Grace Words

A Daily Bible Reader's Blog

Presented by Mike Tune, Pulpit Minister for the Church of Christ in Falls Church and Amazing Grace International

Grace Words: A Daily Bible Reader’s Blog

Reading Through the Bible, January 10. Genesis 28-30

The books of Genesis through Deuteronomy serve to give Israel, God’s people in the Old Testament, a look at who they are, where they have come from, how they have arrived where they are, God’s great partiality toward them, and what God expects of them.

They receive these books as they are about to enter the land (called Canaan) God promised to their ancestors hundreds of years earlier.  The people they are going to encounter there live lives morally repulsive to God, and in punishment for their behavior, God is going to take their land and give it to Israel.

Moral infection is a real threat to Israel.  God will tell Israel she must kill the Canaanites or drive them from the land.  She must not live among them, and especially she must not inter-marry with them.  Thus far in the Genesis story, the people of Canaan are seen to move toward increasing wickedness.  That’s why both Abraham and Isaac insist that their sons not marry Canaanite women.  As you read the story of Jacob’s wives and their conflicts, you may well wonder how much worse Canaanite women could possibly have been!  In both Abraham and Isaac’s eyes, they were a lot worse.

Likely Abraham, viewing the available women for his son — and partial to his own choice — believed the geographical origin of Sarah was the best place to get a wife.  Isaac, considering the origin of his own mother and his wife, likely believed geography had something to do with it.  The women from the “old country” were better.  But what none of them seemed to understand was that it was not geographical origin, but spirituality that counted.

Selecting a mate is decision with life-long consequences and implications.  Looks, education, and background are not nearly as important as spirituality.  First and foremost must be a “fear of the Lord.”  This is the beginning place.  Historically, such a quality could not be found in Canaan.  Israel was to keep that in mind as she entered the land.  Looking for a spouse requires making this quality first priority.  After marriage, being this kind of person (both husbands and wives) must be job #1.

Reading Through the Bible: January 9 — Genesis 25-27

If the world began with two people, where did everybody else come from?  On several occasions thus far, the ancestry of the world has been presented and now, of course, everyone is a descendant of Noah.  In this chapter, God takes note of some who will figure prominently in the history of Israel.  There are the descendants of Keturah, Abraham’s second wife.  These receive an inheritance of Abraham and move away, but we shall meet at least some of them again.  Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar, Sarah’s maid-servant, is blessed by God and becomes the father of twelve tribes – the Arab peoples, but they are hostile to everyone – including Israel.

Chapter 25 completes the transition from the story of Abraham to the story of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, The heart of the chapter is actually in the last verse.  Isaac and Rebekah have twin boys who have difficulty in getting along even while in the womb.  Esau, the eldest of the twins is an earthy fellow who wants what he wants when he wants it – never mind the consequences.  Though he is the legitimate heir as the firstborn, he trades away his birthright for a bowl of soup and becomes the poster boy for people who make rash and unspiritual choices.

Verse 23 of chapter 25 does not say that God determined to make the younger boy the heir of God’s blessings.  It simply implies that’s the way it would be.  I believe Esau’s birthright was his to throw away . . . and throw it away he did.

The message for Israel is plain: She constitutes the “people of God’s inheritance.”  She can choose to value her birthright, or despise it and trade it all away for things of terminal value.  Unfortunately, as the history unfolds, Israel constantly follows in the footsteps of Esau.

As the people of God today, Christians, unfortunately, do the same thing.

Reading Through The Bible Genesis 7-9

“How long can you tread water?”

            It’s the line from a skit Bill Cosby did back in 1963.  At one point, it goes like this:

Cosby: What would be the effect of an Ark on the average neighbour? Now, here’s a guy going to work, 7 o’clock in the morning.  Noah’s next door neighbor.  And he sees the Ark.

Neighbor: Hey! You up there!

Noah: What you want?

Neighbor: What is this?

Noah: It’s an Ark

Neighbor: Aha. You wanna get it outta my driveway? I gotta get to work. Listen, what this thing for anyway?

Noah: I can’t tell you.

Neighbor: Well, I mean can’t you give me a little hint?

Noah: You wanna a hint?

Neighbor: Yes, please!

Noah:How long can you tread water?

            When I was ten, I laughed myself silly at the thought.  But there was nothing funny about the original story.

            The world was in a mess: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways” (6:11).

            God had had enough.

