Gen. 29-31

Jacob leaves his family to find a wife from his mother’s family, Laban her brother. As he approaches Haran, Jacob meets Rachel at the watering hole. She takes him to her father. Jacob desires to take her as his wife. So when Laban agrees to give what he desires, Jacob asks Rachel to be his wife. The negotiation involves Jacob working for seven years and then Rachel would be his wife.

While Jacob had been the deceiver with his brother, now Laban deceives Jacob. At the end of seven years Jacob discovers that Rachel’s older sister, Leah, is the one who sleeps with Jacob. The deceiver was deceived. So seven more years to “work” for Rachel.

The tension already evident between the sisters, now extends to who gets pregnant. Leah eventually has six sons and one daughter, her maid also gets pregnant. Rachel, who was barren, has her maid sleep with Jacob. Finally Rachel has two sons of her own, Joseph and Benjamin.

What to make of this?

Many times teaching materials of the Old Testament tend to focus on the human level. So, the stories become encouragement to “be like____” and you fill in the blank. The moral is that if you acted like (Abraham, Isaac, etc.) then you will be blessed by God.

The these chapters continue the trend all the way back to Genesis 3—sin pervades and influences every person. In these stories we see Jacob on the receiving end of deception, Rachel’s jealousy of her sister Leah, and Laban’s continuing plan to best Jacob. Each is struggling to get their advantage over the others.

Leah and Rachel

Leah and Rachel

In other words, all the characters in Genesis are sinful people. The key is not how great (or not so great) these people were in character or actions. Rather, the key is God, who made promises to these sinful people, who acts to use even the most sinful humans to fulfill what He desired and planned.

Such an understanding does not excuse the sins, but it does provide insight into how God can and will work in what seem to be horrible circumstances. And throughout history God still works in and through sinful humans. So, we focus that kind of God. And for that we can be thankful.

So now we see that with all the plotting for having children, it is Leah, the forgotten, older sister, who gives birth to the son (Judah) who will carry on the promises of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Another surprise!

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Genesis 25-28

A major theme in Genesis is God’s promise to Abraham (Gen. 12; 15; 17; 22). The promise was fourfold:

I will make you a great nation,
I will bless you to be a blessing
I will make your name great;
I will give (your descendants) this land. (Gen 12:2-3, 7)

The rest of the Old Testament follows that promise as it is partially fulfilled by people in the Old Testament (Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David). Ultimately the promises all find their fulfillment and completion in Jesus Christ (2 Cor.1:20; Matt. 5:17; Heb. 4:7-8; etc.)

In Genesis 25-28, we see the fracture of relationships affecting those receiving the promise: Isaac vs. Rebekah, Isaac and Esau, Rebekah and Jacob, and Esau vs. Jacob. Sadly those kinds of fractures occur throughout the Old Testament, the New Testament, and even today. It might be tempting for us to think we can avoid that pitfall in relationships. But if we are honest, we fail just as much as Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau. In reality, the promises are not dependent on the faithfulness of any of them. Rather, it is God who was, who is, and who will be faithful. The people in the Biblical narrative receive the benefits of God’s faithfulness.

The conflict between Esau and Jacob begins in the womb (Gen. 25:22-3). The animosity increases over the years. Sadly Esau despised his birthright and traded it for lentil stew and bread (Gen. 25:34). Not to be outdone in sin, Jacob connived with his mother, Rebekah, and by deceit stole the blessing that was rightfully Esau’s (Gen. 27:30-40).

Even in the choice of wives, the brothers were at odds. Esau married to grieve his parents (Gen. 26:34-5; 28:6-9) Isaac, through Rebekah’s suggestion, sent Jacob away. Rebekah’s purpose was to protect Jacob from Esau’s intent to kill Jacob (Gen. 27:41).

Climbing Jacob’s Ladder?

When Jacob leaves he has a dream. God once again reiterates the promise to Jacob that was given by Isaac to Jacob. He sets up a pillar as a memorial to God’s appearance to him,. Interestingly Jacob never climbs the ladder in the dream.

Figures_Jacobs_Ladder

He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. (Gen. 28:12).

If anyone were to descend and climb that ladder of perfection, it would be Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:15). Or as Paul put it:

But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:6–10)

Concluding thoughts

From a human perspective, these four chapters are discouraging. Conflict, deceit, manipulation, marriages full of distrust, marriages because of anger and resentment, not as God intended.

From a divine perspective, nothing is outside of God’s fulfilling His own promises. No lies are too big for God to work around. No antagonism between brothers can frustrate God’s plan for perfect harmony and peace.

Thus, these chapters reflect the effects of sin, and more God’s triumph over sin, even death, and lurking behind all, the schemes of Satan. So Paul wrote:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-9)

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John 2

John’s Gospel provides signs to testify to who Jesus is and what He has come to do.

