Growing in Christ
"He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45
Links to observations drawn from other books of the Bible
Introduction: Genesis (Hebrew for "beginning") is the the story of beginnings, in fact of many beginnings. Genesis speaks of the beginning of creation, the beginning of humanity's call to responsible, intimate relationship with God, the beginning of God's work to redeem humanity after our fall into sin, the beginning of God's choice of Abraham for a covenant for the purpose of blessing to all the peoples of the earth.
Much of the Jewish and Christian worldview is drawn from these truths. For basic distinctions between the "Hebrew" worldview of the Bible and the "Greek" (Aristotelian) worldview of the West, please click here.
Genesis is the first of the five books of Moses (Pentateuch) which continue the account of God's first dealings with His covenant people, chosen to become a redemptive blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:3) through Christ (whose genealogy is traced through Abraham in Matthew 1 and Luke 3).
Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Book of Genesis (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively before reading observations below):
For those who are beginning here, my aim is simply to share my understanding of what the text says about 1.) God, 2.) our role or mission in life under God, 3.) some specific application of that role or mission [often in the form of "I will" statements emphasising intentionality and/or obedience], and 4.) a prayer flowing from my heart in light of these realities.
Nature of God: God is powerful (v.1), purposeful (v.3), orderly (v.3ff), is good and does good (v.25,28,31). The act of naming (in v.10 and 2:19) is in the Semitic world an evidence of Lordship. The first word revealing God is Elohim (v. 1), a generic plural term of power and majesty anticipating the fullness of the NT revelation of the triunity of our creator and redeemer.
The work of creation, which is described in a Hebraic poetic form, not prose, does not argue for the existence of God but simply declares it. The poem is a revelation and celebration the power, purpose, order and goodness of the character of God. As such the poem rejoices in why God created rather than answer our questions of how He created. The poem declares only "God said...and it was so". (More on this important distinction here.) Modern readers often insist that the Bible should reflect their worldview in this regard but it does not. The poem uses the structure depicted (right) to simply but majestically reveal the glory, character and purpose of God in creation, as well as humanity's reflection of God's image (v.26), relationship and responsibility to Him and basis for Sabbath rest (2:2-3). Above all the chapter declares God is good, God's purpose is good, that creation and man were created good, and that God blessed man (v.28) before his rebellion against Him.
Names of God: God is one and yet is described by several names, Yahweh being primary. The use of names in Scripture are more significant than are the use of human names in many cultures. Names are used in scripture to emphasis aspects of God's character. Here is a partial list taken from my current study bible (Ryrie Study Bible):
Nature of Man: God gave man [historically a generic term] a unique place and responsibility in the world (v.26) to express God's image (v.27) and steward His marvellous creation (v.28). God's image includes moral goodness and holiness which is to shape our intellect, emotions and will; three categories which are aspects of God's likeness in us as individuals (v. 27). God's image includes also being like God in community (v.26) to love and defer to and serve one-another, as do the Trinity. In all this we humans have eternity in our hearts, being restored in Christ, redeeming us from the effects of the Fall (Genesis 3).
Application: I will honor the Lord by reflecting His likeness in my character and purpose, living in loving relationships in marriage, family and community, and in wisely stewarding His magnificent creation. After the Fall I must recognize I cannot fully reflect His likeness without His initiative of redemption in Christ, and that unredeemed persons tend, as an expression of our fallenness, to worship creation instead of the Creator.
v. 26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness..."
My Prayer: Father, you are the source of all and worthy of praise, love and obedience. Thank you for making all things good. Thank you for making us to reflect your glory. Thank you that "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein (Psalm 24:1)."
Whereas chapter one is a poetic literary form describing creation from God's vantage point, chapter two is written in prose describing creation from man's vantage point.
God cares about His creation and man in particular, including provision of a garden to enjoy (Eden means "delight") and woman to love and partner with him in the care and joy of creation. God gives also the tree of life, which implies His intention that the gift be permanent, and saw fit only to withhold the knowledge of evil (v.9) so that all would be perfect.
Marriage is foundational to God's creation order, v.24 "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh." Marriage is instituted by God (v.24) to be monogamous, heterosexual and permanent (Mark 10:7-10), a complete union of a man and a woman created in the image of God.
The words for Adam (adam) and ground (adame) are similar in Hebrew, as are the words for man (ish) and woman (ishshah).
Application: My origin too is the dust that I may remain humble, but I too am animated by the breath of God (v.7) being made in His Image. We were made to delight in God, His creation and our spouse; to care for and enjoy the garden of God's creation and our family.
I will avoid (where I can and where it is not necessary for the rescue of others from it) the knowledge of evil, directing my heart rather and the hearts of others to the tree of life; Jesus, who has come to give life eternal and abundant. I will seek to know the will of God and obey implicitly whether or not I know why God so directs (e.g. v.9, "knowledge of evil").
My prayer: Father, thank you for the wonders of creation and your provision for us in it. Thank you for Your intention to give us "Eden=delight" as pure grace. Thank you for the gift of spouse and marriage. Lord, you do all things well and we praise You!
Free Will: Gift, Use and Consequence: God gives humanity a free will with few limitations and accepts the decisions we make, as well as the consequences of those decisions, even when our decisions go against Him.
Temptation to unwise or harmful decisions is not sin but acting on the temptation is never without consequence (vs.14-24), then and now.
Accepting Responsibility: People often blame others (v.12-13) for our decisions, sometimes even blaming God, but free will remains one of man's greatest gifts reflecting the image of God, and with it, the capacity to know and do evil.
Nature of sin: Viewing Adam and Eve's sin as simply eating forbidden fruit (v.6) is to minimize it; sin is disobeying God's revealed word, believing the lie of Satan over God's truth, and the placing our own will above God's. How deeply we have been affected by the fall we may not fully know until Christ's return.
Effect of sin: A keen sense of guilt followed immediately (v.8), this is normal in a moral universe. Intimate relationship with God is broken when sin comes between God and us.
Application: I will accept responsibility for my decisions and actions, not blame God or others. I will accept the fact that consequences of my decisions and actions can harm others and the consequences of others decisions and actions can harm me. For neither of these is God responsible.
Proto Evangel: God in fact kept Adam and Eve from the Tree of Life to protect them from living with the consequences of their decisions forever and immediately announced His certain plan to bring an end to Satan (v. 15), a verse in which we see foreshadowed the cross of Christ; wounded by Satan but risen. v.15: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel."
My prayer: Father what an unspeakably sad day it was when your children first rebelled against You giving Satan ground and influence to spoil Your good gifts. What great evil has flowed from prideful use of our free will. Lord, we look to Jesus, bruised by Satan (Isa.53) but crushing his head in His resurrection and final judgement to come. Father give courage to live in our fallen world redemptively until that day. In Jesus name, Amen.
God is gracious to Cain (whose name means "spear") despite his murder, lie and indifference to killing his brother (v.8-9). Though he deserved death, God provided protection from vengeance (v.15) in response to Cain's appeal (v.13-14). God's character is to punish moral evil (directly or indirectly, v.12) and to give grace to those who humbly ask. In Him we find grace and strength.
The Escalation of Evil: Though sin crouches looking for opportunity (v.7), we must master it. In some cases we may ignore temptation, in others resist it, in all cases must defeat it. We much understand evil always wants more.
v.7: If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."
Note the escalation of moral decline if unchecked: Cain lied and was indifferent to the murder he committed (v.9), Lamech went further being proud and boastful (v.23-24).
Application: I will therefore be alert to the tempter and his demons, refuse their influence and suggestions, and walk in righteousness with God and my neighbour.
My Prayer: Father, how quickly the world declined and how unwaveringly I must look to You to be safe from the wiles of the evil one. Strengthen me in the inner being that I might honor You.
Genesis is the record of "beginnings" - including the sins of murder (v.8), bigamy (v.19). It does not provide a complete genealogy - for example Cain's wife who could have been a sister, niece or even grand niece - but records the first nomads (v.20), musicians (v.21) and workers with metal (v.22). Moses refers frequently to "the book" (2:4, 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10,27, 25:12,19, 36:1, 37:2) which may refer to the written source he used in composing Genesis.
Longevity despite Sin: God gave the patriarchs long lives (average 912 years) and many children.
The discovery of "genetic entropy" (for more, do a web search for the phrase or see a 2013 article here) is consistent with generations of long lives after being created perfect, followed by decline due to sin.
Human population grew rapidly due to longevity. If the genealogy has no gaps the time between Adam and Eve and Noah was 1656 years. Life was hard due to sin, yet blame for this hardship was not accepted as "our sin" but shifted to "the curse" (v.29). Only Enoch is recorded as having a heart towards God (v.24) and from his "short" life has come the saying, "The good die young."
Personal Application: I will focus, not so much on the effects of sin, though unavoidable, as on walking with God (v.24). I will do this by consciously, every hour, looking to my Father in heaven and expressing my desire to walk with Him. v. 24: Enoch walked with God and he was not, for God took him.
My Prayer: Father, I want to walk with you and thank you that, even more, you want to walk with me. Thank you for "tearing the curtain" (Matthew 27) in your grace and desire for a warm, intimate, holy relationship with me.
