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Leaves from the Tree
Studies from God's Word

In 2005, Pastor Tim Bourgeois began a daily bible reading to encourage Tree of Life Christian Church and the larger body of Christ to read the entire Bible cover to cover. The reading schedule was four chapters per day; three from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. Every day through 2005, Pastor Tim sent an e-mail to everyone who had subscribed to the mailing list that included his comments on key portions of that day's reading. Readers were encouraged to e-mail Pastor Tim questions they had pertaining to that day's reading. He would include the question and a biblically based answer in the follow day's e-mail. It was an enriching year for everyone who participated. Many people who had never read the entire Bible did so that year; others were taken to a deeper knowledge of God's Word than they had ever been before.

Pastor Tim continued the daily bible reading and e-mail in 2006, but this time through the New Testament only. The schedule was one chapter per day giving Pastor Tim the ability to comment on a deeper level in each day's e-mail. A more in-depth explanation of each chapter proved to be a tremendous blessing to everyone participating.

In 2007, Pastor Tim sensed the Lord directing him to lead people through a reading of the Old Testament in the same way. Knowing there was no way of reading the entire Old Testament one chapter per day in a year, he decided to begin the journey and simply take as long as it takes.

The following series of articles are transcripts of Pastor Tim's original e-mails. Please use these articles for meditation, personal devotion, Bible study, or your own daily Bible reading.

Leaves from the Tree
Studies from the Old Testament

"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness..." — II Timothy 3:16

Genesis 1

1:1 - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

One of the most important things all people must learn is taught from the very first verse of the Bible. There is here both a declaration and an implication. God declares that before all other things He alone existed. I think that it is profitable to stop and just think for a few minutes about what that describes for us. There were no stars in the sky. There was no sky. There was no earth or sun. No human beings, no angels, no demons, or any other thing yet existed. Then, out of nothing except Himself, God created all things. The conclusion we should draw regarding Him is that He is great beyond comparison, wise beyond comprehension, and powerful beyond imagination.

The implication from this simple declaration that in the beginning God created all things is that everything exists by and for His purpose. Nothing that exists brought itself into existence. Therefore nothing can determine its own purpose for existence. Human beings spend entire lifetimes wondering about their life purpose and questioning the meaning of their existence. Many come to the end of their lives having never discovered the answer to life's most important questions, "What is this all about and why am I here?" Yet, the answer, not just a guess or supposition, but the answer to those questions was here in Genesis 1:1 all along. What is this all about? The heavens and the earth are all about His eternal purpose! Why am I here? I am here for His purpose not some purpose that I have decided gives my life some kind of meaning and significance. I only exist because of Him, therefore I exist for His purpose, not my own. My life purpose is fulfilled to the extent that I discover from Him, what I am to do with my life here in this world that He made. "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." (Romans 11:36)

1:3-5 - "Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day."

God's work of creation begins with His Word. Throughout this chapter when God creates a new thing He speaks and it is created as He spoke it. This connection between the Word of God and the creation of God is critical for us to understand, not just as a history lesson of how God made things in the beginning, but to establish an understanding of how God still works today. This description of the original creation of this present universe in which we live is the actual way that God created, but it also symbolizes God's work in our lives. Paul intentionally referred to this verse when he described the spiritual work of God in the New Creation as He causes a person to be born again. "For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." (II Corinthians 4:6) The parallel Paul draws is between the first creation of the universe and the new creation of a believer. Both were in darkness before God spoke His Word of creation. For the original creation the Word was a simple "Let there be light!", or more literally, "Light be!" For the new creation which every true believer experiences, the Word of creation is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The power to create a new thing is in the Word of God spoken.

In the same way, God continues to change areas and aspects of our lives as believers by speaking His Word into our hearts. Think for a moment about any area of your life that you know needs to change. How will it change? Where will you find the power to change? The power to transform is in the Word of God. As we read His Word together this year, keep in mind that in every chapter we read, there is contained in it the power to transform our lives. The written Word is still the Word of God and God's creative power is invested in His Word. The Word of God is life changing.

1:14-18 - "Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good."

There is a principle in these verses that influenced our interpretation of the book of Revelation as we saw in our recent reading. The principle is that God's creation has both a practical function and a symbolic function. God introduces this concept in these verses in reference to the sun, moon and stars. No one would argue that the sun, moon and stars have no practical function in the universe. The sun for instance, as these verses affirm, gives needed light to the earth which both warms the planet and causes the plants to grow through photosynthesis. All of that is a huge practical benefit. What is not as widely understood is that God designed the sun to also serve His spiritual teaching purpose as a symbol, or "sign." This passage included in chapter one is a clue that God is going to use the sun, moon, and stars throughout the rest of His written Word as prophetic symbols. We saw that all three were important symbols in Revelation. A simple study using a concordance to list the mentions of sun, moon, and stars throughout the Bible will turn up dozens of places where they serve as symbols. This does not mean that every time they are mentioned that it is always symbolic, but that we should always at least consider the possible symbolic connection.

In what sense do they serve as symbols? In this passage God gives us a hint of how He will use them later in the Bible. Here they are identified as being made to "govern the day and the night." We should notice that later in Genesis 1 that human beings are also made to govern or rule. The sun, moon and stars often are used by God to symbolize human rulers. One of the first examples of this is found later in Genesis in the life of Joseph. He had a dream in which he saw the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. This was a prophetic symbol of his father, mother, and eleven brothers bowing before his future greater authority as the ruler over Egypt.

1:26-27 - "Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."

We are meant to pay attention, not just to the various things created in the six days of the creation week here in Genesis 1, but we are also meant to notice the order of their creation. There are important principles of God's purpose revealed in that order. In this case, we see that the creation of humanity is the last thing created by God before He rested. The order of the creation of mankind is significant. There are only two possible conclusions to draw from when humans were created. One possibility is that humans were created last because of all that God created they are least important. The other possibility is that humans were created last because they are the most important of all of the creations of God. Which point do you think we are to draw from this order?

Mankind was saved for last creation by God on purpose. Our creation could be compared to the grand finale of a symphony. The entire week of creation builds up to this final, greatest act of creation. We represent the greatest of the creations of God because of the awesome purpose He attaches to us. We are identified as made in God's image and likeness! God says this about no other thing that He created. This alone gives human beings; every human being, supreme value above any other thing in the world. It also answers the third question every person born into this world eventually asks. After asking "What is this all about?" and "Why am I here?" as I mentioned above, people ask, "Who am I?" Here is the answer. Who we are is defined entirely by our connection to God. Our meaning is found in our purpose to bear God's image and likeness. No other answer to that question will satisfy.

Genesis 2

2:2-3 - "By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made."

While for most Christians, it is no longer the divisive controversy it was to earlier generations, there remains some disagreement over which day is most proper for worship. This passage very clearly identifies the seventh day as the day of rest following the pattern that the Lord Himself established by His own rest at the end of the creation week. On the week's calendar, Saturday is clearly the seventh day, so why is it that most Christians worship on Sunday, rather than Saturday, and is it Biblically allowable? Throughout the Old Testament the seventh day pattern was followed by the people of God. The Law of Moses even commanded the seventh day and there were serious consequences under the Law for working on the seventh day.

In the New Testament a shift of days for the purpose of the gathering of the church to worship occurred. This shift to the first day of the week rather than the seventh day for the worship of the church was intentional and spiritually appropriate. The seventh day served in the Old Covenant to emphasize the conclusion of God's creative work in the original creation. In the New Covenant we encounter a new spiritual creation in addition to the old natural creation. The new creation reflects the resurrection of Christ from the dead as the beginning point of a new creation that has no end. Since Christ rose from the dead early Sunday morning on the first day of a "new" week, immediately following the end of the "old" week, the church from the beginning recognized the symbolic importance of moving our day of worship from the day symbolizing the end of the old creation to the day symbolizing the beginning of the new creation.

2:15 - "Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it."

God placed Adam in the garden and gave him two primary responsibilities. In this simple description I see a pattern that extends to each one of our lives and still speaks to us about God's purpose for our lives. First, God custom designs a set of life circumstances for each one of us. He "plants" each of us where we belong to fulfill our purpose. Second, from the beginning our purpose in life is tied to our God assigned responsibilities. True fulfillment is found in identifying and embracing the responsibilities God has assigned to you. We are designed to bear responsibility. Our lives are meaningful when we are handling the responsibilities God has given to us and empty when we are not. People who avoid, shirk, or run from their responsibilities are the most frustrated people in the world. At the same time, filling our lives with responsibilities God has not given to us or more than He has assigned only burdens us beyond what we can actually bear.

The specific responsibilities God gave to Adam are also symbolically helpful for us. His two jobs toward the garden were to cultivate and keep it. The order of these responsibilities is purposeful. To cultivate implies that Adam was to take what God had given him and improve it by work. He was made responsible to improve the garden that God had given him. This translates to our lives in various areas of God's provision. If God has given you a marriage, then you are called to cultivate it. If He has given you a children, a job, a church, friendships, etc., then we are to work to improve each one of those areas of our life garden and bring greater fruitfulness into each aspect of our life. Adam's second responsibility was to keep the garden. The word translated "keep" is literally to "hedge about". It means to guard something valuable by setting boundaries around it. The increased fruitfulness resulting from his work on the garden creates a value to the garden that must be guarded against intruders and any thing that would undermine or steal its fruit. Living in this world there will always be threats to our marriage, family, church, job, friendships, etc., that we must vigilantly guard against.

2:18 - "Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him. Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him."

Adam was made directly by God and without flaw. Yet, following his creation, God evaluated Adam's life situation and recognized a lack in his circumstances that needed to be addressed. The problem was that Adam was alone. Now, He was not completely alone. God was with Adam, and of course God was not what we would call a poor companion. Yet, there was something in God's design of Adam that another like him was necessary to meet the desire for relationship built into Adam. There were also animals that could provide Adam some measure of companionship, yet, the animals were not able to fill that particular relationship gap. Only one like Adam would be able to fill that gap. This, of course, led to the creation of Eve. Before she is named following her creation, her role is identified for us in this passage. This role was not determined by Adam (in spite of the claim that many make that this role is culturally imposed on women by men). This role precedes any culture or tradition. The role actually precedes Eve herself. The spiritual concept here is that the Lord had her role in mind before He even created her. In a sense she was made to fill the role He ordained for her. The role is found in the phrase "a helper suitable for him." There is a classic confusion to clear up about this based on the old King James translation of this phrase. It was translated then as a "help meet for him". The word "meet" was old English for suitable, but it was combined in an unintended single word that has become kind of a Christian tradition in the term "helpmeet" and some have changed that further to "helpmate". The concept God communicated in this passage is actually that Eve was designed to be a helper that was fitted by Him to help Adam in every way.

We should anticipate that this role designed for Eve in relationship to Adam has more than a practical concern tied to it. The relationship of Adam and Eve is purposefully pointing forward toward the spiritual relationship between Christ and the church. The church was designed by God to be Christ's helper. We are fitted to Him. His life purpose defines our life purpose. We exist for no greater reason than to come along side Him and work with Him in the fulfillment of His mission.

2:21-23 - "So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, "This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man."

Following the concept of the Adam and Eve / Christ and the church connection, the description of the creation of Eve from Adam is awesome to consider. The deep sleep of Adam is a type pointing forward to the cross and the "sleep of death" that Christ experienced for us. God the Father created the church from Christ's side just as He created Eve from Adam's side.

"but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe." (John 19:33-35)

Question from Genesis 1

Question: When God created man...he was MAN only, one human, but containing also the female (male and female He created them). Why does he first say he created HIM then say He created THEM...why didn't He say just one or the other both times?

Answer: The Lord did it like this and described it like this on purpose as you might suspect. From a practical standpoint, God first made Adam, and then out of Adam's rib He formed Eve. The reason Adam's creation occurred first and is mentioned first is to establish a pattern of greater authority (I Timothy 2:12-14). So the description in chapter one is the same as saying, "God created Adam in His own image, in the image of God He created him, Adam and Eve He created them." It is the perfect way to introduce the creation of the man while emphasizing that the woman was created second to and out of the man. From a spiritual perspective, the way it is described properly emphasizes both the similarity between Adam and Eve, while preserving the intentional distinction between them. The greater issue at stake in the creation account of mankind is that for God's eternal purpose, Adam serves as a type or symbol of Christ and Eve serves as a type or symbol of the church (Ephesians 5:22-32). This is why of all the creatures that God created, it was only for humans that the female of the species was created out of the body of the male. It portrays for us that the church is created from Christ.

Genesis 3

3:6 - "When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate."

This verse gives us the beginning point of all of the problems in the world today. It seems at this moment to be fairly small and insignificant compared to all of the evil these simple choices and actions unleashed. A good illustration of what happens here is found in Greek mythology with the story of Pandora's Box. When Pandora opened the box all of the evil contained in the box was unleashed into the world. This passage is the account of what theologians have labeled the Fall of Man. It captures the moment of the first sin in this perfect world that God had created. An important distinction should be drawn here too. It is clear from the account here that Eve was the first person to take the fruit from the forbidden tree and eat it, and that Adam was the second person to eat it. Nevertheless, the Scriptures identify Adam as the one responsible for the Fall. "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned-- " (Romans 5:12). The reason that Adam is held ultimately responsible for the Fall and not Eve, is on two important principles of God's Word. First, Adam was the one originally given responsibility by God and placed in charge of the Garden. God specifically commanded Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16). Second, we later learn that Eve was completely deceived by the serpent's lies when she ate from the tree, while Adam was not deceived and yet chose to eat. "And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression." (I Timothy 2:14) In the Genesis account here, we should notice that Adam was with Eve during her conversation with the serpent and watched her eat the fruit without protest. Then, even worse, when he saw she did not drop dead after eating the fruit, he took some of the fruit she offered him and he choose to disobey the Lord and eat it himself.

Another important aspect of this passage that becomes a pattern affecting all of our lives is the description of the inner working of temptation and sin. We are given a glimpse of the internal perspective of Eve as she was considering whether to eat. The three specific thoughts that occurred to her are actually the three basic temptations to the three basic sins a person can commit. In one sense we can say that all sin is the same because any sin violates God's standard. We should also understand though that there are basic categories of sin and temptation. We learn here, and find it confirmed later in God's Word that there are only three basic sins. Those sins are identified for us in this verse. "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world." (I John 2:16) Every sin a person may commit is a form of one of these three basic sins. Eve was tempted in all three categories at once. The three things she saw that tempted her to eat from the tree correspond exactly to these three categories of sin. When Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness to pass the test of the devil's three temptations He faced and defeated these exact same three temptations. These are the same three categories of temptation that we face on a daily basis.

3:12-13 - "The man said, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate." Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" And the woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

Adam and Eve have sinned. The Lord has tracked them down in the garden as they were attempting to hide from His presence. Who does the Lord confront first? He confronts Adam, because Adam is most responsible for what has happened. Adam's response, and then Eve's response after Adam are the first examples in history of a pattern with which we are all familiar, and in which we have all indulged on our own behalf. When the Lord confronts Adam, the response Adam should have made would have been along these lines, "Lord, I alone am responsible for what has happened here. I was the one You commanded to not eat from the tree. I knew it was wrong when the serpent tried to convince Eve to eat. I should have stepped in and stopped her from eating, but I stood by and did nothing. It is my fault that all of this has happened!" Do we see Adam offer any acknowledgment of his responsibility like this? No, instead we see the first example of blame shifting. All Adam admits is that he did eat from the tree. He implies by his response though that the reason he ate was because of the woman. Adam attempts to buffer his own accountability by placing the woman squarely between himself and the Lord. It really is her fault, not mine, is the implication of his answer. Then compounding that attempt to shift the blame to Eve, Adam actually implies that the Lord Himself is to blame for what he did in eating. It was "The woman whom You gave to be with me..." The insinuation Adam makes is that if the Lord had not given him the woman, none of this would have happened.

Adam is not alone in this cowardly way of avoiding responsibility. When Adam shifts the spotlight of accountability from himself to Eve, she immediately picks up on Adam's blame shifting trick and follows his example. She shifts the blame from herself to the serpent. Her response is in essence the classic, "The devil made me do it." Of course, the devil has his own responsibility here and in every other temptation, but Satan has never once in all of human history caused any person to sin. No one will be able to say on the day of judgment that they are innocent because their sin is all the fault of the devil. What Adam and Eve had not yet learned here, but we should understand, is that the Lord is never fooled by any attempt to shift blame to another. He knows exactly who is responsible for what. It is far better to simply own up to what we have done when we sin and swallow the bitter pill of full responsibility for our own transgressions.

3:15 - "And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel."

This is a key verse in understanding the bigger picture of how God planned to one day fix what Adam broke. This is part of the conversation between the Lord and the serpent (Satan). The Lord declares the first of all of the prophesies of the Bible here. This, like most prophesies is focused on the future coming of the special person identified later as the Messiah. In this first prophesy of the Messiah we learn of two key elements of His coming. One, He is identified as "her seed." This is intentionally out of the ordinary and meant to catch our attention. Biblically and physically the woman has no seed. This is a prophetic hint about the unusual nature of the Messiah's human nature. It anticipates what we understand as the Virgin Birth. Jesus was not born from the seed of any man. The second important element of the Messiah's coming highlighted here has to do with His mission. He will bruise the serpent on the head and in doing so, will Himself be bruised on the heel. The image drawn here by the Lord is of the Messiah stepping on the head of the serpent and in the process being bitten by the serpent. This anticipates the cross of Christ. Jesus crushed the head of the serpent, but was Himself hurt at the moment of His great victory! We should see from this first prophecy that the plan of God to send Jesus was not a much later afterthought in the mind of the Lord. The coming of Jesus into the world to resolve the problem Adam caused was the plan of God from the very beginning of history.

3:24 - "So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life."

As the Lord drove Adam out of the garden (implying that Adam did not leave readily or willingly) He stationed cherubim to guard the way to the tree of life. The idea here is that there was an entry point or doorway back into the garden. Since Adam did not want to leave the garden, the Lord anticipated Adam attempting to sneak back into the garden later. The Lord established an special angelic guardian, not to guard Adam, but to guard the tree of life from Adam. In a sense, the history of all of the religions of the world from this point forward are a history of man's attempt to regain the garden and the tree of life by sneaking in some way of their own making. The tree of life representing salvation is on the inside of the garden and man is on the outside and desperate to reach the tree that is beyond his reach. God will not allow Adam or any of his descendants to sneak in and take from the tree of life. There is a way to the tree, but it is the way God has ordained and any other attempt will meet with the cherubim armed with the flaming sword.

This image of the cherubim carries forward through the Bible and this theme established here continues as part of the story of salvation. The next appearance of this image is found in the construction of the tabernacle, and then again later in the construction of the temple. In both versions of God's house the structure constructed represents (pointing backward in history) the garden of Eden. The tree of life corresponds to the ark of the covenant found in the Holy of Holies, the innermost room of those structures. In both cases, God commanded a great curtain to be woven to separate the ark of the covenant from the people. On that curtain, representations of cherubim were to be woven into it. It was to be a reminder that the way to eternal life was guarded by these guardian angels. No one in history is free to walk back into the garden and eat from the tree of life on their own. The reason they cannot is because of their sin. Only when God's Messiah has provided the solution to our sin are we given access to the tree of life through Him!

Question from Genesis 2

Question: 2:9 - God is the giver/creator of life, why is there a tree of life? What was its purpose?

Answer: God made the tree of life, along with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and planted them in the garden as both symbols and tests. The tree of life is one of the first great symbols in history and the Bible of God Himself. It also served as the first great test for man along with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Remember God had given this permission to Adam and Eve, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." (Genesis 2:16-17) The Lord had granted them access to any tree of the garden except one. That meant they were free to eat from the tree of life, but instead they chose the one tree that was forbidden to them. The test functioned more effectively by giving them the choice of symbolic trees to eat from rather than saying "You can choose Me, or you can choose to know things you should not know." God often communicates to us through similar symbols to make His points more vivid to our understanding.

Genesis 4

4:2-5 - "Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell."

The two brothers Cain and Abel developed different "careers" as they grew into adulthood. Cain became a farmer while Abel became a shepherd. They approached the Lord to make an offering to the Lord from their labors. Cain offered some of the fruit of the ground that he had grown in his farming. Abel offered the firstlings of his flock. As they made their offerings, the Lord had an unexpected response. The Lord has "regard" for Abel's offering, but He has no regard for Cain's offering. As a result, Cain becomes very angry and his downward spiral toward the eventual murder of his brother Abel begins. Christians have read this passage and speculated as to why one offering was accepted by the Lord and the other rejected. One popular theory is that the Lord was concerned about the specific things offered by Cain and Abel. They theorize that Cain offered fruit from the cursed ground which was displeasing to the Lord, and that Abel offered a lamb which points forward symbolically to Christ and therefore the Lord was pleased. This explanation seems to make some sense, but it depends on Cain and Abel knowing more information than they had apparently been given. There is no previous or subsequent passage in which the Lord says He does not want any offering of the fruit of the cursed ground. In fact, later in the Law of Moses, the Lord commands His people to bring for different offerings both lambs and firstfruits of their harvest. He does not reject offerings of the fruit of the ground.

The Lord has provided us with an answer to this mystery later in the Scriptures. The reason why the Lord rejected Cain's offering and accepted Abel's offering had nothing to do with what they offered and everything to do with how they offered them. "By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks." (Hebrews 11:4) Abel's offering was acceptable because he offered it by faith. Cain did not make his offer by faith. The difference is externally subtle, because both seem to be doing a similar activity. Internally, as they offered, there was a huge difference in their hearts. Abel was focused upon the Lord as he made his offering and concerned with pleasing Him. Cain, as we see confirmed by his reaction after his offering was rejected, is primarily concerned with pleasing himself, not the Lord. His heart was not right before the Lord even as he made his offering. This principle still applies to us today. When we bring our offerings to give back to the Lord, He looks first at how we are making our offering to Him.

4:5-7 - "but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."

The Lord reveals through Cain's struggle the progression of the development of sin in a person's heart and life. Before this day, Cain was not spiritually healthy in his heart, but outwardly, sin was contained and his life was "normal." This situation with his offering being rejected by the Lord brought to the surface the issues in Cain's heart. Once those issues came to the surface the question was what Cain would do in response to his own reaction. Would he recognize the spiritual danger of giving himself fully to his own fleshly reaction and turn in a better direction before it was too late? Or, would he give himself over to his fleshly inclinations and follow sin to its bitter end? We see the Lord, in His graciousness, speaking to Cain at the moment of truth before he makes a final decision either direction. The Lord provides Cain with a way of escape through His warning. "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." (I Corinthians 10:13).

The way of escape the Lord offered to Cain was in a strong exhortation to adopt a different perspective and attitude toward temptation and sin. Cain was struggling with a perspective common to people when they sin in which he saw himself as a victim of his circumstances. God was urging him to not see himself as a victim of the circumstance, but instead as responsible for his own circumstance. He pictured sin to Cain as a predator seeking to devour him. Rather than meekly yielding to the predator as a victim, he called Cain to take control of the predator. By telling Cain that he "must master it" He was making Cain fully responsible for whether or not he chose to sin in his circumstance. The story is the same for each of us. No matter how difficult our circumstances, we are never victimized to the point of the circumstance causing us to sin in response. We are always responsible to master our temptations rather than meekly yielding to them.

4:16-17 - "Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain had relations with his wife and she conceived, and gave birth to Enoch; and he built a city, and called the name of the city Enoch, after the name of his son."

This passage has stimulated questions from Christians in every generation, and also provided fodder for those who are seeking to undermine the credibility of the Bible. The issue is simply this; if Cain and Abel were the first two children of Adam and Eve, then where did Cain's wife come from? Young believers ask about this with honest confusion, while the opponents of the Bible pounce on this like they have discovered some unanswerable gap in the story that "proves" that the Bible was not inspired by God. The truth is that the resolution to this issue is very simple and not nearly as mysterious as you might imagine at first glance. Cain married another of the descendants of Adam and Eve. She might have been his sister, or she might have been a niece. We do not know for sure. The one thing we can be 100% certain of, is that she was descended from Adam. "and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation," (Acts 17:26). The Bible is consistent in its declarations that all human beings that have ever lived are directly descended from Adam.

The reason people are initially confused by the question of Cain's wife is that they assume that this all took place within a very short time period and that it was not possible for there to be other children born to Adam and Eve yet. There is nothing in the text that tells us how much time had elapsed before Cain took a wife, or that Adam and Eve had only had two children. Cain and Abel were the first children born to them, but they most likely had many other children after that. Their children grew up and also had many children. At some point, Cain married one of his sisters, or one of the women of Adam's descendants. The additional question is often raised about the prohibition later in the Law about marrying close relatives. That became prohibited when the Lord said it was prohibited, and not before He declared it. At this point in early human history, it was necessary and acceptable in order to populate the earth from one set of parents.

Questions from Genesis 3

Question: The man first heard the Lord in the garden after they a man supposed to more readily hear from God...say in a husband wife relationship?

Answer: Actually, they both heard the Lord in the garden after they sinned. "They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden..." (Genesis 3:8). What is important to notice is that when the Lord spoke following their sin, He chose to speak first to Adam. "Then the LORD God called to the man..." (Genesis 3:9). To answer your question, I would have to say no, there is no indication that the husband is designed to more readily hear the from God if by that you mean his spiritual hearing is greater than the wife's. However, it is clear that when the Lord does speak to a marriage to bring correction that He will deal first with the husband because of the greater authority and responsibility the husband bears in the relationship.

Question: In meditating on these passages the question of what Adam's original sin (causing the fall) was. It seems to me that Adam placed Eve before God in the way he allowed her to eat and then decided to take from her and eat himself of the forbidden fruit. Is this not a violation of the first commandment (even though the law had not been given yet)? I have always thought of the original sin as being Adam eating the fruit. What are your thoughts?

Answer: What you are considering are the possible internal motivations and perspectives of Adam's heart as he sinned. The Lord does not share with us in the story what Adam was thinking so we are left to speculate. Your idea that Adam was putting Eve before the Lord in an idolatrous way is possible if his main motivation in the circumstance was that he just wanted to please her more than anything and that he chose to compromise the Lord's standard rather than disappointing her. However, another scenario is also possible. Adam could have been primarily thinking of pleasing himself and not Eve. Adam may have been curious to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but was afraid to try it because of God's warning. If this was the case, he may have allowed her to eat first when the serpent made his suggestion in order to "see what would happen" if she ate. Once she did not immediately die like God had warned, then Adam may have been emboldened to go ahead and taste it for himself. Either way, we can be certain his motive was sinful, because the passage in I Timothy 2 declares that he was not deceived by the serpent as he ate.

Genesis 5

5:1-3 - "This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth."

There is a very important theological connection in this passage. So far, the account of Adam's creation, testing, and fall into sin have been detailed for us. The question is to what extent has Adam's sin affected all who have descended from Adam. To this day, many people (if not most) believe that while the human race has its issues and problems, that people are born into this world as basically good, and that they only turn bad if subjected to really bad family, cultural, or environmental influences. They believe that left to develop on their own, that children will tend to turn out good because by nature they are good. Is this the true spiritual condition of children born into this world? Are children born spiritually "good" only to be influenced by an evil world around them? If this was the case, that all children are born essentially good, it would be difficult to account for the amount and degree of evil that is filling the world today.

We know that when Adam was created, that he was created good. When the Lord finished the last of His creation work, He observed it as a completed project and evaluated it. "God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good." (Genesis 1:31). Since Adam was originally made in the image and likeness of God Who is good, Adam as God's image bearer was also good. Adam's fall into sin also permanently affected him. Even Adam's spiritual capacity to bear the image of God was affected. He is still identified as an image bearer, but now that image in Adam has been marred by sin. When we look at Adam after the fall we do not see a perfect reflection of God as we would have before his sin. However, the big issue is whether this consequence of the fall was limited to Adam and Eve, or whether it is somehow passed on to all of Adam's descendants, which would include every person that has ever lived. The key phrase that answers this question is, "he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image..." While Adam was made in the pure unspoiled image of God, Seth is born like Adam's present condition. Seth is born like Adam is now, not as he was before the Fall. This is the spiritual condition of Seth from the moment he is born, not after he is later influenced by the world around him. Now, this does not minimize the importance of outside influence in the life of a child, but it does make clear that nature, rather than nurture is the beginning point of evil in human beings.

5:4-11 - "Then the days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died. Seth lived one hundred and five years, and became the father of Enosh. Then Seth lived eight hundred and seven years after he became the father of Enosh, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years, and he died. Enosh lived ninety years, and became the father of Kenan. Then Enosh lived eight hundred and fifteen years after he became the father of Kenan, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years, and he died."

People often read the account of the life spans described in this chapter and decide that it must be an exaggerated or possibly symbolic use of numbers. The reason they find it so hard to believe that this is describing real history is that it is so different from our own experience now. I do believe that these numbers mentioned here are literal records of actual history as these men lived it. Trying to evaluate what happened then using our own experience as a starting point is a mistake due to the significant difference of the world at that time. The first thing to consider is that the Lord originally made the human body with the capacity to live forever, and that if Adam had not sinned he would have lived forever. As strange as it sounds, death only entered the world through Adam's sin, and God's judgment in response to his sin. So, a much longer life span than we are accustomed to is daunting compared to our present life span, but not compared to the original capacity of the human body.

The other factor we must consider is the great environmental difference in the world today compared to the world then. Later, when we read of the people following the great flood of Noah, we will see a diminishing average life span. After the flood people still lived significantly longer than today, but immediately, the life spans shorten drastically from before the flood. All indications point to a tremendous change in the world environment that affected the life expectancy of the human race. One dramatic difference post-flood from pre-flood was in the atmosphere. There was a protective covering over all the earth before the flood identified as the waters above the expanse. "God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so." (Genesis 1:7). Some have described this as a vapor canopy. This canopy fell as rain in the flood and was not restored after the flood. It would have caused a greenhouse effect on the earth before the flood and at the same time protected people from greater ultraviolet radiation. We now know that the ultraviolet exposure is a significant factor in the aging process on the skin for instance. So, yes, people who lived before the flood lived for amazing lengths of time.

5:22-24 - "Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him."

Enoch is a special figure in the record of the early generations to follow Adam. We saw back in Genesis 4:26 that people had begun to call on the name of the Lord. Yet, Enoch had a relationship with the Lord that set him apart from everyone in his time. That relationship is described for us in simple terms. "Enoch walked with God..." That implies that his relationship extended beyond an occasional acknowledgment of the existence of God or even honoring Him periodically in worship. It implies that Enoch and God shared a daily relationship. Wherever Enoch went and whatever he did, God was with Him and Enoch lived out his life in that awareness of God's presence. A detail that speaks to my heart is that he walked with God "three hundred years..." I have been walking with God now for 28 years this month. My heart's desire and hope is that if I live another 28 years that I will still be walking with Him then. I believe it is possible to enjoy a long term relationship with God without growing tired, burning out, losing interest, falling away, or in any other way growing apart from Him. Enoch's relationship with God over the course of three hundred years gives me hope for my own relationship with Him.

What was Enoch doing during those three hundred years? We know from one New Testament passage that he was the first in a long line of prophets of God. He was the first to proclaim the coming judgment of the flood against the ungodly. "It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him." (Jude 1:14-15)

The other fascinating aspect of Enoch's story is the unique ending. Enoch is one of only two men throughout the entire Old Testament that leave this world without dying. Elijah the prophet is the other. Both men come to an end of their life on earth, and rather than dying as all other people do, the Lord took them from the earth while still alive. These two examples are prophetic previews of the experience that will be shared by every true believer that is alive on the earth on the day that the Lord Jesus returns in His Second Coming. Those believers will not die, but be "caught up" to meet the Lord. "Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord." (I Thessalonians 4:17).

Questions from Genesis 4:

Question: Genesis 4:26b says that, "At that time men began to call on (proclaim) the name of the LORD." Does that imply that there was now a greater understanding or revelation of God? Certainly they were worshiping God before that as evidenced by Abel's sacrifice.

Answer: Good question about an interesting verse. It does imply something new or additional took place at that time. It is difficult to determine though exactly what was new. One possibility is that prior to this time all human beings knew about God and when they referred to God they used the more generic term "Elohim" which is the equivalent of our word God. For our culture the word God means the supreme being, but it does not convey much detail beyond that. The word translated "Lord" here is Yahweh. It is the same name that the Lord later gives to Moses as His covenant name to Israel. The only problem with the interpretation that no people called on the name of Yahweh before this verse is that earlier in chapter 4:1, Eve proclaimed when she gave birth to Cain that she had done so with the help of Yahweh. The birth of Cain was a number of years prior to 4:26. Instead of strictly interpreting the meaning of this verse as this being the first time that any person called on Yahweh, I think it is describing for us a time of significant advancement in spiritual understanding of the Lord.

The Lord's pattern throughout history is one in which He causes leaps forward in spiritual understanding at specific times. Prior to these leaps forward, certain spiritual principles may be known, but not widely understood. For instance, in the period we call the Reformation, it had already been known to a few that justification was by faith, but during that time, the Lord caused the entire population to grasp the concept of it in a way that only a few understood until then. What may have happened in 4:26 is a new grasp of the revelation of God as Yahweh by most everyone in the world then, and not just one or two like Eve.

Genesis 6

6:1-4 - "Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown."

This passage remains the source of controversy among Bible scholars to this day. The issue revolves around the interpretation of the phrase "sons of God" and the word "Nephilim" and what the connection between two is. There are three interpretations of the meaning of the sons of God. They are: 1) the godly descendants of Seth, 2) the ancient rulers of that time, 3) fallen angels. In the early generations of church history the predominant interpretation was that this passage described the unholy mixing of fallen angels and human women and their resulting offspring. In modern times, the first two interpretations have become more popular as many scholars struggled to find some natural explanation that fit the passage. Having studied this text and its background extensively, I am convinced that the third interpretation is the correct one. Both of the first two interpretations see the sons of God as human beings. This fails to take into account how the phrase "sons of God" is used in the Old Testament, and also fails to take into account how Nephilim would result from the union of humans. Below is a brief description of both issues.

The key phrase sons of God is used in the New Testament to describe human beings, who, through the new birth are now considered to be part of God's family. However, in the Old Testament that phrase is never applied to human beings because Christ had not yet come and provided the way of salvation. Instead, the phrase is only used in describing angels. This passage in Job 38:4-7 describing the scene at creation when the angels of God observed as God created the earth uses this exact phrase referring to the angels. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"

The word Nephilim is translated as giants. The union of the sons of God and the daughters of men produced giants that became "the mighty men who were of old, men of renown." A union of humans does not explain the birth of giants. The union of angels and humans does offer a reasonable explanation. Their offspring became what the world's ancient myths and legends sprang from. All of the ancient cultures have versions of "mythology" describing the union of "gods" with human women that produced the great heroes of the ancient world. Probably the most famous of these stories is Hercules. For those who are not familiar, Hercules was the offspring of the union of Zeus (the chief of the Greek gods) and a human woman. While the details of these "myths" were modified in each culture, the core story that gave rise to the myths was based in fact and actual ancient history.

6:5 - "Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."

This verse is the tragic culmination in the progression of the Fall of Man that began the day Adam ate from the tree God had forbidden in the garden. The sin of Adam was not just an unfortunate and exceptional bad choice. Mankind did not recover itself following Adam's sin and begin an evolution of humanity becoming more noble and virtuous over time. In the hundreds of years between the garden and the flood, humanity had digressed spiritually, not progressed. Man's created purpose was originally to bear God's image and likeness in the earth. Now, as God observes His crowning creation of humanity He sees only a greater and greater corruption of that original design. It was not just a growing pattern of bad behavior, but with good hearts buried down deep in the hearts of men. The hearts of all mankind are seen here as reaching the depths of perversion of God's design. The key words, "every" and "only" and "continually" emphasize the extent, degree and habitual nature of sin in the hearts of all men. What we are meant to understand from this is that this is not an exaggeration of the heart condition of the human race. It is not an exceptionally bad moment in history, but that today people are far better than they were then.

Jeremiah diagnoses the same common spiritual condition of the human heart. "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) The problem of the human heart is too deep and too extensive for anyone to fix or cure. No human efforts at changing for the better are sufficient to change this condition. The only cure for such a sick heart is a heart transplant. The old heart is beyond hope. A new heart is the only hope. Since this heart is not physical, but spiritual, only God can perform this operation which we call salvation.

6:6-7 - "The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them."

As the Lord observes the progression of wickedness in mankind, He is affected by what He sees. Keeping in mind the awesome original purpose of God for man to be His image bearer and contrasting that with how perverse humanity had become will help us understand God's response to what He sees. The phrase describing the Lord's reaction to what He observes is "grieved in His heart." God is affected by this in His heart! We can easily fail to comprehend that God has a heart and that He has very strong feelings. Our ability to feel things in our hearts is derived from Him and our being created in His likeness. Have you ever experienced anything that was so evil, so wrong, that it wounded your heart and hurt worse than any physical pain could? What God experienced would be similar to us having a child who we loved with all of our heart. If we surrounded that child with good things, taught him with great parental concern the right principles for life, spent time with them and only ever treated them right, only to have that child grow up and spurn us, our teaching, and the good things we had provided; then what impact would that have on our hearts. This is not a capricious, petulant reaction of Lord wanting to cause the same pain to the humans that had hurt Him. This is an absolutely holy, righteous and loving God responding in the one way that was necessary in light of the how wicked humanity had become.

6:8-9 - "But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God."

In the midst of this wicked generation, we are introduced to one lone shining exception. Noah is a righteous and blameless man in his time. Now, we know that Noah was not a perfect man, and as we will see later after the flood, when he has a serious personal failure. Yet, Noah here is identified by the Lord Himself as righteous and blameless. In his spiritual purity as well as his special ark building assignment from God, Noah serves as the next great Old Testament type of Christ. A type is a symbolic spiritual connection between a person, event or thing of the Old Testament and Christ or His work in the New Testament. The type pictures some key element of the person or work of Christ and represents it as a foreshadow. The types point forward to the fulfillment of God's plan in Christ in some significant way.

Here Noah is a type of Christ. In order to fulfill the plan of salvation, Christ had to live His entire life on earth without once ever sinning. His righteousness is the qualification for His role as Savior. Noah, pointing forward to Christ becomes in the flood the "savior" of mankind. The only humans to survive the flood did so because of Noah. Those who were saved from the flood were only saved because of their relationship to Noah as part of His family. In the same way, only those in right relationship to God through Christ will be made part of God's family and eternally saved. As God's ordained way of salvation, Noah builds an ark. This points forward to Christ's declaration "...I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." (Matthew 16:18). Only those who are in Christ's church will be saved from the judgment of God on the final day.

Genesis 7

7:1-3 - "Then the LORD said to Noah, "Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time. You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female; also of the birds of the sky, by sevens, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth."

One of the details of the ark story that is commonly overlooked in the distinction made by the Lord between clean and unclean animals, and the different numbers gathered of each category. This is the first mention in the Bible of "clean" animals. The Law of Moses later expands upon this concept by naming which animals are considered clean, and which are considered unclean. The reasons why they clean and unclean are also given in the Law. At this point all that we are given is that the Lord makes such a distinction. The concepts of clean and unclean here do not refer to physical cleanliness, but spiritual cleanliness. Since animals are incapable of sin, we are meant to understand these categories as symbolic categories for purpose of spiritual instruction. There is a reason there are only two spiritual categories of animals. They represent the two kinds of people there are in the world. The two kinds of people are those in covenant with God and are therefore clean, and the people outside of covenant with God and are therefore unclean.

God instructs Noah to take two of each of the unclean animals, but seven of the clean animals. The greater number of clean animals enables Noah to offer sacrifices to God after the flood without endangering the survival of their offspring. Of course, the Lord could have had Noah take only three of the clean animals and that would have left a third for sacrifice, but by taking seven He provides a corresponding symbol for the seven people Noah saved on the ark beside himself. This number seven in the Biblical number of completion. God made the world in a complete seven day week. Here it corresponds to the perfect number of the redeemed that will be saved.

7:16 - "Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him; and the LORD closed it behind him."

I love this detail we are given here. Once all of the food had been loaded into the ark, and all of the animals had been brought on board, and Noah's family went into the ark, the Lord Himself closed the door behind Noah. This is a perfect picture of salvation from the Lord's perspective. On the final day of history when it is time for the Lord Jesus to return in His Second Coming, there will be a last person on earth that the Lord has chosen to believe the gospel and be saved. When that last person believes, the Lord will return and the door of salvation that right now is wide open, will then be closed. It will be the Lord Himself that closes the door on any one else being saved. Once Jesus returns there will be no further opportunity for salvation for anyone left alive. Only those already saved will be saved when He returns. In the days of the flood, once the Lord closed the door of the ark it sealed the people inside the ark into the security of salvation from the coming flood. It also at the same time sealed every other person outside the ark into the judgment of the flood. There were no last minute changes. This emphasizes for us that it is God Who is in charge of salvation from beginning to end.

7:19-20 - "The water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered."

I believe that there was in Noah's time a literal flood that covered the surface of the entire world. I know most of the world scoffs at this. Even among believers there are many that struggle to believe this and have come up with a more "reasonable" explanation of this event. They offer the plausible explanation of a "local flood" theory. The local flood theory suggests that only the region surrounding where Noah lived was actually flooded. They suggest that since the population of the world had not spread far on the earth that the flood of a region bordered by mountains accomplished the purpose of the flood. They believe it is a ridiculous fantasy to imagine that the entire planet was covered with water.

I believe the entire planet was covered with water because the text describes it exactly that way. There is no other way to interpret this phrase, "so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered" without mangling the clear meaning of the passage. The Bible is consistent on this if you remember the opening verses of Genesis 1:2. "The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters." The earth was originally completely covered with water in the first phase of God's work of creation. For God to cover it again is no problem for Him. Keep in mind that this is the God Who created the entire universe with a Word. Flooding the entire earth is no impossibility for Him. I have read accounts of sea fossils being discovered on high mountain peaks by mountain climbers without any other logical explanation available for how those fossils got there. Those who struggle to believe that the flood covered all the mountains usually are thinking of Mount Everest. This phrase from verse 11 explains that there was more than just rain falling in the flood. "...on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open..." The flood also involved tremendous geological upheaval. The surface of the planet today is not identical to the surface of the planet prior to the flood.

Questions from Genesis 6

Question: Genesis 6:6-7 - "The LORD was sorry that He had made man..." - did the Lord not know this was going to happen?

Answer: Yes, the Lord knew in advance that man was going to sin in the garden. He knew that after Adam fell that the entire human race was going to spiritually spiral down to such wickedness that He would have to respond with the world wide judgment of the flood. This description of he Lord's response is difficult for us because we tend to think about it first from the perspective of if we were the one responding. Some theologians identify this verse as an example of anthropomorphism. In this case it would mean to ascribe human qualities to God even though He is above those qualities in order to add a dramatic element to the story. I don't agree with that interpretation. Instead I see this as an example of the transcendence and immanence of God. Allow me to simplify those terms. The transcendence of God refers to Him being above all things (even time and history). His immanence refers to God being fully engaged and involved in every moment of time and history. I believe the Bible teaches us that God is both above history and fully engaged in history at the same time. You and I would not be capable of doing both at the same time, but God is. He knew in advance man would become so wicked (transcendence), and He was fully affected by man's wickedness when it actually happened (immanence). This passage shows us that just because God knows the end of history from the beginning, he is not detached and unaffected by what occurs in history.

Question: I was curious about the "sons of God" being angels. If angels are only spiritual, not spiritual/physical as we are, how were they able to create offspring? Wondering what your thoughts were on this.

Answer: Your question captures the main objection some have to the interpretation that the sons of God in Genesis 6 are fallen angels. The concept followed is that angels are spiritual beings that are incapable of taking physical form and interacting with human women in the way that would produce offspring. This objection is usually based on an interpretation of Matthew 22:29-30, "But Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." The thought is that Jesus was telling us that angels are incapable of this. However, this is not a statement of the capability of angels, rather a description of the boundaries that the angels in heaven follow and that the redeemed will also follow in heaven.

