Genesis is hard enough as it is; here are three things NOT to do when reading the first book of the Bible (and to keep in mind as we read the rest of the Bible). [This post first appeared on my blog, www.andrewforrest.org, 1/19/15. I thought it might be helpful as we wrap up reading Genesis. –AF]
Now that we’re right in the middle of the story of the Israelites, let’s review!
It’s hard keeping track of all those sons of Jacob. Hope this helps.
- 1-16 – Abraham was unwilling to accept a burial spot for Sarah as a gift from the Hittites. He insisted on paying. Like in the story where he was asked to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham knew and believed that all his blessings were from God. He could not allow someone’s gift to disrupt that.
- 1-4 – It was important to God, and thus Abraham as well, that Isaac not inter-marry with a Canaanite, which would have been easy since that was the land they lived in.
- 14 – Watering camels was a long, laborious job since camels drink so rarely, but when they do it’s in high volume. Offering to water someone else’s camels would have been a big commitment.
- 10-33 – In this society, meeting at wells often led to marriage. Laban was pleased that his sister had met a man at a well for this reason.
- This section is filled with 3 healing stories. It is important to notice when anything in the Bible comes in 3s. This means it is being emphasized.
- Note that of the three healings, one is a leper, who is considered unclean and is often outcast, another is a centurion, who is a gentile’s, servant.
- 10-13 – Israelites, because of their covenant with God, sometimes considered themselves above others. Jesus is explaining that this man, though not part of the chosen people, would be with Jesus because of his faith, while some Israelites were banking on their heritage.
- There are several terms like “Higgaion” and “Selah” whose meanings are not certain. They are presumed to be some sort of musical term since the Psalms often have instructions such as that they are “for the choirmaster”.
- 3 – In Deuteronomy chapter 6, Moses encourages the Israelites to bind God’s word around their head and wrists and to write it on their hearts. This is a similar command and purposely mirrors that of Moses.
- 5-6 – Familiar, encouraging verses reminding us to trust in God first and we will be rewarded with straight paths.
- 1-18 – Once again, Abraham almost gets someone in trouble by telling them Sarah is his sister. God intervenes and protects Abraham, Sarah, and Abimelech. Though Abimelech may have lived in a land that did not fear God prior to this episode, now he is willing to make accommodations and offer blessings to God’s prophet, Abraham.
- 1-7 – What is impossible for man is still possible for God. This story reminds us that God’s promises are true. They may not happen right when we expect or want, but God will be true to his promises.
- 15-21 – Though Ishmael was not the son through which the covenant would be fulfilled, he was still Abraham’s child and God provided for him.
- 1 – “Here I am” is the response given by many biblical characters when called specifically by God: Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, etc. This is a sign of willingness and openness to God’s call.
- 2-12 – God tested Abraham’s faithfulness. Clearly Abraham saw everything he had as a blessing from God and would give anything that God asked for. He even, in verse 8, explains that he trusted God to provide.
- 13-14 – In many stories in Scripture characters name locations after the way God showed up in that place. This place was called “Jehoveh-Jireh” or “The Lord Provides” because God did not actually require Abraham to sacrifice his son. He provided the sacrifice for him.
- 15-20 – This is a good tip on how you can recognize if someone is for good and for God or not. Are they bearing the fruit that God provides: love, joy, peace, etc.?
- 24-27 – We are capable of all kinds of great things, but if our foundation is not built on God, it’s all for naught.
- 28-29 – This specifically contrasts the scribes’ authority with the authority of Christ meaning that the scribes were not leading through God.
- 9-10 – Confirmation that when we seek God, he will be faithful to meet us. He does not hide from or forsake us.
- 20-22 – We often try to ignore the consequences of our actions assuming they won’t catch up to us. These verses remind us that there are consequences for wicked actions. It is not because of cruelty from God that we are cut off. It is because of our own wickedness.
Congratulations good and faithful servant! You’ve made it to week 2!! You’ve already covered hundreds and hundreds of years of Biblical history in Genesis and the first 30 years of Jesus’ life – I consider that good progress.
This week you will continue to learn about the Israelites, the family known as “God’s people.” Specifically, you’ll read about The Patriarchs. These were the original fathers of the Israelites: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
One thing to be wary of as you read: do not read these characters like they are moral compasses. They are not! They are simply imperfect people who God chose to use for big things.
Does that frustrate you? It does me sometimes. Confession: I can’t stand Jacob. I think he’s a total weasel. But, God chose to use him. And honestly, it should actually be a comfort because if he can use Jacob, he can probably use me too. That’s good news.
Switching gears to the New Testament, we pick up in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ most famous sermon. Then we head into the thick of his ministry with his disciples.
One important thing to pay attention to this week is noticing just how counter-cultural Jesus was. He completely flips what faithfulness looks like on its head. While the religious leaders were calling for strict adherence to the letter of the law, Jesus was encouraging people to go beyond the law to grace, mercy, and love. The religious leaders were not fans – drama ensues.
The Psalms continue to feel. The Proverbs continue to teach.
Happy reading to all!
- 23-33 – Here we see prayer working. Abraham humbly pleads with God for the sake of the righteous and God’s decision is changed.
- 4-11 – No matter how you read this story, it’s disturbing. While it’s a good thing that Lot wanted to protect the angels of God, his decision to offer up his daughters is horrifying. In God’s mercy, Lot, his daughters, and the angels were all protected from harm.
