Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Genesis 17: The Everlasting Covenant

Read Genesis 17

This week is Holy Week. We are remembering the cost of our salvation. The price that was paid for our souls on a bloody cross.  We are celebrating Christ's victory over death. We are rejoicing over the emptiness of the tomb.  A mix of grief and joy.  Grief over our unworthiness and joy that Christ loved us enough to die on a Roman cross. Sorrow over our sin and gratitude for our bestowed righteousness. This is a week of stark contrasts: the deep darkness of Friday and the glorious light of Sunday morning.  But it is also a time to focus on the promises fulfilled.  Covenants everlasting.

Genesis 17 is full of promises and covenants and conditions.  God Almighty, El Shaddai, appears to Abram (now Abraham) and commands "walk before me and be blameless" followed by promises to multiply Abram greatly.  Abraham's faith in God allowed him to walk with God and appear blameless.  Was he sinless? Not by a long shot.  But God promises that IF Abraham walks before Him in faith, it will be counted to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)  IF Abraham follows God and God alone, He will become the father of many nations.  But more importantly, most importantly, God will be his God and the God of his offspring.

HE will be their GOD.  The lands and the possessions and the nations and the kings that are promised all pale in comparison to the EVERLASTING COVENANT that HE will be their GOD.  Not just Abraham's God, not just Isaac's God, but God to all those that are the offspring of Abraham.  This promises extends past the physical offspring of Abraham and encompasses those that walk with God in faith. This covenant is made over and over throughout the Old Testament.  (Read Exodus 6:6-8 and Leviticus 26:11-13)  And the people of God fail to fulfill their end of the covenant over and over again.

But God is never faithless and His covenant stands. We see it in Isaiah 9:6...
"For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." 
In Matthew 1:23...
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). 
In Luke 2:10...
"And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be to all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,w who is Christ the Lord." 

In Isaiah 53:5, 11-12...
"But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed."
"Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors."
In John 19:30...
"When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."
In Luke 24:2-6...
"And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen." 
 
In Romans 1:16-17...
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
Throughout the pages of the Scriptures, God renews His covenant with Abraham that those that He claims as His and walk before Him in faith, will be His children and HE WILL BE THEIR GOD.

That is the promise that matters.  Yes, Israel receives promises of land and power, but all of that will come because GOD is their God.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The God of Ruth, Esther and King David. The God of Mary and Joseph.  The God of Zacchaeus, Peter and Paul.  The God of every person that confesses that Christ is their Lord.


Further Readings:
Galatians 3:16-29; Acts 2:38-39; Romans 4:9-25; Ephesians 1:11-14

Questions:
1. Read the passage from Galatians. How does God's promise to Abraham, rather than the law of inheritance, combined with faith in Christ make us Abraham's offspring?  

2.  In the passage from Acts, what does Peter tell his listeners that they need to do to receive the Holy Spirit?  How are we reminded that the promise extends from Abraham to us?

3.  Read the Romans passage. How is the promise to Abraham realized through faith in Christ?  Did the covenant of circumcision justify Abraham?  Do our good acts justify us?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Genesis 16: Trusting God with our Dreams and our Fears

Read Genesis 16

Sarah has been barren since we were first introduced to her in Genesis 11:30.  And barren she remains.  Her concern is real. At this point in human history, her worth is based on her ability to bear children.  She has trusted Abraham as he has led her hither and yon.  She didn't question his faith in a God she could not see.  She didn't even question him when he told her to lie to the pharaoh of Egypt, though that poorly thought out plan could have gotten them killed.  She clearly trusted her husband, but did she yet trust his God?

Her decision to offer up her maid to her husband to start the family God had promised to Abraham indicates she did not.  Like us on any given day, she thought God needed some help fulfilling His promise.  She set her plan in motion and anticipated the day her family would begin. And like so many of our plans, her plan was a complete failure.

It didn't help matters that her husband who had faith in God went along with her hare-brained idea. He had shown great moments of faith in God, but he was not perfect.  He wanted a family and an heir just as much as Sarah.  He had even thought about conveying an inheritance to his manservant, but God told him he would have a son.  God PROMISED them a son. God PROMISED them their offspring would outnumber the stars.

His promise was not enough.  They listened to their own desires, their own insecurities and their own fears.  They listened to the voices of each other. They did not listen to the one voice that mattered.  God's voice.

Sarah chose to be ruled by her fears of never having a child.  It resulted in jealousy and drama in her home. Her fears led to a rift between two brothers that would continue into the current day in the unrest of the never ending war in the Middle East.  When we drown out God's voice with our own, God's purpose will still be fulfilled, but the road may be more twisted and treacherous than we had imagined. Sarah could have trusted God with her hopes and dreams, but she let fear and uncertainty rule her choices instead.

