morning (the city gates would have been shut and locked at night), and then the angels told Lot to leave. Even then, Lot “lingered,” so “the men took hold of his hand, his wife's hand, and the hands of his two daughters, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city” (v. 16). Lot just had something missing when it came to a crisis. The angels told him to hurry and flee to the mountains. Lot didn’t want to go there, but instead asked if he could go to the nearby, small town of Zoar. The angels acquiesced and that’s where Lot went.

The wicked cities destroyed (vs. 23-29)—The angels had told Lot and his family that, while the cities were being destroyed, they were not to look back (v. 17). Well, the Lord rained “brimstone and fire” on Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 24), and either out of curiosity or longing for what had been her home, Mrs. Lot disobeys and looks back at the destruction. She is transformed into a pillar of salt (v. 26). Do what the Lord tells you, no matter how simple it might seem.

Verses 27-28 indicate that Abraham was camped close enough that he could see the fire ascending up from the demolished cities.

Lot and his daughters (vs. 30-37)—This is one of the most revolting tales in the Bible. Again, as I mentioned earlier (chapter 13), Peter calls Lot “righteous” (II Peter 2:7), but this isn’t one of the events that led to that conclusion. For some fear that isn't revealed, Lot decided to leave the city he requested to go to, Zoar, and headed for the hills. His daughters, who don’t appear to be very spiritually deep, reasoned to one another that “there is no man on the earth to come in to us as is the custom of all the earth” (v. 31), as if every man in the world had been destroyed in Sodom and Gomorrah. It is also mentioned that they desired to preserve the lineage of their father, which is noble, but there's no faith demonstrated in God's ability to provide another mate for Lot, and of course, the means they chose for that preservation were absolutely execrable.  So, on consecutive nights, they get their father so drunk that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. They lay with him, both become pregnant, and give birth to sons whose descendents will become active players in most of the rest of the Old Testament—active enemies of Israel. For Lot is the father, through his own daughters, of the Moabites and Ammonites. How strange are the ways of history.

Genesis 18

Abraham’s hospitality (vs. 1-8)—This is just an example of primitive hospitality. Three men show up at Abraham’s encampment; two of them are angels, one is a human manifestation of God Himself. It is almost certain that Abraham, initially, did not recognize them as celestial guests; he was simply offering the best he could to weary travelers. Again, this was nothing unusual; it was expected in these Asiatic cultures, especially from someone who was as wealthy as Abraham. Even though Abraham calls him “My Lord” in verse 3, this is simply an appellation of respect. He and Sarah quickly prepare a meal. This is probably at least one of the events the Hebrew writer meant when he said “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2).

The promise of a child reiterated (vs. 9-15)—By the time this section is over, Abraham, if he wasn’t aware before, knows Whom He is entertaining. The Lord repeats the promise of a son in verse 10. Sarah, who was still in the tent, laughed about it. The word “laughed” is the same word for Abraham’s “laugh” in Genesis 17:17, yet it seems like most have found fault with Sarah but not Abraham, and that’s probably because of the reaction of the Lord. He didn’t seem to rebuke Abraham, but His words to His wife imply unbelief and mockery on her part. It didn’t compute to her that, at her age, she could bear a child. But she forgot one thing: “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (v. 14). No. He had promised, and He will fulfill, and if we don’t believe, we stand to be censured. “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

The Lord tells Abraham about the upcoming destruction of Sodom (vs. 16-22)—We get a marvelous picture of the friendship God and Abraham had developed; three times in the Scriptures the patriarch is referred to as God’s friend (II Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23). What a great honor to Abraham. So in verse 17, the Lord muses out loud, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing?” and then verse 19, pays the patriarch a wonderful compliment: “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.” Would that Jehovah could say that about all fathers today. He then does inform Abraham of the coming destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: “And the LORD said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.’" Of course, He already knew about the wickedness of these cities; He is simply using accommodative language, in effect, showing to Abraham—and us—His fairness and mercy. The two men with the Lord, the angels, then leave and go to Sodom. The Lord will not join them there, as we shall see in chapter 19.