Creation is accountable: Man is accountable to God; God holds man responsible for his corruption (v.11-12) of God's good creation. This corruption initially included violence (v.11) and some kind of improper mixing of humans with possibly fallen angels (v.2,4) but is rooted in evil hearts and intentions (v.5). All such evil is counter to God's purpose and mission of goodness, beauty and glory.
Nephilim: Much debate about the nature of Nephilim (from the root: "to fall upon") has not been decisive. The "sons of god" (v.2) could refer to the godly line of Seth, ungodly but powerful kings, or to a group of fallen angels (cf. 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). Whatever the case the resulting offspring, called mighty men in v.4 (probably militarily) of wide reputation (possibly for wealth and power), expressed evil for which God held them accountable in judgement.
God limits man's evil in two ways: shortens man's life-span (v.3) and removes evil in a broad flood. The Bible notes that the fall affected not only man but also animals (v.7).
Judgement: Those who reject the account of Noah usually deny it's historicity, though all ancient cultures have similar stories, or God's right to hold his creation accountable. Others theoretically accept the notion of accountability but reject God's decision. Generally, in my experience, the root of such objections is the rejection of that aspect of accountability which is God's right to judge evil. The Bible teaches that judgement takes place both on the human time-line (history) and afterwards in the life to come. A personal observation is that I have greater emotional difficulty with the vast amount of evil, oppression and violence which appears to pass without judgement, then with God's right to judge when and how he chooses.
God seeks righteousness: After the fall to this point only two men have been described as walking with God, Enoch (5:24) and Noah (6:9).
Noah expresses righteousness in obedience to God's word (v.22). The 6 to1 ratio (300 cubits x 50 cubits) dimensions of the ark remain these millennia later the most stable known.
It had a displacement of about 20,000 tons and could carry about 14,000 tons. While we know little of interior design, it's volume is equal to 522 railway stock cars, of which 188 would be adequate to hold the animals, leaving 3 trains of 104 cars each to hold food and space for some exercise. (An artist's conception: above. A 3-D model has been built, click here.)
Personal Application: I accept God's right to hold me accountable and his judgement of evil in me and others. I desire to be obedient and rejoice over his grace (v.8: "Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord" - Heb chen from a root meaning "to bend or stoop" i.e. unmerited favour of a superior person to a lower person).
My Prayer: Father I praise you that you are righteous and that you restore righteousness to the earth when your creatures stray to evil. Thank you that you showed favour to Noah and give grace through Jesus to all who recognize their need of your mercy.
Salvation in the midst of Judgement: while Abel is the first individual account of mercy in judgement (4:15), Noah and his family are the first corporate account of salvation in the midst of judgement. Many others follow as humanity wilfully and wickedly continues to reject it's Maker, making history the story of this mixed (both/and) experience of salvation and judgement.
Evil remained: Only evil people were removed in the judgement-flood; evil itself, behind and in rebellious hearts, remained. For God's redemptive mission to continue in this setting, Noah's line through which Jesus was born, is saved.
Ark as pointer to Christ: Typology, while sometimes overstating a metaphor, rightly often pointed to Jesus as the "ark" into which we are invited to enter (v.1), being "in Christ" for salvation. v. 1: Then the Lord said to Noah, "Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you I have seen righteous before Me in this time."
Clean and Unclean: More "clean" than "unclean" animals entered the ark (v.2) so sacrifices expressing thanksgiving could be made following Noah's family's rescue from judgement.
Personal Application: I will not resist God's righteous judgement but thank him for His great salvation in the midst of it. Why choose judgement over salvation? On this pivot point swings human history. I will invite those around me to turn to Christ with gratitude also.
My Prayer: Father, how easily humanity can loose sight of your grace in the midst of your patience and righteous judgement. May I praise you always for your mercy.
The historicity of the Biblical account is attested to by specifics such as the date of the start of the flood (v.11), it's length (v.24), depth of water (v.20). 270 ancient flood stories come from many parts of the world.
Of the sceptic I would ask, "please do not miss responding rightly to the urgent call God is making to you. In your debate about historicity please do not loose God's call to righteousness and grace, whether you hear it as in history or as in parable."
God remembered Noah: God's grace is expressed in closing the subterranean fountains (v.2), receding of the water, settling of the ark on an outcropping in the Ararat range (v.4), hope engendered by the raven and dove (v.7-12). Yet the effects of judgement impact also those saved.
Noah and his family were on the ark 377 days. God repeats the command of 1:28 in 8:17 to "be fruitful and multiply," this time directed to the animals. The earth had been radically affected, longevity decreased, animals now feared and hunted man (9:2-5), even shorelines may have changed with oceans perhaps now proportionally larger. The effects of judgement, even on those saved, were significant.
The promise of God (v.21-22) encouraged Noah and remains for us. This despite the ravages which continue on the earth from the heart of man (v.22: "the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth").
The mission of God's people to turn the hearts of the nations to the righteousness and grace of God remains therefore urgent.
Personal Application: I will see mercy in and following judgment and thank God (v.20) for it.
My Prayer: Father, what tragedy and warning there is even to those saved by your grace as we walk through this fallen world in which "the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth" (v.21, NASV). Lord, enable me to neither loose sight of this warning and to see the beauty of your creation reflecting Your glory in anticipation of the renewal of all things.
God blesses Humanity saved through the flood (v.1) with a covenant encompassing the mandate to fruitfulness (v.1,7), the promise not to repeat the flood (v.11-17), our mastery over animals (v.2-5) and a clear expression of the dignity of man and the sanctity of human blood (v.5,6).
Covenant: God's promises and our responsibility to God are given in the context of a covenant (v.9ff). In the Bible such a covenant is an agreement between a greater and a lesser, given by the greater as a gift of grace, which clarifies the subsequent relationship of God and man.
Capital punishment (v.6) is based on the fact murder is always fratricide (brother, v.5) - a sin against the nobility of human life created in the image of God (v.6) - and therefore contempt for God. (Rom.13:4 makes clear it is government, not individual action, which has responsibility for justice.)
Man and animals: are not equal as is often maintained. Yet animals are responsible for killing humans (v.5) as are humans who kill humans (v.6).
Foundation of Respect: Note the immediate response to Ham's violation of the dignity of man (disrespect of his father, v.20-27). We respect others rather when we supply what they lack as Shem and Japheth did (v.23).
When we share the Gospel, for instance, we do so in this spirit of respect. We do not therefore confront Muslims with their lack of understanding of God's grace in Isa al Masih, resulting perhaps in shame or hostility, but humbly provide what is lacking in knowledge of God's grace in Jesus the Messiah, as Shem and Japheth respectfully supplied what was lacking for their father.
Personal Application ("I will" statements): I will give thanks to God for His gift of mastery, as an aspect of our responsibility of stewardship, over the earth. I will urge honour of parents, even if they are not honouring themselves (as Noah). I will respect all God has given to steward, never abusing it or allowing it to be master over the steward. I will value the sanctity of the lifeblood given by God to all living things and value the dignity of man against fratricide.
My Prayer: Father, following the flood You gave humanity a new start, though so sadly and quickly squandered. In our sin, we need not only Your mercy but a positive restoration which is accessible only in You. Father, pour out Your grace powerfully upon the hearts of those who deeply desire You and open the hearts of those who remain captive to the limits of their self-sufficiency.
God's redemptive mission is not complete. God therefore re-populates the earth through the sons of Noah: Japheth, Ham and Shem. The descendants of Japheth (10:2-5) went to Asia Minor and Europe, Ham's descendants (v.6-20) to Africa and southern Arabia, and Shem's descendants (v.21-31) to Mesopotamia and northern Arabia.
Note: the Jews are of "Semitic" origin, i.e. "from Shem." The connection between Shem's descendants to Abraham is followed in Genesis 11.
The Power of Family Lines: Family lines often carry similar characteristics over the generations as parent's attitudes are transferred to their children and grandchildren. Ham's grandson Nimrod founded Babel (v. 10) which continues to cast a spiritual pall over the world, and then Assyria (v. 11) which was one of the cruellest empires of history. A more recent example of the influence of two family trees is shared in a section on parenting.
Personal Application: I will continue to disciple our children all of my days. (Some of what we've sought to do when our family was younger is posted here.)
My Prayer: Father, thank you that you are our Father, by your grace transferring the characteristics of your character to us through Jesus Christ.
Genesis 11 - (the descendants of Ham [Babylon] and Shem [Abraham] part ways)
Babylon: The descendants of Noah's son Ham (Gen.10:10) shared one language and settled in Shinar (v.2) which is ancient Babylon, forgetting the God who saved them and desiring instead to make a name for themselves (v.4) at His expense. Unlike ziggurats which were built for worship of a deity, the tower was for their own fame (v.4) and in direct defiance of God's command (9:1).
God here and since, has often intervened in grace and judgement. Yet Babylon (Gen.10:10;11:9) continues throughout Scripture to speak of those who set themselves against God (Rev.18).
