When you watch the movie Thor, its called Thor, because Thor is the hero. When Loki uses deceit to usurp Thor’s position as heir to the throne, we understand that Loki is the villain. And we know that while Loki may steal the throne for a period of time, he can’t remain king, because that wouldn’t be fair. It would violate everything we’ve been taught about the morality of storytelling and heroes and villains. Loki can’t win. Thor must win. Yet in this story, Jacob wins. And not just in this episode with the soup, but he actually is the chosen son through whom God will execute his purposes. God not only chooses Jacob in spite of his deceitful character, but brings about his purposes through Jacob’s deceit.
Some preachers seem embarrassed by this passage, that it would be this superfluous love story in the middle of such a serious theological work, and so the labour hard to imagine that this text is some sort of allegory for evangelism - and such it might be! However, it is first and foremost the story of Abraham securing a wife for his son. So before we get into any more fanciful interpretation, let’s not despise this passage as it speaks of marriage. As John Calvin writes in his commentary on this text, it is precisely because we do not hold marriage in honour, that Moses would insist on giving us a detailed picture of the marriage of Issac.
Now when we say this is a text about marriage, and an important text about marriage, and we can take some principles from this text without getting absorbed into the details and say, this is the key to finding a wife - first, get a really rich dad; second, have him send his servant back to his people and find a wife for you; third, there’s a lot of camels involved for some reason. Right, so we want to listen to the text, and what it might teach about marriage, but not get overwhelmed by the particulars.
Abraham’s faith and obedience is tested by the providing, promise-keeping God.
At the end of Genesis 21 Abraham plants a tree, calls on the name of the Lord, and gives the Lord a new nickname. He does these things as an act of worship in response to the events of the chapter, which contains three seemingly loosely related stories of the life of Abraham. At first glance the stories don’t seem to have all that much of a common theme to them, except that the first two deal with two women and two sons and the last two stories deal with two wells, tying the stories together in theme. And to get at that theme this morning I want to tell you these three stories in full, so that you can appreciate what drive Abraham to worship in such a curious way of planting a tree and giving God a new name.
Some people wish the world were simple. That we could easily divide the world up into good people and bad people, and maybe it would be nice if people of our faith were always good, and people outside the faith were always bad. That would be simple wouldn’t it? And wouldn’t it be great is once a person came to faith, they continually walked forward into greater measures of obedience and maturity and never took a step back or failed or let others down, or struggled. That would be a simple world.
But that’s not the world the Bible describes. That is not the world we live in. We live in a world of moral complexity, a world in which good people do bad things, and bad people surprise us, a world in which people of faith are also people of deep failing, and a world in which our progress toward maturity often takes great detours. this reality underscores the fact that in the Bible, no one is truly good, but God alone. He is the only hero, the only one who does not fail. Our pride does not like to hear that reminder, but the reality is that sin has affected and infect every part of our being, every aspect of our human experience, and therefore the simple work of right and wrong, good and evil, faith and failing becomes infinitely more complex.
Genesis 20 is one of these reminders. Nearly everything in this chapter challenges our desire to keep morally and humanity in simple little boxes.
We don’t know why Abraham leaves Mamre to end up in Gerar. Some think he left out of grief over Lot, whom he assumed was swept away in Sodom. Some think that the destruction of the cities in the valley would have caused environmental damage to the air or soil quality in the region, and so he had to leave for some time for the sake of his herds. Whatever the reason of his departure, we have already observed a pattern in the life of Abraham that is true here as well, Abraham’s proximity to Canaan seems to be tied to Abraham’s spiritual vitality. And we’ll see in this chapter that Abraham is at one of his lowest points spiritually.
Genesis chapter 19 is the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. However, as I was reading this week, I was surprised that it not so much about Sodom, its about Lot and to a lesser extant his wife and two daughters. As I’ve said before, while Abraham is presented in Scripture as the porto-typical man of faith, the friend of God who walks before him, even though he fails from time to time, Lot is presented as and has been understood in the history of interpretation as a wayward believer, a believer who has strayed from the path of walking with God to dwell among the lost. In that sense Lot is a complex character. The apostle Peter, in the New Testament confirms that Lot was a righteous man, who was “greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked … tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard”, and indeed that seems to be the reason he is warned to flee Sodom as God visited His judgement upon it.
However, while being described as “righteous” Lot is also depicted as wayward. Ever since his departure from Abraham in chapter 13, the city of Sodom and its inhabitants have latched on to his soul and drawn him ever tighter in its snare. Remember, Lot was first attracted to the Jordan Valley because it was well-watered and prosperous - he was seeking after the things of the world. However, he quickly travelled through the valley and moved his tents as far as Sodom, approaching the place where the text already tells us, “the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD”. In chapter 13, we find that Lot was dwelling in Sodom, associating with the people there, and he was driven away with the inhabitants of the city by the invading armies. The disheartening thing is that even after Abraham pursues those armies and delivers Lot, Lot does not change his ways at all, but resettled in Sodom, so that by the time we get to chapter 19, at least 15 years later, Lot now has built a permanent residence there (no longer in tents but in a house within the city), and is respected enough among the inhabitants of the city that he conducts his business at the city gate. He’s been completely assimilated into the lifestyle of Sodom.
