Genesis 

 

Genesis Introduction

Genesis Introduction

Genesis: Introduction

Genesis means origins or beginnings. It is the book of beginnings and begins with the God who has no beginning.  Science can take us back to a big bang but no further. The Bible begins where science cannot go, “In the beginning, God.” The creation story confronts us with a Creator who is uncreated, who exists before the beginning and beyond the end.


Secularists criticize the Biblical account of creation because it is rooted in faith rather than science. But the creation of the universe was unobserved by humanity and cannot be repeated in a laboratory, so it cannot be scientifically evaluated. It cannot be empirically proven or disproven. Therefore, whatever anyone believes about that beginning is a matter of faith.

The evolutionist can neither observe nor repeat his theory of the beginning of life. He, like the Biblical creationist, is making a statement of faith. The evolutionist’s faith is rooted in the words of professors. Our faith is rooted in the word of God. Evolution demands unreasonable faith in an impossible equation: nothing + chance + time = everything. The Biblical account of creation requires reasonable faith in a mighty God.

Since none of us were present at the creation of the universe and the event cannot be repeated, all we can know about that event is what God reveals, for God alone was present. If we disbelieve this revelation, then how do we believe the rest of God’s revelation? At the end of time, God will uncreate the universe and create a new heaven and new earth (see 2 Peter 3:5-10  Matthew 24:35). If we do not believe the beginning, how can we believe the ending? If God can dissolve the universe in a moment then can He not also create it in 6 days?

If Genesis is nothing more than legend or story telling, then our faith becomes disconnected from the rest of Biblical revelation. Not only that, but our faith also becomes disconnected from the world of real historical events and real people.

Genesis is divinely revealed truth and the Biblical story of creation is foundational to our faith. It is where God begins His revelation. We cannot change the beginning of the story without impacting the rest of the story and the ending. If we cannot trust the word of God in Genesis then when do we begin to trust God’s words? At what chapter and verse of the Bible can we say, “OK, here is where we can begin to trust that God is telling us the truth?” And who decides, who sits on the jury and tells us which words of God may be believed and which must be thrown away? 

The testimony of the Bible states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16).

If all Scripture is inspired by God then Genesis is inspired by God. If this is so, then it speaks truth with authority as does every other book of the Bible. But if Genesis chapters one and two are not true, then how can we believe any other chapters in the Bible? The New Testament says that our Creator is also our Redeemer. But if God is not our Creator, then how can I trust that He is my Redeemer?

The truth revealed in Genesis is historically accurate and is verified by people in the Bible whom we trust and respect. 

David, King of Israel and Psalmist, believed Genesis is history. He wrote:

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers” (Psalm 24:1,2).

Jesus believed Genesis is history. He referred to “the beginning of the creation which God created” (Mark 13:19). 

Jesus believed the historical account of the flood was as certain as His return to earth at the end of history. He said, 

“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37-39).  

Jesus linked the truthfulness of the flood narrative with the truthfulness of His second coming. If we say that the flood narrative is legend or myth, then how can we trust Christ’s promise to return someday and establish His kingdom on earth?

The Apostle Peter believed the creation story. He wrote,

“By the word of God the heavens existed long ago” (2 Peter 3:5).

Peter believed that the flood narrative was historically truthful. He wrote in response to those who were mocking the return of Christ:

“For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men … But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:5-7,10).

Peter believed that God will someday uncreate the universe. This was reasonable to him because he believed that God created the universe. What we believe about creation has implications throughout Scripture to the end of history. If I find it difficult to believe the Biblical account of the beginning of history, how can I trust the Biblical account of the ending of history or anything in between? What we believe about creation has implications for all of life and truth.

There are a variety of theories as to how universe came into being:

1. One theory can be called Spontaneous Generation: the universe created itself out of nothing, sprang into being spontaneously. But how can nothing create something? How absurd that this theory is referred to as science, when science has never observed anything in the world that generates out of nothing. Science is based on that which can be observed, empirically proven. Spontaneous Generation is an unscientific theory, an irrational attempt to remove God from the discussion.

2. A second theory contends that the universe has always existed and will exist forever. It was not created by anything or anyone — it simply exists. This theory does not explain how matter can exist without a first cause. Other than the eternal God, everything that exists came into being through something else. There is no uncreated cause other than God. Also, we do not see in nature the continual existence of anything. All things decay, disintegrate as they age. So the theory that the universe has always existed and will exist forever is simply unreasonable.

3. A more recent theory, known as the Big Bang, contends that the universe had an explosive, instantaneous generation billions of years ago. According to this theory, the matter of the universe exploded into being. However, this theory lacks an explanation of what caused the explosion and what it was that exploded into matter. Again, this theory lacks an explanation of origin, of how creation can come into being without a first cause.

Why would anyone believe theories that are so non-rational? Quite simply, they are attempts to explain existence apart from God. It serves the purpose of the atheist. If creation came into being by itself, then we have no need for God the Creator. If there is no God, then the atheist is free to live his or her life without the moral restraint of a righteous, just and holy God.

4. The book of Genesis presents a different world view. It is a theocentric / God-centered perspective. Genesis declares that there is a God, a divine uncreated Being, who pre-exists all creation. It is this God, and He alone, who pre-existed time, space and matter and who created the universe. 

Genesis also presents us with a God who is active within history, who acts in time and space to sustain His creation and to fulfill His purpose. In this book we see a God who judges and redeems, who makes covenant with people and invites His covenant people to share with Him in fulfilling His purposes on earth and in history.

Themes of Genesis

In Genesis we are presented with several foundational themes (we credit James M. Boyce for this thematic outline, see his Genesis Vol. 1, p 17-19).

1. God the Creator pre-existed His creation.

God pre-existed all of time and space and all the created matter that fills the universe. Genesis does not attempt to prove, explain or defend God’s existence. It merely presents God as Self-existent, eternal, uncreated Being.

2. God alone is the origin of all life. 

God created the universe out of nothing by speaking it into existence. He did not require any pre-existing matter. God created according to His eternal purpose and design and created life in maturity. Neither stars nor planetary bodies nor plants nor animals evolved from lesser to greater but came into being in maturity by the will of God. The first generation of every plant and creature came into being not in an infantile stage of development but in maturity, capable of reproduction.

3. The first man and woman were created as an intentional act of divine creation.

Humanity was created by God in a purposeful act of creative power according to a particular design and for a special purpose. The first man and woman did not evolve from a lesser form of life to a greater and neither did they mature from infancy to adulthood. They were created as mature, intelligent beings made in the image of God. 

The idea that humanity was created in the image of the eternal, transcendent God gives great dignity to the human being. When this divinely derived dignity of human beings is removed, governments and movements commit unspeakable atrocities. Remove the dignity of humanity created in God’s image and devalued humanity is more easily exploited. 

The regimes that carried out the most horrific massacres of humanity in the previous century were either atheistic (the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China under Mao, the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia); or a secular regime which reinvented God as a subservient figure to the government (the Nazis in Germany).

The idea that humanity was not created by the intentional act of an intelligent Creator according to a heavenly pattern but instead evolved from a single cell floating in primordial slime allows the secular humanist to avoid the possibility that there is a Moral Judge, a transcendent Law Giver and a final accounting before a just God. The outcome of this belief is that people are free to do whatever they want without any moral accountability and has often resulted in unspeakable savagery.

In a world without God, the materialist says that moral truth is relative — you have your truth, I have mine. In that society, justice and morality are defined by whoever owns the most weapons or media systems or judges or politicians or priests. The Biblical creationist says that the truth that defines morality and justice is revealed by God our Creator and based on God’s unchanging moral and just character.

The materialist says that human beings were created by chance without ultimate purpose. The Biblical creationist declares that we are lovingly created by God for specific purpose and destiny and that our value is derived from God our Creator, not from what we produce or do.

4. Human life multiplied across the earth by divine mandate.

Genesis presents the generations of the human family multiplying across the face of the earth not as the result of random chance but as God commanded.

5. Evil and divine judgment have specific historical origins.

Genesis reveals the origin of evil, temptation, sin and the reality of God’s judgment. Humanity was created with the capacity to make free moral choices — to do good or evil, to obey God or rebel against God. God is glorified in the creation of intelligent, morally free beings. Although humanity sinned, this allowed God to glorify Himself as our Judge and our Redeemer.

6. Salvation from sin is the sovereign choice and act of God.

Genesis reveals the sovereign activity of God in human history seeking and saving sinners, beginning in the Garden of Eden.

7. From the time of humanity’s fall, God promised a Redeemer.

Genesis unveils the promise of a Redeemer who would come someday and save humanity from sin and the death which sin works in the life of everyone.

8. God makes covenant with people.

Genesis reveals a God who invites people into covenant relationship with Himself for the purpose of fulfilling His redeeming, saving purpose in history.

By way of review, the Themes of Genesis are:

1. God the Creator pre-existed His creation.

2. God alone is the origin of all life. 

3. The first man and woman were created as an intentional act of divine creation.

4. Human life multiplied across the earth by divine mandate.

5. Evil and divine judgment have specific historical origins.

6. Salvation from sin is the sovereign choice and act of God.

7. From the time of humanity’s fall, God promised a Redeemer.

8. God makes covenant with people.

Authorship:

The author of Genesis does not identify himself but many sources within the Bible identify Moses as the author (along with the other first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch).  

The Apostle Paul attributes authorship of the Pentateuch to Moses, calling it “the law of Moses.” The Law of Moses includes the book of Genesis:

“For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing’” (I Corinthians 9:9 quoting Deuteronomy 25:4). 

“First Moses says, ‘I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, by a nation without understanding will I anger you’” (Romans 10:19 quoting Deuteronomy 32:21). 

Jesus also attributes authorship of the Pentateuch to Moses:

“Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law?” (John 7:19) 

“Now He said to them, ‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled’” (Luke 24:44)

 

“But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob?’” (Mark 12:26). Jesus says that the Scripture about the burning bush, found in Exodus, is “in the book of Moses.” The Book of Moses is the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible which include Genesis.

Jewish and Christian commentators have followed this tradition in ascribing authorship of Genesis to Moses. It is believed that Moses wrote the book after the Exodus from Egypt while the Israelites were traveling through the wilderness. He wrote this book to acquaint the Hebrew people with their origins as a nation, as well as the origins of the universe. He was trying  to introduce liberated slaves to their history, to their destiny and to their God, the God who had made covenant with them. This would place the date somewhere between 1445 B.C. and 1405 B.C.

How did Moses receive the information that fills this book?

1. Moses received truth through the traditions of his ancestors.

God alone was the eyewitness to the creation of the universe and surely He revealed these truths to those who lived before Moses. Certainly God instructed Adam and Eve and surely they shared the creation story with their children. 

Surely Noah was aware of the history of the world — he was contemporary to everyone reaching back to the fourth generation after Adam. Noah certainly understood the moral character of God — how else could he have testified to his generation and warned them of impending judgment? Surely Noah instructed his children concerning the character of God, the certainty of judgment against sin and the availability of grace. Surely Noah’s children, filled with reverential fear, taught those who followed them.

The historical record which Moses records in Genesis — the creation story, the fall of humanity, the early history of people groups spreading across the earth, the flood, the righteous line leading from Noah to Abraham, God making covenant with Abraham and the early history of the covenant people — these traditions were communicated throughout the generations through relatively few people from Adam to Noah to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the tribal fathers down to Moses.

2. Moses received truth through divine revelation.

God confirmed the creation story to Moses through direct revelation and whatever was lacking in the oral traditions, God shared with Moses through inspired revelation. We know this is so because, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). 

Everything necessary to communicate the history of creation and the history of the Hebrew people was available to Moses through tradition and revelation. Since Moses did not see God create the universe, he received this truth by faith, even as we read the account of creation and believe it by faith. This is what the writer to the Hebrews means when he says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

Genesis confronts us with the existence of the God who creates out of nothing, who judges His creation when it becomes corrupted with sin and who redeems the very sinners whom He judges. Why did God give us this revelation of Himself? What was His objective?    

Genesis Reveals:

1. The Purpose of Creation

a. This purpose includes God’s self-revelation.

God created the universe as a stage on which He may display His glory. In the beauty of His creation, in the perfection of His justice, in the bounty of His provision, in the abundance of His mercy and kind grace, God reveals His glory.

The Psalmist said, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands”  (Psalm 19:1).

God is not hiding, He delights in revealing Himself to us. Creation is a means of God’s Self-revelation. In Romans 1:19,20 we read,

“Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

God reveals Himself in His creation. Consider the wisdom that designed the universe and the power needed to carry out that design! The magnitude of God’s creation is a staggering revelation of His glory. 

For instance, our galaxy contains 200 billion stars and there are billions more galaxies within range of our telescopes. The distance across an average galaxy is 100,000 light years or 600,000 trillion miles. The average distance between galaxies is 20 million trillion miles or three million light years. Most distant galaxies are moving away from us at a speed of 100 million miles per hour. The vastness of the universe reveals the glory of God.

The empty space within us is just as staggering. If you blow up a hydrogen atom so that its proton is the size of a soccer ball, then the electron would be the size of a golf ball and orbiting the proton at a distance of 5 miles with nothing filling the space between them. Yet that atom is held together by the powerful, wise design of God. Truly the heavens declare the glory of God but so do the particles that comprise our being.

b. Genesis reveals that we live on a planet intended by God for cosmic significance.  

It reveals an eternal purpose for every person born on this planet.  The plan of God is not just to redeem us and take us to heaven, but arriving there, to experience in the ages to come the unfolding of the exceeding riches of His grace (Ephesians 2:1-10).

We aspire here on earth to learn, to discover, to create, but we keep coming up against boundaries of physical limitation, time limits, moral limits, mental limits.  In eternity we will continue to have this desire to learn, to discover, to create but without the boundaries of physical, mental limits, time or sin.  

Earth is a place prepared for the moral testing of a being for whom God has eternal, cosmic purpose.  God’s original purpose was that humanity would pass the test and not fall, but having passed the trial and test, would move on to the next level of God's purpose for him. Though humanity fell, Genesis reveals the purpose of God in offering redemption. 

2. Genesis Reveals the Person of God

a. Genesis reveals God the Creator

God reveals Himself as the Self-existent, uncreated Creator of all life and Creator of the laws of nature which regulate and govern life. Genesis reveals the God who creates but also transcends all that He created, the God who acts in history and creation but is not bound or contained by that which He created.

b. Genesis reveals God the Judge

In confronting the sin of humanity God reveals Himself as the perfectly holy Judge who acts within history to express and establish His justice.

c. Genesis reveals God the Redeemer

In promising salvation to fallen sinners, God reveals Himself as the God who redeems the very sinner He has judged. There was room on the ark for more people; there was room on the ocean for more arks. God was not seeking merely to destroy unrepented evil but also to make a new beginning with men and women who were willing to respond to grace and mercy.  

In Genesis we see God giving the Amorites centuries to repent (see Gen. 15:16). The judgement they experienced later was the outpouring of the cup they had filled with their own sin. When God finally released Joshua and the Israelites to go in and execute judgement on the inhabitants of Canaan, it was only because there was no possibility of redemption for most of the culture. But there were some — the Gibeonites and the prostitute Rahab, who sought and found mercy.  

Sodom and Gomorrah were judged but God encouraged Abraham to be an intercessor, revealing His heart of mercy, His preference for mercy. When judgement was finally poured out it was only after God-inspired intercession by Abraham, the God-inspired witness of righteous Lot and a gracious season for repentance.

Genesis reveals a God who is not seeking merely to destroy unrepented evil but seeks also to make a new beginning with men and women who are willing to respond to His grace and mercy.

d. Genesis reveals a God who seeks to recover and restore what has been lost. 

This is the God who comes seeking Adam and Eve after they fell from grace; the God who confronts and forgives Abraham when he sins; the God who pursues Jacob, wrestles with him, breaks him and blesses him; the God who preserves Joseph in the midst of injustice and persecution.

3. Genesis reveals the Truth of Humanity

a. Created in the image of God

Human beings were created with the nobility of being made in God's image. When God said, “Let us make man in our image,” He was saying, “I will endow humanity with qualities of my being and share with him in a way I have not shared with any other creature.”

Creation in the image of God has to do with the capacity to exercise free will, to create, to reason, to communicate, to love and to give. It has to do with eternal capacity — we will exist forever even if we choose to exist apart from God. It has to do with creative capacity — we can create eternal beings, we design and build as reflections or expressions of our thoughts and aspirations.

b. Created to know God

We were created with the capacity to know God, to behold and appreciate His glorious attributes and worshipfully give Him glory.

c. Created to be faithful stewards over creation

We were created to be partners with God, wise and faithful stewards of God’s creation. While maintaining communion with God we could share in the creative genius and resources of God. God the Creator would work through humanity to develop the full possibilities of creation. 

We were given dominion over the earth — not just over living things but inanimate creation as well.  This does not imply a ruthless pillaging of the earth. In Genesis 2:15 we read, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” The word cultivate is related to the Hebrew word for servant. Humanity was created to serve creation.

If God pronounced all of creation as good, surely that good did not include natural disasters.  The preservation of good creation was the assignment of humanity to whom God gave servant-dominion over all things.

d. Fallen through disobedience

Genesis reveals that humanity willfully sinned against God’s revealed will and fell from relationship with God.

e. Judged as sinners

Genesis reveals that humanity’s sin resulted in the judgment of God falling upon all of humanity, which judgment resulted in exile from the garden, a curse coming upon humanity and upon creation and death entering the previously perfect world.

f. Capable of being redeemed

Genesis reveals that fallen, sinful human beings can be redeemed, reveals God’s promise to redeem fallen, sinful humanity, to set us free from our slavery to sin and the death which sin creates.

4. Genesis reveals the problem of humanity’s condition.

The problem on earth is that the ruler, the caretaker, fell.  The disarray, disasters in the natural realm, plagues and famines, crises in the natural and social arena, the assault of disease and breakdown upon the human body and mind, all this is the result of the intended ruler of creation falling from relationship with Creator God and therefore from the place of stewardship over creation.  Those things would never have come to such a point of disintegration except for the displacement of man.

Sin resulted in more than just a severing of relationship with God. By that severing of relationship, humanity not only was disconnected from our only source of eternal life and light, but we lost the avenue of wisdom, power and energy that would have enabled us to carry out servant / dominion over the earth.  Separation from God resulted in separation from the resources that enabled dominion, which resulted in separation from the task of dominion.

Humanity tries to manage life, direct the affairs of the world, develop the potential of the planet while separated from God.  The result is ignorance or knowledge misused.  For centuries humanity was ignorant of the secrets of steam power, electrical power, atomic power and we suffered for lack of the benefits which these discoveries have provided. But how much greater the suffering when discoveries are made and misused due to the impact of sin and the lust for dominance.  We don’t know what it would be to live on a  planet where discoveries are the result of God's wisdom flowing into the untainted mind of humanity.

5. Genesis reveals the plan and pathway of redemption.

Genesis presents humanity’s need for redemption, the promise of redemption and the plan moving toward fulfillment of the promise.

The judgment recorded in Genesis 3:14 is the result of humanity listening to and following the serpent.  We know from Revelation 12 that the serpent is an expression of Satan himself. In Genesis 3:15, the promise is of a seed to come who will crush Satan’s head ( a mortal wound) although this Deliverer will be bruised on his heel (a non-mortal wound).

Genesis presents the promised seed and the people from whom the seed will come.

By way of review, Genesis reveals:

1. The Purpose of Creation

2. The Person of God

3. The Truth of Humanity

4. The Problem of Humanity’s Condition

5. The Plan and Pathway of Redemption

Why did Moses write Genesis?

Genesis was written in the wilderness.  Moses was writing for recently liberated slaves who were moving toward the Land of Promise. Moses was saying, 

1. “This is who you are — descended from the first man and woman whom God created; made in the image of God.” 

2. “The land before you, the land of milk and honey, the Land of Promise, is your inheritance. It was promised to you from long ago. That land holds the altars where your ancestors worshipped, those are the proving grounds where they labored for their inheritance.”  

3. “This is your God, the God who creates, the God who chose you and made covenant with you to be His people; the God who judges, disciplines, redeems and restores His people; the God who chooses your inheritance, Who has a salvation purpose in history and is moving history toward the fulfilling of his purpose.”

We also are descended from this God and from these first human ancestors. We too have sinned and fallen. We also have been called by God to share in His salvation purpose.

Through His redeeming grace, God opens up the possibility of recovering His purpose in each human being.  While that process of recovery will not be complete in this life, God begins by creating in our hearts that flicker of perception, that dawning realization that there is a high, divine purpose, a cosmic purpose, an eternal purpose for each of us.  

We are not given as many details of our eternity as we would like to have but we are given enough information that when Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you,” we know He is speaking of something glorious.  We know He is talking about a place of intimate communion with God, an appointment in the everlasting purpose of God and a destiny that fits into the pattern of a timeless universe in continuous creation.

Genesis is our history too.

Study Questions

1. What are eight themes of Genesis?

2. How did Moses receive the information contained in this book?

3. What does Genesis reveal?

4. Why did Moses write Genesis?

5. In what way is Genesis also your history?

Genesis Chapter 1

Genesis Chapter 1

1:1 “In the beginning, God” 

The phrase, “In the beginning,” refers to the universe, not to God. God has no beginning and no end. Genesis, the book of beginnings, presents us with a God who already exists when the story begins. Moses, who wrote Genesis and Psalm 90, said, 

“Before the mountains were born or you gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2). 

From everlasting to everlasting — before the beginning and beyond the end — God exists.

If God existed before creation, then He is uncreated — the cause of His own Being, Self-existent. Everything else that exists owes its existence to something or someone outside of itself. Something or someone caused it to exist, brought it into being. But this is not so of God. He alone is the reason for His own existence.

Uncreated Being must also be timeless — everlasting. God exists independently of time. So it is that the four living creatures around the heavenly throne worship the Lord saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Rev. 4:8). 

“Who was and is and is to come” — God exists before time, within time and beyond time, simultaneously.

If God is uncreated then He must also be Self sufficient. If all life flows from Him then He needs nothing to be added to Him. He needs nothing for He cannot be diminished. He never grows weary because His power cannot be depleted.  It is as easy for God to create a billion stars as it is to create one lily. He is the Almighty. All power flows from Him. He is the all wise God, the source of all wisdom and truth.

He is the uncreated, Self-existent, eternal God.


We must also note that the Hebrew word for God used in Genesis chapter 1 is Elohim, which is a plural noun. We will see in 1:26 that a plural pronoun is used with Elohim, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.’” From the beginning, there is a plurality to God’s being. 

Through later revelation we understand that God exists as one God revealed as three Persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However, God did not reveal this to Israel because of the many false gods surrounding the nation and the temptation to worship a multiplicity of idols. To Israel, the Lord emphasized His unity, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deut. 6:4).

1:1 “In the beginning God created.”

The Hebrew word for create is bara. If the Lord had formed the earth out of pre-existing matter (like sculpting clay) a different word might have been used — yatsar —  which means to mold, frame or form. Bara refers to creation out of nothing — ex nihilo — for nothing existed before this. 

God did not form the universe out of matter which already existed. He spoke into being that which did not previously exist. God predates creation, therefore He predates all matter. Nothing other than God existed when God created the universe.

The writer to the Hebrews informs us, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Hebr. 11:3). 

This is the God who “calls into being that which does not exist” (Rom. 4:17). God’s creative activity requires nothing other than Himself. He spoke the universe into being. There is an absolute beginning to the universe — a moment when a universe existed which did not exist before.

If God created matter then there was a time when matter did not exist but there is no time when God did not exist. If God created matter then He is separate from it and not contained in it or by it. A pantheist worships a tree as divine. We worship the God who created the tree but Who exists independently of all that He creates.

1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

God created all things, seen and unseen, spiritual matter and physical matter, the laws of time and space which govern matter, heavenly things and earthly things. This encompasses the creation of the entire universe.

The Bible declares that the beginning of creation is God’s act of creation: “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands” (Hebr. 1:10).  

The materialist believes that matter always existed and that more complex forms of matter evolved / mutated out of lower forms of matter; material beings with personality and self awareness evolved out of simpler, non-selfconscious forms of matter.

There are several problems with a non-Theistic, materialist theory of creation:

1. There is nothing in the material world that is self existent. All matter owes its existence to something. Matter does not will itself into being. The materialist cannot answer the question, “Where did the first forms or particles of matter come from? What produced them?”

Proponents of the Big Bang theory cannot explain what it was that exploded or where it came from. Who created the organic or inorganic stuff of that primal Big Bang? Who created the stuff and who created the bang?

2. History does not demonstrate lower forms of life evolving into higher. Rather, we see a de-evolution, the gradual break down of matter.

Inorganic matter — rocks for instance — cannot become organic matter — plants or animals. Organic matter cannot organize itself to become more complex matter. A cell cannot add information to its genetic code; matter organizing into more complex forms by chance is impossible. The genetic information that causes a life form to be what it is cannot create itself. This requires input from some outside source.

Every cell in your body contains a strand of DNA which carries the coded information that causes you to be the unique, complex being that you are. There are 100 trillion cells in your body and each cell has a strip or coil of DNA — a copy of coded information. If we stretched out that coil of DNA in one cell it would be 7 feet long but so thin we could not see it under an electron microscope. The information in each strand of DNA, if printed, would fill one thousand books of one thousand pages each. The idea that this vast amount of information came into existence through chance mutation of a single cell which itself came into being by itself without an intelligent Designer is irrational.

There are 100 trillion electrical connections in our brain, more electrical connections than all electrical appliances on the planet. Expressing this in another way, each human brain contains approximately 100 billion neurons, each with the capacity to form 10,000 to 100,000 synaptic connections. Yet that brain fits in a quart jar. It operates for 70 years on 10 watts of power. The idea that anything that complex evolved by chance without an intelligent Designer is irrational.

The twenty-four elders before the throne of God do not argue theories of creation. They simply praise the God who creates:

“Worthy are you, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things and because of your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11).

The universe exists because this was the will of God. He is the God who “accomplishes all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). From sub-atomic particles to galaxies of blazing stars, from visible creation to invisible, all angels, animals, plants and people, every form of energy, the forces of gravity and electro-magnetism and every law by which nature operates, all were created by God.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

1:2 “The earth was formless and void.”

The Hebrew word for formless is tohuw.

The Hebrew word for void is bohuw.

The earth was tohuw and bohuw — a dark, formless mass. This is not a self-existent mass. It is matter which God created but has not yet been given form.

1:2 “And darkness was over the surface of the deep.”

There was no created light. The formless mass of matter was engulfed in absolute darkness. “Deep” may refer to the water that covered the entire earth. The picture is of a primordial ocean encompassed in darkness.

The Apostle Peter tells us, “By the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water” (2 Peter 3:5).

The Psalmist describes this water based creation, “He established the earth upon its foundations so that it will not totter forever and ever. You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters were standing above the mountains” (Psalm 104:5,6).

1:2 “And the Spirit of God hovered” 

The Hebrew word for hovered is racaph — to brood or flutter. The word racaph is found in Deut. 32:1, speaking of God’s protective care over Israel:

“Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, He (God) spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions.”

The picture in Genesis 1:2 is of God hovering or brooding over formless creation. This speaks of God’s tender care and careful, intentional supervision over the design and process of creation.

In saying the Spirit of God hovered over creation, the text does not mean that the Holy Spirit created independently of the other members of the Trinity. Elohim created the heavens and the earth. As we have seen, Elohim is a plural noun. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit shared in the work of creation, as they share in all things. 

In Colossians we read of Jesus,

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:15,16).

In John 1:1-3 we read, 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”

The Word is John’s way of referring to Jesus, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw His glory” (John 1:14). Jesus, the Word, was with the Father in the beginning. God the Father created through His Son and with the Holy Spirit. The members of the Trinity always work in unity.

1:2 “And the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep” 

The Hebrew word for deep is tehom — an abyss. It is sometimes used to refer to the deep of the sea. It may refer here to primordial waters which covered the surface of the unformed earth. Or it may refer to thick clouds of water vapor which shrouded the earth or both.

What a lovely picture: the Spirit of God hovering, brooding, pausing over the cooling clouds and  dark waters covering the unformed earth as God prepares to speak into existence His eternal purpose. This purpose includes not only the creation of light, plants, animals and human beings but also God’s eternal salvation purpose. God pauses and then God speaks.

1:3 “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.”

God speaks and light explodes into being. The Word of God is creative, dynamic, powerful, containing in it the life necessary to bring about the fulfillment of that which God speaks. Notice how often in Genesis chapter one we read this phrase:

1:3 God said

1:6 God said

1:9 God said

1:11 God said

1:14 God said

1:20 God said

1:24 God said

1:26 God said

God willed to create the universe and spoke creation into being: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host … For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:6,9)

In Psalm 148 the hosts of heaven are commanded to praise God for “He commanded and they were created” (Psalm 148:5).

This creation of light is not the beginning of creation.  God had already created the formless earth and the primordial waters. That did not pre-exist, as we have read previously, “Without Him was nothing made that was made” (John. 1:3)

God had already begun the work of creation but now creates light. Notice that light precedes the creation of sun or moon. God does not need sun or moon to bring light to the universe for God Himself is light and “dwells in unapproachable light” (I Timothy 6:16).

The Psalmist praises the Lord as the Source of light, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (Psalm 36:9).

In the new heavens and new earth, there will be no sun or moon. The light of God’s glory will fill the entire universe. Referring to the heavenly Jerusalem, John says, “And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23).

“And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).

God spoke light into being before He created any heavenly bodies to contain, generate, or reflect light.

1:4 “God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”

God continues the work of establishing order and design in His creation, separating light from darkness.

1:5 “God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”

God names the light and the dark. Naming the different aspects of creation shows the sovereignty of God in establishing order in His creation.

Notice that the Biblical record speaks of evening and morning after day one (also after day two and day three in 1:8,13) before there was a sun or moon with which to measure the passing of a day. For this reason, some commentators contend that the word day refers to an undetermined passage of time. This is called the Progressive view of creation — God created over a progression of ages.

Others believe the word day refers to a literal 24 hour period. Both interpretations have validity.

a. Those who believe day refers to an undetermined passage of time refer to Psalm 90:4, in which Moses says, “For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night.”  The Apostle Peter also refers to the timelessness of God when he says, “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

These commentators point out that the measurement of a day on earth could not take place until the creation of the sun, which did not happen until the fourth day (Genesis 1:16-19). They also add that the age of the universe and the time necessary for plant and animal species to mature requires longer periods of time during the creation process.

b. Those who contend for a literal 24 hour period of time believe literally the testimony in Genesis chapter one that God created life in maturity, full grown, bearing seed, capable of reproduction. Therefore there was no need for ages of time in which plant and animal species matured.

They also point out that God did not need a sun or any other created thing to assist Him in measuring a day. They contend that if God is who we confess Him to be, then He could create the world in 6 micro seconds or six hours. God created in 6 days to establish a pattern of work and rest for people.

A primary problem with the Progressive view of creation — that God created over a long period of time — is that it introduces death into creation long before we read of the presence or even the possibility of death. If creation was progressive then plants and animals were reproducing, dying and regenerating in a continuous cycle for many thousands or even millions of years.  But according to Genesis 2:17, the possibility of death was introduced by God to Adam and would take place only as a result of disobedience, breaking faith with God. Death was not a part of God’s original creation. 

In 3:19, following the sin of Adam and Eve, death became a reality. Death is the direct result of humanity sinning. When, through disobedience, the man and woman separated themselves from God our Creator and the continuing Source of our life, death and  disintegration were introduced into creation.

If we say that death was originally part of the creative process, then we make God to be the Creator of death. We are saying that God pronounced death to be good, for after each stage of creation He said, “It is good.”

The record states clearly that God did not create death but did warn humanity of its reality if they chose to break the flow of life from God. In choosing to break relationship with God, it is humanity who created the reality of death, violence, disease and cursed creation. 

A middle way in this discussion is to assume that plants and animals were indeed reproducing and dying over long ages of time and God pronounced it good because this was the cycle of life which He created. But death was not a part of His plan for the creature fashioned in His image. When God said to Adam, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” (2:17), Adam would have understood what God meant because he had seen the death of plants and animals. Adam also understood that death was not God’s purpose for humanity and would never be experienced unless men and women sinned. They did sin and death was introduced to humanity. 

However, we don’t want our questions about time to obscure the most important truth of the creation story. Whether God created in six days or six ages, what happened is the orderly unfolding of the purpose and design of God. God’s purpose was to create a universe, fill it with light and life so that He could display His glory. He created intelligent beings so that we could behold His glory and praise His glory.

1:6,7 “Then God said, ‘Let there be an expanse (firmament) in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so.”

God calls forth an expanse or firmament to separate the waters above from the waters below. In verse eight the expanse is called heaven.  This must refer to the atmosphere which separates the waters above, in the form of vapor and clouds, from the waters below which cover the earth and flow beneath the surface. In God’s original creation, the upper waters may have been a canopy of mist which may have shrouded the earth. Upper waters cannot refer to rain because in 2:5 we read that “the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth.” Earth was watered by a mist which rose up from the earth (2:6).

It is by the creative power of God that the waters above are separated from the waters below. It is by His sustaining power that this order continues in our day as rain and snow.

1:8 “God called the expanse heaven.” 

God continues to give names to His creation. This speaks of His sovereignty and order. As we have said, the expanse refers to the atmosphere which separate the waters above, in the form of vapor and clouds, from the waters which cover the earth.

1:8 “And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.” 

God is eternal, existing outside of time. Though He acts within time He is not bound by time. He exists before time, beyond time and within time, simultaneously. Though there was nothing yet in existence that we could use to measure the passing of time, God does not need suns, clocks or calendars to assist Him in measuring and ordering His creation. With perfect wisdom He knows the placement of every particle of being and every nano-second of time.

1:9 “Then God said, ‘Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear’; and it was so.”

God continues the work of giving order to His creation. He cause portions of the earth’s surface to rise above the waters and portions of the surface to sink, which are then covered by the lakes, rivers and seas. The waters are gathered into their place at the command of God.

At the same time God calls dry land into being. The core of the earth is created along with the surface soil, rocks and minerals. Solid earth rises up from beneath the water as the water is separated from land. There may have been only one continent or several. The land rises as the water separates into a great sea.

“Waters below” may also refer to a subterranean water system that irrigated the earth. This would have included underground streams, rivers, lakes, wells, all interconnected by God’s design.

“And it was so” signifies that God’s order is fixed according to His unchanging design.

1:10 “God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good.”

God names earth and seas. Again we see God naming that which He creates, demonstrating sovereignty as He establishes order.

“And God saw that it was good.”

When God said, “It is good,” He was making a moral statement, affirming that in His estimation founded in His perfect wisdom, creation corresponds to that which is good.  This means that the universe does not exist in a  moral void. It conforms to the moral character of its Creator. 

This means that whatever is morally good and just will ultimately prevail. It also means that if anyone is living in a manner that violates moral goodness and justice, they are living against the grain of the universe and will eventually be destroyed.

The Bible reveals a God who acts in history to establish His moral goodness even while giving angels and humanity the freedom to violate His goodness. Though sin has corrupted every aspect of creation, the end of history will witness the final establishing of God’s moral law across the universe and “creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

 

Considering earth’s past — created by God and pronounced to be good and blessed; and considering earth’s future —  redeemed and restored, how should we act toward creation? Should we not act responsibly, in a manner consistent with God’s blessing and promise?

1:11,12 “Then God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation (grasses), plants (herbs) yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them’; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.”

God created grasses, plants and trees with the capacity to reproduce — “with seed in them.” All vegetation was created in maturity, bearing seed which allowed each life form to reproduce “after their kind.” The seed was created by God to carry the genetic information necessary to propagate that species. As we have said, the amount of information contained in the DNA of any plant, animal or human being, is staggering. The theory that such a vast, intelligent design occurred by chance mutation is completely irrational.

This phrase, “after their kind”, is repeated 10 times in chapter one. Kind indicates limitations of variation — a tree or plant can only propagate according to its genetic code. This eliminates the possibility of an evolutionary process. The theory that all living things come from a common ancestry is refuted by this phrase  — “according to its kind.” A lily cannot evolve into an oak tree. A cat cannot evolve into a zebra. You can eat chicken but the ingesting of chicken amino acids will not make you a chicken.

Seed allows a life form to reproduce after its own likeness. Every organism has DNA which can produce variety within that kind but only within that kind. People are created with a great variety of talents, intelligence and physical characteristics but they are still people. 

A plant has never evolved into something higher than or other than a plant. Mutations in genetics always produce downward — in a devolutionary direction, not evolutionary. Mutations do not produce a new organism — only variations of that organism and usually with some flaw.

Notice that the vegetation of the earth was created before there was a sun to sustain it. How did the plants, trees and grasses survive? They were sustained by the light that God had previously created. But even if there had been no light and the night had endured a thousand years, all would have prospered by the sustaining mercy of God because that was His will. He sustains that which He creates.

Today we see millions of trees in the world and hundreds of millions of plants producing and reproducing countless more of their kind. Let us remember that they all originated in one spoken word, a word which still echoes across this world in fruitfulness, shade, beauty and nourishment for creatures and for humanity. Whatever words of promise and blessing God has spoken over our lives, these also still echo through the years.

1:13 “There was evening and there was morning, a third day.”

And so a third day of creative activity passed.

1:14-18 “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens …” 

Notice again the means of creation: “God said.” There is no indication of any process of time. God speaks a universe of stellar bodies into existence.

This is not the first appearance of light in the universe. Light has been in existence since the first day of creation when God said, “Let there be light.” We might say that God created the luminaries and attached light to them while also giving them the capacity to generate more light. 

The luminaries were created not only “to give light on the earth” but also “to separate the day from the night”, to serve as signs “for seasons and for days and years” and “to govern the day and the night.” As the sun proceeds in its orbit through the heavens and as the earth rotates around it and tilts on its axis, an orderly pattern of days, months and years is established. The moon also serves in regulating tidal patterns on the earth.

God created the heavenly bodies to illumine, to serve and to govern His universe, though He needs no assistance in illuminating, serving or governing that which He created. God, the Source of all light, uses the sun, the moon and stars because it pleases Him, not because He needs stars or any other created thing to accomplish His purpose. 

There are lessons here for humanity.

When we lack resources, wisdom or the light of understanding, we may remember that our God is “the Father of lights” and Giver of “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17). We may be encouraged that because our God lacks nothing and needs nothing, He is the Giver of all good gifts as we have need. As the Creator of all, He is also Sustainer of all and Supplier of all.

If the vegetation of the earth had possessed eyes, they would have seen light before the sun was created. So with us — we may have eyes to see the light of God’s presence and the mercy of His provision and even when we do not see, may we know that He is still our Provider. Though we may sometimes seem to walk in darkness, though we may at times understand nothing of the affairs of the day, it is always by the merciful presence and provision of God that we are sustained.

Further, we see here that God calls sun and moon to partner with Him in sustaining creation even as He ordains governments to provide order and churches to preach the Gospel, though He is not dependent on that which He ordains or creates. He creates and ordains because it is His good pleasure. He calls us to discipleship not because He is impelled by some need within Himself but because it pleases Him to call us.

Notice in verse 15, “And it was so.” This speaks of permanence, a fixed, established condition and it remains so through the life of the universe.

Notice in verse 18,  “And God saw that it was good.” Again, God declares that His work of creation is good, that His universe conforms to the moral character and goodness of its Creator. 

1:19 “There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.”

1:20 “Then God said, ‘Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.’”

God speaks non-existence into existence, non-being into being. The first living creatures are created to populate the sea and sky — all species instantaneously created in massive swarms. “Let  the waters teem with swarms of living creatures” — this  is not the record of an evolutionary process from a few simple organisms to more complex organisms. These were created in maturity and in great number.

The word creature, nephesh, means that which breathes. These creatures are distinct from other living things such as trees and plants which, though they are alive, neither breath nor move. Also, these creatures are alive in the sense that they are conscious of life in a limited way. They are not self-conscious but they are conscious of their immediate environment and of hunger, thirst and threat. They are alive also in their ability to reproduce life after their own kind.

In the diversity and complexity of this expanding creation we see the mind of an intelligent Designer. For instance, birds with a homing instinct based on stars, when raised from eggs inside a building and never having seen the sky, when released into the wild can orient their direction according to the stars that were painted on the ceiling of the building. Truly, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1).

1:21 “God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good.”

God created them “after their kind.” There is no sense here of evolutionary development from a single organism or a few organisms. God creates species in diversity and maturity. Each species has the genetic ability to reproduce within that species but not outside of it. The genetic endowment coded into each cell is both a gift and a boundary. DNA is a gift enabling the creatures to pass on the traits of their species while propagating. But it is also a boundary. These living creatures can change within their kind but cannot evolve into something beyond their kind.

“And God saw that it was good.” As always, God expresses the goodness of His creation.

1:22 “God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’” 

When God blesses His creatures, He infuses into us the reality of His blessing. That is, the word of His blessing carries the power necessary to bring into being the reality of the blessing. So when God pronounces the blessings of fruitfulness, what follows is the prolific multiplying of species.

1:23 “There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.”

And so the fifth day came to an end.

1:24,25 “Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind’; and it was so. God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.”

In saying, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures,” God is creating life out of the elements that comprise earth which He created. Because the bodies of these animals are composed of the same chemical elements as earth, therefore they go back to the earth when they die.

Cattle represent animals that can be tamed, domesticated for man’s use.  Creeping things represent short legged creatures — insects, rodents, reptiles. Beasts of the earth are four-legged animals that are non-domesticated. All three kinds of creatures were made simultaneously and instantly by the word of God.

As with the creatures of the sea and air, these are called living creatures (nephesh — having breath), as opposed to vegetation. Plants and trees are alive but cannot move or breathe. Also, with the higher creatures, there is a consciousness of existence (not self-consciousness but conscious of their needs and surroundings).

Again, God expresses the goodness of His creation. But the sixth day is not over.

The garden is created. It is time now for the crown of creation.

1:26 “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.’”

Notice the plural pronouns — “Let us … in our image … to our likeness.” The word for God which is used here, Elohim, is a plural noun and is used with plural pronouns — us, our. God is introducing the plurality of the Godhead. We understand today that God exists as three distinct Persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — distinctly three, perfectly one in unity, co-equal in glory and majesty, co-eternal.

Though God has always existed as a Trinity, God did not unveil this to the Hebrew people because Israel was surrounded by cultures which worshipped multiplied false gods. To a nation encompassed by idolatry, the Lord emphasized His unity as revealed in the Scripture which every Jew confessed, “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

As history unfolded, God progressively revealed that He is a Trinity — three Persons, one God. We see this revealed, but not emphasized, in Genesis 1:26.

God does not speak man into being, for then He would say, “Let there be man.” Rather, He is speaking of the formation of a being by means other than the creative word of God. 

God is speaking within Himself: “Let us make.” We are listening to a conversation among the members of the Trinity concerning creation. This must also be part of a larger conversation concerning redemption because God knew He could not create humanity without also purposing the redemption of humanity.

God knew that if He prepared a creature with the moral freedom to obey Him or disobey, to worship and love Him or willfully sin against Him, we would sin. We would then perish unless God initiated a plan for our redemption. This is why we read that Jesus is the sacrificed Lamb who “was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (I Peter 1:20). 

We read that it was God’s purpose to save us by “grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Timothy 1:9).

We were chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

Jesus told a parable about those who will someday hear an invitation to inherit a kingdom prepared “from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

In the end times, those who worship the beast will be those whose names were not “written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Revelation 13:8).

The conversation between the members of the Trinity regarding the creation of man also included the plan to save fallen man. Creation was intended by God as a stage for the unfolding of the redemption story. 

God glorifies Himself in displaying His creative power and wisdom in creating a being made in His likeness. He further glorifies Himself in displaying His mercy and grace in redeeming this creature when we fell from relationship with Him through sin.

1:26 “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.’”

There are two primary Hebrew words for man: adam and ish. Ha adam would be translated the man (ha is a definite article corresponding to the English word the). Adam without the word ha (the) may refer to a specific man by that name or the human race. The word ha is not present here so it is translated, “Let us make man (adam, humanity) in our image, according to our likeness.”

The Hebrew word for image — tselem — means figure, form, shape, resemblance, shadow. The Hebrew word for likeness — demuwth — means the same thing — model, resemblance, shape.

Tselem and demuwth are both used in Genesis 5:3 in reference to the son whom Adam fathered: 

“When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness (demuwth), according to his image (tselem), and named him Seth.”

Just as animals reproduce after their kind, so did Adam and Eve. Seth was created in the image and likeness of his parents. So it was that God created the first man, the first adam, in His likeness and image. Since God is a Spirit-being, we know this does not refer to a physical resemblance. Then what does it mean to be made in the image and likeness of God?

It means we did not evolve from a lower life form. We cannot evolve into the image of God. God-likeness is not found in our DNA. This was an intentional act of creation by God. Humanity was created according to a divine pattern. Yes, our physical being was formed from the minerals of the earth but the truest part of a human being cannot be reduced to chemicals, DNA or earthly elements.

The human being is a transcendent being, distinct from every other creature. In Ecclesiastes 3:11 we read of human beings that God has “set eternity in their heart.” The breath of beasts descends into the earth but the breath of man ascends to heaven.

The image of God refers not to physical form but attributes that correspond to the image and likeness of God. These attributes include the following:

1. Able to reason and think abstractly.

2. Able to appreciate beauty and create that which is beautiful.

3. We posses a moral consciousness — able to distinguish between right or wrong.

4. We possess the freedom to make moral choices — we can choose to do good, to do justice. These are Godly qualities. But because we are morally free creatures, we may also choose to do evil, to act unjustly.

5. We are capable of loving. This is a Godly quality but again, because we are morally free, we may also violate love, we may hate. 

6. We possess an eternal spirit and able to reproduce other eternal beings.

7. We are capable of making choices which have eternal impact — able to receive or reject eternal salvation.

8. We are capable of mature relationship with the members of the Godhead — knowing God and worshipping Him and growing in His likeness.  We are also free to refuse to worship God.

9. We are capable of language, of communicating with others.

10. We are created for relationship. God is a social being and so are we. We need to relate to others and to God.

To this creature made in His image, God gave two mandates. The first is given in verse 26:

1:26 “And let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Notice the pronoun “them.” God is not simply referring to Adam as an individual but to the human race which would follow — Adam and his posterity. Humanity was directed by God to exercise dominion over creation. This was not a mandate to plunder, pillage or misuse in any way the resources of the earth. We were intended by God to be His stewards, His caretakers over the earth. This was possible because humanity, living in sinless communion with God, would be able to receive from God wisdom, knowledge and skill.

Imagine the discoveries that would have been made over the centuries if the human mind, untainted by sin, had been continually enlightened by the mind of God. Imagine those discoveries employed for good and not evil. Imagine a creation cared for by generations of men and women exercising the wisdom and skill of God energized by the merciful kindness of God.

That was the original plan.

1:27 “So God created man (adam) in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Again there is no definite article, ha. Adam obviously refers to the human being which is clarified by the phrase, “male and female.” God created humanity, men and women, as distinctly different creatures but equally bearing the stamp of His image, created in His likeness, co-equal before God, equally capable of communion with God.

In chapter two Moses provides more details concerning the creation of the human being. We will see that the male was created first and then the female. This account in chapter one is simply a summary of that process.

God created the human being as male and female because we are social creatures in need of community and so we could fulfill the mandate to be fruitful and multiply, which He would pronounce in verse 28.

 

We will see in verse 31 that the creation of man took place on the sixth day. We did not evolve from lower forms of life. Even if we interpret the word day as an extended age, it is obvious that there was no ongoing process of evolution. God created the human being in maturity, in His likeness, not in the likeness of something less.

1:28 “God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”

In His blessing the Lord restates the first mandate: “Subdue and rule the earth.” The word “subdue” does not imply that the earth was a wilderness of violent chaos needing to be conquered. It simply means that humanity was given divine direction to give order to creation, to cultivate the garden and expand its borders across the world. 

The concept of rulership is explained in chapter two by the command to cultivate creation (2:15). The word cultivate, abad, means to serve and carries a sense of stewardship as we will see.

To accomplish this mandate would require more people so the Lord states the second mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply.” The divine directive was to propagate, to fill the earth with beings made in the image of God who could cultivate creation while giving glory to God.

“Be fruitful and multiply, subdue and rule” was not just a mandate. It was also a blessing and when God blesses, He infuses into us the reality of His blessing. Therefore humanity was able to be fruitful and multiply, to subdue and rule. When the blessing of God is upon us, we are able to do all that He directs us to do.

We might say that God gave two gifts to Adam — authority and seed. To this day God gives to each of us seed (resources) and authority to use those resources.  Not only does God have a purpose for each of us but He has given us resources and authority for the fulfilling of that purpose.

The fact that human beings are made in the image of God and given stewardship over creation implies responsibility, accountability. It is common today for people to blame their failure, their crimes or their sins on society, the neighborhood, another race, their family or their genetic inheritance. While it is true that social factors have profound influence on each of us and some more than others, the creation story implies that every human being is accountable to God for the choices we make and for the seed and authority we have been given.

1:29 “Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you.’”

God’s blessing included an abundant variety of trees and plants yielding fruit. Such rich provision was lavished on this beloved creature fashioned in His image.

This blessing was complimented by the gifts of taste and smell which God gave for no other reason than for our pleasure. Notice that there is no mention of animals being given for food. Neither is there prohibition of this. Later, after the sin and fall of humanity, in 9:3, the Lord says, “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.”

1:30 “And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food’; and it was so.”

God’s blessing includes provision for the creatures of the earth. Again, there is no mention of animals eating other animals. Neither does God prohibit this.

1:31 “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

As before, God declares that His work of creation is good, that His universe conforms to the moral character of its Creator. But now it is not merely good, it is very good, for a living being has been created in God’s image. The creation story has been joined to the redemption story. Salvation history has begun.

This chapter provides a general description of the creation of human beings. In chapter two we read a more detailed account. What is stated clearly here in chapter one is that God did what God purposed to do.

Study Questions

1. According to verse 3, which came first — stars or light?

2. In verse 10 we read, “And God saw that it was good.” This is a moral statement. What implications does this have for the world we are living in?

3. In verses 11 and 12 we read that God created plants and trees “after their kind.” What is implied in that phrase regarding the theory of evolution?

4. In verse 22 we read, “God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply,’” This is a command but also a blessing, repeated to the human creature in verse 28. What is the relationship between command and blessing?

5. In verses 26 and 27 we read that we are created in the image and likeness of God. What are a few of the qualities implied in that?

This chapter provides a general description of the creation of human beings. In chapter two we read a more detailed account. What is stated clearly here in chapter one is that God did what God purposed to do.

Study Questions

1. According to verse 3, which came first — stars or light?

2. In verse 10 we read, “And God saw that it was good.” This is a moral statement. What implications does this have for the world we are living in?

3. In verses 11 and 12 we read that God created plants and trees “after their kind.” What is implied in that phrase regarding the theory of evolution?

4. In verse 22 we read, “God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply,’” This is a command but also a blessing, repeated to the human creature in verse 28. What is the relationship between command and blessing?

5. In verses 26 and 27 we read that we are created in the image and likeness of God. What are a few of the qualities implied in that?

Genesis Chapter 2

Genesis Chapter 2

2:1 “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts.”

Moses summarizes chapter one — God completed the work which He set out to accomplish. There was nothing lacking — God fulfilled His creative purpose.

2:2 “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.”

We are told again that God completed His work and having done this, He rested. The word rested is shabbath in the Hebrew, from which we derive the English word, sabbath.

What  does it mean that God rested?

a. It does not mean God was weary. In Isaiah we read, 

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28).

The Psalmist reminds us,

“Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4).

Because God is the Source of all power — Almighty; the Source of all wisdom — Omniscient; and the Source of all life, it is as easy for Him to create a universe as it is for Him to create a lily. Because all strength and power originate in Him and flow from Him, God does not need to replenish His strength. He does not become weary. He does not need to be renewed or refreshed.

b. It does not mean God became inactive for God continually sustains what He created. He governs, watches over and upholds His creation while accomplishing all of His good purpose.

“In Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

God continually “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3).

God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

c. It does not mean God abandoned creation.  God is not like a watch maker who winds up the clock and then walks away, leaving it to run on its own.

Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I myself am working” (John 5:17).

Jesus said, “I will never desert you nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

He said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

God is neither weary nor inactive nor distant. He is present and actively involved in this universe. God rested on the seventh day in the sense that, having perfectly completed what He began to do, there was no need to continue the work of creation nor repeat Himself. The world which God created was good and very good. He rested from the work of creation because it was complete.

Interestingly, in  Exodus 31:17 we read, 

“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:17).

The word refresh does not mean God needed a drink of water, a good meal or a nap. The Hebrew word refresh, napash, means to breathe and is related to the word nephesh, the Hebrew word for soul, breath, desire, passion, a living being. But nephesh is also related to a sense of delight.

We experience that, don’t we? When we complete something beautiful and step back to look at it we are delighted, we take pleasure in it and are refreshed. In that same sense, God surveyed His works — a magnificent universe — beautiful, pure, untainted by sin. He pronounced it very good and was delighted, refreshed in the pleasure He derived from creating such profound beauty.

The world we see today — corrupt, disintegrating, crumbling, wracked with storms, quaking from shattered tectonic plates, plagued with diseases, pestilent insects, dangerous creatures and the most dangerous of all predators, fallen man — this is not the world which God created and called good. It is fallen and “subjected to futility” and groaning under the curse (Romans 8:20,22).

When God completed the work of creation, He declared it to be very good and He rested in the delighted fulfillment of His work. In doing so, the Lord set a pattern for humanity, that we also would take one day out of seven to step away from our work and be delighted, not only in the fulfillment of our tasks, but in the God who created us and our world and our work.

2:3 “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.”

What does it mean that God blessed the seventh day? He sanctified it, made it holy. The Hebrew word which we translate sanctified is qadash — to dedicate, hallow, consecrate, sanctify, make holy. God dedicated the seventh day as holy.

God did this, not for Himself but as we have said, to establish a pattern for us — that we might set aside one day to rest from our labor and appreciate the beautiful work of creation. Later, under the Mosaic Law, the Lord reiterated the Sabbath as a day of rest (see Exodus 20:8-11). Implied in this sabbath rest is a reverence for God our Creator.

This also speaks of the greater rest of salvation to which the writer to the Hebrews refers in exhorting us, “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God … Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:9,11). We enter this greater rest when we repent of our sin, placing our faith in Jesus as the holy Lamb who reconciles us to God and opens a way into eternal life and blessing.

It’s interesting that the world operates on a calendar of seven-day weeks. There is no scientific or astronomical reason for this — no reason whatsoever except God designed it this way. We are reminded each week that God created the heavens and the earth in six days and on the seventh day, surveyed His completed work with delight. We are invited to share His delight and rest in our delight of Him.

2:4 “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.”

Having provided a summary account of creation in chapter one, Moses now provides a more detailed account centered on the creation of man. In fact, from verse four of chapter two, the remainder of Genesis and the entire Bible is about humanity — our fall and our redemption.

Some scholars consider chapters one and two to be contradictory accounts of creation, written by different authors. Jesus would disagree with that theory. 

Some Pharisees asked Jesus a question about marriage and Jesus replied, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh?’” (Matthew 19:4,5).

Jesus is combining two statements, quoting from Genesis 1:27 and from 2:24. In quoting them together, He obviously believes the accounts are harmonious. If our Lord trusted the truthfulness and authority of God’s word, so may we.

2:5 “Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man (adam) to cultivate the ground.”

Moses begins the narrative prior to the second day, just before plants, grasses and trees were created. He introduces his primary subject — man — by saying that “there was no man (no adam, no human being) to cultivate the ground.” 

The Hebrew word which we translate with the English word cultivate, abad, means to serve. God’s steward over creation was not yet created but he will be and the remainder of Genesis and the entire Bible and all of history will be concerned with this creature — humanity.

Moses tells us that there was no rain on the earth. We are given a hint here of life before the fall of man. The earth was not watered by rain. The hydrological cycle that we know today in which

water evaporates, rises, is condensed and falls as precipitation, did not exist then. That did not exist until the time of Noah, after the flood. Then how was vegetation watered?

2:6 “But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.” 

The word mist, ed (pronounced ade), has to do with an enveloping vapor or dew. Notice that it rises “from the earth”. This is probably a reference to water welling up from subterranean sources. The earth was refreshed by a different hydrological cycle in the original creation. Water did not fall from the heaven’s but rose up from the earth.

Mist may also refer to a vapor canopy that covered the earth. This would account for the uniformly mild temperatures across the earth and would also have filtered out destructive ultra-violet rays which in turn would help to account for the long life which people enjoyed.

Notice that “the whole surface of the ground” is watered — there were no deserts, no frozen arctic wastelands. The description is of a warm, humid atmosphere supporting a thick layer of vegetation nourished with an uninterrupted supply of water.

How do we know that the earth enjoyed a universally moderate climate? Because of the fossil records revealing thick vegetation in Alaska, in the Siberian Arctic and in lands that today are barren desert. The presence of coal and oil in those regions also supports this theory for coal and oil are produced by thick layers of decomposed vegetation under immense pressure. The support of such lush plant life across the globe would have required a moderate climate and abundant water supplies throughout the world.

This meant that food was abundant for Adam and he didn't have to toil for it. He never had to worry about the water supply — it was unceasing.

2:7 “Then the Lord God formed man (adam) of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man (adam) became a living being (or living soul).”

The Lord formed man — this was an intentional act by God at a specific time — not an evolutionary process of random selection from lower life forms over long ages of development. The word formed, yatsar, means to mold or fashion as a potter. It is the same word used in Isaiah 43:1 to speak of God’s formation of Israel. God shapes, molds, fashions according to His specific design and purpose.

God formed man out of the basic chemical elements that comprise the earth — primarily oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus with lesser trace amounts of other elements. We have the same atomic structure of neutrons, electrons and protons that comprise all other life forms.

God then breathed into man — began the respiratory process. The word breathed, naphac, means to breathe or blow. It is related to the word for breath, neshamah, which means inspiration, breath, soul or spirit. It is used in Psalm 150:6, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

Man then became a living being or living soul, a nephesh, which refers to that which breathes. Nephesh is translated as creature in Genesis 1:21,24, 2:19 in reference to non-human animals and is translated as life in Genesis 1:30. So nephesh is not unique to people in the sense of having breath. All living creatures are nephesh — that which breathes.

But nephesh can also refer to the soul, the inner being of man. We read this in Psalm 103:1, “Bless the Lord, O my soul (nephesh), and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” We have a capacity to know and worship God unlike other creatures that breathe.

Nephesh does not refer to the spirit of man. The word for spirit is ruach and is usually used in reference to the Spirit of the Lord, as in Genesis 1:2 and Judges 6:34, though it may be used in reference to the Spirit of God in man, as in Job 27:3 — “For as long as life (neshamah) is in me, and the breath (ruach, Spirit) of God is in my nostrils.”

Though all living creatures have breath, neshamah, and are living, breathing creatures, nephesh, human beings are different. We are made in the image of God and have a capacity to know, worship and have communion with God.  Man was created out of the minerals of the earth and yet in the image of God — related to earth and to God. 

2:8 “The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man (ha adam) whom He had formed.”

God created a garden especially for the man He created. It was a place of beauty, provision and fulfilling labor.

2:9 “Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food.”

We know from 1:29 that the Lord filled the garden with fruit trees, no doubt nutritious and pleasing to the sense of taste. They were also pleasing to the sight. There was no reason for the beauty of the trees other than aesthetic. God creates beauty because He delights in beauty and beauty glorifies its Creator. Human beings were designed in God-likeness with the capacity to observe and appreciate beauty, the purpose of which is to give glory to God who reveals His wisdom and power and goodness in the beauty and majesty of creation.

2:9 “The tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

In addition to all the fruit trees, there were two special trees in the garden: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The tree of life may have borne fruit which renewed and sustained life, containing properties that assisted God’s purpose for humanity, that we would enjoy long, healthy lives. Or it may have simply been a living memorial to the life which God had purposed for mankind. In God’s original design for the human being, we were capable of much longer life than today — indeed, there was neither death nor disease.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil would surely have been a source of mystery to Adam and Eve. In their time of innocence, they had never encountered evil and would not have understood it as a moral category. They might not have understood good as a moral category either, for good was all they knew. Everything was good and there was nothing that was not good to contrast with the good.

Good was the condition of the original creation. The loving, grateful, obedient response of the man and woman to their Maker was an expression of goodness. This was all they knew in their innocence. What is evil? Evil is an ungrateful indifference to God and rebellion against Him, through disobedience. But that had not yet occurred.

So there may have been some mystery attached to that tree. Eve later referred to it simply as “the tree which is in the middle of the garden” (3:2). She and Adam would soon discover that the tree was a test of obedience to the Lord. In passing or in failing the test, they would personally experience good or evil.

2:10-14 “Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers.”

Two of these rivers, the Pishon and the Gihon, can no longer be identified. We must remember that the geography of earth has been radically altered by the universal flood and the cataclysms that accompanied it. The topography of earth and its interior were broken and rearranged during the quaking and breaking of crust and mantle and during the raging floods which swept away not only the civilizations that existed but the natural world that housed those civilizations.


Two of the rivers, though, are the Tigris and the Euphrates, rivers which exist today.

The point is that the garden was well watered, well supplied, revealing the merciful and abundant provision of God who designed it for man’s sustenance and pleasure.

2:15 “Then the Lord God took the man (ha adam) and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.”

God created a beautiful garden for man to enjoy. But He also gave Adam the task of cultivating and keeping the garden. 

The word cultivate, abad, means to labor and what a noble gift God gave to Adam — the gift of honest labor. Work engages our mind, our emotions, our imagination, our talent and our strength. We are challenged and invigorated by the work which God invites us to enjoy.

Abad also means to serve and carries a sense of stewardship. Adam was invited to serve God by serving His creation. There is something in the human soul that desires to give, to find meaning and fulfillment in serving a cause greater than ourselves. This yearning to serve was planted in the human soul by God and is part of His original commission to Adam.

The word keep, shamar, has to do with protecting.

Abad — cultivate, serve. 

Shamar — protect, exercise stewardship over.

We recall two previous commissions to Adam and to humanity through Adam, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness and let them rule over (the creatures of the earth)” (Gen. 1:26).  And also, “God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’” (1:28).

What does it mean to rule over and subdue creation? It certainly does not mean that Adam was free to pillage and plunder creation to satisfy his own selfish purposes. Rather, living in communion with God the mighty Creator, Adam was free to access the Lord’s wisdom, skill and creative genius so that he could be a steward, caretaker, keeper, servant and cultivator of God’s creation.

The Psalmist reminds us,

“What is man that you take thought of him and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than God and crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of your hands” (Psalm 8:4-6).

“The heavens are the heavens of the Lord but the earth He has given to the sons of men” (Psalm 115:16).

Adam was created to cultivate and keep the garden. This does not mean, as many wrongly suppose today, that our value is derived from our work. Adam’s value was derived from his relationship with God. Work provides us with a sense of fulfillment and meaning but we are not valuable because of what we produce. Our intrinsic worth as human beings is derived from the reality that we are made in the image of God and thereby are able to know Him, worship Him, serve Him and commune with Him.

Adam was commissioned to cultivate and keep the garden, yes, but in intimate, loving, worshipful relationship with the living God.

To summarize God’s purpose in creating man: 

1. We were created to know God, behold His glory, worship and enjoy Him.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). A primary reason for God’s creation of humanity, indeed, God’s ultimate purpose in creating the universe is to display His glory so that we might behold His glory, give Him glory and enjoy His limitless attributes forever.

2. We were created to serve as stewards, caretakers of God’s creation, exercising wise dominion over nature.

3. We were created to show our love for God through obedience.

Humanity was created to experience God’s love and love Him in return. The primary demonstration of love for God is obedience. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Showing our love for God can only take place if we are free to refuse to love, free to disobey. If we were not free to fall, we would not be free to bow. Worship of God can only be the result of a free choice.

Adam was given all the resources and authority necessary to fulfill the Lord’s commission as caretaker of creation. Why don't we see more resources, more authority in our own lives?  

God releases resource and authority in proportion to our willingness to serve, to cultivate.  Show me a person with resources but no heart to serve and I’ll show you a great waste of resources.  Show me a person with great authority but no heart to serve and I’ll show you a dictator, manipulator, controller.  

So if there is a lack of resource or authority in our lives, maybe it’s not that God is running out of supplies nor is it that we need to quote more Scriptures to convince God to be good. Maybe God is withholding what we are not ready for.  We don’t give a child gifts or tools too great for the child, which might cause destruction to the child or to others.  We wait for the child to grow, we help the child grow, then we give.

Sometimes, what we need to pray for is not more resource or more authority.  We need to pray for a change of heart.  Jesus said that if we want to be great in the Kingdom of God, we must learn to serve.  We often have a negative connotation of what it means to be a servant but Jesus says that a servant is not someone with a small sense of identity. In His own life, Jesus shows us that a servant is someone strong enough to kneel and to give. He says that servanthood is the avenue to greatness in the kingdom of God.

Paul says that if I have all the gifts and faith to move mountains but have not love, I have nothing (I Corinthians 13).  And not just any kind of love — Calvary love, Jesus love, servant love.

As I allow God to expand and conform my heart to the heart of Jesus, as I allow God to transform my motives to the motives of Jesus, then I will experience a greater release of God’s resource and authority in me and through me.  God releases resource and authority into our lives, personally and corporately, in proportion to our willingness to serve, to cultivate.

2:16,17 “The Lord God commanded the man (ha adam), saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.’”

Notice the phrase, “You may eat freely.” The garden was designed to nourish Adam and he was invited to access its fruit freely. He was also free to cultivate the garden, to work, to employ his strength, knowledge and imagination as God’s steward.

Adam was perfectly free to labor and to enjoy the fruit of creation. But this freedom was exercised within the boundary of obedience to God. There was this one prohibition: “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.”

Moses does not give a reason for God’s prohibition of that tree and we may assume that there was nothing inherently good or evil about the tree. It was simply a test of obedience, as we have said. Man’s obedience or disobedience to God’s command would result in the experience of good or evil. In resisting temptation and choosing to obey God, man would experience good on a personal level. In choosing to disobey God and rebel against His command, man would experience evil on a personal level.

