Thursday, January 16, 2014

Read the Bible in a Year (Days 4-11)

Genesis 10-33 (January 10-17)
Psalms 4-11

1. Genesis 11 tells the story of the tower of Babel. This is a tale of the hubris and pretense of human self-sufficiency that results from sin. As was true of Adam and Eve when they were banished from the garden in which they could eat the fruit from the tree of life, God's dispersal of the builders of the tower is an act of grace. When we human beings get our ways in acting like God, our souls are endangered and the happiness of those who become our victims is harmed.

2. Genesis 12 begins the narrative of Israel's patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

After the disasters of Eden, the flood, and Babel, Abraham and the patriarchs represent a fresh start for the world. As Jesus pointed out to the Samaritan woman at the well, salvation is from the Jews. The Jews--Israel, Hebrews--were called to be God's people and, in the course of time, become the nursery into which the Savior of the world, Jesus was to be born.

3. The patriarchs obviously weren't chosen by God for His purposes for their virtue, strength, or power, but solely by virtue of God's grace. Abraham's trust in God brings him righteousness (Genesis 15:6). This has always been God's MO. God ultimately revealed Himself to all the world in Christ. All who believe in Him, God in the flesh, have forgiven sin, reconciliation with God, and eternal life with God. Ephesians 2:8-9 says: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast."

4. Genesis 18 begins with the narrative of God's visit to Abraham and Sarah. Saint Augustine believed that the three persons who visited them were the one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Buttressing this notion is the Old Testament's tendency to speak of the "angel of the Lord" (literally messenger of the Lord) in ways that seem to make God Himself the messenger. In any case, it is clear that Abraham is visited by God.

5. It's this incident in Genesis 18, that gives rises to the words of the preacher in the New Testament book of Hebrews: "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2) And Jesus says in Matthew 25:31-46, that when we serve the "least" of the world, we really are serving Him. In the great commandment, Jesus says that loving others is on a par with loving God Himself. So, when we show hospitality, as Abraham did to the three strangers to his tent, he was welcoming God...and would have been even if none of the strangers was God.

This is how invested God is in every human life. However marred by sin, every human being bears the image of God.

What if we took this attitude toward every person we encountered?

What if our churches displayed this attitude of reverence and welcome for every person--those known to us and those not known--who worshiped with us on Sundays?

What if Christians took this attitude? How many more people would be open to receiving the good news of new and eternal life for all who turn from sin and trust in Christ if this was our attitude?

6. At the end of Genesis 18, God prevails upon God, ultimately for the sake of just 10 righteous people who might be found in Sodom, to spare the city. God delights in co-conspiring with those who, with faith and helplessness, prevail upon his mercy in prayer. But God will not go where God is uninvited. The real tragedy of Sodom may be that Abraham was so limited in his praying. What might have happened had he prayed that God simply spare Sodom and help the people repent for sin and trust in God's grace? We'll never know.

Never be afraid to ask God for the whole enchilada. He may say no, maybe, wait, or yes. Those answers are within His power. But never be fearful about approaching God with what may seem like big prayers.

7. In Genesis 20, Abraham repeats the same sin he committed earlier, lying, telling people that Sarah was his wife in order to save his skin. For me, this is a great comfort. Abraham exhibits here what some people call an "abiding sin," a sin to which we may be particularly prone.

We're all sinners and prone to sin as a result. But for us as individuals, there seem to be sins to which we're especially prone, ones we find especially enticing. Abraham's lack of trust in God drove him to this sin of lying to men of power and throwing his wife under the bus, so to speak. Yet, Abraham appears to have continued in the general direction of following God. 

We all sin. But if we will keep following Jesus, living in what Luther called "daily repentance and renewal," the direction of our lives will remain firm. God will forgive our sins for the sake of Jesus' self-sacrifice on the cross and send His Spirit to help us resist committing the same sins repeatedly. 

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:13, in the New Testament: "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." That's a great promise!

And another great promise is found 1 John 2:1. There, John is encouraging believers to avoid sinning against God or others. Then he writes: "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One." 

8. Genesis 20: God strictly forbids child sacrifice. This makes God's command of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac almost incomprehensible. But one of the lessons this strange and disturbing incident seems to convey is that the promise of God doesn't depend on human beings; God is the provider. And, in the end of course, God provides Abraham with a ram to sacrifice in his son's place.

(Centuries later, God would disdain the sacrifice of unblemished lambs for His people's sins, offered annually. Instead, He would offer His own Son to pay the price for our sins forever, so that all who turn from sin and trust in Christ, have forgiveness and everlasting life.)

For more, you might want to read this, Does God Punish Parents Through the Suffering of Their Children? NO!

9. Genesis 24: The narrative of Isaac's marriage to Rebekah is one of pure romantic delight. In that era of arranged marriages, here were two people who fell in love despite the context.

10. Genesis 25-27: Despite the love that Isaac and Rebekah shared, their household was less than functional. Mom favored Jacob. Dad favored Esau. In the midst of these negative family dynamics, God was still working. God was still gracing this family. And God still intended that this line, centuries later, would be the family into which the Savior Jesus would be born.

Your family may not be perfect. (No such animal exists.) But God can still bless and use you and your family.

11. Genesis 27: Blessings had meaning to the ancient Israelites. And we must acknowledge to this day, that words have power.

12. Genesis 28-31: Jacob gets a few comeuppances in these chapters. First, he becomes a fugitive from his brother, Esau, after he had cheated Esau. Second, Laban, even more of a schemer than Jacob, tricks him into long years of labor so that Jacob can finally have Rachel as his wife. (Poor Leah!)

13. Genesis 32: Jacob wrestles with God. Jacob seeks a blessing from God. God does bless Jacob, but at the cost of a lifelong limp. The limp would serve as a lifelong reminder to Jacob of his vulnerability.

God blesses those vulnerable enough to admit their need of God. But if they're fortunate, God will leave a mark vulnerability on their lives so that they never forget Who is in control or the grace He bears on those who are faithfully dependent on Him.

14. Genesis 33: Jacob's worries about his brother prove ill-founded. Worry about the futures we can't control is endemic to humanity, an outgrowth of of our desire to be in control, to "be like God." But worry does little for us and it gets in the way of faith. (I am an experienced worrier, by the way!)

You might want to check out this post, DO NOT WORRY!

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