Saturday, June 28, 2008

Genesis 18:2-3 "Who is in your tent's doorway today?"

Genesis 18:2-3: And when he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by.”

The beginning of this short passage when compared to the first verse of this chapter may well present some challenge to the student of scripture who prefers to take things literally. In verse one we read that “Now the Lord appeared to him….” When one analyzes this phrase, he/she is faced with several options of interpretation. What is the intent of the word “Now”? We need to note that the word “Lord” is singular in nature. Thirdly, does the word “appeared” imply a physical visual appearance or one that resides more in the eyes of the mind?

When we get to verse two, we need to decide if it occurred subsequent to verse one or is it simply an amplification of verse one. Taking the more literal approach based strictly on the words we have before us, leads us to believe that the Lord (singular) appeared to Abraham in the eyes of his mind in verse one. (The phrase “And when he lifted up his eyes and looked” found at the beginning of verse two further supports this.) And then in verse two, Abraham visually saw in a physical way “three men (were) standing opposite him”.

Up to this point in scripture, the word ‘man’, the singular of ‘men’, has been used strictly to refer to the man that God created – Adam, and those that came after him. And for our particular study of scripture as it unfolds to us, we have no basis on which to give these two words any other interpretation at this time as some may be led to do.

We are not told exactly how these three men got to stand opposite Abraham that day. Certainly the word ‘behold’ which has as one meaning the idea of looking or listening to something amazing or unexpected, adds to the possibility that God placed them there Himself. What we may surmise is that this was in the heat of the day as Abraham had been sitting at his tent’s door and actually ran from there to meet them. In fact, this along with his very running may help us understand his first comment to the men.

Certainly Abraham had, at least that day, an eagerness to serve and be hospitable. While it is likely in his nature to be thus, it is also possible that his action was as a result of seeing God or feeling that somehow the appearance of the men was related to what occurred in verse one. It may also have been as a result of visitors being a rare occurrence where Abraham’s tent had been set up, and especially at that time of day. Nevertheless, Abraham bowed to the men and uttered, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by.”

The last part of his statement may simply have been a hospitable gesture imploring his guests to stay and be refreshed – probably a most common custom in those days and in that region. It simply refers to that fact that he did not want them to move on without stopping. The second part, that of “if now I have found favor in your sight” is a little more complex. Again, it may simply have the same kind of meaning that a restaurateur of today may have in mind when he says to those considering eating in his/her establishment after browsing the menu in the window, “if you like our décor and our menu, won’t you please come in and eat here?” On the other hand, it may again have been related to what had happened between the Lord and Abraham in verse one. We have no basis for making a determination either way from the words before us.

The part of his statement that is most puzzling is the first two words, “My lord”. In the particular version of the Bible that I use for studying, when the word ‘lord’ refers to the ‘Lord’ God Almighty it is capitalized and in this particular verse that word is not capitalized. The difficulty arises as to why it is singular in number. Why didn’t Abraham say “My lords” when he had three men before him? This may be the reason that some people today believe that these three men were in fact ‘not just men’ but God in some form. Such a position cannot be arrived at from scripture itself and, in fact, later in the chapter I believe there is more evidence that it was not. I am more likely to go with the interpretation that while we would today say “my lords”, it was perfectly acceptable to address all present with the singular form of that word – that is, collectively “you are my lord” and I am your servant.

Regardless of what general interpretation one makes of these two verses, it behooves us to be hospitable people eager to serve and meet the needs of those that God puts in our paths, or as in Abraham’s case, in the doorway of his tent.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Genesis 18:1 -- Just When You Least Expect Him

Genesis 18:1: Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day.

I love this verse. I love the way it is written. I love the details it provides and the picture it paints. The “heat of the day” depicts for me a sense of discomfort. “Sitting at the tent door” implies a resolve that not much can be done about life at this point in time – perhaps even a sense of reflection on days past. Perhaps there’s a yearning for the company of God, but clearly no expectation that He will show up. Just when Abraham least expects Him, God “appeared to him”. What a change in the scene and its mood. What a life-change moment – God reappeared to him. And He did so in a familiar place – the oaks or trees of Mamre that were part of the plain to which Abram had moved his tent to as we read in Genesis 13.

God has this amazing record of appearing to us when we least expect Him, when we have exhausted our resources, and we’re struggling under the ‘heat’ of life. As we reflect on the relationship we once had with Him, he appears to give us new life, new hope, a fresh start, or additional direction. But He comes when He needs to and He’s never late.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Genesis 17:24-27 "Household Responsibility"

Genesis 17:24-27: Now Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. In the very same day Abraham was circumcised, and Ishmael his son. And all the men of his household, who were born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

These few verses give us an example of total obedience and total commitment. There was no turning back in those days. The field of medicine had not yet mastered the surgery of circumcision reversal or foreskin restoration. There was no doubt that the males in Abraham’s household so operated on that day would remain circumcised the rest of their lives.

