Category: Bible Study

Genesis 21

The root of the name ‘Isaac’ means ‘laughing’; when Sarah first heard that she was to have a child in her old age, she laughed, but again when she gives birth to Isaac in this chapter she laughs again with the exuberance of one who watches God fulfil his promises. When God fulfils the promises he makes he does so literally, in a way that cannot be ignored, he fulfils them to the letter. And this provokes the believer to laughter in worship, jubilation and amazement, and sometimes just downright amusement that this is what God does. Following God should never be dull, and the closer one gets to God, the more fun and incredible it gets. And it’s even more incredible when the fulfilment comes 25 years after the initial promise as in this case.  Even more incredible still is the fact that this was another step closer to the birth of the Messiah, the promise of salvation to the world.

Already, by the time Isaac is weaned (probably around the age of two years), the dynamics between the future peoples the Jews (descended from Isaac) and the Arabs (descended at least in part) from Ishmael are established. There is jealousy of God’s blessing for Isaac, and Isaac’s position as the father of God’s chosen people.  It must be seen, however, that although Isaac was chosen, God didn’t abandon Ishmael, but rather ensured that he was provided for, and promised that he also would be the father of a great people. I always feel sorry for Hagar, her position came about as the result of the disobedience of another person. Abraham brought her out of Egypt, where it is likely he shouldn’t have been in the first place. He took his household there to escape famine rather than trusting in God, and came away with a maidservant. Later, at the urging of Sarah, he tried to engineer the fulfilment of God’s promise of a son – again a lapse in faith, judgment and obedience. And then after Hagar presents him with a son, she is sent away from her employer twice. God shows his faithfulness – she has nothing else to rely on, which is why in this chapter she abandons both herself and her son to death in the desert. God’s faithful, even when we’re not. I need to remember that more often.

Genesis 20

Here again is another example of how not to do things. Abraham wasn’t perfect – and in this exchange we see that a non-believer such as Abimelech can behave far better, more righteously than Abraham who is supposed to be a friend of God. How often have seen that though – people who claim to be Christians, and yet if you look at their behaviour, you’d never guess that were the case.

There are a lot of good things about the Bible, and one of them, although sometimes it can be confusing, is that there are many examples of how not to be a believer. Abraham messes it up on several occasions, and yet he is a hero of the faith. In fact many of the people we consider to be great in the Bible really made a mess – David, Noah, Isaac, Peter, Thomas, Barnabas. Those are just the one off the top of my head. These examples are recorded in the Bible not as something to copy, but rather as something to encourage us – even these people did a rubbish job at times!

This episode is partiuclarly interesting because it’s the same sin that Abraham commits. He has been blessed by God so much since the last time he indulged in this sin, and yet, again he decides to do the wrong thing in exactly the same way.

Sometimes we develop a habit of sin, often as a way of coping with things. Abraham’s way of coping with scary situations was to lie his way out of them, putting his wife at risk, as well as others. Because he had failed to deal wtih it adequately before, this remained a coping mechanism for him, even though it was sinful. Had he addressed it previously, it is likely that he would either not have gone to Gerar, or would have dealt with the situaiton differently. We need to be careful of those things in our past that we haven’t dealt with. Past sins need to be dealt with and dispatched so we can move on.

Also, the fact that Abraham indulged in the same sin in the same situation suggests that he hadn’t learnt sufficiently from it that last time it came around. Abraham gets another go at getting it right, and fails. Instead of Abraham keeping his eyes on God, he keeps his eyes on the problem (and has therefore taken his eyes off God). As believers we are to live by faith. There’s generally a lot going on that we can’t see, as hindsight frequently shows.

Unfortunately, this time Sarah joins Abraham in his sin and backs him up. This just goes to show that we tend to match the sinfulness of others rather than their righteousness.

One of the problems with the Abraham houshold was that they had justified to themselves that such deceit wasn’t lying since it was half true. If it’s only half true, it’s still a lie, even if only by omission. In fact telling half-truths could be even worse than an outright lie because by telling half-truths you’re more likely to convince yourself that you’re not lying. Once you’re able to deceive yourself, then you’re in big trouble.

 

With thanks to my spiritual uncles: Uncle Warren Wiersbe, Uncle Chuck Missler, Uncle Matthew Henry, Uncle Jacob Prasch and Uncle Arnold Fruchtenbaum.

Genesis 19

Another lesson on ‘how not to do it’ by Lot. In fact, Warren Wiersbe goes further and shows that Lot can easily be contrasted with Abraham to see someone controlled by worldly desires and Abraham dedicated wholly to God.  Whereas Abraham travelled light and waited on God for his instructions, Lot put down roots and settled in the worldliest of worldly places. He ended up in Sodom not because God directed him there, but because that’s where he settled, thinking he could build a life for himself there – and for a while he was right; although he was an outsider, he achieved a position of authority, spending his time at the town gate where the town’s political business was conducted. This shows how integrated Lot and his family were in Sodom.

Being ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’ springs to mind. Something that Lot doesn’t seem to have achieved. Whenever we see Lot, he appears to have his opinions and decisions dictated by worldly interests – possessions, wealth, and trying to live quietly and keep his nose clean.

What’s interesting is that Abraham met three heavenly persons – one of them a theophany – Jesus in his precarnate state. However, in Sodom there are only two angels. Why? Possibly because of the sinful and worldly nature of Lot made it so that Jesus couldn’t dwell with him as he could with Abraham (even though Abraham was imperfect, his faith made him righteous).

The contrasts can be taken further between Abraham and Lot. Whereas Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son to God, Lot was prepared to sacrifice both his daughters to the world, just for the sake of keeping the peace.

It’s very important to remember that just because something’s in the Bible, it’s not necessarily there because it’s a good thing. In this chapter we have Lot attempting to swap his male visitors for his daughters so that the residents of Sodom can rape his family members instead of his guests. Questionable morals there. This passage had confused me for a long time until I realised that there are examples of people not behaving as God intended as well as the reverse. I wrestled for ages with ‘why would God prefer Lot’s daughters to be raped than Lot’s angelic guests?’ The answer is he didn’t want anyone to get raped, that’s why the angels were sent in the first place because things were horribly wrong in Sodom.

Then there’s this bit at the end about incest, with Lot’s daughters getting him drunk and then sleeping with him. Some have considered that as this event occurred before the giving of the Law on Sinai, that incest was OK as perhaps the genepool hadn’t yet been so polluted by sin. However, from reading the passage itself it’s clear that a certain level of morality already existed – Lot’s daughters knew that in order to accomplish their goals, they would have to get their father drunk, otherwise it would never happen. This shows first of all how Lot did have some standards, but it also shows how Lot didn’t inspire a massive amount of respect from his family.

Obedience has its rewards and disobedience has its consequences. A consequence of Lot’s incest with his daughters was the birth of two peoples, the Moabites and the Ammonites who became sworn enemies of God’s chosen people the Jews.

It has been a trendy thing to say ‘I like Jesus, but I don’t like the God of the Old Testament’. The fact is they are the same. God is full of love and because of this he is just. God doesn’t want anyone to perish, and that’s why he sent his only son as a sacrifice (John 3:16-17). Sodom is actually a testament to God’s long-suffering nature – see how bad it had to get before God decided enough was enough! What is also evident in this passage is that Jesus was present throughout the Old Testament as well as before that and ever since. As Jesus himself said: ‘Before Abraham was born, I am,’ (John 8:58 NASB). Jesus was of course referring here to his eternal nature, but also the fact that he was divine – ‘I AM’ was the name of God first discovered in Exodus (3:14), so anyone saying that Jesus never claimed to be God has been misled. This was what Jesus meant, and this is what was understood at the time, explaining why the Jewish authorities hated him so much and ended up accusing him of blasphemy.

So God is long-suffering, but he is also just. We may think sometimes that he takes a long time to act, but he will act, and when he does he will be perfectly just. Love and justice are bound up together. If we claim God is a God of love, then we must also accept that he is a God of justice – after all, if he loves us, why would we expect that he will turn a blind eye to those who want to hurt us? He won’t and he doesn’t. Sometimes it appears that he is disregarding injustice, but actually he is waiting for the perfect timing. There were not many righteous people in Sodom – less than ten, and that’s why it had to be destroyed. But no one can ever say that his judgment is unexpected and unfair. Had the people of Sodom repented, the story would have been different, but as it was, God waited until they had completely rejected redemption before he judged them. He gave them every opportunity and they blew it.

Chuck Missler has suggested that one of the reasons for the destruction of Sodom was the existence of the Nephilim, those beings who were a product of the union between fallen angels and women. This is absolutely possible, and perhaps most likely, as there have been many cities since then that have been as sinful as Sodom, but have not been judged. Chuck’s view is that as the devil was attempting to pollute and distort the line from Adam to the Messiah, God had to remove these people from the earth so that the devil’s design wouldn’t become reality.

 

With thanks to my spiritual uncles: Uncle Warren Wiersbe, Uncle Chuck Missler, Uncle Matthew Henry, Uncle Jacob Prasch and Uncle Arnold Fruchtenbaum.

Acts 1

The instinct of the new church was to meet frequently. As people met with Jesus in casual situations, this was now the habit of the church.

The church now devoted itself to teaching, the Lord’s Supper, prayer and being together. Wonders and signs are an inevitable result of this corporate body and how they lived.

As many of the Jewish people who arrived for Passover joined the church, some likely didn’t return home, but stayed in Jerusalem where the only church was.The believers donated funds to enable them to settle there.

Meeting in homes was augmented by open air preaching/evangelism. Because of the believers’ relationship with God, because of their holiness, thousands could not resist and were added to the church. At the beginning, the believers were not persecuted. Persecution began against the individual; after Steven’s murder, persecution against believers began in earnest which led to the scattering of the church. And with it the gospel.

