Series Theme: Snapshots of the Bible Story
Snapshots of the Bible Story: Prologue
May I introduce you to a new approach to Bible meditations on this particular site. A while back I wanted to introduce a ‘spiritual' element to a church Facebook page and while praying about this page, I found ideas flowing that I described as ‘micro-thoughts', short, concentrated truths about our Christian lives, shorter than usual meditations but longer than Twitter messages. A number of people in our church said how they had been helped by these.
After a while, I sensed in my praying – because I only wrote what came out of my prayer times – a new purposeful direction and so, starting at the very beginning of the Bible, I began creating these snapshots of the Bible, snapshots of truth based upon Bible verses. These developed and continued on. By accident I put one on my own Facebook page and got a wave of approval from a number of my ‘friends'.
As these carried on I felt they were good for a quick boost but lacked deeper content and so wondered if it was possible to develop them further. What follows is that development. Whether it works, only you can tell. I have simply taken the original ‘micro-thought' and called it a ‘Snapshot' and then added a further explanation to create a meditation of the same length that I use for my ‘Short Meditation' studies.
The feeling I have at the moment is, can I take snapshots through the length of the whole Bible? To that end I am calling them “Snapshots of the Bible Story” because, contrary to post-modern thinking, I do believe there is a big story here to be told and it should be seen as a whole as well as individual verse snippets.
The intention is that they be short and easily read, revealing basic truths that should impact our lives, truths based upon the word of God, bearing in mind that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16) I hope this new form works.
Snapshots of the Bible Story: Day 1
The Snapshot: “In the beginning… God…”: Spirit, power, energy with personality; almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise; here, there, and everywhere; always has been, always is, and always will be; perfect, cannot be improved upon, never wrong, always right, often misunderstood; perfect love, perfect goodness, merciful, full of grace and kindness; utterly patient, persistent, persevering , never in a rush, often misunderstood, never gives up; always reaching out, communicating, creating, making, providing, enabling, equipping, empowering; desiring relationship; unique, deserving worship. Do what should be instinctive, worship.
Further Consideration: Genesis 1: The beginning of any reflection on the Bible Story has to begin with God. The God of the Bible revealed primarily through Judaism and Christianity. I wonder how many people – apart from theologians and philosophers – think about what the three-letter word, ‘G-o-d' means? To different peoples and different cultures one thing, but for those who rest in the veracity and integrity of the Bible, it means a Supreme Being, who is infinite, all-powerful (Creator), all-knowing, all-wise, ever-present, good and loving.
And of course He (forgive the masculine because like the law it is used as a shortcut throughout the Bible) is ‘spirit' (Jesus simply declared, “God is spirit” (Jn 4:24) What is ‘spirit'? I'm not sure but my own definition would be “power or energy with personality” but that does not help us much beyond saying that the God revealed in the Bible is powerful, has personality, feels and communicates.And that is the heart of the matter: this ‘God', this Supreme Being, we are told in the Bible, created this world from nothing, it's His world and He designed and created us, and then communicates with us human beings (which we'll see more of in the days to come). This God doesn't just ‘exist' somewhere in the background of existence like some inert gas in the far corners of the universes, He is here, now, in our time-space history and He speaks into and acts into this world, so it is not merely a mechanical universe, and He is not, as someone once described it, “the ghost in the machine”. (Arthur Koestler & Gilbert Ryle). That is what the Story of the Bible is all about – God, who He is, His character and how He has interacted into history. When we ponder on this, we realise that not only are we not alone, but it is possible to have a real, genuine, living relationship with ‘God'. Worship Him now.
Snapshots of the Bible Story: Day 2
The Snapshot: “In the beginning… God …. was the word…”: (Gen 1 & Jn 1) In the beginning was The Thought and the Thought was One, independent, reliant upon no one, and the Thought expressed itself as a word and the word was one with the Thought, one Spirit, one essence, coming out of it, begotten of it, and the Thought and the Word were perfectly one and because they understood each other, the Word uttered, “My Father,” and the Thought uttered, “My Son,” and together they existed in perfect unity, perfect harmony, perfect oneness and yet unique, one who existed always, and one who was begotten out of the eternity. One. Wonder and marvel.
Further Consideration: I have tried to convey a truth using the words ‘Thought' and ‘Word'. Now the Bible doesn't describe God as a Thought but it does describe the Son of God as ‘word'. I hesitate to put an article before ‘word' because ‘a' is imprecise. However, the apostle John does describe him as ‘the word' (Jn 1:1,14 & 1 Jn 1:1), speaking into the Greek culture of his day for which the Greek word for ‘word', ‘logos', was taken to mean ‘plan, reason or purpose behind all things'.
But I have used the word ‘Thought' of God to capture the sense of distinct existence, distinct from inert material, to describe a sentient being, one who is responsive, emotional, perceptive, being capable of rational thought, consideration and expression. In Day 1 we observed the revelation of the Bible showing Him to be all-powerful, all-knowing etc. but that could be said of Terry Pratchett's giant tortoise weaving through space carrying all on his back, but the God of the Bible is infinitely greater than this, He has a mind that is rational and so my previous definition of ‘spirit' as ‘power or energy with personality' equally underplays the reality of who He is. If He was not spirit but material then we might describe Him with a ‘brain' billions of times greater than anything we can conceive.But then, perhaps for our benefit, perhaps to convey something more of Himself to us, the Bible conveys the idea of the Godhead, a God who expresses Himself in three forms, and the second form is as a ‘Son' begotten of (as the Creeds put it – meaning simply ‘brought out of') God who then, as the two exist distinctly but one, is considered as ‘Father'. There is communication. In a mind there are ‘thoughts'. Now consider two ‘thoughts' that having come into being, remain as two separate distinct thoughts. We move forward. Marvel and worship.
Snapshots of the Bible Story: Day 3
The Snapshot: “In the beginning… the Spirit of God hovered….” : (Gen 1): As the Thought and the Word expressed themselves outwards, the Force flowed from them, the Force who was one with them, the Force who was the very perfect expression of them, almighty, perfect, love, goodness, and the Force expressed the Personality that was Him, and whatever He wanted, the Force performed and brought about, perfectly expressing their will, so Thought and Word and Force expressed perfect harmony, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as they would come to be known, the Trinity, the Godhead, just One but three in One. Ponder, marvel and worship.
Further Consideration: The Holy Spirit is to many, a mystery and yet the Bible clearly reveals God in three forms: the Father, Supreme over all, the Son sent to earth to redeem mankind, but now back in heaven ruling alongside his Father, and then the Holy Spirit, the ‘executive arm' if you like, of the Godhead, the power seen as He (they) move in our time-space history. “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Gen 1:2)
What a picture of the power of God hovering over the already existing earth, covered with water, just watching and waiting for the next move of God in the Creation saga. The Father speaks and it starts to change.
