Tag Archives: Grace of God

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).

SDG

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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.

SDG.

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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!

SDG

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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.

SDG

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Genesis 8-9: The Persevering & Preserving Grace of God

Genesis 8-9 are stunning demonstrations of the grace of God in the face of man’s sin.

Preservation.  The Lord promises stability (e.g. 8:22; 9:8-17) for a world that hasn’t earned it, thus providing an opportunity for His redemptive purposes to reach full flower, to ripen.  Man’s sin will not defeat the promise of a Redeemer in Genesis 3:15.

Incompleteness.  God’s promise of stability for the world is in the face of, but not a remedy for, man’s sinfulness.  The Lord’s covenant through Noah does not solve the problem of man’s sin.   In fact, the Lord’s perspective on human sin is the same before & after the Flood.  The central problem of history remains the same:  the heart of man.

Before the Flood (Genesis 6:5).   “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the                 thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

After the Flood (Genesis 8:21).  “The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.”

What makes 8:21 even more compelling is that, although 6:5 is a statement about the entire earth, 8:21—coming as it does right after the flood—is not predictive, but, by definition, descriptive only of Noah & his family!  Noah and his family still carry the legacy of Adam.  That cursed chain hasn’t yet been broken.

Weakness & failure of the Mediator—Noah.  Noah’s weakness is depicted even more graphically in 9:20—22, immediately after the covenant.  Noah does not, cannot, live up to the promise of his name (5:29—rest from the curse).  Noah’s sin demonstrates that he is not the promised Seed of Genesis 3:15.  In Noah, the seed of the woman is preserved through God’s judgment, but, despite all his promise & his vital role, he proves that he himself is not that Redeemer.  One greater than Noah must come!

Questions Raised by Noah’s Story

What must God be like to make such a covenant—benefiting all of creation—unilaterally, in full view of man’s sin-ravaged nature (so ravaged & corrupt that even living through the Flood—watching God’s judgment through the window—isn’t enough to reform man’s heart—Noah and Ham)?!

How patient must He be?  How slow to angerHow merciful must He be?  How faithful to His promises must He be?  How broad & wide must the intention of His saving grace be that He would preserve the entire earth?  How eager must He be to show His love to sinners that He would preserve a remnant out of His just judgment? The answers to each of these questions is found in Jesus Christ.

Answers Given Through Jesus Christ, the Promised Seed of Genesis 3:15.

In Jesus Christ, God gives the world a Mediator greater than Noah.  In Jesus, God gives the world a judgment-bearing Mediator who is righteous.  The rest does not come in Noah, but through  him (cf. Luke 3:36).  We need a mediator who would survive God’s judgment against sin, not by escaping it while others perish under it, but by bearing, absorbing, and exhausting it—by becoming that sin—so that others would be spared.

How gracious is this God?  How patient?  How loving toward sinners, those who’ve set themselves against Him?  Look to the Cross!  He gave His Son, to stand in our place, for our sakes, to be the lightning rod for His judgment, to open the floodgates, and to empty the heavens of every last trace—down to the final drop—of His wrath against the sins of His people.  He gave His Son!

We live in the age of opportunity–Matthew 13:24—30. The Lord’s parable of the tares among the wheat resembles His covenant with Noah.  In the parable, the Landowner is fully aware of the tares (vv. 28—30), and that they represent/embody enmity to his purposes, that they constitute violent personal opposition to him.  Yet, what does he do with this accurate knowledge (cf. Genesis 6:5, 8:21)?  He suspends execution of his final judgment for a season so that the wheat may grow and reach maturity (v.29).  In other words, his highest governing value is to create a context of stability for growth in which as much wheat as possible can come to full maturity.

His gracious patience—even though it creates an ambiguous overlap—nonetheless preserves the opportunity for the “sons of the kingdom” to multiply.

 

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