Tag Archives: Genesis

Genesis 20: The Protector of the Covenant

Genesis 20 presents us with a familiar pattern:  Abraham lies about Sarah’s identity as his wife.   In doing so, he jeopardizes two covenants at once.

First, Abraham jeopardizes his marriage covenant.  To save his own skin from a perceived, not an actual threat, he lies: “She is my sister” (v.2).  In the process, he leaves his bride utterly exposed to exploitation by Abimelech.  The only reason she isn’t ultimately violated is that the Lord Himself personally intervenes through Abimelech’s dream (vv.3–7).  It would be one thing, I suppose, for Abraham to have lied about Sarah’s identity to make her safer:  to expose himself to danger so that he might insulate her.  But in fact he does precisely the opposite:  he lies about Sarah to make himself safer, and by so doing exposes her to great moral and physical danger.

By comparison to his greatest son, Abraham is a poor specimen of a husband indeed:  “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies….” (Ephesians 5:25-28).  Abraham gave Sarah up for himself, and did not guard her purity.

The second covenant Abraham puts into jeopardy is the Lord’s covenant with him.  The Lord had promised that Abraham & Sarah would be given a son (Chs.17-18).  Abraham’s deception in Ch.20 raises the possibility that, if Sarah becomes pregnant, it would appear that Abimelech, rather than Abraham, was the father, thus casting a shadow of uncertainty over the heart of the Lord’s covenant with Abraham.

But the Lord intervenes to protect, not merely Sarah’s purity, but the integrity of His covenant with Abraham.  Again and again throughout Genesis, the treasure of the covenant is placed into hands that are not sufficiently faithful to guard it well.  The only hope is always that the Lord’s own zeal to uphold the covenant exceeds man’s that it be upheld.

This is the plotline of the entire Bible.  This the plotline of history.  This is the story of the Christian life:  it is He who began a good work in us, who will also be the One to bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).


Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Genesis 19: From Moab to Jesus

There are many themes from Genesis 19 worthy of reflection (e.g. Lot’s failed leadership of his home; the spiritually corrosive effects on Lot and every member of his family of longterm exposure to the wickedness of Sodom; the extravagant mercy of God in extricating him from Sodom before its destruction; or the perversity of his daughters’ incest).  A chapter full of one sobering lesson after another.

But I’ll restrict my reflections in this post to vv.30-38, or rather, their stunning place within the wider arc of the story of redemption that Scripture presents to us.  The question that concerns me is not what led to the incest of Lot’s daughters, but what God, in His grace, brought forth from it.

In verses 37-38, Moses explains the bitter consequences of the incest of Lot’s daughters.  He tells the Exodus generation (his original audience) that the Moabite and the Ammonite peoples trace their respective lines back to Lot’s daughters.  This doesn’t mean much to us, I’ll grant you, but to Moses’ original audience, this was an enormously relevant connecting of the dots, since the Moabites and Ammonites were bitter antagonists of the Israelites as they emerged from the wilderness on their way to the promised land.  It was Moab that hired Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22; Deuteronomy 23:3-6).  Later, as Moses charges Israel to remember this historical hostility in Deuteronomy 23, he concludes his warning with this note of God’s triumph on Israel’s behalf:  “instead the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the LORD your God loved you” (Deut. 23:6).  God turned the curse into a blessing.

The rest of Scripture shows us that He continued to turn the curse of Moab into a blessing for His people.  Remember that King David’s great grandmother was Ruth (Ruth 4:17-22), and consider that this Ruth was a Moabite (Ruth 1:4).  This fact of Moabite blood flowing in David’s veins, by the way, explains why the book of Ruth (in our English Bibles) is situated so appropriately between Judges and 1 Samuel:  it explains this fact about Israel’s King (who was a man after God’s own heart) by demonstrating that, even though she was a Moabite, his great grandmother Ruth was a woman after the Lord’s own heart.  So, rather than besmirching David’s kingly credentials, his Moabite blood–given  that he comes by it through Ruth–actually embellishes them!

