Saturday, November 30, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 67, God Performs A Sign For Abram, Part Three

Abram has asked for a sign that the Lord is really going to give his descendants the land.

"So the Lord said to him, 'Bring Me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.' Abram brought all these to Him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half." (Genesis 15:9-10) We discussed yesterday the ancient practice of "cutting covenant". The parties to a very serious, irrevocable agreement would sacrifice an animal swiftly and humanely, then cut the body in half, then walk together through the blood. This signified that if one of them broke the covenant, he owed his own blood (his life) as the penalty for his treachery. We know Abram sacrificed these animals before he cut them in two, so we need not worry that this was done while they were alive. For proof of this, the birds were dead just like the rest of the animals, but unlike the other animals he didn't cut the birds in two. This shows us that the sacrificing was all done first, then the cutting in two.

Several hours must have passed after Abram did what the Lord told him. "Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away." (Genesis 15:11) Abram has to wait for the Lord to perform His part of the transaction. I think the Lord makes him wait so that he will understand that a period of time is going to pass between Him making the promise of the land and Him fulfilling the promise. It's human nature for us to want things to happen right now, but things don't always happen right now. This is because we are not the only people involved in what the Lord is doing. Sometimes He has to work on the hearts of others to soften them toward us. Sometimes He has to keep urging someone to repent and do the right thing so He can use them as a blessing in our lives. It's not all about us. Every time the Lord works out one of His plans for our lives, He involves other people in it. Sadly, sometimes these people resist His will for a time before doing what He wants them to do. Worse yet, they may reject Him wholeheartedly and then He has to remove them from their role in His plan for our lives. But we have to remember that there are things going on behind the scenes that we don't know about. What seems to us like an unnecessary delay is very necessary from the viewpoint of God.

The long day has taken its toll on Abram. As darkness falls, he can no longer hold his eyes open. "As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him." (Genesis 15:12) The Lord is going to speak to him while he's in this deep sleep, but why is the darkness so dreadful? I think it may be because of the news the Lord gives him in verse 13: "Then the Lord said to him, 'Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.'" (Genesis 15:13) This is not good news. But during the four hundred years Abram's people are in captivity, the Lord will be dealing with the hearts of the people of the land of Canaan. He will be urging them to turn back to Him from useless idols. They won't turn back, and He knows it because He's already promised Abram's descendants the land of Canaan, but God is so faithful and righteous that He must give them every opportunity to repent even though He knows they won't. The people of Canaan will never be able to stand before the great God and Judge and claim He never gave them a chance. They will never be able to say He was impatient with them. Instead they will have to admit He has been more than patient with them.

The Lord gave Abram the bad news first and now He will provide the good news. I don't know about you, but if someone asks me whether I want the bad news or the good news first, I want to hear the bad news first. That way, hopefully, the good news will make me feel better. "But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure." (Genesis 15:14-16) The Amorites are one of the tribes who inhabit the land of Canaan. Sin has a tipping point. It's like hanging a bucket on a rope and gradually filling the bucket with water. Eventually the water will start to spill over, tipping the bucket and causing everything in it to pour out. In the Scriptures we often find the Lord comparing sin to something that fills and overflows its container. It's at that point that He must judge sin. He was patient while the container filled up. He kept pleading with the people's hearts to stop filling the container with sin and to repent and be filled with the Holy Spirit instead. But if they do not listen, a tipping point is reached in time, and that is when He has to say, "No more!" A day will come when the sin of the Amorites reaches this tipping point, and then the Lord will call His people Israel out of Egypt and bring them to the land He has promised to them.

Abram himself will not live to see that day. I'm sure he longed to see that day, but the Lord makes i clear to him that he will die in peace, as an old man, before his descendants take possession of the promised land. There are far worse things, aren't there, than dying peacefully in our sleep in our old age? Though Abram won't see his descendants taking possession of the promised land, he must have felt comforted by the promise of a long and fulfilling life and a peaceful end to that life.

Now here is something we don't want to miss. When two men of Abram's day "cut covenant" with each other, both of them had to walk through the blood. This is because the keeping of the covenant depended on both of them doing what was required in the agreement. But in the covenant the Lord makes with Abram regarding the promised land, only the Lord walks through the blood. This is because the keeping of the covenant depends solely on the Lord performing His part of the agreement. Abram's descendants won't be perfect, just as Abram himself wasn't perfect. They won't always do what is right. They won't always be faithful to God. But God is going to give them the land anyway. There is nothing Abram can do that will prevent the Lord from keeping His promise. There is nothing Abram's descendants can do to keep God from calling them out of Egypt and helping them to take possession of the land. It's going to happen, and it depends entirely on God's unbreakable promise, so He walks through the blood alone. "When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces." (Genesis 15:17)

The Lord offers this covenant; all Abram has to do is accept it by faith. This is a beautiful picture of the Lord's glorious plan of salvation: the Lord offers it and all we have to do is accept it. The Lord Jesus Christ did all the work of salvation for us. Just as God the Father walks through the blood alone in today's passage, Christ walked through the blood alone (His own blood) in order to offer us redemption freely. He paid the price, not us. There was nothing we could do to save ourselves, so He did for us what we could not do, and all we have to do is accept it on faith. With His own body and blood on the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ "cut covenant" with us. He is the One who saves us and He is the One who keeps us saved.

The Lord concludes this legal and binding transaction by speaking the terms of the agreement aloud to Abram. "On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, 'To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates---the land of the Kenites, Kenezzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.'" (Genesis 15:18)

Friday, November 29, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 66, God Performs A Sign For Abram, Part Two

Abram believes the Lord is going to give his descendants the land, but in his human weakness he also wants proof he can hold onto as the years grow long and as he waits for the Lord to do what He's promised. When we closed yesterday, he asked the Lord, "How can I know that I will gain possession of it?"

The Lord has no rebuke for Abram. He knows Abram needs tangible proof that the promise will come true, so in today's passage He makes a legal agreement with Abram that grants Abram and his descendants the deed to the land.

"So the Lord said to him, 'Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.'" (Genesis 15:9) The Lord is about to perform a practice that in ancient times was known as "cutting covenant". The two parties who desired to make an irrevocable covenant with each other would sacrifice an animal, cut the dead animal into two pieces, and walk between the two pieces in the blood. I know this sounds gruesome, but in those days there weren't yet any lawyers to draw up legal contracts like we have today. There weren't any notary publics to attest to the fact that both parties had signed a legal contract. There were no judges before whom two parties could stand and enter into an agreement with each other under oath. Walking through the blood together made a statement about the seriousness of breaking the covenant. It was the same as saying, "If I should break this covenant, may my blood be shed like this sacrificial animal's."

When many of the people of the prophet Jeremiah's day refused repeatedly to repent and turn away from idolatry, the Lord referred to the covenant He and the nation had made with each other. By turning away from the living God to useless idols, the people had broken their side of the bargain. Because they had done this, the Lord said, "Those who have violated My covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before Me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces." (Jeremiah 34:18)

Whenever the Lord makes a covenant with humans, He makes it with blood. In Exodus 24 we find Moses reading to the people all the Lord's words and laws. They replied, "Everything the Lord has said we will do." (Exodus 24:3) When they accepted the Lord's words in this way, Moses wrote all the Lord's words down, then the following morning he read the book to the people and gave them a second chance to either accept or reject the covenant. Again the people replied, "We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey." (Exodus 24:7) Upon their acceptance of the Lord's word, Moses sprinkled the people with the blood of animals that had been sacrificed to the Lord earlier in the morning, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words." (Exodus 24:8) This was the old covenant.

We are now under the new covenant---the covenant God made with us through the blood of His own Son. This is why, when blessing the cup at the Last Supper, the Lord Jesus said, "This is My blood of the new covenant." The Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter pointed out that we who believe in Christ are symbolically "sprinkled" with the blood of the new covenant. (Hebrews 10:22, Hebrews 12:24, 1 Peter 1:2) By accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are entering into a covenant with the living God. This covenant was sealed not by the blood of animals but by the blood of the perfect Son of God.

In all of these situations, we find God making an offer and humans accepting His offer. The deal is sealed by blood. Blood is the life of the body, so its use in these matters signify how serious the covenant is and how serious the breaking of the covenant is. Tomorrow we are going to take a look at the actual process God and Abram go through when sealing the covenant regarding the promised land.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 65, God Performs A Sign For Abram, Part One

The Lord has promised Abram both a son and a great nation from his family line. Today Abram asks for a sign that these things are going to come to pass. We were told yesterday that Abram "believed the Lord" when he was given these promises, so I don't think Abram wants a sign because he lacks faith. In this moment, while the Lord is speaking to him, Abram believes wholeheartedly what the Lord is saying. But Abram knows his own human nature. He knows that as time goes on, the struggles and cares of life may cause him to become impatient or doubtful or discouraged. He needs something he can hold onto in those moments. He needs to be able to say to himself, "Remember what the Lord did on the day He promised you an heir who will be your own flesh and blood?"

