Not everything in the Bible is what we would call “child-friendly”; there are numerous accounts of despicable things taking place at the hands of people who are supposed to be God’s chosen ones. Betrayal, murder, inappropriate relationships, and more; I guess you could say that the Bible isn’t designed to be a Disney sitcom, but instead, tells the story of real people in real situations. Unfortunately, thanks to sin in our world, those real situations are often bleak, strange, and sometimes down-right gross. That’s what we find in Genesis 38, and I’ll warn you ahead of time, it is not for the faint of heart.
In this story, we have an account of Judah, the man who is later promised to have the Messiah come from his family line (Genesis 49:10), caught up in a dramatic sequence of events with his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Unfortunately for Tamar, everyone she married, quickly died; even though we may not understand the cultural practices of a brother marrying his ex-sister-in-law to preserve their family line, we can understand the grief, disappointment, and the feeling of guilt she must have been under. Even though it wasn’t her fault, it would be difficult not to blame yourself when this happens over and over again.
Skipping ahead and not going into all the gross details about her tricking Judah into giving her a son (what?!), we find out that Tamar finally does bear children and can breathe a sigh of relief. What isn’t immediately obvious to us in this story is how significant these children would later be in the biblical story. Her children are named Perez and Zerah (v. 29-30); and if you skip ahead to the New Testament in Matthew 1:3, Perez is found in the genealogy of Jesus himself! It is through this gross, bleak, and very strange story that God brings about the Savior of the world! This is just one example among many of what the entire book of Genesis is trying to communicate to us: “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
Just like Judah and Tamar, God can turn our most difficult, strange, and sometimes gross situations into something wonderful and life-changing. Paul tells us in Romans 8:28 that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God”. How true this is: God can use anything in your life, no matter how dark and disappointing it may be, and turn it into something great, if you will simply love and trust Him with it.
What do we learn of Er, Onan, Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38? What sins are they guilty of? We are not given all the details of what God is thinking, but from what we do know, why do you think some of these characters are struck dead and others become part of Jesus’ genealogy? (There might be a clue in verse 26)?
What do we learn of God in our reading today? Does He take sin lightly? Does He only work with perfect people? What type of heart and actions is He looking for?
In life we come to places where we are in distress, we feel hopeless, and we feel like our circumstances couldn’t be darker. But God is full of hope and knows his plans for us if we trust him.
We begin in Genesis, Jacob has fled from his home from his brother Esau, and after he left Laban now Jacob is being told by God to return to Bethel, the place where he had stopped after running from his brother and having a dream.
Before they get there Jacob tells his family in Genesis 35:2
“So, Jacob said to his household and all who were with him, get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. We must get up and go to Bethel. I will build an alter there to the God who has answered me in my day of distress. He has been there with me everywhere I have gone.”
Jacob is telling his family how God has blessed him and that they are not going back to that place of foreign gods. Just as we are not going back to our places of distress and false gods.
“May the Lord answer you in a day of trouble; may the name of Jacob’s God protect you.”
God provides answers in all our times of distress. In our times of trouble, when we don’t understand why things are happening, he knows why things are happening. He provides us comfort in our struggles; we need to lean on him. God will provide.
It is after this that God tells Jacob to be fruitful and multiply, and he reminds Jacob of the promise he had made to Abraham and Isaac concerning the land.
This means something to us too when times get difficult. We will experience the blessings of God at times, but when questionable circumstances come our way, we need to remember how we obtained those blessings. Forgetting about God in times of need would be a sure sign that we are getting on the wrong path.
Matthew 19 also contains a lot of information. Jesus had to deal with the pharisees trying to trip him up constantly, but what stands out to me is Matthew 19:21-22.
“If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.”
This man was faithful to God and had a lot of possessions, but he did not connect his possessions with God’s blessings. The same goes with us, too often we forget that when times are good and we are feeling high in life, that our blessings come from God!
We can’t forget that in our good and bad times that no matter what, we are to devote ourselves to God. Trust in him and he will bring you through everything that you experience.
What are your usual responses when you feel you are in a time of distress? Are they helpful responses?
What can we learn from our Bible passages today regarding how to turn to God?
What can we learn from our Bible passages today regarding who God is and what He does?
