Blessed to Be a Blessing

16 Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. 17 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” 20 Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” Genesis 18:16-21 ESV

From a cursory reading of this text, it appears that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was intended as a graphic illustration to Abraham of what happens to those who fail to walk before the Lord blamelessly. The city of Sodom was of special interest to Abraham because his nephew was a resident there. As detailed in chapter 14, Lot had chosen to leave the fertile Jordan Valley and move his wife and two girls into the urban environment of Sodom. And in chapter 13, Moses gave a brief, but telling synopsis of the moral conditions within Sodom.

Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord. – Genesis 13:13 ESV

Yet, when Lot and many of his fellow citizens of Sodom had found themselves taken captive by the four kings who had invaded the Jordan Valley, Abraham had come to their rescue. With a small army of 380 men, Abraham had defeated the far superior forces of the enemy and made it possible for the captives to go free and return to their homes in Sodom. That had included Lot and his family.

Now, in chapter 18, the Sodomites enter into the story of Abraham’s life once again. This time, as the three visiting angels of the Lord prepare to part ways with Abraham, they cast their eyes on the city of Sodom, lying in the valley below. As Abraham walked alongside his departing guests, he was unaware of the conversation going on between them. But the question they considered was whether they should inform Abraham about God’s plans for Sodom.

“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?” – Genesis 18:17-18 ESV

The three visitors had dropped in on Abraham in order to reassure him of God’s plan to give them a son through Sarah, is wife. And it “just so happened” that their reiteration of God’s promise was overheard by Sarah. This was not a case of luck or fate, but part of the sovereign will of God. He had planned all along for Sarah to eavesdrop on the conversation and hear the divine pronouncement concerning her future pregnancy and delivery. God was letting His doubtful daughter know that she was the chosen vessel through whom His promise would be fulfilled.

It would be through this future offspring of Abraham and Sarah that God would eventually bring blessings upon the nations of the earth. But God intended Abraham’s descendants to live holy lives, conducting their lives with integrity and displaying a sold-out commitment to His will and ways. He had even given them the covenant sign of circumcision as a visual reminder that they were to be distinctively different than all the other nations around them. God had promised to give to Abraham’s offspring the land of Canaan and He had added the divine commitment, “I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8 ESV).

And as God’s angelic messengers looked out over Sodom, they were instructed to inform Abraham of the divine plans for this godless community. And God’s reason for divulging His plans was so that Abraham might understand the gravity of refusing to keep the way of the Lord by doing what was right and just.

“For Abraham will certainly become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. Then I will do for Abraham all that I have promised.” – Genesis 18:17-18 NLT

Abraham and his family had been set apart by God, and they now bore the sign of their set-apart status as God’s possession. All the male’s of his household had undergone the rite of circumcision. But one of his blood relatives, his nephew Lot, had not been included in the ceremony because he had chosen to live amongst the wicked of Sodom. In a real sense, Lot had chosen to live set apart from Abraham and his God.

Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram. So Abram settled in the land of Canaan, and Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain. – Genesis 13:11-12 NLT

And, eventually, Lot had set aside his tend for the comfort and security of a home within the walls of Sodom. The uncircumcised Lot had made himself at home with the uncircumcised and unrighteous people of Sodom.

God wanted Abraham to know that obedience was going to be a non-negotiable requirement for His set-apart people. They would not be free to live anywhere they liked or to conduct their lives according to their own wills. They were His possession and were expected to live in keeping with that one-of-a-kind designation. They were “to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just” (Genesis 18:19 NLT). It was not their behavior that would determine their set-apart status. It was their set-apart status that would dictate their just and right behavior. And God was going to provide Abraham with a powerful visual lesson regarding the fate of all those who have not been set apart and whose lives reflect their unholy status.

 So the Lord told Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know.” – Genesis 18:20-21 NLT

God seems to indicate that He has just become aware of the sordid situation in Sodom and Gomorrah. But the sovereign, all-knowing God of the universe hadn’t just discovered the rampant wickedness going on among the inhabitants of these two urban enclaves of immorality and sin. He had known all along. It was Abraham who was ignorant and misinformed. He had no idea just how bad things really were in his nephew’s hometown. So, God’s report must have caught Abraham by surprise.

Having never set foot in Sodom, Abraham had no way of knowing what was taking place inside the city’s walls. And it is unlikely that Lot had ever divulged any of the disreputable and immoral activities of his neighbors.

There’s an interesting note in the second letter of Peter that provides some insight into Lot’s life as he lived among the wicked of Sodom. While it would be easy to assume that Lot’s constant exposure to the evil taking place within his community eventually compromised his convictions and led to his complicity with their immoral behavior, Peter suggests otherwise.

God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and turned them into heaps of ashes. He made them an example of what will happen to ungodly people. But God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. Yes, Lot was a righteous man who was tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day. – 2 Peter 2:6-8 NLT

Two times in these verses, Peter declares Lot to be a righteous man. In fact, it states that he was “sick of the shameful immorality” of his neighbors. Their wicked behavior left him “tormented in his soul.” And, as the story in Genesis 18 will soon reveal, it would take a divine act of God to rescue Lot from his predicament.

But don’t miss the other point that Peter is making. God used the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as “an example of what will happen to ungodly people” (2 Peter 2:6 NLT). And this example was intended for Abraham’s benefit. The reason God had set Abraham apart was to that He might make from him a great nation. And God had promised to bless that nation so that it might be a blessing to the rest of the nations, including wicked people like those living in Sodom and Gomorrah. Without the blessing of God, they were destined to live their lives under the curse that came as a result of the fall and faced with the condemnation of death for their sins.

God wanted to bless. But for His blessings to eventually reach the lost living in places like Sodom and Gomorrah, His chosen people would need “to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just” (Genesis 18:19 NLT). God wanted Abraham to be an eye-witness to the destructive power of His justice and holiness. And He wanted to Abraham to share His heart for all those living under the curse of death and the condemnation of divine judgment for sin.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Walking With and Waiting On God

15 And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” 19 God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”

22 When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. 23 Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. 27 And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him. Genesis 17:15-27 ESV

This has proven to be a momentous day for the 99-year-old Abram. His most recent encounter with God has resulted in him receiving a new name and the newly established rite of circumcision. No longer will Abraham be allowed to live his life as he sees fit, simply waiting for God to come through and fulfill His covenant commitments. This entire chapter reveals God’s determination that Abram and his descendants will be expected to live their lives in keeping with their status as His chosen people. God has assured Abraham time and time again that He will be faithful to fulfill His covenant promises. Now, God demands that Abraham conduct his life in a manner that displays his set-apart status. And as a not-so-subtle reminder, God commanded Abraham and his male descendants to seal their commitment with the costly and painful “sign” of circumcision. This “visible” sign would be hidden and unknown by everyone except the one who bore it and the all-seeing God who had ordered it. Only a man’s parents, his wife, and Yahweh would know whether he had been circumcised.

This hidden sign helps explain God’s earlier command to Abraham: “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1 ESV). God was giving Abraham and his male descendants a sign that would be virtually invisible to all. Yet, God would know. His all-seeing eyes would be able to tell if a man had chosen to live a blameless or upright life, wholly committed to God’s will and ways.

On that very same day, God informed Abraham that his wife Sarai would receive a new name as well. She would now be called Sarah. Both names mean “princess,” so it would appear that God altered the spelling of her name to signify a break with the past. Things were going to be different from this point forward. And God confirms this new future by assuring Abraham of Sarah’s role in His plan to bless the nations.

“I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” – Genesis 17:16 ESV

God had always intended for Sarah to be the “princess” who would become the “queen mother” of a great nation. Despite her old age and barrenness, God was going to bless her and make her fruitful.

