Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Birth of Jacob and Esau (Gen.25).

When Sarah was 127 years old she died and Abraham buried her in Canaan in a cave he purchased from the Hittites.  Abraham sent his chief servant to Abraham’s relatives to get a wife for Isaac so he wouldn’t marry a Canaanite. Abraham’s servant prayed and he found Rebekah, the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother. Abraham’s servant gave gifts to Rebekah and her family and told them how the Lord had blessed Abraham and given everything he owned to Isaac, the child Sarah bore in her old age. Rebekah agreed and went to Canaan where she became Isaac’s wife. Later, Abraham died when he was 175 years old and Isaac and Ishmael, Abraham’s sons, buried him in Canaan in the cave Abraham he bought from the Hittites as a grave for his wife Sarah. After Abraham’s death, God blessed Isaac (Gen.24-25).  Watch the below video and read the comments below. 

God promised to make Abraham into a great nation and Isaac is a transitional figure between Abraham and the twelve tribes coming from Jacob known as Israel. Abraham’s multiple descendants were to come through Isaac but Rebekah, like Sarah forty years earlier, was barren (Genesis 25:21).  But Isaac and Rebekah didn’t take matters into their own hands as Sarah and Abraham had. We’re not told when Isaac prayed only that the Lord answered his prayer and Rebekah became pregnant (Gen. 25:21). They may have had to wait up to twenty years since Isaac married at 40 and became a father at 62. Abraham and Sarah’s example must have taught Isaac and Rebekah to trust God for there would be no Hagar and no Ishmael for them.

There were two babies struggling with one another in Rebekah’s womb, and Rebekah wondered why. We’re not told how but only that Rebekah inquired of the Lord and the will of the Lord was made known. The Lord revealed that there were two nations struggling within Rebekah’s womb. Rebekah would give birth to twin boys and it was foretold even before they were born that the older son would serve the younger (Gen. 25:23). The firstborn was named Esau and the nation of Edom would come from him. Edom means ‘red’ and they named their land Seir, which sounds like the Hebrew word for ‘hairy’. The second child was named Jacob which can mean ‘deceitful’. When the twins grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter while Jacob, being a quiet man, liked to stay among the tents.

Jacob was born grasping his brother’s heel and this episode was the beginning of a lifelong struggle. In fact, Genesis reveals the ongoing rivalry between those the Lord has chosen and those he has not (3:15, 25:23). God accepted Abel and not Cain. God chose the line of Seth and not the line of Cain. God chose Isaac and not Ishmael, and here Jacob is chosen over Esau (Romans 9:10–12):

Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”

It appears that Isaac and Rebekah valued Jacob and Esau for what they could do for their parents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau who was skillful hunter and Rebekah loved Jacob. Rebekah would have remembered the prophecy but maybe she just liked Jacob being around her among the tents.

Jacob tired of waiting on God so when given an opportunity Jacob tried to trick Esau into selling his birthright. Once when Esau had been out hunting Jacob stayed behind in the camp and was cooking stew. Esau returned famished from hunting and found Jacob in the camp with a pot of stew (Gen. 25:29–30). Now instead of sharing some stew with his brother, Jacob saw this as an opportunity to take advantage of Esau. Before Jacob would give his brother any stew Jacob wanted Esau to sell him Esau’s birthright. Sadly, Esau said that the birthright was no good to him since he was about to die. Jacob demanded that Esau first swear an oath which Esau gladly did (Gen. 25:31). So Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew which Esau ate and so Esau despised his birthright.

Isaac and Rebekah had waited on God for their child but their child, Jacob, didn’t want to wait on God for the birthright. It seems that Jacob wanted the blessing more than he wanted God. This was a lesson his forefather, Abraham, learned by being called to offer up Isaac (Gen.22). Now Esau wasn’t really going to starve to death and yet Esau forsook being in the Messianic line for a single meal. Esau devoured his brother’s stew and left despising his birthright (Gen. 25:32-34). Esau considered a single meal more valuable than his spiritual birthright, while Jacob considered the birthright something to be purchased.

Neither brother deserved God’s favor which only goes to show that grace is underserved favor! Jacob’s sinful scheming illustrates that God works out His plan through very flawed people. The poor choices of God’s flawed people have consequences but they cannot frustrate God’s plans. Clearly, God’s choice of Jacob over Esau was not unfair. God graciously gave to Jacob only what Esau considered of no value. By contrast God’s Messiah, the Lord Jesus, would wholeheartedly surrender his will to do God’s will. Moreover, Jesus so valued God’s people that he gladly gave his own precious blood to purchase them for God (Rev. 1:5-6, 5:9).