Other than that, the tree was irrelevant — there was no reason to eat from it. The man, and the woman who would soon be created, enjoyed perfect good in their fellowship with God and there was no evil relevant to them. Evil did not exist as a moral category and there was nothing to measure good against — good was all they knew.

In that sense, they may have been innocently unaware even of goodness, for goodness was the sum of their environment. However, as we have said, eating from the tree would be a moral choice — an act of sinful rebellion which would introduce them to evil which would in turn cause them to be aware of the good which they had forfeited. In rebelling against God’s clearly stated will, Adam and Eve would be replacing the good will of God with rebellious, autonomous self will. They would, by this sin, displace God as Lord of their lives.

Later, Satan tempted Eve to eat from the tree and she succumbed, thinking “that the tree was desirable to make one wise” (3:6). She was tragically mistaken. True wisdom is gained through obedient, intimate relationship with God, the Fountain of all wisdom. Knowledge gained apart from God results in terrible destruction.

Adam and Eve were created to live in union with God, like branches on a tree, drawing life and wisdom from their Creator. But if that union were ever broken by sin it would be as if the branches had been severed from the tree. Cut off from their Creator and Source of life, death would inevitably become part of creation. 

Choosing to live apart from God, life is a long or brief entrance into death. Separated from God, people breathe their own destruction until finally they are absorbed into that which is not life.

In the beginning, the man and woman knew nothing of death. There was the tree of life in the garden (Gen. 2:9), the fruit of which must have had properties enabling long, healthy life but there was no death in this original creation. Indeed, “God saw all that He had made and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).

Created in the image of God, created to be stewards over creation, created to know, enjoy and obey God — the man and woman knew only the beauty of perfect design, planted in a garden reflecting God’s goodness and creative wisdom. Created to live in union with God, man and woman were like branches on a tree, drawing life and wisdom from their Creator. But if that union were ever broken by sin it would be as if the branches had been severed from the tree. Cut off from their Creator and Source of life, death would inevitably become part of creation.

2:18 “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man (ha adam) to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’”

God, existing as a Trinity of Beings, enjoyed relationship, communication and intimacy. Made in the image of God, man was created with a need for those blessings. Communion with God and stewardship over creation did not completely fulfill man’s need. He needed “a helper suitable for him.”

The phrase “not good” does not invalidate God’s previous pronouncements of “good” and “very good.” It means that man was incomplete. He could not fulfill the divine mandate to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” without a mate. He could not exercise servant dominion over the earth without a companion to complement his abilities.

She would soon be created. But first, God had to introduce Adam to his need for a companion. Adam had to realize his incompleteness before he could accept God’s plan for his completeness. The Lord did this by giving Adam a task — he was to name the creatures of the earth. 

This was not busy work. It was a necessary task but also a means of self-revelation for Adam.

2:19 “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man (ha adam) to see what he would call them; and whatever the man (ha adam) called a living creature, that was its name.”

God brought the creatures to Adam so he could name them. What a marvelous exercise of God-given intellect — to give names to thousands of creatures. This was also an exercise of dominion, man demonstrating his authority over creation by naming the creatures.

What a revelation of Adam’s massive intelligence! He gave names to every creature in the world and did so with no other filing system than the mind God gave him. And we may suppose that the name Adam gave was appropriate to the life, design and function of each creature.

2:20 “The man (ha Adam) gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam (adam) there was not found a helper suitable for him.”

In the work God gave him, Adam came to the realization that he lacked something, he was incomplete. We are reminded in this that God gives us work, not only for the blessing and benefit of others but also for our own sake. Work is a source of fulfillment and meaning but also revelation. In our work we bless others but we also receive the blessings of understanding ourselves more clearly.

In this task of naming creatures, Adam discovered that there was no creature suitable as a companion. No other creature was made in the image of God, sharing the intellectual, creative and spiritual properties of Adam. Also no other creature was suitable to partner with Adam in propagating the species as God had commanded.

2:21,22 “So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman (ishah) the rib which He had taken from the man (ha adam), and brought her to the man (ha adam).”

The man — ha Adam — is spelled the same as adam but seems to be used as a proper noun in the Hebrew. Therefore some translations capitalize the name as Adam. God placed Adam in a deep sleep and removed a rib or a portion of his side. From this sample of tissue, bone, DNA, God made a woman.

The Hebrew word for made or fashion is banah — to build. It is different from the word used to describe the creation of Adam — yatsar. Yatsar is a word used to describe a potter fashioning clay which is appropriate for the manner in which God took minerals of the earth and formed Adam. Eve’s creation was different. God removed living material from Adam and built a woman.

This in no way degrades the creation or personhood of woman. She was intentionally created by God in His likeness and image and for His purposes, as we read in the previous chapter:

“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (1:27).

2:23 “The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman (ishah), because she was taken out of man (ish).’”

Notice now that the word man is ish, which always refers to a male human. The word ish is used now that there is a distinction between male and female humans. Whereas adam refers to mankind, humanity as a species, ish refers to the male human being and isha to the female.

Further clarity for the word ish as referring to a male human is found in chapter four: 

“Now the man (ha adam) had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, ‘I have gotten a manchild (ish) with the help of the Lord’” (Gen. 4:1).

Notice also that the female human being is made from the same DNA as her male counterpart. As we have said, she is the equal of Adam — made in the image of God, sharing the same attributes of intelligence, creativity and spiritual capacity.

2:24 “For this reason a man (ish) shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife (ishah); and they shall become one flesh.”

Here God establishes the first and primary institution — the family  — built around a husband and wife. Though God later ordained governments to keep the peace in a fallen, sinful world, the family existed first.

Adam was to be “joined to his wife (cleave to her).” The Hebrew word which we translate join or cleave, dabaq, carries a sense of bonding, glueing, clinging. Cleave speaks of a permanent attachment. The man and woman were intended by God to become one flesh. This carries the idea of physical, spiritual and emotional union, a blending of two lives.

Their union was so perfect that in Genesis 5:2 they are referred to by one name, “He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man (Adam) in the day when they were created.”

However, as with everything else in their lives, the goodness of their union was rooted in the goodness of their union with God. On that future day when they found themselves separated from God though sin, they found their own relationship to be grievously fractured.

2:25 “And the man (ha adam) and his wife (ishah) were both naked and were not ashamed.”

Before they fell in sin, Adam and Eve lived in perfect transparency before God and one another. There was nothing to hide — no shame, no guilt, no fear. Their communication with God and one another was an expression of perfect clarity. Their love for God and one another was as pure as spring water with no taint of selfishness. Their intellect was as brilliant and penetrating as a laser, with no shadow of sin to obscure their insight.

Only after they fell did they attempt to hide behind fig leaves. People deny the existence of God and hide behind the fig leaves of humanist philosophies, idols and false religions because they cannot tolerate a God who sees them, knows them, meets them and confronts them with perfect truth and love.

Study Questions:

1. What  does it mean that God rested?

2. What was the purpose for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

3. What does it mean to cultivate and keep the garden?

4. How would you describe Eve?

Genesis Chapter 3

Genesis Chapter 3

3:1 “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any (or every) tree of the garden’?’”

People fall into error and disbelief when they compare the serpent which we know today with the serpent as described in Genesis 3:1. The serpent of our present world was cursed after the Fall of humanity and lost its original, Pre-Fall position; possibly even its form and attributes were altered. Certainly its mode of existence was modified after the Fall — it was cursed and reduced to crawling on its belly (see 3:14 for a discussion of this).

However, we must not assume that the serpent was created with any inclination to evil. It was a creature “which the Lord God had made” and God had pronounced His original creation to be good and very good. So we may assume that the serpent was innocent.

We read that it “was more crafty than any beast of the field.” The word crafty in Hebrew is aruwm, meaning subtle, prudent, cunning or even deceitful — these words, other than prudent, have a mostly negative connotation for us. But as we have said, we must not suppose that it was created as anything other than good. Its craftiness, subtlety or prudence reflects God’s gift of wisdom, a gift intended for good and not evil. We have no way of judging its beauty, its intelligence or any other attribute since we are separated from its original creation by the curse. 

Furthermore, in this encounter with Eve, the serpent is not speaking its own thoughts. It is Satan the fallen archangel incarnating himself in and through this creature, using the serpent for his own purposes of temptation and corruption. We see examples of this in the New Testament — human personalities possessed by demonic spirits which express their thoughts through the voice of the oppressed person. 

For example,  Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum one Sabbath. A man was in attendance whose personality had been overpowered by a demon and he cried out, 

“Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are — the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34). 

That was not an expression of the mind or personality of the man — that was the demonic personality speaking through him. So it is with the serpent. Satan is dominating the mind of this creature because it was most suitable to his purpose to seduce and destroy Adam and Eve.

It is also possible that this is not an actual serpent at all but Satan manifesting in the form of a serpent, whatever its Pre-Fall form may have been. We see throughout the Bible that holy angels have the ability to manifest in human form and the Apostle Paul reminds us that “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). If angels can manifest in human form and if Satan can manifest as an angel of light, it may be that he can manifest in other forms as well. 

Why didn’t Satan manifest as a man, wouldn’t that be more believable to Eve? No, he could not take the form of a man because there were no other men in the world but Adam so he was forced by circumstance to use a creature, either possessing its mind or imitating its form.

There is no question, though, that this is Satan speaking, not the serpent itself. The Apostle John refers to him in Revelation 12:9 as “the great dragon … the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”

Moses does not describe here in Genesis chapter three Satan’s origin but we must not suppose that he was created as anything other than good and gifted to serve God’s glorious purpose. From the prophets Isaiah (14:4,11-15) and Ezekiel (28:11-19) we learn that Satan, his original name being Lucifer, was created as an angel of high position and his fall was the result of his sin of pride. He sought to overthrow God. Failing in this, he now attempts to overthrow the creatures made in God’s likeness.

How the serpent spoke is not explained but whatever form of communication it employed, Eve understood it.

3:1 “And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said?’”

Satan began his work of seduction and corruption by testing Eve’s knowledge of God’s word. If she does not know what God said, then he can easily mislead, trap and destroy her. As it turns out, she does know what God said. Either God has spoken to her or Adam has shared what the Lord said to him.

But notice the subtle casting of doubt on God's Word: “Has God said?” implies the question, “Are you sure? Did God really say that? Can you trust what you think you heard?”

Satan would have us believe the lie that there is no established truth  — truth is relative, it changes: truth is whatever they say, whatever you say, truth is relative to time and place, social custom and politically correct trends. Satan would have us believe the lie that there is no truth that transcends our culture and our time because there is no transcendent Truth Giver. He would have us believe the lie that there is no God who speaks truth.  Or maybe there is a God but whatever God said is not relevant for our lives and really, we can’t even be sure what God said. 

That is the satanic lie.

So Satan asks Eve, “Did God really say that? And does God mean what He says?”

Notice also how Satan turns God’s gracious invitation to enjoy the garden into a negative prohibition: “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any (or every) tree of the garden?’” 

Here is how God worded it: “The Lord God commanded the man (ha adam), saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die’” (2:16,17).

Adam and Eve were invited by God to eat from every tree of the garden with one exception. This is a gracious invitation to enjoy the abundance of the garden but Satan turns it into a negative prohibition, “Did God say you shall not eat?” He wants to plant a sense of resentment and resistance in Eve, as if God is trying to limit or restrict her happiness.

The man and woman were free to enjoy the blessings of God in all the magnificent variety and beauty of original creation. However, there were boundaries to their freedom which required obedience, submission to the purpose of God. They were free to enjoy the abundance of the garden with the exception of one tree. Freedom with boundaries — this is always characteristic of relationship with the true and living God. Our willingness to respect those boundaries reveals our love for God, as Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

3:2,3 “The woman said to the serpent …”

Eve is still in her sinless innocence and does not discern or understand that she is conversing with a creature — Satan — who intends her destruction. She is especially vulnerable because she has never encountered evil. There was nothing evil in the garden until Satan entered. There was no moral category other than good. 

We wonder if God had given the man and woman some prior warning of evil lurking nearby. But such a warning was not necessary. Whatever temptation comes their way, they have already been given clear instructions as to what they may eat and must not eat. They are accountable, intelligent, morally discerning creatures made in the image of God. They are capable of resisting evil. If they sin and fall from grace, it will not be because they were overpowered. It will be because they freely chose to surrender their will.

So, even though Eve does not yet discern the voice of temptation nor the intent of evil in this conversation, it will be the prelude to her fall from grace if she does not overcome.

3:4 “The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die!’”

Now that Satan has engaged Eve in conversation, he moves from questioning Eve as to her knowledge of God’s word to directly contradicting God’s word: “You surely will not die.” He is brazenly declaring God to be a liar.

This is a direct assault on God’s character. If God is not telling you the truth in this matter, then how can you trust Him in anything? If God is lying about this tree, He could be lying about every tree, about anything. His integrity is called into question. You cannot really trust Him. 

The subtle suggestion is that God doesn’t love you enough to tell you the truth. Satan’s even more subtle suggestion is, “I do love you enough to tell you the truth so trust me, lean on me.” 

Satan is a lying deceiver and it is for this reason that we are exhorted, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8).

But on that day in the garden, Satan was not roaring. He was whispering in subtle tones and here is the beginning of Eve’s fall from grace — she listens to and converses with temptation. She had not encountered evil before but she has now. Any living being who calls God a liar is evil and Eve needs to cut off the conversation, walk away, close the door of her mind.

The Apostle Paul advised his young protege, Timothy, “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).

Flee the temptation. Do not stand and converse or reason with it. If we know what God said and we know it is the truth, we don’t need to hold a conversation with temptation. In particular, we do not need to converse with any false philosophy which denies the existence of a truth-speaking God. But Eve does not walk away — she continues to listen to evil. She is no longer an innocent bystander. She is involved.

Eve had said (in verses 2 and 3) that she and Adam are free to eat from any tree of the garden except for one. She referred to it to it as “the tree which is in the middle of the garden.” They were perfectly free to cultivate and to enjoy the fruit of creation. But as we have noted, this freedom was exercised within the boundary of obedience to God.

We must note the irrelevance of this temptation. Man and woman did not need to discern good from evil. Until Satan entered the garden all of creation was good, as far as they knew, and good was the only moral category that impacted their lives. They did not need to distinguish between good and evil until this day. Now, confronted by evil, Eve will not gain the victory by eating from a tree which God has forbidden. She will be victorious simply by obeying the command of a God who had always and only been truthful, gracious and kind to her.

If there was no relevant evil in all of the garden prior to Satan’s entrance, then what was the significance of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

It was merely a test of obedience. Would they obey God and demonstrate in their obedience, their loving submission to His Lordship? Or would they disobey, attempting to establish their own autonomy? In rebelling against God’s clearly stated will, Adam and Eve would be replacing the will of God with self will, declaring themselves to be autonomous beings, independent of God. 

In obeying God, they would experience good on a personal level. In disobeying, they would experience evil on a personal level, displacing God as Lord of their lives. The resulting separation from God would result in a state of being known as death, of which God had clearly warned them. 

“From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” God had said (2:17). Adam had communicated this prohibition to Eve, having heard it directly from the mouth of the Lord. Though she embellished with the detail “or touch it”, the Lord had said very clearly that if they ate from the tree, they would “surely die.”

God did not say He would kill them but that death would surely occur. The implication is that Adam and Eve would create this reality of death, not God. The instrument of their creation would be disobedience.

Adam and Eve were created to live in union with God, like branches on a tree, drawing life and wisdom from their Creator. But if that union were ever broken by sin it would be as if the branches had been severed from the tree. Cut off from their Creator and Source of life, death would inevitably become part of creation. But it is not God who severs the branch from the tree. It is sinful, rebellious humanity who sever themselves from God. Choosing to live apart from God as autonomous, self-reliant beings, life becomes a journey of separation from life and entrance into death. Separated from God, people breathe their own destruction until finally they are absorbed into that which is not life.

In the beginning, the man and woman knew nothing of death. There was the tree of life in the garden (Gen. 2:9), the fruit of which must have had properties enabling long, healthy life but there was no death in this original creation. Indeed, “God saw all that He had made and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).

God created life, not its antithesis. We cannot even say that Satan created death. It was the man and the woman. But we do see a revelation of Satan’s attributes and purpose: he can invite us into death but he cannot create life. He can tear down but he cannot build up. He can divide and separate. He cannot unite.

For Eve, the beginning of sin was disbelieving the goodness of God, and therefore, failing to trust in the integrity and truthfulness of God’s word. Can we trust God to communicate truth to us? If we cannot  trust God to speak truth in one setting or one chapter or one verse, then how can we trust Him in any other? If we cannot trust His truthfulness, how is God loving or holy?

3:5 “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Satan now gives his blasphemous reason for God’s supposed deception: “Your eyes will be opened — God does not want you to perceive truth.” This implies that God is jealous and petty and desires to keep His most exalted creature, humanity, in ignorance and oppression.

Nothing could be further from the truth. God created man and woman in His image and placed them in a garden which contained every possibility of blessing. God gave them authority to exercise wise dominion over creation, cultivating and serving all that God made. They were given the intelligence, discernment and skill to be God’s stewards over His creation. No doubt the Lord shared with them from His storehouse of wisdom and skill so that they might exercise their ministry with excellence, lavishing upon them every gift of grace. We cannot imagine the brilliance of these two creatures, Adam and Eve.

Whatever they lacked, be it wisdom or anything else, they had only to ask and God would pour generously into their lives. James reminds us, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

God has never denied wisdom to humanity. He created us with the capacity to know, discern, understand and act on truth. Indeed, the problem throughout history is that fallen humanity has suppressed and perverted the knowledge of the truth (Romans 1:18). But Satan wants Eve to believe the lie that God wishes to hide wisdom from her, to bind her in ignorance.

Satan adds, “You will be like God.”

But they are already created in God’s image, created with God-like attributes which included the ability to reason and think abstractly, the ability to appreciate beauty and create that which is beautiful, a moral consciousness, freedom to make moral choices, capable of loving or hating, possessing an eternal spirit and able to reproduce other eternal beings, capable of making choices which have eternal impact, capable of mature relationship with the members of the Godhead, capable of language and of communicating with others, created for relationship.

These attributes allowed them to know God, worship God, commune with Him and exercise servant-dominion over creation.

It is not that they will be like God —they are like God and this enrages Satan. With these words Satan reveals his hatred for the creature that reflects the image of the God he hates. His desire is to destroy these creatures and to overthrow God, to seize the throne of God’s majesty.

Just as Satan was discontent with his state in heaven and tried to rise above the throne of God, so he now attempts to plant in Eve a discontentment with her state of being. She is made in the image of God but surely there must be more — that is the thought suggested by the serpent. And how do we rise to a higher estate? How do we improve our lot? Satan suggests, “Not by submitting to God but by rebelling against Him.” 

This is Satan’s temptation: to seize our destiny through short cuts, to inherit the promises of God without having to grow or mature — just reach out and take it like plucking fruit from a tree. This is the mind of the Tempter and he has not changed in all these centuries.

3:6 “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.”

Eve sinned out of a misunderstanding of her true nature. She was created in the image of God but she wanted to become all she was created to be without submitting to the God who created her in His likeness. There is a process of growth and maturity which occurs as we live our lives in union with our Creator. She wanted to grow into the fulness of her being while declaring her autonomy, her independence from God. This is not the pathway to maturity. Rather, it is the pathway to destruction. 

Adam sinned out of pure rebellion against the revealed will and word of God. Eve was deceived. Adam was not — he understood clearly the prohibition of God. He simply chose to rebel. 

Eve shared with Adam, not out of a motive to hurt him but because of her loving union to him, she wished to share that which was pleasing to her. Both sinned but we must say that Adam’s fall was more grievous. We might call it a failure of priesthood. Both Adam and Eve were priests before God but Adam failed because:

1. He may have failed to adequately communicate God’s commands to Eve. 

2. He was certainly too busy to notice her conversation with temptation.

3. He failed to break the unholy relationship in which his wife was being seduced to sin.

4. He failed to intercede when she fell, instead joining her in sin.

Of all his failures, Adam’s greatest was this: he did not fall down on his knees and pray for his fallen wife. Rather than eat of the fruit, he could have interceded for her. What might that prayer have sounded like?

“Lord God, I know you to be holy and just and yet full of mercy. My beloved wife has fallen into deadly temptation and sin but I share in her failure for I did not notice the conversation, did not break the seduction and now death has entered your perfect and beautiful garden. My God, I humbly ask that in your mercy you pardon her sin for surely I have known you to be a gracious God, abounding in kindness. But if not, I ask that you place her death upon me, for she is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. Let me bear the penalty, O my God, and may she live before you in restored innocence and may her years be many and full of wonder.”

How might our gracious God, whom we know to be slow to anger and quick to forgive, abounding in mercy to all who call upon him in truth, how might He have responded to that prayer? But Adam did not pray. He ate of the fruit.

Eve ate from the tree thinking “that the tree was desirable to make one wise” (3:6). She was tragically mistaken. True wisdom is gained through obedient, intimate relationship with God, the Fountain of all wisdom. Knowledge gained apart from God results in terrible destruction.

This is the beginning of humanity’s attempt to live independently of God. People try to manage life, direct the affairs of the world, develop the potential of the planet while separated from God.  The result is ignorance or knowledge misused.  For centuries man was ignorant of the secrets of steam power, electrical power, the source of infection, penicillin, atomic power. Humanity suffered for lack of the benefits which these discoveries have provided and alternately suffers when technologies are developed and misappropriated.

Life lived apart from God does not lead to wisdom.

Notice the phrases, “When the woman saw … it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable…”  The key words are saw, delight and desirable.

The inducement to evil must come from outside of Eve — there was nothing in her of evil. God created her in purity, innocence. There was nothing evil within her for the temptation to attach itself to so the entrance could only be through her senses and desires. It is in the seeing and desiring that the temptation is internalized. But therein is her sin — desiring and choosing to satisfy her desire even at the cost of disobeying God

It would be helpful here to track the root and progress of temptation. We have already noted that Eve was in a vulnerable place because she has entertained doubt as to the truthfulness of God’s word and therefore, the integrity of His character. Having abandoned truth, she can now be tempted by that which is false.


Satan will now engage her through her senses.

James reminds us:

“But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lusts (strong desire). Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14,15).

1. Sin begins with a sensory stimulus which creates desire within us for something. 

Desire is not sin but it can become sin if it motivates us to violate moral law. Desire is often initiated by sensory stimuli from outside of us, something we see or hear or smell. In Eve’s life, it was the sight of the fruit. Looking at the fruit, it became a part of her imagination. 

“When the woman saw that the tree was good ... and that the tree was desirable ... (Gen. 3:6).

2. Desire conceives reasons to satisfy the desire.

Eve began to reason, to explain to herself, to justify, to rationalize why it would be good to eat the fruit: “I will be like God. I’ll be really wise.” Any prohibitions are being pushed aside by her desire. She justifies eating the fruit no matter what it may cost her or how it might harm her. Never mind that she was created in the image of God and had access to the wisdom of God. She wants to be God and she believes that eating this fruit is the means to achieve this desire.

3. Rationalized desire begins to conceive an action.

Eve begins to formulate a plan to act on what she has desired and rationalized. Her will is involved now. She does not merely desire the fruit. Because she has justified having it, she now wills to have it. It is no longer a matter of being tempted by the sight or thought of it. She is now drawn to it by her own will.

4. Finally, she exercises her will.

Eve takes the fruit and eats it. The fact that it is illegal and harmful means that she has violated the law of God, the love of God and her own personhood. She has sinned. Adam also took and ate and shared in the sin.

5. Sin always results in the death of something. 

When Adam and Eve sinned, death immediately entered their relationship with God, with each other, with creation and death began to impact their own emotional and physical being. Sin always conceives and gives birth to death.

Consider again the words of James: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lusts (strong desire). Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14,15).

3:7 “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.”

We would expect to read, “Then they both died.” But we read instead that their eyes were opened. What did they see? Stripped of their innocence, their covering of glory, they see their nakedness and are ashamed. They had always been naked and unashamed but now they sew together fig leaves, attempting to hide from themselves and from God.

What is it about themselves that shames them? They see something that they had never seen before — they see evil and it is attached to them, infecting them. They also see God as they have never seen Him before — a righteous God who must judge sin. They sense the beginning of the disintegration of their own being.

They also sense, for the first time in history, separation from God, loss of intimacy with God. When Adam and Eve sinned, they fell from a relationship with God in which they had experienced intimate communion with the perfect love and wisdom which continually flow from God’s heart. Sin broke that communion and the result of their fall from relationship with God was the breakdown, the disintegration of every aspect of their own lives.

They have birthed evil into God’s perfect garden.

They did not die physically on that day but they died spiritually and this is the beginning of death. Physical death would occur later. On this day, the reality of death begins to invade their relationship with God, with each other, with their own being and with creation itself. Let’s trace the encroachment of death. 

First of all, they experience the death of innocence, the loss of their covering of glory. Innocence is replaced with shame. Rather than admit what they have lost, they attempt to hide. For the first time in history, humanity is hiding from God.

3:8 “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”

This must have been a common occurrence — created to know God  and have communion with Him, they had enjoyed a rich relationship and continual conversation with the Creator of the universe. Yet now they hide — this had never happened before. There had never been a reason to hide.

It is not that anything about God has changed but sin has opened to them a new perspective into God. They realize now that in addition to all the other attributes of God which they had known and enjoyed — His mercy, His wisdom among many others — they now also know Him to be a holy and just God who confronts sin. And they see sin for the first time — it is attached to them, in them.

3:9 “Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’”

For the first time in history, God asks of humanity, “Where are you?” God knew where Adam and Eve were — they were hiding. And God knew why — because they had sinned. God asks questions of us, not because He needs answers but so that we may be accountable to the truth. God created us for relationship with Himself and true communion exists only in a context of truth.

Here is the first picture of evangelism: humanity sinning and hiding — God seeking and calling. Centuries later Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). The seeking heart of God reveals such a wonder of mercy.

The greatest mystery of Eden is not that humanity sinned. It is that God sought them and called. Why does God love fallen sinners so deeply? The answer to the mystery of God’s love is hidden in the heart of God, but we know this about His heart:

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, 

slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Psalm 103:8).

Why were Adam and Eve hiding from God? Obviously, because they had sinned and sin creates a barrier of separation between sinners and a holy God. They instinctively understood that their sin offended the perfect holiness of God and their impurity grieved the perfect purity of God. But rather than run to the God whose unmeasured love they had experienced, their response was to hide. Perfect fellowship with God was broken.

They were right to fear God for an offended God must judge sin but wrong to run from Him, for only God can save us from our sin. Do you see how sin warped their perception of God? They perceive God differently now, even though God is unchanging in His being. God did not change. Their perception of God changed — they are running from the only God who can save them.

Sin revealed a just God who is rightly to be feared but sin also obscured, distorted the God of mercy to whom all of humanity should run when we fail and fall.

Prior to their sin, they had experienced perfect communion with God, enjoyed God’s perfect love and had, no doubt, experienced many other marvelous attributes of God’s infinite being. God’s unlimited creativity and wisdom enabled them to be wise stewards of the garden. God’s infinite wellspring of joy flowed through their hearts like a river, causing every moment of time to be a joyful celebration of wonder.

In response to God’s wonder-filled, gracious Self-revelation, they had loved, worshipped and enjoyed God. But their perception of God has changed and now they are afraid of this God who had only loved them with perfect passion.

Their response was to hide. Perfect fellowship with God was broken. Sin separates people from a holy God and if we die physically in this state of separation, then our soul will be eternally separated from God. Why?

1. God is holy and cannot look upon sin (Habakkuk 1:13  Psalm 5:4). Sin grieves God, arouses His anger. We cannot enter eternity with a holy God if we are filled with and covered by that which grieves, offends and angers Him.

2. God is just and cannot ignore broken law (Psalm 97:2  96:13). Even a human judge, if he is honest, cannot ignore law which has been broken. How much more must God, the perfectly righteous Judge, deal with the sin which violates His holiness.

3. Sin, at its heart, is rejection of God and if we have refused to love, honor and worship God in this life, how could we be with Him in a heaven where He is loved, honored and worshipped?

4. God has set a day for judgment and all will be judged according to their works.  If our works include sin which has not been forgiven through a Redeemer, then we will have no hope of avoiding judgment (Romans 2:5-11).

This is the first manifestation of death. Adam and Eve are separated from God.

They are also separated from their own being. This is the second manifestation of death.

3:10 “He said, ‘I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.’”

We recall also verse seven in which Adam and Eve covered themselves. They now perceive their own selves differently, experiencing for the first time in history guilt, fear and shame. These destructive forces initiate the breakdown of human personality. Before they sinned, they were conscious of self and of God without any disintegrating factors — perfectly whole, integrated beings. Now, they are no longer living in a perfect unity of innocent being. Human personality begins to disintegrate in a spiraling chaos of guilt, fear and shame.

We must add that this is not the portrait of a human being who is evolving upward from apes. This is the portrait of a being that is descending downward from the pinnacle of creation.

3:11 “And He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’”

Again, God asks a question, not because He needs to know anything but to give Adam the opportunity to assess the truth of his condition and be accountable. Adam now reveals that death has entered another arena of life: he and Eve are separated from each another. 

 3:12 “The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.’”

Man and woman now perceive one another differently. Notice how Adam accuses Eve, “The woman whom you gave to be with me.”

Before sin, the communion of Adam and Eve was perfect, she was “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (2:23). Joined in sin, they have now lost their perfect union. Now their relationship is characterized by distrust, separation and accusation on a deep level. Even in their closest moments, there will always be the echo of the fall from grace.

Notice that although Adam admits his sin, he is not confessing his guilt. It is one thing to say, “Yeah, I committed the crime.” It is something else to say, “Against you O Lord have I sinned.”

And do you hear Adam’s subtle accusation of God? “The woman whom you gave to be with me.” It’s your fault God — everything was fine until you created her. He admits his crime but not his guilt, transferring guilt to the woman and to God.

3:13 “Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ And the woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’”

Eve also avoids accountability, blaming the serpent. Neither she nor Adam are willing to stand before God and be responsible for their sin. First they hide, now they attempt to shift blame to someone else.

From this point on, the breakdown of human society is inevitable. Community is formed by people in relationship with each other. People separated from God, from their own being and from one another build communities of alienated, separated people. Fallen people build fallen cities. Disintegrating personalities build disintegrating societies.

While Adam and Eve lived in union with God, they accessed God’s perfect wisdom and knowledge. Gardened by God, they were wise gardeners of creation. Separated from God, they were cast upon their own disintegrating being with its imperfection, limitations and corruption. They will go on to build the primary social unit, the family, and later build more complex units such as cities. But separated from the life-giving Spirit of God, from one another and disintegrating within their own being, what they build will only reflect their own disorder. Broken hearts build broken unions.

The first city will soon be built by the first murderer (Genesis 4:17). Within a few generations, God will characterize human society as violent, corrupt and only evil continually (Gen. 6:5,11,12).

3:14 “The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life.’”

God now pronounces judgment on the serpent. One might object that the serpent was not morally responsible for sin and was not acting on its own accord — its personality had been taken over by Satan — Satan was speaking through it.  But its judgment is a symbol of God’s judgment of Satan — it is Satan who is being judged and it is a humiliating judgment. 

When we see a snake crawling on its belly we are reminded of Satan’s fall from heavenly places. Satan also is reminded of his fall. Created to live in the presence of God as a high archangel, he proudly sought to elevate himself above God’s throne and as a result, the fallen archangel was cast out of heaven. The curse on the serpent reminds Satan of God’s sovereignty over Him and reminds him of God’s past and future judgment of him. 

However, in spite of God’s judgment, Satan may have considered this successful temptation of the first humans to be equal to his first strike against God, when he rebelled against God. Though he was cast out of heaven, he took a third of the angels with him (see Revelation 12:4,9). 

That would have involved millions of angels and though the act of rebellion in Eden only netted two humans, they were the first of the species and would produce offspring. All he needed was these first two. He may have thought that this separation between God and people would be permanent, everlasting, because if he owned the first two, he would someday own their children.

He may have thought that when Adam and Eve chose to believe him and disbelieve God, that God had become their permanent enemy and he, the devil, would be humanity’s permanent friend and ally. He may have thought that his campaign to overthrow God had now gained another species. First, angels. Now, humans.

Satan did not anticipate God’s response.

3:15  “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head and you shall bruise Him on the heel.”

Obviously, God is no longer speaking to the serpent but to Satan. Whereas in the previous verse the Lord cursed Satan indirectly through the serpent, He now curses Satan directly.  

Enmity, eybah, refers to deep animosity between morally responsible persons. God creates permanent hostility, not simply between the woman and Satan but also between her seed and his. Someone born of the seed of the woman would someday bruise the head of the serpent, though He would be bruised on the heel. It’s not biologically correct to speak of the seed of a woman but this would be a special birth not involving the seed of a man. This uniquely conceived Man will crush the head of the serpent (a mortal wound) though He would be bruised on the heel, that is, He would be wounded yet not destroyed. 

Interpreting that passage from our perspective we see Jesus, conceived without the seed of a man, who “was wounded for our transgressions … bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).  Though He was beaten and crucified, Jesus, in His atoning death, dealt a fatal blow to Satan, breaking His power forever.

On the cross, in bearing our sin and God’s wrath against sin, Jesus “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us … having nailed it to the cross … (He) disarmed the rulers and authorities … made a public display of them … triumphed over them” (Colossians 2:14,15). Canceled the debt, disarmed the powers, triumphed over them — Jesus dealt a mortal wound to the serpent — Satan.

This is the first hint of God’s salvation purpose but it demonstrates that from the beginning, indeed, before the beginning, God was prepared to deal with the problem of humanity’s sin. The Lord knew that if He created humanity with the capacity to make free moral choices, we would fall in sin and would need a Redeemer. Somewhere in the ancient counsels of eternity, the Trinity agreed and decreed that Jesus would be that Redeemer. He is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). God was neither surprised by the fall of humanity nor unprepared. He knew we would sin and He prepared a Redeemer.

In saying that there would be enmity between Satan’s seed and the seed of the woman, God does not mean that Satan conceives and gives birth to demons or people. The reference is to human beings whom Satan deceives, snares and corrupts, who then become haters of God. They are Satan’s seed, his offspring, in the sense that he initiated the fall of humanity and the unredeemed human personality will manifest, to a greater or lesser extent, the character of Satan.

Since the fall of man, there have always been men and women who refuse to be reconciled to God. Some are militant atheists, others prefer the costumes of false religions but they all live and die separated from God, conformed to the values of Satan and doing his will. Jesus unmasked His opponents when he said to those who were violently opposing Him, 

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

Jesus did not mean that those people were conceived by the devil but in their sin and the resulting corruption of their minds and souls, they had become like the devil. He was their father and they were his seed in the sense that they had become conformed to the devil’s hatred of God, conformed to the his evil purpose in opposing God.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that all of us at one time were dead in trespasses and sins and living “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). We were all conformed to the demonic values and customs of this fallen world. If it had not been for the seeking, saving grace of God, we all would have died in our sins. But it is to the everlasting praise of God that He is a redeeming God.

Even as the Lord curses Satan and prophesies his eventual destruction, He also reveals His grace for fallen man. God is by nature a Savior, a redeeming God who desires to save, forgive and restore sinners. Though Adam and Eve doubted God’s truthfulness and His integrity, chose to believe Satan and disbelieve God, rejected fellowship with God and separated themselves from Him, nevertheless, God did not reject them.

Notice that the initiative in salvation is entirely from God. Humanity’s response to sin was to hide from God and evade responsibility. Adam said it was the woman’s fault, she said it was the serpent’s fault. So God comes to them, confronts them in their sin and promises a Redeemer. From Adam and Eve to this present day, if anyone is ever saved from sin, it is because of the gracious work of God on our behalf.

However, as the Lord promises to redeem the sinner, He also judges the sinner. This is why we need a Redeemer. God does not overlook our sin. He judges us in our sin while promising to redeem us from His judgment.

We re reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Paul does not say that   God did not count our trespasses. He says that God did not count them against us! Rather, He counted our trespasses against Jesus: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Isaiah prophesied this redemption hundreds of years before the birth of Christ:

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.  All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him … like a lamb that is led to slaughter … My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5-7, 11).

Jesus, the holy Lamb of God, on the cross as the holy Sacrifice for sin, took upon Himself our sin and God’s judgment against sin. Jesus is the Redeemer promised in the Garden of Eden when man first fell.

While promising a Redeemer, God judges the sinner. He now pronounces judgment over the man and woman.

3:16 “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain (sorrow, labor, toil) in childbirth, in pain (sorrow, labor, toil) you will bring forth children.’”

The Hebrew word which is often translated pain, in the first instance is itstsabown, which can be translated with the words sorrow or labor or toil. The second word that is translated pain is esteb which may also be translated as sorrow but also toil or labor.

The Lord does not increase the pain of childbirth because He is vengeful, petty or malicious. Pain or sorrow in childbirth may simply reflect the new reality of a fallen creation — the conditions of birth change when a child is born into a dangerous world. It needs longer fetal development and therefore is larger at birth, creating longer labor and greater toil and pain in delivery.  

The two Hebrews words itstsabown and esteb may also be translated as sorrow. Greater sorrow in childbirth may refer to the fact that women birth children into a fallen world. What is more sorrowful than the heartbreak of releasing a child into this destructive, violent, perverse world and watching as suffering inevitably comes upon that child? Furthermore, the child is by nature a sinner and will often grieve his or her mother’s heart through sinful choices.

Greater pain, sorrow, toil and labor in childbirth also represents the reality that children are born into a world in which death is the final resting place of all who live. Some women will see the death of their children at birth, during childhood or in later years. All mothers live with the reality that this child whom they love will someday die. 

Further, the pain, sorrow, toil and labor of birth and life serve to remind the woman that this is not the world God created and blessed. It is a world cursed by sin and marred by sin’s destruction. Her grief whispers the hope that there must be something more. In planting this hope within us, pain and sorrow are an expression of God’s mercy, creating in us a longing for something more than this fallen world.

Pain and sorrow are also an expression of the consistency of God’s universe. When we break any law of nature, there are consequences. It is the same with moral law. This universe is based on moral law as much as on natural laws. We cannot violate those laws without consequence. Eve broke the moral framework of the universe and encountered sorrowful consequences.

Pain and sorrow are also an expression of God’s justice. Because God is just, He will allow us to experience the result of our rebellion and sin. Those consequences include the forfeit of blessing and opportunity and the experience of sorrow, pain and trouble. God does not cause anyone to sin but He manifests His justice in allowing us to experience the just consequence of our sin.

Pain and sorrow are also an expression of God’s mercy in the following sense. No matter how pleasurable our sin, at some point it will become a source of misery and this is an expression of mercy for it may be that this misery will drive us to grace. In the parable of the son who dishonored his father, abandoned his family and squandered his wealth, when did he come to his senses? It was when he became hungry and was jealous of the slop which he was feeding to the pigs. It was his misery that drove him to his senses and motivated him to return home (see Luke 15:11-32).

The pain, sorrow, toil and labor which Eve will experience will be an expression of the mercy and justice of God.

3:16 “Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

Eve was created to be Adam’s helper and no doubt God built that desire into her soul, even as the Lord planted in Adam the qualities of leadership. However, that does not imply any inequality between the man the woman. Both were created in the image of God with all the qualities of life and being implied by that creation. They stood equally blessed and gifted before God. 

The Lord brought them into union so that together, they could fulfill the commission to cultivate and rule the earth while filling it with their children. Their lives were mutually fulfilling, a harmony of wills and communion of souls delighting in God and each other. In the beginning there was nothing to divide or mar their union.

Adam’s leadership in the family was not a leadership of domination or superiority. He was not superior to Eve nor was he to dominate her. Adam was the leader of the family because that is how God created him and his wife. His leadership was not a point of division but unity through service. They were united in their desire to glorify God by fulfilling their role together as stewards over creation, each fulfilling their God-given purpose.

After the fall, there was a loss of balance in relationship between man and woman as sin corrupted the calling and gifts of both. Man’s leadership degenerated into domination and over the centuries in many cultures women have been treated as little more than possessions — abused, oppressed, neglected and ruled by men. That was never God’s purpose.

The woman’s desire is for her husband — it is her nature. But as the man became a selfish, conquering dictator rather than a compassionate servant-leader, she rejected his domination, and began to seek fulfillment apart from him and in competition with him.

God announces that this will be so. It is not His original plan for the man and woman; rather, it is the result of sin and separation.

God now pronounces judgment on Adam.

3:17-19 “Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil (itstsabown) you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you … to dust you shall return.’”

In the beginning, God had pronounced His blessing over the earth so that it might abundantly supply Adam’s needs. This blessing showed the Lord’s grace and favor. Adam had been given dominion over the earth, to cultivate and keep it. But now that he has chosen to obey Satan rather than God, he has lost dominion and the ground which once was blessed by God is now cursed. God withdraws His favor.

In judging Adam, God and uses the same word that He used in judging Eve — itstsabown.

Adam will now earn his bread by the sweat of his brow — by hard labor, by sorrowful, painful toil — itstsabown. It is not that Adam has never labored before but it was pleasing work  — he was serving creation with wisdom and skill imparted to him by God and the ground bore fruit in abundance. Prior to Adam’s sin, there were no thorns nor thistles but now the ground is infested with them. He now labors not for pleasure but for survival.

This curse is not only a judicial sentence which the righteous God pronounced over sinful man but also a blessing from God. Thorns and hard labor remind us that we are separated from God our Creator, separated from His original purpose, exiled from the garden of our beginnings. 

The very dust that Adam plows is itself a reminder of his sin. He will grow weary with the passing years, his strength will someday fail and the dust which composes his body will melt back into the soil from which he came. The dust reminds him that his death has already begun.

Yet this cursed ground is another manifestation of the grace and mercy of God. It will remind Adam daily of the paradise from which he fell and the sin which caused that fall. It may inspire in him the knowledge of his need for a Savior and a hope of salvation.

Thorns and thistles whisper, “This is not your home; you’re a refugee in an alien land.” An ancient instinct imbedded in our soul knows that only God can make a way to regain what has been lost. The curse drives us to the possibility of salvation from curse.

What would be worse than to be separated from God and living towards death in a paradise where we needed nothing? Each day would bring us closer to an eternity in hell while the pleasure of the day numbed us to the danger.

God cursed the ground and evicted death-infected sinners from paradise so that they would live with the ever present reminder of sin, sin’s cost and the hope of salvation. The cursed ground will invite Adam to repent and hope for God’s Redeemer.

3:20 “Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.”

The Hebrew word for Eve, chava, means living or life or source of life. Adam gave her this name because she would be the mother of all human life, the source of the generations of man.

There is the whisper of hope in this name. The Lord had said that from the seed of the woman would come the Deliverer who would crush the serpent whose temptation had led to their ruin. Adam’s hope is that this Deliverer will be born someday through his wife.

In this hope Adam reveals that he now believes God’s promise, which means he believes God’s word. He realizes the foolishness of his trust in the lie of the serpent. His heart is turning back to the God who created him.

3:21 “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.”

When Adam and Eve sinned, their immediate response was to cover themselves in fig leaves. This is the first act of works-righteousness in world history — attempting to come before God covering their sin with their own works, in this case fig leaves. In the centuries since, their sons and daughters have been attempting to cover their sin with their own versions of fig leaves — religious ritual, charitable donations — or a thousand other coverings.

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This is the history of human religion — fallen men and women attempting to cover their sin with the fig leaves of religion and good works and thereby justify themselves before God. But we cannot cover our sin, atone for it or make ourselves righteous in the sight of a holy God. Only God can cleanse us of our sin and restore us to a righteous relationship with Himself.

Because the fig leaves were insufficient, the Lord God met them, not to restore innocence — that was gone. God met them to cover them, making garments of skin for them, covering them until such a time as a Redeemer would come and cleanse them.

Where did God get those skins? He killed something. Was it a lamb? God was demonstrating the truth that sin is covered through the shedding of blood — sin must be dealt with by sacrifice. Whatever animal God killed, the sacrifice points across the centuries to Jesus, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Adam and Eve may have been expecting death to come upon them immediately. Instead, an innocent animal died in their place. Did they watch as the lamb was slaughtered? Did they have any premonition as to the momentous significance of that lamb? 

Surely the Second Person of the Trinity saw and looked ahead to a hill called Calvary, just outside Jerusalem. He knew that creatures with a free moral will would sin and would perish in their sin unless the Lord redeemed them. Somewhere in the ancient councils of eternity, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit determined and decreed that Jesus would be that Redeemer, “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).

Later, the Lord instituted a system whereby bulls and lambs were sacrificed for the sins of the people. It is not that their blood could cleanse anyone of sin any more than the skin of this animal could remove the sin of fallen man and woman. But those sacrifices would cover sin and represent the one great sacrifice of Jesus which reached back in time to Eden and forward in time to your life and mine, washing and cleansing every repentant sinner. 

On the cross, Jesus bore our sins and the judgment of God poured out on sinners. He died our death and rose from the dead to declare God’s grace poured out on all who will turn from their sin, set aside their fig leaves and place their faith in a God so gracious as this, who redeems sinners at such great a cost to Himself.

We still have this choice today: fig leaves or the righteous covering of Christ. We may vainly attempt to cover ourselves with our own works or we may cast ourselves on the mercy of God.

3:22 “Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.’”

As we have said, it is not that there was anything inherently good or evil about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Rather, man’s obedience or disobedience in regards to God’s prohibition would result in the knowledge, the experience, of good or evil. In resisting temptation and choosing to obey God, man would experience good on a personal level. In choosing to disobey God and rebel against His command, man would experience evil on a personal level.

Because Eve and Adam were created in the likeness of God, they were intelligent, innocent, morally free beings capable of refusing temptation but also capable of succumbing to its seduction. In taking the fruit, their innocence was corrupted into bitter experience — they now knew evil not as an intellectual or moral category but as creators and participants of evil. They also know good, not only as a moral category but as a state of being from which they are excluded — they are not good — they are sinners.

Created in the image of God, they now had become like God in their knowledge of good and evil but with one terrible, damning difference. God had never participated in evil but the man and woman now knew evil on a personal level because they had encountered it, surrendered to it and committed that which was evil. Now they knew evil not simply as an intellectual or moral category but experientially. They had not only experienced evil but in rebelling against God and sinning against Him, they participated in evil, created evil. 

Made in the likeness of God, like God they obtained the knowledge of good and evil. But unlike God, this was not merely an intellectual knowledge but experiential and in this, they became most unlike God.

Their evil created the reality of death expressed in separation from God and one another, the disintegration of the human personality and the curse of God upon their lives and upon creation. Death had infected all of creation — what would be worse than living forever in a state of perpetual, unending death?

3:22 “And now he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.”

Sin separates us from authentic life. The tree of life represented the flow of eternal life that issued from God with whom Adam and Eve had enjoyed perfect communion. In the sense that the tree of life represented the flow of eternal life from God to man, that flow of life had already been severed by sin.

The tree also may have borne fruit which sustained life. Nothing could have been worse than that the man and woman, separated from God by their sin, living in a cursed world, would take from the tree of life and live forever, separated from God, cursed and disintegrating emotionally and physically forever. That would be hell on earth. God in His mercy would not allow that to happen.

3:23,24   “Therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.”

The picture of the man and woman leaving the garden is the portrait of all sinners departing from the presence of God. Separated from God by sin, we cannot abide in His presence. 

Cherubim guarded the entrance to the garden. Cherubim are an order of angels associated with the presence of God. (Isaiah speaks of God “enthroned above the cherubim”  — Isaiah 37:16 also Psalm 80:1 and others). As they guard the holy throne of God in heaven, so now they guarded this holy garden.

God had manifested His presence in the garden, it was sacred, holy and therefore, sinners could not trespass there. It was surely a place of communion and may have been a place of worship, a holy place. The cherubim guarding entrance to the garden provide a visual representation of what has already been lost because of sin — access to God.

Access to the presence of God, entrance into the garden of the holy One was barred until a future day. But that day arrived through the blood of Christ by which “a new and living way” has been opened into the presence of God (Hebrews 10:20). That way of access was symbolized when, as Jesus died, the curtain to the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple was split from top to bottom.

We are reminded of the words of Jesus on the cross when one dying thief cried out for mercy. Jesus replied, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). The word “paradise” is derived from an old Persian word which refers to the garden of the king. Access to the garden of the Lord was lost through Adam and regained through Christ.

In closing we must ask, in what way did Adam and Eve die? 

God had said, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” 

Yet they still live. In what way did they die?

Death entered their souls in the form of fear, shame and guilt. What had been a perfectly integrated human personality was now disintegrating.

Death entered their relationship with each other. What had been perfect communion, symbolized as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” was now broken and marred. Adam, created to be a leader, now attempts to rule his wife. Eve now experiences the pain of bringing children into a fallen world and the sorrow of strife with her husband.

Death entered creation. The ground is cursed, bearing thorns and thistles. Born into a perfect garden, Adam and Eve were created to exercise servant-dominion over creation, cultivating it with the wisdom and kindness of God. But they are exiled now from the garden of God’s grace, toiling like beasts of burden. Eventually their bodies will wear out and their very dust will melt into the earth.

However, these are not the worst manifestations of death. Because of their sin, they are now separated from God their Creator. In the moment of their sin, they died spiritually. This spiritual death has been passed down to each of their sons and daughters, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, 

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1).

We see the proof of this spiritual death in the response of the man and woman to the presence of God in the garden. Whereas they once had enjoyed wonderful, life-renewing communion with God, in the moment of their sin they fled from God, hid from Him.

Spiritual death — alienation from God — involves the death of all spiritual sense. We are blind spiritually — blind to God’s presence, blind to God’s holiness:

“In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). 

We are incapable even of seeking after God or wanting to seek Him (Romans 3:1-12). Further, this death will infect all the sons and daughters of Adam for all will sin in their own time:

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

There would be no way back to God, no hope of anything other than everlasting death in a state of separation from God. No hope except for this — God promised a Redeemer.

Only God can bring us back from death to life, from darkness to light and this is His desire. From this point on, all of history will witness the unfolding drama of God’s redeeming purpose — God in history seeking and saving the lost sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.

Study Questions

1. When the serpent said, “You surely will not die,” what was he implying about the character of God?

2. What is the process of temptation?

3. After Adam and Eve sinned, what happened in their relationship with God, with each other, with creation and within their own being?

4. What was God’s first response to sin?

5. What is the significance of the covering that God provided?

Genesis Chapter 4

Genesis Chapter 4

4:1   “Now the man (ha Adam) had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, ‘I have gotten a manchild (ish) with the help of the Lord.’”

Adam had named his wife, Eve, chava, which means life or life giver possibly in the hope that she would give birth to the Deliverer whom God had promised. Now they have a son and they name him Cain, which means acquired. There is a sense of hope in that name as if Eve is saying, “I have got him — the deliverer!”

There is a sense of repentance here. They are no longer two rebels who seek to replace God with their own God-likeness; no longer seeking to live autonomous lives apart from God; no longer doubting God’s goodness, truthfulness or integrity; no longer placing their trust in a lying serpent. They desire to be delivered from the consequence of their sin, desire to be reconciled to the God from whom they were separated.

There is a sense of faith here. They believe God’s promise — a Deliverer will be born someday. Our Creator said so and we believe Him. 

There is a sense of grace here. The phrase “the help of” is not in the text. It is inserted by translators. The literal reading is “I have gotten a manchild with (or from) the Lord.” Eve is saying that the Lord has brought this about. She is saying, “We deserved judgment but our Creator has blessed us with grace.”

She was right. Only God can send the Deliverer —  the birth of Jesus centuries later would be an act of grace. Only God can save us from our sin — salvation is an act of grace.

We can imagine their excitement. The memory of Eden was still fresh in their minds — the fragrance of its flowers, the abundance of its fruit, the beauty of its adornment, the glory of communion with their Creator. They may have wondered, “Is this child the promised Deliverer who will trample the head of the deceiver and bring us back to the garden?”

4:2 “Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.”

The name Abel, Hebel in Hebrew, means breath, emptiness, vanity, transitory. Jesus commended him, calling him “righteous Abel” (Matthew 23:35). We read of Abel’s righteousness in the following verses.

4:3-5 “So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.”

We are told in verse two that Cain “was a tiller of the ground.” This was God’s original commission to Adam, to cultivate and keep the garden (2:15). This was an honorable vocation. But the Lord had given instruction to the family as to how He would be worshipped and the offering He would accept. Years before, when Adam and Eve had sinned, they attempted to cover themselves with fig leaves. God rejected this covering and provided garments of skin by killing an animal. This was a foreshadowing of the sacrificial system and the Lamb of God who would someday be offered as a Substitute for sinners. 

In rejecting the fig leaves and providing a covering which involved the death of something, the Lord was teaching the human family that He may only be approached when sin is covered and sin is not covered by the works of our own hands —the fig leaves of religious ritual or charitable works or whatever. Sin must be covered by the sacrifice of something — the shedding of blood. 

The reason for this is because sin creates death. God had warned Adam and Eve that on the day they sinned, they would die. They did not die physically that day but death entered every aspect of their lives — their relationship with God and with one another was impacted in lethal ways. Their own being began to disintegrate through the entrance of fear, shame and guilt. Death entered creation and began to work in the physical bodies of the man and woman, though it would take many years for death’s final impact because of God’s marvelous design of their bodies and the creation in which they lived.

Sin produces death and through the sacrificial offering of a substitute animal, humanity was reminded of sin’s deadly impact. 

God also considered the death of the sacrifice to be a covering for sin. The sacrificed animals did not take away sin but they covered sin until the time when, many centuries later, God provided the holy Lamb, Jesus Christ, who in His sacrificial death would bear our sin, would bear God’s judgment against our sin and would die our death. The sacrificial death of Jesus provides cleansing from sin, forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to the God from whom we were separated by our sin. The sacrifice of Jesus reaches back in time to all who obeyed God and walked before Him in righteous faith, just as His blood reaches forward in time to cleanse all who trust in Him today.

Cain and Abel knew that because they were sinners, they could not approach a holy God without first dealing with their sin through a sacrificed offering from the flock. We know they understood this because God had demonstrated this truth to their parents and would not have held the sons accountable for something which they did not understand.

However, Cain sought to worship God by bringing an offering that did not deal with his sin —  he brought the works of his hands. “The fruit of the ground” represents the religious attempt to justify oneself before God through humanistic religion or charitable works or a thousand other self righteous designs. He was saying, in effect, “I’m going to come to church without dealing with my sin in the way that God has revealed. I will worship God any way I choose and God has nothing to say about it.”

God does not receive, accept or recognize that worship.

Whereas Cain brought a religious offering from the produce of the field, that is, the work of his hands, Abel brought a spiritual offering from “the firstlings of his flock.” He brought the best of his flock while recognizing the need to deal with sin, to cover sin.

Abel acted on the Lord’s revealed will. His offering is an act of faith, revealing an inner attitude of trust in God’s revelation.  His faith was counted as righteousness. Abel is therefore remembered as a man of faith.

However, Cain, in rejecting God’s revelation of the necessity of blood sacrifice, reveals arrogance, rebellion and pride — he is judging God as Someone not worthy of listening to or believing. He is not only failing to deal with his sin — his act of worship involves the further sin of disobedience, compounding his sin. There are some religious acts which not only fail to deal with sin — they multiply sin.

Cain’s offering reveals a lack of faith in God, refusing to believe God’s revelation of the need for a blood sacrifice. It is the same sin to which his parents fell. When the serpent asked, “Indeed, has God said,” they revealed that they knew God’s command but chose to disobey, acting as if God is not trustworthy.  Cain also knew what God had said regarding the necessity of a sacrificed animal but he chose to disregard this.

Cain’s offering — fruit from the field — the work of his hands — springs from the religion of self righteousness, self justifying, pointing to his own nobility and talent, rejecting God’s revelation of the necessity of sacrifice, of the need for a substitute. His offering is typical of the religion of works righteousness, humanity’s attempt to justify itself before God by its good works, its supposed morality and charitable gifts. Cain is saying to God, “Look how good I am and look at all the good I have done. Surely you will accept me on the basis of my works and my goodness.”

God rejects this approach because we are not good. We are sinners fallen from grace and in need of a Savior. Isaiah reminds us that “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isaiah 64:6).

The Psalmist reminds us, “Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 53:3).


The Apostle Paul reminds us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

God does not accept us on the basis of our goodness because we are not good. God does not accept us on the basis of our good works because we cannot buy our way back to God. The works of our hands cannot restore us to righteousness or reconcile us to a holy God. It is God Himself who provides the sacrifice for our sins — Jesus, the holy Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world by taking it upon Himself. The sacrificial system — sacrificing an animal to God as an offering for sin, pointed to the someday offering of Jesus, the perfect, holy Lamb.

When John the Baptist saw Jesus he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). There is no other way to God. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).

So it was that Jesus, on the cross, offered Himself as the holy Sacrifice, taking upon Himself our sin and God’s righteous judgment against sin. Isaiah prophesied of that sacrifice, 

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

The Apostle Peter wrote, “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (I Peter 2:24).

The Apostle Paul wrote, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Cain rejected the way of a substitute sacrifice, demanding that God accept a sinner on his own merits. This is the way of the self-righteous and the way of world religions which deny the atoning sacrifice of Jesus and seek to worship God in ways that are contrary to God’s revelation. God always rejects this approach. It is not that God is rejecting Cain personally nor his vocation as a farmer. God is rejecting Cain’s approach to Him. If Cain had brought the right sacrifice, God would have accepted him.

We need to remember an important Biblical principle of worship. When King Saul disobeyed God while also offering sacrifices for worship, the prophet Samuel rebuked the king, saying, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (I Samuel 15:22). 

God rejected King Saul’s worship when it was offered in a context of disobedience. In fact, the Lord not only rejected Saul’s worship. He also rejected Saul as king.

Jesus often rebuked the Pharisees for offering external worship to God while harboring inward sin. They were offering sacrifices to God without the least intention of dedicating themselves inwardly. Like the Pharisees, Cain wishes to appear outwardly righteous — a religious man bringing his offering. But he is inwardly corrupt. His inner corruption is revealed in his rejection of God’s direction, as he seeks to justify himself with the work of his hands.

There are many today who worship the wrong God — idols and religions of human invention. There are others who worship the right God in the wrong way. Cain is the first of those who worship the right God in the wrong way. He is like the man in Jesus’ parable who attempted to enter the wedding feast without the proper garment (Matthew 22:1-14). He was rejected. So with everyone — we are invited to enter the presence of God but clothed in the righteousness that comes only through faith in Jesus, the sacrificed Lamb.

Cain wanted to satisfy God with external religion without the least intention of dedicating himself to the Lord inwardly. In true, spiritual worship, when we have trusted in the blood of Christ as the holy Sacrifice for sin, when we have been forgiven of sin through the Substitute Lamb, we enter God’s presence and humbly offer our lives to Him. We lay ourselves on the altar in humble obedience.

What God is seeking is inward devotion revealed through outward obedience. It was not merely Abel’s sheep that pleased the Lord — it was his faith in God’s revelation that caused him to obey that revelation. This reveals a pure heart and this is the worshipper God is seeking — those who will worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24), from the inside out.

Abel received God’s revelation and brought an acceptable sacrifice from his flock. Therefore God accepted Abel and counted him among the righteous: 

“By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4)

4:6 “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?’”

Cain’s response to God’s rejection of his offering was anger. He is judging God, as if to say, “I reject your standards and I demand that you accept my standards, my religion, my definition of righteousness.”


God’s response is to call to Cain as he called to his mother and father, asking him to explain himself. It is not that God needs answers. He questions us so that we may be accountable to the truth. God created Cain for relationship with Himself and true communion exists only in a context of truth. There is still hope for Cain. He is a sinner fallen from grace but he is redeemable and so God comes to him, seeking and calling.

4:7 “Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Sin is pictured as a predator crouching at the entrance of Cain’s life. But the predator is not outside of Cain — it is the sin nature within him, that innate desire to rebel against God, to live as an autonomous being, to be the final judge of good and evil, to be the source of one’s own life and wisdom and strength, to dethrone God and enthrone self as lord. The desire of this sin nature is to overcome Cain and God exhorts Cain to be the overcomer, to master his rebellious self will.

So with all of us. We will be mastered by something: maybe our own self will, maybe the values of the world around us or we can allow God to master us and thereby we master our self will and overcome the world. 

Cain’s decision will determine the outcome of his life and his eternity.

4:8 “Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.”

Cain is a religious man and evidently quite passionate about his religion. He is willing to kill to defend his self righteousness. So he rose up and destroyed Abel, a spiritual man. The religious person always persecutes the spiritual person out of jealousy and anger. The religion of works-righteousness always seeks to destroy the religion of true righteousness.

The Apostle John tells us that Cain “was of the evil one and slew his brother” (I John 3:12). “The evil one” refers to Satan. “Of the evil one” means that Cain was sharing in the spiritual substance of Satan. What caused Cain to share in the spiritual substance of Satan? His rebellious form of worship. The result of false worship was the murder of his brother.

John continues, “And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous” (I John 3:12). What deeds of Cain were evil? His rebellious form of worship. What deeds of Abel were righteous? His obedient form of worship.

The first murder was carried out by a religious man who knew that God existed, who was aware of God’s standards for righteousness, who rejected God’s standards and invented his own religious approach to God based on the works of his hands, the fruit of his labor. God had revealed the way of righteousness and had confronted Cain when the temptation to sin began to rise in his heart. But Cain rejected God’s warning, refused to repent and so he was overcome by sin.

Separated from God, Cain experienced the same disintegration of human personality as did his mother and father. The disintegration of the human soul has social implications. We are not sinful because of corrupt society — society is corrupt because it is built by corrupt, sinful people.

The societal result of Cain’s self righteous approach to God and his rejection by God was jealous rage leading to murder. There is no private sin. The roaring thunder of sin in the heart of the sinner echoes out into the world and shakes the pillars of the city.

4:9 “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ And he said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?’”

Cain committed this murder out in the field, away from human witnesses. But he was not hidden from the sight of God. No one is.

God confronted Cain because this is a moral universe and at some point, evil is confronted by the reality of a holy God. Cain’s response to God is arrogant — he not only lies to God, he refuses to accept any accountability for his brother’s well being. There is no hint of remorse or regret. He will not repent because he does not consider his action to be sin. Cain feels justified in taking his brother’s life even though it was cold blooded, pre-meditated murder.

The New Testament writer, Jude, warns of the way of Cain (Jude 1:11). It is the way of those who appear outwardly religious — who bring their offerings to the Lord but have rejected God’s way of salvation which is faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. They appear to be worshippers of God but are inwardly rebellious, disobedient to God. Their inner corruption can lead to all manner of sin, including murder. Filled with religious pride, they refuse to repent of their sin, refuse to even admit that they have sinned. This is the way of Cain, a way well traveled in every generation.

4:10 “He said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground.’”

God hears the cry of innocent blood. Here the Lord demonstrates His perfect knowledge of all facts, all truth, all events. He knows what happened in that field. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us,

 “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13)

God demonstrates His justice as He confronts this murder. It will not go unpunished. There is the mistaken belief that some people go unpunished for their crimes, that they “get away with it.” That is untrue. The Apostle Paul reminds us,

“The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after” (I Timothy 5:24).

What he means is that some crimes are brought to account in this life before a human bar of justice and some after this life before God’s bar of justice. But no sin, no evil ever passes unaccounted.

In confronting Cain, God demonstrates His merciful vindication of the righteous. Sometimes God manifests His mercy in preventing the death of the righteous:

“God is to us a God of deliverances; and to God the Lord belong escapes from death” (Psalm 68:20)

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19).

Sometimes God manifests His mercy for the righteous in delivering them through death for His glory and always caring for them after their death, receiving them into His everlasting presence:

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones” (Psalm 116:15).

“I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will you refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Revelation 6:9,10).

But whether the Lord delivers the righteous from death or through death, He is witness to every deed done on earth. No crime or unjust act passes unnoticed by the Lord.

Notice the poetic expression of the earth crying out in its pollution, “The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.” The Apostle Paul also expresses this thought:

“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Romans 8:22).

Creation groans, cries out under the polluting weight of human sin. The gardener fell from grace and the garden degenerates into weeds, thorns, plague and violent catastrophe.

4:11 “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.”

In this poetic expression of God’s justice, it is the earth which will carry out God’s judgement, since it is the earth that was polluted by the blood of an innocent man. Whereas the ground was cursed when Adam and Eve sinned, now the ground is God’s instrument for cursing a man. Cain is the first human being to be cursed by God (Adam and Eve came under God’s judgment but not His curse. They experienced the curse indirectly through the cursed ground).

4:12 “When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.”

Remember that Cain was a farmer. There is already a curse upon the earth — it does not bear its abundance as it once did. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, man must toil and sweat to gain fruit from the ground. But now it is doubly cursed toward Cain.  It will not bear fruit for him at all so he must become a wanderer, a vagrant upon the earth.

Students of human history write about the early tribes of nomadic hunter-gatherers. Cain was the first of these.

4:13 “Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is too great to bear!’”

Cain still refuses to repent, refuses any accountability for his sin while complaining of God’s judgment. He is not sorry for his sin; he’s sorry for the consequence, the result. But he’s not confessing his sin or asking God’s forgiveness.

When God judges sinners, His judgment is not only an expression of His righteousness but also His mercy — judgment is an instrument to drive sinners to repentance and forgiveness. But when the unrighteous refuse to repent, judgment then is the instrument that breaks them. (When the Lord chastises the righteous, His discipline corrects us, brings us to true repentance, forgiveness and restoration.) But Cain is not broken by judgment; he is not driven to repentance. He is as hard and rebellious as he ever was.

In the New Testament, when Jesus confronts demons, they rage and complain but do not repent (for instance see Matthew 8:29). Though it is apparent that fallen angels cannot repent, there are human beings who will not repent. At the end of history, as the wrath of God is poured out upon the earth and the Gospel of grace is preached, multitudes will still refuse to turn from their sin (see for instance Revelation 9:20,21).

So it was that Cain, confronted by God with his sin and as judgment is pronounced over him, still refuses to acknowledge or turn from his sin. He will wander the earth bearing the guilt of his sin and his fear of vengeance. So it is with the guilty who refuse to acknowledge or turn from their sin — they will be wanderers through life toward death, bearing the weight of their sin. The greater tragedy is that this is unnecessary. God had made a way for Cain to find the grace of forgiveness through a righteous, sacrificial offering. But Can rejected that way and killed his righteous brother who had brought the proper offering.

