Tuesday, December 31, 2019

In The beginning. Day 95, God Asks Abraham To Sacrifice Isaac, Part Four

Today we'll be concluding this portion of Scripture. When we closed on Sunday, Isaac was asking his father where the lamb was for the burnt sacrifice. Abraham replied, "God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."

This is where we pick up today. "And the two of them went on together. When they had reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood." (Genesis 22:8b-9)

As a child, whenever I'd see this story in an illustrated Bible book, I'd look at it from Isaac's perspective. I'd wonder whether he was terrified of his father in this moment and whether he resisted being bound. I'd wonder whether this experience traumatized him for life. Some scholars suggest that Isaac understood what was coming and that he was willing to do what the Lord said, because in the original text the verse that's rendered as "the two of them went on together" is literally "the two of them were in agreement". If it's true that Isaac must have at least a teenager by now, I believe he could have resisted successfully if he'd wanted to. His father is well over one hundred years old, whereas he is young and strong and fast. He very well could have overpowered his father or simply run away if he didn't want to take part in what's happening here, but the Bible indicates he did none of these things. He apparently allowed himself to be bound and placed on the altar. If you want to do a Google search about whether Isaac was a willing sacrifice, you'll find a lot of articles to back up this theory. We can't say for certain what was going through his mind or whether he was as submissive to God as his father was, but it would seem that he's being obedient to both his earthly father and to his heavenly Father on Mount Moriah.

Abraham is going to go through with what the Lord asked him to do. "Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son." (Genesis 22:10) I can't even imagine how he finds the strength to do this, even though he fully expects the Lord to raise his son from the dead. If I were Isaac's parent, I wouldn't want to cause him a single second of discomfort or distress, no matter what the Lord said. I simply don't think I'd have this kind of faith, and I'm not even a parent. Those of you who are parents no doubt find this scene difficult or impossible to imagine, but as we studied earlier in Genesis 22, what Abraham is doing is not a foreign thing in the region where he lives. Child sacrifice, sadly, was practiced by some of the tribes of the land he inhabits. In those cases, the children are being sacrificed to gods who don't exist. In those cases, the children remain dead. I think what keeps Abraham going, besides the strength the Holy Spirit provides to him, is that he knows he serves the one and only living God and that this God who created all things is going to immediately breathe life back into Isaac and raise him up.

But the Lord has no intention of allowing Abraham to do anything to Isaac. The test was for Abraham to see whether he trusted the Lord with anything and everything. Now, for the rest of Abraham's life, he will know there is nothing he will refuse the Lord. Isaac will be a man of faith because of his father's example and because of the way the Lord rescues him today. We go through things in life that we'd avoid if at all possible, but when we look back on them, can't we see that the Lord increased our faith through them? There have been things I would have avoided at all costs. There are things I wish weren't a part of my history. But the Lord used them to teach me things about Himself and about myself that I could never have learned any other way. "But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, 'Abraham! Abraham!' 'Here I am,' he replied. 'Do not lay a hand on the boy,' He said. 'Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son.'" (Genesis 22:11-12) Remember when we talked about "the angel of the Lord" being a title for the pre-incarnate Christ? This is the voice of Christ===the Word of God===calling to Abraham from heaven. The One who is going to be the Lamb provided by God stops Abraham from making an offering of atonement out of his son, for this One is going to make Himself the atonement offering for all mankind.

Until the Lamb of God comes to take away the sins of the world, God provides a temporary sacrifice of atonement for Abraham to offer. "Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, 'On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.'" (Genesis 22:13-14) This is another instance in the Bible of someone giving a new name to God. Here we find Abraham calling Him, in Hebrew, Jehovah Jireh. By the time Moses writes the book of Genesis, this spot on Mount Moriah is still known as the place where the Lord provided a sacrifice. It was known prophetically as the place where the Lord will provide a sacrifice. And so it came to pass in Old Testament times when Jerusalem's temple was built in this very spot and sacrifices to the Lord were made there for the atonement of sins. And so it came to pass in the New Testament when God made His own Son a sacrifice at Jerusalem for the sins of the human race. The Lord has indeed provided the Lamb for the sacrifice, just as He promised.

"The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, 'I swear by Myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me.'" (Genesis 22:15-18) The word rendered here as "offspring" is "seed", meaning one particular descendant. The Apostle Paul points out in Galatians 3:16 that God wasn't speaking of "seeds" as in many, but was speaking of only one person. And it's not Isaac. It's Christ. It's Christ through whom all nations on earth are blessed. It's Christ who gave Himself for all and it's Christ who invites all to come to Him. Isaac did not redeem his people or the nations of the world; One from among his descendants many centuries later did, and that One was Christ.

Abraham previously told his servants that both he and Isaac would return to them after worshiping the Lord, and this is exactly what happens. "Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba." (Genesis 22:19)

Sunday, December 29, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 94, God Asks Abraham To Sacrifice Isaac, Part Three

Before we move on in Chapter 22, there is one more thing we need to look at from God's instructions in verse 2. He tells Abraham to go to the region of Moriah. Why is this significant?

The Lord told King David that Mount Moriah in Jerusalem was the place that He had chosen for His temple. This was the place where He would accept offerings and sacrifices from His people Israel. Though the Lord does not intend for Abraham to go through with sacrificing Isaac at this location which will later become Jerusalem, hundreds of thousands or perhaps even millions of substitutionary sacrifices (animal sacrifices) were made at this site from about 516 BC until 70 AD. The perfect and eternal substitutionary sacrifice was made here when the Lord Jesus Christ gave His life on the cross at Jerusalem. The significance of Mount Moriah is that it is where the Lord will do the thing He has asked Abraham to do: offer up his one and only son whom he loves. But in contrast to what happens with Abraham and Isaac on this site, the Lord will endure what He will keep Abraham from having to experience.

Abraham has walked with the Lord for enough years now that he obeys Him at the first opportunity. After the Lord makes His request, Abraham sets about obeying Him at morning light. "Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance." (Genesis 22:3-4) Abraham has three days in which to struggle with what he's been asked to do. He has three days in which to become overwhelmed with doubts and turn back. But he doesn't. As we discussed yesterday, he doesn't expect to be returning home from this adventure without his son. He's expecting to see a miracle. He believes that the Lord will raise Isaac from the dead and that the two of them, along with the two servants, will return home together.

When they reach the spot he leaves the servants at a distance behind him. "He said to his servants, 'Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.'" (Genesis 22:5) Abraham's word hasn't always been trustworthy in the past, but he's not lying to these men. He's not assuring him that both he and Isaac will come back just so the servants won't suspect anything is amiss. He's fully persuaded that he will have his son with him when he returns.

"Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, 'Father?' 'Yes, my son?' Abraham replied. 'The fire and wood are here, 'Isaac said, 'but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?'" (Genesis 22:6-7) Abraham ties the stack of wood together with cords and then ties the stack to his son in a backpack fashion. This is the safest and most practical way to carry the load and to allow Isaac's hands to remain free as they climb upwards. As we said the other day, we can't be sure how old Isaac is at this time, but he's old enough to know exactly how a burnt offering is to be made. He takes inventory of what they're carrying with them and realizes they are missing the most important part: the lamb. Without the lamb a burnt offering (an offering of complete submission and surrender to God and an offering of atonement) can't be made. Without the lamb as a substitute for the shed blood of man, atonement for sin can't be accessed. Without the lamb, Abraham and Isaac would be doing nothing more than building a campfire on a mountain. They would not be submitting anything to God, or worshiping God, or receiving anything from God.

Abraham answers his son's question with a statement that thrills my soul. "Abraham answered, 'God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.'" (Genesis 22:8a) Amen! God will indeed provide the Lamb, and on a day hundreds of years after the death of Abraham, a man named John will look up from his work of baptizing repentant sinners at the Jordan River and will see the promised Lamb approaching and will exclaim to the crowd, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29b)

We can learn a lot by what Isaac asks his father in our passage today. Isaac knows that he and his father are accomplishing nothing by going up on the mountain if there is no lamb involved. They might as well have stayed home. Friends, if we don't have the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives, what are we accomplishing? If we don't love Him, and if we don't recognize Him as the Lord of our lives, we might as well stay home from religious services. The Lord doesn't want us merely going through the motions by doing and saying all the right things on the outside while our hearts are far from Him on the inside. This is a thing He criticized the people of Israel for in the Bible, when time and time again they'd fall out of closeness with Him and run after false gods and worldly pleasures. We don't want to be the people who sit on a church pew this Sunday morning without the Lamb. We don't want to be the people who talk the talk in our communities and in our jobs while we are not walking the walk with the Lamb. We can perform all the religious rituals we want, and we can do all the good deeds we want, but without the Lamb in our lives we aren't pleasing the Lord and we aren't accomplishing anything of eternal significance. We can't earn salvation through good works. We must accept salvation from the Lamb whom the Lord provided. Isaac, who is not old enough yet to be considered a young man, easily understands this, so he asks his father, "Where is the lamb?"

