God Appears to Jacob a third time – Genesis 35

35 God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments.  Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”  Genesis 35:1-3 ESV

Jacob’s eyes have been opened and he now sees and appreciates the presence and power of God in his life.  Like Jacob, many of us have spent a good portion of our lives chasing after false gods.  We yearn for and pursue things beyond the good gifts the Lord has blessed us with, seeking more and more wealth, attention, romance, comfort, fame, pleasure or praise.  That is part of our fallen nature, and it can take us far beyond the healthy pursuits of a holy lifestyle.  Of course, in the end, these journeys will often lead us to a dark place.  We wonder how we ever got into such a mess and, most of all, how we can get out. 

When we are ready, we will see God reaching out to help us in one way or another.  He has been reaching out to us all along, but only when we are ready will we surrender to his love and care.  He will ask us to put away whatever false gods we have embraced, purify ourselves in Him through prayer and repentance, and to “arise and go” to a place where we can heal in His presence.  In Jacob’s case, that place was Bethel.  The false gods in question were in the possession of his wife, Rachel, but Jacob had chased after a few of his own, as well.

Jacob listened to and obeyed God’s call, following His instructions and escaping from the dangers presented by his father-in-law, Laban.  Sometimes God’s warnings and instructions go unheeded, and we tumble further into a distressed lifestyle.  This lifestyle can result in the loss of the things most precious to us, including family, health, friends, finances or even our lives.  But the lure of false gods is powerful, and they are often difficult to put down without the loving intervention and power of God.

I volunteer to assist people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, including many in incarceration.  It is a privilege to see them clear minded and sober, as they are often delightful people when free from debilitating substances.  Usually they are open, honest and quite pleasant to be around.  The big question is, when they are released from incarceration, will they earnestly seek God’s help to stay away from their addictions and to escape from the downward spiral of destruction that drug and alcohol abuse brings?  It is not easy to put away false gods, especially when addiction is involved.  But God is more powerful than addiction and will help us. if He is sought.

As for Jacob, he listened to and obeyed the Lord, and moved his family out towards Bethel.  We, too, must move away from danger when we face temptation.  We move away from it to the best of our abilities, trusting God to lead as He shows the way and provides a path to safety.

5 And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob.

God made a hedge of protection around Jacob.  If we remain and abide with Jesus Christ, he will place a hedge of protection around us, as well.  We may face hardship and persecution, but He will be there with us.

9 God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. 10 And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So, he called his name Israel. 11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.”  Genesis 35:5, 9-11 ESV

God had chosen Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, to be his representative to start a royal line leading to the eternal King of Kings, Jesus Christ.  Jacob continued this line, leading a very adventurous life along the way.  He began life as somewhat of a schemer but grew in maturity as the Lord God took a hold of his life and brought out a tender, faithful heart.  God wrestled with Jacob to ultimately bring out a spirit of humility and dependence upon Him.

Jerusalem was chosen by God to be the heart of His kingdom on earth, the place of His temple, but there is also something special about Bethel.  Located about twelve miles north of Jerusalem, God repeatedly appeared there to give messages of hope, love and encouragement to His people.  Abraham had settled there for awhile and had built an altar to the Lord there.  Jacob had his first encounter with God there, and later was led by God to return there.  It is a special, spiritual place. God has a Bethel for you, as well.

Reflection:

Can you see the thread of God’s work in your life?  It is sometimes easier to see in the joyful and happy events, but the hand of God is also at work in our times of pain and grief, as well.  He brings healing and restoration as we turn to Him in our sorrow.  It may take time, but God will indeed bring us comfort through His loving presence.

Is there a place you have had a special encounter with the Lord?  Perhaps it is a geographical location or a physical setting, like the scenic outdoors or a spiritual retreat center.  Many people encounter God in the shower.  The Lord has His special places with us.  I once heard someone refer to this place as a “God Spot”.  Where does the Lord show Himself real and have fellowship with you?

While always present with us, sometimes God chooses to make his Holy Spirit’s presence more tangible to us.  When believers gather in praise and worship, the Lord will often “inhabit” those praises, sometimes even with a sensible presence.  Or He may lift us up during a solitary encounter, often when we least expect it.  There are many ways He may do this, as many as the infinite number of creative attributes of the Lord himself. 

How did your spiritual walk begin?  What were the factors and who were the people that God used to draw you to Him?

Where is your spiritual walk you headed today?  What is your heart’s desire for walking with God?  As you serve God today, what do you need Him to do for you?

God Appears to Jacob a second time – Genesis 31-32

 31 Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.” And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” Genesis 31:1-3

The Lord enriched Jacob with many sheep and with a large family through the daughters of Laban.  He had spent twenty years serving his father-in-law Laban after fleeing brother Esau, and had come away with many blessings, though Laban had treated him deceitfully.  Jacob married his true love, Laban’s daughter Rachel, but through trickery Laban forced Jacob to marry her older sister, Leah, first. 

As an overflow of God’s many blessings toward Jacob, father-in-law Laban was also enriched, but Laban spent the riches and wanted more.  As Jacob was beginning to think about returning home, Laban made clear that he had no intention of letting him go.  Laban viewed his daughters, grand-children and Jacob’s vast flocks as his own to keep, and Jacob found himself in a precarious position.

God warned Jacob about the bad blood that was rising between him and Laban and told him to return to the land of his father Isaac.  But it was also the land of Esau, his twin, who had promised to kill Jacob twenty years earlier, so there was plenty of anxiety on both ends. But God’s voice was clear, as it had been to Abram those many years earlier – it was time to go.  Like Abram before him, Jacob did honor God and go, but he did so by sneaking out. He packed up his family and possessions and left while his Laban was away shearing his sheep.

Sometimes in our lives, we need to a make decision about whether to stay or leave a situation.  Unlike Jacob, we do not always get a clear word from God about it.  Rarely is the decision an easy one. There is often a list of pros and cons to analyze before prayerfully choosing the right course of action.  We pray and analyze, and with God’s help, we step out in faith, believing that the hand of God is guiding us and will gently lead us as we seek to do the right thing.  The Lord is with us, and as we lean on Him, He will safely bring us to the right place where we belong, consistent with His will for us.  We later look back in the rear-view mirror of life to find that things did indeed work out well with our decision. If we sought the Lord’s guidance, we will see that we were the beneficiaries of His many blessings, with new friendships, wonderful experiences and opportunities for spiritual growth and service along the way.