We have a number of passages throughout the Bible that show that angels are fully capable of taking physical form. They have the power to do so, but were only supposed to use that power to carry out their missions from God. This passage is just one example of angels taking on physical human form. "When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city." But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the LORD was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city." (Genesis 19:15-16) The two angels that rescued Lot are also identified as "men". They seized the hand of Lot, his wife, and daughters. Earlier, these same two men visited Abraham with the Lord in the form of men and were served a meal by Abraham.

Question: You wrote that, "Here Noah is a type of Christ." I always thought that the ark was a type of Christ. Are they both or was I mistaken in my understanding? If they are both, how can that be?
Answer: No, you are not mistaken. The ark is a type of Christ since it provided the means of salvation for humanity. It points forward to the work of Christ on the cross. Yes, Noah is also a type of Christ. He functions as a type more for the person of Christ while the ark is a type of the work of Christ. We have many examples throughout the Old Testament of what we might call layered types. The reason for this is that it is difficult for any person or thing to picture the fullness of Christ and His work. Therefore, the Lord assigned specific symbolic aspects of Christ and His work to different people and things. One type does not contradict or intrude on the symbolic territory of the other. An example of this layering is found in the tabernacle and temple. Christ is typified by the entire structure of the tabernacle, by the various items of furniture within it, by the high priest who serves in it, and by the sacrifices that are offered there. All of these types are overlapping each other at the same time. It is the responsibility of the teachers in the New Covenant to be able to identify these types and distinguish the boundaries for each type and how they spiritually relate to Christ properly.

Question: Genesis 6:3 "Then the Lord said, "My spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he is also flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years." Whose days are numbered 120 years? It seems that the Lord is no longer allowing men to live beyond 120 years, but further in Genesis, we read that Noah's descendants lived 300-400 years and more. Who or what is being referred to as being numbered 120 years?

Answer: Your confusion on the 120 years is shared by a lot of people. The way it reads in our translation it is easy to interpret it as a new limit the Lord is imposing on human lifespan. Actually, the 120 years is aimed in a different direction completely. It identifies the number of years left before the flood. From the time that the Lord made this declaration there were 120 years until the rains of the flood began. This 120 year time period served two purposes. It gave Noah sufficient time to build the ark with the tools and technology he had available to him, and it provided a generous amount of time for Noah to preach the Lord's message of impending judgment. "and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;" (II Peter 2:5)

Genesis 8

8:1 - "But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided."

There are two important principles in this verse; one is a clarification and one is hidden in the translation. The clarification is regarding what is meant that "God remembered Noah." When we remember something important it is in relationship to having previously forgotten it. Because our minds and memories are finite and fallible, we are capable of forgetting even important appointments and events. Ask any man who has ever forgotten his anniversary how important it is for us to remember things that matter. Here, God remembers Noah as well as all the animals with him in the ark, but it is not implying God had forgotten them only to have the inhabitants of the ark suddenly pop back into His mind. God's mind is not like ours. He never inadvertently forgets anything. There are over 70 times in the Old Testament where God is described as remembering His people or His covenant. In each case it describes God's faithful commitment to give to His people the special attention or provision that they need and that only He can provide. It is the way God describes that He is now going to focus on this person or event and give them priority attention over anything else going on the earth at that time. We could think of it as God's covenant commitment.

The principle hidden in the translation of verse one introduces a theme that is developed throughout this chapter and the next. The key translated word is "wind". When God decided to end the flood and restore the world to "normal" He did so by causing a wind to pass over the earth. This description is an intentional connection all the way back to Genesis 1:1-2. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters." The word translated wind is the same Hebrew word translated as "Spirit" in 1:2. The connection is this; now at the end of the flood, God is begins to recreate the world. He does not create it out of nothing like in Genesis 1:1, but the world after the flood is nevertheless a new creation. God has cleansed the old world of its corruption and now He is going to make a new world. Throughout this chapter there are intentional parallels to the original creation story. God causes His wind to move over the surface of the waters in both creations as the beginning point, then the land emerges.

8:17 - "Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you, birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth."

This passage continues the intended parallel with Genesis chapter one as a new creation story. It points back to Genesis one symbolically, and forward into the eternal future to Christ and the new heavens and new earth that He will create at the end of all things. Here Noah is taking on a new role with a great responsibility. Noah is the new Adam responsible for repopulating the world from his line of descendants. The animals leaving the ark with him, like the original pairs of animals God had made in Genesis one are to multiply and fill the earth exactly as they did then. We are meant to hear the echoes of this Word from chapter one. "God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth..." (Genesis 1:28)

The lesson here is powerful. God originally made the human race from Adam and Eve and they had filled the earth. However, they also filled the earth with their sin and corruption. The significance of their existence as humans made in the image and likeness of God originally did not outweigh their responsibility to live and walk in the way God had intended and commanded. We might be tempted to look at the situation before the flood and see it as bad, but decide that the value of the people outweighed their evil and corrupt behavior. God looked upon the same circumstance and decided that the value of His holy and righteous purpose outweighed the value of the people themselves. In that spiritual priority, God chose to cleanse the world and start over through one faithful man. He again has done exactly that through Christ. "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." (II Corinthians 5:17)

8:20-21 - "Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, "I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done."

The very first act of Noah as he exists the ark and steps foot on the new world that God has recreated is significant. "Then Noah built an altar to the LORD". This is the first time in the Bible that an altar is built. Noah begins his new life and the new creation with worship. It is a special kind of worship, distinct from any of the pagan worship and pagan altars of history that will later attempt to mimic what Noah does here. This worship as God had commanded. We saw earlier that God had instructed Noah to take seven of all the clean animals into the ark in anticipation of this moment. Building this altar was not Noah's idea any more than building the ark had been. True worship begins with God's call and command and ends back at His throne. It is also distinct from all false worship because it is sacrificial in nature. Human based worship is based on our merit and honors God along with ourselves. True worship recognizes that there is nothing in ourselves that earns our place in His presence. Only the sacrifice He has ordained opens the door for us to stand before His throne. This blood sacrifice of course points forward in time to the one ultimate sacrifice that opens the door for us into heaven itself. This altar of Noah is a type of the cross of Christ.

Questions from Genesis 7:

Question: 7:2, 7, 9, 16 - "entered as God had commanded him..." - any thoughts as to how all the animals got rounded up and in there?! Looks like Noah was already in the ark when the animals came inside. Perhaps the Lord just spoke and the animals went to the ark.

Answer: There are only two possibilities for the gathering of the animals and birds. One possibility is that Noah and his family went out throughout the earth and gathered two and seven of each kind. The other is that the Lord brought the animals to the ark. I believe the second option. It would have been logistic nightmare to track down and capture two and seven of every kind of animal and bird. The Lord may have simply commanded the animals and birds to come to the ark, or He may have had the angels gather them, but I'm convinced that they came because of the Lord, not because of Noah.

Genesis 9

9:3-4 - "Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood."

This section continues the theme from the previous chapter. When Noah leaves the ark he steps foot into a new world that has just been recreated out of the flood. Noah is now spiritually in the role of the new Adam as the covenantal head of a new human race. In the original garden, when the Lord first created Adam and placed him in the new world, the Lord ordained food to eat for Adam. Adam was free to eat whatever he chose, but within the food boundaries that the Lord ordained for him. "Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you;" (Genesis 1:29). Adam's diet was what we would describe as strict vegetarian. The Lord gave him plants, fruits and seeds to eat. By implication, he was not allowed to kill and eat the flesh of animals, birds or fish. He did not even eat milk or eggs which were produced from the animals because that would have been outside the boundaries of God's food provision for him. We can be certain that the diet God provided for him was sufficient for both his nutritional needs and his desires.

Now, in this section, Noah as the new Adam is also given specific diet boundaries by the Lord. What is important to notice is the difference in the diet God gave to Noah, from Adam's previous boundaries. The Lord expands Noah's diet to include the flesh of animals, birds and fish. Why does the Lord change the diet of humanity? I see a spiritual purpose and a practical purpose in the Lord's decision. The spiritual purpose is that each time that man eats flesh there is an inherent reminder of death and the fall. The practical purpose is that the flood has permanently changed the physical environment of the world. Before the flood there was a greenhouse like environment with consistently warm temperatures. Now, that the vapor canopy covering the earth is gone, humanity will be exposed to extremes in climate that will require a different diet to meet their nutritional needs. It is critical to recognize that this change was not Noah's decision to try a new diet. This was something ordained by the Lord. Every so often in the Christian community there is some well meaning book published urging believers to follow the "Eden diet" as though it were wise to do so. It was God Who changed the Eden diet. A person can choose to follow a strict vegetarian diet for health or weight loss, but they will experience being more cold than normal as well as a loss of strength as a result. The people that choose to be strict vegetarians for religious purposes such as some Hindus, do so without the true knowledge that God no longer requires us or intends for us to be strict vegetarians.

9:5-6 - "Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man."

One of the great concerns of the Lord just prior to the flood was the extent of violence between people. "Then God said to Noah, "The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth." (Genesis 6:13). Now, after the flood, God institutes a new law for humanity that is designed by God, not to eliminate violence, but to limit it. The new law will not and cannot eliminate violence, because the violence is not circumstantial, but arises from the hearts of fallen, wicked people. As long as there are fallen people in the world, there will be violence. However, what is indicated by this new law is that even fallen, wicked people will be motivated to restrain themselves from their own violent inclinations if the consequences to themselves is greater than the satisfaction of indulging their impulses to do violence. God knows the wisdom of this principle far better than our societies. The principle is called deterrence. The deterrent that God chose is the death penalty. The person (or animal) that takes a human life will have its own life taken from them. The society is responsible to carry out the penalty required. This is not political; it is not cultural; it is spiritual! The death penalty begins here, and continues throughout the Old Covenant as it is re-established in the Law of Moses with more details.

What some well intentioned Christians misunderstand is that it also continues throughout the New Covenant. The death penalty should be part of every society's justice system until the Second Coming of Christ when the ultimate and final spiritual death penalty is carried out by the Lord Himself on those who deserve it. It is necessary for every society as long as there are fallen wicked people in the earth who would do violence against others if left unrestrained. Some societies have abandoned this standards based upon the false concept that the death penalty is an ancient, barbaric, cruel and unusual punishment that an "evolved", enlightened society should reject. This is a classic example of foolish humans convincing themselves that they are wiser than God. The long term fruit of that foolishness will eventually corrupt any society that rejects God's standard. Some believers have mistakenly believed that Jesus changed the death penalty in the New Testament because of the way He handled the woman caught in adultery. They claim that the New Testament is a covenant of love replacing the more viscous Old Testament of justice. A close reading in John 8 reveals that Jesus did not set aside the death penalty in the case of the woman caught in adultery, but rather exposed the wicked religious leaders that were attempting to manipulate the Law to trap Jesus. The love of God is never to be set in opposition to the justice of God as they do. God is love in the Old Testament as well as the New. God is just in the Old Testament as well as the New.

9:21-27 - "He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father's nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. So he said, "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brothers." He also said, "Blessed be the LORD, The God of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant."

This situation that happened with Noah, Ham, Shem and Japheth has stimulated its share of debate and confusion over the generations. It seems initially confusing to us. Some of the more difficult elements are the sudden change in Noah's behavior, what exactly Ham did to his father, and why Noah reacted so strongly to what was done to him. The change in Noah's behavior serves as a sober lesson for us. Remember Noah is identified by the Lord as a blameless and righteous man. This event is a shocking inconsistency in his long life pattern of behavior. The lesson is that even an entire life of doing right does not make us impervious to the danger of a weak moment's lapse in judgment. The warning is to remain always vigilant to the temptation to let our guard down. Noah sinned in this moment of his life. His sin was two-fold. It was not a sin to drink some of the wine from his vineyard, but to drink to the point of becoming drunk. Once he was drunk, he uncovered himself and lay naked in his tent. His nakedness in itself was not sinful because he did so in the privacy of his own home. What was foolish was that he did so at a time when someone might enter his tent and see him in his nakedness. Ham entered the tent without any hint in the story that he should not have been there. it would be normal during certain hours for Noah's sons to have access to their father and permission to enter his tent to see him. Sadly, Noah's foolishness led to the exposure of not only his own nakedness, but also Ham's bad character.

There is a lot of speculation based purely on imagination of what Ham did to his father when he found Noah naked in his tent. The extreme suggestions all come from trying to find a particularly bad crime to fit the severe reaction of Noah once he wakes up. The text is clear and straightforward and we should not indulge in adding to the story what is not there. Ham's violation is not that he saw his father's nakedness (this was not his fault, but Noah's), but in how he responded to what he saw. Ham should have honored his father even in his moment of weakness, covered him, said nothing to anyone about what he saw, except to respectfully mention the situation to Noah himself the next day. Instead, Ham chose to leave his father uncovered, and then telling it to his brothers outside. He magnified his father's dishonor by effectively exposing him to the other sons. Their response led by Shem is a powerful contrast to Ham's in the extreme care they take to honor their father in his moment of weakness. The spiritual principles at stake here are the significance of nakedness as public dishonor because of its association as the immediate consequence for Adam's sin (Genesis 3:7), and one of the first Biblical examples of the violation of the "honor your father" standard of God's Law (Exodus 20:12). Noah's response the next day should be interpreted, not as an outburst of personal anger, but as God's representative. The curse pronounced upon Ham's descendants is a prophetic anticipation of them following in the rebellious dishonor of God that Ham demonstrated here. The specific descendants cursed later become the Canaanites that fill the promised land with wickedness before the arrival of Israel under Moses.

Genesis 10

10:5-11 - "From these the coastlands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations. The sons of Ham were Cush and Mizraim and Put and Canaan. The sons of Cush were Seba and Havilah and Sabtah and Raamah and Sabteca; and the sons of Raamah were Sheba and Dedan.Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD." The beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went forth into Assyria, and built Nineveh and Rehoboth-Ir and Calah,"

Chapter 10 serves a very important purpose in the narrative history of the world. It traces for us the early transition and development of the post-flood society from a single family to a world of nations as it continues even today. The first thing that we are meant to catch from this history is that the dividing of the population into nations was not accidental, or a bright idea of any one person. The concept of a world filled with nations organized according to common language and family connection is the idea and work of the Lord in influencing the development of human history.

Contrary to the social idealists that periodically call for a one world society and government, the Lord in His greater wisdom chose to divide the world into nations. One of the primary reasons the Lord divided the world in this way was to build into all human society a way to limit and slow down the development of evil. If we compare evil to a deadly disease then having one unified society allows for the rapid spread of infection to the entire world's population without hindrance. In the way nations function, the natural boundaries of geographic borders, unique cultures, and differing languages all serve to stop the spread of evil (or at least slow it down) as it reaches the boundary of one nation before it infects its neighbors. An example of this principle in modern history is the spread of Nazism in Germany. That social infection of evil spread until it filled the nation of Germany, but the above mentioned boundaries and differences kept England free from that infection and able to oppose it. Had the entire world been united at that time, the infection would have quickly spread to the entire world. This is where the wisdom of man which would lead to a unified world without national boundaries is far inferior to the wisdom of God in influencing the distinctions among the nations.

10:15-19 - "Canaan became the father of Sidon, his firstborn, and Heth and the Jebusite and the Amorite and the Girgashite and the Hivite and the Arkite and the Sinite and the Arvadite and the Zemarite and the Hamathite; and afterward the families of the Canaanite were spread abroad. The territory of the Canaanite extended from Sidon as you go toward Gerar, as far as Gaza; as you go toward Sodom and Gomorrah and Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha."

Chapter 10 is divided into three sections; each detailing the lines of descent from Noah's three sons, Japheth, Ham and Shem. This passage gives us the account of one of the sons of Ham, Canaan. His history is worth noting because of Noah's pronouncement of a curse of Canaan in 9:25-27. We saw from that event that Canaan was destined to follow in the footsteps of his father Ham. It would be a case of "like father, like son", but with a bad father and even more wicked son. We will encounter Canaan's descendants again in Exodus when the children of Israel are commanded by God to bring His judgment upon the Canaanites because of their generations long rebellion and perversity. Before then, we will also encounter the children of Canaan who build the twin cities of wickedness, Sodom and Gomorrah. Anticipating the severe judgment that will poured out by the Lord upon Sodom and Gomorrah in the form of fire from heaven that destroys their cities completely, it becomes shocking when we recognize from the mention of these cities here, that they had not learned even the most basic lesson of the Flood. God destroyed the entire world with a flood, yet they filled their cities with the same kinds of wickedness.

It is also interesting to recognize the development of evil here. One of the main themes of the Bible is that God blesses the entire world by choosing one individual; entering into covenant relationship with that individual; pouring out His blessing upon them; and from that person establishing His purpose in the world. God followed this basic plan with minor variations with Adam, Noah, Moses, and ultimately Jesus. In a similar but opposite way, one wicked man has the capacity to eventually influence entire nations and all of history for evil. In this case, one bad apple (Ham -> Canaan) becomes a spoiling influence for the whole barrel of nations.

10:25 - "Two sons were born to Eber; the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided; and his brother's name was Joktan."

The key phrase "in his days the earth was divided" in this verse has confused some believers. It is a reference to the events of Chapter 11 to come in what we call the Tower of Babel. When God judged the population's rebellion by confusing their language, He also scattered the newly formed nations abroad throughout the earth. "So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth..." (Genesis 11:8). The scattering of chapter 11 is identical to the dividing here in chapter 10. Some have wondered why it is mentioned here in chapter 10 and whether it preceded the Tower of Babel. The dividing was the result of the Tower of Babel event detailed in the next chapter and does not precede it. Chapter 10 actually covers an overview of several generations of history from before the Tower of Babel, during it, and after it. In chapter 11 the Lord will focus our attention on the Tower event in more detail, while here it is a historical reference to help us see at what point in the overall history the Tower of Babel occurred.

10:32 - "These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated on the earth after the flood."

All of the nations of the world once shared a common history and background. As different as Russia is from Mexico, and France is from Mongolia, they all can trace their history all the way back to Noah and his sons. Paul confirms this truth of history in his speech before the philosophers of Athens. "and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation," (Acts 17:26). This establishes that all nations not only have a shared root and history, they all share something even more important. All nations exist under God's greater authority and continue only by His plan and discretion. God first caused the nations to be formed and He still rules over all the nations without exception. While it is true that many of the nations disregard Him and strive to go their own way according to their own plans, He alone has determined in advance the geographic boundaries and time boundaries of every nation. He has chosen how big each nation will become and how long they will continue to exist. History testifies of the Lord's authority over the nations. No matter how great and magnificent, no nation can extend one mile beyond what the Lord has ordained or continue for one year longer than He chooses. Babylon, Assyria, Rome and innumerable others have come and gone off of the face of the earth. They came into existence by the influence of God and they no longer exist by the authority and power of God. The true principle of history is not social evolution, but divine sovereignty.

As an interesting side note on this chapter, the total number of nations mentioned here is seventy. Throughout the Old Testament seventy was the accepted number identified as representing all the Gentile nations of the world. When Jesus chose his extended group of disciples to begin the expansion of the gospel beyond the 12 apostles, He selected seventy disciples and sent them out with the message of salvation. "Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come." (Luke 10:1). This is probably not a coincidental similarity in numbers. The seventy messengers sent out by Christ anticipates the world wide mission of the gospel eventually reaching all of the nations.

Genesis 11

11:4 - "They said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."

The first thing to recognize if that the story of the Tower of Babel is history, not ancient legend. This event actually happened as described here. It provides for us a practical description of how the population that grew from Noah's family after the flood came to split and scatter throughout the world, and it gives us the spiritual explanation behind the event. The background of what developed is the growth soon after the flood of human rebellion fueled by pride and fear. The Lord had declared His purpose for humanity to Noah and his sons when they left the ark following the flood. His descendants were to spread out and repopulate the world. "And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth." (Genesis 9:1) Now, soon after, the growing population has already disregarded the command of the Lord and is sinfully unified in their desire to do just the opposite. Their concern was to not be scattered abroad over the face of the earth. They sought security in their own unity and proximity to each other, rather than in their obedience to the Lord. There is a powerful lesson here for every generation of history to follow. True security is only found in obeying the Lord. Any society that rejects the Lord and His commandments and attempts to establish its own security is doomed to fall.

Their other motivation besides security was fame. They wanted to make a name for themselves. This principle of civic pride or national pride has been the driving force behind so many of history's significant events. This motivation to achieve significance is in humanity because we were originally made in the image and likeness of God, Who is the most significant One. Yet, because of the continuing effects of the Fall of man, this urge toward significance has been perverted and twisted. Pride now causes people and societies to seek their significance, not in honoring and obeying God and thus becoming truly significant, but is the attempt to establish their own name for themselves apart from God. This is the essence of Satan's original rebellion and is the at the core of all human rebellion in every generation. The greatest human kingdoms in history of Babylon, Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, etc. were all driven by this same pair of pride and fear.

11:6 - "The LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them."

The Lord responded to the rebellion of the people not only because of what they had done in starting to build the city and tower of Babel, but because of the dangerous implications for the future. There are two spiritual principles in focus in this part of the story. One principle is that because mankind is made in the image of God they have enormous potential within them for accomplishment. Modern history is a powerful testimony of this. The inventions of the 20th century such as the airplane, car, telephone, computer, radio, television, and many more all speak of the incredible capacity God has designed into us as His image bearers. The problem here in the Tower of Babel development is that the Lord is concerned with what will happen when the great capacity of human beings is turned in the direction of evil rather than good. When human imagination and invention are made to serve man's rebellion rather than God's glory the results are never good.

The second principle highlighted is the neutral power of unity. Unity itself is not portrayed as a bad thing here, only a powerful thing. Much later, in the book of Acts the unity of the early church in their faithfulness and obedience to God is a holy and powerful thing. Here, however, the unity of the population is misused to form their rebellion against God. The danger is in the spiritual formula of unity + rebellion. The destructive potential of this combination is exemplified in Nazi Germany, the USSR, and radical Islamic nations from modern history. The Lord does not fail to respond to this dangerous combination. He will bring judgment upon this rebelliously unified nation, but in His judgment is also mercy. In His mercy He does not completely wipe them out as in the Flood, and they are protected from themselves before the full development of their intentions comes to fruition.

11:8 - "So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. "

This is the moment in world history that marks the beginning of the world as we know it today with nations of differing cultures and languages each occupying their own geographic region. To a careful student of world history there are many indicators of this ancient common origin for all nations and cultures. One example is found in the Tower of Babel itself. From archaeology we know the general design of the most ancient tower building. The Babylonian culture was marked by a form of tower building identified as the Ziggurat. It is a pyramid like structure with levels or steps leading up to the pinnacle. The discovery in modern times of almost identical designs of ancient towers throughout the coastal regions of Mexico and Central America and even other places in the world was portrayed as some as an amazing coincidence. The ziggurats throughout Latin America are no coincidence. The peoples that were scattered from the Tower of Babel traveled all over the world. Each new language group formed took their common architectural knowledge and built similar structures wherever they settled.

Another apparent coincidence is the common elements found in the most ancient myths and legends of almost every culture of the world. For instance most cultures have some form of ancient world flood story among their legends. The names and details differ in each culture, but the similarities are either an incredible chance development or the proof of an even more ancient basis in fact and history. Each scattered language group took the remembrance of the Flood of Noah's time and passed it on within their culture. As just one example among many, the ancient Babylonians preserved a flood story in which one man's family survived the flood that killed all others by building a giant boat in the shape of a cube.

11:9 - "Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth."

The key issue in this event was not the Tower of Babel itself, but in the common world language that unified the people to carry out their own rebellious plans. God's judgment did not destroy the tower, which would have only treated the symptom of the disease and not the disease itself. Instead the Lord judged their common language. Language is a special gift from God. It separates humanity from the birds, fish, and animals. It enables us to understand and communicate with God Himself and one another. It is essential to God's purpose of spiritual fellowship. Yet, here this greatest of gifts from God was the enabling cause of the work of rebellion. God limits the future development of evil among them by dividing their languages, and thereby localizing and limiting their future cooperation.

There is also a fascinating New Testament parallel to notice in connection with this event. From the Day of Pentecost in the book of Acts we read this first powerful work of God in the beginning of the proclamation of the gospel of Christ to the nations.

"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs--we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God." (Acts 2:4-11)

God Himself miraculously suspends the continuing effects of the Babel judgment on the Day of Pentecost by His Holy Spirit. The message is pointed and powerful. True human unity in intended by God to be achieved only in accepting His Son as Lord.

Genesis 12

12:2-3 - "And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."

This declaration of the Lord to Abram is one of the most important passages in all of the Bible. It identifies a critical shift in focus of the Lord's dealings with mankind. Since the time of the Flood until now God has been dealing with humanity as a whole. He had established basic law through Noah to limit the development of evil and violence, and had given a basic command to be fruitful and repopulate the earth after the Flood. Those guidelines applied to the entire population in the same way. Now, for the first time since Noah, God marks out a specific man and speaks to him words which He does not speak to others. God gives to Abram a specific command and promises of blessing if he obeys that command. The command and promises God gives to Abram set him apart from any other human into a position of special privilege in relationship to the Lord. While the Lord does not use the term covenant in this chapter, later we will see that this is the beginning of what will develop into a covenant relationship between the Lord and Abram.

The spiritual principles involved here with Abram carry their own significance for our lives also. The first thing to notice is that covenant relationship with God is always initiated by God, not by the person with whom God establishes His covenant. Abram did not choose this special relationship with God. God chose Abram, and He chose what kind of relationship they would have. This order of who chooses is important because it establishes from the first moment of the relationship who is in charge in the relationship. In the same way, we did not chose to be saved, God chose to save us. The next principle to recognize is that covenant relationship provides great blessings for the person in the covenant with God, but that those blessings are not just for that person to enjoy. God poured out amazing blessings upon Abram, but the goal in God's heart was to in a sense funnel through Abram His blessings to "all the families of the earth". God gives general blessings to all people such as life, food, health, etc. whether they are in covenant with Him or not. But, His special covenant blessings He gives only to and through those who are in covenant with Him. The third and most important principle here is the mention of plan of God to somehow bless all the families of the earth. Abram never personally saw in his lifetime all the families of the earth blessed through him. The way God will fulfill this promise is through One special descendant of Abram. Through Jesus, all the families of the earth will be blessed with the ultimate blessing of salvation as God will save some from every tribe, tongue, people and nation as they believe in Christ.

12:4-7 - "So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him."

God commanded Abram to leave his home and familiar surroundings. He was directed to go to a land that he had never before even visited. God had a specific and critical purpose for Abram's descendants in that land, but at this point Abram did not know the details of the future. All he knew was that God had spoken to him and commanded him to leave where he lived and go to this new land. He responded to the Lord's direction with argument or complaint. He obeyed and went forth. Later, the book of Hebrews describes this moment in Abram's life as a moment of noteworthy faith."By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going." (Hebrews 11:8) His faith was not undermined by his incomplete knowledge of the future plans of God. He had to trust that if God had called him to go, that it was to his advantage to go. Often, when the Lord gives us a clear word of command or direction we wait for the full explanation before deciding whether to obey. We should follow Abram's example here and obey God in faith as soon as we are certain that it is Him commanding or directing us. We can expect that God will on occasion deal with us as He did with Abram here. God could have given Abram more details than He did in 12:1. He chose not to give more details because this was planned by God to be an exercise in faith for Abram.

This passage also contains the first Word of God that identifies the land of Canaan as what will become known from this point forward as the Promised Land. "To your descendants I will give this land." God owns it. He is in charge of it. It is in His discretion to give it to whomever He chooses. He promises it here to Abram's descendants, but it is only promised at this point and not yet possessed. We have a few hundred years to wait until the Lord will later bring Abram's descendants into this land under the leadership of Joshua to take possession of what God promised on this day. One thing we should learn from this. God is a long range planner. When He has planned a promised a thing and then reveals it to us, that does not mean that we will necessarily see it happen then or even soon. God faithfully fulfills His promises in His perfect timing and not at the whim of our preferences.

12:10-13 - "Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, "See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife'; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. "Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you."

After the praise worthy response of faith by Abram in leaving home to follow the Lord's direction to travel to the Promised Land, now we have a development exposing a glaring inconsistency in Abram. After arriving in the land to which God directed him, Abram is challenged by an unexpected development. A famine is in the land. Now why would God cause a famine in the Promised Land? We should be clear that God did indeed cause this famine. In fact, all famines are ordained by God, and none of them are accidental random events of history. In this case God caused the famine for two purposes. Famines are expressions of God's judgment, and this famine was an early judgment from the Lord upon the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. We will read later descriptions of these people that characterize them as a very wicked people.

In addition, the famine also served the Lord's purpose as a test of Abram's faith. The Lord had told Abram to go to this land and He had promised to bless him there. The Lord never told Abram to go there "until and unless a famine occurs." There is no hint in the text that the Lord wanted Abram to leave Canaan and travel down to Egypt. Abram's faith was tested by the circumstance of the famine. Would he trust the Lord in unexpected difficulty and remain where God had called him, or would he leave the place of his calling and follow the food? This is a case where we see even a man of God and a man who had previously shown great faith compromise his faith in an effort to provide for himself what the Lord had promised to provide for him back in Canaan. Unfortunately, we don't even read of Abram praying before he moves to Egypt to seek the Lord for His direction. As a result, when he arrives in Egypt his heart is influenced more by his fears than his faith. This leads Abram into an additional compromise of his faith in his pathetic attempt to protect himself from harm by presenting his wife as his sister. This incident should remind us of the compromise of Noah after showing such great faith throughout the Flood. What we see developing is a pattern of the Lord exposing the weaknesses of the men He calls into covenant. They are men of faith, but they are not flawless superheroes. God sees their Character flaws and exposes them in order to cause them to grow beyond them.

12:15-20 - "Pharaoh's officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels. But the LORD struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife. Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, "What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? "Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go." Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him."

There is in this development an awesome example of God's sovereignty. We have seen that Abram should not even have gone to Egypt without the Lord's direction to do so. In addition, he certainly should not have lied about the identity of his wife and used her a shield to protect himself and by doing so expose her to a serious compromise of her marriage. Nothing Abram has done in this situation is right, yet in spite of that, the Lord is still watching over Abram and his household. God protects Sarai when Abram fails to do so. Even more than that, God brings something good out of this bad situation. This principle describes what the Lord is doing. "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28). What Abram did was not good. The situation was not good. Yet God caused it all to work together for good in the end. The Lord moved upon Pharaoh's heart to give to Abram sheep, oxen, donkeys, camels as well as servants. When Abram left Egypt, he left a far wealthier man than he came. We see here an example of how the Lord treats us in Christ. As Christians none of us is perfect or without flaw. We may trust God one day as we should like Abram, and stumble in doubt and fear the next day. Yet, God continues to watch over us on our best days and our worst and He continues to build our lives according to His great purpose in saving us, and not according to what we actually deserve.

Questions from Genesis 11:

Question: Is there a significance that the age of procreation and length of life is dramatically shortened this chapter (even a son dying before the father is mentioned for the first time)?

Answer: I'll refer you back to my comments on day five from 5:4-11 regarding the drastically shortened life spans following the Flood.

Question: This appears to be the first chapter that mentions a woman by name, Sarai, (and the other wives of Terah's children, and Abram's brothers) since Eve. Any significance?

Answer: Yes I think that we are meant to notice as you did that Sarai and the other women of Abram's family are the first to be named since Eve. I see two principles at work here. One is that God since has ordained for the fathers to represent His authority as the head of their own family lines of descent, the attention in the records of the generations since Adam focus attention on naming the father of each generation. It is not that the mother does not matter, but that one in authority in each generation is chosen to represent that generation.

Second, Sarai is named along with Abram as a prelude to the dramatic turn of events in chapter 12 in God choosing Abraham. There is a spiritual hint here that God is choosing Sarai along with His choice of Abram to be like Adam and Eve to the new nation He is going to create through them (Israel).

Question: Any reason why this father, sons, and grandson, Lot, left their community moving to Haran?

Answer: Terah, Abram and Lot leave Ur in the years following the Tower of Babel when the Lord caused the population to scatter throughout the world. They are part of that scattering impulse. We are not told how they decided when they left Ur to go in the direction they choose, but we should recognize the Lord's sovereign Hand upon their decision. They set out with the intention of entering "the land of Canaan." This is of course the same region that will later be identified as the Promised Land. It is where the Lord will later establish the nation of Israel. They only made it as far as Haran with Terah, but in the next chapter Abraham will be called by the Lord to continue on to the Promised Land.

Question: Gen 11:10 - Abraham (and subsequently Jesus) was originally of Arabian descent through Shem. In light of world events and our relations with that part of the world now, is there spiritual significance to him (them) originating from that line?

Answer: I'm not sure where you read that Abraham and Jesus were originally of Arabian descent, but that is not exactly accurate. At the time of Genesis 11 there were no Arabians. Shem is the ancestral father of both Abraham and Jesus' mother Mary also can trace her decent back to Shem through Abraham. So we can say that both Abraham and Jesus were Shemites (later referred to as Semites). However, neither Abraham or Jesus were actually Arabian. The Arabian line of descent can trace its origins all the way back to one of Abraham's sons Ishmael. However, the Arabians developed far after Abraham's time so it would not be accurate to identify Abraham as an Arabian. Additionally, Jesus descended through Isaac's line, not through Ishmael, and so He is not considered an Arabian either. As far as your concern with possible connections to current world events and the physical lines of descent of Abraham and Jesus, I would say, no, there is no current connection. Concerns with Jesus line of descent were fulfilled at His birth. The only issue was to be able to establish that the Biblical prophesies regarding a son of Abraham and a son of David were literally fulfilled in Jesus. There is no continuing focus in the New Testament on natural or physical connections beyond that.

Genesis 13

13:3-4 - "He went on his journeys from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there formerly; and there Abram called on the name of the LORD."

Following the spiritual fiasco of the journey to Egypt because of the famine in Canaan, Abram now returns where he belongs. He belongs in Canaan, not because of familiarity or personal preference, but because it is where the Lord has called him to live. This is a strong practical element in how God's sovereignty intersects our lives. His purpose for us supercedes our purposes for ourselves. We all have our own ideas and plans for how our life should go and the choice of where to live is a large part of that. Yet, what do we do when the Lord's plan would settle us in a place we would not choose for ourselves to live? Sadly, many believers do not even consider their living situation and choices from this perspective. For many the assumption is that we are always free to choose where we want to live with the expectation that the Lord's blessing will follow us wherever we happen to choose.

In this return to Canaan, the Lord led Abram back to square one. He returned "to the place where his tent had been at the beginning..." When we have gotten off track from the Lord's purpose for our lives it may be necessary to go back before we can go forward. As Abram arrived back where he started he found the altar he had formerly built to the Lord and there he worshipped the Lord. It is an interesting contrast with his experience in Egypt. The entire time he was in Egypt there is no mention of him building an altar or calling on the Lord. Now that he is back where he belongs, his heart is moved to worship as he had previously. This is a return "home" both physically and spiritually for Abram.

13:6-9 - "And the land could not sustain them while dwelling together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to remain together. And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock. Now the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land. So Abram said to Lot, "Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. "Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left."

In a developing difficulty between Abram's growing herds and Lot's strife begins between their herdsmen. Each group of herdsmen was looking to protect the welfare of their own herd and saw the other herds as threats to their provision. The implication is that this had the potential to grow beyond argument and dispute. What began as a dispute between their servants could have permanently damaged the relationship between Abram and Lot. Strife is a often a subtle danger because it can begin with something small and apparently insignificant, yet it can grow to divide closest of marriages, families, friends, churches, and communities. What is needed in a circumstance of developing strife is for someone to see the danger before it grows out of proportion and take the necessary steps to disarm it. In this case Abram showed both wisdom and faith. He took a step that reflected these two principles from Proverbs. "Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife." (Proverbs 17:1). "Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, But any fool will quarrel." (Proverbs 20:3).

Abram saw the need to keep "away from strife." He choose a resolution that demonstrated that his commitment to walking in peace with Lot was greater than his desire to maintain a more favorable life circumstance for himself. He saw it would be spiritually better for him to risk losing the most advantageous land for his herds than it would to be in strife with Lot. By offering for Lot to choose which part of the land to occupy Abram is once again walking by faith like he did before he went down to Egypt. He is trusting that whichever direction Lot chooses to go, that the Lord will bless him in the land that remains for him.

13:10-12 - "Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere--this was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah--like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar. So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom."

The choice Lot makes in which direction to settle for his home is instructive for us. We don't see Lot stop and pray here and ask the Lord for His direction in the choice. Instead Lot makes his choice the same way most people would. He chooses based upon which option looks better to him and more advantageous to him personally. There seems to be no spiritual consideration in the choice at all. He chose the land that was most attractive to his eyes and he chose "for himself." The intended contrast behind the choice Abram made and the choice Lot made is meant to catch our attention. This principle also applies; "for we walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7). Abram choose by faith to place Lot before himself. Lot choose by sight to place himself ahead of Abram in his decision. The fruit of these two choices will develop over the next few chapters of Genesis. Abram will be blessed by the Lord for his choice of faith. For Lot, the choice that seemed so favorable when he was making it turns out to be the worst decision of his life.

The lesson here is that we dare not trust our own eyes in making important life decisions. How many people choose their life partner for marriage based upon the most attractive choice? How many choose home location based on the natural benefits of that location? How many choose a job based upon most money / benefits / perks? These things should not be ignored in an important decision, but they are not the first and most important factor to consider. Keep this principle in mind when making the most important decisions of your life; "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. " (Matthew 6:33).

13:13 - "Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD."

The land surrounding the region of Sodom and Gomorrah was gorgeous and compared to the garden of Eden for its beauty. The people that dwelt there were a different story. The men of Sodom are described using three terms which combined paint the ugliest possible picture. They were sinners. Of course, we understand that every single person that has ever lived (with the sole exception of Jesus) is a sinner and has violated God's holy standards. Because we recognize the shared sinfulness of all humanity some erroneously conclude that we are all the same in our sinfulness as though there are no degrees of sin to consider. The truth is that while "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23), all have also sinned to differing degrees. The men of Sodom are additionally described as wicked, and as if that were not bad enough, they were exceedingly wicked. This combined spiritual description of them as exceedingly wicked sinners is what we would call a value judgment. It reflects the Lord's evaluation of their actual spiritual condition and behavior.

It is critical for us to be able to recognize and accurately identify a person or group that is like this. If not, we will suffer, as Lot did the consequences of missing the danger this group represented to the spiritual and physical welfare of his family. Lot moved his family right into the midst of this exceedingly wicked influence and by doing so exposed them to things that would have serious repercussions for his family's future. We should not be naive and assume that there is no individual, group, or community left on the earth today or in our society that are exceedingly wicked sinners.

13:14-15 - "The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, "Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever."

There is a hidden spiritual lesson in this development that we could easily overlook. The hint is in the word "Now" as God speaks to Abram. The Lord had not spoken to Abram for some time. The last communication he had received from the Lord was back before he had gone down into Egypt. The word now indicates a timing issue with what the Lord was about to declare to Abram. The Lord reaffirms His previous promise to give the land of Canaan to Abram and his descendants. The timing of this reaffirmation by the Lord is immediately following the departure of Lot. The Lord spoke this to Abram, "after Lot had separated from him..." The hint is that what the Lord was about to say was somehow tied to Lot's departure. This is connected to the first time the Lord had ever spoken to Abram. He had given Abram a clear command. The problem is that Abram had never completed his obedience to that original command. "Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing;" (Genesis 12:1-2)

God had told Abram to go forth from his relatives. He did not say from some or even most of his relatives, but all of them. This included Lot who was Abram's nephew. Instead Abram took Lot with him to Canaan, then into Egypt, and then back with him to Canaan. The work the Lord planned to do in establishing His covenant through Abram was for him alone and not for Lot along with him. It is only and finally when Abram and Lot separate, which completes the requirement of the Lord's original command that the Lord now sets in motion the fulfillment of what He had promised. While not as bad as blatant rebellion, uncompleted obedience is still disobedience to the Lord who commands. We should not be surprised when the Lord withholds promised blessings from us until we finish doing what He previously told us to do.

Genesis 14

14:12-16 - "They also took Lot, Abram's nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom. Then a fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew. Now he was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner, and these were allies with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people."

The choice Lot had made in the previous chapter now begins to bear fruit and none of it good for him. He chose to pitch his tent near Sodom because of the beautiful well watered land. We saw how Lot had not sought the Lord regarding his decision nor had he given enough consideration to the kind of people living in this area. Now, the entire region erupts in a war between the kings of the various cities. By the time the war begins Lot is no longer living near Sodom, he has moved into the city itself. We are not told what motivated him to move into the city, but in his time pitching his tent nearby he should have had enough interaction with the men of the city to know better than to move from the frying pan into the fire. Lot is caught in the middle of this war and captured along with his entire household. It was common practice in those days for conquering armies to take the inhabitants of captured cities to back to their land as slaves.

As word reaches Abram, he is stirred to organize a rescue for his enslaved nephew. All of this is the result of a foolish decision Lot made to move to Sodom. The spiritual principle for us to learn from Lot's mistake is that when people are connected to one another in relationship, the consequences of poor decisions are rarely limited to the person that made them alone. Lot's trouble now complicates Abraham's life. This is the risk involved in committed relationships. Love for one another connects our lives at the level that may cost us some of our own convenience or comfort. Abram could not simply pray for Lot or wish the best for him without acting on his behalf. His love for Lot moves Abram to go after him in the hope of setting him free. In the same way that Abram is committed to Lot, the Lord is committed to Abram. The Lord goes with Abram in his righteous effort to free Lot. Abram shows the courage based in faith, along with a strategy based in wisdom and successfully defeats the kings and frees Lot and his household. The Lord had promised to bless Abram as well as curse his enemies, and in this battle the results testify to the Lord's faithfulness to His promise.

14:18 - "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High."

Following the victorious return of Abram from the defeat of the four kings, a mysterious figure meets Abram and pronounces a blessing over him. This is Melchizedek's one and only appearance in the Bible and because of the brief description of him and this meeting it would be easy to read past it without seeing much importance in it. Two mentions of Melchizedek later in the Bible alert us to a greater significance than we would have noticed on our own. The first mention is in Psalm 110 which is a prophetic psalm about the role of the Messiah. The second mention is in Hebrews chapter 7 in which the writer of Hebrews draws an intentional parallel between Christ and Melchizedek. Some Christians have wondered whether Melchizedek actually was Christ appearing to Abram before His incarnation in what is called in theology a Christophany (pre-incarnate appearance of Christ). I believe that Melchizedek was an actual man who lived during that time, and was not an appearance of Christ. However, Melchizedek is most certainly a type, or historical symbol of Christ. There are a few details regarding Melchizedek that spiritually represent Christ and point forward to Him.

The name Melchizedek means king of righteousness. Jesus is the true King of righteousness Who rules on the basis of a life lived in perfect righteousness. Melchizedek was the king of the city of Salem. Salem means peace and Christ is the King of peace in that He alone has established peace between us and God because of His sacrifice for us on the cross. An additional important detail is that Salem is the same city that later became known as Jerusalem. Christ sits enthroned as the King in the heavenly Jerusalem. Melchizedek is identified as a priest of God. He is the only person until Christ that is both a king and a priest at the same time. Christ is both our High Priest and our King. Melchizedek also represents Christ in the unusual way he is introduced in the account. Every important person from Adam to Abram is introduced by identifying their father. Their death is also described. Melchizedek arrives without any mention in the Bible of his ancestry and is never mentioned again so that we have not knowledge of his death. Hebrews draws the conclusion for us that this points to Christ Who has no beginning or end as the Son of God. Finally, Melchizedek serves Abram bread and wine which is in obvious anticipation of the Lord's Supper of bread and wine that Jesus serves to us.

14:19-20 - "He blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand." He gave him a tenth of all."

