From Creation to the Cross

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1. The Creation (Genesis 1:1-2:3)

Genesis 1:1—2:3

Introduction

In a recent on-line article, Timothy George writes these words,

In her book Mystery on the Desert, Maria Reiche describes a series of strange lines made by the Nazea in the plains of Peru, some of them covering many square miles. For years people assumed that these lines were the remnants of ancient irrigation ditches. Then, in 1939, Dr. Paul Kosok of Long Island University discovered that their true meaning could only be seen from high in the air. When viewed from an airplane, these seemingly random lines form enormous drawings of birds, insects, and animals.

In a similar way, people often think of the Bible as a series of individual, unconnected stories. But if we survey the Scriptures as a whole, we discover that they form one great story of redemption—from the opening scenes of Genesis to the final chapter of Revelation. Weaving through all the diverse strands of the Bible is a divine storyline, the overarching story of what God has been up to in the rescue and restoration of fallen human beings, from the first nanosecond of creation through the final cry of victory at the end of time.2

These two paragraphs sum up what we are attempting to accomplish in this new series that we have entitled, “From Creation to the Cross.” Others have done some very fine work in this same venture. We find these words in the introduction of J. Sidlow Baxter’s fine work, Explore the Book:

The method which we adopt in this present series is that which we may call interpretive. We shall study the books of the Bible interpretatively; that is, we shall seek to get hold of the controlling thought, the outstanding meaning and message of each book, and then see it in relation to the other books of Scripture.3

W. Graham Scroggie says virtually the same thing in his introduction:

It is not enough that we be familiar with great texts, or great chapters; we should know the Bible as a whole; for here is a Divine progressive revelation, in which every part is organically related to every other part; and, consequently, only by knowing the whole Bible can we worthily appreciate its greatness and experience its power.4

Scroggie goes on to contrast synthetic Bible study (the kind we are attempting here, and which he facilitates in his book) with analytical Bible study:

By synthetic Bible study is meant, that method whereby the various parts are viewed together, are seen in their relation to one another, and are regarded as constituting a whole. It is, as we have said, the opposite of the analytic method.

In analysis details are separately regarded, but in synthesis these details melt into the picture of the whole… . The analytic is the microscopic method; the synthetic is the telescopic method. Analysis concentrates on the infinitesimal, but synthesis concentrates on the infinite.5

While our study seeks to be synthetic, and to achieve the results sought by Baxter and Scroggie, we will employ a slightly different method. These authors study the Bible by dealing with each book in the order in which it is found in our Bibles.6 The books of the Bible are not arranged in chronological order; if we would study it chronologically, we must deal with each book of the Bible as it fits into a chronological scheme. Excellent study Bibles such as The Narrated Bible7 have sought to facilitate a chronological study by arranging the Scriptures in their chronological order.

Also unlike Baxter and Scroggie, we will not attempt to study every book of the Bible. I am strongly committed to a thorough and systematic exposition of the Word of God. This has been the thrust of most of my teaching for the past 30 years. (My study in the Gospel of Luke, for example, was 77 lessons long!)8 In this series, however, in order to get the big picture, we dare not go into as much detail.

You will note by the title to this series that we have restricted our study to the time from creation to the cross. It is my intention to follow up with a second series that will deal with the period from the cross to the consummation of history (Acts through Revelation). This later series will not, as I currently envision it, be as chronologically oriented, which is why I have chosen to end the first series with the gospel writers’ accounts of the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord.

Let me point out one final distinction of this series. One must have certain criteria for determining what to include and what to exclude in a selective series. We will endeavor to focus our attention on what might be called the “turning points” in the “unfolding drama of redemption”9 – those great watershed events by which God moved from one phase of His eternal plan to the next. This may not always be evident, but it is one of my guiding principles. With these things having been said, let me attempt to sum up the goal of this study:

We purpose to gain an overall understanding of the “unfolding drama of redemption” by focusing on the major turning points in the history of redemption, beginning with creation and culminating at the cross of Christ.

Resources

A friend once told me the story of a fellow who was hiking in the mountains and came to the realization that he was lost. Fortunately, this man had a cell phone with him. He was able to call for help, and they were able to pinpoint his position and tell him how he could arrive at his destination. This series is intended to help you navigate your way through the books of the Bible. Our primary text is the Word of God itself. It is our hope that this series will encourage and equip you to read through the Bible in a little more than a year. Even though our teaching will not cover every book or chapter of the Bible, your reading of the Bible will be greatly enhanced by a sense of knowing where you are in the “unfolding drama of redemption.”

There are a number of excellent resources available that we would encourage you to use. Ligonier Ministries has an excellent tape series (both audio and video) by R. C. Sproul10 entitled, “From Dust to Glory.” There are also a number of expositional Bible studies available on the Internet. Ray Stedman and other teachers at Peninsula Bible Church have some excellent studies on-line that can be found at www.pbc.org. The Biblical Studies Foundation Website is an excellent source of Bible studies11 and helps, which can be found at www.bible.org.

One very excellent book, which we highly recommend to you for your preparation, is Explore the Book, by J. Sidlow Baxter (see footnote 2). This book contains six volumes in one, and it has a wealth of information, including a very insightful overview of each book. We encourage you to buy this excellent reference book. It is one of my “must have” books, which I have kept near at hand for many years.

Thanks to the generosity of Irving Jensen’s family, our church has been granted permission to reprint 250 copies of Irving Jensen’s classic little book, Enjoy Your Bible. It is now out of print, but we are hoping that it will be soon be available on the Biblical Studies Foundation Website, along with some of Jensen’s other works (www.bible.org). It is an excellent book that gives you an orientation to the Bible as a whole.

Your Preparation and Participation is Essential

We do not want this series to be one in which you approach this study unprepared, attend or listen to a sermon, and then go your way. We hope that you will use the preparatory study materials we have provided and the reference and resource materials we have recommended to facilitate your own study of the Bible. We hope that you will take the opportunity to discuss the biblical texts both before and after the teaching. We believe this will be of great benefit for family Bible study and personal devotions.

These Written Messages

In our church, we have changed our curriculum and our schedule to facilitate this new series. I, along with others, teach the children and the adults for 45 minutes, and then we have our worship time, centered around the Lord’s Table. After a break, classes then assemble to further discuss the content of the study. Much of this teaching involves material that I have not attempted to cover in my instruction. These printed messages are an attempt to capture the essence of my teaching and the follow-up teaching.

Introduction to Lesson One: The Creation

Genesis 1:1—2:3

A couple of days ago, a friend forwarded this e-mail request to me:

“Can you cite a biblical scripture that says that, to be a Christian, you have to believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God? I accept Jesus as my personal Savior, but I can’t accept things like the Genesis creation myth. Maybe if I had a quote from Jesus telling me to believe every word of the Bible (or even just Genesis), then I could bring myself to accept the events of Genesis.”

I sent this fellow an answer to his question and have already received an encouraging response. As I thought about this man’s question I realized that, once again, God had providentially orchestrated the events in my life to prepare me for this lesson. Is the biblical account of creation true? It most definitely is! Is the account of creation in the Bible important to us as Christians? It most certainly is! I would challenge you to sharpen your own thinking on this matter by attempting to formulate and articulate an answer to this fellow’s question. I think it would be a profitable exercise.

As we approach this text, we will work very hard to avoid being sidetracked by questions that were not the primary concern of the author. Much of current study in Genesis 1 and 2 seems to be dominated by the debate between creationists and evolutionists. One of the great dangers here is that Christians tend to view this text primarily in terms of what it says to others, rather than in terms of what it says to them. Let us remind ourselves that Moses is the author of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), and that this is the first written revelation regarding the origins of the world, of mankind, and of the nation Israel. Much of my emphasis will fall on what the creation account was intended to teach its first readers. After considering the meaning of this account for the ancient Israelites, we will seek to discover its meaning for us.

Two Creation Accounts

The reader can see that there are really two creation accounts, not exactly represented by the chapter divisions. The first creation account is found in our text, Genesis 1:1—2:3. The second is found in Genesis 2:4-25. The first account begins at the first day of creation and ends with the seventh day. The second account commences in about the middle of the creation week. While the first account describes how God turned chaos into creation (days 1-4, verses 1-20), making it possible to create life (days 5-6, verses 21-31), the second account takes up at the point of God creating life. The first account describes creation by a formula, which is repeated through the account. The second account takes a more problem-solving approach; something is missing or needed that God supplies.

As I have studied this text, I have become convinced that Genesis 2:4-25 is written as a preface to the account of the fall of man, and so in our next lesson we shall study the second creation account in relation to the fall.

A Bird’s Eye View of Creation

General Observations

My intention is to gain an overview of the creation account by making a number of observations.

(1) The focus of Genesis 1:1—2:3 is not on the “ultimate beginning” of all things, but rather on the beginning of the world as we know it, and especially on man’s beginning – the origins of the human race. Scholars attempt to explain this in a variety of ways, but the end result is that Genesis doesn’t really start at the absolute beginning. For one thing, there is no absolute beginning for God, Who is eternal. For another, we know that certain beings were already in existence at the time God created the heavens and the earth. At the beginning of Genesis 3, Satan appears, and at the end, we find angels (3:24), yet Genesis 1 and 2 do not mention the creation of Satan, or of angels. I believe Genesis is the account of man’s beginnings, of Israel’s beginnings, and the beginning of God’s redemptive program for man. It would seem, then, that before the events of Genesis 1 and 2, the creation and the fall of Satan had already occurred, yet they are only alluded to later on in Scripture (Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:12-15). God does not wish for us to be overly intrigued with Satan’s origins or his fall (see Romans 16:19).

(2) The creation account does not describe the creation of the world in terms of being made out of nothing, but in terms of beauty and order being created out of a chaotic mess. Many scholars stress the fact that the Hebrew word that is used in Genesis 1:1 is one that means to create ex nihilo, that is to create something out of nothing. Now I don’t doubt that the original creation was brought into existence out of nothing, because that is what the writer to the Hebrews tells us:

1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. 2 For by it the people of old received God’s commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible (Hebrews 11:1-3).12

Having said this, we must also take into account Peter’s words:

For they deliberately suppress this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water (2 Peter 3:5, emphasis mine).

Genesis 1 begins with something already in existence, which is formless, dark, watery, and chaotic. To say this is nothing seems to defy the language of the text. I believe this is a chaotic mess that was the result of the earlier fall of Satan (Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:12-15). The original creation was created out of nothing, but the creation of the world as we know it, and of life as we know it, came out of chaos.13

The best illustration I can think of is found a little too close to home – my garage. It is literally filled with automobile engines, transmissions, and parts (let’s not talk about my attic – I once had a car filed away up there). I have to confess that I have the essence of several cars tucked away in my garage. But wait, there’s more! In addition to automobile parts, there is an abundant supply of plumbing and electrical parts. And then there are the tools – lots of tools. In my garage (I have a shed also), you would find many mechanical tools (an engine hoist and stand, jacks, jack stands, compressor, welding equipment – both gas and electric, etc.), and also my table saw and woodworking tools.

The other day my granddaughter, Taylor, said it as nicely as I’ve ever heard. After having carefully negotiated her way through the chaos in the garage without getting greasy she said, “Grandpa, I think your garage needs a little tidying up.” It does. And so, the best illustration I can think of to compare with the “watery mess” that we read of in Genesis 1:2 is my garage, at night, with the lights out. And I must tell you that it would probably take more than six days to turn that chaos into cosmos (order).

Now someone might protest that if God created our world out of something that already existed (the leftovers of a previous creation that had fallen), this would have made creation a lesser miracle than one that creates something out of nothing. In the first place, there was an original creation, brought into existence out of nothing. But a creation out of a chaotic mess is not easy task, either. Think about it for a moment. Suppose that you wanted to prepare a gourmet dinner. You may choose between a refrigerator full of leftovers to work with, or the freedom to purchase whatever foods and spices you want. Which would you choose? Would you rather make a dress out of new material that you have selected especially for this dress, or from some old and tattered clothing left behind by someone in the closet? Creating order out of chaos is not as easy as it sounds.

(3) The creation account of Genesis 1 and 2 is the description of a process that took place over a period of time. Now don’t get nervous. I did not say that creation took place over a period of millions of years (though there are surely those who believe this); I said that creation took place through a process that occurred over a period of time – six days, according to Moses. I fear that Christians are so defensive about the subject of evolution (which speaks in terms of a process over millions of years) that they fail to recognize what the Bible says. God did transform chaos into cosmos by means of a process that lasted six days.

I suspect that many of us have a picture of creation in our minds that is not quite accurate. We may tend to think of the act of creation more as magic than as the divine work of a skilled Creator. God did not wrinkle his nose or wave a wand to create an instant world. God worked in a progressive, sequential way to turn chaos to beauty and order.

Could God have instantly created a beautiful world in a moment? Of course He could. Then why didn’t He do so? Why did God employ a process that took a week to accomplish? The first answer is that God, unlike man, is eternal, and He is not in any hurry. He has “all the time in the world.” More accurately, He is not bound by time at all.

The second answer is that I believe God took great pleasure in the work of creation. In know that in our church there are many wonderful cooks, both women and men. I have never been to the home of any excellent cook who served a T.V. dinner. Now I have nothing against T.V. dinners, but they are not and will never be a gourmet meal, no matter what the television commercials tell us. A gourmet cook not only cooks slowly because the flavor is better, but because they enjoy the process of cooking. If I could take a little poetic license, I believe that if you and I were observers at the creation we would see a master craftsman at work, with a smile of satisfaction on His face. I think this is part of what we are to conclude from the repeated expression, “God saw that it was good.”

(4) The process of creation involved separation and joining. Repeatedly the term “separate” occurs in Genesis 1 (see verses 3, 6-7, 14, 17). The waters in the heavens above are separated from the waters beneath (verses 6-7), and then God separated day from night (verses 1-15). God also caused things to assemble or join together. The waters on earth were gathered to one place (verse 9). This is the way my garage would have to be “tidied up.” First, I would have to gather like things together, and then put them in a separate place of their own. I would have to put my table saw out of the way, rather than to use it as a workbench when doing automotive repairs. Order comes when we gather like things together and when we separate them from things that are unlike.

(5) The creation account describes a work of God that comes about at the command of God. Creation results from the mere speaking of a word by God. The formula here, with slight variations14 is, “God said… and it was so” (see verses 6-7, 9, 11, 14-15).

By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible (Hebrews 11:3, emphasis mine).

For they deliberately suppress this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water (2 Peter 3:5, emphasis mine).

God is so powerful He need only speak a word, even to create a universe.

Notice this understated comment in verse 16:

He made the stars also.

In verses 14-16, we see the process by which God created the universe. God created the luminaries, the most prominent of which are the sun and the moon. After summarizing the creation of a mind-bending, seemingly infinite universe, Moses speaks of the creation of the stars as almost an afterthought. It is as though he said, “God created the entire expanse of the universe, along with the sun and moon; and, oh, by the way, He also created the stars.” What an amazing God He is!

(6) The creation account suggests to us that just as God was intimately involved in creating the world and mankind, He remains infinitely involved with them. I will admit that this is somewhat inferential, but I believe it is one that we are expected to see. Because God created the world through a process, He was much more involved with it. The Spirit of God hovered15 over the face of the waters, even before the first day of creation (verse 2). God did not create the world from a distance and then leave it to itself. God created man in His own image and then created a garden where He communed with the couple He created (Genesis 3:8). God is not distant from His creation but remains very much involved with it. He is both the Creator and the Sustainer of the world (see Colossians 1:15-17).

(7) The creation account informs us that God designed man to have a relationship with Him. Closely related to the last observation is the inference that God created man to live in relationship with Him. We must be very careful, however, as to how we view this. God did not create man to meet His own unmet needs. God is totally sufficient within Himself. The Bible does not say, “And God said, ‘It is not good for us to be alone; we will create man to fill our need.’” God created man for His own glory, but the glory of God is also for our good and our pleasure. If we see man’s origins as being rooted in God’s need for us, then we are on a long and very slippery slope indeed. God does not exist to serve us and to satisfy our needs; God created man to worship Him, and to glorify Him in the world, as those created in His image. Having said this, we should see that in His grace, God created us to enjoy and to worship Him. Man was no more intended to live alone spiritually than Adam was intended to live out his life alone, without a mate.

(8) The Genesis account describes the creation of man as the crowning event of the creation process. Man is not only the last living thing to be created; his creation is presented as the climactic conclusion of the entire process. God not only creates man last, He creates him in a very special way – He breathes into his nostrils the breath of life (2:7). The woman, too, was created in a very unique way, distinct from all other living creatures (3:18-25). Man alone was uniquely created in God’s image and was given the command to rule over the creation (Genesis 1:26-28). Far more space is devoted to the creation of man than of any other creature.

The fact that man is created last should teach us at least two lessons. The first is that God has bestowed upon man a great and marvelous privilege, to be created in His image, the crown of His creative work. No wonder the psalmist writes,

3 When I look up at the heavens, which your fingers made,
and see the moon and the stars, which you set in place,
4 I think,
“Of what importance is the human race, that you should notice them?
Of what importance is mankind, that you should pay attention to them,
5 and make them almost like the heavenly beings?”
You grant mankind honor and majesty;
6 you allow them to rule over your creation;
you have placed everything under their authority,
7 including all the sheep and cattle,
as well as the wild animals,
8 the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea
and everything that moves through the channels of the seas.
9 O LORD, our sovereign Master,
how magnificent is your reputation throughout the earth! (Psalm 8:3-9)

There is a second, more humbling, lesson to be learned. The fact that man was created last of all should humble us. If man was created last, then he was not there at the beginning. Man had no part in the creation of the world. Creation was God’s work, without any help from man. I believe that this is the point God is driving home with Job in Job 38 and 39. Job never ceased to trust God, but he did begin to question God, as though He had some explaining to do regarding his suffering. God’s answer was very forceful. It can be roughly paraphrased in this way:

“Now let’s see, Job, as I hear what you are saying, you are questioning the way I am working in your life. That reminds me, where were you when I created the earth? Were you standing by, giving advice – “Why don’t you hang the sun just a little lower, and make it a little bigger…”? Creation shows that I am the Creator, and you are the creature. Creation shows My love, My wisdom, My power … so just why is it that you are now so bold to question Me?”

I might as well go ahead and paraphrase Job’s response: “Well, shut my mouth!” The world in which we live reveals His glory, His wisdom, His power. Let us never forget that. Being reminded of our role in creation (or rather the lack of it) should humble us before God.

(9) The creation account provides a pattern for man to imitate in the keeping of the Sabbath. In Genesis 2:1-3, we read that on the seventh day God rested and made it holy by doing so. Later on in the Pentateuch, keeping the Sabbath will become a sign of the Mosaic Covenant, which must be observed, under penalty of death.

(10) The creation account reveals God’s sovereignty over all creation. God named the things that He created. Later on, God gave Adam the task of naming the living creatures and his wife. The word “called” (see 1:5, 8, 10, 19) is the same word that is used for Adam’s naming of the creatures (2:19-20), and his wife (2:23; 3:20). It was (and still is) generally understood that the one who is named is subordinate to the one giving the names. By naming what He created, God declared His sovereignty. By having Adam name some of the creation, God declared Adam’s authority (not sovereignty) over nature. God delegated to man the responsibility of ruling over His creation.

(11) The creation account reveals the fact that God built morality into His creation. God’s creation was good because He made it, and because He pronounced it good. On the one hand, the declaration “good” may indicate God’s pleasure and satisfaction in creating the cosmos. On the other hand, I believe “good” is a moral assessment as well. Atheistic materialism does not see anything moral about material things; rather, it sees morality as external and imposed upon material things by men (particularly religion). It looks to me as though the creation account declares the material world God made to be morally good.

(12) There is a second moral element suggested in this account. When God created the living creatures, He blessed them and commanded them to be fruitful and to multiply, filling the earth (1:22, 28). God, the Giver of life, commanded the living creatures to reproduce, and thus to value and promote life. I wonder, therefore, if the creation account should not make those who perform, or who undergo, abortions very uneasy. God, the life-giver, commands that we extend life, not extinguish it. Incidentally, it is quite evident that both man and beast lived on plants initially (1:29-30). It was not until after the flood that meat eating was allowed (Genesis 9:3).

God also created life as male and female. This is the way that reproduction was to occur. If man was commanded to be fruitful and to multiply, and if God gave Adam a woman to be his wife, how is it that our society is willing to accept “same sex” marriages? I believe that at creation and before the fall, what was natural was moral and good. No wonder Paul calls homosexuality unnatural (Romans 1:26-27). When men depart from the way it was “in the beginning,” they depart from what is natural and good (see Mark 10:2-9).

From Observations to Applications

Before we move on, let me suggest some implications and applications that flow from the observations above.

(1) We suggested that the “beginning” of Genesis 1 is not the ultimate beginning. Let’s think about the implications of this for a moment. Man would like to think that everything revolves around him, just as man once thought that the sun revolved about the earth. The point is that there is a much bigger picture, and man is but a small part of it, not the whole of it. Man was created by God, and for God’s glory. Man was not created before the angels. Man has a place of honor and responsibility in God’s creation, but man is still a creature.

(2) We noted that God brought cosmos (order) out of chaos at the creation. What a wonderful truth that is. God is able to take confusion and chaos and make something beautiful and useful of it. God is not a God of disorder, but of order (see 1 Corinthians 14:33, 40). Thus, when a Christian acts in a disorderly way, or when the church is chaotic, that is not the result of God’s work, but of our sin.

Let me ask you as kindly as I can, my friend, “Is your life in chaos?” If it is, then there is really only one solution: God. Only God can make a new creation of your life, turning your chaos into order. He does this through His Son, Jesus Christ. It is He who came to the earth, adding perfect humanity to His undiminished deity, to live a perfect life, to expose man’s sin, and to provide the payment for our sins by dying on the cross of Calvary. You can become a new creation by trusting in Him:

17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come! 18 And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea through us. We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God!” 21 God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

(3) We pointed out that God created this world through a process, which took place over time (six days). God works by means of processes, and He does not do His work instantly. Think about Abraham for a moment. God promised Abraham that he would be a father of a multitude, through a son He would give to him and to Sarah. But this son was not born for 25 years.16 Think about the salvation of men. How many years passed between God’s promise of a Savior to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15) and the coming of our Lord? God had a plan and a process, and He took His time bringing it to pass. Nicodemus came to our Lord in John 3, but it does not seem that he came to faith until some time later.17 It certainly took our Lord’s disciples some time to understand what the gospel was all about. They did not really grasp the gospel until after our Lord’s death and resurrection. How many times I have asked someone, “Tell me how you became a Christian.” Almost without exception, the response is something like this: “Well, its kind of a long story… .”

God also takes His time in accomplishing the process of sanctification. I think of Jacob and am amazed by the fact that it took this man almost his entire lifetime to forsake his scheming and simply trust God. And yet Christians today want to be instantly spiritual and mature. God even employs a time-consuming process in dealing with the wicked. Judgment is a process that often involves warnings, then attention-getting action, and then final judgment. We keep asking God, “How long?” because we don’t want to wait, but here, too, God works through a process which takes time

(4) We saw that the creation came into being by the Word of God. God merely spoke a word and whatever He commanded happened. We now have the written Word of God in our hands. I wonder how quick we are to respond to His commands. I wonder how much confidence we have in His Word.

7 The wicked need to abandon their lifestyle
and sinful people their plans.
They should return to the LORD, and he will show mercy to them,
and to their God, for he will freely forgive them.
8 “Indeed, my plans are not like your plans,
and my deeds are not like your deeds,
9 for just as the sky is higher than the earth,
so my deeds are superior to your deeds
and my plans superior to your plans.
10 The rain and snow fall from the sky
and do not return,
but instead water the earth
and make it produce and yield crops,
and provide seed for the planter and food for those who must eat.
11 In the same way, the promise that I make
does not return to me, having accomplished nothing.
No, it is realized as I desire and is fulfilled as I intend” (Isaiah 55:7-11).

1 This is what the LORD says:
“The heavens are my throne
and the earth is my footstool.
Where then is the house you will build for me?
Where is the place where I will rest?
2 My hand made them;
that is how they came to be,” says the LORD.
I show special favor to the humble and contrite,
who respect what I have to say (Isaiah 66:1-2).

(5) We saw that the process of creation was one that involved both separation and joining together. My friend, Joe Baird, pointed out to me that in chapter 2, God joined Adam and Eve together in marriage. Jesus later said that whatever God had joined together, man should not separate (Matthew 19:4-6). Moses indicates that when a man and woman marry, they are to leave their parents (separate) and to be joined together (Genesis 2:24-25). In the creation of a people, God worked to join together or unify the sons of Jacob (Israel), because their unity was essential. At the same time, God was separating them from the world. This He did by taking them to Egypt, where the Egyptians would not intermarry with them. The Law of Moses (especially the laws regarding clean and unclean) separated God’s people from the pagan world. Today, God joins believers together in the body of Christ. Former distinctions are set aside (Ephesians 2:11-22). We are no longer to maintain distinctions where God has removed them (Acts 10-11; Galatians 2:11-21).

(6) We have observed that God created a world with which He is intimately involved. God is no distant “watcher,” who is either disinterested or powerless to intervene in the affairs of this world. Indeed, the Scriptures speak of God as constantly superintending and caring for His creation, supplying rain and harvests and food for all His creatures.

(7) We have seen that God desires for man to live in relationship with Him. Can you image going on daily walks with God in the Garden of Eden? That’s what Adam and Eve seemed to do (see Genesis 3:8-10). God provided the Garden, not only as a place of residence and of service, but as a place of communion with Him. Later on, God will provide other places where men may encounter Him: (1) the land of Israel (see Genesis 28:16-17); (2) the tabernacle; and, (3) the temple. Last of all, it is the person of our Lord Jesus Christ who is the mediator between God and man, between heaven and earth (see John 1:49-51; 4:19-24; 1 Timothy 2:5). Man will never become who he was meant to be until he is rightly related to God, and has daily fellowship with Him.

(8) Finally, man was made in the image of God and commissioned by God to rule over all creation. Surely this has environmental implications. We are to care for the earth and not to abuse or pollute it. It is God’s creation, and we have been placed on earth as His stewards to care for it. The earth (nature) is not god, as some seem to think, but it is God’s creation. We dare not worship it, but we should take good care of it.

What the Creation Account Should Have Taught the Ancient Israelites

We look back, not only on creation, but also on the experiences of Israel during and after the exodus. Moses wrote the law before his death, so it had to be written before the second generation of Israelites had entered the Promised Land. I believe that the Pentateuch was initially written for the benefit of the second generation of Israelites who were about to enter and possess the land of Canaan. They needed to know who they were, where they came from, and what their destiny was. Most of all, they needed to know the God of Israel personally. The five books of the Pentateuch supply, in written form, Israel’s legacy, as well as her destiny.

Let’s pause for a moment, then, to see how the creation event shaped the thinking and the conduct of some of the saints of old. The first incident that relates to the creation account is the flood. God had created the world and all that was in it, and yet very quickly after the fall it became corrupt and God destroyed it. As the Creator, God owned all creation and could do with it as He pleased. As the one who transformed a formless watery mass into a beautiful cosmos, God was certainly able to “turn on the water” and bring about a worldwide flood. The flood testifies to the fact that God was the creator, who was both able and free to deal with His creation as He pleased.

The second informative incident is found in Genesis 14, where Abraham (Abram at this early point – see Genesis 17:5) encounters that very fascinating fellow Melchizedek, the king of Salem. Five kings in the area around Sodom and Gomorrah rebelled against Chedorlaomer and those with him. When Chedorlaomer and his allies attacked these five kings, they prevailed over them, taking much plunder and many people, among whom was Abram’s nephew Lot. Abram took his armed men and went in hot pursuit, defeating Chedorlaomer and his allies and retrieving Lot and all the other people and possessions. When Abram returned, the king of Sodom and his allies were overjoyed to get their families back. It would seem that the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah had planned a “welcome home” celebration, the ancient counterpart of a ticker tape parade. But before these kings could greet Abram, another king greeted him on the way – Melchizedek, the king of Salem. He brought bread and wine because he was a priest of God, and he blessed Abram with these words,

“Blessed be Abram by the Most High God,
Creator of heaven and earth.
20 Worthy of praise is the Most High God,
who delivered your enemies into your hand”(Genesis 14:19b-20a, emphasis mine).

Shortly after this, the king of Sodom greets Abram and offers to give him all the spoils he had won in battle withholding only his own people who had been kidnapped from Sodom. Abram’s response is most interesting:

22 But Abram replied to the king of Sodom, “I raise my hand to the LORD, the Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth, and vow 23 that I will take nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal. That way you can never say, ‘It is I who made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing except compensation for what the young men have eaten. As for the share of the men who went with me—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre—let them take their share” (Genesis 14:22-24, emphasis mine).

What a difference we see between Melchizedek, king of Salem, and the king of Sodom. Melchizedek reminds Abram of Whom it is he serves, the “Creator of heaven and earth.” In effect, the king of Sodom tells Abram that he’s the greatest and offers to give him all the spoils of war. Abram declines the king of Sodom’s offer, using the same words that Melchizedek had just spoken to him. He will honor God, “Creator of heaven and earth,” for it is He who gave Abram the victory. Abram will not take credit for God’s work, and Abram will not be enriched by a pagan king. God had promised to bless Abram, and Abram doesn’t believe that it will be through the gifts of a heathen king, the king of Sodom. If Abram’s God is the Creator, then God will give him victory in battle and material blessings as well.

It was not just Abram who understood that his God was the Creator of heaven and earth. Rahab, the harlot of Jericho, understood this as well. Listen to her words, spoken to the Israelite spies:

8 Now before the spies went to sleep, Rahab went up to the roof. 9 She said to the men, “I know the LORD is handing this land over to you. We are absolutely terrified of you, and all who live in the land are cringing before you. 10 For we heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you left Egypt and how you annihilated the two Amorite kings, Sihon and Og, on the other side of the Jordan. 11 When we heard the news we lost our strength and no one could even breathe for fear of you. For the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on earth below! 12 So now, promise me this with an oath sworn in the LORD’s name. Because I have shown allegiance to you, show allegiance to my family. Give me a solemn pledge 13 that you will spare the lives of my father, mother, brothers, sisters, and all who belong to them, and rescue us from death” (Joshua 2:8-13, emphasis mine).

Rahab knew that the God of Israel was God alone, and that her gods were no-gods. She understood that as the Creator God was Lord over heaven and earth. Her faith in God included her firm belief that God had created the heavens and the earth.

The exodus of Israel from Egypt provided an excellent opportunity to dramatically demonstrate that God was the Creator of heaven and earth. When God commanded Moses to return to Egypt and to demand that Pharaoh let His people go, Moses protested in various ways. Finally, Moses sought to convince God that he was not qualified to go before Pharaoh because he was not a good speaker:

10 Then Moses said to the LORD, “O my Lord, I am not an eloquent man, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of mouth and slow of tongue.” 11 And the LORD said to him, Who gave a mouth to man, or who makes a person mute or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12 So now, go, and I will be with your mouth, and will teach you what you must say” (Exodus 4:10-12, emphasis mine).

Moses sought to excuse himself from his God-given duty by claiming to be unskilled in speaking. God reminded Moses that He had created his mouth. In a similar way, in Psalm 139, David spoke of God as his Creator in the womb:

13 Certainly you made my mind and heart;
you wove me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I will give you thanks, because your deeds are awesome and amazing.
You knew me thoroughly;
15 my bones were not hidden from you,
when I was made in secret
and sewed together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw me when I was an unborn fetus.
All the days ordained for me
were recorded in your scroll
before one of them came into existence (Psalm 139:13-16).

The exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and their imminent possession of Canaan brought the fact that God created the heavens and the earth into the spotlight. When Moses demanded that Pharaoh release the Israelites, it must have sounded almost comical to Pharaoh. The Israelites were a relatively insignificant people; they were enslaved in Egypt, the most powerful nation on the face of the earth at the time. Moses was a mere nomadic shepherd. How dare he demand anything? And who was his God, for whom he spoke so boldly? Pharaoh made his contempt for Israel’s God very clear:

1 And afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Release my people so that they may hold a pilgrim feast to me in the desert.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey him by releasing Israel? I do not know the LORD, and I will not release Israel” (Exodus 5:1-2).

The plagues were God’s answer to Pharaoh’s question. The plagues had to do with nature (the Nile turned to blood, the frogs, the gnats, the flies, the death of the Egyptians’ livestock, boils, the storm, the locusts, the darkness, and the death of their firstborn sons). The Egyptian magicians were able to replicate the first plagues, but soon they had to admit that they were way over their heads, and that the plagues were the “finger of God” (Exodus 8:19). God demonstrated His control over nature by means of the plagues. And the Egyptian gods were mocked by the plagues, for they were thought to have control over certain aspects of nature, and some of the creatures involved in the plagues were symbols of their gods.18

Who is the God of Israel, that Pharaoh should obey His commands? He is the Creator of heaven and earth; He is the one who speaks and the forces of nature obey. The parting of the Red Sea is the icing on the cake. Who but God could have parted the sea, so that the Israelites could pass through on dry ground, only to have the sea come rushing down upon the Egyptian army?

This was a very important series of miracles because it was verification of the Creation account in Genesis 1 and 2. The first generation of Israelites to leave Egypt saw God’s hand in the plagues. They saw the sea parted and the Egyptians drowned. They saw God provide food, water, and clothing19 for this great multitude and their cattle, enabling them to survive in the wilderness. The Israelites needed to learn to trust God to provide for their needs. He would provide the rain for their crops, and He would give them prosperity, if they obeyed His commands and trusted in Him (see Deuteronomy 28:1-14). The Canaanites were a very corrupt and idolatrous people. They had their own nature gods, and the Israelites would be tempted to worship them. It was vital for the Israelites to know and to believe that God created the heavens and the earth, and that because of this, He could be trusted to provide for their every need.

God As Creator in the Bible

There are many, many texts of Scripture that refer to God as the Creator. Let me list some of the significant texts I found:

Genesis 1-2; 14:19-22; 15:4-6; 24:2-4
Exodus 4:10-12; 20:8-11; 31:12-17
Deuteronomy 10:12-18; 11:11-17; 28:12, 23-24
Joshua 2:6-13
2 Samuel 22:6-18
2 Kings 19:14-19
1 Chronicles 16:26
Nehemiah 9:6
Job 38-39
Psalm 8; 19:1-6; 33:6-9; 89:11-12; 96:5; 102:23-28; 104:1-3520
107:23-31 (compare verse 29 with Matthew 8:26)
Psalm 121; 124:8; 134:3; 135:5-7; 136:1-9; 146:1-7; 147:7-9
Proverbs 3:19-20; 8:22-31; 30:1-4
Isaiah 37:14-20; 40:12-31; 42:5-9; 44:24-28; 45:8-12, 18; 48:12-16; 51:12-16; 54:5; 65:17-25
Jeremiah 4:23-28;21 10:6-16; 32:16-19; 51:14-17
Jonah 1:9
Zechariah 12:1
Acts 4:24; 14:14-18; 17:24
Romans 1:18-25; 9:20-21
1 Corinthians 8:4-6
Colossians 1:15-17
Hebrews 1:10; 11:3
Revelation 4:11; 10:6; 14:7

I have summarized the lessons emphasized in these texts by means of the following categories. This is far from complete, but it does demonstrate how important the truth that God created the heavens and the earth is in the entire Bible:

(1) The God of the Bible, the God of Israel, is the Creator who made the heavens and the earth.

Abraham confessed this: Genesis 14:19, 22; 24:2-4
Rahab confessed it as well: Joshua 2:9-13
Jonah confessed it also: Jonah 1:9
See Romans 1:18-25

(2) God is the center of all creation. As such, He alone is to be worshipped as the Creator. Because the God of Israel is the Creator, and He has created everything that has been created, there can be no other gods (for if there were, God would have created them, and God says there is no other God beside Him – Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 45:14, 21). Idols, then, are merely the creation of man’s hands. How tragic; God creates man, but heathen men think they can create their own gods.

1 Chronicles 16:26
Psalm 96:5
Isaiah 40:12-31
Jeremiah 23:6-16; 51:14-17
Acts 14:14-18; 17:24
Romans 1:18-25
1 Corinthians 8:4-6

(3) God, the Creator of heaven and earth, owns what He has created (Deuteronomy 10:14), and is therefore free to do with His creation as He pleases, which includes showing mercy or executing judgment (election).

The heavens and earth belong to God (Psalm 89:11-12).
He owns mankind and all living creatures – and thus the flood (Genesis 6-9).
He owns the land, Israel does not nor does anyone else (Leviticus 25:23; contrast Ezekiel 29:3, 9).
He is the Potter, and we are the clay (Isaiah 29:15-16; 64:8).
As the Potter, He can do as He wishes with the clay – specifically, show mercy or condemn (Jeremiah 18:1-12; Romans 9:18-26).

(4) Because God has revealed His infinite wisdom and power in His creation (Proverbs 3:19-20; Proverbs 8:22-31), and man is a mere creature, man should not question the wisdom of God in what He is doing.

Job 38-39
Isaiah 45:9-13

(5) Creation displays the attributes of God – He is powerful, all wise, eternal, glorious and majestic. Men should therefore fear and worship God.

Psalm 8; 19:1-6
Psalm 33:6-8
Psalm 102:23-28
Psalm 134:3
Psalm 135:5-7
Psalm 136:1-9
Isaiah 51:12-16
Romans 1:19-20
Revelation 4:11; 14:7

(6) As the Creator, God is in full and complete control over His creation.

He sends and withholds the rains (Deuteronomy 11:11-17; 28:12, 24; 1 Kings 17-18; James 5:17-18).
Psalm 96:5, 10
Zechariah 12:1
Colossians 1:15-17

(7) As the Creator, God employs nature to do His will, which includes delivering His people from their enemies.

In battle – 2 Samuel 22:6-18
At the exodus – Exodus 6-15
Hezekiah’s prayer to God for protection from Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:14-19)
Psalm 121; 124:8; 146:1-7
Isaiah 37:14-20
Acts 4:24
(8) As the Creator, God has revealed His infinite power, which serves as assurance that He will fulfill His future promises (some of which are described as a “new creation”).

Isaiah 42:5-9
Isaiah 44:24-28
Isaiah 45:8-19
Isaiah 48:12-16

(9) God’s method of Creation was intended as a pattern for man’s actions. Just as God rested on the seventh day, after creating the world, so man should rest on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11; 31:15-17). Observing the Sabbath is one of the ways Israel could identify with God as their Creator.

Conclusion

We have only begun to scratch the surface, but I believe we have shown that throughout the Bible it is demonstrated that God created the heavens and the earth. The Creator of this earth is God, and He alone is God. Those who reject nature’s testimony are guilty before God (Romans 1:18-27). If God is the Creator, then His claims must be true.

The New Testament makes a very amazing claim — that Jesus Christ was God, and that He existed in eternity past, and was the Creator of this world:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 5 And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it (John 1:1-5).

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, 16 for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him—all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him (Colossians 1:15-17).

This is a remarkable claim, which Jesus demonstrated to be true in His earthly life and ministry, especially by His miracles. In John’s Gospel, the very first miracle that Jesus performed is recorded in chapter 2. Attending a wedding with his family and disciples, Jesus created wine from ceremonial cleansing water. Jesus did not even touch the water; He simply spoke a command to the servants (which His mother strongly urged them to obey), and the transformation took place as they obeyed. In Mark 4:35-41, we see the stilling of the storm, once again by His command. (Notice that in stilling the storm, our Lord seems to fulfill the words of Psalm 89:9. ) In John 11, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, proving He was the Giver of life.

It is Jesus alone who can bring those who are dead in their trespasses and sins to life (Ephesians 2:1-10). It is He alone who can make of us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is He alone who can take this sin-torn world and replace it with an eternal kingdom, where sin and death are no more. It is in Him that you must place your trust for the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of eternal life. There will come a day when this heaven and this earth will pass away, and God will create a new heaven and a new earth. If you think that the first creation was great, you haven’t seen anything yet. The new creation is far superior (Revelation 21:1ff.). Are you ready for that day?

For those who have trusted in Jesus Christ, not only as their Creator, but also as their Savior, the fact that He is the Creator answers many questions and solves many problems. It should encourage us to be patient when we fear that God is not acting quickly enough. After all, He is eternal and is not in a hurry, and He works through time-consuming processes. When we face obstacles or opposition that cause us to fear, we need to remember that our Lord is both the Creator and the Sustainer of His universe. He can employ any and every part of His creation to come to our aid.22 When we are suffering in one form or another and we begin to doubt God’s wisdom, let us remember that our God is the all-wise Creator of heaven and earth. And when we wish to challenge God for His sovereign work of election, let us remember that He is the Potter, and we are the clay; He is the Creator, and we are the work of His hands. God can do as He wills with that which He has made (see Romans 9:19-22).

Is it any wonder that the creation account of Genesis is under attack? The implications of the fact that God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth are astounding. For the Christian, they are a source of comfort and joy. For the unbeliever, they are terrifying. What a wonderful truth it is that God is the Creator. And to think that we have been invited to enter into intimate fellowship with Him through His Son.


1 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on October 29, 2000. Anyone is at liberty to use this edited manuscript for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel. Copyright 2000 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081.

2 Timothy George, “Big-Picture Faith,” ChristianityToday On Line. Posted October 19, 2000. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/current/press.html.

3 J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960), Six volumes in one, vol. 1, pp. 10-11.

4 W. Graham Scroggie, The Unfolding Drama of Redemption: The Bible as a Whole (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), Three volumes in one, vol. 1, p. 17.

5 W. Graham Scroggie, vol. 1, p. 21

6 We would be wrong if we assumed that the current order of the books of the Bible was precisely that of the early manuscripts, or even of later translations.

7 The Narrated Bible, Narration by F. LaGard Smith (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1984).

8 http://www.bible.org/docs/nt/books/luk/deffin/toc.htm

9 To borrow the wording from the title of Scroggie’s excellent book.

10 http://www.gospelcom.net/ligonier/

11 A number of the studies on books of the Bible are manuscripts of my sermons.

12 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

13 There are various attempts to explain this. Some hold to the so-called “gap theory,” which holds that verse 1 describes the original creation, and then in verses 2 and following we see the recreation of the world. In this gap between verse one and verse two, we are told, there may be a great period of time, that could explain certain geological phenomenon.

14 In verse 3 we read, “God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.” The sense of these words is the same as, “God said… and it was so.”

15 This word is used only three times in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 32:11, it is employed to describe an eagle, hovering over its young.

16 See Genesis 12:4; 16:16; 17:24; 21:5.

17 See John 3:1ff.; 7:45-52; 19:39-40.

18 For more details, you may wish to see my message on the plagues at: http://www.bible.org/docs/ot/books/exo/deffin/exo-05.htm.

19 Their clothing, you will recall, did not wear out (see Deuteronomy 8:4).

20 This psalm is a poetic description of the creation, and of God’s ongoing care for His creatures.

21 Here, the same Hebrew words found in Genesis 1:2 are employed in Jeremiah 4:23, a very clear allusion to the chaos which existed prior to the commencement of creation.

22 See Acts 4:23-31, noting especially verse 24.

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2. The Fall of Man (Genesis 3:1-5:32)

Genesis 3:1—5:32

Introduction

On July 20, 1969, our family arrived at my parents’ home in Washington State on our annual trek from Texas. We arrived just as the Lunar Module, the “Eagle,” landed on the moon. We heard those historic words, spoken by Neil Armstrong:

“That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

This was a moment in history that we shall not soon forget, but it cannot in any way compare with the event we are studying today. If I could paraphrase, I would describe the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden something like this:

“That’s one small slip for man; one giant downhill slope for mankind.”

I should begin by pointing out that the Bible consistently looks upon Adam and Eve as real people, the first humans to inhabit this earth. The account of their sin is not a fable, but a fact of history. Jesus spoke of Adam and Eve as real people (Matthew 19:3-6), just as He did of Noah (Matthew 12:38-41). Paul made much of Adam and Eve, and of his sin (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 11:2-12; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:8-15). When we read Moses’ account of the fall, we are reading the story of two people, whose sin affected the whole human race. The account of the fall is foundational to the rest of the Bible and to the “unfolding drama of redemption.” Let us listen carefully, and heed the lessons that are here for us.

The Setting

Genesis 2:4-25

While our focus will be on Genesis 2:4—5:27, I must call your attention to the first chapter of Genesis. Here, Moses informs us that God called the creation into being through His own Word:

“God said24 … and it was so.”25

By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible (Hebrews 11:3, emphasis mine).

My friend, Randy Zeller, summed it up this way: “In Genesis 1, the Word of God is the means by which the world was called into existence; in chapter 2, it takes the form of God’s command to Adam, to rule and to refrain from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; in chapter 3, the Word of God is challenged by Satan and disobeyed by Adam and Eve.” If the Word of God could call creation into being, surely it could be trusted, and should be obeyed. Thus, chapter 1 sets the stage for the fall in chapter 3.

Genesis 2 takes up the theme of creation, but from a different point of view. In chapter 1, everything that God created was declared “good” or “very good.” Beginning at verse 4 of chapter 2, we find the creation account retold, but from a different perspective. This creation narrative does not begin at the beginning, on the first day, but on the third day, when plant life was created. In chapter 1, creation (or cosmos – order) came from chaos. In chapter 2, creation comes out of need. Notice the things that are lacking in chapter 2:

No shrubs or plants (verse 5)
No rain (verse 5)
No man (verse 5)
No mate for Adam (verses 18-25)

Genesis 2 describes how God provided for the needs of His creation. As I understand it, there could not be any plant life without water. At that time, it seems as though there was no such thing as rain. How, then, would plant life survive? God provided through the “mist” (some translations) or “springs” (NET Bible). Technically, we could not say, “a river ran through Eden;” we would have to say, “a river had its headwaters in Eden” (see Genesis 2:10). That river then divided into four branches (verses 10-14).26 If my understanding of this is correct, then there was a second need – there was the need for a man to irrigate the garden. A mist would function like a rain in that it would water the garden whether a man was there or not. But a spring would necessitate irrigation ditches and cultivation. Thus, there was the need for a man, as well as for water, if a garden were to exist. God met both of these needs; He provided the springs (which became the headwaters of the river in Eden), and He provided Adam (who would irrigate and cultivate the garden).

There was yet one great need, and that need was for a mate for Adam. When God created animal life, He created them male and female, so that they could reproduce and fill the earth (1:22, 24). The way I read Genesis 2, God very purposefully led Adam to an awareness of his need of a mate. To do this, God brought each of the living creatures to Adam to be named. This naming was an expression of Adam’s rule over creation, since he was made in God’s image and commanded to rule over creation. But the naming accomplished another purpose – it highlighted the fact that Adam was incomplete without a mate of his own.

I can imagine how it happened. God brought the various animals to Adam to name, two-by-two. Adam could see the male lion, with his larger body and impressive mane, and he could see the female lion with him. If they had already begun to “be fruitful and multiply,” Adam saw how it was that they reproduced. Sooner than later, Adam would have to realize that these creatures all came in two’s – a male and a female. The connection had to be made, and Adam must have realized that he was a male. He realized that he needed a female, if he was to be “fruitful and multiply.” And looking about him, he saw many “matched pairs,” but no single creature that corresponded to him. How would he be able to fulfill his mandate without a mate? The need was now evident.

In stark contrast to chapter 1, God said of Adam’s situation: “It is not good …” (2:18). Adam could not carry out his calling alone. He must have a mate that corresponded to him (physically and otherwise). God provided for man’s need in a most amazing way. He did not create a wife for Adam from the dust of the earth; God created a wife for Adam from his own flesh. He anesthetized Adam and took one of his ribs, making a woman from that flesh and bone. They were, at the outset, “one flesh.” It is for this reason that Moses goes on to say,

23 And the man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
and flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

24 For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Genesis 2:23-25 NASB).

In the original creation, Adam and Eve had no parents, and they shared the same flesh. They were truly “one flesh.” This was to serve as a pattern for all future marriages, just as God resting on the Sabbath was to be a pattern for mankind (see Genesis 2:1-3). When a man and a woman married, they would become “one flesh” by means of their physical union. But they were to exhibit a deeper unity as well, one that began with the first marriage. As Adam and Eve had no parents, and became one flesh, so each husband and wife are to become one flesh by leaving and by cleaving. They27 are to leave their parents, not by avoiding them, or by neglecting them (see Mark 7:9-13), but by not living under the authority of their parents as they once did. Since God joins a man and a woman together in marriage, no one should dare to contribute to the breakup of that union.

The point of chapter 2 is that God will provide for every true need of His creation. The shrubs and plants needed water, and God provided springs and a man to irrigate the garden. Adam needed a mate, and God wonderfully provided for his need. We should learn from chapter 2 that God provides for the needs of His creation, in His way, in His time, and in a manner that we would not have expected. Surely we can see that if man needed the “knowledge of good and evil,” God would also provide that. We also see that it was not to be obtained through eating the forbidden fruit.

Chapter 2 sets the stage for the account of the fall in chapter 3 in yet another way. It is in chapter 2 that God’s commandments concerning the trees of the garden are given. God created a garden, and in this garden He provided every good tree. In this garden was every tree that was “pleasing to look at and good for food.” This must mean that the forbidden tree was also pleasing to the sight and pleasant to the taste. It, too, would have been “pleasing to look at and good for food.” God did not forbid Adam to eat of the fruit of this tree because it was a bad tree, with bad fruit, but because He did not want him to obtain the knowledge of good and evil by eating from its fruit.

God’s instructions to Adam are concise and clear. Adam was to care for and maintain the garden. He could freely eat from any tree of the garden, except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God said that if he ate of the fruit of this tree, he would surely die the day he ate of it.28 The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was in the very center of the garden, in addition to the tree of life. Adam was therefore faced with a choice, the choice between life and death. We know that at the time this command was given, Adam was alone, because Eve had not yet been created. (This is further indicated by the fact that the “you” in verse 17 is singular, not plural.) This simply means that it will be Adam’s responsibility to communicate God’s commandment to Eve.

The Temptation and the Fall

Genesis 3:1-7

1 Now the serpent was more shrewd than any of the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the orchard; 3 but concerning the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the orchard God said, ‘You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, or else you will die.’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “Surely you will not die, 5 for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

The thing that strikes me is that we are not fully three chapters into the Bible before we encounter the account of the fall, and the description of the actual fall is only seven verses long. More than this, Adam is held responsible for the fall, but most of the actual fall is described in terms of what Eve did. It happens so quickly and so easily, and seemingly without resistance or hesitation. How can this be? No one ever had it better than Adam and Eve. They have no sin nature, inclining them toward evil. They have everything they could possibly need, and they live in a perfect world. So how is it that Adam and Eve can be persuaded to disobey God and spoil it all?

There are several parts to the answer. We can see from our text that Satan is incredibly shrewd.29 We have not been introduced to Satan before this, but the serpent was certainly a created being, and thus Adam would have previously named him. Satan himself is a created being (Ezekiel 28:13, 15). Satan’s fall is described in Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-15. In our text, he reveals his shrewdness in several ways.

First, Satan determines to wage his attack against man through his “helper,” Eve. I believe he does this because he feels that if he can persuade Eve to disobey God, Adam will be inclined to follow her. He also may know that God did not give the commandment concerning the forbidden fruit to Eve directly, but rather to Adam. Her information was therefore second hand. Neither was Eve involved in naming the animals, which would have reinforced the fact that man was to rule over creation (and thus over the serpent). Adam would have been more sensitive to the insubordination of the serpent, who dared to deceive the woman and to promote disobedience to God’s command.

Furthermore, the serpent approaches Eve as though he were a seeker or learner. He came to her with what appeared to be an innocent question. He seemed willing to be corrected if he happened to be wrong. It was not a direct, frontal attack against God’s command, but a deceptive scheme.

In addition to this, the serpent appeared to come as a friend, who had Eve’s best interests at heart. Satan does not disclose his agenda. He does not come as a liar and a murderer, though he is just that (John 8:44). He comes as a friend, a disinterested third party who is merely looking out for Eve’s best interest, supplying her with knowledge she lacks.

His great shrewdness is seen by the way he is able to completely change Eve’s perspective, so that she chooses to disobey God rather than to obey Him. I think it is safe to say that Satan is so skillful in his deception that he persuaded Eve to place her faith in him, and in his word, rather than in God, and in His Word. Here, in brief, is how he did so:

Initially, Satan appears humble and “teachable,” but soon he takes on an air of confidence and authority. He seems like someone who knows what he’s talking about, someone she can trust.

Satan appeals to Eve’s sensual desires. She should have viewed the fruit of the tree as beautiful and tasty, but forbidden. She came to see it as desirable, period.

Satan subtly creates a distrust of God by minimizing His grace, and by encouraging Eve to view God as miserly, withholding from her something truly good.

Satan causes Eve to doubt God’s Word, while believing his assurances (“You shall surely not die!”).

Satan persuades Eve to seek her own interests first of all, and to act independently of her husband and God, in order to achieve what she perceives as her highest good.

Satan uses Eve to lead her husband into sin.

Adam’s actions are even more baffling than those of his wife. We know from Paul’s words in the New Testament that there was a fundamental difference between Adam’s sin and that of his wife: Eve was deceived, but Adam was not (2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:14). If Adam was not deceived, then why did he disobey God? And why does his eating the forbidden fruit appear as almost a footnote to the account of Eve’s sin?

We do know from Genesis 3:17 that God found Adam guilty for obeying Eve. Adam did not lead; he followed. He did what his wife urged him to do, rather than to do as God had commanded him to do. As distressing as it is to admit, it appears from verse 6 that Adam was with Eve all the time, as well as at the
time she offered him some of the forbidden fruit.

When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it (Genesis 3:6, emphasis mine).

No wonder Adam so quickly ate of the forbidden fruit! He was there all the time. Adam was to rule over creation. Adam was to lead his wife (whose authority over her was evident by his priority in being created, by his being the source of her life, and by his naming her),30 and with her, to rule over creation. And yet we see Adam standing silently by as this creature deceives his wife and blasphemes God. How could he do so? Was he so awe struck by her beauty that he obeyed her, thus knowingly disobeying God? We may not know why Adam obeyed his wife, but we do know that he obeyed her, and for this he was guilty of sin.

Confrontation and Curses

Genesis 3:8-19

8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 And the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 And the LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly shall you go,
And dust you shall eat
All the days of your life;
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Yet your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.”
17 Then to Adam He said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten from the true about which
I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’,
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you,
And you shall eat the plants of the field;
19 By the sweat of your face
You shall eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.”31

Notice the order of God’s confrontation and of the curses pronounced. The chain-of-command was God – Adam – Eve – serpent. The order of the fall was serpent – Eve – Adam. When God confronted this sin, He first confronted Adam (3:9-12), then Eve (3:13). While God questioned Adam and Eve, He did not question the serpent. God was not in any way attempting to redeem the serpent. The order of the curses comes according to the order of the fall, so that the serpent is cursed first, then Eve, and finally Adam.

Notice also that Adam and his wife were not seeking God but were seeking to hide from Him. They covered their nakedness with fig leaves, and sought to hide themselves in the trees of the garden. It was God who sought out these first sinners. And so it has been ever since. No one seeks God; God seeks out sinners in order to save them:

“There is no one righteous, not even one,
11 there is no one who understands,
there is no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:10b-11).

9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this household, since he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10).

The serpent’s curse was two-fold. In the first place, he was going to “bite the dust” as we would put it. The serpent must have originally carried himself in an upright position, because his curse is to crawl about in the dust as the most cursed32 of all creatures. The ultimate curse is the prophecy of his total destruction in verse 15b:

“He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”33

Christians have understood this to be the first prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, who was the last Adam (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:45). The Messiah will be of the “seed of the woman:” He will be human (and, of course, divine). One of Eve’s descendants will “crush the head” of the serpent, while at the same time “bruising His heel.” The blow of Messiah’s heel to the serpent’s head will destroy the serpent, but it will also bruise the heel of the Savior. Here is the first prophecy of the cross of our Lord, where Satan’s defeat is accomplished (see John 12:31).

The curse of Eve and of Adam falls in the area of their primary focus or contribution.34 While it is not precisely stated in our text, we know that the curse on Adam fell upon all his male descendants, just as the curse on Eve fell upon all her female descendants. Both Eve and Adam will suffer painful labor. Eve will suffer pain in the labor of childbearing; Adam will suffer painful labor in raising food. In addition, Eve will have the desire to rule over her husband, but she must endure the leadership of her husband (3:16). The final words of Genesis 4:7 are strikingly similar to those of 3:16:35

“You will want to control your husband,
but he will dominate you” (3:16).
“It desires to dominate you,
but you must suppress it” (4:7).

There are those who interpret Genesis 3:16 differently, but it seems to me that God has made Eve’s curse appropriate to her sin, which was leading her husband, rather than following him.

Adam’s curse came in relation to the soil that he was instructed to cultivate. Because he obeyed the voice of his wife, Adam would find the soil less productive. Now, the growing of food would require hard labor. I think we could say that from this point on he had to contend with diseases, with insects, and with weeds – all of the things gardeners have to deal with today. In addition to this, Adam himself would return to the ground (as would Eve). This was part of the penalty of death, about which God had earlier spoken to Adam.

I sometimes hear men speak of their work in very idealistic terms. I think that they desire for their work to be, for them, as work was for Adam, before the fall. Is your job less than fulfilling? Does your work require some things of you that you don’t enjoy? Do you have to put in long hours and hard labor? That’s all part of the curse. That’s normal. To expect too much of one’s work is to hope that Adam’s curse might somehow bypass you. It doesn’t. This is not to say that there should be no measure of enjoyment in your work, but it does mean that work is much more “work” than it would have been before the fall of man.

Consequences of the Fall

Genesis 3:22—5:2736

The consequences of the fall quickly begin to appear. Some were “unseen” in the sense that God’s command to Adam in 2:16-17 did not spell out all of the repercussions of disobedience. Some of these were the direct outworking of the curses God pronounced, and some are not. For example, in Genesis 2:25 we were told that before the fall, Adam and Eve were both naked and yet they felt no sense of shame. After the fall, Adam and Eve are immediately aware of their nakedness and are quick to try to cover it. They sew fig leaves together for coverings (Genesis 3:7), and they attempt to hide from God among the trees of the garden (3:8). Their sin produced a sense of guilt and shame, which they could not cover.

In addition to their shame, Adam and Eve also experienced separation from God. They withdrew themselves, seeking to hide from God as we mentioned above. But in addition to this, God cast them out of the garden, stationing angels to guard the entrance, so that they would not be able to return to it to eat of the fruit of the tree of life (3:23-24).

God did warn Adam that death would result from eating the forbidden fruit, and we surely begin to see that in 3:19 – 5:27. God announces to Adam that he will die (3:19). Death will go far beyond Adam, however. Death has now entered the world for all living creatures.

19 For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of God who subjected it—in hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. 23 Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:19-23).

The animals from which God made coverings of skin for Adam and Eve would have had to die (3:21). In Genesis 4, things go from bad to worse. Adam’s rebellion against God is reflected and amplified in Cain’s rebellion against God, and in the murder of his brother, Abel. Cain’s response to God’s gracious rebuke reveals insolence on Cain’s part. God did not find Cain or his sacrifice acceptable, but He told him what he could do to rectify the situation. Cain’s response is anger, and he takes that anger out on his righteous brother, killing him, and then denying any responsibility for his brother’s well being. Cain is therefore cursed to live the life of a wanderer.

The line of Cain’s descendants shows how the sin of Adam, and then of Cain, compounded itself. Moses briefly passes over Cain’s son Enoch, and his son Mehujael, and Mehujael’s son Methushael. The genealogy of the line of Cain ends at Genesis 4:18-24 with the account of Lamech, Methushael’s son. Notice that Lamech takes two wives, rather than just one (4:19), and that he boasts to them:

23 Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah! Listen to me!
You wives of Lamech, hear my words!
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for hurting me.
24 If Cain is to be avenged seven times as much,
then Lamech seventy-seven times” (Genesis 4:23-24)

Lamech does not look upon the sin of Cain as something evil, but as a kind of standard that he wishes to surpass. Did Cain kill his brother in anger? Lamech killed a man for wounding him, in fact, he was a young man who had in some way injured him (accidentally?). His reaction was out of proportion to the offense. Due to his fear of being harmed as a vagabond, God pronounced a curse upon anyone who harmed Cain. Lamech dared anyone to give him any trouble or he would do much more! The line of Cain went downhill very quickly.

In contrast to the line of Cain, we are introduced to another line – the line of Seth. Think about Adam and Eve for a moment. They had two sons, one of whom (Abel) was a godly fellow; the other (Cain) was not. Can’t you imagine Adam and Eve thinking to themselves, “This must be the ‘seed’ through whom God will accomplish our salvation, and the destruction of Satan?” How their hopes must have been dashed with the murder of Abel. Many years seem to have passed, because Adam is 130 years old when their son Seth was born (5:3). Adam and his wife must have felt that Seth was Abel’s replacement and hoped that he was the promised “seed” of the woman (Genesis 3:15). Seth had a son name Enosh, and Enosh had a son named Kenan. Kenan’s son was named Mahalalel. Mahalalel became the father of Jared, and Jared was the father of Enoch. Enoch later became the father of Methuselah. Methuselah became the father of Lamech, and Lamech was the father of Noah.

All these men lived very long lives by today’s standards. Adam lived 930 years, for example, and Methuselah 969 years. But Moses does not just wish for us to learn that these men lived long lives; Moses tells us that the fate of each man (save one) was the same – death. Over and over again we read, “And he died.” Surely Moses is repeating this to demonstrate that God’s words to Adam were true. The wages of sin is death. Not only did Adam die because of his sin, but all of his descendants died as well.

The bright light in all of this darkness is Enoch. Enoch “walked with God” we are told (Genesis 5:24). He did not die, but was somehow raptured up into heaven. Literally, “he was no more” – he just vanished one day. This is God’s way of informing us that He is faithful to save. The sin of Adam and Eve did bring death upon all, but God’s grace also brought about deliverance from death. Enoch is the firstfruits of those who will not taste death. He did not follow a system of rules, nor did he have the law to keep. He simply “walked with God” and “was no more.” Enoch is strategically placed in chapter 5 to remind us that while “the wages of sin is death,” the “gift of God is eternal life.” In the midst of man’s sin and God’s judgment, there is hope for our deliverance from the penalty of death.

The Cure

The sin of Adam and Eve brought consequences and curses, not only upon Adam and his wife, but also upon all of their offspring. Is there any hope for Adam and his offspring? Is there any hope for us? There certainly is. Ironically, the cure is closely related to the curse. God cast Adam and Eve out of the garden, and while this is a punishment for their sin, it was also a gracious action on God’s part. Had God allowed them to live in the garden, they would have eaten of the fruit of the tree of life. The problem is that having done so they would have lived forever, as fallen creatures. What a terrible fate! God also pronounced death as a part of the curse, but this too was a part of the cure. The only way out of this life and the consequences of sin is death. The death of animal sacrifices was a way of putting off judgment, until God provided a permanent solution. Ultimately it would be the death of the Messiah that would deliver men from their sins. Further, His resurrection assures the believer of their deliverance from death. As part of the curse, Eve would experience great pain in bearing children, but the really good news was that it was through the birth of a child that the Savior would come, Who would bruise His own heel while crushing the head of Satan.

And so it is that in the midst of a text dealing with sin and its consequences, there is hope in these early chapters of Genesis. Adam expressed hope when he named his wife Eve, “because she was the mother of all the living” (3:20). It seems to me that Adam has already begun to find hope in the promise of Genesis 3:15. As the “mother of all the living” Eve was also the mother of the promised Savior. While Cain and his seed must have been a source of sorrow and disappointment to Adam and Eve, Seth was certainly a source of hope. It was through his offspring that the deliverer would come. This was underscored by the rapture of Enoch, who walked with God and “was no more.” Here was a godly man on whom death did not have a grip. He was a symbol of hope for all who would walk with God. And finally, there was Noah, concerning whom we read:

28 When Lamech had lived one hundred and eighty-two years, he had a son. 29 He named him Noah, saying, “This one will bring us comfort from our labor and from the painful toil of our hands, because of the ground that the LORD has cursed” (Genesis 5:28-29).

He was a deliverer, but the deliverer had yet to come, and would not come for some time. God’s unfolding drama of redemption contains many more chapters. Nevertheless, the hope of a deliverer is here.

What Does This Story Teach Israel?

The first question we must ask is, “What were the first readers of this account to learn from it?” What was God saying to the second generation of Israelites who had left Egypt, and who were on the verge of entering the Promised Land?

First, the ancient Israelites would be reminded of the fact that they were “prone to wander” from the path of obedience. If unfallen Adam and Eve fell this quickly and easily into sin, those who now have inherited a fallen nature from them can all too easily fall into sin. God did not choose the Israelites because of their piety, but because of His grace. Let every Israelite be on guard, knowing how easy it is to fall into sin.

Second, the Israelites should be warned of the danger of being led astray by foreign women. God gave very strict orders concerning the Canaanites, whose sexual practices were exceedingly corrupt. You will recall that when the Moabites could not overcome the Israelites by hiring Balaam to pronounce a curse on them (see Numbers 22-24), they did succeed somewhat through seduction (Numbers 25). Solomon, wise as he was, had his heart turned away from God by his foreign wives (1 Kings 11:1ff.). Let the Israelite men learn that women can lead them astray, particularly those foreign women who worship other gods. If Adam could be led astray by his wife, who was created as his helper, think of what would happen if they married heathen women.

Third, the Israelites should learn that following God requires denying one’s sensual desires, rather than striving to satisfy them. When Paul writes to the Corinthian saints, he informs them that they need to learn self-control and self-denial. It was because of their determination to satisfy their fleshly appetites that they chose to eat meats offered to idols, even though this might cause a weaker brother to stumble (see
1 Corinthians 8:1-13). Paul cited his own self-denial as an example for the Corinthians to follow (see
1 Corinthians 9). Then, in the closing verses of chapter 9, he appeals to them to practice self-discipline. Following this, he reminds them that the failure of the Israelites in the wilderness was due to their preoccupation with satisfying their fleshly desires:

24 Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. 25 Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. 26 So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air.
27 Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5 But God was not pleased with most of them, for they were cut down in the wilderness. 6 These things happened as examples for us, so that we will not crave evil things as they did. 7 So do not be idolaters, as some of them were. As it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. 8 And let us not be immoral, as some of them were, and twenty-three thousand died in a single day. 9 And let us not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by snakes. 10 And do not complain, as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer. 11 These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall. 13 No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: he will not let you be tried too much, but with the trial will also provide a way through it so that you may be able to endure (1 Corinthians 10:1-13).

Eve was deceived into believing that seeking the satisfaction of her own desires was more important than obedience to God’s commands. I believe that Adam was not deceived, but that he, too, chose to satisfy his desires rather than to obey. The Israelites would be tempted in the same way, and the account of the fall served as a warning.

Fourth, the Israelites should be impressed with the importance of obeying God’s commands, and with the painful consequences of disobedience. God had essentially given Adam a single commandment, which he failed to obey. The Israelites were given much more extensive instruction in the Law of Moses. Let the Israelites learn from Adam and Eve that disobedience to God’s commands brings judgment.

Fifth, the Israelites, like Adam and Eve of old, were faced with one of two choices. In the center of that garden were two trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Essentially, we could say that before Adam and Eve was the necessity to choose between life or death. Exactly the same choices faced the Israelites of Moses’ day:

1 “Now when all these things happen to you— the blessing and the curse I have set before you—and you remember them in all the nations where the Lord your God has exiled you, 2 if you turn to the Lord your God and listen to him just as I am commanding you today—you and your descendants—with your whole mind and being, 3 then the Lord your God will reverse your captivity and have pity on you. He will turn and gather you from all the peoples among whom he has scattered you. 4 Even if any of your dispersed are under the most distant skies, from there the Lord your God will gather and bring you back. 5 Then he will bring you to the land your ancestors possessed and you also will possess it; he will do better for you and multiply you more than he did your ancestors. 6 The Lord your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being, in order to live. 7 Then the Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies, on those who hate you and persecute you. 8 You will return and pay attention to the Lord, keeping all his commandments I am giving you today. 9 The Lord your God will make the labor of your hands abundantly successful—in your offspring, the offspring of your cattle, and the crops of your fields. For the Lord your God will once more rejoice over you for good just as he rejoiced over your ancestors, 10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commandments and statutes that are written in this book of the law, that is, if you turn to him with your whole mind and being.

11 “For this commandment that I am giving you today is not too awesome for you, nor is it too remote. 12 It is not in heaven, as though one must say, “Who will go up to heaven to get it for us so that we may hear and obey it?” 13 And it is not across the sea, as though one must say, “Who will cross over to the other side of the sea and get it for us so that we may hear and keep it?” 14 For the thing is very near you—it is in your mouth and mind so that you can do it.

15 “Look! I have set before you today life and prosperity on the one hand, and death and disaster on the other. 16 What I am commanding you today is to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to obey his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances. Then you will live and become numerous and the Lord your God will bless you in the land where you are going to take possession of it. 17 However, if you turn aside and do not obey, but are lured away to worship and serve other gods, 18 I declare to you this very day that you will certainly perish! You will not extend your time in the land you are crossing the Jordan River to possess. 19 I invoke heaven and earth as a witness against you today that I have set life and death, blessing and curse, before you. Therefore choose life so that you may live—you and your descendants! 20 I also call on you to love the Lord your God, to obey him and cling to him, for he is your life and the means of your longevity as you live in the land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 30:1-20, emphasis mine).

39 “See now that I, indeed I, am he!” says the Lord,
“and there is no other god besides me.
I am the one who kills and brings to life.
I smash and I heal,
and none can deliver from my power.
40 For I raise up my hand to heaven,
and say, ‘As I live forever,
41 I will sharpen my lightning-like sword,
and my hand will grasp hold of judgment;
I will execute vengeance on my foes,
and repay those who hate me!
42 I will satisfy my arrows fully with blood,
and my sword will eat flesh;
with the blood of the slaughtered and captured,
from the chief of the enemy’s leaders!’”
43 Cry out, O nations, with his people,
for he will avenge his servants’ blood;
he will direct vengeance against his enemies,
and make atonement for his land and people.

44 Then Moses went with Joshua son of Nun and recited all the words of this song to the people. 45 When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel 46 he said to them, “Instill in your mind all the things I am testifying to you today, things you must command your children to observe, all the words of this law. 47 For this is no idle word for you—it is your life! By this word you will live a long time in the land you are about to cross the Jordan River to possess (Deuteronomy 32:39-47, emphasis mine).

Simply put, if the Israelites were to live, they must keep God’s commandment;37 If they disobey, they will die. It is just as simple as that. And so the Israelites of old had the same decision to make as did Adam and Eve. Would they choose life, or would they choose death?

Lessons For Men and Women Today

There are many lessons for us to learn, and I will only be able to touch on these.

First, our text explains the reason for suffering, sorrow, and injustice in this world. There are some who foolishly say, “I refuse to believe in a God who is both good and all-powerful, but who allows suffering and injustice.” God did not create a world that was unjust, or filled with sorrow. He created a perfect world. He also created a world in which man was given the choice of whether to obey or disobey God’s command. It is man’s sin that has brought about sickness, suffering, death, and injustice. The fact that God punishes sin demonstrates that He is righteous, and it is we who are sinners, deserving His wrath. When you and I look around and see so much that is wrong, we should acknowledge that the cause of all this is sin – man’s disobedience to God’s Word. Sin and suffering tells us that there is something desperately wrong with us, not with God.

Second, the fall of man in the garden is the reason for some of God’s commands to us today. Why is it that women are commanded to keep silent in the churches or instructed that they must not lead men? Paul tells us that it is because of the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden:

9 Likewise the women are to dress in suitable apparel, with modesty and self-control. Their adornment must not be with braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothing, 10 but with good deeds, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11 A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man. She must remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first and then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was fully deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But she will be delivered through childbearing, if she continues in faith and love and holiness with self-control (1 Timothy 2:9-15).

As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says. 35 If they want to find out about something they should ask their husbands at home, because it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Did the word of God begin with you, or did it come to you alone? (1 Corinthians 14:33b-36).

I know that there are many non-Christians (and some Christians as well) who will say, “That’s just nonsense! Paul has no right to demand such conduct. It makes no sense to me, and I’m not going to do it!” Let me simply point out that this is precisely the same attitude and response that we see in Eve. The commands given to women are not based on any inferiority so far as women are concerned. These commands are rooted in the fall, and in the curse. Our response to them reveals either our submission to God or our disobedience. It is really as simple as that.

Third, we now know the cure for the curse. Someone may very well ask, “Why did God allow the consequences of Adam’s sin to fall on the entire human race?” “Why is it fair for me to suffer for what Adam did?” In the first place, I would say that most of my suffering is because of my sin, not Adam’s. But having said this, God was gracious to allow the action of this one man to affect me. It was gracious because He also purposed for the actions of another Man, a last Adam, to reverse the consequences of the first Adam’s sin:

12 So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned — 13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed. 15 But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if the many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many! 16 And the gift is not like the one who sinned. For judgment, resulting from the one transgression, led to condemnation, but the gracious gift from the many failures led to justification. 17 For if, by the transgression of the one man, death reigned through the one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ! 18 Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in so that the transgression may increase, but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more, 21 so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:12-21).

42 It is the same with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living person; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” 46 However, the spiritual did not come first, but the natural, then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, made of dust, the second man is from heaven. 48 Like the one made of dust, so too are those made of dust, and like the one from heaven, so too those who are heavenly. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, let us also bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).

Adam was the first Adam, whose sin made all mankind sinners. Jesus Christ is the “last Adam.” He was tempted in every area, but unlike Adam, our Lord never failed (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). His handling of Satan’s temptation (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12) was the opposite of Adam, and it provides us with much insight concerning dealing with temptation. He was tempted, yet without sin. He who was without sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:22). Adam’s sin brought all those in him (all mankind) into condemnation; Christ’s righteousness makes all who are found in Him righteous. We have a choice before us: whether we will remain in Adam, and thus under divine condemnation, or whether we will be found in Christ by trusting in Him, resulting in eternal life.

The message of our text could probably be summarized by five terms:

Faith. The outcome of the temptation of Adam and Eve was determined on the basis of who they chose to trust. The things that they were dealing with were, to them, unseen. They had never seen death, and did not really know what life was. They did not know what “the knowledge of good and evil” was, either. When man fell in the garden, it was due to misplaced faith. Eve trusted Satan, rather than God.

The Word of God. It was God’s Word vs. Satan’s, and Eve chose to believe Satan. God’s Word was sufficient to call creation into existence. The question was whether or not it was sufficient for Adam and Eve to live by.

Obedience. The test that God gave Adam and Eve was one of obedience. Would they obey His command?

Grace. God was gracious to create the perfect world that He did, and to place man in the garden. God was gracious to forbid Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit. He was gracious to seek out Adam and Eve, and to point out their sin. He was gracious to promise the coming of a Savior, who would once and for all destroy the evil one. In the Old Testament, as the New, grace is to be found on every page.

Leadership. The fall took place because Adam failed to lead, as God had commanded him. He listened to his wife, rather than to lead her, and to exercise authority over the serpent.

In conclusion, I would like to point out what I feel is a vitally important lesson that we were intended to learn from the account of man’s fall. Adam and Eve fell because they did not trust God to meet their needs. They felt that they had to act independently of God, and in disobedience to His Word, in order to have their desires satisfied. Eve saw the forbidden fruit as desirable, and she was willing to disobey God (even though He threatened death) to satisfy her needs (as she defined them). Seemingly, Adam was willing to disobey God because he felt he needed Eve more than God. Why else would he knowingly disobey God to obey her?

I believe Genesis 2 was written to demonstrate that God is both willing and able to meet our legitimate needs, in His way, and in His time. The shrubs and plants needed water, and God provided it. They needed cultivation and irrigation, and God provided for that need. Adam needed a helpmate, and God wonderfully provided Eve. God provided for every true need in His creation.

When our Lord was tempted by Satan, He was led into the wilderness where he had no food or water (much as the Israelites were led into the desert by Moses). Satan sought to employ the same kind of temptation he used in the garden, seeking to entice Jesus to act independently of the Father in order to meet His own needs. Our Lord answered that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Father. He knew that obeying God was more important than eating a meal. He knew that His ultimate need was to obey the Father’s will. He knew that if He entrusted Himself to God, and obeyed His Word, God would supply His needs.

Satan tempted Eve, convincing her that she really needed the fruit of the forbidden tree. She needed it, she thought, because it was desirable to make her wise, to make her like God. She needed to know good and evil. I am inclined to think that God fully intended to meet this need, but in His own way, and in His own time. I wonder if God did not intend to teach Adam about good and evil as they took their daily walk together in the garden. I believe that they would have come to know good by knowing God, and realizing that anything other than that which pleased Him was evil. They would learn to be wise by knowing God more intimately. In this way, the knowledge of good and evil would be a blessed thing, the result of enjoying God. Disobeying God brought about a separation from God, rather than greater intimacy with God.

How many times do we find ourselves being tempted in the same manner? We sense that we have a need (at the least, we feel a desire) that God has not yet met. We should draw near to God, trusting Him to provide, or to withhold, what we desire, knowing that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:17). God withholds only that which is detrimental to our good. But all too often we, like Eve, choose to satisfy our needs independently, acting apart from faith, and perhaps in direct disobedience to His Word. The results of such disobedience are always disastrous in the end.

Isn’t this what the Israelites of old needed to learn as well? They were led into the wilderness, where there was no food and little water. God promised to provide for all their needs. When they failed to trust and obey Him, there were always painful consequences. God purposely let them be in need, to test them and to increase their faith:

1 You must keep carefully the entire commandment I am giving you today so that you may live, multiply, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised to your ancestors. 2 Remember the whole way by which he has brought you these forty years through the desert so that he might, by humbling you, test to see whether deep within yourselves you would keep his commandments or not. 3 So he humbled you by making you hungry and feeding you with unfamiliar manna to make you understand that mankind cannot live by food alone, but also by everything that comes from the Lord’s mouth (Deuteronomy 8:1-3).

When we have needs, it is often God’s way of teaching us to trust and obey. When we fail to do so, we simply repeat, once again, the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the garden.


23 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on November 5, 2000.

24 Ten times in Genesis 1.

25 “It was so” may not have been precisely said in each instance, but it is implied if not stated after every “and God said.”

26 I have always been perplexed as to why Moses would bother to mention that there was “good gold” in the land of Havilah (2:11-12). If I understand Sailhamer’s argument correctly, then Eden was the land of Canaan. This would then be equivalent to Moses pointing to the hills of Canaan and shouting, “There’s gold in them thar hills!” It would be an ancient version of the gold rush. I say this somewhat with tongue-in-cheek, but there must be a reason for mentioning the gold. See John Sailhamer, Genesis Unbound (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1996), pp. 70-73.

27 Specifically, the husband.

28 I understand this to mean that Adam would immediately die spiritually, and that he would begin to die physically as well. From the moment he ate of it, the aging process would begin.

29 It should probably be noted that “the serpent” is not actually called Satan here, but that becomes quite apparent in time. In 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul refers to Eve being deceived by the serpent, but later in the same chapter he goes on to describe the deceptive work of Satan (11:13-15).

30 Much of this is Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 11:2-17.

31 NASB.

32 The inference of God’s words is that all earthly creatures fell under a curse because of the fall. The serpent is cursed “more than” the other creatures, which certainly appears to mean that they, too, are cursed, but not as much as the serpent. This squares with Romans 8:19-22.

33 NASB.

34 See also 1 Timothy 2:15; 5:14.

35 This is most evident in the original text.

36 Due to the length of this text, and some others in the future, I will not include lengthy texts in the message.

37 If time would permit, I would pursue the fact that “commandment” is singular, not plural. Moses is not saying that “law keeping” will produce eternal life. The one commandment we are to keep is to love the Lord our God. It is God who will circumcise our hearts, causing us to love Him and to obey His commandments. The one command, in essence, is to love God. This whole matter (along with Deuteronomy 30:12-14) is taken up in Romans 10:1-15.