If the Lamb is not as dear to you as He once was, there's no better time than today to draw closer to Him, for we are promised, "Come near to God and He will come near to you." (James 4:8a) If the Lamb has never been a part of your life, there's no better time than right now to make Him your Lord and Redeemer.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 93, God Asks Abraham To Sacrifice Isaac, Day Two

In Genesis 22 the Lord asks Abraham to offer Isaac to Him as a "burnt offering". In the original Hebrew, the word translated into English as "burnt offering" simply means "to ascend" or "to go up in smoke". The Lord is not asking Abraham to burn his son alive, as this is not how burnt offerings were done. A sacrificial animal would be killed instantly by a swift slice across the jugular using a specially designed sharp knife, then afterwards it would be placed on the altar to be burned. The symbolism of the burnt offering was a complete giving up of whatever was being offered to the Lord. Some types of offering allowed the bringer of it to retain most of the meat to take home and eat with his family, but in the burnt offering nothing could be held back. So symbolically the Lord is asking Abraham, "Will you trust Me with your one and only son, the son whom you love, the son whom you waited for all these long years, the son I miraculously gave to you? Are you willing to submit your life and everyone and everything in it to Me, holding nothing back?"

Abraham is willing, but it's important for us to understand that Abraham fully expects the Lord to bring Isaac back to life immediately afterward. We know this because of what the Apostle Paul tells us in Hebrews 11:17-19: "By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.' Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.'"

The Lord promised Abraham descendants through his son Isaac. He promised that Isaac's descendants would become a great nation. How could the Lord keep His promise if Isaac died and remained dead? He couldn't, so Abraham "reasoned" that after he offered Isaac to the Lord, the Lord would raise him from the dead.

Was it difficult for Abraham to imagine the Lord resurrecting a dead body that had been burned to ashes? In his mind I think he "reasoned" that the God who enabled a man and a woman (one hundred years old and ninety years old, respectively) to conceive a child together is able also to raise the dead. Abraham believed what you and I believe: that God is going to raise us from the dead someday, no matter what condition our mortal bodies are in on the day He calls the dead to life. The prophet Isaiah foresaw the day in which Almighty God will call the dead from the graves and raise them to life anew, saying, "But Your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise---let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy." (Isaiah 19a) It's true that we were created from the dust and to the dust we shall return. (Genesis 3:19) But it's also true that the God who created us from the dust of the ground will raise us from the dead, just as He raised His own Son from the dead. Abraham believed in the resurrection of the dead---both an eternal resurrection at the end of days and a resurrection of his son to life after he had offered his son to the Lord. Isaac, like the other people raised from the dead in the Bible with the exception of the Lord Jesus, would have had to face a natural death someday. I don't think Abraham thought Isaac's return to life in Genesis 22 was going to be eternal, but he did believe the Lord was going to allow Isaac to live what was a normal lifespan in those days.

When Abraham goes up onto Mount Moriah with Isaac to carry out the Lord's instructions, he will say to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you." (Genesis 22:5) He means what he says. Abraham intends to offer his son to the Lord, but he also intends to return with his son alive and well. He can't allow his servants to accompany him to the place of sacrifice for fear they will think he has lost his mind and prevent him from carrying out the Lord's instructions, so he tells him to remain at a distance. He leaves with Isaac and has no doubt that he will be returning with Isaac. There is no other way this day can turn out, for the Lord has promised that Isaac will have more descendants than the grains of sand on the seashore, and the Lord keeps His promises.

Friday, December 27, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 92, God Asks Abraham To Sacrifice Isaac, Part One

In Chapter 22 the Lord asks Abraham to give up what means the most to him: his son. As we study this passage there are several things we should fix in our minds from the outset.

1. The test is for the student, not for the teacher. The Lord doesn't test Abraham to see what he will do. He knows Abraham's faith is strong enough to obey His request. It's Abraham who needs to know how strong his faith is.

2. The Lord never intends for Abraham to actually go through with sacrificing his son.

3. The request is not bizarre and shocking to Abraham in the way it is to us. There were tribes living around him who practiced child sacrifice in their pagan religions. Abraham isn't ignorant of this fact, though I'm sure he's grieved by the knowledge that people are offering their children to gods who do not exist. As grieved as he will feel the request the Lord makes of him, at least he knows that the God he worships is real.

4. The death is not expected to be permanent. Abraham believes the Lord is going to immediately resurrect Isaac right after the transaction has been completed.

When we closed Chapter 21 yesterday we were told that Abraham lived in the land of the Philistines "for a long time". We don't know how many years have passed or how old Isaac is by now. In some illustrated Bible story books we see Isaac depicted as a child in Chapter 22 but most reputable scholars feel he is in his early to mid teens by the time we arrive at Chapter 22. As we move through this chapter we will see that Isaac is aware of what is needed to make an offering to the Lord and we will find him questioning his father about the missing item. So he is not a small child like he was when we last talked about him in Chapter 21.

After Abraham lived among the Philistines "for a long time", the Bible goes on to say, "Some time later God tested Abraham." (Genesis 22:1) At times Abraham has had an enormous amount of faith and at other times he has failed to trust God and has gotten ahead of God. But couldn't we say the same things of ourselves? There have been times when we've believed without a shadow of a doubt what our God has said to us. At other times we've been overwhelmed with anxiety to the point of not trusting Him or by getting out in front of Him. If someone wrote the story of my life you'd find me standing firm and unshakable on some days and wallowing in doubts and fears on other days. That's human nature, but as we develop a closer and closer relationship with our Lord through the years, the days of doubt should become fewer and fewer while the days of confidence grow more plentiful. I think that's what has happened to Abraham. When we reach Chapter 22, Abraham's days of doubt have become few and his days of faith are in the majority. It's at this point that the Lord makes a request that Abraham could not have obeyed earlier in his life.

"He said to him, 'Abraham!' 'Here I am,' he replied." (Genesis 22:2b) Abraham knows the voice of his God. The Lord doesn't have to keep calling to him over and over. The Lord doesn't have to convince him by some sort of sign that it's actually Him who is speaking to Abraham. He simply says Abraham's name and Abraham answers immediately.

"Then God said, 'Take your son, your only son, whom you love---Isaac---and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on the mountain I will show you.'" (Genesis 22:2) I am sure this is not what Abraham expected to hear. It's certainly not something he wanted to hear.

Though Abraham has another son, Ishmael is now not really in his life anymore. He is living in a different region and is a grown man, is a husband and a father, and is making his own way in the world. Isaac is the son of the promise and Isaac is the legal heir. For all intents and purposes, Isaac is now Abraham's only son. Abraham loves Isaac with all his heart. Through Isaac the family line will live on, and a great nation will come from his descendants, and the Redeemer will be born from this nation. When Abraham looks at his son, he sees a glorious future. How can he be expected to give up his son, even when the Creator of all things is the One making the request?

It's important for us to stop here and note that God isn't asking Abraham to do anything He isn't going to do Himself. You and I know the story of Abraham and Isaac, and we already know that God is not going to allow Abraham to sacrifice his son, but we also know that God is going to give up His one and only Son whom He loves. God will spare Abraham from carrying out this heartbreaking deed, but He will not spare Himself such heartbreak. God will suffer the unthinkable pain of watching His own Son die. Those of you who are parents would put a stop to it if you could when your child is hurt or sick. God will have the power to prevent His Son from dying but He will not prevent it. Can you imagine how difficult this must be? God will endure the agony of watching His Son perish because stepping in to put a stop to it would mean the condemnation of the eternal souls of the entire human race. The Lord, in the New Testament, is going to put our needs above His own feelings. He is going to endure whatever He must in order to offer us eternal salvation. No matter how much it costs Him, He will pay any price to be able to offer us the opportunity to dwell with Him forever. He does this because---as a good father should---He loves us more than He loves Himself.

Join us tomorrow as we discuss what a burnt offering is and when we talk about the significance of the location where the offering is to be made.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 91, Abraham And King Abimelek Make A Treaty With Each Other/Friendship Restored

An ancient treaty may not sound like a very exciting subject to study on Christmas Day, but the fact that King Abimelek would be willing to make any type of treaty with Abraham is astonishing, since King Abimelek is the man Abraham formerly lied to about Sarah not being his wife. This caused the king to feel like a fool for trying to make Sarah into his own wife, plus it made Abimelek very frightened for himself and for his country because he didn't want to get on the wrong side of the God who already destroyed two neighboring cities for their wickedness. What I feel like we need to keep in mind as we read our passage today is that God is able to restore relationships, even when it appears that they are beyond repair. Maybe you've had a falling-out with a family member, friend, neighbor, or co-worker. It may appear as if this relationship can never be repaired, and that might be true if God were left out of the equation, but all things are possible with Him. In today's passage He repairs the relationship between Abraham and the king.

"At that time Abimelek and Philcol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, 'God is with you in everything you do. Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you now reside as a foreigner the same kindness I have shown to you.'" (Genesis 21:22-23) When Abimelek found out Abraham had deceived him, he had the right to kick Abraham out of Gerar just like Pharaoh kicked Abraham out of Egypt for telling the same lie about Sarah there. But instead Abimelek lavished Abraham with gifts and invited Abraham to live wherever he pleased in Gerar. Since that time Abraham has lived among the citizens of Gerar. In our passage today Abimelek wants Abraham's promise that he and all his descendants will continue to live peacefully with the people of Gerar. It could be that King Abimelek is becoming elderly and is concerned about what will happen after he passes on, so he wants Abraham's word that no conflicts will arise. Abraham's word didn't mean much in the past, but Abimelek knows that Abraham's God is a powerful promise keeper. If Abraham makes a peace treaty in the name of his God, God will see to it that the treaty is kept.