4:14 “Behold, you have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

Evidently there were other sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. The population of earth had multiplied enough that Cain felt he was in danger from those who would seek vengeance. 

Interestingly, Cain does seem to be aware that his sin has separated him from God, “From your face I will be hidden.” He does not say that this separation is a cause of grief to him. It may be that it only serves to increase his feeling of vulnerability. He is the father of those who attempt to justify themselves through their own works, who worship God in self-righteousness, who ignore the need for faith in the sacrificed Lamb of God, who refuse to turn from their sin. But they still desire God’s blessing of protection and deliverance.

Cain may have been thinking of that holy place where God had met them, where he and Abel brought their offerings. He should have fled to that place when he realized the enormity of his sin. Instead, he complains that the way is hidden. Though sinful humanity was exiled from the garden, there was still a way into the presence of God and it was not hidden. The Lord had told them how to come into His presence — with a sacrifice from their flocks, symbolizing the greater Sacrifice that would be offered someday — Jesus, the holy Lamb of God. 

Abel had found that entrance and God declared him to be righteous. Cain had rejected that form of  worship and God rejected him. But the presence of God was as close as repentance and the acceptable offering. 

Indeed, that way is hidden to no one, is open to all. However, Cain will not repent, will not bring the righteous offering. He only complains that the way to God is hidden to him. And he is afraid of vengeance by other members of the human family.

4:15 “So the Lord said to him, ‘Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.”

In later generations, the Lord would ordain human government as an institution for establishing peace, enforcing justice and maintaining order in a fallen world. The state has a right to require the life of a justly convicted criminal. However, there were no governments at this time in history. To prevent the arbitrary exercise of revenge on Cain, the Lord placed some kind of mark on him.

This mark represents the omniscience of God. He knows and sees with perfect clarity every human being who has ever lived. He knows our crimes and sins and if it were not for the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf, we would have no hope.

This mark represents the justice of God. The Lord forbids any person from exercising judgment on Cain because the Lord Himself will carry out judgment.

This mark represents the testimony of God. All who see Cain will realize the unfailing omniscience and justice of God.

We all carry some mark on us. In Ezekiel 9:4, as God is preparing to judge the people of Jerusalem for their idolatry, injustice and immorality, He orders a holy angel to place a mark on the righteous citizens of the city so that they would be spared in judgment. That mark was visible in the spirit realm.

The Apostle Paul said, “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His’” (2 Timothy 2:19). 

In Revelation chapter 7, as the Lord is preparing to pour out judgment on the earth, He sends an angel, “and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads’” (Rev. 7:2,3). 

There is a seal, a mark that is visible to God which distinguishes those who are His. There will also be, in the end times, a mark of the beast which sets apart those who have surrendered their lives to the worship of the antichrist.

Cain bore a mark which was visible to God and, evidently, also to people. It was a warning to all that judgment belonged to God and God alone.

4:16 “Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”

The Hebrew word Nod, Nowd, means to wander, to be an exile, a vagabond which is to say that Cain settled in the land of wandering and exile east of Eden. Here is the earthly biography and eternal future of all who sin and refuse to repent: they go out from the presence of God. Having no roots in this world, the result is blessing forfeited, purpose unfulfilled, opportunities missed. Alienated from God, there is no lasting joy, no depth of peace, no ultimate meaning. 

When anyone dies in that state of alienation, they have no place in the world to come and will live in eternal separation from God. Jesus described that eternal state as “the outer darkness,” a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13). Outer darkness represents the complete absence of the presence of God. Weeping and gnashing of teeth represent unremitting remorse and grief, the unbearable weight of guilt.

Compare this to Abel who, though cut off from Eden, still had access to God through righteous sacrifice. Rooted in righteous relationship with God in this life, he found a place with God in the next life.

4:17 “Cain had relations with his wife and she conceived, and gave birth to Enoch; and he built a city, and called the name of the city Enoch, after the name of his son.”

The first city was built by the first murderer, son of the first rebels in history.

The first city was built by the first false worshipper, the author of works-righteousness, the inventor of the religion of self righteousness, a man who refused to bring the acceptable sacrifice to God.

The first city was built by the first persecutor of true religion, the man who killed the first true God-worshipper; murderer of the man who brought the first pleasing sacrifice to God.

The first city was built by the first persecutor of Christ, killer of the first man to bring a sacrifice which prophesied the atoning death of Jesus, God’s holy Lamb.

The Hebrew word for city, ayar, refers to an encampment, a guarded place. No doubt Cain built that city for the same reason people move to cities today. Cities provide security, social relationship and an opportunity for the exchange of commerce. 

People move to cities to gain access to those good benefits but early on the place of security became a place where people guarded against one another. The place of commerce became a market for greed and exploitation. The center of relationship became a center of deception and oppression.

This breakdown of human society was inevitable, giving our fallenness. Community is formed by people in relationship with each other. People separated from God, from their own being and from one another build communities of alienated, separated people. Fallen people build fallen cities. Disintegrating personalities build disintegrating societies.

But that is not the world God created. In the beginning, humanity was placed not in a guarded encampment but in a garden. There was no need for walls, laws, judges or soldiers. This is the world which fallen humanity created. We look at our works and we say, “It is good.” But what we call good is so opposite from that which God created and called “good and very good.”

Cain built the first city as a fortified camp for his protection. However, considering the Lord’s pronouncement of judgment over him, that he would be “a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth,” it is doubtful that he found any lasting peace there. Indeed, “‘There is no peace for the wicked,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 48:22).

Before we leave the story of Cain, let us mark five important truths which may be applied to our own lives:

1. God knows the thoughts of our hearts. The omniscience of God should not be a source of fear to us but comfort. Because God knew Cain perfectly, He was able to confront and warn him before he sinned so that he might not destroy the course of his life and his brother’s life.

2. Many of the issues that shape the outcome of our life are determined not by forces outside of us but by the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. Cain’s future was entirely determined by his own jealousy, pride and anger. 

3. We ignore God’s truth to our own great peril. In ignoring the counsel of God, Cain set in motion the forces that shaped the remainder of his life and his eternity.

4. Since all people are created in the image of God and bear the imprint of His nature, no matter how marred or corrupted it may be, our words and actions toward others are spoken and committed against the image of God. In attacking his brother, Cain was attacking the image of God in his brother. Surely that was a satanically inspired event.

5. God designed Cain for a special purpose as He has designed each of us. Meaning and fulfillment are found in living out that purpose. God has designed a calendar of days for our lives (see Psalm 139:16) but we will not live out the fulness of that calendar if we live in rebellion against the Lord. In Psalm 55:23 we read, “Men of bloodshed and deceit will not live out half their days.”

May we all learn wisdom from the life of Cain.

4:18 “Now to Enoch was born Irad, and Irad became the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael became the father of Methushael, and Methushael became the father of Lamech.” 

This verse traces the immediate ancestry of Enoch, Cain’s son. In the fourth generation after Enoch, Lamech was born. He will represent an even further decline away from God.

4:19 “Lamech took to himself two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other, Zillah.”

Lamech originated the sin of polygamy — multiple wives. This is only another example of fallen humanity’s spiraling rebellion against God. In the beginning, God established the institution of marriage, the purpose of which was to create a union between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24), enabling them to fulfill the divine mandate to cultivate the earth (Gen. 2:15) and multiply descendants (Gen. 1:28). 

Lamech willfully violated God’s original plan. This is the essential expression of a human personality separated from God — acting autonomously, as if there is no God, no commandment, no revelation of the purpose of God. In this rebellion, Lamech displays absolute contempt for God.

The Apostle Paul tells us that humanity does not lack information about the existence of God or revelation from God. The problem is that we willfully “suppress the truth in unrighteousness; because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20). 

God has revealed truth about Himself through an inner witness, an innate sense of right and wrong — “that which is known about God is evident within them.” And God has revealed Himself through the grandeur of creation — “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.”

No one is without a witness that God exists. 

Lamech knew the truth but chose to reject it. So it is with all humanity, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (Romans 1:21-23).

So began the downward spiral from rebellion to idolatry to complete moral corruption:

 

“Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful” (Romans 1:24-31).

From Cain to Lamech to each succeeding generation, those who reject God fall into idolatry, moral corruption and complete darkness.

4:20-22 “Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother's name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. As for Zillah, she also gave birth to Tubal-cain, the forger of all implements of bronze and iron …”

In these verses we read of the origins of those who lived in tents, tending their herds and flocks. We read of those who invented musical instruments and began the development of bronze and iron technologies. 

Why did God inspire the invention of tents, the development of herding and metallurgy? For our prosperity. Why did God inspire the invention of musical instruments? So that He would be worshipped and we would be thrilled with the beauty of praise.

All of these advancements were the gifts of God to fallen sinners, a display of kindness which staggers the imagination. But such is the heart of God who “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).

This makes their sin against God even more grievous, for though they tasted the mercy of God, yet they would not return to Him. Since there is no mention of their repentance and return to God, it is apparent that Cain and his descendants died in their separation from God, destined to live forevermore in the outer darkness.

Notice the name of Jubal, “The father of all those who play the lyre and pipe” (4:21). This father of musicians was a son of Lamech, the first polygamist and a murderer who boasted of his murder in a song-poem (4:23,24). God gave us the gift of music so we could celebrate His glory but the first song recorded in the Bible was written by Lamech, a man who broke God’s moral law regarding marriage, who committed murder and then celebrated his sin in song.

Jubal was Lamech’s son. We do not know what manner of music he composed but we are reminded that society separated from God produces art and music that celebrates that separation. 

This has been a thrust of Satan’s program through the generations — seeking to corrupt the creative arts and seduce humanity through twisted expressions of beauty and truth. How perfectly in keeping with Satan’s biography, who himself may have been heaven’s worship leader before his fall (see Ezekiel 28:12-19).

4:23,24 “Lamech said to his wives, ‘Adah and Zillah, listen to my voice, you wives of Lamech, give heed to my speech, for I have killed a man for wounding me; and a boy for striking me; if Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.’”

Lamech is boasting of his revenge on someone who wounded him. While it may have been self defense, there is an arrogance, a callousness to his tone that is chilling. This is written in poetic form so it was possibly a song, in which case he is singing about killing someone in retribution for a wound.

God had said that the blood of Abel cried out to Him from the ground. Surely this speaks of the heinousness of the crime of murder in the eyes of God. God judged Cain for killing his brother Abel and after sentencing him for this crime, denied anyone else the right to carry out judgment, promising seven-fold retribution to anyone who violated that command (Genesis 4:15). 

This may also have been a general directive to humanity that God Himself would punish those who, in a criminal manner, shed the blood of those created in His image. Lamech, far from taking God’s warning to heart, took it upon himself to execute capital punishment on a young man who injured him. He ignored God’s directive, ridiculed it, proudly boasting that if Cain was to be avenged seven-fold, Lamech would be avenged seventy-seven fold, as if he is greater than God, as if there is no God at all and no moral order established by God.

Here we have a glimpse of a society filled with people who are living as autonomous beings, not merely separated from God but living as if God does not exist, as if there are no moral directives established by God. They are Godless and proud of it.

Ominously, this is the last we hear of Lamech or his descendants. They will go on to build and inhabit a world which God later describes as “only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5) but the Bible does not record any more of their names or their history. They will be exterminated in the great flood.


From this point on, the biblical record is primarily concerned with the righteous line of Seth.

4:25 “Adam had relations with his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, she said, ‘God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel, for Cain killed him.’”

Humanity had multiplied exponentially, fulfilling God’s mandate to be fruitful and fill the earth. Given the long life which men and women enjoyed and the fruitful conditions on earth, which, though cursed, were still beneficent to life, the result was the rapid expansion of the human family. However, that does not erase the tragedy which Adam and Eve experienced in the murder of their first son and the exile of their second son. 

Seth is born in place of Abel, not in the sense that there are no other children, but in the sense of a Godly son replacing the loss of a Godly son. The Hebrew name of Seth is Sheth which means substitute. Eve had taken to heart the Lord’s promise of a deliverer in 3:15, who would someday crush Satan. She knew that this deliverer would be descended from her and so after the tragedy of Cain and Abel, she now says, “God has appointed me another offspring,” a Sheth, a substitute. 

Though this son is not the Deliverer, he is the beginning of that line of descendants and Eve knows this is the work of the Lord. Only God can redeem lost humanity. Only God can fulfill the purpose of God.

4:26 “To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord.”

Seth named his son Enosh which means mortal and is related to the Hebrew word for frail. As opposed to the arrogance of Lamech, Seth realizes the fragile nature of human life and our dependence on God. Jesus described our relationship to Him as branches on a vine — we draw our life from the Lord. It is this God-dependent family that “began to call upon the name of the Lord.”

In Seth we see the new beginning of a righteous generation who worshipped the Lord. This Godly line continued through Enoch, Noah, Abraham and David to Joseph and Mary and the birth of Jesus (see Luke 3:38).

A descendant of Seth, Enoch, was taken up by God “so that he would not see death”, having “obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God” (Hebrews 11:5). He warned his pre-flood generation of the judgment to come (Jude 1:14,15). Another descendant, Noah, is described as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). Abraham made covenant with God and became the father of the covenant nation, Israel. David was the great king and psalmist and type of the coming Messiah.

In a world filled with the ungodly descendants of Cain, these worshippers of God realized their sinfulness, their separation from God, their mortality and their need for a Redeemer. They looked for the One promised to Eve, who would someday crush the serpent (Gen. 3:14). They approached God with righteous sacrifice as their ancestor Abel had done. Their hope would someday be realized in the One descended from the family of Seth, Jesus the Messiah.

Study Questions:

1. What was the significance of the offerings of Cain and Abel ? (see 4:3-5)

2. What are some important truths from the life of Cain which may be applied to our own lives ? (see the notes at the end of 4:18)

3. How would you describe the character of Lamech? (see 4:19,23,24)

4. What can you say about the descendants of Seth?  (see 4:26)

Genesis Chapter 5

Genesis Chapter 5

5:1 “This is the book of the generations of Adam.”

In this list of generations we read of families. The population of the world was increasing exponentially due to the favorable conditions and the long life which most men and women experienced so we must not think of this list as comprehensive but as representative of the expansion of the human family. In fact, we often read the phrase, “And he had other sons and daughters” (Gen. 5:4,7,10,13,16,19,22,26,30).

However, one family is traced all the way to Noah — the family of Seth, the father of righteous generations who worshipped the Lord (see 4:26). We read no more of the line of Cain running through Lamech. Their godless line built a world of corrupt idol worshippers who are later described as “only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). They will be destroyed in the great flood.

In this book of generations we read names and we are reminded that God knows our names. The Lord also reveals His names throughout the Bible, each name disclosing some aspect of His attributes. We are personal beings to God and He reveals Himself to us as a personal God. Throughout the Bible we read of a God who calls to people and who invites us to call upon Him. We read of a God who reveals His will, His heart and His word to people, who equips people to speak His word to their generation. 

Each name in this book of generations was the head of a family and these families built cities, became nations and made covenant with God. Descended from these righteous families came the family of Noah and Abraham and Joseph and Mary, into which Jesus was born. In this book of generations we read of a God who cares about families and cities and nations, a God who resolutely worked His salvation purpose throughout the centuries in families and cities and nations.

This God who knows our names said to Moses, “You have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name” (Exodus 33:17). What a stunning revelation that must have been to Moses — the God who reveals Himself as the everlasting I Am, this God knows my name!

This God who knows our names said to the Persian king, Cyrus, “For the sake of Jacob My servant, and Israel my chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known me” (Isaiah 45:4). Cyrus did not know the name of the Lord but the Lord knew the name of Cyrus.

To the nation of Israel the Lord said, “But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine!’” (Isaiah 43:1). He is a personal God. The Apostle Paul refers to his fellow workers “whose names are in the book of life” (Phlpns. 4:3). Our God is a personal God.

In this account of the generations of Adam we are reminded that God preserves the names of the righteous. This is not just a testament to God’s omniscience. It also reveals the faithfulness of the Lord in preserving the righteous. In the prophet Malachi we read,

“Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name” (Mal. 3:16).

Moses mentioned a book in which the names of God’s people are written (Exodus 32:32). In Hebrews chapter 11 the names of righteous saints are recorded. The Apostle Paul refers to his fellow workers “whose names are in the book of life” (Phlpns. 4:3). In Jesus’ message to the church at Sardis, He mentions “the book of life” in which the names of the righteous are written (Revelation 3:5; see also Rev. 13:8, 17:8, 20:12).

The God who created us, who redeems us from our sin — this God also preserves us — not just our names but our lives. Through all the trials and storms of this world He is faithful to preserve us to the completion of what He began in us. The Apostle Peter reminds us that we have been redeemed “to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Peter 1:4,5).

Surely the God who knows us, who records our names, who cares about every aspect of our lives, surely this God will preserve us. In this book of generations we read of a God who preserves a righteous remnant of men and women and families in the midst of violent, corrupt cities and nations. It is through this righteous remnant that the Lord will work out His salvation purpose in human history. 

In this book of generations we also read a recurring phrase, “And then he died” (5:5,8,11,14,17, 20, 27,31). We are reminded that, “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam's sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned” (Romans 5:12). We are reminded of the cost of Adam’s sin — “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). 

But in this chapter we also see the progress of a righteous family, from generation to generation, from Enoch to Noah. That family line will continue through Bible history to the birth of Jesus. The Lord promised a Redeemer and the entrance of death into the world did not prevent the glorious accomplishing of God’s purpose on earth.

5:1 “In the day when God created man (adam), He made him in the likeness of God.”

We are reminded again of two primary truths:

1. God created the human being in a day. Man was an intentional act of creation, not the result of random chance over millions of years.

2. We were created in the image of God, implying very specific attributes (which were discussed in chapter one (see 1:26). We did not evolve from lower life forms. We were created in maturity and in fact have devolved from that exalted beginning.

5:2 “He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man (Adam) in the day when they were created.”

When God created man, male and female, He blessed and named them.  Our name, man, is part of God’s blessing on us. Notice also that when God created humanity, we were created as male and female in the image of God.

5:3 “When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.”

Adam refers to the male human being named Adam. Just as God created Adam in His own image, so Adam created Seth in his own image.  This would have been glorious — God's grandchild — except that Adam had fallen and the glorious image of God in Adam was marred.  So Seth was less a grandchild of God, more a son of fallen man.

Adam’s age when Seth was born, one hundred and thirty, is to be taken literally. It is probable that there was some kind of moisture canopy in the atmosphere before the flood which filtered out ultra-violet rays and moderated the climate (1:6,7). Though the ground had been cursed, it was still incredibly fruitful. Man was created to live a long, abundant life and though sin had released the reality of death throughout creation, the health and vitality which God designed in man resisted the power of death. Only gradually did life spans decrease, before the flood. After the flood, we will see a dramatic decrease in life span due to the rearrangement of the atmosphere and the land.

5:4,5 “Then the days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died.”

Again, Adam’s age is to be taken literally. In God’s original creation, there is no mention of death. The Lord must have had some other way of transitioning people when they were ready to move on from this life.

The human being was created to live a long, fruitful life cultivating creation, enjoying God and giving glory to Him. Sin interrupted this plan and as God had warned, death entered creation through sin. Spiritual death was immediate — separation from God. There was also a disintegration of the human personality in the clutch of guilt, shame and fear. An aspect of death entered the relationship of Adam and Eve. But physical death was not immediate. God’s original design was so marvelous that even the power of death required 930 years to work its destruction on the physical being of Adam.

5:6-8 “Seth lived one hundred and five years, and became the father of Enosh. Then Seth lived eight hundred and seven years after he became the father of Enosh, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years, and he died.”

Seth, the father of the righteous line of man (see 4:26), lived for 912 years. As we move closer to the time of Noah, the number of the righteous decreases while the population of the unrighteous multiplies. By the time of the flood, man was wicked and “that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually … The earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:5,11). When the doors of the ark closed, only Noah and his family entered — eight righteous people on the earth. But God preserved that remnant, that one righteous family.

5:9-20 “Enosh lived ninety years, and became the father of Kenan … So all the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years, and he died … Then Jared lived eight hundred years after he became the father of Enoch, and he had other sons and daughters …”

These verses trace the family line of Seth up to the birth of Enoch, a righteous man who received a marvelous blessing from God.

5:21-23 “Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years.”

Enoch was a righteous man, signified by the fact that he walked with God, for how can two walk together unless they are in agreement? He was of the family line that called on the name of the Lord (4:26). He was a devout worshipper of God and must have come to the Lord with a pleasing sacrifice for sin, otherwise he could not walk with God.

Walking with God is a life lived in communion with God. We hear in this an echo of life in the Garden of Eden in which Adam and Eve knew God, enjoyed uninterrupted fellowship as God walked in the garden.

  

To walk with the eternal God is to be set free from slavery to time. To be taken up into God is to slip the bonds of time and enter forever that eternal sphere of being wherein God dwells, not unending time but the absence of time.

5:24 “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.”

Enoch walked with God and God translated him out of this wicked world. He did not see death as the others mentioned in this chapter (5:11,17, 20). This a picture of God’s original plan for man — they walked together, God and Enoch, and when Enoch was ready, God took him to glory.

What better testimony of any life than this — “He walked with God.” What better epitaph than this — “God took him.” How perfectly contrary to the God-rejecting world of which we read, “God gave them over” to their idols and their depravity (Romans 1:24,26,28).

The Hebrew word which we translate took is laqach, which means to carry away, to send for. A life lived in communion with God is carried away by God, taken up by God into God. We are reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words to the church, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). If we are dead to the values and customs of the world and alive in Christ, then our life is hidden in the life of Christ. Enoch enjoyed communion with God, set his heart on God and when his work on earth was done, God sent for him.

In Hebrews 11:5 we read, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.”

The New Testament phrase taken up, metatithem, is also rendered translated. Why was Enoch taken up or translated out of this world? So that he would not see death. Rather than allow him to experience the result of the fall of man, God took him. 

Throughout Genesis chapter 5 we read “and he died.” It is the final word for all who lived. But Enoch breaks this chain — he did not die — God took him. We hear the later testimony of Jesus who said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25,26).

Enoch was a man of faith and following these words, “ He was pleasing to God,” we read these words, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

If Enoch was pleasing to God, then he must have lived a life consistent with righteousness, a life of holy communion with the holy God. It was a life of humble obedience to the revealed truth of God — truth about worship, truth about holy living. So it is that we read, “Enoch walked with God .”

Enoch was also pleasing to God in that he not only lived the truth — he also spoke the truth to his generation. In Jude 1:14,15 we read that Enoch was a prophet of the coming judgment:

“It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.’”

Imagine the ridicule and persecution Enoch experienced as he prophesied to a God-rejecting planet! It was not merely a city or nation that had turned from God. The entire human race, except for the diminishing line of Seth, had suppressed the knowledge of God and fallen into darkness, idolatry, futility and corruption. But Enoch spoke God’s word of warning to his generation.

We also see the mercy of God in the midst of judgment — God removed Enoch prior to the flood. We see the preservation of Noah’s family through the ark and Enoch through translation to glory. In the midst of judgment there was salvation.

There will be a generation that will know the miracle of Enoch — we shall not all sleep the sleep of death. The generation that is alive on the day when the Lord returns for His church will experience instantaneous translation to glory. The Apostle Paul reminds us, 

“Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” ( I Corinthians 15:51,52).

“Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:17).

Whether we are alive when Christ returns or have died prior to that time, all the righteous will share in Christ’s triumph over death. Alive to Christ, we are united with Him in His resurrection: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” ( I Corinthians 15:22).

The Apostle Paul proclaimed, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

We see in Enoch the glorious principle that though “the wages of sin is death,” God intervenes to conquer death. We are reminded that death was not God’s original plan for humanity — there must have been some other way that men and women would have moved from this life to the next upon the completion and fulfillment of God’s plan and purpose for their life. Sin interrupted God’s design but in Enoch we see the foreshadowing of Christ’s triumph over death and we hear the echo of the Apostle Paul, 

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55).

Was Enoch not subject to the law of sin and death? Yes, but God, Creator of life, was not subject to death and He intervened to deliver a righteous man from the clutches of death. In this we see a foreshadowing of Jesus, obedient to death on the cross but risen in victory and exalted in glory.

So it was that the Psalmist sang with confidence, “With your counsel you will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory” (Psalm 73:24).

So it was that David, in the midst of war and persecution, sang, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).

So it was that Job, in the midst of tragedy and disaster, was able to confess, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25,26).

We know little else of the life of Enoch but we know that the same God who called him to Himself is also our God. And the same power of resurrection that led Enoch through to eternal life is released into all who trust in Christ, the holy Lamb and Risen Lord.

Enoch died relatively young for that period of history. Why did God take him so soon? Because his work was done and this is the measure of life — not length of years but the completion of   divine purpose; not how many times did you go around the block but did you finish your race. Having completed his work, God brought Enoch to his eternal reward. This is not to be understood as something sad or grievous but celebrated as triumph.

Notice the chain of revelation in Genesis: Abel brought a pleasing sacrifice from his flock, foretelling the sacrifice of Jesus. Seth was a worshipper of God, foretelling the rise of a righteous remnant among humanity who would preserve true worship of the true God. Enoch walked with God, testified of God and then was translated into eternal life with God, foretelling the resurrection of the righteous saints who follow after the Lord.

The translation of Enoch from this life to the next, from time to eternity, proved the truth of his preaching, just as the resurrection of Jesus vindicated His ministry and atoning death. So with us — our resurrection is proof that the redemption promise and purpose of God is true.

5:25-27 “Methuselah lived one hundred and eighty-seven years, and became the father of Lamech … So all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and he died.”

The familiar litany of Genesis chapter 5 resumes with Methuselah — “And he died.” Methuselah is the only child of Enoch whose name is recorded and it may be that his name has prophetic significance. There are two interpretations of his name. 

Some commentators believe that Methuselah is comprised of the root math (one of the Hebrew words for man) and shelach (spear) — meaning “man of the spear.” Other commentators believe that his name is comprised of muth (death) and shulach (sending forth) — meaning “when he is dead it shall come.”

If the second interpretation is correct, then Methuselah’s name surely was prophetic for many commentators believe that in the year he died, God sent the flood and the entire world perished except for the righteous family of Noah. 

The date of the flood is derived by beginning with Adam’s creation in the year 1. Adam lived 930 years and Seth was born in Adam’s 130th year. Seth lived 912 years and died in 1042. Moving ahead, Methuselah was born in 687 and lived 969 years — so he died in 1656.  Noah was born in 1056 and was 600 years old when the flood came (Gen. 7:6). So the flood came in 1656, the year Methuselah died. (At the end of the chapter we break this down in greater detail).

Methuselah is a testimony of God’s judgment. Enoch warned of coming judgment (Jude 1:14,15). Noah proclaimed the coming judgment (2 Peter 2:5) and in the fulness of time, in the year Methuselah died, God judged.

However, all these men are also testimonies of God’s grace. Enoch lived 365 years and we would assume that he prophesied of coming judgment for more than a few of those years. That speaks of grace. Noah was a preacher of righteousness. That speaks of grace.

Methuselah’s name spoke prophetically for 969 years. Yes, our God is a God of justice who executes righteous judgment but He is also a God of grace, long suffering, patient with sinners, granting to people and nations merciful seasons of grace and multiple opportunities to repent, to turn from their sin and be saved. 

The Apostle Peter was responding to unbelievers who mocked the promise of Christ’s’ return and God’s judgment. He reminds us that, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God is not slow to fulfill His promises, but He is slow to anger and quick to forgive, patient toward sinners and abounding in mercy.

It is only when grace is finally refused that judgment falls. There are long seasons of grace. And there is the sudden explosion of judgment.

5:28-32  “Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and became the father of a son … Now he called his name Noah, saying, ‘This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed’ … Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”

With the birth of Noah, Moses begins the narrative of God’s judgment on an evil world.

**

Chronology from Adam to the Great Flood through the line of Seth:

Adam was born in year 1.

Seth was born when Adam was 130                                (Year 130)

Seth became the father of Enosh when he was 105        (Year 235)

Enosh became the father of Kenan when he was 90        (Year 325)

Kenan became the father of Mahalalel when he was 70   (Year 395)

Mahalalel became the father of Jared when he was 65    (Year 460)

Jared became the father of Enoch when he was 162       (Year 622)

Enoch became the father of Methuselah when he was 65 (Year 687)

Methuselah lived 969 years                                                (Year1656)

If Methuselah died in the year of the flood then that would be the year 1656.

Or: 

Methuselah was born in the year 687  

Methuselah became the father of Lamech when he was 187 (Year 874)

Lamech became the father of Noah when he was 182           (Year 1056)

Noah was 600 years old when the flood came (see 7:6)         (Year 1656

Study Questions

1. Chapter five is filled with names. What does it mean to you that God knows your name?

2. How would you describe the life of Enoch? 

3. Are there similarities between his life and yours?

4. It is possible to translate Methuselah’s name muth (death) shulach (sending forth) which could mean: “When he is dead it shall come.” In what way might that be prophetic?

Genesis Chapter 6

Genesis Chapter 6

6:1,2 “Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.”

Beginning with the family of Seth, men and women “began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26). This speaks of the development of a righteous line of men and women who worshipped the true God with acceptable sacrifices. Here in 6:1 they are called sons of God in the sense that they submitted their lives to God, reverenced Him, obeyed His commandments, were walking with the Lord as His children. This Godly family line is set in contrast to the lineage of Cain through Lamech — children of the world living according to the corrupt values and idolatrous philosophies of an unrighteous, God-rejecting world. 

However, as history continued to unfold and as the human race continued to multiply, the sons of God began to intermarry with the daughters of men. “The daughters of men” refers to women from worldly families (merely daughters of men as opposed to children of God), women who did not have a heart for God, women who were formed and shaped by the values of this fallen world. The righteous line of Seth began to intermarry with the unrighteous line of Cain. Families that had inherited a tradition of Godliness began to be conformed to ungodliness. Righteous, God-oriented society began to be corrupted by unrighteous, God-rejecting society.

Though they were sons of God, they were not submitted to God in establishing their families. They  “took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.” There was no exercise of spiritual discernment, no thought for their Godly inheritance or the calling of God on their families. They had no thought for God’s purpose in preserving a righteous line in human history. They did not call on the Lord for guidance; rather, they acted autonomously marrying “whomever they chose”, yoking themselves to unbelievers without consulting God.

We see in this the satanic strategy to so corrupt the descendants of Adam as to prevent the birth of the Redeemer promised to Eve.

Centuries later, when the Lord led Israel out of slavery in Egypt, He established strict boundaries and restrictions for the nation of Israel to preserve the distinctiveness of the covenant people in the midst of idolatrous, corrupt nations. Israel had been led out of slavery to the religious / political / economic oppression of Egypt and God did not want them to fall into slavery to the moral / religious / cultural oppression of Canaan. The multitude of laws, dietary restrictions and social customs proscribed in the Mosaic law were intended to preserve the distinctiveness of God’s holy, covenant people in the midst of an ungodly world.

The Lord Himself exhorted Israel, “Thus you are to be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be mine” (Leviticus 20:26). This same exhortation was repeated to the church in I Peter 1:16, “You shall be holy for I am holy.”

The Apostle Paul also exhorted the church, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). 

Again the Apostle reminds us, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?  … ‘Therefore come out from among their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean, and I will welcome you’” (2 Corinthians 6:15,17).

The Apostle Peter reminds us that we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (I Peter 2:9).  But there is always a temptation to compromise with the values and customs of the world around us. So it was that the righteous descendants of Seth and Enoch, “the sons of God”, began to compromise with the world. 

What is the outcome when God’s people become conformed to the world? Jesus compares that person to salt that has lost its saltiness and light that has been hidden — that life is useless to God (Matthew 5:13-16). Salt is a preservative but if the salt is ruined, it preserves nothing; the result is corruption. Light reveals but if the light is hidden, then nothing is revealed; the result is darkness. The work of God’s covenant people —  to be a source of preservation and revelation, is destroyed when we become conformed to a world of corruption and darkness.

The Lord wants to shine His light through His redeemed people, wants to release His preserving, redeeming word of grace and truth through us. But a compromised life will never be a vessel of light or grace or truth. If the people of God — the church — have become conformed to a corrupt world, then nothing remains for the corrupt world except judgment. This grieves the Lord who is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

The Lord rebuked the church at Pergamum for allowing the idolatry and immorality of their culture to seep into the church and He threatened to make war against those in the church who had compromised (Revelation 2:12-17). Why such harsh words? Because if the church becomes as corrupt and dark as the society around it, then there is no earthly instrument for the redemption of that society and nothing remains but judgment.

So it was that the compromise of the Godly line of Seth led to the corruption of the Godly line, depriving God of an instrument for the redeeming of society and leaving no alternative but judgment — judgment known as the Great Flood.

There is an alternate interpretation of 6:1,2. There are times in the Old Testament when the phrase “sons of God” refers to angels — see Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7. Some commentators say that Genesis 6:1,2 refers to angels having sexual relations with women. They believe that 2 Peter 2:4,5 and Jude 1:6 refer to the punishment of angels for having transgressed a boundary set by God. However, there is no specific Scriptural linkage between those New Testament texts and this Genesis passage so those commentators are arguing from silence — from what the Bible does not explicitly say. We need to be very careful when arguing from what the Bible does not say.

Those commentators add that Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:30, that in the resurrection people “neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven,” do not deny procreative ability to angels, only that they do not use that ability. However, it is unlikely that God would give reproductive capacity to angels if they did not need to use it. When God created angels, He made them eternal and created as many as would ever exist. Since angels do not die and God, in the beginning, created all the angels He intended to create, then there is no need for more angels. It is therefore unlikely that they would possess the ability to procreate.

Further, it is unlikely that God would allow such a grievous violation of the natural order as would occur if fallen angels were impregnating human women. There is a limit even to rebellion and sin. Though God allows free, moral creatures to exercise freedom of choice, He has set boundaries for both angels and people.

It is certainly true, though, that fallen angels — demons — are continually involved in tempting, seducing and deceiving people. Fallen angels were surely involved in the temptation of those righteous descendants of Seth, just as Lucifer, the fallen archangel, was involved in the temptation of Eve. It is also true that demonic spirits — fallen angels — overpowered the personalities of some of those formerly Godly men who compromised and married into the ungodly line of Cain. So it may be that the punishment of those select angels mentioned in 2 Peter and in Jude is connected with this event, not because they had direct sexual relations with women but because they tempted and seduced righteous men and possibly possessed some of them.

However, it is normal in this fallen world for demons to incarnate their greedy, violent, lustful desires in human personalities. That is not unusual. It is normal for demons to find points of vulnerability in people, to overpower and corrupt them, to establish their wicked desires in them and drive them to act on those desires. Since this is normative, there is no reason for the writer to take special time to record this — it has been happening since the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve.

So we believe that the better interpretation of this passage refers to the righteous line of Seth, “The sons of God," intermarrying with the unrighteous line of Cain, “the daughters of men.”

6:3 “Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’”

Just as the Holy Spirit had been involved in the work of creation, He had also been working through the righteous line of Seth to call fallen humanity to repentance. But though God is a God of grace, slow to anger and quick to forgive, there is a limit to the season of grace. He had called to the world through a family of righteous worshippers and had warned the world prophetically through Enoch. He would now warn the world for 120 years. This warning will come through the testimony of Noah. But then the season of grace would be ended.

In announcing that there is a limit to the time of His striving with man, God is not saying that there is a limit to His grace or love.  But there comes a point when a person or society can no longer hear, is no longer receptive to grace.  So God announced a 120 year season of grace through Noah, the “preacher of righteousness” ( 2 Peter 2:5). Implied in this season of grace is the certainty of the season of judgement to follow, if grace is rejected.

The phrase, “because he also is flesh” refers not only to the physical being of humanity but especially to fallenness and corruption due to sin. The Lord would soon pronounce the complete depravity of the human race — unwilling to repent, beyond redemption, worthy only of judgment.

6:4 “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.”

The Hebrew word nephilim means tyrant or giant, from the root naphal which means to fall, referring to those who have fallen or who cause others to fall, who overwhelm or cast down others. They are defined for us as “mighty men who were of old, men of renown (famous men).”

There is no reason to believe that the Nephilim were a race of giants in the sense of stature or size. This is not the same word used in 2 Samuel 21:16 in reference to “the sons of the giant”, that is, descendants of Goliath (that word is raphah a word completely unrelated to nephilim).

Rather, the Nephilim were fallen men who through their tyranny caused others to fall. They were sinners who were children of sinners, born of the sons of God who had become corrupted by the fallen world around them. This happened when “the sons of God” — the righteous line of Seth, began to take wives from “the daughters of men.”

The only difference in these fallen men and the fallen men around them is that they were dominating tyrants who overwhelmed those who were weaker. They were giants in the same sense that we refer to people as giants who rise to positions of fame or dominance in their chosen field of endeavor. We say of some famous person, “He (or she) was a giant in his (or her) profession.” We don’t mean that he or she was larger in stature than everyone else; we mean that they were famous, outstanding, towering above others in the quality of their work or their excellence. 

The Nephilim were men of renown, famous through their tyranny and domination of others. They must have been arrogant and cruel, unrestrained, boastful of their conquests and without any sense of justice or mercy toward others. They lived as autonomous beings, refusing to recognize God or any source of law higher than themselves. Their primary motivation was greed and lust for power. They were the original power brokers, the rich and famous who gained their wealth and fame through the exploitation of those who were weaker.

6:5  “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

The corruption of the human race had become so complete that “every intent of the thoughts of (man’s) heart was only evil continually.” Here is a clear statement of the total depravity of the sinner — “only evil continually.” Evil was so dominant in the human heart, was expressing itself so absolutely in the human personality that there was a complete absence of repentance or even a desire to repent. It reveals a remorseless hardening of the human spirit in rebellion against God.

The word continually speaks of the momentum of depravity. The human heart either increases in wisdom and purity or spirals into deeper corruption. The society that men and women build will reflect either of those two realities. Paul, in Romans 1:18-32, describes the downward spiral of the human being from the suppression of the knowledge of God, to creating idols to replace God, to corruption and immorality to complete depravity and finally divine judgment. Evil generates its own gravity, collapsing in on itself with a force that can become irreversible.

One is reminded of the astronomical phenomena known as a black hole. When a star has burned all the fuel at its center, it begins to collapse with an unalterable momentum that violates the laws of physics. The mass becomes so dense that nothing can escape its gravity, not even light. It is therefore invisible but with an immeasurable gravity and power that can suck in entire galaxies. 

Such is the force of evil unchecked by repentance. It collapses in on itself, destroying everything around it. The implication appears to be that there is a point beyond which evil cannot be reversed in a human soul and in human society. What an awful, terrifying thought that is.

In this verse, Moses describes the evil soul of fallen man, the inner life of thought and intention. He does not describe what was happening in human society at that time (though he will in verse 11). There is no need to describe outward conditions for they are certainly corrupt, flowing as they do from the entirely evil, corrupt thoughts of the heart. We act in accordance with our thoughts; our inner imagination determines our outward action (Proverbs 23:7). 

This is why the writer of Proverbs warns us, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). If the thoughts are corrupt, then the living of a life will be corrupt, as Jesus assures us, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man” (Matthew 15:18).

What we build reflects the heart of the builder. The world described in Genesis chapter 6 was a fearsome place of violence, evil and depravity. Though God would still grant to the world 120 years of grace, none would be faithful but the family of Noah — there would be no outcry of repentance, no plea for mercy from any of the other families on earth. When the Lord finally immersed the world in a flood of judgment, it had long been engulfed in the polluting floodwaters of sin.

Let us not think ourselves superior to the people of that day. According to the Lord’s revelation of the human heart, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Not only have we sinned, but we were dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) and in this state of spiritual death, we have no inclination to seek God (Romans 3:11). If the Lord had not sought us and awakened us to His grace, we would have been hopelessly lost.

Let us also not suppose that our technological and scientific advancements have been matched by any moral advance in the human race. Jesus said that in the last days of human history, the capacity of the human soul to discern spiritual truth will be no different than in the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37-41).

6:6 “The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.”

What does it mean that “the Lord was sorry … grieved”?

It cannot mean that God repented as people do, for it is clearly stated, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19). 

The Hebrew word which here is translated sorry (and in the King James repent) is nacham which means to pity, to be sorry. It is not the same word which Ezekiel used when calling Israel to repent and turn from their idols (Ezekiel 14:6). That word is shuwb and means to turn back, to return to the starting point, to convert. God does not ever need to turn back, to start over or convert to another way of thinking.

The word nacham — to be sorry — is not so much a way of describing God as it is a way of accommodating our inability to understand Him. God is not emotionally unstable as people can be. He rejoices over good and is grieved by evil but is perfectly consistent, unchanging in all His thoughts and ways.

However, the Bible often speaks of God in human terms — the eyes of the Lord, the hand of the Lord — so that we may understand Him with more clarity. But though the Bible sometimes speaks of the Lord in human terms, that does not mean that God is like a man who changes his mind in bad weather.

Also, nacham — to be sorry — cannot mean that God regretted His creative acts for that would imply imperfect design. It cannot mean that God did not foresee the fall of man, for that would imply imperfect knowledge. It cannot mean that He did not see the consequences of that fall nor can it mean that at any time, God was less than sovereign over heaven and earth.

In original creation God declared all that He had made to be good and very good; this includes the creation of man. All that God created was perfect in every way. The Lord created with perfect wisdom and perfect knowledge of every event and circumstance that would ever occur in His creation. He knew that if He created human beings with the freedom to make moral choices, that freedom would be misused. God knew that sin would mar His good creation.

So when we read that God was sorry and grieved that He had made man, this cannot mean that God’s creative act grieved Him. It was man’s rebellion and disobedience, the sin and destruction resulting from that sin, which grieved the Lord. He was sorry, not as if His design was imperfect, for God has never done anything imperfectly and not as if His knowledge of the future was imperfect. God was sorry that such exalted creatures would take the beauty of His design and the goodness of His gifts and use their freedom to create such disorder and destruction.

We must never think of God as surprised by anything for that implies imperfect knowledge. We must not think of God as disturbed in the sense of having a changeable nature for God cannot change, being perfect in all His being. Through the prophet Malachi the Lord said, “For I, the Lord, do not change” (Malachi 3:6). Through James we read that in the Lord “there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17). 

God does not change — neither His mind nor His character — but even as we know that God can be pleased and can rejoice in mercy and justice and righteousness, so can He also be sorrowful at the violation of those virtues. By the time of Noah, fallen man had become hardened in sin. It was not simply that humanity did wrong — far worse — “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Humanity sinned continually because that had become the continual, unceasing motive of the human heart.

This grieved the Lord, caused Him sorrow. This is a way of describing God’s righteous hatred of sin and the destruction that sin brings about in His world.

6:7 “The Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.’”

God determined to blot out man from the earth. This is an act of justice — God is holy and just and is only acting in a manner consistent with His righteousness when He punishes sin. But there is mercy in this.  If every thought of man was only evil continually, if the earth was corrupt and filled with violence, if the human family had passed the point of being receptive to grace, that is, beyond redemption, then wouldn’t it be more merciful to conclude the evil race before more generations are born and condemned?  

a. They will die anyway and be separated from God forever. So God is not adding to their distress by ending their lives.  God is merely limiting the violence they would inflict and suffer.

b. Every child to be born in the future will only suffer violence and evil, be conformed to the violence and evil and therefore add to the evil and populate the gates of hell.  Why not end it before any more children are born?

This was a just act.  But God was expressing His mercy in His justice. Further, God preceded judgment with mercy.

God determined to send judgment on the earth but only after He offered grace. The Lord had not been without a witness on earth — the pleasing sacrifice of Abel, the Godly lineage of Seth, the prophetic ministry of Enoch. There had been righteous worshippers and righteous witnesses for generations. Righteous witness would continue for another 120 years through Noah. But as the Lord had said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever.” There would come a day when the season of grace would be ended.

Again we read that the Lord felt sorrow when he regarded the iniquity of man. This is the same word as in the previous verse — nacham — to feel pity or sorrow. It is not that the Lord denied the goodness of His creation, for in its original form it was perfect. But the Lord was sorry for what sinful man had done to His creation.

Why must the other creatures of the earth suffer in the flood of judgment that was coming upon humanity? It is true that they are not morally conscious and cannot be held to a standard of moral accountability but they live in a world that was cursed because of man’s sin. We do not sin in a vacuum — our sin touches other people and creatures. All of creation was “subjected to futility” and groans and suffers as if in the “pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:20,22). These unknowing, non-rational creatures will suffer they same fate as sinful man not because they have sinned but because they live in the world polluted by man. If that seems cruel, do not blame a just God. Blame a sinful, unrepenting humanity who ruined God’s perfect creation. 

Long before God poured out the flood of judgment, the world was flooded and polluted with sin and sin’s corrupting poison. When we sin, there is a ripple effect that touches the lives of other people and even innocent creatures around us. The good that we do and the evil we do impacts the world around us. So it was that the innocent creatures suffered for the sin of man. We may also suppose that this world-wide act of judgmental destruction, and the suffering caused by judgment, contributes to the sorrow of God.

We must add here that if the false theory of angelic corruption was true and the flood was God’s instrument for destroying the demonically infected portions of the human race, then why would all of humanity have been destroyed, other than Noah’s family? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable that the Lord would destroy only those portions of the race that were polluted? And wouldn’t there be some mention of the angels who had already been punished because of that sin? But there is no mention of angelic punishment connected with the flood (and the New Testament references that speak of angelic punishment make no mention of these events recorded in Genesis). We do read that the entire human race, other than one family, was infected not with the seed of fallen angels but with sin and was therefore punished.

Also, if the corruption of the human race had been due to the sin of fallen angels, and if the flood was God’s instrument to destroy that demonically infected lineage, then wouldn’t the race descended from Noah have been sinless? But humanity proved to be just as sinful after the flood as before because the source of the problem was not demonic but human — beginning with Adam and Eve, human beings sinned. Human beings continue to sin and the Lord has withheld catastrophic judgment since the flood because of His promise to Noah and because of His merciful purpose to send a Savior.

Now the Savior has come. We are living in an age of grace in which God offers to all mankind an ark of refuge — salvation by grace through faith in Christ. All who respond will be saved, indeed, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). But we are also promised that yet again God will judge the earth. The fact that judgment has been long delayed is not because God is complacent. The Apostle Peter reminds us:

“Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.’ For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water” (2 Peter 3:3-6).

People mock the promise of Christ’s return and ridicule the certainty of God’s judgment and in their ignorance they contend that all things continue as they were without interruption. But that is not true. All things have not continued as they were — God interrupted history once, with a world-wide flood of judgment. Humanity is as wicked as it was in Noah’s day. Why does God delay His judgment? Peter tells us:

“But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:7-9).

History continues, not because God is unaware of the condition of the world or unconcerned. History continues because of God’s mercy, not wishing for any to perish but that all would repent and be saved.

So it was in Noah’s day. God promised judgment but delayed, offering grace for 120 years. Eventually the season of grace was ended and judgment was poured out on the world. Yet even in judgment, God offered grace. 

6:8 “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

Humanity was originally given sovereignty over creation. Our sin and fall led to creation’s ruin and then its destruction — the creatures of the land and air and all families but one would be destroyed. But one family, the family of Noah, found favor with the Lord. The Hebrew word for favor, ehen, may also be translated grace and it is the first mention of grace in the Bible. However, this is not the first time that we see the grace of God in operation.

Surely God expressed grace in the lives of Adam and Eve when they sinned and God came seeking them, not to destroy them but to call them to honest accountability. The Lord had warned them that sin would create the reality of death and though death did work its destruction in their souls, in their relationship with God, with each other and in nature, they did not die physically that day but lived so they could repent of their sin and experience further grace. Though they were cast out of the garden, God expressed grace in covering them and promising a Deliverer.

The Lord expressed grace in revealing to Cain and Abel the sacrifice that would allow them to come before God and worship Him. The Lord expressed grace in warning Cain, in meeting Him when he sinned, in allowing him to live and not die immediately after his violence toward his brother. The Lord expressed grace throughout the world as He granted daily blessings of life and food to a world which progressively turned from Him.

In a special way, the Lord expressed grace in preserving a Godly line through Seth — men and women who worshipped the Lord. In that righteous line we read of a man named Enoch who walked with God and experienced the grace of deliverance from death. Noah descended from that line and found grace with the Lord in a time of judgment.

This does not mean that Noah was not a sinner. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. If we were not sinners, we would not need grace. Though God blessed Noah with grace, Noah did not earn God’s grace — no one does. Grace is by definition God’s gift of unmerited, undeserved favor to sinners.

Then if Noah was a sinner, as are all the fallen sons and daughter of Adam, what was it about him that brought him into the dimension of grace? We find the answer in the following verse.

6:9 “These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.”

Noah found favor with God because he was a righteous man. This is the first use of the Hebrew word tsaddiyq — just, righteous. Tsaddiyq describes something that is straight, upright, having integrity. How can a sinner be declared righteous? We know that Noah was a sinner. How could he be declared righteous? Because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ who bore our sins and bore God’s wrath against sin in His own body on the cross. Isaiah prophesied this saving work hundreds of years before Christ was born on earth:

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:5,6).

As it was prophesied, so it happened. Jesus, God’s Son, was born in human form and offered Himself as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world:

“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (2 Peter 2:24). 

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus became a sin offering, bearing our sins in Himself on the cross and satisfying God’s judgment against sin so that those who trust in His saving work are forgiven of sin and declared to be righteous. He took our sins and declares us to be righteous. This saving work includes cleansing from sin’s guilt and deliverance from its destructive power:

“Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water”  (Hebrews 10:22).

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

The saving work of Jesus not only reaches forward in time to those who trust in Christ for their salvation, it also reaches back in time to those who did not know of Jesus but who obeyed God, trusted Him and worshipped Him according to the righteous light they had. Under the New Covenant, God imputes righteousness to all who trust in the saving work of Jesus. Under the Old Covenant, God declared men and women to be righteous as they trusted in God — believed His promises, lived by faith, worshipped Him with acceptable sacrifices. They walked with God faithfully and God counted their faith as righteousness. 

But even faith is a gift of grace, as the Apostle Paul tell us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

God gives us faith to turn to Him, to believe Him, to trust Him, worship Him and walk with Him. God then counts our faith-walk as righteousness.

So it was with Noah. God granted him grace to believe, to trust His promises. God then counted that faith as righteousness. Notice that grace (favor), in verse 8, comes before righteousness in verse 9. It is always that way. The grace of God brings us to the state of righteousness.

The text says that Noah was blameless (perfect, KJ). The Hebrew word is tamiym which means entire, without blemish, complete, full, without spot, upright. Again, this does not mean that Noah was sinless but that he walked with God as completely, as uprightly and faithfully as he could and God counted his faith-walk as righteousness.

Notice it says that Noah was “a righteous man, blameless in his time (in his generation).” He lived a righteous life, a complete life of faith in a time of rampant evil, in a generation that was entirely corrupt. How could he live a righteous life in the midst of universal wickedness and apostasy? Because he walked with God. Communion with God is the nurturing soil of righteousness. The man or woman who walks with God is a person who seeks the Lord, worships the Lord, surrenders to the Lord, trusts the Lord, obeys His word.

In that transforming communion, the Lord not only counts us righteous but also progressively works His righteousness in us. Only the righteous God can work His righteousness in us. But He does so as we humbly, faithfully walk with Him.

How did God know that Noah was righteous? In the same way that He knew all other people to be “only evil continually.” God examines every heart, knows every thought. The all-knowing God knows the condition of every soul in the world. Though the Lord had spoken against the evils of the world through the righteous worship of Seth and his lineage, had spoken through the prophecies of Enoch and would speak again through Noah, the Lord was not yet thundering His word of judgment. The world, hidden in darkness, supposed its wickedness was unseen but nothing is hidden to the all-seeing eye of God.

6:10 “Noah became the father of three sons.”

Noah’s sons must have been raised in a righteous manner for they later found a place of refuge in the ark of safety. They did not find a place in the ark because they were Noah’s sons but because they were righteous. They were not righteous because their father was righteous. They were saved as righteous men because, having been raised in a righteous manner, they chose to embrace righteousness for themselves. 

No one inherits righteousness through their family or through any ritual of the church. It is only through a surrendered relationship with the living God through repentance and faith. For us, this takes place as we turn to Christ and place our faith in His saving work on our behalf. Noah and his sons walked by faith in God, obeyed God’s revealed will and trusted in Him. God counted that faith as righteousness.

6:11 “Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence.”

This is the corollary to verse 5: “Every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” The inner attitude of the heart produces the outer social reality. Evil hearts produce a violent, corrupt world.

Obviously, the lineage of God-rejecting humanity was dominating the earth, producing a world whose primary characteristics were corruption and violence. The Hebrew which we translate corrupt, shachath, carries a sense of decay and destruction. It describes the inner reality of the human soul in the process of corruption and decay, a soul in which the process of death is well advanced. 

Violence is the outward, visible expression of corruption. In saying that the world was filled with violence, Moses means that injustice, oppression, robbery, lying, deceit, immorality, the breaking of oaths and covenant, disorder, chaos, the violation of men, women and children were characteristics of human society. 

We may also suppose that violence was committed against the family of those who worshipped God in spirit and in truth. Surely there was also violence against the very form of righteous worship. That violence is known as false religion which is truly an expression of violence against God Himself.

That the world was filled with corruption and violence reveals complete depravity, the fulness of evil dominating the human personality. This also implies a complete lack of repentance, lack of shame. People were living autonomous / humanistic lives as if there is no God, no standard of law or truth that transcended their civilization. 

Yet in the midst of this pervasive violence against God, creation and humanity, Noah maintained his integrity. How was this possible? By walking with God — a life lived in daily communion with God. That is a life of prayer and worship, obedience and trust, the walk of the faithful.

Although Moses is recording this historical account of the world, it is not a mere human perspective. It is God’s perspective that he is sharing — the earth was corrupt and violent “in the sight of God.” To emphasize this truth, it is repeated in the following verse.

6:12 “God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.”

According to God’s perfect knowledge of human hearts, “all flesh had corrupted their way.” This speaks of the pervasiveness of corrupting sin in the human heart, as the Apostle Paul testifies, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

This speaks of the pervasiveness of sin across the earth. No aspect of human society, no corner of the globe, was uncorrupted by sin. There was, of course, one family uncorrupted by sin. Noah and his family were sinners but declared righteous by the grace of God through faith. They alone sought to know and honor the Lord. They alone would be preserved.

6:13 “Then God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.’”

Notice the three-fold revelation of depravity in verses 11, 12 and 13. So great is God’s revulsion, anger, grief and sorrow that He repeats three times the condition of the earth. And now He pronounces sentence: “I am about to destroy them with the earth.”

Notice the Lord says He will destroy, not only corrupt humanity, but the earth as well. Not only sinners will be judged but sin-tainted creation — all who sin and all that has been corrupted by sin will be destroyed.

Although God is here the Judge and Destroyer of sin and sinner, it is sin which is the real destroyer. God had warned that death would enter creation when humanity sinned and so it was. Sin conceived and gave birth to death everywhere, in all who sinned and in all that the sinner touched.

How shocking this must have been to Noah — the destruction of the world! We all have this expectation that life will go on as it has been forever and ever. It does not but we think it will and hope it will. How startling when our plans are suddenly shattered, when the  world as we know it shifts and in a moment everything changes, nothing remains as it was.

What can preserve us in such a time? Not what but Who — only the unchanging God. The Psalmist understood this when he said,

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride” (Psalm 46:1-3).

How can I not fear and tremble when the foundations of the earth are shaking, when all I have known is crumbling? We can resist fear when, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

The Psalmist goes on to describe the dwelling place of God and says, “God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns” (Ps. 46:5). If God’s dwelling is the place of our abode, if we live our lives in the presence of the God who is present, then we will not be moved even if the ground, the mountains and the seas are moved.

Noah trusted in this unchanging God who is present and God granted him favor in a time when everything changed. Proof of this favor is that the Lord spoke to him and revealed the future to him. The Lord also gave him directions for his salvation:

6:14 “Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch.”

The Lord had given clear instructions to Adam as to his work, his provision, the many trees from which he could eat and the tree from which he could not eat. The Lord gave clear instructions to Adam’s family concerning acceptable worship and the proper sacrifice which they must bring.

He now gives clear directions to Noah concerning the ark by which he and his family would be delivered from the coming flood. God’s directions are always specific.  A way of safety is carefully, meticulously provided. The Lord has never withheld information regarding Himself or our salvation. The Apostle Paul reminds us, 

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20).

The problem is not that God hides the truth. It is that people suppress the truth, preferring darkness to light. But those who desire truth always encounter the God of revelation. His revelation is intended to lead us to Himself and His work of salvation.

So it was with Noah. He found favor, grace with God and God demonstrates grace by giving Noah clear directions for his deliverance. Grace is God’s redeeming gift enabling men and women to believe Him, who then live by faith and experience God’s delivering, redeeming power and Shepherding presence.

It was important to deliver and preserve a Godly family on earth so that the Lord’s salvation purpose could go forth. Rather than destroy all of humanity, God preserved a righteous seed so that someday the Messiah would be born and bring salvation to the fallen sons and daughters of Adam. The Lord entrusted this work of preservation to Noah because he was a man of faith and through faith, was counted righteous, as we read:

“By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7).

By faith Noah considered the unseen future to be as certain as the past he had experienced. He took hold of that future by taking hold of the God who reveals and declares the future.

6:15,16 “This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. You shall make a window for the ark, and finish it to a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in the side of it; you shall make it with lower, second, and third decks.”

Again, very specific directions were given to Noah. The Lord is our Shepherd and He will always lead us with clarity. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). 

A cubit was about 18 inches, which would mean that the ark was about 450 feet long, 75 five feet wide and 45 feet high. The result was a vessel which was built for stability. There is great stability and security to be found when we follow the Lord’s directions.

God employed Noah in the building of that which was designed for his deliverance. This does not mean that we gain salvation by our works but there is a human element to all that God does in our lives. Only God can awaken us to grace and give us faith to believe Him for grace. But we must choose to believe — we must exercise the gift of faith which He gives us.

God could have secured Noah’s deliverance without an ark and without Noah participating in the building of the ark. But He called Noah to join Him in the work of deliverance.

After the Apostle Paul reminds us that we are not saved by our works, but by the grace of God operating through faith, he then reminds us that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Again, we are not saved by any works which we do but having been saved by the grace of God, we do those works which show we are redeemed — works which God prepared “beforehand” —before we were born. Noah’s obedience results in blessing, not only for himself but also for his family. It is the same with us — our obedience to the Lord ripples out from our life and blesses those around us.

6:17 “Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.”

The Lord now reveals His purpose to Noah as He does with those who trust and obey Him. The Apostle Paul reminds us that although we have not even imagined the great things God has prepared, “To us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God” (I Corinthians 2:10). 

Paul reminds us that “we have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:16). 

The Psalmist testifies, “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant” (Psalm 25:14).

The Lord delights in revealing Himself and His purposes to His servants. But this revelation of judgment must have been shocking to Noah. In fact, he may not have understood what a flood of water was.  Though the earth was cursed in the fall of Adam, we do not read of natural disasters or even variations in climate prior to the flood. 

The Hebrew word for flood, mabbuwl, is a very old word used only in Genesis and in Psalm 29:10 in reference to that ancient flood. It is as if the word is derived from a historical account that predates the Hebrew language.

The topography of the earth was still reflective of God’s original design and the hydrological cycle may have been entirely different. We do not read of rain before the flood; rather “a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground” (Gen. 2:6).

The word mist, ed, has to do with an enveloping vapor or dew. It did not descend from the air but rose up “from the earth”. This may refer to a subterranean water supply which watered “the whole surface of the ground.” That does not sound as though there were deserts anywhere on earth. The description is of a warm, humid atmosphere supporting a thick layer of vegetation nourished with an uninterrupted supply of water.

So Noah may have never experienced rain prior to the flood. This promise of cataclysmic judgment implies a radical reshaping of the earth’s crust, surface, atmosphere and hydrological cycle. Yet Noah is faithful to follow the Lord’s directions.

The Lord does not hide from Noah the severity of the coming judgment. He intends “to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.” Nothing will survive except in the safety of the ark.

6:18 “But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark — you and your sons and your wife, and your sons' wives with you.”

This is the first use of the word covenant in the Bible. A covenant is an agreement between two parties involving promises by one or both parties. Although the word covenant was not used between Adam and God, there was a sense of covenant in God’s promise to bless and prosper Adam on the condition that Adam obey the Lord regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  We cannot say that God’s promise to Eve of a deliverer was based on a covenant but it was certainly a promise that Eve believed and which motivated her faith.

Every covenant of God is an expression of His grace. It is God who announces and establishes covenants. It is God who blesses with favor and grace those who enter the covenant. We bring nothing but a commitment to trust and obey this covenant-making God. 

So it is with Noah — this is a covenant of grace. There is nothing Noah can do for God but God can do all for Noah. Notice the sovereignty of God — it is God who announces the covenant; it is God who establishes the means of deliverance — the ark — and it is God who announces who will be saved in the ark.

God will never violate His covenant; He will always do as He promises. And though sinful, rebellious humanity can violate every covenant, we cannot destroy what God establishes. God clearly sees the end from the beginning, knows every contingent circumstance that will impact His covenant and will enforce and maintain that which He has promised.

In chapter 9:9-17 God explains the terms of this covenant in which He promises to bless and preserve Noah and his descendants and to never again destroy the earth with water. The rainbow will be the visible sign of this covenant. As the day of judgment drew closer, the ark was the visible sign of God’s promise to preserve and bless. This promise of deliverance included protection from the ridicule and persecution of the world prior to the flood and from the flood itself.

The ark was necessary to the continuation of God’s salvation purpose on earth. The Lord had promised a deliverer to Eve and the ark was God’s means for preserving the family line of that Deliverer. 

The ark also stood as a testimony to an unbelieving, God-rejecting world, even as the redeemed church stands today as a testimony to a humanistic, God-excluding world. Peter reminds us that Noah was “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) and surely the ark was a visible testimony of both the grace and judgment of God. 

Whether Noah used words or just preached through the building of the ark, he was proclaiming both impending judgement and the possibility of mercy.  The ark proclaimed both the certainty of a coming flood and a place of refuge in the flood. Mercy always precedes judgment.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that in building the ark, Noah “condemned the world” (Hebr. 11:7). He condemned the world by revealing the present grace and coming judgment of God, which grace and judgment the world ignored, resulting in condemnation.

6:19,20 “And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.”

In order to preserve the species of creatures, the Lord directed Noah to bring a male and female of every kind into the ark. There was certainly enough room on the ark — the cubic footage is estimated to be equal to 522 railroad box cars. We might substitute the word species for the word kind. The Lord did not need to bring a hundred different kinds of dogs or cats onto the ark but a male and female of each species, from which would derive all the different varieties.

How were they brought to the ark? God sovereignly, supernaturally directed them. How could they exist in a closed space for more than a year? Possibly the Lord placed them in a state of hibernation. The same Almighty God who judges and destroys is also mighty to save and preserve what He chooses to save and preserve.

6:21 “As for you, take for yourself some of all food which is edible, and gather it to yourself; and it shall be for food for you and for them.”

There was room in the ark for the provision of all who found refuge there. We need not suppose, though, that all the wild creatures retained their normal appetites. We may believe, as we have said, that the Lord placed them in a state that enabled peaceful co-existence with a reduced need for food. We may also be certain that the Lord’s provision of food was as full of grace as his deliverance from the flood.

6:22 “Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.”

God gave clear directions to Noah and made covenant with him. All that was required of Noah was that he obey the Lord. This he did, “According to all that God had commanded him.” He built the ark according to the Lord’s specifications even though he probably had no concept of the coming judgment. This is a demonstration of trust and faith, believing God’s promise of judgment and deliverance. He was walking by faith which is the demonstration of salvation, in any age.

This is why the writer of Hebrews said, “By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebr. 11:7). Noah was counted as righteous because of his faith and it is still so today, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “But the righteous man shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).

This work of building the ark, gathering the creatures and gathering provision must have taken a good amount of time and labor. In Genesis 6:3, the 120 years may be a reference to the length of time which Noah spent in building the ark. In 2 Peter 2:5 we read that Noah was “a preacher of righteousness”. He may have preached with his voice but surely with his work in constructing the ark, which was the single greatest sermon illustration in history. 

What was the response to Noah’s testimony? When the season of grace was ended and judgment began, no one entered but Noah and his family. In speaking of the judgment that awaits our present world, Jesus said  

“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37-39).

It was business as usual for Noah’s generation until the moment when judgment was poured out. We see here the absolute truth of God’s warning to Adam concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “For in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). It is not that God poured out death on Adam and his children. Rather, through Adam’s choice, death entered every aspect of creation. Sin conceives death — death is sin perfected.

God promised to judge Adam’s sin and promised a Deliverer from sin. In the life of Noah we see the offer of deliverance placed alongside the promise of judgment — both are embodied in the ark.

The ark was God’s gift to Noah and His reward for Noah’s work of obedience. It is God who revealed the ark and designed the ark. No doubt the Lord also provided all things needed for building the ark.  And Noah chose to obey and put his hands to the good work.

So with our salvation — the Lord awakens us to grace, calls us to grace and by grace grants us faith to believe Him for grace. But we must “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 23:24).

Salvation — deliverance from sin’s guilt and God’s judgment — is entirely a work of grace as the Apostle reminds us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). But at the same time the Apostle exhorts us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). There is a human element in this — we must choose to turn from our sins, placing our faith in the Savior who awakens us  and then prove our salvation as we submit day by day to the holy work and discipline of the holy life.

Lest we lose heart, the Apostle reminds us that even the working out of our salvation is empowered by the God who saves us. The phrase, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” is followed by these words of encouragement, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2;13).

Study Questions

1. Who were the sons of God (6:1,2,4) and what sin did they commit? 

2. How does God describe the condition of humanity in Noah’s day?

3. How was the ark a testimony of judgment?

4. How was the ark a testimony of grace?

Genesis Chapter 7

Genesis Chapter 7

7:1 “Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.’”