Melchizedek pronounces a blessing over Abram and makes sure that he understands that this victory over the four kings was more than luck, strategy, or strength. The victory was the blessing of God on Abram's life. It was God Who delivered the kings into Abram's hands. This is the first of many great battles won by the people of God throughout the Old Testament against all odds and only because of the Lord's blessing. Whether it is this battle, or David against Goliath, or Gideon, or Samson or many others, the people of God who fight under the Lord's blessing are invincible. It's a lesson to never forget. Victory is found in right relationship with the Lord and as a direct result of His blessing.

As a response to this blessing from Melchizedek, Abram gives to him a tenth of all. The all referred to here is most likely the spoils of the battle. This passage is the first example in the Bible of the practice that later became known as the tithe. Tithe literally translates as the tenth. By giving a tenth to Melchizedek, Abram tithed to him. The description in Hebrews 7 confirms that Abram tithed here. It is an important example for us because this occurred long before God gave to Moses the Law with its own requirements of the tithe. That shows us that the principle of the tithe precedes the law of the tithe. In the same way the principle of tithing continues into the New Testament beyond the law requiring the tithe. As New Covenant believers we should learn from Abram's response and follow his example. Abram tithed to Melchizedek, and we should tithe to Christ. He tithed, not out of obligation, but in worship in response to a great blessing he had received from Melchizedek. We are no longer required to tithe as they were in the Old Testament Law, but we have received the greatest blessing from Christ and the tithe remains an appropriate response of worship to the blessing we have been given.

14:21-24 - "The king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself." Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, 'I have made Abram rich.' "I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share."

In defeating the four kings, Abram freed Lot, his family and all their possessions. He also won the freedom of all the other people that had been enslaved from Sodom as well as their possessions. The king of Sodom meets Abram and offers for him to keep all the possessions as long as Abram returns the people of the city. Abram sees in this offer the need to take a stand to represent the Lord. He declares his own faith in the Lord and refuses the king's offer to keep their possessions even though as the victor in the battle he had every right to all the spoils. He refuses to keep the rest of the spoils so that the king of the city of Sodom could never say that he had in any way enriched Abram. For Abram it was a test of his faith. There is a parallel in contrast here of Abram's previous decision to accept the undeserved gifts of Pharaoh, while now he refuses to accept the deserved gifts of the king of Sodom. Abram's choice here honors the Lord by preserving all of the credit for his wealth for the Lord alone. It also shows us how much Abram has spiritually grown since his misadventure in Egypt. Abram's confidence for his future is now fully in the Lord and not in what man may or may not do for him.

Genesis 15

15:4-6 - "Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir." And He took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness."

This is the point where the Lord introduces to Abram the coming blessing of the promised child. Isaac will later be born in fulfillment of this promise, but it also spiritually points beyond Isaac to the birth of Christ as the ultimate heir of Abram and true Promised One. For Abram, who at this moment had no children and was physically unable to produce children this promise of God to give him a child from his own body was a real test of faith. Then, as if believing that he could one day have his own son was not enough of a test, the Lord assured him that his own descendants would grow to be as numerous as the stars he could see in the sky. This promise of God is way beyond scope of natural believability. Yet, Abram does not question, doubt, or argue with God's declaration. Abram believed both what God told him and he believed in the integrity and faithfulness of the One that promised. Abram's simple faith when given this promise pleased the Lord (Hebrews 11:6). God is pleased when His people place their full trust in what He has declared.

The Lord's further response to Abram's faith forms the basis for our own relationship with the Lord. The Lord "reckoned it to him as righteousness." In this simple descriptive phrase is found the basis for how sinful human beings can live in right relationship with a holy God. The Lord reckoned, or counted Abram's faith as though it were righteousness. This is a heavenly transaction that the Lord makes for our benefit. We have already seen that Abram is not perfect and falls short of God's standard. Yet, because of his faith in the Lord, God accepts him as though he were perfectly righteous. This is the essence of the gospel of our salvation. None of us have lived lives good enough to be accepted by God. Based upon our own righteousness we all would be doomed to eternal punishment. God counts our simple faith in the sacrifice of His Son as though we were as righteous as His Son is, even though we are not and never could be.

15:12-14 - "Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. God said to Abram, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions."

The Lord now causes Abram to fall in a deep sleep. He speaks to Abram about the new thing He is going to accomplish through him in the future. The new thing is the nation of Israel that will be formed by the Lord out of his descendants that will one day be freed from Egypt. The deep sleep should remind us of how the Lord created Eve as a bride for Adam. "So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man." (Genesis 2:21-22). In both cases, the deep sleep of the man preceded the creation of the new thing that the Lord had purposed. In this Abram serves as a type of Christ and the nation that will descend from him serves as a type of the church.

15:16 - "Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete."

There is both good news and bad news in the prophecy of the Lord to bless Abram and his descendants. The good news is that the Lord is committed to watching over them, protecting them, and eventually causing them to be blessed. The bad news is that from the moment the Lord declares this to Abram until the time of the fulfillment of the promise there will be a delay of 400 years. This is another huge test of faith for Abram. Place yourself in his position. If the Lord made a specific and special promise to you and your family to bless you, but He told you that you would have to wait 400 years to see it fulfilled how would that affect you? That delayed fulfillment is longer than the United States of America has been a nation by another 170 years. Most of us have difficulty trusting the Lord will do what He said He will do when we have to wait 400 days. This is another strong reminder for us that the Lord's timeframe for His plans do not always coincide with out preferred timeframe. Some divine plans simply will not fit within the short window of what is acceptable for us. The only bridge that can carry our hearts past our desire for a speedy answer and the reality of the Lord's timing is our trust in His wisdom.

There is another fascinating spiritual principle at work here in this declaration from the Lord. He does not give Abram an explanation of why the 400 year long delay except for this one hint in this phrase; "for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete." The implication is that the 400 year delay has to do with what God is doing with the Amorites and not just what God is doing with Abram. The principle behind this statement is that God sets limits of sin for nations just like He does with individuals. The limit represents a line that the Lord has drawn around how much iniquity He will tolerate before He judges that nation and brings it to an end. As God spoke these words to Abram, the Amorites were dwelling in the Promised Land. They had not yet reached the limit God had established for their nation. God timed the release of Israel from Egypt to coincide with the final limit being reached by the Amorites. The Lord was going to use Israel to carry out His judgment upon the Amorites when they conquered Canaan. What we should learn from this is that since He is the Lord over all the nations, that the end of a nation in history is not primarily political or military story, but a moral and spiritual one.

15:17-18 - "It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates:"

This event is mysterious and even confusing for many believers. This is when the Lord formally establishes the special relationship between Himself and Abram. Abram had already been called by God, but now that relationship becomes a covenant. A covenant is a binding relationship between two parties. In our society that tends to shy away from commitment in relationship the concept of covenant is becoming more rare. Marriage is a kind of covenant relationship and remains our best example of what was taking place between the Lord and Abram here. The verses from 15:9-21 are describing what we could call the ceremony of the covenant that is being formed. It involved the sacrifice of several animals in an unexpected way as the Lord had Abram cut them in two and place each half opposite from the other half. Laid out in this way, the sacrificed animals formed a kind of path between the halves. Then a smoking oven and flaming torch appear and pass between the halves of the sacrificed animals. As soon as all this is done the Lord proclaims His promise to give the land of Canaan to the descendants of Abram. What does all of this mean? A passage later in the prophet Jeremiah helps to explain its significance. "I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not fulfilled the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between its parts-- the officials of Judah and the officials of Jerusalem, the court officers and the priests and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf--" (Jeremiah 34:18-19)

The Lord is making a covenant with Abram and in doing so is committing Himself to Abram in a formal and binding relationship. The common practice of forming a covenant required the people making the covenant to walk together between the halves of the animals sacrificed. This is the ancient origin of our wedding ceremony of "walking the aisle together." The seriousness of walking the aisle was found in the death of the sacrificed animals. It was a dramatic way of saying, "If I break this covenant then let me be like these animals." There was no more serious way to commit to a relationship. What makes this covenant ceremony with the Lord so amazing is that while the covenant is between the Lord and Abram, they do not walk the aisle together. Abram only observes. It is the Lord alone that passes between the halves. That is because in our covenant with the Lord the entire relationship depends on Him and His love, righteousness, grace and mercy. We see the Lord passing between the halves here in a symbolic representation of His presence. The smoke and fire will be seen again when the Lord leads Israel out of Egypt as He promises here 400 years later. A pillar of smoke by day and fire by night will lead the nation out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

Questions from Genesis 14:

Question: Why are we not "required to tithe" in the New Testament? Is the portion of our taxes that pay for the poor, hungry, etc. considered tithing?

Answer: I'm glad you asked because it allows me to clarify my comment on not being "required to tithe" in the New Testament. My wording could easily be misunderstood. I did not mean that tithing as a pattern of giving to the Lord has no place in the New Testament. I personally practice the tithe in my own giving. We are not required to tithe in the same sense that we are not required to worship the Lord in His temple in Jerusalem three times a year as the people of the Old Covenant were. That does not mean we don't still worship the Lord in the New Covenant, and actually should worship Him in an even greater way. There were two aspects of the tithe in the Old Testament; the spiritual principle of the tithe, and the ceremonial law of the tithe. We are not required to follow the law of the tithe in the New Covenant. The spiritual principle of the tithe continues on in the New Covenant. II Timothy 3:16 shows us that the Old Testament examples and instructions regarding tithing were given to us in God's Word to train us in righteousness. That means that Abram's example in tithing (giving a tenth that represents the whole) trains our hearts in the right way to give to the Lord.

Regarding the second part of your question, the answer is no. Any taxes we pay as required by law to the civil government is required by God, but is not considered tithing or any part of a tithe. Civil government is ordained by the Lord, but the taxes we pay to those governments are not expressions of worship as the tithe is. The tithe or any giving you practice toward the Lord is completely separate from any tax you pay to the government.

Genesis 16

16:1-3 - "Now Sarai, Abram's wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, "Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her." And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram's wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife."

This situation is the second great test of Abram's faith in what the Lord had promised. It is a test that few believers pass without stumbling. When the Lord had first called Abram to leave his home and travel to the Promised Land, He also promised, "And I will make you a great nation" (Genesis 12:2). The meaning of that promise was that Abram would become the father of an entire nation of descendants. Of course, in order to become the father of a nation of descendants he would have to become the father of one son first, and Abram still had no children. When he first arrived in Canaan Abram was 75 years old. Now he is 85 and he and Sarai are not getting any younger. They seem to be no closer to having a child of their own than before. God had promised, but it was ten long years since He did. This test of Abram's faith is in the same area that stretches us all; patience. It is not that Abram had no patience. He had already waited ten years while trusting the Lord to fulfill His promise. The problem for him is that the Lord had given him no specific date of fulfillment. God could fulfill His promise tomorrow, or another ten years from now as far as Abram knew. Now factor into his own difficulty in waiting, the additional pressure of Sarai's strong desire to have a child. We are not privy to the conversations Abram and Sarai had on this subject over this ten year wait, but for Sarai, the wait was over. She decided to do something, and in her decision she approaches Abram with a "solution."

As Sarai communicates her idea to Abram we should pick up on the hint of frustration when she blames the Lord for her childlessness. Notice that she doesn't appeal to Abram for them to seek the Lord together in prayer for His guidance. Instead she has concluded that "the LORD has prevented me from bearing children." She understands that the Lord has not blessed her with her heart's desire for a child, but rather than cry out to Him for His direction, she decides to take charge and solve this problem herself. She proposes a plan to her husband. We might hope for Abram to answer, "Sarai, I won't do that because you are my wife, and we will wait and trust that what the Lord promised He will fulfill in His perfect timing." Instead, Abram accepts Sarai's plan and in doing so allows her to take the lead. We should recognize a spiritual echo here of the scene in Eden when Eve first ate from the wrong tree as Adam watched and then followed her lead into foolishness. One more detail to notice is in Hagar's national origin. She was Egyptian. The probability is that she joined Abram's household in his journey to Egypt. That compromise of his faith that led him to Egypt is now going to further complicate his life by creating opportunity for further compromise with Hagar.

16:4-6 - "He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight. And Sarai said to Abram, "May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the LORD judge between you and me." But Abram said to Sarai, "Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight." So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence."

As soon as Abram acts on the plan born out of Sarai's frustration and his own reluctance to lead as he should have, a harvest of bad fruit begins to develop. Hagar does conceive, and her heart is captured by pride. In that time and culture, bearing children was the greatest accomplishment a woman could have in life. It was the ultimate status symbol. With Sarai unable to bear a child, and her servant Hagar bearing the child she so deeply desired, Hagar's heart is lifted up against Sarai. Her pride is not well hidden because Sarai is well aware of it. Even though this entire situation was originally Sarai's idea, now that it has begun to backfire on her, Sarai approaches Abram to deal with Hager. Sarai blames Abram for the situation without any note of repentance for her own role in the development.

Sarai is tasting the fruit of her impatience and not liking it at all. She has not accomplished what she had hoped. Her desire was for a child, but also for the social status that motherhood would normally bring to a woman. She gained the child she wanted, but her status in the eyes of her own servant has diminished not increased. This is God's discipline for her heart. Rather than embracing His discipline and allowing it to humble her heart and grow from it, she lashes out at her husband who made the final decision. Abram responds by again abdicating his proper role as head of the household. He does nothing to lead his wife and servant in a righteous resolution of the conflict. Instead he essentially tells Sarai to handle it any way she wants. He falls into the pattern that many husbands follow of trying to keep peace in their home at any cost by allowing his wife to whatever will keep her from further complaint.

16:7-8 - "Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. He said, "Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from and where are you going?" And she said, "I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai."

Hagar has fled from Sarai and traveled a significant distance from where Abram was camped. She heads south, perhaps with the idea of returning to her original home in Egypt. The Lord has other plans for her and her child and she is found by "the angel of the LORD." This is not just an angel sent by the Lord, which would be an amazing experience by itself. This is the name found throughout the Old Testament when the Lord Himself visits the earth. The angel of the Lord is what we can describe as a preincarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus. When the Lord appears in this way it is to convey that what is about to be done is very important and that He is fully in charge of what is taking place. The deeper lesson here is again about God's sovereignty over our lives. Sarai made a plan in frustration and impatience. Abram fails to lead as he should and goes along with the plan in his weakness. Yet, in spite of all that, the Lord is going to make long range use of the fruit of their failures. "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28). Their failures are still failures, but God will cause it to work together for a greater good.

16:9 - "Then the angel of the LORD said to her, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority. Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, "I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count." The angel of the LORD said to her further, "Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has given heed to your affliction. He will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone's hand will be against him; and he will live to the east of all his brothers." Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, "You are a God who sees"; for she said, "Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?"

The Lord is in covenant relationship with Abram, but He is the Lord over Hagar too. She is not free to go where she wants and do what she wants. The Lord does not consult Hagar regarding what she would prefer. It's clear how Hagar feels about Sarai. She was mistreated by Sarai in her frustration and anger over Hagar's pride about bearing Abram's son. The Lord does not take Hagar's feelings into account in the decision to send her back to Sarai. What is clear is that there is a bigger issue at stake here than Hagar's desires, hopes, preferences, feelings, and decisions. The Lord has a plan and His plan outweighs all other considerations. There is no negotiation here between Hagar and the Lord. The Lord commands and Hagar is to obey.

Even though He does not owe her further explanation, the Lord is gracious to give Hagar a description of His plan. She is going to be blessed beyond measure. He assures her that He has watched the entire situation unfold and that He is has a special plan for her and her son. Her response to the Lord shows real faith on her part. She believes that He is a "God Who sees." The Lord has given her a difficult command in requiring her to submit to an abusive authority, but she will be able to obey because He is the God Who sees everything that has happened, is happening, and ever will happen to her. From this point forward her she lives in the awareness of Him watching over her.

Genesis 17

17:1 - "Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless."

The time has come for the Lord to accomplish what He had previously promised to Abram years before. Before He fulfills what He had promised though, the Lord is first concerned to reconfirm with Abram the nature of their relationship. As if Abram does not already know Him, the Lord declares Himself once again to Abram. We should not hurry past this declaration assuming we understand any more than Abram did at this point. God wants to make sure that Abram grasps exactly Who He is. He is God Almighty! It will be necessary for Abram to hold the full implications of this Name of the Lord when He announces what He is about to do. The Lord is about to do something miraculous and hard to believe with a natural perspective. What is going to be done may be naturally unlikely or even impossible, but is not beyond the capacity of God Almighty.

Following the declaration of His Name, the Lord also declares something powerful and challenging regarding Abram also. He issues a call to Abram to "Walk before Me, and be blameless." This call is a command of the Lord that bears His full authority. Abram is given no option here or even a choice as to whether to accept the call. God has established a covenant between them and has given Abram many wonderful promises of what He will do for Abram. This call is what the Lord requires from Abram in return. This is instructive to us who enjoy a New Covenant relationship with God also. The call of God to enter into covenant with Him in salvation is a call of mercy and grace because none of us including Abram qualify for covenant blessing on the basis of our own works or goodness. But, once we are established in the covenant with God, He does not leave us the same as we were. He calls all who are in covenant with Him to walk before Him and be blameless! In reading that you might be concerned because of the awareness that you are not blameless in thought, word, and deed. We are meant to understand this as God's goal for our life. It parallels this passage from the New Testament, "but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY." (I Peter 1:15-16). To be in covenant with a Holy God makes growing in holiness our life goal so that we grow in the likeness of Him Who called us. The natural impossibility of our living blameless lives is surmounted by our position in relationship to Him. We, like Abram are to walk before the Lord. This is a subtle difference from walking with the Lord. The image is of a child learning to walk with the father walking right behind the child to catch him as he falls. Our progression in holiness is not perfect from the first step, but our assurance in growth is in the One before Whom we walk.

17:4-5 - ""As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations."

The Lord reaffirms the covenant with Abram. As He does, there is a new element introduced from when God first called Abram years before. Now, as an expression of what God is about to do through Abram, He changes his name from Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of a multitude). The name change retains the theme of fatherhood, but establishes an important difference in the purpose of Abram's fatherhood. The old original name was emphasized Abram's honor as a father. The new name God gives him emphasizes God's covenant purpose to build through His descendants. The shift in emphasis is from Abram as the focus, to the Lord as the honored One of Abraham's life.

The theme here applies to each of us that belong to the Lord in a similar powerful way. When God establishes us in His New Covenant we are given the blessing of a new name. We are called "saints" (holy ones) and "Christians" (Christ followers). The new name God gives us is not a mere label which fails to reflect the substance inside. The new name is the sign of the powerful grace of God at work within us which has already begun the spiritual transformation of our lives. Who we were before Christ does not limit or even hinder His commitment to conform us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). When God calls a person into covenant with Himself, He gives them a new identity which signals where He is taking them, not where they have been!

17:12 - "And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants."

God gives Abraham a sign of their covenant relationship. The sign is circumcision and requires a response of obedience by Abraham to fulfill the sign. The sign marks the one in covenant as belonging exclusively to the Lord. This sign served the Lord's purpose throughout the Old Covenant to identify the nation of Israel as exclusively His among all the nations. It had a practical and physical aspect, but the act of circumcision also carried a spiritual and symbolic meaning. These New Testament passages give us an explanation of the spiritual meaning that pointed forward toward the New Covenant in Christ. "and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;" (Colossians 2:11). "For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God." (Galatians 6:15-16).

The New Covenant also has a circumcision. It is called by Paul the circumcision of Christ. It refers to what Christ does in our hearts when we are saved. He surgically removes the flesh from our hearts when we are born again. Circumcision then is a symbol of the new birth and the spiritual removal of the old flesh from our hearts when we are made part of God's new creation in Christ. The timing of the Lord's requirement for when the rite of circumcision was to be done for children born to Abraham's line also points toward this New Covenant fulfillment. Doctors say that waiting until the eighth day after birth to circumcise serves a practical purpose for the child's health, but we should expect that the Lord also designed this timing with a symbolic meaning. The eighth day is also the first day of a new week of creation. When God made the first or original creation He completed it in a full week of seven days. The eighth day points forward to the New Creation that God establishes through Christ. Circumcised ones are therefore the people of the new creation symbolically!

17:17-18 - "Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, "Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child? And Abraham said to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before You! But God said, "No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him."

After all that God has done and declared we see that Abraham is not yet a finished work. Even as God appears to him and speaks to him here, Abraham struggles with the natural impossibility of what God says He is about to do. Abraham laughs and questions in his own heart whether a child can really be born to him and Sarah at their advanced ages. Abraham is not mocking the Lord here, and does not even draw a rebuke from the Lord for questioning Him in his heart. Abraham has shown a willingness to believe God over and over before this. God understands his difficulty in grasping how this can happen to him and Sarah. When Abraham cries out for Ishmael, it is in the sense of offering back to the Lord an easier way for the Lord to fulfill His promised blessings. He is essentially offering for the Lord to simply bless the 13 year old son from Hagar and not have to do something as impossible as causing two ninety year olds to conceive a child.

God's answer to Abraham's "offer" is a direct and to the point, "No!" God has His own plan and purpose and He is fully capable of carrying out whatever He determines will be done. He does not need Abraham's help. The One Who created the universe does not need us to lighten His responsibilities at all. As an interesting emphasis, the Lord prophetically declares that the promised son will be named Isaac, which means laughter. God is going to turn Abraham's laughter of incredulity into a celebratory laughter when he soon fulfills His promise. When we read something in the Scriptures that God has declared He will accomplish in us we would be wise to learn from Abraham's reaction and the Lord's response and trust that what God says He will do will be done.

Genesis 18

18:1-2 - "Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, and said, "My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by. Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant." And they said, "So do, as you have said."

We know from the clear description in the text that one of these "three men" that visited Abraham was actually the Lord. We do not know whether Abraham recognized Him as the Lord right away or not. His greeting was a typical cultural greeting for any stranger that visited one's home. The significance of the visit is great whether Abraham knows it yet or not. This is another of the preincarnate appearances of the Lord Jesus in what is theologically identified as a theophany (appearance of God) or christophany (appearance of Christ). We are also not given the identity of the other two men who were with the Lord in this passage. The beginning of the next chapter confirms though what we might expect regarding who would be with the Lord as traveling companions. "Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom." (Genesis 19:1). The other two men were angels of the Lord.

The response of Abraham to the arrival of these three visitors is instructive for us in more one way. First, we should recognize a developing pattern in the way the Lord interacts with His people. He does not always come directly with an announcement of His presence and purpose. At times, like this one, the Lord is present without being fully aware that He is there, and is working out a hidden purpose without us yet knowing the details. Second, Abraham's hospitality provides a continuing pattern for us to emulate especially in our current culture that no longer values such hospitality. Abraham's response as an unplanned host is extravagant. He provides a feast and cares for their physical rest. Third, Abraham's attitude in this expression of hospitality was far from just meeting an unwanted social obligation. The descriptions of him include him rising from his own rest, running to meet their needs, bowing, appealing to them to allow him to meet their needs, planning with his wife for their provision, and then standing by as a servant would do as they are refreshed. His humble service to them reveals that his heart matches his actions. Finally, this situation was in view in this New Testament exhortation to all believers. "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2). It implies that God still works in such ways.

18:17-18 - "The LORD said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed?

As the Lord turns from His visit with Abraham, and leaves Abraham's camp in the direction of Sodom, Abraham walks with the three men for a while. This is a further expression of hospitality as the custom was for the host to accompany travelers a short distance from his home on the next part of their journey. Abraham does not yet know the Lord's purpose in heading toward Sodom. As they are walking together, the Lord chooses to inform Abraham of what He intends to do. The Lord gives Abraham a double blessing here. He gives Abraham knowledge of His plans for Sodom and His reason for what He is about to do. The Lord also declares to Abraham why He is sharing His plans with him. By sharing His plans for Sodom with Abraham, the Lord is confirming to him that he know enjoys covenant status with the Lord. He is now truly the "friend of God" (James 2:23), and is treated as His confidant.

This decision of the Lord to inform Abraham of His hidden purpose and the awesome implications of their friendship is a spiritual hint of God's eternal purpose and what He has planned for all who are in covenant relationship with Him. When God originally made Adam in the garden it was for face to face fellowship. Then when man sinned, fell, and was driven from the Garden of the Lord the relationship between God and humanity deteriorated to the point where that kind of fellowship no longer existed. Here we see that in covenant, the fellowship we were created and designed to share with God can be restored. The quality and depth of this special covenant relationship makes Abraham something more than only the servant of God. In Christ, we share full covenant status and are identified by God as His friends forever!

18:19 - "For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him."

As He is announcing for Abraham's sake why He has chosen to inform him of His plans, the Lord identifies one of Abraham's covenant responsibilities. It is described in a way that should tell us that this is more than simply a covenant chore to accomplish. This is a true priority covenant responsibility. When a covenant is formed between two parties there is a both a sharing of blessings and a mutual commitment to certain relational responsibilities. An example of this pattern would be in a marriage ceremony, which is a social covenant ceremony. When the couple exchanges their vows, they are publicly committing to covenant responsibilities toward their covenant partner. Here, the Lord informs Abraham that one of his priority covenant responsibilities is his children and household. His responsibility toward them extends beyond providing for the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.

Abraham is given by the Lord the spiritual responsibility to "command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord..." This includes the following three elements. He is first to always follow the Lord himself and be a godly example in his behavior worthy to be followed. He cannot lead them where he is not going himself. Second, he is to teach, train, and disciple his children and household to know and follow the way of the Lord like he does. He cannot assume that his children will understand without clear instruction, and he is not to presume and delegate this critical teaching responsibility to anyone else. Third, Abraham dare not be soft or lax in this responsibility, but must command those for whom he is responsible to the Lord. The need for command implies a natural resistance in his children to walk in the way of the Lord. It is Abraham's responsibility to overcome that natural resistance and lead them where they need to go with authority.

18:20-26 - "And the LORD said, "The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know." Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD. Abraham came near and said, "Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" So the LORD said, "If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account."

This conversation between the Lord and Abraham regarding the future of Sodom provides a classic mystery in the Lord's interaction with His covenant partner Abraham. The mystery is in the Lord's apparent uncertainty of Sodom's true condition and in why the Lord would allow this negotiation with Abraham if He has already planned what to do. The Lord declares that He is already aware of deep corruption in Sodom and Gomorrah which we can readily understand, but then He goes on to state that He will visit the city in order to confirm whether things are really that bad. Some modern "theologians" have latched unto this account and use it to claim that God must not know all things in the present and future. They propose an openness to God in which He learns as history develops much like we do. Such an assertion only exposes their ignorance of the true nature of the God Who knows all things. "Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure';" (Isaiah 46:9-10). What is really going on here with Abraham, is that the Lord is not professing His ignorance, but rather declaring His thoroughness in justice. His personal visit to confirm the condition of Sodom before passing final judgment will reveal to everyone in the cities' treatment of the angels just how much they deserve the judgment they receive.

The Lord engaging Abraham in a negotiation regarding the boundaries of His mercy and judgment is the first example of what will become a pattern for those in covenant with God. We see here God training Abraham is the business of God's kingdom. At first glance this scene may look like Abraham is the mercifully inclined and God is the harsh judge. But a closer examination shows that the Lord never told Abraham before the negotiation started what exactly He was going to do with Sodom and Gomorrah. This negotiation is the basis of our spiritual ministry in prayer of intercession. We, like Abraham, are called to stand in the presence of the Lord and appeal to Him on behalf of others. We need to see, though, what Abraham was still learning. This negotiation was not about Abraham convincing a reluctant judge to show more mercy. Instead it was about God, Who is both just and merciful, subtly leading Abraham to ask Him exactly what He had already planned to do. We are trained in the process of intercession in how the Lord thinks, not just what He decides.

Questions from Genesis 17:

Question: Gen 17:20 - "As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation." Is there any correlation between the various sects of the Muslim faith and this verse (i.e. the Shai, Sunni, etc.)?

Answer: No, not directly. There is a difference between the modern Muslim sects such as the Sunnis and the Shiia, and ancestral tribal origins. Since Islam is a belief system it is not limited to a specific tribal group. There are many Indonesian Muslims for instance. It is true that the Arabic people as a tribal group can trace their ancestry all the way back to Ishmael. It is also true that Muhammad who began Islam as a religion was of Arabic descent. You can trace the tribal origins of Islam to the people that descended from Ishmael, but moving forward in history, Islam is no longer a strictly Arabic religion. Islam did not begin until the 600s AD and the division of the main sects of Sunni and Shiia took place shortly after Muhammad's death in the power struggle among his chief followers to determine who would succeed him.

Genesis 19

19:4-7 - "Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter; and they called to Lot and said to him, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them." But Lot went out to them at the doorway, and shut the door behind him, and said, "Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly."

Lot responds to the arrival in town of the two strangers with genuine hospitality. There is no hint at this point in the story that he understood that they were actually angels sent by God to judge the city. Normal social standards of hospitality are guiding his actions. In the cultures of that time hospitality was a serious responsibility for the righteous. Lot's commitment to the full responsibilities of hospitality in part explains his reaction to the demand of the wicked men of Sodom. The demand of the mob hints that other strangers passing through the city have previously been mistreated. We know from Peter's testimony in the New Testament that Lot was well aware of the lawless record of the men of the city and was deeply troubled by it. "for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds" (II Peter 2:8).

When the men of the city surround the house Lot takes the risk of going outside alone in order to protect the guests under his roof. Lot's actions up to this point are both honorable and courageous. Lot appeals to the mob to not pursue this course of action, but in his appeal Lot's personal weakness begins to be exposed to our view. Earlier we saw an indication of a character flaw in his choice to move to Sodom. Now, while he urges the men not to act wickedly, he at the same time inappropriately identifies with them as "my brothers." Perhaps Lot referred to these wicked men as brothers in an attempt at gaining their sympathy by portraying himself as being "one of you." Whatever his reason, "brother" communicates connection and close association. This New Testament exhortation stands in sharp contrast; "Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE." Therefore, "COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE," says the Lord. "AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; and I will welcome you." (II Corinthians 6:14-17)

19:8-11 - "Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof. But they said, "Stand aside." Furthermore, they said, "This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them." So they pressed hard against Lot and came near to break the door. But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. They struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves trying to find the doorway."

Lot's character flaw is now further exposed to the point of a glaring spiritual inconsistency. When he makes the offer to the mob of turning his two virgin daughters over to them, our sensibilities are meant to be shocked. Up until this point in the story Lot has always been seen as a good man. Now he does something that we have difficulty imagining any good man could ever do. The inconsistency is in his continuing attempt to protect his guests from horrible abuse by the mob (good and honorable), while at the same time offering his own vulnerable daughters as a kind of unholy sacrifice to appease the mob's lust. Lot commits a serious violation of one spiritual principle of leadership for the sake of another principle. He was spiritually responsible for both his guests and his daughters as the head of the household and as a righteous man. Under the pressure of the circumstance, Lot sees no good solution and chooses to offer a compromise with evil to provide for him the least painful solution to the problem. His solution exposes the shallowness of his love for his own daughters and even worse, his willingness to "make a deal with the devil".

What should Lot have done instead? He should have cried out to the Lord for help, and then spoken with strength, wisdom, and courage to the mob with the commitment to protect all who were under his responsibility including both his daughters and his guests. Lot never does turn to the Lord in his most desperate moment. Yet, the Lord intervenes in spite of Lot's weakness. The actions of the two angels in pulling him inside and then blinding the mob is the hand of the Lord directing His messengers in this rescue. The angel's actions are a sharp contrast with Lot's. He may be willing to compromise with the wicked, but the Lord is not.

19:12-16 - "Then the two men said to Lot, "Whom else have you here? A son-in-law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the LORD that the LORD has sent us to destroy it." Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, "Up, get out of this place, for the LORD will destroy the city." But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting. When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city." But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the LORD was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city."

The actions of the men of the city have confirmed their deserved doom. The angels announce their intention to destroy the city, but they also declare that they had been sent to the city for that purpose. This confirms that the Lord had already decided to destroy the city when He first sent the angels. Their investigation of the city did not represent the Lord's uncertainty about what it deserved, but instead was the Lord bringing to the light exactly why He is just to bring judgment upon it. The angels mercifully give Lot a brief opportunity overnight to gather his entire family circle and flee the city. There is no indication here that the remainder of Lot's family deserves to be rescued, only that their connection to Lot gains them favor with the Lord for Lot's sake. His sons-in-law do not heed his warning and choose Sodom over salvation.

The next morning, the Lord's appointed time for judgment requires that they now leave the city. Amazingly, after all the wickedness Lot has seen, and knowing that judgment is coming, when the moment of truth arrives, "he hesitated." The word translated "hesitated" describes more than a moment's hesitation. It indicates a lingering. We can interpret this no other way than Lot just really did not want to leave Sodom. It is a strange thing how even true believers can become so attached to things and places that they know in their hearts are not worth it. The Lord again intervenes with compassion for Lot like He did the night before. This time the Lord has the angels grab the hands of Lot, his wife and daughters and lead them to safety outside the city. I am very glad that the Lord will at times step in an rescue us simply out of compassion for us when we may linger in the midst of evil, but we should learn to listen and obey the Lord's warnings and commands.

19:24-26 - "Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

There are two significant elements in these verse to notice. First, when the moment for judgment arrives we have an interesting and somewhat mysterious mention of two Lords. The Lord rained judgment upon the cities from the Lord out of heaven. The inference is that one Lord is on earth directing the judgment from the other Lord in heaven. For those who deny the Trinity, this description remains an irresolvable mystery. What is happening is the preincarnate Lord Jesus is the Lord on earth that had come to visit Abraham in chapter 18. He now directs the rain of fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah from the Lord in heaven (His Heavenly Father).

The second element is the famous story of the final moments of Lot's wife. We are meant to learn from her example. It's not a good example, but the Bible teaches us that we can learn both from those that provide a good example and from those who represent a bad example. What we learn from the bad examples is, of course, what not to do or be like. Jesus chose her as an object lesson in His own warning to the believers living in Jerusalem in the days just prior to its destruction. He warned them to, "Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it." (Luke 17:32). We can discern from His warning that her look back at Sodom was not a quick glance of curiosity. She looked back even as God was destroying the city regretting the loss of her life that she loved there. We don't know the details of what it was about her life in Sodom that she could not bear to lose. However, the lesson for us is clear. When God finds no redeeming value in a thing, neither should we. Lot's wife valued what the Lord despised.

19:30-38 - "Lot went up from Zoar, and stayed in the mountains, and his two daughters with him; for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; and he stayed in a cave, he and his two daughters. Then the firstborn said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of the earth. "Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him that we may preserve our family through our father." So they made their father drink wine that night, and the firstborn went in and lay with her father; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. On the following day, the firstborn said to the younger, "Behold, I lay last night with my father; let us make him drink wine tonight also; then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve our family through our father." So they made their father drink wine that night also, and the younger arose and lay with him; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father. The firstborn bore a son, and called his name Moab; he is the father of the Moabites to this day. As for the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Ben-ammi; he is the father of the sons of Ammon to this day."

This is the last appearance of Lot in the Bible. His name is mentioned after this, but we never see him again after these nights in this cave. The story represents a tragic and pathetic end for the life of a believer. The Lord exposes the full story in all its shameful details. Lot is a warning here to all believers of how far a good man can deteriorate if he does not grow beyond his character flaws. The daughters are not excused in their choices and behavior here, but their part should be interpreted as an inappropriate following of their father's lead. His willingness to give them to the mob in Sodom has taught them the wrong standard of what is appropriate and acceptable. His part in what develops in the cave is not excused because of the wine and his drunkenness either. Lot's entire life has just been turned inside out. He has lost his wife, his sons-in-law, his home, and his livelihood. He knew all of this was fallout due to the judgment of God and his foolish decision to lead his family to Sodom in the first place. With all of this, Lot should have been leading his daughters in prayer in this cave. Instead, he abdicates any last leadership he has by getting drunk two nights in row. He is probably trying to "drown his sorrows," but does so when he most desperately needs to be seeking the Lord.

There is an interesting series of parallels between Lot and Noah that we should notice. Both men were lone righteous exceptions in the midst of a corrupt society. God announced and carried out a devastating judgment in both cases. Both men are saved from the judgment by the Lord's intervention. However, Noah's righteous leadership preserves his entire family also, while Lot's compromises result in some of his own family being swept away in the judgment. Both men let down their guard after the judgment and their drunkenness leads to generations long complications. In Lot's case, the sons born will grow into nations that will trouble Israel.

Genesis 20

20:1-2 - "Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar. Abraham said of Sarah his wife, "She is my sister. So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah."

If this story seems a bit familiar to you, it should. It is all too similar to Abraham's journey to Egypt in Genesis 12. It that situation, Abraham left the land in which God had directed him to settle because of the pressure of a famine. He sought the security of food over the greater security that can only come from following the Lord's direction and obeying Him. Then Abraham compounded his problem by lying to Pharaoh about the nature of his relationship with his wife Sarah. Now, years later, we see Abraham repeat this same pattern again. The main difference this time is that he has even less of an excuse to wander from the Lord's direction for him. There is no famine in the land to provide a rational justification for leaving the Promised Land this time. Plus, Abraham has the benefit of the wisdom gained from his spiritual growth of the last several years. The Lord has also recently confirmed His covenant with him which should have anchored Abraham's heart in the place where he belonged.

Yet, in spite of all this, we see Abraham wander off to settle in a region outside of the land of God's provision. We are not told why he chose to leave, and the fact that his motives are unmentioned implies that he had no good reason to leave even in his own perspective. Once he leaves the place where he belongs, his heart is immediately vulnerable to the temptation to fear that will then lead to the need to protect himself. The lesson here for all believers is in the domino effect of disobedience. One stubborn, rebellious, disobedient choice can set in motion a series of sins as we attempt to make up the difference in the Lord's blessing upon us. As long as he remained where he belonged Abraham could be confident that the Lord would watch over him and protect him. He was not 100% certain that the Lord would protect him in the same way in Gerar. When his fear for his own safety was inflamed again, Abraham resorted to an old pattern of lying to protect himself from the perceived danger. Once again, he places his own wife in an inappropriate and spiritually dangerous position for his own benefit. Abraham has walked with the Lord for over 24 years by this point. He is past the time to be still struggling with such blatant compromises of righteousness.

20:3-6 - " But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, "Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married." Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, "Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless? "Did he not himself say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she herself said, 'He is my brother.' In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this." Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her."

God comes to Abimelech, who has taken Sarah to add to his harem, in his dream and declares that he is under His judgment because of Sarah. "Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married." God pronounces a death penalty for Abimelech. There are two significant spiritual principles illustrated for us here and a third element that is not critical but interesting to notice. The interesting thing is that Abraham and Abimelech both considered Sarah very attractive at her age. Remember from Genesis 17:17 that Sarah is 90 years old now. Even taking into account the extended life spans of that ancient time, for Sarah to be youthful enough to attract Abimelech's attention, the Lord has blessed her as well as Abraham. The first principle to draw from this event is the sovereignty of God over all the nations. It is true that God has formed a covenant with Abraham and that the nation that will grow from Abraham's descendants will be the special focus of God's attention. The concerns of God's rule is not limited to His covenant people however. Here God judges a nation that has no special covenant with Him. He holds them accountable to His standards according to the measure of understanding He has given them.

The second principle to notice here is connected to the first. The reason why God pronounces a death penalty upon Abimelech is because of the nature of the violation. The emphasis God makes in His communication with Abimelech is on Sarah's status as a married woman. The danger is that he will violate the sanctity of her marriage to Abraham and commit adultery with her in his ignorance. This affirms God's standard regarding marriage and adultery hundreds of years before the Law of Moses is written. It also tells us that the preservation of marriage is God's serious concern, not just for people in covenant, but all people of every nation. How serious God is about adultery is measured for us by the severity of the punishment. Death penalty offences are the highest level of violation of God's righteous standards. While Abimelech's ignorance is no valid excuse, because his motives were honorable, God takes that into account. God reveals to Abimelech that He had already been working in his heart to restrain him from crossing the actual line of adultery. If our heart is inclined to do what is right before the Lord we can be confident of the influence of His restraining grace within us.

20:7 - "Now therefore, restore the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours."

In spite of Abraham having been the cause of this entire issue, the Lord now directs Abimelech's attention to Abraham. He declares that Abraham will pray for him. We see the Lord choosing to work through an imperfect representative (Abraham) because of His calling upon them. It is interesting that the Lord does not simply tell Abimelech to pray, and instead directs him to Abraham as an intercessor for him. The principle here is that God does not listen the same to the prayers of everyone in the world. It is not politically correct to say so, but God listens to the prayers of some people and He ignores the prayers of others. God will not listen because we want Him to, or because we deserve it, or because we prayed using the right spiritual technique. He listens to those who are in covenant with Him. Abraham's behavior is worse than Abimelech's in this circumstance, but Abraham is in covenant with God and Abimelech is not.

The parallel New Testament principle is that we are heard by God because we are in covenant with Him through Christ. "Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6)

20:9-13 - "Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, "What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done." And Abimelech said to Abraham, "What have you encountered, that you have done this thing?" Abraham said, "Because I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife. Besides, she actually is my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife; and it came about, when God caused me to wander from my father's house, that I said to her, 'This is the kindness which you will show to me: everywhere we go, say of me, "He is my brother."

Abimelech sends for Abraham to get the situation resolved. Before having him intercede for him, Abimelech confronts Abraham and demands an explanation for his behavior. Abraham's response to Abimelech is revealing and exposes his remaining character flaws that God intends to address in his life. The pattern of the confrontation here is a bit reminiscent of the Lord confronting Adam in the garden of Eden after he sinned. Rather than owning up to his sin and accepting full responsibility for his actions, Adam attempts to deflect the responsibility both to his wife Eve and to the Lord by blaming the Lord for having given him Eve in the first place. Abimelech's righteous indignation here is the pressure which squeezes out of Abraham's heart what was there all along.

First, Abraham makes an excuse for his decision to lie to Abimelech. He essentially tells him that he thought they were all ungodly and dangerous and that he had to lie. The implication of his excuse is that if they had been better people he would have treated them better. In other words it was their fault he lied to him. Then, he adds to this excuse a justification. His justification is that Sarah really is his sister. Since Sarah is technically Abraham's half-sister, his point is that his lie was really only a half lie, and therefore only half bad. Finally, Abraham pulls out of his bag of tricks the ultimate trick to evade responsibility by actually blaming God for his situation. "...God caused me to wander from my father's house..." The wording is intentional and implies that had God not made him leave home to begin with none of this trouble would have happened. So, it really is all God's fault and not his. This trio of tricks to dodge responsibility is as old as fallen human nature. Excuses, self-justification, and blaming God are tendencies we must learn to recognize in ourselves. If we indulge in them we might avoid a moment's discomfort, but by embracing our responsibility when we sin we will grow through the pain and embarrassment our sin has caused.

20:17-18 - "Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children. For the LORD had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham's wife."

There is one final lesson from the Lord for Abraham in this circumstance. The big picture is more than what has just happened. The big picture is all about where God is taking him and what He has planned for him. God had promised Abraham a son. The long term test of his faith was in the delay of years between the promise given and the promise fulfilled. This situation with Abimelech occurs just before the birth of Isaac and the fulfillment of God's promise. The Lord is about to "open the womb" of Sarah, but before He does, the Lord has Abraham intercede for all the household of Abimelech. If the Lord does so for the women of Abimelech's household, surely He can and will for Sarah. It's another lesson of faith. It reminds us that when we are in the delay between promise and fulfillment that God is teaching us lessons that we still need to learn.

Genesis 21

21:1-2 - "Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him."

This is the time of fulfillment for what the Lord had promised Abraham twenty five years before (Genesis 12:4). The time between the original promise and the time of fulfillment was longer than Abraham had imagined and was itself a long term test of his faith, but now that faith is rewarded. At the time of fulfillment, the explanation given to us for the Lord's actions is a clue for us of the real issue at stake. While Abraham's faith had been tested for the sake of his growth and development as a man of God, the reason why Isaac was now going to be born was not because Abraham believed long enough or hard enough. As strong as Abraham's faith was, it was still an imperfect faith and were the fulfillment of the promise based entirely on his faith it would be an imperfect fulfillment. Thankfully, the Lord never wavers like at times Abraham's faith wavered. This is really where the modern Christian movement called the Faith movement has really done the body of Christ a disservice. The so called Faith teachers place all the emphasis on the strength and quality of the faith of the believer in determining what will happen to them. What they ignore is that every believer's faith is imperfect like Abraham's was.

