Category: Torah

Story 35: Hagar’s Tears

Genesis 21:8-21

Years of joy went by for Abraham and Sarah.  Isaac learned to crawl and toddle around on his little feet.  When he was two or three, they weaned him from his mother.  To celebrate, Abraham threw a great feast.

At the banquet, Sarah watched on as Ishmael made fun of her beloved son with contempt.  This was no innocent play.  Sarah could hear malice in Ishmael’s voice, and she was overcome with fear.   It seemed to reveal his desire to dominate and demean her boy…he was a real threat to her child.

This was not just about the normal conflicts that arise between brothers.  This was about the status of these boys and their future.  Ismael was showing contempt for the true heir of Abraham.

She was filled with anger.  How dare he treat her child this way?   The same disrespect that Hagar had shown Sarah was now showing up in her son.

Did Sarah consider the pain of Hagar…to be the unwed mother of Abraham’s first born?  Did the vulnerability of Ishmael occur to her…now that this new son had come along?  Did she see what this situation…a situation of her own making…was doing to others who had so little power?

Sarah went to Abraham and said, “‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.’”

Sarah wasn’t merely asking for Hagar and her son to be sent away.  In order to do so, they would have to relinquish their service.   As long as they stayed with Abraham’s household, the boy would have the right to claim inheritance from his father.   Abraham had raised Ishmael and made it clear that this was his son.  But if Hagar and Ishmael were freed, they would never be able to claim Abraham’s wealth against Isaac. Sarah was asking Abraham to grant them their freedom, but it was for her own selfish gain.

Rather than trust the Lord to bring about his promise…to raise up her son as the heir to God’s covenant with Abraham…Sarah panicked and acted out of fear and spite.

Imagine the despair of Abraham.  He loved his first born son.  They had spent thirteen years living among the their tents together.  How could he thrust them out into the desert alone?  Years ago Abraham and Sarah lacked the faith to believe that God would provide a child through Sarah.  Now Hagar and Ishmael would have to go through a terrible trial for their mistake.  Abraham took his deep grief to the LORD.

God came to his faithful servant as he agonized into the night.  He said, “‘Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant.  Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’”

These words reveal something interesting about the thoughts of God.  When God called Abraham, the call was not on Abraham alone.  The call was on his wife as well.  As husband and wife, they were one.  Sarah was an important part of God’s plan, and no other woman could stand in her place.  It was her child that would become the nation of God’s great promise to the world.  Her role as mother had tremendous value in the eyes of God…she was as irreplaceable as Abraham to God’s plan.  God told Abraham to honor her words in spite of the fact that they were marked by her brokenness and sin.

Then God spoke to Abraham about Ishmael and Hagar, “‘I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.’”

Wow.  That was a tremendous promise!  The Lord reigns in power over all, and he cared for Hagar, too.  He had made a promise to Abraham about his descendents, and it would be true for both his sons.  Ishmael’s descendents would grow into a mighty nation just as surely as Isaac’s would.  Abraham could trust that God would watch over and protect Hagar and Ishmael just as he had watched over Abraham for twenty five years.  They had a great hope that was grounded in the character of God…a great future lay before them.

Abraham listened to his LORD and trusted him to keep his promise.  He obeyed immediately.  Early the very next morning, Abraham brought Hagar and Ishmael out of their tents.  He loaded Hagar’s shoulders with food and water and sent them on their way.  Imagine the tearing on Abraham’s heart as he watched the two, small figures walking off into the vast wilderness.  A woman alone with her teenage son in a wild land of tribal nations who often lived in unspeakable sin.  Imagine his faith as he prayed for them and trusted them in the hands of God.  Imagine Ishmael’s confusion as his loving father sent him away with such sadness.  Why did he have to go?  Imagine Hagar’s fear as she stepped out onto the lonely sands.

She had nothing, but she brought with her the responsibility of a child.  Had she asked for this?

Hagar wandered out into the desert of Beersheba on her way back to Egypt, the land of her birth.  Along the way, she got lost.  She spent days moving in the wrong directions, not knowing how to find her way home.  She had been given plenty of food and water for the trip, but as the time stretched on, they began to run out.

How thirsty they became, and how her son suffered.  The days were long and the nights were cold, and there was no help.  Her son became weaker and weaker.   They weren’t able to go on.  Finally she set him under a bush. She walked away and sat down.  She was far enough away to so that she would not have to watch him die, but near enough to protect him and come to his body once he was gone.  Her heart tore in two with grief and despair.  Her body shook with the sobs of her overwhelming loss and sorrow.  And Ishmael lay there, near death, crying out to the God of his father.

