Watch it, slow …

Youth baseball has ended in the Northwoods, at least for now. But before we pack the gloves and balls away in the sports tub for the year, I have a thought, and it has something to do with the pleasant month of August.

There’s a saying in baseball (at least they used in say it to me) that when you’re batting you’re supposed to “Watch the ball come in, slow.” So, you anticipate the pitch, and see it (laces and spin and all) as though it were in slow motion. It doesn’t make a world of sense, really. The ball moves just as fast as if you’re not really “seeing it,” but, somehow, getting your mind around the spinning pitch this way can turn a batter into a hitter.

August is a month of goodness. Still, it spins toward us just as fast as any other month—and maybe a little faster, what with everybody breathlessly trying to slip in an eleventh-hour vacation, while getting nervous already and trying not to think about everything rushing toward us in the fall. But, it’s a month with an opportunity.

It’s an opportunity to consider our God, the Father of all goodness. And, to “Watch it, slow” … 

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 

They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light (Psalm 36.7-9, ESV).

Do we believe, in this month of goodness, that God is really the source of all goodness? If we do, and press ourselves to see the month of August in this light, I bet we’ll each take some time to ponder a bit—to sit in that lawn chair for an extra ten minutes, to putter in the garden an extra hour, and consciously give praise and thanks to our God of goodness.

We’ll take the time to “Watch it, slow”.

Pictures of Faith: Certain Strength—Judges 16.4-31

What’s the source of your strength?

That might sound like a funny opener, so just think of your strength as being your “thing”—that part of your life that gives you significance and helps you get ahead. Up here in the Northwoods, our “things” might be our connection to our possessions (especially boats, guns, wheelers), our ability to spend our time the way we want, or even our special relationships—families even.

This week in our annual Ice Age Days service in Rib Lake we at Woodland are thinking about an historical figure who lived in the 11th century before Christ in the Ancient Near Eastern nation of Israel. Everybody wanted to know where this guy’s strength came from. “How’d you get that ‘thing’?” they might have asked.

The account of Samson begins in Judges 13 when the LORD himself appeared to Manoah and his wife and informed them they’d have a very special child. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines (:5).

Nazarite. The word means “set apart one”. Ancient Israelites would take Nazarite vows (sometimes for only a period of time) and then abstain from alcohol and from the touching of dead bodies, and from cutting of the hair. This boy would be set apart for God’s purposes for his whole life.

Samson is born, but at age 20 and by the beginning of Judges chapter 14, he’s not grown into a choir boy. In fact, he’s like a tatted-up bar fighter. It’s my imagination, but I can see him walking the streets of Rib Lake—about 275 pounds, tattoos, really long dreadlocks. He’d once gone out for football, maybe, but now he’s flunked out of school, and he’s just mad. Alcohol doesn’t mix right with his meds;  he’s a little bi-polar, and the cops are scared to death of him. Samson.

The rest of chapters 14 and 15 describe Samson’s great strength. He meets and marries a Philistine woman from among Israel’s enemies. Leading to the engagement he kills a lion with his own hands. After the engagement he visits the lion’s carcass and extracts honey and eats it—so much for being a Nazarite! He throws a wild party with lots of drinking, then kills 30 Philistines, so that  he can give their garments to the 30 men who’d won a bet against him by bribing his new Philistine wife for the answer to a riddle. After his wife is given to another man he captures 30 foxes and ties torches to their tails so that they burn the Philistine crops and vineyards. Then, he hides in the wilderness. After the international incident, the Philistines encamp against Israel. Three-thousand Israelites find Samson who allows them to bind him, since he’d caused so much trouble for them. But, he snaps the ropes and kills 1,000 men once he’s delivered to the Philistines. He goes to Gaza where the Philistines find him with a prostitute. His enemies wait to catch him at dawn, but he slips out at midnight, wrenches the city gates from their moorings and plants them on a nearby hill.

Who is the source of Samson’s strength? What is the secret of Samson’s strength? His hair? … really? 

The story comes to a climax in chapter 16 when God’s enemies seek the source of Samson’s strength (16.4-22). 

Samson meets another woman named Delilah. As they’d done before, the leaders of the Philistines bribe Samson’s girl to get the secret of his strength. “Please tell me where your great strength lies,” Delilah pleads. In three separate incidents, Samson deceives Delilah and her fellow-conspirators. “Bind me with fresh bowstrings” (probably woven-up animal guts) … “Tie me up with new ropes” … “Weave my lovey-locks into the loom and pin them to the floor”. In three separate incidents Delilah puts Samson to sleep, performs the hinted-at action, then calls out “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!”

Samson responds with strength. He’s got the tiger by the tail, having a great time. But then, Delilah appeals to his love for her. Now Samson must choose between his God and and his girl. And here, he strays too close to the source of his strength.

“If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man” Samson tells her (:17).

Delilah put him to sleep on her knees and has his hair shorn. At her signal to the Philistines hidden in the room, Samson thinks, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free” But, as the text tells us, he did not know that the LORD had left him (:20).

The Philistines seize him, shackle him, put out his eyes, and put him to grind grain in the prison. But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved (:22).

Does Samson know the secret of his own, former strength? we have to ask.

Samson finds the source of his strength (16.23-31). God’s enemies boast over Samson. They gather at the temple of Dagon saying, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand“. Big mistake. They call for Samson to have him perform for them. But after entertaining them Samson plays on his own weakness. “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, that I may lean against them,” he tells the boy leading him by the hand.

The temple would have been supported by two pillars with the majority of the 3,000 guests seated on a balcony above where they could view the courtyard below. Pretending to be exhausted, he rests his hands on the two pillars and prays, “O LORD God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God …” (:28). Then the Spirit of God returns, and Samson pulls the house down, on himself and on God’s enemies … so the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life (:30).

The lesson of Samson is that God through His Spirit is the source of Samson’ strength, not Samson himself … and not his hair.

In the years that followed God would raise up the great prophet Samuel and the great king David, who prefigures the once and forever King Jesus Christ. Jesus came not to reign at His first coming, but to die and be raised from the dead to newness of life. That’s where we are today, awaiting Jesus’ second coming in power. And, those of us who live between Jesus’ two comings find our connection to Jesus through the Spirit of God.