Abraham is willing to make the treaty, and since this opportunity has presented itself he brings up something that's been bothering him. "Abraham said, 'I swear it.' Then Abraham complained to Abimelek about a well of water that Abimelek's servants had seized. But Abimelek said, 'I don't know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.'" (Genesis 21:24-26) Abraham has never brought this matter up before because he doesn't want to stir up any trouble. He's already caused enough trouble for Abimelek and he is reluctant to bring the matter of the well to the king's attention. If the king had not come to him asking for a peace treaty, I think Abraham would have kept silent about the well, but the request of the peace treaty provided him with a good opportunity to mention it. The king's reply was something like this: "I'm sorry that some of my servants seized your well. They weren't doing it on my orders and I wasn't aware of it til today. If you had told me about this as soon as it happened I would have taken care of the problem immediately. I will see to it that they release your well to you right away."

This meeting has gone wonderfully. Though these two men have been living peacefully in the same country, they've felt uncomfortable with each other. They probably haven't spoken with each other since the day Abimelek released Sarah back into Abraham's care and announced before a large crowd that he had not touched her and that she had not tried to be unfaithful to her husband. On that day he gave Abraham permission to remain within his country's borders and he gave gifts to Abraham before Abraham departed from his presence. I tend to think Abraham may have settled as far from Abimelek's palace as he could while still being in the same country, just so they wouldn't run into each other. Years have passed and it may have seemed to each of them that they would never be friends. But God specializes in resurrection and is able to resurrect relationships that seem to be so dead that no miracle could ever revive them.

The treaty between Abraham and Abimelek ought to give us hope about broken relationships in our own lives. These relationships may end up being restored somewhere down the line and we mustn't become discouraged if it seems like it's taking a very long time. A rift can be so deep and so wide that God needs a long time in which to soften the hearts of those who are involved. Sometimes a person wants to keep holding on to anger and hurt, and it takes time for the Lord to bring them around to feeling like they want to reconcile. Maybe you are the person who is angry and hurt. Or maybe you are the person who made someone else angry and hurt. It could be that you've tried to apologize and make things right but the other person doesn't want to listen or let you back into their life. If that's the case, all you can do is keep praying about it and let God work on their heart. If anyone can fix things, God can. And if the other person resists all His efforts to change their minds, then He's able to make you feel at peace with that. When you've done all you can do, and when that person has refused to listen to the Lord and let Him heal what needs to be healed, the Lord can help you to let the matter go and be okay. And if you're the person who has been holding onto resentment and refusing to let the Lord soften your heart toward someone who wants to make things right with you, then there's no better time than the present to let the Lord have His way in the matter. You'll feel so much better when you allow Him to help you make peace with the other person. It will feel like a heavy load has been lifted off your shoulders.

"So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelek, and the two men made a treaty. Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock, and Abimelek asked Abraham, 'What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?' He replied, 'Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.' So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there." (Genesis 21:27-31) The name "Beersheba" means "well of the oath" or "well of the seven". It was a custom in ancient times to give gifts to seal a deal. Previously in Genesis, when Abimelek declared Sarah as virtuous as the day she came into his household, and when he offered any dwelling place in his country to Abraham, Abimelek showered Abraham with gifts. On the day of the treaty, Abraham showers Abimilek with sheep and cattle. Plus he offers him an additional seven ewe lambs, the acceptance of which means Abimelek acknowledges that the well was dug by Abraham and belongs only to Abraham.

"After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelek and Philcol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time." (Genesis 21:32-34) A tamarisk tree takes a long time to grow large enough to provide shelter and shade. Abraham is making a statement of faith to the "Eternal God" when he plants this tree, for it won't reach maturity in his lifetime. His descendants also won't possess the land in his lifetime. He's planting this tree in faith, believing that the Eternal God keeps His promises, and that someday when his descendants occupy the land as God has said they will, this tree will provide shelter from the sun for them. I like to think that when Abraham finishes patting the soil in place around this newly-planted tree, he thanks the Lord for everything He's already done and for everything He's going to do.

God has done great things for us, hasn't He? He's brought us this far safely. He's shown us mercy we don't deserve and He's granted us forgiveness we couldn't earn. What great blessings might He have in store for us in the future? With that in mind, let's have a thankful spirit today and praise Him not only for what He's already done, but for what He's going to do.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 90, Abraham Sends Hagar And Ishmael Away

Sarah no longer wants Ishmael and his mother Hagar to be part of the family. She insists that Abraham send them away now that she and Abraham have their own son together. While Abraham was struggling with the distress Sarah's request caused him, the Lord told Abraham to do as she said. He promised Abraham that He would personally watch over and protect Ishmael and see to it that he and his descendants prosper.

We've already talked several times about the custom of Abraham's day in which a childless married couple could use one of their slave women as a surrogate mother in order to obtain a son and heir. Today we learn, from commentaries on the subject, that it was also the custom that if a man decided to disinherit a son he fathered by his slave woman, he had to give both the woman and the son their freedom papers. He no longer owned either of them or had any rights over either of them. They would be free to go wherever they pleased and do whatever they wanted to do. However, their previous owner was not obligated to provide them with anything more than enough food and water to sustain them til they reached the nearest town. Freedom was considered the greatest gift that could be bestowed upon anyone, and I don't think Abraham is being deliberately stingy when he sends Hagar and Ishmael out into the world in our passage today with mostly just the clothes on their backs and a little food and water. If he'd supplied them with much more, such as enough money to live on for several years or enough possessions with which to set up housekeeping, a naive newly-freed woman and a teenage boy could easily have been taken advantage of along the way or even robbed and killed.

After the Lord tells Abraham to go ahead and send them away, the Bible says: "Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba." (Genesis 21:14) Some scholars believe she got lost on the way to wherever she intended to go. Other scholars suggest she's waiting in the wilderness for instructions from God. After all, He came to meet her in the desert before in Genesis 16. This woman has no experience living "on the outside" so to speak. Because she's been a slave her whole life, she's always been told what to do and when and how to do it. Her room and board have been provided for her. Her life has been as highly regimented as the life of someone who has spent the last twenty-five to thirty years in prison. She's not used to making decisions for herself and she doesn't know how to begin. It could be that she wanders in the desert looking for the God who previously came looking for her.

While she wanders, she runs out of food and water. She and her son are beginning to suffer the effects of dehydration. Ishmael appears to be succumbing to dehydration quicker than his mother. He's become faint and is too weak to continue on. "When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, 'I cannot watch the boy die.' And as she sat there, she began to sob." (Genesis 21:15-16) She settles Ishmael under the only shade she can find, which is the sparse shade thrown on the desert floor by a shrub. Heartbroken and unable to stand the thought of witnessing the death of her child, she walks away and begins to cry helplessly.

It's at this point that the Lord shows up. Why did He allow the situation to become so dire before He made an appearance? I think maybe it's because Hagar and Ishmael are going to need to know in the future that He is their true source of provision and protection. Sometimes the Lord allows our situations to deteriorate so we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that when things turn around, they have been turned around by Him and not by anyone or anything else. There have been a few times in my own life when nothing any human being could do was going to turn things around. I was down to nothing. Sometimes I was down to nothing financially. Other times I had nothing left to give emotionally or spiritually or mentally or physically. On the surface it might seem stingy of the Lord to let us get to that point before stepping in, but it's the mercy of the Lord that causes Him to do this. He does it to strengthen our faith, because for the rest of our lives we are going to know for certain that a miracle took place. If Hagar hadn't gotten lost on her journey, or if she hadn't run out of food and water before reaching a place of refreshment, or if she and Ishmael made it quickly and safely to the nearest town and immediately found gainful employment and a place to stay, would they have given the Lord credit for any of that? Or would they have thought they were "lucky" or that things turned out well because of their own intelligence and hard work? When the Lord helps them in the desert in their hour of desperation, they are going to credit Him with their survival, and this is something that's going to help them through the rest of their lives. From now on, their first instinct will be to turn to the Lord when they need help.

"God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, 'What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.'" (Genesis 21:17-18) Both Hagar and Ishmael are crying now. In Genesis 16 the Lord made Hagar a promise that a great nation would come from her son's family line. Today He reminds her of that promise, saying something like, "I haven't forgotten what I said to you. Did you think I wouldn't hear the cries of your son from whom I promised to make a great nation? I do hear him, and I am going to help both of you."

"Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink." (Genesis 21:19) The well was already there, but Hagar was crying so bitterly she didn't even see it. She gave in to defeat before taking the few steps further that would have allowed her to see the well clearly. She never would have seen it if the Lord hadn't pointed it out. Thanks be to the God who so often steps in and redirects us when---through our own lack of faith---we are about to miss a great blessing. When the Lord reminds Hagar of His promise to give her son more descendants than any man can count, He's basically asking her the same thing the Lord Jesus will ask His disciples, "Why did you doubt, you of little faith?"