The real issue in the fulfillment of God's promises is God's faithfulness to His own promises! When God declares He will do something, He is faithful to do it. He may take longer to fulfill it than we would prefer, but He has never once failed to follow through on one of His promises. The description in these verses emphasizes the Lord's faithfulness with a three-fold declaration. 1) He "took note of Sarah as He had said". 2) He "did for Sarah as He had promised" 3) He did so "at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him." The bigger lesson here is in the absolute integrity of God and His Word. What God has ever spoken He will forever be faithful to fulfill! We can place all of our trust in all of the promises of God that apply to our lives throughout God's Word.

21:9-12 - "Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. Therefore she said to Abraham, "Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac." The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son. But God said to Abraham, "Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named."

On the surface, this is a very sad story of the disintegration of a family and the permanent separation of a father and son. If we look beneath the surface, there are two important spiritual principles in action here. First, this is an expensive lesson for Abraham in the long term consequence of a foolish decision. Years before, in the weakness of his own trust in the Lord and his failure to lead his wife in that trust, Abraham compromised by giving in to her suggestion for a surrogate mother to gain the child that the Lord apparently was not going to give them. That decision of Abraham's led to the birth of Ishmael, and now years later as Ishmael is in his teens, he is causing trouble in the family. The real responsibility for this trouble is with Abraham even more than it is with Ishmael. The trick for us is to be able to anticipate the consequences down the road that we set in motion by our decisions that compromise God's direction and standards. If we saw how much trouble we are creating for ourselves later, we might choose more wisely at the moment of decision.

The second important spiritual principle in motion here is the sovereign purpose of God to use this event for symbolic teaching purposes for later generations. Paul refers to this moment as he was teaching Gentile believers in Christ about the differences between the Old and New Covenants. "Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. For it is written, "REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR; BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR; FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND." And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the Scripture say? "CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON, FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN." So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman." (Galatians 4:21-31). Paul reveals that this development in Abraham's family was designed by God to portray the spiritual distinction between having a fleshly connection to the covenant of God and a true spiritual connection based upon the promise of God in Christ.

21:15-20 - "When the water in the skin was used up, she left the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, "Do not let me see the boy die." And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept. God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. "Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him." Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink. God was with the lad, and he grew; and he lived in the wilderness and became an archer."

Even though God had a greater spiritual purpose in separating Hagar and Ishmael from Abraham and Isaac, this account clarifies that it is not a story of their abandonment leading to their inevitable death. Because God intended the separation, He shows His compassion to both Hagar and Ishmael and provides for them in the wilderness. It is interesting though that the Lord allowed Hagar to reach the limit of her strength before He intervened and revealed Himself to her. The Lord was trained her heart also to trust in Him and not in Abraham, not in herself, and not in her circumstances. The Lord's first communication to her is almost amusing other than the incredible strain of her situation. The angel asks her a question that she is not expected or even allowed to answer. The question is meant to jolt her heart into a deeper awareness of the Lord's presence and protection. The question is, "What is the matter with you, Hagar?" I am certain the Lord has asked me once or twice over the years, "What's the matter with you?!?"

The Lord's answer to her in her moment of greatest need is a beautiful bifocaled provision. I call it bifocaled because the Lord provides both for their immediate need for survival, and their long range need by declaring His purpose for Ishmael. He opens her eyes to the well of water that was apparently there all along and meets their most pressing immediate need. But, before He gave them a drink, while they were still thirsty He declares His purpose for the boy's life. The order of what God provided was significant. The lesson is that God's purpose comes before our personal needs and that He will meet our real needs as we are properly focused on His purpose for our lives. This follows the kingdom principle, "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33)

21:22-23 - "Now it came about at that time that Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, "God is with you in all that you do; now therefore, swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but according to the kindness that I have shown to you, you shall show to me and to the land in which you have sojourned."

The final event of this chapter is yet another lesson for Abraham in long range consequences of previous foolish decisions. We should expect the Lord to deal with us as He does with Abraham here. When the Lord is working to train our hearts in critical kingdom lessons He will not necessarily limit His examples to a single circumstance in our lives. He may show us the same lesson through two or three different developments that all make the same point. Here, the circumstance begins with a concern expressed by Abimelech toward Abraham. Remember, Abimelech is the king who was deceived by Abraham into believing Sarah was his sister and not his wife. Now, it should not surprise Abraham that Abimelech approaches him with a concern that Abraham might "deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity." Abraham's previous deception has gained him a reputation with Abimelech and it is not a good one. What is particularly bad about this is that Abraham represents the Lord to Abimelech. Abraham's poor character reflects in the wrong way on the Lord. Abraham is responsible for this, but it is going to cost him to repair his reputation in the eyes of Abimelech. The cost, while significant economically, is a small price to pay to restore his reputation. "A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold." (Proverbs 22:1)

Questions from Genesis 20:

Question: Genesis 2:2 - The description of Lot and his behavior does not seem that much "worse" than Abraham's. Lot offered his two daughters, Abraham offered his wife
twice (which the Kings took him up on it). Can you expound further why Abraham and Lot are viewed so differently?

Answer: Well, the difference in what Abraham and Lot did in these situations is one of degree. You are correct to identify their actions as similar, because in both cases they offer the more vulnerable women of their household who they were responsible to protect as shields for themselves. They both displayed a weak faith and a selfish leadership character flaw in doing so. However, Lot offered his daughters to a mob knowing that he would be exposing them to severe abuse and possible death. Abraham's actions cannot be justified at all, but the two situations with Pharaoh and Abimelech would result in Sarah being made a part of their harem. It was not a physically dangerous or abusive circumstance in either case.

Genesis 22

22:1 - "Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am."

This is a significant event in Abraham's life, but also identifies one of the deeper issues of Christian discipleship. The circumstance is a test that God gives to Abraham. We should be clear on what is meant by test here. A test in this sense is a trial or process by which one determines the quality or genuineness of the thing tested. God gives to Abraham an incredibly challenging test and while the exact circumstance is unique to Abraham, the principle of what God is after in this test applies to the discipleship of every true believer. God will test each one of us like He does Abraham here. The similarity of the tests is in their purpose. He will take us through a process that will expose the true nature of our faith and determine whether at our core we are committed to obey Him. It should be obvious from this test that God's tests are not easy to pass. He knows our hearts better than we know ourselves and He will choose the elements of our own test from things that matter most to our hearts. We can be sure that no one God tests is left unscathed or unaffected by the test. In Abraham's case, God chose his son Isaac; the son he waited 25 years to be born. Isaac was also the one through whom God had promised to fulfill His purpose to make Abraham's descendants a great nation.

The way it is phrased in the conversation between the Lord and Abraham, the test seems to be so that the Lord can see what is really in Abraham's heart. We are meant to look one layer beneath that conclusion since we understand that God already fully knows Abraham's heart before the test even begins. The real purpose of the test is to reveal Abraham's heart to Abraham. God does not want Abraham to fail the test, but pass it, learn more about his own heart in the process, and grow from the experience. The deep lesson is meant to drive home that in this covenant relationship it is God Who is in charge of Abraham as well as everything and everyone that belongs to him.

22:2-5 - "He said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you." So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you."

As we have seen in previous situations, Abraham has handled some situations with real faith, and others with fear and a fleshly response. In this case Abraham shows strong faith from the beginning of his greatest test to the end. His faith is on display with a hidden depth in what he says to the young men here. He tells them to wait with the donkey while he and Isaac go apart and worship and then return together. God had made clear to Abraham that Isaac was to be offered as a "burnt offering" which meant that he had to first kill Isaac and then light a fire under his body which would completely consume his body. When Abraham told the young servants that he and Isaac would worship and return together, he is either lying to them, or he is declaring a greater faith in the Lord than is obvious on the surface. Since their is no indication in the passage that Abraham is lying we should conclude that he believes that even though he must kill Isaac as a sacrifice, that somehow they will return together at the end. This conclusion is confirmed for us in this New Testament commentary on what Abraham believed in this moment.

"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, "IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED." He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Hebrews 11:17-19). Abraham knew that it was God requiring him to offer his son. He also knew that God had promised to give him descendants through this same son. Therefore, he believed that if he sacrificed Isaac, God was able to raise him from the dead to fulfill His promise through him. Hebrews tells us that Abraham received Isaac back "as a type". This means that the moment Abraham chose to obey God and sacrifice Isaac, his son was as good as dead, and also by faith going to be raised from the dead. Isaac then functions as a type of Christ, pointing forward to when God the Father would receive His own Son back from the dead after offering Him in the ultimate sacrifice on the cross.

22:6-12 - "Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."

The parallels between the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham and the sacrifice of Christ by His Father are obvious throughout this passage. Isaac is the lamb, pointing to Christ Who is the Lamb of God that God Himself provided for salvation's sacrifice. As they walked to the place of sacrifice it was Abraham that laid the wood for the sacrifice on the shoulders of Isaac. In the same was God the Father laid the cross on the shoulders of Jesus to carry the wood for His own sacrifice to the place where He was to die. The key issue in this test of Abraham's heart was whether he would withhold his son, his only son from God. These two New Testament passages describe for us the cost to the heart of God of the sacrifice of Jesus. "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16). While Isaac is not technically Abraham's only son, because of Ishmael, God is emphasizing in this statement Isaac's role as the promised child and the only son of the covenant.

Isaac has not been told by his father the details of this test from God and in curiosity of seeing no lamb for the sacrifice he asks his father about it. Abraham's answer is itself a preview of one of the foundational principles of the cross. Abraham answers, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." The cross principle revealed by Abraham's statement of faith is that the cross provides what man cannot supply for himself. The cross is a powerful and sufficient provision for our sins because Christ's sinless life makes His sacrifice infinitely worthy. Only God could provide such a sacrifice, so He had to provide for Himself the Lamb of God.

22:2, 14 - He said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you... Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, "In the mount of the LORD it will be provided."

One detail from the story could easily be missed, but is important to notice. God ordained that Abraham not only offer Isaac, but that he do so in a predetermined location. God directs him to the land of Moriah to a specific mountain there. This implies that the setting of the sacrifice bears its own spiritual significance. We find that significance in this later mention of Moriah. "Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite." (II Chronicles 3:1). This specific mountain for the sacrifice later is named Mount Moriah. It is the same mountain on which Solomon is directed by the Lord to build the temple of the Lord. That will be the location for all generation to follow where the lamb is offered on the Day of Atonement for the sins of the covenant people. The Lord directs Abraham to this mountain to establish the connection between Isaac's sacrifice, and the lamb of the temple sacrifice both pointing forward to Christ.

Questions from Genesis 21:

Question: Genesis 21:16 - The "lad" should be around 17 years old, yet he is being addressed like an infant being taken care of by his mother? Is there more to the story?

Answer: No, there is no more to the story that you are missing. Your confusion is due to the translation. The words "lad" and "boy" in our translation generally convey the sense of a young child in English. You are correct that by this time Ishmael was between 14-17 years old since he was 14 when Isaac was born and this event happened when Isaac was weaned. The Hebrew words in the original text translated lad and boy actually have a range of meaning. They can be used to describe any child from birth to adolescence. Keep in mind that Hagar and Ishmael wandered for some time together in the desert until their food and water was depleted. Ishmael's crying was not the crying of an infant, but like Hagar, he was probably frightened and exhausted.

Question: Genesis 21:28 - What is the significance of Abraham setting seven ewe lambs by themselves?

Answer: There is no hint in the text or in any parallel passages elsewhere in the Bible that this event bears any special symbolic importance beyond the event itself. Abraham gives them as a gift to Abimelech as part of the covenant they are making with each other. When a covenant was formed it was customary for the parties to give a gift to each other, but in this case only Abraham gives the gift as a formal declaration that the well of water belongs exclusively to him. He most likely chose seven because of the common symbolic meaning of completeness. The seven sheep would serve as a complete witness to their covenant.

Genesis 23

23:1-2 - "Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her."

Up until this point in the account of their lives Sarah has played a prominent role. She was chosen by God to bear the promised child Isaac, just as Abraham was chosen to be the patriarch of the covenant. Sarah gave birth to Isaac at age ninety. She also played an important role approximately two or three years after Isaac's birth when he was weaned and she demanded that Hagar and Ishmael be driven out. Now we learn that she died at the age of 127. In the years between those events and her death, her name is not mentioned at all. The implication is that other than raising Isaac as his mother and remaining a faithful wife to Abraham, Sarah serves no other purpose in God's kingdom in those last 35 years.

The absence of any other mention of Sarah actually ends up magnifying the significance of her role in the birth and parenting of Isaac. The point is that Sarah's calling in life was to be the wife of Abraham and the mother of Isaac. Those two roles gave her life great significance in God's kingdom and make her life worth remembering. The daily activities of the next 35 years that filled Sarah's life are not even mentioned because they will only diminish the spiritual focus we have on her God ordained purpose. The lesson we can draw from Sarah's example is that their may not be 50 different things that give our lives true spiritual significance. There may only be one or two things which God has ordained for us to be or to accomplish that will, in the end, define our lives and give them eternal significance. In other words, it is the things that God identifies as worth remembering about us that make our lives memorable. We can test this about ourselves at any point by looking back on our lives so far and asking ourselves, "What about my life will be worth remembering when I am gone?"

23:4 - "I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight."

Abraham has now been in the Promised land of Canaan for over 60 years by the time of this event. Yet, both in his perspective and in his circumstances he remains "a stranger and a sojourner" in the land of Canaan. He uses terms here that would be similar to our modern designation of resident alien. It refers to a person that has settled to live in a land but who is not yet fully identified with the land of their residence. In practical terms it was an appropriate designation for Abraham, because even though God had promised this land to him as his possession, Abraham did not yet actually own any of it. This was not a failure on God's part to fulfill His promise. Remember, God had previously told Abraham that the full possession of the Promised Land would be by his descendants over 400 years later (Genesis 15:13-16).

This long delay between the promise and the eventual fulfillment caused Abraham to live out his years on the earth in the cultural status of stranger and sojourner. As we should expect, God had a deeper purpose in this too. Abraham's status becomes a template for the spiritual situation of every believer that follows Abraham in all of history. This New Testament passage explains for us how Abraham's status applies to our spiritual situation. "By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God... All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth." (Hebrews 11:9-13). The application for us is in this perspective: this world is not our home. The greatest fulfillment of our lives will not be experienced in this world, but in the next one. We live our lives here for God's purpose, but that purpose will be fulfilled not here, but in the "city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God", the heavenly Jerusalem.

23:6 - "Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead."

There is a principle that should instruct our opinions in this chapter that is not the primary point of the chapter but is established by inference. As a pastor, I am on occasion asked about whether there is any Biblical principle regarding burial practices. For instance in our culture it is a common and accepted practice to cremate the body at death. When this option is chosen it is usually because it is a low cost and efficient way to dispose of the body. It also provides an opportunity for a final symbolic gesture by either preserving the ashes or scattering them in a special spot. My answer to those who ask is that while there is no passage anywhere in the Bible that explicitly requires one way of handling the body of those who die, and while it is not a sin to choose one method over another, there is a spiritually preferred way to handle the body of one who has died in the Lord.

That spiritually preferred way is burial. We can interpret Abraham's efforts to obtain a proper burial place for Sarah one of two ways. He may have been simply following common cultural practice in doing so with zero spiritual significance attached to the method of handling her body. However, I believe the Lord had this event written to give us the first of many significant burials in the Bible. There are also a few examples of cremation that we will find, but in every case, the cremation is connected to a person that died in rebellion toward the Lord. The burning of their body spiritually symbolizes the experience awaiting them beyond physical death. On the other hand, special care to preserve the integrity of the body in burial symbolizes the Lord's ongoing purpose for the body beyond physical death. Burial points forward to the hope of a future resurrection from the dead.

23:8-16 - "And he spoke with them, saying, "If it is your wish for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site." Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth; even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying, "No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead." And Abraham bowed before the people of the land. He spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, "If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it from me that I may bury my dead there." Then Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, "My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? So bury your dead." Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, commercial standard."

Abraham purchased the burial site for Sarah at great cost. The price of 400 shekels of silver that he insisted on paying was the equivalent of 100 pounds of silver in weight. He was given the opportunity to acquire the cave for Sarah's burial for free since Ephron graciously offered it as a gift. However, Abraham insisted on paying the full price to purchase the land. There is a subtle point for our benefit in Abraham's actions here. Even though God had promised to him that his descendants would one day possess all of this land, this was the first portion of the Promised Land that Abraham would actually own. It is similar to his decision to not accept the offer of the king of Sodom in Genesis 14. "Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, 'I have made Abram rich.'"

God's promise to Abraham of the land is God's free gift to him. Abraham did not earn the promise from God. Yet, in the actual acquisition of the land we find that to possess it will cost him. From God it is a free and gracious gift, but toward man it is costly. In the same way, everything we acquire of value in God's kingdom comes to us as a free gift from God, but to actually possess it we discover there is a cost involved. Our salvation is given to us by God as a free gift, but to fully possess our salvation as disciples of the Lord we must pay the cost of discipleship.

Genesis 24

24:5-8 - "The servant said to him, "Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?" Then Abraham said to him, "Beware that you do not take my son back there! The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father's house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, 'To your descendants I will give this land,' He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there."

The Lord had previously promised to Abraham to make his descendants through Isaac a great nation. Abraham trusted God that this would be so. At this point, though, there is the spiritual tension of the unfulfilled promise. God had given Isaac to him, but until Isaac is married and has children of his own, the fullness of God's purpose remains unfulfilled. From this we can see that the necessity of walking in faith in God's promise did not end for Abraham with the birth of Isaac. Abraham trusted in the Lord's promise for 25 years until Isaac was born. Since then he has needed to trust God to see Isaac married to the right woman to be his life partner in God's covenant purpose and to bear the children that will carry on the covenant. What we are meant to see from this development is that the necessity of faith in Abraham's life has not changed, only the details of the circumstances in which he is trusting God. The faith necessary to carry Abraham's heart up to the birth of Isaac laid a foundation for the faith needed for this next test. In this situation, Abraham demonstrates a much more mature faith than in the 25 year wait between God's original promise and the birth of Isaac. In that long wait we saw Abraham's faith stutter at least once when he followed Sarah's plan to "help God out" by having a child with her handmaiden. Here in this new test of his faith, Abraham is strong and bold in his trust in the Lord. Another indication of Abraham's growth in faith is that he is now unwilling to allow Isaac to leave the Promised Land. In earlier years, Abraham had twice compromised and left the land of God's direction, but now he is rock solid in his insistence that Isaac remain where God has directed.

We can draw encouragement from Abraham's example. In spite of spiritual hiccups along the way, Abraham eventually grew to be a man of mature and rock solid faith and faithfulness. We can be certain that the credit for his maturity lies with the Lord and not Abraham himself. None of us have walked before the Lord without stumbling and struggling at times. In those times of struggling it is understandable to wonder whether you will ever reach the place like Abraham of rock steady faith. That Abraham grew into this kind of faith in spite of his flaws and weaknesses is a testimony that the Lord was committed to his growth. Our hope is in the Lord that He will cause us to grow through our own tests of faith, and reach in this life a similar mature faith.

24:21-27 - "Meanwhile, the man was gazing at her in silence, to know whether the LORD had made his journey successful or not. When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half-shekel and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels in gold, and said, "Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room for us to lodge in your father's house?" She said to him, "I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor." Again she said to him, "We have plenty of both straw and feed, and room to lodge in." Then the man bowed low and worshiped the LORD. He said, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, the LORD has guided me in the way to the house of my master's brothers."

The mission of Abraham's servant is a tremendous example of following God's guidance and discerning the will of God in an uncertain circumstance. The servant had received clear orders from Abraham, but the details remained unknown. He was given the general direction for his mission, but there remained several blanks to fill in once he arrived. What developed once he arrived can only be credited to one of two possible factors. Either he experienced an amazing coincidence or an amazing expression of the providence of God as He sovereignly guided the servant and Rebekah to this ordained meeting. The servant displays his own real faith in the way he handles this responsibility. It seems the faith of Abraham has rubbed off in a good reflection on his servant. When Rebekah fulfills the guidelines he had prayed and it becomes clear that she is of the family line that Abraham had sent him to find, the servant does not hesitate with any consideration of coincidence. He recognizes the hand of God and worships the Lord for His guiding hand upon him. The servant has experienced the blessing of this spiritual guidance principle. "Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6).

True faith is more about the heart than it is the head. The Lord's guidance at times will lead us ahead of our "own understanding". Once we arrive where the Lord has led, and our understanding catches up to the Lord's plan, we will be able to look back and see the wisdom of the Lord. The tension in those times of real faith is that we would always prefer to fully know all the details in advance and for it all to make perfect sense to our understanding before we take the first step of obedience. Of course, if He shows us all the details in advance, there is no possibility for our faith to grow in the experience. It's in trusting the Lord when we don't understand how or even why that we have the greatest opportunity for growth. The ability to trust God in these times really boils down to the perspective that He understands more than we do, and that He is fully trustworthy to lead us.

24:51-52, 58 - "Then Laban and Bethuel replied, "The matter comes from the LORD; so we cannot speak to you bad or good. "Here is Rebekah before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master's son, as the LORD has spoken." When Abraham's servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the ground before the LORD.... Then they called Rebekah and said to her, "Will you go with this man?" And she said, "I will go."

This chapter is one of the first to develop the theme of the faith of God's people. Up until this chapter, faith has for the most part been exceptionally displayed in the heart and life of one specially called person at a time. We have seen Enoch, Noah, and Abraham walk in faith as spiritual exceptions to everyone around them. Now, that true faith displayed in their lives becomes evident in the lives of several key people in this story. First, Abraham's servant showed true faith in carrying out his mission. Here, both Laban and Bethuel respond to the servant's request for and answer with a declaration of faith. In deciding whether to send Rebekah back with the servant of Abraham, they do not mention the family relationship, the wealth of Abraham, the suitability as a husband of Isaac, or any of the natural concerns a father and brother would be expected to have. They only mention one concern and once satisfied, that concern settles the question for them. Is this development "from the LORD"? Their faith is revealed in the way they simplify the question. If it is from the Lord then they cannot speak against it, not would anything they say add any strength to it. Oh, if only all believers would be as simple and settled in their faith as these two men were. Some of my most difficult experiences in spiritual counsel have been when a believer knew the Lord's will or direction, but was struggling against it. True discipleship is measured by our willingness to accept and embrace the will of the Lord as our own will.

Rebekah also displays the wisdom of the Lord in choosing her as Isaac's wife to become mother of the next generation of the covenant people. Her faith is strong and she shows zero hesitation to follow the will of the Lord for her life. She has not met Isaac. She has never laid eyes on him. For all she knows he may be ugly and ornery. She has no access to a computerized dating service to give her the assurance of matching her to a mate in multiple areas of compatibility. Their personalitities may not be compatible. All she knows at this point is that, "the matter comes from the LORD". Her three word answer speaks volumes about the depth and quality of her faith in God. "I will go."

Genesis 25

25:5-6 - "Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac; but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the east."

The way Abraham handles this situation highlights the difference between the ways of the world and the ways of the Lord. Abraham was aware that he was in the latter part of his life. He recognized his responsibility to apportion inheritance to his children before his death. His chosen allotments might seem unfair and even shocking in our modern culture. He gave the entire inheritance to his one son Isaac, while giving comparatively small gifts to his other sons and sending them away. If this happened today and in this country you can be certain that a protracted court battle would follow after Abraham's death as the other sons would fight for their "fair share." Sadly, the courts today might even listen to their argument and rule in their favor. The ruling perspective today is that equality concerns overshadow all other considerations. The intention of the father can be disregarded by the court if it is determined that one child has been treated unfairly.

Abraham did not seem concerned at all by the arbitrary issue of fairness. He showed no inclination to make sure each son got the same sized slice of the inheritance pie. Was Abraham merely insensitive to the other sons and playing favorites toward Isaac at the expense of righteousness here? No, what Abraham did here reflected God's will and was an expression of God's righteousness. God wanted Isaac to receive the lion's share of the inheritance because of His purpose for Isaac's life. Because all that Abraham owned was given to him by the Lord, it was the Lord's prerogative through Abraham to designate where that wealth would go next. God chose to pass it to Isaac because of Isaac's role in the covenant. One of the lessons we must learn to avoid ever insinuating impropriety on God's part is that God is free to bless whomever He chooses. We should be clear that He always has good reason for blessing whom He chooses, but that He does not owe equal blessing to everyone else.

25:20-21, 26 - "and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived... Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau's heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them."

We saw the difficult and long term tests of faith that Abraham faced in his own walk with the Lord. Now, Isaac is the focus of God's covenant purposes in the earth. Isaac is not given a free pass on similar tests because his father has already been tested. Isaac must face his own tests of faith. This is the qualifying requirement for all true believers in their own walk with the Lord. God tests us all in the context of customer designed life circumstances because He is committed to our spiritual growth and development. No testing = no growth. We cannot avoid being tested, nor should we want to, if our heart's desire is for our faith and character to grow.

Isaac's particular test here had two parts. God had promised to cause his line of descendants to grow into a great nation. God had guided his father's servant to the specific woman that God had chosen for him to marry. That meant Rebekah was chosen by God to be the mother of that promised nation. Yet, once married to the woman the God had chosen, Isaac discovers that Rebekah is unable to have a child. The first part of the test for Isaac is in the question, "Why would God choose for him a woman to fulfill His promise who is barren?" The second part of the test is mentioned only in passing in the story, but we should consider the strength of the test based on the length of the time involved. Isaac married Rebekah when he was 40. She finally gave birth to the twins when he was 60. The test lasted a 20 years. This is a similar patter to how God tested his father Abraham. Remember Sarah was originally barren and Abraham waited 25 years for her to give birth to the son God had promised. The long delay is the fire in which our faith is purified. I am the same way you are. I prefer instant gratification, but I also recognize that God on purpose rarely works in our lives that way.

One notable difference between Isaac and Abraham is that Isaac handled his test better than Abraham had handled his. Perhaps Isaac had learned from his father's story. All we know is that when faced with the test, Isaac prayed for his wife. It was both the most simple and most powerful thing he could do to pass the test. I can't tell you how many times, in pastoral counseling with someone in a time of testing from the Lord, I have asked the simple question, "Have you prayed?", only to discover that was the one thing they had neglected to do. Let's learn to follow Isaac's example. "Isaac prayed..."

25:22-23 - "But the children struggled together within her; and she said, "If it is so, why then am I this way?" So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.""

Rebekah began to experience difficulty in her pregnancy. There was an unusual amount of movement and she was troubled by what she was experiencing. Her question is worded in our translation in such a way as to be a bit obscure or even confusing. "If it is so, why then am I this way?" can be simplified to a more familiar expression. What she was asking was, "Why is this happening to me?" Because God has chosen her through whom to fulfill His purpose for the coming generation, she is not exempt from her faith being tested anymore than Isaac was. Have you ever been in a situation in which the same question that Rebekah asked was squeezed out of your heart by the pressure of the circumstance? Rebekah does not sin by asking the question. It is where she goes after asking the question that reveals whether her heart is right with the Lord or not.

Her next move is toward the Lord. The same question can be a first step into disappointment with the Lord and even bitterness for many. Rebekah's faith motivates her to inquire of the Lord. If we are unsettled as to why something is happening to us the best thing we can do is ask the Lord. But keep in mind that there are two ways to ask the Lord the "why" question. One is almost accusatory in which we ask having already decided we don't deserve the situation we are in and are already blaming the Lord in our hearts for placing us there. We should not expect to receive much insight in response from the Lord if we are asking in that way. The second way to ask is how Rebekah did. If we are seeking wisdom regarding our situation so that we can handle it in a more God honoring way, the Lord is faithful to inform our hearts with the insight we need. The Lord's answer to Rebekah was prophetic. He opened her eyes to see that what was playing out in her womb was a sovereign purpose of His for two future nations of people. We should notice that God's answer did not make the discomfort of the physical experience go away. By understanding what was happening and why, Rebekah now had grace to endure the circumstance for the sake of God's greater purpose.

25:27-28 - "When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob."

What is revealed in this passage is a classic case of parental favoritism. There are two sons and each parent chooses one of the sons as their personal favorite. This is completely different than the greater favor Abraham had shown Isaac in the inheritance. That was done for God's purpose with spiritual motive by the father. Here, God's purpose is still at work as always, but His purpose is not in the forefront, but rather hidden in the background. Neither parent is showing much if any spiritual wisdom or integrity in the way they handle their relationship with their sons here. The favorites are chosen, not on the basis of any spiritual qualities either possessed, but on the parents natural tastes and preferences. Isaac favors Esau because he provides him a good steak regularly by his hunting. Rebekah loves Jacob more because he stays home more and apparently shares in her interests. Both parents serve as object lessons of how not to handle the relationship with your children. Amazingly, as we will see later, God's purpose will be accomplished even through this unhealthy parent-child pattern. However, the goal should be to establish the healthiest possible parent child relationship and see what God accomplishes with that, not test how far we can veer from the right way to see how God will redeem it.

25:29-34 - "When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, "Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished." Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, "First sell me your birthright." Esau said, "Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?" And Jacob said, "First swear to me"; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright."

This seemingly small incident focused on a bowl of stew sets in motion a permanent change in family status and begins to reveal God's sovereign plan for the next generation of the covenant. Esau and Jacob were fraternal twins, but Esau was born first. As the first born, even if only a few minutes apart, Esau possessed the right of the first born. That right meant that at the death of the father, the first born became the new head of the family. In order to establish this position of responsibility the first born was also given a double portion of the inheritance. In this case with two sons, Esau was due to receive two thirds of the inheritance from Isaac and Jacob one third. This role within the family, and in this special case, the one family on earth that was in covenant relationship with God, was an extremely important role. It should have been valued by Esau above all other things in his life. Instead, in this moment of great hunger, Esau exposes how little he regarded his special responsibility, and ultimately how little he regarded the Lord. Hebrews later characterizes Esau in this way. "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal." (Hebrews 12:15-16).

At first glance, Jacob comes off as the bad guy in the story because he is clearly maneuvering the situation to his own advantage. While there is a fleshly element in Jacob's actions here (which the Lord will deal with later), there is no rebuke from the Lord for his obtaining the birthright in this way. There are two reasons why the Lord does not frown on Jacob at this point. First, the Lord had planned for Jacob to hold the birthright from the beginning. God chose for him to end up with the birthright. Second, even though Jacob did not obtain it in the most honorable way, his actions reveal how much he valued this position of responsibility that also mattered to the Lord. He values what the Lord values and in doing so finds favor from the Lord.

Genesis 26

26:1-7 - "Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines. The LORD appeared to him and said, "Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws." So Isaac lived in Gerar. When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, "She is my sister," for he was afraid to say, "my wife," thinking, "the men of the place might kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is beautiful."

The Lord's purpose in testing the faith of Isaac is not yet complete. He brings about a circumstance that should remind us of an earlier test of his father Abraham. A famine occurs in the Promised Land. The famine serves two purposes. The Bible teaches that famines are not accidental events of history, but in every case under the direct control of God. He ordains and works through such society shaping events. The general category in which to interpret famine is the judgment of God. Famine is never described as a blessing from God, but a curse. In this case, the famine is a judgment from God on the inhabitants of Canaan. God designed this famine to accomplish judgment on one group, while providing a test of faith for Isaac. The lesson for us is that God is dealing with everyone affected by the event, but that His specific purpose is not the same for everyone affected. One man's test may be another man's judgment.

As the test unfolds for Isaac, we see him respond in a pattern of similarity to how his father had first handled the same test. Isaac leaves the land of promise searching for a steady food source. What is glaring in his decision to leave is the absence of any mention of prayer. Isaac is not seen crying out to God as the famine begins to seek Him for wisdom and direction. Instead we simply see him put food in front of faith as Abraham had also done in the same situation. Once Isaac leaves, we do see the Lord speak to him, but there is not indication that it was as a result of Isaac's prayer. The Lord gives him a warning not to continue as far as Egypt. This implies for us, that the Lord anticipated this was where Isaac was heading next which would have followed his father's pattern to seek refuge in Egypt. The Lord also gives Isaac a wonderful confirming word of His commitment to him in covenant relationship. The Lord gives to Isaac the ultimate promise, "I will be with you and bless you." The Lord also calls Abraham to his attention as a model of obedience for Isaac to follow. Isaac has now received the assurance of God's companionship and God's blessing. Then, the very next thing Isaac does is lie about his relationship with his wife out of fear for his own safety.

Isaac does follow Abraham in doing this, but not Abraham's faith and obedience. Instead Isaac mimics Abraham's character flaw and spiritual compromise. This is the "like father like son" principle in action in its worst expression. What we are meant to learn from this is that, as parents we exert discipleship influence on our children. This happens at all times whether we intend it or not. If they see faith and obedience in us, then they will be influenced in that direction. If they see fear and deception in us, then they will pick up those traits and make them their own.

26:12-16 - "Now Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. And the LORD blessed him, and the man became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy; for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him. Now all the wells which his father's servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines stopped up by filling them with earth. Then Abimelech said to Isaac, "Go away from us, for you are too powerful for us."

Isaac's behavior in the land of Gerar does not earn him the blessing of God. Yet, when he plants his first crop there it produces a hundredfold, which indicates the measure of great blessing. What are we to make of this? The Lord does not bless him with abundant crops because of his fear and lying, but in spite of them. This blessing shows the Lord's faithfulness to His own purpose for Isaac's life and to His covenant. This is an example of what I would call risky blessing by the Lord. The "risk" that the Lord takes here is that in blessing Isaac in spite of his flaws, He might leave the impression that it is acceptable to be fearful and deceptive. I know for a fact that the Lord has blessed me far beyond what my actual behavior deserves. Here is the spiritual principle behind this risky blessing. "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" (Romans 2:4). The Lord does not always wait until we do everything right to show us His great blessing. He will at times bless us to lead us. The blessing is meant to encourage us in the right way to go. When He blesses you in spite of you, don't make the mistake of seeing the blessing as a justification for continued compromise. Be grateful for His great kindness, tolerance and patience with you and follow His blessing to a place of greater obedience.

Abimelech eventually tells Isaac to leave the area. It is interesting to notice what the motivating factor was in wanting Isaac to go. Earlier Abimelech had not required he leave when he discovered Isaac's deception. What Abimelech could not handle was Isaac being abundantly blessed by the Lord. Deception was familiar to Abimelech, but the blessing of the Lord made Isaac a threat in his eyes.

26:18-25 - "Then Isaac dug again the wells of water which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the same names which his father had given them. But when Isaac's servants dug in the valley and found there a well of flowing water, the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with the herdsmen of Isaac, saying, "The water is ours!" So he named the well Esek, because they contended with him. Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over it too, so he named it Sitnah. He moved away from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rehoboth, for he said, "At last the LORD has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land." Then he went up from there to Beersheba. The LORD appeared to him the same night and said, "I am the God of your father Abraham; Do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you, and multiply your descendants, For the sake of My servant Abraham." So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD, and pitched his tent there; and there Isaac's servants dug a well."

Isaac left the city at Abimelech's request, but remained in the region of Gerar. In each place Isaac camped, his servants dug wells and discovered water. The herdsmen of Gerar claimed the water for their own which led Isaac to name the wells to describe the disputes. The first well he named Contention and the second well he named Opposition. Rather than stay and fight over the wells in dispute, Isaac moved to a new location and dug a third well. He named this one Room, because the Philistines did not dispute with him for it. He chose this name because he saw this peaceful well as the evidence of the Lord's hand upon him to have led him to a place free from strife where he could be fruitful. Isaac's response to the first two disputes over water rights forms a pattern for us to follow in our dealings with the world. This was essentially a business or economic dispute. Since Isaac's servants had dug the wells he had every right to stand his ground and insist that the water was his. What he decided was that the cost of the fight was not worth the value of the water. By moving on to the third well, Isaac was not simply giving up, he was walking in real faith, trusting that the Lord would provide what the world had taken from him.

The Lord honored his faith. The Lord appeared to Isaac and declared to him His commitment to watch over him, bless him, and provide for him. He confirmed for Isaac that He was with him and because of that, there was no reason for him to fear. The Lord called Isaac's attention to Abraham in order to encourage him that their relationship was based upon the covenant between God and his father. The relationship between the Lord and Isaac linked to the permanent relationship between the Lord and Abraham. The parallel that should encourage our hearts even more has to do with a similar but greater covenant. Each of us who belong to the Lord and know the Lord have our own personal relationship with Him. However, the foundation of our relationship with the Lord is deeper and more secure than anything we could do or say. Our relationship with God is 100% based in the covenant that is shared between God the Father and Jesus His Son. Like Isaac was blessed because God remembered Abraham, we are blessed beyond measure because God remembers Jesus.

Questions from Genesis 25:

Question: 25:5 - "...but to the sons of his concubines..." - Are there any Scriptures that address how God views men like Abraham, and others in the OT, having concubines? Was it a commonly held practice that God just "overlooked"?

Answer: It was a commonly accepted cultural practice. We saw examples from both Pharaoh and Abimelech that having multiple women in their personal harem was a cultural sign of power and prestige. In determining how God saw this practice, we should first be clear on His revealed standard and then work our way to an understanding. When God originally created humans in the garden of Eden He made one man and one woman, when making several women would have been practically quicker if the only concern was populating the earth. The Lord Jesus later identified for us that this established an intended pattern. "And He answered and said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, 'FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." (Matthew 19:4-9)

The conclusion is that God's pattern was always one man / one woman from the beginning. Any changes to that basic pattern should be interpreted as veering from the ideal due to cultural influence by cultures not properly reflecting the Lord's pattern of righteousness. This passage refers to how God handled many cultural shortcomings in the Old Testament era, "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent," (Acts 16:30). He chose to overlook it, not because it didn't matter to Him, but because in a fallen world He allowed some compromises to go unpunished or else He would have to destroy the world.

Genesis 27

27:1-4 - "Now it came about, when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, "My son." And he said to him, "Here I am." Isaac said, "Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die."

Isaac has a growing sense of his old age and his inevitable death. The awareness of his own mortality causes him to turn his thoughts toward the continuation of the covenant with God. He intends to pass the blessing of the covenant on to the next generation. In this moment we see a spiritual mixture in Isaac. It is a good thing that he is mindful of the covenant and desirous of passing on the blessing of God. That is a godly quality that every believing father should share and emulate. The mixture of bad with the good is revealed in Isaac's choice for the covenant blessing. In this critical moment, Isaac should have sought the Lord's will rather than presuming on the Lord's choice. Now, more than ever, Isaac should have stopped and prayed. His failure to seek the Lord here leads him into a situation in which he is actively working against the Lord's plan without knowing it.

In fact, Isaac is without excuse in his choice of Esau. He chose Esau because he was the natural firstborn and he also favored him over his younger son Jacob. Yet, years before, the Lord had made His choice between the two clear. "The LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger." (Genesis 25:23). We are not told whether Isaac had forgotten this declaration of the Lord regarding his sons, or whether he intentionally was ignoring it. Either way, it was his responsibility as the spiritual leader of the family to lead according to God's will and not his own preferences. It is a sad testimony of the heart priorities of Isaac, that here at this key moment at the end of his life his greatest concern is for one last savory meal. In this we see a hint of the likeness between Isaac and Esau who had himself sold his birthright for a meal. God made us with the capacity to enjoy the pleasures of our natural senses and gives us good things to enjoy, but we must always be on guard against our natural senses overwhelming our spiritual judgment.

27:8-14 - "Now therefore, my son, listen to me as I command you. Go now to the flock and bring me two choice young goats from there, that I may prepare them as a savory dish for your father, such as he loves. Then you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death. Jacob answered his mother Rebekah, "Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me, then I will be as a deceiver in his sight, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing." But his mother said to him, "Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get them for me." So he went and got them, and brought them to his mother; and his mother made savory food such as his father loved."

The long standing pattern of parental favoritism now comes to a head. Isaac has always favored Esau and Rebekah has always favored Jacob. Isaac plans to bless Esau, but Rebekah listens in and forms her own plan. She sets in motion a plan filled with deception aimed at "pulling the wool" over her husband's eyes. She concocts a plan with a threefold deception including using Esau's recipe for game, Esau's clothing, and the skins of a goat to convince Isaac that Jacob is Esau. Rebekah is clearly the ringleader in this plan of deception, but Jacob is not an innocent accomplice. He does initially raise an objection to her plan, but not on grounds of righteousness, truth, integrity, or honor for his father. Jacob's only concern regarding her plan is that he might get caught in the deception and end up being cursed by his father. The implication of his objection is that he has no issue with cutting corners and manipulating his father, only with whether they can really pull it off. His mother's insistence and her offer to take all the blame should he be caught is all he needs to go forward with the plan. As he carries out his part he boldly lies to Isaac about his identity, the task Isaac had assigned to Esau, and worst of all Jacob takes the Name of the Lord in vain by making the Lord part of his lie (Genesis 27:20).

What is obvious is that this is a family splintered by personal agenda and spiritual compromise. It is interesting that throughout this chapter we never see the entire family in one place together in face to face relationship. There are only four people involved here to keep together and unified, but in every scene of this story there are only two of the four together. We never see Isaac call his wife and two sons together into his presence and pray and if need be iron out their differences. Instead, we see them in pairs working at odds against each other. This is again an indicator of where Isaac fell short as a father, and the events of his last days are actually the repercussions of the absence of healthy parenting and needed family leadership over the long years before.

27:28-29 - "Now may God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and an abundance of grain and new wine; may peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; be master of your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you."

Isaac here blesses his son Jacob. At the moment he pronounces the blessing he believes he is giving it to Esau. The blessing here is much more than a natural inheritance or the expression of good thoughts and wishes for his son. Isaac speaks here in the role of the patriarch of the family and the current possessor of the covenant blessing. Even though he is ignorant about the identity of Jacob, he is speaking here as the representative of the Lord. The blessing he pronounces is irrevocable. He will regret what he says later, but he cannot take it back, or reverse the blessing. In this, we see the nature of the blessing we receive in Christ. Once God pronounces His blessing upon us in Christ it is permanent and secure. "for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." (Romans 11:29). Like Jacob, our past behavior did not earn or merit in any way the blessing of God. His graciousness toward us is entirely because of His choice and not at all because we deserved it.

27:33-36 - "Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, "Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed." When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, "Bless me, even me also, O my father!" And he said, "Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing." Then he said, "Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing." And he said, "Have you not reserved a blessing for me?"

Once Isaac learns of Jacob's deception he is deeply affected by it. His violent trembling shows that he is shocked and enraged at having been so manipulated by his younger son. Without justifying Jacob's deception at all, we should ask the question though whether Isaac has any moral high ground to stand on in his outrage over being deceived. Remember Isaac was the one who chose to perpetrate an even more serious deception upon Abimelech and his people by lying about his relationship with his wife. In doing so, he exposed them to the possibility of committing adultery without knowing it. The Lord is teaching a deep lesson to Isaac here even at the end of his life as he is forced to taste from the other side the fruit of deception.

Of course, this development is the Lord's discipline, not only for Isaac, but for Esau also. Now that it is just beyond his grasp, his birthright, and the blessing that belongs with it seems so much more important to Esau than it did in earlier years. As he learns of the loss of the blessing, Esau cries out with a heart rending bitter and anguished cry. Hebrews comments for us on this reaction by Esau. "that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears." (Hebrews 12:16-17). Esau's tears here are not feigned. He really feels the loss of the blessing from his heart. The loss to him is as irrevocable as the blessing was for Jacob. We hear in his despair a preview of the scene on the final day of judgment. "In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out." (Luke 13:28). The anguish of Esau is magnified because he was offered the birthright and because he despised it, it was forever taken from him. That is only a pale foreshadow of what those will experience on the final day when they reap the harvest of their rejection of the greatest blessing of the Savior.

