Tag: “Michael Card”

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 29: The Son of God’s Choosing

Genesis 17

The human race had plunged itself into a terrible situation.  God created humanity to live in perfect harmony with Himself.  We were to live in a perfect Garden Temple called Eden, which means “pleasure.”  But the first humans, the ancestors of us all, rebelled against the one limitation God had given them.  They sided with God’s enemy, and in so doing, subjected the whole race to his bondage.  Yet even as they rejected God’s way, He had a plan to draw them back, a design for human history that would provide a ransom for the souls of humanity.  Abram and Sarai were at the center of God’s plan.  He chose them to be the ones through whom He would bless the nations of the world.  Their offspring would be His holy priesthood, and somehow, they would bring salvation.

Yet there was a problem.  Abram and Sarai had no children.  Sarai was barren.  After many years of waiting on the Lord’s plan, they grew impatient, and sought to have a child through Hagar, Sarai’s servant.  They lost faith in God’s plan and took matters into their own hands, violating the sacred covenant of marriage in the process.  Abram and Hagar had a son named Ishmael.

Thirteen years passed after Ishmael was born.  Many things must have happened in their lives over those years.  Still Abram and Sarai were without a child.  What ache did Sarai live with as she watched her maidservant raise a son before her eyes.

By the time of this story, Abram was ninety-nine years old.  The LORD appeared to him again.  He said:

“‘I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’”

When Abram heard this, he fell down with his face to the ground before the LORD.  God continued to speak:

“‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.  No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.   I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.  The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; I will be their God.’”

Genesis 17:4-8

Abram was given a new name.  It was a mark that the promises the LORD had given His servant before were growing.  God was filling in the details and showing Abraham just how great and awesome His promises truly were.  This covenant would bring whole nations and kings…it would be everlasting!

Then God gave Abraham a sign that would be the symbol of His covenant.  Abraham and every man who descended from him was to be circumcised.  Circumcision is a quick but painful operation.  A small piece of extra skin is cut off of a male’s private parts.  Every male in Abraham’s family or his servant’s family was to have this operation done as a sign that they belonged to the LORD.  They were part of His covenant blessing.  Most of them would have it done when they were infants, when they were eight days old.  They would hardly know what was happening to them.

It was a high honor, marked out in their very flesh, that they were to remember at all times!  Each descendant of Abraham had to chose to follow after God with the same faith as Abraham.  Whoever did not keep the sign of the covenant by being circumcised would be cut off from the people.  It was a breaking of the covenant itself.

Then God told Abraham that He was changing Sarai’s name.  It would now be Sarah.  God promised that He would bless her, and she would give birth to a son.  This son would become the head of twelve tribes, or clans, and from them whole nations would come.  Her role as the mother of the coming nation of God was high and honored.  The Lord had watched her go through every trial of faith with her husband.  She had carried the shame of her barren state as she waited on the Lord for His promises.  She, too, had remained faithful.

But when Abraham heard this, he threw himself onto the ground and started laughing.  Sarah was ninety years old!  Abraham was almost a hundred!  How could this be?  When it came to childbearing, their bodies were as good as dead!  It was impossible.  So Abraham reminded the Lord about Ishmael.  Perhaps God should use him.

Abraham did not yet fully understand that his Lord was the one who could call things into being that were not (see Romans 4).  Abraham was limiting his imagination to the things that a human could do.  God has no such limitations.  If God made the stars and the earth from nothing, surely He could raise up a nation out of nothing!  Surely He could make a child, even from the bodies of an aging couple!  God was able to bring life from the death of old age.

The fact that it seemed impossible was part of God’s plan.  Everyone would know that this was a miracle.  It was clearly something only God could do.  All of the surrounding tribes and villages, all of the towns where Abraham had visited and even saved in war, would know that something different was happening in the lives of God’s covenant family.  This was a power and a provision there that would shake their understanding of the world.  When the LORD began His holy nation through this child, the whole region would be gossiping and wondering how it happened.  It was a testimony and an opportunity to follow the God of Abraham.

God knew how impossible it was for Abraham to have a child and said, “‘Nevertheless.’”  Then He told Abraham that a son would be born to Abraham and Sarah the very next year. Abraham accepted the unique plans of his LORD and stepped out in immediate obedience. That very day, he circumcised himself and Ishmael and all the servants of the house.