But this “good news” was difficult for Abraham to accept. While he seemed to believe that God could provide him with more descendants than there are stars in the sky, he couldn’t see how Sarah would play a role in making it happen. And, as he reverently bowed before the Lord, he silently scoffed, saying, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Genesis 17:17 ESV). For Abraham, God’s promise was believable, but it was His plan that was questionable. And this is when he reveals his stubborn belief that the son Hagar had born to him would be a more logical alternative.

“Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” – Genesis 17:18 ESV

Abraham was campaigning for Ishmael, and attempting to convince God that Sarah’s Plan B was not only workable but preferable. Abraham was asking God to alter His plan and bless the son Hagar had already delivered, rather than hopelessly waiting for the son Sarah seemed incapable of bearing. But God would have none of it, and He delivered His firm and unwavering ultimatum to Abraham.

“No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. – Genesis 17:19 ESV

Sarah’s old age was not going to be a problem for God. Her barrenness would not stand in the way of the all-powerful, sovereign God of the universe. The God who created the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing), would have no trouble producing a child from an elderly woman with a barren womb. This would be a miracle child who would be the key to God fulfilling His supernatural plan for mankind’s redemption.

God confirms that Ishmael will be fruitful and produce many nations. But he would not be the son of the covenant. That privilege was reserved for the child that had not yet been conceived or born. But that child already had a name: Isaac. And, throughout the rest of his life, every time Abraham heard that name, he would receive a painful reminder of that day when he scoffed at God’s promise of a son through Sarah. Isaac’s name means “he laughs,” and God would use the birth of this child to turn Abraham’s derisive laughter into heartfelt expressions of joy and delight.

God made it clear that Isaac, the son not yet born, would be the one through whom the covenant promise would be fulfilled.

“I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” – Genesis 17:19 ESV

And God assured Abraham that Sarah would miraculously deliver this son within a year’s time. God committed Himself by putting it on the calendar. And then He departed. So, for the next 12 months, Abraham was going to have to wait and see if God would do what He said He would do. And each day, Abraham would be faced with the unwavering reality that not only were he and Sarah growing older but that her barrenness remained. It seems logical to assume that, during that 12-month delay, Abraham and Sarah would have continued to try and produce a son. But month after month would pass without any change in their circumstance. And as time passed, their doubt and despair would have intensified. That year would have passed by with excruciating slowness, and all Abraham and Sarah could do was worry and wait.

But Moses reveals that Abraham obeyed God’s command to circumcise all the males in his household. And he points out that Abraham underwent the rite at the age of 99. Even Ishmael, the son of an Egyptian maidservant, was circumcised at the age of 13. The doubter was still diligent to do what God had commanded him to do.

That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.” – Genesis 17:26-27 ESV

For the next year, Abraham, Sarah, and the members of their household would be expected to walk before God and be blameless. But as Thomas L. Constable makes clear, “Blameless does not mean sinless but with integrity, wholeness of relationship. God requires a sanctified life of those who anticipate His promised” (Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Genesis). Over the next 12 months, other sons would be born into Abraham’s household. His slaves and servants would bear sons, and each of them would need to be circumcised. And every time a child was born and underwent the rite of circumcision, Abraham and Sarah would receive a painful reminder that they remained barren and childless. Their integrity would be challenged. Their faith in God’s promise would be tested. And with each passing day, His call to walk in wholeness of relationship with Him, despite their doubts and despair, would become increasingly difficult to obey.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The King of Righteousness

17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. 21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.’” Genesis 14:17-24 ESV

Having won a God-ordained victory over the four kings of Mesopotamia, Abram returned home with his nephew, Lot, and all the plunder that had been taken from Sodom by King Chedorlaomer. Upon his return, Abram was greeted by two kings. One was Bera, the king of Sodom, while the other was Melchizedek, the king of Salem. While Bera was introduced in verse two of this same chapter, Melchizedek makes his first appearance. It seems quite obvious why Bera would come out to meet Abram and his troops as they returned from battle. His city had been sacked and plundered by the coalition of kings from Mesopotamia and Abram had “brought back all the possessions” (Genesis 14:16 ESV) that had been taken. Abram has rescued all of the city’s stolen treasure and the citizens who had been taken captive, and Bera wanted to express his appreciation. He even offered to let Abram keep all the plunder as a payment for his efforts.

Give back my people who were captured. But you may keep for yourself all the goods you have recovered. – Genesis 14:21 NLT

But it seems that Abram wanted nothing to do with Bera or his treasure. He firmly, but graciously refused the offer, stating, “I solemnly swear to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will not take so much as a single thread or sandal thong from what belongs to you. Otherwise, you might say, ‘I am the one who made Abram rich.’ I will accept only what my young warriors have already eaten, and I request that you give a fair share of the goods to my allies—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre” (Genesis 14:22-24 NLT).

Moses has already made it clear that “the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13 ESV). Even the king’s name bore witness to his own immorality and evilness. In Hebrew, his name, בֶּרַע (beraʿ) means “son of evil.” This raises the question of how any parent could burden their child with such a harsh and almost prophetic name. And interestingly enough, the king of Gomorrah was saddled with a similarly unflattering name. His was בִּרְשַׁע (biršaʿ) which can be translated “with iniquity.” These two men ended up ruling over two of the most wicked and godless communities on the face of the earth. They were the epitome of the attitude that had pervaded the earth right before God destroyed it.

everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. – Genesis 6:5 NLT

So, Abram’s decision to refuse an offer from this corrupt king makes sense. He didn’t want anything to do with Bera or his treasure. And Abram had already made a vow to God that he would not accept any reward for his services. He knew that to do so would place him in a position of subservience to Bera. This godless, pagan king could claim that he was the one who made Abram wealthy and use that as a future bargaining chip to obligate Abram for additional help when needed. Abram would owe Bera.

The reward Bera was offering Abram must have been substantial because it would have made Abram wealthier than he already was. According to Genesis 13, Abram was well-off.

Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. – Genesis 13:2 ESV

But while Abram was unwilling to accept any compensation, he allowed his men to choose their share of the reward. He didn’t attempt to burden his men with the requirements of the personal vow he had made to God. Rather than force his convictions on them, Abram graciously allowed them to decide for themselves.

This now brings us back to the second king mentioned in the narrative: Melchizedek, the king of Salem. As if out of nowhere, this king shows up in the story without introduction and with no explanation as to who he was. His name appears nowhere in the opening verses of the chapter. He was not one of the nine kings involved in the battle. And his name appears in none of the genealogies recorded in the earlier chapters of Genesis. There are only three other places in Scripture where Melchizedek is mentioned. The first is in a psalm written by King David. In it, David states that God has declared him to be “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4 ESV). Jesus would later use this same psalm to prove His claim to be the Christ, the Messiah of Israel (Matthew 22:41-46). So, he believed this song of David to be a prophetic statement about Himself. He was that priest after the order of Melchizedek. The fact that Melchizedek appears on the scene with no apparent genealogy and then disappears with no mention of his death makes him a type of Christ. He was the king of Salem, the future site of Jerusalem. Melchizedek, which was likely his title and not his  name, means “King of Righteousness.” This appellation is meant to stand in stark contrast to that of Bera, the “son of evil.”

In the midst of the predominantly pagan Canaanite culture, this “righteous” king suddenly appears on the scene, offering bread and wine to Abram and his men. Moses describes him as “a priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18 ESV). In other words, he was far more than just another king. He was a servant of Yahweh, the God who had called Abram and who had promised to make of him a great nation. This would have been the first time that Abram encountered another human being who also worshiped El Elyon (God Most High).

Once again, Melchizedek receives little mention in the Scriptures, but where his name does appear, it is associated with Jesus. In the book of Hebrews, the author presents Jesus as the better high priest, stating:

…no one can become a high priest simply because he wants such an honor. He must be called by God for this work, just as Aaron was. That is why Christ did not honor himself by assuming he could become High Priest. No, he was chosen by God, who said to him,

“You are my Son.
    Today I have become your Father.”

