Category Archives: Genesis Bible talks

Genesis 2:4-25: The way things were meant to be

Stop for a moment, close your eyes, and picture yourself in the middle of YOUR PERFECT DAY. It might be REAL – something you’ve done before, or do regularly. Or perhaps it’s a day you’ve only IMAGINED. But whatever it is, it’s the sort of day that makes you stop in the middle of it, take a deep breath and sigh, “Ah, THIS is the life. THIS is what I was MADE FOR”?

Did your day involve being somewhere in God’s creation (perhaps the beach, or perhaps the mountains, or the bush)? And were you were sharing your day with someone else? Or were you on your own?

I hope you’re not too disappointed, but I need to drag you away from your perfect day.

Back to Genesis 2. And it’s ALSO a picture of life as good as it gets. A picture of things the way they were meant to be. And it’s ALSO about enjoying God’s creation. And sharing it with someone else.

A Change of viewpoint

It’s a DIFFERENT picture from Genesis 1. Not contradictory. But a more INTIMATE and CLOSE-UP picture.

Think about video games. Some video games show a view FROM THE TOP. Looking down on the action. You might be looking down over the whole country as you plot strategies, move armies around, reinforce cities. Like AGE OF EMPIRES.

And then there are games where YOU see what the CHARACTER sees. You’re right in the middle of the action. You’re looking through the windscreen of the racing car as it screams down the mountain. Or through the night goggles of the commando as he moves through the building, ready to blast anyone who comes across your path. And it gives a very different experience of a game, depending what your VIEW is.

And it’s the same sort of difference as we move from Genesis 1 to Genesis 2. A CHANGE OF VIEW. Genesis 1 was a view from the top. The BIG PICTURE. Looking out across the whole universe. A view from GOD’S level. But here in Genesis 2, we’ve moved to the close-up view. To the HORIZONTAL view. From the wide-screen to the small-screen.

The INTIMATE view. Focussing on ONE MAN. Focussing on ONE GARDEN. Same game. Just a different view point.

It’s the same way journalists cover a story. Perhaps a newspaper or magazine article, or a show like “A Current Affair”. They might be describing something broad and theoretical, something that affects the whole country. Like rising petrol prices, or obesity in children, or preservatives in food, or tax cuts. And they give you information about the facts and figures and policies. That’s the Genesis 1 coverage. But they’ll also zoom in on a human-interest story. How all of this THEORY affects REAL PEOPLE. Real families. How the large scale things affect people on the small scale.  And that’s what we’ve got here in Genesis 2.

You can see this change of focus even in the NAME used for God. All through Chapter 1, he’s GOD – Elohim. The title, or general-purpose name for ANY god. But from Chapter 2 v4, he’s THE LORD God, That’s the English translation for Yahweh Elohim. A NAME and a title. The PERSONAL God. Who REVEALS himself in his name. Makes himself known to his creature.

It’s a change you can see in the sorts of things God DOES in this chapter. In Chapter 1, it’s mostly about God SPEAKING. From OUTSIDE his creation.

But here in Chapter 2, God’s GETTING HIS HANDS DIRTY. Taking a hands-on approach. He’s IN his creation. Look through the chapter with me.

He makes, not so much by HIS WORD, but (v7) by FORMING, or MOLDING. By BREATHING. V8. By PLANTING. By PLACING. V9, he SPROUTS trees. V19 FORMING again. Or v21. He PUTS TO SLEEP, he TAKES A RIB, he CLOSES IT UP. V22. He BUILDS a woman. And BRINGS her to Adam. All very HUMAN sorts of things to do. God is getting up close and personal.

Chapter one taught us that God is SEPARATE and DIFFERENT from his creation. He’s powerful and holy, controlling and creating simply by his word. He’s TRANSCENDENT.  And chapter two teaches that God is ALSO, at the SAME TIME, close and personal, active and involved with his creation. He’s IMMANENT.  It’s a curious combination. Hard to understand. In fact, the whole Bible addresses the question. Of how a transcendent and pure God can be immanent and personal to us. It’s a puzzle that’s solved when the two axes intersect in Jesus, the GOD-MAN, Transcendent, eternal God becomes frail, immanent MAN.

But that’s still off in the future. Here in Ch 2, we see God up close and personal with A MAN.

Man and God

Have a look at v7. God doesn’t just MAKE man. There’s TWO STEPS. FIRST, he MOLDS man out of the dirt. He scoops it up from the ground, and sculpts a man out of it. (Which is how he makes the animals too, v19)

And then, SECOND, he breathes the breath, or Spirit, of life into him. Not just PHYSICALLY alive, but SPIRITUALLY alive. Something he doesn’t do for any of the animals.

That means human beings are both FLESH and SPIRIT. BOTH are good. We can’t ignore one, and include the other. There’s an EARTHINESS as well as a SPIRITUALITY about life. True life is about joy and participation in the good things of THIS WORLD. Like food and wine and work and sex. And fishing and the swimming and riding a horse. But life’s ALSO about a faith in the things we CAN’T see. And a longing for the better things of THE WORLD TO COME.

Some Christians in the history of the church have separated the two. And said only the Spirit is good, while the flesh is BAD. And so they teach that marriage and sex and food and physical appetites are all evil, and need to be killed. Or that THIS WORLD is bad. And so, they step away from the world. And just focus on THE SPIRITUAL. Monasteries for meditation. Or they become HERMITS. Or live in communes. But that’s not human life the way God made us. We’re spirit AND body. Both are good.

Then there’s the humanists and rationalists. They get it wrong too. They say we’re ONLY physical. That humans are nothing more than chemicals. We’re ONLY body. There’s no Spirit. No God. We’re WORTH less than $1 because that’s what our INGREDIENTS cost. There is nothing inherently precious about human life.

But Genesis 2 says humans are VALUABLE because God has breathed his breath into us. That means we’re living BEINGS. Eternal souls. Self-aware. Aware of death and eternity. Aware of God. Aware that WHO WE ARE / is more than our physical bodies. All things animals can’t do.

But there’s more we can learn about our relationship with our creator. He’s a God who hasn’t just MADE us, but who’s COMMUNICATED with us. That’s there in v16. Who’s INTIMATE and INVOLVED.

He doesn’t just MAKE us and LEAVE US. He’s not the watchmaker who makes the world, winds it up, and then abandons it. He GUIDES us. And his guidance is about giving us RULES and boundaries, but also the dignity of FREEDOM WITHIN BOUNDARIES.

He’s made us. We’re totally dependent on him. He’s given us all we need. But he’s also made us free to make our own independent choices. “You are FREE to eat from ANY TREE in the garden. All sorts of trees. All of them good to eat and good to look at. It’s your choice.” But at the same time, there are LIMITS. One tree Adam COULDN’T eat from. (Freedom within boundaries). And, as we find out soon enough, being made with the ability to CHOOSE will have huge consequences for the world.

Man and the garden.

That’s man and God. What about man AND THE GARDEN? The first thing to notice is that the garden is SEPARATED from the rest of the world. V8 suggests God made the man somewhere else, then took him and placed him in the garden.

It’s the idea of a walled garden, like a king’s ROYAL garden. And if we can make anything of geography, a garden on A MOUNTAIN. Because it’s the source of the four rivers that flow down and water the world. It’s so lush and succulent and life-giving, it can provide life for the whole world. And, just like a king’s walled garden, it’s full of the VERY BEST PLANTS. Great to eat from, and beautiful to look at.  And, in particular, there’s two SPECIAL trees. That’s v9. Both in the centre of the garden. One is the tree of life. The other, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. One the man CAN eat from. In fact, the assumption is that HE DOES, because there’s NO DEATH yet. But the OTHER is FORBIDDEN. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It represents the  desire TO CHOOSE WHAT’S RIGHT AND WRONG. To want to be morally independent. But more on THAT tree next week.