The Lord who created us knows our weaknesses. Whenever the Lord has promised me something that looks impossible in my present situation, I've asked Him to give me something to hold onto. I don't think it's a sin to ask for a sign; there are a number of instances in the Scriptures where people either asked for a sign or the Lord offered them a sign without them even having to ask. Does a good and loving human father not try to reassure his child that he's really going to do something he's promised? Why should our good and loving heavenly Father be any different? Sometimes we have to wait for years to see a promise come true, and in the meantime we have to deal with the responsibilities of our daily lives plus deal with the circumstance that the Lord has promised to change. We can become weary in waiting. We can begin to doubt whether the Lord made us a promise at all. He knows this and is so gentle and patient with us in our weakness.

The Lord knows Abram is about to ask Him for a sign. Before Abram asks, the Lord first reminds him of all the things He's done for him so far. "He also said to him, 'I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land and to take possession of it.'" (Genesis 15:7) He says something like, "You sought me while living in a pagan land filled with false gods. You knew something was missing in your 'religion'. You deeply desired a relationship with the one true God, and because you sought Me, I found you. I called you and made Myself known to you. I formed a relationship with you. I also called you to leave Ur and go into a land that I will give to your descendants. You obeyed me and I brought you safely to this place. Look how far we've come together! Look how many times I've protected you from danger so far! Won't I always be the faithful God I've already been to you?"

I'm reminded of a verse from the song "Amazing Grace" that says: "Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; 'tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home." One of the best ways we can look toward the future in faith is to look back at how far the Lord has already brought us. How many times did He step in to save the day? How many times did bad news turn into good news? How many times did He do the impossible? He's the same God today that He was then! He doesn't change. He didn't bring us this far to leave us by the roadside. He's going to be with us all the way home.

"But Abram said, 'Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?'" (Genesis 15:8) The Lord doesn't chastise Abram for his need of a sign. Instead, in tomorrow's passage, the Lord performs an act that was considered a legal and binding agreement in those days. In doing so, He gives Abram and his descendants the deed to the land. Join us tomorrow as we study a practice that was known as "cutting covenant".

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 64, God's Promise Of A Son

In yesterday's passage the Lord comforted Abram by telling him not to be afraid. He also told him, "I am your very great reward."

Abram had turned down a great reward from the king of Sodom. He could have profited from rescuing Lot and the other captured citizens of Sodom, but he didn't want his name linked with the king of Sodom's. He didn't want anyone to think he and his men fought the five-king federation for monetary gain or that they won the battle because they were motivated by greed. They won the battle because the Lord was with them, not because they wanted a reward, so the Lord promised Abram that He Himself is going to be Abram's reward.

What does this mean? Certainly Abram is deserving of a reward for selflessly risking his life to rescue not only Lot, but the other citizens of Sodom and all their possessions. It was a courageous thing to do, being so sorely outnumbered. It was a faithful thing to do, for he trusted in the Lord to supply what he and his 318 soldiers lacked in numbers and in strength. The Lord is going to see to it that Abram gets a reward, but it won't be a temporary material blessing. It will be the fulfillment of the Lord's promise to make a great nation from Abram.

Abram has been living in fear that the five-king coalition will regroup and come after him. He has been experiencing a spiritual low because of this fear. When we get into a spiritual low, we have all sorts of negative thoughts, so Abram has probably been thinking about the material reward he turned down like this, "What difference does it make anyway? I'm already wealthy and I have no son to inherit anything I own. What good does it do me to keep amassing wealth when I have no one of my own flesh and blood to inherit it?" In this mood he asks the Lord a question. "But Abram said, 'Sovereign Lord, what can You give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?' And Abram said, 'You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.'" (Genesis 15:2-3)

Is Abram throwing himself a little bit of a pity party here? I think maybe he is. But don't we all do this from time to time? The Lord blesses us in so many ways and yet sometimes we will focus on the thing the Lord hasn't yet given us. This is especially likely to happen if a particular thing is the greatest desire of our hearts. The greatest desire of Abram's heart is to have a child. He and Sarai are already past the age (or so he thinks) of naturally conceiving a child together. So in spite of all the Lord has already blessed him with, and in spite of all the ways the Lord has protected him and has promised to continue protecting him, Abram focuses on the one thing he doesn't have: a son. He supposes his heir will have to be the most trusted servant of his household.

I tend to think that at one time he might have planned to make his nephew Lot his heir, but now Lot is as wealthy if not wealthier than Abram. Lot doesn't need an inheritance. In addition to that, the Bible only mentions Lot having daughters. If Abram left his wealth to Lot, it would not continue down their male bloodline but would instead be inherited by the daughters which meant their husbands would own the inheritance, not them. This would cause the inheritance to pass down the bloodlines of other men and to belong to people of another name. The best Abram thinks he can do is leave his estate to a servant born in his own household. I don't know whether Abram had a last name, but in times past it was common for a servant or a slave to carry the same last name as his master. Abram may have thought this was the only way he could pass along his estate to someone who bears his name.

The Lord previously promised to make a great nation of Abram, but I think maybe Abram didn't understand that the Lord intends to do this through a son who is Abram's own flesh and blood. Maybe Abram thinks God intends to do this through a legal heir, like Eliezer the servant. In today's passage the Lord makes His intentions very clear, so clear that Abram can't misunderstand. "Then the word of the Lord came to him: 'This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.' He took him outside and said, 'Look up at the sky and count the stars---if indeed you can count them.' Then He said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.'" (Genesis 15:4-5)

Is there anything more precious than when the word of the Lord comes to us? I can't think of anything in my life that's been more comforting or more awe-inspiring than when the Lord speaks to me. Sometimes He does it by communing with my spirit through the Holy Spirit. Other times He speaks through the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit. He has promised me things through the Spirit from time to time, and I've been so convinced of what He's saying to me and so overwhelmed with joy and assurance that I almost literally started jumping up and down. I remember one time when my mother had a great need in her life and it was something only the Lord could fix. I was walking in my back yard and out of the blue the word of the Lord came to me. In my spirit I felt Him saying to me that He was about to put things together in such a way that the whole problem would be solved. I knew what He was saying to me as well as I knew my own name in that moment. I knew it as well as I knew anything at all. I had no idea how the Lord was going to work this thing out because from a human standpoint it looked extremely difficult if not impossible for all the things to come together the way they needed to, but that same day I received a phone call from someone who had good news to tell me, and it just so happened that their good news was going to affect my mother. The great thing the Lord had done in their life was going to solve the problem my mother had. I could go on and on telling you about different times when the word of the Lord came to me, but this is just one example of what I think happened to Abram when the Lord spoke to him. I think Abram knew in his spirit what the Lord was telling him. He knew it as well as he knew anything else right at that moment. Because he knew it, he accepted what the Lord said on faith.

"Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness." (Genesis 15:6) Did the Lord speak to Abram because Abram was a perfect and righteous man? No, we've already seen that Abram isn't perfect and that he doesn't always do the right thing. Here in Chapter 15 he's been wallowing in fear and doubt and self-pity. Earlier in Genesis we found him telling a huge lie about his wife---a lie that almost caused him to lose his wife to another man. But the Lord, in His love and mercy, chose to speak to Abram anyway. The Lord hasn't spoken to me because I'm perfect and righteous either. If I had to write out a list of all the mistakes I've made in my life, I'd be ashamed to ever come to this blog again. I wouldn't be able to show my face anywhere. It's only the Lord's mercy and grace that have caused Him to do anything for me at all; it's not because I deserve it. So don't start thinking the Lord isn't going to ever speak to you again or that He won't pull off some astonishing miracles in your circumstances. If help from the Lord depended on us being deserving of it, we'd be completely hopeless. We can never be righteous enough through our own efforts to deserve anything from a holy God. But the Lord mercifully credits righteousness to us because we believe in Him.

This is why the Lord counted Abram as righteous. It wasn't Abram's deeds that caused the Lord to credit him with righteousness; it was his faith. Abram believed the word the Lord spoke to him. Because he believed the Lord, the Lord considered him righteous. That's what salvation is. We believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (the One who is righteous) and because of our faith God credits us with righteousness. God covers us with the righteousness of His Son. We have no righteousness of our own. We needed someone else to do what we could not do for ourselves. The Lord Jesus did that! And because He did, and because we believe in Him, we share in His righteousness. Because of our faith, we will someday stand before a holy God and Judge and be declared "not guilty".

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 63, God's Faithful Reminders

The Lord again reminds Abram of the promises He's made to him. Isn't it wonderful when God reminds us of His promises? He knows we are weak mortal creatures who are prone to doubt and discouragement, so He faithfully reminds us from time to time of His beautiful promises.

There have been times when the Lord repeated a promise to me because I'd begun to doubt whether I'd heard him correctly. When time keeps going on without fulfillment of the promise in sight, it's easy for us to start wondering whether we were mistaken. We can start asking ourselves whether God really told us He was going to do a particular thing or whether we just convinced ourselves He said it because it was what we wanted to hear. God has been very gracious in coming to me with reminders of His promise while I was struggling with a long wait.

