Tag: Genesis

Story 42: Like Father Like Son: The Choices of Abraham and Isaac

Genesis 26

In the early days of Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage, long before they had their twin boys, they went through many trials and struggles.  At one point, a great famine came upon the land, and it grew more and more difficult for families to find enough to eat.  It was getting dangerous.  The lives of God’s chosen family was at risk.  What was Isaac going to do?

Well, he packed up his family and his servants, his tents and his livestock and all of their valuable treasures. They began a journey to Egypt, where the Nile River poured out an unending water supply.  It brought plentiful harvests to feed the Egyptian people and their animals.  Along the way, Isaac and Rebekah passed through the land of the Philistines.  While they were there, Isaac heard from God.

The LORD told Isaac not to go down to Egypt.  Isaac was to stay in the Land of Promise.

Wow.

That would take tremendous courage and faith.  It might mean hunger for his clan.  It would probably mean the death of many of their animals.  Yet Isaac was faithful.  He went to the region ruled by Abimelech, who live in the midst of the Promised Land.

Abimelech is a name we have already heard before.  Abraham and Sarah met a man of that name in their travels.  He was a king, and Abraham was afraid of him.  Sarah was so beautiful that Abraham feared the king would kill him if he learned that Abraham was her husband.  So he told the first Abimelech that Sarah was his sister, and Abimelech took her into his house to become his wife.  Wow!  Can you imagine what that was like for Sarah?  But God saved the day.  He came in a dream and told Abimelech that Sarah was Abraham’s wife, and Abimelech sent her back to her husband.

Now Isaac was face to face with another tribal leader.  Some scholars suggest that he was probably the grandson of the first Abimelech.  This king called himself the king of the Philistines in the land of Gerar.  God told Isaac not to journey any further, but to rest in Abimelech’s land with his family.

Then something amazing happened.  God appeared to Isaac in a grand theophany.  “Theophany” is a fancy word to describe when God appears to a human.  God showed himself to Abraham in a theophany three times, and each time it was a great marker in the life of his chosen servant.  God came to communicate his covenant promises to Abraham, which should tell us how incredibly important those promises were.  Now the LORD had come to Isaac to pass the covenant of Abraham on to him. The Lord said to Isaac;

 

“‘Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you.  For to you and your descendents I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.  I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.’  So Isaac stayed in Gerar.”

Genesis 26:2b-6

 

Wow. What an awesome moment.  For all those years, Isaac had learned about the promises of God from Abraham and Sarah.  Now God had appeared to him, and Isaac heard the words in person.  This was not just a gift to his parents, he was a critical part of the covenant himself.  His descendents would be as many as the stars, and every nation would be blessed through him.  The fate of all humanity was tied up in the fate of Isaac and Rebekah.

It is interesting that God said these promises were given to Isaac through Abraham.  There was a wealth of blessing stored up from Abraham’s obedience that was pouring out onto Isaac.  Abraham kept the whole of all that God desired from him.  His relationship with God was a righteous partnership so abundant that it flowed to the next generation!

God gave Isaac great and precious promises of abundance, but Isaac had to believe in them without seeing them.  God gave them in the middle of a great famine, and he would make Isaac and Rebekah wait for twenty years to have their twins!  Isaac was being called to live by the same faith that Abraham had.  He was called to live by the same righteous standard and the same immediate obedience, too!  He showed his immediate obedience by settling his vast clan down in Gerar!  He chose the hardship of famine and faithfulness to God over the abundance of bread and ease in a place that was outside of God’s will.

The men of Gerar were very quick to notice Rebekah.  She was a woman of remarkable beauty.  Isaac was afraid to admit she was his wife.  What if they wanted to kill him so they could have her?

And so he lied.  He told them that she was his sister.  Hm.

Who else does that remind you of?  Isaac was acting just like his father.

Now, these lies might seem a bit strange to us, but we need to remember that they lived in very different times.  There were no police officers to come and protect a family when others came to attack.  There was no court system to try a man if he murdered someone.  It was a dangerous and almost lawless land, and men were vicious and corrupt.  The most powerful men often determined the law of the land, and Abimelech was very powerful.  When Isaac weighed his options, the crisis of his own death might have seemed a lot less than facing the problem of a local man claiming Rebekah for his own while they were resting in Abimelech’s land.

There were good reasons for Isaac to be afraid if he was merely living according to the rules of this world.  But Isaac wasn’t meant to live as this world is all there is.  He was a man of God’s sacred covenant.  He had heard the stories of how God provided for his father.  He himself was one of God’s great provisions.

But God had a discipleship for Isaac just as surely as he had for Abraham, and Isaac was in the midst of one of the twisting points.  Isaac had already avoided one of Abraham’s mistakes…he didn’t go to Egypt.  Now he had another choice.  Did he believe more in the fear of the power of men, or in the promises of God?  Did he trust that God would protect his marriage, that Isaac could protect his wife and trust God with the results?  What would happen if one of the local men wanted to take Rebekah and marry her?  What would happen to the covenant if Rebekah’s children no longer belonged to Isaac?  Would Isaac let her go?  What would happen to the promises of God?