32 Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!”  Genesis 32:1-3

Jacob had a unique experience in that he caught a rare glimpse of the angels of God who were watching out for him.  Angels are not God, but they are messengers from God, sent by Him to do His work.  There are countless stories of people in modern times who have narrowly avoided death by the intervention of these heavenly beings.  The book of Hebrews mentions that some of us have entertained angels unaware of who they were.  I have had one or two encounters in my life that I believe were possibly angelic beings in human form.  But there have been many other “angelic” types in my life, some human, some animal, who have bestowed countless blessings and enrichments along life’s journey.  I know that God put these many blessings in my path.  Two of my earthly angels have been my wife and my (late) dog.  Both have been countless sources of joy and encouragement. 

Of the two suspected heavenly beings I think I have seen, the first was a man carrying a gas can on the other side of a four-lane, nearly empty highway.  When I finally convinced myself to turn around to help him, he was nowhere to be found, but a woman and child who needed roadside assistance had now appeared.  I stopped to help them change a flat tire but couldn’t get the lug nuts to budge.  I remember standing there, thinking, “Lord, you wanted me to stop and now I can’t even help.”  Then the young boy, probably five years old, said, “try jumping on it.”  I looked at him, then realized that I could stand on the lug wrench, of course, it budged, allowing me to change the tire.  Out of the mouths of babes!

The other angelic incident involved a traveler named Jerry, who stopped in at our church’s Wednesday night dinner before we held spiritual classes.  He was selling pencil drawings of Jesus for $1 each, and I purchased one (which I still have).  After dinner, Jerry attended our small class and had some interesting insights on the meaning of certain scriptural passages.  After class ended, he gave the co-instructor and I some insight about a woman attendee who had left the room.  He said she was having a secret emotional crisis and needed prayer and support.  Then Jerry went on his way, never to be seen at the church again. 

Over the coming weeks, we were able to pray for and gently encourage the woman through her difficult time without ever knowing what the crisis was.  She attended our class and then another class for several weeks afterwards, and was smiling and joyful. 

A few days after our encounter with Jerry, my co-instructor and I reluctantly admitted to each other that we had both independently thought that Jerry might have been an angel, “visiting unawares”.  But we will not know for sure until we are with the Lord in eternity.

Meanwhile, Jacob was in his own crisis, caught between Laban and Esau, when he had an encounter with another heavenly being, God himself:

24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.  Genesis 32:24-31 ESV

Here is one of the more interesting passages in the Old Testament.  Jacob had been richly blessed by God these twenty years since he had fled his brother Esau after deceptively stealing Isaac’s blessing.  Yet Jacob had been a repeat victim of Laban’s deceptions for all of this time.  If God had permitted it, Laban would have even taken back everything that Jacob had – his wives, children, wealth and maybe even his life.  But God intervened and prevented Laban from acting upon his evil intentions toward Jacob. 

But Jacob had another problem ahead of him.  Brother Esau, who had threatened to kill him twenty years earlier, was on his way to meet Jacob along with 400 of his men.  What type of greeting would this be, violent of friendly?  Like all of us, Jacob feared the worst.

At the climax of this crisis, Jacob spent the entire night wrestling with God.  This heavenly wrestling match, perhaps with the pre-incarnate Christ Himself, seems to be the moment when Jacob finally surrenders to God.  He was desperate, realizing his great dependence upon Him, and how much he needed God’s presence with him from this day forward.  Jacob held on tight and refused to let go.  He finally meant business and was serious with God.

At this critical moment of dependence, God gave Jacob a new name, “Israel”, which means “governed by God”.  May we all be governed by His love for us today.

Reflection:

What difficult decisions have you had to make?  How did you involve God?  How did He respond?  What decisions are before you today?  Now is always a good time to pray about them.

Has there been a time where you have seen angels in your life?  Why might God have put them there?  Who have been earthly variety “angels” for you?

Can you think of a time when you “wrestled” with God?  What were the circumstances that brought you to that point?  What was the result of?  Is there still some more wrestling to do?

After wrestling with Jacob, God touched him on the hip, creating an infirmity that increased his dependence upon God.  What infirmities or difficulties have caused you to depend more upon God? 

The Lord named Jacob “Israel”.  If God gave you a name or a nickname, what might it to be? Remember that He loves you deeply.

God appears to Jacob – Genesis 27-28

The Lord was with Jacob as he fled north to escape the wrath of his twin brother, Esau, whom he had tricked out of the family blessing.  Along the way on his journey, the Lord appeared to Jacob in a dream:

 11 And he (Jacob) came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”  Genesis 28:11-17 ESV

This was the first of three times that the Lord would appear to Jacob in his life.  Each time, Jacob responded in a more mature, faith-filled way.  His initial response to God’s appearing was not necessarily evident in his behavior, but the hard knocks of life would have a tenderizing effect on both Jacob and his resulting faith.

Our experiences in interacting with God may not be as dramatic or direct as Jacob’s (though some may), but they can be just as impactful on our lives and our manner of living.  The way we respond to God’s calling may not be as complete as we later would have liked, but any positive response is progress and an improvement.  It must please the Lord whenever we seek to change direction and begin to follow Him and his ways. 

As the Lord spoke to Jacob, he speaks to you and me today:

15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.  Genesis 28:15 ESV

As I write this, I am heart-broken because of the loss of our beloved pet.  My head knows that it was God’s appointed time for her to depart, but my heart is struggling and pained by the loss.  She was a tremendous gift of God to our family, and such a blessing to so many who knew her and loved her so deeply.  Yes, it is time to let her go.  And blessed be God Most High, who gives us such wonderful gifts, and comforts us when the sword of loss pierces our hearts.

