The Cost of Commitment

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Genesis 17:9-14 ESV

Up to this point in the story, the covenant between God and Abram had been non-binding. The agreement had been unilateral in nature, obligating God to keep all that He had promised to Abram. Even when God had ordered Abram to sacrifice and divide the animals, God had walked through the midst of them alone (Genesis 16:1-21). He had not required Abram to join him in this covenant ratification ceremony. God, in the form of a smoking pot and a flaming torch, passed through the midst of the dismembered animals, signifying His commitment to keep all the promises He had made to Abram. In a sense, God was saying, “May what happened to these animals be my own fate should I fail to honor my word.” This action by God ratified or sealed the agreement, but nothing was required of Abram. Until now.

Thirteen years after Ishmael’s birth, God visited Abram again and revisited the covenant agreement between them. But this time, God revealed to Abram that he could no longer be a non-participant in the covenant. He too would have a binding and costly obligation to uphold. Gone were the days of simply waiting on God to fulfill His commitment. Other than delay and possible disappointment, Abram had no skin in the game (excuse the pun). So, God upped the ante and placed upon Abram a sobering obligation.

“…walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” – Genesis 17:1-2 ESV

God had already committed Himself to shower this obscure individual from Ur of the Chaldees with blessings beyond his wildest imaginations.

“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 12:2-3 ESV

But now, decades later, Abram was still waiting for a son so that this amazing future might come to fruition. And as Abram waited and wondered about the future, God called him to live his life in the present with a soldout commitment to and trust in the trustworthiness of El Shaddai, God Almighty. Abram had been set apart by God for a divine purpose and God wanted Abram to conduct his life in keeping with His calling.

But this call to a committed life was going to be far more costly than Abram could have imagined, and it would be perpetual in nature, being passed down to Abram’s descendants. While Abram was still waiting for an heir, God had already confirmed His covenant commitment to Abram’s progeny.

“I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 17:7 ESV

God’s promise was unconditional. He would do what He said He would do. But, as His chosen people, the descendants of Abram were to walk before Him and be blameless. They were to conduct their lives in keeping with their calling and set-apart status – just like Abram. They would belong to God. And as a reminder of their status as His prized possession, God provided them with a sign, a very intimate and extremely painful sign: The rite of circumcision.

This latest directive from God must have left Abram slack-jawed and a bit confused. It had to have sounded strange and unnecessary. As far as can be discerned from the text, this was an unprecedented command from God. There is no indication that this rite was practiced by any other people group at the time. But God had made it a non-negotiable requirement for Abram and all his male descendants.

“As for you, you must keep the covenantal requirement I am imposing on you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. – Genesis 17:9 NET

This was an addendum to the original covenant agreement. But it did nothing to alter God’s previous commitment to fulfill His covenantal obligations. In other words, God was not attempting to move the goal post or change the rules in the middle of the game. He would still do what He had promised to do. But He was placing a binding requirement on Abram and his descendants.

“This is my requirement that you and your descendants after you must keep: Every male among you must be circumcised.  You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskins. This will be a reminder of the covenant between me and you.” – Genesis 17:10-11 NET

Even to the modern mind, this rite or ritual sounds strange and difficult to rationalize. Why was God demanding such a painful and personal “sacrifice” on the part of Abram’s male descendants? What possible reason could God have for commanding the removal of the foreskin of every male’s sexual organ? How would that be a “sign,” when no one would ever see it?

The key to understanding this rite is found within the nature of God’s promise to Abram. God had told Abram that he would be a father and that he would fruitful. He would produce seed or offspring. Just as God had commanded Adam to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth, so too, He was expecting Abram to obey the divine mandate to procreate and populate the earth with more of his kind. And the male genitalia would play a vital role in the fulfillment of that command to be fruitful.

In commanding the circumcision of the flesh of their foreskin, God was providing a very personal and intimate sign to each and every male descendant of Abram and Adam. This sign would be invisible to the rest of the world. But those who bore it would have an unavoidable and daily reminder of its meaning. Even when fulfilling their divine mandate to “be fruitful,” they would be forced to recognize the set-apart nature of their relationship with God.

And it’s important to recognize that this ritual was not reserved for Abram’s blood descendants alone. He was told to circumcise every male in his household.

“This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased.” – Genesis 17:12 NLT

This would have included Abram’s man-servant, Eliezer of Damascus, as well as Ishmael, the son of Hagar, the Egyptian handmade to Sarai. Every male associated with Abram was to undergo this “surgical” procedure. No one was exempt. Their bodies were to bear the mark of God’s everlasting covenant.

And God makes it clear that anyone who fails to be “cut” will be “cut off” from His people.

“Any male who fails to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for breaking the covenant.” – Genesis 17:14 NLT

There is a rather subtle but obvious wordplay going on here. In Hebrew, the word for “circumcised” is מוּל (mûl) and it literally means “to cut” or “to cut off.” God is declaring that those who refuse to cut off their foreskins will face equally painful consequences. They will be “cut off” (כָּרַת kāraṯ) from the household of Abram. In other words, failure to be circumcised will result in their physical expulsion from the covenant community. They were to be excommunicated. Some Old Testament scholars speculate that this punishment may have included execution, not just expulsion. Whatever the case, it was intended as a strong incentive to obey God’s command and submit to the sign of the covenant. The fact that God decreed that this rite take place on the eighth day of an infant’s life, ensures that it was adhered to without the risk of refusal. It was mandatory and not optional. One can only imagine what went through the mind of a grown man like Eliezer when Abram informed him of this new requirement. It would be easy to see how someone might want to avoid this painful and humiliating ritual. But, as the text will reveal, Abram obeyed and command of God and the men of his household complied.

It is essential to understand that this caveat or condition to the covenant in no way altered God’s commitment. If a man refused to undergo circumcision, he would be forfeit his right to the blessings of the covenant. But God would remain fully committed to keeping the promises He had made to Abram. He would make of Abram a great nation, and that nation would enjoy the blessings of God. And through that nation, God would raise up an offspring of Abram who would one day bestow divine blessings on all the nations of the earth – even upon the uncircumcised. And the apostle Paul points out the staggering implications of God’s commitment to His covenant promises.