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Sacrifice of Isaac (Gen.22).

The Lord established a covenant with Abraham promising him multiple descendants and a homeland to bless the world (15:5-8, 18-21). Being barren, Sarah proposed she raise a family through her Hagar, her Egyptian maidservant (16:2). Abraham agreed and Hagar gave birth to Ishmael when Abraham was 99 years old (16:15-16). They all expected Ishmael to be the heir of God’s covenant but the promised son would be born to Abraham through Sarah (17:19). When Abram was 99 years old God appeared to him confirming the covenant and giving circumcision as the covenant sign. After this, the Lord appeared to Abraham through three mysterious visitors and confirmed that Sarah would have her own son. Sarah laughed when she heard this but one year later Sarah gave birth to a son as God had said and they named him Isaac, meaning ‘laughter’.  Watch and listen to the story and read the comments below. 

God tested Abraham to see if he would trust God completely to fulfil God’s plan. God had opened Sarah’s womb but could Abraham trust God when asked to offer Isaac as a burnt offering? Sacrificing Isaac would have seemed completely contrary to what God had promised. After all, God had sworn to give Abraham multiple descendants and to bless the world through Isaac. Originally, God called Abraham to go to a land that God would show him. Now God was calling Abraham to go to a place where he would sacrifice his beloved promised son (Gen. 22:1). The Lord instructed Abraham to take Isaac, who was now a boy, up a mountain and offer him as a sacrifice. If God didn’t intervene Abraham would lose everything. Would Abraham love God more than his long awaited beloved son?

Abraham got up early to obey right away (Gen. 22:3). He saddled his donkey, took two servants, enough wood for the altar, and set out with Isaac for the place God had told him about. When Abraham saw the place in the distance, he told his servants to stay with the donkey while he and Isaac went up to worship and then they would return. We see Abraham’s faith when he tells his servants to stay with the donkey while they went to worship and then they would return (22:5). Isaac inquired about the lamb, and Abraham said, “God will provide the lamb… my son” (22:8). When Abraham got to that place he built an altar and put Isaac on it. Yet, before Abraham could slay his son the angel of the Lord told Abraham not to “lay a hand on the boy”. Abraham saw a ram caught in a bush, he sacrificed the ram instead of his son, and called that place ‘The Lord Will Provide’ (Gen. 22:11–12).

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time saying, “Because you have not withheld your only son, I will bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” God confirmed the land promise by saying that Abraham’s descendants would possess the cities of their enemies. Moreover, God said that all nations would be blessed through Abraham’s offspring because Abraham obeyed God. God wanted Abraham to be willing to offer up Isaac and Abraham’s willingness showed that he feared God. Abraham would have had to die to all his hopes and dreams to which God was not central and essential. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead (Heb. 11:19).

That a ram took Isaac’s place on the altar prefigures the Mosaic sacrificial system that would be practiced in the temple that would be built on that very place. It also points beyond the sacrificial system to the cross where Jesus would take the covenant curse upon himself. At the cross, God in human flesh would fulfill all that was depicted and promised in the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 15, 17). There Jesus was cut off for our sins so that we might live forever under God’s blessing. Ironically, because Abraham trusted God the covenant promises were renewed. Abraham obeyed God and because of his faithfulness Abraham would have multiple descendants and the Promised Land. We need to learn as Abraham did that one way or another God will provide and we can trust Him. A sacrifice would have to be made and God provided a substitute.

Ironically, the place where God provided a substitute for Isaac was on Mount Moriah (22:2). This is the very place where Solomon’s temple would later be built (2 Chron. 3:1). This incident would have helped Abraham understand the principle of substitutionary atonement. The ram took Isaac’s place and was sacrificed instead of Isaac (Gen. 22:13). The sacrifice of Isaac and the later sacrificial system points us to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Surely, Abraham’s experience with Isaac would have given him a unique insight into the way of salvation that would be accomplished through Jesus Christ. Jesus, like Isaac, would have to allow himself to be bound (Isa. 53:7). But for Jesus there could be no other substitute. Our God has provided the pleasing sacrifice for us, let us therefore offer all our hopes and dreams to God and let us seek to love God above anything God can give us!   

