Tag: Bible

Story 40: Rebekah Comes Home

Genesis 24:28-67

 

Abraham sent his chief servant to find a wife for Isaac. It was important that Isaac’s wife come from the same family… those who God had set apart in a covenant in order to bless the world.  The servant travelled back to the land that Abraham and Sarah had left behind so many years before.  The Lord guided him to a beautiful young virgin named Rebekah as she took water from the village well.  He knew she was the one for Isaac, and so he gave her bracelets of precious gold and asked to be taken back to her home.  She ran ahead and told her mother everything that had happened during her time at the well.

Rebekah’s brother, Laban, heard what happened, too.  He saw the expensive gold bracelets and the nose ring, and he knew that this stranger was a making a serious marriage offer for his sister.   He went out to meet Abraham’s servant at the well.  “‘Come, you are blessed by the Lord,’” he said.  “‘Why are you standing out here?  I have prepared the house and a place for your camels.’”

Nahor’s family treated Abraham’s chief servant very well.  They brought him into the house and washed his feet and the feet of his men.  As they set supper out for him to eat, he stopped them and said, “‘I will not eat until I have told you what I have to say.’”  The importance of this meeting was too great!  He did not want to wait another minute until he had settled everything.

 

“‘The LORD has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy.  He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, menservants and maidservants, and camels and donkeys.  My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns.  And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’”

“‘Then I asked my master, ‘What if the woman will not come back with me?’

“‘He replied, The Lord,  before whom I have walked, will send His angel with you and make your journey a success, so that you can get a wife for my son from  my own clan, you will be released from my oath even if they refuse to give her to you-you will be released from my oath.’

 

Then the servant told them how he had come into their town.  He told how he had prayed that God would show him who the right girl was by having her offer not only to give him a drink of water, but by offering to water his camels.  He explained how that was exactly what Rebekah did.  God had answered his prayer very clearly.  And after journeying for days over many miles, the girl the LORD had brought him was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother!

Abraham’s servant told the whole story, making sure they understood how God had guided him to Rebekah.  Then he said, “‘Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn.’”

Laban and Rebekah’s mother Bethuel said, “‘This is from the LORD, we can say nothing to you one way or the other.  Here is Rebekah, take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has directed.’”

When the servant heard that he would be allowed to bring this beautiful, chosen daughter to be Isaac’s wife, he bowed down before the LORD, rejoicing at His goodness.  This was all the work of God, who designed everything with such care for His chosen ones.

The servant got up from his praise to the LORD and began to celebrate by bringing out the great riches given to him by Abraham to pour out on Rebekah, the bride, and her family.  Rebekah was given treasures of gold and silver jewelry and beautiful clothes to wear as the wife of Isaac.  Her family received lavish and beautiful gifts as well as they prepared to say goodbye to their beloved child and sister.

The next morning, Abraham’s servant asked to leave and return to Abraham with Isaac’s new bride.  But they did not want to see her go so soon.  They knew they would probably never see her again.  “‘Let the girl remain with us ten days or so; then you may go,’” they said.

But the servant was ready to return.  “‘Do not detain me, now that the LORD has granted success to my journey.  Send me on my way so I may go to my master.’”

They said, “‘Let’s call the girl and ask her about it.’”  They called for Rebekah and asked her if she would go with Abraham’s servant right away or not.

Rebekah said, “‘I will go.’”  Wow.  What stunning faith!  While her family was reluctant, she was bold.  And so they sent her on her way.  The nurse that had raised her since she was a little girl went along with her, as did several other maidservants from the house.  She was not alone as she journeyed towards the home of Abraham and Isaac.  As she left, her family said;

 

“‘Our sister, may you increase

to thousands upon thousands;

may your offspring possess

the gates of their enemies.’”

 

Consider the courage of Rebekah!  She left everything she knew to go with a host of strange men to marry a groom she had never met!  On and on they journeyed across wilderness and desert through regions Rebekah had never seen before.  One evening, as the caravan of Abraham’s servant was getting close to home, Isaac was sitting out in the middle of a field.  It was evening, and he was meditating.  Out in the distance, he saw camels coming towards him.  It was a caravan.  He got up and started walking towards it.  Rebekah was on one of those camels, and as they crossed the field, she looked up and saw a man standing there.  It was Isaac.  She climbed down from her camel and said, “‘Who is that man in the field coming the field.’”

The servant answered, “‘He is my master.’”

Rebekah  realized that this was the man she was about to marry.  She covered her face with a veil.

The servant told Isaac all that had happened.  Isaac took her into his tent.  He married Rebekah and lifted her veil to look upon the girl that God had prepared just for him.  The Bible says: “‘She became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.’”

 

Story 38: For the Love of Sarah

Genesis 26

Abraham and his entire tribe continued to move as nomads through the land, waiting on and trusting in the promises of God.  Someday, God would fulfill his covenant and give all the land to Abraham’s descendants, and they would fill the land like the stars fill the sky.

While they were staying in the region of Hebron, which is a part of Canaan, Abraham’s beloved wife died.  She was one hundred and twenty seven years old.

Sarah had stood by Abraham in faith, venturing out into unknown and dangerous lands with him as they waited on the promises of God together.   When Abraham asked her to protect him by telling kings that she was his sister, she submitted to her husband, and she saw God protect her from her husband’s mistakes.

Sarah was a woman of great beauty, not only with her outward feminine grace that so beguiled kings, but through the dignity and strength of how she carried herself through life.  She waited in patient faith as she bore the disgrace and pain of being childless for twenty five years.  All the while, she trusted God’s promise for the heir that her body had not provided.   Mistake though it was, she was willing to give another woman to her husband in hopes of seeing God’s promise fulfilled.  But God had his own plan to provide, in just the time and way he said he would: through Sarah, the wife of Abraham’s own flesh.  Sarah lived to see her one and only son grow to the age of thirty seven.

The impact of Sarah’s faith on history is something so great that we can’t measure it.  Two thousand years after she died, Peter, the disciple of Jesus, wrote about her.  Here is what he said:

“Wives, in the same way submit to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.  Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.  For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.   They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master.  You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”

1 Peter 3:1-6

Peter described Sarah’s faithful life as his prime example of what is truly beautiful.  Those who have faith and do not fear, doing what is right, are Sarah’s spiritual daughters.  They become part of her family and her heritage of beauty to the world.  That was true during the time of Sarah and when Peter wrote those words two thousand years later.  Two thousand more years have passed and they are still true today.  God’s image of womanly beauty through the life of Sarah has stood true for four thousand years and counting.

In our story, the life of Sarah, Abraham’s great love, had come to an end.  Abraham went to her body and bowed over it in grief.  He wept and wept with sorrow.  He wanted to provide a secure and honored place to bury her in the Land of Promise, where they had journeyed so many years together.  The land was not his yet, but he had faith that it would be…it was the relentless, underlying belief that decided every choice he made.

Abraham rose from his place beside his wife and ventured out to visit the Hittites.  At the time, they were among the people who owned the Land of Promise, which they called Canaan.  Abraham went to see if he could purchase a piece of the land from them so he could lay his wife to rest.