There have been other times when I knew for certain what the Lord had said to me, but I just wanted to hear Him say it again. Years ago there was something He promised me that I'd never have to experience again. It was a traumatic thing that had happened to me, and I won't go into detail about it, but for a while I had a form of PTSD from what I'd been through. Not only did I keep reliving this event in my mind, but I'd sometimes be overwhelmed with anxiety that this thing would happen again. The Lord made a clear and awesome promise to me that I didn't ever have to worry about Him letting this thing take place again in my life. He had His purposes for allowing it once, but it wasn't going to happen again. There have been at least a couple of times when I've asked Him to repeat this promise to me. It wasn't really that I doubted what He'd said; I just needed to hear it again. On both those occasions He answered my prayer in an awesome and unmistakable way on the same day I asked! He's been so good to me!

The Lord was good to Abram too. Abram needs to hear God repeat His promise to him. I'm not sure what's going on in Abram's mind as we begin Chapter 15. The Lord just won a great victory through Abram and Abram's men in Chapter 14. The king and priest Melchizedek just bestowed a beautiful blessing on Abram in Chapter 14. But spiritual lows often follow spiritual highs. As we discussed several days ago, right after a spiritual victory is usually when Satan tries to catch us off guard and knock us down. If he can, Satan will instill fear in our hearts. He'll cause us to become anxious and doubtful. I can't help feeling this is what happened to Abram between Chapter 14 and Chapter 15. The Lord repeats His promise to Abram because Abram needs to hear it. "After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: 'Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.'" (Genesis 15:1)

Why does the Lord tell Abram not to be afraid? Because Abram was afraid. I don't think the Lord is wasteful with words or with anything else. There would be no need to tell Abram not to be afraid if no fear was in Abram's heart to begin with. The author of Genesis tells us the Lord said these words to Abram "after this", which means after the defeat of the kings and the rescuing of Lot and all the captives from Sodom. Did Abram fear these kings were plotting to retaliate against him? Perhaps he lay in bed at night, tossing and turning, worrying that the kings were gathering together an even greater army so they could come back and attack his homestead. He may have found it difficult to sleep for fear he wouldn't hear approaching soldiers. He might have thought they'd come and kill him and either kill or take captive his wife and all the servants who depended on him for safety. It must have seemed logical to him that the kings wouldn't take their defeat lying down, and perhaps they wouldn't have if the Lord hadn't placed a protective shield around Abram.

We know the Lord is a protective shield around Abram because He says so in verse one: "I am your shield." Right now Abram needs to remember that it's not himself he should trust to keep everyone safe. He needs to remember it's not his 318 trained soldiers who are keeping him safe. It was the Lord who gave him victory over the kings and it's the Lord who is going to protect him from retaliation from the kings. It's the Lord who is going to protect Abram and his people from anyone else who might want to harm them.

Friends, you and I can take all the precautions we want, but ultimately our lives are in the Lord's hands. There are so many things in this world that are beyond our control that there's no use tossing and turning at night worrying about them. We can't do anything about them. But God can! Trusting only in ourselves or in other people or in other things will bring anxiety and fear into our hearts. But trusting in Almighty God brings peace to our hearts. As the prophet Isaiah said of the Lord: "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you." (Isaiah 26:3)

Monday, November 25, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 62, Who Was Melchizedek? Part Three

This morning we conclude our look at the mysterious king and priest known as Melchizedek.

We've looked at the reasons for and against believing he might have been Noah's son Seth, from whose family line the Messiah would come. We've looked at the reasons for and against believing the appearance of this man in Genesis was an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ. Now we look at the third most popular theory, which is that he was a literal human being whose tribe was unknown to Abram but who lived on the earth at the same time as Abram---a man who (like Abram) answered the call of the one true God.

If you hold to one of the other theories you are in good company, for a number of well-respected scholars believe in one or the other of them. Quite a few well-respected and reputable scholars of our day believe Melchizedek was a man who was the leader of his clan (a "king") and a man who was devoted to the Lord and served his clan as high priest in the days before a priesthood was established under the law of Moses. I have come to believe in this theory myself after much study and after consulting commentaries that discuss the passages regarding Melchizedek in the original Hebrew and Greek. This man is only mentioned in Genesis, Psalms, and Hebrews, and when studying the passages of Psalms and Hebrews that reference Melchizedek's priesthood in Genesis, we find in the original text that his priesthood was said to be "like" that of the Lord Jesus. For example, in the original Hebrew, King David prophetically wrote that the priesthood of the Messiah would be "similar to" that of Melchizedek. We find in the original Greek, for example, that the Apostle Paul says that Christ's priesthood is "made like" Melchizedek's, not that they are one and the same. Paul also plainly states that Melchizedek was a "man". (Hebrews 7:4)

As we discussed yesterday, the similarity between Melchizedek and Christ is primarily the similarity between their priesthood. In both cases, the Lord chose as high priest someone who was not of a particular tribe. In both cases, the Lord chose as high priest someone who is also a king. Paul's specific purpose in writing the book of Hebrews was to demonstrate to his own people that Jesus of Nazareth could be their high priest even though He wasn't of the tribe of Levi, and Paul was using Melchizedek to back up his point. Ultimately, God has the right to choose the man who stands before Him as high priest. The fact that God chose Melchizedek, a man who lived before the priestly tribe of Israel ever existed, set a precedent for choosing another man at a later date who was also not of the priestly tribe of Israel. Paul was saying, "Why can't God anoint someone to be our high priest who is not of the tribe of Levi? He's done it before!" In comparing the priesthoods of Melchizedek and Christ, Paul is not saying that Melchizedek is Christ, but that both of them were chosen by the sovereign Lord according to His own will because they were the ones He wanted to serve Him. They were the ones He wanted to stand before Him on behalf of those who believe in Him. They were the ones He wanted to come into His presence and intercede for people for the forgiveness of sins. God has the final word on everything, and He is not bound by the laws of this earth, but is free to choose whom He will.

Prior to the giving of the law, the head of a family clan could be both king and priest over his clan. This is most likely what Melchizedek was: a king and priest over his own clan. Later, under the law of Moses, only men of the tribe of Levi could be priests and only men of the tribe of Judah could be kings. But Christ fulfilled the law and put us under grace, so that the law does not apply to Him regarding whether He can be both a king and a priest. Christ, as the head of the family of God, can be both our king and our priest. He holds both these offices because it is the will of God the Father for Him to hold both offices. Under the law, a man could not be both king and priest because of the enormous amount of power it would give him. It would have allowed a mere man to be in charge of the entire nation both politically and spiritually. Israel had a number of wicked kings and so did her sister-state Judah after the kingdom split in two. Imagine if those wicked kings had also been head of the church! As it is, they still managed to do a lot of spiritual damage to their nations. But we won't have to worry about that with the Lord Jesus Christ who will be both king and priest forever. He is perfectly righteous in every way. He cannot corrupt the government. He cannot corrupt the church. Imagine how peaceful the world will be when the government is under His control! Imagine what harmony and unity there will be among all believers when He is the head of the church! The prophet Isaiah foresaw this day and said of it: "The government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

Sunday, November 24, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 61, Who Was Melchizedek? Part Two

We continue on this morning with our study of the mysterious king and priest known as Melchizedek.

Yesterday we studied the first theory regarding his identity, which was that he may have been Noah's son Shem. We looked at reasons for and against believing this was the case. Today we move on to the second of the three post popular theories among Bible scholars, which is that the appearance of Melchizedek was an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ.

These appearances are often called "Christophanies" and they occur several times in the Old Testament. Generally, Christ is referred to as "the angel of the Lord" in these instances, but whenever He appears it is in the form of a human man. Sometimes He is mistaken for a mere man, at least at first. So we are going to look at some reasons why Melchizedek may be an Old Testament appearance of Christ, and then we are going to look at some things that will make us question this theory.

First, we noted yesterday that Melchizedek's name in the original Hebrew means "King Of Righteousness". As king of Salem his position would allow him to be called "King Of Peace". When we hear such titles, who do we think of? The Lord Jesus. If a person in our day were going around proclaiming himself to be the King Of Righteousness and the King Of Peace, we'd either conclude he is a wicked blasphemer or that he has a mental illness. The fact that Melchizedek could be called by these titles lends some credence to the theory that many scholars hold that he was an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. On the other hand, being a priest chosen by God may have allowed Melchizedek to be called King Of Righteousness by association---by his association with the Lord. In other words, any righteousness he possessed had been imputed to him by God, which is the only way any of us ever obtains righteousness. As the man who stood between the people and God to intercede for them, and as the man who set the religious example for the citizens of his city to follow, we can see why Melchizedek may have been given such a lofty title. This wouldn't have to mean he was perfect, but that the God whom he served as priest was perfect. Likewise, the title "King Of Peace" was probably a reference to the city with which Melchizedek was associated, for "Salem" means "peace". This title doesn't have to indicate that Melchizedek himself was capable of bestowing spiritual peace upon his people.