So much so, in fact, that Ruth–the Moabitess–is given a place of honor in the opening chapter of the New Testament, as Matthew details the genealogy of our Lord Jesus:  “and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king” (Matthew 1:5-6).  The clearest proof of Ruth’s greatness is not that her Moabite blood flowed in King David’s veins, but that it flowed in the veins of Jesus Christ, the sweetest fruit and purest seed of blessing that God, in His amazing grace, brought forth from the curse of Lot’s daughters.


Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Genesis 18: And then there was One….

In Genesis 18, Abraham is interceding in behalf of the righteous, and the result is that the wicked are to be spared in the process.  In the Gospel, the wicked are spared as well, but through the condemnation of the Righteous One, Jesus Christ.  In Genesis 18, the Lord is willing to spare the wicked by preserving the righteous.  In the Gospel, He is willing to spare the wicked by judging the Righteous One in their place.

“Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Genesis 18:23).

This single preposition–“with”–leads me into deeper appreciation for the scandalous grace of the Gospel.  Abraham thought his “with” was a shock, but the Gospel presents us with a far greater scandal, because that “with” becomes, in Jesus Christ, a “for”.  At Calvary, the Righteous One is swept away for the wicked because the God of Abraham doesn’t merely justify the godly, but the ungodly (Romans 4:5)!

As Scripture unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that there isn’t even a single righteous man:  “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).  Until the fullness of time, when Jesus Christ appears as that rarest of all rarities, the Enormous Exception–the Righteous One, and He is swept away by His Father’s judgment on the Cross, so that the wicked might be spared.

Thanks be to God that Abraham barely began to touch the outermost fringes of the true extent of His mercy and grace!


Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Genesis 17: The Logic of God’s Heart

The only explanation for Genesis 17 is that there is more mercy in the heart of God than sin in the heart of Abram; that what sustains the covenant is not the faith of men, but the faithfulness of God.

Any way you slice it, Genesis 16 is an epic failure.  On the heels of the Lord’s breathtaking gifts of assurance in Genesis 15, Abram is more persuaded by the logic of unbelief than the promises of God, and the Hagar Plan B is launched.  Abram was 86 when Ishmael was born.  Genesis 17:1 opens with the announcement that the Lord appeared again to Abram when he was 99.

Think of it:  13 years have passed.  13 years to regret the wrong decision.  13 years of living with the consequences of your compromise.  13 years of walking yourself back through the events and wishing you could rewrite history.  13 years to beat yourself up.  13 years of wondering whether you had permanently disqualified yourself, whether this latest mistake was the final straw that broke the covenant’s back.

And, suddenly, with no warning, at the end of the 13 years, the Lord appears to Abram (once again) and re-affirms (once again) His covenant with Abram.  Not a word about Hagar or Ishmael.  Not even the slightest hint of condemnation or recrimination.  No incremental easing back into covenant graces, no probationary period.  Instead, the Lord opens the floodgates of His heart full-tilt and the vastness of His grace is unleashed unrestrained upon Abram.  If Genesis 16 proved the weakness of Abram’s faith, Genesis 17 proves the beautiful omnipotence of the Lord’s faithfulness.  No wonder Abram falls on his face before the Lord (v.3).

This is what captures my heart about Genesis 17:  it shows us (just like the rest of Scripture) that the logic of God’s heart is an alien logic.  After Abram’s failure in Genesis 16, we might expect that the Lord would contract the scope of His promise to Abram, as a kind of interim probationary measure to test whether Abram would remain steadfast.  As Genesis 17 proves, we would be totally wrong about that!

Rather than contract–or even merely restate–His covenant promises to fit the scope of Abram’s faith, the Lord actually moves in the opposite direction:  He elaborates and expands upon them, unfolding their fullness more and more for Abram (vv.4-8).  He introduces a new element that we haven’t heard explicitly before:  “and kings shall come from you…kings of peoples shall come from her….” (vv.6, 16).  Amazing!