“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Gen 2:7) However we view this graphic and perhaps picturesque language, we live because God breathed energy into us, apparently His Spirit. But later we find, “Then God said, “I'm not going to breathe life into men and women endlessly. Eventually they're going to die; from now on they can expect a life span of 120 years.” (Gen 6:3 Message)
We think we live because of food and drink but the Bible challenges that limited understanding. There is a mystery beyond our understanding and, yes, only accepted by faith, that we live because He enables us to. Centuries later a writer was to declare about the Son, he is “sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:3) again adding to this mystery. ‘Life' is more than meat and drink. The message is that the Holy Spirit is not only the One who moves in power expressing the will of the Godhead on earth, He is also the one who maintains ALL life, or should we say, They all maintain our life. Moses knew it: “O God, the God who gives breath to all living things….” (Num 16:22) It is both a mystery and a sobering thought, a thought that puts my life in perspective. Lord, thank you for the gift of today.
Snapshots of the Bible Story: Day 4
The Snapshot: “In the beginning… God created…”: They purposefully expressed Himself, they purposefully revealed Himself, they purposefully thought of beings to whom He could express love and from whom receive love, in His likeness; purposefully and with great pleasure they created a world of provision for mankind, of variety, of pleasure for the man He would form; purposefully formed man as a purposeful expression of love, man and woman to complement each other, people who could enjoy Him, enjoy each other and enjoy the world they had made for them. Perfect. Nothing random, no chance, no accident, but pure purpose. Be thankful and worship.
Further Consideration: Being pedantic about God the Creator is unwise. In Gen 1 we see mention of the Spirit but it is ‘God' (?the Father) who speaks and the changes happen. Yet in Ecclesiastes there is a beautiful yet tantalizing picture that speaks of wisdom personified working with the Father: “I was there when he set the heavens in place…. Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind,” (Prov 8:27,30,31) that surely must refer to the Son, existing before Creation, now part of the Creation process. What an amazing description, “delighting in mankind”. Wow! Why else would God create mankind if not to delight in him.
To see the other side of that coin we have to turn to the Shorter Westminster Catechism that starts out, “What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.” That was the conclusion the men of God started with, as they drew up that Catechism to be taught to their people. It starts with God. We are to glorify Him AND enjoy Him! How many of us have that concept tucked away – you can enjoy God????? To appreciate and understand that, we have to ponder on the fact that the world – the earth – we inhabit was made by God for our pleasure No wonder we read, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:31)
The whole package – this planet and us on it – was good. His provision on the earth was everything we would ever need. He gave us senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch – and a superabundance of things to give pleasure to each sense. Take some time to think through each of those five senses and then the wonder of the world that makes them good. And when you have done that, ask Him to enlarge your perception of them even more, and help you be thankful even more. Contentment is good. Complacency is bad (Rom 1:21). Now, give thanks, offer praise.
Snapshots of the Bible Story: Day 5
The Snapshot: “In the beginning… God chose…” And because they were all-wise and all-knowing, they looked into the future of the time-space world they were about to create and saw that freedom of will in mankind would mean freedom to reject, freedom to ignore, freedom to rebel, and because they were all-wise and all-knowing they understood perfectly the implications of that and the consequences that would follow – the wrong thoughts, words, and deeds that would follow, the guilt, the shame, the recriminations, and the demands of justice; and they saw the only way through, the way of redemption and, instead of rejecting it all, they chose it.
Further Consideration: Amazing! “he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” ( Eph 1:4) There are many people I think who feel that somehow God started off creating the world and then it got all out of hand, a total mistake on His part, but such people miss the testimony of the Bible that before God created anything at all, He (they, the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit) knew exactly what would happen if they created a creature with free will, that free will could (and would) be used to go its own way and that going its own way would have subsequent consequences.
An imperfect world? But surely it says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good”? (Gen 1:31) How could it be very good if it would go wrong almost as soon as it kicked off? There is the incredible thing: the first ‘product', the world as God initially made it was perfect and without a blemish, if we may put it like that. Yes, that was going to spoiled by the perfect beings He created and, yes, there would be a big chunk of what we call history where the behaviour of mankind would be far from perfect, and yet throughout that history, despite the awful behaviour of mankind, God's goodness would continue to be revealed, right in the middle of it – that is what so much of the Old Testament is about. Our sinfulness would be the perfect background to reveal the wonder of the love and goodness of God.
And then, there would come a time when redemption was revealed and a new type of mankind would emerge, a mankind that would move into eternity, restored and glorious. Yes, the long-term plan was indeed good, allowing for free will, allowing for a fall, and a history of freedom to do what you will, but then also making space for redemption of whoever would hear, whoever would respond and be restored to a relationship with the Creator. This is the big perspective and the more you consider it the more there is to marvel at. This was God's choice, the hard road. he easy road? Don't create mankind with free will! Thank God He chose us.
Snapshots of the Bible Story: Day 6
The Snapshot: “In the beginning… God chose…” Having chosen to redeem what would be, He (they) saw the only path open to them to satisfy justice, for the Son to step into mankind, be part of mankind, live and die as mankind and as God take the punishment of mankind. They saw the necessity for parting, for him to leave heaven, for him to be limited on earth, for them to sense utter separation as he carried the sins of the world on the Cross, for his walk into hell to complete the punishment, before a return was possible; they saw the horror of it all for themselves, the anguish in the sense of separation and, instead of rejecting all that, they chose it. Why? Love.
Further Consideration: Most people don't think about justice; we just take it for granted. It isn't something that exists as a living entity but it is a concept that we human beings have, even if we so often ignore it, pretend it is not there or simply hope it will go away. But where did it come from? Surely beings that evolved, beings who survived by being the fittest, as we're told, surely these beings have no such concept, for surely nature is ‘red in tooth and claw' and the biggest and toughest survive or go to the wall.
And yet, we have this concept of justice. The word ‘just' is about fairness, unbiased correct goodness, morally and ethically, putting right wrongs, balancing out unfairness with fairness. Justice is the administration of that. We see it in small children when one cries, “Daddy, you've given her more sweets than you've given me. It's not fair” There is an appeal to an imaginary rule that we should all be treated equally well, and when that is not so, we speak of injustice.
Now why is this such a big issue in the Bible? It is because since the Fall we have a world full of sinners, people who fall short of what is good, and that means any person who opens themselves up to criticism because of their behaviour. If we were able to see and record every wrong thought, wrong word and wrong act of any individual we would probably run out of paper doing it. We try and ignore this but in any other context we would say that “getting away with that,” is unjust. Big wrongs like murder or rape are easy to categorise but where to you draw the line when you come down the scale of wrongs and, as we've just said, if you go by numbers we are all failures, people who fell far short of what could have been. And there in the background, justice is lurking, calling for God to deal with these things. How can He save us? Is there one ‘big enough' to save us all?
