Thoroughly Equipped: Your Very Great Reward

Abram’s knowledge of and relationship with God kept him from making unhealthy alliances which could have had repercussions in the future.  He could not risk having the Canaanite king claim kingship over him.  Why?  Because he already had a king.  Let’s look at Genesis 15:1.

            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.”                                                      

The word used here as “shield” can also be translated as “sovereign.” Any way you look at it, the reference is to the Lord as Abram’s King.  Here and many places elsewhere in the Bible, this word “shield” stands for king.  The definition of king according to the Holman Concise Bible Dictionary is:

Male monarch of a major territorial unit; especially one whose position is hereditary and who rules for life. 

God wants His territory to be a monarchy, meaning He is the only ruler over our hearts, minds, souls, families, jobs, homes, churches, and desires.  He wants it all.  And He deserves it all, for He is the King of all Kings.  Are you holding back any of your life’s territory from God?  Is there any small closet in the rooms of your life and heart which you have kept locked away?  Are you ready to give up the key?  Are you ready for God to have your whole life’s territory?

We see something else important in that one verse.  Let’s look at it again.  “Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.”

When we look over the history of the world, we know that there are good kings and bad kings.  The bad kings make the people miserable and keep them poor, needy, and oppressed.  Those, indeed, are kings to be afraid of.  But what does God say in this verse?  “Do not be afraid.”  Why?  Because He is not only a good King; He is the Great I Am, the Best King of all!  He will never keep His people poor and needy and oppressed.  Look at some of the other things this Greatest of Kings has said:

  Looking at his disciples, he said:                                                                                                                 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” 

                                                                                (Luke 6:20) 

            “Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise,” says the LORD. “I will protect them from those who malign them.”               

                                                                              (Psalm 12:5)

Surrendering everything to the Lord can be scary.  But if we know Who we are dealing with, we do not need to be afraid. God also said, “I am … your very great reward.” Abram was already very wealthy.  He had an abundance of riches and material things.  But God was saying, “My Kingship is greater than these.  My Kingship offers you the security you long for, and no other riches can compare.”

This is a good thing for us Americans to reflect upon.  We are a wealthy people.  Even the poorest here are wealthier than the majority of people elsewhere in the world.  But even in our wealth, we struggle with worry.  We have needs.  This current economic crisis has affected everyone.  It has caused many of us to fear in one way or another.  But what does God have to say about that?

            Do not be afraid … I am your shield, your very great reward.

He will meet your needs according to His riches in heaven, as Philippians 4:19 says, but He must be given kingship over every territory of your life.

Abram was a lot like us—he still had doubts.  Genesis 15:2 starts out, “But Abram ….”  Those two words say a lot.  He still had to deal with the truth of God’s Word meshing with his current reality.  His reality was he still didn’t have an heir to fulfill the promise given to him. So God “took him outside and said, ‘Look up.’”  Look up!  Chin up!  Don’t be down.  Don’t be discouraged!

But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless …?”  He [God] took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then  he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”  Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

                                                                      (Genesis 15:2, 5-6)

God said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” There must have been a pause there for Abram to see all the stars.  I picture him looking up, seeing all those stars.  Maybe he started counting:  1, 2, 3, 4, 20, 40, 60, 80.  I wonder on what number he stopped and thought, “No, I can’t count them all.”

Then God said, “So shall your offspring be.”  I can envision Abram taking a deep breath and renewing his faith and making a new decision to trust.  Verse six shows us that this was a defining moment for Abram.  In fact, though he couldn’t have known it at the time, this would become what Abram was forever remembered for:  “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

He just believed.  It is as if God were saying, “Well done!  It is good and right.  You are righteous because you just believe.”

Now, God could have ended this special moment at that point.  He had Abram where he wanted him.  But God, as always, went a step further.  I picture it as if He smiled, maybe laughed out loud in excitement, rubbed His holy hands together in anticipation, and thought:  “Okay!  Now comes the good part!  I am going to show him something more, something great, something that will affect him now but will have the greatest effect on the world in the future.”  Then He began to speak again.  It’s like He is clearing His throat, beginning an extremely important speech and demonstration, and He wants Abram to follow Him closely.  He calls him to remembrance.  He says in Genesis 15:7:

I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.