27:41-45 - "So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, "The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob." Now when the words of her elder son Esau were reported to Rebekah, she sent and called her younger son Jacob, and said to him, "Behold your brother Esau is consoling himself concerning you by planning to kill you. "Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise, flee to Haran, to my brother Laban! Stay with him a few days, until your brother's fury subsides, until your brother's anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send and get you from there. Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?"

Jacob ends up with both the birthright and the blessing that had previously been Esau's. This end result was the will of God and what God had planned for them before these twins had even been born. Even though the blessing comes to Jacob without a price, because he did not and could not earn it, it does not come to him without a cost. The cost is a complete fracture of the fragile relationship between the brothers. Esau holds a grudge against Jacob from this moment forward. This is not a grudge of annoyance or dislike. This is a much deeper and more dangerous murderous grudge. In this result we see that Jacob is in one sense the winner and in another the loser. He wins the blessing of the Lord, but he loses his brother, his father, and even his supportive mother because he now must flee his home for the safety of distant relatives. Jacob has no grace here to trust God for his own physical safety because he has been only leaning on himself and not the Lord all along.

The lesson for Jacob and for us is significant. God's will must be pursued God's way in order to receive the fullness of God's blessing. Jacob will inherit the blessing of the covenant, but for the next twenty years he will be a fugitive and servant because he sought to grab with the hand of the flesh what God was going to give him in His way and time. This is a similar lesson that Abraham had to learn from the consequences of the Hagar incident. Both Abraham and Jacob had followed the end justifies the means principle and had the consequences sting them. Rebekah too loses out in the end as a consequence of her deceptive scheming. She manages to deceive her husband and gain the blessing for her favored son, but as a result she loses her relationship with Jacob. She sends him away for his own safety, thinking that "time heals all wounds", not realizing at the time that she will never see Jacob again as he will spend the next 20 years in Laban's household. Jacob's escape of "a few days" will become many years because there are some bitter wounds that apart from the grace of God, time just will not heal.

Genesis 28

28:6-9 - "Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take to himself a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he charged him, saying, "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan," and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and had gone to Paddan-aram. So Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan displeased his father Isaac; and Esau went to Ishmael, and married, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham's son, the sister of Nebaioth."

Esau is now paying close attention to the interaction between Isaac and Jacob. He notices for the first time that Isaac is concerned that Jacob not marry any of the women of Canaan. This is interesting that only now does he become aware of his father's standards for marriage. This passage from an earlier time reveals there was some kind of serious communication gap between Isaac and Esau. "When Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah." (Genesis 26:34-35). The two women Esau had previously married were from the Canaanites. We are told his wives brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah, yet only now does Esau come to realize that his marriage choices have displeased Isaac. There are two possible explanations for Esau not knowing before now that his father was displeased. Either Esau was incredibly dense and just did not pay attention to his father's training, or, more likely this reveals the failure of Isaac as a father.

It was Isaac's responsibility as a godly father to teach and train his sons in the ways of the Lord. The significance of the father's role in the passing of covenant responsibilities from one generation to the next was highlighted by the Lord in His statement regarding Abraham. "For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him." (Genesis 18:19). Abraham demonstrated for Isaac the importance of a fitting marriage choice when he sent his servant to find Isaac's wife. We see no such concern that Isaac showed toward Esau when it came time for him to marry. We are told that both Isaac and Rebekah are unhappy about Esau's marriages, but there is no indication that Isaac ever sat Esau down in advance and taught him and appealed to him to exercise wisdom in his choice of whom to marry. If Isaac had done so, and Esau had rejected his father's wise counsel in rebellion, then Isaac would have grounds to be grieved. But, if Esau was given no training or spiritual preparation and chose unwisely, then Isaac had only himself to blame for neglecting his responsibility as Esau's father.

28:10-13 - "Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. 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. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants."

This is the first direct revelation of the Lord that Jacob had ever experienced. The Lord chose to make Himself known to Jacob differently than He did to Abraham or Isaac. The Lord revealed Himself first to Jacob in what we could call an indirect manner. God had appeared and spoken audibly to Abraham as a comparison. With Jacob, God first approached Jacob in a dream. We are meant to understand this as a spiritual, or revelatory dream. God, at times, chooses to communicate to people in dreams. One of the advantages of dream communication is that the person having the dream is the observer as a kind of captive audience. The person having the dream is in no position to argue or resist the message of the dream. God has Jacob right where He wants him here. Jacob is ripe for picking since he has just left all of his familiar surroundings and his heart is uncertain regarding his future.

The details of his dream have great spiritual weight and still speak to us today. Jacob sees a "ladder", but the Hebrew word used can also be translated as a stairway. The stairway started on the earth and reached into heaven. This was truly a "stairway to heaven." Jacob was not on the stairway, but observing those who were. The angels of God were ascending and descending on this stairway or ladder and above it, at the top in heaven Jacob saw the Lord. As he saw the Lord, the Lord spoke and confirmed to him the blessing of the Promised Land, indicating that God was confirming that he would be the covenant representative to carry on for Abraham and Isaac.

The meaning of the stairway is the part that still speaks to us today. The stairway links earth and heaven. the angels as God's servant messengers were traveling on the stairway carrying His assignments to the earth and returning to heaven for new assignments. There is a critical New Testament link to this event. Jesus referred to Jacob's dream and applied its meaning to Himself in a surprising way. And He said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." (John 1:51). The ladder / stairway that Jacob saw was a prophetic symbol of the special role of Christ in God's dealings with the earth. Jesus is the stairway to heaven. He is the link between earth and heaven. God's blessings travel to us through Christ, and our only hope of approaching God in heaven is through Christ.

28:14 - "Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed."

The Lord confirms to Jacob that through him the great blessings covenant will be established. There are two aspects of this blessing that identify the dual purpose of the Lord for Jacob and for us as believers. The two aspects of the blessing of the covenant are that he will first get the blessing of the Lord, and second he will be a blessing to all the families of the earth. The first aspect in which Jacob receives the blessing of the Lord upon his life is not the end goal of why the Lord blessed him. God's purpose is not limited to simply blessing Jacob more than others so that he would have a great life. God's purpose in blessing Jacob so greatly was so that Jacob would become the source of blessing for all the families of the earth to be blessed. This "all the families of the earth" concern of the Lord's is not a new concern just introduced to Jacob. This is a key element that was in God's heart right from the beginning of what He first spoke to Abraham. "And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed." (Genesis 12:3). God's plan throughout history has been to chose some and cause them to represent Him to the rest. This was fulfilled in part in Israel's best moments as a covenant nation when the other nations of the world learned more about the Lord through them. Yet, Israel was a poor and inconsistent representative of the Lord to the nations.

The ultimate fulfillment of this all families purpose is realized in Christ. God sent His Son to fulfill this promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Through Jesus all the families of the earth are blessed with the greatest blessing of salvation. This passage describing the scene around God's throne in heaven shows this promised fulfilled. "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands;" (Revelation 7:9).

28:15-22 - "Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it." He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father's house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God's house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You."

Up until this point of Jacob's life story, God has always been present in the background, but never in the forefront of Jacob's awareness. Jacob certainly knew all about the Lord. He grew up in the one family on earth at this time that was in covenant relationship with the Lord. Jacob had been exposed to the things of the Lord his entire life. In all of his choices, actions and words up until this event, we never hear Jacob refer to the Lord directly or show any indication of having his own relationship with Him. In a sense we could say that Jacob's relationship with the Lord was really through his father Isaac's relationship. Up until now, Jacob is always seen leaning on himself and his own cleverness rather than on the Lord in faith. It is not so much that doesn't believe in the Lord, it is more that he has never had a personal encounter with Him as Abraham and Isaac had. If Jacob is going to be the covenant representative for the next generation following Isaac, then he is going to have to know the Lord as Abraham and Isaac did. There is a well know saying that captures the essence of this situation. The saying is that "God does not have any grandchildren." The point is that none of us can have a true relationship with the Lord through someone else. We must all come to know the Lord ourselves in a direct and personal way.

Of course, Jacob cannot initiate a relationship with the Lord any more than we can. Jacob just laid down to sleep. It was the Lord that made Himself known to Jacob. The Lord's promise to Jacob that He would not leave him until He fulfilled His promise should be interpreted as a promise of life long commitment and companionship. Jacob's response is to declare a new spiritual perspective and to make his first vow to the Lord in responsive commitment. The Lord has opened Jacob's spiritual eyes. Jacob now recognizes that the Lord was present in the a circumstance that until he went to sleep seemed to him to be empty and fearful. The next morning Jacob renames this place Bethel, which means the house of God. The principle applies to us as well. Throughout history and even today it is common to refer to church and in earlier times, the temple as the house of God. The idea being that we go to church to meet with God. For Jacob, the new perspective that he gained, that would also reshape his life, is that wherever he was in the world he was in the house of God. Wherever God is present and chooses to reveal Himself is the house of God.

Genesis 29

29:1-6 - "Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the sons of the east. He looked, and saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep were lying there beside it, for from that well they watered the flocks. Now the stone on the mouth of the well was large. When all the flocks were gathered there, they would then roll the stone from the mouth of the well and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well. Jacob said to them, "My brothers, where are you from?" And they said, "We are from Haran." He said to them, "Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?" And they said, "We know him." And he said to them, "Is it well with him?" And they said, "It is well, and here is Rachel his daughter coming with the sheep."

Between the revelation at Bethel in the last chapter and the arrival of Jacob's first son Reuben, the Lord is silent and at first glance does not play a major role in the developments in Jacob's life. We ware meant to remember though that the Lord had promised Jacob that He would be with him. The Lord goes with Jacob on this journey and is active in each development, even if His role is quiet and hidden. These events are filled with the providence of God in which He is weaving various lives and circumstances together in a way that fulfills multiple purposes. In the next important development following Bethel, Jacob arrives in the east at "a well in the field". It could easily have been anyone's well, but it just happens to be the well that Laban's family used for their flocks and most likely was the identical well that played a key role in the life of his father Isaac when Abraham sent his servant to find a bride for Isaac. Not only is this well connected to Laban's family, Jacob happens to arrive just when Rachel, his destined bride to be is arriving at the well to water her sheep. This parallels the perfect timing of his mother Rebekah arriving at the well when Abraham's servant had first come to this same place.

We can interpret these as coincidence, which acknowledges the importance of these events coming together in just the right way, but evacuates the combination of events of any spiritual significance. Or, we can identify them for what they point to behind the scenes, which is God's providence. Providence describes the sovereign work of God hidden from casual observation. At times, God providentially works in the circumstances of believers in ways they do not recognize except in hindsight. In this situation, Jacob received no audible or clear direction from the Lord to travel to this specific well. He simply traveled until he arrived where God was quietly leading him to go. Jacob probably was not even aware of God's subtle but powerful hand directing even the literal steps of his feet that led him to this specific spot. There are many developments in my life that served the Lord's purpose for me in which I could recognize His hand only after arriving there. Learn to not overlook the significance of the providential leading of the Lord in your own life circumstances.

29:10-12 - "When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother's brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother's brother, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well and watered the flock of Laban his mother's brother. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted his voice and wept. Jacob told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and that he was Rebekah's son, and she ran and told her father."

Jacob finds his future bride here in a "chance" meeting at a well of water. This is the second in a very interesting series of four similar well encounters in the Bible. These four meetings at a well of water are separated by time and circumstance, but they all share a common thread of spiritual significance. The four meetings all involve a man who is a stranger arriving at a well only to be met by a young marriage eligible woman. The result of each encounter is a marriage that was "meant to be". The first three encounters are all in the Old Testament. 1) Abraham's servant meets Rebekah, the future bride of Isaac. 2) Jacob meets Rachel, his own future bride. 3) Moses meets Zipporah, his own future bride (Exodus 2:16-21). The similarity of these three Bible stories may again be coincidental, or we can recognize God's design as they together point forward to a fourth and final similar meeting at a well.

The fourth meeting is between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4:6-14). An important detail to that story is found in the name of the well. "and Jacob's well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water..." (John 4:6-7). Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. The spiritual similarity of all four stories is in the theme of a young man finding his bride at a well of water. The spiritual significance is finally revealed in the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. He uses the physical need for water as a symbol for the salvation that only He can provide from the well of God's grace. "You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?" Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." (John 4:12-13). Jesus reveals Himself as the One Who is greater than the patriarch Jacob. As the Samaritan woman believes in Jesus as God's Messiah, she is saved and is spiritually identified as the future bride of Christ along with all those who believe in Him.

29:18-20 - "Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel." Laban said, "It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me." So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her."

Jacob's perspective and attitude is a strong example for young believers in the midst of today's culture. We live in a culture that permits and even promotes instant gratification in the relationship between young men and women. Jacob loved Rachel. He wanted her for his wife. Yet, in this circumstance, he was not able to provide an appropriate bride price to her father Laban. Rather than grumble about her unattainability, or attempt to circumvent the standards of her father, he offered to work for her hand in marriage, by enlisting in Laban's employ. His offer of seven years of work (not seven days, or weeks, or months), is critical because the offer is an expression of the value he sees in Rachel. Because he truly loves her, he values her. Because he values her, he volunteers to work for seven years as her bride price. Laban appreciates Jacob's offer and agrees to his terms.

Jacob then served for the full seven years. Rachel is promised to Jacob during these seven years, meaning she is not free for any other man, but at the same time she is not yet given to Jacob. This would be similar to our culture's engagement. They belong to each other for these seven years and are near each other in Laban's household, but they are not free to consummate their union until the seven years are complete. Jacob shows true character during these seven years by honoring both Rachel and her father by not crossing the line with her at any time in that seven years. His desires for her are held in check by his love for her and his commitment to righteousness. The Lord gives us a peek into Jacob's heart during these seven years so that we would honor Jacob for his righteousness and learn from his example. "...they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her." Lust can't successfully wait even a few hours or days, but love turns years into days. Lust demands while love patiently waits.

29:25 - "So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?"

The time for the reward for Jacob's godly patience has come. He has waited for seven years and now he can have what he has so strongly desired. In the morning following his wedding feast Jacob discovers the shocking truth. He has actually married Leah and not Rachel. This was all Laban's doing, as the father of both women has manipulated Jacobin order to resolve a cultural problem of not marrying off his daughters out of birth order. Laban feels justified in his actions and when Jacob confronts Laban in righteous indignation, Laban not only does not apologize to Jacob, he insists that his actions were necessary. Laban has acted on the familiar principle, "the end justifies the means."

Even though the text does not mention Jacob questioning the Lord in this development, we should ask, "Where was the Lord in this?" The Lord had promised to be with Jacob. Why doesn't the Lord step in and prevent Laban from deceiving Jacob? Our only two options are to think that the Lord did not care enough to stop it, or, as we should conclude that the Lord intended this to happen for His greater purpose in Jacob's life. The Lord's purpose even in this unwanted and extremely challenging development had both an immediate impact on Jacob and a long range benefit. The long range benefit is that the Lord will ultimately bless Jacob in this situation by giving him a full twelve sons who will become the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. The first and immediate purpose of the Lord, though, before that blessing is revealed is in the pain of the deception itself. Remember this is Jacob the deceiver. This is the Jacob that had impersonated his own brother Esau to steal his blessing from Isaac. Now he is forced to taste the same as Leah impersonates her sister Rachel in order to steal the blessing of marriage. Jacob will learn from this first hand the pain that deception always causes. The Lord designs this development as His discipline in Jacob's life. The Lord's promise to bless Jacob does not mean he can avoid the Lord's discipline. In fact, the promised blessing requires that Jacob first receive the Lord's discipline in order to prepare his heart to handle the blessing when it comes. The path of true discipleship always travels through discipline on the way to the promised land.

Genesis 30

30:1 - "Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she became jealous of her sister; and she said to Jacob, "Give me children, or else I die."

We saw at the end of chapter 29 that Leah had just given birth to her fourth son, Judah. Rachel has been closely observing her sister's fruitfulness and comparing it to her own inability to have children. She is struggling with a growing frustration born from jealousy. There is a subtle, but important distinction between jealousy and envy. The envious person strongly desires what another person has. The jealous person possesses something of value and is fearful of another person taking their possession away from them. As an example, in the Lord of the Rings story, Gollum suffered from extreme jealousy in his possessiveness over his "precious", the special ring that he valued above all else. We might expect Rachel's heart to be tempted with envy here as she sees Leah bearing children with Jacob and she cannot. If it were envy, then the focus of her heart would be to have children for herself because of her strong desire to be a mom like Leah. Instead, her issue is jealousy. Watching Leah bear children makes her fearful that Leah will take something precious away from her. What is it that Rachel becomes afraid of losing to Leah?

Rachel's fear is to lose Jacob's special affection, and her own place in this extended family. Since their wedding week years before, Leah had the privilege of being the first wife married to Jacob, but Rachel always had Jacob's heart. She was more attractive in both face and form (Genesis 29:17) than Leah, and Jacob loved her, while Leah was unloved by Jacob (Genesis 29:31). Because of the great value placed upon fruitfulness in bearing children and sons in particular, Rachel became concerned that Leah would win Jacob's heart away from her. Though Jacob had never given her any overt reason to have that concern, her jealousy had grown to dominate her perspective. The fear colored her perspective to the point where she was not able to contain it and she was driven to confront Jacob. Her communication to him was not in the form of baring her heart's struggles to her husband in hope of gaining his comfort and encouragement. Rather, she blurted out what was essentially an attack on him, in which she blamed him for her situation. In her rational mind, Rachel had to know that it was not Jacob's fault, because he had successfully fathered four sons already with Leah. Nevertheless, she demands of him that he solve her dilemma.In order to strengthen her demand, she frames it as a life or death issue. It was not life or death, but her exaggeration expressed the depth of her problem.

30:2-4 - "Then Jacob's anger burned against Rachel, and he said, "Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?" She said, "Here is my maid Bilhah, go in to her that she may bear on my knees, that through her I too may have children." So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her."

In his response to Rachel, Jacob does not show mature understanding and sensitivity as a godly husband should if his wife is struggling with serious heart issues. We do not see Jacob consoling her, reaffirming his love for her and gently leading her back to the Lord in prayer. Instead, we see Jacob react in kind to Rachel's demand and accusation. He has been attacked, and he flares up in anger toward here. What Jacob says in response to Rachel is theologically accurate and true, but how he says it is not meant here as a redemptive teaching moment to help bring her heart back on track. His answer really is Jacob spitting out the truth in an inappropriate way. Jacob essentially shoots back at her that her condition is not his fault, it is God's fault, and he goes on to imply that since God is withholding children from her, that the blame is really hers. His insinuation is that this would not be happening to her unless she deserved it. There is no hint in the story that Rachel "deserved" her condition, and Jacob's answer is a classic example for husbands in how not to handle the heart struggles of their wives.

Rachel seems to be ready for Jacob's inability to satisfy her desire because she immediately proposes a roundabout solution. We do not know if she learned of this "solution" from hearing the story of Abraham and Sarah, or whether she came up with this idea on her own. She proposes using her maid Bilhah as a surrogate mother so that she would be able to adopt the child as her own. Sadly, Jacob does not even seem to hesitate. There is no hint of resistance on his part. It is likely that his decision to follow Rachel's plan is his way of appeasing her and satisfying her frustration. His example of leadership here is as poor as his example as a husband in responding to his wife's need. Even though Rachel proposed this idea, Jacob was under no spiritual obligation to simply capitulate and allow her to take the lead in this way. He should have followed his father's example, rather than his grandfather's example in two similar circumstances. Abraham neglected to pray when Sarah was barren. But, Isaac did pray. "Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived." (Genesis 25:21). Jacob has grown in faith since the experience of seeing the Lord at Bethel, but when he needed to lean on Him here, he instead leans on natural wisdom.

30:8 - "So Rachel said, "With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and I have indeed prevailed." And she named him Naphtali."

In spite of Rachel's struggle, and Jacob's poor leadership, God is still at work in their lives and circumstances. He blesses the family with the birth of two sons through Rachel's maid. Rachel's heart is further revealed in the name she chooses for the second adopted son. She calls him Naphtali, which means "My wrestling." The wrestling in view is not playful, but describes a life and death struggle. Sadly, her perspective has not grown in the couple of years since she made her demand of Jacob in verse one. Her wrestling has not been with her own jealous tendency in which her opponent would be herself. She saw her opponent as Leah. In her mind, they are locked in a death match struggle for the affection of Jacob and the position of prominence in the family. In remaining focused on her sister for this period of time in this spiritually unhealthy way, Rachel has played into the hands of the evil one.

Like Rachel, we are engaged in a life and death struggle, but not against other people. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12). Rachel erred in wrongly identifying Leah as her enemy and rival. Her place in Jacob's heart, and her position in the family were in the hands of the Lord. She could have trusted Him with her heart's desire and with her fears and anxieties. Instead she choose the way of the flesh and attempted to resolve her problems her own way. It is worth noting that while Jacob had an eventual total of twelve sons, and each was significant as a head of one of the twelve tribes of Israel, god chose a special role and privilege for two of the twelve sons. The two most significant sons in the ensuing history of Israel as a nation were Levi and Judah. Levi would become the tribe of priests that would serve the Lord in His temple. Judah was the son God chose to establish His kingly line of David. Jesus would be born from the line of Judah. These specially honored sons were both born from Leah, the unloved and unwanted wife, but who chose to name her son in praise of the Lord (Genesis 29:35) rather than as a way to exceed her sister.

30:14-16, 37-39 - "Now in the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, "Please give me some of your son's mandrakes." But she said to her, "Is it a small matter for you to take my husband? And would you take my son's mandrakes also?" So Rachel said, "Therefore he may lie with you tonight in return for your son's mandrakes." When Jacob came in from the field in the evening, then Leah went out to meet him and said, "You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son's mandrakes." So he lay with her that night... Then Jacob took fresh rods of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white stripes in them, exposing the white which was in the rods. He set the rods which he had peeled in front of the flocks in the gutters, even in the watering troughs, where the flocks came to drink; and they mated when they came to drink. So the flocks mated by the rods, and the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted."

There are two circumstances in this chapter that have confused believers, and which are spiritually similar despite the difference in the events. The two similar situations had to do with Rachel acquiring the mandrakes from Reuben, and Jacob using the peeled rods of trees in breeding the flocks. The confusion for many believers is due to the way that these stories are told and whether the Bible is making the point that Rachel and Jacob are successful in their endeavors because of the mandrakes and the peeled rods. Let me be clear and say a definitive, "No!", this is not the point of these two stories. Mandrakes are a plant from that part of the world that were commonly considered to have the properties of an aphrodisiac. They are also known as "love apples" to this day for that reason. We do not know whether the peeled rods was a common practice of that culture for breeding, or whether Jacob came up with that bright idea on his own. The spiritual similarity of both stories is in this: two believers (Rachel and Jacob) use a magical approach to try to accomplish what they most desire. It's magical, not because either approach actually had any real power to change Rachel's barrenness, or Jacob's breeding of his flock, but because they believed that doing so would change their circumstance.

What they both indulged in is superstition. Here is the definition of a superstition. A belief, practice, or rite irrationally maintained by ignorance of the laws of nature or by faith in magic or chance. Rachel's mandrakes should not receive credit when she finally gives birth to her own son, Joseph. Jacob's peeled rods should not receive any of the glory for the flock producing in his favor. In both cases, the Lord caused the favorable result, and not what they superstitiously added to the situation. Even today, believers often maintain many superstitious practices in the same way. Whether it is wearing a cross (not as a witness but for extra protection), being careful not to say out loud what they don't want to see happen (for fear that their words will then cause it to happen), anointing chairs in the sanctuary before a church meeting (because then the person that sits in it will be more affected by the service), or any one of dozens of other superstitions. The Lord intends for us to grow up out of childish and foolish superstitions and become people of mature faith whose minds are informed by His Word and whose hearts are anchored to Him and not to "magic".

Genesis 31

31:4-7 - "So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to his flock in the field, and said to them, "I see your father's attitude, that it is not friendly toward me as formerly, but the God of my father has been with me. You know that I have served your father with all my strength. Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me."

Jacob has received a clear word of direction from the Lord and he is obediently moving to obey that word. His first step shows some growth on his part in the spiritual leadership of his household. As we have seen, Jacob has not always been the best leader even though he knows the Lord and is called by God into a leadership role. He has had to grow into his role as a godly leader. From my own experience as one who has been called by God into spiritual leadership, I can testify that God does not necessarily call someone into leadership that is already a perfectly formed leader before they begin to lead. Spiritual leadership requires a measure of maturity and a lot of on the job training. Here Jacob shows growth by his first move once he receives the direction from the Lord to return to the land of his fathers. Jacob does not immediately leave, but instead he calls his wives and takes the time to effectively communicate his direction. His intent is to enlist their agreement and support in this move. He shares his own heart regarding the struggles he has experienced over the last 20 years of serving their father, and then he declares to them the word from the Lord he received in a dream. God honors his communication with them by both having already prepared their hearts for this change and causing them both to see the necessity of it. This is the one time when Jacob, Leah and Rachel are all in perfect unity with God and each other.

Jacob's testimony of his 20 years of service to Laban is also a powerful testimony for us. His experience and the way he responded in it serve as a godly model for believers who must deal with difficult, unreasonable, and even deceptive employers. Jacob has been cheated by Laban. He has had his wages changed 10 times in 20 years, and he does not mean that he received 10 raises in his wages, but rather 10 adjustments that were all intended to favor the employer, not the employee. That Jacob is still very aware of all 10 changes of the last 20 years is a signal that he has not forgotten any of those incidents and that he was deeply affected by them. Yet, rather than becoming embittered and hateful toward Laban, Jacob continued to faithfully serve Laban in a way that prospered Laban. Jacob was able to continue to do the right thing and handle such a difficult situation the right way because he believed that the Lord was greater than Laban. Jacob trusted the Lord to watch over him and the needs of his household even if Laban did not. The Lord did exactly that. God honored His covenant with Jacob and provided for him in spite of Laban's devious attempts to take advantage of Jacob.

31:8-13 - "If he spoke thus, 'The speckled shall be your wages,' then all the flock brought forth speckled; and if he spoke thus, 'The striped shall be your wages,' then all the flock brought forth striped. Thus God has taken away your father's livestock and given them to me. And it came about at the time when the flock were mating that I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the male goats which were mating were striped, speckled, and mottled. Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, 'Jacob,' and I said, 'Here I am.' He said, 'Lift up now your eyes and see that all the male goats which are mating are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 'I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me; now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.'"

As Jacob relates the word he received from the Lord in this dream we see that he has grown in his spiritual understanding since the events of chapter 30. At that time, we saw that Jacob used a superstitious method of peeling rods to place in front of the flocks when they mated in order to insure for himself that more stripped animals would be born. At that moment, Jacob's perspective was focused on what he could do and control to take ownership of more of Laban's herd. Since then the Lord gave him the dream revealing that God was both fully aware and fully in control of how many of the goats were striped, speckled and mottled. As Jacob relates the experience to his wives, he takes none of the credit away from the Lord by telling his misadventure of placing the peeled rods.

Jacob has grown. He began as a clever, self reliant man, who was ready to manipulate, deceive, or do just about anything he saw as necessary to gain advantage for himself in relationship to others. Now, he is beginning to learn that God is really in charge, and not him. God is the One who sees everything that Laban has been doing for the past 20 years, and in that perspective, Jacob finds the grace to trust the Lord, not in himself as he had formerly done. He is not yet perfectly trusting the Lord in every situation, but he has already come a long way from where he began.

31:20-21 - "And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing. So he fled with all that he had; and he arose and crossed the Euphrates River, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead."

As much trust in the Lord as Jacob just showed in the way he handled the 20 years of mistreatment by Laban, now Jacob shows that he still has some room for growth in his faith. When it came time for Jacob to leave Laban he had a choice in how to go about leaving. Later, when Laban catches up to Jacob, he rightly rebukes Jacob for choosing an inappropriate way to leave. Jacob left in secret and fled from Laban. On a natural level, Jacob's actions could be justified. Laban has shown over the 20 years that he is a self interested man who would not be pleased to lose all the flocks Jacob was taking, not to mention the benefit of having the Lord's blessing because of Jacob's presence. Jacob anticipated Laban's unwillingness to let him go, and feared that Laban would even use force to stop him (Genesis 31:31). Jacob had a good and real reason to be concerned about Laban's reaction. The greater issue for Jacob, though, is how he would choose to handle this fear spiritually.

The Lord had spoken a clear word of direction to Jacob requiring him to leave. More than a bare word of direction, the Lord also gave Jacob a word of encouragement and comfort for the test ahead. "Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you." (Genesis 31:3). The Lord was gracious to give to Jacob just what he needed to hear to enable him to pass the test. In this case, Jacob failed this test by placing more weight on his own fear of Laban, than on his trust in the Lord to protect him. When the Lord promised that He would be with Jacob, that meant that the Lord would be there to make sure Jacob would reach the place where He was sending him safely. Jacob was not instructed by the Lord to flee in secret. He simply instructed Jacob to leave. Just like Jacob informed his wives, he could have given Laban the same respect and it would have been an opportunity to give testimony to the Lord's hand upon his life to Laban. Had Jacob told Laban about his dream, and the word of the Lord to leave, the Lord would have protected Jacob from Laban's response. Instead, Jacob's fearful choice only complicates all of their lives further.

31:24-29 - "God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream of the night and said to him, "Be careful that you do not speak to Jacob either good or bad." Laban caught up with Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen camped in the hill country of Gilead. Then Laban said to Jacob, "What have you done by deceiving me and carrying away my daughters like captives of the sword? Why did you flee secretly and deceive me, and did not tell me so that I might have sent you away with joy and with songs, with timbrel and with lyre; and did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Now you have done foolishly. It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, 'Be careful not to speak either good or bad to Jacob.'"

Jacob did not leave in the best, most spiritually mature way. He fled Laban moved with obedience toward the Lord mixed with fear toward Laban. We might expect the Lord to then use Laban to discipline Jacob for the wrong way in which he left. The Lord has two concerns for Jacob as he flees from Laban. The first is the Lord's priority to honor His own promise to Jacob and to protect him. So, the Lord intervenes to stop Laban from harming Jacob in his indignation. We see here the Lord setting a boundary around Laban and preventing him from crossing it. God is at work here to restrain the full expression of evil in order to protect His covenant interests in His people.

Even though the Lord restrains Laban from acting to physically harm Jacob, He does not prevent him from opening his mouth when he arrives. God had warned Laban about speaking to Jacob in this way, "Be careful not to speak either good or bad to Jacob." This did not mean he was forbidden from speaking to Jacob, only that he was not to in effect curse him. The warning is literally, "speak from good to bad." What he was allowed to do was confront Jacob and to rebuke him for the inappropriate way he had left. Laban is right to be offended that he was not even given the opportunity to say farewell to his daughters and grandchildren. Laban's rebuke is also the Lord's rebuke of Jacob's fear. The Lord is not beyond using even an unbeliever to hold a believer accountable to do the right thing. Laban's rebuke of Jacob provides Jacob the opportunity to speak openly to Laban about the issues he has held toward Laban for the last 20 years. All of the hidden things are finally brought to the light and in the process the Lord deals with both hearts as needed. The result is that true peace is established between Jacob and Laban for the first time in their relationship.

Questions from Genesis 30:

Question: 30:27 - "But Laban said to him, "If now it pleases you, stay with me; I have divined that the LORD has blessed me on your account." Is he using divination (Satanic) to discover that he is being prospered by Jacob being there?

Answer: We are not given the back story details of exactly how Laban came to the right conclusion that it was really the Lord's blessing through Jacob that was the reason for his great prosperity. Laban is certainly capable of using wrong religious activity such as divination, because we discover in chapter 31 that he was the owner of a set of idols that he kept in his household. However, the word translated "divined" here has a range of possible meanings from "whisper a magic spell" to "diligently observe." In this case, since the Lord does not mention the household idols at this point, I am inclined to interpret Laban's statement here as his conclusion about the Lord's blessing from his own careful observations through the 20 years of Jacob's service.

Genesis 32

32:1-3 - "Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him. Jacob said when he saw them, "This is God's camp." So he named that place Mahanaim. Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom."

Jacob receives an unexpected revelation from God at time when he most needs it. The timing of the revelation comes right in between two overwhelming moments of crisis for Jacob in which he fears for his life. Jacob has just narrowly escaped from an uncertain encounter with Laban pursuing him on the journey back to the Promised Land. He is about to face an even greater test of his heart in the impending confrontation with his brother Esau, whom he has not seen for 20 years, but whom he has reason to believe is still embittered toward him. Right after one encounter with a potentially hostile force from Laban, and right before engaging Esau with an army of 400 that may be bent on his destruction, Jacob is given this unexpected encounter with a third army. Jacob does not ask for this experience, but the Lord knows that he desperately needs it, and blesses him with it. After leaving Laban, Jacob is met by "the angels of God". We are not given the detail of how many angels Jacob encounters here. We know for certain that there is more than one, because angels is plural. We are given a hint, however, which indicates that there is actually a large number of angels involved in this encounter. The hint is that after seeing the angels, Jacob declares, "This is God's camp." The term camp, used here, describes a place where an army camps at night.

God shows Jacob that the army of the angels of God is with him on this journey. Apparently, only Jacob sees the camp of the angels of God, so that this experience was designed by God just for Jacob. It is also interesting to notice that the angels who are messengers of God do not speak any message to Jacob here. Words are not needed, because their presence here is a powerful message from God for Jacob. Since God has promised to be with him, Jacob can be confident that those who are with him are far greater than any who might rise against him (II Kings 6:14-17). The meaning of this experience is significant for Jacob, and as always significant for us also. God knows Jacob's (and our) limit. He will not test him beyond what he is capable of handling by God's grace (I Corinthians 10:13). Having just had his faith tested to the limit, Jacob is about to face the greatest test of his life. Before the final great test, God strengthens Jacob for the test with this experience. We should be encouraged by seeing that God wants Jacob to pass the test, not fail, and that He not only prepares the test for Jacob, God also prepares Jacob for the test.

32:6-12 - "The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, "We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him." Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies; for he said, "If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape." Jacob said, "O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, 'Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,' I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. "Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. For You said, 'I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.'"

What we see in Jacob's response to the news of Esau coming to meet him with 400 men, is an inconsistent spiritual mixture. His response here really represents accurately Jacob's entire walk with the Lord up until this point. Jacob responds to the news with both great fear and great faith. It would have been ideal if he could have responded only with great faith, and not indulged in any fear. Certainly the awesome experience he had just had of seeing the camp of the angels of God could and should have strengthened his faith and overwhelmed his fears. Jacob shows that he not yet fully learned that God really is in charge of his life. Jacob fears for his life, but his life was actually in God's hands, not Esau's. Jacob will die when, where and how God determines, not Esau. Jacob may not yet be rock solid in his faith, but neither is he so fearful that he forgets to pray. It is also important for us to recognize that in spite of Jacob's struggle with fear, the Lord does hear and answer his prayer of faith.

Jacob's prayer shows that he does know the Lord, and he understands his true position in his relationship with the Lord. His prayer provides a good pattern for our prayers. Jacob first calls on the Name of the Lord and identifies Him as the God of Abraham and Isaac. The reason for this address is to call of the God of the covenant. We do a similar thing when we prayer to the Father in the name of Jesus. We are remembering that we only have covenant access to God through Christ. Then Jacob reminds God of His promise to Jacob. It is not that Jacob thinks God has forgotten, but his appeal is for God to now be faithful to fulfill His own Word. All effective prayers we pray today should be based upon at least one promise God has previously made in His Word. Jacob also shows his humility toward the Lord by remembering that all he has was given to him by the Lord, and that he deserved none of what he has received.

32:19-23 - "Then he commanded also the second and the third, and all those who followed the droves, saying, "After this manner you shall speak to Esau when you find him; and you shall say, 'Behold, your servant Jacob also is behind us.'" For he said, "I will appease him with the present that goes before me. Then afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me." So the present passed on before him, while he himself spent that night in the camp. Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had."

Jacob continues to show a mixture of faith and fear in his plan to approach Esau. Because the messengers that returned from Esau only announced his coming, with not encouraging message from Esau himself, Jacob now believes that Esau is coming to attack him. He decides to split his herds, servants and even his family into groups that will encounter Esau in stages. His plan is to buffer Esau's anger with successive generous gifts in the faint hope that Esau's anger will be progressively softened before he reaches Jacob. The gifts he marks for Esau total 550 animals which in that time would be the equivalent of a rich man's possession. Jacob is not fully trusting the Lord in this, but he is showing wisdom in his approach. "The fury of a king is like messengers of death, But a wise man will appease it." (Proverbs 16:14). The attempt to appease what he believes to be Esau's 20 year long anger by his generous gifts is wise on Jacob's part. It was taking Esau's birthright and blessing that originally caused Esau to hate him, and now Jacob is trying to heal the rift between them by showing he values Esau's acceptance and love more than he does the things that previously mattered so much to him. It is an important, but hard learned lesson for many, that people matter more than things.

However, the mixture in Jacob's plan is also displayed in his fear being greater than his leadership. Since Jacob believed that Esau was coming to attack his camp, he should have taken responsibility for placing his entire household in danger. The decision to send the animals ahead of him was a good one, but there is no excuse for Jacob sending even his own wives and children ahead of him to face Esau before he does. Jacob should have shielded them from the possible danger, and instead uses them as a shield for himself. We see here that strong faith produces courage, while the fruit of fear is cowardice.

32:24-32 - "Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob's thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the dawn is breaking." But he said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." He said, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed." Then Jacob asked him and said, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved." Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob's thigh in the sinew of the hip."

As Jacob has sent all of his possessions, all of his servants, and even all of his family on ahead, he is now left alone with his fear. He is not completely alone though, because the Lord is present. At this critical moment, the Lord shows up to confront Jacob. This is a final test of faith for Jacob. Before the test, the Lord encouraged him with angels. Now, in the test, the Lord comes Himself to test Jacob in a surprising an unusual way. The Lord comes to Jacob in an initially hidden form of a man in the middle of the night. We are not told how it begins, but the next thing we see is Jacob wrestling with this man (who is actually the Lord). The word translated "wrestled" carries the meaning of "dusty", so they actually were wrestling on the ground together. The wrestling match lasted throughout the night with neither opponent prevailing. Just before daybreak, the man strikes Jacob where his thigh joins his hip and dislocates his hip. With his strength now gone, Jacob should be expected to give up. Instead Jacob clings to his opponent and refuses to let go. He has no hope of victory, but he tenaciously holds on to Him. By this time Jacob has discerned that this is more than a mere man, and he appeals for a blessing from Him.

The man asks Jacob his name, forcing him to confess that his is the "supplanter", because his name represents his entire life story of always from birth, when he had grabbed Esau's heel, grabbed everything he wanted by his own strength. Now God chooses this moment of truth to forever change Jacob's identity by changing his name from supplanter to the name Israel, which means God rules. The point of this crisis encounter with God is for Jacob to learn once for all that God rules over his life, not himself. Jacob limps away from this encounter with God as a lifelong reminder of who is really in charge. Jacob's weakness now serves to always remind him of where victory is found. Jacob "prevailed" when wrestling with God, not by overpowering Him, but only by clinging to Him and refusing to let Him go until He was blessed by Him. Like Jacob, our strength in our relationship with God is found in clinging to Him alone.

Questions from Genesis 31:

Question: 31:55 - "...kissed his sons and his daughters and blessed them." - Are we given examples in Scripture of how to bless others in this way? (Num 6:24-26?) Jesus also blessed his disciples in Luke 24:50, "...and He lifted up His hands and blessed them." How do we do that and when is it appropriate?

Answer: There does not seem to be one single method of blessing recommended in Scripture. There are a few examples given, and while there are some similarities, there is no clear pattern followed. Each person that does the blessing seems to be led by the Lord to do it in the manner they followed. The Numbers blessing you cited is a declared blessing upon the entire people of Israel. Laban's blessing was a kiss and a blessing (not specifically described). Isaac blessed Jacob with words (Genesis 27:27-30), Jacob blessed Joseph's sons by the laying on of hands and a declaration (Genesis 48:14-20), Jacob blessed his own sons with prophetic descriptions of their future (Genesis 49). One similar element in each case is that the blessing does not seem to be a daily or repeated occurrence. In other words it is not like praying daily for your children. It seems to be a single final communication of God's purpose for the blessed person's life. It also is always done by the spiritual head of the family. We don't see mother's doing the blessing, but the fathers.

Genesis 33

33:1-2 - "Then Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. He put the maids and their children in front, and Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last."

Jacob begins this day fresh from his awesome experience of wrestling through the night with God and holding onto Him until he receives His blessing. Jacob has no time to catch his breath from that experience, because as the day comes and he lifts his eyes he sees Esau and his 400 men approaching in the distance. Jacob proceeds to divide his family into four groups, each led by the mother of her own children. Why does Jacob does this? There is no cultural or social pattern that he follows here. This decision is fear based, and like all decisions we make based in fear, there is natural wisdom in the decision, but no spiritual wisdom from above (James 3:13-18). Jacob's fear is that Esau is coming filled with a 20 year old raging bitterness and that the 400 man army with him will attack when they arrive. His intention in dividing the family by four groups of mothers and their children is the hope that even if Esau attacks the first group and kills them, his wrath my dissipate sometime before he reaches the final group. His hope is that at least some will be spared.

I describe this as natural wisdom because Jacob's plan makes a certain kind of sense from a practical standpoint if he were the general of an army, and his wives, maids, and children were his soldiers. However, his plan is devoid of true spiritual wisdom, because he fails to grasp that they are all his family, they are all precious, and none should be positioned for sacrifice on behalf of the rest. The impact of his arrangement on his wives, maids and sons is not described for us, but we can imagine how the ones placed in front must have felt. If they were uncertain where they stood in relationship to Jacob up until now, they now knew exactly how Jacob saw their place in the family's pecking order. Both maids with their children were the first shield for the rest. Then Leah and her children would shield the last group of Rachel and her only son Joseph who were clearly revealed as most precious to Jacob. The behavior of the other ten sons of Jacob toward his favored son, Joseph a few years later is not so shocking when we factor in the lifelong favoritism he showed to Joseph.

33:3 - "But he himself passed on ahead of them and bowed down to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother."

Jacob did not handle the dividing of his family with true wisdom, but here we see that he has changed for the better overnight. After dividing his family into the four groups, we might have expected Jacob to send them on ahead of him in four waves to meet Esau. The reason we would expect that is that the day before that was exactly what Jacob had done. "So the present passed on before him, while he himself spent that night in the camp. Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had. Then Jacob was left alone" (Genesis 32:21-24). The day before Jacob had been willing to use even his own family to shield himself from Esau. Now, after the night of wrestling with God, we see a completely different decision from Jacob. Rather than using them to shield himself, Jacob passes on ahead of his family and approaches Esau alone, and in so doing, he becomes the shield for them.

This change of plan by Jacob is completely out of character for the man we have seen maneuver and manipulate his entire life. That man was clever, self willed and only self concerned. Now, overnight, he shows the character of a true leader. We should not credit this change to Jacob, as though he suddenly had a self induced spiritual growth spurt. Instead, we should connect the overnight transformation of Jacob's character with the powerful influence remaining from the blessing of God upon him. Jacob had clung to God until he was blessed by Him. Jacob may not have known what form that blessing would take, but the first and most important fruit of that blessing was internal in character change, not external in his circumstances. Jacob did not really need any more herds or servants. What he needed most was what God cares most about: the internal change that results from character development. Jacob stepping past his family to take the full brunt of the consequences of his own actions from years before was a powerful indication that God was changing him from a user of people around him into a true leader of people.

33:4 - "Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept."

