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?

Advertisements

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.

Is Anything Too Hard for God?

Is anything too hard for God? The answer – without any hesitation – is…no. There is nothing too hard for God. But ask this question when facing terminal cancer; the death of a spouse; the death of a child. Ask this question when marriage is crumbling; when a child loves sin more than the Savior; when the church is struggling; when a disheartening, discouraging, disappointing season of life will seemingly not end. Is anything too hard for God? The answer is… Now there might be a hint of hesitation. I know the answer is no; I know I need to say the answer is no, but…

We are asking this question because this question is asked in Genesis 18:1-15. And it is asked right toward the end of the text. But we are asking this very question at the beginning for just one reason: it is the big question.

And the Lord Appeared to Abraham

Genesis 18 is rather similar to Genesis 17. Listen to Genesis 17:1 “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram.” Now listen to Genesis 18:1. “And the Lord appeared to him [Abraham].” In Genesis 17 we learn that the Lord appeared to Abraham when he was ninety-nine. And as you read Genesis 18 you learn that when the Lord appeared to Abraham again, he was still ninety-nine (cf. 18:10). This gives the impression that not much time (how much time is unknown) has passed since Genesis 17.

However, what was significant about the Lord’s appearance to Abraham in Genesis 17? This was when Abraham learned at ninety-nine years old that God is the God who makes things happen by his majestic power and might – I am God Almighty. Since both chapters begin in an identical manner and there was something significant about the appearance in Genesis 17, might there be something significant about this appearance too? Then comes an unexpected question. For whom would this appearance be significant?

Notice when the Lord appeared to Abraham. It was as Abraham “sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.” Abraham was sitting, perhaps resting, and it was in the heat of the day, noontime, or when it was light outside. Why does the time matter? Genesis 18 is similar to Genesis 17, but is also rather important to Genesis 19. Look at how Genesis 19 begins. “The two angels came to Sodom in the evening.” Notice that in Genesis 19 it was dark outside. In Genesis 18 and Genesis 19 there is an interesting contrast of light and darkness.

An Out of the Ordinary Day

This will turn out to be an out of the ordinary kind of day. As Abraham was resting, to his amazement he saw three out of the ordinary men making their way toward his home. Watch what Abraham does. This ninety-nine-year-old man ran to meet them. And when he meets these three out of the ordinary men, he greets them. How do we know that these three men were out of the ordinary? Abraham bowed himself before them. Genesis 18:2 emphasized twice that Abraham saw these three men. Something about these men prompted Abraham to not just meet them, but to run to meet and greet them. It would not be unusual in this culture that when strangers approached your home, that you meet and greet them, but it could be kind of unusual to run. Abraham would then insist that these strangers rest and refresh themselves in his home. Again, this was not unusual in this culture. But that Abraham bowed himself before them, that was unusual. So far, there is nothing in the text to indicate that Abraham knows the identity of these three men. However, there was something about their appearance that told Abraham that this was unusual. And so, he humbled himself before them.

The Extraordinary Manner of Abraham

An out of ordinary day was marked by three out of the ordinary men. And Genesis 18:4-8 is about the extraordinary manner of Abraham. I love verse four. Abraham offers these three men “a little water” and “a morsel of bread.” This was all with the intention that these three men rest and get refreshed with a little water and a morsel of bread. Just watch Abraham carefully in verse six. “And Abraham went quickly.” He finds Sarah and says, “Quick!” And listen to the instructions he gives Sarah his wife. “Three seahs of flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” One seah of flour is about seven liters and Sarah was told to get three seahs of flour, or twenty-one liters. This was about fifty pounds of flour. This would be enough to feed one hundred people. Sarah was eighty-nine-years old and was to knead and make cakes (pita bread) out of fifty pounds of flour without the aid of a Kitchen Aide mixer. And Abraham told her to be quick!

Now notice verse seven. “And Abraham ran to the herd.” Abraham runs to the herd, finds a “tender and good” calf, and gives it to a servant “who prepared it quickly” (18:7). The haste in which things were being done and prepared and the amount of food – a whole calf for three people – all emphasize the extraordinary manner in which Abraham was treating his guests. He sensed that there was something unusual about these three men and so he lavished a feast upon them – yogurt and milk and a calf and cakes (18:8). Notice the end of verse eight. “And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.” Abraham was there as their servant.

The Significance of this Appearance

Listen to Genesis 18:9. “They said to him, ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’” Why the sudden interest in Sarah? This is what Genesis 18:1-15 is all about. It is all about Sarah. And it answers the question, for whom would this appearance be significant? Hebrews 11:11 reinforces that these fifteen verses are for Sarah. “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” How did this eighty-nine-year old woman consider God faithful who had promised?

But, how do they know Abraham’s wife’s name? They do not call her Sarai, but Sarah. Sarah got a new name in the previous chapter and when she did only two people knew it: Abraham and God Almighty, the God who makes things happen by his majestic power and might. How do these men know this name? This has to be going through Abraham’s mind, clarifying at least a little bit who these three men could be.

Abraham answers that Sarah is in the tent. But then there is verse ten. In the Hebrew construction verse nine reads, “They said,” but verse ten reads, “he said.” There is a sudden shift in who is speaking. Who is it? Listen to what he says. “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” In Genesis 17:15-22, Abraham was told by God who makes things happen by his majestic power and might that Sarah his wife will have a son. And God concluded that conversation with these words: Sarah shall bear to you [a son] this time next year.” Who is speaking in verse ten? God who makes things happen by his majestic power and might. And now Abraham knows it. But there is Sarah.