But even our bad choices can and will be used by God for His purpose.  Isaac would still be born, but he (and his offspring) would have an older brother to contend with for years to come.

Further Readings:
Proverbs 16: 2-4, 9, 20, 25; 19: 21
Hebrews 11:11

Questions:
1.  Read the verses in Proverbs.  If we believe in the sovereignty of God, and if we believe He is trustworthy and faithful, why do we insist on still doing things our own way?  How do the verses in Proverbs, when compared to Sarah's decision, encourage us to make decisions based on who God is not who we are?

2.  Read the verse in Hebrews.  This looks forward to the next phase of Sarah's life.  How does it affect our ability to trust God if we have relied only on the faith of others?  Sarah had relied on Abraham for so long, she did not know how to rely on God.  Her child, her promised descendants, would come from the Lord and her faith had to be in Him alone.  How did failing to trust God to fulfill His promises eventually lead Sarah to a personal faith in God?

Monday, February 29, 2016

Genesis 15: God's Promise

Read Genesis 15

There is so much going on in this chapter, but I keep being drawn in by God's first statement to Abraham.

"Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your very great reward." Genesis 2:1 (NIV)
God goes on to promise Abraham great things.  His offspring will outnumber the stars. The land before him will belong to his offspring.  He will rescue his descendants from slavery after 400 years. Promises that are all fulfilled.  God even seals the covenant with a ceremony that places the entire weight of the covenant on Him and reassures Abraham in the process.

But still, I'm focused on God being his shield and his very great reward.  It is this promise that is meant to satisfy and reassure.  Abraham has just defeated some great kings to rescue his nephew Lot. Kings that do not like to lose and who live close to Abraham.  God is telling him that HE is his shield.  He alone will protect Abraham and his future.

The part Abraham didn't seem to grasp completely was that GOD was his reward.  Yes, God would fulfill all of these incredible promises, but at the center of all of those promises was a relationship with God Himself.  I think this is the same thing we often forget in the midst of life.  We understand that GOD is our protector.  We understand that He is sovereign and nothing happens without His foreknowledge.  But we still think that our reward should come in the here and now.  Be it in financial blessings, physical blessings, or even spiritual blessings, we expect that when we follow God the rewards will come.

We forget that our reward has already come.  Anything else is just gravy.  The cherry on top of the huge sundae.  When we are able to find our contentment in Him alone, all the other blessings pale in comparison.

At the center of all these promises and covenants is GOD.  He is promising to redeem our relationship with Him.  It started with Noah and continued on down the line...all the way to a wooden manger in Bethlehem and ending with an empty tomb in Jerusalem.  When He coveted with Abraham, it wasn't about a son that would insure his legacy, but a Son that would insure his eternity.

He is our shield. He is our protector.  More importantly, HE is our reward.  Nothing else will ever compare.

Questions:
1.  What did Abraham think the whole covenant rested upon?  What was his biggest concern?  Who, in reality, had to fulfill the covenant?  How is that similar to the plan of salvation set forth in the New Testament?

2.  In verse 6, what changed Abraham's mind? Why do you think Abraham still needed reassurance after he believed GOD at his word?  Even though we believe in Christ, what causes us to look for reassurance in the Scriptures?

Further readings: 
Psalm 3:3; 27:1; 33: 12, 18-22; 84:12; 119:114
Isaiah 41:8-10; 43:1

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Genesis 14: Lot Needs a Rescue

Read Genesis 14

Abraham and Lot have settled into their areas, but there are "kingdoms" existing all around them.  These kings do not get along and before long, Lot is caught up in the middle of an ongoing battle between the kings. The Valley of Siddim was the place of the battle and there were tar pits throughout the valley that caused some major problems for the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah as they fled.  The victorious kings swept up all the fleeing kings possessions and provisions.  Somehow, Lot, along with his possessions (stuff AND people), were caught up in the net of the plundering kings.

Abraham gets word that Lot has been taken and he immediately sets in motion a rescue plan.  His trained men that numbered 318 defeated the kings that had taken Lot.  He pursued them and rescued Lot and all of his possessions (including his women and people).  I'm sure if this was told in a modern screenplay we would see commandos and stealth attacks and suspense as the kings were toppled by Abraham and his small band of warriors.  The story is not really about the battle though, the battle points us to a blessing Abraham will receive and it points us to the ultimate High Priest.

