Genesis 22

22 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

20 Some time later Abraham was told, “Milkah is also a mother; she has borne sons to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz the firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel (the father of Aram), 22 Kesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph and Bethuel.” 23 Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. Milkah bore these eight sons to Abraham’s brother Nahor. 24 His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also had sons: Tebah, Gaham, Tahash and Maakah.
(Genesis 22:1-24 NIV)

As we look into today’s story, it’s probably a very familiar one to many – God calling Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son at an undisclosed location.

Here we see Abraham following the Lord as at the beginning of his journey, by faith, to a place where the Lord would show him.  Abraham could not tell Sarah where he was going or when he would return, as he did not know.

When Abraham left his family to follow the Lord, the text indicated that he did not leave immediately when God called him.  This time, however, the text records that Abraham rose early in the morning to obey the Lord.  Abraham was learning a deeper faith through faster obedience as well as harder obedience.

As I read this text, one word keeps coming to mind – relinquishment.

Abraham did not question the promise that the Lord would make a great nation from his son Isaac.  Abraham also did not question the Lord’s command to go sacrifice his only son as a burnt offering.  These seemingly contradictory commands and promises were all from the same God, and Abraham knew that he could trust the Lord’s heart.

Am I willing to give up the people and things that are precious to me like Abraham did?  Am I willing to step out in faith and trust my Heavenly Father’s heart, even when He asks me to do things that do not make any sense, or even seem contradictory to what He has said to me at other times?

The writer of Hebrews gives us some insight into Abraham’s deep faith and his willingness to follow the Lord, even in this hard thing:

17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
(Hebrews 11:17-19 NIV, underlines mine)

Abraham fully trusted in the Lord, even when it was the hardest calling he had ever received.  Abraham knew that God would do the impossible to fulfill His promise.

This story is a foretelling of what our Heavenly Father did for us by sacrificing His one and only Son Jesus, whom He loved, to pay the terrible price of our sins.

Moses ends this story with a side note about news of his brother’s family having children and families of their own.  This note will become important in Chapter 24.

May your faith in the Lord be strengthened as you read and re-read this story.

May you trust more deeply in the Father’s heart when He calls you to harder things, things that don’t make sense or call you to give up people and things you hold dear.

Blessings,
~kevin

Genesis 21

21 Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

22 At that time Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, “God is with you in everything you do. 23 Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you now reside as a foreigner the same kindness I have shown to you.”

24 Abraham said, “I swear it.”

25 Then Abraham complained to Abimelek about a well of water that Abimelek’s servants had seized. 26 But Abimelek said, “I don’t know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.”

27 So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelek, and the two men made a treaty. 28 Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock, 29 and Abimelek asked Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?”

30 He replied, “Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.”

31 So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there.

32 After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines.33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. 34 And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.
(Genesis 21:1-34 NIV)

As we ended Chapter 20, we saw the Lord vindicate Sarah and restore her dignity and worth through both Abimelek and Abraham.  The chapter ends with the focus on Sarah.

As we begin Chapter 21, we see the focus continue to be on Sarah.  God keeps His promise to Sarah and gives her a son, and all the joy that comes with a baby.  There is much laughter – not at Sarah, but with Sarah and Abraham and Isaac, celebrating the birth of this long-awaited and promised little one.

While there was much laughter, not all of the laughter was joyful.  Moses shares insight into Ishmael’s heart – that of jealousy and mocking.  Ishmael had been the center of attention for 15 or 16 years – and now he was being supplanted by a newcomer, a toddler, as the family focal point.

Sarah sees Ishmael’s mocking of Isaac and speaks to Abraham again, demanding that Hagar and Ishmael leave.  Abraham is bothered by Sarah’s demand and does not immediately respond.  But God intervenes and tells Abraham to listen to his wife, as Isaac is the son of promise, and God will watch over Ishmael as well.

It’s interesting that there are two weanings that happen that day – the weaning of Isaac, feeding from his mother’s breast to feeding from her hand, and the weaning of Abraham’s heart, from Ishmael as the center of attention to Isaac as the promised son.

