Practical and Personal

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:22-33 ESV

Paul has strongly stressed the need to know and obey the will of the Lord (Ephesians 5:17). He has called each member of the congregation to live as a light in the midst of the darkness of Ephesus by submitting to the control of the Holy Spirit within them. Together, they were to shine the light of God’s life-transforming glory into the dark recesses of the sin-soaked society around them. The fledgling church in Ephesus was to be a beacon of hope as they allowed the Holy Spirit to fill them. His presence and power would overflow and impact all their relationships. Paul indicates that this Spirit-empowered change in their corporate interactions will leave them singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts” (Ephesians 5:19 NLT). As the Spirit makes the will of God known and then empowers the Ephesians to obey it, they will see their relationships radically changed, and their gratefulness to God increase. But it will all begin with their willingness to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).

It’s interesting to note how verse 21 is often overlooked or ignored by those who take issue with verses 22-24. In the modern-day church, there are many who find Paul’s words regarding wives submitting to their husbands as old-fashioned and heavily patriarchal. They view them as antiquated and no longer applicable in today’s more modern and enlightened context. There is little debate that, when taken out of its context, Paul’s teachings about submission within the home can sound like he has a low regard for women. But nothing could be further from the truth. Paul is not suggesting that wives have less value or worth than their husbands. He is not treating them as second-class citizens or subjugating them to an inferior role in the marriage relationship. He is simply continuing his discussion on knowing the will of God and allowing the Holy Spirit to apply that will to everyday life so that the Ephesian believers might be lights in the darkness.

Paul brings up the institution of marriage because it was something the Ephesian believers shared with their unsaved neighbors. Marriage was an accepted part of everyday life in Ephesus. Christians were not the only ones who participated in the God-ordained institution of marriage. But Christians were the only ones who could demonstrate what God’s will was concerning marriage.

Within the 1st-Century context of Greek culture, Paul’s teaching regarding husbands and wives was radical and unexpected. The prevailing view of the day held that wives were little more than property. Oftentimes, they were treated more like slaves than helpmeets. In general, women were seen as inferior to men and accorded little honor or respect.

“After centuries of Christian teaching, we scarcely appreciate the revolutionary nature of Paul’s views on family life set forth in this passage. Among the Jews of his day, as also among the Romans and the Greeks, women were seen as secondary citizens with few or no rights. The pious male Jew daily said a prayer in which he thanked God for not making him a woman. And he could divorce his wife by simply writing ‘a bill of divorcement’ (which must include the provision that she was then free to marry whomever she wanted). The wife had no such right.” – Leon Morris, Expository Reflections on the Letter to the Ephesians

But Paul was not attempting to write a commentary on gender equity or trying to rectify centuries of ungodly thinking about the role of women in society. His interest was in helping Christian husbands and wives apply the will of God regarding marriage to their own homes. And his words must be kept within the context of his call to mutual submission found in verse 21. That’s the key to understanding verses 22-33.

Don’t forget how Paul opened this section of his letter.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV

How are mere humans supposed to imitate God? How can fallen men and women model their lives after a holy and completely righteous God? The only way they can do it is through a relationship with the Son of God. It is only through faith in Christ that anyone can be made right with God. And as believers are transformed into the likeness of Christ through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, their lives inherently imitate God because they emulate the One who “expresses the very character of God” (Hebrews 1:3 NLT).

Paul opened this chapter by calling the Ephesians to imitate God by demonstrating the same kind of sacrificial love that Christ poured out on them. God so loved the world that He sent His Son (John 3:16), and He “showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT).

Now, in verses 22-33, Paul is taking this call to imitate God by loving like Christ and applying it to the institution of marriage. He is focusing his attention on the one place in society where love and submission could and should be practiced and prove the power of the Spirit of God to apply the will of God to everyday life.

Paul begins by addressing the wives, telling them to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22 ESV). It’s amazing how often the last four words of his statement are left out by those who take issue with this passage. They also overlook his emphasis on wives and their own husbands. This is not intended as a blanket statement regarding the relationship between all women and all men. This has less to do with gender than it does with the God-ordained institution of marriage and the divine definition regarding the roles of husbands and their wives. And it only applies to Christian marriages. What Paul is prescribing here is only possible when both husband and wife share a common faith in Jesus Christ. 

When Paul calls the wife to submit to her husband, he is not issuing a command to subjugate herself to a lower or inferior status in the relationship. He is not suggesting that the wife is of lesser value or importance to God.

“People often misunderstand submission. It does not indicate inferiority or involve losing one’s identity and becoming a non-person. Some women fear that submission will lead to abuse and or a feeling of being used. Submission does not mean blind obedience or passivity. It means giving oneself up to someone else.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Ephesians

Paul is teaching the will of God concerning the marriage relationship. A Christian marriage is to look distinctively different than a non-Christian marriage. A husband and wife who are also a brother and sister in Christ are to model a radically different kind of marriage. Their interactions with one another are to be in keeping with the will of God and empowered by the Spirit of God. And it begins with a willingness to submit to or come under God’s providential plan for the marriage relationship.

These 12 verses, when taken in their context, reveal that the Christian marriage is to reflect the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. This must not be overlooked or discounted. That is the whole point of Paul’s teaching. The wife is intended to represent the church, the holy and spotless bride of Christ. The husband represents Christ, who demonstrated His love for His bride by laying down His life. Jesus gave His life so that His bride might have fulness of life. He died so that His bride might live. He sacrificed His body in order that the church might be cleansed and made holy. He modeled selflessness in the form of sacrifice.

In the same way, the wife is to model selflessness in the form of willful submission. The church, the bride of Christ, willingly submits to Him because it is God’s will. And when a Christian wife submits to her Christian husband, she is doing so “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22 ESV). Or to put it another way, she submits to her husband in the same way that she submitted to the Lord – through faith – trusting that God’s will and His ways are best. Paul doesn’t suggest that she submit only when her husband acts like Christ. That is where faith comes in. She is expected to do God’s will whether the conditions are perfect or the outcome looks predictable. That’s why Paul added, “as to the Lord.” Ultimately, she is trusting that obedience to God’s will is preferable to her own desire for autonomy or self-will.

What Paul is suggesting is not only difficult, but it is impossible – without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. No one likes to submit. There is no human being that likes the idea of coming under the authority or leadership of another. Yet we all do it every day if we feel like we will receive some benefit from having done so. Employees submit to their bosses, in order to get a salary. Citizens submit to their governing authorities, in exchange for protection and the preservation of their rights and freedoms. You might call it a form of quid pro quo.

But Paul is suggesting something altogether different. He is calling husbands and wives to follow the example of Christ. He willingly submitted to the will of His Father, even to the point of laying down His life (Philippians 2:6-8). He willingly sacrificed His life so that His bride might be made holy, righteous, and pure. And when a husband and wife, two people whom God has formed into one, do the same thing, they bring Him glory. They reflect His will and imitate His very nature – together.

And Paul sums up his teaching by calling it a “great mystery…an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one” (Ephesians 5:32 NLT). On a human level, it makes no sense. It seems illogical and impractical. To today’s modern sensibilities, it seems out of date and out of touch with reality. But Paul is revealing God’s will, not marriage advice. And he does sum up his teaching about this great mystery with some rather simple advice:

So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. – Ephesians 5:33 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.

 

Leadership Is a Privilege, Not a Right

1 “And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.” – Malachi 2:1-9 ESV

The tribe of Levi had been given the special privilege of serving God with the responsibility of overseeing the tabernacle and everything associated with it.

Then the Lord said to Aaron: “You, your sons, and your relatives from the tribe of Levi will be held responsible for any offenses related to the sanctuary. But you and your sons alone will be held responsible for violations connected with the priesthood.