The book of Acts covers the first thirty years of Church history. It tells of how the gospel spread from its centre in Jerusalem throughout the Mediterranean area and beyond.The apostles are prominent in this book but the Holy Spirit is more so. It shows how the power of the Holy Spirit in tandem with believers living in holiness and what miracles were the result.

The introduction connects Acts with Luke’s other book, his gospel account. At this early point, the believers were still wondering about Jesus’ earthly reign, and wondering when this would occur. They were Jews living under Roman occupation, something they were keen to see an end of. Jesus, however, redirected their attention to what he had told them to do. The fact is, all believers have wonderful, amazing things that they almost can’t wait for, but while we wait in keen anticipation, we are to be busying ourselves with the things he gave us to do.

By the time of Jesus’ ascension, he had spent forty days proving to his followers that he was who he had said he was all along. He wasn’t there constantly; he was preparing them for a time when he would depart from them, and send them his Holy Spirit. As before his murder, Jesus spent time with his disciples, after his resurrection he spent more time with them teaching them, encouraging them, and preparing them for the task he had given them; spreading the gospel and discipling new believers.

One of the main messages of Acts is that the Church has amazing things coming, but the believers are not to sit and wait, nor are they to just sit (as in many institutional/unbiblical churches today). We are to keep busy obeying Jesus until the time comes when he will take us home. Interestingly, Jesus had told them, shortly before his ascension, that they were to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. But once the Holy Spirit came, believers were given the power to obey Jesus’ command, and since then the instruction has been to get out there and do some stuff. And ever since, those who do the stuff in the Holy Spirit’s power not their own, have witnessed wonderful things. As Warren Wiersbe says, ‘the ministry of the Holy Spirit is not a luxury, it is an absolute necessity.’

In the church at that time, the apostles preached and spread the gospel, but all the believers provided a witness by the life they led, wholly devoted to Jesus. Not everyone is called to be an evangelist, but we are all called to be witnesses; living out our faith by holy living, and being prepared to give an answer to those who earnestly ask. This is sadly lacking in the institutional/unbiblical churches today. Those who are committed are encouraged to become ‘professional’ Christians and those who do not take this up are considered second-class, the laity. However, the Bible teaches that there are no professionals – Paul made tents for a living, so that his message could not be compromised. When people are paid for teaching, it affects what they teach; it’s as true now as it’s ever been. Pastors don’t want the drop in donations that will come when the gospel is preached, which leads them to present a one-sided and accurate view of the gospel which misleads people. Iinstead, the onus was on every believer living a life devoted to God. There were no pew-warmers at this point in church history.

The holiness that the believers attained enabled them to be in unity, and more than that, to be so excited and committed to spend so much time together in celebrating the Lord’s Supper, teaching, prayer and just being together. This sort of life became the way the believers did things. They put God first, and sought his will, and his help in all things. They had the childlike faith and dependence on their Father that Jesus had taught them about. They relied on daily helpings of the Holy Spirit’s power to do what Jesus wanted them to do. Are we still the same or are we willfully self-sufficient, trying to do things in our own strength?

Luke tells us of the apostle’s decision to select a twelfth apostle, this was in order that the required witness could be given in Jerusalem at Pentecost, and also that there would be twelve apostles judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The apostle needed to be someone who had been baptised by John and who had travelled with Jesus during his earthly ministry and witnessed his resurrection. Matthias fitted the bill. Paul didn’t. Paul was sent mainly to the gentiles, he didn’t see himself as one of the twelve, and neither did the twelve themselves. Once the witness of the twelve to the twelve tribes had been given at Pentecost, this part of Jesus’ commission was completed – and it was then open season for everyone – right to the ends of the earth.

Matthew 4

As is often the case after a spiritual high (Jesus’ baptism) there comes trickier times. Perhaps (more than likely) Jesus was empowered and led by the Holy Spirit into what’s referred to as the wilderness.

God was not putting Jesus to the test, he knew Jesus. What happened was that Satan was directly challenged by Jesus. We have this account so we can know that Jesus conquered Satan, not just then but for all time on the cross.

Once again we have an account of direct dealing with Satan. In Genesis he came off better against Adam and Eve, but against Jesus, the second Adam, he was defeated. The constant though, is Satan. He used the same trick on Jesus as he had to great effect on Adam and Eve. This time it failed. Satan distorted God’s word by omitting parts and lifting parts out of context (something which is done frequently by cult-members, datesetters and others who have an agenda to be served by twisting God’s word). This skill of Satan’s shows how well he knows the Bible; and therefore how well we need to know the Bible in order to be able to use it in our defence.

It is interesting to compare these two meetings; Adam met Satan in a garden, Jesus met him in the wilderness. Adam had everything and lost everything, Jesus had fasted for 40 days and gained the world. In this experience, Jesus showed us how to deal with the devil. Jesus could have performed a miracle here, but instead he showed by example what we are to do.

There is power in the Bible. Satan knows the Bible well, but yet so can we. For Satan to use the Bible as a weapon is often quite successful, but against a mature believer this is futile. What Satan uses as a weapon can better be used as a defence against him. The Bible was written for us, not for him. Satan’s first claim was that clearly God did not care about Jesus’ well-being. He suggested that God could not be relied upon and that Jesus would have to act to cover up God’s shortcomings. This has at its base, a challenge to the faith in God’s power. We see this in apostate churches today; those that deny the Virign Birth or the resurrection, or the miracles of Christ, or Creation. It boils down to; if God is all-powerful, he can achieve all of this and more. If we do not accept this, then we’re saying that either God lies or hasn’t spoken – and we are lost forever unless we are able to save ourselves. Of course this itself is the lie, but many are quite happy to believe it. Were Jesus to fall for this trick, we would all have been lost, doomed to trying to gain, but not achieving God’s salvation.

Notice in each temptation Jesus defended himself with Scripture. That’s where the answers are. Jesus shows us that physical food is not the only type of food; we need God’s word as food to nourish our soul. A withered, shrivelled soul signifies a spiritual, eternal death which is worse than the physical death of a starved body.

The second temptation was designed to test Jesus’ obedience to the Scriptures he knew so well. This is Satan lifting parts of the Bible out of context. Jesus answered him again with Scripture. Here is is clear, the Bible is the perfect defensive weapon for spiritual attack – but we need to know all of it. To pick and choose what we study renders us defenceless. The third way Satan tempted Jesus was by claiming he could offer all that God was offering, but without the pain, suffering, heartache and inconvenience – all he had to do was the most minor trifle, he wheedled, he had to worship Satan. Jesus made the right choice. If Jesus had slipped up even once in the wilderness, all would have been lost. Believers are to follow his path. Taking what looks like it could be a shortcut is not what Jesus did. The path is a straight one, therefore by definition there can be no shortcut. Shortcuts and compromise have been a characteristic of the visible church for millennia. Shortcuts and compromises have often led to people attempting to justify a course of action. It is evident here therefore it is not enough to know the word of God, we have to obey it too.

The three temptations follow in sequence; we are to trust God we are to know the Bible.We are to obey God’s word. This is the key to the straight path. If we do this; we cannot go wrong. Satan is behind all idolatry. Idolatry is worshipping the created being rather than the Creator. Satan would prefer it was he himself who was worshipped, but as long as he is in some way able to take away God’s worship, he is happy.

Idolatry can be in the form of worshipping false gods or following false religions, or it can be as simple as having something in prime position in your life that is not God. It doesn’t even have to be a sinful thing. If it eclipses God in your life, you have an unhealthy imbalance. Satan in this event, was defeated. He left, only to come back later, this time in a garden. Here we learn that the devil must be treated with respect, as Jesus did. However we have to recognise the devil’s work and be prepared. Jesus passed this challenge, which qualified him to embark on his ministry.

Jesus brings light to the Gentiles in this chapter. How? By preaching the good news of how to be saved, and by healing. What was the healing for? Well first of all healing was for healing’s sake – Jesus came to relieve suffering, not only this though, Jesus had to heal to show he was the Messiah (Isaiah 42:7). Many people were attracted to Jesus more because of what he did than what he said. And this is the same today. More people will be able to point to Jesus as being a healer, than quote one statement he made. The people who merely followed for his miracles are similar to those people today who say ‘I think Jesus was a great teacher/healer/holy man, but I don’t believe he was God’. Such people are trying to appear rigourous without doing the research. Frankly if Jesus was just this, then we are all eternally stuffed. The fact is God gave us all the information we need in order to find out for outselves who he really is. Some people need more information, some need less, but for everyone there is enough. We just have to be interested enough. Most people aren’t.

In Jesus’ time, most people were quite happy to follow him, be healed by him, entertained by him, even fed by him, but many were not interested in who he was. Many passed up on the opportunity of a lifetime. And many still do today. Jesus called pretty ordinary people to be his followers you might think. Actually Jesus called fishermen who were used to working diligently, and with great hardship and danger to themselves. He chose a tax collector, one who was shrewd and knew how to make the best of a situation, he chose a zealot, someone who was later to be filled with zeal for the Lord, he chose brothers because the church was to become a family. He chose people who could see something more than the average person who was rather too wrapped up in their lives to see what was really going on.

 

With thanks to my spiritual uncles: Uncle Warren Wiersbe, Uncle Chuck Missler, Uncle Matthew Henry, Uncle Jacob Prasch and Uncle Arnold Fruchtenbaum.

Matthew 3

Between the Old Testament and the New Testament, there’s a gap of about 400 years where the Jews were in a spiritual wilderness with no prophets of God. However, you can argue that John the Baptist belongs to the Old Testament rather than the New as he does predate Jesus and the new covenant which defines the New Testament.