As Abram’s faith weakens and appears to falter, as his grip on the Lord’s promises loosens (e.g. Ch.16), the Lord’s grip on Abram actually tightens!  This is why Ch.17 includes the covenant sign of circumcision:  among other things, it is an accommodation of the Lord’s grace to the weakness of Abram’s faith.  By definition (since it is impossible for God to lie), the sign can’t add to the truthfulness or trustworthiness of God’s  promise.  But it can serve as a bulwark against unbelief in Abram’s heart.

In the most important of senses, there is nothing new in this chapter.  It’s merely the latest episode in the story of God’s triumphant faithfulness.  There is only one Hero of the covenant–the Lord.  What sustains and propels the covenant forward–and guarantees its fulfillment–is never the faith of men, but the faithfulness of the Lord.  Abram has learned this lesson once again, and I pray that I will as well.

As I look through Genesis 17 to the rest of redemptive history this morning, Romans 5:20-21 comes to mind:  “…but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The logic of God’s heart on display in Genesis 17 (i.e. kindness and faithfulness that flow against the grain of man’s unbelief and unfaithfulness) is the DNA of Calvary’s logic.  Oh, how I love the logic of our Lord’s amazing heart.


Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Genesis 16: The False Logic of Unbelief

This chapter stuns me every time I read it.  Correction:  stuns my self-righteousness every time I read it.  How, my interior monologue wonders, can Abram and Sarai be the only ones in the universe unable to see that the Hagar plan is not going to end well?  I think we’re meant to have that reaction to the folly of their unbelief precisely so that our own foolish unbelief can come into view.

I need to be honest:  the logic of unbelief often presents itself as the most sensible of alternatives.  Just as it did for Sarai and Abram.  If Genesis 15 recorded Abram’s struggle with the gap between the massive promises of God he had been given and the reality he was living, Genesis 16 gives us a window into Sarai’s side of the same struggle.

They were in a difficult position.  Holding the promise of God in one hand while finding themselves in what looked like–to the naked eye, anyway–like a dead end with no possibility of fulfillment in the other.  So, as time goes by, not only do impatience and anxious longing rise, but also, perhaps, some significant measure of self-doubt:  “Did we hear or understand that correctly?”

The irony of their plan is that it appears to be pursuing fulfillment of the promise.  They rationalize their decision as walking toward the promise of God, not away from it.  I might know someone who’s done that once or twice.

They’ve forgotten (as Maria and I often remind one another) that efficiency is not one of the Lord’s core values.  Not because He can’t be, but because process often proves one of His preferred methods for bringing glory to Himself and good to His people.  I’ve read about people like Abram and Sarai.

In effect, Abram and Sarai measure the promise of God according to the realities” of their situation.  They act in a way that amputates the most dramatic aspects of God’s promise to them.  I might know someone quite well who repeats this same mistake over and over again.

I recently came across the following quote regarding unbelief that summarizes well the “logic” of Abram and Sarai’s unbelief in this chapter:

“All unbelief is foolishness, for 
it takes such wisdom as its own finite perception can attain, and measuring infinity by that petty scale,
 concludes that what it cannot understand must be impossible.
  Unbelief is the result of incapacity engaged in argument.”

St. Hilary of Poitiers (c. AD 315—67)

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Genesis 15: The Brilliance of the Gospel’s Design

Genesis 15 gives us an(other!) occasion to celebrate the brilliant design of the Gospel.

The chapter’s drama centers on the question of assurance, in two related episodes.

The chapter opens with the LORD appearing to Abram in a vision and promising Himself as Abram’s shield and great reward (15:1) (cf. Hebrews 11:6).  Abram, who is still without an heir of his own, is then moved by this lavish promise to express his desire for assurance that the Lord will in fact fulfill His earlier promises to him:  “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless….” (15:2).  This is what I call boldness of the first order, and the Lord’s response demonstrates that He believes it is a boldness that honors Him because it is a boldness that takes His promises seriously.  He assures Abram that he will have an heir:  “…your very own son shall be your heir” (15:4), and then takes him outside under the stars to remind him of the full scope of His original promise–the Big Picture of what He intends to accomplish for and through Abram:  “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them…so shall your offspring be” (15:5).