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:11-13 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.

The Name Above All Names

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb. Genesis 12:4-9 ESV

Abram followed in the footsteps of his ancestor Noah, who “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV). When God told Abram to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 ESV), he went. And the text makes it clear that Abram went, “as the Lord had told him” (Genesis 12:4 ESV). He not only proved to be compliant but comprehensive in his obedience. He did everything just as God had commanded him to do. But there is one small detail that stands out.

When it came time for Abram to comply with God’s command, he “took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan” (Genesis 12:5 ESV). It all sounds good, except for the fact that God had clearly told Abram to leave behind his country and his kindred. The Hebrew word for “kindred” is מוֹלֶדֶת (môleḏeṯ), and it can refer to “offspring” or “relatives.” Considering the context, it seems clear that God was telling Abram to leave his extended family behind. Abram and his wife, Sarai, had no children because she was barren.

And yet, the text reveals that Abram brought along his nephew, the son of his brother, Haran. A look back at the genealogy in chapter 11 reveals that Haran had fathered a son named Lot while the clan was still living in Ur of the Chaldeans. But Haran died, leaving his son, Lot, without a father. Under the circumstances, Terah, the boy’s grandfather, assumed responsibility for his care and protection. He became a surrogate father to Lot. So, when Terah moved his entire extended family to the land of Haran, Lot accompanied him. But in time, Terah died as well, leaving Lot fatherless once more. It seems that Abram and Sarai, without children of their own, assumed responsibility for the boy’s well-being. And when they packed up their belongings to follow God’s will and move to Canaan, Lot was in their company.

Abram was not explicitly violating the command to leave his kindred behind. Lot had become part of his immediate family. It is almost as if he and Sarai had made the decision to adopt this young man. After all, she was barren and they were doomed to a life without children of their own.

But what can’t be ignored is the distinct possibility that Abram and Sarai viewed Lot as a possible heir and the means by which God would fulfill His promise to produce a great nation from them. In a way, Lot could have been Abram’s ace in the hole – a security blanket that helped mitigate any doubts he may have had about God’s plan and promise. If one believes in the sovereignty of God, then it seems obvious that the death of Haran and Terah was no surprise to God. And the fact that this young man had twice been rendered fatherless was not a byproduct of chance or bad luck. There was a divine strategy in play in which God was providentially orchestrating the details surrounding Abram’s life. Terah’s decision to leave Ur had been God-ordained. The birth of Lot and his father’s eventual death were also part of God’s plan. And Abram’s “adoption” of Lot when Terah died in Haran must also be seen as the handiwork of God.

There is no indication as to how long the journey from Haran to Canaan took. But it would have been an arduous and extremely lengthy trip as Abram and his retinue made their way through strange lands occupied by many of those foreign-speaking nations that had been scattered by God after His judgment at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).

Evidently, Abram was leading a rather large caravan, transporting all the possessions and people he had “acquired” while living in Haran (Genesis 12:5). It would appear that Abram had livestock and slaves in tow. A few of these unnamed servants or slaves will play important roles as the story unfolds. But their presence in the traveling party would have made progress slow and demanded greater resourcefulness when it came to provisions and protection.

But eventually, Abram arrived in the land of Canaan, just as God had commanded. And Moses indicates that Abram “passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh” (Genesis 12:6 ESV), where “he built there an altar to the Lord” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). While there’s no indication from the text that God directed Abram’s steps by providing him with detailed navigational instructions, it seems only logical that God was guiding His servant all along the way. Once again, the sovereign hand of God was determining every aspect of Abram’s pilgrimage from Haran to Canaan, even choosing Shechem as the place where Abram would erect an altar. Two times in verse 7, Moses discloses that God had appeared to Abram. These divine theophanies or manifestations of God’s presence had probably occurred all along the way, providing Abram with guidance and assurance that he was not alone.

Shechem was located in the center of Canaan, and it was there, in the heart of this foreign land that God instructed Abram to build an altar and offer sacrifices. Most likely exhausted by the long and arduous journey, Abram still obeyed God and did just as he was told. He “called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 12:8 ESV). This phrase refers to much more than just worship. It reveals an underlying awareness of the holy and righteous character of God as embodied in His divine name. The first occurrence of this phrase is found in Genesis 4:26, where it reads, “To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.

The “name of the Lord” is synonymous with His character.  To devalue God’s name is tantamount to profaning His character. To call upon His name is to recognize that God alone is God. He is the transcendent and holy “other.” There is no other god besides Him. Man was made in the image of God and given the unique role of glorifying His great name by living in humble submission to His will. To call upon His name is to acknowledge one’s complete reliance upon Him and trust in Him. That is why God would later command the Israelites to treat His name with respect.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. – Exodus 20:7 ESV

To treat God’s name vainly or flippantly has much more to do with behavior than speech. Later on, God would provide His people with an example of what it meant to treat His name vainly.

You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. – Leviticus 18:21 ESV

Proverbs 30:8-9 indicates that a life of self-sufficiency is a way to profane the name of the Lord.

Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God.

When men make the false assumption that they can be their own benefactor and provider, they rob God of glory and profane His name. The prophet Isaiah described the anger of God against those who give Him lip-service, but whose actions reveal that they have no respect for His name and character.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

At this point in the story of Abram’s life, he is revealing his deep dependence upon God. He recognizes that his journey from Haran to Canaan has been the work of God and he wants to express his gratitude through sacrifice and praise. And having completed his sacrifice to God, Abram continued to his journey to “the hill country on the east of Bethel” (Genesis 12:8 ESV). And there, he pitched his tent, erected a second altar, and called upon the name of the Lord. Here we have a picture of the nomadic lifestyle that Abram would come to know. He would spend his entire life on the move, relocating from one place to another within the land of Canaan. Even after pitching his tent in Bethel, Abram would eventually break camp and continue his tireless trek through the land God had promised to give him as a possession. And the author of Hebrews reveals that Abram’s transient lifestyle was motivated by a firm belief that God had something great in store for him.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. – Hebrews 11:8-10 ESV

He was a man on the move, but with a faith that was firmly founded on the faithfulness 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.

