Genesis

Most Jewish and Christian scholars believe that Moses was the primary human author of Genesis, with help from editors as well as ancient histories and records.  This foundational book contains many of the essential truths of Scripture, at least in seed form.  The first eleven chapters reveal the order and beauty of creation, the nature and purpose of humanity, the reason for the brokenness and shame and frustration of our world, and the Christian hope of God's redemption that rises up in the midst of our pain and brokenness.  And we learn a lot about nature and character of God while we're at it.

Genesis 1:1-27 - God Creates

Do you see the poetic symmetry of Genesis 1 displayed below?  Genesis 1:2 states that the earth was "formless and empty" when God first created it, but in days 1-3 God gives form to formlessness and God fills the emptiness in days 4-6.  The chapter is perfectly balanced . . .

Day 1 - Light                               Day 4 - "Lights" - Sun, moon, stars fills the "heavens"

Day 2 - Sea & Sky                       Day 5 - Fish & Birds fill the Sea and Sky

Day 3a - Land                              Day 6a - Land Animals fill the Land

Day 3b - Vegetation                     Day 6b - Humans fill the Land and are given vegetation (1:26-29)

              Day 7 - God Rests from the work of creating (2:1-3)

If you have read the Chronicles of Narnia, you may remember when C.S. Lewis writes about Aslan joyfully singing Narnia into being, reflecting the sense of joy and beauty in Genesis 1.  This poem or song makes a very clear statement about who created all things, but the poetic nature also shows that Genesis 1 is not trying to be a science textbook.  This understanding leaves room for differing views about the length of creation, the age of the earth, and the relation of Genesis 1 to some scientific theories.  While these questions are interesting and in some ways important, there are more essential questions raised by Genesis 1.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• God made all things and therefore all things ultimately belong to God.  Every good thing is a gift to steward and enjoy, and a "window" to the goodness, power, beauty, etc. of God.  Is there a gift(s) from God that you are currently seeing as an end in itself  (human beauty/strength, food, etc.) rather than as a "window" to see and enjoy God?  Take some time to confess these things to God, receive God's forgiveness in Christ, and ask him to help you enjoy his gifts rightly.  

• As you think about all that God has made, what are you particularly thankful for right now?  Take some time to worship and reflect on the awesome mind, power, creativity, and love of God that we see in creation.

• Four times in 1:26-27 we're told that we are made in the image/likeness of God.  God made us to display or reflect his character and qualities.  Take some time to reflect on the amazing privilege, responsibility, dignity and worth that comes from being the image of God.  How do you see yourself reflecting God's character and qualities in your life?  Where are you struggling to reflect His image?

 

Read Genesis 1:27-31 - In His Image

While all of creation reflects the glory of God, the first two chapters of Genesis reveal a number of ways that humans uniquely reflect God's image.  Humans are relational (Adam & Eve relate to each other and to God), we have the gift of reason (God communicates with Adam and Eve), and we are creative, just as God is creative.  Genesis 1:28-30 shows that we also reflect God in the way that we "rule over" the earth.  He shares his rule with us by making us stewards of creation, and we rule well when we rule in a way that reflects God's love, justice, creativity, beauty, wisdom, and order.  In addition, we have the blessing and responsibility to "fill the earth" with humans who reflect the image of God, so that the whole earth reflects the glory of God (1:28) -- the first command in Scripture.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• What are the different ways that you are personally called to rule over what God has made, using your mind (student/career), your creative gifts and your body (athletics / fitness / music / art / design / etc.), your relationships, your opportunities, privilege, and network, etc.?  Do you think about these areas of your life in light of the high calling of reflecting God's image and rule in the world?  What would it look like to rule well in these areas?

• The calling and command to "fill the earth" with the image of God is similar to Jesus' command to "go and make disciples" in every nation (Matthew 28:18-20).  To "make disciples" of Jesus is to be part of God re-making people in his image.  Search your heart and ask yourself if this command, the very first command in the Bible, is at or anywhere near the top of your priorities.  Who are the people in your life with whom you have regular contact?  How might God use your words and actions to point them to God and to help re-make them in the image of God?  What group of people outside of regular contact might God call you to reach out to?  Take time to pray regularly for all these people and to pray for your role in their lives, as God works through you.  Thank God for the gift of stewarding his creation and multiplying his image!

 

Genesis 2:1-3 - Rest

God never stops working (John 5:17), but He does rest from his initial work of creation.  He builds a rhythm of work and rest into creation.  He sets apart a day of the week for celebration, reflection, and rest.  It is a day of worship, as we discover more fully later in Scripture.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Why do we need time for worship, rest, reflection, and rejuvenation?  What happens to you when you do not have it?

• Is the creational rhythm of work and rest built into your day, your week, and your year?  When you do not have rhythms of work and rest, what keeps you from it?  Do you need to trust God with your work in order to take time to rest?  Do you need to work more diligently or with less distraction when you are working, so that you have time to truly rest in God?  Search your heart and life for these answers.

• What changes do you need to pray about and make in order to have rest in your day, your week, and your year?  Take time to praise and thank God for his desire and ability to give us rest.  

 

Genesis 2:4-17 - A Tree to Remember

Genesis 2 is a retelling of creation with a specific emphasis on the creation of man and woman.  We learn of our humble beginnings ("dust"), the garden of Eden with some geographical reference points (2:10-14), more specifics regarding the work of ruling over creation (2:15), and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:16-17).  Why would God put this tree here?  Is he tempting Adam and Eve?  No, the tree is a good, continual reminder to Adam and Eve that God is God and that they are NOT!  As long as they remember that God is God and that they are not, all will be well.  Wouldn't it be great if we all had a big tree in our front yard specifically to remind us each day of our proper place in creation?

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• We are dust, clay, of the earth, but God has breathed his life into us, forming us in his image.  Humble dust, but valuable images whose value is derived solely from God.  When we're thinking rightly about ourselves, we do not think of ourselves too highly because we know that we are dust, but we do not think too lowly of ourselves because we know that God imprinted his image on us.  When we're not thinking rightly, we often swing between a false view of greatness and a false view of worthlessness.  How do you see yourself right now?

• How is God calling you to cultivate and care for the gifts and possessions and opportunities that He has given you this week?  (2:15)

• All of us struggle to remember that God is God and that we are not God.  In what areas of your life right now do you need to let God be God?  Your future? A relationship?  Something else?   Take time to praise God for being God in your life and thank him that you do not bear that burden!

 

Genesis 2:18-25 - Male and Female

Adam is ruling over creation (2:19-20), but it was not good for him to do it alone.  He is made in the image of a relational God and was therefore made for relationships.  He also needs the help of others who have different gifts and abilities, not to mention genetic makeup.  Eve is given to him as a helper in his calling, and this is not a derogatory term as the term is also used of God (e.g. Psalm 46:1).  

In this passage, in which God presides over the first wedding, complete with singing (2:23), we see a human relationship without sin.  Adam and Eve are united, one flesh, naked yet unashamed.  The awkwardness that exists now in even the best human relationships was absent, because they had no shame.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• How much of a priority are friendships in your life right now?  Are you seeking depth in your friendships that goes beyond surface small-talk?  Ask God to work in your friendships.

• What are you seeking in relationships?  Are you trusting that the Creator of relationships has a good plan for your life and waiting for Him to provide the unity and oneness that comes with marriage, or are you trying short-cuts?   Ask for God's work in your heart and in your current or future relationship.  Praise Him for being the author of friendships, relationships, marriage, and sex.

• Whether you are male or female, do you honor the opposite sex and see your need for the opposite sex in fulfilling our calling as God's stewards?  

 

Genesis 3:1-13 - Falling from Goodness

The chapter begins with a question about God's command.  The implication is that the command is not good for Eve.  Did God really say that?  Is God withholding something good from them?   The heart of the temptation is to be "like God" (3:5).  Adam and Eve are already in God's likeness, but this temptation is for something more.  

After they take the fruit in an attempt to take the place of God, their world begins to unravel.  They were unashamed, but now they hide from each other behind fig leaves and they hide from God behind the trees.  They cast blame (3:12).  They are no longer comfortable in their own skin.  They were not made to bear the weight of autonomy.  They were made for God.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• In what ways are you questioning the goodness of God and his commands?  Where are you tempted to believe that He is actually trying to withhold something good from you?  Given that God created all things, prayerfully reason with yourself and see where your line of questioning breaks down.

• Over the past few days, in what ways have you taken the place of God in your life?  Take time to confess, receive God's perfect forgiveness through Christ, and prayerfully repent.

• Where are you experiencing distance or separation in relationships with other people?  Where are you perhaps casting blame on others to avoid personal responsibility?  

• Is there anything you are trying to hide from God so that you can keep control over it?  There is nothing fun about this passage, but we can only experience the fullness of God's grace and renewal when we bring everything before him.

 

Genesis 3:14-24 - Pain, Grace, and the Promise of Victory

Do not skim over this passage!  In the first half of chapter 3, Adam and Eve begin to experience death -- their relationships with each other and with God begin to break down, as we read yesterday.  In today's passage, we see more of the early stages of death.  Pain and power struggles within the family enter into the picture.  (Note that 3:16, addressed to Eve, is descriptive of a broken world, not prescriptive for how things should be).  Pain and frustration will now attend the good work of cultivating, caring for, and ruling over the earth (3:17, addressed to Adam).  

BUT notice that God does not utterly abandon or destroy Adam and Eve.  Even though they just tried to take the place of God, He pursues them in their hideout and speaks with them.  This alone is amazing act of grace, or undeserved favor.  But his grace does not stop there.  In 3:15, addressed to the possessed serpent, God promises that He will "crush the head" of the author of evil, even though the serpent will "strike the heel" of Eve's offspring.  The gospel of Luke, chapter 3, traces Jesus' genealogy back to Adam and Eve.  Jesus, Eve's offspring, had his heel struck (i.e. a temporary wound) on the cross, but through his victory over evil and death in the resurrection, Satan's head was crushed (i.e. a final death blow).  Not only does God make this promise about what He will do in the future, He immediately covers Adam and Eve's shame with an animal skin (3:21).  An animal is sacrificed for their sin to provide a temporary covering of their shame, pointing ahead to the cross where Jesus sacrificed himself to provide a permanent covering over their shame and ours.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• How have you seen pain and power struggles play out in your family?  How do you see pain and frustration play out in your work as a student, athlete, etc., and in humanity's calling to care for and rule over the world?

