Israel 2016

Israel 2016
Roman architectural influence in Bet Sean, Israel

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Jan 6, Gen 19-21

Today's readings are Gen 19-21. Tomorrow's are Gen 22-24. 

As judgment approaches Sodom in Gen 19 we see that Lot appears to be the only righteous man living in that city (Gen 19:4). God destroys the city but spares Lot, his wife and his daughters, presumably because of Abraham's intercession (Gen 18:23; 19:15). We see that God will spare those who are represented by a righteous advocate or mediator, in Lot's case, the mediator is Abraham, not a perfect mediator but enough to show us a biblical principle of how God functions.

It's hard to read the story of Lot and the men of the city who want to know the visiting angels. Why would Lot offer his daughters to them in place of the angels?  In the Mideast, hospitality was extended to travelers as a gesture of kindness, but it was also a way of offering shelter from thieves and the elements. God’s people, we will find in Exodus, are to be hospitable to sojourners as a way of representing God’s kindness and shelter. The angels in Lot’s story are offered shelter by a godly man. He guarantees that shelter to the extent that he is willing to sacrifice those who are most precious to him. As we saw in Abraham, Lot is an imperfect representation of Christ in whom who we can find guaranteed shelter. Lot is totally unaware of how he is being used to teach us a lesson. Nevertheless, in him, we see a deep commitment to righteousness.

Note: The men of Sodom are so consumed by their lust that, even though struck blind, they continue to try to break into Lot's house. They are groping around in the dark. In contrast, at sunrise, Lot is led by the hand to safety. Those apart from the Lord are lost in the dark. Those who are with Him will be led into the light.

We have a telling contrast between Lot's wife (who disobeys the command not to look upon the destruction of the city) and Abraham. She turns back to look and is turned into a pillar of salt. Meanwhile, Abraham (who has not been given the same commandment) looks on the destruction (Gen 19:27-28) with a vastly different outcome. In the story of Lot's wife, we see that it is not always the behavior, but the heart behind the behavior that condemns. There was obviously nothing inherently evil about looking at the city or the destruction but there was in the disobedience of Lot's wife. Her disobedience causes her to be hardened, an example of our hearts when we are disobedient. Abraham is constantly portrayed as a man who, regardless of his weaknesses, wants to obey God. Abraham's desire to be obedient is blessed. Lot's wife suffers the consequences of her willful disobedience. 

Lot's daughters, with good intentions of perpetuating the bloodline, seduce their father and produce sons. Despite good intentions, this is still a sin. This will have a long-term impact on the dynamics of the region. Their offspring, the Moabites and the Ammonites, will live as enemies of God's people for centuries. As we have seen before and will see again, whenever one of God's people believe they have a better idea than God, or want to improve on His plan, it doesn't turn out so well. 

Amazingly, Abraham lies again about Sarah in Gen 20:1-2, resulting in her being taken into King Abimelech's harem. Abimelech is a Philistine. God, being faithful to His promise to produce offspring for Abraham through Sarah, protects Sarah and prevents Abimelech from touching her (Gen 20:6) leaving no question as to who Isaac's father will be. Abraham receives grace even though he stumbles. As flawed as he is, Abraham is being used in a mighty way as a vessel for blessing and curses. God uses flawed people to do His work!

While the Philistines will remain enemies of God's people as long as they exist, we learn two lessons about God in this incident. (1) He will use people who are not His in whatever manner He chooses. He not only protects Sarah but heals Abimelech, revealing that He has authority over even the Philistines. (2) His healing of Abimelech is an act of "common grace", the grace that is shown to ungodly people while God works His perfect plan out among those that are His. Abimelech clearly respects God. But to him, the one true God is just another among many gods, all of whom are to be respected and feared. 

In Gen 21, God's promise to Abraham is fulfilled in the birth of Isaac. When Isaac is weaned, Abraham and Sarah turn Hagar and Ishmael out, apparently leaving them to starve to death. God promises to preserve Hagar and Ishmael, upholding His previous promise (Gen 16:10; 17:20) that Ishmael will be the father of multitudes. Reading Gen 20:12-13 carefully reveals that many nations will call Abraham their father (Rom 4:17-18). We see the lingering impact in today's current events as Ishmael's descendants, as well as Isaac's, consider Abraham their ancestor. 

This is the fruit of Abraham and Sarah's decision to take things into their own hands. God is faithful in all He says and does. As we watch continuing turmoil in the Mideast, we see that Abraham and Sarah's sin impacts us today, just as Adam and Eve's does.

Why does God preserve Ishmael’s descendants? Why not just eliminate the Moabites, Ammonites and their ilk right there at the beginning? One reason is that they are an ever-present reminder that sin has consequences. Another is that there is a lesson about God’s sovereignty here. God will repeatedly use these ungodly tribes and their offspring, throughout the generations, to refine His children. They are all tools in His hands, being used to reveal His attributes and put His glory on display.

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