January 1: Genesis 1,2
The story of creation marks the beginning of God's revelation of himself even as it opens the pages of our Bible. These chapters have been the subject of years of controversy, especially is discussions about the starting place of our universe. But the first question we have to ask is this: What did Moses (the author) expect his readers (Israel in the wilderness) to understand from his writing? If we only look at these chapters to find evidence against evolutionary theory we will miss the truths Moses wanted to present.
It is obvious from reading these chapters that one giant theme jumps out: God is in charge! Moses gives us 4 important principles that not only flow from this text, but also set the foundation for understanding the entire biblical story.
1) Earth is dependent upon Heaven: It is obvious that God is in charge of all things, and that all creation is dependent upon him for life, and continued existence. God is the sovereign creator and sustainer of all things.
2) God created all things to be orderly and precise: You can't miss the truth that God was meticulous in his creation work. He began with the building blocks, brought them into a defined order, according to precise natural laws that continue to perform today, and intentionally created mankind to rule over all creation as his image bearer.
3) God loves his creation because it was brought about to accomplish a specific purpose -- the display of his glory: God looked at all he had created and declared that it was "good." Creation in its original condition was an extension of the goodness of God. As the Psalmist reminds us "the heavens are declaring the glory of God" even after sin has come as a virus into the operating system of our world.
4) God has placed mankind in a privileged position: Of all creation only mankind is said to be created "as the image of God." This reading is grammatically preferable to "in" the image of God and is meant to demonstrate that we occupy a position as God's representatives.
God gave Adam and Eve three responsibilities: 1) They were to care for creation; 2) engage God rightly in worship; and 3) populate the world with those who would also live up to these directives. As these chapters end we find the first couple completely at peace with God, with creation, and with one another. Mankind will never again enjoy this peace until the end of the story, told in Revelation, when God will bring about a new creation.
Prayer: Great God and Father, when I think of the power that brought all things into being I am humbled to know that the same power has created new life in me. Help me bring glory to you today, in all I say and do, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
January 2: Genesis 3,4
These chapters follow in great contrast to chapters 1 and 2. There God displayed his power and brought about a “good” creation, especially designed for his glory and the wellbeing of mankind. But all that changes as Satan and sin enter the picture.
God’s created order of God —> Man —> Wife —> Creation is now set on its head. Instead of God being obeyed by mankind who in turn rule over creation, everything is turned around. Satan, represented as part of creation through his taking the form of a serpent, now asserts himself against Eve who submits to his authority while attempting to lead her husband. Adam, instead of providing headship and leadership, capitulates and submits to his wife’s desires. This leads to their united rebellion against God. They no longer allow God to be the determiner of good and evil. Now they will play that role.
This simple act of rebellion turned out not to be so simple. Instead of walking with God they were now hiding from him. And when given the chance to repent, they chose instead to shift the blame and rationalize. The great effects of sin are seen in a nuanced way as we see this first couple, once naked and not ashamed, are not fully aware that a radical change has come about, not only in their relationship with God, but within themselves.
Just how bad was sin? And how disastrous were its effects on humanity? We see the first indication in chapter 4 where brother kills brother. And, as Moses quickly chronicles the passing of time and generations, we come eventually to Lamech who, apparently, writes a famous poem boasting that he is an even greater sinner than Cain. It appears that God’s great creation has been forever ruined. Or has it?
While the toxin of sin has made it into every corner of creation, God does not leave himself on the sidelines. Yes, he could have turned his back at this point and allowed humanity to follow its own desires, only to endure the righteous wrath and justice of God eternally. But God determined that sin would not win.
In 3:15, as God is passing out the curses, we find the very first hint of God’s intention to remedy the situation. Through the seed of the woman — the “he” — God promised that someday the brokenness brought about by Adam’s sin would be healed through a second Adam who would accomplish God’s desires with great power and perfection. This promise finds its first tiny step of fulfillment in the last verse. With Abel’s death, another son was needed. And God blessed Adam and Eve with Seth, the “God-appointed one” and in his time, people “began to call upon the name of the Lord.” All was not lost.
Prayer: Dear God, our gracious Heavenly Father, may you be glorious in my life today. And may the reality of my sin keep me from acting pridefully as I seek to carry your Name and your truth with me today. Thank you Lord, for keeping your promise, for sending the “he” — our Lord Jesus — through whom I have been brought into your family, into your redemptive love, and into partnership with Christ in the great rescue plan of the Gospel. I am yours, and am grateful to be so, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
January 3: Genesis 4,5
The structure of Genesis revolves largely around Moses’ use of “these are the generations of” to mark off sections. We see it here in 5:1, and again in 6:9, 10:1 and 11:10. While sin changed the nature of man dramatically, it did not hinder him from populating the world, as the genealogies show. Chapter 5 moves the story from Adam to Noah.
As Moses wrote, he must have realized that the story of the Flood would come at his readers as a harsh act on the part of God. After all, the entirety of mankind was put to death by the water, except for the family of Noah. The first few verses of chapter 6 seem to be Noah’s list of reasons why God had to take such drastic measures. The primary reason was the damage being done to the line of promise through which the “he” would one day come.
While the “sons of God” phrase is used in Job to refer to angels, it is best to see it here as distinguishing the line of promise from the line of rebellion. In Genesis 3:15 God had distinguished between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Both were human lines and God declared that they would forever live in enmity with one another. Throughout the Bible we see this enmity. It began with Cain and Abel, and flowed through Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Israel and the nations, and today is seen in the enmity between those who are “in Christ” and those who reject him. In chapter 6 we see the first time that the promised line is in danger due to intermarriage. As we will see, intermarriage between God’s people and the unbelieving nations is time and again the cause of apostasy.
A second reason for the Flood seems to be that the Nephilim were in the land. Contrary to some, there is no evidence in the text that these “men of renown” were in any way related to the intermarriage between the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men.” Rather, these men represented the high position of arrogance, power, and rebellion to which many among humanity had gained. They had followed the path of Lamech (chapter 4) and surpassed him greatly.
