January 15, 2018: Day 21 – Genesis 21

Beersheba

This is Abraham’s well in Beersheba which we visited.  John Faltin took this picture and it shows what might have been.  But the well is the secondary story to chapter 21.  The primary story is the birth of Isaac, and the banishment of Ishmael.

God is faithful and follows through on his promises.  We find that Sarah has a child and names him Isaac, which was the name that God said he should be called, but it also means laughter and she says, somewhat insecurely, that everyone will laugh at her when they hear that she in her old age, and Abraham in his old age, have born a son.  They have a huge baptismal party, but it was actually a circumcision party which is called a brit milah or in yiddish a bris.  But it was a huge party and it gathered everyone in for a celebration, including Isaac’s big brother, Ishmael.  He was a good big brother.  He played with the 8 day old and enjoyed not being the only child (I’m totally reading into this).  

But his stepmom, whom we already saw was somewhat insecure, sees him playing with his brother and begins to connect some dots that didn’t necessarily need to be connected.  She could see this child, who was his idea, taking away some of her son’s inheritance, and that could never happen.  It is time that only one son be in the family, the other has to go.  So she insists with Abraham that he sends Ishmael outside of the house.  Abraham is troubled by the request and you get a sense that he was going to fight it until the Lord comes and says: Don’t worry about it, it is all part of my plan.

Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away, but not without a flask of water.  That was nice of him.  It is interesting how it seems that Ishmael is a child in this depiction.  But we know that he was pretty close to a grown man.  Even though it says that she threw him under a bush so that she would not see him die.  But the Lord comes and rescues them and he trains in the wilderness to become a great hunter.  She finds him a wife from Egypt, so it seems that they are pretty set.  I love how Scripture gives us details even of those who were to be forgotten.  God is faithful, because this is still Abraham’s son.

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January 14, 2018: Day 20 – Genesis 20

We have heard a similar story before with Abraham and Sarah.  Keep in mind that Isaac has not been born  yet.  Ishmael is still in the camp and he is still Abraham’s only child at this point.  They get to another kingdom, so remember that Abraham is not alone here.  He is with his entire entourage, and he once again feels compelled to tell the residing king that Sarah is his sister.  But we at least get an explanation as to why he does that.  It doesn’t make matters any better, but at least we get an explanation.  Look at vs. 13 and we find that from the time that Abraham and Sarah were together he had Sarah agree that whenever they traveled they would tell the ruler that she was his sister.  So it didn’t just happen those two times that we read about in Genesis, it probably happened multiple  times.  Okay, that probably makes it much worse.  

But we see that Abimelech had not touched Sarah, which is different from the other encounter that we had with Sarah and Pharaoh in chapter 12 of Genesis.  But God had still closed the womb of everyone in King Abimelech’s house.  But as a result of giving Sarah back to Abraham, God releases that closure and blesses Abraham and let’s Abimelech continue on in his reign.  This comes as a result of Abraham praying to  God on behalf of Abimelech’s life.  Also, notice that God calls Abraham a prophet when he speaks to Abimelech.  Not a title we normally ascribe to Abraham, but we find it here.  

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January 13, 2018: Day 19 – Genesis 19

We have a couple of problems here in this Scripture.  The first is depicted in the rendition below.

painting-sodom-gomorrah-9

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was already preordained and it really had nothing to do with the individual sin of the men of the city wanting to have forced homosexual relationships with the men who had been sent by God.  Notice how Lot greets the men when they are at the city gate.  It is very similar to the way in which Abraham greets the three angels when they come to him.  He waits on them, he serves them, and gathers them as if they were one of his own.  Lot does the same, he insists that they come into his house and have a meal and even spend the night.  That is when the problems begin.

It is fairly obvious that there were not 10 righteous people in the city.  In fact, we only hear of four who escaped and one of them, the wife of Lot who would have been outside of Abraham’s family so most probably a worshiper of idols and other gods.  This might be why she didn’t make it out either.  You have the future brothers in law who were given the chance, but they didn’t take Lot seriously, and then the wife, and then we have our second problem which comes up.  But keep in mind that the only people who make it out of Sodom are those who are have allegiance to the God of Abraham.  The brothers in law would not have had that allegiance and it seems that maybe the wife didn’t either.  