John’s call was for people to repent. This call did bring about a revivial; repentance is serious business – you can’t pretend to do it, nor can you do it half-heartedly. It’s a big thing. Repentance is a complete change of mind, heart and position, and it is a steadfast commitment to a principe that is in opposition to your previous behaviour and beliefs. It is a conviction. Much of the apostate church today tries to jolly people along, refusing to challenge or offend people when they clearly are in the wrong. This is not love. Love is not allowing people to indulge in dangerous behaviour for fear of upsetting them. Love is correcting, by whatever means necessary to help that person be the person they were designed to be. John knew in this case that gentle persuasion wasn’t going to work, he had to shock them into looking at themselves and realising that against God’s standards tey didn’t measure up. Repentance, as mentioned, required action. And action required fruits. The difference between a nominal or a carnal Christian and a solid believer is spiritual fruit. True believers grow and develop and fruit is almost a side effect of a life lived in pursuit of a closer relationship with God. Carnal Christians are not interested much in God; they made an initial commitment to him but other than that they are wrapped up in the immediacy of their own lives, whereas nominal Christians are those who call themselves Chrsitians but don’t really know why, have not made a commitment to God, don’t realise they need to and therefore are not believers at all. The apostate church today specialises in the ear-tickling of such people. Its members are not made into disciples of Chrsit, nor do they mature. They attend church to be entertained and to feel good, therefore it’s almost that they become inoculated against the true message of salvation. Not only this, church becomes somewhere to go, a place rather than a true fellowship of believers akin to a family, as it was designed to be by God.

As is often the case, many of the people who responded were not those of high status, they were the people who were looked down on. The rich people, the rulers, the priests, for the most part weren’t interested in repentance because they had too much to lose. It’s the camel going through the eye of a needle. Such people couldn’t let go of what they perceived ot be their own righteousness but that God recognised as pride and self-deception.

The Pharisees were the ‘experts’ in Jewish law, the Sadduccees were the ruling party. Despite their differences, they both got it wrong about God. Both became adversaries of him because they were against jesus. It’s the age old problem, people try to impress God with their righteouness, trying to buy his favour, but this isn’t possible for anyone who has sinned. God’s standards are higher than earthly standards.

With John’s baptism there was revival. Many repented and were baptised but it is unclear how many of these maintained this conviction and developed into mature believers, and how many returned to their unenlightened lives.

John’s message was an urgent one. Not only was he preaching the need for individual repentance but, in the way of the Old Testament,  he was preaching the necessity of national repentance. The Jews had unique access to prophecies regarding when the Messiah would appear (Daniel 9:24-27). They knew the time was now and so the call for repentance was all the more urgent. To reject God now would be disastrous. As John said; ‘The axe is already laid at the root of the trees,’ (verse 10) and Jesus later told the parable of the fig tree, describing the disaster that was coming to Israel if wshe were to reject her Messiah.

John’s baptism was of water; it symbolised God cleaning away the sins of those who repented.

There is sometimes confusion over who John was. Malachi prophesied that Elijah would come back. And it is clear that John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah but was not Elijah himself.

John’s practice of baptising Jews was guaranteed to provoke a reaction. Jews weren’t baptised; gentiles were. This would have offended many. John was clearly saying that following Jewish law was not enough. By baptising, John was helping people to realise this and was therefore preparing the way for the Messiah. John mentions two other baptisms; one by spirit (which came first in Acts 2 at Pentecost and occurs for every believer) and another by fire, which is judgment.

Why did Jesus get baptised? First of all to show John had divine approval, but also for Jesus to die for people’s sins, he had to be identified as one of them. The Passover lamb that was slaughtered for each family group in Exodus 12 was first resident with that family for two weeks before being killed.

The baptism of Jesus shows us the Trinity. As he is baptised God the Father speaks of his pleasure in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit descends on him, assuring Jesus that God’s power is in him.

Wiersbe mentions a possible significance of the dove; that Jonah, who was a type of Jesus, means ‘dove’, possibly thereby showing Jesus’ identification with the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:39-41), that is, the death, burial and resurrection in three days. God’s approval of Jesus at this point shows that Jesus had served God well in the hidden 30 years before his baptism.

 

With thanks to my spiritual uncles: Uncle Warren Wiersbe, Uncle Chuck Missler, Uncle Matthew Henry, Uncle Jacob Prasch and Uncle Arnold Fruchtenbaum.

Matthew 2

The magi were ‘wise men’ who studied the stars; it is possible they were astrologers considering they were from Babylon. However, it is also possible they were something else; if we think back to the book of Daniel, the Babylonian kings were always surrounded by wise men and advisers. When Nebuchadnezzar had a dream he didn’t understand he summoned his advisers to tell him the meaning. He was aware that at least some of them were crooks, so to prove they knew what they were talking about they had to tell the king what he had dreamt before explaining the dream’s meaning. Because they couldn’t do this, the king sentenced them to death, but Daniel was able, by the power of God to tell Nebuchadnezzar not only the full dream, but its meaning as well. The magi then, could be wise men of this type – Babylonian astrologers, or they could be more like Daniel. Could it be that rather than being merely pagan astrologers, they were descended from either the Jews who had stayed behind in Babylon after the exile had ended, or could they be Gentiles descended from those advisers of Nebuchadnezzar’s time who had studied the prophecies of the God who Daniel belonged to? In Jewish tradition, the stars and their constellations tell the story of the gospel starting with Virgo, the virgin and ending with Leo, the Lion of Judah. This is known as the mazzaroth and it existed well before it was corrupted at Babylon and became the zodiac we recognise today with all reference to the God of the Bible removed. So perhaps the magi were Babylonian Jews who were descended from those of the Jewish nobility who stayed behind after the exile was ended; perhaps they were Gentiles descended from the king’s advisers, perhaps they were pagan astrologers or perhaps they studied the prophecies of God through the Hebrew scriptures and the mazzaroth. We don’t know for sure. God sent them a star to follow. I am inclined to believe that they knew what the star meant because they were familiar with the messianic timetable in Daniel, so I think it makes most sense that Gentile or Jew regardless, they were keen students of the Hebrew scriptures, they knew where they were on God’s prophetic timescale and they were looking for the imminent arrival of their Redeemer. This seems particularly likely given the gifts they brought Jesus. The significance is generally lost on people until they look closer;

  • Gold represented royalty and kingship
  • Frankincense symbolised the priesthood and priestly duties
  • Myrrh was a spice used in embalming corpses.

Obviously none of these are particularly suitable gifts for a small child – but the magi knew what they were doing. They knew that Jesus would be a king and that he was descended from the royal line of Judah. They knew also that although Jesus was not descended from the priestly line of Levi that he would be the High Priest to end all high priests, that that was part of his role despite the fact that the kingly role and the priestly role had never been combined. Finally, they were familiar with the writings of the Messianic prophet Isaiah. The myrrh signified the Messiah’s role of suffering servant and sacrificial lamb (Isaiah 52-53). They knew that Jesus had come to die.

Herod clearly was a nasty man. He held on to power at any cost, even if it meant murdering members of his own family. So when he heard an enormous caravan of travellers had arrived in Jerusalem searching for the baby Messiah, he lost it and killed any boy found to be under two years old. Interesting isn’t it, how desperate he was to hold on to power? Herod by this point was getting old; a young whippersnapper of two years or less was never going to threaten the status quo in Herod’s lifetime – but Herod was not logical, he would sooner kill than think. Possibly part of Herod’s insecurity stemmed from the fact of his being an Idumean, not a Jew, and perhaps therefore it terrified him that this baby had more right to the title ‘King of the Jews’ than he himself did.

It’s interesting at this point to reflect that these magi were willing to travel far to pay tribute to the King, yet the priests in the Temple who must have known the scriptures as well as the magi were more intent on appeasing Herod than going 5 miles down the road to worship the King.

Throughout the Old Testament we get little glimpses of Jesus the Messiah; as mentioned, one of these was Jesus’ namesake Joshua. Another is Moses. Both Jesus and Moses left Egypt to minister to God’s people. Both Moses and Jesus’ family had to step out in faith, relying fully on God.

It is at this point that two apparently contradictory prophecies are fulfilled in such a way that they make sense when taken together. Micah 5:2 tells us that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. But Matthew 2:23 mentions that the people recognised that their Messiah would be a Nazarene. At first we see they appear to be contradictory, but then we see that yes, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but when Jesus’ family came out of Egypt, they settled in Nazareth where Jesus grew up. And the irony is that in the gospels we see people disbelieving in Jesus precisely because he’s a Nazarene! (see John 1:46, Matthew 21:11, Mark 14:67 and John 18:5-7).

Warren Wiersbe notes that the term ‘Nazarene’ appears to be connected with ‘netzer’ which means ‘shoot’ or ‘branch’. Two words used by the prophets to refer to the Messiah (Isaiah 4:2, 53:2, Jeremiah 23:5, 33:15, Zechariah 3:8, 6:12-13).

With thanks to my spiritual uncles: Uncle Warren Wiersbe, Uncle Chuck Missler, Uncle Matthew Henry, Uncle Jacob Prasch and Uncle Arnold Fruchtenbaum.

Matthew 1

The genealogy not only joins the Old Testament with the New Testament, it is also there to prove from the outset that Jesus has the right descent in order to qualify as the Messiah. Obviously there were far more stringent requirements than this, but the Jews needed to know that this man who worked miracles was descended form the right line. The genealogy is also clear that Joseph was the husband of Mary rather than the father of Jesus.

Some have tried to gain a name for themselves by claiming that Mary was not a virgin, but merely a young woman. However, for this to be the case you would need to twist the text. The Greek word translated ‘virgin’ always means ‘virgin’ and never ‘young woman’. The genealogy also shows that Jesus fulfils various Old Testament prophecies of being descended from Abraham (Genesis 22:18), Judah (Genesis 49:10), David (II Samuel 7:12-13). What is particularly significant is that proving the descent of the Messiah was vital. Matthew was writing at a time when his claims could quite easily be disproved if he made stuff up. In AD70, however, the genealogical records of the Jews were destroyed by fire as Jerusalem and its temple were razed. This means that the Messiah, in order to prove he fulfilled certain Old Testament prophecies would need to have appeared prior to AD70.

