Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

In an illustration from Preaching Today called “Fred Rogers Created Rather Than Complained” we read this moving tribute to him by Jonathon Merritt taken from a May 18, 2011 Q Ideas article called "Restoration in the Land of Make-Believe." Here are excerpts from that article.

Jonathon Merritt recounts how Rogers chose to reform society through his gentle and persistent influence on a children's television show. “In 1965, a thin, soft-spoken man sauntered into Pittsburgh's WQED, the nation's first public television station, to pitch a show targeting young children. The concept was simple enough: convey life lessons to young children with the help of puppets, songs and frank conversations. It doesn't sound like much. That is, until you realize that the man was Fred Rogers, and the program was Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. But Rogers was more than a great neighbor or good host; he was a restorer. According to Gabe Lyons in The Next Christians, a "restorer" is someone who views the world as it "ought to be." Faced with the world's brokenness, restorers are "provoked, not offended." They work to make the world a better place by "creating, not criticizing" and by "being countercultural, not relevant." Using this definition, Rogers may be one of the greatest American restorers of the 20th century. Rogers got into television because he "hated" the medium and faced with the decision to either sour on television itself or work to restore the medium, he chose the latter. Fourteen years later, he would create one of the most beloved American television shows of all time, and one that would shape entire generations of children. Rogers was a devout Christian that almost never explicitly talked about his faith on the air, but the way his show infused society with beauty and grace was near-biblical …. "You've made this day a special day by just your being you," he'd famously sign off. "There is no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are." In many ways, the lasting legacy of Fred Rogers will not be the greater emotional stability of generations of children or even a reinvigoration of imagination. It will be his example of how to restore the world through impassioned creativity and craftsmanship. For nearly four decades, Rogers entered our homes and entered our hearts. And each day without fail, he left our collective neighborhoods better and made our days a little bit more beautiful.

We have been studying Abraham, who has been led by God to the Promised Land for the express purpose of taking ownership of it. Along the way he has had many interactions with the people native to that area. Being a neighbor has not been easy for Abraham and I am sure we all have stories of hard times dealing with our neighbors. But God had blessed Abraham in order to be a blessing to his neighbors and we will see that played out this morning. Everyone that Abraham came in contact with were pagan peoples and he was still called by God to be a blessing to them. We can learn a lot from Abraham in how we should interact with those around us that do not know God.

Today we are going to see a second interaction between Abraham and Abimelech which goes a lot smoother than the last one because this time Abraham is treating his neighbor with respect. We can imagine that he is trying to make his neighborhood a better place by creating and restoring friendships instead of criticizing and deceiving. We will see him return to life as a peacemaker as we saw with Lot earlier in Genesis. Worshiping the one true God was countercultural to the way the Canaanites and other peoples in that land would have been living but Abraham wanted to live in peace and harmony with them. The only reason he was able to live in peace with his neighbors was because he had been blessed by God. We see these words in Genesis 12:2-3: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

We’ve talked before about being in the world but not of it. That doesn’t mean we can be disrespectful to those who don’t believe the way we do or criticize them and look down on them. We are called to show the love of Christ to all people and this should especially be true to those who are far away from God. How can we reach the world for Jesus when we are pushing them farther and farther away from Him? We can’t and that is the problem that we have not only individually but also as the church. In Romans 12:14, we are commanded to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” And in Romans 12:17-18 we are commanded to, “Never repay evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.” This is what we will see Abraham doing in our scripture this morning and it brings us to our big idea: “When we live at peace with our neighbors God can bless us so we can be a blessing to them.”

Before we look at how God blessed Abraham and how Abraham was a blessing to those around him, let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for your Word given to us to show us how to live on this earth. Give us ears to hear from your Holy Spirit this morning so we can live the way you want us to as we interact with our neighbors especially those who don’t know you as their Lord and Savior. Open our hearts and minds to what you want us to learn that we can share it with those we come in contact with this week. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Our scripture is found in Genesis 21:22-34. There are four points this morning. The first point is Confrontation which is found in verses 22-24. This is what God’s Word says, “At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, “God is with you in everything you do. Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you now reside as a foreigner the same kindness I have shown to you.” Abraham said, “I swear it.”

This is the second time we have seen Abimelech. In Genesis 20:1 we saw that Abraham and Sarah were living in Gerar where Abimelech was the king. Abraham and Sarah deceive the king by telling him that Sarah is his sister and the king takes Sarah into his house probably to be one of his concubines. But God intervenes and Sarah is delivered before Abimelech can touch her. Abimelech is not happy with Abraham’s deception and in the end Abraham prays for God to heal Abimelech and his wives and slave girls so they could have children again. We notice that Abraham was not a very good neighbor in that story. He deceived his neighbors and indirectly caused them to incur God’s wrath. That first encounter sets the stage for this one. ​​ 

“At this time” refers to a time after Isaac has been weaned and Hagar and Ishmael were sent away. Abraham and Sarah have probably been living in the area of Beersheba for a number of years. Abimelech approaches Abraham with the commander of his military forces, Philcol. Bringing his military commander with him could indicate a couple of things. First, Abraham may have been a person of some status. He may have had a political or even military presence in the area. Remember back in Genesis 14, Abraham had defeated the four kings with 318 trained men to get Lot back. Abraham probably has an entourage of substantial size and power at his disposal. Abimelech probably considered him a force to be reckoned with, especially with a powerful God on his side. Also, Beersheba was only twenty-five miles from Gerar so maybe there were tensions in the area and Philcol was there in case hostilities broke out. Later in the story we will see that it was possible there were ongoing problems on the border between Abimelech’s men and Abraham’s men.

Abimelech realizes that Abraham is doing well. His herds and flocks are prospering which dominates a lot of land and he now has a son with Sarah in his old age. He would have been seen as being richly blessed. Abimelech realizes this blessing because he says “God is with you in everything you do.” Abimelech has seen firsthand God’s blessing on Abraham and now has seen his continued blessing in the subsequent years since their last encounter. The sentiment that “God is with you” will also be noticed later in Genesis with Isaac and this same Abimelech, with Jacob and Laban and with Joseph and Potiphar in Egypt. This begs a question of all of us. Do people in your neighborhood or in your sphere of influence see your life and say: “God is with you in everything you do.” If not, we need to examine our lives and our interactions with our neighbors because they should be able to notice God’s work in our daily lives. That brings us to our first next step this morning, which is to “live my life in such a way that my neighbors see God at work in my daily life.”

Abimelech realizes that it is in his best interest for his people to live peacefully with Abraham and his people but is not sure if he can trust Abraham on the basis of their previous encounter. He is hoping that Abraham will treat him now the way he treated Abraham before. Ross states, “It is interesting that the two things that Abimelech knew about Abraham was that God was with him and that he could not altogether be trusted.” We may wonder who the superior party is, Abimelech or Abraham? Abimelech acts like Abraham is as he asks for a favor instead of demanding terms. In the previous encounter Abimelech being the king was the superior party who treated Abraham fairly. But now based on what happened before the roles seem reversed. Even though he is the king and commands an army he knows that a powerful God is at work in Abraham’s life. He is asking Abraham to show him the same “loyalty” in a covenant relationship that he showed previously.

Abimelech’s suggestion of an alliance of friendship with Abraham would not only be binding for the present but for their children and descendants as well. Abimelech is hoping that by brokering peace now it will bring lasting peace for his land in the future. Abraham’s response is short. The meaning is “I give you my word”, literally, “I, I swear.” The use of a second pronoun reinforces the certainty of Abraham’s pledge. Here the emphasis is solely on Abraham’s act of swearing but later on we will see that they both mutually swear an oath to live in peace and harmony with each other for generations to come. There is no confrontation or deception with Abimelech who doesn’t believe the same way Abraham does, there is only acceptance. I like what Hamilton says, “That God is with Abraham does not mean that he has a two to one majority over Abimelech. It means that others’ expectations of Abraham now increase.” This is why God has blessed Abraham. So that Abraham will be a blessing to those in his neighborhood around him. He needs to be more respectful, more helpful, more humble, more of a restorer than those around him. Especially those around him that do not know God and are far away from him. This is what it means to be a neighbor in the places God has put us. (Big Idea).

The second point is Complaint and we see this in verses 25-27. This is what God’s word says, “Then Abraham complained to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized. But Abimelech said, “I don’t know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.” So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a treaty.”

Abraham swears to deal honestly from now on with Abimelech and his people. But before formally ratifying the treaty, Abraham lodges a formal, legal complaint. It seems that Abimelech’s servants had illegally and violently seized one of Abraham’s wells. Wells were important in a desert climate where water was the difference between the life and death of Abraham’s flocks and herds and the life and death of him and his family as well. Abraham’s claim to the water relied on two factors. One, that Abraham had dug the well and, two, that it was Abimelech who invited Abraham to reside anywhere in the land in the first place (20:15) giving Abraham the right to local pasturage and use of the well’s water.

The Hebrew suggests that Abraham had made this complaint several times with nothing being done about it. Here were the makings of a feud between the two men that had the capability to explode and cause irreparable damage to Abraham’s witness and to his relationship with Abimelech and the people in that region. There needed to be respect and restoration and this was a good test of their relationship in whether this vital resource could be negotiated fairly. We see how this negotiation plays out. They both brought their complaints to each other. They both listened respectfully to what the other had to say and were allowed to respond. Abraham was gauging Abimelech’s response to see if he knew anything about the seizure but seems convinced because he gives Abimelech sheep and cattle in order to formalize the treaty.

The gift of sheep and cattle was to cement their relationship. The act of seizing the well will not be allowed to cause potential unrest. We notice a number of things about this encounter. First, it is Abraham who gives Abimelech the animals, meaning that Abraham was the inferior party even though it was Abimelech who proposed the treaty. The gift was also given to cement a peace treaty between the two men. Abraham takes the higher ground in that he wasn’t going to let the dispute over the well cause hostilities to escalate. Second, this is another example of a “cutting of the covenant” that we saw between God and Abraham in chapter 15. “Cutting the covenant” was a ritual of cutting sacrificial animals in two and placing them in rows so that the two parties involved in the treaty could walk between the animal parts. This signified that whoever broke the covenant could be “cut” in two just as the animals were. Thirdly, we also notice that in neighborly fashion the two parties talk about the offense, give their explanations which are accepted and finalize the treaty to the satisfaction of both parties. The covenant ensured that disputes of this kind would not be repeated by their children and their descendants which would keep peace in the land for generations to come. Similar steps when used wisely today can produce harmony in the place of discord and cooperation where previously there was only confrontation. That brings us to our second next step which is to “strive for harmony and cooperation when conflicts arise with my neighbors.”

The third point is Committed and we see this in verses 28-30. This is what God’s Word says, “Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock, and Abimelech asked Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?” He replied, “Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.”

Abraham wanted to show Abimelech that he was committed to the truth and to dealing honestly with his neighbors. Abraham in addition to giving the sheep and cattle also set apart seven ewe lambs for Abimelech. This must have been a strange act to do in that time because Abimelech questions it. He was probably a little wary of Abraham’s motives because he had been deceived before and it may not have been normal for people to be overly generous within a covenant. These were not for sacrifice but a gift to Abimelech. Abraham wanted something from Abimelech but it was only what he deserved and nothing more. Abraham had dug the well that Abimelech’s servants had seized and the proof was the seven ewe lambs. The lambs would have been vital to propagating his herd and the generous number of seven would have reflected how important the well was to Abraham and his descendants. Abimelech knew that this gift would put him under obligation to accept Abraham’s version of events surrounding the seizing of the well. Being able to supply this number of ewe lambs speaks to Abraham’s wealth and strength of bargaining position. ​​ 

The seven lambs were set aside as a “witness” that Abraham had dug the well and had the rights of ownership to it. It reminds me of someone giving a reward for a lost wallet. When the wallet is returned to the rightful owner the person who returned it might get a reward showing how valuable the returned item is. Just like the well was valuable to Abraham, so is the wallet to the owner. Only the owner of the wallet would be willing to give a reward for its return. The reward would be proof that the wallet really was theirs just like the seven ewes was the proof that Abraham had dug the well and it was his. Only Abraham would be willing to give this valuable gift to get the well back. In accepting this gift, Abimelech was legally acknowledging that Abraham had dug the well, releasing any rights to it and conceding that Abraham was in fact the legitimate owner of the well. This would also hold Abimelech to side with Abraham in any future altercations involving this well. Ross says, “By securing the right to the well Abraham was securing the continued enjoyment of God’s blessing to him, represented by the well. Abimelech gains a pact with Abraham to ensure the future stability between them.”

The last point is Commemoration and we see this in verses 31-34. This is what God’s Word says, “So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there. After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the LORD, the Eternal God. ​​ And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.”

There is commemoration taking place in a couple of different ways here First, calling the place, Beersheba, where the two men swore the oath to each other. The Hebrew word “to swear” means “to bind by seven things” and the words “swear and “seven” are very similar. Beersheba means “Well of the Sevens” or “Well of the Oath” which fits the story of what happened there exactly. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that this event caused the place to be named Beersheba. Most commentators believe the city was already named but this event gave it more significance. Beersheba now becomes a place commemorating the treaty. Abraham has prospered under God’s blessing and has agreed to a peace treaty with Abimelech at Beersheba that will bring a peaceful coexistence allowing Abraham to serve God in the Land of Promise. This commemorative naming also preserved for future generations the record of how the property was secured. Once the treaty had been sworn, Abimelech and Philcol returned to their own land, the land of the Philistines. It seems that Abraham was living on the outskirts of the land ruled by Abimelech, but was close enough that Abimelech felt the need to make a peace treaty with Abraham.

The second way that we see commemoration taking place is Abraham planting a tamarisk tree. In the OT, trees were a symbol of life and blessing from God. Abraham has built altars but this is the first time we see him planting a tree. The tamarisk tree grew in sandy soil and was deciduous. It could grow up to twenty feet high and provide much needed shade in the desert. Also, its branches provided grazing for animals. Its leaves excreted salt, its bark was used for tanning and its wood for building and making charcoal. It was considered a holy tree and had purifying qualities. Planting a tree would have had as much significance as building an altar. This tree was a witness to what God had done for him in showing favor with Abimelech. He had been blessed by God and was showing the fruit of being a blessing to his neighbors as God had promised. Trees played an important part in Abraham’s life in the Promised Land. He stopped by a tree in Shechem (12:6), he built an altar by a tree at Mamre (13:18), he lived near trees (14:13) and entertained Yahweh under a tree (18:1). By planting this tree it reinforced his claim to the land. In some interpretations, the word “tamarisk” means “a strip of ground” meaning Abraham didn’t just plant a tree but actually laid out a plot of land. This would make sense in light of verse 34 that he settled down in the land for a long time. This tree was the proof of Abraham’s faith in God for his prosperity and security and the security of his descendants.

Thirdly, we see Abraham calling on the name of the Lord in worship. He is commemorating the way that God has orchestrated this treaty so that Abraham could be a blessing to those in his neighborhood. Now, Abraham legally owns a well in the land of promise and there will be peace and harmony in this land for his children and his children’s children. When Abraham called on the name of the Lord he called him, “El-Olam” or “the everlasting One.” This name for God is used only here in Genesis. God was revealing himself to Abraham in every event that took place in the Promised Land. Abraham knew that everything else would pass away but God would endure for eternity. He knew that God would never change so could cling to the promise that his descendants would one day possess this land just as he was possessing it now. Wenham states, “that after so many delays the promises of land and descendants at last seem on their way to fulfillment.” But now came the responsibility to use this land for the honor and glory of the Lord. This anticipates a peaceful coexistence that the Israelites should have with other tribes who would respond to the message of peace and desire to share in God’s blessing. By living peacefully with its neighbors, the Israelites could more readily become the channel of blessing they were intended to be.

Think about your own life. Can you look back and see God’s sovereign hand at work in your life to get you where you are today? I definitely can. That should cause us to worship our Sovereign Lord. That should cause us to call upon the name of the Lord in praise and worship. That brings us to our third next step which is to “call on the name of the Lord in worship for his sovereign hand at work in my life.”

Finally, we see that Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time, maybe for as much as ten to fifteen years. It was probably a great time of peace and happiness for Abraham. Tranquil old age was a sign of God’s blessing. This was going to be Abraham’s neighborhood for a long time and God had blessed him and would continue to bless him so he could be a blessing to those around him. We may ask what was the author’s point in including this story? Walton in his commentary says, “It has to do with covenant roots. Gradually Abraham is establishing roots in the land – digging wells and planting trees. Additionally as relationships are established with the peoples in the land the blessing is taking root. Finally, Abraham’s relationship with God is taking root as land and family become established.”

So how can we be good neighbors that would make not only Fred Rogers proud but more importantly our Heavenly Father proud? We can live into the example of Abraham. First, believers should agree to the request for peaceful relationships. Second, believers should try to restore peace when it is disrupted. Third, believers should strive to ensure that peaceful relationships continue into the future. Fourth, believers must use their peaceful, prosperous life to serve God. God brings us peace and harmony so we can be a blessing to those we come in contact with where we live, work, and play.

The question that again comes to mind after studying this passage is, “Does the world see God in our everyday life?” First, for God’s purpose to be fulfilled through us, the world should see God in us. As Christians we need to be aware that the people in our neighborhoods who don’t know Jesus are watching us to see if we are different than everyone else. They are watching what we say and do and our attitudes toward them. How do we react when mistreated? Do we grumble and complain like everyone else? They are watching us at work, in restaurants and across the street in our yards. Do we work hard or take shortcuts? Are we honest even in the smallest matters? They are watching and they should be able to tell that we are ambassadors of God and followers of Jesus without us saying a word. And when we do open our mouths and witness to the blessing and goodness of God we need to be careful that our words match our actions and vice versa. If we don’t the world will see us as hypocrites and they won’t be able to see God in us at all

Second, for God’s purpose to be fulfilled through us, we have to be walking with God. In spite of Abraham’s past deception, Abimelech recognized God in his life. Why? Because Abraham was a friend of God and walked in daily communion with God. He wasn’t perfect, but he had a reality with God and God’s gracious hand was on him. Abimelech could sense that in spite of Abraham’s previous failure in the incident with Sarah, he was a man who walked with God. As God faithfully provides us protection and our daily needs, and as we walk with Him and give Him the credit for His care for us, as Abraham did, He uses us in the ordinary matters of life to bear witness to a world that desperately needs to turn to Him. When we are faithfully walking with God our neighbors see it and will know that we have something they lack.

If you know the Savior, walking with Him and enjoying His faithful provision, God wants to use the ordinary events in your life to fulfill His purpose of blessing all the nations through the Seed of Abraham, the Lord Jesus Christ. What a privilege to be used by the Eternal God as we live our ordinary lives on this earth!

As Gene and Roxey come to lead us in a final hymn, let’s pray: Lord God, I pray that your Holy Spirit would continually indwell us as we strive to be the kind of neighbors you want us to be in this world that you have placed us in. As we share the good news of Jesus Christ, help us to live in such a way that our neighbors see God at work in our daily lives, help us to strive for harmony and cooperation when conflicts arise with our neighbors and let us remember to call on your name in worship for your sovereign hand at work in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel by English author H. G. Wells, first serialized in 1897 by Pearson's Magazine in the UK and by Cosmopolitan magazine in the US. It was written between 1895 and 1897 and is one of the earliest stories to detail a conflict between mankind and an extraterrestrial race. It has been both popular (having never been out of print) and influential, spawning half a dozen feature films, radio dramas, a record album, various comic book adaptations, a number of television series, and sequels or parallel stories by other authors. The novel has even influenced the work of scientists, notably Robert H. Goddard, who, inspired by the book, helped develop both the liquid-fueled rocket and multistage rocket, which resulted in the Apollo 11 Moon landing 71 years later.

We may wonder why this type of story catches the collective imagination of countless peoples. Maybe it has something to do with this idea that our world is always in conflict and invasion seems at times to be imminent. According to Google, from the time of the American Revolution til the time H.G. Wells wrote his book there had been about 54 different conflicts between the United States and various groups including many different Native American tribes, and many different countries including Mexico, Britain, France, etc. But there has been a war of the world’s waging constantly since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. This is the war between God and Satan, good and evil, and Christians and what we call the “world”, which is the embodiment of everything that is against God and his will. As Christians, we are commanded to “be in the world but not of it” and to “not conform to the pattern of this world.” This is no easy task when we are bombarded, even invaded, by the world on a daily basis. But we are to stand firm and not be influenced by the world, in fact, we are called to influence it by being “salt and light” in the world on a daily basis.