Snapshots of the Bible Story: Day 7
The Snapshot: “In the beginning… God chose…” As silence descended on heaven as they pondered redemption, they saw the unbelief and rejection of mankind, the betrayal of an individual, the denial of another, the confusion and misunderstanding of many, but then they saw the ones and twos and tens and hundreds and thousands and millions who would receive the Son, who would turn and bow and worship, and They rejoiced and sang and knew this had to be, and thus before another word was spoken and a world created, they chose the path of pain and separation and they chose – you and me! Rejoice, praise, worship.
Further Consideration: I have been imagining what might have gone on between the members of the Godhead as they considered creating the world and us on it – us with free will. I am actually stepping backwards, having thought about the need for redemption, we then thought about why that was there – the need for justice if mankind is to be potentially saved. But now we have stepped further back into all this and then leapt forward. We looked back to see the state of self-centred and godless mankind, for that is what they became as they (we) exercised their free will to reject God and all He offered, and we saw their unbelief that fuels that rejection and for a moment glimpsed those who were with Jesus, in a sense demonstrating what we are all like in some measure or another, one who betrayed him, another who denied him, the confusion that unbelief brought in many of them – and these were the ones who had been with him for three years and seen all the wonder of his life and ministry, the love of God displayed – and then they demonstrate what, at the heart of it, we're all like.
If you didn't know the rest of the story you would think what a waste of time this was, creating a human race that could only sink in a blaze of ignominy. But then comes the wonder, God steps down onto the earth in human form, the form of His Son, reveals the love of God, and then dies as an act of receiving punishment – for all of us. All it needed was responders; it wouldn't apply to anyone unless they reached out to receive it – but tens, then hundreds, then thousands, then millions did, down through the next two millennia, and their lives were transformed and loved flowed from heaven and back to heaven.That surely, is what God saw before He even uttered those first recorded words, “Let there be light.” The end product would be an eternity filled with redeemed human beings, ‘brands snatched from the fire' (Zech 3:2) and transformed. The picture of what took place with Joshua the high priest (Zech 3:1-10) is symbolic of what happens to every responder. This God saw before He created anything.
Snapshots of the Bible Story: Day 8
The Snapshot: “make mankind in our image”. A word was spoken and the process started, and the world of earth appeared, a world of immense variety, beauty and provision, of order and peace. And then followed man, made in the image, a mini-creator - more a maker, an inventor, a dreamer, a writer, a composer, a thinker, a visionary, a planner, a designer, capable of bringing order, bringing further goodness, relating, expressing love, beings of such immense potential, designed to love, designed to multiply, designed to rule, designed to reflect Them. Rejoice in your potential.
Further Consideration: If you ever wonder about God's intentions towards mankind, stop and think of the incredible world that He created. We did that in Snapshot No.4, considering the five senses that He gave us and the incredible variety of food, drink etc. to be found on the earth. It's amazing and gets more so the more you think about it. But then comes this sentence in Gen 1:26 about us being made in His image, “a little lower than the angels” (Psa 8:5) and yet amazingly superior to the animal kingdom. In the snapshot I have already listed some of the ways that we see this expressed, but again, the more you think of our capabilities the more wonderful it is.
The trouble is that we have these amazing capabilities – as the history of music, or of literature or of invention shows – but they so often get lost in the face of the awful things we do, whether it be at the top end murdering one another by the hundreds of thousands in war, or at the bottom end abusing one another mentally, physically and emotionally. What amazing beings, on one hand capable of such great things but on the other capable of things that should remain indescribable. On the one hand acts of immense courage, heroism and valour and on the other hand such acts of cowardice, treachery, betrayal, horror, infidelity, and callousness.If there is a question mark over God giving us free-will, it is of Him allowing us to inflict such horrors and terror on one another, especially when it comes to abusing, demeaning and taking advantage of those weaker or smaller than us, or using our power to make others subservient slaves. That is the down-side, the cost if you like of free-will and the only good thing you can say is that it is limited in time and justice will be brought in eternity. And yet without it, we would never be able to do all those things in my list in the Snapshot, we would never be able to rise to great heights of compassion and care, of bravery and heroism, of love and goodness. The alternative is very grey. And while we suffer this Fallen World, the slings and arrows of one another, the challenge is always there, will we change it?
Snapshots: Day 9
The Snapshot: “In the beginning… the Lord God … was walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” Peace, harmony, unity, pleasure, possibility; heart sharing, hope wondering, question asking; confidence, assurance, absence of fear or guilt or shame; laughter, joy, company, friendship, love, concern, connection, openness, nothing hidden, everything open; stillness, quietness, peace, wonder, awe, awareness; potential but no dissatisfaction, contentment with possibility, unity with distinction, appreciation. Marvel at what once was and yearn for what can yet be.
Further Consideration: Let any life be put under a microscope, the life of the Christian and the life of the atheist and the life of the many in between. None of us show up well, some worse than others. Our trouble is that we make excuses or rationalize our bad behaviour: “Well, I'm not as bad as her!” and, “It's not my fault!” though it usually is. Our measuring sticks are never good, the comparison we make are never good ones, they always let us off the hook.
It is only when we align ourselves with how God made things to be originally, in the little glimpses we get in Gen 1-3, that we see what we have lost and the type of people we have become.
It is often said that with the Fall, Adam and Eve lost their innocence, and as I look at the world of the West today, it seems that that is one of the greatest losses that we suffer. Our knowledge of violence, of abuse, of distortion of gender and sexual design, our twisting of relationships, our all-knowingness, our brashness and our coarseness, say that this is indeed a fallen world, a world so different from how God originally made it and designed it to be.
But it is not only the way we treat the world and each other, it is the way we treat God. The picture of life in the Garden was one of such beauty, not only of the Garden itself but of the relationship between this innocent couple and God Himself. It is perhaps only after we see the arrival of guilt and fear that we appreciate what it was like before. A little while ago it struck me that we respond, so often, like tropical fish in a tank or the birds in the garden to us humans – suspicious of His motivations, confused by His action or inaction.The effect of sin in us means we have become used to a negative response towards God and we desperately need His help to overcome that. We need reminding of what it was like in the Garden originally, and then we need to restate again and again what He has done for us in sending Jesus to die for us. When He speaks to us do we respond with complacent, unresponding unbelief or do we receive what He says with great joy and wonder?