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Birth of Isaac (Gen.16-21)

In our last story the Lord appeared to Abram in a vision but Abram wanted to know what the Lord would give him since Abram was still childless. The Lord showed Abram the night sky and gave Abram the promise of multiple descendants and Abram believed the Lord (Gen.15:5-6). Then the Lord reminded Abram how He had brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give him the ‘Land of Canaan’. But Abram wanted assurance that he would possess the land so God had Abram cut up some animals and the Lord passed between the pieces which resulted the making of a covenant. The covenant relationship was initiated and established by God in order to expel Abraham’s doubts (Gen.15:8, 18-21). Now listen to or watch the story of the birth of Abraham’s chosen son Isaac and then read the comments

The Birth of Isaac (Genesis 16-21).
God promised Abram descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky (Gen.15:5). However, Abram’s wife Sarai was unable to bear children and this seemed to be permanent obstacle to the fulfillment of God’s promise. So Sarai and Abram came up with a plan to help God. In that ancient culture it was permissible for a barren wife to select a surrogate to extend her family. Sarai proposed Abram take Sarai’s Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, as his wife and Abram agreed (16:2). When Abram was 86 years old Hagar bore Abram a son they named Ishmael (16:15-16). Sarai and Abram fully expected Ishmael to be the heir of God’s covenant and while this was culturally acceptable it wasn’t God’s plan.   
Abram and Sarai tried to God to validate their own plan. They grew tired of waiting on God but their plan to raise a family through Hagar became another obstacle to God’s plan. Yet despite the limitations and failures of Abram and Sarai, God would fulfill His promise in His own way. Ishmael would not be the promised heir of God’s covenant with Abram. The promised heir of God’s everlasting covenant would be Isaac, Abram’s son through Sarai (17:19).
When Abram was 99 years of age he must have wondered if God still had a purpose for him. Then God appears to Abram and reconfirms the covenant, changes Abram’s name to Abraham (father of the multitude), gives him circumcision as the covenant sign and promises Abraham a son through Sarai (whose name becomes Sarah, Gen.17:1-6). God will require that Abraham show his loyalty by walking blamelessly before the Lord. God was still committed to being God to Abraham and his descendants and God would give them their promised land (17:7–8). Moreover, Sarah would give birth to a son in a year.
Every male among Abraham’s people was to be circumcised or be cut off from the people (17:14). The sign of circumcision was not unlike the cutting of the animals in the covenant ceremony in Genesis 15. The cut animals depicted the curse of breaking the covenant coming down on the covenant breaker and God alone passed between the pieces (15:17-18, 17:7). Now the sign was to be applied to Abraham’s reproductive organ as a reminder of Abraham’s failure with Hagar and of God’s chosen seed. Those failing to receive the sign and give it to their children would be cut off from Abraham’s seed. If they trusted God they would live and die under God’s blessing but if rebelled they would be cut off from the people as Ishmael was (21:12).
God’s covenant was with Abraham and his children so the children were to receive the sign. Circumcision was a sign of entrance into the community but it didn’t automatically save them. Abraham had circumcised Ishmael and God would bless Ishmael but God’s covenant was with Isaac (17:21, 26). If they, like Abraham, trusted God they would live and die under God’s blessing but if they rebelled they would be cut off from the people. Today, water baptism testifies to our need for the washing away of sin and the imparting of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is the sign of entrance into the community of God’s people and it testifies that we must surrender to the God of the covenant or suffer the consequences (Mt.28:19, Col.2:11-12).

After this the Lord appears to Abraham and spoke to him through three mysterious messengers (Gen. 18:1-2). Abraham went to great lengths to greet them and to show hospitality to his visitors who were carrying good news. Previously when Abraham was promised a son through Sarah, a 90 year old woman, Abraham laughed. This time Sarah laughs at the news that Sarah would have a son in a year when the Lord returned (17:17, 18:12). Sarah receives what we might consider a playful rebuke because nothing is too difficult for the Lord (18:14). Ishmael, Abraham’s backup plan, would be sent away so that God’s plan could only be fulfilled by God’s miraculous intervention. God did what He said and when Sarah gave birth to a son she said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me”. They named their son Isaac, meaning ‘laughter’, and circumcised him as God had commanded (21:6-7).  