Abraham was likely a very good father, and cared for and taught his son Ishmael and held him in his hands and in his heart.  But Ishmael was not God’s promised son to Abraham, so Abraham had to unwind his heart from Ishmael and focus on God’s promised son – Isaac.  God relieved Abraham’s fears about Hagar and Ishmael’s well-being by promising to bless and make a nation out of Ishmael as well.  Abraham knew God’s heart and trusted Him to care for Hagar and Ishmael and let them go.

As we end Chapter 21, we see another side of Abraham as he interacts with the ruler of his host country, King Abimelek. Remember that Abraham is living in the land as an alien – no rights, no privileges except those given to him and his tribe by the king.  Contrary to Abraham’s original assumption, King Abimelek does fear God, and respects Abraham and gives him free reign to live anywhere in the land.

The world is watching, and Abimelek sees God blessing Abraham.  Abimelek goes to Abraham and asks Abraham to always deal in truth and kindness toward him and his descendants, not with lies and deceit and treachery.  In essence, Abimelek is asking for a peace treaty.

Abraham agrees, and uses the opportunity to test the authenticity of Abimelek’s offer by presenting an issue to the king – a dispute over a water well.  In a dry and arid land, water has great value, and access to water is a big deal.

Abraham does not take Abimelek to court, nor does he go to war over the well.  He simply talks to Abimelek about the situation.  Abimelek is unaware of the issue, and responds calmly to Abraham’s gentle confrontation.

In an uncharacteristic gesture for their day and culture, Abraham offers seven lambs to Abimelek as proof that he dug the well.  Abraham does not demand his rights, but rather offers grace and gifts as a way of showing he was telling Abimelek the truth.   The seven lambs were not a bribe, but an act of grace to show his heart.  God uses Abraham’s humility and kindness to seal the peace treaty and prolong Abraham’s blessing and sojourning in the land.

It’s interesting to note that Moses calls out that Abraham is living in the land of what will become the home of the Philistines, one of God’s and Israel’s most hated enemies in centuries to come.  But for now, Abraham enjoys peace with his landlord and neighbors.

There are many sermons to be preached and lessons to be learned from this short chapter and these stories… here are just a few:

  • joy and laughter over the long-awaited promise that God fulfills
  • the weaning,  the willingness to let go of the good so as to embrace God’s best
  • living in peace with neighbors, letting God’s glory shine through our everyday lives

What parts of these stories resonate with you?

What do you sense God speaking into your soul today?

Blessings,
~kevin

Genesis 20

20 Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelekking of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.

But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”

Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.”

Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.”

Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. Then Abimelek called Abraham in and said, “What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should never be done.”10 And Abimelek asked Abraham, “What was your reason for doing this?”

11 Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. 13 And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”

14 Then Abimelek brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him.15 And Abimelek said, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.”

16 To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.”

17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again, 18 for the Lord had kept all the women in Abimelek’s household from conceiving because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.
(Genesis 20:1-18 NIV)

As we ended Chapter 19, we saw the end of Lot, never to be heard from again.

As we begin Chapter 20, we see Abraham still obeying the Lord and exploring the land God has given him and his future ancestors, per God’s command (Genesis 13:17).

We see the Lord working on Abraham; old sin habits die hard.  Abraham continues to carry on the ruse that Sarah is his sister, and Sarah plays along.  In this passage, we learn for the first time that Abraham has been partially telling the truth, as Sarah and Abraham have the same father, but different mothers.  But Sarah is Abraham’s wife, which supersedes her being his sister both culturally and spiritually.

At ninety years old, Sarah must have been a ravishing beauty, as King Abimelek took Sarah as his wife.  In our day, that seems very strange.  But considering that Sarah lived to be 127, she would be like a woman in her early to mid 50’s in our day, compared to our normal life expectancy.

But this was not to be a repeat of the scenario in Egypt we learned about back in chapter 12.  This time was different – God intervened and spoke to Abimelek in a dream, condemning him for taking Sarah as his wife.  Abimelek defended his innocence – he told the Lord he didn’t know she was married.  The Lord agreed with Abimelek and told him there was a reason he had not had sex with Sarah – God was protecting her.  The Lord told Abimelek not to touch Sarah, and to have Abraham the prophet pray for them.