Mary was engaged to Joseph. In Jewish culture, engagement was serious business. If Mary had had an affair, it would have been considered adultery, and it would have been as serious as divorce. Joseph would have been within his rights, on finding his betrothed to be pregnant, to publicly shame her. She would never have been able to marry anyone else, and may even have been cut off from her family. This would have almost been a death sentence – how would a single woman survive?

Jesus’ name ‘Yeshua’ in Hebrew is the same as ‘Joshua’ which means ‘Jehovah saves’. Clearly that’s significant, but what is also significant is the Joshua of the Old Testament, he is a type of Christ (there are lots of them in the Old Testament), it was he who led the Hebrews out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land. Get the symbolism?

With thanks to my spiritual uncles: Uncle Warren Wiersbe, Uncle Chuck Missler, Uncle Matthew Henry, Uncle Jacob Prasch and Uncle Arnold Fruchtenbaum.

Genesis 18

In this chapter, we see three strangers approaching Abraham. According to the custom of the day he rushed out to offer them food, drink and accommodation (bearing in mind it was the hottest part of the day, and so it was likely that they would be in need of all three – hospitality was freely offered in this culture, not least to keep one’s ‘friends close, and one’s enemies closer’). As we read this chapter we see that Abraham, despite his failings, was aware of the sufferings and needs of others, and sought to relieve their discomfort. This is entirely fitting behaviour for the patriarch. It’s something we should be doing today also because the Bible says: ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it,’ (Hebrews 13:2 NASB). Two of these visitors were angels, the other was in fact a theophany, an Old Testament appearance of Jesus the Messiah. Jesus pops up quite often in the Old Testament. Abraham was the model host. He was attentive, prompt and honoured the guests by spending time with them and sharing the best of what he had with them. This is what we need to do, not only with others, but also with God.

The three visitors came with a message for Abraham and Sarah, that the time was coming when the promises God had made them were to start being fulfilled. Sarah laughed in unbelief. The visitors noticed and she denied that she had laughed – but she did laugh, and the unbelief meant either she thought God was wrong, or that God was unable to to do what he had promised. Either is serious. But the response was ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’ Of course it’s not, but especially today we see huge evidence of unbelief from people who call themselves Chrsitians. Not taking the Bible seirously, denying literal fulfilments of prophecy, allegorising passages instead of taking them as they are, are all ways that people try to cover up the fact that they don’t believe God either tells the truth, or is able to do what he says.

The next way that we see Abraham concerned for the welfare of others is in interceding for the people of Sodom. Jesus told him that the situation was desperate there and that they were descending too far into sin. Abraham didn’t argue with that, he was concerned for the righteous people, and didn’t want them to get tangled up in the judgment of Sodom. Bravely he challenged the Lord to reserve judgment, whittling the numbers down to only 10 righteous people – if there were so many righteous people, God promised not to destroy all of Sodom. In the event of course, Sodom was so far gone that there weren’t even this many people that were righteous in the city.

In this one chapter we see the various roles Abraham takes on as he belongs to God – he provides for the needs of strangers, he involves his family and household in this ministry, he develops an ever closer relationship with God, and he intercedes for the needs of others.

Why Jesus is like Moses, and Moses is like Jesus

  • Both were born when Israel was under gentile government
    • Moses: Exodus 1:8-10
    • Jesus: Luke 2:1, 3-5
  • Both had unusual sleeping quarters:
    • Moses had a basket to sleep in: Exodus 2:3
    • Jesus had a trough: Luke 2:7
  • Both escaped the genocide of infant boys decreed by a gentile king:
    • Moses Exodus1:22
    • Jesus: Matthew 2:13b, 16
  • Both were safely harboured in Egypt:
    • Moses: Exodus 2:5-6
    • Jesus: Matthew 2:14-15
  • Both were brought up by men who were not their fathers
    • Moses: Exodus 2:9-10, Acts 7:21-22
    • Jesus: Matthew 1:18-25
  • Both were referred to as significant prophet
    • Moses: Deuteronomy 18:15-19
    • Jesus: John 1:21, 25, 6:14, 7:40-41, Acts 3:18, 22-24, 7:37
  • Both fasted for 40 days:
    • Moses: Exodus 34:28
    • Jesus: Matthew 4:1-2
  • Both were humble:
    • Moses: Numbers 12:3
    • Jesus: Matthew 11:28-30
  • Both were sent by God to his people:
    • Moses: Exodus 3:1-15
    • Jesus: John 10:36
  • Both miraculously fed the multitudes:
    • Moses: Exodus 16:15
    • Jeusus: Matthew 14:19-21
  • Both performed miracles:
    • Moses: Exodus 3:20, 15:24-25, 17:5-6
    • Jesus: John 5:19-20
  • Both were mediators between God and God’s people:
    • Moses: Deuteronomy 5:31
    • Jesus: John 8:26
  • Both had seventy helpers:
    • Moses: Numbers 11:16
    • Jesus: Luke 10:1
  • Both sent twelve men out to accomplish great tasks:
    • Moses: Numbers 13:1-2
    • Jesus: Matthew 10:1, 5
  • Both their faces glowed with God’s glory:
    • Moses:  Exodus 34:29-30
    • Jesus: Mathew 17:1-2
  • Both had a close relationship with God:
    • Moses: Numbers 12:6-8
    • Jesus: John 12:23, 27-28
  • Both were given authority by God:
    • Moses: Exodus 4:12, 20:19
    • Jesus: Deuteronomy 18:18, Mark 1:21-22, 27, Matthew 7:28-29, John 5:24-27
  • Both were initially rejected by Israel:
    • Moses: Exodus 2:11-14
    • Jesus: Romans 11:25-26
  • Both were intercessors:
    • Moses: Exodus 32:31-32, Numbers 11:1-2, 16:20-22
    • Jesus: Isaiah 53:12, John 17:9, Luke 23:33-34, Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25
  • Both delivered God’s people:
    • Moses: Exodus 3:9-10
    • Jesus: Luke 4:18-19, Acts 7:25, Romans 6:17-18
  • Both enabled the deliverance from sin by the shedding of blood, Moses instituting the Passover Lamb, representing Jesus the Messiah who was to  come:
    • Moses: Exodus 12:7, 11-13
    • Jesus: Hebrews 9:11-15
  • Both established covenant meals in order to help God’s people to remember:
    • Moses: Exodus 12:3-11, 25-27, 42-49, Leviticus 23:5
    • Jesus: Lke 22:14-20, I Corinthians 5:7, 11:26
  • Both were judges:
    • Moses: Exodus 18:21-22
    • Jesus: (His role as judge is yet to come) II mothy 4:1, Matthew 25:31-46, Acts 10:40-42, Revelation 19:11
  • Both shepherded God’s people:
    • Moses: Isaiah 63:11
    • Jesus: John 10:11, 14-16
  • The deaths of both were prophesied:
    • Moses Deuteronomy 32:48-52, 34:5
    • Jesus: I Corinthians 15:3-4

(With thanks to Chuck and Karen Cohen for this)

Genesis 17

By this point God had already made his single-sided covenant with Abram. Abram slept through the whole thing while God made the commitment. In this chapter, God institutes the practice of circumcision for Abram and his family, and for what will become his chosen nation, Israel. Also, because during Bible times names were so important, God changes Abram’s name to ‘Abraham’ meaning ‘father of many’. This was another promise that God would fulfil what he had prophesied. This has in fact come true because not only do Jews and Muslims trace their heritage back to Abraham, but so also do Christians who are considered to be the spiritual children of Abraham.

As for the land that God promised, the title deeds are unconditional, that land belongs to the Jews – but that’s not to say that they couldn’t be removed from it from time to time as they rebelled against God. This has happened, and now they are in the process of returning to it for the final time (as we see from Ezekiel).

Circumcision was instituted as a symbol of belonging – it didn’t say anything about a person’s salvation, it merely was a symbol of the parents’ obedience.

Genesis 16

Scheming and deception shows a lack of faith, this is what caused Abram and Sarai to go to Egypt and fool the Pharaoh, and this is why Sarai sought to fulfil God’s prophecy herself. She couldn’t believe that God would fulfil his promise that she would bear a son, and therefore she engineered the situation, giving her maid (an Egyptian maid was always going to be trouble) to her husband in the hope of the maid getting pregnant and carrying on Abram’s line. In the event she did get pregnant and gave birth to Ishmael,  but this was not the fulfilment God intended, and therefore what they had engineered as a fulfilment ended up causing strife – and has done for millennia since, with the descendants of Ishmael seeking to wipe out the descendants of Israel for all this time.

The fact was, God had promised the pair a son, but he hadn’t said when that would be. They weren’t to wonder, they were to wait. That’s what obedience is, most of the time. With impatience comes disobedience, and with disobedience comes not taking God at his word. God said they would have a son; in time, Sarai and Abram stopped believing that – to the extent that they decided to work round it. As soon as you stop taking God at his literal word – you’re heading for trouble. Part of the problem was that Sarai and Abram were getting hung up on the baby part of the promise. Actually the baby was the smallest part of what God promised them – he promised them that they would be the head of a family that would become a nation, a nation that would be extraordinarily blessed by God. Circumstances needed to be right – and they needed to be right in such a way that Isaac’s birth would be recognised for what it was – a miracle. Obviously at the age of 85, Abram wasn’t quite ‘past it’ enough for God’s liking.

The Hagar thing was a scheme – and it was not God’s will, therefore it was a sin. Unfortunately sins have their consequences – and the consequences to this sin have been huuuuuge. First of all, because all three of them had taken their eyes off God, they were subject to their own petty emotions, they started to get all selfish, and were mean to each other. Petty grievances came out, ending in Hagar being banished, after Abram washed his hands of the whole matter. Everybody was blaming everyone else, no one was happy, the whole thing was a mess.