Thirdly, Moses sums up the situation of mankind in 6:5: “every intention of the thoughts of his (man’s) heart was only evil continually.” The entirety of humanity is summed up in the singular. The promise that the “he” would come through a human line was now in great jeopardy. And so God determined to begin again. Yet, because of his promise he could not destroy everyone. He needed a “human bridge” through which the promise of the “he” could be carried across from creation to a kind of “re-creation” in the post-flood world. It is certain that Noah was among those described in vs. 5 given that the description is all inclusive.
Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. And given that we know “favor” (grace) is never earned or merited, we are face here with the truth that Noah did not deserve God’s grace anymore than those in his world. Here we see the first act of God’s electing love. He chose Noah, and brought him to faith for his own Name’s sake, and for the sake of his promise.
The Flood stands as the first great demonstration of the wrath and justice of God. The Ark stands as a picture of the saving grace of God. Together we see through God’s mind just how his love and justice will act at the end of time. All those who perished in the flood received justice in light of their lives of rebellion before God. On the other hand, the eight granted rescue in the Ark receive mercy they didn’t deserve. But it must be seen that no one was treated unjustly. God, the sovereign creator, acted in both justice and grace, with both truth and love, to set his world and his redemptive plan back on track.
Prayer: Holy God, forgive me for thinking too lightly of your justice and your holiness. The story of the Flood reminds me just how blessed I am to have been rescued by your grace, extended to me in the refuge that is Jesus Christ. I know I don’t deserve your love and forgiveness. I am so grateful today that you looked at me through eyes of love; that you sent your Spirit into my life and used the Gospel to draw my heart to you. Lord, help me to be a light that shines into the lives of others today, by your grace and for you glory, Amen.
January 6: Genesis 7, 8
The striking thing about these chapters is Moses’ continual reference to the obedience of Noah. In 7:5, 9 and 16 we see Noah doing “all that God had commanded.” Once again we see that God is in charge, and Noah recognizes it, and acts accordingly. He understands that the only refuge to be found is in obeying the Lord, and through obedience, finding rescue through God’s provision. Certainly what God was asking was astounding, seemingly unreasonable. Who builds a huge boat, a floating zoo, so far from any navigable water? Yet, Noah trusts in the Lord, and with good reason. God rescues Noah and his family from judgment (the flood waters) through the provision of the Ark.
After many months of flooding, God “remembers” Noah (8:1) and once again provides rescue, this time from the pervasive waters. We can imagine that there was anxiety in the Ark as the rain came, and the floodwaters lifted them up high above the land. Noah and his family certainly had questions. How long, Lord? Will the waters ever go away? Will our lives ever be back to normal? These are things we ask today. Each day in our hurried lives is filled with uncertainty. Yet, the example of Noah is here to remind us that God will not “forget” his people. God remembers you and me, and delights in rescuing those who trust in him, and obey his word.
Once the waters receded Noah acted to demonstrate both his gratefulness and he dependence upon God. For the first time we see an altar used in worship. We now understand why seven of the clean animals were brought into the Ark. This number provided for three mating pairs, with one animal left for offering thanks to God.
In the flood we see both the justice and mercy of God. We see his righteous wrath and his amazing grace together in one event. This sets the standard for our understanding of God as we travel through the biblical story. God is good, yet his goodness will never operate in opposition to his justice. Our very best option is to trust in him, obey him, and find our rest in him.
Prayer: Lord, as you provided a way to escape the judgment of the flood for Noah, so also I know that you have provided Jesus Christ as our “Ark” of refuge. In him we have forgiveness, and in him we have been brought into your family as beloved children. Father, thank you for Jesus, and for bringing me into the safety of his eternal love. Amen.
January 7: Genesis 9, 10
Before God took Noah into the Ark he promised that he would establish a covenant with him (6:18). Now on the other side of the flood God fulfills this promise.
A “covenant” is a commitment to enter into a personal relationship. Unlike a “contract” that is merely an agreement, a covenant establishes a committed relationship. We saw the first elements of a covenant when God established a relationship with Adam. This relationship was grounded on God’s care for Adam, and his expectation that Adam would care for creation, worship in obedience, and populate God’s world with those who would worship God rightly. As we saw, Adam failed. Yet, God’s plan for mankind was not derailed.
In Noah we find a man through whom God has “re-created” the world. Our minds run back to 3:15: could Noah be the “he” through whom the problem of sin will be solved? Certainly God enters into a covenant relationship with him, and calls him to populate the earth, and rule over creation. God promises that he will never again destroy life with a flood. We have great hopes for Noah.
Yet, we find all too soon that the flood did not solve the problem of sin. It turns out sin was on the boat! As chapter 9 ends we learn that Noah was not the Savior. Instead, he needs a Savior. He has successfully passed on a sinful nature to his children, one of whom will disgrace his father and become the head of those eventually known as Canaanites. The search for the “he” will continue.
In chapter 10 Moses chronicles how the nations arose from the sons of Noah. And while genealogies often seem irrelevant, stuck in the middle (vs. 25) is an essential bit of information. Moses tells us that, in the days of Peleg, the “earth was divided.” If we look carefully we will see that the line of his brother Joktan takes precedence in the narration in chapter 10, and leads us to the events of Babel in chapter 11. Then, we will see in 11:16 Moses retraces his steps back to the line of Peleg, which then is traced all the way down to a man named Abram.
We see the world “divided” in two different ways. First, we will see that God divides up the nations and languages through the events at Babel. And then we will see, God is again constituting the “line of promise” through the line of Abram. The world will be “divided” between those who will follow God, and those who will oppose him.
Prayer: Father, the story of Noah reminds me that everyone, from the least to the greatest, lives with the temptation to sin all around them. O Lord, help me be vigilant today; to stay away from those things that draw me away from you. Lord, help me delight in those things that you love. May your Word be a lamp to my feet today, and a light to my path, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
January 8: Genesis 11,12
These two chapters present a tremendous contrast, and it is essential that we see it. In chapter 11 we find the many choosing their own way, willfully opposing God’s command. In chapter 12 we see a solitary man choosing God’s way, faithfully leaving the safety of family and land to follow God’s command.