 

Story 41: The Battling Sons of Rebekah

Genesis 25

Abraham lost his beloved wife Sarah.  She had given him Isaac, the son of God’s promise, and through Isaac, God would keep His covenant with Abraham to raise up a priestly nation to the world.  Abraham married again to a woman named Keturah.  She gave Abraham six sons.  Yet God made it clear that the honor of being the father of God’s priestly nation belonged to Isaac.  Abraham left everything he owned to him, including the land.  Abraham loved his sons through Keturah, so while he was still alive, he gave them many lavish gifts.  Then he sent them away to a land far off in the east.  Those sons had their own children, and their children had even more children, so that after many years, whole tribes of nations came from her children through Abraham.  God surely kept his promise to make Abraham the father of many nations!

Abraham lived to be a hundred and seventy-five years old.  The Bible says:

 

“Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age,

an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.”

 

By that time, Abraham had lived in the promise land for a hundred years.  He had become a great leader of a powerful tribe.  At the news of his death, the whole region would have mourned the loss of this mighty, righteous prince.  His strength and honorable character had brought security and peace to the whole region, and his goodness was known by all.

Abraham’s honored sons, Isaac and Ishmael, took his body to the cave where Sarah had been buried.  So many years before, Abraham had bought it at great cost from the Hittites to bury his beloved wife.  Now his sons lay him down beside her, united at the death of their noble father.  And after Abraham’s death, God blessed Isaac.

Now, we know that Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, had come from Sarah’s maidservant Hagar.  She was an Egyptian.  Her son was not the one that God meant to grow into a priestly nation.  Still, God is compassionate, and he promised Hagar that Ishmael would also be the father of a great nation.  Curiously, he also promised that Ishmael’s descendents would be warlike and hostile.

What God said came true as it always does.  Ishmael had many sons.  They had many children also, and from their children came twelve tribal nations.  Ishmael lived to be a hundred and thirty-seven years, and then he, too died.  The descendents of Ishmael moved to an area near the border of Egypt to settle down, far from the land of promise.  And just as God said, they were a hostile group who in all of history could not get along with any of their neighbors.  If this was the way of Abraham’s first born son, what would happen to the son of the Promise?  Would he grow up to be warlike, too?  Would he have the violent, deceptive nature of the enemies of God, or would he stand in the beauty of Eve’s repentant transformation?  Would Isaac learn to live in dependence on God like his father?

Rebekah and Isaac married when Isaac was forty years old.  Time went on as Isaac oversaw the vast wealth he had inherited from his father.  After twenty years of marraige, Rebekah still had no children.  But they were wise to the lessons that God had taught Abraham and Sarah.  They did not turn to Rebekah’s maidservants or anyone else to solve this terrible sadness.  Isaac went directly to the LORD and pleaded with him for his wife.  His first response was to turn to God.  In his perfect timing, the LORD answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant.  Can you imagine how happy they must have been after that long wait?

Just as with Abraham and Sarah, it must have been difficult and painful to wait so long, but in many ways, that made it far more special.  This pregnancy was something they had thought about and looked forward to, hoping and praying over long years.  All babies are a priceless gift from God, but because of their waiting, Isaac and Rebekah knew that this pregnancy was a very special answer to prayer.  God was going to honor his covenant promise to Abraham!

This was no ordinary pregnancy in more ways than one.  There were twins!  There were two babies inside Rebekah, and she really felt it.  They were always fighting each other!  Poor Rebekah, it must have been very uncomfortable to have a mini war going on right inside her belly!  “‘Why is this happening to me?’” she wondered.  She worried if all their moving and shaking was dangerous.  What if she lost them both?  What if all that fighting caused a miscarriage?  So just as Isaac had prayed to the LORD for his wife, Rebekah went to the LORD and cried out to understand what was going on.  Both Isaac and Rebekah had learned to take their lives to the LORD.  They were totally dependent on him.  And he was faithful to answer.

The LORD said to her:

 

“‘Two nations are in your womb,

and two peoples from within you

will be separated;

One people will be stronger than the other,

and the older will serve the younger’”

Genesis 25:23

 

Well, that sounds strange.  What does it mean that two whole nations were really living in Rebekah’s womb?  Is that possible?  No, of course not.  But there were two baby boys in there, growing and fighting against each other.  One day, they would be born into the world.  They would grow to be strong men, and they would have families of their own.  God, who knows everything, knew the future of Rebekah’s sons.  He had designed the future!   The descendents of each of Rebekah’s sons would grow to become great nations.

Now, God knows everything.  He understands everything that had ever happened perfectly, and he knows everything that is ever going to happen. He could have explained many things to Rebekah about her sons, but he didn’t.  He simply told her that they would both grow to be powerful, but that the older son would end up serving the younger son.  That wasn’t a lot of information, but it was a very, very big deal.  And because God made a point of telling Rebekah directly, it was something she was supposed to honor.

In the ancient days of Isaac and Rebekah, the firstborn son was given many responsibilities.  It was the oldest son that took the place of the father in the family when he died, and it was the oldest that inherited the most.  He would also take on the role of watching over the rest of the family.  It was his job to protect the family honor and help each member in their time of need.  The oldest son’s mother, his brothers and sisters and their spouses, and his nieces and nephews could all call on him and expect his care and concern throughout their lives.  It was a great burden and a great privilege.