Melchizedek brought out bread and wine when he blessed Abram. We can't help thinking of the bread and wine of the Last Supper when Jesus told the disciples that the bread symbolized His body that would be broken and that the wine symbolized the blood He would shed. Does this mean Melchizedek was revealing himself to be Christ? Not necessarily. He might have been prompted by the Holy Spirit to bring these items as he prophetically looked forward to the coming of the Redeemer. We see the similarity between the meal he brings to Abram and the last meal the Lord Jesus ate before the crucifixion, but these items may have served a more practical purpose. What type of food quickly helps a person whose blood sugar is low? Carbs! Carbohydrates are rapidly broken down into sugar, so Melchizedek's idea to bring bread to Abram and his soldiers may have been prompted by his feeling that these men needed a fast fix. As far as the wine goes, a certain type of wine was provided to soldiers in ancient times to rehydrate them rapidly following extreme physical exertion or during long marches in high temperatures. The Roman army typically supplied a special type of wine (referred to as "vinegar" in the gospel accounts) because it worked in a similar fashion to the sports drinks we have in our day. When the Roman soldier offered Jesus vinegar because He complained of thirst on the cross, it was this specific type of wine that the army supplied to the soldiers. A number of scholars believe that the Roman soldier gave Jesus a drink from his own rations, thereby performing an unselfish act and also a merciful act, for he knew this wine vinegar would refresh the Lord quicker than water would.It supplied electrolytes, a thing the ancient people didn't understand; they simply knew that wine vinegar worked fast to revive someone suffering from dehydration.

In one of the Messianic psalms King David wrote, he made reference to Melchizedek when (by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) he spoke of God the Father anointing God the Son as a great high priest. David tells us what God the Father said to the Son, "The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind: 'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'" (Psalm 110:4) The Lord Jesus applied verses from Psalm 110 to Himself in Matthew 22:45 and in Mark 12:37, clearly letting us know that the psalm was written about Him. In Psalm 110 God the Father told the Son that His priesthood would be "in the order of" (meaning "similar to" or "like") that of Melchizedek. What does this mean?

Well, for one thing, we don't know Melchizedek's lineage. The Bible doesn't tell us who his parents were, when he was born, or when he died. This doesn't mean he wasn't born in the ordinary way or that he didn't die, just that the author of Genesis never knew these details, likely because Abram never knew these details to pass along to his descendants. In that sense, it's as if Melchizedek had no beginning or end, which may be why the Apostle Paul said of him that he was "without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God". (Hebrews 7:3) Melchizedek resembles the Son of God because the Son of God has existed forever and will continue to exist forever.

Abram didn't know Melchizedek until he came to bless him after the battle. He knew nothing about his origins or who his people were. He didn't know how this man came to be both a king and a priest or how he came to be a worshiper of Abram's own God. He didn't know how old this man was. He never heard anything about when or where this man eventually died. I think the eternal priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ is compared to the priesthood of Melchizedek because Jesus Christ has no beginning or end. This is likely one of the reasons why the Lord says of His Son's priesthood that it will be "in the order of" Melchizedek.

Another reason that Christ's priesthood is like Melchizedek's is that neither of them came from the priestly tribe of Israel. None of the tribes of Israel even existed in Abram's day, but the Lord anointed a man named Melchizedek, who was not of the tribe of Levi, to serve as a priest before Him. In the same way, even though Christ is of the royal tribe of Judah and not the tribe of Levi, the Lord anointed Him to serve as a priest before Him.

Yet another similarity between Christ and Melchizedek is that God allows them to be both king and priest, something that will be forbidden to the men of Israel when the law is given later. But Melchizedek didn't live under the law and the law didn't apply to him. Christ perfectly fulfilled the law and ushered us out of the era of law and into the era of grace, so the law doesn't apply to Him either when He is granted an eternal kingship and and eternal priesthood. The risen Redeemer can be both king and priest under the law of grace, whereas He could not be while He lived as a man under the law of Moses.

The fact that the author of Hebrews says that Melchizedek's genealogy is not known is a problem when we attempt to conclude that Melchizedek and the pre-incarnate Christ are one and the same. We know the lineage of the Lord Jesus Christ. We know His family line all the way back to Adam. We know who His father was (God Himself), who His adoptive father was (Joseph), and who His mother was (Mary). We know He is of the royal line of Judah and has the right to sit on the throne of David, which the Lord has promised to Him. We know approximately when He was born and I'm sure the people of His day could have told you His exact date of birth. We know approximately when He died on the cross, a thing which people of His day knew precisely. Christ, in His human life, can't truly be said to have had no beginning or end, no genealogy, and no record of His parentage.

We also have to consider that God the Father did not refer to God the Son as Melchizedek when confirming His eternal priesthood. Instead God the Father said His Son's priesthood would be "in the order of" Melchizedek. Nowhere in the Bible is the word "Melchizedek" a name for the Lord Jesus. The Apostle Paul did not say that Melchizedek's appearance in Genesis was an appearance of the Son of God but that the similarities between his priesthood and Christ's made it resemble the priesthood of the Son of God. (Hebrews 7:3) Paul says that in choosing Melchizedek the Lord chose a priest who was not of the priestly tribe (the tribes of Israel not yet even in existence) and that in choosing Christ to be a priest the Lord was again choosing a man not of the priestly tribe. Paul points out that in this way Christ's priesthood is "in the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 7:11) and that Christ is "another priest like Melchizedek" (Hebrews 7:15) Paul does not ever appear to say that Christ is Melchizedek. What he seems to be saying is that the similarity between Christ and Melchizedek is the similarity of their priesthood---a priesthood bestowed upon them by God's choice and not because they are from any particular lineage.

For many years I subscribed to the theory that the appearance of Melchizedek in Genesis was a Christophany, but the last time I did a really in-depth study of Genesis I found my mind changed. This leads us to the third top theory regarding the identity of Melchizedek, which we will discuss tomorrow.


Saturday, November 23, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 60, Who Was Melchizedek? Part One

In Friday's study we met a man named Melchizedek who was both a king and a priest. He came out to meet and to bless Abram after Abram and his men defeated the kings who had taken Lot and some of the other people of Sodom hostage. If Melchizedek were only mentioned this one time in the Bible, there would be no need for us to study him further. After all, the king of Sodom also came out to meet Abram in yesterday's passage, and we aren't concerned with his identity. But both King David and the Apostle Paul had important things to say about Melchizedek, things that link him inextricably with the kingship and the priesthood of the Messiah.

Moses, the author of Genesis, told us in yesterday's passage that Melchizedek was king of Salem (later called Jerusalem) and that he was a priest of God Most High. His name is derived from two Hebrew words. The first is "melek" which means "king". The second is "tsedeq" which means "righteousness". This gives him the title of "King Of Righteousness". In addition, the word "Salem" is a form of "shalom" which means "peace". This bestows the title of "King Of Peace" upon this mysterious man. I tend to think that "Melchizedek" was not this man's proper name but a title by which he was called, but we can't know for certain either way.

Now we are going to begin to consider what I feel are the top three theories regarding the identity of Melchizedek. There are far more theories in existence than just these three, but these three are the most logical and hold the most merit, in my own opinion and in the opinion of the mainstream scholars of our day. I'm no scholar, but some of the theories out there regarding Melchizedek are just bizarre, having no Biblical basis upon which to stand and having very little logic upon which to stand.

The first of the three theories is that Melchizedek is actually Shem, one of Noah's sons and the son through whom the Messiah will come. There is an ancient Hebrew story that puts forth this theory, so there is a basis from which to draw this conclusion. Shem lived to be 600 years old, and he would have still been alive during the lifetime of Abram, although he would have been well into his 400s.

There is a good reason for supposing this man may have been Shem, but there is a good reason for concluding he is not. The good reason goes like this: before the Levitical priesthood was established, the head of each family fulfilled the role of king and priest for the entire family. This man would perform sacrifices for the family and offer up prayers to the Lord on their behalf. In the first chapter of the book of Job, we find Job performing the duties of priest for his family. Job is believed to have been alive at around the same time as Abram, so we know this tradition existed in Abram's day. Out of Noah's three sons, Shem would have been the head of the family and the priest of the family. The oldest living member of each clan in those days was called a "king" over the clan, plus this same man interceded with the Lord on behalf of his clan; therefore, a man could be both a king and a priest in those days. After the priesthood was established, priests were forbidden to be kings and vice versa. Only men of the line of Levi could be priests. Only men of the line of Judah could be kings.