This morning we continue the story of Lot and his family. Over the past several chapters we have seen Lot look toward Sodom, pitch his tent toward Sodom and eventually live in Sodom. Even after Abraham rescued Lot from the four kings, he returned to Sodom and continued to live there. Lot chose Sodom as his home because it was well-watered like the garden of the Lord and like Egypt. On the outside it looked nice but on the inside it was evil and perverted. Pastor Stuart showed us last week that Lot had compromised and it had weakened his witness with the people of Sodom. After all his years in Sodom, Lot had not had a positive influence on the people, in fact, the people had influenced Lot and his family and the result was a spiritual downward spiral that cost some of Lot’s family not only their physical lives but probably their souls as well.

Lot’s relationship with God had also deteriorated and we see this as we contrast the way Abraham is living to the way Lot is living. Abraham is sitting at the door to his tent when the visitors come; Lot is sitting at the gate of a wicked city. Abraham lives as a pilgrim in the world just passing through; Lot has settled down in the city of Sodom. We have seen Abraham building altars to the Lord but we never see Lot building an altar at all. Because of Abraham’s influence he became a blessing to the world; because of Lot’s worldliness he had no influence in Sodom or even in his own household. After separating from Abraham, Lot allowed his character and his relationship with God to weaken as he continued to compromise the ways of God with the ways of the world. God visited Abraham but we never see him visiting Lot. It is possible that the Lord could not be in close fellowship with Lot because his worldliness has so deteriorated their relationship.

When I think of Lot, I am reminded of Romans 12:2 which says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Lot has been conformed to the “pattern of this world” and has not been “transformed by the renewing of his mind.” His heart and mind has been so infected by Sodom that he is not in tune with God or with his will. When we compromise the things of God for the things of this world it not only weakens our witness but our relationship with God, as well, which brings us to our big idea this morning which is “compromise weakens our relationship with God.” The world that we live in today also looks nice on the outside but after it pulls you in and conforms you to its will you notice the evil and perversion that is going on. By the time we notice that the world is influencing us we have a hard time reversing the process or sadly we don’t want to. This is why it is important for us as Christians to have a strong relationship with God and Jesus. This is the only way we can fight and win the spiritual battles that the world and Satan wages against us daily. This morning we will look at three ways, from our scripture, that the world affects us when we allow it to conform us to its image. Before we start to unpack those three ways the world affects us, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we ask you to pour out your Holy Spirit on your people this morning. We pray for wisdom and discernment as we open your Word. Help us to find it in our hearts and to share it with those we come in contact with this week. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The three ways that the world can affect us is wavering, worrying and wondering. The first, wavering, is found in Genesis 19:15-17. This is what God’s Word says, “With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

We notice that these events are given a timeframe meaning that there is an order to these events and they will happen. The angels arrived in Sodom at evening time and Lot goes to talk to his son-in-laws sometime later. We notice that Lot has wasted the entire night because it is now almost dawn. The angels have seen what is going on in the city of Sodom and its destruction is imminent. With dawn coming the angels urge Lot to take his wife and two daughters and get out of Sodom or they will be destroyed along with the city when it is punished. We see the element of free will here. The city will be destroyed and Lot and his family is to be saved but he needs to take the initiative to take his family to safety or they will be destroyed as well. But what does Lot do when confronted with the fact that he needs to urgently leave the city or be destroyed along with it? He wavers, he hesitates and the angels actually have to take Lot, his wife and his two daughters by the hand like children and lead them out of the city. He seemingly continues to choose Sodom over God. He may not have liked what was going on in the city but there were things he did like about it and those had a stronger hold on him. The reason Lot was spared is because of the mercy of the Lord not because of his own righteousness.

Once outside the city the angel tells them to flee for their lives, not to look back, and to not to stop anywhere on the plain. They are to flee to the mountains or be “swept away” and destroyed. We don’t know exactly what is going on in Lot’s head at this moment but again he wavers. Maybe he was thinking about the good life he had in Sodom. He had come to Sodom with a lot of wealth and has probably parlayed that into more wealth. From 2 Peter 2:8 we know that Lot was a righteous man living among evil men and was tormented by the lawless deeds he saw and heard but he lacked the will to leave them. He may not have participated in their lifestyle but he couldn’t have lived day in and day out in that kind of environment without breathing the spirit of Sodom in. Sodom had become a part of Lot. When we are living “in and of” the world we waver when it comes to the things of God and we lack the will to stand up for what is right. We may not participate in what the world is doing but we allow ourselves to breathe its spirit in. Our standards start to erode away the longer we are exposed to the world and we may start to justify a certain lifestyle or sin. We think just a little bit of compromise here or there will be ok and so we waver when confronted by sin, we waver because of our love for the things of this world and we waver in the face of certain destruction. This brings us to our first next step which is to confess my wavering when it comes to the things of God and to purpose to stand up for what is right.

The second way the world can affect us is by worrying and we see this in Genesis 19:18-26. This is what God’s Word says, “But Lot said to them, “No, my lords, please! Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.” He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.) By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”

After being taken outside the city and urged to flee for their lives, what does Lot do? Does he run as fast as he can with his family for the mountains? No, he bargains with those who were sent to save them. He stops right outside the city and wants to make a deal with them. The reason he doesn’t want to go to the mountains is because he is worried he can’t get there before the disaster over takes him. The angels have come to his house to save him and his family from the disaster but somehow in his mind he thinks there is no way he can make it to the mountains in time to be saved. The angels have come to save him and he is worried about his safety. The world has so entangled Lot’s mind that he is not thinking straight and common sense has been thrown out the window. But I also wonder if he is more worried about his lifestyle than his safety. He asks the angels to allow him to go to another city called Zoar. Zoar is similar to the Hebrew word for “a small thing.” Baldwin says, “The pun reinforces his plea that he is really not asking for much. Lot’s “little” request amounted to no less than a reversal of the instructions he was first given.” He doesn’t seem to be taking the threat of his destruction seriously. He believes by going to the city of Zoar he will be safe but Zoar was one of the five cities in the plain slated to be destroyed along with Sodom. The world has not only conformed his heart but his mind as well and he is making wrong decisions and his thinking is distorted. His heart and mind should have been transformed through his relationship with God but sadly compromise had weakened his relationship instead. (BIG IDEA)

We again see God’s mercy as the angel grants his request. In fact, the entire city is going to be spared because Lot wanted to go there. We see the similarity here that as Abraham interceded for Sodom now Lot pleads to be sent to Zoar, in effect saving that city. The difference is that Abraham is being selfless and Lot is selfish. Abraham pleads for divine justice but Lot is looking after his own well-being and convenience. Lot proves to be fearful, selfish and faithless, all the things the world will do to us when we allow it to. The angels tell Lot he needs to flee quickly because the destruction can’t start until he gets to Zoar. Think about that for a second: the destruction of Sodom and the plain can’t begin until Lot gets to Zoar just like it wouldn’t have started until he was safe in the mountains. We see how messed up Lot’s reasoning and logic was. If we are living “in and of” the world our reason and logic will suffer just as Lot’s did. We will not make the right choices or decisions.

Next, we see the destruction that comes to Sodom. It happens once Lot reaches Zoar and the sun has completely risen. We are told two times that it is the Lord who caused the destruction. First, it is the Lord who rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah and, second, that it came from the Lord out of the heavens. This is important because it wasn’t just a natural disaster that took place but was judgment and punishment from the Lord. There was no doubt as to what happened to these cities and why. We are also told that the destruction was total in that it destroyed all living people and all the vegetation in the land. It was a complete and total annihilation. Keil & Delitsch says, “Not only were the cities destroyed but the soil as well. Even to the present day in the Dead Sea there is a sulphureous vapor which hangs about it, there are great blocks of saltpeter which are around it, there is the utter absence of the slightest trace of animal and vegetable life in its waters.” The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the other cities was so complete that even to this day there is not exact certainty where they were located.

Then we are told what happens to Lot’s wife. The text says she looked back and became a pillar of salt. We are not told why she looked back but she seems to be longing for what she had there. Whatever it was, not even being with her husband and her daughters could keep her from disobeying a direct command from the angel to not look back. She became a pillar of salt and lost her life. According to Walton’s commentary the Hebrew preposition used means Lot’s wife didn’t just look back toward Sodom but had started going back to Sodom being caught in the burning sulphur that the Lord rained down. The angel’s command was not disobeyed by looking back but by willingly going back to Sodom. She must have been so enamored with the city and what it had to offer that she was willing to go back without her family and to a sure destruction.

Being “in and of” the world made Lot worried about a lot of things but all his worrying was really for no reason. He was worried about his safety but God was in control and even sent angels to save him. The Bible says a lot about worry: Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Matthew 6:25-27 says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” and 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

For those who do not know Jesus as their Savior or for those whose relationship with God has been compromised, debilitating worry will be part of their daily life. But as Christians in a right relationship with Jesus we don’t need to worry because we know that God is in control of this world and we have the hope of an abundant life on this earth and eternal life in heaven. That brings us to our second next step which is to claim the promise that because of my relationship with Jesus I do not need to worry about the things of this world.

The third way the world can affect us is in wondering and we see this in Genesis 19:27-29. This is what God’s Word says, “Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace. So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.”

We are again given a timeframe. God has rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and the other cities in the plain at sunrise and then sometime later early in the morning Abraham goes back to the place where the Lord had first told him about Sodom’s destruction. He looks down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and sees the dense smoke rising from the plain. “Burning smoke” in the Bible demonstrates divine anger and judgment. Abraham now knows that not even ten righteous people have been found in the five cities. He doesn’t need to wonder about the fate of Sodom anymore. But he must have been wondering what happened to Lot and his family. The narrator has let us, the audience, know but Abraham doesn’t. We can be sure that he is hoping that they made it out alive? Or maybe he was already mourning the loss of Lot and his family and the inhabitants of the plain? This is the only chapter in the story of Abraham that he doesn’t speak. His quiet contemplation says it all. We are never told if Abraham ever found out about Lot and his family but after this chapter Lot disappears from the pages of the Old Testament.

This section ends with the audience being reminded of a couple of things. One, it was God who destroyed the cities of the plain. It wasn’t a natural disaster. Second, we are reminded that because of Abraham’s intercession Lot was spared from destruction. Sodom wasn’t saved but Lot and his two daughters were. And the reason they are saved is because God remembered Abraham. The verb for “remember” is important because it speaks to God’s covenantal faithfulness. The Lord was faithful to his promise to Abraham. We have seen this before when God remembered Noah and saved him and his family from the flood and brought them out of the ark.

Living in this sinful world will cause us to wonder. Just as Abraham must have been wondering if Lot and his family had been saved from destruction, we may wonder about our loved ones, our friends and family, and their salvation. Just like Lot who had the free will to be saved or be caught in the destruction of the city, our friends and family have free will to make a decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and be saved from eternal separation from God or not. But that doesn’t mean we won’t wonder if they have made that decision. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep interceding for them to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We live in a sinful world and this world wants to drag us down and drag us away from God. And because we live in this world we may wonder about the salvation of our friends and family and even wonder about our own salvation. Maybe that’s where you are today. Maybe you are wondering about the salvation of your friends and family. If so this next step is for you: My next step is to keep interceding with God on behalf of the salvation of my friends and family. Don’t give up on them and don’t give up on God for the miraculous to happen.

Maybe you are unsure of your own salvation this morning. If so you don’t have to wonder anymore. You can accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, right now. This final next step can be for you: Admit that I am a sinner, believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead and confess that he is my Lord and Savior. If you made that decision today, mark the back of your communication card and make sure you put your contact information on it, so we can be in touch with you. If you made that decision, you are still going to have to live in this sinful world as we all will, but you will never have to wonder again about where you will go when your physical body passes away. Your eternal home will be in heaven with God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sometimes we can read these stories in the Bible and wonder how it applies to us. Certainly the next steps are ways that we can apply this text to our lives. As we live in this world we need to be careful not to be “of it.” We must not waver when it comes to the things of God, we must not worry because God is in control and we do not have to wonder about our eternity because God has made a way for us to be in a right relationship with himself.

But Lot and his wife are also warnings for us today to what the world can and will try to do to us. If Lot couldn’t be in Sodom, he wanted to be as close as he could and his wife couldn’t bear to not be there. As Christians, we live in Sodom every day, we live in this world with all its surface beauty, fake happiness and prosperity. We have been warned to not let the world influence us but to influence it but that is not an easy task. We are given the chance to “escape” so to speak, not physically but spiritually. As Christians, we must continually strengthen our relationship with God and Jesus daily. We must be in his Word, we must be communicating with him through prayer, we must be studying and meditating on scripture and we must be evaluating our lives through its lens and not the lens of this world. We must be striving to live holy lives, set apart by God, and to be salt and light in this world that he has placed us in. We must be striving to be more like his son, Jesus Christ, every day. And we are given the means to make this happen which is the Holy Spirit. This is how we can be “in the world but not of it.” The question for each of us this morning is this: What will we do when given the chance to escape this world? Will we waver? Will we worry? Will we look back and even go back to the world and let it overwhelm and conquer us? Or will we put on the armor of God and daily fight this spiritual war of the worlds that we find ourselves in. This is what Jesus calls his followers to do.

As the praise team comes to lead us in a final song let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we ask that you would give us the strength to not waver when it comes to following you in this world. We pray that you would help us to take all of our worry, anxiety and burdens and lay them at your feet. And God we pray that we would not grow weary of interceding for the salvation of our family and friends. Thank you for your Word and its truth and application for our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Laughing Matter

I would like to start this morning with a few Bible jokes. What’s a dentist’s favorite hymn? Crown him with many crowns. What kind of man was Boaz before he got married? He was Ruth-less. When was the first math homework problem mentioned in the Bible? When God told Adam and Eve to go forth and multiply. And finally: An elderly woman had just returned home from an evening church service when she realized there was an intruder in her home. Seeing that he was in the act of robbing her home of its valuables, the lady yelled “Stop! Acts 2:38!” Hearing her, the burglar stopped dead in his tracks and stood motionless. The woman calmly called the police and explained what was going on. As the officer cuffed the man to take him in, he asked the burglar, “Why did you just stand there? All the lady did was yell a Bible verse at you.” “Bible verse?” said the burglar, “She said she had an ax and two 38’s!”

As I thought about this morning’s passage a couple of things stood out. One, life can be funny and life can be unpredictable and sometimes you just have to laugh as life happens. Two, there are times in life when we may want to laugh but in reality the situation that occurs is no laughing matter. And third, God has a sense of humor.

When I think about times when we may want to laugh but in reality the situation that occurs is no laughing matter I think of practical jokes. Practical jokes may be funny but they are usually at the expense of someone else and it is probably not funny to them. If you didn’t know, MASH, is my favorite TV show of all time. As I thought of this idea of practical jokes being no laughing matter I was reminded of a certain MASH episode. In this episode it's almost April Fool's Day, and Hawkeye, B.J., and Winchester are getting into the spirit by pulling pranks. Colonel Potter learns that the 4077th is about to be inspected by Col. Tucker, a fire-breathing, Army-regulation quoting martinet who, according to Potter, "Picks his teeth with a rusty nail" and he puts the kibosh on all tomfoolery. Going against Potter's direct order, Hawkeye, B.J and Winchester get back at Margaret who has pranked all three of them recently. After finding her tent missing, she storms into the men’s tent, where waiting for her in Hawkeye's cot is a skeleton, which elicits a scream from her. The guys laugh in delight, causing a pillow fight which spills out onto the compound right into the path of the incoming Col. Tucker, who is not amused and he berates them all, including Potter. The next day, Tucker has nothing but criticism for the medical staff, hurling insults and sarcasm when they protest his lack of respect for their surgical prowess. After a confrontation outside, Tucker puts them all on report, and then tells them he plans to bar them all from medical service and have them court-martialed. Hawkeye, B.J., Margaret, and Winchester decide that if they're going to get busted, they might as well go out in style - pulling off one last giant prank on Tucker. In the Officer’s Club, they set it up so when Tucker asks for his trademark beverage, a bucket of it will dumped on him from the rafters. After being dumped on Tucker is apoplectic, red-faced with rage and after screaming at Hawkeye, he collapses onto the floor with an apparent heart attack. Talk about a time where a practical joke was “no laughing matter.” The Officer’s Club goes silent, and Col. Tucker asks for Hawkeye to come closer. As Hawkeye gets in close, he whispers: "April Fools." It turns out this was an April Fools plot hatched by the both Col. Potter and Col. Tucker, weeks in advance, pulled off to perfection. Practical joking can really get out of hand and at times is no laughing matter.

In our scripture this morning, found in Genesis 17:15-27, God continues to give additional information to Abraham about the covenant he is making with him. We will see that by Abraham’s reaction he thinks God must be playing the first April Fool’s joke in history on him and all Abraham can do is laugh but God is totally serious about the promise he has made to him. To Abraham what God has just told him is seemingly impossible and as we dive into our scripture this morning we will see that when God says he will do the impossible it is no laughing matter. That brings us to our big idea this morning which is “We can trust God to do the impossible.” God is in the business of doing the impossible and Abraham and his descendants will find this out as we continue to study Genesis. And God can and will do the impossible in our lives as well.

Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, pour out your Holy Spirit on us this morning as we seek your truth in your Word. Help us to believe in your promises no matter how impossible they seem to us. Let us hold on to the fact that you are all powerful and that you can do the impossible in our lives, our families lives, our churches and in the world. Guide us this morning in our study of your Word, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Our scripture this morning is found in Genesis 17:15-27. There are two points. The first one is God’s Promises and is found in verses 15-22. This is what God’s Word says, “Then God said to Abraham, “As for your wife Sarai, you shall not call her by the name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man a hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, give birth to a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” But God said, “No, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish My covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.” When He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.”

If you remember a couple weeks ago we saw that the Lord appeared to Abram. He confirmed his covenant with him, he changed his name to Abraham, promised that he would be the father of many nations, and again promised that the land of Canaan would be an everlasting possession to him and his descendants. He then commands Abraham to circumcise every male in his household, including himself, and every male eternally for generations to come. Circumcision was to be the sign of the covenant between God and his chosen people and anyone who was not circumcised would be cut off for breaking his covenant.

The first thing we notice this morning is that God is still talking to Abraham and he tells him that he is no longer to call his wife Sarai but Sarah. The changing of a person’s name was significant. When you named something it was a privilege to do so and you had authority over it, such as when God allowed Adam to name the animals. Names also represented blessing and destiny such as when parents named their children. The names often expressed their hopes and dreams for them. The renaming of Sarah brought her into the covenant just as Abraham was because the child of promise came from both of them. Interestingly, Sarah is the only woman in the Bible whose name is changed.

The second thing we notice is that it’s God who changes her name. Normally it would have been the husband who changed their wife’s name but this was done because the Lord was the one who would go on to pronounce the blessing on Sarah. The Lord would bless her and give Abraham a son by her. She would also be the mother of nations and kings of peoples would come from her. The name Sarai and Sarah both mean “princess” but there is a subtle change in the way the word is used. This quote from Charlie Garrett in his sermon, “The Promised Son, A Time for Laughter” explains it well. “Sarai is like “a princess” as if she is in a room with many princesses. But Sarah is like “the princess.” She is over all the princesses and the mother of all the people who would come from her.” Sarah would be a princess because she would be the one to bear the promised child. Just as Abraham was to be the father of many nations, Sarah would be the mother of many nations and “kings of peoples” would come from her. From Sarah, came King Saul, King David, King Solomon, and many other kings and ultimately from her came Jesus, the King of kings.

As God is telling Abraham that Sarah was going to give him a son he again falls face down in worship just as he did in verse 3. But this time as he falls face down he laughs and comments to himself. We can imagine that he probably thought God was joking. What did Abraham mean by his laughter? Most commentators don’t see it as laughter of unbelief. Some see it as laughter of joy and others as laughter of doubt mixed with faith. We have seen Abraham’s doubt mixed with faith before in chapter 15 when he questioned God about how the land of Canaan could really be his and his descendants when he didn’t even possess it at the time. ​​ It was also probably laughter brought on by surprise. For a split second, he must have been thinking, “Ok, God, that’s a good one, you got me.” Abraham is thinking that what God is promising is impossible; there is no way that a son can be born to a man who is a hundred years old and that woman can bear a child at ninety. Ultimately Abraham knew that God was all-powerful and he trusted that God could and would do the impossible, but Abraham was thinking in his humanness at that moment. He couldn’t understand how this was physically possible. We see Abraham doing some fast thinking and fast talking as all this must have flashed through his mind in an instant and what came out of his mouth was not what he must have been thinking but a comment that showed a doubt tempered by faith and a love for his son, Ishmael.