“Bring your relatives of the tribe of Levi—your ancestral tribe—to assist you and your sons as you perform the sacred duties in front of the Tabernacle of the Covenant.

“You yourselves must perform the sacred duties inside the sanctuary and at the altar. If you follow these instructions, the Lord’s anger will never again blaze against the people of Israel. I myself have chosen your fellow Levites from among the Israelites to be your special assistants. They are a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord for service in the Tabernacle.” – Numbers 18:1-2, 5-6 NLT

But at the time Malachi penned his prophetic pronouncement, the Levitical priesthood was guilty of neglecting its duties and treating its priestly responsibilities as a burden and not a blessing. The men given the responsibility of caring for God’s house found their duties to be a drudgery, not a delight. They even claimed, “It’s too hard to serve the Lord” (Malachi 1:13 NLT) and rejected God’s commands as too difficult and burdensome. In a real sense, their hearts were not in their work, and that is exactly what God has to say about their behavior.

“If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.” – Malachi 2:2 ESV

God expected heartfelt obedience to His commands, and His emphasis on the condition of their hearts was meant to reveal the true nature of their problem. This wasn’t a case of simple neglect or poor planning. Their failure to follow through on their commitment wasn’t due to overwork or lack of resources. They simply didn’t have the heart for it because their hearts were far from God.

“The word ‘heart’ (leb/lebab) denotes in Hebrew what may be called the command center of a person’s life, where knowledge is collected and considered and where decisions and plans are made that determine the direction of one’s life.” – Footnote 173: H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, p. 40.

These men were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of Israel but instead, they were setting a dangerous precedent for those under their care. If the restored remnant of Israel was going to survive their return to Judah and enjoy the blessings God had in store for them, it would only happen if the priests faithfully fulfilled their God-given responsibilities. But God’s priests were guilty of the very same sin that had led to Israel’s banishment from Judah in the first place.

“These people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is but rules taught by men. – Isaiah 29:13 BSB

God holds spiritual leaders to a higher standard because, as His shepherds, they are responsible for the care of His flock. They serve as His undershepherds and must give an account for the way they have nurtured those under their care. And as for the Levitical priests, they were also responsible for the sacrificial system God had decreed.

“Tell Aaron and his sons to be very careful with the sacred gifts that the Israelites set apart for me, so they do not bring shame on my holy name. I am the Lord.

“The priests must follow my instructions carefully. Otherwise they will be punished for their sin and will die for violating my instructions. I am the Lord who makes them holy. – Leviticus 22:2, 9 NLT

Malachi delivers God’s stinging rebuke to these heartless and faithless priests, warning them that they were about to be cursed for their infidelity.

“I will punish your descendants and splatter your faces with the manure from your festival sacrifices, and I will throw you on the manure pile.” – Malachi 2:3 NLT

“The disgusting picture is of God taking the internal waste of the sacrificial animals and smearing it on the priests’ faces. Consequently both sacrifices and priests would have to be taken outside for disposal. This play on words communicates a double curse.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes of Malachi

God was threatening to use their defiled sacrifices to defile them. He would no longer allow them to defame His name by their failure to execute their priestly responsibilities with integrity and honor. In a sense, God was warning that He was about to clean house. He remained committed to His covenant with the tribe of Levi.

“They shall teach Jacob your rules
    and Israel your law;
they shall put incense before you
    and whole burnt offerings on your altar.” – Deuteronomy 33:10 ESV

But these particular men had forfeited their right to serve as God’s priests. And when God’s curse fell on them, they would finally understand the gravity of their sin and the sacredness of the priestly role they had once held. And God provides them with a much-needed reminder of how their forefathers had faithfully lived up to their job description, bringing God’s blessings upon the people.

“The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and that is what I gave them. This required reverence from them, and they greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. They passed on to the people the truth of the instructions they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin. – Malachi 2:5-6 NLT

God had kept His word and restored a remnant of His disobedient people to the land of Judah. Seventy years after Judah had fallen to the Babylonians, God had sovereignly arranged for King Cyrus to issue a decree that allowed a small band of exiled to make the long journey home and begin the restoration of Jerusalem. Under the leadership of such men as Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, the walls had been rebuilt, the gates rehung, and the temple had risen majestically from the rubble. And the priests had been given the opportunity to renew their role as the spiritual leaders of Israel, providing instruction in the law and overseeing the recently reinstituted sacrificial system. Yet, despite all the blessings God had poured out on the nation of Israel, the priests had dropped the ball.

“But you priests have left God’s paths. Your instructions have caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites…” – Malachi 2:8 NLT

It’s essential to understand the serious nature of their sin. These men had not just led poorly, they had purposefully misled and misguided the people. Their teaching of the law had been inaccurate and confusing. They were guilty of misinterpreting and misrepresenting God’s commands, causing the people to unknowingly violate the will of God. Their propensity to offer unacceptable sacrifices meant that the peoples’ sins were never really atoned for. Unlike their forefathers, these men were liars and cheats, living unrighteous lives and causing the people to follow their example. And God was unwilling to allow their devastating actions to continue any longer.

“So I have made you despised and humiliated in the eyes of all the people. For you have not obeyed me but have shown favoritism in the way you carry out my instructions.” – Malachi 2:9 NLT

According to Numbers 18:32, their penalty should have been death, but God had chosen to punish them by diminishing their stature in the eyes of the people. Their fall from God’s good grace would be painful and swift. They had been set apart by God and given the responsibility of leading and feeding His flock. But they had ended up treating both their position and God’s flock with disdain. After 70 years in exile, the people of God desperately needed solid biblical instruction, godly leadership, and a sacrificial system that provided true atonement from sin. But these men provided none of the above. They twisted God’s words, misled His flock, and defiled the very sacrifices that should have brought atonement to God’s people.

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.

Greater Love Has No Man

18 Then Judah went up to him and said, “Oh, my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh himself. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father, or a brother?’ 20 And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22 We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ 23 Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall not see my face again.’

24 “When we went back to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25 And when our father said, ‘Go again, buy us a little food,’ 26 we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother goes with us, then we will go down. For we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One left me, and I said, “Surely he has been torn to pieces,” and I have never seen him since. 29 If you take this one also from me, and harm happens to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in evil to Sheol.’

30 “Now therefore, as soon as I come to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy’s life, 31 as soon as he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. 32 For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.’ 33 Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. 34 For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.” – Genesis 44:18-34 ESV

The Egyptian governor has accused Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob, of having stolen a valuable silver goblet. As his punishment, the boy will be forced to remain in Egypt as a slave while his 10 brothers return home to Canaan. Of course, the entire affair had been the brainchild of Joseph, who had ordered that the goblet be placed in Benjamin’s belongings before the brothers started their journey home. In a sense, Joseph had framed his own brother for the crime so that he might determine the true condition of his brothers’ hearts. He had absolved them of any guilt and given them the option of returning to Canaan without Benjamin. Now, it was time to see what his brothers would do. Had they changed? Or, in order to save their own skins, would they abandon Benjamin to a life of slavery just as they had done to him?

Judah was the first to speak up. He approached the Egyptian governor and begged him to reconsider. Judah explained that Benjamin was the youngest son of their father, Jacob, and that boy was near and dear to the old man’s heart. When they had returned the first time and informed Jacob that the governor demanded that they bring Benjamin back to Egypt, Jacob had become distressed at the thought of losing another son. Judah explained, in a rather abbreviated form, that their father had lost another son and had never really gotten over the pain of his sudden and unexpected disappearance.