The story teaches us how critical it is that we wait patiently on the Lord as we actively seek God’s direction. We don’t need to take matters into our own hands because God can accomplish His plans and our limitations and our failures are not insurmountable obstacles to God’s purposes for us. Moreover, Isaac the child of promise points us to Jesus who when the time had fully come, God sent to be miraculously born a woman. It is through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we become Abraham’s children and heirs of the promise (Gal. 3:7, 14, 29). 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Call and Covenant with Abraham (Gen.12, 15).

In our last story, we saw how all mankind was found to be ‘corrupt (6:5)’ and the earth was ‘full of violence (6:13)’ so God determined to destroy all life on the earth by means of a flood. But Noah found ‘favor in the eyes of the Lord (6:8)’ and God told Noah to build and an Ark to preserve Noah’s family and two of every kind of animal. God made a covenant with Noah and his descendants and with all the earth in order to preserve mankind and the earth for redemption. In addition, God promised a stable environment for God’s redeemed images to do God’s will on the earth. God blessed Noah and his sons telling them to multiply and fill the earth. As men moved eastward they sought to build a city reaching the heavens to ‘make a name for themselves’ and not be scattered over the whole earth. They worked together in opposition to God’s will but God came down and confused their language. They stopped building their city and they were scattered throughout the earth. Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth (Gen. 6:10) and the Lord is said to be the God of Shem (Gen. 9:26) and from Shem’s line came Abram (Gen. 11:10-26).

The Lord tells Abram in a vision not to fear for He is Abram’s shield, and great reward. But Abram wanted to know what the Lord would give him since he remained childless. But a son from Abram’s own body would be his heir so the Lord showed Abram the night sky and promised him as many descendants as the stars in the sky. When God first called Abram, He promised to bless him and to bless all the peoples of the earth through him (12:1-3). Now, despite being elderly and childless, Abram believes God’s promise of multiple descendants so God accepts Abram as being righteous.  Originally God had called Adam to multiply God’s images throughout the earth. Then after the flood this responsibility was restated to Noah. Now God promises Abraham innumerable descendants in order to fill the earth with redeemed images of God and fulfill God’s kingdom expanding purpose.

The Lord reminded Abram how He had brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give him the ‘Land of Canaan’. But Abram wanted further assurance so the Lord had Abram get a heifer, a goat, a ram, with a dove and a pigeon. Abram already knew to cut the animals in two and arrange the halves opposite each other. Then at sunset a ‘dreadful darkness’ came over Abram and the Lord said that Abram’s descendants would be enslaved in another country for 400 years. The Lord would punish that nation enslaving them and Abram’s descendants would return to the land with great possessions. Abram would die at an old age, but for now the sin of the Amorites was not yet complete. Then a smoking fire-pot with a blazing torch passed between the pieces and the Lord made a covenant with Abram. The Lord promised to give Abram’s descendants the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates River

God had promised to make Abram into a ‘great nation’ and to give Abram’s descendants the land of Canaan (12:7). But Abram wanted assurance that the promise would come true. Abram sought the Lord’s confirmation (Gen 15:8) and the Lord answers by telling Abram to get some animals. Then Abram followed a common practice in his day of dividing animals and placing the bloody pieces opposite one another. Then a ‘dreadful darkness’ came over Abram and a smoking firepot with a blazing torch passed between the pieces (Gen 15:10-11). What did the ceremony and the visible manifestation of God mean? The cutting of the animals and passing between the pieces resulted in the ‘cutting’ or ‘making’ of a covenant. The animal carcasses symbolize the ‘curse’ to come upon the covenant breaker. When the parties involved ‘pass between the pieces’ they bind themselves together by a solemn oath. Ironically, God passes through the pieces and calls down a curse upon himself if He violates the covenant. The covenant relationship was initiated and established by God in order to expel Abraham’s doubts.

The word of God regarding the covenant came to Abram, not as a suggestion (Gen 12:1), but as a ‘sovereignly administered’ bond. Adam was to exercise his God given dominion by creating a world wholly consecrated to God. In the same way, Abram was to exercise dominion over Canaan, fill it with redeemed images and create a God glorifying culture there. But Abram had no land so in order to build Abram’s faith and expel his doubts God gave Abram the covenant. But what would it mean for the eternal and immortal God alone to pass through the animal pieces and take upon Himself the curse of the covenant? God was saying if the covenant isn’t fulfilled He would cease being God. But if any of Abraham’s children are to experience the blessing of the covenant than God must take the curse of the covenant upon Himself. While much more can be said, surely this is what the incarnation and the death of the ‘Son of God’ is all about (Gal. 3:6-8, 13-14).