Genesis 16 – Hagar: The Least of These

BiblePicturePrevious Post: Genesis 15 – God’s Assurance for Abram

Now Read: Genesis 16

Things were going so well.

Things had gotten off to a rocky start between God and Abram. In chapter 12 Abram made some very poor decisions. No sooner had God promised to make Abram the father of a great nation when Abram failed to trust in God, abandoned the land that God had taken him to, and prostituted his own wife to the Pharaoh of Egypt. But in Chapters 13 through 15 it seemed like Abram had really turned things around. Abram had started trusting in God. He relied on God to stand up against the might of 4 kingdoms so that he could rescue his nephew. He was blessed by Mechizedek, priest of “God Most High.” God reaffirmed His promise of a son, and to make him the father of descendants as numerous as the stars, and God even gave Abram the assurance that he asked for with a solemn ceremony. It seemed that the man who “believed in the Lord” (15:6) was here to stay, and the man who lacked faith and trust was gone forever.

Things were going so well for Abram.

But then he got impatient. Or more accurately I suppose I should say his wife, Sarai got impatient. Some time had passed since God had given Abram assurance of His promise for a son, and it is emphasized now that “Sarai, Abram’s wife has [still] borne him no children,” (16:1) and Sarai was done waiting. “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go into my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.” (16:2)

It’s not every day that you find a wife who not only accepts her husband sleeping with another woman, but actively encourages it. It is easy to look at this through 21st century eyes and wonder how Sarai could suggest such a thing. But it must be remembered that in the world she lived in a woman (or a wife) had one primary job to do: to provide heirs for her husband. It was her responsibility to bear children. The fact that she had not done so yet meant that she was failing in this primary task. Over the last several chapters it has been emphasized that Sarai was barren. SHE was barren. There has never been even the slightest suggestion that perhaps Abram is the one incapable of fathering children. It is always Sarai who it the barren one, an indication of the cultural expectation that it is the woman’s responsibility to conceive and bear the children.

So it makes sense to think that Sarai was feeling the pressure (perhaps even self-imposed) to provide Abram with his heir. And she feels that if she provides her maid as a “surrogate” (to put it nicely) then perhaps she could still feel as if she has satisfied her responsibility to provide Abram his heir.

Now, all of that puts Sarai’s suggestion into the right cultural context, but it doesn’t absolve her of what she is about to do. She is about to do something that is objectively terrible, and we are not to think for one moment that she is being a saint about any of this. Sure she feels pressure to give Abram a child, but that doesn’t excuse her actions.

First of all, she blames God for her barrenness, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children,” she says to Abram. She tries to rationalize what she is about to suggest by implicating that God has done this to her, and failed to keep His promise to them. So she suggests they take things into their own hands, by having her husband sleep with her Egyptian maid, Hagar.

This is where our fearless hero of the story, Abram, who now “believes in the Lord” would refuse, right? This is where he would remind his wife, “I saw the very presence of the Lord in the form of a flame passing through an aisle of sacrificed animals flesh in solemn ceremony to solidify his covenant with me. We must be patient and wait for the Lord to fulfill his promise.” That is what Abram of God Most High (14:19) would say to such an absurd suggestion, right?

Wrong. “And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” (16:2)

And just like that all the progress that Abram has made, gets tossed out the window. We are suddenly reminded that while Abram has moments of profound faith, he is still, and continues to be throughout his life, a deeply flawed man.

So Abram gives in to his wife’s suggestion, and sleeps with her maid, and the maid conceives a child.

This is where Sarai, a woman who is desperate to fulfill her wifely responsibility, would breathe a sigh of relief, right? As painful as it was, she has succeeded (sort of) in “providing” her husband with his heir. She should now be happy, and be grateful to her maid for providing her body as a vessel to give her husband the child she felt responsible to provide, right?

Wrong. “When she saw that she had conceived, her mistress [Sarai] was despised in her [Hagar’s] sight” (16:4) Hagar apparently did not feel too kindly about being used as a human IVF petri-dish. Shockingly, Hagar was not particularly thrilled about being forced into sleeping with her master, and bearing his child. Apparently Hagar was less than excited about being forced to carry the child that Sarai was not patient enough to wait to carry herself. And much to Sarai’s surprise, Hagar looks upon Sarai with disgust. And rather than being understanding, Sarai turns herself into the victim, “May the wrong done me be upon you [Abram]. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the Lord judge between you and me.” (16:5)

This is where Abram would see the error of their ways, right? This is where he would realize that they have done a terrible thing, abandoned their trust in God, and violated their servant girl in the most horrible way. This is where Abram would fall on his face, beg and beg God for forgiveness. This is where Abram would remind Sarai that it was HER idea for Hagar to do this, and that she should show Hagar some grace, and perhaps even beg for forgiveness herself, right?

Wrong. “But Abram said to Sarai, ‘Behold, your maid is in your power do to her what is good in your sight.’” (16:6). Sarai then proceeds to, “treat her harshly” (16:6). So harshly in fact that Hagar (who, let’s not forget is pregnant) feels her only course of action is to run away into the wilderness. I would venture that “treated her harshly” doesn’t just mean, “said nasty things to her.” If Hagar was willing to risk her life, and the life of her unborn child, by running out into the wilderness (where they would likely die) it’s probably because she felt her life was already in danger where she was.

So to summarize, this is what has just gone down:

SARAI: It’s God’s fault I haven’t gotten pregnant. Sleep with my maid, she’ll give you a child.

ABRAM: Okay!

[Some Time Later]

SARAI: The maid hates me now!

ABRAM: Not my problem, you figure it out.

[Some Time Later]

SARAI: So I beat my maid into submission, and now she’s run away.

ABRAM: [cricket’s chirping]


At this point, we must surely see God step in, and lay down some harsh words on Abram and Sarai. This is where God would come down, fire and brimstone and all, and bring His almighty judgement upon them for the terrible wrongs they have committed against God, and against Hagar. This is where God would strike fear in their hearts to the point they would tear their clothes, cover themselves in sack-cloth and ashes, and beg for forgiveness.


God does step in, but not in the way we might have expected. At this point in the story, the focus turns away from Abram and Sarai, and shifts to Hagar.

Hagar has fled from the oppression of her cruel mistress, and is now wandering out in the wilderness. Scared. Tired. Alone. Probably just waiting for the elements to kill her and her unborn child. It is the end for her.

And here is where God steps in, not in fiery judgement against Abram or Sarai, but with love and compassion towards Hagar. God’s angel appears to Hagar, “Where have you come from and where are you going?” (16:8) Hagar, isn’t really going anywhere, she is merely running away, so she only answers the first question, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai” (16:8) To which the angel replies, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.” (16:9)

This might seem as if the angel (representing God) is condoning Abram and Sarai’s behavior, and is simply sending Hagar back into the “lion’s den”. It might seem as if the angel is telling Hagar that it is “her place” to be used and abused by her masters.

I don’t believe that is the case. God cares about Hagar, and He knows that she is no condition to be out in the wilderness on her own. As horribly as Abram and Sarai have treated her, and as unpleasant as it might be, it is in her own best interest to go back to her mistress. Her only alternative is to die alone in the wilderness clutching on to her unborn child in her belly.

But the angel did not send Hagar back to Sarai with nothing. The angel (speaking for God) gave Hagar a promise, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” (16:10) God assures Hagar that she will not be killed by Sarai’s harsh treatment, but that He will protect her and her child, and will multiply her descendants. The promise if awfully reminiscent of the promises God has made to Abram. God promised Abram to make his descendants “as numerous as the stars” (ie. too many to count). Abram failed to trust that God would make good on that promise and took matters into his own hands, and Hagar has suffered for it, so God has chosen to bless Hagar by giving her the promise originally given to Abram.

The angel continued, “Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has given heed to your affliction.” (16:4). And here we see the heart of the message that we should take away from this story.

It is important to note that the story shifted away from Abram and Sarai, and turns its focus to Hagar. We are not shown what (if anything) God did or said to Abram or Sarai for the evil they committed against Hagar. Presumably God did address their actions. Presumably He did call them to account for what they had done to Hagar. Presumably He did call them out for their lack of faith and trust in Him. Presumably He did call them to repentance. But we don’t know for sure. Instead, the narrative turns away from them, and focuses instead on how God chose to reach down and care for Hagar and “give heed to her affliction.”

Essentially what God is saying is, “Don’t worry about how I punish the wicked, instead focus on how I love the afflicted.”

We don’t need to worry ourselves with how God deals with the wicked. We spend so much of our time and energy getting angry at the evil in the world. We see someone committing some evil, and we devote so much of our energy in anger and rage at that person, and scream for justice upon them. It’s fine to want justice, but God is telling us it is more important to care for the victims, than to punish the perpetrators. Most of us (save for judges on the bench) are not in a position to truly enact justice anyway, and all our anger and rage is needlessly wasting our breath and energy. That’s energy that could do more good picking up and caring for the afflicted.

Our focus should be on reaching out to those in need. Our attention should be drawn to the downtrodden and the afflicted. Our thoughts should be directed toward those desperate for love and care.

I’m not saying that what Abram and Sarai did should be ignored or condoned. I’m sure God called them to account for their actions, either in this life or the next. But He felt it more important to show us what he did with Hagar instead. He felt it more important for us to see how he “gave heed to her affliction” rather than how he punished them for afflicting her.

God obviously has a lot riding on Abram. God has chosen Abram to be the father of the nation of people through which He would bring His Son to save all of mankind from sin. That’s kind of big deal. That doesn’t mean that everything that Abram does is right or good, and it doesn’t mean that God approves or condones everything that Abram does. Abram’s character, for good or ill, is shown in all of its ugly detail for us to see. But God obviously puts a lot of attention and focus on Abram, because he is a rather important man. Genesis is primarily the story of big men who played epic pivotal roles in the history of God’s relationship with mankind. Men like Adam, Noah, Abram, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.

But in this instance God’s focus turns away from Abram, and falls on a servant girl, used and abused by her masters, lost and alone in the wilderness, and He reaches down to show her that He cares about her. God cares about Hagar. God cares about everyone, from the most powerful kings, to lowliest servant. We are all His children, and He loves us all, equally, and unconditionally.

So, when God tells us, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40) let us not forget that God showed us first how much he cares for the lowliest among us by reaching out to Hagar in her hour of need.

Let us stop focusing on the Abram’s and Sarai’s of the world, and instead reach out to the Hagar’s. Let us reach out to the “least of these” and “give heed to their affliction” and be the angel that God sends to show them His love.


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Genesis 15 – God’s Assurance for Abram

BiblePicturePrevious Post: Genesis 13-14 – The Renewed Faith of Abram

Now Read:  Genesis 15

In chapter 12 we were introduced to Abram, a deeply flawed individual. While he initially put his faith in God, it wasn’t long before he abandoned his trust in God in fear for his life. But then in chapters 13 and 14, Abram redeemed himself by showing complete and utter trust in God’s provision and protection, even when up against seemingly insurmountable odds. His faith had been renewed, and he established himself as one who serves “God Most High”.

Now, as we come into chapter 15, after Abram has demonstrated near unwavering faith, God comes to Abram in a vision. “Do not fear Abram, I am a shield to you, your reward shall be very great.” (15:1). We see time and time again whenever God, or God’s messengers, appear in just about any form to a human being the first words spoken are “Do not be afraid.” We often forget just how powerful, just how magnificent, just how Holy God truly is. But in the Bible whenever a person actually experiences the awesome Glory of God their first reaction is that of overwhelming fear. A sinful and unholy person SHOULD be afraid of an almighty, all powerful, and holy God. Sin cannot survive in the unveiled presence of true Holiness. And while in situations like this God is obviously not revealing Himself completely, He is obviously revealing himself enough that the soul of an unholy sinner feels the terror of the presence of a Holy God.

But God tells Abram to not be afraid. For God is pleased with Abram after he has shown himself to be a faithful servant of God, God says to Abram, “your reward shall be very great.”