When God makes us a promise, we can count on it. Our Lord is a rock firm enough upon which to stand forever. He keeps His promise to Hagar. "God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt." (Genesis 12:20-21) The Bible will later tell us that Ishmael fathers twelve sons who become the leaders of twelve tribes, and we can safely assume Ishmael fathered many daughters as well. The Lord will provide for and protect Ishmael all the days of his life and he will die at the ripe old age of a hundred and thirty-seven.

Monday, December 23, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 89, Trouble In The Home

Some of Abraham's chickens come home to roost today, as the saying goes. He made some mistakes earlier in Genesis that are about to boomerang back onto him. He lied about Sarah's identity to Pharoah when they went to Egypt, causing Pharoah to lavish him with gifts in order to obtain Sarah's hand in marriage. One of those gifts was an Egyptian slave girl named Hagar. This is the same Hagar who was later used as a surrogate mother by Sarah and Abraham. In our passage today, Hagar's son Ishmael becomes the fly in the ointment of Sarah's happy new life as a mother, and she decides she wants Hagar and Ishmael gone.

We begin with a celebration being thrown for Isaac, the son of Sarah and Abraham. "The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast." (Genesis 21:8) In those days it was typical for a mother to nurse a child until the age of three while at the same time gradually introducing more and more solid foods until the child's diet consisted entirely of solid foods. I don't know whether it was a custom to throw a party on that day or whether Abraham simply wanted to celebrate this milestone in his child's life. But he and his wife call all their friends and neighbors to a huge party for their son.

"But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, 'Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.'" (Genesis 21:9-10) Ishmael is at least sixteen years old by this time, because the Bible told us in Chapter 17 he was thirteen and that was before Isaac was ever born. I think it's possible Ishmael is already seventeen or maybe almost eighteen. He was almost at the age to be considered a grown man and to start being trained by his father about how to manage the estate.

We don't know exactly who or what Ishmael was mocking. I don't know whether he was making fun of Isaac or whether he was displaying a disrespectful attitude toward Abraham and Sarah or whether he was just being a typical teen who thought having to attend a party for a small child was boring and "lame". Some scholars believe Ishmael was jealous of Isaac, because until Isaac was born Ishmael was the only child and the heir apparent of Abraham's estate. He may have felt pushed aside in favor of the young child. It could be that Ishmael sees the handwriting on the wall on the day Abraham throws this lavish party for Isaac. Perhaps Abraham has never thrown a party for Ishmael, and it's at this point that Ishmael realizes Isaac is being presented to the community as Abraham's favorite son and chosen heir.

As a woman I can understand Sarah's resentment of Hagar and her son, although this situation is Sarah's own fault. It was her idea to adopt a pagan custom in which a barren woman could give a slave woman as a second wife to her husband in order to bring about the birth of a son. The child would belong to the first wife and her husband, since the slave woman also belonged to them, and in this way the couple could provide an heir for themselves. Sarah regretted her decision as soon as she found out Hagar was pregnant and she's regretted her decision ever since. But she's tolerated Hagar and Ishmael. Now though, as she mingles among her guests, looking flushed and happy and proud, she spots Ishmael acting up. She loses her temper. Pulling her husband aside, she whispers angrily to him that he must get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. Up til now she may have made her peace with the idea that Ishmael and Isaac would share their father's estate upon his death, but now she can't stand the thought of Ishmael being in her life for another minute. She wants her son Isaac to inherit everything, not have to share it with the young man who is standing in the corner making fun of the festivities.

Abraham is not happy with this turn of events. "The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son." (Genesis 21:11) I am sure Abraham loves Ishmael. He's concerned for his firstborn son. He doesn't want to do what Sarah is telling him to do, even though he understands where she's coming from. I think in his heart he feels a lot like Sarah does; he wants Ishmael to be his primary heir. But I don't think he ever intended to cut Ishmael out of the inheritance altogether. I think he would have provided amply for Ishmael in his will.

I imagine several days may have passed while Abraham wrestled with this problem. Perhaps he tried to convince Sarah to change her mind. Maybe he tried to talk to Ishmael about changing his attitude. He may have presented various solutions to the problem which no one accepted. But during this time I believe he took the problem to the Lord in prayer because we find the Lord telling him what he should do. "But God said to him, 'Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of a slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.'" (Genesis 21:12-13)

The child of the promise is to be the heir, not the child Abraham obtained by getting ahead of God and trying to fix his problem on his own. The child who was born by miraculous means will be one of the patriarchs of the nation of Israel and will be the ancestor of the Messiah. The son whom Abraham gained by worldly means will not be the one from whose line God's own Son will come. While it may not seem fair to us that God says it's alright for Abraham to cast Ishmael aside as his heir, it was never God's will for Abraham to conceive a child with Hagar in the first place. Ishmael was begotten because Abraham went down a path God never intended him to go down, but the Lord is going to be gracious to Ishmael. Though this young man will never be Abraham's heir, the Lord will watch over him and bless him. He will do great things for him. Naturally Abraham doesn't want to be separated from his son or be unable to personally watch over him, but the Lord promises to be with Ishmael and to watch over him. Those of you who are parents know you can't always be with your children to protect them. I'm sure it must be a comfort to know that the Lord is with them when you can't be, and this is what comforts Abraham in regard to Ishmael.

Join us tomorrow as Abraham regretfully and sadly does what he's been told to do.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 88, A Son For Sarah

The Lord keeps a promise today, and it's interesting to note that although the promise was made directly to Abraham and not to Sarah, it is for Sarah that the Bible says the Lord does what He has promised.

"Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what He had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him." (Genesis 21:1-2) After what happened in Chapter 20, it's about time somebody was gracious to Sarah! Her husband failed to keep his vow to protect her and provide for her every day of his life, instead lying about her relationship to him and causing her to be taken into the harem of the king of Gerar. Abraham has let Sarah down twice now in the same way, and both times the Lord had to step in and rescue her. It's only because of the Lord's protection that Pharaoh of Egypt (Genesis 12) did not officially make her his wife and sleep with her, and that the King of Gerar (Chapter 21) was kept too busy to make the marriage official and consummate it. Once a woman went into a man's harem, she remained there for the rest of her life whether or not he ever got around to actually marrying her and whether or not he ever looked at her again. Although Sarah would have lived in luxury, she would never again have been a free woman, and she'd have basically lived in captivity until the death of the king, at which time his heir would decide what happened to the harem. The heir could take the harem for himself as his own wives or he could give the harem to his friends or to high-ranking officials in his country. Women in a harem had no rights and weren't really any better off than slaves, with the exception of having gourmet foods and fine clothes and opulent surroundings. Imagine how Sarah must have felt on both those occasions when her husband let her down and allowed her to be kept in another man's household.

I think the wording of verse 1 is deliberate. The Lord "was gracious to Sarah" and the Lord did for Sarah "what He had promised". Ah, here is Someone who keeps His promises! Many a woman has been let down by a man who hasn't kept his marriage vows or who hasn't been a good provider or who hasn't protected his wife from things he could have kept her from having to endure. But the Lord never fails to keep a vow or fulfill a promise! We can count on Him when we can't count on anyone else. I've had a lot of people break promises to me during my lifetime, haven't you? It's hurtful and disappointing. It damages our trust in our fellow man, but we don't have to let it damage our trust in the Lord. We can't judge Him by what human beings have done to us. Our God is a promise keeper.

"Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him." (Genesis 21:3) The name "Isaac" means laughter. Abraham laughed in delight and wonder when the Lord promised him a son. Sarah laughed in bitterness and scorn when she overheard the visitors to their home (two angels and the Lord) repeating this promise to Abraham. They each had their own reasons for reacting the way they did. Abraham found the news almost too good to be true, so he laughed in surprised delight. Sarah, after a lifetime of disappointments and of being pitied and talked about, felt like the visitors were making fun of her. She laughed in an angry, scornful way. But this promised son, who has at last appeared, will give them a reason to laugh together with joy. And I don't know if this is so, but maybe the Lord fulfilled the promise at precisely this time in order to mend any rifts in their marriage. The Lord always knew Abraham would let Sarah down twice. The Lord knows everything we will ever do and I believe He plans accordingly. The promised son is going to give them a reason to rejoice together while they raise him, and maybe this is exactly what they needed at this moment in time to allow their marriage to feel fresh and restored.

"When his son was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him." (Genesis 21:4) The Lord gave this command in Chapter 17, when He told Abraham that circumcision would be the sign of the covenant He was making with Abraham and Abraham's descendants.

"Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him." (Genesis 21:5) It has been twenty-five years since God first made the promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah. In our day, in what my church pastor refers to as a "drive-thru culture", we are not used to having to wait very long for anything. We want what we want and we want it now. Even the two-day shipping on our Amazon Prime seems slow to us. We'd love to be able to place an order on the internet and have the delivery person ring our doorbell immediately afterward. We want to pray to the Lord for something and have Him fix our problem right then and there. But God doesn't always operate that way. Yes, I've had him answer prayers while I was still in the middle of praying them. But there have been other times when I've had to wait months or years before situations were resolved. It's hard for us to wait, especially in an era when we're used to instant gratification. It's easy for us to become discouraged or to want to take matters into our own hands and obtain the desires of our hearts in the wrong way. We need to develop more patience by believing that God is going to do what He says He's going to do. We need to learn to wait for Him to do it in the right way and at the right time.