Snapshots: Day 10
The Snapshot: “you must not eat from…” their first and only prohibition. In their perfect provision for Man, the Godhead knew that living with provision was fraught with dangers. Eating too much would cause obesity. Making and using alcohol in excess would have many harmful effects. So many potential hazards – and so many hidden boundaries. Throughout the Creation, excess would harm but wise use would bless. And thus man would have to learn about boundaries, so God applied a limitation to just one tree to teach the lesson, and man learnt to restrain his appetites as wisdom decreed, an expression of love, of relationship, an acceptance of God's wisdom in His provision. Ask Him to help you understand His boundaries.
Further Consideration: Yesterday we faced our propensity to react negatively towards God and no more so is this seen than in the way people respond to the “Thou shalt not” commands of the Bible. What a killjoy this God of yours is! Have you ever heard someone say, “This Christianity thing seems to be so full of things you can't do!”?
Stop and think honestly about what you feel (have you ever thought about it?) about God giving Adam and Eve this prohibition that would cause their stumbling and fall? Well, actually it wasn't the tree that caused their fall, it was the tempter playing on their free will. Why shouldn't you? It will be all right. Well actually no, it won't be all right. Consider the examples above in the Snapshot. Eating too much has become a major blight on life in the West and there are a multitude of health problems arising from it. The same is true of alcohol abuse, sexual lack of restraint (Oh there you go again!!!), abuse of relationships and general adverse behaviour one to another.
I heard the other day of a fly-tipping lorry driver (‘fly tipping' is dumping waste or refuse in the countryside instead of at designated sites) who broke the lock on a gate of a private school and went and dumped an entire lorry load of waste in the middle of a playing field. Who does that? Human beings, sinful human beings. We have laws and they are regularly broken and so we have hundreds of thousands of police or people employed in the courts and prison service. Signs that people do not like boundaries.
We have laws to protect the weak because, as a group of students once told me, “people are nasty”. We are nasty because we are sinful and that means we fail to learn that everything God decrees is for our good. God is not a killjoy; to the contrary He wants us to have joy, but we kill it off. Transgression is another word for sin and it simply means crossing God's boundaries, but they are there for a reason, a practical reason, because they are there to keep us from harming ourselves.
Snapshots: Day 11
The Snapshot: “Did God really say…” Behind even just one boundary, one limitation, there lurks temptation, temptation to reject, temptation to ignore, temptation that says, “Perhaps He didn't mean it, perhaps my way is best.” Temptation is there behind the many hidden boundaries that wise usage means are there. Temptation had to be faced and overcome or given way to, and whichever way, lessons learned. And thus God stood back while a tempter came, the test faced, and the Fall experienced, and life would never be the same again. Yet failure never ends there with God for He foresees and plans accordingly and never gives up on us. A Beginning. Do I need to ask His forgiveness for where I gave way and ignored His boundaries?
Further Consideration: Temptation, a dictionary says, is t he offer or wish to do or have something that you know you should not do or have, something that is wrong. The sting of that sentence is in the last few words – something that is wrong, for the whole thing about temptation is that we are provoked to think (either by our own wrong thinking or by someone else suggesting it to us) that either a) the thing isn't actually ‘wrong' or b) even if it is, it doesn't matter, I can get away with it without harm following.
That was exactly what we find in Genesis 3 when the tempter questions Eve as to whether eating the fruit was really wrong. Is that what God said, is that what He meant? And then that followed by, “You will not certainly die.” i.e. it will be all right, what He said won't happen, and then a reason is given why it is good to ignore what God said. Isn't that exactly how it is today? It's OK to have a few drinks, it's OK to try a few drugs, it's OK to sleep around, it's all right for you to do what feel good for the moment, it's OK to ignore what were once Christian inhibitions, limitations, restrictions. It will be all right. Deception!
Deception, a dictionary says, is ‘hiding the truth, causing someone to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid'. That is what the enemy seeks to do to spoil our relationship with God and make us think we don't need all the good God promises us if we turn to Him. The biggest lie is, “You are all right on your own. You don't need God.”The most amazing thing about all this, is that even when we do give way to temptation and we fall, that is not the end of it. When we come to our senses and tell God we are truly sorry He doesn't even blink, but instantly forgives us and welcomes us back with open arms. “he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Lk 15:20) How wonderful! But hold on, He also wants us to learn from our failure so we won't do it again. It's not just the one-off, it's the habit, the attitude. Don't tolerate them. The temptation is to shrug it off.
Snapshots: Day 12
The Snapshot: “ they hid from the Lord God .” Guilt alienates – us from ourselves (not facing who we really are), from others (not being able to relate properly to others), from society (who we see as hostile and cruel) and from God (who we fear), the One we were designed to relate to as loving Father. Thus all these other things tend to be dysfunctional, not working as they should. Guilt robs us of the potential of who I could be, of how I could be blessed by others and bless them, of how I could enjoy the wonder of the world and the wonder of God, especially the wonder of God. (“What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.” A catechism) Do I need to let Him restore that togetherness, that joy?
Further Consideration: Yesterday we considered the way we, as sinful human beings, cross the many boundaries built into creation, giving way to temptation. But so much of the time it isn't that we are disobeying specific prohibitions, but more that we ignore the wisdom of God that is inherently there for each and every one who has entered into a real relationship with God through Jesus Christ, each one who has received the now indwelling Holy Spirit. It is He who conveys the wisdom of God to the children of God and it comes from within when we are living this genuine, real relationship. But then we choose to ignore Him; the ‘fruit' before us looks so enticing and we submit to the temptation.
And then comes the guilt. One dictionary defines guilt as, ‘ a feeling of worry or unhappiness that you have because you have done something wrong.' There are a number of ways that we try and deal with this inner feeling and we'll consider some more tomorrow but here in the verse from Gen 3:8 we see the response to this fresh sense of guilt was to hide away from God.
The world tries to hide away from God by pretending He is not there, by coming up with lots of implausible reasons why He can't be there; some even write lengthy books to try to convince themselves and others (so they will not be alone in their deception) while all the time ignoring the massive piles of evidence that He is there.Christians try and hide away from God by hiding behind piles of ‘good works' or ‘religious ritual' and thus create these piles of refuse that they think will blot out His all-seeing eyes. We let ourselves think that perhaps our guilt can be covered up by the undergrowth of these things, like Adam and Eve hiding among the trees – but God still sees, God still knows, so the best thing is to be open and honest and confess, “I blew it.” Maturity is being able to do that quickly for the longer we put it off, the more we miss out on God's goodness.
Snapshots: Day 13
The Snapshot: “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid….” Failure means guilt; guilt means fear. Fear means we run in shame to hide, or we kneel in need. Hiding and denial or honest acceptance; I need saving from me. This is the place that would reveal my need for God's salvation to save me from myself – if I dare face myself honestly. God knew it would be like this, God was not surprised, and so when He banishes from the garden it is not the end but the beginning, the beginning of a self-centred life, a godless life where it is now God who hides only to come when we call. The life to come was to teach me, will I face me and be honest and call on Him, or will I still pretend and hide? Lord, help me be honest.