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3. The Flood (Genesis 5:28-10:32)

Genesis 5:28—10:32

Introduction

This past week, the election was held for the presidency of the United States. One week later, as I am finishing this manuscript, we still don’t know who has won the election. As the days pass, the margin between victory and defeat gets smaller and smaller, not only in the state of Florida, but in a few other states as well. This is due, in part, to the tremendous voter turnout for this election. We should have learned from this election that the actions of a very few people will affect the destiny of the candidates, not to mention the citizens of our great country.

In the Bible, we can see that the fate of many people often rests on the character and conduct of just one man. This was the case, for example, with Israel’s kings. It was also true of the period of the judges. We see the same principle at work in Genesis 3, where Adam’s disobedience brings sin, condemnation, and curses upon the entire human race. We see it with Cain and with Seth in Genesis 4 and 5, where the sin or righteousness of each impacts future generations. We see it once again in the account of the flood. The whole world is corrupt and fit only for destruction, and if it were not for one righteous man – Noah – the entire human race would have been wiped out forever. But because of Noah, a remnant was preserved, and so the human race had a new beginning.

In my earlier series on the Book of Genesis, four lessons were required to cover the same Scriptures that we shall deal with in but one lesson. Our purpose in this lesson is to look at the “big picture,” and thus I cannot allow myself the luxury of any rabbit trials. Among these is the question of the identity of the “sons of God” and the Nephilim in the first verses of Genesis 6. Good scholars differ over the interpretation of these terms. If knowing the precise meaning of these terms were crucial to the message of this passage, then I’m sure God would have spent more time on them and would have made the meaning very clear to us. I must conclude that the text is somewhat vague, which should caution us about being too dogmatic on such matters.

Further, I am not going to attempt to explain how the flood came about in scientific terms. This is partly because it is not my area of expertise, and partly because it is not the point of the passage. Neither will I try to explain all the differences between the pre-flood world and the post-flood world. These matters may be of interest to some, and I wish them well in their pursuit of them, so long as it does not prevent them from taking heed to the major thrust of this passage. In this lesson I will seek to heed the “law of proportion,” noting those parts of our passage which receive the most emphasis.

A World Ripe For Judgment

Genesis 6:1-7, 11-12

1 When mankind began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of mankind were beautiful. Thus they took wives for themselves from any they chose. 3 So the LORD said, “My spirit will not remain in mankind indefinitely, since they are mortal. They will remain for one hundred and twenty more years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days (and also after this), when the sons of God were having sexual relations with the daughters of mankind, who gave birth to their children. They were the mighty heroes of old, the famous men. 5 But the LORD saw that the wickedness of mankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD regretted that he had made mankind on the earth, and he felt highly offended. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth-everything from mankind to animals, including creatures that move on the ground and birds of the air, for I regret that I have made them.” … 11 The earth was ruined in the sight of God; the earth was filled with violence. 12 God saw the earth, and indeed it was ruined, for all living creatures on the earth were sinful.

I have a confession to make. I often run to the grocery store for my wife, or with her, to “pick up a few things.” The produce section has always fascinated me. Sometimes the produce manager will attach a sticker to fruit which reads, “ripe.” From time to time, I’ve seen a piece of really rotten fruit, and I must confess that I’ve attached a ripe sticker to that rotten fruit for all to see.

I think the civilization of Noah’s day needed one of those “ripe” stickers. It was rotten to the core. Initially, things may have appeared to be on course, but it didn’t take long for things to deteriorate. In the beginning, God had given man His blessing and commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply”:

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28).

Adam and Eve bore two sons; Cain killed Abel, and later on Seth, along with others. Then, some years later came Lamech, one of Adam and Eve’s descendants through Cain. Cain and Lamech were better at subtraction (by committing murder) than at multiplication, although Lamech made up for his reduction of mankind by having two wives, rather than just one (4:19-24). By the time we reach chapter 6, things have gone from bad to worse.

The way I understand verses 1-7, Moses is describing a progressive dissatisfaction with man, one that culminates with the necessity of worldwide judgment. The first two verses of chapter 6 describe the way in which mankind was multiplying. Men – the sons of God – were marrying women and together they were bearing children. All this might be seen as positive, except for the basis on which they chose their wives – they chose the ones that looked the best to them (6:2). Especially after the fall, one would have hoped that men and women would have sought mates who were godly, but this does not appear to be the case at all. Men and women were marrying and multiplying, but out of sheer fleshly desire. No wonder we find the words of God in verse 3, which indicate that His Spirit would not strive with men forever. It is as though God had said, “I created man, but he is so dominated by the flesh that his spirit is no longer in tune with my Spirit. I shall not put up with this for long. I will shorten man’s days to a mere 120 years.”39

The next problem arises in Genesis 6:4. As marrying and multiplying goes, on a race of giants known as Nephilim40 emerges. These men seem to be superior physical specimens, but from the following verses, we find that the moral condition of mankind was found wanting. As God looks down upon His creation, He finds that man’s wickedness is great; man’s thoughts are continually fixed on the promotion of evil (6:5). The time has finally come to deal with the mess man has made of creation.

In the past, I was involved in prison ministry. Teaching seminars inside a number of prisons was a great joy for me. The one thing I dreaded was that I might someday be asked to sit with a condemned inmate as he was being executed for his crimes. Fortunately, that never happened. If witnessing the death of a guilty criminal would be painful, think of the agony one might experience at seeing all creation put to death. One might wonder how the God who created all these living creatures could now destroy them. The answer, my friend, is to be found in the magnitude of the sin and corruption that man’s sin had brought about in creation.

Take just a moment to ponder the extent of the sin and corruption that had resulted from the fall of Adam and Eve, and the subsequent sins of their offspring. All mankind had been corrupted, as we can see from verse 5:

But the LORD saw that the wickedness of mankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time.

From morning till evening, man’s mind was filled with evil thoughts. They thought of nothing but sin. And it did not end with mere thoughts; the earth was corrupt and filled with violence (verse 11). When I looked at the use of the word “corrupt,” I found that it is the same verb often used with the meaning “to destroy” or “to render worthless” (see Genesis 9:11, 15; 13:13:10; 18:28, 32; 19:13, 14, 29; 38:9). That is what man’s sin did to the earth. Today, we might say, man “trashed” the whole earth. What this means is that God did not destroy something beautiful and useful (though He surely could have done so if He pleased); He destroyed something that was worthless and corrupt.

It has taken me some time to appreciate the fact that man’s sin really did corrupt or destroy the earth. Verse 11 tells us that the “earth” was corrupted. Man’s sin impacts everything. The land suffered corruption because of man’s sin (see Leviticus 18:25-28)41. Not only was the land corrupted, but even the living creatures:42

13 So God said to Noah, “I have decided that all living creatures43 must die, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. Now I am about to destroy them and the earth… 17 I am about to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy from under the sky all the living creatures that have the breath of life in them. Everything that is on the earth will die, …” (Genesis 6:13, 17, emphasis mine).

Good Grief

Genesis 6:3, 6-7

3 So the Lord said, “My spirit will not remain in mankind indefinitely, since they are mortal. They will remain for one hundred and twenty more years.” … 6 The Lord regretted that he had made mankind on the earth, and he felt highly offended. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—everything from mankind to animals, including creatures that move on the ground and birds of the air, for I regret that I have made them.”

Our text tells us that God was sorry that He had created man on earth and was grieved in His heart (6:6). As a result, He determined to blot out man, along with every breathing creature (6:7). Is this verse telling us that some unforeseen event caught God by surprise? Is Moses telling us that God realized that He had made a great mistake? Far from it! We see, once again, that God is intimately involved with His creation and that He cares about it passionately. God created all things, including mankind, knowing that man would fail the test in the garden. It was through the fall of man and the entrance of sin into this world that God was able to manifest His marvelous attributes:

5 And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there; and he made proclamation of the Lord by name. 6 And the Lord passed by before him and proclaimed: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, 7 keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:5-7).

It is only in the context of sin that God’s grace can be seen for all that it is. It is in contrast to the wickedness of men that the righteousness of God stands out so sharply. The misconception that many seem to have is that if God is God, then He will not allow anything to happen which causes Him sorrow or pain. We can only imagine what kind of pain God experienced as He poured out His wrath upon His Son at Calvary, as He died in our place, bearing our punishment. And yet we also know that this was a part of God’s plan that was established in eternity past.

22 “Israelite men, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed through him among you, just as you yourselves know— 23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles. 24 But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power (Acts 2:22-24).

The point I am trying to make is that God purposes some things that He knows will cause Him pain. The fact that God experienced sorrow because He had created man does not mean that He did not know mankind would fail miserably, causing Him grief. Any married couple who decides to have children should do so knowing that there will be times of great sorrow, and not just for the woman in her time of labor. God was sorry that man had become so wicked, but being sorry does not mean that He did not know the outcome of His act of creation.

Noah: A Righteous Man

Genesis 5:29; 6:9

5:28 When Lamech had lived one hundred and eighty-two years, he had a son. 29 He named him Noah, saying, “This one will bring us comfort from our labor and from the painful toil of our hands, because of the ground that the Lord has cursed.” … 6:9 This is the account of Noah. Noah was a godly man; he was blameless among his contemporaries. He walked with God.

The line of Cain went from bad (Cain) to worse (Lamech). The line of Seth held some promise. It was in Seth’s days that men began to “call upon the name of the Lord” (4:26). Enoch, one of Seth’s descendants, was a man who “walked with God,” and he was taken up into heaven (5:24). With the birth of Noah, there was a sense of expectation; his father expressed the hope that this son would bring about the reversal of the curse (5:29). He was used of God as a deliverer, and as such, he foreshadowed the great “Deliverer,” the Lord Jesus Christ. We will talk about this later on. We are told that Noah was a godly man; in the midst of a corrupt society, Noah stood out, stood alone, as a man of God. He was “blameless among his contemporaries,” a man like Enoch, who “walked with God” (6:9).

This is not to say that Noah was a perfect man, a man that God spared because he was without any sin. Noah was a sinner, whose deliverance was a matter of divine grace, rather than of human merit:

But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord (Genesis 6:8).

It was God’s grace that saved Noah. And he, like all the saints – Old Testament or New – was saved by faith:

5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he did not see death, and he was not to be found because God took him up. For before his removal he had been commended as having pleased God. 6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet seen, reverently constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith (Hebrews 11:5-7, emphasis mine).

In contrast to Adam, who disobeyed God, Noah’s faith was evident in his obedience to the commands of God:

And Noah did all that God commanded him—he did indeed (6:22).

And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him (7:5).

While Adam’s disobedience took place in a moment of time, Noah’s obedience was demonstrated by countless years of constructing the ark.

God Gives Plans and a Promise

Genesis 6:13-22

13 So God said to Noah, “I have decided that all living creatures must die, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. Now I am about to destroy them and the earth. 14 Make for yourself an ark of cypress wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you should make it: the ark is to be four hundred fifty feet long, seventy-five feet wide, and forty-five feet high. 16 Make a roof for the ark and finish it, leaving eighteen inches from the top. Put a door in the side of the ark, and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am about to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy from under the sky all the living creatures that have the breath of life in them. Everything that is on the earth will die, 18 but I will confirm my covenant with you. You will enter the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You must bring into the ark two of every kind of living creature from all flesh, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Of the birds after their kinds, and of the cattle after their kinds, and of every creeping thing of the ground after their kinds, two of every kind will come to you so you can keep them alive. 21 And you must take for yourself every kind of food that is eaten, and gather it together. It will be food for you and for them. 22 And Noah did all that God commanded him—he did indeed.

I can’t help but think of an older model of a Volvo automobile when I read these instructions concerning the construction of the ark. Someone has said of the Volvo, “It’s boxy, but it’s safe.” I think that if we’d have seen the ark we would have said, “It’s ugly (and probably boxy too), but it’s safe.” I suppose that men had learned to make boats by that time, but no one would have ever imagined the need for a craft the size of the ark. Think of it: the ark was to be 450 feet long, 75 feet in width, and 45 feet high. In our church, Mrs. Roberts’ Sunday school class measured our new building and found that it was approximately the same size, except that our church is not that tall. This was a huge craft, and from the pictures I’ve seen of its likeness, it was nothing for which Frank Lloyd Wright would want to take credit. It was, however, just what was needed.

Someone rightly remarked that the ark was a lot like our Lord Jesus. From outward appearances, our Lord was not someone whom we would have found physically attractive:

2 He sprouted up like a twig before God,
like a root out of parched soil;
he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention,
no special appearance that we should want to follow him.
3 He was despised and rejected by people,
one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness;
people hid their faces from him;
he was despised, and we considered him insignificant (Isaiah 53:2-3).

Can you imagine how the folks of Noah’s day reacted to the building of that ark! First, it was so big. Second, it was so ugly. Third, it seemed so useless. Fourth, it was offensive because of what it signified. It was an outward sign of God’s coming judgment upon the world. Noah was a most unusual “preacher.” Every day he spent working on that ark was another sermon, another warning of the coming wrath of God upon sinners. Who wanted a constant reminder of their sins and of God’s coming judgment?

That ark must have become a regular tourist site. Folks may have come from far and wide to look at it, and probably to laugh at it. They might even have come to hear this “crazy fellow,” Noah, who warned those who looked on that God was going to judge the earth. If Noah lived in our day, the city council would have tried to change the zoning laws so that the ark would have to be torn down. But bye and bye, people who lived nearby probably just began to ignore it. After all, who thought it would ever be completed? Who could imagine that it would ever be needed?

I don’t wish to say much about the ark and its appearance, but I do wish to mention that the ark was a very utilitarian vessel, and it didn’t possess some of the accessories that we might have wanted. For example, it had only one door. It seemed to have no lower windows, and perhaps an 18-inch opening at the top for ventilation (which one would need in a vessel full of animals). It seems to have had only one window,44 and from what I can tell, this window was so high that Noah could not look out from it and see the ground (or the waters) beneath the ark. You will remember that Noah had to send out a dove (from the window), to see if the waters had receded. He could not see outside for himself. And in the end, it was God who gave the instruction to leave the ark and go outside (8:15ff.).

I think all of these design features of the ark were very functional. For example, you would not want doors or windows in a vessel that needed to repel the torrential rains or which was to endure stormy waters. You would not want many places for leaks or for torrents of rain or waves to pour in. Thus, all the lower levels would have no openings, except for one door (and we’re not sure exactly where it was located). There was yet another reason for the design of the ark. Once the flood commenced and men realized that Noah had been right, they would have desperately sought to get on board the ship, but I’m convinced that its design made it impossible to do. Finally, there were no picture windows on board the ship because the sight of the storm would have been terrifying, and the sight of his neighbors perishing outside would have been too painful to witness. I believe God designed the ark so that Noah and his family would not see the destruction of all life outside the ark. I am inclined to think that this will be true in the future as well. I doubt that heaven will have a picture window, overlooking hell, so that all in heaven can watch the agony of the lost. It may be that hell has a picture window, looking toward heaven, however (see Luke 16:23).

Along with His instructions regarding the design and construction of the ark, God gave Noah a promise. The Noahic Covenant would be formalized with Noah after the flood, but God wanted to assure Noah of the outcome before the onslaught of the flood. How much easier it is to undergo trials and tests when we know the outcome ahead of time. God promised Noah that He would make a covenant with him and his family, and then instructed him to gather food and pairs of every breathing creature to put on board the ark. Of the clean animals, Noah was to take seven pairs (7:2-3); of the unclean animals, one pair each (6:19-20).

The Flood

Genesis 7:1—8:19

After many years of construction, the ark was finally completed. God commanded Noah to take the animals into the ark, and Noah did so (7:1-9). It was not until seven days had passed that the flood commenced. It would seem that it took a week to load all of the animals on board. Perhaps God was giving the animals time to settle down before the trauma of the flood came. The day that the floods did come was the day Noah and his family entered the ark, and God shut the door. The day of salvation abruptly ended for the people of the earth. For 40 days and nights, the heavens gushed with rain, and waters also emerged from beneath the earth (7:10-23). If the floodwaters came over a 40-day period, they prevailed for another 150 days (7:24).

More than six months after the flood began, God remembered those He had rescued in the ark and began the process of removing the waters. God caused a wind to pass over the earth, causing the waters to recede for a period of another 150 days (8:1-3). The ark then came to rest on the mountains of Ararat (8:4). Noah then sent out a raven, but it came back to him because the earth was not yet able to sustain life. A dove was sent out and it did not return (8:12). Noah removed the cover from the ark and looked out, but no one left the ark for almost two months (8:13-14). Finally, God gave the order to leave the ark for the ground was now dry (8:15-19).

Noah had spent years building the ark, and when he left the ark and returned to the earth, the first thing he did was to build an altar on which he sacrificed one of every clean bird and animal (8:20).45 So far as I can tell, this sacrificial offering was voluntary on the part of Noah. That is, we see no command from God that he do so. God’s response revealed His pleasure with the sacrifice. God promised never again to destroy the earth in this fashion, even though man’s sinful nature remained. The promise of uninterrupted seasons (8:22) seems to suggest that the year of the flood completely set aside all the normal characteristics of the various seasons.

The Noahic Covenant

Genesis 9:1-17

1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. 2 Every living creature of the earth and every bird of the sky will be terrified of you. Everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea are under your authority. 3 You may eat any moving thing that lives. As I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. 4 But you must not eat meat with its life (that is, its blood) in it. 5 For your lifeblood I will surely exact punishment, from every living creature I will exact punishment. From each person I will exact punishment for the life of the individual, since the man was his relative.
6 “Whoever sheds human blood
by other humans
must his blood be shed;
for in God’s image
God has made mankind.”
7 But as for you, be fruitful and multiply; increase abundantly on the earth and multiply on it.”

8 God said to Noah and his sons, 9 “Look! I now confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that is with you, including the birds, the domestic animals, and every living creature of the earth with you, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature of the earth. 11 I confirm my covenant with you: Never again will all living things be wiped out by the waters of a flood; never again will a flood destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the guarantee of the covenant I am making with you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all subsequent generations: 13 I will place my rainbow in the clouds, and it will become a guarantee of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 then I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures of all kinds. Never again will the waters become a flood and destroy all living things. 16 When the rainbow is in the clouds, I will notice it and remember the perpetual covenant between God and all living creatures of all kinds that are on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the guarantee of the covenant that I am confirming between me and all living things that are on the earth.”

This is our introduction to biblical covenants as this is the first covenant in the Bible. The Abrahamic Covenant will soon follow (Genesis 12:1-3, etc.). This is what is known as an unconditional covenant. That is, God promised to keep this covenant, regardless of what men do. In fact, we might say that this covenant is made, knowing that men will continue to sin (see 8:21). The actual promise is given in Genesis 9:9-17. It is a covenant not only between God and Noah, but between God and every living creature (9:9-10, 16). It is an “everlasting covenant,” between God and Noah, and every generation after him (9:12). It is God’s promise that He will never again judge the earth by means of a flood (9:11). The sign of the covenant, the assurance that God will keep His covenant, is the rainbow. Whenever it rains, men can look up and see the rainbow, and be reminded that this rain will not be for their destruction (indeed, the rains are the means by which God provides for their crops).

While the Noahic Covenant is not conditional, there are certain commands laid down for Noah and his descendants to keep. Noah and his family are a new beginning for mankind. To mark this new beginning, God changes some of the previous rules. At the first creation, man and animals were only to eat vegetable life, but not animals (1:30); now God tells Noah and his family that they may eat whatever meat they desire (9:3). This change in dietary rules is one of the indicators that a new covenant has been established. Thus, when the Law of Moses is given, men can no longer eat whatever meat they desire; they must eat only clean animals. And when the New Covenant is established, men may once again eat any meat they desire, except for meats offered to idols (Mark 7:14-19; Acts 10-11; 15:29; 1 Corinthians 8-10).

There is a very special command given regarding blood, however. To curb the violence that characterized the pre-flood world, God not only condemns murder; He institutes the death penalty for those who are guilty of murder (9:6). To take a man’s life is to strike out against God, for man is created in the image of God (9:6). The value of human life is established by the consequence for taking human life. The life of the murder is required for his sin. Notice that while the law will undergird the institution of capital punishment, it is established long before the Law of Moses was given.

A profound significance is attached to blood in our text. Blood is viewed as the basis for life. To shed the blood of man or animal is to deprive it of its life. Man must not shed the blood of his fellow man, and he must not eat the blood of the animals that he eats. God here attaches great significance to blood, and time will reveal just how significant blood is. The shedding of blood by means of animal sacrifices will put off the punishment for sins, and the shedding of our Lord’s blood will be the ultimate payment for sin (see Hebrews chapter 9).

The Sons of Noah and Their Father’s Shame

Genesis 9:18-27

18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Now Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the sons of Noah, and from them the whole earth was populated. 20 Noah, a man of the soil, began to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of the wine, he got drunk and uncovered himself inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers who were outside. 23 Shem and Japheth took the garment and placed it on their shoulders. Then they walked in backwards and covered up their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his drunken stupor he learned what his youngest son had done to him. 25 So he said,
“Cursed be Canaan!
The lowest of slaves
he will be to his brothers.”
26 He also said,
“Worthy of praise is the Lord, the God of Shem!
May Canaan be the slave of Shem!
27 May God enlarge Japheth’s territory and numbers!
May he live in the tents of Shem
and may Canaan be his slave!”
28 After the flood Noah lived three hundred and fifty years. 29 The entire lifetime of Noah was nine hundred and fifty years, and then he died.

This incident in Noah’s life is of no small import to mankind. First of all, it is a reminder of the fact that, while Noah was a righteous man, he was not a perfect man. It is difficult, however, to determine the degree of his culpability. Had men learned to make wine before this time? I would be inclined to think so. Did Noah become drunk accidentally, or was he responsible? I think there is some measure of culpability here. Adam went into his garden, ate of forbidden fruit, and thereby sinned. Now we see Noah planting a vineyard, eating of its fruit, getting drunk, and lying naked in his tent.

Had it not been for Noah’s youngest son, Ham, Noah’s sin would not have been as public. It may have been obvious from the sounds within the tent that Noah was drunk, but his nakedness could only be seen by someone who violated the privacy of Noah’s tent. In Noah’s drunken state, his reputation and modesty rested in the hands of his sons. Ham found Noah’s sin amusing, and he took pleasure in it, and in making it known to his brothers. Ham’s brothers seem to exemplify the words of Scripture, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8). These men did not wish to see their father’s nakedness; they would not even look at his shameful state long enough to cover him. They took Noah’s garment (“the garment,” 9:23) and walking backwards, draped it over their father in such a way that they never saw his shame.

I have heard some pretty twisted interpretations of this text, and I believe it is my duty to tell you that they don’t stand up to scrutiny. You will notice that while Ham is the youngest son (9:24) who sinned against his father, it is his youngest son, Canaan (10:6), who is cursed. Noah’s youngest son enjoys his father’s shame and calls on his brothers to witness it as well. As a curse, Ham’s youngest son, Canaan, is cursed. This is the man from whom will come the Canaanites, that incredibly immoral people who will occupy the land of Canaan, and whom the Israelites are commanded to destroy. We can see from the patriarch of the Canaanites why these people were so immoral and corrupt, and why the Israelites were not to associate with them or intermarry with them.

Lessons For the Israelites to Learn

There were many lessons for the Israelites to learn from this account of Noah and the flood. It was the first of the covenants that God made with mankind. This covenant was one that was totally bound up with the faithfulness of God and not with the faithlessness of men. This event gave some background to the Law that God gave Israel at Sinai. The basis for capital punishment is found here. The distinction between clean and unclean animals was already practiced at the time of the flood. It is yet another instance of sacrificial offerings being made to God, for His pleasure. The Noahic Covenant was the basis for Israel’s assurance that God would not wipe out the whole creation with a flood ever again.

The flood itself was an example of God’s power and His sovereignty over all creation as its Creator. God had the right and the power to destroy the earth and all that lived on it. The God who turned the chaotic watery mass into an orderly creation is the God who can reverse the process, and destroy all life on earth by means of a flood. This same God is the One who can part the waters of the Red Sea (Exodus 14), and of the Jordan River (Joshua 3), to let His people pass through. He is the God who can be trusted to supply the early and late rains, so that the Israelites’ crops will grow (Deuteronomy 11:14). God is able to make a desert in the midst of the sea, and can produce streams in the desert (Isaiah 43:19-20).

The account of the flood surely contained an important message for the Israelites concerning God’s judgment and His mercy. They were to see that God is a holy God, who will endure man’s sin for a season, to give sinners the opportunity to repent. But there will be a payday, someday. The Israelites should learn that while God is patient, He will judge sinners. This applied to the Canaanites:

12 When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep. Then great terror overwhelmed him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country. They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. 14 But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 But as for you, you will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit.” 17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking firepot with a flaming torch passed between the animal parts. 18 That day the Lord made a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites” (Genesis 15:12-21).

The Israelites were poised to possess the land of Canaan. They now understood the origin of the Canaanites, and they understood even more fully why these people must be destroyed. They must not allow them to remain in the land, and they dare not intermarry with them. The Israelites should also learn from the flood that God protects the righteous and delivers them from judgment. As in the case of Noah and his family, there may only be a remnant saved, but God will keep His promises through the preservation of a godly remnant. That He has always done:

27 And Isaiah cries out on behalf of Israel, “Though the number of the children of Israel are as the sand of the sea, only the remnant will be saved, 28 for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth completely and quickly.” 29 Just as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of armies had not left us descendants,

we would have become like Sodom,

and we would have resembled Gomorrah” (Romans 9:27-29).

Lessons for Men Today

It should go without saying that many of the lessons for the Israelites of old apply to the saints of today. But let us look back upon this text, both from our point in time and from the vantage point of the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption in Christ.

I believe this passage speaks to us about two very important and controversial issues: abortion and capital punishment. Both of these issues stem from the fact that man is created in God’s image:

“Whoever sheds human blood
by other humans
must his blood be shed;
for in God’s image
God has made mankind” (Genesis 9:6).

I have heard a lot of technical jargon used in discussing the matter of abortion. One issue often raised is the question of when life begins. I think our text may make the issue simpler than that. God says that murder is the shedding of blood. The way that man deals with blood – even the blood of slaughtered animals – is a matter of reverence for life and for God’s Word. To shed innocent blood is to strike out against God. If the life is in the blood as our text tells us (9:4),46 then life begins when there is blood. As I understand our text and its implications, any abortion that involves the shedding of the blood of the unborn child is murder, apart from extreme exceptional conditions (such as the unpleasant choice of saving the life of the baby or its mother).

Notice how our Lord later applies this principle (the life is in the blood) to man’s salvation:

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him” (John 6:51-56, emphasis mine).

The life is in the blood. Eternal life is in the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is eternal. To eat His flesh and to drink His blood is analogous to trusting in His death on the cross of Calvary as the atonement for our sins.

How often the argument is raised: “You believe abortion is wrong, and yet you are in favor of capital punishment. Isn’t that inconsistent?” It most certainly is not. Taking the life of an innocent child by abortion is murder. Taking the life of a murderer is not. It is an act of obedience to God. It is the measure of the value we place on the innocent blood that the murderer has shed. Capital punishment is not my preference; it is God’s command.47 Capital punishment is the measure of how much God values life. And in the context of Genesis 4-9, it is one means by which God restrains the violence of men.

The story of Noah’s drunkenness and nakedness and of Ham’s sin and judgment, is instructive, if we will listen. It certainly instructs us as to how we should deal with the sins of others. Love should cover a multitude of sins, just as Noah’s two sons covered the nakedness of their father. Today, we are confronted with nakedness and encouraged to enjoy it. Pornography is but one sordid part of a much larger problem. We should seek to avoid seeing sin and nakedness with great effort. We should be much more like Noah’s two sons, and much less like Ham. And we, men and women alike, should remember that clothing was given to us to cover our nakedness, not to call attention to it. What Noah did in his drunken state, many people do with conscious intent. How often we are “naked and not ashamed,” and it is nothing like the pre-fallen state of Adam and Eve.

Peter uses the Old Testament account of Noah and of the flood to make an important statement to New Testament saints:

1 But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves. 2 And many will follow their debauched lifestyles. Because of these false teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation pronounced long ago is not sitting idly by; their destruction is not asleep. 4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them into hell and locked them up in chains in utter darkness, to be kept until the judgment, 5 and if he did not spare the ancient world, but did protect Noah, a herald of righteousness, along with seven others, when God brought a flood on an ungodly world, 6 and if he turned to ashes the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah when he condemned them to destruction, having appointed them to serve as an example to future generations of the ungodly, 7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man in anguish over the debauched lifestyle of lawless men, 8 (for while he lived among them day after day, that righteous man was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) 9 —if so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials, and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment at the day of judgment, 10 especially those who indulge their fleshly desires and who despise authority (2 Peter 2:1-10a).

Just a little later in his epistle, Peter tells us that wicked men will mock at God’s warnings of divine judgment:

3 Above all, understand this: in the last days blatant scoffers will come, being propelled by their own evil urges 4 and saying, “Where is his promised coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately suppress this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water. 6 Through these things the world existing at that time was destroyed when it was deluged with water. 7 But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly (2 Peter 3:3-7).

Our Lord likewise informs us that in the last days, men will be oblivious to the coming wrath of God:

22 Then he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 Then people will say to you, ‘Look, there he is!’ or ‘Look, here he is!’ Do not go out or chase after them. 24 For just like the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 People were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage—right up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot, people were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building; 29 but on the day Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 It will be the same on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day, anyone who is on the roof, with his goods in the house, must not come down to take them away, and likewise the person in the field must not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! (Luke 17:22-32).

Jesus tells us that in Noah’s day, men had no sense of impending judgment. This was not because they had no warning. There was the ark in their sight, and Noah, whose works and words were a sermon. In spite of all the warnings, men went on with their lives as though there were no danger. It is as though Satan had said to them once again, “Thou shall surely not die!” The flood is a strong reminder that the promised judgment of God will most certainly come. God knows how to spare the righteous, but He also knows how to “reserve the unrighteous for punishment at the day of judgment.”

I love the fact that Peter calls Noah a “preacher (or herald) of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). I don’t believe that Noah had a pulpit, or that he went about the city with a sandwich board with words of condemnation on it. I believe Noah was a preacher of righteousness by the way he lived his life. Day after day, Noah lived in accordance with the Word of God. He believed that there would be a flood, even though he had never seen one. He believed that the ark was God’s means for saving him and his family. His lifestyle loudly proclaimed that he was living his life in the light of the future, as God had declared it. I wonder how many people would be indicted by our lifestyle. Do we live as though all of the material things of this life will be burned with fire? Do we live in a way that seeks to warn sinners about the coming judgment of God? Noah is a man we should imitate, not by building an ark, but by living as though biblical prophecy is true. There is a greater day of judgment coming upon the whole world. God will spare us from His wrath, but sinners will surely perish. Let us live as though this is true.

As I was preparing this lesson, it occurred to me that the Noahic Covenant is very relevant to saints today. We would not be here if it were not for this covenant. The Noahic Covenant was not just for the benefit of Noah, or even the Israelites of Moses’ day. The Noahic Covenant was the divine assurance that God would never again bring universal judgment upon sin by destroying the world until He did so in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is very clear in Genesis that man persisted in his sin after the flood. When God promised that He would not destroy the world with a flood, He knew that men were sinners from birth. But this covenant assured men that He would not bring universal judgment upon this world until He did so in the person of Jesus Christ. When our Lord died upon the cross of Calvary, He was bearing the wrath of God for sinners. How often this world should have been wiped out in divine judgment from the days of Noah until the time of the cross, but God patiently waited for the day when His Son would die on the cross of Calvary. Our Lord will return, and this time it will be to judge the world, but only after He has made atonement for man’s sin, and after men have rejected the offer of salvation.

As I was reading one of the better commentaries on our text in Genesis, the writer made a point of the fact (as he saw it) that all of Noah’s family was righteous – that they were the righteous remnant God spared. He went on to say that they all obeyed God’s commandments. But as I looked at the text, it did not say this:

The Lord said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, for I consider you godly among this generation (Genesis 7:1, emphasis and comments mine).

The New American Standard Bible reads this way:

Then the LORD said to Noah, “Enter the ark, you and all your household; for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.

The word alone is in italics because the translators supplied it. They included it because “you” is singular, not plural. Noah’s family is not saved because they are righteous, but because Noah, alone, is righteous. And if there is any question about this, Ezekiel makes it most clear:

12 The word of the Lord came to me: 13 “Son of man, when a country sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it, and break its staff of bread, cause it to experience famine, and kill both man and beast in it, 14 even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would save only their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord. 15 “If I were to send wild animals through the land and they killed its children, and it became desolate so that no one traveled across it because of the animals, 16 as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if these three men were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters; they would save only their own lives, and the land would be devastated. 17 “Or if I were to bring the sword of war against that land and say, ‘Let a sword pass through the land,’ and I kill both man and beast in it, 18 even though these three men were in it, as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, they could not save their own sons or daughters, they would save only their own lives. 19 “Or if I should send a pestilence into that land, and poured out my furious anger on it with bloodshed, to kill both man and beast in it, 20 even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, they could not save their own sons or daughters; they would save only their own lives by their righteousness (Ezekiel 14:12-20, emphasis mine).

The point could hardly be made more plainly. Noah’s family was saved because Noah was righteous, not because they were righteous. The righteousness of this one man made him a righteous remnant of one. His family was a remnant, but because of his righteousness, not theirs. Think of it for a moment. In all the world of that day, there was only one man that God could call righteous. And that one man was the salvation of the human race. Because of Noah’s righteousness, his family was spared, and by means of his family, the earth was repopulated.

Is this not a picture of Christ? In all the history of mankind, there has never been one man who was truly and totally righteous, save One, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is because of His righteousness that any man can be saved. It was because He alone was righteous that His sacrifice on the cross of Calvary can pay the debt for our sins. He was the “spotless Lamb of God,” who takes away the sins of the world. When we observe communion, we use unleavened bread. This is to symbolize the fact that He was without sin. It is because He was without sin that He could die for our sins. Noah was a prototype of Christ because he showed us that men can be saved by One man, who is truly righteous.

The story of Noah in Genesis is about the judgment of God, but the emphasis falls on God’s salvation of Noah and his family. We are not given a graphic description of the cries of the wicked, as they pled for mercy, or their efforts to cling to the ark. We are taken inside the ark, and not outside. But having emphasized the salvation of God, we dare not overlook or minimize His judgment on the earth.

We have a miniature “Noah’s ark” in our house, and our little granddaughter, Lindsey Grace, loves it. She cannot play with it by herself, so she has to ask one of us to take it down for her, so that she can look at it. She loves that ark and can name all the animals whose heads protrude from it. But I have to tell you that the story of Noah and the ark is not really a “cute story.” It was not written so little children could look at animals, as though they were going to the zoo. It is the story of man’s sin, and of divine judgment, and the salvation of a few because of One man. Let us never forget the sobering message of this story.


38 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on November 12, 2000.

39 Some conclude from this that it took 120 years to build the ark. I think that’s possible, but I’m not certain that I hold to this dogmatically. I’m sure it did take a good while to build that ark, however.

40 I said earlier that I would not spend any time on the identity of the Nephilim. In my series on the Book of Genesis, I concluded that the Nephilim were a super race, the product of the union of the “daughters of men” and the “sons of God” (i.e., fallen angels). This may be the case, but when our Lord speaks of the days of Noah, he simply refers to the normal processes of life, including marriage, but makes no reference to angels (see Matthew 24:37-39; Luke 17:26-27). This causes me to be somewhat less certain about the identity of the Nephilim. I am also troubled a bit by the fact that the Nephilim reappear in Numbers 13:33. If this super-race was the result of a union of angels and women, why did it reappear?

41 The Hebrew word is not the same here as in Genesis 6, but the concept is the same, in my opinion.

42 I would rather not pursue this matter thoroughly at this point in time. Suffice it to say that man’s sin corrupts everything it touches. This is why God commanded the Israelites to kill all the Canaanites and their animals (see Deuteronomy 20:16-18).

43 Literally, the expression is “all flesh.” We would err in assuming that “flesh” is limited to human beings, for it is also employed with reference to the animal kingdom (see 6:19; 7:15, 16, 21).

44 See Moses’ reference to “the window” in Genesis 8:6.

45 One cannot help but be fascinated with how much of the Law of Moses is anticipated early in the Book of Genesis. There are animal sacrifices made, both by Abel and now by Noah. There is the first observance of the Sabbath by God (Genesis 2:1-3). And now we find a distinction between “clean” and “unclean” animals. The Law of Moses did not introduce everything as something new. Some things were already in place and were merely ratified by the law.

46 See also Leviticus 17:11, 14; Deuteronomy 12:23.

47 This is not to say that every execution is just, and that condemned murderers have been given due process of law. I believe that there is inequity in the legal system, weighted in favor of those who are rich, and against the poor. But having said this, I must recognize and respect God’s command here that those who shed blood should suffer the shedding of their own blood.

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4. The Confusion of Languages at Babel (Genesis 10:1-11:25)

Genesis 10:1—11:25

Introduction

The genealogies have never been the best-read portions of the Word of God. Ray Stedman tells the story of an old Scots minister who was reading from the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.

He started reading, “Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac beget Jacob, and Jacob begat Judah,” and he looked on ahead and saw the list to follow and said, “and they kept on begetting one another all the way down this page and halfway into the next.”49

Genealogies may seem uninteresting (a nice word for boring), but they are very important. Suppose, for example, that you were to receive a phone call from a lawyer. He identifies himself and informs you that he is handling the estate of a very wealthy man who recently passed away, and who had only one living relative. If that lawyer were to ask you to give the names of your parents and grandparents, I’m sure that genealogies would suddenly become fascinating material.

The early chapters of the Book of Genesis seem to abound with genealogies. After the account of the fall of man, God pronounces curses upon Adam and Eve and their offspring, as well as upon Satan. But God also gives a very important prophecy of the coming of the Messiah – the seed of the woman – who would destroy Satan:

“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15, NASB).

In Genesis 4, we read of Cain killing his brother Abel, which is followed by a genealogy of the descendants of Cain in 4:16-24. This genealogy takes us from Cain to Lamech, who married two wives and boasted of killing a boy. This ungodly line terminates at the flood.

Genesis 5 follows with the genealogy of Seth, God’s replacement for Abel. Moses follows the line of Seth through men like Enosh, Enoch, and Methuselah to Lamech, and finally to Noah. The account of Noah and the flood is recorded in Genesis 6-9, which is immediately followed by another genealogy in chapter 10. After the account of the confusion of languages in Genesis 11:1-9, Moses gives us yet another genealogy in Genesis 11:10-32. I think we would all have to agree that Moses believed these genealogies were important to our understanding of the origins of the human race. Most of all, some of these genealogies will trace the line through which the promised Messiah will come.

The contribution of the genealogies may become more evident when we compare the genealogy of Cain (Genesis 4:16-24) with that of Seth (Genesis 5:1-32):

 

The Genealogy of Cain

The Genealogy of Seth

   

No mention of death (it’s the last thing we talk about)

Death is frequently mentioned

   

From one murderer (Cain) to another (Lamech)

From Seth to Noah

   

Enoch, Cain’s son, after whom a city is named

Enoch, walked with God and was no more

   

Lamech – had tow wives and murdered a boy

Lamech – saw his son as the key to removing the curse

   

Emphasis on technological achievements

Emphasis on faith, walking with God

   

Ends at the flood

Does not end at flood. Noah is deliverer.

 

Both of these genealogies end with the flood, but in a very different manner. The flood will wipe out Cain’s line; Seth’s line will be preserved through Noah.

The Genealogies of Shem, Ham, and Japheth

Genesis 10:1-32

Time does not permit us to study this genealogy as much as we would like, but let me make several observations.

Genesis 10 and 11 are not in chronological order. The events described in Genesis 10 occur after the confusion of tongues at Babel. This is evident by the fact that in 10:20 and 10:31 we are told that the division of the sons of Shem, Ham, and Japheth are according to their languages. This division according to language could only occur after the confusion of tongues. The genealogy in chapter 10 is thus deliberately placed ahead of those events that brought it to pass.

The account of the confusion of tongues in 11:1-9 serves as a divider between two genealogies. The genealogy in Genesis 10 is deliberately out of chronological order because Moses wanted the account of the confusion of tongues to serve as a dividing line in the genealogy of Shem. Eber, a descendant of Shem, had two sons, Peleg and Joktam (10:25). In Genesis 10:21-31, the line of Shem is traced through Joktam. After the account of the confusion of languages at Babel, Moses traces the line of Shem through Eber’s other son, Peleg (11:10-26). It is through this line that Abraham’s genealogy is traced.

The genealogy of Genesis 10 includes some very significant historical notes. Moses pauses momentarily with Nimrod, one of the descendants of Ham. We are told that Nimrod was a mighty hunter, and that the beginning of his kingdom was Babel (10:8-12). Nimrod, in other words, was a city builder and the founder of the city of Babel. We have already been prepared for something evil, so far as this city of Babel is concerned. We are given the names of the sons of Canaan, and each of these sons becomes the patriarch of one of the Canaanite nations with whom the Israelites must later deal:

15 Canaan was the father of Sidon his firstborn, Heth, 16 the Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, 17 Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, 18 Arvadites, Zemarites, and Hamathites. Eventually the families of the Canaanites were scattered (Genesis 10:15-18).

18 That day the Lord made a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites” (Genesis 15:18-21).

The genealogy of Genesis 10 spells out many of the offspring of Noah, who then populate the world. The sons of Japheth are dealt with first and somewhat abruptly. This is because they will be the most distant peoples from the Israelites. They make up the Indo-Europeans, which is the ancestry of many Americans.50 The Greeks were a part of the line of Japheth. The descendants of Ham make up those peoples who are in closer proximity to the Israelites – the Babylonians, Assyrians, Ninevites, and Egyptians. Then, as we noted above, the sons of Canaan will become the Canaanites, who must be expelled from the Promised Land. The descendants of Shem will become known as the Semites. This is the line from which Abraham will come (11:10-26).

While we do not have the time to study the genealogies more carefully, I can assure you that they are a very rich topic for study. I would strongly recommend John Sailhamer’s book51 to assist you in your study of the genealogies of Genesis, and of the Pentateuch as a whole.

The Confusion of Languages at Babel

Genesis 11:1-9

1 The whole earth had a common language and a common vocabulary. 2 When the people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 3 Then they said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” (They had brick instead of stone and tar instead of mortar.) 4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise we will be scattered across the face of the entire earth.” 5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the people had started building. 6 And the Lord said, “If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them. 7 Come, let’s go down and confuse their language so they won’t be able to understand each other.” 8 So the Lord scattered them from there across the face of the entire earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why its name was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the entire world, and from there the Lord scattered them across the face of the entire earth.

Moses begins by informing the reader that at this time, there was but one language, with a single vocabulary.52 The ability to speak the same language enabled men to work together, for good or evil. When God first created the earth, He gave this command:

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28).

It would seem that men are actively working at populating the earth in the early verses of Genesis 6. The problem was that they were filling the earth with wicked people. As a result, God had to wipe out all life and begin again after the flood. After the flood, he repeated the command given in Genesis 1:28:

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

When we come to Genesis 11, we find that men have moved eastward to the land of Shinar, the land to which Daniel would later be taken as a captive (Daniel 1:2). Here, they determined to settle down and to build a city. Building a city and settling down was not fulfilling the command of God to spread out and fill the earth. It was a willful act of disobedience to God’s command. The people condemn themselves with their own words:

3 Then they said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” (They had brick instead of stone and tar instead of mortar.) 4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens53 so that we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise we will be scattered across the face of the entire earth” (Genesis 9:3-4, emphasis mine).

These folks feared the very thing that God commanded them to do. They dreaded being spread out over the earth. They wanted to live in close proximity to one another. They preferred city life to a more nomadic lifestyle. We are not told what these folks expected to gain from living together in a city, but it is not difficult to believe that one thing a well-built city would provide was protection. There was security in the city and danger in the more distant places. These folks were nothing like Christopher Columbus. They had no adventuresome inclinations. They wanted to build a strong city with a tower. They also wanted to make a name for themselves. In short, they wanted security and significance. God looked down on this tower and saw where mankind was headed. If men were allowed to collaborate with each other, they would only accelerate their downward plunge into sin.

At first glance, the language of 11:5 may seem to suggest that God was not aware of the building of Babel until it became quite obvious. It could look to an outsider as though God were out of touch with current events in His world, and that He didn’t take note of what was happening until things had gotten out of hand. Looking down, one could suppose, God noted what was going on. I used to agonize about this wording, until I began to view it from the point of view of Moses, the human author. These men of Babel thought they were doing something awesome, something remarkable. They were building an incredible city with a tower that reached into the heavens, making a great name for themselves. But Moses describes this event as though God hardly noticed it; not that He was unaware, but that it was so insignificant! Men thought their work was awesome. When God looked down upon it, it was almost as though He had said, “Oh, isn’t that a cute little city and tower. I’ll have to stoop way down to see it.” The words of Psalm 113 put Moses’ description into its proper perspective:

3 From east to west

the Lord’s name is deserving of praise.
4 The Lord is exalted over all the nations;
his splendor reaches beyond the sky.
5 Who can compare to the Lord our God,
who sits on a high throne?
6 He bends down to look
at the sky and the earth (Psalm 113:3-6).

Men were getting “too big for their britches,” and it was time for God to intervene. Left to themselves, they would go too far with their sin. In my opinion, God’s description of man’s potential is almost tongue-in-cheek:

And the Lord said, “If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them” (Genesis 11:6).

This is certainly the way we would like to think of ourselves, isn’t it? It is something like the attitude which some displayed after man first walked on the moon. We began to suppose that man could do anything he set his mind to, especially if the Russians and the Americans pooled their technological expertise.

But in this exaggeration of man’s potential (his potential for evil is exceedingly great), Moses is contrasting man’s great potential with the wisdom and power of the Almighty God. God hardly lifts a finger, so to speak. With one simple act, God abruptly “pulls the plug” on man’s great exhibition of his own greatness. God merely confuses their language, and it’s all over.

What a scene this must have been! Can’t you just imagine what it would have been like? The workers are busily building, talking with one another as they do. “Hey, Sam, hand me a few more bricks, will you?” The architects are putting their heads together to work out some engineering problem. Suddenly, one man is speaking one language, and the other cannot understand a word he is saying. It would have been mass confusion. Based on chapter 10, I am of the opinion that various languages may have been distributed according to family (genealogical) lines. The Canaanites, for example, would have spoken one language, the Semites (Shemites) another. I can imagine people walking about, looking for someone speaking their own language. And finally all those speaking one language (in my opinion, one family line) would finally go off on their own, leaving the other folks to themselves, and to their languages.

In the light of Genesis 11:1-9, chapter 10 takes on a whole new light. How did all these people get disbursed over the whole earth? Abandoning their project and spreading out over the earth wasn’t their conscious choice to obey the command of God; it was their only option, given their divinely-appointed circumstances. Moses deliberately sets verses 8 and 9 against verse 4. Did the people of Babel seek to prevent being “scattered across the face of the entire earth”? They would be anyway. Moses does not tell us this once; he repeats this statement twice: “So the Lord scattered them from there across the face of the entire earth” (see verses 8 and 9). As the saying goes, “Man proposes; God disposes.” Those who seek to thwart the will of God will someday realize that they are “kicking against the goads” (Acts 26:14).

The Lesson of Babel for the Israelites of Old

There are a number of themes that Moses has been developing in the Book of Genesis, and the incident at Babel contributes to them. There is the theme of blessing and cursing. God created the earth as something good, and it was on His good creation that He pronounced His blessing. In the Garden of Eden, God provided a test of man’s faith and obedience. If Adam and his wife trusted God’s Word and obeyed His command, then they would eat of the tree of life and avoid the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam chose to disregard and to disobey God’s command, and thus he experienced the curse, rather than the blessing of living forever in the garden. After Adam, those who walked with God experienced His blessings (e.g., Enoch), and those who disregarded God’s Word were cursed (e.g., Cain). Through Noah, God brought blessings to him, to his family, and to all mankind (the human race was saved through Noah). The wickedness of men in Noah’s day brought God’s curse upon them. The line of Canaan was cursed because of the sin of Ham. Had the descendants of Noah obeyed God by spreading out and filling the earth, they would have been blessed. But because they sought to thwart God’s command, the people of Babel were cursed with a confusion of languages. All of this prepares us for Abraham, through whom all the nations will be blessed, but those who curse him will be cursed (Genesis 12:1-3). The same can be said of the Mosaic Covenant. Those who obeyed God’s commands would be blessed (Deuteronomy 28:1-14); those who disregarded it would be cursed (see Deuteronomy 28:15-68; see also 30:1, 19). God wants us to see that blessing comes from obedience to God’s Word, and that curses come on those who disobey.

There is the theme of separation. God created the world by separating one thing from another: light from darkness; land from water; heaven from earth. God distinguished man from all other living creatures by creating him in His image. God instructed Adam and Eve to distinguish between the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam and Eve sinned, God separated them from the garden. God not only distinguished between male and female, He distinguished between clean and unclean (see Genesis 7:2-3). And now, God separates the human race into various language groups. Soon, Abraham will be set apart from all others. His offspring, the Israelites, will likewise be set apart from the world.

There is another subtle theme evident in the early chapters of Genesis. God commanded man to “spread out,” but man’s natural inclination was to do the opposite. Thus we see the “city builders” of old to be those of the ungodly line (Cain, 4:16-17; Nimrod, 10:8-12). Men tended to huddle together, rather than to spread out, as God had commanded. Men were inclined toward city life, rather than to deal with the challenges of rural life. It is fascinating to see that in the Pentateuch54 fallen men tended to move eastward. When Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden, it appears that they went east, since the angel was stationed at the east gate of the garden to prevent them from entering. When Cain fled, he fled eastward from the presence of the (Lord 4:16). The descendants of Ham migrated to the east also (10:30), as did those who came to settle in Babel (11:2). Thus, when we see movement eastward, we can expect that this move will not be for the better.

All of these things will reverse with Abraham. He will leave the land to the east and travel to the west to the Promised Land. He will not live in the city, but as a nomad. He will not even be allowed to remain in the safety and comfort of his family. He must go out, not seeking to make a name for himself (like those of Babel), but trusting in God, who promised to make his name great (Genesis 12:2). He well knew that God had not chosen him because of his impressive lineage. Abraham would find God to be faithful to His every promise. And Abraham would learn that trouble came from disobedience, while blessings came from obedience.

The city of Babel is introduced to the reader in chapter 10 (verses 8-10) and is further characterized in 11:1-9. This was a wicked city that would have much to do with Israel’s future. It is the place where Daniel will be taken as a captive. It will become a symbol of wickedness, to which later wicked governments will be likened. Cities, like men, tend to reflect and amplify their origins throughout the rest of their existence. The city of Babel was off to a very bad start, and things would only get worse.

The incident at Babel had some very practical ramifications. The spreading out of the citizens of Babel was not due to their obedience, but due to the confusion of their language. This prompted the people to spread out throughout the earth. The various nations that are named in chapters 10 and 11 will each have their own language and their own culture. As the Israelites deal with some of these nations in the years to come, they should remember their origin. And in so doing, they should appreciate the way that God chose to bring about the fulfillment of His promises and purposes.

The alliance of these citizens of Babel is for the purpose of opposing God and striving to make a name for themselves. This kind of unity is far from godly. It is like the temporary alliance of the Pharisees with the Sadducees, and even with Rome. It could not last for long, and it could accomplish no good. They united on the basis of one common factor – their hatred of Jesus. The Israelites will often be tempted to make unholy alliances with their surrounding neighbors and with larger nations like Egypt. Let them learn from the incident at Babel that unholy alliances only get them into trouble.

Lessons for Saints in Every Age

At the moment that I am writing this lesson, wars are taking place all around the world. A number of years ago I heard former President Jimmy Carter speak at Wheaton College. He said that at that moment, the Carter Center was monitoring over 70 wars worldwide. Any day we pick up our newspaper, we can read about conflict between nations. Much of this conflict is the result of nationalism, and this nationalism is the result of differing languages and cultures. The confusion of tongues at Babel resulted in conflict and strife and since that time, it has kept men from successfully uniting together in rebellion against God. This brief account in Genesis explains how the world is what it is today.

At Babel, men wanted to make a name for themselves, to build a monument to themselves. I think this was their very distorted way of seeking a kind of immortality. No longer were men living nearly a thousand years. Life was getting shorter all the time. When they were gone, who would remember them? How could they leave some kind of legacy, some monument, to be remembered by?55 This city and its tower was the answer, in their minds.

Ever since, men have been making similar efforts. The pharaohs constructed pyramids, and others have attempted to leave some other evidence of their existence and of their greatness. But all of this is futile. The solution to the penalty of death is eternal life, not leaving some monument behind. As I read this text, written by Moses, I could not help but be reminded of the psalm Moses wrote, which is included in the Psalms. In my opinion, Moses probably penned this psalm as the first generation of Israelites was dying off in the wilderness:

Psalm 90

A prayer of Moses, the man of God.
1 O sovereign Master, you have been our protector through all generations!
2 Even before the mountains came into existence,
or you brought the world into being,
you were the eternal God.
3 You make mankind return to the dust,
and say, “Return, O people!”
4 Yes, in your eyes a thousand years
are like yesterday that quickly passes,
or like one of the divisions of the nighttime.
5 You bring their lives to an end and they “fall asleep.”
In the morning they are like the grass that sprouts up;
6 in the morning it glistens and sprouts up;
at evening time it withers and dries up.
7 Yes, we are consumed by your anger;
we are terrified by your wrath.
8 You are aware of our sins;
you even know about our hidden sins.
9 Yes, throughout all our days we experience your raging fury;
the years of our lives pass quickly, like a sigh.
10 The days of our lives add up to seventy years,
or eighty, if one is especially strong.
But even one’s best years are marred by trouble and oppression.
Yes, they pass quickly and we fly away.
11 Who can really fathom the intensity of your anger?
Your raging fury causes people to fear you.
12 So teach us to consider our mortality,
so that we might live wisely.
13 Turn back toward us, O Lord!
How long must this suffering last?
Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your loyal love!
Then we will shout for joy and be happy all our days!
15 Make us happy in proportion to the days you have afflicted us,
in proportion to the years we have experienced trouble!
16 May your servants see your work!
May their sons see your majesty!
17 May our sovereign God extend his favor to us!
Make our endeavors successful!
Yes, make them successful! (Psalm 90:1-17)

It is the words of the last verse that capture my attention: “Make our endeavors successful! Yes, make them successful!” More literally, “Confirm (or give permanence – note the margin of the NASB) the work of our hands.” How is it that our work, our efforts, can have permanence? Jesus told us:

19 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Nothing that we attempt to store up on earth will last. Only that which is laid up for us in heaven will endure. Thus, we must be about God’s work, doing those things that are eternal. When we invest in God’s kingdom, we invest in something that will last forever. When we share the gospel and see men and women come to Christ, we have eternal fruit. In short, when we do what God says, we invest in the eternal. Our lives are short, and they will end, but what is done for our Lord will last for all eternity.

One of the things men put their confidence in today is technology. In the realm of technology, the world has come a very long way. But all too often the amazing advances in technology have been embraced as a means of sinning more swiftly and effectively. God has always found ways to show men that technology that rests in the hands of sinners is deadly. Our significance and our security will never be rightly based upon our technology; it can only be found in our identity, in being in Christ. Enoch walked with God, and bypassed death (Genesis 5:24). Noah found favor with God , and walked with God (Genesis 6:8-9). It is only when we forsake every effort to save ourselves, and cease striving to be God-like through our own efforts, that we can enter into the salvation He has accomplished for us.

Let’s be honest about the fact that God’s will sometimes appears foreboding and threatening. God’s command was for man to spread out and fill the earth. Unbelieving men saw this as their worst nightmare. What was pleasing to God was distasteful to the men and women of Babel. Those outside of the faith need to be warned that the path of sin and disobedience leads to death (see Proverbs 1; Romans 6:16f.). Those who have come to faith need to realign their desires and pleasures so that what is pleasing to God is our pleasure as well.56 When we view God’s will as contrary to our best interests, we will seek to find an unbiblical “way of escape,” such as the building of a city with a tower. Those who seek to avoid God’s clear commands will ultimately57 find their way troublesome, and this is because they have set themselves in opposition to the omnipotent God:

1 Why do the nations cause a commotion?
Why are the countries devising plots that will fail?
2 The kings of the earth form a united front;
the rulers collaborate
against the Lord and his chosen king.
3 They say, “Let’s tear off the shackles they’ve put on us!
Let’s free ourselves from their ropes!”
4 The one enthroned in heaven laughs in disgust;
the sovereign Master taunts them.
5 Then he angrily speaks to them
and terrifies them in his rage.
6 He says, “I myself have installed my king
on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 The king says, “I will tell you what the Lord decreed. He said to me:
‘You are my son! This very day I have become your father!
8 You have only to ask me,
and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
the ends of the earth as your personal property.
9 You will break them with an iron scepter;
you will smash them as if they were a potter’s jar.’”
10 So now, you kings, do what is wise!
You rulers of the earth, submit to correction!
11 Serve the Lord in fear!
Repent in terror!
12 Give sincere homage!
Otherwise he will be angry,
and you will die because of your behavior,
when his anger quickly ignites.
How happy are all who take shelter in him! (Psalm 2:1-2)

The message of this psalm is simply to cease striving against God and to submit to Him. Trust in the salvation He has provided in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and be spared from His coming wrath on His enemies. Those who take shelter in Him will be blessed.

Our text in Genesis tells us that unity, in and of itself, is not necessarily good. It was a unity based upon uniformity. These folks spoke the same language and had the same vocabulary. They all wished to avoid being spread about the earth. Some churches seek to attain unity at the expense of the truth. There are those with whom Christians cannot be yoked (see 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Some churches seek to attain a semblance of unity by the use of “homogeneous grouping.” It is based upon the human principle that “birds of a feather flock together.” If we can gather a group that is largely made up of one race, of one culture, of one segment of society, then we think we will have unity. True Christian unity is best demonstrated in the context of true diversity: diversity socially, diversity ethnically, diversity culturally, diversity economically, diversity in spiritual gifts, diversity in convictions, and diversity in ministry. This is one of the things I appreciate about our church. We do not have as much diversity as I would like to see, but we can look out into the congregation and see those of a different color, of nationality, of economic status, of spiritual gifts, of convictions, and of ministries. I pray that there will be more of this diversity, and that in this diversity we will demonstrate true unity.

If man’s collective disobedience brought about the confusion of languages, and ultimately strife among different people and language groups, it is the obedience of one person who can reverse it. Jesus Christ came to this earth at His incarnation, adding perfect humanity to His undiminished deity. In obedience to His Father’s will, He died on the cross of Calvary, making atonement once for all for sin. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost and the phenomenon of tongues after our Lord’s resurrection was a kind of firstfruits of things to come. At Pentecost, men of many nations were gathered, and they heard God praised in their own languages (Acts 2:1-13). If the sin of men in opposition to God brought about the confusion of languages, the obedience of Christ in submission to the Father brought about the first signs of restoration, evidence of the future reversal of the incident at Babel.

The story of Babel sounds “long ago and far away,” but it is really not as distant and removed as we might think. We do not have the same mandate to spread out and fill the earth, because this has happened. But we do have a similar command:

18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

We are command to go58 into all the world with the message of the gospel. I think that many of us seek to find ways to avoid going – perhaps not across the ocean, but at least across the street. I am not saying that every Christian needs to leave the place where they are and to go to some foreign land with the gospel. I am saying that we should all be willing to go, and we should encourage those who desire to go. We, too, like the security of the “nest” where we are. We do not huddle in a city, with a tower, but in a church (sometimes with a tower). We need to be careful to consistently gather for instruction, mutual edification, and worship (Hebrews 10:24-25), but we also need to go “outside the camp:”

10 We have an altar that those who serve in the tabernacle have no right to eat from. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood the high priest brings into the sanctuary as an offering for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore, to sanctify the people by his own blood, Jesus also suffered outside the camp. 13 We must go out to him, then, outside the camp, bearing the abuse he experienced. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Hebrews 13:10-14, emphasis mine).

Those of us who are parents know the reluctance of sending our children into places of danger. Let us not be found guilty of the same sin as that of the people of Babel.

For now, the confusion of languages at Babel has many implications for those who do choose to go into the world with the good news of the gospel. It means that we must learn to understand and to appreciate the culture of other people groups. It means that we must learn the language of those to whom we are taking the gospel. It means that there are many obstacles to be overcome, such as nationalism and prejudice (theirs, and ours). I believe that when God gave His Spirit to the church, He gave Him so that we would be empowered to proclaim the gospel cross-culturally.

There is one final lesson from our text I would like to point out in closing: God is exceedingly gracious to hinder us from pursuing sin as rapidly and successfully as we are capable of doing. God’s covenant with Noah had some very profound implications. How quickly the whole world had deteriorated to the point that it had to be destroyed. We see that after the flood it would not have taken long for mankind to have returned to its former state of decay, which would have needed to be removed once again. But when God promised not to destroy the whole world again in this fashion, I believe it meant He would somehow restrain man’s sinful tendencies until the time when He would send the Savior, on whom God’s judgment would fall. (There will then be a future judgment for those who fail to accept the provision of salvation in Christ.)

Thank God for hindering man’s sinfulness. He did this in various ways. He “hindered” Adam and Eve from living in the garden after their fall, so that they would not eat of the tree of life and live forever in their sinful state. He reduced man’s lifespan, so that rather than living for nearly 1,000 years (as we see in Genesis 5), his lifespan would finally be reduced to 70 or 80 years (remember that it was Moses who wrote this in Psalm 90:10). In Genesis 9, God also instituted capital punishment for murder (which strongly suggests that this penalty does hinder violence). With the flood, God wiped out a race that had gone entirely bad (except for one man). Now, God has brought about the confusion of languages, so that men cannot so easily conspire together to resist God. The giving of the law will be another form of restraint on man’s sinful inclinations (see Galatians 3:15-29; note especially verse 19).

Have there ever been times in your life when you really wanted something and God seemed to be putting obstacles in your path, keeping you from what you desired? Did you feel as though God was against you, rather than for you? This text tells me that I should thank God for all those times when He has stood in my way, not unlike the way the “angel of the LORD” stood in the path of Balaam (Numbers 22:21-25). I wonder how many times God hindered me from sinning, in ways I never recognized as His hand? Thank God for standing in our way when we desire to do what is contrary to His will.


48 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on November 19, 2000.

49 Ray Stedman, The Beginnings (Waco: Word Books, 1978), p.47.

50 “The list begins with those nations that are considered the ‘islands of the nations’ (v. 5). They are the nations that make up the geographical horizon of the author, the outer fringe of the known world, a kind of third world over against the nations of Ham (Canaan) and Shem.” John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), p. 131.

51 John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative. See footnote above.

52 It is one thing to be able to speak English, but having the same vocabulary is essential as well. Some of you may overhear me speaking to a fellow computer nerd about “megs” and “ram” and “rom” and “dims” and have no idea what we are talking about. We have the same language, but not the same vocabulary. Every technical field has its own jargon, known only to an insider. The same is also true for our teenagers.

53 It may be that false worship was one of the goals of the people of Babel, but this is not clearly spelled out by Moses. To “reach into the heavens” was simply an expression meaning “tall.”

54 The first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

55 The Bible has little good to say about monuments. Memorials is quite a different matter (See, for example, Exodus 12:14; 17:14; 28:12; Joshua 4:7). Saul built a memorial to himself, at the time of his disobedience (1 Samuel 15:12). Absalom built one for himself (2 Samuel 18:18). Nebuchadnezzar had a golden image (of himself?) made, before which all were required to bow down (Daniel 3).

56 See 2 Corinthians 5:9; Ephesians 5:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; Hebrews 13:21; 1 John 3:22.

57 I say “ultimately” because it may appear that their way is smooth for a time, but in the end it will be troublesome (see Psalm 73).

58 I am well aware of the fact that this word “go” is a participle, and not a verb in the imperative mood. It should be remembered, however, that participles are not infrequently used with imperatival force. The necessity of “going” with the gospel should not be understated. See also Romans 10:13-15.

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5. Abraham's Call and God's Covenant (Genesis 11:26-17:27)

Genesis 11:26—17:27

Introduction

A good many years ago, my good friend Bill McRae and I had just finished jogging. We were sitting on the steps outside our house catching our breath when another jogger paused to chat for a moment. He introduced himself as Ed Bloom. As usual, Bill was very warm and cordial and engaged “Ed” in conversation. In the midst of this conversation, Bill said something like this: “Tell me, Ed, is this your first year as a student at DTS?” I turned to Bill and said, “Bill, this is Dr. Ed Bloom, who is a professor here at the seminary.” Needless to say, Bill had not known that “Ed” had just joined the faculty, and he was very embarrassed.

Some people just don’t look like who they are. That is certainly the case with Abraham. When we first meet him in Genesis 12, he does not appear to be the hero of the faith we know from other passages in the Bible. Abraham is regarded as one of the giants of the faith, and one of the most prominent personalities in the Bible. A concordance search will indicate that the name “Abraham” occurs some 230 times in the Bible. Included in this number is the appearance of his name 67 times in the New Testament. “Abram” occurs in the Old Testament another 60 times. This man is a giant of the faith, but that is not necessarily evident in the early days of his life, as we shall attempt to show. Here was a man who came to trust in God, rather than in himself, but it took considerable time and trouble to reach that point in his life. We will devote two messages to Abraham, seeking to see what role he played in the “unfolding drama of redemption.”

God’s Covenant and Abraham’s Call

Genesis 11:26—12:9

From a reading of our text in Genesis, one would get the impression that Abraham received his “call” while he was living in Haran, but this is not the case when we look at the Scriptures more broadly. We are told that Abram was born in Ur (Genesis 11:28, 31). We are also told that God brought Abram from Ur of the Chaldeans to Canaan (Genesis 15:7; Nehemiah 9:7). It is the inspired words of Stephen, however, which indicate that Abram’s first call came to him while he was in Ur:

1 Then the high priest said, “Are these things true?” 2 So he replied, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our forefather Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Go out from your country and from your relatives, and come to the land I will show you.’ 4 Then he went out from the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God made him move to this country where you now live” (Acts 7:1-4, emphasis mine).

Moses does not wish to emphasize this fact about Abram. He tells us only what he needs to do to develop his argument, and from that point on “love covers a multitude of sins.” We see, then, that Abram was first called to leave his family and his homeland while in Ur. From what Moses tells us in chapter 11, it was Terah, Abram’s father, who brought Abram (along with other members of the clan) out of Ur (11:31). Haran, Abram’s brother and Lot’s father, died while they were still in Ur (11:28). One other thing is clear from chapter 11: when Terah took his family to Haran, it was with the intent of going all the way to Canaan (11:31). Somehow, when they reached Haran, they settled there and never went on to Canaan in Terah’s lifetime.

Therefore we must say that the “call” of Abram in Genesis 12:1-3 is really his “second call,” something like Jonah’s second commission to go to Nineveh (Jonah 1:1-2; 3:1-2). The difference is that Jonah refused to go where God told him and went in the opposite direction. Abram was providentially brought part way to Canaan, though he seems passive in this, rather than acting out of obedience. One wonders if Abram was having some serious doubts as to what he should do after the death of Terah, his father. Should he return to Ur; should he remain in Haran; or, should he go on to Canaan, as God had commanded? God removed all doubt as to the proper course of action when He reiterated the call. Abram seems not to have left his family as much as they (Terah, at least) left him by death. Abram takes Lot with him, and one is left to wonder whether or not this was in full compliance with God’s command to leave his relatives. One thing we can say with confidence – Lot was more trouble to Abram than he was help.

The call of Abram was similar in its demands to that of marriage. Abram was, so to speak, to “leave and to cleave” – he was to leave his family and his homeland, and to cleave to God, by faith. You and I live in the Western world in a very mobile society, where family members live far apart. My brother lives 2200 miles away, in Washington State, as do our parents. One of my sisters lives in Singapore, and the other in Seoul, Korea. In Abram’s day, to leave one’s family and homeland was to leave one’s source of significance and security. You were known and dealt with in relationship to your parents and your family. The Canaanites had no regard for Abram’s ancestry or pedigree. To be among family was to have a “safety net” of protection. This is one reason why there is so little teenage rebellion in the third world. Children know that to be removed from their family would destine them to powerlessness and poverty. By commanding Abram to leave homeland and family, he was forcing him to depend solely upon Himself.

Genesis 12:1-3 is widely recognized as the Abrahamic Covenant, and so it is. But I would like to emphasize that the Bible demonstrates the principle of progressive revelation. Truth is seldom revealed all at one time and place (see Ephesians 2:8-10; 5:32). It is gradually unfolded, through time. For example, we are told that the seed of the woman would crush Satan’s head (Genesis 3:15). We expect that “seed” to be – or to come from – the line of Abel, but Abel is killed by his brother, Cain (Genesis 4). We are not surprised to see that the line of the seed passes down through Seth to Noah, and then from Noah to Abram. By the end of Genesis, we will be told that the “seed” will come through the line of Judah (Genesis 49:8-12). We will later learn that the “seed” will come from the line of David (2 Samuel 7:10-16). The identity of the line of the promised Savior continues to narrow, until the introduction of Jesus as the Messiah in the Gospels.

The principle of progressive revelation is very evident in the Book of Genesis, especially regarding the Abrahamic Covenant. This covenant is introduced in Genesis 12:1-3, but only in very general terms. There are personal promises made to Abram, as there are collective promises made concerning his offspring. In general terms, God promises Abram that He will give him many descendants, and that He will also give him the land of Canaan. Abraham will be the touchstone for the blessing or cursing of all mankind. Those who bless Abram will be blessed, and those who curse him (or esteem him lightly) will be cursed. Genesis is a very skeletal, introductory promise. The covenant will not be formally ratified until the sacrifice is offered in chapter 15, and Abraham does not receive the covenant sign of circumcision until chapter 17.

Abram is told that he will have many descendants in chapter 12, and we see in Genesis 15:2 that Abram assumes that his “seed” will have to be an adopted servant from his household. In Genesis 15:4, God assures Abram that the promised “seed” will come forth from his own body (15:4). It is not until after the birth of Ishmael that Abram is told he and Sarah will be the parents of the promised child (17:15-16). God progressively reveals His plans and purposes to Abram. Because of this, we should expect the details of the Abrahamic Covenant to be disclosed progressively, over some period of time. This is precisely what happens. And so it will suffice to say here that Abraham is the one whom God designates as the patriarch of the family from which the promised “seed” will come. As the story of Abraham unfolds, more and more details concerning the promised blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant will be disclosed.

Stretching the Faith of Abraham

I have previously indicated that in the beginning Abraham did not look much like “the father of the faith.” Nevertheless, this is what he will become. As we continue our study in Genesis, we see the process through which God led Abram, so that he became a man of faith. Let’s consider that process as we study chapters 12 through 17.

Once in Canaan, God assures Abram that this is the land He will give to him and to his descendants (Genesis 12:7). Abraham passed through the land of Canaan, from north to south, laying claim to it by building altars and worshipping God. When Abram reached the Negev, the southern part of Canaan, he encountered a severe famine (12:10). He concluded that he must leave the promised land, the place of blessing, and wait out the famine in Egypt. Given his attitude (fear) and his conduct (lying), it is hard to believe that going to Egypt was an act of faith. It would seem that he was to trust God and to remain in Canaan, where God had promised to prosper him. This seems even more certain when we look at Genesis 26:1-3:

1 There was a famine in the land, subsequent to the earlier famine that occurred in the days of Abraham. Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines at Gerar. 2 The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; settle down in the land that I will point out you. 3 Stay in this land. Then I will be with you and will bless you, for I will give all these lands to you and to your descendants, and I will fulfill the solemn promise I made to your father Abraham.”

Moses is gracious in what he does (and does not) say about Abram at this point in his life. As I look at this text, it is God’s way of letting us know the starting point from which Abram’s spiritual growth began. This is Abram’s spiritual low ground, and from here on, he is being stretched to live on higher ground.

The Test of Truthfulness

Genesis 12:10-20

Abram knows full well how beautiful his wife Sarai is. He knows that a woman this beautiful would be highly desired, and that all that anyone who wanted her would have to do would be to kill him and take her. And so Abram and Sarai agree to a scheme that they will consistently practice for a number of years – they lie about her identity as his wife, and claim the half-truth that she was his sister. This plan had a very serious flaw; it gave interested men the idea that Sarai was available for marriage. Abram was trusting in his deception, rather than in God, for life and prosperity. Abram was seeking to survive at his wife’s expense. He put his wife at risk to save his own neck. In his mind, he had to go to Egypt to save his life, and he had to pass off Sarai as his sister for the same reason.

When they arrived in Egypt, it did not take long for Pharaoh to be informed about Abram’s sister and her great beauty. Innocently, Pharaoh took Sarai into his harem and was soon to make her his wife. I can only imagine the sleepless nights that were in store for Abram. He must have sat up wide-eyed every night, wondering what was going on between Pharaoh and Sarai. All the while, presents arrived from Pharaoh, part of the dowry he was paying for taking Sarai as his wife!

God had plans for Abram and Sarai. They were to have a child, through whom many descendants would be born. It was through the union of Abram and Sarai that the line of the promised “seed” was to come. There was no way that God’s promise of a seed could be fulfilled if Sarai were to become Mrs. Pharaoh. God intervened by means of plagues that came upon Pharaoh and his house. (From chapter 20, we learn that every woman in the kingdom of Abimelech was made barren, thus assuring that no child would be born to Abimelech and Sarai.) Pharaoh got the message. He discovered that Sarai was Abram’s wife, and so he rebuked him and sent him away, laden down with gifts.

It used to bother me a great deal that Abram came away from Egypt more prosperous than when he arrived. How could God bless Abram when he was acting in fear, and not in faith? How could God bless Abram’s deception? The first thing we must emphatically say is that we never really merit any of the blessings that God may shower upon us. But the second thing we should see here is that this story was deliberately used as a prototype of Israel’s exodus from Egypt many years later. Joseph was brought down to Egypt from Canaan because of the sin of his brothers. Abram came from Canaan to Egypt out of fear and lack of faith. God sent plagues upon Pharaoh and his household, so that Pharaoh would release Abram and his household and would send them away with many gifts. In the same way, God would later bring plagues upon Pharaoh and all Egypt, so that he would release the Israelites, and so that they would go out with many gifts. In order for this story to foreshadow the exodus of Israel from Egypt, Abram had to prosper at the expense of Pharaoh, just as the Israelites would later prosper at the hand of the Egyptians.60

The Test of Family and Fortune

Genesis 13:1—14:24

Clearly implied in the promise of Genesis 12:2 is that of prosperity. God promised to “bless” Abram, and to “make his name great.” This assures Abram of a large family, with many descendants, and it strongly implies material wealth. Chapters 13 and 14 put Abram’s faith to the test in the area of earthly prosperity. In chapter 13, Abram returns to Canaan from Egypt more prosperous than when he first arrived in Egypt. Lot prospered as well, and this led to conflict between his herdsmen and those of Abram (13:6-7).61 This would have been the perfect time for Abram to remind Lot who it was that God promised to give this land to, and who He promised to prosper in the land. Abram was instructed to leave his family and to come to Canaan. What Abram was not willing to do before – separate from Lot – he had the perfect excuse to do now. It would have been the perfect time for Abram to tell Lot it was time for him to move on and find a life for himself, somewhere else. Instead, Abram gives Lot the choice of which direction he will go, of which land he would prefer.

We know that Lot chose what seemed to be the best land. But before we get too critical of Lot, let’s remember that most all of us would have made the same choice. My wife and I have five daughters, and during the days they were living at home we found it necessary to divide their portions of food. No one agonized too much about who got the most potatoes, but when the apple pie was cut up, it was as though these girls worked for the Federal Bureau of Standards. They could instantly recognize a minute difference in size or quantity, and they always grabbed for the biggest piece. (Well, truthfully, it would have been the second biggest piece because Jeannette had already held out the biggest piece for me.)

Surely Lot walked away from that conversation with Abram with a broad smile on his face. But in so doing, he overlooked several important factors. First, he has chosen to go east (13:11). Second, he has chosen to dwell in the city of Sodom, a wicked place. Third, he has neglected to act consistently with the Abrahamic Covenant. God promised to bless all those who blessed Abram and to curse those who cursed him. To take advantage of Abram by choosing the best land was not blessing Abram. It was by Lot’s subordination to Abram that he would be blessed. Lot sought his own interests at Abram’s expense. What seemed to be a shrewd business decision will soon prove to be a great disaster for Lot and for his family.

Can you imagine the conversation that must have taken place between Abram and Sarai when Abram returned from his meeting with Lot? From what I read of Sarai in Genesis 16, this was a woman who could be really cranky. I can imagine that Abram came home and Sarai could not wait to ask how the dispute between their herdsmen was settled. When Abram told Sarai that he had given Lot the best land, I have no doubt that she exploded. How could he be so foolish? He could he let Lot take advantage of him? Did Abram not care about his family and their needs?

I know I’m reading between the lines, but it would help to explain verses 14-18 of 13. In these verses, God reaffirms His covenant with Abram and reassures him that he will be greatly blessed. Specifically, God assures Abram that this whole land – on which both he and Lot are dwelling as sojourners – will be his (not Lot’s). God tells Abram to look in all directions, and assures him that the land will all be his, as far as he can see. It will be given to Abram, and to his descendants, forever (verses 14-15). And since Abram is surely wondering about these “descendants,” God reassures him that his descendants will be without number (verse 16). Abram is told to walk throughout the land, to take a good look at all that will be his. As he travels to these places, he symbolically claims this land as his own. He will not possess it in his lifetime, but his descendants will. Abraham then moves his tents near to the oaks of Mamre, and there he builds yet another altar to the Lord (verse 18).

Lot found himself caught in the middle of a power struggle between the king of Sodom and his allies and an alliance of opposing kings. The king of Sodom suffered defeat, and the invading forces made off with many spoils of war, which included many of the people and possessions of Sodom, including Lot. When word reached Abram, he went after the victors with 318 of his servants (14:14) and his allies (14:24). They prevailed over the four kings and retrieved all the people and possessions that had been taken as spoils, including Lot. Abram seems to be viewed as the “commander” of these forces (see 14:15), and the king of Sodom is determined to honor him for his victory. He intends to meet Abram and the others in the king’s valley (verse 17), with what seems to be the counterpart of a tickertape parade. Before the king of Sodom reaches Abram, Melchizedek appears, as it were, out of nowhere. He is called a “priest of the Most High God” (verse 18). He arrives with bread and wine, and blesses Abram with these words,

“Blessed be Abram by the Most High God,
Creator of heaven and earth.
20 Worthy of praise is the Most High God,
who delivered your enemies into your hand” (Genesis 14:19b-20a).

Melchizedek is a most interesting fellow, whose only appearance is here but who is the topic of later revelation (Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1-17). He plays an important role in Abram’s life at this moment in time. He informs Abram that the victory he has won was not his victory at all, but God’s. It was He who delivered Abram’s enemies into his hand (verse 20). And He is “the Creator of heaven and earth.” The NASB renders, “Possessor of heaven and earth.” To be the Creator is to be the owner, the possessor. Abram then paid a tithe to Melchizedek, and this king and priest disappears as quickly as he appears.

It would seem as though it were only moments later that the king of Sodom arrived. How empty this king’s words must have seemed to Abram, after hearing a word from God. The king of Sodom was probably filled with words of praise and admiration. He offered to allow Abram to keep all the spoils of his victory and requested only the return of his people. Abram refused any gifts from the king of Sodom, repeating some of the same words that Melchizedek had just spoken to him:

“I raise my hand to the Lord, the Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth, and vow 23 that I will take nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal. That way you can never say, ‘It is I who made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing except compensation for what the young men have eaten. As for the share of the men who went with me—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre—let them take their share” (Genesis 14:22b-24, emphasis mine).

Since the God of Abram was “Creator of heaven and earth,” and since God had promised to prosper him, Abram would not allow this pagan king to prosper him. His blessing must come from God. Abram gave tithes to the king of Salem, but took no gifts from the king of Sodom. We should learn from this that the giving and receiving of money is a very significant matter in the Bible.