What makes this dialogue so ironic is that the one to whom it was directed was already very familiar with the details of the story. Joseph knew exactly what Judah was including and all that he was leaving out. Understandably so, Judah expressed no ownership for the “disappearance” of Joseph. He shared nothing about the role he and his brothers played in selling their younger brother to Ishmaelite traders. To do so would have been an acknowledgment that they were all untrustworthy men. So, Judah sanitized the story, emphasizing the tragic loss of their brother while never divulging their involvement in it. He also failed to share how they deceived their own father, allowing him to believe that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

All Judah chose to share was the devastating impact the governor’s decree had on their father. Not only had they returned without Simeon, but they had been forced to tell their aging father that he would never see Simeon again unless Benjamin returned to Egypt with them. And Jacob had found this news to be more than he could bear.

“As you know, my wife had two sons, and one of them went away and never returned. Doubtless he was torn to pieces by some wild animal. I have never seen him since. Now if you take his brother away from me, and any harm comes to him, you will send this grieving, white-haired man to his grave.” – Genesis 44:27-29 NLT

Judah was pulling at the governor’s heartstrings. He was desperately attempting to appeal to Zaphenath-paneah’s emotions, hoping that this powerful Egyptian ruler might empathize with their plight and rescind his order.

But the next words to come out of Judah’s mouth revealed to Joseph that his brother was serious about saving Benjamin’s life. Judah painted a gut-wrenching image of their elderly and grief-stricken father waiting anxiously back in Canaan. But he also expressed his willingness to offer his own life as a substitute for Benjamin’s. Judah told the governor how he had assured his father that he would take personal responsibility for the boy.

“My lord, I guaranteed to my father that I would take care of the boy. I told him, ‘If I don’t bring him back to you, I will bear the blame forever.’” – Genesis 44:32 NLT

And this is where Judah reveals the true nature of his heart. This very same man who had come up with the idea of selling Joseph to the Ishmaelite slave traders offered to trade his life for that of Benjamin.

“So please, my lord, let me stay here as a slave instead of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. For how can I return to my father if the boy is not with me? I couldn’t bear to see the anguish this would cause my father!” – Genesis 44:33-34 NLT

Judah was willing to forfeit his own freedom so that his younger brother could be set free and return to their father. Judah was not the same callous individual who had allowed jealousy and envy to cloud his thinking and drive him to betray his own brother. All those years ago, Judah had shown no love for Joseph and he had exhibited no remorse for causing his father so much pain. But Judah was not that same man. He had grown up and was now willing to stand up and do the right thing. Judah’s sacrificial and selfless offer reflects the kind of love described and demonstrated by Jesus.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13 ESV

Judah was making a huge sacrifice. He had a family back home that was dependent upon his return. But he was willing to jeopardize his own wife and children in order to honor his father and protect the life of his brother. Judah was offering to redeem the life of Benjamin by substituting his life as payment for Benjamin’s debt. He would pay the penalty on behalf of Benjamin, allowing the boy to return to the embrace of his father. And it’s important to note that Jesus would come through the line of Judah. And years later, Jacob would bestow on Judah a very special blessing that would have future ramifications.

The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
    and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. – Genesis 49:10 ESV

“Jacob will crown Judah with kingship because he demonstrates that he has become fit to rule according to God’s ideal of kingship that the king serves the people, not vice versa. Judah is transformed from one who sells his brother as a slave to one who is willing to be the slave for his brother. With that offer he exemplifies Israel’s ideal kingship.” – Bruce K. Waltke and Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary

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.

 

Like Grandfather, Like Son

1 Now the famine was severe in the land. And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.” But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’” Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. 10 If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice.”

11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry a present down to the man, a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds. 12 Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was an oversight. 13 Take also your brother, and arise, go again to the man. 14 May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”

15 So the men took this present, and they took double the money with them, and Benjamin. They arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.

16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Bring the men into the house, and slaughter an animal and make ready, for the men are to dine with me at noon.” 17 The man did as Joseph told him and brought the men to Joseph’s house. 18 And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys.” – Genesis 43:1-18 ESV

Reuben and his brothers were unable to convince their father to allow them to take Benjamin back to Egypt with them. Fearing that he might lose yet another son, Jacob refused to give in to the Egyptian governor’s demands. But eventually, their supply of grain ran out and he was left with no other option but to send his sons back to Egypt to purchase additional grain. But Judah reminded him that the trip would be a waste of time if they failed to take Benjamin with them. The Egyptian governor had made it very clear that their brother Simeon would not be released unless they returned with their younger sibling. Reuben reminded his father of Zaphenath-paneah’s conditions.

“You won’t see my face again unless your brother is with you.” – Genesis 43:3 NLT

No Benjamin, no grain. It was as simple as that. And Judah informed his father that he and his brothers were unwilling to make the long and arduous trip unless Benjamin accompanied them.

Jacob expressed his frustration that they had ever mentioned Benjamin in the first place. But Judah defended their actions by explaining that they had simply answered the governor’s questions. How were they to have known that Zaphenath-paneah would require physical proof of Benjamin’s existence?  From their viewpoint, they had no other choice but to obey the governor’s demands. If they refused, they would all end up starving to death. So, after a bit of persistent cajoling from Judah, and an assurance that he would guarantee Benjamin’s safety, Jacob finally acquiesced to the plan.

But it’s important to note that two of Jacob’s sons had made solemn pledges to protect and preserve Benjamin’s life. These men had been changed by their disconcerting encounter with Zaphenath-paneah. Reuben vowed to watch over Benjamin, even putting up the lives of his two sons as collateral.

“You may kill my two sons if I don’t bring Benjamin back to you. I’ll be responsible for him, and I promise to bring him back.” – Genesis 42:37 NLT

Even Judah, the one who had suggested that they sell Joseph to the Ephraimite traders, was now willing to put his reputation and his life on the line to guarantee Benjamin’s physical well-being.

“I personally guarantee his safety. You may hold me responsible if I don’t bring him back to you. Then let me bear the blame forever.” – Genesis 43:9 NLT

It should not be overlooked that Jacob, a man who had betrayed and defrauded his own brother, had fathered 10 sons who ended up doing the same thing to one of their own. But now, years later, Jacob watched as two of these same men pledged to protect the life of their younger sibling. While he knew nothing of what they had done to sell Joseph into slavery, he must have been encouraged by the selfless and sacrificial display of love from his two older sons.

Before sending his sons on a potentially dangerous journey into a foreign land where they would face unknown obstacles, Jacob attempted to do what he could to produce a positive outcome.

“Pack your bags with the best products of this land. Take them down to the man as gifts—balm, honey, gum, aromatic resin, pistachio nuts, and almonds. Also take double the money that was put back in your sacks, as it was probably someone’s mistake. Then take your brother, and go back to the man.” – Genesis 43:11-13 NLT

He reached into his old bag of tricks and came up with the same ploy he had used on his brother Esau (Genesis 32:13-16). If the Egyptian governor was angry that Jacob’s sons had left without paying for the grain, he hoped to assuage that anger with gifts. He doubled the amount of money they should have paid and then threw in some additional agricultural products for good measure.

But Jacob also revealed that he was ready and willing to trust God with the outcome. He was willing to purchase favor with the Egyptian governor but if that didn’t work, he would trust in the sovereignty of God.

“May God Almighty give you mercy as you go before the man, so that he will release Simeon and let Benjamin return. But if I must lose my children, so be it.” – Genesis 43:14 NLT

Jacob had come a long way. In his statement, he reflects the same sentiments that Job expressed when he learned that he had lost all his children in a freak accident.

Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” – Genesis 43:20-21 ESV

While Jacob feared losing his sons, he also displays a firm belief that God was going to fulfill His covenant promises. By sending his 11 remaining sons to Egypt, he was following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Abraham. No doubt, Jacob’s father Isaac had told him the story of when Abraham had taken him to Mount Moriah with the intention of following God’s command to offer his only son as a sacrifice. And now, here was Jacob willingly sending his son to Egypt, not knowing if they would ever return. But his decision was an act of faith. If God was going to fulfill His covenant promise, Jacob would need to have sons. And so, he let them go, trusting that God would find a way to allow them to return. But little did Jacob know that God had greater plans than he could ever imagine. All of his sons would eventually return, but only so they could bring their father and families back to the land of Egypt. All in keeping with God’s sovereign and unshakeable plan.