The younger sons were supposed to honor their older brother and respect his commands.  This held together the systems of order and loyalty in the early family clans of human civilization, and it was often true in the family of God as well.  But God told Rebekah that it would not be the same for her sons.  The older son would serve the younger.  That was a radical idea, but God is totally sovereign and in control.  He chooses among the children on earth who he will use for his purposes.  Long before Rebekah ever held her sons in her arms, she knew that her second child would be the one who God used to raise up his holy nation.

When the boys were born, the first child came out and everyone was shocked.  All they could talk about was how red and hairy he was.  He was so hairy that it looked like he was wearing animal fur!  They decided to name him Esau.

Rebekah didn’t have a lot of time after Esau  came.  The other son was following quickly behind.  In fact, the hand of the second son was gripping Esau’s foot as he came out!  So they decided to name him Jacob, because it means “heel.”

As the boys grew up, Rebekah and Isaac learned how very different each son was from the other.  Esau liked to go out to the wilderness and hunt.  Jacob liked to spend time among the tents where the family lived.  He was quiet.  Isaac enjoyed the meat that Esau brought him.  He enjoyed his big, burly son the best.  But Rebekah loved Jacob more, and she carried in her heart the promise of God.  In the future, the older would serve the younger.

One day, Jacob was among the tents cooking stew.  Esau had been out in the open country, probably on a hunt.  It is hard work, and when he came home he was so hungry that he had begun to feel weak.  He smelled Jacob’s stew and that only made it worse!  “‘Quick’” he said to Jacob, “‘Let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!’”

Jacob knew he had a chance to use this to get something he wanted.  He had been thinking about this for a long time.  He also knew how hungry Esau was when he came in from a hunt.  He said to his brother, “‘First, sell me your birthright.’”  Wow.  Esau was the firstborn son, and that birthright belonged to him.  It was a very precious, valuable thing.  It was a high honor.

In those days, the first son would inherit twice what all the other sons would receive when their father died.   For every two goats that Esau was supposed to inherit, Jacob would only get one goat.  But if Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, that meant that Jacob would be the one who received more.  Their father Isaac had received all of Abraham’s many animals and servants.  They were a very rich, princely family.  Jacob was asking Esau to trade hundreds of animals and great wealth in gold and silver for a bowl of soup.   But you know what?  Esau made the trade.

“‘Look, I am about to die’” he said.  “‘What good is a birthright to me?’”

Jacob wanted to make sure that he would really receive all the extra inheritance, so before he let Esau eat, he made him take an oath.  “‘Swear to me first.’”  Esau swore an oath to Jacob, promising the birthright to him.

Finally, Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil soup.  Esau gobbled up the food.  When he left, his stomach was full, but his birthright was lost to his conniving brother.

 

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 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 34: Sarah’s Laughter

Genesis 21-22

Abraham and Sarah had waited on the LORD for twenty-five years.   All during those years, Abraham believed in a message he had heard from God.  This was not just any deity or idol, it was the God of the universe…and the promise of the message was great.  So they packed up everything and journeyed out into the wilderness.  They wandered as nomads to strange lands with foreign people.Their former life of refined wealth was over.  They would no longer have solid walls around them and a door to lock.  They would roam around with tents.  The floor would be the earthy ground, and their walls would be made of leather or cloth…too thin to keep out the dust and cold.  There would be a constant need to search for sources of water, and because water was precious, others would want to take it from them.

As they traveled, Abraham’s family would have been an easy targets for bandits.  Other nomadic people would have felt threatened by them.  It would have been hard…if not foolish…to trust anyone along the way.  The new cities and nations around them were often places of violence and corruption.  The kings and rulers would have threatened their family, and the foolishness of Lot would drag Abraham and Sarah into even bigger problems.  Through it all, Abraham was imperfect yet faithful, constantly depending on the LORD and leading his wife and their household on into God’s promises.

Along the way, God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness.  He blessed Abraham with great flocks and military victory and vast wealth.  Yet those were not the limit to the dreams that God had put before Abraham and Sarah.  His vision was much greater!  God had promised them a nation.  But that nation would have to come from the birth of a son, and that was the great blessing they had yet to receive.

Month after month, Sarah would hope that the time had come for a child, and month after month, he did not come.  Imagine the pain and confusion they must have felt.  They had believed God’s promises and they had obeyed, and yet God had deprived them of life’s most basic and natural blessing.

It is stunning to consider how God formed his wide, epic plan of salvation for the human race in a way that would be so profoundly personal for this couple.  He designed the story of the covenant family to be birthed out of the kind of faith that is forged out of long waiting…over time…as a continual and deepening re-decision.  God’s salvation plan did not bypass the hearts of those He came to save by bringing in some outside, alternate route…it was forged through the depths of their very hearts.

Finally there came a time when it became humanly impossible for Sarah to have children at all.  Yet God was firm.  He insisted that they stand in faith.  They had to believe in an answer that they could not imagine.  They had to hope for something they could not see.