The Lord promises that He is and will be with us and will keep us safe wherever we go.  To Africa or Asia as He leads?  Yes.  To a job site, or working from home, to the unemployment office, to the hospital, or even to the jail?  Yes.  Down a road of loss, grief and pain?  Yes.  He will keep us in all situations.

God has promised that he will never leave us nor forsake us, even though at times we have not lived up to His holy standards.  In fact, no one besides Jesus has ever been able to walk without sin (Romans 3:23).  When we do find ourselves in a position of sin or failure, God asks that we turn to back to Him, admit and confess our sin, and turn away from it as best we can, even in our imperfection.  If possible, He would like us to try to make amends to those around us if we have hurt them through our sin.  Thus, we and they are both restored in the Lord to a fresh life in Him, surrounded by his deepest love and care.  Through his grace we return to Him, seeking to obey and to be a blessing to those around us through the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit living within us.

God promised to Jacob that, through him and his offspring, all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 28:14)

The whole world is being freely offered the love and salvation of Jesus Christ, who came from God through the lineage of Jacob.  This is a special calling to Jacob, who dreamed of God, a ladder and a host of angels ascending and descending upon it.  And this is a special calling to you.  God has a plan for your life.  You are a unique creation of God – no one else on earth is like you or is able to do what God has prepared to do.  Your personality, unique experiences and divine shaping give you a special ability and a credibility to share a message of hope with others in a way that no other person can.  God has a specific purpose and plan for your life.  It may be as simple as being there and being yourself, reflecting the grace and love of God for someone at a critical moment.  As you remain connected to Jesus Christ, you, too, shall be a blessing to the people of the earth.

Reflection:

Have you ever had a dream that you believe was from God?  Describe it.  How did it impact you?

Many difficult situations in life bring us to a place of desperation and powerlessness.  We may have tried everything in our own power to change some situation, but change has proven to be beyond anything humanly possible.  This is the turning point, when we are utterly reliant upon the merciful hand of God to help us get through and to overcome our challenge. 

What situation in your life today can only be resolved through the power of God?   May the Lord grant you every blessing and answer what your heart yearns for.  It is sometimes helpful to journal through situations like this.  Later, when the storm has passed, we can go back and review our writings to see more clearly how the Lord has answered our prayers.  It is also powerful to ask other believers to pray with you.

How have the rough spots in your life impacted your view of God and of His love for you?  We sometimes feel that God had abandoned us during the tough times, but looking back, we can see that He was right there the whole time, holding us close to Him as we went through times of grief or pain.  As Jacob said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”  Is there a time or event in your life where you had thought God had abandoned you?  Looking back in faith, can you see that He was there, and you did not know it?

Jacob and Esau – Genesis 25

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.   Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.  Matthew 1:1-2 ESV

As we have seen, God began to reveal his plan for the genealogy of Jesus Christ back in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, in the Old Testament. We see Abram, later called Abraham, being called out of his homeland to follow the path chosen by God, which allowed God to advance His plan of salvation for all mankind. 

Abraham waited twenty-five years for his promised son, Isaac.  Next in line came Isaac’s son, Jacob.  Jacob is a critical member of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.  He is the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, including Judah, the one through whom Jesus would later appear. 

But Jacob might also be one of the last people we would select for such a position.  Often crafty, manipulative or outright deceptive in his youth, Jacob might be one we would want to shy away from.  But God saw the potential for great faith in his heart.  Jacob’s hard edges would be whittled down by another, even more cunning and deceitful than him, his uncle and future father-in-law Laban. Their relationship would prove to be a humbling challenge for Jacob, bringing him to the point where he must surrender to a loving God for relief and deliverance.

20 Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.  Genesis 25:20-21 ESV

For a long time, it looked like Jacob might never be born.  But God made it clear that He was in the center of this situation.  As Isaac and Rebekah were unable to have children, it would take another miracle for this genealogy to continue.  That seems to be God’s pattern. But eventually, after a season of prayer, Rebekah did conceive.

But this would not prove to be an easy pregnancy.  Rebekah was carrying twins and it felt as if they were battling one another.  Puzzled as to what was happening within her, she went to inquire of the Lord.

23 And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” Genesis 25:23 ESV

God revealed to Rebekah what was going on with her children.  As she would see later, the firstborn, Esau, would be a strong outdoorsman.  He would go on to be the founder of Edom, a neighboring nation that would be a frequent thorn in Israel’s side.  The younger twin, Jacob, would be God’s choice to be father of the twelve tribes of Israel.  He would later be given the name Israel by God.  Jacob’s son, Judah, would further the kingly line.  Jesus Christ is sometimes referred to as the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5).

The relationship between twin brothers Esau and Jacob was very contentious.  While Esau was often out hunting and bringing back delicious meals for his father Isaac, Jacob stayed close to home and was a favorite of their mother Rebekah.  Over time, Esau came to hate Jacob.  He believed that Jacob “stole” two things from him, 1) his birthright as the first born and 2) their father Isaac’s spiritual blessing.  This blessing was a major event, and all the family members were aware of its reality and power in God.  God honored the blessing, even though it was acquired by Jacob through deceit rather than faith.

Esau had a decent case to make against Jacob.  In the first instance, though Jacob did not technically “steal” the birthright, he took advantage of Esau’s fatigue, hunger, ignorance and impulsiveness to make an unfair deal for it, with Esau trading it away for a pot of stew.  In the second case, however, Jacob (at the urging of his mother) used outright deception to steal Isaac’s blessing from Esau.  Perhaps Jacob felt entitled to do so because he was now owner of Esau’s birthright, and the blessing was associated with the birthright. But clearly, Jacob did not consider his brother’s best interests in this.  As a result of the deception, Esau was livid and planned to kill Jacob as soon as his father Isaac died, perhaps to reclaim the birthright.  Rebekah learned of the plan, and Jacob was forced to flee for twenty years.

Despite the deception of Jacob (and Rebekah), Isaac blessed him once more before he left, sending him back north to Haran, to Rebekah’s family, to seek a bride.  Esau was even more upset when he learned of Isaac’s second blessing, In his resentment, he married two local Canaanite women who did not worship God, which he knew would grieve his parents.   