We see God’s answer to Abraham in verse 19. God knows Abraham’s thoughts and he answer’s his question about a man having a son at hundred years old and a woman bearing a child at age ninety with (and I am paraphrasing) “No, humanly speaking that is impossible but Sarah is going to have a son and he will be called Isaac.” God’s covenant would be established with Isaac and an everlasting covenant would be established with his descendants. God is going to do what Abraham sees as impossible because it is part of his plan for the salvation of the world. What is impossible for man is not impossible for God.

We notice a few things in verse 19: God gives Abraham the name “Isaac” for his son before he is even born. This reminds us of John the Baptist and Jesus. Next, we know that names have meanings. In Matthew, the angel tells Joseph to name his son Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. The name, Jesus, comes from Greek for Joshua which means “God is salvation.” Do you know what the name, Isaac, means? It means “he laughs.” Here’s where I believe we see God’s sense of humor. God says the ninety year old Sarah is going to have a son, Abraham laughs at that impossibility and immediately God tells him to name his son, Isaac, which means “he laughs.” I wonder if Abraham thought about why God name his son Isaac? Was it because he (and Sarah later on) laughed? Or was he thinking “God got the last laugh.” Isaac actually means “God has laughed” or smiled or looked favorably on. What will see later is that Isaac will bring laughter and joy to his family when he is born because God had looked favorably on Abraham and Sarah.

We can trust that when God promises to do the impossible he can and will do it and it’s no laughing matter; it will be fulfilled. Which brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card which is to trust that God can and will do the impossible in my life. Whatever that is for you, you can claim that promise today and see what God will do. The last thing we can notice is that again God elects the younger son to be the conduit through which the covenantal line, the line that will bring his son, Jesus Christ, will come into the world. We have already seen this with Seth being chosen over his older brother Cain, Shem being chosen over his older brother Japheth and even Abram being chosen over his older brother, Haran. We will also see it later as Jacob is chosen over his older brother Esau.

I also learned something that I never really thought about before as I was studying this passage. This was the first time that Abraham had heard he and Sarah were going to have a biological son together. God had promised that Abraham would have a son but it’s not until now that a son was promised to come from Sarah. No wonder he laughed. Abraham must have been stunned to learn that Ishmael was not the son that God had promised to him so long ago. Ishmael was precious to him and he considered him his heir. For the last thirteen years Abraham had may have been living under the impression that Ishmael was the son of promise. Think about the relationship that they must have had. All of of Abraham’s love, all of his hopes and dreams have been poured into Ishmael. He may have even discussed the covenantal destiny with him. Abraham has not seen Ishmael as an obstacle to the covenant but as the solution.

As Abraham quickly recovers from his surprise, he suggests that God might work out his purposes in Ishmael. Abraham uses the phrase, “if only” and it is the only time in the Bible that God is addressed this way relating to the future. It was Abraham’s prayer that God would favorably look and smile upon Ishmael and provide for him. God not only knew Abraham’s thoughts but he also heard Abraham’s prayer on Ishmael’s behalf. In verse 20, we see God’s answer to that prayer. In God’s mercy and grace he complies with his request and promises to bless Ishmael making him fruitful and greatly increasing in number. Ishmael was going to be the father of twelve rulers and become a great nation. Later in Genesis 25:12-16, we see these words: “Now these are the records of the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s slave woman, bore to Abraham; and these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages, and by their camps; twelve princes according to their tribes.” Of course, we know that Ishmael was also the father of the Arab people. God’s promise that he would be fruitful and increase in number would be fulfilled. Ishmael would participate in the earthly blessings but Isaac would participate in the spiritual ones as the child of promise.

God then tells Abraham that Sarah would bear Isaac by this time next year. Then as soon as God finished talking to Abraham he went up from him. Just as suddenly as he appeared to Abraham he just as suddenly left him. The meaning is that God visibly ascended in front of Abraham. There was no doubt as to who Abraham had been speaking with.

The second point this morning is Abraham’s obedience. This is seen in verses 23-27. This is what God’s Word says, “On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was thirteen; Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day. And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.”

Notice when Abraham fulfilled his part of the covenant. It says he did it “on that very day.” This is a chronological phrase and is also used in other momentous occasions in the bible. It is used in Genesis 7:12, when Noah and his family entered into the ark. In Exodus 12:41, when at the end of 430 years, all the Israelites left Egypt. And in Joshua 5:11, when the Israelites first ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan. Then the very next day God stopped supplying manna from heaven. By obeying God immediately it showed that Abraham did have faith that God would give him a child by Sarah. We see these words in Romans 4:18-21, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead, since he was about a hundred years old, and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”

There was no waiting around. Abraham obeyed God immediately and exactly as he had been instructed. We see Abraham’s obedience in three ways. The first way was in his personal obedience. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, so this was probably not something he was looking forward to at his age but he did it immediately. We can also surmise that he circumcised himself first. Courson says, “It was important that even Abraham deal with his flesh in this way, even though he was ninety-nine years old. As we get older we may think that we don’t need to pray or serve or do Bible study – I have already learned or done all I can. I am too old to be stretched spiritually anymore. Not so with Abraham.” We should be the kind of people that tells the Lord “we have had some great days here at Idaville Church, but what do you have for us now.”

The second way was in his parental obedience. It was important that as the spiritual leader of his family he circumcised his son, Ishmael, who was thirteen years old at the time. It is mentioned three times in our passage that Ishmael was circumcised. He was not left out of being blessed even though he wasn’t going to be the child of promise. This was keeping with the Lord’s promise in Genesis 12 that all the peoples of the earth would be blessed through Abraham. God is not going to exclude anyone from the blessing and will include everyone in his plan and covenant and we must do the same. Abraham also didn’t just tell Ishmael to circumcise himself; he took the responsibility for it. How many times do we tell our children or young people that they need to be praying or reading their Bible, etc. Instead we should be praying and reading the Bible with our children and young people. Each of us must be willing to take responsibility for the discipleship of others.

The third way was in his professional obedience. Abraham also took every other male in his household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner and had them circumcised. This is talking about all the non-family members including workers, slaves, foreigners, etc. Abraham made a stand to obey God completely and these other males in his household were not left off the hook just because they weren’t part of his biological family. This speaks to how we should conduct ourselves in our workplace. How can we as Christians use the position that God has given us in our jobs for his honor and for his glory? The Lord considers it worship when we are devoted to him at work.

We can learn so much about how we are to live into our relationship with God from Abraham. We must obey God completely and immediately, no matter what, no matter how far-fetched it sounds or how hard it will be to accomplish. That brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to obey God immediately and completely no matter how impossible the task seems.

Until now, the covenant had been unilateral and unconditional. Now God was making a partnership with Abraham and the covenant became bilateral and conditional. Abraham and his descendants would be required to mark or circumcise each male in their household with the sign of the covenant. This was not an option for God’s chosen people but an obligation. Circumcision marked God’s people as separated from the world and as his own. They were set apart by God as a holy people in a covenant relationship with himself. What was important was that their faith was lived out by obeying the command to be circumcised. Once it was done there was no undoing it, no turning back and it was not a private experience but a corporate one. Personal holiness is important but so is corporate holiness.

Covenantal signs are important because they serve as the visible response to being in a relationship with God. They also show that a person is totally committed to that relationship because God commanded them to do it. For the Abrahamic covenant, circumcision was the condition for a person’s inclusion into the community of God’s chosen people. It was a sign of initiation and participation into a relationship with God and a symbol of subordination to him in that relationship. Later in the Sinai covenant, the sign was the keeping of the Sabbath. In Exodus 31:13-17 God said that the keeping of the Sabbath was the sign between God and Israel which showed their continual participation in the covenant and their subordination to God, the covenant maker. We see in Ezekiel 20 that the violation of the Sabbath was one of the primary reasons for God’s judgment against Israel. Later, the sign of the Davidic covenant was the anointing of the Davidic king signifying that the king was chosen by God. By submitting to the ceremony, the king showed that he recognized his subordination to a divine kingship.

Today, we live under the new covenant and God still wants his people/us to be so visibly committed to him that it shows everyone around us whose we are; that we belong to God and that we follow Christ. The signs of the new covenant are seen as sacraments: baptism which is the sign of initiation into the covenant and communion the sign of continual participation in the covenant. There are also two others signs, that are not sacraments, that show we are committed to a relationship with God and Jesus. In 1 John 3:23 it says, “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” We prove that we are committed to a relationship with God by showing love to one another. And John 15:10 says, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” We prove that we are committed to a relationship with God by obeying him. Just as circumcision was not a condition of the covenant but a sign of participation in it we understand that baptism, communion, loving one another and obedience are not conditions of our salvation but are the appropriate and expected signs of participation in the new covenant. What does our salvation cost us? Nothing. What does our faith cost us? It should cost us everything. It should cost us everything that this world offers because they can’t offer us what we have in Christ Jesus. And it should cost us all of ourselves/all our will in that we submit all of ourselves to Christ and allow him to be Lord and Master over our lives.

In the OT, God wanted the Israelites to not only be circumcised in their flesh but to have a circumcised heart, as well. They had the physical mark of being in relationship with God but at times did not have a circumcision of the heart. They did not submit to God’s authority by showing love to one another and fully obeying him. If we have a circumcised heart, a purified heart, a sanctified heart, it will be a heart that is in total submission to God’s commands inwardly and outwardly, not just giving lip-service but living out our faith on a daily basis. That brings us to the last next step on the back of your communication card which is to have a circumcised heart that is in total submission to God inwardly and outwardly on a daily basis.

As the praise team comes forward to lead us in a final hymn, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, I pray that we would trust you to do the impossible in our lives. I pray that we would obey you immediately and completely no matter how impossible the task seems, and Lord I pray that we would have circumcised hearts that are in total submission to you inwardly and outwardly on a daily basis. I pray that your Word would lead and guide us as we live out our faith in the world. Give us divine appointments in order to share your Gospel with those who need your salvation. Give us boldness to share and strength to pursue holiness daily. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Promise Keeper

I am sure we all have made promises at some time in our lives. How many have been asked for a sign that you would truly keep your promise to them? What did you say or do to convince them that you would keep that promise? There are many ways to show that you are serious about keeping your promises. When a man and a woman are married they promise “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part.” What they are saying is the only way that their marriage can end is when one or the other physically dies. It’s a serious commitment to one another. Other ways that we show the seriousness of keeping promises is raising our right hand or putting our hand over our heart or putting our hand on the Bible. In the Bible, one of the ways they showed the seriousness of their promises was to put their hand under the person’s thigh when making a vow. In Genesis 24, Abraham wanted to make sure that Isaac got his wife from his homeland and not from Canaan. So Abraham had his servant put his hand under his thigh and swear an oath. The thigh was considered the strongest muscle in the body so by swearing an oath in this way it says that the actions of those individuals (represented by the hand) are placed under oath to trust in the strength of YHWH (represented by the thigh of the believer) to play a part in working to fulfill YHWH's promises.

Another way we may try to convince someone that we are serious about keeping our promises is saying, “cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye” or something to that effect. How many have you ever said that? Another way you may have convinced someone that youwere serious about your promises is the “pinky promise.” To make a pinky promise involves the interlocking of the pinkies of two people to signify that a promise has been made. How many have ever done that? If you didn’t know, the idea behind this gesture was to signify that the person who breaks the promise can have their pinky finger broken by the other. If you think that would hurt. The possible origin of the pinky promise may be Japan, where it is known as 'yubikiri.' They believed that if you break a pinky promise, you would have to cut off your pinky finger in return. In fact, the word 'Yubikiri', means “finger cut-off”.

Two weeks ago, Pastor Stuart, taught from the beginning of chapter 15 in which God reiterated the promise to Abram about having a child. God told Abram that he would have his own biological child, and that his offspring would number the stars in the sky. In this morning’s passage, God reiterates the promise to Abram that the land that has been promised to him and his descendants will one day be his. We will see that God’s promises do three things ​​ for Abram. They affirm Abram’s call which stimulates his faith, they assure Abram about the covenant which calms his fears and they anticipate the fulfillment of the promise giving Abram hope for the future. God will convince Abram that he takes his promises very seriously and he can fully believe that what he promises will happen. Today, we also can believe in the promises of God and can fully believe that what he says is true and will happen. Which brings us to our big idea this morning which is “God takes his promises seriously.”

Before we begin our study of the text this morning, let’s pray: Lord God, we ask that you pour out your Holy Spirit on us this morning. Open our hearts and minds to what you want to say to us and to what you want us to share with those we come in contact with this week. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

There are three points this morning. Our first point is Affirmation and is found in Genesis 15:7-8. This is what God’s Word says, 7 “He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” 8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

As our scripture this morning begins Abram is still in the vision where the Word of the Lord came to him. We are told for the first time that it was the Lord who brought Abram out of Ur and the reason he did this was to give Abram the land for him to possess it. For the first time in Genesis the Lord calls himself “Yahweh.” This introduction would make it clear that Abram must take the speaker seriously. The Lord reminds Abram what he had done for him in the past and by identifying himself in this way it proved to Abram who God was and affirmed his call on Abram’s life. It is God who called Abram out of his homeland and into a foreign land which was promised to him. By reaffirming his call the Lord was stimulating Abram’s faith. But then we see Abram questioning what God has just said. This is interesting in light of verse 6 which says, “Abram believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” What has happened between verse six and verse eight? I believe the difference in Abram’s mind is that the promise of the land was different than the promise of a biological child. There were no major roadblocks for Sarai and him to have a child. She may be barren at this time but Abram could believe that God would open her womb when the time was right.

But as for the land, there were native peoples living there who already possessed it. Abram probably felt helpless to dispossess the native peoples and take over the land for himself. He is probably trying to wrap his head around how he and his descendants would be able to possess and enjoy this land. We notice that Abram calls God, “Sovereign Lord” which signals that what he is about to say is submissive but will also be bold. He trusts in who God is and what he was saying but wanted a sign because he couldn’t understand or see how it was going to happen. This does not mean that Abram didn’t have faith in God’s promise; he was just asking for a sign to confirm it.

We have seen God give signs to other people in the Bible such as Moses, Hezekiah and probably the most famous is Gideon who put out a fleece of wool so he would know it was God’s will to use him to deliver the Israelites from the Midianites. We also saw in our study of the Book of John that Jesus did signs. In fact we see these words in John 20:30-31 which tells us the purpose of John’s Gospel, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Asking for a sign did not constitute a lack of faith on Abram’s part. His call had already been affirmed by God and he was now looking for affirmation of the promise of possessing the land. Abram’s faith was not on shaky ground; instead his faith had been stimulated by God’s promises and was looking for a sign that would further grow his faith in God’s promises.

Faith is an important part of our Christian walk. In this day and age that we live in where people seem to be “losing” their faith left and right, we must allow our faith to be stimulated and to stay alive. One of the ways our faith is stimulated is by meditating on the promises of God and seeing how they are being fulfilled in our daily lives. That brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is to “meditate on the promises of God, seeing how they are being fulfilled in my daily life and allow them to stimulate my faith.”

We will see in the next point that God doesn’t get angry because Abram asked for a sign. In fact God is going to give Abram a sign that assures him that the promise of the land is already a foregone conclusion. The Lord will perform a ritual that shows he is serious about the promises that he makes and Abram will know for sure that God will faithfully fulfill his promise to Abram. The second point is called Assurance and is found in verses 9-11 and 17. This is what God’s Word says, 9 “So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.” And now moving down to verse 17 “When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.”

God asks Abram to “bring” a three year-old heifer, and three year-old goat, a three year-old ram, a dove and a young pigeon. The words “bring” or “take” are often used to introduce a ritual such as a sacrifice. ​​ These animals are the same ones that God will command the Israelites to use for their sin, fellowship and burnt offerings. We see this in Leviticus 9:2-3 which says, “He (God) said to Aaron, “Take a bull calf for your sin offering and a ram for your burnt offering, both without defect, and present them before the Lord. 3 Then say to the Israelites: ‘Take a male goat for a sin offering, a calf and a lamb—both a year old and without defect—for a burnt offering, and an ox and a ram for a fellowship offering to sacrifice before the Lord . . .” Abram’s actions here are reminiscent of a sacrifice. Abram then prepares the sacrificial animals and places them on the ground according to God’s instructions. Next we see that birds of prey came down and try to drag the carcasses off but Abram drives them away. Abram driving the birds away could be symbolic of God’s future protection of his chosen people on the basis on Abram’s faith. It also seems to foreshadow the obstacles which Abram’s descendants would experience before entering into the Promised Land. Briscoe says, “God’s promises would be fulfilled but not without pain and trial for Abram’s descendants.”

Now I want to jump down to verse 17 where we see how the ritual was played out between the Lord and Abram and then we come back and pick up at verse 12. We notice that the sun had set and it was dark and a smoking pot and a blazing torch appeared and passed through the animal pieces. The smoking pot and the blazing torch represent the presence of God. This reminds us of the cloud by day and the fire by night which was the presence of the Lord protecting and guiding the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness. We notice that the Lord passes through the animal pieces but Abram does not. That is important because it meant that the fulfillment of the promise rested with the Lord alone. It was unconditional in that Abram did not have to do anything for the promise to be fulfilled.

What about this strange ritual? What does it mean? First of all this ritual would have been known in the ancient world and Abram would have certainly understood the meaning of it. Second, this ritual was used to formally seal a solemn agreement or covenant between two equal parties. By passing through the animal pieces you were clearly stating that if you did not keep your promise then you could be cut in two just like the animals had been. Kind of like the pinkie promise. Normally, if the parties were not equals the inferior party was the one who walked through the animal pieces. But here the superior party, the Lord, was declaring that if he did not keep his promise to Abram he could literally be cut in two (if it was possible for that to happen to God). God is showing immense grace to Abram here. Also this act alone would have proven to Abram and to those who heard the story later how serious the Lord was about keeping his promise to Abram. This was the sign that Abram needed that took all his doubt away and calmed all his fears. ​​ Gibson states, “By God’s willingness to go through this let Abraham know nothing could stand in God’s way of the fulfillment of his promises, for his own divine honor was at stake in this matter.”  ​​​​ 

The Lord also gives us many promises in his Word. Those promises should calm our fears and take our doubt away that he will do for us what he says in his Word. But a lot of times we doubt and are fearful about a lot of things. We see our prayers answered or God’s promises fulfilled in our lives over and over again but we still doubt and are afraid. I want to challenge not only myself but you as well to trust and not doubt that God’s promises are trustworthy no matter what. God takes his promises seriously. That brings me to our second next step on the back of your communication card which is to “believe the promises of God and allow them to calm my fears and take all of my doubt away.”

Our third point this morning is Anticipation and is found in verses 12-16 and 18-21. Here Abram finds out for the first time that he will not personally possess the Promised Land and also finds out how and why his descendants come to possess it. There is an anticipation and a hope for the future that Abram has even though he will not see it and the future of his descendants will be full of hardship. Starting with verse 12 this is what God’s Word says, “12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Moving to verse 18, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

Abram falls into a deep sleep as the sun was setting and a thick and dreadful darkness comes over him. “Deep sleep,” “fear” and “darkness” all suggest awe-inspiring divine activity such as when God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep in order to take out one of his ribs to form Eve. Abram’s dread comes because he was in the presence of the Lord. As human beings to be in the presence of an almighty and holy God should cause us to have a holy fear. The presence of the Lord is not something we should take lightly. Abram is told that his descendants would be strangers in a country that was not their own and would be slaves and mistreated for four hundred years. That would be enough to give Abram a sense of dread and bring darkness to his soul.

But God gives Abram hope for the future of his descendants. He says the nation that enslaves them will be punished and that his descendants will come out with great possessions. God doesn’t mention the nation that enslaves Abram’s descendants but we know it is Egypt today. We also know that the people of Israel asked for gold, silver and clothing from the Egyptians before leaving Egypt after the Passover and that the Egyptians were glad to give them those things ​​ and get rid of them. We see these words in Exodus 12:36, “The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.”

God then calms Abrams fears about his own future. He promises him that he will go to his fathers in peace and be buried at a good or “ripe” old age. To go to his fathers in peace was a promise that Abram would live a good quality of life with a sense of contentment and fulfillment. He would also live to a “ripe” old age meaning he would enjoy a long healthy life. He would have a great quality of life until the end and be spared a future of hardship and pain. God’s promises gave Abram hope for his future. They also give us hope for our future as well. That brings us to the third next step on the back of your communication card which is to “believe the promises of God and allow them to give me hope for my future on earth and for heaven.”