The second episode of assurance centers on the “land” aspect of God’s covenant with Abram (15:7).  The Lord responds to Abram’s request by instructing him to take several animals, cut them in half, laying each half over against the other, creating a lane of sorts boundaried by the carcasses.  Although alien to us, this procedure would have been readily understood by the original audience of Genesis as the ceremony by which a covenant was formally memorialized in the ancient near east.  After they had entered into their covenant,  the parties would each walk down the “lane” between the carcasses.  The symbolism was stark:  by walking the lane, the covenant parties were acknowledging that they would deserve the fate of those animals if they violated the covenant they were entering.

The stunning thing here is that only one party passes down the lane, and it’s not Abram.  In fact, Abram is sound asleep at the decisive moment in the chapter’s action (15:12).  Asleep, Abram sees a remarkable–and unprecedented–vision:  the Lord Himself moving down the lane between the carcasses in the “form” of a “smoking fire pot and a flaming torch” (15:17).  The symbolism is breathtaking.  Not only is the Lord condescending to give Abram the assurance he desires by participating in a cultural ritual Abram would have understood (strictly unnecessary because it is impossible for God to lie-Titus 1:2) , but, as the only One who passes down the lane, the Lord is also dramatically illustrating His commitment to assume full responsibility for both sides of His covenant with Abram.  The Lord is guaranteeing not only His side, but man’s side as well, willingly placing Himself under a curse for man’s failure to uphold his side of the covenant.  Shocking!

This is where the brilliance of the Gospel’s design comes so marvelously into view in this chapter.  God’s side of the covenant is not in doubt.  It’s man’s side that, from the beginning, has been the weak link.  Genesis 15’s drama lays the groundwork for a resolution in which the Lord Himself  will act to fulfill and uphold not only His own side of the covenant, but man’s side as well.  What will that look like?

It will look like the Word becoming flesh (John 1:14).  It will look like the Son of God being born of a woman in the fullness of time, being born under the law that He might redeem those who were under the law (Galatians 4:4-5).  It will look like the Son of God fulfilling all righteousness in a life dedicated to the single purpose of doing the will of God (Matthew 3:11; Hebrews 10:4-10).  It will look like the Son of God triumphing over every temptation (Matthew 4:1-11; Hebrews 4:15), so that He might present Himself as the spotless and unblemished Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29; Hebrews 9:14).  It will look like Jesus–the beloved Son in whom the Father was well-pleased–being made a curse on the Cross in order to redeem His people from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13), being forsaken by His Father (Psalm 22:1) in order that we might be embraced by His Father as our Father (Galatians 4:6; 1 Peter 3:18)

Thank you, Abram, for being bold enough to ask your questions.  The answers you received have strengthened my heart and deepened my joy this morning by helping me to see your greatest Heir more clearly.


Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Genesis 14: God Most High Made Most Low

After rescuing Lot, Abram is met by Melchizedek, who is both a king and “priest of God Most High” (14:18).  The writer to the Hebrews will later place great weight on the literal meanings of both his name and the city he rules:  “He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness [i.e. the literal translation of ‘Melchizedek’], and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace” (Hebrews 7:2).  The author of Hebrews understands the Melchizedek of Genesis 14 as a real figure, whose two-fold identity (a king who is also a priest) and ministry of blessing Abram (14:19) point us (through Psalm 110:4) toward fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who is Himself the King of Righteousness and High Priest of God Most High.

Melchizedek reaffirms God’s promise to bless Abram (14:19-20), echoing the seminal promises of 12:1-3, and interpreting Lot’s rescue as proof of God’s enduring blessing upon Abram.

The king of Sodom immediately tries to reward Abram, but Abram declines the opportunity, by faith (14:21-24).  Although Genesis records a number of Abram’s failures and mistakes, this is one of the episodes where his faith in the Lord is strong and he acts from an accurate vision of the Lord’s faithfulness toward him.  Abram stands his ground.

