A Bible Lesson on Exodus 40

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Exodus 40:1  The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,

2 “On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting.

3 And you shall put in it the ark of the testimony, and you shall screen the ark with the veil.

There are two Hebrew words that get translated as “tabernacle.”  One could be rendered “tent” and the other could be rendered “dwelling place.”  God’s people are being given instructions for setting up and furnishing God’s visible place of dwelling among them.

A tendency to turn the OT into a series of symbolic pictures is largely misguided.  We ought instead to read it for its plain meaning and see what the record of God working in the lives of and revealing Himself to real people tells us about ourselves and our real relationship to Him.  But the Jewish worship practices, the sacrifices, the articles of the tabernacle (and temple) are things that the book of Hebrews tells us do amount to shadows and pictures of the reality in Jesus.  God dwells with His people Israel in the tabernacle.  It’s a picture of His presence with the church, God’s dwelling place on earth through His Son.

The ark of the covenant, the ark of testimony, was the specific localized place where God’s presence was specially to be with the Israelites, between the two cherubim that covered it.  God’s Holy awesome presence was shielded by the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place.  The Holy of Holies was entered only once per year by the high priest on the day of atonement to roll back sin.  Hebrews tells us that Jesus has done that work permanently.  And the curtain was torn in two from top to bottom on Good Friday.  We’re no longer separated from the most intimate presence of a Holy God.

4 And you shall bring in the table and arrange it, and you shall bring in the lampstand and set up its lamps.

The table and the shewbread were to be brought in.  This was a reminder, in a loaf per tribe, that they were always in the presence of God.

The lampstand was brought in.  There’s light in the tabernacle, not light coming into it, but rather light from within it.  John tells us that Jesus is the light of the world.  If we are going to find our way to the presence of God, it will only be possible as He provides His light for us.

5 And you shall put the golden altar for incense before the ark of the testimony, and set up the screen for the door of the tabernacle.

Here in the Holy place stands a small gold altar of incense before the curtain that separates the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies.  Rev 5:8 refers to the prayers of God’s saints as incense.

6 You shall set the altar of burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting,

In front of the tabernacle stood the large bronze altar, on which were burned the carcasses of animals sacrificed for the sins of the people.  The way into the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was past this altar.  There was one way in, and that way involved blood sacrifice.

7 and place the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it.

This is the brass basin made from the freewill offering of the brass mirrors of the Israelite women.  It was there for the washing of the priests before they entered the Holy place.  It was serious business to be ceremonially clean before entering the presence of God.

8 And you shall set up the court all around, and hang up the screen for the gate of the court.

Around the tabernacle was a large courtyard created by a high fence made of fabric.  The presence of God was among the people, but it wasn’t ordinary.  Kids playing soccer didn’t just go running by the altar of burnt offering and kick dust on it.  Guys haggling over the price of a goat didn’t do it at the front door of the Holy Place.  The courtyard created a buffer and guaranteed a solemn, reverent atmosphere.

9 “Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it may become holy.

It will be holy.  It will be special.  It will be set apart.  Two things come to mind about this passage.  For one, this was and is serious business.  The worship of God is an awesome privilege and ought to be approached reverently.  Secondly, in this passage it is God who is prescribing how things are to be in and around the tabernacle.  Consider the extent to which post-moderns fail to see the church in this same light.  In the post-modern mind, is the church our playground, that we order to suit our whims and current human fashions?   Or is it truly God’s creation and property?  These folks aren’t saying “Why don’t we make such and such an innovation?”

10 You shall also anoint the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and consecrate the altar, so that the altar may become most holy.

11 You shall also anoint the basin and its stand, and consecrate it.

12 Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water

13 and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest.

14 You shall bring his sons also and put coats on them,

15 and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests. And their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.”

16 This Moses did; according to all that the LORD commanded him, so he did.

All of these things, objects and people were to be specially set apart to God, and this Moses did.  He did exactly what he was instructed to do, recognizing the kingship of Him who instructed Him.

17 In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was erected.

18 Moses erected the tabernacle. He laid its bases, and set up its frames, and put in its poles, and raised up its pillars.

19 And he spread the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering of the tent over it, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

20 He took the testimony and put it into the ark, and put the poles on the ark and set the mercy seat above on the ark.

21 And he brought the ark into the tabernacle and set up the veil of the screen, and screened the ark of the testimony, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

22 He put the table in the tent of meeting, on the north side of the tabernacle, outside the veil,

23 and arranged the bread on it before the LORD, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

24 He put the lampstand in the tent of meeting, opposite the table on the south side of the tabernacle,

25 and set up the lamps before the LORD, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

26 He put the golden altar in the tent of meeting before the veil,

27 and burned fragrant incense on it, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

28 He put in place the screen for the door of the tabernacle.

29 And he set the altar of burnt offering at the entrance of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and offered on it the burnt offering and the grain offering, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

30  He set the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it for washing,

31  with which Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet.

32 When they went into the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed, as the LORD commanded Moses.

33 And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work.

There is simply nothing left undone here.  Moses was meticulous in following the direction of the LORD, and now follows the reality of which verse 9 was the foreshadowing.  God anoints the tabernacle with His real presence.

34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

The cloud and the glory filled the temple.  Here is the visible sign of the presence of God.  It first appeared to lead the people as they marched out of Egypt, but hasn’t been seen by them since Sinai in Chapter 24.  To this point it’s been in front of them, or behind them, or it’s been on the mountain.  But now here it is, in the very center of the camp, on and in the tabernacle.  God’s visible presence is with His people.  The English “shekinah glory” is built on two Hebrew words, “shakan” that means “to dwell” and a shortened form of God’s personal name “Yahweh” (shakan-yah).

This is no light thing.  This is the Creator of the universe present among His people that He has chosen.  And not surprisingly, this is overpowering.

35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

Any human being with any sense, with any kind of realistic grip on the fact that he is but a creature and a sinful one at that, should have no trouble understanding this verse.  Even Moses, the one God had chosen to lead this people, can’t presume to go waltzing into the presence of the Almighty uninvited.  Kidner put it this way, “The LORD is sovereignly in charge of His own front door.  He makes what arrangements He chooses as the conditions of entrance.”

36 Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out.

37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up.

The cloud not only shows God’s presence, but provides guidance for the Israelites.  And guidance can’t get much plainer than this.  Obedience couldn’t be much more clear-cut and in some sense “easy.”  There is the visible presence of God.  When He goes go, and when He stays stay.  They were to be at His disposal.  We tell ourselves that we wish it was that “easy” for us.  But in so doing, we forget that in and of ourselves, we’re every bit as wayward as this people.  And as soon as Numbers 11, they’re complaining about the hardships and the food, and by Numbers 13 they’re refusing to go into the promised land.  But for the time being, they are obedient.

We speak much of looking for the LORD’s guidance.  Kidner rightly noted ” … ‘guidance’ was not something they looked for but something they waited for.”

38 For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.

God’s presence is cloud by day and fire by night.  In the day, the LORD is a shield from the withering desert sun.  By night, He’s warmth and light against the dark cold wilderness night.  He is that for His people in all times and places.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Exodus 33:18-34:10

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

As we look at Exodus 33, the people of Israel have sinned in the matter of the golden calf while Moses was on the mountain.  Moses has interceded on their behalf and complete destruction has been averted, though the guilty have been punished.  The question as to whether God will go on with them into the promised land has then had to be addressed.  Again, Moses interceding on their behalf (on the basis of God’s nature and His honor) has been promised that God will go with them, not leaving them alone and without aid.  Moses, friend of God, has been through the wringer here, and he flees to God and asks for special confirmation of God’s presence with him individually.

Exo 33:18  Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”

God’s glory is literally His “weight.”  This is a request to see Him as He is, not a request for some raw visual experience.  Moses isn’t dull.  He’s heard the command of “no images.”  He’s been with God on the mountain and in the tent of meeting.  He surely understands that this God must be far beyond something that could be completely understood in what is visible.  (That is true of humans!  How much more it must be of God who made us!)  This is a request to know God fully, to know Him in essence.  Barnes says “The faithful servant of Yahweh, now assured by the success of his mediation, yearns, with the proper tendency of a devout spirit, for a more intimate communion with his divine Master than he had yet enjoyed.  He seeks for something surpassing all former revelations.”  In its completeness, this is an obvious impossibility.  Moses is a finite creature who cannot possibly take in the glory of the infinite God.

19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

Moses asks to know God’s full “glory.”  God says that Moses will be shown His “goodness.”  God’s goodness will be known as He passes.  We know the goodness of God as we observe His works and nature, as we see His providence.  They declare to us that He is indeed the I AM.  He is the self-defining and absolutely sovereign One.  There will be things Moses is shown, but he can’t have exhaustive knowledge.  We can know God truly, but cannot know Him exhaustively.

We know His goodness and sovereignty as He is gracious to undeserving disobedient rebels such as we.  On the lips of a human “I will be gracious …” would be arrogant caprice.  But heard from the Creator God by redeemed human beings, this is cause for gratitude and worship.  Motyer says, “Cassuto says, ‘It is impossible for you to know when, or if, I shall act thus.  I shall be gracious … if it pleases me, when it pleases me, for the reasons that please me.’ — and we might add, to whom it pleases me.  Not even Moses has a ‘right.’  It is all of grace, and sovereign grace at that.”  This God who has pledged Himself to Moses and the people is not subject to our interrogation or judgment.  If He doesn’t reveal Himself to humanity, we won’t know Him.