• Today, are you living in the reality that God moves toward his children in our sin?  Our sin has grave consequences, as we see in Genesis 3, but we also see that God ultimately desires to cover our shame, to restore us to himself, and to restore the goodness of our relationships and work.    

• Today, what is your ultimate hope?  Is it in something you hope to accomplish or in a human relationship, OR is it in God's promise to crush the evil that exists in us and in the world through Eve's offspring, Jesus?  

 

Genesis 4

How do Adam and Eve respond to God's promise to crush Satan and evil through Eve's offspring (3:15)?  Faith. Eve says, "With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man" (4:1).  Even after the horrific tragedy of one of their sons killing the other, she continues the difficult walk of faith, saying, "God has granted me another child in place of Abel" (4:25).  They understand these children to be the first installments of God's faithfulness to his promise, and just like us, their relationship with God is based on faith in God's promises, which are fulfilled in Jesus.

In 4:3-4, Cain brings a half-hearted offering to God, while Abel brings the first and best of the return on his labor.  Instead of turning from his sin to God, Cain allows his sin to spiral downward into envy and murder. His offspring produce some good things in the fields of music, metallurgy, etc., but at least in the seventh generation (4:23-24), it seems that the downward spiral never stopped, as Lamech boasts of murdering another man.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Are you basing your relationship with God today on anything besides faith in Jesus, who has covered our sin and shame, and conquered it in resurrection?

• We can all relate to Cain's half-hearted worship.  Is there anything keeping you from worshipping and serving God with the first and best of your time, possessions, and gifting?  

• Is there someone with whom you are comparing yourself right now, causing you to struggle with jealousy?  Take some time praise him for the reality that his love for you is not based on your own righteousness or your standing in comparison to others, but on the work of Jesus.  Ask him to fill you and enable you to worship him and live for him with your whole heart.  

 

Genesis 5 & Psalm 1

Even though we've been seeing the brokenness of humanity, we are reminded in 5:1-2 of the innate dignity of humanity as God's image and likeness, which is passed on to each generation (5:3).  Of course, Adam's "fallen" or sinful nature now also infects his prodigy.  However, unlike Cain's lineage, which we read about yesterday, Seth's descendants have a relationship with God.  In the seventh generation, we read that Enoch "walks with God," in distinct contrast to the seventh generation of Cain's lineage in which Lamech boasts of murder.  As Psalm 1 teaches us, we will go one way or the other.  There is no middle road.

You will notice, in this genealogy, that people were living for a really long time.  After the catastrophic flood (Genesis 6-9), the lifespans decrease dramatically over a number of generations (11:10-26).  When sin entered the world and separated humanity from the fullness of God's protection and blessing, death in all its forms (spiritual, relational, physical, etc.) came upon humanity.  A 900-year lifespan is really short compared to eternity!  But as the corruption and decay brought by sin set in, lifespans decreased even more.  Why do the lifespans decrease dramatically right around the time of the flood?  We do not know exactly, but it's very possible that such a flood caused ecological changes that were severely detrimental to human life.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• In this chapter, we see the power of families, as faith in God (or the absence of faith) seems to be passed on from generation to generation.  Take time to praise God for his grace in your life, whether that grace came through your family, from a source outside of your family, or both.  Take time to pray for the legacy of faith that you will leave in your future or current family, and that God would pour out his grace on people around you who do not come from a family of faith.

• Ponder the goodness of God in creating us to live with him forever.  Mourn with and pray for those who are experiencing the pains of broken bodies.  It's okay, even good, to mourn over your own brokenness and others'.  But look in hope to the resurrection from the dead that we have through our union with Christ, and pray for those around you to anchor their lives in this sure hope.

 

Genesis 6

Accounts from dozens and dozens of ancient civilizations describe a catastrophic flood on the earth, but none compare to the biblical account.    While we have already seen the judgment of God in removing humanity from the fullness of his presence and blessing, introducing death into the world, we have not seen it quite like this.  Why would God wipe humanity from the face of the earth?  Thankfully, Genesis 6 gives us an intimate glimpse into the heart of God.  In 6:6, we see that God grieves over the evil that was permeating the human heart (6:5) to the point that his heart was "filled with pain."  If God loves what is good, He must hate all that destroys the good.  He will not put up with evil forever and is free to end it whenever He chooses.  

Specifically, God grieves over the marriage relationships of the "sons of God" (6:1-4).  There a several interpretations of "the sons of God."  One plausible interpretation reads the "sons of God" as men who came from believing families who married for the wrong reasons and united themselves to women who would lead their hearts away from God.  Another reads the "sons of God" as powerful warlords (i.e. "heroes of old, men of renown" in 6:4) who form harems, marrying "any of them they chose" (6:2).  Regardless of the exact interpretation, the importance of marrying well and pursuing God through marriage is striking.  

But God shows grace to the man who walks with him by faith.  Noah takes God at his word and builds a huge boat on dry land.  Noah and others are saved from judgment by faith.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• It is not our role to judge the world, but we are called to judge between good and evil, and to "hate what is evil and to love what is good."  What is your attitude toward the sin that exists in your own life, in your community, and in the world?  Have you developed a comfortable relationship with sin recently, or do you hate it?  Are you sitting on judgment on anyone?  Pray that you would see sin as God sees it, and take time to praise and thank him that Jesus took our sin and his hatred of sin upon himself so that we would be freed from it.

• Do you trust the God who created all goodness and love with his judgment on evil?  Where are you tempted to sit in judgment on God's judgement, or on his perceived lack of judgment?  Take these things to God in prayer.  God can handle your honesty, but we must come humbly.  

• Are you seeking God's will in relationships and marriage, or are you looking for relational satisfaction outside of God's ways?

• In what part of your life do you need to take God at his word and step out in faith, that others might be saved from death?

 

Genesis 7 & 8

The flood devastates the earth, but Noah and his family are saved from judgment.  Take special note of the end of verse 7:16.  "Then the LORD shut him in."  God is the One who secures Noah and family in the ark so that they would be protected from the flood.  The flood comes upon them, too, but they covered.  They are safe inside the ark.  The ark effectively took the judgment and carried them to life on the other side of judgment.  

We're given an amazing picture here of how a believer is ultimately saved from God's judgment of sinners through Jesus.  When we entrust our lives to Jesus, we are united to him, covered by him, and included in his death to sin and resurrection to life, just as Noah and family were included in the ark and covered by it.  On the cross, Jesus took God's judgment of our sin, and in his resurrection, Jesus carries us to life on the other side of judgment.  

Noah responds to God's saving act in worship (8:20).  He offers ceremonially clean animals as a sacrifice to God, again pointing ahead to our "clean," pure Savior who knew no sin.  "The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished ["clean"] to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!"  (Hebrews 9:13-14, NIV).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Noah and his family literally lived inside the ark of salvation for the good part of a year.  They did everything inside the ark and nothing outside of it.  What a picture of how we are called to live our lives in Christ!  Christianity is not a one-time decision or an idea, but a living union with Christ, in which we do everything in his love for us, in his strength, in his wisdom, with his sorrow over brokenness, and with his joy and hope of resurrection.  Is this how you are seeing your relationship with God, as a living relationship with Christ that impacts everything?  Where do you need to experience his love, strength, wisdom, sorrow, joy, hope, etc. in and through you?

• Noah's response of worship/sacrifice shows that he was well-aware of God's mercy and grace toward him and his family.  Have the grace and mercy of God in Christ led you to worship recently?  If so, can you put your finger on what is keeping you from this response?  Take time to respond in worship today.

 

Genesis 9

The word "covenant" is first mentioned in Scripture in connection with the flood account, including 6:18 and several times in today's chapter.  The importance of covenants in Scripture can hardly be overstated.  We find that God willingly binds himself to his people by making covenants with us and covenant-promises to us, just as a husband and wife bind themselves together by making covenant-promises to each other.  God makes several covenant promises to his people throughout history and we sometimes call these covenant promises by different names (Noahic covenant - covenant with Noah, Abrahamic covenant - covenant with Abraham, etc.).  

Yet when we look at the big picture, we see that in many ways they all form one "covenant of grace," ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, in what's known as the "new covenant" (e.g. Jeremiah 31:31-34).  By fulfilling all of God's covenant promises, Jesus makes the external signs, symbols, and sacrifices of the old testament covenants obsolete (Hebrews 8:7-13).  But each installment of the covenant grace teaches us different things about the heart and plans of God, and the heart of each one is the same -- in spite of the separation from God that sin brings, God will save a people from every tongue and tribe and nation to be his people, and He will be their God.  

We saw the first promise of the covenant of grace in Genesis 3:15, even though the word "covenant" is not explicitly used.  God's covenant with Noah is sometimes known as the "covenant of stability," as God promises a stable world in which He will fulfill his other promises.  Never again will the world experience a flood like this one!  The rainbow is aimed at heaven, not at earth, perhaps looking forward to the Son of God taking the arrow of God on our behalf.  In this covenant, God also reaffirms the continuing dignity and calling of humanity (9:1-7), in spite of the sin in which Noah and sons themselves actively participate (9:20-22).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Have you recently, or ever, pondered the love and mercy of a God who would marry himself to sinful people like us through covenant promises?

• Perhaps God's covenant with Noah could also be called the "covenant of patience," since God promises to withhold such widespread judgment as long as the earth endures.  Take time to consider the patience of God in withholding the wrath of his good and righteous hatred of violence and evil.

 

Genesis 10 & Psalm 2

A new genealogy after the great re-start of humanity.  We will see many of these names and cities and people groups later in Scripture, all coming from Noah's three sons -- Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  Ham's son Canaan is the father of several nations that wander far away from God into all kinds of destructive ways.  Psalm 2 tells of nations such as these that oppose the Lord and looks ahead to a future King of Israel, Jesus, who will inherit the nations and dash to pieces every geopolitical system that opposes the ways of God.  

We will learn more about Shem in Genesis 11, but there is an intriguing phrase, "the earth was divided," related to his descendant Peleg (10:25).  This likely refers to the division of languages and peoples that we see in chapter 11.  We are reminded of Peleg in the genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:35).  Jesus will unite the people of God from the many divided nations.  

 Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Are you worried about what the nations, the geopolitical structures of the world, will do?  On the other hand, is your hope for goodness on earth in government policy?  Christians have important concerns and involvement in government, but take time to consider God's perspective on the nations from Psalm 2.  Is your hope today in his sovereign power and goodness?  Is your hope today in his Son, the King who has come and will come again?

• What does it look like for you to "serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling" and to "kiss the Son" (Psalm 2:11-12)?  To "kiss the Son" is to embrace him, to pay homage to him, to take refuge in him.

 

Genesis 11:1-9

The division hinted at in Genesis 10 becomes clear in chapter 11.  God commanded humans to fill the earth with the image of God, that the name of God might be worshipped throughout the earth, but instead we refused to "scatter" and sought to hoard our resources to "make a name for ourselves" (11:4).  God's judgment on the people at Babel forced them to scatter, but now instead of experiencing unity in diversity (e pluribus unum!), they experienced division in diversity.  

Humanity has been experiencing this division in diversity ever since, but Jesus is reversing the curse as He gathers a diverse people into one body.  This work started at Pentecost (Acts 2), when Jesus pours out his Holy Spirit on the church so that people of "divided" languages are able to hear about Jesus.  And his work continues through the church today until there are people from every tongue and tribe and nation!

 Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• In what ways do you try to keep God's gift to yourself in order to remain comfortable, rather than extending his gifts to others in order to fill the earth with the image of God?  

• In what ways are you trying to make a name for yourself this week rather than seeking to make the glory of God known?  

• Where do you experience division, or lack the true unity that God desires, with people who are different from you?  Ask God to help you see prejudices in your heart against people who do not share your first language, your skin color, your socioeconomic background, etc.  

• Is your life arranged to avoid contact with people who are different?  Ask Jesus to move you toward true unity with people who are different and praise him for his on the cross, where He took the judgment for our prejudices and division, and for his resurrection that restores us to life together.

 

Genesis 11:10-12:9

This is a monumental passage, crucial for understanding the story that God is telling in the world.  From Shem (11:10), one of Noah's three sons, comes Abram (11:27ff.), the father of the Jewish nation, Israel.  God makes enormous covenant-promises to Abram.  Not only will he give Abram a good land and make him into a great nation, but through this nation God intends to bless "all peoples on earth" (12:2-3, 7).  From the very beginning, God chose Abram and Israel NOT so that they could keep God's blessing to themselves, but so that He might bless all peoples through them!  We see the power and faithfulness of God in the Old Testament as God does indeed provide a good land for Israel and make them into a great nation.  However, the story of the Old Testament is largely one of Israel's failure to bless the nations.  Israel failed to be a light to the nations, so God sent his son Jesus as a faithful son of Abram, to do what Israel could not do on her own.  Now the blessing of God is going out to every nation through Jesus' church.  

It's important to know that God did not choose Abram because of anything particularly good about Abram.  See Joshua 24:2-3 where we learn that Abram was worshipping other gods when God called him into a relationship.  Abram responds in faith to God's call (see also Hebrews 11:8-10) and in worship (12:8).  

 Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Just as Abram looked forward to God's provision of the good land of Canaan and the blessing of all nations through Israel, Christians long for a new earth, full of the abundance of God's gifts, and the perfect union of the international people of God.  Are you longing for God's renewal of the world and the final reconciliation of his people?  Where do you really need the hope of God's final renewal and reconcilation right now?  How does this longing and hope impact your goals and work today?

• How does God's unchanging compassion for all peoples impact your heart?  

•  Abram took a huge step of faith, leaving behind the familiarity of his home and the comforts of his man-made gods.  Where might God be calling you out of your comforts to be on mission with him?

Genesis 12:10-20 & Psalm 3

Abram's journey to Egypt foreshadows two future journeys.  Abram's great-grandchildren make this same journey due to another famine, and they would remain in Egypt for 400 years (Genesis 42 - Exodus 14).   Jesus, too, undergoes exile in Egypt when his life is under threat from King Herod (Luke 2).  Abram, Abram's great-grandchildren, and Jesus are all recipients of the covenant-promises of God, and all of them had to wait on God to fulfill his promises.  Both literally and figuratively, they had to endure exile in Egypt while they waited on God's promised land and blessing.  

In this passage, we see that even though Abram is a man of great faith, his faith is shaky at times.  Instead of trusting in God's protection, he believes that he needs to take matters into his own hands, using deception in order to spare his life.  The result is disastrous, at least temporarily, for Pharoah's household, yet we see God's faithfulness to his promises as He still protects and blesses Abram and Sarai in spite of their wavering faith.  

Like Abram, all of us fail to trust as we wait on the promises of God, but Christians are comforted by the knowledge that Jesus, who willingly endured our exile from the promised land of God, trusted perfectly on our behalf.  

 Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• In what ways is God calling you to wait on him in faith?  Where are you tempted to take matters into your own hands through deceptive or unethical practices in order to fulfill your desire for security or satisfaction?  Is God your "shield" today (Psalm 3), or are you looking for a different shield?

• Our desires for the fullness of God's presence and blessing are good desires, and Jesus shared these desires (e.g. John 17:24). In what ways did Jesus suffer exile and wait, perfectly, on the promises of God?

 

Genesis 13

Location!  Location!  Location!  We do not know exactly how much Abram's nephew, Lot, knew about his choice of land, but it ended up being an extremely poor choice of real estate given the evils of Sodom.  Even though Lot was a child of God (Genesis 19; II Peter 2:7-8), it seems that he had little, if any, redemptive impact on his neighbors.  He also ends up making some highly questionable moral decisions in Sodom.

Abram, on the other hand, begins to inherit the promised land of God.  God reaffirms his covenant-promises to Abram and gets more graphic about the land and the great number of people who will come from him (13:14-17).   Twice in this chapter Abram responds in worship (13:4, 18).

 Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Christians are called to enter into dark places in order to bring the light of God, but we also need to exercise wisdom to protect ourselves from unnecessary temptation and compromise.  Perhaps Lot put himself in a context that was too much for him.  Are you putting yourself in situations or contexts that may be too much for you?  On the other hand, are you entering into people's lives who do not know God?  

• Our reliance on promises, whether they are from a spouse, a friend, an employer or business partner, a coach, or from God, shape how we live our lives.  God knew that Abram needed continual reminders of his goodness and promises.  How are the promises of God shaping what you are living for today?

 

Genesis 14 & Psalm 110

This is a confusing chapter.  Lots of kings from strange lands are mentioned.  To simplify, five kings in the area of Sodom and Gomorrah rebelled against a king named Kederlaomer, who had been forcing them to pay a tax to him for twelve years.  Kederlaomer recruited three other kings and attacked the five kings in area of Sodom, carrying off Lot's family and their possessions in the process.  Abram hears about Lot's situation and rescues him.  

Then a mysterious figure named Melchizedek ("king of righteousness"), a priest of God who is also the king of Salem (aka Jerusalem), comes out to meet Abram and the king of Sodom as they are discussing what to do with the rescued people and possessions.  This priest and king spreads out a table of bread and wine for Abram and blesses Abram in the name of God.  Abram gives him a tithe, a tenth of all of the possessions from the battle, but he refuses to keep any of the possessions for himself because he does not want to be tied down by any kind of obligation to a pagan king.  

The only other mentions of Melchizedek in Scripture are in Psalm 110 and Hebrews 5 & 7.  He appears on the scene without explanation and vanishes.  He seemingly has no beginning or end (Hebrews 7:3).  Many hundreds of years later, Psalm 110 speaks of a messianic figure "in the order of Melchizedek" who will judge the nations, and Hebrews 7 picks up on this prophetic Psalm, confirming that Jesus is this priest "in the order of Melchizedek."  Like Melchizedek, Jesus is a priest (a mediator) and a king of righteousness who graciously feeds his people bread and wine.  Like Melchizedek, Jesus has no beginning or end.  The author of Hebrews demonstrates that Melchizedek and Jesus are greater than all of the Old Testament priests, whose priesthood was based on physical lineage, and greater than Abram, given that Abram gave his tithe to Melchizedek and was blessed by him.  

When reading the book of Hebrews, it almost feels as if the author of Hebrews went back and added chapter 14 to the book of Genesis in order to help make the case for the supremacy of Jesus.  Except he didn't.  Throughout the Old Testament, God is pleased to give us living pictures (often called "types") of what the coming Messiah would be like.  Melchizedek is one of those types of Christ, by far the most mysterious of them all, yet even his mysterious appearance points to the mystery of God becoming man.  

 Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Melchizedek, specifically his likeness to Christ, helps us to see the unchanging nature of God's plans to save his people.  Even in the days of Abram, God knew exactly what kind of priest and king He would send to save his people.  How does the unity of the story that God is telling in Scripture impact your understanding of God and your faith?  Take some time to reflect on how Melchizedek points to the nature and character of Jesus.

• Abram's faith is very evident in this chapter.  He pursues a powerful king.  He gives the first tenth of his possessions to God through Melchizedek.  He refuses to be yoked to a pagan king by accepting his payment.  What do you have that does not belong to God?  Are you trusting God with your possessions?  Are you indebted or tied to any person or institution that could compromise your ability to serve and honor God?

 

Genesis 15

Abram wants to know how God will make him into a great nation and bless all nations through his offspring if he has no child (15:2-3)?  Once again, God reassures Abram of his promises.  

First, God asks Abram to look up at a starry sky and compares the number of Abram's offspring to the stars.  "Abram believed the LORD, and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6). Righteousness was credited to Abram because of his faith in God's promises.  The New Testament quotes this crucial verse to show that God has always forgiven sin and counted his children as righteous on the basis of faith, not on the basis of their good works (see Romans 4).  Abram was saved from sin and death by faith in promises that had not yet been fulfilled.  Christians today are saved by faith in these same promises, but the promises have already been fulfilled through the work of Christ.  

Second, God gives Abram a vision that is foreign to us.  In the ancient near east, two parties would "cut a covenant" by cutting animals in two and walking together between the divided animals.  If one party failed to keep the covenant, he invoked the cursed fate of the animal on himself.  In this instance, God, represented by the smoking firepot, passes through the animals without Abram.  While God's covenants with his people are two-sided, in that they include demands of his people, this vision shows that God himself would fulfill the demands of the covenant.  God does this through his Son, Jesus.  Jesus not only took the curse for the failure of God's people to obey the covenant on the cross, He also obeyed the demands of the covenant perfectly on our behalf.  Through our union with Jesus, we are included in his death for our covenant-breaking ways and we are included in his righteous life.  As we live in him and He is in us, He enables us to walk in obedience to the good, life-giving ways of God's covenant.  

 Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Abram believed in the promise of God, but he could not figure out how God was going to make it happen.  Are there areas of your life where you struggle to trust in God because you are not sure how God could work to bring good?

• Today, do you understand your God's love for you to be based on your performance or your good works, or are you believing that his love for you is based on your union with Jesus (by faith), who perfectly fulfilled the demands of God's covenant on your behalf?

 

Genesis 16

What a mess!  Again, we see Abram and Sarai's faith tottering.  Even the giants of the faith are still mixed bags.  They are waiting and waiting on God to provide the promised child, but they do not see God moving, so they take matters into their own hands.  The Bible does not always explicitly condemn sexuality that deviates from the complete union described in Genesis 2, but it's always a disaster.  Such is the case here.  Abram and Sarai got the son they thought they wanted by using Hagar and committing polygamy (16:3), but it only leads them into more sin as Sarai becomes jealous of Hagar and they mistreat her.  When she flees, we see the tenderness of God toward the downcast Hagar as He reveals himself to her at a spring in the desert.  She says, "You are the God who sees me."  

In the New Testament book of Galatians, the apostle Paul takes this situation figuratively (as well as literally).  The child born through Hagar is symbolic of attempts to earn God's blessing through human efforts, credentials, or traditions.  Of course, that is exactly what Abram and Sarai were doing when they stopped trusting in God to provide a son and came up with their own plan.

 Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• We may not have a very specific promise like Abram did, but every believer has the related promise of abundant, eternal life.  We have good, God-given longings for relational fullness, for physical health and fulfillment, for purpose and satisfaction in our work and other activities, and for closer fellowship with God.  All of these are promised to us when God remakes the world, and sometimes we experience them (imperfectly) now.  What have you been waiting on for a long time?  Where are you tempted to take a "short-cut," as Abram and Sarai did, because you do not see God providing?  

• It is comforting to know that God was still with Hagar when everything was against her.  How does the name "the God who sees me" speak to you?

 

Genesis 17

Abram is still waiting.  It's been thirteen years since the events of Genesis 16.  Thirteen years!  Twenty-four years since leaving home (12:4)!  God is still reassuring Abram of his faithfulness.  Abram is still doubting, wondering how God will make good on his promise (17:17-18).  

God gives Abram two outward signs or tangible reminders/experiences of his covenant-promise.  First, He changes Abram's name to Abraham ("exalted father" to "father of many"), and changes Sarai's name to Sarah.  Second, and more important for understanding Scripture, God gives Abraham the sign of circumcision (17:11).

Circumcision seems like an odd sign of God's covenant-promise to our modern ears, but it actually makes a lot of sense.  First, the promise is about Abraham's offspring, and circumcision is obviously involves the part of the body relating to offspring.  Second, circumcision is a bloody operation.  As we saw in Genesis 15 when God "cut a covenant" with Abraham and passed through the divided animals, the fulfillment of God's covenant-promises to Abraham would ultimately entail the death of Jesus, the shedding of blood.  Third, circumcision signals separation.  The foreskin is separated and thrown away.  Abraham and those in his household were called to separate themselves from the sinful ways of the world and to be "blameless" (17:1) in response to God's love toward them.

Throughout the Bible, God gives his people signs of his covenant in order to strengthen our faith.  In Genesis 3, God covered Adam and Eve with animal skins, which also required the shedding of blood, as an outward sign of covering their shame.  In Genesis 6, God hangs a rainbow in the sky as an outward sign of his promise to keep the world from universal catastrophe.  The Old Testament is full of outward signs of God's covenant.  In the New Testament era, in which the mystery of Christ has been revealed, the Old Testament signs that pointed forward to Christ are no longer observed.  Now that God's work in Christ has been made plain, we have two signs by which we remember his finished work, grow in his grace, and look forward to our resurrection:  baptism and communion (aka the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist).   

 Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Throughout the history of God's people, many have attached too much importance to an outward sign of God's covenant-promises, to the extent that they have found their righteousness in the sign itself rather than in the Christ to which the sign points.  Others dismiss the signs as unimportant, but God himself gives us the signs for our good.  

Where do you fall on this spectrum?  Take some time to reflect the cleansing and forgiveness and inclusion signified in baptism.  Take some time to reflect on the body and blood of Christ sacrificed for us, and the coming feast and fellowship with God, signified in communion.  

 

Genesis 18:1-15

‘Three men” visit Abraham and Sarah, but they are no ordinary men.  Two of them are clearly identified as angels in Genesis 19:1.  The precise identity of the third is a much-debated subject.  We’re told that the “LORD appeared to Abraham” through these men, and the LORD seems to be the primary speaker among the three men (18:10, 13, 17, 20ff.).  Whenever we read “LORD” in all capital letters, this is a translation of the name “Yahweh,” the name by which God personally revealed himself to Moses and his people.  This third man is in some way an appearance of the LORD himself.

We do not know exactly whom Abraham believed these men to be, but he knew that they were special.  He is quick to show them hospitality, running all over the place in order to provide them a generous meal.  In Hebrews 13:2, this act of faith, expressed through hospitality, is provided as an example for all believers.

Why does the LORD visit Abraham and Sarah?  For the same reason we have come to expect -- to remind and reassure them of his covenant promises!  Sarah’s skeptical response shows that they definitely needed it.  Like us, she doesn’t want to be seen as unfaithful, so she lies to cover up her lack of faith and is (somewhat humorously) exposed like a child (18:15).   She knows that it is physically impossible for her to bear a child who would inherit God’s covenant promises, but God is calling her to believe that He can bring life out of death (see Romans 4:18-25).  “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”  (Compare to Luke 1:34-38.)

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

 • Unlike Abraham, we have the advantage of knowing how God ultimately brought about life out of death for his people.  In what parts of your life do you need to remember the words, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”  Is it believing God’s ability to bring a friend or family member from death to life?  Believing that He will bring you from death to life?  Believing God’s ability to heal a broken relationship, a broken church body, a broken city, a broken body?   Something else?

• Sarah puts up a front of spirituality in this passage, claiming that she did not laugh at God’s promise.  In what ways do God’s promises sound too good to be true?  In what ways do you put up a front of spirituality before others, and maybe even before God?  Take time to be honest with God, to receive perfect forgiveness in Christ for faltering faith, and to dwell on the power and goodness of God. 

• In this passage, we see Abraham’s faith expressed through the kindness and generosity of hospitality.  We never know the depths how God uses our hospitality to make his love and kindness real to others.  How is God calling you to show hospitality through your personality and the use of your home, possessions, and time? 

 

Genesis 18:16-33

The "three men" came not only to confirm the LORD's grace toward Abraham and Sarah, but also to bring judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah.  The sin of these cities had reached its full measure (cf. Genesis 15:16) and God would no longer stand the "outcry" from the destructiveness of sin.  This word, "outcry," provides us an incisive reminder of the pain that sin inflicts on the world and on God (18:20-21).  Of course, God already knew the measure of Sodom's wickedness, but his words in verses 20-21 confirm to Abraham that He always investigates matters thoroughly before passing judgment (see 3:11-13; 4:9-12; 11:5; Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis, Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2001, 269).  He is transcendent and omniscient, but also imminent and involved.  

Abraham takes this opportunity to boldly converse with the LORD, and the LORD is remarkably patient with Abraham's reasoning and string of questions.    Did God not have the right to judge Sodom?  Adam and Eve had been judged -- cast out of the garden and subjected to death -- but ultimately saved by faith in God's promise of a Savior.  Could God not judge Sodom even if there were some faithful believers who would experience physical death in the destruction but ultimately be saved by faith?  Yet God listens to Abraham and is willing to hear his questions.  In the end, God mercifully spares Abraham's believing nephew, Lot, and brings him and his family out of Sodom alive. 

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• Have you recently considered the outcry in God's ears produced by sin in your life, your family, your school or workplace, your city, your country and the world?  Do you consider faithfulness vs. sin to be a matter of rule-keeping vs. rule-breaking, OR a personal matter of love vs. rebellion, life vs. death, peace vs. pain?  

• Abraham is honest with God.  Surely his questions spring in large part from his concern for his nephew, Lot.  Are you bringing your doubts and questions to God?  Are you bringing your family, friends, workplace, city, country, world to God in prayer today?  Are you willing to trust the character of a God who grieves over sin and enters into a sinful world even if you don't get the answer you want?  God always hears us and we can converse with him throughout the day.  Consider praying for everyone who comes to mind or who enters your daily activities!

 

Genesis 19

In this passage, we see Lot displaying hospitality to the angels much as Abraham did, but he also suggests the unthinkable (19:8).  We cannot know what was going through his mind or exactly what the cultural expectations were like in his day, but we can affirm that his plan of compromise was absolutely wrong.  Thankfully, the angels of God were not willing to go along with Lot's horrific plan (19:10-11).  

As if this were not enough, Lot later has too much to drink, two days in a row, and he and his daughters commit incest out of the daughters' sense of desperation.  The two nations that proceed from these actions end up being thorns in Israel's side for centuries to come (19:37-38).  It's difficult to imagine more heinous sins occurring in such a short span of time.  And yet these are the people to whom God shows mercy.  Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.

But not all who were given the covenant promises of God remained in them.  Lot's sons-in-law scoffed at the judgment of God on Sodom's perverted desires and actions (19:14).  It's easy for us to think that modern, "enlightened" people are the first to make light of a God who actually judges sin, but clearly that is not the case.  On the other hand, Lot, his wife, and his two daughters heed the warning of God, with some nudging when they hesitated, "for the LORD was merciful to them" (19:16).  Sadly, Lot's wife looks back and is consumed by the burning sulfur.  We do not know if she was looking back longingly at her life in Sodom or if she was simply disobeying the clear warning to flee and not look back.   

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• Take time to reflect on the depth of God's mercy and his grace that covers your deepest, darkest sins.  How has the LORD taken your hand and consistently nudged you back to faith, and faithfulness, when you have hesitated?  

• Lot's drunkenness and his daughters' faithless desperation lead them into further sin.  In what parts of your life do you need the forgiveness and power of Christ to keep you from sins that could lead you into further compromise?  In what ways do you need to flee and not look back at your old self?  Where do you need the love and hope of God - Father, Son and Spirit - to meet you in your desperation?   

