Monday, October 31, 2011

Among the Philistines

Genesis 26:12-23

Abimelech had allowed Abraham to stay in the Philistine land, under his protection. As Abraham grew stronge, in Genesis 21, Abimelech had made a covenant or agreement with Abraham, that they would never attack and try to destroy the others people. When Isaac came to Gerar, he honored his agreement, allowing him to stay.

“Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year an hundredfold: and the LORD blessed him. And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great: For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him. For all the wells which his father's servants had digged in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped them, and filled them with earth.” (Genesis 26:12-15)

Isaac planted fields that produced a hundred times what he planted in Gerar, enabling him to keep far greater herds with a n increasing family of employees to care for them. After a while the Philistines started getting upset because he was doing so much better than they were.

Cattle cannot profitably graze areas more than about four to five miles from a source of water, because they use all their energy getting a drink over longer distances, and they do better if it is closer. Abraham had dug wells throughout the area to make all the grass usable. Like many environmental groups today, the Philistines viewed the wells as unnatural and refilled them, making much of their rangeland unusable and causing competition for the grass with Isaac’s herds. It is very much the same scenario we see being played out between ranchers and farmers and environmental groups today.

“And Abimelech said unto Isaac, Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we. And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there. And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham: and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them.” (Genesis 26:16-18)

Just as competition had forced Abraham and Lot to separate in order eighty years before, the competition for feed forced Abimelech to ash Abraham to move out of their grazing area because his requirements were even more than theirs, and if it resulted in conflict they feared the outcome. Isaac then moved farther out into the valley where the wells had been stopped up and reopened them, so he could use the grass in those areas.

“And the herdmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac's herdmen, saying, The water is ours: and he called the name of the well Esek; because they strove with him. And they digged another well, and strove for that also: and he called the name of it Sitnah. And he removed from thence, and digged another well; and for that they strove not: and he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, For now the LORD hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” (Genesis 26:20-22)

When Isaac made it feasible to use other areas, some of the Philistine herdsmen were jealous and claiming that the land and water belonged to them by right of prior occupation demanded it, even though they had not wanted it before. Isaac relinquished the well and area and moved farther , digging a well at Sitnah, where the same thing was repeated, Finally, going still farther out, he dug a well at Rehoboth that they didn’t take from him. It was far enough from the Philistines and other settlements that Isaac and his herds could be undisturbed.

Had Isaac chosen to fight over the wells, it is probable he could have held them, as Abimelech believed that Isaac’s band was stronger than the Philistine forces. Instead he had yielded in an effort to keep the peace. Clearly peace was more important than having his way. Fighting would have turned the jealousy to hatred he would have had to live with for the rest of his life. It is exactly what Ecclesiastes 10:4 advises. “If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offences.” Not rushing to protect our interests, even when we are treated unfairly, can prevent a lifetime of conflict. I Peter 2:19-20 states, “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” That doesn’t mean we should never stand up for ourselves, but that we should not be constantly on the defensive. As Christians, the best defense is not a good offense.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Just Like His Dad

Genesis 26:1-11

“And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar.” (Genesis 26:1)

Famine had forced Abraham to Egypt soon after he went to Canaan. Abraham had later made his home base among the philistines at Beersheba, but Isaac made Lahairoi his home base. Almost ninety years later, famine again forced a relocation and Isaac mover back to Gerar. While many would like to believe serving God ensures we will avoid problems, the scripture tells us that God allows both good and bad to come to everyone in Matthew 5:45, stating, “for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” We are repeatedly told we will have problems in the world. Isaac was no exception. He went back to Gerar.

“And the LORD appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of: Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father; And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” (Genesis 26:2-5)

Abraham had gone to Egypt to escape the famine the first time. God specifically instructed Isaac not to go to Egypt. In stead he promised that if Isaac would stay in the land and trust God, he’d bless him and fulfill all his promises to Abraham. The promises had been made to Abraham because he obeyed God, and did what God told him to do. This is not a contradiction of the statement in Genesis 15:6. “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Instead, it demonstrates the teaching in James 2:21-24. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” Real living faith will produce action. Faith that doesn’t result in action is dead and thus powerless.

“And Isaac dwelt in Gerar: And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon.” (Genesis 26:6-7)

Almost seventy years after Abraham had gone to Gerar, and ninety years after going to Egypt, and assuming the people were wicked and would kill him for his wife, had lied and said she was his sister, Isaac did exactly the same thing, for exactly the same reasons. Children copy and adopt the habits and attitudes of those they admire and associate with, and Isaac responded exactly like his father.

“And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.” (Genesis 26:8)

Clearly, the philistine men were less of a threat than Isaac imagine. It only reveals again how easy it is to make false assumptions about people. They had been in Gerar for a long time before anyone suspected the truth, which only came out when Abimelech looked out his window and saw them making out. It was not behavior one would expect between siblings.

“And Abimelech called Isaac, and said, Behold, of a surety she is thy wife: and how saidst thou, She is my sister? And Isaac said unto him, Because I said, Lest I die for her.” (Genesis 26:9)

When confronted with his lie, and asked how he could have made such a claim. Isaac used the same excuse as his father had, except he couldn’t claim that she was his half sister. It is hard to realize how closely our children may follow the example we set. The attitude was learned, not inherited.

“And Abimelech said, What is this thou hast done unto us? one of the people might lightly have lien with thy wife, and thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us. And Abimelech charged all his people, saying, He that toucheth this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.” (Genesis 26:10-11)

Isaac had told the lie solely to protect himself, with no thought of injuring anyone else, yet as Abimelech pointed out, it left and opportunity for someone to sin through ignorance. Believing she was unmarried, one of the Philistine men might well have taken Rebekah to be his wife, and brought judgment on the entire nation for condoning the adultery. The lies we tell in an effort to keep from hurting feelings or for self protection often expose others to temptation.

Leviticus 18 stresses that as Abimelech implied, like murder, sexual sin, if ignored, defiles a nation and brings God’s judgment on it. The New Testament does not authorize Christians to judge the world, but it does demand that they separate themselves from those who will not forsake their sin. To forgive those who repent is required, but tolerance is unacceptable, when overt sin is involved.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jacob and Esau

Genesis 25:19-34

“And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham begat Isaac: And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian.” (Genesis 25:19-20)

Abraham’s brother, Nahor seems to have been the progenitor of the Syrian people. By Isaac’s time they were already well established in Padanaram, a part of present day Syria. Sixty five years after Abraham left Haran, Isaac married Rebekah. After almost twenty years of marriage, Isaac began to get concerned that they weren’t going to have children and prayed that God would give them one.

“And Isaac entreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the LORD.” (Genesis 25:21-22)

God didn’t just give one, he gave twins, It was not what Rebekah expected and when it started producing unexpected discomfort from their movements, she prayed, asking God what the problem was.

“And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)

God informed her that she had twins and that they would be totally different, and eventually produce two very different tribes, with one much stronger than the other, and the younger becoming the dominant tribe. Many parents are surprised at how different one baby is from another from the moment they are born. Their basic temperment is set before thay are born, but the parents get to develop and direct it as the child grows. It is this inborn difference that creates many of the problems with modern society, which treats children as if they were parts on an assembly line, stamped out by some machine.

“And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them.” (Genesis 25:24-26)

Esau and Jacob were born four hundred fifty years after the flood, probably about 2150 BC. or a little before. They were different in every way. Esau was red and hairy, looking almost like he had a fur coat, even when he was born. Jacob, on the other hand was almost hairless at birth, and other women probably did like the Navajo women did with my son, rubbing his head and saying “no hair”. They were just as different in temperament as they were in appearance.