God had blessed Abraham over many years of faithfulness.  He had great herds of animals and hundreds of servants that made up one of the most powerful, well trained armies in the region.    God had blessed him with great wealth through gifts from kings and the plunders of war.  Many of the wells for precious water throughout the region had been dug by Abraham and his servants over decades as they roamed the land.   Abraham and Sarah and all the people of their travelling clan had lived among the other nations for over fifty years.  The Hittite people of the region saw Abraham as a great prince, and Sarah was his queenly wife.  The death of this great man’s spouse was a very big deal to the Hittites.

When Abraham went to the gate of the Hittite village where business was done, the Hittite people gathered, eager to hear the famed man speak.  Abraham gave his request,  “‘I am an alien and a stranger among you,’”  he said.  “‘Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.’”

The Hittites replied, “‘Sir, listen to us.  You are a mighty prince among us.  Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs.  None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.’”

The Hittites gave Abraham, the princely foreigner, the right to bury his wife within the boundaries of their land.  That was a major victory for Abraham.  The people of each of these cities and clans held on tightly to their territory. Yet they graciously offered Abraham the right to choose from any of the tombs of their own families to take as his own.  They considered it an honor that this great man would have the grave of his family among them.

Abraham was deeply respectful of their offer.  He bowed down before the Hittite people who had gathered and said, “‘If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field.  Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.’”

Abraham would not let them give him a tomb for free.  If it came freely, they might take it back one day!  For Abraham, this tomb was a way of claiming the promises of God.  He wanted to establish a place in the Land of Promise that was the permanent resting place for his descendants, starting with the mother of the nation God had promised.  Abraham told the townspeople that he had found a piece of land he liked, and it belonged to a man named Ephron.  Ephron said to Abraham, “‘Listen to me, my lord, the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between me and you?  Bury your dead.’”

Wow.  Four hundred shekels was a lot of money.  In those days, a normal farm laborer might

make ten shekels of silver a year for his work.  He could work his whole life and never make four hundred shekels!  This was very valuable land, and Ephron had given a very high price.   Yet Abraham agreed to pay it.  He bowed low before the people to show his respect and thankfulness.  Then he weighed out four hundred shekels of silver so he could bury his Sarah in a place of honor and dignity.  Abraham had not only purchased the tomb, but all the land around it with a field of grass and tall trees.  Then he took the body of his beloved wife into the cave and laid her there.

God had promised Abraham the land, but the Lord had not given it yet.  Abraham had waited in faith all of those years, depending on God.  The first piece of the Land of Promise that belonged to Abraham was purchased for the love of Sarah.  By faith, he believed that one day, her burial site would be surrounded by the towns and fields of their offspring.

Story 39: Isaac’s Beloved

Genesis 24:1-27

Abraham was getting older, and he had lost his beloved wife.  Yet he had been greatly blessed by God in every way.  His mind turned to thoughts of Isaac, his son, and the future that lay ahead of him.  Isaac would inherit all of the vast wealth that Abraham had received from God’s hand over the years.  He would inherit his father’s power and reputation.  Most importantly, he had inherited the promises of God.  As Isaac moved into these high privileges and responsibilities, he needed a wife of his own.  Who would God choose for him to carry on the promises?

Think about how important it was to find a good wife for Isaac.  She would be the mother of all of Abraham’s descendants, the nation that God had promised.  Abraham had hundreds of servants, but for this job, he went to the one whose wisdom and decisions he trusted most.  This was his chief servant, the man whom Abraham had put in charge of everything he had.

Abraham said to him, “‘Put your hand under my thigh.  I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac’” (Genesis 24:2c-4).

This might seem like a strange thing to ask for, but that is simply because we don’t understand the culture of the Ancient Near East.   Abraham was having his most trusted servant take an oath.  They didn’t have cheap pens and paper or computers to create contracts with. There was no overarching governments to enforce the law in Canaan.  Things like spoken oaths and covenants took on an importance that is hard for us to imagine.  A sign of the seriousness of this oath was that the servant made his promise while laying his hands on the very body of Abraham himself.  This oath was binding.  It was a huge responsibility.  If the servant did not carry it out, it was not only a violation against Abraham, the great prince.  It was a violation against God.

Abraham knew the customs and lifestyles of the Canaanite people.  The women of Canaan would bring false worship that violated his sacred faith.  They had ways of living that would bring trouble and strife to their home.  Marrying a Canaanite would bring the family of Abraham and Isaac into allegiance with people who were idolatrous and corrupt…and their wickedness was stubborn.  They sacrificed their children to the gods as a trade to receive blessings from them.  Prostitution was often an integral part their worship practices.  The deeply imbedded habits, cultural customs, and beliefs would not go away because a woman married his son.  In times of pressure, these practices were seen as the answer to the problem.  But Abraham’s answer was to trust his God, to wait on him and pray.  Abraham wanted a woman who was part of the same clan as he and Sarah had been a part of, whose deeply felt beliefs and ways of life would honor their God and bring Isaac honor and peace.

You may remember that Abraham had a brother named Nahor.  He had married Milcah, the daughter of Abraham’s other brother.  In those days, marrying widows who had been married to a brother was common.  It was protection for the family.  It insured that the women in the family were taken care of in a vulnerable land.  Over the years, Milcah had given birth to seven boys, and those boys had grown and begun to have children of their own.  Perhaps a good wife could be found for Isaac from among the grandchildren of Nahor.

Abraham and his great tribal clan were many miles from the family he had left behind.  His servant would have to travel long days on camels to reach there.  He would have to bring a magnificent dowry with him that would display the wealth of Abraham and please the family of the girl.  But he would not bring Isaac.  The family was going to have to decide to give their daughter to Isaac without ever having met him.  The girl would have to leave her family far behind before she ever met her husband.  Abraham’s chief servant was worried that once he had found a wife for Isaac, she wouldn’t want to come with him!  He asked, “‘What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land?  Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?’”

“‘Make sure that you do not take my son back there,’” Abraham said.  “‘The LORD, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me an oath, saying, “To your offspring I will give this land”-He will send His angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there.  If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine.  Only do not take my son back there.’”

Genesis 24:6-8

 It is interesting that Abraham defined his life by the promises of God.  He understood the meaning of the events of his life according to God’s leading…and through his acts of obedience and response to God.  It was the LORD who brought him out of his father’s land and into the land of promise.  Not because of some psychological tweak in Abraham’s makeup.  Not because circumstances drove him there.  It was because of the hand of God on his life.  And now he saw that hand on Isaac’s life as well.

Abraham had great faith that God truly had prepared a woman to be the wife of Isaac.  The servant put his hand on Abraham’s thigh and swore to bring her back without the presence of Isaac.  Abraham had left that land long before.  It would not do for the family of God to return.

The servant swore an oath on Abraham’s thigh and ventured out for his task.  Some of Abraham’s other servants went along with him.  He took large amounts of gold and silver to bestow on the future bride of Isaac and her family.  He took ten of Abraham’s camels with him.  Camels were very expensive and a sign of great wealth.  If a family were to give their daughter to this servant, they would want to know they were sending her to a life of prosperity.  It was dangerous to travel through the wilderness with so many valuable treasures, but just as Abraham believed, the angel of the LORD was with them.

Abraham’s chief servant journeyed over the miles for many days.  He crossed back through all the lands that Abraham and Sarah had left behind.  It was evening when he arrived at the well of the town where the sons of Nahor lived.  He had the camels kneel down nearby.  As the sun lowered and the heated earth began to cool, the women began to come out to the well with their jugs.  They filled them up with water to use for washing and for cooking food for their families. As they each waited their turn, they chatted with the other women and discussed the day.