God met Hagar in the desert, and told her to return to Sarai and submit. This would have taken a reasonable amount of faith after Sarai had been horrible to her. She would have to return and submit, possibly to Sarai’s cruelty. God, in his grace, blessed Ishmael and made his descendants into a great nation – it is likely that many of the Arab peoples are descended from Ishmael. Unfortunately, the latter part of God’s prophecy has already come true that this people would be hostile, and would target the descendants of the true son (Isaac) in particular. This conflict remains today, and will remain until Jesus returns.

Yes, there were consequences to sin, but all involved were forgiven and restored to their rightful places. All of them in turn needed to submit to God, and to make the three-way relationship work, that surely is what they did.

Genesis 15

Even when there’s nothing, there’s God.

God came to Abram, and reassured him that He was with Abram, protecting him. When we’re feeling a bit rubbish, instead on looking inwardly and dwelling on ourselves and our own problems, it is far healthier to dwell on God and his power. Not only does this stop the problems appearing insurmountable, but also it gives us a more realistic order of things. If we belong to God, then we have no business allowing things to squash us. There are solutions, and it always boils down to God. Abram doubted what God had told him, but God reassured him. It can seem sometimes that God isn’t doing much, there’s a lot that we can’t see. Perhaps Abram felt like this; that those promises that God had previously made were not resulting in anything. Perhaps he thought God had got it wrong, or had forgotten, or perhaps he thought he had misheard. Doubt can be hugely flattening to the spirits.

It happens so often that after a period of high emotion, of victory and euphoria, there’s a valley of depression and dinginess, or just plain not knowing what to do next. It is here, after Abram has taken part in rescuing his nephew Lot that God once again came to him – and not only that – he reaffirmed what he had already promised and also made a covenant with Abram and his descendants. If you’re alert you’ll notice that God does all the work – Abram just sleeps through the confirming of the covenant. This is important, it shows that the covenant is not conditional in Abram and his descendants playing their part – it’s all up to God. God promises him that Abram will have a son, that God is speaking literally. His timetable might not always be as we would like it, but it is always perfect. Once we look back, often we can see that for ourselves – God may take his time, but he’s never late.

Abram’s doubt stemmed from wondering how God could possibly do all he promised – he was looking at worldly limitations such as his and Sarai’s ages, and her barrenness. It’s not for us to wonder how God is going to do stuff, it is for us to be obedient and to trust him. We have something that Abram didn’t have – a Bible chock full of prophecies that have already been fulfilled in a literal manner. That is how God fulfills prophecies – so that there’s no ambiguity. God fulfilled the promises he gave to Abram literally, as with all the rest of fulfilled prophecy, and as he will do with the prophecy that is left to be fulfilled.

When God affirmed to Abram what he would do, Abram believed him – and God counted that belief as righteousness. That’s all we need to worry about – we need to believe God, and take him at his word. Nothing else is really our business. This is the essence of a relationship with God. This is where Christianity differs from every religion or belief system – everything else requires works or special knowledge; all God requires from us is faith. Naturally when we live in faith the acts follow, such as Abram being prepared to sacrifice his son, but it’s not the works that are the deal with God, it’s what’s behind them, the righteousness that really floats his boat, it’s the faith.

It’s easy to think that Israel’s always been there. It hasn’t. It was centuries after this dialogue with God that Israel became established, and then in the first century AD, Israel was cancelled out, and the Romans nicknamed the area ‘Palestine’ in an effort to remove every trace of Jewish history that there was there. For centuries believers were reading their Bibles and assuming that perhaps God was breaking with tradition here and maybe he had changed his mind about the Jews, or was not going to fulfil this prophecy literally, that Israel would never be established. Even as late as the 1930s people were still doubting whether there really would be a reestablishment of Israel. And yet there was. And now, it’s like it’s never not been there, to the point that we often take it for granted. It’s a miracle. For centuries people could not see how this could happen, how a people who had lost their country could survive outside of their nation for the best part of two thousand years, and then return to it – not least because they hadn’t even been using their native language! But yes, today, Hebrew is a language that is spoken by millions every day, even the language itself has been resurrected! God keeps his promises, and he keeps them literally, and spectacularly!

Genesis 14

In the Old Testament, it doesn’t seem to be quiet for five minutes. In this chapter Lot gets tangled up in an international war. At the time he may have found it impossible to figure out how being taken captive could possibly have been God’s will, however, on two counts it was probably a good thing. First of all, this upheaval would more than likely have got him thinking. When chaos happens, it is a lot easier to see what is important in life – those things that we seem to care about the most; money, possessions, comfort, don’t seem quite so important as safety, eternal and otherwise. Perhaps this got Lot thinking. Maybe – but it’s likely that it was designed to. The other good thing to come out of the whole affair was that Lot was rescued by Abram and therefore he was back in his company, with the opportunity that something righteous might rub off on him! It was also a way of removing him from the damaging society of Sodom.

Abram didn’t pick sides in the conflict – he was not involved until he needed to be. It’s important that political ideals don’t affect our faith – rather it is to be the other way round. We are never required to compromise what we know to be true. If it looks like being the case, we are doing the wrong thing. Thousands of believers have led complete and useful lives without compromising what they know to be true. The perfect example of this is Daniel. There is nothing he did that compromised his faith or knowledge of God. He worked within the bounds of his faith to do what was expected of him. Forced to make the choice between earthly orders or divine, he chose God every time.

Melchizadek, King of Salem is a type of Jesus the Messiah. Here we have someone offering Abram bread and wine (symbolic of the body and blood of Messiah) and a blessing. This was more attractive to Abram than the worldly goods that the other king, Bera, offered to him. In return Abram gave him a tithe of everything. Abram didn’t accept his share of the spoils because he didn’t want it compromising his walk with God and his testimony. He didn’t want to have his wealth credited to this event, but rather credited to God. He knew, possibly from his sojourn in Egypt, that it is easy to be led astray by material possessions. He didn’t stop the others from accepting their shares, however. What was important to Abram was his relationship with God. The others didn’t have that, and so there was no real reason to pass up on their share of the spoils.

So the important thing here is – don’t compromise. If you’ve got something to live for, live for it. Don’t take your eyes of it, don’t devalue it, and don’t pass up on its rewards.

Genesis 13

What should you do as soon as you realise you’re lost? Go back, retracing your steps to the first place you get to that you know where you are and where to go from here? Abram and Sarai did just that – they went back out fo Egypt and back to Canaan, back to where Abram had built an altar to God. It was there that he rekindled his relationship with God.

As time passed Abram was gradually turning into a man of God. When he returned to Canaan with his extended family (including Mr and Mrs Lot) he realised something; Lot was after building a little empire for himself, whereas Abram was discovering this wasn’t compatible with getting closer to God and following him.

It was inevitable that at some point they would part ways. Abraham gave Lot a choice and he chose the apparently more fertile area of Jordan (although it contained the soon-to-be notorious Sodom and Gomorrah). They parted in peace.

After Lot has departed for Sodom, God repeated his blessing to Abram, that he would father a vast nation, and that the land he was now standing in would be given to them forever. Abram in turn built another altar dedicated to God.  This signalled his change from leaning on his own skills of manipulation and deception, back to relying on God and putting his faith in him.

Abram’s return was not without its consequences; while in Egypt, Hagar became Sarai’s maid. This was later to cause them much trouble as they sought to fulfil God’s prophecy by themselves. Even though God forgives us and takes us back no matter what we’ve done, there are generally consequences to our sins.

Because of the wealth amassed by Abram and Lot, this caused strife, and emphasised that although Abram was intent on building a relationship with God, Lot was more interested in building more wealth. Abram made the mature decision that these two attitudes were incompatible, and perhaps because of his renewed closeness with God, he recognised that it would be more likely that he would be led astray by Lot’s materialism, than Lot would be to start following God. Abram offered Lot whichever piece of land he wanted, this showed that Abram was more interested in maintaining a healthy relationship at a sensible distance than he was about getting the best land for himself. Lot chose what he considered to be the best land, and off he went. The relationship stayed intact, yet there was a reasonable distance between the two relations which enabled Abram to continue developing his relationship with God without the influence of Lot. Lot wasted his chance of becoming closer to God, he squandered it, being unable to see beyond worldly wealth. Abram was not unreachable, and neither was God, but by leaving in pursuit of more fertile land of his own, he was firmly stating his commitment to the building of wealth, and not God.

Genesis 12

The first chapters of Genesis show us something that we should never forget; human nature is nothing to be proud of; quite the reverse – but also, it hasn’t changed much over the millennia. That’s why every bit of the Bible is relevant to us today.

God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees, an area where the inhabitants worshipped the moon god Nannar. Did Abram also worship Nannar? Quite possibley– we have not evidence to suggest he did or he didn’t.

Abram was 75 years old when God called him. This was a man mired in the worship of idols from an early age. It is interesting that God waited until Abram was 75. Why 75? He had been adult for a long time at this point – so why not earlier? Was God waiting for a level of maturity? Was God revealing knowledge to him prior to this, or was Abram ready to fall out of his tree when God made contact with him at the age of 75?

75 is a good age to retire – in fact most men today retire ten years earlier than this. So God went to Abram who was cracking open the pipe, slippers and the biscuit tin, and said ‘Tell you what old cocker, why don’t you give up your spiffy house with stairs and follow me, you can live in a tent!’

Strangely Abram said yes. And that’s the mark of a man of God, when a person will choose to do the opposite of the most prudent and sensible thing, just to get that little bit closer to God.

God asks people to do the unlikely, but he also chooses the most unlikely to follow him and to obey him. Look at Abram; who could be less qualified to be the Patriarch of a people set aside by God to be his nation, than a man married to a barren woman? Or look at Moses; who could be less qualified to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land than a man who is terrified of public speaking, has a speech impediment and an Egyptian fatwa against him?

God picks the unlikeliest people to do the unlikeliest things. It’s like picking the most short-sighted, slowest, uncoordinated people or the most waterphobic people to make up an Olympic synchronised swimming team. If it wasn’t God’s idea, it would be just plain nuts.

