Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Yahweh: Compassionate and Just

This is the account of Noah.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out... I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
Genesis 6:9-14, 17-22

When Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, he drew nearer to the Lord physically than any man before him had (with the possible exception of Adam in Eden.) Because our God is excellent in beauty this nearness only caused Moses' heart yearn to see more of His Lord. So, in Exodus 34 Moses asks God to show him His glory. Since our God is good and loving and since He had already chosen to "speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend," He obliged (Exodus 33:11). He told Moses that no man could see His face and live, so He hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and He covered that cleft with His hand as He passed by. Once His glory had passed by He removed His hand and allowed Moses to see His back while He proclaimed His name. This is what He said...
The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6-7)

I bring this up because I believe that these two verses are a helpful lens through which to view the flood narrative. In them God describes Himself as both one who forgives wickedness in His grace and one who does not leave the guilty unpunished. He is slow to anger and He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation. There is an obvious tension here, a tension which was not fully resolved until Christ died on the cross. By laying the sin of the world on Christ, God was able to both punish the wickedness of our sin to its full extent and show grace to His children. In the flood we see vestiges of this in reverse. Instead of God's wrath being poured out on one perfect man while many wicked men received His grace, we have the opposite. He pours out His wrath on many wicked men while one good man receives His grace.

Though we may shrink from the idea that God would kill every person on earth and only save a small remnant, Scripture does not. There is no hesitation, no shame, and no question. God proclaims simply, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them." Notice though that God is not capricious with His anger. He is not killing people for no reason. Everyone who died in the flood deserved what they received from God's hand. God's justice is plain in the Biblical account. He will not allow sin to grow unchecked in His creation. Yet, God is not merely just, He is also gracious. He does not turn His back on His creation altogether. He provides a small remnant with whom He promises to make a covenant, a fresh start. He has not forgotten His promise to Eve or His original intent in creating man. His purposes will prevail. He will not be defeated by man's rebellion and sin.

This is true for God's children at the individual level as well. God's purposes for your life will not be thwarted by your sin and rebellion. Remember this when God's just punishment enters your life. For those who call on His name, there is always a remnant of hope. Though you buckle under the weight of your sin and His punishment, do not despair. Christ has already secured the forgiveness of your sin. Remind yourself that God is "gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love." He disciplines those He loves (Revelation3:19-20). His discipline is designed to bring you back in line with His will and plan for your life. "He will not forsake you or leave you," (Deuteronomy 31:6) so submit yourself to His calling on your life and "all things will work together for your good" (Romans 8:28).
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Noah: A rest for the people of God

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Adam lived 930 years, and then he died...When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. He named him Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.” After Noah was born, Lamech lived 595 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Lamech lived 777 years, and then he died. After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth...

The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.
Genesis 5:3-5, 28-32, & 6:5-8

If you take a closer look at Genesis chapter five you will find that for nearly 30 verses the genealogy record follows the same pattern. Check out the example above. It says that Adam had other sons and daughters but only Seth is named and only his family line is followed. This pattern is of only following one son's line is repeated until verse 32 where the genealogy not only stops with Noah but also names all three of his sons. Now I know that genealogies aren't very interesting to us today, but this is meaningful. Why did the Holy Spirit inspire this genealogy to be written this way? It all goes back to God's promise in Genesis 3 to send a deliverer who will crush the Devil. This promised deliverer will come from Eve's descendants. So this genealogy doesn't give the names of all the children because it isn't giving us a detailed record of all mankind; it is giving us the genealogical record that leads to the promised one. It ends with Noah and it explains to us that Noah's name (which means "rest") was given to him by his father in hope that Noah would relieve humanity from the curse God placed on the ground. All of this begs the question "Is Noah the promised one?"

Even though we know that Christ is the promised one, it is important for us to read the text the way it would have been received by its first readers. The Lord unfolded history in this way for a reason. Noah foreshadows aspects of Christ's character and mission. In doing so he helps us to understand our Lord better. As we study Noah we see faint glimpses of the glory that is to come in Christ, and we find shortcomings that highlight's Christ's surpassing greatness and perfection.

After Noah is introduced, we learn that humanity has grown worse. Scripture tells us that mankind is so wicked that God is grieved that He had made us at all. It even goes so far as to say that "His heart was filled with pain." This is a damning indictment of our sinfulness. We are utterly wicked. But there is something else that is important for us take note of. God is grieved by their actions. How you live your life affects God. You can either grieve your Creator or, by humbling yourself, serving Him faithfully, and exalting His name, you can fill His heart with joy. You can be a blessing to the Lord or you can curse His name. The fact that we have the privilege to brighten His countenance in any way is mindboggling and humbling. But Scripture teaches that our Heavenly Father has come near to us like a parent. Thus, He takes joy in us and thus He is grieved. Will you be a righteous son who brings joy to your father (Prov. 23:24) or a foolish son who brings grief (Prov. 17:21)?

For those who bring grief, this passage should serve as a reminder that our God is more than just a Heavenly Father; He is also a righteous judge. In chapter six the Lord reveals His plan to wipe all mankind off the face of the earth. Noah and his family alone find favor in His eyes. The flood account is no children's story. It is a terrifying account of God's wrath being poured out on His rebellious creation to the extent that almost no one survives. This is hard for us to accept. It does not square with modern sensibilities, but it is the God of the Bible. We dare not ignore Him. We dare not skip over this passage and discredit it. We dare not recreate God in a softer image more like our own. God is holy and just and He responds to sin rightly with terrible fury. Scripture says, "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord." We like to emphasize God as Father over God as a righteous judge, but according to Scripture He is both. The humble and righteous need not fear His wrath, but the wicked and rebellious must know that justice will be served. They will not trample the poor underfoot forever. They will not scoff at their Creator for eternity. In the end, He will set things right. Just as Noah is a precursor to Christ, so the flood is a precursor to the end of the world. 