“Enter the ark.” There is a timing in all God does — a time to build and a time to enter what we have built. The Lord had given clear directions to Noah regarding the design and construction of the ark. He now directs him to enter.

There had never before been a flood on the earth. In fact, it may never have rained before; the world was watered by a different hydrological cycle in Noah’s day. There was nothing in nature indicating the end of the world — all things continued as they had been.

Other than the testimony of Noah, there was nothing in human society announcing that the end was near. The world was evil, corrupt and violent but so it had been for generations. All things continued as they had been. Jesus said, “And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26,27).

Life went on as usual so it was necessary that the Lord speak to His servant to encourage and direct him.  We also need the encouragement and direction of the Lord our Shepherd, surrounded as we are by the corruption and complacency of a world that continues on day after day. We find the voice of the Lord in His word and as we read that word and live it, we find a sure and certain guide for the living of a righteous life.

Why is the Lord saving Noah out of an evil world? Because, “You alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.” God delivers the righteous from judgment, as the Psalmist reminds us, “The righteous cry, and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their trouble” (Psalm 34:17).

How is Noah counted as righteous when he too is a sinner? Because he placed his faith and trust in God, walked according to the light he had and the Lord counted that obedience and faith as righteousness. Noah was 600 years old when the flood came — 600 years of obedience in a corrupt world. For 120 years he had labored to construct the ark, during which time his words and his work were a witness to the world of coming judgment. No doubt he encountered ridicule and opposition but he persevered and his faith-walk was counted by God as righteousness.

Righteousness is always a gift of grace. God gave Noah the grace to believe Him and grace to live his faith through obedience. As Noah lived his faith, God declared him to be righteous. Because he was declared by God to be righteous, God then delivered him from judgment but it was all a gift of grace. 

So it is with the New Testament believer. Jesus bore our sins and when we place our faith in His sacrifice, “We become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Faith is a gift of grace as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

God granted a long season of grace to the world of Noah’s day. When the season of grace was ended, who entered the ark?  Only the righteous.

7:2,3 “You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female; also of the birds of the sky, by sevens, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth.”

In 6:19 the Lord told Noah to bring into the ark two of every kind of living thing. Now He directs Noah to bring in clean animals by sevens. These extra creatures designated by God as clean are for worship sacrifices and for food.

The Lord reminds Noah that the reason for including animals and birds in the ark is “to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth.” Noah is carrying out God’s original commission  to Adam to cultivate creation (2:15). We recall that the word cultivate, abad, also means to serve and carries a sense of stewardship. Noah is serving creation as he provides a place of refuge for the continuation of species.

In commissioning Noah to protect the creatures of the earth, God is promising to keep Noah and his family alive, for Noah could not fulfill his responsibility if God did not protect him. The Lord is also reminding Noah that the earth will be replenished, will again by filled with life. Thus, before judgment begins, God promises deliverance, salvation, restoration and prosperity to Noah, his family and the creatures of the earth.

Also, in bringing clean animals for sacrifice, the Lord is declaring that the righteous line of worshippers descended from Seth will continue to worship the Lord. Sin will be judged across the earth but there will still be righteous worshippers of God on the earth.

Consider the faith of Noah. It must have seemed incredible that God would judge the earth and destroy all living creatures. Given the magnitude of such judgment, it must have seemed even more unbelievable that even one family would survive. But God promised and Noah believed. Again we note the writer to the Hebrews, 

“By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebr. 11:7).

Noah believes God’s promise that not only will he and his family be saved from the flood; they will also be secure in it. By faith he takes hold of the promise of God.

We also see again the grace of God revealed in the midst of judgment. Yes, God judges a sinful world, but only after it had refused God’s call to repent. Yes, God destroys an evil world but only as He saves and secures all who will enter His merciful provision of salvation and security.

We also see that there is an end to grace. Noah was a preacher of righteousness for 120 years. There was room in the ark for more families. There was room on the ocean for more arks. But there came a day when the door to the ark was closed and judgment was poured out.

There is also an end point in the history of grace for our world. Someday the age of grace will be over and history will be concluded. There will come a time when time will be no more and all the seasons of grace shall be ended. 

There is also an end point of grace in the life of each man and woman on earth. Someday the body will wear out, breath will expire, life will be over and there will be no more opportunity to turn from sin and trust in the salvation God offers through Jesus Christ.

Rightly does the writer to Hebrews warn us, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him” (Hebrews 9:27,28).

Therefore the Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Centuries ago, the prophet Isaiah counsels us, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6).

As opposition to His ministry increased, Jesus rebuked the people for being able to discern the weather while remaining undiscerning of the times (Luke 12:56). In the days before the cross, when Jerusalem had irrevocably rejected their Messiah and God’s offer of grace, Jesus wept over the city and said, 

“If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:42-44).

So it was that Jerusalem, having rejected her true King, was destroyed by the lesser king, Caesar, whom they had chosen. They did not know the time.

We are living in the church age — the age of grace. God is patiently offering mercy to a sinful world but there will come a day when the season of grace is ended. Therefore today this message is shouted, whispered and sung across the world, 

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Rev. 22:17).

7:4 “For after seven more days, I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights; and I will blot out from the face of the land every living thing that I have made.”

It may be that the seven days were necessary to finish loading the ark. Or this may be a further test of faith — seven days of waiting for an event that had never occurred before in history.

It may also be seven final days of mercy — God extends the season of grace, giving the people of the world one final opportunity to repent and turn to Him before judgment. This is certainly God’s heart. When people were mocking the promise of judgment in Peter’s day, the apostle responded with this revelation of the heart of God:

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Truly, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Psalm 103:8).

The prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah also reveal the mercy of God toward sinners:

“Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11).

“Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; how blessed are all those who long for Him” (Isaiah 30:18).

The Lord granted seven more days in which the people of the world could repent of their sin and find refuge in the ark of safety. Yet no one responded but Noah, his sons and their families. Such is the human heart, hardened by sin.

It is probable that Noah, having been a preacher of righteousness this past 120 years, now announced the seven final days of grace. How heavy his heart must have been as the days counted down for though he surely had been mocked and ridiculed, he nevertheless must have been grieved to realize how soon judgment would fall. 

We are reminded of the Apostle John when he received the revelation of God’s end time judgment. Those visions were bittersweet to him. Bitter to realize how many would perish under judgment and suffer eternal separation from God. Sweet to know that evil would finally, someday, be put away and the righteous King would rule on a restored earth (Revelation 10:9-11).

7:5 “Noah did according to all that the Lord had commanded him.”

Again, as in 6:22, we read that Noah accomplished all God gave him to do. He demonstrated his faith in God through obedience. James reminds us that faith without accompanying works is dead faith (James 2:17). Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 7:20   Luke 6:44). Living faith produces living fruit. 

How do we know that Noah was a righteous man? Because he lived his faith, he obeyed what he knew of God’s commands. He “did according to all that the Lord had commanded him.”

We must also note that Noah’s obedience was motivated by his love for the Lord, his reverence, his pious devotion to God. Again, hear the writer to the Hebrews,

“By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household” (Hebrews 11:7).

The building of the ark was an act of worship. In reverence Noah cut the wood, hammered the sections together, sealed it with pitch. As we have noted, this may have taken him 120 years. That would be a 120 year sacrifice of praise, an offering of worship which must have been exceedingly precious to the Lord.

Our offering of worship to the Lord is not just the songs we sing. It is also the life we live. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17).

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31).

All of our life is an offering of worship to the Lord — our work, the use of our time, our resources and talents — all that we have and are and do can be given as a thank offering, an act of praise and worship to the Lord. 

Noah’s 120 year offering of worship to the Lord was a costly offering. It required all of his time and resources but he loved God enough to give all that he had in order to accomplish all God had given Him to do. He surely endured the ridicule and persecution of a godless world. But he loved God more than he loved the approval of his generation. He loved God more than his own reputation. He loved God enough to trust Him for his security in the coming judgment. He loved God enough to obey Him, to fulfill all His commandments and to do it, not grudgingly but as an act of worship.

If we believe the integrity of God’s word and love Him with a sincere love, then our life will demonstrate our faith and our love. Love for the Lord is measured in a worshipful willingness to obey Him. Jesus said, 

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

The Apostle John reminds us,

“By this we can be sure that we have come to know Him: if we keep His commandments” (I John 3:2).

“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (I John 5:3).


Though Noah had surely never seen a boat this size and though he had never seen a flood and probably had not seen rain, he considered the promises, commandments and directions of God to be more certain than what he had seen and experienced. He built the ark according to the exact specifications the Lord had given him. He trusted completely God’s ability to deliver him and his family in the midst of catastrophic destruction. 

World-wide destruction and personal deliverance were both realities for Noah. By faith he trusted God, took hold of the future by taking hold of God. Faith resulted in obedience. Obedience revealed faith.

Notice also that Noah’s faithful obedience was a testimony of condemnation for an unbelieving generation. Hear again the writer to the Hebrews:

“By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7).

Noah may or may not have preached with his words but he surely preached through the construction of the ark. The ark was an invitation to salvation and the instrument of deliverance but it also became a proclamation of condemnation to an unbelieving generation. They could not see the flood until it was upon them. But they could see the ark, day by day, year by year as it was constructed. It was a visible testimony of the judgment to come. The choice to ignore that testimony resulted in condemnation for multitudes. God in His mercy revealed the world’s condemnation long beforehand, in the visible testimony of the ark.

7:6 “Now Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of water came upon the earth.”

Moses establishes the credibility of the flood narrative by telling us Noah’s age. This is not legend or myth. It is the historical account of the judgment of God in history. The main players have names. They were of a particular age when judgment was poured out.

7:7  “Then Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him entered the ark because of the water of the flood.”

On the day that judgment was unleashed on the earth, Noah’s family entered the ark of safety. As he had built the ark by faith, he now enters it by faith, trusting that he will be secure in God’s provision. The season of grace is ended, the judgment has begun. But note, judgment was not poured out until the righteous were secure in the ark.   

It is so with us. In the midst of judgment, we are kept by the grace and power of God.

7:8,9 “Of clean animals and animals that are not clean and birds and everything that creeps on the ground, there went into the ark to Noah by twos, male and female, as God had commanded Noah.”

The animals “went into the ark to Noah.” The text does not say that Noah went out into the world and collected them; rather, they came to him. It must have been that God supernaturally called the creatures to the ark.

Noah was not afraid of the wild beasts even as Adam and Eve were not afraid, in the days before they sinned, for they had the authority and commission of God over creation. It was only when they broke fellowship with God and rejected His Lordship that they lost dominion over the creatures. But Noah is a righteous man, walking by faith and God blesses his obedience.

Noah did not capture the animals. He simply trusted God to supply the means by which the divine command would be accomplished. Tools for the trapping of animals were not necessary. What was needed was faith — faith that God would bring about what He commanded. Noah did not exercise any tools other than faith.

God has given us tools, gifts and skills to be used for His glory and He anoints and blesses these as we yield them to Him. But there will be times in our lives when nothing in our tool kit will accomplish the purpose of God. In those circumstances, all that will suffice is God Himself working through the faith of a righteous man or woman.

How could lambs and lions rest in the same ark? Because God purposed this. So we see the hand of God working through the obedience and faith of Noah. 

God accomplished what God purposed. 

And so in our lives. God will accomplish His purpose in us and through us as we trust Him to be who He says He is and do what He says He does. This is faith.

We find here a lesson in salvation and an exhortation for the follower of Christ. Salvation is God’s ark of safety. We enter through repentance of sin and faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. As God led the creatures to the ark, so we are drawn to salvation by the Spirit of God applying the word of God to our hearts. God Himself awakens us from spiritual death, awakens us to the reality of our sin and God’s judgment, brings us to repentance and gifts us with saving faith. We then join our will to God’s grace by turning from our sin and believing the good news.

But as Paul asked, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). How does anyone hear the good news of salvation? Because someone prayed, someone preached, testified, shared their faith. God brought the creatures to the ark but He used the faithful, obedient work of Noah to prepare the ark. So with us — God partners with people in calling the lost to the saving knowledge of salvation in Christ.

7:10 “It came about after the seven days, that the water of the flood came upon the earth.”

The word of God is true and certain. As the Lord had warned, so it came to pass. God in His mercy offered a long season of grace but a holy God will judge sin. If we will not turn from our sin and receive God’s grace, trusting in a Savior who bore judgment for us, then we will bear God’s judgment ourselves.

7:11 “In the six-hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened.”

Again Moses locates the text at a particular time in history: the six-hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month.

Moses also reveals the cataclysmic changes to the structure of the earth and the atmosphere that produced the flood: “All the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened.” The word deep, tehown, refers to an abyss which contained the subterranean water supply which had nurtured the earth from the beginning of creation.

To understand what produced the flood, we need to go back to 2:6 where we read that “a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.” This refers to an atmosphere and a hydrological cycle that must have been quite different from what we know today. 

The earth was watered by a water supply that rose up from beneath the earth. This in turn produced a mist, a vapor canopy that covered the earth. This vapor canopy shielded the earth from harmful ultra violet rays and created a world-wide, moderate climate. When we read that “the fountains of the great deep burst open”, what is being described is a breakup of the earth’s crust, a fracturing of the tectonic plates which allowed the subterranean water sources to burst open, leading to an unimaginable deluge of water rising up to flood the earth. 

The breaking up of the earth’s crust also released into the atmosphere an explosion of red hot magma and heated gas which would have shattered the vapor canopy, causing the vapor canopy to condense into liquid and fall to the earth as rain. The rain, falling onto hot lava, would have instantly vaporized, evaporating back into the air. Rising to cooler altitudes, the vapor would condense and fall back as rain, creating a catastrophic cycle of rain, evaporation, condensation and more rain, even as the rivers beneath the ground continued to explode through rock and soil, further fracturing the earth.

Keep in mind that prior to this flood, we have not read of storms nor even rain anywhere on earth. This was an unprecedented event — the judgment of God on earth.

7:12 “The rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights.”

The surging fountains of subterranean water rising up through the fractured crust were vaporized by heated magma and rose into the air. The super-heated gasses and lava spewing into the atmosphere collapsed the world wide vapor canopy. This created a continuous forty day and night cycle of rain. Moses does not explain this in greater detail — God willed it and so it was.

7:13-16 “On the very same day Noah and Shem and Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah's wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark, they and every beast after its kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, all sorts of birds. So they went into the ark to Noah, by twos of all flesh in which was the breath of life. Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him; and the Lord closed it behind him.”

Again we read that Noah, his wife, his three sons and their families all entered the ark along with the creatures of the earth, “By twos of all flesh in which was the breath of life … male and female of all flesh.”

God in holy wrath judged sin and God in redeeming grace preserved the righteous who then in obedience to the Creator, cared for creation. There was room in the ark for every righteous man and woman on earth and there was room for the replenishing of every species of creature.

Notice again that the untamed creatures coexisted in the ark because God willed it so. They did not change from wild beasts to tamed beasts, for afterwards they were the same creatures. But God caused them to be able to live in peace during the storm.

Notice also this revealing phrase, “Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him; and the Lord closed it behind him” (7:16). God provided an ark of refuge for the righteous and God closed the door behind them, securing them in the place of deliverance. This is an act of grace to Noah and his family but an act of judgment to the unbelieving world. The same Christ who says, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9) is also the Christ who shut the door on those who were unprepared, saying, “I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12).

The door was open for a season, open to all who would enter. When the season of grace was ended, God closed the door, securing the righteous in their salvation and condemning the unrighteous in the judgment which they had chosen.

Notice also two different names for God used in verse 16. It is God (Elohim, the Almighty) who commanded entrance into the ark. It is the Lord (Yahweh / Jehovah / the I Am) who closed the door behind them. Elohim is the name used throughout the creation stories, “In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1 and throughout chapter 1).

Yahweh is the name revealed to Moses when God called him to deliver the Hebrew people from slavery (Exodus 3:14). Yahweh is the timeless Redeemer God who purposed our salvation before the foundation of the universe. It is Yahweh who called to Cain, the first murderer, “Where is Abel your brother?” (Gen. 4:9).

In Genesis 2, Yahweh is often combined with Elohim when God is relating to humanity. When Adam and Eve sinned, it was Yahweh Elohim who called to them, “Where are you?” (Gen. 2:9). Who called to Adam and Eve? The God (Elohim) who created them and the timeless Redeemer God (Yahweh) who sovereignly chose to save all who call upon Him. 

In 7:1, it is Yahweh the timeless Redeemer who calls Noah and his household into the ark of safety. In 7:16 it is both — the mighty Creator, Elohim, who commands the filling of the ark and it is Yahweh, the timeless Redeemer, who closes the ark of safety, securing the righteous families in God’s mighty deliverance.

Noah must have been the last person to enter the ark. He may have stood at the doorway for a moment, looking anxiously at the darkening sky, a new and fierce wind rising and swirling around him, the ground began to tremble. I wonder if the Lord spoke to him.

“Be at peace Noah. I will close the door behind you and I will watch over you.”

7:17 “Then the flood came upon the earth for forty days, and the water increased and lifted up the ark, so that it rose above the earth.”

In 7:4 the Lord granted a seven day reprieve to condemned humanity, a seven day extension of the season of grace. But that same offer of mercy contained the promise of judgment, “I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights.”

Verse 17 records the fulfillment of that promise, “The flood came.”

Notice though, even as the water increased, it did not engulf or sink the ark. The flood only “lifted up the ark.” The ark of God’s salvation rose above the flood of God’s judgment. The flood served God’s purpose twice over — in judging the wicked and lifting the ark of salvation.

We are reminded of the words of Jude regarding the Lord’s delivering power, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 1:24). God is able to keep us from stumbling even in the midst of storms and floods, crises and tribulations. After all the storms and trials of life, He is able to bring us to the presence of His glory.

The Apostle Peter also encourages our trust in the Lord’s delivering power, reminding us that we “are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Peter 1:5). We are protected by the power of God through every circumstance.

Jesus also encourages our trust with these words, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand” (John 10:27-29). No one, no storm, no challenge can snatch us out of the hand of the Almighty Deliverer who holds us.

The Apostle Paul, writing to Timothy from a dungeon shortly before his martyrdom, also expressed his confidence in God’s delivering power, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18).

Noah had built the ark to God’s specifications and had sealed it with pitch. But it was more than the carpentry skills of Noah that preserved the righteous family and the innocent creatures. It was the hand of Almighty God reaching through the storm to close the door and protect the righteous. 

Remember also that Noah had reached out by faith to embrace God’s hand. So we see the sovereign hand of God touching the hand of faith. 

So it is with us. God reaches out to secure us. We reach out in faith to grasp our security in the keeping power of Almighty God.

7:18 “The water prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water.”

We see these two interlocking events: the flood prevailed and the ark floated. Even as the waters of judgment “prevailed and increased” throughout the earth, Noah and his family dwelt securely. We are reminded of the word of the Lord to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, 

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you” (Isaiah 43:2). 

That is God’s word to us, also. As the waters of judgment increase, the righteous are secure in the salvation of the Lord.

7:19 “And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.”

Notice this detail: “All the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.” This was a universal event; all the earth was covered with the waters. There are hundreds of flood stories deeply rooted among the various people groups of the world. Ancient flood stories abound among Native American people groups to the north and south, among African, European, Mid-eastern, Hindu and Chinese people groups, among isolated tribes in Papua New Guinea and native Alaskan people.

This is not a local, Israelite myth.

Notice also that though the waters of judgment prevailed over the entire, sinful, God-rejecting world, the righteous were secure. In a stormy time of national crisis the Psalmist exhorted Israel,

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride … God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns … The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold … ‘Be still and know that I am God’” (Psalm 46:1-3,5,7, 10).

In the midst of your storm be still and know the presence of God.

7:20-22 “The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep … All flesh … of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died.”

A cubit is about a foot and a half so the water was more than 22 feet above the mountains, resulting in the destruction of all the creatures of the land and air and all people outside the ark.

The question has been raised as to how Noah, his family and the creatures in the ark could have survived in the thin atmosphere above the highest mountains. We must humbly confess that the Lord has not revealed this to us. But we may be certain that His supernatural provision was sufficient for those whom He delivered.

7:23 “Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.”

When judgment fell on the earth there was only one place of refuge — the ark. There were not multiple ways of escape but this should not suggest that anyone was excluded. God provided a means of deliverance from judgment and there was room in the ark for more families. There was room on the ocean for more arks.

God still judges sin and still offers a way of escape — repentance and faith in the saving work of Jesus. God has not sent multiple Saviors — there is only One but this one Savior is sufficient  to save all who come to Him in faith.

The Apostle Peter, testifying of Jesus, said, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

The Apostle Paul also testifies, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2:5).

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

There is no other ark of safety than the grace of God offered through Jesus Christ but this vessel of grace is large enough for every man and woman in the history of the world who will turn from sin and trust in the atoning blood of Christ.

Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13,14).

Small and narrow do not refer to limited access. Peter reminds us that God “is not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Ptr. 3:9). Jesus’ invitation to enter is infinitely great with grace, mercy and opportunity. Small and narrow refer to the reality that there are not multiple choices leading to everlasting life with God. Small and narrow mean we must enter on God’s terms, through repentance and faith in Christ and Christ alone.

The narrow way is wide enough to include the vilest sinner who repents of sin and turns to Christ in faith. It is small enough to exclude the most respectable person who refuses to turn from his sin and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

In Noah’s day, God granted a long season of grace to a wicked world but there was a day when the door of the ark closed. Few there were who entered.

God will again judge the world but we are still living in the day of grace. There is still time to turn. No decision that we make in this life is even remotely important compared to this one: will we accept God’s offer of grace or will we carry His judgment?

Jesus was speaking of His return to earth and he said, “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37-39).

It is not wrong to eat, drink, marry, carry on the business of the day. But on that last day of history, how pitifully insignificant will be the business, the pleasures, the past times that kept people so occupied that they missed God’s vessel of grace.

7:24 “The water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days.”

The one hundred fifty days is probably sequential from the beginning of the rain, so that means forty days of rain followed by one hundred and ten days of flood water. No creature survived outside the ark. That the inhabitants of the ark were able to survive for so long is a tribute to the securing grace of God. As we have noted, God’s grace is sufficient not only to save but also to keep us secure in His work of salvation.

With the Apostle Peter we give thanks for the sustaining, keeping power of God:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Peter 1:3-5).

God’s gift of salvation is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, reserved for us “who are protected (kept) by the power of God through faith.” God’s keeping power connects to our trusting faith and holds us secure through every storm, every trial, every flood of adversity. 

As it was for Noah, so it is for us.

Study Questions

1. How is the ark an expression of grace and judgment?

2. In verse 11 we read, “All the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened.” What does this reveal about the process that caused the flood?

3. In verse 16 we read that God closed the door of the ark. How is this a picture of grace and judgment?

4. God has promised that He will again judge the earth but He has provided an ark of safety. What is that ark?

Genesis Chapter 8

Genesis Chapter 8

8:1 “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided.”

God does not remember in the same sense that people recall something from the past or as if God is capable of forgetting.  All truth is forever perfectly present in the mind of God as God is forever perfectly present to all reality, whether that reality is past, present or future. 

When Moses says that God remembered, he means that Noah, his family and all the creatures on the ark were ever at the center of God’s compassion. This is proven by the fact that all the world was destroyed — every city and civilization, yet the inhabitants of the ark rested securely in the storm.  God is ever watchful over those that are His, ever mindful of our circumstance and needs. 

God’s judgmental wrath is not blind. It was not poured out indiscriminately. God visited judgment on wicked people who refused to turn from their sin during a season of warning and grace that lasted more than a century. 

Yet during the season of judgment, the Lord secured the righteous and watched over them. God’s remembrance of Noah was not motivated by favoritism or prejudice. God remembered him to bless and preserve him because he walked righteously before the Lord, believing the Lord, obeying the Lord. In the midst of judgment there is a place of security for the righteous.

On the darkest, most violent night of the storm, was Noah tempted to doubt God’s goodness? Was he tempted to wonder if God had forgotten him and his small household? Noah refused to entertain such faithless thoughts, instead resting in the sure promises of his God.

God’s love always results in action. In the heart of God, compassion is not simply an emotion and does not express itself in mere poems or romance ballads. God’s love leads to action that impacts the lives of those whom He loves: “For God so loved the world, that He gave …” (John 3:16).

So it was that God (Elohim, the Almighty Creator) caused a wind to rise up across the earth which began the process of evaporation. The same God who creates and destroys now begins the process of restoration. 

The word for wind is ruwach which in Genesis 1:2 is translated Spirit, “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit (the Ruwach) of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” It makes sense in 1:2 to interpret Ruwach in personal terms, as the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, who with God the Father and God the Son, created the universe. 

However, in Genesis 8:1 it makes more sense to translate ruwach as breath or wind — God did not send His Spirit to dry up the flood. Rather, He caused a wind to pass over the waters. But the wind is only God’s agent. It is God who sends His wind to dry up the waters. It is God who breathes over the depths of the flood even as He once brooded over the unformed darkness of the deep. It is God who creates and God who restores, for He alone is God. The Psalmist reminds us, 

“The Lord sat as King at the flood; yes, the Lord sits as King forever” (Psalm 29:10).

God is sovereign to judge and to save, to destroy and to restore. 

Interestingly, in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is often symbolized by wind or breath. In John 20:22, Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” In Acts 2:2-4, “a noise like a violent rushing wind” filled the Upper Room and all the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit.

8:2 “Also the fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the sky were closed, and the rain from the sky was restrained.”

We are reminded again of the forces that produced the deluge of water across the earth.  The subterranean fountains which previously had watered the earth were burst open at the command of God. Not only did water rise up from beneath the earth but the fracturing of the earth’s crust released hot gas and lava which, rising into the air, shattered the vapor canopy which had shrouded the earth, causing the canopy to collapse in a catastrophic downpour of water.

But now mighty Elohim closes “the fountains of the deep” and shuts “the floodgates of the sky,” restraining the upsurge and downpour of water. God sovereignly turns off the processes of nature that caused the flood. The same God who created this world with His spoken word and who destroyed creation by the exercise of His will, now begins the process of restoration.

Notice also that the Lord uses the natural process of wind and evaporation to bring about His will. The flood was a supernatural event initiated by divine decree and the restoration of the earth began by divine decree — “God caused a wind to pass over the earth.” But restoration continues through the normal process of nature. God is truly sovereign over His universe and can work through natural or supernatural means. 

We are reminded how Jesus, God in human flesh, spoke to the storm and caused it to cease (Luke 8:24). Jesus did not simply command wind and water — He spoke to the forces that cause wind and water to move. Nature knows the voice of its Creator.

We recall that Moses personally witnessed the wind as a servant of God. When the Hebrew people were seeking to escape slavery in Egypt, pursued by Pharaoh’s army and backed up against the Red Sea, the Lord commanded Moses to stretch forth his rod over the sea. When he did, “The Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21).

The elements that form the universe and the laws and forces of physics which govern those elements know the voice of their Creator.

8:3 “And the water receded steadily from the earth, and at the end of one hundred and fifty days the water decreased.”

The purposes of God sometimes work out slowly, requiring patient faith. Judgment did not take place in one day, neither did restoration. Noah does not rush off the ark but waits on the Lord to fulfill His purpose.

We note here that in the Hebrew calendar each month is comprised of 30 days so it has been five months, 150 days, since the flood began.

8:4 “In the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat.”

We assume that this date relates to 7:11, “In the six-hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened.” In 8:4, the seventh month would be five months after the flood began — 150 days as noted in verse 3. 

The water has receded to the degree that the ark now rests on dry land. The mountains of Ararat are located in the region which today would be identified as Armenia.

Just as the Lord purposed the flood and Noah’s security in it, the Lord also purposed a safe grounding of the ark, at the time and place of God’s’ choosing. Whereas Noah was given clear direction in the construction of the ark, seven days warning before the onset of the flood and clear direction when it was time to enter the ark, he had no clear word in advance as to where the ark would finally rest. Here the man of God must exercise faith and patience, trusting that the God who preserved him in the midst of judgment will also preserve him in the restoration of the earth.

Notice the use of the word rest — the ark has found a resting place. After months of storm and tumult, God has appointed a place of rest. There is also appointed for the saints of God a holy rest (Hebrews 4:9). Our rest is in the finished work of Christ on our behalf, by which we obtain the forgiveness of our sins, reconciliation with God and the promise of eternal life in the presence of the Lord. We enter this rest by faith, even as Noah entered the saving, delivering work of God by faith.

8:5 “The water decreased steadily until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains became visible.”

For two and one half months the water steadily decreased, until the tenth month. Now Noah can see the tops of nearby mountains — he can see the beginning of the restoration of the world. God has been steadily working during these past months, though the work was not visible until now. The work of God was hidden beneath the waters. We learn from this to hold fast our faith in the work of God even when we can see nothing with the eyes of sense. It is with eyes of faith that we see and know and trust the working out of divine purpose beneath the waters of our senses. 

And what is faith?

“Now faith is the assurance (substance) of things hoped for, the conviction (evidence) of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is believing God for what we cannot see, for the work He is doing beneath the waters, beyond our sight. Faith gives substance to that which does not yet exist in the physical realm, evidence to that which is still unseen.

8:6,7 “Then it came about at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made; and he sent out a raven, and it flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth.”

After forty days passed, Noah opened the window and sent out a raven. We do not know why he waited forty days after seeing the tops of the mountains. It may be that he was making certain that the rain did not begin again. Or possibly this was a time of holy repentance as Noah and his family recalled the evil that had resulted in such terrible judgment, a time when they renewed their consecration to the Lord.  Or it may have been a time of holy praise as they thanked God for the grace that had brought them forgiveness of personal sin and deliverance from divine wrath.

We can imagine the sadness of Noah as he looked out on the devastated earth. There was no sign of human civilization, not even a lone tree thrusting above the all-encompassing mud and the remains of the sea. There was no sound but the wind and water splashing against the sides of the ark. No sound of the cities and villages that had once covered the earth. No voices, no music, no sound of any creatures. There were no birds flying through the sky calling to one another, nothing in sight but the one raven.

Of the raven, a more literal rendering of the Hebrew reads, “And it went out, going and returning until the water was dried up from the earth.” It returned because its mate was still on the ark. But when the waters receded further, we assume that it did not return and we assume that its mate flew off to join it.

8:8,9 “Then he sent out a dove from him, to see if the water was abated from the face of the land; but the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, so she returned to him into the ark, for the water was on the surface of all the earth. Then he put out his hand and took her, and brought her into the ark to himself.”

The raven is a scavenger and would have found almost limitless provision among the decaying remains of the devastated earth. However, the dove feeds from a smaller menu. In saying that the dove “found no resting place”, we assume that it found no sustainable food supply. So it returned to the ark of safety.

8:10-12 “So he waited yet another seven days; and again he sent out the dove from the ark. The dove came to him toward evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the water was abated from the earth. Then he waited yet another seven days, and sent out the dove; but she did not return to him again.”

These seven days of the dove’s search remind us of the seven days of creation, for now the dove, as a messenger of restoration, returns with an olive leaf, proof that there are now fruit trees on the earth. When the dove goes forth again, it does not return. The process of restoration is such that Noah, his family and the creatures which remain with him can live outside the ark.

8:13 “Now it came about in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first of the month, the water was dried up from the earth. Then Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the surface of the ground was dried up.”

The flood began in the second month of the six-hundredth year of Noah’s life. It is now the first month of the six hundred and first year of his life — eleven months later. Noah removes the covering of the ark and sees the dry ground but he does not leave the ark. The reason is because the Lord has not directed him to leave. 

Every blessing up to this point has been through the clear direction of the Lord and Noah’s obedience. The ark was built by God’s clear direction. The creatures were led to enter by God’s sovereign design. Noah and his family entered at God’s command. They were secured in the storm by God’s providential grace. 

There is no reason now to run ahead of the Lord. Noah waits for a word from God. 

We also may trust in the leading of our Lord. Solomon reminds us, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Provers 3:6).

Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).

8:14 “In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry.”

It is now a full year and ten days since Noah and his family entered the ark. For the first time since the flood began, the ground beneath them is dry. The waters that covered the earth have now melted into the ground and the air.

How alone they must have felt — the only human beings on the planet! But they are not entirely alone. God speaks to them.

8:15-19 “Then God spoke to Noah, saying, ‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you, birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.’ So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by their families from the ark.”

Noah may have been tempted to leave earlier, to push aside the covering, to thrust open the door, to move ahead of God’s direction. But he had learned the lesson that those who would live in God’s secure blessing must live in obedience to God’s will. He had learned that though true mercy sometimes seems delayed, it will be far richer than counterfeit mercy grasped out of season.

“In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:6). We acknowledge the Lord by waiting upon Him in all our ways, even when the season seems long; in all our ways, even when the blessing seems late.

As Noah entered the ark by God’s command, so now he leaves at God’s command. As the creatures entered with Noah at the leading of the Lord, so now they leave as God directs.

Contained in the ark was the future replenishing if the earth, both man and beast. As in the beginning of creation (Gen. 1:22,28), now again the Lord pronounces blessing over the creatures that they would “breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” The original Adamic blessing is renewed.

Stepping off the ark, Noah must have been awed by the terrible finality of God’s judgment. And he must have been equally awed by the incomprehensible riches of God’s mercy and grace to him and his family. His sense of awe inspired him to build an altar.

8:20 “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.”

Noah’s first act upon leaving the ark is to build an altar. Before he builds a house in this desolate world, he builds a place of worship. This is the first mention in the Bible of an altar. There may have been altars constructed before by the righteous but we don’t read of them. Some suggest that offerings may have once been presented at the barred gates of Eden or facing in that direction, as there may still have been a presence of the glory of God there. But Eden is swept away now and the glory of God will not be seen again on earth until Israel passes through the wilderness. So Noah, builder of the ark, now builds an altar.

In this new world now cleansed of sin (but not of sinners) Noah’s first work is to worship God. The flood of water washed away a wicked world but only the blood of Jesus can wash away sin. The sacrifice of a bird or animal was a symbolic act in which the Old Testament sinner acknowledged his or her sin and the death which sin always produces. The sacrifice is also an expression of gratitude whereby the sinner gives thanks to God for His merciful substitute of something else in the place of the sinner. The Old Testament sacrifices anticipated the future atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the holy Lamb of God.

Hitherto, everything Noah had done was by the direction and command of the Lord but he received no direction regarding this altar or the sacrifice. It was a free will offering, motivated by pure gratitude to the Lord (Yahweh — the great I Am, the eternal Redeemer). This is a praise offering, thanking the God who spared him and his family, who guided them securely through the flood.

In a context of universal death brought on by universal, unrepented sin, Noah gave thanks to God for the gift of life graciously poured out on sinners. It is also an expression of faith, for Noah knows not how a holy God can forgive sinners. He does not know that someday a holy Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, will make an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.  But by faith, Noah offers this sacrifice.

As we have said, this sacrifice is a reminder of the cost of sin. God did not spare Noah because he was sinless — all have sinned and the result of sin is death. God warned Adam that in the day that he sinned, “You will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Though Adam did not die physically that day, he died spiritually and death entered every aspect of his existence. 

The sacrificial death of these innocent creatures on Noah’s altar is a confession of the cost of sin and foreshadows the sacrificial system later instituted under Moses, which itself foreshadowed the sacrifice of Jesus, the holy Lamb who bore our sins, took upon Himself God’s judgmental wrath toward sin and died as the holy Substitute in our place.

Noah was a sinner but God declared him to be righteous because of his faithful obedience. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus reaches back in time to cleanse faithful Old Testament saints as surely as it reaches forward in time to cleanse those who now hear the gospel and place their faith in Christ. Noah’s sacrifice served as a covering until the time when Jesus the true Sacrifice would truly cleanse the hearts of sinners.

Noah’s offering was costly. There were few creatures left on earth — only those that had been in the ark. But some had been reserved for sacrifice. The best way to preserve a little is not to hoard it but to offer it to the Lord.

Noah built an altar and offered to the Lord this costly sacrifice of praise and remembrance.

Great men in Genesis were builders of altars. Abraham was a builder of altars. Isaac was a builder of altars. Jacob built altars. Altars are places of worship and also memorials of significant times and places where God meets us in special ways.

This is one such time and place. The old world has been swept away — the garden of Adam’s birth and fall; the communities where Noah was born and lived; every city and village, every man, woman and child and creature — all but the citizens of the ark have been swept away.

Nothing remains of Noah’s roots, nothing that connects him to the past. Even the vapor canopy that shielded the earth is gone. The topography has changed— the mountains are higher, interspersed with deserts, regions of ice and enormous oceans; the hydrological cycle is changed — there will be rain and snow and drought; there are seasons now — where once there was a universal moderate climate there will now be extremes of heat and cold.

It is a new world — alien, hostile, unfamiliar in every way. All the hallowed places of memory are swept away. In this new world Noah builds an altar and worships the Lord. In this offering, Noah recognizes the one constant factor in a world of change — the everlasting God. Noah worships the Lord, Yahweh, the everlasting God, the God who said to Moses, “I Am that I Am” (Exodus 3:14), the God who redeems His people from slavery.

There is no past, now, for Noah; history is buried under layers of mud and sediment. There is only this present moment leading to the future. Noah consecrates that future as he worships the everlasting God.

Noah is also consecrating the earth to the Lord. On that day, across the entire world there were no temples dedicated to false gods. There is only this one altar and in its offerings, all of time and all of earth are consecrated to the Lord.

In this act of worship, Noah takes the role of a priest representing all the families who will someday build holy altars to the Lord and he joins his family to the righteous line of Seth and all who worshipped God in previous generations. The only family on earth now gathers around this lonely altar and commits their life, their time, their future, their world to God.

8:21 “The Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, ‘I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.’”

In Genesis 6:5 the Lord saw that, “The wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Humanity refused repentance, spurned grace and so God judged the world, destroyed sinful human civilization. 

Now God states again that “the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth” but says He will “never again destroy every living thing.” At first glance this sounds contradictory. God judged evil humanity before and the human heart is still warped by evil. Why does God now say, “I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done”?

Has God changed His holy standard? Is God no longer the Righteous Judge? Not at all.

The word for may be translated although, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, although the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth.” The Lord is saying that even though sin is still present in the human heart, “from his youth,” and though God has a right to judge and will continue to judge sin, He will not destroy every living thing again but will temper judgment with mercy. 

The human heart is depraved, corrupt — we cannot help but sin. From the fall of Adam and Eve to this present day, all people are born with a sin nature. Jeremiah states plainly, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jere. 17:9). This is what King David meant when he said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). David was not speaking ill of his mother, rather, he was stating the truth that he was born with a will to sin. We tend toward evil from birth.

This is not politically correct. Biblical revelation runs counter to liberal social theory. According to God’s diagnosis, sin is not learned behavior, not an infection transmitted from corrupt society to the human heart. Sin is the result of a corrupt human nature, analogous to a stream polluted not by anything external but by the very fountain that feeds the stream. 

Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matthew 15:19). Society does not create sinners. Sinners, corrupt from their innermost being, build corrupt communities, corrupt systems of government, corrupt economies, produce corrupt expressions of creative arts.

Noah and his family were sinners but they have built an altar and made sacrifice to the God who forgives sinners. Now there would be a family on earth that desired to strive against sin, to cry out to God for mercy and grace. There is in this family the promise that the world will never again be completely given over to corruption and depravity. There will always be a righteous remnant. And though God will again destroy the earth, next time by fire, He will not destroy every living thing. There will remain a community of faith who will inherit and inhabit the new heavens and the new earth.

“The Lord smelled the soothing aroma” of Noah’s sacrifice. The word soothing, niychowach, may be translated restful from the root, nuwach, to rest or settle down. The Lord rested in Noah’s sacrifice in the sense that He accepted it. This is why the Lord can promise that He “will never again destroy every living thing.” This one righteous family is the seed of a righteous remnant, redeemed by the blood of the holy Lamb, that will always offer up pleasing sacrifices of holy praise to the Lord. Even in the midst of the Great Tribulation at the end of history, as God pours out judgment on a corrupt world, there will be a righteous remnant offering up praise to the Lord.

What was it in this sacrifice that was pleasing to God? Was it not the gratitude of a sinner who was saved from destruction? Was it not the humble faith of a man who continually trusted God no matter the storm? Was it not the sincere confession of sin and the deadly cost of sin? 

It was not the ritual of sacrifice that pleased God nor the smoke rising from slain animals. It was the gratitude, the humble faith and sincere confession of a repenting sinner. Most pleasing of all, the sacrifice itself spoke of a later, greater sacrifice, the blood of Jesus, God’s holy Lamb which alone atones for the sin of the world.

Notice the phrase, “The Lord said to Himself (or in His heart).” This speaks of the resolved will of God, which will be expressed in mercy to sinners who come to holy altars and seek deliverance from sin. The continuation of sin in the human heart will still call forth judgment from a holy God but will also call forth a Redeemer. As God glorifies Himself in judgment, He will also glorify Himself in the redemption of helpless sinners.

God would do this many centuries later in the form of a substitute for sinners, the Lamb of God toward Whom Noah’s sacrifice pointed. With eyes of faith, Noah looked forward to that which John the Baptist saw and bore witness to, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

8:22 “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”

This verse reveals God’s faithfulness — there will always be seasons for planting and reaping, seed time and harvest. Though the Lord will continue to judge sin, He will do so in a context of providential grace, causing His sun to rise on the evil and the good, sending rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45), providing time and space for sinners to enjoy His blessings and hopefully, turn to Him in sincere repentance and faith.

This verse also reveals the revolutionary changes that had taken place on the earth since the fall of man and the cataclysmic restructuring of the world through the flood. This is the first mention of summer and winter, cold and heat. Such extreme variations of climate and topography were not present in God’s original creation. Even after the fall of Adam and the curse which God placed on the earth, there appears to have been a universally moderate climate. How else can we explain the fossils of tropical and semi-tropical plants and animal life found in the polar regions and in deserts? The fossil record indicates that a mild climate supporting a lush, diverse eco-system once existed across the world.

The flood changed that. Much higher elevations of mountains disrupted the distribution of moisture. The vapor canopy which had produced a moderating effect on weather was destroyed. Even the axis of the earth may have been changed, creating a disparity of sunlight at the extreme poles of the earth. The result was extremes of temperature and climate.

Notice also the phrase, “While the earth remains.” This implies the eventual destruction of the earth as it exists today. The Apostle Peter reveals,

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up … But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells”  (2 Peter 3:10,13).

Someday God will uncreate this sin-tainted universe. In that time to come “there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them” (Revelation 22:5). There will be no need for seed time and harvest, for the tree of life will yield its fruit continually (Revelation 22:2).

But until that day of new heavens and earth when the saints will dwell in the New Jerusalem, the Lord promises to preserve the continuity of life. There will be “seedtime and harvest … day and night.” When you plant seed in its season, there will be a season of  harvest. Day follows night, night follows day. The God who created will also sustain and uphold His creation. The Lord will continue to judge sin but will also lavish His grace upon a sinful world.

Study Questions:

1. In verse 1, what does it mean that “God remembered Noah”?

2. In verse 20, what is the significance of the altar Noah built and the sacrifices he offered?

3. In verse 21, what is the significance of the word soothing?

4. In verse 22, what is God’s promise to Noah?

Genesis Chapter 9

Genesis Chapter 9

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

The Lord renews to Noah the original blessing and commission first given to Adam, announced in 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” This blessing is still upon all of humanity, the righteous and the unrighteous, those who worship and thank God and those who profane His name and give thanks to themselves for His many and great blessings. The Lord in His kindness still “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). 

The Lord blessed Adam but that first human family forfeited its blessing and commission through sin. Separated from God, they produced a race of men and women who, by continual evil, suffered the devastating judgment of God. 

Now, newly blessed and commissioned by God, the human family will begin anew in Noah’s family. Since God’s blessing always contains the assurance and the empowerment of God for the fulfillment of His blessing, it is certain that Noah’s family will be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

However, there appears to be a significant difference in the commissions of Adam and Noah.

9:2 “The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given.”

God placed Adam in the garden to rule and to subdue creation (1:26,28) but also “to cultivate and keep it” (2:15).  Cultivate, abad, means to labor but also to serve and carries a sense of stewardship. Keep, shamar, has to do with protecting. Adam was God’s wise, benevolent caretaker over creation.

But Noah is told that creation will now be in terror of its human master. He will not be the servant of creation but its conqueror. He is master, not in the sense of a wise, benevolent steward but in the sense of the predator who subdues his prey.

There may, however, be a subtle blessing in this terror. Adam had authority over creation as God’s representative but surrendered that authority in forsaking God and believing Satan. Noah will face a wild, untamed and hostile creation over which he has no authority other than his strength and skill. In fact, the rebellion of the animal kingdom against humanity may be only a reflection of humanity’s rebellion against God. Therefore, nature’s fear of man may be God’s blessing of protection over the vulnerable, fallen sons and daughters of Adam.

We also see one more major difference between the relationship of Adam and Noah to creation.

9:3 “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.”

This is the first mention of people eating animals. We do not know with certainty that Adam and Eve were vegetarians but the Lord had said to Adam, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely” (2:16). Adam was told to rule over the creatures of the earth but was never directed to eat them. However, Adam’s son, Abel, was a keeper of flocks so we might assume that the flocks were cultivated for meat as well as milk and wool. We simply don’t read about that.

Noah, though, is given permission by God to eat meat, “even as I gave the green plant.” This represents no small change in the relation of humanity to the creatures of the world. As we have said, man is no longer the caretaker but the hunter. Creation itself now “groans and suffers the pains of childbirth” ( Romans 8:22) awaiting the redemption of humanity and restoration of the earth.

The radical change in diet for the human family could be partly due to the loss of fertility of the soil, the decreasing diversity of plant life following the flood and the diminished nutritional value of the food available to Noah. The creation that greeted him when he stepped off the ark was not the world that Adam knew nor the world that Noah’s father knew. Not only is creation cursed, following the sin of Adam, but now that original creation has been swept away. 

9:4 “Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”

The only prohibition is that Noah may not eat the blood of an animal, since blood represents life and would be used in ritual sacrifices as a symbolic covering for sin.

We should note here that it is neither more spiritual nor less spiritual to eat meat or to refrain from eating meat. The Apostle Paul reminds us that we are free to eat whatever we will if our heart does not condemn us and if we sanctify our food with thanks to God (see Romans 14:14,15 and I Timothy 4:4,5)

9:5,6 “Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.”

The recent desolation of the earth and its population might have caused Noah to misunderstand God’s reverence for life. But it was not any fault in the Lord that led to the flood. The cause was that “the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5). God judged the world because “the earth was corrupt … and filled with violence” (6:11). It was humanity’s lack of respect for the sanctity of life that led to God’s judgment. 

To ensure that Noah rightly understood the Lord’s high regard for human life, the Lord here restates clearly the sacred value of every person and His absolute prohibition against murder while also sanctioning, indirectly, the right of civil government to exact punishment as God’s representative on those who shed innocent blood. 

“I will require the life of man” says the Lord. “Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed.”

God will require the life of those who shed human blood. We will see later in the Bible that this refers to those who shed innocent blood, not to those who are defending their life, their family or their nation. This prohibition given to Noah refers to murder, the unjust shedding of blood.

God will require the life of those take innocent life. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

How will the Lord punish the shedding of innocent blood? 

“By man his blood shall be shed.” This is not permission for personal revenge but a commission for the establishment of civil authority for the maintenance of peace and the enforcement of just laws. Because we are living in a fallen world that is in violent rebellion against its Creator, sin abounds between people and nations. Therefore God ordains governments and will enforce justice through the civil governments that He ordains.

The Apostle Paul reminds the church, 

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (Romans 13:1-4).

The Apostle Peter also adds,

“Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (I Peter 2:13,14).

God promises to require the life of those who commit murder. His instrument for this punishment will be the institution of civil government which He will later ordain.

The reason for this promise of divine retribution is that humanity was created in the image of God and therefore, in committing violence against a human being, we are committing violence against God’s image in that person. Though the image of God has been terribly marred in all people, that image is still stamped into the human soul. The violation of any man, woman or child is a violation of God. It is God we wound when we wound His image in humanity.

It seems odd that the Lord says in verse 4 that He will require retribution against any beast that sheds human blood.  Brute beasts are incapable of understanding a moral command and carnivores hunt and kill by instinct. But because human beings are made in the image of God, the Lord ordains the killing of any beast that takes a human life. In this command, the Lord emphasizes the sacredness of His image stamped in the human soul.

It is entirely right that the Lord requires the life of any person who commits murder.  Because human beings are made in the image of God, we possess a moral sense — we are able to discern between right and wrong, between justice and the violation of justice, that which is good and that which is evil. We possess a moral will and are capable of exercising that will to do good or evil.

The image of God in the human soul makes it possible for us to receive moral commandment from God and to obey that command. The image of God in us enables us to establish order, formulate just laws and enforce laws. The violation of those laws will be punished by the civil authority which God ordains.

Those who depict God as a bloodthirsty tyrant are completely in error and have no concept of the true God. In Eden, there was no government other than God. There was no capital punishment because there was no sin. When humanity chose to reject the Lordship of Creator God, when humanity chose to exercise moral will through sinful choices, the resulting violence, corruption and rebellion necessitated the eventual establishment of governmental restraint. It is not that God is pleased with the idea of civil authority taking anyone’s life but the Lord understands the need to exercise force and retribution in a fallen world.  

 

9:7 “As for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.”

Having prohibited the shedding of innocent blood and having commissioned the enforcement of justice, the Lord renews the mandate to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. This is a repetition of the command given to Noah and his sons when they stepped off the ark (9:1) which itself was a reiteration of the command given to Adam (Gen. 1:28). Humanity was created to be a steward over God’s creation and to give worship and glory to the Lord. The onset of sin and devastating judgment did not change God’s purpose. Through this righteous remnant the Lord will raise up generations of worshippers and faithful stewards, even to the end of time.

We note again, as previously, that the Lord’s commission also includes His blessing. He is not only commanding fruitfulness — He is blessing the fruitfulness of Noah and his family. We recall also that God’s blessing includes the empowerment necessary to fulfill the blessing. When we obey God’s command and commit ourselves to fulfill His commission, we are assured of the power, wisdom and resources necessary to accomplish that which the Lord has purposed.

Noah and his descendants will be fruitful, they will repopulate the earth because God commands, empowers and blesses them to do this.

9:8-10 “Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, ‘Now behold, I myself do establish my covenant with you, and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth.’”

As Noah surveyed the desolation that had once been a fruitful earth, as he remembered the cities, vineyards and grain fields which were now entirely swept away, as he considered the absolute dissolution of the civilization which had once seemed so permanent, as he looked out on a silent, mud-encased earth, he needed an assurance from God that there was some firm foundation on which he could stand. 

“Be fruitful and multiply” the Lord had said. 

“Yes,” Noah may have wondered, “but will my fruit remain? Will the earth itself endure?” The Lord answered Noah’s fear with the promise of covenant, a covenant which will include all humanity and all creatures for all time.

9:11 “I establish my covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.”

Normally, in  a covenant there are promises and obligations made by both parties. In this covenant, all the promises and obligations fall on the Lord: “I establish my covenant with you.” It is therefore a covenant of grace. We are reminded of Christ’s New Covenant, established by His atoning sacrifice on the cross. We bring nothing to the cross but our sin. He brings us full pardon from sin, cleansing from sins’s defilement and the gift of eternal life with God.

The promise of this covenant with Noah is that never again will the Lord use a flood to judge the earth, a promise which will endure to the end of time. This is not to say that there will not be judgment again. God judges within history, as the ancient citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, Assyria and Babylon, Jerusalem and Rome would testify if we could hear them. In more recent years, God pulled down the mighty empires of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

God does not here deny Himself the right to judge. He does judge the earth in history and will again judge the earth with a Great Tribulation before the end of history. Following the thousand year reign of Christ on earth, the unredeemed will stand before the great white throne of God and be judged for their unrighteousness. After that judgment the entire universe will be uncreated in a mighty explosion of fire, followed by the creation of a new heavens and a new earth. But Noah is here assured that the terrifying wrath of God revealed in the particular judgment of the flood will not be revisited on earth.

Many centuries later, when Israel sinned against the Lord and refused to turn and had therefore experienced the judgment of God, the Lord repeated His covenant promise of grace through the prophet Isaiah,

“‘For this is like the days of Noah to me, when I swore that the waters of Noah would not flood the earth again; so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you nor will I rebuke you. For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but my lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and my covenant of peace will not be shaken,’ says the Lord who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:9,10).

9:12-15 “God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between me and the earth. It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh.’”

The perpetual sign for this covenant is the rainbow. As long as there are rainbows in the sky, Noah and his children may be assured of the faithfulness of God. As the flood was a dark and roiling monument to the justice of God, so the rainbow is a multicolored monument to the mercy of God. As the rainbow follows the storm, so mercy triumphs over judgment.

What is more common than a rainbow? For that matter, what is more common than bread or wine? Yet in these common symbols, a rainbow in the sky, bread and wine in a service of communion, we are reminded of the faithful covenant love of the God who has met us in time and brought us into the security of His saving, redeeming work.

Notice the kind condescension of God who gives us signs to strengthen our feeble faith. To Moses, God appeared in a bush on fire with His glory (Exodus 3:2). To King Ahaz the Lord promised this sign, that a virgin would someday bear a son (Isaiah 7:14). To the shepherds of Bethlehem, the angel said, “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). To the church gathered at holy communion, we hold in our hands the bread and cup, signs of God’s continuing grace.

Notice that this covenant extends to “all successive (everlasting) generations.” It will endure to the end of time. How long will rainbows exist? As long as light shines through moisture in the air. How long will God’s faithful, covenant love endure? To all generations.

Finally, let us not allow the sceptic to devalue this covenant sign by reminding us that the rainbow is a natural occurrence. We would ask the sceptic who designed the laws of nature? God did and for His glory.

9:16,17 “When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.’”

When the Lord says that He will remember His covenant He is speaking in human terms, for our benefit, to give us confidence in His mercy. But in fact the Lord does not need to be reminded of anything because He has never forgotten anything. God possesses perfect knowledge of all truth, all events that ever did occur, will occur or might have occurred but did not. The all wise, all knowing God does not need a rainbow to remind Him of His covenant for it is ever in His heart. Nor does He need to be prompted to be faithful. It is His nature to be faithful.

It is we who are reminded, when we look at the rainbow, of the grace and mercy of God who, though He judges sinners, acts in history to save and preserve those who turn to Him in repentance and faith. Even as God declared Noah to be righteous because of his faithful obedience, though he was a sinner, so the Lord declares us righteous who have turned from our sin and placed our faith in Jesus, the holy Lamb of God.The rainbow is a token of God’s saving, covenant grace at work in history.

9:18,19 “Now the sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem and Ham and Japheth; and Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.”

The Lord had commissioned the family of Noah to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (9:1 also 9:7). The commission also carried God’s blessing and empowerment to fulfill the commission and so it was. The sons of Noah scattered across the earth and from their seed the world was filled again with people. Contained in the DNA of these sons was all the genetic inheritance necessary to produce the diverse people groups of the world.

9:20,21 “Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent.”

Needing to provide for himself and his family, Noah began to cultivate the land. He planted a vineyard and, in time, drank of his harvest. The Bible, with unerring honesty, records that Noah became drunk. We do well to remember that while grapes are a gift from God, drunkenness is a work of the flesh, an expression of our unredeemed humanity. How typical of fallen man to enjoy the goodness of God while sinning against God, to enjoy God’s gifts while dishonoring His name in the abuse of His gifts.

It is possible that Noah was unaware of the effect of wine or it may be that he drank excessively. Whatever the cause, we see the truth that even a righteous man is prone to sin, to stumble and fall. It is only the everlasting arms of God that sustain us.

In his drunken stupor, Noah defaces the image of God in himself. But his greater sin was not in his loss of sobriety but in the loss of self-awareness brought on by his drunkenness. After he became drunk, he “uncovered himself inside his tent.”

It is often true of men and women who abuse substances, whether drugs or alcohol, that there is a loss of awareness, discipline and restraint which results in far greater acts of self-destruction and shame. We see in this incident the pervasive presence of sin in the human heart. God had destroyed a world of unrepentant sinners but sin was still present in Noah and his family. We see also the impact of sin. Just as Adam fell and his children suffered, so the sin of Noah will result in generational consequences in his family.

We also see in this incident the incredible grace of God who declared Noah to be just, who lavished mercy upon Him, who delivered him from the flood simply because Noah had trusted in the Lord and acted in faith, building the ark when there was no visible sign of a flood. God’s response to Noah’s faith was to declare him to be righteous and to then preserve him and his family. But at no time was Noah a sinless man. God saved a sinner because God is merciful.

9:22 “Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.”

Rather than attempting to alleviate the compromising condition of his father by covering him, Ham reports the situation to his brothers. This surely reveals a defect in Ham’s character. Was he amused at his father’s sin? Was he spreading an evil report, gossiping? A man of greater integrity would have covered his father and mentioned it to no one.

This also reveals a lack of gratitude in Ham. He had recently been spared the judgment of God by the mercy of God and the obedience and righteous faith which he had learned from his father. Does he now repay the Lord and his father with such callous disregard for his father’s dignity? 

9:23 “But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father's nakedness.”

Shem and Japheth refused to even look on their father’s shame. Reverently averting their eyes, they simply covered him. Isn’t this the Christly response to sin? When we see someone fall, we do not talk about their sin, gossip or slander them. We cover them in our prayers, bringing them before the throne of God with our intercession, crying out for mercy on their behalf. We may also share correction with them if the Lord calls us to do this and gives us the opportunity. But we do not stare at their sin, rejoice in their sin or talk about their sin.

The Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

Paul says that if we see sin in anyone’s life, if we are spiritual — that is, if we are mature — we are to restore them in gentleness and humility. Restoration begins with prayer, not gossip or slander. If the Lord leads, we may also minister to them but with a tender, humble spirit of grace because we too are restored sinners, prone to fail and fall.

Shem and Japheth reveal that humble heart of grace. Ham was lacking in the qualities of grace.

9:24,25 “When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. So he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brothers.’”

Noah awakens to prophetically bless his sons Shem and Japheth, as we will see in the following verses, but not Ham. Though he does not curse Ham directly, he prophetically curses Ham’s son, Canaan. He will be “a servant of servants (the lowest of servants) … to his brothers.” One of Ham’s brothers, Shem, will be the father of Semitic people including Israel. Noah is prophesying that the people of Canaan, the Canaanites, will someday be servants to Israel.

We see in this prophecy the destructiveness of sin, how it ripples out from the sinner to infect other lives. The depravity of Ham would corrupt his descendants and they will act corruptly.

This curse does not relieve Ham’s descendants of moral accountability, as if they would be cursed no matter what they chose to do. Rather, this is a prophetic pronouncement of the immoral choices the Canaanites would someday make. They will bring curse upon themselves, not because they were cursed but because they will live a life worthy of curse. They will build a society which God cannot bless but must and will judge.

Keep in mind that Moses was recording this history as Israel passed through the wilderness on their way to the land of Canaan. The inhabitants of the land, descendants of their namesake, were steeped in idolatry, violence and perversion. By the time Israel, under the leadership of Moses and Joshua, arrived at the borders of Canaan the people had descended so far into depravity that they believed they were worshipping a god as they sacrificed their children in fire. They debased and exploited men and women in their worship of false gods.

The people of Canaan are an example of the downward spiral of a society when it rejects God. In Romans 1:18-32 the Apostle Paul reminds us that the knowledge of God is universal but men and women and entire cultures have rejected and suppressed that knowledge, choosing instead to worship idols of their own invention. What follows is a descent into absolute darkness.

This is what had happened in the land of Canaan. Several generations after Noah, God promised the land to Abraham but said that his descendants would not take possession of the inheritance for another four generations, “for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Gen. 15:16). (The Amorites represented the people who inhabited Canaan.) In the intervening centuries between the promise to Abraham and the possession of the land by the Israelites, God was surely calling to the people of Canaan to turn from their sin. God gave them four centuries to repent and they refused. They only spiraled into deeper and deeper darkness, fulfilling the curse spoken over their ancestor and namesake, Canaan.

Ham was corrupt and his descendants built and maintained a corrupt, depraved, pagan, God-rejecting, idol-worshipping society. We see, then, that the curse spoken over Canaan was justified, even though his father Ham had committed the sin against Noah. The descendants of Canaan were not innocent and God was not unjust in judging them, for the Canaanites fulfilled the curse with their evil choices.

Four hundred years after the promise to Abraham, Moses led Israel toward the land of promise. He knew that Israel would have to fight for the land and more importantly, they would have to resist the spiritual and moral pollution of an entirely pagan culture. He recorded this story to remind Israel that they had a spiritual foundation for the conquest of the land. The Canaanites had been cursed by God through Noah centuries before. Israel was the legitimate heir and the Canaanites were to be their servants.

Yet even in that future day of conquest when Israel defeated the tribes of Canaan, there were those who found mercy — Rahab the repentant prostitute, the Gideonites. Even in the day of judgment, there was mercy for any Canaanite who sought the Lord.

9:26 “He also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.’” 

Noah blesses his son Shem and restates the curse over Canaan, that he will serve his brother.

But notice the phrase, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem.” Noah prophecies that the Lord — Yahweh, Jehovah, the timeless Redeemer — will become the God of Shem in a unique, personal way. And so it was, for Shem became the father of the Semitic people groups, including the Jews. God called to a descendant of Shem, Abraham, made covenant with him and promised him a land and a nation. Through Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, were born the twelve sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel. It was to their descendant, Moses, that the Lord revealed this name — Yahweh. It was this people, led by Moses and then Joshua, who conquered their inheritance, the Land of Promise. In the fulness of time, it was to this people that the Messiah was born.

9:27 “May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.”

Noah blesses his son Japheth and prophecies that Elohim — the mighty Creator — will enlarge him and surely he was enlarged. Japheth became the father of European, Russian, Central Asian and Hindu people groups. If it is true that Asian people groups crossed over to North America and were the ancestors of Native Americans, then they too are descended from Japheth.

Noah also restates the curse over Canaan, that he will serve his brother. This occurred historically as European and Asian people groups conquered the Canaanites.

Notice the prophecy that Japheth would someday share the tents of Shem. This prophecy has been fulfilled as Gentile people groups have come to share the blessings of salvation with the righteous remnant of Israel. Believing Gentiles from all over the earth have joined with believing Jews, gathered in the tent of God’s saving grace through Jesus Messiah.

9:28 “Noah lived three hundred and fifty years after the flood.”

Some commentators believe that Noah was still alive when Abraham was born. Whether that is true, we can surely suppose that Adam had passed on the story of creation to his children and we may as surely suppose that Noah transmitted the record of judgment and mercy to those who came after him. His testimony was alive when Abraham was born.

Noah may have been alive when Babel’s tower was built. If so, he would have seen the dividing of languages, the dispersing of people groups, the first descent into the darkness of idol worship and the beginning of the warfare that has stained history since then. Noah may have wondered how God could withhold judgment yet in the rainbow he saw the assurance of mercy.

9:29 “All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died.”

From this time on, the age of men and women decreased rapidly. Though the human body was marvelously designed by God, it was no longer living in the blessed earth prepared by the Lord. There may have originally been a vapor canopy that shielded the earth from destructive ultra-violet rays but that collapsed in the deluge. The universally moderate climate had been replaced by seasonal extremes of heat and cold. The vitality of the soil that had produced lush harvests of fruits and grains had been swept away in the waters of the flood.

Even more destructive was the corruption at work in the human soul and body through sin. Spiritually dead, that is, separated from God by sin, death was infecting every aspect of creation and of the human being. Life would be shorter now, marked by danger, toil and hardship and there will always be this epitaph written over every child of Adam, “And he died.”

Study Questions

1. In verse 11, what is God’s covenant promise to Noah?

2. What is the sign of the covenant and how long will this sign endure?

3. In verses 22 and 23, what was the difference in the way Ham responded to the failure of his father and the way that Shem and Japheth responded?

Genesis Chapter 10

Genesis Chapter 10

10:1 “Now these are the records of the generations of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah; and sons were born to them after the flood.”

Moses now records the repopulating of the earth and the origin of primary people groups and nations. It covers the time from Noah to Abraham — ten generations. Shem is listed first because he is the patriarch whose family line will include Abraham, Issac and Jacob, the Israelite nation and someday the Messiah.

10:2-5 “The sons of Japheth were Gomer and Magog and Madai and Javan and Tubal and Meshech and Tiras … From these the coastlands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations.” 

Previously, Noah had prophetically blessed Japheth, asking that the Lord enlarge him (9:27). This prayer was truly answered as many Bible historians believe Japheth became the father of European, Russian, Central Asian, Hindu and Native American people groups. Though these people groups are widely dispersed, there is a similarity in language between Indian and European languages, causing scholars to believe that they share a common linguistic ancestor, sometimes called Indo-European.

It is interesting that in Greek mythology there is a character known as Japetos (derived from the name Japheth) who was a founder of the Greek race. In Indian mythology there is a character named Iyapeti, a name also derived from Japheth, who is considered to be the founder of the Indian people.

Japheth’s son, Gomer, is strongly linked to western European people groups. His sons Tubal and Meshech are linked to the Russian people, their names being related to the Russian cities Moscow, located on the Moskva River and Tobolsk, located on the Tobol River. 

Japheth also had a son named Javan which is an ancient name for Greece. One of Javan’s sons was Tarshish, a name mentioned often in Scripture and considered to be an ancient name for Spain. (Recall that Jonah, when fleeing from the Lord, boarded a ship for Tarshish, Jonah 1:3).

So we see that Japheth is linked to a wide dispersal of people groups as Noah had prophesied, “May God enlarge Japheth” (Gen. 9:27).

10:6,7 “The sons of Ham were Cush and Mizraim and Put and Canaan.”

Cush is considered to be the father of Arabian people. Mizraim colonized Egypt and in fact, Mizraim was the Hebrew name for Egypt. Put is the father of North African people. Canaan is the father of the various people groups that lived in the area bearing his name, a land which God later promised to Abraham and was conquered under Joshua. 

10:8-10 “Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord … The beginning of his kingdom was Babel …”

Nimrod was a mighty man who founded the first kingdom mentioned in the Bible. His kingdom consisted of four cities of which Babel is listed first. We would suppose that up till this time people lived in family groups but Nimrod consolidated a number of clans under his dominion. This may have involved force either of persuasion or violence. Whether using words or weapons or both, Nimrod established dominion over his neighbors.