The Tower of Babel story speaks to mankind’s desire to make their own decisions, find their own security, and in so doing, oppose the commands of God. God had commanded mankind to populate the earth and fill it. This would mean a continual process of migration. Yet, in chapter 11 the people decided to stop moving and settle. In vs. 4 we see their desire is two-fold. They want to make a place for themselves, and establish a name for themselves. They no longer want to be ruled by the commands of God, no longer want to worship his name, but rather want independence. Here we have Eden all over again.
Both the building of the city and the tower represent a desire for security, independent of God. In the ancient world, a high tower was the place of safety when enemies came. The people meant to be unified, safe and no longer dependent on God. But God had other plans. He “came down”, created confusion by creating various languages, and ended the building project. From this came the dispersion of the nations, just as God had planned.
It is important to see a principle here that will run throughout human history: God is in charge, and his sovereign plan will not be derailed either by the opposition of his enemies or the disobedience of his friends.
Chapter 12 chronicles the call of Abram, and the promises God makes to him. The covenant relationship rests upon three promises from God: 1) I will make you a great nation; 2) I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you; 3) I will bless all the families of the earth through you.
Once again God has found a man through whom he desires to carry out his plans. Adam was the first, and he failed. Noah came along, but he also failed. Now we meet Abram and our hopes are high that he just might be “the he” of Genesis 3:15. Will he be the one through whom the sin problem is solved? But we soon find that Abram cannot be the savior because he needs a savior himself. His desire for self-preservation led him away from trust in God, and he lied about his wife. In what is an eerie preview of things to come, a famine drove him to Egypt where trouble awaited him. Yet, the covenant-keeping God of Abram was faithful to their relationship and rescued Abram, bringing him back into the land he had given him.
Prayer: Father, the stories of Babel and Abram remind me that I am prone to leave you, and walk my own path. O Lord, bind my heart to yours today. Open my eyes to the relationship we have through Jesus Christ, and live your life through me so that I will not stray from the path of obedience you have laid out for me. I love you, Lord, and will live this day to please you, through the power of Jesus, Amen.
January 9: Genesis 13, 14
The story of Abram and Lot gives us another rendition of some themes that run through Genesis. Once again we see Abram, now blessed by God, coming into the land of promise. This time he determines to stay. He gives Lot the choice, and Lot chooses to dwell among those who we now understand to be the “seed of the serpent.” That is, they are opposed to God’s commands and quite content to live according to their own will. Once again we see the division between the line of promise, and the line of rebellion.
Now the whole land of Canaan was Abram’s. God has him look in every direction, and everywhere his eyes fall he sees the land God has given him. In addition, God re-iterates the promises of the covenant relationship. He will give the land to Abram’s descendents as part of his promise to make them a great nation. He will grow Abram’s clan into a nation that defies being counted. In all of this, God’s promises are based on God’s plan, and not Abram’s perfect obedience. We are already beginning to sense that the relationship between God and Abram will have much greater significance than did the previous models with Adam and Noah.
Chapter 14 is another rescue story. We have wondered just how Lot would fare in the region of wicked Sodom. The story of Lot’s capture and peril sets the scene for Abram to be seen as a man who will lead a great nation.
In the ancient world, warring clans often preyed on one another, forming alliances for the purpose of gaining access to water, fertile land, slaves, and the possessions of weaker clans. It was during a time of rebellion that Lot was taken along with others when Sodom and Gomorrah were defeated in battle. When Abram heard of it he marshaled his fighting men, defeated the victorious clans, and rescued Lot.
This story shows us two things. First, we now understand just how great God’s blessing on Abram has been. He leads a very large and powerful clan, has great resources, and is now feared by neighboring clans. God’s promise to make him a great nation is clearly being fulfilled.
But there is a second significant truth in this chapter. On his return from battle, Abram stops near Salem (later this will be Jeru-salem) where Melchizedek greets and pays tribute to him. Much later this king-priest serves as a type of the priesthood Jesus will occupy (see: Hebrews 5:10; 7:1-17). While there is some speculation as to whether this man was a pre-incarnate appearance of God the Son, it is best to understand him as Moses presents him: as the king-priest of Salem, a very human man.
Prayer: Father, today I am reminded again that, like Lot, I have often wanted to “live” where my selfishness led me. Lord, forgive me for delighting in things that you hate, and neglecting those things in which you delight. Help me today, O Lord, to seek your will with joy, that those around me may see my life and bring glory to you, in the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
January 10: Genesis 15, 16
These two chapters also are meant to show us great contrast. In chapter 15 Abram is the passive recipient of God’s great covenant promises. These verses are among the most significant in all of Genesis in that they detail the great unilateral commitment God makes to Abram and to his posterity.
In great contrast chapter 16 shows us that Abram is no super godly man. Like Adam, he “listens” to the plan of Sarai, disregards the promises of God, and seeks to do things his way. Once again we see that human sinfulness is never the path to the blessing of God.
It had been many years since God initiated his covenant relationship with Abram. Yet, since all the promises depended upon Abram having a son, the childlessness of Abram and Sarai had them both feeling very anxious. God comes in chapter 15 and initiates a covenant ceremony that was customary in that day.
God told Abram to take animals, cut them in pieces, and lay them on the ground to form a bordered path. In the ancient world, when two clans would make a treaty, the leaders would form such a path, and then walk through the pieces together. Their declaration: “be it done to us as we have done to these pieces if we are unfaithful to this covenant.”
But the ceremony here is quite different. The animal pieces are set in order, but Abram is cast into a deep sleep. Only God walks through the pieces, symbolized by the smoking pot and flaming torch. The significance of this must not be lost. God alone has taken the responsibility for the promise of the covenant relationship. No longer will his human partner’s disobedience curtail the goals of the relationship. Abram’s place in the history of redemption is now secure, grounded in God’s faithfulness rather than his obedience.