The Legacy of Autonomy

18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.

20 Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. 21 He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. 23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

“Cursed be Canaan;
    a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

26 He also said,

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem;
    and let Canaan be his servant.
27 May God enlarge Japheth,
    and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
    and let Canaan be his servant.”

28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died. Genesis 9:18-29 ESV

God has pronounced His blessing upon Noah and his family. He has issued His mandate to multiply and fill the earth. And He has communicated His covenant commitment to never use a worldwide flood to destroy mankind again.

At this point, Noah’s three sons “went forth from the ark” (Genesis 9:18 ESV). They left the safety of the ark behind because they had a new assignment. No longer were they to seek refuge in the massive boat they had helped their father build. The floodwaters had receded and the threat of death had passed. Now, they were to obey the Lord’s command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28).

There is a hint of irony in the statement that these three young men “went forth,” because it doesn’t appear that they went very far. Even their father appears to have stayed within close proximity of the ark’s final resting place. But Moses relates that from the three sons of Noah, “the people of the whole earth were dispersed” (Genesis 9:19 ESV). The Hebrew word translated as “dispersed” is נָפַץ (nāp̄aṣ) and it was used to refer to something that smashed and its pieces abruptly scattered. It conveys the idea that these “people” did not disperse willingly but were forced to do so by God. God had commanded Noah and his sons to “fill the earth.” And yet, we read that Noah “began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard” (Genesis 9:20 ESV).

Why did Moses feel this detail was pertinent to the story? Of course, it becomes painfully clear that the fruit of Noah’s vineyard eventually produced the wine with which he became drunk. But there seems to be more to the story than that. Noah made an executive decision and chose to settle down and become a farmer. There is nothing inherently wrong with his career choice, but nowhere in the passage does Noah receive a directive from God to become a farmer. This appears to be an autonomous decision on Noah’s part. Perhaps he wanted to ensure that he and his family would have enough food to eat. One of the consequences of the flood was that all vegetation had been destroyed. So, it made sense that Noah would see farming as a viable and logical pursuit in the denuded post-flood landscape. But Moses’ choice of words is significant. He states that Noah “began to be a man of the soil.” The Hebrew word for “soil” is אֲדָמָה (‘ăḏāmâ), the very same word used for the “ground” from which God had formed Adam. And it’s important to note that, when God cursed Adam, He stated:

“…cursed is the ground (‘ăḏāmâ) because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground (‘ăḏāmâ),
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 2:17-19 ESV

In his decision to become a farmer, Noah had chosen to embrace the curse. He had returned to the ground from which Adam had been formed. In a sense, he had returned to his roots. But that ground had been cursed by God. It would produce fruit, but only through hard work and accompanied by thorns and thistles. Noah had chosen the difficult path. He had decided to feed his family by working the cursed ground rather than enjoying the “clean” animals that God had graciously provided.

It’s important to recall what God told Noah immediately after releasing him from the ark.

“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” – Genesis 9:3 ESV

God had expanded man’s diet by providing the “clean” creatures as a food source. Noah had been instructed by God to place seven pairs of these animals on the ark and, now, in the post-flood world, they would have needed Noah’s care and protection. So, it would have made more sense for Noah to become a keeper of flocks and herds. And it shouldn’t be overlooked that Noah chose the career path of Cain. Chapter four revealed that “Cain was a worker of the ground” (Genesis 4:2 ESV), while his brother Abel “was a keeper of sheep.” 

Again, there is nothing about sheepherding that makes it more righteous than farming. The question is whether Noah was following the will of God in his choice of profession. And the context tends to indicate that Noah’s decision was not according to God’s will because it produced bad “fruit” that would have long-term implications for mankind.

Noah planted a vineyard and then waited for his first harvest. This process would have taken time, and while Noah waited for the vines to grow and the eventual grapes to ripen, he was failing to fulfill God’s mandate to “fill the earth.” And rather than disperse, Noah’s sons stayed right by his side. They created a little commune in which to live. There is mention of Noah’s grapes, but no word regarding Noah’s grandchildren.

And in time, Noah harvested the fruit of his labors. He turned his first season of ripened grapes into wine, and then drank himself drunk.

He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. – Genesis 9:21 ESV

Over the centuries, there has been a lot of speculation as to what this verse actually means. What exactly happened that fateful day? Moses simply states that, in his drunken stupor, Noah left himself uncovered in his tent, and his son, Ham, saw him in this compromised state. There are those who suggest that Ham committed an immoral act with his father. They make this determination based on the phrase, “Ham…saw the nakedness of his father” (Genesis 9:22 ESV). There were occasions when those words were used to refer to immoral acts. But there is nothing in the context of Genesis 9 to suggest that Ham committed a homosexual act with his father. There is also nothing that would support another purely speculative conclusion that Ham committed incest with his mother. The most logical explanation for what happened is that Ham, a grown man who would have been 100-years-old at the time, walked into his father’s tent and saw him lying drunk and naked. But rather than show his father respect by covering his nakedness, Ham decided to have fun at his father’s expense.

“Literally, the ancient Hebrew says that Ham “told with delight” what he saw in his father’s tent. He determined to mock his father and underminine his authority as a man of God. ” – Guzik, David. “Study Guide for Genesis 9.” Blue Letter Bible. 21 Feb, 2017. Web. 3 Jan, 2022. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide2017-Gen/Gen-9.cfm&gt;

Ham shamed his father. He maliciously maligned the patriarch of the family in front of his two brothers. And these two sons, rather than joining Ham in his ridicule of their father, choose to salvage their father’s dignity by covering his sin.

Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. – Genesis 9:23 ESV

Notice the emphasis on their refusal to see their father’s nakedness. This seems to eliminate any thought that this phrase carries hidden meaning. They simply chose to respect their father’s privacy and maintain his dignity, while he was in a compromised state. And when Noah eventually sobered up, he discovered Ham had done and was incensed. Moses states that Noah “learned what Ham, his youngest son, had done” (Genesis 9:24 ESV) and immediately leveled a curse against Ham’s son.

“Cursed be Canaan;
    a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” – Genesis 9:25 ESV

As retribution against Ham, Noah pronounced a curse upon his own grandson. This action by Noah does not suggest that God was punishing Canaan for his father’s sin. Noah was unwittingly declaring a prophetic declaration that the sin of Ham would be passed down to his future generations. Ham’s propensity for wickedness would be inherited by his progeny.

For Moses’ original audience, the mention of Canaan would have been a sobering reminder of the Canaanites who had occupied the land of promise. These people were particularly wicked and immoral, and they proved to be a constant source of temptation and trials for the Israelites as they attempted to occupy the land given to them by God. The descendants of Ham would be cursed to live in constant opposition to the descendants of Shem and Japheth. And Noah prophesied about this ongoing state of internecine conflict.

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem;
    and let Canaan be his servant.
May God enlarge Japheth,
    and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
    and let Canaan be his servant.” – Genesis 9:26-27 ESV

But all of this could have easily been prevented. Had Noah not made the fateful decision to settle down and plant a vineyard, no grapes would have grown, no wine would have been made, and no drunkenness would have taken place. Had Noah followed the path of Abel and become “a keeper of sheep” (Genesis 4:2 ESV), none of this would have happened. But even in Noah, the man who walked with God, we see a post-fall propensity for doing things his own way. He had spent years faithfully constructing an ark and now he was ready to settle down and enjoy the “fruits” of his labors. But the flood had not cleansed the curse God had placed on the ground. This new Adam (āḏām) would find the soil (‘ăḏāmâ) just as difficult to cultivate as the first Adam. And the fruit it produced would be accompanied by difficulties and heartache.

From this point forward, the Genesis account will display mankind’s consistent trajectory away from God. The temptation to “be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ESV), will grow stronger with each passing generation. And even the righteous and blameless Noah proved to be a man who struggled with a desire to live life on his own terms. After the flood, Noah would live an additional 350 years and then die. He would experience the very fate that God had prescribed for Adam and his descendants.

“By the sweat of your brow
    will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
    from which you were made.
For you were made from dust,
    and to dust you will return.” – Genesis 3:19 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.

God Begins Again

1 Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him.

Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth.

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. 13 On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark, 14 they and every beast, according to its kind, and all the livestock according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, according to its kind, and every bird, according to its kind, every winged creature. 15 They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. 16 And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the Lord shut him in.

17 The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. 18 The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. 19 And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. 20 The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. 21 And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23 He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. 24 And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days. Genesis 7:1-24 ESV

For the second time in his narrative of Noah’s life, Moses asserts that he “did all that the Lord had commanded him.”  And while it is easy to take this statement at face value, it’s sometimes difficult to understand just how remarkable a feat Noah’s obedience really was. So, three times in chapter seven alone, Moses attempts to emphasize the incredible nature of Noah’s faithful adherence to the far-from-simple assignment given to him by God.

In chapter six, Moses recorded the detailed instructions given by God to Noah for constructing a massive ark.

Make for yourself an ark of cypress wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it with pitch inside and out.  This is how you should make it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high.  Make a roof for the ark and finish it, leaving 18 inches from the top. Put a door in the side of the ark, and make lower, middle, and upper decks. – Genesis 6:14-16 NET

It has been estimated that, when completed, this giant boat contained 1 million cubic feet of space. It was as long as 1-1/2 football fields and as tall as a 4-story building. It was less a navigable vessel than a floating shipping container. Having no rudder or sail, this boat was designed to weather the coming floodwaters and provide shelter for Noah, his immediate family, and all the pairs of living creatures God was commanded Noah to collect and protect.

The scale of this project was massive and, even by today’s modern construction standards, it would have posed an impossible feat for one man to pull off. Yet, Noah did it. And nowhere along the way does Noah balk at God’s far-fetched and seemingly impossible assignment. At no point does he question God’s wisdom, second-guess God’s plan, or express doubt in his own ability to pull off such a strange and seemingly impossible task. Noah simply did as he was told.

Moses described Noah as a righteous and blameless man who “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV). This was a man who lived his life in keeping with God’s will. Over his lifetime, Noah had developed an intimate relationship with God and had learned to trust God for all his needs. Unlike his peers, Noah’s life was not marked by unbridled wickedness and unrighteousness. He was far from perfect, but when compared to the rest of humanity, he was blameless in his generation. It seems that Noah had developed a track record of obeying God. Even the author of Hebrews points out Noah’s penchant for taking God at His word and faithfully following His command.

He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. – Hebrews 11:7 NLT

The sheer scale of this project would suggest a rather lengthy construction timeline. The number of trees that had to be harvested and milled would have been staggering. There is no way to ascertain how Noah managed to accomplish a project of this magnitude, even with the help of his three sons. Perhaps God intervened and miraculously provided the materials required to construct the ark. But the text doesn’t seem to indicate any kind of divine superintendence. Even the collecting of the creatures was left up to Noah and his family.

This entire project took time, patience, and years of dogged determination on Noah’s part. And it’s important to remember that Noah was motivated by what he believed to be God’s pending judgment. The whole reason he was building a giant boat far from any body of water was that God had declared His plan to destroy the earth.

“Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die.” – Genesis 6:17 NLT

He believed God and, as a result, he obeyed God. And for however many years it took Noah to complete his assignment, he labored faithfully and unceasingly. And the apostle Peter indicates that, while Noah worked, God withheld His judgment.

God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood. – 1 Peter 3:20 NLT

But the day finally came when Noah put the finishing touches on the ark. His work was done and now it was time for God to fulfill His covenant commitment.

“Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. – Genesis 7:1 ESV

Noah had proven his faith in God. Against all odds and contrary to human reasoning, Noah had taken God at His word and obeyed. And the author of Hebrews includes Noah among those who are enshrined in his great “Hall of Faith.”