Jacob fully anticipates the worst from Esau. He remembered well that he had cleverly gained Esau's birthright by manipulating him through his natural appetite. He also remembered taking his blessing by deception. The last time he saw Esau, he was enraged toward him and hated him. Twenty years had passed, but some offences only grow more bitter over the years, and Jacob feared this was so with Esau. When the moment he had so feared finally arrived, Jacob was amazed to receive not blows from Esau, but kisses of brotherly love and tears of joyful reunion. How was Jacob meant to understand this meeting with Esau? This was not Jacob dodging another problem with his cleverness or wits as he had so many times before in his life. The events of the previous night with God had finally broken Jacob's natural strength and reliance on himself. He had walked away from that encounter limping, but with the new heart perspective of clinging to God, rather than himself. Jacob had arrived at true faith by the grace of God and God was pleased with him (Hebrews 11:6).

The day before Jacob had prayed this prayer in anticipation of the encounter with Esau. "Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children." (Genesis 32:11). The way Esau greeted Jacob was God's answer to Jacobs prayer. God delivered Jacob from Esau's hand, not by leading Jacob in a military victory over Esau, but by changing Esau's heart and changing Jacob's heart. God intended these estranged brothers to be reconciled to each other and for the rivalry that had existed between them since birth to be once for all resolved in peace. The principle from Proverbs is displayed in this situation. "When a man's ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him." (Proverbs 16:7).

33:20 - "Then he erected there an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel."

When Jacob arrives in the Promised Land after his 20 year long absence, he purchases land. His first act on his new land is to build an altar and dedicate it to the Lord. The name he calls the altar holds spiritual significance in revealing what God has done in his life and the spiritual growth he has undergone as a result. The name El-Elohe-Israel means the mighty God of Israel. The name Jacob chose reflects his new perspective about God and about himself. Twenty years before, when Jacob had fled Esau and the Promised Land to journey to Laban, he had his encounter with God at Bethel that one night when God gave him the dream of the ladder connecting earth to heaven. When he awoke from that dream he dedicated a pillar of remembrance to the Lord and made this promissory declaration to the Lord. "Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father's house in safety, then the LORD will be my God." (Genesis 28:20-21).

Jacob's promised commitment to God twenty years before was a conditional promise. The condition was emphasized by his use of the key words, "If...then..." Jacob had promised that he would fully consider God to be his God if God would first be with him, keep him, provide for him and one day return to his father's house in the Promised Land safely. That day has now arrived. God has been 100% faithful to be with Jacob, to protect him, to provide for him and to lead him back to the Promised Land. Jacob's naming of this altar of worship reflects his remembrance of the commitment he had made to God twenty years before and his own fulfillment of what he had promised. He now declares without reservation and without any further conditions that God is his God. Additionally, Jacob does not name the altar El-Elohe-Jacob. He dedicates it to the mighty God of Israel, which is the name God had given him on the night they wrestled. It shows that Jacob has fully embraced now what God has done both for him and within him. He is a new man by God's doing and he honors God by accepting the new name that god has given him.

Genesis 34

34:1-4 - "Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land. When Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he took her and lay with her by force. He was deeply attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, "Get me this young girl for a wife."

An unexpected and deeply unsettling event interrupts Jacob's return to the Promised Land. He will discover in this event that while this land represents symbolically God's blessing to him because of God's purpose for this land in the future, in the present there is trouble here because of the current inhabitants of the land. Generations in the future, when God brings the descendants of Jacob back to possess this land He will have them take it be force because of the spiritual and moral corruption of the seven nations living here. The Hivites mentioned here are one of those seven nations that will later be judged by the Lord. In Shechem and Hamor's actions in this chapter we see a preview of where this nation is heading in its deterioration. Shechem's actions are indefensible. He sees a visiting young woman in his city and rather than extend respect and hospitality, he forcefully violates her purity. The shift in his perspective toward her from before (lust) to after (romantic attraction) is no justification for what he has done. Shechem does everything out of order, as his subsequent attraction, love, and tender words should have been a preceded any contact with Dinah, and been the motive to seek a marriage through contacting her father. Shechem is all too similar to many young men in our culture today. He is driven by lust, and his character is no restraint for his urges. Marriage is an issue for him, but only as an afterthought and only as a means of permanently possessing the object of his craving.

Dinah is clearly the victim in this situation, as the emphasis on Shechem's force is the key factor in understanding what happened. However, we are given a small detail regarding Dinah's that is meant to show us that her actions are a factor, though not the actual cause of what happened. Dinah "went out to visit the daughters of the land." There is a nuance in the description in the original text that hints at Dinah having a desire in her heart to associate with the daughters of the land. Her interest in some female companionship in her own age range is understandable, because she is the only daughter of Jacob mentioned in his household. What we should question is not her desire for friends, but the lack of wisdom she showed in leaving the safety of her camp in a new land in which the inhabitants were not yet proven honorable. The lesson here is that normal desire for friendship and companionship should always be tempered with wisdom and discernment. It is also worth noting that there is no mention of either her father or mother giving any wise counsel to her as they arrive in the land to be on guard in associating with the people of the land. Their silence toward Dinah is not insignificant in light of what then happens to her. Sometimes the worst advice we give as parents is our silence.

34:5-7 - "Now Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter; but his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob kept silent until they came in. Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. Now the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved, and they were very angry because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done."

We have seen in key circumstances of his life that Jacob has proven to be an inconsistent leader at best. He is the head of this family, and as the patriarch, it is his responsibility to take the lead in the best of times and most importantly, in the worst of times. Jacob somehow hears of Dinah's defilement. An important issue is highlighted in this brief description. Dinah's tragic experience is described as her being "defiled." This is significant, because it is a religious term based in the violation not just of her personal boundaries or privacy, but of her holiness or spiritual purity. It is a subtle but critical distinction in the text to show us that sexual issues must always be treated as spiritual / moral issues even before they are treated as personal issues. In other words, what has happened to Dinah affects God, not just Dinah. Shechem has violated God's standards not just Dinah's. Our society today has almost entirely lost this truth regarding sexuality. The issue of spiritual defilement in sexual matters has been mostly obscured or obliterated in the flood of sexual content in movies, television, internet sites, magazines, etc. Believers who are called to know, understand, and represent God's holy standards in the midst of such a culture must be wary of whether they are more influenced in their own perspective by the media of the culture, or by God's Word.

The response of Jacob and his sons to the news is an interesting contrast. Neither responds in the way that they should. Jacob and his sons represent two extremes of the wrong way to handle such an important issue affecting the family. Jacob responds with silence motivated by fear. The sons respond with grief leading to vengeful anger. The greater responsibility here is Jacob's because he is the leader. His silence results in him effectively abdicating his authority to his sons. For the remainder of the chapter Jacob fades into the background as his sons inappropriately take the lead, and as we might expect, mishandle the situation leading to even greater tragedy. Their vengeance is actually worse than the original offence to which they reacted. What is again strangely missing in the initial response of both Jacob and his sons is any effort to stop, pray, and seek the Lord for His wisdom. Jacob certainly should know better by now that handling such a critical matter without purposefully involving the Lord can only lead to disaster.

34:13-17 - "But Jacob's sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor with deceit, because he had defiled Dinah their sister. They said to them, "We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised, then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live with you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us to be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and go."

Jacob should have been the one responding here to the proposal of Shechem and Hamor. There is a principle in God's Law that was later given to Israel through Moses to govern there interaction with the peoples of the Promised Land. "Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you." (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). God did not want the covenant people to mix with the people of the land in this way because of the inevitable spiritual / religious mixture that would follow. Jacob says nothing to the proposal, further undermining his own leadership of his family. Instead the sons of Jacob speak up and make the right decision for their father, but in the wrong way and with the wrong intent. The used deceit to set up the city for reprisal. Their deceit was magnified because they used circumcision, the covenant sign, as the tool for their plan. This was God's special sign of the covenant and was meant to represent God to the unbelieving world. Instead, the sons of Jacob use God's sign for their own malicious purpose. They essentially convinced the men of the city to convert through circumcision, but they had no intention of honoring the sign the men imposed upon themselves. Even though the men of the city had their own motives for accepting circumcision, once they were actually circumcised, the sons of Jacob were responsible to treat them as members of the covenant.

34:25-31 - "Now it came about on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, each took his sword and came upon the city unawares, and killed every male. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem's house, and went forth. Jacob's sons came upon the slain and looted the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds and their donkeys, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field; and they captured and looted all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives, even all that was in the houses. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, "You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household." But they said, "Should he treat our sister as a harlot?"

On the third day following their circumcision when the pain and inflammation of the procedure were the worst, two of Dinah's brothers reveal the depth of their devious plan. They had never intended to accept the Hivite men into their covenant. The circumcision is not honored, but becomes the means for them to kill all the males of the city by themselves. After Simeon and Levi have killed all the men we see their brothers loot the city and take the women and children for themselves. The reason all the brothers use to justify their actions is that their sister has been defiled. What was done to Dinah was terrible, but their response was far out of proportion to the initial violation. Justice requires that the punishment for any violation fit the crime committed. God later addressed this exact kind of scenario in this statue from the Law. "If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days." (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). In this case, Shechem was required to pay the bride price for Dinah, marry her, provide for her for the rest of her life, and never divorce her. Shechem sinned by forcing himself on Dinah, but he and his father also made a legitimate attempt to follow up with an offer of a generous bride price and marriage. The punishment that Jacob's sons carried out went way beyond God's justice. They executed not just Shechem, not just his father, but every male in the entire city. Then they stole their families and all their property.

It is only at this point that Jacob emerges from the background where he has been silently watching all this unfold. He attempts to take his role as head of the family again, but his words are devoid of any spiritual impact by this point. He does rebuke Simeon and Levi as the two ringleaders, but his rebuke is noticeably lacking any concern for righteousness, justice, the covenant or the Name of God. Instead, he only rebukes them for causing him trouble and putting all of their lives in danger. His fear is his dominant concern. He also fails to even say a single word to his other sons for having looted the city. In his expression of concern for what has happened, Jacob shows that even after all the Lord has revealed to him and done for him that he is still capable of forgetting the Lord when he most needs to remember Him. He anticipates they will all be killed when he should know that, in spite of his family's failures, the Lord has promised to watch over them and protect them. Jacob's failure to lead as a true spiritual head of the family is highlighted in the way the confrontation with his sons ends. The sons have the last word. Their final answer to their father is to justify their own sin by reminding him of the sin of Shechem.

Genesis 35

35:1 - "Then God said to Jacob, "Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau."

God once again speak to Jacob, and His timing as always perfectly meets Jacob at a point of great need. This Word from God comes on the heels of the destruction of the city of the Hivites by his sons Simeon and Levi. Chapter 34 ended with Jacob declaring his fear of the his own demise and the destruction of his entire family by the inhabitants of the land. His fear was compounded by his failure to properly lead his own family as evidenced by his inability to restrain his son's violent anger. In the moment of crisis, Jacob does not call on the Lord for help, direction or wisdom. Instead he seems to wallow in his fear. It is in the midst of this crisis in which Jacob has momentarily lost his way, that God speaks. Interestingly, God does not directly address his current crisis at all, but rather, He reminds Jacob of another moment of crisis in his life some thirty years before. God reminds Jacob of Bethel, and instructs him to return to Bethel. This command of the Lord to journey to Bethel is both practical and spiritual. Jacob needs to physically travel there to complete a vow he had made to God those thirty years before (Genesis 28:20-22). He is also being taken back to Bethel spiritually by the Lord to rediscover his spiritual anchor point that he has lost in this crisis.

God directs Jacob back to Bethel because that was the time and place in which God first Jacob that He was present in his life circumstances even though he did not recognize it. It was the place where Jacob had vowed to the Lord that He would embrace Him as his own God if God would be present with him, protect him, and provide for him. His vow then, was that he would return one day to Bethel and worship God there if God would care for him. For the following twenty years Jacob was with Laban in another land and could not fulfill that vow. But, for the last ten years, Jacob had been back in the Promised Land since leaving Laban, and was near Bethel, yet he had not bothered to fulfill his vow to the Lord. This Word from the Lord to Jacob was the Lord's reminder to Jacob, that even though Jacob had not been faithful to fulfill his vow to the Lord, nevertheless the Lord had been faithful to be present, protect and provide for Jacob. This Word reminds Jacob of God's protection over his life for the last thirty years and calls his heart to trust that the Lord will also protect him in this present crisis just like He has always done before. Rather than punish him in his moment of great weakness of faith, the Lord gives this Word to strengthen his weak faith and get him back on track.

35:2-4 - "So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone." So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem."

The Lord had spoken to Jacob with a powerful Word for his own heart and life, but Jacob perceives that this message from God has implications and ramifications for not only him, but his entire household. The Lord did not command what Jacob concludes and requires of his household, but Jacob's requirement for them follows Biblical principles. What we see in play here is that what God speaks to one regarding relationship with Him has application for us all. That principle continues to affect us today. This is why we are still reading the story of Jacob's story as well as all the other Bible characters and gaining wisdom and understanding for our own relationship with the Lord today. The underlying principle is the consistency of God in covenant relationships. If God treated His people according to whim then we could learn nothing from how He treated Jacob. But, because we believe God is consistent in His purpose for all of His people, what He said and did with Jacob bears great significance for us just like it did for Jacob's household.

The call to return to Bethel carried an implication of the need for spiritual purification. Jacob called his household to cleanse themselves spiritually and to symbolize that cleansing with a physical washing and change of clothing. We later see this pattern used by the Lord when He calls the people to worship at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:10). The spiritual cleansing that Jacob requires of his household is the putting away of "the foreign gods which are among you." There are two problems exposed in this. One problem is that in spite of Jacob's covenant with God, some of his household members have kept their own idols with them in their journeys. The second and greater issue is that Jacob as the head of the household has known about the presence of these idols within his household and tolerated them. This again shows the previous lack of strong spiritual leadership by Jacob. He has maintained his own relationship with the Lord, but has not been very concerned or very effective in leading his family and servants into the fullness of their own relationship with the Lord. Now, with this new Word from the Lord, Jacob takes the spiritual lead and strips his household of their idols, charms and talismans. He proceeds to bury them so that they household will complete the journey to Bethel as a cleansed people.

35:5 - "As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob."

God never directly spoke to Jacob about his fear of being attacked and destroyed by the angered inhabitants of the land. His Word to return to Bethel we saw carried an implied reason for Jacob to trust rather than fear. As they journey, what they discover along the way is that God has gone ahead of them and created a safe path for them. The cities that Jacob had feared would rise up in vengeance for Hamor and Shechem, instead leave Jacob a wide berth. The inhabitants of the land have heard word of what the sons of Jacob did to the one city of the Hivites and they are terror stricken in fear that they will be the next victims. We should recognize the hand of the Lord in this development for Jacob's sake. God has reversed the source of Jacob's greatest fear. God is further driving home the point to Jacob's heart that He should be trusted. God has caused the people that Jacob most feared to instead fear him!

35:9-12 - "Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. God said to him, "Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, But Israel shall be your name." Thus He called him Israel. God also said to him, "I am God Almighty; Be fruitful and multiply; A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, And kings shall come forth from you. The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, And I will give the land to your descendants after you."

God again speaks to Jacob and gives him his greatest revelation of God yet. God had previously appeared to Jacob twice in the first dream at Bethel thirty years before, and then at night in the form of the mysterious man that he wrestled throughout the night. Now, God appears to him while he is awake, without any mystery to cloak His appearance. This third appearance of the Lord comes with a communication that does not really give any new information to Jacob, but serves the purpose to confirm and establish God's purpose for him. God had changed Jacob's name years before to Israel to signify God's plan to transform his character from a manipulator to a man who trusted in the rule of God above all. Yet, in the intervening years we have seen Jacob waver back and forth between his former identity of Jacob and his new identity of Israel. Now God reminds him that he is no longer Jacob but Israel.

When we are called into covenant relationship with the Lord in our salvation we undergo a similar change of nature and character. The New Testament use the term "old self" (Romans 6:6) to describe the dramatic spiritual change that we undergo when we are born again. True salvation is much more than adding a few new religious beliefs to an essentially unchanged life. Covenant relationship with the Lord transforms us. But, while there is an initial change at the moment we are born again, there is also the ongoing change process that follows in which we progressively grow in the likeness of Christ. God renaming Jacob as Israel, and then taking him through a series of circumstances that force him to grow is an Old Testament picture of this spiritual growth process that we all experience in our own walk with God. Theologians call this sanctification. It means to grow more holy. What we see in Jacob - Israel is reflected in our growth. Jacob grows more holy, not because he is naturally inclined toward holiness, but because God is committed to making him more holy. Jacob's weaknesses and failures are real issues in his spiritual growth curve, but overshadowing it all is God's mercy and grace which carry him always forward toward the goal.

Genesis 36

36:6-12 - "Then Esau took his wives and his sons and his daughters and all his household, and his livestock and all his cattle and all his goods which he had acquired in the land of Canaan, and went to another land away from his brother Jacob. For their property had become too great for them to live together, and the land where they sojourned could not sustain them because of their livestock. So Esau lived in the hill country of Seir; Esau is Edom. These then are the records of the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir. These are the names of Esau's sons: Eliphaz the son of Esau's wife Adah, Reuel the son of Esau's wife Basemath. The sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho and Gatam and Kenaz. Timna was a concubine of Esau's son Eliphaz and she bore Amalek to Eliphaz. These are the sons of Esau's wife Adah."

This chapter is dedicated to a detailed description of the of the lines that descended from Esau. When I was first reading the Bible many years ago, and came across passages like this chapter, I struggled to read it and struggled even more to find any reason why God chose for it to be included in His book. This chapter is similar to a few we will later encounter in Numbers, Chronicles, and of course in the genealogical records of Jesus in Matthew and Luke. The reason I struggled with reading these sections of God's Word is that there is very little in them that is of direct and obvious application to my life. In other words, I could not easily see what this information had to do with me if anything. My reading was somewhat immature and self focused, so if it did not obviously apply to me, I would tend to just quickly skip over it in my rush to "get to the good stuff." As I grew in my reading of God's Word, I eventually learned that "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; " (II Timothy 3:16). I learned to slow down in reading this kind of passage and trust that God has included it for good reason, even if that reason is not immediately apparent.

An important element emphasized in this section is the final separation between Jacob and Esau. They were twins from birth who had struggled with each other from the womb. Their life stories had led up to the two key moments in which Jacob had taken Esau's birthright and blessing. This led to a twenty year separation, in which both had matured and been blessed by God with families and prosperity. Then, there was the reconciliation with a warm greeting and weeping. After burying their father Isaac together, Esau now leaves the Promised Land forever. Their prosperity has grown to such an extent that, like Abraham and Lot, they must separate or herds will suffer. From a natural perspective we might expect Jacob to be the one to leave and find another land in which to settle, because he already has lived elsewhere, and Esau at this point is the stronger tribe of the two. We are meant to interpret Esau's choice to leave for Seir as the influence of God upon his heart. In Esau's decision, we see the Lord honoring His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give them this Promised Land.

We are also introduced here to two key names that we will meet again in the later story of Israel. The names are Edom and Amalek. It is declared here that "Esau is Edom", and that Amalek is the grandson of Esau. Edom and Amalek will later stand in strong opposition to the fulfillment of God's purpose for Israel in the Exodus as God brings the Israelites into the Promised Land after delivering them from Egypt. It shows us that while Esau leaves Jacob peacefully, the struggle between them that began in the womb is never fully resolved. Jacob is chosen by God to fulfill His purpose, and Esau is chosen by God to stand in opposition to that same purpose even throughout his descendant's generations.

36:20 - "These are the sons of Seir the Horite, the inhabitants of the land: Lotan and Shobal and Zibeon and Anah,"

This verse gives the history, not of Esau and his descendants, but of Seir and his descendants. Seir is not descended from Abraham, but is mentioned here because his people are the inhabitants of the land of Seir before Esau arrives with his tribe. Once Esau arrives, he takes dominion over this region. We are given additional details of this later in this passage from Deuteronomy. "The Horites formerly lived in Seir, but the sons of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them and settled in their place, just as Israel did to the land of their possession which the LORD gave to them." (Deuteronomy 2:12). There are two points worth noting from this. First, while Esau is no longer blessed with the birthright and blessing of the covenant of Abraham and Isaac, he has not been forgotten by God. Esau is blessed and grows eventually into several nations and kings. In particular, God had promised to bless those that blessed Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the way he finally treated Jacob, Esau had blessed him and so now God causes Esau to be blessed through Jacob.

There is also a very important principle of history displayed here that people still have difficulty grasping to this day. The principle is that only God has the right to determine habitation of land in this world. There is an old saying that "possession if nine tenths of the law." In the way all people groups of history perceive their place in history they all believe that possession is 100% of the law. What I mean by that is people that have settled in a region for any length of time begin to see themselves as the rightful owners of that land. In their perspective it belongs to them, and that no one has the right to take it from them. However, the testimony of the Bible is that this world and all of its land ultimately belongs to God. He blesses peoples, tribes and nations with the privilege of inhabiting certain portions for particular times, but they have no "right" to always stay there that supercedes God's purpose. God determines where each people will live and for how long. If they exceed the limit of sin and rebellion God toward Him that He determines, then He will move in history to displace them. Here God does so with the people of Seir and uses Esau to accomplish it. Paul refers to this principle of God's sovereign control of history. "and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, " (Acts 17:26).

36:31 - "Now these are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the sons of Israel."

God had years before promised to Abraham that there would be kings that would descend from him. "I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you." (Genesis 17:6). The many kings of Israel's history will be part of the fulfillment of that promise, but Esau is also descended from Abraham and the kings that descend from Esau are the beginning of the proof that God had faithfully kept His promise. There is another subtle element here that we can draw from this passage. Edom, who represents the fleshly descendants of Abraham and Isaac develops as a nation more rapidly than Jacob and his descendants do. Edom seems to be blessed above Israel, at least for the next 300-400 years as Israel will end up enslaved in Egypt while Esau's descendants "live like kings". We should not misinterpret what God is doing by assuming Esau is more blessed than Israel just because they enjoy a better life for a time. God's deeper purpose usually develops more slowly for His chosen people.

Genesis 37

37:9-11 - "Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, "Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me." He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, "What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground? His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind."

The two dreams that Joseph had are the Lord's indication that He had chosen Joseph from among his brothers to fulfill a special purpose. From the description is seems that Joseph does not yet understand the full implications of God's call on his life. He shares the first dream with his brothers and the second dream with his father and brothers. He does not claim any particular significance for the dreams but it is clear that he senses there is important about them. His brothers and even Jacob do not hesitate in seeing a specific meaning to them. The dreams are from the Lord and prophetically portray what will eventually take place in all of their lives, but while Jacob and the brothers understand the implication of the symbolism of the dreams, they do not acknowledge them as being from the Lord. The reaction of the brothers is to see Joseph's dreams as an expression of his desire to dominate them. They added the dreams to their growing list of reasons to hate Joseph. Jacob also has an unfavorable response to the dreams, and rebukes Joseph as if it was his own mind that produced the dreams and exposed a secret desire on his part to take charge of the family. Jacob, of course, should have known better than to quickly dismiss these dreams because of his own experience years earlier of the Lord speaking to him through a spiritual dream. Perhaps that remembrance is what gave Jacob pause before completely dismissing the dreams and led him to keep in mind what Joseph had dreamed.

This is another of many Bible examples of God communicating on certain occasions to His people in a dream. What we should take from this is to not be like Joseph's brothers and even Jacob and miss what God may be saying through dreams. The truth is that God is God over all of our life 24 hours a day. He is not God over only our waking hours. He can and may communicate to our hearts even through our dreams (Job 33:14-18). This does not mean that every dream we have is a message from God. But, if we clearly remember a dream the next day, we should not be quick to dismiss it. It is wise to pray and ask the Lord whether He is wanting to communicate something to us through the dream we remember. As a new believer 28 years ago I had a series of dreams in which I was standing at a podium teaching and preaching God's Word to various groups of people. When I first had the dreams I was troubled by them since I could not imagine myself in such a circumstance in a public speaking role. Years later, after becoming a pastor and declaring God's Word in front of various groups I was able to look back and recognize that God had begun to prepare my heart for my assignment from Him through those dreams.

37:18-20 - "When they saw him from a distance and before he came close to them, they plotted against him to put him to death. They said to one another, "Here comes this dreamer! Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, 'A wild beast devoured him.' Then let us see what will become of his dreams!"

We have already seen that Jacob has not proven to be the wisest of fathers. His example as a father was Isaac, and he grew up with his own father favoring his older brother Esau. Jacob knew first hand how not being the favored son would feel. He also knew from his own rivalry with Esau how natural favoritism by a father can produce jealousy, envy, and even hatred among siblings. Yet, in spite of his own experience, when Jacob is now in the father's role, he neglects the lessons of his own past, and repeats the mistake of his father Isaac. By showing Joseph such blatant favoritism, he lays a stumbling block at the feet of his other sons. There was a growing resentment in their hearts toward Joseph. First there was him being treated better by their father. Then there was the incident where Joseph exposed their sin to their father in what they saw as him being a tattletale or snitch. Then, Joseph had the audacity to wear the special tunic Jacob had made for him and flaunt it in their face. The last straw for them was the pair of dreams in which Joseph ruled over them and the entire family.

As Joseph approaches them in the wilderness, far from their father's protection, they see the opportunity to rid themselves of what they had come to believe to be the source of all their problems. As Joseph comes to them they identify him as literally "this master of dreams." Their words were meant as a sarcastic and derogatory insult. Yet, God was later going to give to Joseph a gifted ability to hear and interpret the dreams of others. That ability to interpret dreams would later be the very means that God will use to exalt Joseph to a position in Egypt of awesome responsibility and prominence. Then, Joseph truly will be a master of dreams. Their insult also contains the seed of the truth and God's way of vindicating His chosen one. This is a pattern that will be played out many times in the far distant future. God's purpose for the One or ones He has chosen is misunderstood by fleshly and jealous people around them, and their insults find ironic fulfillment as God vindicates His purpose. They mocked Jesus from His virgin birth, to His miracles, to His teaching, to His death, to His resurrection, to His rule as God's Messiah. They mocked the early followers of Christ by calling them christians as a term of derision. God's purposes are always mocked, but He will turn their mocking into greater glory for His Name as He vindicates His purpose in spite of those that oppose it.

37:23-25 - "So it came about, when Joseph reached his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the varicolored tunic that was on him; and they took him and threw him into the pit. Now the pit was empty, without any water in it. Then they sat down to eat a meal. And as they raised their eyes and looked, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt."

The hearts of Joseph's brothers had become calloused by their jealousy and hatred of him. We cannot indulge such seriously evil thoughts and inclinations without our hearts being scarred by them. After stripping the hated tunic, which was a symbol of Joseph's favor with Jacob, they threw him into a water cistern that was dried out. Immediately after committing such a wicked crime against their own brother and father, they are so unaffected in their conscience by what they have done that they sit down and eat a meal together. If their conscience had been functioning properly, they would have had no appetite for food right after doing such a thing. That they were not deeply convicted and bothered by it is a strong indication of the distance they had already drifted from the Lord in their sin. While they ate, they were close enough to the cistern to hear Joseph. Even though there is no mention in this passage of Joseph's reaction from inside the cistern, we later learn from the brothers themselves how Joseph reacted. "Then they said to one another, "Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us." (Genesis 42:21).

Joseph did cry out to his brothers from the cistern. He was deeply distressed and pleaded with his own brothers to release him. While he pleaded with them, they sat and ate their meal undisturbed by his pitiful cries. The lesson here is all about the dangerous side effect of indulged sin. Sin hardens our conscience and heart. It destroys the ability of a once normal heart to sensitively feel the pangs of conscience that would ordinarily arrest us from crossing the boundary lines of righteousness. "Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." (Hebrews 3:12-13). When a heart is hardened, that person may find themselves choosing and doing things that they would never have imagined themselves doing before.

37:35-36 - "Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, "Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son." So his father wept for him. Meanwhile, the Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh's officer, the captain of the bodyguard."

In all of the developments of chapter 37 we see unwise parenting by Jacob, jealous hatred by Joseph's brothers, and naive innocence by Joseph which when combined results in a family tragedy. From all that Jacob can see, God's blessing upon his life up until this event has now been ruined by the untimely death of his favorite son Joseph. As the readers, we know what Jacob does not know. Joseph is not dead, but like in a dramatic scene from a movie, at the exact moment Jacob's grief is inconsolable, Joseph is actually sold into slavery in Egypt to a master selected by God. As far as Jacob is concerned, God is completely missing in this most devastating moment of his life. Jacob is grieved to his depths, but fails to even mention the Name of the Lord in this, let alone turn to Him for comfort or wisdom. In this, Jacob's faith fails and he reacts more like the old Jacob, than he does the new Israel.

Thankfully, for all of us, as well as Jacob, God's involvement in this situation is not limited by Jacob's perspective or even his faith. Jacob does not see Him, but God's hand is upon this entire situation. God planned for Joseph to be sold to the Ishmaelites. God planned for Joseph to be taken to Egypt. God planned for Joseph to be sold into Potiphar's household. God planned all the developments that will follow in Egypt as well. All of these plans will serve God's purpose and will ultimately bless Jacob and even the hateful sons that naturally speaking "caused" all this to happen. This is a deep lesson in God's sovereignty. Joseph, Jacob, and all his brothers will later learn from this of God's sovereignty, but right now all any of them can see is what is happening on the surface of the events. This great lesson is meant not just for them, but for us as well. We don't need to spend years in wasted fear, hatred, grief, etc., if we learn to look for God's sovereign hand behind the scenes in our own personal life stories.

Genesis 38

38:1-4 - "And it came about at that time, that Judah departed from his brothers and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; and he took her and went in to her. So she conceived and bore a son and he named him Er. Then she conceived again and bore a son and named him Onan."

This chapter detailing the beginning of the family line of Judah at first glance seems to be just a strange story without much redeeming spiritual value, but as we should expect there is more than meets the eye here. In the first verse we are told without explanation that Judah departs from his brothers and remains separated from them for a number of years. This is a hint of God's long range plan for the tribe that will descend from Judah. The Jews, who are the descendants of Judah will eventually be separated from the other tribes of Israel and will alone carry forward in history God's plan for the coming Messiah. Later, we will see Judah rejoin his brothers during the famine in their journey to Egypt, but this separation is an indication of what is to come in the distant future between the tribes.

We also see in Judah's decision to join with the daughter of Shua, that Jacob's parenting influence is once again exposed as weak at best. When God called Abraham as we have noted before, He made a point of declaring the importance of Abraham properly training his children after him "For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him." (Genesis 18:19). This shows the Lord's priority that His covenant representative train his children to insure that the following generations of the people of the covenant live in a way that represents the Lord as they should. When it came time for Abraham's son Isaac to marry this was Abraham's concern, "and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live," (Genesis 24:3). When it was time for Jacob to marry, here was Isaac's concern, "So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan." (Genesis 28:1). Now it is time for Judah, the son of Jacob chosen to be the ancestor of the Messiah, to be married, and he chooses as a wife a Canaanite woman. Jacob has failed here to effectively pass on to his son the spiritual standards he learned from his father and grandfather. The immediate fruit of this unwise decision by Judah is the birth of two wicked sons.

38:7-10 - "But Er, Judah's firstborn, was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD took his life. Then Judah said to Onan, "Go in to your brother's wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother." Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother's wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother. But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD; so He took his life also."

[Parental Alert: for any parents sharing this study with their children you may wish to read ahead before reading out loud to determine whether the subject matter is appropriate for your child.]

This passage is on the list of the most difficult to understand for many Bible readers. The event it describes has been misinterpreted and misapplied over several generations by well meaning Christians. The misinterpretation has to do with what became known in earlier generations as Onanism. This term associated with the name of Judah's son Onan was chosen as a more polite way to refer in public to masturbation. The story concerns Onan not completing his sexual responsibility toward Tamar, but instead choosing to waste his seed on the ground. The resulting serious consequence of the Lord's displeasure resulting in Onan's death has traditionally been applied as the Biblical warning against masturbation. While the practice of masturbation has its own spiritual issues, this passage is not an example of it or a warning against it. The real focus of the story concerns an ancient cultural practice known as Levirate marriage. The principle later was a statute in God's Law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). Its concern was for the continuation of an entire family line that would otherwise be lost. Knowing this, Onan selfishly chose to not support the family line of Judah with the hidden motive of wanting to keep the inheritance for himself that would have been given to Tamar's son. God responded to this rebellion against His principle and this disregard for the critical family line of Judah with a sever death penalty for Onan.

Onan is not the only son of Judah that lost his life prematurely by the Lord taking his life. Er, the firstborn of Judah was evil and the Lord took his life before Onan, even though we are not given the specific nature of his evil ways. What is meant to catch our attention is that the Lord ended the life of these first two sons of Judah. We should ask why, because these sons are not the only sinners in the world at this time. As the rest of the chapter unfolds we see even Judah participating in sin. There are two principles involved in the death of these first two sons of Judah. The first principle is that God considers some sins more grievous than others. All sin is evil, but there are degrees of the expression of evil. These sons both committed particularly evil acts that rose to the level requiring a death penalty response from the Lord. The second principle is based upon a New Testament teaching of the Lord Jesus. "but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more." (Luke 12:48). The principle is that God holds to a high standard those who are called to a high level of spiritual responsibility. Er was in the position to become the head of the tribe of Judah after his father which was the tribe chosen to bring the Messiah into the world. When Er died, Onan succeeded him as the next leader of the tribe. Both Er and Onan are warning examples of the responsibility that leaders bear in God's kingdom. God will hold leaders to a stricter standard (James 3:1).

38:24-26 - "Now it was about three months later that Judah was informed, "Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the harlot, and behold, she is also with child by harlotry." Then Judah said, "Bring her out and let her be burned!" It was while she was being brought out that she sent to her father-in-law, saying, "I am with child by the man to whom these things belong." And she said, "Please examine and see, whose signet ring and cords and staff are these?" Judah recognized them, and said, "She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah." And he did not have relations with her again."

This complex story of the relationship between Judah and Tamar carries these important principles. 1) God may choose to teach us not to deceive others by allowing us to be deceived ourselves. When Judah's second son Onan died, he became fearful that his third son may suffer the same fate. Judah unrighteously promised his third son to Tamar when he had no intention to ever give her to him. He deceived her in this and required her to remain a widow without any real hope of ever marrying again. Tamar later deceived Judah regarding her identity as God's discipline on Judah for his having deceived her. Once Judah realized what had happened, the result was a measure of real repentance on his part. He no longer condemned her, but identified her actions as "more righteous" than his own. This change of tone on Judah's part was the evidence of the Lord's hidden hand in the entire circumstance to hold Judah accountable for his sin.

2) It is unrighteous to hold others to a stricter standard than the one we maintain for ourselves. When Judah first learned that Tamar was pregnant, his immediate conclusion was that she had sinned as a harlot. This was because he had left her in a situation in which she was not free to marry another man other than his third son. Judah's immediate reaction to the news was to pronounce a death penalty upon her, and he chose a method of punishment in burning that was only used for the worst crimes. In other words, Judah held Tamar to an extremely strict standard of righteousness. He did not hesitate even for a moment due to the knowledge of his own sin of going in to a harlot. His own sin was ignored, and her sin was magnified. In this, Judah is a classic example of this kingdom principle. "Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:1-5). The Lord used Tamar to expose the hypocrisy of Judah.

38:27-30 - "It came about at the time she was giving birth, that behold, there were twins in her womb. Moreover, it took place while she was giving birth, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, "This one came out first." But it came about as he drew back his hand, that behold, his brother came out. Then she said, "What a breach you have made for yourself!" So he was named Perez. Afterward his brother came out who had the scarlet thread on his hand; and he was named Zerah."

There is one more lesson for Judah in this circumstance. Years before, Judah had participated in the betrayal and sale of his brother Joseph into slavery in Egypt. At this point, even though years have passed, Judah has never yet repented for his sin against Joseph. He remains responsible for not accepting God's choice to exalt his younger brother Joseph within the family because it served God's purpose to do so. Now, when his own sons by Tamar are born, the twins are born in a notable way. The one who was technically the firstborn was Zerah, because his hand came out first and the scarlet cord was tied to it. However, his brother Perez managed to push his way past Zerah and was born before Zerah. Perez who was technically the younger brother became the brother who took the lead in the tribe of Judah. It was through Perez that the Messiah would one day be born. "The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram." (Matthew 1:1-3). The lesson for Judah from his own family is that it is God Who chooses who will take the lead in His plans.

Genesis 39

39:2-6 - "The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. Now his master saw that the LORD was with him and how the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge. It came about that from the time he made him overseer in his house and over all that he owned, the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house on account of Joseph; thus the LORD'S blessing was upon all that he owned, in the house and in the field. So he left everything he owned in Joseph's charge; and with him there he did not concern himself with anything except the food which he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance."

Joseph has grown into an excellent young man in spite of the unexpected and challenging circumstance he has had to endure. Joseph had strong reason to fully expect his life to be one of continuing and growing blessing because he was the favored son of the man most favored by God. He certainly did not expect to have his life direction suddenly and dramatically altered and to end up a slave in an Egyptian household. We could expect Joseph's heart to be at least vulnerable to questioning why the Lord has allowed all this to happen to him, or raising a complaint about his circumstance. Yet, not once in this situation do we hear a single word of murmuring, grumbling or complaining from Joseph. There is no hint of resentment toward the Lord or Joseph indulging in feeling sorry for himself.

Instead, Joseph embraces his new life and the assignment given to him with zeal. His attitude, words and actions all reflect true faith and a character that has already been refined by the difficulty he has passed through. Joseph is an example of the way the Lord wants all of His children to handle the various adversities we encounter in our own lives. "Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world," (Philippians 2:14-15). The Lord honors both His covenant promise to Joseph (Genesis 12:3), and Joseph's faithfulness by giving Joseph great favor with Potiphar. Favor is a blessing of the Lord in which He causes key people in our lives to see us in a favorable light. God not only blessed Joseph, He also blessed Potiphar for Joseph's sake. This pattern is repeated from the way God blessed Laban for the sake of Jacob.

39:9-12 - "There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?" As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her. Now it happened one day that he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the household was there inside. She caught him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me!" And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside."

Joseph's faithfulness to the Lord is now tested to the limit. The Lord's blessing upon his life has not resulted in Joseph avoiding trials and difficulty, and now it becomes clear that walking with the Lord does not completely eliminate temptation either. If anything, the one who walks with the Lord faithfully will have to face and conquer great temptations as modeled for us by Jesus Himself (Matthew 4:1-11). God's purpose for us is that we do not sin. However, it is also His purpose for us that we face temptation. The Lord exposes us to temptation, but does not actually tempt us (James 1:12-15). The temptations come from the evil one, but God allows us to be tempted because it is necessary living in this fallen world for us to learn how to resist sin and walk by His grace in righteousness. We can be confident that even in moments of greatest temptation like Joseph faced, that the Lord is with us and He will always provide a way of escape for us (I Corinthians 10:13).

In this situation, Joseph had every justification available to his heart to use had he chosen the wrong path. He had endured undeserved hardship. As a slave now he was not free to take a wife for himself. He undoubtedly had natural desires and urges like any young man. He was also under the authority of the wife of Potiphar and she literally commanded him to be with her. He could have excused himself for a moment of sin, but instead Joseph held to righteousness and faithfulness. This test was particularly difficult as the enemy at work in Potiphar's wife emboldened her to do more than entice and urge Joseph. This day she took hold of his garment. He remembered the Lord in this moment and his ability to resist the temptation was in his commitment to not "do this great evil and sin against God." It is important for us to notice that Joseph's strength to resist was found in the relationship he already had with the Lord before he arrived at the moment of temptation. A weaker relationship with the Lord would have left him too weak to resist. The Lord did provide Joseph with a "way of escape", which was in remembering Him, and then literally fleeing the scene. Believers need to learn to not linger at the scene of temptation thinking that they can be strong enough to resist. Joseph did the wise, if awkward thing, and pulled away from her so hard that his garment came off. "Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." (II Timothy 2:22).

39:17-21 - "Then she spoke to him with these words, "The Hebrew slave, whom you brought to us, came in to me to make sport of me; and as I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled outside." Now when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, "This is what your slave did to me," his anger burned. So Joseph's master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king's prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail. But the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer."

Joseph's commitment to honor the Lord, remain faithful to Him, and do the right thing is met with an unexpected development. Doing the right thing in the eyes of the Lord does not instantly make Joseph's life easier. It makes his life much harder. This pattern alone has caused more confusion consternation for believers than just about anything else in the way God deals with our lives. We would expect that since we are doing what is pleasing to God and what He requires us to do, that He will make sure we are immediately rewarded for our efforts. Surely God will vindicate Joseph in this situation and bring to the light that it was all Potiphar's wife and that he is completely innocent. God would never allow someone that belongs to Him to be falsely accused let alone falsely mistreated would He? He would and at times He does. If we expect to always be instantly blessed for doing right, we will face inevitable disappointment and disillusionment.

God appoints for Joseph in this circumstance misunderstanding, false accusation, false imprisonment, undeserved damage to his reputation, and more ill treatment. All of this is on top of the undeserved mistreatment he had to previously endure at the hands of his brothers. What can God possibly be doing in this continuing and mounting trial upon Joseph? God's purpose for Joseph is still hidden at this point in his story, but it is twofold. God is using the trial to shape Joseph's character for a great calling, and God is using these exact circumstances to maneuver Joseph into position for purpose of God to be fulfilled at the right time. Again, I am impressed that Joseph responds to this second great trial without a single note of grumbling, murmuring or complaint. Once he is imprisoned, the Lord does show His kindness to Joseph. Not the kindness of freedom and vindication yet, but the kindness of favor in the eyes of the chief jailor. This is enough of an indication of the Lord's involvement that Joseph should know that his circumstance does not mean that God has abandoned him, but rather is intending to somehow use him in this situation.

39:22-23 - "The chief jailer committed to Joseph's charge all the prisoners who were in the jail; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it. The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph's charge because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made to prosper."

The relationship established in prison with the chief jailor, and Joseph's growing responsibility there reveals a pattern for his life that shows both the Lord's assignment for him, and is a clue of what the Lord is preparing Joseph for in the future. This is now the third life circumstance in which Joseph rises from relative obscurity to a prominent position of great responsibility. The first was that Joseph was entrusted to be his father's Jacob's representative toward his brothers in the administration of the family business even though he was the youngest of the brothers. The second was Joseph beginning as the newest slave in Potiphar's household and rising to the trusted position of manager of the entire house. The third now is arriving in prison as the newest prisoner and quickly rising to the assistant to the chief jailor and responsible for all of the other prisoners. All three of these developments were evidence of God's plan for Joseph and provided the necessary training for that greater responsibility when the time arrived. If you find yourself engaged in work or responsibilities that do not seem greatly significant to you, don't make the mistake of failing to see God's purpose in placing you there. He may have something greater than your present circumstance planned for you, but where you are now is designed by Him to train you for where He intends to take you.

Genesis 40

40:1-6 - "Then it came about after these things, the cupbearer and the baker for the king of Egypt offended their lord, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was furious with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker. So he put them in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, in the jail, the same place where Joseph was imprisoned. The captain of the bodyguard put Joseph in charge of them, and he took care of them; and they were in confinement for some time. Then the cupbearer and the baker for the king of Egypt, who were confined in jail, both had a dream the same night, each man with his own dream and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold, they were dejected. "

If we gauge only by Joseph's outward circumstances we might question the degree of the Lord's commitment to Joseph and His blessing upon his life. Even though Joseph has been promoted to prison administrator, he remains a prisoner which does not seem to be the right place for a man called by God. Joseph is the first, but not the last of several men of God in Bible history that were called by God to endure undeserved imprisonment for God's purpose. Joseph, Jeremiah, Daniel, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul and John all pass through similar tribulation. This pattern displayed in these seven examples should confirm for us that God does use undeserved difficulties in the lives of His servants. In none of these cases is the difficulty appointed for the servant of God meant to be interpreted as a failure by God to watch over and care for His servants. The Lord is fully committed to Joseph, but His activity is unfolding behind the scenes at this point in His sovereign control of circumstances that will have a huge impact on Joseph, but which are completely beyond Joseph's control. The first sovereign work of God in this chapter is seen in the interaction between Pharaoh and his chief cupbearer and chief baker.

