Coat of many colours

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It has all the ingredients for a West End hit.  Jealousy, family intrigue, struggle through adversity then vindication and reconciliation.  It’s a story that speaks to all.  Because it’s a story based on the original story – the true myth.  Joseph’s story is Jesus’ story told in advance.

Joseph was one of the twelve sons of Israel.  Israel (a.k.a. Jacob) was the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham.

But Joseph was set apart from his brothers.  Jacob gave him a coat of many colours (Genesis 37:3) which, in the bible, has both priestly and royal connotations.  (Exodus 28:49-40; 2 Sam 13:18)  Joseph was clearly exalted before his brothers, but exalted on behalf of his brothers – that is the role for priests and kings.  Lifted up yes.  But lifted up for the others.

In addition to being priestly and kingly, Joseph also speaks prophetically about his royal priestliness. He tells them his dreams: all around will bow down to him, the favoured son (Genesis 37:5-7).  When the brothers hear of this,

his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.  (Genesis 37:8).

As with David (e.g. 1 Samuel 17:28), Joseph is another Christ-figure whose actions for his brothers provoke their jealousy.  We don’t want our Brother to step in and do it for us, we’d rather do it ourselves.  And so when our Brother lifts himself up – even if it’s entirely for our benefit – we want to cut him down.

This is what his brothers do.  They toy with killing him but Reuben, the firstborn, objects: “Let’s not and say we did.”  So they sell him into slavery instead and give back to Jacob the coat, now stained with blood – supposedly Joseph’s.  The favoured son is now dead to his father and descends to Egypt, the land of darkness and bondage.

To add to his woes, Joseph’s righteousness, far from being rewarded, plunges him further into the pit.  He ends up in an Egyptian prison (Genesis 39).  Yet the bible insists that he is not suffering for his own sins.  The LORD is with Joseph  and causes him to prosper (Genesis 39:21-23).  In fact, through the power of the Spirit (Genesis 41:38) and on the third anniversary of a third-day resurrection experience (Genesis 40:20; 41:1), Joseph is vindicated.  He is lifted from the pit to the throne to be Pharaoh’s right-hand man.  (Genesis 41:39-45)  He was thirty years old!  (Genesis 41:46; cf Luke 3:23).

Tomorrow we will see how Joseph’s wisdom as ruler brings prosperity to the land.  But for now let’s note how the wise and righteous rule of Joseph brings blessing even for his brothers.  Genesis 42 to the end details how the plunging down and lifting up of the one brother – Joseph – benefits the whole family.  The brothers, wasting away through famine, must come to Egypt to find food.  In perhaps the most dramatic scene of all, Joseph finally reveals himself to his needy brothers:

I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.  And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.  For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest.  And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.   So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.  (Genesis 45:3-7)

Could it really be that the near-murder of their brother had been turned by God into their own salvation?  Surely their treatment of righteous Joseph should have proved their condemnation!  How could it be that their wicked damning of Joseph becomes the very means by which they are saved??

In the hands of this God – the God who redeems Joseph from the pit – even great evil is turned to good.  As Joseph would later say to them:

ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good  (Genesis 50:20)

And so Joseph turns out to be worthy of the royal priestly coat.  Just like Jesus, he is the king-priest lifted up for his brothers.  And even when he is wickedly cut down it proves the salvation of those who harmed him. Jesus says these words to us today:

“Come near to me.  You did sell me out.  But be not angry nor grieved with yourselves.  God sent me before you to save you by a great deliverance.”

How can we not therefore humble ourselves before him – knowing our own guilt?  How can we not bow down to our Brother who went to the depths for us?

A Test of Faith

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What is the bible?

Sometimes Christians are the worst at answering that question.  Many will reply: “The Maker’s Instruction Manual.”  Or “God’s Road Map.”  Most often religious folk will see it as, essentially, a moral guidebook for right living.  But if ever there was a story to explode that misconception it’s this one.  Abraham is tested by the LORD:

“And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.”  (Genesis 22:1-2)

How on earth are we meant to understand this story?  Written in a holy book no less?  What’s the moral supposed to be, Go thou and do likewise??

No.  Genesis 22 is meant to be read the way the whole bible is meant to be read – first and foremost as a witness to Jesus Christ.  And when we read it this way, the whole thing becomes clear.