20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”

To see the face of God, to be exposed to His full majesty and person could not but undo a human in our present frail condition.  The Father shows Himself to humanity in the Son.  Those who look to the Son and accept His work on their behalf will share eternity with this One we could otherwise not possibly see and live.  And, He shows Himself to us truly in Christ.

21 And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock,

22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.

23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

This is mysterious, but probably prefigures the work of Christ.  Again, Moses asks for a full revelation of God.  God graciously gives him all he can bear as a human, but protects Him from the full force of His own presence.  Theologians carefully say that God graciously accommodates Himself to us (again, revealing Himself truly), but this without diminishing Himself (of course not revealing Himself exhaustively to finite creatures who by nature cannot wholly comprehend Him).

Exo 34:1  The LORD said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.

2 Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain.

3 No one shall come up with you, and let no one be seen throughout all the mountain. Let no flocks or herds graze opposite that mountain.”

4 So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone.

5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.

The I AM stands with Moses.  He is there in some kind of way that is especially tangible to Moses, and proclaims “the name” of the LORD.  He speaks to Moses of His nature, tells him things about who He is, describes for Moses His person.  In 33:19 He has declared His absolute transcendence and sovereignty.  He has shown Himself to the Israelites as righteous and just in dealing with the rebellion concerning the golden calf.  He has promised to go with Moses and the people, declaring His immanence.  Those are true things about Him.  But thanks be to God, they aren’t the whole truth about Him.  Indeed, if they were, humanity would be undone.  There is also this:

6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,

The I AM is merciful, and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  He is merciful/compassionate.  The root word is apparently the same as that of “womb” and reminds of the intense affection of the Creator for His creation.  He’s gracious/generous, giving good gifts without reciprocation.  He’s slow to anger, letting His just wrath against human sin cool before acting.  He abounds in reliable, unrelenting, tenacious, purposeful loving-kindness (His “hesed”) and in faithfulness.  He’s completely true to His devotion.  These qualities are not there in limited measure, but He abounds in them.

7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

His characteristic love is broad.  It extends widely, beyond Moses and the people of Israel, and it is in His “keeping” or maintenance.  He guards or protects it forever.  It is both broad and eternal and provides forgiveness of sin for those who throw themselves on His mercy.  This forgiveness is real and full of grace.

But it doesn’t prevent the natural consequences of sin.  It’s perfectly obvious that the misery that sin generates can reverberate down generations.  It’s not cruelty on His part that this is so, it’s instead simple granting of meaning to human actions.  It is giving of dignity to our choices, both good and bad.  We can only give thanks when the chain of sin misery is broken by God’s grace.

8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

Amen.  This is the God of the Bible.  This is the One who is revealing Himself to Moses and His people.  This is the Father who reveals Himself in the Son, the One who freely took the just punishment for our sin on the cross.  Moses is rightly humbled at this revelation.  This ought to similarly affect anyone else who rightly sees God.

9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

And again, Amen.  Go in our midst Lord, pardon our sin.  We are as dull as stupid sheep.  Please bear with us, and take us for your own.

10 And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

Thanks be to Him alone.  Wonders He’s done.  He’s shown us the Savior, the work of the I AM.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Exodus 19:3-6, 20:1-21

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The bulk of this passage is the 10 commandments, the core of God’s moral law.  Moses has miraculously taken the people out of Egypt and across the sea.  They are perhaps 2-3 million strong in the desert near Mount Sinai, being led by the pillar of cloud and fire.  God is ready to give the people further revelation of who He is.

Exo 19:3  while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel:

To this point, God has limited the full revelation of Himself to a few individuals.  Moses has heard directly from God, but it’s clear that the people are generally clueless. Now, this word is to be broadcast more generally, to the whole nation.

4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.

God’s requirements for the behavior of His people are not given in a vacuum.  They are given in a context of grace, in light of God’s great work and mercy on behalf of His people, in light of how He carried them.  Verse 4 states what the LORD has already done, verse 5a states what He requires, and 5b and 6 state what He promises.  This is the Biblical order.  God first sovereignly acts and offers humans grace.  This precedes law.  We’re given the law, not to make us righteous (that’s God’s provision beforehand) but to tell us how to then act consistently with that reality.

5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;

God requires obedience and the keeping of His covenant, living in accord with His revealed will/nature.  The God of the universe is offering Himself to His people.  He’s offering relationship.  It only makes sense that He lay out what kind of a person He is and how it will be to live in harmony with Him.  We understand that on a human-to-human level.  The agreements between kings and subjects of the time even had such covenant duties in them.  We seek to please people with whom we hope to have relationship.  It is only evidence of the fallenness of our hearts that we balk when it comes to God, figuring there should be no boundaries or parameters.

Theologians say that the covenant that God offers is unconditional in bestowal and transmission.  That is, it’s a permanent agreement that doesn’t disappear with the hard-heartedness of some.  But it is conditional in its enjoyment and personal participation.  Particular people can set themselves outside of its provisions by refusing to obey and keep.  The Biblical order is that God acts in mercy, and pardoned human being respond in obedience and life lived in accord with His character.  5b and 6 state what He then promises.

The promise of living in relationship with God is that His people will be His treasured possession.  The idea is one of belonging privately to a king.  And there is something wonderfully special about it.  He does, after all, own everything.  But out of all that He owns, He chooses to call His people a “treasured possession”/”personal treasure.”  What an honor.

6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

God says “you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  We western individualists hear only “priests and holy.”   But that’s not what God said to Israel, and it’s not what He said in almost the same language to the church through the apostle Peter.

1Pe 2:9  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

That is, both here in Exodus and in 1Peter, the picture is corporate, not individual.  It’s the kingdom, it’s the nation, it’s a people that will be God’s treasured possession and will declare His praises.  The promise here has a very corporate nature.

Now jump ahead to Chapter 20 and the 10 commandments.  These are primarily about behavior, about how God’s people are to act.  They are absolutely central statements of what it is to “obey” in 19:5a.  Post-modern man pretends that our personal “feelings” are primary and that “love” is about feelings.  But the truth is that love for and relationship with God is seen in behavior.

Exo 20:1  And God spoke all these words, saying,

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

This is, again, the context.  It’s one of God’s established gracious provision for His people.  I am the I AM/Yahweh your God.  What follows is not some capricious arbitrary set of hoops to jump through, but rather a revelation of what behavior is consistent with the character of the I AM.  Again, if there is to be relationship with this great God, it only makes sense that what is consistent with His nature be revealed.  This is the one true and living God saying “I want you to live this way because I am who I am.”  The people to whom these words were first spoken were former slaves in Egypt and they needed instruction as to how free people are to live.  This is a description of what it is to really be human, to be a free people, to live life as it really ought to be.  This is the “law of liberty” as James calls it (James 1:25).  This is the law of the LORD that Psalm 1 says is the delight of one who is living a blessed life.

3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

Literally it says “you shall have no other gods upon/to/at my face.”  The phrase was used for taking a second wife while the first was still alive.  The notion is one of breaching an exclusive personal relationship.  There is no room in this covenant relationship between God and His people for anyone or anything else purporting to have God’s place.  In reality there is but one God in the universe, and that one God insists that no one or no thing usurp His place in our lives.

4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,

6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

There are to be no physical representations of any “god,” neither Yahweh nor any other who would take His place.  No such representation can do the one true and living God justice (i.e. any such must diminish Him) and any such representation will of necessity carry with it its own distortions of the truth about Him.  He is self-revealing, and any physical aid we might make denies that and substitutes our own imaginations about Him for His revelation.  At heart, that is really a denial of His right to declare Himself to be the “I AM.”  And zeal in religion is worth nothing if it is wrongly directed.

7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

It is not a light thing to misuse or misappropriate the name of God.  Again, we have no trouble understanding this principle in the realm of man.  You don’t misuse the name of an absolute monarch, if you have any sense.  And here is someone far greater, the Lord of the universe.  God’s people are not to use His name idly, frivolously, blasphemously or insincerely.  We aren’t to implicitly attribute to Him our own fallible thoughts.  We are to be very careful about how we invoke His name both explicitly or implicitly.  That maintains proper respect for Him and assures that His name will not be connected with things that are unworthy of Him.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work,

10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.

11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Our post-modern societal notion is that our time is ours and we can use all of it to either work or play as we please.  And that is flat wrong.  Verse 10 says that one day of 7 is to be specially dedicated to God.  It’s not ours to begin with.  It is, as verse 11 says, “holy” or set apart.  It’s not set apart for our leisure or getting in some double-time hours, but set apart for God.  All we have to do is get up and drive to church on Sunday morning through empty streets to know that this commandment is little obeyed in our time.  Notice that we are to behave this way because bearing the image of God, we’re to live consistent with Him.  In six days, He made the world, and on one He rested.  He set it apart.

The first of the commandments are pointed vertically.  The last are directed horizontally, beginning with family.  Motyer puts it this way: ” … we do not have two tables or sections here, but three.  God comes first, the family comes second, and the community around us third … the fifth commandment recognizes our first and primary earthly obligation.”

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

This is just basic sanity for decent life in the most basic unit of society.  How seriously it is taken reveals a society’s fundamental attitude toward authority in general, and ultimately God’s authority.  Post-moderns foolishly act as if wisdom is in the hands of youth, parents are just an embarrassing necessity who can be ignored for sure by the time one is a teen, and that in general no one over 35 knows anything.  That is foolishness, utter foolishness.  And for those who are going to have relationship to God, practice must be different than that.  The promise that comes with the command is for long life.  In general, where this is obeyed, life is sane, society is ordered, and people have a fruitful place in it into old age.

13 “You shall not murder.