Abraham did not allow the pain and wear of the passing of time to destroy his faith.   Instead, he was strengthened in his faith and grew in his confidence that God richly rewards those who believe in His promises (see Romans 4).

And then…the time finally came.  Abraham was a hundred years old, and Sarah was ninety.  By this time, the entire region knew this couple.  Abraham was extravagantly wealthy and a famous warrior.  He was a foreigner who had come and saved five nations from the tyranny of their enemies.

The people of the region must have wondered at Abraham’s devotion to his barren wife.  Why didn’t he take another wife?  He was a wealthy man, why didn’t he build a harem for himself?  He could have had a dozen wives and a hundred children!  All the world watched, and all knew without a doubt that it was too late for Sarah.  At just the point where everyone would be sure it was a miracle, God gave His greatest blessing of all:

“‘Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what He had promised.  Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God has promised him.  Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.  When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him.  Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.’”

Genesis 21:1-5

Wow.  Imagine the joy of Abraham and Sarah as they held that little baby!  Imagine the wonder!  Those tiny feet and that perfect, soft skin was all their very own.  Has a couple ever waited longer for a child?  Each year of waiting intensified their desire for this little one.  How deeply they understood what a precious gift, what an absolute miracle, this boy was.  He was from the very hands of the Lord.

The first thing we learn about the child is how Abraham dedicated him back to God.  He circumcised his boy with his old and aged hands, delighting in this little baby who would one day be the father of nations.  If God could provide this child, the rest of the promises were also sure.

The utter happiness of the couple showed on their faces.  How they laughed now!  How different the world felt now that the promise was in their arms.  They named the boy Isaac, which means “he laughs.”  For Sarah said, “‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me…who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?  Yet I have born him a son in his old age’” (Genesis 21:6-7).

 

Story 33: Abraham and Abimelech and the Power of Repentance

Genesis 20

After the mighty hand of God came in judgment on the plains of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham moved his clan to a place called Negev.  While he was there, he explained to the people that Sarah was his sister.  Once again, as he had in Egypt, Abraham feared that men would treat him badly when they saw the beauty of his wife (see Story 21).  Once again, he put her at risk.  Though Abraham was unfaithful, God would stand in resolute faithfulness to His covenant promises.  The chaos created by humanity because of our weakness cannot thwart the strength of God in our history.

Abraham’s fears were not without reason.  Sarah was a woman of great beauty.  When the king of the city of Gerar saw Sarah, he wanted her to be his own.  And why not?  She was the sister of the wealthy traveler who had come to his region to live.  He did not understand that he was in danger of committing a great sin.

The Lord came to King Abimelech and warned him in a dream.  He said, “‘You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.’”

Abimelech hadn’t touched Sarah, so he asked God, “‘Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation?  Did he not say to me, “She is my sister,” and didn’t she also say, “He is my brother”?  I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.’”

God replied, “‘Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience.  That is why I did not let you touch her.  Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live.  But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die.’”

Wow.  Isn’t it interesting that God protected Abimelech from sin?  Isn’t it fascinating that it was because he knew Abimelech was innocent in his heart?  God understands the complexities of life in a very messed up and complex human world.  He gets the confusion of life around us.  We don’t see a harsh, legalist God here.  He stakes his judgment on the condition of our hearts and the nature of our intentions.

What would Abimelech do now?

The Bible makes sure we know that the very next morning, bright and early, Abimelech brought together all of his officials and told them about his dream.  He didn’t wait a few days.  He didn’t forget or disregard the voice of God because it came in the form of the dream.  And when he told his officials, he explained in in a way that made them take it seriously, too.  It filled them with fear.  They each had a reverence for this God who had come to their king.  Their counsel led Abimelech to take action.

Abimelech called for Abraham and asked, “‘What have you done to us?  How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom?  You have done things to me that should not be done.’”

Abimelech and his people had a high and godly view of marriage.  The thought of violating the marriage covenant between Abraham and Sarah was horrifying.  How could Abraham have been so quick to give his wife away?

When we look at the role Abraham plays in human history, it is stunning.  Abraham was the great patriarch, the first man with whom God made His mighty covenant to change the world.  He would be described in the word of God as the great man of faith.  He would be famous for his faith for thousands of years across three of the world’s major religions.  In fact, he could be said to be the first founder of all three.  He was father of Judaism, which is the parent faith of Christianity, and Islam.  Yet in this story, as a normal man facing peril, he is righteously rebuked by a common tribal king for his lack of faith.

Abraham explained to Abimelech that he didn’t think Abimelech’s people feared the LORD.  He said that he was afraid that they would kill him so they could get to Sarah.  He told how he asked Sarah to show her love to him by telling everyone that he was her brother.

This was partly true.   Sarah was the daughter of Abraham’s father, but they had different mothers.  In those days, marriage within a family was a way of protecting and providing for their children.

In a way, Abraham was admitting that he had lacked faith.  He didn’t trust that God would watch over and protect him.  He tried to find his own way to save his life…even though it might cost Sarah greatly.  Once again, he had put the covenant at risk.  Sarah was to be the mother of God’s priestly nation, but here she was, living in the home of a foreign king.