Next we are told why the Lord will hand over the Promised Land to him and his descendants and why they have to wait for four hundred years. They are being given the land because of the sin of the Amorites. The Amorites are representative of all the Canaanite peoples. But the nation of Israel has to wait because the sin of those peoples has not yet reached its full measure. Their sin was so perverted that it was even an abomination to the earth. In Leviticus 18 it says that they will be vomited from the land. This really speaks to the patience, the justice and the holiness of God. He doesn’t just give the land to the Israelites without giving the Canaanites an opportunity to repent. If God had done that it would have been unfair and unjust of the Lord. The OT wars between the Israelites and the Canaanites were acts of justice not aggression and their judgment was mercifully delayed. It also shows the patience that God has for them as well. It makes me think of 2 Peter 3:9 which says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God wants everyone to come to repentance no matter how evil they may be for a time. He is always going to do the right thing even if it means giving the Canaanites four hundred more years to repent and turn to him before giving their land over to his chosen people.

God then makes a covenant with Abram. ​​ This is the first mention of the word “covenant.” Before, these things had been promises to Abram not a formal covenant. Now Abram knows for sure that these things will take place. The Lord also gave specific boundaries of the land that Abram’s descendants would possess. This area was from the northern reaches of the Euphrates to the land of Egypt. The western boundary was the Mediterranean and the eastern boundary was the Jordan River. This area has been calculated by scholars to have been around 300,000 square miles which is an area bigger than the second largest state in the US, Texas, which is 261,797 square miles.

God also names all the nations that were presently living there. We notice that there are ten nations mentioned. We are reminded that the number ten in the bible signifies completeness meaning that that they would completely possess all the land that God has promised them. One more thing we must think about. God had told the Israelites that the land would be theirs as long as they didn’t do the same detestable practices that the Canaanites did. We know that they did not obey God and were also displaced from the land. According to scholars, Israel has never fully possessed the land promised to them by God. They have been close as an empire especially during the reign of King David and later under his son, King Solomon but have never fully possessed it as a homeland. One day when the Lord returns this promise will be realized. This should give us pause. There are some promises of God that will continue on no matter what we do such as he will never leave nor forsake us, but there are others that require obedience from us. I am reminded of our memory verse from Psalm 66:18, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” If we are not obedient to what the Lord commands us to do, then he will not listen to our prayers. The promise of listening to our prayers is conditional on not cherishing sin in our hearts.

God is the ultimate promise keeper. He always keeps his promises and we do not need to worry that he will. In our scripture this morning we have seen that Abram’s faith was stimulated when God affirmed his call. We saw that God calmed his fears by assuring that he would be faithful to his promises. And we have seen that his promises gave Abram hope for the future as he anticipated going to his fathers in peace and that his descendants could anticipate being able to possess the land once they came out of slavery in Egypt and hardship in the wilderness.

In conclusion I want read some verses from God’s Word showing how his promises stimulate our faith, calms our fears and give us hope for the future, today.

First, God’s promises should stimulate our faith. Hebrews 10:23 “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3 says, “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” Deuteronomy 7:9 says, “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.” We can rely on 100% of God promises to be fulfilled and that should stimulate our faith.

Second, God’s promises should calm our fears. There are so many verses that talk about not being afraid because God is with us. In Isaiah 41:10 it says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Hebrews 13:6 says, “So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” We can rely on 100% of God promises to be fulfilled and that should calm all our fears.

Third, God’s promises should give us hope for our future on this earth. Lamentations 3:21-23 says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

But God’s promises should also give us hope for our future in heaven. John 14:1-3 says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. Revelation 3:11 says, “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” Matthew 24:30-31 says, “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Acts 17:31 says, “Because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” We can rely on 100% of God promises to be fulfilled and that should give us hope for our future on earth and hope for our future in heaven.

I pray that the promises of God found in his Word will encourage you this morning. As Gene and Roxey come to lead us in our final song of the day, let’s pray: Awesome God, we thank you for the promises that you have given us in your Word. We know that they are trustworthy and true. We pray that they would stimulate our faith, calm our fears and give us hope for our future here on earth and for our eternity in heaven as well. We give you all honor, glory and praise. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

 

A Pilgrim’s Progress

The book “The Pilgrim's Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come” is a 1678 Christian allegory written by John Bunyan. The entire book is presented as a dream sequence told by an omniscient narrator. The allegory's protagonist, Christian, is an everyman character, and the plot centers on his journey from his hometown, the "City of Destruction" ("this world"), to the “Celestial City" or “Heaven” ("that which is to come") atop Mount Zion. Christian is weighed down by a great burden, which is the knowledge of his sin that comes from reading the Bible. This burden, which would cause him to sink into Hell, is so unbearable that he seeks deliverance. The book is the journey Christian takes to be delivered from his burden of sin. Along his journey he meets a lot of different people from Evangelist who points him to the “shining light” for deliverance, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Mr. Legality and his son, Civility, who try to deliver him from his burden by trusting in his own good deeds to remove it. Later Christian is directed forward by Goodwill, who is shown to be Jesus, to "the place of deliverance.” Christian finally reaches the "place of deliverance" (allegorically, the cross of Calvary and the open sepulchre of Christ), where the "straps" that bound Christian's burden to him break, and it rolls away into the open sepulchre.

After being relieved of his burden of sin Christian continues on his pilgrimage meeting people such as Sloth and Hypocrisy. He spends three days in the House of the Palace Beautiful, which is a place built by God to refresh pilgrims and godly travelers, and he leaves there clothed with the Armour of God. Christian meets Faithful in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, who ends up being burned at the stake as a martyr. He goes to a place called Lucre, where he is offered all the silver in the mine. He gets captured by Despair and taken to the Doubting Castle, where he is imprisoned, beaten and starved. Christian uses the key called Promise to unlock the castle and escape. Christian meets some shepherds who warn him about the Flatterer but is soon deceived and gets stuck in his net. ​​ He meets an Atheist, who tells him that Heaven and God do not exist. Along the way he meets up with Hopeful who shares the journey with Christian. He meets Ignorance, who believes that he will be allowed into the Celestial City through his own good deeds rather than as a gift of God's grace. Finally, Christian, even though he has a rough time because of past sins wearing him down, is welcomed into the Celestial City with the help of his friend Hopeful.

As I thought about this story, it made me think about my own story. When I was saved at age seven I don’t remember feeling weighed down by a burden of sin as Christian was, but I understood that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. Maybe some of you, this morning, can identify more with the first part of Christian’s story and have had the feeling of being weighed down by the burden of your sin and then being relieved from that burden when you gave your life over to Christ.

The second part of Christian’s story, from after he was relieved from his burden until he entered the Celestial City, is one that every Christian can identify with. Think about your pilgrimage of faith and some of the people you have met along the way. You’ve probably heard stories of faithful saints who have died for the cause of Christ. You have probably met hypocritical people. Maybe you have been captured by despair and had to use the key of the promises of God to get free. Maybe you have met an atheist who made you question your faith in the existence of God. Maybe you have met ignorant people who think that God will just let them into Heaven based on their good works. Maybe you have had friends who helped you along the way of your pilgrim’s progress.

I use this word, pilgrim, to define those who are on a journey of faith in a foreign land. We know that the Pilgrims came over to the New World from England to find religious freedom. They were strangers in a strange land and they traveled a long to be able to worship the way they saw fit. We are also strangers in a strange land and Jesus has called us as Christians to be in this world but not be of it. This means that as we make the pilgrimage from “This World” to “That Which Is to Come” we are to live in this world but not live the same way that the world lives. This is where the pursuit of holiness comes in. In our pursuit of holiness we progress from the “milk of the word” which is the basic, elemental teachings of Christianity first learned by new believers, to the “meat of the word” which is the deeper, more complete teachings of God’s Word. We also progress from the old way of talking, doing and thinking to a new way of talking, doing and thinking and Jesus is the model for our pursuit of holiness.

This morning we continue the story of another pilgrim traveling in a strange land. Pastor Stuart has already recounted to us the beginning of the story of Abram and how he was called out from his country, from his people and from his father’s household. Along the way he seemed to resist God’s call for twenty-five years until his father passed away and then he continued on to the land of Canaan where he built altars to the Lord. Last week, Pastor Stuart showed us Abram’s pilgrimage to Egypt because of famine in Canaan. Abram asked Sarah to tell a half-truth so the Egyptians wouldn’t kill him but he didn’t seem to worry about Sarah being taken into Pharaoh’s harem. But God was faithful even though Abram was faithless and delivered Sarah from being defiled. In fact God delivered Abram, his wife and everything he had from Pharoah and from Egypt. This included all the material possessions, cattle, donkeys, male and female servants, and camels, given to Abram while he was there.

In our scripture this morning we are going to see that Abram is making progress in the spiritual journey he is on. We have seen him make some bad choices the past couple of weeks but this week we will see him making good choices not only in the way he deals with his nephew Lot but also in his relationship with God. He is growing spiritually, progressing in his faith and pursuing holiness, and it can be seen in the choices he makes. That brings us to our big idea this morning that our pursuit of holiness is seen in the choices we make. Every day we are confronted with the choice to follow God and his Word or to follow the world, to follow the “straight and narrow path” to the “Celestial City” or to follow the “wide road” of the “City of Destruction.” We will, just like Abram, have our ups and downs, we are going to make good choices and bad choices, but it is important to our spiritual growth that we daily choose to pursue holiness. The pursuit of holiness is vital in our Christian walk as we strive to be transformed into the likeness of Christ.

Before we study our scripture this morning, let’s pray: Lord, we pray for your Holy Spirit to come upon us as we open your Word this morning. Show us the truth of your Word and let it guide us in our daily walk with you. Help us to make the right choices as we strive to be more like your son, Jesus, and pursue holiness daily.

There are three points to the message this morning, Rededication, Resolution and Revelation. The first point is Rededication and is found in chapter 13, verses 1-4. This is what God’s Word says, “So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, he and his wife and all that belonged to him, and Lot with him. Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold. He went on his journeys from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there formerly; and there Abram called on the name of the Lord.

We saw at the end of last week’s sermon that Abram was essentially escorted out of Egypt with everything he had including his wife, cattle, donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. We notice this also includes his nephew Lot. Lot has not been mentioned since Abram left Harran to go to Canaan and he is not mentioned in the episode in Egypt. He is now brought to our attention again because he will play a major role in this episode as Sarai did in the last one. We notice that Abram and his entourage leave Egypt and go up to the Negev which was going back the way he had come to Canaan, to the land promised him by God. We also notice that Abram is a rich man as he has accumulated livestock and silver and gold, some of it probably coming from his time in Egypt. God had been faithful to Abram even when Abram had been faithless and even though Abram made some bad choices in Egypt God still blessed him. We see Abram’s pilgrimage continue as he goes from the Negev to between Bethel and Ai, to a place where he had built an altar before and called on the name of the Lord. The altar was still there, perhaps implying that the promises still stand too. It is interesting that the whole time he was in Egypt we aren’t told that he built an altar or that he called on the name of the Lord.

He seems to be repenting of his faithlessness in Egypt and again worshipping the God who called him out of paganism into the Promised Land. He has progressed spiritually from half-truths and relying on his own strength to again calling on the name of the Lord. He has made a good first choice to return to where he last met with God. This choice shows that he is pursuing holiness and doing what is right. He is rededicating his life to God. We can learn an important lesson here about returning to God and rededicating ourselves to him. Maybe you are at the same point in your life this morning that Abram finds himself in. Maybe you have strayed from God and made some bad choices in your life lately. Maybe you recognize the fact that you have not been pursuing holiness daily or at all in recent times. If so, this first next step may be for you: Rededicate myself to God in making right choices and daily pursuing holiness again. ​​ 

Our second point this morning is Resolution and is found in verses 5-13. This is what God’s Word says, “Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. And the land could not sustain them while dwelling together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to remain together. And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. Now the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling in the land. So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left.” Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar, this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord.”

As Abram pilgrimaged from the Negev to Bethel and Ai, Lot continues to go with him. It may be that Lot was considered to be Abram’s heir and so he traveled and stayed with Abram and Sarai. Lot has prospered probably as a result of being a relative of Abram and part of his entourage in the previous episode in Egypt. Earlier we are told that Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold and here we are told that Lot had flocks and herds and tents. They were both wealthy in livestock but where Abram was wealthier overall with silver and gold, Lot had wealth in “tents” probably meaning servants and possibly other family units.

Next we see that a problem arises because Abram’s and Lot’s possessions were so great. The problem came as a result of the livestock, flocks and herds they had accumulated. It is ironic that the blessings that the Lord bestowed upon Abram and Lot, which came as a result of the bad choices that Abram made in Egypt, has become the source of strife between their herdsmen. They both had accumulated so many possessions that we are told twice that they couldn’t remain together because the land could not support the two of them in the same place. Their herds had become so huge that there wasn’t enough good grazing land for both of them. The strife came as a result of Abram’s and Lot’s herdsmen each looking out for their own employer’s interest. We are also told that the Canaanites and Perizzites were dwelling in the land which alerts us to a couple things. First, this was not Abram’s and Lot’s land to begin with. There were other indigenous peoples already living there and this would have already stretched the grazing land pretty thin as it was. Second, if these peoples saw that the foreigners were not united, they may have taken this opportunity to take by force what Abram and Lot had. Third, the strife between their herdsmen would hurt Abram’s and Lot’s witness. Remember Abram had put up an altar and called upon the name of the Lord in this land. This probably did not go unnoticed to the pagan peoples living there.

Abram may have had his witness in mind as he makes another good choice that shows us he is growing in his character, relying on God and pursuing holiness. Abram refers to himself and Lot as “brothers” appealing to the relationship between kin that should make forgiveness and restoration easier. Abram doesn’t want strife with his “brother” and puts forth a resolution to the problem they find themselves in. He proposes that they separate and he asked Lot to look to the right and to the left and take the first choice of the land. Whatever was leftover Abram would take. Abram was speaking in faith believing that the land was his to give away. This is an interesting choice on Abram’s part. First, if Lot decides to leave it would effectively leave Abram without an heir. Second, Lot could have selected the Promised Land, which would have negated at least some of the Lord’s promise to Abram. Maybe Abram thought that Lot would want to stay with Abram and live together peaceably or maybe Abram thought Lot would turn him down and allow Abram to make the first choice which would have been his right as the elder statesman of the family. Abram’s choice shows a wise, generous, and peace-making heart. Abram is trusting in God, leaving it in his hands knowing that he is in control of all things.

Next we see the choice that Lot makes and it tells us a lot about where his spiritual growth and his pursuit of holiness was at this time. At first glance we may think he made a good choice. He looked at the Jordan Valley and saw that it was well-watered which would have been good for his flocks and herds. This valley reminded him of the Garden of Eden and of Egypt that he had just left. He is probably thinking if he chooses that land he won’t have to worry about famine again. But we soon learn as the first hearers did that the choice Lot makes was not a good one. We can see that Lot reminds us of Eve in that he looked and saw that the land was good just as Eve looked at the forbidden fruit and saw that it was good for food and pleasing to the eye. A lot of times when we make bad choices that get us into trouble it is with our eyes. We live in an age in which the ways of the world are increasingly entering our minds through our eyes. Especially with TV and the Internet, our eyes are flooded with images of things that oppose God and contradict His teachings and purpose for our lives. We must remain ever diligent in guarding our eyes from what the world has to offer.

We also see that the author gives us insight about the land that Lot chose. He chose the land of Sodom and Gomorrah because it looked good on the outside but that would change after it was destroyed by God. Afterwards, it would not be so appealing. God destroyed that land so well that even to this day archaeologists can’t find the remains of Sodom and Gomorrah. Next, to look to the right and to the left was essentially to look north and south but we find out that Lot actually looked east, chose that land for himself and journeyed east toward Sodom. We have seen throughout Genesis that the direction of “east” means going away from the presence of God. Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden eastward. Cain after killing Abel went eastward. And the builders of Babel went east to the plain of Shinar, where they built the Tower of Babel, rebelling against God.

We notice that Lot even pitched his tent near Sodom and later on we will find out that he was actually living in Sodom as one of their own. At the very end of this section we are given a hint why God destroyed Sodom. It says the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord. This reminds us of people before the flood and indicates that they deserve the same fate. Mathews says ‘“Great sinners’ is a uniquely Hebrew phrase meaning “one of a kind” sinners. They are sinners that are a corrupting influence on society whose sins are a violation against humanity and are opponents to God.

Phillips helps us understand Lot’s spiritual condition at this point in his life: He “was weak in his devotions, worldly in his desires, and wrong in his decisions.” Lot may not have known in the beginning what the people of Sodom were like but he should have realized it as he pitched his tent near Sodom and it would have been unmistakable after he moved into the city. We know from later stories that Lot chose to continue to live in Sodom with those evil and wicked people, up until its destruction. What can we learn from Lot and the choices that he made to pitch his tent toward Sodom? Lot chose the physical over the spiritual. He chose the easy and comfortable life. He didn’t make his decision through the eyes of faith and didn’t consider the moral and eternal costs of his decisions. This story should move us to ask ourselves some hard questions this morning. Are we making choices based on what we see, hear, feel, and enjoy? Are we making decisions pressured by our circumstances? Are we choosing the things of this world or the things of God? Are we seeking to be in control of our own lives or submitting our lives to the will of God? Are we willing to submit our speech, our thoughts and our actions to being more like Christ than the world? Our pursuit of holiness is seen in the choices we make. This brings us to our second next step this morning which is to “not ‘pitch my tent’ near Sodom but claim the Promised Land that God freely gives me.”

We then see that Abram lived in the land of Canaan. Interestingly enough, Lot going to Sodom took him outside of the Promised Land meaning that God’s promise of the land to Abram was still intact. ​​ Abram had made the right choices, pursued holy living and now God was going to give him a fuller revelation of his promise to him. Our third point this morning is revelation and is found in verses 14-18. This is what God’s Word says, “The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.” Then Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.”

As soon as Lot makes his choice and separates from Abram, God comes to Abram and reiterates his promise to him again, showing that God approved of Abram’s treatment of Lot. God then rewards Abram’s choices with a fuller revelation of his promise to him. Last week we saw that even when we are faithless God is faithful and this week we see that when we are faithful God is faithful. God then “fleshes” out the promise that he has made to Abram. First, the land is more precisely defined. God is not going to just give his descendants some land, God is going to give his descendants all the land that he can see in every direction. In the Hebrew, we notice that the Lord asks Abram to “please” look to the north, south, east and west. Only four times in the entire OT does God use the word “please” in addressing a human being and in each instance God is asking someone to do something that transcends human comprehension. We see this when God asks Abram to believe that his wife Sarai will have a son at her age, when God asks Abram to sacrifice his only son, when God asks the Israelites to ask their masters in Egypt for gifts of silver, gold and clothing as they were leaving and here.

Also, God not only promises the land to his descendants as before but to Abram as well and that this land will be theirs forever. This reminds us of the promise of the rainbow that God gave Noah. It was for all people and for all time. God also expands the promise of descendants. Abram would not just have an heir and some offspring but his descendants would number the dust of the earth which won’t be able to be counted. Lastly God gives Abram the land and to take possession of it by walking through it. This process would have been the equivalent of measuring the land. In ancient times, taking the measure of something was a sign of ownership. Abraham has neither the land nor the descendants to give it to at this time yet he continues to wait on and trust in the Lord.

Lastly, we see that Abram moved his tent by the oaks of Mamre in Hebron. Hebron would become the patriarch’s center of operations for many years to come. The cave of Machpelah, near Hebron, will be the first piece of real estate purchased by Abram and will be where all the patriarchs are buried. The religious significance of this place is emphasized by the fact that he builds an altar there. This episode began with Abram making the right choice to rededicate himself to the Lord by worshipping at the altar he previously built. It ends the same way as he chooses again to worship the Lord by building an altar in Hebron.

As we conclude this morning I want to talk about two words that truly describe Abram. The first word is “tents.” Abraham was a literal pilgrim as he traveled from Ur to Canaan as a stranger in a strange land. He was also the prototypical spiritual pilgrim in that this earth was not his home. Along the way he learned obedience and patience and had extraordinary experiences with the one true God. He trusted in God and went where God told him to go and did what God told him to do. He may have had a lot of questions along the way but he didn’t seem to ask them and God didn’t answer them. God promised; Abram believed. God commanded; Abram obeyed.