"Sarah said, 'God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.' And she added, 'Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.'" (Genesis 21:6-7) Bless her heart! I'm so happy for her! All her married life she's endured the pitying glances of other women who had no trouble bearing children. In her culture it was a shame for a woman not to be blessed with children. In her culture it was considered the highest calling for a woman to be the mother of sons. She knows people have talked about her and have speculated whether she's a sinner whom God has punished with barrenness. She knows Abraham's friends have shaken their heads and thought, "Poor Abraham! He's been saddled with an infertile wife while our wives have provided us with many sons to carry on our name." Now she laughs not only with joy, but I think also with relief that at last her virtue has been vindicated by the Lord.

She says something like, "The Lord has made certain no one will ever look down on me again! My friends and neighbors bore children in their youth. There's nothing miraculous about a fertile man and a fertile woman producing a child together; it happens every day. But my son was given to me at the age of ninety by a miracle from God. No one can possibly doubt that. Does the Lord do miracles for sinners living in rebellion against Him? No, I don't think He does. Everyone who talked behind my back saying I was being punished for living in disobedience to my God will have to eat their words. All the moms who felt sorry for my barren state will now declare me blessed above all women. All the dads who pitied my husband for marrying a woman who couldn't give him a son will be clapping him on the back and congratulating him for choosing a woman the Lord saw fit to honor with a miracle in her old age. I know people have laughed at me behind my back, but who's laughing now? I am, that's who! I'm laughing in happiness! I'm laughing in praise! I'm laughing because God has defended my honor!"

What miracle are you waiting for? Have you been waiting for a long time? Have people encouraged you to give up because you've been waiting so long? Don't listen to them. During one of the times when I had to wait years for God to work a situation out, someone I had to deal with on a regular basis kept advising me, "You're beating a dead horse. This is never going to change. You need to give up and forget about it." I know this person talked about my situation behind my back; that's how so many other people in my community heard about my problem. I know this person laughed behind my back when I kept waiting for God to move the mountain that was currently smack-dab in the middle of my path. Well, I guess that person had to eat their words when God came through for me. Who's laughing now? It's me, laughing in praise and delight every time I think about the miracle my faithful and powerful God pulled off. So don't listen to people who tell you God is not going to do something big for you. He is God and they are not. He knows what He's going to do and they don't...and very soon He may prove it to them!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 87, The Pagan King Abimelek Scolds Abraham For His Lie

In yesterday's passage the Lord revealed to King Abimelek that Sarah is a married woman. Abimelek had intended to marry her himself. Abraham lied and said she was his sister, so Abimelek took her into his harem until a convenient time to make the marriage legal and consummate it. After the Lord revealed the lie to him in a dream, Abimelek gets up early in the morning to set things straight.

"Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid." (Genesis 20:8) We can safely assume that Abimelek and his people are pagans who likely worship some of the gods of Canaan, but that doesn't mean they don't also fear the God of Abraham. In pagan cultures where more than one god is worshiped, the worshipers are usually willing to accept the existence of gods they haven't already heard about. For example, when the Apostle Paul visited the very pagan city of Athens where statues to various gods stood on practically every street corner, Paul observed an altar upon which was inscribed this dedication: "To The Unknown God". (Acts 17:23) The heathen culture of Athens was so afraid of offending a god they had not heard about that they made an extra altar in the city to appease any god who was not already represented. King Abimelek and his officials are willing to accept the existence of Abraham's God. They've already heard about how this God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of the excessive wickedness of the citizens of those cities. Now this same God has revealed to Abimelek that he has come close to unwittingly committing adultery with Abraham's wife. No wonder he and his officials are so frightened! The God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and everyone who lived there could just as easily destroy them if they don't handle this matter in a way that pleases Him.

"Then Abimelek called Abraham in and said, 'What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should never be done.' And Abimelek asked Abraham, 'What was your reason for doing this?'" (Genesis 20:9-10) Abimelek is rightly hurt and offended by Abraham's actions. The king has never done anything to deserve being deceived by Abraham, yet Abraham's lie put the king and all his people in danger. I don't blame him for asking, "Why have you behaved so poorly toward me when I've been nothing but hospitable and welcoming to you? How dare you treat me this way? You've done something to me that a man shouldn't do to his worst enemy. You almost made me run afoul of a God so powerful that He can rain down fire from heaven! Why have you repaid my kindness with such treachery? What is the matter with you?"

Abraham ought to be ashamed. Twice now he's had a pagan king scold him for his lack of morals. Nothing should shame any of us more as believers than to have unbelievers confront us with our hypocrisy and sin. Whenever that happens we ought to immediately apologize to them and confess that we are in the wrong and ask them to forgive us for our mistake. Even an unbeliever can respect an attitude like that. But when we make excuses for our sin and try to justify our behavior, we are going to turn them off, and the sad thing about that is we may turn them off from Christianity as a whole. Why should they want to hear about Christ if Christians aren't practicing what they preach? Unfortunately, Abraham takes the wrong approach and tries to justify his sin. "Abraham replied, 'I said to myself, 'There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.' Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. And when God had me wander from my father's household, I said to her, 'This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, 'He is my brother.'" (Genesis 20:11-13)

His reply is insulting to the king and to the people of his kingdom, plus it reveals a lack of faith on Abraham's part and a willingness to bully his wife into lying for him. He's saying, "When I arrived in your heathen country and observed your pagan ways, I didn't expect anyone here to fear my own God enough to spare my life. I figured someone would lust after my wife enough to kill me in order to have her. So I ordered her to go along with the pretense that she is only my sister. I emotionally blackmailed her into it by saying, 'If you love me, you'll do this.' Besides, it's not really a lie that she's my sister because we have the same father." He's accusing the people of Gerar of being so lacking in morals that they'd think nothing of killing a man to take his wife. He's revealing his failure to fulfill his God-given role as the husband to be the spiritual leader of his household, for he set a poor example for Sarah to follow. In addition, he more or less forced her into going along with his lie by playing on her emotions. On top of all this, he failed as a husband by not protecting his wife from the sexual advances of another man who wants her for himself.

It should not have mattered that Abraham was entering a region where his God was not worshiped or feared. What should have mattered was that Abraham worshiped and feared his God. Abraham knew his God was real and that his God had the power to protect him wherever he goes. This same God already got Abraham out of a mess in Egypt when he previously told a lie about Sarah in Genesis 12. This same God already helped Abraham and his men win a battle where they were vastly outnumbered in Genesis 14. This same God answered Abraham's prayer for his nephew Lot and rescued Lot from the destruction that rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah. After the Lord has displayed His power and His love time and time again, why did Abraham feel the need to tell a lie in Gerar? Why didn't Abraham trust the Lord to protect him?

On the one hand I feel quite critical of Abraham at this point. He's messed up both as a believer and as a husband. On the other hand I can relate to feelings of doubt and fear. The Lord has rescued me from many trials and troubles so far. Some of these problems were of my own making and some of them were things that just naturally happen in a fallen world. And yet when the next big problem comes along I tend to fret about it and toss and turn during the night wondering how it's going to work out. There seems to be this thought in the back of my mind that maybe I've already used up all the mercies allotted to me. But this is unscriptural, for the Bible assures us that our God's mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23) The Lord's mercies don't depend on us; they depend on who He is, and the Bible promises us that a part of His character is that He begins every morning with a fresh batch of mercy for each of us.

Abimelek is so afraid of Abraham's God that he goes above and beyond what he needs to do. Really all he needs to do is release Sarah back into her husband's care and allow them to live in peace. But even though Abimelek is innocent in this whole matter, as a way of honoring Abraham's God he gives gifts to Abraham. "Then Abimelek brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. And Abimelek said, 'My land is before you; live wherever you like.'" (Genesis 20:14-15) When Abraham was in Egypt and lied to Pharaoh about Sarah, Pharaoh threw the couple out of Egypt. Pharaoh had no fear of the Lord. Pharaoh lived in a time before the Lord punished Sodom and Gomorrah for their dreadful sins, so he could have cared less about Abraham's God. But Abimelek doesn't want to get on the bad side of a God who judges and passes sentence, so he invites Abraham to choose the best of the land if he wants it.

"To Sarah he said, 'I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.'" (Genesis 20:16) This heathen king shows Sarah far more respect than her own husband showed her. The king is the one who declares her a virtuous woman in front of a great assembly by showering Abraham with a thousand shekels of silver to prove that she is still as pure now as she was when she arrived in the country. A virtuous woman was considered so valuable that the Bible declares she is priceless. (Proverbs 31:10) In the days when the book of Proverbs was written, the ruby was considered the most valuable of gemstones, but the author of Proverbs 31 states that a man who has a wife he trusts is wealthier than a man who owns a fortune in rubies. By declaring Sarah innocent before her husband and before a great assembly, the king is saying, "I have not laid a hand on her and she has not made any advances toward me. Her reputation is not to be besmirched in any way and she is to be accepted back by her husband with the full assurance that she has been completely faithful to him in every way. To somewhat compensate Abraham for the terrible inconvenience of having been without her invaluable presence in his home for a time, I pay this large sum of silver to show him how highly I esteem the moral character of his wife."

"Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again, for the Lord had kept all the women in Abimelek's household from conceiving because of Abraham's wife Sarah." (Genesis 20:17-18) Abimelek already has a wife, so he certainly doesn't need Sarah, but the wife mentioned here was probably his chief wife and queen who would be the mother of the heir to his throne. Men like him often had secondary wives in a harem, which is where Sarah would have been. To show that God meant business when He commanded Abimelek to return Sarah to her husband, the Lord struck all the women with infertility.

Why does Abraham have to pray for Abimelek and his household? Maybe because Abraham would need to make things right with God when he enters into prayer with Him. Maybe because it will help Abraham make things right with Abimelek. It's hard to harbor bad feelings toward someone you are praying for and it's hard for the person who is being prayed for to harbor bad feelings toward the one who is praying for him. Or this may have been necessary as a testimony to Abimelek that the God of Abraham is real and that He is holy and powerful and to be obeyed and feared. When Abraham asked God to heal the women of Abimelek's household, and the women were healed, this would have been proof to Abimelek that God is God. Whether or not he ever turned to God and turned away from idolatry, we do not know, but he was given the opportunity.

Friday, December 20, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 86, Abraham Tells Another Lie

Now that we've finished our study of Abraham's nephew Lot, the author of Genesis rejoins Abraham to tell us what's going on in his life. What happens in Chapter 20 is going to remind us of something that happened in Chapter 12.

"Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, 'She is my sister.' Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her." (Genesis 20:1-2) Sarah is about ninety years old now but is still beautiful enough to catch the eye of a king who could have any woman he wants. She didn't look like a ninety-year-old person looks today. She's going to live to be a hundred and twenty, so she's past middle age but she is not elderly.

We don't know why Abraham didn't learn anything from lying about Sarah when they were in Egypt, but he uses the same lie again for fear that a man in the Negev will kill him in order to take Sarah away. But if he claims to be her brother, any man interested in Sarah will have to treat him with respect as the head of the household and as the one in authority over her.

This might have worked in a society where kings aren't used to taking what they want. King Abimelek simply takes Sarah into his harem until a convenient time to make her into one of his wives. The same thing happened in Egypt with Pharaoh back in Chapter 12. You would think Abraham wouldn't make the same mistake again, but before we judge him too harshly, haven't we made some mistakes more than once? Because Abraham makes the same mistake a second time, the Lord is going to have to rescue Sarah just as He rescued her in Egypt.

"But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, 'You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.' Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, 'Lord, will You destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, 'She is my sister,' and didn't she also say, 'He is my brother.' I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.'" (Genesis 20:3-5) We don't know whether Abimelek knew the Lord prior to this event, but he is wise enough to recognize the word of the Lord and to take it seriously. He's shocked by what he's told. He knows the Lord is fully capable of destroying his city; the Lord has already destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. But Sodom and Gomorrah deserved their fate, so Abimelek points out that he was deceived into believing Sarah was a single woman eligible for marriage. It's not his fault or his people's fault that the wife of another man is currently housed in his harem.

"Then God said to him in the dream, 'Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against Me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and let you live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.'" (Genesis 20:6-7) Why hasn't Abimelek officially taken Sarah as his wife yet? Because the Lord has prevented him from having a convenient time to do so. We don't know what He's kept Abimelek busy with, but the Lord shows so much mercy in our passage today. He's merciful not only to Abraham and Sarah, but also to this king by not allowing him to unwittingly commit the sin of adultery.

Sarah is either already pregnant by her husband or is about to become pregnant by him as soon as she is released from the harem. Some time has already passed since the angels said in Genesis 18, "By this time next year, Sarah will have a son." She's going to need nine months out of that year for the child to grow in her womb, and she may have gotten pregnant right before the king took her or else she must become pregnant right after he gives her back to Abraham. Either way, it was imperative that no other man be able to touch her, for Abraham would never have known for certain if the child was his. He would have always doubted whether the child was the one promised to him by God and he might not have wanted the child to be his heir for fear that he was the son of the king. He might not have even wanted to be married to Sarah anymore because he would have thought about the other man every time he looked at her, even though it would have been Abraham's own fault if the king had slept with Sarah. The Lord is doing for Sarah what her husband failed to do: He is protecting her and showing her honor and respect. She won't have to worry about having her virtue besmirched. She won't have to worry about being cast aside. She is still going to be the mother of a nation, just as God promised her, and this is going to be accomplished inside of her marriage---not outside of it.

The Lord protects Abraham too, in spite of Abraham's foolishness. Thank God that He so often protects us in our foolishness! I've made some foolish choices in my life that might have been disastrous if the Lord hadn't stepped in. The Lord tells Abimelek that Abraham is a prophet and that Abraham will pray for him not to die. The king will be afraid to lay a finger on Abraham after hearing this. Abraham has to be alive in order to pray for him. If Abraham is a prophet of the God who spoke to Abimelek in the night, then Abimelek would be crazy to do any harm to him. Instead he's going to take action first thing in the morning to resolve this situation in a way that will please the Lord.

Sometimes God lets us reap the consequences of our actions because it's the only way we are going to learn to obey Him. Other times He steps in and takes charge because our foolish mistake is going to change the course of our life or someone else's life in such a drastic way that He has to step in and protect us from the consequences of the choice we've made. In Chapter 20 we find a situation where God has to step in. Does Abraham deserve to bear the grief of having another man sleep with his wife? It would serve him right if that had happened. But this situation is not Sarah's fault and it's not the other man's fault. It's not the fault of the unborn child either. The Lord protects everyone involved---even Abraham---because it's the right thing to do and because not stepping in would change the course of the world. The promised son is going to come from Abraham and Sarah, and a great nation will be born, and the Lord's own Son will come from this line. There must never be any doubt who is the father of the son Sarah will bear. Too much is at stake here and the Lord has to take action.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 85, Lot's Daughters

In yesterday's passage Lot bargained with the angels who instructed him to flee up into the mountains. Instead he wanted to go to a nearby city named Zoar, which means "small, little, insignificant". We discussed some possible reasons why he may have wanted to persuade the angels to let him go to Zoar, and they did allow it, but like so many of Lot's decisions in life, it's a bad decision. Zoar was one of the five cities of the plain along with Sodom and Gomorrah. The atmosphere was likely quite similar, since the angels appeared to indicate they had intended to destroy it as well. But Lot is an example of a man who thinks "small" instances of disobedience don't really matter. The problem with each act of disobedience is that it takes us further and further outside of God's best plan for our lives. It hardens our hearts. It decreases our faith. I think all the things Lot does from the time he learned his town would be destroyed stem from a crisis of faith. His lack of faithfulness to the Lord has affected not only his own life, but the lives of his family members as well. His daughters make a shocking and sinful decision in today's portion of Scripture.

"Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar." (Genesis 19:30a) The Bible doesn't tell us how long he stayed in Zoar or why he was afraid to remain. Some scholars believe he never actually settled in Zoar but that he was overcome with fright and dread when, from Zoar, he observed the terrible destruction that rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah. This may have led him to doubt that the angels would spare Zoar for his sake as they had promised. Other scholars think he actually lived in Zoar for a time but was not accepted very well by its citizens. Either way, Lot is in no condition to set a godly example for his daughters because he is not in the right frame of mind. We might expect that after two angels saved his life, he would put more trust in God, but I think he has spent so many years living in comfort and ease in Sodom that he never got into the habit of trusting in the Lord. Instead he trusted in his great wealth and in his position as an elected official. He must have thought these things made him untouchable by calamity. But no one is untouchable by calamity. There is nothing we posses in this world that we can't lose in the blink of an eye---except our salvation and our relationship with the Lord. Nothing can take Him away from us, and this is our true source of security. He is the bedrock underneath our feet when it feels like the world is falling down around us. Lot had to flee Sodom with nothing but the clothes on his back and he doesn't know how to cope with a circumstance like this because he's never understood that the Lord (and not his wealth) is the source of his security.

"He and his two daughters lived in a cave. One day the older daughter said to the younger, 'Our father is old, and there is no man around to give us children---as is the custom all over the earth. Let's get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.'" (Genesis 19:30b-32) Our modern society has become immune to a lot of shocking things, but even in our day what these women plan to do is detestable. This thing goes against nature. It goes against common decency. It's hard for us to wrap our minds around what could possibly have caused these women to think their plan makes sense.

Why does such an idea even enter their minds? Do they believe the Lord is going to destroy everything and everyone around them, leaving only them and their father alive? Or do they believe it will never be safe for them to come down out of the mountains again due to whatever caused them to fear living in Zoar? If this is the case, then their idea seems to them to be the only way to keep their family from dying out.

But why do they not find this idea thoroughly repulsive? I think we have to consider their background. They were raised in a godless society where anything goes. They have witnessed levels of perversion we can't even imagine. After all, it seemed reasonable to the men of Sodom to break down a man's door in order to drag his guests out of the house to gang rape them. These two young women aren't repulsed by anything. They've seen it all. They've heard it all. Nothing is out of bounds, sexually speaking, not even perpetrating what amounts to a sexual assault upon their own father.