You see Isaac is a promised seed of Abraham and described as the only beloved son.  Most literally this is not true – Abraham has another son – Ishmael.  But in the terms of this story Isaac is a prototype of Christ – the seed of Abraham.  And he is to be slain as a sacrifice of atonement on a mountain in the region of Moriah.  Mount Moriah is the temple mount of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 3:1).

So here is the only beloved son to be offered by the father on a hill outside Jerusalem to make atonement.  Genesis 22:6 tells us of the father carrying the tools of judgement – the fire and knife.  The son carries the wood as they trudge up the hill.  Isaac asks his father about the sacrifice.  Abraham replies prophetically: “God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (v8).

On this day the Angel of the LORD intercepts the judgement (v11ff).  The name of this divine figure means “the Sent One of the LORD”.  He is Jesus Christ preventing the sacrifice that He Himself would embrace two millennia later.

On this day, a ram is provided as a substitute for Isaac (v13).  But of course, Abraham had prophesied that a lamb would be provided (v8).  That’s what he and all the generations were waiting for in the centuries following – the Lamb of God, the Beloved Son, the Seed of Abraham.  God’s provision of atonement was yet future.  And so,

Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh [meaning “The LORD will provide”]: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen [or provided].  (Genesis 22:14)

For future generations God’s people would look forward to the Lamb, even knowing the mountain on which He’d be provided.

This is the meaning of Genesis 22 and of the whole bible.  It has not been given as an example of right living.  Primarily it leads us to Christ.  When we see Him provided for us, that’s faith.  And out of faith grows right living.  We short-cut that process at our peril.

So don’t go thou and do likewise. Look to the Lamb and realise this: Abraham was spared from losing his son.  But when the time came, God our Father did not spare His only Son but gave Him up for us all.  If this is so, “how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”  (Romans 8:32)

Fire and Brimstone

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These days the phrase “fire and brimstone” is more associated with a style of preaching than with the reality they preach.  “Fire and brimstone” preaching is what our culture fears.  Rarely does it occur to someone to fear fire and brimstone itself.

“Fire and brimstone” continually describes the judgement of God in the bible (see especially Revelation chapters 14, 19, 20 and 21).  Especially in Revelation this judgement is intended for the devil and his angels.  But, crucially, it befalls any who follow them (Matthew 25:41).

Both fire (e.g. Acts 2:3) and brimstone (Isaiah 30:33) are associated with the Spirit or Breath of God.  That’s an intriguing link given what we will discover in our final point.

Certainly fire can be a description either of the love or wrath of God.  It represents either the sunshine of His blessings or the blazing fury of His anger.  So in a deep sense the judgement of God is the special presence of God to His enemies.  God’s visitation is salvation to His friends and destruction to His foes.

And for Sodom and Gomorrah it is a salutary judgement to which the prophets, apostles and Jesus Himself refer continually.

So let’s think about a topic from which we usually shrink.  Let’s examine this first mention of “fire and brimstone” because as we study the context of the LORD’s judgement we will learn much about His justice and mercy.

First let’s think about the justness of judgement.

The episode begins in Genesis 18 with the LORD’s visit to Abraham.  He appears to Abraham along with two angels (Genesis 18:1,2; 19:1) and so we have here the Son of God, the pre-incarnate Christ.  And in verse 20 He explains why He has come:

Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.  (Genesis 18:20-21)

There are offences that stink to high heaven.  And that is a wonderful thing.  In a world where concentration camp commandants can escape to South America and bounce their grandchildren on their knees, we long for justice.  This episode reminds us that there is justice.  Wickedness creates an outcry – an outcry that is heard and that moves a loving God.

Second let’s think about the divine reconnaissance.

This incident shows an extraordinary concern for first-hand knowledge.  The LORD is anything but blasé about “fire and brimstone”.  He condescends to an elaborate fact-finding mission.  The kind of concern we see here would lead Him to take flesh in the fullness of time.  Not just to view wickedness from the outside but to “know” it as its supreme Victim.

Third let’s think about Abraham’s intercession.  From chapter 18 and verse 23 we read that Abraham “drew near”.  That’s a lovely detail.  The condescending LORD stoops down and His trusting friend draws near – and draws near to haggle.