Genesis 20

Does this story sound familiar?  Abraham told the exact same deceptive half-truth (20:12) to an Egyptian Pharaoh back in Genesis 12.  Now he is in "the Negev," between the southern portion of the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean, in the land God had promised to him.  Today's passage makes it especially clear that Abraham was in the wrong when he told this half-truth (20:9), as he is shamed by Abimelech's innocence (20:4-6). God protects Abimelech and, at the same time, graciously blesses Abraham in spite of his shaky faith that leads him into deception.  Abraham commits the exact same sin two times, and two times God covers over his offense and gives him what he does not deserve.  

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• Do you ever have trouble believing that God will forgive you for committing the same sin multiple times?  Where would we be if God did not forgive us for committing the same sin multiple times?  God does not forgive so that we can continue in sin.  He forgives us to give us the freedom to live in his ways.  But for all who are broken by the offense of sin, who trust in Christ's work on the cross, and who desire to repent through his resurrection power, God forgives "seventy-seven" (i.e. countless) times (Matthew 18:21-22).  Take time to receive and thank God for his abundant forgiveness, and in repentance ask him to free you from the sins that bind you.

 

Genesis 21

We've been waiting for this chapter for a long time, about ten days.  Abraham and Sarah were waiting for this chapter of their lives for 25 years.  At last, the son of promise has come!  Sarah's laugh of cynicism (18:12) is transformed into the laugh of joy.  We marvel, rejoice and laugh with Abraham and Sarah in the miraculous birth of Isaac, the son through whom their Savior and ours would eventually come.  

But salvation is a long way from being fully realized.  The household tension that was initially produced by Abraham and Sarah's self-reliant strategy (Genesis 16) rears its head, as Hagar's son mocks Isaac.  God is, once again, compassionate and gracious to Hagar (21:15-20), but makes it clear that the son of promise, not the son of human effort, is the one through whom salvation would be realized.  Abraham's offspring will be "reckoned" as righteous, or credited with righteousness, through Isaac's line (21:12; cf. 15:6), and Abraham's true offspring are those who share his faith in the promises of God (Romans 4:16-25).

In the last section of the chapter, God gives Abraham peace with his neighbors and "the LORD, the eternal God" provides him with a well and a home within the greater land that his descendants would receive from God.

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• Reread the first few verses, put yourself in Abraham and Sarah's sandals, and allow your heart to experience the joy of God bringing life out of death, a son out of a dead womb, and of long-awaited hopes being fulfilled.  What does it look like for you to live consistently in this joy? Ask God to help you. 

• We are reminded that God is faithful even though He does not work on our timeline.  Sometimes not even close to our timeline. In what part of your life is God not on your timeline?  Where do you need to surrender to and rest in his timeline?

• Today, are you wholly resting in the work of Jesus, the son of Abraham and Isaac, in whom you are reckoned as a child of God?

 

Genesis 22

How could God ask this of Abraham? How could Abraham obey?  We, the readers, are relieved only by our knowledge that it was a "test" to prove Abraham's trust, by Abraham's faith that God will somehow restore Isaac to him (22:5; cf. Hebrews 11:17-19) and by God's provision of a "sacrificial lamb," a ram in this case,  in the end. 

The seeming absurdity of God's command is matched only by the "foolishness" of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). Why would God miraculously provide Isaac to continue the covenant promises to bless the nations, only to take away his life?  Why would God send his beloved Son to give life to the world only to allow him to die a humiliating death?  No other passage in Scripture gives us such a penetrating view into the emotional pain that God endured for us in offering up His son for our sins. No other passage gives us such a glimpse into the Son's loving, faith-filled obedience, as we envision Isaac carrying the wood as Jesus carried his cross (22:6). The difference is that Isaac was spared in the end, but Jesus was not. He is Isaac's sacrificial lamb and ours. The Father watched him suffer and die. 

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• When Jesus' work on the cross becomes familiar to us, it can be easy to forget the depths of God's love and the pain and grief that the Father, Son, and Spirit endured in order to give us life.  His love for us is the same today. How does this love change your outlook on today? 

 

Genesis 23 & 24

 Genesis 23-24 form one continuous substory. Chapter 23 begins with the death of Sarah and chapter 24 ends with Isaac being comforted after his mother's death through his marriage to Rebekah. In both chapters, Abraham refuses to compromise with surrounding Hittites, who did not share his morals or his covenant relationship with God. First, he refuses to accept a burial site as a gift from the Hittites. He purchases land from them in the promised land, a sign of his faith in God's future provision, and thereby prevents the Hittites from later questioning his right to the land. Second, he will not allow Isaac to compromise his faith by marrying a Hittite. 

The beautiful story of Isaac's wedding to Rebekah reveals not only Abraham's faithfulness, but also many other instances of human and divine faithfulness. God's sovereignty and goodness are on display as He orchestrates the entire episode. The prayerful, obedient, and determined servant is a model of service in God's kingdom. Rebekah's hospitality, service, and resolute faith (24:58) are a model of Christian living. Finally, Isaac's prayerful patience shows us how to wait on God's provision. 

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• Consider one or more of the characters in this story. How would God have you "put on" these qualities in your life?  

• God's sovereignty is generally not as evident to human eyes as it is in this story, but this story reminds us that He is always sovereign and good. How do you need to rest in his sovereign goodness today?

 

Genesis 25:1-18

How can we encapsulate Abraham's life?  We remember the times that his faith faltered. He used deception instead of relying on God. He participated in the sins of his culture in regard to marriage and sought to make God's promise come true by his own ways. But we also remember the many times that he trusted the LORD with everything - his future, his possessions, his son, his son's marriage, etc. 

Thankfully, Scripture encapsulates Abraham's life for us (Romans 4; Hebrews 11:8-19; John 8:56-58).  In the end, Abraham is counted as a righteous one, a man full of faith in the only One who can give him life. His many sins are covered and his righteous acts are perfected in Christ, the promised offspring. 

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• What part of Abraham's life challenges you most?

• How are you tempted to participate in, approve of, or ignore the cultural sins of today?   Think about popular culture, definitions of success, busyness, athletics, sexuality, political discourse, greed, oppression/injustice, etc. 

• Do you realize, today, that your sins are covered in Christ and that He is living in you to perfect you in his image?  

 

Genesis 25:19-34

Isaac's life can feel a bridge between Abraham and Jacob. We know relatively little about him. Yet we do see his faith in this chapter as he prays for barren Rebekah to conceive a child (25:21), an heir to the covenant promises of God. He waits 20 years for God to provide (25:20, 26), without resorting to faithless schemes as Abraham did. 

God answers his prayer with twins, who duke it out in the womb. Custom dictated that the oldest son would receive the inheritance and, in this case, be the conduit of God's covenant with Abraham. God, however, does not work according to human custom or expectation.  

Does this mean that Jacob was justified in stealing Esau's birthright as the firstborn son?  Not at all. Jacob, the heel-grabbing trickster, will not learn to trust in the Lord for a long time.  Esau, on the other hand, will always be remembered for valuing his immediate hunger over his inheritance.  Yet God frequently works to accomplish his good plans in the midst of, through, and in spite of human sins and schemes. He does not condone the actions, but is able to work evil for good. 

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• We cannot stand outside of our lives to see how God is going to work across our lifespan, but Scripture allows us a bird's eye view the lives of people like Isaac, that we might see his faithfulness to his covenant promises.  How does God's faithfulness to Isaac and Isaac's prayerful patience speak to you?

• God's election of the unexpected and unimportant (by human standards) is a common theme in Scripture.  This is seen preeminently in Jesus' birth to poor parents from an obscure village.  Are there any ways in which you are approaching your relationship with God according to human measures rather than God's grace?  Are you viewing other people according to human standards or with God's eyes? 

• We may wonder how God could let Jacob get away with this, but God is in control and Jacob's scheming will eventually come back to him.  Are there evils you see in the world, or right around you, which you have no control over and with which you need to trust God?

 

Genesis 26

This is the first time we've heard God's covenant with Abraham explicitly passed on to Isaac. Isaac's descendants will become a great people, inherit a land of abundance, and bless all nations. As a foretaste of these blessings, God blesses Isaac immensely in the land and gives him peace with the surrounding peoples, in spite of some extremely difficult neighbors and a famine. 

Notice that the basis for the covenant blessings has changed from God's unconditional promise to Abraham's obedience (26:5). How does that work?  Is God's covenant one-sided or two-sided, unconditional or conditional?  Yes!  God's covenant promises do carry conditions of obedience, so the covenant is two-sided. However, in the New Testament, we discover that Jesus fulfilled the conditions of the covenant on our behalf and, as the Holy Spirit gives us life, He enables us to begin walking in God's covenant ways. In this sense, the covenant is one-sided or unconditional. 

Abraham thus typifies Jesus in his faithfulness to God's covenant, while at the same time being a fellow sinner in need of inclusion in Christ's righteousness.  Jesus is a better Abraham, a better head of the people of God (John 8:58).  Isaac is called to walk this same path of covenant obedience, but we see in this chapter that he struggles to fully trust God, just as Abraham struggled. We, the church, are the international people of blessing promised to Abraham and Isaac, and we are called to the same faithfulness to God's covenant as we also look forward to a promised land, the new earth (Revelation 21-22). Like Abraham and Isaac, we at times receive foretastes of the coming glory, but we walk by faith in a faithful God, not by sight (Hebrews 11:13). 

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• Can you think of ways in your life that God has given you foretastes of coming glory?  Perhaps through a deep friendship or fellowship with a group of people, family, fruitfulness in work, material blessing, joy experienced in the arts or athletics, etc. 

• We should enjoy and give thanks for any foretastes of glory that God gives, but we also need to ask ourselves if we are living by faith or by sight. Is your hope and joy based on what you see God providing or not providing, or is it based on the character of a God so faithful and loving that He became one of us in order to fulfill our end of the covenant?

 

Genesis 27:1-40

Redemption is messy, because God is saving messy people. He has also chosen to use messy people, messy churches, and messy ministries to be the instruments of his grace. He uses people who plot and scheme for what God freely gives.  Our sin still causes pain and often damages the fruit of ministry, but God uses us in spite of ourselves in our to reveal the riches of his grace and power. 