            Modern people focus on the historicity of the Noah story.  Some even try to find the ark.  But they miss the very important points.  First, God holds everyone in the world accountable to His standard of behavior – believer and unbeliever alike.  Second, the world is His and he can do with it as he jolly well likes.  Third, God is gracious.  Though he could always make a new world, he preferred to save the old one.  Fourth, what gets God’s favorable attention is righteousness.  It’s what God saw in Noah.  It’s going too far to say Noah earned God’s grace. But it’s legitimate to say that the gracious favor of God, ultimately, rests on those who live right.

Reading Through the Bible Genesis 4-6

There is so much more we would like to know about these early stories, but Moses tends to give us the bare facts.  Sometimes, as in Genesis 5, he rushes through thousands of years with barely a notice except for a name.

And yet, this isn’t really Moses’ book; it is God’s.  And as God, through Moses, tells Israel of her history, He also reveals quite a bit about himself.

The first man, the first woman, the sin, the first family, and now, in chapter four, the first murder.  The story, however, is about more than murder.

Notice the Lord’s conversation with Cain: It’s full of “brother.”  God says to Cain “Where is your brother?”  Abel says “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  God says: “Your brother’s blood cries out from the ground.”

And then Cain’s response: “My punishment is more than I can bear.  You are driving me from the land.  I will be hidden from your presence, I will be a restless wanderer.

God created humans to share a brotherhood, to look out for each other, rejoice with one another’s successses, mourn with one another’s failures, support one another in times of need and encourage one another in times of struggle.  But when self-centeredness enters the picture, murder is where the sin ends up.

Who is in control?  Who has the preeminence?  Who is getting their way?  Who is getting the attention?  Even “who is right?”  These are the things that divide us, fracture families, separate communities and start wars.  It’s been that way since the beginning, and it’s always been an abomination.

It’s interesting that the story of Cain is followed by the story of Lamech who is such a self-centered man that he responds to his own assault with murderous vengeance, claiming the right of God to exact revenge.  The interesting part is that God doesn’t say anything in rebuke to this.  But you are supposed to get the point.  Lamech is disgusting, and this is the real image of the self-centered and prideful person.

Sometimes, God doesn’t render a judgment.  But you get the point anyway.

Genesis 19

Lot’s life-choices seem to be focused on one thing: success in a worldly way. He wanted it more than anything else. But that success eludes him.

This section opens with Lot sitting in the gateway of the city of Sodom, the common meeting place for movers and shakers (also known as the “elders” of a town – the leading men). But note that Lot is not sitting with them. Like a lawyer pretending to be a judge in an empty courtroom, Lot is pretending a position of prominence; pretending to be a leader of Sodom. It’s really the last thing he should want to be, for Sodom’s leaders have led them to the precipice of destruction, one that Lot will only barely survive himself.

Lot knew he lived in a bad place. Why else would he insist that respectable people not sleep in the city square – a common practice in the ancient world? Whether Lot knew these men were from God or not, Lot knew the judgment of God. If bad things happened to these men, God’s possible judgment upon the city would be the ruin of them all – including Lot.

The story of Lot is the story of worldly attachment. Lot’s desire for success led him to the city, at first Sodom, and later a smaller one – but a city none-the-less. Lot’s wife couldn’t bare to leave the sinful city, and her longing glance cost her life. Lot’s girls, desperate for a future but ignorant of God sought to secure it in a worldly way. And the end result, the Moabites and Ammonites, would always be the enemies of God’s people. Their mention in the first five books of the Old Testament is always as people who oppose God’s people.

The Apostle John wrote: “Don’t love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. . . The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” We can’t chase the respect of the world and live in the blessing of God.

Reading through the Bible: Genesis 1-3

It had been a beautiful clear day on the plains of Moab.  The ridge of Pisgah to the west was clear and so was its highest peak, Mount Nebo.  Outside his tent, an elderly man sat silently contemplating the sunset.  The only sounds were those of the wind, and the distant voices of the nation of Israel camped nearby as they prepared evening meals.

A tent flap slapped as another man came from inside.  “Watching the sunset, or contemplating your future?”

“Both,” Moses replied.  “It won’t be long now.  I’m just waiting for the Lord’s signal that it’s time to go.”

“You don’t think that he’ll change his mind?” Joshua asked.