It was the perfect time for the servant to see the women of the town.  But there were so many of them!  Abraham’s servant prayed to God for help.  He believed that this task was an important part of God’s plan and that the Lord would guide him in it;

 

“‘O LORD, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham.  See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water.  May it be that I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too-let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac.  By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.’”

 

The servant gave the LORD a way to show which girl was the one that God had specially chosen to marry Isaac.  Now, it was very normal for a member of a town to offer to give a stranger a drink from the town well.  But offering to draw water for camels was a totally different story.  Especially if those camels had just come in from a long journey.  A camel can drink up to twenty-five gallons at a time.  The largest clay pots in that time would have held three gallons of water.  The girl would have to fill her heavy clay jug up eight times for each camel.  There were ten camels!  That means the right woman would have to offer to lift three gallons of water and carry it to the animals eighty times!

That was a very generous thing for Abraham’s servant to hope for! But the servant wanted to be sure that the one he chose for Isaac was truly the will of the Lord.  Any woman who would offer such help was not only kind and generous, but hard working.  God could work through the character of the right girl so that she would do this lavishly generous work for a total stranger.

And sure enough, before God’s servant had even finished praying his prayer, a young woman came out to the well with a jar on her shoulder.  Her name was Rebekah, and she was the daughter of Nahor, Abraham’s brother.  But the servant had no way of knowing that.  She was also very beautiful, and she was a virgin, a pure young woman at just the right age for marriage.  She let her jar down into the water and brought it back up again.

The servant saw her as his prayer ended and rushed over to her, asking for some water. She gave him her jug and said “Drink.”  She must have seen all of his camels, because then she said, “‘I’ll draw waters for your camels, too, until they have finished drinking.’”  Then this beautiful girl set to work, filling up her jugs in the well and pouring out the precious water into the trough for the thirsty camels.  Abraham’s servant watched her as she worked to see if she would truly do as she had said.  If she did, then his trip was abundantly successful.  She was the one that God had prepared for Isaac!

Rebekah filled the trough with water over and over until all ten camels were done drinking.  When she finished, she must have been tired!   But she was rewarded for her humble service to the visitor.  Abraham’s servant went to her and gave her a golden nose ring.  He took two golden bracelets and slid them on her arm.  Each bracelet weighed ten shekels each.  They were worth far more in gold than many farm workers could earn in a year.  They were valuable treasures indeed.    This was an act of great faith by the servant.  He didn’t even know who she was!  He just knew that God had answered his prayer!

“‘Whose daughter are you?’”  He asked her.  “‘Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?’”

“‘I am the daughter of Betheul, the son that Milcah bore to Nahor.  We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.’”

Wow!  The LORD had guided Abraham’s servant right to Nahor’s beautiful granddaughter!

The servant was overwhelmed at how perfectly God had answered his prayer.  He bowed down and worshipped the LORD, saying, “‘Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned His kindness and faithfulness to my master.  As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.’”

 

Story 37: The Faith of Abraham

Genesis 22

For three days, Abraham did not waver in his faith.  God had commanded him to do the unthinkable…to offer his own son as a sacrifice…the very son that God had promised him as a gift so many years before (see Story 36).

And so Abraham journeyed on through the desert with Isaac to the place of sacrifice, determined to honor his God with obedience.  And then he looked up.  Far off he could see the place God was bringing them to.  It was Mount Moriah.  One day, a great city would be built there by a mighty king, and it would be called Jerusalem.  But now it was a barren land with a high hill, and God was calling Abraham there.

He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you” (Genesis 22:5).  Did you notice that Abraham said, “we”?  The author made sure to record that for a reason.  Though Abraham had every plan to sacrifice Isaac, he was somehow sure that his son would be coming back home with him.

They left the donkey with the servants and walked up together to Moriah.  Abraham carried with him the fire and the knife.  Isaac carried the wood.  Did he understand it was for his own sacrifice?  Was he growing suspicious?  As they drew towards the hill, Isaac asked Abraham:

 “‘Father?’”

“‘Yes, my son’” said the man carrying the tremendous burden of faith.

“‘The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’” asked the son of his love.

“God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,’” Abraham answered. “And the two of them went on together.’” 

Genesis 22:6-8

 

They finally came to the place God was calling them.  Abraham took the wood from the hands of his boy and built an altar.  In silence, he took ropes and tied Isaac’s hands and feet, binding him and laying him across the wood.  What must Abraham’s heart have felt?  What were the thoughts that must have flown to God?  And what heavy anguish and agony must have moved between father and son as Abraham obeyed his LORD.

And what of Isaac?  What choices did he have?  He was a young man.  He could have fought…argued, cried.  Yet he, like his father, was quiet…surrendered.  Not weak, but powerfully meek, full of trust.

What a remarkable moment in the history of humanity.

Abraham picked up his knife and raised it into the air to sacrifice.  The blade was ready to plunge down,   but at that very last moment, the angel of the LORD called out from heaven. “‘Abraham!  Abraham!’”

Abraham stayed his hand.  Once again, he said to God, “‘Here I am.’’  He was ready to obey to the last.

“‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ He said.  ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son.’”

Can you hear the passion in God’s voice…the intensity we can see in His repetition: “your son, your only son”?  It moved God to see the faith of Abraham, to have captured so much of his trust, to have Abraham move on this earth with such utter obedience.  How God longs to be trusted to the uttermost.

God had radically tested Abraham all the way to the most extreme limit.  The powerful inner faith of Abraham was proven true through his outward actions.

The problem of this testing by God was never that Abraham would lose Isaac.  The problem was whether Abraham would rise to faith.  God watched His servant walk for three days, persevering in obedience, willing and determined to do exactly as the Lord commanded.  He watched as Abraham arranged the wood took the very knife in his hand.  There was nothing false about Abraham’s faith, he had followed it all the way to the worst kind of death-the death of his own son.  He was willing to give the LORD what was most precious to him on earth.  He absolutely trusted God with His Promises.

And then God moved on Abraham’s behalf.  This is what the Bible says:

“Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.  He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called the place The Lord Will Provide.  And to this day it is said, ‘On the mount of the LORD it will be provided.’” 

Genesis 22:13-14

How deep, and powerful those words were to Abraham.  How profound his gratitude when he spoke them!  Then the angel of the LORD spoke to Abraham:

“‘I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.  Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me.’”

Genesis 22:16-18

 

With Abraham’s radical obedience, God gave His most extreme promise.  All the nations would be blessed through his descendants…they would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore.

The faith of Abraham, the father of all who follow after the living God, has been celebrated for over four thousand years by millions upon millions of people.  It is good to remember that it was not a perfect faith.  Abraham made many mistakes along the way.  He gave his own wife away to two different kings!  But in the end, his radical, complete trust in God was the great model of faith held up by the rest of the Bible.  Read Isaiah 51:1-2,  Hebrews 11:17-19, and Romans 4:16-25 to see how the writers of the Old Testament and New held up Abraham as one of our great heroes for all time.

Just as Abraham had said, he and his son returned to where his servants and the donkey were waiting.  And they journeyed back to their home in Beersheba together.

God did not require that Abraham give up his son…his only son.  He simply required Abraham’s faith.  But two thousand years after the life of Abraham, God did require the life of His own Son.  It was on the very same hill where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac–Mount Moriah.

