A Vision of God’s Glory

As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went. 10 As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above. Each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. 12 And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. 13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 14 And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning. – Ezekiel 1:4-14 ESV

It was while Ezekiel was exiled to Babylon, living near the Kebar River, that God came to visit him in a vision. Little did Ezekiel know that his role as a priest was about to be expanded to that of a prophet. A long way from home and far from the ruins of the temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed by the Babylonians, Ezekiel was going to receive a vision and a commission from God Almighty.

Ezekiel would later describe this life-changing event in very intimate terms.

the hand of the Lord was upon me there – Ezekiel 3:22 ESV

…the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. – Ezekiel 8:1 ESV

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:28 ESV

God revealed Himself to Ezekiel in an unforgettable and virtually indescribable manner. This was no burning bush encounter like the one Moses experienced in the wilderness. Ezekiel was given a much more intense and comprehensive glimpse of the Almighty, and it began with a vision of what the dumbfounded prophet describes as four living beings.

As I looked, I saw a great storm coming from the north, driving before it a huge cloud that flashed with lightning and shone with brilliant light. There was fire inside the cloud, and in the middle of the fire glowed something like gleaming amber. From the center of the cloud came four living beings – Ezekiel 1:4-5 NLT

One can only imagine Ezekiel’s shock as he witnessed these strange-looking apparitions appear before his eyes. The text does not reveal whether this bizarre vision took place while Ezekiel was awake or came upon him in the form of a dream. But the strange and surrealistic nature of what Ezekiel saw must have left him shaken and more than a bit scared.

A powerful thunderstorm suddenly appeared on the northern horizon, accompanied by lightning and brilliant light. This was no ordinary storm and that face was quickly confirmed by the sudden appearance of the four creatures. Ezekiel’s attempt to describe these bizarre beings reveals just extraordinary they were. He had never seen anything like them before and was at a loss as to how to describe them. To his eyes, they were an other-worldly amalgam of human and animal characteristics that were beyond belief.

At first glance, they appeared to be human but, upon closer examination, Ezekiel saw that they each had one head with four faces. “Each had a human face in the front, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle at the back” (Ezekiel 1:10 NLT).

Ezekiel is given no explanation for this disturbing combination of facial features. But it would seem that each was meant to represent something significant about God’s creative order. Man was meant to be the apex of all the living creatures God created. The lion was the king of the beasts, the most powerful of all the wild animals. The ox was the most valuable of all the domesticated animals, a creature equipped with great strength and intelligence. And the eagle was considered the king of the skies, a majestic bird of prey whose keen vision and powerful talons made him a mighty hunter.

According to Ezekiel, these four-faced creatures each had four wings and human hands. They used one pair of wings to cover their bodies, while the other pair of wings were fully extended with the tips touching the wings of the creature next to them. It seems that the four creatures formed a square so that “each one moved straight forward in any direction without turning around” (Ezekiel 1:9 NLT).

But even as mesmerizing as these creatures were, Ezekiel’s attention was drawn to something that appeared in the midst of them.

In the middle of the living beings was something like burning coals of fire or like torches. It moved back and forth among the living beings. It was bright, and lightning was flashing out of the fire. – Ezekiel 1:13 NET

It is difficult to ascertain whether this light emanated from the creatures themselves or from something else. But it seems as if the vision was meant to draw Ezekiel’s eye ever higher, exposing him to something far more significant than the creatures themselves. As fantastic as these heavenly beings appeared to be, they were not the focus of the vision. They were simply a preview of what was to come.

“These spiritual beings who were part angel, part human, and part animal were fitting representatives of the whole created order. Their activity affirmed the relationship of God to his creation as Lord of all things. This idea was vital in helping Ezekiel and the captives in exile and the people in Judah understand that in the midst of the storms of life, God was still on his throne. He was not oblivious to their circumstances.” – L. E. Cooper Sr., Ezekiel

God was setting the stage for what was to come. These divine apparitions were meant to get the prophet’s attention and prepare him to receive the message God had in store for him. God could have just appeared to Ezekiel, but He chose to preface His appearance with a supernatural outpouring of signs that accentuated His power and glory. In the midst of all the doom and gloom of captivity in Babylon, Ezekiel was being given a veritable light show designed to remind him of Yahweh’s majesty and holiness.