“And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (Genesis 25:27-28)

From the beginning, Esau was a man’s man. He loved hunting and probably other sports and devoted as much time as possible to enjoying himself. Even the his name, Esau, meant “rough.” With his love for adventure and lots of exciting stories, he appealed to his father in a way Jacob did not. Isaac also loved the fresh game Esau caught. Jacob was quieter, gentler, and more serious by nature, preferring to care for the livestock and do things around the house. These traits endeared him to Rebekah, who was probably frustrated by Esau’s tendency to ignore people’s feelings and things that needed to be done . Competition for their parents attention developed, as it always does, and because the parents favored one over the other, became more intense than normal.

“And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.” (Genesis 25:29-34)

Boys were fully grown and Esau had spent considerable time and energy hunting, climbing and hiking, leaving him feeling exhausted. When he got home, like most teenagers or young adult men who’ve worked hard, he felt like he was dying of hunger. The sight of Jacob cooking red lentils called his attention to his hunger and he demanded some right away. He got the nickname Edom or “Red” because of his craving for the red lentils pottage.

“And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.” (Genesis 25:31)

As his father’s favorite, Esau had probably gotten into the habit of lording over Jacob a little and his imperious manner irritated him. Unless the father specifically designated a younger son to do so, the eldest son inherited the bulk of the estate and the father’s position as his birthright. This would include all God’s promises to Abraham about Isaac’s descendants. Jacob offered to trade his lentils for the birthright.

“And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?” (Genesis 25:32)

Esau wanted the food now, and wasn’t about to wait to fix his own or placate his brother. He totally ignored the long term consequences of his actions to satisfy a temporary craving. He literally said the birthright meant less to him than a bowl of soup. How many people today do the same thing. Alcoholics buy liquor and allow their families to go hungry, gamblers buy lottery tickets rather than making their house payment, men have an affair that will destroy their marriage, and people don’t make their house payment so they can buy a new television. Later they will regret the decision, but it is too late then.

“And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.” (Genesis 25:34)

Although he probably hadn’t expected Esau to agree, Jacob wasted no time taking advantage of Esau’s lack of forethought and closing the deal. As soon as Esau got the food, he ate it and went on his way without a second thought, making it clear that what he had traded off didn’t really matter to him. The drunk, the Gambler, and the man who bought a TV all despise their home by putting something ahead of it. Later Esau felt buyer’s remorse, that Jacob had stolen the birthright, but it was his own decision.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Abraham’s Other Descendants

Genesis 25:1-18

Isaac married and moved to Lahairoi about ten years after Sarah died. Abraham had apparently maintained contact with his son, Ishmael during the intervening years but there was no meaningful relationship with Hagar. After more than ten years alone, Abraham decided to remarry.

“Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah. And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah. And Jokshan begat Sheba, and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, and Letushim, and Leummim. And the sons of Midian; Ephah, and Epher, and Hanoch, and Abidah, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah.” (Genesis 25:1-4)

Abraham lived forty five years after Sarah’s death and had six son’s by his wife, Keturah,, and lived to see many of his grandchildren. The best known of this group is Midian, the father of the Middianites.

“And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac. But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.” (Genesis 25:5-6)

Isaac was the son God had promised, and of Abraham’s beloved first wife Sarah. Most of God’s promises were for Isaac, although some applied to the other descendants simply because they were Abraham’s children. Abraham avoided future squabbles over how his estate was to be divided by dividing it among his children before his death. As the promised son, the son of his beloved Sarah, and the one who oversaw his father’s business, Isaac received the bulk of the estate, but Ishmael and each of Keturah’s sons received a large bequest.

“And these are the days of the years of Abraham's life which he lived, an hundred threescore and fifteen years. Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; The field which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth: there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.” (Genesis 25:7-10)

A hundred years after moving to Canaan, Abraham died, having established a strong presence in the land. He was buried by Isaac and Ishmael, in the cave he had purchased as a burying place for Sarah forty five years before, having had a long and full life. The focus of God’s blessing then turned to Isaac.

“And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac dwelt by the well Lahairoi.” (Genesis 25:11)

Although the primary focus shifted to Isaac, God did not forget his promise to Abraham about Ishmael.

“Now these are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah's handmaid, bare unto Abraham: And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam, And Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa, Hadar, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah: These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations.” (Genesis 25:12-16)

Hagar had taken an Egyptian woman to be Ishmaels wife according to Genesis 21:21. She produced twelve sons, each of which formed a tribe of their own. They lived in an area stretching from the edge of Egypt across the Sinai to the north western region of the Arab peninsula, fulfilling God’s prophecy that they would live in the wilderness. Several Arab tribes still trace their lineage back to Ishmael.

Some modern day Palestinians claim Abraham as their predecessor while others claim to be descended from the Philistines or Canaanite tribes.. It is probable that they are the results of the intermingling of Keturah’s descendants and the Philistine and Canaanite tribes.

“And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people. And they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, that is before Egypt, as thou goest toward Assyria: and he died in the presence of all his brethren.” (Genesis 25:17-18)

Relationships between Ishmael, Isaac and Keturah’s sons seem to have been fairly amicable, with all the brothers gathering at his deathbed. Ishmael lived about twenty nine years after Abraham died, so Isaac’s sons, Jacob and Esau, were about forty five when he died.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Meeting Rebekah’s family

Genesis 24:29-67

After she watered the servant’s camels, he had given her two gold bracelets and an earring, and asked about staying at her families home. She immediately ran home to tell them he was coming and show them the jewelry, which amounted to about five and a half ounces of gold.

“And Rebekah had a brother, and his name was Laban: and Laban ran out unto the man, unto the well. And it came to pass, when he saw the earring and bracelets upon his sister's hands, and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister, saying, Thus spake the man unto me; that he came unto the man; and, behold, he stood by the camels at the well. And he said, Come in, thou blessed of the LORD; wherefore standest thou without? for I have prepared the house, and room for the camels.” (Genesis 24:29-31)

It seems to have been the gold that got Laban’s attention. Such an expensive tip indicated considerable wealth, and an interest that could potentially be exploited. Years later, when Jacob came to visit and work for him, Laban repeatedly tried to take financial advantage of Jacob. He was delighted to have the servant come and stay with them.

“And the man came into the house: and he ungirded his camels, and gave straw and provender for the camels, and water to wash his feet, and the men's feet that were with him. And there was set meat before him to eat: but he said, I will not eat, until I have told mine errand. And he said, Speak on.” (Genesis 24:32)

After the camels were unsaddled and cared for, the normal customs of hospitality were followed, letting the men wash their feet and relax while a meal was prepared. That the servant was accompanied by other camel handlers undoubtedly impressed Laban, although traveling alone was unusual. It was always possible to be thrown from one’s mount or have an accident, and require assistance. The servant refused to even partake of their food under any misapprehensions. He was not there on his own account and was not rich himself, and he wanted them to understand that.

“And he said, I am Abraham's servant. And the LORD hath blessed my master greatly; and he is become great: and he hath given him flocks, and herds, and silver, and gold, and menservants, and maidservants, and camels, and asses. And Sarah my master's wife bare a son to my master when she was old: and unto him hath he given all that he hath.