Jesus Christ was a descendant of Abraham, and while Abraham knew that his offspring would bring blessings to all the nations, he was not given the details about how.  It has been two thousand years since the death and resurrection of Christ, and so we can now look back on the lives of both men and see the unfolding of God’s plan.  God gave up the Son of His love…His only son…to pay the price for our ransom.  He watched His son in agony on the cross as He bore the sins of the world.  He did not withhold His wrath or spare Jesus…He did not spare Himself the pain of watching the suffering of His Child.   And all we must do in response is to receive this breathtaking gift from the Lord by the same faith that was modeled to us by Abraham, knowing there was no price God did not pay, and no request that He will make where He has not already claimed the victory.

Story 20: The Call of Abram

Genesis 12:1-9

Abram’s life was in shambles.  He was seventy-five years old when his father had died.  He was living in Haran, far from the land of Canaan, the place where his father Terah had hoped to go.  His beloved wife remained barren, which brought deep shame to her from everyone in their society.  Yet they faithfully bore the responsibility of caring for Lot, Abram’s orphaned nephew.    Then the LORD came to him.  What God said to him is one of the most significant things ever declared in history;

 

“‘Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’”

Genesis 12:1-3

 

Wow.  Read that again.  God told Abram to leave everything.  He was to abandon whatever life he had in Haran and go into a strange land.  But with that obedience would come overwhelming blessings.  God would lead him to Canaan, the land of his destiny.  And for his faith and obedience, the LORD promised to make Abram’s descendants into a mighty nation.

This promise was called a covenant.   If Abram obeyed, God would bind himself to Abram with a sacred promise that he would never break.  Now remember, when God speaks, things really happened.  That is how he made the whole universe.  God’s words also make things happen in the future.  Abram could be as certain that God would keep his covenant as he was that the sun would rise every morning.  And what a blessing this covenant would be.

Abram would be like Shem!  He would father an entire people group!  God also promised to make his name great.  God would curse anyone that tried to hurt him. And somehow, God was going to use him to bless all the nations of the world.  What a bright and wonderful hope!  But Abram had to choose to believe it.

When God promised to protect Cain after he murdered his brother, Cain chose not to believe.  He built a fortress city to protect himself.  He did it on his own.  When the children of Noah were wandering the earth, they were supposed to scatter to far off lands.  Instead, they stayed together.  They thought they could keep themselves safe apart from the help of God.  They tried to make a great name for themselves apart from God by building a temple.  They did it on their own.

Now Abram would have a chance to show where he put his hope.  He could follow in the ways of Cain and build a life on his own.  Or he could do it God’s way.  He would have to have faith to leave the land of safety and go out into dangerous regions of unknown people and their unknown ways.  He would have to trust God to protect him in ways his forefathers had refused to.  Abram would have to have faith that God could create something out of absolutely nothing.  It was impossible for his wife to have children, let alone give birth to a nation.  He would be staking his whole life on a miracle.  But in the end, he would have the highest honor.  He would not have to make his own name great.  It would be the gift of God for his righteous faith.  He would be rewarded for trusting in the LORD with abundant blessings. Those blessings would be poured out onto the nations of the whole world!

What would Abram do?  Would he rebel like so many had in the past, showing himself to be the offspring of God’s enemy?  Or would he stand in faith and see the blessings of God?

Abram proved to be a man of wondrous faith.  It was very simple.  He just did as God said.  The Bible tells it this way: “So Abram left, as the LORD had told him.”  He heard, and he obeyed.

How different was Abram’s pilgrimage from the writhing efforts of the people at Babel!   When Abram chose to step out in faith, the course of human history changed.  The rest of the Torah, which is the first five books of the Bible, will tell the story of how God kept His promise to Abraham.  He would raise up a nation through Abram, and He would take them to the Land of Promise.  The rest of the Old Testament, all the books after the Torah, is the story of God’s faithful relationship with Abraham’s children once they entered the Land of Promise.  It all began with God’s powerful, initiating promise and Abram’s first great steps of faith.

Abram’s nephew Lot went with Abram and Sarai, and they brought everything they owned with them.  Their servants came with them, too.  They threw everything they had into God’s plan!  They headed for the land of Canaan, and as they passed through, right into the heart of the land, God appeared to Abram again.  He said, “‘To your offspring I will give this land.’”  What a beautiful promise to a man who had spent so many years without children.  What a wonderful promise to see wide, vast lengths of lands stretching in all directions and know that God Himself had claimed it for him!  How do you think Abram felt as he looked out on the trees, the great river Jordan, and the mountains and valleys of Canaan?  Because God said so, the land was as good as Abram’s, even though all kinds of other mini nations and tribes, cities and villages of people were already living there.  The land was Abram’s because God gave it to him, and he is the Maker and Owner of it all.  Yet He also had a plan for how Abram’s descendants would take the land, and that time had not yet come.  For the two great blessings of God’s covenant promise, for a child and land, Abram was being called on to wait.

Abram believed the LORD and built an altar to Him.  Once again, Abram showed himself to be totally different from the other people and nations of the world.  Where they built massive cities and empires for their own glory, Abram left the city to become a nomadic wanderer, unknown and far away from the places where the powerful built their fame and their palaces.  Where the people of the world plotted to build idols and temples to false gods, Abram faithfully built an altar to the true and living God.  Just as Noah had proven himself to be righteous and faithful in all he did, Abram was showing that he was a man that God could trust to honor and obey his commands.  He was proving to be the right man to be the father of God’s priestly nation.

The family traveled on to a place near Bethel, where Abraham built another altar to the LORD.  Building these altars was a way of claiming the land for God.  The local people, called the Canaanites, worshiped demonic idols.  They polluted the land with their devotion to false gods and sinful lives.  But Abram had come as an act of worship to the God of the universe.  He stood against the religious deception and declared in a physical way that he was not given over to the fear and power of Satan’s idols.  Each altar showed Abram’s faith that one day his descendants would rule there.  And at each stage, Abram continued to turn to God in dependence and praise.

Story 18: Babel

Genesis 11:1-9

This next story explains the ways of the world today.  It goes back before the time of the Table of Nations.  After the Great Flood, all the humans really stuck together.  They spoke the  language of Noah.  They traveled the land together as nomads.  They lived in tents that could easily be picked up and moved.  They herded their animals along with them as they wandered from place to place seeking good water supplies and plenty of grassland for their animals.

As a whole people group, they began to move towards the east.  Finally, they found themselves in a land with a wide, open plain.  It was in a place called Shinar.  One day, it would become Babylon.  We call that ancient area Mesopotamia, but today it is the nation of Iraq.

The numbers seven and ten are often used as symbols in the Bible.  When there is ten of something, it can mean it is complete and whole.  When there is seven of something, it means it is divinely complete and whole.

Well, in Genesis, the direction of going east is often a sign of something, too.  It is a biblical symbol that should catch the reader’s eye.  Moving east meant moving away from the presence of God.  God is everywhere, but His special, intense presence on earth was in the Garden.  Cain moved east after his murder of Abel to the land of Nod and built a city fortress.  Now the entire human race roamed eastward together.  That was not a good sign!  Then they decided to settle down in the east.  That is even worse!  They wanted to stay far from the LORD!