“No,” Moses said.  “Though goodness knows I’ve asked often enough.  But it’s not a bad thing.  Oh, I’d like to go into the land with you all – just to finish the journey.  But my work is done.  Despite my sadness at the inevitable end, I know that it will be better for me than for you.  I know that somehow, that distant mountain is but a stepping stone into the Lord’s presence.  My worries will be over.  Yours will be just beginning.  You’ve got to conquer that land you know.  And our own people?  They’ll be your biggest challenge.

“It doesn’t seem fair Moses.  You’ve led us all this way.  You know our past.  Our hopes are pinned on you.”

“Yeah, well, that may be another reason I’m not going.  These people must learn as I have – and you have –  to trust the Lord.  Only then will blessing come.  But since you brought it up, this is for you.”

With that, Moses pushed  a large package wrapped in what looked like a carpet to the feet of Joshua.  The younger man stooped down and as he unfolded the wrapping, he came to sheet after sheet of animal skins, all with writing on them.

“What’s this?” Joshua asked.

“Our past,” Moses replied.  “This is where we’ve come from.  It’s why we’re here.  It’s why you and our family are going over that mountain and across the great river.  It’s your roots boy.  If you share it with the people, they will come to understand the special place they have in the heart of our God.”

Joshua was stunned as he contemplated the enormity of the work at his feet.  Finally, he broke the silence: “Are you hungry?”

“Nope,” Moses answered.  Just tired.  I’m going to bed.  Tomorrow will be a long day.”

And with that. Moses rose on his cane and entered the tent.

By the light of the small fire beside him, Joshua picked up the first animal skin and began to read:

“Bereshith bara elohim ets hashamaiyim ve ets haeretz.” In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 26

You might say “here we go again.”

The story of Isaac and Abimelech in chapter 26 bears strong resemblance to the stories in Genesis 20 and 21. In fact, some Bible scholars say it is just one story told twice with different players. But the opening to Genesis 26 plainly differentiates this story from the one of Abraham.

In my mind, there is much more fault to be placed on Isaac in this story. Though God has told him to remain in Gerar, the land of the Philistines, he fears for his life. Would God have him stay where God would not protect him? On top of that, he lies about Rebekah to save his own skin, and persists in the lie for a long time (vs. 8) – long enough to know he was in no danger. Abimelech has had some experience with liars like Isaac and knows the divine consequences of violating another man’s wife. He is more than a little shaken Isaac has taken such a risk with other people’s lives.

And yet, though there is no indication God approves of Isaac’s actions, God blesses Isaac because he is God’s chosen and Abimelech sees it and respects Isaac.

There are side issues of morality here: First, lies have far reaching consequences and sometimes not for the liar, but for the deceived. Second, there is a difference between how a man touches his wife, and how he touches another woman. Some touching is reserved for the marriage relationship. Sexuality is not a benefit of “friendship.” Third, even these pagan people of Canaan, those who were so corrupt neither Abraham nor his son or grandson would marry one, know something about proper sexual decorum. And finally, we all want to live so that even those who do not know the Lord will want to live in peace with us.

Genesis 22

The Israel that read the words of chapter 22 for the first time must have been horrified. How could the God they knew possibly ask anyone to sacrifice a child? He had specifically forbidden Israel to do such things and even though the first of everything belonged to God, the first child in a family was not sacrificed, but redeemed with the payment price of silver to God. How could God ask Abraham to do this?

But more than this, how could God ask this of Abraham? For at least twenty-five years (but probably longer) God had been promising Abraham a son. For at least twenty-five years Abraham and Sara had been trying to have children and now that he was a hundred years old and Sarah was ninety, finally the promise was realized. It would have been an immense tragedy for the child to have been still-born. Greater still for the child to have simply died or be killed. Many parents have known such grief. But to ask such a sacrifice . . . it was just unthinkable.

“Thinking” however is precisely what God wanted – not only of Abraham, but also of Genesis’ readers. The way of God is not always understandable. And yet, it is the way of God. The Lord will later say: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways and thoughts higher than yours.” God says: “You must simply trust me.”

And trust Abraham did. He believed that though God asked him to sacrifice his son, that God could, and would, bring him back from the dead. He just had to trust God. And for this, Abraham became known as the “father of the faithful.”

When tragedy strikes, it’s easy to say it’s God’s will. But we should be careful. Just because something happens doesn’t mean it is God’s will – even if he allows it. There are enough things God actually says are his will that human minds find incredible without adding to them things about which God has not spoken.