You have Lot’s daughters who are stowed away with their father who seems to be incredibly paranoid.  The men before they are about to destroy the city give Lot the chance to flee to the hills.  But he insists and asks if he could just go to that small city Zoar, it is a tiny city, can’t I just go there?  They agree and decide not to destroy that city.  So he goes, his wife is turned to salt, and they reside there just for a moment before Lot realizes he doesn’t really trust the people of Zoar either.  Let’s move on daughters and let’s go to those hills after all.

Then the second problem arises.

Lot-and-his-Daughters

It seems like Abraham’s family always wants to take matters into their own hands when it comes to the issue of progeny.  The daughters worry that they are not going to be able to find anyone to start a family since they live in a cave with their dad.  That’s understandable, but why not go to a city in order to start a family.  I’m not sure why the first idea is to start a family with their dad.  It really escapes our 21st century minds as to how this could ever happen.  But it does.  As a result we find two nations that come out of Lot, and they are sworn enemies to the Israelites throughout Scripture: the Moabites and the Ammonites.  Once again, we find the enemies of Israel given a disgraceful origin  within the Hebrew Scripture.  It makes sense.  You are going to want to make your enemies look bad from their origin on.

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January 12, 2018: Day 18 – Genesis 18

Once again we find ourselves with two very different stories that are given to us by this chapter.  The first is the appearance of the three under the oaks of Mamre which has been captured throughout art history as a symbol of the Holy Trinity.  When you walk into any Orthodox Church you will see a depiction of something similar to what you see below and it is supposed to represent the Trinity.

Trinity

Once again we hear someone in Abraham’s family laughing when told that Abraham and Sarah will have a baby.  Interestingly enough she denies that she laughed when it was obvious that she had.  It seems like it is a fairly common occurrence to deny that which has happened if what has happened will get you into trouble.  But they move on and no harm is done.

Once they move on then God seems to have a debate with himself as to whether he should share with Abraham what is about to happen to the town of Sodom where his nephew Lot now lives.  You see Abraham involved in a wheeling and dealing thinking that maybe, just maybe he can save his nephew Lot from the destruction that is about to come.  

But it is a classic conversation between God and the person who will be carrying out the covenant as God says that why should I hold back from Abraham what I am about to do since he is the one who will be carrying out my will over time.  I need to share everything with him.  We leave the chapter thinking that all Sodom has to do is find 10 righteous people and the city will be saved.  That shouldn’t be a problem…right?

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January 11, 2018: Day 17 – Genesis 17

We find a conversation between Abram, who now becomes Abraham and God.  In this conversation we find God once again promising a covenant between he and Abraham.  But this time it is a conditional covenant where God promises a progeny that will include kings and would be so numerous that they will not be able to be counted.  God demands circumcision as a sign of faithfulness of the people to God.  In the midst of this conversation and promise Abraham  and Sarah have their names changed.  That is a big deal.  We find God changing names throughout Scripture and it always means that God has made an impact upon that person and their future.  This is the beginning of that whole name change thing.

Notice how Abraham takes the news of the covenant and the promise from God in vs. 17.  “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed.”  Not really the approach that I would encourage when God gives us a promise that we absolutely know that he will keep.  We really should not laugh at or mock God.  I’m just saying.  Abraham found humor in that he, at 99 and Sarah at a similar age would have children.  But God, just use Ishmael.  God says, I will, don’t worry, he will be blessed, but it will be through a son that you are to call Isaac that I will bless you and establish the covenant.  The promise is made, the stage is set for Abraham to take his child Ishmael, and all of his servants and slaves, those born in his house and those bought from foreigners, to be circumcised.  Ishmael was thirteen when this took place.  We find ourselves set up for Ishmael to get kicked out of the camp and to establish himself and to be blessed by God.

So, it is interesting how the great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all point to these beginning chapters of Genesis as the beginning of their road as people chosen by God.  The Israelites look at Father Abraham as the patriarch.  The Christians look to Abraham and his son Isaac specifically as the route through which Jesus took to be the Savior of the earth.  The Muslims see Abraham and Ishmael as the route that was taken to make them the people of God.   