God heard Ishmael’s cries.  The angel of the Lord came from Heaven.  The Lord heard, and he came.  He came to Hagar in the wilderness and spoke tenderly to her; “‘What is the matter, Hagar?  Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.  Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’  Then the LORD opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.  So she went and filled the skin with water and gave it to her boy to drink” (Genesis 21:17-19).

This wasn’t the first time the angel of the Lord had come to Hagar.  She had run away once before when Sarah’s treatment had grown so cruel she could no longer bear it.  She called out to the Lord, then, too.  After he came, she declared him to be “the One who sees me…” Utterly alone in the desert, a rejected servant sitting by a stream of water, she was seen by the God of the universe.

Now he had come again, and revealed a well of water that she could not find on her own.

The arrogance of Ishmael and the fearful selfishness of Sarah had caused this dark time for him and his mother, but his cry to God brought their salvation.  Once again, God came gently down to Hagar with great promises.

The LORD watched over Ishmael as he grew.  And God kept his promise to Abraham.  Hagar raised him in the desert and he learned to become a skilled archer.  And eventually, she found him a wife from the land of Egypt.

 

Story 21: A Trip to Egypt: There and Back Again

Genesis 12:16-20

Abram had moved out in faith because of the promises of God. The LORD told him to leave his country and his father’s household and go to an entirely new land.  God was going to raise up so many descendants for him that they would become an entire nation.  That nation was to be a part of God’s plan to bring salvation to the entire world.  But Abram was not alone on his journey, and he was not the only one who had to show tremendous trust in what God said. His wife Sarai would have to faithfully move out into a world that was very different from her own as well. They would have to put their hope in God together, acting as obedient partners in God’s work, reflecting the image of God in their love and support for each other.

They made the long journey to the land of Canaan. They were nomads, living in tents that were easy to pick up and move. They herded their flocks and herds with them, careful to stop in places where there would be plenty of water to drink and grass for their animals to graze on. They stayed in the hill country that fringed around the land of Canaan, careful not to threaten the tribes and nations that already lived there. Along their dusty path, Abram built altars of grateful praise to his God. They were monuments to the LORD, and monuments to Abram’s faith. He did not fight, fret, or manipulate for the land. He did not try to invade them on his own. He stood in faith, believing he would receive it freely from the hand of God.

They had been living in Canaan for some time when a severe famine came. Any famine is a terrible thing, as it means that there is not enough food to go around. Perhaps the famine came because there hadn’t been enough rain for the crops of food. Or perhaps a disease had come to destroy the plants or animals of the region. Whatever caused it, it was dangerous. Many people could starve to death. Many others would grow weak and ill.

Can you imagine the sense of responsibility and fear that Abram felt? Here was his precious wife, his nephew, their servants, and all their animals, and all of them depended on the wisdom of his leadership to survive. Did he wake up in fear at night, imagining his beloved wife having to go without food? Did he picture his animals growing skinny and weak? The Bible doesn’t say exactly which horrors drove Abram to fear, but we do know that he was overcome by those fears.

Abram gathered up his tents and moved his family down to the land of Egypt. The mighty Nile River was there. When every other region went without water because the rains had stopped, Egypt could rely on the vast flow of water that constantly poured through the Nile’s riverbanks. Their farms crops and their animals were often healthy and strong in the worst of times. The Nile was so important to the Egyptians that they worshiped the river as a god. In many ways, Abram was doing the same thing. In his fear of famine, he did not trust God to provide for him in the land of promise. He left the place of God’s calling to go where there was help that he could see and understand. Faith is believing in what cannot be seen. Abram was not standing in faith.

As they traveled closer to Egypt, Abram began to worry about something else. His wife was radiantly beautiful. He knew that other men would desire her, and he knew how vicious they might become towards the man she was married to. He was afraid. Here was another chance to take his fears to God, to show his trust and faith in the LORD. Instead, he turned to Sarai and put the burden of his fears on her. He said, “‘I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.’”

Sure enough, when they arrived in Egypt, the surpassing beauty of Sarai became known far and wide. Word spread as far as the high officials of the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They went to their king and told him that a great beauty had come to live among them. The Pharaoh sent for her. When he saw her, he agreed with the rumors…she was ravishing. And since everyone had been told that Sarai was without a husband, the Pharoah took her to live in his palace.