It would seem that from a purely business point of view, Abram had made two very serious mistakes in chapters 13 and 14. First, he had failed to claim the better land and had given it instead to Lot. Second, he refused to accept gifts from the hand of a grateful king. But in so doing Abraham reveals that he has put his trust in God, and that he truly believes the promises of God expressed in the Abrahamic Covenant. No earthly king was going to take the credit for prospering Abram, thereby taking glory that belonged to God.

Divine Affirmation and Clarification

Genesis 15:1-21

Chapter 15 begins with these words from God to Abram: “Fear not.” It may seem as though Abram was fearless, but God’s words indicate otherwise. What was it that Abram feared? For one thing, he may very well have feared retaliation from the kings he had defeated. In 1 Kings 20, we read how Israel defeated the armies of Ben Hadad, king of Syria. After their victory, God warned the king of Israel that Ben Hadad would return the next year to retaliate against him. Ben Hadad restaged the battle man for man, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot. He would not allow himself to think that he could be defeated. He wanted revenge. Abram may have expected the same retaliation from the kings he had defeated.

Abram’s fears seem to go beyond these heathen kings, however. He is painfully aware of the fact that he has not yet begotten a son, as God had promised. His only “heir” at that moment in time was the son of one of his servants, Eliezer of Damascus. God graciously and tenderly encourages Abram at this moment of fear. Had Abram confessed to the king of Sodom that his God was “Creator of heaven and earth” (verse 22)? That He was, and now the “Creator of heaven and earth,” Maker of the stars, tells Abram that his “heir” will come from his own body (verse 4), and that his descendants will be more numerous than the stars of the heavens. The One who could call stars without number into existence can surely call descendants for Abram into existence, without number.

Verse 6 describes Abram’s response – he believed God. He believed God’s promise of a son and of countless descendants through him. God reckoned his faith (not any works he had done) as righteousness. God did not stop here; He went on to reassure Abram concerning the land that He would give to him, for this too was a part of the Abrahamic Covenant. Abram wanted assurance from God that He would indeed give him this land. One would think that if Abram believed God for a son, he could also believe God for this land. God did not rebuke Abram; instead, God gave Him reassurance by formalizing his covenant. He had Abram kill a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon, dividing these in half, except for the birds (15:9-11). As I understand what took place here, this was not a sacrifice of worship; indeed, it was not a sacrifice at all. We do not even read of a fire, nor do we find the term “sacrifice” employed. Abram even had to shoo the birds away, because they wanted to eat on the carcasses. This was the ritual by which men entered into covenant with each other. The parties entering into the covenant would cut the animals in two, and then both would apparently pass between the parts, signifying that the covenant was conditional, that it was binding only if both parties kept their commitments. In this ritual, only God passed between the animal halves, signifying that this was an unconditional covenant, dependent only on His faithfulness.

As God passed between the halves of the animals, He put Abram into a deep sleep, and in this sleep, he had a vision of what the future held for his descendants. Abram had a deep sense of terror, not only due to his being in the presence of the Holy God, but perhaps also because of his vision of the suffering of his descendants. God assured Abram that his descendants would possess the land, but that this would not happen quickly. They would first endure slavery and oppression in an unnamed foreign land for 400 years, but afterward they would come out with many possessions. Abram was told that he would die before the promise of God was fulfilled, but his descendants would surely possess the land. The sins of the Amorites who presently occupied the land were not yet complete. God would give them time, but in this time, their sins would only increase. Then, when their sins had fully developed, God would bring about divine judgment through Abram’s descendants.

After the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking firepot and a flaming torch passed between the animal parts. It was by means of this official ceremony that God’s covenant with Abram was ratified. Other than the covenant God made with Noah, this is the next time the word covenant is used. Technically, I suppose, we might call Genesis 12:1-3 a promise, and this a formal covenant. God now informs Abram as to which peoples and which lands He will give him. These lands were described more generally in 13:14-18, but now the peoples who are to be replaced are named (Genesis 15:18-21).

In addition to the added clarification and confirmation God has given in the events of Genesis 15, there is a new disclosure, which bears directly on Abram’s concerns. God is in no rush to fulfill His promises. He has just informed Abram that while the land of Canaan will become the possession of his descendants, it will not be for another 400 years or so. Abram is uneasy because God has not yet given him a son; God is making it clear that the eternal God is never in a hurry. Why should He be? After all, He has all the time in the world.

The Testing of Abram Through Sarai

Genesis 16

God had now made it clear that Abram’s promised “seed” would be the product of his own body, and not that of another (15:4). Abram is now challenged to produce a son, but not by means of Sarai. Amazing as it may seem this was not Abram’s idea, but Sarai’s. She wanted a son so badly she was willing to employ a known and accepted remedy of her culture. She could give Abram her maid, Hagar, and by this means, Sarai could have a son. As soon as the child was born, it would be Sarai’s son, not Hagar’s.

Sarai’s reasoning is far from godly. She is painfully aware that she has not been able to conceive. More than this, she knows that it is God who has prevented her from bearing a son to her husband. Her proposition to Abram seems like a pretty blatant attempt to circumvent God’s will. If God has kept her from having a son through her own conception, then she will have a son another way – but not really God’s way. She had an Egyptian maid named Hagar, Moses tells us. The fact that she was an Egyptian does not seem incidental, because Moses repeats this in verse 3. Was this one of the consequences of Abram’s sojourn in Egypt? Was Hagar part of the dowry gift from Pharaoh? Perhaps.

Sarai urged Abram to take Hagar, and to produce a son through her. Then Moses tells us “Abram did what Sarai told him.” Literally the text reads, “Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” (16:2). These words sound all too familiar:62

But to Adam he said,
Because you obeyed your wife63  
and ate from the tree about which I commanded you,
‘You must not eat from it,’
cursed is the ground thanks to you;
in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17, emphasis mine).

Verse 3 inclines me to think that Abram did not immediately do as Sarai asked. Moses tells us that after Abram and Sarai had lived in the land of Canaan ten years, Abram took Hagar as a wife. Does this mean that Sarai nagged Abram about this long enough that he finally “caved in” and did what she demanded? Perhaps so. It does seem quite clear that taking Hagar as a wife was not an act of faith. Abram did not listen to God, and wait patiently; he listened to Sarai, and took Hagar as a wife. It would seem that Abram finally convinced himself that God had not actually said that it was he and Sarai who would bear this promised son, but that the boy would come from Abram’s body.

Once Hagar knew that she was pregnant, her relationship with Sarai changed dramatically. Hagar now looked upon Sarai with disdain, and Sarai knew it. Sarai did not accept responsibility for insisting that Abram take Hagar; instead, she blamed him. Abram once again caves in to Sarai’s pressure, and tells his wife that she may deal with Hagar as she pleases (16:6). Sarai made Hagar’s life miserable, to the point that she finally ran away. The angel of the Lord sought her out, because it was not yet time for her to leave Abram and Sarai. The angel promised Hagar that her son would become great (and that he would live east of his brothers). He told Hagar that her son would be a constant thorn in the flesh of Abram’s other offspring, and this seemed to give her a measure of satisfaction. The angel also told Hagar that she must return home and submit to Sarai as her mistress. That was the hard part. Hagar came to see God in a different light, in a more personal way. He was the God who saw her sorrow, the God who cared.

The Sign of Abram’s Faith

Genesis 17

Abraham was 86 years old at the time Ishmael was born (16:16). Thirteen years pass between the events of chapter 16 and the beginning of chapter 17. Ishmael is now a teenager. I have little doubt that over those 13 years Abram has become convinced that Ishmael is the promised “seed,” that he is the one through whom he and Sarai will have countless descendants. I am also certain that Abram has become deeply attached to Ishmael and loves him very much.

Abram is now 99 years old, and any hope of having another son by Sarai seems vain. The Lord appeared to Abram, to reiterate His covenant promises to him:

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the Sovereign God. Walk before me and be blameless. 2 Then I will confirm my covenant between me and you, and I will give you a multitude of descendants.” 3 Abram bowed down with his face to the ground, and God spoke to him, saying, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer will your name be Abram. Instead, your name will be Abraham, because I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you extremely fruitful. I will make nations of you, and kings will descend from you. 7 I will confirm my covenant as a perpetual covenant between me and you. It will extend to your descendants after you throughout their generations. I will be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8 I will give the whole land of Canaan—the land where you are residing—to you and your descendants after you as a permanent possession. I will be their God” (Genesis 17:1-8).

Though Abram doesn’t yet know it, the time for the birth of the promised child is drawing near. God once again reaffirms His covenant with Abram. He reveals Himself as El Shaddai. So far as I can tell, this is the first time this name for God is used in Genesis, though not the last (see Genesis 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; 49:25; see also Exodus 6:3). He is the all-powerful, all sufficient, sovereign God. God commands Abram to “walk before me” and to be “blameless.” God promises to establish His covenant with Abram, and to multiply his descendants greatly. Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him. What a privilege Abram had to communicate directly with God in this manner, in a manner similar to the way God talked with Moses (see Exodus 33:11). Surely Moses could identify with Abram here.

To emphasize the fact that Abram would become the father of a multitude, God changed his name from Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of a multitude). The covenant that God had made with Abraham was an everlasting covenant, one that would be established with Abraham’s descendants. These descendants would possess the land as God had promised earlier in chapter 15. The sign of the covenant between God and Abraham was that of circumcision. This was to be observed by Abraham, and by his descendants. Hebrew boys were to be circumcised on their eighth day. The male organ of reproduction was to set the Israelites apart. As my former Hebrew professor, Dr. Bruce Waltke, used to say, “Every time an Israelite man had sex, he was reminded of his unique identity and calling.” Only those who were circumcised were regarded as being a part of the covenant community, and a participant in the covenant blessings.

God not only spoke concerning Abraham and his male descendants, He spoke also regarding Sarai. It was not just Abraham who would be the father of the promised child; Abraham and Sarah would be this child’s parents. And so God changed Sarai’s name to Sarah (princess). She and Abraham would become the parents of a kingly line. Abraham laughed because this promise of a child was so incredible. Surely God meant for Ishmael to be the promised seed … (verse 18). “No,” God said, “he and Sarah would have a son and his name would be Isaac” (verse 19). It is with Isaac that God would establish His covenant. Ishmael would be blessed, but he was not the son of promise. This promised child, Isaac, was to be born at the same time the following year (17:21). In obedience to God’s command, Abraham was circumcised at the age of 99, as was Ishmael and all Abraham’s household (17:22-27).

I have to smile to myself as I read the 17th chapter of Genesis. Moses must have been humbled by writing this account because it plainly requires every Israelite to be circumcised. Moses wrote that when God instructed Abraham to be circumcised, and to circumcise his sons and household, he did so immediately. It was not so with Moses, as he knew all to well:

24 Now on the way, at a place where they stopped for the night, the Lord met Moses and sought to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off the foreskin of her son and touched it to Moses’ feet, and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” 26 So the Lord let him alone. (At that time she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” referring to the circumcision.) (Exodus 4:24-26)

Lessons for Israel and for Saints Today

Abraham had always been a hero to the Israelites. I think this account is intended to put Abraham’s life into perspective. Abraham was not a perfect man, and initially he is not a giant in matters of faith. He did not immediately obey God’s command to leave Ur, but was brought out of Ur by his father. It was not until after the death of his father in Haran that Abraham finally acted upon God’s call. His early years were not marked by flawless faith, but betrayed times of fear and doubt. This is not to say that he had no faith, but only to say that his faith had a lot of room for growth and development.

It was not Abraham’s great faith that explains all the good things that happened in Abraham’s life, but God’s faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham. I believe it helps Christians to realize that there are no super heroes in the Bible, except for One, our Lord Himself. The rest were, as James puts it, “men of like passions,” men like ourselves (James 5:17). It was only through time and troubles that Abraham grew in his faith to become the man of faith that we see late in his life, and that we would like to emulate. Sanctification is never instant; it takes time, and troubles (see James 1:2-4).

The Israelites of Moses’ day were informed by chapter 15 that the time of their suffering in Egypt was by divine design. God had purposed their slavery and suffering, for their good, and for His glory. It was a time when the Israelites were becoming great in number (yet without being racially contaminated by intermarriage with the Canaanites). It was a time when God was allowing the sins of the Canaanites to fully ripen, to the point where judgment was required. I think that Moses wrote these chapters in a way that the Israelites would see the connection between Abram’s sojourn in Egypt and Israel’s later sojourn. Our times of suffering are no accident, but a matter of divine design.

There is a lesson for us here regarding the way to blessing. From the Garden of Eden onward, man has always been tempted to seek his own good his own way. Blessing comes from trusting God and obeying His commands. Abram sought to find safety and security in the land of Egypt, and it was only due to the divine intervention of God that he did not lose his life. Abram listened to the voice of his wife, rather than to the voice of God, and he suffered the painful consequences of having a son by Hagar. Lot felt that he was seeking his own best interests when he chose the better land, and left the rest to Abram. Lot, too, suffered for his folly, when the invading kings kidnapped him. He is to suffer even more in the coming chapters of Genesis.

Our text underscores the fact that God is in no hurry to achieve His purposes. He did not immediately give the land to Abraham, but it would be the possession of his descendants, after 400 years of slavery. He did not immediately give Abraham the son that He promised. He waited until it was “too late,” humanly speaking, so that it would be apparent this son was a gift of God. He did not give Abraham instant, fully developed faith. God called him and led him through various trials and tribulations, so that his faith would grow over time.

The corollary to the fact that God is in no hurry is that men must learn to wait patiently for God to fulfill His promises. Abraham had to wait for God’s judgment upon the Canaanites. Abraham had to wait for a son, and for the land to be his possession, through his descendants. Israel, too, needed to learn patience and endurance. That is what adversity will do for us, if we endure it in faith (James 1:2-4).

Abraham can teach us a great deal about humility. He did not put his own interests above those of Lot. He gave Lot the choice of which land in which he would settle. He risked his life to save Lot’s. Abraham was a man who learned to get ahead God’s way – not by seeking his own best interests at the expense of others, but by putting the interests of others ahead of his own.

We learn from Abraham that men ought to be the leaders in their homes and not to abdicate their responsibilities as leaders. Like Adam, Abraham listened to the voice of his wife, following her into the painful path of disobedience by taking Hagar as his wife. (From this, the Israelites were given an illustration of the danger of marrying foreign wives – see Deuteronomy 7:1-6). Men are not to be autocrats, who ignore the wisdom of their wives, but neither are they are not to allow themselves to be pressured by their wives into doing what they know to be wrong.

Abraham is an example of both faith and fear. In faith, he left Haran and moved to Canaan. In faith, Abraham believed God’s promises. But when Abraham acted out of fear, difficult times followed. It was out of fear, not faith, that Abraham went to Egypt. It was out of fear that Abraham (a prophet – see Genesis 20:7) deceived the Egyptians, including Pharaoh, about the true identity of his wife. It is often out of fear that we lie, because it takes faith to tell the truth.

Abraham is one of the early examples of the truth that God chooses the weak and foolish things of this world to amaze the wise:

26 Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were members of the upper class. 27 But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, 29 so that no one can boast in his presence (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

As I read the story of Abraham, I see that God did not choose him for his courage, or his intelligence, or his standing in the community. God sovereignly chose Abraham out of his weaknesses, rather than his strengths. Abraham was a God-made man. He was a man who faced the same trials and temptations that we experience. The good news is that this man came to be a giant in faith. As he grew in his faith, so can we, by God’s grace.

One of the most encouraging truths we find in this passage is that sin never thwarts the purposes of God. There are some who think that God is dependent upon our faithfulness, and that when we fail, God’s purposes will fail as well. This simply is not true. God is able to accomplish His purposes through man’s disobedience and failures, as well as through man’s obedience. Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, but God had already purposed to bring about the redemption of fallen men. Because of man’s sin, God’s grace can now be seen in all its splendor. Abraham sought refuge in Egypt, where he and Sarah lied about their relationship. But God’s purposes were not frustrated. The nation Israel would fail many times in the wilderness, but God’s purposes and promises were fulfilled, in spite of their failures.

As I have thought about this comforting truth (that man’s sin cannot thwart God’s purposes), it occurred to me that it goes beyond this. God does not merely “fix” the things that men break; God makes them better than they were before. Think about the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, for example. Adam and Eve lived in a lovely garden, where sin was (as yet) unknown. They were created in God’s image. They were without sin in the beginning, but then fell into sin, with all its contamination and corruption. But when God finishes with man, he will live in a heavenly city, with a much better garden. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, and this will be a better one. The sins of the saints will be forgiven and forgotten, and they will possess the righteousness of Christ. God turns our tragedies into triumph, our bungling into blessings. This is not an excuse for sloppiness or for sin, because sin has painful earthly consequences. But in the end, our failures don’t frustrate God’s purposes and promises; they are the occasion for His power and grace to be magnified.

Finally, our text provides us with an excellent example of progressive revelation. God did not disclose the totality of the Abrahamic Covenant in one revelation. God spread out this revelation over a number of years, adding details and content to it little by little. Abram was first promised many descendants (12:2), then a son born of his own body (15:4), and finally a son born of he and Sarah (17:15-19). It was 24 years before Abraham was finally made aware that the promised child would be born of both he and his wife Sarah. Initially, Abram was told that God would give him the land of Canaan (12:2, 7), but it was only later that he learned that his descendants would not possess it until they had been enslaved in a foreign land for 400 years (15:12-21).

In the Bible, God discloses His plans and purposes to mankind a portion at a time. This process is known as progressive revelation. Now that God has spoken finally and fully in His Son (Hebrews 1:1-4), we have the sum total of divine revelation in our hands – the Bible. I believe that while we possess all of God’s Word, we do not comprehend it all at once. In this sense, revelation is still being disclosed to us progressively. The Holy Spirit is the One who enlightens our hearts and minds, so that we may grasp the revelation of God (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16). He reveals certain truths to us as we have need for them. This is why we must constantly read and reread the Word of God. Almost every time we do so, we will see something new. It is not that this truth was not there before, but only that we did not see it before. We must come to the Word of God as the psalmist did in Psalm 119, with a prayer and the expectation that God will “open our eyes to behold wondrous things from His word” (see Psalm 119:18).

In our time of worship that will follow this message, we are going to celebrate our Lord’s death, as we do every week. Some people think that remembering our Lord in this way is needlessly repetitive and boring. It is our opportunity to reflect on the New Covenant of our Lord, brought about through the shedding of His precious blood, once for all. Just as it took Abraham a lifetime to begin to grasp the immensity of the Abrahamic Covenant, I believe that it takes us a lifetime (indeed, an eternity!) to grasp the magnitude of the New Covenant. Each time we do so, let us come to the Bible and to the Lord’s Table with a sense of expectation and wonder, seeking to see something more than we have seen before.


59 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on November 26, 2000.

60 It should be remembered that the wealth the Israelites took from the Egyptians was really only “back pay.”

61 The additional statement in verse 7 that the Canaanites and Perizzites were dwelling in the land has puzzled me. I think, however, that it makes a great deal of sense. Abram did not yet possess this land. When he arrived, the Canaanites were in the land (12:6). They were still there when Abram and Lot returned from Egypt (13:7). This means that Abram and Lot were living in Canaan at the generosity and favor of the Canaanites. The land not only needed to support the cattle of the Canaanites, but also of Abram and Lot. They were overcrowded, not just because the servants of Abram and Lot were competing for grazing lands for their livestock, but because the Canaanites who owned it were using it as well.

62 In Genesis 21:12, God told Abram to listen to Sarai regarding Ishmael. This implies that when Abram listened to Sarai earlier, it was not in obedience to God.

63 Literally, “Because you listened to the voice of your wife.”

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6. Abraham's Finest Hour (Genesis 18:1-26:35)

Genesis 18:1—26:35

Introduction

I received a letter from my friend, Frank, this past week, which he had written while he and his wife, Donna, were waiting for their plane at the airport. She was spending her time working on a Bible crossword puzzle. When Donna got up to purchase a snack, Frank decided to play a practical joke on her. He snatched up her crossword puzzle, found a place with five spaces, and wrote in his name, FRANK. When she returned, Frank tried hard to conceal his amusement. It took Donna a couple of minutes to see Frank’s work, and she giggled. Then, on second look, she began to laugh much harder, saying, “Yes … yes, that’s PERFECT, so PERFECT!!” She kept on laughing. Frank couldn’t stand it any longer and finally asked what was so funny. She handed Frank the crossword puzzle, telling him to look at number 46 across. Number 46 read: “GET THEE BEHIND ME _ _ _ _ _.”

Frank did not expect his name to be found where Satan’s name belonged. Let’s suppose there was a number 47 across, with 7 blanks, and it read, “THE FATHER OF THE FAITH.” I think Abraham would have been even more surprised to see his name written in those blanks. He was a great man of faith, in the end, but this would not be as readily apparent to us earlier in Abraham’s life. The title of this lesson is “Abraham’s Finest Hour.” There are some wonderful evidences of faith in chapters 18-25, but not all are examples of faith, as we shall see. Before we begin our study at chapter 18, let’s briefly review the events leading up to this point in Abraham’s life.

According to Stephen, Abram’s original call came to him while he was still in Ur (Acts 7:2-3). It is in Ur that Haran, the father of Lot, dies (Genesis 11:28). Abram does not immediately leave his family and go directly to Canaan; instead, it is his father, Terah, who leads Abram and others to Haran, where they settle down (11:31). There in Haran, Terah dies (11:32). It is only then that Abram goes on to Canaan, in obedience to God’s call. There, God announced His covenant with Abram and his descendants, whereby He would give Abram the land of Canaan. Here, He would make Abram a great nation, and He would bless the whole world through his seed (12:1-3). Abram went through the land, building altars and calling on the name of the Lord. When Abram was in the Negev, the southern end of Canaan, a severe drought occurred. Abram went to Egypt, intending to sojourn there until the drought ended. It is very doubtful that Abram should have gone to Egypt in the first place (see Genesis 26:1-5), but his deception was certainly not an act of faith. He and Sarai agreed to tell these Egyptians that Sarah was his sister, thus making her eligible for marriage, and thus (so they reasoned) saving Abram from death. It did not take Pharaoh long to hear about Sarah and to bring her into his harem. The dowry gifts began to pour in. It was the plagues God sent upon Egypt that caused Pharaoh to inquire more carefully about Sarai. Abram confessed to their deception, and soon they were on their way home, escorted by Pharaoh’s men, but not without many spoils from the land of Egypt. Pharaoh was of no mind to take on Abram’s God, who had brought such plagues upon him and his nation.

When Abram and Lot both prospered, the land could not support both of them and also the Canaanites who were dwelling in the land. Abram gave Lot his choice of where he would settle, and Lot chose what appeared to be the best land. Lot’s choice placed him in the city of Sodom, which brought with it many adverse consequences (13:1-13; 14:1ff.). God promised Abram that He would give him the land and instructed him to walk about the land (13:14-18). Before long, Lot is caught in the middle of a power struggle, and is taken captive by the kings who opposed and defeated the king of Sodom and four others (14:1-12). Abram and his allies rescue Lot, but before the king of Sodom greets Abram as the victor, Melchizedek meets him on the way, reminding him that it was God, the Creator of heaven and earth, who gave him the victory (14:17-24). God reaffirms His covenant with Abram in chapter 15, adding the detail that the promised son will be Abram’s child; he will come from Abram’s body (15:4). In the process of executing the covenant, God reveals to Abram that his descendants will suffer slavery for 400 years before they possess Canaan (15:12-21).

In chapter 16, Sarai confronts Abram with a test, a test that he seems to fail. Since God has withheld children from her, she proposes that Abram take Hagar, her handmaid, and produce a son through her. Abram consents, but when Hagar becomes pregnant, Sarai becomes bitter and angry. Sarai is so cruel to Hagar that she runs away, but the Lord seeks her out and convinces her to return and to submit to Sarai, assuring Hagar that He will bless her child.

By the time we reach chapter 17, we find Abram is 99 years old and still without an heir. God assured Abram that he and Sarai would have a son and told him the boy’s name would be Isaac. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham (“father of a multitude”) and Sarai’s name to Sarah (“princess”). He instituted the rite of circumcision as a sign of His covenant with Abraham and his descendants.

Hospitality at High Noon

Genesis 18

Abraham and Sarah lived in the mountains, overlooking the valley below where the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were located some distance away. At noon, when the sun was its hottest, Abraham was having his “siesta” at the front door of his tent. As he looked up, he saw three “men” in the distance. Abraham got up and ran out to meet them and to urge them to come to his home and have a little refreshment. The men accepted this kind offer, and Abraham then saw to it that they had a fine meal of fresh-made bread, veal, curds and milk. In the course of the meal, the men asked Abraham where his wife Sarah was. (I would expect that Abraham’s mind was racing, wondering how they knew his wife’s name.) One of them (I believe it was the LORD) then informed Abraham that she would have a son at the same season the following year (verse 10).

Sarah was in the tent behind Abraham, listening to this conversation with great interest. When she heard the announcement that she would have a child, she laughed to herself, amused at the thought of her and Abraham65 having a child in their old age. This need not have been the scorning laughter of unbelief; I think hers was the laughter of total shock, something like my response to receiving the title, “best dressed man in Dallas.” There is a joyful laughter of surprise:

1 When the LORD restored the well-being of Zion,
we thought we were dreaming.
2 At that time we laughed loudly
and shouted for joy.
At that time the nations said,
“The LORD has accomplished great things for these people” (Psalm 126:1-2).

It was absolutely an incredible thing – a child at the age of 90, with a husband who would then be 100. The Lord knew exactly what Sarah’s silent response was for He could read her thoughts. He – not one of the angels66 – challenged Abraham concerning Sarah’s response. Sarah attempted to deny it, but the Lord knew better.

Abraham’s hospitality is impressive, but the high point of chapter 18 comes at the end of the chapter and not the beginning. There is a strong sense of intimacy between God and Abraham, beginning at verse 16. Abraham, in typical eastern hospitality, walked some distance with his departing guests. God then disclosed (to the angels?) that He would not withhold from Abraham what He was about to do. Other passages refer to Abraham as the “friend of God,”67 and I am inclined to believe that this “friendship”68 is evident here.

When God reveals that He is about to judge Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham intercedes, not on behalf of the wicked, but for the righteous who might be dwelling in these cities. It may well be that Abraham’s primary concern is for his nephew Lot and his family, but his appeal is broader than that. His argument is that justice requires one to distinguish between the righteous and the wicked. Here is where Jonah missed the mark. His thinking was not like God’s. Jonah wanted to see the entire city of Nineveh incinerated, including the children and cattle. God would not punish the innocent along with the guilty (see Jonah 4).

Once there was agreement in principle, the only issue was: How many righteous folks would be required for God to withhold judgment from Sodom and Gomorrah? The negotiations started at 50 righteous and finally ended at 10. Either Abraham assumed that this number could be found, or he was fearful of seeking to reduce the number any farther. Abraham went his way. He was thinking like God, and surely God took pleasure in his intercession.69

The Destruction of Sodom and the Deliverance of Lot

Genesis 19

It would seem that the Lord was interested only in dealing with Abraham face to face, since only the two angels arrived at the city gates of Sodom. Lot was on the spot to greet them, not knowing who they were or for what purpose they had come. He knew that strangers were not safe in this wicked city, as time will certainly show. He urged the men not to sleep in the city square and to stay in his home. He, too, fixed a feast for these men to eat. (I can just see the one angel saying to the other, “How do these humans manage to eat so much? I’m stuffed. A huge lunch at Abraham’s place, and now a feast for dinner. I can’t wait to get back to heaven.”)

They had not yet settled down for the evening when there was a loud pounding at the door. It was not just a handful of folks, not a small gang of bad boys; this was a very large segment of the male population of Sodom. The mob included young and old and men from every part of the city, so many in number that they surrounded Lot’s house (19:5). They were far from subtle in letting their intentions be known. They wanted to sexually abuse Lot’s guests.

Lot was deeply committed to the safety of his guests, and so he stepped outside the door to reason with the mob. He urged the men of the city to take his daughters instead and to do to them what they wished. As we read of Lot’s offer of his daughters, we are horrified, and rightly so. Attempts have been made to explain Lot’s actions: (1) This was the custom of the day; it was expected that once Lot took these men into his house, he had to protect them. (2) Because of the perversion of that city, Lot didn’t expect these men to be interested in his daughters. While I agree that the custom was to offer protection to those under your roof (or at your table), I would approach this matter differently. I think that there is no excuse for Lot’s actions. As my friend Don Grimm pointed out, this was a case of situational ethics. Lot would never have offered his virgin daughters to the men of the city under normal circumstances. But this was a crisis. Giving his daughters to the men of the city was the lesser of two evils, the greater evil being that his guests would have been maltreated. It was, in his mind, an emergency. He reasoned that desperate straits require desperate measures.

Now, lest we harshly condemn Lot alone, let me remind you that what Abraham did was no different, and perhaps even worse. Sarah was the woman through whom the promised seed would come (whether he knew this in chapter 12 may be debatable, but there is no question by the time we come to chapter 20). Sarah was Abraham’s wife, and yet in order to save his own life, he was willing to hand her off in marriage to another man. In both cases (Pharaoh in chapter 12 and Abimelech in chapter 20), it was not Abraham who stopped the wedding; it was God. One must therefore conclude that Abraham would have sat passively by as his wife became the wife of another man. In Abraham’s mind, there was no other solution, and it was better to lose his wife than to lose his life. This certainly falls short of God’s ideal for marriage as spelled out in Ephesians 5:22-33. 70

We know that Lot’s wife turned to salt, because she looked back, contrary to the angels’ warnings. It is my opinion that Mrs. Lot may well have grown up in Sodom. When Lot first came back to Canaan from Egypt, he split up with Abraham, going east to Sodom (chapter 13). We know that Abraham lived in the land of Canaan for almost 11 years before having Ishmael (see 16:3). Abraham was 75 when he left Haran (12:4). He was 86 when Ishmael was born (16:16). Abraham was 99 at the time that God announced the birth of Isaac the same season of the next year (17:15-16, 19, 21). This means that Lot would have been living in the land of Canaan for more than 20 years. While Moses is careful to tell us all who left Ur for Haran, and all who left Haran for Canaan (11:24-32), there is no mention of Lot’s wife there. His wife is not mentioned anywhere in the text until the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in chapter 19. We don’t read of Mrs. Lot helping to prepare the angels’ meal, as Sarah did. One is inclined to suspect that Mrs. Lot was a Sodomite girl, and that because of this, she was not really eager to leave Sodom at all. No wonder she looked back if her parents, friends, and family were all there in Sodom. But having said all of this, Lot was not excited about leaving Sodom, either. The angels had to grab him, his daughters, and (for a time) his wife, and literally drag him out of Sodom. Lot was half-hearted about leaving Sodom.

Initially, Lot succeeded in convincing God that he needed to stay in nearby Zoar. But something caused Lot to change his mind and to flee to the mountains, but not to the mountains where Abraham lived. The effect of this was that there was no one to marry Lot’s daughters, so that they could carry on his name. Lot’s two daughters decided to produce offspring for their father through their father. The story is a sordid one that we need not go into, except to point out one thing that was and is very important: Lot’s daughters were only doing what they had learned from their father, to employ situational ethics in an “emergency” situation, and thus to compromise God’s marital and sexual standards. Their father was ready and willing to hand them over to the mob at Sodom; why should they not be willing to compromise themselves to keep their father’s line going? The result was that both daughters became pregnant through their father, and this was the origin (the genesis) of the Moabites and the Ammonites (19:37-38).

From what we read about Lot in Genesis 12-19, we would not be very inclined to think highly of him. We must therefore continually remind ourselves of Peter’s assessment of Lot’s spiritual condition:

7 And if he rescued Lot, a righteous man in anguish over the debauched lifestyle of lawless men, 8 (for while he lived among them day after day, that righteous man was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) 9 —if so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials, and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment at the day of judgment (2 Peter 2:7-9, emphasis mine).

Being righteous is not the same as being perfect. Lot may have been righteous, but he failed in many ways.

Never Say Never

Genesis 20

In Genesis 20, Moses leaves Lot and returns to the centerpiece of our text – Abraham – who makes his way to Gerar. Abraham has just recently been informed that the promised child will be his and Sarah’s child. He has been told that the child would be born the same time the following year. That means that Sarah will become pregnant within three months of the promise. And what does Abraham do but leave Haran and go to Gerar in the land of the Philistines (26:1). And there Abraham and Sarah repeat the same sin they had committed in Egypt, years before. One would think that they had learned their lesson. One would hope that their faith was now great enough to trust God to care for them. And yet the Egypt scenario is replayed. Abimelech, king of Gerar, took Sarah as his wife. If I were one of the angels, looking down on this event, I would have been asking for some aspirin. How could Abraham be so foolish? How could he endanger Sarah and put at risk (humanly speaking) the promise of God?

If we think that God’s covenant purposes and promises are dependent upon our faithfulness, we are mistaken. It is not Abraham’s faithfulness that saves the day, but God’s. Moses is a prophet of God, as we are told in this very text (verse 7), and yet he is not speaking to Abimelech for God. It is God who speaks to Abimelech, and in a way that certainly got his attention:

But God appeared to Abimelech in a dream at night and said to him, “You are about to die because of the woman you have taken, for she is someone else’s wife” (Genesis 20:3).

Abimelech was “all ears.” He insisted that he had taken Sarah innocently, and that it was Abraham and Sarah who had been deceptive. God told Abimelech that He had kept the king from sinning, and thus from death. He was now to restore Sarah to her husband. He further indicated that Abraham was a prophet and that he would pray for the king and his people, so that they would be healed and not die. In verses 17 and 18, we are told that Abraham’s prayer for the king and his household enabled them to have children, because God had closed the wombs of every women in the king’s household. There was no chance of Sarah getting pregnant in that household, because there was no chance of anyone getting pregnant there, until Abraham prayed for healing on their behalf. God was making sure that His promise to Abraham would be fulfilled, in spite of Abraham’s sin.

The thing that catches my attention in chapter 20 is that God speaks to Abraham through Abimelech, and not the reverse, even though Abraham is a prophet. It is Abimelech, a pagan king, who rebukes Abraham, a prophet of God. What a contrast to chapter 18, where Abraham walks with God, and where God reveals His purposes to Abraham as a friend. What Abraham discloses to Abimelech is most disturbing. He confesses that he lied out of fear. He reveals that his view of God is inadequate, for he supposes that where there is no “fear of God,” God cannot protect him (verse 11). Even though God had promised to make a great nation of Abraham, he believed that the men of Gerar would kill him (verse 11). And perhaps most disturbing of all, Abraham admits that this is an established policy that he and Sarah had practiced for years, everywhere they went (verses 12-13). That leaves us to wonder whether these two instances of this sin that are recorded in Genesis 12 and 20 are the only times they did this, or whether these are merely two examples among others. Abraham got the message, but not in the way he would prefer, and this because of his sin.

The Arrival of Isaac and Departure of Ishmael

Genesis 21

The fears of Abraham were unfounded, and the faithfulness of God is undeniable. Twice in verse 1, we are told that God gave Sarah and Abraham a son “just as He said.” The child was born, and as instructed (17:19), they named him Isaac (verse 3). Can you imagine this? At a time when Abraham and Sarah should have been buying Geritol (a supplement for older folks), they were buying (so to speak) diapers and baby food. Abraham was 100 years old (verse 5), and Sarah was 90 (17:17). In obedience to God’s instruction, Abraham circumcised Isaac when he was eight days old.

When Isaac was weaned, they had a special celebration, at which the teenage Ishmael was mocking Isaac. For Sarah, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. She exploded, demanding that Abraham send the lad and his mother away (verse 10). Abraham was greatly distressed by Sarah’s demand (verse 11). For nearly 13 years, Abraham had lived with the assumption that Ishmael would be his only son, and thus the heir to his covenant blessings. Beyond this, I believe that Abraham had come to love this lad. It would break his heart to send Hagar and Ishmael away. I believe that while Sarah was right in thinking the boy must go, she was wrong in her motivation. I fear that she wanted the right thing for the wrong reasons.

All of this was a part of God’s plan for Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac. He was preparing for Abraham’s great test of faith in chapter 22. There, God would say to Abraham,

“Take your son – your only son, whom you love, Isaac – and go to the land of Moriah! Offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will indicate to you” (Genesis 22:1b-2, emphasis mine).

If Ishmael were still living with Abraham, this statement could not have been made. The test was much more difficult after Abraham had sent Ishmael away, permanently.

God told Abraham to listen to his wife and to do as she said.71 He reiterated once again72 that Abraham’s descendants would be counted through Isaac, and not through Ishmael. In a different way than in chapter 22, Abraham was required to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. God promised that He would bless Ishmael, but not as Abraham’s promised seed. And so, “early in the morning,”73 Abraham gave provisions to Hagar, and sent her on her way. In the wilderness of Beersheba, God provided for Hagar and her son and promised to make a great nation of Ishmael. The lad grew up to be a great archer, and we are told that Hagar obtained a wife for him from Egypt, her native land (16:3). This may be indicated as a contrast to Abraham’s diligent efforts to obtain a wife for Isaac from Paddan Aram (see chapter 24).

The remainder of chapter 21 has to do with Abimelech. God had terrified Abimelech, so that he would not dare to harm Abraham, and so that he would return Sarah to her husband. But relations were not what they should have been between Abimelech and Abraham. Abimelech and his commander came to visit Abraham, acknowledging that God was surely with him. He wanted Abraham to swear to him that he would not deceive him again. What an interesting thing for a pagan to say to a prophet. Abraham would enter into a treaty with Abimelech, but not until after they had resolved a conflict over a certain well that Abimelech’s men claimed for themselves. Having settled these matters, Abimelech and Phicol, his commander, returned to, the land of the Philistines.74

The Greatest Test of Abraham’s Life

Genesis 22

It has been a long and difficult road for Abraham, but he is now to receive the ultimate test of his faith. He has been prepared by many tests over the years. Some tests he has handled well. He believed God and left Haran to come to the land of Canaan. He believed God’s promise that he would have a son, even in his old age (Genesis 15:6). He gave Lot his choice of the land (chapter 13), and he interceded for the righteous when God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (chapter 18). Others he has not handled as well. During a famine, he left the promised land of Canaan and went to sojourn in Egypt (Genesis 12). On at least two occasions, he has feared for his life and lied about the identity of Sarah, his wife (Genesis 12, 20). He listened to his wife, Sarai, and took Hagar as his concubine, bearing Ishmael through her (Genesis 16). In most (if not all) of these tests, the issues were matters of life and death. Would God provide for Abram during a time of famine, and thus spare his life? Would God protect Abraham and Sarah, so that he would not have to lie about their relationship? Could Abraham and Sarah, though as good as dead so far as childbearing was concerned, still have a child in their old age?

In chapter 22, God commands Abraham to take his son Isaac to a mountain He will designate and to sacrifice him there. One can only imagine Abraham’s initial response. The reader is spared any insight into the private struggle that took place within the heart of Abraham. I am confident that there was a struggle, but equally assured that knowing his private agonies would not prove edifying to the reader. And so Moses simply tells us that Abraham did what God commanded.

Early in the morning,75 he saddled his donkey, two servants, firewood, fire, the knife and his beloved son, and set out for the place of sacrifice. How it must have pained Abraham to hear as his son began to grasp the uniqueness of this trip:

Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father?” “What is it, my son?” he replied. “Here is the fire and the wood,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham replied. The two of them continued on together (Genesis 22:7b-8).

On the one hand Abraham’s answer was evasive; on the other hand, it seems to express faith in God, for when Abraham left his servants behind he told them, “You two stay here with the donkey, while the boy and I go up there. We will worship and then return to you” (22:5b, emphasis mine).

We know much more about what went on in Abraham’s mind from the writers of Romans and Hebrews:

18 Against hope Abraham believed in hope with the result that he became the father of many nations according to the pronouncement, “so will your descendants be.” 19 Without being weak in faith, he considered his own body as dead (because he was about one hundred years old) and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God. 21 He was fully convinced that what God promised he was also able to do. 22 So indeed it was credited to Abraham as righteousness (Romans 4:18-22).

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. 18 God had told him, “Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,” 19 and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there (Hebrews 11:17-19, emphasis mine).

In both these texts, we are told that Abraham reasoned by faith. If I could paraphrase the sense of both these texts, Abraham’s reasoning went something like this:

“God promised me that I would have a son. Eventually, He made it clear that this son would be born of both Sarah and myself. God waited to give us this son until it seemed impossible, and humanly speaking, it was. Nevertheless, I have come to trust in God, no matter what He says, and He did it! We were as good as dead, so far as having children were concerned, and yet God gave us a new life – our precious son. God produced life out of death! Now, God has commanded me to take the life of my son. I know that this is the son through whom God’s covenant promises are to be fulfilled. And, I know that God can bring life out of death, because He has already done so in the birth of Isaac. Therefore, I must conclude that if I put my son to death, God will raise him from the dead.”

And so we read that Abraham bound his son, placed him on the altar, and prepared to plunge the knife into his chest. It was only then that God called out from heaven for Abraham to stop. By his actions, Abraham had demonstrated his faith and his willingness to obey God in the most costly of ways. It was only then that Abraham saw a ram, whose horns were caught in the bushes nearby. As Abraham had hoped (verse 8), God did provide the sacrifice (verse 13). And so Abraham offered the sacrifice, not with his son, but with the ram God provided. It is no wonder that Abraham named that place “The Lord provides.”

And now, for the last time76 in Abraham’s life (so far as the Scriptures record), the Abrahamic Covenant is reaffirmed:

15 The Lord’s angel called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “‘I solemnly swear by my own name,’ decrees the Lord, ‘that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be as countless as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the strongholds of their enemies. 18 Because you have obeyed me, all the nations of the earth will pronounce blessings on one another using the name of your descendants’” (Genesis 22:15-18).

What a joyful return trip that must have been for Abraham and Isaac. I wonder what they talked about as they made their way home. I wonder whether Abraham told his servants – and especially Sarah – what took place on the mountain that day. In the New Testament we read,

“Your father Abraham was overjoyed to see my day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).

I’m not really sure when this happened, but I am inclined to think that this event on Mount Moriah (the very place where the Temple would be built – 2 Chronicles 3:1) must have been one of those times when Abraham had a glimpse of Christ’s day.

The last verses of chapter 22 seem somewhat parenthetical, and they may be, but they are important for they tell us that Abraham learned that his brother Nahor’s wife had borne him children, one of which was Bethuel, who became the father of Rebekah. As we shall soon see (chapter 24), Abraham would send his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac, and that woman would be Rebekah.

Home is Where the Heart Is

Genesis 23

Sarah lived to be 127 years old, and then she died in Hebron. This presented Abraham with yet another test. He must decide where home really was. Often, when people die in a distant place, we bring the body “home” for burial. With the death of Sarah came the decision as to where “home” was. He could have taken her body back to Haran, where Terah had died and (presumably) was buried (11:32). Abraham must bury his wife, and yet he did not own any land in Canaan. His descendants would possess the land, more than 400 years later (15:7-21). And so Abraham was forced to buy a burial place from Ephron the Hethite (23:3-18).

One must wonder why so much emphasis was spent describing this transaction. It is surely interesting to those of us living in the West, many centuries later. The story is not written merely to enrich us culturally; it is recorded to dramatically demonstrate that Abraham’s entire life was lived out by faith, without seeing the fulfillment of this promise of God (the promise of possessing the land of Canaan):

13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

We must remember that Abraham was a bit of a nomad. He was constantly moving about the land in order to find grazing land for his cattle and food. Buying this burial place was something like dropping anchor for Abraham. Buying this parcel of land and burying the body of his beloved wife was a great act of faith, and a declaration that this was home.

Final Arrangements: A Wife for Isaac

Genesis 24

Chapter 24 records the last important matter of business that Abraham deals with before his death. Indeed, his great sense of urgency in this matter is due to the fact that he knows his death is near. Nowhere that I can see does God give Abraham instructions concerning a wife for his son. We do know that Abraham was very specific in the instructions he gave to his servant:

1 Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years, and the Lord had blessed him in everything. 2 Abraham said to his servant, the senior one in his household, who was in charge of everything he had, “Put you hand under my thigh, 3 so that I may make you solemnly promise by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth: You must not acquire a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living. 4 You must go instead to my country and to my relatives to find a wife for my son Isaac. 5 The servant asked him, “What if the woman is not willing to come back with me to this land? Must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” 6 “ Be careful never to take my son back there!” Abraham told him. 7 “The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and the land of my relatives, promised me with a solemn oath, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ He will send his angel before you so that you may find a wife for my son from there. 8 But if the woman is not willing to come back with you, you will be free from this oath of mine. But you must not take my son back there!” 9 So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and gave his solemn promise he would carry out his wishes” (Genesis 24:1-9, emphasis mine).

Three things are apparent: (1) Abraham wants to obtain a wife for Isaac before he dies. Isaac needs to have a wife, so that he can continue the line of Abraham, and so that the Covenant will pass through his descendants. (2) This wife cannot be a Canaanite woman, but must be from one of Abraham’s relatives. (3) Under no circumstances is Isaac to return to the land from which Abraham came.

Nowhere that I can find does God give Abraham specific instructions regarding a wife for Isaac. While it is possible that God did instruct Abraham concerning this, and that Moses simply does not record it for us, I am inclined to think that Abraham came to this conclusion by the reasoning of faith, much the same way that he reasoned God would raise his son from the dead if he sacrificed him to the Lord (see above). Abraham knew that the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to him would be fulfilled through Isaac and his descendants (17:19). Isaac would need a wife in order to carry on the line. Abraham also knew that God had called him to settle in Canaan and to leave his home and his family in Paddan Aram. He knew that he could not go back, and this meant that his son must not return either. God had promised to bless Abraham’s descendants in the land of Canaan.

The other piece of reasoning had to do with the necessity of getting a wife for Isaac from Abraham’s relatives in Paddan Aram. His servant was to get a wife for Isaac there in Paddan Aram, from one of his master’s relatives, but he was not to let Isaac go there. How did Abraham come to this conclusion? There are at least a couple of factors I can think of which may have contributed to Abraham’s strong convictions. First, Abraham knew that the Canaanites were a wicked people, and that God was going to drive them out, because of their sins. This would not occur for several hundred years, but it would come to pass (15:12-21). God was going to drive out the Canaanites and give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants. How, then, could his son marry a Canaanite woman? Furthermore, Abraham witnessed the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In addition to this, he observed the effect that the Canaanites had on Lot and on his family. If Lot’s wife was a Canaanite, this was visible proof of the danger of intermarrying with the Canaanites. And so Abraham concluded that he must acquire a wife for his son from his own people. They may not all trust in the God of Israel, but they were not as corrupt as the Canaanites.

This chapter goes into great detail to describe how Abraham’s servant went about fulfilling his master’s desires. What a marvelous and faithful servant this fellow was. He seems to have shared his master’s faith, for he prays for guidance and praises God when his prayers are answered (24:12, 26). He is eager to return to Canaan with Isaac’s wife as soon as possible. In some ways, he goes beyond his master’s guidelines, as can be seen by the test he employed. He did not merely look for a woman with the right ancestry, nor only for a woman who was beautiful, though Rebekah was surely both of these. He wanted a woman of character, a true servant. He went to a well where a relative was likely to come, and he prayed that the woman of God’s choosing would show hospitality to him by giving him water, as well as his camels. Rebekah was the answer to his prayers, and it was only then that the servant learned she also was the daughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor’s son, Bethuel (22:20-24; 24:24). A wife for Isaac had been found, and soon the servant was on his way home with her. His mission was accomplished, and now Abraham is ready to die. We read of his death in chapter 25.

The Role of Abraham in the Unfolding Drama of Redemption

God had started with one man and one woman in the Garden of Eden. They sinned, plunging the whole creation into sin and chaos. God had promised Eve that her seed would destroy Satan and would provide a solution for sin (Genesis 3:15). It looked as though that “seed” would be Abel, but his brother Cain killed him (Genesis 4). God replaced Abel with Seth, and his line is traced in the genealogy of Genesis 5, ending with Noah. God destroyed the whole earth, but spared Noah and his family, so that the “seed” of the woman would be preserved. It was through Noah’s son Shem that the “seed” would come, for it is from the line of Shem that Abraham is born (Genesis 11). God confused man’s language at Babel (11:1-9), so that many nations came into being (chapter 10). From among these nations, God chose to create a new nation, through whom He would bless all the nations. This nation was to come from one man, Abraham. Through divine calling and guidance, God brought Abraham to the land of Canaan and made a covenant with him there. By means of various trials, God made of Abraham a man of faith. In Abraham’s greatest test of faith (the sacrifice of Isaac), God gave us a glimpse of how He would bring about the redemption of man. It was through the sacrifice of an only son of His choosing that the sins of men would be atoned for. It was a mystery that none understood fully at the time, but it is there nonetheless for us to look back upon and see that it was truly a prophetic moment. It was there on Mount Moriah (the temple mount in Jerusalem) that the Messiah was rejected of men and died at the hands of sinners on a Roman cross. In some way, Abraham saw that day by faith and rejoiced in it (John 8:56).

Lessons From the Life of Abraham for Ancient Israel

The lessons for the ancient Israelites (those of Moses’ day and later) were many. The Israelites of Moses’ day had just entered into a covenant with God – the Mosaic Covenant. With all of its commandments and instructions the Israelites could become legalistic. While the Jews of Jesus’ day proudly announced that they were Abraham’s descendants, they were not like him at all. This was because they made two false assumptions. First, that mere physical descent put one in the category of those who would be blessed. We can see that the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant were much more specifically applied. Secondly, Abraham was the “father of the faith,” not the “father of salvation by works.” His good works did not save Abraham. Abraham was saved by grace, and in spite of many sins. Let any who would mistakenly conclude that Abraham was saved by his works look again. He was declared righteous, based upon faith, not works (15:6). He was declared righteous before he was circumcised, and many years before the law was given. It is because of the Abrahamic Covenant that men are saved, not because men strive to keep the Mosaic Covenant. Paul will make this abundantly clear in Galatians 3 and elsewhere. The Mosaic Covenant was given after the Abrahamic Covenant, not to fulfill it, but to restrain sin until the coming of Christ and the New Covenant. The Mosaic Covenant cannot save; it can only reveal our sin, and our need for salvation. The Abrahamic Covenant looks forward to the cross of Calvary and to the salvation our Lord accomplished there.

The life of Abraham shows us that he was not saved because of his faithfulness to God, but because of God’s faithfulness to him. Over and over, Abraham failed. He trusted in God, but imperfectly. Over many years, God deepened and enriched his faith. But the life of Abraham should make it very clear to us that Abraham’s salvation was not earned; it was a gift from God. It was not based upon Abraham’s works, but upon God’s choosing and covenant promises.

The Israelites who would first hear Moses’ account of Abraham’s calling and life were those who were poised at the entrance of the land of Canaan. It is our text that informs the Israelites just why this land is about to be theirs. It is this generation that will actually experience the privilege of possessing the land of Canaan, at least partially. Moses has provided these Israelites with the basis for their possession of the land. He also informs them that their successful occupation of the land of Canaan has been prophesied many years earlier (Genesis 15:12-21). From time to time, the Israelites would threaten to go back to Egypt, rather than to press on to possess the land of Canaan. Our text makes it very plain that the land of Canaan is “home” for God’s people. What encouragement and incentive the story of Abraham must have given the Israelites who were about to occupy the land.

Our text also dramatically illustrates the truth that obedience to God’s commands brings blessing, while disobedience brings difficulty. Indeed, for the unbeliever, disobedience brings divine judgment. In the rescue of Lot and the destruction of Sodom we see both the goodness and the severity of God:

4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them into hell and locked them up in chains in utter darkness, to be kept until the judgment, 5 and if he did not spare the ancient world, but did protect Noah, a herald of righteousness, along with seven others, when God brought a flood on an ungodly world, 6 and if he turned to ashes the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah when he condemned them to destruction, having appointed them to serve as an example to future generations of the ungodly, 7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man in anguish over the debauched lifestyle of lawless men, 8 (for while he lived among them day after day, that righteous man was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) 9 —if so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials, and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment at the day of judgment, 10 especially those who indulge their fleshly desires and who despise authority (2 Peter 2:4-10).

Righteousness brings blessing, and sin brings judgment.

Finally, our text provides us with some powerful instruction concerning inter-marriage. God has very clearly forbidden the Israelites from inter-marrying with the Canaanites:

1 When the Lord your God brings you to the land that you are going to occupy and forces out many nations before you—Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you—2 and he delivers them over to you and you attack them, you must utterly annihilate them. Make no covenant with them nor show them compassion! 3 You must not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons nor take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your sons away from me to worship other gods. Then the wrath of the Lord will erupt against you and he will soon destroy you. 5 Instead, this is what you must do to them: You must tear down their altars, shatter their sacred pillars, cut down their sacred Asherah poles, and burn up their images. 6 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. He has chosen you to be a people prized above all others on the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 7:1-6; see also Exodus 34:11-16; Joshua 23:9-13).

Lot may serve as a negative illustration of inter-marriage with the Canaanites, but the strong emphasis on Abraham’s search for a godly wife for his son stresses this from the positive perspective. Let the Israelites learn how important it is to marry a godly wife, who is not a Canaanite.

Lessons For Saints Today

Our text has much to teach us about our family responsibilities. Both negatively (Lot) and positively (Abraham) we see how important it is to have a godly wife. Lot’s wife was too attached to her world. Abraham’s wife Sarah eventually becomes an example of humility and submission (1 Peter 3:6). Sarah assisted Abraham in showing hospitality (18:6); Rebekah was also a woman committed to showing hospitality (24:17-20). Lot’s wife (never named) is not even mentioned until the flight from Sodom, and then not in a favorable light. The length and detail of Abraham’s servant’s search for a wife for Isaac is an indication of how important it is to choose a godly mate.

Abraham initially was willing to sacrifice his wife to save his own life, just as Lot was willing to sacrifice his daughters to protect his guests. But Abraham comes to cherish his children and his wife. It is then that Abraham’s faith will be given the ultimate test, the sacrifice of his son, Isaac. How many of us as parents put our children ahead of God? The man who started poorly – Abraham – ended well. As much as he loved Isaac, Abraham was willing to obey God, even if it meant taking the life of his son. Please do not misinterpret what I am saying. Take note of the fact that God did not allow Abraham to follow through with the sacrifice of Isaac. But when it comes to loving God first, above family, how strong is our faith?

25 Now large crowds were accompanying Jesus, and turning to them he said, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27).

Many today are sacrificing their families, but it is not in obedience to God. They sacrifice their families on the altar of self-interest. In Luke 14:25-27 (above), Jesus not only requires His disciples to love Him more than their families, He insists that His disciples love Him more than themselves. His disciples must take up their own cross, they must die daily to self-interest, in order to follow Him. I believe that Abraham loved Isaac more than life itself and would have gladly taken the place of his son (or his wife). But when God put Abraham’s faith to the test, he chose God over everything else, and everyone else, including himself.

Abraham and Lot illustrate the folly of situational ethics. Situational ethics subordinate obedience to absolute commands to human judgment of difficult circumstances. Sometimes it is a choice between what would be called the “lesser of two evils.” Lot’s daughters knew it was wrong to have children by their father, but they felt that having no children at all was worse. They did not trust God to give them husbands; they assumed that their present circumstances were impossible to change. And this when God had just given their relatives (Abraham and Sarah) a son in their old age! But Lot’s daughters were only doing what they had seen and heard their own father do. To Lot, the insult and injury of his guests (who needed no defending) was worse than the rape of his two virgin daughters. This was another example of situational ethics. Abraham did exactly the same thing when he was willing to sacrifice the purity of his wife (and potentially the promised seed) in order to protect himself in a dangerous situation.

Situational ethics is wrong because of a fundamental premise. That premise is that God places us in circumstances where we must sin. The Scriptures say otherwise:

No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: he will not let you be tried too much, but with the trial will also provide a way through it so that you may be able to endure (1 Corinthians 10:13).

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. 15 Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death. 16 Do not be led astray, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change (James 1:13-17).

God never puts us in circumstances where sin is the only way out. Situational ethics says otherwise. God does place us in circumstances where it may appear that there is no way out. He brought the Israelites to the Red Sea, with the Egyptians behind them in hot pursuit. But God did so to show His love and power, separating the Red Sea, so that it made “a way of escape” for His people, while being the means of destruction for their enemies. Situational ethics refuses to trust God’s ability to save when the situation looks impossible. Situational ethics operates by sight, not by faith. But we are to walk by faith, and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

The life of Abraham should teach us that men and women of faith, even great faith, are not perfect. There are plenty of flaws in Abraham’s life, but he is a man who trusted God for his eternal salvation. He is a man who somehow grasped that his promised “seed” would include “the seed,” the one through whom the death grip of sin would be broken:

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his descendant. Scripture does not say, “and to the descendants,” referring to many, but “and to your descendant,” referring to one, who is Christ (Galatians 3:16).

“Your father Abraham was overjoyed to see my day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).

Abraham understood that he was a sinner, and that his salvation rested in God’s provision of “the seed,” the “seed” promised in Genesis 3:15, the “seed” who was the Lord Jesus Christ. It was His death on Calvary that paid the price for sin, that defeated Satan once and for all. It is in Him that we must place our faith for the forgiveness of sins and for eternal salvation.

Note, too, that Abraham’s faith was a “resurrection faith;” Abraham believed in a God who could raise the dead (Hebrews 11:19). God had given he and Sarah – who were as good as dead – the child He had promised. God would raise that child from the dead, if necessary. It was not necessary for Him to raise Isaac because God provided a substitute for Isaac. Immediately, God provided a ram, but ultimately God provided the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Isaiah 52:13—53:9). By raising our Lord from the dead, God vindicated His words and works, and demonstrated that He was pleased with our Lord’s eternal sacrifice (Romans 1:4).

Abraham’s faith was God-given faith, a faith that God initially gave to Abraham, and a faith that God caused to grow, through time and troubles. Like Abraham, saints grow in faith in the midst of trials and tribulations. These were not brought into our lives to break us, but to build us up in faith.

1. 1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. 3 Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance, character, and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:1-5).

2. 2 My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything (James 1:2-4).

3. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. 7 Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold—gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away—and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:3-7).

The life of Abraham not only describes the process of his growth in faith, but the fruits of it. Consider the marks of maturity that we can see in Abraham’s life, which should characterize us in our maturity as well.

1. Obedience. Abraham obeyed God in faith.

2. Hospitality. Abraham was marked by hospitality (chapter 18), as was Lot (chapter 19) and Rebekah (chapter 24). No wonder this is one of the qualifications for an elder (1 Timothy 3:2).

3. Intimacy with God. Abraham became the “friend of God” (James 2:23), a man to whom God revealed His promises and purposes.

4. Intercession. Abraham came to be less concerned with himself, and more concerned with others. His intercession with God in chapter 18 is one of the high water marks of spirituality in his life.

5. Influence. I believe that Abraham’s faith impacted others around him. I think this can be seen in Sarah’s faith and submission (1 Peter 3:6), and in the spiritual maturity of Abraham’s trusted servant (Genesis 24).

6. Less dependence upon the spectacular and more day-to-day dependence, obedience, and fellowship with God. At the outset of Abraham’s life, it seemed that Abraham required more external verification, more spectacular confirmation (see Genesis 15:8), but as time went on, God’s Word alone was sufficient basis for trust and obedience (Genesis 22).

I pray that each of you has come to trust in the God of Abraham for your eternal salvation, and that you and I, like Abraham, will grow in our faith, being faithful to the end.


64 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on December 3, 2000.

65 Peter refers to this incident in 1 Peter 3:6, where Sarah speaks of Abraham as her “lord” or “master.” Peter can surely see that this was evidence of her submission, because this was what she was thinking in her mind. If there were ever a time to think less of her husband, it would be in her private thoughts, unknown and unknowable to others (or at least that she assumed no one else could know). At the most unlikely moment, when an apparently impossible event was prophesied, Sarah thought of herself in terms of her submission to her husband. If Abraham’s finest hour is seen in Genesis 22, Sarah’s finest hour seems to be here.

66 I recently received an e-mail asking if I thought Satan could read our thoughts. I responded that I did not believe that Satan could read our minds because this would entail omniscience (knowing all), an attribute that belongs only to God. Further evidence for this conclusion can be seen in our text. While the three “men” speak with Abraham, it is only the Lord who exposes Sarah’s inner thoughts. This was something the angels did not know and could not know. If angels could not read Sarah’s mind, then Satan – a fallen angel – cannot read minds either.

67 See 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23.

68 Compare John 15:15.

69 It should be noted that God’s grace extended beyond Abraham’s request. God agreed not to destroy the cities if but ten righteous could be found. Ten righteous people were not found, but God nevertheless removed the righteous from the city of Sodom before He destroyed it. God did not spare the city for the sake of the righteous, but He did spare the righteous from His wrath upon the wicked city.

70 The husband is to be like Christ, laying down his life for the good of his wife – Ephesians 5:25f.

71 Something He did not say in chapter 16. Abraham listened to Sarai when he should have refused to do so.

72 See 17:18-21.

73 Is this meant to reflect, and even anticipate, the words of 22:3? I am inclined to think so. This is a prototype of his greater sacrifice in chapter 22.

74 This seems to set the stage for Isaac’s later disputes with Abimelech’s servants over the possession of other wells that he or his father had dug (see chapter 26).

75 See 21:14. I am tempted to think that Abraham left early, not because he was eager to get an early start for this task, but in order to leave before Sarah awoke. He would never convince her that he should carry out this mission!

76 We find the Abrahamic Covenant earlier given and affirmed to Abraham in 12:1-3; 13:14-17; 15:1-21; 17:1-27.

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Passage: 

7. Jacob (Genesis 27:1-35:29)

Genesis 27:1—35:29

Introduction

I have preached quite a few funerals in my life — for all kinds of people, who lived in many different kinds of circumstances. When I do a funeral, I always attempt to begin with a biographical sketch of the deceased. I try to focus on some of their positive qualities and to recall some fond memories. I then go on to proclaim the gospel, whether or not that person was saved. It is usually not too difficult to find something positive to say about the person who has died. I did have one occasion where I could think of almost nothing really positive to say, but I believe doing Jacob’s funeral would have proven even more challenging. I could probably follow the example of one of my relatives. She always found something positive to say about everyone. Even of the Devil, she would probably have said, “Well, at least he’s persistent!” I think I could say that about Jacob, or, “Well, at least he’s consistent!”

One of my friends told me not to be too hard on Jacob, because he found that he identified with him. I know just how my friend feels. I can easily identify with Jacob. He is a kind of Old Testament “Peter,” with all the polish rubbed off. And yet this man Jacob is one of the most important men in the Book of Genesis. Almost half of Genesis deals with Jacob and the time period in which he lived. In our text, God will rename Jacob, calling him “Israel.” Jacob is the forefather of the nation Israel. Very often in the Old Testament God refers to Israel as “Jacob,” and it isn’t really that difficult to see why.

As famous as Jacob is, his life was really a mess. Near the end of his life, Jacob is brought before Pharaoh, who asks how many years he has lived:

7 Then Joseph brought in his father Jacob and presented him before Pharaoh. Jacob blessed Pharaoh. 8 Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How long have you lived?” 9 Jacob said to Pharaoh, “All the years of my travels are one hundred and thirty. All the years of my life have been few and painful; the years of my travels are not as long as those of my ancestors.” 10 Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence (Genesis 47:7-10).

Why would Jacob say such a thing? He was a man who was promised the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant, patriarch of the nation Israel. We shall find the answer to this question as we study his life. As we consider Jacob, we will learn a great deal about God, and about ourselves as well.

As I’ve already indicated, the life and times of Jacob receives more attention in Genesis than any other person in the book. This lesson is titled, “Jacob,” and the next and final lesson in the Book of Genesis will be titled, “Joseph.” The truth of the matter is that Joseph’s life is important primarily because of its impact upon Jacob and his sons. Thus, our next lesson will be about Jacob, too.

Our study, “From Creation to the Cross,” is a survey of the turning points in the “unfolding drama of redemption” from Genesis through the Gospels. We cannot study any of our texts in depth, but we must limit ourselves to an overview. The same holds true for the life of Jacob. In this lesson I will limit my message to an overview of the major turning points in the life of Jacob.78

Jacob, Womb Wrestler

Genesis 25:20-26

Jacob’s struggles began in his mother’s womb. Rebekah was not able to become pregnant until Isaac interceded with God on her behalf. Then she conceived, and it soon became obvious that something unusual was going on within her. When she inquired of the Lord about this, the Lord informed her that there were not just twins in her womb, but that there were two nations, and that the older of these twins would serve the younger. When the boys were born, Esau emerged first, followed by Jacob clinging to Esau’s heel. The birth of Jacob was an early indication of things to come.

Jacob Purchases Esau’s Birthright

Genesis 25:27-34

When the boys grew up, Esau became a hunter and outdoorsman. He also had a taste for wild game, just like his father. Esau was Isaac’s favorite son. Jacob, on the other hand, was his mother’s boy. On one occasion, Esau came in from the field tired and hungry. Jacob had just cooked up a fine stew, and Esau asked for some. Jacob “sold” his stew to his older brother in exchange for his birthright, which Esau despised. It seems that while Esau was surely wrong to despise his birthright, Jacob is not heartily condemned for his actions. Esau was not deceived in this transaction. Jacob seems to have done something very shrewd, yet safely inside the line of what was legal. The acquisition of Isaac’s blessing was a very different matter.

Obtaining Isaac’s Blessing Under False Pretenses

Genesis 27

This incident sets the course of Jacob’s life. It is a story filled with intrigue. There is a struggle between Isaac (who wants to bless his son Esau, rather than Jacob) and his wife Rebekah (who wants to be sure that Jacob is blessed). Both husband and wife seem willing to deceive (or at least underhandedly work against) their mate. When Abraham knew that his days were numbered, he sought to obtain a wife for his son, Isaac. But when Isaac felt death was not far away,79 he sought to pronounce his blessing upon Esau. It is almost inconceivable to think that Isaac was unaware of God’s words to his wife that “the older would serve the younger” (25:23). For one thing, I cannot imagine Rebekah not telling Isaac this time after time to buttress her efforts to help Jacob gain dominance over his “older” brother, Esau.

Isaac called his son Esau to him and announced his intention to bless him. He asked his son to go hunt some game, and then to prepare his favorite dish (this was, after all, their common bond – see 25:28), after which he would bless him. All of this seems intended to exclude both Rebekah and “her” son, Jacob. But like Sarah (see 18:10), Rebekah had been listening on the other side of the tent walls (27:5). She quickly called Jacob, told him what his father was about to do, and then proposed a plan to circumvent his efforts. Jacob was no more concerned about the morality of his actions than was his mother. His reservations revolved around the logistics of this scheme and the consequences for him if he were caught. His mother assured him that deceiving Isaac was possible and that she would bear the consequences if they were caught.

What a scene that must have been. Jacob was all decked out in his brother’s clothes, probably three3 sizes too large for him. And to top it all off, he had the skins of goats wrapped around his arms and neck. Isaac was not easily convinced. He sensed that the voice was that of Jacob, and not Esau, and yet Jacob assured his father that he was Esau. When Isaac was surprised that his son would find game so quickly, Jacob was quick to give the answer, “Because the Lord your God brought it to me” (27:20). At least twice Jacob assured his father than he was Esau, his oldest son (27:19, 24). Isaac was suspicious, but when he drew near and smelled the clothing of his son Esau, he was satisfied and pronounced this blessing on Jacob:

27 So Jacob went over and kissed him. When Isaac caught the scent of his clothing, he blessed him, saying,

“Yes, my son smells
like the scent of an open field
which the Lord has blessed.
28 May God give you
the dew of the sky
and the richness of the earth,
and plenty of grain and new wine.
29 May peoples serve you
and nations bow down to you.
You will be lord over your brothers,
and the sons of your mother will bow down to you.
May those who curse you be cursed,
and those who bless you be blessed(Genesis 27:27-29).

Note especially the last two lines of verse 29. It comes as close as Isaac dares to a repetition of the last part of the covenant the God made with Abraham:

1 Now the Lord said to Abram,
“Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household
to the land that I will show you.
2 Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you,
and I will make your name great,
in order that you might be a prime example of divine blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
but the one who treats you lightly I must curse,
and all the families of the earth will pronounce blessings on one another using your name”
(Genesis 12:1-3, emphasis mine).

It would seem that Isaac is attempting to make Esau the heir of the Abrahamic Covenant, rather than Jacob. It would also seem that Isaac is seeking to reverse the words God had spoken to his wife Rebekah:

22 But the children struggled inside her, and she said, “If it is going to be like this, I’m not so sure I want to be pregnant!” So she asked the Lord 23 and the Lord said to her,
Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples will be separated from within you.
One people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger” (Genesis 24:22-23, emphasis mine).

It is only after Isaac learns that he has been deceived, and that his blessing had been pronounced on Jacob that he gives these two blessings; the first to Esau, and the second to Jacob:

39 So his father Isaac said to him [Esau],
“Indeed, your home will be
away from the richness of the earth,
and away from the dew of the sky above.
40 You will live by your sword
but you will serve your brother.
When you grow restless,
you will tear off his yoke
from your neck” (Genesis 27:39-40).80

1 So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him… . 3 May the Sovereign God bless you! May he make you fruitful and give you a multitude of descendants! Then you will become a large nation. 4 May he give you and your descendants the blessing he gave to Abraham, so that you may possess the land God gave to Abraham, the land where you have been living as a temporary resident” (Genesis 28:1a, 3-4).

I believe that it is these last two blessings to which the writer to the Hebrews refers:

By faith also Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning the future (Hebrews 11:20).

I do not think that we can say Isaac gave the first blessing (to Jacob) in faith. Isaac was attempting to undermine God’s choice of Jacob. That can hardly be an act of faith. I think Isaac’s faith is evident when his devious plan is exposed and providentially overruled. It is then that Isaac pronounces the “blessing” on Esau in 27:39-40, which subjects Esau to his younger brother. It is only then that Isaac blesses Jacob by pronouncing upon him the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant. By faith Isaac finally pronounces blessings in accord with God’s revealed word.

1 There was a famine in the land, subsequent to the earlier famine that occurred in the days of Abraham. Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines at Gerar. 2 The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; settle down in the land that I will point out you. 3 Stay in this land. Then I will be with you and will bless you, for I will give all these lands to you and to your descendants, and I will fulfill the solemn promise I made to your father Abraham. 4 I will multiply your descendants so they will be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and I will give them all these lands. All the nations of the earth will pronounce blessings on one another using the name of your descendants. 5 All this will come to pass because Abraham obeyed me and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” 6 So Isaac settled in Gerar (Genesis 26:1-5).

What I wish to emphasize here is the purpose for which Moses gives us such a detailed account of the deception of Isaac by his son Jacob. I would like to suggest to you that the purpose is set out for the reader, by the words that immediately precede this account (Genesis 26:34-35) as well as those that follow it (Genesis 27:41—28:10):

34 When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, as well as Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35 They caused Isaac and Rebekah great anxiety (Genesis 26:34-35).

41 So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing his father had given to his brother. Esau said privately, “The time of mourning for my father is near; then I will kill my brother Jacob!” 42 When Rebekah heard what her older son Esau had said, she quickly summoned her younger son Jacob and told him, “Look, your brother Esau is planning to get revenge by killing you. 43 Now then, my son, do what I say. Run away immediately to my brother Laban in Haran. Live with him for a little while until your brother’s rage subsides. 45 Stay there until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I’ll send someone to bring you back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?” 46 Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am deeply depressed because of these daughters of Heth. If Jacob were to marry one of these daughters of Heth who live in this land, I would want to die!” 1 So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him, “You must not marry a Canaanite woman! 2 Leave immediately for Paddan Aram! Go to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father, and find yourself a wife there, among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. 3 May the Sovereign God bless you! May he make you fruitful and give you a multitude of descendants! Then you will become a large nation. 4 May he give you and your descendants the blessing he gave to Abraham, so that you may possess the land God gave to Abraham, the land where you have been living as a temporary resident.” 5 So Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean and brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau. 6 Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him off to Paddan Aram to find a wife there. As he blessed him, Isaac commanded him, “You must not marry a Canaanite woman.” 7 Jacob obeyed his father and mother and left for Paddan Aram. 8 Then Esau realized that the Canaanite women were displeasing to his father Isaac. 9 So Esau went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Abraham’s son Ishmael, along with the wives he already had (Genesis 27:42—28:10).

I find that the story of Jacob’s deception of Isaac is placed within the larger context of marriage. The last two verses of chapter 26 inform us that Esau was 40 years old when he had married two Hittite women, and that this caused Isaac and Rebekah great grief. You will recall that Isaac was also 40 years old when he married Rebekah (25:20). If Esau is 40, then Jacob also is 40, yet he has no wife. It is through him that the covenant blessings to Abraham and his descendants will pass. Where, then, will Jacob obtain a wife? Genesis 24 is a rather detailed description of how Abraham obtained a wife for Isaac from among his own relatives, rather than from among the Canaanites. Abraham also strongly emphasized that under no circumstances was Isaac to return to Paddan Aram.

After Jacob has deceived his father and stolen his brother’s blessing, Esau becomes so angry that he intends to kill Jacob. He is only waiting for his father’s death (a somewhat more distant event than either Esau or Isaac supposed). Rebekah hears of Esau’s intentions and sets out to save her son’s life. When she speaks to Jacob in 27:42-45, she says nothing to him about marriage. She only warns Jacob of Esau’s plan to kill him. She urges her son Jacob to flee to her brother Laban in Paddan Aram, where he is to stay for “a few days” until Esau’s anger subsides.

The marriage of Jacob is the pretext for sending him away from his brother Esau in order to spare his life. When Rebekah speaks to her husband Isaac, she says nothing of Esau’s plan to kill Jacob. She points out that Esau has married the daughters of Heth, and that she could not live if this were to happen to her son Jacob. In response, Isaac calls Jacob and sends him to Paddan Aram to acquire a wife from the daughters of his uncle Laban. Isaac does not seek to keep Jacob from going to Paddan Aram, as Abraham kept him from going there. He does not warn him not to stay there. He simply sends him on his way.

The point of all this is that neither Isaac nor Rebekah took this marriage matter as seriously as they should have. It was more of a pretext than a matter of primary importance. Granted, Isaac and Rebekah wrung their hands when Esau married two Hittite women, but they did not seem to have given him any instruction on this matter. They left him to figure it out for himself (28:6-9). Now, Esau is married, but Jacob is not. Still, his parents do nothing to secure a wife for him. It is only after Rebekah learns that Esau plans to kill Jacob that she and Isaac send Jacob away. The deceiving of Isaac and the theft of Isaac’s blessing is the reason why Jacob went to Paddan Aram. Jacob did not go about getting a wife in a godly manner. His circumstances forced him into a situation in which he providentially obtained his wives from his mother’s family. What a contrast this is to chapter 24, where Abraham so purposefully sought to obtain a wife for his son. It was circumstances, not faith, nor obedience, which caused Jacob to obtain his wife in Paddan Aram. It is my feeling that if God had not compelled Jacob to return to Canaan, he would have stayed on in Paddan Aram indefinitely, away from the land of blessing.

To Paddan Aram and Back

Genesis 28:10—35:29

Jacob hastily leaves Canaan for Paddan Aram, eager to be away from his brother’s anger. On his way, he came to Bethel,81 where he spent the night. During the night, Jacob received a most important vision:

11 He reached a certain place, where he decided to camp because the sun had gone down. He took one of the stones and placed it near his head. Then he fell asleep in that place 12 and had a dream. He saw a stairway erected on the earth with its top reaching to the heavens. The angels of God were going up and coming down it 13 and the Lord stood at its top. He said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of your father Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the ground you are lying on. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west, east, north, and south. All the families of the earth will pronounce blessings on one another using your name and that of your descendants. 15 I am with you! I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you!” 16 Then Jacob woke up and thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, but I did not realize it!” 17 He was afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! This is nothing else than the house of God! This is the gate of heaven!” 18 Early in the morning Jacob took the stone he had placed near his head and set it up as a sacred stone. Then he poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, although the former name of the town was Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God is with me and protects me on this journey I am taking and gives me food to eat and clothing to wear, 21 and I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will become my God. 22 Then this stone that I have set up as a sacred stone will be the house of God, and I will surely give you back a tenth of everything you give me” (Genesis 28:11-22).82

Jacob’s vision served several important purposes. On the one hand, it was a direct divine announcement to Jacob that he was the heir of the Abrahamic Covenant (28:13-15). In addition, it contained a promise from God that although he was leaving Canaan, God would protect him outside the land and would bring him safely home. It was also a declaration not only of God’s choice of Abraham, Isaac, and now Jacob, but of His choice of this land as the place where God would meet man. This was a message Jacob seized upon. God was in this place in a special way, and Jacob had not realized it until now. This was the “gate of heaven” (28:17).

The inference should be clear. There was no place else on earth like this land, the land of Canaan. God was there in a special way. This was the land that God now promised to give to Jacob and to his descendants. This was also the land that Jacob was about to leave. There was only one logical conclusion to reach from this dream: If God was somehow uniquely present in this place, then Jacob would most certainly need to return here. He may have needed to leave this place for a while, but God would protect him and would bring him safely back. Nowhere else should become Jacob’s permanent home.

Jacob’s response to this dream was somewhat less than satisfactory. He did not praise God for the blessing He just pronounced on him. He did not vow to return to this place, no matter what. The best he can do is to make a promise, based upon a number of “if’s:”

If God would go with him,

If God would protect him on his journey,

If God would provide for his needs, and

If God would bring him back to Canaan safely,

Then Jacob would make the Lord his God (verses 20-21).

Then Jacob would give a tenth (or a tithe) to Him (verse 22).

Having said this, Jacob set up a stone as a memorial and made his way to Paddan Aram.

Like Abraham’s servant, Jacob finds his wife at a well near Laban’s home. Moses tells us about an incident that took place at this well, which gives us much insight into Jacob’s character. Jacob arrives at a well in the field. It may have been the very same well that Abraham’s servant came to years before. Three flocks of sheep were lying down beside the well. The well was covered by a large stone, and no one seemed to be doing anything to uncover the well so that the flocks could be watered. Jacob watched for some time, and then he could not help but ask why they didn’t uncover the well, water their flocks, and then put them out to graze. It looked like they were wasting time.

The shepherds had a very reasonable answer. They were waiting for others who would come and remove the stone; then they would water their flocks. Afterwards, those who uncovered the well would cover it again. I understand this explanation this way:

“This is not our well. It belongs to another. We have to purchase water from him. Every day we line up by the well with our flocks, and then the owner sends his servants to uncover the well. When they uncover the well, then we water our flocks. When we are done, they cover the well again and leave. This we do day after day.”

This was not a “self-service” well. You had to purchase its water. Shepherds had no right to uncover the well and to help themselves. They had to wait for the owner or his servants to give them access to the water. They had to pay for what they used. It was perfectly logical, but it made no sense to Jacob. When Rachel arrived with her father’s flock, Jacob decided to wait no longer. He removed the stone and watered her flocks. (What an interesting reversal from the previous visit by Abraham’s servant. On this occasion, Jacob’s mother gave water to the servant, and then she watered his camels.)

This story tells us a great deal about Jacob. This fellow didn’t care about “the rules.” He did not care how things were done. If something did not make sense to him – or if it was inconvenient – then Jacob would willfully bypass the rules. Jacob could well have written the lyrics to a contemporary song, “I did it my way.” So he did, and he usually paid a high price for doing so.

I believe that Moses intends for us to compare and contrast Jacob’s conduct at this well with the conduct of Abraham’s servant at the well in chapter 24. In chapter 24, it was not Isaac who was at the well, but Abraham’s servant. The servant prayed that God would lead him to the right wife for Isaac, and then he praised God for doing so. Abraham’s servant sought for a woman who was a relative of Abraham, but also for a woman of character. Jacob, on the other hand, immediately falls in love with Rachel, based on her looks and personality, and not on her character. He does not pray before he meets Rachel, just as he does not pray after he finds her. Instead, Isaac weeps and kisses Rachel.