But Abram is concerned.

Abram remembers the promise that God made to him before he set out from his family home in Ur of the Chaldeans, “I will make you a great nation” (12:2) God had said. But thus far Abram, who is now becoming an old man, has had no children at all. His wife Sarai, we were told all they back in Genesis 11:30 was barren. How could God make Abram into a great nation if he has not one single descendant? Abram laments this to God, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house if Eliezer of Damascus?” (15:2) Without any children the heir to his household isn’t even a member of his family, but some man from Damascus (likely a trusted servant that Abram had brought into his household during his travels). Has God forgotten the promise that He made to Abram?

God has not forgotten.

God assures Abram, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” (15:4) God here is promising Abram a son of his own that will become his heir. But if that isn’t enough, God continues, “He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’” (15:5) God is not only promising Abram a single child, but He is promising Abram descendants beyond numbers. God is reaffirming to Abram the promise that He made to him back in chapter 11.

And Abram believes in God’s promise. “Then he believed in the Lord; and He [God] reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (15:6). Note that Abram is not righteous. We saw very vividly in Chapter 12 just how unrighteous Abram can be. But here Abram believes in the Lord, and God is crediting that belief to Abram as righteousness.

After we are told that Abram’s believe is reckoned to him as righteousness, God continues with his promise to Abram, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” (15:7) And even though we have already been told that Abram “believed in the Lord” Abram does something strange, he asks God for assurance. “O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?” (15:8) I don’ think that we are to assume that Abram here is demonstrating a lack of faith. Just 2 verses ago we were told of Abram’s belief and faith in the Lord. Abram has faith, but he wants assurance that his faith is well placed.

And God gives Abram His assurance, in the form of a covenant.

God instructs Abram to bring several animals and birds, and sacrifice them. Abram cuts them in two, and lays each half opposite from each other (creating an “aisle” with sacrificed flesh on either side). God then put Abram into a deep sleep and revealed to Him what his descendants had in store for them. He tells Abram how his descendants will one day be put into bondage, as slaves in Egypt for four hundred years, but that ultimately God will deliver them from their bondage and bring them back to this promised land and give it to them.

And then God seals the covenant with Abram, “It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces [of sacrificed animals]. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land …’” (15:17-18)

This might seems like a very odd thing to us in the 21st century. But it was an ancient practice that when one party was making a solemn vow to the other they would seal their promise by walking down an aisle with pieces of slaughtered animals on either side. The slaughtered animals (cut in half) was to represent what would happen to the person if they broke their solemn vow. As they processed down the aisle of blood they were in effect saying, “May I be slaughtered, just as these animals, should I break my word.” Think of the cliché promise of truthfulness that we all said at one time or another as children, “cross my heart and hope to die” which is in essence say, “May I die if I am proven a liar”. This is the exact same thing, only on a more gruesome and bloody scale.

The “smoking oven and flaming torch” represented presence of God moving through the aisle of slaughtered animals. This was God solemnizing his covenant with Abram. God was not simply saying, “I promise to give this land to your descendants.” God was making a serious and solemn oath to Abram with a ceremony of sacrifice and blood. God was demonstrating to Abram just how serious His promise was. God was giving Abram assurance.

There are a couple of things we can take away from this chapter.

  1. Here we see the foundation for our salvation: By grace, through faith

“Then he believed in the Lord; and He [God] reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (15:6).

This is probably one of the most important verses in the entire Bible. I know that is a fairly bold statement to make, but I think it is true. Our entire Christian faith hinges on this statement.

This verse serves as the foundation for our salvation as told in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” We take it for granted that belief in God, and Jesus Christ, grants us salvation from our sins. But it is important for us to remember that there is no work, there is no piety, there is no righteousness on our parts that can earn our salvation. We are mired in sin, and are completely incapable by any perceived goodness on our part to redeem ourselves from the muck that we have wallowed ourselves in.

But God, through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, has granted us the gift of eternal Life. If we will but believe in Christ and put our faith in Him, we will be saved. The apostle Paul says it best, “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:8-9)

God is willing to accept our belief in Him, and credit to us as righteousness. We are not righteous. We are sinful. But Jesus Christ was righteous. And God in his infinite grace and mercy accepts our belief in Him and uses it to impute the righteousness of Christ upon us. God is not simply forgiving us of our sins. He is actually giving us His righteousness. He is not simply turning a blind eye to our transgressions; he is setting us free from the bondage of sin all together. We need no longer wallow in the filth of our sin any more, but can rise above it with the righteousness of Christ living through us. The promise of Jesus is not just that He will forgive our sins, but that he rescues us so that we need no longer live in the bondage of sin.

And this promise all starts right here with Abram.

The mercy which God has given us, God is first showing here to Abram. Here Abram believes in the Lord, and God is crediting that belief to Abram as righteousness. Without God crediting Abram’s belief as righteousness, there is no Christ freeing us from our sin through faith.

But what is belief?

I should point out that belief is not simply believing that God or Jesus exists, or simply acknowledging Jesus’ sacrifice. This is not belief about God, this is belief in God.

We need to believe in Jesus, like Abram believes in God when God is promising an old childless man that he will be the father of a nation of people more numerous than the stars.

We need to believe in Jesus, like Abram who trusts in God to stand up against the might of the armies of the 4 kingdoms to rescue his nephew Lot.

We need to believe in Jesus, like Abram who is so devoted to God that he turns down the offer of untold wealth and glory offered to him from the King of Sodom.

We need to have belief in Jesus that results in complete surrender to His Lordship over our lives. Only then will our belief be credited to us as righteousness.

  1. God expects faith, but gives us assurance that faith is justified

God promised Abram that He would give the land to Abram’s descendants, who will be as numerous as the stars. Note that even though Abram, “believed in the Lord, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” Abram still asks God for assurance.

One would think that if the Almighty Creator promises you something, that would be enough. God’s character is unquestionable, and when He tells you something, you can take that the bank. And yet, not only did Abram ask God for assurance, but God actually gave it to him.

First of all, God did not brush off Abram’s request for assurance or rebuke him for lack of faith. It reminds me of the story of the resurrected Christ meeting his disciple Thomas: “But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”” (John 20:24-29)

Thomas loved Jesus. Thomas was willing to give everything he had to follow Jesus. But he also wanted to be sure that what he was giving his life to was real and true. That’s a very reasonable thing to want. Let’s be honest, the story of the resurrection of Jesus is in many ways, “unbelievable.” It flies in the face of everything we know about natural law. When someone is dead, they are dead. And as much as I’m sure Thomas wanted to believe that Jesus had reason, he simply could not accept it without seeing it for himself.

And Jesus does NOT chastise him for that. Jesus does not condemn Thomas for his lack of faith. No, He shows Thomas His hands and His side. He gives Thomas proof so that he would believe in the seemingly “unbelievable.” And in so doing he actually provides us with the most encouraging evidence for why we ought to believe. It is well documented that nearly all of the apostles were ultimately martyred for their faith, many in horrible and gruesome ways. Many people might be willing to die for something that they believe is true. But no one would be willing to die for something that they know to be a lie. The apostles’ faithfulness to the point of brutal and painful death gives us assurance that they actually saw the risen Christ. Jesus says “blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” By saying this he is not rebuking Thomas for wanting to see for himself. But Jesus is simply recognizing that many, like us, who will not have the chance to see the risen Lord in the flesh. And it is because Thomas saw and believed that we can use his faith as sound assurance in our belief when we cannot see. And that is a truly blessed thing.

Just as God gave Abram assurance of his promises, so God gives us assurance of our salvation. “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:12-13)

God didn’t just give Abram a promise. He gave Abram an assurance. God didn’t just promise us eternal life. He gave us His only Son to secure it for us. What could be greater assurance than that?

Next Post: Genesis 16 – Hagar: The Least of These

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Genesis 13-14 – The Renewed Faith of Abram

BiblePicturePrevious Post: Genesis 12 – The Flawed Faith of Abram

Now Read: Genesis 13-14

Last time, in Genesis chapter 12, we saw how God had chosen a deeply flawed individual by the name of Abram, to be the father of God’s chosen people Israel. While Abram initially showed faith in God, by picking up everything he had and leaving his home on nothing but a promise, it wasn’t long before Abram’s faith was truly tested. And he failed miserably. First he abandoned the land that God led him to. Then he lied about his wife, saying she was his sister. And to top it all off, he handed his wife over to the Pharaoh of Egypt to become a concubine. Doing it all out of fear for his own life. Whatever faith Abram did have was evidently very flawed.

But as we move into chapters 13 and 14, it seems that Abram has learned his lesson.

Abram seems to have come out of Egypt even more wealthy and affluent than he was before. “Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold.” (13:2) He then returns to the Negev, the land he was in before the famine, and goes to the same place where he had previously built an altar (see Genesis 12:8), and there once again, “Abram called on the name of the Lord.” (13:4). It seems that in spite of Abram’s tremendous lack of faith through the famine and Egypt ordeal, God has still tremendously blessed Abram. And Abram, by the looks of it, is turning things around.

Abram, and his nephew Lot, have apparently become so wealthy, that the land cannot sustain their tremendous flocks. As a result of the strained resources, Abram’s men and Lot’s men start to clash. “There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock.” (13:7). But Abram did not want this conflict with his nephew, saying, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left.” (13:8-9).

Here we see the first sign of Abram’s maturing faith and trust in the Lord. He sees that there is a lack of resources, and righteously wanting no animosity among family, he decides that he and his nephew Lot must split up. But rather than take his choice of the land (as would be his prerogative as the patriarch of the family) he generously decides to let Lot have first pick. Abram is now showing more faith in God’s provision and is not concerned about having the better land for himself, but is instead deciding to trust that God will take care of his herds and his family wherever they go.

Lot, by contrast, decides to take what appears to be the better land for himself, in the valley of the Jordan that was “well-watered everywhere” (13:10). But the land that appeared to offer an easier life in some regards, came with greater risks in others. For the land the Lot chose also happened to be near the infamous city of Sodom, where the people were already identified as being “wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord.” (13:13).

And this where things start to get interesting.

War is brewing. And Lot’s decision to move near the city of Sodom puts him dead center of an epic battle between 9 kingdoms.

An alliance of 4 kingdoms (Shinar, Ellasar, Elam, and Goiim) is facing off against an alliance of 5 kingdoms (Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela). These 9 kingdoms, divided into two great opposing forces come to meet each other in an epic battle in the “valley of Siddim (that, is the Salt Sea)” (14:3) which today is known as the Dead Sea.

The alliance of the 4 kings uses the terrain to their advantage. For the Dead Sea, even today, is known for having lumps of asphalt (or tar pits) that float in certain regions. During the battle the alliance of the 5 kings get bogged down in these tar pits, killing many, and the survivors flee into the surrounding hill country (14:10). And so the 4 kingdoms defeated the 5 kingdoms at the valley of Siddim, and then proceed to pillage the defeated cities of Sodom and Gomorrah taking, “all the goods” and “all their food supply” (14:11).

And in the midst of all this chaos, war, and plundering, is Abram’s nephew, Lot.

“They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed” (14:12). Abram finds out that his nephew has been taken captive from the city of Sodom. This is where we would expect Abram to once again cower in fear for his own life. If Abram was willing to prostitute his own wife to the Pharaoh of Egypt to save his own skin; do we really think that he would risk everything to rescue his nephew who selfishly took the better land for himself and willingly put himself in harm’s way by moving into such a wicked city?

But that’s exactly what Abram did. We see how far Abram’s faith and trust in the Lord has come. “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit.” (14:12) Abram takes his own men numbering only 318 (plus some of his Amorite allies) and goes up against the might of the 4 kingdoms. So great was Abrams concern for his nephew, and so great was his trust in the Lord, that he was willing to take his meager “army” against a force that vastly outnumbered him.