Speaking of family lines, this brings us to the reason why it's highly unlikely that Shem and Melchizedek are the same man. The Apostle Paul tells us in the book of Hebrews that the family lineage of Melchizedek is not known. When he speaks of this mysterious man who suddenly stepped onto the pages of the Bible, he says Melchizedek was "without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God". (Hebrews 7:3) No one could accuse Shem of having no known genealogy. The identity of his parents were known. The identity of his descendant were known. The Bible will eventually provide us with Shem's family line all the way down to the Lord Jesus Christ. None of Shem's genealogy was lost due to the passage of time. I think Abram, and also Moses, would have known if Melchizedek were Shem and I believe they would have told us.

Tomorrow we are going to move on to the second theory, which is that Melchizedek was an Old Testament appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ. There are other appearances of Christ in the Old Testament, appearances in which He looks like a man to those with whom He is interacting, though He is generally referred to as "the angel of the Lord" in those instances. But tomorrow we are going to study this theory, which has a great deal of sound Biblical basis to back it up, and we are going to look at both the reasons for and against believing Melchizedek is Christ.

Friday, November 22, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 59, Abram Meets Two Kings

In yesterday's passage Abram and his men defeated Kedorlaomer and his allies who had taken captive Abram's nephew Lot and many citizens of Sodom. Today two kings come out to meet Abram.

"After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley)." (Genesis 14:17) This valley is believed to have been just outside of what would later be known as Jerusalem, on the north side. This is where the king of Sodom comes out to retrieve his rescued people and to offer his gratitude to Abram and to the men who rescued them. As we will see shortly, the king will try to give him worldly goods as thanks for Abram's help.

We know very little about the king of Sodom but the Bible tells us that the people of Sodom were exceedingly wicked. It's probably safe to assume that the king was also a wicked pagan person living in opposition to the Lord. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the offer this king makes to Abram is intended by Satan to be a temptation. We never have to be more on guard spiritually than right after the Lord has given us a great victory or right after we have had an amazing spiritual experience. Spiritual highs are an awesome thing and a time of elevated communion with our God, but that's exactly when that old serpent of old likes to strike out at us. While basking in the afterglow of a spiritual breakthrough or in the glory of a great feat that God performed on our behalf, we might not be looking out for stumbling blocks in our path, and that's exactly when Satan likes to strew stumbling blocks all over our path.

The devil placed stumbling blocks even in the path of the Lord Jesus. For example, right after Jesus was baptized and both John the Baptist and God the Father from heaven announced His identity as the Messiah to the huge crowd assembled by the river, Jesus was tempted forty days by Satan. At the very moment when we feel most loved and validated by our God, the devil often tries to do his best to send us into a spiritual low point. In our passage today, Abram is no doubt rejoicing in the victory the Lord gave him and his men over armies that should have been much too strong for them to defeat. It is at that precise moment that the king of Sodom shows up to offer Abram material things. Focusing on material things would take Abram's mind off spiritual things.

But the Lord, in His mercy, sends a godly king to meet Abram right after the battle. This king comes out not to bless Abram materially but to bless him spiritually in the name of the Lord. "Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine." (Genesis 14:18) Salem is the same place that will later be called Jerusalem. Tomorrow we are going to focus on some mysterious passages from the Bible regarding King Melchizedek, but today we are going to focus more on what he does than on who he is. The first thing he does is offer Abram (and likely the men with him) bread and wine. These men need refreshment after fighting a fierce battle. Have you ever gotten into the wrong kind of mood simply because you needed refreshment? In our day this type of mood is referred to as being "hangry", when you are so hungry it makes you angry. I know I'm more likely to be irritable and impatient when my blood sugar is getting a bit low from going too long without eating. The Lord who created our bodies understands the effect that hunger and thirst have on them. He knows we might say or do things we wouldn't say or do when we aren't "hangry", so He sends out a man to serve refreshments to the weary, hungry, and thirsty Abram and his men.

There may be some spiritual significance to the specific refreshments Melchizedek brings with him. The bread and wine may prophetically symbolize the redeeming sacrifice Christ will make when He gives His life to secure salvation for mankind. In the gospels we find the Lord Jesus using the bread and wine to symbolize His approaching death on the cross. "And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.'" (Luke 22:19-20) If Melchizedek is looking forward to the promised Redeemer when he chooses the refreshments to bring out to the men, he is offering them spiritual refreshment as well as physical refreshment. We are not created as a body only, but as a body and a soul. We have physical needs and spiritual needs, and the Lord who created us knows this, and He is happy to supply the refreshment that satisfies us body and soul.

Now this king blesses Abram, strengthening him even more in the inner man, "And he blessed Abram, saying, 'Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.'" (Genesis 14:19-20a) The king of Sodom came out to congratulate Abram on his military prowess, but the king of Salem reminds Abram that his help comes from the Lord.

"Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything." (Genesis 20b) I believe this is the first example of tithing in the Bible. By giving a tenth of all the spoils he took in battle to Melchizedek, Abram is giving this tenth to the Lord. The priest will use these goods in the Lord's service. When we give money to our churches today, we do so in the attitude that we are giving to the Lord. We expect the money to be used in the service of the Lord; for example, by helping the poor in our church or by doing community outreach or by assisting the hungry in the community. When we help to supply the needs of our fellow man, we are doing service to the Lord, for when Jesus spoke of doing good deeds for others He said, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for Me." (Matthew 25:40)

We know Abram and his men rescued Lot, all the people, and all their belongings. But what Abram gave to Melchizedek was most likely the spoils of war---things he and his men captured from the enemy. It was a common practice to take everything that the enemy left behind when they took off running in defeat. These things usually included weapons, tents, animals, food, clothing, wine, water, and anything else an army might need in its camp. I don't believe Abram gave Melchizedek anything that belonged to the rescued captives of Sodom. These things did not belong to Abram, and the people still possess these things. The king of Sodom, however, thinks nothing of offering the possessions of his people to Abram in thanks for what he's done. "The king of Sodom said to Abram, 'Give me the people and take the goods for yourself.'" (Genesis 14:21) The king says, "All I want is to have my people back. You can keep everything else."

In Abram's day it would have been acceptable for him to keep all these possessions for himself. It was the way things were done. A man who rescued a group of people was entitled to keep their goods as "payment" for his work. But Abram doesn't want their stuff. He doesn't need it anyway; the Bible has already told us he's become quite wealthy. Besides that, Abram doesn't want to be associated in any way with the king of Sodom or with the type of things that go on in that city. "But Abram said to the king of Sodom, 'With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, 'I made Abram rich.'" (Genesis 14:22-23) Some people can't give away anything without letting everyone know about it. The king of Sodom would have gone around bragging about how Abram profited from him. The wealth Abram possesses was given to him by the Lord. All the thanks for his material prosperity belongs to the Lord. Abram doesn't want the recognition going to anyone else, so he refuses to take anything from the king.

Abram can only refuse these goods for himself, not for his three friends who came with him and his men, so he allows the king to award these men their share. "I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me---to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share." (Genesis 14:24) We were told earlier in Genesis 14 that Abram took 318 trained men from his own household with him into battle. Now that the battle is over, these men deserve to eat their fill, even if that means eating some of the supplies that belonged to the people of Sodom. But Abram asks for nothing more for these men who are his servants. They need to eat before beginning the march home, but once they get home Abram will supply their needs just as he has been doing all along. Out of all the wealth the Lord has given him, Abram keeps his servant soldiers housed and clothed and fed, along with their wives and children. But his three friends, like most men of their day, expect to profit from a victorious battle. They have not made a vow to the Lord not to accept anything from the king of Sodom. We don't even know whether they believe in the Lord. So Abram graciously allows the king of Sodom to award his three friends with a share of the goods.

Join us tomorrow as we delve deeply into the identity of the mysterious king of Salem and priest of Most High God, and as we discuss how in many ways he symbolizes a king and priest who would come later: the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 58, Abram Rescues Lot, Part Two

Lot has been carried off by King Kedorlaomer of Elam and his three allies following a revolt of the king of Sodom and other kings who no longer wanted to be subject to Kedorlaomer. Abram is going to have to come to Lor's rescue.

The five kings who rebelled against Kedorlaomer were soundly defeated, with the surviving rebels running away from the battle in all directions. One of the escapees informs Abram about the dire situation with Lot. "A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram." (Genesis 14:13) Abram has made friends since parting with Lot. Isn't God gracious to give us wonderful and caring friends while we walk through this dark world? What would we do without our friends to encourage us? God created us with a desire for the companionship of our fellow man.

"When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan." (Genesis 14:14) When the Bible says these men were born in Abram's household, it means they were the sons of his servants. Abram has faith in the Lord, but he also uses common sense. He has trained men to help him defend his homestead. A man with a family and servants to provide for has to be on guard against those who would love to take everything he has. He's a wealthy man and he knows there are those who wouldn't be above kidnapping someone from his household and holding them for ransom. He knows there are wicked people in the world who would love to rob his house. He is aware that there are those who envy his flocks and herds enough to round them up and take them away. It's as sensible for Abram to train men to defend the homestead as it is for us to lock our doors or have security systems installed. As the Lord Jesus once said, "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his house, his possessions are safe." (Luke 11:12) I keep the doors and windows of my house locked at all times. This doesn't indicate a lack of faith in the Lord; it's simply using the common sense and the security measures that the Lord gave me.