How will you respond to this Father God who is also a furiously righteous judge? How will you respond to His promised one? Will you live your life to bring Him joy or will you waste your life chasing after your own desires? Embrace God fully today. Do not try to change what Scripture reveals about Him. Do not try to tame Him or your commitment to Him. Surrender yourself wholly and fully into Hi service. You will find that his burden is easy and His yoke is light (Matt. 11:30).

For further reading...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Right Worship

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Genesis 4:1-12

The announcement of Cain's birth reminds us of both the curse of sin and the hope of the promise pronounced by God in the last chapter. It is clear that Eve did experience great pain in the childbirth but the question that should be on our minds is this "Is either Cain or Abel the promised one?" As we read the rest of the chapter these hopes are dashed as we realize just how far man has fallen.

It all started with a sacrifice. Now this passage has always been a little perplexing to me. Why did God reject Cain's offering? For a long time I thought that Cain's sacrifice was rejected because it consisted of fruits and vegetables instead of a blood offering. I thought that God simply would not accept an offering from the ground. This is possible, but elsewhere in Scripture we find that fruits and vegetables are sometimes offered as a sacrifice to the Lord (Deut. 26:2), so why? Some have suggested that his offering was rejected because he did not offer the firstfruits. The passage explicitly states that Abel offered some of the firstborn of his flocks but it merely says that Cain offered some of fruits of the soil. Perhaps that is why his offering was rejected. But I have found the notes in the ESV Study Bible to be more than a little helpful here. They point out that Hebrews 11:4 talks of Abel's faith. "By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did." Perhaps we should read that literally. Maybe the problem was not with Cain's offering but with his heart. If it was Abel's faith that made his offering more acceptable to God then perhaps it was Cain's lack of faith that made his detestable. 

Yet the Lord reaches out to Cain. He tells him that sin desires to defeat him but that there is still hope. "You are not too far gone, Cain, simply respond rightly and you will be accepted," God says. But Cain reveals that his heart has been arrogant and prideful all along. He refuses to humble himself under the Lord. He lashes out in retaliation and murders his brother in a premeditated fashion. Interestingly Genesis 9:6 explains why the death penalty must be applied for anyone who sheds human blood. It is because all humans are made in the image of God, and therefore to strike at another human in murderous rage is to strike at the very image of God with the same. That is what I believe Cain is doing here. He hated his brother for his righteousness and he hated God for rejecting his offering, and in one fell swoop he strikes out at them both.

The modern mind can have a sort of sympathy for Cain. "How rude of God to reject Cain's offering," we think; but it is good to be reminded that God is God. He is under no obligation to accept any worship from us. And He has the right to commend right worship to us. Have you ever considered that God might not look so favorably on your worship? What kind of offering are you bringing to Him? Is the gift that you offer God a good one? Are you giving him the firstfruits or the leftovers? Do you drag yourself into church every Sunday because you stay up too late the rest of the weekend? Are you giving your relationship with God the same effort you give to your other relationships? What about the heart of your worship? Do you come before Him with faith and humility or arrogance and expectations? Examine your offering. Examine your heart. Humble yourself under the Lord's instruction and purpose in your heart to give Him your best gift.

For further reading...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Unexpected Consequences II: A Curse and a Promise

So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."
Genesis 3:14-19

Adam and Even made a bad deal. They chose to believe Satan over God, and they got considerably less than they bargained for. Last week we saw that they traded away their innocence, and right relationship with the Lord and received only a knowledge of their nakedness,  fear and an upside down world in return. This week we find even more unexpected consequences. Their decision brought a curse with it, a curse for the serpent, the woman, the man, and the earth from which the man was formed. A summary of the curse runs accordingly: the serpent lost his legs, the woman gained increased pain in childbirth and increased tension in her relationship with man, and the man received a cursed earth so that he would be able to provide food for his family only through great struggle.

Each of the curses above have their nuances and deserve to be investigated in greater detail, but today I would rather focus on verse 15 which is sometimes called the Protoevangelium or the first announcement of the gospel. Our God delighted in showing His goodness in that with the curse He also gave a promise. To the serpent God said, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Within this statement lies the great hope of the human race. Yes, that cunning serpent Satan has duped us. We made a bad deal. We are separated from God in our sins and deserving of death. But, there is hope, hope in the offspring of the woman. This offspring will do battle with the serpent and though He will be wounded (i.e. the serpent will strike His heel), He will be victorious (i.e. He will crush your head). The rest of the book of Genesis, and indeed the whole Old Testament, can be viewed as a tracing of Eve's descendants and God's dealings with them in eager anticipation of God's fulfillment of this promise.

Like Adam and Eve, all of us have made bad deals with the Devil. This is the common human condition. We have chosen to shortcut God's plan for us. We have cheated. We have lied. We have proven untrustworthy. We have run after the things of this world, and like Adam and Eve we have only pain and scars to show for it. But this promise way back at the very beginning of the Bible is also for us. There is a Savior who has taken up the struggle and has been victorious where we have failed. They looked forward in expectation of the day when He would be revealed. We look back on the glory of His victory, a victory which did wound Him, but most certainly crushed our enemy forever. We rejoice even in His wounds for Scripture says that "by His wounds we are healed!" (I Peter 2:24) So consider afresh the victory won for you by our Savior Jesus and rejoice in it! And if any part of your life is not fully surrendered under His lordship, submit to Him today.  
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