Sarah Listened and Laughed

Remember, this passage is about Sarah. She will consider God faithful who promised. As this conversation is happening, Sarah was listening and when she heard this stranger say that at this time next year, when she is ninety, she will have a son, she laughed to herself. Why did she laugh? When she met Abraham, she was barren. When she married Abraham, she was barren. When God gave Abraham the promise of offspring twenty-four years ago, she was barren. And twenty-four years later, she was not only barren, but way past child-bearing age. It would be humanly impossible to bear a son at ninety-years old (cf. 18:11-12).

Then comes verse thirteen. In case we are still unsure who spoke in verse ten, Moses explicitly states, “The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’” (We are specifically told that the other two men are angels in Genesis 19:1). Remember, Sarah was listening. What must she now be thinking?! In verse fifteen Sarah denied having laughed, out of fear. But this whole scene ends with God having the last laugh. “No, but you did laugh.”

This is a critical moment. It makes you wonder about Sarah. Could it be that for twenty-four years Sarah just continued and persisted in unbelief until the day she laughed? I will remind you of Hebrews 11:11. It was when Sarah was way past child-bearing age that she by faith considered God faithful who promised. Whereas Hagar in Genesis 16 learned that God sees her, Sarah in Genesis 18 learned that God sees within her.[1] (See Ps. 139:1-6).

Is Anything Too Hard for God?

Sarah’s laughter drew forth a most crucial question. It is a question that God who makes things happen by his majestic power and might asked. He asked not so much for the benefit of Abraham, but for the benefit of the woman who was listening in the other room. Is anything too hard for God? It is a crucial question. It is a question to ask when facing terminal cancer; the death of a spouse; the death of a child. Ask this question when marriage is crumbling; when a child loves sin more than the Savior; when the church is struggling; when a disheartening, discouraging, disappointing season of life will seemingly not end. Ask this question because those that really believe the answer will really live life differently.

What is the answer? The answer is no. But. But the answer will not keep cancer away. It will not keep death away. It will not keep disheartening, discouraging and disappointing seasons away. The reason is that this is not just any ordinary question. It is a question about God’s ability. It is a question about God’s ability to do what he has promised. It is a question about God’s ability to do what he has promised in the face of impossible human odds. Contextually, this was a question about God’s promise of a son. It was the promise of a son through whom God would create for himself a covenanted people through whom God would bless the world and through whom would come the Savior, Jesus the Christ.

Is anything too hard for God? This question could be translated, is any word too hard for God? What does this question do for us? I read a pastor write that this question is for the mission. And that mission involves disciples being made and disciples being discipled and ultimately, God being glorified by disciples enjoying him forever. So, when the marriage crumbles and the terminal cancer comes and disheartening, discouraging, disappointing seasons last longer than usual; this question forces us, no matter the odds, to look to God’s promises and ask, “Is any word too hard for God?”

Is any word too hard for God? Romans 8 seems to be echoing this very question. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Listen to the answer. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us form the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:35, 37-39).

Is anything too hard for God? The answer causes me to pray differently by holding to his promises. The answer causes me to pastor differently by holding to his promises. The answer causes me to live differently by holding to his promises.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 256.

And Kings Shall Come From You

A woman and her husband made absolutely no difference this past week. Recently, this couple felt led to meet a need in their church. This couple felt led to spend the school year ministering to teenagers. So, they planned a weekly Bible study, periodical service projects and outreach activities. And it is all – the Bible study, the service projects and the outreach – centered around a mystery. It is Colossians 1:27. “…how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The first Bible study was this past Wednesday. When it was over this couple discovered that they had made absolutely no difference; none whatsoever. It is because at the conclusion a fourteen-year-old girl told the couple, “I am really excited.” The next day, the wife would share what her and her husband were feeling. “For the first time, in a really long time, I am greatly encouraged.” This woman is sixty-four years old. Her husband is sixty-two years old.

When Abram Was Ninety-Nine

Pay close attention to Genesis 17:1. “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty.” Pay close attention to Abram’s age. As Genesis 17 begins, he is ninety-nine years old. As Genesis 17 concludes we are again reminded of Abram’s age. He is still ninety-nine years old (17:24). This means that Genesis 17 has something to do with Abram being ninety-nine years old!

What is significant about Abram being ninety-nine years old? Well, at ninety-nine he got a new name. “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham” (17:5). And at ninety-nine his wife got a new name too. “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name” (17:15). Now when Sarah got this new name Abraham fell on his face and laughed. He was not laughing at her name. He laughed instead at the thought that Sarah would be a first-time mom at ninety – a sweet symbol of faith’s struggle. So, God says, “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac” (17:19). Isaac means “he laughs.”

What is significant about Abraham being ninety-nine years old? I am pretty sure that this qualifies as a year to remember. But it is not the new names Abraham or Sarah that are significant. Nor is it the promise of their son Isaac. Pay close attention to Genesis 17:1. “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty.’”

Last Wednesday a couple made absolutely no difference. But something did make the difference…in the life of a fourteen-year old…and in the life of a sixty-four-year old…and in the life of a sixty-two-year old. What absolutely makes the difference? It is what made the difference in the life of a ninety-nine-year old. “I am God Almighty.”

God Almighty is the Hebrew name El Shaddai. And it is the first time that this name appears in the Old Testament. In Exodus 6:3, God said that he was very intentional in telling this name to Abraham and not just to Abraham, but to his son Isaac and not just to Isaac, but to his grandson Jacob.

Does it help to know that this name appears thirty-one times in the book of Job – a book about suffering? What then does this name mean and how does it make the difference?