The “murder” translation is a good one.  The Hebrew word here is one that usually refers to the violent killing of a personal enemy.  This is not about capital punishment and it is not about pacifism.  It is about unauthorized killing of human beings for personal reasons.  God is the giver and taker of life, not us.  It’s not our place to kill one made in the image of God and given life by Him according to our own whims.  We know that in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus got to the heart attitude.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

God’s relationship with His people is to be exclusive.  Marriage likewise is to be exclusive.  It’s to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and His church.  There’s no room for another “god” between the one true and living God and His people.  There’s no room between husband and wife for another person, either in deed, or as Jesus lays out in the Sermon on the Mount, in thought.

15 “You shall not steal.

It is God who provides for each person.  If I take what is rightfully yours, I’ve shown contempt for God’s work on two accounts.  In the first place I’ve negated His provision for you.  In the second place I have openly declared that by my reckoning, His provision for me is inadequate, He doesn’t know best and/or is stingy.  I have impugned His great and generous nature.

Every decent society that has ever been has recognized the importance of verses 13,14, and 15.  But here God makes it known that to murder, commit adultery, or steal is not just a crime against man, it is sin against God.  Because God is who He is and humans bear His image and are related to Him, these acts are an affront to His nature.

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

God is true (He is the very definition of truth) and He’s just.  If a people is to be His, is to function as His kingdom of priests for the whole world, is to show His great and perfect nature to all, how could this be otherwise?

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

And if we aren’t undone by the others and think that we’ve managed to stay at least within the letter of the law, here’s the one that will always find us out.  This one deals with the attitudes of the heart, the attitudes of the heart that produce transgressions of the other commands.  You shall not covet.  You shall not look at another’s circumstances and want what is his.  It’s coveting your stuff that leads me to steal and maybe murder.  It’s coveting another’s spouse that leads to adultery.  It’s being dissatisfied with the provision of God in my life that leads me to idolatry.

18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off

19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”

It’s hard to know how to think correctly about this response.  From one point of view, it could reflect a sensible response of a fallen and frail people to the presence of a holy and omnipotent God.  But from another it is a shrinking back from an offer of fellowship from God.  This is the One who has said “I have brought you to myself … you shall be my treasured possession … you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  To fail to humbly and gratefully accept that offer would be less than real faith.

The people say they need an intermediary … but it’s not Moses they need.  It’s Christ alone.

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”

21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

So we’re left here with a people chosen by God, instructed in His nature and ways pleading for an intermediary.  Thanks be to God for the work of His Son.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Exodus 12:1-13, 21-33

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This passage is about the Passover.  Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5:7, calls Christ our Passover Lamb.   This Scripture is about God saving His people Israel from death and delivering them from bondage in Egypt.  It prefigures God saving His people, the church, from eternal death and delivering them from bondage to sin, hell, and the grave.

Exo 12:1  The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt,

The people are still in Egypt.  There have been 9 plagues, and their situation is not better, but worse than before Moses arrived with the Word of the LORD.  But lest there is fear that something has gone badly wrong, the LORD speaks.

2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.

3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.

This is for the “congregation” or “community” of Israel.  This is the first time the word has been used to describe the nation.  God is making through what will happen here a special community from the family of Jacob.  He makes from His church by the blood of the Lamb of God a special congregation.

The LORD says “a lamb for a household.”  There is to be exact provision for the whole nation.  What is needed for its saving is laid out in precise terms.

4 And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb.

5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats,

The animal was to be perfect.  Of course it was.  How would it make sense to do business with the God of the universe on the basis of anything less than the very best one has?  Christ, our Passover Lamb is in all points completely perfect.

6 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.

Notice the exactitude of the instructions.  This is not to be some last minute hurry-up half-baked deal.  There are 4 days of preparation here and a narrow window of time for the sacrifice of the animal.  The ESV says the lamb is to die “at twilight.”  Apparently other renderings provide different timing and some commentators put this at 3PM, the time of day at which Christ died.

7 “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.

The blood of the lamb was to mark the top and sides of the doors of obedient Israel.  God has already distinguished between Egyptians and Israelites in the execution of the plagues without any special identification of Israelite houses.  He could have done so again.  But obedience to this strange-sounding command was to be part of the saving of His people.  By it they were to show that whether or not things seemed to be going well, they were going to continue to take Him at His word.

8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.

This is no feast or party.  This is serious business.  The bread is to be crackers and the vegetables are to be bitter. It’s to be eaten inside the house at the appointed time, all of it.

9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts.

10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.

There is to be nothing left.  None of the lamb is for ordinary use.  This is a sacred event and the meal is a sacred meal.

11 In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover.

12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.

13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.

There will be a death in every household.  In the Egyptian households, it will be a firstborn son.  In the Israelite households, it will be a lamb who substitutes for the firstborn.  The Lamb of God substitutes for God’s people.

The blood will be a sign.  It will point to the truth that God’s people have accepted the substitution of the lamb, that they have taken His provision, that they have gratefully obeyed.  And He will spare them on that basis.  There will be safety in the homes marked by the blood.  Outside them there will be horrible misery.

21 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb.

22 Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning.

Again, none of them are to go out of the door.  There will be safety only in the very specific provision of God.  Innovate, do it your own way, follow Adam and Eve … and there is death.

23 For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.

The LORD will “see” the blood in the sense of recognizing and honoring what it signifies and will have mercy on that household.  There is in this description a real sense of solidarity/community.  The blood protects families and neighbors.  It’s not applied to the foreheads of individuals, it’s put on doorposts.  Of course God deals with individuals, but He typically does so in the context of His redeemed people.  The reformed folks have something here that is missed by modern overly-individualistic evangelicals.  The same lamb is for the whole household.  They share the same Passover together.

24 You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever.

This experience is not something that God’s redeemed people are to ever “get past.”  It’s absolutely central, forever.  They are to yearly eat the Passover meal.  The foreshadowing of the Lord’s supper couldn’t be more clear.  In time and space, a Lamb has been killed as a substitute for God’s chosen people.  For those who accept that provision, there is life.  For those who step outside it, there is death.  That is to be remembered and illustrated forever.  It is the very definition of those who are (and who are not) His.

25 And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service.

26 And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’

27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.'” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.

Moderns are dead wrong in their disdain of Christian ceremony.  Right ceremony is teaching.  It provides the opportunity to pass on to the next generation the essentials of what is central, what is eternally and fundamentally true.  And the central truth is that a Lamb has been slain for the life of God’s people.  AND THE PEOPLE BOWED THEIR HEADS AND WORSHIPPED.  Amen.

At least for this moment, this people understands the great mercy of God and gives humble thanks.  And having heard the Word of God and given thanks, they follow through in grateful obedience … before the thing actually comes to pass.

28 Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.

29 At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock.

God is no respecter of persons.  Perhaps by human standards, the guilt/responsibility of Pharaoh was greater than that of the peasant in the dungeon.  But circumstances never acquit us before God.  Either the Lamb substitutes for us or we are condemned … from the highest hall of power to the most downtrodden human situation.

30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead.

31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as you have said.

32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!”

33 The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.”

Finally at this point Pharaoh and the Egyptians understand that they are dealing with the I AM.  This is not between them and their slaves, this is between them and God, and their situation is dangerous.  They understand that they cannot be in the presence of the I AM unprotected or they will all be dead.  They don’t have the sense to seek His mercy, and instead just ask His people to please get quickly out of town (and take their God with them!).

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Exodus 3

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

As we look in on an 80 year old Moses in Exodus 3, the Israelites are slaves in the land of Egypt.  They have been in terrible bondage for at least the entire life of Moses, and possibly 40 years longer.  As we meet him here, Moses is a shepherd in the land of Midian (probably south of Canaan and to the east of the Sinai peninsula).  Moses is an Israelite, saved from death at the hands of the Egyptians as a baby, raised in the court of Pharaoh as an adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  40 years before, he killed an Egyptian who had been mistreating a Hebrew slave and fled Egypt to avoid punishment, in all probability the death sentence.  He has spent the past 40 years living with the Midianites, who were distant relatives (Midian being a son of Abraham by Keturah), raising a family, and herding sheep.

Exo 3:1  Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

Moses “was keeping.”  The Hebrew tense indicates that he was doing so as was his habit.  It was “on the west side.”  If you are looking east (as was the Hebrew custom when describing directions) it was the “backside” of the desert.  “the mountain of God” is that in retrospect, as the place that God chose to meet with and speak to Moses.

Though he has no inkling of it at this time, Moses is going to lead the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, and 40 years of herding sheep was good preparation for that job.  He knows the territory, he knows what it means to grind out a daily life in faithfulness to a task he’s been given, and is used to dealing with wayward dense creatures.  He comes to Horeb or Sinai.

2 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.

The “angel” of the LORD is better the “messenger” of the LORD.  The word is ambiguous as to whether this is a person of the Godhead or whether it is a created spirit.  Many Bible scholars see this ambiguity as an Old Testament prefiguring of Jesus.  In any case, God speaks to Moses out of a bush that burns, yet is not consumed.

Apparently, Moses doesn’t at first understand what he’s looking at.  It is just an especially strange sight that he wants to see up close.  A dry bush in the desert ought to be consumed by fire in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.  Moses is curious.

3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”

Consider God’s choice of visual aid here.  The fire symbolizes God’s purity/holiness.  The fact that the bush is not consumed speaks to us about God’s self-existence.  The flame is self-maintaining.  God and only God has existence of His own.

4 When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

God speaks to Moses by name.  He knows us, He speaks to us by name.  The wonder of our condition is that He offers us real relationship.  And Moses, at least to begin, answers.

