God's plans never fail.
Genesis(93) (Part of the Origins(91) series)
by Stuart Johns(204) on December 12, 2021 (Sunday Morning(291))
God's Plan(18), Patience(6), Prayer(15)
“On any given night at a bowling alley in America, you might find someone who has bowled a 300, a perfect game. A good bowler on a hot streak can roll 12 consecutive strikes. For a competitive bowler, however, the "holy grail" night is a perfect series—three consecutive perfect games. A 900. In the history of bowling, there have only been 21 perfect series.
And Bill Fong was three rolls away from just that—perfection.
On a January 18, 2010, league night at the Plano Super Bowl, Bill Fong had rolled 33 consecutive strikes. The crowd of fellow league members stopped to watch, as on frame 34, Bill Fong gathered his ball, walked up, and rolled another strike.
And then he rolled another on frame 35, and the crowd went wild.
But something was wrong. Two frames back Bill had begun sweating profusely and feeling dizzy. But he was just one roll away from history. Bill pulled the ball to his chest, took his usual five steps, and released the ball perfectly.
People actually started applauding before the ball reached the pins. That's how perfect the roll was. It curved exactly where it was supposed to, made contact with the pins at precisely the right spot. Pins flew, the crowd cheered.
And the number 10 pin wobbled, but settled back onto its base. Standing.
899. One pin short of perfection.
Heartbroken, Bill headed home.
The dizziness that began on frame 34 had not improved. Bill staggered into his bathroom and threw up. The walls continued to spin.
Bill was having a stroke. Already struggling with high blood pressure, the events of that Monday evening turned a delicate situation into a deadly one.
But Bill never realized he had suffered a stroke until he had another one later. His doctor found scar tissue, and was told about the league night.
The only thing that saved Bill on the night of the 899? That number 10 pin staying up. Had that last pin fell, Bill's doctor feels certain that his body, already in the midst of a stroke, would have pushed his blood pressure even higher. That, most likely, would have killed Bill immediately on lane 28.
What felt like the worst thing that could have happened turned out to be the very thing that saved Bill's life.”
Possible Preaching Angles: (1) Sovereignty of God—Although the article did not mention Bill's faith or lack thereof in Christ, we do know that believers can have confidence in God's good and sovereign plans for their lives despite disappointments, confusion, and failures. God may have a better purpose that we can't imagine with our limited perspective. (2) Success and Failure—Sometimes the success we think we must achieve can actually hurt us. And at times it's the apparent "failures" that actually save us from greater harm.
Source: Michael J. Mooney, "The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever," D Magazine (July 2012).
Moving to Birmingham, AL
Growing up, our family had always lived in a parsonage
From the time I was two-years old until age 17, our family had never owned a home
When my parents felt the call to plant a church in Birmingham, AL, we had to find a house to live in
That was the first time my parents had ever had to buy a home, so everything was new
Grace Ministries was the organization that had the vision to plant multiple churches in Birmingham from various denominations
That ministry had a real estate agent associated with it that made himself available to the pastors who were moving
He asked my parents what kind of neighborhood that were hoping to reach and then showed our family several houses
After seeing the one house all five of us said, “That is the house!”
My parents have lived in that house for 34 years
God’s plan for our family
We knew that God had led us to that particular house
The previous owners of the house were both doctors
So, you probably guessed it, the wife became our family practice doctor for many years
God’s sovereignty was evident through our move from Pennsylvania to Birmingham
His plans for us never failed
Every one of us probably has a testimony of when God’s plans have succeeded in our lives
Perhaps the testimony is about a relationship
Maybe it’s about a financial success
It could even be about a job or being accepted to a particular college or university
As we look back over our lives, we can probably share multiple stories of how God’s plan didn’t fail us
We may not have recognized it at the time
Time and hindsight give us clarity and a different perspective
It would seem as though time and hindsight had not given Abraham and Sarah clarity. They use a familiar ruse 25 years later with a different ruler and got similar results. They were still struggling to trust the Lord with their fears about the people of this new land. What they learned, again, was that even though their fears caused them to mislead another ruler, God’s plan could not be stopped. This truth is one that we need to learn and embrace. We will learn today that . . .
BIG IDEA – God’s plans never fail.
