Genesis 12: So Abram left…He moved on…Abram went down…So Abram left.
I imagine there was a lot of excitement in that first “so Abram left” moment. The Lord had directed him to go and now, Abram, his family, and his belongings were moving out to a promised and glorious unknown place. That first step goes off without a hitch and in a relatively short time the travelers find themselves in the Promised Land of Canaan. That’s when things get complicated. Canaan’s already occupied and there’s no place for Abram and family. He moves on and settles down, at least until a famine hits the area. He moves again, relocating to Egypt. Abram and company are now as far to the southwest of Canaan as he had been to the northeast when his journey began. In a few years they’re all kicked out of Egypt and end up back in Canaan. However, even now they’re outsiders and aren’t really accepted as residents. What started out as an exciting relocation to the Promised Land has become an uncertain life with no permanency for Abram and his family. Years have passed since that original exodus and they’ve become a tribe of nomads rather than possessors of a land to call their own. If Abram had known this journey would fill the most of his life I wonder if he would have left in the first place. Being the hero he is my guess is “yes.” However, when I internalize his story, I wonder how I’m doing in the similar circumstances of my life. Years ago, the Lord called me to follow him. He promised that he’s building a city and has a place in it just for me. As I travel through life, I tend to treat each step as though it’s permanent. I amass possessions, settle down, and behave as though I’ve arrived at the destination promised me at the beginning of the journey. It took Abraham a lifetime to actually arrive. Everything else was “in transit.” So it is in my life. I want to appreciate the moment; after all, God’s good to me. However, I also want to remember that, like Abraham, I’m also “in transit.”
Take away: Appreciate the moment, but don’t forget this is just a part of a great journey.
Genesis 12: God told Abram, “Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.
When I was younger there was nothing I liked better than taking a trip and our young family often hopped in the car to go and see something new. Then, I ended up traveling for a living, sometimes being gone weeks at a time. That, for me, cured my wander-lust and when that period of my life ended I emotionally overcompensated and became a homebody for several years. These days, I like to think I’ve found the middle ground in this, but I confess that I still like to be comfortably at home. Not long ago we took a 2900 mile road trip, and while it was fun to go, it was sure nice to get home: my bed, my chair, my patio – yep, it is good to be home. I’ve come to realize that it’s possible to be too comfortable. Sometimes, God has things he wants to do in my life: transitions he wants to take me through. He has something better for me, yet I hesitate. “Lord, it isn’t all that bad right here – if it is all the same to you, I think I’ll just settle down here in this place of comfort.” It makes perfect sense to me – but to fail here is to miss something much better he has for me. When Abraham obeys the Lord in the call to begin a journey into the unknown, he’s about to leave the comfort of home and set out on a decades-long journey. There are going to be some big bumps in the road but the destination the Lord has in mind for him is going to make it all worthwhile. What’s true for this, the first Patriarch, is true for you and me too: God initiated trips are always worth taking.
Take away: Don’t get too comfortable and miss out on something better the Lord might have in store.
Genesis 11: Let’s build ourselves a city and a tower that reaches Heaven.
God’s plan, in this case, is to break up relationships
The Flood purges the earth of a humanity that’s fully committed to evil. Now, through Noah, human beings are given a second chance. He and his family come out of the ark and life springs forth. Children are born, have children of their own, and, within a few hundred years the one family becomes many. The Flood washed away the dominant evil, but it didn’t wash away the stain of sin on their hearts. Hundreds of years pass and Noah’s descendants decide to build a city with a great tower that will reach to Heaven. The idea of having a humble walk with God doesn’t occur to them. Instead, they will, of their own wisdom and strength, climb up to him. Hundreds of years earlier, Adam and Eve were tempted to eat of the forbidden fruit and thus, be like God. Now we see humanity trying a different approach to achieve the same goal. It’s plain that, unless something happens, this is going to be a continuing problem. People need to be dispersed — spread out. Otherwise, they’ll continue to be a bad influence on each other and maybe, as they cooperate in disobedience to God…well, who knows what might happen. The Lord’s solution is both simple and complex. In a moment, he gives different languages to the different people groups. Suddenly, a fellow asks for another brick to use in construction, and his partner can’t understand what he said. Chaos ensues. As people realize they can only understand what their near kin are saying, they group together and move off to get away from the “babble” of their proposed city. Never again will the entire of humanity cooperate in any venture. This doesn’t solve the problem of people having a broken relationship with God, but it does help on the other side of things: it breaks their relationship with one another.