The God of Israel was manifesting His presence in the midst of His exiled people. He had not forgotten or forsaken them. He had always promised to remember and redeem them, and He had communicated those intentions to the prophet Jeremiah.

“When the time for them to be rescued comes,”
says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
“I will rescue you from foreign subjugation.
I will deliver you from captivity.
Foreigners will then no longer subjugate them.
But they will be subject to the Lord their God
and to the Davidic ruler whom I will raise up as king over them. – Jeremiah 30:8-9 NLT

As Ezekiel’s vision will make clear, God was still on His throne and fully in command of all that was going on in the world. The captivity of His chosen people had been part of His plan, and their future redemption would also come about just as He had promised. Ezekiel was being given a much-needed reminder of God’s glory and greatness so that he might receive, believe, and deliver God’s message for the helpless and hopeless living in exile in Babylon.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

A Match Made In Heaven

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
    because she was taken out of Man.”

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Genesis 2:18-25 ESV

During each phase of the creation process, God had repeatedly declared His divine satisfaction with His handiwork.

And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:25 ESV

And after “God created man in his own image…male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27 ESV), He “saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 ESV). The sixth day of creation ended with God’s resounding approval of all that He had made, including the first man and woman.

But in chapter two, Moses reveals that there was a moment in the creation story when God was not satisfied. He had formed Adam out of the dust of the ground and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7 ESV). Then God had placed Adam in the garden He had created for him to live in and care for. Yet, while Adam bore God’s image, had been animated by God’s breath, and lived in an idyllic environment where He could enjoy God’s constant presence, there was something missing. God evaluated the situation and concluded, “It is not good that the man should be alone…” (Genesis 2:18 ESV). 

This should not be construed as a mistake on God’s part. It was not a case of divine oversight or a sudden revelation on God’s part that His creation was somehow flawed. As chapter one revealed, it had always been God’s plan to create man (‘āḏām) in His own image, and that image would include two genders: male and female. This biological diversity was absolutely necessary if ‘āḏām was going to obey God’s mandate to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28 ESV).

In chapter two, Moses is simply revealing the underlying purpose behind God’s delay in making the female version of ‘āḏām. Because God had endowed Adam with the ability to reason and the capacity to create, He assigned Adam the responsibility of naming every living creature He had made.

The Lord God formed out of the ground every living animal of the field and every bird of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. – Genesis 2:19 NLT

While the creatures had been formed out of the ground just as Adam had been, that is where their similarity ends. They lacked the ability to name themselves because they had no capacity for reasoning or speech. They were driven by their natural animal instincts. But Adam, who had been made in the image of God, was able to think, discern, create, and comprehend in ways that set him apart from every other living creature. That is why God had assigned to him the sole responsibility of subduing and having dominion over the rest of creation.

Adam’s God-ordained assignment to name the animals had a secondary purpose behind it. As he observed each species of creature, Adam realized that each of them had a corresponding mate. There was a male and a female. But Adam quickly noticed that there was no one who looked like him.

…but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found. – Genesis 2:20 NLT

It seems quite likely that as Adam carried out his creature-naming assignment, he observed some of them carrying out God’s divine mandate to procreate. Yet, he had no companion or female counterpart. God had already recognized this void in Adam’s life and had predetermined to remedy it.

“It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” – Genesis 2:18 ESV

But it was important that Adam recognize his own insufficiency. He was not meant to be alone. So, as this lone male observed the natural state of God’s creation and saw that every other male creature had a female counterpart, he developed a growing awareness of his need and of his own inability to do anything about it. According to the NET Study Bible notes, Adam suddenly realized “there was not found a companion who corresponded to him.”

God had always intended for Adam to have a companion. But this “helper” was meant to be far more than a friend. She was to complement and complete Adam. Only as male and female could they successfully bear God’s image and spread His glory across the earth. Without Eve, Adam would have been unable to carry out God’s Kingdom mandate. He could not have multiplied and filled the earth. He would have been incapable of making more of his own kind. And as soon as Adam recognized his need, God stepped in to do something about it.

