Grace Words

A Daily Bible Reader's Blog

Presented by Mike Tune and Amazing Grace International, Inc.

Genesis

The Hebrew title for “Genesis” is “In the beginning.” That might have remained the title except when the Old Testament was translated into Greek (a couple of centuries before Jesus), the translators noted a peculiar repetition of the word “generations.” It occurs some thirteen times in the book at strategic locations and so the translators named the book “Generations” instead. In Greek, “generations” sounds very much like “genesis.” When, in the fourth century A.D., the book was translated into Latin, its name was forever changed to “Genesis.”

Genesis is about beginnings: the beginning of the universe as we know it, the beginning of mankind, of sin, grace, election, and most of all, the beginning of the people of God. Beginning with a wide scope, it is not long before God narrows the focus. Adam and Eve have three boys: Cain, Able, and Seth. But quickly, the focus narrows to Seth, who has many descendants but the focus again narrows to one son, Enosh. Enosh has many sons and daughters but the writer of Genesis is not interested in them, only a specific son named Kenan. And on this narrowing goes until we come to Abraham. What becomes evident is that nearly everything, for the first eleven chapters, is there to lead us to this man who will become the father of God’s people.

As the story progresses, we learn of God’s partiality and preference toward His people. Despite the fact they do not deserve His blessings, God gives them anyway, and in doing so, introduces the reader to the meaning of election and grace. In Genesis, writing for what had, by then, become a nation of people (Israel), Moses makes these points: You are the people of God. This is how that came about. This is what it means. This is why your heritage and identity are so important. As the story continues in the following books, Moses will make this point: you need to act like God’s people.

Experiencing the Love of God

She [Hagar] gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me (Genesis 16:13).

In a series of lessons on “Loving the Lord’s Way” I recently told the story of Hagar to illustrate God’s love. Hagar is significant.  Though a slave in the household of Abraham, she nonetheless is the only person in the Old Testament to give God a name — and she does it on the basis of her experience with God’s love.

My first point  was that before the Bible ever uses the term “love” to refer to something God does, God acts in a loving way. He does it by seeing people in their distress taking note of it, and acting in caring ways toward them to relieve their pain. Notice that Hagar was not of God’s family. She was an Egyptian, and a slave. But God had his eye on her and showed love to her. It was but the merest foretaste of His love to come.

The second point was that if God calls us to love others as He has loved us – and He has – we must begin with His example: to see people in their distress, take note of it, and act as we can to relieve their suffering.

But there is a third point.

People come to know God’s love by seeing it in us first. It will do no good to talk about God’s love if we will not show it. Until then, it’s just talk.  The talk becomes real to others in our actions.

Living By Faith

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that . . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3).

The promise, that through Abraham all nations of the earth would be blessed, did not apply to all of Abraham’s descendants. It left out Ishmael and his six step-brothers. It would later leave out Esau. Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, had twelve sons, but the means of blessing the world would come through only one of them – Judah.

Reuben’s lifestyle issues excluded him from the blessing. Simeon and Levi were guilty of acts of violence and that excluded them (see Genesis 49). And that, of course, left Judah – through whom Jesus came.

We could leave it at that, but we would overlook another contender: Joseph. Why not make Joseph the tribe of the blessing? After all, Joseph himself was a man of faith and absolute devotion to God. His descendants (through his sons Manasseh and Ephraim) would constitute the largest tribe in Israel – so prominent that “Ephraim” would become the other name for ten of Israel’s tribes. Why wouldn’t the blessing come through Joseph and Ephraim? In fact, according to 1 Chronicles 5:1-2, this was a distinct possibility.

Psalm 78 provides an answer. “they [Ephraim] did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power . . . despite his wonders, they did not believe” (vss. 22,32). And so, God “rejected” the tribe of Joseph (or the rest of Israel) in favor of Judah (vss. 67-68).

The thrust of Psalm 78 is to emphasize the importance of a right response to God’s blessings (of which all Israel were recipients), and therein is the lesson for us. The proper response to God’s grace is to trust His way, seek His guidance and follow it, believing that God’s way is the best way, and the only way into His presence.