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. – Hebrews 11:7 ESV

While Noah’s ungodly neighbors continued to live in open rebellion to God, he faithfully submitted his life to the will of God. He demonstrated his complete reliance upon God by hearing and obeying the word of God. And, because of his faith, Noah was declared righteous by God. Even before commending Noah for his faith, the author of Hebrews declared the non-negotiable role that faith plays in mankind’s relationship with God.

…without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6 ESV

Noah had spent his life drawing near to God. The building of the ark was just the latest and greatest example of his complete reliance upon God. And because Noah trusted God, he was rewarded with the gift of life while everyone else around him was experiencing the judgment of death.

God did not spare the ancient world—except for Noah and the seven others in his family. Noah warned the world of God’s righteous judgment. So God protected Noah when he destroyed the world of ungodly people with a vast flood. – 2 Peter 2:5 NLT

For 150 days, Noah and his family weathered the storm that deluged the earth. They floated safely above the waters, as the rest of sinful humanity perished. This faithful man and his family were protected and preserved by God. They were graciously spared the judgment that had come upon the earth. But everything and everyone else was subjected to God’s righteous and holy wrath.

Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. – Genesis 7:22-23 ESV

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 Bearer of Bad Fruit

17 Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad fathered Mehujael, and Mehujael fathered Methushael, and Methushael fathered Lamech. 19 And Lamech took two wives. The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. 20 Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. 22 Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.

23 Lamech said to his wives:

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
    you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
    a young man for striking me.
24 If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,
    then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”

25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” 26 To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord. Genesis 4:17-26 ESV

One of the key themes found in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis is that of fruitfulness. God expected His creation, both plant and animal, to multiply and spread across the face of the earth.

 

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. – Genesis 1:12 ESV

It would appear from the preceding verse, that God started the entire process with plants that grew from seeds. In other words, the plants didn’t suddenly appear as fully grown and mature specimens.

Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed – Genesis 1:11 ESV

The Hebrew word Moses used is דָּשָׁא (dāšā’), and it means “to sprout, to cause to shoot forth.” God created the seeds, planted them in the ground, and then caused them to grow. It is likely that the whole process took place in record time as God miraculously sped up the entire growth cycle.

When it came to the living creatures, God created them ex nihilo – out of nothing – forming them as fully grown and completely mature. It was necessary to create the adult male and female of each species in order for them to procreate and make more of their own kind. But while God made only one male and one female human, He appears to have made countless living creatures.

“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

“Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” – Genesis 1:24 ESV

And in both cases, God commanded all the living creatures to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22 ESV). They were to fill the seas, the sky, and the earth with more of their kind. And Adam and Eve were given the same mandate, which they faithfully obeyed. The first couple used their God-ordained gift of procreation to produce two sons: Cain and Abel. Eve’s earlier decision to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit had not impaired her own fruit-bearing capacity. But according to the curse God placed on Eve and her female descendants, child-birth would always be accompanied by pain. And, in the case of Eve, her fruitfulness was accompanied by the unexpected specter of death, as her firstborn son went on to kill his younger brother. She and Adam had faithfully multiplied their kind, but in taking the life of his innocent brother, Cain had committed an act of treacherous subtraction. From this point forward, life and fruitfulness would be accompanied by death and barrenness. Sin had entered the scene and nothing would be the same anymore. The creation had been marred. And as the book of Genesis unfolds, the darkness that had once held sway would return.

Even Cain, the convicted murderer, was capable of producing more of his own kind. One of the questions that always comes up at this point of the creation story is “Where did Cain find a wife?” According to Genesis 5:4, Adam and Eve “had other sons and daughters.” So, it would seem that Cain eventually ended up marrying one of his own sisters. While God would later ban such inter-family relationships (Leviticus 18:9), there was no such prohibition at this time. God had clearly intended for Adam and Eve’s descendants to intermarry and populate the planet.

Cain’s wife proved fruitful and bore him a son, whom Cain named Enoch. And then the text provides an interesting aside, stating that Cain built a city, which he named after his son. This decision to construct a city in which to dwell appears to fly in the face of the curse that God had placed on Cain.

Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.” – Genesis 4:11-12 NLT

Cain decided to ignore God’s curse and built himself a permanent home. And it was in this location that his son carried on the divine mandate and made more of “their kind.”

Enoch had a son named Irad. Irad became the father of Mehujael. Mehujael became the father of Methushael. Methushael became the father of Lamech. – Genesis 4:18 ESV

This one simple sentence contains five generations of Cainites. This branch of Adam’s family tree proved to be fruitful in more ways than one. Not only did they procreate, but they proved to be creative. Lamech’s son, Jubal, became “the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe” (Genesis 4:21 ESV). His other son, Tubal-Cain, became a “forger of all instruments of bronze and iron” (Genesis 4:22 ESV).

Mankind was not only expanding but exploring all the myriad possibilities available to it as God’s vice-regents. They display a divinely sanctioned enablement for ingenuity and creativity that was unavailable to the rest of the living creatures. Humanity, made in the image of God, was capable of accomplishing great things. But because of the fall, man’s capacity for good would always be accompanied by a penchant for evil. According to the apostle Paul, the sin of Adam was passed down from generation to generation.

For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. – Romans 5:15 NLT

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone – Romans 5:18 NLT

Every child born to Adam and Eve came into the world bearing their proclivity for sin and rebellion. And it hadn’t taken long for Cain to exhibit his inherited propensity for evil. And some six generations later, Lamech would display a striking resemblance to his ancient forebearer. He would follow in his patriarch’s footsteps, committing yet another act of fruit-less-ness. Lamech would boastfully brag about his murder of an adversary.