Take away: Sometimes God separates people for their own good.
Genesis 8: I’ll never again kill off everything living as I’ve just done.
The flood abates and Noah, his family, and the animals depart the ark. Life on earth gets a fresh start. God’s promise that this will never be repeated is intended to be a source of comfort to us when disasters come our way. God caused the flood with the express purpose of purging the earth. The deaths are his doing, according to his plan. Now, the Giver of Life certainly has the authority to be the Taker of Life, so I have no argument at this point. However, the Almighty knows that unless he assures us otherwise every major disaster will cause people to fearfully look to heaven, wondering if this is the beginning of another purge. After all, it’s not as though we don’t deserve whatever God sends our way. In mercy the Lord promises that the Flood is a once-in-history event that will never be repeated. Because of this promise, we understand that other big disasters are simply the result of living in a world where bad things sometimes happen. The Lord doesn’t want human beings fearing that this is “another end of the world” in the face of every hurricane or volcano eruption or earthquake. Instead, he wants us to live in fellowship with him, trusting him to be with us even in the disasters of life.
Take away: Don’t treat every unwelcome event with a fresh round of self-doubt.
Fighting the right battle
Genesis 6: Noah did everything God commanded him to do.
We Christians sometimes rush out to fight the wrong battles. When I read the story of Noah and the flood I’m not supposed to come away with a scientific understanding of how the flood happened. I’m not supposed to whip out my calculator and try to figure out how many animals and provisions the ark would carry or study geology to prove there was really such a flood. Instead, I’m to see that God has a plan to redeem humanity and that he’ll go to whatever extreme is necessary to get that done. I’m also to appreciate Noah’s obedience in spite of the seeming unreasonableness of his task and his being alone in accomplishing it. Now, that isn’t to say this event is to be filed under the heading of “parable.” Just the details of the construction of the ark and the clear references to locale mark this as a historical event. The take away, though, isn’t my charging off to prove the story is true or sharpening my debate skills so I can conquer the “unbelievers” with stories of gopher wood on Mount Ararat. Instead, I’m to see God at work, redeeming humanity. I’m to be impressed at what the Lord can do with just one obedient person and be challenged to obedience in areas of my life that are beyond my understanding. Rather than fighting battles on the scientific front, a wiser use of my energy is to deal with the eternal spiritual issues of this event.
Take away: It’s easy to get caught up in battles and miss the main points.
Genesis 6: God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart.
Human beings have been removed from the Garden but they take their sin with them. Immediately, grace begins to flow, an unending river of good will toward these broken creatures. Sadly, the response is to reject the grace and push the Grace-Giver away. The crowning achievement of all God made has degenerated into a self-absorbed, God-ignoring shadow of what might have been. This “free-will” business isn’t working out and like radical surgery is sometimes needed to battle cancer, the Lord makes the painful decision to prune away all the foulness so that humanity will get another chance. For centuries the number of people who chose to respond to God’s grace has dwindled. Now, one righteousness man is left. If humanity is to be saved, it’ll be through him. The focus of the universe is on righteous Noah. We won’t see everything depending on just one man again until the Lord unleashes the eternal solution to the fallen condition of humanity. That will involve a willingness, not to build an ark, but to go to a cross.
Take away: The story of Noah is more about humanity getting a second chance than it is about judgment.
Those mysterious sons of God
Genesis 6: The sons of God noticed that the daughters of men were beautiful.