Further Consideration: We finished yesterday saying the wisest course when we fail is to own up to it, but the trouble is that so often we are so unsure of the wonders of the Bible and of God, or we listen to the distorted truths of the enemy or his outright lies, that we fear retribution, we fear what He is going to do to us.
There are those preachers of the past who have majored on the awfulness of God's wrath, completely misunderstanding it (and we'll consider it later in the Bible) and ignoring the wonder of the truth that the apostle John declared, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16), so clearly demonstrated in Jesus' wonderful parable we refer to as ‘the Parable of the Prodigal Son'. The harsh and legalistic preacher would have the son starve to death at the pigsties, fearing to return home to the anger of the father. Instead the son clearly knows something about the father still, and risks returning home and all that might follow.
What followed? The father was out looking for the son and when he saw him on the horizon he ran to meet him with open arms, welcomed him and reinstated him into the family and threw a celebratory party for him. So how can God the Father do that for His sinful, failing children? Because of what Jesus has done. It's not a case of ignoring the sin but of consigning it to the Cross where the eternal Son dealt with the guilt by taking the punishment. It defies rational thought but that is what happened.When we truly hear this and understand it, we can come in repentance and, yes, contrition, and seek the forgiveness that is readily available to the repentant who own up to their misdeeds. That can come more easily in the security of the gospel, in the security that God is for us, but still wants us to ‘own up' so we can then receive the forgiveness that is waiting for us. Maturity, for the Christian, is learning to ‘own up' – quickly! We said it before but it bears repeating. Don't let fear keep you from God, instead receive His perfect love. (see 1 Jn 4:18)
Snapshots: Day 14
The Snapshot: “The woman you put here with me gave me the fruit.” Don't blame God. It's the natural thing to do but the wrong thing. When God gave us each other, it was to bless us with yet another expression of His love. But how easy it is to make another person my scapegoat instead of facing my own shortcoming, and in so doing we trample love underfoot. Don't blame God for bad situations that we bring about by our own folly, and which continue and multiply because we fail to be honest, confess, seek forgiveness, restoration and healing to resolve the past. Judgment falls on dishonesty and loss of integrity, but security opens the way for honesty and integrity to be restored. Lord, help us create a secure community that can become an honest restorative community.
Further Consideration: Over the last two days we have considered the outworkings of the Fall – a sense of guilt with a desire to hide from God because of fear of what might follow. But now they are called out into the open. I have this feeling that when we each one stand before God at the place of Judgment at the end (which may simply be the end of our time on this earth, the end of our life here) we may be brought ‘out into the open' where God shows us with His perfect vision, two things. (this may be a split second or longer; this is just a reasonable speculation).
The first is that He will show us ALL the wrong thoughts, wrong words and wrong deeds throughout our entire lives – so that we may see our need of the Cross. The second is that He will show us all the good achieved through our lives by the working of His grace and His Spirit, the outworking of the Cross in our lives. I suspect both will be considerably greater than what we usually perceive. But this will be God calling us out ‘into the open', to stop hiding from the truth, to face the awfulness of the failure of Sin, and the wonder of the working of God in and through us. THAT is a balanced picture.But the Lord doesn't want to wait until Judgment Day for grace and truth to saturate and permeate our lives. Growing to maturity means we learn to come out into the open and face the reality of our lives, in the presence of the light of His love. Of myself, I am a total failure – yes ‘total' is true. But I am no longer by ‘myself', I am in Christ and in Christ, I am something else! “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” (Phil 4:13) and that includes all the good things He has planned for me (Eph 2:10). Facing the two sides of this coin is what maturity is all about. I am not to wallow in my failures but let them keep me humble. I am not to be overly triumphant but soberly with rejoicing know my place – ‘in Him'. Hallelujah!
Snapshots: Day 15
The Snapshot: “he drove man out.” Is that the end for us? Does He want to have nothing more to do with us? Why has He allowed us to live? But what is this that follows, he speaks to and warns Cain? He gives him advice how to avoid disaster? Cain ignores Him. Disaster! But He keeps on talking to Cain, He preserves his life, He protects his years ahead? But why? Why doesn't He kill him? Can it be He wants Cain to learn, to change, to yet have hope? Does He want Cain to be an example for me? How does He view my failures? Does He want me to learn, to change, to yet have hope? Have I misjudged Him all these years? Do I need to think again? How can He not judge and condemn me? This is incredible! And now? Lord, help me be open to you to receive hope.
Further Consideration: A while ago I wrote a book called, ‘The Judgments of a Loving God' and examined as many judgments of God that I could find throughout the Bible and, of course, it starts with this one of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden. The thing that struck me, that I had never seen before, was that although God put them out of the Garden that wasn't the end of the possibilities of having a relationship with God, because soon after we find Cain and Abel both bringing offerings to God and God entering into conversation with Cain. And then, when you read the story, although Cain murders his brother, God doesn't kill him – and that is amazing! Instead He sends him off to learn of life in the world as an exile, and yet still a protected life. It is as if the Lord makes sure his life goes on so it will provide opportunity for him to change.
Subsequent to that I wrote a series of studies on ‘Redemption' and what struck me there was the fact that God is at work seeking to redeem or rescue each one of us. Moreover, it is not merely about the moment of our conversion but about the whole of the rest of our life as well. He is working to change us, just like He was working to change Cain. We'll no doubt pick them up later in this series but a verse (or 3) that has really impacted me over the years is, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord . Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23 and also 18:32 & 33:11)
We can get very ‘punishment-orientated' but God is in the business of saving us from ourselves, from Satan and from Sin, and that means preserving us wherever possible so that we can be changed for the better. When God ‘drives out' it is an act of discipline to change the circumstances to bring further change. I wonder how often He has ‘driven me out' into a situation where I will learn better? Wow!
Snapshots: Day 16
The Snapshot: “he drove man out.” But why? Cain shows it was not the end, He was still there communicating, so why send us out of the garden? Someone once put it, Adam and Eve (representing all of us) showed they wanted to do their own thing, follow their own instincts, travel a different path from God, and so, amazingly, He said, very well but this is how life without me is but, because I called you to reign in the earth, I will let you do that, without me, as you want. And so began a learning exercise that can be seen throughout the entire Old Testament (& New) that without Him we mess up. It's the most important lesson a man or a woman can learn, but how slow we are. I must stop, I need to hand this day over to Him, seek His help, seek His love. He's there.