Notice the nature of this encounter.  Moses is not in some kind of trance having some kind of mystical experience that is somehow impossible to describe in words.  He is wide awake and communicating with God in propositional terms, i.e. in terms of words, sentences, logic, etc.  He comes away aware of what he is to do, not thinking about how tingly he felt.  His focus is not the experience, but the call.  If Moses was a 21st century American, he’d go on the lecture circuit giving his testimony and jot off  a book or two on how to meet God in the burning bush.

Moses had very little indeed with setting up this encounter.  God is sovereignly choosing to call Moses.  It is God who takes the initiative here.  And it always is this way.

5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

The sense/tense of the “do not come near” indicates that Moses shouldn’t continue to approach as he is doing.  There will be a time when Moses speaks face to face with his Creator, but at this point he doesn’t yet adequately understand who God is.  The caution from God conveys to Moses and to us that while God speaks to us by name, He is also “holy.”  He is “separate” or “other.”  We may come, but it must be on His terms, not ours.  We don’t just bluster up to Him.

Take off your sandals, because that is a way of expressing humility before God in this context.  Obey.  Properly respect the One who is speaking.  The place Moses is standing is “holy ground” in a Biblical sense, not a pagan sense.  It’s holy because at this time, this is where God chooses to meet Moses.  It is God being there and speaking to Moses that sets the place apart.  It’s not “holy” in the sense that we ought to organize pilgrimages, or carry off some dirt with supposedly magical powers.  That kind of nonsense is never part of the real Biblical picture or understanding.  In fact, when later the Jews get too cocksure that God “resides” in Jerusalem and that fact is their security, He allows the Babylonians to lay the city waste.

This is the first occurrence in the Bible of the word that is translated “holy” here.  God’s presence sets this time and place apart, consecrates it to His service.

6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

 This is a revealing verse.  Moses has just been snooping around, apparently reasonably comfortable with the situation, even willing to speak with the burning bush.  But now he realizes that he is speaking with the one true and living God, and the proper response is the one He gives.  He hides his face.  That’s a response of awe, reverence, and respect.  It is the proper response of a creature before his Creator.  Our modern supposedly Christian attitudes towards God are often entirely too flip and presumptuous.  We forget with whom we are dealing, and the end of it is our own harm and that of non-Christians as well.  Because we don’t properly revere God, they see no reason to honor him at all.

Moses somehow knew of the God of his fathers, possibly through contact with his natural mother back in Egypt, or possibly through the instruction of his father-in-law, Jethro, who was (as stated in verse 1) “the priest of Midian” and who may or may not have known the available truth about God.  The reference to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is one that spans a very long time and quite different people.  But all three of them over the course fo their lifetimes learned to trust God and not themselves.  It is interesting that the singular “father” is used to stand for line of faith.  God is speaking at once of the whole line of faith.

Moses sees his vulnerability before the Creator. Unholy creatures unaided before a completely holy God are in mortal danger.

7 Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings,

“I have surely seen” says the LORD.  Of course He “sees and hears” in the ordinary sense of the word.   The point is not that He is aware, but that He is concerned with the affliction of His people.  And what is more, in His providence, it is time for Him to intervene on their behalf.  He “looks upon” His people and “comes down.”

8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

He will come in deliverance, again not as if He wasn’t present before, but that it is now the peoper time for Him to act.  He will take His people to a good and broad land, literally “oozing” with milk and honey.

9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.

I have seen the oppression/misery.  I have heard them crying out.  The best guess is that the Israelites have been under persecution in Egypt for 120 years at this point.  40 years earlier Moses had made one feeble attempt on his own to fix one injustice in Egypt and had ended up a fugitive.  Why hasn’t God acted before now?  If His purposes were simply to make things pleasant for His people, He could, would and should have.  But His purposes are to make from the Israelite nation one that would be His own and serve Him.  Now the time is right in His purposes.  And here comes the shocker for Moses.

10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

Send Moses???  There may well still be a murder warrant out for him in Egypt!   Besides, he tried to approach the Israelites once before and was rebuffed.  And humanly speaking, all he has done for the last 40 years was herd sheep!  Anyone he knew in the halls of power is almost certainly dead and gone at this point.

What God is giving Moses to do here is enormous.  There are around 2-3 million Israelite slaves in Egypt at this point.  The Pharaoh is one of the strongest rulers on earth.  He has no reason to give up perfectly good slave labor that is building for him.  Moses never was a leader of the Jews, and has been out of the country for 40 years.  He is 80 years old, way past the prime of life!  Moses is being commissioned to go get the Hebrew slaves and lead them on foot out into the desert and into the promised land.  This only sounds possible to us because looking back at it through history we know it was done.  Without the benefit of hindsight, this is humanly speaking really just flat out of the question.  It’s out of the question if God is not sending you!

Moses reveals that he has some knowledge of God, but not perfect knowledge of Him.  He starts to ask questions.  He, like the rest of us, wants to see the details of the end from the beginning.  But that is only God’s prerogative.

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

Times have changed.  Moses is 80, not 40.  He’s been knocked around in life and now knows he’s not the center of the universe.  He’s not even a match for Pharaoh.  He once was sure he was the savior of Israel.  Now he knows that in and of himself he’s capable of nothing.  “Who am I?”  Humanly speaking, that’s a reasonable question.  And the answer is that in fact Moses is nobody, but God is God!!!  That is the point that Moses is going to learn through this whole thing and that we ought also learn.  God is God!  That is what matters. J.A. Motyer commenting on this passage says that God is going to change Moses’ “I can’t, therefore I won’t” to “I can’t, but HE can, therefore I will.”  “Moses’ position was ‘Look, I’m not up to the job.  You shouldn’t have picked me.’  The Lord’s reply was ‘Of course you are not up to the job.  I knew that when I chose you for it.  The point is not your ability but mine!'”  God’s promise was not to somehow transform Moses to the point that he was up to the task, but rather:

12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

God said “I will be with you.”  That’s it.  That’s the whole thing.  All else is details, and we are never given the details in advance.  The promise is that God will be with Moses.  There is no explaining of exactly how it will all work out, only that God will be with him.  Motyer is quite incisive on this point.  Even pious God-fearing believers often think of a call of God as a promise that God will change and equip us and enable us.  But that is not it!  Moses’ initial round of dealing with Pharaoh is no more effective than his earlier attempt to right the wrongs of slavery.  He’s more humble, he’s obedient, but he’s naturally no more effective than he was 40 years before.  The glory here is that GOD is in this.  The promise is of His presence, not of any supernatural transformation of Moses.

The promise of a “sign” is enlightening.  What’s the sign?  It’s something that, at the moment, Moses can only see by faith.  It’s not another present miraculous occurrence.  It’s “only” a promise.  It is not a present “persuader” but a future confirmation.  The confirmation that Moses has been hearing rightly is the future opportunity to give God thanks together with the people of Israel, not in captivity, but here in the desert.  It’s significant that even this is contrary to what Moses might expect.  Horeb/Sinai is not on the direct route from Egypt to the promised land.  But it is here that God will be worshiped by a liberated people.  The word rendered “serve” by the ESV and “worship” by the NIV is the same word as is used for being a slave.  The Jews, who were slaves to Pharaoh, will be led out and serve/worship/be slaves to the one true and living God.

The order here is significant.  We’d like to have signs as present signposts of how to proceed.  “Oh Lord, just give me a sign and I’ll know it’s you and do what you want!” we say.  That’s us.  The order here is that God has spoken clearly, letting Moses know his will.  Moses is wiggling, thinking of his inadequacy.  God promises that indeed he will have a sign to confirm it all.  But when???  When it’s all over!!   Then he’ll be able to look back and see that it was all as God promised.  The sign comes after, not before the task.

The Hebrew word translated “I will be” is the same word as the personal name of God (that is usually translated “I AM”).  God calls himself the “I AM,” and one of the vital meanings of that is “I am with you.”

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”

A lack of reliance on one’s own resources is a good thing.  On the other hand, a refusal to trust God to do what He calls us to labor in is sin.  Moses has heard the gracious promises of God, and that should be enough.  But it is not.  He starts to backpedal.  Commentators will tell you that the “What is his name?” is not so much a question of identity as it is the question of “is He favorably disposed toward us?” or “what (new) revelation of God do you bring?”  The question is only too human.  It is a frail question, lacking in a real understanding of, or faith in who God is.  The answer in verse 14 is grand and true to the very core of things.

14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

I AM WHO I AM , Yahweh, Jehovah, the I AM, the self-existent One, the very definition of all that is good and right and true, I am He who is.  I am the One who will be understood through my own acts and my own words of revelation.  I am He who truly exists and will be actively present with you as you do what you’ve been commissioned to do.  I am the One who will be there, just as I promise.  I am the One that you will find to be more than adequate.  Amen!

In Genesis 17:1 God reveals enough of His nature to Abram, that He calls Himself “El-Shaddai” which is often rendered as “God Almighty.”  Perhaps Moses has heard of this.  If so, and probably even if he has not, Moses wants more than a bare name here, he wants some better understanding of the nature of Him with whom he is speaking, and God gives him that in His personal name.  I AM the self-existent One.  I take My definition from no one or anything else.  In that, I AM the proper standard for judging all else.  It is My character and nature that defines big concepts like “goodness,” “justice,” etc.  There is no place for one of My creatures to adopt any other standard or apply their own criteria to Me.  This name outlaws silly conversations like “I imagine that God is like …”

There is also the notion of God being all-sufficient for both Moses and us.  That is He is the “I will be … (with you)” to Moses.

