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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

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El Shaddai

Genesis 17:1-8 NRSV

The notes in my Bible say “El Shaddai” translated means “Almighty God” (v. 1); possibly “All Sufficient” might better express it’s characteristic meaning when used in Scripture.

In this case, the sufficiency of God is what is needful in order for 99 year old Abram to become “fruitful” once again (vv. 2-3). In doing so, as a remembrance of this event, Abram’s name is changed to Abraham (v. 4).

Afterwards, the so called Abrahamic Covenant is reconfirmed (vv. 6-8, cp. Gen. 12:1-3, 13:14-18, 15:1-6) with God’s everlasting promises of fruitfulness for coming generations, importance or relevance, and the land of Canaan. The significance is this “everlasting covenant,” a covenant not just for Abraham but also to all succeeding generations, his kinfolk afterwards.

Other examples of unending covenants are previously with Noah (Gen. 9:1-19), the later Sabbath (Ex. 31:12-18, Lev. 24:5-9) and beyond (Ps. 105). through it all El Shaddai has remembered and been faithful towards Israel and His.

Promises and More Promises

Genesis 15:7-21

At the start of Chapter 15, God comes to Abram and makes the promise of all promises. God tells Abram that he will have a son to be his heir. God tells Abram to look up at the stars in the sky; the number of his descendants will number the stars in the sky. Have you ever been to a place where there is ZERO light pollution and seen the night sky? Here in the Joliet/Chicagoland area, we get the short end of the stick when it comes to night sky viewing because of night pollution, and yet there are still so many stars that we can see. But the number of stars in the night sky without light pollution is amazing, and there are thousands more stars that can be seen than what we get to see here. So keep that in mind when you picture Abram descendents. 

So fast-foward to verses 7-21, and you read that God doesn’t just stop at Abram having descendents. He also promises an area of land for his descendants. That area of land is currently occupied by other groups of people. BUT (and there’s always a but, isn’t there?) for a period of 400 years, those descendants will be enslaved in a foreign land and will be treated harshly. Of course we all know how that story works out, as this is a foreshadowing of the Israelites in Egypt. 

But after God punishes Egypt, which we know will involve plagues, one of which will kill firstborn sons of the Egyptians, Abram’s descendents will make it to this promised land. Well, they will get there four generations later anyway. At the end of the passage, God maps out all of the lands that Abram’s descendants will take over. 

Just like God made promises to Abram over 4,000 years ago, and then followed through on His promises, He also makes promises to us as well. We may not always know what those promises are ahead of time. But if you reflect on how and why you have had certain things happen in your life, you may realize that you were put in those situations, not because of complete randomness, but because of intervention from a much higher power. 

I’d like to also add that in this passage, keep in mind that God doesn’t only promise a whole bunch of great things to Abram (child, many descendants, land, riches, etc.), but he also promises hardship. 400 years worth to be exact. So as you reflect on your life so far and wonder why, if God promises all of these great things, why does he also allow bad things to happen, remember that sometimes hardships are part of God’s plan as well. We may not understand why while we are going through it, but God always knows what He’s doing and why. We just need to trust His plan. 

Abram’s Choice

Abram was dwelling in Hebron by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, and was allied to Mamre’s two brothers. word came to him that Lot, his nephew had been taken captive from Sodom in an international war between 4 Kings fighting against 5 other kings in the surrounding area. This troubled Abram, so he mustered an army from his own camp and joined with his allies he pursued a rescue plan for Lot Abram divided his forces against them at night and rescued Lot and his family.

After his return from his victory he met with the King of Sodom, and simultaneously met with Melchizedek, King of Salem. Melchizedek, a priest of El Elyon, God Most High, brought out wine and bread, a symbol of priestly behavior, while he blessed Abram, saying “Blessed be Abram of El Elyon, possessor of Heaven and Earth, and blessed be El Elyon, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

In contrast the King of Sodom said to Abram, “Give the people rescued to me, and take the goods for yourself.”

Now we look at the response of Abram to the two Kings. To the King of Sodom he says, ‘I have sworn to El Elyon that I will not take a thread or sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear that you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing but the food already eaten by my men, and any spoils due these allies of mine.”