As Abraham heads back, he is met in the Valley of Shaveh by the King of Sodom and Melchizedek, Kind of Salem.  There is something else we need to know about the King of Salem.  He is also a priest of the God Most High.  Here we meet someone other than Abraham who worships God Almighty.  He blesses Abraham and then Abraham gives Melchizedek a tenth of everything, laying the foundation for future contributions to the priests of Israel.  Here we have the first priest of God Almighty bless one of God's own children.

After his blessing, there is some posturing by the King of Sodom and Abraham makes it clear that he knows from whence comes his provision, and it isn't some scrawny earthly king.  He did not want anyone to think he was beholden to the King of Sodom.  He declares that he has "lifted his hand to the Lord, God Most High, and to Him alone.   He made his profession of faith to the kings around him that the only king he served was the God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth.

Questions:
1. In light of how the King of Sodom treats Abraham in verse 21, look back at Genesis 12:3.  What is promised for anyone that dishonors Abraham?  Knowing what we do about Sodom and Gomorrah, how do things play out for the King of Sodom?

2.  Read Hebrews 7:1-3.  We get a little more information about Melchizedek and the meaning of his names.  Who does he foreshadow?  Now back up a little and read Hebrews 6:13-20.  Who is our "steadfast anchor?"  Prior to Christ, the only way to bridge the gap between a sinful man and a holy God was a priest that went behind the curtain that separated God from His creation and made atonement for the sins of the people.  Once Christ died on the cross, the veil was torn and He became our high priest.  How does the finality of Christ's atonement encourage us to "hold fast to the hope set before us?"  How do you think Melchizedek's blessing encouraged Abraham?

Further Readings:
Hebrews 12:1-2
Hebrews 9:6-14

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Genesis 13: Choices and Consequences

Read Genesis 13

Abraham survives his stay in Egypt and heads back to where his stay in Canaan had begun.  He went back to where he had built an altar to God and he "called upon the name of the Lord."  Maybe Egypt and the trouble Abraham barely escaped made him realize he needed to get back to where his faith in God had first taken him.  The altar he had built was a reminder for him of the promises God had made.  A reminder of the faith he had and the faithfulness of the God he served.

Abraham and Lot had both been blessed and they had flocks and herds that were too many for the land where they had made camp.  Abraham, as the elder, could have told Lot what land would be his, but instead, he graciously allowed Lot to choose the land he wanted.  Lot chose the land that was lush and well watered.  It is described like "the garden of the Lord."  Lot's choice, which was wise in the eyes of the world for all the natural resources it provided, would have consequences he could not imagine.

Lot's beautiful land was situated near some cities.  Those cities did not serve the Lord.  As a matter of fact, "the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord."  Lot's choice, one made with less than stellar motives, had consequences. Grave and life-altering consequences that we will see in chapter 14.

Abraham accepts Lot's choice.  He sets his tents in the place God intended for him and his future offspring.  God makes what appear to be wild and over-the-top promises to Abraham.  And every one of them would be fulfilled.  Abraham is back in a position of having to trust God.  He has no children.  None. Yet, God is promising that his offspring will be more numerous than the dust of the earth.  I can't even get a handle on the dust in my house, much less "the dust of the earth."  God promised Abraham that all the land for as far as his eyes could see and as far as his feet could travel would be his and his offspring's forever.  God is making some pretty big promises.  And right now, in this moment, Abraham chooses to have faith in this God who has never once failed him.  Even when he failed God.

Abraham chose God.  Sight unseen.  And his consequences led to blessings for all the earth through his offspring.

Questions:

1. Read Galatians 3:15-18.   Who is this "offspring" that God is speaking about to Abraham?  How will this offspring of Abraham bring blessings to the whole earth?  

2.  Once again, 13 chapters into God's story, and He is pointing us to his plan of redemption.  He is pointing us to our Redeemer. Look at Galatians 3:26-29, how does Paul point us back to God's promises to Abraham?  Abraham's faith was counted as righteousness.  How do we acquire righteousness?  (verse 26)


Monday, February 22, 2016

Genesis 12: Imperfect Faith

Read Genesis 12

"By faith (N)Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place (O)that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going." 
Hebrews 11:8
This is what the writer of Hebrews has to say about the faith of Abraham.  Read the rest of the verses about Abraham in Hebrews 11:9-20.  Throughout the Bible, Abraham would be known for his faith.  In Romans 4, James 2:23, and Galatians 3:6, we are told that Abraham believed the Lord and his faith was counted to him as righteousness. We see Abraham's ability to trust the Lord as soon as we are introduced to him in Genesis 12:4.  God says go and Abraham goes.  No questions. No fussing. He packs up and heads out to a land he does not know.  