And my master made me swear, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife to my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell: But thou shalt go unto my father's house, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son. And I said unto my master, Peradventure the woman will not follow me. And he said unto me, The LORD, before whom I walk, will send his angel with thee, and prosper thy way; and thou shalt take a wife for my son of my kindred, and of my father's house: Then shalt thou be clear from this my oath, when thou comest to my kindred; and if they give not thee one, thou shalt be clear from my oath.” (Genesis 24:34-41)

Eighty or ninety years before, Laban’s grandfather, Terah had taken his uncle Abraham and his nephew Lot and moved to Haran, several hundred miles away. About sixty five years before, Abraham and Lot had moved to Canaan, about another three hundred miles away. Later Nahor’s family moved to the area around Haran as well. Communication over about three hundred miles was difficult when walking was the only way of transportation, depending mostly on chance travelers. It is probable that this was the first direct contact they had had, although they had periodically had news about them as we saw in Genesis 22:20.

The servant quickly brought them up to date on the basic family news, then explained the commission he’d been given, to find a wife for Isaac from the local area who might have a similar religious background. He then described his prayer for guidance.

“And I came this day unto the well, and said, O LORD God of my master Abraham, if now thou do prosper my way which I go: Behold, I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass, that when the virgin cometh forth to draw water, and I say to her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water of thy pitcher to drink; And she say to me, Both drink thou, and I will also draw for thy camels: let the same be the woman whom the LORD hath appointed out for my master's son.

And before I had done speaking in mine heart, behold, Rebekah came forth with her pitcher on her shoulder; and she went down unto the well, and drew water: and I said unto her, Let me drink, I pray thee. And she made haste, and let down her pitcher from her shoulder, and said, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: so I drank, and she made the camels drink also.

And I asked her, and said, Whose daughter art thou? And she said, The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bare unto him: and I put the earring upon her face, and the bracelets upon her hands. And I bowed down my head, and worshipped the LORD, and blessed the LORD God of my master Abraham, which had led me in the right way to take my master's brother's daughter unto his son.

And now if ye will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me: and if not, tell me; that I may turn to the right hand, or to the left. ” (Genesis 24:42-49)

It was clear to the servant that Rebekah was the one God had chosen to be Isaac’s wife. In spite of that She and her family had the right to refuse to let her marry Isaac. If they refused, the servant would continue to look for a woman who was satisfactory. God doesn’t force people to do his will. Their refusal might well indicate that the servant had misunderstood God’s leading.

While I believe that God has a perfect mate for every person, both parties have to choose that one. Should they choose a different person, for whatever reason, they can still have a good and satisfying marriage if they want to. Even marriage to the right one will not ensure a successful marriage without considerable effort on both sides. Happily ever after is a fairytale that doesn’t happen automatically. It will not work unless both parties are convinced it is right.

“Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceedeth from the LORD: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master's son's wife, as the LORD hath spoken.” (Genesis 24:50-51)

After hearing how the Lord had directed the servant to Rebekah, her family were convinced it was God’s will and yielded with no resistance. The decision was no longer whether Rebekah should marry Isaac, but whether they would obey God.

“And it came to pass, that, when Abraham's servant heard their words, he worshipped the LORD, bowing himself to the earth. And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things. And they did eat and drink, he and the men that were with him, and tarried all night; and they rose up in the morning, and he said, Send me away unto my master.” (Genesis 24:52-54)

The Servant bowed to the earth, humbly thanking God for blessing his efforts. The same attitude is seen in every example of worship in the Bible. Pride is the antithesis of worship.

The dinner then turned into an engagement party with the servant presenting Rebekah with new clothes and jewelry, He also presented valuable gifts to her mother and brother. Can’t you just imagine the party? The next morning he wanted to get everything ready to leave.

“And her brother and her mother said, Let the damsel abide with us a few days, at the least ten; after that she shall go. And he said unto them, Hinder me not, seeing the LORD hath prospered my way; send me away that I may go to my master.” (Genesis 24:55-56)

The family hadn’t had a lot of time to adjust to the idea of Rebekah leaving and wanted her to wait ten days before leaving so they could adjust. The servant, on the other hand felt the need to finish his job. While a delay would have given the family a chance to get to know Isaac if he’d been there, it would serve no purpose without him, but giving a chance for doubts to arise. They finally left the decision to Rebekah.

“And they said, We will call the damsel, and inquire at her mouth. And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go. And they sent away Rebekah their sister, and her nurse, and Abraham's servant, and his men. And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them. And Rebekah arose, and her damsels, and they rode upon the camels, and followed the man: and the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.” (Genesis 24:57-61)

When Rebekah agreed that there was no point in a delay, her family blessed her, helped pack her belongings and those of her maids, and supplied water and food, sending them off. It would take a month or more to make the journey and Rebekah and her maids rode the camels, following the servant.

“And Isaac came from the way of the well Lahairoi; for he dwelt in the south country. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming.

And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel. For she had said unto the servant, What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us? And the servant had said, It is my master: therefore she took a veil, and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all things that he had done.” (Genesis 24:62-66)

Isaac kept the herds on the south grazing area, and met them on his way to meet his father. When she saw him and knew who it was, Rebekah followed the custom of the day, still practiced today in that part of the world, of wrapping herself with a veil when meeting a guy she was interested in. Today, American women hide behind an veil of feminine mystique in a similar fashion. The physical veil is easier to penetrate.

“And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.” (Genesis 24:67)

People often don’t realize how long grief can last. Ten years after his mother’s death Isaac was still deeply affected by it. Rebekah’s coming changed his emotional focus and he was finally able to put it completely behind him. Contrary to popular belief, physical activity may distract without giving emotional relief, leaving the person to struggle with it privately.

There is no indication of a formal wedding, Isaac simply took her to his mothers tent, and they were considered man and wife. Many groups today would say they were living in sin since there was no approved wedding. Though that has been taught by both Catholic and Protestant groups for at least five hundred years, it is a perversion of the scriptures, and contributes to many of the modern marriage and family problems.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Identifying God’s Choice

Genesis 24:10-27

“And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his master, and departed; for all the goods of his master were in his hand: and he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, unto the city of Nahor. And he made his camels to kneel down without the city by a well of water at the time of the evening, even the time that women go out to draw water.” (Genesis 24:10-11)

The servant was Abrahams oldest servant, probably the one who would have inherited if Isaac hadn’t been born. He had been with him since they left Haran and perhaps even before they left Ur. He went straight to the city where Abraham’s brother Nahor lived in Mesopotamia, not too far from Haran. Nahor and his family appear to have later followed Terah.

Humans need interaction with other people for emotional health. With no modern conveniences, a woman had to carry and heat water, clean house, make and wash clothes, obtain and prepare food, and care for her children. There was little time for relaxation or interaction with other people. It became a custom to carry the water in the late evening when it was cooler, and most of the work was done, so the women could walk together and help each other. It gave them a chance to visit while they worked, satisfying the emotional need. The servant arrived about the time the women would be going to the well.

“And he said, O LORD God of my master Abraham, I pray thee, send me good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham. Behold, I stand here by the well of water; and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water: And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that thou hast showed kindness unto my master.” (Genesis 24:12-14)

If he made his purpose known, the young women would be on their best behavior, and it would be difficult to know what they were really like, and contacting them would give it away. The servant started by what many call putting out the fleece, asking God for a sign which girl was the right one. There is nothing wrong with doing so, but we need to be sure we are actually seeking God‘s will, and not just looking for a way to justify our decision. There is a joke about the pastor who had tried out for another church and been asked to come. He told his wife to go start packing while prayed about whether they should go. A lot of times the sign we request is weighted in favor of the outcome we desire, or contrary indications are ignored.

He would approach a girl and ask for a drink of water, a normal and reasonable request. He asked that the Lord make the right girl offer to water his camels as well. Camels can go for days without drinking, consuming as much as ten gallons of water at a time when thirsty. Usually, one would be expected to unload the camels and water and care for them himself or hire someone to do it. Nobody in their right mind would volunteer to do such a thing without charge, considering the number of trips that would be required, when their family was waiting for the water. It wasn’t going to happen unless God caused it, so there could be no doubt. If the first girl didn’t respond properly, he could ask another one for a drink.