Why would they want to move away from God?  Well, there were two reasons.  For one, God had told them to scatter across the earth and fill it up.    But they wanted to stick together like glue!  But there was something more to their move away from God.  They had begun to worship and obey other powers.  They were making idols.  They were already following the vicious demonic gods of the sons of Caan.  The rebellion was in full force.

After they settled on the plains of Shinar, the descendants of Noah sat down and made a plan.  They were going to build something great, something magnificent.  It would be a sprawling city with a huge tower in the center.  It would be a mighty temple to the pagan gods.  It would be like a massive altar of idolatry.  The tower would reach up to the Heavens as a pathway to the gods, and it would bring the people glory and honor.  Then they would be united as a people!  Then they would never be scattered across the earth, far away from each other.

In their fear of being scattered, in their dread of loneliness and isolation, they were finding their own solution apart from God.  Though he made them, they refused to trust in His loyal and faithful love.  They turned to the security of safety in numbers.  They turned to demonic gods because they thought they could get them to do whatever they wanted.

Humanity was created to obey the good and gracious God of the universe.  These humans did not want to submit to Him.  They wanted gods that would do their own will and give them their desires.  The demonic powers of this world are happy to lie and deceive people into thinking they will be helpful.  But they are really drawing humans into a trap of bondage and slavery.

These early humans felt powerful when they lived in their own strength and in their own way, and so they got to work.  They discussed how they were going to make bricks and use tar to hold them together.  They designed the city and figured out where they would put the tower.  They began to assign jobs to people.  Some would make the bricks, and some would lay them down.  Others would make sure everything was being built where it belonged.  Humanity was all hustling and bustling to get the job done.  Imagine the energy they were giving to these plans, all driven by their pride and rebellion.

How distorted the human race had already become!  They were meant to reflect the image of God and give Him glory, but they planned and schemed to bring glory to themselves!  Here they were, building a city whose temple was a sign of their total rejection of their God.  They were building it to protect themselves from having to obey God!  They were building a tower to Heaven so they could make themselves greater than God!  Can you imagine?  God made the trillions upon trillions of massive, flaming stars in the universe merely by speaking, and these foolish people believed that a tower made of brick and tar could compete against Him.

God saw all that was happening with the people He created.  He watched as they moved eastward, and He watched as they boasted and built their mighty tower.  And then God came down.  Imagine this!  The Almighty Lord reigns in glory on His exalted throne in Heaven.  Yet He chose to look upon these utterly foolish, proud people with concern.  As they swarmed around like ants, God came down to their puny little tower.  He came down to bring an end to their rebellion once again.  What a patient God of grace!  Even when they were still bathing in their sin, He acted on their behalf to keep them from becoming even worse.

The Lord had an amazing plan.   He knew that if He let the people of the world stay together, they would do everything they could to disobey Him.   Together, they would constantly break the good boundaries that He had set for them.  They would be united in finding ways of deeper and deeper sin and rebellion.  So God decided to split them up.  Listen to what the Bible says:

“The LORD said…‘Come, let us go down and confuse their language in

their own territories.”

 

The Tower of Babel was the beginning of all of that, and it started with giving them different languages.  When we read the Table of Nations, we were reading about the places that God scattered them! Yet God’s blessing to be fruitful and multiply was still on all the nations, and each of them grew into large societies with their own culture and way of life.

The rebellion and sin of humanity continued.  The arrogance and pride that the people had shown towards God at Babel would soon be turned against each other.  Their selfish hatred of God turned into a selfish hatred of other humans.  Tyrannical leaders like Nimrod, the descendent of Ham, would battle, kill, and destroy the peoples of other nations and language groups to create an empire and build cities for his own glory.  Most people would never have the power to do what Nimrod did.  Their selfishness would show through their hatred against their neighbors and their family members and themselves.  The tyranny of sin was alive in every heart.

Because of this sin, this horrible deformation of the heart, human society will never be perfect and stable until the curse is removed.  Humans will cling to each other in unity for protection.  But they also selfishly take from each other, which brings anger and hostility.  Do you have a brother or sister or a friend that you love to play with?  Do you still fight with them over toys?  Do you still get angry if they get to do something that you don’t get to do?  Do you get into trouble for arguing with them?  If you said yes, that is because you are a human in a cursed world.  All of us want to be close and to have unity with other people.  But we are all very sinful, too, and so we selfishly battle to truly love each other the way God loves us.

Your family is just a small picture of how this happens in the rest of the world.  Without faith in God and His strength to love one another, the government systems of the world are doomed to fail.  We can see this in the long history of humanity and the constant wars and battles between the nations.  Humans cannot turn away from God’s love and powerful peace without losing peace and love.  Anything that is truly good and right in the universe comes from Him.  It is His gracious gift.   A man named C.S. Lewis explained that turning away from the only true Source of goodness in the world is like refusing air.  Air is the only way we can breath and stay alive.  The Creator of the universe is the only source of love and good.  Rejecting His ways means turning towards works of evil.  It will always end in wickedness, violence, and suffering.

 

Story 17: The Blessed Line of Shem

Genesis 10

Shem was the son of Noah’s greatest blessings.  His children and their descendants were chosen by God in a special way.  He had five sons whose families grew to become great nations.  Their names were Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram.  From them more sons were born.  The Bible lists twenty-six nations that came through his line.  Each would have their own language and their own territory, their own cities, and their own cultures.  For example, the sons of Elam settled in what would now be Southern Iran.  Aram’s clan was probably somewhere near where Syria is now.

Shem’ son Eber had a son named Peleg.  The Bible points this out especially because it was through Peleg’s line that God would one day bring a man into the world named Abram.  God would rename him Abraham, and he would be the father of God’s chosen, priestly nation.  An Israelite would read this and know with pride that these were the men of his ancestry, the noble ones with a sacred blessing from Noah, the father of all humanity, and the favored ones of God.

Altogether, the Bible lists seventy different nations that are the fruit of the marriage of Noah and his wife.  If we looked at the nations that rise from Japheth, Shem, and Ham, it would seem that the most powerful and successful came from the line of Ham.  Nimrod was the great builder of the early cities.  His empires were the most powerful and wealthy in the world.  During Nimrod’s lifetime, it probably seemed the ways of evil and cruel men would have total victory.

It is interesting for us to look back now, thousands of years later, at what God has done.  The empires of Assyria and Babylon rose and fell.  Their bright, cruel lights went out over 2,500 years ago, and they have never been heard from since.  Nobody alive today can be sure if their ancestors are from Babylon or if they came from the line of Ham.  That has been lost and forgotten.

But there is an ancient nation that still stands.  Israel and its people are alive and well in the land that God promised them. They can still trace their ancestry back to Abram and even further back to Shem, the blessed son of Noah.  The Lord of all Creation taught the people of the world how to seek Him and find Him through them, the Jewish people.  And through the Jewish people, God would send the Savior of the world in Jesus Christ.  All of us who believe in Jesus are a part of God’s blessing on Shem.  While few remember the name of Nimrod or think about long dead nations called Assyria and Babylon, the name of Jesus Christ is proclaimed all over the world every day by those who are totally devoted to Him.  And that has been the case for over two thousand years.  When we see the evil nations and tyrants of the world today, we must remember that while the forces of evil may seem strong and powerful, God is constantly at work, preparing the way and raising up His own people to transform the world.  In the end, He wins.  And the amazing thing is we get to join Him and be a part of His great and mighty victories.