Walk Before Me and Be Blameless

Listen carefully to Genesis 17:1. “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty, walk before me, and be blameless.’” What does God intend in revealing this name to Abraham at ninety-nine years old? Pay attention to the next few words – walk before me and be blameless. This is actually two commands. Walk is another way of saying, “live out your life.” But notice the word blameless. It is the same word that was used to describe the way Noah lived out his life (Genesis 6:9). And it does mean to be perfect or sound or complete. However, it is used here the same way it was used of Noah. Be unimpaired. Do not be made weaker. Put together, the two commands are: live out your life unimpaired. This last command, be blameless or be unimpaired is in connection to living out your life. Do not get weak in living out your life. What is it that will strengthen Abraham to not get weak in living out his life? First, how is Abram to live out his life? Walk before me. Live out your life before me or live out your life in my presence. Whose presence exactly? God Almighty. Live out your life in light of who I am. Who is he? I am God Almighty. And do this unimpaired. So, what is it that will strengthen Abraham to be unimpaired? It is the fact that God is God Almighty. This makes the difference.

This is the first time that this name appears in the Old Testament. God is very intentional in revealing this name to Abraham. It appears thirty-one times in a book about suffering. So, what does it mean? This name means that God is the God who makes things happen by means of his majestic power and might.[1]

Listen to verse three. “Then Abram fell on his face.” When Abraham heard this, he fell to the ground in awe. The question before us is, what difference does this make for me?

I Will Be Their God

This chapter is about Abraham knowing that God is God Almighty. Listen to verse two. “…that I may make my covenant between me and you.” We need to highlight the word covenant. What does this covenant have to do with who God is? Notice that God calls it “my covenant.” All throughout Genesis 17 God refers to this covenant as “my covenant.” God made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. This is the same covenant. There are two distinct aspects of God’s covenant with Abraham. The first is a particular land called Canaan (Genesis 15:18-21; 17:8). And the second is offspring. Offspring is what concerns the covenant in Genesis 17. The English word make is worth noting. The word make here just means to put or set. God is setting not just the covenant, but a particular aspect – offspring – before Abraham at ninety-nine years old. It is for Abraham to see that God makes things happen by means of his majestic power and might.

God has much to say regarding this offspring. Regarding this offspring, God calls Abraham a father of a multitude of nations. He does so three times (17:4, 5, 6)! Regarding this offspring, God says that he will make Abraham exceedingly fruitful (17:6). Regarding this offspring, God says that kings shall come from Abraham (17:6). It will all happen by means of God’s majestic power and might. But most importantly, regarding this offspring, God says that he will be their God (17:7-8). This too will happen by means of God’s majestic power and might.

The Sign of God’s Covenant

In Genesis, when God has given a covenant he has also given a sign of the covenant that does serve as a reminder. In the flood account, God made a covenant with Noah and set the rainbow as the sign of the covenant. The same is true here, minus the rainbow. Instead, circumcision is the sign of this particular covenant. “Every male among you shall be circumcised” (17:10). Why circumcision?

Abraham believed that God would give him a son. Sarah believed it too. In Genesis 16, these two sought to help God by means of their own power and might. In so doing, Abraham treated Hagar as his wife and she bore him a son. This is not the son of promise. So, part of the point of circumcision is to serve as a reminder that God accomplishes his promises by means of his majestic power and might. Couple this with the ages of both Abraham and Sarah and it is to be seen that God alone possesses the power to realize his promises even when the order of nature presents no prospect of fulfillment and the powers of nature are insufficient to secure it.

Circumcision was also about being in fellowship with God. Even those who were not Abraham’s offspring could be brought into fellowship with God in this covenant (17:8, 12-14). It gets even better.

What About Ishmael?

Remember, Abraham has a son at this time, a teenage son. His name means “God hears,” Ishmael. When Abraham hears that in his old age that he will be a father again, this time with his wife Sarah in her old age, he laughs. Then God tells Abraham what his soon-to-be son’s name will be: he laughs or Isaac. Isaac is the son of promise. Isaac is the son through whom the covenant, the kings, the nation, the abundant offspring will be realized. And all of sudden, Abraham brings up Ishmael. He is very concerned about Ishmael. Will Ishmael be just cast aside (v.18)? Then God says something awesome. “As for Ishmael, I have heard you” (17:20). God will abundantly provide for Ishmael. Then Abraham does something awesome.

Listen to verse twenty-two. “When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.” After talking, God left and Abraham obeyed. He gathered his entire household including the foreigners and had them circumcised. He did not just gather his entire household or the foreigners. He gathered his son. And together, father and son, joined in fellowship with God in his covenant. I love this. Even though Ishmael was not the son of promise, he was not the son through whom the promise would be realized, he could still come and enjoy the God of the covenant…with his dad.

And Kings Shall Come From You

There is something about this covenant that I cannot ignore. It is when God says that kings shall come from Abraham; kings! I want us to quickly notice something from the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew. It is Matthew 1:1. These are the first words of this gospel account. “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” David was a king. And then there is Jesus. He, too, is called the son of Abraham. Genesis 17:6 says that from Abraham will come kings. The one who makes things happen by means of his majestic power and might said Genesis 17:6. On the day Jesus was crucified, it was ordered that a sign be put on his cross which read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:20). And by his majestic power and might at the cross where a sign which read “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,” all who share the faith of Abraham were made alive. All who share the faith of Abraham were made alive when God Almighty “having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). He nailed it all by his majestic power and might.

The Bible speaks of those who share the faith of Abraham as those who belong to Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 4:16; 1:6). And that this is how it could be said in Genesis 17 that Abraham would be the father of a multitude of nations (Romans 4:17)! It is all rooted here, in Genesis 17, in the difference made in the life of a man who was ninety-nine! The difference was for this old man to see that all his life, all his future lies in this: I am God Almighty! The difference was to live this life in the light of who God is and to be strengthened by the fact that God accomplishes all he does by means of his majestic power and might.