In our daily life we find ourselves interacting with others. It may have been less often over the last few years, but still we were created to be social beings. So it should come as no surprise that a lot of the teachings of Jesus would have to do with how we should treat those people when we come in contact with them.
Here in Matthew 18 he begins by correcting his disciples over a fight they were having, on who would be the greatest among them, when they were in the Kingdom. So often we, like the disciples here, find ourselves trying to one up each other. We want to be the one in charge. We want to be the one who has the biggest slice of cake, the one who gets the best parking space, or the one who gets to be at the front of the line. I’m not saying that these things are bad. I’m just saying that in this culture we live in, where everyone is putting their wants and desires above everyone else around them, we are called to be different. We are called by God to put others ahead of ourselves.
I think one of the best examples of putting other people first comes from our greatest example, and who we are to model our lives after, Jesus. In Matthew 14 we find the story of one of the coolest miracles in the Bible. It is the time that 5000 men plus all the women and kids that were with them, were fed with only five loves of bread and two fish. But look at what happened right before this. The beginning of the chapter tells us that Jesus’ own cousin, John the Baptist had just been killed by King Herod, and Jesus got word of it. When he found out, Jesus decided to have some alone time, most likely to mourn for his cousin and to pray. So Jesus and his disciples traveled by boat to a solitary place. But the crowds seeing that he had left followed him. When Jesus arrived and found everyone waiting for him, he didn’t get mad at the crowds and tell them to go away so he can be alone. Instead, the Bible says, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matt 14:14) Jesus did take some time for himself, to mourn over John later that day, going up on the mountain, while the disciples headed back across the water. But he still put the needs of the crowd ahead of himself.
As you read Matthew 18 today, be sure to notice all the ways that Jesus teaches us to treat others: reaching the lost with the gospel, approaching other believers who have sinned and forgiving those who wronged you. And as you read Jesus’ teachings, think of the examples he set for us, in these regards, by the way he lived his life.
In what situations do you have a harder time putting the needs of others before your own? When is it difficult for you to happily and humbly take the lower position?
In what ways is Jesus calling you to be different from the world? In what ways is Jesus calling you to be different from what you were last year?
In what ways does Jesus’ example line up with his teaching?
What can we learn of the Kingdom designer and Father of Jesus in your reading today?
In a year that we are searching in His words for who God is, Psalm 18 is a goldmine. Almost no seeking is required, just taking it in, line after line after line. In 50 verses David shares who His God is: what God has done and why, what He loves, what He doesn’t love, His super powers, what He offers and provides and gives, what is perfect about Him, what He delivers us from, and why He is worthy of praise.
The first time I read Psalm 18 this week I journaled what I saw regarding God – it was the first Psalm that took a full page to record my observations, and I am sure I missed some. Here’s just a sampling from my journal page (with some added thoughts):
God – MY strength, rock, fortress, deliverer, refuge, shield, horn of salvation, stronghold, worthy of praise… (written by David so he was the original “MY” referred to – but not the only – thank you God for being MY strength, too)
He hears me from his temple…(I am not used to being heard by the “higher-ups” – but here is the Highest of them all, and He hears me.)
He gets angry – earth trembles and quakes, mountains shook…
He reached down from on high and rescued me…
He’s my support…
To turn from Him is evil…
God saves the humble…not so the haughty… (Be humble, don’t be haughty)
To the faithful/blameless/pure – He shows Himself to be faithful/blameless/pure…. (but don’t be crooked with Him, unless you are curious what His other side looks like).
The LORD lives!…
As I re-read I began looking for what verse or phrase I would choose to create a picture to accompany the devotion – there were way too many I wanted to use! Here are some of my personal top choices, that I didn’t end up using…
“I call to the LORD who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.” (vs 3) – (My enemies will look different from David’s – we each have a different purpose from God to fulfill and different enemies to overcome – but we both have the same God who is worthy of praise and who saves from the enemy.)
“He rescued me because He delighted in me.” (vs 19) – (Thank you God for delighting in me – and rescuing me. Your love and your power work perfectly together. And I am the blessed recipient of both.)
“My God turns my darkness into light.” (vs 28) – (How’s that for a lightbulb moment?)