And then down in v15, the man’s given WORK. God the king appoints a royal gardener to tend his royal garden. Caring, nurturing, growing. Even NAMING, which shows AUTHORITY. But also, in a limited way, CREATING, like His Creator. In Chapter 1 only GOD names things. But, here, he delegates that authority to MAN. The whole picture is of life as good as it gets. Of things the way they were meant to be.

Man and Woman

But for all the GOOD things in this garden. There’s one thing that’s NOT good. But have a look at v18. Up until now, God’s been saying It’s GOOD. But not here. 18 The LORD God said, “It is NOT good for the man TO BE ALONE. I will make a helper suitable for him.”  We’re made for relationships. Made to communicate. To share. To work TOGETHER.

Many of you imagined your best day as one you enjoyed ON YOUR OWN. We like time to ourselves, but I’m not sure we’d ALWAYS like to be on our own! Because if it’s with the right person, a pleasure shared is a pleasure DOUBLED. You see something beautiful, or something funny. And you want to tell someone. And so, your favourite day probably includes someone to SHARE it WITH. Someone gets a nice meal in a restaurant, and the first thing they do. Is INSTAGRAM it! Share the picture with all their friends! A pleasure shared is a pleasure doubled. It’s not good for man to be alone.

And so God starts working through the options (v19). One by one the animals parade through. All shapes and sizes. Noisy and quiet. Friendly and shy. Strong and weak. Large and small. Some are good for ONE thing, some for ANOTHER. But NOT ONE is… SUITABLE. God needs a helper who COMPLEMENTS the man. The word for “suitable for him” is a composite word in Hebrew that literally means “like opposite him.” In other words, similar, but different. Someone who fills up in the areas he’s lacking. Because he can’t do the job of looking after the garden on his own. And animals just can’t do it.

So God decides to start from the beginning. Look at v21. He takes a rib from the man, and makes A WOMAN from the rib. The only creature not to be made from the dust of the ground. And he brought her to Adam. Matthew Henry is often quoted here. Not sure if he’s right about why God used A RIB. But it’s a nice thought. “Not made out of his head to top him, not out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved”

But let’s allow Adam take up the story. V23. He slowly wakes up. His rib’s a bit sore. He gives it a rub. He opens his eyes. And there in front of him is the most beautiful creature he’s ever seen. Suddenly he forgets all about his ribs. “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”  The RSV translation puts it better. “THIS, AT LAST, is flesh of my flesh!” Finally! He’s been through THE REST. But now he’s seen THE BEST. A perfect match. Taken from man – ish – so she’s called ishah.

There’s SIMILARITY, DIVERSITY, and UNITY. She’s made FROM man – so she’s SIMILAR. But she’s made to be a SUITABLE HELPER.  But not a helper who’s a junior assistant. It’s a word used in the Bible of GOD – he’s the HELPER of ISRAEL. So this women is someone who makes up for man’s shortcomings. Who fills in his gaps. So there’s DIVERSITY. And that, TOGETHER, they can do what the man CAN’T do on his OWN. There’s DIVERSITY. But there’s also UNITY. Because the writer concludes. V24. What this FIRST marriage means for every OTHER marriage. 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be UNITED TO HIS WIFE, and they will become ONE FLESH.

Man and wife become ONE. A partnership. It’s a unity illustrated in the sexual relationship. Two become one. One flesh.

It’s the way things were meant to be. Because v25 tells us the couple were naked and felt no shame. Shame comes from SECRETS. Shame comes from SIN and GUILT. It’s a picture of a relationship that’s perfectly open and intimate and comfortable.

And so, the chapter closes. Everything in its place. Every relationship in perfect balance. Man and God. Man and the garden. Man and Woman.

It’s a balance that doesn’t last too long. In fact the very next SENTENCE shows that dark storm clouds are building over the idyllic garden.

But before we get to Chapter 3, there’s a few lessons for us here as we think about marriage. A few practical implications. Firstly, if you’re single. This chapter says “It’s a good thing to WANT to get married”. Marriage is CERTAINLY a blessing. It’s NOT good for people to be alone. God took steps to bring a partner to Adam. And so it’s right for you to do the same. But, let me add THIS. Even though marriage is good, it’s not THAT good, and Christian singleness that BAD, that it’s worth SHORT-CUTTING God’s intentions. Settling for second-best. Like marrying a non-Christian. Or the wrong person. Life BEGINS with God, and he’s designed it with HIM AT THE CENTRE. So it’s never going to work out well when you IGNORE his design. God’s given you a wonderful gift in church families. Sensitive Christian friends, from a range of different areas, can go a long way toward meeting the emotional needs of singles. Good single relationships are better than a bad marriage relationship.

And those of us who are married need to RECOGNISE that about church, and about our single brothers and sisters. Make sure they’re included. Go out of your way to remember and notice them. As a general rule, activities and friendships are much more important to single people than for you, with your spouse and family to support you.

Secondly, if you’re a PARENT of someone who’s married. This passage says Let them LEAVE. So they can CLEAVE to their spouse. Let them BUILD that one-flesh relationship.  SUPPORT them, without being A BUSYBODY. Offer your advice only when it’s ASKED FOR. Your child has a NEW allegiance now. The husband-wife bond is STRONGER than the parent-child one. It’s the way God’s designed it. Even though you think you know better, don’t go against GOD!

Third. If you’re a married couple WITHOUT kids. (Perhaps you’re not READY for kids. Or perhaps you can’t HAVE children). Sometimes parents with children can make you feel like second-class citizens . BUT GENESIS 2 SAYS THAT YOU, AS A HUSBAND AND WIFE, ARE A COMPLETE FAMILY. EVEN WITHOUT KIDS.

Four. If you’re a family with children. This teaches that the husband-wife bond is stronger than parent and child. It’s only YOUR SPOUSE you’re one flesh with. Parents, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that while the kids are young you can sacrifice your own relationship to focus on them. The husband-wife relationship is the hub of the family. The core. The most important aspect. This is more likely a word to MOTHERS. Don’t put the kids before your husband. You might think it’s about looking after THEM. But often, it’s really about YOU. Your hurts, your feelings of inadequacies, your emotional needs.  Because as years go by, a marriage relationship becomes hard work. And perhaps it’s just easier to throw your attention into your children.  But this won’t help THEM in the long run. A strong family needs a strong husband-wife relationship. Kids feel secure when they know mum and dad love each other and enjoy each other.

The way things were meant to be – again (Rev 22:1-5)

Well, that was THEN. The paradise of the first PERFECT marriage. But let’s be honest, marriages TODAY are often far from paradise. But rather than get discouraged, here’s one final encouragement. Be encouraged by the HOPE we have. The reality is, marriages, and life in general, ISN’T the way things were meant to be. But one day, life will be TRANSFORMED. It’ll be RETURNED to the way it was meant to be. In fact, even BETTER than Eden.

Revelation 21 and 22 describe eternity. Rather than a garden, we’ve got a CITY. But it’s a city that’s modelled on Eden. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. And the thing about a city is you’re never alone. It’s always about relationships. ESPECIALLY with God who’ll be completely IMMANENT and WITH us. The way it was in the beginning.

Close your eyes, and imagine THIS perfect day. When you sit back and think, “Ah, THIS is the life. THIS is what I was made for!”

22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the HEALING of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any CURSE. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

 

Genesis 1-3: What God says about marriage

marriageToday we begin an eight week series on what God says about marriage. We won’t be studying PUBLIC OPINION on marriage. Or what I think about marriage. And we won’t focus on social science, or genetics, or politics.

Instead, we’ll look at the opinion of THE ONE WHO COUNTS. At what God, our CREATOR, says about marriage. He’s DESIGNED us. He KNOWS us. Things ALWAYS work best when we follow the manufacturer’s instructions. And the Bible is God’s instruction manual. So, for the next eight weeks we’ll look at what God’s told us, in the Bible, about marriage.