Abram: The chapter sharply contrasts the descendants of Ham - who established Babylon against God (vs. 1-9) - and, descending from Shem, Abram who left his clan and culture to follow the call of Yahweh (vs.31) establishing a covenant people to advance God's redemptive purpose through the Messiah. Abram (v. 27) means "exalted father." Later his name was changed to Abraham (Gen 17:5) which means "father of a great number."
v.31: "Terah took his son Abram, wife Sarai and nephew Lot, and together set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there." There are two routes available from Ur to Canaan: one through the Arabian desert impassable for large flocks, the other along the Euphrates to Haran, in Syria, then to Canaan, a 2,400 km journey.
In the first stage, Terah took Abram and Sarai and Lot on the 550 mile journey to Haran (which means "caravan" - a reference to the market town where trade routes converged).
Ur of the Chaldeans (354 km SE of Baghdad) was in its most prosperous and literate era in the time of Abram's departure (ca. 2100 BC). A large ziggurat called people to worship a deity and Abram would likely have seen it.
Haran, a city within Ur of the Chaldeans, was well known for moon worship. Terah's family was probably involved as Terah and Milcah names are related to moon deities. (In Akkadian, Milcah is a title of the goddess Ishtar, daughter of the moon-god. Sarai, "princess" could refer to human royalty or to a goddess in the moon pantheon.)
While vs.27-32 describe the departure from Ur of the Chaldeans from Terah's perspective, it was likely motivated by Abram's call by Yahweh to settle in Canaan, suggested further by the fact most of Terah's family didn't make the journey; only Abraham's father, wife and nephew left Ur. [Lot's father Haran (whose name is similar but apparently not connected with the name of the city) died in Ur but Lot's mother and the rest of Terah's clan remained in Ur.] More about Abram's call in chapter 12.
Personal Application: I will listen for the call of God to follow closely to His every prompting today. I will related to the spiritual descendants of Ham (Babylon) and Shem (Abram) as they continue to this very day. I will continue God's mission in Christ to reach the spiritual descendants of Ham.
My Prayer: Father, how remarkable that you came to Abram in Ur of the Chaldeans, in a family and culture of moon worshippers, and called him in a way he recognized You to be greater and obeyed to leave all that was familiar for a country he'd never seen. Father, may I hear your call each time You speak with the same amazement and obedience.
Abram's call: After his father's death (11:32), Abram's call (11:31) is renewed (v.1), first sharply contrasting the Babylonian desire "let us make for ourselves a name" (11:4) with God's promise "I will make your name great" (v.2), then extending the promise of land (v.1) and to bless, in Abram's line, "all families of the earth" (v.3).
The promise would ultimately be fulfilled through the Messiah (Hebrew) Christ (Greek), though Abram and Sarai yet had no children. The promise was conditional upon faithfulness to God's gracious covenant, a covenant which the children of Jacob often spurned resulting in exile in Babylon before idolatry was rooted out.
Immediate Intervention: As soon as the promise and mission of Abram was established Satan sought to intervene - a famine in Canaan made God's promised land less appealing leading to Sarai's abduction in Egypt in which case, as a member of Pharaoh's harem, she could not fulfil God's purpose to give Abraham descendants. After Jesus' call likewise Satan immediately sought to take Him of track (Matthew 3). In our lives also we can be certain, as we hear God's call, Satan will offer alternatives and throw up difficulties.
Personal Application: I love v.5: "they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan" (NAS). To obey God's calling, I must set out to obey God's calling. I will listen for God's promise, call and command, believe, set out to obey and not be deterred by Satan's efforts to distract or intervene.
My Prayer: Father how majestic are your ways that you would choose Abram out of a culture of moon-worshipers to know you and miraculously become the forbearer of Jesus your Son. Thank you for Abram's faithfulness as example and inspiration to faith for us all in the intervening centuries to Christ's return. May I be in this way like him.
Faith Demonstrated (Waiting and Generosity): Abram was very rich (v.2), travelled extensively in the land the Lord had promised (v.3) and called on the name of Yahweh (v.4. 18). Lot also became rich and when resources became scarce accepted Abram's courtesy and magnanimity (v.8-9) choosing the best (v.10) for himself, as the 'exceedingly wick' people of Sodom (v.13) had done previously. Abram let Lot go and God renewed His promise of land (v.15) and descendants (v.16). Abram wandered and settled near the oaks of Mamre (v.18), 35 km south of Jerusalem.
Abram offered Lot land (v.9) which God would give to him (v.15). God is faithful to His promises also in that period when we do not yet see them. This is the nature of a promise. It is as if Abram faith-walked the land though he didn't yet have land or a son.
Personal Application: I will do what I can while I wait for what I do not yet see. I will not choose greed which, like Lot, exposes me to influences which will harm me further. Rather I will be generous and gracious as was Abram to Lot.
My Prayer: Father, how gracious you are and what a blessing it is when your children learn your ways as did Abram. Help me choose grace over greed always. Give me patience when I find myself waiting for your promises.
Grace and Mercy: Though Lot had been selfish to choose the best pastureland for himself (13:10) and foolish to live among (13:12) and then in Sodom (v.14), Abram risked his own life and the lives of his best men to rescue him and those captured with him (v.16). Amazing grace and a pointing to the mercy of Christ's love and rescue mission in spite of our sin and foolishness.
A pivotal point in redemption history: Abram didn't allow greed to overcome wisdom and rejected the offer of goods from the king of Sodom, maintaining independence from him (v.23) and total allegiance to Yahweh. Had Abram accepted this offer of a large gift he might have come under the influence of the king of Sodom, as gifts in that culture led to social obligation, or even in the longer term a vassal.
Melchizedek: The mysterious Melchizedek, king and priest of Salem (i.e. Jerusalem) seems to have recognized the inevitability of monotheism honoring the supreme God (El v.18-20) but may not have known Him personally by name as Abram did (Yahweh v.22). (Melchizedek calls Him "Possessor of heaven and earth" but does not suggest this is by virtue of being it's creator.) Yet Abram honors him as having risen above paganism by giving an offering which produces a relationship between them (v.20). The bread and wine (v.18) were common elements of hospitality but nevertheless striking as fore tending Christ's offer of bread and wine to us.
Personal Application: I will be kind to the ungrateful as Abram was to Lot, by God's grace also when kindness is costly. I will honor those seeking God, as Abram did to Melchizedek, inviting the seeker to come nearer and know the Father personally in Christ. I will be gracious to the lost, as Abram was to the king of Sodom, but not become obligated to them in such a way that the flow of influence goes the wrong direction.
My Prayer: Father how rich are the truths of Your Word at every turn. Teach me Your ways.
God's Unilateral Covenant: The only true God (Adonai Yahweh v.2. i.e. Adonai = Master, Lord, Sovereign; Yahweh = I Am, Ex. 3) made (literally "cut", v.18) a covenant with Abram confirming the promises made at Abram's call (12:3).
Cutting the animals symbolized the covenant maker staked his own life on his word. Only God, revealing Himself in the smoke and fire (v.17), passed between the pieces of sacrificial animals showing the unilateral nature of the covenant and promises. God's mission and promises are absolutely sure because they do not depend on what Abram or his descendants might do.
God's Covenant is multi-faceted with one purpose: God promises to be Abram's shield (same root as Melchizedek's word defeated (14:20) against evil and his final reward. God promises not only a child but descendants which cannot be numbered (v.5). God promises the land through which Abram is passing (v.7, 18-21). All this so that His promise of 12:3 will be accomplished.
Abram's Response: Abram for his part believed (v.6) God's character and promise. The Hebrew verb 'aman' (to confirm, affirm) is an 'amen' to God's promise of v. 5, of the kind vassals gave the land owner in covenant ceremonies of that era.
Personal Application: God's promises are faithful and true though hardship may intervene (v.13-16). God wants us to walk in faith between promise and fulfillment ("how will I know?" v. 8; "know for certain" v. 13). God is gracious in His promise and just in His judgement (v.16; Psalm 106:34ff).
Therefore, I will hold firmly to the Lord who holds firmly onto me. I will not be afraid. I will walk with confidence because of Who I walk with. v. 13: "God said to Abram, "Know for certain..."
My Prayer: Father, thank you that you are unchanging in your purposes and certain in your covenant and promises.
Looking to the Lord to Open a Way (rather then making our own): Abram and Sarai were unwise, and in the end disobedient, in pursuing a human solution (v.2) to the promise of God (15:4) for which they were waiting. Sarai quickly recognized their error but cursed Abram (v.5) for the consequence of their error, though it was her idea. Sarai may also have beaten Hagar (v.6) perhap hoping for a spontaneous abortion; whatever the case the harshness would have been severe to risk going into the wilderness without provision or destination.
We learn here to seek the Lord's means of accomplishing His purposes. The Lord has solutions to our problems. His solutions may be difficult to envision or even miraculous. We may be called to wait and pray or to an active obedience. God will fulfill His promise and purpose.
The God we Wait on is Awesome: God is the "One who sees" (v.13) and hears (v.11, Ishmael means "God hears"). This God who sees and hears everything appears now in theophany (a manifestation of God) [or perhaps a Christophany (appearance of the pre-incarnate Messiah)], speaking to Hannah with the knowledge and authority of God (vs.9-13). v.13: "...You are a God who sees." ... "Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?"