“You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great.” (vs 35) – (Don’t you love the picture that creates in your mind! Re-read it again slower. How is God trying to pass you His shield of victory today?)
“As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.” (vs 30) – (Is there anything else in this world that is perfect? We are so used to flawed, broken and mediocre – but that is NOT My God – his way and his word are perfect – and they are for me!)
What pictures/passages do you like best in Psalm 18? What do they tell you about God? Is He YOUR God, too?
Remember those book reports you did back in elementary school when you had to create something to show you learned something from the reading – a mobile, a shoebox diorama, a character chart. I encourage you to create something from Psalm 18 – a journal page, memory verse cards for your bathroom mirror, a friend’s refrigerator and the wallets of all your family members, a wall hanging for your home or your neighbor’s, a card or text for a friend who is feeling surrounded by enemies today.
Read His words and remember and share. God is worthy of praise. “I love you, O LORD, my strength.” (Psalm 18:1 NIV)
If you were hoping for a devotion today over Matthew 17 and the Transfiguration which is a very interesting “highlight” of Jesus’ earthly ministry, here’s a good one called A Mountain Top Experience by Rebecca Dauksas.
In what way do you think God wants to give you His shield of victory today? How might you receive it? What enemies is God able to help you overcome?
How might your day be different if you remember all day long who Your God is?
Just as we can benefit from David sharing with us how God has helped him, how can you share with others how God has helped you and how might it benefit them?
What pictures/passages do you like best in Psalm 18? What do they tell you about God? Is He YOUR God, too?
Everyday we find ourselves making choices. Some of these choices are small and make little difference on the outcome of our day. Does it matter what color socks I wear today, or even if they match? Does it matter what I have for breakfast? Does my choice of coffee or tea impact anyone besides me? Other choices may have more of an impact. Do I work on my group project today? Do I call a friend God has put on my heart? Do I take a meal to the elderly neighbor who had surgery last week? Do I buy an extra burger for the hungry stranger I see near the restaurant where I’m going to lunch? Some of these may have different answers at different times but we must still make the choice everyday. We have to decide what voices we will listen to and which path we will follow.
As we look at the texts for today we see some following God’s leading and others following the world. This is true for everyday life as well. Sometimes people follow God, sometimes people follow the world, sometimes people follow other people. I can relate to all of those. While I always try to follow God, sometimes I fall short.
In Genesis 29 and 30 we see Jacob meet his future wife. He must choose how he will react. Will he open the well? Will he wait for the rest of the flocks? He must choose will he wait for Rachel in addition to Leah? Will he continue to work for his father-in-law, Laban, even after being deceived by him? I have no doubt that he made some wise choices and others that were not as wise.
In Psalm 17 we get an insight into David’s prayer life. We know from reading the Old Testament that David made both good and bad choices over the course of his life. Here we read of David contrasting the path of God against the path of the violent. In Psalm 17:4-5 David says, “By the word of Your lips I have kept from the paths of the violent. My steps have held fast to Your paths. My feet have not slipped. I have called upon You, for You will answer me, O God”. David finds the strength to make the right choices not by following the voice of the world around him but instead by following the voice of God. When we call upon God He will hear us and will answer us!
In Matthew 16 we get to see Jesus’ reaction to Peter’s choices of words, both right and wrong. First in verse 13 Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Then in verse 15 He asks who the disciples say He is. To this Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter is told that this is an excellent answer that lines up with the prophecies and what Jesus is teaching. Matthew 16:21 says, “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.” The very same Peter who had just declared Jesus as the Christ now rebukes him and tells him that none of this can ever be allowed to happen. Jesus has some strong words for our friend Peter. “He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.’” (Matthew 16:23)
It is true that all of these great men of the Bible struggled to make the right choices in service to God. Sometimes I find myself asking, “If they struggled and fell like that, what hope do I have?” The beautiful answer to that question is that even though they stumbled, even though they fell, even though they made bad choices; God still loved them! God still chose them! God still used them for His glory!
I promise you will make some choices that you look back at and it will cause you to question yourself, maybe even doubt yourself or your faith. Remember that just as God loved and chose the men and women of the Bible, He loves and chooses you too!
What can you do right now to ensure your next choice is the right choice?
What are some of the wisest choices you have made? What was a good choice you made yesterday? What was one of the hardest wise choices you have made? Are you glad you did it?