Why look at marriage?

But why look at marriage? Aren’t there BIGGER issues to worry about? Like telling people the good news about forgiveness and salvation. Or like fixing the environment, or unemployment, or refugees. Why marriage? One reason is because this issue is TIME-CRITICAL. All over the world there’s a push to redefine not just marriage, but what it means to be human. To be male and female.

And where things are at in Australia is that some time soon the government will hold a plebiscite, a public vote, on whether to legalise same-sex marriage. And leading up to it, there’ll be the opportunity for public debate on the issue. Of course, it’s started already. But it’s important for Christians, persuasively, humbly and clearly, to present our position.

It’s important for the Christian church AS A WHOLE. Using press releases, and advertisements, and media interviews, and in formal and official ways. But it’s JUST as important for everyday Christians, for you and me, to share with our friends and family and workmates. In conversations and on facebook and wherever we can. 1 Peter 3:15 says that we’re to be ALWAYS prepared to give an answer to EVERYONE who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have. And that we’re to do it with GENTLENESS and RESPECT.

And so the purpose of this series is twofold. Firstly, I hope there’s some visitors here today. You’ve seen the banner, or received an invitation in your letterbox or from a friend. And I hope this series might give you the opportunity to learn what God’s view of marriage is. And, hopefully, to hear some arguments for why God’s design is best. The second purpose is to equip CHRISTIANS. To give you the tools and the confidence and the motivation to be able to have those conversations with people you know.

Why get involved?

But perhaps you’re wondering why we’re even HAVING the debate. Why get involved? Perhaps you wonder why Christians care so much about what the government legislates, or what other people do in the privacy of their own homes? Perhaps your view is that Christians aren’t meant to be the moral policemen for Australian society. And we should just get on with what WE do, and leave the legislating to the government. And I think, generally, that’s TRUE. It’s NOT our job to be checking whether our neighbours keep the Sabbath, or cheat on their tax returns, or watch pirated movies, or whether they’re living together rather than married. It’s good for them if they DON’T.

But our priority is to TELL THEM ABOUT JESUS, and to call them to turn from their sin, (just like WE ALL NEED TO), and to submit to him, and his right to rule over them. And all of that OTHER stuff is secondary.

But here’s why I think we need to speak up. Because traditional marriage is GOOD FOR SOCIETY. Sure, it’s not perfect. And there’s problems of domestic violence and divorce and adultery. And we need to be speaking and working on THOSE ISSUES TOO.

But even flawed as it is, MARRIAGE IS GOOD FOR SOCIETY. It’s good for FAMILIES. It’s good for children. It’s good for Christians, and it’s good for non-Christians. Research in social science shows that, at an individual level, marriage is good for men and women and children.

Both married men and women have better psychological and physical health, and they live longer. Couples that cohabit, rather than marry, have lower incomes, less education, and report more conflict, more violence, and lower levels of relationship satisfaction.[1]

And for CHILDREN, those raised by their married, biological mother and father perform more strongly across a range of social and personal indicators.[2] They’re less likely to grow up to become young unwed parents, or to have unhappy marriages, or to divorce. They enjoy better health, and are less likely to fail at school.[3] The infant MORTALITY rate is far lower.

And there’s a growing body of research that challenges the modern view that there’s no difference in the effect on children of same-sex and traditional marriages.[4] In other words, there’s solid evidence that kids grow up BETTER in families with a father and a mother.

But more than just FOR INDIVIDUALS, marriage is good for SOCIETY. Australian Government policy ENCOURAGES marriage because it has a direct impact on the stability and health of communities in a whole range of ways. At a completely pragmatic level, John Howard has said, “Intact and fully functional families constitute the least costly social welfare system yet devised by mankind.”[5]

Genderless marriage leads to genderless families, with no mother and father. And, if recent events in America are any hint for where things are headed, it will lead to a genderless SOCIETY where children are encouraged to CHOOSE their gender, often at a time when hormones make them most confused about their identity. All of it harming the stability of society. To put it bluntly, changing the marriage act to include marriage between same sex couples WILL profoundly and permanently CHANGE SOCIETY. We can’t simply close our eyes, and say it doesn’t matter what consenting adults do behind closed doors. Because, it DOES matter. Changing the definition of marriage will EFFECT US ALL. THAT’S why we should get involved!

Genesis 1 – male and female: similar but different

So, with all that said. Enough from ME. Let’s hear from God. Genesis chapter 1. Right from the very first chapter of the Bible human beings are presented as created MALE AND FEMALE. And the fundamental family unit is a husband and a wife. That’s God’s design. V27.So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Notice how “male and female” is just one of a number of SIMILAR but DIFFERENT pairs in this chapter. V1. Heaven and earth: similar but different. Both part of the whole, but separate. V3. Light and dark. Day and night. Similar but different.  V5. Evening and morning. Similar – the boundary between night and day. But DIFFERENT – opposite ENDS of the day. V7. Water ABOVE the sky separated from water BELOW. Similar but different. V9. Dry ground and water. Land and sea. Similar but different. V16. Big light to govern the day, smaller light to govern the night. Sun and moon. Similar but different.

And then, finally, down in v27, God makes humankind in his image, and he makes them MALE and FEMALE. Similar, but different. Same SPECIES. But different GENDER. With different characteristics. Different strengths and weaknesses.

And it’s to this “similar, but different” pair of creatures that God gives the task, v28, of being fruitful and increasing in number. Not POSSIBLE if they were two males. Or two females. And then he gives them the task of SUBDUING the earth. RULING over it. And at the end of the chapter, v31, God declares everything VERY GOOD.

Genesis 2: A suitable helper

And as we move to Genesis 2, we see HOW this “similar but different” pair is very good. The start of the chapter backtracks to before God’s created the woman. And it’s just the man. And in v15, God took the man, and put him in the Garden of Eden to WORK it, and TAKE CARE of it. There’s cultivating and tilling. There’s planting and fertilising. There’s harvesting and collecting. And from Ch 1, we know Adam ALSO has to SUBDUE the earth, and to RULE OVER the animals. That’s a lot of work for one person. Not to mention being fruitful and increasing in number. Which is a touch difficult on your own. And so, in v18, we read The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Up to this point, God’s assessment of everything he’s made is that it’s GOOD. But Adam being alone is NOT good. Now, we often read this verse as saying that God’s going to make a COMPANION for the man because he’s LONELY. But, from the context, God’s got a different purpose. God’s not going to make a COMPANION to satisfy the man’s EMOTIONAL needs. (She may PROVIDE that). God’s plan is to make a SUITABLE HELPER for his WORK.

Which means that God’s purpose for making us male and female, at least as it’s expressed here, is so that humanity can BETTER DO THE WORK THEY WERE CREATED FOR. That is, the work of multiplying and filling God’s world. And of caring, cultivating and ruling it.

And what the man needs isn’t AN ANIMAL. He needs a HELPER SUITABLE for him. Some people understand the idea of HELPER in a negative way. That the woman is somehow less, or secondary, or subservient. But the Bible nearly always uses the word to describe GOD. He’s the helper of Israel, providing what is LACKING. Like Psalm 115 – “O Israel trust in the Lord, he is YOUR HELP and your shield.”

And that’s the sort of helper the WOMAN will be. Not LESS, or SECONDARY. But able to add what man CAN’T DO HIMSELF. Not a SERVANT, or a maid or an assistant. More like a tutor, or a driving instructor, or a financial advisor.

And “suitable” translates a compound word that literally means “like opposite him.” A helper who’s LIKE him, but OPPOSITE. Who complements, or fills out what he lacks. A key for a lock. A glove for a hand. Who’s strong where he’s WEAK. (At the risk of drawing stereotypes), who’s verbal where he’s non-verbal. Who can empathise and connect emotionally, where he’s logical and disconnected from his feelings. Who’s nurturing where he’s adventurous. Who can do many things at once, while he can only think about ONE thing at a time.