“And it came to pass, before he had done speaking, that, behold, Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder. And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her: and she went down to the well, and filled her pitcher, and came up.

And the servant ran to meet her, and said, Let me, I pray thee, drink a little water of thy pitcher. And she said, Drink, my lord: and she hasted, and let down her pitcher upon her hand, and gave him drink.

And when she had done giving him drink, she said, I will draw water for thy camels also, until they have done drinking. And she hasted, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again unto the well to draw water, and drew for all his camels.” (Genesis 24:15-20)

Before he’d even finished his prayer, a beautiful girl went down into the well to get water. Though the servant had no way to know it, she was Abraham’s great niece, Isaac’s second cousin, and a virgin. The servant immediately asked her for a drink when she reappeared with the pitcher of water. Cheerfully giving him a drink, she then offered to water his camels, although each one would require one or more trips into the well. It was the sign he had asked for.

“And the man wondering at her held his peace, to wit whether the LORD had made his journey prosperous or not.” (Genesis 24:21)

Amazed, probably at the speed with which God answered his prayer, the servant waited to see if it was just a sincere offer or just a polite response. He didn’t want to jump to any false conclusions. As she cheerfully made repeated trips to the well, it was obviously more than just a matter of being polite. She didn’t stop until the camels were satisfied.

“And it came to pass, as the camels had done drinking, that the man took a golden earring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold; And said, Whose daughter art thou? tell me, I pray thee: is there room in thy father's house for us to lodge in?” (Genesis 24:22-23)

In appreciation of her effort, the servant gave her a gold earring and two gold bracelets totaling about five and a half ounces of gold. He then asked who she was and if there was the possibility of staying at their home over night as was common in that day and culture.

“And she said unto him, I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, which she bare unto Nahor. She said moreover unto him, We have both straw and provender enough, and room to lodge in.” (Genesis 24:24-25)

Not only did she fulfill the sign the servant asked for, she also met the requirements Abraham had set, being of the very family. In addition, he would be welcome to stay, and there would be ample food for both he and his camels. It was far more then he had any reason to expect.

“And the man bowed down his head, and worshipped the LORD. And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my master of his mercy and his truth: I being in the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master's brethren.” (Genesis 24:26-27)

The servant took time then to do what so many fail to do, stopping to thank God before going any farther. A lack of thankfulness is a mark of an unholy people. As the servant acknowledges, God blessed because he was doing what he was commissioned to do.

“And the damsel ran, and told them of her mother's house these things.” (Genesis 24:28)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Isaac Needs A Wife

Genesis 24:1-9

Ten years after Sarah’s death, when Abraham was a hundred forty, he became increasingly concerned about his son Isaac’s future. While Abraham got along well with the Canaanites and had many friends among them, and some of them believed in God, none of them had the same background of faith that Abraham and his family had. People tend to adopt the attitudes and practices of those they are closely associated with, and Abraham was concerned that to marry one of the Canaanite girls could easily lead Isaac away from following the Lord, but there were no other girls and women for Isaac to meet.

“And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh: And I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell: But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac.” (Genesis 24:1-4)

Abraham commissioned his oldest, most trusted servant to Go back to Haran where they had originally come from and take a wife from there because they had had similar upbringing. Hopefully, their beliefs and practices would not be so different as to turn Isaac completely away from following God. Centuries later, under the Mosaic Law, God forbid Israel to marry certain groups for the same reason, that they were more apt than other groups draw them away from God because of their customs and religion. The same principle of maintaining a separation from who do not hold the same standards is found in the new testament in passages like I Timothy 6:3-6, II Thessalonians 3:6, Romans 16:17, and II Corinthians 6:14-17. We are not to be hateful toward them, we are just not to get too closely associated.

“And the servant said unto him, Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou camest?” (Genesis 24:5)

The servant’s question was how far he was expected to go in obtaining a wife for Isaac. Was he to forcibly bring her back, or set up a visit, or just walk away? Was the girl to have any say in whether they got married?

Marriages between powerful families have often been arranged to strengthen their families power or prestige throughout history. Unfortunately, the those who are getting married become nothing more than a pawn in the effort to satisfy ambition, with the result that they are forced to marry with no consideration of their desires or happiness. While they sometimes work out, some are just endured and unhappiness and infidelity are common. The servant recognized that the girl might not want to marry a man she didn‘t know.

At various times in American history, couples have arranged to marry without ever meeting each other. Many such marriages worked out well, if both parties wanted to make it work, proving that a successful marriage is more a matter of commitment and cooperation than of compatibility or physical attributes. Unfortunately, it is difficult to judge commitment or willingness to cooperate by a letter or personal ad or dating profile. Even modern dating customs give little opportunity to make an accurate assessment of the person. It is easy to present a false fa├žade in such settings, because everyone knows they are expected to act in a specified manner.

Because he knew Isaac, the servant would be able to observe the girl in real life and see if she seemed appropriate, while not being emotionally involved. People looking for a mate are emotionally involved and tend to overlook things that later cause problems. One of the advantages of taking the prospective mate to visit the family is that you get a slightly less emotionally involved perspective. Under the Old Testament Law, a brother was required to marry his sister-in-law if his brother died, giving him a special interest in who was picked. While we don’t practice that, the entire family will be affected by the decision. Friends and associates, especially older ones, often provide an even more objective viewpoint. Aquaintances of the prospective mate may know things that are not readily apparent.

“And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again. The LORD God of heaven, which took me from my father's house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spake unto me, and that sware unto me, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence. And if the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath: only bring not my son thither again.” (Genesis 24:6-8)

Abraham had come to the land of Canaan following God’s leadership, and God had promised that land to Isaac and his heirs forever. The servant was not to take Isaac back where family relationships and common culture might cause him to forget what God had promised. God would lead the servant to a proper wife, without Isaac having to make the trip. If she was unwilling to commit, the servant would have no further responsibility. A forced marriage would be unlikely to be satisfactory.

“And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and sware to him concerning that matter.” (Genesis 24:9)

On that basis, the servant accepted the commission to find Isaac a wife.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The First Permanent Possession in Canaan

Genesis 22:20-23:20

“And it came to pass after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, Behold, Milcah, she hath also born children unto thy brother Nahor; Huz his firstborn, and Buz his brother, and Kemuel the father of Aram, And Chesed, and Hazo, and Pildash, and Jidlaph, and Bethuel. And Bethuel begat Rebekah: these eight Milcah did bear to Nahor, Abraham's brother. And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, she bare also Tebah, and Gaham, and Thahash, and Maachah.” (Genesis 22:20-24)

After Abraham’s father, Terah left his son Nahor in Ur of the Chaldees, Nahor’s family had grown quite a lot. He had eight sons by his official wife Milcah and four more by a concubine or mistress, Reumah. It is important to note that while society made a distinction between those who are legally married and the mistress, scripture frequently describes the concubine as wife, implying that God does not make the same distinction, as seen in Judges 20:4-6. The statements in Matthew 19:6 and 9 that it is God’s action and not the human ceremony that marries a couple, and the statement in I Corinthians 6:16 that the sex act itself results in the joining indicate the same thing. Only those whose father refused to acknowledge them were considered “bastards” or illegitimate under the law and excluded from membership I Israel.

One of Nahor’s sons, Bethuel moved to Haran and had several children including a daughter named Rebekah and a son named Laban.