I remember my teenage son wanting to get a tattoo on his back. In addition to giving him my best arguments on why I believed that was inappropriate for him, I indicated that once acquired, it could not be easily removed. For all intents and purposes, he would be stuck with it. As a courtesy to me he waited until he was much older to get one. Needless to say that even if he did want to remove it now, the cost and pain involved in so doing would be great. The tattoo will likely remain in place. My son is committed to its presence. [By the way, as I got older and wiser, I learned to accept it and while it is no longer anything that comes between us, I would still have a tough time condoning it.] The male segment of Abraham’s household made a decision that day to carry the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and between God and Abraham’s descendants, for ever.

From before the days of Abraham, through the beginning of the Christian era, and on to today, the person of faith has to make a decision to yield full obedience and commitment to the One he says he believes in. That is the ultimate goal and following that goal until one’s life ends, is what warrants the ultimate prize in eternity. Yet, a great majority of us have failed to either fully comprehend this or have decided to totally ignore it. Today, many Christians are what William Wilberforce in his book, Real Christianity, would call “social Christians”. They want the social benefits of membership, but they have no real clue as to what a genuine relationship with Christ really means and demands of them.

In the early years of her marriage, my eldest daughter and her family lived in Dallas, Texas. She described for my wife and I the events that she and her husband attended and said they were surprised to find out that just about everyone there was a “Christian”. Several years later after getting to know many of them more intimately, she admitted the following on the telephone one day: “Dad, everybody down here is a ‘christian’. Why, you can’t get a job in the Bible belt without being one!” Commitment to God requires much more than wearing a cross on a chain around one’s neck.

Finally, I believe this passage of scripture also talks to us that are heads of households – whether as fathers in a traditional family unit, or as a man or woman who is a single parent. God asked Abraham to carry out His wishes on his entire male household. I believe that had the request involved something equally applicable to both males and females, God would have expected him to carry it out on both sexes. Except for those under eight days old, age was not a discriminatory factor either. And if Abraham was ninety-nine years old, I am sure we can surmise that he had some long-time trusted servants that were close to his age.

The point I want to make is undoubtedly part and parcel of a very complex area and I know that I may step on many toes in trying to express my position. I do, however, believe that heads of households have always had, as a key priority, the responsibility of seeing to it that all members of their households observe and maintain a faith in God. I am not convinced that God has changed His mind on that. I believe the Enemy can take those of us that would not feel any guilt if a child denies the faith and make us feel guilty. Similarly, he would take those of us that feel some personal remorse or regret in such outcome and try to tell us that it “wasn’t your fault at all, after all your son/daughter is an adult and has to make his/her own decision.” The Enemy will play us whatever way he needs to.

Furthermore, I do not want to imply that it is us that make all the difference as to whether or not one of our children grows up to “keep the faith”. Clearly, that is a matter between the child and the Holy Spirit. Yet, I do not want us to believe that what we do, or do not do, does not matter at all. From my own personal life, I can tell you that I compromised my faith where I should not have when it came to the upbringing of my children, my relationships with them, and my general modeling of the Christian life. Thankfully, God still chose to intervene in their lives and they are walking with Him as married adults today. But what if He had not or what if I had compromised or failed them much more than I had, to the point that the Enemy capitalized on their feelings and they rejected the God of their father? Would I have had no responsibility for what I modeled? I believe I would have and I believe I still do. My point, especially to parents of young children, is simply this – you can and do make a difference in how your children react to the God you believe in. You cannot take the approach that if they are meant to be Christians, they will be, regardless of how you behave. Having said that, I also know that if, for whatever reason, the Holy Spirit has not yet called them unto Himself, regardless of your exemplary behavior, there is nothing you can do about it but trust His ultimate wisdom.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Genesis 17:23 -- The Psychology of Obedience

Genesis 17:23: Then Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all the servants who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s household, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the very same day, as God had said to him.

God says His bit, and then leaves us alone to act. The human will kicks in right at that point. In the verse before this we learned that when God had finished speaking to Abraham, He “went up from” him. Abraham now had a choice – do what God asked for in verses 9-14 of the same chapter and trust God for the rest, or once again rely on his own strength and wisdom. The decision was not an easy one for any man to make. It seems that where and when God chooses to interfere in our lives so directly, it never is. But for Abraham, a decision to obey would be difficult to carry out as well as have social implications. Oftentimes for us, the decision to obey is weighed more by its social implications rather than the physical request itself. I don’t know what was worse for Abraham -- the pain of circumcising adult males, never mind young children and babies in those days or the social cost of actually asking his household to be circumcised – all for a covenant that had been made directly to him and still with no evidence of its being delivered that could be seen by others.