Now THAT’S the sort of helper to really complement, to complete, the man. So, together, they can do God’s work in the world. And that’s true in marriage. But it’s just as true in business, or a committee of some sort, or any sort of work, really. Men and women working TOGETHER do a better job of doing God’s work in the world.

And so God makes the woman from the rib of the man. And, v23, when he wakes up, he opens his eyes, sees the woman, and says, Wow! (Actually, that’s my loose translation!) He says, “Now, AT LAST! THIS is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” The REST of creation has its pair. The similar, but different, complement. And now, finally, so too does man. The HELPER, who’s LIKE but OPPOSITE him. And the joy and connection and completion the man feels is felt by ALL couples who FOLLOW. V24. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become ONE FLESH. 25 The man and his wife were both NAKED, and they felt NO SHAME.

Flesh from flesh. The woman came from the man’s flesh. And so ever married couple is most natural and most complete as ONE FLESH. COMPLETELY CONNECTED, like the way the FIRST couple BEGAN. One flesh. It’s SEXUAL union. But it’s MORE. It’s the joy of connection and completion and intimacy. No barriers, no secrets, no shame. No WONDER God sees it all and says it’s VERY GOOD.

Genesis 3: a battle of wills

But, it didn’t stay VERY GOOD for long. As we move into chapter 3, we see how SIN entered the world. How both Adam and Eve chose their OWN way, rather than follow God’s rule. And, as a result, there was PUNISHMENT. God’s purposes for humanity, their work in the world, would now be FRUSTRATED. V17, Man, whose job was to care and cultivate the earth, would now have to STRUGGLE. The ground would only yield its fruit with PAINFUL TOIL.

And woman, whose job was to MULTIPLY, would ALSO be frustrated. V16, she’d still find JOY in children, and in her husband, and her one flesh connection with him. But the END RESULT of that – childbirth – would be PAINFUL.

And at the end of v16 there’s one more punishment. “Your DESIRE will be for your husband, and he will RULE over you.” It could mean the wife will feel attracted to her husband. But that he will dominate her – he won’t be WORTHY of those feelings. But I think it’s describing something else. Over in Ch 4 v7 there’s an almost identical phrase. Cain is angry at his brother Abel. God warns him, “Sin is crouching at your door. It DESIRES you and you must RULE OVER IT.” There’s A CONFLICT. Sin (personified) desires to conquer Cain. It’s temptation. But Cain must MASTER it. RESIST it. Two want to win. Only one CAN.  It’s the same conflict being described between Adam and Eve. God says to Eve, “You’ll desire to master Adam. And he’ll rule over you.” You’ll both want to be in charge. You’ll both want your own way. And neither will give in. That’s the way things are going to be from now on.

It’s the battle of wills that describes many marriages today. Neither person wants to back down. BOTH want to stand up for themselves. Our natural inclination is to want OUR way, rather than put OUR SPOUSE first. Lots of married people say to me, “I didn’t realise how SELFISH I was until I got married. BEFORE, I could do what I wanted. AFTER, I had to consider how EVERYTHING I DID affected my spouse.” Every marriage works out that conflict. That tension. Every marriage today bears the scars, the consequences, of that sin. Including MINE. Marriage is HARD WORK. You and your spouse are BOTH STUBBORN SINNERS.

What’s more, you’re not only SINNERS, you’re DIFFERENT to each other. You think differently, you approach problems and solve problems differently. It can be a wonderful HELP and JOY to have a partner LIKE THAT. Who COMPLEMENTS and FILLS OUT your strengths and weaknesses. But it can also be incredibly FRUSTRATING and DIFFICULT. It can lead to misunderstandings and broken relationships and hurt and pain.  And you need grace and forgiveness, and repentance and humour. What’s more, you need God’s help.

The Bible’s message is that we’re ALL like Adam and Eve. We all have a stubborn, independent streak. We’re all vandals and rebels in God’s garden. We’ve all chosen OUR WAY instead of God’s. So we’re alienated from God. Alienated from his presence, and from his purposes. We need to be RESTORED to him through Jesus. God offers to FORGIVE our sin and rebellion. To offer us GRACE in place of JUDGMENT.  And once THAT happens, we can begin to serve him, working out his purposes for us in his world. It won’t cure a marriage overnight. But it’s THE FIRST STEP. Because when you’ve RECEIVED grace, you’re more about to GIVE it. And a marriage of THREE, with God at the centre, is marriage the way God DESIGNED it.

Matthew 19

One last point. Jesus himself had some wisdom for marriages, based on this passage. In Matthew 19, some teachers of the law raised the question of DIVORCE. V3. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for ANY reason?” In other words, how small an excuse could a man use to divorce his wife and re-marry.

And Jesus sees their motivations for what they are. “Moses PERMITTED divorce because YOUR HEARTS WERE HARD. But it wasn’t this way in the beginning.” It’s not God’s DESIGN to separate like that. And he quotes Genesis 2.

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’  5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but ONE.

THAT’S God’s design. Two people connected as one. Male and female. Each complementing, helping, filling out what’s missing, in the OTHER. That’s what God said was VERY GOOD. And then Jesus finishes with the APPLICATION. Therefore what God has joined together, LET MAN NOT SEPARATE.” GOD has joined together every married couple. Because marriage is HIS design. Public promises made before him.

So don’t TRASH it. Don’t DISMANTLE it. Work at marriage. Strengthen it. It’s VALUABLE. It’s WORTH working at. It’s like an expensive Porsche that you service and wash and polish and repair. It’s not a rusty old VW you just drive until it stops. Don’t separate what God has joined together.

Which means more than simply not divorcing if you’re married. All of us, whether we’re single or married, can work at encouraging marriages. Praying for them, supporting them, helping with the kids – teaching Sunday School or babysitting. Men, get together to be real and transparent and accountable to each other about the struggles. Women, meet up to support each other to REJOICE and be THANKFUL, and WORK at your marriages, rather than complain about them.

Our natural inclination is for wives to desire to be the boss, and for husbands to want to rule sternly and without patience and consideration. Looking to your OWN interest, rather than your spouse. But NOT separating what God has joined together means, in your marriage, working prayerfully and humbly on being the OPPOSITE of that. Humbly serving and loving each other. Submitting and leading for the benefit of the OTHER person.

The unexpected wisdom of God’s design is that it’s by NOT seeking your own satisfaction in marriage that your marriage will be most satisfying. He didn’t design it for the satisfaction of your own emotional needs – so you wouldn’t be lonely. If that’s your goal, at some point you’ll be disappointed. At some point, your spouse WILL disappoint you.

He designed marriage to be OUTWARD LOOKING, not INWARD looking. He designed it so that you and your partner could better carry out ruling and cultivating and nurturing the earth.

So you VALUE marriage, by looking OUTWARD. Look to GROW and CREATE. Paid work that benefits the world. Unpaid ministry that creates people who love Jesus.

And THAT’S where you’ll find your emotional needs, your loneliness, satisfied. Fellowship with God’s people, including your spouse. Fellowship centred around Jesus, serving and exalting him.

It’s what you were made for, and what your MARRIAGE is made for. And when God looks at marriages like THAT, he declares them VERY GOOD.

