Grace Words

A Daily Bible Reader's Blog

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Grace Words: A Daily Bible Reader’s Blog

Reading Through the Bible, Thursday, January 13. Genesis 37-39

Genesis 37 begins with “This is the account of Jacob,” but while what follows is certainly about Jacob’s family, the story is really about Joseph, Jacob and Rachel’s firstborn son.  Joseph’s story is the longest personal narrative in the book of Genesis and perhaps that is for two reasons:

First, Joseph is presented as an exemplary individual, a model for all who read the story.  Though Joseph has his faults, compared to the others in the Genesis story, particularly in this section, Joseph outshines them all.  His story will serve as an example to Israel of how God blesses the faithful through all the trials of life.

But second, by the time the book of Genesis was written, the only life Israel has known has been life in Egypt and in the wilderness.  Why are they headed to Canaan?  How did they end up in Egypt?  The story of Joseph will bring them up on the latter of these two questions.  Moses has been very succinct in his presentation of Israel’s ancient history.  Now, turning to more recent events, he will be much more detailed.

As the Joseph story opens, the young man (think mid-teens) is seen as a “dreamer” with delusions of grandeur: one day his father and brothers will bow down to him.  As if that isn’t enough, Joseph is somewhat of a tattle-tale and and Jacob evidently has a habit of letting Joseph “supervise” the family business (keep an eye on the other brothers).  It’s a horrible situation.   After all, the other boys are old enough, powerful enough, cunning enough, and cruel enough to exterminate a whole city (Shechem).  What might they do to kid-brother?

We find out.  They sell him into slavery and lie to their father, contriving a situation that will lead Jacob to think Joseph has been killed.  You have to wonder about Jacob’s boys.  And Israel knows these are their ancestors.  Change for the better will come, but not before the story gets much worse.


Reading Through the Bible, Wednesday, January 12 — Genesis 34-36

The story of Dinah and the Shechemites is somewhat of an embarrassment – mainly because we don’t know who to despise more.  First, there is Dinah, who “went out to see” (or visit) the women of the land – women we know to be of such ill-repute that Abraham’s descendants would not choose their wives from them.  Then, there is Shechem, who engages in a sexual relationship (you cannot tell this is rape from the text) with Dinah.  There are Jacob’s boys who abuse the sign of their relationship with God (circumcision) as a means of exacting revenge, and the people of Shechem who see the same sign as a means of stealing the wealth of Jacob’s family.  Finally, there is Jacob who from beginning to end refuses to do anything.

Did I leave anybody out?

Oh yes . . . God!  But then again, He is unmentioned in the chapter.

When Jacob left home, he promised at Bethel if the Lord would watch over him, make him prosper, and return him to his father’s house, the Lord would be his God and he would give God a tenth of all his wealth.  Over the next quarter century, God did watch over him and made him richer than Jacob could have imagined.  But Jacob did not return to Bethel.  In fact, he had no intention of returning there for in chapter 33 he buys land from the sons of Hamor and settles there.  After this horrid event, God has to tell him: “Go to Bethel.”

Two things stand out in this story: First, how far Jacob and his family have wandered from God.  They act as if they are totally on their own, not giving the Lord and His desire for them a thought.  It leads to timidity on Jacob’s part, and murder on his sons’ part.  And perhaps, living in that land, associating with those people, has led to sexual immorality on Dinah’s part.  Her brothers insist Shechem “treated her as a prostitute,” one who has sex willingly with those she is not married to.

The second thing is subtle.  To have sex with someone not your wife is “a thing that should not be done.”  It did not matter that Shechem wanted to marry her.  He had no right to her until marriage.  The land of Canaan would tolerate a less strict sense of morality, and so will our own.  But such is not the way of God.


Reading Through the Bible, January 11 — Genesis 31-33

Israel’s great ancestor was Abraham, and the story of Israel’s ancestry is one of favoritism – specifically, God’s favoritism.  Abraham goes to war against five kings of the East, and defeats their massive army with his personal house guard.  He lies about Sarah to the King of the Philistines, but it is the King of the Philistines who must ask Abraham to pray for his healing.  Isaac lives in hostile territory, but his wealth increases inexplicably and beyond all bounds despite violent opposition.  Jacob becomes Laban’s slave for twenty years, being cheated every step of the way.  But still Jacob succeeds more than Laban.  In fact, Genesis 31 says that in spite of Laban’s seeming upper-hand, Jacob basically acquired all Laban’s property.  In a long speech at the end, Jacob tells us that the secret of his success is the favor of the Lord.  In every age, the people of God must learn this lesson: success is defined, and guaranteed, by God.

It was a lesson seemingly lost on Jacob’s wives.  Do you wonder why Rachel stole Laban’s “household gods”?  Household gods (particular idols) were a sign of  ownership.  The one who held the gods, held title to the family property.  What they did not understand was that ownership was not tied to an earthly title, but to a relationship with the Lord, who really (as is demonstrated in these stories) owns all things and distributes them as He pleases.

The gods of Laban became a source of distraction to Jacob’s family, and a hindrance to further success until at last, Jacob called on the family to purge themselves of them.  When we forget that God controls everything and is the source of everything, we begin to look for  worldly ways to success.  Those paths always only lead to failure.  God is the fountain from whom all blessings flow.  He guarantees success according to His definition – the only one that counts – to all who fix their allegiance solely on Him.  Failure becomes an impossibility, no matter what the odds.


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.