And in another passage God said to him,

“You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” – Hebrews 5:4-6 NLT

In the very next chapter, the author declares that Jesus “leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary” and “has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20 NLT. And then the author provides some much-needed explanation as to Melchizedek’s identity and his relationship with Jesus.

This Melchizedek was king of the city of Salem and also a priest of God Most High. When Abraham was returning home after winning a great battle against the kings, Melchizedek met him and blessed him. Then Abraham took a tenth of all he had captured in battle and gave it to Melchizedek. The name Melchizedek means “king of justice,” and king of Salem means “king of peace.” There is no record of his father or mother or any of his ancestors—no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God. – Hebrews 7:1-3 NLT

Melchizedek was meant to foreshadow the great high priest who would come to earth offering bread and wine in the form of His own body. In an upper room in the city of “Salem” (Jerusalem), Jesus would share a final Passover meal with His disciples and, just like Melchizedek, offer His disciples bread and wine.

As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”

And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.” – Matthew 26:26-28 NLT

Melchizedek fed Abram and his men, then pronounced a blessing.

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessor of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” – Genesis 14:19-20 ESV

In doing so, he confirmed Abram’s desire to honor God with his victory. Melchizedek emphasized the sovereign power of Abram’s God. It was God Most High who had brought about the defeat of the four kings. Abram had enjoyed victory over his enemies only because God had ordained it. This blessing was meant to encourage Abram in his faith. His God was great and fully capable of doing the impossible. This reminder was going to come in handy in the days ahead when Abram found himself doing battle with doubt rather than waging war with human kings. He was going to need constant reminding that His God was truly great. The days ahead were going to require great faith. And Jesus, like Melchizedek, would provide His followers with similar words of encouragement.

“…truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:20 ESV

And as a result of Melchizedek’s gracious gift of bread and wine and the comforting words of his blessing, “Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14:20 ESV). Once again, the author of Hebrews provides an explanation for Abram’s actions.

Consider then how great this Melchizedek was. Even Abraham, the great patriarch of Israel, recognized this by giving him a tenth of what he had taken in battle. – Hebrews 7:4 NLT

Abram recognized the superior nature of this priest/king and gave to him a tenth of all the spoil he had brought back from the battle. He honored this man as a servant of God and returned the blessing by sharing a portion of the riches that God had allowed him to recover. But as great as Melchizedek was, he stands in the shadow of the greater high priest.

…a different priest, who is like Melchizedek, has appeared. Jesus became a priest, not by meeting the physical requirement of belonging to the tribe of Levi, but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. And the psalmist pointed this out when he prophesied.

“You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” – Hebrews 7:15-17 NLT

There is no mention of Melchizedek’s death. And the author of Hebrews states that “He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God” (Hebrews 7:3 NLT). He points to the one to come who will offer Himself as the bread of life and whose blood will be “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 ESV). God blessed Abram through Melchizedek, but God would bless the nations through Jesus, the offspring of Abram.

But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins. – Hebrews 7:24-27 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

All In God’s Timing

10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. Genesis 12:10 ESV

Abram was on the move. He had built a second altar in the hill country near Bethel, but then had “journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb” (Genesis 12:9 ESV). Once again, the text provides no reason for Abram’s choice of destinations, but since the entire book showcases the sovereignty of God, it makes perfect sense to assume that these excursions were divinely ordained and directed. Abram was being led by God.

And, after having passed through Shechem in central Canaan, Abram had traveled further south to the region just east of Bethel. And while Abram had pitched his tent there, he did not stay long, choosing instead to continue his journey to the southernmost tip of Canaan, a desert region known as the Negeb. This name, in Hebrew, is נֶגֶב (neḡeḇ), which literally means “south.” For some undisclosed, but sovereignly ordained reason, Abram was moving away from the heart of Canaan, the very land that God had promised to give to his descendants. And verse 10 provides the first hint at what might be behind God’s rather strange navigational directions to Abram.

Now there was a famine in the land. – Genesis 12:10 ESV

For some seemingly inexplicable reason, God had directed Abram to leave behind the rich and fertile heart of Canaan and travel to the most arid region in the entire land. But there was a method to God’s madness. He was sovereignly orchestrating the entire scene and putting into place all the factors that would lead to Abram’s brief but consequential “sojourn” to Egypt.

So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. – Genesis 12:10 ESV

The Hebrew word for “sojourn” is גּוּר (gûr), and it means “to temporarily dwell.” To be a “sojourner” was to live temporarily as a “stranger” in another land. Because of the severity of the famine, Abram was forced to seek refuge and sustenance in the land of Egypt. But, once again, this decision appears to be God-ordained and orchestrated. For the Jews who read Moses’ account, this retelling of Abram’s flight into Egypt would have helped to explain their own historical ties to the land of the Pharaohs. There had been a time when their patriarch, Jacob, had made a similar decision to seek shelter in Egypt. Genesis 42 retells the story of Jacob’s fateful decision to send his sons to Egypt to buy grain because there was a famine in the land of Canaan.

“Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. – Genesis 42:2-3 ESV

But when the brothers arrived in Egypt, they discovered far more than grain. They reconnected with their younger brother, Joseph, whom they had sold into slavery years earlier. Much to their surprise, the brother whom they had assumed to be dead, was very much alive and had risen to the second-highest position in the land of Egypt. And rather than seeking revenge on his brothers, Joseph chose to bless them, inviting them to fetch their father and return to Egypt where they could live out the famine.

The brothers did as they were told. They traveled back to Canaan, broke the news to Jacob that his long-lost son was alive, and issued Joseph’s invitation to relocate the entire family to Egypt. And Genesis 46 reveals that Jacob “came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac”

Jacob did as his grandfather had done before him. He called upon the name of the Lord, worshiping the Almighty for his goodness and grace. And while at Beersheba, God visited Jacob in a dream, providing him with a powerful promise.

And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” – Genesis 46:2-4 ESV

The similarities are undeniable and fully intentional. Abram’s relationship with Pharaoh and the land of Egypt was meant to foreshadow the future of his own descendants. Egypt would end up playing a significant role in the redemptive history of the people of Israel. This land of Abram’s sojourn would become the God-ordained source of Israel’s future, serving as a divine petri dish in which God would cultivate a nation and fulfill the promise He had made to Abram.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. – Genesis 12:2 ESV

Whether Abram realized it or not, his decision to seek shelter in Egypt was ordained by God. There was going to be a long and, sometimes, tumultuous relationship between Abram’s descendants and this land located to the east of Canaan. In fact, not long after Abram’s temporary foray into Egypt, Abram would receive one of those “I’ve-got-good-news-and-bad-news” announcements from God.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. – Genesis 15:13-14 ESV

God had promised to give the land of Canaan to Abram’s ancestors, but now there was a famine in the land. This “unexpected” natural disaster forced Abram to temporarily relocate his family, and Egypt seemed to be the only logical location. Famine-stricken Canaan lay to the north and the arid and barren Nebeb to the west was out of the question. So, Abram had only one option: Seek refuge in Egypt. This “choice” by Abram foreshadows Jacob’s future flight into the Valley of the Nile, but it also points to another divinely orchestrated escape from certain death.

In Matthew 2, the apostle records the story of the birth of Jesus, whom he describes as “the son of Abraham” in the opening verse of his book (Matthew 1:1). According to the genealogy recorded in chapter 1, Jesus was a direct descendant of Abram. And, not long after Jesus’ birth, Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, received a vision from God, warning him of King Herod’s plans to kill the boy.