[1] 21 reasons why marriage matters. Document at http://www.familyfirst.org.au

[2] Chris M Wilson and Andrew J Oswald (2005), Institute for the Study of Labor, ‘How Does Marriage Affect Physical and Psychological Health? A Survey of the Longitudinal Evidence’, http://ftp.iza.org/dp1619.pdf.  Daniel T Lichter, Deborah Roempke Graefe, J Brian Brown, ‘Is Marriage a Panacea? Union Formation Among Economically Disadvantaged Unwed Mothers’, Social Problems, Vol 50 No 1 February 2003, ttp://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/sp.2003.50.1.60#authInfo.  See Patrick Parkinson (July 2011), ‘For Kids’ Sake: Repairing the Social Environment for Australian Children and Young People’, University of Sydney; Mark Regnerus (2012), ‘How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study’, Social Science Research, 41 (2012) 752-770; D Paul Sullins (2015), Emotional Problems among Children with Same-sex Parents: Difference by Definition, British Journal of Education, Society and Behavioural Science 7(2):99-120.

[3] 21 reasons why marriage matters, Family First.

[4] Loren Marks (2012), ‘Same-sex parenting and children’s outcomes: A closer examination of the American psychological association’s brief on lesbian and gay parenting’, Social Science Research, 41 (2012) 735-751.

[5] John Howard, The Menzies Era (Harper Collins, 2014), p 380.

Genesis 2:18-25: When the church seems anti-gay

flagMany of us who are Christan have friends or family members or work colleagues who are homosexual. But the Christian position – the teaching of the Bible – is that homosexual practice is WRONG. It’s a SIN. And God will judge people who ENGAGE in it. So, what are we to do? We’re called to LOVE people, without judging or condemning them. But does that mean we have to ACCEPT, and APPROVE of, what they DO?

And this is probably the biggest barrier of all for people to consider Christianity. Because the Christian position puts us in conflict with much of society. With the media, with gay lobby groups, and possibly with our friends and colleagues. And with the push for same sex marriage growing stronger all the time. The conflict is just going to GROW.

Those in favour of same sex marriage see it as a matter of EQUALITY and FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS. They want to connect it to the historical battles for RACIAL equality and, more recently, GENDER equality. They want to paint it as the great civil liberty issue of our time.

And so, when it’s set up like THAT, when Christians offer the biblical opinion. Either on same sex marriage. Or, more broadly, on homosexuality. They’re branded as ignorant, intolerant, prejudiced, old-fashioned and outdated.

The two main things I’ll try to do today is summarise the Bible’s teaching on homosexual practice. And then, secondly, outline some ways forward. (Attitudes and actions and approaches to dealing with the issue).

In the beginning…

And the first relevant passage is the first chapter of the Bible. In Genesis 1, we read about God’s design for humanity. V27 says, 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; MALE AND FEMALE he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be FRUITFUL and increase in number; fill the earth and SUBDUE it. RULE over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

God’s design is MALE and FEMALE. That’s the family unit. And part of their purpose is to be FRUITFUL. To REPRODUCE. Only male and female can do THAT. And he gives them PURPOSE and SIGNIFICANCE. To rule and subdue. And God declares everything VERY GOOD.

That’s the BIG PICTURE. Painted with broad brush strokes. When we move to Genesis 2, we see the same event from a different point of view. God makes MAN. And he gives him BOUNDARIES to operate within. V16, he says “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 BUT you must NOT eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” Notice that, by God’s design, our BEST life has LIMITS. Restrictions. Just because we CAN do something, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s a good thing to DO it. (We’ll come back to that idea in a few minutes)

And even though everything ELSE he’s created is GOOD, in v18 he says, “It’s NOT good for the man to be alone. I will make a HELPER / SUITABLE for him.” God DESIGNED us for relationship. The desire for a partner to walk through life with is NATURAL and GOOD and GOD-GIVEN. And in his goodness, God sets about making a SUITABLE partner. MATCHING. A partner to COMPLEMENT and COMPLETE. The same, but different. (To COMPLEMENT means to add something that the other person doesn’t have). And so, to REFLECT that, v21, God puts the man to sleep, and takes one of his ribs. And makes a woman from the rib. And the man says, v23, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; Bone LIKE my bones. Flesh TAKEN from my flesh. The same, but also, DIFFERENT.

And at that point we learn what God’s design means for ALL marriages. V24.This FIRST marriage gives us a blue-print for every OTHER marriage.24 FOR THIS REASON a man will leave his father and mother and be UNITED to his wife, and they will become ONE FLESH. 25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. ONE FLESH. The physical union of husband and wife. Two become one PHYSICALLY. And that reflects, and helps, the two become one RELATIONALLY. And God’s design is for man and woman. Only man and woman can become ONE FLESH in that way. Man and woman. The same, but different. A complementary pair.

In fact, they’re just ONE of a NUMBER of complementary pairs in God’s creation. He created heavens and earth. The sun and the moon. Day and night, sea and land, plants and animals. In each case, each part BELONGS with the other, but neither is INTERCHANGEABLE. They’re COMPLEMENTARY – ONE adds something that THE OTHER can’t do. Creation just wouldn’t WORK to have two earths but no heaven. Or two suns, but no moon. Or two days but no night. Or plants but no animals. Or two men, but no women. Or two women, but no men. God’s creation is about complementary pairs. Kevin de Young says, “If God wanted us to conclude that men and women were interchangeable in the marriage relationship… he gave us the wrong creation narrative… Homosexuality simply does not fit with the created order of Genesis 1 and 2.” (What does the Bible really teach about homosexuality?, p32)

Mistaken cultural assumptions

Let’s stop for a moment, and consider what we have. Because it contradicts two of the dominant, but mistaken, assumptions in today’s culture. They’re assumptions you can see behind much of the way society thinks about homosexuality. The first assumption is that FULFILMENT MEANS GETTING EVERYTHING YOU WANT. People think you can only achieve your full potential, you can only find fulfilment, when you get your every desire, whatever it is. And that it’s somehow sub-human to be DENIED that. Which means that anyone who STANDS IN THE WAY of that. Or says that a desire is WRONG. Is oppressive, and domineering. It’s infringing your basic rights. It’s stopping you from being who you were meant to be. And that’s the sort of thing we hear people saying as they talk about their RIGHT to pursue a homosexual lifestyle. Even though God might say it’s wrong. They say God’s preventing them from being fully human.

But we know that sort of thinking just doesn’t work. A loving parent will set BOUNDARIES around what a child can do. FOR THEIR GOOD. A child won’t achieve their full potential by playing on the road, or sticking knives in toasters. And it works the same with God’s boundaries. His design is that our human potential is maximised when we live WITHIN HIS BOUNDARIES. His moral guidance for what’s right and wrong. Our BEST life –our richest and most satisfying life – happens when we follow our manufacturer’s instructions. Including his design for sex, and personal relationships. That’s GOOD NEWS!

The SECOND wrong assumption is connected to the first. It’s that sexuality DEFINES someone. Sexuality has become primary. It seems to have happened since the sexual revolution in the 60’s. We hear people talking about themselves as GAY. Rather than that being ONE of the things they DO. It’s who they ARE. Mark Thompson, principal of Moore College comments “‘What I do’ has morphed into ‘who I am’ without anybody noticing”

But it’s not just homosexuals. The spirit of the age says we’re defined by our sexuality. Singles are incomplete. Virgins are sub-human. Everyone’s doing it. And if you’re NOT having sex, then you can’t be complete and fulfilled. And smartphone apps like Tinder. Or websites like Ashley Madison just fuel the assumption.

Mark Thompson goes on to make the great point, “Our sexuality is NOT what defines us as human beings… It is possible to be fully human, and joyfully so, and live without sex. Many do by choice or by necessity — not to mention the human being par excellance, Jesus himself.” No! Genesis 1 and 2 teach us that what defines us as human beings is that we’re MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD. We’re made to be in a relationship with him. And to live as creatures, properly related to our Creator.” That’s our primary identity. And everything else FLOWS FROM THAT. Including our sexuality.