Where did they get wine? Have they had time to make it or did they obtain it in Zoar? We don't know, but the devil has a way of placing harmful substances into the hands of human beings. Perhaps they've been using wine to deal with their mental distress. Or perhaps they were already in the habit of doing heavy drinking while they lived in Sodom. But it's the instrument they are going to use to carry out their wicked scheme. "That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. The next day the older daughter said to the younger, 'Last night I slept with my father. Let's get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and sleep with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.'" (Genesis 19:33-34) The oldest daughter is more jaded by the sins she witnessed in Sodom than her younger sister is. We don't know the difference in their ages, but she's been more affected by her culture than her sister. She has to persuade her younger sibling to commit this despicable deed. She knows she will never persuade her father to commit this deed, so her only option is to get him so intoxicated that he has no idea what he's doing. She has been successful at this once, so now she talks her sister into doing the same thing.

"So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up." (Genesis 19:35) Alcohol is a substance capable of lowering our inhibitions. It has caused many a man and woman to do things they wouldn't have done while sober. It has caused many a person to do things they don't even remember doing. The fact that Lot doesn't know he's sleeping with his daughters doesn't absolve him of the sin of not having brought them up in the fear of the Lord in the first place. It doesn't excuse him for raising his children in a godless society where nothing was considered going too far sexually. Lot made many mistakes before he ended up in a cave in the mountains. One small compromise after another led to the sad tale we're reading today.

Lot doesn't even know he's committed the sin of incest with each of his daughters until they both fall pregnant. Then there is no doubt he is the father of their babies, for no other man has been around them. The Bible doesn't tell us how Lot reacts to this news. In fact, the Bible doesn't tell us anything else about Lot's life because he fades into obscurity after Chapter 19. The man who thought it would be fine to argue against the instructions of angels and who begged them to be allowed to dwell in a town whose name meant "small, little, insignificant" became small, little, and insignificant himself. He made a series of disobedient choices in his life that seemed "small" to him, but they added up to a life that made no godly influence on his family and that did nothing to advance the kingdom of God.

"So both of Lot's daughters became pregnant by their father. The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today." (Genesis 19:36-38) The Moabites and the Ammonites later became enemies of the nation of Israel. They were both pagan tribes and the children of Israel were forbidden to intermarry with them because of their idolatrous beliefs and sinful lifestyles. They did, however, mix with them in spite of God's orders. The Moabites led some of the people of Israel into Baal worship. The Ammonites went so far in their worship of the detestable false god Molech that they practiced child sacrifice. King Manasseh, of the tribe of Judah, fell so hard into the idolatry of the Ammonites that he sacrificed one of his sons to Molech,

None of these things had to happen, but we can see how a "small" sin grows over time. If Lot had been so shocked by the sin of Sodom when he arrived there that he had decided to live elsewhere, things would have turned out differently. If he had still settled in Sodom but had set a godly example for its citizens and for his own family, perhaps his family would have had faith in the Lord and many of his friends and neighbors might have turned to the Lord. Let's say he still made all the mistakes he made in Sodom but decided to devote his life to the Lord after being rescued by the angels, then he and both his daughters would have made better choices. If he'd only trusted that the Lord would provide for him and protect him, he could have taken his daughters and settled somewhere else instead of hiding in a cave due to lack of faith. He could have gone to his uncle Abraham's for a while and Abraham could have arranged marriages for Lot's daughters with godly men. Abraham could have helped Lot get back on his feet spiritually and financially. A lot of different choices could have been made so as not to end up where we are now, with Lot being the father of his own grandsons.

Lot walks off the pages of Scripture at this point without even receiving the honor of having his place of death or his age at death recorded. The Lord could not use Lot for His kingdom work because Lot evidently never made himself available for the Lord's work, so we don't know what happened during the rest of his life. If he'd accomplished something for the Lord I think it would appear here on the pages of the Bible. We can use Lot as an example of what not to do. We don't want to ever reach the point where God cannot use us for the glory of His kingdom.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 84, Lot's Wife Perishes/The Lord Has Mercy On Abraham

In verse 17 the angels told Lot and his family to flee for their lives and not look back. Lot's wife can't resist looking behind her when destruction begins to rain down on the city. "But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt." (Genesis 19:26)

Why is she punished so harshly for disobeying the angels? Looking back seems a natural enough thing to do. Scientists and geologists believe a massive earthquake from the fault line in the region is likely what started the disaster. Tar pits and deposits of bitumen lay under the ground, and the earthquake would have forced these things, along with sulfuric vapors from the bitumen, into the air where they came in contact with the early morning cooking fires and lanterns that would have been burning all across the city. Explosions would have occurred, with fire and burning materials flying up into the air only to rain back down onto the thatched roofs of the structures, thus setting the entire city on fire from the top down and trapping the people inside the conflagration. If I were racing away from such a scene, I think I'd be tempted to at least glance into my rearview mirror.

But Lot's wife appears to have looked back for some other reason than to see what's happening or to make certain the fire wasn't catching up to her. The Lord Jesus refers to her behavior in a warning He gives in Luke 17:32. In this passage He is comparing her to those who reject salvation. He speaks of those who want to save their lives (who cling to the things of this world and who value their independence apart from God rather than acknowledging Him as Lord) and says that those who want to save their lives in this manner will lose them. He also says that those who lose their lives (who submit to Him as Lord and Savior, giving up their right to live however they please in favor of serving and obeying Him) will save their lives. It's their eternal souls He's referring to when He says they will either "save" or "lose" their lives. Into this discussion He interjects, "Remember Lot's wife!", indicating that she rejected salvation in favor of the world. Over the centuries, scholars have taken this to mean Lot's wife mourned the destruction of the prosperous and wicked city. She didn't want to leave. Perhaps she even loved her lifestyle in Sodom so much that she wished she'd perished with her fellow citizens. The Lord seems to be accusing her of being wrong in her heart toward Him, and He would know, so we must take His word for it.

Did she literally become salt? The region of Sodom and Gomorrah is the region of the Dead Sea, so I think at the very least she was covered in a thick deposit of salt. If you've ever seen photos or TV specials about the destruction of the ancient city of Pompeii, then you've seen the preserved bodies of its citizens covered in ash and other deposits that rained down on them within a matter of seconds when Mount Vesuvius erupted. I think something similar happened to Lot's wife. I think that as she hesitated and maybe fell behind her fleeing family, she was covered in falling material and met her demise, leaving her frozen in position and covered in white material which may have been partly or entirely made of up salt.

While all this is going on, Lot's uncle Abraham gets up early in the morning to see what's happening on the plain. He had asked the Lord not to destroy the city even if only ten righteous people could be found there. The Lord promised him He would not destroy it if ten righteous people could be found. "Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace." (Genesis 19:27-28)

His heart must have sunk when he saw the smoke. He knew the Lord hadn't been able to find ten righteous people. According to archaeologists, excavations of ancient cities in the Dead Sea area has revealed towns large enough to support populations of anywhere from 600 to 1,200 people. If the population of Sodom was 600 to 1,200 people, this means that out of so many souls, not even ten were right with the Lord. How sad this is! Not only that, but we can assume Gomorrah's population was similar, so the total number of those who lost their lives could have been anywhere from 1,200 to 2,400 people, not including any ungodly residents of any outlying "suburbs" that may also have been affected. Among all these, the Lord couldn't find anyone who wanted to know and follow Him. Not even Lot and his family really wanted to follow Him, and the Bible makes this clear by revealing to us for whose sake the Lord pulled Lot and his family out of Sodom in the first place. "So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, He remembered Abraham, and He brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived." (Genesis 19:29)

The Lord didn't rescue Lot for Lot's own sake. Lot was hesitant to leave Sodom. The angels literally had to take him by the hand and pull him outside the city gates. If they hadn't, he'd have still been inside when disaster struck. The Lord rescued Lot for Abraham's sake. Who might the Lord rescue for your sake and for my sake? There may be people who get to heaven because you and I kept praying for them to turn to the Lord. I know it's easy to become discouraged when we pray for years and years for someone who never seems to change. Just because we aren't seeing results doesn't mean we should quit. Abraham didn't see the angels rescue Lot from Sodom, but I think he was praying hard while it was happening. You and I may not even live to see the salvation of those we've prayed so hard for. For example, maybe some of your children or grandchildren are lost and are living in sin. It may seem like your prayers aren't producing any results. In fact, sometimes it seems like the harder we pray for someone, the more they resist the Lord and the deeper they fall into sin. Don't give up! That grandchild you're praying for may not come to the Lord during your lifetime, but that doesn't mean your prayers aren't going to pay off in their later years. Abraham wasn't there to see Lot make it out of Sodom, but he heard about it afterwards. You and I may not still be on the earth when some of the people we've prayed for finally get saved. They may resist the Lord for a long time before they submit their hearts to Him, and we may not see it take place, but that's no reason to stop praying.