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.

 

Blessings and Obedience

15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.

20 Now after these things it was told to Abraham, “Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, 22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.” 23 (Bethuel fathered Rebekah.) These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24 Moreover, his concubine, whose name was Reumah, bore Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah. Genesis 22:15-24 ESV

Abraham had fully intended to follow through with God’s command to sacrifice his son, Isaac. But God had graciously intervened and provided a ram to replace Isaac as the sacrifice. This imagery of a substitute is found throughout the Scriptures and foreshadows the coming of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). In the book of Exodus, the Israelites were spared the devastating consequences of the final plague if they followed Yahweh’s command to sacrifice a lamb and place its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their homes (Exodus 12:7). He gave them detailed instructions for preparing and consuming the lamb and promised to spare their firstborn sons if they did as He commanded them.

“For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. – Exodus 12:12-13 ESV

These Passover lambs served as substitutes for the people of Israel, providing a gracious and undeserved means of escaping the wrath of God. The Israelites had not earned God’s deliverance from judgment. While their suffering at the hands of the Egyptians was unwarranted, so was their salvation. God’s offer to spare them was in spite of them, not because of them. And God’s provision of a substitute for Isaac was not based on Abraham’s obedience or Isaac’s innocence. According to God’s Word, there is no one who stands before God as righteousness and deserving of His grace and mercy.

They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
    not one of them does good!

God looks down from heaven
    on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
    if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
    not a single one! – Psalm 53:1-3 NLT

Don’t overlook the fact that God still required a sacrifice. He had demanded the death of Isaac but had willingly provided a ram to serve as the boy’s proxy. This ram, which appeared at just the right moment and had somehow been ensnared in a thicket, had been preapproved and preordained by God. Its sacrificial, substitutionary death provided Isaac with life. Once again, this scene foreshadows another Lamb whose life would provide victory over death and the grave.

“Worthy the Lamb for sinners slain,”
Cry the redeemed above,
“Blessing and honor to obtain,
And everlasting love.”

“Worthy the Lamb,” on earth we sing,
“Who died our souls to save;
Henceforth, O Death, where is thy sting?
Thy victory, O Grave?”

– James Montgomery, “Worthy the Lamb for Sinner’s Slain,” 1825, 1853

One can only imagine the extreme joy that Abraham experienced as he untied the ropes that held his son and embraced him in his arms. And on the altar he had constructed, Abraham and Isaac placed the body of the ram God had provided. This lifeless animal became a token of Abraham’s gratitude and an expression of his reverence for his gracious and merciful God.

And having completed the sacrifice, Abraham received a second message from the Lord.

“By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” – Genesis 22:16-18 ESV

God reiterated the promise He had made when He called Abraham out of Haran.

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

But this time, God seems to indicate that the blessings are conditional.

“Here again God promised Abraham that he would become the recipient of the covenant blessings. The covenant was not based on obedience, nor was the perpetuity of the covenant based on obedience—but rather the reception of covenant blessings was conditioned on obedience. Remember, an unconditional covenant may have conditional blessings.” – J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come

God was recommitting Himself to His covenant obligations. He assured Abraham that He would do what He said He would do. He would make of Abraham a great nation, and Isaac would be the means through which that promise was fulfilled. But He was also reminding Abraham that the blessings associated with the covenant would be conditional. They would require obedience. In order for Abraham to experience the blessings of Canaan, he had been required to leave Haran and his kinsmen behind. God had forbidden Abraham from declaring Eliezer, his servant, to be his heir. And Abraham had been required to obey God’s command and disinherit Ishmael. The result of all of this was God’s commitment to bless Abraham through Isaac. Obedience always precedes blessing.

Centuries later, when the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were preparing to enter the land of Canaan after their 400-years of captivity in Egypt, Moses had delivered God’s clear call to obedience.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

God had kept the promise He had made to Abraham nearly half a century earlier.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation…” – Genesis 15:13-16 ESV

And God would ensure that Abraham’s offspring received the inheritance He had promised them. But to fully enjoy all the blessings the land had to offer, they would have to live in obedience to His commands. And Moses had been very specific.

“Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.” – Deuteronomy 28:3-6 ESV

The blessings were contingent upon obedience. And Moses made it painfully clear that disobedience would result in severe and costly consequences.

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.” – Deuteronomy 28:15-19 ESV

They would find themselves living in the land of promise, but unable to enjoy all the blessings the land afforded. And Moses warned them that their continued failure to live in obedience would result in their eventual removal from the land.

“Whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God. And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” – Deuteronomy 28:62-63 ESV

Abraham had been willing to obey the command of God and offer up his son as a sacrifice. And, according to God, Abraham’s obedience was the reason the blessings associated with the covenant would be fulfilled

“…because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.” – Genesis 22:16-17 ESV

Abraham had not earned God’s blessings. God is simply stating that His blessings are always contingent upon obedience. Adam and Eve enjoyed the blessings of Eden as long as they obeyed God’s command to abstain from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But as soon as they disobeyed God’s command and ate of the tree, they were cursed and eventually cast out of the garden. But their disobedience did not keep God from fulfilling His preordained plan to redeem the world through the seed of Adam and Eve. In fact, their disobedience set in motion the grand redemptive plan that God had put in place before the foundation of the world.

In choosing to obey God, Abraham received his son back. But even more importantly, Abraham secured the arrival of another “offspring” who would become a blessing to the nations. Abraham had no way of knowing what God had in store for him and his descendants. He could only take his son and return to his recently purchased property in Beersheba.

Moses closes out this chapter with a short genealogy of Abraham’s brother, Nahor. And his intent for including this list of obscure and difficult-to-pronounce names is simple. He is beginning to shift the focus from Abraham to Isaac. From this point forward, Moses will begin to chronicle the lives of Abraham’s descendants. And one name should stand out in the family tree of Nahor: Rebekah. Through a series of God-ordained events, she will become the wife of Isaac. And with their marriage, the stage will be set for Abraham to pass on his inheritance to his son, whose very life he owed to 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 Lord Will Provide

On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” Genesis 22:4-14 ESV

Three days into their journey to the region of Moriah, Abraham saw their final destination in the distance and decided to leave his servants behind. He and Isaac would travel alone to the place of sacrifice. Abraham, perhaps hoping to hide his true intentions from his unwitting son, told his servants, “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back” (Genesis 22:5 NLT). Some have determined this to be a statement of faith on Abraham’s part, suggesting that he was confident that God would spare his son. But it seems more likely that Abraham was waiting until the last minute to let Isaac in on the true nature of their journey.

Moses describes how Abraham took all the elements he would need for the sacrifice, including a knife, a blazing torch, and wood. Then he adds the heartwrenching notation: “And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son” (Genesis 22:6 ESV). Isaac was carrying the very wood upon which his young life would be consumed.

For those of us living on this side of the crucifixion, it should be easy to recognize the similarities between Isaac and Jesus. Both entered the world through miraculous, God-ordained births. Isaac was born to an elderly and barren woman. Jesus was born to a young virgin girl. Each of them was deeply adored by their respective fathers. And just as Abraham was facing the prospect of sacrificing his son, centuries later, God would offer up His one and only Son as the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). There is even a striking similarity between Isaac bearing the wood for his own sacrifice and Jesus carrying the cross upon which He would be crucified.