Abimelech returned Sarah to Abraham.  In some ways, he was more protective of Sarah than Abraham had been.  Then he gave Abraham sheep and cattle, male and female slaves, and he offered Abraham his first choice of his lands.  He could live wherever he wanted in Gerah.  And for Sarah, he gave a thousand shekels of silver to Abraham for the offense of taking his wife into his harem.  That was an extravagant amount of wealth.    It would pay a hundred laborers to work for an entire year.  Sarah was well vindicated for this terrible violation of her safety and dignity.

How greatly Abraham had misjudged Abimelech, as well as God.  Abimelech and his men feared the LORD and listened when God came in a dream.   They responded immediately with repentant obedience and went out of their way to lavishly make things right.

It interesting to compare how different these people were from the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Story 23 and Story 32).  There is a reason that these stories are put right next to each other in scripture.  We are meant to compare them and look at the way God responded to each.  The comparison is meant to highlight important things about what draws God’s judgment or favor…it is meant to display the goodness of His ways when dealing with a wayward race and to teach us how we are to come to Him for right relationship.

The nation of Sodom (which was probably more like what we would consider a large village in our time) had become so corrupt that when two strangers came to visit their city, the men of the city laid siege to the home where they were staying and demanded their right to rape them.  Imagine the horrors…the violence, abuse, and toxic immorality…of such a place.  What these men did not understand was that these two visitors were actually the angels of God.  They had come to warn Abraham’s nephew to leave the city before they brought God’s fiery and cleansing judgment against the despicable culture that had plunged the entire community in utter, irreversible bondage.

But this wasn’t Abraham’s first encounter with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  In fact, he had already saved their lives.  When Abraham rescued the people of Sodom and Gomorrah after they had been defeated by a foreign army, they tried to demand that he give them the booty from the war.  According to the rules of that time, the booty belonged to Abraham.  Though he was in no danger of captivity himself, he risked his life and the life of his men to rescue these ungrateful people, and the booty was proper reward.  It was a form of despicable ungratefulness to try to get it back.

The hardness of their hearts was already so complete that when God brought them a savior, they had no vision for repentance.  They could have seen the higher ways of Abraham and the strength it gave him to conquer kings.  They could have witnessed the honorable and godly relationship between Abraham and Melchizedek, the great priest of Salem, and been humbled by their dignity.  When God intervened, they could have been changed, but they weren’t, and it led to their total destruction.

Abilmelech and his officials did not make that mistake.  When God showed up, they repented.  They honored the God of Abraham, altered their behavior, and were saved from judgment.

Just as the Lord said, Abraham prayed for Abimelech and his household.  God had placed some form of curse on them, and his wife and the women of his slave girls could not have children.  God heard Abraham’s pray and the household of Abimelech was healed.  In the process, God restored not only Abimelech’s people, but the dignity and position of Abraham as the man of God’s choosing.

The faith of Abraham had failed.  When we see the heart of this godly man in the middle of his fears, it is easier to understand that he was very much a normal human.  All of the great, courageous acts and steadfast, ongoing faithfulness was done by a man who feared death and longed for peace.  His failure in this story highlights the fact that in all of the other stories, Abraham was having to make decisions in the quietness of his heart…he was having to choose faith instead of fear.

God knew about all of those hundreds of silent decisions to choose to trust Him, and He had grace and protection for Abraham when he failed.

Story 31: Pleading for Sodom

Genesis 18:16-33

 

 

Three visitors had come to visit Abraham.  He had provided them with a feast and honored their presence at his home.  These guests were truly worthy of such an honor.  For you see, two of them were angels, and the third was the LORD himself!  They had come to announce to Abraham and Sarah that a son would be born to them within the next year.  Their world was about to change.

As the men prepared to leave, they looked out from Abraham’s tent at the plains below.  There in front of them, off in the distance, was the city of Sodom.  It was also where Lot, Abraham’s nephew, lived with his family.  The people of Sodom lived morally filthy lives.  It was a place full of a corruption and abuse, where the vulnerable were all the more vulnerable and the powerful had few to stop them from doing whatever they wanted.  Abraham had already rescued Lot from capture to pagan kings (see Story 23).  In doing so, he and his men had saved the Sodomites and all of their animals and gold as well.  But Abraham refused to keep any of it for himself.  He would have no connection to them in any way.  He utterly rejected their ways…and they knew it.  His rebuke against them had no effect.  A testimony of God’s right, straight, pure ways had been given to these people by a man who had saved their lives, but they had not let it change them.  They continued on in their aggressive rebellion against God.

As Abraham and his exalted guests looked over the city, the LORD thought to Himself:

“‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?  Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations on earth will be blessed through him.  For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just…’”

 God had made a very special covenant with Abraham to become a great nation.  He longed for the children of Abraham to live as righteous people who would bless the world with their purity and goodness.  The nation of Sodom had done the opposite.  They lived in the deep dark filth of total sinfulness.  Their sin was not only perverse, it was violent.  The people had given themselves over to Satan, and they had become just like him.  They preyed on the weak and destroyed any hope of goodness.  Those who wanted to be good became targets of malice,  deception, and seduction.    The cry of the oppressed, those who suffered under the agonies of their wickedness, was heard by God, and now He was going to judge them.