“I have killed a man who attacked me,
    a young man who wounded me.
If someone who kills Cain is punished seven times,
    then the one who kills me will be punished seventy-seven times!” – Genesis 4:23-24 NLT

There is no sorrow or regret in Lamech’s words. He is justifying his actions and even threatening to do the same thing again, with God’s blessing. He seems to believe that if God was willing to avenge a murderer like Cain, then God would certainly excuse his justified act of self-defense. Lamech is claiming to have God on his side. But he misses the whole point behind the story of Abel’s death. In killing his brother, Cain had arrogantly abrogated God’s right to determine life and death. He had spilled the blood of his brother and God had declared His dissatisfaction.

“What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!” – Genesis 4:10 NLT

The branch of Adam’s family tree that led through Cain was producing bad fruit. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus delivered a powerful lesson concerning the fruit-bearing properties of trees.

“A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” – Matthew 7:17-20 NLT

And, in Genesis 4, Moses traces the lineage of Adam and Eve through a different branch of the same family tree that would prove to produce a different quality of fruit.

Adam had sexual relations with his wife again, and she gave birth to another son. She named him Seth, for she said, “God has granted me another son in place of Abel, whom Cain killed.” – Genesis 4:25 NLT

God graciously replaced what Cain had taken away. Adam and Eve continued to be faithful and fruitful, producing yet another son who filled the void left by Abel. And this son, Seth, would go on to father his own son, a man named Enosh. And then Moses reveals the dramatic difference between these two branches of the same family tree.

At that time people first began to worship the Lord by name. – Genesis 4:26 NLT

While Lamech, the arrogant descendant of Cain, was busy glorying over his taking of another man’s life, the descendants of Seth were glorying in the author of life. In these two distinctively different branches of Adam’s family tree, we see the grace of God displayed in all its glory. God was going to faithfully keep the promise He had made concerning the seed of the woman. In keeping with the protoevangelium, or first gospel, recorded in Genesis 3:15, God would see to it that a godly offspring would “spring forth” from the line of Adam.

“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

For every Lamech, there would be an Enosh. For every lost Abel, God would provide a Seth. He would maintain the line of Adam and keep the hope alive.

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. – Romans 5:17 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.

A Garden of Earthly Delights

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  Genesis 2:8-17 ESV

Once again, Moses provides some much-needed context to set up the next phase of the creation account. He relates that God planted a garden in a region known as Eden. The Hebrew word of “garden” is גַּן (gan), which was typically used to refer to an orchard. In this eastern section of Eden, God had prepared a grove filled with trees that were “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:9 ESV). From the wording of the text, it appears that God did not create fully grown trees, but chose instead to have them grow from seeds.

…out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree… – Genesis 2:9 ESV

In Hebrew, the term, “spring up,” means “to sprout, spring forth, to grow.” It should not be overlooked that God caused these trees to spring up from the “ground”(ăḏāmâ).  God used the same ground from which He had formed Adam (‘āḏām) to produce the food that would feed and sustain him. And Moses points out two particular trees that existed in the garden God had created: The tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. These two trees will become key factors in the unfolding story.

It was in this idyllic spot that God placed man. This location was intended to be much more than a home for the first couple. In a sense, it was to be a place of worship, a precursor to both the tabernacle and temple that God would later ordain as holy sites in which His presence might dwell and His people could worship Him. In this setting, Adam and Eve would enjoy unbroken fellowship with God. Chapter three reveals that God regularly made His presence known to the first couple.

…the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the orchard at the breezy time of the day… – Genesis 3:8 NLT

And in that same chapter, it becomes clear that Adam and Eve were accustomed to communicating with God. This garden-temple was meant to be a place of intimate communion between man and his God. And its beautiful surroundings point to the glory and holiness of its designer and creator. There was a river that flowed into the garden, providing pure drinking water for Adam and nourishment for the trees. Moses describes the prevalence of gold, bdellium, and onyx stone – natural resources that would later become coveted for their rarity and subsequent value. These same precious metals and priceless stones would become key decorative elements in the tabernacle and temple that God would ordain.

“Tell the people of Israel to bring me their sacred offerings. Accept the contributions from all whose hearts are moved to offer them. Here is a list of sacred offerings you may accept from them:

gold, silver, and bronze;
blue, purple, and scarlet thread;
fine linen and goat hair for cloth;
tanned ram skins and fine goatskin leather;
acacia wood;
olive oil for the lamps;
spices for the anointing oil and the fragrant incense;
onyx stones, and other gemstones to be set in the ephod and the priest’s chestpiece.

“Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them.” – Exodus 25:1-8 NLT

While we can’t know for certain the exact location of the garden, Moses’ description of the four rivers provides a general idea of where this region may have been. Two of the rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates are located in what would become the land of Babylon. What is interesting to note is that these two rivers flow from the north to the south and encompass two regions that would later be associated with Abraham: Ur and Haran.

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. – Genesis 11:31 ESV

God would call Abram and command him to travel to a land that would become an inheritance to his ancestors.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “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.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. – Genesis 12:1-5 ESV

And God would later describe two rivers that would form the boundaries of the land that He would give to Abram’s descendants.

On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates…” – Genesis 15:18 ESV

The land that God promised to give Abram’s offspring, the nation of Israel, would stretch from the Nile in the west to the Euphrates in the east. So, the garden in which God placed Adam must have been somewhere within this vast region. And this insight was meant to provide Moses’ readers with a reminder that, from the very beginning, God had intended this land to be the home of His children and the place where He dwelled among them. But this recounting of the creation story was also meant to remind every Israelite who would read it of their own rebellion and subsequent rejection from the land.

Moses makes it clear that God placed man in this very spot and gave him a job to do.

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for it and to maintain it. – Genesis 2:15 NLT

This verse helps to explain one of the responsibilities that had come with the command that God had given to Adam and Eve:

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” – Genesis 1:28 ESV

Adam had been placed in the garden by God and ordered to manage and maintain it. But the garden would also provide for all of Adam’s needs. It was a place of complete sufficiency that was intended to sustain mankind for generations to come. It was in the garden that Adam and Eve were to be fruitful and multiply. But, ultimately, God expected them to leave the garden and fill the earth with more of their kind. They were to procreate and populate the entire earth and, in so doing, spread the image of God all throughout His creation.