As the story of Jacob demonstrates, God chooses and uses imperfect people to accomplish His will.  Despite Jacob’s many flaws, God saw something in him that Esau apparently lacked.  A potential for faith?  A form of spiritual DNA?  We really don’t know.  God is sovereign and does not always explain why he does certain things.  But God had a plan to extend a blessing to Jacob, even before Jacob stole it. He was God’s choice in the kingly line which would result in His people, Israel and their Messiah, Jesus Christ. Jesus brings the gift of eternal life to all in the world who respond in faith to Him. Have you sought Him today?

Reflection:

It was clear to Rebekah and Jacob that God intended the blessing to come to Jacob rather than to his older brother, Esau.  Yet, they schemed to come up with a deceptive plan when it looked like Isaac was about to give Esau the blessing.  Their plan worked, but with negative consequences.  Does God really need our help in carrying out his plans? 

Where in our lives might we be trying to “help God along” with the things that we want him to do?  What might we be holding back on doing that we already know He wants us to do?

After he and his mom’s deceptive plan, Jacob was to be on the receiving end of multiple deceptions in his own life.  In Galatians chapter 6, Paul writes that God is not mocked, and that a man will reap what he sows.  Did Rebekah and Jacob’s deception sow the seeds that would come back to haunt Jacob later in life?  God is very merciful and gracious to us, not holding our transgressions against us (Psalm 103), but at the same time, when it accomplishes His purposes, He may permit our own shortcomings to backfire to help reshape our character along the way.  God sometimes uses a chisel of trials and hardships to knock away the pieces of our hearts that do not reflect the goodness and love of God.  Can you think of an example in life where God used your own shortcoming to improve your character and to come closer to Him?

A Spouse for Isaac – Genesis 24

24 Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. 2 And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had…swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”  Genesis 24:1-4 ESV

Towards the end of his life, Abraham asked his trusted servant and steward to travel 500 miles in a caravan of 10 camels to find a bride for his precious son, Isaac.  Isaac was around forty years old by this time, and Abraham was trusting God to make good on all his generational promises that would come through Isaac.

Abraham had waited twenty-five years for Isaac to be born.  There had been many adventures and challenges during that time.  His journey, like ours, had been truly blessed in all things.  But even blessed lives are filled with trials, loss, mistakes and pain.

Our childhood years are filled with many blessings, but we also learn about fear, and perhaps mistreatment.  Our middle years are surrounded by goodness, but also with troubles and difficulties.  And in later years, we can often look back to see the blessings of our life, but these are often mingled with loss and pain.  Along the way, we can be challenged at any time with loneliness, doubt, anxiety, depression or insecurity.  We can easily lose sight of the blessings that surround us because of negative situations and experiences that may dominate our attention, thoughts and feelings.  Only by the grace of God can we turn our hearts back to Him to experience the peace of mind that comes from his presence in our lives.

God is the Potter of Life, and we are his clay.  He decides when and how to bless us. God’s perfect timing does not always meet with our approval at the time.  But he is Sovereign God, and as the clay, we do not have sufficient knowledge and wisdom about his purposes to argue with the potter (although we are allowed to petition Him about it).

Jesus said that we would have trials in life.  He certainly had them.  Even though he healed people through miraculous means, people who had even sometimes suffered from birth, Jesus often met opposition, attack and the threat of death.  Eventually, those threats would come to pass with his beating and crucifixion.  But Jesus alone had the authority to lay down his life and to take it up again.  He did this for us, as a sacrifice for our sins, in obedience to the Father, the Creator of all good things and the author of the journey of our life.

Despite his own difficulties and errors, Abraham, too, had faith in God.  He expressed this faith to his servant upon sending him off to find a spouse for his son, Isaac:

7 The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.  Genesis 24:7 ESV

Abraham was correct, the Lord was leading the way for the servant to find Isaac’s bride and life mate, Rebekah.  By this time, Abraham was well advanced in years, around 140 years old.  He would live another thirty-five years.  His life-mate, Sarah, was by now already deceased around three years.  Abraham, after a season of grief, was now focused on finding the right life-mate for his son, Isaac.  (Abraham himself would go on to additional marriages, but little comment is made on these in the scriptures, as they did not contribute further to the story of the Jewish people and the genealogy of Jesus Christ).

Abraham’s servant made the trip, and at the end of his journey, God answered the prayer of his heart before he was even finished asking the Lord.  As the servant described when reaching his destination:

42 “I came today to the spring and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you are prospering the way that I go, 43 behold, I am standing by the spring of water. Let the virgin who comes out to draw water, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” 44 and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also,” let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’

45 “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her water jar on her shoulder, and she went down to the spring and drew water. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46 She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels drink also.’ So, I drank, and she gave the camels drink also…48 Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Genesis 24:42-45,46,48 ESV

How quickly does the Lord answer our prayers?  Sometimes very quickly. Other times, as with Isaac’s birth, very slowly. But He always gives an answer to prayer.  The answer may be “yes”, “no”, “not yet”, or some other answer, but there will ultimately be an answer.

I have heard many different responses to the question of how God answers prayer.  Some may say, “he doesn’t.”  One even said, “every time I pray, something bad happens, so I don’t pray.”  But most people do believe that good answers will come, with God’s will done in His perfect timing.  Sometimes answers do not come until we have forgotten we had prayed about it.  If we take the time to journal our prayers in writing and look back after a period of time, we often see that our prayers were answered, but we didn’t notice because we were focused elsewhere.

At the end of the servant’s journey, Rebekah and her family recognized that this was an opportunity from God.  They all responded positively.  This was the family through which God would continue the lineage of Jesus Christ.  It wasn’t a perfect family by any means, none are.  But it was the chosen one. And though they couldn’t have known where it was headed at the time, they recognized it as a divine calling, and supported it.

It took faith for Rebekah to respond and follow the servant back to Isaac.  She was not required to go along; it was strictly a voluntary journey of faith.