Jacob gets more than he bargains for when he negotiates with Laban for a wife. He intends to marry Rachel, and when he bargains with Laban, that is what he thinks he is going to get. When Jacob asks for Rachel’s hand in marriage, Laban’s words are carefully chosen: “I’d rather give her to you than to another man. Stay with me” (29:19b). I chuckle every time I read the rest of Jacob’s wedding story. Jacob takes his new wife into his tent, where his marriage is consummated. In the morning, Jacob wakes up and beholds his new bride in the light of day, only to find out he has married Leah. He is incensed; he is filled with righteous indignation, and he expresses this to Laban:

25 In the morning Jacob discovered it was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What in the world have you done to me! Didn’t I work for you in exchange for Rachel? Why have you tricked me?” 26 “It is not our custom here,” Laban replied, “to give the younger daughter in marriage before the firstborn. 27 Complete my older daughter’s bridal week. Then we will give you the younger one too, in exchange for seven more years of work” (Genesis 29:25-27).

Laban was one shrewd fellow. He probably knew Jacob loved Rachel so much that he would work yet another seven years for her. He makes no apologies for his actions, pointing out what I believe Jacob already knew to be the custom: the oldest daughter was married off first, and then the younger daughter(s). Once again, Jacob was not interested in following the rules, but only in getting what he wanted. Perhaps, too, Jacob could not avoid seeing the poetic justice in what had happened.83 He had deceived his father in order to obtain his blessing, and by so doing, he substituted himself (the younger) for Esau (the older). Now, God allowed Laban to substitute the older (Leah) for the younger (Rachel). Jacob was getting a dose of his own medicine.

It is important to see that Jacob’s choice of Rachel over Leah was much like Isaac’s choice of Esau over Jacob. God’s blessings were in accord with neither Isaac’s nor Jacob’s preferences. God blessed Jacob over Esau, even as He blessed Leah over Rachel. Leah bore six sons and one daughter, and her handmaid bore Jacob two more sons, while Rachel bore only two sons, and her maid another two (Genesis 35:22-27). Compared individually, Leah had three times as many children as Rachel (six to two). Collectively, Leah and her handmaid produced twice as many sons for Jacob as did Rachel and her handmaid (8 to 4).

There is more to it than this, however. Rachel died earlier than Leah and was buried along the road (Genesis 35:19), while Leah lived longer and was buried in the family burial place (49:29-32). To me, Leah had more spiritual perception than Rachel (compare 29:32, 33, 35; 30:8). For example, it was Rachel who stole her father’s household idols (31:19). She also seemed to be very much like her husband (see 30:8). You will note that Rachel’s two sons Joseph and Benjamin do not play a major role in the spiritual leadership of the nation Israel, while Levi and Judah (both Leah’s sons) do.

Through a very complicated and competitive process, Jacob acquired two wives and two concubines while in Paddan Aram. These four women bore Jacob the twelve sons who would become the patriarchs of the nation Israel.84 During his 20-year sojourn in Paddan Aram, Jacob became a wealthy man, largely at the expense of Laban and his sons. His prosperity came in a different way than he originally thought. For the first 14 years of his stay with Laban, Jacob worked for Laban as payment for his two wives. But when Jacob was ready to leave with his wives, Laban urged him to stay and to name his wages, for Jacob had made him a wealthy man (30:26-30). Jacob offered Laban a deal he could hardly refuse. Laban was not to pay him anything, but simply to give him the speckled and spotted sheep and goats, and the black lambs. Since these were the rare offspring, Laban thought he could hardly lose, and so he agreed.85

Jacob was not content to leave his prosperity to God, and so he devised a clever scheme by which he thought he would gain at Laban’s expense. He assumed that he could influence the offspring of Laban’s cattle by manipulating their environment. And so he took freshly cut branches and peeled them, so that they would be striped, and then he placed them in close proximity to the strongest and best of Laban’s flocks (30:37-43). From all appearances, his scheme seemed to be working:

37 But Jacob took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond, and plane trees. He made white streaks by peeling them, making the white inner wood in the branches visible. 38 Then he set up the peeled branches in all the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink. He set up the branches in front of the flocks when they were in heat and came to drink. 39 When the sheep mated in front of the branches, they gave birth to young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. 40 Jacob removed these lambs, but he made the rest of the flock face the streaked and completely dark-colored animals in Laban’s flock. So he made separate flocks for himself and did not mix them with Laban’s flocks. 41 When the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would set up the branches in the troughs in front of the flock, so they would mate near the branches. 42 But if the animals were weaker, he did not set the branches there. So the weaker animals ended up belonging to Laban and the stronger animals to Jacob. 43 In this way Jacob became extremely prosperous. He owned large flocks, male and female servants, camels, and donkeys (Genesis 30:37-43).

In my mind’s eye, I can see Jacob peeling pole after pole, smiling to himself as he thought of how clever he was. He was finally getting even with Laban; in fact, he was gaining the upper hand. Day and night Jacob must have worked at this scheme, willing to put out the extra effort because he was making himself prosperous. And then one day God let him know the true cause of his prosperity:

10 “Once during breeding season I saw in a dream that the male goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled, and spotted. 11 In the dream the angel of God said to me, ‘Jacob!’ ‘Here I am!’ I replied. 12 Then he said, ‘Observe that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled, or spotted, for I have observed all that Laban has done to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the sacred stone and made a vow to me. Now leave this land immediately and return to your native land’” (Genesis 31:10-13).

What a shocking revelation this was! His prosperity had absolutely nothing to do with all those branches he had peeled and strategically placed among the flocks. In his dream, God pointed out that only the “streaked, speckled, and spotted” goats were mating. The offspring were streaked, speckled, or spotted because only the streaked, speckled, or spotted males were mating. It had nothing at all to do with being around those peeled branches. God caused this to happen because of His covenant promise to Jacob, and because Laban had dealt in an unfair manner with Jacob. All of Jacob’s efforts were wasted efforts. They counted for nothing at all. His “works” counted for nothing so far as his blessings were concerned, just as our works count for nothing so far as our salvation is concerned (see Titus 3:3-7).

Once again in Genesis prosperity brings about a separation (see Genesis 13:6-13; 26:12-17; see also 36:6-8). Laban’s wealth, acquired largely due to Jacob’s presence for those first 14 years, was now largely transferred from Laban and his sons to Jacob. Laban’s sons were all too aware of this and were very bitter toward Jacob (31:1-2). It was at this time that God spoke to Jacob, instructing him to return to the land of Canaan (31:3). I don’t believe Jacob would have been willing to leave Paddan Aram if his relationship with Laban and his sons had not become so strained. But now he was more than ready. He gathered his wives, children, and cattle and left without saying a word to Laban.

When Laban learned that Jacob and his family and flocks had fled, he was incensed that Jacob would deceive him in this way. He was even more distressed to discover that Jacob’s absence corresponded with the absence of his family idols (31:19, 30). I believe Laban may have seriously considered killing Jacob, thereby retrieving his daughters, grandchildren, and cattle. God put a quick end to any such thoughts by warning Laban in a dream not to even speak harshly to Jacob (31:24, 29). Because of this warning, Laban gently rebuked Jacob, and then sought to recover his lost idols. Due to Rachel’s cunning, Laban did not find them. After getting an earful of Jacob’s outpouring of “righteous indignation,” Laban pressed Jacob to make a covenant – a sort of non-aggression treaty – with him, and then the two went their separate ways.

Jacob’s return to Canaan was not all that the reader would wish it to be. God had instructed Jacob to return to his homeland and to his relatives:

The Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives. I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3).

We would have expected Jacob to return to Bethel, the place of his dream (28:10-22), but Jacob seems to be in no hurry to get there. Along the way the “angels of God” meet Jacob and his family (32:1-2). Jacob’s main concern is his brother Esau, who had determined to kill him before he fled to Paddan Aram. Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to notify Esau that he was soon to arrive. His messengers returned to inform Jacob that Esau was on his way to meet him, with 400 armed men. Surely Jacob assumed that his brother was about to attack.

Jacob was frightened and divided his entourage into two groups, thinking that if one group were attacked, the other might escape and survive. He then prayed for God’s protection:

9 Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord, you said to me, ‘Return to your land and to your relatives and I will make you prosper.’ 10 I am not worthy of all the faithful love you have shown your servant. With only my walking stick I crossed the Jordan, but now I have become two camps. 11 Rescue me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, as well as the mothers with their children. 12 But you said, ‘I will certainly make you prosper, and will make your descendants like the sand on the seashore, too numerous to count’” (Genesis 32:9-12).

Having prayed, Jacob arranged a gift for his brother, composed of several groups or “waves” of cattle. All of this Jacob hoped would appease his brother’s anger and result in his brother’s acceptance.

That night Jacob had a most unusual wrestling match with God (Genesis 32:22-32). I must confess that it is a difficult incident to understand. It is not hard to think of Jacob wrestling. He did this in the womb (25:22-23), and in much of his life, he struggled to gain the advantage over someone. His wife, Rachel, was much the same way (see 29:8). Two things have puzzled me about this wrestling match. The first is that there was any contest at all. Couldn’t God overcome Jacob in a wrestling match? Of course He could, and He did. With a mere touch, He dislocated Jacob’s hip joint. I believe God wanted to give Jacob the impression that he had prevailed and that he had the upper hand, just to see what he would ask for when he seemed to have the advantage. Jacob is not willing to let go until God had blessed him. This is certainly progress from the Jacob we saw earlier, decked out in his brother’s clothing, neck and arms covered with animal skins. He was right to understand that blessings come from God.

The other thing that has always troubled me about this account is that God said, “What is your name?” He answered, “Jacob.” “No longer will your name be Jacob,” the man told him, “but Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:27b-28). How can anyone fight with God and prevail over Him? One possibility is that God is not speaking with reference to the past, but with reference to the future. This “blessing” that God pronounces upon Jacob is that he, the one who had characteristically wrestled with both God and man, would now prevail with God and man. It was not his struggling that earned him God’s blessing, but rather God’s grace. Jacob should now see that his struggle was not with others, but with God. We should hardly chalk this incident up as a victory over God for Jacob, in the sense that this man successfully opposed God, and won. Jacob rightly grasped the significance of that moment: he had seen God and had lived to tell about it.

The sad thing about this wrestling match with God is that it seems to have had very little permanent impact on Jacob. The Jacob we see after this amazing incident is largely the same old Jacob we have seen all along. After this wrestling match was over, Jacob did seem to change his course in one positive way: when his family set out to meet Esau, Jacob moved to the front, rather than to hide out at the back (see 23:3).

The meeting with Esau went amazingly well. Jacob found a brother who welcomed him with open arms, even though he had deceived him and stolen his blessing. The armed men who accompanied Esau seem to be those he brought with him to protect Jacob, not to kill him. Jacob strongly resisted Esau’s kind offer to accompany him, urging his brother to go on ahead, and assuring him that he would catch up. It is my personal opinion that Jacob still feared his brother and did not wish to be close to him for any period of time. Jacob argued that his pace would only hold his brother up and that he would prefer to drive his flocks at a slower pace, for their benefit. And with this, Esau mounts up and rides off to his home in Seir.

What follows is not very encouraging. It seems very much like Jacob lied to Esau when he promised to come to him soon (33:14):

16 So that same day Esau made his way back to Seir. 17 But Jacob traveled to Succoth, where he built himself a house and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place was called Succoth.18 After he left Paddan Aram, Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem in the land of Canaan, and he camped near the city. 19 Then he purchased the portion of the field where he had pitched his tent; he bought it from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for a hundred pieces of money. 20 There he set up an altar and called it “The God of Israel is God” (Genesis 33:18-20, emphasis mine).

Why would Jacob have “built himself a house” and “made shelters for his livestock” at Succoth (33:17) if he was planning to go directly to Seir where Esau lived? We are then told that Jacob arrived at the city of Shechem, and from what we read in chapter 34, it would seem as though Jacob intended to stay there indefinitely. I think it is reasonable to conclude that Jacob didn’t intend to go anywhere close to where Esau lived because he was afraid of him. Had it not been for a very ugly incident at Shechem, I doubt that Joseph would have ever returned to his father.

Leah’s daughter, Dinah, went into the city of Shechem to visit with some of the young women there (34:1). While she was in the city, Shechem, the mayor’s son, saw Dinah, took her, and raped her (34:2). Jacob heard about this incident when his sons were out in the field, but he did nothing about it. Shechem was very attracted to Dinah and wanted to marry her. He had his father meet with Jacob to see if a marriage could be arranged. Jacob was willing to do so, but this would have meant the end of the nation Israel before it really got started. If they had remained in Shechem, intermarrying with the Canaanites, the nation Israel would have been absorbed by the Canaanites, which is exactly what Haman, Shechem’s father, promised his fellow-citizens (34:20-24).

Leah’s brothers were deeply incensed by the crime that Shechem had committed against their sister, and they were not about to let him get away with it. Deceitfully, Simeon and Levi insisted that they could not allow their sister to marry anyone who was not circumcised. The same would hold true for any other Israelite woman. And so the men of Shechem consented to be circumcised. By the third day after their circumcision the men of Shechem were in great agony, and definitely not in any condition to fight. Simeon and Levi went into the city of Shechem and slaughtered all the men, taking their wives, children, and possessions as spoil. They began by killing Haman and his son Shechem and retrieving their sister Dinah (34:16).

Jacob was greatly angered by the action taken by his sons. He feared reprisals from “friends and family” of those who his sons had killed. Jacob was primarily concerned with the repercussions of this slaughter, and not with the moral issues involved. His sons put it very well, “Should he treat our sister like a common prostitute?” (34:31b).

If Jacob had intended to live near Shechem, this was no longer possible. They must flee from that place before any relatives attempted to seek revenge for this slaughter. God once again spoke to Jacob, telling him to leave:

Then God said to Jacob, “Go up at once to Bethel and live there. Make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau” (35:1).

And so Jacob and his family quickly departed for Bethel. Once again, Jacob is driven my by a crisis rather than by principle.

More than twenty years after his flight from Canaan and his brother Esau, Jacob finally returns to Bethel, the place where God had first appeared to him. Here Jacob built an altar. It was also here that Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried beneath the oak tree (35:8). God once again appeared to Jacob, reaffirming His covenant:

9 God appeared to Jacob again after he returned from Paddan Aram and blessed him 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but your name will no longer be called Jacob; Israel will be your name.” So God named him Israel. 11 Then God said to him, “I am the Sovereign God. Be fruitful and multiply! A nation—even a company of nations—will descend from you; kings will be among your descendants! 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you. To your descendants I will also give this land.” 13 Then God went up from the place where he spoke with him. 14 So Jacob set up a sacred stone pillar in the place where God spoke with him. He poured out a drink offering on it and then he poured oil on it. 15 Jacob named the place where God spoke with him Bethel (Genesis 35:9-15).

As Jacob went on from Bethel, Rachel went into labor and delivered her second son, whom she named “Ben-oni” (son of my sorrow), but Jacob changed his name to Benjamin (son of my right hand). Rachel died and was buried along the way (35:19-20). We know that Leah died later and was buried in the family burial plot (49:29-32). We are not told how the reunion with Isaac went, but only that Jacob and Esau jointly buried him after his death at the ripe old age of 180 (35:28-29).

Conclusion

The story of Jacob is far from over. Moses will continue to describe God’s working in his life until the last chapter of Genesis. There are some lessons to be learned from Jacob, which can be seen from our text. Let me close this message by pointing out some of these lessons.

There is a correspondence between Jacob’s sojourn in Paddan Aram and his later sojourn in Egypt, along with his family. Several details strike me about Jacob’s departure and later return to Bethel. First, Jacob went to Paddan Aram as a penniless individual; he returned with great wealth, wives, and children. Similarly, Jacob and his family went to Egypt during a famine, with little wealth, but when the nation Israel left Egypt, they came away with considerable wealth. Second, Jacob returned to Canaan with much of Laban’s wealth, because Laban sought to mistreat him (31:1, 11-12). Much of the wealth the Israelites brought out of Egypt was given them by the Egyptians, who were eager to see them leave. The wealth they were given was really “back pay” for all their labors. Third, Jacob was met by the angels of God (32:1-2). The Israelites were likewise cared for by angels (Exodus 14:19; 23:20, 23; 32:34; 33:2; Numbers 20:16; Psalm 78:25, 49). Fourth, Jacob left Canaan because of the anger and hostility of his brother (chapters 27-28; 35:1). Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt because of his brothers’ hatred (Genesis 37). When he returned, his brother and he were reconciled (chapter 33). Joseph and his brothers were likewise reconciled (Genesis 45). Fifth, Jacob had his family put off all their foreign gods (35:2-4). The Israelites were likewise instructed to put away the
gods their fathers had worshipped in Egypt (Joshua 24:14; see also Amos 5:25-26). Sixth, God brought terror upon all those who might have opposed Jacob’s return (35:5). So, too, the nations heard of God’s triumph over Egypt at the exodus and were terrified (Exodus 15:14-16; Numbers 22:3-4; Joshua 2:10-11).

Jacob’s sojourn in Paddan Aram was a prelude to, and a prototype of, Israel’s sojourn in Egypt. It was intended to demonstrate how God kept His covenant promises, protecting and providing for His people. As God cared for Jacob (Israel), so He would care for the nation Israel.

In our Lord’s day, the Jews took great pride in their identification with Abraham. They boasted in the fact that they were Abraham’s offspring (see Matthew 3:9; John 8:33, 39). Nowhere that I can think of does anyone boast in the fact that they are Jacob’s offspring. God chose to name Jacob “Israel” because the Israelites would be like their forefather. In many ways, Israel’s history is a rerun of Jacob’s life. How many times God’s purposes and promises for Israel are fulfilled providentially, and not by the obedience of faith. The life of Jacob is not a life of faith, but a life of wrestling and struggling, with God and man. Jacob does not provide us with an example of a man of faith, but his life surely illustrates the faithfulness of God, in spite of man’s unfaithfulness:

If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:12).

Jacob teaches us a great deal about “getting ahead in life.” Jacob was a man who knew all about asserting himself, about “looking out for number one.” He was more than willing to get ahead at the expense of others. Up to this point in his life, I see no humility, and no servanthood. He grasped every opportunity to further his own personal interests, at the expense of others. His life is a vivid contrast to what we are taught in the Book of Philippians:

3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. 5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,

6 who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
8 He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross!
9 As a result God exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow
—in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess
to the glory of God the Father
that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:3-11).

What a contrast Jacob is to our Lord (above), and to men like Timothy and Epaphroditus:86

19 Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you quickly, so that I too may be encouraged by hearing news about you. 20 For there is no one here like him who will readily demonstrate his deep concern for you. 21 Others are busy with their own concerns, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know his qualifications, that like a son working with his father, he served with me in advancing the gospel. 23 So I hope to send him as soon as I know more about my situation, 24 though I am confident in the Lord that I too will be coming soon (Philippians 2:19-24, emphasis mine).

Jacob has not yet learned the Christian paradox that one saves his life by giving it up, and he gains most by giving. Unfortunately, Jacob is typical of many successful people today – he sought to succeed by outwitting others. And the irony of it all is that Jacob’s deception and scheming contributed nothing to his success, which was all of God, and all of grace. The only thing his scheming brought him was broken relationships and adversity.

There is surely a lesson in our text concerning marriage and the family. We learn from Esau the dangers of intermarriage. This was a significant threat to the nation Israel, because it was through the Jews that the promised Messiah would come. It was also dangerous because foreign wives would turn the hearts of the Israelites to worship their gods. Who we choose for our life’s mate is very important today as well. To marry outside the faith is not only wrong (see 1 Corinthians 7:39; see also 2 Corinthians 6:14-18), it has very painful consequences. Let us learn from Jacob that we should not choose a wife on the basis of appearances, but rather on the basis of godly character.

I think we can also see that polygamy creates all kinds of problems. We read of how Jacob loved Rachel, but not Leah, and our hearts go out to Leah, the unloved wife. On the other hand, we must ask ourselves, “What do we expect?” Marriage was never designed to be anything other than a “one man, one woman” relationship. I am to love my wife, which means I must value and treasure her above all others. How can any man have two wives and love them equally? The choice to marry a woman includes a determination to value her above anyone else. This can only happen with one woman. Polygamy always has its problems.

We certainly can learn something about parenting from the bad example of Isaac and Rebekah. The first mistake is that both Isaac and Rebekah favored one of their children, so much so that one must wonder if the child isn’t more loved than their mate. Rebekah is certainly not submissive to her husband, but Isaac is being underhanded in his dealings with his wife. Neither Isaac nor Rebekah seemed to teach their children about walking with God and about choosing a godly wife. They agonized over the consequences of bad parenting, but did nothing to correct it. Much of their sorrow was of their own doing, because their sins were amplified in the lives of their sons.

Jacob seems to live out what I would call “crisis Christianity.” In his day-to-day life, he lives very much like the pagans, giving little attention to the things of God. He employs fleshly means to get ahead, rather than faith, exercised through humility and servanthood. It is only when his back is to the wall and he has no other choice that he seems to call on God to rescue him. There is no hint of a daily walk in fellowship with God. There are several very significant spiritual high points in his life (such as his dream at Bethel), but these produce no permanent change.

How many of us live much the same kind of life? We go our merry way, employing our own devices, seeking to further our interests. Only when our plans collapse, or when real danger looms on the horizon, do we turn to God. Only then do we pray and read His Word. From time to time, we may have a “mountain top” spiritual experience or encounter with God, but no permanent fruit results. Let us not be like Jacob, turning to God only in times of crisis. Let us abide in Him, walking by faith, and not by sight, placing the interests of others above our own.


77 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on December 10, 2000.

78 A more detailed exposition of Genesis by this author is available at the Biblical Studies Foundation Website, to be found at www.bible.org.

79 Isaac seriously miscalculated the time of his death. He was right at 100 years old when he thought he was dying and blessed Jacob (He was 60 when Rebekah had the twins, 25:26; and the boys were about 40 when Jacob fled, 26:34). Isaac was 180 years old when he died (35:29).

80 While much of the “blessing” pronounced upon Esau is more of a curse, there is the promise of verse 40 that Esau will someday “tear off the yoke” that is around his neck. This is consistent with the Abrahamic Covenant, which promised blessing through Abraham’s offspring to all the nations. It also seems consistent with the words of Amos 9:11-12; see also Acts 15:16-18.

81 This is where Abraham worshipped the Lord; see 12:8; 13:3.

82 The reader should recognize that Jesus referred to this dream as a prophecy concerning Himself (John 1:50-51). There, our Lord speaks of Himself as the stairway, the Mediator between heaven and earth, between men and God. If Jacob was greatly impressed with where the stairway was placed, he would really have been impressed with what the stairway symbolized.

83 Joseph’s brothers realized that their circumstances were the result of their previous sin (see Genesis 42:18-22).

84 Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, give him a double portion, as though he were the firstborn.

85 Jacob later accuses Laban of changing his wages ten times (Genesis 31:41).

86 See Philippians 2:25-30.

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Passage: 

8. Joseph (Genesis 37:1-50:26)

Genesis 37:1—50:26

Introduction

For several years, I was actively involved in prison ministry, teaching in-prison seminars for Prison Fellowship in a few prisons around the country. I knew that in some prisons a number of the inmates had lower than average reading skills; some did not even speak English.88 I was told that because of this the attention span of some inmates was limited to just a few minutes, and thus I would need to continually interject activities to hold the attention of those who attended. It occurred to me that the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis might be a better way to communicate with the seminar participants, and so I would work my way from Genesis 37 to Genesis 45, all in one weekend. What I found was amazing. This story so captured their interest and attention that they listened intently for more than an hour at a time, if necessary.

I also noticed a marked change that took place during the course of the seminar. In the beginning, everyone tended to identify with Joseph, the innocent victim who was betrayed by his brothers. Even those who were guilty of their crimes tended to identify someone who was responsible for their incarceration and to focus their anger towards them. When Joseph’s brothers arrived in Egypt and Joseph dealt harshly with them, there was a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction: “Yes, Joseph was getting even with them, and they deserved it!” But as the story of Joseph approached its conclusion, my audience came to see that Joseph’s dealings with his brothers were not motivated by revenge, but by love. They began to grasp the key role that Judah played in this drama, and some began to identify more with him than with Joseph. As the men witnessed Joseph’s attitude toward his incarceration, they were intrigued. As they observed his recognition of the sovereignty of God, they were fascinated. As they read of his forgiveness of his brothers, who had unjustly sold him into bondage, they were amazed. This story has a powerful message that speaks not only to prisoners, but also to every single one of us.

The story of Joseph is one of the great dramas of the Bible. A young man is favored by his father and is consequently hated by his brothers. The brothers conspire to rid themselves of Joseph, and sell him as a slave to a caravan of Ishmaelites, headed for Egypt. Doing right by his Egyptian master wins Joseph Potiphar’s favor, which makes Joseph the most powerful man under his authority. Remaining faithful to his master by rejecting his wife’s advances angers her, and causes Joseph to be imprisoned on false charges. Eventually, Joseph is elevated to the second highest position in the land, and then God uses a famine to bring his brothers to Egypt. He has the perfect opportunity to get revenge, but he does not do so. Joseph’s dealings with his brothers will eventually bring them to repentance, and thus they will be reconciled as a family. Joseph plays a very key role in the history of the nation Israel, and his example has much to teach us as well.

Betrayed

Genesis 37

Actually, the story of Joseph begins before Genesis 37. The twelve sons of Jacob were the offspring of four mothers. The rivalry between Jacob’s two wives and two concubines caused much dissention within the family. Joseph, along with his younger brother Benjamin, were the only children of Rachel, Jacob’s favored wife. Eight of Joseph’s siblings were the sons of Jacob’s unloved wife, Leah, and her handmaid, Zilpah (see Genesis 34:22b-26). It was all too apparent to these older brothers that Jacob loved Joseph — the “son of his old age” — more than all of them combined (37:3, 4), and for this reason they hated Joseph.

There were other contributing factors, which fueled the hatred of these older brothers for Joseph. Jacob (Israel) unwisely used this 17-year-old boy to spy on his other sons and had Joseph report to him privately (37:2. 13-14). His father also gave Joseph a multi-colored tunic, which was a symbol of his power and precedence over his brothers (37:3). In addition to this, Joseph was unwise in the way he related to his brothers. This may have been due to the naivety of youth, but his brothers were greatly angered by his reports of his two dreams, both of which symbolized his authority over them, and even over their parents. Eventually, Joseph’s brothers could not speak to him in a civil manner (37:4).

For some reason, Joseph was kept at home when his brothers took their father’s flock to graze near Shechem. Israel became somewhat uneasy about how things were going in Shechem, and his fears were not ill-founded. This is where Jacob had purchased some land (33:19). It is also the place where Jacob’s two sons, Simeon and Levi, killed Shechem (who had raped their sister, Dinah) and the men of the city, taking the women, children, and cattle of Shechem as spoil (Genesis 34). It could certainly be a dangerous place for these sons of Jacob to remain, and so Israel sent Joseph to Shechem to check on his brothers.

As it turns out, Joseph’s brothers had moved on to Dothan, nearly 20 miles further to the north and thus that much more distant from Jacob’s watchful eye.89 Providentially, a man saw Joseph wandering about in the fields around Shechem. He just happened to overhear Joseph’s brothers saying that they were moving on to Dothan, so Joseph set out to find them. When his brothers looked up and saw someone approaching from a distance, there was no question who it was. That distinctive multi-colored tunic, with sleeves, gave Joseph away. They had plenty of time to agree among themselves that this was their golden opportunity to be rid of him. At least some of the brothers wanted to kill Joseph and end it then and there.

Reuben did not agree with this plan. He wanted to spare Joseph’s life, but it would seem that his motives were self-serving. He, after all, was the eldest of Israel’s sons, and he would be held responsible for not looking after Joseph. Because of this, he sought to spare Joseph’s life. He convinced his brothers to throw Joseph into a nearby cistern, thinking that he would return and free the lad later on. Providentially, the cistern was dry so that Joseph did not drown.

Reuben was gone – perhaps taking his turn watching the flock – when his brothers sat down to eat, somewhere near the cistern, probably well within hearing distance, so that as they ate they could hear his cries for help.90 Dothan was on the trading route to Egypt, and it “just so happened” that as they were eating, they looked up to see a caravan of Ishmaelites drawing near. Their camels were carrying spices, balm, and myrrh, a detail that will be taken up later.

It was at this point Judah proposed a more profitable solution to their problem. Rather than killing Joseph, why not sell him as a slave? They would be rid of him, yet they would not be guilty of shedding his blood. And, to make this an even more tempting opportunity, they could make a little money for themselves at the same time. This seemed to accomplish all of their objectives better than killing Joseph. Since Reuben was not there to object, Judah’s suggestion was adopted. They pulled Joseph out of the cistern and handed him over to the Ishmaelites, who paid them twenty pieces of silver (37:28). Some time later, Reuben returned to the cistern to release Joseph, only to find that he was gone. Reuben reported this to his brothers, and we are not told that they confessed what they had done. They all tore up Joseph’s tunic and dipped it in goat’s blood, to make it look as though Joseph had been killed and eaten by a wild animal.

Coldly, the brothers thrust the blood-drenched tunic into their father’s hands, asking him if it was Joseph’s garment. They let their father draw his own false conclusion – that Joseph had been killed and devoured by a wild animal. I wonder if there was a certain satisfaction for these sons of Israel when they saw their father mourning the loss of his favorite son. They attempted to console him, but he was unwilling to be comforted.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

Genesis 38

Genesis 38 may seem somewhat out of place at first glance, but this is far from the case. Why does Moses change the focus from Joseph in chapter 37 to Judah in chapter 38, only to return once again to Joseph in chapters 39 and following? First, we must bear in mind that Jacob will soon announce that the promised Messiah will come through the line of Judah (Genesis 49:8-12). Second, we should recall that it was Judah who proposed that the brothers sell Joseph into slavery, rather than to kill him (37:26-27). Third, Judah’s immorality in chapter 38 will serve as a backdrop, against which the moral purity of Joseph will be contrasted in Genesis 39. Fourth, chapter 38 sets the scene for Joseph’s reunion with his brothers in chapters 42 and following. It is approximately 22 years from the time Joseph is sold into slavery to the time his brothers arrive in Egypt, seeking grain.91 Chapter 38 covers this same period of time, but focuses on Judah and his conduct in the land of Canaan. During this same time frame of 22 years (approximately), Judah leaves home, marries a Canaanite woman, and has three sons, two of whom are old enough to marry, and are so wicked that God takes their lives.

It’s not hard to understand why Judah would leave home. It must have been pure misery to watch Jacob pining away in sorrow, refusing to be comforted (37:35). Abraham was very careful to obtain a non-Canaanite wife for his son, Isaac (chapter 24). Isaac and Rebekah were not as careful, but God providentially provided two wives for Jacob from Rebekah’s brother Laban, in Paddan Aram (Genesis 29). Judah promptly leaves home and marries a Canaanite woman (38:1-2).92 She has three sons. When the firstborn son was old enough, Judah acquired a Canaanite wife for him named Tamar. Judah’s first son, Er, was evil in God’s sight and the Lord took his life (38:7). Judah instructed his second son, Onan, to take Tamar and raise up a descendant for his deceased brother, but he prevented Tamar from producing a child. Judah was afraid of losing his youngest son Shelah, so he asked Tamar to live at home until this boy was older.

After the passing of a considerable period of time, Judah’s wife died and Tamar realized that Judah would never give her to Shelah, his only surviving son. She seems to have known Judah all too well, because she disguised herself as a prostitute and stationed herself along the route she knew Judah would be taking to Timnah, along with his friend Hirah. Tamar’s expectations were fulfilled by Judah, who hired her as a prostitute, and left some of his possessions as a guarantee of payment. Tamar had concealed her identity by the use of a veil, and so Judah never knew the identity of his companion that night. Some time later Judah was told that his daughter-in-law had become pregnant, and Judah was indignant. He insisted that she be put to death for her immorality. It was then that Tamar produced Judah’s cylinder seal (the ancient counterpart of a driver’s license or Social Security card today), his cord, and his staff – all items that were as good as fingerprints. Judah confessed that Tamar was more righteous than he. She was the one who sought to preserve his line. She bore twins to Judah, and Perez would be the one through whom the Messianic line would be continued, no thanks to Judah (see Genesis 46:12; Ruth 4:12).

Why would Moses include this rather sordid story here in the midst of the account of Joseph’s betrayal? The reason is both clear and compelling: If Israel had remained in the land of Canaan, and if they had behaved like Judah, there would have been no distinct nation of Israel left to possess the Promised Land. The Israelites would very shortly have been completely assimilated into the Canaanite culture and race. This is why God took the Israelites down to Egypt. The Egyptians loathed the Hebrews and wanted nothing to do with them. With but one rare exception (Mrs. Potiphar), they were not willing to engage in intimate relationships with the Hebrews. Even if Judah and his brothers were willing to be immoral, the Egyptians were not willing – to be immoral with Hebrews, at least. The story of Judah and Tamar explains why God quarantined the Israelites in Egypt for 400 years.

The Price of Purity

Genesis 39:1-20

Genesis 39 is a refreshing example of sexual purity. Joseph was purchased from the Ishmaelites by Potiphar, a powerful and prosperous man. Potiphar was a servant of Pharaoh. He owned what appears to be a large and lucrative ranch. Initially, Joseph was probably acquired to work with the flocks. Over a period of time, it became apparent to Potiphar that God’s hand was on Joseph – everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. Before long, Potiphar had put everything under Joseph’s authority. The only decisions Potiphar made concerned what he would have for dinner (39:6).

The problem was that Mrs. Potiphar (a woman whose name is never given – she is only referred to as Potiphar’s wife) began to take note of Joseph. She tried in various ways to seduce him, but Joseph purposed to avoid her. One day she managed to trap Joseph in the house alone, where she once again sought to seduce him. He found it necessary to flee, leaving his outer garment in her grasp (notice how Joseph’s coats always seemed to get him into trouble). She then accused Joseph of attacking her, and Potiphar, her husband, had Joseph thrown into prison.93 Joseph did not have far to go from the “executive suite” to the prison, because they were all in the same house. In those days prisons were really dungeons, under the house of an official like Potiphar. Potiphar was, in fact, the “captain of the guard” (39:1; 40:3). In prison, as in the executive suite, God’s hand of blessing continued to be upon Joseph.

From the Prison to the Palace

Genesis 39:21—41:57

In prison, it would have been very easy for Joseph to wallow in self-pity. He could well have said to himself, “What’s the good of trusting God and doing what is right? So far, it has only gotten me into trouble.” Instead, Joseph set out to minister to others, and before long, the hand of God was once again evident in Joseph’s life. The warden gave Joseph a free hand, putting him in charge of all the prisoners. He virtually ran the prison (39:21-23). It was during this time that two prisoners were added to those under Joseph’s care. One was Pharaoh’s butler (literally, his cup bearer), and the other his baker. Both were paying the price for offending their master. Moses makes a very interesting comment about Joseph’s relationship to these men:

The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be their attendant and he served them (Genesis 40:4, emphasis mine).

The NASB renders, “And the captain of the bodyguard put Joseph in charge of them, and he took care of them.” The important thing to see here is that Joseph really did “serve” or “minister to” these two men, who were under his authority. I believe this is where Joseph had earlier failed in his relationship with his brothers. His father had given him authority over his brothers, but he did not use his leadership role as an occasion to serve them.

How easy it is in prison to overlook the suffering of others, especially if you are suffering. Joseph noted that both the butler and the baker were despondent one morning, and he asked them what was troubling them. They informed Joseph they both had different dreams in the night, but no one could tell them what they meant. Joseph reminded them that interpretations belong to God, and encouraged them to tell him their dreams. (Surely this suggests that they were well aware of Joseph’s relationship with God.) The butler went first, and Joseph told him that God was about to restore him to favor with Pharaoh. Joseph then asked the butler to remember his unjust treatment and to speak kindly for him with Pharaoh, but the butler forgot all about him for two full years. The baker’s dream was different, as was its outcome. His dream indicated that Pharaoh would execute him. Needless to say, Joseph didn’t ask this fellow to remember him before Pharaoh.

It was a full two years before the butler brought Joseph’s name before Pharaoh. The Pharaoh had two dreams that troubled him greatly. The first dream was of seven fat cows, which were eaten by seven very skinny and ugly cows. The second dream was of seven healthy heads of grain that were swallowed up by seven thin heads of grain. None of Pharaoh’s diviners were able to interpret the meaning of these dreams, but the butler remembered the young Hebrew who had interpreted his dream, along with that of the baker,94 while both were in prison. Pharaoh called for Joseph, who made it clear it was God who gave the interpretation of dreams.

Joseph’s words were of great comfort and encouragement to Pharaoh, who must have sensed something ominous about his dreams. The dreams referred to the same events. There would be seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of severe famine. The years of famine would consume the abundance of the years of plenty. The fact that there were two dreams confirmed that this would most surely come to pass.95 Joseph now goes beyond the interpretation of these dreams to recommend a solution to the problem they predicted. Here we can see Joseph’s administrative gifts in action. The king should appoint someone to prepare for this disaster, before the years of famine came upon the land of Egypt. Let this person store up grain from the bountiful years, and then distribute it during the lean years.

I do not believe Joseph submitted this plan to Pharaoh, along with his business card, hoping to be hired for this task. I don’t think Joseph ever imagined he would be chosen for such a task. Once again, Joseph was simply trying to serve his king. Neither did Joseph seek to bargain with Pharaoh for his release: “Well, Pharaoh, I know that I can interpret your dreams, but you’re going to have to help me out as well… .” Joseph sought to represent His God by the way he served those in authority over him. Pharaoh could see that Joseph was right and that his wisdom was divine in origin:

37 This advice made sense to Pharaoh and all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find a man like Joseph, one in whom the Spirit of God is present?” 39 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Because God has enabled you to know all this, there is no one as wise and discerning as you are! 40 You will oversee my household and all my people will submit to your commands. Only I, the king, will be greater than you” (Genesis 41:37-40).

These verses toward the end of chapter 41 are very important to our understanding of what will happen when Joseph’s brothers arrive in Egypt, seeking grain for their families:

50 Two sons were born to Joseph before the famine came. Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, was their mother. 51 Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, saying, “Certainly God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s house.” 52 He named the second child Ephraim, saying, “Certainly God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (Genesis 41:50-52).

Joseph named his oldest son Manasseh, which means, “making to forget.” God had caused Joseph to forget all his sufferings at the hand of his brothers (verse 51). The younger son Joseph named Ephraim, which means “fruitfulness.” God had caused Joseph to be fruitful in the land of his affliction. Joseph had no anger toward God or toward his brothers. This meant that when they arrived in Egypt, he could deal with them in love, and not in revenge.

When the famine struck, Egypt was ready for it, thanks to Joseph. Not only did the Egyptians come to Joseph for grain, but also those from other lands, including Canaan. One morning, when the last of the grain was gone, Jacob speaks harshly to his sons:

1 When Jacob heard there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why are you looking at each other?” 2 He then said, “Look, I hear that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy grain for us, so that we may live and not die” (Genesis 42:1-2).

Jacob seems to display irritation and impatience toward his sons. Was this because they also knew that there was grain in Egypt, but were unwilling to go there? Was their guilt and fear due to the way they had treated their brother? I would be inclined to think so.

All the sons of Jacob make their way to Egypt, minus Benjamin. Jacob had lost one of Rachel’s sons while he was out of his sight and in the care of his brothers; he is not willing to run the risk of losing another. When the ten sons of Jacob come before Joseph, the “ruler of the country” (42:6), they fall down before him, unwittingly fulfilling the prophecy of Joseph’s earlier dreams (37:5-11).

Many are tempted to see Joseph’s response as pure revenge. His harshness is thought to be his way of making his brothers pay for their previous sins against them. This view simply cannot be accepted, because the text is just too clear on this matter. First, if Joseph really wanted to make his brothers suffer, he would have immediately made his identity known to them. If Joseph had wanted to terrify his brothers, he would have let them know that it was he who was the ruler of Egypt, and then he would have made them suffer. Second, we are told that while his brothers did not recognize Joseph, he recognized them, and he remembered his dreams (42:7, 9). I understand this to mean Joseph not only realized God had made him the leader of his family, but that this leadership should seek the best interests of the family. It was not revenge Joseph sought, but repentance. Third, we are told his harsh treatment of his brothers was a disguise:

When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them; but he pretended96 to be a stranger to them and spoke to them harshly. He asked, “Where do you come from?” They answered, “From the land of Canaan to buy grain for food” (Genesis 42:7).

Fourth, on several occasions, we find Joseph’s true feelings toward his brothers revealed. Twice Joseph had to go aside to weep privately (42:24; 43:30). Fifth, Joseph’s actions toward his brothers were not vindictive, but gracious. Twice he sent them home with the grain they purchased and with their money refunded in their sacks. The meal he prepared for them was another gift of grace. Even the suffering he caused his brothers was benevolent in its goal of bringing his brothers to repentance, so they could be reconciled.

Joseph’s actions toward his brothers, in their first and second visits to Egypt, are very carefully planned and orchestrated to bring about his intended result. When Joseph accused his brothers of being spies, they were terrified and blurted out information about Joseph’s father and younger brother he yearned to know, yet without his brothers realizing who he really was. Joseph could carefully interrogate his brothers about “family” matters, under the guise of protecting the land of Egypt from spies.

Having learned that both Jacob and Benjamin were alive, Joseph set out to accomplish the next phase of his plan – bringing Benjamin down to Egypt. The purpose for this will soon be evident. Joseph’s brothers had insisted they were ten brothers, and not spies, and they had yet another brother at home. Joseph caused it to appear he was merely putting the truthfulness of their words to the test. They said they had a younger brother, so let them prove it by bringing him with them the next time they came. And to assure they did return, he would keep one brother prisoner. Initially, Joseph threatened to keep all of the brothers in prison and to send back just one brother. He knew this would not allow them to transport a sufficient quantity of grain, and so he eventually reduced the number of prisoners held to one – Simeon (42:24).97

The response of Joseph’s brothers to their incarceration and to Joseph’s words is most important to the story:

21 They said to one other, “Surely we’re being punished because of our brother, because we saw how distressed he was when he cried to us for mercy, but we refused to listen. That is why this distress has come on us!” 22 Reuben said to them, “Didn’t I say to you, ‘Don’t sin against the boy’, but you wouldn’t listen? So now we must pay for shedding his blood” (Genesis 42:21-22).

More than 20 years after they had sinned against their brother Joseph, the events of that day were vivid in their minds. They recalled his pleading with them and their total lack of mercy. They understood this was a kind of “day of reckoning” for their sin. I would submit they were genuinely sorry for what they had done, but they were not yet fully repentant. This would come in time.

Joseph was standing nearby and heard their words, but they had no idea that he could understand what they were saying. He was deeply touched by their words and had to leave their presence so that he could cry (42:23-24). Joseph bound Simeon before their eyes to impress them with his resolve about seeing Benjamin when they returned. He then ordered for their sacks to be filled with grain and for provisions to be supplied for their journey.

The brothers then set out on their journey, no doubt discussing what they would tell their father. One of the brothers opened his sack of grain when they stopped for the evening and was shocked to find his money in his sack of grain. You would think that any son of Jacob would have rejoiced. It would be like putting money into a vending machine, getting what you had selected, and then finding your money in the coin return. But the brothers were greatly dismayed. Looking at one another, they said, “What in the world has God done to us?” (42:28). They completely failed to see the kindness of Joseph in this and saw only the judgmental hand of God. God had not done something for them; He had done something terrible to them.

They returned home and told their father all that had happened to them in Egypt. Jacob had certainly noticed that Simeon was not with them, and they explained why the ruler of Egypt had kept him prisoner. This discussion took place as the bags of grain were being unloaded. When the bags were opened, the brothers discover that every one of them had their money in their sacks, and they were most distressed. Jacob could only think of himself:

Their father Jacob said to them, “You are making me childless! Joseph is gone. Simeon is gone. And now you want to take Benjamin! Everything is against me” (Genesis 42:36).

Jacob could not have been more mistaken. His appraisal of the situation was precisely the opposite of reality. He was not concerned about Simeon as much as he was himself. He blames his sons for his loss of Joseph, and now, of Simeon, and he blames them for also wanting to take away his youngest son, Benjamin. His sons were “causing all things to work together against him,” or so he supposed.

Ruben now comes through with these comforting words of assurance:

“You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my care and I will bring him back to you” (42:37).

There was nothing more to be said regarding this matter at the moment, because Jacob flatly refused to allow them to take Benjamin with them. In Jacob’s mind, there would be no more discussion of this matter.

The famine lingered on, and the supply of grain continued to diminish. Finally, the grain they had purchased in Egypt ran out. Jacob’s response to this crisis revealed his complete failure as a spiritual leader. I am going to borrow something from my earlier series on Genesis here, because it shows what a poor leader Jacob was at this point in his life.

Jacob’s Seven Laws of Leadership

Procrastinate: Whatever problems arise today are best dealt with tomorrow. Jacob delayed acting decisively on the issue of sending Benjamin to Egypt until the situation reached crisis proportions.

Minimize: No problem can possibly be as bad as it seems. If the first principle betrays a “manana mentality,” the second attempts to minimize the problem to the point where it is hardly worth thinking about. If a problem is not serious, then it can be put off indefinitely.

Lie: In a crisis, honesty is often not the best policy. Jacob still had a lot of the old deceiver in him. He believed that good communication only causes problems. He thought that the less others knew about him, the better off he and his family would be. Jacob’s sons were thus rebuked for telling Joseph any facts about the family.

Always look out for number one. Jacob’s leadership was focused on seeking his own interests. It was Judah who urged his father to think of others rather than himself (cf. verse 3).

Pass the buck: As much as is possible, see to it that others receive the blame for your mistakes. Jacob sought to place the responsibility for his troubles on Judah and his brothers, because they told the truth (43:6). A good leader is one who is willing to accept responsibility for his mistakes.

Bribe: If our efforts to solve a problem fail, add money. Jacob hoped that his presents, along with a double payment, would help achieve his desired ends.

Get religion: Call on God for help, but don’t get your hopes up. It is no accident that Jacob mentions God last. It never seemed to occur to him (as it did to Joseph) that God was actively involved in all of his troubles. His wish that God would be with his sons is only a last ditch effort, when it should have been his first line of defense. “Foxhole religion” is not new, nor is it a thing of the past. Jacob’s words, “As for me, if I lose my children I lose them” (43:14), is not an expression of great faith, but sounds much more like fatalism.

Jacob’s response to this family crisis is pathetic. He does everything possible to avoid facing the problem. He attempts to send his sons to do an impossible task, therefore putting them at great risk. His great concern is for himself and his own well-being. He has to be forced to act. Jacob is no hero in these chapters. Joseph certainly is, exemplifying godly leadership. But there is another leader who begins to emerge in chapter 43 – Judah, the brother who earlier suggested they sell Joseph into slavery, the man who married a Canaanite wife, and unwittingly fathered his own grandson (as it were) through Tamar.

Jacob is pathetic as he whines about the way his sons have mistreated him by telling “the ruler of Egypt” about Benjamin. Judah now stands tall, taking charge of the situation and gently rebuking his father:

3 But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, ‘You will not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you send our brother with us, we’ll go down and buy food for you. 5 But if you will not send him, we won’t go down there, because the man said to us, ‘You will not see my face unless your brother is with you.’” 6 Israel said, “Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had one more brother?” 7 They replied, “The man questioned us thoroughly about ourselves and our family, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ So we answered him in this way. How could we possibly know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” 8 Then Judah said to his father Israel, “Send the boy with me and we will go immediately. Then we will live and not die—we and you and our little ones. 9 I myself pledge security for him; you may hold me liable. If I do not bring him back to you and place him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. 10 But if we had not delayed, we could have traveled there and back twice by now” (Genesis 43:3-10).

Judah and his brothers had certainly sinned in selling Joseph into slavery, but they were not the ones putting their families at risk at the moment. They had only told “the ruler of Egypt” the truth when he pressed them hard about specific details concerning their family. It was Jacob who had refused to face up to the situation, and who refused to release his youngest son. He had waited far too long to act. And now he wanted his sons to face “the ruler of Egypt” without complying with his demand to bring their youngest brother with them. This was nonsense, and Judah made it clear that they were not going back to Egypt without Benjamin. Judah himself became surety for Benjamin’s safe return.

Jacob had no other choice than to do as Judah said. If he did not send Benjamin with the others when they returned to Egypt, they would all die. This was a sacrifice Jacob was forced to make. And so he instructed his sons to take double their money with them, along with the finest gifts they had at hand: a little balm and honey, spices and myrrh, pistachios and almonds (43:11-12). Off the sons of Jacob went, to Egypt, including Benjamin.

Joseph saw them coming, this time with Benjamin. He instructed his servant to bring the men to his home and to prepare a fine meal for them to eat. The brothers could only imagine the worst possible outcome:

But the men were afraid when they were brought to Joseph’s house. They said, “We are being brought in because of the money that was returned in our sacks last time. He wants to capture us, make us slaves, and take our donkeys!” (43:18).

Their sense of guilt overwhelmed them. They could not imagine this “ruler of Egypt” doing anything benevolent for them. They feared they would be punished by the same fate they had brought upon their brother Joseph.

The brothers were quick to explain about the money they had found in their sacks, and the servant carefully chose his words to speak the truth, yet without disclosing Joseph’s identity or his plans for them:

19 So they approached the man who was in charge of Joseph’s household and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. 20 They said, “My lord, we did indeed come down the first time to buy food. 21 But when we came to the place where we spent the night, we opened our sacks and each of us found his money—the full amount—in the mouth of his sack. So we have returned it. 22 We have brought additional money with us to buy food. We do not know who put the money in our sacks.” 23 “Everything is fine,” the man in charge of Joseph’s household told them. “Don’t be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks. I had98 your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them (Genesis 43:19-23).

The servant did everything he could to extend hospitality to Joseph’s brothers. First, he brought Simeon out to them, and then he brought them all into Joseph’s house, where they were given water to drink, and their feet were washed. Their donkeys were also fed (43:24). The brothers braced themselves for the appearance of the “ruler of Egypt.” They must have given great attention to the presentation of the “gift” their father had sent with them. I can see them laying all of these things out very carefully, as one would arrange a display in the window of large department store. They wanted everything to be perfect. They hoped that Joseph would look at their gift and say something like this: “Oh, pistachio nuts! You shouldn’t have. Why I haven’t tasted a pistachio nut for years. And smell those spices! You men are just too kind.”

Here is something that they completely missed. The gifts that they brought did not serve their purpose at all. Joseph was not pleased by their gift; their gift was, in fact, a reminder of their sins against him.

They got their gifts ready for Joseph’s arrival at noon, for they had heard that they were to have a meal there (43:25, emphasis mine).

Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the best products of the land in your bags, and take a gift down to the man—a little balm and a little honey, spices and myrrh, pistachios and almonds (43:11, emphasis mine).

When they sat down to eat their food, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were carrying spices, balm, and myrrh down to Egypt (37:25, emphasis mine).

It has taken me a long time to see this, but when you look carefully at the three passages above you realize that the “gifts” they brought to impress Joseph with their kindness were actually reminders of their cruelty to them. Several of the items that Joseph’s brothers brought him from the land of Canaan were the same things the Ishmaelite traders carried with them down to Egypt, along with Joseph. The smell of those spices that accompanied him to Egypt must have been burned into Joseph’s memory. The very odors that Joseph may have come to despise, because of the associations they had with his slavery, were now the odors that greeted Joseph as he walked into his house. Did his brothers think their gift would win this ruler over? This scheme was very true to the character of Jacob, who suggested it, but in reality, it would have been counter-productive had Joseph allowed it to sway his emotions.

When Joseph arrived, his brothers bowed before him, once again fulfilling the dreams he had years earlier (Genesis 37:5-11). Joseph seems not to have even noticed their gift, so carefully arranged to capture his attention and win his approval. Joseph only had eyes for his younger brother, Benjamin. Joseph was so touched by the sight of his brother, he had to leave the room to weep in private. He then washed his face and returned, giving the order, “Set out the food” (43:31). The servants set out three separate tables: One for Joseph, one for his brothers, and one for the Egyptians who ate with Joseph. Joseph seated his brothers according to their birth order, which must have both amazed and puzzled them: “How could he know?” It was a royal feast, and I’m sure that Joseph’s brothers (who had run out of grain some time earlier) would have appreciated it. I’m also certain they had all they could eat. But Joseph did something that was most
unusual – he made Benjamin’s portions five times greater than those of his other brothers. In preparation for the test ahead, Joseph was not going to minimize the fact that Benjamin was the favorite son of Jacob; indeed, he wanted to emphasize this fact. By the time the meal was over, they had their fill of both food and drink. I have a feeling this was to give his brothers an artificial sense of confidence and to dull their senses for the moment.99

Joseph then gave very careful instructions to his servant. He had him fill his brothers’ sacks with grain, once again placing their money in each man’s sack. This time, however, one more item was included – Joseph’s “silver cup.” This cup was to be placed in Benjamin’s sack, along with his money. After the men were sent on their way, Joseph’s servant was to pursue and overtake the brothers as they were leaving Egypt. They were to be accused of stealing Joseph’s cup, the one that he “used for divination” (44:4-5).

There is no need to be distressed over what we read here. Joseph did not actually use this cup for divination. This was part of the servant’s “script,” which Joseph instructed him to say. It was a part of Joseph’s disguise. When Joseph instructed his servant to hide this cup in Benjamin’s sack, he simply referred to it as “his silver cup” (44:2). But for the sake of his brothers, his servant was to call it the cup that his master used for divination. Joseph wanted to continue the masquerade a little while longer, and this line helped maintain his disguise.

When Joseph’s servant overtook the brothers, he did just as his master had instructed him – he accused these men of returning evil for good by stealing his master’s divining cup. The brothers were shocked that they would be accused of such a crime. They were confident that none of them had stolen this cup, and so they overreacted to these charges. They prescribed the punishment for themselves, should any one of them have stolen this cup:

“If one of us has it, he will die, and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves” (44:9).

Joseph’s servant then responded to this statement, prescribing what the punishment would be for stealing the cup:

He replied, “You have suggested your own punishment. The one who has it will become my slave, but the rest of you will go free” (44:10).

I’m sure that each of these men was extremely confident as he lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. What a shock it must have been for each man to find his money in the mouth of his sack, just as they had before. It would be something like being pulled over by a policeman, and having him search your trunk for money that was stolen in a bank robbery. Confident you did not have the money in your car, you pop open the trunk, to see it filled with automatic weapons. I would imagine fear began to grip the heart of each of these men as they discovered their money in their sacks.

The worst was yet to come. When Benjamin’s sack was opened, not only was his money found, but also Joseph’s silver cup. These brothers tore their clothes in anguish, loaded their animals, and made their way back to face the music before “the ruler of Egypt.” When they arrived, Joseph continued his disguise:

“What did you think you were doing? Don’t you know that a man like me can find out things like this by divination?” (44:15).

Joseph wanted these men to think that there was nothing about them he did not know, or could not find out. (After all, he had already arranged their seating according to their birth order.) And now he had a silver divining cup, by which he could discern the truth (or so he claimed). The message was clear: It would do them no good to lie.

Judah assumes the leadership, and speaks on his brothers’ behalf:

16 Judah replied, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we clear ourselves? God has exposed the sin of your servants. We are now my lord’s slaves, we and the one in whose possession the cup was found.” 17 But Joseph said, “Far be it from me to do this! The man in whose hand the cup was found will become my slave, but the rest of you may go back to your father in peace” (44:16-17).

Judah’s answer is most interesting and most encouraging. I am convinced that Judah knew that Benjamin had not stolen this cup, just as each of them had not stolen the money they had paid for their grain. Judah rightly discerned that this was God’s way of dealing with them. Thus he says, “God has exposed the sin of your servants” (verse 16). I don’t think Judah meant to say, “We stole the money, and we stole the silver cup; God knows it, and He has exposed our sin.” I think Judah’s words really mean: “We sold our brother into slavery (something you would not know about or appreciate, ruler of Egypt, so I won’t go into this in detail), and God is now bringing about our punishment for that sin. We didn’t do what you are accusing us of doing, but we did something far worse, and so we will plead guilty.” Thus, Judah both confesses for all of his brothers and submits to the penalty of slavery for all.

This is real progress for Joseph’s brothers, but they have not yet fully manifested true repentance. And so Joseph declines Judah’s offer. Joseph’s response can be roughly paraphrased in this way: “Oh no, it would not be fair to punish all of you for the crime one of you has committed. The punishment must be that the one in whose sack the cup was found shall be my slave, and the rest of you are free to go home to your families.”

Here was the greatest test of their lives. They could seize upon Joseph’s words, denounce Benjamin for stealing, and go home to Canaan free men, leaving Benjamin as one of Pharaoh’s slaves. In effect, they could do to Benjamin exactly what they had done to Joseph. How easy it would have been to simply walk away and leave Benjamin, just as they had forsaken Joseph.

This is truly Judah’s finest hour. He is the one who made himself surety for Benjamin (42:9). Now, he fulfills his promise to his aged father. Judah steps forward and asks to speak to the “ruler of Egypt.” Judah explained how it had come about that they had told him about their younger brother, Benjamin. Since his older brother is dead, Benjamin is now the only remaining son of their father’s wife, Rachel. Because he insisted that they bring this younger brother to Egypt, they did so, but in spite of their father’s strong protests. The boy’s father is now elderly, and if this son does not return, it will kill their father. Judah told “the ruler of Egypt” that he had become surety for the lad with his father, and thus he begged him to allow the boy to return to his father, and to take him as his slave. Judah begged to take the place of Benjamin, in order to spare his brother’s life, as well as the life of their father. Judah, the one who cast the blood-drenched tunic at his father’s feet so many years ago,100 now pleads with Joseph to have compassion on their father, as he does.

It was too much for Joseph. He could restrain himself no longer. Indeed, he need not restrain himself any longer. He could reveal his true identity because his brothers had finally demonstrated true repentance. Joseph ordered everyone to leave the room, except for his brothers. He wept loudly and told them he was Joseph, their brother. He asked if his father was still alive. The brothers were in shock. They could not believe what he was telling them. He asked them to come closer, and they did. He repeated that he was the brother they had sold into slavery in Egypt. He quickly encouraged them not to be upset or angry with themselves, because God had used their sin to bring about good, not only for Joseph, but for all of Jacob’s family. This was God’s way of providing for the children of Israel during this time of famine.

Joseph then sent his brothers back home to bring their father and their families down to Egypt, informing them that there were yet five more years of famine ahead. The story goes on to describe the arrival of Jacob and his family in Egypt. God provided for them to have a place of their own in the land of Egypt – the land of Goshen – where they could keep their flocks. Eventually, they would purchase property there and prosper. In this way, God brought Israel (all 70 of them) to Egypt.

In his final days, Jacob begins to manifest the fruits of faith.101 When standing before Pharaoh, Jacob admitted that his life had been shorter and more unpleasant than that of his predecessors:

7 Then Joseph brought in his father Jacob and presented him before Pharaoh. Jacob blessed Pharaoh. 8 Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How long have you lived?” 9 Jacob said to Pharaoh, “All the years of my travels are one hundred and thirty. All the years of my life have been few and painful; the years of my travels are not as long as those of my ancestors.” 10 Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence (Genesis 47:7-10).

I believe that by saying this, Jacob admitted to having lived out most of his life in the flesh, striving with God and with men. It took him all this time to see that his striving was not a life of faith, and it did not produce peace.

The second thing Jacob did in his last days was to bless Joseph’s two sons:

1 After these things Joseph was told, “Your father is weakening.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim with him. 2 When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has just come to you,” Israel regained strength and sat up on his bed. 3 Jacob said to Joseph, “The Sovereign God appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me. 4 He said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and will multiply you. I will make you into a group of nations and I will give this land to your descendants as an everlasting possession.’ 5 “Now, as for your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, they will be mine. Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine just as Reuben and Simeon are. 6 Any children that you father after them will be yours; they will be listed under the names of their brothers in their inheritance. 7 But as for me, when I was returning from Paddan, Rachel died—to my sorrow—in the land of Canaan. It happened along the way, some distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there on the way to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem). 8 When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he asked, “Who are these?” 9 Joseph said to his father, “They are the sons God has given me in this place.” His father said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.” 10 Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of his age; he was not able to see well. So Joseph brought his sons near to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them. 11 Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see you again, but now God has allowed me to see your children too.” 12 So Joseph moved them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. 13 Joseph positioned them; he put Ephraim on his right hand across from Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh on his left hand across from Israel’s right hand. Then Joseph brought them closer to his father. 14 Israel stretched out his right hand and placed it on Ephraim’s head, although he was the younger. Crossing his hands, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, for Manasseh was the firstborn.

15 Then he blessed Joseph and said,
“May the God before whom my fathers
Abraham and Isaac walked—
the God who has been my shepherd
all my life long to this day—
16 the Angel who has protected me
from all harm—
bless these boys.
May my name be named in them,
and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac.
May they grow into a multitude on the earth.”

17 When Joseph saw that his father placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head, it displeased him. So he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head.” 19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a nation and he too will become great. In spite of this, his younger brother will be even greater and his descendants will become a multitude of nations.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying,

“By you will Israel bless, saying,
‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”
So he put Ephraim before Manasseh.

21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “I am about to die; but God will be with you and will bring you back to the land of your fathers. 22 As one who is above your brothers, I give to you the mountain slope, which I took from the Amorites with my sword and my bow” (Genesis 48:1-22).

One can hardly miss the similarity of this blessing of Joseph’s two sons to Isaac’s blessings of his sons in his old age. Both Isaac and Jacob were old, and their sight was poor. In the case of Isaac, Jacob sought to obtain his father’s blessing under false pretenses, just as Isaac wished to bless the oldest son, in spite of God’s indication to the contrary. In this case, Joseph places his two sons before his father in such a way that he will not be confused as to which is the older son. Knowing that his oldest grandson was placed under his right hand, Jacob removed his hands and crossed them, purposely giving the younger of the two lads the rights of the firstborn. Joseph was initially irritated and tried to correct his father, until he realized that this was a very deliberate action. By this act, Jacob seems to have symbolized the truth that is stated in Romans 9:

6 It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all those who are descended from Israel are truly Israel, 7 nor are all the children Abraham’s true descendants; rather through Isaac will your descendants be traced.” 8 This means it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God; rather, the children of promise are counted as descendants. 9 For this is what the promise declared: About a year from now I will return and Sarah will have a son.” 10 Not only that, but when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our ancestor Isaac— 11 even before they were born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose in election would stand, not by works but by his calling) — 12 it was said to her, The older will serve the younger,” 13 just as it is written: Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated (Romans 9:6-13).

Jacob has thereby acknowledged that the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant are passed on to the one of God’s choosing. It is a matter of election, based upon sovereign grace; it is not determined by good works (present or future), and it is not determined by scheming or manipulation. It was God’s choice of him, rather than Esau, that made him the heir of the Abrahamic Covenant. It was God who had watched over him and blessed him throughout his life, not due to his merit or schemes, but because God had chosen him to be the heir of the promised blessings to Abraham.

Jacob was not just blessing these two sons of Joseph; he was adopting them (48:5-6). His oldest son, Reuben, had sinned against his father by sleeping with one of his concubines (35:22; 49:3-4), and thus was deprived of his rights as the firstborn. By adopting Ephraim and Manasseh, Jacob was giving the right of the firstborn to Joseph, because he would now receive a double inheritance through his two sons.

The third and final act of Jacob (so far as the biblical account is concerned) was the blessing he pronounced on each of his sons, as recorded in Genesis 49. These “blessings” are really prophecies concerning the future of each of his sons and their offspring. The most significant of these blessings was that of Judah:

8 “Judah, your brothers will praise you.
your hand will be on the neck of your enemies,
your father’s sons will bow down before you.
9 You are a lion’s cub, Judah,
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He crouches and lies down like a lion;
like a lioness—who will rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs;
the nations will obey him.
11 Binding his foal to the vine,
and his colt to the choicest vine,
he will wash his garments in wine,
his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes will be dark from wine,
and his teeth white from milk” (Genesis 49:8-12).

This blessing upon Judah reveals the fact that the covenant promise given to Abraham, Isaac, and himself would now be passed on through Judah. Abraham and Sarah had been told that a line of kings would proceed from them (Genesis 17:6, 16). We now see that these kings will come through the tribe of Judah. In the future, God will reveal that this line of kings will come through the seed of David (2 Samuel 7:14). What we see here in Genesis 29:10-12 is that the “King of Kings” will come from the line of Judah. The traditional rendering “until Shiloh comes” (49:10) is probably better understood to mean, “until he comes to whom it belongs,” as can be seen in the translation of the NET Bible above. David’s descendants will rule until the final and ultimate “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” the “Son of David” comes:

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, a descendant of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled by his words and began to wonder about the meaning of this greeting. 30 So the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Listen: you will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:26-33, emphasis mine).

Conclusion

The lives of Jacob, Judah, and Joseph teach us many important truths and also have much to say to us by way of application. I shall conclude by pointing out some of the things we can learn from our text.

Nearly everything we learn from Jacob is negative. Jacob would now tell us, if he could, “Don’t do as I did.” Jacob was a man who wrestled with God and man most all of his life, and for this, he paid a high price. As he told Pharaoh, his life was shorter and more painful than that of his forefathers (Genesis 47:9). Abraham willingly obeyed God, to the point of sacrificing his son, if necessary (Genesis 22), but Jacob clung to his favored sons (first Joseph, and then Benjamin), who had to be snatched from his grasp. Almost every good thing that God did in Jacob’s life was in spite of him. It did not happen through his active obedience, but providentially, in spite of his resistance. Because of this, he did not experience the joy of walking in obedience to God.

There is both good news and bad news to be discerned from the life of Jacob. On the one hand we can be encouraged by the fact that God’s purposes and promises will be fulfilled, even if it is in spite of our sins. The bad news is that resisting God comes at a very high price. Jacob’s relationships were pathetic. His wives battled for his affections. Laban and his sons came to resent Jacob because he sought to gain at their expense. Jacob’s sons not only disliked each other, they resented their father’s preferential affections. It seemed they almost enjoyed leading him to the conclusion that Joseph had been torn to pieces by a wild animal. For a number of years, Jacob lived with the false assumption that his son Joseph was dead. He faced the trials of life with fear, and not with faith. He cared far too much about himself and far too little about others. His was not the “good life.”

In all of this, Jacob (Israel) was the perfect prototype of the nation Israel. Like their forefather, the Israelites often relied upon fleshly effort. Much of the time they opposed God and trusted in their own devices. Many were the times when God spared them from destruction and brought about their good providentially – in spite of their sins. Jacob did not begin to comprehend or to enjoy the grace of God until very late in his life; the nation Israel has yet to fully enjoy it. It will only be after great trials and tribulation that they will submit to Jesus Christ, the promised “seed of Abraham” (see Galatians 3:15-16), as Savior and Lord.

We see the providential hand in Judah’s life as well. Judah abandoned his family and began to live among the Canaanites, taking a Canaanite wife for himself, and for his sons. It was not due to Judah’s faithfulness that his line was preserved, but in spite of his disobedience. It was Judah who proposed selling his brother Joseph as a slave. But unlike Jacob, Judah came to see his sin and to repent of it. He admitted that his Gentile daughter-in-law, Tamar, was more righteous than he (Genesis 38:26). When his father Jacob refused to assume the spiritual leadership of his family, Judah stepped forward. He took personal responsibility for Benjamin’s well being. And when Joseph orchestrated a virtual replay of Dothan, it was Judah who offered himself in Benjamin’s place. From one who cared little about his father (Genesis 37:29-35), he had compassion on his aging father, knowing that the loss of Benjamin would destroy him (Genesis 44:14-34). This all took place before Judah had any knowledge that God would pass on the Abrahamic Covenant blessings through him (49:8-12).

From Judah especially, but also from his other brothers, we learn the difference between mere sorrow for sin and genuine repentance. When Joseph’s brothers were incarcerated in an Egyptian prison, they expressed sorrow for the way they had treated their brother (42:21-22). But true repentance is more than mere sorrow – being sorry you did the wrong thing – it is a complete change of heart and mind, so that when given the opportunity to repeat the sin, we will turn from it.

This kind of repentance is what Joseph was working to accomplish in the lives of his brothers when they came to Egypt for grain. He had already come to terms with any bitterness and anger toward his brothers, as we see in the naming of his sons (Genesis 41:46-52). Also, he had come to understand the meaning of his dreams, given early in his life. It was not just to announce that he had power over his brothers, but that he was to exercise spiritual leadership for the benefit of his brothers. Contrary to first appearances, Joseph was not seeking to make his brothers pay for their sin against him, but was seeking to bring them to repentance. That involved suffering, just as it did much later when Paul found it necessary to correct the Corinthians:

8 For even if I made you sad by my letter, I do not regret having written it (even though I did regret it, for I see that my letter made you sad, though only for a short time). 9 Now I rejoice, not because you were made sad, but because you were made sad to the point of repentance. For you were made sad as God intended, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. 10 For sadness as intended by God produces a repentance that leads to salvation, leaving no regret, but worldly sadness brings about death. 11 For see what this very thing, this sadness as God intended, has produced in you: what eagerness, what defense of yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what deep concern, what punishment! In everything you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter (2 Corinthians 7:8-11).

Joseph did cause his brothers pain, but not for the sake of revenge. It is clear that causing his brothers to suffer was also painful to Joseph. Even in the midst of Joseph’s severity, there was a depth of mercy. He sent them subtle hints that should have proven encouraging. For example, he told them that he, too, feared God (42:18). In the midst of apparent severity, there was kindness. Both times they returned home with grain from Egypt, Joseph had their money placed in their sacks. He also treated his brothers to a magnificent meal. The irony of all this is that the guilt his brothers bore was so great, they were incapable of recognizing grace, let alone enjoy it. Our sin dims our eyes to the grace of God. Like Jacob, we think that our circumstances are destroying us, when they have been skillfully woven together by God to save us.

If Jacob is an example of impotent spiritual leadership, Joseph is a model of spiritual leadership. Some years ago, J. Oswald Sanders spoke on spiritual leadership at a conference in Fort Worth. I attended and was greatly blessed by the teaching and example of this godly old man. As I recall, he had three major points on the subject of spiritual leadership: suffering, servanthood, and the sovereignty of God. He believed that suffering shapes spiritual leaders, and that true leaders are those who practice true servanthood. He also shared that when God placed him in a position of spiritual leadership, it was clearly His sovereignly determined place of ministry.

As I look at the life of Joseph, I see all three of Sanders’ main points illustrated, plus a couple more (which, coincidentally, begin with the letter “s”):

God prepared Joseph for leadership by the suffering he endured. None of Joseph’s suffering was wasted time or energy. During the time of Joseph’s slavery and imprisonment, he learned the language and the culture of Egypt, something he would need in the years to come, but this was not apparent at the time of his suffering. God allowed Joseph to be falsely accused by Mrs. Potiphar, and thus to be cast into prison. But this was a prison for political prisoners. Therefore, men like the king’s “butler” and the “baker” were placed under Joseph’s care. This was the perfect opportunity for Joseph to learn the proper protocol for a high level government official, as he was soon to be. No suffering of Joseph (or of any saint) is ever wasted.

The second element of leadership is servanthood. I fear that in his youth Joseph was not the servant to his brothers he should have been. He seems to have been unwise in the way he used his authority. I don’t think that one could say Joseph was truly serving his brothers at this point in his life. Joseph must have reflected on the anger his brothers displayed toward him. He must have perceived it was the way he exercised his authority over them that enraged them. The first thing they did was to strip his robe from him. They must have taunted him about his dreams.102 Joseph came to understand that a position of power and authority is a place of service, not of status. Thus, having learned the lesson of servanthood,103 when Joseph was put in charge of the butler and the baker in prison he used his position to minister to them, not to lord it over them.

The third element of spiritual leadership is that of sovereignty. Through his suffering, Joseph came to a much fuller understanding of the sovereignty of God. Even before his brothers arrived in Egypt, he recognized that God had sovereignty employed his adversity to bring him blessing (41:51-52). He told his brothers this when they feared that he would retaliate for all the evils that had been done to him:

7 “God sent me ahead of you to preserve you on the earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 So now, it is not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me an adviser to Pharaoh, lord over all his household, and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:7-8).

20 “As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day. 21 So now, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your little children.” Then he consoled them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:20-21).

God had sovereignly appointed Joseph over his brothers. God gave Joseph the gifts and skills that commended him to Potiphar and to Pharaoh. Joseph could not take pride in what God had sovereignly given him,104 and now he knew it.

The fourth element of spiritual leadership is that of stewardship.105 A steward does not own the things that are under his control. The clearest expression of his “steward” mindset is found in Joseph’s response to Mrs. Potiphar, who urged Joseph to “possess” her:

8 But he refused, saying to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not give any thought to his household with me here, and everything that he owns he has put into my care. 9 There is no one greater in this household than I am. He has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. So how could I do such a great evil, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:8-9)

Joseph did not own what he controlled. I wonder, however, if his brothers felt as though he acted that way towards them in his youth. But when in Potiphar’s house, even though Joseph was in control of everything (except Mrs. Potiphar), he did not own any of it. The same was true in the prison and when serving Pharaoh. Joseph was a steward. He did not lay claim to that which he did not own.106

The fifth element of spiritual leadership is what I wish to call “secular savy.” Often there is a false distinction drawn between spiritual and secular leadership. Joseph was a skilled spiritual leader in whatever situation he was placed. He was a “spiritual leader” in the home of Potiphar, because Potiphar saw that the hand of God was upon him:

2 The Lord was with Joseph. He was successful and lived in the household of his Egyptian master. 3 His master observed that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made everything he was doing successful (Genesis 39:2-3).

When Joseph declined the proposition of Mrs. Potiphar, he explained his actions in spiritual terms (39:9). When Joseph ministered to the butler and the baker in the prison, he did so in spiritual terms:

7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officials, who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?” 8 They told him, “We both had dreams, but there is no one to interpret them.” Joseph responded, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me” (Genesis 40:7-8).

The same was true in his ministry to Pharaoh. The butler very carefully avoided any spiritual reference to Joseph’s ministry to him (41:9-13), but when Joseph ministered to Pharaoh, he repeatedly gave all the glory to God:

Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “It is not within my power, but God will speak concerning the welfare of Pharaoh” (Genesis 41:16).

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Both dreams of Pharaoh have the same meaning. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do” (Genesis 41:25).

This is just what I told Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do” (41:28).

Joseph was a spiritual leader, doing a secular task. All too often Christians suppose that spiritual leadership requires a spiritual environment. They feel that “full-time Christian work” is superior to “mere secular work.” I think this text (and many others) prove this thinking to be wrong. Joseph had a great spiritual impact on those with whom he came in contact through his secular employment. Think also of men like Daniel.

This leads me to conclude that unless one can demonstrate spiritual leadership in the secular world of employment, I seriously doubt that he can exercise spiritual leadership in the church. Is this not what Paul was saying when he set down the qualifications for elders?

2 The overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3 not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money. 4 He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity. 5 But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God? 6 He must not be a recent convert or he may become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact. 7 And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap (1 Timothy 3:2-7).

If I had my way, no one would go into full-time Christian ministry until they had obtained secular employment skills, and then proven themselves to be wise in some form of “secular” employment. The Book of Proverbs, as I understand it, is written to those who would rule, those who would exercise spiritual leadership in the nation Israel. As you read through this great book, notice how often these proverbs deal with the real world of work, family, friends, and so on. Joseph was a man who knew how to work in a way that benefited his master, and that glorified his God. He was a spiritual leader whose ministry was in the secular world of work.

Our text has a great deal to say about sexual purity. Some years ago, my friend Craig Nelson and I were ministering in Asia. We were team-teaching from the Book of Genesis, starting at chapter 37. One of the men in the church objected that there was “too much talk of sex” in our teaching. We pointed out that while we sought to be tasteful in what we taught, these chapters in Genesis had a lot to say about sexual purity. It is safe to say that sexual purity is a very important thing, especially for leaders. Many Americans seem willing to look the other way when those in positions of political power rather openly engage in sexual immorality. Judah jeopardized his own leadership, and the well being of his family, by his immorality. Joseph was a model of sexual purity and integrity. We need many more Joseph’s today.

Joseph is a prototype of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was the object of his father’s affections, just as our Lord Jesus was the beloved Son of God the Father. As Joseph’s brothers resented his authority and sought to be rid of him, so the Jewish religious leaders resented Jesus’ authority and sought to put him to death on a cruel cross. It was through much suffering at the hands of his brothers – who rejected him as their leader – that Joseph became their deliverer. It was through the suffering of our Lord Jesus, at the hand of His “brethren,” that He became the way of salvation for all who believe in Him.

I would be remiss if I did not point out something that my friend, Marvin Ball, reminded me of this past week. Our text is a dramatic illustration of the truth of Romans 8:28:

28 And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, 29 because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).

God always fulfills His purposes and His promises. He is not limited to using the willing acts of obedience of His saints. He is able to employ the rebellious acts of unbelievers and the sins of the saints to accomplish His purposes. To be sovereign is to be in full control. God is fully in control, in spite of the sin and rebellion that is rampant in His world.

Our text illustrates how God sovereignly orchestrated and overruled in the affairs of men, so that his promises would be fulfilled. Through his dreams, God revealed to Joseph that he would rule over his family. It certainly appeared that the sin of his brothers nullified the prophecy of those dreams, but in truth, their actions merely set the stage for their fulfillment. It looked as though the sins of Judah would jeopardize the promise of God regarding the promised “seed” of Abraham, but God sovereignly caused “all things” to work together for the fulfillment of His promise. Both Jacob and his sons looked at their circumstances and concluded that God had brought about their destruction, but by the end of Genesis, we see that God used all these things to bring about their deliverance.

Nearly 25 years ago, my friend Bill McRae and his family left Dallas to commence a fruitful ministry in Canada. Virtually the first week he served as a teacher and elder in a local church, a tragic accident took the lives of several members of one family in the church. I shall never forget the message Bill preached at that funeral.107 He used our text to show how, at one point in time, Jacob mistakenly assumed that all of his circumstances were meant for his destruction, only to see from hindsight that God had intended this tragedy in his life for ultimate triumph.

I wonder, my friend, if your life looks something like Jacob’s life, when he was forced to give up his beloved son, Benjamin? Do you think “all these things are against me” (Genesis 42:36)? If you are a part of God’s family, they are not for your destruction, but for your deliverance; they are not meant to be a tragedy, but to be triumph. I pray that each of you who read this can experience the assurance, through faith in Christ, that God is working for your good, and His glory:

31 What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39).


87 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on December 17, 2000.

88 In such cases, someone nearby would often whisper a translation to such folks as I spoke.

89 If Israel is still living in Hebron (35:27), Shechem would have been approximately 50 miles away. Add to this another 20 miles to Dothan, and you have the sons of Jacob some 70 miles from their father – far enough, they supposed, to get away with murder.

90 This may not be altogether hypothetical, as can be seen when we look at 42:21.

91 Joseph is 17 when he is sold into slavery (37:2), and he is 30 at the time he stood before Pharaoh (41:46). Then the 7 years of plenty pass, and they are 2 years into the famine (see 45:6). This adds up to approximately 22 years.

92 It is interesting to note (from the NASB) that just as Shechem “saw” Dinah, “took her,” and “lay with her” (34:2), Judah “saw” a Canaanite woman, “took her,” and “went in to her” (38:2). In both passages, the first two verbs are the same; only the third is different.

93 One cannot know whether or not Potiphar had his doubts about the charges his wife brought against Joseph. It is interesting that he did not execute Joseph, and that he was promoted within the prison system.

94 I would imagine that hearing of these two, very different, interpretations would have impressed Pharaoh. It is one thing to predict “good things” that will happen to someone; it is quite another to predict disaster. Joseph must have been a man who would “tell it like it is.”

95 This must have backhandedly comforted and encouraged Joseph, as he recalled that he had two dreams regarding his gaining authority over his brothers.

96 The NASB renders, “When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but he disguised himself to them and spoke to them harshly.” His feigned severity was a disguise.

97 It is interesting that Simeon was chosen to stay behind in Egypt. Ruben was the firstborn son, but he was not present when the brothers chose to sell Joseph into slavery (see chapter 37). Simeon was the second-born son, and he would have been the ranking brother at the time Joseph was sold. It was Judah who suggested that they sell Joseph, but Simeon would have been the one in charge, it would seem.

98 Joseph’s servant could not say, “I have your money, because he had given it back to them.” But he was completely correct in saying, “I had your money.” This subtlety passed over their heads unnoticed.