Crossed boundaries

And so we come to Genesis 3. Where mankind chose to cross the boundaries God had set in place. Boundaries designed for OUR GOOD. And our ENJOYMENT. Satan tempted Adam and Eve. And they chose independence, rather than obedience. They chose to construct the world according to THEIR priorities and desires. Rather than GOD’S. And SIN came into the world. The knowledge of good and evil. And CURSE. And DEATH. And BROKENNESS. Broken relationships, a broken creation. Misdirected desires. Children forced to live out the consequences of their parent’s wrong choices.

And if we turn to Romans Ch 1, we see how EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US since Adam and Eve has made that same choice. And every ONE of us suffers the same CONSEQUENCES. The main point of these first few chapters of Romans is that EVERYONE has sinned against God. We’re culpable. Guilty, without excuse. We deserve his judgment, and need his salvation. Which makes it pretty difficult to be pointing the finger at just ONE GROUP in PARTICULAR.

Chapter 1 focusses on the Roman Gentile world. V21. Even though they knew SOMETHING of God from creation, they didn’t ACKNOWLEDGE him. In fact, three times it says they consciously and deliberately EXCHANGED that knowledge for something else. V22 says they claimed to be wise, but became fools because they exchanged the glory of God the CREATOR for images of CREATED THINGS. V25 says they exchanged the TRUTH of God for a lie. And WORSHIPPED the created things. And then in v26, women exchanged NATURAL relations for UNNATURAL ones. And v27. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Deliberate, conscious action. And at each point we read that God’s response was to HAND THEM OVER. To give them up. He allowed them to experience the full expression of their choices. It’s part of how his wrath is being revealed.

V24 they exchanged the glory of God for idols, 24 Therefore God GAVE THEM over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

V26. They exchanged the truth of God for lies, 26 Because of this, God GAVE THEM OVER to shameful lusts.. To homosexual acts. Both WOMEN, and MEN.

And finally in v28, having exchanged natural relations for UN-natural ones, God GAVE THEM OVER to a depraved MIND, to do what OUGHT NOT TO BE DONE. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

Now, there’s lots there I COULD talk about. But let me make three points. First, homosexual practice is the SYMPTOM, not the CAUSE. The CAUSE is the rejection of God. People chose idolatry instead of the TRUE God, they CHOSE lies instead of truth. And the SYMPTOMS of that were desiring the wrong things. Including homosexual practice.

And that has something to say for us in how we deal with homosexuals. The big issue isn’t who they sleep with, but their rebellion against God. We need to preach the GOSPEL to them just the same as we do to everyone else. That’s what they need more than anything else. Gospel, not law, is what will SAVE them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying law doesn’t matter. Or sexual behaviour doesn’t matter. Just that it’s SECONDARY, not PRIMARY. They need a new heart first, THEN we can start with the new life.

Second, homosexual practice isn’t the only sin, or arguably even the WORST sin mentioned there. You’ll notice from v29 a whole LIST of sins many of us are guilty of, even if we’re not guilty of homosexual practice. For me, my depraved mind means, at various times, I’m guilty of envy or malice or gossip or arrogance or boasting. I deserve judgment and I need grace every BIT as much as the WORST of sexual sinners.

That said though, homosexual sin may not be the ONLY sin mentioned in Romans 1. But, my THIRD point, it IS SINGLED OUT. It’s PROMINENT in this chapter. De Young makes the point, “In Paul’s mind, same-sex sexual intimacy is AN ESPECIALLY CLEAR ILLUSTRATION of the idolatrous human impulse to turn away from God’s order and design.” It’s logical that when you suppress the truth about God written in nature, you’ll suppress the truth about your own sexual identity written in nature. And that when you exchange the truth of God for a lie, you’ll exchange natural relations for unnatural ones. There’s no getting around it. God’s Word is clear. Homosexual practice is a sin, and it’s condemned.

Following Jesus

Our own identity

In lots of ways, that’s the easy question. The DIFFICULT question is how we work that out in our relationships. How we relate to homosexual people we know. How we treat Christians struggling with same sex attraction. What we say about same sex marriage. I’m no expert, and it’s, no doubt, simplistic. But we won’t go far wrong if our guiding principle in all these questions is TO FOLLOW JESUS.

First, WITH REGARD TO OUR OWN IDENTITY. Jesus never married. And he was celibate his whole life. Yet he was the most complete and fulfilled human who ever lived. If you’re single and longing to be married. That’s a good desire. But it’s not ULTIMATE. Your identity is that you’re IN Christ, made in God’s image. Not that you’re single. Or perhaps you’re married, but it’s dry and unsatisfying, and you’re tempted to be resentful of your spouse. Don’t make sex an IDOL. Learn to be content. Learn to find your identity in Christ, as his disciple, God’s image bearer. Learn to follow Jesus.

Or if you’re struggling with same sex attraction, and are tempted to be angry at God for giving you feelings you can’t ACT on. Hebrews 12:2 tells you to fix your eyes on Jesus who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. And Mark 8:34 commands you to deny yourself. And take up your cross DAILY, and follow him.

And that’s a command for ALL of us – whatever our orientation, or situation. That’s the COMMAND. But there’s also a WONDERFUL PROMISE. In Mark 10:29, Jesus promises No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. Jesus promises to satisfy our longing for intimacy and connection far more completely than we can imagine. But it begins with DENYING SELF, and FOLLOWING HIM,

How we treat others

And, second, following Jesus helps us when it comes to the question of how we treat OTHERS. How we TREAT those who practice homosexual sin, or who have same sex attraction. Let’s follow Jesus, who, John 1:14 tells us, reflects the Father’s glory, FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH. Not full of grace, but no truth. Accepting everything, never speaking against ANYTHING. And not full of truth, but no grace. Aggressive, judgmental condemnation of sin, with no thought of the PERSON who sins. FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH. May that be what our CHURCHES are like! Ephesians 4:15 says we’re to SPEAK the TRUTH IN LOVE. Notice, it’s not a CHOICE, or a BALANCING ACT. It’s not love OR truth. But truth IN love. Because LOVING someone MEANS speaking the truth to them. Loving the homosexual doesn’t mean giving false comfort by misrepresenting what God thinks. And loving the homosexual isn’t tolerating them.

The former lesbian, now Christian author, Jean Lloyd wrote “During my upbringing, I heard a few fiery sermons on homosexuality. These days, I hear declarations of love instead. They make me shout for joy… At the same time, however, many pastors have begun accompanying this love (by speaking against) Biblical sexual morality as oppressive, unreasonable, or unkind… affirming and encouraging homosexual people in their same-sex sexual relationships and behaviors. Although I appreciate the desire to act in love, this isn’t the genuine love that people like me need. LOVE ME BETTER THAN THAT! http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2014/12/14149/ Love me BETTER than that. She wants love that SPEAKS the TRUTH.

Like Mark Thompson, who writes, “We want them first and foremost to hear of something far better than they could ever have imagined. We want them to hear of the possibility of a life without shame, without fear and without condemnation… Our responsibility, in the meantime, is to show the same unconditional love that was shown to us, while we speak with gentleness, but without compromise, of what God has made known about his will for us.”

I’ll leave the final word to Kevin De Young “Jesus gives everything to us, and demands everything from us. He died for our sakes, and then told us we had to die for his. We desperately need grace in our lives.  We need to hear from Jesus “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28)  We need to know that God doesn’t expect us to clean up our act before we come to him.  He implores us to come, now, today, just as we are–in brokenness, in pain, in humility, in repentance, and in faith.  We need to hear that wayward children, who have squandered their inheritance and lived an immoral, rebellious life, can come home into the arms of their heavenly Father (Luke 15:20).