God is also all-knowing: God's prophetic foreknowledge of Ishmael's descendants (v.12) has been accurate to the present day. God often does not interfere with the consequences of human decisions. May our decisions therefore be wise, obedient and circumspect.
Personal Application: I will not second-guess God's promises. I will trust the Lord for the salvation of our children and grand-children, praying daily, speaking or silent when prompted, confident in the Lord always.
My Prayer: Father, show me when I am to wait and when I am to act and how to know the difference. It seems to me we are mostly to act and only to hold back when You say. Correct me if I'm wrong, help me not to confuse or miss either time. Deepen my ability to listen and discern, my courage to obey, my patience to wait in hope and prayer.
God's Promise is Solid as a Mountain: God is El Shaddai (the One who is sufficient) in every way and able to keep His promises. (The Hebrew El Shaddai (v.1) may also be related to a word for mountain; the Almighty One.) Yahweh here initiates His covenant (v.2), promising descendants who will produce nations and kings (v.6) and the land (v.8) to support them.
The land (Gen. 15:18-21) is promised permanently (v.8) and was possessed for a season (Joshua 21:43-45), but in subsequent years only partially. Whether the promise of land to Israel has been expanded to all the earth to all who follow Christ (Galatians 6:16) or is yet physically to be expected by the modern nation-state of Israel remains contested. (See map in Genesis 15)
Reminders of the Promise: As a physical reminder God circumcises His people (v.10, 23-27) and changes the name of Abram ("exalted father") to Abraham ("father of many") v.5; Sarah ("princess") is reaffirmed in her role as mother of nations. In addition, God makes clear it is Abraham's natural child yet to come, not Ishmael from Hagar (v.18-21), who will fulfill the promise, despite Abraham doubtful laugh (v.17), by giving his son to come the name Isaac ("he laughs").
Waiting does not negate promise: I too find myself sometimes surprised by God's goodness, though at this stage of my life I should no longer be surprised, having repeatedly experienced "grace upon grace" (John 1:16) just as He has promised. Let us remember even hardship does not negate grace, nor do partially fulfilled promises negate what God will do in the future.
Personal Application: I will obey God the same day as He speaks, as Abraham did (v.26) and not delay. I will pray and wait patiently for those things I pray do not yet see, such as the salvation of loved ones.
My Prayer: Father, how vast and majestic are You and Your promises to us. How weak our faith and firm Your promises. Father, replace in me doubt with prompt obedience. All sufficient are You!
Abraham, friend of God: Yahweh demonstrated He was God foretelling the season of Isaac's miraculous birth (v.14), the responding inner thoughts of Sarah (v.13,15). Abraham's guest also showed His identity having heard the cry of sin and resultant suffering rising from Sodom and Gomorrah (v.20) He had the power to bring judgement. As Yahweh visited Abraham He did so physically (cf. he ate, v.8) as Jesus would.
Abraham's Character: As Abraham entertained his guests, he offered bread but brought more: curds, milk and meat (v.5,8). In his conversation about Sodom and Gomorrah Abraham showed both compassion and justice (v.23-32) as Jesus would later also.
Confidence in God: As God knew Abraham's calling and destiny (v.18-19), God knows ours, and our inner thoughts. Though I grieve the horrors of sin, injustice and violence, I do so no more than God who will do right (v.25).
v.14: Is anything too difficult for the Lord?
v.25 Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?
Personal Application: I must not be surprised to meet angels as Abraham did and learn from them. I will have confidence that the Lord knows my steps and cares for me. I will also have sure hope in the face of sin and evil in our world, no matter how great (v.20), knowing God will bring a righteous reversal which none will be able to dispute as unjust.
My Prayer: Come quickly Lord Jesus and bring righteousness and justice to the earth. Turn the hearts and minds of your people to turn to You and see what must be done differently to bring the radical change of the Kingdom so desperately needed in our sin-sick broken world.
Lot in Sodom and Sodom in Lot: Lot escaped judgment by God's grace, though his compromised heart was still in Sodom. Lot had moved from living in tents near Sodom (13:12) to living in Sodom. Sodom's Canaanite values had also entered Lot and his family.
Lot opposed the sodomy of his guests but not the rape of his daughters (v.8). When warned of impending judgment the young men engaged to his daughters thought Lot was joking (v.14) and Lot was still less filled with gratitude than by the desire for an easier journey (v.18-22). Lot's wife looked back (v.26; the verb indicates prolonged, intense gazing toward the world she loved, not a curious glance). His daughters' character were formed more by Sodom's culture than by Lot's heritage, having no qualms about conceiving children by their father (v.30-35). From two incest-born sons came two perennial enemies of Israel, the nations of Moab and Ammon. The corruption of Sodom was complete.
Lessons for Today: It is so easy to fall in with a corrupt world - either by it's allure or just to make it easier to get along. God's people living in a pagan world must - however difficult or costly - remain morally separate even while in physical proximity; a minority resistance movement to what Augustine called the "City of Man."
Judgment in history: This was not the only time God would judge Canaan (of which Sodom was a part). The account of Sodom shows God is the righteous judge of the whole earth (18:25) who will judge with justice and equity. Sodom would have destroyed Lot if the Lord had not destroyed Sodom.
450 years later God directed Israel to fully remove Canaan's wickedness from the land. Israel failed and Canaanite false gods and immorality corrupted Israel as it has corrupted Lot, leading Israel into the judgment of defeat and exile.
Personal Application: I will love the lost - but will also "call good and evil by name" (John Paul II).
I will love the Lord who first loved me and through whom alone I can at least in part become and remain salt and light.
I will not look "back" longingly at the "City of Man" but forward with greater passion and longing to the "City of God."
My Prayer: Father, protect my heart from the snares of the world. Keep me also from simply withdrawing - which is the temptation in my advancing years - but to love more greatly, without compromise, that those burned by the daily corrosive influence of a culture without moral bearings, might be saved the inevitable final loss.
Vulnerable Ancestry of Jesus: Jesus's birth line could so easily have ended with Sarah's incorporation into Abimelech's harem. Only Yahweh's intervention in closing the wombs of Abimelech's household (v.18) and warning dream (v.3-7) protected His redemptive mission though Sarah, through whom Christ was born.
Satan's efforts to prevent Jesus' birth: Genesis, and the Old Testament as a whole, reflects many instances where Satan's whispering seeks to prevent the coming of the One who would bruise the serpent's head (Gen. 3:15); e.g. the suggestion Abraham's line progress through Hagar and Ishmael, this incident, later idolatry etc. Satan continues through redemptive history to this day to interfere with God's purposes through deception, spiritual warfare, temptations and martyrdoms.
God's protection of the birth line of the Messiah in this chapter is remarkable in several ways. First, negatively: why would Abimelech want to take (v.2) a 90 year old woman into his harem? (Only Satan, it seems, would want this.) Secondly, positively: since women generally had low status in the era, who (but God) motivated Abimelech to respond so graciously to Abraham's deception (v.2,9-10) and Sarah's reputation (v.16)?
Abraham as Prophet: Abraham is the first prophet (Heb: nabi) mentioned in scripture (v.7). A prophet is one who speaks as an intermediary, normally on behalf of a superior.
Sister strategy: This is the second "sister story" (cf. Gen. 12:10-20) in which God protected Abraham's marriage for the sake of His covenant promises. Isaac also used this tactic of his father (26:1-11), deceiving the same or another Abimelech (Abimelech is a title meaning "my father the king" - similar to "pharaoh") protecting Rebecca his wife, the ancestor of Jesus.)
Honoring marriage: God's intervention to protect Abraham's marriage from adultery should have reminded the Israelites of future generations also to keep their marriages pure. Yet adultery-leading-to-idolatry eventually destroyed all but a remnant of God's covenant people. Even those who returned from exile had firmly to be reminded again (Nehemiah 13:23-27).
God's character and purpose is constant so we can be confident God today also undertakes to strengthen and protect those who carry forward His redemptive mission. Yet we must be vigilant.
Personal Application: I will honor my marriage and the marriages of others in thought and deed and urge them to do the same. I will be careful not to wander from the path of God's redemptive mission in the world, more broadly or from my specific part of it. I will set an alarm for 10:02 am to remind me to pray for labourers for the harvest (Luke 10:02). v.17: Abraham prayed to God and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children.
My Prayer: Father, how great is your love for redeeming the lost, how great is Satan's hatred of your purpose, and how deeply I want to follow You.
Isaac is Born - The Promise is Fulfilled: As we journey in mission we can always be certain God keeps His promises...as He had said...as He had promised (v.1) ... at the very time He had promised (v.2). God's promises bring joy (v.6)! Though the birth of Isaac becomes a threat to what would have been Ishmael's inheritance and Ishmael is sent away (v.10), God makes a promise to Ishmael also (v.13, 18) and sustains him miraculously (v.19) to receive it.
Covenant-making and promise-keeping makes community life possible even between imperfect people with limited resources in different tribal groups (v.22-34). The initial dispute was over who dug the well and had water rights (v.25-26). Abraham planted a tamarisk tree (v. 33), known to need much water, to show his confidence in the well and the importance of the treaty covenant.