Abram then acknowledged Him as King by referring to Him as Sovereign Lord, but in great honesty also approached Him as Someone with whom he had a close relationship— Someone with whom he could be honest about how he really felt.

            But Abram said, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I know …?”

(Genesis 15:8)

Abram said, “How can I know that I will gain possession of it?  I have made you my King; I do believe, but … how can I know?”  We may feel the same way sometimes.  “Lord, I love you; I do trust You, most of the time.  But, Lord, how can I know that you will keep your promises?”

The Lord began to reveal to Abram something so important that it would forever affect Abram and will forever affect us, if we can take the time to understand it and apply it.  He began to reveal the significance of covenant.  Covenant is a never-ending promise.  God always keeps His promises!


Thoroughly Equipped: A Family Feud

Today’s reading includes Genesis 16:1-18:15, Matthew 6:1-24, Psalm 7:1-17, and Proverbs 2:1-5.  This commentary, however, is still from Genesis 14-15 and it is likely that tomorrow’s post will be too.   Abram had been traveling with Lot, who also had flocks and herds and tents.  The region around Bethel and Ai did not have enough water and pasture to support such large flocks and herds.  Quarreling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen.  So Abram, with his godly, faithful character, initiated a peaceful confrontation.  He said in Genesis 13:8-9:

            Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are  brothers. 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.

Abram understood the importance of peace and unity among brothers.  We can apply that to our Christian brothers and sisters, not just our blood family. Abram knew instinctively the attitudes of godliness.  How did he know?  Because he had a relationship with God.  We now have the Word of God, so we are without excuse.

            Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?

                                                                    (1Corinthians 6:7)

            Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

                                                                          (Luke 6:28-30)

Are you in a family dispute?  Take the high road.  That is what Abram was willing to do.  He trusted that God would take care of his needs without his own finagling and manipulating.  We don’t see such a godly attitude coming from Lot.  We find in verses 10-13 the selfishness and foolishness of Lot’s heart.

Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (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 men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD. 

                                                                               ( Genesis 13:10-13)

While Abram had pitched his tents in close proximity to the godly place of Bethel, Lot chose to pitch his tents in close proximity to the wickedness of Sodom.  What do we know of Sodom?  Even today, Sodom is synonymous with sin, wickedness, and perversion.  Lot found out soon enough that you can’t pitch your tent next to wickedness without being affected yourself.  We think we can handle it.  We think it won’t affect us.  But time always proves us wrong.  Constant exposure to sin slowly chips away our resolve and our pure thinking.  Before we even realize what has happened, we have slowly come to a place of acceptance of things that separate us from God.  As 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Bad company corrupts good character.”  Though Abram appeared to take the leftovers, God was looking out for his best interest.

            The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are, and look  north and south, 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 breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”

                                                                               Genesis 13:14-17

We see in verses fourteen through seventeen that God rewarded Abram’s unselfish attitudes and turned the lesser into the best.

Charles Spurgeon had this to say in Faith’s Checkbook:

                        A special blessing for a memorable occasion. Abram settled a family dispute, saying “Let there be no strife between you and me, for we are brethren,” and hence he received the blessing which belongs to peacemakers.  The Lord and giver of peace delights to manifest His grace to those who seek peace and pursue it. If we desire closer communion with God, we must keep closer to the ways of peace. Abram behaved generously to his kinsman, giving him his choice of land.  If we deny ourselves for peace’s sake, the Lord will more than make it up to us.

And indeed, God more than made up for Abram’s denial of himself.  Genesis 10:14-17 reveals the blessing of obedience, but it is also a call to action.  We must receive the blessings of God.  God said, “Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I’m giving it to you.”