It’s called “living by faith.”

Let There Be Peace

For years Joseph lived with the hurt of being rejected by his family. It took a long time to get over it, and though he named his son “forgotten” (Manasseh), because he had come to forget the hurt of his father’s house, the fact that he brings it up in naming his son indicates he never really forgot. He’d just gotten on with his life.

But deep in his heart, he was tired of the grudge-bearing, and when he learned that his brothers regretted their treatment of him, forgiveness poured out. You see how effusive it was in his statements to the family that come quickly and randomly:
* Don’t be stressed or angry with yourselves for selling me here
* This was God’s plan to save your lives
* Bring the family and live near me
* I will give you the best land in Egypt
* Leave your belongings behind – I’ll replace all your stuff with better stuff

All is forgiven. What Joseph wants is restoration and normalcy – the way things “ought” to be.

But while Joseph has been able to forgive, his suggestions will bring trouble and he knows it. How will his brothers explain that he is alive? Will they confess their conspiracy, or will they lie to Jacob? Might it not be easier just to “not return”? Might they entertain options along their way home? Might they blame one another for their predicament (they’d already done that)?

So as he bids them goodby, he says: “Don’t quarrel along the way.”

Yes, there are some confessions to be made, probably some “licks” to be taken, but “let it go,” everything is going to be ok.

Interestingly, the word for “quarrel” only occurs here in Genesis, but 41 more times in the Old Testament. It carries with it the notion of unrest, shaking (as in an earthquake), fear (again, as in an earthquake). What Joseph is calling for is peace.

Perhaps it is inevitable that discord disrupt peace occasionally, but God intends that in His family, there will be peace. When family members decide that will be their goal, the details become small matters to be overlooked, forgiven and forgotten. But that only works if peace is the goal. Far better to side with Joseph and let hurt and anger go rather than nourish it. Someone has to be the bigger person. Is that not, after all, the example of God?

[Note: essays on every chapter of the Bible may be accessed at www.amazinggraceinternational.com/blog.]

Out of the World and into Worship

[Note: essays on every chapter of the Bible may be accessed by going to www.amazinggraceinternational.com/blog. The on-going articles in this space are meant to supplement those and follow along with our daily Bible reading schedule, found at the calendar tab on this site.]

Noah comes out of the ark and the first thing he does is build an altar to God. Abraham builds an altar at Shechem, between Bethel and Ai. He builds another at Hebron and still another on Mt. Moriah. Had we been alive then, we could likely have traced Abraham’s travels just by the altars he builds. He “calls on the name of the Lord” and “worships” and from his example, his servants learn to pray and worship – as does his son.

All of this seemingly Abraham does on his own, without prompting from the Lord. He does it because God is great, and his greatness deserves recognition and honor. He does it because God is gracious, and his graciousness deserves gratitude and praise.

We should remember this. I read far far too often the comments of Christians who call us to “get out of our churches and into the world.”
No no no. A thousand times no. Don’t buy this shallow mindset.

We spend nearly every waking hour in the world. While we are there, let us be lights in the darkness, salt of the earth and the pillar and ground of truth. May the world come to see Christ through us. It’s what Jesus calls us to.

But let us also take time to step out of our world and into the Divine Presence through worship. It’s in worship we are reminded of our place. It is in worship we are reminded of the divine order (and it is why worship assembly often adheres to rules foreign to the world – reminding us of the way God made things). It is in worship we are reminded of God’s care for us, and in worship we openly and unreservedly remember, thank and praise God. Think not that all of life is worship. Abraham would not have agreed. While all of life should honor God, there comes a time to separate from life’s busyness and commune with the Lord. May our lives be tracked not just by the services we render, but by the worship we offer.

The Earliest Christ Promise — Genesis 3:15

There is an easily missed promise in Genesis 3. You will run right over it and never think about it again because it is never specifically mentioned again in scripture. But it is incredibly important.

The scene of course is the garden “after the fall.” God has gathered the man, the woman, and Satan. All stand guilty before Him: Satan for blaspheming God (‘He lies’ Satan said), Eve for wilful disobedience, and Adam for knowing complicity. Creation is ruined. All guilty parties will be punished. Satan will be forced to a humiliating position before God, and the brightest days of humanity (male and female) will always be overshadowed by hard work.