This makes the difference when you are 99 or 64 or 62 or 14. I heard an old man say last Wednesday, “God, it is such a comfort to know that you are all-powerful.” That is an old man who is being strengthened by who God is. So, what difference does it make? What difference does it make of what I think of God; that he is able and mighty and sufficient?

1. It makes the difference for obedience.

2. It makes the difference when the bank account looks too low.

3. It makes the difference when the pressure seems too much.

4. It makes the difference when the disappointments keep mounting.

5. It makes the difference when I think, again, it all depends on me.

6. It makes the difference for faithfulness.

7. It makes the difference for year after year after year when there seems like there is nothing to show for faithfulness.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 246.

You Are the God Who Sees Me

One of the pervasive marks of our times is emotional fragility. I feel it as though it hung in the air we breathe. We are easily hurt. We pout and mope easily. We break easily. Our marriages break easily. Our faith breaks easily. Our happiness breaks easily. And our commitment to the church breaks easily. We are easily disheartened, and it seems we have little capacity for surviving and thriving.[1] The resolving thought is this: we need help.

These words were not spoken last week or last year or even in the last decade. These words were spoken in the last century! That might be a little misleading. These words were said twenty-eight years ago. It made me wonder, though, if much at all has changed in the last twenty-eight years. It may help to know that these words were spoken to a group of peculiar people – pastors. The “we” was referring to pastors! It made me wonder, again, that perhaps every local church needs a pastor, a pastor who would cry out, “I need help!” And perhaps the best question to ask is, what would help?

A Woman Named Hagar

A woman named Hagar is the help. She is not only the answer to the previous question, but literally, she is the help. We first meet her in Genesis 16:1. “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar.” Genesis 16 surrounds the lives of two women. It surrounds Sarai, Abram’s wife, who has no children and her help, her servant Hagar, who, too, in verse one has no children. But something changes following verse one. Sarai, Abram’s wife, has no children. Her help named Hagar is now expecting a child. Abram, Sarai’s husband, is the reason that Hagar is now expecting a child.

So, what happens? In short, verse six happens. “Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.” Make note of the word harshly. The most basic meaning is “to humble.” Sarai humbled Hagar. I like how the King James translates this verse: Sarai dealt hardly with her. Once Hagar conceived, “she looked with contempt” on Sarai. In other words, Hagar thought herself to be important, more important than Sarai. Hagar had accomplished what Sarai never did as the woman of the house. In response, Sarai humbles her. It is a very negative use of this word. How might have Sarai humbled Hagar? Perhaps it is as simple as reminding Hagar continually of who she really is. She is just the help. This word harshly or hardly is rather important to the rest of the chapter. Another word for harshly is not just to humble, but the word misery. In humbling Hagar, Sarai made life miserable for Hagar.

So, just remember that Genesis 16 surrounds the lives of two women – Sarai and Hagar. Sarai made life miserable for Hagar. And Hagar fled; she ran away as fast as she could from Sarai.

Found: A Woman Named Hagar

Genesis 16:7 has to be the most unexpected verse in the whole chapter. The last thing we read was about Hagar running, running as fast as she could away from Sarai. Where does Hagar think she is going? This is rather interesting. Moses tells us where Hagar was headed. In verse seven, he writes that Hagar was by a spring of water in the wilderness, on the way to Shur. Shur is really close to Egypt. So, where is Hagar, an Egyptian, going? It seems that she is going home to Egypt. But it is interesting that Moses is the one that gives us this information and not Hagar. The reason being is that it is not that important to the big idea of the text. And in verse seven, where Hagar is going is not what we are told first. Listen to it. It is most unexpected. “The angel of the Lord found her.”

Make note of the words “the angel of the Lord.” Now these words, this particular angel, are recorded some fifty times in the Old Testament. But this is the first recorded appearance of this particular angel. And he is mentioned specifically four times in Genesis 16 – all with Hagar. Again, this is a very particular angel, he is the angel. And he is the angel of the Lord. Notice that Lord is in all capital letters. This is the name Yahweh – the self-existent, eternal, never changing, unchangeable and faithful God. This is the angel of the self-existent, eternal, never changing, unchangeable and faithful God. And the first time that the angel of the Lord appears is to a woman who is just the help.

And there is a precious word to pay attention to. This particular angel does not appear to Hagar. This particular angel found Hagar. She was found. Does this mean that she was lost? When Jesus met Zacchaeus, “the wee little man,” he says to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10; see too Luke 15:24). The angel of the Lord found Hagar.

Where Have You Come From? Where Are You Going?

Notice what this particular angel says to her. “Hagar, servant of Sarai.” He finds her and says her name. Why is that important? In the previous verses, Sarai and Abram never uttered her name. She is just the help. Not only that, but the angel knows who Sarai is and he knows that Hagar works for Sarai. And he has a question for her. Where have you come from and where are you going? Seems like two questions. Remember, Moses hinted for us as to where Sarai is going – Egypt. But listen to Hagar. “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” This is her answer and it does not seem to be much of an answer. But remember, why did Hagar run as fast as she could from Sarai? Sarai was making life miserable for Hagar. So, where has Hagar come from and where is she going? She fled misery and is going anywhere where there is no misery.

Return to the Misery

And now verse nine. This is the second time that we are reminded who it is that is speaking to Hagar. It is the angel of the Lord. He tells her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” The words return and submit are both imperatives. This is a command, two commands actually. This particular angel is commanding Hagar to go back to Sarai and submit to her. Think about how remarkable this really is. Sarai makes life miserable. Hagar is fleeing misery to go wherever there is no misery. And this particular angel is telling her to return to Sarai.

Make note of the word submit. It means to humble. Hagar is to humble herself to Sarai. The word submit is the same word for harshly in verse six. Put it all together. This particular angel is commanding Hagar to return to the misery, to put herself back under the misery. This causes so many questions like, what?! Why?! How?!

A Sure and Steadfast Promise

And now verse ten. This is the third time that we are reminded who it is that is speaking to Hagar. It is the angel of the Lord. After he tells her to return to the misery, he gives her a promise. It is not just any promise. It is a sure and steadfast promise. “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” Hagar, you will have lots of kids. This promise seems really similar to the promise given to Abram. Abram too was promised that he would have lots of kids and like this promise they will be beyond numbering (cf. Genesis 15:5). This promise to Hagar though is different. The promise to Abram regarding his son and offspring is connected to the promise of land. In this promise to Hagar and her son (also Abram’s son) there is no promise of land. In fact, this son and his offspring are described as wanderers. Hagar’s son and offspring will be strong, free roaming, not tied down to one place. But this kind of lifestyle will be in conflict with society, most importantly his relatives (kinsman; vv. 11-12).

I do want to point out how this promise is given. This particular angel says, “I will multiply your offspring.” Who will do the multiplying? It sure seems like it must be the one who is speaking. Who is he?

And make note of verse eleven. It is the fourth time that we are reminded who it is that is speaking to Hagar. It is the angel of the Lord. And when he speaks he gives Hagar a sure and steadfast promise. A promise that is more precious than land. And she is being told to go back to the misery. How can she do that? God’s comfort for her affliction was bracing rather than soothing, drawing her mind to things ahead, away from past injuries.[2]

I like the word bracing. It signifies something strong that supports a structure. What is in God’s comfort for Hagar that would brace her for more misery and would keep her mind on things ahead?

The Lord Has Heard Your Misery

This particular angel tells Hagar what she is to name her son. His name will be Ishmael. Ishmael means, “God hears.” She is to go back to misery, probably to endure more misery with a son named “God hears.” And every time that she would say her son’s name she would be saying, “God hears!” Every time that she tucked her son in bed at night she would say, “Goodnight, God hears.” Every time she would tell her son “I love you Ishmael,” she would be saying, “I love you. God hears.” But there is something greater here. Why would she name her son Ishmael? Look at the end of verse twelve. “Because the Lord has listened to your affliction.” Make note of the word affliction. It is a word that means misery. It is the same word as submit and the same word as harshly. As she goes back to misery probably to endure more misery, she is to name her son Ishmael, not merely because “God hears,” but because God hears my misery.

You Are the God Who Sees Me

Now get ready for verse thirteen. Who has been speaking to Hagar? We were reminded four times that it was the angel of the Lord.  This is just all so amazing. Hagar has been commanded to go back to the misery, probably to endure more misery. And listen to what Hagar discovers. Listen to Genesis 16:13. “So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her…” The angel of the Lord is now disclosed to have been the Lord himself.[3] And she calls him, “You are a God of seeing.” The word seeing here is a noun. You are a God of sight. The theme of Genesis 16 is sight. The first six verses were about Sarai. Sarai was to see that God would do for Sarai what she could never do on her own. Here with Hagar it is still about sight. Hagar was in misery. Hagar was lost. And God found her that she too would see. She was to see that God is a God of sight. He sees. He sees my misery. And there is so much more. He has not promised the misery to end. He is bracing her, he is giving her strong support to endure more misery. How can she go back to endure more misery? Better yet, how is God bracing her so that she can go back to endure more misery?

Verse thirteen is really important. And it is one word that brings the verse together. She calls Yawheh the God of sight; the God who sees. Why does she call this his name? It is the word for – “for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” Why did she call God the God of sight? For he sees me. He looks after me. And she sits here in wonder. I have seen him.

How is Hagar being braced to endure more misery? He sees my misery. And there is now so much more. And I see him. He knows my name and I now know his. This is the strong support to endure more misery.

So, what helps? The Apostle Peter wrote a whole letter about misery. And in the first few verses he wrote, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6). This verse is a part of a really long sentence that also includes verse eight. How do you endure misery? “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8). So, what helps? Œ Knowing Him  knowing that He knows me. Can you say that?

[1] http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/brothers-we-must-not-mind-a-little-suffering

[2] Derek Kidner, Genesis, page 137.

[3] Ibid., page 138.

And Abram Listened to His Wife’s Voice

Lisa and I continue a tradition that I grew up with in the Sperry household. Each year at Christmas, we watch the film It’s a Wonderful Life. I love a question Mary Bailey asks her husband George. “Have a hectic day?” To which he responds, “Oh yeah, another big red-letter day for the Baileys!”

Do you have any red-letter days? These are personally significant, never forget the day and time and place kind of days. I have a red-letter day. It was five years ago. I thought about it nearly every day while on the beach in August, remembering that it was five years ago. Each Sunday since the beach I have thought about it, remembering that it was five years ago. It was five years ago that together we spent significant time discerning God’s will regarding the next pastor of Calvary Community Church. And on December 2, 2012 he preached his first sermon as your pastor.

It Was Ten Years Ago

Genesis 16 concerns a personally significant, never forget the day and time and place kind of day. Listen to Genesis 16:3. “So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan…” Ten years ago, Abram took Sarai his wife along with all their stuff and made their way to the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:5). When they came to the land of Canaan, the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7). This is a red-letter day. We know that Abram thought it was a red-letter day because he built an altar right there on that very spot on that very day when God spoke to him. And we know that Abram had not forgot this personally significant day. In Genesis 15, the very next time that Abram hears God speak, Abram says, “Behold, you have given me no offspring” (v. 3). Not only had Abram not forgot this personally significant day, neither had his wife Sarai. Genesis 16 is about Sarai not forgetting this red-letter day. She is thinking about it, remembering that it was ten years ago.

Behold, The Lord Has Prevented Me

Genesis 16:1 sets up the whole chapter. “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar.” So far in Genesis, whenever Sarai is mentioned included is that she is Abram’s wife. Every time. When we first meet Sarai, Abram’s wife, we are also told that she was barren. She had no child (11:30). Those two things, Abram’s wife and she had no child, are brought up again here ten years later. Still Abram’s wife and still no child. In this culture, this was not good. It was a mark of success to have many children and a sad failure to have none. However, in this culture and in these ten years God had promised a child and this was good.

So, put it together. There is this cultural pressure or expectation to have kids. Sarai wants kids. Sarai has a promise from God that there will be kids. And after waiting, ten years of waiting there are no kids. Why did God make this promise and after all of this time, no kids? Why all the waiting? Abram is 85 years old now and it looks less and less likely that Sarai will have a child. What is going on? Better yet, what is God up to?

There is a difference with Sarai from ten years ago. She now has a servant; a female Egyptian servant named Hagar. Why do we need to know not only that Sarai has a female servant named Hagar, but that she is Egyptian? I tend to believe that Hagar was part of the riches that Pharaoh gave Abram while he was in Egypt (cf. Genesis 12:16). But there is more. In Genesis 12, Abram who was childless because his wife had borne no children, had a bare promise of God: you will have offspring. Then he encountered a famine. The famine was a threat to God’s promise. So, what did Abram do? He looked to Egypt.

Ten years later Sarai, Abram’s wife, still had borne him no children. And ten years later, all that she does have is a bare promise of God and tired patience. She has been waiting. She is getting older and as she gets older, so does Abram. Sarai is tired of waiting. So, what does she do? She looks to Egypt. This is why we are told that Hagar is Egyptian.

Again, why all this waiting? What is God up to? Listen to Sarai’s answer. She says to her husband, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children.” Highlight the word prevented. It means to restrain or hinder or stopped. Just listen carefully to what Sarai is saying. God has prevented me. God has restrained me. God has hindered me. God has stopped me.

Think like Sarai for a moment. What has God kept from her? God had promised something and the promise is good. And he is keeping me from it. It is not that God is keeping the promise from me, it is that God is keeping me from the promise. Keeping thinking like Sarai. Why would God keep Sarai from something good?

Different But the Same

Genesis 16 is different, but it is also the same. It is different from Genesis 3, but it is also the same. In Genesis 3, the serpent introduces a thought about one particular tree in the garden of Eden. It is one particular tree that God said, “You shall not eat.” Why did God say that? It was for their good, but is there more to it than that? “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes shall be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5). The serpent introduces the thought to Eve that what God said was for your good and God is now keeping you from this good. Therefore, Genesis 16 is the same as Genesis 3.

In Genesis 16 like Genesis 3, Sarai takes Hagar her servant just as Eve took the fruit (16:3; 3:6). In Genesis 16 like Genesis 3, Sarai gives Hagar to her husband just as Eve gave the fruit to her husband (16:3; 3:6). In Genesis 16 like Genesis 3, Abram listened to his wife’s voice just as Adam listened to his wife’s voice (16:2; 3:17).

Genesis 16 is just like Genesis 3. There is something the same. In both chapters, there is a lie. Someone feels, thinks that God is keeping them from something good. Fruit is good. A child is good. And yet, there are questions we ask that are reasonable of both chapters. Why would God plant a tree that he did not want anyone to eat? Why would God give a promise and make a person wait and wait and wait? What is God up to? The answer is the same for each question and both chapters. Depend on Me for your good. And in both chapters, we find those who depend on self. In both chapters is the thinking that I will depend on me for what is good. I will depend on me for what is not good. I will depend on me to get my good.

I Will Obtain Children

I want us to see how self-focused this thinking is. Listen to the end of Genesis 16:2. “Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” The word obtain means to build. Sarai will do what God will not do for Sarai. Instead, Sarai will do for Sarai. And she will use Hagar, a servant. It is all about Sarai depending on Sarai to get Sarai’s good. Literally verse two reads, “I may build [a family] through her.” Actually, this is more in the sense of, “I shall be built up through her.” Sarai is all about Sarai.

Abram takes Hagar and treats her as if she is his wife. And Hagar gets pregnant. Notice what then happens. “And when she [Hagar] saw that she conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress” (16:4). The word contempt means to despise or to think little of. Hagar the lowly servant from Egypt now thinks little of her boss. Sarai has become little in Hagar’s eyes! Hagar sees herself accomplishing what Sarai could never do…on her own. The irony of it all is that this was part of the point of all the waiting. God would give Sarai what was good. Part of the point of all the waiting was for Sarai to see that God would do for Sarai what she could never do on her own. God would be glorified in giving Sarai her good.

I want us to see how this self-focused thinking continues. In Genesis 16, Sarai never calls her servant by name. It is never Hagar, just always my servant. Sarai always held a low view of Hagar. And now Hagar has a low view of Sarai. Sarai then says to her husband, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me” (v. 5). Note how often the word me appears. Sarai is all about Sarai.

And Sarai is not upset that Hagar is pregnant. This is not, “Oh no, what was I thinking and why did you listen to me?” This instead is, “Oh no, look at how I am being treated!” Sarai is blaming her husband for not stepping in and putting Hagar’s attitude in check. God will get you for this Abram!

In turn, Sarai will deal harshly with Hagar. We will get into this more next week with verses seven through sixteen, but just note the word harshly. Sarai will deal harshly with Hagar the Egyptian. It is the same word used in Exodus 1:11-12. This is how the Egyptians will treat the offspring of Abraham.