We might think that Abram would tire of Lot and his selfish, sinful attitudes.  But we find love, loyalty, and forgiveness in Abram’s character.  When Sodom was seized by enemy kings, Lot, his family, and all his possessions were carried off by the enemy.  When Abram heard of this, he did not think of the differences between him and Lot, or of the grievances between them. Abram instead thought of the fact that they were family.  So he came to Lot’s rescue and saved him and all of his household and possessions from the enemy.  What was Lot’s response to this rescue? It doesn’t say.  We don’t know if he was grateful.  We do know that he returned to Sodom.  He returned to the wicked place and pitched his tent there.  Later, he would endure consequences for that move, when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God.

Again, we see the favor of God resting upon Abram, for despite the apparent lack of appreciation from his family, his reputation as a mighty warrior became known throughout the land. This mighty reputation would help him refine his faith and grow in his allegiance to his God.

In Genesis 14, we see Abram on the road in the King’s Valley, probably east of Jerusalem, still journeying on.  He went to battle with kings of the area because they captured Lot.  When Abram returned from rescuing Lot and defeating the King of Elam, the other kings in the area took notice of him.  They must have been a bit nervous, since he was returning from a victorious battle, so they somewhat allied themselves with him.  The King of Sodom came out to meet him, as did Melchizedek, King of Salem.  Hebrews 7 tells us a lot about Melchizedek.

This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.                                       

                                                                                (Hebrews 7:1-3)

Abram preferred and related to Melchizedek more than the others because he served the One True God, just as Abram did.  Melchizedek was unique in that he was both a priest and a king. Abram accepted bread and wine from him, and then Abram gave Melchizedek one tenth of everything.  This was the standard king’s portion. Did you know that when you tithe your income, you are saying that God is your King?  To go above that standard amount indicates even more devotion.  But it is not about an amount or a percentage; it is about a surrendered heart.

In Hebrews Jesus is referred to as a priest after the order of Melchizedek, not after the order of Levites, which all priests came to be later.

… we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

(Hebrews 6:18-20)

 Jesus is a priest.  The job of a priest is to go before God on the behalf of someone.  Jesus went to God on our behalf.  He is the greatest High Priest.

Jesus is also a king.  Not just any old king.  He is the King of kings.

As we realize the significance of Melchizedek foreshadowing the coming Priest and King, Jesus, let’s look closer at the encounter between Abram and Melchizedek.

As already stated, Abram gave gifts to and accepted gifts from Melchizedek.  In those days the gift-taking was a form of alliance. We see in verse 23 that the Canaanite king wanted to give him gifts.  But Abram refused.  This is what he said:

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of  heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or  the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’”                       

                                                                      (Genesis14:22-23)

The NIV Study Bible has interesting things to say about this passage:  Abram refused to let himself become obligated to anyone but the Lord.  Had he done so, this Canaanite king might later have claimed the right of kingship over Abram.

This Canaanite kingship over Abram could not be.  Remember the proclamation of Noah concerning Canaan?  Canaan and the Canaanites were to be under Shem and his descendants, represented by Abram.  They were not to be above them, as a king would be.  Abram would have understood this.  This information would have been passed down from generation to generation. Terah, Abram’s dad, would have made sure that Abram knew that important story in their history.  As enticing as the riches would have been, Abram’s knowledge would not have let him succumb to the temptation.  It would have been normal and customary for him to take the goods.  Maybe it even appeared impolite not to.  But Abram knew enough to say no.

Abram wouldn’t become obligated to the king of Sodom, who was a Canaanite.  When we hear the word Sodom, we think of Sodom and Gomorrah, which are a picture of sin and evil.  When we become obligated to sin because we don’t take it seriously or because we make excuses for it, we are opening ourselves up to the Evil One claiming kingship over us.  We have to guard ourselves so this will not happen.  We are called to be holy.  But we are not called to be “holier-than-thou.”  We are called to be holy, as Jesus was holy.

The holiness we are called to will prepare us to be poured out as a sweet-smelling sacrifice.  This holiness will not cause us to accuse others but to give ourselves up for others.  This holiness will not cause us to hide away from others but will prepare us to love others unselfishly, just like Jesus did and does.  We will never attain this holiness on our own.  We can’t.  We will sin at times.  But we must diligently seek God’s Word and remember it so that we will have godly wisdom in our day-to- day decisions.