GOD (Genesis 20:1-18)
Ruse (vv. 1-2)
On the move
Most scholars agree that Abraham is moving from his current location, near Hebron, by the trees of Mamre
He takes his entire family and clan and moves them to the region of the Negev
We are not given the exact location, but rather a between two regions
They were staying between Kadesh and Shur
This was the same region where Hagar had fled to after being mistreated by Sarah (Genesis 16:7)
It was here that the Lord spoke to Hagar and promised her many descendants (Genesis 16:8-14)
Stay in Gerar
While his clan remain in the region of the Negev, it appears that, at least, Abraham and Sarah move north and stay in Gerar
Abraham probably left his flocks and herds in the care of his servants in the Negev
While they are in Gerar, Abraham uses the same half-truth that he used 25 years earlier with Pharaoh in Egypt
Abraham tells the people of Gerar that Sarah is his sister
We already know that Abraham and Sarah had the same father, but different mothers
Because of the half-truth, Abimelech, King of Gerar, sends for, and takes Sarah as part of his harem
Sarah is now 89 to 90 years old
In the Egyptian episode, Pharaoh took Sarah because of her beauty (Genesis 12:14-16)
There is no mention of the reason why Sarah is taken by Abimelech
It is perhaps based on the desire of Abimelech to forge “an economic relationship with the Abraham clan” [Mathews, The New American Commentary, Volume 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 251]
Sarah has described herself as “worn out” in Genesis 18:11-13 [Mathews, 252]
All of this played an important role in protecting Sarah and preserving God’s plan for the promised son to come from Abraham and Sarah
God’s plans never fail
PRINCIPLE #1 – God is patient with His people!
We know that God’s plans never fail, but sometimes we, in our humanness, put God through the ringer
He has to bring plagues and illness to others in order to preserve His plans
He has to threaten death and command that certain things be returned, in order to set things right
How have we put God through the ringer as it pertains to His plans for us?
I know that, for Judy and I, we moved all over the country and served with various ministries before being obedient to the call to pastoral ministry
I know that Judy had to wait 13 years to be a pastors wife (she always thought that was God’s calling for her, when she grew up)
What has it looked like for you?
What things did you have to go through before submitting to God’s plan for your life?
Perhaps you are still putting God through the ringer, because you are resisting His call on your life
God’s patience is so amazing!
He is willing to wait on us
He is willing to allow us to go done a different path, until we realize we need to be on His path for our lives
#1 – My Next Step Today Is To: Thank the Lord for His patience and submit to His plan for my life.
God was certainly patient with Abraham and Sarah, even when they used the “sister act” again, 25 years later
Their deception had adverse consequences not only for them, but also for others
“Charles Spurgeon said, ‘God does not allow His children to sin successfully.’ When we deliberately disobey God, we suffer both from the consequences of our sins and from the chastening hand of God, unless we repent and submit.” [Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Old Testament, Genesis-Deuteronomy, 96]
Read Hebrews 12:5-11
We see Abimelech’s reaction to this deception
Reaction (vv. 3-13)
With God (vv. 3-8)
God came to Abimelech in a dream (v. 3)
Pharaoh was aware of Abraham’s deception because of the serious diseases that he and his household experienced
This time, God uses a dream to expose the ruse
Dreams were a common form of communication or revelation in the ancient Near East [Walton, The NIV Application Commentary, Genesis, 494]
“Dreams were a mode of revelation, even to those outside of the covenant (see 28:12; 31:24; 37:5-9; 40:5; 41:1; Num. 22;9, 20).” [Waltke, Genesis, A Commentary, 285]
God tells Abimelech that he is as good as dead
The reason He gives is that the woman he has taken is a married woman
Even within the pagan culture, adultery was a serious offense
“In Egypt (marriage contracts), Mesopotamia (hymns to Ninurta and Shamash), and Canaan (king of Ugarit extradites and executes his wife), adultery is regularly referred to as ‘the great sin’ and is considered extremely detrimental to society to the extent that it is characteristic of anarchy. Hittite laws, Middle Assyrian Laws, and the Code of Hammurabi all contain legislation against adultery.” [Walton, 495]
“Mosaic legislation required the death penalty for adultery, both the man and the woman (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22).” [Mathews, 252]
Leviticus 20:10, “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife – with the wife of his neighbor – both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.”
Deuteronomy 22:22, If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel
Abimelech realizes the seriousness of God’s revelation to him, and so he pleads his case
Abimelech’s plea (vv. 4-5)
The narrator tells us that Abimelech had not gone near Sarah, meaning that he had not been intimate with her
Abimelech wants to know if God will destroy an innocent nation
This is Abimelech’s view of his kingdom
But, Abimelech is not saved – he is lost – he is not a follower of God
Abraham is a follower of God – he is saved
He explains to the Lord that Abraham and Sarah both said that they were brother and sister
He confesses that he took Sarah with a clear conscience and clean hands – it was unintentional
Abimelech’s sin was one of ignorance and not negligence – there was potential for deliberate action (adultery) without knowledge [Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, 62]
God acknowledges Abimelech’s plea
God’s reply and command (vv. 6-7)
The dream is still taking place
God confirms that Abimelech took Sarah with a clear conscience, but He is the One who kept Abimelech from sinning against Him
God kept Abimelech from touching Sarah
PRINCIPLE #2 – God is sovereign!