But to the King of Salem, Abram gave him a tenth of all the spoils.

This is the first introduction to Melchizedek, King of Salem, who is a type of Christ, who is symbolically eternal, and who is a priest, whose order of priesthood will be likened to Jesus’ in the book of Hebrews. Zechariah 6:12-13 also declares prophetically that the coming ‘promised one’ will be “a priest on His throne.” Thus a king, and a priest, after the order of Melchizedek.

Abram’s response to him is a symbol for the future nation Israel, of his loins, in their battles with foreign enemies. Deuteronomy 20.1-4 where they are told to not fear because of the great number of their armies, for the LORD your God will go with you to defeat your enemies, and the priests will bless you. Melchizedek had declared in his blessing that, in fact, it was El Elyon that had delivered the enemy into Abrams hand.

Abram refused the spoils of this world, and sought only the blessing of Jehovah. Abram is being introduced as a man of peace, who was not drawn into the battle raging nearby until it concerned his personal family. The priest Melchizedek identifies Abram as ‘Abram of El Elyon,’ and blesses him.

In like manner we are to follow a like pattern of peace with all men, while serving El Elyon, through our new life in Jesus Christ, and rejecting the wealth of this world, for it always has a snare attached to it. God’s blessings are enough, we don’t compromise, or are double minded about where our loyalty lies.

Karl

The Land

Genesis 13:10-18 NRSV

Previously, Lot has said “good-bye” (Gen. 13:8-9) to Uncle Abram (cp. Gen. 11:27-30) to avoid the real possibility of future confrontations. They consummate a land deal on the hill of Bethel (Gen. 13:1-3). The land before them, the plains of the Jordan River is fertile (v. 10). Lot chooses the area to the east (v. 11). Per their agreement (Gen. 13:9), Abram takes the area to the west.

We have Abram and his clan west of the Jordan River, in the land of Canaan (v. 12). We have Lot, et. al. in the land east of the Jordan River in the more populated area near Sodom (v. 13).

After the God endorsed land split and separation, Abram is promised prosperity for his and his descendents (vv. 14-17) in his land. Land is understood to be the only source of wealth in those days due to what is on it. It’s not much different today. Human prosperity is chiefly due to what is either on or under land. Moderns have added the resources in, on, and under water as another wealth source. The main issues and disputes in human history have always been over land.

Abram takes residence in Alon Mamre, Hebron amongst trees and builds an altar to the LORD there (v. 18). The above pictured ruins of a Byzantine Church still mark the spot.

Abram in Egypt

Genesis 12:10-20

Yesterday, we learned about God’s promise to Abram, so Abram and his family set out to the land that God was to show him. Today, Noah makes it to Egypt. It should be made clear that at this point, Egypt wasn’t just confined to the area along the Nile River. As you can see in the map below, the Egyptian Empire at its height extended around the Mediterranean Sea into what is now the area we refer to as the Holy Land. 

So Abram and his family head to Egypt to avoid famine, and he fears that his bride is so beautiful that Pharaoh would have Abram killed and take Sarai for himself. So Abram convinces Sarai to say she is Abram’s sister so that Abram’s life would be spared. Pharaoh takes Sarai as his wife, and he also gives Abram a huge flock of animals, as well as servants. Then God sends serious diseases to Pharaoh and his family (a plague of Egypt long before Moses), which leads to Pharaoh realizing that Sarai is actually Abram’s wife and not his sister. So Pharaoh sends Abram, his family, and his possessions on their way. 

If we circle back around to the first part of chapter 12 where God made a promise to Abram and his descendants, Abram never had anything to fear when he entered Egypt. God wouldn’t have made this promise to Abram and his family, and then lead him right into the lion’s den to be killed by the Egyptians for the sake of Sarai’s beauty. Abram needed to trust that God would protect him and his family. 

So, even though we mostly think about Abram as a faithful man, he too was a flawed human. He too faltered at times, and didn’t always place all of his trust in God. But yet God didn’t give up on Abram after this slip up, and still followed through on His promise. In the same way, God won’t give up on us either. He still has our back. We just need to trust Him and do our best to be faithful. Just like Abram. 