What’s going on here? Who on earth (or beyond this earth) are these sons of God? Do we have some angels coming to earth and being attracted to our women? Now that would make for some juicy sermon material! Alas, I don’t think it will work. We don’t find any evidence in the Bible of angels being called “sons of God.” Still, the writer of Genesis says that the result of the union of these mysterious sons of God and the daughters of men is a race of giants: big, aggressive, and conquering. I think the best way to work on this passage is to read it backwards. That is, the result of all this is that God concludes that “human evil is out of control.” The rebellion that started with Adam and Eve has gotten progressively worse to the point that humanity is focused on evil all the time. A branch of the human race has sprung up that threatens God’s plan to redeem human beings. The part about sons of God is how the writer introduces this accelerating fall of humanity. Now, having put it into perspective, the identity of these sons of God isn’t quite as important as it was. It’s just the set up describing why God is about to take drastic action against humanity. It may be that the writer is simply giving us a poetic view of how a race of “mighty men” who have no fear of God came dominate the earth. I do have a theory that I’ll share with you, but its pure speculation. I think the sons of God are the decedents of Seth. It’s through him that the Son of God will trace his lineage. It’s Seth’s offspring who are listed as living those extremely long lives in the previous chapter. I also think the “daughters of men” are the offspring of Cain. That murderer was driven out and is no longer counted as one of God’s people. Just because Cain and his descendants are considered to be outsiders doesn’t mean they fade to nothing. In fact, it’s just the opposite. They’re building cities, developing the arts, and bringing the world into the Bronze Age. You might say that humanity has forked into two distinct groups: those who worship God (sons of God) and those who advance humanity apart from God. When the God-worshipers start intermarrying with these humanists the Lord decides he must act aggressively to save humanity. At least that’s my take on it all.
Take away: God will act aggressively to redeem humanity…that’s true in broad terms, but also at the personal level as well.
He died before his time
Genesis 5: Adam lived a total of 930 years. And he died.
I’ve heard that the very long lives of people mentioned in the first pages of Genesis are the result of someone’s counting the seasons as years or something like that. While I have no authority to say it, I’ll say it anyway: I think that’s silly. Based on the Creation story, I think the Lord designed human beings to live forever. It’s their disobedience that brings death into the world. In fact, this very moment the only man already possessing a resurrection body is still alive 2000 years down the road. He’s physically at the right hand of his Father right now. Sin short-circuited the “forever aspect” of human life and it’s Jesus who redeems, not just the souls of people, but our bodies as well. At this point, Jesus is the only man to experience the redeemed body, but judging from his post-resurrection appearances the new body is a fascinating mix of familiar (eating) and unfamiliar (appearing and disappearing). Now, back to Adam. I think his extremely long life is a residue of his original design. If you think about it, his body was designed for eternity and he “only” lived 930 years. Soon, God will move to further limit life spans, not once, but twice. The original limitation, though, is the big one. Because of sin, life expectancy is throttled back from forever to under 1000 years. For a creature intended to live forever that’s like dying in infancy.
Take away: Jesus redeems us entirely, body and spirit.
Something new: prayer!
Genesis 4: That’s when men and women began praying and worshiping in the name of God.
Things are really messed up. The human race is fallen. The Garden is gone. The first murder has taken place. It’s all falling apart. This “free will” thing isn’t working out very well. Eve has another son and names him Seth. Seth has a son and names him Enosh. Then a wonderful thing happens: people start praying and worshiping. I wonder how that came about. Is Seth so thankful for the gift of a son that he decides to start worshiping God? Is it Enosh who has a hunger for God and introduces praying and worshiping? I don’t know the answer but I do see here a change for the better; one that brought hope to a hopeless situation. So what does it take in my life? Does it take tragedy…or some great blessing? Does it take someone else finding the way and showing it to me? What does it take to turn me from a life being lived for self to one being lived in fellowship with God?
Take away: Prayer and worship is an “important discovery” for every person to make.
Genesis 3: God put a mark on Cain to protect him.
The murderer has been confronted and has confessed. The sentence is banishment to a hostile world. From now on he’ll be an outsider, apart from the family (it’s not a nation yet) God claims as his own. Cain is crushed by this sentence and already feels the icy grip of loneliness on his life. Not only that, but he knows he’s getting off with a sentence lighter than he deserves. He senses that the proper penalty for murder is death. In addition, he realizes that other people know it too. God may be banishing him, but he imagines other men hunting him down and taking his life that justice might be done. What the Lord does in response is, at the same time, one of the great mysteries of the Bible and also one of many great acts of mercy. Cain’s marked in some way that says to all he encounters “This man is under God’s protection, leave him alone.” I have no idea of what that mark is, in fact, I can’t imagine how it works. However, I do know it’s a mark of mercy and I have a very good idea of what mercy looks like. It looks like the Lord forgiving me of my sins rather than condemning me as I deserve. It looks like hope instead of fear. It looks like Jesus on the cross of Calvary.
Take away: Thank God for the “mark of mercy!”