Yet Scripture says that Abraham started with his son Ishmael first and then all his servants who born in the house or bought, and then every other male in his household, and circumcised them that very day. He decided to obey. Today’s social scientists would find this a fascinating study in risk-taking psychology. They would wonder what probability theory he used to decide to obey. Did the chances of God delivering His promise far outweigh His potential not to do so? Were the consequences of what Abraham was about to do in order to obey not seem as costly to him in the ‘event’ God did deliver? Was there any other explanation?

I think to best answer these questions one needs to go back to Abraham’s own personal experiences with God. I believe that while he still had his free will, he had no sane choice but to rely on his knowledge that God was indeed God, and that if he walked before Him, he would be blessed. Many psychologists today do not understand that. Perhaps it is best to say that they do not wish to accept it as a rational method for arriving at one’s decision.

[Some reader my wonder “what about Abraham, was he circumcised?” The answer comes in the verses that follow this.]

There are three interesting aspects to what Abraham did in this verse. First, there is an implication, although not conclusive, that he himself carried out God’s wishes in performing the circumcisions. At the very least, as head of the household, he saw to it that they were carried out. When God speaks to us and tells us to do something, He intends for us to either carry it out or by our means, see to it that it is accomplished. We cannot leave it to someone else, hoping God will speak to him or her as well. It’s His requirement of us and we can’t lose sight of that. [Today I took my two-year-old grandson, Elijah, for his second haircut with me – it’s our monthly ‘date’. On the way, when we were stopped at an intersection, an Asian woman in her late thirties approached our car and opened a folded sign that revealed her need for help. I had been taken before and was not about to be taken again. I shook my head indicating I would not help. Every argument for and against helping a young mother in distress who would beg on the streets of an affluent Toronto community came to mind. I won’t list them here. But the bottom line was that once again I felt this terrible empty feeling of not obeying. As I drove on I promised myself I had to deal with this issue of poverty for myself, once and for all. I decided that I have to find out not so much “what would Jesus do?” because I could never claim to have that wisdom or the audacity to think that I could predict exactly what He would do in any given case, but rather “what would Jesus have me do?” And I will as soon as I can. The point here is that failure to obey causes great emotional tension in our minds, especially if the obedience were for good or in response to God. On the other hand, obedience to evil has the same effect as disobedience for good or to God. Interestingly, this became evident to me last night as I was flicking through the channels on the television. I managed to see a few minutes of the movie Ella Enchanted. I don’t know the story at all, but I do know that Ella (I presume she was the main character I was observing) was enchanted by evil to obey it and her emotional tension was released when she at last felt free from having to do so.] Living a life of disobedience to good and God is a terrible way to live.

Secondly, Scripture says that Abraham did all this “the very same day.” Abraham did not obey in steps, a little at a time, just in case God would change His mind, or God would take mercy on him and say, “That’s enough, you’ve proven yourself.” No, Abraham carried out what God had required of him totally in that same day. He was serious in his obedience. And there was no turning back. [I often wonder how much flack he had to take from Sarah or to other women in his household who may have been married to some of the men he had to circumcise. Yet the Bible says he did what he had to do at all costs.]

Thirdly, the verse ends with a phrase that is possibly the most “personally emotional and mental peace-guaranteeing” phrase in the Bible. It is simply this, “[he did] as God had said to him.” Many years ago Billy Graham wrote a book that impacted millions, for eternity. It was called Peace With God. If I only had a few words to paraphrase that great work of a man of God, I would simply say, “Peace With God comes in actually doing as God says to us to do.” Understanding that simple principle can be as easy as pie for some, or as difficult as man trying to bring about total global harmony these days for others. I believe God has given us the ability to make it the former.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Genesis 17:22 (The Deafening Silence)

Genesis 17:22: And when He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.

There comes a time when God concludes His discussions with us. He says His piece and then leaves it to us to decide. Sometimes the silence is deafening. Other times we have to deal with the perception, false as it may be, that we are alone without Him. In reality, He has only “gone up from” us, as He did with Abraham. He leaves us “our space” to act with our will. He does not leave the scene, but is still watching from above. This reminds me so much of what a good parent does. I cannot count the endless times I missed the opportunity to share my thoughts with my children, and then step back (or up) to watch what happens and still be there if needed, ready to step in. I know my father did not do that with me either and maybe that is where I modeled my unwise behavior in this regard. But by His grace, and perhaps out of necessity, I’ve changed my approach and can enjoy watching my adult children learn and make their own decisions. God, on the other hand, has been consistent in His approach with us from day one. Never take His silence as a forfeiture of His love and desired relationship with you.

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