…the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” – Matthew 2:13-15 ESV

It was not safe for Joseph and his young family to remain in the land. Death loomed over them but God had already planned a way of escape. For a time, they “sojourned” in Egypt, while Herod enacted his pogrom of infanticide, aimed at eliminating “he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2 ESV).

But Herod’s attempts to kill Jesus would fail. And in time, this human “famine” would come to his own ignominious end, paving the way for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to return to the land of promise.

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. – Matthew 2:19-21 ESV

For the people of Israel, the land of Egypt would always be a place marked by refuge and heartache. At times, it would prove to be a haven of hope and safety, while at other times it would be a place associated with great pain and sorrow. In the case of Abram, Egypt was a logical alternative to remaining in famine-plagued Canaan. Egypt also provided a source of sustenance from certain starvation to Jacob and his family. But it was also the place where Jacob’s beloved son, Joseph, was restored to him. He who was once thought dead was “resurrected” and restored to life. And Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, would find Egypt to be a safe haven from the deadly plans of Herod. His young son would live to see another day because God had provided refuge in the land of Egypt.

God had promised to bless Abram, and He was going to do so by sending him to the unlikely land of the Pharaohs and the pyramids. This trip into Egypt had not been a mistake by Abram. His actions do not reflect a lack of faith any more than Jacob’s or Joseph’s did. He was simply following the directions of God. But that does not mean that his time in Egypt would be without problems. The fact that God led him into Egypt is no guarantee that Abram would find himself well-fed and completely free from pain or suffering. His days as a stranger in a strange land would be a time of testing. But it would also be a time of great blessing, as God sovereignly orchestrated His plan to make of Abram a great nation.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Fine Line From Cursing to Blessing

10 These are the generations of Shem. When Shem was 100 years old, he fathered Arpachshad two years after the flood. 11 And Shem lived after he fathered Arpachshad 500 years and had other sons and daughters.

12 When Arpachshad had lived 35 years, he fathered Shelah. 13 And Arpachshad lived after he fathered Shelah 403 years and had other sons and daughters.

14 When Shelah had lived 30 years, he fathered Eber. 15 And Shelah lived after he fathered Eber 403 years and had other sons and daughters.

16 When Eber had lived 34 years, he fathered Peleg. 17 And Eber lived after he fathered Peleg 430 years and had other sons and daughters.

18 When Peleg had lived 30 years, he fathered Reu. 19 And Peleg lived after he fathered Reu 209 years and had other sons and daughters.

20 When Reu had lived 32 years, he fathered Serug. 21 And Reu lived after he fathered Serug 207 years and had other sons and daughters.

22 When Serug had lived 30 years, he fathered Nahor. 23 And Serug lived after he fathered Nahor 200 years and had other sons and daughters.

24 When Nahor had lived 29 years, he fathered Terah. 25 And Nahor lived after he fathered Terah 119 years and had other sons and daughters.

26 When Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

27 Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. 28 Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.

31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran. Genesis 11:10-32 ESV

With the opening verses of chapter 11, Moses provides an explanation of an earlier comment he made regarding Peleg, a descendant of Shem.

To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided – Genesis 10:25 ESV

Bookending the story of the tower of Babel are two genealogical lists. In chapter 10, beginning in verse 11, Moses provides an abbreviated version of Shem’s lineage, because it provides no branch for Peleg, the son of Eber. In reference to Peleg simply states: “in his days the earth was divided” (Genesis 10:25 ESV). The story of Babel is what follows. When humanity decided to settle down in the land of Shinar, build a city, and erect a tower as a monument to their own glory, God took action. They shared a common ancestry and enjoyed the benefits of a common language. This unified connection gave them a sense of invincibility and fueled their desire for autonomy. That is why God said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6 ESV). 

Rather than obeying God’s mandate to fill the earth, they had determined to remain in one place and construct a city that would reflect their own greatness. Rather than honor God, they chose to glorify themselves. So, God stepped in and “confused” their language. He miraculously divided their number by creating a barrier to further communication. Suddenly, they found themselves unable to understand one another. This God-enforced diversity resulted in their dispersal across the face of all the earth.

And it is at this point, that Moses picks back up the genealogical record of Shem’s descendants. With the story of Babel explained, Moses is able to reveal what happened to Peleg after “the earth was divided” (Genesis 10:25 ESV).

Back in chapter five, Moses recorded another genealogical record that began with Adam and ended with Noah and his three sons. This list contains the names of all those who descended from Adam and Eve and vividly portrays the life-altering consequences of the first couple’s sin and the divine curse it incurred.

First of all, it states that Adam “fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image” (Genesis 5:3 ESV). This statement stands in stark contrast to the creation account where God had said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis1:26 ESV). Because of the entrance of sin into the perfect environment of Eden, mankind was permanently damaged. Adam and Eve would pass on to their descendants their proclivity for sin and the divine decree of death as its punishment. The original man and woman were to be God’s image-bearers. But like a marred mirror, this first couple and all their progeny would be incapable of perfectly reflecting the glory of God – all because of sin. Their children would be born in their image and bear their likeness. 

And the list found in chapter five contains another sober reminder of the consequences of the fall. With each successive generation, Moses repeatedly and intentionally states “he fathered” and “he died.” While the creation story in chapter one emphasizes the glory and wonder of new life, the genealogical list in chapter five provides the new post-fall reality of death.

But Moses leaves out that dark and depressing aspect of mankind’s fate in the genealogy of Shem recorded in chapter 11. While the age of each father is listed, there is no mention of death. This distinction is subtle, yet significant. Moses is attempting to paint a more hopeful future for humanity. Even after the debacle of Babel, when “the earth was divided” by God (Genesis 10:25) because of the pride and arrogance of man, this second genealogy of Shem is intended to reveal a new line of humanity that will result in another new beginning.

The first part of this list is much like the one found in chapter 10. But this time, Moses traces the branch of Eber’s family tree through his son, Peleg. According to the list, Eber had other sons and daughters. In other words, there were other branches to his family tree that could have been traced, but Moses concentrated all his attention on Peleg and the line of descent that flowed through his son, Reu. Moses is very specific and has an end in mind. His methodical record of Peleg’s lineage has actually been reverse-engineered and intended to trace the ancestral pedigree of a particular offspring of Adam. Notice where the genealogy ends.

When Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran. – Genesis 11:26 ESV

After listing generations of descendants from Shem, the list suddenly stops. Moses has reached his desired destination. And the name of Abram would have caught the attention of Moses’ Hebrew audience. After all, he was their revered patriarch, the father of the Hebrew nation. This entire exercise in genealogical authentication was meant to validate Abram as a descendant of Noah and an offspring of Adam. And one of the reasons this is so important is because of the curse God had leveled against the serpent for his role in the fall of man.

And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.” – Genesis 3:15 NLT

Of all the genealogical lists contained in Genesis, this one is intended to provide a sense of hope and anticipation. The world is broken and marred. And with the birth of each new generation, mankind is slowly moving further away from God. And yet, here in chapter 11, an offspring of Eve is born who will play a significant role in fulfilling the divine curse that God had leveled on the enemy. Satan would pay dearly for his attempt to dethrone God by deceiving and damaging His image-bearers. Despite the subsequent generations that flowed from the first couple and the track record of wickedness that plagued them, God had a plan for restoring them. He had a preconceived strategy for redeeming fallen humanity even before He had breathed life into the first man.

This chapter is intended to be a turning point in what has been a somewhat bleak story. Moses is preparing to reveal the next chapter in his history of mankind by introducing a new character who will play a vital role in God’s redemptive plan. Up to this point in the Genesis account, there have been two primary protagonists: Adam and Noah. One represents humanity in its pre-fall and post-fall states. The other spans the pre-flood and post-flood periods of mankind’s existence. But now, Moses introduces a third character whose life will greatly influence the unfolding story of God’s redemptive plan.