99 My guess is that, after their experience on their first trip to Egypt and back, Joseph’s brothers would have checked their sacks before they left for home. Having drunk their fill of wine, I don’t think this came to mind, thus setting the scene for their great test.

100 We don’t really know who handed the bloody tunic to Jacob, but we do know that this plot was proposed by Judah.

101 One should note that while the writer to the Hebrews speaks of Abraham’s faith in terms of incidents early in his life (see Hebrews 11:8), he does not speak of Jacob’s faith until the final days of his life, when he is literally on his death bed (see Hebrews 11:21).

102 See 37:19-20. These verses record the conversation that Joseph’s brothers had among themselves, before Joseph arrived, but these same words could have been repeated to Joseph as a taunt.

103 Based upon Philippians 2:1-11, I believe that humility is foundational to servanthood. Surely Joseph had been placed in the most humbling of circumstances in Egypt.

104 See 1 Corinthians 4:7.

105 To be perfectly honest, I cannot recall whether J. Oswald Sanders included this point or not, but I think it should be included. The fifth element was not included by Sanders.

106 The antithesis to this is Satan, who claims to own everything (Luke 4:5-6). His fall is the supreme example of the abuse of a stewardship (see Isaiah 14:13-14).

107 I did not actually attend that funeral, but I did read the message, which was entitled, “From Tragedy to Triumph.”

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9. Moses and the Exodus (Exodus 1-15)

Exodus 1-15

Introduction

In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey writes:

Richard Nixon got carried away with excitement in 1969 when Apollo astronauts first landed on the moon. “It’s the greatest day since Creation!” crowed the president, until Billy Graham solemnly reminded him of Christmas and Easter. By any measure of history, Graham was right.109

From our vantage point as New Testament Christians, we would surely agree with Billy Graham. The coming of our Lord is truly the greatest event since Creation. But from the perspective of the Old Testament believer, there is one great event after Creation that overshadows all others – the exodus of the nation Israel from Egypt. This is a great turning point in the “unfolding drama of redemption.”

This Sunday is the last day of 2000. Tomorrow we mark the beginning of a new year. The exodus also marked a new beginning:

1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month is to be the beginning of months for you; it is to be for you the first month of the year (Exodus 12:1-2).

The exodus is the subject of our study in this lesson, and it is vitally important to our understanding of the Bible. The theme of the exodus occurs repeatedly in the Old Testament, as well as in the New. Let us give careful consideration to this great turning point in the history of Israel.

Genesis as the Introduction to the Book of Exodus

More than 400 years separate the life of Joseph from the birth of the nation Israel at the exodus. Moses passes over these events with very little comment. This silence may be due to the fact that Moses wishes to stress the continuity between the events recorded in the Book of Genesis with those of the Book of Exodus.

The exodus of Israel from Egypt is the convergence of several important elements. Let us briefly consider these elements. The first element is that of the promises and prophecies of Genesis. After man’s fall in the Garden of Eden, God promised Eve that her “seed” would “crush the head of the serpent” (Genesis 3:15). That seed was to come through Seth (Genesis 5), Noah (Genesis 6-9), and then Abraham and his offspring (Genesis 12-50). God’s covenant with Abraham was first articulated in Genesis 12:1-3, and then later reiterated and further clarified (Genesis 13:14-17; 15, 17, etc.). God indicated to Abram that it would be several hundred years before his offspring would possess the land of Canaan:

12 When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep. Then great terror overwhelmed him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country. They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. 14 But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 But as for you, you will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit” (Genesis 15:12-16).

Events in Genesis give evidence that this promise will most certainly be fulfilled. Abraham’s sojourn in Egypt is the first such evidence. In Genesis 12, a famine prompts Abram to go down to Egypt with Sarai and his nephew Lot. This does not appear to be an act of faith, but rather the manifestation of Abram’s doubt and fear. The deception of Abram and Sarai concerning their true relationship is further indication of their lack of faith. Nevertheless, God preserves Sarai’s purity and protects the lives of Abram and his family while in Egypt. More than this, God greatly prospers Abram in Egypt, so that he leaves Egypt with great wealth (Genesis 13:2). Joseph will later go down to Egypt, betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. In spite of this, God exalts Joseph and greatly prospers him in the land of his sufferings (Genesis 41:52). The experiences of Abram and Joseph in Egypt prepare the reader for the marvelous things that are yet to happen in Egypt. The day of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Genesis 15:12-16 draws near as the Book of Exodus begins.

The second element is that of persecution of the Israelites in Egypt. During the remainder of Joseph’s lifetime (approximately 70 years), Jacob’s family prospered greatly, thanks to Joseph. They purchased property in the land of Goshen and became very fruitful (Genesis 47:27). Eventually, Joseph died, as did the Pharaoh he served, and then things began to change. I do not believe that these years the Israelites spent in Egypt were particularly prosperous, spiritually speaking. It would seem that they became attached to the land of Egypt, to its foods, to its king (they depended upon him), and even to its false religion (see Joshua 24:14-15; Amos 5:25-26). The changes of administration in Egypt eventually brought about a very significant change of status.

Pharaoh and the Egyptians began to feel threatened by the presence and the prosperity of the Israelites. The Israelites were numerous and they were strong, more so than the Egyptians. The Egyptians feared that if a war broke out with one of their neighbors the Israelites would side with their enemies, bringing about their downfall (Exodus 1:9-10). On the other hand, since the Israelites had become the work force of the land, the Egyptians did not want to see them leave.

As I read of the Egyptians’ fears, I could not help but think of this Proverb:

What the wicked fears will come on him;
What the righteous desire will be granted (Proverbs 10:24).

What the Egyptians feared did come upon them, no matter how hard they tried to prevent it. The presence of the Israelites in Egypt brought about the complete defeat of the Egyptians at the hand of God. In addition to this, the Israelites escaped. The Egyptians set into motion a sequence of futile attempts to suppress the Israelites, ignorant of the warning of the Abrahamic Covenant:

“I will bless those who bless you,
but the one who treats you lightly I must curse” (Genesis 12:3a).

Initially, the Egyptians sought to deal so harshly with the Israelites that they would have no spirit left to resist their oppressors:

11 So they installed captains of work forces over them to oppress them with hard labor. As a result they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread. As a result the Egyptians loathed the Israelites, 13 and they made the Israelites serve rigorously. 14 So they made their lives bitter by hard service in mortar and bricks and by all kinds of service in the fields. Every kind of service the Israelites were required to give was rigorous (Exodus 1:11-14).

This approach failed miserably. The harder the Egyptians worked the Israelites, the stronger they became. This intensified the Egyptians’ animosity toward the Israelites and prompted them to deal even more harshly with God’s people.

The Israelites actually thrived in the midst of their adversity, prompting the Egyptians to devise another scheme:

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah, and the other Puah, 16 “When you assist the Hebrew women in childbirth, observe at the delivery: if it is a boy, kill him, but if it is a girl, then she may live.” 17 But the midwives feared God, and they did not do what the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the boys live?” 19 And the midwives replied to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women—for the Hebrew women are vigorous; they give birth before the midwives come to them!” 20 So God treated the midwives well, and the people multiplied and became exceedingly strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he made households for them (Exodus 1:15-21).

You might say that when the Egyptians failed to work the Israelites to death, they changed their approach, ordering the Hebrew midwives to carry out “partial birth abortions.” While in the process of assisting the Hebrew women give birth, the midwives were to kill the male infants. Eventually, this would leave only female Israelites, who would be taken as wives or concubines by the Egyptians. Had this scheme succeeded, the nation Israel would have been exterminated, and the promised seed would be no more. The plan did not succeed, however, because the midwives feared God more than Pharaoh, and thus they refused to kill the boy babies. As a result, God prospered these women and gave them families of their own. One could only wish that health care professionals had the same concern for the unborn today. The slaughter of the innocent today must mean that judgment is near.

The Egyptians were not willing to allow their plans to be thwarted and so they devised yet another devious plan of genocide:

Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “All sons that are born you must throw into the river, but all daughters you may let live” (Exodus 1:22).

This was a far more aggressive plan because it was out and out genocide. This did not depend upon the compliance of the Israelites, but on the actions of the Egyptians. Every Egyptian was told to drown any and every boy baby born to the Israelites. It must certainly have appeared that this plan was destined to succeed. Who could possibly prevent it?

The third element is that of the preservation and preparation of Moses as Israel’s deliverer. God overturned the Egyptians’ final scheme in a most unusual way – through the birth and divine deliverance of a particular Hebrew baby boy (Exodus 2:1-10). A man and a woman from the tribe of Levi had a baby boy. They defied Pharaoh’s decree, hiding their son for three months. But when it became impossible to hide him any longer, they “cast him into the Nile River.” In technical compliance with the edict of Pharaoh, they put their child into an ark woven of reeds, and then placed him in the Nile. His sister stationed herself nearby to see what would happen. She was not there to save the child, for there was nothing she could do to save him.110

What a wonderful privilege God gave Miriam, Moses’ older sister. As she looked on from a distance, she saw the daughter of Pharaoh come to the edge of the Nile to wash herself. The daughter of Pharaoh spotted the basket floating in the reeds, and sent one of her attendants to fetch it. When she opened the basket, she saw this Hebrew baby, and his cries melted her heart. She had compassion on this baby, even though she knew that it was a Hebrew boy. She defied the order of her own father, taking the baby out of the water and adopting it as her own. Not without significance, she named the baby “Moses,” which means something like “to draw out.” In her own words, she tells us the meaning of his name: “Because I drew him from the water” (Exodus 2:10).

Most often, we look at this wonderful story as the deliverance of one Hebrew baby, but it is far more than that – it is the deliverance of every Hebrew boy. Had Moses not been taken “out of the water” by Pharaoh’s daughter, there would have been no nation for him to deliver more than 75 years later.111 Pharaoh had given a decree, and his own daughter defied it. She adopted this Hebrew baby, and she was not about to let her father or anyone else harm him. How many Hebrew babies do you think were thrown into the Nile after this? Every time his mother (or anyone else) called his name, “Moses,” it was a reminder that Pharaoh’s edict had been nullified.

As he grew up, he became a very powerful man in Egypt.112 Moses apparently never forgot his roots. One day he came upon an Egyptian who was abusing one of the Hebrew slaves. Moses killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand (2:12). Moses thought the Hebrews would understand that he was their deliverer, but he was wrong. The next day Moses encountered a Hebrew slave abusing another Hebrew. When he attempted to correct the offending Israelite, he was arrogantly rebuked:

13 When he went out the next day, there were two Hebrew men fighting. So he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why are you striking your fellow Hebrew?” 14 And the man replied, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Are you planning to kill me just as you killed that Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, thinking, “Surely what I did has become known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard about this event, he sought to kill Moses. So Moses fled from Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian; he settled by a certain well (Exodus 2:13-15).113

Knowing that Pharaoh had been informed of his crime, Moses fled to Midian. It was there that he, like his ancestors before him,114 found his wife at a well (Exodus 2:14-22). For nearly 40 years115 he tended flocks in this wilderness before God called him to deliver the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt. God had taken notice of the mistreatment of His people, and He had remembered (as though He could forget) His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

God communicated with Moses from the midst of a burning bush. This burning bush was such an incredible sight that Moses had come closer to investigate. God called Moses from the bush, revealing that He was going to liberate His people, and that Moses was the man He was going to use to confront Pharaoh:

7 Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. 8 I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land to a land that is both good and large, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the territory of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. 9 And now, indeed, the cry of the Israelites has come to me, and I have also seen how severely the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So now, go, and I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:8-10).

Moses was not so easily convinced. He was overly confident 40 years earlier, when he attempted to deliver his fellow-Israelites, but his complete failure had drained him of all self-confidence. It would do us well to briefly review Moses’ objections and God’s response.

Objection One: “Who am I?”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, or that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 And God said, “Surely I will be with you; and this will be the sign to you that I have sent you: When you bring the people out of Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:11-12).

It was not a bad question. What man would dare to stand before Pharaoh, ruler of one of the most powerful nations on the face of the earth, and demand that he release the Israelites? Many years before, Moses was the (adopted) son of Pharaoh. He was a man of great power. On his own initiative, he sought to deliver his kinsmen. And he failed, miserably. Moses was now a felon and a fugitive from justice. How could he possibly return to Egypt to face Pharaoh?

God’s answer might be paraphrased this way:

“It really doesn’t matter who you are, Moses. What matters is that I have sent you, and I will be with you as you go and stand before Pharaoh. Your success in this mission does not depend upon your greatness or power, but on mine. I am like this bush, which burns, but does not burn up. Like this bush appears to be, I am eternal. Therefore, when I say I will be with you, you can be assured that I will, for I am eternal. Your reward for obeying Me will be to serve Me on this mountain.”

It wasn’t the identity of the messenger that mattered; it was the identity of Him who sent the messenger.
God – the Creator of heaven and earth – was the One who was sending Moses to carry out this task. If God was with Moses, then Moses would surely carry out his mission.

Objection Two: “Who are you?”

13 But Moses said to God, “If I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is his name?’—what should I say to them?” 14 So God said to Moses, “I AM that I AM.” And he said, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and this is my memorial from generation to generation’” (Exodus 3:13-15).

We know that Moses exercised faith when he made the decision to identify with God’s people, rather than with Egypt, and more specifically with Pharaoh and his daughter (Hebrews 11:24-25). But the question Moses raises in Exodus 3:13 should also inform us that his knowledge of God was limited at this point. Whatever Moses knew about God, the Israelites knew even less (Joshua 24:14-15). By what name, Moses inquired, should he identify God? How would the Israelites know Him? I love the contrast between Moses’ earlier words, “Who am I?”, and God’s response to Moses here, “I AM that I AM” (3:14). If Moses’ words revealed his utter lack of confidence, God’s words were intended to inspire confidence, in Him. He is the ever-present, ever-existing One. He is the One who is constantly present, with Moses and with His people, Israel. He is not just the God of the present and of the future; He is the God of the past, the God who made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (3:15).

Objection three: “What if they don’t believe me?”

1 Moses answered again, “And if they do not believe me or pay attention to me, but say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you’?” 2 And the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He replied, “A rod.” 3 And the Lord said, “Throw it to the ground.” So he threw it to the ground, and it became a snake, and Moses fled from it. 4 But the Lord said to Moses, “Put out your hand and grab it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand— 5 “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” 6 And the Lord also said to him, “Put your hand into your robe.” So he put his hand into his robe; and when he brought it out—it was leprous as snow! 7 And he said, “Put your hand back into your robe.” So he put his hand back into his robe; and when he brought it out from his robe—it was restored like the rest of his skin. 8 “And if they do not believe you or pay attention to the former sign, then they may believe the latter sign. 9 And if they do not believe even these two signs or listen to you, then take some water from the Nile and pour it out on the dry ground. The water that you take out of the Nile will become blood on the dry ground” (Exodus 4:1-9).

Moses is beginning to tread on thin ice at this point. He asks what he will do if the people don’t believe him, but this is after God has already said,

18 “And the elders will listen to you; and then you and the elders of Israel must go to the king of Egypt, and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. And now, let us go three days’ journey into the wilderness, so that we may offer sacrifice to the Lord our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go, unless compelled to do so by overwhelming force. 20 So I will extend my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will do among them; and after that he will let you go. 21 “And I will give this people favor with the Egyptians, so that when you depart you will not go out empty-handed. 22 Every woman will ask her neighbor and the one who happens to be staying in her house for gold items, silver items, and clothing. And you will put these articles on your sons and on your daughters—thus you will plunder the Egyptians!” (Exodus 3:18-22, emphasis mine).

Moses doubts God’s promises, but God graciously responds by giving Moses several signs, which will prove that he speaks with God’s authority and power. The signs are: (1) the staff that becomes a snake; (2) the hand that becomes leprous; and, (3) the water that becomes blood. These signs will cause the Israelites to take Moses seriously.

It is easy for us to sit back and be critical of Moses and his lack of faith, isn’t it? But let me remind you that while Moses’ experience at the burning bush must have made a great impression on him, it would hardly have been compelling proof to the Israelites, or to Pharaoh. I can’t remember who it was who first commented on this, but it is surely true. Can you imagine being Moses and standing before Pharaoh, insisting that he release the Israelites? Pharaoh responds, “Why should I believe you and do what you say?” Moses then replies, “Well, you see, I was talking to this bush… .” No wonder Moses was worried about the Israelites believing him. His story was almost too incredible to believe.

Objection Four: “I’m not eloquent; please send someone else.”

10 Then Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I am not an eloquent man, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of mouth and slow of tongue.”11 And the Lord said to him, “Who gave a mouth to man, or who makes a person mute or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 So now, go, and I will be with your mouth, and will teach you what you must say” (Exodus 4:10-12).

Moses’ words here seem a bit too humble when compared to Stephen’s words in Acts 7:

“So Moses was trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22).

It should be remembered, however, that Stephen says this of Moses concerning his abilities while he was at the height of his power and popularity in Egypt. After 40 years out in the desert, not speaking Egyptian, one can understand how Moses might question his rhetorical skills. Nevertheless, his reticence does not seem to be founded upon humility as much as on fear, and because of this, God is angered (4:14). God appoints Aaron as Moses’ mouthpiece and sends him on his way to Egypt. God later informs Moses that all those who once sought him in Egypt are dead, so that it is safe for him to return (4:19).

God vs. the “gods” of Egypt

Exodus 5:1—15:21

The exodus is much more than a face-to-face confrontation with Pharaoh; it is a confrontation between the “gods” of Egypt and the one true God, the God of Israel:

1 And afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Release my people so that they may hold a pilgrim feast to me in the desert.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord that I should obey him by releasing Israel? I do not know the Lord, and I will not release Israel (Exodus 5:1-2, emphasis mine).

“And I will pass through the land of Egypt in the same night, and I will kill all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both of humans and of animals, and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. I am the Lord (Exodus 12:12, emphasis mine).

Egypt had many “gods,” and Pharaoh was angered by Moses’ claim that his God demanded the release of the Israelites. To Pharaoh, the God of the Hebrews was in the minor leagues, and he felt no obligation to surrender to His demands. The plagues are not only proof of the sovereignty of the God of Israel, but of the powerlessness of the “gods” of Egypt.

It is not just the Egyptians who need to be convinced that God of Israel is God alone, or that the “gods” of Egypt are really no-gods; the Israelites needed to learn this also, because many of the Israelites had worshipped Egyptian gods in Egypt. Notice Joshua’s words to the Israelites, just before his death, along with those of the prophet Amos:

“Now obey the Lord and worship him with integrity and loyalty. Put aside the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the river and in Egypt and worship the Lord” (Joshua 24:24).

25 “Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel? 26 You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves” (Amos 5:25-26, NASB).

Prelude to the Plagues

Chapters 5 and 6 of Exodus are really a prelude to the plagues. Before God does some great and mighty work in the Bible, He often prefaces it with events that underscore the difficulty (perhaps better, the impossibility) of what He is about to do. God promises a son to Abram and Sarai, but He waits 25 years to provide this son, so that by the time He does enable Sarah to conceive, it is a “Class A” miracle. Joseph’s situation looks absolutely hopeless as he finds himself in an Egyptian prison, but God provides a miraculous deliverance, so that Joseph does not merely find himself a man who is released from prison, but one who has become the second most powerful man in Egypt. God will purposely lead the Israelites so that they are trapped between the Red Sea, mountains, and the pursuing Egyptians.

In chapter 4, Moses returned to Egypt and met with the elders of Israel. He performed the signs God had given him, and they all believed (4:31). No doubt elated by his early success with the Israelites, Moses confronts Pharaoh for the first time. He does not demand that Pharaoh permanently release the Israelites; he only requests a three-day vacation, so that the Israelites can go into the wilderness to worship their God (5:1). He does not threaten Pharaoh and Egypt, promising that God will bring plagues upon them if the request is denied. He indicates that if the Israelites do not obey God by worshipping Him, God may bring a plague on them (5:3). Pharaoh bristles, stating that he does not even know this “God” whom they want to worship, accusing the Israelites of merely being lazy. He not only refuses to release the Israelites, he greatly increases their workload (5:6-11). The Egyptians beat the foremen, and they came to Moses to protest that Moses had not made things better for them; they were worse off than ever! When Moses went to the Lord, he wasn’t happy, either:

22 Moses returned to the Lord, and said, “Lord, why have you brought trouble to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 From the time I went to speak to Pharaoh in your name, he has caused trouble for this people, and you have certainly not rescued your people!” (Exodus 5:22-23).

God was not ruffled by the indignation of Moses. He once again outlines the process that He will use to manifest His power over Pharaoh and Egypt (6:1-2). He reminds Moses of the covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (6:3-4). He reminds Moses of His compassion toward His people and His awareness of their affliction (6:5). He reassures Moses that He will deliver the Israelites from their affliction and bring them into the Promised Land, just as He promised (6:6-8). But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to him. When God told Moses to return to Pharaoh, Moses protested. If the Israelites would not believe him, why would Pharaoh take him seriously? Moses once again reminded God that he was not a forceful speaker (6:9-12). God responded by repeating Moses’ orders: Let Moses and Aaron go back to confront Pharaoh once again (6:13).

After a somewhat parenthetical genealogy of the line of Levi (focusing particularly on Moses and Aaron – 6:14-27), Moses takes up the matter of his difficulty with speech (6:28-30). God repeats Moses’ orders, with the assurance that Aaron will be the spokesman for Moses (7:1-2). He repeats the process by which Pharaoh and all Egypt will be subdued:

3 “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart. And although I will multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt, 4 Pharaoh will not listen to you. And I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring out my regiments, my people the Israelites, from the land of Egypt with great acts of judgment. 5 Then the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord, when I extend my hand over Egypt and bring out the Israelites from among them” (Exodus 7:3-5).

God instructs Moses and Aaron to return to Pharaoh. Moses is told that Pharaoh will request a miracle, and when he does, Moses is to instruct Aaron to throw down his staff, which will become a snake (7:8-9). Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh. No demands are reported, but Pharaoh does ask for a miracle, as proof of God’s power and Moses’ authority as His spokesman. Moses instructs Aaron to throw down his staff, which becomes a snake. Pharaoh summons his magicians, and they appear to reproduce the miracle, except for the fact that Aaron’s snake swallows up all their staffs. The heart of Pharaoh is hardened, and he refuses to take heed to the word of the Lord (7:13).

The “prelude to the plagues” plays a very important role in the story of the exodus. It sets the stage for the drama that is about to take place when God brings the series of ten plagues upon Pharaoh and Egypt. Even before the first plague, the heart of Pharaoh is already hardened. He is determined not to obey the God of the Israelites. He has no intention of letting the Israelites go. He has a false sense of confidence because his servants have been able to imitate the miracle of the serpents. The Israelites have changed their tune as well. Initially, the elders and the people believed the words Moses spoke (through Aaron), probably due to the signs he performed (Exodus 4:29-31). But when Pharaoh punished the Israelites with harder labor, their leaders complained to Moses, and Moses himself complained to God as well (5:6-22). The people ceased to listen to Moses:

Moses told this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor (Exodus 6:9, emphasis mine; cf. also v. 12).

The Israelites were no longer supportive of Moses by the time the plagues commenced. Moses was pretty much on his own so far as taking a stand against Pharaoh was concerned. He did not have widespread support from those he was sent to liberate. In my opinion, many of the Israelites may have wished that Moses would just go away and leave them alone. Up to this point, his “ministry” had only caused them further pain. Moses kept facing off with Pharaoh because God commanded him to do so, not because the people urged him to go. And when the people are set free, they are virtually forced out of Egypt by Pharaoh. They had no choice but to leave. Pharaoh and the Egyptians were so stricken by the loss of the firstborn that they don’t ever want to see an Israelite again. All of this is to say that the exodus was the result of God’s faithfulness, rather than the result of Israel’s faith and obedience. Salvation is truly of the Lord, and not of man.

Before the plagues have even begun, the reader has a very strong sense of the difficulty of the task ahead. Pharaoh is adamantly opposed to letting the Israelites go, and it will take a miracle for Pharaoh’s will to be broken. Indeed, it will take a sequence of miracles before Pharaoh will finally let God’s people go. The victory will not be due to the confident leadership of Moses or of Aaron, nor will it be due to the faith of the Israelites. It will not be due to the kindness of Pharaoh, nor even out of the fear of divine judgment. The victory over Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt will be that of God alone.

The Plagues

There is a distinct pattern to the plagues that God brings upon the Egyptians. First we see that God employs the forces of nature against the Egyptians. God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1 and 2), will once again demonstrate His power over nature by employing it as His judgment rod against Egypt. Second, the plagues are the instrument of God to mock the gods of Egypt. It is very likely that each plague is designed to mock one or more of the Egyptian “gods,” showing that God is in control over the aspects of nature that the Egyptians thought one of their gods controlled.116 Third, there is a gradual increase in the level of difficulty of the plagues as God’s battle with the gods of Egypt intensifies. The magicians of Egypt initially imitate the miracles of the first plagues, but eventually these same magicians must acknowledge their inability to duplicate the work of God, let alone to reverse it. As the plagues become more severe, Pharaoh begins to bargain with Moses, but once the plague is removed, Pharaoh once again refuses to let the Israelites go.

The first three plagues produce discomfort; the next three plagues produce destruction. The Nile is turned to blood, which is an irritation and inconvenience for the Egyptians. The Egyptian magicians simulate the miracle, and Pharaoh is not impressed with the sign that God has given through Moses and Aaron. The second plague occurs one week after the first. Frogs appear throughout the kingdom. Pharaoh’s magicians imitate this miracle as well, but Pharaoh is forced to bargain with Moses. He promises to release Israel if Moses will call off the plague, but once the frogs are gone, Pharaoh retracts his promise. The third plague comes with no warning. Gnats are sent upon the land of Egypt, and this time the magicians are unable to simulate the miracle. They confess, “this is the finger of God” (8:19). Nevertheless, because Pharaoh’s heart has been hardened, he refuses to release the Israelites as he promised.

The second series of three plagues is more than just irritating; it is personally painful and destructive. Each of the successive plagues strikes closer and closer to home, especially for Pharaoh. They also become more specific and discriminative. The fourth plague is promised at a specific time (see 8:23; 9:5). From the fourth plague on, God distinguishes between the Egyptians and the Israelites (see 8:22; 9:4). The Egyptians suffer, but the Israelites are exempted from the judgment. Death comes to the livestock of the Israelites, a foretaste of what is yet to come on the Egyptians. Pharaoh begins to bargain with Moses, seeking to reduce his losses, but whenever the plague is removed, he revokes his promise. The third of each series of plagues reveals Pharaoh as one whose heart is hardened and unwilling to admit defeat.

The third series of plagues produces selective destruction and a growing sense of dread on the part of the Egyptians (but not Pharaoh). The destruction is selective because the Israelites are exempted. God tells the Egyptians that He could have destroyed all of them by now, if He had chosen to do so. He also warns that this series of plagues will prove to be utterly devastating. He will now commence unleashing all His plagues on them, impacting them in a very personal way (9:14). The first plague of the series (the seventh plague in the series) is a great storm which will produce lightning and hail. God reveals the time the storm will come, and for the first time, appeals to the people of Egypt to spare themselves from this judgment by bringing men and cattle in from the fields. Those who believed brought their servants and cattle inside, sparing them; those who did not believe and respond as Moses instructed suffered the consequences. This is the first instance of some Egyptians acting on the word of Moses with some measure of faith (at least they believe that judgment was coming, and they did what Moses said to avoid it). In the seventh plague, the hail destroyed the crops except for the wheat and spelt, which were later crops. The eighth plague destroyed all remaining vegetation. Pharaoh twice confesses his sin, but then revokes his promise once the plagues are stopped. The ninth plague was that of a terrifying darkness, which lasted for three days. It was a terrifying kind of darkness, and yet Pharaoh’s heart is hardened. After failing to persuade Moses to leave the cattle behind, Pharaoh sends Moses and Aaron away and tells them not to come back.

The tenth and final plague is introduced in chapter 11, although it seems clear that Moses announced this plague to Pharaoh just before he departed from the presence of Pharaoh for the last time (which was recorded in the final verses of chapter 10). God begins by telling Moses that this is the final plague, and that after this judgment falls upon Pharaoh and all Egypt, Pharaoh will release the Israelites (11:1). God then gives specific instruction as to how the Israelites are to ask their Egyptian neighbors for gifts of silver and gold (11:2). The firstborn of every Egyptian was to be slain, from the firstborn of Pharaoh to the firstborn of the Egyptian slave girl, and even including the cattle. Pharaoh’s servants would then come to Moses and request that he and the Israelites leave Egypt.

In Exodus 12 and 13, we are told about the judgment of God upon Egypt, and how the firstborn son of every Egyptian was slain. We are told that Pharaoh finally released the Israelites and how the Egyptians voluntarily gave the Israelites their items of silver and gold (12:29-36). We are told how the Israelites had no time to make leavened bread, so that they ate unleavened bread instead (12:34). Moses tells us that God led the Israelites out of Egypt by an unusual route, which took them “around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea” (13:18).

But interspersed within chapters 12 and 13 are God’s very precise instructions regarding the celebration of the first Passover meal, which was the means by which He would spare the firstborn sons of the Israelites. In addition to this, God gave instructions regarding the perpetual observance of the Passover as a memorial. The exodus of Israel from Egypt was to be marked by becoming the first month of the year from that point on (12:1-2). The Passover Celebration was to be an annual reminder of the great deliverance that God accomplished for His people at the exodus.

The Passover celebration was to be followed up with the “Feast of unleavened bread” (12:14-20). All leaven was to be removed from their houses, and no leavened bread was to be eaten for seven days after Passover. Since God spared the firstborn sons of the Israelites, they belonged to God, and thus the Israelites were to redeem their firstborn sons and cattle (13:1-16).

The Great Escape

Angered by Moses’ refusal to negotiate regarding the release of Israel (the Israelites could go, but the flocks and herds must remain in Egypt), the heart of Pharaoh was further hardened, resulting in his command that Moses was never again to come into his presence (10:24-29). At midnight, the Lord struck all the firstborn males in Egypt dead, from the firstborn of Pharaoh to the firstborn of the lowest servant girl in society. No household in Egypt was untouched by death (12:30). Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and informed them that all Israel could leave Egypt, with no conditions – all the Israelites and all their cattle. He added one more request, “But bless me also” (12:32b). What an interesting footnote. Now, at last, Pharaoh finally admits defeat at the hand of the God of Israel, and he asks Moses to bless him. Pharaoh sees that Moses, the shepherd, is greater than he, and thus it is Moses who can bless Pharaoh, and not Pharaoh who can pronounce a blessing on Moses. It would seem to me that Pharaoh is seeking a blessing from Moses, a kind of backhanded commitment that he would bring no further plagues upon Egypt.

The Israelites were to have eaten the Passover meal “in haste,” and “dressed to travel” (12:11), so it did not take that long for the Israelites to begin to make their way out of Egypt. Before they left, they asked their neighbors for gifts of silver and gold, gifts their neighbors gladly gave, if only the Israelites would leave and never return. The Israelites left Egypt after 430 years117 in that land. Moses makes certain to inform his readers that they left “to the very day” (“on the same day,” NET Bible) – the very day that God had purposed and promised that they would leave (see Genesis 15:13-16; Exodus 3:20-22; 6:1-8; 7:1-5; 11:1-2). God’s plans are always on time.

God led the Israelites in a manner that appeared somewhat less than direct. He did not lead them by the most direct route, because they would have faced the Philistines, and they were not yet ready for war. Had they faced war early on, they might have sought to desert and return to Egypt (13:17-18). It wasn’t long before Pharaoh had second thoughts about letting the Israelites go, and he set out in hot pursuit (14:1-9). God led the Israelites in a way that made them appear to be lost, in a way that actually encouraged Pharaoh to pursue them. When Pharaoh and his army caught up with the Israelites, the Israelites were terrified. From a purely human point of view, they had good reason to be scared. They were trapped between the Red Sea, the mountains, and the Egyptian soldiers.

The Israelites cried out to God. From the words they spoke to Moses, it would seem this was not a crying out in prayer so much as it was an outcry of protest:

10 When Pharaoh got closer, the Israelites looked up and saw that the Egyptians were marching after them. They were terrified. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11 And they said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt you took us away to die in the desert? What in the world have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Was this not what we told you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:10-12).

Just hours from slavery, the Israelites are already eager to return. Moses was doing a little “crying out” as well (14:15), but God instructed him to lift up his rod, extending it toward the Red Sea, so that the Israelites could pass through on dry ground. God informed Moses that He would harden the heart of Pharaoh so that the army would pursue the Israelites into the sea and thus be destroyed (14:15-18).

We all think we know the story of the Israelites’ passing through the Red Sea, thanks to our text, and to Cecil B. DeMille whose film, “The Exodus,” has created for us a mental picture of this event. The Red Sea parted, not heaped up on one side, as a strong wind might normally do, and as some have suggested it happened. The seawaters heaped up on both sides, staying in place something like Jello. And the path through the sea was dry ground (until the chariots of the Egyptians arrived). Once the Israelites were safely on the other side, the waters returned to their place, drowning all the Egyptian soldiers, and thus ending the danger for the Israelites.

While the bodies of the Egyptian soldiers washed up on shore, the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:

1 Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:
“I will sing to the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously,
the horse and its rider he has thrown into the sea.
2 The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.
This is my God and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
3 The Lord is a man of war,
the Lord is his name.
4 The chariots of Pharaoh and his army he has thrown into the sea,
and his chosen officers were drowned in the Sea of Reeds.
5 The depths have covered over them,
they went down to the bottom like a stone.
6 Your right hand, O Lord, was majestic in power,
your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy.
7 And in the greatness of your majesty you have overthrown
those who rise up against you.
You sent forth your wrath;
it consumed them like stubble.
8 And by the blast of your nostrils the waters were piled up,
the waters stood upright like a heap,
and the deep waters were congealed in the heart of the sea.
9 The enemy said, “I will chase, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil;
my desire will be satisfied on them.
I will draw my sword, my hand will destroy them.”
10 But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead in the mighty waters.
11 Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like you?—majestic in holiness,
fearful in praises, working wonders?
12 You stretched out your right hand,
the earth swallowed them.
13 By your loyal love you will lead the people
whom you have redeemed;
you will guide them by your strength to your holy habitation.
14 The people will hear and be afraid;
anguish will take hold of the inhabitants of Philistia.
15 Then the chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
and the inhabitants of Canaan will melt away.
16 Fear and dread will fall on them;
by the greatness of your arm they will be as still as stone
until your people pass over, O Lord,
until the people pass over, which you have bought.
17 You will bring them in
and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance,
in the place, O Lord, you made for your residence,
the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands have established.
18 The Lord will reign for ever and ever!
19 For the horses of Pharaoh went
with his chariots and his footmen into the seas,
and the Lord brought again the waters of the sea on them,
but the Israelites went on dry land in the midst of the sea.”

20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a hand-drum in her hand, and all the women went out after her with hand-drums and with dances. 21 And Miriam sang antiphonally to them, “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and its rider he has thrown into the sea” (Exodus 15:1-21).

Rightly, the Israelites saw the exodus as the work of God. Just as the plagues displayed the sovereignty of God to the Egyptians, they also were compelling proof to the Israelites that the God of Israel is God alone. To my knowledge this “Song of the Sea” is the first poetry found in the Old Testament. In very dramatic terms, it describes the victory of God over the “gods” of Egypt and over Pharaoh and his army. The terms that are used here do not describe a nation wading across a shallow body of water, as some would wish us to believe. The waters are piled high and Israel’s enemies sink into the depths of the sea. Not only did the crossing of the Red Sea demonstrate the majesty and power of God, it also gave the Israelites assurance that they would indeed possess the land God had promised. The exodus and the victory of God over Egypt were but the firstfruits of many other great victories over the enemies of God. What God had promised Abram over 400 years before, He had now begun to fulfill.

Conclusion

The exodus of Israel from Egypt is a landmark event in the history of Israel and in the “unfolding drama of redemption.” It was important to the Israelites who were enslaved to the Egyptians, because it meant they would no longer suffer the cruelty and oppression of their Egyptian slavery. It was also important because it was the event that enabled the Israelites to return to the land of Canaan, which they were soon to possess. The exodus was, in many ways, the birth of the nation Israel. This is why God sometimes spoke of Himself as Israel’s “Creator” (Isaiah 27:11; 43:1, 7; etc.).

The exodus marks a number of other important changes. It is at the exodus that God begins to work with the nation Israel corporately. Up till this time, the focus has been on the work of God in the life of a particular person (first Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob, and finally Joseph); now God deals with Israel corporately (as well as through individuals like Moses). In the past, God was providentially involved in the affairs of His covenant people, but His hand was not so readily apparent. God providentially provided the right wife for Jacob, when his inclinations were not godly at all. He used his flight to Paddan Aram, where his mother’s relatives were to be found, as the occasion for Jacob to obtain a wife. And God providentially provided Leah as Jacob’s wife, when Jacob was only interested in Rachel. The account of Joseph in Genesis is the story of God’s providential care, not only of Joseph, but also of Jacob’s family. Israel’s bondage in Egypt providentially preserved them as a distinct people, because otherwise they would have been assimilated into the Canaanite culture had they remained in Canaan (see Genesis 38). But now we see God intervening directly into human history, to rescue His people, Israel. The contest between the God of Israel and the “gods” of Egypt could not be more public.

The plagues God brought upon the Egyptians served several purposes:

They were a punishment on Pharaoh and upon the Egyptian for abusing God’s chosen people. God blessed Pharaoh and the Egyptians on account of Joseph, but God punished Pharaoh and the Egyptians for enslaving and abusing the Israelites. This was the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant.

The plagues were a demonstration of the existence and the power of the God of Israel, that they might believe He is God alone.

The plagues were a manifestation of God’s nature and His glory (Exodus 14:18). God glorified Himself by Pharaoh’s rebellion and resistance (see Romans 9:17).

The plagues were also a warning to the Israelites, a demonstration of the consequences they would face for disobeying God’s commands (see Deuteronomy 28:60).

The exodus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises, in a very precise way. In addition to paving the way for the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3, etc.), the exodus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:

12 When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep. Then great terror overwhelmed him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country. They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. 14 But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 But as for you, you will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit.”17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking firepot with a flaming torch passed between the animal parts. 18 That day the Lord made a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites” (Genesis 15:12-21).

Moses tells us that the departure of Israel from Egypt took place on “the very day” God had promised (see Exodus 12:41, NASB). In addition, the exodus was the precise fulfillment of several more recent prophecies (Exodus 3:18-22; 4:21-23; 6:1-8; 7:1-5; 11:1-2). The Israelites should see from this that God is a God who keeps His promises.

As mentioned earlier, the exodus was the second great act of creation in the Pentateuch. It was the time when God “created” the nation Israel. God’s power as the Creator of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) can be seen by each of the plagues He brought upon the Egyptians and their “gods.” We can also see His power as the Creator in the crossing of the Red Sea. God made a path in the midst of the sea, causing the waters to stand on both sides. He then sent these waters thundering down upon the Egyptian soldiers, destroying Pharaoh’s military might.

The exodus will become the basis for Israel’s identity and practices as a nation. It is because God delivered the nation Israel from their bondage that they become God’s slaves (Leviticus 25:55). The Law of Moses is the treaty, the constitution of the nation Israel, which God gives His redeemed people. Israel’s religious calendar began with the exodus. You might say that the exodus was the beginning of time for Israel. The Passover became an annual celebration, the religious high point of the year. The feast of unleavened bread was also established on the basis of the exodus experience.

The exodus proved the folly of idolatry. The Israelites had already embraced some of the idolatry of the Canaanites (see Genesis 31:19; 35:1-3; Joshua 24:14-15; Amos 5:25-26). At the exodus, God pronounced judgment on the “gods” of Egypt:

“And I will pass through the land of Egypt in the same night, and I will kill all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both of humans and of animals, and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. I am the Lord” (Exodus 12:12).

What folly it would be to worship the very gods that God had judged in Egypt.

The exodus was a deliverance brought about by God’s grace, and not as the result of Israel’s good works or law-keeping. God does not give the Law of Moses to the Israelites until after He has saved them at the exodus. They were not rescued because they faithfully kept the law. Indeed, they were idolatrous and wayward in Egypt. They did not faithfully follow Moses, who spoke for God. Although they initially believed Moses, their trust in him (and in the God of Israel) quickly eroded (compare Exodus 4:30-31 with 5:20-21; 6:9; 14:10-12; Psalm 106:7-8). In part, the Israelites left Egypt because Pharaoh drove them out (Exodus 6:1; 11:1). In short, the exodus was God’s work, and God’s work alone.

God’s great act of delivering His people at the exodus was a dramatic demonstration of His power and the assurance that God would accomplish all that He had promised. This is what the Israelites sang as they stood on the other side of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-21). It is also a theme that is taken up throughout the rest of the Old Testament. The vocabulary of the exodus is frequently employed as an assurance of God’s future work:

1 Now, this is what the Lord says,
the one who created you, O Jacob,
and formed you, O Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, for I will protect you.
I call you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I am with you;
when you pass through the streams, they will not overwhelm you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not harm you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the sovereign king of Israel, your deliverer (Isaiah 43:1-3a, emphasis mine).
14 This is what the Lord says,
your protector, the sovereign king of Israel:
“For your sake I send to Babylon
and make them all fugitives,
turning the Babylonians’ joyful shouts into mourning songs.
15 I am the Lord, your sovereign ruler,
the one who created Israel, your king.”
16 This is what the Lord says,
the one who made a road through the sea,
a pathway through the surging waters,
17 the one who led chariots and horses to destruction,
together with a mighty army.
They fell down, never to rise again;
they were extinguished, put out like a burning wick:
18 “Don’t remember these earlier events;
don’t recall these former events.
19 “Look, I am about to do something new.
Now it begins to happen! Do you not recognize it?
Yes, I will make a road in the desert
and paths in the wilderness.
20 The wild animals of the desert honor me,
the jackals and ostriches,
because I put water in the desert
and streams in the wilderness,
to quench the thirst of my chosen people,
21 the people whom I formed for myself,
so they might praise me” (Isaiah 43:14-21, emphasis mine).

The work of our Lord Jesus Christ is also described in “exodus terminology”:

13 After they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to look for the child to kill him.” 14 Then he got up, took the child and his mother at night, and went to Egypt. 15 He stayed there until Herod died. In this way what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet was fulfilled: I called my Son out of Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15).

28 Now about eight days after these sayings, Jesus took with him Peter, John, and James, and went up the mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Then two men, Moses and Elijah, began talking with him. 31 They appeared in glorious splendor and spoke about his departure118 that he was about to carry out at Jerusalem (Luke 9:28-31, emphasis mine).

The “departure” of which our Lord, Moses, and Elijah spoke was literally our Lord’s “exodus.” It is the second and greater exodus, the greatest saving act of all time. As Israel came up out of Egypt at their exodus, so the Messiah, the Son of God, came out of Egypt (Matthew 2:15). As God saved Israel at the exodus, so He accomplished a far greater act of salvation by our Lord’s death, resurrection, and ascension – His “exodus.” In Him, it is our exodus as well. Thus, Christian baptism is likened to passing through the Red Sea:

1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).

The work of our Lord is likened to that of the Passover lamb:

13 “Look, my servant will succeed!
He will be elevated, lifted high, and greatly exalted.
14 Just as many were horrified by the sight of you—
he was so disfigured he no longer looked like a man;
15 his form was so marred he no longer looked human—
so now he will startle many nations.
Kings will be shocked by his exaltation,
for they will witness something unannounced to them,
and they will understand something they had not heard about.

53:1 Who would have believed what we just heard?
When was the LORD’s power revealed through him?
He sprouted up like a twig before God,
like a root out of parched soil;
he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention,
no special appearance that we should want to follow him.
3 He was despised and rejected by people,
one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness;
people hid their faces from him;
he was despised, and we considered him insignificant.
4 But he lifted up our illnesses
he carried our pain;
even though we thought he was being punished,
attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done.
5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds,
crushed because of our sins;
he endured punishment that made us well;
because of his wounds we have been healed.
6 All of us had wandered off like sheep;
each of us had strayed off on his own path,
but the LORD caused the sin of all of us to attack him.
7 He was treated harshly and afflicted,
but he did not even open his mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block,
like a sheep silent before her shearers,
he did not even open his mouth.
8 He was led away after an unjust trial—
but who even cared?
Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living;
because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded.
9 They intended to bury him with criminals,
but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb,
because he had committed no violent deeds,
nor had he spoken deceitfully.
10 Though the LORD desired to crush him and make him ill,
once restitution is made,
he will see descendants and enjoy long life,
and the LORD’s purpose will be accomplished through him.
11 Having suffered, he will reflect on his work,
he will be satisfied when he understands what he has done.
“My servant will acquit many, for he carried their sins.
12 So I will assign him a portion with the mighty,
he will divide the spoils of victory with the powerful,
because he willingly submitted to death
and was numbered with the rebels,
when he lifted up the sin of many
and intervened on behalf of the rebels (Isaiah 52:13—53:12, emphasis mine).

29 On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” 30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’ 31 I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel (John 1:29-31, emphasis mine).”

6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough, since you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:6-8, emphasis mine).

The greatest deliverance of all time was not the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt, but the deliverance of men and women from the bondage of sin:

14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Our Lord is the One greater than Moses, of whom Moses spoke:

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you—from your fellow Israelites; you must listen to him 16 in line with everything you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb in the day of the convocation: “Do not let us hear the voice of the Lord our God any more or see this great fire any more lest we die.” 17 The Lord then said to me, “What they have asked is good. 18 I will raise up a prophet like you for them from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them whatever I want. 19 I myself with hold responsible anyone who then pays no attention to the words that prophet will speak in my name.

The Lord Jesus Christ is that “prophet” to whom we must listen:

1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 4 Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs (Hebrews 1:1-4).

1 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

He is the One who came to bear the penalty for our sins. He is the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He is the Passover Lamb, who delivers us from death. To receive Him is to know true freedom (John 8:32). Have you recognized your bondage to sin and death? Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as God’s only provision for the forgiveness of your sins and the hope of eternal life? If not, I urge you to do so this very moment.

When I read the account of the exodus, I am reminded of the fact that God is in no hurry. Though He promised to deliver His people Israel from bondage, God waited over 400 years to do so. Mortal men look for God to fulfill His promises in their lifetime, but the way of faith often requires us to live our entire lives without seeing that which God has promised:

13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them… . 39 And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. 40 For God had provided something better for us, so that they would be made perfect together with us (Hebrews 11:13-16, 39-40).

God is in no great hurry to carry out His plans and purposes. He is eternal. He has all the time in the world; indeed, He is above and beyond time. But what He promises will come to pass. Faith is living out our lives, based upon the promises of God. We are to believe His Word, and to live by His Word, looking for that day when He will accomplish all that He has promised.

If the exodus teaches us anything about God, it is that He is sovereign. He is in control. He is bigger than Pharaoh and the great nation of Egypt. He is able to fulfill His promises, to the very letter. He is the One who can harden and soften hearts. He is the One who is able to use man’s opposition to bring glory to Himself and to achieve His purposes. Pharaoh asked, “Who is the Lord that I should obey Him…?” The exodus of Israel from Egypt answers that question. Another Gentile king perhaps put it best:

34 But at the end of the appointed time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up toward heaven, and my sanity returned to me.

I blessed the Most High,

and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever.
For his rule is an everlasting rule,
and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next.
35 All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he wishes with the army of heaven
and with those who inhabit the earth.
No one slaps his hand and says to him, `What have you done?’

36 At that time my sanity returned to me. I was restored to the honor of my kingdom, and my splendor returned to me. My ministers and my magistrates were seeking me out, and I was reinstated over my kingdom. Tremendous greatness was restored to me, greater than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, for all his deeds are right and his ways are just. He is able to bring low those who live in pride” (Daniel 4:34-37).

 

                 

Encounter

Text

Request

Threat

Response

Consequence

Response / Outcome

A

5:1ff.

Have a feast for 3 days in the wilderness.

None

Lest God strike us with sword or plague.

That’s just a vacation.

No more straw, foremen punished.

Foremen protested to Moses.

Moses protested to God.

God reassures Moses of release, based on His covenant with Abraham.

Further instructions given.

B

7:8ff.

Request apparently repeated.

None

Pharaoh requests a miracle.

Magicians imitate miracle.

Aaron’s staff becomes serpent.

Aaron’s staff devours theirs.

Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.

He did not listen to Moses and Aaron.

Level of Pain: Irritation

1
Nile to blood

7:14ff.

In the morning

Release My People

Nile turned to blood

Magicians imitate.

Pharaoh did not take it to heart.

Egyptians dug around Nile for water to drink.

Pharaoh did not take this to heart.

2
Frogs

7:25ff.

One week later

“Go to Pharaoh”

“Release My People.”

If not, frogs.

None recorded, but Pharaoh surely refused – magicians imitate miracle.

Frogs sent

Pharaoh bargains — Requests frogs to be removed, but when removed Pharaoh hardens his heart.

3
Gnats

8:16ff.

No request: “Extend your hand… .”

No threat made

Gnats sent

Magicians could not reproduce this miracle: “This is the finger of God.”

Pharaoh’s heart is hardened – did not listen to his magicians.

Level of Pain: Discriminative Pain and Destruction

4
Flies

8:20ff.

“Get up early …and say: ‘“Release My people.”

Time: tomorrow.

Swarms of flies to be sent on Egyptians.

God distinguishes between Egyptians and Israelites.

Flies sent

Pharaoh: “Sacrifice, but stay in this land.”

“O.K. but don’t go far.”

“I will release, but don’t go far.”

Moses prays; flies removed; Pharaoh hardens his heart and refuses to release Israel.

5
Livestock Killed

9:1ff.

“Go to Pharaoh and tell him: ‘Release My people.’”

Plague sent on Egyptian livestock & animals, but not Israelite animals.

At appointed time.

Egyptian livestock dies.

Pharaoh investigates, but his heart hardened, so that he does not release Israelites.

   

6
Boils

9:8-12

No request.

“Throw soot into air.”

No warning.

Aaron casts soot, boils come on Egyptians.

Magicians cannot stand before Moses because of their boils.

Lord hardens Pharaoh’s heart; he does not listen nor release the Israelites.

Level of Pain: Discriminative Devastation and Dread

7
Storm (Hail)

9:13-35

“Get up early in the morning and say,

‘Release My people.’”

“I could have destroyed you all by now.”

“This time tomorrow”

I will send all My plagues on you, your servants, your people.

Hail to come the next day – people warned to bring people, livestock under cover.

Those who feared brought in man and beast from the hail as Moses commanded.

Those who disbelieved left servants and livestock outside.

Hail destroyed everything, but land of Goshen was not affected.

Flax and barley destroyed; wheat and spelt not destroyed.

Pharaoh confesses his sin, requests Moses to pray and to stop the hail.

Promises to release Israelites.

Moses indicated that he knew better than to believe Pharaoh.

Pharaoh hardens his heart; won’t release Israelites.

8
Locusts

10:1-20

“Go to Pharaoh.”

“I have hardened his heart.”

“Release My people.”

Locusts will destroy remaining crops.

Pharaoh’s servants strongly urge him to release the Israelites, lest Egypt be completely destroyed.

Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron – “Men only may go” – drives out Moses and Aaron.

Locusts released, and destroy everything that is left, that hail didn’t destroy, like wheat and spelt.

Pharaoh confesses his sin, asks Moses to stop the locusts.

Locusts removed.

Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart; he refused to release Israelites.

9
Darkness

10:21-29

None

“Extend your hand”

 

Darkness came across the land of Egypt for 3 days.

Israelites had light.

Pharaoh: “Go, but leave your cattle.”

Moses: “Not without our cattle.”

Pharaoh: “Get out, and don’t come back.”

Moses: “We won’t.”

 

DEATH

10
Death of Firstborn

11:1—12:42

None

No threat made.

Israelites instructed to ask Egyptians for gifts.

They give generously,

God distinguishes between Israel and Egypt.

Feasts established

Instructions given for spoiling the Egyptians.

 

 


108 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on December 31, 2000.

109 Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), p. 16.

110 We dare not overlook Stephen’s words on this subject, which indicate that the child was “abandoned” by his parents (Acts 7:21, NET Bible). The NASB includes the marginal reading, which indicates that they “put him out to die.”

111 See Acts 7:23, 30.

112 See Acts 7:22.

113 See Acts 7:23-29.

114 Genesis, chapters 24 and 29.

115 Acts 7:30.

116 Kitchen writes, “In Ex. xii. 12 God speaks of executing judgments against all the gods of Egypt. In some measure He had already done so in the plagues, as Egypt’s gods were much bound up with the forces of nature. Ha`pi, the Nile-god of inundation, had brought not prosperity but ruin; the frogs, symbol of Heqit, a goddess of fruitfulness, had brought only disease and wasting; the hail, rain, and storm were the heralds of awesome events (as in the Pyramid Tests); and the light of the sun-god Re` was blotted out, to mention but of few of the deities affected.” K. A. Kitchen, “Plagues of Egypt,” The New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, ed., (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962), p. 1003.

117 “The time of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt is calculated ‘to the very day,’ that is, 430 years. Genesis 15:13 gave the time in the round number four hundred years. First Kings 6:1 calculates the time from the Exodus to the building of the temple to be 480 years. This figure gives the broad chronological boundaries for the historical books.” John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), p. 265.

118 The footnote in the NET Bible reads: “Grk “his exodus,” which refers to Jesus’ death in Jerusalem and journey back to glory. Here is the first lesson that the disciples must learn. The wondrous rule comes only after suffering.

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10. The Giving of the Law, Part I

The Evangelistic Purpose of the Law

My father-in-law, Larry Oubre, is easily one of the most devoted students of the Word of God that I’ve had the privilege to know, and I’ve learned to listen carefully when he talks about rightly handling the Scriptures. On Christmas day, I was talking to him about this message and about the quandary I was in trying to figure out how to take the topic of the “Giving of the Law,” which I had previously taught in about 20 lessons, and boiling it down to just a couple of “big picture”-type messages. He told me to start at the end – with the New Testament’s declaration regarding the purpose of the Old Testament Law – then to go back to the Old Testament and show that the purpose of the Law has always been the same. Following his wise counsel, that’s exactly the approach I’m going to take.

New Testament

Not One Righteous
Romans 3:1-18

In the first three chapters of the Book of Romans, Paul presents a carefully crafted argument addressing the question, “How do men become righteous in the eyes of God?” The first part of his argument is to explain how men have NOT become righteous in the eyes of God.

He explains that in spite of the knowledge of God made known through nature, through conscience and through the revealed Law, all men, both Jews and Gentiles, have failed to accomplish the requirement of God.

In chapter 3, Paul takes his argument to its logical conclusion. In verse 9, he declares flat out “that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” He then defends this forceful accusation against all men by going back to the Old Testament Scriptures. The words he uses here could not be any simpler, any clearer, or any more forceful!

10 as it is written,
There is none righteous, not even one;
11 There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.
Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,
The poison of asps is under their lips;
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness;
Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Destruction and misery are in their paths,
And the path of peace have they not known.
|There is no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:10-18)120.

In Romans 2, verse 6, Paul said that God …

will render to every man according to his deeds; to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.

There are two categories of people spoken of here: (1) “those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality” (those get eternal life), and (2) “those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness” (those get God’s wrath and indignation). According to Paul’s own argument, how many people are there in the first category?

NONE, NOT ONE!!!

Look again at Romans 3:10-18. Except for Jesus Christ, Himself, how many people have there been in history who were righteous enough to fulfill the requirement of God’s Law? None! Not one! Not ever!

How many people have genuinely taken the initiative to seek after God?

“There is NONE who understands, There is NONE who seeks for God; ALL have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is NONE who does good, There is NOT EVEN ONE” (emphasis mine).

The propositions here are clear, simple, and forceful, and leave no room for interpretation.

When men try to create a loophole in this argument so they can say that some people are good enough for God, they are throwing out the clear and precise revelation of Almighty God, and they are replacing it with their own foolishness. The world is full of man-made religions which have done this very thing – many of which call themselves Christian.

Men do a lot of things that are good in their outward appearance, but God knows the hearts of men. He knows our motives, and His Word declares that, left to our own devices, we are useless sinners, consumed with ourselves. We don’t even know how to begin being truly righteous.

All the World Accountable to God
Romans 3:19-20

The culmination of everything Paul has said in the first three chapters is found in Romans 3:19-20. And the truth of these two verses is absolutely foundational to a proper understanding of the true purpose of the Law of Moses:

19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God;

20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (emphasis mine).

The Law was never intended to make men righteous. It was intended to prove man’s unrighteousness – to cast the light of God’s holiness on man’s unholiness so that there would be no question about what all men have merited.

If Israel had been able to achieve a righteous standing before God through the keeping of the Law, then there would have been no need of a Savior.

Galatians 3:21-22

In Galatians 3:21-22, Paul says,

21 For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22 But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

So, the New Testament is clear and forceful about the fact that the Law could not make one righteous. That’s great. Hindsight is always 20-20. We’ve seen a few Old Testament quotations from Paul’s writings, but were these few Old Testament passages enough to make it clear to men living in Old Testament times that they ultimately could not keep the Law – that the Law was given to prove them to be unholy?

We will see that the Old Testament was just as forceful and consistent as the New Testament about this matter.

The fact of the matter is this: Judaism – true Old Testament Judaism - does NOT, and NEVER DID, make man the author of his own righteousness or of his own salvation.

Old Testament

After God’s miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egypt, He led them through the desert toward the Mountain of God, Mount Sinai. Along the way, Israel grumbled because they were afraid they were going to die of hunger and thirst in the desert. In spite of their grumbling, God gave them a miraculous provision of manna – daily bread right out of heaven. He made water to spring forth out of rocks in the middle of the desert so that they would not thirst. In the third month after they departed from Egypt, He brought them to the foot of the mountain. Exodus 19 presents the preface to the Ten Commandments and to all the rest of the Law of Moses. The passages immediately preceding and following the Ten Commandments present a fearsome description of God’s manifestation of His Presence on the mountain as the context to the giving of the Law.121

God is Not Like Man. He is Holy and He is Wholly Other than Man
Exodus 19:10-25; 20:18-21

10 The Lord also said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; 11 and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 “And you shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. 13 ‘No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.’” 14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people, and they washed their garments. 15 And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.” 16 So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. 19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down, warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish. 22 “And also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.” 23 And Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for Thou didst warn us, saying, ‘Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it.’ “ 24 Then the Lord said to him, “Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord lest He break forth upon them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them (Exodus 19:10-25).

18 And all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. 19 Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” 21 So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was (Exodus 20:18-21).

The Israelites were terrified of God on that day! They couldn’t bear to hear the voice of God directly, so they requested that He speak to them through Moses, which is exactly what God had intended in the first place. God made it perfectly clear that He could annihilate Israel at will. There should have been no question for Israel that God was nothing like they were! And He was nothing like anything in creation that they could see or hear or taste or touch.

As for idolatry, how could God be represented in the form of a created being when it was so clear that He transcended His creation? How could He be represented in the form of anything that came from the mind of men when men couldn’t look upon Him, couldn’t begin to comprehend Him, and couldn’t even stand to hear His voice?

All that God had done to deliver Israel from Egypt, and all the miraculous signs they were beholding from their vantage point at the base of the mountain, served to drive home the fact that their God is entirely other than they are. This was the setting, the context for the beginning of the Law, and for the Law’s testimony to man’s separation from God.

The Golden Calf
Exodus 32-33

After giving the revelation of the commandments and ordinances and the instructions for the tabernacle and priesthood, God called Moses to come up to the mountain to receive the two tablets with the Ten Commandments engraved by the finger of God.

12 Now the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God. 14 But to the elders he said, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And, behold, Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a legal matter, let him approach them.” 15 Then Moses went up to the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 And the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. 17 And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. 18 And Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:12-18).

What were the Israelites doing during the 40 days Moses was on the top of the mountain? They were blatantly violating the first two commandments!

2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth (Exodus 20:2-4).

Could this be any clearer than it is?

Now, let me see – does a calf bear any likeness to anything Israel might have run across in God’s creation? Like, maybe, a calf ?!

God had just given Israel His commandments – and Israel couldn’t wait to break them!

God made it very clear that Israel deserved to be wiped out on that day. He threatened to destroy them and to start over again with Moses. Moses interceded before God and appealed to God’s reputation among the nations (32:12) and to God’s unconditional covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (32:13) as the basis for asking God to forbear with Israel and to continue to go up in their midst. God relented, and, while He executed a painful judgment against Israel that day, He did not destroy them.

Did Israel get better after this? Let’s take a look.

Israel’s Refusal to Enter the Land
Numbers 14

In the second month of the second year after the Exodus, God led Israel to journey from Mount Sinai through the wilderness toward Kadesh Barnea. From Kadesh, He commanded Israel to go up into the land and take possession of it. God swore that He would fight their battles for them and would, Himself, dispossess the nations who inhabited the land so that Israel could dwell there in peace – if they would only trust Him and go into the land. We all know the story. The spies saw the giants in the land. Ten of the twelve spies said, “Can’t do it!” And Israel refused to go up.

Once again, God was angry with Israel because of their faithlessness and rebellion, and He threatened again to destroy them and to start all over with Moses. And, once again, Moses interceded for Israel and pleaded with God, NOT based on anything about Israel that merited His forbearance, but based on God’s reputation among the nations (14:13-16), God’s covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give them the land (14:16), and God’s own character (14:17-19). God pardoned Israel (14:20). He said that He would not destroy them, but He would punish them, and that those who had sinned would not get to enter the promised land.

The Second Generation After the Exodus
Deuteronomy 9:4-7

God led Israel through their wanderings in the wilderness for 40 years, until that entire generation that had refused to enter the land had perished except for Joshua and Caleb, Moses, and a few of the sons of Aaron.

In the Book of Deuteronomy, we find the new generation of Israelites camped at the eastern shore of the Jordan river, having conquered the pagan nations on the east side of the river, and poised to cross over to the west side to take possession of land. At this point, God says this to them,

4 Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you.

5 It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

6 Know then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people.

7 Remember, do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD (Deuteronomy 9:4-7, emphasis mine).

The Blessing and the Curses

(Guess which Ones Israel Gets!)

Deuteronomy 27-30

Near the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, God laid out before Israel the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience of the Law, and then He made it clear to them in chapter 30 that they would experience the curses. And only after that would they turn to God and He would circumcise their hearts and the hearts of their descendants to love Him and to serve Him. That has not happened yet!

Lest you think that the curses of the Mosaic Covenant were idle threats, read the Books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, and you will see that the curses were fulfilled to the last painful detail during Nebuchadnezzar’s second siege of Jerusalem!

The Commissioning of Joshua
Deuteronomy 31:16-21

In the final chapters of Deuteronomy, we find the narrative of the end of Moses’ life and the passing of the mantle of leadership to Joshua. At the commissioning of Joshua, the LORD says this to Moses,

16 … “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. 17 “Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them, and they shall be consumed, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them; so that they will say in that day, ‘Is it not because our God is not among us that these evils have come upon us?’ 18 “But I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they will do, for they will turn to other gods. 19 “Now therefore write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the sons of Israel; put it on their lips, in order that this song may be a witness for Me against the sons of Israel. 20 “For when I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous, then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me and break My covenant. 21 “Then it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know their intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore (Deuteronomy 31:16-21).

According to verse 21, God knew before they entered the land that the Israelites were already cultivating in their hearts an attitude of faithlessness and disloyalty toward their Deliverer. He knew that once He brought them into the land, they would embrace the false gods of the Canaanites and would forsake their God.

Moses died without entering the land, and Joshua took the mantle of leadership.

Joshua’s Farewell Address
Joshua 24

Through His servant Joshua, God led Israel across the Jordan river and into the land of promise.

After the conquest of the land, after God had fought all of Israel’s battles and had destroyed 60 cities fortified to the heavens, after the territory of the promised land had been divided up among the tribes and clans of Israel, Joshua gave Israel his farewell address in Joshua 24. He reviewed God’s mighty deeds throughout Israel’s history, and he called the people in verse 14 to: “fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.”

The people declared that they would, indeed, forsake other gods and would serve the LORD, and they acknowledged His gracious deeds on their behalf (24:16-18). But look at Joshua’s words to them:

19 You will not be able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He has done good to you (Joshua 24:19-20 – emphasis mine).

God is Holy and Israel was not, and they would NOT be able to obey Him. He would not turn a blind eye to their sin – they would be held accountable.

The people once again swore that they would serve God and would obey His voice. Joshua erected a large stone at that place to memorialize their covenant to obey God, and he said,

“… Behold, this stone shall be for a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD which He spoke to us; thus it shall be for a witness against you, lest you deny your God” (Joshua 24:27).

The Generation After the Conquest of the Land
Judges 2:6-10

6 When Joshua had dismissed the people, the sons of Israel went each to his inheritance to possess the land. 7 And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the Lord which He had done for Israel. 8 Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.

Following the death of Joshua, the very next thing that is recorded about Israel is this:

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel (Judges 2:10).122

The Period of the Judges
Every Man Did What Was Right in His Own Eyes

Without skipping a beat, the writer of the Book of Judges presents us with verses 11-23, in which we see a spiral of spiritual decline in Israel during the period of the Judges. God repeatedly smote Israel by the hand of their enemies because of their abominations. Each time, they cried out to Him, and He raised up a judge to deliver them. Then, as soon as they had been delivered from one enemy, they went into an even more corrupt episode of infidelity toward God, and the cycle started again.

11 Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals, 12 and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. 14 And the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. 15 Wherever they went, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had spoken and as the Lord had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed. 16 Then the Lord raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them. 17 And yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned aside quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do as their fathers. 18 And when the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But it came about when the judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them; they did not abandon their practices or their stubborn ways. 20 So the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He said, “Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not listened to My voice, 21 I also will not longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk in it as their fathers did, or not.” 23 So the Lord allowed those nations to remain, not driving them out quickly; and He did not give them into the hand of Joshua (Judges 2:11-23).

“They Have Rejected Me from Being King Over Them”
1 Samuel 8

At the end of the period of the Judges, in 1 Samuel 8:5, the people said to Samuel, “Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” God permitted them to have their human king, but He made it clear what was in Israel’s heart when they made this demand: “… they have rejected Me from being king over them” (8:7). They had the God Who created the universe as their King, but they didn’t want to trust Him. They wanted to trust in a man – just like all the other nations.

The Kings of Israel and Judah

Israel got her kings, and so began a long series of episodes involving kings who were occasionally men of faith, but mostly men of faithlessness and idolatrous disloyalty to YAHWEH; the nation continued in a spiritual trend that was generally downward, until their sinfulness had persisted so long that God banished both the northern and southern tribes into exile to Assyria and Babylon, respectively.

The Prophets – Accusation, Not Approval

During and after the period of the kings, we find the writings of the prophets. And these writings are filled with God’s accusations against Israel – accusations of chronic faithlessness, spiritual adultery in the form of idolatry, hardened hearts, hypocritical adherence to ceremony while their hearts were filled with violence, injustice and callousness toward the widows, orphans and aliens – the downtrodden among them. No compassion, no mercy, no justice, no righteousness.

Israel had been chosen by God to be the instrument of blessing to all the nations (Genesis 12:3-4). But where the Law is concerned, that marvelous blessing did not come through Israel’s obedience – rather it came through Israel’s disobedience!

4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have turned astray, each of us has turned to his own way,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him (Isaiah 53:4-6).

So What?

Okay, so what does all of this mean?

It means that there was never any basis in Scripture for Israel to see themselves as righteous! On the contrary, there was every basis in Scripture for Israel to see themselves as unrighteous, as unholy and desperately in need of God’s provision of forgiveness and righteousness!

Man’s absolute and continual failure to meet the standard of holiness required by God is not an idea that was first introduced in the New Testament. It was introduced in Genesis 3, and it has been driven home at every juncture of man’s dealings with God and God’s dealings with man. It was clear after the Fall, it was clear after the flood, it was clear after the scattering at Babel. It was clear in every generation after God called out Abraham from among all the people of the world to be the father of a people for His own possession. In every age and in every point of history at which man has been the recipient of God’s grace and forbearance, man has ultimately responded with a high hand, a stiff neck, and a rebellious heart.

The fact is that by the time Christ came in the form of a man, it should have been blatantly obvious to Israel that the Law could not justify them – not because the Law was evil, but because THEY were evil – they and every other nation as well! This is the universal testimony of Scripture ever since the fall of Adam. And it was this testimony to which Paul is pointing in Romans 3. That’s where we started.

The Law in all of its particulars purposed to show the true character of man in the light of God’s character. And man failed that standard utterly and completely. That’s okay, because that’s what was supposed to happen. That’s why the Law was given in the first place – that every mouth might be closed and every man held accountable to God for his sin!

Law keeping and good works will not make you righteous in the eyes of God. It never did. It never will!

The True Standard of the Law

Matthew 5:21-48

In verse 20 of Matthew 5, Jesus makes this stinging statement:

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

So the question then becomes, “What kind of righteousness does God require?”

Jesus goes directly to the Law.

21 You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.” 22 “But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go in the hell of fire ( Matthew 5:21-22).

He then goes from the level of a man’s words to the level of a man’s innermost thoughts,

27 You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery;” 28 but I say to you, that every one who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).

Jesus caps off His teaching about God’s standard of righteousness in verse 48 – one of the clearest and simplest statements in all of Scripture: “therefore you must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The only kind of righteousness that passes muster with a holy God is His righteousness! Period! I’ve heard preachers and seminary professors try to water that verse down and make it mean something less than it says. But the question on the table in this passage is, “What kind of righteousness is acceptable to God,” and the answer is, “HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS!” The man who makes this declaration of our Lord any less simple or any less forceful than it is does so at the expense of the gospel and at the peril of his soul!

I am convinced that much of Jesus’ teaching during His earthly ministry was intended to bring the Law into sharp focus as God’s perfect and unwavering standard – to show that the true standard of the Law was an infinitely higher standard than the Jews had construed it to be. In short, to prepare men to accept Him as Savior, Jesus worked to show men that the standard of the Law was a standard that men cannot possibly meet in themselves because it was, and still is, the standard of God’s own Holy character!

Lowering the Bar

What Israel did with the true standard of the Law is an approach that is common to man and to man’s religions. My dear friend Bruce Beaty puts it this way:

“A religion that makes law-keeping the basis for righteousness must make law-keeping achievable. To do so, it must lower the bar – lower the standard required by the law.”

That is precisely what Israel did with the Law of Moses. They treated the Law as a matter of external, outward behavior so they could convince themselves that they were meeting its standard. And because there were not enough rules to cover every aspect of their daily lives, they added over 600 additional laws to cover all the bases. This was all nonsense in the eyes of God because the Law was always a matter of the heart, not the outward performance, and the standard of the Law was always the Holy character of God, Himself!

Those who lower the standard of the Law to make it achievable have cast aside the clear and forceful testimony of God’s own Word and have replaced it with the most lethal of all lies! The gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to cast aside our own foolish self-glorification – to agree with God that we are dead in our sins and utterly helpless to make ourselves acceptable in the sight of a Holy God. Only then are we made ready to accept God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life!

And to believers, I must say this. If you think you are beyond the point where you need to be concerned about the tendency to revert to law keeping, you’d better take another look. Even the Apostle Peter stumbled on this issue. He had walked with Jesus during His entire earthly ministry. He had seen the miraculous signs, the crucifixion, and the resurrected Christ. He had been filled with the Holy Spirit and had been powerfully used by Christ to minister the gospel to others, yet he stumbled over the Law and had to be harshly rebuked by none other than the Apostle Paul as recorded in Galatians 2:11-21. If it could happen to Peter, it could happen to you.

My friends, be vigilant. Legalism by any other name is still legalism, and it is NOT and never will be the basis of righteousness before God. If you are making rules that focus on outward behavior, and you are presuming to be able to judge other men on the basis of those rules, you are guilty of legalism. It happens often in the church.

And to believers I also say this: If you add works to the gospel, you will have stumbled over the grace of God, and your gospel will not be the one revealed in God’s Scripture. The gospel is not a bargain! The gospel is not a promise of obedience made by men to God! The gospel is the gift of eternal life given to people who are dead in their sins until God plucks them from the domain of darkness and plants them in the kingdom of His beloved Son, through faith in Jesus Christ!

And that brings us to the Good News.

The Good News!

Romans 3:21-31

In Romans 3:21 and following, there is a dramatic shift in Paul’s argument – a shift from the bad news to the good news. A shift from the universal condemnation of all men to the free gift of God which saves men from that condemnation through faith in Jesus Christ.

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also— 30 if indeed God is one—and He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law (Romans 3:21-31).

The bottom line is this – until you are a child of God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ – your efforts to comply with God’s righteous standard cannot possibly result in anything other than the proof of your lostness and condemnation!

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

It’s His righteousness, not ours! Believers, when you have been in heaven 10,000 years, it will STILL be the righteousness of Jesus Christ, not your own righteousness that allows you to stand holy and blameless in His Presence!

If you have never taken God at His Word – if you have never trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as the sole provision for your sin and the only way to be righteous in the eyes of God, I invite you to do so today – right now – right where you are.


119 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Tom Wright, teacher at Community Bible Chapel, on January 7, 2001.

120 All Scripture References are cited in this lesson are from the New American Standard Bible.

121 This is a common device in the Old Testament that is typically referred to as an inclusio. It is a sort of verbal parenthesis by which a critical passage is marked off by the repetition of a phrase or idea immediately before and after the passage. The content of the parenthesis itself serves to emphasize some important point concerning the text that lies in between. In this case, the fearsome manifestation of God’s Presence serves as both the context and the persuasive basis for His people to forsake false gods and man-made idols and to obey His Law.

122 Consider this failure in light of the powerful exhortation in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 for Israel to diligently teach the Law to their children. The sacred responsibility of God’s people to pass the knowledge of Him to their children is one of the most pervasive aspects of the Law and especially of the memorial observances in the Law (cf. Exodus 12:24-27; 13:8-10, 14-16). The vivid appeal of these memorials to the sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch of a child was to prompt them to ask their significance so that their parents could diligently explain the mighty and faithful acts of God in calling out a people for His own possession.

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11. The Giving of the Law, Part II

Principles From the Law

Introduction

In our previous lesson of this series, The Evangelistic Purpose of the Law, we saw that the Law cannot make a man righteous in the eyes of God – that one of the most critical functions of the Law in the plan of God was to cast the light of God’s holy character on man’s unholiness and unrighteousness so that all men would be without excuse before Him. Until God has closed your mouth and shown you your helpless condition – your desperate need for a means of forgiveness and righteousness that can come only from Him – you are not ready to receive the gift of forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal life that the shed blood of Jesus Christ has purchased for you.

Paul was speaking of this evangelistic purpose of the Law in Galatians 3:24, when he wrote, “… the Law has become our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ.”124

But what is the role of the Law in the lives of those of us who have already trusted Jesus Christ as our Savior? Paul writes in Galatians 5:18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” Christ declared Himself to be the fulfillment of the Law (Matthew 5:17). So, what value is there for Christians in studying the Law?

Let’s look at what a couple of the Psalmists said about the Law and consider whether these things still apply:

The Law is our Delight!

Psalm 19:7-14 and Psalm 119:97-104

In Psalm 19, David declares that the Law in all its parts is perfect, sure, right and pure, true and righteous altogether. It is more desirable than much fine gold and sweeter than honey.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

8 The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.

9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.

10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.

11 Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.

13 Also keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Thy sight,
O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer
(Psalm 19:7-14).

Look at the things that David says the Law does for the one who makes it his delight: it restores the soul; it makes wise the simple; it rejoices the heart; it enlightens the eyes. By the Law of God His servant is warned and in keeping it he finds great reward.

Are these things still desirable for us who are no longer under the Law? Let’s look at Psalm 119:97-104:

97 Oh how I love Thy law!
It is my meditation all the day.

98 Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies,
For they are ever mine.

99 I have more insight than all my teachers,
For Thy testimonies are my meditation.

100 I understand more than the aged,
Because I have observed Thy precepts.

101 I have restrained my feet from every evil way,
That I may keep Thy word.

102 I have not turned aside from Thine ordinances,
For Thou Thyself hast taught me.

103 How sweet are Thy words to my taste!
Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

104 From Thy precepts I get understanding;
Therefore, I hate every false way.

The Psalmist declares, “O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day” (verse 97).

And again in these verses, look at the benefit he declares that he has derived from making the Law his meditation and observing its instruction:

Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies, …,
I have more insight than all my teachers, …
I understand more than the aged, …
From Thy precepts I get understanding;
Therefore I hate every false way.

Like David, he says in verse 103, “How sweet are Thy words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

Wisdom, insight, understanding, hatred of every false way … rejoicing, restoration. Are these things that belong only in the Old Testament system? No, these are blessings and benefits of the Scriptures that are precious to every believer. And all of these blessings and benefits come from the Law of Moses.

Why is it so hard for us to derive that sort of benefit from meditating on the Law? I think that in large measure it is because we don’t meditate on the Law in the first place!

The reality is that nobody ever got to hidden treasure by standing around waiting for it to fall on their head! To get to the good stuff, you have to do a lot of digging and sifting and searching.

Proverbs 2 tells us the way to get godly wisdom, where we read:

If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will discern the fear of the Lord,
And discover the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:4-6).

We who are in Christ have been assigned a marvelous treasure hunt – a lifelong treasure hunt – and it is to include the whole of God’s revelation, not just the parts we find easiest to understand.

For us who have been forgiven and sealed for the day of redemption, the Law still has a grand
purpose – because the Law was always a reflection of the character of God. If we are beholding God through the Law as through all of Scripture, we will be transformed through that beholding.

So, what does the Law tell us about the character of God that should affect our worship, our relationship with God, and our relationship with our fellow man? The answer is, “A lot!” There is much more than we can address in one lesson. It is up to you individually to consider the additional aspects of the Law that we can’t cover in this lesson – and that leaves a lot to consider.

For the remainder of this lesson, we will look at only a couple of the major categories of the Law to drive home the point that there are many profound and timeless principles in the Law. My hope is that this will stir up our interest in pursuing this further in our individual study.

Commandments and Ordinances

Exodus 20-23

We should first note the difference between the general commandments and the detailed ordinances, statutes, and precepts of the Law.

The Ten Commandments are really the summary declarations of God’s Law which encompass all the detailed ordinances and statutes that follow. There are many other declarations in the Law that take the form of direct commandments, but the Ten Commandments are the overriding principles of law, which the ordinances and statutes flesh out.

1 Then God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath of in the water under the earth. 5 “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. 7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. 8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11 “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. 12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16”You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:1-17).

The Ten Commandments, as many of you know, address two essential aspects of man’s experience. The first four commandments focus directly on man’s relationship with God, and the remaining six focus on man’s relationships with man. This is parallel to Jesus’ own statement about the essence of the Law in Mark 12:28-31, in which one of the Jewish scribes asked Jesus,

“What commandment is the foremost of all?”

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord; And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

“The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Ultimately, all of the commandments and ordinances are found to be outworkings of these two overriding commandments. Genuinely loving God and our fellow man is the fulfillment of the Law, and this godly love is the goal of God’s work of sanctification in the life of the believer.

The Ordinances

Exodus 21-23

In Exodus 21-23, many of the Laws are worded in the form of “if, … then” statements. For example, in 22:1:

“If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.”

These and many of the other laws address fairly specific scenarios that might arise in the lives of Israelites. These laws, or ordinances, are not to be taken as comprehensive, but rather are to been seen as examples to guide the Israelites in the application of the Law to their daily lives. One of the great errors of Israel was to treat the Law as a set of rules that addressed every area of their lives, like a big box they could live in to be sure they were pleasing to God. But in God’s design, the Law was always a matter of the heart. There is no difference here between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Wisdom is Greater Than Knowledge

In the Old Testament, the key Hebrew term for wisdom is chokmah. It is a very common word throughout the Old Testament. It means moral skill, or put another way, the wisdom to make godly decisions. It is not the same as knowledge. People love to have knowledge – we want to know exactly what is expected of us and to know when we’ve achieved it. We want things to be predictable and easy. God, on the other hand, wants to teach us wisdom. Knowledge is simply a stepping stone to wisdom. God has already told us all we need to know (in His Word), but we’re not familiar enough with what He has already revealed to have a good sensibility about how to deal with the things He has not specifically addressed. A knowledge of God’s Word, combined with faith, produces wisdom to live well – to live with a clarity that comes from truly knowing God as He intends for us to know Him. I like the phrase popular with our youth – WWJD – “What would Jesus do?” When you know the answer to that question in a given situation, with no further revelation than that which God has already supplied, and you do what God would have you to do, then you have discovered chokmah – godly wisdom.