Do you agree with Peter regarding who Jesus is? What did Peter not yet understand in regards to Jesus’ mission? How does an incomplete understanding lead to making poor choices? What else plays a role in making unwise choices? How can these be overcome?
In reading the Scriptures today what did God show you about Himself? What did God show you about His Son the Messiah?
Genesis 28:15 – Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.
This is an appropriate text for me right now; in that it speaks to me in trusting God for the outcome. Genesis 27 and 28 tells the story of how Jacob stole his brother’s blessing after he had already manipulated Esau out of his birthright in Genesis 25.
I want to make mention that earlier in Genesis 25 Rebekah was concerned about her pregnancy because according to scripture, “The babies jostled with each other within her.”
When she inquired of the Lord, He told her, “Two nations are in your womb and two peoples within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other and the older will serve the younger.”
So, in the scripture from today (Genesis 27) we learn that Rebekah heard Isaac tell Esau to go out and hunt some wild game and prepare him a tasty meal. Afterward, Isaac was going to give Esau his blessing.
Rebekah took it upon herself to have Jacob go get two choice goats and she prepared a meal that Isaac would enjoy. She also used the goat skins to fool Isaac into believing that Jacob was indeed Esau – using the goat skins to make Jacob’s arms feel hairy. As a result of this trickery, Isaac blessed Jacob instead of Esau.
When Esau showed up, he found out that his father had already given his blessing to Jacob. When Esau pleaded for some sort of blessing the only hope that Isaac could give him was found in Genesis 27:39 & 40:
“Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness,
Away from the dew of heaven above. You will live by the sword
And you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless,
You will throw his yoke from off your neck.”
Esau vowed that after his father had died, he would surely kill his brother Jacob.
The things that trouble us in life may not be to such an extreme, but there are some things that I believe we can learn from this story that may help us in times when we are unsure of our path.
I just got home from ReFUEL at Camp Mack. The theme was ‘Peace treaty’. The youth were challenged in many ways. One of the ways they were challenged was to not be in a hurry for the answer that you think God should give you.
Maybe the answer you were hoping for isn’t the one that God is prepared to give….. right now. We can be like Rebekah and try to manipulate the situation in order to achieve the outcome that we were hoping for. The question to ask is, “Is God working in that situation?” Does trying to manipulate the situation always work for the good?
We learn from Genesis 28 that Jacob had to take off and head for Paddan Aram. It was there that he was supposed to live and find a wife from the daughters of Laban. It was on the way there, in Bethel, that Jacob had a dream of a stairway resting on the earth and angels ascending and descending up and down that stairway. It was there that God reiterated the same promise that He had made to Abraham and Isaac. He said,
“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.
I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.
Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread
Out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south.
All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring……”.
Genesis 28:13 & 14
So, from this story, I perceive that we should not be in a hurry to get the answer that we wish God would give. What if God’s plan for your life will end up the way that you would hope, but through a means that would be better for us in the long run.
Surely, we can see that even though Jacob went along with Rebekah’s plan to get the blessing through trickery, God still worked to bring His blessing upon Jacob, but at what cost.
Jacob had to wait 14 years for the wife he wanted. He had to work very hard to achieve the riches that he ended up with. Ultimately, when he went home years later, he was in fear for his life. Why? Because his brother vowed to kill him.
We will never know how God would have worked if Rebekah hadn’t resorted to tricking Isaac into giving his blessing to Jacob instead of Esau. It all worked out for Jacob and Esau. The elder (Esau) didn’t serve his younger brother Jacob. They did reconcile later, but the people from the land of Edom (descendants of Esau) did eventually serve Israel – a fulfillment of the prophecy spoken by God.
So, as I go through life. I want to make sure that I am praying for God’s guidance in my decisions. I don’t want to get in such a hurry that I try to manipulate the situation to create the outcome that I desire. This is so important to me. I need to try to be an example for my daughters, Hannah and Sofie, and others around me. If I am quick to do what I need to do to ensure an outcome, what does that teach others?
(Today and the rest of this week we will hear from various adults and young adults who were at reFuel this past weekend.)
Please also read Psalm 16. It speaks clearly of the refuge that we can find in the Lord. And ask yourself these questions:
What is it in my life that I want from God?