And that’s when the promise occurs. Satan will remain estranged from mankind – a perpetual enemy. But Eve’s offspring will eventually deliver to Satan a mortal blow.

Which offspring? It surely wouldn’t be a “normal” offspring, and not just any offspring.

Eve may have thought it was to be Cain. Her response at Cain’s birth (in Hebrew) is “I have gotten a man, even the Lord.” Surely such a man would be able to be the end of Satan – but Cain was not to be that man.

And there the text lay – at least until about 200 B.C. when the Old Testament was translated into Greek. The translators did a strange thing. The passage reads: “And I [God] will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your seed and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” “Seed” is a neuter collective noun. The text ought to read “it [or they] will crush your head.” But it doesn’t. It very pointedly and ungrammatically reads, “this seed, HE (singular masculine) will crush your head.”

My point is this: here may be the earliest promise of the Messiah in the Bible. Someone is coming, someone who will undo the mess made by Satan. From even the ruined Garden, God had a plan of restoration.

Thursday, January 16. Genesis 50 – Exodus 2

Three things stand out to me as we come to the final chapter of Genesis:

First, there is the high regard for Jacob. The Egyptians mourn his passing for seventy days. Israel will mourn the passing of Joshua for only thirty days. All the officials of Pharaoh and all his dignitaries go to Canaan for the burial – along with all the members of Joseph’s house and the households of his brothers. An army is sent with them, chariots and horsemen. So great was the entourage that the Canaanites took notice of them. What began as one man, late in life, running for his life, has ended up with all the pomp and circumstance that could be mustered by the mightiest nation of the ancient world in his honor. Jacob and his sons were men of despised occupations by the Egyptians, living separately from them and yet, Jacob was held in high esteem. However difficult it may seem, God’s people, while not courting the world’s favor, should none-the-less live in a way that will be admired by the world and bring their respect.

Second, there is final and formal forgiveness. The brothers may indeed be deceitful to the end, making up the story of Jacob’s request to forgive. On the other hand, perhaps the story was true. In any case, it doesn’t matter. Joseph forgives, pointing out that whatever they had intended by their mistreatment of him, God had intended all along for their good. God’s people do not hold grudges. They forgive.

Finally, there is the matter of unity. Whatever honor and wealth Joseph achieved, despite the fact that he lived separately from his brothers (not in Goshen), he was one of them and determined that he remain with them – even in death. As children of God, we are brethren. May we work to make sure that our spiritual family knows that no matter what may happen, there is a kinship we intend to honor and preserve.

Wednesday, January 15. Genesis 47 – 49

In Genesis 48, Jacob’s preferential treatment of Joseph is resumed. Jacob adopts Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh and this adoption has far-reaching consequences. First, it means Jacob is giving Joseph more than he is giving the other boys. But second, and perhaps most importantly, Jacob is ensuring that Joseph’s children will not be considered Egyptians, but Israelites. Whatever Joseph has, or will be able to accumulate in Egypt, will, theoretically, be lost. The only thing that counts is inheriting the promised blessing of God.

It’s not that Ephraim and Manasseh receive Joseph’s portion of the inheritance. They have their portion from Jacob. But Joseph doesn’t lose out entirely. He receives an additional inheritance of land in Shechem (compare Genesis 48:22 with Joshua 24:32). Genesis scholar Victor Hamilton observes: “For a second time, Jacob gives to Joseph an extra gift: one mountain slope. We know how the brothers reacted to the coat. We do not know how they reacted to the gift of real estate.”

The elevation of Ephraim will be seen later in the Old Testament story as the northern kingdom of Israel becomes known as “Ephraim.” Their fate comes to an ignominious end. Despite the faith and faithfulness of their forefather Joseph, they will be characterized by idolatry and disobedience.