Not only did Abram get called to be the patriarch of the people who would produce the Redeemer, but he became the father of an entire nation, a nation dedicated to God. Not only were they to be holy, they were to be a nation of priests who would teach the nations about God (OK, it didn’t happen, but that was the plan – but Jesus came, and saved gentiles, and that prophecy was fulfilled through one man).

Abram followed God by faith. That doesn’t mean he had some vague notion of what he was supposed to do, or that he woke up one day with a weird idea. No; God appeared to him and left him in in no doubt that he was the one true God, and that idols including Nannar are just dead bits of junk.

God was asking a big thing and he gave Abram everything he needed to obey. There is nothing that is vague or puny about God. If you’re a bit vague about something it’s possible you haven’t heard from God. Having said that, God did tell Abram to leave behind his relatives, but he did take Lot with him, which wasn’t quite in the instructions.

In a way we are more blessed than Abram because we know more about God. If we look at the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis, not a lot has been revealed about God:

  • He’s the true God
  • He’s alive and involved
  • He’s the Creator
  • He’s got a serious issue with sin
  • He’s merciful
  • He’s going to send a Redeemer because he is grace.

Abram knew the weeniest bit about God, but he was willing to follow. We know far more because far more has been revealed to us – so we have very little excuse. In fact the way Abram dealt with God is the way we should deal with him today – and that is in faith. Abram didn’t know where he was going, or why, or what would happen, but it was enough for him that God had told him what to do – and he did it (with a few diversions along the way).

When God called Abram this signalled the beginning of a marathon. Abram and Sarai were to follow. They knew enough about God to follow (because he had revealed enough to them) however, he spoke to Abram directly about seven times. That’s not many times considering the length of Abram’s life. So what happened in the in-between times? Abram and Sarai didn’t have warm fuzzy feelings all the time, in fact that was rare. Most of the time they had to grit their teeth and hold fast to what God had told them. And that is just like us today; we cannot always have mountaintop experiences, we have to hold on to what we’ve been told (the Bible) and stay fast. Read Ephesians 6 which tells us about the absolutely essential pieces of armour and weaponry that every believer needs. This is why it is essential that we read, study and meditate on our Bibles so that we don’t get led astray from God and what he wants for us. Perhaps what we know as Genesis 12:1-3 are what Abram meditated on.

All information provided by God was on a ‘need to know’ basis. Abram didn’t need to know ‘why’ he just needed to know what God was promising him, and that God was trustworthy.

God told Abram to leave his family and Ur of the Chaldees. One out of two ain’t bad – he left Ur but took his family with him. Lot was not a man of massive integrity so it is interesting to consider how much his actions and values affected Abram and Sarai. Perhaps things would have gone more smoothly for Abram and Sarai had they been absolutely obedient. One thing is for sure; when we disobey, we are not hurting God as much as we are hurting ourselves. Where God is concerned, compromise is never a good thing. Why? Because God is perfect; bringing his perfect will together with something that is not his will is sin. It is dragging his will through the mud. We can’t bargain with God.

As Abram reaches Canaan, God appears again to him to confirm what he has promised. God travels with us. Sometimes it is surprising where he pops up.

What was step one? Step one was God committing to Abram and Sarai and promising them things. What was step two? Step two is Abram and Sarai responding with faith. It’s the same with us. Jesus has promised us salvation, eternal life, a changed character and restored relationship with God. How will we respond?

What’s the C word? It’s commitment. And it’s seriously untrendy. God is not hip (at least not in this). God asks for commitment. In fact if we’re ever going to amount to anything eternally significant we need to commit to him. Otherwise we’ll cut a pathetic figure, running from one thrill to another, failing to grow, failing to mature, failing to achieve. We’ll be bonsai believers. More on that another time. If God’s house is built with believers being the stones and foundations, what happens if there’s no cement?

Abram shows us that our spiritual life should be a journey; it doesn’t have to be geographical but it does have to mean progress. So in our journey where are we? Are we pulling out of the drive, are we going through beautiful countryside or are we locking the doors because we’re going through a dodgy area? Or perhaps we’re staying a little too long in that motorway greasy spoon. We need to always be aware of where we should be heading and be committed to getting there.

Abram built an altar wherever he pitched his tent. There’s no need to get overly religious about stuff – but it is important that God is our first and most significant consideration.

Just when you’re getting the hang of following God, even then it’s weird. Just when you’re starting to be just the teeniest bit pleased with yourself, Bam! It happens, that something you never bargained on. And you feel a bit miffed because all you were doing was obeying God, and well, if this is the reward you get you might as well work out if it’s worthwhile doing something else instead. That’s what Abram and Sarai were going through when they arrived in Canaan, really chuffed with themselves, and then God sent a famine. Bear in mind that famines weren’t all that commonplace; and there’s no evidence to suggest that Abram and Sarai had ever had to cope with a famine before. And the fact is, had they ignored God, probably they’d be tucked up cosily in Ur in a house with stairs and not starving in a tent in a place where the locals burned babies.

But that’s what God does sometimes; although he knows us perfectly, he tests us so that we know what we’re made of. We aren’t to expect an easy ride when we follow God because we certainly won’t get one. Quite the reverse, in fact – God uses all sorts of events – and people – to develop our character. God wasn’t going to starve Abram and Sarai, but he was going to use a famine to test their faith in him, as well as to build that faith.

Trees need wind. As well as water and nutrients, trees need wind. Why? Because in order to develop a strong healthy root system, trees need the stress of being blown about by the wind in order to develop their roots.

Did Abram and Sari pass the test? No. they went to Egypt. I wonder whose idea that was. Had they sat tight and waited on God something amazing would more than likely have happened. Instead, they sought their own solution to the problem.

In situations like this (not that you might find yourself in a tent made of animal skin, feeling peckish anythime soon) it always pays to sit tight and wait. Wait for God. God is a little bit (not a lot) like a driving examiner. When you’re on your test the examiner will give you directions only when you need to turn. You just keep driving in a straight line until the examiner tells you to do something else. If Abram and Sarai had waited, who knows what may have happened? If might be that God wanted them to go to Egypt but we will never know. And Abram and Sarai will never have obedience credited to them at that point because they pre-empted God.

Unfortunately going your own way brings new trials. Abram and Sarai got to Egypt, and news of Sarai’s beauty quickly spread – even to the palace. Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s harem, but not until Abram and Sarai had hatched a plot – they agreed to spread word that Sarai was Abram’s sister so that Abram wouldn’t be killed. Strictly speaking, Abram wasn’t lying when he said Sarai was his sister – if you remember, she was his half-sister. But spreading this sort of half-truth is as bad as lying, or perhaps it’s worse, if Abram might have justified himself by saying he wasn’t telling lies as much as not telling the whole truth. This shows a tremendous lack of faith in God. God told him what his purpose for Abram was – and it didn’t include getting murdered in Egypt. This sort of behaviour is deceptive; not only is it devious and aiming to mislead people, but also Abram deceived himself that he hadn’t done anything wrong, wasn’t lying, and was only protecting himself.

Just by going to Egypt, Abram went from a man with an altar in everywhere he called a backyard, to a man who was willing to hand his wife over to a tyrannical ruler who killed husbands so he could steal their wives. What went wrong? Lack of faith, that’s what.

A man is called to care for his wife and protect her, not hand her over to a bully in order to get protection. So many times things could have gone horribly wrong as a result of Abram and Sarai’s lack of faith and their plotting to prepare for God’s failures. All they needed was more faith. But God forgave them, and they became the head of God’s people, the Jews. We’re always going to slip-up, it’s inevitable, but that’s not to say we should permit it. We should fight against doing the wrong thing, we are to fight against pride and lack of faith. We can do this by focusing on God, the more we focus on him, the less pride we have and the more we have faith in him and what he can do.

Genesis 11

Yet again, God has to intervene when humanity goes bad. Because at this time there was one universal language, there was nothing to prevent widespread plotting. The episode of the Tower of Babel is a prime example of God being sovereign. The people in Nimrod’s city wilfully disobeyed God’s command to scatter and populate the earth. This was their first sin. Their second sin was to plot together to build the tower (a ziggurat) which would have been used for astrology. Instead of being bound together with a common love of God, they were bound together with a common language and a common pride in their own abilities. It is likely that the people preferred to band together to protect themselves, rather than to trust in God’s protection, and therefore the city of Babylon was the result. Nimrod, the founder of Babylon, it has been surmised, was of the type that would claim to provide protection for citizens if they were to turn themselves over to him and become under his power. In fact this is very similar to what Joseph was to do as Egyptian prime minister later in Genesis. The difference however, was that Nimrod was trying to be as a god to the people, and this is how the Babylonian religion began (see the excellent book ‘The Two Babylons’ by Alexander Hislop for details).

It is almost incredible that the short time between Genesis 10 and Genesis 11 can lead from the peak of Noah’s ministry to the depths of sin as people attempt to try to write God out of reality – rather like secular humanists today. The tower was not about being close to God, but rather it was a display of human power, and reflected the sin in the Garden of Eden – trying to become not close to God, but rather like God. Adam and Eve were already as close as they could get to God, but that wasn’t enough for them, they wanted to be ‘as gods’ (Genesis 3:4). It’s the same here. People are not interested in a relationship with God, but rather they want his power, his authority. Today this is done in a variety of ways – the ways may have changed, but the sentiment is the same. Today people will reject God, and therefore promote humanity as the guiding force of the universe, not only that but because of tremendous scientific and technological developments, we are now able to prolong life, to wipe it out completely, or help it begin with the use of IVF methods.