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. – Genesis 2:21-22 ESV

God performed the first surgery. He anesthetized Adam, removed one of his ribs, then miraculously closed up the wound. In Hebrew, the word translated as “rib” is צֵלָע (ṣēlāʿ), and it can also be translated as “side.” It was used to refer to the ribs of a boat or the planks of a house. The imagery is meant to convey the woman’s intimate and interconnected relationship with Adam. God could have formed the woman out of the dust of the ground, just as He had done with Adam. But instead, God chose to make the woman from man. Unlike any other “companions” in God’s creation, the man and the woman would share a unique and irrevocable bond.

“. . . the woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.” – Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible

They were the same, but very different. Adam was זָכָר (zāḵār) – a male. Eve was נְקֵבָה (nᵊqēḇâ) – a female. The Hebrew word for “female” is derived from another word, which means “to pierce.” It seems that Eve’s designation as a female has biological implications that demonstrate the complementary nature of her relationship with Adam. But while all the living creatures were given the ability to copulate and procreate, man and woman were to enjoy a relational intimacy that went far beyond the act of breeding and propagating their kind.

When Adam awoke from his divine surgical procedure, he was given his first glimpse of his new companion and he shouted, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23 ESV).

The Hebrew term הַפַּעַם (happaʿam) conveys a sense of extreme relief. It could be better translated, “now, finally, at last” (NET Bible study notes). During all the time he had spent naming the living creatures, Adam had grown increasingly more frustrated with his inability to find a mate. He knew something was wrong but had no way of fixing the problem. Yet, when Adam saw what God had done, he was blown away. And true to his original assignment, Adam immediately gave this striking creature a name, “Woman.”

The Hebrew word for “woman” is אִשָּׁה (‘iššâ), and, in the Old Testament, it is most often translated as “wife.” When spoken, this word sounds similar to the Hebrew word for “man” – אִישׁ (‘îš). It seems that Adam immediately recognized that this creature was meant for him. In a real sense, she was the answer to his prayers. And he knew that her link to him was more than simply biological – it was physiological. She came from him. She was “flesh of his flesh” (Genesis 2:23 ESV). They shared a unique and inseparable bond that was unmistakable and undeniable. Adam knew that they were meant for one another. Nothing else would do.

And Moses provides a summary statement to underscore the unique nature of the relationship between a man and a woman that would later manifest itself in the marriage union.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. – Genesis 2:24 ESV

Moses recognized the long-term implications of this first union between a man and a woman. It was far more than a sexual relationship. At this point in the story, Adam and Eve had not had time to consummate their union. The term “one flesh” speaks to their “blood” relationship. They literally shared the same “flesh and bone.” And Moses understood that this unique relationship shared by the first man and his wife was to be a model for all future couples. From that point forward, Adam and Eve were considered as one in God’s eyes. Their divine union was to be inseparable and indissoluble.

Jesus would refer to this very moment in time when giving His insights regarding marriage and divorce.

“…from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” – Mark 10:6-9 ESV

God had made Eve from Adam. And God had returned to Adam what He had taken from him. According to God’s divine mathematical formula, these two individuals were no longer two but one. And Moses accentuates the “very good” nature of this God-ordained union.

And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. – Genesis 2:25 ESV

There is a sense of innocence and intimacy in this statement. At this point in the creation story, the first man and woman were completely content with everything about their circumstances. They lacked nothing. They had no need for clothing, food, water, or shelter. The world in which they lived was perfect. They were able to enjoy one another’s companionship and live in intimate and unbroken fellowship with God. And yet, we know how the story ends. This perfectly matched couple was about to experience the very real danger of discontentment and doubt. It was just a matter of time before they succumbed to the very thing that Jesus would later warn about in His sermon on the mount.

“…do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? – Matthew 6:25-27 ESV

The peace and joy of the garden were about to be replaced by anxiety and discontentment. This perfectly paired couple would soon reveal humanity’s predisposition for self-deception and self-determination. While God had provided them with everything they could ever need, including one another, they would soon reveal their dissatisfaction through an act of blatant disobedience. And the world would never be the same.