The second word is altar. It’s not the stones that matter but the intent of the heart. An altar is a sacred place where we meet with God. But it’s not just another place where we meet with another person who is our equal. It is where we meet with the omnipotent, eternal and Most High God. It is a place where we must approach God with total respect and honor because there is no one like our God. We don’t worship Him because he needs it but because we are moved by who he is and what he has done for us. The altar is also a place of sacrifice. In 2 Samuel 24:24, King David says, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” We must sacrifice all that we have and all we have is ourselves, our hearts. We must submit all of ourselves to him and to his service. The fire doesn’t fall on an empty altar. The fire falls on a sacrificial life offered to God. The altar is also a place of revelation. God revealed Himself to the patriarchs and prophets and established covenants there when they sought Him. If we want God to do the supernatural and reveal himself to us we need to have regular meetings with God. Hebrews 11:6 says, “He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” The altar is lastly a place of fellowship and intercession. Abram built altars to call on the name of the Lord, to fellowship with God, and to pray. Abraham had such a close relationship with God that he was called “the Friend of God” by God Himself. If we want God to call us his “friend” we need to set aside a place and time to meet with him every day, not a hurried 5 minutes to check off our “to-do” list, but a sweet, unhurried, time to wait on God & bask in His glory.

That brings us to the last two next steps this morning. The first is to “live as a spiritual pilgrim in this world trusting and obeying God along the way” and the second is to “build altars to the Lord and meet with him and sacrifice myself daily to him.”

As Gene and Roxey come to lead us in our final hymn, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, I pray that we would take this opportunity to rededicate ourselves to you. Help us to purpose in our hearts to make right choices and pursue holiness daily. Help us to pitch our tents in the Promised Land and not in Sodom. Help us to live as pilgrims in this world trusting and obeying you and help us to build an altar where we can regularly meet with you and be willing to sacrifice all of ourselves to you daily. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

What’s In a Name?

As most of you know I love genealogy and because of that I am fascinated with where names come from, both family names and place names. For instance, I was named Marc for the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius. My first middle name is Joseph and was named after my grandfather on my mother’s side. My second middle name is Jerome and was named after my father’s boss at the time of my birth. My mother’s first name is Elizabeth and she was named after her mother whose middle name was Elizabeth. I am not totally positive where my dad got his first name, Phillip, but his great-grandfather on his mother’s side was also named Phillip. I am also fascinated with where names of places come from. I grew up in and went to school in Temple Hills, MD which is named for a 19th century doctor named Edward Temple. When I met Judy, I was living in Fort Washington, MD which was named after a fort named for George Washington that was on the Potomac River. It was the only fort protecting Washington, DC in that area during the war of 1812.

Do you know where we get the name America? It is named after Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer who set forth the then revolutionary concept that the lands that Christopher Columbus sailed to in 1492 were part of a separate continent and wasn’t the West Indies. I looked up where we get some of the names for the states. Oregon comes from the Portuguese word for “cascades.” Texas comes from the Caddo Indian word for “friends” or “allies.” Virginia is named for England’s Queen Elizabeth I who was called the virgin queen. One of the more fascinating ones I came across was Idaho. In the mid 1800’s, mining lobbyist George M. Willing presented the name "Idaho" to congress for a new territory around Pike's Peak, claiming it was a Native American Shoshone phrase, supposedly meaning "Gem of the Mountains." But in reality he made the name up and by the time the deception was discovered, the name "Idaho" was already in common use.

Do you know where the name Pennsylvania came from? ​​ In 1681, King Charles II granted a land charter to William Penn to repay a debt owed to William's father, Admiral William Penn. William Penn, the son, wanted to name it New Wales but there were objections. He then tried to named it Sylvania which is Latin for “forest” or “woods” but the King named it Pennsylvania (literally "Penn's Woods") in honor of Admiral Penn. William Penn was embarrassed at the name fearing that people would think he had named it after himself, but King Charles would not rename the grant.

Adams County that our church is situated in was named after President John Adams. Gettysburg was name after James Getty. York Springs was once called Petersburg for the man who first built a cabin there, Peter Fleck or Thick. Bendersville was named for Henry Bender and Biglerville, was named for William Bigler, a governor of Pennsylvania. I found the origin of Mt. Holly Springs interesting. Holly was the name given to the gap through the mountains going towards Carlisle because there was a large holly bush or tree there. Arendtsville, or “John’s Pursuit” was named for John Arendt. Heidlersburg was named for John Heidler but at one time it was also called Starrytown named for Michael Starry who built the first house there. I also tried to look up where the name Idaville came from and found out it was once called Whitestown but there was no mention where the names originated. So I called Doris Hoffman thinking if anyone knew she would. Doris told me the reason our area was called Whitestown is because at the time all the houses were white. And the reason it is called Idaville is at that time there were a number of women named Ida including Doris’ grandmother. To me where names come from is fascinating.

In our passage this morning, which is the story of the Tower of Babel, we will see that names play an important part of the story in a couple of different ways. We learned a couple of weeks ago that Babel was part of the kingdom that Nimroad founded. Scholars believe that the city of Babel is where the later city of Babylon was also located. Babylon means, “the gate of the gods” and you may already know that Babel means “confusion.” We will also see that there is conflict between God giving the people their name and the people making a name for themselves. And finally we will notice that the name of God is not being held to the highest standard for which it should be and that brings us to our big idea that Moses, the author of Genesis, wants us to understand this morning which is “we must let God be God.”

Let’s pray and ask God for understanding as we study this passage. Dear Heavenly Father, open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to what you want to say to us through your word this morning. Give us supernatural insight from your Holy Spirit. May we learn more about you and allow you to be God in every aspect of our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Our first point is “construction” and is found in Genesis 11:1-5. Follow along as I read those verses. This is what God’s Word says: “Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.

The first thing we can notice is that the story of the Tower of Babel happens chronologically before the Table of Nations in chapter 10 that Pastor Stuart taught two weeks ago. We see the proof of this in 10:5, 20 and 31. Verse 5 is talking about Japheth’s descendants, “From these the coastlands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations.” Verse 20 is talking about Ham’s descendants, “These are the sons of Ham, according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, by their nations.” And verse 31 is talking about Shem’s descendants, “These are the sons of Shem, according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, according to their nations.” In chapter 11 the first thing we read is that the whole world still had one language and one common speech and when we read chapter 10 we see that has already changed.

God wants us to understand some important things from the way these chapters are ordered. First, he wants us to see the themes of mercy and judgment that are all through the first eleven chapters of Genesis. After Adam and Eve sinned he clothed them before banishing them from the garden. After Cain killed Abel, God put his mark on him so he would not be killed before he went out from the presence of God. God saves Noah and his family from the flood that was sent to judge the wickedness on the earth. God blesses Ham and his descendants to be “fruitful and multiply” even after he sins against his father Noah. This morning we again see these themes played out as God scatters the people across the face of the earth instead of destroying them. God is giving them an opportunity to repent and turn back to him. God continues to show mercy amidst judgment because his blessing to be “fruitful and multiply” is paramount.

Second, God is making a critical point to the first hearers of Genesis and to us today. If the Table of Nations had come after the Tower of Babel it would have been seen as a negative continuation of the Tower of Babel story. By putting the Tower of Babel story directly before the genealogy of Peleg and the call of his descendant Abraham it shows us two things. One, it reminds us that humanity after the flood is as sinful as before the flood. Two, it shows us that God’s solution is going to be in his covenant made with Abraham and his chosen people, Israel. God’s solution to humanity’s sinfulness is the person of Jesus Christ. This point would not have been made as clearly if the Table of Nations had come after the Tower of Babel and before the call of Abraham.

In verse 1, we see that the whole world had one language and a common speech meaning that everyone had the same vocabulary. This unified the people making communication and cooperation easier for them. In verse 2, we notice that the people journeyed east. There are two things to consider here. What does it mean to journey east? It reminds us of Adam and Eve and Cain and where they went after they sinned. Genesis 3:24, “So He (meaning God) drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.” And Genesis 4:16 says, “Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” Both Adam and Eve and Cain after their sin leave the presence of God and go east. Moving eastward seems to imply that it is away from the presence of the Lord. Our sin, especially unconfessed and unrepentant sin, takes us farther and farther away from God’s presence. ​​ 

Second, who is journeying east? Is it everyone on earth or a smaller group of people? Commentators are split but I really don’t think it matters because the story is not necessarily about the people as much as it’s about the people’s hearts. But we can know of one person, specifically, who goes there. Again, two weeks ago, Pastor Stuart showed us that Nimrod, the son of Cush who was one of the sons of Ham, established eight cities, four in the land of Shinar and four in the land of Assyria. One of those cities in the land of Shinar was Babel, so we can know that at least Nimrod went east and we know he didn’t go alone. ​​ 

This group of people come to the plain of Shinar, settled there and start to build a city and a tower. We are given insight into the building materials they used, which were bricks baked thoroughly and tar for mortar. It also states that they didn’t use stone. I find it interesting that we are specifically told about a certain type of material they did not use? I feel we need to go back to what the original hearers, the Israelites, would have thought. By the time Moses would have been recounting the book of Genesis to them they had already built some of the Egyptian pyramids while in slavery or heard stories from their parents about building them. We know that the pyramids were huge stone edifices not made of brick and tar. It kind of makes me wonder if Moses and the Israelites are sharing “an inside joke” here. Everyone knows that stone is better than baked bricks, right.

It also reminds me of the story Jesus told in the NT about building your house on the rock as opposed to the sand. From the beginning of time, Babel or Babylon as it probably became, was not built on a firm foundation. It was built with brick and mortar not with stone. And we will see that it was built by people who were not following after God. It was built by people who wanted to follow their own will and not God’s will. It was built by people whose foundation was Ham’s character and not the character of God. It was built by people who wanted to make a name for themselves and not let God give them their name. It was built by people who did not want to let God be God but instead wanted to be their own god. (BIG IDEA)

Their plan was to build a city with a tower that would “reach into heaven.” And the reason for building the city and tower was to make a name for themselves. They felt that by doing this they would not be scattered over the face of the earth. Commentators are split on what exactly the tower was. It was either a tall skyscraper-like tower or a ziggurat, which was a pyramid-like structure. Again, I think about the context. They are not in Israel, but in Shinar, which was in the area known as Mesopotamia. In Israel there were watchtowers which were to provide an early warning system for invasions from their enemies. In Mesopotamian literature when they described a building whose top will “reach into heaven” almost every time it refers to a ziggurat. Ziggurats were solid terraced pyramids made up of successive receding stories or levels. Their main feature was a stairway or ramp that led to its top. (picture of ziggurat)

In Mesopotamia, towers had a religious function. At the top was a room for the patron god of the city that included a bed for the god to sleep in and a table filled with food for the god to eat. There would have been a temple next to the ziggurat where the people would have worshipped. The ziggurat was the place where the god would stay and then could come down the ramp to interact with the people if their worship pleased the god. Two interpretations are that they were building the tower for themselves to reach heaven and be like God or they were trying to humanize God by saying he had needs that man could meet thus making God in their own image. In either case, they were not letting God be God. (BIG IDEA)

Now if it was just a massive skyscraper the effect is the same. Once this huge structure was finished they would get the glory and the accolades for their awesome achievement. They would make a name for themselves among the peoples of the earth. Their reputation would be great but the motivation for doing so would be to honor and glorify themselves not God. They also seem concerned with being scattered over the face of the earth. This may have had something to do with wanting to be safe and secure but are not willing to rely on God for that. Such a massive, imposing structure would give others the impression that they shouldn’t be messed with or dominated. No matter what the tower was, their motivation for building it and the city was to make a name for themselves. Their motivation was not God-centered but self-centered.

Have you ever tried to make a name for yourself or tried to ensure your own safety and security apart from God? Have you ever done something that was all for your own glory and honor? Have you ever tried to ensure your safety and security leaving God totally out of the picture? In Genesis 12:2, the Lord says to Abraham: “I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.” If Abraham obeyed God’s will for his life, God would make Abraham’s name great. Abraham did not have to make a name for himself because God would do it for him. That brings us to our first next step, which is to “let God make a name for me through obedience to his will for my life and rely on him for my safety and security.”

Next we see that God comes down to see the tower and the city that the people had built. Again, I feel that Moses is sharing an “inside joke” with the first hearers. The plan was to build a city and a tower to “reach into heaven” but God has to come down to even be able to see it. Of course we know that God didn’t need to come down to see it but again I think Moses is making a point. The builders are called “sons of men '' which Hamilton says, “reduces these pretentious human beings to their real size. They are but mere earthlings.” For all of Nimrod's and his people's mighty deeds in building what was probably a magnificent city and massive tower, God was not impressed.

But even though God doesn’t seem to be impressed, he is not taking the implications of what they are doing lightly and we see that in our second point this morning, which is “confusion”, found in verses 6-9. This is what God’s Word says, “The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

God comes down to take a look at what the people have built and then he goes back to heaven and we see a conversation taking place. Some commentators think that God is talking to the angels here, but in the NASB the “us” is capitalized which seems to refer to the Trinity. We see the same language in Genesis 1:26. “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Also in the scriptures when God comes down out of heaven it seems to be a prelude to judgment like we will see with Sodom and Gomorrah, but he doesn’t enter into judgment rashly.

God declares that because they are one people and have the same language they can be unified as a community and would be able to accomplish any purposes they put their minds to. Those purposes could be for good or for bad as we see here with the people of Babel. We notice the same conversation happening after Adam and Eve sinned in the garden. Genesis 3:22 says, “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” The idea is “if they can do these things who knows where their actions will lead?” Job 42:2 says, “Then Job answered the Lord and said, “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” Job recognizes that God’s purposes are the only ones that should always be fulfilled not man’s. If all of man’s purposes are fulfilled then he becomes like God.

Here, at Idaville Church, we want to and need to be unified. And in that unity we need to purpose to do what is right, by living holy lives, by keeping and following God’s decrees found in his Word and by doing his will and not our own. If we want our church to be relevant in this community, if we want to be able to make disciples who make disciples, we must all covenant together to allow God to give us our name and not try to make a name for ourselves. We must let God be God. (BIG IDEA)

God’s judgment plan is decided. He confuses their language so that they can’t communicate with each other and he scatters them over all the earth. Both these things kept the people from completing the city. We see the irony in that by scattering the people, the very thing they wanted to make sure didn’t happen, is the very thing that God did to them. By confusing their language the people would not be able to further cooperate in their selfish plans. Their sin was the same sin as in the garden. Their desires became more important than God’s desires for themselves and their will took precedence over doing the will of God. But we see the grace of God as he spares their lives giving them an opportunity to repent and return to him.

Finally, we see the name of the city and how it got its name. The name of the city is Babel which sounds like the Hebrew word meaning “confusion.” This same word also sounds like the Hebrew word for Babylon. I mentioned earlier that Babylon means “gate of the gods.” I like what Weirsbe says, “Because of God’s judgment the “gate of the gods” became the “door to confusion.” God is not the author of confusion (as it says in 1 Cor. 14:33) but in the world God sometimes uses confusion to humble people and keep them from uniting against his will.” The place was called Babel because it was where God confused the language of the whole earth causing the people to be scattered across the face of the earth. They were no longer unified and of one purpose going against God’s will and pursuing their own way.

It is telling that the two post-Flood stories involve sin and disgrace and that Ham is directly or indirectly involved in both. God wants the Israelites, to remember that they need to be on guard to not follow the ways of their ungodly neighbors. In the Promised Land they would be influenced by the Canaanite culture around them. And then in exile in Babylon and Assyria they would be influenced by those cultures as well. ​​ I don’t think it a coincidence that all three of those peoples are connected to Ham and his descendants. God wanted them to remember who they are: they are a chosen and holy people, a royal priesthood, and children of God. This should also remind us that as Christians we are all those things and that we are to be in the world but not of it. We are to resist the devil and flee from him. This reminds me of the verse we memorized together back in January, Leviticus 20:26, “You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.”

My conclusion comes from Walton’s commentary. The people of Babel had a distorted view of God and what their relationship to him was to look like. Our story this morning represents a constant movement away from God in all areas of human conduct. Walton asserts that humanity is already morally and socially destitute and now are on a path to becoming theologically destitute as well. The people of Babel were either trying to be like God or diluting God by believing he had needs and those needs can be met by man. The definition of paganism is the degradation of deity and the view that God is limited and we can make him do what we want when we want him to do it. We do this when we forget or discount the character, the transcendence and the sovereignty of God. We do this when we make God in our own image. The gods that the people of Babel and the Babylonians worshipped were capricious, immoral, unethical, unfair and dishonest because they were all those things. What follows is that we don’t know what God expects from us because those expectations change with the wind just like man does.

But we follow a God that does tell us exactly what he expects and desires from us and what his will is for us and those things have never changed and will never change. I mentioned that Chapters 9-11 show us the continuity of grace, mercy, judgment and covenant. The first eleven chapters of Genesis has shown us the need for covenant. The covenant that God gave to Noah and will give to Abraham was his revelation to his people of how they were to live just like God’s word is for us today. God’s revelation to his people was the first step to his redemption plan for mankind.

What does this mean for us today? We can see that the corruption of the deity God is prevalent in our culture today? I don’t think we can miss it unless we have our heads in the sand. God is not treated with the awe, holy fear and respect that he deserves. God’s Word is not considered absolute truth in our culture today. We want to set ourselves up as god in our own eyes or we want a god that we can manage. We don’t want to let God be God.

There are three ways that we dilute the deity of God today individually and corporately. One is by redistributing his power. That is when we rely on other things besides God. People rely on what they think has power. That might be money, or people, or possessions, or the government, technology or ourselves, etc. In church history, God’s power has been redistributed to Mary, the mother of Jesus and to saints. In New Age his power is redistributed to crystals or angels. We also see a pluralistic view of religion where Allah and Buddha share power with Christ, which reminds me of this bumper sticker, Coexist (show picture). We may use horoscopes or transcendental meditation and not think they are harmful. We can all fall into this trap of draining God’s omnipotence from him and giving it to something or someone else. ​​ 

Fully relying on God and his power asks us to take risks by letting God be God. We need to step out in faith and allow God to make us uncomfortable for his honor and his glory. This might mean serving in the mission field or serving in the church where our skills and gifts are needed. It might mean raising the level of our giving to where we are totally relying on God for everything we need. It may mean taking a stand for godliness in a difficult situation at home or at work.

The second way we dilute the deity of God today is by restricting his autonomy. This is the belief that God is obligated to us and that we owes us something. The people of Babel felt that by meeting the needs of the gods such as providing a bed, food, etc. the gods would be happy and bless them and bring protection and prosperity to them. In what ways do we feel, today, that God is obligated to us? It speaks to our motivation. What is our motivation for giving our time, our talents, our prayers, our praise to God? We love God because he first loved us and we need him to have an abundant life and for our salvation. We must not make the mistake that God loves and needs us for the same reasons.

The third way we dilute the deity of God is by regulating his power. God’s power is an awesome thing and we dilute it when we try to tap into his power and redirect it for our own purposes and benefits. All power comes from God and through the Holy Spirit his power will work wonders in our lives. But sometimes we just want to see the physical end results of his power and are reluctant to allow his power to cleanse and purify us spiritually. This is seen in wanting God to give us something without wanting to change our habits. In wanting God to work his changes for us not in us.

So what is the solution for us today if we have a diluted view of God individually or in our church? We need a renewed vision of his character, his sovereignty, his transcendence and his power. This renewed vision comes from his self-revelation to us in his Word, the Bible. The Bible will show us the proper view of exactly who God is what he is like. Our spiritual growth is dependent on developing an increasingly informed understanding of who God truly is and bringing our whole lives in orbit around him instead of trying to bring God into orbit around us. We must allow God to impact our attitudes, choices and lifestyles and be sincere in wanting him to work in us and through us. It’s all about God and nothing about us. It’s about letting God be God. That brings us to our second and third next steps this morning. My next step is to increase my understanding of who God truly is by daily being in His Word. And my next step is to allow God to impact my attitudes, choices and lifestyles and to be sincere in wanting Him to work in me and through me.