“And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.(Genesis 23:1-2)

Though Abraham had established Beersheba as his home base, planting an orchard there and returning regularly, he still maintained a nomadic lifestyle, as demanded by the grazing of his lifestock. While living near Kirjath-arba, later known as Hebron, Sarah died, fifty-five years after they moved to Canaan. She was a hundred and twenty, and Isaac was thirty. Abraham was a hundred and thirty. They may have even celebrated their hundreth wedding anniversary.

“And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” (Genesis 23:3-4)

After all those years together, never owning a place they could really call theirs, Abraham wanted a place to bury her where they always had the right to go back and remember her. In the centuries to come, that graveyard would provide a measure of stability and connection for future generations. The current practice of having ones ashes scattered will leave future generations without one visible connection to their forebearers, and may leave them with a sense of rootlesness. Abraham asked to buy a piece of land for that purpose.

“And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him, Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead.” (Genesis 23:5-6)

The descendants of Heth, later known as the Hittites had basically adopted Abraham as one of them, and offered him his choice of the burial places they had prepared for their families because of their respect and love for him. There was no payment needed.

“And Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth. And he communed with them, saying, If it be your mind that I should bury my dead out of my sight; hear me, and entreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar, That he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which is in the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it me for a possession of a buryingplace amongst you.” (Genesis 23:7-9)

The funeral provides a mechanism for those with strong emotional ties to begin adjusting to a person’s death. Though modern society views preparing the body and planning the funeral as somewhat macabre, it has an important therapeutic value for those involved. The proper disposal of the body is also a major step. In my experience the modern practice of waiting until the family has departed before filling the grave leaves them with a sense of incompletion. Often keeping an urn of ashes does the same thing. While they may be discounted a sirrelevant in today’s society, the ancient traditions were developed to meet specific needs and should not be lightly ignored for convenience sake.

Rather than take one of the Hittites prepared sepulchers, Abraham asked to buy a cave located in the end of a field belonging to Ephron that made the land less valuable for farming. It would have not greatly affect the Hittites while serving the purpose adequately. It wasn’t like they were fixing a place for her to live, or were trying to make up for what she hadn’t had when she was alive. Elaborate and expensive funeral preparations are often the result of a sense of guilt for having neglected the person while they lived, and many funeral homes play on the sense of guilt and pride of already emotionally distraught people to maximize their profit.

“And Ephron dwelt among the children of Heth: and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the audience of the children of Heth, even of all that went in at the gate of his city, saying, Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee, and the cave that is therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee: bury thy dead.

And Abraham bowed down himself before the people of the land. And he spake unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land, saying, But if thou wilt give it, I pray thee, hear me: I will give thee money for the field; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there.

And Ephron answered Abraham, saying unto him, My lord, hearken unto me: the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver; what is that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead.” (Genesis 23:10-15)

Ephron would have been happy to give the field to Abraham, publicly ofering it, but two things probably held Abraham back. First, he wanted to do something for Sarah, and if Ephron gave it, it would be Ephron’s gift, and not his. Secondly, at some future date Ephron’s heirs might begin to resent the loss of the property. By buying it, they would have no valid reason for resentment. Ephron said the entire field would only be worth four hundred shekels of silver.

“And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant. And the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure Unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city.” (Genesis 23:16-18)

Instead of just buying the cave, Abraham legally bought the entire field for a cemetery. He, his son Isaac, his grandson Jacob would all be buried there, as would his great grandson Joseph, almost five hundred years later. During their enslavement in Egypt, the Cave of Machpelah would remain as a reminder of Israel’s home and God’s promise, providing a sense of stability.

“And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan. And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a buryingplace by the sons of Heth.” (Genesis 23:19-20)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Testing Abraham

Genesis 22:1-19

About forty years before, Abraham had gone to Canaan following God’s leadership, with no knowledge of where they were going, just heading to a place where God would show them. For twenty five years he had lived a nomadic lifestyle, surrounded by potential enemies, although he had established friendships with some of the Amorites and Hittite families. His very survival day by day had depended on God enabling him to find enough grass for his livestock and protecting him from his enemies. He was constantly reminded of his total dependence on God.

After making a treaty with the Philistine king, Abimelech, and receiving permission to live in their land, the risk of attack by marauders was greatly reduced. The orchard he planted made his food supply far less susceptible to the vagaries of the weather since the roots reached far deeper into the soil and were less affected by a few days without rain.

Without the constant struggle and reminders it would have been easy to begin to depend on the orchard and his treaty with the Philistines rather than God. Affluence turns at least as many people away from the Lord as poverty does. Proverbs 30;8-9 alludes to the problem. “Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” Would Abraham have transferred his faith to something else after ten or twenty years of ease like Lot did?

“And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” (Genesis 22:1-2)

James 1:13 commands, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:.” At first glance it sounds like a contradiction in scripture. It is a result of the translation process. The word used here refers to the concept of testing by forcing to make a choice, whereas the Greek word used in James has the implication of trying to trick into doing wrong. God often tests our obedience, but he is never trying to cause us to fail.

As an example, local Mormon bishops have taught that when adam was tempted in the Garden, he had to choose between eating the forbidden fruit in order to populate the earth and not eating it to prevent death coming into the world. It seems they consider the forbidden fruit as the sex act. They refer to the temptation in the Garden as the Paradox. James 1:13 tells us God never puts anybody in such a position.

Abraham had followed God for twenty five years, believing his promise to give the land of Canaan to his heirs before Isaac was born. Several years after Isaac’s birth and being forced to give up Ishmael, God asked Abraham to voluntarily give up his son Isaac. Would his love for God still outweigh his family ties like it had when he left his family in Haran to follow God? As Jesus said in Matthew 10:37, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Luke 14:26 makes it clear they can’t be saved if they put family ties ahead of God.

“And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.

And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.” (Genesis 22:3-6)

Acting on God’s command was not a spur of the moment decision. It involved gathering and cutting a load of wood, catching and saddling a donkey and loading him, then traveling on foot for three days to the place God commanded, carrying and maintaining burning embers the entire distance. There was lots of time to think about and reconsider his decision, but Abraham remained committed.

“And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7)

We don’t know how old Isaac was, but he was old enough to know what a sacrifice involved. Apparently he wasn’t very old however, from his acceptance of Abraham’s answer. Imagine the burden his question must have placed on Abraham, emphasizing as it did what he was about to do. How many Christians have left or refused to go to a mission field because of what their children might be exposed to?

“And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.” (Genesis 22:8-10)

All Gods promises to Abraham had centered around Isaac. With Isaac dead, all God’s promises would effectively become meaningless. Would God really demand obedience in such a case? Faced with such a decision, most people would have answered “no”. Abraham never hesitated in obeying God, although there must have been a great deal of turmoil in his soul. He was prepared to kill Isaac if that was what God wanted.

“And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” (Genesis 22:11-12)

Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel portrays the knife already in motion and an angel rushing to stop it in time. As my art appreciation teacher said, there is such a tension about the painting, whether the angel will make it in time. While it may make the paintindg more exciting, it is totally false. There was never any question. If it went that far, God could freeze his arm or block the knife at any time, but there is no indication he had done more than pickup the knife, and he was surely looking for a reason to stop.

God was pleased that Abraham was willing to even give up his son to please God. It demonstrated that he loved God even more than he loved his own son. All God desires is that he means more to us than anyone else.

“And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.” (Genesis 22:13-14)

Abraham had told Isaac God would provide a sacrifice, knowing full well that it might well be Isaac himself. Instead, God provided a ram as a substitute, accepting it in Isaac’s place. Romans 6:23 tells us “…the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Just as Isaac did not have to die because a ram was sacrificed instead, we do not have to die because Christ was sacrificed in our place.