Further Consideration: We're going to stick with this thought about God driving Adam and Eve out of the Garden and consider another aspect of the whole thing. I first saw this many years ago in a little book by Bible translator, J.B.Phillips, entitled, ‘Good News – Thoughts on God and man' where he spoke of the humility of God and wrote, “He is still gentle and humble and apparently weak. The self-centred girl can keep God at arm's length for as long as she wants, and the conceited man can do the same. It's a rather frightening thought, but it remains true that God does not interfere with anyone's freedom to choose.” When I first posted that snapshot on Facebook with those words, “without him we mess up,” someone must have complained because initially Facebook blocked the page – but then subsequently released it. It is a truth that many of us don't like facing. We like the thought that we are free to do what we like (and God won't stop us) but we are not so comfortable in facing the truth that left to our own devices we WILL ‘mess up'.
We have amazingly opposite possibilities as human beings. On one side we have the potential of being self-less, godly, beautiful people who can be a blessing to the rest of mankind and to God, but on the other side we can be utterly self-centred and godless, harming ourselves, harming others and harming the earth, and we grieve God. How the father in the Prodigal Son story (Lk 15:11-), that we referred to recently in a previous study, must have felt when the son left home. That is the picture of God. That needs some thinking about.
So let's recap some of these things. Failure has a number of repercussions or consequences and one of them is that God, in His ongoing love for us, ensures we get put into new circumstances where we will learn and change. He doesn't want to just stay as we are; He has a better plan for us. Thank God.
Snapshots: Day 17
The Snapshot: “Jubal… was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes” Musicians? How we take music for granted. Why do we make music? Because we are made in the image of a creative God. How amazing! A capacity to create sound that moves the heart, lifts it, quietens it, makes it ache. Creativity even in fallen man. Creativity that writes, composes, designs, invents, plans, schemes, devises, orders, creativity that makes so much of our modern world, creativity that can bless, creativity that can be harmful, even destructive, creativity that can make tools, creativity that can make weapons, creativity that uses up resources. Wow! I didn't realise creativity brings responsibility. Lord, thank you for the wonder of this ability you gave us. Help us use it wisely and beautifully.
Further Consideration: Isn't creativity a wonderful thing? Every time you watch a film, someone has been working incredibly creatively. Computer generated graphics created the next great leap so that, as one film-maker said no long ago, if you can imagine it, we can make it. I often visit various art groups and I marvel at the ability of people of all ages to create works of art. I know a man who mostly works with pencils and produces the most amazingly detailed pencil sketches, sometimes of landscapes that are better than photos. Then tune into radio stations playing music or go to YouTube and type in your favourite music. It's all there – immense variety. I confess to having come to love watching the various members of a big orchestra playing a symphony – variety producing unity and beauty. But on the other hand I grew up loving some modern jazz and the wonders of these musicians improvising. Amazing.
Sometimes on holiday we may visit a craft centre and watch someone blowing glass, or ‘throwing' a pot on a potter's wheel. We have a TV programme called ‘Grand Designs' and I find I come away amazed at the persistence and resilience of people who have decided with the help of an architect to build their own amazing home. I find I am inspired by what they achieve. The varieties, the differences of designs and approaches to building leave me almost breathless in wonder. This creativity is awesome.
But then I hear some of these house designers talk about ‘green footprints' and we are slowly coming to realise that what we do has an impact on the earth and what we have done with it so far has threatened our very future. Perhaps we need to have a word with the Creator, seek His forgiveness and His wisdom. There is hope, even though some paint a doomsday picture of eventual destruction. They forget God; this is still His world. He will redeem it (see Rev 21:1).
Snapshots: Day 18
The Snapshot: “the flood waters came on the earth. ” Judgments are disciplinary (to bring change) or terminal, of the last resort (where nothing else will work). The floodwaters washed unrighteousness away, but even terminal judgments are never the end with God, for He always looks for a faithful remnant who will receive the protection He offers for any and all who will heed the warnings, to come through the cleansing and still bring hope to future generations. No one need suffer a terminal judgment; it is always our choice, there are always warnings, always ways out, ways to avoid it – by simply accepting the wonder of a good world that God offers (and that is what He always does!) Lord, thank you that you always act for our good and the good of your world.
Further Consideration: I said recently, a while ago I wrote a book, “The Judgments of a Loving God”, because it struck me that Christians either seem to have a rather worried feeling about judgment or sought to ignore it all together. And so I started a project to research all the judgments of God I could find in the Bible and concluded that there are in fact three sorts of judgment revealed in the Bible (although I rationalise them to two). The first are these ones – and they are the vast majority – that are clearly designed to bring changes in people, to get them to come to their senses, and so often it is simply a case of God standing back and leaving us to do our own thing which eventually results in us squealing our, “God, where are you? Please help us”.
Then there are the ones, much fewer, that end up in people dying, hence what I call terminal judgments but they are also ‘judgments of the last resort', times where God, I believe, looks at the situation and concludes that nothing except the death of an individual or individuals will save the situation from deteriorating more and more until destruction would follow anyway.
In both cases God works to save His world, save people, draw them away from the clifftop where their very existence is under threat. But then there are a very few in between, where the reasoning is not clear, and we are left just having to trust in God's goodness that we see through all the others. He knew things we didn't. He doesn't make mistakes.
But, as I pointed out above, no one ever need die. That's not what God wants. Remember the verses from a few days ago (Ezek 18:23 and also 18:32 & 33:11). We may so often be self-destructive, but God constantly works to save us from ourselves and from our sin. That is constantly His unchanging plan.
Snapshots: Day 19
The Snapshot: “Abram's wife was Sarai.” Heartache & Hope are often at the centre of the redeeming plans of God in the midst of this fallen dysfunctional world. Otherwise why choose a childless couple, why promise them a great family, a nation, a new land? Pre-Christ we are all ‘childless', failing to reach our ‘possibility', falling short of God's glory, God's potential for us. Heartache and potential. Do we tolerate missing the mark, failing to rise to our potential, because we look back at failure? Do we let past hurts subjugate faith, letting unbelief deny we have potential, deny God's yearnings for us, refusing to receive what He longs to give us? Abram speaks of hope. Christ speaks of a mountain of hope. Lord, open my eyes to catch the enormity of this vision.
Further Consideration: The story of Abram and Sarai, like several other stories with similar ingredients in the Bible, shouts out some very basic and fundamental truths about our existence on this earth.
The first truth is that we live on a fallen world where, because of the sin of mankind, ‘things go wrong', things ‘don't work' as they should. It's not necessarily the sin of the individual (though it can be) but may just be one of those things that happen in this broken and often dysfunctional world. So we find sickness and illness and infirmities – things that did not exist when God first made the world but which have arisen as we wrongly use the world or wrongly use one another. Today we may talk about genetic breakdowns but whatever it is, the result is that we don't work as well as we were designed to. So we suffer childlessness, deformed babies, infant deaths, premature deaths of all sorts. A fallen world.