Abraham was to become the father of God’s holy nation.  It was important that he understood God’s judgment on the wicked.     God had tremendous grace and compassion for all people of the earth.  He did not come in judgment easily or lightly.  It was always perfectly fair and just.  So God said something that would start a discussion with Abraham. It would prove two things.  First, it would show that Abraham was a just man with great compassion.  He was a lot like God.  Second, in the integrity of God’s perfect holiness and justice, He will not allow evil and wickedness to continue unchecked.  But when He judges, God takes great care to protect and watch over the righteous and the innocent. This is what the LORD said to Abraham:

 

“‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached Me.  If not, I will know.’”

 

Once the LORD said this, the two angels turned and began to walk towards Sodom, but the LORD stayed behind.  Abraham stood there in shock.  What was the LORD saying? Was he really going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah? He went to Him and said:

 

 “‘Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  What if there are fifty righteous people in the city?  Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?  Far be it from You to do such a thing–to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike.  Far be it from You!  Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’”

 

Wow!  God had shown Abraham His plan, and now we see Abraham’s passion for the goodness of his God.  His Lord was not like the other gods.  He did not unfairly punish the innocent!   Abraham interceded for the innocent in Sodom, arguing with God Himself!  Would God hold back His judgment if fifty people could be found in the city who were righteous?  A small city in those days would have about a hundred people, so fifty might have been about half the city.

Now, Abraham knew just how bad Sodom was.  His concern was not for all the wicked who would perish.  Their own choices had brought judgment on themselves, and it was right for God to punish them.  Abraham’s concern was for the righteous who would be judged with them.

God’s care for the righteous was far deeper and more powerful than Abraham’s.  God had started the conversation to prove the goodness of Abraham’s character, not His own.  As Abraham defended the innocent, his own purity and righteousness was allowed to shine.  His desire for justice drove him to argue with God!

The LORD knew this story would be told for many generations.  Abraham’s children would tell it and retell it to their children, and they would learn important lessons.  They would see the character of Abraham, the honored father of their beloved nation.  They would learn that he thought the lives of righteous men were valuable and worth protecting.  These things would become set as high values in the culture of God’s holy nation.  It would influence the hearts of the people and the decisions of their kings for hundreds of years.  Over a thousand years later, the descendants of Abraham would have a saying:

 

“‘Whoever is merciful to his fellow beings is without doubt of the children

of our father Abraham; whoever is unmerciful to his fellow beings

certainly cannot be of the children of Abraham our father’”

(From the Talmud in Betsah 32b)

They would also learn from this story that God was just.  He valued the lives of the righteous so much that He was willing to hold back judgment against wicked people to protect the few that were innocent.  He could be trusted to judge rightly, and His punishments were fair.    When God’s judgments did come, everyone could be sure they came with good reason.

As Abraham stood with the LORD overlooking Sodom, he could not imagine that the people of Sodom were so wholly and completely wicked that there was no one there worth saving.  God was willing to work with him to prove the truth about the depths of their sin.

The LORD agreed with Abraham’s request.  He said that if fifty righteous men could be found in Sodom, He would spare the whole city.  The next time Abraham spoke, he came with greater humility.  What if there weren’t fifty?  He said, “‘Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty?  Will You destroy the whole city because of five people?’”

The Lord agreed with Abraham.    It was more important to hold back judgment for the sake of the few who are righteous than it was to punish the wicked.  If forty-five righteous people were found in the city, He would not judge them.

But Abraham wasn’t finished.  He knew Sodom was a very wicked place.  So he asked if God would hold back His judgment if there were only forty righteous people in the city.  God said He would.  Then Abraham asked the same thing if there were only thirty righteous people, then twenty!  Each time, God showed the greatness of His mercy as He agreed to Abraham’s requests.  Finally Abraham said, “‘May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more.  What if only ten can be found there?’”  The Lord looked at His compassionate servant and said, “‘For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.’”  And so the LORD went on to do His work, and Abraham went home.

What would happen to the city of Sodom?  Would the angels find ten righteous ones there?

 

 

 

Story 28: The Grief of Faithlessness: The Plight of Hagar and Ishmael

Genesis 16-17

Abram and Sarai had taken some major risks in obedience to God.  They had left their own land and all of their comforts to become Bedouins, journeying to the land of Canaan, trusting that God would one day give it to their descendants so that they could bless the world.  They had hung all of their hopes on His promises.  Eleven years later, Abram and Sarai still had no child.  In the eyes of everyone around her, Sarai’s barrenness was seen as a great weakness and failure.  She was costing Abram a family.  She was disgraced.

Sarai began to grow impatient for a son for her husband.  If the LORD was not going to bless her own body with a child, perhaps He would bless someone else.  So she made a plan.  They were not the plans of God, and they were not built on faith.