What should stand out in all of this is God’s sovereignty. He is operating behind the scenes, orchestrating and overseeing every aspect of His creation. Nothing escapes His notice or happens outside of His sovereign and providential will. The birth of Abram was not a case of blind luck, fate, or cosmic karma. It was the preordained will of God Almighty. God had predetermined the birth of Abram because He had always planned to use this one man as a conduit through whom He would one day pour out His blessings on humanity. As will become evident as the story unfolds, God had grand plans for this seemingly insignificant descendant of Adam. The One who ordained Abram’s birth would one day divulge Abram’s calling.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

That last line speaks volumes. God was going to use a solitary offspring of Eve to reverse the curse and pour out His blessings on all the families of the earth. This one man, Abram, would prove to be the divinely ordained conduit thought whom God would bring hope to a sin-damaged world and the gift of life to all those living under the curse of death.

And Moses ends chapter 11 with Abram moving from his home in Ur to the distant land of Haran. Moses describes Abram’s slow but steady migration east, bringing him ever closer to the land of Canaan. And Moses intended this far-from-subtle insight into Abram’s former home and ultimate destination to remind his Jewish readers of their roots. They hailed from the land of Shinar, the infamous site of Babel and the future home of Babylon. Their patriarch was a Chaldean and not a Jew. And their distinct Hebraic language had been the result of God’s judgment against the rebellious people of Babel. Their heritage was marred. Their patriarch was far from pristine. But their God had a plan that would put all these pieces together to form a perfect plan so that He might bless the nations of the earth.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

It Was Very Good

29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Genesis 1:29-31 ESV

After God made the first two humans, He blessed them by providing them with the capacity to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28 ESV). This blessing was not unique to mankind because God had done the same thing with the animal kingdom.

And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” – Genesis 1:22 ESV

The Hebrew word for “blessed” is בָּרַךְ (bârak) and it can mean “to cause to prosper, to enrich, to endow.” God blessed all His living creatures, including humanity, with the capacity to reproduce and make more of their kind. And each time they did, they would extend God’s blessing by continuing the creative process He had begun.

Adam and Eve were blessed to be able to share in God’s creative capabilities by reproducing more of their kind. God could have made all the fish, birds, and animals at one time, but He chose to endow all “living creatures” with the ability to reproduce. This unique relationship between procreation and blessing is seen again when God pronounces His blessing on Abram and his wife Sarai.

No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. – Genesis 17:5-6 ESV

And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” – Genesis 17:15-16 ESV

Abram was a 99-year-old man with a barren wife when God pronounced this blessing. But despite those seeming disadvantages, God assured Abram that He would multiply him greatly (Genesis 17:2) – and God kept that promise. God graciously allowed an elderly man and his barren wife to participate in the creation of a mighty nation whose number would exceed that of the stars in heaven.

And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” – Genesis 15:5 ESV

In chronicling the story of creation, Moses was providing his fellow Israelites with a much-needed lesson in God’s gracious provision of procreative capabilities. Like Adam and Eve, and Abraham and Sarai, the people of Israel had been given the opportunity to work alongside God and assist Him in fulfilling His divine mandate to “fill the earth.” But unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, humanity was given the unique responsibility to subdue the earth and have dominion over all that God had made. God had given mankind the job of stewarding or managing His creation. Everything God had made was ultimately for mankind’s use, including the plants. It seems that the original humans were herbivores, who subsisted on a completely vegetarian diet. The same was true of the rest of the animal kingdom.

“Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food. – Genesis 1:29-30 ESV

 While this opening chapter contains no clear prohibition against eating meat, it would appear that the original state of creation was carnivore-free. None of the animals consumed one another, which meant there was no shedding of blood. And that would remain the case until “Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him” (Genesis 4:8 ESV). As a direct result of the fall, Cain, consumed by jealousy and anger, would spill the blood of his own brother and bring down a divine curse on his head.

And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. – Genesis 4:10-11 ESV

Up until that fateful moment when Cain slew Abel, there appears to have been no blood spilled. And it’s interesting to note that the whole reason Cain spilled the blood of his brother was that “the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Genesis 4:4-5 ESV). The Genesis 4 account reveals that “Cain brought some of the fruit of the ground for an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought some of the firstborn of his flock—even the fattest of them” (Genesis 4:3-4 NET). While some scholars believe that Abel’s offering was accepted by God because it was a blood sacrifice, the text does not seem to support that conclusion. There is no mention of Abel taking the life of the animals he offered. It simply states that he offered the “fattest of them” – in other words, Abel gave God the best of what he had. And when he dedicated those animals to God, they were no longer his to breed. All of this took place long before God gave the Mosaic law with its painstaking instructions regarding animal sacrifice. Abel was simply offering to God the best of what he had. But Cain offered God “some of the fruit of the ground.” There was no real sacrifice involved. Cain didn’t give up the tree that bore the fruit. He didn’t dedicate to God the land that had produced the grain. It seems that Cain was guilty of giving God a small and somewhat stingy token of his appreciation. And God was not pleased. But it was not the offering that was the problem. It was Cain’s heart or motivation behind his offering.

But back to the beginning. God had provided for all of Adam and Eve’s nutritional needs. Before He had even created Adam, God had caused the earth to bring “forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind” (Genesis 1:12 ESV). He had prepared the environment to fully meet the needs of His future image-bearers. They would have air to breathe, plenty of food to eat, and an abundance of pure water to drink. He had created a veritable garden of delights for His first son and daughter.

And at the close of the sixth day of creation, after God had made man and woman, He looked over His handiwork and pronounced His divine delight.

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. – Genesis 1:31 ESV

For the last six days, God had declared His pleasure with His creation.

God saw that the light was good. – Genesis 1:4 ESV

God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:10 ESV

The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:12 ESV

And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:17-18 ESV

So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:21 ESV

And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:25 ESV

But with His creation of man, God’s work was complete and He deemed all that He had made as very good. This statement of satisfaction or approval does not portray God as egotistical or boastful. It is simply a reminder that all of God’s actions regarding the creation of the universe were righteous, holy, and flawless in every regard. The closing verse of chapter one sets up all that is to come in the rest of the book of Genesis. When God’s work was complete, all was well – all was very good. And chapter two will pick up on that theme, providing a more detailed account of man’s creation and setting the stage for the surprising events of chapter three and beyond. All was very good, but it would not stay that way for long.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Holiness is Not Contagious

10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, 11 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: 12 ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” 14 Then Haggai answered and said, “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the Lord, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean. 15 Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord, 16 how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. 17 I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord. 18 Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord‘s temple was laid, consider: 19 Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.” Haggai 2:10-19 ESV

Back on the 24th day of the sixth month, after a 16-year delay, the people of Judah had finally decided to obey God and commence construction on the destroyed temple of God. Nearly a month later, God encouraged them to complete the project by giving them the promise of His abiding presence (Haggai 2:1-5). But after two months of labor on the project, the people began to question the veracity of God’s word and the profitability of their efforts. Despite all their hard work, their crop production had not increased. They had finally obeyed God and begun construction on the temple, and yet, the drought continued, and the fruit of their harvests remained slim. Where were God’s blessings? Why had He not ended the drought and rewarded them for their faithful service?

They fully expected their obedience to produce some form of compensation from God. They were like disgruntled employees demanding a raise for all their hard work. So, God had Haggai deliver a much-needed lesson on moral purity and holiness. And He did so by posing a series of simple scenarios that concerned matters of holiness and defilement. God laid out these credible case studies and asked that the priests provide a ruling.

The first involved meat that had been set apart for sacrifice. According to the Mosaic Law, any meat that remained after the sacrifice was complete belonged to the priests.