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 11: Life Outside the Garden

Gen. 3:20-4:26

Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden - stained glass

The first man and woman brought a terrible curse upon themselves and upon the world.  They would live in bondage to sin and their lives would end in death (see Story 7, Story 8, and Story 9 for the details).  But when we continue to read their story, we see that the first man still had faith.  After the Curse had fallen on humanity, he looked upon his wife and gave her a name: Eve, which means “living.”  In spite of their rebellion, Adam believed that God would still bring life through his wife and their love for each other.  And one day, a descendant of Eve would crush the head of the evil serpent that had brought the horrors of the curse.

In this, we see that God’s goodness was powerfully at work.  When Adam and Eve first chose the knowledge of good and evil over faithfulness to God Himself, the first thing they felt was shame.  When God came to them, they began to blame each other for their choices, spreading the darkness and deception through their fear-filled choices.  But God had limited the power of evil, He did not allow the fullness of its toxic power to have it’s sway.  Adam still carried a capacity for hope, there was still love and grace for the woman who drew him into temptation and supported his failure.  More importantly, he had faith that in spite of the evil that had befallen them, God was still able to bring life.

In God’s tender care for His disgraced children, He took the leather from the skin of animals and made clothes for Adam and Eve.  Already, a sacrifice had to be made to cover them for their sins. Already, something had to die.

The Garden had become a dangerous place for Adam and Eve.  The Tree of Life was there, and if they ate from it, they would never die.  Before the Curse, this would have been a wonderful blessing.  They would have lived with God in perfect unity forever and ever.  But now they were broken.  Their hearts were distorted and twisted by sin.  Death had become a necessary end in this terrible new era that they had brought into the world.  Without it, they would be cursed forever.

Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden.  They had invited the toxic power of evil into their hearts, and it did not belong in the Garden.  God had to cleanse His holy sanctuary from their contaminating presence.  They were exiled to the outer regions of the world where the Curse was already infecting the land.  The Lord sent His cherubim to guard the eastern entrance to the Garden.

Now, it is very interesting, because we don’t understand exactly what a cherubim is.  They are among God’s heavenly creatures that serve the Lord with absolute, devoted obedience.  They are something like the angels, except for one thing.  Whenever the Bible talks about angels, they are acting as God’s messengers with a very specific mission.  Whenever the Bible talks about cherubim, they are guarding something.  Sometimes they are standing guard in the very throne room of God.  Psalm 99:1 says, “The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake.”

Now that the Curse had come into the world, Heaven and the sacred space of the Garden was off limits to the people of earth.  The cherubim stood as guards while a flaming sword flashed back and forth across the entrance of the Garden, ensuring that no human could enter.

Distance from the Garden meant distance from God.  Instead of perfect nearness to God, the nations would tremble because of His wrath against them.  Humans would no longer walk in His presence in the cool of the day.  Adam and Eve had to make a life for themselves outside of the Garden, in the harsh new world where suffering and death had become a constant reality.

In the midst of their hard labor over the years, the Lord gave them a precious gift.  Adam and Eve had a son.  Consider the lavish forgiveness and grace of God.

Eve named her son Cain.  She said, “‘With the help of the Lord, I have brought forth a man.’”  Eve brought the curse, and God allowed the terrible consequences to come.  Yet even as they suffered for their shameful decision, God continued to bless them.  Eve learned to look up in dependent faith on the God that she had once rebelled against.  Would her sons do the same?

God gave Eve a second son.  His name was Abel.  When they grew up and became men, Abel took care of the flocks of animals.  Cain became a farmer.  Both of the men brought some of the fruit of their work as offerings to God. Abel brought the very best of his firstborn animals from his flocks and sacrificed them to the LORD.  His was an offering of deep faith and gratitude to God for all that He had provided.  Cain brought some of the grains and fruit of his farm.  They were not the first fruit or the best fruit and they were not given out of faith.  They were a religious token to get the necessary ritual of offerings to God done and over with.  They were a show.  Cain was far from loving the God who made him.

God was pleased with Abel’s offering, but not with Cain’s.  God would not accept anything less than true and proper worship.  In truth, it was no worship at all.  It was rebellion.  Cain wanted to come to God in his own way, as if the will of the Almighty God did not matter.  He wanted to define right and wrong for God instead of standing in humility and grateful surrender to Him.  He was in total and complete rebellion concerning the most sacred things of life.