Babel — Babylon — later became the infamous symbol of humanity in rebellion against God and from this we may infer that Nimrod may have been among the first of the newly populated world to depart from the worship of God. If this is so, then he was not only the first builder of a kingdom but the first builder of idols. He would have been the first to build a society based on the suppression of God’s truth and the replacement of God with false religions and philosophies of human invention. He would be the first famous humanist, builder of a secular society founded on the lie that humanity, created in the image of God, can live without God.

Babylon represents the kingdom of man set against the kingdom of God. As history nears its conclusion, an angel shouts, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird” (Rev. 18:2). Another angel shouts, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4).

So throughout history the idolatrous kingdoms of Babylon have strived against the kingdom of God. Its citizens have persecuted, seduced, enslaved and slaughtered the family of the righteous as the Spirit of God has exhorted the church, “Come out from her.”

We do not know how Nimrod died but we may be certain that he went the way of all tyrants. He lost his soul in the gaining of empire, then left his empire behind along with his wealth and fame and glory as his body fell into the dust. His soul then stood before God the Almighty, the everlasting, the One true glorious God, before whose majesty all must bow. 

On that day, how much worth did Nimrod ascribe to his former empire and his idols?

10:11,12 “From that land he went forth into Assyria, and built Nineveh …”

Not content with the four original cities of his kingdom, Nimrod built four more, of which Nineveh, the future capital of Assyria, is the most famous. So Nimrod is one of the ancestors of the Assyrians, who centuries later conquered the northern kingdom of God’s covenant people, Israel. And since he is also the ancestor of Babylon, which eventually conquered the southern kingdom, Judah, he is then the father of the nations which made war on the covenant people.

10:13,14 “Mizraim became the father of Ludim and Anamim and Lehabim and Naphtuhim and Pathrusim and Casluhim (from which came the Philistines) and Caphtorim.”

Mizraim, a son of Ham, is considered to be the father of the Egyptian people (as we have said, Mizraim is often translated as Egypt). The other names refer to African people groups, primarily North African, with the exception of Casluhim, father of the Philistines.

10:15-17 “Canaan became the father of Sidon, his firstborn … and the Jebusite and the Amorite and the Girgashite … and the Hivite …”

Canaan, another son of Ham, had been cursed by Noah because of the sin of his father. This was not a predetermined curse — God did not preordain the sinful societies of the Canaanite people groups. Rather, this was a prophecy regarding their future moral depravity. 

Remember God’s promise to Abraham that he would inherit the land of Canaan but not for another four generations after Abraham for, as the Lord said, “The iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Gen. 15:16). It was 400 years before Moses led Israel out of Egypt and Joshua then led the conquest of Canaan. During those intervening centuries, we can be certain that God was calling for repentance among the inhabitants of the land but they continued to spiral into the most cruel practices of child sacrifice and immorality, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Noah.

Israel’s defeat of these Canaanite tribes was not an expression of racial prejudice nor ethnic cleansing. It was the outworking of God’s judgment against wicked people who, over multiple generations, refused God’s patient, merciful call to repentance.

Sidon was both a person, a people group and a city which still exists today in Lebanon, just to the north of the border of Israel. The Jebusites were located around Jerusalem and still possessed Jerusalem until the time of David (2 Samuel 5:5,6). Amorites, Girgashites and Hivites were tribal groups living in the land of Canaan, east and west of the Jordan River, when Joshua led Israel across the river.

Theirs was a prosperous land, overflowing with richness, described by the Lord Himself as the land of milk and honey. Israel had been promised this land but wandered in trackless wilderness during the generations of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then sank into slavery in Egypt. The Canaanites prospered for generations but later were conquered and driven out of the land for their sin. Israel would inherit the land. 

Better to believe the promise of blessing and endure generations of struggle before possessing the promise than dwell in abundance and flagrant sin and inherit the curse. The curse of God will always, eventually, fall on those who violate the justice of God. So will the blessing of God rest on those who walk in His ways.

10:18-20 “ … and afterward the families of the Canaanite were spread abroad … The territory of the Canaanite extended from Sidon as you go toward Gerar, as far as Gaza; as you go toward Sodom and Gomorrah and Admah.”

As we have said, the descendants of Ham and his son Canaan prospered and increased for centuries. Sidon represents their northern expansion; Gaza represents their border to the southwest and Sodom, Gomorrah and Admah represent their expansion to the southeast. But though they gained territory and resources, the Canaanites fell further and further away from God, spiraling ever deeper into unrestrained evil. This is always the history of nations and individuals who reject God.

In Romans chapter one the Apostle Paul traces the descent into darkness of fallen humanity:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:18-20).

God has clearly revealed truth. The problem is that sinful people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” What is the result when people deny and bury God’s truth?

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (Rom. 1:21-23).

When people deny truth, their hearts are given over to darkness. Having rejected God but needing God, they invent and worship their own gods.

What is the result when people deny God and invent their own gods?

“Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions …” (Rom. 1:24-27).

God calls to the lost, seeks the lost, for He is “… compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Psalm 103:8). But there is a point in time when people have suppressed the truth and rejected the Truth-Giver so completely that God  gives them over to their choices. 

Maybe then, as people experience the hard consequences of hard choices, they will return to the Lord. Such was the experience of the prodigal son in the parable Jesus told (Luke 15:11-19 ). The young man in the story came to his senses while feeding pigs and hungrily desiring their slop. God gave him over to his choices and his choices drove him to repentance.

But if people will not return to the Lord, then the result is a downward spiral into infinite degrees of darkness. Paul traces that descent in the remaining verses of Roman chapter one. The result is depravity expressed in every form of wickedness (Rom. 1:28-32).

So it was with the Canaanites. From Sodom and Gomorrah to the tribes conquered by Joshua, unrepented wickedness conceived unrestrained evil resulting in the judgment of God and the loss of their land.

10:21-31 “Also to Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, and the older brother of Japheth, children were born … Elam and Asshur … and Aram … These are the sons of Shem, according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, according to their nations.”

Shem was the ancestor of Eber, from whom are descended the Hebrew people. He was also the father of Elam from whom are descended the Persians and the Elamites who may have lived east of Persia. He was the father of Asshur from whom are descended the Assyrians and father of Aram from whom descended the Arameans (Syrians).

There is an interesting reference to Peleg in verse 25, born in the fourth generation after Shem. It says that “in his days the earth was divided.” This may be a reference to the dividing of languages which further separated the distinct people groups. This division is recorded in chapter 11.

10:32 “These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated on the earth after the flood.”

The sons of Noah begat families and the families became people groups, gradually dispersing across the earth. To those who would question this record of the restoration of the people groups of the world, we respond that it is just as glorious and mysterious as God’s creation of the world. Our response is not to ridicule that which appears to be amazing but to give praise and glory to the God with whom all things are possible, Who alone does great and wonderful things. 

What is of profound importance in this chapter is the tracing of the divine promise which began with Adam and was passed on to Seth and from Seth to Noah. Now, through Noah to Shem to Arpachshad to Shelah to Eber, the promise of a Deliverer is transmitted. In spite of the descent of people groups into darkness and idolatry, there would be a remnant of the righteous on earth and God would someday make covenant with them, the seed of Eber, the Hebrews. To this covenant people would be born the Redeemer of fallen humanity.

Remember that Moses was writing this history in the wilderness between Egypt and the Land of Promise. As Israel journeyed between slavery and inheritance, Moses desired to acquaint the people with their family history and God’s promises to them as His righteous representatives on earth. Moses was saying, “This is who you came from, this is who you are. This is where you have been and this is where you are going and you have a right to inherit the land — it is God’s promise to you.”

Study Questions

1. Noah prayed that God would enlarge his son Japheth. Did that happen?

2. Ham had a grandson, Nimrod. What did Nimrod establish? 

3. What is significant in the line of descendants issuing from Shem?

Genesis Chapter 11

Genesis Chapter 11

11:1 “Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.”

God created humanity with the ability to communicate — this is part of what it means to be made in the image of God. We are social beings, created for fellowship with God and one another. Therefore God gave us the ability to communicate.

The phrase “the same language” could be translated “of one lip” and refers to the manner of speaking or accent, the way words are spoken. The phrase “the same words” refers to the vocabulary, the substance of communication.

In other words, originally there was only one language, one dialect, one vocabulary, universally spoken and understood. Even today, many thousands of years later, linguists have been able to trace commonalities between languages as diverse as Sanskrit and Semitic.

11:2 “It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.”

The Lord had given a command to Noah and his family, to “fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1). In order to do that they would need to keep moving, migrate. The phrase “as they journeyed” refers to the pulling up of tent pegs but very quickly they stopped pulling up their tent pegs and settled down in the land of Shinar. This was in the vicinity of the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers, a land of exceedingly rich soil for grazing and cultivation. No doubt the families prospered there but they were disobeying the command of God.

It may be that the more godly descendants of Noah obeyed the Lord and were dispersing across the earth. But the majority of the families entered into rebellion.

In 10:8-12 we read of Nimrod’s aggressive empire building “in the land of Shinar.” This movement to rebel against God’s command to disperse across the earth may have been under the leadership of Nimrod.

11:3 “They said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.’ And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.”

Bricks made from baked clay and set with tar can result in a building of great permanence. This was their goal — having settled in the land they desired to build something that would endure. Maybe this was a reaction to the destructive impact of the Great Flood. Having seen civilization swept away, they wanted to build something that seemed to them to be indestructible. 

But the proper response to divine judgment is to submit to the will of God, not rebel. Humanity is not capable of building anything that will withstand the judgment of God. How vain this attempt to circumvent the will of God. We would hope that so soon after God judged a wicked, disobedient world, the descendants of those few survivors would possess a heart to please and serve God. Yet, though God’s judgment had only recently decimated the human race, the depravity of the human heart is such that immediately many fell into sin and disobedience. We see in this the shattering truth that wickedness is set deeply in the human heart.

11:4 “They said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’”

Notice their ambition — to build “a city and a tower whose top will reach into heaven.” This is not simply a reference to its height — there is a religious sense to this. They want to build a tower that attains equality with heaven. They are aspiring to enter the realm of God. The same sinful rebellion against God which infected the human race before the flood, still corrupts the heart of these empire builders.

Notice their motive — “let us make for ourselves a name.”  They are seeking to glorify themselves, not God. They wish to be united, not to glorify God but to oppose Him. They do not desire to make God’s name great or celebrate the justice of a God who judges sin or the mercy of a God who spares the righteous. They wish to make of themselves an empire united in rebellion against God. They are seeking immortality on an earth where everything is dying, passing away, while forgetting heaven, where all is eternal. In rejecting the true Shepherd of their souls, death shall be their shepherd.

We do not need to spend our lives trying to make a name for ourselves. Jesus says that the pathway to greatness in the kingdom of God is self-forgetfulness, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24,25).

Jesus said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). What things will be added? All things necessary to fulfill the purpose of God for our life. 

What purpose? The Apostle Paul said, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). 

God created each of us for the fulfilling of purpose. We are men and women of destiny. When we  discover that purpose and spend our lives seeking to fulfill it, we discover true meaning and fulfillment.

Those who spend their lives trying vainly to build an empire and a name for their own self to the exclusion of God, always come up empty. Those who spend their lives seeking to glorify the name of God, rather than their own name, are promised a new name in heaven:

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it” (Revelation 2:17).

That new name, bestowed by God, represents not only new identity but fulfilled, perfected identity. That new name will endure forever. The rebels on the plains of Shinar, in seeking to make a name for themselves, forfeited all hope of an enduring identity.

Notice their fear — they dread being “scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” But that was God’s command to them. They are rebelling against the known will of God. We need never fear God’s word and will though we should greatly fear rebellion against God’s word and will. But they are in rebellion and as rebels do, they are busy building a memorial to themselves. The building of idols always accompanies rebellion.

Notice their neglect — there is no mention of God. The name to be glorified is the name of man, not the name of God. They wish to exalt themselves against God. It is no crime to build a city or a tower or a monument but it is a crime to build for this purpose — to oppose the command of God and to make oneself famous while devaluing the glory of God. Rebellion always robs God of glory. Their goal is to build the city of man, the secular city, excluding the glory of God, the worship of God, the presence and influence of God, in defiance of the command of God.

But even people who reject God need some form of religious motivation. Nimrod, or whoever was in leadership, needed to substitute some system of worship which would be compelling enough to overcome the memory of God’s recent activity on earth — His judgment and His mercy. That generation could not possibly question the existence of God. They could not forget God — they could only deny Him, exclude Him. In order to do that, there needed to be something that would capture their attention, their hearts and minds, their need to worship.

Some commentators suggest that stars were mounted on top of the tower or the representation of some newly invented deity. That must be true for it is inevitable, as the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 1:18-32, that when people reject the true and living God, they invent false gods. Humanity is wired to worship something or someone.

Whether this movement was under the leadership of Nimrod or someone else, secular empire builders must always devalue the true God and establish either an atheistic state which worships the state as god or a deistic state which worships the tyrant as god or establish a state with new gods, named by the leader. 

So it was that Joseph Stalin, in establishing the godless communist state of the Soviet Union, declared atheism to be the religion of the people. Adolf Hitler, on the other hand, did not abolish Christianity in Germany. He simply forced the church to submit to his principles and practices, creating an apostate church which knelt before Hitler. In the end time state of the antichrist, the final dictator will build an altar to himself in the rebuilt Jerusalem temple.

The tower was a declaration of independence from God and we surely may assume that Satan was involved in this movement. Just as he seduced Eve and Adam and Cain, so he now seduces humanity through their proud, godless leaders.

11:5 “The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.”

This is a figurative way of speaking of God’s omniscience. He does not need to go anywhere — God is everywhere. God does not need to ask anything — He knows everything. Knowing all things, the Lord has no need to ask questions or visit any place in the universe to obtain information.

However,  this may be the record of a theophany — a pre-incarnation appearance of God in human form. (For another example of this, see Genesis 18:1).  If so, God’s physical presence underscores the seriousness of humanity’s rebellion.

Whether this is simply a representation of God’s perfect knowledge of events on earth or a theophany, the fact is, “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13).

Notice the phrase, “the sons of men.” This may be a way of distinguishing these rebellious idol builders from the sons of Shem, from whom would come the community of the righteous. This may signify that the righteous remnant of Shem were not participating in this rebellion.

11:6,7 “The Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech.’”

Who is God speaking to? This is the record of a conversation within the Trinity, the members of the Godhead conversing in unspoken communication.

Why is God so concerned about this tower? Because as we said, it represents the attempt of humanity to develop a civilization to the exclusion of God.  Although the pre-flood world was evil, this is humanity’s first recorded attempt to establish a secular society devoid of God.

The tower is a symbol of the unity of the people in this desire. But unity in rebellion against God is fatal to any society. Common language only served to enhance the goal of rebellion.

Separated from God by their sin but united in their sinful purpose, “nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.” Though depraved and corrupted by sin, these are still beings made in the image of God — nothing is impossible for them. They are highly gifted creatures but using their skill and intelligence to build a society in which God is excluded. This would result in multiplied depravity, tragedy, suffering and eternal damnation for everyone unless God acted in history to prevent them.

So God mercifully moves to break their unity by dividing their languages. In doing this, the Lord also enforces His prior command to spread across the earth. Divided in language, the people will go their separate ways. 

How did God divide the languages? Moses does not tell us nor does he need to. The same almighty Creator who gifted us with the God-like capacity to communicate can remove, confuse or diversify what He has given. He rules over all He created.

We do not need to imagine that on this day all the many contemporary forms of languages were created, for in the following centuries we see a developmental process of language. And within language groups, obsolete words are still today laid aside and new words are adopted — language continues to evolve. But on that day on the plains of Shinar, God supernaturally caused humanity to forget the original, universal language and planted a basic core of diverse languages in the minds of the various family groups, depriving each group of the ability to understand the other.

The dividing of languages was not part of God’s original plan but was an act of judgment on rebellious, sinful humanity. Though men and women continued to sin and defy God; though they continued to commit unspeakable atrocities against one another, against creation and against God Himself, the extent of their destructiveness would be limited by the division of language and the resulting separation of cultures and societies.

There will never again be perfect unity on earth until the Lord Jesus returns and establishes His throne. Though in the last days of history the antichrist will attempt to forge world unity through violence and enforced worship of himself, he will fail. 

11:8 “So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.”

The dispersion which the rebels feared is now enforced. Having lost their unity, they scatter across the earth.

11:9 “Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

The place was called Babel, a word derived from the Hebrew word for confuse. In Aramaic (an ancient Mid-eastern language related to Hebrew) Bab-el means the gate of God. Both translations reveal truth about the tower. It was an attempt by man to build a stairway, a gateway into the presence of false gods, while denying the true God. The result, as the Apostle Paul reveals in Romans 1:18-32, is an inevitable spiral into darkness and futility, depravity and corruption, resulting in the judgment of God.

The motive was to build a gateway to counterfeit deity. The result was confusion. The worship of false gods always ends in confusion.

Though the people were scattered from that place, eventually a city and an empire arose there — Babylon. In Revelation 17:5 the final world empire of the antichrist is referred to as “Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.” Babylon is not only the end point of false religion, it is also its mother, its beginning.

Therefore, throughout the Bible, Babylon is a symbol of idol worship and in the end times symbolizes the entire world system in rebellion against God. Babel was the birthplace of idolatry. False religion began on the plains of Shinar.

11:10-26 “These are the records of the generations of Shem. Shem was one hundred years old, and became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood … Shelah lived thirty years, and became the father of Eber … Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and became the father of Terah … Terah lived seventy years, and became the father of Abram …”

In these verses, as in 10:21-31, we read the genealogy of the family of Shem, son of Noah. Shem was the ancestor of Eber, who was the ancestor of Terah who was the father of Abram, from whom are descended the Hebrew people and the nation of Israel. After 11:31 the record of Genesis focuses exclusively on the development of that righteous family whom God chose as His covenant people. In fact, after the building of the idolatrous tower at Babel and the dividing of languages and the dispersion of people groups, the Bible narrative is no longer centered on world history but salvation history.

We may be certain that idolatry and false religion, which began at Babel, continued to spread like a malignant cancer through the human race. But God reserved a righteous remnant for Himself. Remember that in 9:26, Noah blessed his son Shem, saying, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem.” There was still a family on earth, descended from Shem, who worshipped the true and living God. From this family came Abraham, then Isaac and Jacob and a covenant nation. To that nation the Messiah would someday be born and He would crush the serpent’s head, as God had promised to Eve.

Here, beginning with Genesis 11:10 and continuing to the end of the Bible, God shines His revelation light on this one narrative: a covenant people, the birth and atoning work of the Messiah, a covenant church, a gospel proclaimed and salvation offered to the world.

In Romans 1:18-32 we read the condensed history of all God-rejecting people. Suppressing the knowledge of God, they invent false gods. Idolatry leads to darkness, futility and every form of moral corruption. And although we read repeatedly that God “gave them over” to their choices, which speaks of the judgment of God, God does not give humanity up to condemnation. 

The same God who judges also redeems from judgment. The same God who condemns the sinner also delivers the sinner from condemnation.

This is why God formed a covenant nation, why the Messiah was born, why He died an atoning death and rose from the dead, why He sends His church out into the world. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). From Genesis 11:10 to the last verse of the Revelation, this is the only history of the world which the Bible records — God calling the lost to repentance and offering saving grace through Jesus Messiah.

What a lie humanity has believed! Seeking to live the autonomous life, life without God, rejecting the truth of God and substituting legends and myths, self-invented and self-empowered, building empires and memorials to our own glory, autonomous man has rejected his beginning and his end — he has no Genesis and no Revelation. If there is no beginning and no end then autonomous man must invest everything in the present moment. All meaning, all fulfillment is found only in the now. But the now eventually passes away along with all wealth, all fame, all power.

Autonomous man, seeking meaning and fulfillment apart from God, ends with nothing. His body falls into the ground and his gods and empires die with him. All that he is and all he has acquired fade into dust. Yet to this lost, God-rejecting and death-bound humanity God continually calls, offering saving grace.

Notice in chapter 11 the gradual decline of life spans from one generation to the next. Men begin to beget children at an earlier age and die at a younger age. This was due to the radical changes in the earth after the flood. Whereas prior to the flood the earth had enjoyed a moderate climate, there were now seasonal extremes of heat and cold. There were deserts and arctic regions where agriculture was impossible and life was difficult. The soil was surely diminished in fertility. The earth’s crust was broken, leading to earthquakes, volcanoes and all manner of natural disasters.

The atmosphere was radically changed, having lost the vapor canopy which had formerly shielded the earth from harmful ultraviolet rays. The hydrological cycle was different; whereas formerly the earth had been water by a mist which rose up from the earth, it was now watered by the process of evaporation, condensation and precipitation which can result in erosion and flooding. Rainfall can also be sporadic, leading to drought and crop failures.

For these and many other reasons, lifespans began to diminish.

11:27 “Now these are the records of the generations of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran; and Haran became the father of Lot.”

The nations were rapidly descending into idol worship and all manner of corruption but God had promised not to destroy the world with a flood. Instead, He began the formation of a covenant nation which would be a living testimony of God’s holiness and justice and grace. Israel was to be a light shining into the darkness. The beginning of this was God’s call to Abram.

Here we have the beginning of the history of Abram, which is really the beginning of the Gospel story. The Lord would make covenant with Abram, change his name to Abraham and would make this great promise to him, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 26:4).

From Abraham descended Isaac, then Jacob, then the twelve sons and the twelve tribes of Israel. To that nation the Messiah was born. Through faith in Christ, children of Abraham are still being raised up across the earth, generation to generation.

11:28 “Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans.”

Abram was born in the land of the Chaldeans, later known as Babylon. This was the plain of Shinar, the location of the idolatrous tower, the place where false religion began. This is made clear to us in this passage from the book of Joshua, 

“Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods’” (Joshua 24:2).

Abram was born into a culture that worshipped idols, gods that are not gods. This reveals something very important about the calling of God on Abram’s life. God did not call him because of his spiritual insight or faithfulness. God called him because this was God’s sovereign choice. God did not call Abram because he was a spiritual pioneer of the life of faith. God called him to make him a pioneer of faith.

We are reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words, that God “chose us in Him (in Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4). God chose to set His love upon us before we had done anything to merit, earn or deserve His love. Indeed, before there was a universe, God chose to reveal His grace in us.

So with Abraham. God chose him and called him, not because of anything Abraham had done but because this was God’s sovereign choice.

11:29,30 “Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai … Sarai was barren; she had no child.”

Here is another detail corresponding to God’s sovereign choice of Abram. Later, the Lord would make this promise to him,“As for me, behold, my covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:4).

The man who would someday be the father of a multitude of nations was childless and married to a woman who had not been able to conceive. God chose him to father a nation, not because he and his wife were fruitful but based entirely on God’s sovereign choice. To put it another way, God chose him, not because he was fruitful but to make him fruitful.

We see again the sovereign choice and calling of God over Abram in the words of Joshua,

“Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River, and led him through all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac” (Joshua 24:3).

It was not Abraham who, by his own motivation left the idols of Chaldea behind. God says, “I took your father Abraham from beyond the River, and led him.” It was not Abraham who by his own strength and virility multiplied his descendants. Rather, it was the Lord who “multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac.”

This is not to say that Abraham was passive in the outworking of God’s calling. It was necessary that this man who was born into a God-rejecting, idol worshipping culture come to a place of faith in the true and living God. It was necessary that he who was childless believe the Lord for children and act on his faith. The Apostle Paul expresses this truth:

“For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written, ‘A father of many nations have I made you)’ in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist” (Romans 4:16,17).

Abraham believed the God who calls into existence that which does not exist. Paul continues, 

“In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb” (4:18,19).

Faith is not a denial of reality. Later in the story, Abraham will be one hundred years old, Sarah will be ninety, still childless and Abram understood that his body was as good as dead as was Sarah’s womb. He did not deny the truth of his circumstance. Rather, he chose to believe the greater reality of God’s promise and power.

“Yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform” (Gen. 4:20,21).

As Abraham’s body aged and as Sarah grew older, he grew stronger in faith, believing that the reality of the promise of God was greater than the reality of his physical being. The result was a son and from that son a covenant nation and descendants as numerous as the stars.

God chose a man from a pagan culture and made him a pioneer of faith. God chose a childless man whose wife was barren, and called forth a host of descendants. This was a sovereign act of God joined to the faith of a man.

But even faith is a work of grace. We read in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” The story of Abram is the story of grace and so with us. God calls us to His purpose and empowers us to fulfill the call. All is grace. God calls us to His purpose and empowers us to fulfill the call. All is grace.

11:31 “Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife; and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans in order to enter the land of Canaan; and they went as far as Haran, and settled there.”

Moses includes this as an introduction to the life of Abram who becomes a central figure in Bible history. His father took the family from the land of the Chaldeans (Babylon), followed the  Euphrates River and migrated to Haran, just north of Canaan and located in present day Syria. This was necessary, though they would not have known this, because God would later promise the land of Canaan to Abram and his descendants. That is where Israel would someday settle and where the most important events of Bible history would someday take place.

Though Terah and his son Abram may not have known the significance of Canaan as a future possession of the covenant  people, they were not without God’s guidance in moving there. Many years later, Stephen, in his defense before the Sanhedrin, said,

“Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and come into the land that I will show you’” (Acts 7:2,3).

Abram did not know why the Lord was calling him to move but there was no question that the living God had spoken to him and given him clear direction.

The words, “Leave your country and your relatives,” surely was a clear command to Abram to disentangle himself from the idolatrous worship of the Chaldeans. False gods, false religion and dead idols were multiplying and though Abram may have been a worshipper of the true and living God by this time, he could not hope to fulfill the purpose of God for his life without a clear break from that culture of darkness.

It is difficult to maintain purity of heart and worship when we are closely related to corruption. This is why the Apostle Paul exhorts us, 

“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God and they shall be my people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate’ says the Lord . ‘And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you’” (2 Cor. 6:14-17).

This does not mean that we must migrate from the country we are living in but we do need every day to make certain that we are migrating from the corrupt values of the world around us, are not being conformed to those values but are being transformed by the power of God. We may need to leave some friendships, some activities and even some churches if we are being influenced by darkness and not light.

Abram heard clearly the command of God to separate himself from the culture of Babylon. There may even have been a stirring in Terah’s heart, who though he was a worshipper of idols, may have been moved by the promise of the Lord to his son to begin a process of separation from the false gods of the Chaldeans.

Notice that they stopped short of Canaan, settling just to the north. This may have been due to exhaustion on the part of Terah, now quite old. Abram would not move on without his father. Rather, he honored his elder and remained with him till death.

But we must also note that whatever purpose and promise God had for Abram, he would not enter or fulfill it outside the place that God had ordained for him. Just north of Canaan would not suffice for the man of God. He would need, eventually, to rise up and complete the journey. 

The purpose God has for our lives and the promised blessing that accompanies that purpose is often connected to a particular place in the body of Christ or a specific geographical location. When seeking to glorify God in the fulfilling of his purpose in our generation, we must be careful to hear and follow every detail. Many people have stopped just north of God’s calling and missed everything.

11:32 “The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.”

Notice the rapidly decreasing lifespan of people after the flood. But the significance of this verse is that now Abram may continue his journey into the promise and calling of God over his life.

As we have said, from this point on the Bible records the history of God’s saving work in this world. Salvation history began in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve fell, God promised that from the seed of Eve would come a deliverer (Gen. 3:15). 

To fulfill that promise, God sovereignly chose people to be instruments of His divine purpose. Adam had many sons (see 5:3,4) — Seth was chosen to be the ancestor of a Godly line. Noah had three sons — Shem was chosen. Terah had three sons — Abram was chosen. Abram had two sons, Isaac was chosen. Isaac had two sons, Jacob was chosen.

For the next 2,000 years, God continually preserved his promise through a righteous remnant whom He chose and blessed by grace to fulfill the divine call. In the fulness of time, the Deliverer would be born, descended from Abraham.

Study Questions

1. In verses 3 and 4, what was the goal of the tower builders?

2. What was the Lord’s response?

3. Abram was born among idol worshippers. He and his wife were childless. How could he possibly become a spiritual pioneer and father of multitudes?

4. Does God’s grace in choosing Abram say anything about your life?

Genesis Chapter 12

Genesis Chapter 12

12:1-3 “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which 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 who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Abram’s father Terah had led the family out of Ur of the Chaldeans (later Babylon, present day Iraq) on a migration to Canaan. They did not go directly west across the desert but followed the Euphrates River north to Haran (in present day Syria) and stopped there. Later Terah died and God spoke to Abram, telling him to leave his father’s house and the land in which he had settled. The Lord did not tell him where he would go, but did promise to lead him.

The Lord then made 7 promises to Abram (whose name means exalted father):

1. I will make you a great nation. 

This is an unconditional promise. It is God who will build this nation using Abram as his human instrument. This promise goes against human reason — how can one man produce a nation? Furthermore, at the time God makes this promise, Abram is 75 years old and childless. His wife is 65 and barren.

This promise goes against human perception — there is nothing visible that would give credence to this promise. He will be an alien in a strange land. There will be nothing he can see or touch that will give substance to this call.

But any question Abram would have asked was answered by one word: I, as in, “I will make you a great nation.” The fulfilling of this promise is a sovereign act of grace on God’s part. Along the way to its fulfillment, Abram tarried in a pagan land, Haran, lied about his wife to protect himself from Egyptian and Philistines rulers and bred a son outside of marriage with a servant woman.

Yet in spite of Abram’s sin and failure, his age and every other adverse factor in his life, God did what God purposed. For his part, Abram trusted and obeyed the God who promised. This is faith.

2. I will bless you.

This promise is based on the sovereignty of God. God will bless because God chooses to bless. However, Abram is not a passive bystander in this journey into blessing. He must be willing to follow where and as the Lord leads. Obedience is a necessary accompaniment to blessing and proof of faith. Obedience to the known will of God will always result in blessing.

3. I will make your name great.

It was not the name Abram which became great. It was the new name which God gave him — Abraham. Abram means “exalted father.” But as Abram followed faithfully, God gave him a new name, Abraham, which means “father of a multitude”. A new name represents a new identity and so it was with Abraham, the childless man who became father of the faithful.

The name of those who obey God will be a great name, sometimes in this world, as with Abraham, but if not in this world then surely in the kingdom of God. Jesus said to the persecuted church at Pergamum that the overcomers would receive a new name (Rev. 2:17). To each faithful saint at Philadelphia the Lord promised that He would “write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God, and my new name” (Rev. 3:12). 

Our new name will be a great name for it will given to us by the Lord and will be an expression of our service to Him and a reflection of His glory.

4. You shall be a blessing.

The Lord not only says, “I will bless you.” He also says, “You shall be a blessing.” The Lord’s purpose in blessing is not only that we experience His goodness and give Him glory but also that He may pout out blessing through us to others. Blessed men and women are always called to become a blessing. Even as the sin of Ham resulted in corruption and curse for his descendants, so the blessing of Abram resulted in the blessing of his children in faith. So it is with each of us. God blesses us so that He may release His blessing through us.

5. I will bless those who bless you.

This promise included not only Abram but all his spiritual descendants. Those who bless Israel are blessed. Those who bless the saints of God are blessed. God is a rewarder of those who bless His people. Jesus said,  “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42). “Little ones” refers to disciples. Those who give any gift to the followers of Jesus, even as small as a cup of cold water, will be blessed for their gift. 

When we give anything to a follower of Christ, we are actually giving unto the Lord. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40).

When we give in the Lord’s name to the work of His church, we are giving to the Lord and He promises to multiply His blessing back upon us. This is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, 

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality (generosity), which through us is producing thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor. 9:8,10,11).

6. The one who curses you I will curse. 

Likewise, those who curse Abram, and who curse those who spiritually descend from Him, will be cursed by God. God is the saving defense of His people, our Rock of refuge. It must be so, for how could so small a nation as Israel have survived so many attempts to destroy it for 4,000 years? Neither Pharaoh nor Assyria nor Babylon nor Rome nor Hitler nor the Islamists have been able to destroy Israel. All they have done is to bring the curse of God upon themselves.

The same is true for the church. We are spiritual descendants of Abraham in the sense that we have entered God’s blessing of salvation by faith. Those who curse and persecute the church only bring the judgment of God upon themselves. How could the church have survived such lethal persecution from without and such deadly heresy from within for 2,000 years? The only reasonable explanation is that God defends His own.

The people and nations of the world do not understand the gravity of their response to the descendants of Abraham but they would do well to understand: the response of the world to Israel and to the church determines God’s reaction to them — blessing or curse.

7. In you all the families of the earth will be blessed.

The Lord had promised Noah that he would never again judge the earth with water, yet the earth grew more evil by the day. If God is not willing to destroy the nations in righteous judgment, but being holy, cannot allow evil to go unchecked, then He must do something to express His holy displeasure with sin.

As sinful, idol worshipping nations multiplied and spread across the earth, the Lord responded by establishing a holy witnessing nation in the midst of the evil nations. Abram is the father of that nation. Israel was called by God to be His covenant people shining His light among the nations and preparing the way for Messiah, God in human flesh. Israel was called by God to be the recipient of divine revelation, preserving righteous worship of the true God and practicing a sacrificial system that would foreshadow the holy Lamb of God, from Whom the salvation of the world would come.

Descended from Abram were the 12 patriarchs, who fathered the twelve tribes, resulting in the nation of Israel, into which the Messiah was born, following Whose death and resurrection the Gospel has gone out to the ends of the earth. Someday, members of every tribe and tongue and nation will stand “before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands,” giving praise to the Lord (Rev. 7:9). Truly, as the Lord had said to Abram, “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).

Even today we may say that because of a faithful remnant of righteous saints on earth, all the families of the earth are blessed to live in a world in which the light of God still shines and the mercy of God is still outpoured on all, the righteous and the unrighteous. But specially blessed are those families which have declared, “We shall serve the Lord.”

The Lord made seven wonderful promises to Abram founded on the sovereign choice of God: I will bless you, I will make you. However, there is a condition for these promises, requiring the obedience of Abram. He must leave his country, his relatives and his father’s house and go to a land which only God can show him. He must leave everything that he knows and loves and follow the leading of the Lord to a place which he does not know.

God’s promise to bless Abram is tied to Abram’s willingness to go: “Go … and I will make you a great nation.”

God called Abram to live by faith but faith is tied to obedience. Faith is not mere verbal confession. Faith is the act of obeying what God has said. The fact that we cannot see the promised end is what makes it faith. Faith sees what is not as though it is.


Consider the paradoxical life which Abram will experience in Canaan:  

1. He will live as a foreigner in the land promised to him as an inheritance.

2. He will endure famine in the land of milk and honey.

3. He will live in tents while looking for the city with heavenly foundations.

But he endured, he persevered by looking forward, looking to the promise. When we are traveling with a vision in our souls, we press on. Vision creates pilgrims.

What was it about Abram that caused God to choose him? Nothing other than a willingness to follow, to obey, to walk by faith. His father, his family and the culture into which he was born were idol worshippers. Abram was born into and grew to maturity in a pagan culture. We know this because 400 years later, as Israel settled into the Promised Land, Joshua said to the people, 

“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods’” (Joshua 24:2).

The false gods which were worshipped by Abram’s family were still being worshipped generations later when Israel, under Joshua’s leadership, entered the land promised to Abraham. Among Joshua’s last words to the people were these, 

“Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14).

“Beyond the River” refers to the land in which Abram was born, beyond the Euphrates River. After all those generations, after the leadership of Moses and Joshua, after God’s mighty deliverance of the nation from slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea, through the wilderness, the people were still worshipping the false gods of Abram’s ancestors. 

The Lord did not choose Abram because he was from a Godly family. God’s choice of Abram was strictly based on the sovereignty of God and Abram’s willingness to follow. In Acts 7:2, Stephen testified that, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran.” God sovereignly appeared to Abram, in some form, while he still lived in Mesopotamia which is Chaldea, also known as Babylon. This is where the tower of Babel was built, where false religion began.

God manifested His presence to Abram, made Himself known to Abram while he was living in a context of false religion. Later, in Haran, a pagan land, God spoke to him again, saying, “Leave your country and your relatives and come into the land that I will show you” (Acts 7:3).

We see in this the absolute sovereignty of God in choosing and calling Abram.

It may be that Abram was slow to respond for it was his father, Terah, who set out for Canaan, taking the family with him. However Terah stopped, settled in Haran which is north of Canaan and he eventually died there (Gen. 11:31,32). After the death of Terah, God renewed His call to Abram, which we read in Gen. 12:1-3.  

In Hebrews, we read of Abram’s response to the renewed call of God: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebr. 11:8). This is faith.

How do we explain Abram’s faith? Faith is God’s gift, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). 

God sovereignly chose Abram but the Lord did require a response from him — that he leave his father’s house and follow where God led him.  He would not know that Canaan was his destination until he arrived there. What God did make clear to Abram was the absolute necessity of separation from the idol worshipping culture around him and that he walk by faith. He did this and God counted it as righteousness. God then led the righteous man to the fulfilling of God’s sovereign purpose and call.

Isn’t it this way with anyone who would walk with God? God sovereignly awakens us from spiritual death and blindness but we must turn from our sinful, idolatrous ways and follow Him in faith. As we follow, the Lord will transform us in righteousness and bring us to the fulfillment of His sovereignly designed purpose.


God called, Abram followed and as he followed, God did a work of transformation in his life and led Him to his inheritance.

Remember that prior to the story of Abram, in Genesis chapter 11, we read the story of Babel, the record of people living apart from God for their own purposes of self glory. The story of Abram is the story of a man called by God to Himself for His purposes. The story of Abram, a man who followed after God, is set against the story of a world separated from God, going its own way. It is the original Tale of Two Cities — Babel versus New Jerusalem, City of Man versus City of God. One city built by people for people, one built by God for God’s purposes.

It is not always convenient to follow God. It does not always make sense. It does not always seem safe to our senses. There is often little light shining on our path and sometimes no light at all. But better to follow the all-wise God with no light than wander by the dim lanterns of our own limited, fallible wisdom. Better to follow God in absolute darkness with no sight but faith in the all-seeing God than to wander in the shadows of our own senses.

Later in the story, Abram will arrive in Canaan and will be required to live for a season among a society devoted to destruction, never possessing the land which was promised as his inheritance, but by faith embracing the promise, believing that God spoke truth when He said, “I will bless you.” He lived in tents in Canaan rather than in the cities because he was looking for a better city, not built with hands. He set his affection on things above, not on things below (Colossians 3:2).

We want to emphasize that God made promises to Abram but also that the promises included commands. We cannot embrace the promise without obeying the commands.

One primary command was to leave the community of idol worshippers. We are not always called to physically separate from this world system that is at such variance with God but we are surely called to separate ourselves spiritually.

Why did God call for this separation? Because of the danger of infection by and conformity to the God-rejecting culture. We cannot participate in the outworking of God’s great promises in a context of sin and depravity. Therefore the Apostle Paul exhorts the church,

“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them and I will be their God and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord, and do not touch what is unclean and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me,’ says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:14-18).

Separation is the price of entering the blessing of God.

Even though God called Abram to dwell in Canaan, which was itself a land of gross idolatry and cruel depravity and which would someday be devoted to destruction, he never settled in the cities of Canaan, dwelling in tents outside the cities. So it is with us — we are in but not of the world. Like Abram, we are required to live for a season in a society devoted to destruction, never entirely possessing that which is promised, but by faith embracing the promise, believing that God has spoken truth to us even as He did to Abram when He said, “I will bless you.”

Abram was descended from the family of Shem, who as father of the Semitic people had a living relationship with the true and living God (see 9:26). This was the family line blessed of God, yet even that family became infected with the deadly germ of idolatry. When the flood of judgment came, only the families of Noah and his sons were spared. The corruption of the human race since the flood included most of the righteous line of Shem. 

In the midst of this almost universal idolatry and evil God sovereignly chose one man, Abram, born into a family of idol worshippers, born into a society whose name, Babylon, is synonymous with rebellion against God, married to a woman who was barren — God chose this man to be the father of the family of faithful men and women, father of a nation from which the salvation of the world would come.

The Lord said, “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” 

And so it was. To God be the glory.

12:4,5 “So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan.”

God promised blessing but Abram had to enter the blessing.

The phrase, “So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him,” reveals the heart of Abram. The Lord renewed His call on Abram’s life and the man of God quickly obeyed, without dispute, without delay, and “Thus they came to the land of Canaan.”

The phrase, “Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran,” reveals the commitment of Abram. He would not allow age nor any accompanying infirmities to prevent him from fulfilling the calling of God on his life.

Though Abram took with him “all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired” we may also suppose that much was left behind. In fact, God called Abram to leave behind the very things that seemed most necessary to achieve the blessings God promised. God had promised to make Abram a great nation, but he left behind the country in which he was established and all of his remaining family except his wife and nephew. 

He left what he could see to obtain what he could not see.

This is faith.

 

Abram simply and humbly obeyed the Lord, believing that whatever he surrendered to God would be restored as the Lord willed. He trusted in the God who is “able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed” (2 Cor. 9:8). He trusted in the God “who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph. 3:20).


Canaan is a type of heaven, a representation of the life beyond this life. As Abram demonstrated his faith by pressing on, so we demonstrate our salvation by persevering, enduring toward the prize, the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

12:5 “Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan.”

In Hebrews 11:8 we read that Abram “went out, not knowing where he was going.” The Lord has not yet identified Canaan as the land of Abram’s inheritance but now leads Abram to that land, though he knows nothing of the details as to where in Canaan he will live. He does not know that it will be his family inheritance someday and in fact, there are many tribes and cities already settled there. He is still walking by faith but walking with the Lord who is the object of his faith.

It is this way with us. We are living toward life everlasting, life lived in union with God. But we are journeying toward that life in present union with this Lord who indwells us by His Spirit and guides our steps. 

Notice the steadfastness of Abram’s focus: he was not seduced by the pleasures of Haran, the lure of the settled, prosperous life. Nor was he discouraged by the challenge of the journey. He set out as the Lord had commanded, trusting in the Lord’s providential care for him. So it must be with us — neither seduced by the passing pleasures of this world nor discouraged by its opposition nor disheartened by the trials and struggles of the journey.

Notice the consistency of Abrams’s surrender: he must give up Haran to reach Canaan. What are we willing to give up to gain the objective of our faith?  Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). 

Jesus also said, “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:38). The cross was an instrument of death. Are we willing to lay down our lives before the Lordship of Jesus, die to our own purposes that we might live for His purposes? 

Are we willing to say with the Apostle Paul, “Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14)?

Abram surrendered everything, followed as the Lord led and “thus they came to the land of Canaan.” Those who are willing to surrender all to gain a prize greater than Canaan will not fail to reach their objective. We may stumble, we may grow weary but we will arrive at our inheritance. The Psalmist spoke of a God who meets His people in storms and afflictions and “guided them to their desired haven” (Psalm 107:30). So it is for us.

 

Let us pause and remember why God calling Abram to come out from the pagan cultures and journey to a land which the Lord would give him. It was because the Lord had promised Noah that he would never again judge the earth with water, yet the earth grew more evil by the day. If God is not willing to destroy the nations in righteous judgment, but being holy, cannot allow evil to go unchecked, then He must do something to express His holy displeasure with sin. Being merciful, He must do something to express His gracious desire to save.

As sinful, idol worshipping nations multiplied and spread across the earth, the Lord responded not by destroying the nations but by establishing a holy nation in the midst of the evil nations. Abram is the beginning, the father of that nation. Israel was called by God to be His covenant people shining His light among the nations and preparing the way for Messiah, God in human flesh. Israel was called by God to be His self expression, the recipient of divine revelation, preserver of righteous worship to the true God and practitioner of a sacrificial system that would foreshadow the holy Lamb of God, through Whom the salvation of the world would come.

Truly, as the Lord had said to Abram, “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).

12:6 “Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land.”

Shechem is a city about 30 miles north of Jerusalem. At that time the area was settled by the descendants of Canaan, the son of Ham, whom his father Noah had prophetically declared to be cursed. Again we see the paradox of Abram’s life —a blessed man living among a cursed people.

12:7 “The Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.”

This is evidently the second appearance of God to Abram, the first having taken place in Mesopotamia, before he and his father began their journey to Haran (see Acts. 7:2). We do not know what form this appearance took, whether it was a vision or a theophany (a pre-incarnation appearance of Jesus) but we do know what the Lord said: “To your descendants I will give this land.” 

Now Abram knows that this is the inheritance promised by God to Him. The fact that it is currently inhabited by pagan, God-rejecting tribes is of no consequence. The fact that Abram has no son from whom descendants could be propagated is of no consequence. It does not matter what challenges lie in front of Abraham. What matters is what God has promised to do.

Abram’s response is to build and altar and no doubt he offered sacrifice to the Lord. 

As false religion and false altars multiplied across the earth, as the land of Canaan was increasingly stained with the depraved abominations and expressions of demonic gods, a holy altar of worship unto the holy God was erected. This is the first recorded altar to the true and living God in the land that would someday be Israel. How pleasing the sacrificial offerings must have been to the Lord who would someday offer the sacrifice of His own Son on a cross-altar only 30 miles from this holy place.

The altar was a public testimony to the existence of the true and living God. Abram was testifying, “This God not only lives, He has appeared to me, spoken to me, made promises to me.” The altar was a visible, public witness to the invisible God.


The altar was an outward profession of an inward faith. No one could see Abram’s faith nor can anyone see our faith. But they could see the altar, just as people can see the way we live our profession of faith. We may also say that the outward altar or ritual of faith is useless without a lively, inner relationship with the Lord. God condemns those who express worship with their lips while their hearts are far from Him. Because Abram’s faith was genuine, the altar also was genuine.

The altar was also a declaration of holy consecration, by which Abram declared the land to be holy unto the Lord. In the same way that Noah consecrated the earth to the Lord by building an altar unto the Lord when he came off of the ark, and worshipped the Lord with holy sacrifices there, so Abram consecrates this land to the Lord.

The altar then was a claim to the inheritance which God had promised to Abram. He was claiming spiritually that which his descendants would someday possess physically. With this visible altar he was claiming that which could not be seen and in a real sense, imitating the God who “calls into being that which does not exist” (or, “calls those things which are not as though they are,” Rom. 4:17).

To a childless, 75 year old man who owns no property and who is camping in a land possessed by pagan tribes, God appears and promises that this land will be inhabited by his descendants.

Abram’s choices were very simple — he may disbelieve or he may build an altar and worship the Lord. There were no other relevant responses. He chose to worship.

12:8 “Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.”

Abram continues his journey through the land of his inheritance but does not settle because though it is the place of inheritance, it is not the time to take possession. Though he cannot build a city, he can build an altar and call on the name of the Lord. In this, as we have said, he is laying claim to the land.

A place of worship is a holy place — we recognize God’s presence and give Him praise. But in doing this, Abram is not only declaring that place holy, which it is.  He is also hallowing it, consecrating it, making it holy, as he worships the Lord there.  

We know from Psalm 22:3 that God inhabits (is enthroned in) the praises of His people. Praise builds a dwelling place for God in a specific historical place and time. The dwelling place of praise is a throne and where God is enthroned, God rules. Where God rules, God over-rules.

So, as Abram enthrones the Lord at these altars, He is declaring the rulership of God over that which will someday be Abram’s inheritance. He is claiming the land in the most authoritative way possible.

With this altar Abram is declaring publicly his faith in the God who has promised good to him. His tents are temporary but the altars endure — it is always this way — what we build for God remains.

12:9 “Abram journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev.”

The Negev, which means “the dry land,” is the desert country in the south of Judea, toward Egypt. Abram is a pilgrim and has not yet found a permanent dwelling but there is no record of the Lord directing Abram to move from Bethel to the Negev.

We walk by faith, not by sight but faith is not blind — we walk by faith in the revelation God has given us. We may not have much light, sometimes only enough for the next step, but the Lord will be faithful to guide us as we obey. Revelation accompanies obedience — we learn more as we follow the light we have. But when we move apart from revelation, when we move without any direction from the Lord, we may place ourselves in jeopardy.

Abram is walking by faith but not by revelation. As far as we know, God had not spoken to him about moving to the Negev. He is walking by faith in nothing other than his own senses. That is a dangerous way to live. Notice also that the man of God does not build an altar in the Negev.

12:10 “Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.”

In the previous verse we were told that Abram had moved to the Negev, a particularly dry area of Canaan even during the rainy seasons but now it appears that the normal pattern of rain has been interrupted. Famine in the Mideast is often brought on by drought and this would result not only in a shortage of food but also a loss of pasture for Abram’s flocks which were probably quite large. We see in this event another paradox in the life of Abram —the land of milk and honey is ravaged by famine.

There are two contrasting interpretations of Abram’s response to the famine.

A very weak interpretation, with which I disagree, contends that it is a testimony to Abram’s faith that in the face of this crisis, he chose not to return to Haran or Ur (the land of the Chaldeans), which would represent a return to the world from which he had separated. He chose not to retreat from the calling of God. He moved instead to Egypt where agriculture is more dependent on the annual overflow of the Nile River and less impacted by drought.

This interpretation commends Abram for not questioning the call of God during this crisis. It’s true that the world, the flesh and the devil tempt us to question God when we go through times of testing, trial, scarcity and this interpretation contends that Abram kept his eyes of faith fixed on the Lord rather than on his circumstance. This allowed him to remain resolute even though, for a while, he had to live outside the land of promise.

As I said, I think this is a weak interpretation. An opposing interpretation reminds us that there is no record of God calling Abram to leave Bethel and live in the more challenging desert land of the Negev. When famine came, this area was more vulnerable than other parts of Canaan. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time then led to a further poor decision to move to Egypt, which was just across the border. Moving to the Negev put him in the proximity of Egypt. 

One bad decision led to another.

We must also note that whereas Abram had build altars at Shechem and at Bethel, he built no altar in the Negev nor in Egypt. That is to say, he did not consecrate his journey to the Lord. He did not cease trusting the Lord but neither did he enthrone the Lord in worship.

That can be a dangerous place for the spiritual pilgrim — trusting God but not worshipping Him consistently and passionately. Believing God for promises but not enthroning Him in praise; claiming the ground but not consecrating the ground as holy unto the Lord — this puts Abram in a vulnerable position.

When we begin to live apart from our altars, when we invest less time and passion in worshipping the Lord, the danger is that we will not hear from the Lord with the same clarity as we did formerly. This may have been the case with Abram for we have no record of him seeking the Lord’s counsel or hearing from the Lord before migrating to Egypt. 

Abram is a spiritual pilgrim, but living by faith while not hearing from God is a dangerous way to live. For this reason, Abram’s flight to Egypt must be seen as a momentary departure from faith.

If Abram had trusted the Lord in the midst of the famine, he would have stood firm in crisis, experienced God’s delivering power and the result would have been increased faith and greater praise. Ironic, that the man who failed to build an altar lost an opportunity to give praise to God in a crisis. Instead, he found himself outside the land of promise, needing to lie in order to preserve his life (which we will see in the following verses). 

Ironic that Abram had left Ur of the Chaldeans to pursue the calling and promise of God but now he is in Egypt, separated from the calling and promise of God. How did he arrive there?

Abram moved from Bethel to the Negev without clear direction from the Lord. He did not build an altar in the desert, did not consecrate himself to the Lord. Separated from God’s will, losing the perspective and clarity of an altar builder, he found himself in a life-threatening famine.

This would have been a good time to be still, build an altar, reconsecrate his journey to the Lord and listen for the word of the Lord. Famine was an opportunity to choose faith or flight. Abram chose flight. We cannot choose whether there will be crises in our lives. We can choose how we will respond.

We will do well to remember these words of Scripture,

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight”  (Prov. 3:5,6).

12:11-13 “It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, ‘See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife”; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.’”


Technically Sarai is Abram’s half-sister, the daughter of his father but not his mother. But she is also his wife. Confessing one truth while concealing the other is sin.

Now we see clearly a failure of faith in the man of God. He believes he must lie in order to protect the future the Lord has promised. That is never the case. God does not ever require compromised human methods to assist Him in the outworking of His purpose. Such methods will only hinder the work of God.

Further, in doing this Abram was exposing his wife and the Egyptians to the impact of his sin. It is always this way with sin — it ripples out from our lives to threaten others.

What inspired this lie? The Egyptians were more numerous and more powerful than the Canaanites — Abram may have been intimidated by this. He was a great man in Canaan, not so great in Egypt. But his primary problem is not the power or wealth of Egypt. His problem is that he did not wait or even ask for the counsel of the Lord. He moved without hearing from God. If he is living outside the pathway that the Lord has designed for him, then he is vulnerable to the deception that he must depend on his own resources, methods and devices to protect himself, his family and his possessions. 

Consider the depravity of our sin nature: God had appeared to Abram twice, had spoken to him clearly, had led him on a long, arduous journey, had brought him to the land of promise and preserved him among the wicked, idol worshipping tribes of Canaan. The man of God had followed faithfully all the way to Bethel, trusting the promises of God. Yet in a time of famine, he flees the promise, enters a foreign land and falls into sin. Truly as the prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jere. 17:9). If the Lord had not rescued us by His grace, who would be saved?

Concerning the beauty of Sarai, though we do not know her exact age at this time, we do know that she lived to be 127 (see Gen. 23:1). By the measure of years during that period of history when men and women lived far longer than today, she had scarcely entered middle age. Abram is not mistaken in his assessment of her beauty. His mistake is a lack of faith in God’s preserving grace.

Notice the steady decline in the man of God:

1. He left Bethel without a clear word of direction.

2. He traveled to a desert land, the Negev and did not consecrate his journey to the Lord.

3. When famine came, he did not trust God to preserve him but fled the land of his inheritance.

4. Now, though he is in Egypt, outside the will of God, he will not trust God with his life but lies, commits sin to preserve his life. 

Even when we make poor choices, we may still cry out to the Lord for assistance. There may be consequences for our sin but God will respond with grace. However, Abram does not cry out to God. Instead, he tries to cover his poor judgment with a lie.

Consider the irony — the man who failed to build an altar in the Negev now must build a hiding place of lies. We need never defend ourselves with compromised methods when we have so great a Defender who waits for us to call upon Him.

David the Psalmist, who also encountered many crises, wrote these words, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?” (Psalm 27:1). We will do well to remember those words.

12:14-16 “It came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. Pharaoh's officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels.”

That which Abram feared came upon him for he was not trusting in God but relying on his own unscrupulous methods to protect himself. As a result, he lost what was most precious to him — Sarai. He gained livestock and servants but this was no compensation for the loss of his beloved wife. 

However, this is the way of the world.  When we use the world’s methods in a vain attempt to secure our life, we may for a brief season gain worldly wealth or fame but we will surely lose what is most precious. Jesus told a parable about a man who gained great wealth but lost his soul in the process. God did not refer to that man as rich and famous. God called him a fool (Luke 12:20).

Abram discovered how vain it is to trust in himself in a time of crisis.

Notice also how Abram jeopardized the Lord’s purpose in his life. God had promised to make him a great nation — this will require a wife who bears a son. Abram’s solution to his insecurity placed Sarai in jeopardy and therefore jeopardized the Lord’s purpose. Unless God had intervened, His redeeming purpose on earth would have been imperiled.

12:17 “But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife.”

Though Abram has placed himself and Sarai in harm’s way, God intervenes. It is not only to preserve His redemption purpose in history that the Lord steps in.  It is also “because of Sarai.” God is concerned for the purity and safety of Sarai, not only because she will be the mother of the family line leading to the establishment of the covenant people but for her own sake.

What a wonderful truth — God is at work in history to bring about the accomplishment of His eternal plan of redemption but He is also concerned for the purity and blessing of each of His covenant children. He knows your name and has weaved the pattern of your life into the greater tapestry of this universe and is working all things together to accomplish His eternal will. Your life is part of that outworking. You are not an anonymous number to God. Your name is known to Him and He is well acquainted with your destiny for it is He who purposed you from eternity.

God’s judgment of Pharaoh implies that the ruler of Egypt is morally accountable before God. Though it was legal under Egyptian law for Pharaoh to take an unmarried woman (as he supposed Sarai was) into his house, it was unacceptable to God. That which is legal according to the law of the land my not be morally acceptable to God, in fact, may be an abomination.

God judged Pharaoh as He holds all governments accountable to His divine law. God has established government to maintain order in a fallen world but maintains the right to pull down one king and exalt another. God allows humanity to exercise free moral will but God has not relinquished His divine authority over creation, including the kingdoms of this world.

We also see in this a beautiful example of grace. Even though Abram acted unfaithfully and sinned, God still defended him and his wife. All that God does in our lives is an act of grace — underserved, unearned, unmerited — pure grace.

12:18,19 “Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, “She is my sister,” so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go.’”

By some revelation Pharaoh came to know the reason for these plagues and immediately confronted Abram, “What is this you have done to me?”  God uses a pagan king to call the man of God to accountability!

Pharaoh confronts Abram not for the purpose of doing harm to Abram but to deliver himself and his household from the judgement of God. Pharaoh was more honorable in dealing with the man of God than Abram was in dealing with the pagan king. 

What a poor testimony Abram is making to an unbelieving society! God grant us grace to live our faith visibly with such integrity that our words are believable. 

 

Pharaoh then dismisses Abram and Sarai, sends them back to the land of promise where they may continue to live out the purpose of God. Not through any righteousness in Abram but by the mercy of God working through a pagan king, they return to the land of promise. We see in this the glory of God who defends His name, His purpose and even His compromised servant. 

Though Abram is unfaithful, yet is God faithful to His covenant and His covenant people.

12:20 “Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him.”

Though Abram is God’s servant for the outworking of salvation purpose in history, Pharaoh is God’s servant for the protection of Abram. Far from harming him, he commands his servants to escort them out of the land with all their possessions. Nothing was lost, all was preserved.

We see in this the astounding grace and mercy of God.

So we see that one does not need to lie or sin in any way or compromise our faith or our testimony even for a moment in order to be preserved from the powers of this world. It is the Lord Himself who is our Rock and our Fortress. Consider the words of the Psalmist,

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!’ For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark” (Psalm 91:1-4).

Study Questions

1. What promises did God make to Abram?

2. Was something required of Abram?

3. Abram was a builder of altars. Why is this significant?

4. What did Abram do to protect himself in Egypt and why is this unnecessary?

Genesis Chapter 13

Genesis Chapter 13

13:1-4 “So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, he and his wife and all that belonged to him, and Lot with him. Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold. He went on his journeys from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there formerly; and there Abram called on the name of the Lord.”

Having realized his error in migrating to Egypt, Abram returns to the Negev but did not stop there. He returned to the last place where he had built an altar, the last place where he had worshipped the Lord, the last place where he knew he was in touch with God. 

Abram did not simply return but he “called on the name of the Lord.” He renewed his life of worship. In renewing his communion with the Lord, Abram was reconsecrating his journey and his life to the Lord. In doing this, he was renewing his spiritual perception. Walking by faith does not mean we live without revelation. God gives us enough light to live and continues to give us revelation as we follow faithfully. It is imperative that we be altar builders and not depart from our altars for it is there, in the secret place of holy communion, that we receive holy revelation.

Notice the grace of God in meeting Abram at the altar. The Lord had graciously called Abram out of Babylon to the land of promise, had appeared to him, had spoken to him but Abram had forsaken the Lord, looked to Pharaoh for his defense, had lied and compromised himself. Yet the Lord graciously received Abram when he returned. Truly, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

The Lord not only forgives — He restores, brings us back to His calling, promise and purpose. When we fail, sin or stumble, let us remember our God is the Lord of new beginnings. It is a great comfort to know that when we fail the Lord, no matter how far we have wandered, we may return and find a God who is gracious, quick to forgive, abounding in mercy.

We see in these verses Abram’s great wealth — he “was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold.” God is not opposed to wealth and when we seek first His kingdom and righteousness, He will add the necessary resources to fulfill His kingdom purpose. However, wealth can be a stumbling block to salvation, deceiving people into a false sense of autonomy and security. This is why Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). 

It is not wealth that blocks a person’s entrance into the kingdom — it is trust in their wealth and the false sense of security that wealth can produce, causing a person to think, “Why do I need God? I have all of this.”

Therefore Jesus warns us not against wealth itself but against “the deceitfulness of riches” (Mark 4:19). The Apostle Paul reminds us, “Those who want to be rich, however, fall into temptation and become ensnared by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction” (I Tim. 6:9).

God granted Abram great wealth because He could trust Abram with great wealth — his possessions were not a source of deception or false security. It was a valuable lesson for Abram, when he was living apart from God’s purpose in Egypt, that his wealth could not purchase safety or comfort. Neither was he able to deliver himself by his abundance. God defended and delivered Abram by His power and for His glory. Abram’s deliverance was as much an act of grace as was God’s calling and promise in His life.

13:5-7 “Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. And the land could not sustain them while dwelling together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to remain together. And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. Now the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land.”

No doubt Lot had prospered by association with his blessed uncle and now the pasture land of Bethel could not sustain the great abundance of both men. So there began to be strife between the servants of Abram and the servants of Lot. To further complicate the situation, the land was already crowded with Canaanites and other local tribes.

13:8,9 “So Abram said to Lot, ‘Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left.’”

Conflict reveals what is in us. Abram shows that he is now a man of grace and peace who trusts the Lord to preserve his flocks no matter what may happen. He allows Lot to choose whichever portion of the land he desires for Abram understands that he is only a steward of the riches God has given him. He does not need to quarrel or defend himself, does not need to run to Egypt or lie. He has matured since his return to Bethel, since his renewal of consecration at the altar. 

This is why God can truly trust Abram with abundance — he is not possessed by his possessions.

13:10 “Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere — this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah — like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar.”

Lot, on the other hand, is a man of the world, concerned primarily with the preservation of his wealth. Whatever calling or promise God has extended to his uncle is of no concern to Lot. He lifts up his eyes to the fertile land of the Jordan Valley which is compared here to “the garden of the Lord” (Eden) and to the famously fertile farm land of Egypt.

Never mind that the societies of the Jordan Valley had fallen into even worse depravity than the rest of Canaan. Never mind that whatever blessings Lot might gain through association with Abram could be lost in such wicked company. All he sees is the fertility of the land — a good business opportunity.

13:11 “So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other.”

There will always be separation between people who have their eyes on the kingdoms of the world and those who have set their hearts on the kingdom of God, a kingdom that is now and not yet. Lot is in love with the city of man which shines before him. Abram is seeking the city of God, walking by faith toward a promise unseen.

13:12,13 “Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord.”

Notice that the men of Sodom were not simply exceedingly wicked sinners. They were “sinners against the Lord.” We are reminded that all sin is ultimately committed against the Lord who holds all people morally accountable. The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 1:18-32 that all humanity has been given enough light and truth to know that God exists. But humanity has suppressed the truth about God and has invented a multiplicity of false gods in place of the true God. The worship of these false gods has led to spiritual darkness and a downward spiral into every form of depravity. 

Moses was writing this historical record centuries after Sodom and Gomorrah had been destroyed. The land which surrounded those cities had been devastated; in fact, it may now be covered by the mineral waters of the Dead Sea in which no living plant or fish can survive. It would forever be a frightful illustration to Israel of the cost of departing from God.

However, in Lot’s day it was still rich, fertile land, attractive to a man who did not believe that idolatry and moral depravity could outweigh the potential profit to be gained. Lot valued the abundance of the land more than the blessing of God. 

Be careful what you set your heart on — there is where you will build your life. The writer of Proverbs exhorts us, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). 

Jesus said, “The good man brings good things out of the good treasure of his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil treasure of his heart. For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).  

Abram valued the promises of God so he pitched his tent in the land of promise. Lot valued prosperity so he pitched his tent in a more fertile land though it was also a land of terrible perversion. We build our lives where we set our hearts. Abram’s heart was set on the promise of an inheritance which he could not yet see or possess. Lot’s heart was set on the riches he could gain in association with the prosperous societies of the Jordan Valley. He had “lifted up his eyes” to gaze on those riches. Now he pitches his tent there. 

There was wealth to gain in Sodom. There would also be great cost. Lot did not count the cost — he was busy counting his potential riches. Jesus told a parable about a man who gained great wealth in the world but was not rich toward God. The Lord did not call the man great. He called him a fool (Luke 12:16-21). We will soon see how great a fool Lot was. 

What he perceived as paradise was only the gates of hell.

13:14-17 “The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.’”

As Abram renews his commitment to the promise of God, the Lord renews His promises to Abram. He again reminds Abram that this land will be the possession of his descendants — as far as his eye can see in every direction, as far as he can walk. Never mind that Abram is advanced in years and has no child. Never mind that Sarah has been barren up till now. God promises a family more numerous than the dust of the earth and Abram believes the Lord.

13:18 “So Abram moved his camp to Hebron and settled near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. There he built another altar to the Lord.”

Abram  moved to Hebron and as he had done previously at Shechem and Bethel, he built an altar to the Lord. This altar is a public testimony of faith in the true and living God. No one can see Abram’s God but they can see the altar he built to that God. 

The altar is an act of holy consecration, by which Abram declared the land to be holy unto the Lord. The altar is a claim to the inheritance which God had promised to Abram and a declaration of the rulership of God over that which will someday be Abram’s inheritance.

However, though this altar is probably similar to other altars Abram has built, the man himself has undergone a profound change. He is older now and wiser, possessing a far deeper understanding of this God who has called him and made promises to him. The means of revelation and maturity was Abram’s failure. In his sin, he discovered important truths about his own weakness and tendency to fail. In repentance and returning to the Lord, he has discovered that his God is a God of grace, abounding in mercy and kindness to all who call upon Him with a pure heart.

Failure can be our greatest teacher when we allow God to redeem our failure and restore us. The altars which we then build and the worship we lift to heaven will be greater expressions of faith than ever before.

Study Questions:

1. What is wrong with Lot’s choice of land?

3. As Abram recommits himself to the Lord, what does the Lord promise him?

Genesis Chapter 14

Genesis Chapter 14

14:1-4 “And it came about in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar ... that they made war …"

Summarizing verses 1-4, a coalition of kings from the east (primarily from what would later become Babylon and Persia) launched an attack against a coalition of city kings in Canaan. They fought in the valley of Siddim, which is where the Salt Sea is located. For 12 years the kings of Canaan had paid tribute to the eastern kings but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. This led to the military campaign by the kings of the east seeking to regain control over the people of Canaan.