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 Real Dirt on Adam

These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2:4-7 ESV

In the opening chapter, Moses revealed that God made the first man and woman.

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27 ESV

But it’s not until chapter two that he tells how God created them. As we saw in yesterday’s post, God spoke the rest of the creation into existence. Repeatedly, Moses wrote, “God said…and it was so.” But that was not the case when it came to God’s creation of man.

…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. – Genesis 2:7 ESV

The Hebrew word יָצַר (yatsar) means “to form” or “to fashion,” and it was often used in the context of a potter using his hands to form a lump of clay into a particular shape. The intended connection between God forming man and a potter fashioning clay can be seen in the similarity between יָצַר (yatsar) and the Hebrew word for “potter” – יוֹצֵר [yotser].

Moses’ description of God’s creation of man adds another intended pottery reference. He states that God formed man, אָדָם (‘āḏām), from the dust, עָפָר (ʿāp̄ār), of the ground אֲדָמָה (‘ăḏāmâ). Verse 7 could be translated, “And Yahweh God formed the man, soil, from the ground.” The first man’s name, Adam, has direct links to the soil from which he was made. Like a potter, God took common, lifeless clay and fashioned it into the form of a man. In a sense, He used the same process that mankind would later use to fashion their false gods. But rather than making a lifeless idol to be worshiped, God was creating a living human being whose sole purpose would be to worship Him.

God made the man, but something was missing. The ‘āḏām had form but no ability to function. He remained lifeless and useless ‘ăḏāmâ until God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7 ESV). This important distinction helps to set man apart from the rest of the creative order. God took the time to personally create man’s form. Moses describes God as taking a “hands-on” approach to forming the one creature who would represent the pinnacle of His creation. This living being would be different from all others. He would bear God’s image and contain the “breath” of God.

Once the breath of God entered the lifeless clay form of man, life was generated, along with the attributes of understanding and conscience.

But there is a spirit within people,
    the breath of the Almighty within them,
    that makes them intelligent. – Job 32:8 NLT

The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord,
    searching all his innermost parts. – Proverbs 20:27 ESV

The essential role of God’s breath in the creation of man should not be overlooked. No other creature came into being through this unique life-giving action. And it brings to mind a similar scene portrayed in the book of Ezekiel. The prophet of God was given a vision of a valley filled with bones. Ezekiel describes the bones as being scattered all over the valley floor and dried out – as if they had been there for some time. But God spoke to the prophet.

“Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” – Ezekiel 37:3 NLT

Don’t miss the image being conveyed. The bones, which represented former human life, were slowly turning back to dust. They were lifeless and without form and covered the ground all around Ezekiel’s feet. And addresses Ezekiel as “son of man (‘āḏām), a reminder of his descent from the first ‘āḏām, who was made from the dust of the ground. God questions Ezekiel’s faith in His creative power, and the prophet responds,  “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know the answer to that” (Ezekiel 37:3 NLT).

Ezekiel hedged his bets and made no commitment. This was all out of his area of expertise. But God gave his prophet a faith-stretching assignment.

“Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” – Ezekiel 37:4-6 NLT

God commanded Ezekiel to address the bones, declaring to them God’s intentions to revive them. God was going to reform and refashion them, returning each scattered bone to its proper place in a particular body and covering them with organs, muscles, sinews, and skin. But the key to their restoration to life would be the breath of God.

And Ezekiel describes the somewhat macabre scene that took place.

Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them. Ezekiel 37:7-8 NLT

The valley was now filled with a host of fully formed human beings, but they still lacked one thing: Life. So, God commanded Ezekiel to speak to the bones one more time.

“Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’” – Ezekiel 37:9 NLT

And when Ezekiel faithfully followed God’s command, something truly incredible took place.

So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army. – Ezekiel 37:10 NLT

This entire scene was intended as an object lesson for Ezekiel. He had just been given a visual metaphor for the spiritual state of God’s chosen people.

“Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ – Ezekiel 37:11 NLT

They were hopeless and helpless because they were missing the life-giving breath of God. Their ongoing rebellion and refusal to live in obedience to God had left them lifeless and as useless as dry bones scattered all over a valley floor. And even when God miraculously recreated them into fully formed human beings, they were missing the one thing they needed to go from being ‘ăḏāmâ to ‘āḏām. They needed the breath of God. And God promised them that the day would come when He would restore them back to spiritual life by revitalizing them by His Spirit.

“I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’” – Ezekiel 37:14 NLT

The first man, while formed by the hand of God Himself, remained nothing but dirt. He was a lifeless and completely useless icon of God’s creative capabilities because He lacked the one thing that would allow him to not only bear God’s image but put it into action. By breathing life into Adam, God transformed ordinary clay into “a vessel for honor: sanctified, useful to the Master, and prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 BSB). God had great plans for Adam and fashioned him in such a way that he would be able to accomplish all his divinely ordained responsibilities. But the primary ingredient that would make possible man’s fulfillment of God’s kingdom mandate was the breath of God. And the apostle Peter reminds us that all those who place their faith in Jesus receive the same life-giving, mission-empowering Spirit that gave God gave to Adam.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 2 Peter 1:3-4 NLT

We, like Adam, have all we need to accomplish all that God has called us to do. We have been given life and the Spirit-enabled ability to live in obedience to the will of our Creator. It is the Spirit of God that makes obedience to the will of God possible. And even Ezekiel was given a promise from God that guaranteed the future transformation of the disobedient people of Israel.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. – Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT

God made man in His likeness. But it would be the Spirit of God that transformed lifeless clay into a vessel of honor, capable of bringing glory to its Creator and pouring out His blessings on the rest of the creation. Without the Spirit of God, humanity remains as lifeless and useless as a valley filled with dry bones. And without the breath of God, ‘āḏām would have remained nothing but ‘ăḏāmâ.

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.

The Blessing of Procreation

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 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. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. Genesis 1:14-23 ESV

At this point in his creation account, Moses describes God’s making of the sun, moon, and stars. This appears to be a summary statement that would include the entire solar system. But out of all the innumerable celestial bodies, Moses places special emphasis on the three that would be the most familiar to his Hebrew audience. While the average Israelite would have had no scientific knowledge of the vast source of energy emanating from the sun, he would have understood and appreciated its role in producing crops, providing warmth, and sustaining life. The moon, while considered a “lesser light,” would have been equally vital in Jewish thought, playing a special role in daily life. According to JewishEncylcopedia.com:

Like the other celestial bodies, the moon was believed to have an influence on the universe. Its injurious influence on man is referred to in Ps. cxxi. 6, which passage probably refers to the blindness which, according to Eastern belief, results from sleeping in the moonlight with uncovered face (Carne, “Letters from the East,” p. 77). It was also believed that the moon caused epilepsy (comp. the Greek σεληυιαζόμευος and the Latin “lunaticus”; Matt. iv. 24). On the other hand, there are “precious things put forth by the moon” (Deut. xxxiii. 14); that is to say, the growth of certain plants is influenced by it.

According to verse 14, God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.” This Hebrew word for “lights” is different than the one used in verse 3 where God said, “Let there be light.” On the first day of creation, God made light – אוֹר (‘ôr). But now, on the fourth day, He made the lights – מָאוֹר (mā’ôr). The “light of day” was created three days before any physical sources of light even existed. This order of events establishes God as the source of all light and life, and explains why the worship of the sun or moon was to be off-limits to God’s people. Worship of the sun and moon was common among the ancients, but it was forbidden for the Jews. 

“…when you look up into the sky and see the sun, moon, and stars—all the forces of heaven—don’t be seduced into worshiping them. The LORD your God gave them to all the peoples of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 4:19 NLT

When the people of Israel were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, God had warned them again about the worship of the sun, moon, and stars.

“When you begin living in the towns the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman among you might do evil in the sight of the LORD your God and violate the covenant. For instance, they might serve other gods or worship the sun, the moon, or any of the stars—the forces of heaven—which I have strictly forbidden. When you hear about it, investigate the matter thoroughly. If it is true that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, 5then the man or woman who has committed such an evil act must be taken to the gates of the town and stoned to death.” – Deuteronomy 17:2-5 NLT

God provided the sun and moon as visible and tangible sources of light. Their regular appearance in the sky would help to determine the length of a day and the various seasons of the year. They would be regular reminders of God’s faithfulness and life-sustaining power. The wording of the original text seems to stress that the sun, moon, and stars were to be viewed as created entities to be appreciated, and not deities to be worshiped.