Abraham’s intercession (vs. 23-33)—Then we have one of the great examples of intercessory petition of God anywhere in the Bible. Abraham, perhaps with Lot in mind, asks God to spare the cities if a certain number of righteous can be found—50, then 45, 40, 30, 20, and then 10. And the Lord says He will spare the cities if he can find 10 righteous people. A couple of important lessons here—the power of intercessory prayer. We just never know, when we intercede in behalf of others, what Jehovah might do. And then, of course, we see the mercy of God. He would spare two of the most wicked cities in history if He could only find 10 righteous people in them. Perhaps that is why the Lord hasn’t yet destroyed some of the great dens of iniquity in our day—for the righteous who have prayed for them and who might live there for reasons of employment, etc.

A major reason why Abraham was God’s friend and was such a great man was his reverence before the Lord. Notice these verses: “Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord,” (v. 27); “Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak,” (v. 30); “Indeed now, I have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord,” (v. 31); “Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more,” (v. 32). Abraham knew he was in the presence of the great God of heaven and earth, and showed the proper respect. And that explains his faith and obedience. It is obvious that one reason so many are such great sinners today is that they do not have the fear of the Lord that they ought. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Proverbs 9:10), and there are too few wise men today. Or ever.

And part of Abraham’s intercession was indeed based upon his understanding of the mercy of God: “Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (v. 25). There’s no disrespect meant here at all. It shows a great understanding of the nature of God. No, Jehovah will not punish the righteous with the wicked; that would be unjust. And that’s why the angels went to Sodom. To find what righteous they could and deliver them from the coming destruction. Abraham knew God as few people ever have. And, remember, he lived some 500 years before one word of the Bible was penned. Truly a great man.

Genesis 17

The promise of God repeated (vs. 1-8)—It’s been 13 years now; Abraham is 99, and apparently hadn’t heard from God since the Hagar incident. I won’t speculate what went on his mind during those 13 years. But God reappears to him and forcefully restates the promise of Genesis 12:1-3—a great nation, actually, “a father of many nations” (v. 5). Keep in mind that not only does Ishmael come from Abraham’s loins, but so do Jacob and Esau and their descendents (specifically Israel and Edom). In verse 8, God tells Abraham, ” Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God." The Hebrew word “everlasting” doesn’t necessarily “forever”; it has the basic idea of a length of time of indeterminate duration. See Exodus 21:6 for an example where “forever” has a definite limitation of time. God gave Canaan to Abraham’s people for as long as He intended to—till Christ came. From that point on, all men, Jew and Gentile, are to submit to and obey Jesus, in effect, become Christians. No more Jews, no more need for a land promise. Incidentally, in 17:5 God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, which apparently means “father” or “multitude,” the Hebrew apparently isn’t clear.

Circumcision instituted (vs. 9-14)—Circumcision became “a sign of the covenant between Me and you [Abraham]” (v. 11). It was to take place on the 8th day after birth, which subsequently has been determined by modern science to be the best possible day, medically, for that operation to occur. “He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant,” (v. 13), and any male child who wasn’t circumcised was to be “cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant" (v. 14). Thus, God gives a visible sign of His covenant with Abraham, just as He had given a visible sign to Noah (the rainbow) that He would never destroy the world by water again (Genesis 9).

Sarai’s name changed to Sarah (vs. 15-16)—“ And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her" (v. 16).

Abraham’s joy and incredulity (vs. 17-20)—Abraham fell on his face and “laughed,” but most commentators think this was a laugh of joy, not disbelief. And his question about his and Sarah’s age is also not interpreted as lack of faith; remember, the virgin Mary also questioned the angel about how she could have a child when she hadn’t known a man. Not all questions of God are impertinent, and God doesn’t seem to be put off by what Abraham asks here. The patriarch, who no doubt loved Ishmael as well, petitions God that he might be the son of promise. But no, God wanted the true heir, the one through whom the Messiah was to come, to be legitimate; so Sarah would have a child, even though she was 90 years old and passed the age of childbearing even for that day when many lived to advanced ages. God tells Abraham his wait is over: “But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.”

Abraham circumcises all the men of his household (vs. 23-27)—And he did it “that very same day,” a statement repeated twice (vs. 23 and 26). And that’s the way it ought to be. When God commands, we should not delay in our obedience. It’s always bugged me a bit—well, more than a bit—when people come to the realization that they need to be baptized to wash away their sins (Acts 22:16), but then they want to wait a few days before doing it. That indicates to me something just isn’t quite right yet with their faith in God and understanding of their position before Him. And that perhaps I haven’t done my job in effectively teaching them the urgency of humble obedience to the will of the Almighty.