Like the Pharaoh, Abimelek brings in Abraham and questions him.  Abraham blames Abimelek for being godless and blames God for making him wander, both of which were not true.  Clearly, Abimelek and his officials feared the Lord.  And God did not make Abraham wander – He had given Abraham the land and told him to check it out by walking around and through the entire territory.  Clearly, Abraham’s fear of others was greater than his trust in the Lord.

Abimelek obeyed the Lord and gave Sarah back to Abraham.  Unlike the Egyptian Pharoah, Abimelek spoke kindly to Abraham and allowed him to live wherever he wished in the land – he did not kick Abraham out of the country like the Pharaoh did.

Abimelek also spoke to Sarah and vindicated her.  He restored Sarah’s honor by giving money to Abraham (her brother) as well as speaking to her and publicly telling everyone that she was to be seen as blameless in all this mess.

Abraham then prayed as Abimelek requested – God listened and responded.

In this passage, we see Abraham being used despite his sin.  The Lord called Abraham a prophet -Abraham steps into the role and prays for the man who has power over his life.

We also must not miss the meta-narrative, the larger story here.  We have seen Abram in Egypt using his wife for self-protection and self-promotion; we saw Lot offer his two daughters to the vicious sex-crazed crowd in Sodom, and now we saw Abraham repeat the “sister” ruse again in Gerar.

In this larger story, God vindicates women and restores their dignity and value through Abimelek (by his payment of money) and through Abraham (through prayer).  Could it have been that the Lord opened Sarah’s womb at the same time he opened the wombs of the women of Gerar through these acts of faith and redemption?

May we see and treat the women in our lives as God created them to be – having honor and holiness and dignity and value, not as property or of having less value than men.

Blessings,
~kevin

Genesis 19

19 The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

“Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.

10 But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

12 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.

15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.”

16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

18 But Lot said to them, “No, my lords, please! 19 Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. 20 Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.”

21 He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22 But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.)

23 By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. 24 Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. 25 Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. 26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

27 Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.

29 So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.

30 Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave.31 One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth. 32 Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.”

33 That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.

34 The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I slept with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and sleep with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” 35 So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.

36 So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.
(Genesis 19:1-38 NIV)

Recapping the story from Chapter 18, we see three visitors arrive at Abraham’s tent and announce the birth of a son via Sarah within a year.  As the visitors leave, we see the Lord taking Abraham into His confidence and sharing what He is about to do in Sodom and Gomorrah.  Abraham pleads with God to spare any righteous persons if they can be found.  God agrees to do so, and they part ways.

As we begin Chapter 19, we see two visitors (identified as angels) arriving at the city gates of Sodom.  Lot recognizes the men as visitors, and he immediately invites them to his home as his guests.  Lot knows the evil of the city, and its dangers after dark, so he insists that the strangers stay with him so he can protect them and provide for them.  Lot shows the men hospitality, as is the custom of his family and ancestors.

But by evening, word had spread around town about the strangers staying with Lot, and the men of the city gathered at Lot’s house like a crazed mob wanting to have violent sex (more like gang rape) with the two visitors.

Here we see the lack of Lot’s character, as he offers his virgin daughters instead of the two guests.  Lot is to be praised for protecting his guests, but not for offering his daughters as alternatives for the mens’ sensual pleasure.

The guests then reveal that they are from the Lord, and that they will destroy the city because of its sin.  The Lord had heard the cries of its victims (presumably those who had been used and abused by these Sodomite men before), and was about to administer justice for their sins and lack of repentance.

The angels pleaded with Lot and his family to leave, and had to physically drag them out of town by the hand to get them to go on their way.  Lot and his family had gained much wealth; now they were being told to flee for their lives and live as paupers.  Lot’s priorities were clearly focused on material possessions, not family or his relationship with the Lord.

Lot’s lack of relationship with the Lord was also evident in his request to flee to a small town rather than to the mountains like the angels commanded.  He was depending on his own strength (or lack thereof) rather than the strength of the Lord to carry him through.  Lot’s wife disobeyed the Lord and looked back (and maybe even turned back) to Sodom and paid the price with her life.