Thoroughly Equipped: Leave, Go, Know

Today’s reading includes Genesis 13:5-15:21, Matthew 5:27-48, Psalm 6: 1-10.  Yesterday, we learned of Noah’s three sons and how the effects of righteous and unrighteous actions affected generations.  We talked of the curses overcome by Jesus, who took the curse on Himself so we would not have to bear it.  However, all of this with Noah and the generations to come was before Jesus, and therefore the curses and blessings were not yet trumped by the Blessed One.

The blessing Noah bestowed on his sons was distributed in order of favor:

Shem first

Then Japheth

Then Ham, or Canaan, who received a curse

Why is this information important to understand the story of Abraham?  First of all, many of you know that the Canaanites, Ham’s descendents, became enemies of the Israelites.  The Canaanites occupied the Promised Land, which was promised to the Israelites.  The Canaanites followed false gods, and God warned His people not to be overcome nor influenced by the Canaanites.

The Israelites, on the other hand, were direct descendents of Shem.  Abraham was a direct descendent of Shem.  Here is the list of genealogy:

Shem had Arphaxand.

Arphaxand had Shelah.

Shelah had Eber.

Eber had Pelez.

Pelez had Reu.

Reu had Serug.

Serug had Nahor.

Nahor had Terah.

Terah had Abram.

It is important to understand this genealogy because when God called Abram, it was because He wanted to reveal the fulfillment of the prophetic word spoken by Noah.  Canaanites (descendants of sinful Ham) were occupying the land that was rightfully owned by Shem’s descendents.  So God called Abram to begin the task of making right the order of things which had been established many generations prior.

God called Abram.  What does that mean?  Was it audible?  Was it a still, small voice he heard with his heart?  Scripture doesn’t really say.

All we know was that God spoke.

He spoke clearly.

Abram heard.

And he responded.

I think maybe the point is not so much how loudly God spoke, but more that Abraham had ears to hear.  Have you ever felt called by God?  I have.  We all are called; some of us just haven’t chosen to hear it yet.

We learn in Acts 7:2 that Abram’s calling began when he lived in Mesopotamia, in Ur.  The NIV Study Bible has this to say about Abram’s calling:

            Early on God told Abram to leave the settled world of  the post-Babel nations and begin a pilgrimage with God  to a better world of God’s making. (Genesis 24:7) 5

What is a pilgrimage? Webster’s Dictionary says that a pilgrimage is:

  1. A journey of a pilgrim, especially a journey to a sacred place.
  2. The course of life on earth.

It also says that a pilgrim is:

  1. One who journeys in foreign lands.
  2. One who travels to a holy place as a devotee. 6

And that is what this study is all about—it is about a spiritual journey down a godly road, which we are all invited to take.  In fact, we all take journeys.  Life is a journey.

But which road will we take?

And what can the journeys of others who have gone before us teach us?

What do we take on this journey?

What is our compass for the journey?

What are roadblocks along the way?

What if we take a detour?  Can we get back on the right road?

Is there still hope for the journey?

These are all questions that are answered in God’s Word.

So let’s dive into the journey of Abram.  After Terah died, the Lord spoke to Abram and said, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”  This instruction had a seven-fold promise attached to it.  Seven is the biblical number for completion and perfection.

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

Let’s look more closely at the seven things that made up the promise.  The Lord said:

  1. I will make you into a great nation.
  2. I will bless you.
  3. I will make your name great.
  4. You will be a blessing.
  5. I will bless those who bless you.
  6. Whoever curses you I will curse.
  7. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

God’s original blessing on mankind was found in Genesis 1:28.  God gave the same blessing and directive to Noah after the flood.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and  increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Now it would be fully restored and fulfilled through Abram and his offspring.

Interestingly, the promise was made to Abram before the Lord changed his name to Abraham.  The Lord promised to make his name great.  It was as though the Lord was seeing who Abram would become, not just who he was at that moment.  It was a confident and sure word, indicating He who began a good work, would bring it to completion  (Philippians 1:6).  All of the parts of the promise have been fulfilled, haven’t they?  But let’s focus on the seventh part of the promise—the part that completes and perfects all of the other parts.