The second truth is that this does not have to be the end of the story. It may be for some but the door to God's office (prayer) is always open and He always listens and He is always there for us and will never reject us as we come to Him like little children. His bigger concern is that our relationship with Him is restored. That is first and foremost His goal because He knows that that will open up doors of possibilities that otherwise will not be there. Yes, healing is one of the options, becoming fertile and being able to carry a baby is one of the options, and so on.
Testimonies within the Christian world say this is true, many, many times (but not always). Sometimes He does step in and bring the change we cry for. At other times we will have to trust His love and wait for an answer when we come face to face with Him eventually. Rest in His love. Remember, living in a fallen world means that learning to trust God is top of the agenda because we won't see it all as clearly as we want until we meet Him face to face.
Snapshots: Day 20
The Snapshot: “Abram, I am your shield.” That's great, Lord, but what about the fact that I am still childless. It seems that sometimes God's encouraging words (often through a preacher) just don't seem to hit where I am itching. Lord, there are bigger issues than you protecting me. I am lacking – still! And there I have choices, either to become jaded and critical or let the Lord build trust, patience and perseverance in me. It seems all the way along this Christian path there are these vital choices. I am sure they won't affect my ultimate destination but they will determine the type of person I will be when I leave here. Abram learned it and became known as ‘God's friend'. What will I learn and by what will I be remembered?
Further Consideration: The path to believe – which we'll consider tomorrow – is rarely an easy one. When we come to Christ it seems so wonderful that we go through what is often called ‘the honeymoon period' where everything seem just perfect, and then we start to learn the realities of this world, this life, perhaps the realities that sometimes demand patience or perseverance from us, realities that it is sometimes a battle, an we start to grow up!
Gen 15 starts with an ‘after this'. It prompts us to look back – Abram has arrived in the promised land, a famine strikes so he flees to Egypt where he has problems, he comes back to the land and there is quarrelling between his herders and Lot's, and so they separate, Lot gets embroiled in a local war and Abram has to go an rescue him. It has not been an easy time.
So when the Lord says to Abram, “I will be your shield” He is bringing him reassurance that even if this fallen world is unpredictable and often hostile, He will look after him and protect him.
But then Abram complains about having no child. It's a natural anxiety but it is a bit like saying, “Yes, well, that's all very well, but what about my reputation and my future,” an in so doing he demonstrates what we do so often. The Lord speaks into our circumstances and because we have some other particular worry on our mind, we tend to dismiss this latest promise that was intended to encourage. It's a sign we need to grow up and learn to realise that God has got ALL my issues in hand. He's already told Abram that he will have children and so now He is giving him an additional reassurance – but Abram hasn't yet let the previous promise settle in his heart and so hasn't fully taken on board that whatever the outward appearances may be, God is still working on his case and so will bring a child at the right time. Can we learn to take on board all that God has said to us and let it transform us into a trusting child of God?
Snapshots: Day 21
The Snapshot: “Abram believed the LORD.” Does it all boil down to believing? Is it all just about accepting what God says is true? About His love for me? About His hopes for me? About the potential I have in His hands? Won't He do all this stuff if I don't believe? What's that? Believing is like opening a door that He knocks on, asking to enter, refusing to barge into my life without invitation, refusing to come without my permission. But He's all-powerful isn't He? This all speaks of a God who made us in His image, told us to reign and now He refuses to snatch that rule back? When He says go, dare I go? When He says step out of the boat, dare I do it? If I don't I will always regret it, always wonder what I missed, always wonder what could have been. Lord, help me step out.
Further Consideration: As I return to this snapshot I marvel at the truths here that flow out of God's word. He took a pagan from Mesopotamia and introduced him to a life of faith, of hearing God and responding. How did he hear? I don't know, possibly in his mind an ongoing nagging impression that would not go away. But he ‘hears' it and responds to it. We've already considered their childlessness but when God says, “You will have a son,” eventually – and as we saw in the previous study, it is an ‘eventually' – he believes God.
I said in the previous consideration that the path to belief is rarely an easy one, and we noted the difficulties Abram had encountered since coming to the Promised Land. But now the Lord has spoken yet again that Abram will have many children (Gen 15:4,5) and now Abram believes.
Previously I asked the question, “Does it all boil down to believing?” and the answer has to be yes, and for very practical reasons. If Abram hadn't believed what he heard at the beginning he would never have left Ur, never have travelled to the Promised Land, and probably therefore, never heard the Lord's ongoing encouragement.
If you hadn't believed originally, you would not have become a Christian. If Peter hadn't believed in Jesus, he would never have stepped out of the boat (Mt 14:29). If you didn't believe and pray you wouldn't have answers to prayer. And yet He doesn't make us believe, He doesn't make us step out of the boat, He doesn't make us pray; these are all voluntary things, expressions of our relationship together, His and mine.It never gets easier, this believing-faith thing. Every single time we step out in faith, our blood pressure goes up. It needs another distinct declaration of belief, another distinct choice to act. He's spoken; dare I believe. Silly not to really!
Snapshots: Day 22
The Snapshot: “Shall I hide from Abraham….” Why would God share with us His plans? What effect would it have if He did? He says He has plans to prosper us, plans for good works, so what more would I want? “Daddy will you teach me your business when I'm grown up?” “Yes, when you're grown up, dear.” If God told me everything that was going to happen tomorrow, I guess I would worry about it. If I was to become someone who knew stuff about tomorrow, stuff that He told me about, it would need a much greater level of maturity to handle it than I have now. When God started to share with Abraham, it tested his faith level. Dare I ask to walk with Him in that level of intimacy? Is it possible? Can I grow up? Will I change and mature? Lord, please help me.
Further Consideration: There were a group of men who joined David's army, men of Issachar, “men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (1 Chron 12:32) Understanding what is going on around us is a useful ability; understanding what God is doing or about to do, is somewhat scary. Moses asked of God, “teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (Ex 3:13) Knowing how God works, the things He does, the things that please Him, these are seriously helpful if we want to develop our relationship with the Lord. When we know how God works, it will not come as such a surprise when we see what He does do.
Abraham demonstrates for us what an embryonic relationship with God is like, how it develops. He's heard God, responded to God, struggled with difficulties, struggled with patience but has come to belief, and now comes a further stage in the development of their relationship.
A verse that follows v.17 of Gen 18 from which our opening words come, continues, “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (Gen 18:19) This is God's reasoning for wondering whether to share with Abraham what He is about to do. God is basically saying, I want to teach him what is right and just in my sight (which is perfect) so that in the days to come he will live in such a way that I can bring into his life experience all that I want to do for him.