Seventy nations are listed in the Table of Nations.  That number is important. In the Bible, the number ten is a symbol that something is whole and complete.  The number seven is a special, sacred number that is a sign of divine completion.  So when seven and ten are multiplied to make the number seventy, it is a signal to the reader of the Bible that this was something perfected, complete, and divinely whole.  It bears the special marks of God’s sovereign plan.  Whether the people of the world followed the Lord like the descendants of Shem or whether they rebelled like the descendants of Ham, they were all still moving forward into history according to God’s will.  The Lord has a plan, and He is completely able to accomplish it in His exact time and way.  The descendants of Noah scattered out, filling the map of the earth, just as the Lord had said.  Each nation was given its time and place by God.  He is Lord of all.

It isn’t understood why they moved so far away from each other.  Was it because of their faithful obedience to the Lord, or was there something else at work?  And where did they all learn to speak different languages?

Story 16: The Table of Nations: Japheth and the Unspoken One

Genesis 10

The chapter of Genesis that comes after the flood is fascinating.  It is called the Table of Nations.  It tells of the people on earth that came from Noah’s three sons.  It starts out like this:

 

“‘The sons of Japheth:

Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshach, and Tiras.’”

 

The Bible goes on to list who all of their sons were.  Then it moves to the descendants of Ham.  They were:

 

“‘Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan’”

 

Once again, it goes on to list their sons as well.  Finally, the Table of Nations tells about Shem.  His sons were Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram.

Over hundreds of years, the children of Japheth, Ham, and Shem filled the earth with great nations.  They spoke many different languages and had very different cultures.  They each moved to different regions of the world and had territories of their own.

This was all very important for the Bible to teach.  It shows the link of all the people of the earth back to Noah and Noah’s God.  Every single clan and nation on earth started out knowing the goodness of the Lord of all Creation.  Any group that does not worship Him and love Him had to rebel and walk away at some point in their history.  Everyone on the planet has an ancestor that started out knowing the living God.

The Table of Nations also shows how every nation on the planet took part in God’s great blessings.  Because of God’s goodness, they were fruitful, and their children multiplied.  Even as they rebelled, He continued to show them grace by giving them the chief joys of life.  He cared deeply for them, preparing their lands and their languages, their blessings and even their curses far in advance.

There was another important reason for the Bible to have the Table of Nations.  Into this great mass of different nations and people groups, God was going to insert a very special nation that would serve them all.  He wanted to create a nation that would be set apart to specialize in the high and holy ways of the Lord.

This nation would be the nation of Israel.  They would be a nation of priests whose whole way of life and culture would be crafted around the commands of God.  The Lord’s holy presence would be with them in a very sacred, special way.  These people were meant to spend their whole lives learning and pursuing God and being near to Him. They would be transformed into a higher goodness than ever seen before in this cursed world.  They would be the model to other nations, showing how the human race was meant to relate to their Creator.

God would reveal Himself to them in special ways.   Humanity could not return to the Garden to walk with God in the cool of the day.  But the nation of Israel was to build a holy Temple in their most sacred city, and it would be like the throne of God on earth.  His intense, holy presence would honor them above all the other nations of the earth.

God would also reveal Himself to the nation of Israel through Holy Scripture.  They would write down His words through stories and prophecies and poems and sacred legal codes.  The people of this nation could draw near to God by studying His Word.   It would make a way for the fallen human race to learn about the Most High God, His righteousness, and His plans for history.   (When you read the book of Genesis, you read an important part of that blessing!)

The nation of Israel did not exist at the time of the Table of Nations.  But the Table prepares the reader  to be ready for the day when God would move in history to create His nation of priests.

As the reader looks at all of the names on the Table of Nations, each with thousands upon thousands of human souls, a problem arises.  How was God working to help free the wicked on earth from their entanglement with sin?  How was He going to stop the terrible curse?  He promised He wouldn’t send another flood, so what was His plan?  The nation of Israel was the answer.  They were meant to be a priestly blessing to all the nations that are on the Table.

The Table of Nations was written to show the people of the world where they belonged in the history of God’s work in humanity all the way back to the Flood.  But it was especially written to teach the nation of Israel its special place of blessing, leading all the way back to Noah.  They would be called out as a nation from the line of Shem, and the blessing of Shem was upon them.

The Table of Nations first tells us about the sons of Japheth.  He had seven!  Fourteen nations or language groups would come from Japheth’s marriage.  The clans of these different language groups ended up being the people who settled in a land called Anatolia, or modern day Turkey.

Then the Bible tells us about the children of two of them: Gomer and Javan.  Javan had a son named Rodanim, and his descendants were people of the sea.  They built boats and navigating the waters of the glistening Mediterranean.  Their ships took them farther and farther away as they settled new territories across the sea.  We believe his son named Elishu settled on the island of Cyprus.  Rodanim probably settled on the island of Rhodes.

The Table of Nations tells us how the human race grew and spread across the earth after Noah and the flood.  After telling about Noah’s son Japheth, the Bible teaches about Ham’s sons.  Remember, Ham was a man who rejected the ways of his godly father.  His heart was bent towards rebellion and sin.  The ways he chose were the ways of Satan.  Because of his wicked behavior, Ham and his descendants were under Noah’s curse.  The curse of their sin would show its spreading poison over time.  From Ham’s descendants the Bible lists thirty nations or language groups.

Ham’s sons were named Cush, Mizraim, and Canaan.  Cush was the father of a man named Nimrod.  He was brilliantly famous as a great and mighty warrior.  He was the founder of the great cities of the ancient world.  Together they made up Nimrod’s mighty empire.  Yet Nimrod was cut from the same sinful cloth as Cain and Lamech and Ham.  His name means, “we shall rebel.”  He built his empire on force and violence and his own will to power.  It spread across whole regions, eating up the land and everyone in it.

It was Nimrod who first built the cities of Babylon and Nineveh.  They would one day become the empires of Babylon and Assyria, and they would follow in Nimrod’s footsteps.  One of the reasons Nimrod’s story is told in the Bible is because both of these nations would become great oppressors of God’s holy people,the nation of Israel.  Assyria would one day destroy a whole section of God’s holy nation, the Northern Kingdom, forcing the people into captivity and slavery.  Babylon would do the same to the Southern Kingdom.  It would only be after Babylon was conquered by another nation that the Israelite people would be allowed to return to their land.  The Bible taught that these cruel nations came from the line of Ham, a people whose father chose wickedness over the ways of God.

Mizraim would be the father of those who lived in the region that became Egypt.  It would become a place of great idolatry.  They would worship everything from the sun to the Nile River to their very own Pharaoh!  Egypt, too, would become a great oppressor of God’s holy people, the nation of Israel.  But God would do a mighty work to free his people from their tyrannical king.

Another group that came from the line of Mizraim was the Philistines.  These  people would come across the sea to Israel to attack them and take their land.  In the famous story when David fights against Goliath, it was to defeat the Philistine army.

Ham’s son Canaan would settle in the land that God would promise to Israel.  They would become the great enemies of God’s holy people.  They would live in the land for hundreds of years in horrific rebellion, idolatry, and moral filth against the Lord.  Sodom and Gomorrah were in the land of Canaan, and their sin was so violently wicked that God would utterly wipe them out.  But it wasn’t just Sodom and Gomorrah.  The whole land would become contaminated with the toxic pollution of sin, so much so that the Bible says the land would end up vomiting them out in disgust!  That was a poetic way to say that God would use the nation of Israel to judge them for their sin and remove them from the land.

