Monthly Archives: January 2014

Genesis 25:1-26

I confess that my morning devotionals are usually Word-heavy; if I can confess a weak link, it will be in the area of prayer. I don’t pray like I should. If I am going to short-change the balance between reading God’s Word and prayer, I’ll short-change prayer every time. It wasn’t always like that, though. When I was fighting cancer, I prayed quite diligently—and frequently. In times of crisis, I was constantly reminded of my powerlessness to rectify the situation, and I had to rely on the One Who could. Now that that crisis is past, on some level I have talked myself into believing that my spiritual growth and provision comes at my own hands: my ability to translate, study, interpret, and write about His word. I am out of balance. I need more prayer in my life.

 

In today’s readings, Abraham takes a second wife, has some more children, and dies. His property and blessing are transferred to Isaac, and the narrator lets us know what happened to Ishmael and his descendants. Then, the story seamlessly moves to the next generation of the promise of God: Isaac and Rebekah. Perhaps Isaac remembered, from having watched his father, that God answers prayer. He knew in Whom he was to place his faith. Like his father before him, Isaac faced a significant issue: his wife was barren. At this time in history, there was undoubtedly all kinds of holistic hippie medicine ideas to help with this problem. There were other gods to pray to, and other cultural paradigms that might have addressed it. But Isaac placed his faith in the One he remembered provided: perhaps the memory of the provided ram in his own place when he was a young lad was emblazoned in his consciousness. That was the day he had learned that יִרְאֶ֑ה יְהוָ֣ה–the LORD provides. And so he did what he had undoubtedly seen his father do on multiple occasions in his own life: he “entreated” (עָתַר—to pray or supplicate) the LORD—he prayed. He knew he was powerless to change this situation, but he knew Who could do it. God answered Isaac’s prayer—He responded to his faith—and the next verse sees his wife dealing with her own issue. She is having twins, and the babies are struggling mightily with her. Troubled by this, she also has a wide array of options available to her in the Near Eastern culture—options that likely are still around in New Age hippie culture today. But rather than “cover all her bases,” Rebekah also goes straight to the one solution to all problems: she “went to inquire of the LORD” (25.22). God answers her, as well. So in this section, we see that both husband and wife have placed their faith in YHWH, as had Abraham and Sarah before them. We might also notice that God’s promise is continuing to be fulfilled—and that He does so through supernatural means in times of His choosing. He elects the younger ahead of the older for the conduit of His promises (Jacob over Esau). He is divine, and His choices are the right choices. But He still hears and answers prayer.

 

It seems almost counterintuitive any more to say “God answers prayer.” On the one hand, we sort of “know” this. That’s why we pray. On the other hand, we often don’t really believe this. That’s why we don’t pray more and harder. But halfway through this incredible narrative of the book of Genesis, if there is one thing we can say we’ve learned about YHWH, it is that He is a self-disclosing God Who wants you to know him and definitely listens to your prayers. He provides for your needs—all of them: financial, sexual, intellectual, professional, emotional, physical. He knows you, knows your future, and completely takes care of you. And He loves it when you invest time in getting to know Him. He likes it when you talk to Him. He is fond of the time you spend together, and is happy to speak to you through His word and the community of His saints. His promises are generally fulfilled through moments of adversity or impossibility: times when you know good and well that there is no other explanation for your blessing other than יִרְאֶ֑ה יְהוָ֣ה–the LORD provides.

 

So spend time praying today. Talk to your heavenly Father. He likes hearing from you. He takes care of you, and will do so all of your days. You think YOU love your loved ones? Not even a fraction of how much He loves them. Trust Him with them. Pray vigorously and often today.