One of the lessons I can take from the account of Samson is that God’s Spirit is the source of my strength.

Locating myself in God’s plan of redemption like this allows me to realize some truths about God’s Spirit in my life.

First, God’s Spirit enters my life when I trust in Jesus. (See Galatians 3.2). In contrast to the time before Jesus when God’s Spirit came on people for specific purposes and then left, we receive the Spirit who connects us to Jesus and then stays, preparing us for the time when we’ll really be with Jesus. Incredible!

Then, and second, God’s Spirit remains with me to remind me that I am set apart for Jesus. Romans 9.15-16 says, For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. 

God’s Spirit is now the warm, internal witness to the truth of the Gospel. It’s like He takes up residence in me to say, “It’s real! It’s real. You are set apart to God!”

Finally, the Spirit of God brings about life change. We didn’t really see this in Samson, did we? But, when God’s Spirit enters our lives, He comes to make us holy in our thoughts, words and deeds.

And that’s really important for each of us in our situations. Some of us are in tough places. Maybe, we have a young adult child who’s rebellious like Samson. We just can’t see a pathway forward. But, God can change hearts, so we pray the our child will trust God and that God’s strength will be released in his or her life. Or, we’re in an impossible family situation where there appears to be no human way our family tailspin will be stopped. Here again, God through His Spirit can be the source of our strength, and God wants to be approached by faith.

God’s Spirit is the source of your strength! What do you have to trust Him for, in Jesus? In the end, it’s not your “thing” that gives you strength. He is the Lord, and He would do business with you today.

See you Sunday in Rib Lake. And, have a great weekend, in the Lord …!


Pictures of Faith: Certain Manipulation—Judges 10.6-11.40

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!” So said a famous football coach who once lived up here in the North.

This week at Woodland we meet an Old Testament figure who clearly believed in winning at any cost. It’s a tragic and horrific story that (frankly) I wish weren’t included in the Bible. Even so, I believe with Paul in Roman 15.4 that ” … whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” 

So, let’s look for this hope.

The account of Jephthah begins in Judges 10 with Israel returning again, in a pattern that has now lasted for 300 years, to the worship of its neighbors’ gods. God’s people are now oppressed in the west by the Philistines and in the east by the Ammonites. And this time, maybe, God is really finished with His rebellious people!

Anticipation of God’s deliverance (10.6-18). Important for understanding this account is the recollection that, east of the Jordan River in the region known as Gilead, Israel has three cousin nations. The Edomites descend from Esau, Jacob’s older brother. The Moabites descend from Lot, Abraham’s nephew, through his incestuous relationship with his older daughter (see Genesis 19). The Ammonites descend from Lot through his relationship with his younger daughter. God never gave the land of these three nations to the Israelites. But, God did give the land of the neighboring Amorites (also called Cananites) to Israel, and that’s where the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh settled, east of the Jordan in Gilead.

Now, in chapter 10, the Ammonites have moved into Gilead and massed for war. Israel is without a champion, and it looks like God has forgotten them. But, wait …

Negotiation toward God’s deliverance (11.1-28). We meet Jephthah. Beginning life behind the 8-ball as the son of a harlot, he’s been disposed and has run off to the wilderness where he’s become a renowned fighting man. When the leaders of Gildead approach him, he promises to lead them, if they will give him total command.  Notice, God doesn’t “raise up” Jephthah. Jephthah promotes himself to be their “head”. Then, Jephthah negotiates with Ammon. Basically, the Ammonite king stakes claim to Israel’s land east of the Jordan (11.11b). Jephthah responds with a history lesson (11.27). The exchange doesn’t avert war, but it’s good. Jephthah remembers God, and I have to believe that his faith at this point is genuine, registering him even for the list in Hebrews 11.

But, there is a serious flaw in his thinking!

Manipulation of God’s deliverance (11.29-40). The Spirit of God comes on Jephthah, and God’s Spirit should have been enough for him. But, look what he does. Instead of trusting God, Jephthah makes a vow: And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’S, and I will give it up for a burnt offering. 

What’s gone wrong here? Well, Jephthah has begun to think about people like the Ammonites think about people. Worshippers of Molech (or Chemosh, as the same god is named here) offered their children to try to manipulate circumstances in their lives. The better the sacrifice, the better the expected results. Jephthah wants to give God his best, but he can’t imagine it will be his own daughter.

And, here’s what God thinks of this: … Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. I myself will set my face against that man and will cut him off from among his people … (Leviticus 20.2-3b).

Even worse, if possible, Jephthah has begun to think about God like the Ammonites think about their god. He’s assuming that the One, True, God of Israel must be  (can be) won over by something he has to offer!

Jephthah wins the war. His daughter runs out to greet him. And, Jephthah responds by blaming the victim: You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow (11.35).

He’s ruined his family, because he doesn’t have another heir. And, he can’t take back his vow, because, apparently, his reputation and self-righteousness is at stake. (See Leviticus 5.4 to learn how, even at this juncture, his oath was not binding, but who’s paying attention to God in Israel?)

Jephthah’s daughter the submits to her understanding of God’s will. She laments she’ll never have children, then offers herself to her father: My father, you have opened your mouth to the LORD; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the LORD has avenged you on your enemies (11:36).

And, so, she’s sacrificed needlessly, so her father can save face, even though Jephthah could have glorified God by taking any curse on himself. His account ends in the next chapter with civil war and the desolation of Ephraim, Israel’s strongest tribe.

Jephthah’s daughter becomes the heroine of this account. She credits God with the victory, doesn’t try to manipulate the situation, commits herself willingly to her understanding of what God wants, and (I believe) points us to Christ.

In Matthew’s account Jesus prayed: My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will (26.39). Jesus didn’t go to the cross because of a blunder, but willingly out of design. And Jesus didn’t go to the cross to manipulate the Father.  Instead, He went to satisfy the wrath of a holy God who allowed all the sins His people to be covered—Jephthah’s and mine.

The lesson of Jephthah is that God doesn’t have to be manipulated for blessing, but gives freely to this who depend on him by faith. 