In Genesis 17:19, God told Abraham that he would establish an everlasting covenant, or agreement, with his and Sarah’s son, Isaac.  Always true to his word, God did this.  When later appearing to Isaac, God said:

 4 I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands.  And in your offspring, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Genesis 26:4-5 ESV

Isaac and Rebekah are an important part of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.  Abraham’s servant played an important role by traveling the 500 miles and seeking out the one God had set aside for Isaac.  And Rebekah exhibited faith by leaving her family and homeland to come to Canaan, sight unseen, just as Abraham had done over six decades earlier.

Reflection:

What happy times can you remember from your early days as a youth?  What challenges?  How would you characterize your life journey so far?

Can you see an event of your life that was a bad thing at the time but now you see God has used as a blessing?

Can you think of a time that God answered your prayer almost immediately?  How about one that he answered only after you had forgotten you asked?  Can you think of a request you had earnestly prayed to God, only to be thankful later that he did not fulfill your request?

It took faith for Isaac’s bride, Rebecca to leave her past and accompany Abraham’s servant to marry Isaac.  Just as it takes faith for us to leave our past and join Jesus Christ as part of his bride, the Church.  The rewards of faith in both cases are overwhelming.  Where are you today on your faith journey?

The Testing of Abraham – Genesis 22

Faith in God is not always easy, even in the best of life’s circumstances.  Sometimes we face trials or hardships that challenge us to the point of requiring more than basic faith to get by.  At other times, God may ask us to do something troublesome or difficult that we do not understand the reason for at all.

In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus told his followers, “I am the bread of life.”  This was easy enough, as he had miraculously fed over 5,000 people from five loaves and two fish the day before.  However, Jesus went on to say that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood, or we will have not life in us.  With the benefit of hindsight, we know that he was talking about Holy Communion, believing in his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, and how we remember this loving sacrifice for our sins every time we partake.  But those around Jesus at the time did not have the benefit of this context.  When they could not understand what he was saying, many chose to leave Him.

Another example of difficult faith is found in Exodus 14, when God freed the Israelites from Egypt but then led them to the edge of the Red Sea, where they were trapped by Pharaoh’s army of chariots.  As the Israelites faced certain death, they could not have known that the reason God led them here was to show them His glory firsthand by parting the Red Sea and delivering them safely through it.  They would be able to look back on that deliverance and remember to turn to God every time they were under a challenge or a threat.

Perhaps the most difficult example of faith is found in Genesis 22.  Abraham had no context in which to understand why God was asking him to do a nearly impossible thing, nor did he have any idea how important his obedience would be to God.  He couldn’t have.  But Abraham was to be faced with an extremely difficult decision to either move forward in obedience, or to turn away, leaving God.

22 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”   Genesis 22:1-2 ESV

Impossible! Unthinkable! That is the reaction these two lines bring to everyone.  What could God possibly be asking here?  Isn’t God loving?  Isn’t God reasonable?  After waiting twenty-five years for their promised, cherished son Isaac, born to Sarah and Abraham beyond childbearing years, foretold as the father of so many, they could not even be counted, now the Lord wants him to be sacrificed as a burnt offering?  Absolutely unthinkable! 

What possible reason could the Lord have for ordering this?  Is this some mad idea of a test?  (Spoiler alert: God stops him before Abraham goes through with it).

Before we totally give up on God’s sanity, there are two clues in these verses.  The first is “mountain I will show you in the land of Moriah.”  The second is “burnt offering.”

Mt Moriah is where the Lord will direct the temple of God to be built many centuries after Abraham.  It is also where God’s only begotten, cherished son, Jesus, will be crucified as an offering for the sins of the world.  It is a very holy place, set apart for God.  It is also, in our future, where the New Jerusalem will serve as the eternal earthly throne of Jesus Christ, ruler of the entire world, as described in chapter 21 of the book of Revelation.

The second clue in God’s command to Abraham is the phrase “burnt offering.”  A burnt offering in the Old Testament was where one life (an innocent animal) was sacrificed and burned to bear the judgement and punishment for the sins of another, man.  In God’s holy creation, there must be a penalty paid for all sin or disobedience to God and his law.  And the penalty for sin is death.  Without the shedding of blood, there is no remedy or removal of sin (Hebrews 9:22).  The wages of sin is death, and the wages must be paid for one to be declared holy or set apart before God (Romans 6:23).

Initially, innocent animals were sacrificed to temporarily cover the sins of man, but ultimately, God Himself provided the sacrifice to suffer, to die and to pay the penalty for our sins.  In effect, God is not asking Abraham to do anything that God will not do in the future.  The difference is, God stopped Abraham, whereas Jesus went through with it for us.

God is a loving God, and he is asking Abraham to be willing to share in the pain that God will experience Himself when Jesus is beaten and crucified.  And without knowing the reason or result, Abraham exhibited an extraordinary willingness to obey God under this most extreme and mysterious of circumstances.  It was a magnificent demonstration of faith and faithfulness, second only to that exhibited by Jesus Christ when he surrendered Himself to the cross.

3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So, they went both together.7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So, they went both together.  Genesis 22:3-8 ESV

It has been noted that for the three days of the journey, Isaac was as good as dead in Abraham’s grieving mind.  This parallels with Jesus being in the tomb until he was raised on the third day.  This span of time also presented Abraham many opportunities to change his mind, waking up each morning to a new, horrible reality he faced.  And yet, each day, he marched on in obedience to the Lord.  How challenging an existence, yet what faith he demonstrated!

During these three days, Isaac is apparently unaware of what is about to happen, and his innocence must have added to the burden Abraham felt in his heart.  In like manner, how God the Father must have been deeply troubled as the totally innocent Jesus voluntarily went to his suffering and crucifixion for our eternal well-being and salvation.  The love of God for us exceeded both of their suffering and grief.  The obedience of Abraham may even have served as an emotional support for them Jesus faced the cross because of his love for us.  

9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.  Genesis 22:9-13 ESV

The ram was substituted as an offering for Isaac just as Jesus was substituted as an offering for us.

14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” Genesis 22:14 ESV

Jesus provided his sacrifice by being crucified for us on Mount Moriah, the mount of the Lord, on the north side of the temple.

15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”  Genesis 22:15-18 ESV

God’s testing of Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, is a most challenging chapter of the Bible to comprehend.   The Lord was testing Abraham’s willingness to obey under the most extreme of circumstances.  And God himself would later provide the sacrifice of Jesus on this very mountain.