Abraham is to lead the way for what will become a nation, an example of a friend of God (Jas 2:23), a man of faith (Heb 11:8-19), and thus He wants us to be known. So do we share with Him, listen to Him, learn off Him, copy Him? Dare He take us into deeper levels of this relationship with Him?
Snapshots: Day 23
The Snapshot: “Abraham said…. she is my sister”. Half-truths reveal a fear in me of the situation before me. Abimelek is a threat, and life is full of threats. Abraham is a giant of faith, this friend of God, and yet he continues to balk in the face of trials. Yet God never gives up on him. Working out God's will is not about me doing it perfectly but about me learning along the way and if Abraham is anything to go by, not being given up by God, and certainly not me giving up on Him. If only I could always get it right all the time, but I don't. How much upset it would avoid. And yet every time after I come back to Him with pleas for forgiveness, I find His loving arms there, still welcoming me and I am melted by His love. How wonderful you are, Lord. Thank you so much.
Further Consideration: The person who has grown up in a loving and secure home, and who has experienced good parenting, knows that:
• the parent knows a child only develops and learns in slow stages and
• is still loved while they are clearly still ‘early-learners' and
• are not rebuked when they are learning imperfectly and
• will grow as their repeat their attempts and improve on them, and
• their parents are completely for them, rooting for their success,
delighting in them when they take their first tentative steps.
It is important to remember these basic things about ‘growing up'. I marvel again and again when I read the Gospels, when Jesus often chided his disciples for their ‘little faith' (e.g. Mt 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20) and yet he never gave up on them. He didn't say on that occasion when he had to rebuke Peter with a “Get behind me Satan,” (Mt 16:23), “That's it Peter, I'm benching you for 6 months. You can stay in town while I take the others out on the trail.” He never did that, he never gave up on Peter despite his many blunders. In fact, even knowing Peter had denied him three times, in that famous chapter 21 of John's Gospel, he lays on Peter the responsibility of leading the church after he had ascended to heaven. Amazing!
I don't know about you, but the biggest problem I have is not giving up when I've failed. I've lost count of the times I've said, “Lord, I'm sorry, I've blundered again, I can't do this stuff, I want to give up and go and grow tomatoes in some quiet part of the country.” But that is self-centred and forgets we are what we are because He has called us to it, He equips us for it, and He knows that, like Abraham, there are going to be repeat failures, because we are slow to learn. Then I read of the disciples being chided by Jesus for not learning after two miraculous feedings (see Mt 16:8-12) and I remember I am in good company, and us learners have got to stick together!
Snapshots: Day 24
The Snapshot: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac.” You are a God like all the other gods who demand child sacrifice? No I am not. Then why do you want me to kill Isaac? I don't. But you said…. I simply said take him. But you said sacrifice him? I want you to be willing to give him up. But isn't that the same as killing him? No, I simply want you to learn to trust me. And you will raise him from the dead? If that's how you want to see it. Very well, here he is. Stop. But you said…. No, I said learn to trust me with those most precious to you. Then you don't want me to kill him? Of course not, I said that. But…. Don't you realise I love him more than you do? But…. Hold all my gifts to you lightly, don't make them more than me, otherwise you will cheapen them. What?
Further Consideration: Our problem, so often, is that we don't realise how much God loves us and our loved ones. A good number of years ago, when our three children were young (they are now in their late thirties) my wife had an accident. I will spare her blushes by not telling you what happened but she was bleeding – badly. We put a towel against the cut and rushed her to hospital. In the Accident and Emergency dept they instantly saw there was a big problem and immediately started work on her while I was asked to wait outside. Their problem was that they could not stop her bleeding. She had cut an artery and nothing they could do would stop it.
In a semi-unconscious state she heard their desperate urgency and realized she could be dying. Lying there while they sought to stop the bleeding she prayed and said, “But Lord, what about my three children, who will look after them?” (I could have felt offended about this except that I was passed it at that point and anyway didn't know until afterwards what she had prayed). But as she prayed, asking for help, she very clearly heard the Lord who said, “Don't you realise that I love them and care for them even more than you do?” And that was it. The bleeding stopped, crisis over, but a changed wife.
God did NOT want Isaac dead; He just wanted Abraham (and us) to learn something. At the end of it, Abraham named the place, “The Lord will provide.” (Gen 22:14) Here's the thing, Mount Moriah where this happened (v.2) is according to 2 Chron 3:1, Jerusalem, the vicinity of Calvary where another son was sacrificed – for you and me. God doesn't want your death or mine, Jesus has already given himself in our place, to carry our sin, so that we can carry on living – for ever! Some are revolted by the picture of Jesus dying for them but it is only pride that keeps us from facing our need and our hopelessness and then, as a drowning person grabbing a straw, we accept the Cross.
Snapshots: Day 25
The Snapshot: “get a wife for my son Isaac.” An old man looking after his son, conscious of his background, his heritage and his promises, called to be distinct, called to be a special people, but my son has no wife here. Wisdom & faithfulness: send my servant to homeland, trusting God to provide – and He did. How many look at the circumstances and think this is impossible, I'll let the world provide – and miss the blessing of God in a third-best choice. Impatience and the foolishness of not talking to God about it, and so third best comes back to bite us. But even then He remains the God of Redemption who will continue to work in my circumstances to unravel them and teach me more about His love so eventually I will learn to trust Him. Why does it take so long?
Further Consideration: The amazing thing I think we so often miss in this part of Abraham's story (Gen 24), is the way he has caught something of who he and his family now is. He was called from Ur to the Promised Land and there, after years of waiting he received his promised son. He had received a prophetic word about his family leaving this land but coming back in a little over four hundred years' time (see Gen 15:13-16). He knew the people of this present land were not his people, clearly not people who knew the God he was getting to know.
But then, as the years pass, he realises his promised son needs a wife if he is to fulfil the word that Abraham's family would eventually grow to numbers that could only be likened to the sand on the seashore. It has to start with one, his son, and so his son needs a wife, but surely not one from the people of this land who seem utterly ungodly. What is the answer? How can he provide a wife for his son who will appreciate this calling to be a special people, a wife who will be sympathetic to this understanding and be willing to accept that understanding?
The answer has got to be to send his servant back to his old home. Nahor had been the younger brother of Abram (Gen 11:27) and had obviously formed a settlement back in Mesopotamia where Abram had come from, and it is to that town that the servant went (Gen 24:10) to see if there anyone in the wider family who could be Isaac's wife.
What an example of consistent faith! Do you and I know who we are? Do we realise the wonder of being part of the family of God, a family that can never be at ease with others outside it? (Hence Paul's instructions – 2 Cor 6:14). Do we accept singleness for those children we love or do we pray for God to provide as wonderfully for them as He did for Isaac so the family would not be polluted by the thinking of Canaan but would remain true to God?