            All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

This is a powerful and prophetic statement.  To what, or rather Whom, is it referring? The fact that Jesus came through the lineage of Abram is the fulfillment of the promise.  Jesus, from the seed of Abram, was born, lived as a man, died as the ultimate sacrifice, and rose again as the triumphant King and Savior.  Only through Jesus would all the peoples on earth be blessed.  Revelation 7:9-10 says:

            After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation,  tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

                        And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 

That Lamb is Jesus, from the seed of Abraham, the ultimate fulfillment of the promise given so long ago.

The next sentence we see after the promise was given to Abram says much about the faith and trust that Abram had in the Lord:

            So Abram left, as the Lord had told him.

                                                                            Genesis 12:4

Abram obeyed immediately.  No questioning, arguing, worrying, or procrastinating.  My heart can learn a lesson from that.  As I often tell my own children, “Delayed obedience is disobedience.”  Not only do we disobey when we hesitate to obey, but we also may miss out on many wonderful blessings that the Lord intends for us.  Praise be to God for His wonderful mercies, which are new every morning.  Even if our delayed obedience gets us off the right road for a season, we have a Redeemer who will right our wrongs, if we ask Him to do that.

Abram was called by God.  What was the calling? Let’s look at it again.

            The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

              “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.”

            So Abram went, as the LORD had told him….

                                                                        Genesis 12:1-4

God called Abram to do three main things:

To Leave

To Go

To Know

First, Abram was called to leave.  He was to leave his country, his people, and his father’s household.  The country could be symbolic of the familiar.  Sometimes God calls us out of our safe, familiar surroundings in order to follow Him.   He was called to leave his people.  These were his friends, whom he knew very well.  When we begin to sincerely follow Christ, sometimes we find that those whom we know very well no longer understand us.  This can be a painful and lonely reality.  This doesn’t mean we reject and ignore those who aren’t Christians.  In fact, Jesus called us to exactly the opposite action.  However, just as His closest friends were the committed ones, despite their occasional immaturity, so we must have Christian fellowship as we are on our spiritual journey.  We must sometimes leave our old routines and relationships (at least in their old context) behind.

Abram was also called to go. There is a difference between leaving and going.  You can leave something behind but not go to the other thing.  But Abram was called to go somewhere for something.  He was called to go to the promises that God had for him.  We, too, are called to go.  The final assignment that Jesus gave His disciples before He ascended was the Great Commission.  I believe that the Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:18-20, is applicable for today and for all believers.

            Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”                                                                    

Abram was called to go.  But he was also called to one other thing.  He was called to know.  To know something means to value it as truth, to trust in this truth, and to have faith, which moves us forward.  All seven parts of the promise begin with “I.”  God is saying, “This is about Me. This is My responsibility.  I will do it all.  You can rely on Me to bring fulfillment of the promise and to be with you on the journey.  I will show you which way to go.  I will walk with you.  You simply have to leave, go, and know.”  And there is another aspect of “know” for Abram and for us.  He needed to know God.  He needed to have a personal relationship with Him.  And that relationship would grow stronger and more intimate throughout the journey.   Let’s look again at Abram’s response:

 

            So Abram left, as the Lord had told him….

                                                                            Genesis 12:4

I love the simplicity of that response.  “So Abram left.”  We don’t see him making a pros and cons list, or discussing it with others.  We don’t see him flipping a coin to decide whether to go.  He just went.  He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and the rest of his household and set out for the land of Canaan, the Promised Land.

Now remember, who was Canaan?  Who were the Canaanites?  They were the descendents of Ham, the one who exposed Noah’s shame.  Abram was a descendent of Shem, the one who covered Noah’s shame.  How perfect that Jesus was in the lineage of Abram and Shem, for He alone truly covers our shame.

When Abram began his journey, he also began the process of fulfilling the proclamation of Noah concerning the descendents of Shem and the descendents of Canaan (or Ham).  This proclamation of Noah, the one who walked with God, could not be fulfilled if Abram had not obeyed and begun his own journey, walking with God.  But Abram did obey, by faith.  Many Scriptures throughout the Bible tell us God counts faith as righteousness.  May our faith, even if it is tiny as a mustard seed, be counted as righteousness.