As the praise team comes to lead us in our final song, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, help us to have a proper view of who you are. Help us to purpose to be in your Word daily and we pray for insight and understanding of your character, sovereignty, transcendence and your power. Help us to surrender our attitudes, choices and lifestyles to your will. And give us sincere hearts in wanting you to work in and through us. Help us to rely on you for our safety and security and let us be like Abraham and allow you to give us our name in this world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Humanity Exposed

Have you ever thought that the stories of the Bible would make for good headlines? The first chapters of Genesis show humanity on such a rollercoaster ride that I truly wonder what the first hearers would have thought. Imagine with me the following headlines ripped from the pages of the Bible: in Genesis 1, we see of highs, “The Creation of the World” and “Man Created in the Image of God.” And in Genesis 2, “Man and Woman = One Flesh” and “The First Marriage.” Then in Genesis 3 we see the lows of, “The Fruit of the Forbidden Tree is Eaten” and “Kicked Out of Paradise.” Then we see highs again as “God Gives Them Clothes” and in Genesis 4, “The Blessing Continues, Part 1” as Eve gives birth to Cain and Abel. But the lows come quickly as “Brother Kills Brother” and “Sin Abounds.” And those are quickly followed by the highs of “Seth Is Born” and “People Call on the Name of the Lord.” In Genesis 5, we see the ominous “And Then He Died” but we also see “The Righteous Ones”, Enoch, Methusaleh and Noah, who will bring comfort, rest and relief. In Genesis 6, we again see the lows in “God is Starting Over” and “The Lord Regrets He Ever Made Us.” And later in Genesis 6, we see that God will save a remnant as “Noah’s Building a What?” and in Genesis 7 and 8, there’s the “Storm of the Century.” At the end of Genesis 8 and the beginning of Genesis 9 we see highs of “On Dry Land”, “Pleasing Worship”, and “The Blessing Continues, Part 2.” The first hearers might now be thinking that the hard times are behind Noah and his family and things can only go up from here. But as we come to this morning’s headlines, “Fallen Hero” and “Humanity Exposed” we will see that man’s sinful nature rears its ugly head again. The blessing that God pronounced on Adam and Eve and on Noah is still intact but so also is man’s sinfulness that started in the Garden. But again the rollercoaster ride that is humanity’s history continues and by the end of our passage this morning we will see a curse and we will see a blessing. Two of Noah’s sons will show that their father’s righteousness and holiness has been passed down to them. And because they have emulated their father they will be blessed which brings us to our big idea that “God blesses those who are living holy lives.” We will see what blessings Noah’s sons receive and also what blessings the Bible promises to us today when we live a daily holy life in obedience to God and his son, Jesus.

Before we dive into our scripture this morning let’s begin by dedicating to God this time and this opportunity to study His Word. Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for your Word, the Bible. Thank you that we can read and study it. Thank you that it tells us how to live holy lives set apart to do your will. I pray that you would open our hearts and minds to what you want to say to each of us this morning. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

There are two points this morning. The first point is, “Family Tragedy” and it is found in Genesis 9:18-23. Follow along as I read those verses. This is what God’s Word says, “The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth. Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father’s nakedness.

This is the final section of the Flood toledot. The flood story is set in between references to Noah and his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The sons are first mentioned in Genesis 5:32, again in Genesis 6:10, in Genesis 7:13 and finally here in Genesis 9. This links them back to the genealogy of Adam and to before, during and after the Flood. The focus is shifting from Noah to his three sons.

We are given two new pieces of information that were not mentioned before. First, Ham is the father of Canaan. This is evidence that the blessing of procreation God reintroduced after the flood is already at work. The mention of Canaan is also important as it introduces the first hearers to a major character in the lives of the Israelites later in the OT. Second, the three sons of Noah will be the ones whom all peoples will come from that are scattered over all the earth. One of the reasons God saved Noah and his sons from the flood was so that the blessing would be passed down to all future generations.  ​​ ​​​​ 

Next we are introduced to a family’s tragedy. Noah is called a “man of the soil” or “ground.” The ground has been significant in the early chapters of Genesis. Man is created from the ground and the ground is cursed because of man’s sin. The ground endures the punishment of the flood and has survived. Noah and his sons have also survived the flood and are given a second chance along with the ground. Noah’s livelihood is linked to the ground from which the blessing of food and drink has come from. ​​ Noah has come from a long line of farmers including Adam, Cain and his father Lamech. Noah, as a second Adam, seems to be fulfilling the original purpose of humanity in the garden. As a farmer Noah proceeds to plant a vineyard. Commentators are split about if Noah was the first person to ever plant a vineyard and make wine. If so, they would contend that Noah probably didn’t know what effects wine would have on his body. But there is evidence that vineyards and the making of wine came before the flood. We can surmise that Noah knew exactly what he was doing when he grew and picked the grapes, pressed them and waited for the juice to ferment.

After drinking the wine that he made Noah became drunk and laid uncovered inside his tent. Noah’s drunkenness is not excused or condemned here but it would have been disgraceful to be in that condition. This is the first of two incidents in Genesis that include drunkenness and both result in sin. I can’t imagine that Noah being drunk would have made God happy and just because he doesn’t address it doesn’t mean it's ok. We are reminded of what God said before blessing Noah and his sons: that man is evil from childhood. Wenham says, “The humanity that begins with Noah fully parallels the humanity that preceded the flood.” Noah is still human and humanity is still sinful. The flood has not wiped sin out. I think it is interesting that this story comes on the heels of blessing and covenant. We always need to be careful of Satan’s attacks especially right after a God moment in our lives. He will try to steal our joy every chance he gets.

We also see that Noah is lying uncovered which would have increased his disgrace in the eyes of the first hearers. The Bible talks in various places about drinking to excess and the problems that could arise. Here alcohol has caused Noah to become drunk and he has exposed himself and that is a disgrace not only to himself, but also to his family. Lastly, we see that Noah was inside his tent. This is important because it would have been something else entirely if he was drunk and naked outside in public. We see a parallel here in that when Adam and Eve sinned they knew they were naked and Noah in his sin and disgraceful condition became naked. ​​ 

Next we see what Ham does when confronted with his father’s nakedness. Ham somehow sees his father lying uncovered inside his tent meaning he may have gone into his father’s tent without permission. This act would have shown a clear disrespect for his father. The word for saw implies “he gazed or he took a long look. It seems he had a certain satisfaction at seeing his father in his shameful condition. Once he had noticed his father uncovered, the proper thing for Ham to do should have been to quietly cover him up. But there was something in the character of Ham that caused him to not do that and instead go outside and tell his brothers about what he saw. Literally, the text means that he told his brothers with “delight.” He seemed to have enjoyed his father’s shame and the embarrassment it would cause. He may have relished the opportunity to gossip about “righteous” Noah. Ham shows blatant disrespect for his father again and again. We are again reminded that Ham is the father of Canaan and it would have alerted the first hearers to pay special attention. Ham shows his true character as he finds his brothers and gossips about his father’s indiscretion. He was probably making fun of his father and was trying to get his brothers to join in the fun of looking at his father’s nakedness as well. We notice a couple principles here. One, God’s desire is for us to show respect to our parents. Two, God’s desire is that we do not gossip about the sins of others. We need to be careful not to revel in the other’s sin because we are all sinful creatures.

What Ham does reminds us of Eve in the garden. She saw that the fruit of the forbidden tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye. Eve ate of the fruit and then gave some to Adam who sinned as well by eating it. Ham saw his father’s nakedness, made fun of it, and tried to entice his brothers to sin as well but his brothers refused to be tempted and even did something about their father’s condition. We need to be careful of what we allow our eyes to see. We can easily be tempted to sin by what we allow ourselves to look at. With our eyes we are tempted to lust, covet, etc. In Job 31, we see these words from Job. “I have made a covenant with mine eyes to not look lustfully upon a young woman” and “my heart has been led by my eyes.” Job understood that what he allowed his eyes to see could cause him to sin. He covenanted with his eyes to not let them look upon another with lust and, in doing so, keep his sinful desires at bay. We live holy lives by controlling what our eyes look at and not allowing those temptations to become sin “lived out” in our actions. That brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is to live a life of holiness by controlling what my eyes are allowed to see. ​​ 

After being confronted with Ham’s disrespect we see the decency that his brothers, Shem and Japheth have for their father’s condition. They did not fall into the same temptation that Ham did. Scripture says they took a garment and laid it across their shoulders and walked backward and covered their father’s nakedness. They showed decency in covering their father but they also went above and beyond to not even look at him in his disgraceful condition and be tempted by what they saw. They made sure that their faces were turned the other way. Shem and Japheth countered the sin of Noah by covering the “uncovered” and countered the sin of Ham by not seeing what Ham “saw.” This reminds us of God covering Adam and Eve in the Garden after they sinned and found that they were naked. We need to remember we are all sinful people and the shame of our sin requires a covering just as Noah’s did and Jesus Christ is the only one that can cover our sin and shame.

We notice that more is said about what Shem and Japheth did than what Ham did. That is because we are to focus on the actions of Shem and Japheth more. They covered their father’s shame, honoring him by not looking at his nakedness and by not gossiping about it to others. These are the actions of people who knew what was right and did what was right. When we are loving people the way Jesus loves, we do not go around exposing their sin and encouraging others to make fun of them. That is not the way of holiness. Shem and Japheth had seen their father’s faith in the Lord as he built an ark not knowing what rain probably even was. They had watched their father’s obedience as he did everything God commanded him. They learned about the worship of the Lord as they saw Noah build an altar and sacrifice burnt offerings to the Lord on it. They had learned from their father how to live a holy life and now have exhibited the kind of behavior necessary to do the same. This brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to live a life of holiness by knowing what is right (found in God’s Word) and by doing what is right.

Our second point this morning is called “Family Prophecy” and is found in Genesis 9:24-29. Follow along as I read those verses. “When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave.” After the flood Noah lived 350 years. Noah lived a total of 950 years, and then he died.

When Noah wakes up from being drunk he discovers what his youngest son has done to him. Noah may have heard the rumblings of family members outside or maybe he went to his oldest son, Japheth, and asked how he had been covered up. The result is, that when Noah, who has not spoken in the entire narrative of his life in the Bible, finally speaks, his first words are a curse on his grandson, Canaan. The word “curse” is only used here once, so this is probably more a prophecy by Noah about his grandson. It took the form of request to God asking him to fulfill what Noah had said. This would have been different from a prophecy spoken by God but still would have carried weight. Wenham says, “Though it is not stated Noah’s words evidently have divine authority and affect the future.”

Why did Noah curse Canaan and not Ham? We need to go back to Ham’s sin. Ham showed a blatant disrespect for his father. This would have been a very serious matter in Noah’s time and later in Israel as well. The punishment for insulting or disrespecting your parents could have been death. Disrespecting parents was not just a crime against them but against God in showing contempt for those he put in authority over you. One of the Ten Commandments is “Honor your father and mother.” Respect for parents was paramount. When we disrespect our parents we start to see the downfall of the family itself. Satan has been attacking the family already. Adam and Eve’s relationship would have been strained because of their sin. Cain kills his brother Abel and we’ve seen the ungodliness passed down from Cain through his family to Lamech, who had multiple wives and boasted of killing someone. Satan again attacks the family as Ham is infected with contempt and disrespect for his father. And it brings a curse on his family, his son and the generations to follow. Our families are being destroyed by sin which is why it is so important that we live holy lives so our families will see it, can emulate it and pass it onto the next generation who will be blessed by God. BIG IDEA

Cursing a person’s son would have had the same effect as cursing the father because it would be cursing his future line. Noah has seen something in the character of his son that disturbed him. Ham’s character was not formed in that instant but had been forming his entire life. Noah notices this and realizes that those character traits will be passed down to Ham’s son, Canaan. In fact, Canaan would become the father of the Canaanite people who were wicked and sexually immoral. Their wickedness and immorality was the reason why God gave their lands over to the Israelites. The Israelite hearers would have understood why Noah cursed Canaan. They would have seen firsthand the evil and wickedness of the people who lived in the Promised Land before they did. Noah’s curse/prophecy represented God’s punishment of the sins of the Canaanite people which Ham exemplified.

The curse on Canaan was enslavement. He would be the lowest of slaves to his brothers. The enslavement to his brothers is mentioned a total of three times by Noah. Wenham says, “This threefold repetition of the curse makes it unusually emphatic: there can be no doubt about its fulfillment.” Most commentators believe that this curse was fulfilled as the Israelites displaced the Canaanites from the Promised Land and eventually enslaved them during King David’s reign. The enslavement to Japheth is harder to historically explain. Through this incident, God is warning the Jewish people not to compromise with the Canaanite way of life. They would need to destroy anything and everything that would tempt them to sin as the Canaanites did. Lastly, the curse Noah speaks on Canaan did not have anything to do with race. The Canaanites were not racially different from the Israelites or the other people they lived among.

Next, we see Noah turn from cursing to blessing. Notice that Noah doesn’t bless Shem or Japheth. He blesses the Lord, the God of Shem. This the first time that God is referred to as the God of an individual in the Bible. Noah’s reference to the Lord means he was not a vengeful individual who was out of fellowship with God. Noah recognizes that any blessing that Shem receives will come from the Lord. It reminds us that just as we’ve seen all throughout the narrative of Noah, that it is God who is the main character of the story. It is all about God and not about man at all. Noah blesses God and asks that God bless Shem and Japheth for their actions in showing dignity to him.

What are these blessings Noah is asking for on their behalf? Shem receives the blessing of the firstborn as Noah asks for God to enrich him. We notice that Shem’s name is always mentioned first when the three sons are listed. This is another instance of God’s grace given to the second born as we have seen with Abel over Cain and will see with Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau. By calling the Lord, “the God of Shem”, Shem is identified in terms of his relationship to God. It also means that Shem’s line will be the elected line just as Seth’s line was and just as Abraham’s, Isaac’s and Jacob’s will be. This is the line that Jesus Christ, the Messiah will come from. Noah is prophesying about Shem’s descendants just as he has about Ham’s.

Noah also asks for God to bless Japheth by enlarging his territory and allowing him to live in the tents of Shem. This blessing on Japheth to be enlarged has seemed to be fulfilled as his descendants were those who settled west and north of Israel which includes the Greek peoples and the Philistines. His descendants also reached as far as Asia Minor, Europe and finally to the Americas. In essence the descendants of Japheth are us, today. If you look at present-day maps, we see that descendants of Japheth have settled more land than Ham’s descendants who went to Africa and Shem’s descendants who settled in the Promised Land which is by far the smallest land area of the three.

Most commentators struggle to explain the blessing of Japheth “living in the tents of Shem.” It may mean that their descendants will live peacefully with each other. More likely it means that the God of Shem will be the God of Japheth as well. Japheth will benefit from the spiritual blessing of being united with Shem’s God. God was said to dwell or “pitch his tent” with his people the Israelites. God’s presence was in the Holy of Holies in the Tent of Meeting while they were in the wilderness and in the Tabernacle in Jerusalem. In John 1:14a it says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Literally, Jesus (the Word) became a man and dwelled or “tented” among us. And now the Holy Spirit dwells within each person who is a Christ follower. This happened because it was Shem’s descendants, the Jewish people, that Jesus came from. And his Word was spread by his disciples to the Gentiles. Shem means “name.” The blessing of Shem is seen in the fact that God would reveal his saving Name to the world through him. God would use Shem’s descendants to bring Divine revelation and salvation through Jesus Christ to the world.

Lastly, we are again reminded of the genealogy of Adam found in Genesis 5 as we finish the Flood toledot. The ten generations that started with Adam are now finished and we will now embark on the next ten generations which will take us from Shem to Abraham and the covenant that God will make with him. Noah lived another 350 years after the flood and he lived a total of 950 years. We notice that the phrase “he fathered other sons and daughters” is missing. This makes it clear that all mankind after the flood has descended from Shem, Ham and Japheth. We also notice that just like all his ancestors before him except for Enoch, it says, “and then he died.” This phrase again reminds us of our humanity and our sin. Our humanity has been exposed time and time again and it will continue to be exposed but God’s blessing is also still alive and nothing will stop his blessing from being passed down until the end of time as we know it.

We’ve seen the blessings that Shem and Japheth received from living holy lives and we have seen those blessings being passed down to their descendants as well. As Christians we can receive blessings from God as well. In living a holy life, God wants to and does lavish more blessings on us than we can even imagine. Here are just a few of the blessings we receive when we are living a holy life. Psalm 15:1-2a says, “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous.” Holiness brings us intimacy with God and helps us to grow spiritually. 2 Peter 3:14 says, “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this (Jesus’ return), make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” Holiness brings us peace with God. 2 Timothy 2:21 says, “Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” Holiness makes us useful and effective for God’s purposes. It is a blessing to be used by God for his purposes. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us of the fruit that we can have when we are living holy lives and listening to the Holy Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” These fruits are evident when we are living holy lives. In fact we cannot do these things very well if we are not living holy lives.

Ephesians 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” The spiritual blessings we receive when we are living a holy life are sanctification, forgiveness, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which gives us insight and power to do God’s will and eternal life with Jesus. There are so many more blessings we receive when we are living holy lives and we do not want to miss out on these blessings. Which brings us to our last next step on the back of your communication card which is to Live a life of holiness and receive the blessings that God has for me.

As Gene and Roxey come to lead us in a final song, let’s close in prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that we would strive to live holy lives set apart for your special purposes for each one of us. I pray that we would covenant with our eyes that we would keep them from seeing those things that would cause us to be tempted to sin. I pray that we would study your Word so that we would know the right way to live and then proceed to live the right way. I pray that as we live holy lives you would lavish your blessings upon us for your honor and your glory. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tied Up With A Bow

When I think of the word “bow” I think of presents. Birthday presents, Christmas presents, etc. I don’t know how it’s done in your family but in mine Judy does almost all the Christmas shopping. She shops for her family, my family, and for me. The only shopping I usually do is for her. I must admit that I do not like wrapping presents and I usually find myself wrapping her presents on Christmas Eve or if I am lucky on December 23. A lot of it’s because I am just not very good at it. I also don’t see the point of wrapping the presents and putting ribbons and bows on them just to have it all ripped off and thrown away. Almost every year I ask Judy if it’s ok to skip the ribbons and the bows on her presents and her reply is always the same: NO. So I put the ribbons and the bows on all her presents, why? I do it for her because she likes them and because I love and care for her.

One of the most extraordinary and beautiful natural wonders is the rainbow. Rainbows have fascinated people throughout the ages. The rainbow is a bent or curved line in the sky composed of or consisting of seven colors...red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Since only one color of light is observed from each raindrop because the sun hits each different raindrop at a different angle, an incredible number of raindrops is required to produce the magnificent spectrum of color that is characteristic of a rainbow. Usually a rainbow is seen when part of the sky is dark and it is raining and the sun is shining in another part of the sky. For the rainbow to be visible, the sun has to be behind the observer who is, in effect, facing the rainbow. God chose the rainbow to be his sign to humanity that he would never destroy the earth by flood again. Honestly, he did not have to give us this sign to seal the covenant that he made with Noah. He made a promise and we can either believe it or not. Instead God blessed Noah and covenanted with him and his sons to never destroy the earth by flood again and he tied it up with a bow, the rainbow. And he did this because of his love and care for us which brings us to our big idea this morning that “God loves and cares for his creation.” Everything that we will see in our passage this morning God does because he loves and cares for us and every time we see a rainbow after a storm it should remind us of that love and care.

As we think about how much God loves and cares for us, let’s pray and dedicate this time of worship and of the study of the Word to Him. Loving Father, we thank you for your love and care for us. We thank you for sending your son to die on a cross as the ultimate act of love for us. Help us to appreciate your love and care for us and to show your love and care to others. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon each one of us and guide us in the study of your Word this morning. May it speak truth and life to us and may we speak its truth and life to others as we share it with them. In Jesus’ name, Amen. ​​ 

There are two points this morning, Commands and Covenant. The first point is Commands and is found in Genesis 9:1-7. This is what God’s Word says, “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth, and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man. As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”

In this section God addresses three areas about life. The first is multiplying life. God is speaking to Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. This is the first time during the entire story of Noah that God has spoken to his sons. So far it has been about the righteousness and blamelessness of Noah that has saved not only him but his family from the flood. Now Noah’s sons will start to take center stage. We will see in chapter 10 that they will be the ones who repopulate the earth. Shem’s descendant, Abraham, will be the next major player in the Bible as he becomes the father of the chosen people, which will birth the promised Messiah, who will save the world from their sins.

God repeats the blessing command, “to be fruitful and multiply,” to Noah and his sons, that he first gave Adam and Eve in the garden. This would have taken the first hearers back to Genesis 1 and would have reminded them of their special place in God’s creation. God is jump starting the blessing that has been stalled by the flood and infected by sin. Despite sin and the resulting flood judgment man would still be able to reproduce and fill the earth with his kind. They have been given a second chance and even though man will continue to sin God still blesses them. This would have instilled hope for the future in the hearer. Human beings are still made in the image of God and are still supremely important to him and he loves and cares for them.