And so here is a man who, though he is called righteous, has routinely and insistently refused fellowship with the righteous for association with the wicked. And therefore this is a much stronger warning to us as a church in this chapter. It is very easy to read this chapter as an indictment on the men of Sodom around us, it is much more uncomfortable and challenging to see in Lot a warning to ourselves and to our brothers and sisters in those times when we walk waywardly in the valley of sin.
Theses two chapters concern the story of Sodom and Gomorah. Its one of those parts of the Bible the maybe you’ve avoided, particularly because we who live in Canada don’t know what to do with justice and judgement and wrath. Maybe we’re too polite. But judgement is a recurring theme in Genesis, from the warning taht in the day we would eat of the fruit of the tree we would die, to God wiping the earth clean in the flood, to the little phrases in Genesis 15 that foretold that God giving the land of Canaan over to the Israelites was also an act of judgement upon the people living there. It is really important to study out these passages and hear what they have to say, so that God’s character is not maligned, and our faith might not fail. Abraham asks God a very important question in this text: Should not the Judge of all the earth do right? This gets at the heart of the challenged posed by the newer movement of athiests: the challenge used to be that God was not true, now we here more often that God is unjust, a moral monster. God is immoral, therefore he is not true. This is exactly what Abraham is suggesting.
Have you ever had such a shock that you fell over? Fainted perhaps? Or ever been overcome with fear or anxiety that you collapsed? Or laughed so hard that you fell over? In this chapter, Genesis 17, Abram has an encounter with God that knocks him off his feet, not once, but twice. And it is a shocking encounter. In this encounter Abraham is shocked 1. That God reveals himself after 13 years, 2. That he will be a father of many nations, 3. That he will be assigned an awkward mark, 4. That Sarah will give birth to a son, and, 5. that Sarah’s son, Issac, will supplant Ishmael as the son of the promise.
In Genesis 16, Moses warns us that the potential to be the oppressor lay within us all. He does this by telling us Abram and Sarai's oppression of Hagar, their Egyptian maidservant, causing her to flee into the wilderness, just as the children of Abraham fled from their Egyptian oppressors. God reveals himself to Hagar in the wilderness through his angel, comforting her with the truth that He sees and hears her in her pain, before sending her back with a message to her oppressor that God also sees and hears them in their sin. The sermon concludes with a letter found at the Gospel Coalition Australia website of a word to perpetrators of domestic abuse (https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/a-letter-to-husbands-who-abuse-their-wives/).To understand this, story, I want to tell you another.
Tell the story of Israel’s oppression and God’s deliverance.
If Israel in the wilderness could go back and comfort the victims in their oppression, what truth would they desire them to understand? God hears. God sees.
If Israel in the wilderness could go back and confront their oppressor, what truth would they desire Pharaoh to understand. God hears? God sees.
We all have people that make promises but never come through. Maybe you’ve got that group of friends and that one guys says he’ll show up but never does, and pretty soon you just stop waiting on him. Now, what if that person is God?
It has been several years since Abram received the promises of God in Genesis 12. He has set out from Ur and Abram had travelled hundreds of miles, lost his father, survived famines, seen his relationship with his wife preserved when he should have lost her, separated from his his nephew who had been like a son to him, and watched that nephew drift further and further away until it was necessary to go after him with a small band of men and rescue him from the clutches of an army. At the same time he’s seen his household grow in wealth and in servants, set up alters to God in the land of promise, and made some key allies. God’s not been silent, but neither has life turned out the way Abram possibly expected it to. God’s been speaking to him for several years at this point, but really, what has God done? These years of God’s promises have produced no heir. Sarai is still barren. She was 65 when God called to Abram in Ur and she is not getting any younger. Abram has watched other children born to the servants in his household, yet he - the one to whom God has made the promise - remained childless. And it doesn’t really matter that God has blessed him with possessions and material goods, and allies and friends, for God has kept from him the one thing that he has promised, the one thing that Abram has desired, and it seems that Abram has nearly given up waiting on God.
And one night, while Abram settles into his tent outside of Hebron, Abram is visited by the Lord in a vision. While such visions are not unheard of to we who believe in God who reveals himself in such manner, what makes this vision unique is that Abram speaks back. And Abram does not just speak back to God, he pushes back, he presses God, calls Him out, saying in effect, God, I’m getting a little tired of you saying these things to me, but not really coming through on those promises. What are you actually doing here?