14:5-10 “In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, came and defeated the Rephaim …”

The kings of the east won a series of victories against the Canaanites, including victories over the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. The survivors fled into the hill country. 

14:11,12 “Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food supply, and departed. They also took Lot, Abram's nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom.”

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were looted and prisoners were taken, including Abram’s nephew, Lot. In 13:12 we read that Lot had pitched his tent near Sodom but now we see that he had moved into the city. Living in the wicked city, he was then subject to whatever calamity fell upon it.

Notice the pattern of Lot’s downfall. He had journeyed in the company of a righteous man who was walking by faith toward the promises of God. But Lot had been lured away from the riches of God by the promise of rich soil. He preferred good dirt to the good promises of God. Then, having made his dwelling near Sodom, he was gradually drawn into the city. Living in the city, he then suffered in the overthrow of the city. 

How ironic that the man who was drawn to Sodom because of it riches then lost all his possessions. It is naive to suppose that we can camp near evil, camp even in the midst of evil and not be burned when the fire breaks out. 

We can be sure that whatever witness Lot may have provided to the people of Sodom was rejected by a society committed to wickedness. We will see in a future chapter that it was Lot who was impacted by the cultural values of Sodom.

14:13 “Then a fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew. Now he was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner, and these were allies with Abram.”

A survivor of the battle came to Abram and told him of Lot’s capture. This is the first reference in the Bible of anyone as a Hebrew.

14:14-16 “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people.”

Abram immediately gathered his “trained men” and set out in pursuit of the invaders. The training of Abram’s servants certainly refers to instruction and skill in the care of Abram’s flocks and may refer to the skilled use of weapons of war. We may also suppose that it refers to instruction in the knowledge of Abram’s God.

Attacking by night, Abram defeated the invading kings and liberated Lot along with all his possessions. It is reasonable to suppose that Abram’s force of 318 men was greatly outnumbered by the enemy. (They were also accompanied by Mamre, Eshcol and Aner, tribesmen who were living close by. But they and their clans would not have added many to Abram’s force). 

Therefore, Abram’s victory was not only due to the fighting skill of his servants or the shrewd strategy to attack at night. Surely the greater reason for victory was the favor of the Lord upon Abram’s life.

When Moses and Israel were backed up against the Red Sea with the army of Pharaoh rushing upon them, the Lord inspired Moses to say, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever” (Exodus 14:13).

God delights in placing us in situations where only He can deliver. Therefore, only He receives the glory. This is why He sent Gideon with 300 men against 135,000 Midianites. Who can receive glory but God?

This is why, when three armies were marching against Israel in the days of King Jehoshaphat, the Lord inspired the prophet to say, “Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s … You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the Lord is with you” (2 Chron. 20:15,17).

It is not natural that Abram and 318 men could defeat the invading army of the east, comprised as it was of the soldiers from 4 different kingdoms. That is not natural — it is supernatural, God rising up to bless and defend His covenant partner.

Notice that though it was Lot who had separated from Abram and had chosen to associate with a sinful society, nevertheless, Abram demonstrated mercy in rescuing his nephew. In this, Abram demonstrates the mercy of God. We have often departed from God and have chosen to live in familiar friendship with a world that is in wicked, violent rebellion against God. Yet the Lord set His love upon us and rescued us, delivering us from slavery to this world. 

4:17,18 “Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High.”

Returning from his victory, Abram is greeted by the king of Sodom. More importantly, he is greeted by Melchizedek, “king of Salem” and “priest of God Most High.”

Who is Melchizedek?

1. He is king of Salem, which many believe to be an early name for Jerusalem. Salem is related to the Hebrew word for peace. So he is King of Peace and king of the city which God would later choose for His temple on earth.

2. He is also a priest but not priest of a false religion. He is priest of God Most High, El Elyon. This Hebrew name for God emphasized the supremacy of God above all false gods and idols. So we see that there were still at least a few people other than Abram and his household who continued to worship the true and living God. Melchizedek is not only one of those worshippers — he is also a priest of God Most High.

Typically, even in pagan cultures a king did not function as a priest. To the Hebrew people the Lord strongly emphasized that no king could function as priest nor could any priest function as king. To violate this command would invite the judgment of God (as happened to King Uzziah, see 2 Chron. 26:21). The reason for this is that only in Jesus are the roles of priest and king combined. He is the great High Priest who offered Himself as the holy Lamb of God for our sins and He is the King who rules by grace over our lives, preserves our salvation and will someday establish His kingdom on earth. 

However, in those early days prior to the formation of the nation Israel, this man, Melchizedek, was both king and priest. In this, he is a type or foreshadowing of Jesus, the greater Priest / King who would someday come to redeem a covenant people and in His return, will set His throne on the earth. 

Melchizedek greets the victorious Abram and brings him bread and wine. Certainly this was for Abram’s nourishment after his pursuit of the kings of the east. But it was also a symbolic representation of Jesus, who said, 

“I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35)

“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:51).

This bread and wine is also a foreshadowing of our celebration of the new covenant, offered by our Priest / King to all who enter into holy communion with Him through repentance and faith.

14:19,20 “He blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ He gave him a tenth of all.”

As a generous king, Melchizedek brought to Abram the refreshment of bread and wine. As a priest, he proclaimed blessing to Abram and praise to God Most High.  

“Possessor of heaven and earth” may also be translated “Creator of heaven and earth.” In this, Melchizedek reveals his belief in one God, Creator of all that exists. As a monotheist, a believer in one God, he stands as a beacon of light against the multiplying of false gods and false religions which were at that time spreading across the world and especially from the plains of Shinar (Babylon) into Canaan. 

In making a public profession of faith in the pre-eminence of El Elyon, Melchizedek demonstrates that there were still a few descendants of Noah who retained the memory of the one, true and living God. We see that the Lord had not hidden the revelation of Himself to the nations but that the knowledge of Him was available to all people. Those who worshipped false gods did so, not because the true God was unknown to them, but because they suppressed the knowledge of God “and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (Romans 1:23).

Melchizedek gives praise to God Most High because it is He who “has delivered your enemies into your hand.” Here we see the true reason for Abram’s victory — the presence and power of God. Abram and a handful of servants defeated the massed armies of the east because God made the battle His own.

Notice the rich symbolism — Abram, father of the nation of Israel, receives blessing from Melchizedek, type and symbol of Jesus, the Great High Priest and holy King who two thousand years later would come to Israel and minister to the nation, die an atoning death, rise from the dead and though rejected by the nation in His first advent, will return again in glory and power to a remnant of believing Jews and Gentiles.


Abram’s response to the blessing of Melchizedek is to render worship to God by giving the priest of God a tithe of the spoils. Although in the text it is difficult to determine who gave the tithe to whom, we read in Hebrews 7:4 that “Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils.”

It was an expression of gratitude, Abram acknowledging that his success was due to God’s gracious favor.

14:21 “The king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.’”

Returning from the victory over the kings of the east, Abram was met by two kings — Melchizedek, the king and priest of Salem (Jerusalem) and Bera, the king of Sodom. Abram

accepted bread and wine and blessing from Melchizedek and in turn honored God by giving a tithe of the spoils to Melchizedek. But he refused to receive anything from the king of Sodom.

Abram had not only recovered all of the captives from Sodom but also all the property that had been plundered. The king of Sodom wanted to reward Abram for his victory and asks only for the return of the people, allowing Abram to keep the goods. In fact, according to the rules of warfare, Abram was entitled to keep all he had recovered. But Abram had no desire for the wealth of Sodom nor did he desire to be honored by the king of that wicked city.

14:22,23 “Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’”

Abram refuses to keep anything of the property of Sodom that he has recovered so that his testimony would not be ruined. He does not want anyone to say that wicked people are the source of his prosperity and thereby rob God of glory and honor. It is God who called Abram out of the land of the Chaldeans and out of the worship of false gods. It is God who had led Abram, protected and prospered him and restored him when he sinned. Abram will not allow anyone to steal the glory of God and certainly not the king of a city living in open rebellion against God.

14:24 “I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share.”

Abram will keep only a recompense for what the men have eaten during the campaign and he will allow his neighbors — Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, to keep the spoils which they have gained. But he will keep nothing else that belongs to Sodom.

What is most important to Abram is not his wealth nor the gaining of more wealth. His highest priority is God’s glory and his personal integrity as a worshipper of God. Abram had a right to the spoils of war but he laid aside his right so as not to rob God of glory. He would not allow anyone else to say that they were the source of Abram’s blessing. 

Abram had never used unethical methods to gain wealth nor had he ever formed alliances with people who employed such methods. He would neither be seduced nor possessed by his possessions. His highest goal was not wealth at all but the glory of God. Therefore, God was able to trust Abram with wealth.

Notice also that Abram expressed his submission to God by submitting to Melchizedek, the king of Salem, who, as we have said, is a type or representation of Christ. Because Abram was submitted to a righteous king, he was able to refuse submission to an unrighteous king. We will all submit to the rulership of something or someone; no one lives a completely autonomous, independent life.

The question is not, “Will you submit to rulership?”

The question is, “What king will you bow before — righteous or unrighteous?”

We might also ask, “What does your king do for you?”

Lot was submitted to the king of Sodom whose rulership provided no security, no lasting prosperity. When Sodom was conquered, Lot lost everything. His possessions and family were restored by Abram but all his wealth would be lost again, later, when Sodom was destroyed. 

Even more damaging was the corrupting influence that Sodom had on Lot’s character which we will soon see.

Abram, though, was submitted to the rule of El Elyon, God most High, Creator and Sustainer of the universe. This submission resulted in guidance through a long journey, forgiveness when he failed, safety and prosperity as he followed and a progressive transformation of his character in righteousness and faith.


To what king have you submitted?  

What does your king do for you?


Study Questions

1. When the kings of the east conquered the cities of Canaan, Lot was captured and his possessions were plundered. Is there a pattern in his downfall? (see notes, 14:11,12)

2. Who is Melchizedek and who does he represent?

3. Why did Abram refuse to keep any of the wealth of Sodom?

Genesis Chapter 15

Genesis Chapter 15

15:1 “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.’”

Evidently Abram had some questions as to how God could fulfill these marvelous promises that have been made to him. Maybe he was even feeling some discouragement. The Lord understands and does not rebuke the man. Instead, He again appears to Abram and speaks to him, reaffirming His promise of divine protection and reward. Though Abram does not see how God will accomplish His promise of reward, he does not need to be afraid because the same Lord who promises reward also promises to shield His servant. 

God does not say He will provide a shield. He says that He will be the shield. Abram’s protection is God Himself. God is the Guarantor of all He promises. The reward is secure because God is the security of the reward. Abram is still walking by faith but not simply faith in the promises of God. His faith is in the God who makes the promises.

We are reminded of the words of Jesus who said, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I shall lose none of those He has given Me, but raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39). Jesus promises that He will lose none whom the Father has given Him. He is the Guarantor of our security. He is the Guarantor of every promise He has made to us.

More than this, God is the promise, embodies the promise. The Apostle John reminds us, “And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life” (I John 5:11,12a). Eternal life is not merely a gift of God. It is the gift of God Himself. Our eternal life is in Him. To possess eternal life is to be possessed by God, to be found in Him.

The Apostle Peter reminds us that we have been chosen “to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Peter 1:4,5).

Our inheritance cannot be destroyed nor can we be destroyed “who are protected by the power of God through faith.” As with Abram, so with us. The same God who promises reward and inheritance also promises that He is our shield, our saving defense.

We are reminded of the old doctrinal statement that said, “The chief end of man is to know God and enjoy Him forever.” What God offers to Abram and to us is Himself, that we may enjoy Him forever.

15:2,3 “Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.’”

It is not that Abram is faithless. If he did not believe the promise of descendants he would not question how God could bring it into being. He believes the promises of God but does not understand how the Lord can fulfill the promise of a multitude of descendants when he has not even one child. 

Eliezer was a servant in Abram’s house. It was a common practice for a servant to be adopted as the heir if the head of the family did not have a natural born son. But to Abram’s mind, Eliezer does not fulfill the promise that God has made to him. So he does not understand.

Notice the boldness of Abram as he talks to God. He is not disrespectful or irreverent but he is very bold in expressing himself. Boldness rises out of security. Because he is secure in the loving care of God, he is able to express himself clearly and confidently to the Lord.

We also have been invited to speak to the Lord with a holy, reverent boldness, “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Boldness arises not from the way we pray or what we pray for but because a way has been opened for us into the presence of God by the sacrifice of Jesus, 

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:19-23).

Boldness arises because the Holy Spirit prays for us, in us and with us, 

“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 10:26,27).

Boldness arises because Jesus our great High Priest prays for us and over us, interpreting the heart of the Father to us as He interprets our heart to the Father.

“Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

Abram prayed with bold confidence. How much more may we. 

Though Abram is older than when his journey began, he is still living by faith. All the promises are out in front of him, none are visible or within his power to accomplish. 

It is so with us. We cannot see the evidence that our sins are forgiven. We cannot see our resurrection nor our perfection in the presence of God nor the heaven in which we will live with God. We cannot see the destiny, the high purpose and calling that God has ordained for us. We cannot see the doors that He will open for us tomorrow nor the promises fulfilled.

Most of the purpose which God has designed for our lives is far greater than we could ever accomplish in our own strength, ability or resources. That’s the way the Lord designed us, so that we would rely on Him.

God has promised to fulfill what He has begun in us. We cannot see the God who has made these promises nor can we fulfill those promises by our own power. We, like Abram, are living by faith.

The promises to Abram and to us are different in detail but the reason God gives them to us is the same: so that we may live our life trusting in Him — holding to Him whom we cannot touch, looking to Him whom we cannot see, depending on Him who cannot fail.

15:4 “Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.’”

God expands on the promise previously given in 12:3, in which the Lord said that Abram would become “a great nation.” But it will not be through Eliezer. It will be through a child “who will come forth from your own body.”

Abram is given more insight into the promise — the great nation will spring forth from his own offspring. But this new information does not reduce the need for faith — it multiplies the need for faith. Abram is older than when God first made promises and he is still childless.  His wife is still barren. How will an elderly, childless couple fulfill this promise?

Revelation does not necessarily reduce the need for faith. Sometimes, greater information increases the need to simply trust the Lord.

And that is the point. Abram is not being asked to trust in the natural process of procreation. He is being asked to trust the Lord to bring about the fulfillment of His promises outside the natural order of things.  God can work within the natural order which He created or He can super-impose His will over that order. Either way, we must walk by faith.

15:5 “And He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’”

The Lord uses an illustration in the heavens to strengthen Abram’s faith. A child born to Abram and Sarai is not yet visible. But stars can be seen. God gives Abram something tangible to gaze at and anchor his faith.

Imagine Abram and Sarai standing at the door of their tent in the dark Mid-East night, gazing up at the heavens blazing with the fire of thousands of stars. “So shall our descendants be,” they whispered. Awe-struck, they could only worship the Lord.

15:6 “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

Abram chose to believe.  Faith is a choice through which we enter into God’s provision of righteousness. Abram placed his faith in the Lord and God considered him to be righteous. Though he was a sinner, he was considered to be in right standing before God. How? By faith. 

Abram believed God, believed that God would accomplish what God said. That is faith and it is through faith that he was declared righteous.

Faith in God is the antithesis of self righteousness, the false belief that we will accomplish the purpose of God, that we will obtain the inheritance by our own resources of strength, wisdom, talent, wealth and power. That is how many people think about heaven. They assume that if there is a God, that God will allow them into some kind of heavenly existence because their good outweighs their bad or they performed enough good works or enough religious rituals to purchase eternal life. They are trusting in self-generated righteousness — their faith is in their own self. 

They are deceived. Self righteousness earns nothing with God and results in damnation.

True saving faith understands that I cannot obtain God’s promises, fulfill God’s purpose in this life or purchase everlasting life with God by my own resources. Abram understood that even though his circumstances seemed impossible and there was no way he could personally bring abut the fulfillment of the promises, he believed that God would do what God said — produce from Abram a great nation. God saw this faith and counted him righteous — did not just call Abram righteous but considered him to be righteous. 

It is the same for us, “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7). But what is the faith that enables us to be declared righteous by God?

The Apostle Paul wrote, 

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:21-24).

Jesus gave Himself as the holy Lamb of God who, on the cross, took upon Himself our sins and God’s judgmental wrath against sin. When we stop trying to make ourselves right with God by our own efforts, when we refuse to trust in our own resource of self-righteousness — our good works, our supposed morality, our religious ritual — but instead place our faith in Jesus as our atoning sacrifice, God credits our sin to Jesus and credits His righteousness to us. This is the process whereby we are justified — God declares us to be just / righteous through faith in Christ. 

Justification is a declaration. When we place our faith in Christ, God declares that He has accepted the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf and declares us to be justified, righteous. 

Justification is also a transaction, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Jesus took our sins upon Himself so that we may take His righteousness upon ourselves. When God looks at a sinner who has trusted Jesus as the holy Lamb slain for sinners, He sees not only a forgiven sinner. He sees the righteousness of Christ in that person.

Abram refused to try to obtain the promises of God by his own self effort, instead trusting God. This is faith and God counted him righteous. So for us — when we refuse to try to obtain the promise of salvation by our own religious, self righteous efforts but instead trust in God’s work on our behalf, we also are declared to be righteous by faith.

Abram did not know that someday Jesus would be the holy Lamb of God who would make an atoning sacrifice for his sin. But Abram placed His faith in God and God counted his faith as righteousness. The sacrifice of Jesus then reaches back in time to cleanse and justify Abram, even as it reaches forward in time to cleanse and justify us.

15:7 “And He said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.’”

Previously, the Lord had said, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). It was not until Abram was living in the land of Canaan that the Lord confirmed it as his inheritance (12:7, 13:14-17).

Now, again, the Lord identifies Canaan as the land of promise. The Lord had led him out of Ur of the Chaldeans (later Babylon) to Haran and then to Canaan. The Lord brought him out to bring him into an inheritance.

Abram had followed faithfully, not knowing where he was going but as he followed, he found himself living in his inheritance. He was living in the promised land before he knew it.

How did he get there? By faith. He followed the leading of the Lord, walked and lived by faith and found himself in the middle of the promise. But the land is filled with people who have rejected the knowledge of God and invented false gods. The land is polluted with idols and rituals of worship that are violent, cruel, exploitive and demonically infested. How will one man, his wife and a company of servants possess this promise? Though Abram is a man of faith, he needs reassurance.

15:8 “He said, ‘O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?’”

It is not a denial of faith to ask God questions. If Abram did not believe the Lord, there would be no questions to ask. God takes the question seriously and answers Abram.

15:9 “So He said to him, ‘Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’”

Far from rejecting Abram’s question, God will answer by making covenant with him. A covenant is an agreement between two parties involving promises by one or both parties. 

The first use of the word covenant was in 6:18 when God promised to make covenant with Noah. Normally, in  a covenant there are promises and obligations made by both parties but in the covenant with Noah, all the promises and obligations fall on the Lord: “I establish my covenant with you”  (9:11). It is therefore a covenant of grace. 

Whereas the covenant with Noah included all humanity and all creatures for all time, this covenant includes only Abram and his descendants. But it also is a covenant of grace. All the promises and obligations fall on the Lord. (This is not to say that Abram has no responsibilities but more on that later).

Covenants were not made without sacrifices and sacrifices require the shedding of blood so the Lord directs Abram to gather certain animals.

When we bring our questions and doubts to the Lord, His response is, “Bring me the sacrifice of worship. In the sacrifice of worship we focus on the Lord and He reaffirms His promises to us.

15:10,11 “Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.”

In a ceremony of covenant, the participants would often cut animals in half and walk between them, repeating their promises and obligations. But we will see in a moment that only the Lord will walk between the pieces, signifying as we have said, that all the promises and obligations fall on the Lord.

15:12 “Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him.”

As the Lord meets Abram at the place of covenant making, the presence of God is accompanied by darkness. Abram is overwhelmed by terror and he fell into a deep sleep.

Often, when people in the Bible encountered God in close manifestation, the presence of God was accompanied by terror and great darkness.  We recall that when Daniel, Ezekiel and John found themselves in the presence of God, they fell down in terror (Daniel fell to the ground in a deep sleep, Dan. 10:9; John fell to the ground “like a dead man,” Rev. 1:17; Ezekiel fell on his face, Ezkl. 3:23).

The Psalmist reveals that the righteous throne of God is encompassed not only in dazzling light but also darkness, “Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne” (Psalm 97:2).

When Moses and Israel stood at the base of Mount Sinai and the glory of God manifested on the mountain, they encountered not only the fire of glory but also darkness. Moses said, “You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom” (Deut. 4:11).

Engulfed in darkness and terror, Abram fell into a deep sleep. He is in the presence of the God who chose him, called him, guided him and made promises to bless him and to make him great. But this same God of mercy and grace is also holy, righteous and awesome, a God to be feared and worshipped. He is a God who saves but also judges. In His presence is fulness of joy, life forevermore. But also in His presence there is thunder and lightning. His glory manifests in blazing, blinding light and thick darkness.

God put Abram to sleep during the covenant ceremony for all the promises fell on the Lord. The fulfillment of these promises to Abram — that God would make him a great nation, that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the sky, that in him all the families of the earth will be blessed, that his descendants would inherit this land — all of these promises would be fulfilled by the Lord. It was, as we have said, a covenant of grace. There was nothing Abram could do to earn, merit or deserve the promise of the covenant nor could he fulfill the obligations of the covenant.

15:13,14 “God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.’”

Because God exists before time, beyond time and within time, he can declare the end from the beginning. He has promised this land to Abraham and his descendants but it will be 400 years before they possess it. During the intervening centuries, they will be slaves in another land, then delivered by the power and grace of God.

In that future day, God’s deliverance of Israel will involve judgment on the nation that enslaved Israel. We know that story well — God demanded, through Moses, that Pharaoh release the covenant people of God, Pharaoh refused and God then poured out His wrath upon Egypt in a series of judgments which were progressively more severe until Pharaoh set Israel free.

Let us remember an important principal here: when God enters into covenant with anyone, He becomes the defender of the covenant and of the people of the covenant. Therefore the Apostle Paul reminds us, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

We see in that Exodus story the God whom Abram encountered in the covenant ceremony: a God of grace who calls people to possess His good promises and a God to be feared, who pours out judgmental wrath on those who refuse and oppose grace.

Remember that Moses was recording this Genesis history as Israel journeyed through the wilderness from Egypt, the land of their enslavement, toward Canaan, the land promised to Abram. Moses was saying to Israel, “This is your history. This is your destiny. The land before you is the fulfillment of God’s promise to your father Abraham. None of these events are the result of random historical coincidence. God ordained this journey, ordained your inheritance and declared it centuries ago.”

There is a lesson here for us. We are in covenant relationship with the Lord and He knows what trials, tribulations, persecutions, victories, blessings and rewards are to come. He will not be surprised by anything in our future and has already made perfect provision.

15:15 “As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age.”

Abram will not live to see the fulfillment of God’s good promises. He is part of the promise but there will be others after him who will enter in to the fulfillment. However, he has the assurance of God that he will complete his journey in peace.

There is a truth for us in this. There are promises which the Lord will fulfill to us and in us. There are other promises toward which we will labor and journey but they wil not be fulfilled in our day. Our lives are a part of the fulfillment but it is a future generation that will enter into the fullness of the promise.

15:16 “Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”

Here we see one of the great revelations of the mercy and judgment of God. The Amorites were one of the people groups that inhabited Canaan, representative of all the tribes. God had promised this land to Abram and his descendants but it would be 400 years before they would take possession. During that long season, the inhabitants of the land fell deeper and deeper into idolatry, wickedness and every form of evil. The worship of their false gods eventually involved the degradation of women and men and the sacrifice of children in fire. We may be certain that as their worship of idols spiraled into depending darkness, so did the morality of their society. 

We may also be sure that throughout that time, God was calling to the people through holy men such as Melchizedek, calling them to repent of their sin, to return to the worship of the true and living God, the God of their distant ancestors. 

How long was the season of grace? Four hundred years. What an incredibly gracious God we serve and worship. But when grace was finally, irrevocably refused, then God judged the Canaanites through the nation of Israel.

Four hundred years of grace refused. Then judgment.

God is a God of grace, calling us into covenants of blessing.

God is a God of righteous judgment, pouring out holy wrath on all who refuse grace.

So it was that the Amorite, and the other Canaanite tribes polluted the land with their sin, refused the long seasons of grace and thereby disqualified themselves as possessors of the land, forfeiting the land to Israel.

There is a principal here which is relevant for our own lives. Just as God would not bring the Hebrew people into their inheritance until the long season of grace had been fulfilled for the Amorites, so with us — obtaining the promises of God may also involve other people and their destiny. We may not always understand the timing of God because of people and circumstances we do not see. Therefore we must exercise patient faith.

15:17 “It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces.”

Abram was encompassed with the darkness of night and the supernatural darkness of God’s presence. Against this black backdrop, a smoking oven and a flaming torch passed between the pieces of the sacrifice.

As we have said, it was customary in the ratifying of a covenant for the parties to pass between the sacrifices. But there was no reason for Abram to do this, since he was not responsible for any of the promises or obligations of the covenant. It was God who passed between the sacrifices.

The presence of the Lord is represented by “a smoking oven and a flaming torch.”

The smoking oven may refer to the small furnace that was used to purify metals. This represents the holiness of God, the perfect purity of all that God is and does. It also represents His intention to purify for Himself a covenant nation, as He said four centuries later after He led Israel out of Egypt, “For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45).

The flaming torch represents the light of revelation, the light of divine truth as the Psalmist said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

The flaming torch also represents the all seeing, all knowing light of God’s omniscience. When the Apostle John saw the glorified Jesus, he wrote, “His eyes were like a flame of fire” (Rev. 1:14). This is the Lord of whom it is said, “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13).

The flaming torch also represents the glory of God, as Moses and all Israel saw at Mount Sinai, “And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top” (Exodus 24:17).

The flaming torch further represents the fire of divine judgment, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “For our God is a consuming fire”  (Hebr 12:29). The Apostle Paul reminds us that when Jesus returns to earth, He “will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire” (1 Thes. 1:7).

15:18 “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the River Euphrates.’”

Notice the verb tense: “I have given this land.” It is done. The covenant has been ratified. From that moment on, the land of Canaan was Abram’s possession. He would not actually take possession of it in his life time. Nor would his descendants until 400 years passed. In fact, at this time, Abram had no descendants. But the land was given to him, promised to his family. The covenant is confirmed, the deed is ratified.

Recall that Abram contributed nothing to this covenant nor to the journey toward covenant, except to follow, obey and repent when he sinned. It is God who chose him, appeared to him, called him and led him. It is God who protected, provided and forgave him when he failed. It is God who made promises and made covenant. It is God who ratified the covenant. All the promises and obligations of the covenant fall upon the Lord.

All is grace and so it is for us. God has offered a new covenant through the sacrifice of Jesus. All who trust in His atoning death enter the covenant and God lavishes His grace upon us.

15:18-21 “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the River Euphrates: the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.’”

The Lord inspires Moses to list the people groups who will be dispossessed four hundred years later. This will be the judgment of God on Canaanite society that would not repent of sin.

God’s covenant grant of land to Israel stretched from the Euphrates River, far to the east (in present day Iraq) and south to a small brook on the borders of Egypt. We can be certain that Israel will possess the fulness of this land grant someday, if not in history then surely at the end of history when the Lord returns and establishes His kingdom.

Study Questions

1. Abram believed God but had questions. Is it OK to bring our questions to the Lord?

2. Abram believed the Lord and God declared him to be righteous. How is it that we are declared to be righteous?

3. God entered into covenant with Abram and made covenant promises to him. What were some of those promises and who guarantees the promises of God?

Genesis Chapter 16

Genesis Chapter 16

16:1,2 “Now Sarai, Abram's wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, ‘Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.' And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.”

Walking by faith and not by sight does not mean we are walking blindly. Under the New Covenant, we have the written word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Though Abram did not have the Bible or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God spoke to him and led him. When he erred, it was because he tried to walk by faith without hearing the counsel of the Lord. When we do that, we begin to walk in the flesh, apart from God.

It is dangerous to try to walk by faith if our faith is not informed by revelation. 

Abram’s error in moving to the Negev and then to Egypt resulted from not hearing the counsel of the Lord. His error now is listening to the unwise counsel of his wife. She is evidently impatient with the progress of God’s program and so she suggests that her husband use her maid to father a child. It was customary in that day for a wife who was childless to offer a servant to her husband for the raising up of an heir but social custom does not justify an ungodly idea.  

Just because something is culturally acceptable does not mean it is acceptable to God. If a custom violates God’s design, God’s promises or God’s character, then it does not matter how popular it may be. We must have nothing to do with it. The text is very clear that this idea did not originate with the Lord. It was Sarai’s idea.

We do not know how much time has passed since God last reiterated His promises to Abram but we have the written record of that promise in the previous chapter. Abram had complained that his servant, Eliezer would be his heir and the Lord replied, “‘This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.’ And He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be’” (15:4,5).

When the Lord made covenant with Abram He repeated this promise:

“On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the River Euphrates’” (15:18).

There was no question that Abram would have an heir and that the heir would come from his own body. Obviously a woman will be involved. Who will that woman be? What is the Lord’s design for a man begetting children? Through his wife. From Adam and Eve to the end of Bible history, we never read of God sanctioning polygamy — multiple partners. It is always a man and his wife producing children. 

So when the Lord promises a child to Abraham, it is obviously with Sarai his wife. God promised this and sealed the promise with a covenant of grace in which all the responsibilities and obligations of the covenant rested on the Lord. Neither Abram’s age nor Sarai’s infertility will prevent the fulfilling of God’s purpose because that purpose is dependent on God and not Abram or Sarai.

So this suggestion that Abram should raise up an heir through a servant, though socially acceptable according to the custom of the day, is entirely a failure to trust God. 

So what did Abram do? He caved in.

16:3 “After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram's wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife.”

Abram has lived in Canaan for ten years and he has surely not forgotten the covenant promises of God to him — descendants from his own seed, a great nation, blessing to him and through him.

The problem is that Abram and Sarai wanted to enjoy the blessings of God’s promise without obeying the means to the fulfilling of the promise. God has a process in the accomplishing of His purpose but we cannot enjoy the fulfillment of the purpose without submitting to the process. Also, God has a timing, a season in all His promises but we will not see the fulfilling of the promise if we will not wait for the season.

Abram and Sarai knew the promise of God but were unwilling to submit to the process or wait for the season. This led them to an act which, as we have said, was culturally acceptable but a violation of trust in the Lord. There are many things we can do which may be socially correct but are grievous to the Lord.

What led them to this?

Possibly they began to despair of their increasing age or of her continued barrenness, falling prey to the discouraging thought that nothing will ever change and we are only further from the promise of God with each passing day. Maybe they began to doubt the power of God to fulfill the purposes of God.

There may be many possible factors contributing to their failure but the result is that they violated God’s primary design for families and for procreation. In the Garden of Eden, God gave one man and one woman to each other in holy, committed union. The mandate to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen.1:28) was to be fulfilled through the family unit defined by God as one man and one woman. (For a more in depth discussion of polygamy — having multiple wives at the same time — see the discussion at the end of the chapter).

Though Abram’s faith wavered, we see here the principle that though Godly men and women sometimes sin and fail to live at the highest level of faith, yet the Lord is faithful to preserve us. Though Abram sometimes failed, stumbled and sinned, God was faithful to keep him.

We are reminded in this of the sovereignty of God in choosing Abram. God did not survey the families of Chaldea (later Babylon) and say, “There is a man who towers above his generation.” In fact, Abram came from a family of idol worshippers living in a nation that may have invented false gods and false religions. God did not call Abram because he was a great man of faith. God called him to make him one. The Lord appeared to Abram while he was still living in that sea of idolatry and called him to leave and follow (Acts 7:2). 

The same God who sovereignly chose Abram was able also to keep him. Though there were times when Abram failed to trust, times when he sinned, this does not disprove his calling. Rather, man’s failure proves the sovereignty of God in choosing, calling and keeping human instruments for the accomplishing of His eternal purposes. God will accomplish what God has ordained because He alone is God.

16:4 “He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight.”

Here we see the chastisement of God on Sarai. Sarai’s sin resulted in her discomfort as her maid, Hagar, now exalted herself over her mistress. Such is the way of sin,  its promise always empties into bitterness.

16:5 “And Sarai said to Abram, ‘May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the Lord judge between you and me.’”

Sarai now blames Abram. This is the normal response of fallen humanity. When our foolish schemes go wrong, when our sin bites us, the tendency is to either blame God or another person.

In truth, God was ultimately responsible for her barrenness, as she claimed in verse 2, so that He would be glorified in the miracle of a son. And she is not entirely unjust in casting blame on Abram for this problem with Hagar, for Abram agreed to this. But Sarai evidences no personal accountability even though the idea originated with her. It is important to remember when we fail that the beginning of God’s solution is repentance, not blame.

God is able to forgive our sin, correct our mistakes and restore our position in His kingdom purpose. But we must be willing to accept accountability before any of this can take place.

16:6 “But Abram said to Sarai, ‘Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.’ So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence.”

Abram’s response to this family crisis is to go passive — he refuses to exercise leadership, giving Sarai freedom to mistreat her servant. No one comes off looking good in this. Abram was wrong to misuse the family employee. Hagar is wrong to act in a prideful manner, despising Sarai, acting proud and haughty. Sarai is wrong to abuse her employ. Abram is wrong to refuse leadership. But this is what happens when a family departs from the counsel of the Lord for a season — chaos, confusion, broken relationships.

Hagar’s response is to flee. 

16:7 “Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur.”

Here we see a beautiful example of the mercy and grace of God. 

Hagar sinned in disrespecting Sarai but that did not give Sarai the right to act abusively toward her employee. Abram sinned in misusing Hagar and then refusing to exercise leadership in the family. As a result of this chain of sins, Hagar is now in the wilderness — alone, desperate and afraid —  and God meets her there. What a gracious God we worship!

The angel of the Lord is a title that is often used in the Old Testament to describe a theophany — an appearance of God in human form. (see Gen. 22:11-18   31:11-13  Ex. 3:2-5  Judges 6:11-23 among others). Later in this encounter Hagar testifies that she has met the Lord.

What a true revelation of the heart of God. In spite of all the sin and poor decisions, God meets Hagar in her crisis, in her wilderness.

Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). What a wonderful truth — God came seeking Hagar, a woman of no social standing or wealth or power in the world. How wonderful that God did not abandon her to her poor choices nor the abuse of Sarai nor to the misuse of Abram. Truly, not a sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing, nor do we ever stumble but He sees.

16:8 “He said, ‘Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from and where are you going?’ And she said, ‘I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.’”

The Lord meets Hagar in much the same way that He met Adam and Eve in the garden, asking questions, “Where are you Adam, where are you Hagar?”

When God asks questions, it is not because He lacks knowledge. Rather, He is giving us the opportunity to exercise accountability. God is asking us, “Do you now where you are? Are you willing to accept responsibility for the choices you have made?” 

This is the beginning of a solution, the first step into a new beginning, the genesis of restoration. God can forgive sin, can restore what we have foolishly lost, can reconcile and make whole what we have recklessly broken, can cleanse what we have thoughtlessly stained. But the beginning of it all is our willingness to be accountable when the Lord confronts us with truth.

Hagar does not mention her sinful pride that initiated Sarai’s abuse. Again, Hagar’s disrespect in no way excuses Sarai’s abusive behavior but it was a factor in creating that behavior. But even though Hagar does not mention any of her prior sinful behavior, she does interface with the Lord honestly: “This is where I am — I’m fleeing from my mistress.”

Notice that she does not answer the question, “Where are you going?”  She has no place to go. She is a single woman, pregnant, an alien, with no home and no destination. Throughout the Bible God reveals a strong bias on behalf of the widow, the fatherless and the stranger. It is no random coincidence that the Lord shows up here — it is the passion of His heart for helpless, hopeless people that drew Him here.

16:9 “Then the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.’”

Notice the Lord’s greeting in verse 8, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid.” The Lord identifies Hagar as being the employ of Sarai and considers her to still be in that employment. This relationship of servant to master was a common factor in the economic and social structure of that day and did not imply abuse. It provided men and women with a means of obtaining work, shelter, protection and food. A good master was kind and generous with his employs and the servants, in turn, were usually loyal and hard working. Later, under the law of Moses, guidelines were put in place to insure the humane, just and merciful treatment of servants and to set them free in the Year of Jubilee.

Still later, in the New Testament church, the Lord established a new community where the slave stood equal before God with his master: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Eventually, the revolutionary impact of that faith community resulted in the abolition of slavery in every country where Christ was preached.

The Lord counsels Hagar that the solution to the problems in Abram’s household is not to flee but to return and submit to the proper authority. The Lord is not counseling her to submit to abuse but to submit to the governmental structure of the family while trusting the Lord to resolve the abuse. 

In the New Testament the church is commanded to submit to governmental authority. Such is the command of the Apostle Peter:

“Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (I Peter 2:13,14).

This is also the command of the Apostle Paul, 

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (Romans 13:1,2).

This is not a comprehensive command to submit to all authority in all places at all times. Governments are established by God for the purpose of maintaining His moral order and keeping peace in a violent, evil world but all governments and all persons entrusted with authority are accountable to God. When rulers use their authority to oppose God’s order, God will judge. The Bible and the record of history are filled with examples of God displacing unjust rulers and oppressive governments.

From Babylon to Rome to Nazi Germany to Stalin’s Soviet Union, we see a God whose “eyes keep watch on the nations” (Psalm 66:7), a God who “nullifies the counsel of the nations” (Psalm 33:10), a righteous Judge who “puts down one and exalts another” (Psalm 75:7).  

When any person in authority demands that a follower of Christ worship the state or the ruler or violate the commands of God, the Christian must respectfully disobey that command while praying that God will bring His judgment to bear on that evil empire.

For many years, Christians living in the Roman Empire were slaughtered by the thousands for refusing to worship Caesar. In the end, Rome was destroyed but the church survived. In the past century a few members of the German church refused to compromise with Hitler’s subjection of the church to himself. They were executed or thrown into death camps. But the church survived while Hitler and his evil empire perished.

We submit to God-ordained authority unless that authority violates God’s moral order by ordering us to worship the state or disobey God’s known will. Then we respectfully resist while awaiting God’s judgmental correction.

So it was with Hagar. The Lord directed her to return and submit. We may certainly assume that the Lord would respond to her obedience by providing correction in Abram’s household.

16:10 “Moreover, the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.’”

Hagar could not outrun herself — the wilderness does not heal her pain nor solve her problems. Neither can she outrun God. The Lord met her in the wilderness and though He sends her back to Abram and Sarai, He does not send her without making a wonderful promise to her. 

She will become the mother of a people group more numerous than anyone would be able to count. But to receive the blessing, she must obey the Lord and return home. Obedience to the known will of God always results in blessing and so it will be for Hagar.

16:11 “The angel of the Lord said to her further, ‘Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has given heed to your affliction.’”

In the Bible, God often directs the naming of a child corresponding to something God is doing or will do. In this case, the child’s name will forever remind Hagar of the grace and kindness of the Lord who met her in the wilderness for the name Ishmael means, “God hears.” 

Ishmael will be a living, breathing reminder of the God who knows us, who understands our fear and grief and disappointment. He does not overlook our sin but meets us with grace and mercy. The Psalmist exclaimed, “In my trouble I cried to the Lord, and He answered me” (Psalm 120:1).

16:12 “He will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone's hand will be against him; and he will live to the east of all his brothers.”

Abraham became the father not only of Israel through the son yet to be born but he also became the father of the Arab nations which developed to the east of Israel, through Ishmael. What an accurate, prophetic description of those people groups — the seed of Ishmael, wild, untamable, forever striving not only against their Hebrew brothers but against everyone. To this day the MidEast is a morass of conflict, violence and tumult. Abram’s act of disobedience produced tribal groups and nations which, throughout the centuries, have fought against the true heir of Abram, Isaac.

16:13,14 “Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God who sees’; for she said, ‘Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?’ Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.”

A new name for God is revealed to Hagar— El Roi — the God who sees. 

She therefore calls the well Beer-lahai-roi which means “the well of the living One who sees me.” Hagar obviously believes that “the angel of the Lord” is really the Lord Himself and she is amazed that God would meet her in her desperate, extreme need. 

What  a wonderful God we serve — He heard Hagar, He saw Hagar and met her in her crisis. God revealed  His name to a slave woman who was being mistreated, who ran away.  The Lord met her in the wilderness, told her to name her son Ishmael, which means “God hears.”  She then understood the Lord to be the God who sees and hears, the God who knows us.

It is evident that Abram has instructed his servants in the knowledge of the God in whom he has placed his faith. But it is one thing to know about God; it is something else entirely to encounter Him in the midst of our crises, our failures and our sins.

It sounds as though this encounter with the Lord has produced a work of transformation in Hagar’s heart. The Lord not only saw her, heard her and sought her. He also changed her heart and redirected her steps. He then blessed her.

We do well to remember that the Lord not only saw where Hagar had been and where she was going, He also saw clearly what He purposed to do with her life. We cannot always see clearly God’s purpose but we can surrender our pathways to Him, allowing Him to direct our journey.

Hagar was astonished to meet the living God in the wilderness of her distress. Her amazement may also have arisen from the fact that not only did the Lord meet her but met her with grace, not with condemnation. She was a humble servant who sinned in exalting herself against her employer. Having fled the abuse that resulted from her pride, she found herself alone in the desert, facing certain death. And the God of grace and mercy met her there.

We are reminded of the song of Mary the mother of Jesus,

“My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.  For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave … For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name” (Luke 1:46-48a,49).

16:15 “So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.”

Abram named the child according to the word which the Lord had given to his mother, Hagar. As we have said, Ishmael is the ancestor of the Arab nations.

16:16 “Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him.” 

This is 11 years after Abram set out from Haran and journeyed to Canaan according to the word of the Lord (see Gen. 12:4). It is 11 years after the Lord said, “I will make you a great nation” (12:2). We do not know how long this has been since the Lord promised Abram a son “from your own body” (15:4) nor do we know how long since the Lord made covenant with Abram, promising the land of Canaan to his descendants (15:18).

However long it has been, we may surely suppose that Abram’s faith is being stretched, that he is being tempted to doubt the promises of the Lord. But it will be 13 years more before the Lord appears and speaks again to Abram. Faith will be even more severely tested.

Study Questions

1. What errors was Abram making when he used Hagar to raise up a son?

2. Hagar cried to the Lord in the wilderness. What was God’s response?

3. What name did Hagar ascribe to the Lord and how is this significant?

Notes On Polygamy

Questions arise concerning the practice of polygamy (multiple marriage partners) during certain eras of Bible history. We cannot deny that this happened but what was God’s design for marriage? Is polygamy a violation of God’s purpose or did God approve? 

In Genesis, as Adam named the various creatures, the writer notes that “there was not found a helper suitable for him” (2:20). So God created the woman to be a helper, a companion, a coworker, for Adam. There is no mention of multiple helpers, just one.

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). God’s plan for the family involved one man and one woman and the man was to be “joined to his wife.” Notice the singular nouns — man, wife, one flesh.

Jesus referred to this passage:

“And He answered and said, ‘Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh? Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together’” (Matt. 19:4-6).

Notice again the singular nouns: a man, his wife. Notice that the two become one. Notice also the prohibition against anyone or anything bringing separation in this union which God has joined; another partner would create separation. Jesus says that marriage is a union between a man and a woman in an exclusive relationship blessed by God.

This was God’s way from the beginning. 

The first mention of polygamy is found in Gen 4:19-25 as a man named Lamech boasts to his two wives of his murderous vengeance on a man who wounded him. Lamech is not presented as a virtuous man. Rather, he is a man who is proud that he took the life of someone. Polygamy is introduced in the life of a sinful man who brags of his sin.

Later we see multiple wives in the lives of Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and many others but God does not express approval of this. Instead, the Lord reveals the improper motives that lead to polygamy and the troublesome consequences which often resulted from multiple partners. 

Abraham’s decision to impregnate Hagar and thereby produce an heir was motivated by his impatience with God’s plan. As we said in our chapter summary, this was socially acceptable but displeasing to God. The result was strife and confusion in the household between Sarai, his true wife, and Hagar, the servant whom he impregnated. There was strife between Isaac, the son of Sarah and true heir of the inheritance and Ishmael, the son of Abram’s’s maid, Hagar. That strife continues to this day between the descendants of Isaac, the Jews, and the descendants of Ishmael, the Arabs.  Abraham’s use of Hagar to produce a child is not presented as a godly choice but a choice made outside of God’s plan. The result was grief, turmoil, strife.

Jacob desired only one wife, Rachel, but was tricked into marrying Leah. He also produced children through the maids of his two wives. But the Bible is very clear in revealing the strife between the wives. And the sons, motivated by jealousy, sold Joseph into slavery, lied to Jacob concerning Joseph’s death and caused heart breaking grief for the father of them all.

David’s unfaithfulness resulted in strife within the family which eventually led to rebellion and civil war. Solomon’s unfaithfulness introduced an unprecedented level of idolatry into Israel which resulted later in the destruction of the nation.

Polygamy was practiced but far from approving this, the Lord makes it clear that the result was always less than honorable and the result was always trouble. This is why the Lord commanded the kings of Israel not to have multiple wives: 

“He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself” (Deut. 17:17). Solomon ignored this prohibition and the result was exactly as the Lord predicted — his heart turned away from worship of the true God.

What is good for kings is good for the citizens of the kingdom. This is why the tenth commandment states, “You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Exodus 20:17).  Notice the singular noun: one wife.

Further, in Leviticus 18:18, the Lord said,  “You shall not marry a woman in addition to her sister as a rival while she is alive, to uncover her nakedness.” The word sister may be translated another which would read, “You shall not marry a woman in addition to another.” While this verse is difficult to interpret, it seems to imply a prohibition against multiple marriage partners.

One exception to this command was the practice of levirate marriage (introduced in Deut. 25:5-10) in which, if a man died without a son or heir, his brother would take the widow and produce children with her. If the brother were already married, this would be polygamous but approved by God for the safety and security of the widow.

We must note one other difficult verse. In Exodus 21:10 we read, “If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights.” 

However, this is not an example of God granting approval to the practice of polygamy but rather, an attempt to insure kindness and justice if a man does this. If he takes to himself another woman he must treat her mercifully, fairly.

By the time of Jesus, polygamy was almost completely unknown in Israel. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul informs Timothy that one of the qualifications for a bishop or overseer in a local church is one marriage partner:

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (I Tim. 3:2).

The same is true of deacons, “Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households” (I Tim. 3:12).

Paul tells Titus that if a man desires to be an elder in the church, he must be “above reproach, the husband of one wife” (Titus 1:6).

In I Corinthians 7:1-16 as Paul addresses marriage and morality issues in the church, he always uses singular nouns when referring to husbands and wives.


So we can say that the Lord does not ever endorse polygamy. Rather, He endorses the institution of marriage as a union of one man and one woman. The Lord tolerated polygamy for the same reason that He allowed divorce, “for the hardness of your hearts”, as Jesus said (Matthew 19:8). But over and over again the Lord reveals the strife, grief and confusion that resulted when people violate His design for the family.

Genesis Chapter 17

Genesis Chapter 17

17:1 “Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.’”

When Abram was 99, the Lord appeared to him.  You are never too old to hear from God.  You are never “over the hill”  in relationship with God.  You will never come to a place where God has nothing more to say to you, nothing more to do in you or through you.  You will never come to a place where there is no more communion between you and God, no more revelation unless you close the door, unless you walk away. But if you will remain open, God always has more revelation to share with you, more truth to teach you, more kingdom life to create in you and release through you. 

This is 24 years after God spoke to Abram in Haran, saying, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great” (Gen. 12:1,2). 

An undetermined number of years have passed since the Lord reaffirmed and sealed those promises in a covenant with Abram (Gen. 15:12-21). There is no record of the Lord speaking to Abram since the establishing of that covenant. Abram has been walking by faith since then, though there has been one significant failure resulting in the birth of Ishmael, Abram’s son by Hagar. But now the Lord appears to Abram and renews His conversation with him and identifies Himself with a new name, El Shaddai — God Almighty. El is a contraction of Elohim, the name of God revealed in the creation stories. Shaddai may be translated Almighty or All Sufficient. 

El Shaddai is the God who is perfectly able to fulfill all of His purposes and promises because He possesses all power, all authority. He is mighty to save, provide, protect and nourish because nothing can stand against Him. He is the God who establishes kings and kingdoms and breaks their power when they oppose Him. He is the God who would someday incarnate Himself in human form and as God-Man restore blind eyes, raise the dead, conquer sin through His atoning sacrifice and triumph over death. This is the God “who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph. 3:20).

El Shaddai will renew His covenant promises with Abram but first He exhorts him to “walk before me, and be blameless.” The covenant which God established with Abram is a covenant of grace — all the promises and obligations fall on the Lord. But Abram is not a passive bystander. Something was required of him from the beginning of this journey — he had to leave the pagan culture of his ancestors and follow where and as God led. He was called to obedience and faith.

Now the Lord reminds him that obedience and faith require integrity: “Walk before me, and be blameless.” The word blameless in the Hebrew is tamiym and means without blemish, complete. It has to do with truthfulness, sincerity, integrity. Though some translations use the word perfect, God is not requiring sinless perfection of Abram. The Lord is requiring that he put away all insincerity and compromise, that he commit himself fully and completely.

Centuries later, the Lord will say to Solomon, “As for you, if you will walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you and will keep My statutes and My ordinances …” ( I Kings 9:4). The Lord directed Solomon to live “as your father David” yet we know there were times when David failed God and his nation, so we know that integrity does not mean perfection.  The word integrity, tom, is from the same root as tamiym and has to do with completeness, not sinless perfection. This was God’s call on Solomon, on his father David and on their ancestor, Abram.

It is as if the Lord is saying to Abram, “Walk before me with a fullness and maturity that is appropriate and consistent with all that I have said to you, done for you and promised you.”

Abram has sinned before and will sin again. But God calls him to commit himself to follow and obey with a heart fully, sincerely focused on living an upright life.

God has imputed or credited righteousness to Abram because of his faith. But the Lord also requires that Abram live in a righteous manner. So with us. Jesus takes our sin and gives us His righteousness but we are called to live in a way that is consistent with His righteousness.

But how can we walk with integrity in such an evil world and with souls that are so often tempted? Because of the Lord’s commitment to our integrity. Before the Lord calls Abram to walk with integrity, He first declares Himself to be El Shaddai, the Almighty God who is able to do all He purposes and is mighty to enable us to do all He commands of us.

If not for the preserving, strengthening power of El Shaddai, how could Abram walk with integrity?  He ran from famine, lied to Pharaoh and fathered Ishmael apart from the counsel of the Lord. But if Abram will commit himself to follow closely after God, the Lord Himself will enable the man of God to fulfill the purpose of God.

So it is that the Lord commands the church through the Apostle Peter, “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy for I am holy’” (I Peter 1:15,16). This is a command but also a promise — we shall be holy. If we will only commit ourselves to follow close after the Lord, He will perform His purpose for us and in us and through us, even as He did with Abram. Whatever God commands us to do, He empowers us to do.

Notice the phrase, “Walk before me.” We live our entire life before the face of God — all that we do and say and think is open to Him, as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us: “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13).


David marveled at the omniscience of God who knows our thoughts before we think them and our words before we speak them:

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it all” (Psalm 139:1-4).

Considering that God is present in all places at all times and knows all truth about us, considering that we live our entire life before the face of God, it is imperative that we walk before Him with integrity if we would show Him honor.

Also, the Lord commanded integrity from Abram as He does from us because He desired to bless Abram and desires to bless us, to fulfill His purpose in our lives and in our generation.

“For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chron. 16:9).

The Lord is looking for those whom He may support. Who are they? “Those whose heart is completely His.” We cannot earn the blessing of God but we can open our lives in holiness to receive His blessing or we can resist and turn away His blessing with unholiness. 

So the Lord is saying, “Abram, walk before me with integrity so that I can fulfill my promises to you.” And if Abram had asked, “How can I do this Lord? I know my tendency to sin.” The Lord would have replied, “I am El Shaddai, the God who is mighty to empower and enable you to live in such a way that I can fulfill every covenant promise that I have made to you.”  

17:2 “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.”

Having exhorted Abram to walk before Him with integrity, the Lord now renews His covenant promise to multiply his descendants. Notice the repeated phrase, “I will.” It is God who established this covenant and it is God who will fulfill it. It is all a work of grace.

The father of no one through Sarai will become the father of a multitude with her. El Shaddai, God Almighty, El Elyon, the Most High God, is calling Abram to move with Him into the dimension of impossibility. Here Abram will discover one of the great paradoxes of faith — the more deeply he moves into impossibility, the greater his faith will grow.

17:3 “Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying …”

Falling prostrate before the Lord is a posture of worshipful surrender. When God reminds Abram that He has established covenant relationship with him, Abram responds with worship. We also are in covenant relationship with this God — the Almighty, everlasting Creator of heaven and earth. The only proper response is worship.

Notice that it is a worshipper who hears from God. Abram, the builder of altars, makes himself into an altar as he lies prostrate before the Lord and he enters into divine revelation.

17:4 “As for me, behold, my covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations.” 

The Lord renews the covenant promise, that Abram will be the father of many nations. This refers not only to Israel descended from the son to be born, Isaac, and not only to the Arab nations descended from Ishmael but also to the redeemed church of Jesus Christ which includes people from every tribe and tongue and nation. We who walk by faith in Christ are spiritual descendants of Abram.

17:5 “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I will make you the father of a multitude of nations.”

Names in the Bible are often representative of the purpose of God in a person’s life and God often changes a person’s name as a way of emphasizing what He is doing or will do with or through that person. Abram means “exalted father” and surely Abram had been exalted — God appeared to him, spoke with him, made covenant with him and prospered him materially. But from this day on, his name will be Abraham which means “father of a multitude”, for that is what he will be.  God changes his name to fit the new season in Abraham’s life.

It is the same for us. Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it” (Rev. 2:17 ). 

In eternity, each redeemed disciple of Christ will be given a new name which, in some way, represents God’s unique purpose for each of us and speaks of our life in Christ and our service to Him.

17:6 “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you.”

A great procession of kings descended from Abraham including David, the shepherd and psalmist of Israel, and climaxing in great David’s greater Son — Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords who will return someday and establish His throne and His kingdom across the earth.

But consider the paradox — the father of kings was living as a stranger and alien in the land which those kings would someday rule. The ancestor of King Jesus, who will someday rule the nations, ruled nothing but his own family and servants and flocks. This is the life El Shaddai called Abraham to live — the life of faith.

17:7 “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.”

The Lord assures Abraham that this covenant will endure far beyond his own lifetime, extending to his descendants “throughout their generations” and in fact, would extend even into eternity, beyond all generations. It is “an everlasting covenant.” 

This covenant is still in effect for the nation of Israel even though Israel is for the most part a secular society in which many of its citizens are not actual worshippers of God and fewer still are worshippers of Jesus, the Messiah whom God sent. But God is still their God, faithful to His covenant promises.

This covenant is also in effect for those who are children of Abraham by faith. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (Romans 9:6). All who have placed their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior are spiritual descendants of Abraham and recipients of his blessings by faith (Galatians 3:14).

17:8 “I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

The Lord renews the promise of Canaan as the possession of Abraham and his descendants. Because the covenant is everlasting, so is the promise of this land. It is Israel’s land through time and into eternity.  When Christ returns, He will establish Jerusalem as the place of His enthronement and Israel will be inhabited by believing Jews and Gentiles.

The Lord also renews the covenant promise that He will be their God. Though in the following centuries Israel was unfaithful to the Lord, worshipping false gods, rebelling against the Lord, rejecting His warnings, persecuting His prophets and rejecting even the Messiah, nevertheless, the Lord was faithful to preserve the covenant and a remnant of righteous Jews. Though Israel came under divine judgment and was destroyed by the Assyrians and Babylonians, reestablished and then destroyed again by the Romans, the Lord was faithful to preserve the covenant and a believing remnant. 

Though Adolf Hitler attempted to annihilate the Jewish people, the Lord was faithful. Though the nation did not exist for 1900 years, the Lord was faithful. There is no other people group in the history of humanity that has survived 4,000 years of violent persecution. How do we explain this? The Lord has been faithful through the centuries to preserve the covenant and to preserve a remnant of righteous Jews as He said He would. 

These two promises cannot be separated: “I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings … and I will be their God.” 

The gift of the land is inextricably joined to God’s gift of Himself. Because He is God Almighty and Everlasting, the covenant endures and the promises are still in effect. Those who doubt this and are drunk with the deception that they will succeed in destroying Israel would do well to read the words of the Lord through the prophet Jeremiah:

“Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the Lord of hosts is His name: ‘If this fixed order departs from before Me,’ declares the Lord, ‘Then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.’ Thus says the Lord, ‘If the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,’  declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:35-37).

When the universe collapses, that is, when God ceases to be Upholder and Sustainer of all He created or when a mere human can measure the universe, then God will no longer be faithful to His covenant with Israel. Those who desire to harm God’s covenant people will find themselves fighting in futility against the God of the covenant.

17:9 “God said further to Abraham, ‘Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.’”

Again the Lord reminds Abraham that there is a necessary human response to God’s covenant promises. He and his descendants must keep it faithfully. They must walk before the Lord with integrity. The Lord is not requiring perfection — He knows they are prone to sin and fail. But they must faithfully obey and follow as the Lord leads. When they fail they must be willing to confess and forsake their sin, accepting the Lord’s grace and continuing on in faith.

17:10,11 “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.”

The Lord established the ritual of circumcision as a sign of the covenant. Though it is a covenant of grace in which God takes it upon Himself to establish and secure the covenant, there must be a response of faithful commitment on the part of Abraham and his descendants. God resolves to be their God but they must resolve to be His people. Circumcision would be an expression of that commitment for Abraham and his descendants.

In ancient times the record of a covenant was inscribed in stones, in modern times is written on paper. Through circumcision, God inscribed the covenant on the body of each covenant member. 

However, the Apostle Paul reveals, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). The coming of Christ means the end of the law for all who place their faith in Christ. Therefore we no longer practice external circumcision. Rather, we experience a circumcision of the heart as the Spirit of God applies the word of God to our heart (Romans 2:29), bringing us to repentance and faith and beginning a progressive work whereby we are separated out of worldly values, customs and sins and separated into the holiness of Jesus.

17:12-14 “And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

Three important provisions:

1. Not only genetic descendants of Abraham are included but all servants. Through this ritual, even foreign born men can become members of the covenant community. This does not mean that everyone will experience the blessings of the covenant merely through circumcision. They are included in the community but the blessings come through faith.

2. Again the Lord reminds Abraham that this is an everlasting covenant, enduring forever.

3. If anyone does not share in the ritual of inclusion, then they are not included in the covenant community. This is what the Lord meant when He said, “That person shall be cut off from his people.” They are excluded from the covenant.

We need to pause here and remember an important distinction between Abraham and followers of Christ. Yes, we are spiritual descendants of Abraham in the sense that we live by faith as he did and we share in the blessings of Abraham. But we have entered into relationship with God through a New Covenant which was instituted by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

The church in the first century endured a sharp, divisive controversy in which some said that converts to Christ must submit to the Law of Moses and be circumcised. The apostles rejected this notion, establishing for all time the truth that we are included in the blessings of the New Covenant not by any ritual but by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (see Acts 15:1-29).

17:15,16 “Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.’”

As we have said, when God gives a person a new name it is to designate new purpose. The name Sarai means my princess, from the root Sar, which designates one who rules. However, some commentators believe that the pronoun my lends a sense of restriction to her rule as if she is princess of only one family. Sarah means princess — there is no limiting pronoun for she will be the mother of nations. She is princess in an absolute sense. 

It is also possible that there is no true distinction between the names. God simply emphasizes her high calling as “a mother of nations” and “kings of peoples.”

We have read much of the faith of Abraham but now faith will be equally required of Sarah. So it is that we read in Hebrews 11:11, “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.”

Sarah will be a mother to Abraham’s son but we may also say that she is a mother to all who come to God in faith through Christ Jesus for she is ninety years old when the Lord makes this promise. She is long past the age of child bearing and was unable to conceive even in her younger years. It is by faith that she conceives and thereby she is the mother of all who come to Christ in faith.

17:17 “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’”

Prostrate before the Lord is a posture of worshipful humility. Laughter is not necessarily an expression of unbelief and ridicule— it can also be an expression of joy. Evidently Abraham was not mocking God because the Lord did not rebuke him as He did the father of John the Baptist in Luke 1:18-20. So we may interpret his response to be, not unbelief, but worshipful, amazed, humble, joyful wonder and gratitude.

Abraham’s question is reminiscent of Mary the mother of Jesus when the angel informed her that she would be the mother of “the Son of the Most High.” Mary asked, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). Her question was not motivated by unbelief but amazement. She did not understand how she could conceive a child without a human father. The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).

In Matthew 17:5, when Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, it says that “a bright cloud overshadowed” them. That was the shekinah glory of God encompassing them on the mountain. That word, overshadowed, is the same word used by the angel to describe to Mary the conception of Jesus. God overshadowed Mary with His life and creative power, encompassed her in the womb of His glory and conceived in her womb the life of Jesus.

Although Sarah’s conception will be through Abraham, it will be as much an expression of the power of God as was Mary’s conception. Only God could regenerate the procreative powers of a childless 100 year old man and a barren 90 year old woman. But as we have read, it was necessary that Abraham and Sarah embrace the creative power of God through faith.

17:18 “And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before you!’”

Abraham does not understand how God will give him a son through Sarah. The original promise that he would become a great nation had been given 25 years previously (Gen. 12:2). If he had not produced a son through Sarah in 25 years, how could that possibly happen now? He does not understand that this conception will be through the supernatural creative power of God.

17:19 “But God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.’”

The Lord does not rebuke Abraham but patiently restates His purpose that a son will be born to Abraham through Sarah and the Lord will establish the covenant with him. All the promises that have been made to Abraham are centered in this yet unborn child, not Ishmael. The everlasting covenant with Abraham and his descendants, the great nation that will come into being through him, the blessings that will go forth throughout the world — all of this is predicated on a child yet unborn to a 100 year old man and a 90 year old woman.

God is asking Abraham to believe in something that is absolutely impossible on a natural, human level. Many years later when the Apostle Paul wrote about this, he described the Lord as the God “who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist” (Romans 4:17). An alternate translation is rendered, “Who calls those things which are not as though they are.”  

The God who created the universe with His spoken word made covenant promises to Abraham and Sarah and intended to fulfill those promises. In spite of his inability to comprehend how God will do this, Abraham pressed on and grew stronger in faith. We know this because of what the Apostle Paul wrote concerning Abraham:

“In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform” (Romans 4:18-21).

Abraham “contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb.” He was utterly realistic that on a physical level he and Sarah were unable to fulfill the promise of God. But he was “fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.” There is the key — Abraham was aware of his physical reality but focused on the spiritual reality. He believed God’s power was greater than His limitations. This is faith — not denial of our circumstances but confidence in a God who is greater than our circumstances.

Notice also that the Lord named the child Isaac, which means “he laughs.”

17:20 “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.”

Although Isaac will be the son through whom the covenant will be preserved and continued, the Lord is not forgetful of Ishmael. He too is a son of Abraham and though he is not the heir of the covenant and though the promises given to Abraham are exclusive to the line of descendants through Isaac, Ishmael will be blessed by God in those ways that are appropriate to him. He too will be fruitful and nations will issue from him.

The Arab nations have descended from Ishmael and though they have been victims of the deception of Islam and though they are not direct heirs of the covenant made with Abraham, they are not excluded from the hope of redemption and eternal life. Arab people have been saved since the gospel was first preached by Peter on Pentecost in Jerusalem (see Acts 2). However, they must seek their salvation not through anyone from the line of Ishmael but through the Messiah descended from Abraham and Isaac — the Lord Jesus Christ.

17:21,22 “But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year. When He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.”

The Lord repeats the promise of covenant and of Isaac’s birth and gives a specific time. Abraham now can focus his faith — the promise has a name and a season of birth.

Verse 22 reads as if the Lord appeared visibly to Abraham. If so, this was a theophany — an appearance of Jesus in human form prior to His incarnation through Mary. There have been other appearances to Abraham (while in Mesopotamia, see Acts 7:2; in 12:7; in Genesis15:1 in a vision; and here in Genesis beginning with 17:2). There will be another.

17:23,24 “Then Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all the servants who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's household, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the very same day, as God had said to him. Now Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.”

Confident in his expectation of Isaac’s birth, Abraham now fulfills the requirement of circumcision. Notice that Abraham did this on the day that God spoke to him. There is no delay, neither does he question the Lord. He simply obeys.

As we said earlier, circumcision was a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham. Though it was the Lord who established the covenant, He required a response on the part of Abraham and his descendants. Faith is revealed through obedience. Circumcision was the expression of faith in response to the God who called Abraham into covenant with Himself.

However, Abraham did not enjoy the blessings of the covenant because of circumcision. Those blessings were already available to him through faith. He was not declared to be righteous because of circumcision. He was already declared to be righteous by faith. Circumcision was an outward sign of inward faith.

The fact that Abraham circumcised Ishmael and his servants does not mean that they were righteous before God nor were the promises of the covenant theirs simply because they were circumcised. The promises are available to them through faith and if they come to a place of faith in God, then they will be declared righteous and will experience the blessings of the covenant.

17:25-27 “Now Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. In the very same day Abraham was circumcised, and Ishmael his son. All the men of his household, who were born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.”

Abraham is 99 years old but demonstrating faith by obeying God immediately and completely. Again we note that all his household, including Ishmael, participate in the ritual of circumcision.

Though God’s covenant with Abraham extended exclusively through Isaac and his descendants, the entire household was circumcised. However, access to the blessings of the covenant will not be through circumcision but through faith in the God of the covenant. Saving faith today is expressed through repentance of sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and descendant of Abraham.  And so it is that people of every tribe and tongue and nation are entering into covenant relationship with God through faith in Jesus the Messiah.