Essentially Abraham asks “Will you judge these cities if there are 50 righteous folk in them?”  Indeed the LORD would not.  “What about 45?  40?  30?  20? 10?  You wouldn’t sweep away the whole place if there were 10 righteous people would you?”  The LORD promises not to.

The heart of Abraham’s plea is verse 24:

Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

This whole episode is quite breath-taking.  It is astonishing that the LORD should enter into such haggling, should promise to remember mercy and, most of all, should submit to a standard of “right”.  Isn’t He the LORD?  Doesn’t He simply determine what is right?

The LORD’s stooping is not simply for information but it extends even to accountability – accountability to creatures who are “but dust and ashes.” (Genesis 18:27)

And again this stooping is extended in the Gospels when the LORD becomes not only an accountable Judge, but an accused Defendant!

Finally, let’s think about mediated judgement.  Once Abraham has finished haggling, the LORD moves on to Sodom and in Genesis 19:24 He finally metes out judgement:

Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven

Notice the two persons called “LORD” in this verse.  There is the LORD on the earth who’s been speaking with Abraham, and there is “the LORD out of heaven.”  The Son rains down judgement from the Father.  As Jesus says in John 5:22, “The Father hath committed all judgment unto the Son.”  It is Jesus who judges the world.  It is Jesus who is in charge of the fire and the brimstone.

This, ultimately, is what gives us confidence that the Judge of all the earth will do right.  We know that the One who judges is the One who’s been the judged.  We know that He has climbed down from the throne and put Himself in the dock to receive the harshest sentence imaginable.  On the cross He has proved Himself more willing to suffer the fire and brimstone than to dish it out.

These considerations won’t answer all our questions about judgement. But they point us in the direction of an answer.  Whatever questions we have about judgement we can bring them to the cross and say “I trust this LORD to do what is right.”

Sodom and Gomorrah

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The mention of “Sodom and Gomorrah” conjures up images of unbridled lust and debauchery.  They were the original sin cities.  And their judgement is constantly held up in the bible as a cautionary tale for all.  But both their sins and their judgement aren’t as straightforward as some might present it.

Almost the first description of Sodom says this:

the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly. (Gen 13:13)

What exactly were their sins?  They are enumerated in multiple ways by different biblical authors.  Peter calls the people “lawless”.  (2 Peter 2:6)  Jude speaks of them:

giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh (Jude 1:7)

The climax of their lusts are recorded in Genesis 19 where angels sent to assess the guilt of Sodom are besieged by would-be rapists.  They had tried every kind of flesh under the sun yet their appetite for “strange flesh” is insatiable. These angels represented Sodom’s last hope for a reprieve.  Yet instead of pleading with them, they sought to “know” them.  (Genesis 19:5)

Perhaps these are the kinds of sins we expect of “Sodomites”.  Yet listen to Ezekiel’s description of Sodom’s “iniquity”:

Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.  And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.  (Ezekiel 16:49-50)

Notice how sexual sins (probably the “abominations” referred to) are seen in the context of broader social relationships.

Ezekiel – like the rest of the bible – is interested in greed every bit as much as lust.  Self-exaltation, self-satisfaction, self-preoccupation – these are the iniquities emphasized in Ezekiel’s assessment.

The bible is not obsessed with sex.  But it does recognize the inter-relatedness of sex to all of life.  “One flesh” has its context in the committed relationship of man and woman in covenant union.  Bringing it out of this context is both a sign and source of other relational disordering.  Disordering covenant relationships disorders community relationships.  The bedroom might be private but it’s not isolated.  And it’s all a part of the “cry” that comes up unto the LORD (Genesis 18:20).

(Here are some more thoughts on the bible’s view of homosexuality).

But if it’s unbalanced to view Sodom and Gomorrah’s sins as simply sexual it’s downright false to view their fate as a warning about sexual ethics.

The fate of Sodom and Gomorrah is held up as a warning many times in the bible (more on this tomorrow).  Yet the caution is never addressed to sexual sinners per se.  Almost exclusively a fate worse than Sodom is said to await the people of God. It’s when the people of God turn out to be faithless that they are likened to Sodomites.