These two men previously had Pharaoh's trust, but they managed to both offend Pharaoh at the same time resulting in their imprisonment in the same place where Joseph was imprisoned. The purpose of God was for Joseph to interact with these two men. The Lord planned for their dreams and Joseph's interpretations to one day be the means by which God would bring Joseph to prominence in Egypt. But, in order to get there, it was necessary to first have both men imprisoned, and in order for them to be imprisoned they must first anger Pharaoh. The text does not spell it out, but the inference is that God caused these two servants of Pharaoh to offend him, and He also caused Pharaoh to choose imprisonment as their punishment. This development is not accidental or coincidental, but providential. God was not waiting for something to go wrong so that He could step in and take advantage of the situation. He actively soured the relationship between Pharaoh and his servants to set the stage for what He had planned for Joseph. then, when they arrived in prison, the Lord gave both men on the same night a spiritual dream. The hand of God in the situation is recognized not only in their dreams, but also in their waking reaction. God caused both men to vividly remember their dream and both to be troubled by the dream once they woke. He even influenced both men's body language so that Joseph noticed their mood which led to him initiating the conversation that would fulfill God's plan. Our lesson is to trust that God is far more involved in the circumstances around us that are affecting our lives and our calling than is obvious from the surface.

40:8 - "Then they said to him, "We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it." Then Joseph said to them, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please."

The men both have spiritual dreams which each communicated a message from God about their life and what would happen to them in the next three days. However, while the Lord gave them the dream, He withholds the interpretation and understanding of the dream from them. The Lord has planned for them to share the details of their dreams with Joseph and then for Joseph to interpret the dreams true meaning. I love Joseph's response when the men tell him that there is no one to interpret their dreams. He does not mention his own spiritual dreams from his younger days as though having had those dreams now qualifies him as a dream interpretation expert. He does not presumptuously claim to have any special talent in this arena. In our culture today there is an entire profession built around dream interpretation in which people presume to know the meaning of other's dreams from so called similar patterns of symbols and their grasp of psychological theory about dreams. Joseph is no psychologist here. He is not going to interpret the dreams based upon any dream interpretation textbook. Instead, Joseph defers to make any claims for himself at all regarding dreams. What Joseph does assert in his answer is true and describes for us as well as them the true nature of dreams and dream interpretation."Do not interpretations belong to God?"

Here is the truth, not a theory. God rules over the sleep of mankind just like he does over their waking lives. God rules in the dreams of people. It is God who gives dreams. We do not give them to ourselves (Job 33:14-18). Because dreams are given by God, they actually mean what He wants them to mean, not what we want them to mean. The ability to correctly interpret a dream is given by God as a gift, not acquired by education, degrees, and diplomas. Joseph recognized that only God could enable him to interpret their dreams and when he encourages them to tell him their dreams it is not in presumption of his own ability or wisdom, but in faith that God may grant him understanding for them.

40:14-15, 23 - "Only keep me in mind when it goes well with you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh and get me out of this house. For I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon... Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him."

Up until this moment, Joseph has never once uttered a single word of complaint or self pity regarding his circumstances. Now, after being given the interpretation by the Lord that chief cupbearer's dream meant that he was going to be restored to Pharaoh's service in three days, Joseph saw that this might be the Lord's doing to provide a way out of prison for him. Joseph boldly requests that the cupbearer not forget him once he is released and even asks him to appeal to Pharaoh on his behalf. In order for any appeal to Pharaoh to be heard, there must be some reason or grounds for the appeal. Joseph provides that reason by testifying to the cupbearer on his own behalf that he was taken from his home and unjustly imprisoned. Joseph sticks to the facts of his story and does not flavor his account with any emotional descriptions of how he was affected by the experience. Even in this, he indulges in no self pity bitterness toward those responsible for his situation. Joseph also wisely omits unnecessary details that would require lengthy explanation including being sold by his own brothers and accused by Potiphar's wife of assault. Joseph's request to the cupbearer is reasonable, and in a very real sense the cupbearer owes Joseph a favor now.

This development now serves as one final test of Joseph's faith before God causes him to be released from prison to fulfill his great purpose in Egypt. The test is a test of timing, not discernment. Joseph has correctly discerned that God gave the men the dreams and the interpretations to Joseph as a prelude to his release from prison. However, the timing of how it would occur is probably not what Joseph anticipated. Since the dream would be fulfilled in three days, Joseph was most likely expecting that his appeal would be heard by Pharaoh and that he may be free in another 3-4 days. What happens next is that the cupbearer inexplicably forgets Joseph as soon as he is restored to Pharaoh's court. His forgetfulness means another long waiting period for Joseph just when he probably thought he was on the verge of freedom. Rather than three days, Joseph has to wait on the Lord's timing for another two years (Genesis 41:1).

40:16-19 - "When the chief baker saw that he had interpreted favorably, he said to Joseph, "I also saw in my dream, and behold, there were three baskets of white bread on my head; and in the top basket there were some of all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, and the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head." Then Joseph answered and said, "This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days; within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head from you and will hang you on a tree, and the birds will eat your flesh off you."

The chief cupbearer was the first to tell his dream to Joseph and he had no way of knowing what Joseph might say in interpreting it. Joseph gives interpretation that was very favorable to the cupbearer. His dream meant that Pharaoh would release him from prison in three days and restore him to his former responsibilities in Pharaoh's service. The description of the chief baker hints that the baker was listening closely to how Joseph interpreted the cupbearer's dream. Because Joseph gave the cupbearer a good interpretation, the baker was ready to tell his dream so that he could receive a similar good interpretation from Joseph. Instead, Joseph gives the baker a shockingly different interpretation. Rather than being freed and restored in three days time, Joseph informs him that his dream means that he will be executed in three days.

This interpretation demonstrates important principles regarding God's message and God's messenger. The first principle is that God's message is never altered to suit the preferences of the people receiving it. The integrity of the truth of the message is a far higher priority than the feelings of the person(s) receiving the message. Of course, the baker did not want the dream to mean his death, and was only motivated to have his dream interpreted because of his hope that he would get a pleasing interpretation But, because he was told the truth, even though the truth hurt, it was a mercy from God.
He now knew he had three days to consider where he stood with the God Joseph had just declared to him. The second principle affects the messenger chosen by God to deliver His message. The messenger's responsibility is to the One who sent him, not the one to whom he delivers the message. The messenger dare not modify the message, or soften its impact out of concern for how the person may take the message. This message was going to sting, and Joseph wisely delivers the sting without apology or hesitation. Joseph does not add to God's Word or take away from it, but allows it to have its full effect on the hearer. The deeper message for both men is that the God of Joseph is in charge of both of their lives.

Genesis 41

41:1-9 - "Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream, and behold, he was standing by the Nile. And lo, from the Nile there came up seven cows, sleek and fat; and they grazed in the marsh grass. Then behold, seven other cows came up after them from the Nile, ugly and gaunt, and they stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. The ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows. Then Pharaoh awoke. He fell asleep and dreamed a second time; and behold, seven ears of grain came up on a single stalk, plump and good. Then behold, seven ears, thin and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up after them. The thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. Then Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Now in the morning his spirit was troubled, so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh. Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, "I would make mention today of my own offenses."

Pharaoh has two troubling dreams the same night. When Pharaoh wakes up he does not understand the dreams, but he clearly remembers them in detail. He has a strong sense that they carry a message for him because he seeks out an interpretation, but he has no idea what that message may be. It was not uncommon within ancient cultures like this one to place spiritual significance on remembered dreams. Pharaoh knows just where to turn when he wakes up from his troubling dreams. That morning he called for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. The term magician did not describe our modern usage of the word. Today, a magician is an entertainer that uses various tricks and sleight of hand to perform illusions. In Pharaoh's court magicians were occult practitioners that also served as his spiritual advisors. The wise men here were counselors who advised the Pharaoh on any issues that concerned him, but were less spiritual in their influence than the magicians. When all his counselors were assembled, Pharaoh told them his dreams but none of them could interpret the dreams.

Of course, if Pharaoh were living today, he could have called for the preeminent psychiatrists and psychologists to come and give him the benefit of their extensive education in dream therapy. They might have told him that the dreams symbolized the traumas he experienced in his first seven years of life and the seven unresolved issues he had with his mother. At least the magicians and wise men of Pharaoh's court were wise enough to be silent when dealing with something they did not really know or understand. Today's wise men will simply invent things to say when they should be silent and pronounce their invented ideas as though they were the gospel. Sigmund Freud himself would not have been of any help to Pharaoh on this morning. The truth of Pharaoh's dreams was that they were not an expression of his own mind creating an opportunity for therapy. These two dreams were a message from God, and God was withholding the interpretation from all of the so called experts because He had selected the man to interpret them for Pharaoh. This purpose of God is confirmed by the chief cupbearer who had forgotten Joseph for the last two years suddenly, in the perfect timing of God, remembering that Joseph had interpreted his dream for him. Now we see that even though the Lord had left Joseph in prison for two years, the reason was not that the Lord forgot Joseph like the cupbearer had done, the issue was that the Lord was patiently waiting for the specific day He had planned, in which He would give these dreams to Pharaoh.

41:15-16 - "Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it." Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, "It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer."

Pharaoh calls for Joseph because of the testimony of the cupbearer. Pharaoh's perspective as he is waiting for Joseph to arrive is that this young man is like his other counselors, only that he has a special knack or skill in dream interpretation. When Pharaoh speaks to Joseph, he gives him a perfect opportunity to exalt himself and take full advantage of the opportunity to get out of his imprisonment. Joseph could have answered Pharaoh, "Yes, it is true, I am particularly adept at dream interpretation, and have been called by others a master of dreams. If Pharaoh will release me from prison I will gladly serve him by interpreting all his dreams in the future." Joseph does not answer in that way, or in any other way to take inappropriate credit for himself and from the Lord in this.

Joseph's answer is a notable blend of true humility and holy boldness, and in it he takes a real risk to proclaim God to Pharaoh. Joseph's humility is shown in again redirecting all credit for dream interpretation away from himself to God. His answer is short and direct. "It is not in me." The meaning is that the ability to interpret dreams according to what they actually mean is not a skill but a gift from God. If it were a skill that a person could learn or be trained in, then it would be "in" Joseph. Instead he declares that only if God gives him the understanding of the dream can he interpret it. Joseph is appropriately humble in this answer, but he is also courageously bold. He sees this as an opportunity to proclaim the Name and the role of God in this circumstance. Joseph does not hesitate to make God the focus of their conversation even though he is talking to the absolute ruler of the most powerful nation on earth and the man that had the power to end his life. Joseph does not pause out of concern that Pharaoh may be offended by him talking about God. Joseph does not measure the political correctness of bringing up God in this setting. He puts all the focus on God and in such a way as to show that Pharaoh is dependant upon God to give him the answer he seeks. Joseph's courage in this situation to proclaim God is magnified if we remember that Pharaoh was considered by all Egyptians to be a "living god" who was himself worshipped by his people. For Joseph to speak of God to Pharaoh in this way implied to Pharaoh that God was God and not him. Joseph had know way of knowing in advance just how Pharaoh would respond.

41:32 - "Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about."

Joseph does more than give an interpretation of the details of Pharaoh's dreams. He also identifies for Pharaoh that there is spiritual significance to the circumstances of his dreaming. Pharaoh had two dreams that were messages in one night. The dreams were different in detail, but were communicating the same message from God. The message was that the sovereign God was controlling the circumstances of Egypt's economy to give seven years of great prosperity to be followed by seven years of even greater famine. What Joseph now reveals to Pharaoh is that there is additional meaning in the fact that he had two different dreams that both gave him the same message. The additional meaning is that the message is confirmed as being a message from God, and that it is a meant to stir him to immediate action in response because the meaning of the dreams will soon happen by the hand of God.

There is a principle of how God speaks that still applies to us today. There is a fairly common experience of people having what is termed a recurring dream. This is when a person has the same dream more than once, or similar dreams that seem connected more than once. If we understand from Pharaoh's experience and Joseph's counsel to him that God is in charge of our dreams, then what should we make of repeated dreams, or groups of similar and apparently connected dreams? We should not dismiss the importance of those dreams. We should consider the possibility that the Lord is communicating some important message to the person that experiences the repeated dreams. The repetition confirms the message to make sure the message is not missed. Like Pharaoh, we may not understand it when we first wake up, but the experience is meant to direct us back to the Lord to seek understanding from Him in what He is wanting to convey to us. As a young believer, I had a series of similar dreams within the first year of becoming a Christian. In each dream I was standing in front of a meeting of people teaching from the Bible and preaching the gospel to them. I was troubled by them because I was not comfortable with seeing myself in a public speaking role, since I was very shy and uncomfortable with the attention public speaking required. Yet, the Lord had a purpose for me to be a teacher and preacher and those early dreams was one of the ways that God began to prepare my heart for what I now do on a regular basis.

41:40-43, 50-52 - "You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you." Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt." Then Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph's hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put the gold necklace around his neck. He had him ride in his second chariot; and they proclaimed before him, "Bow the knee!" And he set him over all the land of Egypt... Now before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore to him. Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, "For," he said, "God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father's household." He named the second Ephraim, "For," he said, "God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction."

Joseph has now arrived at the moment of the fulfillment of God's plan for his life. His personal fortunes are now instantly and unexpectedly reversed. Early that morning he was in prison with no foreseeable way out, and by the afternoon that same day he is not only free, he is exalted to second in command of the most powerful nation on the face of the earth. Everything that he has endured up until this moment was preparatory for where God has now placed him. Joseph had to endure being stripped of his garment and betrayed by his own brothers. Then he was stripped and betrayed by Potiphar's wife. Now, God, through Pharaoh not only restores what was stripped from him but gives to Joseph far more than he had previously lost. Yet, this is much more than just the idea that some people took advantage of Joseph and now he "gets what he deserves in the end." This story is about Joseph, but the focus of the story is God's plan and purpose. Joseph endured 13 years of undeserved hardship, and Joseph was finally exalted to prominence in Egypt for one great overriding reason. God had planned it all in order to fulfill through Joseph a great purpose.

Joseph has begun to understand this purpose of God. Until now, we have no indication that Joseph really grasped why all this had happened to him, nor should he, because until now God had not explained it to him. We know Joseph walked in faith during the 13 years between 17 years old when he was sold by his brothers until the 30th year when Pharaoh exalted him because he was not embittered by his trials and continued to honor the Lord at every opportunity. Here we see that years of faith may precede years of understanding in our lives. God may not give us the full explanation of why He requires us to pass through certain trials until after the resolution of that trial. The names Joseph chose for his two sons reflects this new understanding that he has gained. Their names instruct our hearts in how and why we should trust the Lord in our own trials. Manasseh means "to forget" and Ephraim means "double fruit." Manasseh showed that Joseph had learned this key to God's purpose; what is most important is not where we began, but where God is taking us. Ephraim showed that Joseph had learned that there is double fruit ahead when God ordains a trial for us and we trust Him in it.

Genesis 42

42:6-9 - "Now Joseph was the ruler over the land; he was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph's brothers came and bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but he disguised himself to them and spoke to them harshly. And he said to them, "Where have you come from?" And they said, "From the land of Canaan, to buy food." But Joseph had recognized his brothers, although they did not recognize him. Joseph remembered the dreams which he had about them, and said to them, "You are spies; you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land."

Joseph's brothers have no clue that the man that they must deal with to buy grain in the time of famine is their brother that they had betrayed and sold into slavery now nearly 20 years earlier. Joseph immediately recognized his older brothers since they were already mature when he last saw them. He is not recognizable by them because he has changed the most since he was 17, he is now dressed as an Egyptian, speaking the Egyptian language, and in a role that they would never even imagine he could be. Joseph chooses to not reveal himself to his brothers, and at first glance his reasons appear to be hard feelings he still holds against them because when he speaks to them he does so "harshly." What we should remember though is that Joseph's faith in God during his long trial filled his heart, and left no room for bitterness toward his brothers to fester. The names he gave his sons in the last chapter was the confirmation that he had successfully overcome the temptation to indulge in bitter hatred toward them. We will see as the story unfolds that Joseph now holds love in his heart for the same brothers that abused him. Joseph's love for his brothers does not overwhelm his good judgment however. He is not bitter toward them, but he has not forgotten the wicked way they treated him. His choice to greet them in disguise and with harshness is not an indulgence in vindictive revenge, but a sober minded caution. He has grown spiritually in the past twenty years, but the real question is have they?

As Joseph meets his brothers they bow to honor him as an acknowledgment of his position of authority and his ability to meet their desperate need for food. As they are bowing before him, Joseph remembers the twin spiritual dreams he had years before that were instrumental in his brothers betrayal. In those prophetic dreams from the Lord, his brothers all bowed before him. In the dreams he is seen as a superior sheaf of grain to their sheaves and a superior authority to their authority and even their parents. In this meeting Joseph is identified with two titles that signify ruler and provider. In this moment, the Lord has fulfilled the prophecy of the dreams and Joseph's heart takes it all in that everything up until this moment has been orchestrated by the Lord to bring them all to this place. If there was any remaining temptation for Joseph to get even with them, this spiritual revelation of the Lord's fulfilled plan anchors his heart to righteousness. His accusation of them being spies is not what he believes, but a very wise way to both reveal their hearts and teach them a necessary lesson.

42:11-17 - "We are all sons of one man; we are honest men, your servants are not spies." Yet he said to them, "No, but you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land!" But they said, "Your servants are twelve brothers in all, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no longer alive." Joseph said to them, "It is as I said to you, you are spies; by this you will be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here! "Send one of you that he may get your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. But if not, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies." So he put them all together in prison for three days."

Joseph's intent is to discover the condition of his brother's hearts. When he last saw them they were all (with the exception of Benjamin) jealous, callous men who were willing to kill their own brother. His accusation draws out a response from them in which they protest their innocence of the spying charge. To clear themselves in his eyes they tell Joseph several truthful facts about themselves, but their answer contains two key lies which show that their hearts have not completely changes from where they were 20 years before. They proclaim to Joseph that they are all "honest men" even though they are still living in the deception of having convinced their father Joseph was killed by a wild beast and hidden that they sold him into slavery. That deception has been conspiratorially hidden by common agreement among them for all these years. That is not the pattern of honest men. Then, they mention to Joseph about their one brother (him) that is "no longer alive." The truth is, they have no idea whether Joseph is still alive or dead, but they easily lie to Joseph here to perpetuate a more favorable impression of themselves.

Joseph perceives their lack of complete honesty, and holds to his accusation of espionage. He declares that they will be tested. The word he uses is often used in Scripture to describe the way metal is tested under heat to reveal its true ingredients. Joseph was himself tested to the core by their betrayal and he lived for the next 13 years in the furnace of that test. He came out at the end of the test refined by the fire of his long trial. Now, his brothers, who are all destined to bear great covenant responsibility as heads of the tribes of Israel must themselves be tested. This is actually God's test for their hearts and He has chosen Joseph to be his instrument to administer the test to them. As part of their test Joseph places them all in prison for three days. Remembering that Joseph spent two years in prison because of them, the three days he imposes on them is amazingly merciful, and will at the same time serve a redemptive purpose for them. By themselves tasting the circumstance they forced on Joseph, their hearts will be freshly reminded of their unresolved guilt for that wicked deed.

42:18-24 - "Now Joseph said to them on the third day, "Do this and live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in your prison; but as for the rest of you, go, carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die." And they did so. Then they said to one another, "Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us." Reuben answered them, saying, "Did I not tell you, 'Do not sin against the boy'; and you would not listen? Now comes the reckoning for his blood." They did not know, however, that Joseph understood, for there was an interpreter between them. He turned away from them and wept. But when he returned to them and spoke to them, he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes."

The strength of the test Joseph imposed on them when he put them in prison was magnified because he did not tell them that they were only going to prison for three days. As far as they knew, they would remain in prison until their one brother would return with Benjamin. But, Joseph graciously releases them except for one after three days and sends them back to Jacob. This pattern parallels what they had done to him years before when they first wanted to impose the harshest treatment of death, and then later relented and chose to only enslave him. Joseph's test is perfectly designed to awaken in them the full accountability for their earlier transgressions.

The three days in prison has a powerful impact on their hearts. Without Joseph saying a single word to remind them directly, on their own they become aware of the connection between the betrayal of 20 years ago, and their current dilemma. This is evidence that the Lord is powerfully at work in their hearts to bring them under conviction for their unresolved sin. God works through their own conscience to see this hardship as "the reckoning for his blood." As they openly discuss their shared guilt thinking that Joseph cannot understand their language, Joseph is deeply moved by what he hears from their hearts. He then releases them, but keeps Simeon as his prisoner. We know from the event with Dinah and Shechem from years before that Simeon was one of the hardest of the 12 brothers. Simeon is an appropriate choice since Reuben, the firstborn, was the logical one to keep, but he had made the only effort to save Joseph from his brothers, and Simeon was also the second born of Jacob's sons.

42:29-31 - "When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying, "The man, the lord of the land, spoke harshly with us, and took us for spies of the country. But we said to him, 'We are honest men; we are not spies.'"

As the brothers return home, their account to Jacob of what transpired in Egypt is a mixture of truth, shading the truth, and hiding the truth from him. They tell the account of what transpired, but completely leave out their discussion of their guilt over Joseph and their recognition that the ruler of Egypt's response was a spiritual reckoning for having betrayed their brother. To be that honest with Jacob would have forced them to finally admit their sin hidden for 20 years. What they could not anticipate at this point is to what degree their seeming success in hiding their sin was going to be exposed. It is not just that Joseph will know what they had done. It is not even that Jacob is going to learn what they have done. Consider this; by including this story in Scripture, God chose to expose their "hidden" sin for the whole world and every generation of history to come to see. The strong lesson for us here is that there is no such thing as a successfully hidden sin. "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." (Hebrews 4:12-13). God sees everything we do when we violate His standards. He sees every action, every word and every thought. No one gets away with hiding anything. God may choose to not fully expose everything now, but eventually it will all come to the light and we will give an account for even the hidden things.

42:36-38 - "Their father Jacob said to them, "You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me." Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, "You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my care, and I will return him to you." But Jacob said, "My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow."

Jacob's response to the return of his son minus one, shows that in these last 20 years he has not yet grown spiritually out of all of his bad patterns. Jacob refuses to allow Benjamin to go down to Egypt even if that decision means Simeon will be killed or remain forever a prisoner in Egypt. In this, Jacob shows that he is still not above playing favorites among his sons and that Benjamin is valued more to him than Simeon. His reaction also reveals a familiar inclination to self pity and a failure to seek the Lord at a needed moment of family crisis. Jacob is quick to blame his sons for this development and bemoan how his life has been affected, but we do not see him lift his voice to the Lord in prayer seeking wisdom or understanding or even the Lord's intervention on behalf of Simeon. Even a godly man can in a sense forget the Lord when he most desperately needs to call on His Name.

Genesis 43

43:1-6 - "Now the famine was severe in the land. So it came about when they had finished eating the grain which they had brought from Egypt, that their father said to them, "Go back, buy us a little food." Judah spoke to him, however, saying, "The man solemnly warned us, 'You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.' "If you send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you do not send him, we will not go down; for the man said to us, 'You will not see my face unless your brother is with you.'" Then Israel said, "Why did you treat me so badly by telling the man whether you still had another brother?"

The famine of chapter 42 has continued and remains severe. We do not know how long it has been since the brothers returned from Egypt with the grain, but now they have consumed all that they had brought. At this point Jacob speaks to his sons to return to purchase some more food. His statement to them is curious, because they had strongly emphasized to him when they returned that they would need Benjamin to go with them the next time they went. The last word Jacob had spoken to them on this matter was his refusal to send Benjamin. Now he almost casually instructs them to go back as if they were being sent to the grocery store down the street. Jacob mentions nothing about Benjamin here, and most likely is hoping the other sons will agree to go without him and figure out when they arrive in Egypt some way to convince the ruler to sell them more grain. Judah speaks on behalf of the other sons and reminds Jacob of the issue of the ruler's insistence on seeing Benjamin. They are unwilling to go without him because the ruler had implied once before that if they did not bring Benjamin when they returned, they could lose their lives (Genesis 42:20). Judah describes what Joseph had said and exaggerates by putting words in his mouth that he had not spoken. Joseph only required they bring Benjamin. Judah adds that he said they would not see his face without him. Once again, in this family's history the truth is bent from son to father to serve the purposes of the son.

Everyone in this scene is concerned with themselves first. Jacob is more concerned about losing Benjamin and how that will affect him emotionally, than he is about leading and providing for his family. The sons are concerned foremost for their own safety. No one seems particularly concerned with the welfare of Simeon whom they left to languish in the Egyptian prison for all the time they have been back in Canaan. Jacob recognizes that the situation is heading toward his having to release Benjamin, but he remains blind to the hidden hand of God and can only blame his sons for letting the information about Benjamin slip out and causing him such grief. Jacob's perspective is limited to a horizontal perspective and fails to see the vertical reason it is all happening. Jacob can't be blamed for his inability to recognize what he cannot see here, but he really should have learned by now to at the least call out to the Lord and ask about what was happening to him and what he should do in this situation.

43:11-14 - "Then their father Israel said to them, "If it must be so, then do this: take some of the best products of the land in your bags, and carry down to the man as a present, a little balm and a little honey, aromatic gum and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds. Take double the money in your hand, and take back in your hand the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks; perhaps it was a mistake. Take your brother also, and arise, return to the man; and may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, so that he will release to you your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved."

Jacob is hemmed in by the severity of the famine and the requirement of the ruler in Egypt. Jacob really does not want to relinquish his favored young son Benjamin, but his choices now are to do so, or watch his entire family die of hunger. When the time comes for him to send Benjamin, Jacob rises to the occasion and shows both wisdom and faith in leadership. His wisdom is shown in his decision to send his sons back with a gift for the ruler to show his honor and hopefully gain his favor as they return. Jacob's faith, which has been strangely silent until now, emerges in his prayer of benediction over his sons for their journey back to Egypt. He identifies God here by the Name, El Shaddai, which means the powerful One. It is the anchor of Jacob's heart, that in releasing Benjamin, he is entrusting him to the power and safekeeping of God Almighty. He prays that God will go ahead of his sons on their journey and prepare the heart of the ruler by causing him to look with compassion on them. He prays that their journey will result in the release of both Benjamin and their "other brother" (Simeon). Following his prayer he makes a brief but important declaration. "And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved." Jacob is indicating a final spiritual surrender to the will of God in this situation. He is taking his own hand off of Benjamin, and releasing the protective control he has maintained over his life. In place of his own hand, he is trusting in the hand of God upon the life of his dear son.

Sadly, it is almost as though Jacob only leads as he should when he is forced to do so by the circumstance. In this, Jacob is an all too familiar example of spiritual leadership for far too many Christian men. God has called Christian men into a spiritual leadership role for the sake of their family and this calling is not just for moments of crisis, or when the circumstances require someone to lead. The principles of spiritual family leadership are to be applied daily and consistently. Our families will thrive or suffer spiritually depending in large part on how we respond as men to God's call to lead.

43:19-23 - "So they came near to Joseph's house steward, and spoke to him at the entrance of the house, and said, "Oh, my lord, we indeed came down the first time to buy food, and it came about when we came to the lodging place, that we opened our sacks, and behold, each man's money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full. So we have brought it back in our hand. We have also brought down other money in our hand to buy food; we do not know who put our money in our sacks." He said, "Be at ease, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks; I had your money." Then he brought Simeon out to them."

When the 11 brothers return to Egypt, they first meet with Joseph's house steward, who is like his personal assistant. They tell the steward the story of finding their grain fee in their sacks of grain on their journey home before. They hope by telling him to lighten any reaction of anger if there had been a misunderstanding regarding the money. They are surprised and challenged at the steward's answer. He tells them that he had their fee money all along and that God has returned the money to them. The steward is most likely not making up this story, but acting under the specific orders of Joseph in this, just like he was when he returned their money to their sacks before (Genesis 42:25). This is a classic example of what has come to be called a "white lie" in our culture. His answer is true in one sense, but technically a lie regarding the fee. He told them that he had their fee, implying that he still had it. That was not true, because he returned their fee by Joseph's command. The aspect that is true, is that the Lord through Joseph caused their money to be returned to them. It was the Lord's influence in Joseph's heart that caused him to not hold any grudge toward his brothers and to bless them by returning their fee.

Some believers are convinced that any level of deception, even a so called white lie is always evil and must be avoided at all cost. Joseph, who is portrayed throughout this situation as a strong and faithful believer, apparently does not share their concern about white lies. His entire continuing deception of his brothers would fall in the category of a white lie. Of course, we should be clear as to what constitutes a white lie, in contrast to a sinful lie. The issue boils down to motive and purpose. If a person deceives or lies to another with any motive to harm them, take advantage of them, or only benefit themselves, then that lie or deception is sinful. However, if the motive is to benefit the other person and the deception serves that purpose then the lie is not sin. An example of acceptable deceptions are to "lie" to a person on their birthday if a surprise party is planned for them. It is a deception, but it has a good motive and purpose connected to it. Joseph's deception was not in any way meant to harm his brothers, but served the Lord's purpose to reveal their hearts and lead them to a true repentance for their hidden sin. One other element must be present for a deception to qualify as a white lie and avoid the taint of sin. The truth must at some point in the process be revealed. The cloaking of the truth is only temporary and the full truth must be revealed so that the person that was deceived can see for themselves that there was a good purpose to the lie. Joseph will reveal the full truth of his identity, but not quite yet.

43:28-34 - "They said, "Your servant our father is well; he is still alive." They bowed down in homage. As he lifted his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's son, he said, "Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me?" And he said, "May God be gracious to you, my son." Joseph hurried out for he was deeply stirred over his brother, and he sought a place to weep; and he entered his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out; and he controlled himself and said, "Serve the meal." So they served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat bread with the Hebrews, for that is loathsome to the Egyptians. Now they were seated before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth, and the men looked at one another in astonishment. He took portions to them from his own table, but Benjamin's portion was five times as much as any of theirs. So they feasted and drank freely with him."

When Joseph welcomes his brothers this time he honors them with a feast. He goes out of his way to make Benjamin the guest of honor and gives him a very public and obvious blessing of five times the portions that his brothers received. This is not Joseph showing fleshly favoritism to his full brother Benjamin over his half brothers. Joseph is wisely going to use Benjamin as the final test of his other brother's hearts. He remembers that their mistreatment of him years before was due to the sinful jealousy of their hearts when their father Jacob had shown such favoritism to the youngest son Joseph. The way that Joseph now treats Benjamin is going to test their hearts and expose whether they have any remaining jealousy toward a favored younger brother. At the same time, this test will reveal if they have learned finally from the Joseph incident and will now accept the choice of the one in authority to show favor to whom he chooses to show favor. What Joseph has planned for Benjamin in the next chapter will give the brothers the perfect opportunity to get rid of Benjamin after he was favored above them, just like they did with Joseph for similar reasons. Joseph again is acting here in the wisdom of God. He is providing his brothers with a redemptive test to allow them to show their developed character when years before they all failed miserably.

The cultural boundaries between the Egyptians and the Hebrews provides a spiritually appropriate reversal of roles. Joseph sits down to eat with his brothers, only at separate tables because of Egyptian rules about not eating with foreigners. Years before, right after throwing Joseph in the cistern, he and his brothers ate a meal together while separate. They feasted while he sat a few feet away and went hungry. Now, Joseph is in the superior position by God's design, and they once again eat near each other but separate. He shows them the compassion they denied him by graciously filling their table with portions from his own.

Genesis 44

44:2-4, 13 - "Put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his money for the grain." And he did as Joseph had told him. As soon as it was light, the men were sent away, they with their donkeys. They had just gone out of the city, and were not far off, when Joseph said to his house steward, "Up, follow the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, 'Why have you repaid evil for good? ... Then they tore their clothes, and when each man loaded his donkey, they returned to the city."

Joseph has designed one final test for his previously wayward brothers. The test is centered on the their youngest brother Benjamin. We saw in the previous chapter that Joseph set them up for this test by flagrantly favoring Benjamin in front of them. He did so to discover whether they have changed since that day years before when they conspired against him as the favored younger brother. Up until that day, he had only done good toward them and yet they repaid him "evil for good." Now, even though they are innocent of the theft of his silver cup, Joseph is in a position through this situation to ask them the question they should have answered years ago. Joseph is holding them accountable for their previous sin against him, but in a non-vindictive way. He is also giving them a golden opportunity to choose a different response this time and to show a reformed character.

When Joseph's silver cup was discovered in Benjamin's sack the other brothers are now at the moment of testing. Under Joseph's direction, the steward had already announced that only the man discovered with the cup would be enslaved. The other men were free to go. Their test was in what they would choose to do at this point. For their own selfish reasons they has abandoned Joseph to a life of slavery years before. In their last trip to Egypt they had abandoned Simeon to slavery and returned to their home in no rush to return for his rescue. Now, would they treat their youngest brother Benjamin the same way? If there was any remaining issue with jealousy toward him, his having been favored by Joseph would reveal it. At the moment of testing, for the first time these previously selfish, jealous brothers respond with a unified commitment to share their brother Benjamin's fate if necessary. Even though they were fee to go, the brothers all choose to return to Egypt to "face the music" together. There is hope for this family after all.

44:15 - "Joseph said to them, "What is this deed that you have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can indeed practice divination?"

They return to be confronted by Joseph for their apparent theft of his valuable cup. As Joseph rebukes them, he makes a strange reference to divination that has confused many believers. Joseph is consistently portrayed in the story as a righteous, godly man, but divination is universally condemned in the Bible (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). The confusing element is in Joseph's claim to "practice divination." To understand Joseph's words here as a declaration that he actually practiced divination and even was in some sense recommending it is a misreading of the intent of the passage. This is also a part of Joseph's plan just like hiding his identity from them and making it seem that they have stolen money from him. It is true that the Egyptians did practice divination including a form using a cup such as this by pouring oil and water together into the cup and then interpreting the pattern formed on the surface.

Rather than reading this as a Joseph describing what he actually practiced, it would be better to interpret this as more of the deception Joseph is using to bring them under conviction. His claim fits into his story to them by essentially saying, "Of course, I would know you took my cup because I learned you did from divination." The claim of divination here just serves as a confirmation that one of them must have stolen his cup. They stand in front of him doubly guilty because they were discovered with the cup and he also apparently had supernatural help to identify them as the culprits.

44:16 - "So Judah said, "What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; behold, we are my lord's slaves, both we and the one in whose possession the cup has been found."

Judah knows acts as the spokesman for all the brothers. By this time, Reuben, the firstborn has faded into the background of family leadership, most likely as a consequence for his sin against his father with his father's concubine. Judah has filled the gap in leadership among the brothers. Since they stand convicted by the double evidence, Judah wisely chooses to not make any excuses or justifications. Instead, he responds with a curious declaration. "God has found out the iniquity of your servants." The meaning of Judah's statement could be misinterpreted as him admitting that they stole Joseph's cup. He is not saying that, because they did not actually steal it. What he is saying is something much more significant and spiritually profound. He is saying that God has exposed their shared iniquity from years before in their sin against Joseph. Judah has come to a deep realization of the justice of God. They managed to sin against Joseph and cover all their tracks by a conspiracy of deception. They successfully deceived their father into believing Joseph had been devoured by a wild animal. They had lived all the years since then convinced that they had forever hidden their sin.

Now Judah realizes that there is ultimately no sin that remains well hidden. As long as God sees it, then it is not truly hidden. Judah believes that this development of the "stolen" cup is God's way of making them pay for what they did to Joseph. It does not matter that God waited more than 20 years to punish them, the only thing that matters is that someway, somewhere, someday God will hold them accountable for what they did. In this, Judah shows more spiritual understanding of where he stands with God than he ever has in his life until this moment. This is the point at which we could say Judah arrives as a man of God. He then accepts the consequences, not of stealing the cup, but of mistreating Joseph. He now embraces the consequences without argument because he realizes that while he is innocent of this, he deserves much more because of what he had done before.

44:18, 33 - "Then Judah approached him, and said, "Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord's ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are equal to Pharaoh... Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers."

Judah wisely approaches Joseph with an appeal to the one in authority. His speech from 44:18-34 is filled with godly wisdom and sacrificial love for both his brother Benjamin and his father Jacob. In this speech Judah gives us an early hint of the sacrifice his own descendant will make in the ultimate expression of sacrificial love when Jesus of the tribe of Judah will offer Himself on the cross for the sins of others. He offers to take Benjamin's place in slavery if only Joseph will release Benjamin to return home to Jacob. His offer is very similar to what we hear in Moses (Exodus 32:32), Paul (Romans 9:3), and finally Jesus.

His appeal to Joseph is also a wonderful example of intercession of one person appealing on behalf of others to the one in authority. If we substitute ourselves for Judah, and God for Joseph we find a tremendous example of how to pray effectively in intercession for others. Judah speaks with reverence and great respect to the one in authority. He recounts the key elements in the history of the issue. He shows real concern for his father above himself. We will see in the next chapter that, representing his brothers, Judah has passed the final test and shown himself to be a changed man. His intercession moves the heart of Joseph.

Genesis 45

45:4-5 - "Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried, "Have everyone go out from me." So there was no man with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. He wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it. Then Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Please come closer to me." And they came closer. And he said, "I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life."

Judah's wise and humble appeal so affects Joseph that he cannot control his heart's overflowing emotions any longer. Even in the rush of emotions Joseph exercises discretion by having the room cleared of all the Egyptian officials and servants present. This moment is one to be shared among the brothers alone, and in wisdom, there is no benefit for any of the Egyptians to learn the details of how Joseph originally came to Egypt by his brother's hand. This is another indication of how completely free of bitterness toward his brothers Joseph is. Had he held any bitterness, he would have chosen to use this moment to expose them in front of the Egyptians and vindicate himself. Instead, in deep compassion for them he calls them to come near to him. This is a signal of the forgiveness he is extending to them for their mistreatment of him, and at the same time showing that the nature of their relationship has changed. His forgiveness is seen in bidding them to come close and not keeping them at a safe distance from him. The change in the relationship is seen in the need for them to come to him. He is their brother, but he is also their superior now due to his position in Egypt and protocol is not completely ignored here. After identifying himself with a fact that only he and they could possibly know ("whom you sold into Egypt"), Joseph then makes one of the great spiritual declaration in the Bible.

Joseph recognizes that his brothers will be reticent to come closer out of fear that he has planned revenge against them. That fear is natural, but Joseph has the opposite intention. He assures their hearts by first encouraging them to not be either grieved or angry with themselves for what they had done in selling him into slavery. How amazingly kind and considerate Joseph is here, that he is concerned that they not "beat themselves up" over what they had done to him. It is what he declares next that we discover the spiritual perspective that is the deep anchor point of Joseph's heart. "... for God sent me before you to preserve life." Joseph could warmly accept his brothers that had so horribly mistreated him because he really believed that in spite of their evil intent, God was behind the scenes working through them without their knowledge to accomplish a greater good than would occur otherwise. They did what they did in ignorance and malice, but God was doing something hidden and redemptive. The lesson for all believers is that there are two layers to the circumstances of our lives. The first layer is on the surface and is the natural decisions and developments that happen to us. The second layer is beneath and hidden, and involves the hand and plan of God for His people.

45:5-8 - "Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, "God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall live in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children and your flocks and your herds and all that you have."

We do not know at what exact moment in his twenty year long trial that Joseph grasped with full understanding what God had planned and was doing in his circumstances. It certainly was not when he was first betrayed, because then he wailed for his brothers to release him from the cistern. There is no hint that while he served Potiphar he grasped the big picture yet. There is no hint that while he spends two undeserved years in prison that he knows how the story is going to end. It is possible that once Pharaoh made him second in command of all Egypt that he saw what God had planned, or it may have been only when his brothers first arrived desperate for food in the famine that he saw how God had arranged for him to be in the unique position to provide for them and to preserve the covenant family alive during the famine.

The key word in Joseph's spiritual explanation to his brothers of what has happened is the word "sent." He uses it three times in verses 5-8, and the three fold repetition is a clue that this is the dominant perspective in Joseph's heart. The spiritual and theological implications of Joseph using this specific word are huge. He could have described these events in this way instead. "You sent me to Egypt, but once I was here, God turned your evil actions into a good thing." Had he done so, it would have portrayed God as the "Plan B God." What I mean by that is that many believers see God as constantly scrambling to fix the unplanned bad things that happen to us and that He works to try to salvage something good out of all that bad. That was not Joseph's perspective or faith, and it should not be ours either. God is the "Plan A God." Plan A is His plan, and He plans the end from before the beginning. It is no mistake or accident of history that Joseph ends up in Egypt. He was sent there. Yes, on a natural level, Joseph was sent to Egypt by his brothers' sin, but above and beyond their decision, God decided to influence their decision to accomplish His purpose. God sent Joseph to Egypt. Just like a missionary sent to a foreign country by God, Joseph was sovereignly dispatched to fulfill the plan of God for Israel. How does this affect our lives? Before grumbling and complaining about our current circumstances we would be wise to consider what part God has played in our arriving at this exact spot. The difficulties are obvious, but the greater purposes of God are often hidden until the time that He ordains to reveal His role. Joseph had become a man fixed on the greater purpose of God. The hardships he endured to get this place were a light price to pay to be blessed with such significant usefulness in God's kingdom.

45:9-11 - "Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, "God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall live in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children and your flocks and your herds and all that you have. There I will also provide for you, for there are still five years of famine to come, and you and your household and all that you have would be impoverished.'"

Joseph's heart is bursting with the generosity God has shown to him and he cannot wait to share it with his father. There is in Joseph's gracious invitation to Jacob to come down and live in Egypt, both a short range provision of God and a yet hidden sovereign plan. Joseph has been blessed by God to see what God had planned and how God had provided for the entire covenant household of Jacob through this great famine. The Lord had not revealed all of his plan to Joseph however. Joseph's focus at this point is for the next five years. The famine has continued for two years at this point, and God had shown through Pharaoh's dreams that it was destined by God to last for a total of seven years. Joseph is anticipating Jacob and his sons coming to live with him in Egypt for the duration of the five remaining famine years. He probably anticipated that they would leave and return to their home in the Promised Land after the famine ended.

What God knew and planned, even though none of Joseph, Jacob, or the other sons understood it is that Jacob's household is going to move down to Egypt for the next 400 years. The development of Joseph being sent to Egypt actually has a total of three layers. The top layer is what the brothers planned, and the deeper layer is what God planned for the seven years of famine. The deepest layer will remain hidden for now as God is setting up circumstances that will not be fulfilled for generations to come. This is His sovereign hand operating at levels way beyond our grasp. It is amazing to me that something going on in my life circumstances today may be planned by God to affect for great good things 400 years from now.

45:14-15 - "Then he fell on his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. He kissed all his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him."

This is a tender moment that Joseph shares with his brothers. His heart is first and foremost drawn to his only full brother Benjamin. Benjamin was the only brother of his eleven brothers that had no part in his being sold to Egypt, so we would expect Joseph to warmly greet him. It is Joseph's affection for the other ten brothers that had sinned so grievously against him that is such a powerful demonstration of the amazing grace of God. One by one, Joseph approaches each brother and kisses them and weeps on them in a warm embrace. He gives them no rebuke, no recrimination, no effort to make them feel any guiltier than they already do. Because Judah's appeal already showed that they were under conviction of the Spirit of God, Joseph has no need to hold them accountable any longer for what they had done to him. Now, because he fully understands that God had planned this for great good in spite of their own reasons, he is completely free in his heart to embrace them without hesitation or reservation. This is full reconciliation. Joseph willingly gives up any right he may have held to bring this up between them again in the future. It is resolved, they are restored, and the once fractured family is now whole again.