Study Questions

1. What did the Lord mean when He said to Abram, “Walk before me, and be blameless”?

2. How can a sinner walk before God blamelessly?

Genesis Chapter 18

Genesis Chapter 18

18:1 “Now the Lord (Yahweh / Jehovah) appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day.”

This is the fifth time that God manifested to Abraham in some form. The Lord appeared to him while he lived in Mesopotamia, though we are not told what form the Lord used (see Acts 7:2). When Abram arrived in Canaan the Lord manifested to him (see 12:7). In Genesis15:1 we read that the Lord appeared to him in a vision. In Genesis 17:2 the Lord manifested again in some form. But now in chapter 18 the Lord manifests in a physical body. This is called a theophany, a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus.

18:2,3 “When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, and said, ‘My Lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by.’”

It is probable that Abraham does not yet recognize one of the visitors as the Lord God — all three appear to him as men (the other two visitors appear as men but we will learn in 19:1 that they are angels appearing in the likeness of men).

Although Abraham addresses one of them as lord, it is not the word used in verse one (that is Jehovah / Yahweh). In verse three the word is Adonay, an emphatic form of the root Adon which means master, one who exercises authority, in a human or divine sense. Adonay often refers to God but not always, so Abraham’s greeting may not be an act of worship. It may simply be a normal expression of Mid Eastern respect for visitors.

One might ask why Abraham did not recognize one of the men as the Lord, having seem Him before in the flesh and in a vision. The answer is that we do not know what form the Lord had used previously to manifest to Abraham. On this occasion, the Lord appears as a man so ordinary that He is indistinguishable from any other man.

It is not unusual that we find God meeting with a mortal man. Though God is infinitely and eternally Other than we are, we often find Him condescending to meet with ordinary people. The holy God manifested in Eden to speak with sinners. The God whom the universe cannot contain placed His glory in the tabernacle and in the Jerusalem temple. The timeless God entered time in Bethlehem’s stable, grew into a man and walked the dusty roads of Galilee, ate in homes, attended weddings, touched lepers. Even in His resurrection glory we see Him breaking bread at a humble table.

18:4,5 “‘Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.’ And they said, ‘So do, as you have said.’”

Abraham greets his visitors with the usual displays of hospitality — water for their dusty feet and  food to nourish them. Travel in those days in that hot, dry climate was difficult and normal visitors would have been tired, thirsty and hungry. So Abraham entertains God and two angels under a tree in the heat of the day.

18:6-8 “So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.’ Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.”

This required several hours of preparation but when the meal was prepared, Abraham brought it to his guests. As we have said, he probably did not know that he was serving God but in expressing the simple courtesy of the day, he blessed the God of all blessing.

The writer to the Hebrews counsels us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebr. 13:2). More than entertaining angels, we have an opportunity every day to serve the living God with bread and shelter. Jesus said that when we share kindness with the least of those around us — showing mercy to the stranger, clothing the poor, feeding the hungry, digging wells for villages that have no water, visiting the sick and the prisoner —we have done this unto Him (Matthew 25:34-46).

Consider the humility of our Lord who created the universe and yet visits the house of Abraham. 

This is what He desires with each of us — close, personal relationship. Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me”  (Revelation 3:20).

18:9,10 “Then they said to him, ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ He said, ‘I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him.”

In chapter 17 the Lord had promised a son through Sarah and directed Abraham to name him Isaac (17:16-19). The Lord even gave a time line for the birth of Isaac — “at this season next year” (17:21). Now the Lord reiterates the promise — “at this time next year … Sarah your wife will have a son.”

18:11,12 “Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’”

Sarah overheard the promise and, being well aware of her infertility and advanced age and Abraham’s limitations, she laughed. As with Abraham, this is not necessarily a response of unbelief or scorn. We know from Hebrews 11:11 that Sarah’s faith was a necessary counterpart to the creative power of God: “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.”

So we know that Sarah was a woman of faith. How else could the Lord have worked through her? Though God is all-powerful and able to accomplish all that He purposes, what He does in our lives must be joined to faith. We might say that faith is the womb in which God conceives and gives birth to His purpose in time and space.  

Sarah possessed enough faith for God to work through her. But as with Abraham and Mary the mother of Jesus, she does not understand how God can do this. The Lord is asking her to believe something that is completely impossible on a human level and her laughter may simply be an expression of amazement. Her laughter may also be an outburst of joy for we read in 21:6 that after the birth of Isaac, Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” So she may simply be expressing joyful wonder at such an amazing gift.

18:13,14 “And the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying,’ ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ ‘Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.’”

This is a rhetorical question — of course nothing is difficult, challenging or perplexing for the God who created all that exists out of nothing, merely speaking it into existence. Paul reminds us in Romans 4:17 that He is the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being those things which are not. It is as easy for the Lord to create a universe as it is for Him to create a lily. He can give life to a barren womb. We are reminded of the words of Jeremiah, 

“Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You” (Jere. 32:17).

The Lord is transitioning the focus of Abraham and Sarah away from a human solution to the promise of a child, a great nation and a multitude of descendants. He is refocusing them on His unlimited creative power and wisdom. When God reveals His purposes and promises to us, the natural tendency is to ask, “How will I accomplish this?” The question itself is discouraging because our resources are so limited and corruptible. 

“How will I accomplish this?” is always the wrong question. The right question is, “How will God accomplish this?” The correct answer is, “Any way He chooses.” When we are perplexed and incredulous at the purpose and promise of God, the remedy is not to look at ourselves but at the absolute sovereignty, perfect wisdom and immeasurable power of God.

It is wrong to expect nothing more of God than what we can understand with human reason or accomplish with human resources. When we disbelieve His word, we rob God of the opportunity to exercise His power, reveal His wisdom, accomplish His purpose and thereby display His glory. Again, it is not that Abraham and Sarah disbelieved the Lord but they were trying to interpret the promises based on their own wisdom and physical capacity. The Lord is turning their focus away from themselves and onto Himself, calling them to live by faith in the dimension of the impossible.

18:15 “Sarah denied it however, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. And He said, ‘No, but you did laugh.’”  

Sarah denies laughing for she fears the Lord. Evidently she misunderstands the omniscient mind of God who knows all truth that could ever be true. Though she laughed within herself, the Lord  knows our thoughts “from afar” (Psalm 139:2). It is useless to deny even our unspoken words to a God who knows our words before we speak them (Psalm 139:4). 

And it is unnecessary to deny anything before the Lord who loves us. In doing so, Sarah shows that she misunderstands the heart of God. Everything He has done and promised to do for Abraham and Sarah is an expression of grace. He is not looking for an opportunity to punish them but to bless them. Though there were sins and mistakes along the way, the Lord is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Psalm 103:8).

The Lord does not rebuke Sarah for laughing because He knows her heart and He knows the intent of her laughter. He does correct her denial, stating the truth, “You did laugh.”

Someone asked, “Why should I confess everything to the Lord? He already knows everything.” Confession is not telling God what He does not know. It is agreeing with what He has shown me. God shows us the truth so that we may take accountability for the truth and receive His forgiving, cleansing, restoring grace.

The Bible is filled with the stories of redeemed sinners who fulfilled God’s purpose in their generation. Jacob was a lying thief who, restored by grace, became father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses was a murderer who, restored by grace, became the deliverer of Israel. Zacheus was a fraudulent businessman, Peter denied the Lord, Paul was accomplice to the murder of a righteous man but each was redeemed to fulfill the works which God had prepared for them.

Rather than deny what we said or thought or did, we may simply be transparent before the Lord and trust that He is who He says He is, the God of truth and grace. When we are willing to be honest and accountable before the Lord, we encounter a God whose great desire is to forgive, redeem, restore and bless.

18:16 “Then the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off.”

The three visitors depart in the direction of Sodom. Abraham does not know it yet but he is about to witness the greatest outpouring of God’s wrath since the flood of Noah’s generation.

18:17-19 “The Lord (Yahweh / Jehovah) said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed?  For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.’”

It is obvious now that one of the visitors is not an angel but the Lord Himself (Yahweh / Jehovah), according to the text. He asks a question, not because the Lord needs information but for the purpose of disclosing His plans to Abraham. Whenever God asks a question of anyone, it is either so that we may express accountability to Him or so that he can disclose His purpose to us.

In Genesis 3:9, when God asked Adam, “Where are you?”, it was not because God did not know. Rather, He was offering Adam the opportunity to be accountable for his choices.

In this case, given the destiny that God has ordained for Abraham and given that the Lord has entered into a covenant relationship with him, the Lord wants to reveal His plans. This is part of what it means to be in covenant with the Lord — He invites us to seek Him, to commune with Him, to speak with Him and listen to Him. In the intimacy of this communion, God discloses the thoughts and purposes of His heart with His covenant people. So it is with Abraham. The Lord intends to judge the wicked cities on the plain below and He wants Abraham to understand what He intends to do and why. 

This will motivate Abraham to be an intercessor for those who are balanced on the precipice of judgment. The same God who judges sinners also intercedes for sinners and invites His covenant people to join with Him in passionate, holy, truthful intercession.

Notice the phrase, “For I have chosen him.” The word chosen is yada, the same word as in Genesis 4:1 where it says that Adam knew his wife.  It means to know intimately. This is the same word as in Jere 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” Yada can also mean “to designate or appoint.”  The God who knows us perfectly has also chosen us, appointed us to a purpose designed from eternity.

Abraham did not choose himself.  God chose him.  Jesus said, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit” (John 15:16).  God has a purpose, a destiny for every life.  We do not choose or decide to be people of destiny.  We surrender to God and discover our destiny.

Notice the phrase, “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord.”

Abraham was appointed to be in a covenant relationship with God, designed by God to be the father of a great nation and chosen to teach his children so that they could perpetuate the covenant, so that “the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” The covenant promises were not just for Abraham but also for his descendants and in order for them to walk in the fulness of God’s purpose, they would need to be instructed in Godly wisdom.

This is a picture of the Lord and His church. Living in covenant with the Lord, He invites us to deeper communion with Himself, enlightens the church through the Scriptures and then directs the teaching ministry of the church so that we may grow in the grace and knowledge and likeness of Jesus. As we grow, we are able to partner with the Lord as intercessors and as witnesses in the accomplishing of His purpose in our generation.

Some churches today deny the truthfulness of holy Scripture, shutting their eyes to the light. Some hide the light in baskets of indifference; others in baskets of heresy and false teaching. They may be large or small churches, they may boast of crowds and cash flow, but without the light of revelation they will not fulfill the purpose of God in their generation. This is a grievous sin. Considering the certainty of future judgment upon this world, we have a responsibility to intercede and to witness. Intercession and witness flow out of communion with God our covenant Partner. 

Communion leads to revelation. Revelation leads to God-inspired prayer and action. We pray and work more fruitfully when we know what God is doing and why He is doing it. Remove the communion which leads to light and we will have a church that may be busy but accomplishing nothing of God’s purpose.

Though we walk by faith and not by sight, faith is not blind. Faith is based on some level of revelation. God always gave Abraham enough information so that he could faithfully order his steps in obedience to the known will of God. So it is with us.

18:20,21 “And the Lord said, ‘The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.’”

“I will go down now, and see” is not a denial of the omniscience of God. The Lord does not need to learn anything about any person or city or nation since He knows all truth that could ever be true from before the beginning to beyond the end. Rather, this is a representation of God’s perfectly wise and merciful examination of any judicial issue before He acts to judge evil. The two accompanying angels will visit Sodom for the purpose of gaining evidence through personal experience. Again, it is not that God needs the testimony of the angels but their experience and testimony will prove the righteousness of God’s judgment. Only then will God judge.

The Lord is also drawing Abraham in as an intercessor. The man of God is a covenant partner with God and as such, he is called to involve himself in the affairs of earth. His involvement is as a worshipper, a witness, a warrior and an intercessor. He has worshipped and witnessed as a builder of altars. He has been a warrior in defeating the kings of the East. Now God calls him to the ministry of intercession.

We see in this the patience of God. He did not judge Sodom until His angelic messengers had thoroughly examined the city and only after intercession for the city had been offered. It would be the same way with the land of Canaan. Though the Lord promised Canaan to Abraham, it would not be possessed by his descendants for another 450 years for, as the Lord said, “The iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Gen. 15:16).  God gave the inhabitants of the land another 450 years to repent before they were dispossessed. Only after another 450 years of sin and obstinate refusal to turn from their sin, only then would God judge Canaan by dispossessing the people. Truly, the Lord is slow to judge, quick to forgive but when people will not repent, God will judge.

Let no one suppose that God is unjust in judging evil. Sodom and Gomorrah had seen the majesty of God revealed in the defeat of the kings of the East through the intervention of the Godly man, Abraham. They had experienced the generosity of the Lord in the restoration of their possessions. They had known the witness of the righteous priest, Melchizedek. They had known the witness of Lot, a righteous though compromised man. And they had the natural witness of God in creation and in their own conscience. But in spite of all this testimony and in spite of God’s great blessing upon their land, they continued in their wickedness, refusing to repent. So God judged them.  

We are reminded of the words of the Psalmist who said, “The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:9).

In what way was “the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah” great? Who was crying out? Certainly not the native citizens of that wicked city, for none were spared when judgment fell. Possibly it was Lot, a righteous but compromised alien in that society. The Apostle Peter tells us that Lot was “oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard” (2 Peter 2:7,8). So it may be that Lot was crying out to God, even though he himself was living a compromised life. 

But the greatest outcry may have come from creation itself. Was it not so when Cain killed his brother Abel? The Lord said to Cain, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10). This universe is founded on a moral order designed by God. Any person or society that violates that order is living against the very grain of the universe and the very foundations of the earth cry out to God.

18:22 “Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the Lord.”

It is evident in the following verses that only two of the men, which we understand to be angels, moved toward Sodom while the third, who is called Lord (Jehovah / Yahweh) remained to speak with Abraham. The Lord will now draw Abraham into the ministry of intercession.

18:23-25 “Abraham came near and said, ‘Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?’”

This is a picture of intercessory prayer — Abraham pleading with God for the lives of any righteous persons who may be living among the unrighteous of Sodom. His intercession is based on a true knowledge of God’s character. He understands that God is both just and merciful, a holy God who judges sin but also a merciful God who saves sinners who, through repentance and faith, are declared righteous. Abraham is praying that Sodom will be spared for the sake of the righteous who live there. 

The truth is that sometimes the righteous suffer when God is judging the wicked. When God judged sinful, idolatrous Judah, righteous young men, including Daniel, were taken into captivity. They served God’s purpose in a foreign land and prospered there but surely there was suffering in the loss of their homeland and family. But though Daniel suffered in the judgment of Judah, God preserved him both in time and for eternity. The manner of suffering which the righteous may endure and the manner of deliverance is entirely in God’s hands.

But Abraham is asking that God spare the entire city for the sake of the righteous. We pray that today — that God would spare a nation for the sake of the righteous who cry out to Him. We also pray that the righteous will be delivered in the midst of judgment, that God will make a distinction between the Godly and the ungodly and preserve the righteous even as He judges the unrighteous.

Notice that Abraham’s prayer is based on his knowledge of the holy character of God, what he understands about the nature of God, appealing to God’s unchanging character. He is not attempting to convince God to be who He is nor is he attempting to remind God to act like God; that is not what intercession is. He knows he is speaking with a God who is always perfectly consistent to act according to His nature. Abraham knows that he does not need to convince God to be just or merciful, because that is who God is and God does not change.

In fact, the motivation for this prayer does not lie with Abraham but with God. It is the Lord who has invited Abraham to share with Him in the coming event of judgment and mercy. God’s invitation is based on their covenant. God and Abraham are covenant partners and so the Lord shares what He is doing and invites Abraham to participate through the conversation of prayer.

Abraham is asking an important question— will God spare a wicked city for the sake of the righteous who are in it?

18:26 “So the Lord said, ‘If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.’”

God agrees with Abraham’s request and so the man of God continues to intercede. 

18:27,28 “And Abraham replied, ‘Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes. Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?’ And He said, ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.’”

Notice Abraham’s humility. God invites us to come before Him confidently with our requests, even boldly (see Hebrews 4:16) but our confidence should be tempered with the humble realization of who we are and who God is. We are dust and ash clothing for an immortal spirit but God is the perfectly holy, everlasting, Almighty Creator and Sustainer of the universe. We come before the Lord with confidence but also with humble reverence.

As we have said, it is not that Abraham is trying to convince God to be good. Rather, it is God drawing Abraham into the ministry of prayer. If we are living in covenant with God, then we are invited by God into ministry partnership with Him in our generation. 

Abraham is not trying to persuade the Lord to be merciful — He already is. Rather, this prayer is a release point for the mercy of God. God desires to be merciful and Abraham’s prayers are an expression of the heart of God and an instrument of release for that which God desires to do. 

Remember that when God created Adam and Eve, they were given authority to serve and rule the earth as God’s stewards. Indeed, the Psalmist says, “The heavens are the heavens of the Lord, but the earth He has given to the sons of men” (Psalm 115:16). When Adam and Eve separated themselves from God through sin they lost their God-given authority. But when we enter into covenant with God through Christ, we are reinvested with authority so we can share with Him in ministry on earth. We exercise this ministry through prayer, witness and works of mercy.

Abraham appeals to God’s mercy and since this is God’s purpose, to be merciful, the Lord agrees to spare the city for the sake of 45 righteous people.

18:29,30 “He spoke to Him yet again and said, ‘Suppose forty are found there?’ And He said, ‘I will not do it on account of the forty.’ Then he said, ‘Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak; suppose thirty are found there?’ And He said, ‘I will not do it if I find thirty there.’”

Abraham continues to appeal to God, based on his understanding of the righteous, just, merciful, holy character of God. And the Lord continues to agree with the intercessor.

This is a picture of the church, praying through the centuries for the very same world that ridicules and slaughters the church. Jesus said that the church is light and salt. Who but God can number the times when humble prayer groups, seemingly insignificant, have prayed light into the darkness and salt into the putrefying corruption of human society? Who but God can measure the transforming impact of the truly redeemed church praying and witnessing?

We see here an absolutely essential truth, that God has not only ordained the end of all things but has also ordained the means to arrive at that end. Our prayers, our lives, our gifts, our witness are part of the means which God has ordained to move history toward the fulfilling of His purpose.

Why pray? Because the Lord invites us to pray and in this, we partner with Him in the fulfilling of His purpose. Again, Abraham is not attempting to persuade God to be merciful. He is agreeing with God’s desire to be merciful and his prayer is an instrument of release for the merciful purpose of God. How ironic that God’s desire to be merciful to the few righteous citizens of Sodom could result in the withholding of judgment from the lives of unrighteous men and women who are completely unaware of God’s mercy or justice.

18:31 “And he said, ‘Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?’ And He said, ‘I will not destroy it on account of the twenty.’ Then he said, ‘Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?’ And He said, ‘I will not destroy it on account of the ten.’”

Why does Abraham continue to pray? Because there were not 50 righteous, nor 40, nor 30 nor 20. There were not even ten righteous persons in the city. God knew this when Abraham began to pray. Then why was God listening to his prayers? Why was God engaged in the conversation of intercession with Abraham when He already knew that there were not even ten righteous souls in Sodom?

First, it is an expression of God’s mercy that causes Him to yearn over lost sinners. Even when the lost refuse to repent and turn to God, even when they choose to remain separated from God, God still grieves over them, weeps over them, longs for them and invites His covenant people to share His passion through prayer. God knew that there were not even ten righteous souls in Sodom but He invited Abraham to share His grief, His passion.

Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem as it rejected Him and the outpouring of mercy which He offered. No doubt, He invited His disciples to weep with Him. He weeps today and invites His church to share in His passion.

In this display of mercy, God glorifies Himself.

We also see that God’s judgment is just. In spite of many years of righteous witness to the people of Sodom, in spite of the prayers of righteous Abraham, there are still not even 10 righteous people in the city. God is not unjust or cruel or harsh in judging those who will not turn from their evil. God is just in judging and is glorified in justice.

Abraham has interceded but judgment will not be withheld. However, even as God would have spared the city if even a few sinners had turned from their sin, we also see that in the midst of judgment, God will deliver the righteous.

This is our God. He judges sin but desires to save the sinner and delivers the righteous from judgment. How does God do this? By taking our sin and His judgment of sin upon Himself. Jesus, the holy Sacrifice for sin, bore our sin and divine judgment upon Himself as the holy Lamb, the holy Substitute for sinners.

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

“But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering … My Servant will justify the many as He will bear their iniquities … Because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:10-12).

“And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (I Peter 2:24).

What an amazing God! 

He established a just, moral order to this universe and thankfully He did this so that we are not consumed by evil. But though we have each sinned and done that which is evil, and though God must judge our sin, He takes our sin upon Himself.

Thereby the Just One justifies the unjust. The Righteous Judge lavishes mercy and grace on the condemned sinner and declares us to be forgiven, justified, righteous. Why would anyone refuse to turn to such a gracious God?

18:32 “As soon as He had finished speaking to Abraham the Lord departed, and Abraham returned to his place.”

There were not even ten righteous persons in the city, only the family of Lot. God will deliver the righteous but now judgment will be poured out on the wicked. The time for intercession is over.

Study Questions:

1. What do you suppose Sarah was expressing in her laughter? (see 18:9-15)

2. Why did God tell Abraham what He was about to do in Sodom?

3. What does Abraham’s intercession tell us about the heart of God?

Genesis Chapter 19

Genesis Chapter 19

19:1 “Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground.”

We see now that the two men who had accompanied the Lord were actually angels in the likeness of men. As they approach the gates of Sodom, Lot rises to meet them and bows “with his face to the ground.” This is not necessarily an indication that he recognizes their true identity. Rather, it is a common expression of Mideastern courtesy.

Notice that Lot is “sitting in the gate of Sodom.” This is where the elders of a city met to decide on judicial matters and other issues of civic concern. Lot has become one of the leaders of a society which the Lord described as exceedingly wicked (Gen. 13:13).

How has a man whom the New Testament describes as righteous (see 2 Peter 2:7) become a leader in a society which God describes as evil? We could understand if he were a preacher of righteousness in Sodom or a prophet of righteousness. But a civic leader?

How did this happen? We may assume that the process was gradual. We may also assume that the corruption of Lot was also gradual.

In 13:12 we read that “Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom.” Attracted by the fertility of the valley and the potential riches, Lot pitched his tents close to Sodom, close enough to become familiar with social custom; then close enough to ingest the ways of the city; close enough to become desensitized to the offense of the city; close enough to be assimilated into the heart of the city.

Now he is sitting in the gate of Sodom and we will see in verse two that he no longer dwells in tents but now in a house, in Sodom. We will see in verse eight that his sense of morality has been deeply seared and compromised. When we live close to wickedness, there is the danger that we will gradually adapt our life in conformity to the dominant customs which define that wickedness. Yes, we are in the world but we are not to be of the world.

This is why God continually called Israel to be a people distinct from the world around them. How could they be the Lord’s witness to a lost world if they became as corrupt as the world? How could they bear witness of the one true God if they succumbed to the idolatrous worship of the false gods which were destroying the people groups around them?

This is why the Apostle Paul exhorts the church to come out from evil, to separate ourselves from evil (see 2 Cor. 6:14-18). That doesn’t mean we must leave the world — God has placed us in this world so that we may be His witness. But how will we show forth the witness of God’s light if our own souls have become darkened? How will we bear witness of His holiness if we have been infected with evil?  How will we share His love if we have been filled with the world’s hatred? How will we speak His truth if we are corrupted by lies and deceptions?

Yes, we each live in a particular society but we are not to be conformed to the moral, philosophical, cultural, artistic or religious customs of that society. We are to submit our lives, our minds, our bodies, our emotions — our entire being to the Lord each day and allow Him to transform us in His likeness. Only then will we have a transforming influence on the world around us.

Lot pitched his tents near Sodom but gradually was absorbed into the life of the city.

19:2 “And he said, ‘Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant’s house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way.’ They said however, ‘No, but we shall spend the night in the square.’”

Lot addresses the men as lords — adon, masters. This was a standard greeting to strangers and not implying that Lot recognized any degree of deity or angelic majesty in the visitors. His invitation is typical of Mideastern hospitality though we will see that he has another motive for inviting them into the safety of his house. They initially refuse the invitation, preferring to spend the night in the city square. Their reason is consistent with their motive for being there — to experience the reality of Sodom.

19:3 “Yet he urged them strongly, so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he prepared a feast for them, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.”

Lot insists that they come to his house because he knows the reality of wickedness in that city. The problem is not that the men would be exposed to the weather. More ominously, they would be exposed to the violent, perverse lusts of the men of Sodom.

The angels finally agree and Lot sets a feast before them, as a good host would do for his guests. The unleavened bread has no religious significance — it would have taken too much time to wait for dough to rise.

19:4,5 “Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter, and they called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them.’”

A large mob, comprised of all the men of the city of every age, surrounded the house and demanded that Lot surrender his visitors. They do not hide their intent — they intend to gang rape the men. Aside from the fact that rape itself is a violent abomination to God, the sexual act between members of the same gender is also an abomination. In the Law of Moses this was prohibited (Lev 18:22,29  19:13) and punishable by death. The Apostle Paul reiterated this prohibition and the penalty (Romans 1:27,32  I Cor. 6:9-11).

19:6-8 “But Lot went out to them at the doorway, and shut the door behind him, and said, ‘Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly. Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof.’”

If the Apostle Peter did not tell us that Lot was a righteous man, we surely would not know from his conduct (see 2 Peter 2:7). Sometimes righteous people live compromised lives, lives of complacent tolerance of that which grieves God. Though the Bible says that Lot is a righteous man, his righteousness is hidden.  What he demonstrates is a strange mixture of offense at wickedness and indifference to the well being of his daughters.

How unthinkably heartless that he would sacrifice his own daughters to this cursed mob. The courage that he shows in facing the mob is entirely nullified by his callous disregard for his own children. 

Notice the inconsistency of his ethics. “Do not act wickedly” is his advice to the mob. But then he offers his children to their criminal lust. What Lot proposes is just as evil as what the mob desires to do. He is deceived if he believes he can defeat evil with evil. In this he betrays more than mere confusion. He is a morally and spiritually compromised man; the corruption of Sodom has begun to seep into his soul. He is warping into conformity to a wicked culture, having  accommodated himself to the ways of Sodom.

There is no neutral ground in this world. If we accommodate ourselves to the moral customs of our society then we will gradually be conformed to that morality. Likewise, if we accommodate ourselves to the values of God’s kingdom, we will be conformed to those values.

Therefore the Apostle Paul exhorts  the church, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

How do we resist conformity to a world which surrounds us and impacts us continually and how do we experience Godly transformation? Paul tells us in the preceding verse, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1).

As we present our lives to the Lord daily in worship, in prayer, in the study of His word and as we commit ourselves to live that word while actively resisting and refusing the pressures of cultural formation, the Lord God will produce in us that which is pleasing to Him.

19:9 “But they said, ‘Stand aside.’ Furthermore, they said, ‘This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them.’ So they pressed hard against Lot and came near to break the door.”

The Apostle Peter tells us that Lot was “oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men” and was “tormented day after day by their lawless deeds” (2 Peter 2:7,8). It must have been a private torment, he must not have been a public witness for righteousness because now, when Lot finally objects to their conduct, they turn on him. The friendship of Sodom melts like wax in the fire of their lust. Incited by unrestrained craving, the men threaten to overpower Lot and do worse to him than to his guests.

Their statement, “He is acting like a judge,” is the usual objection to a righteous man or woman trying to defend their household. What they are really saying is, “Who are you to judge our morality?”  They say this while trying to violate Lot's household with their immorality.  They believe they have the right to exercise their sexual violence anywhere, any time, no matter who they violate.  But Lot, in defending his household, is “judging” them.

They do pay him a hidden compliment — they remind him that he is an alien. What they mean is, “You are not one of us.” It should always be so — we are in the world but not of it. That may cost us friendships, opportunities for advancement in the world system, popularity and success in the market place. But when the judgment of God comes on a wicked society how grateful we will be that we were not one of them, that we were not counted among the condemned. 

19:10,11 “But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. They struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves trying to find the doorway.”

Lot’s life is saved by the timely intervention of the angels who then strike the mob with blindness. The physical blindness of the men of Sodom is a metaphor for their moral blindness. They have long since ceased to discern with any clarity light from dark, right from wrong.

19:12,13 “Then the two men said to Lot, ‘Whom else have you here? A son-in-law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the Lord that the Lord has sent us to destroy it.’”

The omniscient God knew the truth about Sodom but now His perfect knowledge is vindicated through the experience of the angelic visitors. It is not that the Lord needed to confirm truth to Himself. Rather, confirmation is to people and angels. All who learn about this story will see that God’s judgment was righteous, not harsh, cruel or arbitrary.

The Lord had glorified Himself in offering the witness of grace to Sodom for many years through Abraham’s victory over the kings of the east, through the righteous priest Melchizedek, through the daily blessings of prosperity and through the natural revelation of creation and conscience. But the people had rejected the witness of grace. So God glorified Himself in judgment.

The angels command Lot to bring his family out, warning him of impending judgement.  God reveals his plans to the elect for the sake of their well being.  But why does Lot even have to be warned?  Why wouldn’t he be so grieved that he would need no warning from God to move?  Because he has grown accustomed to wickedness.  Familiarity with evil tends to dull our spirit to that which offends God.

Notice that the “outcry has become … great before the Lord.” Who is crying out? Not the people of the city; they are quite content in their sin. Not Lot; there is no record of him crying out to God. The outcry is from the sin itself. God has created a universe in harmony with His moral, righteous character. Sin works against the grain of the universe. Even as the blood of Abel cried out to God “from the ground,” (Gen. 4:10), so does the sin of Sodom resound in the heart of the Lord.

19:14 “Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, ‘Up, get out of this place, for the Lord will destroy the city.’ But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting.”

Lot warned the men who were engaged to his daughters of the judgment of God soon to fall upon the city but their spiritual sensitivity is so dull that they interpret his warning as a joke. Unless these men are aliens like Lot, then they grew up in Sodom but whether native born or alien, they have become conformed to the moral heart of their city. There is nothing about the actions of the mob that night that aroused their consciences or caused them to fear God. 

Their consciences were numbed by the false religion of Sodom. Through the influence of that religion, they may even have disbelieved in the existence of a God who is just and holy. Every God-rejecting culture invents its own gods which are only reflections of the soul of their creators. No doubt the imaginary gods of Sodom were as cruel and perverse as the society that imagined them. We are transformed in the image of whatever we worship. Even as the idolater creates gods in his or her own image, so the false gods conform the creator to their image.

It is not that false gods, idols, are alive. But they are infused with the power and presence of the demons who inspired their invention. Communion with the idol is actually communion with the demonic presence behind the idol (see I Cor. 10:19-21). This communion results in a transfer of spiritual substance which leads to the transformation and corruption of the worshipper.

Their consciences were also numbed by the lifestyle and customs of Sodom. Consciences can be desensitized by riches, prosperity, the sensuous lifestyle. This can cause a person to become oblivious, undiscerning to the evil around them. Self indulgence robs us of spiritual perception. God did not judge Sodom suddenly — He called, He warned, He offered grace. But when people become spiritually unperceptive, then judgment comes unexpectedly and it is catastrophic.

Because they were conformed to the religion and lifestyle of their culture, the sons-in-law are at peace in the midst of evil. That is a dangerous place to be. They are like the false priests whom the Lord condemned through the prophet Jeremiah who cried, “‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace” (Jere. 6:14). The Apostle Paul warned the church, “While people are saying, ‘Peace and security,’ destruction will come upon them suddenly, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (I Thes. 5:3). We must maintain spiritual perception.

The rejection of Lot’s warning may also be a result of Lot’s lack of credibility as a witness of the holy God. His willingness to live among such wicked people and his willingness to allow his own daughters to be brutalized by the mob betray a terribly compromised man. We cannot expect people to believe the truth of our message if they do not see that truth being lived in our own lives. Further, if they see truth violated, contradicted, by the testimony of our living, how can we expect them to believe the testimony of our words?

God wants His covenant people to be a witness of grace in a world under judgement. But if our lives are a spoken or unspoken witness of compromise, then what will be the cost? For Lot, the cost was quite personal — he lost his sons-in-law.

We also might ask, “How could Lot allow his daughters to be engaged to men so totally at ease with the world system?”  Because Lot also was at ease.  How often righteous people, at home in the world, allow their family to become at home in the world.  Then comes destruction.

19:15 “When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.’”

As we saw with Noah, now we see with Lot and his family — God offers grace while judging evil. God offered grace through the preaching of Noah for 120 years. There was room in the ark for more families. There was room on the ocean for more arks. The only reason more people were not saved was because none believed the message of judgment or received the offer of grace. 

So it was with Lot and his wife and daughters. God warned them, saved them, preserved them in the midst of judgment. There was an opportunity for more to be saved but none desired salvation.

Why? Because souls were desensitized, no longer able to respond to a call to repentance, no longer able to sense the approach of grace or destruction. Because people were busy, living their lives, sinning their sins until the moment they perished.

Jesus said that at the end of time, when history is concluded, it will be this way:

“And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26-29).

As in the days of Noah, as in the days of Lot and in every generation, God offers grace and warns of judgment. A few have ears to hear and eyes to see and are saved. Many do not and perish.

19:16 “But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the Lord was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city.”

In the morning, the angels are still urging Lot and he is still hesitating.  He has tarried all night and into the morning in a place where sin is so great that God can abide it no longer.  Judgement is impending —  the hour is at hand —  but Lot hesitates.  How the Spirit of God calls to the church to come out from cultural conformity but the church tarries, at ease in the place of judgment.

Because Lot is a compromised man, he hesitates to believe the warning that he had already shared with his sons-in-law. So the angels seized him and forcibly removed him and his family from danger. Such is the compassion of God — He warns us, He saves us, He keeps us.

The Apostle Peter gave thanks for “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected (kept, guarded) by the power of God” (I Perter 1:4,5). The Lord not only redeems us from judgment — He also keeps us.

The Apostle Paul was “confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phlpns. 1:6).


David the Psalmist was confident that, “The Lord will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O Lord, is everlasting” (Psalm 138:8).

Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27,28).

Because the compassion of the Lord was upon Lot and upon his wife and daughters, the angels of the Lord not only warned Lot to move. They also seized him, placed their hands on him and physically moved him when he was unresponsive. 

Praise God for the compassion that seizes us, brings us out when we won’t move, makes us lie down in green pastures when we don’t have sense to do so. The Lord saves us and places His hand upon us to deliver us through this life unto Himself.

19:17 “When they had brought them outside, one said, ‘Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away.’”

Lot is given clear revelation and directions — the judgment of God is poised over the entire valley, escape to the mountains and do not even look behind you. God is calling for complete separation — “do not stay anywhere in the valley” —  depart from the value system of this corrupt age.  Don’t even look behind you.

Why do they forbid him to look back? Possibly because he might pause and remember the riches, the prosperity he had enjoyed in Sodom and be tempted to return. But he would only be rushing headlong into the deadly judgment of God. And how senseless and futile that would be, for by the time the sun is fully risen, his former wealth will no longer exist.

There is no mention here of Lot’s riches, his flocks and herds, his household possessions. It appears that while he is escaping with his life and his family, all that he gained by aligning himself with the prosperous, wicked city has been lost. 

In Psalm 1 we read, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:1-3).

Lot, though greatly blessed when he walked with Abraham, has now passed the time walking in the counsel of the wicked, standing in the path of sinners and sitting in the seat of scoffers. He may have prospered for as season but now he loses everything as the Psalmist warns us:

“The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:4-6).

The wicked perish and are swept away with their wealth, their fame and their city like chaff before the wind.

19:18-20 “But Lot said to them, ‘Oh no, my lords! Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die; now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved.’”

Again Lot hesitates. His problem is that he loves God but he also loves the world. He wants God and he wants the riches of the valley. His compromised love impacts his faith and his discernment. He begs to stay close by, as if to say, “I’ll come out of the center of evil, but can I please live on the fringes?”

Notice Lot’s lack of faith, “I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die.” This is not true — it is the Lord who has provided a refuge in the mountains. The place of God’s provision cannot be a place of death. But Lot does not trust God’s provision. He is more afraid of God’s deliverance than he is of God’s judgment.

Notice Lot’s lack of discernment. It is the hour of judgment and instead of moving quickly in obedience to the Lord, he tries to negotiate another deliverance than that which God provided. He despises the place of God’s choosing, instead choosing a place near God’s judgment. He believes disaster is in the place where he is directed to flee while safety is found in the place that God is judging. How deceived!

Living close to the borders of evil and judgment is never God’s choice for us. But Lot cannot wean himself from the valley of riches, even though he has lost all the riches he gained in the valley and all he brought with him to the valley. 

Jesus warns us against “the deceitfulness of riches” (Mark 4:19). The Apostle Paul warns, “Those who want to be rich, however, fall into temptation and become ensnared by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. By craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows” (I Timothy 6:9,10). 

Living in Sodom tormented and oppressed Lot, yet in the hour of judgment he wishes to stay as close as possible to the place that oppressed him. What a truly compromised, conflicted man!

We could make excuses for Lot and say that he does not want to return to the mountains because he is embarrassed to be seen as a failure in the eyes of his uncle Abraham. But Abraham would have welcomed him with arms of grace. The truth is that he does not trust God’s ability to guide him to safety. God is offering him deliverance from the deadly judgment about to be poured out on the cities of the valley but Lot wants to stay in the valley of riches.

Notice the profound differences between Abraham and Lot.

1. Abraham is walking by faith toward a heavenly city. Lot has his eyes set on the city of man.

2. Abraham lived in tents as a pilgrim. Lot lived in a house in the wicked city as a citizen.

3. Abraham pleaded for the righteous in Sodom. Lot pleaded for himself.

4. Abraham has experienced the outpouring of blessing and grace. Lot barely escapes judgment.

5. Abraham received promises. Lot received a warning.

6. Abraham is the pattern for a victorious person who walks by faith and inherits blessing. Lot is the pattern for a defeated person who walks by sight and narrowly escapes judgment.

7. Abraham worships the God who made covenant promises and guides him on his journey. Lot thanks the Lord for saving him out of Sodom but doubts that God can save him on his journey to the place of refuge. 

19:21,22 “He said to him, ‘Behold, I grant you this request also, not to overthrow the town of which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there, for I cannot do anything until you arrive there.’ Therefore the name of the town was called Zoar.”

The Lord is so committed to deliver Lot that he grants this request, evidently sanctifying a nearby town as a place of refuge. This does not imply that God approves of Lot’s choice. But it surely reveals the grace of a God who is more intent on delivering Lot than Lot is intent on being delivered. Who can measure the patience and grace of God?

When the Lord says, “I cannot do anything until you arrive there,” He is not compromising His omnipotence. God can do whatever God chooses to do but He will do nothing until the righteous are in a place of sanctuary / refuge.

Also we will see in verse 29 that God delivered Lot for the sake of his uncle Abraham. God cannot and will not violate His covenant with Abraham and for the sake of this righteous man, God spares Lot.

19:23-25 “The sun had risen over the earth when Lot came to Zoar. Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.”

God did not pour out judgment until Lot arrived safely at Zoar, the town of refuge which he had requested. Though this was not God’s choice for Lot, the Lord permitted it and withheld judgment until Lot was safe.

Brimstone is the word used in the Bible for the element which we call sulfur, a flammable element which, when it burns, emits a noxious odor. Volcanic eruptions release a large amount of sulfur. The judgment of these cities may have been caused by God triggering massive earthquakes and volcanic activity, releasing sulfur and fire into the air which then rained down upon the cities. Or God may have created the fire and sulfur and poured it out on the cities. Whether the elements were of natural or supernatural creation, it was the judgment of God poured out on wicked societies which had refused God’s offer of grace. 

Note again that the prosperity which Lot had coveted and cultivated in Sodom was now reduced to smoldering fire and toxic, choking smoke.

19:26 “But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”

The angels had given clear directions, “Do not look behind you.” Lot’s wife looked back because she disbelieved God’s warning. It may have been that her longing for the comforts of her former life and remorse over their loss overcame her reverence for God’s word. It may have been simple curiosity. But the fact is that she disobeyed and was destroyed along with the city she left behind.

On the brink of deliverance, she fell back into judgment. Jesus warns us, “Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:32,33).

The lesson for the believer is that we are to come out from that which is evil and not spend our lives looking back on a world that is under judgment. We cannot look back on the sinful world where we once lived and the sinful pursuits which we once loved. God delivered us from that. Jesus said, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God”  (Luke 9:62).

It is not possible live fruitful, productive lives in the kingdom of God while admiring the kingdoms of the world. It is not possible to press on toward the New Jerusalem while envying and grasping at the condemned city of the world. The Apostle Paul said, “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phlpns. 3:13,14).

It is not possible to live half in the kingdom of God and half in the world, listening to God and staring at Sodom. Those who do are not half redeemed. They give evidence that they are not redeemed at all and will suffer the same judgment as those who have rejected Christ.

Lot’s wife was looking back to that which God was judging, not looking ahead to the place of refuge which God was blessing. She looked back and “she became a pillar of salt.” I do not know that there is any spiritual or symbolic significance in a pillar of salt but I do know this: if we spend our lives looking back on the sin from which God delivered us, we will be as useless to God as a pillar of salt. I also know that it is not difficult for the God who formed Adam from dust to turn Lot’s wife into salt.

19:27,28 “Now Abraham arose early in the morning and went to the place where he had stood before the Lord; and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the valley, and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace.”

Abraham silently stands and witnesses the awesome, fearsome spectacle of God’s judgment. He makes no comment nor does Moses as he records the event. There is nothing to say. 

Later Moses will record the promises and warnings of God to Israel. As Israel moves toward the land of their inheritance, they will pass close to this region. It was desolate and is to this day.

19:29 “Thus it came about, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot lived.”

Now we see the motive behind God’s deliverance of Lot. It was for the sake of Abraham, God’s covenant partner. Why such mercy poured out on Lot, a compromised man?  Because Abraham had been praying for the righteous in Sodom.  And God remembered Abraham’s prayers. 

No one is saved because their parents or friends are saved but there surely are blessings that fall upon the lives of those who live within the circle of grace of people who are saved. The prayers of redeemed parents cause blessing to flow into the lives of their children. The grace lavished upon the redeemed splash over onto their household. 

The Apostle Peter tells us by divine inspiration that Lot was a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7). But he was also a compromised man and would have lost his life in the judgment of Sodom but for the prayers of Abraham. 

There are two lessons here for us:

1. God’s blessings of salvation are for those redeemed by the blood of the holy Lamb of God. But even the household of the redeemed will enjoy a greater measure of blessing.

2. It is possible to be righteous, as was Lot, and yet miss many blessings because of compromise. Lot lost everything but his life and his daughters and even that would have been lost but for the sake of his righteous uncle, Abraham. Compromised believers miss much of the blessing God wants to give them and lose much of what they are given.

19:30 “Lot went up from Zoar, and stayed in the mountains, and his two daughters with him; for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; and he stayed in a cave, he and his two daughters.”

Having arrived safely in Zoar ahead of God’s fiery judgment on the other cities of the valley, Lot chose not to stay. We are not told of the reason. Possibly he was frightened as he witnessed the fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and realized the wisdom of God’s choice for him to take refuge in the mountains. Possibly the citizens of the city were alarmed at Lot’s presence, blaming him for the judgment poured out on the nearby cities.

We don’t know the reason but we see clearly the wisdom of God in the original command to flee to the mountains. Lot had argued with the angels because his spiritual discernment was clouded and corrupted by his time in Sodom. We cannot accommodate ourselves to evil and still hear from God with the same clarity.

Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). 

Nothing is more important than cultivating a listening hear, a heart that is sensitive to the Lord and a will that is quick to obey. The words of Proverbs ring true:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5,6).

We might ask why Lot is living in a cave, in the mountains, when his prosperous and righteous uncle, Abraham, is living nearby? It may be that Lot does not wish to burden Abraham, but what burden would he be? They separated because the land could not sustain the flocks and herds of both men but Lot has lost everything. He would not be straining the capacity of the wells or the pastures. And Abraham is a prosperous man — surely there was an abundance of provision for Lot and his daughters in the household of Abraham.

The answer may be that Lot was too proud to return, to proud to admit that his choice of Sodom was unwise. Or it may be that he has grown to despise Abraham’s God, the very God who delivered him from destruction in the judgment of the wicked cities. If so, Lot would not be the first person nor the last to despise the mercy of God.

19:31,32 “Then the firstborn said to the younger, ‘Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him that we may preserve our family through our father.’”

Here we see the terrible result of Lot’s choices:

1. He chose the prosperity of Sodom. He is now living in a cave (see verse 30).

2. He offered his daughters as prostitutes to a mob. He is now sexually victimized by them.

There are no shortcuts to integrity. We cannot accommodate ourselves to evil without being impacted by that evil. As the writer of Proverbs said, 

“Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned? Or can a man walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?” (Prov. 6:27,28).

But it is not just we who are impacted by evil when we compromise with it. We influence the people around us. So it was that the daughters of Lot, raised in a wicked society that violated the commandments of God, raised by a father who accommodated himself to that society, grew into young women who violated the commandments of God and accommodated themselves to evil.

Lot’s compromise and corruption resulted in the compromise and corruption of his daughters.

19:33-35 “So they made their father drink wine that night, and the firstborn went in and lay with her father; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. On the following day, the firstborn said to the younger, ‘Behold, I lay last night with my father; let us make him drink wine tonight also; then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve our family through our father.’ So they made their father drink wine that night also, and the younger arose and lay with him; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.”

The firstborn daughter caused her father to become drunk and then committed incest with him. On the following night, the younger daughter did the same.

It is easier to understand the daughters of Lot than the man himself. He had once known a better way of life, journeying in the company of his righteous uncle, Abraham. He had no doubt been instructed in the knowledge of the true and living God, had seen the faith walk of Abraham and Sarah. But his daughters had lived in Sodom. Possibly they had been children when Lot still lived with Abraham, and possibly they received some spiritual guidance from their uncle but this was surely overwhelmed by their daily experience, during the formative years of their adolescence, of the customs and morality of their native city. Their immoral, unconscionable decision to commit incest with their father is disgraceful but they were only acting on their cultural / moral formation.

This does not make their decision any less shameful. They were morally accountable for their choices. But we can at least understand how they arrived at those choices.

How much better if they had carried their fear of childlessness to the God who had delivered them from the destruction of Sodom. There are problems which may seem unsurmountable to us but when we lay them before the God who is perfect in wisdom, power and kindness, will He not lavish His grace upon us?

We must also ask if the cultural / moral formation of this generation of children is sufficient to enable them to make wise, constructive decisions? Or are they being conformed to the self-destructive morality of a society separated from God and perishing in its choices?

19:36-38 “Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father. The firstborn bore a son, and called his name Moab; he is the father of the Moabites to this day. As for the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Ben-ammi; he is the father of the sons of Ammon to this day.”

The daughters of Lot were successful in their intention to become pregnant by their father. One son, Moab, became father of the Moabites. The other became father of the Ammonites. In later generations, their interaction with Israel was often violent and destructive.

However, the history of Israel and Moab is not entirely one of strife. Ruth, a Moabite woman, married Boaz and became an ancestor of King David and Jesus. 

Can you see the heart of God in that outcome? God in His power, His wisdom and His mercy is able to redeem and restore. He is the God of new beginnings and new tomorrows.

Study Questions:

1. Where was Lot sitting when the angels arrived in Sodom and what does this signify? (19:1)

2. What indications of compromise do we see in Lot’s life?

3. In verse 16, why is Lot still hesitant to flee?

4. What does verse 29 mean when it says, “God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow”?

Notes on Sodom

In Ezekiel 16:48-50, the Lord compared Israel to Sodom and provides prophetic insight into the causes of the corruption of Sodom. 

“‘As I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘Sodom, your sister and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.’”

Sodom was a city which enjoyed abundance of food and ease but became proud and indifferent to the poor and needy. Their pride then led to abominations. Notice the steps in the decline of Sodom:

a. Arrogance in the midst of abundance:  

We read nothing of thankfulness to God, of gratitude.  This is the proud spirit that says, “By my own wisdom and the strength of my hand I have gained this wealth.”  Prosperity should lead to gratitude but it can lead to pride and godlessness.

b. Careless ease:

Their’s was a self centered, self indulgent lifestyle.  Having lost any God-focus, they now focus on their own pleasure.

c. She did not help the poor and needy:

The people were indifferent to the needs of the poor because they were consumed by their own hedonistic lifestyle.  People who do not remember God will not remember the poor.  People who are consumed with their own pleasure will not live sacrificially to help the needy.

d. Haughty and committing abominations:

The abominations for which Sodom is infamous were not the beginning of her decline but the end.  Notice the progressive loss of focus: arrogant ingratitude, forgetting God, forgetting the poor, focused only on their own lifestyle.  Really, the perverse, immoral abominations were not the problem.  They were a symptom of the problem.  The root or heart of the matter was pride, ingratitude and loss of focus on God and others.

God compared Israel to Sodom In Ezekiel 16.  This same decline was taking place in Israel in Ezekiel’s day — pride, spiritual indifference, loss of gratitude to God for the prosperity which God had given; indifference to the poor; absorption in their own pleasure; the spiritual abomination of idolatry.  The difference, though, between Sodom and Israel is that Israel had so much more light: the Law, the prophets, Godly traditions.  Therefore, Israel’s sin was greater.

Really though, isn’t this the root cause of all humanity’s decline? In Romans 1:18-32 Paul says that the truth of God’s existence is obvious and available to all but the truth has been suppressed by a world which refused to give God thanks. Rejection of God leads to the invention of false gods. Idolatry then leads to spiritual and moral decline.

Genesis Chapter 20

Genesis Chapter 20

20:1 “Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar.”

Abraham is drifting slowly away from Hebron (the place of his altars), drifting southward toward Egypt, again.  We see a familiar pattern reemerging in his life. Years before, he moved south into the desert country of the Negev without a clear word from the Lord. Then, because of a famine, he left the land of promise and attached himself to the Egyptians. He failed to trust the providential care of the Lord, instead trusting his own wisdom apart from the Lord. He then believed that he had to lie to Pharaoh to protect himself and Sarah, misrepresenting Sarah as his sister. The entire incident was an embarrassment to his integrity as a man of God.

Now he again migrates south into the Negev without a word from the Lord. And again he attaches himself to a pagan culture — the Philistine city of Gerar.

We are not given any reasons for this. Possibly there was another famine brought on by drought. But whatever the reason, Abraham is not living by faith in the God who is able to protect and provide for His covenant partner.

20:2 “Abraham said of Sarah his wife, ‘She is my sister.’ So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.”

As before in Egypt, Abraham lies about Sarah and again, a foreign king takes her into his harem. Abraham is returning to past patterns of compromise.  When out of the covering of God, he uses familiar patterns of deceit to cover himself.

This not only endangers and demeans Sarah, it also jeopardizes God’s salvation purpose for the world, a purpose which includes Abraham and Sarah. They will be the parents of Isaac who will be the father of Jacob who will be the father of the 12 tribes of Israel, to whom will be born the Messiah who will send forth the gospel of salvation to all who believe.

Abraham is endangering far more souls than Sarah. But that is the way of sin — it ripples out from us to touch other lives.

20:3 “But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, ‘Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married.’”

Again, as with Pharaoh, the Lord warns Abimelech regarding Sarah. The Lord comes to him in a dream for the purpose of delivering him from judgment, and for the deliverance of his city. The Lord does this because He is merciful, even to those who are not in covenant relationship with Him. As Jesus reminds us, our God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).

It was legal, according to the customs and laws of that society, for a king to take an unmarried woman into his household but it was not acceptable to God. The Lord holds Abimelech accountable to a higher standard of morality than that of his society. We are reminded that God never approved of polygamy and continually defends the institution which He established — one man married to one woman. We are also reminded that governments are ordained by God and given authority to establish order on earth but all governments and all governmental leaders are ultimately accountable to God.

One might object, “How can God hold Abimelech accountable to Godly standards of morality when the man is not in a covenant relationship with the Lord?” The answer is that he and all humanity have the opportunity to know the Lord and to know God’s righteous standards. If anyone does not, it is because of a willful choice to reject the knowledge of God.

The Apostle Paul reminds us,

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (Romans 1:18-23).

God is not hiding — He has revealed His existence within the human heart (through conscience, the innate understanding of right and wrong, just and unjust); and through creation which reveals “His eternal power and divine nature.” Conscience and creation testify that there must be a God. This is not saving revelation but enough revelation to reveal God’s existence. When any person accepts this general or natural revelation of God and desires to know the Lord more deeply, God will find a way to bring the saving revelation of Jesus to that person.

The problem is not that God cannot be known but that humanity has suppressed the truth, rejected the knowledge of the true God and replaced God with idols of our own invention. Therefore God is not unjust in holding all people everywhere to His standard of righteousness.

We are also reminded in this incident of the absolutely essential action of grace in Abraham’s life. It was God who called him while he still lived amongst worshippers of idols. It was the Lord who led him, protected and provided. It was the Lord who intervened when Abraham sinned and it is the Lord who forgave and restored him. All is grace.

20:4,5 “Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, ‘Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless (righteous)? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.’”

Abimelech asserts his innocence, not from sin according to God’s holy standard of righteousness but according to his own standard of morality — he has not violated his own personal code of ethics. He did not know Sarah was married and would not have taken her if he had known. His conscience carries a dim testimony of the existence of a just and moral God.

Although Abimelech is not a worshipper of Yahweh and is, in fact, a worshipper of idols, there was evidently still some knowledge in his heart and in his society of the one, true God. There was still a witness of right and wrong in the human soul, though marred by sin. Abimelech is capable of hearing God and understanding God’s anger regarding sin.

So the king responds to the Lord with humility, declaring his innocence. In fact, he was innocent of the crime of taking another man’s wife — he truly did not know. But he is not innocent in regards to taking another woman by force, without her consent, into his household. As we have said, this was socially acceptable by the customs of that day but not acceptable to God and God holds him accountable because all people are accountable to know God. 

In asking, “‘Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless (righteous),” we are not to interpret this as if the people of Gerar were righteous before God. They were a nation of idol worshippers, separated from God by their sin, by their rejection of God and by their acceptance of gods which are not gods. But they are blameless regarding this particular sin.

 

Abimelech is asking, “Will you destroy a society for a sin which we did not knowingly commit?” He is appealing to the just character of God, demonstrating again that he has retained some knowledge of the true and living God. It is also obvious that at least some of the cities of Canaan had not yet sunk to the level of depravity which would exist 450 years later when Joshua and the Israelites overthrew the cities of Canaan.

Notice, however, that the Philistine king, with his limited knowledge of God, is demonstrating greater integrity than Abraham, with his far richer experience of the Lord. But there is a profound difference between Abraham and Abimelech.

Abimelech, though a man of integrity, is also a dead man. Why? Because he is separated from God, not living in covenant relationship with God.  Although Abimelech testifies that he has acted with integrity and God admits this, God also says he is dead.  A man living outside of covenant with God may have integrity but is not righteous before God and therefore, is spiritually dead.

20:6,7 “Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.’”

The all-knowing God sees with perfect discernment the motives and secrets of our hearts. He knows that Abimelech was not intentionally sinning. Notice also that it was the Lord who restrained a pagan king from committing sin that would have destroyed him. But if the man persists, if he continues to keep Sarah, this will be willful sin and will cost him his life.

If  God is able to restrain an unbeliever, how much greater is His restraining power to keep His saints from sin. But we must choose to surrender our lives, our decisions and desires, to the Lord day by day and moment by moment. When we live willfully, without seeking the Lord’s counsel and ignoring the counsel we have been given, we work against God’s holy purpose.

“He will pray for you and you will live.”  Abraham, though compromised by sin, is still in covenant with God and will again be God’s instrument for ministry. The Lord does not annul His covenant promises when we fail — He is faithful. But we miss blessings that God wants to pour out in our lives and through our lives when we allow sin to compromise us.

We assume that Abraham has confessed his sin before the Lord and has received the ministry of restoring grace because he is referred to by God as a prophet, and will now be used by God for ministry. This does not speak of the permissiveness of God.  It speaks of the faithfulness of God.

The Lord says that Abraham’s prayer will reverse God’s judgment against the king. Since this is so, that Abraham is a prophet, a minister, an instrument of God’s purpose, then how important it is that he live a life that brings glory to God. When he sins, he not only places other people in danger. He also dishonors the Lord and limits God’s use of his life.

Regarding the incident in Egypt many years before, Abraham was a younger man with less experience of God’s grace, less proofs of God’s faithfulness. He is older now and wiser and stronger in faith and should live on a higher standard of integrity. But notice the tendency, even in an experienced person of faith, to repeat former sins. If these sins are not completely and conclusively dealt with, they may attach themselves at a deep level of one’s being and re-emerge.

20:8-10 “So Abimelech arose early in the morning and called all his servants and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were greatly frightened. Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, ‘What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.’ And Abimelech said to Abraham, ‘What have you encountered, that you have done this thing?’”

The pagan king calls the man of God to accountability. This ought not to be so, but the Lord used a donkey once to warn a wayward prophet (see Numbers 22:22-35). When we will not listen to the Lord, He can speak through a variety of means including circumstances, nature, other people and even unbelievers.

20:11-13 “Abraham said, ‘Because I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife. Besides, she actually is my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife; and it came about, when God caused me to wander from my father's house, that I said to her, ‘This is the kindness which you will show to me: everywhere we go, say of me, ‘He is my brother.’”

Abraham reveals his basic motive in this shameful episode — fear. He is afraid that the people will kill him on account of his wife. He is afraid that God cannot defend him if he tells the truth about himself. He is afraid that if he does not lie, he cannot live. He is afraid that if he walks with integrity then he will not be able to fulfill the purpose of God for his life.

What a complete loss of perspective for a man who has been living by faith! This is the same motive that drove him to lie when he was in Egypt. And the basis of his fear is the same as before —lack of faith in God.

How ironic that he says, “There is no fear of God in this place.” In fact, Abimelech and his servants were greatly afraid when God warned them of their sin. They have more reverence for the God whom they do not know than Abraham has for the God whom he knows well.

Abraham’s excuse, that Sarah is actually his half sister, is unacceptable. She is his half sister, but she is also his wife. A half truth is only a self righteous way of hiding a lie.

20:14-16 “Abimelech then took sheep and oxen and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and restored his wife Sarah to him. Abimelech said, ‘Behold, my land is before you; settle wherever you please.’ To Sarah he said, ‘Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, it is your vindication before all who are with you, and before all men you are cleared.’”

As Pharaoh of Egypt had done many years before, Abimelech blesses the man of God who had brought judgment upon him. He also publicly vindicates Abraham and Sarah, releases them from any guilt. This is surely an expression of God’s grace and favor, not Abraham’s integrity.

Abraham’s desire is to serve the Lord, though sometimes he does it poorly. His desire is to honor the Lord, though sometimes he sins and dishonors the Lord.

God knows Abraham’s heart and enables him to begin again. Our God is a God of new tomorrows, new beginnings, forgiveness and restoration. He prospers Abraham and we are reminded of the biblical witness of Uzziah, a king of Judah who lived many years after Abraham:

“As long as he sought the Lord, God prospered him” (2 Chron. 26:5).

20:17,18 “Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children. For the Lord had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham's wife.”

We may assume that Abraham privately repented before the Lord, for now the Lord uses him as a minister of grace to the household of Abimelech. We are reminded that the Lord lavishes his grace upon us so that He may lavish His grace on others through us.

Though this episode reveals the failure of a righteous man, we also see God’s faithfulness:

1. Though Abraham doubted God’s power to deliver him in whatever crisis drove him to Gerar, God was still faithful to deliver.

2. Though Abraham doubted the sufficiency of God’s grace, God still abounded in grace to forgive and restore.

3. Though Abraham apparently doubted God’s sovereignty, God was still sovereign over his life, over the Philistines and over His redeeming purpose through Abraham and Sarah.

4. God confronted Abraham’s sin but sin did not alter His purpose for Abraham’s life. 

In the book of Hebrews, there is no mention of Abraham’s failure. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, Abraham is not described as a man of failure but a man of great faith. All was forgiven and forgotten. The covenant man was restored by the grace of God.

The prophet Micah spoke the truth when he said, “Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love” (Micah 7:18).

Through the prophet Isaiah the Lord testifies, “I, yes I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake and remembers your sins no more”  (Isaiah 43:25).

What a wonderful God!

Study Questions

1. When Abraham journeyed to the Philistine city of Gerar, how did he try to protect himself?

2. Who was impacted by Abrahams’ sin?

3. What four truths of God’s faithfulness can be learned from this episode?

Genesis Chapter 21

Genesis Chapter 21

21:1,2 “Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.”

As the Lord promised 25 years earlier and confirmed throughout the years, so the Lord did. Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham “at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.” It is not simply that God did what He promised. He did it when He promised, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son” (18:10, also 18:14, 17:21). 

The Lord not only has a purpose but a calendar for the accomplishing of His purpose. He not only “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11). He accomplishes His will at the exact moment in history that He chooses.

We read in Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.” Jesus was born at the exact season and moment of history which fit the Father’s purpose. 

Likewise, Jesus began His ministry preaching, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Everything that God does is in the fulness of His timing.

King David understood this when he wrote, “In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:16). Before David was born, the Lord ordained a calendar of purpose for his life. In the fulness of time David was prepared to slay Goliath. In the fulness of time David was anointed king.

This is also true for each of us. The Lord has purposed our lives and each ordained season opens into the next. This does not mean that the Lord approves or wills the harmful or traumatic events that we experience. These things happen because we are impacted by the sins of others and by the consequences of our own sin. But in the midst of the storms, we have met a God who loves us enough to purpose our life and include us in the unfolding calendar of His eternal purpose.

21:3,4 “Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.”

God forbid that we ever cease being astounded at the wonders which God performs every day in our midst. With Isaiah we celebrate, “O Lord, You are my God. I will exalt You; I will praise Your name. For You have worked wonders — plans formed long ago in perfect faithfulness” (Isaiah 25:1)

Jeremiah reminds us, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness!” (Jeremiah 3:22,23). 

Even the pagan King Nebuchadnezzar proclaimed, “How great are His signs and how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and His dominion is from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:3).

Jeremiah marveled, “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You” (Jeremiah 32:17).

Again the Lord testifies, “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (Jere. 33:3).

Our God is a great and mighty God who works wonders among us.

Notice that Abraham did not fail to circumcise his son, a ritual which the Lord had commanded as a sign of covenant relationship with Himself (see Gen. 17:11,12). The child was born by the grace of God, according to the promise of God. But for all who walk in covenant with God, there are not only promises fulfilled by the grace of God. There are also commandments to which we commit ourselves in humble obedience.

Notice also that they named the child Isaac, as God had commanded (in 17:19). The name Isaac means, “He laughs.” Abraham had laughed when God promised a son (17:17). Sarah also laughed when she heard the promise (18:12). Their laughter was not a sign of disrespect but amazement, awed wonder. God incorporated their wonder into the child’s name. Forever, when they called his name, they would be reminded of the creative power and grace of a God who worked wonders with a 100 year old man and a 90 year old woman.

21:5 “Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.”

Moses reminds us that Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born; this would mean that Sarah was 90. This emphasizes the absolute grace of God in Isaac’s conception and birth; God waited until only He could receive glory. 

The universe exists as a stage on which God displays His glory. We exist to behold His glory and give Him glory. The Lord not only has purposed our lives but has done so in such a way as to glorify Himself. He delights in placing us in situations where the outcome, if we are faithful, demonstrates the glory of His wisdom, power, kindness and justice.

The Lord delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt so that He could be glorified. Then, the Lord caused Pharaoh to chase after Israel so that the nation was trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army. Why did God do that? So that He alone could be glorified:

“‘Thus I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will chase after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord’” (Exodus 14:4).

Why, when Israel was threatened by Midianites who plundered the land, did God choose such an insignificant man as Gideon and then whittle his army down to 300 men? So that God alone could be glorified in the victory (see Judges 6 and 7).

Why, when Israel was threatened by the armies of three nations, did the Lord instruct the choir to march ahead of the fighting men, singing praise to Him? So that He would be glorified in the  victory (see 2 Chronicles 20:1-30).

When the Lord places us in situations where we cannot possibly accomplish His purpose without His miraculous intervention, let us give Him thanks that He counted us worthy to be vessels of His glory. When we give God praise before the battle, we are demonstrating faith, building faith and opening a way of faith for God to express His glorious purpose.

Abraham, and no doubt Sarah, gave thanks to God not only at the end of their journey but also during the journey, as we read in Romans 4,

“Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform” (Rom. 4:19-21).

Notice the impossibility — two bodies that were dead to procreative capacity. But notice the link between faith and praise. Abraham “grew strong in faith, giving glory to God.”

Abraham certainly could not praise his vitality or Sarah’s womb. So he praised God by faith and as he did, he grew stronger in faith. So it will be for us. We praise God in our impossibilities and as we praise, we see the Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth display His glory by doing that which is impossible.

Twenty-five years after the promise was first given to Abraham, God fulfilled His promise. To God be the glory.

21:6,7 “Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’ And she said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’”

She who once had laughed with amazement, incredulous that she who had been infertile all of her life would bear a son in her old age, now laughs again. It is the laughter of a mother rejoicing in the new born life which she cuddled in her arms and nursed. (And by the way, the grace of God does not end with Isaac’s birth. The Lord also gave Sarah many more years to raise the child and to enjoy watching him grow).

21:8 “ The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.”

The Lord is gracious to give us festivals and feast days for the celebration of His goodness. But the giving of thanks is more than a festival. It is a lifestyle. Abraham was a builder of altars and it was at those altars that he enjoyed communion with the Lord. It was at the altars that he received instruction and revelation. It was at the altars that he grew strong in faith even as his body grew weaker. 

There is no better way to enter the gates of God’s purpose and the seasons of His presence than in giving thanks. The Psalmist reminds us, 

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name” (Psalm 100:4).

Truly, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High” (Psalm 92:1).

Abraham gave thanks to the Lord during all the years of his journey toward the miracle. Now as he holds the miracle in his arms, he again gives thanks to the Lord.

21:9,10 “Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. Therefore she said to Abraham, ‘Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.’”