But upon placing Adam in the garden, God gave him yet one more command that came with a sobering warning.

Then the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.” – Genesis 1:16

Adam was free to eat from every tree of the garden except one. That means he had free access to the tree of life, and it would appear that this one tree was to be the means by which God sustained and prolonged Adam’s life. As long as he had access to the tree of life, he would live. But there was another tree that would produce the opposite effect. If Adam ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die. Here, for the first time, we see the disparate distinction between life and death, blessings and curses. As long as Adam obeyed the will of God, he would live. But if He chose to disobey, his actions would result in a deadly curse from God.

And as will soon become apparent, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil offered a tantalizing fruit that could give man the ability to self-govern. It would appeal to his desire for autonomy and self-rule. The knowledge of good and evil refers to man’s inherent desire to decide for himself, to self-determine what is right and wrong. In essence, to be his own god and create his own sense of what is just and acceptable behavior. Adam had everything he needed to live in unbroken fellowship with God, but that relationship required that he constantly submit his will to that of God. As long as he did, he would thrive and enjoy the undiminished blessings of God. But, we know how the story ends, because Moses provides all the sordid details.

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.

The Promise of God’s Presence

12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. 13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, “I am with you, declares the Lord.” 14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king. Haggai 1:12-15 ESV

It seems that once the people realized that the meager harvests, financial troubles, and lack of sustenance they were suffering were a punishment from the hand of God, they decided to heed the words of Haggai. Speaking on behalf of God, Haggai had pointed out the disastrous nature of their current conditions.

“You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!” – Haggai 1:6 NLT

Haggie let them know that their suffering had been brought on them by God.

You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away.” – Haggai 1:9 NLT

And he had delivered God’s message that more trouble was on the horizon.

I have called for a drought on your fields and hills—a drought to wither the grain and grapes and olive trees and all your other crops, a drought to starve you and your livestock and to ruin everything you have worked so hard to get.” – Haggai 1:11 NLT

And if they harbored any doubts or questions about the cause of their suffering, God had made it painfully clear.

“Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses. It’s because of you that the heavens withhold the dew and the earth produces no crops. – Haggai 1:9-10 NLT

They were guilty and stood condemned before God. But what makes this whole situation so interesting was that the very temple they had failed to rebuild was the one place they could have turned for divine intervention and assistance. When Solomon had celebrated the opening of the original temple centuries earlier, he had included the following line in his prayer of dedication:

“If there is a famine in the land or a plague or crop disease or attacks of locusts or caterpillars… and if your people Israel pray about their troubles, raising their hands toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and forgive. – 1 Kings 8:37-39 NLT

But there was no temple because the people had refused to carry out the commands of God and finish its construction. Sixteen years earlier they had laid the foundation, but the construction site had remained dormant since that time. Not a single stone was put into place. No lumber had been harvested or milled. But now, because of the words spoken by Haggai, the people were suddenly stirred into action. From the governmental and religious leaders to the lowliest peasant, everyone decided to obey the voice of the Lord.

Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. – Haggai 1:12 ESV

Haggai uses the term “remnant” to refer to the people of Judah. This was the very same word that the prophet Isaiah used when foretelling of God’s pending judgment against Judah at the hands of the Babylonians and His gracious plan to allow some of them to return to the land.

A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. – Isaiah 10:21-22 ESV

Isaiah used the Hebrew word, שְׁאָר (šᵊ’ār), which is derived from another Hebrew word that refers to “that which is left, left over, or left behind.” That word, שְׁאֵרִית (šᵊ’ērîṯ) is the one that Haggai used. It carries the idea of “that which is left or remaining.” It’s not just a numerical designation, indicating a smaller group of individuals, but it is also a way of conveying that those who returned had been set apart by God for a special purpose. When King Cyrus had issued his decree allowing the Jews to return, the vast majority of them decided to remain in Persia rather than make the arduous journey back to Judah. They had become acclimated to their lives in Babylon and had no desire to suffer the hardships that would accompany a return to the land.

But a remnant had decided to take the risk and go back to the land of promise. Yet, because of their disobedience, they found the prospects of their return to be anything but promising. And when this “whole remnant of God’s people began to obey the message from the Lord their God” (Haggai 1:12 NLT), their corporate commitment to obey was met with an encouraging message from God.

“I am with you, says the Lord!” – Haggai 1:13 NLT

These words were meant to be a reminder of the promise that God had made to the people of Israel when Solomon had finished the construction of the temple.

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” – 2 Chronicles 7:12-16 ESV

God had shut up the heavens and withheld the rain. Now it was time for the people, who were called by His name, to humble themselves, pray, and turn from their wicked ways. The temple lay in ruins, but God wanted His people to know that He was with them. His house was may have been non-existent but had not precluded His power or presence. He was among them and ready to act on behalf of them. All they needed to do was repent and return to Him.

God had never truly left them. And while the temple may have been nothing more than a pile of dust-covered rubble, their God remained powerful, ever-present, and ready to act on their behalf. They could count on God.

All the way back to when the people were preparing to enter the land of promise for the first time, Moses had told them, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV). And centuries later, King David would echo those words when he challenged his young son, Solomon, to build a house for God

Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” – 1 Chronicles 28:20 ESV

And when Solomon had completed the construction of the Lord’s house, he had finished his prayer of dedication with the following benediction.

The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers.” – 1 Kings 8:57-58 ESV

God had been with them when they had entered the land of promise for the very first time. God had been with King David, helping him establish Israel as one of the mightiest nations on earth. And God had been with Solomon, blessing him with great wisdom and wealth, and providing him with a period of peace and prosperity in which he was able to complete the construction of the temple. Now, centuries later, God was letting His people know that He was still with them. But as always, God was looking for humble obedience from His chosen people. He had graciously allowed a remnant to remain so that His will might be done. He was far from done with His people and He had great things in store for them because He was going to accomplish great things through them.

And stirred by the words of Haggai and the promise of God’s presence, “they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God” ( Haggai 1:14 ESV).

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.