The Table of Nations teaches many things.  As an Israelite read through the list of Ham’s descendants, it would have been like reading through the record of all their nation’s greatest enemies.  The line of Ham produced the great violators of God’s way.  They were idol worshipers who forcefully imposed their immorality on the other nations of the world.  They did not simply wish to live in their own private sins, they pushed and forced their wickedness and idolatry on others, enslaving them and brutally punishing those who did not join them.

These stories tell us about things that happened in ancient history.  But part of the reason God put them in the Bible is because they teach us why the world is the way it is now.  The reason we have sin and suffering and shame now are the same reasons there was sin and suffering and shame in the past.  Our situation on planet earth now comes from what happened in the past.  Through these stories, God is teaching us how to understand our world.  The violence and brokenness and lack of love in this world started with separation from God in the Garden.  As whole sections of the human race rejected the perfect, holy ways of the LORD, they brought greater and greater wickedness and pollution of sin onto the earth.  Everyone bears the pain of this.  Every life is marked with hardship.  And right now many, many people across the world live in terrible conditions of loss, hunger, and degradation because of the systems of wickedness and oppression that are set in their governments and their cultures.

This is important for us to understand because it is God’s truth.  It is also important for us to understand because if we wish to be a part of God’s bright, holy transforming work of good against the powers of evil, we have to understand why the evil is there.  We have to know the enemy of God’s perfect goodness so that we can join the LORD and His holy angels in the battle against him.

The wicked nations and cultures that rose up from the line of Cain did exactly the opposite of what God created the nation of Israel to do.  Israel would be His nation of priests, and God would use them to bring His bright and holy presence into the midst of a dark and cursed world.  This nation would come from Noah’s son Shem, or the Semite people.

Story 10: The Curse

Genesis 3

Digital art of lizard eyes.

God had made the first man and woman in His image, and now that sweet relationship was broken.  The mother and father of the human race had joined the enemy of God in mutinous rebellion in His Garden Temple.  They did the one thing He told them not to do for their own protection.  The perfect rest and bliss of paradise and their capacity for intimacy with God was shattered by their sin.  They invited the knowledge of evil into their souls, surrendering themselves to cravings of depravity and selfishness that they were not created to bear.  They were enslaved.  They could no longer respond to God with their whole self.  They were meant to reflect the beauty of their God, but now that reflection would be distorted and diminished.  Everything had changed, and God’s judgment was on them.

First He turned to the serpent:

 

“Cursed are you above all livestock,

and all the wild animals!

You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust

all the days of your life.

And 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.”

 

Satan had used the snake to make his appearance to the woman and now it was a cursed creature.  And one day, God would utterly destroy Satan and his toxic power of evil.

Within these words of God as He cursed the snake, there was an amazing act of grace.  When the woman crossed the line into sin and away from God, she made a treacherous alliance with Satan.  The immediate effect was that she was filled with unbearable shame, which is the natural, inevitable cost of separation from God and His goodness.  It is the loss of belonging.

But now, even as He was addressing her betrayal, God claimed her back for Himself. Though she did not deserve it, she was still chosen by God.   She had blindly and foolishly given her affection and loyalty to the snake, but God still moved on her behalf.  He did not let her knowledge of evil utterly overwhelm her and blind her with destructive desires.  He limited the power of the snake to destroy her ability to know good and evil, and He put enmity in her heart against the serpent.  He created a way to transfer her desires and affections back to Himself so that she would be able to love her Lord. She was still broken, but she belonged to God.

The curse of the Fall was still on the human race. The mother and father of all humans had made a decision that could have brought total destruction on all of their children ever born.  But God stepped in and limited the devastation they had caused.  From that day on, all of humanity throughout the ages would have to decide; did they want to be the offspring of Satan and live in defiance against God, or did they want to be the children that God made them to be, depending on Him and living by faith?  Every human from that point on would either belong to the Kingdom of Darkness or the Kingdom of Light.  The two Kingdoms would battle against each other until the end of time.

In a way, Satan had succeeded.  Humanity was under a terrible curse.  There would a constant battle for the hearts of humanity.  Much of the human race would descend into horrific acts of evil, bringing incredible levels of suffering and pain.  But God is brilliantly wise and breathtakingly clever.  He took what Satan meant for evil and turned it into the occasion for the most beautiful act of mercy and grace in history. Right in the middle of God’s curses, at the very onset of humanity’s impending trial, He gave a bright and glorious hope.  It is the hope of the world.  One day, a descendant of the woman would have a Child.  That Child would crush the head of Satan, and the evil serpent would wound His heel.  The great enemy of God would be utterly destroyed by a Man, but the Man would bear everlasting scars for His magnificent victory.  God would use the woman who had brought the Curse on the world to bring the One who would destroy the Curse.

The Lord gave Satan his doom, but since the Serpent had not acted alone, the woman would have consequences, too.

 

“‘To the woman He said,

 

‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;

with pain you will give birth to children,

Your desire will be for your husband,

and he will rule over you.’”

 

When God made the woman in the Garden, He gave her the incredible gift of being the one who would bring new life into the world.  That is probably why Satan went after her in the first place.  Her remarkable body was the place where new humans would be formed, producing tiny creatures who were made in the image of God.  The love she shared with her husband would bring all of this wonder about.  Now that the Curse had come, that tremendous beauty became distorted.  Giving birth to children would be an agony of pain.  The loving partnership she was meant to have with her husband was also changed.  In a distorted version of what was meant for their relationship in the Garden, he would now rule over her.

 

To the man, God said:

“Cursed is the ground because of you;

through painful toil you shall eat of it

all the days of your life.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you,

and you will eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food

until you return to the ground,

since from it you were taken;

for dust you are, and to dust you will return.”

 

When God made the first man in His image, He gave him a very special role.  He was to be God’s servant king, presiding over the animals and cultivating the land so that it would produce good things.  Now that the Curse had come, Adam would continue to serve the Lord, but now the Curse would infest the process and turn it into burdensome labor.  What was meant to be a joy and delight would now be difficult and painful.

The very earth would be cursed as well.  It would rebel with thorns and thistles against the first man’s attempts to tame it   And one day, Adam himself would die and return to the ground.

If we look around us, we see that this is still true for humans today, just as Scripture describes.  The terrible Curse did not just fall on Adam and Eve, it fell upon all of their descendants for all time.  It changed the very heart of humanity, so that the image of God is broken in us all.  We were created to inherit the blessings of the Garden, but instead we inherited the effects of the Fall.  The Curse also fell on everything the human race was meant to rule.  The universe became warped and the earth was cursed.   The ground that was meant to provide abundant fruit has grown hard and dry.  Weeds have choked the life from the good plants.   Droughts and famines have come and people have gone without food for months and years.  Humans, animals and plants are all vulnerable to disease and pain and violence.  Death comes to all, and we all return to dust.  It did not have to be that way.