There’s applications in this account we need to hear: First, bad things happen when God’s people misplace God’s Word. At a number of points in the account, Jephthah might have turned back. And His thinking about God could have been repaired, if the Israelites had risen up and opposed his sin. But, they’d forgotten God’s law. Disaster also results when we forget what God has said!

Also, many of us who read this account have done some terrible things. This account reminds us that we don’t need to go the rest of our lives trying to manipulate our way back to God’s good graces. If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1.8).

Finally, the Spirit of God came on Jephthah to win a battle. On this side of the cross, He baptizes us and fills us when we trust Jesus by faith. Then, He works in us for a changed life. Romans 12.1-2 describes us as living sacrifices. So, we offer ourselves to God, not to manipulate our circumstances, but out of gratitude to our good God who gives freely.

God won’t be manipulated for blessing, but gives freely to those who depend on Him by faith. And, knowing this gives me hope and helps me understand why I find the account of Jephthah in my Bible.


Pictures of Faith: Certain Advantage—Judges 7

This week at Woodland it was “Game on” with VBS! Our hook for the week involved sports, and we naturally talked about some of the things teams and athletes do to get a competitive advantage—training, exercises, drills; that sort of thing.

Really, though, we weren’t talking about games, but life. And, like this week’s passage from Judges 7 teaches us, we learned that God doesn’t always work through our advantages but through our disadvantages.

Judges 6-8 starts with an apparent problem for Israel: the Midianites have overrun God’s people, and everybody is afraid. The actual problem is that Israel has not obeyed God (6.8-10).

The Angel of the LORD visits Gideon who, out of fear, is threshing grain underground, because he too is afraid. The LORD charges Gideon with delivering God’s people, to which Gideon responds by listing his disadvantages (6.12-16), but then asking for a sign. Two signs are given. One involves the lighting of a sacrifice in Elijah-like fashion, the other is the famous account of the fleece which is first wet then dry. Pretty arbitrary really, but clearly from God.

Does Gideon now believe that having the LORD on his side is a good enough advantage? 

Chapter 7 opens with Gideon having raised a decent army—32,000. The Midianites, however, have a much bigger army and are encamped in the Jezreel Valley, probably about four miles to the north of the Israelites.

Gideon receives his “advantage” (:1-8). Here, we get the crucial verse in the account: The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, “My own hand has saved me” (:2).

In other words, Israel, disadvantaged as they are, is still too strong to trust in the LORD. God thins their ranks. Those who are afraid are allowed to leave, and 10,000 remain. Then, all are given an opportunity for a drink, and those who lap up water like a dog are told to stay. Only 300 now remain, and that’s finally looking like an impossible disadvantage.

Gideon recognizes his “advantage” (:9-14). At this juncture, Gideon gets his third sign. He’s told to go down to the enemy camp and listen in to a conversation. In the dark, listening outside a tent, Gideon hears a soldier give an account of a strange dream involving a piece of barley bread (eaten by the lower classes and clearly representing Israel) tumble into the Midianite camp and destroy it. Strange indeed, but the Midianites interpret the dream as an omen and recognize Gideon’s imminent victory. Gideon responds by worshipping God and beginning, finally, to act like a general.

Gideon respons to his advantage (:15-25). Now, Gideon divides his troops, gives each man a trumpet and a torch concealed in a jar, and then leads his small company to surround the enemy camp. At the signal, everybody blows, jars are broken, torches are lifted up, and the Israelites just stand there while the Midianites run around killing one another and then running for their own country. The battle scene ends with Israel pursuing their enemies right out of their land and the heads of the two Midianite generals coming back to Gideon as a couple of souvenirs.

God’s lesson for Gideon was that Gideon’s advantage wasn’t in what he thought, but that his real advantage was in his relationship to Him.

How about us? Where do we have a perceived disadvantage in life? Could it be that some of us grew up without a father or mother, and we now have kids but feel clueless? Or, maybe some of us have adult children who are now making decisions that aren’t good, but we feel like spectators? Or, maybe, some of us are students, and we’re excluded from the group and wondering how this growing up thing is going to work when we feel alone?

This week at VBS our theme verse was 2 Peter 3.1: His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life an godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his glory and excellence. 

Can you believe it? God is creating a new reality all based in the power of a man who died on a cross. The work of the (apparently) seriously disadvantaged Jesus Christ is God’s way of overturning every other perceived advantage in the universe. And, like Gideon, we sometimes have to endure our apparent disadvantages to learn that God through Jesus is enough! And when we do, we boast in the LORD and not in ourselves.

God wants to meet you in your perceived disadvantage and be enough for you, so that where you are weak He will be strong.

My greatest advantage in this life isn’t where I (often) think but it is in Christ’s work … And God loves a (dis)advantage. 



Pictures of Faith: Certain Deed—Judges 4

During these summer months we’ve been watching a good bit of baseball in the Northwoods. In the age groups in which most of our Woodland kids play, games are a battle between the pitcher with himself and the batter with himself, the catcher somehow figuring into the action and helping a little.

Most kids start the season knowing they’re to hit the ball. But, as pitchers struggle to find the plate, batters get used to just kinda standing there. So, in the event of an actual good pitch, lots of kids just choke. Lots of walks, lots of called strikes, lots of strikeouts. So it goes …

Today’s account from Judges 4 is about a military leader who couldn’t swing at a strike. God wins the game, and Barak (ever heard of him?) gets to play on the team, but somebody else gets the glory.

The Book of Judges begins with Israel’s failure to occupy the land. Joshua dies, and the people turn from God. God provides judges who act as both civil and military leaders, but the people return again and again to the gods of their neighbors, so that there is a downward spiral in society: And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD … That’s the refrain that separates the different sections of the book.

Women figure prominently in Judges, both as heroines and as victims. Men are halting and hesitant to obey God. It’s an R-rated book that glorifies God by giving us a realistic picture of what it looks like to mess around with sin and not follow God.