God’s sovereignty means that He has the right to rule and He rules rightly
God was completely in control of the circumstances that Abraham and Sarah had created, which had to potential to mess up His plans for the promised son
God’s plans never fail
He protected the purity of Sarah, by His sovereign power
God, in His sovereignty, is in complete control of the circumstances that we create
Those circumstances have the potential to mess up His plans for our lives, but God knows exactly what to do to get us back on track
He may be stopping you from touching something
He may be stopping you from moving
He may be stopping you from taking another job
He may be stopping you from looking at certain things
He may be stopping you from pursuing a particular relationship
He may be stopping you from doing something that will be detrimental to you, physically, financially, emotionally, or spiritually
Instead of trying to push forward, we need to thank God for stopping us
God commands Abimelech to return Sarah to Abraham
Abraham is identified as God’s prophet
God calls Abraham His prophet
Abraham’s deception has not negated his salvation or standing with God
His deception has not rendered God’s promise void – that all nations will be blessed through Abraham
God will use Abraham and his prayer to bring healing to Abimelech and his household
PRINCIPLE #3 – God uses His people in spite of their failures.
Romans 11:29, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable
As Christians, we will still choose to sin sometimes
When we choose to sin, God does not take back the spiritual gifts or the calling that He has placed on our lives
He still uses that calling and those gifts in spite of our sin – for His glory!
“. . . I have found that the thing which hobbles so many people in their service for the Lord is thinking, ‘God can’t use me. God wouldn’t use me. God won’t use me because I’ve failed so miserably; I’ve botched it so badly.’ That’s the voice of the enemy, for the voice of the Lord says, ‘Because you didn’t earn the gifts I gave you or the calling I sovereignly placed upon you, there’s no way you can lose them either.’” [Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary, Old Testament, Volume 1: Genesis-Job, 84]
Have you been living with the enemy’s lie that God cannot, would not, or will not use you because of your failures?
Today is the day to put that lie in its place, to put that lie to rest
God can, would, and will use your calling and your gifts in spite of your failures
Our testimony and witness may be hurt because of the failures, but our ability to pray for and serve others is not affected
#2 – My Next Step Today Is To: Reject Satan’s lie and embrace God’s truth that He can, would, and will use me in spite of my failures.
God was still going to use Abraham even though he had failed to trust in God’s power to protect him
God tells Abimelech the result of not obeying His command
Death will be the result of his disobedience
If Abimelech refuses to return Sarah to Abraham, he and his household will die
That was how serious God was about making sure His plans would not fail
Abimelech takes the warning seriously
Seeking counsel (v. 8)
Abimelech does not waste time seeking the counsel of his officials
He is up early and calling his officials together
He confides in them about the dream he had
His officials took the warning seriously
They were very much afraid – they did not want to die because of Abimelech’s ignorance about Sarah
We have seen Abimelech’s reaction with God, but we also see his reaction with Abraham
With Abraham (vv. 9-13)
Abimelech’s questions (vv. 9-10)
After consulting with his officials, Abimelech called for Abraham
Abimelech peppers Abraham with questions
What have you done to us?
How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom?
What was your reason for doing this?
Abimelech also scolds Abraham for doing something to him that should not have been done
Abraham’s response (vv. 11-13)
Abraham did not consult the Lord concerning the people of Gerar
He assumed they were like all the other inhabitants of the land
Keep in mind that Abraham just witnessed the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah along with two other cities in the plain, because the Lord did not find ten righteous people there
We see Abraham acting independently of the Lord’s guidance and direction, because of fear and a lapse in faith
PRINCIPLE #4 – God is pleased when we trust in Him instead of ourselves.