And against all odds, Abram is victorious. He not only rescues Lot, but he defeats the enemy. He not only defeats them, but he pushes them into a full blown retreat and pursues them. He not only retrieves Lot, but also all of the goods plundered from Sodom, as well as all of Lot’s possession and all the people in Lot’s household. It was not just a success; it was a complete and total victory.

There is no reason to think that Abram should have been able to do all this. The only logical explanation is divine providence. The only way that Abram could have defeated such a formidable opponent is with the hand of God upon him. Abram showed tremendous courage and faith in God.

And for his faith, God blesses Abram.

As Abram is returning from defeating the armies of the 4 kings, Abram is met by the king of Sodom, as well as Melchizedek, king of Salem who is also identified as being a “priest of God Most High” (14:18).

It bears noting that while Melchizedek is only briefly mentioned here, in the New Testament book of Hebrews the significance of Abram’s meeting with Melchizedek is given more meaning (See Hebrews 7) Melchizedek is identified as being both a king and priest. And Jesus, who is also a king and priest, is called as being “according the order of Melchizedek”. So this is not just any king, or any priest, but is a precursor to Jesus Christ.

And this precursor to Christ blesses Abram saying, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hands.” (14:19-20). Abram recognizes that this priest is a representative of God on earth and as such he offers up one tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek (the origin of the tithe).

The king of Sodom then comes to Abram, no doubt grateful that he defeated the kings who plundered his kingdom, and offers to let Abram to keep much of his spoils, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” (14:21). Finally we see Abram’s faith in God reaching its fullest. Abram is being tempted with wealth beyond anything he probably could have ever imagined, but he turns it down. “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong, or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’” (14:22-23). Abram is saying, “I do not want to be indebted to you, lest you think that you are now my king. God is my king, and I will follow Him.” He therefore refuses to take even the most meagre of spoils for himself. He refuses to give in to the temptation of wealth and riches. He refuses to submit to anyone but God.

Think about how the faith of Abram seen here contrasts to the faith of the Abram we saw just previously in chapter 12. In chapter 12 we saw an Abram that:

  • Failed to trust that God would provide for him in famine, and fled to Egypt
  • Failed to trust that God would protect him from Pharaoh, and therefore lied, saying that his wife was actually his sister, and then proceeded to hand his wife over to Pharaoh as a concubine

But here, in chapters 13-14 we see a very different man. We see an Abram that:

  • Trusts that God will provide for him wherever he goes, and allows Lot first pick over which lands to take.
  • Trusts in God’s hand over him, such that he goes up against the armies of 4 kings to rescue his captured nephew.
  • Demonstrates his devotion to God, by resisting the temptation to take gifts from the king of Sodom that would make him unimaginably wealthy.

How is this even the same man? It seems that Abram has completely turned himself around. He has transformed himself from a man consumed with himself and protecting his own skin; into a man who is more concerned about others and has complete trust in God’s protection and provision.

I’m not sure what exactly happened. It could be as simple as maturing in his faith. Perhaps he learned some valuable lessons from his sojourn in Egypt; seeing the foolishness of his ways. Perhaps He saw firsthand what God is capable of doing and how God is devoted to him even when he falters, and because of that now he has a renewed devotion to God.

Whatever the reason, Abram has turned things around and now knows how to stand strong in the Lord when faced with adversity or temptation. His faith that was once very flawed, has been renewed, and appears stronger than ever.

And there is a tremendous lesson that we can learn from that.

We are not bound by the people we once were. We are not even bound by the people we are now. We can be so much more if we will put our faith and hope in God.

It can be easy for us to lose heart when we fail to live up to God’s plan for our lives. It can be easy to be discouraged as we fall into sin time and time again. It can be easy to think that we will never overcome our sin, or grow in our faith.

But if Abram can be transformed from a man of flawed faith, into a man of renewed faith who trusts in God and follows Him, then so can we.

Next Post: Genesis 15 – God’s Assurance for Abram

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Genesis 12 – The Flawed Faith of Abram

Previous Post: Genesis 10-11 – The Tower of Babel: Man’s Will vs God’s Will

BiblePictureNow Read: Genesis 12 (I have included some of chapter 11 for context)

At the end of Chapter 11 we are introduced to Abram (11:27-32). As I discussed last time, this man represents the culmination of the descendants of Noah’s son, Shem, following the scattering of people after the Tower of Babel. Chapter 11 represents the end of the “Introduction” of Genesis. The first 11 chapters of Genesis, while full of rich and interesting detail, was in some sense hurriedly trying to get us to this point: to Abram. Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, the great flood, the Tower of Babel, the scattering of nations; it has all been marching quickly to bring us to this man. And with the “introduction” now over, the real heart of the story of Genesis can begin: The story of Abram, who will later be called Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel.

Initially we are not told much about Abram. All we are really told are the names of his father (Terah), his wife (Sarai) whom we are told right off the bat is barren (11:30), his nephew (Lot) and the name of a few places where they traveled (Ur and Haran). We don’t particularly know whether he was a good man, or what his relationship (if any) was with God. Quite frankly at his introduction there is nothing particularly remarkable about this man Abram that we should give him any more thought than any of the other names and places we have been told about throughout the opening chapters of Genesis.

And yet, as we move into Chapter 12 it becomes very clear that God has selected Abram for a very special purpose. Without giving us any foreknowledge of Abram’s character, we see God saying to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (12:1-3)

From the moment that sin had entered the world through Adam and Eve (Genesis 3) we have seen hints that God has a plan to resolve the problem of sin. God spoke of the “seed of the woman” who would defeat the serpent: “He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:15). As God cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, He clothed them with the skins of animals (Genesis 3:21). Shedding the blood of the animals so that their nakedness (their shame) could be covered, foreshadowing another blood sacrifice yet to come that would cover the sin of all mankind. With the great flood God showed us what sin really deserves, and yet God spared Noah in order to give mankind another chance. And even though God knew that the flood had not fixed the problem of sin, he gave us the rainbow as His promise that he would never destroy the earth by flood again, indicating that he had a better plan.

All of these are hints that God had a plan to defeat sin, a plan that we now recognize reaching fulfillment through Jesus Christ.

And God has chosen Abram as the first step in His plan.

It is God’s plan to establish of nation of people that would be His chosen people. He would establish a covenant with these people. He would give these people His law. He would nurture these people, provide for these people, protect these people, and guide these people. And ultimately it would be through these people that He would send His Son, to be a redeemer, not only for His chosen people, but for all people in all nations.

Before he could send His Son, He needed a nation. And before He could have a nation, He needed a father for that nation. Abram was to be that father.

At first Abram demonstrates a tremendous willingness to follow God. In spite of the fact that Abram was already 75 years old, Abram does not question God or hesitate but simply, “Went forth as the Lord had spoken to him” (12:4) along with his wife, Sarai, and his nephew, Lot. God directed Abram on his path, to the land of Canaan. And there “The Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.” (12:7) Abram then continued on, finally setting between Bethel and Ai, and there built another altar to God where he “called upon the name of the Lord” (12:8), reminiscent of the descendants of Seth when “men began to call upon the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 4:26).

So initially Abram is off to a pretty good start. God has given him a pretty tough test of faith and Abram has delivered. As long as things are going well for Abram, he shows himself to be a man of solid faith, who trusts in God’s promises, worships God, and calls on God’s name.

But then things don’t go so well.

“Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.” (12:10). The land where God has brought Abram began to throw hardship, and Abram has his first failure of faith: he abandons the land God had led him to, and flees to Egypt. Did he not trust that God would provide for him and his family? Did he not trust that God brought him to this land for a reason? Did he not trust in God’s promise to bless him?

It may a bit unfair to hold this retreat to Egypt against Abram. There was famine after all. Leaving a land gripped in famine to seek refuge in another land seems like a completely reasonable thing to do. But there is still a sense that he is abandoning the land that God had led him to as soon as things getrough. It is the first sign that as strong as Abram’s faith was, it was a bit of a “fair-weather” faith that would at times waiver in the face of adversity or uncertainty.

But if Abram can be forgiven for abandoning the land that God sent him to, Abram’s lack of faith gets worse. “It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, ‘See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This Is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.” (12:11-13). Abram fears that the Egyptians will find Sarai so beautiful that they will kill him so that they could take her for themselves with impunity, and then Abram has his second failure of faith. Rather than trusting that God would protect him and Sarai, he decides it would be better to lie, and say that she is his sister, not his wife, so that they would not be tempted to kill Abram.

Just as Abram suspected, the Egyptians found Sarai so beautiful that they “praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house” (12:15), which is a nice euphemism for taking her into the Pharaoh’s harem, so that he could bed her. And thus we see Abram’s third, and most disgusting failure of faith. Rather than trust that God would protect him, Abram not only lied and called his wife his sister, but he then proceeded to whore her out to the Pharaoh to save his own skin.

But Abram’s lack of faith was entirely unwarranted. Even though Abram didn’t have faith in God’s protection, God protected them anyway. God protected Sarai by striking Pharaoh and his house with plague, and thereby saving her from a life of prostituting herself. And then God protected Abram from the wrath of an angry Pharaoh. When it became clear to the Pharaoh that he had been lied too, rather than kill Abram (which would be expected) he not only spares Abram’s life, but gives him his wife back and lets them go (12:19-20).

It is clear that Abram had faith. He had enough faith to follow God, picking up and leaving his home and walking into the unknown. But his faith was flawed; flawed in that when he feared for his life he did not trust that God would protect him. He did not trust in God’s promises for him.

There are a couple key things to take away from this.

  1. Abram was not chosen because of his tremendous faith or righteousness

I find it interesting that before God speaks to Abram that we are not told anything about Abram that sets him apart as being particularly special.

Before God favored Abel over Cain we were told how Abel, “brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions.” (Genesis 4:4). Before God took Enoch to be with Him we were told how Enoch, “walked with God” (Genesis 5:22). Before God chose Noah to spare from the Flood we were told that Noah, “was a righteous man, blameless in his time his time” (Genesis 6:9). In all of these instances before God chose these individuals we are told of their righteousness or devotion as reason for God’s choice.

But with Abram, we are not told that. Before God chooses Abram, we are given no sign that Abram was a particularly pious or righteous man. And even after God has chosen Abram, while he starts out strong, it isn’t long before his faith falters. He flees the land that God brought him to, he lies to the Egyptians regarding his wife, and then hands his wife over to become Pharaoh’s concubine. Abram not only demonstrates little faith in God’s provision and protection, but demonstrates a severe lack of honor and righteousness in what he is willing to do to protect his own skin.

But God chose Abram anyway, not only in spite of his great short comings, but perhaps in some way because of them.

Abram is the first step in God’s plan to redeem mankind from sin. And it is crucial to recognize that this is God’s work, not man’s. There is nothing that any man or woman, can do accomplish this work. It is 100% the work of God. If God specifically chose Abram because of any virtues on his part it could be argued that he would bear some of the credit for God’s work of salvation. It could be said that, “Because Abram set himself apart with his righteousness; he made himself worthy of God’s choice.” But that cannot be the case. Abram cannot be given any credit for what is entirely the work of God. For that reason we are not told that Abram did anything to warrant God’s choice. Abram did nothing to deserve God’s choice. Abram did nothing to earn God’s choice.

  1. God can, and does, use flawed individuals to accomplish His will on earth

Throughout the Bible God shows us time and time again that he is willing and able to use deeply flawed people to accomplish His works. First of all, this necessary, because there is literally no one on earth for him to use that isn’t a deeply flawed individual (Psalm 14:3, Romans 3:10). But secondly it speaks to God’s tremendous ability to use what the devil intends for evil, and turn it into something good. We are told that, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28) and Abram is a prime example, where God used someone who was deeply flawed to be the starting point in his plan for the salvation of mankind.

We should always strive for righteousness and holiness. When we sin, we should feel shame in that sin, repent, and call on God for forgiveness. But we should also not let our faults and failures hold us back from allowing God to work His good through us in the world. We don’t have to reach perfection before God can use us as instruments for His kingdom.