In today's passage, we see the damage done by sin. Isaac and Rebekah are believers, but all is not right in their marriage and family. Isaac is driven by his desire for "tasty food," Rebekah is the mastermind behind deceiving Isaac, and they both play favorites. Jacob, who is not yet a believer, is more than complicit in the deception. (We later learn, from Genesis 48:17-20, that giving the first blessing to Jacob could have been much easier!). Yet God uses Isaac, Rebekah, and Jacob as instruments of his grace in spite of themselves in order to reveal the riches of his power and grace. 

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• Where do you see sins coming from poor communication, deceit, favoritism, or the desire for immediate satisfaction damaging your family or close relationships?  Take time to pray through these things. 

• How have you seen Christians, churches or ministries fail to love well?  We should not "sweep sins under the rug" as if they did not happen, but do you remember that God uses us and his church in spite of our failures? Take time to pray for God to use you in your weakness and for God to your friends/church/ministry in their weakness. 

 

Genesis 27:41-28:22

Rebekah and her son Jacob are deceptive, but Esau is driven by impulse and revenge. First, he plans to kill Jacob. Second, we learned at the very end of chapter 26 that he married two women who were Hittites, one of the people groups in the land of Canaan. When Esau finds out that they were a "source of grief" to his parents, he goes out and marries a daughter of Ishmael to intensify their grief.  In contrast, Jacob's avoidance of women who would become his spiritual downfall is the only good move he has made to this point.  Nevertheless, God has chosen Jacob to be his instrument of grace, and God goes to work on him. 

As He did for Isaac, God reaffirms the Abrahamic covenant blessings to Jacob. Jacob has been seeking to garner these blessings for himself, but through the vision God shows that He comes down to Jacob (cf. John 1:51), Jacob does not ascend to God (cf. Genesis 11:4). Notice Jacob's reaction. It's not every day that God spoke to people through visions, but Jacob seems particularly surprised and fearful that God would speak to him (28:16-17). He certainly sees it as a monumental event in his life, but he is still not all-in.   He still wants God to prove himself. He has an "if ... then" faith (28:20-22).  

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• "If ... then" vows are not necessarily looked down upon in Scripture, but Jacob seems to be basing his entire commitment and faithfulness on a sort of bargain with God. Are there any areas of your life in which you have an unhealthy "if ... then" faithfulness?  

• Ask God to show you ways that you may be seeking to garner blessing for yourself, as Jacob did, rather than trusting God to provide. 

• The importance of marrying well could hardly be emphasized more than it has been in Genesis.  As much as Isaac, Rebekah, and Jacob stumbled, this is one thing they got right. If you desire to be married, are you wholeheartedly committed to pursuing only people who will draw you closer to Jesus?  While marriage is a great gift, so is singleness, and only God can satisfy our souls.  Pray for yourself and your friends. If you are married, are you helping each other grow in union with Jesus?  What is the first/next step?  Pray for your marriage and for your friends. 

 

Genesis 29:1-30:24

Jacob is in God's School of Hard Knocks.  Back home, Jacob deceived his father who could not see, breaking the custom of blessing in regard to the firstborn child. Now it is Jacob who cannot see in the dark, and Laban deceives him, preventing Jacob from breaking the custom of marriage in regard to the firstborn child. Genesis 29:25 has to be one of the funniest lines in Scripture. "When morning came, there was Leah!"  Yep, there she was!  And Jacob will have to serve seven additional years in return for his marriage to his beloved Rachel. 

This far-from-ideal polygamous relationship turns out to be, as expected, a disaster. Jealousy for love and for children, the hiring out of Jacob (30:15), the use of maidservants for childbearing, and superstitions about aphrodisiacal mandrakes (30:13-15) - you name it, dysfunction abounds.  

Yet out of this dysfunction, God brings forth the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel - Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and, later, Benjamin.  They are the beginning of God's promise to make Abraham's offspring into a great nation.  Interestingly, the most significant of these tribes in God's work of redemption -- Levi, Judah, and Joseph -- come from Leah and Rachel, not their maidservants. 

Whenever Leah and Rachel are blessed with children, they generally give credit to God, not to superstition. Rachel, like Sarah and Rebekah before her, experienced barrenness for many years, but God eventually opens her womb. Perhaps even Jacob is beginning to learn that he, too, is dependent upon God (30:2). 

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• Do you have any subtle or not-so-subtle superstitions that keep you from fully trusting in God?

• Today's passage is an especially poignant reminder of God's control. Humans are making real decisions, doing what they want to do, but God is somehow working even through sin and dysfunction, sometimes with comic relief, to accomplish his good purposes. How does God's power and goodness, and his ability to use you even in your weakness, speak to you today?  

 

Genesis 30:25-31:55

Talk about awkward goodbyes!  Even the final truce between Jacob and Laban feels forced. Laban surely would have made another play for Jacob's wealth and his daughters had not God decisively intervened (31:24, 29, 42). 

Laban is reliant on divination to see that he has been blessed because of Jacob's presence (30:27 - did he really need divination to figure this out?), and Jacob and Rachel are not immune from such idolatry.  Even though Jacob begins to realize his need for God (30:30), he is still clinging to superstition and trickery in his last work arrangement with Laban (30:31-42). Finally, when God tells him to leave, he seems to truly grasp that it is God who has brought blessing, not magic or manipulation (31:3-13), though he is still too afraid to tell Laban that he is leaving (31:20, 31).  At the same time, Rachel is still holding on to deception and to Laban's gods (31:19, 35). 

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• We are tempted to wonder how Jacob can be so slow to learn as we read about his deceptive dealings year after year.  The process leading up to conversion, as well as the process of Christian growth, are often slow. How has the Lord been patient with you?  How is He being patient with you now?  How is He calling you to be patient with others?  Take time to thank God for his patience and ask him to speed his work, by his Spirit, in your own life and in those around. 

 

Genesis 32

Jacob was stuck between a rock and hard place. Stay with Laban, where he would continue to deal with Laban's antics and the influence of Laban's gods, or confront Esau, which could put his own life and everything he had been given in jeopardy.  One was the way of safety and comfort, the other was the way of calling and faith in God. 

Jacob is ready to choose the way of faith.  Jacob's appeasement tactics before Esau are surely understandable, but it's hard to know whether these tactics display a lack of faith, wisdom, or an appropriate recompense for stolen blessing. One thing we do know:  there is a stark contrast in Jacob's posture before God between the beginning of his 20-year journey and the present (32:10). God has clearly been warming Jacob's heart, preparing his heart for a full on invasion ... the greatest wrestling match the world will ever know. 

God visited Abraham in the form of a man and now He visits Jacob in the form of a man. Just as Jesus came in human weakness, so does this man. Yet with one divine touch of Jacob's hip socket, the battle is effectively over (32:25). Jacob's human strength  and devices are rendered useless before the strength of God.

 In a very real sense, Jacob had been wrestling God his entire life, but preseason was over. He had seen his need for God prior to this contest, but now he is desperate for God, clinging to him for blessing (31:26).  Invasion completed, restoration may commence. He walks away with a new name -- Israel, or "struggles with God" -- fitting his own experience and that of his progeny; a profound humility before the glory and mercy of God (32:30); and a limp -- a painful but gracious reminder, for generations to come (32:32), of Who has the power to give life. 

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• How is God calling you to step out in faith?  Are you taking the way of safety and comfort, or the way of calling and faith?

• Has God ever touched your hip socket, so to speak, to show you that you are not able to run your life?  Are you remembering your limp, or trying to act like you don't have one?

• Do you need a little help from God, or are you desperate for God, clinging to Him for mercy, joy, peace, wisdom, power to change, power to touch others' lives with your words and actions, etc.?

 

Genesis 33 & Psalm 4

The psalmist writes about relief from distress, the light of God's face, peace to lie down and sleep, and the Lord as the sole provider of safety. We see Jacob/Israel experience all of these realities as he returns to the promised land under God's protection. He sets up an altar of worship at the end of Genesis 33, naming it after "the mighty God of Israel" and offering "the sacrifices of the righteous" (Psalm 4:5). 

The psalmist says that many are asking the question, "Who will bring us prosperity?" Jacob learned the answer to this question the hard way.  Now that he has left behind his delusions and false gods (4:2), Jacob is among those who call on the Lord, receive mercy from the Lord (4:1), and are set apart for service to the Lord (4:3). 

(Some may wonder how Esau is fairing so well after he forfeited his blessing in Genesis 27.  God has provided for Esau.  He does not hate Esau personally, but Esau is outside of God's covenant blessing to Abraham.  There is no evidence that Esau repented of his covenant-breaking ways, though his anger against Jacob was assuaged over 20 years.  Esau's descendants do experience what Isaac foretold in Genesis 27, including their overthrow of Israel's power over them - 2 Kings 8:20-22.

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• Jacob will always look back on his safe return to Canaan as a marker of God's faithfulness to him. What are some markers of God's faithfulness to you?  Take time to respond in worship to God's past and present faithfulness. 

• Take time to reflect on Psalm 4.  Consider 4:7, "Fill me with joy when their grain and new wine abound."  The psalmist is asking for joy in God even when he sees others experiencing greater earthly blessings. 

 

Genesis 34

This is among the most difficult chapters to read in the Bible. The wickedness of the Canaanites, specifically the Hivite people, is on full display in this chapter. The wording could not be more clear that Shechem son of Hamor raped Dinah ("saw ... took ... violated"). Dinah, a very young woman, was probably unwise to venture into the Canaanite area. However, Bruce Waltke argues in his Genesis commentary that Jacob lacked leadership here and set a poor example by intermingling with the Canaanites when he moved to Shechem instead of returning to Bethel, where the Lord had appeared to him and where he had made a vow to build an altar to the Lord (Genesis 28). The Lord has to push him back to Bethel in the next chapter. 

It's hard to blame Simeon and Levi for their outrage and revenge, in light of the atrocity of rape, and we must admit that it was a clever and fitting plan.  Nevertheless, they abused the sign of God's covenant and took judgment into their own hands. There would come a time when the sin of the Canaanites reached its full measure and God would call Israel to be his agents of judgment, just as He much later calls Assyria and Babylon to be his agents of judgment against Israel, but now is not that time. Dinah's brothers should have gone before the Lord in their outrage and sought an orderly judgment against the sole offender. Again, Jacob's leadership over his children appears to be lacking. 