One wonders what would have happened if a covenant like that with Abimelech (v.23) had been made with Ishmael. Would there have been a Ishmaelite connection to the gods of Egypt through marriage (v.21)? Would the separate tribal line to modern Arabs and Islam have developed in the way it has?
It seems best to aim for peaceful-coexistence with good lines of communication rather than breach the relationship entirely as with Ishmael.
Personal Application: I will have confidence in the promises of the Lord regardless of timeframe. I will seek open lines of communication even with those with whom I differ.
My Prayer: Father, the story of the separation with Ishmael is a sad one. Help me build covenant between communities, even with those who don't yet acknowledge You.
Genesis 22 v.8: "God will provide for Himself the lamb..."
God will Provide: God will provide [or "see to it"] (the meaning of "Yahweh Yireh" in v.14) that which He asks of us. To Abraham God gave faith for obedience (v.3), the ram for sacrifice (v.13) and renewed promises (v.17-18) giving Abraham hope though he would die before seeing all fulfilled (Heb.11).
Abraham, and probably Isaac and their servants, would be familiar with human sacrifice, common in that era but rejected by those who have come to know Yahweh. The drama of Abraham and Isaac's emotional turmoil is not recounted but is beyond imagining.
The Voice of God: Not to be underestimated is the certainty and confidence with which Abraham heard God - beginning with Abraham's call out of his father's culture of moon-worship (11:31), receiving God's covenant, promise of Isaac, and God's test in this chapter. May we hear as clearly and respond as decisively. Hearing, though subjective and subject to abuse, is not to be rejected for that reason but sought and cultivated by practice. God speaks to us far more often than most of us recognize but we can learn to recognize Him.
Trust and Obedience: Jesus, the seed by which all the nations of the earth will be blessed (v.18), would also trust His Father to fully provide for the redemption of the world and raise Him from the dead. Jesus knew He would suffer death on the cross, nevertheless went voluntarily to fulfil His mission. We likewise hold all God has given us in open hands that He may know we reverence Him above all (v.12). Jesus also calls His disciples to put Him before all (Matt. 8:21f) so that God's Kingdom may bless all.
Personal Application: I will trust the Lord to provide for my salvation, through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, that which I lack. I will trust the Lord, at the time of His choosing, to provide the fulfillment of all His promises. I will trust the Lord to provide that which I need for daily life ("this day our daily bread"). I will listen for, learn to discern, trust and obey the voice of His Holy Spirit.
My Prayer: Father, I think of Abraham willing, if need be, to sacrifice Isaac. I think of Jesus willing, if need be, to sacrifice Himself. I think of me, by Your grace and provision, blessed beyond measure. Thank you Lord!
Nahor presumably still lived in Ur of the Chaldeans (11:27-32) so news would be slow and probably infrequent.
Abraham's nephew Uz may have been a forefather of Job (Job 1:1).
About 3,000 stars can be counted with the naked eye (cf. 17).
A Fork in the Road: Sarah died at 127 years without having seen grandchildren. Isaac was 37. It was tradition to bury the dead with their ancestors; Abraham's obedient response to God's call to leave his family and move to Canaan was now proven permanent as Abraham chose instead to buy a burial site for Sarah and himself. (Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah and Jacob were buried here, a site now under a mosque in Hebron.)
Retaining Independence: Abraham refused to be beholden to the Hittites (sons of Noah through Ham) by receiving a gift. Unsuccessful in obligating Abraham to them, the Hittite owner, while Abraham was grieving, insisted Abraham buy more land then he wanted or needed; on top of that, to pay an exorbitant price (v.14: 4.6 kilos of silver). Nevertheless Abraham did so. It was, so to speak, a down payment on God's promise to give him the land.
Personal Application: Our faith and obedience is tested repeatedly. Sometimes I think I'm obedient until faced with a difficult consequence of being obedient, e.g. missing fun, experiencing the consequence of refusing to pay a bribe. Will I draw back? Abraham didn't. I will be like Abraham even if taken advantage of. I will ask only "what does God want?", not "will I be comfortable with what God wants?".
My Prayer: Father, give me a faithful heart to you whatever men do.
Right Marriage: To many a romantic story but it is much more: the provision of God through unlikely circumstances a wife for the continuation of God's redemptive purposes (12:3) leading to the Messiah. Abraham is adamant that Isaac not marry a Canaanite worshipper of false gods or demons (v.3), Abraham would rather Isaac not marry (v.8) than marry someone who knows not Yahweh.
A Woman of Character: Rebekah's character is revealed in her willingness to pull 250 gallons (the amount 10 thirsty camels drink) from the well for a stranger, then offer the hospitality of her family's home. The freedom to make her own decision (v.58) and the blessing given her by her family (v.60) is also testimony to the high regard in which she is held by those who knew her best.
Seeking God: Note how specific is the prayer of Eliezer (v.12-14) and the answer of God (v.19) and how courageous is Rebekah to travel with Eliezer's company (v.58) a dangerous road to an unknown man and land (800 km away). Though Scripture probably don't yet exist physically Isaac is a man who meditates (v.63), presumably seeking God's safety and success on Eliezer's journey.
Personal Application: I will encourage those considering marriage to marry only one who is of the household of faith. I will pray specifically with faith and expect specific answers from Him who hears and is Almighty. I will speak blessing to those who depart. I will expect blessing to flow from my children and their children to strangers and those in need.
My Prayer: Father, how majestic is Your Name and the management of the affairs of mankind, all for Your high purposes. May I walk in the centre of Your loving-kindness and redemptive purpose today. Guide me by Your hand, voice and Spirit.
Abraham's protection of Isaac: Though the culture of the day mandated giving one's inheritance to the eldest son and though God's promises were through Isaac, Abraham provided for all his sons (v.6), probably in the form of flocks and herds. Sending them off to seek a future away from Isaac was probably intended to protect Isaac and God's promise through him.
Ishmael and Isaac: While future conflict between the tribes formed in this way was inevitable as they would no longer share a common faith, the presence of Ishmael (v.9) at Abraham's funeral shows respect for their father and a measure of reconciliation between them.
Another complicating intervention: The promise and story of fulfillment however follows Jacob (who, like Ishmael [v.16], also has 12 sons). Jacob, like Abraham [fathering Ishmael], also took matters into his own hands taking Esau's first-born birthright from him (v.31) in a moment of weakness.
God's timing and our impatience: God's promise has always appeared slow and in need of human intervention (Abraham taking a concubine; Jacob taking the prerogatives of his first-born brother). Later, concerned that God would forget His promises, Israel would think it necessary to turn to the gods of the tribes around them.
In our mission and calling we are called to faithful obedience but our faith and obedience does not fulfill the promise of God nor should we be deterred from faith and obedience if the promise is not evident in our lifetime (Hebrews 11). The interplay of God's promise and our trust and obedience is more complex then we should assume we understand.
Personal Application: I will trust God to fulfill all His promises at the times He chooses. I will trust and obey, not to force God's hand (as if I could) but because He calls me to, even if I don't see the fulfillment in my lifetime. I don't know the higher good behind why God permits evil such a long run in history but I will trust and obey while I await the fulfillment of His promise of the renewal of all things.
My Prayer: Father, may I trust you also towards the end of my life when there is so much I've not yet seen; thankful for what You've shown and given, trusting for what I may not see in this life but will yet come. In Jesus name. So be it.
Isaac's Fear: When Isaac didn't yet have strength to protect himself from the Philistines, he thought they might only take Rebekah without killing him if they thought she was his sister. So he lied about his relationship with her, as his father had about Sarah (12:13 and 20:3). Isaac's fear did not honor God and probably put his marriage at greater risk than would have the truth. The stakes were high: if Rebekah was taken there would have been no covenant people into which the Messiah could be born.
God's Grace: Nevertheless God intervened to ensure His eternal rescue mission: Abimelech took Isaac's side to protect Isaac and Rebekah's line (v.11). God often blesses - as here (v.12ff) - those who are faithful to Him, even when we wobble. Often those who initially oppose the Gospel recognize God's hand of blessing (v.28).
Personal Application: I must not in fear weaken God's salvation mission by my passivity or silence. I will honor the marriage of every couple. I will speak the truth and trust God to use it for good. I will serve the Lord, not for blessing, and regardless of hardship. I will not presume on His grace to cover my foolishness.
My Prayer: Father, thank you for saving Your heritage from extinction while so weak and vulnerable. Thank you that You save me from destroying myself by departing from You.
Deception: Rebekah didn't trust God to accomplish His good purposes as He had promised. This lack led to a frantic taking the situation into her own hands and drawing Jacob into the deception of both Isaac and Esau. Jacob had already deceived Esau once to gain the inheritance from Isaac (Gen 25). The blessing of Isaac (spoken pronouncement of inheritance) from his deathbed was legally binding.
God hates deception because it violates his character, distorts reality and devalues people. Satan commonly uses deception to make himself look good (Gen. 3), distort reality and purposely lead people astray.