Abram’s Call

Genesis 12

Genesis 1:28 “God blessed them, (mankind, whom He had created in His own image), and God said to them ,’Be fruitful and multiply.'”

Genesis 9:1 “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth”.

Genesis 12 “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, and make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those that bless you, And curse those that curse you. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

The progression of the blessings of God suggest that the arrival of Abram on the scene, and his obedience to the call of God, marks a new beginning for all humanity. Much like Adam who fell with the eating of the fruit of the tree, and the attempt to atone for his sin by making his own coverings, it was Jehovah that adequately covered Adam’s nakedness, an act of salvation, a new beginning.

In like manner as Noah sinned in his drunkenness, it took someone else, to cover his nakedness, another act of salvation, a new beginning.

So, as we find out in this passage, when Abram sins, by not trusting Jehovah in Egypt, but in fear of what ‘might’ happen, he schemes to protect himself by calling Sarai his sister, instead of his wife. As a result the Pharaoh takes Sarai into his haram, to be prepared for becoming yet another wife for himself. But Jehovah struck Pharaoh’s house with great plagues, protecting Sarai, and Abram also. It seems that Pharaoh was more spiritually aware than Abram at this point in time. So Sarai was taken back to Abram and then escorted out of Egypt.

The blessings of God are not dependent on the works of mankind, as we see in these men’s lives, they were all prone to wander, to stray from complete obedience to Jehovah, they were sinful men with a knowledge of good and evil yet no enabling power to resist. In fact they were very much like us, who before salvation had no enabling power to resist sin. Jehovah protected them to bring about a completion to His promise to Adam to provide a covering, a salvation, ‘a seed that will bruise the head of satan.’ As Jehovah reveals in the coming passages, a promised son for Abram, who will believe that promise and it will be reckoned to him as righteousness.

Jehovah made covenants with each of these men, Adam, Noah, and Abram, and he fulfilled them each in time to come, which proves Him to be a faithful God, who will also be faithful to complete His promise to keep His New Covenant with mankind. Which is forgiveness of sins, and everlasting life through faith in Jesus Christ. We also have a throne of Grace where we find enabling grace, that is, ‘mercy and help in the time of need.’ These men of old had no power to resist sin, we do.

Karl

Babel

Genesis 11

Some of mankind has made their way eastward into a plain known as Babylonia. There they start building a large city and a tower to reach the heavens. It appears that these people aren’t engineering geniuses, even by the standards of their time, as they use tar rather than mortar to hold the bricks together. I can imagine that in the hot sun in what is now Iraq wouldn’t have cooperated too well with tar mortar. God comes down to see what His people are up to. 

I’ve always wondered when the Bible says “God came down” what exactly that looked like. Did he appear as just another random stranger? Could others even see Him at all? It is also important to note God says “let US go down.” Who is He with? I remember a long time ago saying I didn’t think the Old Testament was as relevant as the New Testament because the OT didn’t have Jesus. At that point, it was pointed out to me that Jesus was in fact present often in the OT. Everytime the Bible tells us that God said “let US” do such and such, the US is God and Jesus (and maybe the Holy Spirit as well?). I’m sure someone with more Biblical knowledge than me can comment on that. 

Anywho, God comes down and sees that people are doing human type things, and losing focus on what pleases God. Since they have advanced so far as a society because they could all easily communicate with each other, God spread them across the land and also confused their language to make things more challenging, and maybe slow down human progress. Thus became the reason we needed the Rosetta Stone to figure out what the Egyptians were saying, and why we have foreign language classes in school in modern times. 

The rest of Chapter 11 is the family line of Shem leading to the birth of Abram. At the very end of the chapter, we get introduced also to Sarai.  

The Noahic Covenant

Genesis 9:1-29 NRSV

With the catastrophic flood (Gen. 7-8) now over, an apparent worldwide event that submerged every living thing on the face of the planet – except those in the Ark, normals need to be re-established. Essentially plant, animal, and human life are in need of a “re-boot.”