“Give Aaron and his sons the following instructions regarding the sin offering. The animal given as an offering for sin is a most holy offering, and it must be slaughtered in the LORD’s presence at the place where the burnt offerings are slaughtered. The priest who offers the sacrifice as a sin offering must eat his portion in a sacred place within the courtyard of the Tabernacle. Anyone or anything that touches the sacrificial meat will become holy. If any of the sacrificial blood spatters on a person’s clothing, the soiled garment must be washed in a sacred place.” – Leviticus 6:25-27 NLT

“Any male from a priest’s family may eat from this offering; it is most holy.” – Leviticus 6:29 NLT

Based on this commandment, God asks the priests, “If one of you is carrying some meat from a holy sacrifice in his robes and his robe happens to brush against some bread or stew, wine or olive oil, or any other kind of food, will it also become holy?” (Habbai 2:12 NLT). And their answer is an emphatic, “No!”

Their answer was based on their understanding that the meat, the priest, and his garments had all been set apart or made holy by God because they were each used in the sacrificial system. The animal that was sacrificed had to be without blemish before it could be offered to God. The priest had to be ritually purified before he could offer the meat as an offering to God. And he wore garments that had been specifically set apart for use in the sacrificial system. The meat, the priest, and his garments were considered holy because they had all been set apart for one purpose: The honoring of God through sacrifice.

But their holiness was not transferable. Their distinction as being “holy unto the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30) was reserved for them alone. Not just any animal could be sacrificed. Not just any man could offer the meat of that animal to God. And not just any garment could be worn when doing so.

The consecrated priest carrying the consecrated meat in the fold of his consecrated robe was not some kind of a holiness transmitter that could somehow make ordinary food products holy and sacred simply by contact. That’s not how it worked. And yet it seems that the people believed that they were somehow holy by association because they had been working on the construction of God’s holy temple. They expected there to be some kind of transference of holiness accompanied by the requisite blessings that holiness demands. But the answer to the first question put an end to that misguided assumption.

The second question poses a similar but opposite scenario. This time, the situation involves someone who has become ceremonially unclean or impure.

“If someone becomes ceremonially unclean by touching a dead person and then touches any of these foods, will the food be defiled?” – Haggaie 2:13 NLT

Once again, the priests were expected to provide their professional assessment and, as before, they respond, “No!” And this is where Haggai drops an unexpected bombshell on the people.

“That is how it is with this people and this nation, says the Lord. Everything they do and everything they offer is defiled by their sin. – Haggai 2:14 NLT

Yes, they had finally decided to obey God and, for the last few months, they had been making progress on the rebuilding of the temple. But their determination to obey had not absolved them of their track record of sin and guilt. In God’s eyes, they were guilty of sin and, therefore, unclean. Even their offerings were considered unclean by God. This is where the two scenarios come into play. While holiness was non-transferable, the same could not be said of impurity or uncleanness. Just as good health cannot be shared from one person to another, neither can holiness. But disease or illness can be easily transmitted from the sick to the healthy. And the same is true with moral impurity. It can spread like yeast in a lump of dough or cancer cells in the human body.

Ever since the people had returned to the land from their captivity in Babylon, they had been offering sacrifices on an altar they had constructed.

Then Jeshua son of Jehozadak joined his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his family in rebuilding the altar of the God of Israel. They wanted to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, as instructed in the Law of Moses, the man of God. Even though the people were afraid of the local residents, they rebuilt the altar at its old site. Then they began to sacrifice burnt offerings on the altar to the Lord each morning and evening. – Ezra 3:2-3 NLT

But while their intentions were pure, their lives were not. As the book of Ezra points out, they were offering sacrifices before they had even laid the foundation of the temple, where those sacrifices should have been made.

Fifteen days before the Festival of Shelters began, the priests had begun to sacrifice burnt offerings to the Lord. This was even before they had started to lay the foundation of the Lord’s Temple. – Ezra 3:6 NLT

And now, 16 years later, God lets them know that He considered their sacrifices to be impure and unacceptable because they were contaminated by sin. He reminds them that, prior to laying the foundation of the temple, they were suffering from poor harvests caused by the blight, mildew, and hail He had sent upon them. And, even then, they had refused to return to Him (Haggai 2:17).

But now, three months after they had begun to rebuild the temple, God had good news for them. Things were about to change because He had made a determination to bless them. But not because they deserved or had earned it. Up until this very day, they had continued to experience His judgment for their disobedience – despite their efforts at rebuilding the temple. Now, He had something different in store for them.

“But from this day on I will bless you.” – Haggai 2:19 ESV

God could not and would not overlook the 16 years of disobedience that allowed His house to remain a pile of rubble. The people had managed to build homes for themselves but had repeatedly come up with excuses to put off the one thing God had commanded them to do when they returned to the land: Rebuild the temple. In failing to carry out that command, they had dishonored God and brought judgment upon themselves. They had returned to a land that was “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:3), but their fields remained fruitless, their cupboards bare, and their stomachs empty – all because of their unfaithfulness. Their past disobedience had to be punished. But now God was ready to pour out His blessings.

They had been set apart by God for His glory. He had chosen them to be His prized possession, a kingdom of priests who were to honor Him with their lives. But they had failed to do so. Amazingly, despite their 16 years of apathy and non-compliance and only three months of faithful service, God graciously determined to bless them.

And all of this was in keeping with the promise God had made to the people of  Israel long before they entered the land of Canaan. Moses had clearly warned them:

“…you must seek the LORD your God at the place of worship he himself will choose from among all the tribes—the place where his name will be honored. There you will bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, your sacred offerings, your offerings to fulfill a vow, your voluntary offerings, and your offerings of the firstborn animals of your herds and flocks. There you and your families will feast in the presence of the LORD your God, and you will rejoice in all you have accomplished because the LORD your God has blessed you.” – Deuteronomy 12:5-7 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Obedience Proceeds Blessing

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. 10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.” Haggai 1:7-11 ESV

God doesn’t mince any words. He had waited 16 years for the returned exiles to do what they were supposed to do. He had prearranged their return from exile in Babylon long ago and one of the main objectives behind their return was the reconstruction of the destroyed temple in Jerusalem. Long before the southern kingdom of Judah had fallen to the Babylonians, God had used the prophet, Isaiah to warn the people of the judgment that was coming for their disobedience. But He also foretold of their eventual return to the land and their task of rebuilding the temple.

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
    who formed you from the womb:
“I am the Lord, who made all things,
    who alone stretched out the heavens,
    who spread out the earth by myself…
who confirms the word of his servant
    and fulfills the counsel of his messengers,
who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’
    and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built,
    and I will raise up their ruins’…
who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,
    and he shall fulfill all my purpose’;
saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’
    and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’” – Isaiah 44:24, 27, 28 ESV

And hundreds of years later, when the people of Judah found themselves living as exiles, just as God had predicted, they were given remarkable news that the Persian king, Cyrus, was going to allow them to return to their homeland. And he was very specific about the purpose behind their return.

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:2-4 ESV

God used this pagan king to accomplish His sovereign will concerning Judah. The Almighty divinely inspired this powerful monarch to release a sizeable portion of his nation’s slave labor so they might return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. That had always been God’s plan. He had brought about their fall and the destruction of their capital city and its glorious temple. But He had also made plans for their eventual return. God had clearly foretold His intentions to discipline His disobedient and rebellious people, but He had declared His plan to restore them. The prophet, Jeremiah had communicated God’s sovereign plan hundreds of years before it ever came to fruition.

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. – Jeremiah 29:10-14 ESV

But their return to the land was to be marked by a renewal of their relationship with God. It was to be a time of repentance and a realignment of their priorities. They would be expected to rededicate themselves to God and honor His glory and goodness by rebuilding Jerusalem and its temple. With the completion of the temple, they would be able to reinstitute the sacrificial system and restore their spiritual purity as a people.