John 2:1-11; 4:45-54; 5:1-15; 6:1-15; 6:16-21; 9:1-12; 11:38-44

John only includes two of the signs that appear in the other Gospels (walking on water, feeding 5,000). John is, also, selective in writing about the signs because there were many others that could have been recorded:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name. (20:30-31)

Wedding in Cana

In John 2 we have the first sign, turning the water into wine. It takes place in Cana (near Nazareth) in the northern region of Galilee. Cana is only mentioned in John’s Gospel. This is home territory for Jesus and some of the disciples.Map_Galilee

John provides a theological timeline that seems to relate to creation:

Day 1 1:19-28

Day 2 1:29-34 (1:29 “The next day”)

Day 3 1:35-42 (1:35 “the next day”)

Day 4 1:43-51 (1:43 “The next day”)

Day 6 (?) 2:1-11 (2:1 “on the third day” counting day 4, 5, 6)

Interestingly if we combine Genesis 1 and 2 we see the creation of man and woman and hence marriage, connected to the 6th day. And it is on this “third day” that Jesus attends a wedding.

We don’t know a lot about wedding practices in the first century, although we know that they would often last a full seven days. Normal practice is for best wine to be served until it ran out, then the lesser quality wine would be served. But in any case it was socially embarrassing to run out of wine completely.

Mary understands the implications and tells Jesus about the situation. Jesus’ response seems a little odd and even harsh.

“What has this concern of yours to do with Me, woman?” Jesus asked. “My hour has not yet come.” (2:4)

The use of “woman” is a respectful address to any woman, but seems a little odd for addressing His mother. On the other hand, given his next statement about “My hour has not yet come” his address to His mother may indicate that Jesus is addressing her as a disciple first and foremost.

Mary’s response seems to indicate that she understands the changed relationship. She does not have special privilege with Jesus, but as a disciple, accepts His statement and then waits upon Jesus to do something. In other words, Mary demonstrates the faith of a disciple, not the demands of a mother.

Notice that there is nothing “spectacular” in what Jesus says or does, at least that can be heard or seen. But in the process of telling the servants what to do, at some point the water is changed into wine. Interesting that the groom and bride are not the center. Even the chief servant isn’t central, except that his declaration confirms what the servants had known and seen.nozze_cana_26

The servants, his mother, his disciples testify to this first sign. By doing so, Jesus “displayed His glory, and His disciples believed in Him” (2:11). This brings us back to the introductory section where we read:

The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (1:14)

Cleansing the Temple

In second part of chapter 2, the scene shifts from Galilee to Jerusalem. Jesus expands on 1:14 again, this time focusing on the contrast between the temple in Jerusalem and His own temple, the true dwelling place of God on earth.

The prophet Jeremiah had to confront the people of God in Jerusalem because of their idolatry regarding the building.

“This is what the LORD [Yahweh] of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: Correct your ways and your deeds, and I will allow you to live in this place. Do not trust deceitful words, chanting: This is the temple of the LORD [Yahweh], the temple of the LORD [Yahweh], the temple of the LORD [Yahweh]. Instead, if you really change your ways and your actions, if you act justly toward one another, if you no longer oppress the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow and no longer shed innocent blood in this place or follow other gods, bringing harm on yourselves, I will allow you to live in this place, the land I gave to your ancestors long ago and forever. But look, you keep trusting in deceitful words that cannot help. (Jeremiah 7:3-8)

Now Jesus faces similar distortions of the house of the LORD [Yahweh]. While it was necessary to offer sacrifices and visitors couldn’t bring their own sacrifices great distances, the sellers had encroached to the point that it was difficult to tell whether one was entering the temple of the LORD [Yahweh] or a continuation of the Old Testament idoltary.Jesus-Cleansing-the-Temple

Three references to this appear, one in the immediate context of the above quote from Jeremiah

Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers our view? Yes, I too have seen it.” This is the LORD’s [Yahweh’s] declaration. (Jeremiah 7:11)

His disciples also recognized the reference to this text:

because zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult You have fallen on me. (Psalm 69:9)

Note that the Jews now demand a sign (HCSB adds “of authority”):

So the Jews replied to Him, “What sign of authority will You show us for doing these things?” (2:18)

This becomes a recurring them in John’s Gospel. Every time Jesus does a sign or challenges the Jewish leaders, they demand a sign. The problem is not the demand, but rather the unbelief behind those demands. No matter how often or how great a sign (miracle) Jesus performs, it will never be enough for those who do not believe.

Jesus agrees to do a sign, a miraculous sign.

Jesus answered, “Destroy this sanctuary, and I will raise it up in three days.” Therefore the Jews said, “This sanctuary took 46 years to build, and will You raise it up in three days?” (2:19-20)

They only see the building, and don’t even see the perversion that is taking place with the sellers and buyers. Rather they think he speaks of the physical building that is the worship center of their lives. Jesus, of course, is talking about the true center of worship—Himself. He will show this final sign, his resurrection, but even then they will not believe.

The disciples see and hear what Jesus is saying, and later remember this event.

But He was speaking about the sanctuary of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this. And they believed the Scripture and the statement Jesus had made. (2:21-22)

Signs or Faith?

This chapter ends with a contrast between even Jesus and those who believe in Him.