First is the re-establishment of a large part of what creation must do; eat and procreate (v. 1, cp. Gen. 1:28-31). Added to the diet of humankind are animals, fowl, fish, and sea creatures (vv. 2-3), except for their life’s blood (vv. 4-5). This is an obvious foreshadowing of the future Mosaic dietary rules (cp. Lev. 17:10-14, Deut. 12:16-25). In a similar vein, is the prohibition of one human shedding the blood of another, murder that is (vv. 6-7).

God then announces the establishment of a new covenant between Himself and every living thing on earth. No more floods (vv. 8-11). This promise is visibly symbolized by the chromatic dispersion of airborne white light, the rainbow (vv. 12-17).

It wasn’t that this bit of physics, math modeled by James Clerk Maxwell, was impossible before the symbolism. It was. Most likely, rainbows could have been seen as the flood storms cleared by way of sunlight passing through falling rain drops. What is new is the Divine employment of the rainbow as a symbol of His covenant with Noah and his sons (v. 8).

Afterward, the reliable ark is vacated by Noah’s sons, Shem, Japheth, and Ham leading to the repopulation of the earth (vv. 18-19). Ham is assigned Canaan.

Noah becomes a grape farmer, thus fulfilling the proper role of a human as one who works the ground (v. 20, cp. Gen. 3:17-19, 8:20-22). He drinks too much wine and subsequently loses track of his clothes (vv. 21-23).

Biblically speaking, generally, wine is viewed as a blessing, something good (Ps. 104:15, S of S 1:4, 7:9, cp. 1 Tim. 5:22-23). It is also true that too much booze is associated with sexual misbehavior, specifically those of Canaan (Lev. 18). This seems to be a case of too much of a good thing.

After Noah sobered up a bit, he pronounces a judgment on his son Ham and his assigned area Canaan, telling he and his sons will be in permanent servitude (vv. 24-25).

For Shem and his sons is the promise of a relationship with the LORD, that they will be served by Canaan and provide shelter for the sons of Japheth (vv. 26-27). It is this group of people that eventually becomes Israel.

Those of Japheth and his sons are all the peoples north of Canaan, the rest of us (v. 27). Broadly speaking these will provide the advancements in science, the arts, and in government that we have enjoyed since that time.

Noah lives on after the flood for another 350 years, dying at the ripe old age of 950 (vv. 28-29). Being an engineer, I’m suspicious of the precision of round numbers. Real life is not made up of round, even numbers. I would amend Noah’s age data with “more or less.”

The Flood

Genesis 7

A very quick synopsis of this chapter might go like this:

  • It’s going to rain for a long time. 
  • Gather your family along with male and female animals of all land species onto the boat that you need to build
  • Float on the boat for a few months

The story of Noah, the flood, and the ark is a story of trusting God at His word. As the story goes, up to that point, it hadn’t ever rained from the sky. So when God tells Noah to build a giant boat large enough to fit all of the animals of the Earth along with his family (and I assume food to eat for a few months as well), Noah looks pretty silly to the rest of humanity. But despite any ridicule he is facing, Noah still does as he is commanded by God. And therefore, when the floodwaters finally subside, the land animals are released back into the wild, while Noah and his family are responsible for re-creating the human race. 

I see this event as a second creation story of sorts, or the very least, a sort of resurrection of humanity. Humanity had fallen so far from God so quickly, that there was a need to reset the system. There were several other resets throughout the history of the Hebrew people, one major one of which was the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As we know, there is still at least one more reset to come when Jesus makes his triumphant return to Earth. 

So what do we walk away with out of all of this? As much as we would like to think we can control things…other humans…all of humanity even…only God is the one who has command. And it is because of this that we should spend most of our time trying to live our lives in a way worthy of Christ, while not trying to judge others for their life choices. It’s very challenging, for sure. I know I’m just as guilty as the next person in this area. But no matter what life choices we like to point our fingers at and condemn, there will always be plenty of fingers pointing back at us condemning our own sins. Remember that even Christ spent most of his time with those that the rest of society had ostracized because of their sins. So, as hard as it is for all of us, when put in situations where we are quick to judge, take a step back and place any and all of the judgment in God’s hands. 

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