But for the Jews for whom Moses recorded this story, none of these links to the future death of the Messiah would have been apparent. For them, this story would have had significance because it involved Isaac, who would later become the father of Jacob, the man whom God later renamed, Israel. And it was from this one man that they owed their very existence. To hear the story of how Jacob’s father was almost put to death by order of Yahweh must have left them appalled and confused. How could their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, order such a thing? And, of course, they would have been viewing this entire scene through the lens of the Mosaic Law. They had been given clear instructions to avoid the religious rituals and customs of their pagan neighbors.

You must not worship the Lord your God the way the other nations worship their gods, for they perform for their gods every detestable act that the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters as sacrifices to their gods. – Leviticus 12:31 NLT

And yet, Abraham had no written law to guide his actions. He was operating according to the spoken word of God Almighty, and His instructions had been very clear.

“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.” – Genesis 22:2 NLT

The disconcerting nature of this divine command would have left them filled with questions. Why would God require the sacrifice of the very son whom He had miraculously provided to Abraham and Sarah? What possible good could come from something so seemingly wicked? But the key is found in three words found in the opening verse of this chapter: God tested Abraham.

The people of Israel were very familiar with the concept of divine testing. In fact, their ancestors had spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness, enduring ongoing tests from Yahweh that were designed to increase their dependence upon Him. The book of Deuteronomy records Moses’ powerful words spoken to the people of Israel as they prepared to enter the land of Canaan for the first time.

“Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the LORD your God disciplines you for your own good.” – Deuteronomy 8:2-5 NLT

So, it seems highly likely that they would have understood this test that Abraham was having to face. They knew that Yahweh expected obedience from His people because obedience was a sign of dependence and faith. And they knew what disobedience looked like because they had grumbled and whined about their dislike for manna. During their years wandering in the wilderness, they had spent more time complaining to Moses than they spent worshiping and expressing gratitude to God.

As Abraham and Isaac made their way to the site of the sacrifice, Isaac couldn’t help but notice that something was missing.

He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” – Genesis 22:7 ESV

To the young Isaac, this was a glaring oversight. Why had his father failed to select an unblemished lamb before they left home? How were they going to find a suitable animal out in the wilderness? But Abraham calmly answered, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8 ESV). Once again, there are those who believe this was an expression of Abraham’s faith. They suggest that Abraham somehow knew that God would provide a substitute. But, according to the author of Hebrews, Abraham was declaring his belief that Isaac was the lamb that God had provided. The sacrifice would take place. But Abraham still believed that God would fulfill His covenant promise, even if it meant raising Isaac from the dead.

It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead. – Hebrews 11:17-19 NLT

Abraham fully intended to go through with God’s command. He did not delay, hoping for a last-minute reprieve. He did not scan the horizon, hoping for a lamb to miraculously appear. No, Moses records that “Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice” (Genesis 22:0-10 NLT).

One can only imagine the turmoil going on in Abraham’s mind and heart. Every fiber of his being must have been conflicted as his fatherly instincts waged war against his desire to walk before God and be blameless (Genesis 17:1). Interestingly enough, Moses provides no insight into Isaac’s reactions. The young boy appears to remain eerily silent throughout this ordeal. He asked no further questions. He refused to put up a struggle. And, just as Abraham prepared to shed the blood of his own innocent son, God intervened.

“Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” – Genesis 22:21 ESV

Abraham clearly loved Isaac. But he reverenced God. The Hebrew word for “fear” is יָרֵא (yārē’) and, in this context, it refers to reverent awe for God that is expressed through obedience. Abraham did not do what he did out of fear of God’s wrath, but out of reverence for God’s holiness and power. His obedience was an expression of his faith in an all-powerful and perfectly righteous God.

As the author of Hebrews suggests, “Abraham did receive his son back from the dead” (Hebrews 11:17 NLT). In Abraham’s mind, Isaac’s death was a foregone conclusion. But, at the very last second, his son’s life was spared. God provided a substitute.

Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. – Genesis 22:17 ESV

This verse foreshadows another sacrifice that would take place centuries later. It too would involve a loving Father and His precious Son. But this time, there would be no last-minute reprieve. There would be no substitute. In fact, the Son would serve as the substitute for sinful mankind. And the apostle Paul reminds us of the tremendous cost that our Heavenly Father paid so that we might live to see another day.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? – Romans 8:32 ESV

Abraham had his son returned to him, and out of gratitude and a growing reverence for this gracious and compassionate God, he named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). Isaac was spared, not because he deserved it. But because God had plans to offer a far more significant and superior sacrifice. And the apostle Paul declares the glory of this future gift the Lamb who would take away the sins of the world.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. – Romans 3:23-26 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 Danger of Misplaced Hope

1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Genesis 22:1-3 ESV

Due to over-familiarity and poor hermeneutics, this well-known biblical story has lost a lot of its impact on many Christians. It has been turned into nothing more than a simplistic tale of one man’s struggle with maintaining his faith in God against all odds. There is a tendency to make the story prescriptive rather than descriptive. In other words, we want to find some aspect of Abraham’s difficult encounter with God and use it as a model for our own faith journey. But this story was not intended to provide us with a do-as-Abraham-did moralistic lesson that we can simply emulate and expect similar results.

Yes, this chapter recounts the story of Abraham’s faith being put to the test, but because we know how the story ends, we fail to recognize and appreciate the gravity of the situation he faced. One must always keep in mind that the original audience for whom Moses recorded this story would have been familiar with its outcome. They were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and so they would have known that this story has a happy ending. But they would have found the details surrounding Abraham’s encounter with God to be both shocking and sobering.

As the descendants of Abraham, they had inherited the God of Abraham, and this story was meant to focus their attention on Him. Their God was great and fully expected His chosen people to live in obedience to His commands. But chapter 22 of Genesis is less about the faith-filled exploits of Abraham than it is about the faithfulness of God. As we do with so many of the stories found in the Scriptures, we tend to make this one about us. Because we’re human, we seek out the moral lessons, both good and bad, that we can learn from the human characters found in the stories the Bible contains. We teach our children to “dare to be a Daniel,” using his faithfulness in the face of difficult circumstances as a model for our own godliness. We read about Joseph and assume that if we emulate his can-do attitude in the midst of trials, we will enjoy similar blessings from God. And while there certainly are valuable lessons to be learned from the lives of the characters found in the Scriptures, the real hero of each of the stories is God.

Moses opens chapter 22 with the simple statement: “After these things.” This likely refers to all the events found in the preceding chapters, including the birth and weaning of Isaac, the disinheriting and casting out of Ishmael, and the purchase of the well by Abraham. But, in a sense, it points all the way back to God’s original call of Abraham found in chapter 12. In the ten chapters that follow, Moses has recorded the unique and constantly evolving relationship between Yahweh and this man from Ur of the Chaldees. The one consistent factor in this decades-long relationship is God’s unwavering commitment to bless Abraham.

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

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

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. – Genesis 17:4 ESV

For more than 25 years, Abraham waited to see these promises fulfilled. But as the years passed, he grew older and his wife’s barrenness remained an insurmountable obstacle. Yet, Moses records that Abraham “believed the Lord, and he [God} counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6 ESV). Abraham truly believed that God would do what He had promised to do, even though he had doubts concerning how and when. At one time, he had considered Lot to be a viable means by which God would fulfill the promise. But God had eliminated that possibility. Then, Abraham had shifted his hope to Ishmael, the son born to him through Hagar, his wife’s Egyptian handmaid. But God had removed Ishmael as an option.

And then, when Abraham was 100 and his wife was 90, God had miraculously opened Sarah’s womb and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And this highly improbable and physically impossible blessing occurred just as God had promised.

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

Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. – Genesis 17:19 ESV

And God kept His word.