Thoroughly Equipped: The Curse is Removed

Today’s reading includes Genesis 11:1-13:4, Matthew 5: 1-26, Psalm 5:1-12, Proverbs 1:24-28.  Yesterday we compared the similarities between Adam and Noah.  Adam had three sons and so did Noah.  The sin of Adam’s son, Cain was punished for generations.  The redemption came through Adam’s son, Seth who brought about a righteous lineage and resulted in Noah, the only righteous man left on the earth.  We find that Noah, too, had a son whose sin affected the generations to come; and Noah, too, had a righteous son whose righteous lineage changed the world forever.  His son, Shem, brought about a righteous lineage and resulted in the birth of Abraham, whose lineage brought about David, and ultimately Jesus, the Savior of the world.

Noah’s three sons were Ham, Shem, and Japheth.  In Genesis 9, we see a brief but important story concerning Noah and these three sons.

            The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the earth.

                        Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s nakedness.Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father’s nakedness.

                                                                      (Genesis 9:18-23)

It is unclear here whether Noah purposely became intoxicated; however, he was very drunk and in this state lay unconscious and naked inside his tent.  Ham, the youngest, was the first to discover Noah in this awkward position.  When Ham saw his father, he did not cover his shame, but instead broadcast it to the others.  Shem and Japheth, on the other hand, took a garment and laid it across their shoulders and walked in backwards.  Not only did they refuse to broadcast their father’s sin and shame, but they also had compassion and covered it.

There are important lessons for us in this brief account.  First of all, how do we respond to the sin and shame of those around us?  Do we look on the shame and sin of others and broadcast it to the world through gossip and judgment?  Or do we handle the mistakes of others with privacy and covering? I am not talking about keeping secrets—secrets can be dangerous things.  And I am not talking about ignoring sin or having a “free to be you and me” attitude concerning sin.  We are called to speak truth, but Ephesians 4:15 says to speak truth in love. Look at what else God’s Word has to say.

 

            Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.                                                                                                                                                (Proverbs 10:12)

 

            He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter                 separates close  friends.                      

                                                                          (Proverbs 17:9) 

 

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.                                                                                                                                 (1 Peter 4:8)

 

We also find in Matthew 18:15 an outline for a biblical approach to confronting others in their mistakes and in misunderstandings, and it doesn’t involve an announcement to everyone we meet, even in the form of a “prayer request.”  That approach is called gossip, and it too is a sin.  We all, including me, need to evaluate our first response to the sin and shame of others:  Do we go to the phone or do we go to the Throne?

The second lesson that we can learn from this account concerns the action of honoring others.  Honoring our father and mother, even when we are grown, is vital—so vital that it is included in the Ten Commandments and is the only commandment with a promise attached to it.

            Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.                                                                                                                   (Deuteronomy 5:16)

In Deuteronomy 5:16, Moses summoned all of Israel for these commandments.  We tend to use this one to teach children to obey, but we must not forget that honoring our parents is a lifelong commandment.  Ham did not honor his father, and the results were painful consequences for generations after.  When Noah awoke and found out what Ham had done, he had this to say:

            When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said,

“Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”

                        He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. 

                        May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave.”   

                                                                      (Genesis 9:24-27)

Canaan was one of Ham’s sons. So Noah was saying that not only will Ham be cursed, but all the generations to come will be too.

Noah also said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem!”  The glory in Shem’s blessing was aimed at God, not Shem, because his reaction to sin and shame came from his understanding and respect for God.  God got the glory for his righteous action.  Shem was blessed because he represented God well by honoring his father and by covering his shame.