Sarai went to Abram with her idea.  Sarai had a servant named Hagar who tended to all of Sarai’s personal needs.  Perhaps if she gave Hagar to her husband, her servant would give birth to a son!  In the time of Abram and Sarai, this was common.  When a wife could not have children, another woman, usually a slave or a servant, would be brought to the husband.  The child from their union would then become the adopted child of the husband and wife.

Abram agreed to do what his wife suggested.  Apparently, Hagar agreed to take part as well.  It was a way of helping Sarai out of her disgrace.  So Abram and Hagar came together, and Hagar became pregnant.  A child was on the way.  It would seem that everything was going just as Abraham and Sarah had planned.  The only problem was that there were things they did not anticipate when they stepped outside of God’s plan.

Now that Hagar was with child, her attitude toward Sarai changed.  The disgraced wife of Abram had given him no child, but now she was providing one for him!  She began to carry the pride of her pregnancy around like a crown.  The most painful loss of Sarai’s life was now being thrown in her face every day…and by her own maid.   Hagar treated Sarai with contempt in her own home.  She treated Sarai as if she had replaced her as Abram’s wife and head of Abram’s household.

Sarai’s attempt to solve the problem  of her barrenness in her own power was unraveling into a nightmare.   She went to Abram and said, “‘You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering.  I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me.  May the LORD judge between you and me.’”

Even though Hagar was Sarai’s special maidservant, Sarai turned to her husband and handed Hagar over to him.  Sarai yielded the situation to Abram, honoring his position of authority and giving him the responsibility to make it right.  It was his role to put an end to this destruction.   It was his job to create the right order in their home.  He had to protect their marriage and Sarai’s position as his wife.  Then she appealed to God as her protector.  He was watching over Abram and would hold him responsible to his role as Sarai’s husband.  All of this took great faith, for Sarai had to let go of her own control and trust others to end her pain.  What if they failed?

Abram said to his wife, “‘Your servant is in your hands.  Do with her whatever you think is best.’”  Instead of handling a situation where his wife was clearly in over her head, Abram excused himself from the mess and let the burden fall on Sarai.

The way Sarai responded is the darkest mark on her character in the story of her life.  Sarai turned the tables and began to mistreat her servant.  Now it was Hagar’s turn to be miserable. Who knows the harsh words or beatings Sarai gave.  Who knows what abuse Abram allowed.  The tensions that come up in a home when the most tender things are at stake can tear apart the integrity of the finest heart.  Whatever the sins of Sarai and Abram, they were harsh enough that Hagar would rather risk death in the desert than live with the torments of her mistress.  She fled away from the home of Abram and Sarai out into the wilderness.

God was watching as all of these sad events unfolded.  How differently these women could have treated each other.  The angel of the LORD came to Hagar as she sat near a stream in the desert.  This is the first time in the Bible that someone was visited by an angel.  When they came to earth, it is because they were sent on a mission from God.  They come as His holy messengers.  What an honor to receive such special attention from the Divine King!

It is remarkable that in the Bible, God’s first message from an angel was to this weeping servant woman.  What does it teach us about the character God?  In all of ancient literature, with all of the other religions and idol worship that was going on, thiswas the only time a divine being spoke to a woman by name. She had great worth in his eyes.  See how gently he came:

 

He said, “Hagar, servant of Sarah, where have you come from, and where are you going?’”

“‘I am running away from my mistress Sarah,’ she answered.

“Then the angel of the LORD told her, ‘Go back to your mistress and submit to her.’  The angel added, ‘I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.’

The angel of the LORD also said to her:

 

‘You are now with child and you will have a son.

You shall name him Ishmael,

for the LORD has heard of your misery.

He will be a wild donkey of a man;

His hand will be against everyone

and everyone’s hand will be against him,

and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.’”

 

Who was this God?   He had come to speak to a lowly servant woman, an outcast, someone that nobody in her culture or world would have any time for?  Who was this LORD that saw her crying in the desert?  Hagar wondered at his tender care.  She said: “‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’”  And she was right.  Though she was a woman and had no great importance in the eyes of the world, she could trust the God of the universe to look on her with love.

The angel of the LORD explained to Hagar that this son would truly be blessed.  He would be as a wild donkey, so passionate for freedom that he would not easily share life with others.  He would also be the father of nations.  Yet he was not the son of God’s covenant promise with Abram.  That could only come through his sacred marriage with Sarai.

Hagar obeyed God and returned to Abram and Sari.  She gave birth to a son.  Abram was eighty six years old.  Hagar must have told Abram what the angel said, for Abram named him Ishmael.  His name meant, “God hears.”  I wonder if Abram and Sarai felt convicted by the LORD when they realized that God listened to the cries of Hagar as much as He listened their own?

Sarai was the true wife of Abram.  They were one flesh.  When God called Abram, Sarai’s life was wrapped in that calling.  It was through their marriage and their union alone that God would bring about His great and precious promises.  But that required radical faith, a faith that had to increase with time.  Sarah was seventy five years old when Ishmael was born.  As they waited on the LORD and watched their bodies age, their trust in God had to intensify.  They had to believe in Him for the impossible.  Would this man and woman of God bear through the final stages of their testing?  Would they take hold of the faith that God meant for them to have?