While He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many trusted in His name when they saw the signs He was doing. Jesus, however, would not entrust Himself to them, since He knew them all and because He did not need anyone to testify about man; for He Himself knew what was in man. (2:23-25)

Thus, while John shows that the signs are there for anyone to believe, even the faith demonstrated was not sufficient. Only Jesus is sufficient.

As I think about this I am reminded that many within the Christian world today have “faith in (their) faith.” But that is not Biblical; rather our faith is in Jesus Christ, who is unchanging, not entrusting Himself to them i.e. not believing in them.

We read about these signs, and perhaps even witness some kind of miracle today. If it is genuine miracle of God we rejoice. But our faith can never be in the signs, but rather that the signs point us to Jesus Christ, through whom we have salvation. That is why Paul, who had performed many miracles himself and saw the third heaven, came back to this foundational statement:

For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2 NAS)

May that be our confession and our message to everyone.

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BTW I was looking for a graphic for the wedding, and one showed a man lifting up the container and pouring into a cup. How many people can lift 20-30 gallons and pour into a cup? Some graphic artist needs to go try that—30 gallons weighs approximately 250 pounds; 20 gallons =162 pounds.

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John 1

Note: Unless otherwise note, all English Scripture references are to Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

John 1:1-18 Prologue

Matthew and Luke begin their Gospels with details of the birth of Jesus, concerning Mary (in Luke) and Joseph (in Matthew). Mark begins his Gospel with the words of the OT prophet, and John the Baptizer’s ministry. Immediately Mark moves into Jesus’ public ministry.john1118greekwordle

John takes a different starting point: eternity.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

The Word became flesh, and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14).

This forces us to come to grips with the reality that the Son of God has existed from eternity, but the true Man-God, Jesus, begins existence in time. Thus, technically it is not appropriate to say that Jesus has been from eternity; rather, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, exists from eternity.

Further, we know God through the revelation of His Son. And we can’t avoid that.

No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son—the One who is at the Father’s side—He has revealed Him. (John 1:18)

As we move through John’s Gospel, we will come back to this “witness/testimony” of Jesus and about Jesus, especially John 8 and 17.

John 1:19-36 John’s Testimony

John moves from the eternal “origin” of the Word to the witness/testimony of John (the Baptizer). Note that while the additional description about John is added in the other Gospels, in this Gospel, it is missing. Why? Because John, the author, does not identify himself by name in the Gospel. So, he does not need to distinguish himself from the Baptizer.

John’s witness/testimony has both a negative and positive tenets. The negative aspect focuses on what John says about himself. “I am not…” No matter the question: “Are you the Messiah?” “Elijah.” “The Prophet.” Even when he quotes Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3) regarding his message, he avoids any kind of identification with these great titles.

John’s positive witness/testimony focus on what he says about Jesus. First, his witness/testimony about Jesus comes in response to those sent by Jewish leaders.

“I baptize with water,” John answered them. “Someone stands among you, but you don’t know Him. He is the One coming after me, whose sandal strap I’m not worthy to untie.” (John 1:26-27)

Second, John’s witness/testimony is announced in a generic way, corresponding to his baptizing work.

All this happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (John 1:28)

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I told you about: ‘After me comes a man who has surpassed me, because He existed before me.’ I didn’t know Him, but I came baptizing with water so He might be revealed to Israel.” (John 1:29-31)

Third, John’s witness/testimony directs his own disciples to Jesus:

Again the next day, John was standing with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!” (John 1:35-36)

John 1:35-51 The First Disciples

The initial interaction between Jesus and these first four disciples seems almost casual. The initial dialog is fascinating:

“What are you looking for?” (1:38A)

“Where are you staying?” (1:38B)

“Come and you’ll see.” (1:39)

In John’s Gospel he uses word themes (Life, Light, etc.), which will come back into play throughout the rest of the Gospel. Just a thought in this passage is the word “staying” [μένω]. Perhaps there is a play on the issue of the Word “becoming flesh” and “took up residence” [σκηνόω] (1:14). Even more, the verbal connections with “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you” (15:7) suggest some of the themes.

I realize that from a linguistic perspective, we have to exercise extreme caution about verbal parallels. See the following:

Silva, Moises. Biblical Words and Their Meaning: an Introduction to Lexical Semantics. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994.

Voelz, James W. What Does This Mean? Principles of Biblical Interpretation in the Post-modern World (concordia Scholarship Today). 2 ed. Concordia Publishing House, 1997.

The next interaction with three more disciples, who now apply titles to Jesus: Andrew and Nathaniel. Andrew claims that Jesus is Messiah (“anointed one”) (1:41). Philip makes the connection of his birth as well:  “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law (and so did the prophets)” (1:45). Nathaniel goes further:  “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”(1:49).

The Testimony Continues

So, now the witness/testimony of John passes on to these disciples who follow Jesus. They don’t have the full understanding of each of these titles/accolades. The rest of the Gospel will expand and fill out these confessions of the faith. Ultimately through the seven signs in John’s Gospel, they will begin to grasp more of it. And when the resurrection happens, they will have enough for the witness/testimony to last even up to the present day.