And this turns out to be a good thing for Abram for chapter 16 chronicles his greatest activity of self-will. The continued barrenness of Sarai made it difficult to trust God for a son. In a scene eerily reminiscent of Eden, Saria talks her husband into the Hagar plan. Once again we see the all too human tendency to think we have a better idea than God.
Hagar has a child by Abram, but he does not turn out to be the son of promise. Rather, through Ishmael we are given yet another installment in the “enmity” prophecy of Genesis 3:15. From Ishmael will arise the Arab world, and the enmity between the offspring of Ishmael and Isaac remains unabated to this day.
Prayer: Father, the story of Abram reminds me so much of myself. Even though I have been the beneficiary of so many of your blessings, your forgiveness, and your promise of eternal life, I confess that I too often pursue my own plans. Forgive me Lord for foolishly trusting myself more that you, and work in me today, that all I say and do may bring glory to your Name, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
The Well: January 13-17
January 13: Genesis 17, 18
Throughout Abram’s life the covenant promise of God had seemed distant and impossible. Now Moses reminds us of yet another impossibility: Abram was ninety-nine years old! Yet, God declared that he would father a son through whom the promise would become reality.
God then commanded Abraham to circumcise his sons. This was the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham’s lineage. While there are many theories regarding this custom, it seems best to recognize that the purpose of God’s covenant was to establish a people from whom the “He” – the Messiah – would eventually arise. This Messiah would be the rescuer of the faithful, delivering them from the brokenness and corruption of sin. The sign of circumcision, specifically a “cutting away” of the flesh was to be an ongoing sign to Abraham’s physical descendants that this rescue would never be accomplished through human means.
The following chapter seems to follow on without much interruption in the story. For the first time we are told that the Lord takes on human form. It is necessary to note that God, being omnipresent and invisible nevertheless allows himself to be experienced as visibly present in the Old Testament in two different ways. When the presence of God is described as smoke, wind, or fire it is an appearance of God the Spirit. However, when God is described in human form it is a pre-incarnate appearance of God the Son. Such an appearance is described in chapter 18.
The Lord’s visit to the tent of Abraham brought shocking news. In a year Sarah would bear a son. This seeming impossibility made Sarah laugh, but also serves to remind us that God will not share his glory with anyone, and often works in ways that offer no other option.
The chapter ends with the story turning back to Lot who by now has become a resident of Sodom. In a fascinating dialogue with Abraham, God treats his covenant partner with honor, listening as he pleads for the righteous in Sodom. But, as we will see, there was only one righteous person in the city. God knew this, and his seeming negotiation with Abraham was for the purpose of getting Abraham to realize the utter wickedness of Sodom.
Prayer: Father, forgive me for being too much like Sarah, and thinking that what you have promised me is impossible. Help me to grow in faith, to trust in you today to lead me in the paths of righteousness, for your Name’s sake, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
January 14: Genesis 19,20
The two angels that accompanied the Lord on his visit to Abraham now continue on to Sodom. Once again we are faced with a story that combines judgment and mercy. The story of Lot’s family and Sodom reminds us of the story of Noah’s family and the flood.
Sodom was a place of great wickedness exemplified by the blatant homosexuality that plays such a prominent role in the chapter. The men of the city demand Lot send his visitors out so they can engage in sexual relations with them. (Note the use of “know” in vs. 5-8 means an intimate relationship and not merely “knowing about”).
Like the people of Noah’s day the whole city is engulfed in wickedness in which they engage greedily. It is also clear from Lot’s actions and great hesitancy to escape that he is not much better than his neighbors. God’s judgment will fall on the city and this will be just. But God also desires to show mercy, and Lot and his family become the undeserved recipients of his rescuing grace.
And, just like the story of Noah, after Lot’s rescue sin still plays a part in his family, and through his own daughters two prominent nations – the Moabites and the Ammonites – come into being. The parallels here with Genesis 9, 10 are purposeful in that they once again show God’s sovereignty over people and nations.
Chapter 20 takes up the story of Abraham. He has been visited by the Lord, and heard
that Sarah will bear a son. Yet, he leaves the land of promise and travels south to dwell in the kingdom of Gerar. There is enough in this chapter to indicate that Moses intends us to see in Abraham’s life a parallel to the life of Lot. Both took up residence in pagan territory, fell into sin, and needed to be rescued by God.
As readers we are shocked at Abraham’s deceitfulness and lack of trust. Hadn’t he just visited with the Lord? Yet, he took his wife into foreign territory and put the promised line at great risk. The king of Gerar took Sarah into his house as a wife bringing crises into the story. Would the promise of God concerning a son from Abraham be derailed through Abraham’s impetuous action?
As was the case with Noah and Lot, we now see God as Abraham’s rescuer. He delivers Sarah from the king’s home, and even sees to it that Abraham is loaded down with wealth for his return back north to the land God had promised him. Again we see that God will rescue those who are not able to rescue themselves, and he does so for the purpose of his plan, and his glory.
Prayer: Father, I am humbled at your power, your wisdom, and the glory of your great plan for my life. Thank you for rescuing me from my bondage to sin, and the foolishness of pursuing life on my own. Help me to see my life through the lens of your glory today, so that I might reflect your grace and goodness before a watching world. In the Name of Jesus my Lord, Amen
January 15: Genesis 21,22
These two chapters center on the birth and sacrifice of Isaac, the promised son. The birth of Isaac happens, just as God had promised. It is certain that the birth was a huge milestone in the growth of Abraham’s faith and trust in God. God’s faithfulness had now taken the form of a healthy baby boy.
Yet, Isaac’s entrance into the world was not all laughter and joy. Sarah how had a son, and she no longer felt compelled to keep Hagar and Ishmael in the family. They could now be pushed aside.
God also has a plan for Hagar and Ishmael, and demonstrates his sovereignty once again in a “rescue – nation” paradigm. Noah (chpts. 9, 10), Lot ( chpt. 19) and now Hagar are all first rescued, and then seen to be the progenitors of a new nation. Through Ishmael God brought about the Arab peoples.
The chapter ends with a story that shows how Abraham had prospered and grown to be the head of a mighty clan. The treaty with Abimelech now depicts Abraham as equal to the king. Already we are seeing God’s promise of a nation becoming a reality.
The birth of Isaac is followed immediately by the call of God to sacrifice him. From the beginning of the chapter we know that God is only testing Abraham. Yet, the command would have been very real to him given that child sacrifice was a common religious ritual among the pagan clans of Abraham’s world.
Abraham obeyed God’s command, gathered up necessary supplies, and along with his son, set off for Moriah. There is good evidence that Mt. Moriah is the same site where a later Jebusite city would be conquered by David to become Jerusalem. If this is true, then the sacrifice of Isaac would take place where the Temple would later be built, and the same location as the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. God really has a way with details!
The sacrifice of Isaac brings out two important truths. First, Abraham passed the test. From this point on we see him as a champion of faith in God. He has earned the right to be called the Father of the faithful. Second, we see the first clues that will eventually lead us to understand the nature of “substitution” in the redemptive plan. God will provide a substitute Lamb through whom the sins of the world will be covered (John 1:29).
Prayer: Gracious God, you alone have the wisdom to oversee history, to move the hearts of people, and bring about your plan perfectly and right on time. Father, help me wait patiently for you today. Open my eyes to see that you are infinitely faithful, that I can trust you, laying all of my anxieties at your feet, for I know you care for me, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
January 16: Genesis 23, 24
In chapter 23 we read what at first glance appears to be a small detail in the story of Abraham. Sarah has died, and a burial place is needed. Though Abraham is very wealthy and the head of a large and powerful clan, the reality is that he does not own a single piece of land. While the land has been promised, none of it has been possessed.
Ephron the Hittite offers to give him the cave of Machpelah (the only Scotsman in the Bible?) as a burial site. But Abraham insists on buying the land, perhaps in order not to be indebted to a foreigner. Eventually Abraham buys the land and buries his wife. The story is significant simply because Abraham is soon to die as well, and it will turn out that this small piece of Canaan will be the only part he will every own.
One of the greatest responsibilities of fatherhood in those days was to find a wife for his son. For the first time we see Abraham, the representative of God’s promised line (the seed of the woman from Genesis 3:15) recognizing the grave dangers of intermarriage. The intermarriage in Genesis 6 had been one reason for the encroachment of wickedness on the earth. Now Abraham determines that Isaac will not marry a wife from the surrounding clans. He will find a wife from among his own people, and sends a servant off on a specific mission.
That intermarriage was not to be the way of God’s promised line is underscored in the way this chapter develops. Abraham’s charge to the servant (vs. 3ff and vs. 37ff) sets the tone. Under no circumstances was he to take a wife from among the Canaanites. The faithfulness of the servant is actually seen to be dependent on the faithfulness of God. The servant is clear: God has led me here, and God has chosen Rebekah.
The length and repetitive nature of the story is meant to make a clear point: Marriage is very important in God’s mind, and intermarriage with those outside the covenant of God is not to be considered. As we will see, Israel consistently disregarded this truth, and intermarriage brought idolatrous practices into the covenant community, bringing about discipline from God.
Prayer: Great God, I acknowledge today that you always know what is best for me. Lord, as today lays out before me, help me to make the most of it, pursuing excellence in all I do. And let my words be seasoned with grace, and my heart ready to forgive,
as you have forgiven me through Jesus Christ, Amen.
January 17: Genesis 25, 26
With Abraham’s death, the story of God’s promise to bring about the “he” travels on through Isaac to his sons Jacob and Esau. Isaac holds a transitional position in the story, and his life is only mentioned in connection to his much more famous son Jacob.
The birth of Jacob and Esau again demonstrates God’s sovereignty. First, like Sarah before her, Rebekah is barren. For her to bear a child God must intentionally step in. Second, the sovereignty of God is seen is the fact that, even before the twins are born, God lets Rebekah know that two nations will spring from her two sons (Edom from Esau, and Israel from Jacob), and that the younger of the sons (Jacob) will be preeminent. Though Isaac will seek to undo this divine order, God’s plan will prevail.
The two sons couldn’t be more different. Esau was an outdoor man, a hunter, a man’s man. Jacob was a domestic man, preferring to live the quiet life.
From the start Moses sets the readers up for the eventual treachery to be played out in the family through which Jacob eclipses Esau as leader of the clan. We see here that Esau places no value on his covenant position as firstborn. He “despised” his birthright and the responsibility of clan leadership that came with it.
Chapter 26 describes the life of Isaac as an adult. We do see that the promises God made to Abraham are re-iterated to Isaac. God is faithful.
Little is said about Isaac, but this episode shows that he, like his father, was in need of God’s mercy and rescue. In an event paralleling Abraham’s deceit (chapter 20) he lies about his wife and once again, the promised line is put at risk in the house of a pagan king. Once again the Lord intervenes, rescues Isaac and Rebekah, and blesses them with great wealth.
Like his father, Isaac digs a well, and enters into a treaty with the neighboring clans. The parallels are meant to show that God’s promises to Abraham have now passed to Isaac. He is with Isaac, and will bless Isaac, despite his sinful ways. This shows us that God’s promise to Isaac is based on God’s own desires to fulfill his plan, and not on Isaac’s worthiness.
For the second time (see: 25:29ff) Moses wants the readers to understand just how bad Esau really is. The last verses in chapter 26 describe how he intermarried with local Hittite women, making life “bitter” for Isaac and Rebekah. Intermarriage rears its ugly head and we are meant to see it as evidence of Esau’s complete disregard for the covenant promises of God.
Prayer: Almighty God, thank you for your Word. Thank you for preserving it so that we can know your heart and mind and follow your ways. Help me to live this day for you, trusting your truth, and walking in your love, for Jesus sake, Amen.
January 20: Genesis 27, 28
The story of God's promise now shifts from Isaac to his second son, Jacob. That God often chooses to work through those society would least suspect becomes a theme throughout the Bible. Judah, Joseph, David, and Gideon are just a few examples.