  1. God does not give up on us, even when we fall short of Him

It bears noting that even though Abram did not have faith that God would provide for him in the famine and fled to Egypt; that even though he did not have faith that God would protect him such that he lied to Pharaoh and handed his wife over, God still did not abandon Abram. God could have very easily said, “Well, I gave him a chance, but he’s blown it; I’m going to go find someone else.” But He didn’t.

In spite of Abrams lack of faith and terrible decisions, God still protected him. Instead of having the Egyptians turn Abram away, they still accepted him and fed him during the famine (for at least a little while). The Pharaoh, instead of immediately killing Abram out of anger over his deception, had a softened heart and allowed him to leave. After Abram was eventually thrown out of Egypt (while there was presumably still a famine) Abram clearly still survived, clear evidence of God’s providence still over him.

Even though Abram made some very poor choices, God still stood by Abram, protected him, and provided for Him. God does not abandon His children when they falter. That’s the whole point behind God’s larger plan to begin with. We, just like Abram, have failed God. But He has not abandoned us. He is so dedicated to us that He has provided for us his own Son as a sacrifice; so that we may be redeemed from our sin and be brought back into relationship with him.

Abram had faith, but it was flawed. We, like Abram, have failed God. But just as Abram’s flawed faith reminds us of our own failures; God’s unwavering dedication to Abram reminds us of the tremendous love that He has shown us through Jesus Christ.

Next Post: Genesis 13-14 – The Renewed Faith of Abram

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Genesis 10-11 – The Tower of Babel: Man’s Will vs God’s Will

Previous Post: Genesis 6-9 – The Flood: What Sin Really Deserves

BiblePictureNow Read: Genesis 10-11

Imagine you are watching a suspenseful movie. It opens up with the main character waking up in a haze, groggy, unsure what’s going on. He looks down at his hands. Gasp! They are covered in blood, and holding a knife. He drops it. It clangs loudly as it hits the ground. He looks around and sees three dead bodies strewn around about him, each one with multiple stab wounds, obviously inflicted by the very knife he was just holding. What is going? Who are these people? What happened to them? Why is he in the midst of them, holding the knife? Suddenly you hear the sounds of sirens, and see the red-white-blue flashing of police lights. “FREEZE! HANDS ON YOUR HEAD!” Oh no! He’s caught. No he’s not, he bolts! There is a 10 minute chase scene as he runs for his life through streets and alleys. He knocks over several piles of beautifully stacked oranges and lemons at a farmers market, and otherwise leaves general mayhem and pandemonium behind him. He keeps running. They keep chasing. Eventually he finds himself in the middle of a bridge over a large river. They are coming at him from both directions. What will he do? Will he jump? What’s going on?????

The scene ends, leaving you gripped in suspense, and as the next scene begins we are told it is, “Three weeks earlier” and you see the same man going about his daily, carefree existence. You then spend the majority of the movie finding out how he goes from his happy, somewhat mundane life, to his current predicament. Somewhere around three-quarters of the way through the movie you return to where you began, and you pick up with the hero precariously perched on the bridge, only now you know why he’s there. The remainder of the movie then takes you suspensefully to the final conclusion. The hero is vindicated, the villains are vanquished, and you walk out of the movie theater declaring the film is, “Just OK”.

This is kind of what we see here in Genesis Chapters 10-11.

Stay with me on this.

It is a common literary (and cinematic) device, where you are put in the middle of a somewhat confusing point mid-plot. You left gripped with suspense as you are then taken back to the beginning where it is then explained how you got to that point, and then the story is continued (from where you first started) and bringing you to a conclusion. It is such a common plot device that you could probably list 10 movies (or books) off the top of your head that follows pretty much that exact progression. But as the wise Solomon once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and this plot device is not something new invented by Hollywood. It is old. So old in fact that it appears here in the early chapters of the book of Genesis.

The “Mid-plot” Introduction: The Scattering of Nations (Genesis 10)

Following from the account of the Flood we are shown how the families, and nations, descending from the three sons of Noah (Japheth, Ham, and Shem) are all of the sudden dispersing throughout the earth.

We are told of the sons of Japheth, and their sons. We are told how, “From these the coastlands of the nations were separated into their lands.” (10:5)

We are told of the sons of Ham. Cush and his descendants established kingdoms in the land of Shinar (10:10) and then went into Assyria (10:11). Mizraim and his descendants became several nations, including the Philistines (10:13-14). Canaan and his descendants were “spread abroad” (10:18) such that “the territory of the Canaanite extended from Sidon as you go toward Gerar, as far as Gaza; as you go toward Sodom and Gomorrah and admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha” (10:19).

We are told of the sons of Shem, and their descendants, and how “their settlement extended from Mesha as you go toward Sephar, the hill country of the east” (10:30)

Throughout Chapter 10 we are given a lot of names and places that to us today don’t really have much significance or meaning. But the main message that we can take away from it is this: the nations descending from the sons of Noah were spreading out throughout the earth. They weren’t staying with each other. Japheth’s descendants went one way. Hams descendants went in many different directions. Shem’s descendants went to yet different lands.

One would think if these were all “sons of Noah” that they would all stay together and form one big nation, united and intermingled. But that’s not what’s happening. There is division. There is scattering.

What happened?

This is the “mid-plot” that we are introduced with. We see what should be a unified people, dividing and dispersing away from each other, and we don’t know why.

The Explanation: The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9)

After seeing the dispersion of the nations, we are left wondering what is going on, why are these people all trying to get away from each other as fast as they can?

At this point the Genesis narrative steps back to before the dispersion and explains to us just how and why it happened. The reason: The Tower of Babel.

In Chapter 10 there are three times (once for each of Noah’s sons) we told of the scattering peoples, “according their families, according to their languages, by their lands, by their nations.” (10:5, 10:20, 10:31) We see multiple nations, multiple lands, multiple languages.

Yet as Chapter 11 opens we are told, “Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.” (11:1-2). Here we see one nation, one land, one language. Clearly we have stepped back in time before there were many nations with many languages dispersing into many lands. This is the Biblical equivalent to being told, “Three weeks earlier.”

We are told how this one people, speaking one language, said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (11:4). Clearly it was not their intent, or desire to be divided and disperse throughout the earth. They wanted to stay united, and “make a name for themselves.”

But God had different plans. God said, “Let Us go down there and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” (11:7). That is exactly what God did, and as a result they could not remain united. They could not communicate with each other or work together. For that reason, “Its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (11:9)

And so we are brought back to where we started: Multiple nations, with multiple languages, being scattered throughout the earth into multiple lands. And now it makes sense. Now we know why they were scattering across the earth: God scattered them.

The Conclusion: The Origins of Abram (Genesis 11:10-32)

And then the story continues from where we were left at the end of Chapter 10. In fact there is some repetition of what we already saw in Chapter 10 with some of the descendants of Shem being repeated. The descendants of Shem are traced from Shem to Peleg, who in chapter 10 we were told, “in his days the earth was divided” (10:25), indicating that Babel happened in the days of Peleg.

And after the scattering of the nations, the line continues from Peleg all the way down Terah, the father of Abram, who would become Abraham. Thus the culmination of the opening chapters of Genesis has brought us to the man who is the father of the people of Israel, God’s chosen people.

Why did God confuse the people at Babel?

At first glance it might seem odd that God would want to divide the people of the earth and inject disharmony into them. Wouldn’t God want all of his created children to be united and cooperate with each other?

But, we must remember the reason that God created mankind to begin with. Going back to the creation account, after God created man, in His image, God told them to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28). This command was reiterated to Noah and his sons after the Flood, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1)

It is very clear that God wanted mankind to multiply and fill the earth. He created mankind uniquely different from all the other creatures of the earth. He created mankind in His image, to be His representatives to His creation. He created mankind in His image so that there would be beings throughout the world that could both proclaim, and see, God’s glory. That’s mankind’s very reason for existence: to magnify God’s glory throughout all the earth.

But before mankind can do any of that, they must first fill the earth. Mankind can’t have dominion over the earth, and subdue it, if they haven’t spread out across the world. They can’t marvel at all of the wonders and beauties of God’s creation if they haven’t spread out to actually see them. They can’t proclaim God’s glory throughout the world if they haven’t actually gone out into the world.

But the people at Babel have no desire to fill the earth. Instead they say, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (11:4). Their primary objective with building the city and tower is precisely because they DON’T want to spread out and fill the whole earth. They wanted to stay as one people, in one place, doing what they want. And why did they want to do that? Because they wanted to make a name for themselves.

And that is the heart of the problem at Babel. It’s not that they wanted to build a tower. It is because rather than following God’s will for them to fill the earth and glorify God, they wanted to stay where they were and glorify themselves.

God saw this and said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.” (11:6)

God is not concerned that man will somehow grow too powerful. What would the all-powerful creator of the cosmos have to fear from puny man? God is saying that because they are one people, with one language, they have grown arrogant and prideful. They have abandoned God’s will and instead followed their own. When God says “now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them” he is saying that as one people, with one language, they will be empowered to continue to do things as they see fit. This is reminiscent of the sons of God who took wives for themselves, “whomever they chose” (Genesis 6:2) prior to the Flood leading to a world of men whose “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continuously” (Genesis 6:5) or the people of Israel in the book of Judges who constantly turned away from God with “everyone doing what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) God saw that as long as they remain in one place, as one people, with one language, they will never follow after God or follow His will, but instead follow their own will.

And so God confused their language, and in doing so “scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth” (11:8) He didn’t divide them because he didn’t want his children to be in harmony with each other. He did it because as long as they remained united in their arrogance and pride they would never be in harmony with Him. They would never follow His will for them. They would always be consumed with vain ambition and self-conceit.

And thus we see what the city and tower of Babel were really about. It isn’t about a tower; it is about the ever present battle between the will of man and the will of God. It is about the arrogance and pride that sits at the foundation of all sin. It is about what holds us back from realizing the true plan that God has for our existence.

What is our tower? What do we hold on to and use as an excuse to exert our will over the will of God? Our careers? Our families? Our wealth? Our security? Our country? Not all of these things are bad in-and-of themselves, but when we turn them into idols and worship them, or even worse, use them as an avenue to worship ourselves, we miss our true purpose in life. Instead of finding fulfillment in glorifying God, we strive in vain to glorify ourselves; but at the end of the day all we end up doing is babbling.

Next Post: Genesis 12 – The Flawed Faith of Abram

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Genesis 6-9 – The Flood: What Sin Really Deserves

Previous Post: Genesis 4-5 – The Curse of Cain to the Blessing of Enoch

BiblePictureNow Read: Genesis 6-9

Last time we saw the stark contrast between the line of Cain (epitomized by Lamech) and the line of Seth (epitomized by Enoch) and the path of the two choices that we all have before us to either seek after the Lord, or to follow after our own sin and wickedness.

The end of Chapter 5 concludes the line of Seth, and introduces us to a man that everyone, be they Biblical scholar or ardent atheist, has at least heard of: Noah. The introduction of Noah leads us into an epic story of God unleashing His unrestrained wrath upon the world, and the one man that He chose to save from it.

That story is the infamous Flood of Noah.

The Introduction – 6:1-7 – The Wickedness of Man

The stage is set with a progression of the rising wickedness of mankind.

“Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.” (6:1-2) There is an interesting distinction being made here between “sons of God” and “daughters of men”. There is some debate among scholars as to what exactly this means. To me the most reasonable interpretation of this is that the men who were supposed to be following after God (sons of God, a possible reference to the line of Seth) began to marry women who were from families that were not following after God (daughters of men, perhaps a reference to the line of Cain). This is a common theme throughout the Old Testament, where the sons of Israel would take non-Hebrew wives and in turn begin to worship the gods of their wives. This is also why in the New Testament we told in marriage not be “unequally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14) by marrying an unbeliever. The sin of the unbeliever is much more likely to drag the believer along with it. Furthermore, the sons of God taking wives of “whomever they chose”  sounds awfully close to “everyone did what was right in his own eyes”  from the book of Judges (Judges 21:25) as the people abandoned God and followed their own sinful ways.