This hostility and strife in the household of Abraham began many years previously when Abraham had impregnated Hagar. Though it was socially acceptable in that culture to raise up children through servants, this was completely unacceptable to the Lord. Something may be socially acceptable but morally repugnant to the holy God. 

That act was motivated by Abraham’s lack of faith in God’s ability to fulfill His promise of a son. Therefore Abraham attempted to assist God with a human solution. Faithless acts never help and always hinder the outworking of the purposes of God.

The result was a household containing the true heir of Abraham — Isaac; and a son who could never inherit the covenant promise of God — Ishmael. Naturally, there was hostility between the children and between their mothers. 

Ishmael, the child previously born to Hagar through Abraham, began to mock (ridicule) Isaac. This aroused anger in Sarah and she demanded that Abraham drive Hagar and her son out of the household.

21:11 “The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son.”

Though Abraham had sinned in the conception and birth of Ishmael, nevertheless, he loved the child and was grieved at the thought of sending him and his mother away. His grief reveals the truth that though God surely forgives our sins and failures when we sincerely repent and seek His forgiveness, there may be consequences that will endure.

In the days of King David, though God forgave his sin with Bathsheba, there was division in David’s household and in the nation for the remainder of his days. God forgave David but there were consequences resulting from his actions.

21:12,13 “But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named. And of the son of the maid I will make a nation also, because he is your descendant.’”

The Lord brings clarity with a revelatory word to Abraham. Isaac is the true heir and through him the descendants of Abraham will be named. From Isaac will come Jacob, the twelve tribes and the nation of Israel.This was God’s eternal purpose. 

But the Lord also has mercy on Ishmael. Though he is not the heir whom God purposed, the Lord will not abandon him. He will also become a nation. From Ishmael are descended the Arab people groups and though God did not make covenant with them as He did with Israel, today all Arabic people are invited into the New Covenant through faith in Jesus. The descendants of Ishmael have as much access to the mercy and grace of God as do any Jews and any other Gentiles — through the blood of Jesus, the holy Lamb of God.

21:14 “So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba.”

Ishmael would have been about 17 years old at this time and probably quite adept in dealing with the challenges of the land. However, this was extremely desolate country. Abraham gave Hagar provisions but no doubt he was deeply grieved, for he knew that the water and the bread would soon give out and survival would be impossible except for the merciful intervention of God. 

21:15,16 “When the water in the skin was used up, she left the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, ‘Do not let me see the boy die.’ And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept.”

Hagar is a very sympathetic character. It was not unusual in that day for men to raise up children from servants but it was highly abnormal for a man to put a woman and her child out of the household in desolate country. This was equivalent to a sentence of death. Yes, she was unwise to mock Sarah years earlier, when Ishmael was born and Sarah was still childless. And yes, Ishmael was unwise to ridicule Isaac. But neither deserved to be cast out into the desert.

Hagar is representative of many women today who live on the edge of survival — exploited, mistreated, vulnerable. This story would have a grievous ending except for the unexpected, miraculous intervention of God. But grace is always unexpected and miraculous. It was for Abraham and Sarah. It was for Hagar and Ishmael. It is for each of us.

21:17 “God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.’”

What marvelous words these are, “God heard the lad crying.”


Years before, when Hagar was pregnant through Abraham and was cast out into the desert, the angel of the Lord met her at a spring of water, promised to multiply her descendants and said to her, “Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has given heed to your affliction” (Gen. 16:11).

Do you remember what the name Ishmael means? It means, “God hears.” Doesn’t the Lord continue to hear as women and children around the world cry out for water, provision, for shelter, safety and justice?

God heard Hagar while Ishmael was yet in her womb and heard again as Ishmael cried. The Lord continues to hear the descendants of Ishmael as they cry out — many are calling to the wrong God but God in His mercy is revealing Himself across the Arab world, revealing Himself in Jesus, the holy Lamb and risen Lord. My prayer is that God will cover them under the canopy of His mercy and in His mercy, that they will encounter the God who offers salvation to all who call upon Him in faith.

21:18 “Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”

How gently the Lord speaks. It sounds as though Ishmael is about to die but the Lord tells Hagar to lift him by the hand. We sense here the tenderness of the Lord and are reminded of the time Jesus stood over a little girl who had died but taking her by the hand, He said, “Little girl, I say to you, get up” (Mark 5:41). And she lived. So will Ishmael live.

This is the hour that could have witnessed the death of Hagar and Ishmael. Instead, it is a time to rise and the Lord repeats the promise of a future and a hope, “I will make a great nation of him.”

It may be that we have not yet seen the true greatness of Ishmael. May there be a day when multitudes of his descendants will rise out of spiritual death into everlasting life through faith in Jesus Messiah.

21:19 “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink.”

God opened her eyes and she saw a well. Just as God opened Hagar’s eyes to see the well, so God must open the eyes of the lost before they can see the provision of grace and life in Christ. As God heard the cry of a slave and showed her the way to a well of water, so the Holy Spirit hears the cry and knows the thirst of sinners enslaved to corruption and is able to direct us to living water — everlasting life in Christ. 

As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, so He says to us, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

As Jesus said to the people of Jerusalem, so He says to us, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37).

This episode with Hagar is a picture of the grace of God leading us to grace. Our God is a God who sees us in our need and seeing us, opens our eyes to His provision of grace.

Our God is a God who sees and hears us crying out in our need. He said to Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings” (Exodus 3:7).

David the Psalmist testifies on behalf of us all, “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles” (Psalm 34:6).

Our God sees us in our need, hears our cry and opens our hearts to the abundance of His provision. Again David says, “And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:10).

We wonder why Hagar had not seen the well before. It may be that the Lord not only opened her eyes to see it but that He also created it in that moment especially for Hagar and Ishmael. Truly, His mercies are new ever morning. 

Are you in a desert place? God can create a well, a spring, a flowing river where before there was nothing but barrenness. Many years later Israel traveled through the wilderness of Sinai and cried out for water. The Lord caused a river to spring up in the desert.

The Lord creates resources to fit His calling and purpose for our lives. The fact that something necessary does not yet exist is no problem for God. He simply “calls into being that which does not exist” (Romans 4:17).

It is as easy for the Lord to create a well of cool water in a desert as it is for Him to create a lily or a galaxy of spinning stars. He testifies of Himself, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27).

This was the testimony of God to Abraham, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son” (Gen. 18:14).

Jeremiah, facing enormous challenges as God’s prophet in a time of divine judgment, gives thanks, saying, “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You … great in counsel and mighty in deed” (Jeremiah 32:17,19a).

21:20,21 “God was with the lad, and he grew; and he lived in the wilderness and became an archer.  He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.”

Though Isaac was chosen to be the heir of Abraham, nevertheless God had a purpose and a place for Ishmael too. Though he was a refugee, cast out from his father’s house, yet there was room in the mercy of God for him — “God was with the lad.”

The Lord desires to be present with everyone — there is room in the mercy of God for all. The door way of grace is wide enough to include any and all who will turn from their sin and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The door is narrow enough to exclude all who will come by any other way but how great and wide is the way of grace — large enough to include all who enter through the righteousness of Christ.

21:22-24 “Now it came about at that time that Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, ‘God is with you in all that you do; now therefore, swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but according to the kindness that I have shown to you, you shall show to me and to the land in which you have sojourned.’ Abraham said, ‘I swear it.’”

It sounds as though Abraham is growing in prosperity — his flocks and herds and servants are increasing. He also now has an heir in keeping with God’s purpose. Most importantly, the blessing of God is on his life and even a Philistine king, an unbeliever, can see this and he says, “God is with you in all that you do.”

This is an amazing testimony of the grace of God. It was not long ago that Abraham lied to Abimelech, causing the judgment of God to fall upon the king and his household. Nevertheless, the king can still see the presence and blessing of God in Abraham’s life.

The prosperity of Abraham must be what arouses the concern of Abimelech who, with his commander, seeks assurances from Abraham that as he grows greater, he will show to them the same kindness that they have shared with him. Abraham agrees.

However, this is almost a prophetic proclamation of the future greatness of Israel. It is almost as if Abimelech can see centuries into the future. When the descendants of Abraham returned under Joshua four centuries later, they conquered much of Canaan and though they were unable to immediately subdue the Philistines, they did eventually under King David.

In the life of Abraham and his descendants after him we see this truth, that the blessing of God today is a predictor of the blessing of God tomorrow, if we walk with Him with integrity. Of course, we also see in the history of Israel that the blessing of God can be forfeited when people turn from God, violate His commands and refuse His call to return.

21:25,26 “But Abraham complained to Abimelech because of the well of water which the servants of Abimelech had seized. And Abimelech said, ‘I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor did I hear of it until today.’”

There was strife between the servants of Abraham and Abimelech. This necessitated the need for a covenant between the two men, establishing and assuring that the limited resources of water would be shared peacefully among their servants.

21:27-30 “Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them made a covenant. Then Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. Abimelech said to Abraham, ‘What do these seven ewe lambs mean, which you have set by themselves?’ He said, ‘You shall take these seven ewe lambs from my hand so that it may be a witness to me, that I dug this well.’”

This is a description of a formal covenant ceremony. Sacrifices are made and the men make a solemn agreement regarding the ownership of this well.

We have seen Abimelech’s respect for Abraham. Notice also Abraham’s respect for Abimelech. They are not related by blood nor by religion but Abimelech represents the secular government of that region and Abraham respects that government. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1). 

Not all governments exercise their God-given authority in a way that honors God but their authority is granted by God for the establishing of peace in a fallen world. Whether a governor exercises authority in a manner that respects the moral order of the universe or whether God’s order is violated, all who exercise civil authority will be held accountable by God. 

Trusting God’s sovereign Lordship over the affairs of history, followers of Christ are to submit to governments unless we are required to deny Christ with our words or actions. In those cases, we make our confession of faith, stand on faith, live by faith and accept the consequences.

21:31,32 “Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because there the two of them took an oath. So they made a covenant at Beersheba; and Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, arose and returned to the land of the Philistines.”

Beersheba means “well of an oath.” The name served as a reminder of the covenant between the two most powerful men of that region. Eventually Beersheba became a town and today is the largest city in the Negev area of Israel.

21:33,34 “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God. And Abraham sojourned in the land of the Philistines for many days.”

The tamarisk tree was almost like an altar, commemorating not only the covenant between two men but more, the covenant between God and Abraham. Abraham was expressing the reality that though he was only a sojourner in that land, it had been promised to him by Jehovah El Olam, the Lord, the Everlasting God. This is the God who exists before time, beyond time and meets us in time. This is the God who created the heavens and the earth and as Creator of all, is also possessor of all. He raises up nations and pulls down nations, sets the boundaries and times of empires and kings. 

Because He is eternal He is unchanging. Because He is unchanging He is able to lead Abraham through to the fulfillment of every promise. Because He is unchanging, His past faithfulness is a predictor of future faithfulness. He gives to whom He chooses to give and by His sovereign choice, had promised this land to Abraham’s descendants. Abraham celebrates God’s sovereign choice by planting a tree and calling on the name of the Lord.

Study Questions

1. Why did God wait so long to fulfill the promise of Isaac?

2. Why does God design impossibilities for our lives?

3. What does the name Ishmael mean and what does that tell us about God’s response to Hagar in the wilderness?

4. What does that tell us about God’s response to you in wilderness seasons?

5. Isaac was the heir of the covenant, not Ishmael. Is there a place of covenant relationship with God today for the descendants of Ishmael?

Genesis Chapter 22

Genesis Chapter 22

22:1,2 “Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.’”

After these things, God tested Abraham.” What things? After the birth of Isaac, after blessing upon blessing. It is in passing tests of faith and character that we are able to enter into blessing.  Then we are tested in the way we respond to the blessing. Blessing also can be a test.

After these blessings, God tested Abraham. The word test, in Hebrew, is nacah. It can be translated with the word tempt but test is a better translation because in the New Testament epistle of James we read, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). 

God does not tempt people. God does test people, not because He needs to gain information but so we can prove our true character, demonstrate our true faith, realize our true nature and grow in maturity. Tests reveal what is in us, our strengths and weaknesses, which stimulates growth. 

Test also can be a means which God uses to reveal something of Himself that we did not see before. Because we tend to be more receptive to the Lord and more perceptive when we are being tested, we may come to a deeper insight into the Lord’s character or purpose. 

In other words, tests are for our benefit, not for God’s benefit. So we know this test is intended in some way to be a blessing to Abraham. But how? 

Take your only begotten and offer him to Me” says the Lord. Take the promise —  Isaac — and offer him as a sacrifice at the time and place of God’s choosing. Take this answer to prayer and put him on the altar of sacrifice. Take this blessing that you waited so long to receive — take him and offer him back to God.

Why would the Lord ask Abraham to sacrifice his long awaited son? We can think of several objections:

1. The shedding of innocent blood is an abomination to God and surely the life of a child is most innocent and precious. The sin of child sacrifice was practiced by Canaanite tribes in the worship of their false god Moloch and was a primary cause of the judgment of God on those nations.

2. God had made covenant with Abraham and the primary covenant promise was an heir. Isaac is that heir, the one through whom the promises will be realized. Through Isaac there will be descendants and a great nation. The death of Isaac would in effect nullify the covenant.

3. Abraham and Sarah had journeyed by faith for 25 years toward the birth of this child. Now that the journey is complete and the promise fulfilled, what is to be gained by killing the child? The faith journey would come to nothing.

From a natural, human point of view this makes no sense but God has reasons for all that He does and we will see why this test, the offering of Isaac, is as important as the birth of Isaac. However, that is not apparent to Abraham at this time. 

Notice the phrase, “Take now your son, your only son.” Isaac is not the only son of Abraham but he is the only son who is an heir of the promises of God. Abraham is being asked to sacrifice the only son who fulfills God’s stated purpose. There is an obvious conflict between God’s promise of an heir and God’s command to sacrifice the heir. If Abraham obeys the command, he nullifies the promise. Either God is Self-contradictory or Abraham must trust God for a resolution which is not obvious.

Notice also the phrase, “Your only son whom you love.” Abraham is being asked to sacrifice the son whom he loves with a great depth of passion.

The mountain to which the Lord is sending Abraham is in the land of Moriah, an area which many commentators associate with Jerusalem. In fact, some commentators believe this mountain is the mount on which the Jerusalem temple would someday be built. Others believe that this is a hill just outside Jerusalem, later called Golgotha or Calvary. If this is true, then it may provide a clue that God is drawing Abraham toward an important revelation about sacrifice.

22:3 “So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.”

By faith Abraham obeys God and makes preparation for the sacrifice. By faith he journeys to the mountain to which God directed him.

22:4 “On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance.”

I cannot say that the Lord intends any significance in the fact that Abraham saw the mountain on the third day. But I am reminded that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. Does this give us any clue that God intends to teach Abraham something about resurrection?

22:5 “Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.’”

So far the Lord has revealed nothing of His purpose but Abraham has obeyed without any objections, indeed, without even a question. Certainly he does not understand what God is asking him to do but he has followed through with all the preparations to sacrifice his beloved son and has journeyed to the mountain of Moriah according to God’s directions. This is faith — obedience reveals faith. Obedience in the face of great contradictions reveals great faith.

Abraham’s entire journey from Ur of the Chaldeans to this present moment has been a journey of faith, but this will be his greatest exercise of faith. And notice his faith revealed in his words — “I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” 

He believed that somehow, Isaac would be coming back with him. There are only three possible ways that this can happen. Either God will call off the test, God will provide another sacrifice or God will raise Isaac from the dead.

The writer to the Hebrews reveals that Abraham had faith to believe for the resurrection of Isaac: 

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your descendants shall be called.’ He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type” (Hebr. 11:19).

There had never before in all of human history been a resurrection of anyone from the dead. But Abraham believed resurrection was more possible than God nullifying His covenant of grace and promise. This faith in resurrection is expressed in Abraham’s words to his servants, “We will worship and return to you.” He is convinced that not only will he return but also his son. Though he did not understand why God was calling him to sacrifice his son, his faith was so fixed in the faithfulness of God that he was convinced that if Isaac were sacrificed, God would resurrect him. So he proceeded.

I would like to always have good discernment and clarity, to be able to say, “God, I see what you are doing.” But when I cannot see, when I do not understand, I want the kind of faith that says, “I’m going to walk this out and trust God.”

22:6 “Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.”

Isaac trudges up the hill carrying the wood which is purposed for his death, even as a Savior, on a nearby hill in a distant century, or possibly this same hill, would carry the wooden cross on which He would be executed.

22:7,8 “Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ And he said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.”

Here is faith — no lamb is visible but Abraham is convinced that God will supply the sacrifice. And if not, then God will provide a resurrection. Either outcome is possible. What is impossible is that God will break His covenant or nullify His promises or be unfaithful.

God will provide a lamb or a resurrection. Neither outcome is visible. We honor God when we believe for an outcome that cannot presently be seen.

The Hebrew word which we translate with the English word provide is raah which literally means to see or behold. We could translate this verse, “God will see for Himself the lamb.”

Abraham could not see a lamb but was confident that God saw and would provide what was needed. Interesting that the English word provide is derived from two Latin words — pro videre. Pro refers to something that comes before or in front of. Videre means to see. Providere means to be able to see beforehand, to see ahead. The oldest meaning of the English word provide is to prepare something in advance (because we see the need).

God sees the future with perfect clarity because He exists in the future, the past and the present simultaneously. His provision for our future is perfect because His understanding is perfect. He is able to provide what will be needed because He exists in that moment as in this moment and sees what is needed. In His perfect wisdom and unmeasured power, He is the only fixed point of resource in a continuously changing universe.

God will provide a lamb for Abraham because He saw Abraham’s need.

So for humanity, God provided a Lamb because He saw our need.

Indeed, God provided before we needed. The Apostle Peter wrote that our salvation is obtained “with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (I Peter 1:19, 20).

In eternity past, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit understood that if they created human beings with the freedom to sin or not sin, we would sin and separate ourselves from God, bringing death and condemnation upon ourselves. Jesus agreed to be the Lamb slain for the sins of the world through Whom sinners would obtain everlasting salvation by grace through faith.  That salvation was foreknown and decreed from eternity.  Our names were written in the Lamb’s book of life before there was ever a creation or a sin committed (see Rev. 13:8).  The source of that salvation is the blood of a Savior who committed to this saving work in eternity past.

God saw the need for a holy Lamb. God provided.

22:9,10 “Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.”

Abraham continues to act in faith. He binds Isaac to the altar, arranges the wood and raises the knife to slay the only heir of the inheritance. As the knife is poised in mid air, Abraham remains convinced that God will provide a lamb or a resurrection. But God cannot be unfaithful.

22:11,12 “But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’”

The angel of the Lord is actually the Lord Himself, as revealed when He says, “You have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” (For other examples of this title, angel of the Lord, in reference to the Lord, see Gen. 22:11-18   31:11-13  Ex. 3:2-5  Judges 6:11-23 among others).

The word fear may be translated reverence, “Now I know that you reverence God.” Reverence for God is revealed not merely in our words but more truly in our actions. To reverence God is to offer Him everything, including the vision which we believe God birthed in us. This was the reason for the test — that Abraham would demonstrate his faith in God by worshipping Him with the best that he possessed. 

The phrase, “Now I know that you fear God” does not mean that the Lord needed to learn anything about Abraham which He did not know before. From eternity the Lord knew the quality and depth of faith which Abraham would eventually possess and how he would live that faith. But that faith is evident now — evident to Abraham and to God in the sense that Abraham is actually walking out his faith. He is showing God his faith, not simply declaring it.

Tests of faith are not for the benefit of God but for us. When we publicly declare our faith, faith grows. When we live our faith, faith comes alive. 

Regarding Abraham’s faith, we read, “Yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Romans 4:20).

Tests do not diminish faith when we respond faithfully. Rather, the opposite is true. Tests will cause our faith to grow if we will meet the test with faith focused on God. Abraham was convinced of the Lord’s absolute faithfulness to the covenant. He believed that the Lord would somehow bring him through this inexplicable, unfathomable trial.

Abraham’s faith was rooted in God’s faithfulness. His faith in God was rewarded and enriched by a fresh experience of God’s faithfulness.

22:13 “Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son.”

Remember Abraham’s words to Isaac, “God will provide (or God will see) for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (22:8). 

So it happened according to Abraham’s faith: God saw. God provided.

The lamb was offered in place of Isaac, as a substitute sacrifice. This is the great Old Testament illustration of the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. God saw that humanity would need a Redeemer who would take the sins of the world, and the judgment of God against sin, upon Himself. Jesus became that substitutionary Sacrifice.

Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesied this,

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him … Like a lamb that is led to slaughter … He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due … My Servant will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:5-8,11).

The Apostle Peter expresses this truth, 

“And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (I Peter 2:24).

The ram which God provided for Abraham is nothing other than a picture of Jesus, the holy Lamb which God provided for the salvation of the world.

22:14 “Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide (or The Lord Will See It), as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.’”

There in a place which began as place of dying, of sacrifice, God revealed that He is the God who provides a better sacrifice, that we might live.

Throughout the Bible, God progressively reveals a variety of names which reveal, express and declare different attributes or aspects of His being. Abraham, by divine inspiration, gives a name to that place which expresses God’s all-sufficient grace — the Lord Will Provide or The Lord Will See It. In Hebrew this is Jehovah Jireh.

Jehovah is one of the earliest revealed names of God and Jireh is derived from raah which means to see or provide. The Lord’s provision is perfect because He sees with perfect clarity and perfect knowledge all truth that could ever be true. He declares the end from the beginning because He exists before the beginning, beyond the end and meets us in time simultaneously.

At the right moment, God provided the lamb for Abraham. In the fulness of time, Jesus was born, the holy Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah Jireh. Remember, this is the mountain of Moriah, which many believe is the mount on which the Jerusalem temple was later built. Centuries later, the God who saw and provided a lamb for Abraham on the temple mount, sent His Son, the holy Lamb for sinners slain, to stand in that temple. He stood and taught and healed and forgave but was rejected by the priests and the rulers. They condemned Him, bound Him and took Him to another hill nearby and on that hill, the holy Lamb was sacrificed for sinners who could not save themselves.

God saw. God provided.

If we trust God for a holy Lamb who redeems us from sin and judgment, may we also trust Him to meet us where we live and provide the resources necessary to bring Him glory? He was Jehovah Jireh for Abraham and Isaac. Will He also be Jehovah Jireh for us?

Surely it is so. On the cross Jesus shouted, “Tetelestai,” finished, complete. God was satisfied that His provision for our salvation was perfect, fulfilled forever. He requires only that we come to Him trusting in the fullness of His provision.

Our sins are great but forgiven in Christ. That which was perfectly provided on the cross of Jesus promises God’s provision in all other areas of life. Our needs are large but finite. God’s grace is infinite, without measure. That which is unlimited cannot be exhausted by that which is limited. Therefore the Apostle Paul exhorts us,

“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).

22:15-18 “Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.’”

The angel of the Lord, that is, the Lord Himself, repeats His covenant promises to Abraham. As He does, He makes a solemn oath. Referring to this oath, the writer of Hebrews says, 

“For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you’” (Hebr. 6:13,14).

It is not that God needs to solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. God cannot lie and His word is eternally true. But because people are accustomed to telling lies and being deceived, God accommodates Himself to our need for the confirmation of promises and covenants. Since the Lord cannot swear by anyone greater than Himself, He refers to Himself as the witness to the truthfulness of His promises.

The Lord is saying, in effect, “Because you have not withheld the best seed you had, the only seed and the only connection to a future promised by God, I will greatly multiply your seed.”  

Abraham thought the birth of Isaac would be the doorway, the entry into the future promised by God.  But it wasn't the birth of Isaac that represented the doorway. It was the potential death of Isaac, the willingness to sacrifice Isaac — that was the doorway.  

Abraham placed his only seed on the altar.  Isaac did not die.  Abraham died — died to the vision, died to the seed, died to his rights to control the seed.  And God said, “Now I will greatly multiply your seed.”

There is a universal, holy principle revealed here — when seed is cast into the ground, it multiplies. When we sow our lives, our resources, our hopes and dreams into the ground of God’s kingdom, He multiplies back to us what we have given to Him. The Apostle Paul said,

“Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully … And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed … Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness …” (2 Cor. 9:6,8,10).

In offering his son Isaac to the Lord, in sowing the seed of his future inheritance on this altar, Abraham revealed his absolute trust in God’s faithfulness. In response, the Lord confirms the promise of multiplied seed, possession of the land and blessings multiplied across the nations.

The writer to the Hebrews shares an interesting revelation regarding this event in Abraham’s life.    The writer speaks of the faith of Abraham and Sarah — of Abraham’s willingness to follow faithfully, “not knowing where he was going” (Hebr. 11:8); living “as an alien in the land of promise” (11:9); and of Sarah’s faith to conceive (11:11). He then says, 

“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance” (Hebr. 11:13).

In what way did Abraham see the promises fulfilled? 

Jesus may have referred to this when he said,

“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).

Could it be that Abraham saw the cross of Jesus prophetically in the male lamb that was offered in the place of Isaac? Could it be that he saw the resurrection of Christ as Isaac got up off of the altar? Could it be that in a substitute sacrifice and resurrection, he saw the grace of God which would someday be lavished on sinners?

By faith Abraham saw the future and rejoiced. 

So it is with us. We rejoice by faith in the holy Lamb slain for our sins, though we have not seen Him crucified. We rejoice by faith in the resurrection of Christ, though we have not seen Him risen. We rejoice by faith in our own resurrection and an eternity lived in the presence of God, though we have not seen this and can scarcely imagine it.

By faith we see the future and we rejoice as we live toward that greatest of all reality. The chaos and tragedy of the world around us is real but not more real than the future. The kingdoms of the world are crumbling beneath our feet but there is this one fixed point in all of time and space and history — it is the Lord our God and that which He has purposed.

The Lord said to Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” How many nations, how man generations will be blessed by your seed, your gifts, your prayers as you place your life on the altar and reverence God?

22:19 “So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba.”

Beersheba means “well of an oath”. Abraham lived in a place where the water that flowed from the well reminded him of the faithful promises of God. Every time he drank a cup of cool water from the well, he remembered the covenant of grace. Every time he heard water flowing from the well into a pitcher, he was reminded of the God who swore by Himself that Abraham would have descendants, that they would possess the land and the nations of the world would be blessed in him.

What is more common than stars in the sky? But the Lord had said, “‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be’” (Gen 15:5). 


What is more common than water? But through that well, the Lord testified of His faithfulness.

What is more common than bread and wine? But the Lord has given us these elements to remember and celebrate His promises to us of forgiveness, resurrection and everlasting life.

22:20-24 “Now it came about after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, ‘Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: Uz his firstborn and Buz his brother and Kemuel the father of Aram and Chesed and Hazo and Pildash and Jidlaph and Bethuel.’ Bethuel became the father of Rebekah; these eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham's brother. His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also bore Tebah and Gaham and Tahash and Maacah.”

These verses record the sons of Abraham’s brother, Nahor. One of the sons, Bethuel, became the father of Rebekah who later would become the bride of Isaac.

Study Questions

1. How would you describe Abraham’s faith as he trudged up the mountain of sacrifice?

2. What did Abraham name that place and how is that significant for us?

3. Abraham placed his seed (Isaac) on the altar and in verse 17, the Lord promises to do what with Abraham’s seed?

4. What happens when we sow our lives, our resources into the kingdom of God?

Genesis Chapter 23

Genesis Chapter 23

23:1 “Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.”

Sarah’s long life reveals the kindness of God. The Lord not only gave her Isaac, the promised son, born when she was 90. But God also gave her 37 years to enjoy him as he grew and matured.

23:2 “Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.”

What an adventure Abraham had shared with his beloved wife, Sarah. They had journeyed together by faith from their homeland to an inheritance which they possessed only by faith. They had laughed at the promise of a son and had believed God for that promise through 25 years of barrenness. They had held in their arms the fulfilled promise of that son.

They had entertained the presence of the incarnate God outside their tent. They had at times sinned and fallen short of their high calling and had experienced the forgiving, restoring grace of God. They had seen judgment poured out on cities that refused to repent. They had built altars and worshipped the living God in a world of idols.

They had journeyed together, believed together. Now she was dead and Abraham wept.

23:3,4 “Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, ‘I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.’”

The sons of Heth are Hittites, originally from the area today known as Turkey. They are neighbors and owners of the land and Abraham negotiates a burial site for Sarah. When he says, “Give me a burial site” he is indicating a desire to purchase the site.

23:5,6 “The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.’”

They recognize Abraham’s status as a mighty and respected man among them — God had prospered him greatly over the years. They indicate that they are willing to sell him the land necessary for the honorable burial of Sarah.

23:7-9 “So Abraham rose and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth. And he spoke with them, saying, ‘If it is your wish for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site.’”

Abraham has a burial site in mind and asks the local leaders to approach a man named Ephron so 

they can negotiate the price. Notice the slow, respectful process of negotiation in that culture.

23:10,11 “Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth; even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying, ‘No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.’”

Ephron, out of kindness and respect for Abraham’s grief and loss, offers to give him the land. Again, this is typical of the way they negotiated.

23:12,13 “And Abraham bowed before the people of the land. He spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, ‘If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it from me that I may bury my dead there.’”

Abraham counters, offering the full price of the land.

23:14,15 “Then Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? So bury your dead.’”

Ephron names the price of the land.

23:16 “Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, commercial standard.”

Abraham accepts Ephron’s price. These shekels probably were not coins but pieces of silver measuring about a half ounce each. The price then is not 400 coins but the weight of 400 shekels which might be roughly equivalent to 12 pounds of silver.

23:17,18 “So Ephron's field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.”

We see that this transaction was carried out at the gates of a city which is where business was done. Abraham purchased the field and it remained in the family’s possession many years later. We read in 25:9,10 that Abraham was buried in this same cave, alongside Sarah. So was Isaac and his wife, Rebekah, as was Jacob and his wife Leah (49:29-32).

23:19,20 “After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field at Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave that is in it, were deeded over to Abraham for a burial site by the sons of Heth.”

It is noteworthy that the entire land of Canaan had been promised to Abraham by God, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, from the borders of Egypt in the south to Lebanon in the north. But this is the only parcel of land in that inheritance that Abraham ever owned — a place to bury his beloved partner in faith, Sarah.

Truly, they were pilgrims, living and dying by faith. But death was no obstacle to the fulfillment of the covenant promises of God to Abraham and Sarah. Nor is death in any way a hindrance to Almighty God in the fulfilling of covenant promises to those who today walk and live and die by faith.  Our God is Creator and Sustainer of life. He is Conqueror of death — He will perfectly accomplish all the counsel of His will and purpose.

Abraham and Sarah will rise from that tomb someday and take full possession of the land along with their resurrected children, among whom we will stand, for we too are children of Abraham and Sarah by faith. And on that day we will give thanks and praise to our God.

Consider these words of the writer to the Hebrews concerning not only Abraham and Sarah but all who have journeyed by faith through this world, believing God for that which we cannot see or touch except with the eyes and hands of faith:

“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth … But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13,16).

Study Questions

1. Abraham had to purchase a burial site for Sarah, even though the land had been promised to him. What does it mean to walk by faith?

2. By faith we take hold of the promises of God but will all the promises be possessed in this life?

Genesis Chapter 24

Genesis Chapter 24

24:1 “Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in every way.”

It was the Lord who blessed Abraham — not himself, not random coincidence, not the people of Canaan. This is why we find him building altars throughout his journey. He understood that God was the source of his blessing.

24:2-4 “Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, ‘Please place your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.’”

We read here of an ancient Mid Eastern custom whereby a solemn pledge or oath was affirmed by the placing of a hand under the thigh as Abraham invokes the name of “the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth.” This is the true and living God who has led Abraham through all of his journey; the God who made covenant promises; the God who fulfilled the promise of a son even when Abraham and Sarah were unable in their own strength.

The oath is motivated by Abraham’s desire to continue the outworking of God’s promise to grant descendants who would someday possess the land. But the continuation of the covenant will require a wife for Isaac and Abraham does not want that wife to come from the pagan tribes of Canaan. He wants the wife to be selected from his own relatives.

It is not that those relatives are worshippers of Yahweh. They are probably still worshipping the same idols as when Abraham left Mesopotamia many years before. But other than Melchizedek, there were no other believers in Yahweh outside of Abraham’s household, as far as we know. Evidently Abraham believes that if Isaac’s bride comes from his relatives in a distant land, she will become a worshipper of God when she leaves her familiar idols and joins this righteous family. If, on the other hand, Isaac married into a family among the nearby people of Canaan, it is possible that he would be drawn by them into the worship of their dead idols. 

That would be lethal. Idols represent gods that do not exist. They are not merely dead — they were never alive but they are infused with the power and deception of demons which are very much alive. Isaac could not surrender his heart to demon idols and see the fulfillment of the covenant which the true and living God has made with his family. He could not deny the God of the covenant and enjoy the promises and blessings of the covenant.

Also, Abraham knows that the tribal groups of Canaan are destined for destruction. In 15:16 the Lord told Abraham that his descendants would inherit this land but not until four generations had passed, “For the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.” 

It would be 400 years before Israel conquered the land. During that intervening time we can be sure that the Lord was calling to the Canaanites to turn from their evil ways. But they steadfastly refused to repent, continued to pollute the land with abominations and thereby placed themselves under God’s judgement.

Abraham does not want Isaac to marry into a culture of false gods, not only for his own sake but for those who would come after him who would be born into a culture destined for destruction. In today’s language we would say, “Don’t marry outside the covenant of grace. Don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers. Don’t marry into a world system that is devoted to destruction.” 

24:5 “The servant said to him, ‘Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?’”

This is a valid question. If the bride-to-be will not return with the servant, should he take Isaac out of the land of promise and return to Mesopotamia?

24:6-9 “Then Abraham said to him, ‘Beware that you do not take my son back there! The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there.’ So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.”

Why is Abraham so insistent that Isaac not go back to Mesopotamia? Because the people are worshippers of dead idols, just as the people of Canaan. Their lives are bound in demonic deception. There is hope that the bride-to-be will convert to the God of Abraham and Isaac if she comes to their household but if Isaac goes to live there, surrounded by false gods, there is the strong possibility that he will fall away from Yahweh as he might if he married into the tribal groups of Canaan. This would separate him from the promises of the covenant.

Also, Mesopotamia is the land out of which God called Abraham, saying, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). The worship of false gods may have originated in that area of the world and God had called him to come out from it. That is where Abraham is from but the covenant was made in Canaan. The promises apply to Canaan. The inheritance is Canaan. 

Sometimes the purpose of God in our lives involves a particular geographical location. We cannot see the complete fulfillment of that purpose outside of that place. This is certainly true of Abraham and the Israelite nation which will descend from him. Abraham is saying, “Don’t let Isaac go back to where we came from. Canaan is our inheritance — stay in the inheritance.”

24:10 “Then the servant took ten camels from the camels of his master, and set out with a variety of good things of his master’s in his hand; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor.”

We assume that Nahor is the city in which Abraham’s brother, Nahor, lives. God sovereignly guided the servant to the city where Abraham’s desire could be fulfilled. From Nahor’s family he hopes to find a bride for Isaac.

24:11 “He made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at evening time, the time when women go out to draw water.”

A wise choice. He positions himself by the town well so that when the women come out for water, he will see them. But how will he identify the right choice?

24:12 “He said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham.’”

First, he asks God to grant him success. He places this crucially important matter in God’s hands, recognizing the importance of allowing God to exercise sovereign Lordship in our daily affairs.

David the Psalmist said, “The Lord will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O Lord, is everlasting; do not forsake the works of Your hands” (Psalm 138:8).

In Proverbs we read, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5,6)

The true and living God is aware of every detail in our lives and is more concerned for our success than we are. God will establish His purpose in our lives if we will make His purpose our priority. Jesus said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). If the kingdom and the glory of God is our true priority, God will see to it that His kingdom is advanced and His glory displayed in us and through us.

As the servant places the matter in God’s hands, he presents to the Lord a means of confirmation.

24:13,14 “Behold, I am standing by the spring, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water; now may it be that the girl to whom I say, ‘Please let down your jar so that I may drink,’ and who answers, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels also’ — may she be the one whom You have appointed for Your servant Isaac; and by this I will know that You have shown lovingkindness to my master.”

Notice the faith behind this prayer. The servant believes that the same God who guided him through this long and grueling journey is also able to answer his prayer.

Notice the wisdom behind this prayer. He is looking for a young woman with a heart to serve, a heart of kindness. This is necessary because as he relates in verse 14, Isaac is also a servant. He is a servant of the Most High God and a servant of the covenant which God has made with Abraham and his descendants. There could not be a more excellent bride and partner for Isaac than a woman with a servant’s heart.

24:15-17 “Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham's brother Nahor, came out with her jar on her shoulder. The girl was very beautiful, a virgin, and no man had had relations with her; and she went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. Then the servant ran to meet her, and said, ‘Please let me drink a little water from your jar.’”

A granddaughter of Nahor comes to the well (Nahor is Abraham’s brother. What was Abraham’s desire? That his son Isaac would have a wife from among his relatives.) So we see the sovereign grace of God drawing this girl to the well just as the Lord guided the servant to this city.

In fact, she had already left her house and was walking to the well before the servant had begun to pray. The answer was in motion before he prayed! 

We are reminded of the words of David the Psalmist, “But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord, I say, ‘You are my God. My times are in Your hand’” (Psalm 31:15).

Time is as much under the sovereign Lordship of God as every other aspect of this universe. God exists before time, beyond time and meets us in time, simultaneously. He sees the end from the beginning because He exists before the beginning and beyond the end. In perfect wisdom expressed through absolute power, God sets in motion His purpose in our lives long before we are aware of His purpose.

The Lord said through Isaiah, “It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear” (Isa. 65:24). Because God is Lord over this universe, He rules even time.

The journey from the tents of Abraham to Nahor has taken weeks, if not months but the servant arrives at the city well in the evening hour, as the young women are coming to draw water. The servant sees a particular girl and though he does not know who she is, he can see her beauty and is drawn to her, just as she is drawn to the well at this moment. 

The greatest miracle God ever performs in our lives is the providential ordering of our lives in coordination with the decisions and actions of thousands of other people in such a way as to accomplish His preordained purpose. God allows all of humanity to exercise free will and yet is able to mold the history of the world and the history of our own individual lives into the accomplishment of His ultimate purpose for His glory and for our good.

So it was at the well of Nahor. 

Now is the test, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar.”

24:18-20 “She said, ‘Drink, my lord’; and she quickly lowered her jar to her hand, and gave him a drink. Now when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, ‘I will draw also for your camels until they have finished drinking.’ So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, and ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels.”

She demonstrates customary social kindness in drawing water for the servant but providing for his ten camels reveals a true servant’s heart. There are ten camels, they have been on a long journey and are capable of consuming an enormous amount of water. Truly, the servant’s prayer has been answered in exact detail.

24:21 “Meanwhile, the man was gazing at her in silence, to know whether the Lord had made his journey successful or not.”

He had prayed, placing the matter in God’s hands. He had presented a strategy to the Lord whereby he could discern the answer to prayer. Then he silently waited for confirmation. 

The confirmation unfolded before his eyes. He had prayed, “Now may it be that the girl to whom I say, ‘Please let down your jar so that I may drink,’ and who answers, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels also’ — may she be the one whom You have appointed for Your servant Isaac.’”

So he prayed and so she has done.

24:22,23 “When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half-shekel and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels in gold, and said, ‘Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room for us to lodge in your father's house?’”

The servant realizes that this is God’s appointed bride for Isaac. He gives gifts to her, though she does not yet know the reason. He also needs now to introduce himself to her family so he asks if he may stay with them.

24:24 “She said to him, ‘I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.’”

Bethuel is the son of Abraham’s brother, Nahor. This makes Bethuel the cousin of Isaac. Rebekah is the daughter of Bethuel.

24:25-27 “Again she said to him, ‘We have plenty of both straw and feed, and room to lodge in.’ Then the man bowed low and worshiped the Lord. He said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, the Lord has guided me in the way to the house of my master's brothers.’”

The servant realizes that God and God alone guided him and answered his prayer. In response, he worships the Lord. Abraham has effectively discipled his household. He prays and seeks God’s counsel. So does his servant. He knows that his success is a gift from God. So does his servant. He builds altars and worships the Lord. So does his servant.

24:28,29 “Then the girl ran and told her mother's household about these things. Now Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban; and Laban ran outside to the man at the spring.”

This is the infamous Laban who later will deceive Isaac’s son, Jacob. When we meet him later, his primary motivation is not righteousness or love for God. We see his motivation in the following verses.

24:30,31 “When he saw the ring and the bracelets on his sister's wrists, and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister, saying, ‘This is what the man said to me,’ he went to the man; and behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring. And he said, ‘Come in, blessed of the Lord! Why do you stand outside since I have prepared the house, and a place for the camels?’”

MidEastern hospitality dictated this invitation but Laban’s sense of social custom may have been inspired by the gifts lavished on Rebekah — “When he saw the ring and the bracelets.”

24:32 “So the man entered the house. Then Laban unloaded the camels, and he gave straw and feed to the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him.”

Again we see the generosity that was typical among the people of that region. However, we would have expected the servants of Laban to tend to the camels, not Laban. He even drew the water for the washing of their feet. But Laban is a man on a mission. 

24:33 “But when food was set before him to eat, he said, ‘I will not eat until I have told my business.’ And he said, ‘Speak on.’”

The servant and his men are no doubt famished. But there is an important matter to discuss and he will not tend to his own hunger until he tends to his master Abraham’s business. This reveals the heart of a true servant, subordinating his needs to the priority of his assignment. 

24:34,35 “So he said, ‘I am Abraham's servant. The Lord has greatly blessed my master, so that he has become rich; and He has given him flocks and herds, and silver and gold, and servants and maids, and camels and donkeys.’”

As we have noted before, the servant is aware that Abraham’s prosperity is not due to his master’s own skill or wisdom but is the result of the blessing of God upon his life. This produced in the servant the realization that the success of his own journey is not the result of random circumstance or luck but is nothing other than the blessing of God.

24:36-38 “Now Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master in her old age, and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father's house and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son.’”

Now the servant’s business is disclosed. He is here to find a wife for his master’s son.

24:39-41 “I said to my master, ‘Suppose the woman does not follow me.’ He said to me, ‘The Lord, before whom I have walked, will send His angel with you to make your journey successful, and you will take a wife for my son from my relatives and from my father’s house; then you will be free from my oath, when you come to my relatives; and if they do not give her to you, you will be free from my oath.’”

Again we see the faith of Abraham revealed — “The Lord, before whom I have walked, will send His angel with you to make your journey successful, and you will take a wife for my son.” He has no doubt that God will make the servant’s journey successful. That does not mean that it is certain that the family will agree. It is certain that the Lord will guide the servant to the end of the journey. It is certain that the Lord will introduce the servant to the bride and the bride to the servant. It is certain that all the necessary pieces of this event will converge at the right place in the right time.

But there is a human component. Rebekah and her family must agree to the proposal of marriage. If they will not agree, then there will be no marriage. God has a beautiful plan for Rebekah. But she must submit to the plan for God will not violate the free will that He gave her. 

This does not mean that God is passively standing by wringing His hands and hoping that Rebekah will agree. He sent His servant to her and awakens her senses with this gift-bearing servant. He awakens her longing with the revelation of a groom in a far off land.

This is similar to the process of salvation. Though we are spiritually dead, separated from God by our sins and blind to spiritual truth, God comes seeking us, awakens us to grace, opens us to grace and draws us to Himself by grace. By grace He enables us to turn from our sins and trust Him for the salvation that He has already provided in Christ.

24:42-44 “So I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now You will make my journey on which I go successful; behold, I am standing by the spring, and may it be that the maiden who comes out to draw, and to whom I say, ‘Please let me drink a little water from your jar’ and she will say to me, ‘You drink, and I will draw for your camels also’; let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master's son.’”

He reveals the intricate detail of God’s purpose. After the long journey to this city and this well, a prayer was prayed that could not possibly have been answered except by divine appointment.

24:45-47 “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder, and went down to the spring and drew, and I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels also’; so I drank, and she watered the camels also. Then I asked her, and said, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him’; and I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her wrists.”

His prayer was fulfilled to the last detail. A relative of his master came to the well, gave him water and gave water to his camels. He knows beyond any doubt that this maiden is God’s choice to perpetuate the covenant promises made to Abraham. She is the bride of Isaac.

24:48 “And I bowed low and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had guided me in the right way to take the daughter of my master's kinsman for his son.”

He reveals that he is a worshipper of Yahweh, the true and living God who guides us “in the right way.” Be clear on this — it is the Lord who leads us in the right way. David may have been thinking of those words when, centuries later, he wrote, “He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake” (Psalm 23:3). 

As the Lord said to King David, so He says to each of us, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go. I will counsel you with my eye on you” (Psalm 32:8).

Why does the Lord shepherd us so closely? So that He may glorify His name in the glorious outcome of His ordained purpose. 

24:49 “So now if you are going to deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, let me know, that I may turn to the right hand or the left.”

The servant is asking for a response. Rebekah and her family are aware of his mission, they are aware of the blessing of God upon him and the providential outworking of the least detail. Now they must respond. Rebecca’s destiny hinges on their response.

So it is in salvation. The Holy Spirit comes to us, awakens us to the reality of God’s redeeming purpose in Christ Jesus and reveals the way of salvation — repentance and faith. But then we must respond. Will we surrender or will we refuse? Our eternity hinges on our response.

24:50,51 “Then Laban and Bethuel replied, ‘The matter comes from the Lord; so we cannot speak to you bad or good. Here is Rebekah before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has spoken.’”

Even Laban testifies — this matter is from the Lord. The purpose of God is as clear as the noon day sun. They cannot say, “We do not see” or “The matter is unclear to us.” To refuse would be direct rebellion against God’s revealed will. Though they may not be worshippers of God, His presence and purpose in this matter are undeniable.

They agree to the marriage.

24:52 “When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the ground before the Lord.”

Again the servant gives glory to God for success. He has learned to be a worshipper of God, has learned to rely on God for guidance in all things and gives glory to God for every blessing, as does his master Abraham.

24:53 “The servant brought out articles of silver and articles of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother.”

The gifts for Rebekah are the equivalent of an engagement ring. She is officially betrothed to Isaac. The gifts for her mother and her brother Laban are expressions of gratitude to the family.

24:54 “Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night. When they arose in the morning, he said, ‘Send me away to my master.’”

Even though the family has agreed to the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah, social custom required that the servant ask permission to leave.

25:55 “But her brother and her mother said, ‘Let the girl stay with us a few days, say ten; afterward she may go.’”

Understandably, Rebekah’s mother and brother are sad to see her go. She will journey to a far country and as far as they know, they will never see her again (in fact, they will not). They ask the servant to stay and give them more time to say goodbye.

25:56 “He said to them, ‘Do not delay me, since the Lord has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.’”

The servant does not want to be delayed. The Lord has granted him success, he has found a bride for Isaac, the future of the covenant is assured. His desire is to return home as soon as possible.

25:57,58 “And they said, ‘We will call the girl and consult her wishes.’ Then they called Rebekah and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ And she said, ‘I will go.’”

Rebekah is ready for the journey, ready to meet her groom and embrace the future which God has providentially opened to her. All is grace — it is the Most High God who called Abraham, led him to the land of promise, made covenant with him, gave to him and to Sarah the creative ability to conceive a child; it is the Lord Almighty who guided the servant to the well of Nahor as Rebecca was coming to draw water. 

All is grace, but a human response is necessary if we wish to access grace. The call of God to Abraham was the call of grace but Abraham chose to follow. The covenant with Abraham was a covenant of grace but he chose to submit to the covenant. 

God, in His providential design for Rebekah, has prepared for her a husband, a child and a line of descendants who will be crucial components in the salvation story that began with God’s promise of a Deliverer to Adam and Eve when they fell from grace. Rebekah’s grandchildren will be fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. They will become a nation and someday that great Deliverer promised to Eve, Messiah Jesus, will be born to that nation and will bring salvation to the world.

All of this the Lord has ordained for Rebekah. It His grace-infused design for her life and her posterity. But she must give herself to grace.  She must surrender to God’s design.

This she does when she says, “I will go.”

25:59,60 “Thus they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse with Abraham’s servant and his men. They blessed Rebekah and said to her, ‘May you, our sister, become thousands of ten thousands, and may your descendants possess the gate of those who hate them.’”

They did not know the covenant promises which God had made to Abraham, that his descendants would be more numerous than the sand on the seashore, more than the stars in the sky; that they would possess a land, an inheritance. But this prayer is somehow shaped, formed by the Spirit of God to speak prophetically of that future which would continue to unfold through Rebekah and Isaac.

25:61 “Then Rebekah arose with her maids, and they mounted the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed.”

Even as Abraham had left this land many years before and journeyed into a future which only God could see, so now the bride of Isaac departs the land of the east, the country where false gods were first conceived, to sojourn toward the land of  promise wherein the true and living God will be worshipped by a covenant nation. 

It is a journey of faith. She cannot see the land ahead.

It is a journey of hope. She does not know what the future holds.

It is enough that God sees and knows and He holds the future in the hand of His preordained purpose. Into those everlasting, all wise and almighty hands, she commits her life and her future.

As David the Psalmist said, “My times are in Your hand” (Psalm 31:15). 

25:62,63 “Now Isaac had come from going to Beer-lahai-roi; for he was living in the Negev. Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, camels were coming.”

Sarah, Isaac’s mother is dead. It appears that he is not in the company of his father Abraham. We don’t know why but possibly he is mourning the passing of his mother and allowing Abraham the privacy to grieve the loss of his precious wife.

We do not know what thoughts comprised Isaac’s meditation but surely he is considering the greatness of the Lord who led and blessed his father and who has made such great and precious promises. If a mighty nation is to descend from Abraham then it must come through his son. “Then there must be a bride for me” he would have thought.

Was he at that moment praising God by faith for that bride?

Now the sun is setting in the western sky and Isaac looks up and sees on the eastern horizon, a caravan approaching. Surely his heart quickened as this glorious thought pulsed through his soul, “Could this be my bride?” 

He begins to walk toward her, irresistibly drawn.

25:64,65 “Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel. She said to the servant, ‘Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?’ And the servant said, ‘He is my master.’ Then she took her veil and covered herself.”

Arriving at the journey’s end, she beholds her groom. According to social custom, she veils her face. Her modesty and humility cover what must have been breathless anticipation.

25:66,67 “The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.”

As the servant recounts the details of his fulfilled assignment, Isaac understands that he is standing in the presence of his bride, the woman with whom he will continue to fulfill the covenant of grace. He takes her into his tent, into his heart and she became his wife.

Sarah, the mother of Israel, has gone to be with the Lord. 

Rebecca will carry on. She will give birth to Jacob, from whom will come twelve sons and someday, twelve tribes and a covenant nation.

God’s drama of redeeming grace continues to unfold.

Notes on Rebekah the Bride

The story of the servant going in search of Rebekah and bringing her to Isaac is historically accurate — it happened — but it is also a parable of spiritual truth. Over the centuries, many preachers and commentators have seen Abraham as a type of God the Father who sends His holy Servant to find a bride for his Son. They see in Rebecca a representation of the church, the bride of Christ. They see the servant as a picture of the Holy Spirit — unnamed, humble, not seeking to glorify Himself but to exalt Jesus and bring the bride to Christ, the heavenly Groom. 

We will take a few moments to trace this theme.

24:1 As the servant was sent by the father, Abraham, to bring back a bride for his son, Isaac, so has the Holy Spirit been sent by God the Father to bring back a bride for His Son, Jesus.

24:15 The servant found someone willing to serve. So is the Holy Spirit seeking a bride with a heart to serve.

24:22,53 The servant gave gifts to Rebecca to adorn her. So does the Holy Spirit bear holy, sanctifying gifts for the church, to beautify and adorn the bride. The Spirit also bears gifts which enable and empower our ministry of service.

24:58 One question was asked of Rebecca: will you go? Only Rebecca could answer — none could answer for her. So it is today. The Holy Spirit asks, “Will you surrender your life to the Lordship of Jesus? Will you follow Him unconditionally?” No one can answer for us.

24:61 They went away, the servant taking the maiden to the groom.

It was a long journey. Who provided protection and provision?  The servant. So it is that the Holy Spirit leads us on this long journey to heaven. We have no lasting city here but we do have provision and defense, the gifts of the Spirit, the progressive work of sanctification to beautify the bride.

At night when they stopped to rest, I would imagine that Rebekah said to the servant, “Tell me about Isaac.” The servant would have testified to her about her groom. So with the bride of Christ. The Holy Spirit comes not to speak of Himself but to glorify Christ, to lead us into all truth that glorifies our Heavenly Groom.

24:62 Isaac was in the field meditating. I wonder if He was longing for his bride, watching.

So does Christ long for His Bride as revealed in His prayer, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am” (John 17:24).

24:65 As Isaac approached, Rebekah covered herself. We too must be dressed properly, in the robe of Christ’s righteousness, “And they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).

24:67 Isaac brought Rebekah into his tent, his father’s house. So does Christ desire to receive us and bring us into mansions of glory. “In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).

In summary notice these truths:

7 truths about the servant:

1. He had charge of all that Abraham owned.

2. He sought nothing for himself

3. His mission was to seek a bride for the father’s son.

4. He came bearing gifts.

5. He confronted Rebekah with her destiny.

6. He was the only source of information about Isaac, the son.

7. He led her / she followed to her appointed destiny.

7 truths about Rebecca’s response:

1. Her first contact was with the servant, not Abraham or Isaac.

2. She chose to honor and serve the servant (10 camels, many gallons of water for each) which demonstrated the heart of a servant.

3. Her response to the servant determined her destiny.

4. The servant gave her gifts.

5. The gifts, when she put them on, marked her as a bride.

6. She made room in her home for the servant and camels.

7. She followed to her appointed destiny.

7 truths about us:

1. Our first understanding of God is through the Holy Spirit — He takes the word of God and opens it to us and opens our hearts and minds to the revelation contained in that word.

2. Faith is revealed through works — as we serve (as she served the servant). 

3. Our response to the Holy Spirit determines our destiny for all eternity.

4. We have received gifts — we cannot entertain the guest and reject his gifts.

5. These gifts mark us as the bride of Christ.

6. Making room in our life for this guest means changes — the purpose of God now comes first.

7. We must lay down our life and follow.

The story of Isaac and Rebekah is a beautiful story because it actually happened, it is historically accurate. But it is beautiful for another reason — it is also our story.

Study Questions

1. Why did Abraham not want Isaac to take a wife from the surrounding tribes of Canaan?

2. Abraham’s servant prayed a very specific prayer. In what ways did God answer that prayer?

3. It is obvious that God chose Rebekah. But does Rebekah have a choice in this?

4. The Lord shepherded the servant in his journey. Is this your experience and why does the Lord shepherd us?

5. Whether you are male or female, how do you see yourself in this story?

Genesis Chapter 25

Genesis Chapter 25

25:1-6 “Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore to him Zimran and Jokshan and Medan and Midian and Ishbak and Shuah … Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac; but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the east.”

After the death of Sarah, Abraham married Keturah and had sons with her, which became the fathers of various Arab tribes. Before he died, Abraham shared out of his abundance with these other sons but sent them away to the east so that they would not compete with Isaac, for he alone was the heir of the covenant promises.

25:7,8 “These are all the years of Abraham’s life that he lived, one hundred and seventy-five years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people.”

Abraham lived 100 years after God called him to leave his home in Haran and follow by faith to a land and a life which God would open to him (Gen. 12:1-5). He never inherited the promised land, never built a city but lived in tents, sojourning by faith toward a city not made with hands. During those years he saw God pour out fire and brimstone on sinful cities and experienced the outpouring of forgiveness on his own sin.

During those years he heard God speak, saw God in vision and met God in human form. He entered into covenant with God and heard the Lord make astounding promises to him — that he would have a son and more descendants than the sand of the seashore or the stars of the sky, that his descendants would become a great nation.

He lived to see the birth of that son and lived 75 years after the birth of Isaac. Surely the Scripture is true that he died “in a ripe old age … satisfied with life.”

Notice that death is spoken of as a gathering. Life was abundant on earth but how much greater the abundance after death — “gathered to his people.” His people were the faithful of all generations, those who die in righteous relationship with God and therefore abide with God. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, when the poor man died he was “carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom (Luke 26:22). That is a way of describing the presence of God.

After a lifetime as a wanderer living in tents, Abraham finally arrived at the city of God.

“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:8-10).

25:9-11 “Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth; there Abraham was buried with Sarah his wife. It came about after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac lived by Beer-lahai-roi.” 

And so the saga of Abraham and Sarah comes to an end as they are buried side by side in the only plot of the promised land that Abraham ever possessed. 

Now the story of Isaac begins. Through this long awaited son, the covenant promises will continue to be fulfilled. God’s great redemption plan will continue to unfold.

Notice also that Isaac settles in Beer-lahai-roi. This is the well where the Lord met Hagar when she was fleeing from Sarai’s abuse. Hagar called the Lord El Roi — the God who sees. After this, the well was named Beer-lahai-roi which means, “The well of the living One who sees me.”

How ironic that Isaac pitched his tents there, in the place where Ishmael’s mother had encountered the Lord in her distress. Soon after that, she had given birth to Ishmael. Years later, she was banished into the wilderness with her child, and except for the merciful intervention of the Lord, would have died there. Now Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury their father. This is most certainly the first time they have seen one another since Ishmael and his mother were sent away, those many years before. Now they gather in unity around their father.

25:12-18 “Now these are the records of the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maid, bore to Abraham … These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages, and by their camps; twelve princes according to their tribes …These are the years of the life of Ishmael, one hundred and thirty-seven years; and he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.”

Before picking up the story of Isaac, Moses concludes the story of Ishmael, Isaac’s half brother through Hagar. It was not God’s plan that Abraham would father a son through Sarah’s maid but the Lord in His mercy preserved the life of Ishmael and promised to bless him, as we read in chapter 17:

“As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year” (Gen. 17:20,21).

The Lord fulfilled His promises to Ishmael and blessed him. The sons of Ishmael, these twelve princes, became the fathers of Arab nations against whom Israel later contended. Moses records this brief history as a way of teaching Israel about the origins of the people groups around them.

God in His mercy blessed them but the covenant promises will be fulfilled only through Isaac.

25:19,20 “Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham became the father of Isaac; and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife.”

Moses rehearses the previous narrative of Isaac and Rebekah as a prelude to the birth of their sons which will open into the next narrative of redemption history.

25:21 “Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was unable to have children. The Lord answered Isaac's prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant with twins.”

Just as Sarah was unable to conceive without supernatural enablement, so was Rebekah. From 25:19 we learn that Isaac was 40 years old when he married his wife. From 25:26 we learn that he was 60 years old when his sons were born. So he prayed for 20 years for an heir. 

Issac is to be commended for his perseverance in prayer. When faced with the challenge of childlessness, a challenge which posed a threat to the covenant promises, he did not resort to polygamy, as did his father Abraham. Rather, he set his heart to seek the living God. 

Why the Lord required this long season of prayer is not stated but it is surely the Lord’s way of reminding Isaac of the significance of the covenant promises and the necessity of divine enablement every step along the way. The descendants of Abraham would someday be a great nation and through that nation God’s program of salvation would go forth across the earth. The Messiah will someday be born into this nation and will accomplish the great work of atonement for sin.

Isaac does not know about the Messiah, the atonement, the Gospel. He does know that he is the heir of the covenant which God made with his father — surely Abraham told him this. He knows that the covenant promises include the land of Canaan. He knows that his descendants will be more numerous than the stars of the sky.

God wants him to understand that only the living God can bring about the fulfillment of these covenant promises. The Lord creates, through the barren womb of Rebekah and 20 years of prayer, a sense of dependance on God and an appreciation for the grace and power of God. 

In the conception of the twins after this season of travailing prayer, the Lord demonstrates His power to fulfill His promises. In the journey from barrenness to fruitfulness we see the grace of God. An heir of the covenant is born through a supernatural answer to prayer, after natural means have failed. Thus the grace of God is expressed through the power of God.

25:22,23 “But the children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is so, why then am I this way?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord. The Lord said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.’”

Rebekah has learned from the example of Abraham and Isaac to seek the Lord and she inquires as to the reason for the struggle in her womb. The Lord replies that the two children represent two nations and their contention in the womb is a foreshadowing of their future contention historically, geographically, politically and spiritually.

Furthermore, “The older shall serve the younger.” This was a complete reversal of custom. In that society, upon the death of the father, the oldest son became the legal and spiritual leader of the family and received a double portion of the inheritance. In this particular family, the older son, Esau, would be expected to inherit the covenant promises and blessings.

However, custom will be broken in this family. “The older shall serve the younger.” God had chosen Jacob to inherit the promises given to Abraham. The birth line of the Messiah would extend from Abraham through Isaac and Jacob all the way to Bethlehem.

Why? This is what God ordained as a demonstration of His grace. The Apostle Paul in commenting on this passage said, “For though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger’” (Romans 9:11,12).

The blessings of God are always an expression of grace, mercy, kindness. Jacob did nothing to earn the Lord’s choice of him as heir of the covenant. He was not even born when God chose him. Neither did Abraham do anything to merit God’s choice of him. Neither do we earn, merit or deserve God’s choice to awaken us to His offer of salvation. All is grace.

Hasn’t it always been this way? When Adam and Eve sinned, it was God who came to them in the garden, covered them and promised a Deliverer. When Abraham and Sarah were childless, it was God who enabled them to fulfill the promise of a son. Later, when Jacob’s sons sinned against Joseph by selling him into slavery, it was God who chose to preserve Joseph and to preserve his brothers through the kindness of Joseph. 

When Israel was enslaved in Egypt, it was God who chose to deliver them through Moses, himself a murderer whom God forgave and called to be the liberator of the nation. When Israel sinned repeatedly in the wilderness, it was God who chose to preserve a remnant and bring them into the promised land. When Israel sinned and refused to repent, the nation was destroyed by the Assyrians and Babylonians but it was God who chose to restore and rebuild the covenant nation. 

When Israel rejected the Messiah, within one generation the nation was destroyed by the Romans but 1900 years later God caused the nation to be reestablished.

When we were dead in sin, enemies of God and blind to all spiritual perception, the Lord chose to set His love upon us and save us. Indeed, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:4). Before the foundation of the world, before we had done anything to earn, merit or deserve God’s saving choice in our lives, the Lord set His saving, redeeming love upon us.

It is not that we sought the Lord. Rather, as Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost” (Matthew 18:11). It was God who came seeking us, awakening us to His saving purpose. An anonymous poet once wrote,

“I sought the Lord and afterward I knew

He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me

’twas not so much that I on thee took hold

as Thou dear Lord on me”

As the Apostle Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9)

So it was with Jacob. God sovereignly chose him to be the heir of the covenant.

25:24-26 “When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau's heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.”

The name Esau refers to something that is rough to the touch, an obvious reference to the fact that he was covered with red hair when he was born. The name Jacob means “one who grabs the heel.” The fact that Jacob came forth from the womb grabbing his brother’s heel prefigures the life that he would lead — perpetually trying to grasp and grab.

25:27,28 “When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.”

Here we see the set up for conflict in the family. Two very different personalities — one at home in the open country, a hunter. The other a home boy, domesticated. One, beloved of his father. The other, beloved of his mother. (What could possibly go wrong?)

25:29-32 “When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, ‘Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.’ Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ Esau said, ‘Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?’”

Esau wasn't going to die of starvation in a household overflowing with abundance.  What he wanted was immediate gratification of his appetite. Jacob, the heel grabber, always scheming, always looking for an angle, wants to make a deal — he wants to grab the birthright.

25:33,34 “And Jacob said, ‘First swear to me’; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.”

Esau, first born son of Isaac, despised his inheritance, traded it for a bowl of stew. In Hebrews 12:16 Esau is described as a “godless person.” Surely this is one definition of godlessness — to despise the blessings of grace which God desires to lavish upon us while valuing the immediate satisfaction of our desires.

There is no fault in hunger. Rather, the fault is in despising that which is eternally valuable while valuing that which is momentarily tasty. Such shallowness is at the root of much of the self-destructive behavior in modern society.


God used Esau’s hunger to reveal what was in both men: in Esau, a casual, worldly disregard for the blessing of God; in Jacob, a willingness to use worldly methods to obtain heavenly reward.

The Lord also used Esau’s hunger and godlessness to bring about His purpose, that the older would serve the younger. While Jacob is to be commended for valuing and desiring that which has eternal worth, his worldly character and lack of faith should serve as a warning to us — he does not need to scheme and grab what had already been promised to him. In the years to come, this will cost him terribly.

Later, Esau felt remorse for his foolishness and wept over what he had lost but his remorseful tears could not restore what he had lost. Again, the writer of Hebrews provides commentary,

“For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears” (Hebrews 12:17).

Esau’s sorrow was not an expression of true repentance. There was no place in his heart for repentance because he was not sorry for his sin. He was sorry for the consequence — lost blessing. The Apostle Paul reminds us that there is a Godly sorrow “leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10).

True repentance — sorrow for our sin which has grieved God, wounded others and harmed our own life — this is the beginning of salvation. This godly sorrow causes us to turn from our sin and turn to God. It leads to the gift of faith, the forgiveness of God, the restoring grace of God and true salvation. But the sorrow of the world, as we have said, is nothing more than sorrow over the consequence or penalty which sin has brought. It does not involve a true turning from sin and does not lead to anything other than continued separation from God and ultimate death.

So we see here the portrait of two brothers:

We see Jacob, chosen of God but worldly, not yet possessing the spiritual discernment or maturity to trust the Lord to bring about what He has purposed as he surrenders to Him.


We see Esau, a man of the world, the secular humanist, who despises, devalues the blessing of God; a man who will someday weep for his lost blessing but will not repent of the lifestyle, the mindset that brought about his loss.

Study Questions

1. Isaac prayed for 20 years for a son. What might God have been teaching him during that long season of prayer ? (see 25:21).

2. Esau was the first born son but God chose Jacob to be the heir of the covenant. In what way is God’s choice of Jacob an illustration of His choice of you? (see 25:22,23).

3. What does Esau’s sale of his birthright to Jacob reveal about the two brothers?

Genesis Chapter 26

Genesis Chapter 26

26:1 “Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines.”

Isaac, child of promise, whose