“The narrative stresses their function as servants, subordinate to the interests of the earth. . . . This differs significantly from the superstitious belief within pagan religion that the earth’s destiny is dictated by the course of the stars.” – Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 111:26

God gave these greater and lesser lights specific roles to play. They were to separate day from night, provide divinely ordained signs, distinguish the seasons, and illuminate the earth. This brief synopsis of creation should have reminded Moses’ Hebrew audience that their God had created the so-called “gods” their pagan neighbors bowed down before and worshiped. He was the ultimate source of light and life, not the sun, moon, and stars. And yet, as the apostle Paul would later reveal, humanity has regularly mistaken the created order as the source of power, light, and life. Rather than recognizing the hand of God in all that has been made, they worshiped the creation instead.

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.

They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! – Romans 1:19-23, 25 NLT

Once again, Moses points out how God separated one thing from another. He used the sun and moon to separate the light from the darkness. There is a distinct differentiation established. From that point forward, there would be evening and morning, two diametrically opposite but integrally interwoven periods of time that, together, would form a single day. God had made land and sea. He had created earth and sky. Now He had formed day and night. Everything God created was to exist in a well-balanced and divinely ordered system that functioned according to His perfectly designed plan.

And it is at this point in the process that God begins to create new forms of life to populate the new environments He has made for them. First, He creates the fish and the birds.

“Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” – Genesis 1:20 ESV

Then God gave these creatures a mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth” (Genesis 1:21 ESV). They were made to procreate and populate the planet and, in doing so, they would constantly demonstrate the ongoing nature of God’s life-giving power. God could have created a distinct number of each species and filled the earth with them. But He chose to give them the ability to mate and make more of their own kind. And with each new birth, they would illustrate the amazing nature of God’s power through His ongoing creation of life.

One of the primary ways in which God bestows His blessings on His creative order is through the birth process. Even the ability of plants to propagate more of their own is a reminder of God’s goodness and grace. Birth is a blessing and not a curse. Fruitfulness is a gift from God. It is, as God deemed it: Good.

God has given His creation the ability to procreate, to beget, to generate life. Every plant that sprouts from a seed, every oak that grows from an acorn, every chick that hatches from an egg, and every child that comes forth from a womb, is intended to shout the glory and goodness of God. His life-giving power is on display each and every day throughout His creation. And mankind, as the apex of His creative order, are to marvel in it and rejoice over it because it provides with undeniable proof of His power and presence.

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.

Judges 11-12, Acts 23

The Heart of Man.