If only Lot had been a praying man like his uncle Abraham! If only Lot had set a godly example for his family! His wife might not have perished in today's passage. His daughters might not have done what they will do in tomorrow's study.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 83, Sodom And Gomorrah Destroyed

The angels pretty much had to pull Lot and his family outside the city of Sodom before destruction begins to rain down. "As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, 'Flee for your lives! Don't look back, and don't stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!'" (Genesis 19:17)

"But Lot said to them, 'No, my lords, please! Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can't flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I'll die.'" (Genesis 19:18-19) I hate to be so critical of Lot all the time, but what on earth is he talking about? He's just been promised that he'll be safe if he flees to the mountains, so why does he insist that he'll die if he goes to the mountains?

His statement, in the original text, goes something like this: "Something wicked will stick to me/pursue me and put me to death/execute me." Does Lot believe the people of the hill country will kill him because he's the only man who escaped from the judgment of the Lord that fell upon Sodom? Does he fear that these people will think they are doing the Lord a favor by executing an escapee, not realizing that he escaped only by the Lord's mercy? Or does he think that living in a culture so different from that which he's used to will be to much for him? Is it his own sins he fears will follow him, (as the saying goes "be sure your sins will find you out"---Numbers 32:23), and that he will be made to pay for compromising his faith all these years by dying in poverty and obscurity in the mountains?

Lot's motivations are difficult to understand, but I can't help feeling that the core of his problem is his lack of faith. God calls us to the mountaintops, but that takes the courage to step out in faith. Sometimes we fail to make it to the mountaintop because we're willing to settle for a much smaller blessing. That seems to be what Lot wants to do: settle for something much smaller. He lacks the faith to go to the mountaintop with God. He suggests an alternative. "Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it---it is very small, isn't it? Then my life will be spared." (Genesis 19:20) We will see as we move through our chapter that this town is Zoar. It's name literally means "little, small". It's one of the five cities that were located on the plain of Jordan, with the other four being Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zebolim. I believe Lot wanted to go to Zoar because it was enough like the city he was used to for him to feel comfortable in it. The reason I believe this is because it seems, from what the angels say next, that Zoar was also on their list of cities to be destroyed.

"He said to him, 'Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.' (That is why the town was called Zoar.)" (Genesis 19:21-22) The town was called Zoar because the town was "little" as Lot said. I think Lot was saying, "Can't you spare this tiny little town? Look how small it is. What can it hurt to leave it alone? It's so close by that my family and I can flee to it far faster than we can flee up into the mountains." The angel replies, "Fine, I will leave Zoar alone, just get to it right now! You're holding me up. I can't get started on the task the Lord has given me until you are far enough away from Sodom."

Lot thinks leaving one small sinful city alone won't hurt anything. This is because he is used to there being a little bit of sin in his life. But haven't we all fallen into this trap from time to time? We think, "What can this little sin hurt?" Or we'll be willing to let the Lord deal with certain areas of our life while not wanting Him to mess with other areas. We hold certain things back for ourselves, thinking something so small surely won't matter. But the Lord wanted Lot's whole heart. He wants our whole heart. And that means letting Him have access to everything in it so He can repair anything that needs repaired. We wouldn't go to a heart surgeon and tell him to fix anything he finds wrong except one little thing. That would be foolish. While the heart surgeon is in there, we'd want him to fix anything he finds wrong, whether big or small. But sometimes we don't permit the Great Physician to have full access to our hearts. We cling to things and tell Him, "Hands off!" And sometimes, like the angel does when speaking to Lot in our passage, the Lord says, "Fine, I'll leave this thing alone." But it's never in our long-term best interests to insist that the Lord leave this thing alone. Sometimes He has to let us have our own way just to prove to us that our own way is not the best.

Zoar was so close to Sodom that, even though dawn is already breaking, Lot reaches the town by full sunrise. "By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah---from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus He overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities---and also the vegetation in the land." (Genesis 19:23-25)

The precise location of these destroyed cities is not known. Some scholars and archaeologists believe they now lie under the Dead Sea. Others think that Sodom was in the Bab edh-Dra region and that Gomorrah was near Numeira. Both these locations show evidence of a long-ago fiery conflagration. A layer of ash about three feet deep has been excavated there. As we were told earlier in Genesis, the plain contained tar pits, and there is evidence that at one time tar pits and subterranean deposits of bitumen (a petroleum-like substance that contains a high concentration of sulfur) lay underneath the area. Some geologists think a major earthquake could have struck the area since there is a fault line running underneath it. This would have caused bitumen to be forced out of the earth where it ignited due to all the early morning cooking fires that would have been burning in the cities. After this substance caught fire and exploded and shot flames up into the air, the burning material would have fallen back down and pelted all the structures in the towns. Ancient mausoleums excavated in the general area appear to have burned from the top down.

Though we don't know exactly what method the Lord used to destroy these wicked cities, He destroyed them so thoroughly that they were never rebuilt. He destroyed them so thoroughly that the names of Sodom and Gomorrah have become synonymous with wickedness and judgment.

After being miraculously rescued by angels from the wrath to come, and after witnessing the astonishing level of destruction upon these once-prosperous cities, what does the rescued family do? Not what you'd expect! They don't fall to their knees in thanks to the Lord. They don't repent of their waywardness and experience a change of heart after witnessing both the mercy and the wrath of Almighty God. Things go from bad to worse for this family in tomorrow's passage.

Monday, December 16, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 82, The Angels Warn Lot Of The Coming Disaster And Tell Him To Flee

The mob outside Lot's house is moving in on him and planning to break down the door. The two angels intervene now. "But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, so that they could not find the door." (Genesis 19:10-11)

This isn't the only time in the Bible when the Lord will strike someone blind in order to prevent them from doing harm. In 2 Kings 6, Elisha the prophet will pray for the Lord to strike a group of Aramean soldiers blind when they surround the city of Dothan to kill him. The Lord answered his prayer and Elisha was able to escape. In Acts 9, when Saul of Tarsus was headed to Damascus with permission to arrest any Christians he found there, the Lord struck him blind on the way and Saul was converted and later became the Apostle Paul. In Acts 13 the Lord struck a false prophet and sorcerer named Elymas blind because he tried to prevent Barnabas and Paul from preaching the gospel to a Roman proconsul who very much wanted to hear it. In all these cases the blindness was a temporary condition. I don't know whether the blindness of the men of Sodom would have been temporary or permanent, since the destruction of the city takes place so soon afterwards.

Time is growing very short, so the two angels speak urgently with Lot about the need for him and his family to flee the city. "The two men said to Lot, 'Do you have anyone else here---sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that He has sent us to destroy it.'" (Genesis 19:12-14) They can see that Lot has a wife and two daughters in the house, but they don't know whether he has other children who have already married and moved out. The Lord hasn't provided them with this information because it's not something they need to know for the task they were sent to perform.

"So Lot went and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters." (Genesis 19:14) Engagements were legal contracts in those days, almost as binding as marriage. It was typical for a man to refer to those who were engaged to his daughters as his sons-in-law even though the marriage ceremony had not yet taken place. We need to stop and think for a minute about just how deeply Lot has integrated into the society of Sodom. It is acceptable to him for his daughters to marry pagan unbelievers. He has not sought to arrange better marriages for them, but is fine with having sons-in-law from a city as wicked as Sodom. Because he has not found godly men for his daughters to marry, these two young men laugh off what he has to say about the coming disaster. "He said, 'Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is going to destroy the city!' But his sons-in-law thought he was joking." (Genesis 19:14b) I tend to think these two young men are not part of the blinded mob outside the house. If they were, maybe they'd have taken the warning more seriously, so I picture them lounging in their homes when Lot comes calling. When they hear what he has to say, they laugh and flap their hands dismissively at him and say, "Oh man, get out of here with that crazy story! Do you think we were born yesterday? Haha, of all the practical jokes you could have pulled, this was the dumbest." Lot has never set a godly enough example for these men that they can believe he would receive a message from the Lord. They think he's pranking them and they refuse to go with him. Lot has to give up on them and go home.

The disaster is going to strike at daybreak, so as the sky begins to lighten, the two angels tell Lot to get out before it's too late. "With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, 'Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.'" (Genesis 19:15)

"When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them." (Genesis 19:16) Lot doesn't really want to go. It may be that he doesn't fully believe what they're saying. Or it may be that he's reluctant to leave all his accumulated wealth behind and leave Sodom with nothing. It could be it's hard for him to place all his trust in the Lord after living a worldly life of compromise for so long. The Bible doesn't explain his motive for hesitating, but it tells us that "the Lord was merciful to them". How many times has the Lord been merciful to us in our weakness? Sometimes we know He's telling us to do a particular thing but we're so scared that it's hard for us to take the first step. We believe and we don't believe at the same time. We have faith but it wavers in the face of the enormous task before us. In those situations, the Lord so often pulls us forward when we can't find the strength to take that step on our own. The two angels have to physically pull Lot and his family out of the city.

I think the Lord has mercy on Lot for two reasons. One, because in his heart he does actually believe in the Lord. He has fallen far from where he once was, but he has not denied the Lord or worshiped false gods. And two, I think the Lord has mercy on this family because of Abraham, who is living close to the Lord and who has interceded with the Lord on their behalf. So don't stop interceding for those you love. This may be the very reason the Lord rescues them someday from danger.