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. – Genesis 21:1-3 ESV

What a happy ending. After all the years of waiting and hoping, Abraham and Sarah finally had that for which they had so anxiously and eagerly longed: A son. Their dream had come true. And it’s not difficult to spot the high value they placed in this miracle baby. Sarah’s pregnancy and delivery had left her filled with joy over the dramatic shift in her fortunes.

“God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age!” – Genesis 21:6-7 NLT

On the day that Isaac was weaned, Abraham had celebrated the occasion with a feast. He was beside himself with pride and wanted everyone to join him in honoring his son and future heir.

But Sarah, driven by her maternal instincts and her strong dislike for Abraham’s other son, ordered the immediate expulsion of Ishmael and his mother.

“Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!” – Genesis 21:10 NLT

She was taking no risks. In her mind, Isaac was the only legitimate heir to the family inheritance, and, with Ishmael out of the way, all competition had been effectively eliminated.

But to understand what is happening here, one has to return to the command that God had issued to Abraham in his 90th year.

“I am God Almighty; 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 was calling Abraham to a life of integrity or moral wholeness. Every area of his life was to be dedicated to God and he was to live with the constant awareness that God was always watching. In other words, God was to be the sole focus of his life. And what is interesting to note is that, shortly after issuing this command, God declared, “I have made you the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5 ESV). The Hebrew word is what is known as a Qal Perfect verb, which generally designates a completed action. In other words, it expresses an event in the past tense. It has already taken place. Long before Isaac was born, God declared that He had already made Abraham the father of a multitude of nations. It was a future event that was as good as fulfilled because it was guaranteed by God.

So, what’s the point? In demanding that Abraham conduct his life with moral integrity and a constant awareness of His presence, God was issuing a call to total dependence and reliance upon Him. God didn’t need Isaac to exist to prove His faithfulness. The assurance that God’s will would be done was not to be found in Isaac. This young boy was not to be mistaken as the promise. He was simply a conduit through whom God would fulfill His covenant commitment to make from Abraham a great nation. But even that aspect of the promise was not dependent upon Isaac. God had already made it clear that Abraham’s other son, Ishmael, would produce a multitude of offspring. He had told Hagar, I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude” (Genesis 16:10 ESV). And God had reiterated that promise to Abraham.

“As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.” – Genesis 17:20 ESV

There was more to God’s promise than the guarantee of many descendants. He could and would fulfill that aspect of the promise through Ishmael. No, God had something far greater in mind and it all goes back to the original call of Abraham.

“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

God was going to do something great and it would be accomplished through Abraham and his offspring. And the apostle Paul provides a Spirit-inspired insight into this future fulfillment of God’s promise.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

God did not need Abraham to father a lot of descendants in order that He might bless the nations. There was only one offspring necessary for God to fulfill His covenant commitment. But because the arrival of that one offspring was scheduled for centuries later, there would be many other descendants of Abraham born along the way, including Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and David. Isaac was not the fulfillment of the promise. And yet, Abraham and Sarah had managed to make Isaac the focal point of their lives. With his birth, Isaac had become the center of their universe and the focus of their future hopes. So, God decided to test Abraham’s allegiance and realign his priorities. And He did so in a jaw-dropping, faith-shaking manner.

“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” – Genesis 22:2 ESV

Don’t miss the gravity of this moment. God was commanding Abraham to sacrifice his hope, to put to death the one in whom all his dreams and ambitions for the future were based. Or so he thought. Would Abraham be willing to walk before God and be blameless? Would he trust the God who made the promise or place his hope in the son who seemed to be the key to the promise being fulfilled? Was God dependent upon Isaac? Would Abraham allow this young boy to become an indispensable necessity for God’s future blessings? Or would he put His hope and trust in 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 Just and the Justifier

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:8-17 ESV

God had just destroyed the majority of the human population because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 4:5 ESV). Yet, because “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 4:8 ESV), he and his family were spared. And after delivering Noah from the floodwaters of judgment, God had “blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’” (Genesis 9:1 ESV).

God was beginning again. He had preserved a remnant of His original creation in the form of a single human family and an assortment of living creatures, all of whom He had protected on the ark. Now, it was time to restart the process of repopulating the planet. So, God reiterated His kingdom mandate a second time.

“And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” – Genesis 9:7 ESV

Noah, “a righteous man, blameless in his generation,” who “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV), was given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become the new father of the human race. This descendant of Adam was charged with the responsibility of procreating and repopulating the earth with more of his kind. And because Noah had proven himself faithful to God by doing everything he had been commanded to do, the future for humanity seemed bright. Surely this man would fare better than his ancestor. But as “righteous” and “blameless” as Noah may have been, he was far from perfect. As a descendant of Adam, Noah had inherited the same sinful disposition. He was faithful but still fallen.

In the Adamic genealogy recorded in chapter five, it opens with the words:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. – Genesis 5:1-2 ESV

“Adam”(אָדָםāḏām) had been the name God gave to all mankind, and all mankind had been created in God’s likeness. When He had formed the first man and woman, they bore His image. They were intended to reflect His glory and to spread His image all across the planet by creating more of their own kind. More image-bearers. But Adam and Eve were not content to be mirrors reflecting God’s glory. Instead, they succumbed to the temptation of Satan and the desires of their own hearts. Rather than obey God, they chose to rob Him of glory by declaring themselves to be gods, with the sovereignty to decide for themselves what was right and wrong.

Adam and Eve dishonored God by disobeying Him. They rebelled against His divine authority and attempted to preempt His sovereign power with their own. And the apostle would later describe the nature of their crime.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:21-23 ESV

And Paul goes on to sum up the sin of Adam and Eve in far-from-flattering terms.

they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator… – Romans 1:25 ESV

This predisposition for self-worship was passed on to the next generation. Their son, Cain chose to play god and took the life of his brother, Abel. And the genealogy recorded in Genesis chapter five reveals that Adam and Eve attempted to fill the void left by their murdered son.

When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. – Genesis 5:3 ESV

But something has changed. It’s subtle but highly significant. More than a century after God had created Adam to bear His image, Adam fathered a son in his own likeness. Seth proved to be the spitting image of his father, Adam. He was born under the curse and, as a result, inherited his father’s sinful disposition. Adam’s “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18 ESV), including his own progeny.

All those who descended from Adam were guilty of exchanging “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man…” (Romans 5:23 ESV). And that list included Noah and his sons. They had been delivered by God but still remained damaged goods. And God was well aware that the future of mankind was far from bright. He knew exactly what was going to happen. This is why He declared His covenant commitment to Noah and his sons.

“Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” – Genesis 9:9-11 ESV

Inherent in this promise is God’s understanding of mankind’s condition. He knew that humanity would continue to rebel against Him. It was only a matter of time before the wickedness of man spread through the earth like an infectious disease. Noah and his sons would soon father children, made in their own likeness. And the pre-flood moral conditions would be replicated all over again. But God made a covenant commitment to not repeat the judgment of the flood.

God is not suggesting that mankind will never again deserve His judgment. He is simply giving His commitment that He will never again punish mankind’s inevitable wickedness through a cataclysmic, worldwide flood. And what sets this covenant apart is that it is universal in scope and unconditional in nature. It applies to all humanity, and not just Noah and his sons. And it comes with no conditions or requirements on man’s part.

This covenant is based on the faithfulness of God. He knew all along that Noah and his descendants would fail to live up to their calling as His vice-regents. He had given them authority to rule over His creation as His stewards. But like Adam, they would prove to be less-than-faithful in their oversight of God’s kingdom. Inevitably, the descendants of Noah would repeat the sins of their ancestors. It was only a matter of time before God looked down and saw “that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 ESV). And while humanity would deserve God’s righteous judgment, He would refrain from destroying them.