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Sonb of God, and by believing you may have life in His name. (20:30-31)

We who believe continue in that train: we provide a witness/testimony for others to “come and see.”

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Facing Reality

In Genesis 32-36, we discover that after 20 years, now Jacob has to face his brother, Esau. Remember that he had deceived Esau, and when Esau plotted to kill Jacob, Jacob fled (with his mother’s help and his father’s blessing).

Reflections on the text

After dealing with the life of deception with Laban, Jacob now faces meeting his brother. Chapter 32 offers two perspectives on that preparation. From a human stand point, Jacob devises what he considers the best way to appease and approach his brother: lavish him with gifts.

But there is God’s perspective Jacob realizes where his real problem lies, whether he trusts God or not. He takes stock of his own life before God and his promises:

I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness You have shown Your servant. Indeed, I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two camps. Please rescue me from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid of him; otherwise, he may come and attack me, the mothers, and their children. (32:10-11)

The turning point for Jacob comes near.

“I want to appease Esau with the gift that is going ahead of me. After that, I can face him, and perhaps he will forgive me.” (32:20)

His plan is set. But now as he comes back to the land God promised, God encounters him again, this time in a wrestling match. It might initially appear as if Jacob has the upper hand. Jacob demands the name of his opponent and he demands a blessing. But the text clearly shows that God has the upper hand: God changes his name from Jacob (“he who grasps the heel” or “he who deceives”) to Israel (“he who strives with God”). Note how this is phrased:

“Your name will no longer be Jacob,” He said. “It will be Israelb because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.” (32:28)

And then God blesses Israel. This is the same process (name changed and blessing) for his grandfather, Abraham.

Even with that, as Jacob draws near to Esau, Jacob has an interesting “stacking” of his people:

He put the female slaves and their children first, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. (33:2)

In essence, “let everyone perish if Esau is angry, but his beloved Rachel and Joseph be safe!” Esau surprises Jacob. Even as God had been working on Jacob’s heart for the past 20 years, so also with Esau. Jacob as the former deceiver approaches his brother in humility.

He himself went on ahead and bowed to the ground seven times until he approached his brother. But Esau ran to meet him, hugged him, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. Then they wept. (33:3-4)

What a heart warming reunion!

The contrast with chapter 34 could not be more stark. While Jacob and Esau are united, Dinah is left unprotected (in a sense). He is raped by Shechem. While Shechem desires her for his wife after this, notice Jacob’s reaction:

Jacob heard that Shechem had defiled his daughter Dinah, but since his sons were with his livestock in the field, he remained silent until they returned. (34:5)

As we progress through the Old Testament we will see examples of people of God who see/experience sin, but remain silent. In this case, Jacob is silent, but not his sons (34:7). The tension between Jacob and his sons reaches the climax after they kill Shechem and all the men associated with him and his father. Jacob looks at how he will appear before the inhabitants of the land. The brothers want vengeance for what Shechem did to Dinah.

Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me, making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. We are few in number; if they unite against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”

But they answered, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?” (34:30–31)

God then enters the picture again to direct Jacob to move to Bethel (28:19), the place where God met him before leaving the land. And Jacob builds an altar. There God reconfirms the name change for Jacob and the promise that was given to Abraham (35:10–12). At this point then the passing of the covenant torch is complete, and Rachel Jacob’s beloved wife, then Isaac, his father, die. With the narrative of Esau’s descendants, he now passes out of the scene as well. However, some of his descendants will cause problems in future generations: Edom.

Also, discover the switching between Jacob (35:14, 22) and Israel (35:21) from this point on. It might be an interesting study from this point forward to see when each of the names is used (whehter the man or the nation) and the context, i.e. blessing, promise or punishment.

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What goes around…

In Genesis 28-31 we see that Jacob leaving the promised land. And we see the dissension caused by Isaac and Rebekah loving one child more than another.

Isaac loved Esau … but Rebekah loved Jacob. (25:28)

Devotional Thoughts

Because Jacob had both the birthright and blessing that he took from Esau (with a little help from mom), he has to flee from his home. Esau has plotted to kill him. While Jacob has divided loyalty with his sons, he does reassure and reaffirm the blessing of Abraham (28:3–5). Esau’s revenge now extends to his father as well as Jacob, when he decides to marry those that his father had forbidden (28:6–9).

As Jacob leaves the promised land, his future is uncertain, despite the reassurances of his father. Thus, God himself meets him(through a dream) on his way out of the land.

[Yahweh said:] “Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”(28:15)

Thus, the outward circumstances, alienation from his family, removed from the promised land suggests that Jacob has lost everything. Yet God comforts him with the promise that God is still in control and bring about that blessing that God himself had given.

When Jacob makes his vow (28:20–22), he does not initiate the covenant between them. Rather his vow is in response to what God had already promised. His vow reflects his faith in God’s words to him.

Jacob finally reaches his destination. He thinks that he can control the situation. After all, Rachel is a beautiful woman, he loves her, and he wants her for his wife. And now, the deceiver (Jacob= “he who deceives”) is deceived himself. Imagine Jacob’s surprise and consternation when he works for seven years to have Rachel as his wife. But the woman next to him is her sister, Leah!