Genesis 16

Sarah gives Hagar to Abraham (vs. 1-3)—A fateful chapter. Abraham is now 85/86 years old. It’s been 10 or 11 years since God made the promise of Genesis 12 to him, and still no son. Now, as we read through these chapters, we lose perspective; think how long 10 years is. What were you doing 10 years ago? God has promised Abraham and Sarah something they wanted very, very badly, but made them wait a significant length of time. Sarah couldn’t hang on any longer. She gives her handmaid, Hagar, to Abraham as wife. According to the custom of the time, any child born to Hagar would belong to Sarah. So Abraham’s wife would, in effect, be no longer barren.

This is wrong, folks. It’s polygamy and adultery. God tolerated and overlooked such things in the Old Testament (Acts 17:30), but it’s still wrong. And further, it demonstrates a lack of faith in the Lord. We humans—even the great ones like Abraham—sometimes just can’t wait patiently for Jehovah to act and so we try to help Him out. It’s almost always a disaster, and it was in this case, a calamity of lingering, worldwide proportions, one of the greatest mistakes a human being ever made. I’ll tell you why in the section on verses 7-14.

Hagar’s conception and the female reactions (vs. 4-6)—Hagar conceived and apparently began to mock and belittle Sarah for the latter’s barrenness; Sarah was “despised” in Hagar’s eyes. Sarah blames Abraham (v. 5); Abraham, no doubt to appease his wife, allows Sarah to do as she wishes with Hagar. Sarah treats her handmaid so harshly that Hagar “fled from her presence” (v. 6). The consequences of polygamy…we see it several times in the Scriptures. It just wasn’t meant to be. Incidentally, Hagar’s child had not yet been born when this was going on.

The promise to Hagar (vs. 7-14)—An angel from the Lord appeared to Hagar in the wilderness and comforted her, promising her that she would indeed have a son. And that the Lord “will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude" (v. 10). Ishmael—as the child will be named by divine order, v. 11—would be “a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand against him” (v. 12). Today’s Arabic peoples, most of whom are Muslim, claim descent from Ishmael; historians aren’t sure of this, but that doesn’t matter, the claim is made and believed. And because of the ancient law of primogeniture, i.e., the oldest son inherits, Muslims maintain that Ishmael was Abraham's rightful heir and thus, Islam, not Judaism and Christianity, is God’s (Allah’s) true religion. No Ishmael, no Islam. The trouble and strife in the Middle East today is the result of polygamy, adultery, and lack of faith in God by one of the greatest men who ever lived. A fateful chapter, indeed!

Ishmael is born (vs. 15-16)—Hagar returned to Sarah and gave birth. The problems between the two ladies won’t cease, as we shall see. The chapter ends by stating that Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Genesis 15

Reaffirmation of the promise to Abraham (vs. 1-6)—The section starts off with a tender God trying to provide comfort to the patriarch (v. 1). Keep in mind a few things here. Abraham was born in a pagan family, and grew up in that environment, so it wouldn’t be terribly surprising if his faith in Jehovah had occasional moments of weakness. He lived several hundred years before one word of the Bible was written, so he didn’t have what you and I have—great examples from the past. Plus, a few years have surely passed now between the promise of 12:1-3 and chapter 15, and Abraham has no son yet. So the conversation that ensues between him and God is one for which Abraham should not be condemned.

He simply asks God about the promise. “I don’t have a son; my heir is a servant. Is he to be the one?” (vs. 2-3). No, the Lord tells him, you will have a son of your own and your descendents will be innumerable. Abraham believed, and God “reckoned it to him for righteousness” (v. 6).

The covenant between God and Abraham (vs. 7-11)—Jehovah repeats the land promise and Abraham requests assurance. So the Lord asks, in effect, for a sacrifice, which was intended as a seal of the covenant between Him and the patriarch.