Yet, 16 years later, the temple was still a heap of rubble because the people had procrastinated and put off their God-given responsibility to reconstruct His house. And as Ezra makes clear, the king of Persia had made an official proclamation concerning the rebuilding of the temple. He had even funded its construction out of the royal treasury.

“Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, the place where sacrifices were offered, and let its foundations be retained. Its height shall be sixty cubits and its breadth sixty cubits, with three layers of great stones and one layer of timber. Let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. And also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that is in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and brought back to the temple that is in Jerusalem, each to its place. You shall put them in the house of God.” – Ezra 6:3-5 ESV

But despite the royal decree, the financial backing, and the divine mandate from God, the people of Judah had chosen to build their own homes while leaving the house of God in a state of perpetual ruin. So, God responded, “Consider your ways” (Haggai 1:7 ESV). He wanted them to take serious stock of their behavior. What they were doing was unacceptable and He was no longer going to tolerate it. Speaking through His prophet, Haggai, God made His demands known.

“Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. – Haggai 1:8 ESV

They had the money to fund the construction. They had even set the foundation in place. But now they were going to have to complete the project and it would require effort on their part. And God was very clear about the purpose behind the reconstruction of the temple. They were to accomplish this take for God’s pleasure and glory. This wasn’t going to be about them. It was all about the God who had set them apart as His own and who had graciously returned them to the land. This house was to be a monument to His goodness and glory.

They had missed the whole point of their return to the land. The main reason they had been cast out of the land in the first place was that they had defiled and defamed God’s name. They had failed to live in obedience to their covenant commitment to God. Rather than worship Him alone, they had chosen to commit spiritual adultery by bowing down to the false gods of the nations that surrounded them. But God had chosen to restore the integrity of His name by returning His disobedient people to the land He had given them as their inheritance. But, as the prophet, Ezekiel makes clear, God was not doing this because they deserved it.

“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign LORD: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign LORD, then the nations will know that I am the LORD. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.” – Ezekiel 36:22-24 NLT

Despite God’s promise, their time back in the land had been far from productive or fruitful. In fact, God pointed out that their efforts to rebuild their former lives had been cursed.

“You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses.” – Haggai 1:9 NLT

Their sixteen years of disobedience had resulted in God’s judgment. He had brought drought to the land so that their grain, grapes, and olives withered in the fields. They longed for fruitfulness but reaped misery instead. They had expected to fill their homes with the fruit of the land but found themselves suffering from hunger and starvation. All because they had chosen to disregard the will of God. They wanted His provision but didn’t seem too concerned about building a house for His presence. They wanted God on their side but were far less interested in having Him in their midst. So, they had to be reminded that unless they obeyed the will of God by rebuilding the temple of God, they could forget about enjoying the blessings of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

It’s Never Too Late to Return

12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,
    and the house of Israel with deceit,
but Judah still walks with God
    and is faithful to the Holy One.

1 Ephraim feeds on the wind
    and pursues the east wind all day long;
they multiply falsehood and violence;
    they make a covenant with Assyria,
    and oil is carried to Egypt.

2 The Lord has an indictment against Judah
    and will punish Jacob according to his ways;
    he will repay him according to his deeds.
In the womb he took his brother by the heel,
    and in his manhood he strove with God.
He strove with the angel and prevailed;
    he wept and sought his favor.
He met God at Bethel,
    and there God spoke with us—
the Lord, the God of hosts,
    the Lord is his memorial name:
“So you, by the help of your God, return,
    hold fast to love and justice,
    and wait continually for your God.”
– Hosea 11:12-12:6 ESV

In the Hebrew Bible, verse 12 of chapter 11 is actually the first verse of chapter 12. This arrangement of the verses makes far greater sense and provides a better understanding of the point Hosea is trying to make. But Hosea seems to unnecessarily complicate matters by his use of the names Ephraim, Judah, and Jacob. It is easy to become confused when trying to decipher exactly who he is referencing by these various name designations. But because Ephraim was the largest of the 10 tribes that comprised the northern kingdom of Israel, it would appear that he is using that name as a substitute for the more common designation of Israel. The reason seems to be that, at one time, the name Israel had been used to refer to the undivided kingdom as it stood during the reigns of King David and his son, Solomon. When the kingdom was divided at the end of Solomon’s life, Israel became the name of the northern kingdom while Judah was used to refer to the southern kingdom. This was because the tribe of Judah was the larger of the two tribes which comprised the southern kingdom – with the tribe of Benjamin being the other.

In these verses, Hosea has God referring to the two kingdoms by the names of Ephraim and Judah. Then he adds the name of Jacob, who was the father of all the tribes. This seems to be his way of referring to the formerly combined kingdoms or the original 12 tribes. It’s important to remember that, at one time, God had changed Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 32:28. From Israel would come 12 sons who would become the 12 tribes of Israel. So, it appears that these verses are addressing three different groups:

Ephraim = the northern kingdom (10 tribes)

Judah = the southern kingdom (2 tribes)

Jacob = Israel (12 tribes)

With this formula in mind, these verses begin to make sense. First, God indicts the northern kingdom (Ephraim) for its falsehood and violence. The Hebrew word he uses is mirmâ, which means “deceit” and refers to fraudulent or deceptive behavior. It is the very same word used to describe Jacob’s stealing of his brother’s blessing. Isaac informed his disgruntled son, Esau, how Jacob had tricked him into awarding him the blessing of the firstborn son.

“Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” – Genesis 27:35 ESV

The 10 northern tribes had inherited their father’s deceitful ways. Yet, Judah (the two southern tribes) are described as still walking with God. This would appear to be a relative statement. In other words, when compared with the deceitfulness and unfaithfulness of the northern tribes, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin had been saints. We know they were far from perfect because God will condemn them as well, but they had a much better track record of faithfulness than their northern neighbors. At least Judah had enjoyed the leadership and guidance of a handful of godly kings along the way. Their periods of apostasy had been broken up by brief moments of relative godliness thanks to men like Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah.

But when describing the behavior of the northern tribes, God states that they “feed on the wind” (Hosea 11:12 NLT). This seems to be a reference to something Hosea wrote earlier in his book.

“They have planted the wind
    and will harvest the whirlwind. – Hosea 8:7 ESV

This imagery is intended to picture a life of futility and fruitlessness. The reference to them pursuing the east wind further enhances the total vanity and worthlessness of their behavior. In that region of the world, the east wind was a scorching, life-sapping natural phenomena that destroyed crops and made daily existence almost impossible. Their pursuit of treaties with foreign nations would produce nothing of value. They were pursuing destruction and didn’t even realize it.

In fact, they were making alliances with Assyria, the very nation God would use to punish them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. In a sense, they were dancing with the devil. They were getting in bed with the enemy, and they would pay dearly.

They were even using the fruit of the land that God had graciously given them to pay off their many suitors. His many tangible blessings, such as olive oil, were being used to broker agreements with nations like Egypt. That had never been God’s intention. God had graciously delivered His people out of their captivity in Egypt but now they were sending their olive oil back to their former captors. They were guilty of fraternizing with their former enemy and using the bounty of God as a means to buy their protection.

But even the southern kingdom was guilty of selling out their relationship with God. They too, were covenant breakers. The NET Bible translates verse 2: “The Lord also has a covenant lawsuit against Judah.” They had violated their agreement with Him, following in the footsteps of their father and patriarch, Jacob. By referring to Jacob (Israel), God is including all 12 tribes in His divine statement of condemnation. Every single one of the tribes was guilty of violating their covenant commitments with God.

Hosea uses the well-known backstory of Jacob to describe the treachery and deceit of His people.