As the spotlight passes from Isaac to Jacob it is not without intrigue. God has already said that Jacob, not Esau, would be the leader of the family. Yet, Isaac was partial to his rugged hunter son Esau. Nearing death, Isaac decides to pass along the clan leadership to Esau, and by so doing puts the plan of God at risk. Esau has married foreign women, and at this point the readers must wonder: has Satan finally derailed the promise of God?
The story of Jacob's treachery again emphasizes the absolute control God has over history. As it unfolds we find that all four members of the family act sinfully and yet, the plan of God emerges unscathed, right on schedule, just as God said.
Once again we see that the plan of God will never be derailed, either by the opposition of his enemies or the disobedience of his people.
Once the deed is done, Rebekah ends the chapter with a strong declaration that her Jacob not marry a local Hittite woman and she sends him away to her people.
Chapter 28 sets things in motion that will occupy the following chapters. Isaac, like his father before him, instructs his son on finding a wife from their people. In contrast, Esau marries another foreigner. God meets Jacob on the way and establishes the covenant with
him. The next few chapters will bring all of these elements together.
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, thinking through the story of Jacob's deceitfulness I am amazed and humbled at your sovereign ways. Despite the wickedness of my own heart, and the brokenness of this world, your love will never fail. Thank you for your love Lord! In Jesus Name, Amen.
January 21: Genesis 29, 30
As Jacob enters the household of Laban the story takes an interesting turn. Jacob the schemer and liar becomes the victim of Laban's schemes and lies. At the end of seven years it is Leah that becomes his wife, and he has to pledge another seven in order to gain the hand of his beloved Rachel.
Once again we see barrenness in the promised line. First Sarah, then Rebekah, and now Rachel are unable to bear children. And, like Sarah before her, Rachel refuses to wait on God and offers her maid to Jacob.
The issue of polygamy in the Old Testament is a difficult one. What we know for sure is that, from the beginning, God's plan for marriage was a life-long covenantal relationship between one woman and one man.
However, polygamy soon became the cultural norm
(see: Genesis 4:23). The fact that the line of promise fell into polygamy, and that God worked through it does not mean God changed his standard. It does demonstrate that God is able to bring about his desires even in the face of our compromises and sinful acts. However, our sinfulness is never without dire consequences. The stories of polygamy in the Bible are also stories of strife and despair.
Chapter 30 demonstrates that, like Abraham and Isaac before him, Jacob is greatly blessed by God while in adverse circumstances. Laban, like Abimelech, represents both crises and blessing in the life of Jacob. We now see Jacob taking the place God had promised. He is blessed by God, ready to return to the land of Canaan.
Prayer: Father, my greatest need is to trust you, and to follow your ways. Open my eyes to my own sin, keep me from pride, and grant me the joy of knowing forgiveness full and free, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
January 22: Genesis 31, 32
It has become apparent that Jacob can no longer dwell with Laban. In describing the situation to his wives, Jacob reminds them that their story is more than just that of an ordinary family. They have been chosen by God to carry forward the covenant promises.
Yet, all is not righteous in Jacob's household. Rachel, the wife of his love, is determined to bring her father's idolatrous practices with her. Here we see a nuanced reference to the potential problems all Israel will face when idolatry is allowed to enter their community.
The strife between Jacob and Laban is finally settled with the covenant enacted at Mizpah. Though often seen today in a positive way, the agreement was actually a threat. Both men called upon God to make sure the other one didn't break the covenant and bring revenge.
But Jacob's problems are just beginning. Esau, his older brother from whom he had stolen the blessing, is waiting. Jacob, ever the schemer, devises a plan he hopes will soften his brother's heart.
As the night passes, Jacob cries out to God in what is the first glimpse of a changed heart. Will the schemer now become one whose faith lays hold on God in trust? It will take a wrestling match to find out for sure.
After sending his family to a place of safety, Jacob is alone. A man, later understood to be God himself (a pre-incarnate appearance of God the Son), comes and wrestles with him. It is clear that Jacob has been "wrestling" with God in his own strength for some time. This time he is beaten, and will bear the consequence of his loss the rest of his life. But now we see a significant shift in Jacob. Now he will use his strength to "hang on to God until he is blessed."
As was true of his grandfather, Jacob receives a new name, Israel. Having seen God face to face Jacob is now ready to trust him, and lead as his family becomes a nation.
Prayer: Father, help me to be like Jacob, to use my strength to "hang on to you" so that your blessings rather than my schemes will be my focus. Have your way in my life, Lord, by your grace and for your glory, through Jesus, Amen.
January 23: Genesis 33, 34
In Jacob's meeting with Esau we find the first evidence of God's covenantal blessing on Jacob. We certainly would have expected Esau to hold a grudge and meet his brother with a plan for revenge. Jacob sends gifts and messages ahead to Esau hoping to head off any conflict.
But Esau's heart has changed. God is behind the scenes here, working out his covenant promises to Jacob. God is now his protector, going before him.
The chapter ends with Jacob and his clan safely back in Canaan, settling in Shechem, the fertile land lying between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim. Like Abraham, he now buys a piece of land, and can claim some ownership in the region long ago promised to his forefather. But residency here will mean dealing with the neighboring idolatrous clans.
The story of Dinah and the men of Shechem, while seemingly out of place on its own, is important when we realize that Moses is writing this to a people who will one day follow Jacob's lead and settle in Canaan. It points out 1) the danger to Israel posed by the surrounding clans, and 2) the necessity to rid the land of such peoples (as God will command under Joshua).
This story also points out that the legacy of treachery that began with Jacob has only multiplied in his sons. It is significant that Simeon and Levi are the ones responsible for the slaughter of the men of Shechem. This will play into the reason Judah, the 4th born son, is chosen as the tribe from which David, and Messiah will come. Reuben, Simeon, and Levi are all disqualified through their treachery (see: Genesis 35:22).
The slaughter will make it impossible for Jacob to remain on the land he has purchased, and once again we will see him leaving to find a home.
Prayer: Lord, today there will be challenges and opportunities in my life. Father, help me be prepared to face them righteously, to carry your Name with me, and be pleasing to you in all I say and do, for Jesus' sake, Amen.