People play at being ‘god’ all the time. They always have – and the Tower of Babel was just such an example. Instead of scattering and populating the whole earth as God had commanded, they rejected him and gathered together. God could have destroyed the people, but instead, to prevent them from being successful, God confused the languages and scattered them; had he not done so they would have succeeded in their sin and been judged for it, which would have resulted in death. This action also served to prevent similar things happening in the future. That’s what he did – but it is likely significant that politics today is moving towards bringing us all back together again, as the Lockheed Corporation has said to ‘reverse the Babylon effect’.

Babel and its later incarnation as ‘Babylon’ is known as the epitome of man’s rebellion against God. This is right through the Bible, from here in Genesis with the Tower of Babel, through the Old Testament when the Jews are exiled to Babylon as punishment for their disobedience, to Revelation where Babylon, and the accompanying prideful attitude against God will be dealt with for the last time. Whenever Babylon is mentioned in the Bible it is an ungodly thing, something that is rebellious and unclean, epitomising worldly pride, defiance, corruption and humanism. Frequently in the Bible religions are represented as women, and idolatry as adultery. Babylon is mentioned right at the end of the Bible in Revelation as a prostitute. The true Church is described rather as a chaste and beautiful bride.

God undid his action at Babel at Pentecost – people of various nationalities were touched by the Spirit and were able to witness in different languages. This was a dramatic reversal, but sin this time, tongues or not believers have been united in their common love of God, regardless of their background.

Genesis 11 is a chapter where we get more genealogy. There is a reason though, and that’s to show the fulfilment of Noah’s prophecy that Shem’s line would be the one to produce the Redeemer. What is instantly noticeable is the difference between this and the previous genealogy. This one emphasises how young the men are when their first son is born, and how long they lived; this shows how considerably short lifespans are compared to those of the ante-diluvian people. Why? The degenerative effect of cumulative sin in creation.

Genesis begins with a broad view of all of creation by zeroing in on Abram and then focusing down to the 12 sons of Jacob. First the creation, then the fall, and after that the path towards a redeemer. Interestingly Abraham is addressed as a ‘father’ when the irony is he and his wife Sarah were unable to have children. This is the Biblical pattern of the world being blessed through the children born to previously barren households (see also Samuel, John the Baptist – and of course Jesus who was born to a virgin). It’s interesting that God started with a man and his family – the family expand into a nation, and then the whole world is blessed through this people. This is an example of how important God considers the family to be. And in fact, we see how important the family is for society today, because in those areas where there is widespread family breakdown, there generally tends to be an increased crime rate, increased unemployment, and massive disenfranchisement.

At a time of idolatry including the worship of fertility goddesses and the performing of fertility rites, it’s quite interesting and significant that the merciful God should select an ageing couple who were barren. It is also interesting that Ur of the Chaldees was an area dedicated to moon worship. Is this significant? Possible – the moon god in the Middle East is known as Allah. Interesting that God should take a worshipper of this cult and bring him to faith in himself, the true God.

In the final details of this chapter we see that almost immediately Abraham answered God’s call, he disobeyed to a certain extent. Abraham didn’t leave his family, but took many of them with him, leading to strife later on. However, it is significant that Abraham disobeyed, even in this small matter. Because of the culture Abraham was being called out of, and because of the idolatry that was prevalent, it was important that Abraham left behind all influences of this – but he didn’t, he took his family with him! Straightaway there was the possibility that the whole plan could have been ruined. Thanks to God though, it didn’t – but it’s interesting to see in the Bible when someone disobeys God, even in small matters, there are often consequences – and we shall see this in even greater detail with Abraham later on in Genesis. Throughout the book of Genesis (and in fact, the rest of the Bible) we are shown what God can do with weak people. We all have our failings, but God remains faithful, and he doesn’t desert us or write us off when we really mess it up. Be encouraged, if God could use Abraham and Sarah, he can definitely use us.

With thanks to my spiritual uncles: Uncle Warren Wiersbe, Uncle Chuck Missler, Uncle Matthew Henry, Uncle Jacob Prasch and Uncle Arnold Fruchtenbaum.

Matthew

The gospel account of Matthew was written about 30 years after Jesus ascended into heaven. It was written by one of Jesus’ disciples.

The New Testament begins with Matthew which begins by linking the Old Testament with the New Testament with the genealogy of Jesus Christ. It’s the perfect place to start and shows Jesus fulfilling his destiny as the Lion of Judah. According to Warren Wiersbe, the word ‘fulfil’ is used 15 times in Matthew showing that this is a key theme. Jesus fulfilled far more of the Old Testament prophecies than could ever be dismissed as coincidence.

There is a pattern to the book of Matthew; there are five narrative sections which are then followed by five teaching sections, at the end there is the narrative of the trials, crucifixion and resurrection.

Matthew is the only gospel account to mention the Church explicitly. Although Matthew was writing predominantly for the Jews he made it clear that the Church would be made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers, rather than Jewish with a few Gentile converts.

With thanks to my spiritual uncles: Uncle Warren Wiersbe, Uncle Chuck Missler, Uncle Matthew Henry, Uncle Jacob Prasch and Uncle Arnold Fruchtenbaum.

Genesis 9

This is the chapter which starts with a blessing. It is God’s blessings that enable us to live. Like it or not, we depend on his blessings. The Bible tells us that there are blessings we will receive from God which are not dependent on our faith in him: ‘For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,’ (Matthew 5:45b NASB). Of course, without these blessings, nothing could survive. In this chapter God authorises humans to eat meat. This signifies that the previous relationship that humans were to have with the created world was no more – instead of purely caring for creation, humans were now able to eat animals, previously they had only eaten plants. This is significant, it has resulted in humans reducing animals to exploitable commodities. The role of humans changed regarding relationship with animals – instead of looking after them purely pastorally, Noah and his family became hunters of them. The harmony had gone, now the animals would fear humans. God made it clear, however, that in the eating of the flesh, the blood must be drained away. The blood was not to be consumed. This is because the life of the animal is in the flesh (Leviticus 3:17), blood is spilled as a sacrifice – the blood of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12) looked forward to a time when Jesus’ blood would be shed for all sins for all time.

At this point, God also declares that those who murder should be executed. This is because man is made in the image of God, and when murder is committed, the image is defaced; attacking another person is the same as attacking God. Human government was brought in in order to administer justice. God is quite clear that there is a difference between murder and accidental manslaughter. The penalties therefore, are different too. This was essential – because of the fallen nature of people, murder was inevitable. By the time of the flood the whole earth was filled with evil and murder. It was essential to deal with murder to stop chaos from ensuing. By having laws and punishments for the lawbreakers, it can act as a deterrent to potential lawbreakers. Although we are made in God’s image, the human heart is evil and therefore it will lead to destruction. Only God can regenerate the human heart. Laws and punishments are in place not only to punish lawbreakers, but also to restrict vigilante acts.

Warren Wiersbe says that God has ordained three institutions, family and marriage (Genesis 1:26-28), human government (Genesis 9:5-6) and lastly, the Church (Acts 2). They are mutually exclusive – one cannot substitute for another. Although one could argue that whatever laws we have in place today are not working as a deterrent because crime still happens, it can also be argued that the laws themselves and the punishments for breaking them can instil in people a respect for right and wrong, even if they don’t always obey the law. For example, if there were no penalties whatsoever for parking on double yellow lines, then what would be the point in having them? Everyone would ignore them. There would be no respect for them. Sometimes, because of the nature of the human heart respect has to be enforced, it will not naturally be forthcoming.

This chapter contains what is often referred to as the Noahic Covennant. God has an agreement here not only with Noah but with all his descendants throughout the ages and every living creature. It is significant that God has made the covenant with every living creature – seraphim are those living creatures which spend all their time in the throne room of Heaven worshipping God. There are four that we know about; one had aface like a lion, the second like a calf, the third like a man and the fourth like an eagle. This shows that God takes the plight of the living creatures seriously, and that the covenant is quite clearly also made with them. These four creatures are also used as emblems of the four Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The agreement is that:

  • God will never send another flood to destroy all life on earth. This is unconditional.
  • The sign of the covenant was to be a rainbow, so that people were not to be concerned when the rain started to fall. There would never again be a flood like the one that wiped out most of creation.

The second half of this chapter is in stark contrast to the first. We begin with Noah emerging from the ark and God setting up a covenant with Noah and all his descendants. We end with Noah going about his daily life and falling into sin. How did that happen?

It’s quite easy, it always is. Noah had done so well, he probably thought he was above this type of thing. He was wrong. Noah had begun farming and had cultivated a vineyard. One thing led to another and he ended up in his tent, naked and drunk. It’s not that growing, processing or consuming grapes or their juice is wrong. All of that is fine. What is the problem is the excess. He just drank too much of it. What is a shame is that not only do we know Noah as the man who had great faith and built the ark in which mankind and creatures were saved from the flood, but we also know that he sinned in this way. Perhaps nothing is quite so sad as seeing a person sin who had previously scaled such heights of faith and communion with God. None of us are exempt, even though none of us think it will ever happen to us. I’m sure Noah didn’t either. This whole episode shows us the need to be consistent. Noah wasn’t tripped up when he was accomplishing vast things for God, he was tripped up when his guard was down and he was going about his daily life. It can easily be the same for us. It’s easy to obey God when we see that what we are doing is amazing. It’s harder to consistently do the right thing in the little things of life, particularly when we think no one will notice. Be aware, it’s not the mountain in our path that trips us up, it’s the tiny pebble that we didn’t think was there.

The reactions of Noah’s family members are interesting. Ham almost relished his father’s downfall. This great man who had led them through the flood and enabled them to survive had come to this, and Ham seemed to enjoy it. When believers stumble it’s not a cause for celebration, but a time to quietly help them to their feet and encourage them. Ham saw what had happened (what he was doing uninvited in his father’s tent is a different matter), and instead of quietly sorting out the mess, he told his brothers. His brothers on the other hand responded completely differently. Shem and Japheth covered their father whilst at the same time upholding his dignity. Believers who deal with situations with this level of love and respect are truly doing God’s work.