But then things go from bad to worse. “Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.” (6:4) The result of these poorly chosen marriages were children that were “Nephilim”, men of great size and strength (perhaps similar to the infamous Goliath. They are described as “mighty men who were of old, men of renown.” In the context of the rest of the passage I think we are to assume that one of the things they were renowned for, aside from their size, was their wickedness and violence (6:13). The “sons of God” chose their wives poorly, and not only were they drawn away from God into sin, but their children fell so deep into wickedness they became renowned for it.

Finally, the progression reaches its peak, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (6:5) It’s not just that they did bad things, but every intent of their thoughts was only evil continually. There was not even the slightest hint of goodness, ever. Literally everything about them was vile, and disgusting, and wicked to their very core. And God would not tolerate it any longer.

The stage has been set for God to poor out his wrath, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land” (6:7)

The Build-up – 6:8-22 – God Prepares Noah

But, there was one man who stood apart from the rest. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord … Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.” (6:8-9) Noah walking with God is a clear reference to Enoch, from Chapter 5, who was differentiated from the rest of his line by his “walk with God” and that when the end of his life came God took him, sparing him the pain of death. Noah is identified as a righteous man, of the likes of Enoch, whom God chose to be the sole survivor of the human race (along with his wife, sons and their wives). God instructs Noah on how to build an ark, not only to save him and his family, but to save two of every kind of animal, so that they could repopulate the earth.

The Climax – 7:1-24 – The Deluge Arrives

The wrath of God descended upon the earth.

We should not think that the flood was merely, “a lot of rain.” What is described here is so much more than that. “The fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened.” (7:11) This was not simply rain. This was violent. This was brutal. This was the pure, holy, powerful wrath of the Almighty being unleashed. This was the eruption of a million geysers, volcanoes, and tsunamis. This was the opening up of the heavens letting down the “floodgates” of a million bursting damns. We should not think of the people watching as the waters slowly rise to the point of their drowning. No, envision them being violently washed away by the powerful rush of a thousand oceans, carrying away entire cities in a matter of moments. Envision the waling terror and screams as their wickedness was violently extinguished from the face of the earth.

This is what was going on outside the ark. God was not simply drowning the earth … He was pummeling it.

And then, if violence of the floodgates wasn’t enough, the waters continued. I’m sure nothing survived that very first day of God pouring his wrath down upon the earth, but He continued to wash the filth of sin away. For forty days and forty nights (7:12) the rain fell until the “The water prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water.” (7:18) This almost seems like a return to the creation of the world where, “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) It’s as if creation is getting a fresh start, going all the way back to the beginning when the waters covered everything, and just as God’s Spirit moved over the waters, so now hope for the future of mankind floats over the surface of the water in an ark.

The Slow-down – 8:1:22 – The Waters Subside

“But God remembered Noah …” (8:1)

This is the pivotal moment, in the middle of the story, where God’s work shifts from one of destruction, to one of renewal. The increasing pace of the story now slows down, as the waters slowly begin to subside.

Finally, after nearly a year of waiting in the ark, Noah and his family, and the creatures with them set foot once again on dry ground. They walked out onto a cleansed earth, a fresh start for them, and for mankind as a whole.

Noah then built an altar, to give thanks to the Lord for sparing him and his family from God’s wrath unleashed upon mankind (8:20).

The Conclusion – 9:1-17 – The Rainbow Covenant

After the epic flood, God then made a sacred covenant with Noah, “I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth … This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.” (9:11-13)

God makes a promise, not only to Noah, but to “all flesh” that He would never destroy the earth by flood again, giving us the rainbow as the sign of that promise.

And with this covenant God then tells Noah and his sons to be fruitful and multiply, and to fill the earth (9:1 and 9:7) again echoing the account from creation when God told man to “Be fruitful and multiply. And fill the earth, and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28). Thus we have come back full circle, and we can see that mankind has been given a fresh start, with a new, fresh earth that has been cleansed of sin by flood-waters, and they have a second chance to fulfill their purpose in life.

The Epilogue – 9:18-29 – The Ominous Foreshadowing

One would think that after the epic account of the flood, with mankind given a fresh start, and God’s rainbow covenant, that would be the end of Noah’s story.

But there is a very odd sub-story at the end of the story … an epilogue.

We are given the strange account Noah who, “began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent.” (9:21). Noah’s son, Ham, “saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.” (9:22). The other brothers, Shem and Japheth, “took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father, and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.” (9:23). When Noah wakes up he, “knew what his youngest son had done to him.” (9:24), and then proceeded to curse Ham (9:25) while blessing his other sons (9:26-27).

What in the world did Ham do?

Nakedness reveals our shame in our sin (Genesis 3). Ham saw his father’s nakedness, and thus saw his father’s shame. That in itself was not necessarily Ham’s fault; it’s not his fault that his father was drunk and naked. But upon finding his father naked (his shame exposed), rather than averting his eyes, and covering his father up as quickly as possible, he want and told his brothers. Ham broadcasted his father’s shame to the rest of the world. You can almost hear Ham going to his brothers, “Hey dudes! You should check out dad, he’s totally wasted and passed out naked!”

This story tells us two things.

First, Noah cursing his son Ham, and blessing his other sons (particularly Shem) foreshadows that it would be Shem’s line that would lead to Abraham, and Israel, God’s chosen nation, as well as the enmity that would exist between the people of Israel (descendants of Shem) and the Canaanites (descendants of Ham’s son, Canaan).

Second, and more importantly, it emphasizes that the flood did not do away with sin. The problem of sin had not been solved. Even Noah, who was described as righteous and walking with God (6:9) still has sin upon him. His nakedness still reveals his shame. And at the end of the story of Noah we are told that, “So all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years, and he died.” (9:29). Thus showing that the pattern of his forefathers from Chapter 5 continues.

What was it all for?

The story of God unleashing His judgment upon mankind in the Flood is one of truly epic proportions.

But at the end of the Flood account God still recognizes that “the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (8:21) And in the epilogue we see a very sinful and flawed Noah who falls back into the same pattern of sin and death as his forefathers. God knows that this is man’s nature, even the mankind that will follow after Noah. And yet, even though God knows this about mankind, He still vows, “I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.” (8:21)

God recognizes that the Flood has not changed man’s nature, He recognizes that man will still continue to be wicked, but He promises to not destroy them, or the earth, like this again.

But what was it all for? If the Flood would not solve the problem of sin, why would God do it?

God needed to show us just how serious sin really is.

There were some serious consequences that came with sin. But even in the midst of those consequences, God was making provisions to redeem mankind from sin. He did not obliterate Adam and Eve immediately, but rather He clothed them. Cain murdered his brother, but God put a sign of protection over Cain. God has demonstrated himself to be a patient and merciful God. It could be tempting to think that sin REALLY doesn’t bother him that much.

Yes, God is patient, but there is a limit to His patience. Yes, God is merciful, but there is a limit to His mercy. God sent the Flood because He wanted to send a message to all generations who would follow just how serious sin really is.

Sin is serious enough, that God was willing to obliterate not only all of mankind (save Noah and his family), but also ALL OTHER LIFE ON EARTH that had been corrupted by mankind’s sin. Sin is so serious that it deserves nothing but complete, total, and even violent annihilation. Sin is so serious, it not only deserves to be destroyed, but to be destroyed with the bursting of the fountains of the deep and the opening of the floodgates of the heavens. It is so serious it deserves the full, unreserved wrath of the Almighty God being poured down upon it with a vengeance.

God needed us to recognize that. He needed us to see that so much that He needed to actually do it. He showed us what sin really deserves: it deserves to die, and to die completely.

But God is still merciful, and God has a plan.

After the Flood was over God vowed never to do it again, not because the flood solved the problem of sin, but because God had a better plan. God had a plan to send His Son, to die on the cross, and take the full wrath of God upon Himself instead.

So God made a covenant with Noah, and with all generations that would come after Him, a covenant in which He promised never to send a Flood again. Not because we don’t deserve another Flood. But because God loved us so much He has provided for us a way to come back to Him without it.

The rainbow was God’s sign to Noah of His promise to never destroy the earth with a flood again; a sign that God would solve the problem of sin once and for all, not by annihilating it, but by overcoming it.

The flood is what our sin really deserves, but the rainbow points us to our salvation in Jesus.

Next Post: Genesis 10-11 – The Tower of Babel: Man’s Will vs God’s Will

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Genesis 4-5 – The Curse of Cain to the Blessing of Enoch

Previous Post: Genesis 2:25 – 3:24 – The Fall of Man, the Rise of Shame

BiblePictureNow Read: Genesis 4-5

Here we have the infamous story of two brothers. One brother was good, and upright, and pleased the Lord. The other brother, was self-centered, conceited, and turned his back on God.

The story of Cain and Abel.

We have just emerged from one of the most tragic stories of all time, that fall of man into sin and the curse. Adam and Eve have been banished from the paradise of Eden, and cursed to lives of pain, toil and frustration. Even worse still, they now live a life mired by shame and guilt, separating them from closeness with each other, and with God. Sin has entered their lives, and has a firm grip over their souls.

But the sin will not stay with just them.

Within just one generation the ultimate sin of arrogance and pride, which led Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, turns brother violently against brother.

We are told the story of two sons of Adam and Eve. Cain was a “tiller of the ground” and Abel “a keeper of flocks.” (4:2). They are initially differentiated by their professions, but we quickly see there is more separating these two then simply their work. They are primarily separated by the state of their hearts.

When it came time to bring offering to God we are told that “Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground” (4:3). In contrast we are told that, “Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions.” (4:4). The emphasis on Abel’s offering as being the “firstlings” and the “fat portions” contrasts to Cain’s simple “fruit of the ground.” It is not that Cain brought fruit and Abel brought animals. God is not favoring Abel because he preferred animal sacrifices. It was that Cain’s offering was not distinguished as being anything special. He didn’t bring the “first” of his crop or the “biggest and best” of the yield of his field. His offering by the sounds of it was simply ordinary and unremarkable. And so we are told that “the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard.” (4:4-5)

And Cain did not like that. Cain’s pride and arrogance lead to jealousy and anger, as we are told, “Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.” (4:5)

But Cain’s anger is unjustified, and the “falling of his countenance” was his own doing. God speaks to Cain, imploring him, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (4:6-7).

God is warning Cain that he is deciding his own destiny and his own fate. He is warning Cain that if he lets anger dwell in his heart that it will lead to sin. This is the primary lesson for us. Sin is crouching, waiting like a demon, ready to devour its victim, and it is we who have the power either to be master over it, or let it have mastery over us. We may all live under the curse of a sinful nature, but all of us still have the ability to choose right or wrong, and we must guard our hearts carefully, otherwise sin will overpower us.

But Cain did not become master over his anger and jealousy, and the sin that “desired him” became master over him.

Cain’s arrogance and pride, turned into anger and jealousy, and led him to raise his hand against his own brother, and murder him. And thus we see how quickly the wickedness of mankind grew. Within one generation man went from eating forbidden fruit to violently murdering their own flesh and blood.

What we see next is eerily familiar to what we saw in chapter 3 following original sin, only things have gotten much worse.

Just as God came to Adam and Eve in the garden, asking what they had done, God came to Cain, “Where is Abel, your brother?” (4:9). Just as Adam and Eve each tried to deflect blame (Adam onto Eve, and Eve onto the serpent), Cain blatantly lies to deflect his blame, “I do not know, Am I my brother’s keeper?” (4:9). It’s almost as if Cain is blaming God for losing Abel, implying it is God’s job, not Cain’s, to keep tabs on Abel. But just as God knew full well of Adam and Eve’s sin, God knows the truth of Cain and his brother, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.” (4:10) And just as God cursed Adam and Eve after their sin, God has a special curse for Cain, “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.” (4:11-12) Where Adam’s sin cursed the ground, making it so that Adam would have to toil in pain and frustration to make it produce, Cain’s curse goes a step further, making it so the ground will not produce anything for him at all. Where Adam and Eve were banished from the Gard of Eden, Cain’s curse goes a step further and says he will have no home at all, being forced to live as a “vagrant” and a “wanderer”.