Personal Application: When I am tempted to deceive to look better than I am or to protect my public face from shame I must remember Jesus says everything hidden will be fully known (Luke 12:2), and instead confess the shortcoming I'm tempted to hide. I will be not deceive, i.e. be straightforward even if it causes me embarrassment, shame or conflict. I will not present myself with half-truth or give a false impression by silence or let someone else speak well of me falsely.
My Prayer: Father please forgive me where I've presented myself with half-truth or given a false impression by silence or let someone else speak well of me falsely. Please cause me to want to be real when I fall short so I can ask you to forgive and change me.
Faith and Family: The NLT correctly observes that "believers in any age must remain spiritually pure by marrying other believers" (2 Cor 6:14-18). The Canaanite people incorporated dozens of groups and clans into their society and religion by wars, treaties, and marriages." Esau did not understand the uniqueness of the covenant family and inadvertently ensured his descendants would live outside of it (v.6-9). Family lines are powerful influences for good or greed or evil; Westerner individualism too often misses this in its characteristic short-sightedness.
God's Presence and Purpose: God showed Jacob a vital unseen reality in the staircase connecting heaven and earth (v.12; ultimately pointing to Jesus John 1:51) and reminded Jacob of his promise and calling (v.13-15). God Almighty (El Shaddai) would guide and protect Jacob, the steward of his covenant to ensure His redemptive purposes would be accomplished. We continue to be called and connected to God's redemptive work in Christ.
Heaven's Gate: v.16-17: Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it. This is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven. We, like Jacob, despite our sin and distractedness, are also, though we like Jacob don't see it, at heaven's gate (v.17). God is here. Meditate on this glorious truth (as did Jacob v.16-17). Bethel means "House of God." Our church buildings, quiet times, prayer retreats and meetings with His people are intended to remind us of this truth where God's presence elicits worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).
Personal Application: I will remind myself 3 times today that I live at the gate of heaven, that angels are descending to guide and protect, that God's purposes and promises never fail. I will encourage believers considering marriage to look only to those with strong faith within the covenant community.
My Prayer: Father, how awesome is Your presence, purpose and glory! How limited my vision so I may yet have faith. What confidence You give in trouble, what direction in turmoil. Thank you that you provided in this way for Jacob, for Jesus (John 1:51), for me.
Sowing and Reaping: Deception (yielding harvest of disappointment) Favoritism (yielding harvest of disunity). Jacob had deceived both his older brother Esau and his father Isaac. Now he was deceived by his uncle Laban who called him "my bone and my flesh" (v.14) - a phrase from adoption rituals of the time - but treated him like a servant, deceiving Jacob with wine and his less desirable daughter (v.22-23). God disciplined Jacob by reaping what he had sown.
A second family dysfunction, favoritism, had not yet been overcome: Jacob favored Rachel over Leah (v.30-35) as his mother had favored Jacob over his brother Esau. Favoritism produced rivalry between the brothers and again among Laban's daughters when treated unequally as Jacob's wives. The sisters and children and the tribes descending from them often lived also in disunity.
Unrequited Love: Leah, gifted with children, hoped in vain for Jacob's love and finally drew her consolation from the Lord (v.35) alone.
Our Response: We must quickly, as the Lord reveals our weakness and sin - be it deception, favoritism or other sin - acknowledge, repent and break the chain of sowing and reaping quickly so others will not be harmed - either in our generation or in the next. God will bring people or circumstances into our lives to teach us discipline and correction if need be. Far better to make the changes voluntarily, quickly and early.
Personal Application: I will ask the Lord to show me my blind spots - places where I am sowing what I do not want to reap in my own life or in the next generation. I will not show favoritism to any of my grandchildren but only love to all. I will not withhold love from any and if love is withheld from me I will draw my sustenance from the Lord (v.35). I will not take advantage of those who help me in any way but be generous and thankful for their service.
My Prayer: Father, show me my blind spots so I can seek your strength to break the pattern so as to protect the next generation of my lineage from the consequences of my weakness and sin.
Genesis 30 This picture of a dysfunctional family continues....
Painful rivalry in marriage: In this culture not having children was like death to a woman. The resulting conflict between Leah and Rachael (v.1ff) is intense, personal and painful. Leah shows less competitiveness than Rachael (vs. 6-8) in naming her sons (Rachael chooses names meaning 'justice' or 'vindication' (v.6), 'wrestling' (v.8), 'may the Lord add (more sons)' (v.24); Leah chooses happier names meaning 'luck' (v.11), 'happy' (v.13), 'reward' (v.18), and 'dwelling' (v.20) - Jacob seems inexplicably uninvolved in naming) but both sisters stoop to concubinage (v.4, 9) to gain their goals. An irony is that Rachel wanted her sister's mandrakes (thought to increase fertility), yet Leah, not Rachael, conceived (vs.14-17).The chapter becomes a textbook argument against polygamy and concubinage.
Rivalry in business: Laban has taken advantage of Jacob in exchanging 14 years of labour for his daughters in marriage. Uncle and nephew negotiate politely but shrewdly (vs.25-33), agree (v.34), yet continue to work to their own advantage (Laban vs. 35-36; Jacob vs.37-42). It may be such family relationships where normal in the prevailing culture but Jacob knew the Living God (28:10-22) and might have been expected to rise above the norm. Sadly, bickering, bargaining and deception remained prominent in Jacob's family. (The importance of making such changes can be seen in the lineage of two families with immense consequence: http://www.murraymoerman.com/5moerman/parenting.asp)
Personal Application: I will identify specific weaknesses in my generational family chain honestly (e.g. my father's family's tendency to overwork and burn out) and make specific plans to break the chain. I will likewise identify strengths (e.g. my mother's family's joy and sense of humor) and seek to carry forward this gift. I will seek the Lord's strength both for the courage to be honest about what I see and for strength the change where I am weak.
My Prayer: Father, purify my heart from greed of every kind, weakening the temptation to deception. Purify my family and their children from the sins and weakness of my family line, spiritual and cultural. Forgive, heal, strengthen and make new our family contribution to future generations. In the name and power of Jesus, Amen.
The Fruit of Distrust: Laban's sons were concerned that Jacob's success would come at their expense when their father died, leaving them with a minimal inheritance (v.1) compared to Jacob's wealth. Jacob viewed his success differently: believing God had overcome the effect of Laban's many broken agreements (v.7). Jacob felt the deteriorating relationship required him to leave. He called a meeting to convince his wives it was in their best interest to join in his plan (v.4-16). Jacob likely felt Laban might otherwise hold him by force, so he fled while Laban and his sons were in the fields (v.19).
Rachel's theft of her father's household idols (probably small figurines of female deities) was kept from Jacob, perhaps because she knew Jacob worshiped Yahweh alone, while she may have still hoped for fertility from the idols she'd grown up with. Laban felt vulnerable without his gods and travelled 480 km (7 days. v.23) to retrieve them.
Settling for Permanent Rupture: Failing to find his household gods (v.30-35) and hearing Jacob's counter-charges (v.36-42), Laban decided to settle for a mutual non-aggression pact (v.52). Jacob set up a heap of stones - a 'watchtower' (Aramaic: Mizpah) - on the border between them; a border which remained between Israel and Aram (modern Syria), a border frequently violated by war between the nations. Jacob and his family did not see Laban again. Laban to his credit blessed his children before he left them (v.55).
Root of Failure: Why did the relationship between these relatives so utterly fail? Laban saw talent in Jacob, so deceived him with Leah to gain another 7 years of fruitful labour, frequently going back on his word also regarding wages (v.7). Jacob and Rachel in turn deceived Laban (v.19-20), continuing the root sin sown in Jacob's earlier life with Isaac and Esau. Unresolved 'smaller' issues, if not dropped, grow to unresolved larger issues, in this case blossoming into multiple wars between nations.
Personal Application: I will bring relational problems to the surface verbally to resolve them, or if I choose not to do so, drop the matter in my heart. I will not speak in anger. I will not speak partial truth or hide part of the truth.
My Prayer: Father, I see the consequence of letting small sins grow into dragons. Press me every time needed to overcome dragons while they are still small, by your power and grace.
Jacob begins to change: after a lifetime of self-sufficiency and dependency on deception to achieve his goals, Jacob comes to the end of himself and begins to change. Having again encountered angels to remind him of the promise of God's presence (the name Jacob chooses means "two camps" - Jacob and the angel's camps were side by side [vs.1-2]), Jacob turns in humility to God in a marvelous prayer (vs.9-12). Jacob also sends a sizeable gift of 550 animals to Esau who he still has good reason to fear (approaching with 400 men; v.6) but one senses it is less an attempt to manipulate than to make restitution for his earlier sin against Esau (v.20).
God forces a turning point: In desperation Jacob divides his goods in two that a portion might yet escape (v.8) and stays behind alone (v.24), likely to pray. Jacob is encountered by a man he wrestles with at length (not knowing if his assailant is from Laban, Esau or other hostile source), injured at the hip making it impossible to win (v.25).
The Blessing of Surrender: Jacob surrenders and receives a blessing in which God indirectly tells Jacob who He is: the 'El' in Israel means 'God' in the phrase "he wrestles with God" (v.28). Jacob recognizes he has seen a theophany and lived (cf. the 'El' in Peniel, v.30: "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved"). Jacob knows it was no vision because he emerges limping (v.31), a reminder which may have remained all his life.