15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

The One who is, is of course, the eternal One, the One whose faithful works will remembered forever, the One who forever remains the definition of all that is good.  This is the One who is the first cause and the Sustainer of all that is.  This revelation is both completely consistent with and arguably more explicit than what has been given to the patriarchs to this point.

16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt,

Moses is told to go.  There is no contradiction between God acting and Him sending.  It’s His good pleasure to use people in His work.  Moses is to carry good news and to act/lead on God’s behalf.

17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”‘

18 And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’

19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.

God is patient and merciful with His creatures, including those who purposely oppose Him.  Pharaoh will be given every possible chance to bow the knee to God before judgment comes.  But there will come a point at which that opportunity to repent comes to an end.  It has to be that way.

20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.

“wonders” is a fine word.  The Jews correctly had a view that all of what God does is equally miraculous.  R. Alan Cole explained it this way: “We think of a ‘miracle’ as a transcending, or suspension or reversal of the natural order.  The Hebrew thinks of it as a marvelous use of the natural order, by the God who created it and controls it.  In one sense therefore, the Hebrew did not distinguish between the ‘natural’ and the ‘supernatural,’ for all was God’s work.”

21 And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty,

22 but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.”

There is in this an early foreshadowing of God’s law for the Jews that when a slave was freed, that person wasn’t to go away without means.  This people has been enslaved for generations.  That they leave Egypt with some small compensation for their service is only right.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Genesis 50

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Jacob/Israel has come to Egypt with all his household, making a total of 67 people.  He’s lived there as a sojourner in a land that was not his own from the age of 130 to the age of 147 and has now died.

Gen 50:1  Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him.

2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel.

3 Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.

There is a purpose for the embalming in God’s scheme of things.  The body is not going to be buried in Egypt, but rather be carried back to Canaan.  It’s the physicians, not the professional embalmers that do the job, possibly because the embalmers would have been connected with the Egyptian religious scene.  The mourning goes on for 70 days, just 2 short of the 72 days that were prescribed for mourning a dead Pharaoh.  Jacob, as Joseph’s father, was clearly a respected figure in Egypt.

4 And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying,

Chances are that Joseph is ceremonially unclean from the funeral, not acceptable in Pharaoh’s court and so Joseph sends word to the court asking permission to go bury his father.

5 My father made me swear, saying, ‘I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.’ Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.”

Strictly speaking, the burial place is a cave, and there was probably not all that much hewing that Jacob did.  But the Egyptians were quite elaborate in their personal preparation for death and could be expected to understand digging one’s own grave.  They would be inclined to honor this request, especially as phrased in terms of a respected person’s preparations and wishes.

6 And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.”

7 So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt,

8 as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen.

So Joseph and the adults of his family and a large entourage of the Egyptians go to Canaan to bury Jacob.  The kids and the livestock are left behind.  On one hand there would be no reason for them to go, and on the other hand, the fact that they don’t serves as a guarantee that the trip is about a burial and not about a permanent return to live in Canaan.

9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company.

This is a procession fit for a real dignitary, involving both military and civilian elements.

10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days.

11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan.

“Abel-mizraim” is a play on words and can mean “mourning of the Egyptians.”

12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them,

13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place.

The family was well off in Egypt.  But this was reminder to all that Egypt was not home.  The family being in Egypt was a temporary matter.  It was for the saving of the family, but was not their inheritance.  That was Canaan, where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were buried.

14 After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father.

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.”

The brothers at least call evil “evil.”  Evil they understand.  What they don’t really grasp is divine forgiveness.  They’ve lived well for 17 years here, but their consciences aren’t really clear.  They aren’t altogether sure that despite 17 years worth of evidence to the contrary, Joseph isn’t going to exact revenge.  They really aren’t sure that they won’t get what they deserve.  They don’t really know or trust him.

16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died,

The brothers try to feel Joseph out without getting close enough to be in danger.  And they appeal to him on the basis of an almost-surely-made-up instruction from Jacob.  It’s pathetic, really.  If you and I can guess this is made-up, don’t they think Joseph is smart enough to see through this if he really is against them?

17 ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him.

Don’t give us justice, because we are your brothers and we go to your church.  The fact that they don’t understand his motives or trust his long-ago-freely-given forgiveness, and grovel in this way is probably a good part of what brings Joseph to tears.  Forgiven people should be grateful people, not be people who repeatedly testify to their skepticism about their forgiven state.

18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”

Joseph’s answer to his brothers is as good as it gets in the Old Testament.  It is as thoroughly Christian as an Old Testament saint gets.

19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?

First, the righting of wrongs is to be left to God.  The brothers ought to fear God, but Joseph isn’t going to settle any score.  That’s God’s to do.

20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Second, you meant evil, but God meant it for good.  Joseph sees (and we’re to see) the providence of God even in man’s malice.  In Chapter 45 (17 years before this time) Joseph said essentially the same thing … “you sold, but God sent.”  This is really first rate applied theology, real understanding of the providence of God, an understanding that has been Joseph’s his whole life, and has given him freedom to see sin for what it is and yet forgive completely.  From the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q:  Christian, how does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?

A:  We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love.  All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move or be moved.

21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

 Joseph returns not only forgiveness but also genuine affection in exchange for evil.  This is no teeth-gritting matter on Joseph’s part.  The “I” is emphatic.  He personally will provide.  The word “comforted” is the same word that God later uses through the prophet Isaiah to promise comfort to Judah in captivity (40:1; 49:13; 51:3;12,19; 61:2).  There is real tenderness here.

 22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years.

Joseph and his family remain in Egypt.  He’s 56 when his father dies and lives another 54 years.  110 years was apparently the ideal or perfect lifespan in the mind of the Egyptians.  That the blessing of God is with Joseph is evident to all, including the pagan Egyptians.

23 And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own.

What a deal.  Grandkids, great grandkids, great great grandkids.  This is good, really good.  He lives a full life, and when it’s time to die he’s got things completely in perspective.  Life has been blessed in Egypt, but the fundamental things are God’s presence and the covenant promise.

24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.”

There will come a time to leave, and when it comes, Joseph wants his bones carried out.  This is a way of saying clearly and in a permanent tangible way that Egypt is not home.  “In God’s time and in His way, He’s going to bring you out of here.  Keep that before you, and my body will be a reminder that this is coming.  My body goes with you when God brings you home.”

There could have been the kind of grand funeral procession back to Palestine that was given Jacob’s body, but that’s not what Joseph wanted.  It’s a profound fact that in spite of being a thoroughly admirable and Godly character (whose story takes up a large part of Genesis) Joseph is hardly mentioned in the New Testament.  He is mentioned only in Stephen’s summary of the Old Testament and in Hebrews 11 in the hall of fame of faith.  There, it is for these dying words that he’s commended.  It is for his steady gaze at the promise of God.

Heb 11:22  By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

What is the most important thing that can be said concerning any human?  It is that the person is looking ahead with firm faith in the promise of God, that he or she has taken Him at His word, that the person is wholly relying upon His gracious covenant and eternal presence.

26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

Joseph dies and his body is preserved.  His embalmed body—in a coffin but apparently not buried—stood as reminder of the promised exodus.  400 years later it’s still around and ready to go.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Genesis 28

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This lesson is about Genesis 28.  But in order to do that justice, we really need to back up and consider how we get to Genesis 28 in the lives of the characters Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob.  After 20 years of barrenness, Rebekah becomes pregnant with Jacob and Esau, and God tells her that she’ll have twins, the older to serve the younger.  In their youth, Jacob schemes to help that along by taking advantage of his somewhat dim and spiritually dull twin brother, buying the birthright of the firstborn for a mess of lentil soup.  Mom loves Jacob best and Dad loves Esau best.  There is surely strife in the family.  It sees like Isaac thinks he’s near death (he’s not even close, as he lives until long after Jacob returns from 20 years with Laban, but he thinks he’s close to the end) and despite knowing from Rebekah that it is Jacob through whom God intends the line of the covenant to pass, he decides to behind closed doors give his final blessing to Esau.  Rebekah gets wind of this and (not content to leave things in the hands of God) she and Jacob trick the old man into blessing Jacob instead.  All these people are supposedly adults here.  Jacob and Esau are at least 40 (the age at which Esau married the two Hittite women who made life miserable for Rebekah and Isaac) and possibly as old as 80.  They are old enough that they ought to know how to behave.

The upshot is that Esau plans to kill Jacob as soon as his father dies, and Rebekah now feels she has to scheme how to get Jacob out of town to safety.  Notice that up front God has said that it’s Jacob through whom the promise will pass, but nobody in the story acts honorably in regard to this truth.  Jacob and Rebekah can’t just stand back and let God be God, they have to scheme and meddle to “help” God along.  Isaac actively works against God’s revealed will.  And Esau is dim and (understandably) hostile.  But the providence of God will not be thwarted, His constant grace and mercy will not end.

As we pick up the story, Rebekah has decided that a way to get Jacob out of town and to safety is to send him back to Mesopotamia to get a wife from her clan.  In this scheming, she ultimately works the will of God in terms of Jacob not marrying one of the pagans from the surrounding peoples.  But we must keep in mind that this whole thing costs her dearly.  She loses both her sons.  She’ll never see Jacob again, nor her grandchildren by him.  Esau lives out in the boondocks and is no comfort or help to her.  We humans ultimately don’t break the anvil of God’s providence, but when our actions are bad, we do reap corresponding bad consequences.

Genesis 28:1 Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women.