Jacob lives with that result and then works another seven years for Rachel as his wife. But the favoritism that he learned from his parents now enters into his relationships with his wives.

Jacob and Rachel

Jacob and Rachel

Jacob slept with Rachel also, and indeed, he loved Rachel more than Leah. When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was unable to conceive (29:30–31)

But God’s mercies continue to surprise, especially Leah. The dissension continues as now there is a wall of hostility between Rachel and Leah, and finally between Rachel and Jacob:

When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she envied her sister. “Give me sons, or I will die!” she said to Jacob.
Jacob became angry with Rachel and said, “Am I in God’s place, who has withheld children from you?” (30:1–2)

Indeed, Jacob has tried to be in God’s place, deceiving and scheming to get what he wants. Rachel has nailed it exactly. So, everything comes full circle. Isaac and Rebekah set the pattern for jealousy and selective love, which affects their sons, and now Jacob’s wives, and Jacob’s own specially loved wife, Rachel. Eventually Jacob has 12 sons and one daughter (strumming on the banjo in the kitchen!).

Laban, his father-in-law, continues to get the most out of his son-in-law with regard to the flocks and the land. But God, true to his promise, blesses Jacob despite Laban’s efforts. Finally, after 20 years, Jacob has had enough of Laban’s deceit and moves away.

And now the the other part of “what goes around…” comes back on Laban:

And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean, not telling him that he was fleeing. (31:20)

Finally after a tense confrontation (with Rachel’s theft of the idol) between Laban and Jacob, they agree to a covenant between themselves. Thus, ends Jacob’s exile, and the beginning of his return. Interestingly he leaves the land in contention with his brother, Esau, and now leaves the land of exile in contention with his father-in-law. What goes around does, indeed come around…

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Managing circumstances, fixing people

Devotional Thoughts

Genesis 24–27: With this section we read about the promise to Abraham passing to Isaac. Of the three patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), the least is written about Isaac. What looks to be a promising start, however, for him takes a downward turn regarding his sons, Jacob and Esau.

The fascinating story of the Abraham sending his servant to find a wife for Isaac reaches its climax when Rebekah leaves her family to be with Isaac. While it was (and is) common in the Middle East, in our western culture, to be married to someone, sight unseen, never having phoned, texted, skyped—unthinkable. Yet they are matched for God’s work of salvation.

One interesting note is that it almost seems that Rebekah is a replacement for Sarah in Isaac’s life. That seems a little odd. It makes sense for someone to be a replacement of Sarah for Abraham, but not Isaac. Note this:

And Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah and took Rebekah to be his wife. Isaac loved her, and he was comforted after his mother’s death. (24:67)

Genesis 25 is a transition chapter wrapping up the previous generation and the shift from Abraham to Isaac is complete. Abraham has another wife and sons, who receive gifts from Abraham, but not in the sense of his heritage and all that it entails that he gives to Isaac. Abraham then is buried where Sarah had been buried. Ishmael, Hagar’s son and family is dispensed in a short family history (25:12-18), and the closing words on his life are sad: “He lived in opposition to all his brothers” (25:18, see 16:12).

Rebekah was like Sarah in another way: childless (Isaac was 40 when they married and 60 when she gave birth, 25:20, 26). So Isaac prays for her, and Isaac and Rebekah are blessed with twins sons, Esau and Jacob. But the blessing is a mixed blessing. Even in the womb they struggle with each other. The prophecy of the LORD to Rebekah points ahead to God’s pattern of choosing the unlikely one for his saving purposes.

Esau and Jacob Presented to Isaac (painting ci...

Esau and Jacob Presented to Isaac (ca 1779–1801 by Benjamin West)

Two nations are in your womb; two people will come from you and be separated. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger. (25:23)

See how this works throughout Biblical history: Genesis 27:29; Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:12.

The contention between the brothers deteriorates after Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for some stew. This means that Esau forfeits his rights to the greatest share of Isaac’s possessions. In Genesis 27, through the help of Rebekah, Jacob steals the blessing from Isaac as well.

Between these two forfeitures by Esau we see Isaac following in the same path as his father. Isaac receives the promise once again of the blessing (26:1–6). Isaac lies about his relationship with Sarah to protect himself, even as his father Abraham had done. Water rights in terms of wells that had been dug cause conflict with Abimelech and the Philistines. And so Isaac must move on. Even so, God reassures him of the promise:

and the LORD appeared to him that night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your offspring because of My servant Abraham.”

So he built an altar there, called on the name of Yahweh, and pitched his tent there. Isaac’s slaves also dug a well there. (26:24-25)

And the response of Isaac is one of faith, like Abraham: he built an altar (see 12:7 and 13:8).