The future of Abraham’s descendents (vs. 12-21)—Yet dark days were ahead for Abraham’s people; he had a very terrifying dream to signify it. God explains to him what it means. Abraham’s offspring will spend 400 years “in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them” (v. 14); the Egyptian bondage is meant. But after 400 years (four generations, v. 16, but remember people lived longer back then), they would return to the land of Canaan, “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (v. 16). This is a nice working of God’s providence. The “Amorites” were a tribe in Canaan, and were meant here to represent all of the pagan peoples of the land. They were wicked, but they hadn’t yet reached God’s breaking point. So while the children of Abraham spent 400 years in Egypt increasing their numbers, the Canaanites grew increasingly more abominable to Jehovah. When God was ready to give the promised land to Israel, He was also ready to punish the Canaanites. So the exodus and conquest served two purposes—to give Abraham’s descendents the territory God had promised them, and to punish a people whose wickedness God could no longer tolerate. Jehovah then tells Abraham the furthest extent of the land his people would possess—from the “river of Egypt,” which was not the Nile, but the Sichor on the eastern border of Egypt, to the Euphrates. It wasn’t a large piece of territory as ancient empires go, but building an empire for Israel was never God’s purpose—“Christ is coming,” remember? But He would give them sustenance and peace if they would be obedient to Him—which they rarely were. The Israelites only occupied this expanse of territory for a short time under David and Solomon. It will be extremely interesting to see if modern day Israel ever tries to take all the land God promised to Abraham. At the moment, they had better not try it, or World War III would surely ensue. And as Albert Einstein said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Let us hope that Israel will be satisfied with what she now has—land, frankly, that she forfeited by her rejection of Christ and that she had no longer has any legitimate Biblical claim to. Jews were supposed to convert to Christ, and thus, in God’s eyes, there shouldn’t be any Jews today—they should all be Christians. So what purpose would there be in God preserving a land for people who shouldn’t even exist?

Genesis 14

Lot becomes a POW (vs. 1-12)—This section describes a great big battle by a bunch of little bitty people; I’ll show you how little bitty in just a minute. Until/unless a great power like Assyria or Babylon arose, the city-state was, by far, the most dominant form of political organization; our concept of “nation” was unknown to the ancients, though our English Bibles use that term occasionally for lack of a better one. Nearly all the cities had their own king—democracy was unheard of before the Greeks and they weren’t very good at it, either, frankly. Bottom line here in this section is, big war, little bitty people, Lot gets in the way because he lives in Sodom and the king of that city is one of the losers in the battle. So Lot is captured and Abraham will come to his rescue.

Abraham comes to Lot’s rescue (vs. 13-16)—The reason I said that this is a battle by a bunch of little bitty people—and I meant numerically—is because Abraham only had 318 trained servants, and he divided those forces and apparently recaptured Lot with ease. Now 318 is a lot of servants, but it’s not a very big army. So nobody else had one, either.  It does appear that Abraham had some allies who helped him (v. 24), but even with that the force would have been small compared to later armies

Melchizedek (vs. 17-20)—This man was the king and priest of Salem, or Jeru-salem. He comes out of nowhere, blesses Abraham, the latter gives him a tithe, and then he disappears from the historical record. He will appear later in the Bible as a type of Christ. Psalm 110:4 reads, “The LORD has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’" This is a Messianic promise, of course. What does it mean? Substantially it means that Jesus will be king AND priest, something no Jew could be. This gets a little complicated for a short summary, but I encourage the reader to study Hebrews chapters 5, 6, and 7 where Melchizedek is mentioned again as a type of Christ. The basic argument the Hebrew writer makes is, if perfection could be found in the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament, then why did the Old Testament itself (Ps. 110:4) predict another, eternal priesthood, one after the order of Melchizedek (the new priest would be king, too). Thus, God never intended for the Law of Moses and its priesthood to be the final means of redemption. Plus, the Hebrew writer emphasizes that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, indicating the preeminence of the latter. Well, since Abraham recognized Melchizedek’s superiority, and Levi was “was still in the loins of his father [Abraham] when Melchizedek met him” (Hebrews 7:10), then Melchizedek’s priesthood is superior to Levi’s. And since Christ is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, the Christian “priesthood” is superior to the Judaic. That’s it in a nutshell. The writer of Hebrews obviously explains it better than I can. It’s a brilliant argument, but then that whole book (Hebrews) is one of the most logically and exceptionally argued pieces of literature in existence.

The king of Sodom shows his appreciation to Abraham (vs. 21-24)—Well, at least we can say one good thing about Sodom. This particular king, Bera, was willing to share the spoils with the man (Abraham) who helped bring his captured people back. In fact, “share” is not really the right word: “Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself,’” (v. 21). He was going to give Abraham everything. But Abraham declined. That’s not what he went into battle for and he didn’t want to end up in the king of Sodom’s debt. Abraham didn’t need the spoils, and so he let their owners keep them. A noble deed.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Genesis 13

The return from Egypt (vs. 1-4)—After the famine, Abraham and his household (which included a number of servants because he was “very rich”, v. 2) return to the land of Canaan where they settle near the city of Bethel. Bethel was a few miles north of Jerusalem. “And there Abram called on the name of Jehovah” (v. 4).