Have a read through Judges 4. When you do, you’ll notice that God disciplines so that Israel is oppressed by her enemies (:1-3). And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD … (:1). In response, God delivers the nation to Jabin, a Canaanite king whose general is Sisera who commands iron chariots. At the end of the Bronze Age when warfare involved punching holes in soft metal, a nice hard, iron chariot would have been the final deterrent, and Sisera has 900 of them. After 20 years of oppression, the Israelites cry out to God.

Deborah judges while Barak chokes (:4-10). Now, we meet Deborah. She’s the first of the heroines in the book and she judges Israel while sitting under a tree in the hilly country of Ephraim. These are primitive times in Israel, but God has a witness, always. God, through Deborah, summons Barak: Has not the God of Israel, commanded you, Deborah tells Barak, Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into you hand? (:6b-7).

Barka hesitates. If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go, he answers Deborah (:8). This might or might not have been fear, but clearly God isn’t enough for Barak. He’s choked, and Deborah agrees to go with him, but announces Barak’s loss of blessing: And she said, ‘I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.’ Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh (:9).

God glorifies Himself, and two women act (:11-24). Before giving us the outcome of the battle to follow, we’re given a picture of Heber the Kenite, who has pitched his tent in the vicinity of the battle. Then, Sisera calls out his chariots to Mount Tabor where Barak and Deborah have assembled their army. Sisera camps near the river Kishon. And, Deborah gives the command: Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the LORD go out before you? 

God then delivers Sisera’s army into Barak’s hands. The text is sparse in description, but the song of victory that follows in the next chapter gives us a hint as to the natural means God used: The torrent Kishon swept them away, the ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon (5.21). It seems Sisera had camped near a wadi that suddenly made the chariots about as useful as 900 iron folding chairs.

Sisera escapes on foot and makes his way toward his friend Heber the Kenite. Heber isn’t home, apparently, but his wife is. Unknown to Sisera, Jael the wife is a good Israelite, and when she invites him into her tent and covers him up, he’s secure enough to fall asleep. Bedouine women, I have read, are good with hammers and tent pegs, and Sisera never wakes from his nap. Jael hails Barak who is running by, and Deborah later celebrates Jael in her song: Between her feet he [Sisera] sank, he fell, he lay still; between her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still; where he sank, there he fell—dead (5.27).

The lesson of Barak is that hesitation in obedience results in loss of blessing. 

We all need to take seriously the perils of hesitating to obey God. Failure for the Christian will not result in judgment (this fell on Christ!), but loss of blessing, and the discipline of the Lord.

The writer to the Hebrews, addressing Jewish believers in a season of hesitation, writes: For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Heb 12.11).

This is a good word for all of us who have trusted Christ. Sometimes, we feel dry in our faith, distant from others who usually refresh us, discouraged. It might not be, but could it be that we’ve choked. Like Barak, God has asked us to put to death some fleshly pattern or practice, but God wasn’t enough for us. It’s worth thinking about.

Even so, the lessons from Judges 4 aren’t all in the negative. It’s not enough not to sin; it is enough to seek God’s glory! This is because the Christian life isn’t simply a list of rules to obey, but an opportunity to seek God’s glory in any and every situation.

Seeking God’s glory in my obedience magnifies God and blesses me. 

Hitting the ball is the fruit of a good swing of the bat. And, seeing God made big in my circumstances is the fruit of obedience. This blesses me. I am alive with hope and the best of all desires when I see God change my heart and the hearts of other people.

So, how does God desire to bring glory to Himself through your obedience in your situation today? It’s worth thinking about, because God’s glory is the biggest window through which we can view reality. Don’t choke, then; swing the bat. Seek to serve the LORD in obedience today!


Pictures of Faith: Certain Mercy—Joshua 2

Heaven will be home to some unlikely people, and Hebrews 11 records some of them—Barak, Jephthah, Samson. But today, we’re thinking about the most unlikely figure from that list of Old Testament persons who trusted in a Redeemer who was to come.

Rahab not only came from among Israel’s enemies, the Amorites, but she was a professionally immoral person, a harlot. What does it look like when a harlot from among Israel’s enemies is saved by faith?

In the backstory to Joshua 2 Israel has long since been freed from Egyptian bondage. But now, after God’s great feats under Moses and Aaron, the nation has wandered for forty years. Joshua leads Israel, and he’s urging its people to take the land God has promised: … be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD God is with you wherever you do (1.9).

Then, Joshua sends spies. Will the debacle of Numbers 13-14 be repeated from forty years earlier—when only he and Caleb believed the LORD would deliver the land to them? No, this time things will be different, largely through the ministry of an Amorite prostitute named Rehab.

Rahab tells a falsehood (:1-7). After crossing the Jordan, the spies slip into Jericho and mingle in the home of Rahab. This home might have been a brothel—perhaps a loud and seedy place where a stranger could get lost, mind his business (or not!), and gather news. But, somehow, the spies’ cover is blown. Soldiers arrive, and Rahab hides them on her roof and covers for them with some barefaced lies: I didn’t know where they were from … they went out last night … I don’t know where they went (:4-5).

Some have struggled with the way the New Testament rewards Rahab for her deceit. (See Hebrews 11.31 and James 2.35). Important to remember is that God has removed the authority of the Jericho leaders. So, we’re justified  in concluding that they know longer deserve to know the truth. Rahab is changing her allegiances. Her faith “looks” like something. That’s the point James 2 makes. And living out her newborn faith will look like a heart-change toward the one, true, God of Israel.

Rahab falls on God’s mercy (:8-14). Late at night, when the bounty hunters have departed, Rahab visits the spies on the roof of her house. It’s here we see her heart, together with the evidence of God’s mercy and her right response to God’s work. She shares what’s been going on in Jericho, and in her own heart. She cites God’s work in Egypt, the destruction of the Amorite kings Og and Sihon, and gives her new estimation of the God of Israel: … the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on earth beneath (:11b). Then, Rahab falls on God’s mercy: Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign (:12). “Kindly” … that’s the Hebrew word hesed, “unfailing, loyal love based on a covenant relationship”. Rahab is saying, “Show me how to be on the side of the one, true God; I want to be in relationship with Him and you!”

The evidence of God’s mercy in Rahab’s life is a changed heart toward God. That’s what faith looks like in the life of an Amorite prostitute, or anybody for that matter!