Jacob means “he who grasps the heel” (25:26) or “deceiver.” In chapter 27, we see that attribute come to forefront in taking the blessing from his father. However, we need to remember that Rebekah also was behind this. Note carefully this passage after the birth of Esau and Jacob:

Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for wild game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. (25:28)

How often will we see the repercussions of such favoritism by parents? In fact, notice how the love for one results in hate by the other:

Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. And Esau determined in his heart: “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” (27:41)

The story of Cain and Abel comes around again (4:1-8). This hatred will affect their relationship for decades to come. Rebekah’s short-sighted “solution” of the circumstance, that is, to protect Jacob, will not be a quick fix to the problem of Esau’s anger.

Flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, and stay with him for a few days until your brother’s anger subsides— until your brother’s rage turns away from you and he forgets what you have done to him. (27:43–45)

It will be more than 20 years before Jacob returns. While Rebekah managed to arrange the circumstances for Jacob to receive the blessing, she could not fix the anger and hatred of Esau. Only God will be able to do that.

How often do we try to manage circumstances and fix people? More often than we want to admit. God does much better at both: He manages circumstances to match his perfect will, and only he can fix people by changing their hearts.

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Thrill and Agony of Promises

Genesis 21-23

After many years God fulfills the promise to Abraham and Sarah. The excitement, the surprise, and the joy—for parents who are 100 and 90 years old. No wonder they laughed, no wonder they named him Isaac, “he laughs”! But all is not smooth sailing for them. A challenge that no parent wants to face looms on the horizon for Abraham—and God.

Losing two sons—gaining two sons

Immediately following the birth of Isaac (and his weaning), trouble comes again in the form of Hagar’s son, Ishmael. He begins to mock Isaac, and that bothers Sarah to the point that she tells Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. What she saw as a temporary solution (Genesis 16) has now twice caused Sarah problems.

How would you respond to Sarah’s demand? While it Hagar may be a slave, she also conceived a son with Abraham. So the turmoil must have been great. He loses his son, Ishmael. God told Abraham to follow Sarah’s advice, for God himself would fulfill a promise that Ishmael would become a great nation, as a descendant of Abraham.

Not only does he lose Ishmael, but in chapter 22 Abraham will lose his son, Isaac, as well. Now it is not his wife who is demanding that Isaac be sacrificed. Who could imagine such a condition. It is horrible to lose a child! And now have God himself demand the death of the child? Shudder only hints at the terror, anxiety, fear, devastation that any of us would feel. Abraham did not have the advantage of “reading the outcome in the Bible.” He only had God’s Word spoken to him—regarding both sons.

English: Abraham embraces his son Isaac after ...

Abraham embraces his son Isaac after receiving him back from God

I find it interesting that Abraham’s response in both situations is identical: “Early in the morning Abraham got up…” (21:14) and “So Abraham got up early in the morning…” (22:3). In that sense, James does get it right, Abraham’s faith is demonstrated in his obedience, obedience in the worst case scenario. His answer to Isaac’s question about the sacrifice far exceeds a pat answer.

Abraham answered, “God Himself will provide, the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (22:8)

The writer of Hebrews confirms this test of Abraham.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He received the promises and he was offering his unique son, the one it had been said about, “Your seed will be traced through Isaac.” He considered God to be able even to raise someone from the dead, and as an illustration, he received him back. (Hebrews 11:17-19)

This is certainly a test of Abraham, but it is also a test of God, “Is God faithful to his promises?” Isaac is ultimately God’s son, son of promise. Notice the language used to describe Isaac:

“Take your son,” He said, “your only son Isaac, whom you love” (22:2)

“Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from Me.” (22:12)

Those words regarding “son” reflect exactly the words that God uses to describe Jesus, God’s very own Son.

Baptism: And there came a voice from heaven: “This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him!” (Matthew 3:17)

Transfiguration: While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud covereda them, and a voice from the cloud said: This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him. Listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5)

“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son (John 3:16)

God proves himself faithful in saving Ishmael, and even more dramatically, saving Isaac. Ultimately God sacrifices his own Son, to pay the penalty for all sinners, that is the whole world. God was tested and proved himself perfectly.

In addition to Abraham obeying in faith, now God reiterates the promises of Genesis 12:1-3 and 15:1–6.

Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By Myself I have sworn,” this is the LORD’s declaration: “Because you have done this thing and have not withheld your only son, I will indeed bless you and make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your offspring will possess the gates of their enemies. And all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed My command.” (22:15–18)

This section ends with the death of Sarah. She lived to see great promises fulfilled. And like us, she struggled to see how God was working, sometimes trying to anticipate, sometimes trying to compensate, sometimes failing miserably. But notice God’s epitaph regarding Sarah:

By faith even Sarah herself, when she was unable to have children, received power to conceive offspring (Hebrews 11:11)

“By faith”— throughout Genesis 12–23 we have seen that such a description is not one of perfection—both Abraham and Sarah failed. But the description reflects the ultimate trust in God who is faithful. The old book title by Francis Schaeffer: How Should We then Live? is answered with this same confidence: “By faith”!

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Law and Gospel—in Genesis

Have you ever noticed that after a spiritual high, that a low period follows? Such is the case as we continue reading from Genesis 17 (high) to Genesis 18-19 (low) with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But even there God’s mercy has the final word. God speaks Law to condemn and punish sin (Sodom and Gormorrah); but God also speaks Gospel (salvation) for Lot (his deliverance), and for Abraham, namely, the promise of his descendant confirmed again, now with a time frame attached.

