Genesis Musings

I love road trips. I love going new places and seeing new things. I also enjoy going to familiar spots and getting reacquainted. I love the focused conversations and times of quiet reflection. And although the journey can be trying, the destination makes it worthwhile. Genesis has been just such an excursion.

Creation. Fall. Redemption. Blessing. Hope. A Future. Imago dei. Genesis 3.15. The beginning of the Nation. Love. Mercy. Judgment. A familiar story with lots of twists and turns. The revealing of God’s character and man’s purpose. An amazing landscape and a world of possibility. Genesis remains one of my favorite books. One of the biggest takeaways for me this go round is that God is not in a hurry…He will accomplish His purposes in His timing, and He can work through the most unlikely of circumstances and people…Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah.

But another challenging learning along the way came from reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, where he examines Genesis 22 and Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Kierkegaard contrasts two kinds of knights and two potential approaches that Abraham could have taken to God’s request. The knight of resignation is willing to obey and sacrifice his joy and resign himself to a dismal, joyless existence because that’s what God’s asked him to do. The knight of faith believes the absurd…he is willing to obey, but does so not expecting to give up his joy, but receive it back in fuller measure. Abraham was the latter of the two. Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed the absurd, that he knew that God could bring Isaac back even from the dead…Abraham had no doubt that he would bring Isaac back down the mountain with him. It’s challenged me in my own thinking and my approach to ministry. Am I a knight of faith or resignation? Do I look at obedience as the death of joy, or the door to experiencing joy at an even deeper level? Do I live like a believe that God is for me, and wants what’s good for me (conformity to His Son), even when it may not seem like it at the time?

Coming to the end of a journey is always bittersweet. There are points along the path that all I’m hoping for is to be done, but then there’s that glimpse of something truly amazing that takes my breath away; I wish that the journey would never end. Our next road trip will be the book of Revelation (another favorite).

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Surprising Plot Twist

I love a good mystery. Something about the twists and turns in the plot and the surprise of the final “who-dun-it” gets me every time. The great mystery stories are always unpredictable, much like life. And Genesis is like that. In the Genesis story, the focus has been on Joseph now for several chapters. In fact his episode accounts for more real estate than any of the other patriarchs, and more than both his father (Jacob) and grandfather’s (Isaac) narratives combined. Joseph was given dreams that indicated he would rule over his brothers and even his entire family. His experience in Egypt had borne this out, as he was promoted to the highest possible position, number 2 behind Pharaoh. As we’ve been looking for the Genesis 3:15 Seed of the Woman, Joseph seems like the most likely candidate to carry on the line that began with Adam and went through folks like Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…but then a sleeper candidate appeared on the scene.

In our first encounter with Judah, he appeared as the ring-leader of his siblings with a plan for making a quick shekel, while at the same time ridding both he and his other brothers of their none-too-loved younger brother, Joseph, by selling him into slavery.

Our next encounter found Judah marrying a Canaanite woman, and having three sons, two of whom are killed by the LORD for their wickedness…probably not a good decision on Judah’s part to intermarry (ala Genesis 6). The third son was seemingly spared the fate of his older brothers, but because of Judah’s unwillingness to fulfill the promise he had made to his daughter-in-law, she tricked him into fathering two more sons who ended up being both his sons and grandsons…talk about a twisted plot. But then we come to our next two encounters with Judah.

Genesis 43-44. In order to return to Egypt to buy more grain, Judah pledged before his father, Jacob, to be surety for his youngest brother, Benjamin. Surprising because Benjamin, like Joseph, was not only the son of Jacob’s favored wife, Rachel, he, along with Joseph, were clearly loved by their father more than any of their other siblings. Judah and company made the trip to Egypt, had a seemingly pleasant dinner with Joseph, and started back to Canaan. Then as Joseph’s final act of psychological terrorism reached its climax with Benjamin being falsely accused of stealing Joseph’s divining cup and facing a life sentence as a slave [Joseph creates a near perfect replica of the circumstances of his own demise at the hands of his brothers through deception, preferential treatment and false accusation. What would they do this time? Had they learned their lesson?] Judah reappears once again. This time instead of being the one to sell his brother into slavery, he begged permission to take his place, even though he might very well have believed that Benjamin was guilty. And so innocent (relatively) Judah was willing to take the place of guilty (apparently) Benjamin. Sound familiar? Genesis 3.15. So while Joseph would deliver his family (burgeoning nation of Israel) through the famine, Judah’s willingness to sacrifice his own life for the sake of another wins him the top spot. And so, as we will see later, the line of the Seed will pass through Judah (not Joseph).

The encouraging thing about this particular story is that Judah would never have been picked for his role if it were up to us…up to me. But I guess neither would Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. And if we fast forward to Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1, we see a host of characters that would not have made the list…murderers, prostitutes, adulterers, idolaters, etc., etc., etc. That gives me hope that God can use me as well. He can use you, too. And that, my friends, is the most surprising plot twist of all.