And as a symbol of His covenant commitment, God provided Noah with a sign. He established the rainbow as a reminder of His glory and goodness. When the storm clouds of God’s judgment appeared in the sky, the rainbow would form, providing a powerful sign of God’s covenant commitment. Man would continue to sin, but God would refrain from meting out the full measure of His righteous indignation against them. Why? Because He had a plan in place that would one day resolve the problem of mankind’s obsession with sin and the divine requirement to deliver justice. Once again, the apostle Paul provides insight into this divine strategy for mitigating the problem of sin and the need for judgment.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. – Romans 3:23-26 NLT

According to His covenant with Noah, God would hold back and not pour out His judgment on sinful humanity. It would be well-deserved but God was willing to delay it until He could send His Son as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In sending Jesus, God would prove Himself “just and the justifier” (Romans 3:26 ESV). Through the sacrifice of His Son’s innocent life, God would satisfy His righteous judgment against sin and provide a way for sinful men to be made right with Him.

He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

The sins of mankind would continue, and God’s obligation to judge sin would remain. But He was willing to delay that judgment until such a time that He could pour it out on His Son. Adam’s sin left humanity under the curse of God’s wrath. But God had a plan in place that would fully satisfy His need for justice and His desire to justify.

For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. 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 5:16-17 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 New World With New Rules

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.’ 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” 

1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
    by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.

And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” Genesis 8:20-9:7 ESV

Upon exiting the ark, Noah immediately demonstrates his immense gratitude for God’s salvation of him and his family. He erects an altar and offers sacrifices to God. But this response stands out as rather odd considering the context of chapter eight. Noah has just been spared from death. And he had been used by God to protect the lives of “animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens” (Genesis 6:7 ESV). God had given him the responsibility of gathering pairs of animals and placing them on the ark so that they might survive the flood.

“And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive.” – Genesis 6:19-20 ESV

And yet, chapter eight closes with Noah taking the lives of some of the animals he just helped save. This all seems so counterproductive. And where did Noah get the idea of constructing an altar and offering burnt offerings to God? This is the first mention of the term “altar” in the entire Bible, and it comes long before God gave to Moses His commands concerning the sacrificial system. It seems doubtful that this costly act of animal sacrifice was something Noah came up with on his own. God had obviously made preparations for just such an occasion because He had commanded Noah to “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” (Genesis 7:2-3 ESV).

In Hebrew, the term translated as “clean” is טָהוֹר (ṭâôr), and it means “pure.” It was used to refer to that which was pure or clean physically, but also those things that were considered ceremonially and morally pure. God had specifically provided Noah with two different lists of animals to collect and protect on the ark. Of the “clean” animals, Noah was to gather seven pairs. But of those animals deemed “unclean” by God, Noah was to gather only one pair of each – a male and a female.

God was obviously making plans for the future. And He must have given Noah strict instructions as to how to differentiate between the clean and unclean animals. It is likely that God provided Noah with a similar list as that found in Leviticus 11.

“Of all the land animals, these are the ones you may use for food. You may eat any animal that has completely split hooves and chews the cud. You may not, however, eat the following animals that have split hooves or that chew the cud, but not both. The camel chews the cud but does not have split hooves, so it is ceremonially unclean for you. The hyrax chews the cud but does not have split hooves, so it is unclean. The hare chews the cud but does not have split hooves, so it is unclean. The pig has evenly split hooves but does not chew the cud, so it is unclean. You may not eat the meat of these animals or even touch their carcasses. They are ceremonially unclean for you. – Leviticus 11:2-8 NLT

God went on to give Moses a detailed list of all the sea creatures, birds, and winged insects that were to be considered clean and good for food. And it seems only logical that God provided Noah with a similar list. Otherwise, he would not have known which species required seven pairs rather than two. Since God had deemed these living creatures as clean and approved for eating, He was ensuring that humanity would have an ample post-flood food source. When Noah exited the ark, God gave him express permission to consume animals as well as plants.

“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

While this verse placed no restriction on the eating of unclean animals, it is inferred by the surrounding context. The whole purpose behind God differentiating between the clean and unclean creatures was so that Noah and his family knew which animals were approved as sources of food. But God had a second reason for setting apart the clean animals and instructing Noah to collect more of their kind. He had obviously given Noah instructions regarding the offering these pre-approved creatures as animal sacrifices. All the way back in Genesis four, the two sons of Adam inherently knew that they were to bring offerings to God.

In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. – Genesis 4:3-4 ESV

Now, centuries later, and after God had spared Noah and his family. the offerings were to continue. This time, God must have instructed Noah to build an altar and offer up a portion of the clean animals as an offering of thanksgiving. But there is something more to this act of sacrifice. In giving up these particular animals, Noah was willingly diminishing his food source. He was letting go of the very thing that was supposed to ensure the future well-being of him and his family. And, in doing so, he was displaying his trust in God. Those animals sacrificed would never breed again. They would never serve as a source of food or clothing. Noah effectively gave them back to God. And God was pleased.

“…when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.’” – Genesis 8:21 ESV

God made a categorical decision to never destroy the earth again, in spite of the fact that nothing had really changed. God reveals that, despite Noah’s obedient sacrifice, the heart of man remained as wicked and fallen as ever. God was starting over with Noah and his family, but He knew that they were damaged goods. In a way, the sacrifice of the “pure” animals was a foreshadowing of the sacrificial system God would ordain for the people of Israel. Because of their sinful dispositions, He would provide them with an ongoing means of atonement for sin, in the form of animal sacrifice. In time, those pure and undefiled animals would be necessary, not just for food, but for cleansing from sin. Why? Because despite the purging and purifying effects of the flood, the heart of man remained permanently marred by evil.

But God made a covenant commitment to Noah, promising to never repeat the devastating destruction of the flood. Instead, He would give humanity a second chance. God chose to give Noah and his family an opportunity to fulfill the same kingdom mandate given to Adam and Eve.

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. – Genesis 9:1 ESV

Everything was starting over. The old world had been destroyed. God was beginning again with a new vice-regent: Noah. This “second Adam” was given dominion over all the creatures of the earth. He was awarded stewardship of God’s creation, but this time, God provided Noah with some new stipulations concerning his role.

“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.” – Genesis 9:3-5 ESV

Unlike Adam and Eve, Noah and his family were given divine permission to use the animals as an alternate food source. But this alteration to their daily diet came with restrictions. They were not allowed to consume the blood of the animal. Much later, God would give the people of Israel further instructions and clarification regarding this ban on the consumption of blood.

“For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.” – Leviticus 17:14 ESV

According to the creation account, every beast of the earth, every bird of the heavens, and everything that creeps on the earth contained the breath of life (Genesis 1:30). And when God had breathed the breath of life into Adam, he had become a living creature (Genesis 2:7). But the life of every creature is contained in its blood. This incredible substance, created by God, is what sustains the life of every living creature.

The main job of red blood cells, or erythrocytes, is to carry oxygen from the lungs to the body tissues and carbon dioxide as a waste product, away from the tissues and back to the lungs. Hemoglobin (Hgb) is an important protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of our body.

Blood carries the following to the body tissues:

  • Nourishment

  • Electrolytes

  • Hormones

  • Vitamins

  • Antibodies

  • Heat

  • Oxygen

  • Immune cells (cells that fight infection)

Blood carries the following away from the body tissues:

  • Waste matter

  • Carbon dioxide

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia

Life cannot exist without blood. And so, God put a prohibition on the consumption of blood. In the animal kingdom, this restriction is regularly ignored, and they suffer the consequences. Wild animals are destined to live in a perpetual cycle marked by carnivorous consumption. But for man, it was to be different. He was not to kill an animal and eat its blood. If he did, he would suffer the consequences. And if a man spilled the blood of a fellow human being, he would pay dearly.