At one level, Isaac has been manipulated here. But this is, in fact, the same command that Abraham gave his servant about a wife for Isaac.  This situation is a mess, but this is consistent with the revealed will of God.

2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take as your wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother.

Those who live by the sword die by the sword.  Jacob has been a cheat and a user of his brother.  Now he’s headed to Laban’s house, where he’s going to spend 20 years getting some of his own medicine.  He’ll find out what it’s like to be on the receiving end of what he’s dished out.

3 God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples.

Isaac really rises to the occasion here.  He thinks this may be the last he sees of this son, and the blessing he pronounces is from the heart.  May God Almighty, El Shaddai, bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you that you may become a company of peoples.  Commentators will tell you that always before in the covenant promises and blessings, there has been the notion of “many” offspring, but this “company of peoples” is the first mention of community/coherence among them.  This sees its fulfillment in the NT church and in eternity, where the redeemed make not just a separated multitude, but a connected community of those who know God.  There’s a sense here already in Genesis 28 that the reality of faith in God creates a living assembly of those redeemed.

4 May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!”

The covenant promise was both for offspring and a land.  That is seen again and again in Genesis.

5 Thus Isaac sent Jacob away. And he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother.

6 Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women,”

7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram.

8 So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father,

9 Esau went to Ishmael and took as his wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.

This is sad and pathetic.  You get the impression here of an inept fellow tripping over himself trying to make a good showing, but not really knowing what that might mean.  Surely adding a 3rd wife to the other 2 isn’t going to make life any more harmonious in this family.  Kidner says Esau’s “… attempt to do the approved thing was, like most religious efforts of the natural man, superficial and ill-judged”  1 Cor. 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran.

He’s got about a 500 mile journey to make here on foot and alone.  He’s not the family adventurer on a lark.  He’s in flight for his life. If he has a conscience at this point, it is guilty.  He’s headed away from family and friends, to a place he’s never been. As far as he can see, he’s alone and on his own.

11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.

He’s done about 50 of those 500 miles. As the hymn says: “Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down, Darkness be over me, my rest a stone.”  Darkness is truly over Jacob at this point.  It’s not just night literally, it’s night figuratively regarding his earthly circumstances.  He may indeed be the son of the promise, but the harsh realities of life (many brought on by his own sharp dealings) leave him without an earthly friend.

12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!

But here’s the glorious truth: fallen, frail, crooked, and unlikable though he might be, Jacob is not alone.   The God that Isaac asked to bless Jacob is with him. There is a ladder/stair/ramp between heaven and earth.  On it the messengers of God circulate back and forth between heaven and earth, carrying out the work of God.

13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.

The I AM speaks.  The self-existent One, the Creator and Sustainer of all that is, says that He is the God of Jacob’s father and his grandfather.  As the ESV renders it, God stands at the head of the stairs.  Apparently, instead of the rendering “above it,” another/?better? possibility is “beside him.”  That is, the I AM stands beside Jacob.  In any case, Jacob hears from the LORD Himself that Canaan belongs to him and his offspring.  He’s heard about this promise from his parents, but now he hears it from God Himself, and there is more.

14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

The promise made to Abraham that he and his family would be a source of blessing to all humans is spoken to Jacob.  God is not going to be only the God of Abraham, or the God of Abraham and Isaac, but is going to have relationship with him.  God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This in spite of all seamy stuff he has pulled.  God’s grace and steady hand extends even to him.

15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Behold I am with you and will keep you.  That is the fundamental promise of God.  God doesn’t promise easy circumstances or a pleasant trip through this earthly life.  What He promises is His presence and care.  And that is, at the end of the day, the most glorious promise that He could possibly give us.  It is life and light for eternity.  It survives all circumstances of this life and right through death.

16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

This is one of those times that a person has touched something and doesn’t quite have the right categories to describe or understand it.  Jacob knows that this is good, really, really, really good.  But he can only think in earthbound terms.  He thinks the place is special.  He doesn’t quite know that what he has been shown is not localized to Bethel.  It’s not as if God will take the escalator down at Bethel and follow him around.  But to Jacob’s credit, he recognizes that it’s a profound thing that the I AM, El Shaddai has pledged Himself to such as Jacob.  Would that modern people would have such a reverence for the kind grace of God.

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.

Jacob’s grandfather Abraham had built an altar at Bethel (Genesis 12:8) and worshiped God there.  Jacob stood the stone he’d used for a pillow on end and anointed it as an act of worship.

19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.

“Bethel” means “house of God.”

20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,

21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God,

22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

This probably ought not be read as Jacob making a deal or bargain with God.  It seems to me that the “if God” is a given and this has more the nature of “in light of the fact that God …”  That is,  Jacob is talking out loud to Himself, thinking of appropriate outward commemoration of the faithfulness of God.   That is, it is quite likely that he’s responding with all the piety that he could possibly be expected to be able to produce.  But even if this is a kind of Thomas-like “if I can see the nail prints and put my hands in His side,” God is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love, and God will be with him and keep him in his way.  Just as Thomas saw the nail prints and was embarrassed by his frailty, Jacob will see the mighty hand of God at work.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Genesis 22:1-19

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

In Genesis 22 we have some of the most profound foreshadowings of the sacrificial work of Christ and the great grace of God the Father in the entire Old Testament.  It also teaches us yet more about the nature of true faith in the I AM.

The elements of the account are intensely real and gut-wrenching, aren’t neatly allegorical (admitting a simple-minded “this means this and that means that” exposition), and offend the unbelieving sensibilities of rebellious modern humanity.  But read for what it is—a vital part of the revelation of God to man—it is simply wonderful.

Gen 22:1  After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.”

God has given Abram a son of promise, the embodiment of His covenant with him, one through whom the promises will be fulfilled.  Abram has learned in hard things of life and God’s provision to trust Him, take Him at His word, and to obey Him.  God has renamed Abram as “Abraham” and now comes to him to “test” him again, to work in him a yet deeper understanding of His goodness and provision, to confirm again His great love for His people.

2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

So here it is, what sounds to modern ears as an absolutely abhorrent command.  Indeed God hates hideous practices that are (or amount to) child sacrifice.  But this is not about crass evil human sacrifice.  This is not just any son.  This is the very covenant itself, this is God’s promise personified.  This is “your son,” “your only son,” “whom you love.”  One must be purposely blind or very dull to not see in these words a foreshadowing of God’s only Son, Christ Jesus.  Abraham has a firm promise from God (see again Genesis 15) of offspring through Isaac (and, from them, eventual blessing for the whole of humanity), and is now given a glimpse of the great price to be paid by the Father for that promise to be enabled to hold good.  There is indeed a sacrifice of an only Son required.

Moriah is almost certainly what we know today as Jerusalem and the mountain either the temple mount or more likely Calvary.

3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

Abraham doesn’t delay.  He knows the I AM.  He’s walked with Him and he’s learned obedience.  We moderns worry about how Abraham processes all this, how he reconciles the promise and the command, how he copes with his agony as a father.  The Scriptures concern themselves with what he does.  At this point Abraham has many years of experience with God.  He knows God’s nature and he knows his place as a human being.  So he rose early, ready to do what the I AM has commanded.

4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.

It’s the third day.  Again, one must be dull or purposely blind to not hear an echo of Easter here.  It’s a nice turn of phrase that he saw this “from afar.”

5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”

We need to take this as it stands.  The servants are here by Abraham’s bidding, but now he and Isaac must go on alone.  What he says to the servants is absolutely true.  The obedience of Abraham and Isaac is true worship of God.  The “will … come again” are not just some meaningless words to smooth over what he expects to be a personally horrible outcome.  They are his confident expectation, on the basis of the promises and nature of God and His good will towards them.  Abraham surely has no idea of the particulars of how this is going to play out.  But he knows that the promise is sure and that the good will of God is to him and his son Isaac.  So he can say “I and the boy” will come again, and absolutely mean it.

6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.

The son carried the wood, much as the Son carried the cross.  The fire and the knife were in the hands of Abraham, much as the completely pure and righteous judgment of God were the Father’s on Calvary.  They went both of them together, the two of them only.  No other human had a part in this.  Ultimately, on Calvary it was the Father and the Son alone at work, dealing with your sin and mine.

7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

This is a most fundamental question.  Where, indeed, is the lamb?  There must be an adequate and appropriate sacrifice for sin … but from whence does it come?  The covenant is sure, God has guaranteed it Himself.  But Genesis 17 also makes it clear that the human side of the covenant must be kept.  How does this impossibility get resolved?  Where is the lamb?

Kidner points out that Abraham clearly and wonderfully answers the question posed much later by Micah.

Mic 6:6  “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Gen 22:8  Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

“God will provide for himself.”  God will take responsibility for satisfying Himself.  Exactly how?  Abraham surely can’t see that in detail for either the short or the long run.  But it can be no other way than in God alone.  The promise is sure and the command to sacrifice has been clear.  Exactly how what looks to finite human minds like a contradiction is to be reconciled is not obvious, but the solution must lie with God.  God will provide for Himself the Lamb.

9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.

Isaac is of necessity a willing participant here.  He’s at least a late teenager, if not older.  Abraham is an old man.  He doesn’t put Isaac on the altar against His will.  Christ went to the cross without disputing the will of the Father.  He agonized in Gethsemane, but went willingly to Golgotha.

The pace of the account is changing to excruciating slow motion.  This is agony for Abraham.  There is no cheap easy believism or playacting in this.  If God doesn’t intervene he will kill Isaac.  If God doesn’t provide the Lamb, the covenant promise dies.

10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.

11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.”