 

 

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Genesis 24

It is time for Isaac to get a wife. The custom of the day is for the father to obtain one for his son, like property. The thought of bringing one of the locals into his family grieves him; one of his distant family would be more appropriate, according to the custom of the day. He charges his servant Eliezer with this mission, and Eliezer behaves with loyalty to his master and faith in his God. He is being sent into the great unknown to accomplish something difficult, and yet he plows ahead, believing that God will bless the effort and provide. Eliezer acted with loyalty and faith, and God responded with loyal love of His own. Moreover, this guidance narrative isn’t just about a seemingly impossible mission; it is a major element of how God brings about His promise. There are so many places in which this adventure could have taken a wrong turn: Eliezer could have failed (24.5-8), the divine sign could have been mistaken for something else (24.21), Laban could have refused (24.49), or Rebekah herself could have refused (24.54-58). Yet it didn’t—Abraham and Eliezer acted in faith, and God took care of the details.

 

I remember reading this passage in my early morning devotional in January 2009 as I left my house in San Antonio to drive to the metroplex and look for work in ministry up here. I had pulled over in Waco, read the narrative, had a time of prayer, and felt like Eliezer on a mission that will ultimately be blessed. The key word here is “ultimately,” because what I sought is still on the horizon ahead of me. But God is faithful. If we are faithful to Him, and proceed on His mission, He takes care of the details. He has done that for me, and He’ll do it for you. So many different variables have to happen in order for God’s plan to come true: and it is not your job to make even one of them happen. Just be faithful and loyal to Him, and He will bring success to your mission.

 

 

Genesis 23:1-20

When I bought my house, I paid a “down payment” on the total cost. This was my indication to the previous owner that my intent to buy the house was real and binding. Each month after that, I’ve made another payment on that mortgage. The full amount is not yet paid, but will be. If men can demonstrate the seriousness and truth of their promises to one another with down payments, how much more does God make His promises sure?

 

Sarah died without having seen the promise of God come completely true in her life. She was an old woman, sojourning in a foreign land. Though she’d seen the “down payment” of that promise with the birth of her miracle son, Isaac, she still never saw the rest of the promise—the ownership of the land, the numerous descendants, the blessing of the nations through her offspring. The central focus of this story is death itself. Abraham is navigating the tension between the death of Sarah and the promise of God. By buying this land from the Hittites, Abraham is effectively renouncing Paddan Aram (the significance of which was shown at the end of chapter 22). By buying this little plot of land, he is becoming its owner. The body of his wife will reside her from now on; this place is his (and hers). This will become his family’s ancestral home; there will be no going back to Haran. It is telling and ironic that “the only portion of the Promised Land that Abraham ever received, he bought—and that was a grave” (Ross). Just buying that land was an act of faith; it was the behavior of a man navigating the tension between death and the life promised by God.

We often look at our own lives and wonder how God’s promise will come to pass. We navigate the difficult tension between the reality that we see before us and the promise of God. Like Abraham, we often navigate the tension between death itself and the promise of God. Either we know that our loved one is with Christ while we yet mourn their passing—or we ourselves are concerned with the temporal and fleeting nature of this life while we understand that His greatest promises are for the next one. There is no way that a human life could possibly hold all of the blessings that He intends to bestow on us, and there is a tension there between loving life today and believing in life tomorrow. Even aside from the topic of death, we often wonder at how God keeps His promises when reality doesn’t seem to support such a notion. I know God called me to preach the gospel, for example; but I have no idea why I am having to make a living as a paint estimator while others who haven’t prepared for a life of ministry are getting to do exactly that.

But none of that “reality” changes the true reality: that God has spoken His word, and will keep it. Indeed, He is still speaking His word daily through reading and prayer and the community of His saints, and I believe Him. I don’t know HOW His promises come true. I don’t know WHEN they will come true. I don’t always recognize His word in the day-to-day events that happen to me. But I do know that He is true, and His word is true. I’ve only seen a little bit of what He can do—a down payment of sorts. I’ll see the rest of it; this I know.

As you navigate the tension between your current “reality” and the reality that God has promised you, let your faith be strengthened. Be reminded that He hasn’t forgotten you, and none of your circumstances are a surprise to Him. Believe Him now, as you did then….and as you always will, even beyond time.