God desires surrender from each of us that we might completely depend on him and know victory over sin and shame. Many of us delay surrender as long as possible but it is the only way.
Personal Application: I recognize God "camps' with me and he is my protection from spiritual and physical harm. I will surrender repeatedly and depend fully on the Lord to bring the changes in me he desires for my growth in character and holiness. I will view my 'limps' (evident to others) as testimony to God's persistent seeking of me.
My Prayer: Father, thank you that you have victory over us that we might have victory over sin and evil in our lives. Thank you that you pursue us until we surrender and are healed.
Deep roots: Despite the encouragement of his encounter with God (32:30), Jacob fears Esau's revenge and remains cautious - sending gifts, bowing before Esau (v3), calling him 'lord' (v.8). Nor does Jacob appear to have overcome his weakness towards the favoritism which divides families, placing less valued members of this family in greater danger than more valued members (v.2); though he rightfully took the most dangerous position.
There remains a question also about whether Jacob again deceived his brother, traveling to Succoth (v.17) after saying he would meet Esau in Seir (v.16). Seir is a mountain range on the east of the Jordan, Succoth is also on the east side so the deception may be only apparent.
Jacob in Process: Jacob did however later put more distance between himself and Esau moving to Shechem, a few kilometers west of the Jordan in Canaan (v.18) where he erected an altar to "the Mighty God of Israel" (v.20). In erecting the alter he acknowledged God's earlier protection from Esau and his expectation God would yet fulfill his promise of the land (28:13).
Jacob remains a mixture of the man he was and the man he was becoming as the Lord drew him forward. We may rightly be disappointed with his weakness but must not allow Jacob's slow character progress to justify our own.
Personal Application: I will never give up efforts to change my character defects; never say to myself "that's just the way I am." The Lord is greater. He doesn't give up and neither will I. Truthfulness involves the whole truth, removal of purposeful ambiguity and the avoidance of language suggesting something more or less than the center of the truth.
My Prayer: Father, all truth is in You and anything less than truth in me is dishonoring to You. I want to be like you. Help me never give up making progress as you enable me, expressed also in honesty in relationships where Jacob struggled. Lord, you are not satisfied with stagnation in character transformation, nor I.
Character flaws flowing into the next generation: Jacob's core character flaw, deception, continued and worsened in his sons Simeon and Levi who deceived the clan of Hamor and Shechem. Simeon and Levi's deception cost these men their lives, along with the lives of others innocent of the sin against Dinah (v.25).
Escalation: To the evil of deception, Simeon and Levi added the sin of revenge (which is both a sinful attitude and the act of going beyond justice to retribution) permanently destroying the marriages and families of innocent men and taking their property. All this, while deceiving Jacob who knew nothing of their plan for revenge and clearly would not have gone along with it (v.30).
Unless character flaws are acknowledged for the severe danger they are and fearlessly addressed, battled and overcome, harm will always come to the next generation, often broadening to greater harm. The rape of Dinah ought not to be done (v.7, 31) but a more reasoned response in solidarity with the community should have been sought.
Intermarriage: This leaves the question of whether Jacob would have encouraged intermarriage merging the two family clans as agreed (v.10, 16). This would have risked the solidarity of monotheism and worship of Yahweh, and God's purpose in choosing Israel as context for His redemptive incarnation.
Personal Application: I will not lie to myself about my character flaws but look unblinkingly at the evil in me to be overcome for the sake of all, including in a special way, future generations. When I see a character flaw, I will pause, reflect and take action (or avoid a planned action) to stop the expression of that flaw. I will also repent and ask the Lord to take hold of the root of it and pull it out. I will confront evil but not escalate it with revenge.
My Prayer: Father, how clearly I see the character flaws of Jacob and others and how difficult it is to see my own. Give me self-insight and clear-eyed courage by your power to overcome for your glory and the good of all.
Danger of Syncretism: Jacob's sons narrowly skirted merging their families with pagan gods in intermarriage (Gen. 34:13ff). In addition 'foreign gods' (35:2) had come with Jacob's own family from Laban's household (31:34). Divergence from monotheism, which plagued Israel until their return from Babylonian exile, was a real and present danger. Cf. v.2: "Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves."
Covenant Renewal: Jacob took several remedial steps in response to God's call (v.1); he demanded his household abandon pagan gods and cultic tokens (v.4), he moved his family away from the Shechemites and reaffirmed acceptance of God's covenant at Bethel (v.6-15).
Power of a Name: In response, God reaffirmed and elaborated on Jacob's change of name to Israel (some debate how best to arrange key concepts in the name: 'God' and 'wrestles,' 'fights' or 'overcomes'). God also reaffirmed his promise of fruitfulness, ruler ship and land (v.11-12).
The Next Generation: The challenge of transferring faith and God's call to the next generation is mission critical and extends from the patriarchs to our day. Externals (burying symbols, v.4) can be forced as Jacob did, but deeper heart allegiance requires modeling, personal engagement, testimony and prayer. Names have a role in this; names have meaning and the meaning of names and words are spiritually powerful (v.9-12). Cf. v. 10: "You shall no longer be called Jacob but Israel shall be your name."
Personal Application: I will value names and their meaning, particularly as I give names or choose names to emphasize. I will, by means, including the right use of names, reject all syncretism. I will value Godly symbols, as Jacob did (v.14) and be reminded of Biblical truths by them.
My Prayer: Father, I pray for the children of believers around the world. I pray the next generation will not take You for granted or value You lightly. Lord, meet with the next generation and call them to Yourself for newness of life and life eternal. Protect them from the siren call of the world, the flesh and the devil. Draw them to cling to You, even desperately as the storm of evil rages.
Parting of ways: As wealth grew, Jacob and Esau separated to find adequate pasture (v.6-8) as Abraham and Lot had earlier (13:5-6) - with similar spiritually devastating results. After Jacob and Esau's deaths their descendants, Israel and Edom, were in frequent conflict, fundamentally because Israel served Yahweh while Edom chose other gods.
God's Promise: Even so, God's promise to Isaac of the land of Canaan was fulfilled, as Esau's sons were born in Canaan (36:5) before moving to Seir (36:8) and Jacob's children, born outside Canaan, settled in it.
Missed Opportunity: both Jacob and Esau (vs.40-43) became heads of great clans, one following God's call to fulfill His purpose, the other intermarrying with the descendants of Seir, fading into dispersion and oblivion.
Personal Application: To fulfil our mission, like Jacob's descendants, we need to stay close to the Lord, listen for His voice and obey. I will not, to the best of my ability, allow intermarriage of our family with those who are not in Christ. I will pray our family line fulfils God's highest purposes for His glory.
My Prayer: Father, though brothers may part ways, work in the lives of each of our children's families, working out in them Your highest calling and destiny.
Only God can pull deep roots: Jacob remained slow to learn, despite the previous sad effects of Isaac's and Rebekah's favoritism of Esau and Jacob respectively, that favoritism divides families. Likewise deception, used by Jacob against his father Isaac (27:5-17), was now used against him (37:31-35).
God Seeks Faithful Leaders: While Joseph, though faithful and obedient to his father, showed poor judgment in sharing his dreams with his brothers (v.5-10), his brothers' violent response (kidnapping and slavery) to prevent the dreams from being fulfilled (v.18-28) showed why he, and not his brothers, were chosen to lead the household of faith.
The Ishmaelites (v.27) and Midianites (v.28), who may have been traveling in convoy, where both descendants of Abraham through Hagar (16:5) and Keturah (25:1-2) but where not, like Jacob's sons, above slave-trading.
Transfer of Values: Godly values were not passed on from Jacob to most of his sons. Whether this failure was primarily due to Jacob or to his sons is not known. This failure to transfer faith generationally is a significant factor in the failure, or at least slowing progress, of God's people to fulfill their mission of blessing the earth (12:3; Matt 28:18-20).
God intervened nevertheless to spare the life of Joseph so His plans could continue through the life of one who was faithful.
Personal Application: I will trust the Lord when all seems dark. He will make a way. He is the way.
I will ask for courage to call for and do what is right, without fearing as Reuben did, when those around me are choosing a wrong path.
My Prayer: Father, how wondrously You act, giving Joseph the dream to give him courage through the days of despair which lay ahead. Strengthen me also daily with hope in your promises for a new heaven and earth in which righteousness dwells.
Dangers of mixed marriage: Judah did not retain loyalty to Yahweh, marrying instead an unnamed Canaanite woman (v.2) beginning again the dangerous process of assimilation and syncretism. It was necessary to call the family into Egypt (chs 39-47) to consolidate its identity as those called into being by Yahweh.
Levirate marriage (Latin levir, "husband's brother"): The purpose of this widely practiced custom was to give the family a future by producing a child to carry on the family name and inherit its property. Neither Onan (v.9) or Judah (by refusing to give Shelah, v.11) were willing to take this responsibility.
Wrong means to right end: Tamar however had a legal right to an heir by Judah's son or by Judah and used deceit, a long-standing family tradition, to get it (v.14ff). Judah recognized he was wrong to have denied Tamar's right to a family and future (v.26).