Jesus told His disciples that those rejecting the gospel message were like Sodom and Gomorrah.  (Matt 10:14-15)  And Moses says the same thing in Deuteronomy 29.  He tells the Israelites that their unfaithfulness will lead to a judgement “like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah” (v23).  When the promised land is laid waste like Sodom, people will ask, “Wherefore hath the LORD done thus unto this land?” (v24)

Then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD God.  (Deuteronomy 29:25)

The ultimate issue is covenant faithfulness.  And the ultimate covenant is the one the LORD makes with us.

To be unfaithful to human covenants will mean permutations of sexual Sodomy.  Yet there is a deeper unfaithfulness – a root unfaithfulness that is the source of all sin and the cause of all judgement.  To be unfaithful to God’s covenant love is a spiritual Sodomy.  And in the bible, that is much worse.


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“Miss!” asks the inquisitive Sunday School-er, “What’s circumcision?”  Miss turns the colour of an Englishman on Bondi.  “Don’t worry about that,” she flusters.  “That’s for grown-ups.”

But it’s not.  According to Genesis 17, circumcision is for 8-day-olds.  It was a “sign of the covenant” given to Abraham and his seed.  So from the earliest time, Israelite boys were to have the LORD’s covenant “in their flesh.” (Genesis 17:13)

There are two repeated words in the chapter that tell us the meaning of the ritual.  The first is the word “cut”.

When the Hebrews spoke of making a covenant, they wouldn’t say “make”, they’d say “cut”.  You “cut” a covenant.  And of course Abraham has had the cutting of the covenant powerfully dramatized for him.  Abraham had witnessed the LORD pass between the cut sacrifices as He proclaims His covenant vows.  Abraham knew that the promises were blood-oaths grounded in the LORD’s own future cutting off.

So naturally the “sign of the covenant” would be a “cutting” sign.  In fact the word for circumcision is the word “cutting off.”  And for those who wouldn’t own the sign of circumcision – they would be “cut off” from the community.  (Genesis 17:14)

Why?  Well that brings us to the other prominent word in this chapter: seed.

In fact it occurs 7 times in Genesis 17.  Abraham is reminded again and again that the promises of God are for his seed.

Well then, if the promises are to Abraham’s seed, doesn’t it seem a little dangerous to be cutting off the flesh… down there?  Aren’t the Israelites being commanded to do something perilously close to cutting off the seed??

Indeed they are.  But that’s the point.  The sign of the covenant will be a bloody pre-enactment of the cutting off of The Seed – Jesus Christ.  Abrahamites will wear in their bodies a symbol of the cross – the true cutting off.  For when the LORD Christ is cut off we are spared the same.

So then Old Testament believer, The covenant’s been cut foretelling the Seed’s cutting off.  So own the sign and trust the Reality.  Cut off or be cut off.


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Yesterday we considered the first half of Genesis 15.   We thought about God overwhelming the fears of Abraham with even greater promises.  Today we’ll think about the climax of that process.

Abraham has trusted the LORD Christ and been pronounced “righteous” in God’s sight (v6).  It’s wonderful news but Abraham asks “How can I know?”  (v8)

How can any sinner be sure that they are counted righteous in God’s eyes?

The LORD’s answer is to make a covenant with Abraham.

What is a covenant?

A covenant is a binding promise that’s motivated by unconditional love.  Marriage is a covenant relationship – you say ‘I will love you.’  You don’t say, ‘If you do X, Y, and Z, I will be obliged to love you between the hours of 5 and 7 on a Thursday evening.’  That would be a contract.  Contracts are tit-for-tat.  Covenants are based on unconditional love.

A covenant says ‘I will – for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health – I will.’

Wonderfully, the LORD enters into a covenant with us.  The most basic form of His covenant is this: “I will be your God, and you will be my people.”  This is what it means to be “righteous” before God.  It’s not simply about having a ‘not guilty status’ before the Judge.  It’s about being drawn into a marriage-relationship of unconditional love.

But here in Genesis 15 there are some elaborate and disturbing rituals surrounding the marriage ceremony.  You see the aisle down which you pass to make this covenant is strewn not with flowers but with animal carcasses!

From verse 9 Abraham must find sacrificial animals and cut them in half and place them on either sides of a corridor.  Then, in the midst of their broken bodies the LORD (signified, v17, by a smoking furnace and a burning lamp) passes through and He pronounces a covenant promise.

Essentially the LORD is saying “So let it be done to me if I fail to deliver on my promise.”