"During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people." (Genesis 14:15-16) It was common in those days for a conquering army to take captives from among those they conquered, along with all their possessions. Some of the women would end up as the wives or concubines of the soldiers. Others who were captured (men, women, and children) would be made into servants of the soldiers or they would be sold as slaves so that the conquering army could make a profit on them. Abram, with the help of the Lord, rescued every person taken captive along with all their worldly goods. The Lord doesn't do anything halfway!

Lot himself doesn't appear to be an especially spiritual man, and the captives from the battle probably weren't either. They were all from pagan cities and they worshiped false gods instead of the God of Abram. But because Abram belonged to the Lord, the Lord was with him, and all these other people were blessed by Abram's faith. You and I, as the children of the Most High God, are meant to be a blessing to those around us. The people around us may not be serving God, but God can still bless them through our faith and actions, and who knows what influence this may have on them in time? They may come to know the Lord simply because they were blessed by something we said or did.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 57, Abram Rescues Lot, Part One

War breaks out in the region and Abram is going to have to rescue his nephew Lot because Lot settled in the area of Sodom. It will take us two days to look at this section of Genesis.

"At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goyim, these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead Sea Valley). For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled." (Genesis 14:1-4) These southern kings are tired of living under the rule of Kedorlaomer and decide to fight for their independence.

"In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazezon Tamar." (Genesis 14:5-7) Kedorlaomer and his allies are mighty conquerors. First they secure the trade route through the area known as "the way of the kings", then they come against the rebellious kingdoms who no longer want to pay tribute to or be subject to Kedorlaomer.

Kedorlaomer may have thought that the demonstration of his power in the region would compel his rebellious subjects to surrender without a fight, but instead they assemble for battle. "Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboyim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar---four kings against five." (Genesis 14:8-9) The exact location of the battle of the Valley of Siddim is a matter of dispute. Some Bible scholars and archaeologists and geologists place it at the southern end of the Dead Sea, while others believe it lay at the northern end of the Dead Sea near Jericho. Those who believe it lay at the southern end are in the majority, partly because Lot will flee quickly to nearby Zoar later in Genesis when Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed. Zoar lay near the southern end of the Dead Sea. Also, the southern end of the Dead Sea lay in the path of Kedorlaomer's conquering march through the trade route. In verses 5-7 are listed the regions he conquered on his way to put down the rebellion, which would have placed him near the southern end when he completed his march.

"Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. They also carried off Abram's nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom." (Genesis 14:10-12) Originally we were told in Genesis 13 that Lot pitched his tents near Sodom. Now he is actually living in Sodom. He wasn't put off by the fact that these people were living in opposition to the Lord when he chose where to settle. Now he's actually become one of their citizens. Because he's one of them, he suffers hardship right along with them when trouble comes. As an old saying goes, "If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas." In other words, trouble often comes when a person keeps the wrong kind of company. Lot has been keeping the wrong kind of company. He's been keeping the wrong kind of company for so long that the conquering kings mistake him for a native of Sodom. They can't tell any difference between him and anyone else of that evil city. We run the risk of looking just like unbelievers when we assimilate too much into the godless ways of the world. As the children of the living God, there ought to be something different about us. We shouldn't look like unbelievers, we shouldn't talk like unbelievers, and we shouldn't behave like unbelievers. Lot fell into this trap, and because he did, Kedorlaomer and his allies can't tell any difference between him and the heathen citizens of Sodom.

Lot's sad situation in our study today should be a reminder to us all to examine our lives. Can people tell we are the children of God? Or do we look, talk, and behave like those who don't belong to Him at all?

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 56, Abram And Lot Separate

Abram and Sarai have been sent away by Pharaoh, but Pharaoh didn't take away any of the gifts he'd given Abram when he thought Abram was Sarai's brother. So now the couple has more worldly possessions than they did before, but at what cost? Abram caused his wife to be taken into Pharaoh's harem. Abram lost his honor by telling a huge lie and being caught in it. I think Abram and Sarai's relationship needed some mending and I think Abram's relationship with the Lord needed some mending too.

Nevertheless, the couple and Abram's nephew Lot try to make a fresh start. "So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold. From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord." (Genesis 13:1-4) Abram probably feels quite thankful to have made it back to Bethel safely with everyone and everything that belongs with him, but later on in Genesis we will find him telling the same lie about Sarai, so we can't honestly say he's learned from his mistake in Egypt. He may be sorry for his lie and his lack of faith, but when placed in the same situation again, he'll make the same poor decision.

"Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram's herders and Lot's. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time." (Genesis 13:5-7) The area is becoming overcrowded. There is not enough good pasture land in the region to support all the flocks and herds of Abram, of Lot, and of the tribes of the land of Canaan. No wonder quarreling broke out. Good grazing land is as valuable as gold to the man who owns many animals, and now they are all competing for the same space.

"So Abram said to Lot, 'Let's not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. Is not the whole land before you? Let's part company. If you go to the left, I'll go to the right; if you go to the right, I'll go to the left.'" (Genesis 13:8-9) It must have been painful for Abram to have to live at a distance from the man who is like a son to him, but better to live at a distance than to be angry with each other. Abram graciously gives Lot his choice out of all the land that lies before them.

"Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company. Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord." (Genesis 13:10-13) Some Bible scholars accuse Lot of selfishness because he appears to have picked the very best land that the eye could see, not caring whether this left Abram with land that was less desirable. Lot looks at the fertile plain and thinks to himself, "Why, it looks like Eden! And it's as beautiful as the lush land along the Nile River! This is the land I want. How could I possibly go wrong with land as fertile as this?" If indeed Lot was being selfish, we'll see soon enough that he ends up paying for his greed.

Personally, I'm not sure whether he was selfish so much as he was lacking in spiritual discernment. Nothing in his spirit shrank back from dwelling among people who were living in such immense sin that the Lord will eventually destroy them for it. Lot isn't bothered by the idea of rubbing elbows with violent and rebellious men. His mind is on the profitability of the land, so he compromises his values, and nothing good ever comes from compromising our values. We can't trade our morals for money and expect a good outcome. As the aging Apostle Paul told his friend Timothy, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." (1 Timothy 6:10) This verse is frequently misquoted as, "Money is the root of all evil." Money itself is an inanimate object, incapable of doing anything good or bad. Money can be a blessing if it's obtained honestly and if it's used in ways that honor the Lord. But it's the love of money that leads people to do immoral things. When a person loves money more than he loves honor or godliness, he's going to throw his morals to the wind. Lot looked at the fertile plain and saw the possibility of making money hand over fist, so he chose the land without taking to heart the fact that he'd be living among people whose hearts were cold and hard toward the Lord.

"The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, 'Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.' So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord." (Genesis 13:14-18) Have you ever been treated poorly by someone because of their selfishness? Lot chose what he thought was the best land for himself, but the Lord is giving Abram what will turn out to be the best land. Abram isn't a victim here. He's the one who receives a blessing from the Lord. Sometimes in our workplaces or in school or in other situations there will be selfish and greedy people who always try to take the best for themselves. There's often nothing we can do about it, especially when the selfish people are in authority over us. But the Lord's hands aren't tied. He will bless who He wants to bless, so it's better to be right with Him than to always be "looking out for number one". Lot's choice, if indeed it was made selfishly, is going to turn out to be the worst choice he could have possibly made. But the unselfish Abram, who was willing to take whatever land Lot didn't want, receives a covenant promise from the Lord. Lot is going to own land in the area of Sodom and Gomorrah for only a short time, but Abram's descendants are granted a dwelling place in the promised land forever.

Something to take away from today's lesson is this: let's not look around us and be upset about what others are doing. Let's look up and trust God to provide for us. As the Bible says, "Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:1-4)

Monday, November 18, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 55, Abram Gets In Trouble, Part Two

Abram has gone into Egypt because of the famine in Canaan. He's pretending Sarai is his sister and not his wife because she's so beautiful he's afraid someone will kill him in order to have her.

Yesterday we observed Abram sliding down a slippery slope. He didn't trust the Lord to provide for him during the famine in Canaan and he didn't stay put there, even though Canaan is where the Lord told him to dwell. He didn't trust the Lord to keep him safe from violent men in Egypt, even though the Lord already promised to make a great nation from his descendants (which he doesn't yet have). Now he's putting on a deception to protect himself, but the lie is going to make things worse, not better. He's pretending Sarai is his sister and not his wife because he's afraid someone will kill him in order to have her, but this plan is going to backfire.

"When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh's officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace." (Genesis 12:14-15) Sarah is the talk of the town. Even the king hears about her and has to see her for himself.