Mode of operation
From the time that Abraham set out on his own and separated from his father’s household, he and Sarah have been using the “sister-act” as their standard mode of operation when entering new territories
It has worked in the past, so they continue to use it (even 25 years later)
Abraham pulls the, “if you love me,” card and asks Sarah to tell everyone that he is her brother
Abimelech must have accepted Abraham’s response to his questions, because he provides reparations to he and Sarah
Reparation (vv. 14-16)
Pharaoh had given Abraham sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels, and servants prior to knowing the truth about Sarah (perhaps as a bride price)
Abimelech gives Abraham sheep, cattle, servants, and first choice of land after he finds out the truth about Sarah (this is recompense)
Abimelech obeys the command of the Lord and returns Sarah to Abraham
Abimelech also gives Abraham 1,000 shekels of silver
That is about 25 pounds of silver
This is a very generous amount of silver
Mathews points out that Abraham paid 400 shekels of silver for the cave at Machpelah where he buried Sarah (Gen. 23:15-16), Jacob purchased a piece of land in Shechem for 100 pieces of silver (Gen. 33:19), and Joseph was sold into slavery for 20 shekels of silver (Gen. 37:28) [Mathews, 258]
Waltke states, “A Babylonian laborer, usually paid a half shekel per month, would have had to work 167 years to earn such a sum.” [Waltke, 287]
The silver was given to Abraham as a way of restoring Sarah’s honor in the eyes of those who knew about Abimelech taking her into his harem [Waltke, 288]
It was done to hide Sarah’s shame [Mathews, 258]
Abimelech did not blame Sarah, which is what is meant by her being completely vindicated
After reparations are made, Abraham prays for Abimelech and his household
Restoration (vv. 17-18)
Abraham’s prayer released God’s healing power
God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his slave girls
We are not told what Abimelech needed healing from, but it probably had something to do with him not being to engage in sexual relations
We know that God had closed up every womb in Abimelech’s household, so now the woman would be able to conceive again
PRINCIPLE #5 – God answers the prayers of His people on behalf of others.
It probably took a long time for Abimelech to trust Abraham
He was probably cautious whenever Abraham spoke to him
Wiersbe highlights what this one lie cost Abraham [Wiersbe, 97]
His ministry (instead of a source of blessing, he was the cause of judgment)
He almost lost Sarah and Isaac
His peace (he watched Isaac repeat the same lie years later, Gen. 26:7-11)
Perhaps our lies have cost us some of the same things
We may have lost our character, testimony, and ministry to family and friends
They don’t want anything to do with Christianity, because of what we have said or done
Fortunately, when we repent of our sins, the Lord forgives us and restores us
We still have the ability to bless our family, friends, and even our enemies through prayer
“When I pray for my enemies, not only does it release blessing upon them, but it keeps me from getting involved in a cycle of bitterness which will only destroy me.” [Courson, 86]
Matthew 5:43-45a, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”
#3 – My Next Step Today Is To: Pray for the healing, prosperity, and well-being of my family, friends, and enemies.
Do you need to thank the Lord for His patience?
Are you ready to submit to the Lord’s plan for your life?
Is it time to reject the lie and embrace that God can, would, and will use you in spite of your failures?
Whom do you need to pray for today?
Idaville Church needs everyone to embrace God’s truth that He will use us in spite of our failures – we need everyone to be serving
Pastor Marc handed out spiritual gift surveys during the Mission Possible Meeting last week
Our hope is that everyone will take the time to complete one of those surveys, so we can serve in our area of giftedness
“Henri Dunant was a wealthy 19th century Swiss banker. He was sent to Paris by the Swiss government to work on a business deal with Napoleon. He arrived only to be informed that Napoleon was off fighting a war against the Austrians in Solferino, Italy. So Henri Dunant got back into his carriage and set his horses galloping down to the battlefront. He got there just in time to hear the bugles blast and see the thundering charge of Napoleon's troops. Dunant had never before witnessed the ghastly carnage of war. He watched in horror as cannonballs tore through human flesh, and acres of land became heaped with maimed and dying men. Henri Dunant was so devastated that he remained at the front for weeks helping doctors tend to the wounded in churches and nearby farmhouses.
After his return to Switzerland, Dunant continued to be haunted by the images of war he had seen in Italy. He could not keep his mind on banking, becoming so distracted that he lost his fortune. Yet even with his career derailed and his plans askew, he had a sense of God's sovereignty in all that had occurred. Of this time he later wrote: ‘I was aware of an intuition, vague and yet profound, that [this was] God's Will; it seemed to me that I had [something] to accomplish…as a sacred duty and that it was destined to have fruits of infinite consequence for mankind.’
And indeed it was. Out of his depression and failure—after following the wrong road to Italy—Henri Dunant founded the Red Cross, which has saved millions and millions of lives and given aid to countless victims of war and disaster over the years. For establishing this organization, he received the first Nobel Peace Prize.”
Source: Victor D. Pentz, from the sermon "A Hobo's Heart: How Wrong Roads Often Lead to the Right Places."