In fact, Judah's refusal had denied himself also this future, as Tamar's son Perez (v.29) carried on Judah's line, becoming mission-critical as an ancestor of Jesus (Matt 1:3). Lacking faithfulness to levirate marriage, humanly speaking, Jesus would not have been born from this family line.
Care for Widows: The underlying moral issues of polygamy remain difficult, though scripture appears to favor faithful polygamy to abandonment. Todays' "safety nets" assist widows economically but cannot of course provide a family line. What then are we to do in such a situation? The NT urges the community to provide for widows and orphans and for the widow to re-marry if possible. But a family line brought to an end by the death of a husband is now accepted. Children or extended family remain responsible for the care of their widowed mother.
Personal Application: I will be an advocate for the care of widows and orphans. (Children of divorced parents also need special care but parents retain the responsibility, though in more difficult circumstances.) I will look for a fatherless boy to 'adopt' in some appropriate relational way.
My Prayer: Father, help me always see moral issues through Your Kingdom eyes, whether or not that view is common or resisted in a given culture.
Unjust slavery: Anyone without power or an advocate could (and can now) be sold as a slave (38:28), in this case to Potiphar, lit. "chief of the executioners" - not perhaps a pleasant man. Nevertheless Joseph served him well and God blessed him because of Joseph (v.5).
Joseph comes to Egypt while Jacob's family is on the brink of apostasy. Verse 5 is the first time scripture records God's name used since Jacob at Bethel (ch.35), perhaps 30 years previous.
Deception: Interestingly, Potiphar is introduced as a eunuch in v.1, common practice in the day to protect the king's harem. If literally so, Potiphar's "wife" as generally translated in vs. 7ff [but literally only "woman"] would be without the sexual satisfaction of an intact man.
It appears Joseph was not heard or perhaps not allowed to speak. Since Potiphar's "anger burned" (v.19) as the chief of executioners, is it likely Joseph's track record saved his life.
Joseph's Character: Joseph viewed sex with Potiphar's woman as sin against God (v.9). Joseph's character, which as a youth may have tended to self-centeredness and seeking his father's protection, blossomed in adversity as he trusted the Lord.
Even in prison Joseph's responsible character stood out; he was released from the stocks (Ps.105:17-18) and God blessed all those around him. God blesses many who don't know or acknowledge Him through those who do know and follow Him.
Personal Application: I will bring blessing, even unknowingly, to those who ignore or deny the Lord. I will serve consciously to benefit also those outside the household of faith. I will turn aside sexual temptation.
My Prayer: Father, give me strength in adversity as I look to You. Give me a heart to stand for what is right even if I stand alone.
Joseph's character was recognized by the jailor who gave him the responsible position giving Joseph access to Pharaoh's officials (v.4). Joseph's character is again revealed in his caring question (v.7), recognition of the significance of the officials' dreams and seeking the Lord in their behalf.
Striking also is Joseph's unflinching courage in speaking an unwelcome interpretation to the baker (v.19), which if wrong, could have cost Joseph his life.
Dreams: God uses dreams more frequently than we in the West tend to recognize. God speaks to those who follow him and to those who don't yet know him. The Bible as well as contemporary testimonies from every world religion abound with examples.
Personal Application: I will be curious about the needs of others (v.7). I will ask and trust the Lord for insights into the meaning of dreams, my own and those of others. I will remember and keep my promises (v.23); to make sure, on a list.
My Prayer: Father, help me distinguish between dreams of demonic origin, dreams from You and simple human processing. Please make clear to me when dreams require response. Please keep me from being led astray as I seek to discern.
Dreams: have a larger role in scripture than in many cultures today. Not all dreams are from God but we must receive those which are. Pharaoh's spirit was troubled (v.8) but Joseph (like Daniel) had confidence God was speaking and would make clear His purpose. God's purpose always requires a response. Deepening discernment of God's voice in dreams and scripture is vital to our walk with Him.
Faithfulness in Small Things: Joseph was 17 when sold a slave and served as a faithful manager in Potiphar's household (ch.39), then again in prison (39:21-23). 13 years later (v.46) Joseph received far greater responsibility, second only to Pharaoh (v.40). One wonders what Potiphar and his wife thought of this! They would be as amazed as Joseph's brothers soon would be also (ch.45).
Resisting Assimilation: Joseph was given an Egyptian name and wife (v.45) assuming he would become Egyptian. Yet Joseph did not worship the sun god of On (v.45) and gave his sons Hebrew names (v.50-52).
Assimilation is usually the route of least resistance and can take place with us hardly noticing (frog in kettle). Living out the practical truth of God's Kingdom may bring discomfort or worse but remaining faithful when do so puts us in dissonance with fallen human culture is critical to our mission.
Practical Application: I will reflect on dreams asking discernment to know if God is speaking or if the dream comes from human or even demonic sources. If from God, I will act on what He tells me. I will be faithful in small and larger things.
My Prayer: Father, how amazing are your ways. You lay your hand on the lowly to test and raise them up. Father I want to hear Your voice in small and great things and be faithful.
Searching the Depths: When Joseph's brothers are sent to Egypt for food (v.2) Joseph recognizes (v.7) and tests them (v.15) to see if they have changed.
Joseph had been sent by his father (37:14) and viewed a spy, now Joseph's brothers are charged with being spies (42:9). Joseph's brothers imprisoned him in a pit (37:34), now they are imprisoned (42:17).
Joseph sees they accept responsibility for the past and are remorseful (v.21-22) so gives food without cost (v.27-28) but withholds his identity and holds Simon back to be sure he will be able to see Benjamin also (v.20).
God's purposes cannot be thwarted: God called Joseph to rule and Joseph did rule.
The consequences of sin are inevitable in this life and the next. Yet, character can change and long term grievances rooted in bad character can be healed in the Lord.
Personal Application: I will neither assume character has changed or that repentance is not possible, but observe (or even offer small tests) to see if room has been made for God to work. I will use this passage to point out to those holding long-term grievances that healing is possible if they are willing.
My Prayer: Father, how deep is your grace and how much greater then stubborn hearts. Thank you that even after long seasons of entrenched character flaws you can overcome and restore. Father, soften my heart to those who I've come to see in only one way, rooted in the past, as you work in their lives today.
Shaping and testing character: Judah had initially suggested selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites (37:26-27); his heart had so changed he took full responsibility for the care of Benjamin (v.9). Jacob, having been deceived into thinking Joseph was dead, is now pressured into giving up Benjamin to Egypt (v.13), even as Simon remained in Egypt (42:24). Joseph's brothers feared similar enslavement when brought to Joseph's house (v.18).
Joseph's eating separately from his brothers reflected the Egyptians disgust with Hebrews, being unwilling to eat with them (v.32). This attitude easily translated into the enslavement of the Hebrews when Joseph died (Exodus 1:8).
Joseph's brothers were amazed by the steward's claim that he had received full payment in spite of finding the money in their own sacks, when Joseph showed Benjamin special favor (v.29,34), and by being seated in birth order (v.33). Fulfilling Joseph's dream, they bowed before him (v.26). Joseph, overwhelmed by this and the change in his brother's hearts, was yet not ready to reveal himself to them (v.30-31).
Personal Application: God works out his purposes in the hearts of those willing to be changed by Him. I will submit my heart to the Lord asking him to shape my character, even by difficult testing, to reflect and express His character and holiness.
My Prayer: Father, you worked in the hearts of Joseph and in the hearts of his hardened brothers. You can change every heart. Thank you for testing, even when unpleasant, as you shape us. Enable me to see and be shaped for Your highest purposes.
Joseph's final test: Joseph traps his brothers to see if they will abandon Benjamin as they had abandoned him. Or had their hearts changed that they would stand with Benjamin even under the threat of slavery?
The silver cup: Joseph did not use divination (v.5) but his brothers would expect Pharaoh's prime-minister to follow the religion of the Egyptians. They would also have wondered how Joseph could know details about their family e.g. (birth order, 43:33).
"Hydromancy (pouring water into oil) and oenomancy (pouring wine into other liquids) were methods of divination used in the ancient Near East that would have required such a cup." (NLT)
Standing with Benjamin: It was common in the day to stake one's life on one's word. Joseph's brothers offered to accept a harsher than normal punishment (v.9) involving, not only the guilty but, them all. "Judah's eloquent plea (v.18ff) is climaxed by his offer to take Benjamin's punishment on himself (v.33) - a beautiful illustration of what Judah's descendant, Jesus, actually did at Calvary. (Ryrie)"
Joseph knew deep transformation had taken place. Judah was worthy to receive the blessing of the firstborn (49:10) (NLT).
Personal Application: I will expect character change in myself and others. v.33: "Now therefore please let your servant remain, instead of the lad, a slave to my lord. And let the lad go up with his brothers."
Character can change. The Joseph story is told in such detail because character change is so rare and to be celebrated. What happened to Judah is available to all in Christ.
My prayer: Father, thank you for Your work in our lives; using even tests, hardships and pain, to conform us to your likeness. Help me continue to change - eagerly, straining forward to see opportunities - to grow in holiness.
In process...please come again...