Meanwhile, Abram was treated very well for giving the king his sister. He received sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels, and human servants in gratitude for giving the Pharaoh such a lovely gift. What was Abram thinking? Sarai had become a part of the royal harem! The Pharaoh wanted to come to her as a man should only come to his wife!

Abram had put his wife at terrible risk. He had put God’s promises in danger, too. God said that He would make a great nation through Abram, but in God’s eyes, Abram and Sarai were one flesh. They were married, and the promise of the covenant was to come through their united flesh. It was meant to happen through the love they shared in their marriage. Sarai had a sacred role to play that was every bit as important as Abram’s! But now Sarai was at risk to have a child from a man that was not her husband.

Imagine how Sarai felt as she sat alone in the palace, waiting for the king to come. What was she going to do? Was she mad that Abram had forced her to protect him? Did she feel betrayed that he had not protected her as a husband should? And how was God going to come through?

The Lord is patient. As Abram struggled to become a man of faith, God would help him along the way, especially as he faltered and failed. God would not let Sarai be violated by the Pharaoh of this idolatrous nation. The covenant was unbreakable. God sent a serious disease to infect every member of Pharaoh’s house. Imagine the entire palace writhing in discomfort. They all wondered what they had done to deserve this plague.  Then Pharaoh discovered that the painful infliction had come because he had taken the wife of Abram.  So the Pharaoh called for him. He said:

“‘What have you done to me…Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?   Why did you say, “She is my sister,” so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!’” (Gen. 12:18b-20)

Wow! Now Sarai was safe, but the wrath of the Pharaoh was against them…and he had every right to be angry! Abram took Sarah and everything they had and left Egypt. With all the riches given to him by the Pharaoh, Abram had become a very wealthy man. He had added great amounts of animals and silver and gold from the Pharaoh.

Story 15: The Covenant and the Rebellion

Genesis 9:9-28

God did a remarkable thing.  He promised He would never bring another worldwide flood.  He said, “You can trust that I will never do this again.”  He made a special covenant, or promise, with Noah and his sons.  Humanity did not need to fear with every fall of rain that it was the beginning of judgment.  God was tending to the heart of His people.  What an amazing Lord.

There is no record in the ancient histories of any other god ever doing this before.  Many kings of the ancient nations made covenants and promises with their own people or with the nations they conquered.  Many kings made covenants with other kings to keep the peace.  But there is nothing in history that man has discovered that shows a god binding himself to his people.  It cannot be found in any other ancient religion.  But the living God over all creation-Who can do all things at any moment by His overwhelming power-chose to bind Himself to this sinful race of humans by making a promise.  He told them;

 

“‘I now establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you-the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you, every living creature on earth.  I establish My covenant with you.  Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood, never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth…this is the sign of the covenant I am making between Me and you…I have set My rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.  Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and all living creatures of every kind.’”

                                                                                             Genesis 9:9-15a

This promise was not only made to the human race.  It was made to every living creature on earth. It was the home of the creatures that He had made, and He would protect them from that judgment. The soft and gentle rainbows that we see when the rain falls in the sunshine are be the sign of His protection.

Noah’s three sons and their wives had spent a year on the ark with Noah.  Their names where Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  It was through their children that God would rebuild the human race.  The Bible can trace whole nations and civilizations that came from each of Noah’s sons!  Every human on the earth today is a descendant of Noah and of one of his sons!  These three men watched their father live righteously in the midst of a violent and sinful world. They had seen the power and might of God, and they knew that their father was of supreme character and worth in the Lord’s eyes.  It was his righteousness that saved them from drowning with the rest of humanity!  Their whole lives were lived in the most dramatic moments of the story of humanity’s curse and God’s work to save it.  They had a year on the ark to think through the work of God and their future on the newly cleansed earth.  What would they do with their amazing opportunity to be the fathers of all human society?

As they began life again on the earth, the work of humanity began, too.  Noah was a man of the soil, subduing the earth and growing things just as Adam had been called to do.  He became the first man to plant vineyards and make wine.

One night, he drank too much of his wine and got drunk.  He lay in the privacy of his tent in a drunken stupor, totally naked.  His son Ham came into the tent and saw him, gazing at his father in his shamed state.  He looked on and on with filth and impurity in his eyes when he should have turned immediately and respectfully away.  Then he went outside and told his brothers about their father’s state.  A righteous son would  have loyally protected his father, who was a man of great honor.  But Ham shamed and exposed Noah in his weakness and vulnerability.