12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

The question “Does Abraham revere the I AM?” has been definitively answered.  Abraham has acted in accord with a real understanding that God is God, that He keeps His promises, and that He is to be trusted in all things, whether or not Abraham can see to the end of them.  Abraham has confirmed again the judgment of Genesis 15:6, that he believed God (and it was counted to him as righteousness).

13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.

In the short run, God has indeed provided the lamb.  In the long run He will provide the Lamb.  As John the Baptizer said of Jesus:

Joh 1:29b  … Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Abraham responds in gratitude and great joy.

14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

“The LORD will provide” might be rendered “The LORD sees.”  James Boice did a great job of expounding the sense of the phrase as “The LORD will see to it.”  What a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful truth.  The I AM will see to it.  He’s the blessed controller of all and loves His people.  He will provide propitiation for their sin.  On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.  Abraham acts and speaks prophetically of Calvary.  He provided the lamb for Abraham and Isaac.  He will (as Abraham speaks of the future) provide the Lamb for all who believe.

15 And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven

16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,

17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies,

18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Abraham’s obedience that made real/clear his reliance upon God became blessing for you and me in Christ.  His example stands in Hebrews 11 as pattern for all who will love God.

Heb 11:17  By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son,

Heb 11:18  of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”

Heb 11:19  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Gen 22:19  So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.

How matter of fact this is.  The basic attitude of heart of Abraham is not to be extraordinary but simply the common life of believing people.  Those who know God, His nature and His promises, are to face life unafraid that anything can separate them from His covenant love.  He will see to it.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Genesis 12:1-5, 15:1-21

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

We move ahead from Noah’s time to the time of Abram (Abraham, as God renamed him).  Genesis 11 puts the birth of Abram about 350 years after the flood.  Abram was descended from Shem, the son of Noah.  There are 8 generations between Shem and Abram. Chapters 10 and 11 of Genesis recount the repopulation of the earth and the story of the tower of Babel.  Theologians identify Chapter 12 of Genesis the beginning of redemption history.  In some ways, there have been two beginnings before this: creation itself and the fresh start after the flood.  Both have gone badly from the point of view of the condition of humanity.  Chapter 12 provides a beginning that culminates in Christ and salvation by faith, the only salvation there is.  It opens with the call of and promise to Abram.

Our part, if we are to know God, is to obey Him and take Him at His word.  How could it be otherwise?  If indeed He made all and owns all — is who the Scriptures say He is — could mere creatures possibly truly have relationship with Him and simultaneously be willfully disobedient or maintain that He lies?  Adam and Eve did both, and the end of it was misery for all human beings.  Redemption history begins with another command and God’s promises.

Genesis 12:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Kidner comments “Abram’s part is expressed in a single though searching command, while the heaped up I will’s reveal how much greater is the LORD’s part.  At the same time their futurity emphasizes the bare faith that was required: Abram must exchange the known for the unknown (Heb. 11:8), and find his reward in what he could not live to see (a great nation), in what was intangible (thy name) and in what he would impart (blessing).”

In verse 3 we find the second Messianic promise.  (The first was in Genesis 3:15.)  This is the most important part of the I will’s.  This is the core promise of God to Abram.  While Abram’s trust in God’s good intentions for him personally and temporally is important, his belief that from him would come One that would truly bless humanity in an ultimate sense (One who would deal with our misery and sin) is the faith through which he is ultimately reckoned as righteous.  This is the Apostle Paul’s argument in Romans 4 and 9 and in Galatians 3.

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Abram is characteristically obedient.  God says “go” and Abram goes.  God tells him how things are and will be and he takes God at His word.  That is true faith.

Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.

5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. …

The New Testament version of this comes to every believer.  Jesus called the disciples to drop their fishing nets and follow Him.  He passed by and demanded that Matthew immediately leave the tax collection booth and follow Him.  All those who will truly know God will break with their old familiar fallen ways and cultural assumptions, and follow Him, not knowing where they are going, except that it is with Him.  They will cast themselves upon Him.

We jump now to the official ISSL lesson passage, another pivotal episode in the life of Abram.  As we pick up the story, Abram, a sojourner in the land of Canaan has been on a military expedition and rescued his nephew Lot and others from some of the local warlords.  He has given Melchizedek (as God’s priest) a tithe of the spoils of war, but has refused to keep anything else for himself, especially anything that would make him in debt to the king of Sodom.

Genesis 15:1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

The word of the LORD came to Abram.  The knowledge of God had by Abram’s time become extremely clouded (there has been the flood, there has been the tower of Babel, etc.).  The Scripture says that Abram’s father was an idol worshiper.  Abram had been brought up in Ur in a pagan culture where they worshiped the local moon goddess.  Quite literally, they were worshiping the creation instead of the Creator.  Out of this situation, God had sovereignly called Abram.  Now He comes to him in a vision.

God says “Fear not.”  Possibly God is speaking of not being afraid of His appearance.  Another strong possibility in context, is that Abram is brooding over the way that he has potentially antagonized the warlords of the area with his recent military excursion (see Chapter 14), wondering if in fact what he’s done will stir up retribution.  His expedition with 318 fighters had been successful through a surprise night attack, but he’s surely way outnumbered, and what if the kings who have laid waste to whole large cities and peoples reorganize and come for him and his?

“I am your ‘shield'” (or possibly, sovereign/king).  In the context of the recent military outing, this is reassurance from God, that ultimately it is God who is responsible for the safety of Abram and his household.  That is the way that it always has been and continues to be.  It is God who is the protector of His people.  It is not their numbers, weapons or political power that guarantees their safety.

“your reward shall be very great” says God.  Abram is reminded of the promises of the covenant of Chapter 12.  Abram is a wealthy man.  He has just had and passed up the opportunity to acquire more wealth through keeping the spoils of war.  But God says that what Abram has that is most precious is Abram’s relationship to Himself.

2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

Abram recalls that God’s promise to him includes the provision that he would be the father of a great nation and one through whom humanity will be blessed.  To this point, he sees little evidence of that coming to pass.  In fact, he’s childless.

The custom of the time and place was that a man’s main estate passed on to his oldest son.  If there was no son, it was possible to adopt one to serve as a primary heir and guardian of the estate.  It seems here that Abram either has, or is thinking about adopting this person Eliezer, possibly a servant he’s acquired on his trip from Ur to Palestine.

Kidner points out that a lesser person would have simply taken comfort in the promise of verse 1.  Abraham remembers the original promise of Chapter 12 and asks for clarification concerning the whole business of offspring and a great nation.  This question is not lack of faith, but rather the very opposite.  It is calling into memory the very real and specific promise of God and not simply taking some general comfort in some vague good will.

3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”

4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”

At this point, Abram is a minimum of 75 years old.  (12:4 says that he was 75 when he set out from Haran.  16:16 says he’s 86 when Ishmael is born.)  His wife Sarai is 10 years younger, but presumably beyond the age of child bearing.  God is promising Abram something that Abram can’t really put together from his finite, human perspective.  This is a natural impossibility.

5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Hartley points out that God doesn’t debate with Abram or point out the weakness of his logic, but rather simply reaffirms His promise and gives a sign that is at once most powerful and (to a disbelieving heart) most ordinary.  The stars are a good object lesson for Abram.  To begin with, there is the very number of them.  But there is also the object lesson that the God who is speaking to Abram is the God who made them.  A look up into the sky ought to remind Abram of the creative power of the One who is speaking.  The same God who made all is the One who is reiterating His promise to give Abram offspring.  What more reliable guarantee could there be than the word of the God who made everything that is?

Next comes one of the key verses of all of Scripture.  Many call it the very “hinge” of salvation.

6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

This verse is reiterated in Romans 4, Galatians 3, and James 2.  This is the first time “belief” is explicitly referred to in the Scriptures.  The Hebrew word means “to support/to hold firm/to rest upon as firm.”  That is, the meaning is “to accept as true/to recognize as valid.”  It is the word from which our English word “Amen” (“it shall be so”) derives.  When Abram believed God, he said “Amen” to God’s promise, fully trusting that it would be so.  He took God at His word.  The result of that is that God credited righteousness to him.  God reckoned him to be both judicially innocent and in right relationship to Himself.  It is worth noting that there is no such statement earlier, when Abram believes God and moves out from Ur and then Haran.  That too took faith.  But here the faith makes Abram righteous in the sight of God.  It is no accident that the subject here is God’s promise of offspring for Abram.  By believing that God will give him a physical heir and fulfill 12:3 (whether Abram completely understands it or not) he is looking forward to God providing the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, through his descendants.  Saving faith is a faith that believes God in the matter of His provision of a Savior, the Lord Jesus, and fundamentally that’s to what Abram looks forward.  It’s a real righteousness, because it’s the righteousness of the perfect Christ imputed to a person who believes.

Kidner pointed out “Note that Abraham’s trust was both personal (in the LORD) and propositional (the context is the specific word of the LORD in verses 4,5).”

James Boice commented on the verse “The ultimate question in life is whether you believe God. It is not a question of whether you believe in God.  Many people say they believe in God.  There has to be a God, in their opinion.  But this does not mean anything to them.  The real question is whether you believe God, who makes these promises, and whether you live by what God has promised.  Has God spoken?  If so, has God spoken clearly?  If God has spoken clearly, can God be trusted to do what he has promised?  Wise is the one who answers yes to those questions and lives by faith in those promises.”

Christians are people who “believe God” in all things, and most fundamentally in the matter of His provision of a Savior.