- 14-16 – It’s confusing why the angels made a special effort to save Lot, though he knowingly lingered, but not the sons in laws, who seemingly innocently, thought Lot was kidding about the city’s destruction.
- 30-36 – Yet another disturbing story. Lot sins by allowing himself to get drunk. We cannot give God control of our lives when we don’t have control to give. The daughters sin by not trusting God to take care of them, but take matters into their own hands.
- 37-38 – Both the Moabites and Ammonites were enemies of Israel throughout their existence.
- 25-33 – One of the major tensions in the Bible is God proving himself faithful and asking humanity to trust him and then humanity failing to trust. This passage is a very practical representation of why we should trust God and how futile it is to worry.
- 1-5 – It is hard to imagine that we can see the magnitude of someone else’s sin when we ourselves our immersed in sin. This does not, however, instruct us not to lovingly correct the sins of others as we examine our own flaws.
- 6 – Encouragement not to offer the character-forming corrections of God to those who will not appreciate it and take it to heart.
- 7-11 – Another reminder to trust God to be faithful and provide for us and to seek his blessings.
- David writes this Psalm seemingly overwhelmed and in awe of the majesty of God’s creation and the goodness he shows to us through it.
- The Proverbs continue to teach us that wisdom protects us from destruction while folly leads us to it.
Genesis 1-11 is about how the world became such a mess. Genesis 12 begins the story (which is still unfolding) of what God is doing to fix the mess. God’s plan is laughable: he will save the world through one man’s family. That man is Abram (later called Abraham).
There is a problem, however: “Abraham and Sarah [his wife] were old, advanced in years, and “the way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.” In Genesis 15, we read how God made a covenant with Abram and promised Abram as many children as there are stars in the sky, and that through that family would God bless the whole world. So the fact that Abraham and Sarah still do not have children is a major problem.
In Genesis 15, Sarah takes matters into her own hands and decides to have Abraham father a child through her servant. He does, and unsurprisingly the servants pregnancy causes problems in the family. Whenever we decide to use our means to achieve God’s ends, it always goes badly for us.
16:6, One of the original sins of men is passivity. That was Adam’s sin at the Fall–“It was the woman YOU gave me, Lord”–and that’s Abram’s sin here (along with the obvious sin of lust.” He agrees to do what he knows is wrong by sleeping with the maid, and then he refuses to speak up for her. I think this verse is heartbreaking.
16:11-14, Circumcision is like a gang tattoo: it’s meant to signify your allegiance. Think of the significance, then, that baby boys are circumcised before they know what it signifies. What this means is that God’s covenant comes to us first, before we deserve it or earn it. It is a covenant of grace.
16:18-19, Abraham wants God to make the covenant with his son Ishmael, the first-born. But, as we’ll see over and over again with the patriarchs, God subverts primogeniture and chooses the younger son. God has a way of subverting human expectations.
17:17 – Abraham thinks God’s plan is ridiculous. And he’s right. But, God works in ridiculous ways.
18:1-8 – Note the picture of ancient Near Eastern hospitality: Abraham drops what he’s doing to care for his guests.
18:1 – It’s a very mysterious guest that Abraham entertains, but though we know it is a divine guest, Abraham does not. (The event is referenced in Hebrews 13:2: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”)
If you’ve ever read the stories of Abraham and/or Noah, you’ve read about a covenant. You may have read over that part quickly or moved right on to singing “Father Abraham” or looking outside for rainbows, but God’s covenants with humanity are central to our faith and our eternity. Take a few minutes to learn a little more about God’s covenants.
If you miss Genesis 15, you miss the point of the entire Old Testament!
15:1-24 – This chapter contains the mysterious and absolutely essential account of the covenant God makes with Abram (who gets a new name, Abraham, as a result). The entire rest of the Bible is a consequence of this covenant. So, why is this important?
Forgive me for quoting myself, but I wrote a blog post about this on my personal blog 2 years ago that I’d like you to read: http://andrewforrest.org/2015/01/23/take-the-abraham-quiz/.
Here’s the point. Note that God, in making the covenant with Abraham, promises to also uphold Abraham’s side of the agreement! God is committing to be cut in half if the covenant is violated. Jesus is God’s response to the failure of humanity to keep the covenant, and Jesus was crucified–cut in half–because humanity couldn’t keep the covenant. The entire scripture is about the covenant God made with Abraham, and how God uses Abraham’s family to bring salvation to the entire world.
See below for other brief glosses on today’s reading.
13:18 – “The oaks of Mamre.” This description will occur throughout the rest of Genesis, and I always find it interesting to think about how striking these trees must have been to be used as a place designation.
14:14 – “318 of them.” Abraham is extremely wealthy–he has 318 trained fighting men working for him.
14:17-24 – Melchizedek has long puzzled commentators:
“Who is the mysterious king-priest Melchizedek? He is not mentioned in the genealogies of Genesis. Announced as a priest of God most high, he appears out of nowhere to officiate over Abraham’s victory celebrations, and he disappears just as suddenly. As Calvin observes, ‘This Melchizedek, whoever he was, is presented before us, without any origin, as if he had dropped from the clouds, and . . . his name is buried without any mention of death.'” -R.R. Reno, Genesis
The author of Hebrews in the New Testament sees Melchizedek as a Christ figure, but we’ll wait until we get to Hebrews to discuss him.