This “blessing of all nations” happens in the context of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.  Abraham, the first person named in the genealogy, was asked to offer up his precious son, exactly as God the Father willingly did with Jesus Christ over two thousand years later.  Jesus, the fulfillment of the genealogy, obediently went to the cross as a sacrifice for you and me, a fulfillment of the punishment that our sins demand in the holy accounting of God and his creation.  

When we see a loved one suffering, we would give anything to take the pain off them and put it on ourselves. This is what the Father experienced with Jesus at the cross, and why Jesus went all the way through with what He did for us.  The wages we earned from our sin is death, so Jesus paid the penalty that we may experience eternal life with Him.  The symbolism of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his only son is made all the stronger as this took place on Mount Moriah, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.

“Because you have done this…in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”  Genesis 22:16, 18 ESV

Abraham’s demonstration of faith was clearly very important to God, the loving Father of his only begotten son, Jesus.  Because Abraham obeyed, all the nations indeed will be blessed through the fruit of his lineage, Jesus Christ.

Reflection:

What is one of the hardest things God has ever asked you to do? How did you bear up under it?

Do you currently have a loved one in a difficult situation, one that you would willingly take their place in?

Why do you think Abraham’s obedience in this extreme situation was so important to God?  What does the Father’s and Jesus’ willingness to go through this say about God’s love for you? 

We experience complete forgiveness when we come to the cross.  Instead of punishment or rejection, we come under the eternal care of a God who loves us.  Despite many failings in his own life, Abraham is known as a man of faith.  His greatest moment of coming to Mount Moriah in faith in the most difficult of circumstances was, in a sense, his coming to the cross.  Take a moment to reflect on, share or even experience the first time of your “coming to the cross”.

God’s Second Chance – Genesis 15

In calling and reaching out to Abraham, God was also reaching out to us, to humanity, for a second time.  The first time, before the judgement of Noah’s flood, man chose to ignore the call and existence of God and to disregard Him and His words.  The result of this choice was global misbehavior, including murder, violence, theft and bloodshed.  Few on the earth walked with a consciousness of God in their daily lives and most lived only for themselves.  This self-centered nature of mankind can be seen throughout much of history.  Virtually all of us have experienced the downside of human behavior at one time or another in our lives.

The result of God’s first outreach to man was failure and a flood.  There did not seem to be a capacity in man at that time to return God’s love and to enjoy His blessings with gratefulness and thanksgiving.  There was no attempt to walk in holiness with God in a faithful relationship.  The result was an evil and corrupt society that was full of selfishness and violence.  All people do wrong at one time or another, but at that time, God was waiting for even one person to step forward to seek to restore their broken relationship.  In the end, only Noah sought the Lord, and he was blessed with companionship, forgiveness and divine fellowship.

Noah sought to encourage others to turn to and acknowledge the Lord, but his actions were in vain. This spiraling scenario ultimately brought a flood of gigantic proportions.  Civilizations were wiped out by the catastrophic event, and God began again to build a community from faithful Noah and his seed. 

There are many aspects of this event that can raise difficult questions for us.  God’s word often presents things without fully explaining them to us.  Faith can be challenging when we do not have all the whys, how’s and wherefores in front of us, but God expects us to have the faith to trust in Him and to be willing to wait for answers.  We trust that the core events of our lives, even the most painful ones, are undergirded by His deep love for us, and that one day, answers will come.

After his calling, Noah’s descendant Abraham and his son Isaac would live mostly in the promised land of Israel.   Eventually, grandson Jacob’s family would be compelled to move down to Egypt due to a severe famine, and this exile would end up lasting several centuries.  Abraham had been warned in advance by God about this:

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram (Abraham). And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.  Genesis 15:12-14 ESV

God disclosed that Abraham’s descendants would go from living a life of prosperity, blessing and growth to living an oppressed life as slaves in Egypt, all over the course of several hundred years.  After this, when God’s timing was right, eighty-year old Moses would be sent to free those descendants from the bondage of Egypt, and they would be led by divine grace towards the Promised Land of Israel.

Abraham was chosen and called by God.  It was an extreme privilege, but it was not a life of ease and leisure.  Though he was blessed with many riches, Abraham also lived a life of many challenges and demands on his faith. 

Faith challenges continued throughout Abraham’s lineage.  In the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John, religious leaders who were Abraham’s blood descendants did not believe that God the Father had sent Jesus Christ as their Messiah.  This was a sin of ignorance and blindness.  They would ultimately have Jesus put to death on a cross because he claimed to be God, the son of the Father, and they just would not believe it, and considered Him blasphemous.  During their discussions with Jesus, he told them that, though they were descendants of Abraham by blood, they were not true sons of Abraham because they did not exhibit his faith.  The apostle Paul explores this further in Galatians chapter 3 where he says that the true sons of Abraham are not necessarily blood descendants, but those who believe like Abraham, the “man of faith.”

Abraham did have tremendous faith, but he was not perfect.  Consider the case of his promised son.  It had been decades since God promised seventy-five-year-old Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation.  And many years since God said his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the heavens.  Yet, so far, no child had come along.  After ten years of waiting, Abraham and Sarah came up with their own plan in place of God’s. Using Sarah’s maid as a surrogate mother (Genesis 16), Ishmael was born.  But this did not change God’s mind in the matter of divine lineage, and He did not alter it.  God is sovereign over our lives.  We can pray to Him and ask Him to make changes, but when God’s plan is better for us, He will lovingly and gently say “No”.

The kingly line of Christ recorded in the genealogy of Jesus comes through Isaac, who was be born to Sarah on God’s timeline.  No matter how old she was or how unlikely or impossible it appeared to Abraham and Sarah at the time, God fulfilled His word and established the line of Christ through Isaac, Sarah’s son.

Reflection

What in your life are you are waiting for God to make happen?  Is there something missing that you believed He had promised you?  Something you had earnestly asked for and did not receive?  Is there a bitterness or disappointment about it in your innermost self?  Is there something you have lost that has produced tremendous grief and has formed a barrier between you and God?  Why not take a moment and share these with the Lord, who loves you?