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• Take time to pray for victims of rape and sexual abuse and sex trafficking. Where are you not fully trusting in and submitting your sexuality to the Lord?  Are you putting yourself in places where you will be tempted to compromise?  Take time to confess, receive forgiveness and healing in Christ, repent and ask for the Spirit's wisdom and power to flee from temptation. 

• You may have never taken revenge in such drastic form as Simeon and Levi did, but how have you taken judgment into your hands in your relationships with others?  Take time to remember that God will judge all things perfectly and that Jesus has taken your judgment on the cross. 

 

Genesis 35-36

The account of Esau/Edom speeds forward several generations, while the account of Jacob/Israel's family is really just beginning. The only narrative in the account of Esau describes his move out of the land of Canaan, out of the land of God's covenant blessing (36:6-8). Israel, on the other hand, receives a fresh start in the promised land after the horror of his family's experience in Shechem (34). 

Two words about Israel's fresh start. First, fresh starts begin with remembering. Building the altar at Bethel, Jacob remembers how God had graciously worked in his life (35:6-9). Then God reminds Jacob of the promises of grace to his fathers and assures him that he stands in those promises (35:10-13). It is a worshipful remembrance (35:14). Second, fresh starts entail throwing off the sin that entangles us and putting on a new identity. We see this  in 35:2-5 as Jacob commands his family to throw away their gods and put on new clothing. This new clothing is symbolic of the new identity that believers, including Jacob, have in Christ. We are clothed in his righteousness and are no longer defined by sin and death but by the righteousness and love of Christ. 

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• Remember how God has worked in your life. Have you ever written out a detailed account of the significant markers in your journey, before and after you came to faith?  This is an extremely helpful exercise for your own relationship with God and for your ability to speak to others about your relationship with God.  

• What do you need to "throw away" in your life?  Ask God to help you.  

• Do you know and remember today that Christ is your life, purely by God's grace and not as a result of anything you have earned?  Do you know that, through your union with Christ by faith, you are not defined by past sins from earlier today or ten years ago, but by Jesus' perfect life and love?

 

Genesis 37

Favoritism. Jealousy. Hatred. Pride. Increasing Hatred. Murder. Slave-trading. Deceit ... Mourning. Hope you are having a pleasant day. 

Jacob should have learned his lesson about favoritism from his childhood. His own father, Isaac, played favorites against him, even though God had chosen Jacob to bear the covenant promises.   And Joseph, Jacob's favorite son, should have humbly kept his dreams of grandeur to himself, even though the dreams were from God. Nevertheless, God again works in the midst of all kinds of evil to bring about his glorious purposes. 

Joseph is not perfect, as we have already seen, and of course the Scripture only gives us a few brief glimpses into his life, but Scripture clearly shows that Joseph's life foreshadows the greater righteousness, suffering, mercy, blessing, wisdom, and victory of Christ in uncanny ways. Even in this chapter, Joseph's future exaltation over his people is foreseen. Yet before he is exalted, his own people despise him, mock him, strip him, argue over what to do with him, sell him for some silver, and essentially leave him for dead. These are the very same people he would later save. 

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• Put yourself in Joseph's place and walk through what that day of betrayal would have been like.  When he woke up that day, Joseph had no idea what would happen.  Jesus knew that day was coming for him, yet He willingly and determinedly walked toward it in order to save us. Is there anything that could separate you from such love? (See Romans 8:31-39 if you do not know the answer.)

• Who are the people in your life who do not yet know this love?

 

Genesis 38

Genesis is almost too much, isn't it?  As we read Genesis 38, we're hoping that perhaps Judah, the fourth son, is different than Reuben the firstborn, who slept with his father's concubine (35:22), and Simeon and Levi, the second and third sons, who vengefully killed dozens of Canaanites (34:25). Maybe he talked his brothers into selling Joseph, instead of killing him, because he thought that it was the only way to save him (37:26). Maybe he moved away from his brothers (38:1) because he couldn't stand their jealousy any longer.  Do we finally have a good guy?  We do not need to rehearse the details of this chapter to know that the answer is a resounding "No."  

If you were making up a story about the founding fathers of an invented religion, this is not how you would do it!  Jesus descends from Judah, and all of Israel descends from Judah and his brothers. Yet these perpetrators are the ones whom Jesus saves.  It feels like too much.  Too much grace. 

Until we realize the depth of our own offense against God, the grace of God IS offensive. We're like the religious leaders in Jesus' day who were offended that Jesus would forgive notorious sinners. But when we realize the depths and consistency of our own offense, the grace of God in Christ is wonderful. It is the only cure for our disease. 

*** Bruce Waltke points out in his Genesis commentary that “Tamar, a wrong wife (i.e., Canaanite), saves the family by her loyalty to it. The four women in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba) all come from outside Israel and have a highly irregular and potentially scandalous marriage union.  But because of their faith, God deems them worthy to carry royal seed” (516).  Tamar’s redemptive actions may be more questionable than the other women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy, but the fact that she valued the continuation of the family line more than Judah did cannot be argued.  Judah himself acknowledges, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah” (38:26).

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• We've seen again and again that the pervasiveness of sexual sin is clearly not new to the 21st century. In this chapter, Judah sat in judgment on Tamar for her sexual sin, before being convicted of his own.  We of course need to discern what is right and wrong, but are there ways that you are sitting in judgment on others before examining your own heart and life for sexual sin?  Are you keeping God's vision for sexuality and ultimately for union with him before you?

• How has the grace of God offended you in the past? Are there people you have written off, without hope of receiving the grace of God?  How is the grace of God wonderful to you today?

 

Genesis 39

Everything Joseph touches turns to gold. He gives life and blessing to everyone and everything around him. The words "prosper," "success,"  "favor," and "blessing" appear throughout the chapter, all "because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did" (39:23). When we read the gospels, we see Jesus restoring life to people left and right, so Joseph continues to foreshadow the life of Jesus in this way. 

Joseph also foreshadows Jesus' response to temptation, denying immediate satisfaction for the goodness of God's ways and for the glory of God. First, Joseph realizes that sleeping with Potiphar's wife is more than a sin against her and Potiphar, but ultimately a sin against God (39:9). Second, he consistently keeps a far distance between himself and temptation (39:10). Third, when temptation catches him by surprise, he runs as fast as he can in the other direction, even at the cost of his cloak. Like Jesus, he is then wrongfully accused and punished for another's sin, but the LORD is still with him.

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• Not too many people would envy Joseph's life up to this point, yet he continues to dwell with the LORD and seeks to glorify in extremely difficult situations. Where are you looking today for life and blessing?  Is your hope in having everything go your way and according to plan, or in Jesus, the one who gives lasting life and blessing?

• In what areas of your life might you need to apply Joseph's response to temptation (39:9-12)?  It is an extremely important exercise to consider how our specific sins offend God (39:9) and how they steal from the life God offers, so that our motivation moves beyond rule-keeping.

• Take time to praise Jesus for his perfect denial of temptation on our behalf. 

 

Genesis 40-41

"The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he FORGOT him" (40:23). 

Just as Jesus took our loneliness upon himself, suffering alone and being often dismissed and forgotten, Joseph is forgotten in his suffering. He had been in prison for quite some time before he interprets the chief baker and cupbearer's dreams. (Perhaps something did not right with Pharaoh's stomach, given that his baker and cupbearer's jobs were on the line).  Now Joseph waits another two years in prison before the cupbearer finally remembers him. 

The chapters begin with Joseph suffering, but end with Joseph at the right hand of the king, dressed in fine robes and gold, ruling over the whole land with the authority of the king's ring (41:42). We are given a powerful image of Jesus' resurrection and ascension. Joseph's great wisdom is on display throughout, but he is quick to acknowledge and deflect all of the glory to God (41:16).  Even Pharaoh recognizes that it is some sort of divine wisdom (41:38-39).  Here again we are reminded of Jesus' wisdom and humble desire to glorify the Father (e.g. John 7:16-18). 

Questions for Reflection & Prayer

• How does Jesus' willingness to take on our loneliness, our forgotten-ness, speak to you?   Are you embracing the reality that He is with you even when you feel forgotten by the world?

• We may or may not experience "matinée performances" of resurrection such as Joseph did on this side of Jesus' return. We certainly will not experience anything quite like Joseph did. But we will be raised with Christ and enter the glory of his kingdom when he returns. Are you living with this hope and in light of this destiny?

• Today, are you seeking to point others to the infinite glory of God or to your own finite glory?  Praise God for fulfilling our calling as humble servants and for revealing the life-giving glory of God to us! 

 

Genesis 42

We do not know how heavily the guilt of Joseph’s brothers weighed on their hearts all of these years.  We can only imagine that it weighed quite heavily, as they immediately see their offense against Joseph as the reason for their current predicament (42:21-22).  They argue with each other and confess their sin openly to one another, little knowing that Joseph hears their confession, too.  This confession is painful, but it is the beginning of restoration.

Proverbs 29:6 tell us, “An evil man is snared by his own sin, but a righteous one can sing and be glad.”  Were Joseph’s brothers able to sing with glad hearts during those years of separation from Joseph, weighed down as they were by guilt?  Surely they were snared by their sin.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

* We have a God who is never too far away or unwilling to hear our confession.  He is near, and He is full of mercy and compassion.  Are there any sins from your distant or recent past that keep you from being able to sing to God with a glad heart?  Confess and receive God’s complete forgiveness in Christ.  

 

Genesis 43

How ironic is the gospel of God’s grace!  Israel is supposed to be God’s light to the world, and they will be through Jesus, but in this chapter a foreigner, an Egyptian servant, preaches the good news of peace and forgiveness to Joseph’s brothers (43:19-23).  Instead of judgment, the servant tells them that their God has given them treasure.  Of course, Joseph had apparently been faithful to proclaim the goodness of the God of Israel to his servant.

We also see Judah begin to rise as a leader among his brothers in this chapter.  He takes the lead in speaking with Jacob (43:3), and unlike Reuben who offered his sons in Benjamin’s place (42:37), Judah puts his own life on the line as a substitute for the youngest brother, Benjamin (43:9). Here we see a glimmer of Jesus, the King who would come from Judah.  Judah's transformation, which began in confession (38:26), is now evident.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• The good news comes to Joseph’s brothers from an unexpected source, a servant who is not an Israelite.  Are you willing to learn from unexpected sources, from people of a different socioeconomic stratum or ethnic background?  The brothers likely received his words as good news because they were aware of their desperate need for grace.  