My thoughts move this morning from Genesis 14 to another proposal made by a wicked king to a representative of Abram’s line.  This one happened in the wilderness, also during the course of a rescue mission–the Greatest Rescue Mission of all–when the king of the king of Sodom, satan, offered Abram’s greatest son, Jesus Christ, all the glory and kingdoms of the world in exchange for His worship (Matthew 4:1-11).  And Jesus, the seed of Abram through whom all the families of the earth will be blessed, held His ground.  He did so not as our example, but as our Champion, who prevailed in battle for us to win a war and purchase our rescue.

It’s not just the fact of His triumph that prompts me to celebrate this morning; it’s how He achieved victory and obtained our rescue.  For “God Most High” (14:18, 20, 22) made Himself “God Most Low”:  from His incarnation to His crucifixion!  For sinners like me, and like you.  Amazing.  Wonderful.

My thanks and praise belong to Him this morning.  Blessed be God Most High!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Genesis 13: 2 Paths to Paradise

I know, I know:  I’m a couple of days behind.  I’ve had  a rich study week mapping out the next several months of messages from Matthew’s Gospel and didn’t want to interrupt the (all too fragile) flow of thought.

Genesis 13 has always struck me as a chapter of stark choices:  Lot goes one way, Abram the other.  Lot goes short term.  Abram looks long term. Lot chooses by sight.  Abram chooses by faith.  Lot believes what his eyes show him.  Abram believes what God’s word promises him.


Subsequent events in Chapters 14 & 19 will reflect on the folly and spiritual danger of the choice Lot makes here in Chapter 13:  Lot will have to be rescued twice because of his association with Sodom.

Lot’s story is a sobering and cautionary one.  Lot is drawn to the appearance of blessing and fruitfulness in the Jordan Valley:  “And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD….” (v.10).  This is a fascinating and telling comparison:  the beauty Lot beholds from a distance triggers something deep within him, evoking comparisons with Eden (which was also well-watered 2:10-14)–what once was and was lost by man’s sin.  It’s the echo of Paradise lost that Lot hears and follows, but, as the narrative will soon clarify, it will prove a siren-song, a deadly mirage, an anti-Paradise.  Verse 13 immediately alerts us to the folly and danger of Lot’s choice:  “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.”  

Subsequent chapters will show that, far from a return to Paradise, Lot is overcome by Sodom’s “gravitational pull” both geographically and morally.  He starts out in Chapter 13 with his tent on the outskirts of the city.  By the time we meet him again in Chapter 19, he is living within the city itself.  The longer he lives near Sodom, the closer he moves into Sodom.  This a cautionary tale, indeed:  it is never safe to flirt with the outskirts of sin, to overestimate our strength to resist or to underestimate sin’s strength to overwhelm and undo us.


Abram is on the long path to Paradise, the path marked out by the Lord’s promises.  This is the point of the Lord’s assurances to him in vv.14-17, when He commands Abram to survey the 4 points of the compass and summons Abram to believe (yet again) His promises that are utterly beyond Abram’s experience and capacity.

The Lord’s generosity to Abram here floors me.  He shows Abram far more than he will actually see in his lifetime:  something too large to be contained within the borders of his lifetime.  It feels to me like yet another deliberate echo of 1:26-28.  In effect, the LORD shows Abram the entire earth, assuring him that he will be multiplied, he will be made fruitful, and that his seed will in fact fill the earth.  In Genesis 1, the Lord commanded Adam and Eve to do the multiplying, to be fruitful and to do the filling of the earth.  Here, while the result will be the same, the path to that result has a different emphasis:  it is the Lord Himself who will undertake to fulfill His original mandate for His image bearers.  I call that sovereign grace, and it is wonderful.  The mission is secure.

It is indeed a chapter of stark choices, of 2 radically different pursuits of regaining the Paradise that has been lost.  As the writer to the Hebrews clarifies, Abram saw much further–and therefore much more clearly–than Lot.  Abram gladly passes on Sodom, because the eyes of his heart were fixed on a different city:  “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).  It’s in that city–and only in that city–where citizenship has been purchased by Christ’s blood (Abram’s greatest Seed) for all who will trust in Him that Paradise will be regained.

May the Lord keep our eyes on the only City that will last.  SDG

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Genesis 12: God’s Plan to Flood the Earth with His Blessing

Genesis 12:1-3

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

There’s a great irony as we move into Genesis 12:  the very thing the Tower builders sought for themselves apart from God (“a name” for themselves-11:4), the Lord promises to Abram:  “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (12:2).  Indeed, the Lord’s promise far exceeds the builders’ ambition.  He will make Abram’s the greatest of all names on the earth because it will be the name through which all the families of the earth will be blessed!

Something much greater than God’s covenant with Noah is here.  The Lord announces something far greater than the global stability & preservation guaranteed by His covenant with Noah. Rather than protecting the world from another flood of judgment, through Abraham & his seed, the Lord announces His intention to flood the world once again, not in judgment but with blessing!

The Lord’s covenant with Noah is a Self-imposed gracious restraint upon His prerogatives as the Righteous Judge of the world.  This promised stability preserves conditions so that the Triumphant Seed of Genesis 3:15 can emerge, but does not change those conditions, and leaves open questions concerning how God will advance His purposes.

In the Lord’s covenant with Abraham, the invasion of God’s redemptive grace into the world begins in earnest, with 12:3’s explicit promise that He intends to do far more than preserve the status quo, but to affirmatively bless all the families of the earth, a purpose which harkens back to the Lord’s design in 1:26—28!   If the Lord had destroyed all the earth and all men (including Noah & his family), then His original design would have been abandoned.  Instead, He demonstrates His supremacy by overcoming, triumphing over sin & all its consequences.

God’s purpose has not changed!  Just as in Genesis 1:26–28, He still intends to bless the entire earth.  As in Genesis 3:15, He will raise a seed of the woman, who we now know will be a son of Abraham, to bring His blessing to the 4 corners of the globe!  The relationship between God and all the families of the earth will now depend on Abraham & his seed mediating the blessings of the covenant to all.  Likewise, the relationship between the families of the earth and the Lord will depend upon their relationship to Abraham & his Seed (12:3).

I’m grateful for the following insight from Bruce Waltke in his wonderful commentary on Genesis:

“The expansion of the promise of 12:1—3 from individual to national to universal salvation is the essential movement of Scripture.  The Bible is a missionary guide:  concerned with bringing salvation to all the families of the earth.  Abraham as a blessing bearer of salvation is an anticipation of the blessing-bearing Christ.  When Christ ascends into heaven, He extends His pierced hands, hands that blessed infants and gave sight to the blind, to bless His church (Luke 24:50—53).”  Waltke 209



Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Genesis 10-11: The True Direction of the Universe

I want to take Genesis 10 & 11 together this morning.

Genesis 10 is the “book” describing Noah’s descendants: the lines of his 3 sons, Japheth, Ham, and Shem.  Japheth’s line receives the least attention (10:2-5), Ham’s the most space (10:6-20), and Shem’s the prominence of place as the chapter’s climax and bridge to the line of Abram (10:21-31).

Ham’s line is the line under the Lord’s curse (9:24-27), and Moses is careful to explain that Ham’s line ultimately produces 3 of Israel’s historical antagonists:  Egypt (10:6), Canaan (10:6), and the Philistines (10:14).  This kind of historical detail would have helped the Exodus generation (the original audience for the book of Genesis) better understand the deeper roots of the conflicts in which they found themselves engaged, assuring them of their relevance to God’s larger purposes in history.

Genesis 11 is the (in)famous chapter describing the Tower of Babel.  You could say that, while Genesis 10 describes the formation of the nations after the Flood, Genesis 11 describes their malfunction.  Nothing has been learned from the Flood.  Men aren’t getting smarter, and they certainly (as Chapter 11 records) aren’t improving morally or spiritually.  The ambition driving the construction of the Tower is man-centered, not God-centered.  Its starting point is the assumption that man is the master of his own future, and can build that future from the ground up–even that man is capable of reaching heaven through his efforts:  “They they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.'” (11:4).