January 24: Genesis 35, 36
Following God's command, Jacob left Shechem and travelled north to Bethel. Before leaving he commands all those of his clan to surrender up their idols. He has seen the danger of allowing idolatry to enter his family and determines to leave them behind. In great contrast, he builds an altar of sacrifice to God.
As they travel we see that, once again, God is going before them. He keeps the various waring bands from harming Jacob as he travels through their territory.
Arriving at Bethel God once again appears to Jacob, re-establishing the covenant promises first made to Abraham. Once again God declares that he will now be Israel, and from him will come a people that will live on the promised land.
Here we see the promises of Genesis 12:1-3 passed along to Abraham's offspring, just as God promised.
The following chapter shows the descendants of Esau, Jacob's brother. The declaration in Genesis 3:15 about the "enmity" between the line of promise and the line of rebellion is now displayed. We saw it between Isaac and Ishmael, and now we see it as Esau leaves Canaan to begin the nation that will one day be Edom, an enemy of Israel down through the years.
A note about genealogies: While these lists of families and kings may seem unimportant, they are valuable for at least two reasons: 1) They provide great historical evidence that is used to validate the biblical record; 2) They remind us that God continues to allow life to go on, generation after generation, despite the sinfulness of humanity. God's patience, and his display of common grace can only be explained by the fact that he has a plan, will work that plan, and will bring all things to their right conclusion, in just the right way, and at just the right time.
Prayer: Father, as we finish another week of reading your Word, I am thankful for the Bible, and the story of your work in history. Thank you for bringing the story of my life into the story of your love, for seeing my helpless condition and reaching out to rescue me. Thank you for taking me from the darkness of sin, and bringing me into the kingdom of your Son, in whom I have redemption, the forgiveness of all my sin, because of Jesus, Amen.
The Well: January 27 – 31, 2014
January 27: Genesis 37, 38
The story now returns to the line of promise that now belongs to the sons of Jacob. Now the blessing of God will not flow through a single man, but through a nation. The story of Joseph and his brothers (chapters 37-50) comprises the final section of the Genesis. In these chapters we will see the amazing sovereignty of God as he works to bring about rescue for those he has called to carry his name. Along the way we can’t help but notice that Joseph – about whom nothing bad is described – stands as our first preview of the “he” who will one day to save his people from their sins.
Like the future Messiah, Joseph is despised by his own. His dreams, while depicting the truth that lies ahead for him, bring scorn and jealousy from the brothers. Eventually, they sell him and he is brought to Egypt. In an interesting parallel, the Messiah will be taken to Egypt shortly after his birth in order to escape death at the hands of Herod (see: Matthew 2:13ff). The crisis in the story comes as the brothers assure their father that the son he loves has been killed. Jacob’s mourning sets the stage for great surprise and rejoicing when the son, thought dead, is found to be alive.
As the story progresses we find that it centers in on two sons: Joseph, and Judah. Events from their lives are played out for the reader. Which son will arise to carry on the promise of the he? If we are reading this for the first time we are sure it will be Joseph, especially since chapter 38 presents Judah in a bad light.
Note: While we might naturally expect the blessing to flow through the firstborn, it is clear that Reuben’s actions with Jacob’s concubine (Genesis 35:22), and the treachery of the next in line – Simeon and Levi – have effectively disqualified them. Judah is next in line, and his life is juxtaposed with that of righteous Joseph as the story plays out.
The story of Judah and Tamar will sound strange to our contemporary minds. The principle of levirate marriage demanded that a brother raise up a child with his deceased brother’s wife in order to prolong his brother’s name and heritage. Onan refused to comply and paid with for it with his life.
Judah is portrayed as a man of his time, neither exceedingly wicked nor uncompromisingly righteous. The point of the story is to show that Judah (who will eventually be chosen as the tribe from which Messiah will come) is undeserving of such honor. Nothing about the coming of Messiah cant be accounted for on the basis of human merit. Salvation will be – from first to last – a gracious act of an almighty God.
Note: When Matthew writes his genealogy of Jesus, he does not shy away from this chapter in Judah’s live, but brings it out prominently (see: Matthew 1:3). Such truth is not the stuff of myth, and speaks powerfully to the authenticity of Matthew’s portrayal of Messiah.
Prayer: Father, I thank you for rescuing me, for bringing me into your family even though I didn’t deserve it. Help me to live for you, and not my own selfishness, that your glory might be reflected in all I say and do, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
January 28: Genesis 39, 40
The scene now shifts back to Joseph, and the immorality of Judah is seen in great contrast to that of Joseph. Both Judah and Joseph are put into situations with foreign women. Judah takes one as a wife. Joseph resists the advances of Potiphar’s wife.
The story of Joseph’s righteousness in the face of sexual temptation is widely recognized as one of the greatest “types” of the Messiah. He resists temptation courageously, as will Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. The ability to resist temptation sets the course for both men’s success in later life.
Key to Joseph’s courage is his recognition that his sin would ultimately be against God (vs. 9). All sin is an arrow shot at the heart of God for it represents willful rebellion against the law of God. Joseph recognizes this, and willingly suffers the human consequences of obeying God. He is falsely charged, found guilty, and sentenced to prison which, for a foreigner was actually a sentence of death. Again, the parallels with Messiah are apparent.
But, the Lord was with Joseph. Here we see the core of God’s promise. It is not that he will remove all adversity from our lives, but that he will be “with us in blessing” in the midst of those circumstances. The choice is ours: will adversity draw us closer to God, or will we use it as an excuse to run from him. Obviously, the best choice is the former.
In prison Joseph is put in a position to interpret dreams, which eventually leads to his introduction to Pharaoh and his induction into the ruling class. Had he remained in Potiphar’s house, this would never have happened. God was working all things for good for the plan he had for Joseph.
Prayer: Father, my life is in your hands, and I ask you to increase my faith that I might trust you in every situation, counting on your faithfulness to keep the promises you have made to me in Christ Jesus my Savior, for it is in his name that I pray, Amen.