God destroyed the entire plain – the people, animals, even the vegetation, but spared Lot, not because of his obedience or righteousness, but because of Abraham’s plea.  Abraham witnessed the Lord’s wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah from afar, where he had pleaded with the Lord to act justly and not destroy any righteous people in the land.

The next thing Moses records is Lot and his two daughters moving to the mountains and living in a cave out of fear that the Lord would strike again.  Lot had not passed on any element of faith to his daughters, as they refer to their desire to have a family as a human custom rather than a God-ordained plan.  The daughters know their father’s moral values and also his weakness for wine, so they devise a plan to start a family via incest.  They get their father drunk, sleep with him, and have babies that will grow up and form two godless people groups that will plague the Israelites for years to come.

And this is the end of Lot’s life as recorded in the Scriptures – we never hear from him again, except for a few anecdotal references to his choices in life.

May we stay focused on the Lord and not our own customs, material possessions, community stature, or anything else.

May we walk in faith like Abraham, rather than in our own strength like Lot.

Blessings,
~kevin

Genesis 17

17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan,where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” 22 When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.

23 On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, 25 and his son Ishmael was thirteen;26 Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day.27 And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.
(Genesis 17:1-27 NIV)

In Chapter 16, Abram was 86 when his son Ishmael was born.

In Chapter 17, 13 years have elapsed, and God revisits Abram and reaffirms His covenant with Abram.  As part of this visit, God names Himself “El Shaddai” (“God Almighty”) to remind Abram that nothing is too hard for Him.

Abram’s response was to immediately fall face-down and worship the Lord.  God changed Abram’s name from Abram (“exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of multitudes”) as part of this covenant affirmation.

God also gave Abraham the sign of circumcision as a reminder of God’s faithfulness to Abraham and all his descendants.  This sign was not just to Abraham, but to all males in his household or under his jurisdiction – his son Ishmael, servants, slaves, all males.

God also changed Sarai’s name from Sarai (“princess”) to Sarah (“mother of nations”).  God also promised a son by Sarah, Abraham’s wife.  God had many times promised Abraham a son, but this time, God specifically promised this beloved son through Sarah.

Abraham bowed down and worshipped again, but also laughed to himself about the idea of he and Sarah having a child in their old age.  Abraham wished for God’s promise to be fulfilled in Ishmael, rather than be misled by God and ultimately disappointed and broken-hearted over not having a son by Sarah.

Abraham’s wish and hope was in the reality of his teenage son in front of him rather than in the promise of God for an unseen son that was impossible by human standards.

God was serious about the promise, and even gave Abraham the name for the child – Isaac.  The name Isaac means “he laughs”.  We often associate the laughter with either Isaac or with Abraham and Sarah, but the “he” actually refers to God here.  God was looking forward with joy to this blessed son, and knew that one day Abraham and Sarah would laugh in joy with Him (God) when this little one arrived.

For now, Abraham’s laugh was one of disbelief and incredulity, and God was implying “O ye of little faith – trust Me” in his naming of the child before he was even conceived.

God also heard Abraham’s request to make a great nation (singular) out of Ishmael, but Isaac would be the father of many nations (plural).  The blessing God intended would clearly be through Isaac.

In this blessing and promise, God pronounced seven “I will” statements about what He was going to do, signifying the completeness of His plan.

So what was Abraham’s response to this visitation from God?  Abraham immediately, on the same day, went out and circumcised his son Ishmael, his male servants, slaves, and had himself circumcised as well.  Abraham did not waiver or delay about obeying the Lord, which was a step of faith for Abraham.

As we look at this passage, may we see God as El Shaddai, the Almighty One, the All-Sufficient God.  Like Abraham, we must come to the end of ourselves, of our own planning and our own striving to fully experience God’s All-Sufficiency.  Yes, Abraham is old and his wife Sarah is well past the years of childbearing, but yet, God has promised a miracle baby.

May we come to the end of ourselves and say, “Not my will, but Yours, O Lord” and trust Him for His promises.

May we walk before God faithfully and seek to be more like Him each day.

Blessings,
~kevin

Genesis 16

16 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”

“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

11 The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant
and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the Lord has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward all his brothers.”