The second area about life that God addresses is sustaining life. We notice that God does not repeat the command “to subdue and rule over the earth” as he did in the garden. There is no longer harmony between man and the animal kingdom because of sin. Now all the beasts of the earth, all the birds of the air, every creature that moves along the ground and all the fish of the sea will have a “fear and dread” or “terror” of human beings. Before the flood “subdue and rule” meant that man was able to easily domesticate and have use of the animals in a mutual respect. They came to Noah but now will be terrified of man and the tendency will be to flee from him. Man will still rule over the animals but it will be a forced and subservient rule. This new response of “fear and dread” will be a means of survival for the animals since they are given into humanity’s hands and are now food for them. This will be the natural response of the animals to being hunted prey. God’s command allowing humans to kill animals for food is further evidence of his grace toward them for a couple of reasons. One, with the extreme temperatures of hot and cold and summer and winter, meat would now be needed to sustain the human metabolism. Two, because animals reproduce at a quicker rate than human beings, they would soon overrun humanity on the earth. This was seemingly not a problem before the flood because of the special relationship and mutual respect between human beings and the animal kingdom. We have seen that Cain was a farmer, Abel was a shepherd and now Noah and his sons are hunters.

Just as God gave all the trees in the garden as food for Adam and Eve, with one exception, here he gives everything that moves as food for Noah and his sons, with one exception. This exception would also test humanity’s obedience. He commands them not to eat meat that has the lifeblood still in it. The way that the Hebrew language states this exception means that it is permanently binding. This put a limit on humanity’s rights over God’s creation reminding them that everything belonged to him. The blood is considered to be where life comes from and therefore is sacred and should be respected because all life is given by God. This is why those who hunt deer or rabbit, etc. skin and drain the blood before preparing it to be eaten. Walton says, “Ritually speaking, draining the blood before eating the meat was a way of returning the life force of the animal to God who gave it life. This offers recognition that they have taken the life with permission and are partaking of God’s bounty as his guests. Its function is like saying a blessing before a meal.”

Later in the OT, the blood of animals was important in the sacrifices that the Israelites were to make to God and was to be treated with reverence. In the sacrificial law handed down by God the substitution of the animal’s life, represented by its blood, in place of the offerer’s life, was the atonement for human sin and averted divine judgment. Even though animals would now be part of the human diet they are still valuable in the eyes of God and are to be cared for and not abused. This is seen in the fact that the animal sacrifices were to be the firstfruits of the flock and unblemished. The sacrifice was to be costly to the person offering it, testifying to the enormity of their sin.

The third area about life that God addresses is protecting life. The life blood of human beings is supremely precious to God and he will demand an accounting for it. God will even demand an accounting from an animal that takes the life of a human being. Exodus 21:28 says, “When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable.” In Israel the punishment for an animal that took a human life was the death of the animal.

God will also hold human beings accountable for the taking of the life of another human being. God establishes capital punishment or the death penalty here as he says “whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” Any person who willfully murders another human being should be held accountable for their actions. God is establishing the idea of a human government here to be the entity to carry out the punishment. God would no longer punish human beings universally. He would deal with our sin on an individual basis and the protection of human life would now reside in humanity’s hands.

God demands this accounting because a human being who murders another human being is killing their fellow man or brother. This is the first time the word for “brother” is used since Genesis 4 when Cain kills his brother Abel. In that story the word brother is used multiple times to show how serious the killing of a family member was. God is reminding us that we are all family and the killing of another family member is not ok with him.

There may be two reasons why God is now establishing capital punishment in order to signify the value he puts on a human life. First, to help limit the violence that existed before the Flood. Second, since he is now allowing human beings to kill animals for food, the stigma against taking life would fade and the weapons used to kill animals would be readily available. But the bigger reason is because man is created in the image of God and even though that image is diseased by sin human life is still regarded as sacred. To take the life of another human being is to extinguish a revelation of God and display contempt for him. Wiersbe says, “To attack another human being is to attack God and God’s judgment will come down on that person. All life is a gift of God and to take away life means to take the place of God. The Lord gives life and he is the only one who has the right to take it away.” This section finishes with God again repeating the command to be fruitful and multiply and increase in number on the earth. Mankind was to be “makers” of life not “takers” of life.

Our second point this morning is Covenant and is found in Genesis 9:8-17. This is what God’s Word says, “Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

Again God speaks to Noah and his three sons. They are now partners with Noah in the second chance that God has given to humanity, the animals and the earth. He has commanded them about what to do, which is to procreate, and he has commanded them about what not to do, which is to not eat meat with blood in it and to not murder other human beings. Now God testifies about what he will do, which is establish a covenant, and what he will not do, which is never again destroy the earth by flood. This is the first time we see a covenant being made in the Bible and God promises three times (twice in verse 11 and once in verse 15) that he will never again send a flood to destroy all life on earth. He also starts his covenant with Noah and his sons with an emphatic “I now” meaning the covenant obligation rests with the Lord alone. This covenant is unconditional meaning God is the doer and humanity did not have to do anything to see it come to pass. This testifies to God’s resolve to never destroy all living things by flood again and shows his great love and care for his creation.

God addresses his covenant in three ways. The first way is with Noah and his sons and their descendants. This covenant looks beyond the present generation even to all generations to come including us. It points to his commitment to be involved with people and families forever. The second way is with every living creature that came out of the ark with Noah and every living creature on the earth. Again this was for all animals for all time. God mentions “every” or “all” living creatures at least four times in this section reminding us that the animal kingdom is special to him. In Revelation 4:6-7 we see these words, “Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. These are the four living creatures that are before the throne of God in heaven. They have the faces of a lion, a calf, a man and an eagle. These faces parallel the four kinds of creatures with whom God made his covenant: wild beasts, cattle, humans and birds. These four living creatures are eternally worshipping God before his throne because he loves and cares for them. God now spells out exactly what he is covenanting to do. He promises to never cut off all life by the waters of a flood and to never destroy the earth by flood again. This was a promise of permanent security for all living beings on the earth. God loves and cares for his creation.

The third way that God addresses the covenant with Noah and his sons is by instituting a sign. A sign signified that it was more than just a promise. It was the way to know that the covenant was being fulfilled and its conditions were being met. It would remind people of God’s presence and his obligations and seal the covenant giving them reassurance. The sign God gives is the rainbow and it was well-suited to fulfill the function of a covenant sign. Man was not going to be able to produce a rainbow, God was the only one who could make it happen. So every time that God set the rainbow in the clouds it would be a reminder to us that he promised to never destroy all living creatures and the earth by flood again. It would be a sign seen by man but it would also remind God himself of his promise. The sign of the rainbow was like the blood that the Israelites were to put on their doorposts during the first Passover. It was a sign for the people but it was also for God to “see” and pass over the house. God certainly doesn’t need external signs to remind him of his promises but signs like the blood and the rainbow moves him to a certain course of action. The sign proves that God’s promises are entirely believable and trustworthy. He backs up his word with a sign that eliminates the possibility of forgetfulness by man or himself.

This brings us to our first next step this morning which is to claim and believe that the promises of God are entirely believable and trustworthy.

This covenant that God made with humanity is remarkable in its extent, it included “every living creature”, in its permanence, it was “perpetual and everlasting”, and in its generosity, it was “unconditional and undeserved.” It also included a sign which emphasized that it originated with God and was totally out of the reach of human beings to initiate. This covenant could only have come from God and could only have been kept by God. Hamilton says, “Whenever the rainbow appears it serves as a reminder that despite the fact that the world deserves judgment God will show restraint and mercy.” It is an indication of the unique relationship which we have, even in our fallenness, not only with our creator but a covenant God. Lastly we see that God repeats that he has established this covenant between himself and all life on the earth. In Genesis 8:22, God stated that he would not interfere with the functioning of the cosmos. Now he states that he would not interfere with the functioning of the blessing. With the flood, those functions were stalled but now God is covenanting with all living creatures that he will never interfere with those functions again. ​​ In this way the covenant is connected to the blessing showing how much God loves and cares for his creation.

There is a now iconic American elm tree that has stood vigil in downtown Oklahoma City for a century. Foresters agree it was likely planted sometime around 1920. In historical photos, the already mature tree is visible in the backyard of a family home. In time, that home gave way to commercial development. Serendipitously, it is the only tree to survive when the parking lot called for the removal of all other trees. Through the decades, the tree bore witness to the changing skyline, the growth of the city and the day-to-day lives of generations of people. It was largely ignored – just another tree dotting downtown – until April 19, 1995. On that fateful day, it became much more than just another downtown tree. It endured one of the worst terrorist attacks ever to occur on American soil. The tree was situated directly across the street from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, completely exposed to the full force of the 4,000-pound bomb that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more. It easily could have fallen victim to the attack. And it nearly did – the tree was slated to be destroyed so shrapnel and evidence embedded in its trunk and branches could be recovered. But like the city’s resolve and unity – it survived. Ever since, it has been known as the Survivor Tree – an ever-present symbol of resilience. As a tribute to renewal and rebirth, the inscription around the tree reads, ’The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.’"

In Genesis, we have one of the greatest survivor stories ever told, Noah. He is the unlikely hero. He is an all too human survivor. Not only does he carry the entire future of God’s crown of creation but also the seed of sin which infects all of us, even today. Through the entire story of the flood Noah has been faithful and obedient to God. He has been righteous and blameless in his generation and God because of his perfect mercy and grace saves Noah and his family from destruction. He saves Noah and the rest of humanity because he created us to be in relationship with himself and he loves and cares for us. The story of Noah and the Flood and every time we see God’s rainbow in the sky should remind us of his love and care for us. It should remind us that God wants to be in relationship with us and it should cause us to turn to him, to repent of our sins and be put back in a right relationship with him. The Creator of the Universe wants to be in relationship with you, because he loves you and he cares for you, will you accept his invitation today? This brings us to our second next step which is to embrace God’s love and care for me and strive to be in a right relationship with Him.

As the worship team comes to lead us in a final song of praise let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we thank you that your promises are entirely believable and trustworthy. Open our eyes so we can daily see how much you do love and care for us. Help us to strive to be in a right relationship with you as we pursue holiness daily. Thank you for your Word. Help it to be nourishment for our soul. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Smells Like Pleasing Worship

What is your favorite smell? There are so many to choose from but here’s a few: freshly cut Christmas trees, a rose, lavender, vanilla, fresh bread baking in the oven, freshly popped popcorn, fresh brewed coffee, bacon, freshly cut grass, meat barbequing on the grill, that new car smell, freshly baked chocolate cookies. What would be your least favorite smell? Again there are a lot to choose from and some are very unsavory. I will try to stick to the least unsavory ones and you can use your imagination for the worst smells you’ve ever encountered. A full kitchen trash bag or dumpster, sewage, rotten milk or rotten food, plastic burning, car exhaust, bleach.

As we all know, humans have five senses: touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell. Our sense of smell is considered to be the strongest. Here are some facts about our sense of smell: it is the first of all our senses to develop. Even before we are born, our sense of smell is fully formed and functioning. Our scent cells are renewed every 28 days, so every four weeks you get a new “nose.” A woman’s sense of smell is much stronger than a man’s. Our sense of smell is the most closely linked with memory. We can remember smells with 65% accuracy after a year, while our visual recall is only about 50% after three months. One of our most evocative smells from childhood is crayons. A survey found that 85% of all people remember their childhood when they caught the smell of Crayola crayons.

The Bible also talks about the sense of smell. In 2 Corinthians 2:14-15, Paul says that Christians, as we spread the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever we go, we are the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ. To those who accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior we are the fragrance of life but to those who reject him we are the fragrance of death. ​​ In Psalm 141:2 the psalmist says, “May my prayer be counted as incense before You; the raising of my hands as the evening offering. He was remembering the sacrifices that the priest would make on the altar of incense while the Israelites were praying each morning. When we are praying pure, holy and fervent prayers in Jesus’ name, those prayers become a fragrant and sweet odor to the Lord. In Philippians 4:18, Paul called the gifts that the church at Philippi sent him a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. In Ephesians 5:1-2, Paul says we are to imitate God by living a life of love for others just as Christ loved us and sacrificed himself on a cross for us. Jesus’ act of love and sacrifice was an offering to God as a fragrant aroma, just as our love for others would be to God, as well.

Last week, Pastor Stuart taught us about God’s perfect timing as Noah patiently waited for the flood to end and the earth to become dry so he, his family and the animals could leave the ark. They had been in the ark for over a year and after landing on the mountain range of Ararat Noah sent out a raven and dove to check the dryness of the earth. Finally after the third time when the dove didn’t return Noah knew that the water had dried up from the earth. But it still took almost another month and a half until the surface of the ground was completely dry. All during this time, Noah did not take it upon himself to leave the ark. He waited on the Lord. Isaiah 40:31 says “those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” Now “waiting” on the Lord doesn’t mean we sit idly by but it means to “bind together” with God. It’s the idea in John 15 to be connected to the vine which is Jesus. Some of the ways that we can be connected to Jesus is by being in God’s Word, being in prayer and by being focused on the Lord through true and genuine worship. As we wait upon the Lord we are connected to Him and are renewed and strengthened. I see this “waiting on the Lord” in Noah. He could have rushed out as soon as the dove didn’t return. The circumstances on the earth looked suitable for them to leave the ark but that was no guarantee that God wanted them to leave yet and begin their new life. I think Noah was so tuned into God and his will for him that he waited for God’s perfect timing to be revealed.

This morning we finally see Noah, his family and the animals leave the ark and the first thing Noah does is build an altar and sacrifice burnt offerings to the Lord. God smells Noah’s sacrifice and it was a pleasing aroma to him. What was it about Noah’s sacrifice and worship that was pleasing to God? What are the ingredients of our worship that pleases God and shows we are striving to live daily, holy lives? Those are the questions we will answer this morning as we study our passage which brings us to our big idea: our holiness is expressed through the pleasing aroma of our worship. Let’s pray and commit our time together to the Lord. Heavenly Father, we ask that you pour out your Holy Spirit upon us as we study your Word. Open our hearts and minds and give us supernatural insight. Use your Word this morning to teach us, rebuke us where needed, correct us and to train us in righteousness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

There are two points this morning. Our first point is God’s command & Noah’s obedience and is found in Genesis 8:15-19. This is what God’s Word says, “Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.” So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

Finally, after a little over a year, God commands Noah to come out of the ark with his family. We notice two things. One, this is the first and only time God talks to Noah while he is in the ark, and two, God is still only talking with Noah. God commands Noah to bring out every living creature that was with him in the ark. Then God commands them to multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it. This reminds us of God’s command in the garden to be fruitful and multiply. The multiplying of creatures on the earth had been stymied by the flood but now God is rebooting creation.

As we have seen before, in the story of the Flood, it follows the same pattern as God speaks and Noah obeys. Noah has waited on the Lord’s perfect timing and now obeys God’s command to come out of the ark with his family. He is followed by all the animals, the crawling things and the birds, one kind after another. We notice that God is restoring not only the population but orderliness in the world after recreating through the flood. Later on in our scripture, we will see God continuing to restore his order on the earth.

Because Noah was righteous and blameless in his generation God chose him to recreate humanity on a recreated earth. All through the story of the flood Noah has shown his faith and has been obedient to what the Lord commanded time and time again. His obedient faith is played out again as he disembarks from the ark followed by his family and the animals and his faith is counted to him as righteousness. His righteous and holy life was expressed through his obedient faith. As we strive to live holy lives set apart from the world, we must follow the example of Noah and be faithful and obedient to God as well. That brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is to follow the example of Noah in having an obedient faith in response to God’s Word and commands.

Our second point is Noah’s worship and God’s response and that is found in verses 20-22. This is what God’s Word says, “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

We see Noah’s holiness and righteousness in his expression of faith as he responds to God’s deliverance from the ark and his salvation from the flood. Imagine that you are Noah and you have just been stuck in the ark floating on the water for over a year with your family and all the animals. What would be the very first thing you might do as you step onto dry land? I can imagine that I would be so happy that I would kiss the ground. On May 21, 2021, a number of Indonesian fishermen were rescued from a boat that had been taking on water for three days off the coast of Western Australia. They were visibly emotional and kissed the ground beneath them as they got on dry ground.

This reminds me of a trip Judy and I took to Chicago a number of years ago. One night we needed to go from one end of town to the other so we took a taxi cab. I don’t remember exactly how long the ride took, maybe 15-20 minutes. And I really didn’t have a strong opinion about the ride except that I had no idea that the back seats of cabs were so small. But I could tell that Judy on the other hand was not enjoying the ride. In fact when the taxi cab finally reached our destination and we all got out of the cab, we found Judy face down on the ground by the curb and it looks like she is kissing the ground. She was so thankful for God’s deliverance from that cab. At least that’s what we all thought. In reality as she got out of the cab, probably in a hurry to get as far away as possible, she tripped on the curb and went straight down. No matter what Judy was definitely very happy to be out of that cab.

Noah’s first thought as he gets out of the ark for the first time in over a year is Godward. He wanted to worship the Lord in gratitude for saving him and his family. And his first act of worship was to build an altar and sacrifice some of all the clean animals and birds as burnt offerings on it. Goldingay says, “The building of an altar is significant in that it means proclaiming Yahweh’s name over an area. It signifies that this area belongs to Yahweh and recognizes this place as a place where Yahweh has acted.” And Hamilton adds, “The point is that Noah’s first act indicates his faith that God brought him through the flood.”

We are reminded of when God commanded Noah to take both clean and unclean animals on the ark. He was preparing Noah to have the capability to make these sacrifices. These sacrifices were burnt offerings which meant the entire animal or bird was sacrificed on the altar. Burnt offerings are probably the oldest and most common of all the OT sacrifices. Reverence, petition, gratitude, dedication and atonement are all expressed in burnt offerings. By sacrificing the entire or whole animal on the altar it meant Noah was totally committed to the Lord. Noah’s righteousness and holiness was expressed by his faith, his obedience and now his total commitment to the Lord in worship. Our righteousness and holiness is also expressed by our faith, obedience and total commitment to the Lord in worship. (BIG IDEA)

We see God’s response to Noah’s total commitment to Him. It says the Lord “smelled” the pleasing aroma. This is the only time in scripture that the Lord is said to have “smelled” a sacrifice meaning that God approved of Noah and his worship. If God had refused to smell the fragrance of the offering it meant he wasn’t pleased. The aroma of Noah’s sacrifice was “pleasing” or “soothing.” “Soothing” sacrifices have a restful or pacifying effect on God. God’s righteous anger at sin is “appeased” or “soothed” by sacrifice. Mathews says, “Noah’s worship soothed the broken heart of God which had been injured by man’s wickedness. The “soothing” aroma is best reflected in the idea of “rest.” Yahweh “smelled” the rest-inducing odor of Noah’s sacrifice which reminds us of the meaning of Noah’s name. Pastor Stuart mentioned it last week in his message and it comes up again here. Lamech named his son Noah because he hoped Noah would bring rest to mankind from the labors of his hands. Here it is implied that Noah’s sacrifice has had a restful, soothing and pacifying effect on God. Noah’s worship was authentic, genuine, reverent, and was offered with clean hands and a pure heart which made it acceptable and pleasing to God. That gives us an important principle that God is pleased when his people genuinely worship Him. That is what God is looking for in our worship. Is our worship authentic, genuine, reverent and offered with clean hands and a pure heart? If we are striving to live daily, holy lives our worship will be all those things. (BIG IDEA)

One of the commentaries told a story about a girl in a youth group who was preaching on this passage and the title of her message was “Stink for God.” He was a little worried where she was going with that but she made her point. “Stink for God” means to live a life that God would take notice of because of our total commitment to him in worship. That brings us to our second next step on the back of your communication card which is to live a life that God would take notice of because of my total commitment to him in worship.

Next we see that in response to Noah’s worship the Lord makes a promise. Notice he doesn’t voice his promise to Noah but only in his own heart. Maybe he didn’t want Noah to be prideful thinking he was the one who caused God’s promise to be made. Through the entire story of the flood it has been God doing the moving. It has been God giving his grace to Noah, his family and the animals. It was not because of anything Noah did but totally because of the grace and mercy of the Lord.

God’s promise was three-fold. First, the ground will never be cursed again because of man. This didn’t mean that the curse the ground received from Adam and Eve’s sin would be reversed or taken away. It meant that the ground would not be cursed any further. The next statement can be difficult to understand what God meant. The NIV says “even though” every inclination of his heart, (talking about man) is evil from childhood.” The NASB says “for” the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” The first may be saying that another judgment will not solve the problem of the human heart because it will always be evil from childhood, so God says he will never again destroy all living creatures. The second seems to imply that human hearts are wicked, will persist in sin and not learn the lesson of the flood but God in his grace determines to never again destroy all living creatures as he has just done.  ​​​​ 

I like how Wiersbe in his commentary puts it. He says, “Perhaps both are true but the important thing is God spoke these things in response to Noah’s sacrifice and the sacrifice was a picture of the sacrifice of Christ. On the basis of the atonement accomplished by Christ on the cross God could withhold judgment because justice had been met.” Noah’s sacrifice of burnt offerings may have been seen by God as an atonement for a wicked world that would continue in sin after the flood. God would continue to show his grace and mercy to a lost world and withhold judgment because justice had been met by Noah’s sacrifice.