In our congregation, younger children also hear the messages as they are delivered, so I shall address them here. Children, when you are young, sometimes you find it very hard to understand why your parents make you do certain things. Sometimes when they can’t explain something to you, they just say, “Do it because I said to do it!” But as you grow up, you begin to understand that there is a reason for the rule. There is a principle behind the rule that starts to make sense, and pretty soon, you obey the rule because you believe in the reason for it.

How many of you children have been to the library? Has your mommy or daddy ever said to you when you walk into the library, “Be very quiet – people are trying to read!” Well, when you’re little, and you can’t read, your parents get books and they go home and read them to you. But then you learn how to read for yourself. Let’s say, one day, you are sitting in the library with a good book, and you are trying to read while your mother is looking for another book. Some little child comes in being very noisy, and his mother says to him, “Don’t be noisy in the library – people are trying to read!” Then, you understand!

You see, the rules your parents make you follow have a good reason, a principle behind them. When you are young, you may not understand the principle. All you have is the rule, and you have to follow it because your parents tell you to. It was the same way with your parents when they were little. As time goes by and you learn more, the reason becomes clearer. Hopefully, your parents are making every effort to explain the reasons for the rules, even when you’re still too young to fully understand them. It’s that way with God’s rules, too. Every law that God set before Israel had a reason, a principle behind it. The more we know about God, the more we learn about His eternal way of looking at things, and the more His law becomes written on our hearts, so we don’t have to think about the rule any more in order to act in keeping with God’s character. That’s the spirit of the Law. That’s wisdom.

We have now seen the two big categories of law in the Old Testament – the fundamental Law in the Ten Commandments, and then lots of examples to instruct God’s people about how the spirit of the Law plays out in their day-to-day experience.

In the remainder of this message, let’s look at just a couple of major areas addressed in the Law of Moses and talk about the timeless principles we can glean from them.

The Distinction Between Clean and Unclean

One of the areas in the Law of Moses that Christians find hardest to understand is the distinction between that which is ceremonially clean and that which is ceremonially unclean. I will touch just the tip of that particular iceberg, hopefully enough to communicate the big principle behind those statutes.

Dietary Restrictions
Leviticus 11

First, the dietary restrictions in Leviticus 11. There were certain foods that were forbidden for an Israelite to eat. If an Israelite even touched any of these forbidden animals when it was dead, he became unclean until the evening of that day, and according to chapter 5, he was required to bring a sin offering for atonement.

There have been numerous interpretations of the reasons or principles behind these dietary restrictions. Some say they have to do with respecting the distinction in kinds and that animals that don’t fit well into their categories are to be avoided, like sea creatures without scales. But there are many cases that don’t fit this approach.

Others have made a lot out of the health considerations of these restrictions, saying the animals that were clean are more healthful to eat than those that were not. While there may be something to this on a pragmatic level, there is a lot of disagreement about which animals are more healthful to eat. After all, eating a bunch of beef is not considered a wise thing to do based on medical knowledge we now have. There is nothing in the text itself to support this view.

The one interpretation of the dietary laws that I believe makes the most sense, and that I am convinced is best supported by the whole context of Scripture, is that these restrictions were given to separate Israel from the other nations and to make anyone who wanted to dwell in the camp of God separate from those who didn’t. In ancient times, as in some cultures today, dining was fellowship. You couldn’t have fellowship with someone if you couldn’t eat with them. God used these distinctions as one of many instruments for preserving the national identity of Israel. But more to the point, He used them to set apart His people from all others with the design of preserving the purity of their worship.

44 For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth.
45 For I am the Lord, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; thus you shall be holy for I am holy (Leviticus 11:44-45).

While we are no longer under the Law, and God has declared all things to be clean, there is a sense in which the principle of these restrictions still applies.

Paul exhorts Christians in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 to separate from unbelievers in certain ways. This passage is directly pertinent to our discussion because it touches on the idea of avoiding that which is unclean and on the idea of separateness:

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?

Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?

Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God and they shall be My people.

Therefore come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty (2 Corinthians 6:14-18 – emphasis mine).

Unclean Conditions of People and Things
Leviticus 12-15

The rest of the clean/unclean distinctions are found in Leviticus 12-15. The basic categories of clean/unclean distinctions are these:

Uncleanness related to Childbearing

Uncleanness due to Skin Disorders

Uncleanness due to Mildews

Uncleanness due to Bodily Discharges.

There were certain things that might happen to an Israelite that would render him or her ceremonially unclean. What it meant for the person to be ceremonially unclean is that the person was temporarily barred from drawing near to the Presence of the LORD at the tabernacle (or later at the temple) to worship with the congregation. Typically, the unclean condition required that the person wait for a period of purification to pass; then he was to bring a sin offering to the tabernacle to make atonement so that he could be restored to a condition of fellowship. After that, he could regularly draw near to the Lord to worship at the tabernacle. In the case of leprosies or skin diseases, the person was in an unclean condition until the illness was cured. In the case of mildews, the house or fabric that was affected, if not “cured” after a period of time, was to be destroyed.

At first glance, it is hard to see the point of these restrictions. But if we look a little harder, it starts to make very good sense. What common element is involved in conditions associated with childbearing, skin disorders, mildews, and bodily discharges? With what are all of these things associated? The simplest answer is: They are all associated with the fall of Adam and Eve. The curse of the Fall was death – spiritual death and physical death (Genesis 2:16-17). Illness, disease, decay, corruption, pain and death were all part of the curse (Genesis 3). It was not only man who was affected in the curse. All of creation was affected.

Romans 8:19-22 says,

For the anxious longing of creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God, For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

The whole of God’s creation was subjected to an inevitable movement toward corruption and decay once sin entered into the world.

Mildew and rot and decay are part of the curse just as are the infirmities of man.

But what about childbirth? Childbirth isn’t a bad thing, is it? Certainly not! Psalm 127:3-5 declares that children are a blessed heritage from God. But childbirth was a part of mankind’s earthly experience that was explicitly affected by the curse. In Genesis 3:16, God told the woman, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, In pain you shall bring forth children.” Childbirth involves pain and the shedding of blood. It is a marvelous blessing, but it is also a vivid reminder of man’s cursed and mortal condition – just ask any woman who has been through it. I think it was Carol Burnett who used to say that childbearing is about as much fun as grabbing your lower lip and pulling it up over the top of your head.

So the conditions that constituted ceremonial uncleanness were all associated with the curse of the Fall. Which brings us to the next question:

With what are these th ings NOT associated?

Let’s look at Revelation 21:3-4:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them,

And He shall wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

The conditions that constituted uncleanness are conditions that will not be a part of our experience before the presence of God in heaven. All the effects of the Fall will be left behind when we receive our resurrection bodies and we enter fully into His glorious Presence!

The Tabernacle worship presented an earthly picture of the heavenly reality of drawing near to the Presence of God. And the distinctions between clean and unclean served as a memorial, a vivid reminder for Israel of the fact that God is holy and completely unaffected by the fall of man. Drawing near to His Presence is not a common thing. It is not like the other things that surround us in our day-to-day, mortal experience. The Presence of God is holy, set apart from all the things that constitute man’s cursed condition – sin, illness, decay, impurity, corruption, death. His presence is associated with health, wholeness, purity, integrity, well-being – in a word, with life.

The clean/unclean distinction in the Law of Moses is not just mindless minutiae. These detailed requirements are memorials to cause God’s people in every age to appreciate the transcendent experience of drawing near to a holy God. These laws remind us, as they were to remind Israel, that the worship of God is a most sacred privilege; indeed, it is the most sacred privilege of all.

I believe there is a strong forward-looking aspect to these ordinances as well. They point to the hope of glory which belongs to those who are rightly related to God through faith – the promise of the restoration of all things to the blessed condition that existed before man sinned and was cursed.

It is exceedingly valuable for us to study these things and to meditate on the principle inherent in them. Next time you get out the X-14 mildew remover or you feel arthritis pain in your wrist, remember that our mortal condition is not the end of the story – Jesus Christ has overcome the curse. “Surely our griefs He Himself bore and our sorrows [infirmities] He carried” (Isaiah 53:4). He has overcome illness, decay, corruption, and death itself. One day, if we have believed in His Son, He will take these mortal bodies and transform them into immortal (1 Corinthians 15) – He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and He will make us to dwell forever in His glorious Presence.125

The Sabbath Principle

The second major area of the Law I would like to consider is the sabbaths, and the principle behind the sabbaths.

The word “sabbath” means “to cease” or “to rest.” The first idea that pops into our minds when we hear the word “sabbath” is “worship.” But the word means “to cease.”

The commandment related to the sabbath day (the last day of the week) is the fourth of the Ten Commandments. God said in the fourth commandment,

Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy, But on the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy {set apart} (Exodus 20:8-11).

So the pattern of resting on the seventh day is based on the fact that God ceased from His creative labor on the seventh day. Keeping the sabbath day holy meant setting it apart from the other days of the week. It was set apart as a day of worship, but it was also set apart as a day of rest from labor, and it is the ceasing from labor, and not the worship, that is the explicit focus of virtually every passage that talks about the sabbath.

It is important to note that the term “sabbath” is not limited to the observance of the last day of each week. There were other sabbath days as well, including sabbaths associated with nearly all of the festivals. There were also Sabbatical Years and Jubilee Years. Each of these observances involved the idea of Sabbath, or cessation from work.

The Manna in the Wilderness

Exodus 16

In addition to the pattern of God’s creation, there is another crucial historical event that serves as a basis for all the sabbaths. That event was the giving of the manna in Exodus 16. Even before the Ten Commandments were given, Israel had already been taught by God to treat the last day of the week as set apart from the other six days.

God promised to provide the manna, the bread that miraculously appeared each morning like dew on the ground. Each family of Israel was to arise every morning except on the seventh day of the week, and they were to gather just enough manna for that day’s needs – not more, not less. If they gathered more than was needed for that day and attempted to keep some for the next day, it would spoil and be useless. If they came out to gather any on the seventh day, there would be none to gather.

To understand the spirit, or principle of the sabbath, we must consider what action and what attitude constituted violation of the sabbath. What tendency in man nudges man to violate this law? I would submit that it is NOT that we love to work and hate to rest. How many of you dread the thought of having some time away from work? Instead, I would say that it is that we love to be in control over provision for our own
well-being.
We obsessively seek to control the means of provision for our needs and to store up provision for the future. In a word, we look to ourselves as our providers. The sabbaths required God’s people to deliberately and regularly set aside their efforts to provide for their own needs so that they would deliberately and regularly acknowledge their ultimate dependence upon God alone for every good thing.

Let’s carry this to the next level. In addition to the weekly sabbath, there were the festivals, the holy days. Three times a year, Israel was to gather together at the central sanctuary and they were to bring their sacrifices before the Lord.

The Festivals and Holy Days

Leviticus 23

Time does not permit us to examine each of the festivals, but a study of the calendar for the Jewish year reveals that if the people had observed all of the festivals, those who had to travel to get to the temple would have to leave their land and their flocks and herds behind and come before the Lord for nearly THREE MONTHS of every year!

And what might happen to their land and their herds while they were gone? Well, you may have heard of the Midianites. They were big believers in forced redistribution of wealth. The Midianites were one of several nomadic peoples who loved to benefit from other people’s labors. They excelled in wandering around taking possession of the crops and the herds of other nations, and then moving on to find other easy pickings. For Israel to leave their land unattended to observe the festivals at the central sanctuary would be like us putting a big sign at the entrance to our subdivision saying, “We’re all out of town for Christmas.” There was no question that this required Israel to leave their prized possessions vulnerable to any who might want to take them. To observe these memorials, Israel had to trust solely in God to protect their possessions.

God promised to do just that. In Exodus 34, when Moses went up the mountain to receive the tablets for the second time, God told him,

Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel. For I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your borders, and no man shall covet your land when you go up three times a year to appear before the LORD your God (Exodus 34:23-24 emphasis mine).

The festivals required God’s people to very deliberately LET GO of their dependence on their own efforts to provide for themselves and protect what they had, and to trust God to be their faithful Provider and Protector.

This same principle – of relinquishing to God the whole issue of provision – applied in all of the sabbath observances under the Law.

The Sabbatical Years and the Jubilee Year

Leviticus 25

The Sabbatical Years scaled this principle up yet another level. In one year out of every seven, the people were not to sow their seed. They were not to do any work to produce crops in that year. Whatever sprang up on its own during the seventh year was available for anyone to glean (the poor, the servants, aliens, landowners – everyone), but there was to be no systematic harvest or selling of the produce from that year. God promised that if they would observe this law, He would provide enough harvest in the sixth year to get them through the eighth.

The Jubilee ratcheted this principle up yet another notch. After every seventh sabbatical year came the Jubilee year, and again in that year, Israel was to cease from all agricultural activity. That meant when the Jubilee came around, there would be two years in a row – the forty-ninth year as a sabbatical year and the fiftieth year as a Jubilee year – in which they were to cease from all effort to systematically cultivate the land.

Their crops were not the only thing they had to let go of in those special years. Every Sabbatical year, they had to release all their Hebrew slaves to go back to their families, and they had to forgive any debt owed to them by a fellow Hebrew. Furthermore, in the Jubilee year, any land that had been sold by one Israelite to another was to revert back to its original owner.

The reason God gave for these provisions in Leviticus 25:23 and 25:55 is that the land and the people belong to God Himself! God is the owner and the Source of every good thing, and He defines the terms on which He gives us stewardship over those things.

There is no evidence that Israel ever kept the Sabbatical or Jubilee Years after they got into the land. Indeed, the duration of the exile of Judah in Babylon was based on the number of sabbaths that Israel had denied the land.126

Now, let’s recap what we’ve seen in the sabbath observances: The sabbaths were to be a continual memorial to these fundamental principles:

God’s people are not to rely on their own efforts to provide for themselves or to protect themselves because:

God is the possessor of all things.

God is the sole provider of every good thing.

God’s provision must be received on His terms, not ours.

By deliberately setting aside their efforts at the times appointed by Yahweh, the Israelites were to acknowledge and demonstrate their utter dependence on Him for every good thing.

Are these time-bound principles that applied only to ancient Israel, or are they timeless principles? The answer should be obvious. As with ALL of the Law, the principles we find in it are principles that derive from the very character of God, and His character never changes.

We need to think hard about ways that these principles can and should be worked out in our own lives. With regard to the principles contained in the sabbath observances, it is exceedingly valuable for us to deliberately set aside times to cease from our efforts to provide for our own needs, especially in the culture in which we find ourselves today. We need that spiritual exercise to keep our priorities straight and to focus our attention on the call to trust God for all things!

The relevance of these principles is pervasive. Whom we trust for provision and security directly affects what we do with our money; it affects the relative time priority we give to work versus family and ministry to one another; it directly affects the level of anxiety we associate with lack of control over our finances or over our job security – and it affects a myriad of other aspects of our daily lives.

We have talked about the purpose of the commandments and the ordinances to those who have been justified before God by grace through faith – that purpose being to impart godly wisdom. We’ve talked about some of the lessons to be learned from the Sabbaths, the Festivals, the Sabbatical Years, and the Jubilee. We have talked about the principle found in the distinction between clean and unclean. There is so much more that can be said about the principles that we should find in the Law of Moses.

The more we dig into the Scriptures, the more we come to know God’s whole plan of redemption, and the more we come to know God Himself. The personal knowledge of God is that which produces wisdom and makes our sojourn on this earth a blessed opportunity to live as vessels of honor in the hands of our marvelous God.

In Romans 7:12, Paul wrote that “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” My exhortation to you and to me is that we do not neglect to study and meditate on the perfect Law of God, and that we faithfully put into practice the marvelous principles found in it. Then we will say with the Psalmist,

O how I love Thy law!

It is my meditation all the day.

Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies,

For they are ever mine (Psalm 119:97-98 emphasis mine).


123 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Tom Wright, teacher at Community Bible Chapel, on January 14, 2001.

124 All Scripture references are cited from the New American Standard Bible.

125 In His High Priestly Prayer that Jesus presented to God on the night before He was crucified, Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Life is relationship to God!

126 C. Leviticus 26:34; 2 Chronicles 36:21; Jeremiah 29:10. Based on 2 Chronicles 36:21, some understand the 70 years of exile to mean that Israel denied the land 70 sabbatical years, in which case they failed to observe the sabbatical years for 490 years of their history. It is also possible that this number, 70 times 7, is simply a figurative way to present the idea that Israel NEVER kept the sabbatical years. Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:21-22 seem to support the idea that “seventy times seven” is a figure of speech denoting an absolute number; i.e., surely Jesus didn’t mean that we should stop forgiving someone the 491st time he sins against us!

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12. Israel's Failure at Kadesh Barnea (Numbers 10:11-14:45)

Numbers 10:11—14:45

Introduction

Imagine what excitement there must have been in the Israelite camp as the time arrived for the entire nation to leave Mount Sinai, where they had been camped for nearly a year, and to finally set out to possess the Promised Land! This is a land that none of the Israelites had ever seen, although they were told that it was a “land of milk and honey,”128 Over the past year, the Israelites had been given the Law of Moses, and they had constructed the tabernacle. They were now ready to move out and to enter the land of Canaan.

Can you imagine the logistics that would have been required to get over two million people organized (along with their cattle) to break camp and travel in the wilderness, and then to set up camp once again? As J. Sidlow Baxter writes,

It is well to keep in mind that here, in this quadrangular formation of the camp of Israel, some two million people were mobilized, and that the quadrangle was about twelve miles square!129

A Boy Scout troop meets in our church building, and I must tell you that from what I’ve seen, there are a lot of logistics that go into a camping trip for this troop. What would it have been like to move the Israelites in an orderly fashion? The Book of Numbers gives us some insight into how God made provision for the orderly march of the Israelites into the land of Canaan. The Israelites who were able to fight were numbered by tribe; the total was more than 600,000 men (1:46). A detailed procedure for breaking and setting up camp was given in the early chapters of Numbers, including the trumpet blasts which signaled the nation that they were to assemble (10:1-11). Finally, in chapter 10, the Israelites set out from the shadow of Mount Sinai for Canaan:

11 And on the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year, the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle of the testimony. 12 So the Israelites set out on their journeys from the Wilderness of Sinai; and the cloud settled in the Wilderness of Paran (Numbers 10:11-12).130

By the time we come to our text, they have traveled three days’ journey:

33 So they traveled from the mountain of the Lord three days’ journey; and the ark of the covenant of the Lord was traveling before them in the three days’ journey, to find a resting place for them.
34 And the cloud of the Lord was on them by day, when they journeyed from the camp. 35 And when the ark journeyed, Moses would say, “Rise up, Lord, and may your enemies be scattered and those who hate you flee before you.” 36 And when it came to rest he would say, “Return, O Lord, to the many thousands of Israel” (Numbers 10:33-36).

We must pause here momentarily to reflect on what this generation of Israelites had seen with their own eyes in the past two years. They looked on as Moses confronted Pharaoh and witnessed the plagues that God brought upon the gods of Egypt, eventually bringing Pharaoh to his knees. They stood before the Red Sea, trapped by the sea before them, the mountains at their side, and the army of Pharaoh behind. They saw God part the Red Sea before them, and then send it crashing down upon Pharaoh’s army. They saw and heard the evidences of God’s majestic presence at Mount Sinai:

16 And on the third day in the morning there were thunders and lightning and a dense cloud on the mountain, and the sound of a very loud horn; and all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their place at the lower end of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was completely covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire; and its smoke went up like the smoke of a great furnace, and the whole mountain shook greatly. 19 When the sound of the horn grew louder and louder, Moses was speaking and God was answering him with a voice (Exodus 20:16-19).

The Israelites lived in the Sinai wilderness for a year, where God provided food and water for a multitude and for their cattle. They experienced God’s guidance and protection. They also witnessed God’s wrath when they chose to worship the golden calf (Exodus 32-34). God literally performed miracles daily to care for His chosen people.

What’s the Beef?131
Numbers 11:1-3

1 When the people complained it displeased the Lord. When the Lord heard it, his anger burned, and so the fire of the Lord burned among them, and consumed some of the outer parts of the camp. 2 Then the people cried to Moses; and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died out. 3 And he called the name of that place Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them (Numbers 11:1-3).

After only three days, the people are already complaining against God, and the reasons seem to be so petty that they are not even mentioned (as they are elsewhere). I cannot help but think that the mention of being three days into their journey (10:33) was very deliberate. I suspect Moses is trying to cause the reader to remember that Israel began to grumble just three days after they had crossed the Red Sea:

22 Then Moses caused Israel to journey from Yam Suph, and they went out into the desert of Shur. They went three days into the desert, and they found no water. 23 Then they came to Marah, but they were not able to drink the waters of Marah, because they were bitter. (That is why its name was called Marah.) 24 So the people murmured against Moses, saying, “What can we drink?” (Exodus 15:22-24, emphasis mine)

It does not take much time or much trouble to get some folks to grumble. We certainly see this with the Israelites of old, and we can see it today. The emphasis in verses 1-3 is not so much on the displeasure of the Israelites as it is on the displeasure of God with the Israelites. God was angry because His people complained. God responds in a manner that I would liken to “firing a shot over the bow.”132 The “fire of the Lord” (lightning?) came down from heaven, consuming some of the outer portions of the camp. It is difficult to determine whether or not any people were destroyed. Since this “fire” struck the outer portions of the camp, it may have been that some of the Israelites’ animals were consumed. The warning should have been very clear. God was greatly displeased with their grumbling, and He would not tolerate it.

Where’s the Beef?
Numbers 11:4-35

One would expect that God’s response to Israel’s grumbling in verses 1-3 would have silenced any future protest, but this was hardly the case. The “mixed multitude” (some translations say “rabble”) who accompanied the Israelites when they left Egypt (Exodus 12:38) began to complain. Was it due to some very unpleasant or dangerous circumstance? Hardly. These folks complained that their food wasn’t as spicy as the food they had eaten in Egypt:

4 Now the mixed multitude who were among them craved more desirable foods, and so the Israelites wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we used to eat freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now we are dried up, and there is nothing at all before us except the manna.” 7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color like the color of bdellium. 8 And the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it with mills, or pounded it in mortars; they baked it in pans, and made cakes of it. Its taste was like the taste of fresh olive oil. 9 And when the dew came down on the camp in the night, the manna fell with it (Numbers 11:4-9).

Isn’t it amazing that the mixed multitude grumbled because they could not eat the very things that the doctor tells some folks to avoid – things that make you burp! I must confess that I’m a bit of an expert on grumbling about food. When I was a student in college, one of the items the cafeteria served for breakfast was “oatmeal.” As I recall, that “oatmeal” tasted about like I think manna did. Well, anyway, one day as I was waiting in line, I wrote in a “g” in front of the “oatmeal” sign: = “goatmeal.” When I was teaching in a medium security prison, we ate in the prison cafeteria, and it was better (more expensive) food that my wife and I ate at home. I can still remember going to class after lunch and hearing one of the inmates complain about how his steak was cooked. We’re all grumblers when it comes to food.

It must have been the mixed multitude who grumbled because I find it difficult to imagine that the Israelite slaves ate as the grumblers claimed to have eaten in Egypt. Nevertheless, the complaining that began with the mixed multitude spread to the rest (11:10-14). If this is not bad enough, the grumbling of the Israelites prompted Moses to grumble as well:

10 And Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, everyone at the door of his tent; and when the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly, Moses was also displeased. 11 And Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you afflicted your servant? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I produce them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a foster father bears a nursing child,’ to the land which you swore to their fathers? 13 From where shall I get meat to give to all this people, for they cry to me, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat!’ 14 I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me! 15 But if you are going to deal with me like this, then kill me immediately. If I have found favor in your sight then do not let me see my trouble” (11:10-15).

God first responded to the complaint of Moses:

16 And the Lord said to Moses, “Gather to me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know are elders of the people, and officials over them; and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their position there with you. 17 Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take part of the Spirit that is on you, and will put it on them, and they will bear some of the burden of the people with you, so that you do not bear it by yourself” (11:16-17).

I get the distinct impression that the actions taken here in Numbers are those that Jethro had suggested earlier, and that Moses just didn’t get around to – until this crisis forced him to do so:

17 Then Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not good. 18 You will surely wear out, both you and this people who are with you, for this is too heavy for you; you are not able to do it by yourself. 19 Now listen to me, I will give you some advice, and may God be with you: You be for the people a representative to God, and bring their disputes to God. 20 And warn them of the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they must walk, and the work that they must do. 21 But choose from the people capable men, God-fearers, men of truth, those who hate bribes, and put them over the people as rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, and rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 22 And they will judge the people all the time, and every great issue they will bring to you, but every small issue they themselves will judge, so that you may make it easier for yourself, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will be able to go to their place satisfied.” 24 So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said (Exodus 18:17-24).

Although the last verse (24) states that Moses did all that Jethro had suggested, we do not have any account as to how or when this was implemented – not until the crisis of Numbers 11. Isn’t that the way many of us operate? We know that we need to make certain changes, but it takes a crisis to force us to change. By giving each of the 70 men a portion of the Spirit (Numbers 11:16-30), God visibly demonstrated to the nation that these men were divinely empowered to carry out the task that Moses once tried to handle by himself.

Having dealt with Moses, God now turns to the grumbling Israelites. They had the gall to claim that their life was better in Egypt under Pharaoh than it was in the desert, under God’s rule. They wanted more tasty food, so God assured Moses that they would get it, till it literally ran out their noses (11:20):

14 In the wilderness they had an insatiable craving for meat;

they challenged God in the desert.

15 He granted their request,

then struck them with a disease (Psalm 106:14-15).

It would almost appear that the mixed multitude was removed (or at least greatly reduced), because the plague came upon those who craved the food of Egypt:

So the name of that place was called Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people that craved different food (Numbers 11:34, emphasis mine).

Grumbling Against Moses
Numbers 12:1-16

One would like to think the Israelites had learned their lesson in regard to grumbling, but this was not the case. Numbers 12 is yet another account of grumbling against Moses and his leadership, but this time the grumbling did not originate from the masses, but from the very top, from Miriam and Aaron:

1 Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married (for he had married an Ethiopian woman.) 2 And they said, “Has the Lord only spoken by Moses? Has he not also spoken by us?” And the Lord heard it. 3 Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than any man on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:1-3).

Notice the precipitating event – Moses had entered into an interracial marriage with a Cushite woman. There is not so much as a word of rebuke from God for Moses, regarding his marriage or anything else. God does have a strong rebuke for Miriam and Aaron. They argued for equality in leadership, refusing to submit to Moses as a higher authority. They reasoned that because they were prophets like Moses, they were Moses’ equals. They sound a great deal like Satan, who refused to accept his subordinate position, striving to be “like God” (Isaiah 14:13-14; compare Genesis 3:5).

What a wonderful compliment is paid to Moses in verse 3. (I am inclined to think that Moses did not write this, but some later editor, who added this under inspiration.) Moses was humble, the most humble man on the face of the earth. Here was a leader whose ego did not come in the giant economy size. In practical terms, I take this to mean that Moses refused to defend himself, as most leaders would be inclined to do. Moses did not need to defend himself, because he left his cause with God. And God certainly defended him!

The Lord promptly ordered, “The three of you come out to the tent of meeting” (verse 4). When the Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud, He emphatically endorsed Moses as the main leader, superior in rank to Miriam and Aaron:

6 And the Lord said, “Hear now my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known to him in a vision, I will speak with him in a dream. 7 My servant Moses is not so; he is faithful in all my house. 8 With him I will speak face to face, openly, and not in riddles; and he will see the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” 9 And the anger of the Lord burned against them, and he departed (Numbers 12:6-9).

Did Miriam and Aaron consider themselves to be prophets? So they were, but how they received their revelations from God showed that they were subordinate to Moses. It is one thing for an employee to receive a memo from the president of the company; it is quite another to be taken to breakfast by the president, to be personally briefed by him in advance as to his plans for the company. God reminded Miriam and Aaron that He communicated with Moses “face to face,” but to them, He spoke only through visions and dreams.

To underscore the severity of their offense, God struck Miriam with leprosy. This would seem to suggest that it was she, rather than Aaron, who first complained. Moses pled with God to heal Miriam immediately, and God did so, but He also required her to remain outside the camp (as the law required – Leviticus 14:8) for a week, until she was pronounced clean. The whole multitude of Israelites waited an entire week for Miriam to be pronounced clean. (Let husbands who grumble because they must wait for their wives consider Miriam the world record holder for most man-hours lost in waiting.)

A Failure of Faith
Numbers 13-14

It seems apparent that Moses included chapters 10-12 as his introduction to Israel’s great failure at Kadesh, as recorded in chapters 13 and 14. The way the book is structured, the failure at Kadesh is the climax of a long sequence of failures on the part of the nation.

The Lord instructed Moses to send spies into the land of Canaan, to determine its desirability and its defenses:

1 The Lord spoke to Moses: 2 “Send out men that they may investigate the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. You are to send one man from each ancestral tribe, each one a leader among them.” 3 So Moses sent them from the Wilderness of Paran at the command of the Lord. All of them were leaders of the Israelites… 17 When Moses sent them to investigate the land of Canaan, he told them, “Go up through the Negev, and then go up into the hill country 18 and see what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, few or many, 19 and whether the land they live in is good or bad, and whether the cities they inhabit are like camps or fortified cities, 20 and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether or not there are forests in it. And be brave, and bring back some of the fruit of the land.” Now it was the time of the year for the first ripe grapes (Numbers 13:1-3, 17-20).

This description of how the spies were sent out differs somewhat from the account Moses gives in the first chapter of Deuteronomy:

19 “Then we struck out from Horeb and passed through all that immense, forbidding wilderness that you saw on the way to the Amorite hill country as the Lord our God had commanded us to do, finally arriving at Kadesh Barnea. 20 Then I said to you, “You have come to the Amorite hill country which the Lord our God is about to give us. 21 Look, he has set the land before you. Go up, take possession of it just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, said to do. Don’t be afraid or discouraged.” 22 So all of you approached me and said, ‘Let’s send some people ahead of us to scout out the land and bring us back word as to how we should go up and what the cities are like there.’ 23 I thought this was a good idea so I sent twelve men from among you, one from each tribe” (Deuteronomy 1:19-23, emphasis mine).

The difference is not really that difficult to explain. The most likely explanation is that the people did suggest that they send spies into the land. This idea appealed to Moses, who then consulted God. God then instructed the Israelites to do what they had proposed. I think there are three reasons why Moses omitted mentioning that the Israelites first suggested sending the spies in his account in Numbers (though he purposed to give “the rest of the story” in Deuteronomy). First, I believe that in Numbers the emphasis is upon God, and His leading. In the final analysis, the spies were sent to Canaan because God commanded it. Who first suggested the idea is not as important. Second, I believe that God wanted the Israelites to know that this land was a good land, a land worth fighting for. None of the Israelites had ever seen the Promised Land. The report of the spies (and the sight of the cluster of grapes they brought back) would assure the Israelites that the land was as good as God had said it would be. Third, I am convinced that God wanted the Israelites to understand the magnitude of the task. God did not want there to be any fine print in His dealings with the Israelites. He did not want the Israelites to be surprised when they met the enemy on the field of battle. God very specifically instructed the spies to assess the difficulty of the task of taking the land. In brief, He wanted the Israelites to grasp the impossibility of the task. He wanted them to understand that the taking of the land would be a miracle, that it would be His doing, and not theirs.

The spies were sent out, and they went about the entire land over a period of 40 days (13:21-25). When the spies returned, they were unanimous in their assessment that the land was a good land, a land “of milk and honey” (13:26-27). They differed little in their assessment of the strength of the Canaanites (13:28-29). It seems as though Caleb becomes uncomfortable with the emphasis that is placed on the strength of the Canaanites, and that he interrupts the ten in the midst of their report:

27 And they told Moses, “We went to the land where you sent us. It is indeed flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 But the inhabitants are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. Moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.” 30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses, saying, “Let us go up and occupy it, for we are well able to conquer it.” 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “ We are not able to go up against these people, because they are stronger than we are.” 32 Then they presented the Israelites with a discouraging report of the land they had investigated, saying, “The land that we passed through to investigate is a land that devours its inhabitants. All the people we saw there are of great stature. 33 We even saw the Nephilim (the descendants of the Anak came from the Nephilim), and we seemed liked grasshoppers both to ourselves and to them” (Numbers 13:27-33, emphasis mine).

The real difference between the two spies – Joshua and Caleb – and the ten was in their perspective. The two faithful spies looked at the task ahead from the perspective of who their God was. Their God was the one who triumphed over Egypt, over Pharaoh, and over the gods of Egypt. Their God was the God of the impossible, the God who parted the Red Sea. The ten spies looked only at the task at hand, and their own ability to accomplish it. The giants of the land were just too much for them to tackle. Their “God” was too small.

The response of the Israelites to the spies’ report is tragic:

1 Then all the community raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the Israelites murmured against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had perished in this wilderness! 3 Why has the Lord brought us into this land only to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should become plunder? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4 So they said to one another, “Let’s appoint a leader and return to Egypt” (Numbers 14:1-4).

They wept because of the strength of their opposition, rather than to rejoice in the goodness of the land and the greatness of their God. They spoke of Egypt as a better place to live than Canaan. They conspired together to replace Moses with a leader who would take them back to Egypt.

I see only four leaders standing on the Lord’s side in this catastrophic failure of faith: Moses and Aaron, Joshua and Caleb (14:5-10). I’m not saying that there were not others who stood with Moses, but I do suspect that many of Israel’s leaders failed at this moment in time. Joshua and Caleb made every effort to convince the people to trust and obey:

5 Then Moses and Aaron fell down with their faces to the ground before all the assembly of the community of the Israelites. 6 And Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, part of those who investigated the land, tore their garments. 7 They said to all the community of the Israelites, “The land we passed through to investigate is an exceedingly good land. 8 If the Lord delights in us, then he will bring us into this land and give it to us—a land that is flowing with milk and honey. 9 Only do not rebel against the Lord, and do not fear the people of the land; for they are bread for us. Their protection has turned aside from them; but the Lord is with us. Do not fear them!” (Numbers 14:5-9)

Israel’s unbelief was far from passive. Had it not been for direct divine intervention, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb would have been stoned:

However, all the community threatened to stone them. But the glory of the Lord appeared to all the Israelites at the tent of the meeting (14:10).

God’s words to Moses and his response are a strikingly similar to the earlier conversation between God and Moses in Exodus, which took place as a result of Israel’s worship of the golden calf:

 

Numbers 14

11 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me, and how long will they not believe in me, in spite of the signs that I have done among them? 12 I will strike them with the pestilence, and I will disinherit them; I will make you into a nation that is greater and mightier than they!” 13 And Moses said to the Lord, “When the Egyptians hear it—for you brought up this people in your might from among them— 14 then they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, Lord, are among this people, that you, Lord, are seen face to face, that your cloud stands over them, and that you go before them by day in a pillar of a cloud and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 If you kill all this people at once, then the nations that have heard of your fame will say, 16 ‘Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to them, he killed them in the wilderness’ (Numbers 14:11-16, emphasis mine).

Exodus 32

7 And the Lord spoke to Moses: “Go, descend, because your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have acted corruptly. 8 They have turned aside quickly from the way that I commanded them—they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt.’” 9 Then the Lord said to Moses: “I have seen this people, that they are a stiff-necked people. 10 So now, leave me alone so that my anger can burn against them and that I may consume them; and I will make from you a great nation.” 11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. And he said, “O Lord, why does your anger burn against your people, whom you have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘For evil he led them out to kill them in the mountains, and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger, and relent of this evil against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel your servants, to whom you swore by yourself, and spoke to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of the heavens, and all this land that I have spoken about I will give to your descendants, and they will inherit it forever’” (Exodus 32:7-13, emphasis mine).

Numbers

17 So now, let the power of my Lord be great, just as you have said, 18 ‘ The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in loyal love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children until the third and fourth generations.’ 19 Please forgive the iniquity of this people according to your great loyal love, just as you have forgiven this people from Egypt even until now.”
20 Then the Lord said, “I have forgiven them as you asked. (Numbers 14:17-20, emphasis mine).

Exodus

5 And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there; and he made proclamation of the Lord by name. 6 And the Lord passed by before him and proclaimed: “ The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, 7 keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:5-7, emphasis mine).

Then the Lord relented over the evil that he had said he was going to do to His people (Exodus 32:14, emphasis mine).

 

It is my opinion that God deliberately repeated the threat He made at Sinai, knowing that Moses would recognize it as such, and that he would once again appeal to Him in accordance with His character and His covenant. God is predictable in terms of His character, for He does not change. He is also predictable in regard to His covenants, because He keeps His covenants. As expected, God did forgive the Israelites, as Moses had requested. Forgiveness meant that God would not instantly destroy the Israelites on the spot, as threatened; it did not mean that Israel would escape all of the consequences of their sin:

21 “But truly, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord. 22 Because all the men have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not obeyed me, 23 they will by no means see the land that I swore to their fathers, nor will any of them who despised me see it. 24 Only my servant Caleb, because he had a different spirit and has followed me fully—I will bring him into the land where he had gone, and his descendants will possess it” (Numbers 14:21-24).

The Israelites would not experience the physical blessings God had promised. They would not enter the land of Canaan. They must continue to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until all the first generation (except for Joshua and Caleb) died. The younger generation – the ones they said would become plunder for the Canaanites (14:3) – would certainly possess the land, just as God promised.

The judgment the Israelites must endure was based upon two main facts. First, this generation that refused to trust God and to go up into Canaan to possess the land was a generation that had personally witnessed the mighty hand of God in Egypt and in the wilderness (14:22). They failed to trust God to defeat their enemies, yet He had already defeated Pharaoh and the Egyptian army. Second, this generation was guilty of habitual unbelief and rebellion. Moses indicates that the failure of Israel at Kadesh is the tenth and climactic offense against God. The three rebellions of chapters 11-12 were but the “tip of the iceberg.” The fact is that the Israelites constantly refused to trust and obey God. This rebellion at Kadesh was “the last straw” so far as god was concerned; He had put up with enough from this stiff-necked generation. The Israelites must wander about in the wilderness 40 years — 1 year for every day the spies spent in the land of Canaan (14:33-34). A special judgment was pronounced upon the 10 spies who returned with a bad report. God sent a plague that brought about the death of these spies (14:37).

Too Little, Too Late
Numbers 14:40-45

40 And early in the morning they went up to the crest of the hill country, saying, “Here we are, and we will go up to the place that the Lord commanded, for we have sinned.” 41 But Moses said, “Why are you now transgressing the commandment of the Lord? But it will not prosper. 42 Do not go up, for the Lord is not among you, and you will be defeated before your enemies. 43 For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and you will fall by the sword. Because you have turned away from the Lord, the Lord will not be with you.” 44 But they presumed to go up to the crest of the hill, although neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses departed out of the camp. 45 So the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country swooped down and attacked them as far as Hormah.

I have observed what seems to be a very human trait over the years, particularly in recent years. I have noted that those who sin, often come to regret their decision to disobey. While some may genuinely repent, many seem only to regret their actions, and more particularly, the consequences of their actions. What they really want is to turn the clock back, to make things just as they were before they sinned. This appears to be the case with the Israelites. Realizing that God was not going to allow them to enter the land, they came to regret their refusal to enter the land of Canaan, as God had initially commanded. Now they are suddenly determined to go up against the Canaanites, as though this will reverse the consequences God had declared.

The Israelites assembled for battle, early in the morning, ready to attack the Canaanites and to possess the land. It was too late, however, as Moses made very clear. Now, attempting to take the land would be disobedience, just as refusing to do so earlier was also sin. They must suffer the consequences for their actions, even though God had forgiven them. (Had God not forgiven them, I assume He would have wiped the entire nation out immediately, as He threatened to do.) The Israelites once again refused to heed God’s word, spoken through Moses. They went to battle without Moses, without the ark of the covenant, and without God. When they engaged the Canaanites in battle, they suffered a terrible defeat. And now they must wander about the wilderness, until the whole generation has died.

Conclusion

It can easily be seen that Kadesh was a major turning point for the first generation of Israelites. They failed to “trust and obey” one time too many, and the consequence was being denied the blessing of possessing the land of Canaan. Did this generation loathe manna and prefer Egypt to Canaan? They would eat manna for nearly 40 years, and they would wander about the wilderness. Even though God had delivered this generation from their bondage in Egypt with a powerful hand, they would not trust God to give them the victory over the Canaanites. It was a great failure of faith.

We should note that this sin is neither sudden nor unexpected in the Book of Numbers. Israel’s grumbling and complaining began shortly after they safely passed through the Red Sea. Moses informs the Israelites (and the reader) that this failure at Kadesh was the tenth such act of rebellion (14:22). Sin is not nearly as sudden and unexpected as it may at first appear. Israel had developed a pattern of grumbling and rebellion. This event was “the last straw” so far as God was concerned. He is gracious and longsuffering, but there finally comes a “point of no return.” Israel reached that point at Kadesh. Even though they expressed sorrow and a willingness to confront the Canaanites, it was too late.

Let us be very careful about grumbling. Our grumbling, like that of ancient Israel, is often directed toward our circumstances. How often God has provided for our needs, and how often we think that He should have done better. We are frequently not content with His blessings, and complain about our lot in life. Our grumbling, like that of the Israelites, is often directed at our leaders. We fail to grasp the fact that when we grumble against our leaders, we ultimately grumble against God (Exodus 16:7; Numbers 17:5, 10).

Sadly, Israel’s leaders did fail – not Moses or Aaron, Joshua or Caleb, but many of its other leaders. The ten spies who returned with a bad report were leaders of their tribes (Numbers 13:2). I cannot help but wonder about the 70 leaders that were appointed in Numbers 11. They seem to have been silent, so far as encouraging the Israelites to trust and obey. I wonder if they did not side with the 10. It seems almost certain that many, indeed most, of Israel’s leaders failed to lead the people in a godly way at Kadesh. Israel’s unbelief began from the top (the 10 spies) down. I think we sometimes fail to grasp the impact we can have on others for good or evil:

If I had publicized these thoughts,

I would have betrayed your loyal followers (Psalm 73:15).

Both unbelief and faith are contagious. Our grumbling and doubting can influence others, just as our faith and obedience can inspire and encourage others. This is one of the reasons why the Israelites later worshipped at the temple. There they could proclaim the mercies of the Lord and challenge others to walk by faith (Psalm 52:9; 116:14, 18; Jeremiah 33:11). Surely this is one of the reasons why New Testament saints are exhorted to assemble together as a church:

23 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25).

After teaching this lesson on Kadesh, one of the members of our church wrote this poem, which I have been given permission to share with you, anonymously:

Giants in Them Hills

We’ve bin starved an’ we’ve bin thirsty
Ain’t got cukes or onions still;
Now you tell us even worsty
There are giants in them hills.
We aren’t a goin’ forward yet
Them giants will kill us all.
We’ll cry and cry, our eyes all wet
‘ Cause we ain’t so strong and tall.
O why did we leave Pharaoh?
Nor die in the wilderness?
Them giants have spear and arrow
An’ they’ll make a mess of us.
We all want another lead man
It’s too hard to follow you
Those giants are of Anak’s clan
From the Nephilim they grew.
We won’t believe, we can’t believe
So jest leave us all alone!
We’ll weep and weep until we grieve
Then we’ll set off on our own.
And so, the lesson at Kadesh
a generation defiled.
Would I have acted in the flesh
Or behaved as His beloved child?
Now these things happened to them as an example,
and they were written for our instruction …

1 Corinthians 10:11.

I wonder what our Kadesh will be? Each of us, I suspect, will experience some kind of “Kadesh” at least once in our lives, and probably more often than that. It will be a time when God will place a challenge before us, one that looks humanly impossible (and, indeed, is). It will be a matter of faith and obedience. Either we will trust in God’s promises and power, and obey, or we will be overcome by doubts and fears, and disobey. I also wonder if there will be a Kadesh for us corporately, as a church. Let us not develop a pattern of doubt and fear and grumbling, but let us walk by faith and encourage others to do likewise, so that when our “Kadesh” comes along, we shall not fail the test (see Revelation 3:7-12).

I should also point out that while unbelief kept this generation from possessing the land of Canaan, it did not frustrate God’s purposes or promises. This generation did not enter into the blessings that God had prepared for them, but the next generation would. Our unfaithfulness does not negate or frustrate the faithfulness of God:

For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful,

Since he cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13).

Have you ever wondered why God fed Israel with manna and water in the wilderness, rather than steak and ale? God could have provided meat, as He did on occasion. He could have provided a much finer menu that He did. Why, then, did He feed the Israelites with such plain food? I think that there are several reasons. First, it was all that they needed. Had they eaten too well, they would not have been in any shape to endure the rigors of the wilderness. Second, He fed them as He did so that they would have to trust Him for their daily bread. Their food came from heaven each day, and they could not store it up. They had to trust God daily for their needs. Third, if they ate too well, there would be less incentive for them to press on to the land of Canaan. It is the trials and difficulties of this life that cause us to hunger for heaven. Fourth, it was to test the Israelites and to train them for life in Canaan (Deuteronomy 8:1-10). The Israelites needed to learn to trust God and to be content with His provisions. If they could learn to be content with little, they could more easily appreciate the bounty that God had for them in Canaan. Finally, God was teaching the Israelites that their full satisfaction could not come from any food, no matter how good it tasted; their full satisfaction was to come from knowing and serving God. That is the point of our Lord’s response to Satan’s temptation:

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, `Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’“ (Matthew 4:1-4).

The Scriptures make much of the failure of the Israelites at Kadesh. It is the central theme of Psalm 95. That Psalm begins with a call to worship, and ends up with a warning, a warning not to be like the Israelites at Kadesh (and elsewhere where they grumbled). Praise is the preventative and the cure for grumbling. It focuses on God and urges others to do likewise. It thinks on the greatness of God and on His wondrous deeds. It inspires faith and obedience. Remembrance of our Lord’s work at Calvary and praise for the gift of His salvation is a central theme in our time of worship at the Lord’s Table every week. It is something we should eagerly anticipate.

It just so happens that while I have been preparing this lesson in the Old Testament Book of Numbers, I have also been preparing for teaching in the Book of Hebrews, chapter 3. I am more and more convinced that properly understanding the failure of Israel at Kadesh is the key to understanding the message of the Book of Hebrews. I would urge you to continue to study this text in Numbers, as well as the Book of Hebrews. It is an endeavor well worth your finest efforts.


127 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on February 4, 2001.

128 See Exodus 3:8, 17; 13:5; 33:3; Leviticus 20:24.

129 J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960), Six volumes in one, vol. 1, p. 164.

130 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

131 I confess that this is a takeoff from the once popular television commercial where a little old lady bought a hamburger, but could hardly find the beef, and so she asked, “Where’s the Beef?”

132 On the high seas, a military vessel may send a warning by firing a shot from a canon over the bow of the offending ship, giving notice that if further action is required, they are prepared to shoot again, and this time lower.

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13. Israel’s Covenant Renewal (Deuteronomy)

The Book of Deuteronomy134

Our Lord resisted and refuted Satan’s temptations by citing the truths of Deuteronomy (see Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12). In many ways, his testing in the wilderness paralleled Israel’s testing in the wilderness for 40 years. Our Lord, however, came through His testing without failing, as He entrusted Himself to the faithful care of the Father.

The Book of Deuteronomy records several important transitions. It records the transition from the first generation of Israelites, who died in the wilderness (the Book of Numbers), to the second generation of Israelites, who would possess the land of Canaan (the Book of Joshua). It marks the transition of Israel from a nation that dwelt in tents to one that possessed land and houses, from a people who ate manna and water to a people who ate “milk and honey.”

Deuteronomy marks the end of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament written by Moses). In this book, Moses hands the torch of leading the nation Israel to Joshua. Moses knows that he cannot enter the land and that he is soon to die. These are the last words of Moses, written to the Israelites who are on the verge of entering the Promised Land. It is almost as though Moses were preaching his own funeral. Kenneth Boa and Bruce Wilkinson appropriately call this book “Moses’ Upper Desert Discourse.”136

Deuteronomy is the account of this generation of Israelites embracing the covenant of God with their fathers as their own, of their entering into a covenant relationship with God. This is the renewal of the covenant:

16 Today the Lord your God is commanding you to keep these statutes and ordinances, something you must do with all your heart and being. 17 Today you have declared the Lord to be your God, and that you will walk in his ways, keep his statutes, commandments, ordinances, and obey him. 18 And today the Lord has declared you to be his special people (as he already promised you) so that you may keep all his commandments, 19 so that he may elevate you above all the nations he has made as a cause of praise, as a name, and as an honor, and so that you may be a holy people to the Lord your God, as he has said (Deuteronomy 26:16-19, emphasis mine).

9 “Therefore, keep the terms of this covenant and obey them so that you may be successful in everything you do. 10 You are standing today, all of you, before the Lord your God—the heads of your tribes, your elders, your officials, every Israelite, 11 your infants, your wives, and the foreigners living in your encampment, those who chop wood and those who carry water—12 so that you may enter into the covenant of the Lord your God and into the benefits of the oath that the Lord is making with you today, 13 to affirm you today as his people and himself as your God just as he said to you and already swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 14 And it is not with you alone that I am making this covenant and oath, 15 but with whoever stands with us here today before the Lord your God as well as those not with us here today” (Deuteronomy 29:2-15, emphasis mine).

None of this generation has been circumcised, which was the sign of the covenant God made with Abraham (see Genesis 17:9-14, 23-27; compare Exodus 4:24-26). In only a few days, this whole generation will undergo circumcision and observe the Passover before they attack Jericho (Joshua 5:2-12). This is further confirmation that they have now entered into covenant with the God of their fathers.

At the age of 120, Moses made his way to the top of Mount Nebo, where God allowed him to look across the Jordan Valley and into the Promised Land. It was as close as he would ever get to entering the land. Deuteronomy is certainly the high ground of the Pentateuch. It is one of those high points in the Bible from which we may look back in time, and by means of which we can look far ahead in Israel’s history. Several times in this book, God lays out the broad scheme of Israel’s future. An early indication of Israel’s future is found as early as chapter 4, in this brief statement of blessings and cursings:

25 After you have produced children and grandchildren and have been in the land a long time, if you become corrupted and make an image of any kind and do other evil things before the Lord your God that enrage him, 26 I invoke heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that you will surely and swiftly be destroyed from the very land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. You will not last long there because you will be totally devastated. 27 Then the Lord will scatter you among the peoples and there will be very few of you in the nations where the Lord will drive you. 28 There you will worship gods made by human hands—wood and stone that can neither see, hear, eat, nor smell. 29 But if you seek the Lord your God from there, you will find him, if, indeed, you seek him with all your heart and soul. 30 In your distress when all these things happen to you in the latter days, if you return to the Lord your God and listen to him 31 (for he is a merciful God), he will not let you down or destroy you, for he cannot forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them (Deuteronomy 4:25-31).

At the end of the book, very clear statements are made regarding Israel’s future, both by God and by Moses:

15 The Lord appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud that stood above the door of the tent. 16 And the Lord said to Moses, “You are about to die, and then these people will begin to prostitute themselves with the foreign gods of the land into which they are going. They will leave me and break my covenant that I have made with them. 17 On that day my anger will flare up against them and I will leave them and hide myself from them until they are devoured. Many hurts and distresses will overcome them so that they will say at that time, ‘Have not these difficulties overcome us because God is not among us?’ 18 But I will certainly hide myself on that day because of all the wickedness they will have done by turning to other gods. 19 Now compose for yourselves the following song and teach it to the Israelites—put it into their very mouths!—so that this song may serve me as a witness against the Israelites. 20 For after I have brought them to the land I promised to their ancestors—one flowing with milk and honey—and they eat and become satisfied and fat, then they will turn to other gods to worship them and will reject me and break my covenant. 21 Then when many hurts and distresses overcome them this song will become a witness against them, for their descendants will not forget it. I know the intentions they have in mind today, even before I bring them to the land I have promised.” 22 Therefore on that day Moses wrote this song and taught it to the Israelites, 23 and the Lord commissioned Joshua son of Nun, “Be strong and courageous, for you will take the Israelites to the land I have promised them, and I will be with you.” 24 When Moses finished writing on a scroll the words of this law in their entirety, 25 he commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the Lord’s covenant, 26 “Take this scroll of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. It will be there as a witness against you, 27 for I know about your rebellion and stubbornness. Indeed, even while I have been alive among you, you have been rebellious against the Lord; how much more will you be so after my death? 28 Gather to me all your tribal elders and officials so I can speak to them directly of these things and call the heavens and the earth to witness against them. 29 For I know that after I die you will totally corrupt yourselves and turn away from the path I have commanded you to walk. Disaster will confront you in the days to come because you will act wickedly before the Lord, inciting him to wrath because of your works.” 30 Then Moses recited the words of this song from start to finish in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:15-23).

A fuller description of Israel’s sins and their consequences is given in Deuteronomy 28:15-68. It is not all bad news, as we shall point out later in the lesson. What we should recognize at the beginning of this study is that Deuteronomy is a crucial book because it does lay out in broad terms the history of Israel. The Old Testament prophets will frequently return to Deuteronomy as their point of reference. Deuteronomy provides the major outline of the history of Israel, and as such, it is foundational to God’s “unfolding plan of redemption.” Let us listen well to the words of this book. Not only do I say this, but Moses does also:

8 Now pay attention to the whole commandment I am giving you today, so that you may be strong enough to enter and possess the land where you are headed, 9 and that you may enjoy long life in the land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey (Deuteronomy 11:8-9).

26 Take note—I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 the blessing if you take to heart the commandments of the Lord your God that I am giving you today, 28 and the curse if you pay no attention to his commandments and turn from the way I am setting before you today to pursue other gods you have not known (Deuteronomy 11:26-28).

You must be careful to do everything I am commanding you. Do not add to it or subtract from it! (Deuteronomy 12:32)

15 “Look! I have set before you today life and prosperity on the one hand, and death and disaster on the other. 16 What I am commanding you today is to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to obey his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances. Then you will live and become numerous and the Lord your God will bless you in the land where you are going to take possession of it. 17 However, if you turn aside and do not obey, but are lured away to worship and serve other gods, 18 I declare to you this very day that you will certainly perish! You will not extend your time in the land you are crossing the Jordan River to possess” (Deuteronomy 30:15-18).

My Approach in this Lesson

It is generally accepted that Moses’ sermons in the Book of Deuteronomy were delivered over a period of about a week and that they fall into three major divisions. These divisions are essentially chronological: the first chapters look back in time; the middle chapters look to the near future; and the final chapters look into Israel’s more distant future. The more I have studied this book, however, the more intertwined I see the past, present, and future. Consequently, I will focus on some of the issues that Moses raises because Israel is very soon going to be entering the Promised Land. I will attempt to show how Moses draws upon the past to buttress his instructions regarding the near future. Then we shall address the subject of the later chapters, which speak of Israel’s more distant future long after this generation of Israelites has died.

Israel’s Response to What Lies Ahead

THE FIRST ISSUE: HOW WILL THIS NEW GENERATION OF ISRAELITES RESPOND TO THE DIFFICULTY OF TAKING THE PROMISED LAND FROM THE CANAANITES? This issue was the turning point for the first generation of Israelites, who were terrified by the strength and size of their adversaries (Numbers 13:26—14:35). Moses knows full well that the difficulty of their task will be an issue the second generation must deal with as well:

17 If you think, “These nations are more numerous than I—how can I dispossess them?,” 18 you must not fear them (Deuteronomy 7:17-18a, emphasis mine).

1 Listen, Israel: Today you are about to cross the Jordan River so you can dispossess the nations there, people greater and stronger than you, large cities with extremely high fortifications, 2 the Anakites, a numerous and tall people whom you know about and of whom it is said, “Who is able to withstand the Anakites?” (Deuteronomy 9:1-2, emphasis mine)

Moses turns to the history of God’s previous dealings with Israel to show that He will fulfill His promise to give them the land of Canaan.

First, Moses reminds this generation that their fathers refused to possess the land and rebelled against Moses in the wilderness, consequently losing their opportunity to enter into God’s blessings (Deuteronomy 1:18-46).

Second, Moses commands the Israelites not to fear by reiterating God’s promise that He will most certainly give them the land He promised their fathers under the leadership of Joshua:

18 I instructed you at that time as follows, “The Lord your God has given you this land for your possession. You are to cross over before your fellow Israelites, all the warriors, equipped for battle. 19 But your wives, children, and livestock (of which I know you have many) must remain in the cities I have given you 20 until the Lord helps your fellow countrymen prevail as you have, and allows them to possess the land that he is giving them on the other side of the Jordan River. Then each of you may return to his own territory which I have given you.” 21 I also commanded Joshua at the same time, “You have seen everything the Lord your God did to these two kings; he will do the same to the kingdoms where you are going. 22 Do not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God will personally fight for you” (Deuteronomy 3:18-22, emphasis mine).

Third, Moses reminds the Israelites of what God had already done for the Israelites while they were slaves in Egypt, and while they were in the wilderness:

32 Indeed, ask about earlier days that have preceded you, from the day God created mankind on the earth and from one end of heaven to the other, whether there has ever been such a great thing as this, or even a rumor of it. 33 Have a people ever heard the voice of God speaking from fire, as you yourselves have, and lived to tell about it? 34 Or has God ever before tried to deliver a nation to himself from the middle of another nation, accompanied by testings, signs, wonders, war, strength, power, and other very terrifying things like the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? 35 You have been made to understand that the Lord alone is God—there is no other besides him. 36 From heaven he spoke to you in order to teach you, and on earth showed you his great fire from which you also heard him. 37 Moreover, because he loved your ancestors he chose their descendants who followed them, and personally brought you out of Egypt with great power 38 to dispossess nations greater and more powerful than you and brought you in to give you their land as an inheritance—just as it has taken place today. 39 May you understand today and take it to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth below—there is no other! 40 And may you keep his statutes and commandments that I am setting forth today so that it may go well with you and your descendants and that you might enjoy longevity in the land that the Lord your God is about to give you forever” (Deuteronomy 4:32-40, emphasis mine).

You must carefully recall what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and all Egypt, 19 the great afflictions you saw, the signs and wonders, the strong hand and extended arm by which he brought you out—thus the Lord your God will do to all the people you fear. 20 Furthermore, he will release the hornet among them until the very last ones who hide from you perish. 21 You must not tremble in their presence, for the Lord your God, who is present among you, is a great and awesome God. 22 He, the God who leads you, will expel the nations little by little. You must not overcome them all at once lest the wild animals overrun you. 23 The Lord your God will give them over to you; he will trouble them with great difficulty until they are destroyed. 24 He will hand over their kings to you and you will erase their very names from memory. Nobody will be able to stand before you until you annihilate them” (Deuteronomy 7:18b-24, emphasis mine)

1 Therefore, love the Lord your God and keep his obligations, that is, his statutes, ordinances, and commandments forever. 2 Bear in mind today that I am not speaking to your children who have not known or seen the instruction of the Lord your God, his greatness, strength, and power, 3 or his signs and works that he did in the midst of Egypt to Pharaoh king of Egypt and his whole land; 4 what he did to the army of Egypt, their horses and chariots, when he made the waters of the Red Sea overwhelm them when they were pursuing you, and how he destroyed them to this very day; 5 what he did to you in the desert until you reached this place, 6 and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, their children, their tents, and everything that followed them, in the middle of all Israel— 7 but it is your very eyes that saw all the great deeds of the Lord! (Deuteronomy 11:1-7, emphasis mine)

Fourth, Moses reminds the Israelites of God’s intervention in the more recent past:

2:24 Get up, make your way across Wadi Arnon. Look! I have already delivered over to you Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land. Go ahead! Take it! Engage him in war! 25 This very day I will begin to fill all the people of the earth with dread and to terrify them when they hear about you. They will shiver and shake in anticipation of your coming.” 26 Then I sent messengers from the Kedemoth Desert to King Sihon of Heshbon with words of peace, 27 “Let me pass through your land; I will keep strictly to the roadway. I will not turn aside to the right or the left. 28 Sell me food for cash so that I can eat and give me water to drink. Just allow me to go through on foot, 29 just as the descendants of Esau at Seir and the Moabites of Ar did for me until I cross the Jordan to the land the Lord our God is giving us.” 30 But King Sihon of Heshbon was unwilling to allow us to pass over near him because the Lord our God had given him a resistant spirit and stubborn determination so that he might deliver him over to you this very day. 31 Surely enough, the Lord said to me, “Look! I have already begun to give over Sihon and his land to you. Start right now to take his land as your possession.” 32 When Sihon and all his troops emerged to encounter us in battle at Jahaz, 33 the Lord our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down, along with his son and everyone else. 34 At that time we seized all his cities and put every one of them that was inhabited under the divine curse, even the women and children; there was not a single survivor. 35 Only the livestock and plunder from the cities did we keep for ourselves. 36 From Aroer, which is at the edge of Wadi Arnon, and the city in the wadi, all the way to Gilead there was not a city too inaccessible to us—the Lord our God gave them all to us. 37 However, you did not approach the land of the Ammonites, the Wadi Jabbok valley, the cities of the hill country, or any place else forbidden by the Lord our God.

3:1 Next we set out on the route to Bashan, but King Og of Bashan and his whole army came out to meet us in battle at Edrei. 2 The Lord, however, said to me, “Don’t be afraid of him because I have already given him, his army, and his land to you. You will do to him exactly what you did to King Sihon of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon.” 3 So the Lord our God did indeed give over King Og of Bashan and all his people to us and we rained blows on him until not a single survivor was left. 4 We took all his cities at that time—there was not a one we did not capture from them—sixty cities, all the region of Argob, the dominion of Og in Bashan. 5 All of these cities were fortified by high walls, gates, and bars; in addition there were a great many open villages. 6 We put all of these under the divine curse just as we had done to King Sihon of Heshbon—every occupied city, including women and children. 7 But all the livestock and urban plunder we appropriated to ourselves. 8 Thus at that time we took the land of the two Amorite kings in the Transjordan from Wadi Arnon to Mount Hermon 9 (the Sidonians call Hermon Sirion and the Amorites call it Senir), 10 all the cities of the plateau, all of Gilead and Bashan as far as Salecah and Edrei, cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. 11 Only King Og of Bashan was left of the remaining Rephaites. (It is noteworthy that his sarcophagus was made of iron. Does it not, indeed, still remain in Rabbath of the Ammonites? It is thirteen and a half feet long and six feet wide according to standard measure.) (Deuteronomy 2:24—3:11)

Based upon God’s faithfulness to Israel in the past, God assures the Israelites of victory in the future, as they obey Him:

18 I instructed you at that time as follows, “The Lord your God has given you this land for your possession. You are to cross over before your fellow Israelites, all the warriors, equipped for battle. 19 But your wives, children, and livestock (of which I know you have many) must remain in the cities I have given you 20 until the Lord helps your fellow countrymen prevail as you have, and allows them to possess the land that he is giving them on the other side of the Jordan River. Then each of you may return to his own territory which I have given you.” 21 I also commanded Joshua at the same time, “You have seen everything the Lord your God did to these two kings; he will do the same to the kingdoms where you are going. 22 Do not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God will personally fight for you” (Deuteronomy 3:18-22, emphasis mine).

THE SECOND ISSUE: THE DANGERS OF CANAANITE IDOLATRY AND IMMORALITY. The second issue facing the Israelites as they are preparing to enter the Promised Land is the temptation posed by the Canaanites’ immorality and idolatry.

We should recall that it was the danger posed by Canaanite idolatry and immorality that necessitated Israel’s sojourn in Egypt. In Genesis 38, we read that Judah separated from his kinsmen and married a Canaanite woman. After his wife died, he had a sexual relationship with a woman whom he thought was a Canaanite cult prostitute (Genesis 38:21-22), though this woman turned out to be his own daughter-in-law. God ordained Israel’s sojourn in Egypt for two reasons: (1) Because the sin of the Canaanite people had not reached maturity, and thus the time for divine judgment (Genesis 15:12-16); and (2) because the Egyptians loathed the Hebrews and would, generally speaking,138 The Canaanites worshipped fertility gods, and so it is little wonder that sexual immorality would be involved in their “worship.”

Israel is repeatedly warned against the evils of idolatry in the Book of Deuteronomy (4:25-26; 5:8-10; 11:16-17; 29:17-20). They are informed that they will turn to idolatry in the future (31:16, 20; 32:15-23). The cure is to take drastic preventative action with regard to the temptations of idolatry and immorality in the land of Canaan.

1 “When the Lord your God brings you to the land that you are going to occupy and forces out many nations before you—Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you—2 and he delivers them over to you and you attack them, you must utterly annihilate them. Make no covenant with them nor show them compassion! 3 You must not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons nor take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your sons away from me to worship other gods. Then the wrath of the Lord will erupt against you and he will soon destroy you. 5 Instead, this is what you must do to them: You must tear down their altars, shatter their sacred pillars, cut down their sacred Asherah poles, and burn up their images. 6 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. He has chosen you to be a people prized above all others on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:1-6).

25 “You must burn the images of their gods, but do not covet the silver and gold that covers them so much that you take it for yourself and thus become ensnared by it; for it is abhorrent to the Lord your God. 26 You must not bring any detestable thing into your house and thereby become an object of divine annihilation like it is. You must absolutely abhor and detest it, for it is an object of divine annihilation” (Deuteronomy 7:25-26).

12 “If it should come to your attention in one of your cities that the Lord your God is giving you as a place to live that 13 some evil people have departed from among you to entice the inhabitants of their cities, saying, “Let’s go and serve other gods whom you have not known before,” 14 you must investigate thoroughly and inquire carefully. If it is true and certain that this abomination is being done among you, 15 you must by all means slaughter the inhabitants of that city with the sword; put under the divine curse everyone in it, even the livestock, by the sword. 16 You must collect all of its spoil into the middle of the plaza and burn the city and all its spoil as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. It will be an abandoned ruin forever—it must never be rebuilt again. 17 You must not take for yourself anything of that which has been cursed, so that the Lord might relent of his intense wrath and show you compassion, that he might have mercy on you and multiply you as he promised your ancestors. 18 Thus you must obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping all his commandments that I am presenting you today and doing the thing that is right before him” (Deuteronomy 13:12-18).

These texts were crucial to Israel’s well being in the land of Canaan, where the temptations for idolatry and immorality were many. They were commanded to completely annihilate the Canaanites, destroying every living thing. They were to show no pity or fear (7:16). When they defeated the Canaanites, they were not to keep any of the spoils (7:25-26). This is where Achan would soon go wrong (Joshua 7). God clearly spelled out the consequences for failing to obey His commands concerning Israel’s separation from the pagan practices of the Canaanites (11:16-17). Any Israelite who sought to lead the Israelites away from God to follow other gods was to be put to death (13:1-18).

Let Israel give heed to the lessons of the past and to God’s warnings regarding the future so far as idolatry and immorality are concerned. This is a time when sin must be dealt with decisively. I am reminded of our Lord’s words in the New Testament:

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30).

THE THIRD ISSUE: THE DANGERS OF APATHY, PRIDE, AND SELF-SUFFICIENCY. There is yet another serious danger for the Israelites as they prepare to possess the Promised Land of Canaan – that they become smug, arrogant, and self-sufficient. In other words, in their prosperity they will be tempted to forget that God is the source of their blessings and begin to take credit themselves:

10 Then when the Lord your God brings you to the land he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—to give you large, excellent cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with choice things you did not provide, hewn out cisterns you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—and you eat to your satisfaction, 12 be careful lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, the place of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12).

11 “Be very careful lest you forget the Lord your God, not keeping his commandments, ordinances, and statutes that I am giving you today. 12 When you eat to your satisfaction, when you build and occupy good houses, 13 when your cattle and flocks increase, when you have plenty of silver and gold, and when you have abundance of everything, 14 be careful lest you feel self-important and forget the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt, the place of slavery, 15 and who brought you through the great, fearful desert of venomous serpents and scorpions, a thirsty place of no water, bringing forth for you water from flint rock and 16 feeding you in the desert with manna (which your ancestors had never before known) so that he might test you and eventually bring good to you. 17 Be careful lest you say, “My own ability has gotten me this wealth.” 18 You must remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives ability to get wealth; if you do this he will confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, even as he has to this day. 19 Now it will come about that if you forget the Lord your God at all and run after other gods, worshiping and prostrating yourselves before them, I testify to you today that you will be utterly destroyed. 20 Just like the nations the Lord is about to decimate from your sight, so he will do to you because you would not pay attention to him” (Deuteronomy 8:11-20).

Up to this point in time, the Israelites had not experienced what we might call “the good life.” They had come out of slavery in Egypt. They had to live in tents in the desert. They were dependent upon God for their food and water. Their “menu” was almost always the same – manna. They could not settle down to plant crops but were always on the move. They were often threatened by other nations who opposed them. But soon the Israelites would enter the land of Canaan and possess it. They would enjoy vineyards and orchards they did not plant. They would experience God’s material blessings in many new ways. The very real danger was that they would begin to take the credit for these blessings, rather than to be grateful to God, who gave them.

God graciously built in some protective elements. He did not make farming so easy for His people that they would not have to trust and obey Him. God put the Israelites in a land that was dependent upon Him for its rains:

8 Now pay attention to the whole commandment I am giving you today, so that you may be strong enough to enter and possess the land where you are headed, 9 and that you may enjoy long life in the land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 For the land where you are headed as your possession is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, a land where you sowed seed and which you irrigated by hand like a vegetable garden. 11 Rather, the land where you are going as your possession is one of hills and valleys, a land that drinks water from the rains, 12 one the Lord your God looks after. He is constantly attentive to it from the beginning to the end of the year. 13 Now, if you conscientiously attend to my commandment that I am giving you today, that is, to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your mind and being, 14 then, he says, “I will send the rain of your land in its season, the autumn and the spring rains, so that you may gather in your wheat, new wine, and olive oil. 15 I will provide pasturage for your livestock and you yourself will eat until you are satisfied.” 16 Watch yourselves lest you become deceived and turn to serve and worship other gods! 17 Then the anger of the Lord will boil up against you and he will close up the sky so that it does not rain, the land will not yield its produce, and you will soon die off from the good land that he is about to give you” (Deuteronomy 11:8-17).

Israel was to learn from its past as it looked toward the future. They were reminded that God did not choose them because of their greatness, but because of His sovereign grace:

7 It is not because you were more numerous than all the other peoples that the Lord considered and chose you—for in fact you were the smallest of all peoples— 8 but because of his love for you and his faithfulness to the oath he swore to your ancestors the Lord brought you out with great power, redeeming you from the place of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Therefore, take note that it is the Lord your God who is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant faithfully with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:7-9).

The Israelites were reminded of the humble circumstances from (and through) which God brought them to the Promised Land:

20 “When your children ask you later on, ‘What are the stipulations, statutes, and ordinances that the Lord our God commanded you?,’ 21 you must say to them, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt in a powerful way. 22 And he brought signs and great, devastating wonders on Egypt, on Pharaoh, and on his whole family before our very eyes. 23 He delivered us from there so that he could enable us to have the land he had promised our ancestors’” (Deuteronomy 6:20-23).

1 “When the time comes for you to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you occupy it and live in it, 2 you must take the first of all the ground’s produce you harvest from the land the Lord your God is giving you, place it in a basket, and go to the place where he has chosen to locate his name. 3 You must go to the priest in office at that time and say to him, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 The priest will then take the basket from you and set it before the altar of the Lord your God. 5 And you must affirm before the Lord, “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor, and he went down to Egypt and lived there as a foreigner with a household few in number; but there he became a great, powerful, and numerous people. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated and oppressed us, assigning us burdensome labor” (Deuteronomy 26:1-6).

The Israelites were to remember how God brought them through adversity and need, in order to teach them to trust and obey:

1 “You must keep carefully the entire commandment I am giving you today so that you may live, multiply, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised to your ancestors. 2 Remember the whole way by which he has brought you these forty years through the desert so that he might, by humbling you, test to see whether deep within yourselves you would keep his commandments or not. 3 So he humbled you by making you hungry and feeding you with unfamiliar manna to make you understand that mankind cannot live by food alone, but also by everything that comes from the Lord’s mouth. 4 Your clothing did not wear out nor did your feet swell all these forty years. 5 Be keenly aware that just as a human being disciplines his child, the Lord your God disciplines you. 6 Thus, you must keep his commandments, that is, walk according to his ways and revere him. 7 For the Lord your God is bringing you to a good land, a land of brooks, springs, and fountains flowing forth in valleys and hills, 8 a land of wheat, barley, vines, fig trees, and pomegranates, of olive trees and honey, 9 a land where you may eat food in plenty and find no lack of anything, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper. 10 You will eat and drink and then bless the Lord your God because of the good land he will have given you” (Deuteronomy 8:1-10).

Israel’s blessings were not the result of her faithfulness to God, but the result of God’s faithfulness to His people, as He kept His covenant promises:

4 “Do not think to yourself after the Lord your God has run them out before you, ‘Because of my own righteousness the Lord has enabled me to possess this land, and because of the wickedness of these nations he is dispossessing them from before me.’ 5 It is not because of your righteousness, or even your inner uprightness, that you have come to possess their land. Instead, because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is expelling them before you in order to confirm the promise he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 6 Understand, therefore, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is about to give you this good land as a possession, for you are a stubborn people!” (Deuteronomy 9:4-6)

To help the Israelites remember their past and the wondrous ways that God blessed them, God gave them a number of memorials. The annual celebration of the Passover reminded the Israelites of the way God had delivered them from their slavery in Egypt. The Feast of Booths (or Temporary Shelters) reminded the Israelites of the years they (or their forefathers) spent in the wilderness, dependent on God for their every need (16:13-17; 31:10-13). They were never to forget their humble beginnings and the true source of their blessings and prosperity.

It is true to say that the blessings the Israelites experienced from the hand of God were in spite of Israel’s sins. Time after time the Israelites provoked the Lord to anger:

6 Understand, therefore, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is about to give you this good land as a possession, for you are a stubborn people! 7 Remember—don’t ever forget—how you provoked the Lord your God in the desert; from the time you left Egypt until you came to this place you were constantly rebelling against him” (Deuteronomy 9:6-7; see also 9:8—10:11).

In spite of all these lessons from the past, the Israelites will disregard them and become smugly self-sufficient and arrogant. Through Moses, God warns the Israelites about the future, assuring them that they will fail to heed these words of warning and instruction, spelling out the consequences for their sin. The first warning is found in Leviticus 26. The first warning about the future in Deuteronomy is found in chapter 4:

25 “After you have produced children and grandchildren and have been in the land a long time, if you become corrupted and make an image of any kind and do other evil things before the Lord your God that enrage him, 26 I invoke heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that you will surely and swiftly be destroyed from the very land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. You will not last long there because you will be totally devastated. 27 Then the Lord will scatter you among the peoples and there will be very few of you in the nations where the Lord will drive you. 28 There you will worship gods made by human hands—wood and stone that can neither see, hear, eat, nor smell. 29 But if you seek the Lord your God from there, you will find him, if, indeed, you seek him with all your heart and soul. 30 In your distress when all these things happen to you in the latter days, if you return to the Lord your God and listen to him 31 (for he is a merciful God), he will not let you down or destroy you, for he cannot forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:25-31).

There is a lengthy pronouncement of blessings and cursings in the closing chapters of Deuteronomy. In chapter 27, the Israelites erect stones on which the law was inscribed. Half of the people gathered on Mount Gerizim, where they proclaimed God’s covenant blessings. The other half gathered on Mount Ebal, where the curses of the covenant were proclaimed by the Levites, and all must acknowledge them by saying, “Amen.” (Notice that in 27:14-26 only the cursings are enumerated specifically.)

In chapter 28, the first 14 verses outline the blessings that God will shower upon His people if they obey the Lord by keeping His commandments. The remaining verses (54 of them) describe the curses which will come upon the Israelites for disobeying God’s commandments. The proportions certainly reflect the fact that the Israelites will not obey God’s commandments and will experience these curses. Israel’s disobedience is a certainty, as is its outcome:

47 “Because you have not served the Lord your God joyfully and wholeheartedly with the abundance of everything you have, 48 instead in hunger, thirst, nakedness, and lack of everything you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you. They will place an iron yoke on your neck until they have destroyed you. 49 The Lord will raise up a distant nation against you, one from the other side of the earth as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a nation of stern appearance that will have no regard for the elderly or consideration for the young. 51 They will devour the offspring of your cattle and the produce of your soil until you are destroyed. They will not leave you with grain, new wine, olive oil, increased herds, or larger flocks until they have demolished you. 52 They will besiege all of your villages until all of your high and fortified walls collapse—those in which you put your confidence throughout the land. They will put under siege all your gates in all parts of the land the Lord your God has given you. 53 You will then eat your own offspring, the flesh of the sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you, because of the stressful siege in which your enemies will constrict you… . 64 The Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of wood and stone. 65 Among those nations you will have no rest nor will there be a place of peaceful rest for the soles of your feet, for there the Lord will give you an anxious heart, failing eyesight, and a spirit of despair. 66 Your life will hang in doubt before you; you will be terrified by night and day and will have no certainty of surviving from one day to the next. 67 In the morning you will say, ‘If only it were evening!’ And in the evening you will say, ‘I wish it were morning!’ because of the things you will fear and the things you will see. 68 Then the Lord will make you return to Egypt by ship, over a route I said to you that you would never see again. There you will sell yourselves to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you” (Deuteronomy 28:47-53, 64-68).

Chapters 28-30 of Deuteronomy are the key to understanding the history of Israel from the time they enter the land of Canaan. It outlines the consequences for disregarding God and His commandments. It also prescribes the cure for these curses:

1 “Now when all these things happen to you—the blessing and the curse I have set before you—and you remember them in all the nations where the Lord your God has exiled you, 2 if you turn to the Lord your God and listen to him just as I am commanding you today—you and your descendants—with your whole mind and being, 3 then the Lord your God will reverse your captivity and have pity on you. He will turn and gather you from all the peoples among whom he has scattered you. 4 Even if any of your dispersed are under the most distant skies, from there the Lord your God will gather and bring you back. 5 Then he will bring you to the land your ancestors possessed and you also will possess it; he will do better for you and multiply you more than he did your ancestors. 6 The Lord your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being, in order to live. 7 Then the Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies, on those who hate you and persecute you. 8 You will return and pay attention to the Lord, keeping all his commandments I am giving you today. 9 The Lord your God will make the labor of your hands abundantly successful—in your offspring, the offspring of your cattle, and the crops of your fields. For the Lord your God will once more rejoice over you for good just as he rejoiced over your ancestors, 10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commandments and statutes that are written in this book of the law, that is, if you turn to him with your whole mind and being” (Deuteronomy 30:1-10).

Moses concludes by presenting the Israelites with a choice, urging them to choose to trust and obey God:

11 “For this commandment that I am giving you today is not too awesome for you, nor is it too remote. 12 It is not in heaven, as though one must say, “Who will go up to heaven to get it for us so that we may hear and obey it?” 13 And it is not across the sea, as though one must say, “Who will cross over to the other side of the sea and get it for us so that we may hear and keep it?” 14 For the thing is very near you—it is in your mouth and mind so that you can do it. 15 “Look! I have set before you today life and prosperity on the one hand, and death and disaster on the other. 16 What I am commanding you today is to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to obey his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances. Then you will live and become numerous and the Lord your God will bless you in the land where you are going to take possession of it. 17 However, if you turn aside and do not obey, but are lured away to worship and serve other gods, 18 I declare to you this very day that you will certainly perish! You will not extend your time in the land you are crossing the Jordan River to possess. 19 I invoke heaven and earth as a witness against you today that I have set life and death, blessing and curse, before you. Therefore choose life so that you may live—you and your descendants! 20 I also call on you to love the Lord your God, to obey him and cling to him, for he is your life and the means of your longevity as you live in the land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 30:11-20).

Conclusion

The Book of Deuteronomy concludes with the “song of Moses” in chapter 32, a blessing pronounced by Moses (chapter 33), and a description of the death of Moses (chapter 34). One might conclude that the Book of Deuteronomy ends in a very depressing way. Even before the Israelites have set foot in the Promised Land, they are told that they will fail and that they will be cast out of the land. Where is the “good news” in all of this? Consider the following truths that we find in the Book of Deuteronomy.