The Cost of Commitment

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.  1 Peter 2:11-17 ESV

What does it mean to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)? Peter has told his audience that their new status comes with a responsibility:

that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. – 1 Peter 2:9 ESV

But what does that look like in real life? Those who have been transformed by God are expected to live in such a way that their character and conduct give evidence of their new status as children of God. What Peter seems to be telling his audience is that, while their circumstances may not have changed for the better, their lives should be radically different than before. At one time, they were living in complete spiritual darkness and, as the apostle Paul puts it, “alienated from God” (Colossians 1:21 BSB). Paul also reminded the believers in Ephesus of their former alienation from God.

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. – Ephesians 2:11-12 NLT

But Paul went on to give them the good news: “Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 NLT). And with that same thought in mind, Peter gives his readers a much-needed lesson on what it looks like to be God’s people.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. – 1 Peter 2:11 ESV

First, he reminds them that they are loved. But in using the word “beloved” (ἀγαπητός), Peter doesn’t seem to be expressing his feelings for them. While there is little doubt that Peter had great affection for those to whom he wrote, he was much more interested in helping them understand that they were loved by God. Another way of translating his statement is “those who are loved by God.” They had experienced the love of God as expressed in the gracious gift of His Son. The apostle Paul expressed the remarkable nature of this love when he wrote: “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT).

Peter was urging them to return God’s love for them by manifesting the transformed nature of their lives. First, they were to consider themselves to be “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT) on this earth. Peter is alluding to their new status as citizens of heaven, exactly what Paul meant when he wrote: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13 ESV).

These people were wrestling with the reality of being kingdom citizens while still having to live on this earth. They were experiencing what it was like to be God’s ambassadors, charged with the task of living in a “foreign land” and representing their sovereign King. And as His ambassadors, they were expected to represent Him well. Which meant that their behavior was to reflect His character and constantly honor the trust He had placed in them. Which meant that they were to “keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). They were not to blend in with the local customs and conduct of their assigned posting. As ambassadors, they were forbidden from compromising their divine commission by taking on the qualities of their host country. But at the same time, Peter did not want them to live aloof and isolated lives. They were not to separate themselves from the “riff-raff” of this world, looking down on them in judgment and pride. No, Peter told them to “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors” (1 Peter 2:12 NLT).

It’s important to consider the context in which these people were having to live their lives. Most, if not all of them, had come to faith out of pagan backgrounds. And their decision to follow Christ had required a great deal of sacrifice. It is likely that they had been treated as outcasts by their own families. Some were suffering ostracization, finding themselves as social pariahs within their own community. They had lost their jobs, their influence, and any sense of social credibility. When they walked down the street, everyone pointed their fingers at them in ridicule. These people were considered outsiders and treated scorn and derision.

And yet, Peter encourages them to keep a close watch on their conduct. They were to behave in such a way that their unbelieving neighbors and friends would see the transformed nature of their lives. But Peter acknowledges that this determination to conduct their lives with care would not be met with praise or applause. But it will make an impact.

Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. – 1 Peter 2:12 NLT

Peter wanted them to know that their righteous behavior was going to be met with ridicule and defamatory accusations. But Jesus suffered in the same way. He too was treated with scorn. His righteous conduct left Him labeled as a drunkard and a friend of prostitutes and sinners. He was accused of blasphemy and accused of being on the payroll of Satan. But Jesus’ response was to simply keep doing what He had come to do – what He had been sent to do.

Peter is attempting to get his readers to understand the calling God has placed on their lives. In a sense, he is echoing the words of Paul, delivered to the believers in Philippi.

…you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. – Philippians 1:27 NLT

And just to ensure that they understood the practical nature of his message, Peter gave them a very tangible example.

For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right. – 1 Peter 2:13-14 NLT

These people were living in a pagan culture ruled over by a godless government. And yet, Peter was telling them to submit to all human authority, including the king. As citizens of heaven living in Asia Minor, they found themselves living under the jurisdiction of the Roman Emperor, Nero. This egotistical and homicidal ruler had made it his personal mission to persecute Christians all throughout the Roman world. He saw them as a threat to the Roman way of life and he was intent on exterminating them. But here we have Peter demanding that these persecuted believers submit to the Emperor and all those who work on his behalf. This is the same message Paul sent to believers who were living in the Roman capital.

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. – Romans 13:1-5 NLT

Both Peter and Paul were acknowledging the God-ordained role of government. They were not suggesting that all governments are godly. But they were declaring that the role of government had been determined by God. The fact that governments can become corrupt and godless was obvious to Peter and Paul because they had both suffered at the hands of the Roman authorities. Both had been arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and threatened by agents working on behalf of the Roman government. But at no point did either one of them suggest insurrection or revolution as the proper response to government overreach or abuse. Both of them had been falsely accused, poorly treated, and wrongly incarcerated – simply for doing their jobs as ambassadors for Christ. And Peter wanted his readers to know that their lives would be no different. That’s why he told them:

It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. – 1 Peter 2:15 NLT

It didn’t matter whether those foolish accusations came from the government, a family member, or a neighbor. Followers of Christ were to respond by living honorable lives that reflect their ultimate allegiance and submission to God. And Peter was speaking from personal experience. Early on in his ministry, he had been dragged before the high council of Israel for preaching about the resurrected Christ. And the high priest was infuriated with Peter’s refusal to obey his commands.

“We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” he said. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!” – Acts 5:28 NLT

They had been arrested and warned before. They had been commanded to refrain from teaching anything about Jesus, especially His resurrection. But Peter stood before these rulers of Israel and calmly replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29 NLT).

When it came to obeying God or obeying the governmental authorities, Peter drew a distinct line. If earthly authorities demanded compliance that stood in the way of obedience to the call of Christ, the decision was a no-brainer. We must obey God rather than any human authority. For Peter, that meant he was willing to suffer imprisonment for proclaiming Christ. He was willing to suffer the consequences for remaining faithful to his God-given mission. He was going to conduct his life in a manner worthy of the gospel – at all times and at all costs.

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.

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