“And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:15-18)

Because of Abraham’s total obedience to God, he renewed his covenant with Abraham, even expanding it slightly. Had Abraham refused, God would not have broken his promise, but he would not have received the additional abundance. How many of us have missed the abundance God would have given because we hesitated to fully follow God?

“So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.” (Genesis 22:19)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Building A Relationship With The Neighbors

Genesis 21:22-34

When Abraham went into Egypt it was a deliberate move, but his move into Philistine country was just a routine move to find more grass. Unfortunately, as he drifted away from The area around Bethel, he was exposed to groups he knew nothing about, and in Genesis 20, repeated his sin of failing to trust God to protect him, lying about his relationship with Sarah. Fortunately, at the time, the Philistines were a God fearing people and forgave Abraham for exposing them to such temptation and allowing him to remain in their land.

“And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest: Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son's son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.” (Genesis 21:22-23)

After observing him for a while. The Philistines recognized God’s influence in his life and wanted to be sure they didn’t come into conflict. The king and his top general came to Abraham asking for a treaty, promising that Abraham and his family would not attack them, in his day , his son’s nor his grandson’s day, but would treat them as the Philistines had treated him. As Proverbs 16:7 declares, “When a man's ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.” They couldn't afford to fight when God stood for him.

“And Abraham said, I will swear.” (Genesis 21:24)

Knowing they were an honorable and God fearing people, Abraham had no problem making such a treaty. There was no need for a written agreement because both could be depended on to keep their word. Nothing more should be required according to Jesus in Matthew 5:37, “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”

Conflicts are going to arise, no matter how much people want to get along. In Luke 17:1, Jesus told his disciples, “…It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!” People who expect an agreement or marriage to eliminate all problems set themselves up for failure. The agreement with Abimelech did not prevent problems.

“And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well of water, which Abimelech's servants had violently taken away.” (Genesis 21:25)

Abraham was able to point out the problem, to reprove Abimelech without aattacking him or the Philistines. In a spirit of mutual respect they were able to deal with the situation without anger or recrimination.

“And Abimelech said, I wot not who hath done this thing: neither didst thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it, but to day.” (Genesis 21:26)

Abimelech had been unaware that an offense had been given. Many times problems arise in day to day life with no intention or awareness of giving offense. To attack, verbally or physically forces the one attacked to defend himself, escalating the conflict. Learning to reprove rather than accuse prevents the escalation, making it possible to resolve the problem. Abimelech’s reproving of Sarah in Genesis 20:16 is and example of how it should be done. He makes it clear how things should be without accusing her.

“And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant.” (Genesis 21:27)

Mutual respect requires that each believes both has something worthwhile to offer. Abimelech was offering permission to live in his land. Abraham offered some of his livestock in appreciation. By accepting them, Abimelech demonstrated his respect. Neither was trying to gain power by their offers, and to refuse to accept would have been disrespectful. Abraham refused what the king of Sodom offered because it was offered with the intent of gaining prestige or power. Abraham’s offer and Abimelech’s acceptance were both acts of mutual respect. A lack of respect is what destroys most relationships.

“And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What mean these seven ewe lambs which thou hast set by themselves?

And he said, For these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me, that I have digged this well. Wherefore he called that place Beersheba; because there they sware both of them.” (Genesis 21:28-31)

Seven ewe lambs were given as a token to remind Abimelech’s people that the well belonged to Abraham. It was similar to the wedding ring to remind everyone that a couple are married, or baptism to remind a Christian he belongs to God. It is not essential, but it serves as a reminder. Without it, it is much easier to forget and do things one shouldn’t. Abraham named the well Beersheba, or “well of the oath.” The name will serve to remind both sides of the covenant.

“Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba: then Abimelech rose up, and Phichol the chief captain of his host, and they returned into the land of the Philistines.

And Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the LORD, the everlasting God. And Abraham sojourned in the Philistines' land many days.” (Genesis 21:32-34)

Planting trees indicates a commitment to stay since it takes years to grow a tree. It provided a sense of stability for both Abraham and his servants, and for the Philistines. They no longer had to worry about someone else taking his place and ignoring the treaty. Over the years, I have watched Christians who never committed themselves, and they had very little long term impact on the community. On the reservation, missionaries who just move in a trailer to have church in aren’t taken very seriously, but those who build a permanent building and plant some trees, while they may not attract many people to the church, earn a place in the community.

In much the same way, people who never join a local church, while they may be respected, have made it clear they are not committed and can leave at any time. Relationships take time to grow and people hesitate to develop them without assurance tey will last. Abraham had been in the area more than twenty five years, leading the Philistines to believe he would stay, but planting a grove of trees made it sure. At the same time, the Philistines commitment to him encouraged Abraham to commit to staying. The results would be felt for more than two hundred years, affecting several generations.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Separation From Ishmael

Genesis 2:9-21

While God never specifically forbids polygamy, it is clear from his prohibition for church leaders to have more than one wife in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 that it is not his preferred standard. As Acts 17:30 tells us, there are some things God overlooks, although they are not exactly the way he wants them. Marriage involves a bonding between a man and a woman, so that they become “one flesh”. Adding a third person contaminates and distorts that bonding, weakening the marriage. Even though they may go on to have a good marriage, the ‘other woman’ or man is always there., even if they died. I Corinthians 6:16 makes it clear that even a single sexual encounter produces that bonding. Abraham’s liason with Hagar that resulted in Ishmael’s birth, even though suggested by Sarah herself, caused problems between Sarah and Hagar and damaged Abraham and Sarah‘s relationship. These problems carried over into their relationship with Ishmael as well.

“And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.” (Genesis 21:9-10)

Ishmael was about sixteen, fourteen years older than Isaac. Older children tend to tease younger ones, not necessarily maliciously. With the tensions already between Sarah and Hagar and Ishmael, Sarah resented his teasing. These same tensions are found in every situation where remarriage or sexual infidelity occurs. It is a thoroughly normal situation.

Sarah demanded that Abraham separate himself from Hagar and her son. Sixteen years of tensions had finally gotten to her. She demanded that he choose between the two.

“And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son.” (Genesis 21:11)

Such situations result in everyone getting hurt. Hagar had fled from Sarah once before. Ishmael is made to feel he isn’t important, and will be deprived of a proper relationship with his father. Sarah has had her relationship with her husband weakened and lost her trust of Hagar, as well as not being able to have a regular friendly relationship with Ishmael as Abraham’s son. Abraham’s relationship with Sarah had been damaged by a lack of trust. He could not maintain an pure employer relationship with Hagar, and his relationship with his son was threatened.

“And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.” (Genesis 21:12-13)

Though Ishmael was Abraham’s son, and he had an obligation to both Hagar and Ishmael, God instructed him to allow the separation and trust God to take care of them. I Corinthians 7 provides a great deal of instruction about relationships, both to our mates and to God. One of the things that come across clearly is that we cannot make a relationship work by force. As Christians sometimes it is impossible to maintain peace. Trying to hold a relationship together in the face of such constant conflict can become a reproach rather than a testimony for God.

The constant jealousy of Sarah toward Hagar and Ishmael would affect both Isaac and Ishmael negatively, perhaps turning both away from God. If one party refuses to make any effort to work it out, a separation may be necessary to reduce the conflict, and Sarah was clearly refusing to. I Corinthians 7:15 commands, “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.” Whether dealing with those who are teaching false doctrine, or living in sin or in family problems, when it becomes apparent that one party refuses to make any effort at resolving the problems, separation may be the only thing we can do. God has called us to peace. Every effort should be made to resolve conflict but it may not be possible, except by separating. After sixteen years, it was apparent Sarah was not going to back off.