People have argued that the post-flood world had changed such that grape juice would now ferment, whereas previously it woudn’t. this is highly unlikely – the Bible makes no mention of this; it would be unfair on Noah to be presented in this way if it were not his own fault. rather, it is more likely and more fitting that Noah sinned, and that this episode is inlcuded in the Bible to show us that:

  1. Committed men of God can sin
  2. When they do sin, it is a serious matter and compromises their witness as men of integrity
  3. But also, it leaves other people bereft – their trust in that person has been tested. All sins involve theft somewhere along the line – Noah stole his sons’ respect from them. Could it be that Ham was so disappointed that he failed (or even refused) to cover his father’s nakedness?

Maybe Ham was disappointed and feeling betrayed, or maybe he was just an uncaring disrespectful son. seeing his father frunk, asleep and naked gave Ham the opportunity to do the right thing, but he chose not to do it. life is a long string of opportunities to do the right thing. It’s a marathon, not a sprint; there is no one thing we can do that is big enough that we can put our feet up. We have to be always alert to opportunities to do the right thing, and also have the stamina and willingness to do them.

Shem and Japheth are completely different. It may have been Ham who alerted them to their father’s plight – but instead of giving in to curiosity, they went out of their way to preserve his dignity. They took a blanket between them, backed into the tent so they couldn’t see Noah and dropped the blanket over him so his nakedness was now covered. by bnehaving in such a way they showed their maturity and love; that their loyalty was not shaken. Also they showed righteousness – righteousness is what you do when no one is looking – no one was there to see their actions – their father was asleep.

It is imperative for believers today to seek to preserve those who sins we are aware of, to silently come alongside them and support them. all of us are capable of sin, and any of us might need the understanding and love a Christian brother or sister.

Warren Wiersbe says: ‘on the battlefield of life, Christians are prone to kick their wounded.’ We need to make sure we do not do this. We are to act with love and kindness.

When Noah woke, he must have realised to some extent what had happened, and possibly asked his sons to fill in the details. Noah’s response was not the ‘curse’ that most people think – it was a prophecy. Noah does not have the authority to curse. Judging by the behaviour which is diplayed by his sons, he sees their characters clearly – and the prophecy is based on the playing out of their characters. We know it’s a prophecy rather than a curse because some of it is directed at Ham’s son Canaan. It would not be fair to curse Canaan for his father’s sin. Perpetrators of slavery in later times have alleged that Ham was black, and the father of Africans, and that therefore slavery was a result of the curse, and so it was OK. There is asolutely no biblical basis for this at all, it just shows how keen unscrupulous people are to twist the Bible beyond recognition – and how successful they can be when the average person has no clue what is in the Bible. After all, with this passage, you could just as reasonably assert that Ham was the father of all left-handed people. Had it been a real curse, surely Noah would have cursed Ham himself, instead of one of his children. Rather Noah was merely describing what were to be the fortunes of his descendants, rather like Jacob has done (see Genesis 49).

The Canaanites come off rather badly in this prophecy, and are the people occupying the Promised Land that the Hebrews were to remove. It is not because of this prophecy that they were to be removed, but rather because of the disgusting and immoral practices they indulged in such as sacrificing children by burning them to death. This was something they chose to indulge in, and therefore their downfall was their own fault. The existence of prophecy doesn’t negate free will, it just foretells what is going to happen. God knows what we are going to do before we do it, and that’s how prophecy works, it has no bearing on free will whatsoever.

When Noah prophesies about Shem, he is prophesying about the Hebrew nation. It is through the Jews that we have received the Bible, and Jesus. We have a lot to thank them for. Interestingly Shem is Noah’s second son. There is a major pattern of second sons being favoured above the firstborn (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Judah, even in the parable which we know as the prodigal son). Wiersbe explains that the name ‘Shem’ means ‘name’. Interesting then that this should be the ancestor of the people who would preserve the name of God.

Japheth was the ancestor of many of the gentile nations. Japheth’s descendants would spread out throughout the world building settlements and empires, but spiritually, they would need to depend on Shem, as the keepers of God’s name.

When we leave Noah, he has repented of his sin and been forgiven by God. There is no reason to suggest that he didn’t regain his position with God, and continue walking with God until he died. Noah’s example teaches us that no matter how high we climb, falling is always possible – but it’s not irreversible. God will forgive and bring us back into his will. What we also need to remember is that influential believers have more required of them than those who are less influential (Luke 12:48c).

God spoke of the rainbow (Genesis 9:12-17) as a visible sign of the Noahic covenant but the way he spoke of it suggests that it might have been present before the flood (possible as there was water above in the atmosphere).

Wiersbe says: ‘When we are looking at the rainbow, we know that our Father is also looking at the rainbow, and therefore it becomes a bridge that brings us together.’

 

With thanks to my spiritual uncles: Uncle Warren Wiersbe, Uncle Chuck Missler, Uncle Matthew Henry, Uncle Jacob Prasch and Uncle Arnold Fruchtenbaum.

Genesis 8

This chapter opens with the residents of the ark (animal and human) being the only living creatures left on the earth. This is the chapter that looks forward; it focuses on what happened after the flood. Chapter eight shows us that the same God who sends a flood in judgment is the God who makes things anew and makes promises to his people which he will keep forever. Interestingly God only told Noah exactly what he needed to know in order to obey God. He needed to know when the flood would happen – he did not need to know when the flood would recede because he would be in God’s will (the ark) and therefore this information would only serve to satisfy Noah’s curiosity – it would serve no other purpose.

In the first verse of this chapter we come across the verb ‘remember’. This is a slightly different use of the verb to how we usually use it today – it does not imply that God forgot the people in the boat, but merely that after dealing with the flood he turned his attention back to them. This is not to say that he had been ignoring them while they were in the ark, but they may have wondered what was going on outside, wondering what God was doing. It may be that they felt deserted by him even though they knew they were in his will, being in his ark and being safe from the flood, as he promised. It is quite normal to go through periods like this in Christian life, but they do not last forever, and they always yield greater understanding. If we belong to God, there is no danger that we will ever be forgotten.

The flood gradually receded over months. This time must have seemed interminable for the people in the ark. The rain had stopped, the flood level was going down, but now it was clear exactly how much water there was everywhere because it was taking an absolute age to recede. Because of the amount of water and the fact that it came up from the earth as well as down from the sky, it is possible that whole continents were shifted and mountain ranges created which would have helped to redistribute much of the water.

The first bird that Noah sent out was the raven – this was after 40 days of resting on the peak of Mount Ararat. Why did Noah choose the raven? The raven was a carrion eating bird, an unclean creature. It would have found plenty to eat of the floating carcases of creatures that had drowned in the flood. Next, Noah sent out a dove. This is a clean bird. It flew around looking for somewhere to perch, but finding nowhere it returned to the ark. When he sent the bird out again, it returned with an olive sprig in its beak, this showed that the waters had receded sufficiently for trees to begin appearing above the water level. Noah later released the dove again, and this time it did not return. The choice of birds is interesting. The raven, the unclean bird is at home in the world eating dead flesh. The dove, however, returns to the ark, to the protection of God. Matthew Henry likens this to difference between the person who belongs the world and the person who belongs to God.

Noah didn’t enter the ark until told to by God, and likewise he and his family didn’t leave it until instructed to, even though Noah could see that the ground was dry around the ark. This must have been a test of obedience – they had been cooped up in the ark for over a year! Although it all looked OK outside, they had to wait for God’s word. It wouldn’t do for them to have been so obedient and to fall at the last hurdle. This shows how Noah is a man of faith worthy to be included in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11. It was absolutely fine for Noah to find out as much about the current situation as possible – looking out, monitoring the situation, sending out birds, that’s all OK, as long as you don’t depend on your own understanding of the situation instead of waiting on God. By this time the entire family knew that God could be trusted because he had ensured the survival, they knew to wait for him – they knew that obedience is as much doing as it is waiting for on God.

When Noah emerged from the ark, it was like he was a second Adam coming into a new world. His first action shows the correctness of his priorities – he built an altar to God to give thanks. He knew that the animals that had survived the flood were saved by God, and so he made a sacrifice on the altar. There was no selfishness – he did not consider not making a sacrifice in order to make a bigger sacrifice later out of a bigger herd. This shows how God prefers obedience to sacrifices. It would have cost Noah more to make the sacrifice when he did than to wait. God credited this to him as righteousness. It was not the sacrifice itself that pleases God so much as the obedience and faith that was behind it. Therefore, there is no action that can be done that can achieve God’s approval – that way lies legalism. Instead it is the condition of the heart that is behind the action that God looks at. That was why Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s wasn’t. It has nothing to do with substance and everything to do with heart. Likewise for believers in Jesus, they know that there is nothing they can do on their own to win God’s approval, but if they put their faith in Jesus then all their actions will be credited with righteousness. It is fitting that the first action in the new world was that of sacrifice. Not only does it reflect our complete reliance on God (no matter if we accept him or not) but also it shows that the sin nature that began with Adam has continued past the flood and continues today. The world, although cleansed, was still subject to the effects of sin.

God decided several things once the humans were out of the ark. First of all he decided not to curse the land any more than it was already cursed through the sins of Adam and Cain. Secondly, he decided that he would never again flood the earth. Yes there are still some judgments to come, but none of them include a universal flood. He also said that there would always be seasons – although there have been instances of droughts and famines, we have always had seasons. It is the rhythm of the seasons, the day and the night as well that enables creatures to exist. Without this rotation, existence would not be possible. It is so easy to take for granted God’s blessings – but these ones of seasons, heat and cold, night and day, and the rotation of the months of the year are so easily ignored – and yet without them we would not be able to exist. In these promises, God shows that he is committed to our survival.

With thanks to my spiritual uncles: Uncle Warren Wiersbe, Uncle Chuck Missler, Uncle Matthew Henry, Uncle Jacob Prasch and Uncle Arnold Fruchtenbaum.