Genesis 22:1-24

The east wall of my house is mostly comprised of windows. There is a beautiful view of the sunrise, and a nice angle from which to see the expansive back yard. One morning, while looking out that window, I saw one of my sons attempting to start the lawnmower. He didn’t know it, but I was watching him as he pulled the cord multiple times, to no avail. He would probably have given up on the mission entirely if I hadn’t gone out there and put gas in the mower and primed it for him. Good thing for him—and my lawn—that I could see him when he didn’t know it, and that I was able to go out and provide what he needed to complete his mission.

 

1Then after these things, God tested Abraham. And He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2Then He said, “Now take your only son—even Isaac, whom you love—and get you to the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” 3So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his men with him, and Isaac his son, and he cut wood for the burnt offering. Then he rose up and went to the place about which God had told him. 4Then, on the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from a distance. 5Then Abraham said to the young men, “You stay here with the donkey, and I and the boy will go over there and worship, and return to you.” 6Then Abraham the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took the fire and the knife in his hand and they both went together. 7Then Isaac spoke to Abraham his father, saying, “My father?” and he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold—the fire and the wood…but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8And Abraham said, “God will provide to Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And they both went together. 9Then they came to the place about which God had told him, and Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the alter, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11But an angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham!” And Abraham said, “Here I am.” 12Then He said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything; for now I know that you fear God because you have not withheld your only son from me.” 13Then Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and—behold! A ram was behind him, caught in the thicket by his horns. And Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14And Abraham called the name of that place YHWH-Jireh [“The LORD will provide”]. And it is said today, “In the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” 15Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham out of heaven a second time, 16saying, “I have sworn by Myself, says the LORD, that because you have done this, and have not withheld your only son, 17I will surely bless and multiply you, and your offspring will be a the stars in the heavens, and the sand that is on the shore of the sea; and your offspring will possess the gate of their enemies. 18And all the nations of the earth will be blessed through your offspring, because you have obeyed My voice.” 19So Abraham returned with his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba, and Abraham dwelled in Beersheba.

 

One of the most disturbing stories in the Bible, this is also one of the most powerful. It tells the story of Abraham’s continued faith. We have already seen him believe God for ridiculous things; now his faith grows even stronger—through direct testing. God instructs him to give up that which was most precious to him—his only son. Let the reader understand that God takes no pleasure in child sacrifice; He simply wants Abraham to believe Him against all intuition and logic. The narrative begins with God’s call to Abraham, and Abraham’s response: “Here I am [or, “behold,” הִנֵּה].” He will utter the same response to his son in 22.7 and to the angel again in 22.11. There is an emphasis here on the back-and-forth; the response of the human to God’s call. There is another phrase that poetically repeats itself throughout the narrative: “and they both went together” (וַיֵּלְכ֥וּ  שְׁנֵיהֶ֖ם  יַחְדָּֽו).  Isaac and the boy go to the mountain, and they return from the mountain. It is fair to wonder whether or not Isaac looked at his father differently on the way back than he did on the way there, but the ultimate point here is that God never intended for them to be separated. They walked up together and came back together. When Abraham refused to withhold from God his only son, he demonstrated that he believed Him. Indeed, when asked where the actual sacrifice would come from, his response is telling: “The LORD will provide [or see]”, (יְהוָ֖ה  יֵרָאֶֽה). That’s exactly what God did, too: He provided the sacrifice that Abraham needed, just as He had provided his son. The Hebrew is literally translated “the LORD will provide to Himself the burnt offering” (22.8). This was God’s big idea in the first place, and He will provide the sacrifice to Himself. It is a precursor to an even more telling episode that will come in history: He will provide the sacrifice for man’s sin by giving up His own Son as the Lamb of God. This episode allows man to see a little of what this might feel like on God’s part, but most importantly it illustrates that God is the ultimate Provider. He called Abraham to be faithful, and He provided what Abraham needed in the process.