Now, this may seem like a quick and simple mistake.  But the Bible tells us this story as a way to show the reader that there was a much bigger problem.  Ham’s behavior towards his father showed the evil thoughts and plans of his heart.  Disrespectful leering at a father can turn into a whole new set of powerful, perverse sins.

Whole generations can be effected by the evil that begins as a small, satanic seed.  Ham would powerfully influence his own children.  Just as with Cain, they would grow to be like him, and their children would grow to be like them.  Fathers pass the patterns and weaknesses of their sins onto their children, and the sin grows on from there in the family.  If the father does not repent and allow God to transform him, he is damaging far more than his own life.  He is a destructive force in the life of everyone he loves.  That is a very great shame.

Noah’s other two sons, Shem and Japtheth were so protective and concerned for their father’s dignity that they took a garment into the tent.  They walked backwards inside so that they would in no way see Noah, and they lay the garment over him.  They honored him with their modesty and protection.

When Noah slept off his drunkenness, he found out what Ham had done.  He learned what his two older sons had done as well, and he made a proclamation;

 

“‘Cursed be Canaan!

The lowest of slaves

will he be to his brothers.

 

“‘He also said,

 

“‘Blessed by the LORD, the God of Shem!

May Canaan be the slave of Shem.

May God extend the territory of Japheth;

may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,

and may Canaan be his slave.’”

Genesis 9:25-27

 

Once again, the first family of the human race was divided between those who would choose a life dependent on the ways of God and those who would rebel. What a grief for Noah.  What a grief to know that his own son would reintroduce sin into the world that the flood had come to wash away.  All of the descendants of Cain had died in the flood, but now it was clear that the spirit of rebellion was reawakened on earth.  Noah condemned it totally and completely with his curse.  Perhaps future generations would listen to his words.

The Bible makes sure that we know that Ham would become the father of the Canaanite nations.  They were a group of nations whose horrific perversion and sin would offend God for hundreds of years.  Their unrepentant rebellion would fill up the cup of God’s mighty wrath so intensely that it would finally pour out on them, utterly destroying their cities.

Yet there was reason for great hope.  The faithfulness of Abel and Seth was alive in Shem and Japheth.  Shem would receive the wide and great blessings of God, and Japheth would be invited to share in those blessings with his brother.  As Noah’s blessing said, somehow the generations that came from Japheth would be invited into the tents of Shem.

The great divide between Noah’s descendants would play out in the histories of whole nations.  It will be interesting to read on and see how the blessings and curses of Noah, a man appointed by God, came true.  For you see, blessings and curses are not mere words.  They hold some kind of genuine, prophetic power when spoken by the servants of the Lord.

After the flood, Noah lived on another three hundred and fifty years.  He died when he was nine hundred and fifty years old.  We aren’t sure how the ancient people lived such long lives.  We do know at the beginning of time, the earth was new and everything in it was full of God’s perfection.  Many believe that a special kind of deterioration of earth comes with the sin of humans.  As they sin, their wickedness pollutes and contaminates everything they come near.  Perhaps there was a time when the bodies of humankind were stronger and more whole because evil had not worked centuries of destruction in them.  Adam and Eve had no genetic history of cancer or heart disease or alcoholism to pass on to their children!  But after centuries of murder and deception, the spiritual disease of sin may have worked its way into physical diseases in the body.  Each family is marked by forms of disease their family line has invited through their sins of choice.

These are interesting ideas, but we can’t be sure about them because the Bible does not teach those things directly.  What we do know is that God’s Word is true, and we can trust that Noah and his ancestors lived to ripe old ages.

Story 14: The Flood

Genesis 6:9-16

All was not well in the world.   The members of the human race were living in malice, greed, and violence towards one another.  The people that were meant to live in perfect peace in a glorious garden had disintegrated into a society of terrors.

The descendants of Adam and Eve were in total rebellion.  They did not reflect the image of their good and holy God.  Instead, they lived in utter evil, shaming themselves and their families with their horrific behavior.  God was determined to judge them.  He was going to wipe them off the face of the earth.

This may seem brutal, but in fact, it was His right.   He made them.  He was the one who gave them energy and life every day so that they could continue to live.  Why should He make their lives longer if they would only use the time He gave them to do terrible things?