Until next time…stay salty.

A Questionable Blessing

I’m the father of three boys. They are great fun and such a blessing to me. They truly are my pride and joy in many respects. But I don’t know that a day goes by that there isn’t at least one fight…usually multiple ones. It usually starts with a friendly (or not-so-friendly) competition that quickly devolves into an all-out brawl. It drives my wife crazy, especially when I tell her it’s normal for boys (I had five brothers, and we fought constantly). She’s convinced that we are doing something wrong as parents, but that much testosterone makes for a potent combination. When I talk to other dads, my suspicions are confirmed. Sibling rivalry is a part of our DNA.

Genesis 27-28. Esau has already given up his birthright. As the eldest son (even if only by a few moments), he had a right to a double portion of the family inheritance. The birthright was both a privilege and a responsibility. The double portion gave the eldest son the means to care for single women within his household, as well as to conduct the family business. In the case of Abraham’s clan, it would also theoretically identify the heir of the Abrahamic blessing, the one through whom the nations/families of the earth would be blessed. In trading his birthright for a bowl of stew, Esau takes himself out of the line of blessing. Jacob now has the birthright. And having secured the birthright, Jacob proceeds to acquire his father’s blessing as well.

Normally the birthright and the blessing went together, and both would have gone to the eldest son. But in this case, even though Esau had given up his birthright, he was still in line to receive his father Isaac’s blessing. The scenario in Genesis 27 is a curious look into the dysfunction of the family of promise. Before Esau and Jacob were born, Rebekah was told that Jacob would be the heir. It’s unclear from the narrative whether this information was shared with Isaac or not. If it was, Isaac’s decision to bless Esau would be in direct rebellion against what God had said, and Rebekah’s actions in orchestrating the deception are a direct response to safeguard God’s choice in light of Isaac’s rebellion. If not, then Isaac is oblivious to the prophecy, and Rebekah takes matters into her own hands to benefit her favorite son. Again, the narrative isn’t clear, but we are told that Esau was Isaac’s favorite, while Jacob was Rebekah’s.

It’s a familiar story. Isaac asks Esau to hunt game and prepare a meal for him so that he can bless him. When Esau heads out, Rebekah, having overheard the conversation, devises a scheme whereby Jacob, posing as Esau, will trick Isaac into giving him the blessing instead of Esau. The deception is quite elaborate, and a convincing disguise succeeds despite Isaac’s suspicions. Jacob receives the blessing seemingly in the nick of time as Esau comes in from the hunt. Esau is understandably upset when he learns that Jacob has stolen his blessing. Afterwards, learning of Esau’s murderous intents toward Jacob, Rebekah asks Isaac to send Jacob away to find a wife from her relatives. Isaac complies and repeats the Abrahamic blessing over Jacob, who is now the confirmed heir of the promise.

Looking back over the story, God’s purposes are accomplished…He had foretold that Jacob would be the heir…but at what cost. The carnage left behind in attempting to bring about God’s purposes in their own ways destroyed the family. Instead of trusting God, Rebekah trusts herself. Instead of obeying God (assuming Isaac is aware), he is ruled by his appetites. Thinking back to Abraham’s journey, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that deception and self-reliance are family traits. I would agree, but that I think that they are family traits that we can trace back to the garden. They are characteristics that infect us all. This story of Esau and Jacob reminds me that God can and does use dysfunctional, messed-up people to accomplish His perfect will. As one of those, I’m glad He does.

Until next time…stay salty.

A Promise Repeated

What happens to great organizations when their founder – the guy or gal with the original idea and the burning passion to see that idea realized – is no longer around? Whether it’s a company like Apple or a service organization like Star Bucks or a church like Willow Creek, how do those who follow maintain the vision and momentum in the void left by such charismatic personas as Steve Jobs (Apple), Jerry Baldwin (Starbucks) or Bill Hybels (Willow Creek Community Church)? Without a strategic plan in place and a strong personality to follow, the idea fades and the organization becomes a shadow of its former self.

Genesis 25-26. Abraham had come to the end of his journey here on planet earth. The amazing promises that God had made to him were only just beginning to be realized (albeit to a limited extent). And now the great patriarch fades into the background. What will happen to the Abrahamic Covenant, and more specifically that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed? Enter Isaac. Moses gives us the briefest of sketches of this man’s life, but the picture he paints of Isaac makes it clear that this is God’s choice of Abraham’s successor.

We find Isaac at Beer-lahai-Roi, when Abraham’s servant and Rebekkah come from Paddan-Aram, a place whose name reminds us that God sees, the same place we find him as he prays for Rebekkah’s infertility. He exhibits the faith that marked Abraham’s life in building altars to worship. He listens to God’s voice and follows His direction (at times). And the events of his life mirror some of the same experiences that Abraham lived through…barren wife, nomadic lifestyle, great wealth, respect of others/acknowledgment of God’s blessing, deception involving his wife, choice between sons, and the LORD’s pronouncement of the covenant. And so Isaac, the son of promise, will be the bearer of the hope of Genesis 3.15 and the blessor of the nations for a new generation.