Cain is unable to cope with the consequences of his sin, “My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (4:13-14). Even now, Cain is showing no signs of remorse for what he has done. The sin of vain conceit and self-centeredness has taken such a firm hold of his heart that his weeping is not over the blood of his innocent brother, but over his own fate. His primary concern is for his own life. After having taken his brother’s life, he fears others will seek vengeance upon him. It is still all about him.

God then does something interesting. He has cursed Cain to live a life of fruitlessness and wandering, but He does not leave him unprotected. God declares, “’Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.” (4:15) It may seem that God is taking pity on Cain, and perhaps to some extent he is. We must not forget that even murderers are creations of God, and still bear his image. God, as grieved as He is by their sin, still loves them. But even more so I think that God is making a statement that vengeance is not for other men to have, but for God alone (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:17-19). Sin cannot be remedied with more sin. Murder cannot be fixed with more murder. Only God can exact vengeance or justice. God is making it clear that, while Cain is guilty of murder, that God has enacted His curse upon Cain, and that it is no one else’s place to take on God’s divine right to enact justice.

So with the sign of protection from God, Cain is banished “from the presence of the Lord” into the land of Nod (a word which in the Hebrew means “wandering”).

But the story does not end there.

We are then given an interesting account of how Cain had a son with his wife, and built “the city of Enoch” which he named after his son. We are then given a lineage of descendants of Cain, which culminates in a man by the name of Lamech, whom has taken the violence of his ancestor Cain, and has multiplied to an extreme. He even boasts in his wickedness, “You wives of Lamech, give heed to my speech, for I have killed a man for wounding me; and a boy for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (4:23-24) The brutal irony here is unmistakable. Even though God protected his ancestor from vengeance; Lamech brags how he takes vengeance on others who merely “wound” or “strike” him with death (even to a child no less) and he thinks that this only serves to increase the zeal with which God will defend this “son of Cain”.

The culmination of the line of Cain shows the utter violent and despicable consequence of hearts absorbed with themselves, for generation after generation. And if this was all there was; we would be left with a very bleak and hopeless message: this is where our sin will take us.

But, we have Chapter 5.

If you had to sum up the entire book of Genesis in one statement it would this: Genesis is the story of the origins of the people of Israel, God’s chosen people. These opening chapters of Genesis are very clearly trying to take us from the creation of the world, the creation of man, and lead us up to Abraham, the patriarch of the people of Israel. In that sense Chapter 5 might simply be understood as part of the list of people that get us from Adam to Abraham. But then it seems odd that we would have the tangent in Chapter 4 that follows down the wicked lineage of Cain, only to then step back to Adam and Eve and continuing on with the REAL story to get us to Abraham. What was the point?

But it makes more sense when you realize that Chapter 4 is not just a meaningless tangent before getting on with the REAL story of Chapter 5. These two chapters are actually meant to be read together, back-to-back. Chapter 5 is the counter-balance to Chapter 4.

In Chapter 5 (which really begins at 4:25) we are taken back to Adam, and told how God gave Adam and Eve another son, Seth, “in place of Abel, for Cain killed him” (4:26). To Seth, a son was also given, whom He called Enosh. We are then told that at this point, “Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord.” (4:26). Here we can see how the line of Seth almost immediately takes a different path than the line of Cain. While the line of Cain is marked by self-centeredness, anger, and violence, in contrast the line of Seth (who was the new “Abel”) is marked by devotion and reliance upon the Lord.

Chapter 5 then continues to give us the genealogy of the line of Seth which serves as a mirror image of the line of Cain given to us in Chapter 4. Below lists the two genealogies side-by-side:


The two lineages have quite a few similarities. Most of the names are either the same, or very similar (Enoch-Enosh-Enoch, Irad-Jared, Mehuael-Mahalalel, Methushael-Methuselah, Lamech-Lamech). I’m not an expert on Hebrew names, so I couldn’t tell you what all these names mean, but I don’t believe it is by accident that these two lines have such similar names. The two sets of lineages are very clearly intended to sit side-by-side with each other. Especially when you get to the seventh in each of the lines: Lamech vs Enoch.

Reading through the somewhat tedious and monotonous list of names in Chapter 5, there is one expression that repeats over and over again, “… and he died.” The mortality left from the curse of original sin has its final say in every person’s story. So-and-so was born from so-and-so, was father to so-and-so, he lived for this many years … and he died. That’s the culmination of each man’s life. And it repeats, somewhat hopelessly, over and over and over again.

But there is one man in the list, who stands out from all the others. On man who breaks the pattern.

Enoch stands apart from all the others. He is not simply known for who his father was, who he was the father of, or how long he lived. A special mention was saved for him: “Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God and he was not, for God took him.” (5:22-24) While each other person in the lineage simply, “lived for so many years”, Enoch “walked with God three hundred years.” And while each other person’s story ends with “… and he died”, Enoch did not die, he simply, “was not. For God took him.” Meaning he was taken to be with God, without suffering death as every other man or woman.

Comparing Lamech of the line of Cain, and Enoch of the line of Seth, yields some interesting similarities. Both are given special mention within their respective lineages, and both are the seventh generation since the creation of man with Adam, seven being a significant number representing “completeness” (God rested on the seventh day to signify the completion of creation). Not complete in the sense that their line’s ended there, obviously there are sons that continued to follow in both lines. But they reached “completeness” in the sense that the work of good or evil in their hearts reached their fullest.

Thus we see the true comparison of Lamech and Enoch is not in their similarities, but in their differences. Lamech is the culmination (or “completion”) of the path of Cain of being self-centered, angry, jealous, and violent. He is the epitome of true evil in the heart of man. Enoch is the culmination (or “completion”) of the path of Seth (the new Abel) of being virtuous, upright and good. He is the epitome of a heart that loves the Lord, and calls on Him. While Cain (and his lineage) was forced to “wander the earth” and hidden from the face of God (4:14), Enoch on the other hand experienced a closeness with God unlike any other, to the point that he “walked with God” (5:22,24) and broke the pattern of death.

The two genealogies, and the two men at the climax of each of them, when read together serve as examples of the two sides that God was trying to tell Cain when he said, “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (4:7).

Cain did not heed God’s warning. He let sin through the door, and it became his master, and the curse of Cain followed his descendants all the way to Lamech, a man completely and utterly consumed with evil.

But God wants us to know that we do not have to resign ourselves to that fate. Sin may be crouching at the door, desiring us, but He is telling us that “if you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?” If we will but “call upon the name of the Lord” and follow after Him then our paths can be different. He is showing us Enoch as a prime example. Enoch was not bound by his sin. Because Enoch, and his father’s before him, called upon the name of the Lord, he was not mastered by his sin. As a result he walked with God so closely that he even broke the pattern of death and was taken gently by the arms of God into His presence, where he will be with God forever.

May we all be so blessed as Enoch.

Next Post: Genesis 6-9 – The Flood: What Sin Really Deserves

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Genesis 2:25 – 3:24 – The Fall of Man, the Rise of Shame

Previous post: Genesis 1:26 – 2:25 – Male and Female: The Image of God

BiblePictureNow Read: Genesis 2:25 – 3:24 (NASB)

In Genesis chapter 1 we are told how God created the heavens and the earth, the culmination of which was reached in the creation of man and woman in God’s image. Chapter 2 took us into a deeper look at the creation of man and woman to reveal our true nature as image bearers of God.

I find it interesting that the creation account of chapter 1 wrapped up with God surveying all that he had made (including man and woman) and declaring it all “very good” (1:31) after which he rested to signify the completion of the work of creation (2:2). At the end of Chapter 2 (which is essentially a closer look at the events described in Chapter 1) the final verse emphasizes that “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (2:25) I see a certain relationship between God’s creation being “very good” and the man and his wife being “naked and not ashamed”. I think in this we are given a better understanding of what God means when he says, “very good.”

“Very good” in God’s eyes means to be free of shame, or guilt.

So as we go into chapter 3 we are reminded that when God created man and woman, they were blameless, without sin, and without shame. God placed them in the Garden of Eden, a veritable paradise. And God provided for them in the Garden everything they would need, with all manners of fruit bearing trees to feed them, from which they could eat any that they like.

Any tree, but one.

God left one tree from which he forbade them to eat. But, why did God even give them the opportunity to sin by providing even that one tree? If He wanted His creation to stay “very good” would it not have been better to not even give them that chance? It is true that if he had not given them that choice they would not have sinned, but they also would not have been truly “very good”. Because what meaning does “very good” have, if there is no option to be bad? If God wanted to be loved by His most precious creations, man and woman, what meaning would that love and devotion have if there was no option for them to choose otherwise? Love is not love if there is no option to hate. Right is not right, if there is choice to do wrong. Good is not good, if there no opportunity for bad. God gave man and woman the choice to do wrong, not because he wanted to test their obedience, but because He wanted their obedience to actually mean something.

It is also interesting to note that there was literally just one option. God was not trying to make things difficult for them. If anything He actually tried to make it as easy as possible for them to keep their innocence. Giving them the opportunity to sin may have been necessary to have genuine love, but that doesn’t mean that God wanted to make it difficult for them. If anything He was stacking the deck in their favor. He quite reasonably gave them only one prohibition. Only ONE thing for them to NOT do.

And they still couldn’t help themselves.

Oh, they held on for a little while. But the great deceiver wasn’t going to let that one prohibition go without temptation. He would not let God’s perfect creation continue if there was anything he could do about it. He couldn’t MAKE the man and woman eat of the fruit, but he could trick them into doing it.

First, he approached the woman, in the form of a serpent, and questioned the prohibition. “Indeed, has God said you shall not eat from any tree of the garden?” (3:1). Notice his first trick is to completely overstate God’s prohibition, as if to try and plant the seed in the woman’s head that God is being unreasonable. He tries to make it sound that God has forbidden the fruit from every tree. How many times do we rationalize our sin by trying to convince ourselves that the expectations are too high? “There’s no way I could ever be held to that standard! It’s unfair! What’s the point of even trying?”

But the woman was not completely fooled by this outlandish statement from the serpent and corrects him, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, you shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die” (3:2-3) But the serpent’s poison has already started to take root, for she adds to God’s prohibition saying, “you shall not eat from it or touch it even though God only forbade eating it. She has already started down the path of seeing God’s rule as unreasonable. You can almost hear her asking, “why should I not even be allowed to touch it?”

But serpent doesn’t stop there, You will not surely die!”(3:4) After casting doubt on what exactly it was that God forbade, now the serpent is deceiving the woman about God’s warning should they not obey. He downplays the seriousness of the consequences, “God didn’t mean it when He said that!” How many times do we try and turn God’s word upside, and try and turn sin into good, by lying to ourselves about what God REALLY meant. In our “enlightened” culture we “know better” and can now speak with authority that God didn’t REALLY mean it when He said we shouldn’t do certain things. “It’s been misinterpreted,” we say, “It has been misunderstood by all of Christendom that has come before us!”

And the serpent continues “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (3:5). Now the serpent is going in for the Kill. “God doesn’t want you to eat it, because He knows it will make you like Him. God is holding out on you, don’t you want to be like God?”

And here we see what the real sin was. It’s not about the fruit. It’s about the desire to be like God.