Story 19: From Shem to Abram

Genesis 11:10-32

When we look at the time between Adam and Noah, there were ten generations of humans that multiplied on the earth.  They became so hardened and wicked that God had to wash the earth clean of their polluting sin.  God started the human race all over again through the sons of Noah.  Two years after the waters of the Flood went down, Shem, the son of God’s great blessing, and his wife had a child, and they named him Arphaxad.  When he grew up, he also had a son, and later that son had a son.  This carried on for ten generations.  Now the Bible points out someone who was born in the tenth generation after Noah.  His name was Abram.  In Scripture, the number ten is a symbol of perfection or completion.  By pointing out the generations broken into groups of ten descendants, the biblical author (who we believe to be Moses) was pointing out that just as with Noah, the time had come for God to move.  He was going to fulfill a new step in His perfect, sovereign plan to save the world.

But first, we have to ask, why did the world need saving?  Hadn’t Noah ushered in a whole new era for the human race?  Hadn’t everything changed?  Did the rebellion continue?  Throughout the those ten generations, had the people become just as wicked as they were right before the Flood?

We already know the answer, don’t we?  We learn a lot when we read the Table of Nations (see Story 16 and 17) and the story of the tower of Babel (see Story 18).  Humanity would utterly reject God once again.  They would choose violence, hatred, and corruption instead of the bright, beautiful goodness and purity of the Almighty Lord.  What was God going to do?

The Lord had already promised not to send another flood.  Now God was going to do a new thing.  He was going to raise up another man of righteous faith.  Only this man would be used by God in a very different way.  God had previously saved the human race from total extinction through Noah’s family. The earth had been cleansed of wickedness by the flood.  Now, God was going to create a nation that would be given a way to continually come to him for cleansing of their sin.  Their pursuit of their righteous Lord would create a purified place on earth so that God’s holy presence could rest among them in the Most Holy Place.  He would be their God, and they would be His people…and they would be a priestly nation that would serve the rest of humanity.

The generations of this nation would come from one man.  He would be the first step in God’s Great Solution to the problem of sin.  For you see, in God’s Great Solution, the problem of sin and death and the horrific curse would be taken care of completely and finally.  One day, humans would be given a new heart.  They would be able to love the Lord and walk in holiness just as they had in the Garden of Eden!

That is all very exciting, but we are rushing ahead of ourselves.  That is the end of the story, and the human race is not there yet.  Those amazing and wonderful things are still to come at the end of time. We await them with great joy!

God’s amazing plan, His Great Solution to the problem of sin, started in the tenth generation after Noah. God would raise up a man of great faith.  This man would be the beginning of a mighty new work.  His life is so important that the Bible stops telling the story of all humanity and the great nations and focuses close up onto this one man’s little world.  We are about to hear his story, and we have a lot to learn.  We can grow to love him, because this man is the great spiritual father of everyone that has faith in God.

The sons of the tenth generation from the line of Shem were brought into the world by a man named Terah.  He had three sons and their names were Abram, Nahor, and Haran.  After they had grown, a terrible tragedy came upon the family.  Haran died.  He had a son and a daughter who were left vulnerable.   In our time, this is a horrible thing.  In those days it was far worse.  The tribal living of the Ancient Near East was brutal and unforgiving.  It was dangerous for a woman to be alone.  What was the family going to do?   The best way to take care of Haran’s daughter was to find her a husband.  They decided that Haran’s daughter, Milcah, would marry Nahor.  He would be her husband and her protector.  Terah and Abram would raise Haran’s son, Lot, and watch over him.

Abram was married to a woman named Sarai, which meant “princess.”  Abram’s wife was very beautiful, and their love for each other was very great.  But over the years, they experienced a terrible grief.  Sarai was barren.  She could not have children.  What terrible pain it must have caused her that she couldn’t give her husband the great gift of a child.  How hard it must have been for Abram to see his wife go year after year without a baby in her arms.  Their future must have seemed dry and pale without the joy of new life.  Why had God withheld from them that beautiful blessing…the privilege of obedience to be fruitful and multiply?  They would each have to depend on God’s comfort and grace. They would have to depend on Him for hope.

Terah decided it was time to leave Ur, the grand city that was their home, and move to the land of the Canaanites.  His sons and their wives went with him.  But along the way, after a long journey, they stopped at a place called Haran and settled there, .  They had traveled five hundred and fifty miles, but they hadn’t made it to the land of Canaan.  They hadn’t reached their goal.  Then, after many years of living at the half-way point, Terah died.

What dark days those must have been for Abram.  There he was in Haran with his barren wife, grieving over his father, and caring for his brother’s son.  And he was still miles and miles from Canaan, the land of their destiny.

Yet Abram and Sarai continued on faithfully bearing the responsibility of caring for Lot, Abram’s orphaned nephew.

Then one day, something remarkable happened.  The LORD came to Abram.  What God said to him is one of the most significant things ever spoken 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 with 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 happen!  He created the whole universe by the words of His mouth.  God’s words would also cause things to 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 that promise.  He built a fortress city to protect himself instead.  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.  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.  

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?

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