“And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.” (Genesis 21:14)

Even when we are forced to separate, we are not to burn our bridges behind us. We should leave the possibility of reconciliation. The wife who felt forced to leave her husband should be free to return to her husband , according to I Corinthians 7:10-11, the sinning Christian who was expelled from the church is to be forgiven if he repents according to II Corinthians 2:5-6, and the heretic is not to be counted as an enemy according to II Thessalonians 3:14-15.

Abraham did not just cut Ishmael off but provided for he and Hagar as best he could under the circumstances, providing food and water to help on their journey.

“And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.” (Genesis 21:15-16)

When the water was gone and they were suffering from dehydration, Hagar left Ishmael under a bush and went where she wouldn’t have to witness his suffering. Though he was sixteen, he was still a child in many ways and she couldn’t bear the thought of his death.

“And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation. And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.” (Genesis 21:17-19)

Like most of us from time to time, Hagar had become so focused on her problems, she had not seen the solution, and had given up hope. She didn’t realize God had brought her to the perfect place until God caused her to see the well. Before showing her, he reminded her that he was going to take care of them. Imagine her joy when she saw the well.

“And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 21:20-21)

Ishmael became a successful hunter and remained in the wilderness area, later marrying and Egyptian woman. More than two hundred years later, Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph to some of his descendants as a slave.

Galatians 4 uses this story to demonstrate that human efforts can never substitute for faith.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Birth Of Isaac

Genesis 21:1-8

Twenty five years before, God had directed Abraham to Canaan, promising to give th eland too his descendants. Ten years later, convinced Sarah was too old, they had attempted to have a child using Hagar as a surrogate mother. God had made it very clear that was not what he intended, and finally Sarah got pregnant and had her own child.

“And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.” (Genesis 21:1-20)

Sarah was ninety when Isaac was born. Most others had children by the time they were thirty. After sixty years of trying, Sarah had believed she was incapable of having children, especially since Abraham was even older.

“And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him. And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him.”(Genesis 21:3-5)

Just a year before Isaac’s birth, God had made a covenant with Abraham, to give his heirs the land forever. In return, his heirs were to make God their God. As a token of their acceptance of the covenant every male was to be circumcised when he was eight days old. Refusing circumcision was similar to giving up one’s citizenship today. When Isaac was eight days old, Abraham obeyed the command, and had Isaac circumcised.

“And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age.” (Genesis 21:6-7)

Abraham had laughed with joy and Sarah with amazement when it was announced that Issac would be born. When he was born, one can only imagine the joy, and they named him Isaac, or ‘Laughter’ to commemorate the joy they experienced. Even despite God’s promise they had begun to despair that it would happen. As Proverbs 13:12 declares, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.”

“And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.” (Genesis 21:8)

For the next couple of years, Isaac grew in a normal manner. When he was old enough to be weaned, it was a cause of celebration because it indicated that he had survived the most vulnerable period of his life. And was growing normally. It was a special milestone and was celebrated accordingly.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

He Did It Again

Genesis 20:1-18

“And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar.” (Genesis 20:1)

Large herds of livestock require constant movement to new pastures. When the grass in andarea became depleted, Abraham moved to new areas to be close to the herds. As he traveled, he stayed for a time in the city of Gerar, a city the Jews would later own. At the time it was ruled by a king of what would later become the Philistine people.

“And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah.” (Genesis 20:2)

Twenty four years before, in Genesis 12, Abraham had gone to Egypt because of a famine. Fearing others would kill him for his wife, he had pretended she was his sister. The king had taken her to be his wife when he discovered the truth, and expelled Abraham from Egypt because the Egyptians feared it might result in God’s judgment if someone believed him. Faced with a similar situation, Abraham responds the same way, telling the same lie. Humans tend to repeat their mistakes unless something forces them to change. Inevitably, it produces similar results. Like Pharaoh, Abimelech took her to be his wife.

“But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife.” (Genesis 20:3)

God had revealed the truth to Pharaoh, and he revealed it to Abimelech as well. God’s penalty for adultery was always death for both parties, whether administered by the courts, or by the mate or their family. Though he was still alive, Abimelech was as good as dead if he went ahead. Clearly God takes sexual sin far more seriously than most modern Christians.

“But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.” (Genesis 20:4-5)

Abimelech had acted totally on what he had been told with no idea it was a lie. He had had no intention of doing anything wrong, and had not had sexual relations with her. He was innocent of any wrong doing.

“And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her. Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine.” (Genesis 20:6-7)

God had known that Abimelech had no intention of sin and had prevented him from committing it. It is the same thing believers are promised in Romans 6-8, that God will keep his children from sin. Like Abimelech, once we are aware of the danger, we have to make the decision whether to go ahead. If Abimelech continued once he knew he would suffer the consequences. Hebrews 10:26-7 warns, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.”

“Therefore Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants, and told all these things in their ears: and the men were sore afraid.” (Genesis 20:8)

Abimelech made what had happened clear to his people and they feared what God might do. Clearly they had a high level of respect for God. When Abimelech didn’t take her, none of the others would be inclined to try.

“Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done. And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing?” (Genesis 20:9-10)

Next, Abimelech confronted Abraham. Notice that it was not in and antagonistic or confrontational manner. He made him aware that what he’d done was wrong and exposed Abimelech and his people to sin, but he asked what had happened that made him think it necessary. Sometimes we unintentionally act is a way that causes people to respond wrongly, and a defensive confrontational attitude puts them on the defensive.

“And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake. And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father's house, that I said unto her, This is thy kindness which thou shalt show unto me; at every place whither we shall come, say of me, He is my brother.” (Genesis 20:11-13)

Like we so often do, Abraham had assumed the People did not believe in God and attempted to prevent being attacked, instead of trusting God. As Romans 14:23 declares, “…whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” The sin of unbelief led to the further sin of lying. He justified the lie to himself as being true, even though it was not the whole truth, and it was something they had agreed to before.

“And Abimelech took sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and womenservants, and gave them unto Abraham, and restored him Sarah his wife. And Abimelech said, Behold, my land is before thee: dwell where it pleaseth thee.” (Genesis 20:14-15)

Unlike Pharaoh, Abimelech did not kick Abraham out of the land, but gave him permission to live wherever he wanted to. Later they became friends.

“And unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver: behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that are with thee, and with all other: thus she was reproved.” (Genesis 20:16)

Abimelech also confronted Sarah for her part in the mess. She had gone along with Abraham’s decision, and would have been guilty of adultery as well. The wife should never be looking at other men as a possible mate, any more than the man should. That her husband her to do it did not relieve her responsibility for her actions. We can’t blame the leaders when we knowingly do wrong, contrary to the teaching of some.

“So Abraham prayed unto God: and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants; and they bare children. For the LORD had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah Abraham's wife.” (Genesis 20:17-18)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What the Children Learned

Genesis 19:30-38

Lot had begged to be allowed to stop at Zoar, because he was afraid to trust God and go into the mountains as God originally directed him. The destruction of the entire valley reached to the very walls of Zoar, with his wife being killed because she turned to look back just outside.

“And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters.” (Genesis 19:30)

Frightened by his narrow escape, Lot was afraid to remain in Zoar even though God had given him permission to do so. Having lost all the belongings that originally led to his going to Sodom, he fled to the mountains and took refuge in a cave there, isolated from everyone. His daughters were aware of the isolation and feared their desires would never be met so they decided to take action for themselves.