Many in the world might scoff at this story.  They might say it is only a myth, a story for children, or a lie.  But it is remarkable how accurate this story is in terms of the actual world as we experience it.  No other field of science or psychology has effectively described the human condition as powerfully as this story, and no theory in halls of academia have been so profoundly influential over thousands of years of human history.  But most importantly, this is the story as told by the divinely inspired author of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.  It sets the stage for us to understand why we, as a race, are always longing for something more, and always so profoundly dissatisfied with the world as it is.  Something deep within us understands that we are broken, that this world is broken, and that we were made for something more.  There is a universal yearning for the peace, bliss, and belonging of the Garden.

It is impossible to measure the amount of pain and suffering and loss that has come to us all because of the first rebellion against God.  The Lord is the only source of goodness, light and hope in the universe.  Tearing away from Him meant tearing away from His blessings.  But if the first humans failed so miserably when they lived in a perfect Garden, what hope would they have now that they were living in a cursed and dying world?

But God, the merciful Lord of all, was still determined to bless.  He understood every terrible thing that would happen because of the Curse, and He had an unimaginably beautiful plan.  God would work in history to fix everything.  He would spend thousands of years persevering with the human race to bring it back to the proper and perfect order that He intended.  It is a plan that is still taking place in the world.

The question for every person is whether they will stand on the side of the serpent or if they will stand on the side of God.  Will they live as the offspring of Satan in stubborn rebellion against God?  Or will they live as children of the woman, broken and humbled but chosen by God to live by faith in Him?

Everyone who joins the battle for the Lord in this cursed world will risk suffering.  It is part of overcoming the vicious enemy of God.  The war has been waged for all these thousands of years, but the final victory is certain.  One day, the God who made all things will restore all things to an even greater beauty than the Garden that was lost.

 

Story 7: Genesis 2: On the Making of the Image of God

Genesis 2

red apples on a tree

 

In the first chapter of the Bible, we are given the description of how God created the entire universe.  There were bright, breathtaking outpourings of light and power.  The range of what He made is stunning, from the sheer atomic might of the stars to the microscopic cells within a blade of grass.  In the first chapter, we learn how God spoke everything that exists into place.

In the second chapter of Genesis, the story slows down.  The divinely inspired author takes a whole chapter to explain a whole new set of details about how God created the human race.  We are not given details about how He made the sun or the trees.  We aren’t given information about how He formed the dinosaurs or what happened to them.  The Bible isn’t about their story.  God wanted to give more details about the making of humanity…the ones who were made in His image, the pinnacle of His creation.  The relationship of God with humanity is the central story of the Bible.  One of the ways the author helped make that clear was by giving us the details about how we were made.

When God created the first man, He took dust from the ground and molded it like clay.  He carefully formed the first person with His own hands.  Almost everything else in the universe was made because God spoke them into existence.  The land animals were raised up from the ground.  But for the first man, God came to earth Himself and crafted him.  Then the Lord breathed the breath of life into his form and filled this new kind of being, this father of humanity, and made him come alive.  Wow.  Try to picture that moment in your head.

And because we are all descendants of that first man, we have inherited his qualities.  When we breathe, we breathe the very life of God.  It is a holy and exalted reality.  Yet the first man was also made of dust.  He was a humble being, connected to the earth that he would rule and reign over. And so are we.  Humans were made as immortal creatures who are meant to live in deep, dependent relationship with the Divine Lord, but we are also made of earthly flesh.

Like the first human, all humans have a physical body like the animals, but we have been given many of the capacities of God.   We are not all-knowing or all-powerful, but we are creative.  As a race, we love to make things, we recognize and crave beauty, and we have an inherent understanding of right and wrong.  The smallest child has a sense of when something isn’t fair.

We don’t expect a animals to have a moral compass, but we are highly offended when a man or woman doesn’t.  As regal and as magnificent as a lion might be, we don’t expect lions to judge between right and wrong.  We don’t throw a lion into jail for his choices, even if the choice is to kill.  Yet across the globe and across the ages, humanity has expected the fellow members of their race to know the difference between right and wrong and to do what is right.   We may have differed on the specifics about what is right or wrong or the emphasis on what kinds of right or wrong matter the most, but there is literally no civilization on record where the idea of right and wrong wasn’t profoundly grounded within the culture. The desire for what is right, the human drive for justice, is just one of the universal human traits that comes from being made in the image of God.

God’s gifts to the first human were lavish.  Out of all the glorious beauty of earth, God chose a special place to prepare a Garden.  It was rather like a park, but not like the small grassy spots where we put swings for children.  This was more like a vast national park, though far more beautiful and perfect than any of the parks we have now.  This Garden was to be God’s Temple, the special, most holy dwelling place of God on earth.

This first man would be His priest, and he would dwell in the Garden with God.  He was meant to the guardian of God’s grand, living palace.  His job was to prune and protect it and drive out anything that was evil or impure. This sacred space, this Garden of the Lord, was set apart in a place called Eden.

Imagine how it must have been…lavishly lush and abundant, glorious vistas at every turn, filled with animals, flowers, trees.  Imagine how drippingly delicious the fruit must have been in this perfect world.  A great and mighty river flowed through the Garden and broke into four more rivers.  They flowed out of the Garden and watered the regions of earth all around it, making them lush and green.  We still know where two of those rivers are today.  One is the Tigris and the other is the Euphrates.   They both flow through the modern day nation of Iraq.

In the middle of the Garden of Eden, God planted two special trees.  One was called the Tree of Life.  The other tree was called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

When the Lord put the first man into this amazing Garden, He told him, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17).

That is a pretty serious message.  Apparently, it was an extremely dangerous tree, and God wanted the human race to stay away from it.  It was as if God drew a circle around the tree and said, “Do not cross that line.  This tree is not for you.”  Somehow, it was toxic, and God wanted to protect humanity from it’s poison.  We have a pretty good idea about why.  Once someone ate from the tree, they would understand evil.  The power of evil is aggressive and cruel.  It robs those it taints of their freedom to do right…it suffocates their ability to understand what is good.  It puts them in bondage.

It is easy in our time to get confused about good and evil.  Almost all of the examples we see around us have good and evil mixed together.  We find that even those we admire, when we know the whole story, are still broken and imperfect.  The great heroes of our history books are riddled with weakness and failure.  The confusion and pervasiveness of sin simply shows the brokenness of our world now that we are outside the Garden.  When the world was new, the distinction between good and evil was clear, and the human race had the freedom to choose only what was good…they could choose not to know what evil was at all.

Imagine that for a moment…to not even know the meaning of words like death, war, sadness, or suffering.  Imagine not being able to imagine doing those things that are so destructive to our lives…no temptation towards bad habits, no feelings of insecurity, no concept of cruelty or loss.

God knew that no human could bear the pressure of understanding evil without being utterly warped by its darkness. Only God is so strong and completely holy that evil cannot touch Him.  Only God can fully understand the depths of evil and still remain perfectly righteous and pure.  God knew that the fruit of this tree would give the first humans knowledge that their souls would not be strong enough to handle, for they were not created to bear the burden of evil.  They were created to reflect the glory of God and live in nearness to His perfect goodness.  He knew that if they were exposed to the power of evil, they would become slaves to it, and this slavery would entangle them with sin and death.

Yet He still planted that tree in the Garden.  He would not force them to choose Him…to choose the only Source of good in the universe…by keeping their choice hidden.  The option was there, but they had the freedom to ignore it.  As they continued to choose God over evil, they would give Him great glory through their trust.  They could have born children who never felt suffering or pain, who never aged or died.  We could have been free forever.

 

 

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