Then, Rahab enters into covenant (:15-23). The rest of the passage is about how Rahab helped the spies escape, and about the terms of the deal they make with her. She’s spared their lives; they’ll spare hers in the coming invasion, but she’s got to stay at home and reveal her whereabouts with the scarlet cord they give her. But, here I have a question and an observation. Why is the wall mentioned in verse 15? Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall. 

We join the original readers of this account in knowing what is going to happen to these walls. They’re all coming down, right? (See Joshua 6). And, we get to puzzle over the irony that Rahab is being told to stay at home on the wall that’s about to fall. I’m not sure how the mechanics of this worked, but we know that Rahab kept the terms of the covenant and was spared. The point here, though, is that there’s only one way out of Jericho, and it’s through God’s mercy!

The picture of Rahab and her family huddled on the wall trusting in the one, true God and flinging herself on God’s mercy because of her changed heart makes an easy intro to talking about the cross of Christ, doesn’t it?

Among many New Testament verses, Romans 14.10b-12 makes it clear where we’re all headed: For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God’. So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. 

We’re not all prostitutes, but we’re all sinners. And, we’re all in need of God’s mercy. For us who live after the coming of Jesus, bowing the knee before we meet God looks like trusting God’s mercy in the work of Christ. The wall of Jericho involved God’s judgment but involved a way out through God’s mercy. God’s judgment on Jesus at the cross is all about God’s mercy, because Jesus took our sins on Himself. We show we “get” this truth by a changed heart toward God, involving trust in Jesus and His work. This looks like a changed heart toward, just like it did for Rahab.

So we say, my right response to God’s mercy is a changed heart toward God. 

The account of Rahab in Joshua has a happy ending. Rahab is not only numbered among the faithful of Hebrews 11, she’s numbered among those who joined Israel (6.22-25). She’s also numbered among the physical ancestors of King David and Jesus Himself! (Matthew 1). Most importantly, she joined the family of God through God’s mercy and by faith.

How about you? Have you ever read this Old Testament account this way? Have you ever seen before how it points toward Jesus and His work? And have you recognized your need for God’s mercy, understood how Jesus took your sins on Himself at the cross and then trusted Christ?

If not, why don’t you trust Him right now? And then, you can say with all God’s people: “the LORD [MY GOD], he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. And, I have received His mercy, in Christ!”

Pictures of Faith: Certain Remembrance—Exodus 2.23-4.17

Have you ever felt forgotten by God? Maybe you were serving with all your might, but the circumstances (the ones we talked about last week, maybe) didn’t line up with your best efforts.

When you (and I) feel forgotten by God, maybe we need to ask a follow-up question: What would it look like for God to remember you? 

In Exodus 2.23-4.17, God remembers Israel by sending the Nation a (reluctant) deliverer. Israel is oppressed in Egypt as slaves. All the good will we see at the end of Genesis has melted away into 400 years of bondage. But then … God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. And God saw the people of Israel—and God knew (2.25, ESV).

God raises up a deliverer in the person of Moses—a burnout figure pasturing his father-in-law’s sheep in the wilderness. But when God appears to, summons and commissions Moses at the burning bush (3.1-9), it isn’t like Moses is thrilled to be God’s deliverer. Moses has tried the delivering thing before (see Exodus 2), and now he’ll need to get over himself to recognize God’s remembrance. And, it’s here that we see that nothing has changed for us. Moses’ objections to God strike us as remarkably contemporary. We who live after the cross and know Jesus sometimes have the very same objections when we realize that the cross of Christ is all about God remembering us!

Here are Moses’ four objections to God’s remembrance, in the way we’d say them:

Objection #1: “I’m not worthy” (3.11-12). 

Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt? (:11). Shepherds were untouchables in Egypt, and now Moses, who used to be in Pharaoh’s court, has identified with the Hebrew people, shepherds. And he probably figures he’s in retirement from the delivering business. How does God respond? But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain (:12).

Do you ever feel unworthy? The self-esteem movement might respond to our sense of unworthiness by telling us that we’re good enough, smart enough and have a right not to be bullied. But what does the New Testament say? We are worthy because Jesus is worthy. For as by the one man’s disobedience [that’s Adam] the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience [that’s Jesus] the many will be made righteous (Romans 5.19).

Through the perfect life and the holy God-satisfying death of Jesus we are made worthy for right relationship with God when we trust in Jesus. God’s answer to Moses anticipates this. I’m worthy, and I’m going to do this for you, God tells Moses. But, you’ll need to respond in faith to see it … God remembers you by giving you His Christ!

Objection #2: “I can’t do this by myself!” (3.13-22). 

If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?; what shall I say to them?” (:13). Moses expects to be asked about the nature of the god who has sent him, and God responds: I AM WHO I AM (:14). God is the one who is always present. Moses won’t be by himself!

Do you ever feel alone? The New Testament reminds us that Jesus, by His very nature, is with His people. Before Abraham was, I AM, Jesus says in John 8.58 (and was killed for saying it). And then in His final words to his disciples: And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28.20) … God remembers you by giving you His Christ!

Objection #3: “I won’t be believed” (4.1-9). Here, God gives Moses three signs involving his staff turned into a serpent and then changed back to a staff (God’s power over nations); Moses’ hand turned leprous and then healed (God’s power to restore broken health); and, Nile water turned to blood (God’s power to judge). Importantly, these are power signs for God’s people, Israel. Moses is afraid he won’t be taken seriously by his own people.

Do you ever worry that you won’t be taken seriously if you bring up the cross of Christ as a serious solution to peoples’ problems? You hear of fellow Christians’ struggles and learn of their work with counselors and psychiatrists and then just feel so silly asking, “So … what does your pain have to do with the Gospel?”

The New Testament assures us that Jesus will make Himself known through you in the hour of your need. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Sprit of your Father speaking through you (Matthew 10.19-20). Jesus is talking about our testimony to His cross! And there we encounter ultimate reality in Christ’s work that is supremely real! … God remembers you by giving you His Christ!

Objection #4: “I don’t know how!” (4.10-17). 