There’s an example of this in Jeremiah 34:18.  The people who pass through the pieces are saying, “You can treat me like these butchered animals if I don’t keep up my side of the deal.”

We have a silly version of this in the school-yard rhyme: ‘Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.’  We’re saying, if I’m lying you can cut me up.  Now we don’t mean it when we say stuff like that.  But in the Bible, they meant it.  “Tear me apart if I don’t come through for you.”  That’s a serious promise, that’s a covenant promise.

But notice what’s happening in Genesis 15.  The LORD doesn’t make Abraham walk through the pieces!

Verse 12, Abraham’s out of it – “an horror of great darkness fell upon him.”  He’s been well and truly swept off his feet and contributes nothing to the proceedings.  Only the LORD passes through the pieces.

And here’s the point:  We don’t make the covenant with the LORD, He makes the covenant with us.  Abraham is not pledging to keep up his end.  The LORD is pledging to keep up both ends of the covenant.

The LORD says  to us “If I don’t keep up my end of the bargain you can kill me.  And if you don’t  keep up your end you can kill me.  I’ll take responsibility for any failure of mine and I’ll take responsibility for any failure of yours!

This is unconditional, unearned, unprecedented, committed, blood-earnest, covenant love.

The LORD says, “If I fail, I’ll die.  And if you fail, I’ll die.  But come what may, through bloody sacrifice, through suffering, pain and tears: I will be your God and you will be my people.  I’d rather die than lose you.  I will die to hold onto you.  Our marriage cannot fail.  It’s written in my blood – I will uphold my end, I will uphold your end if it costs me everything.”

And of course we didn’t hold up our end.  We were never going to hold up our end.  And it did cost Him everything.

Because there was another day of horror and great darkness.  There was one Friday when the LORD Himself was torn apart and His blood shed.  The blood of the covenant poured from His veins.

We don’t offer a drop.  He doesn’t spare a drop.

We’re the ones who break the covenant.  His is the body that’s broken.

We are the ones deserving blood shed.  His is the blood that is spilt.

How can I know?  How can I know that a sinner like me is righteous in God’s sight?  How can I know that I really enjoy the covenant love of God?

Look to the place where the covenant was cut.  Look to the cross and realise: He’d rather die for you than live without you.

Fear not

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“The word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.'”

What overwhelms you?  Either for good or ill – what knocks you off your feet?

According to the bible, either life overwhelms you and we call that fear.  Or God overwhelms you and we call that faith.  In the end only faith is the answer to fear.

But it’s an answer we desperately need.  The most common command in all of Scripture is this one:  “Fear not.”  It’s been needed from the beginning.  The very first emotion recorded in the bible is fear.  Adam said to the LORD,

I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.  (Genesis 3:10)

Here is the primal fear that lurks beneath all our lives.  And if we want an answer to it, we’re going to need faith.

So who better to teach us than Abraham.  He is repeatedly held up in the bible as a man of faith.  But what does that mean?  Does that mean Abraham possessed a special ‘believing capacity’ that was out of the ordinary?  Was ‘faith’ some substance running through Abraham’s veins like midichlorians in Jedi blood?

No, faith is not something within us.  Faith comes from outside.  Faith is being overwhelmed by God.  And in Genesis 15, Abraham has his great fears overwhelmed by an even greater God.

His first fear is understandable enough.  In the previous chapter Abraham has gone to war to rescue his nephew, Lot. (You can read about it here).  He was successful in battle but refused to take any plunder.  Now that the adrenaline has soured, Abraham fears reprisals and fears he’s lost out on the spoils of war.

How does the LORD seek to address these fears?  A little pep talk?  “Pull yourself together man!

No, Christ, the Word of the LORD, comes to Abraham in a vision to take his eyes off his fears and put them where they need to be:

I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward”

Do you fear reprisals?  I am your protection.  Do you fear losing out?  I am your reward.

Fear is met by a more overwhelming reality – Christ Himself is given to us.  Why should we fear?

Well, actually, that’s precisely Abraham’s worry.  Is Christ going to be given?  Really given.

You see it’s fine to have visions of the Word of the LORD, but what the human race really needs is for the Word of the LORD to be born into our race as the Serpent-crushing Seed.  That’s our hope for true deliverance and reward.  And even though the Seed had been promised to come through Abraham, he and his wife remain childless.

So Abraham says:

Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless… Behold, to me thou hast given no seed.  (Genesis 15:2-3)

Do you hear the fear?

Here comes the overwhelming answer:

And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him… And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.  (Genesis 15:4-5)

You want seed Abraham?  You’ll have seed alright.  Not just the Messiah but a whole galaxy of spiritual descendants in Him.

Abraham is knocked off his feet by the promise and so…

he believed in the LORD; and [the LORD] counted it to him for righteousness.

Here is one of the most crucial verses in all the bible.  Because here is how our ultimate fear gets allayed.  Here is how we can be counted as righteous in God’s sight.   Not by doing righteous deeds, but by trusting Christ.  This righteousness is what we desperately need.

Adam was afraid to be exposed in the LORD’s presence.  And, ever since, humanity has feared and hidden from the God who made us.  But here is how we can appear righteous in God’s eyes.  Trust in Christ and – immediately, perfectly and eternally – righteousness is counted / gifted / accredited to our account.

For the one who trusts in Christ they have an answer to that primal fear – fear of divine judgement.  If the Judge Himself has given us His own perfect righteousness, “of whom shall I be afraid?

Abraham has had his fears overwhelmed by a gracious God.

But he has one more fearful question to ask, and it’s an important one: “How shall I know?”  (Genesis 15:8)  How can anyone know that these promises hold true?

The LORD’s answer will truly sweep Abraham off his feet.  As we’ll see tomorrow…


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In Australia, where I’m from, it’s not uncommon to give people joke names.  So a giant of a man might be nicknamed “Shorty” or a red-head will be called “Blue.”

The LORD seems to have a similar sense of humour.  In Genesis 17:5, childless Abram is re-named “Abraham” which means “father of a multitude.”  But the Word of the LORD doesn’t only name things.  When He bestows a name, He brings the thing into being.  Abraham would indeed become father of a multitude.  Great “seed” was promised to Abraham – “seed” to bless the whole world.

But before we discuss that let’s rewind a little bit.

In Genesis 11 we saw humanity trying to make a name for itself.  The tower of Babel was built to ascend to heaven.  But the LORD opposed this self-salvation project.  Instead the focus switches to a man called Shem, the firstborn of Noah.  Shem’s genealogy is listed from Genesis 11:10-32.  And Shem means “Name”.

Here is how the LORD will make a name for Himself.  Not the Babel kind of “name” – a lifting up of self with human effort.  The “name” the LORD would make would be about coming down in divine blessing.

Ever since Genesis 3:15, a blessed seed was promised – the seed of the woman.  And with that word “seed” you can hear a double meaning.  There is a singular Child promised – Christ.  But there is also a promise here of offspring in general.

This is the case whenever the promise of seed is repeated.  So to Shem’s seed is given great promises (Genesis 9:26-27).  Divine blessing showers on the head of Shem’s seed.  All those who would be blessed must come under his shelter.

The seed of Shem continues to be listed until we come to childless Abram and his wife Sarai.  Surely the line of divine promise ends here.

But no.  In Genesis 12:7 the LORD appears to Abram and says: “unto thy seed I give this land.”  The promise of seed is repeated.  And this explains why all the other incredible promises are given to Abraham:

I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:  And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.  (Genesis 12:2-3)

Abraham will be a conduit for all of heaven’s blessings.  From God to the world, all divine promises and benefits will come through Abraham’s seed.

No wonder so many people around the world call Abraham “father.”  Jews and Muslims as well as Christians look back to Abraham as a forefather in the faith.  Billions seek to justify a connection to Abraham – we want to be Abraham’s children.  And no wonder – because these verses speak of Abraham’s seed as mediating all of God’s grace to humankind.

So who is the seed of Abraham?

Well, such exalted terms can only refer to the Divine Mediator Himself.  Only Christ can live up to the title Seed of Abraham.  Only He can bless the world.

That’s what the Apostle Paul concludes in Galatians 3:16

To Abraham and his seed were the promises made. [God] saith not, “And to seeds,” as of many; but as of one, “And to thy seed,” which is Christ.

Christ is the true Seed of Abraham.  He is the only One who can make good all the promises entrusted to Abraham’s offspring.