Am I being patient and prayerful when it comes to waiting for his timing?
Is God your Refuge?
Do others watching me see my trust in God?
What can I learn of God from His Scriptures today?
Abraham was a man of incredible faith. God made astounding promises to Abraham, and Abraham believed God – and this was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham lived a long and faithful life of service to God, then, as recorded in Genesis 25, Abraham died.
We’re picking up the story in Genesis 26 – after Abraham was dead and gone. Genesis 26 starts by telling about a famine in the land that was so bad that Isaac (Abraham’s heir) had to move to have enough food to eat.
Then we find this amazing encounter in Genesis 26:2-6, “The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.’ So Isaac stayed in Gerar.”
To give Isaac and his descendants all these lands
To confirm the oath God has sworn to Abraham
To make Isaac’s descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky
To bless all nations on earth through Isaac’s offspring (Jesus)
And did you notice why God extended all of these promises to Isaac? “Why” is recorded in verse 5: “because Abraham obeyed me and did everything (emphasis added)I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”
Did you catch that? Isaac was promised that he would receive incredible blessings because his dad had obeyed God and had done everything God required.
A couple of years later, in Genesis 26:24, we read, “That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”
Again, God extended blessings to Isaac because of Abraham’s faithfulness.
And oh yeah, most of that obedience to God was before Isaac was even born.
We’ve heard about the blessings for ourselves if we follow God – especially eternal life in the Kingdom of God. We don’t often think of the blessings for our descendants because of our faithfulness to God.
When I was young, my dad would have us memorize scripture. One of those verses he had us memorize was Psalm 37:25 which says, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”
I think the point my dad was trying to make was that we needed to be righteous, and God would never forsake us. But I remember thinking something like this at the time: “I’m glad my dad is righteous, because in spite of my not necessarily being righteous, I will be blessed because of my dad’s righteousness.”
Now that I’m old, I recognize that the decisions I made, and the example I demonstrated had an impact (for good or for bad) on my kids. As a result, they have picked up both some of my good traits and some of my bad traits. I wish now that I had demonstrated more good examples and fewer bad examples – not only for my own benefit, but also for the benefit of my children.
Now let’s talk about you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a teen, a parent, a grandparent, young, or old. The most important thing you can do with your life is to obey God, and do everything He requires. This will guarantee you eternal life in God’s coming kingdom, and may also give you many blessings in this life (not necessarily including health and wealth). But in addition to your blessings, you may also pass along an inheritance of faithfulness to God to your kids – even those unborn. And then they too can have incredible blessings.
So, if you love your kids, obey God.
What are all the benefits/blessings you see to obeying God? Which have you already enjoyed? Which are you still looking forward to?
How are you doing in the faithfulness department? Will God be able to tell your descendants that you obeyed Him, did everything He required, and followed His laws?
Genesis 2:7 tells us, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
In Genesis 3:18, God told Adam, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
What kind of dirt are you?
Many years ago, our family built a house. Once construction was done, we needed to seed the yard so we could have a lawn. I tilled the yard and raked it out. My son Chris (who was about 4 at the time) and I then broadcast grass seed. Some of the seeds fell on the driveway, some fell under spruce trees along our property line, and some (most) were scattered on dirt. We talked about which seeds we expected to grow, and why. I then told Chris a story Jesus told, as recorded in Matthew 13, about a farmer who scattered seeds.
In Jesus’ story, there were four places the seeds fell. The first seeds fell along the path, and birds ate them up. Jesus explained in Matthew 13:19, “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.”
The second example of seeds fell on rocky places where there wasn’t much soil. It sprang up quickly but then withered. Jesus explained in Matthew 13: 20-21, “The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”
The third seed fell among thorns, that grew up and choked the seed. Jesus explained in Matthew 13: 22, “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Luke 8:18 also includes “pleasures” causing choking.)
The final seed fell on good soil. Jesus explained in Matthew 13:23, “But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”
In Jesus’ story, the seed was the good news about the Kingdom of God. In each of these examples, the seed was good; the difference in productivity was because of the soil. So I’ll ask again, what kind of dirt are you?
Do you understand the magnitude of the good news about the Kingdom of God and what that means for you if you follow God wholeheartedly?