Even in the womb,
    Jacob struggled with his brother;
when he became a man,
    he even fought with God. – Hosea 12:3 NLT

When Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, were still in their mother’s womb, God had spoken to Rebekah, and given her a vision of what was to come of her two boys.

“The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.”

And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins! The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau. Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob. – Genesis 25:23-26 NLT

Eventually, these two brothers would end up at odds with one another. Jacob would deceive Esau, stealing his birthright and the blessing of the firstborn. These actions would sour their relationship, forcing Jacob to leave home in order to escape his brother’s wrath. In time, God would order Jacob to return home, but this would be prefaced by a literal wrestling match between God and His prodigal son.

This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

“What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

“Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” – Genesis 32:24-28 NLT

It was at that fateful wrestling match that Jacob received his new name from God. And Hosea points out that it was on that occasion that “he wrestled with the angel and won. He wept and pleaded for a blessing from him” (Hosea 12:4 NLT). At that moment, Jacob realized that he could no longer live his life based on treachery and deceit. He needed the blessing of God. And he was willing to do battle with God until he received it. He even received an injury to his hip in the process (Genesis 32:31). Jacob was so moved by this unprecedented experience that he gave the region a name by which to memorialize what had happened to him.

Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” – Genesis 32:30 NLT

Hosea also mentions another encounter Jacob had with God years earlier. This was when Jacob was attempting to escape the wrath of his angry brother. On his way, he was given a vision and mission from God.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 NLT

Once again, moved by his surprising visitation from God, Jacob renamed the place Bethel, which means “house of God.” Jacob would return to this very spot years later, after his wrestling match with the angel of God. And when he arrived, he would give instructions to his family.

So Jacob told everyone in his household, “Get rid of all your pagan idols, purify yourselves, and put on clean clothing. We are now going to Bethel, where I will build an altar to the God who answered my prayers when I was in distress. He has been with me wherever I have gone.” – Genesis 35:2-3 NLT

Hosea uses the recollection of this historic event to call the descendants of Jacob back to “the Lord, the God of hosts” (Hosea 12:5 ESV). In a sense, he was echoing the words of Jacob, encouraging his household to get rid of their pagan idols, purity themselves, and put on clean clothing. They were to repent and return to God in humility.

So now, come back to your God.
    Act with love and justice,
    and always depend on him. – Hosea 12:6 NLT

It was not too late. The God who wrestled with Jacob was wrestling with them. But He also wanted to bless them. But before God could do so, they were going to have to make some significant changes.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Much Will Be Required

1 Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt:

“You only have I known
    of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you
    for all your iniquities.Amos 3:1-2 ESV

God has decreed his pending judgment upon Israel’s Gentile neighbors. He has called out the Syrians, Philistines, Phoenicians,  Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites for their many transgressions. But He has also leveled serious charges against the southern kingdom of Judah. Yet He seems to have reserved His harshest words for the northern kingdom of Israel.  The ten tribes that comprised the northern kingdom bore the name, Israel, which in Hebrew means “God prevails.” They were named after their patriarch, whose name God had changed from Jacob to Israel (Genesis 32:28). Jacob was the grandson of Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people. Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, had suffered with infertility and never been able to give her husband, Isaac, any children. But one day God informed her that she would give birth to twin sons. And He added that there would be something unique about these two boys.

“The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” – Genesis 25:23 NLT

When they were born, she named the first son, Esau, and the second one, Jacob, which means, “he deceives.” And Jacob lived up to his name, eventually managing to bargain his way into obtaining his brother’s birthright and deceiving his own father so that he might receive the blessing reserved for the firstborn son. Yet, despite all these things, the descendants of Jacob (Israel) became the chosen people of God. Through them, Yahweh would partially fulfill the promise that He had made to Abraham, hundreds of years earlier.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:1-3 NLT

God would take the descendants of Jacob and make of them a great nation, and he would do so in a particularly remarkable way. In the book of Genesis we have the account of a severe famine that struck the entire Middle East, eventually devastating the land of Canaan where Jacob lived with his sons and their families. In an effort to find grain to feed his family and flocks, Jacob sent his sons on a lengthy expedition to  Egypt because he had received news that they had grain available for purchase.

When Jacob heard that grain was available in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why are you standing around looking at one another? I have heard there is grain in Egypt. Go down there, and buy enough grain to keep us alive. Otherwise we’ll die.” – Genesis 42:1-2 NLT

Little did Jacob know that one of his sons, whom he had believed to be dead, was actually alive and well and living in Egypt. Years earlier, Joseph had been sold into slavery by his own brothers. And by the sovereign and providential hand of God, he had ended up as one of the powerful rulers in all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. Joseph wisely used his position and influence to create a famine-relief program that assured the Egyptians would have enough grain to survive the coming drought.  And when the famine struck, Egypt was the only nation that had a surplus of grain. As a result, “…people from all around came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph because the famine was severe throughout the world” (Genesis 41:57 NLT).

When the sons of Jacob arrived in Egypt, they soon discovered that the brother whom they had sold into slavery was the second-most-powerful ruler in Egypt. But rather than seek revenge on his brothers, Joseph offered them prime real estate in Egypt on which to feed their flocks and raise their families. In time, Jacob (Israel) was reunited with his long-lost son,  But when he entered the land of Egypt, the size of Jacob’s family was small.

The total number of Jacob’s direct descendants who went with him to Egypt, not counting his sons’ wives, was sixty-six. In addition, Joseph had two sons who were born in Egypt. So altogether, there were seventy members of Jacob’s family in the land of Egypt. – Genesis 46:26-27 NLT

Yet, some 400 years later, when the Israelites departed Egypt for Canaan, they probably numbered in the millions. They had expanded to such a degree that their very presence in the land of Egypt created fear and anxiety in the heart of Pharaoh. He saw the people of Israel as a growing threat.

“Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country. – Exodus 1:9-10 NLT

And, in an effort to demoralize the Israelites and diminish any potential threat they might pose, he began to brutally mistreat them.

So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labosetting them apart as His own and declaring them to be His chosen possession and the instrument through which He would bring a blessing to the nations of the earth. – Exodus 1:11 NLT

The descendants of Jacob suffered greatly, but God heard their cries and responded to their plight. He sent Moses to be their deliverer. And eventually, Moses would orchestrate the release of the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt and lead them to the land that God had promised to Abraham centuries earlier. And just prior to their entrance into the land of promise, Moses would remind them of their unique and undeserved status as God’s chosen people.

“For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the LORD rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT

Now, hundreds of years after conquering and occupying the land of Canaan, the descendants of Jacob are receiving a powerful word of warning from the prophet Amos. He boldly and unapologetically relays God’s dissatisfaction with His chosen people. But he prefaces it with a reminder that they had enjoyed a truly unique status among all the nations of the earth. Unlike the Syrians, Philistines, Phoenicians,  Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites, the Israelites had been allowed to have an intimate relationship with the God of the universe.

“You only have I known
    of all the families of the earth…” – Amos 3:2 ESV

And they were about to discover that the privilege of being God’s chosen people came with serious consequences. They were going to be held to a higher standard because they been allowed to have an intimate and undeserved relationship with the God of the universe.

Centuries later, Jesus would make the statement: “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required” (Luke 12:48 NLT). And that sentiment reflects the words of the prophet Micah.

O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

The Israelites had treated their privileged position as God’s chosen people with disdain, and now they were going to pay for it.

“…therefore I will punish you
    for all your iniquities.” – Amos 3:2 ESV

The one who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt was going to bring them down. He would no longer allow them to drag His holy name through the mud. He would no longer tolerate their rebellion and repeated refusals to repent. The people of God were going to experience the full wrath of God. And as God will make perfectly and painfully clear in the chapters ahead, He was intimately aware of every one of their sins.

“For I know the vast number of your sins
    and the depth of your rebellions.” – Amos 5:12 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson