The Lord Will Provide

When I was in high school, sociology and psychology were required classes. A student was required to take only one of those classes junior year or senior year. I took both. I took sociology my junior year and psychology my senior year. And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed those classes because I enjoyed the teacher, Mr. Gibeaut. He taught using no notes. He told the best stories. And he rarely gave homework, if ever. But he gave tests. There was nothing special about his tests. Each test was a typical test – short answer; true/false; matching; fill in the blank and multiple choice. But question number ten on every test demanded special attention. It was always multiple choice. And it was always the same answer – C. Once graded, tests would be returned and Mr. Gibeaut would take class time to review each and every question, especially question number ten.  There would come a short pause accompanied by a slight smile. Then Mr. Gibeaut would say, “And ten…is C. Ten is C! Just like the state, Tennessee.”

God Tested Abraham

Genesis 22 is a test. There is no short answer; no true/false; no matching; no fill in the blank; no multiple choice. There is no question number ten. It is not a driving test; hearing test; sight test; pregnancy test; sobriety test. It is not an aptitude test or compatibility test or durability test. It is not even a taste test. What is this test?

Listen to Genesis 22:1. “After these things God tested Abraham.” Notice the word tested. This is the only time this word occurs in Genesis. This is going to seem really obvious, but who is being tested? Abraham. So, this is the only time this word occurs in Genesis and the individual to be tested is Abraham.

Keep that in mind and notice the first few words that introduce the chapter. “After these things God tested Abraham.” So, this is the only time the word tested occurs in Genesis and the individual to be tested is Abraham. But he is only tested after these things. What things? The word after is a key word. After these things God tested Abraham. So, to know what after is referring to, it is probably best to know what is before. What happened before God tested Abraham?

Notice that the word things is plural. So, the better question is what things happened before God tested Abraham? Before Genesis 22 is Genesis 21. Things happened in Genesis 21, three things. First, Isaac was born. Second, Abraham sent Hagar away with Ishmael, Abraham’s son, into the wilderness. They got lost in the wilderness.

After these things God tested Abraham. Why is Abraham being tested now? Why is Abraham being tested after those things? The Hebrew text literally begins this way: And it came to pass after these things… The New International translation picks up on this and begins verse one “Some time later…” There it is; it is not just after these things, which surely includes Genesis 21, but there was some time that past after these things. How much time? Isaac is in Genesis 21. He was born in Genesis 21 and had a birthday party in Genesis 21 when he was about two or three years old. Isaac is also in Genesis 22.

In Genesis 22:12, Isaac is a called a boy. In Genesis 21:18, Ishmael is also called a boy. In Hebrew it is a different word than for child (21:8). The short definition for boy is man. In Genesis 21, Ishmael is about fifteen or sixteen years old. How old then could Isaac be in Genesis 22? The point is that Genesis 22 is some time later after these things. How much time later? It is about fifteen to sixteen years later.

Charles Spurgeon had this insight. There was a course of education to prepare him for this great testing time, and the Lord knows how to educate us up to such a point that we can endure, in years to come, what we could not endure today – just as today he may make us stand firm under a burden, which ten years ago, would have crushed us into the dust.

Three things happened in Genesis 21. Third, Abraham made a new friend and got a little help from his friend securing a well of water. This third thing that happened was described as humdrum. In other words, boring. This third thing was about a boring, humdrum, mundane day. Some fifteen years after this particular day, God tested Abraham. Why does that matter? We mentioned last week that our lives are made up of days. The average life expectance today is 78.7 years or 28,725 days. How many of those days will be boring or mundane? A lot. The last thing that happened before Genesis 22 was a mundane day. God was at work in that mundane day. Do not miss the splendor of God in mundane things on mundane days. The point is that it may be the course of education to prepare you for a great testing time.

And think on this: Abraham was over a hundred years old. After these things, after all this time, God tested an old man, a really old man. And for what reason? What is being tested?

Please Take Your Son

It begins with Genesis 22:2. “Take your son…” The word take is a command. Actually, there are three commands in verse two. Take; go; offer. But the first command begins softly. Some translations include the word now. Take now your son. The word now literally means please – please take your son. It begins softly and then increases in intensity. Please take your son, your only son, whom you love, the son of your affection, and go.

God commands Abraham to take Isaac and go to the land of Moriah. Moriah is only used one other time in the Old Testament – 2 Chronicles 3:1. There it is called Mount Moriah in Jerusalem and it is the place where King Solomon would build the temple, the house of the Lord. God commands Abraham to go to the land of Moriah and notice where exactly in the land of Moriah. “On one of the mountains of which I will show you.”

And then it gets hard. It gets hard to read. How hard must it have been to hear? “Offer him there as a burnt offering.” Isaac was to die as a sacrifice…by the hands of his own father. So, what is being tested?

When Will It Be Over?

So Abraham got up early the next morning, prepared his donkey, cut the needed wooded, took two of his servants with him and his son Isaac (22:3). The big point though that I want to make is in verse four. “On the third day…” Abraham traveled and traveled and traveled for three days thinking about his son who was to be offered as a sacrifice by his own hand. Again, what is being tested?

Ask Dad, He Knows. Those words are a part of an advertisement in the Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life. So, I asked my Dad. I asked him about testing. Testing usually always involves something difficult or hard. And my Dad shared that the big issue about testing is not how hard or difficult it may be, or how big or how dark the testing may be, but how long, the duration. How long will this test last? It was three days, three long arduous days. And for three days there was just one question. When will it be over? “On the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place from afar.” It was about to be over.

Isaac Breaks the Silence

For most of this trip there was silence. There was silence until Abraham saw the place. Listen to Genesis 22:5. “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Pause here for a moment and ask, what is being tested? Then there was silence again. Abraham took the wood and placed it on his son. Isaac had to carry the wood for the offering. Abraham grabbed the knife and the fire. Listen to how verse six ends. “So they went both of them together.” Father and son. And there was silence.

And then Isaac broke the silence. “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Listen to verse eight. “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” What is being tested? For now, highlight the word provide. Then read again, “So they went both of them together.” Father and son. And there was silence.

God Breaks the Silence

Father and son come to the place of sacrifice; a mountain of Moriah. Abraham builds the altar, arranges the wood and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar. Father and son. And there was silence. No one said a word, not even Isaac. It makes you wonder, why did Isaac not say a word? Remember the last thing he heard his father say? “God will provide for himself the lamb.” What is being tested? Abraham reached out his hand – he must have looked at his hand – and took the knife – he must have looked at the knife in his hand – to slaughter his son – he must have looked at his son – and God broke the silence. “Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (22:12). Now pay careful attention to Genesis 22:13. “And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.” Highlight the word looked.

The Lord Will Provide

And pay even closer attention to Genesis 22:14. “So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’ The word provide is the same word for provide in verse eight. It is also the same word for looked too. It means to see. But it gets better. It is the same word for saw in verse four. And it gets even better. It means not just to see, but to see to it. Abraham first saw and then said, “God will see to it” (Genesis 22:4, 8). Then Abraham looked and said, “God saw to it!” (Genesis 22:13, 14).

What was being tested? Abraham was known for his faith. I think Job 23:10 is helpful. “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” What was being tested? His faith. And for what purpose? To purify it, that it may come out as gold, even more precious than gold. And what did it? God will see to it.

We get the word providence from the word provide. And providence is all about that God will see to it. God will sustain. God will take care of it. And when he does, there is just one thing to say, “God saw to it!”

It is the one thing to grab tightly to as if your life depends on it in any hardship, any difficulty, any storm. God will see to it. Do you know how you can know that God will see to it? It is because he already has. God has already saw to it.

This land called Moriah is the same place where a cross of wood would be laid on the back of Jesus. It is the same place Jesus would be nailed to that cross of wood. It is the same place he would be silent. It is the same place he would break the silence with “It is finished.” It is the same place that the lamb of God would take away the sins of the world. And it is the same place that after three days the grave could no longer contain him.

 

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The Calm After the Storm

Roger Taylor had a plan for retirement. It was not to sell his house in Strongsville, Ohio – which he did. It was not to move to the country – which he did. It was not to purchase a small portion of farm land – which he did. It was not to build a house – which he did. Roger Taylor’s plan for retirement was to plant trees – which he did. He planted a row of pine of trees alongside his driveway. He then planted more pine trees, rows and rows of pine trees to serve as Christmas trees. He also planted shade trees. And it was all very strategic. It was all mapped out in his mind where these shade trees would grow and how they would grow and how they would be enjoyed twenty, thirty years later. And he envisioned picnics. He envisioned his friends and family at those picnics sitting under those trees. But most importantly, Roger envisioned Roger sitting under those trees with a smile on his face.

Roger Taylor planted particular trees for particular reasons. It was one of the first things he ever told me on the first day I met him when I first started dating his daughter Lisa.

Abraham Planted a Tree

Genesis 21:22-34 has been described as “a period of fairly humdrum activity.”[1] Do you know what humdrum means? It means boring. These thirteen verses have been described as boring. And it is simply because not much happens. King Abimelech sends a friend request to Abraham and Abraham accepts (21:22-24). Abraham then asks his new friend for some help in a small matter and Abimelech obliges (Genesis 21:25-27). The two friends then shake hands and return to their homes (Genesis 21:28-32).

But Abraham planted a tree. And he planted a tree not just in a passage where not much happened, but on a day when not much happened. Carefully pay attention to Genesis 21:33. “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God.” Abraham planted a tree. This almost never happens in Genesis. The word planted occurs only three times in Genesis. The first time is when God planted a garden (Genesis 2:8). The second time is when Noah planted a vineyard (Genesis 9:20). And the third time is when Abraham planted a tree. And when this word occurs it is about something particular.

Why Did Abraham Plant a Tree?

Why did Abraham plant a tree? It is about a well of water; a well Abraham had dug and was taken from him. Listen to Genesis 21:25. “When Abraham reproved Abimelech about a well of water…” After Abraham accepted Abimelech’s friend request he reproved him! Another word for reprove would be rebuke or correct. Some translations have the word complained. After Abraham accepted Abimelech’s friend request he complained to him! But the way this word is constructed suggests that Abraham complained several times. After Abraham accepted Abimelech’s friend request he complained and complained and complained to his new friend about this well.

Listen again to Genesis 21:25. “When Abraham reproved Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized…” Seized means to take by violent force. Abraham had dug a well for his home and his needs and the men of the land who served Abimelech took it, violently. And Abraham said nothing about it until this particular day.

When he mentions this to his new friend there is no arguing, no questions asked, and the matter is settled peacefully (21:26-32). I did wonder though why Abraham did not just dig another well. We need to remember that Abraham is a stranger in this land. Abimelech had invited Abraham to dwell in his land, meaning the land was not Abraham’s but he was a welcomed visitor in it (20:15). The Bible describes this as a sojourner. A sojourner is one that makes a temporary stay and has no ownership rights. So, the men who served Abimelech took a well that did not technically belong to Abraham.

But on this particular day when Abimelech officially gets a new friend, Abraham also gets his well back. His new friend gives him the right to call that well his own (Genesis 21:27). So, it is kind of important because not every sojourner can say that they have their very own well. And what does Abraham then do? He planted a tree.

Where Did Abraham Plant a Tree?

The small point to pay attention to is that Abraham planted a particular tree. Look again at Genesis 21:33. “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God.” Most translations call this tree a tamarisk tree. Tamarisk trees were native to this region, the Negeb (20:1). It can grow to be about 25 feet tall. And it is also a good shade tree. You can rest under it. But a tamarisk is not only a tree. It is also a bush or shrub. This leads us to a big question: where did Abraham plant this particular tree?

Look again at Genesis 21:33. “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God.” Where did Abraham plant this particular tree? Beersheba.

A little point of this passage is to tell us how Beersheba got its name. It is composed of two words: beer and sheba. Beer means well and sheba means seven. The well is Abraham’s well that he himself had dug, but it was taken from him. At this well Abraham gave seven ewe lambs to his new friend as a witness that this well was indeed Abraham’s well. Then the two men make a covenant together that they are indeed friends and that this is indeed Abraham’s well and each swear an oath (21:24; 27; 30-31). The word oath or swear (shaba) comes from the word seven (sheba). “Therefore that place was called Beersheba” (21:31). And what does Abraham then do? He planted a tree.

Why Does It Matter?

Why does it matter? Why does the name Beersheba matter? Why does it matter that Abraham planted a tree and planted it there? Now pay attention to Genesis 21:22. “At that time…” Pause there. Those three words are pointing to a particular time. Abraham planted a particular tree in a particular place at a particular time. At what particular time? What time do those three little words refer to?

Turn to Genesis 21:14. This is when Abraham sent Hagar and his son Ishmael away. “So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.” Hagar and Ishmael were lost. Hagar and Ishmael got to a point where all seemed lost. And where was this?

What happened next? Now read Genesis 21:15. “She put the child under one of the bushes.” Hagar put Ishmael under a bush. What kind of bush could this be? A tamarisk bush.

Now listen to Genesis 21:17. It took me two weeks to really understand the significance of this verse. “And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.’” Where was Ishmael? Under a tamarisk bush. And where was this tamarisk bush? In Beersheba. Why is any of this so significant?

The Calm After the Storm

The words “at that time” connect Genesis 21:22-34 with Genesis 21:15-21. And it is not just to connect, but to compare. These two passages are two different kind of days.

There are those days when we are lost, and all seems lost. Let’s call those days storms. It feels like this is the end and there is no end to the storm in sight. This is Genesis 21:15-21 and those verses, for that kind of day, there is verse seventeen. “God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.” God hears your voice there and so, listen to his voice there. “What troubles you?” This is in the storm! What is going to ease your trouble in the seemingly endless storm? God will do what he says he will do; God will do what he promises he will do; and God will do it in his perfect timing. Therefore, get up.

Then there are those days that are rather humdrum or ordinary. Let’s call those days calm. This is Genesis 21:22-34. Did you notice that Ishmael under the tamarisk bush in Beersheba and Abraham planting a tree in Beersheba both occur in the same chapter? The storm and then the calm. I would like to call these verses, Genesis 21:22-34, the calm after the storm.

We all have these days; the calm days. These days are kind of routine. We get up, get ready, get dressed, get some coffee, get the kids ready, get the kids some coffee, do some work, get the kids, come home, eat dinner, go to bed. And then we do it all over again. And in that kind of day, there are little things, not storms, just little things that kind of matter to us. No one else could really care, but it is like that well. My thought was, why not dig another well? Abraham’s well, to me, was a little thing. And Abraham’s well compared to Ishmael lost and feeling that all was lost, was rather calm. What do we do with those kinds of days? I know what to do for the storm and in the storm. Cry out to God like your life depends on it. Hagar and Ishmael did. God heard their voices right where they were.

But what about the other days? I have a feeling that when our lives are all said and done, and our days are measured, we will have more calm days than storm days. What do we do with the calm, humdrum, rather boring days? Charles Spurgeon had this to say: “The infinite Lord is at home doing little things.”

Did you notice what Abraham did after he planted that particular tree in that particular place? He worshiped. He proclaimed God’s greatness and he called God “the Everlasting God.” Listen to Isaiah 40:28. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”

When did Abraham discover that? It was on a calm, humdrum, rather boring day. The greatness of God is to be had in those days too. Abraham planted a particular tree in a particular place for a particular reason. His calm, humdrum, rather boring days were not hidden from God. God was at home doing little things.

There are days of desperation, I get that. But I do not want to miss the splendor of God in the mundane either. It is as simple as daily planting a tree and proclaiming God’s greatness in the calm.

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 2, page 94.

God Has Prepared Laughter for Me

Halloween candy has quickly made its way to the clearance bin and for just one reason: the Christmas candy has come. There are the bags of red and green M & M’s; there are the bags of red and green wrapped miniature Reese cups; and then there are the bags of candy cane Hershey Kisses, all in abundant supply. All of this means that the best time of the year is almost here. And the best time of the year is marked with Christmas music. And the best Christmas music are Christmas hymns, such as Joy to the World.

Yet, Joy to the World is not about Christmas. It is not about Christ’s birth, his first coming. Joy to the World is about his second coming. Joy to the world, the Lord is come! We sing it at Christmas so as to look forward to his coming again. As a new believer a young woman, a mother, was listening intently in the morning service as the pastor shared that Jesus is indeed coming again. Much to her surprise, she blurted out, “He is coming again?!” Everyone turned in their seats, looked at her and laughed. They all laughed at her.

Looking for Laughter

The word laugh is rather important to Genesis 21. I want us to look for it. Look to Genesis 21:3. “Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac.” Look to Genesis 21:4. “And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac…” Look to Genesis 21:5. “Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.” Look to Genesis 21:6. “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” Look to Genesis 21:8. “Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.” Look to Genesis 21:9. “But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing.” Look to Genesis 21:10. “…the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” Look to Genesis 21:12. “…for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”

In Genesis 21:1-21, the word laugh is found nine times. It is found either as the name Isaac which means “he laughs,” or as simply as the word laugh, nine times in just the first twelve verses. In the remaining verses, Genesis 21:13-21, the word is never found. But…it is there, laughter is found there. Laughter is the big idea of Genesis 21:1-21. And it begins with an old woman, a mother. Her name was Sarah. She was ninety-years old.

All Who Hear Will Laugh with Me

This old woman, a year earlier, was eavesdropping. When she was eavesdropping she heard God himself tell her husband, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son” (Genesis 18:10). Sarah had but one reaction. She laughed. “So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’” (Genesis 18:12). And God had but one response. “Why did Sarah laugh?” (Genesis 18:13).

This old woman was married to an even older man, Abraham. When God had spoken earlier with Abraham about being a dad at one hundred years old and Sarah being a mom at ninety years old, Abraham had but one reaction. He laughed. He laughed so hard that he threw himself to the ground laughing (Genesis 17:17). And God had just one response. “And you shall call his name Isaac,” which we know means “he laughs” (17:19).

This old woman, a year later, gave birth to a son. When she saw her baby boy and heard his name for the first time, she had but one reaction. She laughed. It was not like the year before. No, this year it was different. Why was it different? Why did Sarah laugh, again?

The answer lies in the first two verses of Genesis 21. “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.” A year later, why did Sarah laugh, again? It is because God did what he had said he would do. A year later, why did Sarah laugh, again? It is because God did what he had promised. A year later, why did Sarah laugh, again? It is because God did it when he said he would do it.

Listen to Genesis 21:6. “And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.’” All who hear will laugh with me! Notice the word hear. It is often translated as listen; to listen attentively, to listen carefully, to listen closely or to listen obediently. And it can mean to listen and understand. All who listen and understand will laugh with me! Hear what? Listen to and understand what? Is it that at ninety she gave birth to a son? Or is there more? There is more. God did what he had said he would do. God did what he had promised. And God did it when he said he would do it.

Sarah is telling us that at ninety is when she finally and really laughed differently. It was joy; and it was so much more than the joy of motherhood. It was God doing what he had said he would do. It was God doing what he had promised. It was God doing it when he said he would do it. And she is telling us that when we get this – God does what he says he will do; God does what he promises; and God does it in his perfect timing – there is laughter for us too. We will laugh with her. This, in these first seven verses, is really important to the rest of the passage.

But Sarah Saw the Son of Hagar

And it starts with Genesis 21:9. “But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian.” Who is Hagar? She was a mom just like Sarah. And she was a mom of a son just like Sarah. Who is the son of Hagar? His name was Ishmael. He is the son of Abraham. And when Sarah saw Ishmael he was laughing. There are two questions. When was Ishmael laughing and why was Ishmael laughing?

Notice verse eight. When Isaac was about two or three years old, which would make Ishmael fifteen to sixteen years old (cf. 17:25), Abraham put on a celebration. In Abraham’s day, infant mortality was so high that to reach the age of two or three was quite an achievement.[1] And as they were celebrating, Sarah saw Ishmael laughing. Why was he laughing?

The word laughing here is grammatically constructed in such a way so as to indicate mocking (cf. Genesis 18:14). Would Ishmael be mocking this celebration? If so, why? It seems cruel, mean and wrong. But the word laughing is also grammatically constructed in such a way so as to indicate “to play with.” Who would Ishmael be playing with? It would seem that he would be playing with his little brother Isaac. And if so, what does it matter?

Listen to verse ten. “So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son.’” And pay attention to Sarah’s reasoning. “For the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” There is something about this laughing that Sarah did not like. Could it be as innocent as Ishmael was playing with his little brother? Maybe. These are the two sons of Abraham. And God has made promises to and about both sons (cf. Genesis 17:20). Yet, only one is the son of the promise (cf. Genesis 17:1-21). Only one son is the heir – Isaac. So as to make and keep this abundantly clear, Sarah demands “cast out this slave woman with her son.”

I like how the NIV translates it: Get rid of them! This captures the intense harshness of this word. And Abraham thought it was intensely harsh. “And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son” (Genesis 21:11). Abraham found this to be cruel, mean and wrong. But listen to verse twelve. It begins with two of the most important words in the Bible. “But God said to Abraham, ‘Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you.’” Listen to what God is saying. Do not think this cruel, mean and wrong. Instead, do it. God is telling him to banish his son and Hagar. Why God?

So, Abraham gave Hagar bread and a big jug of water and sent her and Ishmael away.

And God Heard the Son of Hagar

I want us to remember that the following verses involve a mom, Hagar, and her son Ishmael…just like the previous verses. Genesis 21:1-12 involved a mom, Sarah, and her son Isaac. And in those verses, there was laughter. We want to ask, where is the laughter in the following verses? Sarah told us that when we get that God does what he says he will do; that God does what he promises; and that God does it in his perfect timing – there will be laughter. So, where is it in the following verses?

Listen to the end of Genesis 21:14. “she departed and wandered in the wilderness.” Hagar and Ishmael were lost. They were wandering in the wilderness! And not only were Hagar and Ishmael lost, but all seemed lost. The water was gone! Listen to Genesis 21:15b-16. “She put [to throw or fling] the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, ‘Let me not look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.” Hagar and Ishmael sat on the edge of despair. And who ultimately told Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away? God did. Why?

Genesis 21:17 is my favorite verse. In these twenty-one verses Ishmael’s name is never mentioned. No one ever calls him by name. He is either called son or child or boy, but never just Ishmael until verse seventeen. Remember, Ishmael’s name means “God hears.” And verse seventeen reads, “And God heard the voice of the boy.” This verse contains the two Hebrew words used to spell Ishmael’s name.

And God sent an angel in his perfect timing to say to Hagar, “What troubles you, Hagar?” Remember, Hagar and Ishmael were lost, all seemed lost, there was no water and they sat on the edge of despair. And God asked, “What troubles you?” I wonder where Hagar could begin. How about here: “We are lost. All seems lost. There is no water. And we are sitting on the edge of despair.” Why would God ask such a question?

God Has Prepared Laughter for Me

Listen to verse eighteen. “Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him a great nation.” I just love that picture of a mom holding her boy fast with her hand. And listen to verse nineteen. “The God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy.”

In verse six, when Sarah realized that God does what he says he will do; he does what he promises he will do; and he will do it in his perfect timing, she then said, “God has made laughter for me.” The illustration of this is first with a mother and her son (Genesis 21:1-7) and then again with a mother and her son (Genesis 21:13-21). God has prepared laughter for me when all seems impossible – that is Sarah. God has prepared laughter for me when all seems lost and even when left sitting on the edge of despair – that is Hagar. God is in charge of the impossible. God is in charge even on the edge of despair. And God has prepared laughter for me! And where do we find it? God does what he says he will do; God does what he promises he will do; and God will do it in his perfect timing.

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, volume 2, page 81.

Why Did Abraham Lie?

My Dad loves Westerns. I know that he loves Westerns because I have sat and watched Shane with him. The best moment in this film is right near the end. Shane makes his way into the local saloon and calmly stands against the bar counter. All innocent bystanders, including a dog, know what is coming next and each decide its best to head on home. But there, alone, stands the man in the black hat who says, “My fight ain’t with you.” And then Shane speaks. “So you’re Jack Wilson.” “What’s that mean to you, Shane?” Shane, again so calm, says, “I’ve heard about you.” “What have you heard, Shane?” There is an eleven second pause before Shane responds. “I’ve heard that you’re a low-down Yankee liar.”

I’ve Heard About You, Abraham

Genesis 20:1-18 is all about Abraham. And as it begins, you feel like you can say, “I’ve heard about you, Abraham.”

It all begins with Genesis 20:1. “From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar.” Notice the words journeyed and Negeb. Those two words only occur together in the same sentence three times in Genesis. And each time it is always the same person making a journey toward the Negeb (the south). It is always Abraham (Genesis 12:9; 13:3; 20:1).

But listen to the first time that Abraham made this journey to the Negeb. It is Genesis 12:9. “And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.” What is noticeably different in this verse? It is Abram not Abraham. This matters to Genesis 20:1 in one significant way. The last time that Abraham made the journey toward the Negeb was when he was only Abram…twenty-five years earlier. There are nearly twenty-five years between Genesis 12:9 and Genesis 20:1.

But there is more. The first time that Abraham journeyed toward the Negeb he sojourned [a temporary stay] (12:10). Notice how Genesis 20:1 concludes. The last time Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb he sojourned. The first time that Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb he sojourned in a little place called Egypt. And when he did, he told a lie. The last time Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb he sojourned in a really little place called Gerar. And when he did, he told a lie. And there are nearly twenty-five years between the first lie and the last lie.

But there is more. The first time that Abraham journeyed toward the Negeb he sojourned and told a lie. It is in Genesis 12:11-13. “When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, ‘I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.’” And the last time Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb he sojourned and told a lie. It is in Genesis 20:2. “And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, ‘She is my sister.’”

The point is this: it is the same lie. In nearly twenty-five years, Abraham tells the same, familiar lie twice.

Where is There?

Look carefully again at Genesis 20:1. “From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar.” Notice just two words: from there. Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb from there. And there is just one question. Where is there? Where is Abraham when he decides to journey toward the Negeb, one last time?

For nearly twenty-five years, Abraham has made his home by the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 13:18). And this is where he had stayed in Genesis 14 and in Genesis 15 and in Genesis 16 and in Genesis 17 and in Genesis 18. But I do not think this is the place that the words “from there” are referring to, specifically. Listen to Genesis 18:1. “And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.” From this exact spot, Abraham walks with God and together they stand at a place looking down toward to Sodom (18:16). Listen to verse twenty-two. “So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord.” Mark that verse and turn to Genesis 19:27-28. “And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.”

Now read again Genesis 20:1. “From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb…” Where is there? Where is Abraham when he decides to journey toward the Negeb, one last time? It is the spot where Abraham looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and saw only smoke like the smoke of a furnace. And from there Abraham will tell a lie, an old and familiar lie.

 

Why does this matter so much? I believe that the words “from there” do more than just connect for us a location of departure. Abraham was looking at Sodom and Gomorrah. And what do we know about Sodom and Gomorrah? Be reminded of Genesis 18:20. “Their sin is very grave.” And from there Abraham will tell a lie, an old and familiar lie. A lie that will be called “a great sin” (Genesis 20:9). From Genesis 19 we move from a very grave sin to Genesis 20 and a great sin.

The big question of Genesis 20 is simply, why did Abraham lie?

A Little Lie and Affected Lives

It was just a little lie. All it took was just four words. “She is my sister” (Genesis 20:2). But those four words affected lives.

This little lie affected the king. When Abraham told his lie – Sarah is my sister – the king took her as his wife. And when he did, he ended up having the worst night sleep of his life. God appeared to him in a dream and announced, “Behold, you are a dead man” (Genesis 20:3). God exposed the lie to the king. God exposed the lie to the king because he was a man of integrity and innocence (Genesis 20:5).

This little lie affected the king and all the king’s house. In that very same dream, God commanded the king to return Sarah to Abraham. Listen to verse seven. “For he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live.” The very next morning the king gets up as early as possible and exposes this lie and what God said to all his servants. “And the men were very much afraid” (20:8). There is fear in this house because of this lie. And not only that, but the king and his house needed someone to pray for them. Listen to verse seventeen. “Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children.” And then verse eighteen. “For the Lord had closed all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.” This lie affected the physical health of this entire house.

 

This little lie affected Sarah. After God exposed the lie to the king, the king exposed Abraham to be a liar to Abraham (cf. Genesis 20:9-10). And you can feel the king’s frustration with Abraham. What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not be done. What did you see, that you did this thing? Abraham was exposed to be a liar and in so doing Abraham was exposed as to only be thinking about Abraham. He did not think about this king. He did not think about the king’s house. And most importantly he did not think about his wife.

But the king thought about Abraham’s wife. Listen to Genesis 20:16. “To Sarah he said, ‘Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver. It is a sign of your innocence in the eyes of all who are with you, and before everyone you are vindicated.’”

Why Did Abraham Lie?

All I want to stress from this one chapter is that it sounds so similar. Abraham lied, and it is the same lie from nearly twenty-five years ago. And like nearly twenty-five years ago, Abraham lied because he was afraid. It was his wife’s fault. She was beautiful, too beautiful and once men took a look at her, they would kill him and take her (Genesis 12:11-15; Genesis 20:11). So, Abraham lied…twice. And each time Abraham lied, men still took his wife. And each time Abraham lied, it was a king who took his wife. And each time Abraham lied and a king took his wife, the king and his house were afflicted with misery (Genesis 12:17; 20:17-18). And each time Abraham lied, he got caught. And each time Abraham got caught, he got his wife back (Genesis 12:17-19; 20:16). And each time Abraham got his wife back, kings gave him stuff to go away (Genesis 12:20; 20:14).

The big question remains. Why did Abraham lie? He lied in Genesis 12. Nearly twenty-five years later, he told the same lie in Genesis 20. In Genesis 20:13, Abraham admitted that he relied upon this lie. This lie was his safety net. Why did Abraham lie?

Abraham was a low-down liar. And he may have told numerous lies, but it is this one lie recorded twice for us in the Bible. Why? Why did Abraham lie? Listen to Hebrews 12:1. “Therefore,” and pause right there. Whenever we read a therefore we are to ask what it is therefore. This word tells us that the following several words are an application based on what was previously said. And previously said was Hebrews 11, a chapter famously called the hall of faith. And do you know who is talked about in that hall of faith more than anyone else? Abraham. He lived his life believing God. Hebrews 11:8, “By faith Abraham…” Hebrews 11:9, “By faith he…” Hebrews 11:17, “By faith Abraham…” And Abraham died believing God. “These all died in faith…” (Hebrews 11:13). And my favorite part, and it refers to Abraham, is Hebrews 11:16. “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” But he was a liar.

And in reading about Abraham and others in Hebrews 11, but especially Abraham, there is this one application. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” I want us to notice the word sin. It is singular; one particular sin. And notice what the writer says about this one particular sin. It “clings so closely.” This can be literally translated, “the easily entangling sin.

Abraham lied. He told the same lie in Genesis 12 and then again in Genesis 20. And according to Abraham, it was a lie he relied upon (Genesis 20:13). Why did he lie or why did he tell this particular lie? It was an easily entangling sin for him. And the Bible says to lay it aside. I think that is the big idea of reading about this same sin of Abraham twice. Lay it aside. Colossians 3:5, 9 commands to put it to death, kill it.

Each of us has one particular sin we are especially susceptible to. Lay it aside. Kill it. Say no to it. Give it a God-glorifying “No!” And press on.

Dads, Talk to Your Daughters

The Natural is one of my all-time favorite movies. It is a baseball movie that is not about baseball. It begins with a young Roy Hobbs playing catch with his dad. The movie ends without any words. It ends with a moment of an older Roy Hobbs playing catch with his son. Most of the film Roy is unaware that he himself is a dad. One day in Chicago, after about fifteen or sixteen years, he meets up with his high school sweetheart Iris. Roy is in her home and notices a baseball glove. Iris says that it is her son’s glove. A surprised Roy asks, “Is he with his father?” “No,” Iris responds. “His father lives in New York. But I’m thinking he needs his father; he’s at that age. He needs him.” Then Roy says, “Sure. A father makes all the difference.”

A father makes all the difference.

So He Lived in a Cave

Lot makes all the difference. And Lot was a dad. Listen carefully to Genesis 19:30. “Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters.” This is a key verse to Genesis 19:30-38. It is about Lot. He has two daughters. And he is living in a cave.

The big question from this key verse is: How did Lot end up living in a cave?

Caves are dirty. Caves are musty. Caves have spiders. And caves are dark. Caves are dark during the day and even darker at night. Often in Scripture caves are used for graves (Genesis 23:9; 25:9). Again, how did Lot end up living in a cave? Pay close attention to how verse thirty begins. “Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar.” The key word is Zoar. Zoar was a town and according to verse thirty it was a town that Lot had lived in. Most interesting is what Zoar means and how it got its name.

In Genesis 19:19-20, as Lot is being divinely rescued from the destruction of Sodom he tells God’s rescuers, “But I cannot escape to the hills.” Pause there. In Genesis 19:30, where do we find Lot? Living in the hills. “But I cannot escape to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I die. Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one.” Guess what little means here. It means Zoar. It means insignificant or petty. So, how did this small town get its name? It all stems from how Lot thought of it. He thought it petty. He thought it insignificant. He thought it little. Lot thought it a safe place to be.

But why did Lot think Zoar to be so insignificant? Was it little in size? Maybe, but maybe there is something more. When we call something little or insignificant, it is always in comparison to something that is significant or big. In other words, it is always in comparison to something we know. In Lot’s case he knew Sodom. He had lived next door to Sodom. He had lived in Sodom. He had sat in Sodom. And he set his eye on Zoar. It had opportunity just as Sodom, but not as significant. It had success to offer just as Sodom, but not as significant. It had comfort to offer just as Sodom, but not as significant. It had prosperity to offer just as Sodom, but not as significant. And it had sin just as Sodom, but not as significant.

I am wondering if this is to give a little insight into Lot’s thinking. Is this how he reasoned through life? Is this how he rationalized things? It is okay to live near Sodom; it is okay to live in Sodom; it is okay to sit in Sodom just as long as we do not enjoy what it enjoys. It is okay to live in Zoar for their sin is not as significant as it was in Sodom.

How did Lot end up living in a cave? He was living in Zoar. Why was he no longer living in the comfort of Zoar? “For he was afraid to live in Zoar.” Why was Lot afraid to live in this little town? Was it not insignificant? Or so Lot thought. Today, some of the nation’s greatest drug epidemics are found in little towns.

How did Lot end up living in that cave? It was through his own thinking. It was not a thinking that began in running for his life out of Sodom or while in living in Sodom. It was a thinking that began way back in Genesis 13. He thought it little just to live near Sodom, a place of wicked men and great sinners.

Lot left Zoar for a cave – a dark and dirty and spider-filled cave. He left Zoar because he was afraid. Apparently, he was not afraid of the discomfort of a cave. He was not afraid of the dirt. He was not afraid of the spiders. He was not afraid of the dark. We will see that the darkest of deeds will take place in this dark cave and at night when it is especially dark. This will become the darkest context on earth.[1]

Lot Was Not Careful About Little

Lot thought little and as you watch his life, this righteous man, it can be pointed out that Lot was not careful about little. He was not careful even about a little wine.

The next few verses are hard to read. These verses are embarrassing. Lot was a dad. Lot had two daughters. These daughters’ names are never mentioned. We only know them as the firstborn and the younger. The younger is never recorded as speaking. Where did she get that from? The firstborn does all the talking. Actually, the firstborn does all the thinking.

Listen to her reasoning. “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth” (19:31). Sodom had been destroyed. These daughters were engaged to be married (19:14). Their fiancés were swept away in the destruction of Sodom. In this firstborn’s thinking, which apparently the younger agreed with, there was not a single man left on the earth, only dad. This absolutely cannot be true. This family had lived in Zoar and had just moved out of Zoar. This insignificant town was not destroyed and surely there were men there, viable men for marriage.

Listen to her reasoning. “Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father” (19:32). And that night they made their father drink wine. The firstborn slept with her father and she became pregnant. Listen to the end of verse thirty-three. “He did not know.” The very next night the younger does the very same thing. They made their father drink wine. She too became pregnant. Listen to the end of verse thirty-five. “And he did not know.”

Where did this family get all this wine, living isolated in this cave? This was a sin what these two daughters did. Sleeping with their father was a sin. Lot’s daughters intentionally sinned. Listen to their reasoning. There was no man available to preserve for them offspring. This act with their dad seemed little to these two daughters. Where did they learn to think like that?

Twice Moses mentions that Lot did not know. He was so drunk that he did not know what was happening. He was so drunk because he was not careful about a little wine. Little piles up and becomes much. He had to know what the wine was doing to him…gradually doing to him. It is the same with little sins. Little sins pile up and gradually overtake a person.

Lot did not know. Due to much wine Lot was forgetful about the night before. Genesis 19:30-38 is the last mention of this man in the Old Testament. “We may learn that drunkenness, as it makes men forgetful, so it makes men forgotten; and many a name, which otherwise might have been remembered with respect, is buried by it in contempt and oblivion.” Matthew Henry wrote those words. Where did Matthew Henry learn to think like that? He wrote a classic Bible commentary. Do you know where he learned the truths of the Bible? From his dad. His commentary was the product of his dad leading the family in devotions every evening. A father makes all the difference.

A quick note about Lot’s daughters and their children. They bore sons by their father. The firstborn named her son Moab. The younger named her son Ben-Ammi. From Moab will come a great nation called the Moabites. From the Moabites will come a woman named Ruth the Moabite. She has a book of the Bible named after her. From Ruth will come a great grandson named David. He will become King of Israel, a man God called “a man after my own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). From David will come a man named Jesus the Christ, the King of Kings. He is the Savior of the world, one who the Bible says, “will save people from their sins;” even the awful, embarrassing sins. He through his death on the cross will cancel the record of your debt by nailing your sins, the little sins and the awful, embarrassing sins to the cross. And they will be remembered no more. It is all because of Jesus who is related to a man named Lot.

Dads, Talk to Your Daughters

In these final nine verses, there is no record of Lot ever talking. His name is barely mentioned, but he never talks. And nowhere in Genesis 19 is Lot ever recorded talking…to his daughters. Do not blame their thinking or reasoning on growing up in Sodom. Growing up in Sodom did not help matters, though. These daughters thought like their dad. Why is that? A father makes all the difference.

There are many applications that can be made from these nine verses, but there is just one huge application…for me. I have two daughters. Here is the application for me: dad, talk to your two daughters. And it is no matter their age. They might be thirteen and fifteen or they might be thirty or fifty or even older. And it is not just daughters. Dads, talk to your sons, talk to your kids. Talk about what?

Last Christmas I gave my two daughters a gift just from me. It was a journal. The front cover reads: Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). I wrote in the journal. I wrote in the journal fourteen reminders because I love being their dad. Here are just a few reminders I shared with them. Beware of boys who wear their hat backwards. It is an indication that they do not take life seriously. Nothing good happens after 9 p.m. A $5 steak will taste like a $5 steak. In other words, you typically get what you paid for. Treasure God. Listen to him with the intent to do what he says, but also to know him better and to love him more.

Dad, talk to your daughters. Dad, talk to your sons. Dad, talk to your kids. What should we talk about?

First of all, my child, think magnificently of God.

Magnify His providence; adore His power, pray to Him frequently and incessantly.

Bear Him always in your mind. Teach your thoughts to reverence Him in every place

 for there is no place where He is not.

Therefore, my child, fear and worship and love God;

first and last, think magnificently of Him!

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 282.

God Rescued Righteous Lot

The best time of the day is bedtime. And bedtime is the best time of the day because the best place to be is in bed with your blanket and your pillow. The only complaint I have about bedtime is that morning comes way too fast. But one of the best things about bedtime are the dreams. The last two weeks, nearly every night, I have dreamt about preaching and it has been great, the preaching has been great, except one time. It was Saturday night, September 30. The text for the sermon was Genesis 18. Before preaching the chapter, I read each and every word aloud. Each and every word was a Bible name and not just any Bible name, but the most difficult Bible names to pronounce. The worst part of the entire dream was that about thirty minutes had gone by and I was only half way through reading!

After Genesis 18 comes Genesis 19 and Genesis 19 is difficult. And like the dream, this chapter is difficult because of the names. Well, actually just one name and it is probably the easiest name in the Bible to pronounce. It is mentioned here fifteen times. This is after not being mentioned at all since Genesis 14. Fifteen times seems to be an indication that this name might be important. After Genesis 19, this name is never mentioned again in the Old Testament except for just three verses (Deuteronomy 2:9; 19; Psalm 83:3). And it is not mentioned again in the Bible until Jesus mentions it in Luke 17. Genesis 19 is difficult and it is difficult because of one man named…Lot. He is the big idea.

It all begins with Genesis 19:1. “The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom.” How does Lot make Genesis 19 so difficult? Lot was sitting in Sodom.

Abraham Drew Near to God

Genesis 18 and Genesis 19 are to be considered together. Both chapters essentially take place on the same day. Genesis 18 begins at high noon (18:1) and Genesis 19 begins in the evening (19:1). Genesis 18 begins with three men visiting Abraham (18:1, 2) and Genesis 19 begins with two of those three men, now identified as angels, visiting Lot (19:1). And Genesis 18 and Genesis 19 both concern the city of Sodom. It is because “the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave.” In Genesis 18:21 God reveals to Abraham what he is about to do regarding Sodom. “I will go down to see.” And Abraham knows what God will see. Abraham knows that God will see that the outcry is great and the sin there is very grave. This is so precious because it causes Abraham to draw near to God (18:23).

As Abraham drew near to God he asked, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” Highlight the word righteous. Why is Abraham asking this particular question? He then asks God to spare the city on behalf of the righteous. “Will you not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? What if just forty-five righteous are in it? What if forty righteous are in it? What if thirty righteous are in it? What if twenty righteous are in it? What if you find just ten righteous people in the whole city of Sodom?”

And God Remembered Abraham

Keep Abraham and what he had asked regarding the righteous in mind and listen carefully to Genesis 19:29. “So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley.” Pause there. Remember, Abraham asked God, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” Now listen to the rest of the verse. “God remembered Abraham.” What exactly did God remember? He remembered that Abraham drew near to him asked, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” God remembered Abraham’s heart-felt petition “and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow.” Who sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow? God did. In Genesis 18, Abraham never mentioned Lot by name. Again, who sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow? God did. Why did he do it?

But Lot Was Sitting in Sodom

But Lot was sitting in Sodom. When Lot first laid on eyes on Sodom, he just wanted to move right next door. He knew that Sodom was a place of wicked men who were great sinners. But, there was opportunity there, opportunity for success. And being just next door would still get him some of that success (Genesis 13:10-13). Before too long Lot was living in Sodom (14:12). And now in Genesis 19:1 he was sitting in Sodom. Why is that so important?

When Lot was sitting, he was sitting in the gate of Sodom. And as he was sitting in the gate of Sodom, there came these two angels. These two angels have come to Sodom for just one big reason: to destroy it (19:13). Lot does not know this just yet. When he sees these two angels “he rose to meet them.” He then urges them to come to his house to stay the night. They at first decline, but Lot “pressed them strongly” which virtually means he was really persistent that they stay…the night…in his house.

At his house later in the evening, these two angels revealed to Lot what God was about to do (19:13; cf. 18:17). And when morning came the angels implored Lot, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city” (19:15). Now notice verse sixteen. “But he lingered.” Why would he linger?

Listen to the rest of verse sixteen. “So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.” Notice that the angels had to seize [to squeeze] Lot and his wife and his two daughters by the hand to remove them from the city. Once out of the city one angel said, “Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away” (19:17). In verse twenty-six, Lot’s wife looked back and is forever remembered for looking back. This looking back was not a glance, but a really long look almost as if she wanted to go back (cf. Luke 17:33). She has been described as a wife after Lot’s own heart. Lot did not look back, but he did look. He looked at another city and told the angels, “I cannot escape to the hills… Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there – is it not a little one?” (19:20).

When Lot discovered that God would destroy the city and it came time to flee, why did he linger? After he was seized by the hand out of the city and told to run, why did he look upon a neighboring city? Listen to 2 Peter 2:8 “For as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard.”

It does not make any sense, does it? Living in Sodom was tormenting Lot’s righteous soul day after day after day and all because of the lawless deeds that he saw and heard day after day after day. So, why did he never leave? It is the same reason he lingered. It is the same reason he looked on another city, a little city. It has everything to do with Genesis 19:1. He was sitting in Sodom. This sitting in Sodom was a position of prominence. If you sat there, people knew your name (cf. 2 Samuel 19:8; Jeremiah 26:10; 39:3). Even though his righteous soul was tormented day after day after day after day by all these lawless deeds, he lingered and he looked for another city that was just little. Little compared to what? Sodom. Even though his righteous soul was tormented each day, Lot liked Sodom. He liked the prosperity. He liked the comforts. He liked the prominence. It makes you wonder about the torment he endured each day. Why was he, this righteous soul, so tormented over their lawless deeds? Were their lawless deeds intertwined with his prosperity? His comforts? His prominence?

The Town Knew His Name

The town knew his name. At the beginning of the chapter Lot persisted and persisted some more that the two angels stay in his house for the night. As the house was settling in for the night, there was a shout coming from outside. Listen to verse four. “The men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house.” And now comes verse five. “And they called to Lot.” The town knew his name for they called to Lot. The word called is too tame. It is more that they shouted to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” What is there to know about this word know? Listen to Lot in verse seven. “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly.” This word know is the Hebrew word yada which means to really, really know. How does Lot take this word know? “Do not act so wickedly.”

What do the men of Sodom think of this word know? It is verse nine. “Do not judge us! Who are you to judge us? You are just a foreigner and not one of us.” Then they say, “we will deal worse with you than with them.” The word know is an intimate word. It is used of man knowing his wife or of God knowing Abraham as his friend (Genesis 4:1; 18:19). This was a crowd of men wanting to know other men. It was the act of homosexuality and it is wrong and it was an act of rape and it is wrong (Leviticus 18:22, 24; Romans 1:26-28). And as wrong was the worst thing Lot, a father, could ever do. He offered his two daughters to the crowd of men instead (19:8).

But God Rescued Righteous Lot

The conclusion of this passage is that God rescued Lot and his two daughters (19:29). But listen to 2 Peter 2:7. “And if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked…” There is the difficulty; Lot is called righteous. He just offered to the crowd of men to do to his daughters as they please (19:8). And the Bible calls him righteous. How can he be called righteous?! The wickedness of Sodom does not make Genesis 19 difficult. Lot makes Genesis 19 difficult. Lot being called righteous makes Genesis 19 difficult or so it seems.

I argued against Lot all week. I was pointing the finger at him all week saying, “No, not him!” Do you know what makes Genesis 19 really difficult? I do. I make Genesis 19 really difficult. I am not comfortable with Lot being called righteous. This is what I thought, at first. Instead, I am not comfortable with a question that I must ask me. What would be the argument against me? If you only knew the worst thing I have ever done… Or, how might my comforts/enjoyments be intertwined with the lawless deeds of my culture?

The Bible says that “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks after God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-11). But Lot is called righteous! How can it be?! Remember Genesis 15:6. Abraham believed God and God “counted it to him as righteousness.” If Lot is called righteous it must be the same as how Abraham is called righteous. Lot believed God. The gospel reveals the righteousness of God and it is a righteousness “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” And why do I so desperately need this righteousness? “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23). Even Lot and even me.

The difficulty with the text is not Lot. It is me. I think I am better than him. When I look at Lot I am faced with looking at some things about me. A ship in the water is perfectly right, but water in the ship would be perfectly wrong. The Christian in the world is right and necessary. The world in the Christian is wrong and disastrous.

Am I comfortable, too comfortable? Lot sat in Sodom and lingered. Lot sat in Sodom and then looked for another Sodom on a much smaller scale. Do I think that I can live with and around a sin without it ever being my sin and everything is ok?

Oh Let Not the Lord Be Angry

On Sunday, October 1, beginning at 9:30 in the morning, there will be thirteen professional football games played (fourteen if you count the Cleveland Browns as a professional game). Each game will include a call to rise for the singing of our national anthem. Some will sit. Some will kneel. Some will stand. And some will yell. Some will be oblivious and continue in conversation with their neighbor. Some will be looking at their phone. Some will be eating nachos. And I am wondering, what will I be doing?

In the United States of America, we have never been freer to do whatever it is we please. In the United States of America, we have never been wealthier. In the United States of America, we have never been more educated and perhaps more informed. In the United States of America, it seems, that we have never been more dysfunctional. In the United States of America, it seems, that we have never been angrier. In the United States of America, it seems, that there has never been this much crying out. And I am wondering, why am I not moved?

Looking Down Toward Sodom

As we begin Genesis 18:16-33, I want us to make just three observations. Look for the first observation in verse sixteen. “Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom.” Look for the next observation in verse twenty. “Then the Lord said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave.” And look for the third observation in verse twenty-two. “So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom.” What do you see three times? Three times is the mention of Sodom. However, in verse twenty Sodom is not mentioned alone. It is paired with Gomorrah.