First, God has given man a choice to serve God and live, or to disobey and die:

15 “Look! I have set before you today life and prosperity on the one hand, and death and disaster on the other. 16 What I am commanding you today is to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to obey his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances. Then you will live and become numerous and the Lord your God will bless you in the land where you are going to take possession of it. 17 However, if you turn aside and do not obey, but are lured away to worship and serve other gods, 18 I declare to you this very day that you will certainly perish! You will not extend your time in the land you are crossing the Jordan River to possess. 19 I invoke heaven and earth as a witness against you today that I have set life and death, blessing and curse, before you. Therefore choose life so that you may live—you and your descendants! 20 I also call on you to love the Lord your God, to obey him and cling to him, for he is your life and the means of your longevity as you live in the land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).

Second, the Book of Deuteronomy makes it clear that, left to himself, man can never merit God’s blessings on the basis of law-keeping. The problem with man is that he is fallen and he does not have a heart to serve God:

28 “When the Lord heard you speaking to me he said to me, ‘I have heard all that these people have said to you—they have spoken well. 29 If only it would really be their desire to fear me and keep all my commandments forever, so that it may go well with them and their descendants eternally’” (Deuteronomy 5:28-29).

But to this very day the Lord has not given you an understanding mind, perceptive eyes, or discerning ears! (Deuteronomy 29:4)

Third, the Israelites, left to themselves, will only bring divine judgment upon themselves.

16 And the Lord said to Moses, “You are about to die, and then these people will begin to prostitute themselves with the foreign gods of the land into which they are going. They will leave me and break my covenant that I have made with them. 17 On that day my anger will flare up against them and I will leave them and hide myself from them until they are devoured. Many hurts and distresses will overcome them so that they will say at that time, ‘Have not these difficulties overcome us because God is not among us?’ 18 But I will certainly hide myself on that day because of all the wickedness they will have done by turning to other gods. 18 But I will certainly hide myself on that day because of all the wickedness they will have done by turning to other gods. 19 Now compose for yourselves the following song and teach it to the Israelites—put it into their very mouths!—so that this song may serve me as a witness against the Israelites. 20 For after I have brought them to the land I promised to their ancestors—one flowing with milk and honey—and they eat and become satisfied and fat, then they will turn to other gods to worship them and will reject me and break my covenant… . 29 For I know that after I die you will totally corrupt yourselves and turn away from the path I have commanded you to walk. Disaster will confront you in the days to come because you will act wickedly before the Lord, inciting him to wrath because of your works” (Deuteronomy 31:16-20, 29).

Fourth, Israel’s blessings will only come to pass on the basis of God’s grace and His faithfulness to His covenant promises:

6 The Lord your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being, in order to live. 7 Then the Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies, on those who hate you and persecute you. 8 You will return and pay attention to the Lord, keeping all his commandments I am giving you today” (Deuteronomy 30:6-8).

39 “See now that I, indeed I, am he!” says the Lord,
“and there is no other god besides me.
I am the one who kills and brings to life.
I smash and I heal,
and none can deliver from my power.
40 For I raise up my hand to heaven,
and say, ‘As I live forever,
41 I will sharpen my lightning-like sword,
and my hand will grasp hold of judgment;
I will execute vengeance on my foes,
and repay those who hate me!
42 I will satisfy my arrows fully with blood,
and my sword will eat flesh;
with the blood of the slaughtered and captured,
from the chief of the enemy’s leaders!’”
43 Cry out, O nations, with his people,
for he will avenge his servants’ blood;
he will direct vengeance against his enemies,
and make atonement for his land and people (Deuteronomy 32:39-43, emphasis mine).

26 There is no one like God, O Jeshurun,
riding the heavens to help you,
and in his lofty clouds.
27 The everlasting God is a dwelling place,
and underneath are eternal arms;
he has driven out enemies before you,
and he has said, “Destroy!”
28 Israel lives in safety,
the fountain of Jacob quite secure,
in a land of grain and new wine;
indeed, its heavens rain down dew.
29 Most happy are you, Israel—who is like you?
A people delivered by the Lord,
your helpful shield
and your exalted sword;
may your enemies cringe before you,
but may you trample on their backs (Deuteronomy 33:26-29).

At this point in time, the warnings that are so clear and emphatic in Deuteronomy are not taken seriously enough, in spite of Moses’ best efforts. This moment in time is very much like a wedding ceremony. Everyone is happy, and the couple feels so much in love. As a preacher and an elder of a local church, I know all too well that time will present these newlyweds with many challenges. I know that some of the weddings at which I officiate will end up in failed marriages. I also know what it is that will destroy them. I instruct, I warn, and I encourage those being married to carry out God’s instructions, yet I know that many marriages will not survive because of sin and disobedience.

How much easier it is to understand Moses’ words in Deuteronomy from our vantage point. We understand that the Law of Moses was not given to save men, but as a standard of holiness that no man can meet:

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).

Only one person has ever fulfilled the Law completely – the Lord Jesus Christ:

15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin… . 26 For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; see also Matthew 5:17-18; 27:4; Luke 23:4, 14, 22; 23:47; John 7:19; 8:46; 1 Peter 1:18-29).

It was His death in the sinner’s place that made salvation possible. He bore the penalty we deserve as sinners; His righteousness is imputed to all those who trust in Him. It is in Christ and Christ alone that the requirements of the Law have been satisfied.

3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4).

This is what the prophet Jeremiah foretold:

31 “Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new agreement with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 It will not be like the old agreement that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. For they violated that agreement, even though I was a faithful husband to them,” says the Lord. 33 “But I will make a new agreement with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the Lord. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. And I will be their God and they will be my people. 34 “People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me. That is because all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,” says the Lord. “All of this is based on the fact that I will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

It is also what the Apostle Paul proclaimed as the gospel in the Book of Romans. Taking up the words of Deuteronomy 30, Paul writes:

4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes. 5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: “The one who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. 11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:4-13).

No wonder the Book of Deuteronomy is so often quoted in the New Testament. It foretells the history of the nation Israel. It lays the foundation for the gospel message. It calls upon men and women to trust in God and to obey His Word. It points to the salvation which Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah, will bring.

Moses called upon the second generation of Israelites to enter into a covenant relationship with God, just as the first generation had done. New Testament saints do not live under the old covenant, but rather under the new, but we must embrace the New Covenant in order to enter into its blessings. This we do by faith in Jesus Christ. In our church, we celebrate and remember the New Covenant each week by the celebration of the Lord’s Table (communion).

To many, the Book of Deuteronomy is a book of duty and obligation. While this is true, I want to remind you that “love” is emphasized in this book as well. It is not a teeth-gritting kind of obedience that God desires, but an obedience prompted by love:

12 Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you except to fear him, to walk in all his ways, to love him, and to serve him with all your mind and being? 13 Keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord that I am commanding you today for your own good. 14 The heavens, indeed the highest heavens, belong to the Lord your God, as does the earth and everything in it. 15 However, only your ancestors did he decide to select, and he chose you, their descendants after them, from all peoples—as is apparent today. 16 Therefore, cleanse your heart and stop being so stubborn! 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God and awesome warrior who is unbiased and takes no bribe, 18 who acts justly toward orphan and widow, and who loves resident foreigners, giving them food and clothing. 19 You, therefore, love the resident foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. 20 Revere the Lord your God, serve him, cleave to him and take oaths only in his name. 21 He is the object of your praise and your God, the one who has done these great and awesome things for you that you have seen. 22 Your ancestors went down to Egypt as only seventy people but now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of the sky” (Deuteronomy 10:12-22).

The Book of Deuteronomy reminds us that every generation must enter into a covenant relationship with God. It is not enough that your mother or father trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation; you must personally embrace Christ’s work on the cross of Calvary for the forgiveness of your sins, and for the gift of eternal life. If you have not done so, I urge you to do it this very moment. Simply acknowledge your sins, and that Jesus Christ bore the penalty for your sins on the cross of Calvary. Believe that God raised Him from the dead, and that in Him, and Him alone, you have eternal life. This choice is a simple one, but it is a matter of life and death.


134 Henrietta C. Mears, What the Bible Is All About (Ventura, California: Regal Books, revised edition, 1983), p. 75.

136 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

138 There was a very great difference between the “worship” of the people before the golden calf and that of the elders on the mountain. The people not only ate and drank, they “rose up to play” (32:6). This term “play” refers to illicit and immoral sex play. The same expression is used in Genesis 26:8, where Abimelech “looked out through a window, and saw, and behold, Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah” (emphasis mine). Thus, this “worship” had turned into an orgy. /docs/ot/books/exo/deffin/exo-25.htm

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14. Israel’s Golden Years (Joshua)

The Book of Joshua139

Introduction

There is a picture in my parents’ family collection that will always stand out in my mind. It was taken during a family vacation that included a few days in Glacier National Park. We had borrowed a tent and other outdoor equipment from a relative and were about to experience our first camping adventure. We found a hollow spot where the ground was smooth and free from large rocks, and so it was here that we pitched our tent. At the time, we knew nothing of mountain storms or of pitching tents on high ground. We had no idea from what direction the winds and rains might come, but we learned all about this before the night was over!

Our family picture was taken late in the afternoon, posing cheerfully in front of our tent. The sky was blue and virtually cloudless. It looked like the perfect family vacation. It was after we were all inside the tent for the evening, curled up in our sleeping bags, that the unexpected occurred. A summer storm suddenly engulfed us. There were torrential rains, accompanied by thunder and lightning. The rains blew in the door of our tent, which faced the storm. The waters collected in the hollow, where we had pitched our tent. Soon, there were at least of couple of inches of rainwater inside the tent. Our sleeping bags were soaking wet, and my younger brother was singing “Jesus Loves Me” as loudly as possible. We hurriedly wadded up our tent, sleeping bags and all, stuffed them into the truck of our car, and drove to a motel where we could dry out.

Some things that start very well end up in a very different manner. This part of our family vacation reminds me of the relationship of the Book of Joshua to the following book, the Book of Judges. Joshua is the “high water mark” of success in Israel’s history. Things could hardly have been better. How could anyone help but be optimistic regarding the future? But when we come to the very next book, the Book of Judges, things are at an all-time low. Here, it could hardly get worse.

How could this be? How could Israel so quickly plummet from its successes in the days of Joshua to its failures in the days of the judges? Some of this must wait until our next lesson, but we should approach the Book of Joshua with our eyes wide open, knowing what the future holds. Let us savor the “good times” of Joshua, but let us also be prepared for the bad times that are soon to come.

The Structure of the Book of Joshua

The structure of the Book of Joshua is quite transparent:

 

Chapters 1-12

Occupying the Land and Overcoming the Canaanites

Chapters 13-21

Dividing the Land

Chapters 22-24

Concluding Events and Joshua’s Words of Exhortation and Warning

In this study, we shall give our attention to the first and final sections of the book. The first section is filled with exciting events describing the crossing of the Jordan and the taking of the land. The final section is very similar to the final words of Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy. Joshua urges the people to embrace God’s covenant as their own, and then warns that they will never be able to keep their promise.

An Overview of the Taking of the Land of Canaan
Joshua 1:1—12:24

Chapter 1

The first chapter of Joshua is filled with words of instruction and encouragement. God directs Joshua to lead the Israelites across the Jordan River and to possess the land. As He does so, God gives these promises:

3 “I am handing over to you every place you set foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the wilderness in the south to Lebanon in the north. It will extend all the way to the great River Euphrates in the east (including all of Syria) and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to resist you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not abandon you or leave you alone. 6 Be strong and brave! You must lead these people in the conquest of this land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them. 7 Make sure you are very strong and brave! Carefully obey all the law my servant Moses charged you to keep! Do not swerve from it to the right or the left, so you may be successful in all you do. 8 This law scroll must not leave your lips! You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all that is written in it. Then you will prosper and be successful. 9 I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do” (Joshua 1:3-9, emphasis mine).140

Along with God’s assurances, there were exhortations and commands. Joshua was to be strong and brave (1:6, 7); he was not to be afraid (1:9). He was to lead the people across the Jordan River and possess the land God had promised to their ancestors (1:6). He was to give heed to the Law God had given through Moses. He was to memorize it and to heed it carefully, not violating any of its commands (1:7-8).

Joshua then gave instructions to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh – those tribes that had chosen to dwell on the eastern side of the Jordan – reminding them that they must help their brethren possess the land on the western side of the Jordan before they could join their families on their own land east of the Jordan. The response of these Israelites to the words of Joshua is amazing:

16 They told Joshua, “We will do everything you say. We will go wherever you send us. 17 Just as we obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. But may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Any man who rebels against what you say and does not obey all your commands will be executed. But be strong and brave!” (Joshua 1:16-18)

Moses had commanded their fathers to occupy the land of Canaan, and they had refused, threatening to kill him and appoint a new leader who would take them back to Egypt (Numbers 14:1-4, 10). In contrast, this generation promises to follow Joshua, and even encourages him to be strong and brave! They threaten to execute anyone who would dare to oppose Joshua.

Chapter 2

This time Joshua sends out only two spies (2:1), which is surely linked to the failure of the first generation at Kadesh when only 2 of the 12 spies had a “good report.” Joshua’s actions made it clear what kind of report he expected from these two spies. God intervened in such a way that it was certain to be a “good report.” The two spies made their way to Jericho, on the western side of the Jordan. The only place to stay in the city was the home of Rahab, the prostitute. (Who would be suspicious of strangers staying at her house?)

The spies found a woman of faith in Rahab. The king of Jericho had learned of the arrival of the two spies, and he knew they had gone to Rahab’s house. The king demanded that Rahab turn the two men over to him. Rahab chose to protect these two men, rather than to turn them over to the king. She knew that the Israelites were going to prevail over Jericho and the Canaanites:

9 She said to the men, “I know the Lord is handing this land over to you. We are absolutely terrified of you, and all who live in the land are cringing before you. 10 For we heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you left Egypt and how you annihilated the two Amorite kings, Sihon and Og, on the other side of the Jordan. 11 When we heard the news we lost our strength and no one could even breathe for fear of you. For the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below!” (Joshua 2:9-11)

Rahab bargained with the spies to spare her and her family, if she would protect them. They agreed, and the spies escaped from the city, lowered down the wall by a rope from Rahab’s window (2:15). The spies fled to the hills and then made their way back to the Israelites’ camp. They came to Joshua bearing good news:

They told Joshua, “Surely the Lord is handing over all the land to us! All who live in the land are cringing before us!” (Joshua 2:24)141

Rahab’s report was not only the means of her own deliverance; it also played a significant role in giving the Israelites the courage to attack Jericho.

Chapter 3

This was to be a great day in Israel’s history, a day when God would honor Joshua, demonstrating to the Israelites that His hand was upon their new leader, just as it was on Moses:

The Lord told Joshua, “This very day I will begin to honor you before all Israel so they will know that I am with you just as I was with Moses” (Joshua 3:7, emphasis mine).

As they were preparing to cross the Jordan Joshua spoke these words to the people:

9 Joshua told the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God!” 10 Joshua continued, “This is how you will know the living God is among you and that he will truly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites. 11 Look! The ark of the covenant of the Ruler of the whole earth is ready to enter the Jordan ahead of you… . 13 When the feet of the priests carrying the ark of the LORD, the Ruler of the whole earth, touch the water of the Jordan, the water coming downstream toward you will stop flowing and pile up” (Joshua 3:9-11, 13).

When the priests stepped into the waters of the Jordan, the water stopped flowing, piling up some distance upstream. It was surely intended to trigger the minds of the people to recall the earlier miracle when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, on dry ground. The priests carrying the ark stood in the middle of the Jordan, as the people passed by.

Chapter 4

God commanded Joshua to build a memorial, a reminder to this and future generations of what a great thing God had done for His people. Twelve men (one from each tribe) were to go to the riverbed and remove a stone. These stones were to be carried to their campsite on the western side of the Jordan, and there these stones were to be piled as a memorial. It would seem that a second memorial was made in the middle of the Jordan River. Twelve stones from dry land were carried to the place where the ark of the covenant was still stationed, in the middle of the river (4:9). The author informs his readers that this pile of stones was still standing (underwater) at the time of his writing (4:9).

That day a mighty miracle was performed, one that was intended to encourage the Israelites that God was going before them to enable them to defeat the Canaanites and possess the land (see 3:9-13). It was also God’s means of honoring Joshua, so that the people would respect and follow him, as they had Moses:

That day the Lord brought honor to Joshua before all Israel. They respected him his whole lifetime, just as they had respected Moses (Joshua 4:14).

It was also God’s way of encouraging the Israelites to obey Him and of terrorizing the Canaanites who would oppose His people:

4:24 He has done this so all the nations of the earth might recognize the Lord’s power and so you might always obey the Lord your God.” 1 When all the Amorite kings on the west side of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the seacoast heard how the Lord had dried up the water of the Jordan before the Israelites while they crossed, they lost their strength and could not even breathe for fear of the Israelites (Joshua 4:24-5:1).

Chapter 5

Once they were on the other side of the Jordan, God commanded the Israelites to be circumcised. While the first generation to leave Egypt had been circumcised, they had not circumcised their children (5:5-7). This was the way that this new generation would publicly embrace the covenant God had made with their forefathers and was now making with them. This verse is very informative and should not be overlooked:

When all the men had been circumcised, they stayed there in the camp until they had healed (Joshua 5:8).

It reminds us of an earlier incident, recorded in the Book of Genesis:

24 All the men who assembled at the city gate agreed with Hamor and his son Shechem. Every male who assembled at the city gate was circumcised. 25 In three days, when they were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and went to the unsuspecting city and slaughtered every male. 26 They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and left. 27 Jacob’s sons killed them and looted the city because their sister had been violated. 28 They took their flocks, herds, and donkeys, as well as everything in the city and in the surrounding fields. 29 They captured as plunder all their wealth, all their little ones, and their wives, including everything in the houses (Genesis 34:24-29, emphasis mine).

When Shechem forced himself on Dinah, the sister of Simeon and Levi, these angry brothers deceitfully entered into a treaty with the men of Shechem, on the condition that all the Shechemite men submit to the rite of circumcision. In that three-day healing period, when the Shechemites were greatly in pain and in a weakened condition, the sons of Jacob slaughtered the men and took their wives, children, and cattle as spoils of war.

This informs us that, when the Israelites submitted to circumcision immediately after crossing the Jordan, this was not only an act of obedience but also an act of faith. Crossing the Jordan would be interpreted by the inhabitants of Canaan as an act of aggression, an act of war. The people of Jericho (not to mention others) would have every reason to make a preemptive strike against the Israelites, before they came any closer. The possibility of an enemy attack after crossing the Jordan was very real, and thus to submit to circumcision was to become vulnerable to attack for several days. Had the Canaanites attacked Israel at this time, they would have been at their weakest point as a nation. In spite of the risks and the pain involved, the Israelites obeyed the command of God.142

Following their circumcision, the Israelites observed Passover on the plains of Jericho (5:10). More than this, they ate unleavened bread for the first time (5:11). The menu changed from this point in time onward. Never again would this generation eat manna (5:12). What a delight that first meal must have been.

A very strange thing now happens. As Joshua approaches Jericho, a man appears before him, holding up his drawn sword. Joshua drew near and asked this fellow if he was for Israel or against them. It was a reasonable question, and no doubt Joshua felt safe asking it. After all, this was but one man, and behind him was a very impressive army. Nevertheless, Joshua was not prepared for the answer this fellow gave him:

14 He answered, “Truly I am the commander of the Lord’s army. Now I have arrived!” Joshua bowed down with his face to the ground and asked, “What does my master want to say to his servant?” 15 The commander of the Lord’s army answered Joshua, Remove your sandals from your feet, because the place where you stand is holy.” Joshua did so (Joshua 5:14-15, emphasis mine).

Many people feel this is a manifestation of the pre-incarnate Christ, and I am very much inclined to agree. No wonder Joshua was quick to remove his sandals and to fall on his face before this “Commander-in-chief.” Once again, we are reminded of an earlier incident in the Pentateuch:

3 So Moses thought, “I will turn aside to see this amazing sight, why the bush does not burn up.” 4 And when the Lord saw that he had turned aside to look, God called to him from within the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” 5 And God said, “Do not come near here. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He also said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God (Exodus 3:3-6, emphasis mine).

And so Joshua has his own version of the “burning bush;” he has a direct encounter with God. He receives his battle instructions from none other than the “Commander-in-chief” of Israel’s armed forces. The plan that He reveals is one that no military leader would have ever imagined, as we shall soon see.

Chapter 6

I love this story. The chapter begins with a description of a real military problem:

Now Jericho was shut tightly because of the Israelites. No one was allowed to leave or enter (Joshua 6:1).

How would the Israelites deal with the fact that Jericho was a fortified city, with great walls and impenetrable gates? Alarmed by the presence of the Israelite army, these gates were securely shut; no one entered or left the city. If the Israelites sought to scale the walls, many lives would be lost. If they attempted to ram the city gates, the same thing would happen. How could they possibly overcome these massive walls?

God had the perfect solution, one that no one would have considered, because it was a miracle. The divine messenger never actually told Joshua how the Israelites would enter the city or how the people of Jericho would be defeated. That was because the Israelites were required to act in faith:

By faith the walls of Jericho fell after the people marched around them for seven days (Hebrews 11:30).

The Commander-in-chief told Joshua that the Israelites were to march around the city once each day for six days. Armed men were to go first, blowing horns. The priests were to follow, carrying the ark of the covenant and blowing horns. Then the rest of the troops followed behind, blowing their horns. The people, however, were to remain quiet. What an amazing sight this would have been! You can imagine that the people of Jericho lined the top of the city walls, looking with a mixture of fear and amazement at the Israelites marching around their city. The horns were blowing, but the people remained silent. Finally, on the seventh day,143 the Israelites marched around the city seven times, and when the horns were blown, the people gave out a great battle cry, unaware (in my opinion) of what would happen next.

To the amazement of all (those marching outside the city, and those standing on the walls looking out) the walls of the city collapsed. It is my opinion that many (if not most) of the armed soldiers of Jericho were either standing on top of the wall or close to it, ready to fend off the Israelites if they stormed the city. When the walls collapsed, this must have killed a great many of the soldiers of Jericho. And those who survived must have been completely unnerved. Their defense system had been completely destroyed. That in which they found such confidence and security was the instrument of their own destruction. Israel’s impenetrable barrier (the city walls and gates) had crumbled before them. All the Israelites had to do was to “finish the job,” and that they did. They completely annihilated the people and the city, leaving no survivors.

There was yet another miracle, at least as I read the account. God destroyed the city by causing the walls to fall down, and yet He spared Rahab and her family whose home was in (or on) a part of the wall. Surely this one section of the wall did not collapse, as did the rest. And so the two spies were sent into Rahab’s house to bring she and her family out safely, under Israel’s protection. Because Rahab gave sanctuary to the two spies, God gave Rahab and her family sanctuary in Israel. Better than this, Rahab’s name was recorded in the book of life, and she is found in the hall of faith (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25).

Chapter 7

There was one problem with the victory of Israel over the people of Jericho, and the writer spells it out in verse 1:

But the Israelites disobeyed the command about the city’s riches. Achan son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, stole some of the riches. The Lord was furious with the Israelites (Joshua 7:1).

Achan had disobeyed the instructions Moses had given earlier:

22 He, the God who leads you, will expel the nations little by little. You must not overcome them all at once lest the wild animals overrun you. 23 The Lord your God will give them over to you; he will trouble them with great difficulty until they are destroyed. 24 He will hand over their kings to you and you will erase their very names from memory. Nobody will be able to stand before you until you annihilate them. 25 You must burn the images of their gods, but do not covet the silver and gold that covers them so much that you take it for yourself and thus become ensnared by it; for it is abhorrent to the Lord your God. 26 You must not bring any detestable thing into your house and thereby become an object of divine annihilation like it is. You must absolutely abhor and detest it, for it is an object of divine annihilation (Deuteronomy 7:22-26, emphasis mine).

More than this, Achan disobeyed Joshua’s very specific instructions, given just before the Israelites captured Jericho:

17 The city and all that is in it must be set apart for the Lord, except for Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house, because she hid the spies we sent. 18 But be careful when you are setting apart the riches for the Lord. If you take any of it, you will make the Israelite camp subject to annihilation and cause a disaster. 19 All the silver and gold, as well as bronze and iron items, belong to the Lord. They must go into the Lord’s treasury” (Joshua 6:17-19, emphasis mine).

Achan’s sin brought great calamity, not just upon himself and his family, but also upon the whole Israelite nation. This would soon be apparent. The next city that the Israelites must deal with is the city of Ai. When spies were sent to assess the military strength of the city, they seem almost over-confident:

They returned and reported to Joshua, “Don’t send the whole army. About two or three thousand men are adequate to defeat Ai. Don’t tire out the whole army, for Ai is small” (Joshua 7:3).

It may have been that two or three thousand men could have taken the city, particularly with God’s help. But it was not to be, not this time. When the Israelites engaged the people of Ai in battle, their adversaries gained the upper hand and sent the Israelite forces running for their lives. Thirty-six men were lost in this battle. Joshua and all Israel were horrified and perplexed at their defeat. What could possibly have gone wrong? God told Joshua:

10 The Lord responded to Joshua, “Get up! Why are you lying there face down? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenantal commandment! They have taken some of the riches; they have stolen them and deceitfully put them among their own possessions. 12 The Israelites are unable to stand before their enemies; they retreat because they have become subject to annihilation. I will no longer be with you, unless you destroy what has contaminated you” (Joshua 7:10-12).

Joshua then put the Israelites through a process of elimination, until it was revealed that Achan was the guilty party. Joshua urged Achan to come clean with his sin, and he did:

20 Achan told Joshua, “It is true. I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel in this way: 21 I saw among the loot a nice robe from Babylon, two hundred silver pieces, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels. I wanted them, so I took them. They are hidden in the ground right in the middle of my tent with the silver underneath” (Joshua 7:20-21).

You have to give Achan credit for openly admitting his sin, without making any excuses. But his sin was serious; it had cost Israel a defeat at the hand of their enemies, and it had cost 36 men their lives. And so, at God’s direction, Achan and his family were stoned to death and their bodies burned. The anger of the LORD was appeased.

Chapter 8

God encouraged Joshua not to fear and to be of good courage. He instructed him to take the whole army and attack the city of Ai. The battle plan would take advantage of Israel’s earlier defeat at the hand of the warriors at Ai. Thirty thousand of Joshua’s men hid in ambush behind the city of Ai. Joshua and his troops then attacked the city from the front. Joshua and his army feigned defeat and begin to retreat. Many of the troops of Ai then took out after Joshua and his army. When those who remained on guard inside Ai saw what was happening, they wanted to get in on the “kill,” so they left the city in hasty pursuit of Joshua and his men. Those lying in ambush then slipped into the city and burned it to the ground. When the people of Ai looked back and saw their city in flames, they knew they had nowhere to go. They were now trapped between those who had hidden in ambush behind them and those who feigned defeat before them.

The LORD then instructed Joshua to hold out his sword toward Ai, because He was giving him the city (8:18). He held out his sword until the victory was complete (8:26). Once again, we are reminded of an earlier incident in the Pentateuch involving Moses and Joshua:

8 Amalek came and attacked Israel in Rephidim. 9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua fought against Amalek just as Moses had instructed him; and Moses and Aaron and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 And whenever Moses would raise his hands, then Israel prevailed; but whenever he would rest his hands, then Amalek prevailed. 12 When the hands of Moses became heavy, they took a stone and put it under him, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side and one on the other, and so his hands were steady until the sun went down. 13 So Joshua destroyed Amalek and his army with the edge of the sword. 14 And the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in the book, and rehearse it in Joshua’s hearing; for I will surely wipe out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens. 15 And Moses built an altar; and he called it “The Lord is my Banner,” 16 for he said, “For a hand was lifted up to the throne of the Lord—that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:8-16, emphasis mine).

Just as Moses had instructed (Deuteronomy 27), Joshua built an altar to the LORD on Mount Ebal. Here they offered sacrifices and inscribed the Law on stone. Half of the Israelites stood in front of Mount Gerizim and the other half in front of Mount Ebal. Joshua read aloud all the blessings and the cursings of the Law as the people listened.

Chapter 9

In chapter 9, we read of one of the failures of Joshua and the leaders of Israel. It was not intentional, but it was the result of their carelessly entering into a treaty with the people of Gibeon. Word of Israel’s victories over Jericho and Ai had reached the ears of the kings who lived west of the Jordan, who formed an alliance to fight the Israelites. The residents of Gibeon took a different approach. They, like Rahab, were convinced that the Israelites would prevail, and so they set out on a plan of deception.144

The Gibeonites must have cleaned out every Salvation Army and Goodwill store in the area, finding old worn-out garments and sandals. They also acquired old, dried-out bread. These things were used to convince the Israelites that the Gibeonites had come a long distance, from a far away place. It would seem that these people had some knowledge of the law, or at least of Israel’s dealings with the various nations. The guiding principles for the Israelites’ foreign policy are found in Deuteronomy:

10 When you approach a city to wage war against it, offer it terms of peace. 11 If it accepts them and submits to you, all the people found in it will become compulsory servants to you. 12 But if they do not accept terms of peace but make war with you, then you are to lay siege against their city. 13 The Lord your God will deliver it over to you and you must kill every single male by the sword. 14 However, the women, little children, cattle, and anything else in the city—all its plunder—you may take as your booty. You may appropriate the spoils of your enemies that the Lord your God has given you. 15 This is how you are to deal with all those cities very distant from you, those that do not belong to nearby nations. 16 As for the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God is going to give you as an inheritance, you must not allow a single living thing to survive. 17 Instead you must put them under the divine curse—the Hittite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite, —just as the Lord your God has commanded you, 18 so that they cannot teach you to do the detestable things they do to their gods and you thereby sin against the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 20:10-18).

Counting on the fact that the Israelites would live by God’s laws, the Gibeonites passed themselves off as those “very distant” from Israel, rather than as those living in the land God had given to Israel. Without carefully inquiring into this matter (certainly without inquiring about God’s will), the leaders of Israel took the Gibeonites at their word and made a treaty with them, as though they were a distant nation. Only after the covenant was made did the Israelites learn that they had been deceived. Because they had given their oath, they would not go back on their word. The Gibeonites were subjected to hard labor, however.

Chapter 10

The Gibeonite saga is not over. The alliance of Amorite kings mentioned first in Joshua 9:1-2 is now dealt with in greater detail in chapter 10. These kings were greatly distressed to learn that the Gibeonites had entered into a treaty with the Israelites because Gibeon was a great city, and these were powerful warriors (10:2). Instead of having Gibeon as an ally, these people were now their enemies. The alliance of kings felt they must attack Gibeon and neutralize them. When the Gibeonites realized that they were being attacked, they sent word to their allies, the Israelites, who were now obliged to come to their aid.

Joshua assembled his whole army and set out for Gibeon. God encouraged Joshua and the Israelites not to be afraid, assuring them that He was going to give them the victory over their enemies (10:8). An
all-night march (an uphill climb of nearly 25 miles, and from sea level to about 4,000 feet) brought them to Gibeon early in the morning, catching the kings by surprise. The Lord gave Israel a great victory at Gibeon. As the Amorite warriors fled, God rained down hailstones upon them, killing more than those slain by the sword (10:11). The battle was going well, but continued victory was threatened by coming darkness. And so Joshua made a most unusual request, and his prayer was answered:

12 The day the Lord delivered the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua prayed to Lord before Israel:

“O sun, stand still over Gibeon!
O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon!”

13 The sun stood still and the moon stood motionless while the nation took vengeance on its enemies. The event is recorded in the Scroll of the Upright One. The sun stood motionless in the middle of the sky and did not set for about a full day (Joshua 10:12-13).

The LORD fought for Israel that day. Never before or since has there been a day like that one, when the LORD answered such a request from a human being (Joshua 10:14, NLT).

Did God employ the forces of nature to part the Red Sea when Moses led the Israelites? God is no less involved in caring for His people under the leadership of Joshua. God is mighty to save. He employs all of nature to protect His people.

Israel’s great victory over the Amorite kings broke the back of the opposition in central Palestine. Heartened by their success and the assurance of God’s powerful presence among them, the Israelites waged a campaign against the southern part of Palestine (10:28-39). Their victory in the south was stunning:

40 Joshua defeated the whole land, including the hill country, the Negev, the lowlands, the slopes, and all their kings. He left no survivors. He annihilated everything that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel had commanded. 41 Joshua conquered the area between Kadesh Barnea and Gaza and the whole region of Goshen, all the way to Gibeon. 42 Joshua captured in one campaign all these kings and their lands, for the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel. 43 Then Joshua and all Israel returned to the camp at Gilgal (Joshua 10:40-43).

Chapter 11

All that was left for Joshua and the combined army of the Israelites was to defeat the kings to the north. From that point on, defeating the Canaanites would be the task of each individual tribe. (This is a task that they will fail to accomplish, as we see in the Book of Judges.) An alliance of northern kings was established, but it did not spare them from defeat at the hand of Joshua and the Israelites. Joshua’s victory is summed up in a way that links his obedience to God’s commands with his victory over Israel’s enemies:

15 Moses the Lord’s servant passed on the Lord’s commands to Joshua, and Joshua did as he was told. He did not ignore any of the commands the Lord had given Moses.

16 Joshua conquered the whole land, including the hill country, all the Negev, all the land of Goshen, the lowlands, the Arabah, the hill country of Israel and its lowlands, 17 from Mount Halak on up to Seir, as far as Baal Gad in the Lebanon Valley below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings and executed them. 18 Joshua campaigned against these kings for quite some time. 19 No city made peace with the Israelites (except the Hivites living in Gibeon); they had to conquer all of them, 20 for the Lord determined to make them obstinate so they would attack Israel. He wanted Israel to annihilate them without mercy, as he had instructed Moses.

21 At that time Joshua attacked and eliminated the Anakites from the hill country—from Hebron, Debir, Anab, and all the hill country of Judah and Israel. Joshua annihilated them and their cities. 22 No Anakites were left in Israelite territory, though some remained in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. 23 Joshua conquered the whole land, just as the Lord had promised Moses, and he assigned Israel their tribal portions. Then the land was free of war (Joshua 11:15-23).

Concluding Events of Joshua
Joshua 22-24

Chapters 13-21 of Joshua concern the distribution of the land. The great powers of the Promised Land had been defeated, but much remained to be conquered (13:1-6). This would be the task of the individual tribes and not the duty of the combined forces of Israel. At the command of God, Joshua then divided up the land, with each tribe being responsible to fully possess their inheritance.

In chapter 13, we find a very brief, but significant, anecdote:

The Israelites killed Balaam son of Beor, the omen-reader, along with the others (Joshua 13:22).

Balaam’s payday finally arrived. This brief remark must, in some way, undergird the comment we find in Joshua 22:17, to which we will refer shortly.

Joshua is now very old (13:1; 23:1). The time of his departure is drawing near. Now that the major powers of Canaan have been defeated, it is time to send the Israelite tribes to their inheritance. In chapter 22, Joshua sends the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh back to their wives and children on the eastern side of the Jordan with these words of exhortation and warning:145

1 Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh 2 and told them: “You have carried out all the instructions of Moses the Lord’s servant, and you have obeyed all I have told you. 3 You have not abandoned your fellow Israelites this entire time right up to this very day. You have completed the task given you by the Lord your God. 4 Now the Lord your God has made your fellow Israelites secure, just as he promised them. So now you may turn around and go to your homes in your own land which Moses the Lord’s servant assigned to you east of the Jordan. 5 But carefully obey the commands and instructions Moses the Lord’s servant gave you. Love the Lord your God, follow all his instructions, obey his commands, be loyal to him, and serve him with all your heart and being!” (Joshua 22:1-5)

When they returned, these tribes built an altar near the Jordan River (22:10). Word of this reached the ears of their brethren west of the Jordan. It was feared that those beyond the river had already begun to depart from the faith, and those on the western side of the Jordan were determined to deal with it:

12 When the Israelites heard this, the entire Israelite community assembled at Shiloh to launch an attack against them. 13 The Israelites sent Phinehas, son of Eleazar, the priest, to the land of Gilead to the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. 14 He was accompanied by ten leaders, one from each of the Israelite tribes, each one a family leader among the Israelite clans. 15 They went to the land of Gilead to the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and said to them: 16 “The entire community of the Lord says, ‘Why have you disobeyed the God of Israel by turning back today from following the Lord? You built an altar for yourselves and have rebelled today against the Lord. 17 The sin we committed at Peor was bad enough. To this very day we have not purified ourselves; it even brought a plague on the community of the Lord. 18 Now today you dare to turn back from following the Lord! You are rebelling today against the Lord; tomorrow he may break out in anger against the entire community of Israel. 19 But if your own land is impure, cross over to the Lord’s own land, where the Lord himself lives, and settle down among us. But don’t rebel against the Lord or us by building for yourselves an altar aside from the altar of the Lord our God. 20 When Achan son of Zerah disobeyed the command about the city’s riches, the entire Israelite community was judged, though only one man had sinned. He most certainly died for his sin!’” (Joshua 22:12-20, emphasis mine)

We soon learn that the concerns of the western tribes were unfounded, and that this altar was merely a memorial to keep their hearts and minds turned toward their God. The encouraging thing about this incident is that God’s people were fully committed to obeying God, and thus they were willing to fight their fellow-Israelites, if need be, to keep from sinning against God. The words above demonstrate that the Israelites had learned not only from God’s commands, but also from history. They were alert to any signs of disobedience to God’s commands. They remembered the way that Balaam had corrupted them (verse 17), and they remembered the consequences of the sin of Achan (verse 20). They were determined to obey God and to deal with those who rebelled against Him according to the Law. What an encouraging incident this is.

The words of Joshua in the final two chapters of the Book of Joshua are similar to the words of Moses in the closing chapters of Deuteronomy. Like Moses, Joshua was very old (23:1), and the time of his death was near (23:14). Joshua assembled the Israelites to deliver one last message. Joshua reminded the Israelites of all that God had done – things that they had seen with their own eyes (23:3). Like Moses, Joshua urged the Israelites to carefully obey the law of God and not to depart from it in any way (23:6). They must be careful not to associate with the Canaanites, nor to embrace any of their idolatry (23:7-8, 11-13). Joshua reminded the people that not one of God’s promises had been unfulfilled (23:14-15a). They must also remember that every one of God’s promised judgments would come upon them if they failed to obey God’s commands (23:15b-16).

In chapter 24, Joshua reminded the Israelites of their roots, roots that predisposed them toward idolatry. He reminded them that Abraham’s roots were idolatrous:

Joshua told all the people, “Here is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘In the distant past your ancestors lived beyond the Euphrates River, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor. They worshiped other gods (Joshua 24:2).

God judged the Egyptians and their gods at the exodus, and yet it is apparent that at least some of the Israelites embraced the worship of Egypt’s gods:

“Now obey the Lord and worship him with integrity and loyalty. Put aside the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the river and in Egypt and worship the Lord” (Joshua 24:14, emphasis mine).

Joshua challenges the new generation of Israelites to embrace God’s covenant as their own. They must choose to follow Him:

If you have no desire to worship the Lord, choose today whom you will worship, whether it be the gods whom your ancestors worshiped beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But I and my family will worship the Lord!” (Joshua 24:15)

The people responded by assuring Joshua that they fully intended to follow God:

16 The people responded, “Far be it from us to abandon the Lord so we can worship other gods! 17 For the Lord our God took us and our fathers out of slavery in the land of Egypt and performed these awesome miracles before our very eyes. He continually protected us as we traveled and when we passed through nations. 18 The Lord drove out from before us all the nations, including the Amorites who lived in the land. So we too will worship the Lord, for he is our God!” (Joshua 24:16-18)

One would think that Joshua would have been overjoyed at their response, and that he would have praised and encouraged them. Instead, Joshua warned them that they could not possibly keep their promise:

19 Joshua warned the people, “You won’t keep worshiping the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God who will not forgive your rebellion or your sins. 20 If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, he will turn against you; he will bring disaster on you and destroy you, though he once treated you well” (Joshua 24:19-20, emphasis mine).

The Israelites were not willing to accept Joshua’s words. Even though Joshua cautioned them, they insisted that they would remain faithful to God:

21 The people said to Joshua, “No! We really will worship the Lord!” 22 Joshua said to the people, “Do you agree to be witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to worship the Lord?” They replied, “We are witnesses.” 23 Joshua said, “Now put aside the foreign gods that are among you and submit to the Lord God of Israel.” 24 The people said to Joshua, “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him” (Joshua 24:21-24).

Joshua drew up an agreement between the people and their God, but his words of warning were clear. Their agreement would serve as a witness against them (24:27). Just as Moses had warned of Israel’s disobedience in the future, so did Joshua. Shortly after this, Joshua died and was buried in the hill country of Ephraim. Joseph’s bones, brought from Egypt by the Israelites, were buried at Shechem at his family burial plot. Aaron’s son, Eleazar, also died and was buried. I believe the author is making it clear that this generation of faithful Israelites was dying off.

There is much significance to the death of the Joshua generation, because things would never be the same again:

Israel worshiped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime and as long as the elderly men who outlived him remained alive. These men had experienced firsthand everything the Lord had done for Israel (Joshua 24:31).

Conclusion

The Book of Joshua is a great success story. In stark contrast to the first generation of Israelites, who refused to engage the Canaanites in battle, and who threatened to kill Moses and return to Egypt, this generation boldly attacked the enemy. They went to war “in faith” (Hebrews 11:30). The only defeat this generation suffered on the battlefield was that one small defeat (36 killed) at Ai, due to the sin of Achan.

This was a generation marked by their obedience. They faithfully followed Joshua’s orders, and they obeyed God’s commands (see 4:10; 8:27, 30-31; 11:15; 22:2). They did not rebel against God or against Joshua. They even encouraged Joshua to be bold and courageous (1:16-18). They complained but once, and in this case, their complaint was valid (9:18). They took a situation that appeared to be the beginnings of idolatry very seriously (22:10-34).

God caused even the failures of the Israelites to “work together for good” (Romans 8:28). When Achan sinned, the men of Ai won an initial victory over the Israelites. But it was this failure that set the stage for Israel’s next encounter with them, in a way that ended in great victory for Israel. In the second confrontation between Israel and Ai, the warriors who were with Joshua pretended to retreat in fear, just as they had the first time. Because of their first “victory,” the people of Ai deserted the city to pursue the Israelites, thus allowing the hidden Israelite soldiers to enter the city and burn it to the ground. Thus, Israel’s first defeat set the stage for her second encounter at Ai, which ended in victory.

The foolish decision to make a treaty with the Gibeonites was also used of God for good. Because of this treaty, the five Amorite kings formed an alliance and attacked Gibeon. This required Israel to come to their aid, in accordance with the treaty they had made with the Gibeonites. The resulting battle was a great victory for Israel and broke the back of the Canaanite opposition in central Palestine.

The question we should ask ourselves is this: “How do we explain Israel’s success?” Was it because of the leadership of Joshua? Surely Joshua was a great man and a fine leader, but was he so much better than Moses? I think not. Was it because this generation was better than the first? I don’t think so. “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). I think there is only one explanation: It was necessary for this generation to trust and obey God, so that the promises of God could be fulfilled.

3 I am handing over to you every place you set foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the wilderness in the south to Lebanon in the north. It will extend all the way to the great River Euphrates in the east (including all of Syria) and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to resist you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not abandon you or leave you alone (Joshua 1:3-9, emphasis mine).

43 So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had solemnly promised to their ancestors, and they conquered it and lived in it. 44 The Lord made them secure, in fulfillment of all he had solemnly promised their ancestors. None of their enemies could resist them. 45 Not one of the Lord’s faithful promises to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled; every one was realized (Joshua 21:43-45, emphasis mine).

14 “Look, today I am about to die. You know with all your heart and being that not even one of all the faithful promises the Lord your God made to you is left unfulfilled; every one was realized, not one promise is unfulfilled! (Joshua 23:14, emphasis mine)

I am reminded of the words of Moses, recorded for us in the Book of Deuteronomy:

“But to this very day the Lord has not given you an understanding mind, perceptive eyes, or discerning ears!” (Deuteronomy 29:4)

I believe, therefore, that God gave this generation of Israelites hearts to believe and the will to obey, so that He could bless them with this land, as He promised, and in accordance with His covenant. The key to Israel’s success is not to be found with men, but it is to be found in the faithfulness of God. The hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” certainly captures the amazing truth of God’s great faithfulness to this generation of Israelites.

If this generation was so successful, then why does Joshua come across in such a negative manner in the final chapter of Joshua? I believe the answer is consistent with what we have just observed. It is not man’s faithfulness to God that brings about God’s blessings, but it is God’s faithfulness to men that is the cause of all our blessings. Joshua urged a new generation to follow God, and rightly so. But their confidence was in themselves, in their own faithfulness. And it was because of their self-confidence that Joshua sounded a strong word of warning. They would never be able to live up to their promise, and Joshua knew it, as did Moses. The Israelites would forget all that God had done for them, things that their own eyes had seen. They would forsake God and turn to idols. And because of their rebellion, God would bring judgment upon the nation.

Lessons for Christians Today

There are many lessons for us to learn from this text. First, let us learn never to take credit for our apparent successes in life. If our “successes” truly are successes, then these have come from the hand of God. They are nothing for which we dare to take credit:

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:36)

For who concedes you any superiority? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Corinthians 4:7)

We need to be very careful that we do not presume that we will remain faithful. The Scriptures are clear in their warnings about overconfidence:

12 So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall. 13 No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: he will not let you be tried too much, but with the trial will also provide a way through it so that you may be able to endure. 14 So then, my dear friends, flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:12-14, emphasis mine).

We should strive to be faithful. But we dare not presume that we will be faithful. It is God alone who is completely faithful, and we must place our trust in His faithfulness, not our own.

God is not only faithful, He is also exceedingly powerful. The Book of Joshua is filled with examples of the power of God. He who is faithful is also the One who is all-powerful. In the Book of Joshua, we see God stopping the flow of the Jordan River, so that His people could cross over into the Promised Land. We see God providentially providing deliverance for the spies through a prostitute – Rahab. We read of God destroying His enemies with a hailstorm, and then causing the sun to stand still. What an awesome God we serve. Is there anything we should fear other than Him?

We are reminded by the Book of Joshua that national failure is always a generation away (and sometimes sooner!). Each generation has to choose whether or not it will serve God (see Deuteronomy 29:9-15; 30:15-20; Joshua 24:15). The Israelites were emphatically told that they must be diligent to teach their children the ways of the Lord (Deuteronomy 4:5-6, 10, 40; 31:12-13; Joshua 4:6, 21-22; 14:9). We, too, must be careful to teach our children the ways of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Each generation must be encouraged to follow God. Each generation must choose whether or not it will do so.

Another matter for thought and discussion is that of deception, or to put the matter more bluntly, lying. In the Book of Joshua (and in the New Testament), we find that Rahab, the prostitute, is listed in the hall of faith (Hebrews 11:31; see James 2:25) and even in the genealogy of our Lord (Matthew 1:5). How do we explain the fact that she lied to her own people about the spies? And then there is the deception of the Gibeonites. It is not surprising to read of a Canaanite lying, but the basis for the lies of each is the truth that God will give Israel the victory. Here is some food for thought. And lest you think that God is soft on lying, remember Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).

The Book of Joshua reminds us of the devastating consequences of “sin in the camp.” The sin of Achan may seem trivial to some, but not to God. In the first place, it was disobedience to very clear and emphatic instructions (see Deuteronomy 7:25-26; Joshua 6:17-19). Sin not only corrupts the sinner, it also corrupts the church of God. There is a corporate consequence of sin, and this is why sin cannot be taken lightly in the church.

1 It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you? 3 For even though I am absent physically, I am present in spirit. And I have already judged the one who did this, just as though I were present. 4 When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, along with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough, since you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 10 In no way did I mean the immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. 12 For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you (1 Corinthians 5:1-13).

Joshua is surely a prototype of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was he who led the people of God into the Promised Land. It was he who never suffered defeat. It was to him that God promised not one word he spoke would fail (Joshua 23:14). Is it any wonder that the name given to our Lord – Jesus – was but the name “Joshua”:

The name Joshua, a contracted form of Jehoshua (yehoshua`), which also appears in the form Jeshua (yeshua`, Neh. 8:17), signifies “Yahweh is deliverance” or “salvation, … .”146

In Joshua 24:31, we are told,

Israel worshiped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime and as long as the elderly men who outlived him remained alive. These men had experienced firsthand everything the Lord had done for Israel.

God’s people were secure so long as Joshua remained alive. Are you and I not eternally secure since our “Joshua” is alive forevermore?

15 And this is even clearer if another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest not by a legal regulation about physical descent but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For here is the testimony about him: “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” 18 On the one hand a former command is set aside because it is weak and useless, 19 for the law made nothing perfect. On the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. 20 And since this was not done without a sworn affirmation—for the others have become priests without a sworn affirmation, 21 but Jesus did so with a sworn affirmation by the one who said to him, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever’”— 22 accordingly Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23 And the others who became priests were numerous, because death prevented them from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently since he lives forever. 25 So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:15-25, emphasis mine).

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever! (Hebrews 13:8)

Finally, I note that Israel’s finest hour came at the time of their greatest challenges, in the face of incredible opposition and danger. So often we are tempted to think that God’s presence is to be found in times of peace and prosperity. The reality is that we cling most closely to God when life is pressing hard upon us. So it was for that generation. Think of it, Israel had just lost the greatest leader of all time (Moses), and they had suffered the consequence of a whole generation dying off in the wilderness. Forces larger and greater in power threatened them. It was during the hardest of times that Israel experienced the best of times.

I could not help but think of this in relation to our own church. In the past several years, we have lost several key leaders to death. It will not be too many years before the first generation of leaders are all gone. What will become of our church then? We need not fear, for God will provide for us, just as He did for Israel. God had a Joshua waiting in the wings. God’s work went on without a hitch; in fact, it went on better than under the leadership of Moses. Days of challenge may lay ahead of us, my friend, but God is as faithful today as He was in the days of Joshua. And so I conclude by reminding you of the words of our text, “I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the LORD your God, am with you in all you do” (Joshua 1:9).


139 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on February 18, 2001

140 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

141 I am reminded of God’s encouragement of Gideon in a similar fashion (see Judges 7:9-14).

142 We should also be reminded of the passage in Exodus 4:24-26, when God nearly killed Moses because he had not circumcised his son. To fail to obey God was therefore more dangerous than to obey.

143 One can hardly believe that the number seven had no significance here.

144 It is interesting to ponder the basis for the Gibeonites’ actions. First, they had to believe that the Israelites would possess the land, so that they were willing to become slaves to them in order to live. Second, they must have believed that the Israelites were people of integrity. Otherwise, how could they have trusted the Israelites to keep their covenant once they learned they had been deceived?

145 It is interesting to note that Joshua begins with Joshua’s words spoken to the eastern tribes, Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, just as the historical events of the book end with words to these tribes.

146 “Joshua,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, electronic edition.

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15. Israel’s Dark Ages (Judges)

The Book of Judges147

Introduction

A number of years ago I was preaching through the Book of Judges. Our custom was to have one of the men in the church read the Scripture text and then pray before I would preach. The text was Judges 19. This text is so distressing that something happened for the first time in my preaching ministry – my request to read the biblical text and to pray was declined. Mind you, this did not happen just once; it happened two or three times, until one man finally agreed to read it. On Sunday morning, when it was time for him to read the passage, he said something like this: “I know it is customary for one to read the text and then pray, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to pray before I read.”

The Book of Judges is a very troubling book, and it is not just this one incident, either. The whole book is distressing. Just recently, I received an e-mail from someone about another passage. It went something like this:

I read something in my Bible that really disturbed me and shook the very foundation of my faith. I never thought I would read where God accepted a human sacrifice. I kept expecting God to stop Jephthah and tell him not to sacrifice his daughter. Is there anywhere else in the Bible where this is mentioned? Did God condone this? How could God allow this?

The writer was referring to yet another story from the Book of Judges, where Jephthah made a very foolish vow:

30 Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, saying, “If you really do hand the Ammonites over to me, 31 then whoever is the first to come through the doors of my house to meet me when I return safely from fighting the Ammonites—he will belong to the Lord and I will offer him up as a burnt sacrifice” (Judges 11:30-31).148

A little later in the story, we read that Jephthah’s daughter came out to meet him, and that he fulfilled his vow, as foolish as it was (Judges 11:39-40).

The Book of Judges depicts a very dark hour in the history of Israel, and yet the events of this book come so very soon after the “golden years” of the “Joshua generation.” It is not the kind of reading we do for pure enjoyment, but it is an important era in the history of Israel, an era that we need to understand, and from which we should learn important lessons. Sad to say, it is an era that is very similar to the days in which we live, making it a message all the more pertinent to us. Let us listen well, and heed the message God has for us in these difficult pages.

The Structure of the Book of Judges

The structure of the Book of Judges is very simple:

 

Chapters 1-3:6

Introduction to the period of the judges

Chapters 3:7—16:31

Description of the reign of the judges

Chapters 17-21

Prologue: Two stories that characterize the period of the judges

Understanding the Book of Judges

What is a Judge?

When we come to a study of the Book of Judges it is important that we understand what a judge is, and is not. At that time in Israel, a “judge” was almost never a person who passed judgment on certain cases, or who settled disputes, though there was such a role in Israel (see Exodus 18; Numbers 11). Deborah did have a kind of judicial function (Judges 4:4-5), but this seems more related to her role as a prophetess than as one of Israel’s “judges.” None of the other “judges” in the Book of Judges actually “judged” in the most common sense of the word.

Judges were not an early prototype of Israel’s kings, either. Judges were primarily “deliverers” from the oppression of Israel’s enemies. They sometimes acted independently, as did Samson, who was a kind of “Lone Ranger judge”. Some of the judges led the military forces of one or more tribes against their foes. These judges did not lead the military forces of the entire nation, but only certain segments of it. As a rule, they did not have any administrative function, as a king would. God raised these judges up spontaneously, because of Israel’s oppression by their enemies. There was no succession and no dynasty. Usually, the Israelites were free from oppression as long as the judge lived.

The Book of Judges and the Mosaic Covenant

The key to understanding the Book of Judges is the mosaic covenant that God made with His people, the Israelites. The blessings and cursings of the Mosaic covenant are first spelled out in Leviticus 26. They are then repeated in greater detail in Deuteronomy 28. These blessings are summarized in verses
1 and 2:

1 “And if you indeed obey the Lord your God and are careful to observe all his commandments I am giving you today, the Lord your God will elevate you above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings will come to you in abundance if you obey the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).

But just as God promised His blessings for those who obeyed His commandments, there were also curses for those who disobeyed:

15 “But if you pay no attention to the Lord your God and are not careful to keep all his commandments and statutes I am relating to you today, then all these curses will come and overtake you: 16 You be cursed in the city and cursed in the field. 17 Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. 18 Your children will be cursed, as well as the offspring of your livestock, the calves of your cattle, and the lambs of your flock. 19 You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out” (Deuteronomy 28:15-19, see also verses 20-68).

Joshua’s final words to the Israelites repeated the warnings earlier conveyed to Israel by Moses:

9 “The Lord drove out from before you great and mighty nations; no one has been able to resist you to this very day. 10 One of you makes a thousand run away, for the Lord your God fights for you as he promised you he would. 11 Watch yourselves carefully! Love the Lord your God! 12 But if you ever turn away and make alliances with these nations that remain near you, and intermarry with them and establish friendly relations with them, 13 know for certain that the Lord our God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. They will trap and ensnare you; they will be a whip that tears your sides and thorns that blind your eyes until you disappear from this good land the Lord your God gave you. 14 “Look, today I am about to die. You know with all your heart and being that not even one of all the faithful promises the Lord your God made to you is left unfulfilled; every one was realized, not one promise is unfulfilled! 15 But in the same way every faithful promise the Lord your God made to you has been realized, it is just as certain, if you disobey, that the Lord will bring on you every judgment until he destroys you from this good land which the Lord your God gave you. 16 If you violate the covenantal laws of the Lord your God which he commanded you to keep, and follow, worship, and bow down to other gods, the Lord will be very angry with you and you will disappear quickly from the good land which he gave to you” (Joshua 23:9-16, emphasis mine).

The Introduction to the Book of Judges: Judges 1:1—3:6

In Judges 1 and 2, we find an explanation for the spiritual decline of the Israelites. The downfall of Israel begins shortly after the death of Joshua. As the Book of Joshua ends, Joshua’s generation is passing away, and so he calls upon the next generation of Israelites to embrace the covenant God made with their forefathers as their own. He calls upon them to decide whom they will serve:

14 Now obey the Lord and worship him with integrity and loyalty. Put aside the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the river and in Egypt and worship the Lord. 15 If you have no desire to worship the Lord, choose today whom you will worship, whether it be the gods whom your ancestors worshiped beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But I and my family will worship the Lord!” (Joshua 24:14-15, emphasis mine)

In spite of their expressed determination to serve God, Joshua warned that they would not be able to fulfill their commitment. They simply could not live up to the standards of a Holy God:

Joshua warned the people, “You won’t keep worshiping the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God who will not forgive your rebellion or your sins” (Joshua 24:19).

It does not take long for us to see the truth of Joshua’s words. The fulfillment begins early in the Book of Judges, in chapter 1. While the strength of the Canaanite kings had been crushed under Joshua, it remained for the individual Israelite tribes to completely annihilate the remaining Canaanites from the land. In chapters 1 and 2, the author supplies the reader with an explanation for the downfall of the nation, as well as the reason why God left the Canaanites in the land. In these two chapters, we observe the following sequence.

Step One: Partial Victory

The tribes of Judah and Simeon enjoyed moderate success (1:17), but they were not completely successful (1:19). The Benjamites did not completely drive out the Jebusites living in Jerusalem:

19 The Lord was with the men of Judah. They conquered the hill country, but they could not conquer the people living in the coastal plain, because they had chariots with iron-rimmed wheels. 20 Caleb received Hebron, just as Moses had promised. He drove out the three Anakites. 21 The men of Benjamin, however, did not conquer the Jebusites living in Jerusalem. The Jebusites live with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this very day (Judges 1:19-21, emphasis mine).

The men of Judah were not able to overcome the people living on the coastal plain, who had the latest in military technology (chariots with iron-rimmed wheels). The men of Joseph did reasonably well (1:22-26). But the remainder of Judges chapter 1 is the story of incomplete victory. The men of Manasseh (1:27-28), Ephraim (1:29), Zebulun (1:30), Asher (1:31-32), Naphtali (1:33), and Dan (1:34-35) did not completely conquer and destroy the Canaanites in their land. Partial victory over the Canaanites meant living with the Canaanites, the next sequence in Israel’s downward spiral.

Step Two: Co-existence with the Enemy

Because the Israelites did not completely wipe out the Canaanites, they had to co-exist in the land with them. In some cases, the Canaanites were made slaves, but they were not exterminated:

33 The men of Naphtali did not conquer the people living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath. They live among the Canaanites residing in the land. The Canaanites living in Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath were forced to do hard labor for them. 34 The Amorites forced the people of Dan to live in the hill country. They did not allow them to live in the coastal plain (Judges 1:33-34, emphasis mine).

Step Three: Cooperation with the Enemy

When one lives among another people, it becomes “necessary” to enter into agreements and formal associations with them. For example, we find that Heber the Kenite (a descendant of Moses’ father-in-law) became an ally with King Jabin of Canaan (1:16; 4:11, 17). This kind of cooperation brought about a divine rebuke:

1 The Lord’s angelic messenger went up from Gilgal to Bokim. He said, “I brought you up from Egypt and led you into the land I had solemnly promised to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my agreement with you, 2 but you must not make an agreement with the people who live in this land. You should tear down the altars where they worship.’ But you have disobeyed me. Why would you do such a thing? 3 At that time I also warned you, ‘If you disobey, I will not drive out the Canaanites before you. They will ensnare you and their gods will lure you away’” (Judges 2:1-3, emphasis mine).

To formalize agreements with the Canaanites was to legitimize them; it was to acknowledge their right to exist when God had commanded the Israelites to exterminate them.

Step Four: Being Corrupted by the Canaanites

6 When Joshua dismissed the people, the Israelites went to their allotted portions of property, intending to take possession of the land. 7 The people worshiped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime and as long as the elderly men who outlived him remained alive. These men had witnessed all the great things the Lord had done for Israel. 8 Joshua son of Nun, the Lord’s servant, died at the age of one hundred and ten. 9 The people buried him in his allotted land in Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. 10 That entire generation passed away; a new generation came along that had not personally experienced the Lord’s presence or seen what he had done for Israel. 11 The Israelites did evil before the Lord by worshiping the Baals. 12 They abandoned the Lord God of their ancestors who brought them out of the land of Egypt. They followed other gods—the gods of the nations who lived around them. They worshiped them and made the Lord angry. 13 They abandoned the Lord and worshiped Baal and the Ashtars (Judges 2:6-13, emphasis mine).

The very thing God had warned the Israelites about so frequently and fervently, the Israelites did. From merely tolerating the Canaanites, the Israelites came to imitate them. They began intermarrying with them and worshipping their gods. The nation that was to be holy and to remain separate from the sinful ways of the Canaanites now embraced the very sins that had brought God’s wrath upon them.

Step Five: Divine Discipline

14 The Lord was furious with Israel and handed them over to robbers who plundered them. He turned them over to their enemies who lived around them. They could not withstand their enemies’ attacks. 15 Whenever they went out to fight, the Lord did them harm, just as he had warned and solemnly vowed he would do. They suffered greatly (Judges 2:14-15).

The curses of the Mosaic Covenant were now implemented against the nation Israel. The Israelites would now suffer military defeat at the hand (or sword) of their enemies. God would cease to send the rains for their crops, and their cattle would no longer thrive and reproduce. What God had warned He would do, He now began to bring to pass.

Step Six: Divine Deliverance

16 The Lord raised up leaders who delivered them from these robbers. 17 But they did not obey their leaders. Instead they prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned aside from the path their ancestors had walked. Their ancestors had obeyed the Lord’s commands, but they did not. 18 When the Lord raised up leaders for them, the Lord was with each leader and delivered the people from their enemies while the leader remained alive. The Lord felt sorry for them when they cried out in agony because of what their harsh oppressors did to them (Judges 2:16-18, emphasis mine).

In response to their suffering, the Israelites cried out to God for relief. God, in His grace, would raise up a deliverer, a judge, who would deliver the Israelites from the oppression of their enemies. That deliverance normally lasted the length of the deliverer’s life.

Step Seven: Advancing in Apostasy

19 When a leader died, the next generation would again act more wickedly than the previous one. They would follow after other gods, worshiping them and bowing down to them. They did not give up their practices or their stubborn ways (Judges 2:14-19, emphasis mine).

One would certainly hope that after a painful cycle of sin, judgment, and relief, the Israelites would have learned their lesson and would live according to God’s commands. This was not the case at all. After the death of the deliverer, the Israelites went back to their sinful ways. They did not merely take up where they left off; they became even more wicked than before. Their sins compounded. Things went from bad to worse.

Left Behind: A Statement of Divine Purpose
Judges 2:20—3:6

20 The Lord was furious with Israel. He said, “This nation has violated the terms of the agreement I made with their ancestors by disobeying me. 21 So I will no longer remove before them any of the nations that Joshua left unconquered when he died. 22 Joshua left those nations to test Israel. I wanted to see whether or not the people would carefully walk in the path marked out by the Lord, as their ancestors were careful to do.” 23 This is why the Lord permitted these nations to remain and did not conquer them immediately; he did not hand them over to Joshua.

1 These were the nations the Lord permitted to remain so he could use them to test Israel—he wanted to test all those who had not experienced battle against the Canaanites. 2 He left those nations simply because he wanted to teach the subsequent generations of Israelites, who had not experienced the earlier battles, how to conduct holy war. 3 These were the nations: the five lords of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo-Hamath. 4 They were left to test Israel, so the Lord would know if his people would obey the commands he gave their ancestors through Moses.

5 The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. 6 They took the Canaanites’ daughters as wives and gave their daughters to the Canaanites; they worshiped their gods as well (Judges 2:20-3:6).

We would be wrong to think Joshua totally broke the back of the Canaanite opposition, and then left the “clean-up” operations to the individual tribes. As we see from the verses above and from the text below, God had a purpose for leaving the Canaanites in the land:

20 Furthermore, he will release the hornet among them until the very last ones who hide from you perish. 21 You must not tremble in their presence, for the Lord your God, who is present among you, is a great and awesome God. 22 He, the God who leads you, will expel the nations little by little. You must not overcome them all at once lest the wild animals overrun you. 23 The Lord your God will give them over to you; he will trouble them with great difficulty until they are destroyed. 24 He will hand over their kings to you and you will erase their very names from memory. Nobody will be able to stand before you until you annihilate them (Deuteronomy 7:20-24, emphasis mine).

Moses told the Israelites that God would remove the Canaanites little by little, because otherwise wild animals would overrun the land. I take this to mean that the population would not have been sufficient to “rule over” this land, and thus it would overrun with wild animals. As the population grew, the Israelites would expel the Canaanites and thus control the entire land. Until then, the Canaanites would be allowed to remain.

In Judges 2, we are given yet another reason why God left the Canaanites in the land for a time. It was to test and to teach Israel. The Canaanites would test Israel’s commitment to carefully carry out all the requirements of God’s law. Would the Israelites finish the job that Joshua had started so well? Would they drive out the Canaanites? And would the Israelites remain separate from the Canaanites by not embracing their women in marriage or their gods in worship? The Canaanites were also left behind to teach subsequent generations of Israelites how to conduct holy war (3:2). God did not want the Israelites to become “soft.” They needed to be strong, so that they could defend their borders from the surrounding nations. The Canaanites were a part of God’s training and testing program.

The first generation of Israelites had been tested by God in the wilderness, as Moses reminded them:

1 You must keep carefully the entire commandment I am giving you today so that you may live, multiply, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised to your ancestors. 2 Remember the whole way by which he has brought you these forty years through the desert so that he might, by humbling you, test to see whether deep within yourselves you would keep his commandments or not. 3 So he humbled you by making you hungry and feeding you with unfamiliar manna to make you understand that mankind cannot live by food alone, but also by everything that comes from the Lord’s mouth. 4 Your clothing did not wear out nor did your feet swell all these forty years (Deuteronomy 8:1-4, emphasis mine).

The Israelites failed these tests. They constantly grumbled and complained whenever they lacked anything that they needed, or just wanted (like meat). They were driven by their fleshly appetites and not by a commitment to trust and obey God by keeping His commandments (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-13).

This generation also failed the test of the Canaanites who were “left behind.” Instead of remaining separate from them and removing them from the land altogether, they began to intermarry with them and to worship their gods (3:5-6). And because of this, God left these nations in the land to discipline the Israelites for their disobedience.

Four Case Studies: Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson

The author of Judges writes of the deliverance of Israel through more than a dozen people. We know almost nothing about six judges: Shamgar (3:31), Tola (10:1-2), Jair (10:3-5), Ibzan (12:8-10), Elon (12:11-12), and Abdon (12:13-15). The most prominent judges in the book are Deborah (and Barak – chapters 4 and 5), Gideon (chapters 6-8), Jephthah (10:6—12:7), and Samson (chapters 13-16). I will focus on these four judges, because they received the greatest prominence in this book.

Deborah and Barak
Judges 4:1–5:31

Israel was being oppressed by King Jabin of Canaan, assisted by Sisera, the commander of his armed forces. When the Israelites cried for help, God raised up Deborah, the prophetess (Judges 4:4). Deborah’s words to Barak are most interesting and instructive:

She summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali. She said to him, “Is it not true that the Lord God of Israel is commanding you? Go, march to Mount Tabor! Take with you ten thousand men from Naphtali and Zebulun! (Judges 4:6)

The NET Bible renders the first part of this verse as a question, as does the KJV and the NKJV, and some others. It is possible, of course, that this is simply a command, “Behold, the LORD, the God of Israel, has commanded, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun’” (NASB). But a marginal note in the New American Standard Bible indicates that this may, in fact, be a question. If it is to be understood as the NET Bible has rendered it, then the reader gets the impression that Deborah’s words of instruction are not the first that Barak has heard. The reader could easily get the impression that God had already commanded Barak to do as Deborah has instructed him. This would underscore Barak’s fear and insecurity, a fear that caused him to refuse to attack Sisera and his army unless Deborah accompanied him.

In one sense, Barak had good cause for concern. King Jabin’s army, under the command of Sisera, had 900 chariots with iron-rimmed wheels (Judges 4:13; see also 1:19). Barak was certainly weak in faith. Even though commanded to attack Sisera’s forces by a prophetess, Barak would not do so alone. It wasn’t because he lacked respect for Deborah, because he insisted that he would only go to war if Deborah were with him. Here was a woman, not a warrior, a wife and mother, not a military mastermind. Deborah consented to go with him, but indicated that the victory would not bring him fame:

8 Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go. But if you do not go with me, I will not go.” 9 She said, “I will indeed go with you. But you will not gain fame on the expedition you are taking, for the Lord will turn Sisera over to a woman.” Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh (Judges 4:8-9).

Barak Goes to Jael149

Barak and his forces overcame the enemy, and all were slaughtered, except for Sisera, who fled on foot. Sisera ran until he was completely exhausted, and then he sought sanctuary at the home of Heber the Kenite, who had made a treaty with King Jabin whom Sisera served. Heber was not home, however, but his wife, Jael, was. Her allegiance was rightly with the people of God and not with this Canaanite king and his commander-in-chief.

Jael welcomed the terrified and exhausted Sisera into her tent. He asked for water, but she gave him warm milk. She reassured him that he was safe, and then covered him with a blanket so that he could get some needed rest. When he was deep in sleep, Jael knelt beside Sisera with a tent peg and hammer, driving the peg through his skull, killing him instantly. When Barak arrived, Jael showed him her trophy lying dead in her tent. King Jabin was humiliated that day, but so was Barak, because the victory was really due to two women: Deborah and Jael.

The song in Judges 5 speaks of Deborah, Barak, and Jael and the part they played in this victory. It also honors God, who was the real source of the victory. We are told in poetic fashion that God employed all of nature to bring about the defeat of Israel’s enemies:

4 O Lord, when you departed from Seir,
when you marched from Edom’s plains,
the earth shook, the heavens poured down,
the clouds poured down rain.
5 The mountains trembled before the Lord, the God of Sinai;
before the Lord God of Israel (Judges 5:4-5).
20 From the sky the stars fought,
from their paths in the heavens they fought against Sisera.
21 The Kishon River carried them off;
the river confronted them—the Kishon River.
Step on the necks of the strong! (Judges 5:20-21)

What is of great interest is that this song emphasizes who did and who did not participate in this battle:

14 They came from Ephraim, who uprooted Amalek,
they follow after you, Benjamin, with your soldiers.
From Makir leaders came down,
from Zebulun came the ones who march carrying an officer’s staff.
15 Issachar’s leaders were with Deborah,
the men of Issachar supported Barak,
into the valley they were sent under Barak’s command.
Among the clans of Reuben there was intense heart searching.
16 Why do you remain among the sheepfolds,
listening to the shepherds playing their pipes for their flocks?
As for the clans of Reuben—there was intense heart searching.
17 Gilead stayed put beyond the Jordan River.
As for Dan—why did he seek temporary employment in the shipyards?
Asher remained on the seacoast,
he stayed put by his harbors.
18 The men of Zebulun were not concerned about their lives;
Naphtali charged on to the battlefields (Judges 5:14-18).
23 ‘Call judgment down on Meroz,’ says the Lord’s angelic messenger;
‘Be sure to call judgment down on those who live there,
because they did not come to help in the Lord’s battle,
to help in the Lord’s battle against the warriors’ (Judges 5:23).

Having said that Deborah, Barak, and Jael are referred to in this song, it is not Barak who is the great hero of this battle, but rather Jael. She is the one whose actions are most emphasized. The honor goes to Deborah and to Jael when it could (and should) have gone to Barak. Nevertheless, God gave the land rest for 40 years.

Here is a victory that is less than complete victory. It is a victory over Israel’s oppressors, a victory that God gave Israel over a powerful enemy. It is a victory that is both sweet and sour. While some tribes rose to the challenge and fought with and for their brethren, others simply looked the other way to their shame. This is about as good as it is going to get in the Book of Judges, and it will soon get a whole lot worse.

Gideon, Mighty Man of Valor
Judges 6-8

Once again the Israelites are guilty of practicing what is evil in the sight of God. This time God uses the Midianites as His chastening rod. Then, the Israelites cry out to God for deliverance, and God raises up a man named Gideon. An angelic messenger comes to Gideon while he is threshing wheat in a winepress (6:11). Normally one would thresh wheat on high ground, where the wind could blow away the chaff. Gideon cannot do this because he would then be in open view to the Midianites, who could be expected to come and steal his grain.

I see a very fearful fellow threshing his wheat, looking to and fro for any sign of the Midianites. It is certainly sounds ironic when the angelic messenger comes to Gideon with the words, “The LORD is with you, courageous warrior!” (6:12). I used to think the angel must have had difficulty keeping a straight face without bursting out in laughter. I now see these words as prophetic. The angel spoke to Gideon, not as he was at the moment, but according to what he would be in the future. And lest we find this difficult to grasp, it is something like the Word of God calling us “saints.” That we may be (indeed, we are), but not due to any “saintliness” on our own part.

Gideon’s first response was to ask God where He has been in the midst of His people’s suffering:

13 Gideon said to him, “Pardon me, but if the Lord is with us, why has such disaster overtaken us? Where are all his miraculous deeds our ancestors told us about? They said, ‘Did the Lord not bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian” (Judges 6:13).

God’s answer was not the one that Gideon expected or wanted! God informed Gideon that He was now bringing deliverance to His people, through him.

Then the Lord himself turned to him and said, “You have the strength. Deliver Israel from the power of the Midianites! Have I not sent you?” (Judges 6:14).

Gideon wants assurance that it is really God speaking to him. Gideon asks for a sign (6:17) and gets it – the angelic messenger ignites Gideon’s offering. In response, Gideon builds an altar there to the Lord.

It seems that God gave Gideon a few hours to ponder what he had experienced before the angelic messenger returned with another challenge to his faith. (Up till now, God has only disclosed in a general way that Gideon is to deliver his people.)

Building that first altar was Gideon’s “baby steps” of faith, but now God calls for greater faith and obedience. That same night the Lord instructed Gideon to tear down the Baal altar and the Asherah pole that his father had erected. He was then to build an altar to the Lord in its place and offer a sacrifice there. Gideon obeyed, but late at night in the cover of darkness. It was not until morning that the men of the city discovered what had happened that night and who had done it. They demanded that Gideon’s father put his son to death, but his father refused, insisting that Baal ought to be powerful enough to protect his own interests. Great logic!

It is a most amazing thing, is it not, that the people of that city were eager to see Gideon put to death for his worship of Israel’s God, and for blaspheming (as it were) Baal? They should have put Gideon’s father to death for building an altar for a pagan god. How quickly these Israelites have fallen from the “golden days” of the Joshua generation.

Next, God commanded Gideon to engage the eastern nations in battle (6:33). Empowered by God’s Spirit, Gideon blew a trumpet, summoning the surrounding tribes to follow him (6:34-35). Gideon feels the need for further confirmation, and so he requests a two-fold sign. This is the famous sign of Gideon’s fleece. First, the fleece was to be wet, but the ground was to remain dry. Next, the fleece was to be dry, but the surrounding ground was to be wet. God fulfilled both requests and Gideon was now willing to go to war.

God was not yet ready, however. Thirty-two thousand Israelite men showed up for battle, and this was to face an army of well over 100,000 men (see 8:10). God knew that an army of Israel’s size would be tempted to take the credit for the victory. And so He had Gideon send away all those who were fearful, two-thirds of his men. Even the 10,000 men who remained was still too large a number for God, and so He finally thinned the Israelite soldiers down to a mere 300. God knew that Gideon would need another sign, and so He invited him to go down to the Midianite camp. There, Gideon overheard one soldier talking with another, disclosing the Midianites’ fear of Gideon and his army. This was as encouraging to Gideon as Rahab’s were to the two spies, and to the Israelites (see Joshua 2:8-11, 23-24).

The initial victory of Gideon and his 300 men is a most amazing story. He divided his 300 men into 3 units of 100 men. He gave each man a trumpet and a jar with a torch inside. The 3 units surrounded the enemy camp. The text gives us a very specific detail at this point:

Gideon took a hundred men to the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guards. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars they were carrying (Judges 7:19, emphasis mine).

Why would we be told that this happened in the middle of the night and at the beginning of the middle watch? This was apparently 10:00 p.m. Since the guards had just changed, the new guards would have just come on duty, and the other guards would still be returning to their tents. In other words, this was the precise moment during the night hours when the greatest number of Midianite warriors would be awake and about. It is my theory150 that if the Israelite soldiers had swords, they did not have them in hand. How could they, holding a jar in one hand and a trumpet in the other? After they blew their trumpets, they broke the jars, exposing the torches. The Midianites then panicked and began killing each other. How could this happen? It is my opinion that the trumpets completely startled the already frightened army (7:13-14) and that the light then blinded them. Their eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, and these lights blinded them, like a deer in the headlights. They believed they were under attack, and not being able to see clearly, they began to thrash about with their swords. The only ones standing nearby were their fellow-Midianites. The 300 Israelite soldiers were standing around the outside of the camp, safely away from this thrashing. The more the Midianites thrashed about (and were cut by their fellow-soldiers), the harder they fought – one another. The end result was that the Midianites killed themselves off while the Israelites looked in wonderment in the light their torches provided. Realizing that they were being destroyed (though not aware that they were killing themselves), the Midianites sought to escape into the night. This meant that they did not have all of their weapons or supplies, leaving these behind for Gideon and his men. It may not have happened precisely this way, but I would venture a guess that it was something like this.

Now was the time for their fellow-Israelites to join in and finish this battle:

Israelites from Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh answered the call and chased the Midianites (Judges 7:23).

The Ephraimites, however, were indignant. They protested that they had been summoned so late in the conflict (7:24—8:1). It was Gideon’s prudent and calm response that calmed them down (8:2-3). This is but the first of the hostile responses of the Ephraimites. There were others, however, who would not cooperate at all:

4 Now Gideon and his three hundred men had crossed over the Jordan River and, though exhausted, were still chasing the Midianites. 5 He said to the men of Succoth, “Give some loaves of bread to the men who are following me, because they are exhausted. I am chasing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” 6 The officials of Succoth said, “You have not yet overpowered Zebah and Zalmunna. So why should we give bread to your army?” 7 Gideon said, “Since you will not help, after the Lord hands Zebah and Zalmunna over to me, I will thresh your skin with desert thorns and briers.” 8 He went up from there to Penuel and made the same request. The men of Penuel responded the same way the men of Succoth had. 9 He also threatened the men of Penuel, warning, “When I return victoriously, I will tear down this tower” (Judges 8:4-9).

Succoth and Penuel were two Israelite cities in the territory of Gad on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Thus, once again, some fellow-Israelites were unwilling to come to the aid of their brethren who were in need. The unity between the tribes of Israel that we witnessed in the Book of Joshua is rapidly eroding in the Book of Judges.

After Gideon defeated his fleeing foes, he returned to Succoth and Penuel, where he punished their leaders and then executed them. He also tore down the tower of Penuel. Gideon then killed the two enemy kings, Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the ornaments that were on the necks of their camels.

The men of Israel were so pleased with Gideon’s leadership that they wanted to make him their king, an offer that Gideon wisely refused. The sad news is that Gideon did take advantage of their gratitude. He asked them for a portion of the spoils of war they had taken from the Midianites. They gladly gave this to Gideon, but from these spoils Gideon made an ephod that he kept in his hometown, and this ephod became an object of worship. In this way, Israel’s great deliverer became a stumbling block to his fellow-Israelites, causing them to fall back into the idolatry that would bring on the next cycle of divine discipline.