There was one man who rejected all of the sin and shame.  In the midst of that corrupt, disgusting society, Noah was a righteous man.  He was a descendent of Seth and Enoch, and he walked with his Lord.  Noah’s name meant, “rest.” Many believe that this means that the goodness of Noah gave rest to the heart of God.  How precious that out of all the people on earth, this servant could bring comfort to the Lord.  When the eyes of God were on him, He could rest from all the pain and grief that the wickedness on earth had caused.  A righteous man has the power to bring a form of rest that is like the Sabbath.  His goodness brings order and peace.

The LORD said to him, “‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.  I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.  So make yourself an ark of cypress wood’” (Genesis 6:13-14).  Then God gave him very specific instructions about how he was to build the ark.

An ark is a large boat, but this was going to be a very curious boat.  It had no sails to catch the wind and make it go.  It had no oars so that Noah and his sons could row it through the water.  And it had no rudder, so there was no way to steer it in one direction or another.  All it could do was float.  Noah and his family would have no control over where it went.  They would have to completely and utterly depend on God to bring that ark where He wanted it to go.  All God was calling them to do was stay afloat and wait on the LORD by faith.

The ark was to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high with a roof over the top.  It was huge, and that was on purpose.  Noah was told to bring his wife and sons and their wives onto the ark.  They would also bring at least two of every kind of animal and plenty of food for them all.  Then God would send a torrent of rain for forty days and forty nights.  The whole earth would be flooded.  Every human and animal would die except for the ones on the boat.  That way, when the rains stopped and the floodwater went down, Noah and his family and the animals could start the world all over again.    Noah and his wife and children could begin a new culture of human society where God was honored and obeyed.

The only problem was, the rain hadn’t started yet.  What if Noah built that massive ark and the rain never came?  He would be the laughingstock of human society!  Noah was going to have to build the ark by faith.  He believed what God said.  The Lord was going to send the rain, and so Noah began to build.

Noah’s faith in God was pretty amazing.  It is also amazing to think about what God was trusting Noah to do.  God had made a promise to Eve that one of her descendants, one of her seed, would be the one who would crush the head of the serpent.  It would fall to a human to break the awful power of the curse.  Now God was going to wipe out all the seed of humanity on earth except for one family and start over.  But what if Noah, too, rebelled?  How would God keep His promise to Eve?  What an amazing thing to have lived a life of such righteous dependence on God that the Lord could trust Noah to carry the burden of His promise with him!

Perhaps we are beginning to see a pattern in the Bible.  Even when almost every human utterly rebels, there are a few who live by faith.  They are such a dignified treasure and magnified nobility that they make it all worth it to God!  And God calls them into a rarefied partnership with Himself to accomplish His purposes.  The entire human race was an agony to the Lord because of their sin, but Noah’s faith was a priceless blessing to the Creator of the universe. God and Noah were in a covenant partnership together to bring about the will of the Lord.

Noah built the boat and waited on the Lord for over a hundred years.  All that time, the people on earth knew that a righteous man had been warned that a flood was coming.  In all that time, they could have repented.  But they didn’t.  Imagine how those arrogant sinners scoffed at him.    When the time of God’s judgment had come, only Noah and his family were ready.  This is what the Lord told Noah;

 

“‘Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.  Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.  Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.’”

Genesis 7:1-4

 

Everything happened just as the LORD said it would.  Noah and his family climbed on board and the animals entered.  Every kind of animal you can imagine was there.  The roars and chirps and hoots and howls must have been incredible!  After seven days, the floodwaters began to fall from the sky, and the rain did not stop for forty days and forty nights.

The scene on the ark was full of life, but the scene on the ground was very different.  Imagine thousands of people, wretched and determined to sin against God, now wailing and drowning as He cleansed the earth of them.  They would not be allowed to pollute God’s creation with their sin any longer.

Imagine their home and huts, the trees and livestock and farms all drowned under the downpour of endless water.  Imagine the children doomed by the sin of their parents.  These parents would have trained their children up in rebellion.  They would have taught them their wicked ways.  And so God protected the earth and the future of humanity from them.  He is a righteous Judge.

The Bible says that once Noah’s family and all the animals were on the ark, “…the Lord shut them in.”  Somehow, God himself shut the door to the ark behind Noah.  At that moment, a sharp line was drawn between those that follow the Lord and those who demand rebellion.  The family of Noah was the remnant of God, and the protection of the Lord was upon them.

Story 8: The Love of Adam

Genesis 2:18-25

Adam and Eve in the eden

 

According to Scripture, every aspect of our universe came bounding out of the perfect will of God in an outpouring of energy, beauty, and the substantial, concrete things that make up our Reality.  God is so powerful that all He had to do was speak and His will was set in motion.  The natural world is a revealing and breathtaking revelation of the character and brilliance of our Almighty Lord.   The more we learn about the natural order of our world, from the genius of a human cell to the majestic wonder of the cosmos, the more stunning this revelation becomes.  God set this magnificent universe into motion, and He said that it was good.

