Daily Bible Reading

Daily Bible Reading
WBF Building before the Great Fire of 1909

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Jan 5, Gen 16-18

Today's readings are Gen 16-18.

In Gen 16, we see the results of human impatience at God's speed in doing things. God promised Abram he would have offspring. Sarai actually accuses God of preventing her from bearing children (Gen 16:2). Both of them decide God needs some help in getting His plan accomplished. It was what made sense to the aged couple. None of it goes well. 
Abram has a son Ishmael by Hagar. 


God is gracious and true to his promise to Abram. He will multiply Abram's first offspring into twelve nations. Except, because of Abram's lack of confidence in God and because Abram, like Adam  (Gen 3:17), listened to the voice of his wife (Gen 16:2), Ishmael and his offspring will be anything but a blessing to the world. This will be another biblical pattern we will see going forward. Whenever God gives an explicit command and His people modify it or try to "help it along", disaster looms. God's commands are not negotiable nor are they subject to revision by any of His children. If they are to walk in His full blessing, they have to do things His way, not theirs. 


In Gen 17, God gives His chosen people a mark, circumcision. This is a physical distinguishing characteristic that sets His people apart, making them unique. They will bear the evidence of His presence in their lives. God's people are called to be "in the world" but set apart from it. Gen 17:19 tells us the covenant between God and Abraham will pass to the baby, Isaac. Notice that Ishmael is to be circumcised as well, but is not the recipient of the covenant. Ismael will live under God’s blessing but not be an heir to the promise. This shows us that, while all the people on the earth are descendants of Noah and his family, not all of them will have an ongoing relationship with God. All mankind will be the beneficiary of God’s “common grace”, the grace that sustains all living things while God’s plan is being worked out. However, not everyone will be the beneficiary of God’s promise of being one of the “chosen people” of God, those who receive the promise. This is an early demonstration of the reality that simply being born to a certain people does not guarantee status as a chosen one.  


Abram has been the recipient of God's grace in the whole affair with Ishmael. God's unmerited grace brings a change, a transformation begins. God gives Abram his new name to demonstrate that transformation. He is now Abraham. Abraham hears that God's plan has not been thwarted by his actions. His wife, now called Sarah, will still have a son. Her son will bless the nations.


There are similarities between Abraham and Sarah and Adam and Eve. Both couples represent a new beginning, the promise of intimacy with God. God speaks directly to Abraham as He did to Adam. Both men stumbled by listening to the good-but-not-godly intention of their wives. Both couples saw the unmerited grace of God even though they had stumbled. The primary difference between the two couples is the covenant. In Adam and Eve, we see that man is unable to follow God’s commandments on his own. Still, God exhibits grace and gives them a vague and broad reaching promise. In Abraham and Sarah, we see God’s promise in more detail. We also see His grace and His willingness to fulfill His promises despite His chosen people’s lack of ability to be faithful. In order to understand the grace we see in Abraham’s story, we have to see the lack of holiness and faithfulness in Adam then in Abraham. Both men stumble. Both men receive grace. In Abraham, we get a reminder that grace is unmerited but God remains faithful when His children are not.

Why is this true? We must keep in mind the purpose of the overall narrative, indeed of all creation  - to reveal God’s glory. It is His story, not Adam’s, not Abraham’s, not ours. Our salvation is precious and spectacular. But it is in every way a manifestation of God revealing His glory to His creation. If we understand this as we read through the Bible, the constant stumbles and failings of His people and God’s faithful response in preserving them begins to make sense. He will reveal His glory despite them, not because of them. This applies to us as believers. God intends to reveal His glory in our ongoing transformation even though we are imperfect and flawed. We can’t save ourselves, so God, in order to put His power and His faithfulness on display, saves us Himself.

God gives Abraham a mighty demonstration of the power to back up His promise in Gen 18. We also see the terrifying results of unholy living carried out in the lives of those who are not recipients of God’s grace. God tells Abraham He is going to destroy Sodom. Abraham knows Lot lives in Sodom and pleads for God to relent on behalf of the righteous in Sodom. God agrees to spare Sodom if ten righteous men are found in it. Abraham is a mediator for the righteous! Another biblical pattern is revealed. God designates a mediator between Himself and His people. God chose Abraham, declared him blameless (Gen 17:1) and so provided a mediator for His righteous ones. God demonstrates that His designated mediator can spare the righteous from judgment. Abraham is clearly far from being completely righteous. But, we see the principal of a mediator being carried out.


This is not a story about negotiating with God. It is a demonstration of how effective one who stands between man and God can be. It will be many hundreds of years before a truly effective and perfect mediator appears. Meanwhile, we get a glimpse of how God chooses to relate to His children.

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