When the Bible says she was "taken into his palace" it likely means she was placed with the harem. If you've ever studied the book of Esther, the women who were being considered for the position of queen were taken into the harem where they were provided for and protected until each one had her turn to meet the king. During that time, no man was allowed to have physical relations with her. The ladies who were not chosen as queen would still remain in the harem for the rest of their lives and would become "minor wives" of the king. No other man could ever court them or marry them or have any physical contact with them. While Sarai was housed with the harem, I do not believe Pharaoh had physical relations with her. But he intended to get around to it eventually.

Meanwhile, the Bible tells us that Pharaoh showered Abram with gifts in exchange for the loss of Abram's "sister" from his household. It was the custom in ancient times for a prospective bridegroom to give valuable gifts to the head of the household when declaring his honorable intention to marry a young lady of the household. I don't know whether Pharoah was technically single at the time; as in, he had no chief wife who was his queen. But Sarai held enough value in his eyes that he was willing to pay quite a handsome bride price for her. "He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels." (Genesis 12:16)

These gifts are going to keep on giving, and not in a good way, for among these male and female servants is a woman called Hagar an Egyptian slave who will become a source of trouble for Abram and Sarai later on in their lives. Her very existence, and the existence of a son she will bear, will drive an unhappy wedge between Abram and Sarai as Sarai grows to passionately hate her. Abram appears to be profiting from his lies, but nothing good is going to come from his lack of faith, from his sojourn in Egypt, or from the deception he perpetrates on the king.

I can't help thinking about poor Sarai who is basically imprisoned with the women of the harem. From indoors the harem is watched over by eunuchs. From outside they are protected by soldiers. There is no chance of escape for Sarai. She doesn't know whether she'll ever see her husband again. (Honestly, if my husband did to me what Abram did to Sarai, I might not care if I ever saw him again, but I'd still want my freedom back.) Abram is profiting from his lie but he has no way of rescuing Sarai from Pharaoh's guards. He's now without his life partner and he sees no possibility of getting her back. Yes, he's saved his own neck, which probably wasn't in danger in the first place. But the woman who has been his companion and his friend through thick and thin is in the household of another man and soon to be a wife of the other man.

From a human standpoint, this problem can't be solved. It looks like Abram might as well cut his losses, take what he's gained in Egypt, and go back to Canaan. Sarai probably thinks she needs to resign herself to never being a free woman again. But our lives don't depend only on what we can do for ourselves. Our lives depend on the power of the Most High God. Even though Abram can't be said to "deserve" the Lord's help, the Lord steps in "because of Abram's wife Sarai", as we see in the following verse: "But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai." (Genesis 12:17) Sarai is the innocent, helpless victim in all of this mess. Because a married woman is being held in Pharoah's harem, the Lord sends illness into the royal household.

Pharaoh himself, though not a moral man or a godly man, is also a victim to Abram's deception. So why does the Lord send illness into his household? I think when it came to the Egyptians of that era, it took something big to make them take things seriously. When we see Moses intervening for the Hebrew people several centuries later, the Lord will have to send a number of plagues into the land before the king agrees to let the people go. He doesn't agree until the final plague hits, and then he only does it because he suffers a personal tragedy of his own. The Lord knows He has to afflict Pharaoh and his household personally so He can get the king's attention.

When everyone falls ill, Pharaoh senses some sort of judgment has come into his palace. He seeks an answer. The Bible doesn't tell us how he learns the answer, but we know that the Egyptian pharaohs employed people who dabbled in the magic arts. The kings often consulted these men for help, and I think that even though these men didn't know the one true God, the one true God spoke to one of them and revealed the truth. Or at the very least, the Lord caused one of them to take note that the trouble in the household began around the time Sarai was added to the harem. It could be that someone was sent to question her and she admitted she was Abram's wife. Whatever the case, Pharaoh calls for Abram and takes him to task for his lies. "So Pharaoh summoned Abram. 'What have you done to me?' he said. 'Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her to be my wife? Now, here is your wife. Take her and go!' Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had." (Genesis 12:18-20)

Abram has been shown more mercy than he deserves, but haven't we all received more mercy than we deserve? The Lord didn't say to Abram, "Well, you've made your bed. You'll have to lie in it." He rescued Abram, Sarai, and all the possession they came into Egypt with and all the possessions they gained while in Egypt. It's not as if there won't be natural consequences of Abram's wrong actions. I don't know how much of a toll Abram's actions took on his marriage. It may be that Sarai never looked at him quite the same way again. I don't think I could properly love and respect a man who did to me what Abram did to Sarai. The slave woman Hagar is going to cause problems later on, so much so that I think Abram will rue the day he ever set foot in Egypt. Even in our own times, the descendants of Hagar's son and the descendants of Sarai's son are enemies of each other, and this is a situation that never would have occurred if Abram hadn't gone into Egypt. This is a situation that wouldn't be present in the world if, later on, Abram and Sarai didn't begin to doubt the Lord's promise to give them a son together. At that point they will draw Hagar into their plan to take matters into their own hands.

The Lord had to step into this mess in Egypt because His own Son is going to come from the line of the one promised to Abram and Sarai. Sarai couldn't be allowed to remain in Pharoah's household. Abram couldn't be allowed to leave her behind in Egypt. There are some promises of the Bible that depend on our obedience to the Lord, but there are other promises that depend solely on the Lord's faithfulness. The promise of a Redeemer depended solely on the Lord's faithfulness. There was nothing man could do to make this promise void.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 54, Abram Gets In Trouble, Part One

A famine hits the land of Canaan and Abram goes down to Egypt where food was more plentiful. Many scholars believe he was out of the will of God when he did this. I tend to agree with them. The Lord had told him to go to Canaan, but when hard times came he left Canaan for Egypt. It's as if he doubted God's ability to take care of him in Canaan. If it's the case that he was out of the will of God when he went to Egypt, then it's easy to understand how he manages to get himself and his wife into trouble there.

"Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe." (Genesis 12:10) I started thinking about why Abram may have begun to doubt whether it was possible to survive in Canaan. I started wondering whether his doubt was a result of the doubt of his family and the other people with him. As conditions in Canaan began to look worse and worse, maybe the people with him began to doubt whether God had really spoken to him at all. His wife, his nephew Lot, the servants, and any others in Abram's care were looking to him for guidance and support. They had followed him this far, but now it looked like they were in danger of starving to death. I think the pressure got to him. As a man with a family and as the person responsible for bringing these people into Canaan, Abram could have begun to feel inadequate to fulfill his responsibilities to these people and to all the livestock. I wonder if perhaps it wasn't so much that he doubted God, but that he doubted himself. He could have begun to feel that their survival depended on him alone, and whenever we think a situation depends on us alone (and not on God) we are in danger of making a bad decision.

Abram makes a bad decision, and as so often happens, this leads to other bad decisions. "As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, 'I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me and let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.'" (Genesis 12:11-13) Abram already made the mistake of thinking God wasn't going to provide for him in the land He told him to inhabit. Now he doesn't trust the Lord to protect him in Egypt. This causes Abram to decide honesty isn't the best policy when dealing with the Egyptians. He's trusting in himself, and in a lie, for protection.

Later, when a child is born to Abram and Sarai, we will find out that Sarai is about ten years younger than her husband. We've been told that Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out for Canaan, which means Sarai was sixty-five years old at that time. We don't know how long they lived in Canaan before the famine hit, but we know Sarai was at least sixty-five. But she's only halfway through her life because the Bible will tell us she lived to be 127 years old. So she's middle aged when she accompanies her husband on his trip to Egypt. She's still so beautiful that Abram fears the men of Egypt will lust for her to the extent of killing him so they can have her. But if he tells them she is his sister, they will treat him with respect in hopes that he might give her hand in marriage to one of them. Though she is probably already past the age of childbearing, or close to it, having her be the mother of their children is not what's going to be in these men's minds. They are going to want to sleep with her, and if that means having to be nice to her supposed brother, they will be willing to do it in case he might agree to let her be the wife of one of them.

In Genesis 20 we will find out that Sarai actually is Abram's half-sister, but he's still a liar when he tells the Egyptians she's his sister. Their husband/wife relationship is their true relationship. A half truth is still a lie, just like half obedience is still disobedience.

Abram's mistakes are going to snowball into what could easily have been a disaster, not only for Abram's own family but for the entire Messianic line. In tomorrow's passage we find the Lord mercifully coming to the rescue, and we will discuss why the Lord has to intervene in this case even though Abram has brought his trouble upon himself.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 53, Abram Sets Out For Canaan

The Lord commanded Abram, "Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you." Today Abram sets out for the land of Canaan in obedience to the Lord.

"So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him." (Genesis 12:4a) I think Abram took on a fatherly role for his fatherless nephew Lot. Abram himself was childless. Lot was the closest thing he had to a son.

"Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there." (Genesis 12:4b-5) We will learn later in Genesis that Abram lived to be one hundred and seventy-five years old. He's not even halfway through his life when he sets out for Canaan. We might consider him "middle aged" when he sets out for Canaan, but making huge changes in middle age isn't as easy as when you are young and adventurous and unencumbered by dependents. Abram is responsible for his wife, his nephew, and "the people they had acquired in Harran". Who are these people? Some scholars believe they are servants who work for the family. Others believe that these people are converts to the God of Abram who chose to go with Abram into Canaan. This is because a literal translation of the word "people" in verse 5 is "souls" in the original text. So the author of Genesis may be saying that Abram won souls to the Lord while he lived in Harran.

"Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land." (Genesis 12:6) This tree must have been of the type that lives for hundreds of years, since Moses speaks of it as if his readers are familiar with this landmark.

The Canaanites are descended from Noah's son Ham, the son upon whose lineage Noah prophetically placed a curse. They were wild and uncivilized. They worshiped false gods. Later in the Old Testament we will be told that some sects of the Canaanites practiced child sacrifice. They were an exceedingly wicked and violent group of people, and Abram must have felt overwhelmed when he reached the land of Canaan and saw the great task that lay before him and his people. The reason I think this is because the Lord appears to him in Canaan to encourage him.

"The Lord appeared to Abram and said, 'To your offspring I will give this land.' So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him." (Genesis 12:7) The road of obedience is not always smooth. Sometimes we need the Lord to repeat His promise to us to reassure us that we are on the right path. We know in our hearts that He told us to do this particular thing, but when difficulties arise we can fall into doubt and discouragement. We may ask ourselves, "Did the Lord really tell me to do this? Or did I misunderstand?" When Abram reached Canaan he may have begun to wonder whether he misunderstood the Lord. Our faithful God who is so patient with our weaknesses shows up at just the right time to give Abram the confidence he needs. As an act of faith, Abram builds an altar and worships the Lord in the very place the Lord spoke to him. Abram doesn't know when or how the Lord is going to give him offspring. He doesn't know when or how the Lord is going to give his offspring the land of Canaan. But he believes the Lord will do it, and because he believes the Lord he goes ahead and praises the Lord for things not yet seen.

"From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev." (Genesis 12:8-9) Abram knew the importance of having a place of worship everywhere he went. At each step of the journey he was saying, in the manner of the prophet Samuel, "This far the Lord has helped us." (1 Samuel 7:12)

Wherever you are today, this far the Lord has helped you. You wouldn't have made it this far without Him. It would be a good idea to stop and thank Him for that today. And, like Abram, thank Him for the things He's going to do.

Friday, November 15, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 52, The Lord Calls Abram

In Thursday's study we learned that Abram's father Terah suffered the loss of one of his sons (Haran) while the family still lived in Ur. Today some of the family decides to move from Ur into the land of Canaan.

"Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Harran." (Genesis 11:31-32) It was not actually Terah's idea to leave Ur, but Abram's, for in Acts 7:2-4 we find Stephen, a follower of Christ, making this statement to the high priest and the council: "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. 'Leave your country and your people,' God said, 'and go to the land I will show you.' So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Harran. After the death of his father, God sent him to the land where you are now living."

The one true God spoke to Abram while Abram still lived in the heathen land of the Chaldeans. It was God who told Abram to leave Ur and strike out for Canaan. The Bible doesn't tell us why the family settled in Harran instead of continuing on to Canaan, but it could be because Abram's father Terah became too ill to continue on. The passage from Acts appears to indicate that Abram's journey was hampered by something to do with Terah since it says it was "after the death of his father" that God sent Abram on to Canaan.

Some scholars speculate that Terah lacked the faith of his son Abram and wanted to finish out his life in the comfort of Harran instead of trying to scrape out a living in Canaan. In ancient times Harran was an important city that lay along a trade route between Nineveh and Carchemish. Terah was used to the luxuries of Ur, so Harran might have seemed like a good substitute for his hometown. Excavations of the ruins of Ur have shown it to have been an enormous city capable of supporting up to 24,000 citizens. The city was so modern and sophisticated that many of the larger structures contained what passed for indoor plumbing in ancient times. A number of carved tablets have been recovered from Ur that provide us with the information that its citizens were idolaters who worshiped a pantheon of gods, with the chief god (Nanna) being a moon god. Perhaps Terah's heart still longed for his hometown and for his old gods, but it was too painful for him to remain in Ur after the death of his son Haran. Settling in the city of Harran may have appeared more attractive to him than moving on into the land of Canaan.

As we begin Chapter 12, the author of Genesis takes a step back in time to tell us how the Lord called Abram in the first place, when Abram was still in Ur. It sounds as if the Lord may have been telling Abram to leave his father behind in Ur, but instead Abram took him along and ended up having to dwell in Harran. "The Lord had said to Abram, 'Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land that I will show you.'" (Genesis 12:1) This verse makes me wonder whether the scholars are correct who believe Terah was still caught up in idolatry. The Lord told Abram to leave his father's house, and this could be because Terah wasn't a godly influence on his son who is rejecting the gods of his homeland in favor of the God who has spoken to him. No other god ever spoke to him. No other god ever established a personal relationship with him. The gods of Ur left Abram feeling empty and alone and unfulfilled. His heart longed for something more, for a real connection with the One who created him. Because his heart sought God, (even when he didn't know who God was), God made Himself known to him. But perhaps Abram felt sorry for his father who had already suffered the loss of one son. It may have been too difficult for Abram to leave his father behind, knowing they would never see each other again. If this is the case, and if Abram's failure to strike out without Terah was in disobedience to God, then we can see why the journey was hampered. Partial obedience is disobedience, and when we disobey God we are going to bring difficulties on ourselves.

We will conclude today with the promise the Lord made to Abram. "I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing; I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:2-3)

This powerful promise must have been as welcome to Abram as rain is on a dry and sun-scorched land. Abram has no children. He's going to be seventy-five years old when he leaves Harran for Canaan, so he and his wife long ago gave up any hope of becoming parents. But the God who "gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not" (Romans 4:17) is going to do a great thing for Abram and Sarai within about twenty-five years. God is going to keep His promise of making "a great nation" out of Abram. God is going to keep His promise that "all peoples on earth will be blessed" by this great nation that will come from Abram. How is the Lord going to bless all people? By bringing the Redeemer from Abram's family line. Christ died for all people so that all people---whether Jew or Gentile---could obtain salvation through Him.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

In The Beginning. Day 51, Abram

Today we begin our look at Abram, who is the son of Terah, who is a descendant of Noah's son Shem.

"This is the account of Terah's family line. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot." (Genesis 11:27) Lot, the nephew of Abram, is going to become part of a significant Bible event later on.

"While his father was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth." (Genesis 11:28) Terah outlives his son Haran. Some of you may know this type of heartbreak. Lifespans have greatly decreased since the flood and here we see a man dying in what was probably the prime of his life.

"Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife was Milkah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milkah and Iskah." (Genesis 11:29) Nahor married his niece. Early on in the Bible we often find close relatives marrying each other. Later in the Bible we will find this practice forbidden by God in Leviticus 18. It is believed by many scholars and geneticists that the longer man lived on earth, the more corrupted his DNA became. The farther man lived from the dawn of time, the more frequently mutations cropped up. This means that the closer two people are related to each other, the more likely they are to carry the same genetic mutations. When these two people produce offspring together, their shared genealogy increases the chance that their children will be born with disabilities and inherited diseases. Prior to the flood, and in the first several hundred years following the flood, the Lord didn't forbid man to marry a close relative because there weren't yet enough mutations in man's DNA to pass along to offspring.

We will learn in Genesis 20 that Abram's wife Sarai is actually his half-sister. His father Terah lived a total of 205 years and may have outlived his first wife. He probably married again and had more children by a second wife. One of these children became Abram's wife. It's possible Terah had more that one wife at a time, but that practice hasn't yet become very common in the Old Testament. So far I believe the only time we've seen a man with two wives was when Lamech (the great-great-great grandson of Cain) had two wives in Genesis 4.

Abram and his wife were unable to have children. "Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive." (Genesis 11:38) This infertility is going to affect everything about their life together and about the decisions they make and about their faith in God. Any of you who have struggled with infertility can relate to how this disappointment colored everything in this couple's life together. But their many years of disappointment and struggle are going to result in one of the greatest miracles of the Bible. The Lord is going to grant them a child once Sarai is so far past the age of childbearing that no one can help giving glory to God for the miraculous birth of a much-wanted child---a child who will be the ancestor of the Messiah.

No one, including Abram and Sarai, believed it was still possible for them to have a natural, biological child together. But nothing is impossible for God! I've been in some situations that looked impossible. A good outcome was impossible by man's standards. Defeat and disappointment and heartbreak seemed certain. I thought so and so did everyone around me. But God stepped in. But God moved mountains. But God made a way where previously there was no way. So don't ever count yourself down and out. If a miraculous turnaround of your circumstances depended solely on human effort, then it might be impossible. But the God who spoke light into darkness and who created everything out of nothing is still as powerful today as He ever was. He never changes. He will "make a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland". (Isaiah 43:19)