“If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image. – Genesis 9:6 NLT

Things were going to be different in the post-flood world. In the antediluvian world, Cain had killed Abel and had lived to tell about it. Lamech had murdered a man and had bragged about it. But now, God would deliver stern judgment upon all those who took it upon themselves to play god and take human life.

And, having laid out the new rules of engagement in His recreated world, God reiterated His original mandate to humanity.

“…be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” – Genesis 9:7 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 Curse Conceived

1 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:1-7 ESV

God had banned Adam and Eve from the garden, but He had not stripped them of their divine mandate to rule over His creation as His vice-regents.

Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” – Genesis 2:28 NLT

Even in their fallen condition, their ability to procreate remained intact. They were still free to produce more of their kind and fill the earth. But it will soon become evident that their capacity to reproduce would result in far more than pain in childbirth for Eve. The fruit of Eve’s womb would result in a harvest of sorrow and suffering as one of the lingering and all-pervasive side effects of sin began to manifest itself. Yet, chapter four opens up on a seemingly positive note.

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain… – Genesis 4:1 ESV

The New Living Translation puts a bit less poetically.

Now Adam had sexual relations with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. – Genesis 4:1 NLT

The first couple began a family and gave birth to their first child, a son, whom Eve named Cain. There is an interesting and somewhat controversial debate over exactly what Eve meant when she declared the name of her son. The English Standard Version translates it as “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” But the New English Translation provides a distinctively different take:

“I have created a man just as the Lord did!” – Genesis 4:1 NET

The reason for this disparity has to do with the Hebrew words Moses used to record her statement. The English phrase “I have gotten” is one word in Hebrew – קָנִיתִי (qaniti), and it has a variety of meanings, including “to get, to acquire, or to create.” When pronounced in Hebrew, it sounds similar to Cain’s name – קַיִן (qayin). It would seem, considering the context of the creation account and Eve’s original desire to be “like God,” that she is displaying a bit of hubris over her life-giving power. In essence, she is declaring her god-like capacity to create life ex nihilo (out of nothing), just as God had done. That is what leads her to exclaim, “I have created a man just as the Lord did!”

The English Standard Version translates the Hebrew preposition, אֶת (ʾet) as “with the help of the Lord.” But it could just as easily be translated as “along with,” which would give it a more comparative meaning. In a sense, Eve is expressing that, due to her ability to create life, she bears a likeness to God. They have this one thing “in common”: The ability to create life. This interpretation of the verse makes much more sense considering the context of all that has happened thus far in the narrative, and all that will happen in the verses that follow.

Cain’s name means “possession,” and it would seem that Eve believed her son belonged to her. She had created him and, therefore, he was her possession. But it would not be long before Eve realized the folly of that assumption. Cain would grow to be a self-possessed young man who had inherited his parent’s predilection for autonomy and self-rule. He would be owned by no one, including God.

Not long after the birth of Cain, Adam and Eve welcomed a second son into the world, whom they named Abel – הֶבֶל (heḇel). In Hebrew, his name carries a somewhat ominous and foreboding character. It can be translated as “breath,” but also as “vapor” or “vanity.” It seems likely that Eve had a more positive thought in mind when she named her second child, but there is a prophetic character to her words. As will become readily evident from the context, Abel’s life will be short-lived. His “breath” will abruptly cease due to the possessive nature of his brother, Cain.

As Moses prepares his readers for what is to come, he provides them with a brief description of the two brothers.

Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. – Genesis 4:2 ESV

Moses provides no decisive chronology in the text. There is no indication as to the age of the two brothers when this event took place, but both are old enough to share in the responsibility to care for God’s creation. It’s important to note that, of the two brothers, Cain was actually doing exactly what God had originally commanded his father to do.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. – Genesis 2:15 ESV

Each brother was carrying out God’s mandate to “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). Abel had become a shepherd. Cain had become a farmer. Moses makes no attempt to compare one to the other or to give any sense of superiority to either man’s choice of occupation. They were both doing the will of God.

But at some point in time, both brothers made the decision to bring an offering to God. Nowhere in the text does it indicate that God required this of them. It simply states, “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions” (Genesis 4:3-4 ESV).

Both men brought an “offering” – מִנְחָה (minḥâ). This is a rather generic term that could include any type of gift or tribute. There is nothing to suggest that God had demanded a particular type of offering. As will soon become evident, the problem lie not in the nature of the offering but in the heart of the giver. Moses points out that “the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Genesis 4:4-5 ESV). Another way to put this is that God accepted one brother and his gift while rejecting the other. Cain got snubbed by God. But why? What was the problem?

The author of Hebrews provides us with insight into what happened that day.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. – Hebrews 11:4 ESV

It seems that the sole differentiator between the two sacrifices was the faith of the two brothers. One exhibited faith while the other did not. But how is that displayed in the context of Genesis 4? To understand what is going on, one must take a close look at what the two brothers brought to God. The nature of their gift reveals the character of their faith.

Cain brought “an offering of the fruit of the ground” (Genesis 4:3 ESV). Moses doesn’t elaborate as to the nature of the “fruit,” but simply reveals that it came from the ground. It could have been some form of grain, grapes, figs, or even olives. Cain was a horticulturalist, so he brought a portion of what he had raised. But Abel brought “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions” (Genesis 4:4 ESV). This phrase could just as easily be translated as “from the fattest of the firstborn of the flock” (NET Bible Study Notes). There is nothing to indicate that Abel offered a blood sacrifice. At this stage in man’s relationship with God, there had been no decree given that required the death of an animal as some form of atonement. These were both meant to be offerings of gratitude to God for His goodness and provision.

But what stands out is that Abel offered up the fattest of the firstborn of his flock. And when he gave these animals to God, they become the Lord’s possession. Abel was making a permanent commitment of his most prized possessions. Once given to God, they would no longer be available to Abel for food, breeding, or the manufacture of wool for clothing. He was giving up a prime source of future sustenance. In so doing, he was committing his future care to God. He would no longer have those animals as resources on which to rely. That is why the author of Hebrews described Abel’s offering as “a more acceptable sacrifice.” His gift was an outward expression of faith, displaying his determination to trust God for his future well-being. 

Yet Cain gave God a portion of his produce. In other words, he offered God some of the fruit his plants had produced. But notice that he did not give God the plants themselves. Cain did not give God his best fruit-bearing tree or most productive vine. There was no ultimate sacrifice of future fruit-bearing potential. He still had all his trees, crops, and vines. Whatever he gave up could be easily replaced with the next harvest. So, in a sense, Cain was placing his faith in his own fruit-producing capabilities. He would meet his own needs. Cain exhibited his proclivity for self-sustenance and autonomy. He was not going to give to God what he believed to be rightfully his.

So, when God rejected his offering, Cain grew hot under the collar. He literally burned with anger. This response reveals a lot about Cain’s inner disposition. He had expected God to bless him on his own terms. Yet God had rejected his self-prescribed offering. Moses doesn’t reveal how God displayed His favor for one and not the other. But it is clear that Cain knew his offering had not measured up to God’s expectations. What he failed to comprehend was that his heart was the problem. So, God asked him, “Why are you so angry?…Why do you look so dejected?” (Genesis 4:6 NLT). And then God followed up His questions with the following lesson on godly living in a fallen world.

“You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” – Genesis 4:7 NLT

God wanted Cain to know that acceptance by God was based on faithful obedience to His will and humble reliance upon His provision. Cain needed to need God. But he desired self-reliance and self-sufficiency. He wanted to be the master of his own fate. And God warned him that the path of autonomy would never lead to self-control. It would always result in slavery to sin and captivity to the flesh. The apostle John would later explain what was at the root of Cain’s problem.

We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. – 1 John 3:12 ESV

Cain was already under the mastery of sin, and his behavior reflected the scope of his captivity. He was a man trapped and controlled by evil. And it would not be long before his anger turned more violent and deadly.

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.

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