“And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth: Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.” (Genesis 19:31-32)

Growing up in a the girls had been able to have anything they wanted because Lot was rich, and a leader in the city. Boyfriends and parties were readily available, and the girls had seen their other sisters caught up in the activities , even if they weren’t allowed to. In a sexually promiscuous society like Sodom, kids were expected to have sex. Because they weren’t worried about over population they didn’t bother about birth control. The attitude was much like the present attitude in the United States, that something is wrong with kids who aren’t sexually active. Even Lot had come to accept promiscuity as acceptable, offering his daughters for sexual use to protect the two angels. Moving into a cave in the mountains with no one else around must have been a real letdown.

Having lost all their belongings, separated from their friends, and with no guys around, the girls despaired of ever having a life like they used to. Their decision reveals again how completely Lot’s moral standard had been lost by his decision to continue to stay in Sodom despite the wickedness around him. Their actions were similar to those of many “Christian” young people today when faced with major change.

“And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose. And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose. Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. And the firstborn bare a son, and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day. And the younger, she also bare a son, and called his name Benammi: the same is the father of the children of Ammon unto this day.” (Genesis 19:33-38)

Once one accepts the idea that sex is a need, rather than a want, it is easy to justify sexual perversions of all kinds. Since Lot was the only man around, they committed incest with him. Lot went along with the getting drunk, eventually going into an alcohol induced sleep, when the first girl took advantage of his stupor to have sex. This was repeated with the younger daughter the second night and both girls wound up pregnant as they had hoped. Their progeny were the forefathers of the Moabites and the Ammonites. Though they were relatives, they would eventually become some of Israel’s most implacable foes.

An illegitimate child was not to be accepted as a Jew because he had been conceived in violation of God’s standards according to Deuteronomy 23:2. Those who committed incest were to be separated from among the people while those committing adultery were to be executed. The same casual attitude toward sexual sin by the Moabite is seen in Numbers 25. As a result, Deuteronomy 23:3 commanded, “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:” It was an exclusion reserved solely for these two groups.

Lot’s failure to teach his children or set a proper example had serious consequences for later generations.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Destruction Of Sodom

Genesis 19:12-29

“And the men said unto Lot, Hast thou here any besides? son in law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whatsoever thou hast in the city, bring them out of this place: For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD; and the LORD hath sent us to destroy it.” (Genesis 19:12-13)

After pulling Lot to safety and making the mob unable to break into the house, the angels informed Lot of God’s plan to destroy the city because of the wickedness. Lot had no questions as to the truth of the warning.

“And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law.” (Genesis 19:14)

Though Lot knew the Lord, and was troubled by the wickedness of the people around him, he had chosen to stay because of the advantages of the city and area. Because he had been willing to put up with the evil, his son in laws did not believe he really considered the sin serious, and assumed he was just making fun of the culture around them by copying the attitudes of neighboring cities. Lot had sacrificed his testimony for some creature comforts, and it would cost the lives of his daughters and grandchildren.

“And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city. And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.” (Genesis 19:15-16)

Reluctant to leave his property and his daughters and their families behind, Lot dithered as long as possible, probably hoping they would change their minds and come along, even though he was warned that he would die if they didn’t leave in time. Finally, because of God’s mercy, not allowing him to suffer the consequences of his sin, the angels forcibly dragged them from the city to save them.

“And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed. And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord: Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast showed unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die: Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.” (Genesis 19:17-20)

Even after being forcibly removed from his home and warned to leave the valley completely, lot still hoped to benefit from his time in Sodom. He begged to be allowed to keep a little part of what he wanted. It would be just too hard to go out into the mountains and start over. Something bad might happen to him. Couldn’t he just hold on to a little of the old belongings? After all, Zoar was just a minor city and didn’t have much influence.

“And he said unto him, See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow this city, for the which thou hast spoken. Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do any thing till thou be come thither. Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.” (Genesis 19:21-22)

God allows us to have what we demand even though it is not what he wants for us. Psalm 106:15 describes him doing that for Israel in the wilderness. “And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” Answered prayer is not always the blessing we might think. God agreed to allow lot to go to Zoar, reminding him that God was waiting for him to get there.

“The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar. Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.” (Genesis 19:23-25)

It was shortly after sunrise when Lot entered Zoar. Almost immediately judgment rained down. The fire and brimstone must have been like a volcanic eruption, destroying everything in the immediate area. When it was over all that remained is what we now know as the Dead Sea. The concentration of minerals that resulted is so strong that almost nothing grows in the entire valley, even four thousand years later.

“But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 19:26)

The angels had warned Lot not to look back or stop anywhere in the plain, but Lots wife
looked back, probably thinking of the children she was leaving behind. It cost her life, leaving only a little column of chemical compounds or salts. Just stopping to look left her exposed and cost her life. Those inside the city were protected by the walls. Had she kept running, she would have been okay.

Luke 14:26 states, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” Lot’s wife was still so concerned over the family and things she was leaving behind she disobeyed God and stopped to look back one time. Holding on to her family and past cost her life. As Jesus said in Luke 9:62, “… No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

“And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the LORD: And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace. And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt.” (Genesis 19:27-29)

Had he not known what God planned, the sight of the smoke would have caused Abraham immense concern that the flames might move in their direction as well as concern for Lot and his family. Because he knew what was happening his apprehension was alleviated. Because of Abraham’s concern for Lot, God saved him from the consequences of ignoring sin even though he had become so corrupted by wickedness as to have almost forgotten what was right.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Wickedness of Sodom Confirmed

Genesis 19:1-11

Lot had originally separated from Abraham because their herds were competing for the same forage. Lot had chosen the best land for himself, and began to move toward Sodom. When the two angels arrived in Sodom, they found Lot sitting in the gate of the city. Because of the walls around the cities, everyone coming into the city had to pass through the gates. Those trying to attain political or financial advantage would sit in the gate of the city to make themselves known. That Lot was sitting in the gate implies he aspired to gain a better position in the city.

“And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant's house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night. And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.” (Genesis 19:1-3)

Genesis 13:13 describes the attitude of the people of Sodom. “But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly.” Lot was definitely troubled by the attitude and actions of the Sodomites, according to II Peter 2:8. “(For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;)” Undoubtedly, he convinced himself that he could raise the standards if he gained enough prestige. Knowing the wickedness , he insisted that the two men, the angels, not spend the night on the streets as they would have in other cities of the day.

“But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.” (Genesis 19:4-5)

The angels had been seen when they came into the city. Sexual perversion was so prevalent that the men of the city came to Lot’s house demanding to gang rape the two men. They could care less whether the two angels wanted to or not, caring only about their own desires. They had no clue they were angels, since they had no wings or halos.

“And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.” (Genesis 19:6-8)

Lot knew homosexuality was wicked, stating that the men were staying in his house for protection against that very thing. As a substitute, he offered to let them rape his two daughters instead. While he still has a moral standard, it has clearly been corrupted by constant association with the men of Sodom. As I Corinthians 15:33 warns, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.” Although he considered himself better than the Sodomites, his standard was not much better.

“And they said, Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door.” (Genesis 19:9)

Selfish and wicked people become incensed when they don’t get their way and will do almost anything to get it. A child throwing a temper tantrum is developing the same wicked attitude. The men of Sodom accused Lot of thinking he was better than them and threatened to treat him even worse than what they intended to do to the two men. They became violent in their attempts to force their way in.

“But the men put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut to the door. And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door.” (Genesis 19:10-11)

God knew what the men of Sodom were like, but he would not condemn them without making sure according to Genesis 18:20-21. “And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.” Clearly they were just as bad as he thought. The angels pulled Lot inside, but that didn’t stop them so they caused them all to be blind. Even that didn’t stop them, but they couldn’t find the door to break in. Wickedness sees only it’s own goals.