This “mission statement” is a tragically ironic echo of God’s original mission statement for His image-bearers in Genesis 1:26-28.  There, man was blessed with the design to fill the entire earth, bearing God’s image, extending His name and His glory to the farthest reaches of His creation.  Here, on this side of the Fall and Flood, man’s ambition is the polar opposite:  man’s mission has become the exaltation of man.  His purpose is to make a name for himself, rather than to serve the Lord.  Man’s vision of his future has been reduced to the construction of an elaborate mirror within which he’ll be able to admire himself, instead of a window through which he’ll be able to see the greatness of God more clearly.

I would love to be able to dismiss the folly of this anti-God ambition in Genesis 11 and regard myself at a commendably pious remove from it, but the fact is that Genesis 11 is a mirror that shows me things about my own heart that I’d rather not see.  I am constantly forgetting that, unlike every other religion, Christianity is about glory coming down, as a gift, to people and a world that hasn’t and can’t ever earn it.  Not as a reward, but to rescue us.  The direction of Babel is wrong:  it’s bottom up.  The direction of the Gospel is Top-down.

Every other religion, every philosophy, every approach to life (besides the Gospel) shows us a “ladder” at the heart of reality and then proposes to give us climbing lessons of one sort or another.  Not Christianity.  Christianity does show us there’s a “ladder” connecting heaven (God’s dwelling) and earth (man’s dwelling), but it’s a ladder only God could make (contra: the Babelian Builders), bridging an infinite distance only God Himself could cross—a ladder that only God Himself could climb.  If we’re to know God and be reconciled to Him, it is He who must move toward us, He who must come to us:  this is the true direction of the universe.  Theologians have a name for this “direction,” this true grain of the universe:  grace.

Genesis 11 has taught me once again this morning to rejoice that the Good News of the Gospel is that “the Word became flesh,” (John 1:14), and not the other way around.


p.s.  For those who make it this far (!), here’s a quote from Herman Bavinck (my favorite theologian), on the Bible’s vision of the universe’s true direction.  It’s a bit long, but well worth the effort.  Enjoy!

“…[C]ovenant is the essence of true religion.  Why should this be?  First of all, because God is the Creator, man a creature; and with that statement an infinite distance between the two is a given.  No fellowship, no religion between the two seems possible; there is only difference, distance, endless distinctness.  If God remains elevated above humanity in His sovereign exaltedness and majesty, then no religion is possible, at least no religion in the sense of fellowship.  Then the relation between the two is exhaustively described in the terms ‘master’ and ‘servant.’  Then the image of the potter and the clay is still much too weak to describe that relation because clay has existence—and hence rights—independently of, and over against, the potter, but human beings have nothing and are nothing apart from God.  Accordingly, if there is truly to be religion, if there is to be fellowship between God and man, if the relation between the two is to be also (but not exclusively) that of a master to his servant, of a potter to clay, as well as that of a king to his people, of a father to his son, of a mother to her child, of an eagle to her young, of a hen to her chicks, and so forth; that is, if not just one relation but all relations and all sorts of relations of dependence, submission, obedience, friendship, love, and so forth among humans find their model and achieve their fulfillment in religion, then religion must be the character of a covenant.  For then God has to come down from His lofty position, condescend to His creatures, impart, reveal, and give Himself away to human beings; then He who inhabits eternity and dwells in a high and holy place must also dwell with those who are of a humble spirit (Isaiah 57:15).  But this set of conditions is nothing other than the description of a covenant.  If religion is called a covenant, it is thereby described as the true and genuine religion.  This is what no religion has ever understood; all peoples either pantheistically pull God down into what is creaturely, or deistically elevate Him endlessly above it.  In neither case does one arrive at true fellowship, at covenant, at genuine religionBut Scripture insists on both:  God is infinitely great and condescendingly good; He is Sovereign but also Father; He is Creator but also Prototype.  In a word, He is the God of the covenant.”  (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:569—570).


Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,