We will look at circumcision again in the future, although this is the origin of it.  Well, let’s just handle it now.  It is used to mark and seal the men of God as the people of God.  As Christians we see baptism as serving the same purpose, except its scope goes well beyond the gender lines established in circumcision.  This is why within our Reformed church we understand child baptism as important because it does take the place of the circumcision in that it distinguishes each child, male or female, as being a child of God.  This sacrament for us is crucial to understanding how we are involved in a process that has seen its origin in Abraham and so we are included as children of God.  Baptism is the Christian step to the sign and seal of God’s grace as circumcision was the step taken by those of Israel to serve as a sign and seal of God’s grace in the covenant.  The message is the same for both circumcision and baptism, although baptism is much more inclusive.

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January 10, 2018: Day 16 – Genesis 16

You need to stay on course with this Scripture because it has been somewhat romanticized over time.  There is a lot that screams injustice to our 21st century sensibilities.  But let’s read this Scripture from the perspective of what does the Scripture actually say?  God has promised Abram and Sarai a child from Abram’s own issue, from him actually.  Sara knows this  but as time passes and she does not bear a child she starts to wonder if maybe God meant, just maybe, that it is from Abram’s body but not from her’s.  So she comes up with a plan, and I give her the benefit of the doubt as I give all people the benefit of the doubt, and maybe, just maybe, she thought she was fulfilling the Lord’s plan by this idea.  We have seen people have ideas in Scripture and they are actually God’s plan all along, so maybe this could be one of those.

She had someone who waited on her, a slave actually, and thought she would be good to produce a child for Abram.  Even today surrogate parenting is not unheard of, it happens.  Abram agrees to it and this girl, Hagar, conceives.  The problem begins not with Sara being angry with Hagar, but rather we find it begin at vs.4 when Hagar looked with contempt at Sara.  Am I blaming Hagar, a slave girl who had no power to say no to Abram, nor to say no to Sara?  Would I blame any woman who has been abused or even raped for any reason which others might call justifiable: clothes, a look, a word of encouragement, or any other straw men that are built up in order to ease the conscience at best or declare as innocent those who have abused women?  Absolutely not!  Scripture says that Sara acted out of anger because someone who was under her power, and she took full advantage of that power, as did Abram by the way, looked down on her because she, a slave girl, could do something that her mistress could not.  She was able to produce children.  

Sarai is not justified in the way that she treats Hagar.  Hagar does look down on Sarai, but that is not justified either.  You know what is interesting to me today?  When a person is accused of something atrocious the immediate answer is that: Well, what I did is nowhere near as bad as what this other person did.  As a result the wrong that a person does is never dealt with honestly because it is always deflected to the wrong that another person has done, which is completely unrelated to what that person had done.  Does that make sense?  Often the wrong that Hagar did: look down on Sara, is used as a weapon to justify what Sara did which was to kick her out of the camp.  That totally circumvents the wrong that Sarai and Abram do which is force her to produce children by Abram.  Such is the family of our Savior.

So now to Hagar.  She is kicked out of the camp and is ready to die but God comes and speaks directly to her.  Keep in mind that she is a pagan Egyptian woman and God speaks directly to her.  She does not go on and come back into the Israelite tribe.  No, Ishmael while still a brother of Isaac, is forced to leave the camp later on.  This whole story ought to focus on the blessing that Hagar receives from the Lord which is His presence and His promise that she and her son will have progeny that will not be able to be counted.  

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January 9, 2017: Day 15 – Genesis 15

God makes a covenant with Abram in the midst of a complaint by Abram that he does not have a rightful heir to his household.  He complains that the only person who might be worthy to possess his inheritance is just one of his workers, a slave actually.  But the Lord says do not worry, I will send you an heir that is of your own issue, that comes from you biologically.  In order to confirm the covenant the Lord had Abram prepare a sacrifice which the Lord came and finalized.  

One of my favorite verses from this chapter is when God assures Abram that he is his shield.  You can find that in vs.1.  Interestingly it is after this assurance that Abram complains to God and says: You say you are my shield, but look at me.  I don’t have any of the things that you promised I would have.  So God makes a covenant with him and he does not hold back any of the bad news either.  He tells Abram about the time of captivity that the Israelites will suffer under after the time of Joseph in the hands of Pharaoh and Egypt.  But he promises that after that time they will leave with many possessions.  All of this seems to play itself out.  God is our shield.  He doesn’t prevent arrows from coming at us, but does protect us from them.