Judges 11-12, Acts 23

But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” ­– Judges 11:7 ESV

The Bible gives us a glimpse into the character and nature of God. From the very beginning, recorded in the book of Genesis, all the way to the end, chronicled in the book of the Revelation, we are able to witness God in action, creating, calling, commanding, loving, caring, leading, conquering, and faithfully carrying out His divine plan for mankind. The stories found in the Bible provide a well-rounded portrait of God and allow us to see His divine nature in all it’s glory. He is holy, righteous, transcendent, loving, gracious, powerful, all-knowing, all-powerful, and sovereign. He is judge, king, creator, warrior, father, benefactor, provider, and deity. His image is revealed through the pages of Scripture. But while the Bible allows us to discover much about God, it also shows us exactly what man is like. And it is not a pretty picture. From the moment Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, the moral and spiritual trajectory of mankind seems to be on a perpetually downward path. On rare occasions we are allowed to see a few individuals whose hearts seemed to defy the odds and whose lives were marked by a love for God. But in most cases, the portrait of man is a dark and depressing one. In the book of Judges, we see the repetitive cycle of sin that plagued the people of God. They just couldn’t seem to stop rebelling against God. And in spite of His patience and faithful deliverance of them, they continued to turn against Him.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Man is wicked. He has been from the beginning. And there came a time when God determined to destroy mankind for its wickedness. The book of Genesis records, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6 ESV). So God brought a world-wide flood. His righteousness required Him to mete out justice. But He preserved a remnant. He rescued Noah and his family. He preserved a handful of representatives of the human race, because He was not done yet. He had a preordained plan to restore His creation to its original splendor and it would be accomplished through mankind and in spite of them. His will regarding mankind would be fulfilled. His desire to rectify all the problems created by sin would come about – in His perfect timing and according to His perfect plan. And it is amazing to watch His plan unfold through the pages of Scripture, even as man’s wickedness is revealed on virtually every page.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The story of Jephthah is a perfect illustration of man’s heart problem and God’s faithfulness. Jephthah was the son of a prostitute who had been ostracized by his own half brothers. They refused to share their inheritance with him and forced him to give up his rights as a brother. This sad story begins with Jephthah living as an outside, surrounded by “worthless fellows.” And then the story takes a twist. The Ammonites show up. The enemies of Israel arrive on the scene, threatening war and creating panic among the people. And what do they do? They turn to Jephthah, who just happened to be a mighty warrior. This man who was not enough to share their inheritance becomes the perfect person to save their skins. They even agree to make him their leader if he will only help them defeat the Ammonites. What a perfect picture of the heart of man – fickle and unfaithful, opportunistic and always self-serving. The prophet Jeremiah was right when he said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV). The Bible makes it clear that the heart of man is inherently and irreparably wicked. You see it in the repetitive cycle of rebellion portrayed in the history of the people of Israel. You see it in the hatred of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, who adamantly refused to accept Him as their Messiah, instead demanding His execution, rather than acknowledge Him as the Son of God. Those same men would continue their opposition to the cause of Christ through their persecution of His apostles. Paul encountered these same men, and was dragged before them because of his efforts on behalf of the Gospel. During his trial before the Jewish council, we see a glimpse into the heart of these men as they bicker and fight amongst themselves, arguing over the issue of resurrection from the dead. Even their common enemy, Paul, could not keep them from fighting amongst themselves, revealing their selfish, vain, and wicked hearts.  “…a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided” (Acts 23:7 ESV). “And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks” (Acts 23:10 ESV). Their hatred for Paul was only surpassed by their hatred for one another.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

As human beings, we tend to want to think the best of ourselves. We have a hard time recognizing or admitting our own wickedness. But the Scriptures make it painfully clear. When more than 40 men swore a vow to assassinate Paul, simply because they didn’t like what he was teaching and preaching, it is hard to justify their actions. What would cause these men to risk their lives against the Roman cohort, just in order to eliminate one man? As Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” But God does understand man’s heart. He knows full well the wickedness that permeates it. And that is why He sent His Son to provide the only means for restoring man’s heart to its pre-fall condition. But it is essential that we understand and acknowledge our own sinful condition and the undeniable reality of our heart problem. I must regularly remind myself of my own heart condition. My heart has been damaged by sin. My predisposition is towards rebellion and rejection of the will of God. My sin nature wants me to resist the will of God and do things my way. My heart is prone to do what I want to do, rather than what God would have me do. Which is why God has placed His Spirit within me, to provide me with a new way of thinking and processing. I have been given a new capacity to live in obedience to God that comes from the very Spirit of God within me. I can’t trust my heart, but I can fully rely on the Spirit of God. Paul reminds me, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV). “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:25-26 ESV). The Spirit of God makes it possible for us to live in obedience to God. But it is essential that I acknowledge my need for the Spirit. I must come to grips with my own sin nature and deadly heart condition. I must daily recognize my need for the transformative power of the Spirit of God in my life, providing me with the capacity to live differently and distinctively in a world where man’s wickedness is on constant display.

Father, I should have no problem admitting the wickedness of my own heart. I get to see it in full living color every day. It reveals itself in so many ways that it is impossible to deny it. But You are in the process of transforming my heart and renewing my nature. Your Spirit is providing me with a capacity to live righteously that I never possessed before. But I must constantly recognize the true condition of my heart and my indisputable need for His power to live the life You have called me to live. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org