And Abram Listened to His Wife’s Voice

This was not the outcome Sarai envisioned. Sarai saw God keeping her from something good. So, Sarai sought to do for Sarai what God would not do. Sarai would get her good. It was the best news when Sarai heard that Hagar was pregnant. She had never been this close before to getting her good. She was about to get what she wanted, but then came the unexpected: Hagar’s attitude. It is this attitude that really upsets Sarai! And in her self-focused thinking she holds Abram responsible! She holds Abram responsible not for the pregnancy, but for her poor treatment.

Then Abram speaks for the very first time. He has not said a word in this whole chapter. “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Prior to this, he does not utter a word. Instead, he listens. He listened to his wife’s voice (16:2). Therein lies part of the problem. This does not mean that husbands should not listen to their wives. This just means that the time Abram should have spoken up was in verse two! It would only have taken three sentences. “The Lord has promised good to us. His word our hope secures. He will our shield and portion be as long as life endures.”

Part of the problem in Genesis 16 is that Sarai would depend on Sarai to get Sarai’s good. It is called self-reliance. Simpler than that, it is called pride. I do not want to be overly-critical of Sarai. Scripture calls her a holy woman who hoped in God (1 Peter 3:5). Holy women and holy men who hope in God do struggle with pride. And part of the point of Genesis 16, the reason for the ten years of waiting, is for Sarai to see that God would do for Sarai what she could never do on her own. God would be glorified in giving Sarai her good.

We are blessed beyond what we could imagine. God is at work and it is marvelous in our eyes. Yet, it is so easy for pride to creep in. And when it does, it destroys. So, how do we combat pride? The disciples displayed pride (Mark 9). They demonstrated pride when they did not pray. They sought to serve God without prayer. Their prayerless attempt showed a self-reliance that is repugnant to God.[1] Did you notice that Sarai and Abram never paused to ask God if this all was a good idea?

We pray because we desperately need God. Jesus said, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God does not keep us from good. He wants us to see that He will do for us what we cannot do on our own. In so doing, He gets glorified (Psalm 118:23). So, I want to lead us in fighting pride in growing to be a church that is prayerful. Prayerful privately and prayerful corporately.

[1] Andrew Davis, Revitalize, page 94.

Behold, Dreadful and Great Darkness

Will you always remember where you were on Monday, August 21 at 2:30 pm? A friend called it “The coolest thing ever experienced. Ever.” I read that some people cried. Some schools did not allow students to go outside. Some schools rescheduled all afternoon activities. Some schools decided to not even meet for the day. There was light and then there was darkness. It was the total eclipse of the sun.

“Monday’s eclipse, however, felt different, more intimate somehow. It was the first in a century to cross the continental United States, coast to coast, and the first since the republic’s foundation that will pass directly over only this country. It felt — at a time of political division and upheaval — like a personally addressed note from the universe: Hey, America, forget the other stuff for a second. There are bigger things in this galaxy. That overshadow us. That can unite us. Just look up.”[1]

If We Would Just Keep Looking

What happened after we looked up? Protests continued that evening. Kyrie Irving was traded the next day. A commentator was removed from a football game because his name is Robert Lee. Following August 21 at 2:30 pm, we looked up and then moved on.

Genesis 15:7-21 is like Monday’s total eclipse. It is like the total eclipse because it involves the sun. Look and listen to Genesis 15:12. “As the sun was going down…” Then look and listen to Genesis 15:17, “When the sun had gone down…” It is like the total eclipse because there was light, but then there was darkness. Look and listen again to Genesis 15:12. “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and deep darkness fell on him.” Look and listen again to Genesis 15:17. “When the sun had gone and it was dark, behold…” And it is like the total eclipse because it involves looking.

Look and listen a third time to Genesis 15:12. “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and deep darkness fell on him.” Pay attention to the word behold. Look and listen a third time to Genesis 15:17. “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold…” Pay attention to the word behold. This word is used four times in Genesis 15, but three times (cf. 15:4, 12, 17) it is used just for us that we might look!

Behold! And it is not a matter of forgetting for a second all the stuff happening around us. Do not even for a second forget the stuff happening around us. In the midst of all the stuff just look and keep looking. The eclipse last Monday was something to see. It had a point. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). And here we are in Genesis 15:7-21 and as we read, there are these pauses meant to grab us. Look. And keep looking. Not in the sense of searching. It is more in the sense of see and hold your sight there. See and keep seeing what?

And He Said to Him

Notice the first few words of Genesis 15:7. “And he said to him.” The word “and” is important because it connects what is being said next to what was written previously. And written previously is this tremendous simple sentence which is meant to grab our attention that we might see. “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” We spent much time on this one sentence last week, but just be reminded of it. Be reminded that this one sentence is meant to grab our attention that we might look. The rest of Genesis 15 is very concerned that we keep looking. And we are asking, keep seeing what? It begins here in verse seven which intentionally follows verse six. “And he said to him, “I am the Lord.”

In Genesis 15:5-6, God leads Abram outdoors to look, to just look up and see the stars. And Abram saw the stars, and beyond the stars the promise, and beyond the promise, God himself.[2] Abram responds with what is most likely a vocal “Amen” – it is so! Then what follows is from God himself a vocal “I am the Lord.” I am the self-existent, eternal, unchangeable and unchanging, faithful God. So, see and keeping seeing what? Who God is.

When God declares who he is, he immediately refers to his works. Notice that God tells Abram that he is the one who brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans. Do you know the Ten Commandments? Better yet, do you know how the Ten Commandments begin? The first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). But this is not how the Ten Commandments begin. The commandments do not begin with commandment number one. Rather the Ten Commandments begin with “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2). It begins the very same way as Genesis 15:7. The Ten Commandments begin with who God is. Who is he? “I am the Lord.” It is the name Yahweh. God is the self-existent, eternal, unchangeable and unchanging, faithful God. Know his name, see and keep seeing who God is in his works.