I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue (:10). Moses is not really a local-yokel, but he knows the rhetoric necessary to persuade Pharaoh.

God responds: Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now, therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak? (:11-13).

Do your problems ever seem too complicated for you? The New Testament tells us to go to the cross of Christ. The Apostle Paul got this. In 1 Corinthians 2, pressured by Greeks in love with smooth, Sophist teachers, Paul proclaimed the Gospel of the cross of Christ, crisp and clean: And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (:1-2).

God’s remembrance of Israel looked like His providing a deliverer—Moses, reluctant as he was. God’s remembrance of you and me looks like His providing Christ and His cross—Jesus, willing and able. The problem we each have is that so often we don’t really believe God remembers us by giving us Christ. We’re like Moses, trying our hand at self-deliverance and then being a burnout in the end. We worship on Sunday, but search for worthiness, feel alone, worry about the evaluation of others and don’t know how to solve our problems during the week.

The Good News here is that Christ meets us in every area of our lives and then goes with us as we learn to trust Him.

God remembers you by giving you His Christ!


Pictures of Faith: Certain Provision—Genesis 37

Have you ever wondered why God is so quiet in the midst of your life circumstances?

Reading through the Old Testament would seem to suggest we might expect God to be “louder”. In Genesis 15, God confirmed Abraham’s faith by localizing His glory into a shape and passing through pieces of severed animals, covenantally putting Himself on the hook for sinners. In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with “a man” we later recognize to be the pre-incarnate Christ in the form of man, though not yet in the flesh of man. But then we come to Genesis 37, the section leading to the culmination of Genesis, and in the life of Joseph we resonate with the way God deals with His covenant people Israel. He’s quiet, working through the circumstances of Joseph’s life. And, in observing God’s plan of redemption for Joseph and his family in the midst of circumstances, we learn something about the ways of God in our own lives as well.

God’s plan of redemption for Joesph and his family was carried out through family brokenness (:1-11). In reading the account we know something Joseph and his family didn’t yet know: There’s about to be a severe famine, and everybody who isn’t provided for is going to die! How will God care for His covenant people? He’ll work through one very dysfunctional family.

The account begins (verse 3) with Joseph—the favorite son of his father— pasturing his father’s flocks with his half-brothers. Tension develops when Joseph brings a bad report to his father involving his brothers’ misconduct. The text says, literally, that after that, “They added still to hate him … and couldn’t speak peacefully to him” (:4). Joseph might have contributed brokenness as well, since the word “bad report” is related to the word “to whisper”. Perhaps, he’s a snitch, a tattle-tail.

But God is in all this. Joseph has two dreams. He dreams (verse 5) that he and his brothers were bundling sheaves in the fields and his brothers’ sheaves bowed down to his. Then (verse 9), he dreams that the sun and moon and stars bowed down to him. The symbolic meaning isn’t lost on his family: “Are you indeed to reign over us?” his brothers ask. “Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” his father asks. Joseph doesn’t seem too guarded in sharing his dream. Perhaps there’s a layer of pride God is addressing in the circumstances to come.

Sin often runs in families, doesn’t it? And the setting of God’s redemption of the covenant family serves to remind us that God works especially in flawed family situations like yours, and like mine. 

God’s plan of redemption for Joseph and his family was carried out through plans of sinners (:12-28). The story develops when Jacob, the father, sends his favorite son out to look for his other sons. Joseph doesn’t find them where they’re supposed to be but twelve miles to the north. And as they see their brother approaching wearing his multi-colored coat (the symbol of his father’s affection) they say, “Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of these pits” (:20). One brother intervenes, so Joseph ends up alive in the pit, but as he’s shouting from the bottom of the pit he has to be thinking about the experience of his great-grandfather and father, noting that he’s among the only righteous ones in the covenant family and asking, “Where is God?! Why doesn’t God make Himself big and loud in my circumstances?”

God’s plan of redemption for Joseph and his family was carried out through unresolved grief (:29-36). Joseph is sold to some traders, and his brothers prepare the rouse by slaughtering a goat and dipping Joseph’s precious robe in the blood. “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not,” they request of their father. Jacob weeps inconsolably, and though he’ll find consolation at the end of the story he’ll go for years believing his son is dead.

All this serves to remind us how senseless our grief might seem in the moment. Like Jacob, we might go years not seeing what God is doing. Maybe, God’s work will remain quiet and hidden to us for the remainder of our lives. But, He is working …

Verse 36 is a transition to the rest of the story. Joseph is sold to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. And, in the next chapters, we’ll see Joseph bring glory  to God: “It is not to me [to interpret dreams]; God will give Pharaoh an answer” (chapter 41). God will reveal to Pharaoh through Joseph that there will be a great famine; Joseph will be raised to a position of greater authority in Egypt; and Joseph’s brothers will come to him, bow down and be saved.

So, here’s the story, big picture: If Joseph doesn’t get down to Egypt to become prime minister, everybody’s dead … If Joseph doesn’t get thrown into the pit, everybody’s dead … If Joseph doesn’t obey his father to go looking for his brothers, everybody’s dead. Joseph’s account ends in chapter 50 with one of the great summary statements of the Bible: As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as we are today (50.20). God not only ordained the end in Joseph’s life, He ordained the means as well.

Joseph’s story also points us to somebody else. There was once another son who (really!) lived an impeccable life, and He was the favorite of His Father. And one day He was obedient to go looking for His brothers, and He found them in the wrong place. And they hated Him, and they stripped Him of His garments, and they killed Him, and He went down to the pit of death. But God raised Him and He went on ahead of us as the first-born from among the dead. And, if Jesus doesn’t die and go down to the pit of death for us, everybody’s dead!

God never turned up like a bolt of lightening in Joseph’s life, but He’s there working through (not in spite of) the details of Joseph’s life, just as He did in the life of our Lord.

Israel needed this message. They needed to remember as they crossed into the Land of Promise that the whole reason they had been removed to Egypt involved God’s plan for their redemption. Likewise, we need to remember that God’s sovereign plan for us will be accomplished in Christ through the circumstances of our lives.