January 30: Genesis 41, 42
Sometimes we may wonder if God has forgotten about us when the plans we have don’t seem to go anywhere. But just imagine being Joseph, in prison for two years! During those two years we can might suspect that his faith in God would have languished, even been overwhelmed with bitterness. But such is not the case.
When the time comes for Joseph to stand before Pharaoh his first words speak to his faith in God. God will interpret the dream, and Joseph appears as God’s faithful servant.
Pharaoh’s dream is now the third time Joseph has been privy to the future through a God-given ability to interpret dreams. First there was his own dreams, then those of the baker and cupbearer, and now the dreams of the King of the land. This sequence underscores the fact that God has placed his hand on Joseph, and intends to do great things through him.
Today we no longer expect or need to hear from God through extraordinary means. We have an “even more sure prophetic word” (see: 2 Peter 1:19) and it is the Bible. Before God’s Word was written down, God communicated in many ways including dreams. All of these were under the strict control of God, and in each case it was absolutely understood as coming from God, and therefore, was 100% accurate and authoritative. Today we give this standing to the Bible alone.
Joseph’s prophecy that years of plenty will be followed by years of severe drought comes true and Egypt is set up to become even more prosperous because of him. Joseph is given a position of great authority from which he will eventually “save” his brothers.
The sons of Jacob are greatly affected by the drought and must travel to Egypt to sustain themselves. Their reunion with Joseph presents him with the opportunity to test them several times to see if their actions toward him were just the first step in further wickedness, or whether they have become men of more righteous character. These tests may see strange to the modern mind, but to Joseph they were necessary in order to find out the true character of his family.
Prayer: Gracious Heavenly Father, may my character reflect your grace to me as I face the challenges and opportunities you put in my path. And when the day is done, may I put my head on the pillow and be able to say that I was obedient to you call on my life today, through the strength that my Savior provides, Amen.
January 31: Genesis 43, 44
The continuing severity of the famine once again puts Joseph’s brothers in need of what Egypt has … grain. But the stipulation that they must bring Benjamin, the brother Joseph has never seen, puts their ability to return to Egypt at risk. Jacob believes he has already lost one son, and the thought of losing Benjamin is heart-breaking.
Once again Judah is brought to the forefront of the story. Judah declares that he will be a “pledge” for his younger brother, taking on himself the full responsibility for his safe return.
Here we also see the faith of a mature Jacob. He entrusts all things into the hands of God recognizing that it will be by the mercy of God that the brothers return unharmed with the needed food. The schemer has become the trusting God-fearer.
Once again Joseph believes he must test his brothers. The story of the cup in chapter 44 once again puts Joseph and Judah in the spotlight. When Joseph’s men find the cup in Benjamin’s sack, it is Judah who steps forth to plead the brother’s case. He offers to become a “substitute” for Benjamin in the hands of the Egyptians.
As Judah is called to passionately intercede for his brother’s life we recognize that Joseph has put Benjamin in the same situation that he was in so many years before. The life of Benjamin is seemingly in the hands of his brothers, and they have failed to protect him. While the reader recognizes that Joseph is merely testing the brothers, the fact remains that the test is necessary to see whether or not the brothers will consider Benjamin’s life in the same cavalier manner that they did Joseph’s so many years ago.
The chapter ends with a question that provides the end of Judah’s intercession. How can the brothers, and especially Judah, return to an aging, fragile Jacob without the boy? The crisis has come to a climax, and the setting is now right for Joseph to disclose himself, and begin a reconciliation with his family that will ultimately mean the rescue of his brothers, and their families, so that the future nation of Israel may become a reality.
Prayer: Father, thank you for reminding me from the story of Joseph and Judah that there are others for whom I am responsible in this world. I pray your blessing and protection on those who are in my life, asking that you would be the Shepherd of their souls, drawing them closer and closer to you today, through Jesus the Great Shepherd of the sheep, Amen.
January 31: Genesis 45, 46
In these chapters we reach the first great climax of the redemptive drama that has played out between Joseph and his brothers. No longer able to conceal his emotion, and now convinced that his brothers have grown to be honorable men, Joseph reveals himself to them.
At this point in the story we might have expected Joseph to extract retribution for the way his brothers had treated him, But in yet another parallel with the future Messiah, he forgives those who treated him badly. He declares that, in the end, it was God’s doing to send him before them into Egypt in order to preserve their lives (stated 3 times in vs. 5-8). Rather than vengeance, Joseph proposes deliverance and sends the brothers home to bring back their families, and their father, to live in the prosperity of Egypt.
The example of Joseph’s righteous actions toward those who wronged him stands as poignant example of how Jesus would act, and would call his followers to respond in similar situations. In Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus will instruct his followers to pray for God’s forgiveness “as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Similarly, Paul will instruct the Ephesian church family to “be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you.” Forgiveness is seen early on in the biblical record to be a sign that the heart is set on God and not reveling in the selfishness and bitterness of pride.
Chapter 46 describes how the people of Jacob (Israel) came to be in Egypt. As Moses is writing to the children of Israel during their time of wandering, this is very important. The point is clear: just as God was caring for Jacob’s family, delivering them from famine and death by bringing them to Egypt, so also God will deliver Israel from Egypt, and from the deprivation of the wilderness and bring them safely to the land he has promised.
It is interesting to note that, according to 46:27 we find that the clan of Jacob numbered 70 persons when they all settled in Egypt. Many years later, as Moses was sent by God to deliver the Israelites from Pharaoh and lead them to Canaan scholars estimate they numbered almost 1 million. The promise of a nation from the descendants of Abraham came to fulfillment during their sojourn in Egypt. This reminds us that, as in the case of Joseph himself, times of adversity can often be times when God is doing the greatest things in our lives, by his grace, and for his glory.
Prayer: Lord, I trust you with my life, and though there are circumstances around me that I don’t always like, I know that you always have my best in mind. You always do what is best and right, and I acknowledge that obeying you is always my best option. Help me to obey you Lord, out of delight today, through the power of Christ my Savior, Amen.