The woman gave into the deception, seeing that “the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.”(3:6). While it says that the woman was drawn to how attractive and delicious it looked, we should not think that the original sin is simply the result of serious case of “sweet tooth”. The real reason she, and her husband, ate the fruit was the desire to be “wise” or more clearly stated by the serpent, “to be like God”. The REAL sin was not that they ate the fruit that God told them not to eat. The REAL sin was WHY they ate the fruit that God told them not to eat. They ate the fruit because they thought it would give them the wisdom to make them “like God”. These tiny human beings (created by an infinitely massive and all powerful God) actually thought that they could, and should, become “like God”. Thus we see what the true underlying sin was: arrogance and pride. Arrogance in that they thought they could be like God, and pride in that they thought they should be like God. And they were wrong on both counts.

And if that wasn’t enough, by submitting themselves to the serpent, the man and woman were abandoning the role that God had created them for. In Chapter 1 we learned that when God created man and woman in His image, He did so, so that they would “fill the earth and subdue it and rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (1:28). That role was re-emphasized in Chapter 2 when the man was given the task to name all the creatures of the earth (a sign of his dominion over them). Mankind’s very reason for existence was to be God’s representative on earth (made in His image) and have dominion over all He created, so that we could both witness and proclaim His glory over all the earth. But here the man and woman are submitting themselves to the deception, and to the will, of a serpent. They are letting the serpent, whom they are supposed to have dominion over, have dominion over them. By doing so they are failing to do the very thing God created them to do.

It was not about the fruit. The fruit was merely the object that God presented to give them the choice to love Him or not. And yet they willingly abandoned their God given role by following the will of the serpent, and they desired to elevate themselves to be like God. In doing so they were diminishing God before His creation, rather than proclaim His glory. In doing so they demonstrated their ultimate choice to NOT love God; and instead chose to love themselves above God. At that point, the actual act of eating the fruit was merely an outward manifestation of the wickedness that was already born in their heart.

And the result was instantaneous.

There were several consequences that resulted from their tragic decision. The man and the woman each had a curse specific to them. The woman was cursed with pain in childbirth (3:16). The miracle of new life which God specially bestowed on her as a woman was now a source of pain and even fear. The man was cursed to toil for his sustenance from the earth (3:18-19). His primary God given task to work the garden would now become a source of pain and frustration, and his life would be marked by toil.

And not only were the man and woman individually marked by the curse in these manners, the relationship between them was also cursed. God said to the woman, “Your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” In chapter 2 we saw how it was the man who was alone and felt the desire for relationship, and God provided him the woman to meet that need. But now it is the woman who will have that desire for closeness and intimacy, but her husband will rule over her, not giving her the closeness and intimacy he was designed for, and she so desperately craves. The unhindered closeness of their relationship as being “naked and unashamed” was now broken.

Broken, by shame.

And so we get the real consequence of their sin. They ate the fruit because they desired for their eyes to be opened (3:5), and opened their eyes were (3:7). They immediately both became aware, and ashamed, of their nakedness. Their innocence was gone. “They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (3:8) but they no longer felt safe to embrace their loving Creator. They didn’t go running to Him with open arms to embrace Him. But instead they felt shame and “hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God.”

Before they ate of the fruit God warned them, that, “in the day that you eat from it, you will surely die.”(2:17). While it is true that their physical bodies were not killed immediately, the curse of sin upon their bodies made them mortal, which would eventually kill them. But in a way, they did die that very day. True spiritual death has nothing to do with the death of a physical body, but the separation of our souls from God. The shame that the man and woman felt upon eating the fruit, driving them to hide from the presence of God shows that spiritual separation. Their eternal closeness with the divine Creator was severed, and in that sense, they died. The intense desire to cover up their nakedness was a physical manifestation of the barrier that now existed between them and their Creator. When God said, “you will surely die” what He really meant was, “You will separated from Me.”

And that is the true tragedy.

The tragic separation of the heart of man from God made evident by our sense of shame. When man fell, shame arose in our hearts, and we have not been able to escape it. Our shame in our nakedness, that drives us to cover ourselves with clothing, holds fast in our hearts as an ever present reminder that we are separated from God. God created us to be in close relationship with Him, but our sin has made that impossible, and we feel that as shame. Shame that we can’t escape. Shame that we are powerless of overcome.

But God has a plan.

Remember what we learned from the account of God’s creation? God doesn’t rest until His creation is “very good.” We have broken God’s heart, but we have not lost God’s love. And while God cannot compromise His holiness by accepting us with our sin and shame, He will also not compromise His love for us or abandon us.

Even as God was in the midst of imposing the curse, God gave us a promise of His plan to save us from our sin. Speaking to the serpent God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (3:15) Even as God was cursing us, He gave the promise of a Savior who would stand up to the serpent (Satan). The serpent would bruise His heel (a reference to Christ’s passion and crucifixion) but that He would bruise (or some translations say crush) the serpent’s head (a reference to Christ’s resurrection and victory over sin and death). So even as God was cursing humanity for our sin, He was also promising us that He would provide a way to save us from it.

Likewise, as God was banishing Adam and Eve from the garden (3:22-24) He first clothed them with the skin of animals (3:21). God shed the blood of animals for their skin (a sacrifice) to create clothing (to cover their shame) and in so doing painted us a portrait of God’s ultimate plan to shed His own Son’s blood to wash away our shame for good and bring us back to Him.

God created man and woman. He created us to be in unhindered (naked and unashamed) relationship with Him. But with the fall of man into sin, came the rise of shame in our hearts, separating us from Him eternally. But God has not abandoned us. Even from the very beginning God had a plan for how He would restore us to what He created us to be. God has a plan, through His Son Christ Jesus, that will free us of our shame, and restore us to our innocence. Some day we will once again hear, “the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day,” but on that day we will not hide ourselves in shame, but instead we will run to God and embrace Him, and we will have nothing separating us from Him.

Oh what a marvelous day that will be.

Next Post: Genesis 4-5 – The Curse of Cain to the Blessing of Enoch

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Genesis 1:26 – 2:25 – Male and Female: The Image of God

Previous post: Genesis 1:1–2:4 – God Created


Now Read: Genesis 1:26 – 2:25 (NASB)

In my previous post I discussed how the poetry of the creation account speaks to the nature of God and how He relates to His creation. But in that discussion I skipped over one very important part: the creation of man and woman. I intentionally skipped that part, because it deserved its own post, and it also naturally follows over into chapter 2.

It may seem a bit odd how verses 26-28 of chapter 1 discuss the creation of man and woman, and then chapter 2 seems to talk about it again. In chapter 1 the creation of man and woman is listed, briefly, as part of the overall creation account. But the author of Genesis knew that this part of the creation story warranted more explanation. So in chapter 2 he steps back and dives deeper into the story and gives us a fuller description of what man and woman are, what they represent, and why they were created.

So let’s go back to chapter 1, verses 26-28:

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”

From this brief text we can take away two important things:

1. What are man and woman?

The creation of man and woman is set apart from the creation of the rest of the animal kingdom. Unlike the rest of the animals, we are created in the image of God. That means a lot of things, but in the simplest sense it means that we share a resemblance to God. Not that we are exactly like God, or that we are equal to God, or that we share every quality with God, but that we resemble God in some aspects of our being. Our ability for reason and intellect, our ability for love and compassion, are all aspects of human nature that set us apart from the animals and demonstrate the likeness of God. But looking at the text, it seems very obvious that one aspect of our God-likeness stands out among all the others. It is actually the only part of our God-image that is actually explicitly called out: The fact that we are made as male and female. That, I believe, becomes the most important lesson that we should take away from this passage and is expanded upon in chapter 2 (I’ll come back to this).

2. Why did God create Man and Woman?

The other important message that we get from Genesis 1:26-28, is that God created man and woman (in His image) so that we would rule over the earth, and over all the creatures that live in it. Why exactly would He do that? Because God just created the heavens and earth, which He filled with life, and God wanted Himself to be represented throughout the whole earth. He didn’t want to just create everything just for the fun of creating it. He created it for one absolutely critical reason: to bring Glory to Himself. That may sound like an awfully conceited thing to do, but if you realize that He is the all-knowing, all-powerful, Creator of all things with glory beyond comprehension, He is kind of entitled to make a big deal out of Himself. In fact His glory is the most important thing in the whole universe, and for the sake of His creation, He must make a big deal out of it, otherwise it is all for nothing. The reason for man and woman’s existence is for us to witness, and proclaim that glory to all the ends of the earth. He created us, so that there would be creatures who bear His image, that could represent Him in the flesh, to both see and admire His creation. He also created us, so that there would be creatures who bear His image that could rule over the rest of the creatures so that God’s dominion of the earth would be real and tangible throughout. The ultimate purpose of all of it is to bring glory to God, and as image bearers of God we are uniquely equipped to both witness and proclaim His glory to all ends of the earth.

So even just from a few verses in chapter 1, we know what we are, and why we are here. We are the image bearers of God (male and female), and we are here to represent His image, by having dominion over His creation, and using that dominion to bring Him all the glory.

But that apparently is not enough, because the author of Genesis felt that these few verses needed to be expanded upon. The importance of humans, as the image of God (male and female) was not adequately captured in just those three verses, and so we have chapter 2, that goes back to the creation of man and woman, and gives us a closer look.

I have been emphasizing the “male and female” aspect. It’s not that I’m trying to appease some trolling feminist waiting for me to leave women out of the discussion. I’m emphasizing it, because I think it is the absolutely critical aspect that makes us image bearers of God.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in 1:27 it says that God made man in His own image, and then immediately follows that up with how we were made “male and female”. Some people read this and take away from it that both men and women are made in God’s image, and therefore equal in worth and beauty and dignity. That is absolutely true! But I do believe that focusing on that misses the point a little bit. The point, I believe, is not that man and woman are each made in the image of God, but that man and woman together are made in the image of God. God made man and woman each as images of God, but only half an image that is most complete and most realized, in the union between the two. That may not be obvious in this one verse, but when it is expanded upon in chapter 2 it becomes more obvious.

In chapter 2 we are told how God planted the Garden of Eden, creates the man out of the dust from the ground, breathes life into him and then places him in the garden. At this point woman has not been created yet, but God says in verse 18, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Verses 19 and 20 then talk about how God had Adam go through and name every beast and bird and living creature in the earth, at the end of which it then laments, “there was not found a helper suitable for him.”

It is tempting to read these verses and think God actually thought that the man might find his companion among the animals and the birds, and was somewhat surprised when he didn’t.

But that is most certainly not the case.

God knew from the beginning that it was not right for the man to be alone, because God intentionally created him as only half an image of God. He therefore says, “I will MAKE him a helper suitable for him.” God did not say “I will FIND him a helper” He said He would MAKE him one. And He declared this before he had the man go through and name all the animals. God knew ahead of time there was no creature out there that would be the other half of the man’s God image, because He hadn’t created her yet.

Then why did God send the man on the wild goose chase?

Firstly, God instructed the man to name all the creatures as a way of signaling man’s dominion over all the creatures of the earth. Remember from last time, in ancient societies naming something was a way of declaring dominion. That is what God did when He named the earth, seas, heavens, day and night. But God also wanted mankind to take dominion over the creatures of the earth (as His representatives bearing His image) and God gives the man this task so that that dominion would be solidified.

Secondly, and in my opinion more importantly, God sends the man on the hunt for a companion, not to have him try and find his companion but so that he would see for himself that there was no other companion. God wanted the man to feel the emptiness from his incomplete God-image. God did this, not to be cruel and heartless to the man, but so that he would recognize he was created for union with the other half of the God-image. God put the man through that so that when God finally did present him with the woman, the man would realize how precious she was.

And boy did he realize it.

When God created the woman, and brought her to the man, he exclaims, “This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” In one sense he is being literal, since we are told that God fashioned the woman out of a rib taken from the side of the man, but in the greater sense he is exclaiming that this is finally someone who is like him, in a way that none of the animals were like him. It might sound like a line from a cheesy romance movie, but what he is saying is “Finally, you are the one who completes me!”