What circumstances has God allowed into your life? Talk to God about this, why don’t you? Ask Him to open your eyes to make you sensitive to what He’s doing in your life and family through your circumstances. Maybe you won’t understand everything right away. Joseph didn’t. But, if you’re in Christ He will accomplish His purpose for your life, and He’ll use those circumstances that you might prefer to have removed to do so.

And, like Joseph, you and I might learn to say: God’s sovereign plan for me will be accomplished in Christ through the circumstances of my life. 

Pictures of Faith—Certain Victory! Genesis 32.22-32

Have you ever striven with God? Do you strive with Him still?

Such striving might look like the desire to relate to God through performance. Or, it might look like trying to wrestle something from Him—some perceived entitlement, or something your sense of justice requires, perhaps.

The biblical patriarch Jacob knew a lot about striving—about wrestling, with everybody. Today in Genesis 32 we see Jacob carrying on the family quest for blessing with God. But, will he receive it by faith? Or, will he try to wrestle it from God on his own terms?

Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, received God’s call in the ancient land of Ur. And, some 2,000 years before Christ, Abraham became the father of all who would respond to God by faith (Genesis 15.6; Galatians 3.7). Taking God at His word (that He would bless Abraham and His descendants with land, a descendant—the promised redeemer, it turns out!—and a blessing for the whole earth), Abraham departed for the land God showed him. And, he became the paradigm for those who are saved by faith—faith in Jesus, for us; faith in a promised redeemer, for those coming before Christ.

Read Genesis 32.22-33, why don’t you? Then, notice a few results of Jacob’s striving.

Jacob’s striving resulted in his being alone (:22-24a) Jacob had always been a heal-grabber. That’s what his name means. He’d been the favorite of his mother and had always striven for his father’s affection. In doing so, he’d tricked his brother, Esau, out of the family blessing. He’d impersonated his brother in deceiving his father. He’d fled to his uncle, Laban, only to be tricked into marrying Laban’s older daughter, Leah, but had then gotten his uncle back through some brilliant, if pre-scientific, trickery with goats and genetic engineering. Now, Jacob is headed home and must face his brother, Esau. His servants inform him (32.6), We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him. 

Don’t blame Jacob for being afraid. He sends gifts on ahead to his brother whom he assumes to be angry. He sends his family on ahead. And then, he remains alone, on the far side of the River Jabbok, just across from the Promised Land. And, he meets God …

This alone is instructive for us. When we come to the end of our ourselves each of us must do business with God, alone. So, if you face surgery, your friends and church family might rally around you, but you go under the gas by yourself. In the same way, we’ll each stand before God alone, and there will be no props or crutches or anybody (but Christ!) to hide behind.

Jacob’s striving brought him to weakness (:24b-25). And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day … (:24b). Didn’t see that coming, did we? Even so, there’s word-play to suggest that Jacob’s life had been pointing toward this encounter his whole life. YaKov … YaBok … YeVek. These are the Hebrew words for “Jacob,” “Jabbok” and the action of wrestling. The word root of the three common consonants means “to get dusty”. Everything about this passage points to Jacob’s striving. This man is standing between Jacob and his objective.

When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him (:25).

First, who is this man? The “Angel of God” or the “Angel of the LORD” appears throughout the Old Testament. He claims divine authority, exhibits divine attributes, performs divine actions, receives divine homage, and identifies Himself as God. (Check out last week’s passage, Genesis 22.15-16, as an example.) His appearances grow more seldom as we approach the coming of Christ, until we come to a different messenger who identifies himself as Gabriel “who stands in the presence of God”.

We’re looking in this passage at the pre-incarnate Christ! Christ in the form of man, though not yet in the flesh of man. Familiar New Testament passages help us see how appearances of Christ (we dare not yet name Him Jesus!) are much in keeping with Christ’s shepherding of God’s elect throughout all time.

Consider, for example, Colossians 1.16-17: For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

And, while Christ wrestles with Jacob, He “… did not prevail against Jacob”. How so? Certainly, we’re looking here at a foreshadowing of Jesus’ limiting of Himself at the incarnation. We might also be looking at Christ’s unwillingness to override Jacob’s will. Jacob is about to give in, but he needs to be weakened first. And, he is weakened, at the point where Christ simply touches him. I believe this is where Jacob, finally, is saved!

There’s something for us to learn about faith here. Faith is the recognition of our own weakness and the embracing of the strength of another. Those of us who have trusted in Christ have done this. And, I believe, Jacob finally ceases striving and depends on God here.

Jacob’s striving ends in blessing (:26-32). The passage ends with four exchanges:

The first is about the source of blessing (:26). Man: Let me go, for the day has broken. Jacob: I will not let you go unless you bless me. Notice that he’s fought the man, now he’s clinging to Him. It’s like he’s saying, I’ve tried to get the blessing for myself, now I realize you had it all along.

The second exchange is about the condition of blessing (:27). Man: What is your name? Jacob: Jacob. In saying this, Jacob is acknowledging that he is a striver.

The third exchange is about dominion (:28-29a). Man: Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed. Jacob: Please tell me your name. Notice here that the one naming exercises dominion. (Think of Adam in naming the animals.) Notice, also, that Israel means, “one who strives with God”. Jacob has fought everybody, and but for God’s mercy he’d persist in having his own way with God as well.

The fourth exchange is about mercy (:29b). Man: Why is it that you ask my name? There’s a break in the pattern here. The man’s question reminds us of Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush. In the end, God asks the questions, and the one asked responds in faith.

Jacob: So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” 

Then Jacob limps off to meet Esau having discovered weakness. And (the next chapter shows), he reconciles with his brother, because those who have made peace with God are free to make peace n the horizontal plain of human relationships.

There’s abundant application for Israel here, the first readers of this passage.  In the Wilderness, before entering the Promised Land, they needed to remember that their strength would not be as the strength of other nations. There’s, likewise, application of us. What did Jacob plead for from the man?: Please tell me you name!

We know His name: His name is Jesus. And, at the crack of morning, after the long dark night of the soul, when we’ve finally come to the end of ourselves, the risen LORD will meet us next to the empty tomb (so to speak) where we’ve been raise with Him … And He will bless us.