And we desperately need TRUTH in our lives.  We need to hear from Jesus “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).  And we need to hear from Jesus what this saying really means: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a SLAVE to sin…But if the Son sets you free you will be FREE INDEED” (John 8:36).  We need someone as gracious as Jesus to tell us the TRUTH: you are NOT okay.  You do not need to push away those feelings of guilt that weigh you down.  You ARE guilty.  And anyone who tells you otherwise, is not telling you the truth.  And because they won’t tell you the TRUTH, you won’t experience the GRACE you need. We need truth. We need grace. We need Jesus… Only in Jesus can we be given new birth. Only through Jesus can we be new creations. Only with Jesus can all things be made new… That’s the best news you’ll ever hear. (Kevin de Young, 135-36)

Genesis 11:27-12:9: The Promise

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to a politician PROMISING something, I’m a little reluctant to TRUST them. Bob Hawke promised that no Australian child would be living in poverty. Promising more than he could really deliver, I suppose. John Howard managed to explain HIS broken promises by saying that they weren’t CORE promises, so it didn’t matter. Malcolm Turnbull promised a plebiscite on same-sex marriage. But then didn’t have the numbers in parliament to make that happen.

It’s hard, isn’t it, to make promises about the future? Because we’re only human. And we can’t control what’s going to happen tomorrow. We might have every intention to DO something. Or BE somewhere. But then, something happens we’ve got no control over. And we can’t fulfill our obligations. Which I HATE doing. And so, if we’re honest with people, we don’t PROMISE. We say “I’ll do my best”. Or “I’ll TRY”. Which, I sometimes think, just isn’t good enough.

In Vanuatu they don’t have a problem. They just promise to do what they think the person WANTS. Even if they have no intention of doing it. If they think the other person WANTS them to turn up for a meeting at 9 am, they’ll promise to be there. Even if they’ve already said they’ll be somewhere else. Because it’s more polite to AGREE with the person, and then not keep their promise. Than to suggest a different option that they could actually KEEP. It’s about not wanting the other person to lose face.

Making and keeping promises. With people, promises are hard to trust. Even when we MEAN what we promise. It’s all because we’re HUMAN. Fallible. Unable to control events. Or see into the future.

But what about when it comes to God? How well can you trust GOD’S promises? Do you BELIEVE what he says, and do things HIS way? Or do you choose to ignore him? And do what YOU think’s right?

They were the questions facing Abram here in today’s Bible reading. Genesis 12. One of the most important passages in the whole Bible. About promises and blessing.

Because God makes a number of important promises to Abram – promises we see working out in the rest of the Bible. Over the course of thousands of years.

In ONE way, these few verses are the road map the rest of the Bible follows. God makes Abram into a great nation – Israel. And that story takes up two thirds of the Bible. And then we see in the remaining one-third/ how the blessing of Israel goes to the REST of the world. That’s us.

Bless this mess

Have a look there in v1. God’s big promises. The Bible summarized in a couple of sentences.

12:1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into A GREAT NATION and I will BLESS you; I will make YOUR NAME GREAT, and you will BE a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and ALL PEOPLES ON EARTH will be blessed through you.”

God has a plan for Abram. To BLESS him.  To make him into a great nation. Give him lots of descendants.  And to make HIS NAME great.  And 3. a bit further down in v7. He promises to give him the LAND OF CANAAN.

But they’re not just promises for ABRAM. God’s plans are much bigger than just for one man and one nation. He’s got plans for the WHOLE WORLD. Through Abram, God’s going to bless ALL PEOPLES ON EARTH. Incredible promises.

And notice that they’re all about what GOD’S going to do. Not what ABRAM will do.

Sticking with the plan

And it’s about God STICKING WITH THE PLAN. Because blessing’s not something NEW. Way back in Ch 1, God BLESSES the animals. And then he BLESSES Adam and Eve, and tells them to be fruitful and multiply. To fill the earth and subdue it.

And then into Ch 2, he BLESSES the SEVENTH DAY, and makes it holy.

And then in Ch 9, he blesses NOAH, and gives him the same command – “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it.”

What does blessing MEAN? In blessing, God’s DECLARING HIS GOOD INTENTIONS for these things. For people and creatures and days. That they might EXIST ACCORDING TO HIS DESIGN. And achieve the things he intended for them.

It’s a goal they FREQUENTLY FALL SHORT OF. First Adam and Eve, then Cain. Then later the wicked people of Noah’s time. And then, in Ch 11, the people of Babel. Again and again, they fail to LIVE UP TO the blessing God designed for them.

And the result is the OPPOSITE of God’s blessing – his CURSE. His declaration of JUDGMENT. A curse on the SNAKE, and then on the ground, in Ch 3. A curse on Cain in Ch 4, then on Ham, the father of Canaan, in Ch 9.

But sin like that won’t change God’s plan. He’s STILL committed to BLESS. He’s sticking with the plan. And so he calls Abram.

But the blessing here’s a bit different from what’s gone before. Because here it’s the PROMISE of blessing. There’s going to be some sort of GAP between the EXPECTATION and the REALITY.

There’s some sort of DELAYED GRATITIFICATION. God’s declares his INTENTION to bless, but he DELIVERED with it yet. A difference between the APPEARANCE and the REALITY. God made his commitment to Abram, but we can’t see the OUTWORKING of that yet.

And the rest of the Bible is the story of how that GAP IS BRIDGED. How the blessing becomes REALISED.

And even TODAY there’s still a gap. Because we’ve experienced PART of God’s blessing. But we’re still trusting him for THE REST. Jesus HAS come. And brought blessing to the nations. He HAS defeated Satan. But there are still battles going on. The earth is still suffering the scars of sin and Satan.

And so we wait for God’s FINAL and COMPLETE blessing. A culmination we’ll only receive INTO ETERNITY.

And so the Christian life today is like Abram’s life. It’s ALSO about TRUSTING what we can’t see. Believing for what we haven’t received – YET. That’s FAITH. It’s LIVING IN THE GAP. The gap between the PROMISE and the DELIVERY of the promise.

Answering the Call

So what does it mean for Abram to RECEIVE this promise of blessing? To trust for what he can’t see? What does it mean for him to answer the call? Because faith is more than just HEAD KNOWLEDGE. You SHOW it. By DOING something.

It seems like Abram was quite COMFORTABLE when God first appears to him. Quite settled in another country. But God’s got something else in mind. “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household, and go to the country I’ll show you.” (v1)

If one of US has to move THESE days. It’s not such a scary thing. The Deals have just moved down to Sydney from Wingham. Not quite the same distance as from Ur to Canaan. But nowhere near as big a deal.

They might be leaving people they know, but it’s much easier to keep in touch.

And because of technology, they can know far more about where they’re going. They can do LOTS of research. Find a job, find a house, enrol in a school. Choose doctors and mechanics and coffee shops. All without leaving their home.

But this is a country Abram’s never SEEN, or been to. He doesn’t really know how to GET there. Or what sort of journey he might have. – there are no maps or guidebooks. He doesn’t know what he’ll find when he ARRIVES.

But God’s TOLD him to go. So Abram BELIEVES God. But that’s not ALL. He GOES. He trusts that where God LEADS, he’ll follow.

It must have been tempting to stay where he was. After all, things were a lot more settled. And there’s a hint that that’s what he did. That God actually called him in Ur. And that he got stuck on the way in Haran (Ch 11 v31). Perhaps having second thoughts.

After all, those promises seem hard to believe, don’t they? Abram – a great nation?! His name might MEAN exalted father, but there wasn’t much chance he’d be a DAD – after all he was in his seventies, Sarai in her sixties. Apart from which she was BARREN. Couldn’t HAVE children.

But, nevertheless, v4 tells us that Abram DID AS THE LORD TOLD HIM. God said Go. And Abram said YES.

And in v6 they eventually make it to Canaan. Where God tells him that he’ll GIVE THE LAND TO ABRAM’S KIDS. Which ALSO doesn’t seem very likely since the land’s already filled with Canaanites.

But Abram believes God anyway. And builds an altar there to worship him.

And the next 13 chapters show how God will begin to work out that blessing for Abram. It takes 25 years before he has his FIRST son – not much of a TRIBE.