Sodom and Gomorrah are cities. Genesis 19:29 calls them cities of the valley. These two cities are often mentioned together and they are often remembered together. But Genesis 18:20 intentionally pairs these cities together because whatever can be said and is true of Sodom, can also be said and is true of Gomorrah. The men in verse sixteen are the three men from verses one through fifteen – God himself and his two angels. Abraham welcomed these three men into his home for rest and refreshment. Genesis 18:16 picks up there and then suddenly draws our attention to Sodom (and Gomorrah) three times for one reason: it is the big idea. The big idea has something to do with these two cities.

For I Have Chosen Abraham

Genesis 18:17 comes with a question. This whole chapter is filled with questions. “The Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?’” Since verse sixteen puts our attention upon Sodom, whatever God is about to do has to do with Sodom. Why would God share with Abraham what he is about to do with Sodom?

We could think through a little bit of what we have learned so far. First, we know that Abraham’s nephew Lot lives in Sodom (13:10; 14:12). In Genesis 14, Sodom along with Gomorrah and three other cities were ransacked by four of the world’s mighty kings. These kings took people’s possessions and people as possessions including Lot, Abraham’s nephew. And Abraham came to the rescue. He defeated four of the world’s mighty kings and brought back all the possessions with all the people to their rightful homes including Lot, his nephew. This is important; when it comes to Sodom Abraham came to the rescue. And now God is about to do something and this something concerns Sodom.

Why would God share with Abraham what he is about to do with Sodom? Abraham’s relationship with Sodom is helpful, but not the reason that God considers sharing with Abraham what he is about to do. Listen to verse nineteen. “For I have chosen him.” What is the reason that God would share with Abraham what he is about to do? The word chosen is the Hebrew word yada which means to know and not just to know, but to really know. It is a word indicating closeness. At the heart of verse nineteen, why God would share with Abraham, is simply that he really knows Abraham. Listen to how Jesus explains it in John 15:15. “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” The Bible calls Abraham a friend of God (James 2:23). So, why would God share with Abraham what he is about to do? “For he is my friend.”

This is the heart of the answer to our question, not to mention that Abraham will become a great and mighty nation; a blessing to all the earth’s nations; and a father. Listen carefully to the end of verse nineteen. Abraham will command his kids and grandkids and great grandkids to keep the way of God which is to do righteousness and justice. This is God’s friend.

Hear What God is About to Do

Now hear what God is about to do. This is Genesis 18:20-21, but first listen to verse twenty. “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave.” There are two key words that I want us to pay attention to: outcry and sin. Notice the word sin; it is singular. Why is it singular and what could it be? Notice Sodom and Gomorrah share in this sin; it is their sin. Even more so, their sin is modified by the words very grave or grievous, which basically means heavy or burdensome. These two cities share in a serious sin!

When we were first introduced to Sodom and Gomorrah it is through the eyes of Abraham’s nephew Lot. And in the same context Moses warns us that Sodom is a place of wicked men, great sinners. But what did Lot see? Lot moved to just so close as to not be in Sodom and we could surmise it is because of the wicked men, great sinners. Eventually he is living in Sodom, but what drew him to live just next door? Lot saw opportunity and when he saw opportunity he saw wealth (Genesis 13:10). So, what was their sin? Most often Sodom and Gomorrah are remembered for their sexual sin. This is emphasized in Genesis 19. But there is a warning for us. “If we imagine the sins of these cities only in sexual terms, we miss the depth of their depravity.”[1] This is where the word outcry is so important.

The word outcry is used in the Bible to describe the misery of a mistreated widow or fatherless child (Exodus 22:22-23). It is used to describe the misery of abused and overworked and overlooked slaves (Exodus 2:23). It is used to describe a scream of terror (Jeremiah 18:23). Now listen to Ezekiel 16:49. “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” And I want to remind you of something the king of Sodom said to Abraham. “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself” (Genesis 14:21). So, what was their sin? Ezekiel first mentioned pride and then described the treatment of people. I appreciated this description: “Heinous moral and social corruption, and arrogant disregard of basic human rights, a cynical insensitivity to the sufferings of others.”[2]

And hear what God said next. “I will go down to see.” What was God planning to do? He was planning to go down to see Sodom and Gomorrah for himself. Meaning, God hears the cries of humanity. I am stressing that we hear what God said because it was what Abraham heard what God said.

Abraham Still Stood Before the Lord

Notice verse twenty-two. Abraham has been walking with God during the previous verses, but when we get to verse twenty-two, “Abraham still stood before the Lord.” He has stopped moving. Genesis 18:23 may be the most important verse in the whole text. He asked a question, but this is not what is so stupendous. “Abraham drew near.” Abraham heard what God was about to do. God would go see these two cities for himself and it is because of the outcry. And this stopped Abraham in his tracks. He stopped moving. This grabbed his attention and Abraham did something. He drew near to God.

Is that not amazing?! Why ultimately did God share with Abraham what he was about to do?

Abraham asks a series of questions beginning with “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” Abraham knows what God will find and he knows what God will do. He knows what God will do because he knows that God is the Judge and that God is just in all his doings.

There are wicked people that live in Houston. There are righteous people that live in Houston. When hurricane Harvey hit Houston, I asked God to protect and shield two righteous people there: my sister and my brother-in-law. Fortunately, their home, out of all the homes in the flood waters, was completely unscathed. But sometimes the righteous share in the same sufferings as the wicked (cf. Luke 13:1-5). The righteous while on earth are not immune to terrible things.

And although Sodom and Gomorrah were terrible towns, Abraham asks God to spare these two cities if just for the sake of the righteous – 50; 45; 40; 30, 20, 10 righteous. And each time God said he would do so even if he found just 10 righteous people.

Oh Let Not the Lord Be Angry

The emphasis of Genesis 18:22-33 is the fact that Abraham spoke to God. He prayed. He knew what God was about to do. He knew God would be right in what he was about to do. And he prayed.  Note his attitude. “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.” (18:27; 31). There is a humility here on the part of Abraham as he prays. And he even goes so far as to ask God, “do not be angry with me” (18:30, 31).

The big idea is that Abraham knew Sodom and Gomorrah. He could tell you some stories. And as he talks about the righteous who live there he begins to realize that there may not be even ten righteous people to be found among them. Abraham knew what God was about to do; Abraham knew Sodom and Gomorrah and Abraham was moved to cry out on their behalf. Notice that he did not ask God to rescue the righteous and sweep away the wicked, instead he asks that the wicked be spared for the sake of the righteous.

I wrestled and wrestled with this text all week. I could not understand the difficulty I was having and then it hit me. I am not moved. I am not moved like Abraham was moved and not merely with two cities that no longer exist. I am not moved for my own city and nation which sounds very similar to Sodom and Gomorrah. Why am I not moved? Why am I not weeping when there is an outcry?

I need to repent. And it is because there is a day coming for the ungodly (cf. 2 Peter 2:6). And not only do I need to repent, I need to be moved by the outcries of humanity. What if we spent a week, a month, however long interceding on behalf of the outcries of humanity? There needs to be some godly trembling for the ungodly. We are to consider both the kindness and severity of God and that the world not take for granted God’s rich kindness (Romans 11:22; 2:4).

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 263

[2] Ibid.