13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.
(Genesis 16:1-16 NIV)

In Chapter 15, we saw God make His covenant, His promise to make Abram a great nation and to give them land, a place to call home and become a nation.

As we begin Chapter 16, we fast forward a bit – Abram and Sarai have been in Canaan for a total of ten years.  God has promised Abram and Sarai a family, with descendants too numerous to count.  And yet, they are still without children.

Sarai and Abram grow tired of waiting and decide to rely on cultural norms to have a family rather than trust the Lord for the seemingly impossible.  In Abram and Sarai’s ancient culture, it was perfectly legal to have children by concubines if the wife was barren for whatever reason.

Remember the problems with Abram going to Egypt?  Well, the problems from that ill-advised trip all those years ago resurface again in today’s story.

The narrator (Moses) fills us in on the details of the story – the slave girl under Sarai’s control is Egyptian, and she has a name:  Hagar.

Let’s observe as the drama unfolds:

  • Wife (Sarai) wants a child, so she tells her husband (Abram) to sleep with her slave girl (Hagar) in order to fulfill her (Sarai’s) desire to be a mother
  • Husband goes along with the plan – seems like a common-sense thing to do
  • Slave girl becomes pregnant; wife does not find fulfillment in slave girl’s pregnancy
  • Wife take her frustration out on husband and berates him – tells him this is all his fault
  • Husband caves in – washes his hands of the whole mess – tells his wife to deal with it however she sees fit
  • Wife takes her anger and frustration out on slave girl – mistreats her (most likely verbally)
  • Slave girl is hurt and confused and runs away from the family to die in the desert

And so the dysfunction relationships continue.

Abram had mistreated his wife back in Egypt, sacrificing her to save his neck.  She ended up having to sleep with the Pharaoh, then bear the indignity of being kicked out of Egypt.

Now the roles were reversed, and Abram has to bear the unfair accusations of his unhappy wife.  Rather than have a talk with Hagar and Sarai and work things out, Abram caves in and tells Sarai to deal with the problem.  Abram does not take responsibility for the child or the mother and does not support or help his wife during her meltdown.  Abram’s unwillingness to step up and help resolve the situation only adds gas to the emotional fire.

Sarai seeks fulfillment by less than God’s best, and is disappointed, angry, still shamed, frustrated, and is unable to process her feelings when her dreams don’t come true.

Hagar has her part in the drama as well.  She rubs the fact of her pregnancy in Sarai’s face, rather than humbly accepting the role of surrogate mother to Sarai and Abram.

Thankfully, God intervenes in the situation.  God chooses life over death, love over hate, faith over fear, hope over despondency, humility over arrogance.

The first thing to notice is that God shows Himself (via an angel) to Hagar, a privilege that even Sarai had not had in her life.

Second, the angel calls Hagar by name.  Go back up and read the dialogue that Moses recorded.  Sarai and Abram refer to Hagar as “slave girl” (no name).  God shows mercy and gives Hagar dignity and value as a person by calling her by name.

Third, God offers a Hagar hope, promising life, blessing, descendants, and a future.  The angel gave Hagar instructions to return to Sarai and submit herself to her even though Sarai would continue to verbally abuse her.  Hagar’s future would be painful, and her son would be hard to live with, but God said she had a future – she did not need to die in the desert.

What was Hagar’s response?  She worshipped the Lord, and named the place of her encounter “The-God-Who-Sees-Me”.  Hagar obeyed the Lord, returned to Sarai, gave birth to her baby boy, and named him as God had instructed.

In this passage, I am moved by seeing God’s heart toward the mistreated and downtrodden, represented by Hagar.  Truly God sees the pain and brokenness of this world and hears the cries of those who have given up on life and feel they have no hope.

I am also reminded to be very careful in how I treat others that are of no consequence to me in my daily routines.   Hos do I interact with the supermarket person ringing up my groceries, the convenience store clerk when I purchase a bottle of water, or the wait staff at the local restaurant?

Do I treat them like nameless servants, or do I see them as image-bearers of their Creator, worthy of dignity, honor, and Christ’s love?