 

God still challenges us to prioritize Him above everything and everyone else. He still tells us to sacrifice that which is most important to us out of faith that He provides. And true to His nature, God still provides. He is still the God Who sees what you need—that’s the real Hebrew meaning in יֵרָאֶֽה. He knows what you need the minute He calls you to your mission—and He provides it. It may look hopeless. Stepping out in faith that He knows what He’s talking about might feel truly precarious. But YHWH-Jireh is still in the providing business the same as He was then. When you present yourself to Him (“Here I am”), His mission may seem impossible or the direct opposite of your personality or skill set—but He provides the strength and ability to do it. He provides your food and sustenance. He provides your safety. He provides your path. He provides your destiny. He has already paid the price for your sin, and has provided that atonement as well through the sacrifice of His only Son. When you walk in faith, this simply means believing that He is indeed the God Who does what He says—the God Who sees and provides.

 

This is as difficult for me today as I’m sure it was for Abraham. I sometimes have a hard time with what God has called me to be doing at the moment—how faithless would I be if He’d asked me to sacrifice my son? I’m not sure I would have responded the way Abraham did. I definitely need supernatural reminder that God is the Provider; it helps me immensely to read this story and realize the multitudinous ways that God provides exactly what I need. He was the Originator of Abraham’s mission, and the Provider of what he needed. Similarly, He is the Originator of my mission, and the Provider of what I need to complete it. That which I think of as most important pales in comparison to Him.

 

He’s the God Who sees. Take comfort in that today as you execute the mission He’s given you.

 

Genesis 21:22-34

This story again emphasizes the significance of repairing broken relationships to God’s will. The people of God do not hold grudges, and should not perpetuate conflict. When Abimelech asks Abraham to make the oath for the purposes of peace, he is asking Abraham whether or not he chooses peaceful relations—and the answer should always be YES. When that peace was disrupted by the violent removal of sheep from the well (21.25-27), Abraham’s and Abimelech’s responses are commensurate: let’s fix this between us. As Abraham pursues healthy relationship with Abimelech, God prospers Abraham—and the Abraham is able to honor God’s name because of that relationship. Three important elements exist in this last part of the story (21.31-34): the first is the naming of the well. It appears that the well was renamed for two reasons: the dispute was resolved over a treaty between two men of oath involving seven lambs. Also, the word is itself a play on the Hebrew number “seven.” The second noteworthy aspect of this last part of the story is the notion of the tree being planted. To plant a tree would have been futile in that region unless one intended to stay there a while. It would require a great deal of water and care. When Abraham plants that tree, it is a way of communicating his trust in God’s provision for him while he stays there. Finally, Abraham calls out in the name of the eternal God. As Ross puts it, “the prosperity from God’s presence was evident to all, the peaceful coexistence with the people of the land was ensured through the covenant: now began the responsibility to use both to the honor of the Lord, the eternal God.”

 

A major emphasis of this passage is the constant attention to peaceful relations we should cultivate with those in our lives. God’s name is glorified when we make it a priority to live in peace with others. Moreover, when that peace is broken—which invariably happens with humans—it is our priority to fix it. Repairing broken relationships is the chief theme of God’s redemption—after all, He sent His Son to die in order that the broken relationship between Himself and man would be repaired. When we repair our broken relationships, we honor God. God has given us a certain amount of resources for our provision; to the extent that we nurture and cultivate peaceful relationships with those in our sphere of influence, we honor God’s name vis-à-vis that provision. People around us see that God is blessing us, and our strong relationships bless others.

 

What are you doing to cultivate peace with others in your sphere of influence? Are you demonstrating faith in God’s provision like Abraham did, knowing that you honor God’s name by doing so? Make your relationships a priority today.