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January 8, 2018: Day 14 – Genesis 14

So this chapter falls under one of those stories in Scripture that make you say hmm.  Lot is taken captive as a result of his town, Sodom, being overrun in one of those very common territorial battles.  But those who were attacking Sodom made a mistake.  They allowed one of the men to escape.  As a result Abraham heard that Lot had been taken captive so he gathered up the hired hands around his house, 318 of them, and went out and conquered those who had conquered Sodom.  They were incredible warriors and Scripture doesn’t let you forget that.  It states that they routed their enemies and Abraham took back all that had been taken.  So think about that for a moment.  Abraham had 318 men who were working for him.  What does that tell you?

The king of Sodom said to Abram that he wanted to give him a large portion of the loot.  But Abram refused because he didn’t want the kind of Sodom to take any credit for the victory.  All the glory belonged to God.  I saw the College Football Playoff Championship Game last night.  It was great to see this young freshman who was the star of the show say: “People may not like it but I want to give all glory to God.”  I’m not a huge fan of public displays of faith in order to garner attention, but this was genuine.  

Don’t skip over King Melchizedek who is described as the priest of the Most High God.  Jesus is compared to this type of high priest in Hebrews 4 and following.  We also see the idea of the tithe starting to find its way into our way of thinking as Abraham offered 10% of what he had made.  But this also sets us up, again, for the recognition that when the men of Sodom come to Lot and want to do harm to his guests, there is a history there where we find that Lot’s Uncle has basically saved the city and the kingdom of Sodom and yet the people have absolutely no regard for it.  That is a big deal.  We get to that in a few more chapters.

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January 7, 2018: Day 13 – Genesis 13

Abram continues on and we have the scene set for the infamous Sodom and Gomorrah.  Abraham has become extremely wealthy and has shared his wealth with his nephew, Lot.   But a problem arises where they are not able to keep both flocks going in the land and there is quarreling and disputes among the people of Abram and the people of Lot.  So, this should tell you that if they each had people who were working for them, and it seems like there were quite a few, that they were extraordinarily wealthy.  It reminds me a bit of Peter, Jesus’ disciple, whom we read had slaves and his own fleet of fishing vessels.  We normally think of these folks as poor bumpkins, but that really isn’t the case, and certainly is not the case with Abraham.  He had means, quite a few means.

So as a result of the conflict, Abram give Lot the first choice of the land and he takes the land in which Sodom and Gomorrah are found. We find a bit of a precursor in that Scripture as it tells us that the people of Sodom were evil, very evil.  Some not so nice things are going to be happening soon.  But keep in mind the magnanimity of Abraham.  He shared with Lot his flocks and so Lot became wealthy.  He allowed Lot to choose first which land he would take and it would be his indefinitely at no charge.  Lot chose, but unfortunately for him we see that he chose poorly.  

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January 6, 2018: Day 12 – Genesis 12

When you read this chapter within the context of Harvey Weinstein it becomes very troubling.  But if you take it within the context of prehistoric events, it becomes one of the most important chapters in all of Scripture.  You find Abraham who is given a promise by God that his family will be blessed unconditionally.  He doesn’t say: Abram, if you do my will then I will bless you.  He doesn’t say: Abram, if you follow my commandments then I will bless you.  He doesn’t say: Abram, if you sell all that you have, quit your job, and live in the desert then I will bless you.  No, simply because Abram was soon to be Abraham is he blessed.  God gives him a glimpse of what he will be inheriting and what his children will be able to call their own as we finish vs.9.  

Then things start to go crooked.  It seems like every time that the Lord promises something to us we then go the wrong way or make a really bad decision.  Abram is nervous because he is about to go into Egypt because of a famine (notice a theme?).  The Egyptians were people who historically had helped others out, but remember, we are in prehistoric times and people can do whatever they want.  People could make up their own laws  and take advantage of their office to mistreat others, and can use their power to get whatever they wanted.  It seems like not much has changed over these thousands of years.

But in his fear he decides, and Sara plays along, to tell people that Sara is his sister because that way no one would kill him in order to get to his wife.  She was beautiful, after all.  She must have been really beautiful.  So Pharaoh takes Sarah as his wife.  In this account it doesn’t say that he stayed away from her.  In fact, it seems like quite the opposite is true.  He took her into his bed as his wife.  I would think that is a problem for Abram, but it doesn’t seem to be. The king gets angry when he breaks out into all kinds of sickness and is angry with him, but not the kind of anger I would think a king would have if this had happened.  He was probably more scared of Abram than anything, so sent him away with all the riches he had acquired.  Abram made out okay, but at what cost?  

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