God was not pleased.  When Cain realized his cheap, faithless offerings did not work, he did not repent and ask for forgiveness.  Instead, he was livid with anger and jealousy against Abel because his brother had received God’s approval.  His rage was so intense that it showed on his face.  The Lord asked him,

 

“‘Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.’”

Gen. 4:6-7

 

Wow.  Consider the kindness of God.  He did not scorn Cain for bringing his cheap offering.  He didn’t belittle him or compare him to his brother.  He simply gave him a chance to make it right.

Yet God knew the heart of Eve’s son. Cain’s shabby offering was an outward expression of a deeper problem.  He knew that Cain would rather do something rash and violent than follow the ways of the Lord.  So God warned him. He could either repent, turn around, and bring an offering that he knew would please the heart of God, or he could continue on in his rebellion.  But woe to him if he did.

Cain did not want to master his sin.  We can see by his choices that he wanted to give it his full energy.  The hatred in his heart grew into a terrible storm.  He plotted a way to get Abel back for earning God’s approval.  When the day of his vengeance arrived, he asked his brother to go out with him to a field.  Then Cain attacked Abel, spilling Abel’s blood on the ground as he died.

Once again, rebellion against the goodness of God had led to death.  The firstborn son of Adam and Eve had killed their second-born son…and so they lost them both.  Evil prevailed and the innocent suffered.  The burden of the sin that Adam and Eve had brought into the world had brought it’s devastating power into the heart of their family.  It is the way of Satan, and God hates it with a fierce, holy passion.

God came to Cain again and asked him, “‘Where is your brother?’”

Isn’t that question an interesting choice? God didn’t strike him with lightening.  He didn’t storm down on Cain with accusations and judgment. He approached him with a chance to confess.

Cain’s response was to lie: “‘I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’”

Did Cain think that God was unaware of his violence?  Did he think it was none of God’s business?  Did he believe he had a right to do what he did?  Did he think he could deceive God?

As you ponder the effects of sin in the world, as you grow and learn about the sin in your own heart, remember the jealousy and hatred and lies of Cain.  They are a clear picture of the way rebellious humanity acts against the pure and righteous ways of God.  This story is an archetype of how it works on the broader scale:

We fall into sin

We refuse to repent

We experience consequences

We refuse to repent

We resent those who thrive because they aren’t bearing the burden of the consequences of sin

We refuse to repent or allow the righteous to act as models and mentors

We increasingly blame others for the problems caused by our sin

We increase our sin by taking our anger out on them

We increasingly reject not only the people around us, but ultimately God.

It was not smart for Cain to lie to the God who knows absolutely everything.  It was the same game Adam and Eve tried to play in the Garden.  It is the way of Satan, the serpent.  God asked Cain the same question He had asked his mother at the moment of her great disobedience:

“‘What have you done?'”  

And…just as with Adam and Eve…the sin came with a consequence:

 

‘”Listen!  Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.  Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you work the ground, it will no longer yield crops to you.  You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.’”

Gen. 4:10-12

 

Wow.  Because of Cain’s terrible sin, the curse that fell upon all men would be even more intense for him. The ground would not produce fruit for him at all.

Cain was horrified.  He said, “‘My punishment is more than I can bear.  Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.’”

But God is merciful and gracious, and abounding in love.  He would not deal with Cain as Cain had dealt with his brother.  God was still willing to protect him.  He told Cain that nobody would be allowed to hurt him.  The Lord put a mark on him so that everyone would know that he was protected by God.  Wow.

One would hope that God’s protective kindness would soften Cain’s heart.  One would think it would cause Cain to repent. It did not.

When Cain left, he went as an unrepentant and sinful man.  He moved away to a place far from the presence of God.  He and his wife lived in a land called Nod, east from Eden.

What a terrible time this must have been for Adam and Eve.  Abel, their righteous son, was dead.  Their firstborn son was a murderer.  Rebellion first brought a separation between humanity and God.  Now it was bringing separation from each other.  Sin was widening its effect and delving humanity into deeper and darker ways.

What would happen to the human race?  Who would stop the evil trajectory of this rebellion?  Who among the sons of Eve was left to stomp on the head of the evil serpent?

 

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