The Lord has said, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5 ESV.  What does this say about God’s love for you right now?

Sometimes we need to ask God to help us accept some large obstacle or hole in our life.  Something lost or missing, a regret or a failure we have experienced. Barriers like these can be like a large boulder in a field that we try to move, but cannot.  We can ask God for the grace to help us to accept the situation. While the problems are often still there, God allows us to walk around them and to move forward with our life in peace.

The Serenity Prayer can be a great tool to help with this, throughout the day:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”  Amen.

God’s Covenant with Abraham – Genesis 15:1-6

15 The word of the Lord came to Abram (Abraham) in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.  Genesis 15:1, 3-6 ESV

Abram was in a difficult situation. He had been promised an impressive lineage by God, but he and his wife Sarai were aging and, at this point, had no offspring to show for it.  God had blessed Abram and made him wealthy, but none of the promised descendants were yet on the horizon.  And Abram and Sarai were getting a little impatient with God.

The Lord responded to Abram, “Trust me.  Don’t fear, I will protect you and bring you descendants as numerous as the stars that I have created above you.”  And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted his belief as righteousness.

What is “righteousness?”  Some possible responses are 1) living a life pleasing to God, 2) honoring God’s commandments and 3) making morally correct choices in God’s eyes.  In all cases, there is a standard of behavior set by God that He wants us to sincerely honor, both within our hearts and with our actions.  The unfortunate situation is that, aside from Jesus, we humans do a poor job of this.  That is why Jesus Christ had to come – to personally bear the consequences we deserve from continually falling short of God’s standard of goodness.  But God offers us a life rope – by Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, burial and victorious resurrection, we believers are thoroughly cleansed and given the new clothing of God’s righteousness.  God did for us what we absolutely could not do for ourselves.  He continues to extend new mercies to us each day, forgiving us and healing us of our failures and shortcomings. He restores our fallen state to one of righteousness.

God gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17) to help define the types of behavior God seeks from us, and Jesus clarified these further in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  In fact, Jesus tells us that even having the desire to do wrong causes us to fall short of righteousness. 

Because our thoughts and actions are so easily entangled with sin, we cannot reasonably expect to earn our way into Heaven on our own credentials. But there is good news. Jesus lived a righteous life that met this godly standard.  Because of the sacrificial price He paid on the cross, we are credited with all of the rich benefits and blessings of His righteousness when we open our heart to receive Him.

The Apostle Paul points to Abraham as a demonstration of how we are saved and made righteous with God through our faith in Christ.

4 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Romans 4:1-3 ESV

Jesus also talks about the basis of eternal salvation in John 5:

24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.  John 5:24 ESV

The very act of believing God and receiving His son, Jesus Christ, is a life-giving act of righteousness. 

From the smallest mustard seed of faith, new life is given and continues to grow.  In Abraham’s case, his faith was the cornerstone of his righteousness. As we learn more about Abraham in the book of Genesis, we see that, like us, he was not perfect.  He was a human being with plenty of shortcomings, but his faith pleased God, and God used his faith to credit Abraham with righteousness. 

How can our faith please God today?

Reflection

God told Abraham to “Fear not”.  There is a difference between a rational concern about a serious situation and being consumed with fear, worry and anxiety about it.  God wants us to live without crippling anxiety, and to approach Him in prayer about every fear-causing situation.

We all face situations that bring us to the point of fear.  What is happening, or not happening, in your life right now that is a major concern for you?  Have you have brought it before the Lord? 

Is there an anger or a resentment associated with this situation?  Fear may underly anger, and anger may manifest itself as a simmering or boiling resentment, a feeling of desperation or even a depression.

Have you been able to share about this difficult situation with a trusted friend of faith?  When we safely share our burdens with faithful friends, they help to support us by listening, loving and joining us in prayer.  This helps to relieve our burdens while we, like Abraham, wait for God’s promises to materialize.  Some Christians are especially gifted in this type of support.


The Call of Abraham – Genesis 12

12 Now the Lord said to Abram (Abraham), “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot (his nephew) went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.  Genesis 12:1-4 ESV

Abram, later renamed Abraham, was God’s first step in restoring His relationship with man that was broken by sin in the Garden of Eden.  As evidenced by Cain rising up and murdering his brother, Abel, man’s nature has always had a bent towards sin. We are independent thinkers, and prefer to walk in our own ways rather than God’s. 

One man, Noah, did live his life choosing to make God a priority, but most of his peers rejected that lifestyle, and God was grieved by their choice.

Many of us today have lived our lives away from God. Some of us were once close to God and walked away, and others never gave God much of a thought at all. 

Like Abraham, God has called each one of us to come out from where we are and to begin following Him.  A loving, holy God wants to touch us and bless our lives.

God called Abram out of his comfort zone in the city Ur (now in Iraq), through Harran (now in Turkey), and into a new land that is now Israel.  He did this to begin a new relationship with mankind that is based upon faith. He is reaching out to us, those who are willing to believe in Him. He was us to walk with Him, and to experience Him daily. 

Some believe that God is distant and aloof, and not interested in our daily life.  But God’s interactions with Abraham, his son Isaac and with all his descendants throughout the genealogy of Jesus Christ show that this is not the case at all.  God loves us and wants to be an intimate part of our daily experience.  He also wants to use us for the good of others, to be the “hands and feet” of Christ reaching out to help them experience the blessings of God firsthand.

Consider what the Lord said to Moses:

7 Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  Exodus 3:7-8 ESV

12 Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”  Exodus 4:12 ESV

God was with Moses, He was with Abraham, and now He is with us. He cares deeply about each one of us, and all of those around us.

Abraham was seventy-five years old when God called him to new life.  At that age, he might not have been thrilled about picking up and moving to a foreign, unknown territory.  People did live longer in that day, but even so, being in late middle age, he might have been fairly settled in a comfortable lifestyle.  

But when God reaches out to touch us, it is thrilling. Abram was also thrilled to hear that he would, at long last, have descendants. His deeply held desire for this had long looked like it would go unfulfilled.  But though God’s promise to Abram came at age 75, he and Sarai would not receive their child for another 25 years. By that time, she was 90 and well beyond normal child-bearing age.  But God is not limited by anything.