Jephthah
Judges 10:6—12:7

Passing over a number of judges, we come to Jephthah, one of the great enigmas of the Book of Judges. Unlike Gideon in his early days, Jephthah was a mighty warrior. He was also the son of a prostitute (11:1). When Jephthah’s half-brothers grew up, they forced him to leave the family, but when the Ammonites began to oppress them, the people of Gilead urged him to return as their leader (11:15-16). Jephthah agreed, on the condition that they would address his grievances with his family and others in Gilead. Jephthah then began to negotiate with the Ammonite king. Time will not permit us to draft an exposition of this text, but the interchange between Jephthah and the Ammonite king is an excellent summation of the struggle for the land of the Israel as it stands today (see 11:12-28).

When negotiations finally broke down, Jephthah led the Israelites against the Ammonites. Before he went to battle, Jephthah made a very foolish vow:

30 Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, saying, “If you really do hand the Ammonites over to me, 31 then whoever is the first to come through the doors of my house to meet me when I return safely from fighting the Ammonites—he will belong to the Lord and I will offer him up as a burnt sacrifice” (Judges 11:30-31).

Jephthah and his forces defeated the Ammonites, and when he returned home, his daughter ran to greet him. As a result, Jephthah fulfilled his foolish vow concerning his daughter. Because it is so difficult to believe that this father would sacrifice his daughter, other explanations have been suggested, but no explanation leaves one with a good felling about this father or his vow.

Once again we read of conflict with the Ephraimites (see 8:1-3). They seem to have had a chip on their shoulder. They disputed with Jephthah because he had not summoned them to the battle (so they could share in the glory?). The end result of this conflict was war between Jephthah’s forces and the Ephraimites (12:1-7). Things have gone from bad to worse. Initially, the Israelites were fighting together, against their common enemies. Now, the Israelites are fighting among themselves.

Samson
Judges 13-16

As with Gideon, much attention is devoted to Samson in the Book of Judges. He is an especially significant figure. First of all, Samson is the final judge of the Book of Judges. Second, Samson is a tragic figure, a man totally enslaved to the flesh. Third, Samson is a picture of the nation Israel. I am particularly indebted to the comments of Albert H. Baylis, in his fine book, From Creation to the Cross:151

While Jephthah delivers Israel east of the Jordan, Samson becomes a judge in the west (chaps. 13-16). The writer gives more space to Samson than to any other judge. He was chosen to be judge before birth, so his beginnings rival those of Samuel, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist. Certainly much should be expected from this man. But he is woefully disappointing. He regularly disregards the law, intermarries with the Philistines, and uses his delivering power to carry out acts of incidental violence.

Why spend so much time on Samson’s failure? Because he climaxes the message of Judges. His life matches that of the nation itself. Samson, like Israel, had a special calling but deserted it to pursue his own desires. His power, though great and bestowed by Yahweh, did not deliver because his life was marked by unfaithfulness to Yahweh and intermarriage with the nations of the land.

I differ with some of Baylis’ comments,152 but I certainly concur with his main thoughts here. Samson was the “bottom of the barrel” so far as Israel’s deliverers were concerned, and one had to be really corrupt to win this distinction. While other deliverers overcame their beginnings, Samson could not have had it better. His birth and ministry was announced beforehand in a way that does rank him with John the Baptist. His parents were faithful and committed followers of God. They were diligent to seek God’s counsel as to how they should raise this boy, and they followed it as best they could. They raised Samson as a Nazarite, and yet he seemed to despise his spiritual birthright. The only hint of any repentance and obedience on his part comes in the final hours of his life. He is a tragic figure indeed.

The weaknesses in Samson’s character are apparent in his first romance with a Philistine woman in chapter 14. Here was a woman whose only quality was her appearance, and that was enough for Samson. Samson erred at every turn, from eating honey from a dead lion’s carcass to disregarding his parents’ counsel about choosing a wife. His bride-to-be tricked Samson into revealing his secret to her (the answer to his riddle), because she was fearful of those who threatened her if she did not disclose this information to them (14:15-17). When Samson realized he had been tricked, he struck out at the Philistines in anger. He did not destroy them for the sake of his fellow-Israelites, but rather to bolster his injured pride. When this woman was given to his best man for a bride, Samson again struck out in anger. He was completely self-occupied and self-serving. What a terrible thing it is to see one so empowered by the Spirit of God, and yet so dominated by the flesh.

One might hope that Samson learned his lesson from his first disaster at acquiring a wife from the Philistines, but when he meets Delilah, he repeats his folly to the degree that he once again is coaxed into telling a foreign woman his inner secrets (the source of his power). This leads to Samson’s captivity and blindness. It is only after his hair has grown back and he calls to God for enablement that he is able to avenge himself by collapsing the temple where he was on display.

Epilogue: The Story of Two Levites
Judges 17-21

The final chapters of Judges are an epilogue. Instead of focusing on the sins of the people, or of the judges who delivered them, the final five chapters look closely at the lives of two Levites. What is happening to the religious leadership of the nation? We shall see that the religious leadership was not holding the nation accountable for its sin, but was, instead, blazing its own trails of sinful conduct. The spiritual vacuum to which I am alluding has been implied in the earlier chapters of Judges. In Judges 2:1-4, it is an “angelic messenger” who rebukes the nation for its sin. Once again in 2:20-21 God speaks. Only the prophetess Deborah (4:4ff.) and one unnamed prophet (6:7-10) seems to have spoken for God in the Book of Judges. Where are the priests or the prophets? Is there no man who will stand up for God? Apparently not! As Paul would later write,

19 Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you quickly, so that I too may be encouraged by hearing news about you. 20 For there is no one here like him who will readily demonstrate his deep concern for you. 21 Others are busy with their own concerns, not those of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:19-21).

The two Levites in our text are men who are not seeking God’s interests, or the interests of others, but only their own.

Unemployed Priest For Hire to Highest Bidder
Judges 17-18

What an amazing story. The young priest, a Levite from Bethlehem, is never named, but his employer – Micah – is. Micah was from the hill country of Ephraim. He had stolen silver from his mother and had heard her pronounce a curse on the thief. It seems to be his fear of the curse that prompted him to confess. In response, his mother pronounces a blessing on him, and then dedicates a portion of the money “to the
LORD”
for her son’s benefit. She then commissions a silversmith to make an idol. A shrine for the idol is made in Micah’s house. Micah then creates a collection of idols, including an ephod, and hires one of his sons as a priest.

There was a young Levite who had been living temporarily in Bethlehem, among the people of Judah. I get the impression that he was unemployed. (With the spiritual collapse of the nation, what would a priest do? He would be like an undertaker in a world that had no death.) The young Levite moved on in search of another place to live, ending up in the hill country of Ephraim. There, he came upon the house of Micah, who quickly offered him employment as his personal priest (What better than to have a Levite as your priest?). It was an offer the young Levite could not refuse. Micah was now assured, in his mind, that God would bless him:

Micah said, “Now I know God will make me rich, because I have this Levite as my priest” (Judges 17:13).

The Danite tribe was looking for a place to settle, and so they sent out five men to spy out the land. In their journey, they came across the house of Micah, where they spent the night. When they heard the young priest speaking, they recognized his accent and knew he was not from this part of the country. He told them how Micah had employed him as his personal priest. Learning that he was a priest, they requested that he seek divine revelation concerning their quest for a dwelling place. The young priest assured them of success (What priest for hire doesn’t do this?), and they went their way.

When these spies returned home, they had good news about Laish, a peaceful place of abundance that was remote and defenseless. The Danites then made their way toward Laish, stopping at the home of Micah on their way. As they approached Micah’s house, the five spies informed the others about the idols and ephod, and the young Levite priest. If they were about to steal Laish, surely they might as well steal Micah’s idols too (Was the ephod not the instrument by which they learned of their success?). They engaged the young priest in conversation while they stole the idols. When the priest realized what they were doing, he challenged them, but was quickly silenced. Besides, they offered him a better job, serving with these same idols as their priest. It was a chance for a promotion, and he quickly accepted the offer. Micah, who had been like a father to the young priest (17:11), protested, but he was completely outnumbered and gave up. The Danites, accompanied by the young Levite priest, then went on to Laish, destroying the city and possessing this place for themselves. There, they worshiped Micah’s carved image, even though Israel’s proper place of worship was Shiloh (18:31).

The story of the Levite is a window into the moral and religious character of the nation Israel and of its spiritual leaders. This priest was not engaged in his official duties, probably because the nation had ceased to worship God according to the Law. Instead, “every man was doing what was right in his own eyes.” Being unemployed, this Levite seemed not to care what “god” he served, so long as the pay was right. And if a better offer came along, as it did, then he would forsake his previous commitments and do what was best for him, in his own eyes. Israel’s spiritual leadership is rotten to the core.

A Look at a Second Levite
Judges 19-21

For the third time in this epilogue, we read the words:

In those days Israel had no king… . (Judges 19:1a, emphasis mine).

The story of a second Levite is then told. This fellow was living temporarily in the hill country of Ephraim. He, too, seems to be unemployed or displaced. He is not at Israel’s legitimate place of worship – Shiloh (see 18:31). He had acquired a concubine from Bethlehem, but she was displeased with him and ran home to her father in Bethlehem. The Levite pursued her, hoping to convince her to return with him. When he reached her father’s home, he was warmly welcomed, and his mission proved successful. She was willing to return home with him. They would have left sooner, except for her father’s hospitality. Day after day, he persuaded his son-in-law to stay just a little longer, and his hospitality made it well worth the stay.

Finally, the Levite and his concubine were able to tear themselves away from this woman’s father and set out for home. They did not get away until late in the day, and darkness was threatening to close in on them while they were still on their journey. As they approached Jebus (Jerusalem), the Levite’s servant wanted to spend the night there. Since this was not an Israelite town at the moment, the Levite wanted to press on till they were in Israelite territory. And so on they went until they arrived at Gibeah, a town in Benjamite territory just a few miles further. They arrived at Gibeah in the darkness and came into the town square, where they expected to be greeted and invited to stay at one of the Benjamite homes. Finally, an elderly fellow passed by who was returning from the fields. He was not a Benjamite; his home was in the hill country of Ephraim, but he was living temporarily in Gibeah. When he saw the traveler, he engaged him in conversation. The Levite explained that he had plenty of supplies; he only needed a roof over his head for the night. The old man invited him to his house for the night, insisting that he provide food for him. They had just finished eating when the men of the city came to the door and insisted that the old man send out the Levite, so that they could sexually assault him. It was Sodom relived (compare Genesis 19:1-13).

The old man offered his virgin daughter to the mob, along with the Levite’s concubine. The men of the city refused this offer, but the Levite seized his concubine and forced her outside, where the men of the city abused her all night. In the morning, the Levite was ready to set out on his way. When he opened the door, he found his concubine lying on the ground, her hands on the threshold. Without a note of compassion, the Levite ordered his concubine to get up so they could leave. He did not yet realize that she was dead. When he did, he loaded her body on his donkey and took her home, where he cut her body into 12 pieces, sending a piece and a message to each tribe of Israel. It was obviously a shocking message:

Everyone who saw the sight said, “Nothing like this has happened or been witnessed during the entire time since the Israelites left the land of Egypt. Take careful note of it! Discuss it and speak!” (Judges 19:30)

The Benjamites refused to deal with their wayward brothers in Gibeah, and thus the rest of the Israelites found it necessary to go to war with the entire tribe. At the Lord’s instruction, Judah led the charge against the 26,000 Benjamite warriors. The Benjamites managed to kill 22,000 Israelites the first day of battle. The Israelites wept before the Lord because of their loss and questioned whether they should continue their attack. The Lord instructed them to attack, but the Gibeonites killed 18,000 Israelites that day. The whole Israelite army went up to Bethel where they fasted and wept before the Lord. They offered sacrifices to the Lord and inquired once again if they should continue to attack. The Lord instructed them to attack once again, but this time He assured them of victory (20:28). The Israelites set an ambush and then feigned defeat,153 so that the Benjamites pressed their attack, leaving the safety of the city. The retreating forces then turned around and went on the attack. The battle was fierce, but when the day was over 25,100 Benjamite warriors had been slain in battle. The Benjamite army was decimated. Only 600 soldiers survived and fled to the wilderness. The Israelites then completely destroyed the Benjamite cities, just as they had annihilated the Canaanites (20:48).

The Israelites also took an oath that day not to allow any of their daughters to marry one of the Benjamite men (21:1). It was not long before the magnitude of this tragedy began to sink in and the Israelites regretted the fact that one of their tribes was almost complete wiped out. The next day the Israelites offered up sacrifices to the Lord, and then sought to find some way to save this tribe from extinction. They inquired as to who had not gone to war against the Benjamites, and who thus had not sworn to keep their daughters from marrying a Benjamite man. In short, the Israelites repented of their zeal in dealing with the wickedness of the Benjamites.

The people of Jabesh Gilead had not gathered to fight with their fellow-Israelites against the Benjamites (21:8-9). Consequently, 12,000 Israelite warriors were sent to exterminate the men, women, and children of Jabesh Gilead for not participating in the conflict with the Benjamites. Any virgin women were to be left alive, as wives for the surviving Benjamites. Four hundred young women were spared, and they were taken to Shiloh. Messengers were sent to the 600 surviving Benjamites to assure them that they would not be harmed. The 400 young women were given to them as wives. They also devised a scheme to put on a festival at Shiloh, so that the Benjamites would be given the opportunity to kidnap some of the young women of Shiloh and make them their wives (21:19-24). In some ways, it is a fitting end to this record of such a tragic period in Israel’s history. In the end, the Israelites are no better than the Canaanites whom they were to dispossess.

Conclusion

Time will not permit an extensive effort to show all of the practical ramifications and applications of this incredible book. I will, however, make some general comments and suggest some crucial themes for further thought and study.

First, we should recognize the unique contribution of the Book of Judges to the canon of Scripture. Here is a book that describes a tragic period in Israel’s history, a transitional period between the possession of the land under Joshua’s leadership and the institution of the monarchy in 1 Samuel 8 and following. The repetition of the phrase, “There was no king in Israel…” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25), implies that if Israel only had a king, things might be different. Israel enjoyed peace only during the lifetime of their judge or deliverer. If there were a king, with sons to succeed him, then there should be no lack of a leader. Perhaps this was the key to peace. Of course we shall learn otherwise, but the Book of Judges does help prepare the reader to welcome a king. Without a king, Israel did very poorly in the days of the judges.

Second, I find it necessary to emphasize the fact that the Book of Judges is not the place to find men and women whose example we should follow. As a general rule, Israel’s deliverers are not people that we should seek to imitate. Samson is neither a model son nor a model leader. He is most certainly not a model for “How to Find a Godly Wife.” We are not encouraged to follow Gideon’s example and to constantly seek for signs. While I have great respect for Deborah, I would recommend that you exercise great caution if you seek to use the story of Deborah and Barak as a proof text for women asserting themselves as leaders in place of men. It is clear in this book that Deborah’s leadership role (which I do not deny, and whose character I admire and respect) in Judges is meant as a rebuke to those men who failed to lead. I would also point out that Deborah refused to lead the army, and in the end, it was the men who assumed leadership.

There are several themes that prevail in the Book of Judges. Let me mention a few of these and make some suggestions for further consideration.

UNITY. I find in the Book of Judges that the longer the Israelites dwell among the Canaanites, the more intimate their association with the Canaanites becomes. The Israelites become more and more like the Canaanites and more and more united with them. They began to intermarry with the Canaanites, and they embraced their idol worship. In certain ways (as in the perversion of the Gibeonites – chapter 19), they even surpass the Canaanites in impurity. I am reminded of the words of Paul to the Corinthians regarding the sins that are found in the Corinthian church:

1 It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you? (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)

The unity of the Israelite forces, under Joshua’s leadership, quickly disintegrates in the Book of Judges. While the Israelites pursue unity with the Canaanites (e.g., Heber’s154 treaty with King Jabin), their unity with one another dissolves. At the beginning of the book, Judah teams up with Simeon, and they are victorious (1:3). When we come to Deborah and Barak, and the song of victory (Judges 5), we see certain tribes honored for joining in the battle and others rebuked for not doing so (5:14-18, 23). When Gideon fights the Midianites, the Ephraimites complain that they were excluded (8:1). The Israelites of Succoth (8:5-7) and Penuel (8:8-9) refused to provide Gideon’s men with food and water. In chapter 9, Abimelech kills his brothers, and in chapter 12, the Israelites under Jephthah’s leadership must fight with the Ephraimites. Finally, the entire nation of Israel is compelled to go to war with the tribe of Benjamin.

DISREGARD FOR THE WORD OF GOD. This is a period of time when men disregard and disobey the Word of God. To “do what is right in their own eyes” is synonymous with disregarding God’s law:

1 These are the statutes and commandments that you must be careful to obey in the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you to possess for as long as you live in the land. 2 You must by all means destroy all the places there where the nations you are about to dispossess worship their gods—on the high mountains and hills and under every leafy tree. 3 You must tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars to pieces, burn up their sacred Asherah poles, and hack up the images of their gods; you must eliminate their very memory from that place. 4 You must not worship the Lord your God they way they worship. 5 But you must seek only the place that he has chosen to establish his name, his place of residence, and you must go there. 6 And there you must take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the personal offerings you have prepared, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 Both you and your children must feast there before the Lord your God and rejoice in all the output of your labor with which he has blessed you. 8 You must not do like we are doing here today, with everyone doing what seems best to him” (Deuteronomy 12:1-8, emphasis mine).

The men of Gideon’s city are about to execute him for obeying God, while they seek to protect and preserve the worship of Baal.

The spirit of that age was a spirit of personal autonomy and a strong rebellion against God’s laws. It is almost frightening to realize how much like the people of that day our culture has become. For example, it is now the cherished “right” of a woman to be sovereign over her body. This applies to her sexual conduct (as it does to men – homosexual or heterosexual). This also applies to the killing of her unborn child. The Roe v. Wade ruling of the Supreme Court was based upon the principle of privacy, which I would prefer to call the principle of personal autonomy. “There is no authority (of law) in our day, and every man and woman does what is right in their own eyes, including the killing of their innocent, unborn children.”

VIOLENCE. This book is filled with violence of all kinds. I don’t doubt that some parents would be uneasy about their young children reading some portions of the Book of Judges. Perhaps the most ugly violence in the book is found in chapter 19, where the Levite throws his concubine out to the men of the city of Gibeah to be gang raped, and then he hacks up her dead body and sends it to his fellow Israelites. Does this not seem almost inconceivable? And yet this happens virtually every day in our nation, with very little protest. It is called “partial birth abortion.” The body of a living child is dismembered in the womb and extracted in pieces. I ask you, my friend, are we any better than the Israelites of old, at their worst? I think not. Does this not serve to warn us that the time for divine judgment is near?

LEADERSHIP. The theme of leadership seems to pervade this book. There seems to be a persistent deterioration of Israel’s leaders in Judges, from reasonably good leaders like Othniel, Ehud, Deborah and Barak to men like Jephthah and Samson (not to mention the two Levites at the end of the book). Bad leadership corrupts the nation (as Gideon did when he caused Israel to worship his ephod). Good leadership encourages men to do what is right before God (e.g., Joshua).

I think it is also legitimate to infer that God gave Israel the kind of leaders they deserved. Samson was a man who very closely paralleled the attitudes and conduct of the nation Israel. They, like Samson, were dominated by their fleshly appetites and not by their desire to trust and obey God.

We may not like to admit it, but I believe the Book of Judges informs us (as we find elsewhere) that God is not restricted to “good leaders” in order to achieve His purposes. God used hard-hearted Pharaoh (Romans 9:17) just as He used Moses. God is not restricted to using only pious, godly people. It is certainly to our advantage to live godly lives, but God can use ungodly people to accomplish His purposes, too. Believe it or not, God used Jephthah, Samson, and other undesirable characters to bring about His purposes.

THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE BOOK OF JUDGES. One of my friends, Hampton Keathley IV, has written an excellent article on the subject of the “Role of Women in the Book of Judges.”155 I would highly recommend it to the reader. The Canaanites certainly were a corrupt culture, and this manifested itself in their attitudes and actions toward women. But when we come to the Book of Judges, we find that a decadent nation like Israel was as bad or worse. A father makes a vow that requires him to sacrifice his daughter (Jephthah). A Benjamite casts his concubine “to the wolves” of Gibeah, to save himself, and then gruffly summons her to get up from the ground. When he discovers that she is dead, he cuts her into pieces. Women seem to have more power in the Book of Judges. Deborah and Jael are rightly honored. A woman throws a millstone down upon the head of Abimelech, killing him (9:53). And women seduce Samson and coax him to tell his innermost secrets. But while women seem to have more power, they certainly lack honor (except for the few exceptions). This period of time was not one in which women were cherished and honored. They were used and abused. A society may well be judged by its treatment of women, and if so, the period of the judges and our own day will be found wanting.

May God grant that we learn those lessons from the Book of Judges that the Israelites of long ago did not learn.


147 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on February 25, 2001.

148 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

149 Sorry for the pun. I couldn’t resist.

150 I confess this is speculative, but it would help to explain how the next events took place.

151 Albert H. Baylis, From Creation to the Cross: Understanding the First Half of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), p. 175. I must also say to the reader that I was not familiar with this book or its author until after I had entitled this series, “From Creation to the Cross.” I apologize for any confusion I have created by using the same title.

152 I think Samson did deliver Israel.

153 Much as they did at Ai; see Joshua 8.

154 Strictly speaking, Heber may not be a Jew, biologically, but his ancestor was the father-in-law of Moses, who did join himself to Israel (Judges 1:16).

155 /docs/ot/books/jud/women.htm

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16. A Light in Dark Days (Ruth)

The Book of Ruth156

Introduction

Several years ago, I found myself in the middle of a theological dispute regarding tithing. A church many miles away was seeking to discern just how much its leaders should be required to tithe. Should a leader be required to tithe? How much? Should the tithe be of his “net” or “gross” income? When invited to give my opinion, I jumped right into the debate, fully convinced that I had the biblical answer. I thought I did have the right answer from a technical point of view, but then my attention was directed to the Book of Ruth. After considering the message of this great little book, and especially the example of Boaz, I realized that my whole approach to this debate was fundamentally flawed. I had to write one of the men with whom I had been communicating and tell him about my change of heart and mind.

Ruth is a most amazing book. It is a mere four chapters in length, but it tells a most heart-warming story about a Jewish widow, her Gentile daughter-in-law, and an older Jewish gentleman with a very big heart. Short though it may be, this is a very important story. It had implications for the Jews of old, and it continues to have a great deal to say to saints today as well. We should listen well to this book, asking the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds to its message for us.

The story of Ruth takes place during the dark days of the judges (1:1). The Book of Judges is a most disturbing book, for it describes the days when Israel had no king, and when men and women acted autonomously – they “did what was right in their own eyes.” They did not live according to the law, but according to their own impulses and inclinations. We read of an on-going cycle of sin, divine judgment, petitioning God for help, divine deliverance, and then a return to even greater sin. We read of weak men and strong women, of a Levite priest for hire to the highest bidder, and another who cuts his concubine into 12 pieces, which he sends to the tribes of Israel. In this dark hour in Israel’s history, there lived a Jewish widow, a Gentile woman named Ruth, and a gracious and godly Jew named Boaz. They have much to teach us.

Before we go any farther, I must say a word about the Moabites. Ruth, the heroine of our story, is a Moabite woman. The Moabites were the race that resulted from the union of Lot and his oldest daughter, as described in Genesis 19:30-38. The Moabites were not Canaanites. While the Moabites were forbidden from entering into the assembly of the Lord to the tenth generation (Deuteronomy 23:3), the Israelites were not commanded to annihilate them, and they were not forbidden to marry them (Deuteronomy 20:10-15; 21:10-14; contrast 7:1-6; 20:16-20). You will recall that when David was being pursued by Saul, he took his parents to the king of Moab for protection (1 Samuel 22:3). At least some of the Moabites were David’s relatives.

My approach in this lesson will be to give a brief overview of the story of the Book of Ruth, and then to consider each of the three main characters. Finally, we shall seek to find the contribution of this book to the Bible, and explore its relevance and application to men and women today.

The Story of the Book of Ruth

The Book of Ruth begins with a famine in the land of Israel. This famine prompted Elimelech to leave Israel with his family and to sojourn temporarily in Moab. Elimelech seems to have died relatively soon after they came to Moab. Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, had two sons. Each son married a Moabite woman, and eventually, both sons died without having any children.

Naomi was left with only her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. She heard that God had visited His people and that there was once again grain in Israel. Naomi purposed to return, but she urged her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab. She managed to persuade Orpah to return to her parents, but Ruth was determined to remain with Naomi, no matter what. She would not be persuaded otherwise, and so Naomi, along with Ruth, returned to Israel.

When they arrived in Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem, the people immediately recognized her and were excited that she had returned. Naomi was quick to tell them her woes, blaming her troubles on God, who seemed to have it out for her, or so she implied (1:20-22).

Ruth immediately set out to provide for Naomi’s needs. She began to glean in the nearby field of a man who “just happened” to be a near relative of Elimelech (2:3). Ruth quickly caught the eye of those laboring in the field because she worked diligently, hardly stopping to rest (2:7). Boaz noticed her as well and made sure that Ruth was protected and provided with grain to glean as she sought to care for her mother-in-law.

Naomi realized that Boaz was showing great kindness to Ruth, and so she acted as a matchmaker, seeking to arrange the marriage of Ruth and Boaz. Naomi devised a plan whereby Ruth could indicate her need for a husband and her desire to marry Boaz. The plan worked, and Boaz indicated that he would be delighted to marry Ruth, except that he was not the nearest kin. Boaz met with the nearest relative in the city gate, giving him the opportunity to purchase Elimelech’s land, and to acquire Ruth as a wife. The nearest kin was willing to purchase Elimelech’s land but did not want Ruth’s hand in marriage, and so Boaz acquired both the land and Ruth. They married, and the child Ruth bore to Boaz was named Obed. Obed was the grandfather of David.

The Three Main Characters of the Book of Ruth

Naomi

I might as well confess to my readers that Naomi is not one of my favorite Bible characters. She is certainly not a heroine, like Ruth. I think of her as a kind of blend of Jacob, Job, Jonah, and Esther. Naomi could easily have merited the title as one of the “Bad Girls of the Bible.” I fear that many Christians have been misled by some of the popular propaganda that seeks to “sanctify” Naomi. Let me point out some of my concerns about Naomi.

In chapter 1, we are told that Naomi’s husband died, leaving Naomi and her two sons alone (1:3). I get the impression that Elimelech died fairly soon after they arrived in Moab. The boys seem to marry later on, after the death of their father. We are told that they married Moabite wives. I have concluded that they married after their father’s death, and at a time when Naomi would have functioned as the head of the family. Naomi either orchestrated these marriages to Moabite women, or she passively permitted and accepted them. Naomi and her sons lived in Moab about ten years (Ruth 1:4). In all this time, Naomi apparently made no effort to return to the land of Israel even though her husband’s intent was to merely sojourn in Moab until the famine ended.

When Naomi does finally decide to return to Israel, it is because she has heard that God has once again provided grain for His people. No mention is made that this famine was God’s discipline for Israel’s sin and idolatry. There is no apparent sense that leaving Israel was to leave the special place of God’s presence and blessing. There is no apparent eagerness to return to Israel. The only stated reason for Naomi’s return is that the land is now producing grain. Her reasons for returning to the land seem more pragmatic than noble.

What is distressing is that Naomi insists that her daughters remain in Moab, and that they find husbands there. Worse yet is the clear inference that they should stay in Moab as Moabites, worshipping the god(s) of Moab:

Then Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law has returned to her people and to her god. Follow your sister-in-law back home!” (Ruth 1:15)157

One cannot know what Naomi’s motives were here, but if she understood the evils of idolatry, she would realize that urging her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab and worship Moabite gods was damning.

Finally in chapter 1 Naomi blames God for her suffering:

“Would you wait until they were grown? Would you remain unmarried all that time? No, my daughters, you must not come with me. For you should not have to experience my intense suffering. After all, the Lord has attacked me” (1:13, emphasis mine).

20 Naomi replied to them, “Don’t call me ‘Naomi’! Call me ‘Mara’ because the Sovereign One has treated me very harshly. 21 I left here full, but the Lord has caused me to return empty-handed. Why do you call me ‘Naomi,’ seeing that the Lord has opposed me and the Sovereign One has made me suffer?” (1:20-21, emphasis mine).

When Naomi returns to her hometown of Bethlehem, she is immediately recognized and joyfully welcomed back home. There is a mood of joyful celebration, but Naomi quickly “rains on their parade.” Naomi confesses no sin. She speaks of God as One who is all-powerful, but also One who is cruel and capricious. God is the source of her suffering, which has nothing to do with her sin, or with the sins of her people.

In chapter 2, we see Ruth working hard to provide for her mother-in-law and for herself, but we do not read of Naomi going out into the fields to glean. One has the impression that Elimelech and Naomi were fairly well to do before the famine (they “went out full” – 1:21). Did Naomi not work because she was elderly in infirmed? Perhaps. But is it not also possible that she did not do as Ruth did because she felt this was beneath her, because she was too proud? Many times in Taiwan and elsewhere I have marveled at how hard the elderly work to help support their families.

In chapter 3, Naomi’s actions raise a number of concerns. Naomi takes it upon herself to see to it that Ruth has a husband and a home. In and of itself, this doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. But her method of bringing this to pass is questionable, at best. First, while some have sought to show that the method Naomi proposed was a familiar custom of that day, I don’t believe this is the case at all. Consider the words of Leon Morris:

“We have very little knowledge of the customs prevalent in Israel in antiquity and the arrangements for marriage here outlined are not elsewhere attested.”158

“The context makes it clear that this describes a way whereby Ruth signified to Boaz her desire to marry him. Ordinary methods of approach were no doubt difficult and this provided a suitable medium. But why it should be done in this way we do not know. Nor do we know whether this was a widely practiced custom or not. It is not attested other than here.”159

Second, Boaz was not the nearest kin to Elimelech. I doubt very much that Ruth knew this until Boaz informed her of the fact (3:12); but surely Naomi knew. Why, then, did Naomi seek to arrange Ruth’s marriage to Boaz, rather than the nearest kin?

Third, it seems unusual that Ruth would have to be the one proposing marriage. Why didn’t Naomi ask Boaz if he would take Ruth as his wife?

Fourth, Naomi chose a time, place, and method of approach that appealed to sensual desires, rather than to a reasoned commitment. Naomi instructed Ruth to go to Boaz while they were threshing, a joyous time of celebration. It was at a similar occasion that Judah had a liaison with a woman that he thought was a cult prostitute, but who turned out to be his daughter-in-law (Genesis 38:11-30). Naomi told Ruth to go to Boaz at night, after he had eaten and drunk – in other words, to come to him after he had drunk enough for his “heart to become merry.”

“Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking” (Ruth 3:3, NIV, emphasis mine).

When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down (Ruth 3:7, NIV, emphasis mine).

Someone might suppose that I am reading too much between the lines. Not at all! You can see virtually the same expression (literally, “to have a good heart” – to be merry) in Judges 19:6, 9, where the concubine’s father extends great hospitality to his son-in-law. It is used of Nabal, when he became drunk (1 Samuel 25:36). We find it in 2 Samuel 22:11, 13, where David attempts to get Uriah drunk, so that he will go home and sleep with his wife, thereby coving David’s sin of adultery. Then there is 2 Samuel 13:28 where Absalom instructs his servants to get Amnon drunk and then to kill him. The expression is also found in Esther 1:10 where the king of Persia, in his drunken state, demands that the queen appear before him and his leaders.

Fifth, Naomi intended Ruth’s approach to Boaz to be one that would appeal to him on a physical level:

3 So bathe yourself, rub on some perfumed oil, and get dressed up. Then go down to the threshing floor. But don’t let the man know you’re there until he finishes his meal. 4 When he gets ready to go to sleep, take careful notice of the place where he lies down. Then go, uncover his legs, and lie down beside him. He will tell you what you should do” (Ruth 3:3-4).

Stop and think about this. Boaz has been working hard in the harvest, and it is a time of eating and drinking. His heart is merry, not only because of the festive occasion, but because of the wine he has been drinking. A beautiful young woman comes and lies near him, wearing perfume and her finest dress. Would you not agree that this is far from a platonic setting?

Sixth, Naomi tells Ruth that whatever Boaz tells her to do, she should do it (3:4).

Now if anyone finds my suspicions a bit overreaching, let me point out how Boaz responded. He tells Ruth no one must know that she has been to the threshing floor that night (3:14). If this were a standard method of proposing marriage, then why wouldn’t everyone understand Ruth’s presence and her actions? Why would Ruth’s being there threaten the reputation of Boaz, or of Ruth? No wonder Morris points out the dangers of the approach Naomi proposed:

The narrator uses the utmost delicacy, but it is clear that Naomi’s plan was not without its dangers. The fact that she was prepared to urge this course on Ruth is the measure of her trust in both the participants. All the more is this the case since in the Ancient Near East immoral practices at harvest-times were by no means uncommon, and indeed, appear to have been encouraged by the fertility rites practised by in some regions.160

I must conclude from all these facts that Naomi was seeking to bring about Ruth’s marriage in a provocative and manipulative way, rather than in a principled way. In my opinion, this does not speak well for Naomi.

Ruth

I’m sure that when we read about the “wife of noble character” in Proverbs 31 that we tend to think of a Jewish woman. As I read the Book of Ruth, I think of her as a “wife of noble character,” as a “Proverbs 31 kind of woman.” Ruth is surely a woman of noble character, as we shall see.

In chapter 1, Ruth attaches herself to Naomi, in spite of the fact that her mother-in-law strongly urges her to return home to her parents, her homeland, and her pagan god(s):

15 Then Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law has returned to her people and to her god. Follow your sister-in-law back home!” 16 But Ruth replied, “Stop urging me to abandon you and to leave you! For wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die and I will be buried there. The Lord will punish me severely if I do not keep my promise! Nothing but death will separate you and me” (Ruth 1:15-17).

Naomi is a bitter old woman, who thinks that her God has treated her harshly. She urges Ruth to return to her own land of Moab, to her parents, and to her god. One would think that it would have been very tempting for Ruth to “obey” her mother-in-law and go home. Ruth’s commitment to Naomi is greater than some folks’ commitment to marriage. Indeed, Ruth’s words are sometimes used as marriage vows. By her oath Ruth binds herself to Naomi, to the land of Israel, and to the God of Israel. Her commitment is not short-term, until Naomi’s death. Ruth’s attachment to Israel and Israel’s God is life-long. Ruth tells Naomi that she will remain in Israel after her mother-in-law’s death. In fact, Ruth tells Naomi that she too will be buried with her mother-in-law in Israel. As I understand Ruth’s words, she is expressing her conversion and her lifelong commitment to worship Yahweh, the God of Israel. From these words of Boaz, I believe that he understood Ruth in the same way:

11 … “I have been given a full report of all that you have done for your mother-in-law following the death of your husband—how you left your father, your mother, and your homeland and came to live among people you did not know before. 12 May the Lord reward your efforts! May your wages be paid in full by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to find shelter!” (Ruth 2:11-12, emphasis mine)

In chapter 2, it is Ruth who takes the initiative in seeking to support Naomi by gleaning in the fields. This is not only an evidence of the fact that she was a hard worker; it is also evidence of her faith. What she proposed to do was dangerous. A young, beautiful, single, foreign woman was vulnerable. There were those who would not hesitate to take advantage of her (remember the men of the city of Gibeah in Judges 19). The danger is evident by the way Boaz sought to protect her:

8 So Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen carefully, my daughter. Don’t leave to gather grain in another field. You need not go beyond the limits of this field. You may go along beside my female workers. 9 Take note of the field where the men are harvesting and follow along after the female workers. I will tell the servants to leave you alone. When you get thirsty, you may go to the water jars and drink some of the water the servants draw” (Ruth 2:8-9; see comments of Naomi in 2:22).

Boaz warned Ruth that she should work only in his field, and that she should work only alongside his female workers. In addition, Boaz warned his servants not to bother her; indeed, they were not even to raise their voice to her (2:16). In spite of the risks involved, Ruth was willing to work in the fields, so that she might provide for Naomi and herself.

When Ruth went into the field of Boaz to glean, she worked hard the entire day, hardly stopping to rest. The workers inform Boaz:

“She asked, ‘May I go behind the harvesters and gather grain among the bundles?’ She has stayed here since she arrived. From this morning until right now, she has taken only a brief rest” (2:7).

When she was invited to sit at the table with the Boaz and his servants, she kept some of the roasted grain for her mother-in-law, rather than eating it all herself (2:14, 18).

Although Ruth was an attractive young woman, she did not use her looks in a seductive way, but was humble and unassuming:

10 Ruth knelt before him with her forehead to the ground and said to him, “Why are you so kind to me and so attentive, even though I am a foreigner?” … 13 She said, “You really are being kind to me, my master, for you have reassured me and encouraged your servant, though I could never be equal to one of your servants” (Ruth 2:10, 13).

When we come to chapter 3, we see Ruth obediently following the instructions that Naomi had given her, acting in faith and with modesty and humility. She was no seductress. The response of Boaz is one that focuses on her godly character:

He said, “May you be rewarded by the Lord, my daughter! This latter act of devotion is greater than what you did before. You have not pursued one of the young men, whether poor or rich” (Ruth 3:10).

Overall, Ruth was regarded as a noble and worthy woman:

“Now, my daughter, don’t worry! I intend to do for you everything you propose, for everyone in town knows that you are a worthy woman” (Ruth 3:11, emphasis mine).

14 The women said to Naomi, “May the Lord be praised because he has not left you without a guardian today! May he be famous in Israel! 15 He will encourage you and provide for you when you are old, for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, has given him birth. She is better to you than seven sons!” (Ruth 4:14-15, emphasis mine)

Boaz

Boaz is a most remarkable man. It would seem fairly self-evident that he was an older man (3:10), and that he was a man of considerable means. He was also a man of integrity and great character. There are some who would be inclined to think that Boaz showed favoritism toward Ruth primarily because of her beauty. I strongly disagree. In my opinion, Boaz was kind and gracious to everyone, and not just to Ruth. We can see that there is a mutual respect between Boaz and his workers:

Now Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “May the Lord be with you!” They replied, “May the Lord bless you!” (Ruth 2:4)

When he first takes note of Ruth, Boaz views her not as someone who is “available,” but as someone who is already taken:

Boaz asked his servant, the one in charge of the harvesters, “To whom does this young woman belong?” (Ruth 2:5)

His concern for Ruth is a “fatherly” concern. At least twice (2:8; 3:10) Boaz refers to Ruth as “my daughter,” as opposed to “honey,” “sweet thing,” “dear,” and the like. Boaz recognizes that Ruth is a woman of character, and that she is seeking to provide for Naomi. Consequently, Boaz deals with Ruth generously. He lets her sit at his table and drink the water that was provided for his servants (2:9, 14). He takes extra measures to see to it that no one harms Ruth (2:8-9, 16). He instructs his servants to leave extra grain for her to glean (2:15-16). He delights in her godly character, her faithfulness to Naomi, and in the fact that she has entrusted herself to the God of Israel. He invokes God’s blessings upon her (2:11-12).

The godly character of Boaz is particularly evident in chapters 3 and 4. Boaz acts honorably toward Ruth when he discovers that she is lying near to him, symbolically asking him to marry her. He does not take advantage of her. He tells Ruth that he is not the nearest kinsman, so that he cannot take her as his wife until he has publicly resolved this matter. He protects her honor by sending her away before anyone sees her. In chapter 4, Boaz settles this matter publicly at the city gates. He does not in any way attempt to slant or distort the proceedings, so as to dissuade the nearest kinsman from purchasing Elimelech’s property and taking Ruth as his wife. Everything he does is honest and above board.

Conclusion

What a wonderful, heart-warming story the Book of Ruth is. It is not just a romantic story, however; it is a story with lessons for Israel and for us. As we conclude, let’s consider the meaning and message of this book.

First, the Book of Ruth provides us with a genealogy of David, one of the most famous Israelite kings of all time. Leon Morris writes:

It is an interesting fact that though David is the greatest king spoken of in the historical books, and though he is looked on by subsequent generations as the ideal king, there is no genealogy of him in I Samuel. There he is simply ‘the son of Jesse’. The book of Ruth closes with a genealogy running back to Pharez, the son of Judah. It is suggested that the book was written to supply the missing genealogy.161

Second, we see that no matter how dark the days may be, God always preserves a righteous remnant. Some years later, Elijah only thought “he alone was left” (1 Kings 19:10, 14). The fact was that God had preserved 7,000 who had not “bowed the knee to Baal” (1 Kings 19:18). It is in times of great darkness that the “light” of the gospel shines most brightly through the lives and testimonies of the saints:

You must actively help the hungry
and feed the oppressed.
Then your light will dispel the darkness,
and your darkness will be transformed into noonday (Isaiah 58:10).

The night has advanced toward dawn; the day is near. So then we must lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light (Romans 13:12).

For you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light (Ephesians 5:8).

14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world 16 by holding on to the word of life so that on the day of Christ I will have a reason to boast that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain (Philippians 2:15-16).

Third, we are reminded by our text that our actions can impact future generations. The godly lives of Ruth and Boaz not only were a blessing to Naomi, they were a blessing to all subsequent generations. The child born to Ruth and Boaz would become the grandfather of King David (Ruth 4:18-22). Little do we realize how much our decisions and actions may impact those who come after us.

Fourth, Boaz is a wonderful illustration of “true religion.”

9 “‘When you gather in the harvest of your land, you must not completely harvest the corner of your field, and you must not gather up the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You must not pick your vineyard bare, and you must not gather up the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You must leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God’” (Leviticus 19:9-10).

17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God and awesome warrior who is unbiased and takes no bribe, 18 who acts justly toward orphan and widow, and who loves resident foreigners, giving them food and clothing. 19 You, therefore, love the resident foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:17-19).

Whenever you reap your harvest in the field and leave some unraked grain there, you must not return to get it; it should go to the resident foreigner, orphan, and widow so that the Lord your God may bless every work you do (Deuteronomy 24:19).

Learn to do what is right!
Promote justice!
Give the oppressed reason to celebrate!

Take up the cause of the orphan!
Defend the rights of the widow! (Isaiah 1:17)

He has told you, O man, what is proper,
and what the Lord really wants from you:
He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful,
and to live obediently before your God (Micah 6:8).

What a remarkable man Boaz is. The Law of Moses required him to leave the corners of his field uncut, and not to pick up any bundles of grain that fell by the wayside. Boaz instructed his servants to deliberately leave grain behind for Ruth to find. Boaz also provided Ruth with water and food. He treated her as one of his employees. He sought to protect her from those who would harm or abuse her. Boaz was not a brother to Ruth’s deceased husband, and thus as I see it, he was not legally obligated to take Ruth as his wife. Nevertheless, he did so, going the extra mile in almost every instance to care for Naomi, and for Ruth.

My point in all of this is that Boaz did not look at the law as a requirement that he must begrudgingly meet, somewhat the way we look at paying our income taxes (we don’t intend to give the government one penny more than the law requires). Boaz looked upon the law as the minimum standard. He looked upon even greater compassion and generosity as his privilege, and his pleasure. Here was a man who truly loved God’s law, and who lived his life in a spirit that delighted in serving God and others.

Fifth, the Book of Ruth is an excellent commentary on Christian charity. What a contrast the charity of Boaz is to the welfare of our own day. All too often, welfare programs actually discourage (or even penalize) hard work. Welfare programs also degrade people, rather than to provide them with an honorable means of providing for their own needs and the needs of their families. Ruth was not just given a handout; she was given the opportunity to work, and she gladly seized the opportunity. Her hard work earned her the respect of the entire community. That is the kind of charity we should strive to practice in our own time.

The question that I am personally wrestling with is this: “In this technological age, what constitutes the ‘corner of my fields’?” I am not a farmer, and neither are most of you. How, then, do we practice the principle of charity in a way that provides for the needs of the poor, yet in a way that maintains (and even promotes) their dignity? This is a real challenge, and the answer for each of us may be a little different. I realize that not everyone is capable of working, but these are the minority. For those who are able to work, we should facilitate their doing so. There are no quick and easy answers here, but the principles are clear, and I believe that the answers are there for those who would sincerely seek them.

Sixth, the Book of Ruth provides us with tremendous insight into the role of the Gentiles in God’s “unfolding drama of redemption.” Boaz was perceptive enough to realize that a Gentile woman who embraced the God of Israel by faith could enter into the blessings of the Jews. This is implied in the blessing he pronounced on Ruth in 2:11-12. It was for this reason that Boaz had no reservations about marrying Ruth and bearing children with her. Thanks to the insight and maturity of Boaz, the elevation of a Gentile saint is grasped, in some measure, by the people of the city:

11 All the people who were at the gate and the elders replied, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is entering your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the house of Israel! Then you will accomplish great things in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 May your family, the descendants the Lord gives you through this young woman, be like the family of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah!” (Ruth 4:11-12, emphasis mine)

It took me a while to see this, but it is really quite obvious once you see it. In blessing Ruth, the people of Bethlehem referred to three women, all of whom were “foreigners” from an Israelite’s point of view. Rachel and Leah were relatives, but in order to obtain these women as his wives, Jacob had to leave Canaan and go to Paddan Aram, where he acquired Leah and her younger sister Rachel. Judah unknowingly fulfilled the duties of a levirate marriage when he had sexual relations with Tamar, his daughter-in-law (Genesis 38). The people of Bethlehem realized that God had blessed Israel through these “foreign” women, and thus it was not so difficult for them to believe that God would bless Israel through Ruth. And this God did, in a way that surpassed their wildest imaginations. Ruth would become the great grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:18-22).

We have now seen God “integrate” a number of Gentiles into the line of the promised “Messiah.” First of all, we saw Rahab embraced by Israel, because of her faith (Joshua 2:1ff.; 6:17-25). Indeed, Rahab was the wife of Salmon, and the mother of Boaz. Is this part of the reason why Boaz could so easily embrace Ruth as a member of the household of faith? If his mother were a Gentile, why not his wife as well? Besides Rahab and Ruth, there was also Tamar, Leah, and Rachel. God did not exclude Gentiles from His plan of redemption, but “integrated” them with the Jews as a part of His plan.

Seventh, Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz each symbolize a particular person or group. Naomi personifies Israel in a less than flattering way. She portrays an attitude of entitlement, and she is bitter toward God for not pouring out His blessings on her. She does not seem to grasp God’s grace, and she certainly does not acknowledge any sin on her part. She seems oblivious to the wickedness of that period of time, and to the fact of God’s judgment. She left Israel with her husband, but did not return until years later, after her sons had married Moabite wives. Her reason for returning to Israel was that there was food there once again. Naomi had little regard for the spiritual well being of her daughters-in-law. She attempted to send them back to their families and to their heathen religion. In this regard, she seems to manifest some of Jonah’s spirit. She is also somewhat manipulative, as can be seen in the way she attempted to bring about Ruth’s marriage to Boaz. In this way, she seems to have some of Jacob in her blood. Even if my assessment of Naomi is unduly harsh, there is little to say in her favor. It was in spite of her failures and bitterness that God graciously poured out his blessings on her, and to a great degree, through a Gentile. Does Paul not speak of the salvation of the Gentiles as a part of God’s plan to save the Jews (see Romans 11:11-32)?

Ruth is a picture of those believing Gentiles that God grafts into the “vine” of His covenant blessings (John 10:16; Romans 11:17ff.). She makes no claim to these blessings, as though she deserved of them, but humbly accepts them as a manifestation of God’s grace. She is an example of one who is a true Israelite, not by virtue of her ancestry, but by virtue of her faith:

26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29; see also 3:7; 6:16; Romans 9:6; Philippians 3:3).

As God united Ruth (a Gentile) and Boaz (a Jew) in marriage, so God has united Jews and Gentiles in Christ:

11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh—who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed in the body by hands—12 that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, the one who turned both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, in his flesh, 15 when he nullified the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, 16 and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and non-citizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22).

Boaz is a picture of God, and more particularly of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is he who, like Christ, welcomed Gentiles into the family of faith (see, for example, Luke 4:16-30, especially verses 23-27). He is the kinsman redeemer, who “saves” Naomi and Ruth in their time of need. As Boaz became “one flesh” with Ruth, continuing the line of the promised Messiah, so our Lord Jesus took on human flesh, becoming one with us in our humanity, so that we might become one with Him by faith, and thus be saved. Boaz set aside his own self-interest (unlike the nearest kin), so that he might be a blessing to those in need.

Eighth, Ruth and Boaz exemplify the kind of loyal love that we should show toward the unlovely. I have made it quite clear that I view Naomi as a bitter old woman, who finds God to blame for her difficulties in life. This is not the kind of person that you or I would care to be around. The cheerful comments of Naomi’s friends and neighbors are “put down” by Naomi’s very negative response (1:19-21). If I were Ruth, I would have been tempted to obey her instructions to leave her and go to my own family. But Ruth persevered, not because Naomi was so lovely (as her name would normally suggest) or loveable, but because of her love for the unlovely. Ruth’s love for Naomi was not in response to Naomi’s loveliness, but in spite of her bitterness. Her love was prompted by Naomi’s need.

Ruth’s endurance and persistence is absolutely amazing, not only in her time, but in ours. How many husbands and wives have parted ways because of some irritation with their mate? Ruth had no legal obligation to Naomi, only the obligation of love. Because Ruth remained loyal and faithful to her mother-in-law, she was greatly admired and greatly rewarded by God.

I wonder if you, my reader friend, have been considering parting ways when you should be persevering? Who is your Naomi? It may be a friend, or a relative (a mother-in-law?), or even your spouse. What does the Book of Ruth have to say to you about persevering? I think it rebukes us for our selfish attitudes and our lack of servanthood and commitment to those around us. Let us learn to endure in our relations with others, just as God has persisted in His faithfulness to us, even when we are faithless (see 2 Timothy 2:13).

Ninth, we see that Naomi’s sins did not keep Ruth from trusting in the God of Israel. I know that many people have excused their unbelief by pointing to a professing Christian and accusing them of hypocrisy. Naomi was an example of an Israelite at their worst, but there were others, like Boaz, who were wonderful saints. None of us will be excused for being Naomi’s, but no unbeliever will be spared the eternal wrath of God because some saints were hypocrites. Naomi’s failures did not keep Ruth from faith. Don’t let a hypocrite become your excuse for going to hell. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s only provision for your eternal salvation. His sinless life, sacrificial death, and supernatural resurrection are God’s provision for your salvation. Lesson 19 — Israel Gets A King162


156 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on March 4, 2001.

157 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

158 Arthur E. Cundall, Judges, and Leon Morris, Ruth (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973 [reprint]), p. 284.

159 IBID, p. 287

160 Leon Morris, Ruth, p. 287.

161 Leon Morris, Ruth: An Introduction and Commentary; Judges Ruth (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973 [reprint]), p. 241.

162 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on March 11, 2001.

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17. Israel Gets A King (1 Samuel 1:1-16:23)

1 Samuel 1:1–16:23163

Introduction

Years ago, our family went to an amusement park, along with another family from church. It was a beautiful day, and so many other families had chosen to do likewise. There were lines waiting for the “good” rides. After spending several hours at this, I turned to our friends and said, “You know, this is an excellent illustration of sin – the ride is short, and the price is high!” I have since thought of another dimension: “If the ride is any good, it will scare you to death.” As we come to the reign of King Saul, I find the above words to be an apt description. The ride was short, and the price was high, and frightening.

When we come to the Book of 1 Samuel, we move from the period of the judges (Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel 1-7) to the monarchy (1 Samuel 8ff.). At Israel’s insistence, they will have a king, and Saul will be the first. The ride will be short, for Israel and for Saul (40 years really isn’t such a long time). His sons will not reign after his death. A new king, David, will reign in his place. The price for Saul is high. He loses his dynasty, his son Jonathan, and his own life. It is also high for Israel, as Samuel will clearly explain (1 Samuel 8:10-18). The ride is also frightening. If the Israelites thought that a king would give them security and uninterrupted peace, they were wrong. Under Saul’s leadership, there were many terrifying moments (see
1 Samuel 13:7; 14:15).

As I have indicated, our text takes us from the period of the judges to the monarchy – the reign of Israel’s kings, beginning with Saul. The structure of our text is very simple. Chapters 1-7 describe the end of the period of the judges. Eli and his sons will be removed from the priesthood and from judging Israel, and they will be replaced by Samuel and his sons. Chapters 8-15 tell the story of how Israel obtained her first king. While Saul will not die until the end of the book, the sins that cost him his kingdom will be documented in chapters 13 and 15. His positive contribution is illustrated by his victory over Nahash and the Ammonites in chapter 11. His weaknesses in character are illustrated in chapters 13-15. His reign is less than ideal, and his final days are nothing short of tragic.

The Book of 1 Samuel describes a number of “turning points,” for individuals like Saul, and for the nation Israel. This book contains some of the most popular and well-loved Bible stories of all time, but it is important that we understand them in the context of God’s “unfolding drama of redemption.” Let us listen carefully, then, to what God says to us through this portion of His inspired Word.

The End of the Era of the Judges
1 Samuel 1-7

Originally Samuel was but one book, not two, and it immediately followed the Book of Judges. This means that the words that immediately precede 1 Samuel would be:

In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right (Judges 21:25).164

In those days, men and women did not live according to the Law of Moses, the revealed Word of God; they lived in accord with their own standards, their own sense of right and wrong – and it was a disaster. Consequently, God was silent for a time:

Now the boy Samuel continued serving the Lord under Eli’s supervision. Word from the Lord was rare in those days; revelatory visions were infrequent (1 Samuel 3:1).

The birth of Samuel, much like the birth of John the Baptist, was a divine initiative whereby God’s silence was broken. Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Hannah was the most beloved wife, but she was childless, and Peninnah took full advantage of this, deeply wounding Hannah’s spirit by flaunting the fact that she could bear children, while Hannah could not. (It is apparent that Peninnah had no grasp of the fact that God had purposely prevented Hannah from conceiving children, up to this point in time – see 1:6, 19-20. ) Although Elkanah sought to comfort his wife, she suffered much.

It was out of the agony of her heart that she cried out to the Lord, petitioning Him for a child. She promised that if God would give her a male child she would dedicate him to the LORD, and that (like Samson – see Judges 13) he would be a Nazarite (1 Samuel 1:11). Eli saw this distraught woman and mistook her demeanor for that of someone who was drunk. When he rebuked her, she quickly explained her circumstances, and in response, Eli blessed her with the assurance that she would have a son. Not long after this, Hannah became pregnant, and when her son, Samuel, was weaned, she took him to the Lord’s house at Shiloh, leaving her son in the care of Eli.

The author then includes this psalm of praise, composed by Hannah:

1 Hannah prayed,
“My heart rejoices in the Lord;
my horn is exalted high because of the Lord.
I loudly denounce my enemies,
for I am happy that you delivered me.
2 No one is holy like the Lord!
There is no one other than you!
There is no rock like our God!
3 Don’t keep speaking so arrogantly,
letting proud talk come out of your mouth.
For the Lord is a God who knows;
he evaluates what people do.
4 The bows of warriors are shattered,
but those who stumble find their strength reinforced.
Those who are well-fed hire themselves out to earn food,
but the hungry no longer lack.
Even the barren woman gives birth to seven,
but the one with lots of children withers away.
6 The Lord both kills and gives life;
he brings down to the grave and raises up.
7 The Lord impoverishes and makes wealthy;
he humbles and exalts.
8 He lifts the weak from the dust;
he raises the poor from the ash heap
to seat them with princes
and to bestow on them an honored position.
The foundations of the earth belong to the Lord,
and he has placed the world on them.
9 He watches over his holy ones,
but the wicked are made speechless in the darkness,
for it is not by one’s own strength that one prevails.
10 The Lord shatters his adversaries;
he thunders against them from the heavens.
The Lord executes judgment to the ends of the earth.
He will strengthen his king
and exalt the power of his anointed one” (1 Samuel 2:1-10).

We cannot attempt to expound this wonderful psalm in a survey like this, but I do wish to make a few observations, which should serve to enhance our appreciation of this psalm of praise, and as a result enhance our own worship.165

First, this is a prayer.

Second, this prayer is poetry, a psalm of praise to God.

Third, it is a divinely-inspired psalm. It has become a part of Scripture, and so we are assured of its divine inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16). As such, we know that God has included it in Scripture for our edification and instruction (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Fourth, this psalm is a psalm of praise and thanksgiving, prompted by God’s answer to Hannah’s prayers for a son.

Fifth, it is a psalm that is God-centered. Unlike Jonah’s “psalm” in Jonah 2:2-9, Hannah does not dwell on her experiences; she dwells upon God, His sovereignty, His power, and His grace. Here is a lesson we could all take to heart in our worship. How much of our testimonies and worship are self-centered?

Sixth, it is a psalm that is quite similar to Mary’s magnificat in Luke 1:46-55. It would certainly seem that Mary’s words were influenced by Hannah’s psalm.

Seventh, this psalm of praise looks beyond Hannah’s personal experience to Israel’s hope and assurance; indeed, it looks forward to the coming of the Messiah (see 2:10).

Hannah was barren, and greatly distressed. Peninnah was Hannah’s enemy, who would harass her constantly about her inability to bear children. God heard Hannah’s prayer, giving her not just one child, but several. From her experience, Hannah could see and rejoice in the sovereignty of God. She could see that God is a God who elevates the humble and the broken, and who humbles the powerful and the proud. What God had done for her, she knew God would do for others. God will humble Israel’s enemies, exalt the weak, and bring judgment and justice. Ultimately this will take place when God raises up his “anointed one,” his Messiah (2:10).

What faith Hannah had, as she penned this psalm. She saw God’s hand in her life, and knew that it was but a sample of God’s work among His people. While the Book of Judges ends with, “In those days Israel had no king” (Judges 21:25a), Hannah’s psalm looks forward to the day when God will send His anointed One to reign. At this time, the truths of her psalm will be totally and permanently fulfilled.

I wonder if Hannah lived long enough to see the reason for her suffering? In her childless days, with Peninnah constantly “rubbing salt in her wounds,” Hannah could only trust that God would somehow cause her circumstances to turn out for good. And so they did, in time. Hannah was so eager for a son that she vowed she would dedicate this boy to God, that she would give him up. It must have been difficult for her to place Samuel into the hands of Eli, knowing how he had failed to deal with his own sons. Little did she know that God had purposed for Samuel to be raised by Eli and to grow up in the house of the Lord, so that he might be Eli’s replacement. It is only as we look back that we can see how God used Hannah’s suffering for her good, and for His glory.

Eli’s sons were exceedingly wicked. They refused to wait and eat the boiled beef that was rightfully theirs, and instead forcibly took the meat before it was cooked, even before the fat was offered to God. Our author sums it all up when he tells us that they “treated the LORD’s offering with contempt” (2:17). Not only did they sin in regard to the offerings, they also sinned by having sexual relations with the young women who worked at the entrance of the tent of meeting (2:22). Samuel verbally chastised his sons, but he never followed through. At the very least Samuel should have dismissed his sons from their duties, and by law he should have stoned them (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

Parents today would do well to consider Eli’s foolishness in raising his sons. There is a time when mere words are not sufficient, and when more aggressive action is required. Some parents are so committed to “reasoning” with their children that they never move beyond mere talk. If words do the job, then words are sufficient. When words fail to accomplish the task, something more than words is required. This most certainly does not justify abuse. Our generation is characterized by children who don’t know the meaning of the word “No,” and who are convinced that if they disobey, their parents will merely throw up their hands and give up. That was Eli’s problem: a little talk and no action.

God’s Word was rare in those days (3:1), and so Eli should have been duly impressed when a “man of God” visited him (2:27ff.). This prophet reminded Eli of how God had appointed his family to serve as His priests forever (2:28, 30). Now, that would come to an abrupt end, due to their sin. It is important to see that God held Eli guilty as an accomplice:

“‘Why are you scorning my sacrifice and my offering that I commanded for my dwelling place? You have honored your sons more than you have me in that you have made yourselves fat from the best parts of all the offerings of my people Israel’” (1 Samuel 2:29).

The man of God makes it clear that Eli actually reaped the fruits of his sons’ sinful behavior. We know that he was a very large man (4:18), and God informs him that he and his sons had “made themselves fat” by eating the meat that they did. Eli knew what he was eating. He knew how that meat was cooked, and how it was obtained. Nevertheless, he partook of it, along with his sons. No wonder he did not take any further action to than merely rebuke them. He enjoyed the fruits of his sons’ sins. The time for judgment on Eli and his sons had come. God would destroy the house of Eli, and his two sons would die on the same day and God would raise up another to take Eli’s place (2:33-35).

It is at this point that we are informed that revelations (like that given by the man of God in chapter 2) were extremely rare (3:1). Suddenly, in these dark days, God once again begins to speak – to, and through, young Samuel. We all know the story about how God calls out to Samuel three times in the night. God confirms the word of the earlier prophet concerning Eli and his sons (3:11-14). Encouraged by Eli to be completely honest, Samuel told Eli everything that God had revealed to him. Eli’s response is not really very encouraging:

So Samuel told him everything. He did not hold back anything from him. Eli said, “The Lord will do what he pleases” (1 Samuel 3:18).

There is a kind of fatalism to Eli’s words that I find distressing. Moses would have interceded, I believe, and not have given up until God either granted his petition or emphatically denied it. Eli just seems to passively accept God’s verdict, without any repentance, and without taking any corrective action.

At least Eli acknowledged that Samuel’s words were a divine revelation. The author informs us that this was not an isolated prophecy on Samuel’s part; it was the first of many other prophecies. Samuel was recognized as a prophet, and rightly so, for God did not allow any of his prophetic utterances to fail. Even before Eli’s death, all Israel came to recognize that Samuel was a prophet, through whom God spoke.

Chapters 4-7 describe the final episodes of the period of the judges. These chapters revolve around two related themes: (a) the ark of the covenant, its loss and its recovery; and (b) Israel’s on-going conflict with the Philistines. When the Israelites waged war with the Philistines, the Israelites suffered a humiliating defeat, and the loss of 4,000 men (4:1-2). The elders were puzzled as to why God would allow them to suffer this defeat. They determined to return to the battlefield, but this time, with the ark of the covenant. Surely this would guarantee the presence and the power of God with them. And so it seemed. When the ark was brought into the Israelites’ camp, the warriors let out a great shout that could be heard by the Philistines. They were terrified by it and were certain they would suffer defeat at the hand of the Israelites. Nevertheless, they determined to fight – and to die – like men. To the amazement of all, the Philistines won the battle. They killed 30,000 foot soldiers, and also Hophni and Phineas, the two sons of Eli (4:10-11), thus fulfilling one aspect of the prophecy given earlier. When word of this tragedy was brought to Eli, he fell from his chair, breaking his neck from the fall (4:18). In all, Eli judged Israel for 40 years. Hearing the news, Eli’s daughter-in-law, the wife of Phineas, went into labor. The child lived, but the woman did not. Before she died, she named the baby boy Ichabod, which means, “Gone is the glory.”

The account of the ark’s brief (seven months – see 6:1) sojourn in the land of the Philistines is both amusing and enlightening. The ark of the covenant was the symbol of God’s presence and power. When the Philistines defeated the Israelites and captured the ark, they wrongly concluded that their god, Dagon, had prevailed over Israel’s God. And so they took the ark as a trophy of war and placed it in the temple of Dagon at Ashdod (5:1-2). Early the next day, the idol of Dagon was lying on the ground before the ark. The Philistines propped it back up, only to find it the next day lying before the ark once again – but this time with its head and arms broken off. Dagon was quite obviously bowing before the God of Israel, broken and powerless to save himself.

That was only the beginning of Ashdod’s troubles. A plague broke out in the city, causing painful sores or tumors. An infestation of rodents seemed to accompany this outbreak as well (see 6:3-5). The people of the city suspected that the presence of the ark was the source of their affliction and so they sent the ark on to the Philistine city of Gath, where the same plague followed. The ark was then sent on to Ekron, but the people of that city were not about to endure the same suffering; they insisted that the ark be sent back to Israel, where it came from.

It was concluded that the ark must be returned, and with a guilt offering (five “gold sores” and five “gold mice”). It is most interesting to see the logic of those who realized that they must honor the God of Israel:

5 You should make images of the sores and images of the mice that are destroying the land. You should honor the God of Israel. Perhaps he will release his grip on you, your gods, and your land. 6 Why harden your hearts like the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When God treated them harshly, didn’t the Egyptians send the Israelites on their way? (1 Samuel 6:5-6, emphasis mine)

These pagans not only heard about the Israelites’ exodus; they learned from it. They did not wish to be like Pharaoh and the Egyptians. They did not wish to be destroyed by the wrath of God. If the Egyptians had to be persuaded to release the Israelites the “hard way” (via the plagues), the Philistines did not wish to be so hard-hearted. They would release the ark and send it on its way, with gifts, just as the Egyptians had done with the Israelites.

They also wanted to assure themselves that these plagues came from the hand of the God of Israel, and so they designed a very clever test. They would place the ark on a new cart and would use two milk cows to draw it. These cows would be separated from their calves, so that their natural instinct would be to turn back toward the land of the Philistines (where their calves were tied up, bawling for their mothers). If these two cows pulled the cart directly to Israel, without turning back, then the Philistines would know that this had all been the work of God. The cows headed directly for the Israelite town of Beth Shemesh, as the Philistines looked on in wonder, greatly relieved to see the ark gone from their land.

There is certainly a lesson to be learned from the ark. The Israelites learned that the ark was not magic; its presence did not necessarily guarantee God’s presence and power, as we can see in chapter 4. On the other hand, God was closely associated with the ark, so that He was able to bring the Philistines (and their god) to their knees. The army of Israel, with the ark, was powerless without God’s presence among them. The ark of God, without the Israelite army, was powerful against the Philistines when God was present. God did not need the Israelites to prevail over the Philistines, but the Israelites surely needed God to prevail.

When the ark returned to Israel, the Israelites also needed to be reminded of the terror of the Lord. The people foolishly looked into the ark and on that day, 50,070 were stuck down. The people of Beth Shemesh asked a very important question, “Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God?” (6:20). The answer is, “No one.” God always provided some form of shield or barrier between His holy presence and the sinful people among whom He chose to dwell. In a spirit similar to that of the people of Ashdod (5:6-7), the ark was now passed along to the people of Kiriath Jearim. Abinadab’s son, Eleazar, was tasked with the job of guarding the ark of the LORD. The ark remained in Abinadab’s home for 20 years (7:2).

The final incident of the days of the judges is recorded in 1 Samuel 7. It is a most appropriate conclusion to the period of the judges. The Israelites longed for the Lord, and Samuel called the nation to repentance:

3 Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are really turning to the Lord with all your hearts, remove from among you the foreign gods and the images of Ashtoreth. Give your hearts to the Lord and serve only him. Then he will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the people of Israel removed the Baals and images of Ashtoreth. They served only the Lord (1 Samuel 7:3-4).

Samuel then called the whole nation to gather at Mizpah, where he would pray for them. The people fasted and prayed, as Samuel led them. Mizpah was a few miles north of Jerusalem and was located on some of the highest ground in that area. The name “Mizpah” means “watchtower” or “place for watching.” It was a kind of lookout, over the surrounding country. The Philistines heard that the Israelites had assembled there, and seem to have mistaken their gathering as a military maneuver. It was, after all, the perfect place to defend yourself against an attack. The Philistines gathered their forces and converged on the Israelites, who were engaged in worship. When the Israelites realized that the Philistines were attacking them, they were terrified. They had few weapons as it was, because the Philistines had confiscated all iron weapons and all the tools required to manufacture iron products:

19 A metalworker could not be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines had said, “This will prevent the Hebrews from making swords and spears.” 20 So all Israel had to go down to the Philistines in order to get their plowshares, cutting instruments, axes, and sickles sharpened. 21 They charged two-thirds of a shekel to sharpen plowshares and cutting instruments, and a third of shekel to sharpen picks and axes, and to set oxgoads. 22 So on the day of the battle no sword or spear was to be found in the hand of anyone in the army that was with Saul and Jonathan. No one but Saul and his son Jonathan had them (1 Samuel 13:19-22).

The Israelites seemed to be in a terrible fix, something similar to the Israelites who left Egypt, who found themselves trapped between the Red Sea, the mountains, and the Egyptian army. Since the people could not really fight, they were forced to petition God for help (7:8-9). God saved the Israelites in a most incredible way – He employed the Philistines’ advanced military technology against them. Their technological edge was their iron weapons – their swords and shields, and also their chariots with iron wheels (Joshua 17:16, 18; Judges 1:19; 4:3, 13). I can see it now, in my mind’s eye. The Philistines approach the high ground, closing in on the Israelites who are huddled together. They raise their swords into the air, waiting for their commander to yell, “Charge!” Just then, God sends an electrical storm, and the world’s most advanced weapons become lightening rods. The Philistines, decked out in their iron-clad armor, holding their iron swords high in the air and standing in iron-wheeled chariots, are like magnets, attracting the lightning bolts to themselves. This was the beginning of a great victory for Israel, and a devastating defeat for the Philistines (7:13). And because of the way the Philistines were destroyed, it was very obvious that this was all of God. I would think that the Philistines would have quickly shed their iron weapons and fled, so that the Israelites would only need to pick up these weapons (once they cooled) and pursue the Philistines.

In the very next chapter of 1 Samuel, the people will insist on having a king who will go before them and fight their battles. Saul did not prove to be that kind of military leader. Why would the Israelites want a king like Saul, when they could have a deliverer like God, who single-handedly rescued Israel from their foes? The failure of the era of the judges was not God’s failure, but man’s. Would it be any different in the monarchy, when kings ruled? The next few chapters will certainly give us the answer.

The Monarchy Begins
1 Samuel 8-15

Even before the death of Eli, it was known to all Israelites that Samuel was a prophet, through whom God spoke. Samuel was, in fact, the last (and the greatest) judge in Israel (1 Samuel 7, especially verse 17). As a prophet, it would also be Samuel’s duty to designate Israel’s first two kings, Saul and David. But in so doing, Samuel would be turning in his resignation as Israel’s judge (or deliverer).

If we were living in the latter days of Samuel, we would surely be concerned about the future, as the Israelites were:

1 In his old age Samuel appointed his sons as judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second son was Abijah. They were judges in Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not follow his ways. Instead, they made money dishonestly, accepted bribes, and perverted justice (1 Samuel 8:1-3).

The future did not look particularly bright with Samuel’s sons serving as judges. They were not at all like their father. One must wonder why Samuel would appoint his sons as judges. Did he think that they would carry on in his place when he was gone? Were they already corrupt before he made them judges, or did their positions of power corrupt them? Was Samuel following in the footsteps of Eli, overlooking the sins of his own sons? Whatever Samuel’s reasons might be, the people were not eager to have his sons as judges. Even if some of the concerns of the people were valid, the solution they demanded did not please Samuel or God.

4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and approached Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons don’t follow your ways. So now appoint over us a king to lead us, just like all the nations have.” 6 But this request displeased Samuel, for they said, “Give us a king to lead us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 The Lord said to Samuel, “Do everything the people request of you. For it is not you that they have rejected, but it is me that they have rejected as their king. 8 Just as they have done from the day that I brought them up from Egypt until this very day, they have rejected me and have served other gods. This is what they are also doing to you” (1 Samuel 8:4-8).

How true to life this incident is. I have seen it work this way many, many times in my ministry. People have a certain sinful course of action they wish to pursue, and they seize upon any and every excuse that appears to justify their doing it. It is, in the words of the Book of Proverbs, finding “a lion in the
road”
166 – that compelling excuse for doing or not doing what we desire. The sluggard refuses to go outside his house and work, because “there’s a lion in the road.” If, indeed, there were a lion in the road, one would be foolish to go outside one’s house. But it is often merely an excuse.

The Israelites surely remembered God’s words of instruction in the Law of Moses:

14 When you come to the land the Lord your God is giving you and take it over and live in it and then say, “I will appoint a king over me like all the nations surrounding me,” 15 you must without fail select over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose. From among your fellow citizens you must appoint a king—you may not designate a foreigner who is not one of your fellow Israelites. 16 Moreover, he must not accumulate horses for himself or allow the people to return to Egypt to do so, for the Lord has said you must never again return that way. 17 Furthermore, he must not marry many wives lest his affections turn aside, and he must not accumulate much silver and gold. 18 When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this instruction on a scroll given to him by the levitical priests. 19 It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and observe all the words of this instruction and these statutes in order to carry them out, 20 so that he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens and turn from the commandment right or left, and so that he and his descendants may enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel (Deuteronomy 17:14-20).

The Israelites of Samuel’s day read this text as a permission slip for what they wanted to do. They saw it as God’s seal of approval on their plan to have a king. Their attitude was very similar to that of the Jews in Jesus’ day regarding divorce:

3 Then some Pharisees came to him in order to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” 8 Jesus said to them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hard hearts, but from the beginning it was not this way. 9 Now I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery.” 10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the case of a husband with a wife, it is better not to marry!” 11 He said to them, “Not everyone can accept this statement, except those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are some eunuchs who were that way from birth, and some who were made eunuchs by others, and some who became eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who is able to accept this should accept it” (Matthew 19:3-12).

Divorce was God’s provision for men, due to their hardness of heart. It was not pleasing to God. Our Lord made it clear that it would be far better for a person not to marry at all, than to marry with a view to the possibility of getting a divorce. God’s ideal – that which was pleasing in His sight – was for a man to marry a woman for a lifetime.

So it was with Israel having a king. In Deuteronomy 17, God gives clear instructions to the Israelites regarding who could become their king (only an Israelite) and how he was to be selected (God’s designation). He also set down regulations regarding the conduct and practices of the king. But having noted this, let us not fail to sense the note of disapproval in Deuteronomy 17:14:

When you come to the land the Lord your God is giving you and take it over and live in it and then say, “ I will appoint a king over me like all the nations surrounding me” (emphasis mine).

These words of Moses were both a warning and a prophecy. Compare the words of Moses with the words of the people to Samuel in 1 Samuel 8:5:

They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons don’t follow your ways. So now appoint over us a king to lead us, just like all the nations have” (emphasis mine).

In both texts, it is the people who demand a king, just as in both their motivation is to be “just like the nations.” If the Israelites cannot imitate the other nations by immorality and idolatry, they will imitate them by having a king. What the Israelites failed to grasp was that their desire to have a king was idolatry:

7 The Lord said to Samuel, “Do everything the people request of you. For it is not you that they have rejected, but it is me that they have rejected as their king. 8 Just as they have done from the day that I brought them up from Egypt until this very day, they have rejected me and have served other gods. This is what they are also doing to you” (1 Samuel 8:7-8, emphasis mine).

Here, we see that idols are not always man-made objects of metal, word, or stone; idols may also be men. The reason why men make idols is because they want to see who or what they worship. Idols assure the “worshipper” of success, whether that be victory in battle, bountiful reproduction, or rain for his crops. A strong and powerful king may appear to be the key to success. And remember, some kings actually were worshipped as gods (see Daniel 3; Acts 12:20-24). Since God is invisible, there can be no representation of Him in the form of an idol (Deuteronomy 4:15-19). The Israelites wanted a leader they could see, someone they could trust to save them. They wanted a king, like the other nations.

Idols can therefore be men, and it is not merely kings who are “worshipped” (whether literally or functionally). Many of the youth of our country virtually worship certain celebrities, especially musicians, actors, and actresses. Some Christians idolize prominent Christian leaders while others (unfortunately some may be Christians) blindly follow persuasive cult leaders. Let us be careful to show proper respect to those in authority, but let us also beware that we do not become worshippers of men. Never look to men for what only God can do; never give to men what only God deserves.

Samuel responds to the Israelites as God has instructed him. At this point in time, he does not accuse them of rejecting God, though they have. Instead, he points out the very high cost of kings:

10 So Samuel spoke all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “Here are the policies of the king who will rule over you: he will conscript your sons and put them in his chariot forces and in his cavalry; they will run in front of his chariot. 12 He will appoint for himself leaders of thousands and leaders of fifties, as well as those who plow his ground, reap his harvest, and make his weapons of war and his chariot equipment. 13 He will take your daughters to be ointment makers, cooks, and bakers. 14 He will take your best fields and vineyards and give them to his own servants. 15 He will demand a tenth of your seed and of the produce of your vineyards and give it to his administrators and his servants. 16 He will take both your male and female servants, as well as your best cattle and your donkeys, and assign them for his own use. 17 He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will be his servants. 18 In that day you will cry out because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord won’t answer you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:10-18).

The Israelites were already required to give tithes and offerings for the care of the poor and for the support of those who ministered as priests. Having a king would virtually double their expenses. Having a king would not only cost them money, it would also restrict their freedom. The king they so desperately desire will forcibly take their property and use it, or give it to his friends, as he will take their children as his servants. What the Israelites are demanding not only offends God, it is not in their own best interest. While sinners think they are enhancing their own interests, they are actually doing the opposite. Sin is self-defeating and self-destructive. This is probably a good thing to remember when seeking to turn another from their sin. Let the sinner understand that the price of sin is high, and the ride is short (and often frightening).

I should point out something that is very important concerning Samuel’s words of warning about the high cost of kings. Samuel is not merely warning the Israelites that their first king (whom we know will be Saul) won’t be worth the price. God is making it clear that every king – even the best – will come at a very high cost. One would only have to ask Uriah about this, for King David was able to take his wife, and this faithful soldier’s life. Later on, Solomon would oppress the people of Israel with his taxes (see 1 Kings 4:7-22-25; 9:1f; 12:4).

I’m going to go on to say something that will be recognized as somewhat political, but needs to be said because I believe it is true. All too many people today look to government as though it were their god. They look to government for prosperity and peace. They look to government for “the good life.” And this is why, for some, the bigger that government becomes, the better. Samuel’s words apply not only to kings, but to any government, and especially “big government.” It is interesting that inscribed on the money our government prints are the words, “In God We Trust.” I wonder how many people today trust their government more than they trust in God? Perhaps we should read our money and take these words to heart. We most certainly should take Samuel’s words to heart.

The people will not be dissuaded. They insist on having their king. And so God instructs Samuel to send the people away with the assurance that He will give them the king that they have demanded. As the people return to their homes, they do not know who their king will be, and so all eyes are on Samuel to see who he will designate as their king.

Chapters 9 and 10 describe the process by which God revealed the identity of Israel’s king. In 9:1–10:16, the author relates the way God privately revealed to Saul that he was to become Israel’s king. Chapter 10:17-27 records the process by which God publicly identified Saul to the Israelites as their king.

Saul was just the kind of man the Israelites were looking for. He came from a prominent family, he was a very attractive fellow, and he was Israel’s Goliath:

1 There was a Benjamites man named Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. He was a prominent person. 2 He had a son named Saul, an attractive young man. There was no one among the Israelites more attractive; he stood head and shoulders above all the people (1 Samuel 9:1-2).

It all started with a few runaway donkeys that Kish sent his son Saul to find. Saul, accompanied by one of the young servants, pursued them for several days. As they were running out of food, Saul was ready to give up and return home. His servant recognized that they had come to the city where a prophet lived. (Saul does not seem to be aware of this, which may give us a clue to his spiritual state.) The servant believed that the prophet (or seer) could tell them where to find their lost donkeys and was willing to provide the money to pay him for his services. Saul took the servant’s advice, and they came to the city and asked where the prophet could be found. (God had already revealed to Samuel that Israel’s king would be arriving, and that he would be a Benjamite – see 9:15-16. )

Samuel made Saul his guest of honor, and later he privately anointed Saul as Israel’s king. Saul also gave Samuel several signs to convince him that this was God’s doing. Samuel told Saul that the donkeys had already been found – before Saul had the opportunity to mention that they were looking for them. Samuel told Saul that he would meet two men, that they would assure him that his father’s donkeys had been found, and that his father was now concerned about him (10:2). This, by the way, was pretty much what Saul had said earlier in 9:5. Saul would then meet three men who were going up to Bethel. One man would be carrying three young goats, another would have three loaves of bread, and the third a container of wine. The man with the bread would give Saul two loaves, Samuel told him. He also told Saul that he would encounter a band of prophets, and that he would prophesy. All these things happened, just as Samuel had indicated.

Samuel also gave Saul a very specific instruction:

“You will go down to Gilgal before me. I am about to come down to you to offer burnt offerings and to make peace offerings. You should