• Judah was willing to put his life on the line for Benjamin.  Take some time to reflect on Jesus, who became our substitute in judgment.  
 

Genesis 44

Is Joseph just toying with his brothers?  By human standards, he definitely has the right to toy with them a little, but that is not what is happening.  Joseph is testing his ten half-brothers to see how they will treat the only other son of Rachel, Benjamin, who replaced Joseph as the favored child.  He is providing them an opportunity to show that they have had a change of heart, and they do not disappoint.  Judah again takes the lead and follows through on his promise to be Benjamin's substitute!

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• In the preceding chapters, we've seen remorse, a sort of confession, forgiveness, and grace in the experience of Jacob's sons.  God's forgiveness and grace toward us is never in vain.  A true experience of forgiveness and grace always leads to life-change, as we see in this chapter.  Give thanks for the ways that you have seen and are seeing God change your life.  In what areas do you need to continue to see him produce heart and character change?  Ask him to show you.

 

Genesis 45

Up to this point, the guilty brothers have had their silver returned (42:35 - they cannot buy grace!), feasted with Joseph (43:34), and had their sacks stuffed with food (44:1).  Already we have seen the lavish grace of God toward them, but in this chapter they receive grace upon grace, as God reveals his sovereign ability to bring great good out of the worst of evils.  Most importantly, the brothers' relationship with Joseph is restored as Joseph can no longer resist revealing himself to them.  Do not skim past the beautiful picture of the restored intimacy with their brother and savior in 45:15!  They have no life apart from Joseph (45:11), but with him they receive the richest part of the land, new clothing (remember the connection from 35:2 between clothing and identity!), an abundance of food and gifts, and a preserved community of faith (45:7).  This is not the fulfillment of the covenant promises to Abraham in regard to a rich land, a great people, and blessing, but it is definitely a taste of what is to come!  

Joseph's command to his brothers as they go back home to retrieve their father and families is a humorous and interesting footnote (45:24).  "Don't quarrel on the way."  What a great word for the people of God, for today's church!  As those who have received the sovereign grace of God, it is unfitting to be marked by envy, the pointing of fingers for past sins, and quarreling.  

The only other command that Joseph gives his brothers is found in 45:5 and it, too, is of immense importance for godly living.  He says to them, "And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves . . ."  Joseph is not making light of what his brothers had done.  He's saying that because he has forgiven them and because God has forgiven them, they should no longer dwell on their past sins.  When we continue to dwell on and beat ourselves up for our past sins, Christians are not receiving and living in the reality of God's perfect forgiveness through Jesus.  We are not living in the freedom for which Christ has set us free!

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• The intimacy and desire of Joseph's reconciliation with his brothers is a compelling picture of God's love for us.   How are you cultivating intimacy with God in your life?  Even as you do this devotional, are you allowing time and space to connect with God at a heart level?

• Are there any ways in which you are quarreling on the way to the kingdom?  Where do you see envy, pointing fingers, or quarreling in your life?  Are there people with whom you need to reconcile this week?  How can you pass on to others the grace you have received from God?

• Are you beating yourself up for past sins today, even though you have confessed and received God's perfect forgiveness?  Ask God to help you heed Joseph's words:  "And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves . . ."  Perhaps you need to tell a trusted brother or sister in Christ who will remind you of and show you God's forgiveness.  

 

Genesis 46-47

Resolution.  In the previous chapter, Jacob is told about the “resurrection” of Joseph and hesitantlybelieves.  Now, Jacob sees him with his own eyes and receives the blessings of the resurrected son.  As Jacob confesses, his years have been “difficult” (47:9), but God is faithful to the end.  The lyrics to hymn, “Poor Sinner Dejected with Fear,” are especially fitting for Jacob’s life:   

The soul that on Jesus relies, He’ll never, no never deceive;                                                              He freely and faithfully gives more blessings than we can conceive;                                                  Yea, down to old age He will keep, nor will He forsake us at last;                                                    He knows and is known by His sheep; They’re His, and He will hold them fast.  
- William Gadsby

Jacob, the deceiver, is never deceived by God’s promises, which God once again reaffirms to him.  The transformed Jacob believes to the end.  He asks Joseph to bury him in the land of Canaan (47:30), a sign of his faith that God will brings his descendants back to the promised land, and a sign of solidarity in faith with Isaac and Abraham.  And he worships (47:31; cf. 46:1).  

*** Scholar Bruce Waltke notes in his Genesis commentary that, though Egypt was saved by and owed their lives to Joseph, the 20% "double-tithe" or tax to Pharaoh was not God's ideal for Israel.  However, the 20% tax was less than the average ancient near eastern tax of 33%.  Israel was spared from this kind of heavy tax in Goshen.  Later, in the promised land, God allotted the land for private ownership.  Families owned land and were to bring a tithe, the first fruits of the land, in thanksgiving and as a sign that all creation ultimately belong to God.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

•  Each one of us endures different trials.  Some are much more difficult than others.  A broken world is by no means a level playing field.  As we think back through Jacob’s life - years away from home, uncertainty, the heartache of discord, abuse, and death within his family (including his wife), a permanent limp from his dislocated hip, famine, multiple relocations, etc. - he by no means had an easy life.  How is God’s faithfulness to Jacob, in spite of the trials he endured, comforting to you?  

• Israel’s life is marked by worship toward the end of his life.  We were made to worship and enjoy the love and glory of God.  How is private and communal worship become more a part of your life?

 

Genesis 48

By counting Joseph’s two sons as his own (48:5), Jacob is giving Joseph, the preeminent Christ-figure in the latter half of Genesis, a double-portion of his inheritance.  Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, will each receive a large allotment of land when Israel is later given the promised land of Canaan.  This double-portion was traditionally reserved for the firstborn son.  Joseph, however, received the double-portion not by virtue of his birth order, but by virtue of his life.  Here we see yet another way that Joseph’s life points to Jesus.  Jesus, too, receives the inheritance of the “firstborn” (Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:6. 12:23, Revelation 1:5), not by virtue of his birth but by virtue of his life, death, and resurrection.  With this understanding, we see that Jesus’ title of “firstborn” in no way connotes that He is a created being, but rather that He receives the greater inheritance of a firstborn son!

Jacob has truly learned to trust in the ways of God by this point, after trying to control his own life for so long.  Like Isaac, he too could barely see in his old age (48:10).  Unlike Isaac, he did not resist the untraditional ways of God.  Not only does he give Joseph the double-portion among his sons, he also crosses his hands to bless Ephraim, Joseph's the second son, ahead of Manasseh, Joseph's firstborn.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Consider the inheritance of Jesus, our great Shepherd.  His land is a new earth, refined and perfected.  His flock is a people from every tongue, tribe and nation, refined and perfected.  His blessing is the abundant production and beauty of the new earth, and the immediate presence of his Father.  He shares all of this with his brothers and sisters, those who are united to him by faith.  Today, are you living in the reality that you share in this inheritance, by virtue of his life, death, and resurrection?  

Since this is our future, we can be assured that anything we do in his name, for his glory, is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58; Colossians 3:23).  Jesus even calls us to pray that this future would invade our present reality (Matthew 6:10).  What might it look like for you to work, play, and love toward this eternal future, as opposed to a shaky, short-lived and self-conceived future?

 

Genesis 49

Yesterday, we read about Joseph’s double-portion inheritance, which Jacob pronounced upon him.  Joseph would have two sons who would receive a generous inheritance and have a name in the promised land!

Today, we see in Jacob’s prophecy that he had his own kind of double-portion through his two sons, Judah and Joseph!  Of course, Jacob actually has twelve sons who would have a name (or two in Joseph’s case) and receive a generous inheritance in the promised land.  Every descendant of these twelve sons would be included in Israel and receive the covenant of God, but as we read Jacob’s prophecy, we are not surprised that Judah and Joseph stand out among their brothers.  They are the primary Christ-figures among Jacob’s sons in the book of Genesis.  Judah will become a kingly tribe, the leader of the nation (49:10).  David, the first good king of Israel, comes from Judah, as does Jesus, the “lion of Judah” and eternal Davidic King (Revelation 5:5).  Joseph is called a “prince” and, as we know, is given an abundant, “fruitful” double-blessing.  

Jacob’s prophecy, especially in regard to Judah’s line, is another reminder of God’s sovereignty over all of history as He works to save a people from sin and death for himself.  We knew as early as Genesis 3, immediately after Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, that the wheels of God’s plan of redemption were already turning.  Here we are reminded that the wheels of God's plan of redemption are always turning, as Jacob prophesies about Judah’s kingship almost a thousand years before David took the throne and almost two thousand years before Jesus took on our humanity.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• When we begin to understand the full story of Scripture and how God has orchestrated his plan of redemption throughout all of history, our faith deepens and our awe of the power and wisdom and love of God grows.  Take time to reflect on the amazing power and wisdom of God, and his ability to work in and through millions of human decisions, good and (often) bad, to accomplish salvation.

• Not all of the brothers are a Judah or a Joseph, a king or a prince, but they are all included in God's covenant promises.  God uses every one of his people in vastly different ways.  Some have a role in the spotlight and others do not.  Are you seeking to serve God with whatever gifts and roles He has given you at this time?  Do you value some Christians more highly because they have a prominent role in the body of Christ, while not valuing others?  Are you thankful for who God has made you?  At the same time, are there perhaps untapped gifts or opportunities for service that you need to develop or pursue?

 

Genesis 50

Genesis ends on a powerful note of forgiveness.  The reluctance of Joseph's brothers to believe the good news of Joseph's forgiveness mirrors our own reluctance to believe the good news of complete forgiveness in Christ. We struggle to believe because the gospel is almost too good to be true. Surely Joseph must still hold a grudge against his brothers. Surely God must still hold a grudge against us for all of the things we have done and left undone. Yet Joseph "reassured them and spoke kindly to them," steadfast in his forgiveness.  Joseph is able to look back, see how God used his brothers' evil for good, and forgive.  Jesus cried out "Father, forgive them ..." even as his executors tortured him. 

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Can you relate to Joseph's brothers, who reverted back to fear and dread, doubting that Joseph's forgiveness could be real?  Confess your sins, with the full knowledge that God has forgiven all of them through the work of Jesus.