May we reflect God’s love toward others that cross our paths today – with something as simple as a smile, a kind word, calling them by name – to reflect God’s glory and show them He loves them just as He loves us.

May we rejoice with others in their successes without petty jealousy and anger when the Lord blesses others and not us.

May we humbly bear the blessings of the Lord and not become prideful, arrogant, or rub others’ faces in what the Lord has done for us.

Blessings,
~kevin

Genesis 15

15 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.”

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.”

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.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

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.”

10 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.11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 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. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 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—19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
(Genesis 15:1-21 NIV)

As we take a quick overview of where we’ve been, Chapter 13 was Abram and Lot going their separate ways, with Abram showing love and grace to Lot; Chapter 14 was Abram rescuing Lot, with Abram again showing love and grace to an ungrateful Lot.  As we step into Chapter 15, we see God blessing Abram and making a covenant, a promise to him.

Remember in Chapter 14 how Abram rescued Lot, his family, and his possessions from their captors?  And remember how Abram did not accept the reward that the king of Sodom offered him (including its intended strings that would have made Abram “owe” a favor back to the king of Sodom)?

All those events did not make Abram a popular man; in fact, Abram made enemies that day.  With Abram’s fearful nature, he was likely worried about reprisal from either or both of those groups because of his decisions and actions.

So the Lord addressed those fears at the beginning of Chapter 15, telling Abram to not be afraid, that He (God) is Abram’s shield, Abram’s protector against his enemies.

God also promised to be Abram’s reward.   Abram was already a wealthy man; he did not want more material possessions – and he desperately wanted a son to carry on the family name as God had promised.  Abram was not being ungrateful – he was simply asking God to honor the promise that He had made to give him (Abram) a family, a son.

God was not going back on His promise to Abram.  God told Abram to go outside; God used the stars in the sky to illustrate His point that Abram would one day become a mighty nation, with descendants more than Abram could count, just like the stars in the clear nighttime sky.

When God took Abram outside and showed him the stars, Abram believed God.  Moses tells us that God counted Abram’s belief as righteousness.  Remember that Abram was not known as a righteous man like Noah.  In fact, this is the first time that Abram is associated with God’s righteousness.

To be clear, God did not equate anything that Abram did as being righteous; it was Abram’s faith and trust in God’s promise that God saw as being righteous.  Abram did not earn God’s favor by his actions, but rather by his faith.  The Apostle Paul further elaborates on this fact in Romans Chapter 4.  Note also that Abram did not put his faith and trust in some object or idea but in the person of God.

God then reminded Abram that He had given Abram the land for his promised offspring, a place to call their home.  Abram, being an old man, asked the Lord for a sign, a promise that God would, in fact, give him and his descendants a place of their own.  Abram could not defend a land that big on his own; and with no descendants yet, there was no one to help him manage the land and take over when he died.

The Lord addressed Abram’s fear and gave Abram a view of the future for him and his descendants.  The view included a tremendous blessing and inheritance, but also included incredible suffering.  The book of Exodus is the fulfillment of God’s promise of enslavement at the hands of the Egyptians, the suffering of the Jewish people, and the Jews’ return to the promised land and God’s generous provision and reward.

God then makes a covenant, a promise with Himself on behalf of Abram, a promise for land that Abram’s descendants can call home.

Notice in Chapter 13 verse 15 the Lord had said, “I will give you this land…” (future tense); in chapter 15 verse 18, the Lord said, “I give” (NIV) or “I have given” (NASB) “this land…”.  With the covenant, the promise, God has already declared something in the future to be true in that day.  The promise would be 400+ years in the future, but the deal was sealed as Abram watched that evening.

Remember Noah’s blessings and curses to his sons, and how Ham’s descendants would serve Shem’s descendants (chapters 9 and 10)?  The Lord reiterates Noah’s proclamation in verses 19 – 21 of chapter 15.  Want to see for yourself?  Cross-reference the names of the tribes in 15:19-21 with those in 10:13-18.  There are a few name differences, but the majority there are the same.

May we be like Abram and trust God even in our fear, following the Lord in faith.

May our faith for the present and the future not be in blind faith itself, or in a sign, an idea, or a thing, but in the person of God, in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Blessings,
~kevin