And, maybe, we’ll walk with a limp. This is because, between Jesus’ two comings, the most joyous, victorious, fruitful, powerful Christians are at the same time the most beautifully broken … and till Jesus comes, they limp.

God’s blessing replaces my striving when I come to Him in weakness and by faith. 

Have a blessed week in the LORD. Like Jacob, cease striving with God. Do limp, if you must, but come to Him by weakness and by faith. In Christ, there is salvation, blessing, and certain victory!



Pictures of Faith: Certain Worship—Genesis 22.1-19

Is there something God has given you that you’re in danger of valuing over God Himself?

Last week in Genesis 15 Abraham received the certainty of God’s blessing (land, descendants, blessing) by faith, in spite of his doubt and in spite of promised hardship and trouble. This led us to discuss the way those of us trusting in Christ have every blessing in Christ, even though we must be sustained by faith as we await the fulness of blessing at Christ’s return.

This week’s passage, in Genesis 22,  is about Isaac, sort of. Abraham has received the promised son from “his own body,” but will now be tested to see if He still trusts God now that he has received the promised son.

The passage is a paragon of excellence in ancient literature, but, this doesn’t mean it’s made up (like a parable). This story is also beautiful for its historicity and truth. All Jews trace their heritage back to Abraham, and we’re looking at the beginnings of God’s great story of redemption that culminates in the very “real” work of Jesus on the cross that makes God’s work in the blood, sweat and tears of my life “real” as well.

Abraham’s fear of the LORD is tested by God (:1-3). 

After these things God tested Abraham … take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and off him there as a burned offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you (ESV). Important here is that Abraham has already sent away Ishmael (21.14), the son of the flesh whom he had received after attempting to manipulate the blessing. And important to generations of Israelites reading this account is the place—Moriah. We find the Mountains of Moriah again in 2 Chronicles (the end of the Bible, to the Jewish mind) where King Solomon builds the Temple at the place where God had “appeared” to David (2 Chron 3.1) and where God would appear to and provide for His people.

So Abraham rose early in the morning …

Abraham’s demonstration of his fear of the LORD involved a willingness to surrender that which was dearest to him (:4-8). 

Abraham departs, and on the third day of the journey Abraham arrives at the place of worship and instructs his servants to remain while he and Isaac make the sacrifice. He knows two things at this point: God had promised him that the blessing would come through Isaac, and God had commanded him to sacrifice him. And yet, “we” [plural] will come again to you. Hebrews 11. 19a gives the clue we need here: He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead. Abraham really expected to kill his son, but he also expected God to raise to back to life!

Abraham’s demonstration of his fear of the LORD resulted in God’s provision (:9-14).

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the alter there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the alter, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham! And he said, “Here am I.” He said do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me (:9-12).

Notice what God now knows by experience, along with Abraham: Abraham truly fears God, and Abraham would not withhold his son from God. In other words, Abraham isn’t willing to exchange God Himself for that which he loves most!

And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looks, and behold, behind him there was a ram caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnet offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided (:13-14).

In the end, God Himself provides the sacrifice necessary. That’s a picture of Jesus on the cross, isn’t it? But, there’s also significance in the wording. The word “provide” (verse 14, ESV) can mean either “to provide” or “to appear” or “be seen”. Second Chronicles 3.1 talks about how the LORD was “seen” by David at this very place of sacrifice. Verse 8 of our passage, in the mouth of Isaac, says the LORD will “provide” the sacrifice. It’s both, isn’t it? The God who provides sees the hearts of His worshippers and will be seen by them. So at Mount Moriah, the site of the Temple in late Old Testament history, the worshipper could bring his best offering to God. If he brought his first-born son (not for sacrifice, but for service!), he could know that God would provide for his needs, though he loses the economic services of his son. And there at the alter the worshipper would “see” the LORD.

But this true story foreshadowing God’s redemption goes deeper still, doesn’t it? There was a day when God the Father—like Abraham before—took His Son, whom He loved, and laid Him on the wood, and then raised His hand with the knife, so to speak. And on that day Jesus—like Isaac before—laid on the wood and resisted the desire to call down legions of angles who would have rescued Him in an instant. And, on that day there would be no angel to stand between the Father and the Son. And the “knife” fell … And on that day the Father and the Son passed the test that Abraham had foreshadowed millennia before. And because THEY passed the test, the blessing is as good as done, and we in Christ are the beneficiaries.

The willingness of both Father and Son to sacrifice what was dearest to them resulted in God’s provision for sinners, and the LORD appeared to us for salvation.

Abraham’s demonstration of his fear of the LORD resulted in blessing (:15-19). Then, God confirms His covenant with Abraham through the mysterious messenger. I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offering shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice (:17-18).

Millennia after the writing of Genesis, the Apostle Paul will understand this “offspring” to be a collective singular. Hear Galatians 3.16: Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 

The Old Testament worshipper would recognize that God had promised to preserve the blessing for the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jews. They will (future tense!) enjoy the blessing, when they say Barak h’ab Beshem Adonai (“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD” (Luke 13.35). But, we know that the blessing will come ultimately through ONE descendant. And it’s through Jesus (the ultimate seed) that those from all nations of the earth (Jew and Gentile) will be blessed.

So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived in Beersheba. 

Abraham’s demonstration of his fear of the LORD involved a willingness to surrender that which was dearest to him which resulted in God’s provision and confirmation of blessing.

And, about us …

And then what about us? Sometimes, God asks us to give up something he wants us to have, if we’re in danger of valuing the thing or the person more than God Himself. Then, if it’s in His plan, we may receive it back.

True worship requires fear of God. Fear of God requires desiring God for His own sake, not just desiring His blessings. Desiring God for His own sake requires offering up that which is dearest to us … Perhaps, we’ll receive it back, cleansed and set apart for God’s purpose in our lives.

Do you have a true story from your own live about something you’ve delivered to the LORD but then received back? As we think about our own hearts, we need need to read or hearts, along with Genesis 22, from the vantage-point of the work of Christ.

Our worship will involve a willingness to release that which is dearest to us, in exchange for which, we will know God’s provision and blessing in Christ.