For reasons unclear, Shem was the one most regarded for this event, perhaps because it was his idea to cover his father and not look upon his shame.  Perhaps Japheth, when faced with the opposite opinions and actions of his two brothers, chose to stand with the righteous one, the brother who exhibited integrity.  He too was blessed for it.  The blessing was as follows:

            May Canaan be the slave of Shem.  May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of  Shem, and may Canaan be his slave.                                                                                                       Genesis 9:26-27

 

Let’s stop for just a moment and address the elephant in the room. Many of you may be thinking,  God honored a curse that a father placed on his own son? That doesn’t sound loving or fair or kind or just, does it?  I confess that I struggled with that thought, too.  But as I thought and prayed it through, I came to the following conclusions.

First of all, we have to remember the culture of those days.  Blessings and curses were a part of life.  For reasons hard for us to understand now, the blessing (or curse) of the father was vital and powerful, both in the physical realm and in the spiritual realm.

Second, we again have to remember the culture of those days.  Honoring parents was a big deal back then.  Don’t you wish it was the same now?  What Ham did was a big deal, because he dishonored his father.  It doesn’t seem like a big deal to us, but in those times and in that culture, it was a major offense.

Third, we have to remember the culture of the heavenly realm, which involves holiness.  God is altogether holy.  This big deal sin of Ham was not only an offense to Noah; it was also an offense to God.  God cannot look upon sin.  Sin is the huge chasm that separates us from God.  And guess what?  That has not changed.  God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  His holiness has not changed.  He still cannot look upon sin.  The curse stood because the sin remained, and it remained for the generations that came through Ham, the Canaanites.

If God has not changed, what has changed?  Why don’t we live in fear of the curse of sin and death?  The answer lies in two verses I want us to look at.

If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.

                                                            Deuteronomy 21:22-23

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”

                                                                        Galatians 3:13  

 

            Jesus hung on the tree to take the curse for us.  The holiness of God demanded that the curse be fulfilled.  It is only through Jesus that the curse of sin and death is taken away from us because He fulfilled the curse on our behalf.   Praise Him for this great news!


Thoroughly Equipped: The Light of the World

Our text today includes Genesis 8:1-10:32,  Matthew 4: 12-25, Psalm 4:1-8, and Proverbs 1:20-23.  Today we continue our study of Noah.  As you know, Noah walked with God. Noah and his family were the only humans spared from the great flood.  Scripture tells us that “The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.  So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth.  It broke his heart.”  Genesis 6:5-6

How hard it must be that the Lord knows our thoughts.  Those secret things that no one else knows, that we never admit or confess.  Oh, the Lord can handle it for sure when we are honest.  He longs for us to admit it to Him, to answer the question, “Where are you?”  And “What have you done?”  Just like He asked Adam and Eve.  He, of course, knows it all.  But He knows we need to admit it so He can change it.  And that was the problem.  Not only were people not admitting it, they were so used to it, it no longer seemed wrong.

Woe to those who call evil good

and good evil,

who put darkness for light

and light for darkness,

who put bitter for sweet

and sweet for bitter.

(Isaiah 5:20)

One thing we must note about the story of Noah is the similarities between the account of Adam.  The very first thing that God spoke to Adam was “Be fruitful and multiply.”  This was God’s blessing for them. (Genesis 1:28) And I believe that this fruitfulness involved spiritual fruitfulness as much as procreation.  Yes the number of people had multiplied.  But their spiritual fruitness—the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—had not multiplied.  And so it seems that the purpose of the Flood was the cleansing needed to get back to the beginning.  The first thing the Lord spoke to Noah after he had exited the ark was word for word the same as He first spoke to Adam:

“Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth.’”

(Genesis 9:1)

Let’s pause here and describe the fear which could have hindered Noah.  Do you know that Noah had never heard of rain before the Flood?  No, it didn’t exist.  The earth was watered by underground springs.  (Genesis 2:5) And yet, Noah simply obeyed all the instructions the Lord gave him, though he had no context from which to draw to even know what God was describing that was to come.  He went inside the boat, trusted the Lord to close the door behind him (Genesis 7:16), and held on tight throughout the storm.

Have you ever wondered how 40 days and 40 nights of rain could actually flood the whole earth?  It was not just the rain coming down, it was the spring watesr rising up.  During the process of creation, we find that God separated the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.” And evening passed and morning came, marking the second day.