Are you easily discouraged in your Christian walk when difficulties arise?
Are you distracted from wholeheartedly following God by worries? Or pleasures? Or wealth? Or the good things this life has to offer?
Or are you bearing a crop for God? And if you are, what does that look like? Here are some examples:
Winning others to Christ (Romans 1:13)
Giving money to further God’s work (Romans 15:25-28)
Doing good works (Colossians 1:10)
Growing in Christian character (Galatians 5:22-23)
Continually offering a sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15)
And if you are bearing a crop, how productive are you? Are you bearing 100 times what was sown? 60 times? 30 times? I think we all need to work on this.
In closing, since you’re just dirt, you might as well be the best dirt you can be. Go bear much fruit.
P.S. It was hard for me to decide what to focus on for today’s devotion. Since I’ve previously written a devotion (How to get a Spouse) based on the Genesis 24 reading for today, I thought I’d focus on Matthew 13 instead.
All four seed/dirt examples first required hearing the word. What are you doing to hear the word of God about the good news of His Kingdom?
Examine your life – what type of dirt have you been previously and are you now? ON THE PATH -hears the message, doesn’t understand -evil one snatches it away ROCKY GROUND – no root – trouble and persecution – fall away IN THORNS – choked out by worries, deceitfulness of wealth and pleasures GOOD SOIL – hears and understands – produces a good crop
What kind of dirt do you want to be? What will it require if you are currently a different type? What type of fertilizer and additives can you add to your dirt? What can be strained out and removed from your dirt to help you grow a better crop?
What might Jesus have wanted us to learn about God, the ultimate giver of the Kingdom message, today?
God had promised Abraham, in Genesis 17:19, “Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”
At this point, Abraham was over 100 years old, and had faithfully followed God. In Genesis 12, Abraham obeyed when God told him to leave his country and family. Abraham allowed Lot to take the lush land around Sodom in Genesis 13, and trusted God to provide for his own flocks and herds on barren mountains. In Genesis 15, Abraham trusted God’s promise that he would have a son in his old age, and God counted that faith as righteousness.
In Genesis 22:2, we find God commanding Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
This doesn’t make sense. God had explicitly promised that God’s promises to Abraham would be passed down through Isaac’s descendants, and now God was commanding Abraham to sacrifice him – apparently destroying the promise He had made to Abraham.
By this point, Abraham had developed a very close relationship with God. In fact, we’re told 3 times in the Bible that Abraham was God’s friend (2 Chron 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23) – and as far as I know, Abraham is the only person in the Bible of whom this is said.
We’re told in Hebrews 11:19 that Abraham reasoned that God was able to raise the dead, and that He was going to keep His promise.
So early the next morning, Abraham took Isaac and 2 servants and left for the place God told him to go. When they got close, Abraham told the servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and we (emphasis added) will come back to you.”
As they got even closer, Isaac asked his dad, “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Can you imagine how this must have broken Abraham’s heart, looking down into his son’s questioning face, knowing that in a few minutes he would be killing his beloved son, who would be the offering? Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb.” (Actually, God had provided Isaac – as a miracle baby in his parent’s old age.) When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar, arranged the wood, tied up Isaac, and laid him on the altar.
As he was getting ready to kill Isaac, the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and stopped him. Abraham then saw a ram caught in the brush by its horns, and sacrificed it instead. God then promised Abraham, as recorded in Genesis 22:16-18, “I swear by myself, declared the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore… and through your offspring, all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
I could point out all the similarities of Abraham’s being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, and God being willing to sacrifice His Son, Jesus. I could point out the significance of another quote from this chapter, “Jehovah Jireh – on the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” (This was the mountain where Soloman’s temple was built hundreds of years later.) I could point out the importance of obeying God, and the benefits that result.
Instead, I want to comment on who, when, where, how, and why of God’s provision.
Who: God tested Abraham with a very difficult test even after a life of serving God. We see that God provided the ram in this case only after Abraham trusted and obeyed God – even though it didn’t make sense. Assertion: God provides for those who trust Him and obey Him.
When: God provided for Abraham at the very last minute, not before. We’re told in Hebrews 4:16 that we will “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Assertion: God provides precisely when we need something, not when we think we need it. (i.e. according to God’s timing.)