One thing that stands out from the Isaac narrative and those that follow: God is the One who safeguards the promise. He is the One who will provide the Genesis 3.15 Seed of the Woman. He will involve folks like Adam and Noah, Abraham and Isaac, and others along the way, but ultimately He Himself will bring about deliverance by sending His Son who will give His life in crushing the serpent so that all those who believe in Him may have an eternal relationship with Him.

Great organizations come and go. This side of eternity, not a one of them will last. But praise God His kingdom continues on in His church, and He will bring final salvation and restoration to a fallen and broken world.

Until next time…stay salty.

Mission Impossible

Have you ever been asked to do something so seemingly outrageous and beyond your ability that you’re only option was to pray? Abraham’s servant (Let’s call him Eliezer.) can relate. In Genesis 24, Abraham requests that his most trusted servant, Eliezer, take an oath to find a wife for his son Isaac among Abraham’s relatives back in Paddan Aram. In an age before google maps and on-board navigation, finding the area where Abraham’s relatives lived would be difficult enough, but add to that the likelihood that once said maiden is found that she would be willing to leave her family and travel to a distant country to marry a man she’s never met, and you really do have an impossible mission.

But Eliezer heads out anyway. As the journey begins, he prays that the LORD would be merciful to his master Abraham and grant him (Eliezer) success on his quest. He asks for an unusual sign to designate the chosen mate, (not unlike what Gideon asked for hundreds of years later with the fleece) which was that the woman to whom he asked a drink of water would in turn offer to water his camels as well. To us that may not sound like a remarkable request, but given the fact that watering the camels could have been a very arduous task requiring several hours worth of work, the willingness of a young maiden to undertake it would indeed be noteworthy.

Lo and behold Rebekah shows up. She offers not only to get Eliezer a drink, but also to water his camels as well! He dares to hope. Then he finds out that she is a relative of Abraham’s! Looks like success. But now comes the tricky part where he needs to ask Rebekah (and permission from her brother Laban and mother Bethuel) to return with him. Will she do it? Without hesitation, Rebekah says, “I will go with him.” Much like Abraham’s willingness to leave his family and go, now Rebekah will do the same thing. Eliezer is so blown away by the LORD’s hand at work, that he repeats the story several times in the narrative, and the faithfulness of God is on display.

My wife questioned whether asking for a sign is evidence of a lack of faith…good question. But I believe that the willingness to follow God and do what He wanted motivated Eliezer to request a sign. The same is true for us. The next time we are given an impossible mission, and our our desire is to follow where God is leading, but it doesn’t seem clear, may we ask for a sign, for clear direction for the path ahead. And then let’s celebrate God’s faithfulness in directing our steps.

Until next time…stay salty.

Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving Day. A day around the world we set aside to observe God’s gracious provision in our lives. When I think about what I’m thankful for, my family immediately comes to mind. God has blessed me with an amazing wife and three incredibly gifted sons, each one outstanding in his own way. I can’t imagine life without any one of them. I definitely can’t imagine choosing to give them up, which makes me wonder at Abraham’s willingness to obey God when He asks him to make the ultimate sacrifice…

Genesis 22. Abraham waited approximately 25 years between the time God first promised him that he would be the father of many nations and the time that Isaac, the son of promise was born. Along the way, Abraham’s faith journey has been sporadic at best. Up to this point in the story we have not seen the paragon of faith that he ultimately will become. We’ve seen a man struggling to realize what God has promised him. Pharaoh. Hagar. Ishmael. Abimelech. And now finally Isaac, Abraham and Sarah’s son, is born. God has worked a miracle, bringing life out of Sarah’s dead womb.

The fulfillment of what God has covenanted is within view. Then God makes a heart-stopping request. “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and sacrifice him on the mountain which I will show you.” It must have taken his breath away, but Abraham does not hesitate. Surprising after the roller-coaster ride of his spiritual pilgrimage. But his faith has somehow grown and solidified with the birth of his son, and now he was willing to trust that God will somehow still fulfill His promise, even if Isaac is killed. Hebrews gives us some insight – Abraham believed God was able to raise Isaac even from the dead. So Abraham was able to see beyond the physical to the spiritual, that physical death was not the end of the story. For those who trust in the Lord, death is merely a transition. And although Abraham was willing to be obedient, God spared Isaac and stayed Abraham’s hand. God was testing to see whether or not Abraham would trust in Him…whether his hope was in God or in the promise of God. And Abraham passed.

I wonder if I could have trusted God in that moment. So often I fear that my hope is in the blessings of God rather than in God Himself. I cling so tightly to the things of this world and the good gifts that He’s given me that many times they can become idols that keep me from Him. I pray that God would give me the courage to trust Him no matter the circumstance; and the desire for Him, and Him alone. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

Until next time…stay salty.