(Genesis 1:6-8)

When He brought the cleansing flood He was going back to the beginning.  He was going starting all over.  At creation He separated the waters and at the Flood He brought them back together.

Another similarity was that Adam had three sons, Cain, Able, and Seth, just as Noah had three sons.  At first, we learn of Cain and Abel, brothers growing up together, struggling to live outside the garden.  Cain worked the soil and Abel was a shepherd.  When I was young I was very confused as to why God did not accept Cain’s offering of his crops.  I kind of felt sorry for Cain. But I understand now that God saw their hearts.  We find in Genesis 4: 3-5 that Cain offered “some” of his crop to the Lord, while Abel offered “the best” of the first-born lambs.

When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the LORD. Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The LORD accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.

Cain went about the motions of offering to the Lord as merely a requirement.  Abel offered his best out of his devotion to God.  And we cannot pass over another important reason God preferred Abel’s gift.  Abel was a shepherd.  He was offering a lamb. A pure, perfect lamb—the best one he had.  This act was prophetic and reflective of what was to come.  The Ultimate Sacrifice that would make the wounded world right again.  It was symbolic of the Lamb of God, Jesus.  And with this gift, I believe the mind of God traveled through time to the moment He would send the dove to descend and rest upon His Lamb and He could already feel the sensation of the words to come, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” (Matthew 3:17)

Of course, Abel’s gift was more pleasing to God!  It was sincere and pure and reflective of God’s greatest joy.

What grief the Father must have felt when Cain killed Abel.  Again, he confronts sin with a question, the answer to which He already knows.  “Where is your brother… What have you done?”  Of course God knew the answer  and punishment was soon to come.  Cain was forever after a homeless wanderer. But our good Father God extended mercy along with the punishment and promised to protect Cain and vowed to give a 7-fold punishment (There’s that number 7!) to anyone who tried to kill him.

And so it was that Adam and Eve lost both of their sons in one sad event.  But God brought a great mercy in the midst of the severe grief.  He brought a third son, Seth.

Seth and his descendants brought about a righteous line, a redeemed lineage.  And it was through Seth that Noah came, the only righteous one left on earth.  Tomorrow we will find out more about the similarities of the three sons of Adam and the three sons of Noah.  But today, let’s pause and reflect on the heart of God to send the Flood and get back to the beginning.  He brought the waters he had separated on Day Two back together.  But why didn’t He go back to Day One.  Why didn’t he go back to the total darkness and emptiness?

We are told in the book of John that Jesus was the Word and was at the beginning of creation.   We are also told that Jesus is the Light of the World.

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'”

(John 8:11)

 

God did not go back to day one and snuff out the light because Jesus was the light of the world.  And though he may have regretted he had created man, he wanted to begin again  offering the great Light to the world He created.

We find in our New Testament reading today that Jesus consistently fulfilled the prophesy of Messiah, the hope for the world.

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he left Judea and returned to Galilee. He went first to Nazareth, then left there and moved to Capernaum, beside the Sea of Galilee, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This fulfilled what God said through the prophet Isaiah:

“In the land of Zebulun and of Naphtali,

beside the sea, beyond the Jordan River,

in Galilee where so many Gentiles live,

the people who sat in darkness

    have seen a great light.

And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow,

    a light has shined.”

 From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

(Matthew 4: 12-17)

 

God did not go back to Day 1 and snuff out the light, because could not, would not permanently snuff out Jesus.

 

In the beginning the Word already existed.

The Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

He existed in the beginning with God.

God created everything through him,

and nothing was created except through him.

The Word gave life to everything that was created,a

and his life brought light to everyone.

The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness can never extinguish it.

 

               (John 1:1-5)

 

Can you imagine the fear Noah must have had when God said, “Leave the boat…”  The boat was safe, the boat was secure.  The boat had been their safety.  They were now walking into the unknown with the command to be fruitful and multiply.  And that is what we must do, too.  This year, let’s leave the boat, let’s be spiritually fruitful and multiply.  Because there are those around us still living in a land where spiritual death casts its shadow, and they need to know the Light of the World.