We know this to be true because it resonates in our souls.  All we have to do is watch the sun setting on a sparkling sea, a falling star gliding across an inky black sky, or a soft rain falling on a field of lush, green grass in spring to know that whatever troubles are raging in this life, the natural world is profoundly right, pure, and good.  These good things are evidence of God’s ongoing grace in spite of the sins that humanity has brought into our world…and they are the promise of a new world to come.

When God had finished speaking the abundance of the world into place, He began to create the beings for which He had created everything else.  They were to be given an unspeakably great honor, the privilege of being made in the very image of God.  This first man and woman were then commanded to be fruitful and fill up the world with their children…the offspring that would bear the same image and the same task of acting as God’s stewards over the earth. And this incredible process, the bringing of children into the world, God blessed, conferring upon it His empowering favor and grace.

The story of how God created the entire universe is told to us in Genesis 1.  In the second chapter of Genesis, the story slows down.  It focuses on the details of the story of how God created the first humans.  For the first part of that story, see Story 7.  God came to earth and formed the first man with His own hands from the dust of the earth.  He put the first man in a vast, beautiful Garden where there was two trees.  The first was the Tree of Life, and the second was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  God told the first man that out of all the other trees in the Garden, he was never to eat from that tree.  He was never meant to be exposed to the wages of evil, or even the knowledge of it.

Then the Lord said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  And God began to bring all the animals that walk on the earth and birds that fill the air to the first man.  God had named the stars and sky and the day and night, and He would rule over them for all time.  Now God gave the man the role of naming all the animals. Man would serve God by ruling over them.  There is power in the giving of a name.

The man named the birds and the livestock and all the creatures that roam in the wild.  Imagine the parade!  What an astonishing wonder as the tiger, the bear and the parrots of the trees came before the first man.  What a regal and delightful position to rule over such fascinating and wonderful creatures!

Yet as delicate or fearsome or fascinating as each new creature was, it was clear that none of them could be a true companion for this man.  None of them were a true match for the one who was made in the image of God.  How lonely the man must have become as each creature came and went.  None of them seemed to fit!  What was this ache…this longing for something more?

The Lord already knew this was going to happen, and He already had a plan.  For you see, God knew that it was important for the man to learn that he was lonely.  It was important for him to understand just how much he needed the gift that God was about to give him.  God was creating a hunger in the man as he waited for the gift so that when he received it, he would overflow with gratefulness and appreciation for her.

The Lord put the first man into to a deep sleep.  Then He did an operation.  He opened up the man’s chest, took out one of his ribs and closed his body up again.  Then God used the rib to form another creature, crafting a wonder of great and powerful beauty.  She was the final creation that God made in all of the universe, the sparkling crown, and her ravishing grace would awaken a special vibrancy of life in the heart of the first man.  The Lord made a woman, a bride, and brought her to the first man.  When the man saw her, his response was immediate.  There was no questioning, no doubting, no fear.  He declared:

 

“‘This is now bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called ‘woman,’

for she was taken out of man.’”

Gen. 2:23

The man named her “woman.”  Her name came from his name.  He gave her his own name, showing the deep and permanent connection between himself and his wife.  It was an unbreakable gift. They were named for their bond of love and commitment to each other.

Through the blessings of marriage, this man and woman became one soul, and their love and devotion to each other was a basic part of their ability to bless the world.

Then the Bible said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”  Now, why would God say that?  The first humans didn’t have a mom or dad.  They were the first mom and dad of every human to come.  But God was preparing for their relationship to be His example of the primary, central relationship in human life.

The love between a mother or father and their child is terribly important, but the relationship of marriage has a special position in God’s ordained plan for the human race.

Just as God creates each new person, when a man and a woman marry, God transforms each of them to become a new creation together.  They are one.  They are one flesh.  Their love for each other is designed to especially reflect the image of God in ways no other relationship can.  Through their love for one another, God would create new lives, new souls bearing the image of God.  As parents, it was their role to raise children in the strength of the Lord so they would grow and become wonderful companions to the person God made for them.  The bonds of marriage and the sacred importance of the love between a man and his wife are embedded in the structure of the universe.