The picture Jacob presents in verses 15 & 16 is a beautiful one. Abraham and Isaac walked before God, under His watchful care. Jacob, however, has walked behind the Lord, following him all the way and being tended to by His angel, who has appeared in the Genesis story at critical moments of danger and turmoil (cf. 16:7-11; 21:17; 22:11-18; 24:7,40; 31:11; 32:24-30). The image of Jacob following the leading of the Lord is not really one we have seen in his story, but it is how Jacob sees himself and is a reminder that no matter how we see (or don’t see) the faithfulness of others, they may well be following the leading of the Lord. We just can’t see His leading them. Even if they are not following His leading, God knows where they are and, in regards to His people, has His angel watching over them.

Tuesday, January 14. Genesis 44 – 46

Why didn’t Joseph ever go back home?

At thirty, he became second-in-command to pharaoh. There were seven years of plenty. Could he not be spared to at least go check on his relatives? Was he so hard-hearted that he never wanted to see them again?

I suppose the answer can be found somewhat in chapter 44.

Joseph knew his brothers had sold him into slavery. No one could blame him for not wanting to see their faces again. But his father had not been a party to their evil. Why wouldn’t Joseph at least want to go home to see the father who loved him above all the others and had given him such a magnificent coat?

Probably because, so it seemed, his father had not come after him. His grandfather (Abraham) had mounted an army to rescue a nephew (Lot), yet Jacob had done nothing to rescue his son. Perhaps Jacob never really loved him at all! In chapter 44, Joseph learns the truth: his father thought Joseph had been killed. No wonder he didn’t come after him!

Little by little, walls that have been built up over decades are coming down – which brings me to two points:

First, if there is some resentment in your life because of the actions of others, this resentment is only likely to grow until you chase down the truth of the actions and the reasons behind them. Presuming you already know, without personal investigation and confrontation is as bad as basing your feelings on gossip. Second, if someone has disappeared from your life, it’s easy to presume the reasons, but perhaps the distance you feel was brought on by you, and the estrangement is a response to your own actions. In either case, it’s important to find out the truth. You can, like Joseph, live for decades in the pain of a broken relationship when all it would take to heal it is a proactive hand of reconciliation.

It’s really important for parents and children to know this. Parents and children won’t always agree, but neither should allow the other, for a moment, to believe love has been lost or withdrawn.

Saturday, January 11. Genesis 33 – 36

Adam and Eve had at least three sons, Cain, Abel, and Seth. Cain killed Abel of course and the Bible story after that concerns the third son. Before, however, that story is told, we are given insight to the lineage of Cain (chapter 4).

Noah had three sons, one of whom was cursed. The Bible story deals with his son Shem, but before that story is told, we are told of the descendants of the other two (chapter 10).

Abraham had numerous sons, but two stand out: Ishmael and Isaac. The Bible story deals with Isaac but before that story is told, we are given a look at the descendants of Ishmael (chapter 25).

Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. The Bible story centers on Jacob with Genesis focusing mainly on Jacob’s son, Joseph. But before we are given his story, chapter 36 deals extensively with Esau’s descendants.

My point is that at every major turning point in the Genesis story, we have a look at some of the people who are going to be dropped from the story. Esau’s descendants are especially significant because they would prove to be some of Israel’s most persistent enemies – all the way to the destruction of Jerusalem in the sixth century B.C.

Altogether Esau had four wives, three of whom came from among the Canaanites and one from the line of Ishmael – both enemies of Israel. But other than to bring us up to date on the people about to be dropped, why might we have this extensive list in chapter 36?

Isaac did forsee that Esau would be the father of a powerful people. They do grow rich, but they cannot get along with their kinsmen (the reason for separating is akin to the reason for the separation of Abraham and Lot). They grow to displace and overcome the Horites living in the area of Seir. In that sense, they are more successful than their brethren Israel who are never able to totally displace the inhabitants of Canaan. Finally, they are led by a series of eight kings who are all great. The first name in the descendant list is “Eliphaz” whose name means “my god is fine gold.” The last one is “Mezahab” which means “gold water.” The writer may be pointing to the very materialistic nature of the Edomite kingdom, the legitimate heirs of a father who lived only in the moment and was willing to trade eternal treasure for something far less permanent.