It is interesting that God would choose this way to miraculously fulfill his promise.  A similar pattern was used for the birth of John the Baptist in the New Testament, when his mother, Elizabeth, was also well beyond normal child-bearing age.  This establishes and confirms that the hand of God alone was behind these miracles.

God warned Abram that he was going to be a sojourner in a new land, a land currently occupied by others. But God also promised Abram some incredible things: 1) he would become a great nation, and 2) through his descendants, all the families on the earth would be blessed.  This would ultimately be accomplished through his biological and spiritual lineage, which culminated in the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary. 

The Kingdom of God started with the calling of Abraham. It culminated in the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who will return one day to reign on David’s throne in the New Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit is now moving throughout the earth, bringing a blessing to all who would respond to His call. As God had promised Abraham – through him, all the nations on the earth would be blessed.

Reflection

I have a friend who refers to “divine inconveniences,” times when God nudges us to do something when we are busy or focused on doing something else.  Can you recall a time this occurred to you?   What was the occasion?  What was the result?

God had divine reasons to lead Abram and his descendants over a bumpy, inconvenient road. He led him down to Egypt and eventually towards Mount Moriah, which would one day become the city of Jerusalem.  Can you recall a time that you asked the Lord for a different path than the one He had chosen for you? Did you get your way?  Can you look back now and see God’s plan in a different light than you did then?  If not, do you have faith to believe that, one day, God’s comfort will come, and His purpose will be revealed?

God’s call to Abram led to a major life change.  How are you with change?  What changes have you made in your life as God has led you?  What change is God calling you to make today?

Your Father Abraham – John 8

The first book of the New Testament, Matthew, begins like this:

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.  2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.  Matthew 1:1-2 ESV

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons are referred to as the Fathers of the Faith or the Patriarchs.  Jesus referred to them often, and his disciples and the crowds He spoke to were all well acquainted with them, and their importance to the origins of the family of God. 

For example, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said:

11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 8:11 ESV

Abraham gets a lot of discussion time throughout the New Testament.  Jesus referred to him on multiple occasions, as did Paul in his letters (sometimes called epistles).  The writer of Hebrews includes Abraham in the faith “Hall of Fame” (Chapter 11).  He was clearly a person of great importance in the word of God, but many are not quite sure who he was or why he is so important.

Abraham is important because he is the first to be called out to begin a family of faith in God. His lineage would become the kingly line of Jesus Christ, who would save and justify believers throughout the world from their sin.  Abraham is the father of all believers in God.  If you are a Jewish worshiper, you may have a blood connection to Abraham, but the rest of us are spiritually connected to Abraham by our faith in God.

When Jesus Christ came, He tore down doctrinal walls and unified all believers as one in Himself.

In the New Testament books of Romans and Galatians, the apostle Paul writes how we are all joined as one in faith, after the Man of Faith, Abraham.  We will see how Abraham demonstrated his faith, most notably with his son Isaac at Mt. Moriah, in Genesis 22.  Mount Moriah would later be named the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and is the place where Jesus Christ would be crucified as a divine sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. 

Jesus had many discussions with his opponents who sought to kill him because he “claimed” to be God and they did not believe Him. One of these discussions centered around Abraham:

31 Jesus said… “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”  34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.  John 8:31-37 ESV

Jesus, himself a descendant of Abraham through the genealogy, tells us that the power of truth and freedom lie in Christ and His word.  His word becomes alive within us and, with the Holy Spirit, is a “power greater than ourselves”.  

Our practices of sin may have led to any of several forms of addiction, which rob us of our freedom and the joy of life.  Once entrenched, we may be unable to throw off the bondage on our own, and need to rely on a “power greater than ourselves” to break those chains that hold our mind, spirit and body.  Jesus tells us that He is that power, and that the power comes through His word.

Jesus’ opponents were angered by his statements about Abraham and freedom:

53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets who died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered… 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So (they) said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”  58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.  John 8:53-57 ESV

Jesus claimed both an intimate personal relationship with Abraham and that He existed even before Abraham.  Furthermore, Jesus used the term “I am,” which his audience knew was the name God revealed about himself to Moses at the burning bush in the desert.  Jesus was referring to himself as God.  Hearing this, those who rejected Jesus were enraged enough to seek to stone him to death.

Later, they would crucify Jesus unto death. But this sacrifice was an essential part of God’s plan of salvation.  The blood of bulls and goats in the Old Testament Jewish ritual sacrifices were important expressions of obedience and faith, but could not truly atone for the sins of mankind, which separate all of us from God.  Only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ could fulfill the requirement of holiness needed to remove our separation from God and make us holy enough to allow His Holy Spirit to reside in us.  The Holy Spirit cleanses us daily, thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the washing of the word of God.

Reflection

Jesus said we must abide in his word.  To “abide” means to “accept or act in accordance with.”  Some synonyms include to obey, observe, follow, uphold, respect and remain.  What does Jesus tell us will happen for us if we do remain in his word (see John 8:31-32 above)?

What areas of obedience do you struggle with the most?  Despite our deepest yearnings and best efforts, we all struggle with sin at one time or another, which strains our relationship with God.  God loves us deeply even when He disapproves of our actions, and always forgives us when we confess to Him and turn away from our sin.  He does not seek to condemn us, but rather to help us turn back to Him and to become a stronger and more fruitful believer.

What steps do we take if we do have an addiction?  First, an honest, open and willing self-appraisal is needed.  If we conclude “yes, we have an addiction”, where can we go to get help to achieve freedom and victory, and to begin joyful living?  We can seek out a safe recovery group, a trusted friend in recovery, an understanding clergy or a qualified professional to help guide us so that we can learn to seek and follow God’s path to freedom.  Jesus often works through other men and women of faith to help us grow and to experience a daily victory in our lives.

Freedom and healing are also available if we experience extreme fear, depression or grief.  We can reach out to others in faith-based support groups to help us overcome in these areas as we reach out for the love Christ has for us.