How Am I to Know?

In Genesis 15:1-6, God reiterates to Abram the promise of offspring. In verse seven, after God declares who he is and refers to his works, God reiterates to Abram the promise of the land. Genesis 15 is precious. It is precious because Abram is alone with God. It is the first time that God and Abram share in a conversation together. They are enjoying fellowship. And in it, it is so precious, Abram asks God two heart-felt questions. Genesis 15:8 is the second heart-felt question. “How am I to know?” Notice the word know. It is the Hebrew word yada. It is used to mean to know intimately; to really, really know. Abram is not asking how am I to know that you are self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging and faithful. Instead, Abram asks, “How am I to know that I shall possess the land?” God then has Abram gather 5 animals including birds and cut them in half, except the birds.

God will use these animals in answering Abram’s question. Keep in mind Abram’s question. How am I to know?

Behold, Dreadful and Great Darkness

God waits. God waits to answer Abram’s question. It took some time to gather those animals and do as God prescribed. Part of the reason is that God is making Abram wait for the answer to his question. God waits for the sun to begin to set (15:12). Notice what comes next, the word behold – look! As God is about to give the answer a dreadful and great darkness overwhelms Abram. This has to be more than what Abram bargained for, but he asked the question! It is like the total eclipse. This is not meant for Abram to forget for a second the stuff around him, but to sustain him in the stuff around him. What is it?

Look at the start to the answer to the question. It is verse thirteen. “Know for certain.” It is the Hebrew word yada. But it is actually given twice. “Yada yada.” And instead of talking about the land, God tells Abram about his offspring. It is the offspring that God said would be beyond number! This offspring will spend time as sojourners, strangers, aliens, people without any rights in a land that is not even theirs. It gets worse. And there they will be servants, slaves. It gets worse. They will be afflicted. They will suffer. And it gets even worse. They will suffer for four hundred years.

But notice verse fourteen. It begins with one of the greatest words in the Bible – but. “But I will bring judgment on the nation they serve.” Who will bring the judgment? It is God and who is he? He is the self-existent, unchangeable and unchanging, faithful God…even in suffering. And notice that God refers to his works. I will bring judgment. And what comes from this judgment? “…they shall come out.” Look at verse sixteen. “And they shall come back here.” Now look ahead at Exodus 20:2. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Abram’s offspring will come out and come back because God will bring them out and bring them back. And it is only because of who God is.

Back to Abram’s question. How am I to know that I shall possess it? Look and listen to Genesis 15:15. “As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.” In other words, you will not possess this land. You will die in peace at the end of a full life. How does this answer Abram’s question? Better yet, how can Abram die in peace knowing that he will never possess the land and suffering awaits his offspring? Keep thinking about his question. How am I to know? He will rest in who God is. God is self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging and faithful. The people reading this for the very first time are the ones who experienced the affliction and getting out of Egypt and getting back to the land. What are they to see and keep seeing? God is self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging and faithful. They know this because of his works.

Again, God is waiting. “For the iniquity of the Amorites [inhabitants of the land] is not yet complete” (15:16). The inhabitants of the land are wicked (cf. Leviticus 18) and they have not reached the limit of their wickedness. And God is waiting to judge their wickedness. Why? “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). God’s justice will reign down upon the Amorites who are godless and sinful, but he is demonstrating his patience toward them that they might repent. Remember, there is a king in this land who is a witness to them. His name is Melchizedek, king of Salem – king of righteousness and king of peace.

When the Sun Had Gone Down

Then the sun goes down and there is nothing but darkness. We have not forgotten about those animal halves. Keep thinking about his question. How am I to know? These animals point to sacrifice. They have been laid out in two parallel rows. It was customary in Abram’s day that when two people entered into a binding agreement together, a covenant, that an animal would be sacrificed, split in half, and the two parties would walk together between the animal. It was a way of saying, “If one us breaks this covenant, may it be done to us as was done to this animal.” This was serious. It was like saying, “May I be cursed.” Keep thinking about his question. How am I to know?

Notice Abram was asleep and he does not walk through the animal pieces. But verse seventeen tells us that the Lord made a covenant with Abram. The self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging, faithful God made a binding agreement with Abram. And verse seventeen tells us that a smoking fire pot and flaming torch passed between the pieces. These were visuals symbolic of the presence of God (cf. Exodus 3:2; 13:21; 19:18; Deuteronomy 4:11). God alone walked through. In a sense, he alone was saying, “May it be done to me as was done to this animal if this covenant be broken.” May I be cursed.

Three times in Genesis 15 we are told to behold, to look. This passage is meant that we look and keep looking at him who is self-existent, eternal, unchangeable and unchanging and faithful. We are to keep looking at God. Keep thinking about Abram’s question. How am I to know? Our view of God is everything.

Jesus the Christ is the self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging, faithful God. He said so and when he did the world’s greatest army fell to the ground (John 18:6). A few hours later, his works would be on display. It is the cross. There his arms were spread wide and nailed to the cross. There was found a new covenant. There the Bible tells us that he became a curse for us. It was to redeem us so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to us. The blessing is to be able to call him our God and we his people (Galatians 3:13-14). And look! It all points back here to Genesis 15:7-21.

Look and keep looking! Your view of God is everything. He is self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging and faithful. His works do not fail. Dread and darkness may overwhelm you. Suffering may last a really long time. But. But he is your God. Look and keep looking.

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9).

[1] https://nedispensaries.com/the-total-solar-eclipse-is-sweeping-across-the-united-states-washington-post/

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 229.