When God created mankind in His image, male and female, it was not simply because we needed to procreate. It was because relationship and intimacy is perhaps the most critical aspect of God’s character that He chose to put in us as bearers of His image. I think it’s interesting that in Genesis 1:26 God says, “Let us make man in our image.” The plurality of a singular God is emphasized right there next to mankind being made in His image as male and female. There is one God, but He is made of many persons. This is the first hint at what we now understand as the trinity of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is one, made up of multiple persons in close intimacy and relationship. So intimate in fact, that in an inexplicable and mysterious way they are one. Likewise, man and woman, are two persons who become “one flesh” when united together, and yes, I’m talking about sex.

This is why God created us as male and female, and then instated marriage as a framework within which His image is to be expressed. Verse 24 spells it out as plainly as possible, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” This is how God has defined marriage: A relationship between one man, and one woman, for life.

This definition was reaffirmed by Christ himself: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:3-6)

And also affirmed by the apostle Paul: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:31-32)

Both Jesus and Paul directly quote Genesis 2:24 when they define what marriage is. Paul even goes a step further and affirms that man and woman in the unity of marriage represents the image of God (specifically the image of the union between Christ and the church). Paul calls this a “great mystery.” The deeper truth of the union of man and woman in marriage as an image of God goes even beyond even Paul’s ability to comprehend, but he affirms it as truth non-the-less.

This, the union of male and female being the image of God and marriage as a picture of Christ and the church, has extraordinary implications. If the union of the male and female forms the complete image of God, then sex is so much deeper and has so much more significance than most people give it credit.

Why is marital infidelity considered to be such a serious offense? Why is sexual abuse thought to be so heinous? Why is rape considered to be one of the vilest offenses one can commit, perhaps even worse than murder? Even atheists would affirm that it is horrible to cheat on a spouse, and vile to sexually abuse someone, and downright unforgivable to brutally rape someone. One doesn’t have to have faith in or belief in God to see these offenses exist on a whole different level than other offenses.

But why is that? Why wouldn’t they no better or worse than any other offense?

Because sexual offenses are an affront on our very essence as image bearers of God.

When a man cheats on his wife he has not just broken a promise, he has violated the union that makes them both together a complete image of the Creator. When a pedophile sexually abuses a child, he is prematurely violating that which is supposed to ultimately fulfill their image of God, their very reason for existence. When a man brutally rapes a woman he is not just assaulting her body, but is violently assaulting the very essence of her soul that makes her in the image of God.

Sexuality has the ability to affect us at a deep level like nothing else can. It reaches down into our very core and shakes us down to our very essence. Anyone, no matter their faith, can recognize that. Sex isn’t just a physical act between consenting adults, and marriage isn’t just a social or legal contract. Sex is the union of the male and female bodies that completes the image of God that he endowed in us. And marriage is the relationship within which that image was designed to be expressed.

When the nature of our existence as male and female, and the special union that exists between them, is understood as the full and complete expression of our God-image, then many of God’s laws regarding sex and marriage make a lot more sense. They are not simply the rules of a prudish God intent on holding us back from our fun, pleasure or happiness. They are not simply there to be a test of our piety. They are the infinitely wise counsel of a loving Creator who knows that anything which perverts or defiles our likeness to Him will ultimately destroy our souls.

Adultery isn’t just breaking a marriage vow; it severs the relationship that defines our God-image.

Pre-marital sex isn’t just being promiscuous; it shallowly attempts to complete the God-image without the promise of commitment or truly deep intimacy, and in so doing devalues the true expression of God’s likeness.

Pornography, or self-gratification, seeks to find the joy and pleasure of the God-image union, without any actual union with the other half, and therefore leaves a soul feeling empty, hollow and incomplete.

Homosexuality perverts the God-image by trying to make two of the same half form a complete image, but they can’t, the image will always be incomplete.

Transgenderism not only perverts, but outright denies and seeks to destroy the very characteristic of one’s self that God created to display His image.

Divorce isn’t just a tragedy of lost love or the destruction of a family; it is an outright lie about the nature of God, displaying an image of a God whose union can be severed. In some cases (serial infidelity, or abuse) divorce or separation may be necessary to protect one’s self or one’s family, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic as the disintegration of what is supposed to be the most full image of God that we know.

Any sexual act or behavior, outside of the God-defined marriage between one man, and one woman, committed to each other for life, is a perversion of the God image. And when we commit them we spit on God, and the image of Himself that He imprinted on us. It insults God, and destroys us.

I’m not saying that anyone who commits any of the above sins is no longer made in the image of God. They have not lost their worth, or beauty, or dignity as image bearers of God. They still deserve our love and compassion. God’s forgiveness is still available to them through Jesus Christ if they confess their sins, repent and turn to Him. But without repentance they will continue to deny or defile their God-image, and in so doing continue to break God’s heart, and continue on their path toward self-destruction.

It’s time for us to remember what God made sex and marriage for. It’s time for us to treat it with the respect, and reverence it deserves. It’s time for us to put ourselves in Adam’s shoes and remember the lesson that God taught him by forcing him to see how empty and lonely he was without the other half to complete his God-image. We need to realize how precious our spouses are, and see them for what they truly are. We need to look at them and proclaim, “This is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh!” which really means, “Finally, you are the one who completes me!”

Next Post: Genesis 2:25 – 3:24 – The Fall of Man, the Rise of Shame

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What did you really mean when you said “I do”?

Wedding season is upon us, and though I’m starting to get past the age where all my friends are getting married, there are still a few weddings on the calendar that I will be attending this year. It doesn’t fail that each year there is at least one wedding where one of the scripture readings is from the well-known “Love Passage” from 1 Corinthians 13. Hearing this at weddings kind of annoys me a little bit, for two reasons.

First, that passage isn’t really talking about marriage or marital love specifically. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I feel it is an inappropriate passage to hear at a wedding, in fact it was an integral part of my brother’s wedding vow, and it was one of the most beautiful wedding vows I’ve ever heard. Everything it says certainly applies to marriage. It’s just that it should also be applied to just about every other aspect of our lives as well. It’s a general definition of what love is that ought to be applied to all of our relationships. If you actually read the whole chapter, the Apostle Paul’s entire point is that love ought to be the driving force behind everything we do. Everything! If it isn’t, then you’ve accomplished nothing. This passage therefore has enormous meaning both in and out of marriage. I guess what gets to me is that you almost never hear this passage referenced outside of the context of a wedding. So it’s not so much that I disapprove of it being in a wedding, but it just highlights its absence in just about every other aspect of our existence.

Second, and more importantly, it kind of annoys me when the passage is read at weddings because I don’t believe most couples on their wedding day realize the seriousness of those words, and what it actually means about the vows they are making. They read the passage because it sounds nice and poetic. I mean, what sounds nicer at a wedding than a treatise about love. Love, Love, Love, isn’t love wonderful? But if only people would really listen to what the Apostle is saying about love. If only brides and grooms would stop and think about what it means for them to love the person before them, specially, above all other people, for the rest of their natural life. It would radically alter their perspective of what it is they are actually vowing before their friends, their family, their new spouse, and most importantly, before God.

What do most people promise when they get married? Traditional marriage vows go something like, “I take thee to be my wedded wife/husband, to love, honor and cherish, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”That vow has a lot of stuff packed into, and pages could be written on each item. But let’s focus on the first item, Love. If you can get that part right, the rest will naturally follow. Unfortunately, I feel that is the one that people don’t really understand.

Love! What does it mean when people vow to love each other for the rest of their lives? Does it mean that they promise to always have a deep feeling of affection and attraction for that person? That pit of your stomach longing to be with the person you desire? The butterflies in your stomach when you see her in that beautiful red dress and you can’t get over how drop dead gorgeous she is? That kind of Love? I think that’s how lot of people understand the term. They think it is about how they feel towards their spouse. When they promise to “Love” their spouse, they think they are promising to forever be “In Love” with their spouse. The problem with that, is that being, “In Love” is simply an emotion, and emotions are fickle things.

Let’s be honest, do you actually want to always feel the same about your spouse as you did when you proposed (or were proposed to)? That nervous/excited/scared/exhilarated feeling might have been pretty awesome, but it would be absolutely exhausting if you had to persist with that feeling for 30, 40, or 50 years, or even longer. There’s no way you could possibly sustain that, and of course, nobody does.

And that’s when people get disillusioned about their marriage. A few years into it they start to realize, “Gasp! I don’t love him like I did when we were dating!” or “Why doesn’t she get me as excited as she did when we first got married?” And they start to think that something is wrong with them and their marriage. The vowed they would always be “in love” and they just don’t feel like that anymore. Their marriage vow to “Love each other until death” didn’t magically make them go the distance.

If only they paid closer attention when the words from the Apostle Paul were being read, because he was actually defining what real love is (from verses 4-7, NIV):

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Funny, it doesn’t saying anything about butterflies, nothing about a deep longing to be with and hold and never be parted from. There’s really nothing about emotion at all. That’s because Love, true Love that is, is not a feeling. Love is not how you feel about someone. Love is how you treat someone. Love is what you do for someone. When you get married and you promise to love them for the rest of your life you are promising to show them love. You are promising to be patient with them, to be kind to them. You are promising to not boast, or be prideful. When you realize that, all of the sudden this whole marriage thing seems a lot different than you thought. It’s not about feeling a certain feeling. It’s about showing them love no matter how you feel about them.

In reality, most marriage vows have been broken long before the adultery, long before the separation, long before signing the divorce papers. Most marriage vows are broken when the first conflict yields its ugly head. As the harsh words start to fly, there is little patience, little kindness. Every word seeps with prideful indignation and with every spat anger creeps in easier and easier, and the records of past failures are often brought to bear. Just about everything in a lot of marital disputes goes against every aspect of what the Apostle Paul tells us what love is. There may not be any infidelity, there may not be any threats of divorce, but the marriage vow has been broken. Both partners have failed to love.

Maybe you think I’m being a bit dramatic, just because you have an argument doesn’t mean that you’ve broken your marriage vows, right? People say all kinds of things they don’t really mean in the heat of the moment. But what is the marriage vow for? When everybody is happy and everything is just peachy? There’s no need for a solemn vow before God if everything was so great all the time. The whole point of the marriage vow is for the times when you are in conflict, the whole point is to make sure that you still show each other love, even in the moments when your feelings are anything but loving.

Now, I’m not saying that the feeling of love isn’t important in a marriage. I’m just saying that the feeling is not part of the vow. But here’s the critical thing, if both partners in a marriage treat each other with real Love, the feeling of love will naturally follow. I mean, how easy is it to feel a deep affectionate love for someone who is always patient with you, always kind to you, always puts your needs above their own. What if even in the midst of a conflict or disagreement you were not prideful, held back your anger, always trusted, always hoped, and always persevered towards finding your marital intimacy again? That’s the beautiful thing about true Love. Showing true love, brings about feeling of love.

This isn’t necessarily an easy answer to martial success. The standard for Love is pretty high. It’s why getting married is such a monumental decision that comes with a truly awesome responsibility. And chances are nobody is going to live up to it perfectly all of the time. Both of you will likely mess up from time to time. But that’s okay, love keeps no record of wrong, and love always hopes. Even if you’ve been failing pretty miserable thus far, it’s never too late to start to be loving, even if you don’t feel that much love anymore.

This summer I’ll be celebrating 4 years with my beautiful bride (please, no applause is necessary). I know we aren’t close to setting any marriage records, and by many standards we are still newlyweds, but if anyone were to ask me my advice for how to have a successful marriage it would be this, “Everyday, do at least one thing for your spouse, with no thought of what you would get in return.” It could be something as simple as sweeping the floor, changing that baby’s poopy diaper, or just getting her a cup of ice water when she’s thirsty. It’s not important what you do, what’s important is that in that moment you don’t care what she does for you, but all you care about is what you can do for her, and that’s what love is about, forgoing the self for the sake of someone else. That one gesture won’t necessarily move mountains. But having that attitude every day can make the next fifty years be truly amazing.