February 2, 2015.
Daily Reading: Genesis 15-19.
Background: Genesis 9-14.
Concepts and Connections.
Re-telling the promise, established via covenant: At the beginning of this chapter, Abram has just returned form rescuing Lot from Chedorlaomer king of Elam and the kings that accompanied him in battle against Sodom and Gomorrah. After returning successfully, the word of the Lord comes to Abram to give him the promise of both numerous offspring (after having one of his own) and the land of Canaan for his children in the ages to come… again. Though it is not stated why God kept telling Abram of this promise, some isight might be gained from Abram’s response. “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” It seems that though God tells Abram on multiple occasions that his offspring will be numerous, Abram has a hard time believing the word of the Lord because he doesn’t see how it could happen. Sarai, his wife, was barren and both of them were getting old. It seems that God needs to continually remind Abram of His promise.
Further, with this encounter with God, Abram learns more about what would come of his offspring, how they would be enslaved in Egypt for 400 years (see Exodus 1, 12:40-41) and how they would be delivered out of Egypt, taking with them great possessions (see Exodus 12:36). Then the Lord made a covenant with Abram, telling him to bring a heifer, female goat, ram, turtle dove and young pigeon, and to cut them in half. As with many covenants, the shedding of blood was necessary, and by further implication, this symbolized the punishment that God would bring on those who transgressed the covenant (see Jeremiah 34:18-20). The birds of prey could have symbolized the Egyptians when they took rule over the children of Israel, and driving them away the deliverance by God. The smoking pot and flaming touch could symbolize Israel’s trials under the hand of the Egyptians and being lead by a pillar of fire from the land of Egypt, respectively. God made a covenant with Abram here once again between him and his offspring, to give them the promised land. Sometimes we all need reaffirmation.
1. Getting impatient with God’s plan: Sarai and Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, but Sarai had not been able to give Abram a son as was promised by God, for she was barren. Sarai grew impatient, seeing how they were both getting older, and came up with her own plan to fulfill the promise of God: she would give Abram her Egyptian handmaid Hagar so that she could give him a son. Abram listened to his wife and took Hagar as a wife, and when he went into here, she conceived. As soon as she conceived, there was much tension between the two women, and Sarai likely held much jealousy towards Hagar. Though it is not explicitly stated, Sarai might have given Hagar to Abram because she felt like she had to, but with a secret hope that she too would be barren. Regardless, Sarai and Hagar did not get along after this event, to the point that Sarai dealt very harshly with Hagar by the approval of Abram, causing her to run away, only to be lead back by the voice of an angel. Getting impatient with the plan of God caused many problems in the household of Abram. God had promised Abram a son who would become a numerous people, but He didn’t but a time frame on His promise. After ten years in the land of Canaan, it seems that Abram and Sarai lost a bit of faith in the promise and took it into their own hands, which turned out badly. We can take a lesson from this to be patient with the plan of God. All things work together for God for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (ref. Romans 8:28), but we need to be mindful to be patient and not try to take the promises into our own hands. We will not succeed if we do so, for we do not have the omniscient mind of God.
2. Consequences of taking God’s plan into one’s own hand: Because of their impatience, to Abram was born a son of the flesh, born of the bond woman (Sarai’s impatience/Hagar) as opposed to by promise, born of the free woman (God’s promise/Sarai). Paul makes this distinction in Galatians 4:21-31, using this example as a shadow of our freedom through Christ. Though it was not the promise, God blessed the son of Hagar when Hagar fled from Sarai and was found by the angle of the Lord. Hagar was told to go back and submit to Sarai, a lesson in and of itself, and that her son Ishmael would become a numerous people, a wild man who’s hand was against everyone and everyone against him. The consequences of Sarai and Abram’s impatience can still be seen today through the Turks, an Islamic nation, having their hand against many nations, who trace their lineage to Abraham through Ishmael. How true is the prophecy of God, having relevance even to this day.
1. Stubbornness: When Abram was ninety-nine years old, God appears to him to give the promise and the covanent once again. Though it would seem like Abram understood by now, his reaction speaks to why God has to keep reminding him. Abram still hasn’t had the son of promise by Sarai, even after thirteen years since Ishmael had been born. When God appears to Abram this time to re-tell the promise once again, Abram hasn’t leaned from his past mistakes. Rather, he is somewhat stubborn with God and insists that Ishmael might live before God as a medium for God’s promise. He doesn’t understand how he and Sarai could have another child in their old age. It would seem his faith in God’s power was a bit lacking. However, God would not accept the stubbornness of Abram, but rather ensured him that he would have a child by Sarai, a child of promise. With this appearance, the Lord changed the names of Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah, signifying the covenant He was making with them. Abram means “exalted father” whereas Abraham means “father of a multitude.” Names were very significant amongst the Hebrew nation and the Lord, as often children would be named after important events or prophecy when they were born.
2. The covenant of circumcision: In this encounter with Abraham, God established the covenant of circumcision with Abraham and all his offspring. Circumcision was a way of distinguishing the people of God from the rest of the nations. It was the seal of the covenant that God made with Abraham here of the promises to his children to be their God. If a male child was not circumcised, he would be cut off from his people because he had transgressed the covenant of the Lord. It is interesting to note that the people of Ishmael hold to the covenant of circumcision as Ishmael was circumcised by Abraham, though it was given as a covenant to Abraham through Isaac, the son of promise, to the children of Israel (see Genesis 21:12 and Romans 9:6-8). Paul translates this to the New Covenant, not as a physical circumcision of the flesh, but as a spiritual circumcision of the heart (see Romans 2:28-29), relating circumcision given here as a covenant to the circumcision of Christ with baptism into His death, burial and resurrection (see Colossians 2:11-15).