This amazing gift, this exalted, sacred miracle and treasure was meant not only for the first man and the first woman.  This gift of creation would work in their descendants as the Lord brought each bride to her husband.  The vibrancy of the love we so often see between a groom and his bride are delights that call us back to the Garden of Eden, reminding us of the perfect wonder and pleasure that God offered to humanity at the dawn of creation.  The first husband and the first bride joined together in perfect unity; there was no shame or embarrassment between them.  They were completely pure in the delight of their nakedness as they gave their love to one another before God in their Garden Temple.

Story 5: Genesis 1:27-2:3: Eden…the way it was meant to be

Genesis 1:27-2:3

The Forest of Heaven

Let’s think for a minute about what God did when He created the first humans. There are very few things that truly deserve to be called marvelous, but this is one of them. It is worth going over and repeating in our minds. It takes time and thought for it all to sink in because things are so very different now. We must meditate on the wonder of what God made in the beginning so that we can understand who we truly are…and so we can understand the devastation of what was lost. We must mourn over the tragedy of that which was lost so that we can then long with great hope for the time when God will restore all things.

The Lord, the Divine King over all creation, crafted our vast cosmos in order to give it as a magnificent gift and home to the crown of His creation…the human race. Humans were made in the very image of God, with a high and tremendous worth, distinct and different from anything else in all creation. In the beginning, they were able to respond rightly to their worthy God with exuberant adoration. They were given keen minds that could think great thoughts with God and understand His holiness, creativity, and purposeful plans. The Lord would reflect His magnificent qualities through humanity as they enacted His good, pleasing, and perfect will.

God created His people to live in perpetual nearness to Him; they would constantly absorb His abundant love and express it back to Him through their worship and total dependence. Like the sun’s outpouring of light and warmth, God’s wisdom, righteousness, and love would pour out on them, and they would reflect His light to the world.   The human race would act as God’s royal servants, working together with Him in perfect unity. It would be a perfect world.

In this land where God was the only King and His servants walked with Him in perfect unity, there was no pain or tears. There was  no temptation to sin or tp make a choice apart from the goodness of God. There was the potential that death would never happen. The first humans had glorious bodies of robust, stunning beauty that would never fade or age. God created them so they would only hunger after what was good and pure and right.

Think about that! They had a chance at never-ending security and peace. If they obeyed God’s merciful and righteous directions, humanity wouldn’t even know the meaning of the words “evil” or “sin” or “pain.” They wouldn’t even be able to imagine those terrors. Their hearts would be able to live totally free from ever doing anything wrong. And no one would be tempted to treat anyone else with anything other than pure love. They would live in the solid, yet light, bright happiness of constant praise and worship of His holy name. This is what the Bible says:

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it–I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”

“God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the sixth day.”

Genesis 1:28-2:3

Wow. God’s powerful work of creation-the plants and animals, the fish and birds and fruit-were all lavish gifts from the Lord to humanity. They would be fed the finest fresh fruit, created to perfectly fit the needs of their perfect bodies. They were told to have many children, and all of their children would be perfectly healthy as well. There would be no colds or flu. Their children would grow up in a perfect world and would have their own flawless children. Pretty soon, there would be many hundreds and then thousands of people on the earth enjoying God’s lavish blessings.

Thousands of years after God made the universe, another man, a descendent of Adam and a great king, would write a beautiful song about the time of God’s Creation. It can teach our hearts to praise God for the world He planned for us in the beginning;

“O LORD, our Lord,

how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.

 When I consider your heavens,

the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars,

which You have set in place,

what is man that You are mindful of him,

the son of man that You care for him?

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings

and crowned him with glory and honor.

You made him ruler over the works of your hands;

and put everything under his feet;

all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air,

and the fish of the sea,

all that swim the paths of the seas.

“O LORD, our Lord,

how majestic is your name in all the earth!’”

Psalm 8:1, 3-9

 

Story 4: Genesis 1:24-31: The Image of God in Humanity

Genesis 1:24-31

After Michelangelo - Adam and God

When God spoke most of the universe into place, it took five days (See here and here for more details). It was an abundance of creation: light and darkness, the sun, moon, and stars, the boundaries of land and ocean, the flourishing of plant life, the birds winged in flight, the flashing of the fish in the sea…all of these remarkable,  breathtaking beauties, bounded out of God’s spoken word from nothing…nothing but His perfect will. On the sixth day, He continued His creative work:

“And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds; livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.”