Devotional Thoughts

In Genesis 18 three visitors come to Abraham. Abraham acts as the appropriate host for them. Quickly Abraham discovers that these are not ordinary visitors. In 18:10 we discover that Yahweh (LORD) himself is speaking.

The LORD said, “I will certainly come back to you in about a year’s time, and your wife Sarah will have a son!” (Genesis 18:10)

This confirms the promise that the LORD (Yahweh) had stated several times (Gen. 12, 15, 17) that Abraham would have a descendant, in fact, many descendants. While Sarah listens at the entrance to the tent she erupts into laughter. And who wouldn’t do that? Sarah thinks: “After I have become shriveled up and my lord is old, will I have delight?” (Genesis 18:12). God’s response in 18:14 “Is anything impossible for the LORD?” becomes descriptive about another birth to an old woman (Luke 1:37). But then the phrase reaches its ultimate use in describing God’s saving work:

Those who heard this asked, “Then who can be saved?”

He replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Luke 18:26-27)

But these visitors have another aspect to their journey— the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is immense, and their sin is extremely serious” (Genesis 18:20).

When Abraham hears about God’s intention, he begins questioning the LORD (Yahweh). “Will You really sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” And then he starts the intercession ”Would you destroy for the sake of 50 righteous? 45 righteous, and so on down to 10 righteous? The LORD (Yahweh) shows his mercy in that if only 10 righteous people were found he would relent from destroying the cities. But such was not to be.

In chapter 19 the focus is now whether there are even 10 righteous people in the two cities: there are not. As the visitors come to Sodom, they are welcomed by Lot into his house. Due to his relationship to Abraham and his hospitality to them, God plans to spare Lot and his family, if they will flee.

Sadly, even Lot fails in this whole episode.

He said, “Don’t do this evil, my brothers. Look, I’ve got two daughters who haven’t had sexual relations with a man. I’ll bring them out to you, and you can do whatever you want to them. However, don’t do anything to these men, because they have come under the protection of my roof.” (Genesis 19:7-8)

While cultural hospitality dictated Lot’s response to protect his guests, his offer of his daughters is equally evil.

Then Lot faces their fury, and he is pulled to safety by the men/angels. These protectors of Lot then bring Lot and his family out of the city. Lot pleads to go to Zoar because he is not able to get as far away as his protectors demand. When he and his two daughters are safe, then the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah takes place.

Then out of the sky the LORD rained burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah from the LORD. He demolished these cities, the entire plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and whatever grew on the ground. (Genesis 19:24-25)

The Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah, a paint...

The Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah (by John Martin)

The sin of the two cities and their destruction become significant foreshadowings of sin and God’s punishment throughout the Old Testament and New Testament. Isaiah even prophesies that Judah could have become like these two cities, except for God’s intervention.

If the LORD of Hosts had not left us a few survivors, we would be like Sodom, we would resemble Gomorrah. (Isaiah 1:9)

Babylon will not be so fortunate:

And Babylon, the jewel of the kingdoms, the glory of the pride of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them. (Isaiah 13:19)

By the time of Jeremiah and the destruction Jerusalem, however, conditions deteriorate among God’s people. Jeremiah laments:

The punishment of my dear people is greater than that of Sodom, which was overthrown in an instant without a hand laid on it. (Lamentations 4:6)

Sin is sin, and unrepentant sin is still that. And God’s judgment is upon those who continue in sin. Jesus even notes this when speaking of his own city, Capernaum:

And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until today.  But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:23-24)

So also in 2 Peter 2:6 and Jude 7.

And yet—God calls in mercy. His desire is not destruction but mercy:

The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

The episode with Lot continues downward as sadly his wife turns back to look at Sodom and she dies. His daughters then each sleep with him to have any hope of a continuing legacy. The older one gives birth to Moab, forming the people, Moabites, and the younger one gives birth to Ben-ammi, forming the people, Ammonites. While there is tension between these peoples throughout the Old Testament, there is also one note of hope. One woman from the Moabites, Ruth. will eventually marry into the descendants of Abraham, Boaz. They become great-grandparents of David (Ruth 4:18-22; Matthew 1:5-6).

Genesis 20 presents another instance of Abraham protecting himself by using Sarah as a defense (“she’s my sister”). This follows the similar pattern of Genesis 12:10-20. However, more detail is included in this episode. While some claim that this is an example of repetition or even different sources, there really doesn’t seem to be any reason to not accept that these are two separate incidents. In both cases God protects Sarah, Abraham, and even the king (Pharaoh and Abimelech).

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Firm Foundation, Name, and Sign: Gen. 15-17

Genesis 15 and 17 continue what began in Genesis 12. The general promise of blessing is now given detail, affirmation, and hope for the future.

Devotional Thoughts

In Genesis 15 we have the first full description of God’s covenant with Abram. We also find the connection between faith and righteousness. Not only is the foundation for the rest of the Old Testament, 15:6 becomes foundational for the New Testament.