7 And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.”

8 But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”

Not only will God give Abram heirs (both literally and spiritually), but He promises to give him the land of Canaan.  This too is pretty impossible-looking from where Abram is standing.  His household is good-sized, but not by any means big enough at this point to force out the Canaanites.  The 318 trained men in his military force make not a bad-size local police force, but hardly an army adequate to dislodge the current inhabitants of the land.  God answers Abram in a way that sounds very foreign to our ears, but makes perfect sense in the context of the time.  God makes a covenant with Abram.  God enters into a solemn political and social convention, the most binding form of agreement among men of the time and place.

9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”

10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half.

The Hebrew description of making a covenant actually means to “cut” a covenant.  The agreement was sealed through the death of animals and splitting apart of the carcasses.  The parties (both of them) making the agreement would then walk between the halves of the bodies, effectively saying “may the same happen to us if we go back on our word.”

11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

The birds seem to be a reminder/picture of the fate of a covenant breaker.  Consider, for example, this passage from Jeremiah.

Jer 34:17  “Therefore, thus says the LORD: You have not obeyed me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor; behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the LORD. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.

18 And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts–

19 the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf.

20 And I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives. Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.

This is a picture of people who have made and broken a covenant with God.  The birds of prey will feast on their carcasses.  Abram protects the sacrifices from the scavenger birds until sundown.

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.

The thick darkness reminds of the darkness that shrouded Mt. Sinai at the giving of the law.  Abram is going to see the awesome presence of God, but he’s going to do so only while in a deep sleep.  (We might speculate that anything more would be too much for him.)  God proceeds now to give Abram more details of when and how his offspring will possess the land.

13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.

This is probably not what Abram was expecting or wanting to hear, but God gives him a glimpse of the Egyptian captivity and the Exodus.  The time is not ready for Abram to possess the land.  It will be for Joshua to lead the Israelites in conquest of the land.  In the mean time, Abram will go on being a tent dweller in the land his descendants will possess.

14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.

15 As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.

16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

God is speaking generically of the people of Canaan.  It was a truly pagan culture.  Their worship was polytheistic, included child sacrifice, idolatry, religious prostitution, and divination.  This is the first reference to a common Old Testament theme, namely God graciously restraining judgment on a people, but finally bringing destruction on them through another people when their behavior becomes so outrageous as to absolutely demand His intervention.  In this, God is shown to be completely impartial, bringing this kind of judgment on both pagan nations and His own people who forsake Him and His ways.  The point here is that Abram’s descendants taking the land will be a form of judgment on the Canaanites, and the time is not yet ripe for that to come.

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.

God now passes between the halves of the carcasses.  Note that Abram is out cold.  He has no part in making a vow or promise.  Abram doesn’t pass through the carcasses.  This is simply the grace of God,  God obligating Himself to provide Abram with descendents and the promised land.  There is nothing that Abram or we can bring to this covenant with God, except the willingness to take God at His word.

Boice summarizes the nature of what has happened here as God’s provision of His unilateral, eternal/unchangeable, and gracious covenant with those who will take Him at His word.

18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,

19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites,

20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim,

21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Genesis 9

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Genesis 9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

This is a second beginning, a second chance for humanity.  One of the things that good commentators do concerning this passage is to lay out and stress the similarities between Adam and Noah and between their situations.  Adam fell and following from him humanity became more and more wicked until God has judged the world and only Noah and his family of 7 others have been spared.  Now they are sent to repopulate the earth and to act as God’s stewards/caretakers of the earth.

2 The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered.

God gave Adam dominion over the animals, and that authority is renewed to Noah and his family.  In particular, humans are given both plants and animals for food.

3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.

But this power over the earth and the animals that live on it is not indiscriminant.

4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

There is declaration and reaffirmation here that life is God’s.  He gives it.  It is not to be treated lightly.  Blood, in particular, has from the first been tied by God to sacrifice and the forgiveness of our sin.  Adam and Eve sinned and animal skins were given by God to cover their nakedness.  Blood will be part of Old Testament sacrifices instituted by God for human sin.  The blood of Christ, God’s own Son will be spilled as the final and complete provision for our sin.

5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

Bible scholars see here the first delegation to man by God of the responsibility for human government.  And the nature of it is that in light of the fundamental fact that human life is in the very image of God, it is to be protected and the taking of it is to be punished by force.  If we understand that human beings bear the likeness of their Maker, to kill one is to spit in the face of God.  And not because He isn’t capable of defending His own honor, but that we would be brought to recognize the seriousness of the offense, humans are given the responsibility to punish the taking of human life with death.  The misery of having the responsibility to impose capital punishment is an unmistakable reminder to society of the sacredness of human life.

7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it.”

God, who in Genesis 1 gathered the waters into one place to make dry ground, and who in punishment of man’s wickedness has had to come close to undoing that good act in the flood, sends Noah forth with the commission to try again.  Recall Genesis 1:26-31.

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.

30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

God sends Noah forth with a gracious promise.

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,

9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you,

This is wholly on God’s gracious part.  It is God who establishes this promise, absolutely independent of Noah’s ability to bring anything to the table.  And, knowing who we are and that in and of ourselves we have nothing to bring, that is a very good thing.

10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth.

You and I are made in the image of God.  But this verse reminds us that we err if we presume that we are “the whole show” as regards God’s concern and love for His creation.  He repeatedly looked at creation on the first 5 days (before He made our first parents) and called it good.  Now God speaks to Noah and tells him that the promise is not only for humanity, but all of earthly life.  Tree-hugging environmentalism that ends up worshipping the creation instead of the Creator is horribly wrong.  But so is a callous indifference to the beauty and worth and wonder of what God has made.  To unnecessarily trash God’s creation would be to show contempt for Him and His work, to show contempt for that which He values.

11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

In truth, we take this for granted.  But consider what one would be thinking upon emerging from months on the ark, knowing that the rest of humanity has died.  This is a promise that it’s not futile to carry on, to obey and go forth and repopulate the earth.  No matter what, the steadfast mercy of God guarantees that He’s not going to give up on humanity and next time wipe us out.

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:

“The sign …”  It is not necessary or even probable that this is the first time a rainbow has been seen.  Biblical signs are more often than not more or less “ordinary” things that are given holy significance.  This sign is a thing of great beauty, befitting its significance as the sign of God’s promise to preserve His glorious creation.  It marks a promise that is wholly on God’s part.  Noah has not made a deal with God here.  God has promised in His own great mercy.  Humans no more have a part in making rainbows than they have in the provision of God’s mercy.

13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,

15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

The Hebrew word rendered “bow” here is the one ordinarily used for the weapon.  The obvious symbolism is that God has laid down His weapon and is graciously bearing with us.  He will always remember His promise to humanity and all that lives.  Kidner does a nice job of reminding of the “glory of the rainbow … against the gloom of the clouds” as a wonderful picture and “token of grace.”

The reformed folks have it right in saying that in this picture is not only a promise for the preservation of humanity on earth, but a shadow of God’s gracious provision for the eternal care of our souls.  God won’t destroy all humans from physical earth and He won’t allow all made in His image to suffer eternal death from sin.  It’s no accident that when John recounts his vision of heaven in Revelation 4, there is

Rev 4:2  At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.

3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.

17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

It would be convenient if the chapter (and indeed the Genesis revelation of the state of humanity) ended here.  It might appear that all is well.  God is gracious, the family of one of the most righteous men of all time is going forth to repopulate and act as caretakers for the earth.  Surely this is a promising second beginning.  We’ll get it right this time, won’t we?  But here is the real “inconvenient truth” about humanity.  We aren’t equipped to get it right on our own.  This is life in God’s world post-Genesis 3.  There is Genesis 6:9b … Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.  But there is also this.  We’re not in the garden here; we’re in a fallen world that is both God’s good creation and remains presently abnormal.

18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.)

19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.

20 Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard.

21 He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent.

Apparently the wording here is such that Noah’s “laying uncovered” is not just accidental.  Noah is drunk as a skunk and is behaving badly.  This “preacher of righteousness” finds himself in a sordid compromised state.  In the garden, Adam’s sin resulted in the necessity of God covering him with animal skins.  Here is Noah drunk and naked, in and of himself frail and unable to hold it together across a short time, let alone a lifetime.

22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside.

It seems that one of the four kids who survived the flood with his parents has contempt toward his dad.  Rather than cover him and try to minimize his dad’s failing, he prefers to blab what he’s seen to his brothers.  People with some sense of their own lack/frailty/need of God’s grace take no pleasure in broadcasting the failings of others.  Ham, it seems, has none of that humility in him.

23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.

Shem and Japheth do their best to minimize dad’s failing.  They act with respect and love.

24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him,

25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

“he said” is as much prophetic as it is judicial.  Canaan is the youngest of Ham’s sons.  How this curse comes to him is not completely clear.  Some commentators reason that if Ham is the kind of disrespectful person he seems to be, that has consequences, and that one of his kids winds up being worthy of this kind of curse is not completely surprising.  There is a reality in the sins of the fathers finding their way to their sons.  On the other hand, the families of Shem and Japheth are blessed.

26 He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.

27 May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.”

28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years.

29 All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died.

And he died.  The fall has its effect.  God’s steadfast love for His world and Noah are absolutely true and inviolable.  But eternal life comes only through Christ.  There is death waiting for every human being until the 2nd coming and the complete fulfillment of Christ’s kingdom rule.

For purposes of reminding ourselves of the whole flow of Scripture and the veracity of the accounts it provides, note carefully that Noah lives at least right up to and possibly extending 50 years or so into (by Calvin’s calculation) the life of Abraham.  There is solid continuity provided by overlap in these early generations of mankind.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.