1. Abraham’s visitors: Here, the Lord appears to Abraham (once again, see notes on chapters 15 and 17) to re-tell the promise of a son by Sarah. Three men come to Abraham, two of which are later referred to as angels. Many conjecture that the the third man was the pre-incarnate Christ as God on earth. This view is supported by the fact that the Lord is said to have appeared to Abraham, not an angel, the other two men are later called angels, and when Abraham bowed, he was not told to get up as the angel told John in Revelation 19:9-10 when John falls down to worship him. The appearance of three men could be a shadow of the trinity, though it is important to note that it was not all three persons of the Godhead on earth literally, as can be indicated from 19:1. Regardless, Abraham shows great hospitality to these men, going out of his way to make them comfortable during their stay. We too are to show hospitality to strangers, as the Hebrew writer says that we never know when we are actually entertaining angels (see Hebrews 13:2).
Abraham’s relationship with God is one of great interest, as there is a close bond between the two that is not seen with too many other people. James tells us that Abraham was called a friend of God (see James 2:23). This bears out in this story as the Lord chooses to reveal unto Abraham what He is about to do since He has chosen Abraham to bless him and make him a mighty nation. He tells Abraham of the destruction that He is about to judge Sodom and Gomorrah and see if the outcry that has come to Him is so. This gave Abraham a chance to think about his Nephew, Lot who had chosen live in Sodom.
2. Bargaining with God: Probably in an effort to save his nephew, Abraham starts to bargain with God for Sodom. He starts out asking that if there were 50 righteous people in Sodom if God would spare the city. God says that He will spare Sodom for the sake of 50 righteous people. Perhaps Abraham didn’t actually think God would say yes, so he chose a number that was a bit inflated, because after he gets the “yes” from God, he then starts to bargain his way down: 50, 45, 40, 30, 20 and all the way down to 10. If there were at least 10 righteous people in Sodom, God would spare the city. Unfortunately, Abraham would soon find out that there wasn’t even 10 righteous people in Sodom. However, the principle may still apply. In the psalms it is said that righteousness exalts a nation (see Psalm 14:34). Perhaps for the sake of a few righteous people, God will still spare a wicked nation, though He is not necessarily obliged to do so.
1. The iniquity of Sodom and Gomorrah: In Genesis 6, not too long after the fall, mankind had gotten to the point where every intent of their heart was only evil continually (see Genesis 6:5). Thus, God destroyed the world with a flood, saving only Noah and his family. It would seem that mankind has a propensity towards evil, as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would have a similar demise due to their overt iniquity. The cities were so wicked that there was not found even 10 righteous people in them, else God told Abraham that He would spare the cities. As far as we know, there were only four righteous people (Lot, Lot’s wife and his two daughters), and that’s only if we are being generous. Though there were likely a multitude of sins that were taking place in Sodom and Gomorrah, the sin that the two cities are known for most is that of homosexuality, as it was to the point that the men of the city almost beat down Lot’s house in effort to have sexual relations with the two men (who were actually angels) who had come to the town to test the iniquity of Sodom. Sodom and Gomorrah became representations of both great wickedness and the impending judgment of God throughout the Scriptures (see for example Isaiah 1:9-10, Jeremiah 23:14, Amos 4:11, Matthew 11:23-24, II Peter 2:6 and Jude 1:7).
2. The destruction of Sodom and Lot’s escape: When it came time for Lot and his family to escape the impending destruction that would come to Sodom, he couldn’t convince his son-in-laws to come with him, for they just laughed. The only people who were going to leave were Lot, his wife and their two daughters, and all of them through heavy reluctance. The angels had to drag them out of the city! Even with this, Lot’s wife did what she was told not to do and looked back on the destruction and turned into a pillar of salt. Jesus references this instance in Luke 17:32 as His second coming and the kingdom of God. The Lord rained fire and sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah until the cities were utterly destroyed. When we consider how God feels about sin, we do not need to forget what He did to Sodom and Gomorrah.
3. The sin of Lot’s daughters: It is interesting to note here that this is just the third mention of wine in the bible, and two of the three first places it is mentioned it is involved in evil. Just like in the story of Noah and the curse of Canaan (see Genesis 9:20-27), wine was involved in the uncovering of a father’s nakedness. Here, Lot’s daughters take it upon themselves to make sure that their father’s name would be carried on to the next generation, as they thought that there was no other way for him to bear a son now that their mother was gone. They devise a plan to get their father drunk and sleep with him, so they could prolong his lineage. It is apparent that the wickedness of the city that they had grown up in had had a large effect on their morality. Paul makes a statement that bad company corrupts good morals (see I Corinthians 15:33). Lot’s daughters both conceived and bore sons, Moab and Ben-ammi. The consequence of this iniquity would be the two wicked nations that would come from these sons, the Moabites and the Ammonites, respectively. These two nations would continually be a thorn in the side of the children of Israel.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Joshua 21-24.
Trust in the plan of God.