The second promise God makes is that he will never again destroy all living creatures by flood. God will still deal with our individual sin and we still receive judgment through the consequences of our sins but we will not experience universal destruction by flood again. Noah was totally committed to God and God is totally committed to the human race. This commitment is not based on us being worthy, in fact, God makes this commitment knowing that our heart would be evil from our childhood. Noah and the rest of humanity will have a sense of security in that they will not have to worry about building an ark every time it rains.

The third promise God makes is that there would be no further interruption of the cycle of nature. In the beginning at creation God established an order to the world as he created day and night and the sun and moon. The earth was created in an orderly fashion to sustain life on a continual basis. But because of humanity’s sinfulness and wickedness, the flood halted those rhythms and chaos was again upon the earth. In re-creating the earth God reestablishes its order and rhythms as it was at the beginning.

This restoration of order and rhythm is seen in four couplets that express extremes. These testify to the resurrection of predictability on the earth that is necessary to sustain life on it. First, seedtime and harvest. Each year there will be a time of plowing and seeding and later there will be a time to harvest. Second, cold and heat. This may be talking about an extension of the seasons and go along with the next couplet, summer and winter. At creation God created an expanse or firmament to separate the waters below from waters above. This canopy seemed to create a “hothouse effect” on the earth which may have been why people were living longer lives before the flood. It is also possible that the canopy caused the earth to be warmer overall than it is now. With the flood, God took the canopy away and now there will be more diverse temperatures, cold and heat, summer and winter. Lastly, we see there will be day and night continuously. God’s three-fold promise addresses the three foundational functions started at creation: agriculture, weather and time. Mathews says, “They are all at the command of God who guarantees their punctual arrival giving security to the world and its inhabitants. To say that the earth will continually go from one of these extremes to the other without end means we don’t have to worry about those things as we live our lives.” Balance has now been restored and God promises that it will never cease as long as the earth endures.

Play-Doh was originally invented as a substance to remove soot from wallpaper, and it wasn’t until decades later that it was marketed as a product for children. And now, in a manner of speaking, Play-Doh is returning to its roots. The latest Play-Doh innovation is a product line entitled “Grown Up Scents,” and according to Play-Doh general manager Leena Vadaketh, it’s designed to appeal to the sensory cravings of adults. Notable examples include the floral ambiance of a “Spa Day” or that strong smell of suburban success — freshly cut grass, for the “Lord of the Lawn” in your life. There’s “Overpriced Latte,” and “Mom Jeans,” a fragrance vaguely described as that of “clean denim” and “Grill King” which smells like the wafting odor of smoked meat.

Just as we are soothed by familiar aromas, God is pleased and soothed by our holiness expressed through the pleasing aroma of our worship. What should the pleasing aroma of worship “smell” or look like? Paul describes it in Romans 12:1-2, which says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

This passage contains all the elements of pleasing worship. First, there is the motivation to worship: “in view of God’s mercy.” God’s mercies are everything He has given us that we don’t deserve and the knowledge and understanding of those mercies should motivate us to praise and thank him. Second, the manner of our worship: “offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice.” This means giving all of ourselves to God; we are to give up control of our hearts, minds, hands, thoughts, attitudes and turn them over to Him. How do we do this: “by the renewing of your mind.” This means replacing the wisdom of the world with true wisdom that comes from God. We are to worship Him with our renewed and cleansed minds. There is only one way to renew our minds, and that is by the Word of God. To know the truth, to believe the truth, to hold convictions about the truth, and to love the truth will naturally result in “pleasing” worship. Pleasing worship is done in Spirit and in truth meaning we worship from the heart and in the way God has designed. Pleasing worship is God-centered worship meaning it is reserved for God alone because he is the only one who is worthy of our worship. "Worshiping" out of obligation is displeasing to God and is completely in vain. He can see through all our hypocrisy. Pleasing worship is not confined to only what we do in church but should be a daily lifestyle. Pleasing worship is the acknowledgment of God and all His power and glory in everything we do. Pleasing worship is all about glorifying and exalting God. The highest form of praise and pleasing worship is obedience to Him and His Word. If we are striving to live daily, holy lives it will be expressed through the pleasing aroma of our worship.

As the praise team comes to lead us in a final song this morning, let’s pray: Holy God, we want our worship to be a pleasing aroma to you. Help us to live a life that you would take notice of because of our total commitment to you in worship. Help us to follow the example of Noah and let our faith and obedience be counted as righteousness. Help us as we strive to live a life of holiness and I pray that we would leave here changed and transformed by your Word and ready to serve you in all the ways you have called us to. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

RE-CREATION

Today’s scripture deals with a couple of major themes: one of them being the sovereignty of God. And I want to start out with wrestling with that this morning. First of all, the sovereignty of God is not an easy subject to wrap our heads around. Second, I believe we have a hard time with the sovereignty of God because it makes us uncomfortable. So, I am going to read a definition of the sovereignty of God and as I do I want you to think about the parts that make you uncomfortable.

God’s sovereignty is defined as His complete and total independent control over every creature, event, and circumstance at every moment in history. Subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent, God does what He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. He is in complete control of every molecule in the universe at every moment, and everything that happens is either caused or allowed by Him for His own perfect purposes. Unlimited in power, unrivalled in majesty, and not thwarted by anything outside Himself, our God is in complete control of all our circumstances, causing or allowing them for His own good purposes and plans to be fulfilled exactly as He has foreordained.

Did anybody feel uncomfortable? That is the God we serve. That is God who cannot be put in a nice, neat, little box. But isn’t that what try to do? We put God in a box and really only interact with him when it’s comfortable to do so or when we can understand what he is doing in our lives. But God is so much greater than what our finite minds can grasp. At the last Secret Church, the subject was God and David Platt commented that we don’t give God the awe, the reverence, and the holy fear that he deserves. We don’t take the time to truly understand who God is. He is so much higher than we are. He is perfect and holy and just and loving and compassionate and we could go on and on and he does all those things perfectly together. We can rejoice in our God’s sovereignty, because it is overshadowed by His goodness, His love, His mercy, His compassion, His faithfulness, and His holiness.

When I look back on my life I can see the sovereignty of God at many different times. I can see that he was in control of my life in that he kept me from trouble and harm. Not that I never got into trouble or was never in harm’s way but it could have been much worse than it was. I can also look back and see times where he was guiding my life. A lot of those times are very evident in the jobs that I have had, in fact, I believe that me speaking to you this morning is proof of the sovereignty of God in my life. He was in control of my life and circumstances that directly brought me to Idaville Church. I have two personal examples of the sovereignty of God in my life to share with you this morning. ​​ 

I will start with the earliest one which is my marriage to Judy. When I look back on how, when and why I met her in the first place, the path was not a straight one. It was full of so many far-fetched and random events that had to take place for us to even meet, much less get married. Of course those events weren’t random. He has been in complete control of my life and circumstances, causing or allowing them for His own good purposes and plans to be fulfilled exactly as He has foreordained.

The next example was the car accident I had in July 1999 on Rt. 34 just outside of Mt. Holly. Now it’s not the fact that I am still alive today that proves to me that God is sovereign even though that was part of it. To me the proof of his sovereignty are the events in the month prior to the accident. In the middle of June 1999, I had driven a van load of youth down and back to Kentucky. Then the next week, I drove youth to the Creation Festival. Then the following week Judy and I were counselors at our Church camp in Waynesboro and I had to drive up and back twice that week to Uriah Church to fulfill the secretarial duties I had at the time. What proves the sovereignty of God to me is that he was not only in control of my accident but he controlled my accident. The consequences of falling asleep at the wheel could have been so much worse than totaling my car, spending three weeks in the hospital and having to eat by an IV for four months. He was in complete control of that event and even controlled it, causing or allowing it to happen for His own good purposes and plans to be fulfilled exactly as He has foreordained.

What about you? Have you seen the sovereign hand of God at work in your life? How do you feel about it? You see a lot of people are not ok with God controlling and being in control of their lives and we can see that in their rebellion against Him. I believe that the problem is one of submission. They don’t feel that they should have to submit to God or that God doesn’t deserve to be submitted to. Romans 9:20-21 says this, “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?” God is our creator and as creator he has the right to control and be in control of our lives. Too many people want to tell the creator how it should be used. Worse yet, many times the creation doesn’t want anything to do with the creator. But guess what? The creator is still sovereign and in control whether we want him to be or whether we believe he is or not.

This morning, we continue with the flood narrative. We have seen that Noah has totally submitted his will and his life to the sovereignty of God. And as the flood has begun, God has been in control of many things. He has been in control of the waters of the great deep and the floodgates of heaven. This morning we will see he is also in control of life and death, in control of his judgment and his grace and in control of the lives of Noah and his family. Two weeks ago, Pastor’s big idea was that God is in control of his creation and this morning we will see he is in control of re-creation as well. Ultimately God is in control of all things but he also controls all things and we need to be willing to come to grips with those truths in our lives. That brings us to our big idea this morning: God controls and is in control of all things.

I don’t know about you but that makes me exceedingly happy. I for one am glad that human beings are not in control of our world or of my life. I want the one true God, the Creator of the Universe, the Alpha and the Omega in control of not only this world and what happens in it but my life and what happens in it as well. And I hope you do too. Before we dive into our passage this morning, let’s pray: Sovereign God, we thank you for being in control of our lives because you are the only one who can do it perfectly. Help us to accept your rule and reign in our lives. Continue to pour out your Holy Spirit on us as we learn from your Word this morning. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

We will be looking at two points this morning. The first is indescribable judgment and that is found in Genesis 7:17-23a. This is what God’s Word says, “For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits. Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth.”

Earlier in the chapter we were told that the rain fell on the earth for forty days and forty nights. Now we are told that the flood kept coming on the earth for forty days and we can suspect that not only the rain fell for that period of time but also the springs of the great deep kept bursting forth for forty days. Next, we see the effect that the flood had on the ark, on the earth and on every living thing. Each statement that is made about these three things builds upon the last to gives us a picture of the devastating effects of the Flood.

First, we see the waters affected the ark. As the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. That statement is built upon as the waters rose and greatly increased on the earth and the ark floated on the surface of the water. Second, we see the waters affecting the earth. As the waters rose greatly on the earth all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. That statement is built upon as the waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits or about twenty feet. This means that the water rose to a height of more than twenty feet above the highest mountain. This would have allowed the ark to float over the surface of the water without running aground. In verses 18, 19 and 20 when it says the waters “rose” it means the waters “triumphed or prevailed.” This word is a military word for succeeding in battle. In the battle between the earth and the waters the waters won and is proven by the fact that the waters covered the mountains above and beyond to a height of more than twenty feet.

Third, we see that it effected every living creature that moved on the earth including mankind. Our scripture states that every living creature that moved on the earth perished. That statement is built upon as everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died, and then it even continues to be built upon in that every living thing on the face of the earth was not only wiped out but wiped from the face of the earth. All the birds, all the livestock, all the wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth and all mankind died. In fact life did not simply die, it was wiped out and wiped off the face of the earth. Hamilton says, “The use of “perished” or “died” instead of “drowned” reinforces the idea that the loss of life is a divine penalty rather than death due to natural catastrophe.” This is a picture of the devastating effects of the flood. Everything outside the ark came under the indescribable judgment of God. The process of creation that God started in the beginning has now been reversed.

I want to pause here talk a little bit about the universality of the flood. Maybe you have never questioned whether the flood was universal or not or maybe you never even thought about it. But I can tell you scholars are split. For instance, some use science to say there is no way that the flood was universal in scope and others use science to say that it was. I want to give you some compelling arguments for a universal flood and then I will give you my thoughts on the subject. Many of these arguments come from Whitcomb and Morris’s commentary.

The first argument for a universal flood is that the language used in the flood narrative is definitely universal. But the opponents of a universal flood would say that the same all-inclusive language used in Genesis is used elsewhere in the Bible and doesn’t mean all-inclusive in those passages. Also, some scholars say that because man had not scattered all over the globe, a universal flood was not necessary. They say that a localized flood would have been good enough to accomplish the purpose of the flood, which was universal judgment. The second argument is the concept of displacement. Our scripture says that the flood covered over and above the mountains by twenty feet. If it covered the mountains in one area it had to cover the mountains in every area of the world because the water would have had to have been displaced somewhere. Whitcomb and Morris state that “the fact that water seeks its own level seems to be decisively against a local flood.”

The third argument is that the floodwaters covered the earth for more than one year from the time that Noah entered the ark until he left it. No local flood in history ever lasted that long and for the water to have covered the earth for that period of time shows it was a universal flood. The fourth argument is about the size of the ark. If it was a local flood why did God command Noah to build an ark the length of one and a half football fields and 30 feet high. If he only needed to save the indigenous species of Mesopotamia he could have built a smaller boat. Honestly if it wasn’t a universal flood Noah and the animals could have just walked out of the flood area. Which brings us to another interesting thought. If it was only a local flood and Noah and the animals could have just walked to another area to get away from it, why couldn’t the rest of humanity done the same thing. In that scenario, God’s judgment would have been thwarted and we have seen that was not the case.

The fifth argument for a universal flood is the testimony of Peter in 2 Peter 3:3-7. Peter says, “Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the Day of Judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” Peter is saying that at the end of the age God will destroy the world in fiery judgment. He bases the universality of that judgment on the universality of the flood judgment in Noah’s time. If Peter is teaching a universal judgment by fire at the end of the age why would he compare it to a local flood in Noah’s time.

Here's one last argument: If the flood was not universal, why did God give the rainbow as a universal sign of his covenant. We see the all-inclusive language in Genesis 9:11 and 15, which says, “I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And verse 15: “I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” Weirsbe says, “God promised to never send another flood like the one he sent in Noah’s day. But if the flood was a local event God didn’t keep this promise.” We see instances of flooding every year in the world. If Noah’s flood was a local event like, for instance, the Jamestown Flood, then God’s promise and the covenant sign of the rainbow meant nothing. The flood bears witness to universal sin and universal judgment.

Now I said I would give my thoughts on the subject. There are two things I want to say and I want to preface the first one with this: I believe that the flood was universal. With that being said, God is all-powerful. Could God have used a localized flood causing no water to be displaced in order to bring about judgment on those outside the ark? I believe he could because he is all-powerful. The second thing is, this argument is not the point of the flood narrative. Just like the point of the story of creation is not how God created the heavens and the earth but that it was God who created them; the point of the flood narrative is not whether it was universal or local but it’s about God’s sovereignty over his creation. He has the right to rule and he rules rightly. But it’s also about his judgment and his grace being poured out on his creation perfectly.

And that brings us to our second point this morning which is indescribable grace. We see his indescribable grace in the midst of his indescribable judgment. Look at verses 23b-24 with me. This is what God’s word says, “Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark. The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.” God out of his infinite love not only for Noah and his family but ultimately for us saved a remnant from out of the world so that he could continue to be in relationship with his creation, so that he could continue to show his love and care for his creation and it overflowed out of his perfect sovereignty. I find it interesting that in this passage there are seven and a half verses describing the judgment of God and only one half of a verse describing the grace of God. Everything outside the ark came under the judgment of God and everything inside the ark came under the grace of God. Everything outside the ark died and everything inside the ark was saved. God’s purpose of judgment had been achieved but also God’s purpose of grace was achieved in the midst of judgment. ​​ 

Hamilton says, “The use of two passive forms of the verbs to describe the fate both of the ungodly and of the righteous Noah suggests strongly that it is Yahweh’s action which controls eternal destiny.” They were saved not because of anything they did to deserve it but solely on the grace and mercy of God. Hamilton also notes that “Noah is saved because of Yahweh and Noah’s family is saved because of Noah. Every human being in this narrative owes his preservation to someone else.” We also see this in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah where Lot is saved because of Abraham and Lot’s family is saved because of Lot except for his wife. In God’s perfect sovereignty he gave his grace and mercy to Noah, his family and the animals on the ark. He did this because he is in complete and total independent control over every creature, event, and circumstance at every moment in history. He is subject to none, influenced by none, and absolutely independent. He does what He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. He is in complete control of every molecule in the universe at every moment, and everything that happens is either caused or allowed by Him for His own perfect purposes. He is unlimited in power, unrivalled in majesty, and not thwarted by anything outside Himself. Our God is in complete control of all our circumstances, causing or allowing them for His own good purposes and plans to be fulfilled exactly as He has foreordained. THE BIG IDEA

Lastly, we see that the waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days. The water continued to rise for another 110 days and then reached its peak. The forty days and forty nights of rain and the earth being flooded for a hundred and fifty days demonstrates that no living thing could possibly have survived by escaping to a high place or by clinging to floating debris. Try to imagine what that would have looked like. Wenham says, “This section closes with an awe-inspiring picture of the mighty waters covering the entire earth as though the earth has reverted to its primeval state at the dawn of creation, when the waters of the deep submerged everything.”

The title of the message this morning is Re-Creation and was really another of those major themes I mentioned earlier. God brought the judgment of the flood in order to re-create not only the earth but to re-create his image-bearer, mankind, as well. God was re-creating by sparing Noah and his family and the animals that were in the ark. Think about this idea of re-creation as God’s salvage operation of humanity. God so loved humanity and wanted to be in relationship with those that he created in his image that he salvaged Noah, his family and the animals. Salvaging involves retrieving something valuable from the wreckage. We see this in God’s heart so many times in his dealings with his chosen people the Israelites and we see it in individual’s lives such as Saul. God salvaged from the wreckage that was Saul’s destructive zeal for God and turned that valuable zeal into Paul’s apostolic vision for the church. God salvaged Noah from the wreckage of an evil world in his generation and turned it into a new beginning for the human race. God is able to restore even where he has brought destruction. The same God salvages the valuable parts from the wreckage of the sinful rubble of our lives and transforms our lives into a useful ministry on this earth for his honor and his glory and for his purposes.

As I studied this passage, I struggled with what the next steps this morning for us would be. What should our response to this passage be? ​​ I could have had a next step based on the sovereignty of God or on his re-creation or salvaging of us, but as I continued to study this passage I kept coming back to two things. The first is found in Luke 17:26-30, which says, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.” Jesus is describing the indifference of the ungodly in those days. The people of Noah’s and Lot’s time didn’t care about God and their lives were filled with evil. In fact about Noah’s generation, Genesis 6:5 says they thought about evil all the time. All they seemed to care about was living their lives in total submission to themselves. Jesus in the gospel of Luke is telling us that when the Son of Man comes, just like in Noah’s day, those people will not be prepared for the judgment that will come. It is imperative that we are ready for Christ’s return or for our physical death, whichever comes first. That is what God desires for every one of his creations. That brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card which is to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior and totally submit my life to him in every way. If you take this next step you will be ready when final judgment comes.

Also I believe that in the stories of Lot and in the Flood, Abraham’s and Noah’s heart was breaking for those who were going to perish. And we know that God’s heart is breaking for every one of his creations that has rejected him or will reject him. Our hearts should be breaking for those who don’t know Jesus, as well, whether it’s a family member, friend or even a stranger we come in contact with. We need to be like Noah and imploring our friends and family that don’t know Jesus to turn to him for salvation because judgment is coming. I did not have that as a next step but it is the most important step we can take for them and salvation is the most important step they can take for themselves.

The second thing I kept coming back to is found in 2 Peter 3. Earlier I read verses 3-7 in which Peter was comparing the universality of final judgment to the universality of the flood judgment. But if we move ahead to verses 10-14, we read these words, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”

The bottom line for Peter, as he compared the fiery judgment on the day of the Lord to the flood judgment, went beyond hope for the future. Peter wanted his readers to respond in a certain way right then and there. He wanted his teachings to impact the way they were living their daily lives. The point of the flood narrative for us today is the same. God’s judgment and grace are both real and we will see it played out in the end just as it played out in Noah’s time. We need to respond to this passage in a way that will impact our daily lives. But the question is how should we respond? God doesn’t desire to scare us by threats of judgment but to win us by acts of love, mercy and grace and our response to that should be to live holy and godly lives. Peter ends verse 14 with “since you are looking forward to this, (talking about the new heaven and new earth) make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him (meaning God). That brings us to the last next step which is to live a holy and godly life being found spotless, blameless and at peace with God.

As the worship team comes forward to lead us in our final song, let’s pray: Holy God, we praise you not only for your sovereignty but for your salvation that you freely provide for us. Help us to be holy people as you are holy. Help us to make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.