Where: God provided for Abraham only after Abraham went where God told him to go, and after he obeyed everything God told him to do. Assertion: God will provide if we are where He wants us to be. We should have no expectation of receiving God’s provision if we aren’t where He wants us to be.
How: God didn’t send an angel from heaven with an offering for Abraham to sacrifice, God provided a normal ram, caught in a normal thicket, by it’s normal horns. And God didn’t send a whole flock of sheep, just one ram, because that was all that was needed. Assertion: God will usually provide in ways that are very natural – don’t look for miracles.
Why: In times of testing, it’s easy to only think about our problems, and focus on, “why is this happening to me?” I think there may be two general reasons why trials come. First, we are told in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Note that this only applies if we are living according to His purpose. Also note that trials are by definition difficult, and won’t seem to be beneficial at the time. Second, ultimately, everything is for God’s glory. Isaiah 43:7 says, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory…” We see an example of this with God destroying Pharaoh and his army for God’s glory in Ex 14:4, 17. Assertion: God allows trials and gives provision for our good and for His glory.
The bottom line is, if we are faithfully following God, times of testing will come. If we remain true to God, if we are where He wants us to be, and if we are obedient to Him, he will provide what we need (not necessarily what we want), at the very last minute, usually through normal means – and this is for our good. If we aren’t following God, the times of testing may just be to bring Glory to Him. I’d rather be in that first group. How about you?
Abraham’s thoughts and feelings aren’t recorded much in Genesis, what do you think he may have been thinking and feeling on that 3 day trip to where God wanted him – and after? What similarities do you find in Psalm 11?
How and when has God provided what you needed? What did you learn about God from that experience?
Is there anything that you may be holding onto too tightly, loving more than God? How can you practice trusting and obeying God and not withholding from Him?
What did God reveal about Himself to you in your reading of His words today?
Where is the darkest place you have been? So dark, you were scared to take a step? The most difficult place you’ve been? So difficult, you doubted? When have your dark, difficult, trying circumstances caused you to doubt what you previously knew to be true?
You are not alone. John has been there, too. Sometimes referred to as John the Baptist or the Baptizer for his message of repentance and baptism, John had faithfully worked for years. Known for his simple lifestyle, his ministry was not about him – but about the one who was to come – the Messiah. He had prepared the way for Jesus’ entrance. He had not taken the easy road. He had not backed down from authority. He continually stood for what was right and true – even when it landed him in prison. The ruling Herod and his wife didn’t appreciate John speaking out against their unlawful marriage.
With his ministry and freedom taken from him, and his future in question, John had a lot of time to think in the darkness of his circumstances. Why? What if…? Was it worth it? Was this supposed to happen? Had he been right? Or wrong? We don’t know all the questions John asked in his prison cell. But, we do know the most important one. The one he needed an answer to. He sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3)
And Jesus answered. Restating the truth that John needed to hear again. Pulling up Old Testament scripture from Isaiah and giving evidence of how his own ministry lined up with what had been foretold: the blind see, the lame walk, the leper is cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the GOOD NEWS is preached to the poor (Matthew 11:5).
In our dark days and when we question what we knew to be true, we would do well to return to Jesus. Tell me again, Jesus. Give me proof of who you are. Read again who he is, what he has done, what he taught, what he did for me. The story of Jesus never gets old, but we do need to be reminded of what we know. And then we have the beautiful opportunity and mandate to tell others of what we have seen and heard.
In the rest of this chapter (as well as the previous one) Jesus demonstrates that following him can be hard. People will criticize everything – our job is not to make people happy. There will be many unrepentant people (and cities) who do not accept the work that Jesus has done for them or the path that Jesus has laid out. Don’t be swayed, know that judgement will come and make sure you are on the right side. Stay close to the one who knows and reveals the Father. Jesus, the Son of God, is the only way. Work with him. Stay attached to Jesus. Take his yoke upon you (Matthew 11:29).
Who is Jesus? Do you know that he is the one who was to come? How do you know this? What is the value in reading the Old Testament? What is the value in reading the New Testament?
What is repentance? Why is it important? Without it, what will happen? (Matthew 11:20-24)
What do you learn about God in today’s reading? What do you learn of His Son?