Genesis 21:1-21

Chapter 21 is the focal point of the narrative in Genesis so far. God has been promising, Abraham has been believing, and now God fulfills His promise. The verb is stated three times in the first seven verses: “just as He had said,” in order that the reader may be reminded that it was the sovereignty of God that brought about these miraculous events, not pure chance. When the verb “visited” (פָּקַד, 21.1) is employed, it is describing a “divine intersection of someone’s life that shapes or alters destiny” (Ross). There is zero chance of Abraham and Sarah being able to have a baby in their late 90’s—for all of history, there will be no rationalizing or explaining this particular miracle. This was God, plain and simple. No man will be able to come along later and provide a scientific explanation for this. God, in His sovereignty, made this happen; He VISITED man in this fashion. The fulfillment of this promise provided an opportunity for Abraham to obey God’s command of circumcision, and he does. The fulfillment of this promise also provides opportunity for great rejoicing and praise of God Almighty. When the boy is named Isaac, it is “a reminder of God’s faithfulness rather than of the parents’ unbelief” (Ross). While this is going on, Hagar’s son Ishmael represents an existential threat to the promise, and Sarah understands it. This had been all her bad idea in the first place, and she has come to regret it. The verb for “mocking” (צָחַק) has given expositors some difficulty; some have translated it traditionally as “mocking,” while others have taken the view that Ishmael was simply playing with Isaac as an equal. Based on the use of the word elsewhere in scripture, it seems most preferable to see “mocking” as a tendency to treat another much too lightly or triflingly. In this situation, the traditional translation is possibly correct. In any event, Hagar and Ishmael are sent away to make room for the inheritance of Isaac. Notwithstanding, God does not devalue Hagar and Ishmael; He hears their cries of desolation and rejection and provides for them, as well. In this 40th year of legalized abortion, this should give every believer pause—this prime example of the value of human life that God demonstrates toward an historic enemy of His promise. The story would also remind the Exodus crowd that was originally reading it of their own story: sent out of Egypt to face difficult circumstances that would require their complete dependence upon God.

God still keeps His promises. He delights in doing so. Like Hagar and Ishmael—and Abraham and Sarah before that, and the children of Israel afterward—you and I are completely and totally dependent on the providence of God Almighty. We do not walk alone, and are not desolate or rejected. He has highly valued you and me, and He has provided for us. Moreover, He can be counted on to fulfill His promises. He visits us—He divinely interrupts our time on the earth to show us His sovereignty and power in fulfilling His promise of provision and protection for us. Do you believe Him?

This is the essence of righteousness: faith. If you believe God and His promises, you are clothed with His righteousness because of the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ. While doubt is the normal human paradigm—and He understands it—the goal should be to move toward faith. True theology is not reason seeking faith, but faith seeking reason. Believe God, and He will settle the rest.

Genesis 20:1-18

Once again, Abraham momentarily forgets Who made the Promise and in Whose power he walks. Once again, just like in 12.10-20, Abraham trades the sanctity and purity of his marriage for his own safety. It would certainly seem that if the Promise is to come true, it won’t be because of human effort; it will be divine work that brings this to pass. In the hands of man, righteousness is a failure. We read that Abimelech is innocent, and we understand why: God kept him from this sin. He had acted in the integrity of his heart; he had not been trying to steal another man’s wife. God intervened to protect the purity of Abraham’s marriage—and Abimelech’s health. God had shut up the wombs of those with him, and the penalty of death hung ominously over Abimelech. This story is, among other things, about the fact that the power of life and death is with God alone. You’ll recall the earlier story where God protected their marriage from Abraham’s hare-brained scheme, and it is noteworthy that it took place in Egypt. When read by the Exodus population, this story would have reminded them of God’s care for them in Egypt, and His deliverance of them. This story takes place in the Promised Land, reminding them that temptation is ever near, and God is still the Deliverer. Full restoration of health and life to Abimelech comes only through prayer.

 

Even while walking with God, we have a tendency to forget Whom we serve. We paint ourselves in a better light than we really are. We present ourselves as more righteous than we truly can be. Our trust is in Him, not ourselves. We should also remember that, despite our sinfulness, God hears our prayer, as He did Abraham’s. Our prayer life is as important as our devotional reading. We need a strong relationship with God if we are to trust Him. He gives us life, protects us from the enemy, and frequently shields us from the natural consequences of our boneheadedness. None of us get what we truly deserve.

 

So who’s in charge of your destiny today? You? How has that turned out for you in the past? If you trust God with your plans, you will succeed. If you trust Him with your safety and direction, you will live. If your prayer life is consistent, you will know Him and be able to trust Him even more.