Genesis 46

46:1-3 - "So Israel set out with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, "Jacob, Jacob." And he said, "Here I am." He said, "I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. "

Jacob has received a trustworthy word that Joseph is amazingly alive after all these years and thriving in Egypt as a ruler over the land. Even though Jacob longs to see Joseph again once more before he dies, he also has more than one reason to hesitate to make this journey. Jacob by this point is 130 years old, and even considering the longer Biblical lifespans, his advanced age is a factor in weighing the difficulty of such a long journey to Egypt. Another hesitation is the uncertainty of placing his whole family in the position of being entirely dependant upon the good graces of Pharaoh. Joseph was currently is a position of great favor in Pharaoh's court, but Jacob had no guarantee that he and they would remain in the favored place. The third and greatest reason Jacob had to hesitate about this trip to Egypt was the two previous problems his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham encountered with Egypt during times of famine in their days. Remember Abraham had gone to Egypt in a time of famine without seeking the Lord and had created an unnecessary crisis while there. Isaac had been specifically warned by the Lord not to go to Egypt for famine relief (Genesis 26:2). In spite of the circumstances now pointing Jacob toward Egypt, he shows real spiritual growth here in his decision to not go before first seeking the Lord's direction.

Jacob journeys first to Beersheba to seek the Lord. The location is not incidental. He has returned to a place where God spoke to Abraham and also to his father Isaac. The Lord's appearance to Isaac in Beersheba is almost identical to how the Lord will now speak to Jacob here. "Then he went up from there to Beersheba. The LORD appeared to him the same night and said, "I am the God of your father Abraham; Do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you, and multiply your descendants, For the sake of My servant Abraham." So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD, and pitched his tent there; and there Isaac's servants dug a well." (26:23-25). The order of what occurs here is notable. First Jacob chooses to go to Beersheba, and once there offers sacrifices to the God of his father. Then, God speaks to Jacob. When Jacob was younger and God appeared to him or spoke to him it was always the Lord taking Jacob by surprise in the encounter. Jacob at critical moments would be caught up in his fears, and God would speak to him and overwhelm his fears with words of comfort and purpose. Here, Jacob is struggling with natural fear, which the Lord confirms in His exhortation "do not be afraid to go down to Egypt", but he is not overwhelmed with fear as in his younger days. In his fear he seeks the Lord, worships, and offers sacrifice to his father's God. This is a picture for us of a spiritually mature man. His maturity has not obliterated fear in his heart, but his faith has grown stronger than his fear. The Lord's Word to him is aimed right at the root of the remaining fear and confirms for him that this journey to Egypt is the direction of the Lord. God reminds him of the original promise spoken to Abraham to make him into a great nation (12:2) to assure his heart that this move will in no way disrupt that purpose, but rather take him to the place where that covenant promise will be fulfilled.

46:4 - "I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will close your eyes."

God has just given Jacob the assurance of covenant continuity in that what He had promised to Abraham and Isaac will now be fulfilled through Jacob in the land of Egypt. That alone should have given Jacob all the confidence he needed in this journey. Yet, the Lord gives now gives to Jacob one additional promise which is both the most simple promise God gives to anyone and the most powerful promise at the same time. The promise is "I will go down with you to Egypt." This promise, once given, should end any concern any believer ever would have about an uncertain circumstance in life. The promise boiled down to its essence is that the Lord will go with him. Jacob will face difficulties on the trip, but God will be with him. In Egypt are uncertainties for the future, but God will be with him. The only thing to fear is not the journey, or Egypt, but any life circumstance in which the Lord is not with us. If He is with us, then what is there to fear? If He is not with us then what is there not to fear? I recently returned from two back to back trips requiring air travel. I don't really enjoy the whole flying experience, but my confidence was rock solid because I knew the Lord had directed these two trips and I had His assurance that He would go with me. I would much rather be in an uncertain plane at 30,000 feet with the Lord, than on the "safe" ground without Him. Our spiritual priority in every step or change we make in life is to get clarity from the Lord that we are following His direction and to be assured that He is with us in the step we are taking.

The Lord also speaks to Jacob about the future beyond Egypt. The Lord gives Jacob a clear indication that this move is not permanent, but it is at the same time not temporary. The Lord promises that He will surely bring Jacob up again from Egypt. The Lord's ultimate purpose for Jacob's life is tied to the Promised Land. Here the Lord assures Jacob that this move to Egypt will not disconnect him in any way from the fulfillment of the Promise. However, the way the Lord worded this promise to Jacob is open to misunderstanding. He could have taken it to mean that he would not die in Egypt and that the Lord would one day in the future bring him up alive into the land of Promise. That is not the plan ahead of Jacob. So, the Lord gives Jacob one additional Word as a hint that he will die in Egypt. "Joseph will close your eyes" is an indicator to him that his death awaits him in Egypt, but it is also a wonderful comfort that Joseph, who was separated from him for over twenty years will be with him right up to his final breath.

46:28-34 - "Now he sent Judah before him to Joseph, to point out the way before him to Goshen; and they came into the land of Goshen. Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Israel; as soon as he appeared before him, he fell on his neck and wept on his neck a long time. Then Israel said to Joseph, "Now let me die, since I have seen your face, that you are still alive." Joseph said to his brothers and to his father's household, "I will go up and tell Pharaoh, and will say to him, 'My brothers and my father's household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me; and the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock; and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.' "When Pharaoh calls you and says, 'What is your occupation?' you shall say, 'Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,' that you may live in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians."

We see examples of godly caution and wisdom in this time of transition in both Jacob and Joseph. Jacob sends Judah, who has taken the lead in the family, ahead as a scout and guide. In spite of the assurances from his sons, Joseph, and even Pharaoh, Jacob sends Judah ahead to make certain of their way. Then when Joseph arrives to greet his father, he gives unusual counsel to them to prepare them for the meeting with Pharaoh. First Joseph tells them that he is going to speak to Pharaoh and identify them as shepherds. Then he coaches his family to all respond to Pharaoh's anticipated question regarding their occupation with a confirmation that they are shepherds. His counsel at first seems strange because of his explanation that shepherds are loathsome to Egyptians. The question is why Joseph would want to introduce his family as commonly loathsome shepherds to Pharaoh. The answer is that Joseph knows that Pharaoh would insist that Joseph's family live in the capitol near him. Joseph has chosen Goshen as a home for his family. The benefit of settling in Goshen is twofold. First, it will allow them to maintain their herds and flocks without problem. Second, and even more important, it will keep the family close enough to the capitol for fellowship, but maintain some necessary distance from the Egyptian culture. It is critical for the family of Israel to maintain their own spiritual and cultural identity in the midst of Egypt, and not simply blend into Egyptian culture and end up being swallowed up and become Egyptians themselves.

This issue has remained a concern for the people of God in every generation since Jacob. Jesus described the issue for us in this way. "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world." (John 17:14-18). In order to fulfill the mission of God, first Joseph, and then his entire family were sent into the world of Egypt, which presently was friendly, but ultimately was based in evil and would eventually turn on them. The issue was how they would be able to obey the Lord and go into Egypt, without Egypt going into them. The church has throughout the centuries swung to opposite extremes in dealing with this issue. At times the church has withdrawn too much from the world in fear of becoming like it. But, in full withdrawal, the church also abdicates its God ordained mission to reach and influence the world for God. The other extreme finds the church at times going so far into the world that it becomes difficult to distinguish the world from the church. If the church becomes so like the world it is trying to reach that it cannot be differentiated from the world then what does it have left to offer the world? The danger always remains that the world can influence the church more than the church influences the world. Joseph's wisdom in choosing Goshen for his family finds the perfect balance point in this issue. I pray that we would all settle in Goshen in our own time in Egypt, and be in the world but never of the world.

Questions from Genesis 45:

Question: 45:5 We tend to pray for God to move in that surface layer of our circumstances. A lot of the prayers in Scripture seem to be directed to that second layer, as you described, "the hand and plan of God". (an exception, perhaps, was Moses praying for God to change his mind and God did). Are there some thoughts you could share on applying this lesson to our prayer life?

Answer: I agree with you that most Christians tend to pray on the surface of issues that affect their lives. Usually the prayer is an exercise in identify whatever circumstance in my life is most uncomfortable and asking God to change it to something more comfortable as quickly as possible. Let me say that I also prefer comfort to discomfort, but I have learned in prayer to not assume that my comfort is God's first concern or priority. One strong application from Joseph's statement in 45:5 that you picked up on for prayer is that Joseph's perspective had risen above his natural circumstances and recognized that God had a greater purpose in his difficult circumstances. If Joseph had prayed for release back when his brothers threw him in the pit and then sold him into slavery do you think God would have answered that prayer. The answer is no, because it was a key element in God's purpose for him to be thrown in the pit and sold into slavery. Our strong desire for a comfortable life can at times even lead us to pray at cross purposes from what God is going to do. There would be nothing wrong for Joseph to begin by praying his desire for release, but once it became clear that God was not answering that prayer, he (we) would be wise to begin to seek the Lord regarding the greater purpose at work in his difficult circumstances. Asking God what He intends to accomplish, how we can work with Him in our difficulty rather than against Him, and what character shaping changes He is using the circumstance to work in us are all more mature starting points in prayer in the midst of trials.

Genesis 47

47:4-10 - "They said to Pharaoh, "We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants' flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Now, therefore, please let your servants live in the land of Goshen." Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Your father and your brothers have come to you. "The land of Egypt is at your disposal; settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land, let them live in the land of Goshen; and if you know any capable men among them, then put them in charge of my livestock." Then Joseph brought his father Jacob and presented him to Pharaoh; and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Jacob, "How many years have you lived?" So Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning." And Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from his presence."

Joseph brings representatives from his brothers and presents them before Pharaoh. We are given no explanation for why Joseph chose only five of his brothers to meet with Pharaoh but we can assume that he was exercising wisdom in this as in all other decisions he made in handling this entire situation. After the brothers meet with him, Pharaoh grants to Joseph complete access to the land of Egypt on behalf of his family. This is the fullness of the favor of God given to Joseph and the covenant family. The Lord has favorable inclined Pharaoh's heart toward Israel because of the wonderful example and excellent service that Joseph has rendered to him.

Next, Joseph brings his father Jacob to meet with Pharaoh. Keep in mind, that while Jacob is wealthy beyond the average man, he is still a nomad who has come down to Egypt in hope of being sustained in the time of famine by the bounty of Egypt. Pharaoh is currently the most powerful man on the face of the earth as the ruler of the ascendant nation. Yet, when the two men meet, there is an unexpected role reversal. Jacob initiates the communication between them and does so in a way that establishes their relative positions to one another. "Jacob blessed Pharaoh." Normally, when meeting a king, the person in the inferior position was expected to remain silent until the king chose to speak to him. Jacob does not wait for Pharaoh to speak and in speaking first actually risks offending court protocol. What he says also is out of order. By blessing Pharaoh, Jacob speaks to him as his superior. The Biblical principle is described in Hebrews. "But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater." (Hebrews 7:7). Pharaoh was clearly Jacob's superior in every natural way except for their age, yet Jacob blesses him. The pattern established here conveys a spiritual principle that shapes our lives. The principle is that covenant standing trumps all natural advantages. Pharaoh had greater wealth, power, position, prestige, name, etc. based upon natural concerns. Jacob had covenant standing with the One true God. Jacob's covenant relationship with God was of greater significance than the sum of all of Pharaoh's strengths. Any true believer today who is in right relationship with the Lord stands in a position of greater advantage than Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, or any prime minister or president.

Jacob's superiority to Pharaoh was spiritual, and he did not fail to see the purpose of God in this meeting. God had provided for his family's natural needs through Pharaoh, and in return Jacob pronounces upon Pharaoh a double blessing from God, both at the beginning of their meeting and at the end. In doing so, Jacob fulfills the purpose of God spoken originally to his grandfather Abraham. "And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed." (Genesis 12:3). First through the wisdom and leadership of Joseph and now through the confirming words of the patriarch Jacob, the Lord blesses the ungodly Pharaoh through His covenant representatives. The lesson for the world is that if you treat the people of God well you will be treated well by the Lord. A later Pharaoh is going to learn the hard way the reverse of this lesson when he treats the people of God poorly and is treated by God accordingly.

47:11-13 - "So Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had ordered. Joseph provided his father and his brothers and all his father's household with food, according to their little ones. Now there was no food in all the land, because the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished because of the famine."

Joseph is given complete latitude by Pharaoh to settle his family anywhere he chooses in Egypt. Pharaoh specifically offered "the best of the land" for them. Joseph does not respond with unnecessary graciousness. He does not say to Pharaoh, "Oh, no, I could never accept the best of Egypt for my humble family!" Instead, Joseph sees this offer of Pharaoh as the work of God in his heart and he accepts his offer at face value. Joseph settles his family in Goshen which was the best pasture land in all of the nation. He provides land and food for the entire family in the very best location in Egypt for the entire duration of the famine. He also ensures that they will prosper beyond the years of the famine by giving them ownership of the land in a time when the rest of the nation will be losing their ownership of their land to Pharaoh. All of this is the evidence of the faithfulness of the Lord to watch over His people and bless them even in the midst of terribly difficult times of trouble. God is no less faithful in famine to His people than He is in times of prosperity.

The distinctive blessing of Jacob and his family in the midst of a land and people ravaged by famine also raises an important question. The question is, "Is it fair?" Is it really fair for Jacob and his family to be given the best location to live in Egypt? Is it fair for Jacob to be given land to own when Egyptians all around them will lose their own ownership of their land? Is it fair for Jacob's family to be fed with grain produced in Egypt by Egyptians when they have not earned it? Is it fair for them to be honored above Egyptians? The answer in each case is a clear and simple "No!" It is not fair. It is not fair, rather it is the blessing of God. The Lord chooses to distinguish among people in where and how He gives His blessings. He does not carefully make sure He gives the exact same blessing to every person on earth out of concern to be "fair." "What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, "I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION." (Romans 9:14-15). God is free to bless those whom He chooses and He does so according to His purpose and wisdom, not according to human standards of fairness or equality.

47:14-21 - "Joseph gathered all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan for the grain which they bought, and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh's house. When the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, "Give us food, for why should we die in your presence? For our money is gone." Then Joseph said, "Give up your livestock, and I will give you food for your livestock, since your money is gone." So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses and the flocks and the herds and the donkeys; and he fed them with food in exchange for all their livestock that year. When that year was ended, they came to him the next year and said to him, "We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent, and the cattle are my lord's. There is nothing left for my lord except our bodies and our lands. "Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we and our land will be slaves to Pharaoh. So give us seed, that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate." So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for every Egyptian sold his field, because the famine was severe upon them. Thus the land became Pharaoh's. As for the people, he removed them to the cities from one end of Egypt's border to the other."

What an amazing measure of wisdom God granted to Joseph. One man's decisions born in God's wisdom and purpose completely changed the political landscape, economy and society of the greatest nation on earth at that time. Joseph forced nothing upon the inhabitants of Egypt. In each stage of the crisis of the famine the people approached Joseph and asked for his help. He did not take their money, their herds, their land, or even their bodies in slavery. In each case they willingly gave more of what they owned in exchange for the provision of life sustaining grain. God had positioned Joseph for this moment through the prophetic interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams and the wise decisions to stockpile the grains for the previous seven years of abundant prosperity. His wisdom will save not just himself, and not just his family, but the entire nation from starvation.

I am so impressed by the ultimate value of wisdom as evidenced in Joseph's life here. None of us will ever be in the same circumstance as Joseph, but God wants His people, every one of us, to be filled with His wisdom. Each one of us has been positioned by God for a purpose. There will be for each of us moments when the wisdom God has given to us is needed desperately not just for ourselves, but for our families, and for others that God has positioned us to influence and even save from destruction. "For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;" (Colossians 1:9-10).

47:28-31 - "Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; so the length of Jacob's life was one hundred and forty-seven years. When the time for Israel to die drew near, he called his son Joseph and said to him, "Please, if I have found favor in your sight, place now your hand under my thigh and deal with me in kindness and faithfulness. Please do not bury me in Egypt, but when I lie down with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place." And he said, "I will do as you have said." He said, "Swear to me." So he swore to him. Then Israel bowed in worship at the head of the bed."

There is an interesting description here of Jacob's impending death. "When the time for Israel to die drew near..." What stands out to me is that Jacob is not caught off guard by death. It is one more expression of the blessing of God upon his life that he is aware of his own approaching moment of death. None of us control the timing or moment of our death. Our days are numbered by the Lord. "Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them." (Psalm 139:16). Yet, it is a great blessing from the Lord to be given by Him a clear sense of when our days have come to an end. This understanding of the near end of his life affords Jacob the opportunity to set his household in order before he dies as he will over the next chapters. His first priority is to make plans for his own burial.

As a young believer years ago I disdained the significance of my own burial and remember assigning no value or importance to it at all. From this and many other portions of God's Word addressing the death and burial of believers I have come to have my perspective completely changed about burial. For Jacob, it is a culminating event of his life. Even though his soul will be gone from his body, he is concerned about the disposition of the body in which he worshipped, walked with and served the Lord. His strong desire is to not be buried in Egypt, but to join Abraham and Isaac in the place where they were also buried. This is not vanity, or mere sentimentality, but true faith and spiritual anticipation in action. Jacob intends to be fully identified with the great purpose and promise of God in his death just as much as he was in his life. This is the final expression of faith that any believer can make; to be connected and committed to God's purpose beyond our last breath. His burial was to symbolize all of that in a meaningful testimony of his relationship to the Lord and His covenant. Believers today that too lightly dispose of their own bodies, or the bodies of believing loved ones are missing the spiritual import of Jacob's example.

Genesis 48

48:2-5 - "When it was told to Jacob, "Behold, your son Joseph has come to you," Israel collected his strength and sat up in the bed. Then Jacob said to Joseph, "God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and He said to me, 'Behold, I will make you fruitful and numerous, and I will make you a company of peoples, and will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting possession.' Now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are."

Jacob has reached the end of his life in world and Joseph hearing of his father's weakness brings his sons for what he senses will most likely be his last visit with his father. The character of their time together is recorded by the Lord for our benefit. What stands out immediately is that as weak as Jacob is in his physical frailty, his spirit remains strong and purposeful. He is physically bedridden at this point and must gather all of his remaining strength to even sit up in bed. In spite of his physical weakness, Jacob sees the significance of these final moments with Joseph and his sons and has grace from God to handle them as the spiritual patriarch of the covenant family should. It's notable that the focus of their final time together is fixed upon what is most important while the natural human concerns seem to fade out of the picture completely. We might expect Jacob to reminisce of Joseph's childhood, the times they spent together and even the joy of their reunion 17 years before when Jacob came down to Egypt. Neither does Joseph even mention his past experiences that led to this moment. All that matters in the moments they have left is God's great purpose for their lives and how that purpose will impact the lives of Joseph's sons. His greatest gift that he possesses to pass on to Joseph in this moment is not anything natural, material, financial, or even emotional. His gift to Joseph and his sons is to pass on the blessing of their own participation in the covenant with God. This is the single greatest gift that any Christian parent can ever pass on to their children. There is no greater responsibility for a believing parent than to effectively pass on the same kind of covenant relationship with God that they enjoy.

Jacob takes the lead by recalling one key moment in his life that had nothing directly to do with Joseph. He rehearses for Joseph's benefit, who may never have heard this story before, the night God appeared to him at Luz (Bethel). This was the dream God gave to him of the ladder reaching from earth to heaven (Genesis 28:11-15). The Lord had spoken to him in that dream and given him a life defining calling and promises. That one experience with God formed the foundation of his future. Now, at the end of his life it is the one experience among thousands in his life that rises to the surface and which he is compelled to pass on to his son and grandsons. He wants them to understand that what he is about to do in blessing Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh is the fulfillment of what God had spoken to him those many years before.

48:13-14 - "Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel's left, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel's right, and brought them close to him. But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh's head, crossing his hands, although Manasseh was the firstborn."

Jacob gave to Joseph a unique blessing in this private meeting. He chose, by God's unspoken direction, to spiritually adopt his two sons as his own. This essentially gave to Joseph the rights of the firstborn. The firstborn son was technically Reuben, but he had lost his position by his violation with his father's concubine years before. Now, by exalting Joseph's sons to the same position of his own sons in the inheritance rights of the family he was giving Joseph a double portion among the 12 brothers. This adoption as his own sons would be confirmed by his laying his hands upon them and identifying them as his own. Joseph moved forward to position his sons both out of consideration for Joseph's weakness and failing eyesight, and out of his concern for the right order of blessing to be followed. The right order was of course for the firstborn son Manasseh to be under Jacob's right hand which was the symbolic hand of greatest blessing. When the moment came for Jacob to lay hands on the them, he unexpectedly crossed his hands and placed his right hand on Ephraim instead. This was no mistake of failing eyesight or senile error. The word translated "crossing" here indicates that Jacob did this with intelligence or wisdom. He knew what he was doing and did so intentionally.

This is another in a long line of sovereign choices by God in Genesis. Similar in this family's history to the choice of Isaac over Ishmael, or Jacob over Esau, the Lord now chooses to exalt Ephraim over Manasseh, even though their is nothing in their respective histories to show that Ephraim "deserved" to be exalted like this or that his brother deserved to be given the second place blessing. Neither does God or even Jacob explain themselves in this choice. The point is that God does not need to explain this or any other choice that He makes. He is sovereign. The blessings of God are never deserved or earned. If they were earned, would Manasseh have grounds to complain about God's lack of fairness? Or would you and I would have grounds to question or complain about what God has chosen to give to us? The answer is a strong, "No!" If the blessing of God were ever earned or deserved, then what exactly would we all deserve? We would deserved none of His blessings; not even one! Instead, what God has done is give us all the blessings that we do not deserve, but He gives them according to His purpose for us. Jacob learned this deep lesson in his own experience of being blessed over Esau, and now representing the Lord's hidden purpose with spiritual discernment he places his right hand of greater blessing on the younger son Ephraim.

48:15-16 - "He blessed Joseph, and said, "The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, The angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; And may my name live on in them, And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth."

Jacob is giving to his son Joseph a brief but potent account of his own spiritual testimony. Jacob had many and interesting spiritual experiences over the course of his 147 years. He does not recount for Joseph all the events or stories. What he does is give Joseph a focused account of the essence of his life story. His testimony is the story of every true believer. Jacob refers three times to the God Who overshadows his life from before his birth (even as he struggled with his brother in the womb) to his last breath. His 147 years of life boiled down to their greatest significance are all about and only about his relationship with God. Jacob's story is not about how cleverly he managed to navigate his own course through life, even though his life began that way. His story "through many dangers, toils and snares" is really all about, "The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day..." Jacob the manipulator is no where to be seen in these final moments of his life. Israel, the man transformed by God to lean on Him rather than on his own strength is the only one that remains. As he looks back on his life he now sees clearly that the Lord was always there watching over him like a shepherd watches over his sheep to guide them, provide for them, guard them.

The blessing he pronounces over the sons of Joseph is one of covenant continuity. Their inheritance is for them to be blessed in covenant relationship with God as he was. For the names of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to live on in them means that their special relationship to the Lord in the covenant will for all successive generations of Israel be the standard by which they measure their own relationship with God. Their lives will not ultimately be measured by any natural measuring stick. They will have good, rich and full lives if, and only if they walk with God like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob walked with God.

48:17-20 - "When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on Ephraim's head, it displeased him; and he grasped his father's hand to remove it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head. Joseph said to his father, "Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn. Place your right hand on his head." But his father refused and said, "I know, my son, I know; he also will become a people and he also will be great. However, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations." He blessed them that day, saying, "By you Israel will pronounce blessing, saying, 'May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!'" Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh."

Joseph has a quick reaction to Jacob crossing his hands to bless his sons. He did not like it. "It displeased him." We see Joseph in a different light here than we have through most of his story. From the time when he was first enslaved in Egypt Joseph has always been the most spiritually discerning and wise individual in each circumstance he is in; until now. For the first time we see Joseph fail to discern what is really happening here spiritually and act in a fleshly perspective. Joseph actually attempts to stop Jacob from carrying out this blessing as God had ordained. Joseph can only see in this moment that his father is making a mistake, most likely due to his advanced age and poor eyesight. He steps forward and intends to correct the mistake by grabbing his father's crossed right hand to remove it from Ephraim and place it "where it belongs" on Manasseh. He even speaks up and corrects Jacob for his "mistake." Jacob's response of "I know, my son, I know..." shows that he fully understands Joseph's confusion. It also communicates to Joseph that he is doing this on purpose and not by mistake. His crossed hands represent God's unseen purpose to promote the younger son over the eldest. He comforts Joseph with assurance that God does intend to bless both sons, but that God's order in that blessing does not follow Joseph's preferred order.

What we should learn from Joseph's reaction is the natural difficulty we all experience when we encounter God's sovereignty. His ways are not our ways. His choices are not what we would naturally choose. His sovereign plan and purpose will at key points intersect our lives in ways that just does not seem to go the way we would expect, desire, or even want. Confusion about the hidden ways of God is understandable and God accommodates our confusion by graciously offering like He did here to Joseph some description of His purpose. What is difficult for us though, and where the true test of sovereignty lies is in the absence of a complete explanation. Neither God or Jacob ever fully explain the details of why Ephraim is exalted over Manasseh here. There are many similar things that we will encounter in our own lives. When we discern that God is at work in a situation that does not go the way we would prefer or desire, does that discernment satisfy us? In other words, once we know God is at work, do we then immediately shift into a perspective of abiding trust that He must know what He is doing, even if we cannot fully understand what it is? Or, do we leap like Joseph did at first here and try to fix what God has apparently broken by grabbing the crossed hands?

Questions from Genesis 47:

Question: I wondered about Genesis 47, verse 9 "few and unpleasant have been the years of my life". Why would he say something so negative to Pharaoh? Is he bitter about what happened with Leah, Rachel's early death, the lose of Joseph?
Answer: I'm glad you asked this question because I wanted to comment about Jacob's conversation with Pharaoh, but did not have the space yesterday. It is of course possible that Jacob was describing his life in bitterness, because even believers are not immune to the danger of bitterness. However, I do not believe he is bitter. This moment is one of the great moments of his life. He has just been reunited with a long lost dearly cherished son. He has just been personally welcomed by the leader of the greatest nation on earth. I don't think these are bitter words, but rather a sober minded, humble description of his life. It was common in that time when presented as a dignitary before another head of state to announce or proclaim the qualifications of why you deserved to stand in this place. Jacob turns this pattern upside down by speaking in a self deprecating manner about his life. He was not great in his own eyes. For instance, Jacob was 130 years old when he described his years as "few". The Egyptian standard for an ideal long life was 110 years old. Jacob was already 20 years older than most anyone alive in Egypt, yet he described his years as few.

His description was not literally true, but rather than boast in his long life that was much admired by the Egyptians he chose to describe himself in humble terms. In the same way, he chose to characterize his life by the difficulties he had faced and endured rather than the many blessings he also enjoyed. I see this as serving a similar purpose to how Paul described his own life in a portion of his testimony. " far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." (II Corinthians 11:23-27). Paul could describe his life as unpleasant without bitterness. Like Jacob, the Lord's ordained path for him took him through rather than around serious trials and difficulties.

Genesis 49

49:1-2, 28 - "Then Jacob summoned his sons and said, "Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come. Gather together and hear, O sons of Jacob; And listen to Israel your father... All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He blessed them, every one with the blessing appropriate to him"

Following his private meeting with Joseph and his two sons, Jacob summons his other eleven sons to join them at his bedside. He then addresses each of the twelve sons individually and speaks to them about not just their personal future, but about the future of the tribe of Israel that will descend from them. Jacob is not making wise guesstimates about their future, or describing probabilities. Instead, he is speaking as a prophet of God and as the patriarch of the covenant. What he declares to each son in this chapter will occur. The later history of the twelve tribes as recorded in Scripture follows the description of their future here in exact detail. This chapter then is a critical transition point in God's Word. Until now the story has followed in each generation one key individual primarily. From Adam to Noah to Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Joseph the story has focused on an unbroken line of God's purpose worked out in the lives of key individuals that carried God's plan forward in their generation. Now, in this prophetic address to his 12 sons, the Lord reveals through Jacob the coming expansion of God's purpose beyond the scope of single individuals into 12 chosen tribes. Those tribes will share a common bond through their common descent from Israel and will bear that identity together in an even greater way in the future as they will be formed by the Lord together into a single nation.

Each of these 12 sons are blessed in this prophecy with a different blessing. As we have seen before, there is no such thing in the economy of God like we see in our culture today of absolute equality apart from character, morality, and justice. Jacob does not sit down divide his single blessing into 12 equal and identical parts for each son to share. Two are given great blessings, three are given well deserved rebuke and loss of some privilege, and seven fall somewhere between those two categories. In each case the blessing given is "appropriate" for the one who receives it. The appropriateness of each blessing is not according to what the sons deem appropriate, or even Jacob, except as he represents the mind and heart of God because ultimately these are God's blessings to dispense as He sees fit. The two sons given the greatest blessings are Joseph and Judah. Their character and behavior suited them to receive God's greater blessing. The New Testament principle of eternal reward is foreshadowed for us in this pattern. God chooses to reward the faithfulness and obedience of His people in ways that will impact their lives far far into the future.

49:3-7 - "Reuben, you are my firstborn; My might and the beginning of my strength, Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, Because you went up to your father's bed; Then you defiled it--he went up to my couch. Simeon and Levi are brothers; Their swords are implements of violence. Let my soul not enter into their council; Let not my glory be united with their assembly; Because in their anger they slew men, And in their self-will they lamed oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, And scatter them in Israel."

This section details the diminished blessing given to three sons, Reuben, Simeon and Levi. Because God is gracious, and they remained in right relationship with the covenant family, none of these three lost all of the blessing. They will benefit in the future by entering the Promised Land along with the other tribes and enjoying the fruit of that blessed place. However, they abrupt reality that confronts them in this prophecy is that there is a lasting consequence connected to their behavior as sons. Reuben defiled his father's bed. Simeon and Levi cruelly exceeded the boundaries of true justice in the incident with Shechem. In both cases Jacob had remained silent at the time and had not dealt with them as they deserved for their actions. God did not ignore or overlook their grievous sins even if Jacob did, and now He speaks through Jacob prophetically and holds all three accountable for their transgressions. This principle is so significant for believers today to grasp. Because we are a people whose spiritual lives are forever tied to the cross and the forgiveness that flows to us from God through the cross, many Christians so focus on the forgiveness we enjoy and overlook the principle of long term consequences for sin. Reuben, Simeon and Levi were in a sense forgiven because they continued to enjoy the fellowship of the family and the benefits of the covenant. Yet, there were consequences set in motion by their sin that they could not escape even though forgiven.

An example of this principle would be the case of a believer who sins by cheating on his taxes. If caught, he may repent for the sin and be forgiven by God and the church, but he will still face the consequence that the IRS and the law require. The lesson these three sons have to teach believers today is huge. The spiritual and moral choices we make today have a deep impact on our lives, and our family in this present life, and beyond. These three in a sense model for us the principle that Paul taught not just of eternal reward for believers, but the loss of eternal rewards. "If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." (I Corinthians 3:14-15). If this lesson is learned from their bad example the believer will stop to think twice or three times before indulging like Reuben in a moment's pleasure that costs a lifetime of blessing, or like Simeon and Levi indulged in a flash of anger and revenge that forever diminished what their blessing would have been.

49:8-12 - "Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father's sons shall bow down to you. Judah is a lion's whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. He ties his foal to the vine, And his donkey's colt to the choice vine; He washes his garments in wine, And his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are dull from wine, And his teeth white from milk."

Jacob's words in this chapter are prophetic and so we understand that God is speaking through him. That means that every word spoken to all 12 sons is the Word of God and speaks to us. However, that does not mean that every Word from God speaks to us with the same impact or application. All of God's words are important, but some of His Words are staggering in their importance. This prophecy given to Judah is in that staggering category as what is spoken to this one son rises in significance above what was spoken to the other eleven, and continues to speak to us today in the same way. Jacob names Judah as the recipient of the appointed role of firstborn and that he will bear into the unending future the responsibility that goes with that role. Reuben was the actual firstborn, but his sin cost him his role as the firstborn and Judah was appointed by the Lord in his place. As firstborn, the responsibility to take the lead in the family was his. As the 12 sons would grow under the blessing of God into 12 tribes, Judah would eventually ascend into the preeminent tribe. Judah's name which means "the one who is praised" would be fulfilled as the other tribes will come to praise him. This tribe of Judah would later in history be called the Jews as a shortened form of the name Judah. When the single nation of Israel would be split in two under God's judgment generations later, the southern kingdom would be composed of this ascendant tribe of Judah and be known as the kingdom of Judah.

This prophecy has a greater focus than just the future of the tribe of Judah. It is also one of the great prophecies in the Old Testament of the plan of God for the arrival in history of the Chosen One of God, the Messiah. The prophecy concerns a future son from the tribe of Judah that will, like a lion in its strength, arise to rule over all of God's kingdom. Jesus is this lion of the tribe of Judah. "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals." (Revelation 5:5). Though we never saw in the 33 years of His life here in this world the fulfillment of this prophecy, that does not mean that it does not perfectly describe Him and only Him. His rule as God's Messiah was never intended to be fulfilled in those 33 years. His rule was destined to follow the accomplishment of the plan of salvation in His death on the cross, resurrection from the dead, and ascension back to heaven. It was when He returned to heaven in final victory that God gave Jesus the scepter of the kingdom. From the moment of His ascension until now, Jesus rules as King of kings and Lord of lords!

49:22-26 - "Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a spring; Its branches run over a wall. The archers bitterly attacked him, And shot at him and harassed him; But his bow remained firm, And his arms were agile, From the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), From the God of your father who helps you, And by the Almighty who blesses you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father Have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; May they be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers. "

In the progression of each covenant generation until now one son was chosen to bear for the next generation the twin aspects of the birthright and blessing of the firstborn. While Esau as the actual firstborn was expected to receive both, remember Jacob ended up with the birthright and the blessing. Now, the Lord chooses through Jacob to divide the birthright and blessing between two of Jacob's sons. Judah was given the responsibility of the birthright in God's purpose for the tribe of Judah to rise to prominence among the tribes and for a descendant of Judah to always be the one to rule. Joseph here is given the second of the two special privileges for the future; the blessing, or double portion of the inheritance. His blessings are going to overflow him in a measure he will not be able to contain. Joseph will be blessed with "blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb." This blessing is not a static blessing, but a growing and increasing blessing into the future. Jacob uses spiritually poetic descriptions to describe the degree and quality of the awesome blessings that will be heaped upon him. Jacob refers to the boundary of the blessing that he had enjoyed in his own life as being the everlasting hills. In other words, God had so blessed him that only the mountains around him could contain them as in a giant bowl. Jacob prays for Joseph that God will cause all of that blessing and more to be poured upon the head of his dearly loved and faithful son Joseph.

Jacob's declaration of blessing upon Joseph is far more than simply the best wishes of a loving father as he considers his son's future. Neither is this a case of incredibly "good luck", "good fortune" or "things going really well" for Joseph. Jacob is speaking on behalf of the Lord and what the Lord intends to do in the future of Joseph's family. Jacob clearly identifies why all this will happen to the tribe of Joseph and Who is solely responsible for it. It is the work of the "Mighty One of Jacob", "the Shepherd" "the Stone of Israel." It is His power, His care and provision, His rock solid faithfulness that will ensure the future blessings of Joseph. It is the same exact One Who ensures our blessings both now and for all eternity.

Genesis 50

50:1 - "Then Joseph fell on his father's face, and wept over him and kissed him."

There is a wonderful example of the faithfulness of God to His covenant people in this verse. Years before when Jacob had first learned that Joseph was alive and living in Egypt he hesitated to make the journey to Egypt to see him. The Lord spoke to Jacob then to encourage him to make the journey. God wanted Jacob to know that He had planned the journey to Egypt for him. He comforted Jacob with the promise, not just of a reunion with Joseph, but that he would enjoy a lasting restoration of their relationship. God assured Jacob that Joseph would be there in his final moment of life. "God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, "Jacob, Jacob." And he said, "Here I am." He said, "I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will close your eyes." (Genesis 46:2-4). Now, seventeen years after the Lord spoke those words to Jacob, the time has come for Jacob to breathe his last. When he does, the one son of the 12 that is closest to his side to kiss him and care for him is Joseph. The Lord fulfilled all of His promises to Jacob in his life, and now He fulfills His promise to him in his death.

50:15-20 - "When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!" So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father charged before he died, saying, 'Thus you shall say to Joseph, "Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong."' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." But Joseph said to them, "Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place? "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive."

Once Jacob is buried, Joseph's brothers face an uncertain future. While it is true that Joseph had welcomed them to Egypt and had treated them consistently well for the last 17 years of their living in Egypt, they have no confidence that his attitude and behavior will remain favorable toward them now. Their fear is that Joseph has only been kind toward them because of their father. They saw Jacob as a buffer shielding them over these years from what they feared was a brooding and still offended brother. The burial of their father now removed that buffer and they anticipated that Joseph would now indulge in a long held desire for revenge. He certainly had the power to do so as the regent of Egypt and could deal with them in any manner he chose. They suspected that Joseph would turn on them now, not because he had ever given them even a hint of an intention to do so, but because they judged Joseph based on their own character. It was "only natural" to expect him to now vent his imagined bitterness toward them.

What Joseph's brothers failed to comprehend was the dominant power of God's grace at work in Joseph's heart, not just this one day of Jacob's burial, but throughout the long years and difficult trials that their betrayal had caused for him. They considered the influence of their sin on his heart to be greater than the power of God's influence to turn a natural reaction into a spiritual transformation. They failed to recognize the hand of God upon Joseph. Their fear does serve one needed purpose here though. Their fearful expression of repentance (even though years late) does provide Joseph another opportunity to powerfully declare the work of God in him through these years and in this circumstance. Joseph gives glory to God first by refusing to take the low road of the flesh and act toward them as if he was in the place of God. When we unrighteously judge another and hold bitter vengeance in our heart toward them we are attempting to take the place in their lives that belongs only to God. Joseph recognized this as holy ground, and where only God deserved to stand.

Joseph's next statement is one of the most amazing declarations of the deep purposes of God in all of Scripture. "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result..." He looks back 93 years and sees that on that fateful day when his own brothers threw him into a cistern and then sold him into slavery that there was more going on than what he wanted or even what his brothers wanted. Joseph sees the hidden plan of God in all of this. Without a shred of bitterness or blame, Joseph has come to believe that it was God Who brought him to Egypt not his brothers. This insight does not eliminate their responsibility for their sin. Joseph does not dismiss their heart intention, and instead labels it for what it was; evil. Yet, because he now recognizes the deeper and unseen hand of God behind their hand, he is able to fix his heart on the greater good accomplished by the plan of God in spite of their evil intention. Yes, they meant to do evil to him, but what God meant to do overwhelmed what they meant to do. He is free from bitterness toward them because he knows that ultimately he was in the hand of God all along.

50:21 - "So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones." So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them."

Joseph's brothers specifically asked Joseph for the first time for his forgiveness. "And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." What is interesting is that Joseph never actually said the words, "I forgive you." Him not saying those exact words was not an indication that he was choosing to hold on to their transgression so that he could hold it against them at some future time. Joseph did forgive his brothers. He forgave them fully and graciously from his heart. How can we certain that he did forgive them? His promise to them in this verse and his actions in the years that followed displayed true spiritual forgiveness. I refer to what Joseph did for his brothers as "true spiritual forgiveness" because it is necessary to distinguish what he did from what even believers often do thinking they have forgiven someone when they have not.

Forgiveness is commonly identified as the choice to "let it go" when another person has hurt or offended us and later communicates "I'm sorry" for what they had done. The decision to "let it go" may lead to real forgiveness, but it often falls short as the offended person commonly continues to dwell on the offence, talk about it, and act as though they were still holding a grudge toward the person that hurt them. Biblical forgiveness is not based on any reasonable consideration of how we would expect a hurt or offended person to treat the one that hurt them. Biblical forgiveness is based in the perfect model of forgiveness that we ourselves have received from God through His Son. "...forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." (Ephesians 4:32). His forgiveness of us becomes a pattern for us to follow as disciples follow their master's example. What did Joseph's forgiveness of his brother's sin against him look like? It looked just like the forgiveness of Christ. Joseph put his brother's fears of reprisal from him to rest. He encouraged their hearts to have no fear of him. He promised to provide for them and even for their little ones. He comforted them and spoke kindly to them. He treated them exactly as they did not deserve to be treated. He treated them exactly the opposite of how they had treated him. He treated them as Christ would have in the same circumstance. He did not continue to dwell on their previous sin in the years to come, by brooding on it or calling it to mind. He did not talk about their sin by rehearsing to others how they had mistreated him in order to call attention to himself and elicit sympathy from others. He never again for the rest of his life acted against them, but rather only acted for their benefit and the benefit of their families. This is real spiritual and Biblical forgiveness. This is how God calls us to forgive one another.

50:24-25 - "Joseph said to his brothers, "I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob." Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, "God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here."

Joseph lived a long life of 110 years. He was 17 years old when his brother's betrayal sent him to Egypt. That means he lived a total of 93 years in Egypt. Joseph's best days were spent in Egypt. He attained great honor and significance in Egypt. His wife was an Egyptian and his sons were half Egyptian. His career was in Egypt. His spiritual calling and mission were in Egypt. After 93 years in Egypt and only 17 in Canaan, he was no doubt more familiar with Egypt and the Egyptian culture than that of the Promised Land. Yet, when the time for his death arrived, he was concerned to have his brothers swear to him that they would carry his bones with them for final burial beck to the Promised Land. The practicality of his request was difficult at best. The place he wanted to be buried was 300 miles away from where he died. He knew first hand what was involved in making such a journey having done so for his father Jacob. In addition, the fulfillment of his desire would have to await the time in future generations when the Lord would lead the children of Israel out of Egypt to return to the Promised Land. Until then, he would for the interim have no permanent burial place for his bones.

All of this indicates just how much easier and more convenient it would have been for Joseph to decide to be buried in Egypt instead. What could be so important for Joseph to insist on this burial site so distant in geography and time? There was only one reason for Joseph. He wanted to be buried in the land that God had promised to his father, grandfather and great grandfather. His commitment to a Promised Land burial was an expression of the faith with which he anchored his life to the Lord. "By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones." (Hebrews 11:22). Joseph lived out his life in Egypt by the commission of the Lord, having only briefly visited Canaan for his father's burial, but his heart was more identified with the Promised Land than it was with Egypt. The lesson applies in a similar way for us. We live out our lives and calling here in this present world by God's design and for His purpose. But, this world is not our final resting place. Our lives are here, but our hearts are anchored by faith to our eternal home.

Questions from Genesis 49:

Question: 49:5-7 - How does Jacob's diminished "blessing"/prophecy to Levi relate to that tribe being priests in service unto the Lord? Why might the Lord grant them a service of such great honor when their sins were so grievous as to receive a negative form of blessing?

Answer: Good question. The diminished blessing was given by Jacob to both Simeon and Levi. He addresses both sons / tribes in the identical way and we would expect an identical or at least very similar future for both tribes. In the proceeding history of Israel we find Simeon receding into the background as we would expect and having little role in the future of the nation. They are so diminished that later, in the distribution of the Promised Land to the tribes, the portion of land given to them is what is leftover from Judah's portion. On the other hand, the tribe of Levi later becomes one of the most significant tribes of all due to their special role as priests to serve in God's tabernacle and temple. The answer to why Simeon remains diminished, but Levi is restored to a position of significance is not found in our Genesis passage, but is explained in the book we will study next. Briefly, when Moses first comes down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets of God's Law and finds the people worshipping the golden calf, he stands in the gate of the camp and makes a public call for whoever will stand with him for the Lord to join him (Exodus 32:26-29). The only tribe of the 12 that responded to his call then was the tribe of Levi. Their faithfulness to the Lord in a moment of great spiritual crisis was rewarded by the Lord with their designation for the remainder of the Old Testament as the tribe to serve in His tabernacle / temple.




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