Contention between Abraham and Lot (vs. 5-13)—Or, more accurately, “between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock” (v. 7). Lot was very wealthy as well and there just wasn’t enough grazing in the region for both contingents of animals. Abraham, seeking peace and being honorable, tells his nephew to choose what land he wishes, and Abraham will go in the other direction. Lot, apparently being greedy, takes the best land, which was in the direction of the exceedingly wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot will eventually decide to live in Sodom. II Peter 2:7 calls Lot a “righteous” man, but there is very, very little in Genesis to give any indication of that. I’m not denying what Peter said; obviously we don’t have much information about Lot at all, and the Lord knew him better than we. But in just about every story we have of him, his character is far from pristine. He, too, like Abraham and all of us, had his weaknesses, and since the stories that are recorded in the Bible are the most important ones, we are led to believe that Lot just wasn’t very strong when significant issues arose. But from what Peter said we can conclude that the overall tenor of his life was righteous.

A repeat of the promise to Abraham (vs. 14-18)—With what is doubtless an intent to strengthen the patriarch’s faith (perhaps thinking of what Lot had just done), God speaks to Abraham again and repeats the land promise. “Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you” (v. 17). Abraham does, and settles near Hebron, which is about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem. He built an alter there, as he had done at Bethel.

Genesis 12

The call of Abraham (vs. 1-3)—This is one of the most important passages of Scripture in the entire Bible because in it God delineates the two covenants by which He will redeem the world. There is a three-fold promise to Abraham (or Abram, as he is known until chapter 17, but I will call him by the better known Abraham). God makes a personal promise to Abraham: “I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing” (v. 2). Obviously, this promise has come true. A second promise was national: “I will make you a great nation” (v. 2). That’s Israel, the Jewish nation, the Old Testament covenant. And then the third promise: “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (v. 3). Notice that “all” the families of the earth will be blessed—not just Jews, but Gentiles as well. This is the New Covenant in Christ, where all of humanity can find salvation. Paul quotes this verse in Galatians 3:8: “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’” Read closely what Paul wrote. The promise to Abraham that “in you all the nations shall be blessed” was “preach[ing] the gospel to Abraham beforehand.” Abraham is the physical “father” of the Jewish people, through whom the Messiah would come, and thus he is the spiritual “father” of us all. Through faith and the faith, the Christian system.

So we’ve narrowed down even more where to look for the Messiah: Adam-Seth-Noah-Shem-Arphaxad-Abraham. Don’t look for Him from the Girgashites or the Egyptians or the Assyrians or the Hittites or the Cushites or the Chinese or the Sioux…He’s going to come through the Jews. If only those people had been willing to humbly accept this great honor to be chosen to bring God’s Son into the world…

Abraham and family arrive in Canaan and journey through the land (vs. 4-9)—His nephew Lot was with him (and wife Sarah, of course). Genesis 11:28 tells us that Lot’s father, Haran had died, so Abraham obviously took responsibility for his nephew. As Abraham travels through Canaan, God repeats that this is the land He will give to Abraham’s descendents (v. 7).

Abraham and his “sister” in Egypt (vs. 9-20)—Abraham was one of the greatest men who ever lived, but he was far from perfect. There was a famine in the land of Canaan (v. 10), so he took his family down to Egypt where he did not demonstrate much faith in God. Sarah was a lovely woman and so Abraham was afraid the Egyptians would kill him if they knew she was his wife. So he told her to claim she was his sister--which was half true. A half-truth is still a lie, or disingenuous at best. But where is his faith in God? Jehovah had just told Abraham that he was going to be a great nation; that would have been awfully hard if the Egyptians had killed him. The Lord let it be known to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, that he better leave Sarah alone and thus all ends well. But Abraham doesn’t come out well in this story. Incidentally, he’s going to pull the same stunt in chapter 20 before Isaac was born. Even the great men of faith are flesh and subject to temptation and weakness. I refer the reader to the article “David and Bathsheba” on my Bible blog.