To know God's calling for our lives and to respond in a way that brings glory to God...its what believers all hope to attain in our lifetime.  We want to be faithful and worthy, but in reality we look more like Abraham at the end of chapter 12 rather than at the beginning.  Wait...what?

Abraham exhibited incredible faith to pack up his family and move to lands unknown.  But when famine forces him and his family into Egypt, we are reminded that Abraham, like us, is still just a human.  His fear of man overcomes his fear of God and he lies to Pharaoh about Sarah.  He say she is his sister not his wife.  This causes major issues in Pharaoh's palace.  It could have ended badly for both Sarah and Abraham, but God's grace covers the whole mess.  Just because Abraham trusted God with His relocation plan, doesn't mean he trusted God with his wife.  Don't we often have trouble trusting God with what matters most to us?  Our families, our jobs, our security?

Abraham's faith was not perfect.  He trusted God sometimes and failed other times. We are no different.  Our faith is strong one moment and other times it seems it has simply vanished.  But God is always faithful.  He cannot be anything else.  When He declared it finished, it was.  Christ's blood covers us.  Once we belong to Christ, though we are faithless, He will remain faithful.  We see this here with Abraham, and we will see it again and again throughout Genesis.  

Abraham has incredible moments of faith that blow us away.  But just so we don't forget he is still human, he has moments when his fear of this world and the men in it overpower his trust in God.  Sounds pretty familiar doesn't it?  Don't let moments of faithlessness define your story of faith.  Abraham turned back to God every time he forgot he could trust Him.  God was waiting for him every time.  And Abraham's faith, as imperfect as it was, was counted to him as righteousness. 

Note: Abraham was known as Abram and Sarah as Sarai until God changed their names in Genesis 17.  To avoid confusion, I will just use their more familiar names of Abraham and Sarah.

 
Questions:
1.  How is God's command to Abraham similar to his command to Noah and his descendants?

2.  What are the 5 promises God makes to Abraham?

3.  What promise does God make in verse 7?

Further Readings:
2 Timothy 2:11-13
Romans 4



Sunday, February 21, 2016

Genesis 11: Tower of Babel

Read Genesis 11

This chapter required some cross-referencing, commentary from the ESV study Bible, and a little Matthew Henry to gain some comprehension.  I have to admit, at first, even though I've read this story numerous times, it just seemed kind of petty of God to confuse languages and create havoc because some folks wanted to build a tower.  After reading the verses a little more closely and looking at other corresponding verses, God's reaction made a lot more sense.

So, lets start with a few verses that give us some background.  Look up Genesis 1:28, 8:17 and 9:7. What is the command that God gives in each of these verses?  What does it seem God wants them to do from these commands?  Now look at Genesis 11:4.  What are the people of Babel saying they do not want to happen to them?  What happens to them in verse 9?  Were they building a city to bring glory to God or to themselves?  How did there plans prevent them from doing what God had commanded them?

We aren't so different from the people of Babel. We like our comfort zones.  We want to be in control of our destiny.  If God's commands don't match up with our desires, what is our tendency?  I don't know about you, but I tend to pray about it, think about it, bounce it off some close friends...then do what I want.  This has not always worked out well for me. We don't want to be challenged or uncomfortable.  Jesus gives His disciples (and future followers) a command in Matthew 28:18-20.  How is the Great Commission similar to the command God gave Noah's family after the flood?  What are we to multiply now?  Can we do that effectively by always being in situations that make us comfortable and feel safe?  Does God ever tell us that following His commands will be easy or safe?

God had given his people a direct command.  Be fruitful.  Multiply.  Disperse over all the earth.  And in typical human fashion, one group defies God and messes it up for everyone else. This will be a common theme as we move through Genesis.  Goodness, it will be a common theme as we move through all of history.  As men and women take matters into their own hands, either to defy God or "help" Him out, things do not go as they planned.  But there is one constant that runs through every story of disobedience...God's purpose is never thwarted by man.

The rest of chapter 12 once again focuses on the descendants of Shem.  It is Shem's line that will lead to Abraham and eventually the Messiah.  Notice how much younger the men are when they become fathers.  They are still living very long lives by today's standards, but they are becoming fathers at about the same age many men become fathers today.  Keep this in mind when we read about Abraham waiting for a son at the ripe old age of 100.

Questions:
1.  Where was Abram from originally?  When did he move and with whom did he move. (vs. 28, 31.)  Where did they settle?

2. What are we told about Sarai, Abram's wife?  

Further readings:
Psalm 2:1-6
Luke 1:51
Proverbs 16:9 and 19:21