But there’s good news for us.  Any who trust Christ can come in on the blessings.  The promises are poured onto His Head, but they flow down to the body.

Paul continues:

And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.  (Galatians 3:29)

Tower of Babel

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When I was 11 years old I invented a religion.  Except that there was nothing new about it.  I imagined a god who demanded moral goodness and punished shortfalls.  And with a combination of carrots and sticks my god would prod me towards some kind of “better place.”  I wasn’t the first to consider religion in this way.

The story of Babel is a gigantic enactment of our universal religious impulse:

In Genesis 11 the men of Shinar say:

“Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top (head) may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”  (Genesis 11:4)

Here are all the ingredients for a religion.  You’ve got a community (a city), you’ve got a sense of “in” and “out” (gathering not scattering), you’ve got a grand enterprise (building the tower) and you’ve got a goal (to make a ‘name’ or reputation).

But the whole trajectory of this religious project is opposed to the way of the LORD.

His way is summed up brilliantly in the following verse:

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower.  (Genesis 11:5)

The LORD comes down.  That is the way of the gospel.  He doesn’t wait for us to ascend to Him and so make our name.  He is the one to make a name for Himself.  And His kind of name (or reputation) is very different.  His name is an anti-Babel name – it’s the name of One who stoops to create a different kind of community.

The LORD opposes the Babel enterprise.  He demolishes the tower, scatters the people and confounds their languages (v9).

But the LORD is not against community or uniting earth and heaven.  In the fullness of time He brings about a remarkable event of gathering to answer the scattering of Babel.

First, at Easter, the LORD Jesus stooped all the way down to the cross for us.  Then He rose and ascended all the way to the throne of God.  He is the Head who rests in heaven.

And fifty days after Easter came the day of Pentecost.  On that day, the Apostle Peter stood up and declared this good news to a very multi-lingual crowd.  Anyone and everyone can be joined to Christ the way a body is joined to its head.  We can all have our Head in the clouds!  Not through our works but through His.

When that good news was declared, all the language-barriers came down.  They all understood the good news in their own languages (Acts 2:6).  And a new kind of community was gathered (Acts 2:41-47).

There are two approaches to getting to heaven.  Babel says, You must ascend.  The gospel says, Christ has descended to bring us up.

There are two approaches to a name.  Babel says, Make a self-exalting reputation for yourself.  The gospel says, Christ has made a self-abasing reputation for Himself.

There are two approaches to community.  Babel says, Unite in your own name-making enterprise.  The gospel says, Unite as you make His name known.


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Not a rain-arc.  Not a rain-wheel.  Not a rain-dome.  A rain-bow.  Why rain bow?

Here’s what God says after the flood-waters abate:

“This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall 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 the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.”  (Genesis 9:12-16)

Later in the week we’ll discuss the meaning of “covenant”.  For now let’s just call it a promise – a promise grounded in committed, faithful love.

So God promises never to flood the whole world again.  And to this promise He attaches a sign (He likes doing this).  The sign will be a bow in the clouds.

Notice two things about this.

First notice who the bow is reminding.  It’s reminding us, yes.  But explicitly God says He sets it in the cloud “that I may remember.”

When we remember God’s promise of life, that’s reassuring.  But to know that God remembers His covenant – that is true assurance.

Secondly, let’s think about this sign.  A bow.

This is not a bow to put in your hair.  It’s not a bow you tie around a present.  This is a war-bow.  This is a “bow and arrow” bow.  This bow is death-dealing.

You might think – that’s a funny sign to attach to a promise of life!  Well it would be if the bow was pointed at us.  If the bow was pointed at us it would be a divine threat.  But it’s not.  It’s pointed at heaven.

You see, the world is no better since the flood.  Human hearts are still bent on evil.  The earth is still filled with violence.  And God is still angry with sin.  He will let fly with an arrow of judgement.  Evil matters to the good God.  But His arrow won’t pierce our hearts.  It’s aimed at the Man of Heaven.

This is the way God upholds His promise of life.  He doesn’t put away the bow.  He doesn’t smile at wickedness and pretend it’s nothing.  He is still at war with sin.  But He won’t fire the judgement at us.  On the cross, Christ will absorb heaven’s blow for us.

Next time you see a rainbow, don’t just admire the colours.  Be astonished at the love.