The air and the seas were already filled with life. Now the Lord was making creatures for the land. Ponder in wonder at the incredible, diverse creativity of His designs. Did the angels watch the polar bear come to life? Did they see the first elephant swing it’s trunk? Did they notice the monkeys in the trees? Did the lion roar when it was made? How the angels must have enjoyed their first look at the giraffe and hippo and camel (See Job 38-39).

It is interesting that right from the beginning, God not only made different kinds of animals, but He gave them different jobs. Some animals were meant to be wild. Others were made to be domesticated, like cattle, fit for humans to own and raise. They were an important part of God’s plan to provide for the people He was about to create, just as the plants were a part of how God provided for the animals.

The Lord was not finished with His creation when He was done with the animals. In fact, He was building up to something.  God was about to present the very crown…the highest point…the great delight of what His creation was for.  The universe was a magnificent Temple that displayed the brilliance of the King of Creation, and it was time to create its greatest treasure.

Here is what Scripture says: 

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.

So God created man in His own image,

in the image of God He created him;

male and female He created them.”

Genesis 1:26-27

Wow. God was going to make us. When God began to make humans, everything changed. For almost everything else, the Lord said, “Let there be…” and whatever it was came bounding from His powerful Word. But now, the Bible tells about a mysterious conversation of God, discussing His plans ahead of time. For everything else God made, we learn about it in quick,bright glimpses. But when the Bible tells how God made humanity, the story slows down. It pauses. It shows how careful and deliberate the Lord was about creating this one, final creature. It stops to show that this was a serious, solemn moment, even for God.

There was something very special and unique about humanity that sets every one of us apart from the rest of creation. In fact, the whole point of the rest of God’s other creation work was to prepare a home for us where we could live in a special relationship with Him.

The reason humanity is so special is that God fashioned us in His own image. Humans were made to be a reflection of the Divine. Think about what happens when you look in the mirror. What you see is an image of yourself. You see what you look like. Yet the image of you in the mirror is not you. You are still standing outside the mirror looking at it. Anyone who looks at your reflection will learn a lot of things about you. They will see the color of your eyes and hair and how long or short your nose is. If they watch carefully, they will learn many things about your personality as well. They might see kindness or anger or pain. A reflection in a mirror can tell us many things about who we are.

Humans were made to act as a reflection of God. We have the capacity to love, to use our imaginations and create in response to God. We have minds that are rational, we can speak, write, and sing. We have souls. We can delight in the preciousness of a puppy, but unlike a puppy, we can stand in awe of the beauty of a sunset. We have abilities that set us apart from all of the other creatures God made, and we were given a very special relationship to them.

On the very first day of the creation of the race, humanity was given the authority to display to the universe what God is like through our faithful care over creation. It is humanity’s rightful job to take care of God’s world. We are meant to rule the earth for Him. It is the highest position and greatest honor. At the time of our making in the Garden, we had the ability to do exactly what God wanted us to do.  We had the capacity to rule and reign in perfect obedience to God as His royal stewards. Every good and wonderful thing we did was meant reflect God’s good, pleasing and perfect will. We had total freedom to be perfectly good.

Imagine how nice that would be.  Imagine never having to struggle against your weaknesses, sins, or addictions…imagine never having to know what it means to struggle.  That is the way it was for us in the Garden.

When you look in the mirror, what happens when you walk away? Does your image stay there? Of course not.   It disappears. In order for your reflection to stay in a mirror, you have to keep yourself in front of it. The same thing is true for humans to reflect the glory of God. We were made in God’s image, but we were built in a way that requires the nearness of God in order to reflect Him.

When the world was new, this wasn’t a problem. When the Lord made the first man and woman they were constantly and perfectly near to His amazing love. They had perfect freedom to walk in the tremendous goodness of God. There was no struggle against sin, no slavery to evil, no weakness to stop them from being perfect images of His radiant life. The holy Creator was near to shine His beautiful image through His empowered servants.

What a glorious world that must have been.

Yet we know this is not the way of the world now.

What happened?

How was it all lost?

 

Seeing Jesus:  Think about this-the same hands that crafted the first man from the dust would one day have permanent, eternal scars because He died for this man’s sin. God knows all things, past, present, and future. He made us knowing he would die for us. God the Father made us knowing all about the surpassing, aching beauty of the sacrifice of His own Son. God the Son made us knowing the magnificent victory of the resurrection and the splendor of His ascension as He rose to take His seat at the right hand of His Father. God would turn even the rebellion of man against Him into a work of beauty through the power of His mercy and grace. In all things, Christ would be exalted and glorified.

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