“As many as the stars so your offspring” Gen. 15

“As many as the stars so your offspring” Gen. 15

15:6 Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.
Romans 4:1-25
Galatians 3:6
James 2:23

Following this tremendous statement of faith and righteousness, Abram questions God: “Lord GOD, how can I know that I will possess it?” (15:8). God responds by sealing the covenant with a formal ceremony. Much has written about this section (some controversial).

Normally the weaker king would pass through the dead animals declaring agreement, and if the weaker kind failed to live up to the covenant then he would die, as these animals. In this case, Abram (weaker king) does not, but the presence of God passes through the animals. Thus, Abram fails, God himself would die. Jesus fulfills that covenant when he dies because Abram and his descendants (in fact, all humans) failed to live up tot he covenant.

While Abram received the promise in chapter 15, we find Sarai trying to help Abram and God complete the promise. She gives her slave, Hagar, to Abram, and Hagar becomes pregnant. Within that culture, that child would be considered an offspring; so it would seem that Sarai was “justified” in her actions.

Sarah Presenting Hagar to Abraham (1699 painti...

Sarah Presenting Hagar to Abraham (1699 painting by Adriaen van der Werff)

But this backfires for Sarai. “When she [Hagar] realized that she was pregnant, she treated her mistress with contempt” (16:4). That blossoms into Sarai blaming Abram for the problem, and eventually Sarai mistreating Hagar, so much so that Hagar runs away.

While it seems hopeless for Hagar, the Angel of the LORD (Yahweh) finds her and tells her two things, both with mixed promises: 1) return to your mistress: “You must go back to your mistress and submit to her mistreatment” (16:9), and 2) her offspring will receive a promise, too: “I will greatly multiply your offspring, and they will be too many to count” (16:10).

The first part seems strange to our present-day sensitivities. “Submit to mistreatment”? We naturally rebel against such commands. Yet, in that process God is working for her benefit. Notice that God is not condoning the mistreatment, but there is blessing in it. In this case, she will live, and rather well, within Abram’s protective care. In the larger perspective of Scripture, we find that Jesus sets the pattern for “submitting,” yes, to the authorities, which means his eventual death on the cross, but ultimately submitting to God the Father (“but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly” 1 Peter 2:23). The context helps with understanding God’s work in this, even through the mistreatment.

Household slaves, submit with all fear to your masters, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel. For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God.
For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in His steps. (1 Peter 2:18-21)

In addition, while her child is not the specific promised child of Genesis 15:1-6, there is still the blessing and promise given to Hagar’s child. But there is the negative side of this promise. Her offspring will multiply greatly, but

His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; he will live at odds with all his brothers. (16:12)

Genesis 17 completes the covenant with Abram with two final things: 1) name change, and 2) covenant sign. Abram (“exalted father”) has his name changed to Abraham (“father of a multitude”) signifying the promise of 17:2. While earlier in Genesis, we find the significance of a name mentioned, this is the first time that a man’s name is changed. Note also that Sarai’s name is changed to Sarah. Both mean “princess,” with Sarai being an older form.

While his name change broadens Abraham’s experience of God, the covenant sign, circumcision focuses on the specific nature of that covenant. Whereas the fertility of God’s creation is mentioned for the creatures in the waters above (fish and fowl) (1:22), Adam and Eve (1:28), and Noah (9:1, 7), this is now attached to the promise for Abraham. Until now this was only partially fulfilled in him through Ishmael (17:20), but the promised offspring (Isaac) will carry it to Jacob with several references to the word, 28:3; 35:11; 48:4. Jacob, of course, will have the 12 sons, who become that “great nation.”

It is interesting that circumcision, the sign of the covenant, involves the very organ of Abraham that is involved in fulfilling the covenant. That is, every time he has intercourse with his wife, it is a reminder of the great promises of the covenant that God made with him. As yet, that fulfillment is on the horizon, but God has reassured him that it was true and anticipating that it was already completed by faith. Throughout the centuries that same promise passes from one generation to another until Christ is born (Romans 9:1-5).

The covenant sign of circumcision becomes a hallmark among the descendants of Abraham. Even 2,000 years later, Jews wanted to use circumcision as the deciding factor, trying to force Gentiles who believed in Jesus to be circumcised. Paul stood his ground against this false understanding of circumcision, but even more against a false understanding of the Gospel and faith which receives the Gospel.

But not even Titus who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.  (Galatians 2:3)

God has to repeat the promise again, and despite Abraham’s laughter at the idea of Abraham (100 years old) and Sarah (90 years old) having a child, God’s promise is even greater. In Hebrews we read:

By faith even Sarah herself, when she was unable to have children, received power to conceive offspring, even though she was past the age, since she considered that the One who had promised was faithful. Therefore from one man—in fact, from one as good as dead—came offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as innumerable as the grains of sand by the seashore. (Hebrews 11:11-12)

Everything is set for Abraham. All of God’s promises are contained in that “offspring,” first Isaac, then Jacob (Israel), and ultimately to the promised offspring, Jesus Christ.

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16)

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