And by the end of his life, all he owns of the Promised Land is a burial plot for his wife. Not much of a COUNTRY.

And, as you read through the story, at times you wonder what sort of FAITH Abram is really showing in God. Because he messes things up. He laughs at God’s word. And he impatiently tries to give God A HELPING HAND when things seem to be taking too long.

But, in the end, that’s really the point. Because it’s not about the AMOUNT of FAITH Abram had. That’s not what will make the promises come true. But, rather, his faith in the FAITHFULNESS of the ONE WHO GIVES THE PROMISES.

Like two people catching a plane. One does it all the time. The other one is scared of flying. A nervous wreck the whole flight.

But they both make it to their destination. Because it’s not about how CONFIDENT you are. But it’s about the reliability – the TRUSTWORTHINESS – of the pilot and the plane.

What matters isn’t the amount of faith. But the FAITHFULNESS of the ONE WHO GIVES THE PROMISES

That’s what Paul has to say about Abram in Romans 4. Listen to what Paul says. Start at v18

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope BELIEVED and so became the father of many nations,

Then a bit further down to v20.

20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being FULLY PERSUADED THAT GOD HAD POWER TO DO WHAT HE HAD PROMISED. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”

It’s all about the trustworthiness of the God who makes the promises. God has the POWER to do it. And he’s TRUSTWORTHY – if he SAYS he’ll do it, then that’s what he’ll DO.

And because Abram took God at his word, he FOLLOWED.

And, v22, God took that trust into consideration. And credited his account with righteousness. Counted him as acceptable. Some of the most WONDERFUL Words in the whole Bible.

It wasn’t that his faith was PERFECT, and EARNED the bonus. But that God CREDITED it to him as righteousness. The right standing was A GIFT. But the faith was ACCEPTING the gift.

And God calls US to do the same. To ANSWER THE CALL just like Abram. To show OUR faith in the faithfulness of God. To accept his word. Because Paul goes on to say there’s a lesson in the life of Abram for US. V23.

23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but ALSO FOR US, to whom God will credit righteousness-for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

God offers US the same gift of righteousness – of forgiveness and friendship with him. If we trust him at his word, and accept the gift of life that comes through his son.

Because Jesus IS the fulfillment of God’s promise right back with Abram. Because Jesus is one of Abram’s offspring. And by his death and resurrection, he brings Abram’s BLESSING TO ALL THE NATIONS. The blessing of forgiveness and a restored relationship with God.

And, just like Abram, to TRUST God at his word will mean we’re to FOLLOW. To live in the gap. Not follow to a foreign land. But to follow Abram’s descendant, Jesus. Wherever he might call us to go. And it MIGHT be to somewhere as foreign as Canaan. It might be overseas. Or just next door. To prisons or schools. It might be to a change of career. Or into full-time ministry. Or re-training.

He might be calling you to build some bridges with your neighbours. Show hospitality. Or invite a work colleague to read the Bible. Or be involved in some evangelism, talking to strangers about what they believe.

Trusting God will mean we BELIEVE God’s promises. We trust his trustworthiness. And we FOLLOW. We do what HE wants, not what suits US.

And here’s something else. When Abram believed God and followed, he didn’t know how the story would turn out.

We sometimes look back and think it must have been EASY for Abram. After all, look at all the wonderful things God did for him.

But when God called him, it was just him and Sarai. Perhaps his nephew Lot and father Terah. But that was all. No children, no real possessions. No stability. No future.

But God promised descendants as many as the stars in the sky. And a land for them all to live in. And that they would be the means by which ALL NATIONS would be blessed.

The decision Abram made THEN/ had HUGE implications for his family who followed after. God promised to give the land to his offspring – but Abram needed to TRUST God for it.

You may not have thought about this. But the decisions you make TODAY will echo down across the years to YOUR children. Even if you haven’t GOT kids yet. The path you choose to walk down TODAY will bear itself out in the lives of your offspring.

There are the obvious decisions like what SCHOOL to send your children to. Where to live. Whether to put money aside for their future.

But then there are MUCH MORE IMPORTANT decisions. Decisions of OBEDIENCE that can have an impact for DECADES to COME.

What patterns are you setting in place for what the Christian life LOOKS LIKE? How important is Bible-reading?  Prayer?  Meeting with God’s people?  Giving?  Serving others, rather than BEING served? Contentment?

The decisions you make about PRIORITIES can have an impact for your family. How does WORK fit in? How important is SUCCESS? Education? Approval and recognition? How much are you worried about future security?

What sort of MARRIAGE are you building? What do your children learn about love from the way you TALK to your husband or wife? How you treat them? Value them? Respect their opinion? What will your kids carry with them into THEIR marriages from what they’ve observed about YOURS?

All of these decisions are FAITH decisions that will impact what the future looks like for your children and grandchildren. Abram maybe didn’t realize it. But his faithfulness had HUGE consequences for not just HIS OFFSPRING, but for the WHOLE WORLD. What legacy are you building for the generations that come after you?

I met one of my old teachers at a funeral a number of years ago. Mr Griffiths. Hadn’t seen him for 30 years. He was the father of one of my school mates. And I asked him about Michael. How he was doing? A successful engineer, he said proudly. Then I asked him whether Michael was still following Jesus. And he sadly said No. That he’d given it up. There was a look of sad resignation on his face.  Which legacy would you rather pass on to the generations after you? Success in business, or a life of trusting God’s promises.

God is calling you to pick up your cross and FOLLOW JESUS. He’s promised to BLESS you as you DO it. I’m not sure where he’s leading you. It might be to Canaan. Or it might be to Campbelltown. But either way, I know he’s got a plan. And I know he can be trusted. Will you stay where you are? Or will you trust him and GO?

 

 

Genesis 3: The Snake

Adam and Eve and the snake. It’s a favourite CHILDREN’S story. Sunday School, comics, even THE SIMPSONS feature it.

It’s there at the start of Desperate Housewives – not quite sure why!

We think it’s cute, with pictures of Adam and Eve with the strategically placed leaves or long flowing hair in front of them. And the snake is wrapped around an apple tree, tempting Eve with a gorgeous juicy apple. (blank)

Most Australians would know the story. At least the START of it. Perhaps it’s because it’s got something to do with NAKEDNESS AND FOOD. Two things they seem particularly interested in!

But the reality is in modern society it’s been ROBBED OF ITS MEANING. It’s meant to be a story about SIN and DEATH. Why the world is the way it is. Why a GOOD GOD allows EVIL and SUFFERING in his world. But it’s become a pleasant morality tale about temptation and EATING.

We push the story off into the backwaters of irrelevancy and children’s fable. Instead of recognizing it for what it is – one of the most significant events in human history.

The Second Most Significant Event in History

What do you reckon are the Most Significant events in human history? The incidents that have influenced more people in history than any other.

Perhaps you’d include the invention of THE PRINTING PRESS, which made books and education widely available to all. Including easy access to the Bible for people worldwide.

Or perhaps THE DISCOVERY OF PENICILLIN, which has saved countless millions of lives in only 100 years.

Or the invention of THE SILICON CHIP, which in 60 years has revolutionized technology in every area of life.

That’s three off the top of my head.

But let me suggest that the story of Adam and Eve and the snake. The story of the first sin. TOPS THEM ALL. It’s NUMBER TWO on MY Top 10. The SECOND MOST SIGNIFICANT EVENT in human history.

The life of every person since has been dramatically affected. For the worse. Their environment, their relationships, their choices, their futures.

These verses in Gen 3 might be a simple story. But they’re much more significant than a Simpson’s Episode, or a nice fable that makes us smirk.

Let me prove it to you.

The first thing to notice is that it’s the second part of A CONTINUING STORY. It’s part of ONE STORY of the whole Bible. It started with a perfect creation. Now, we see how that creation was messed up. And we’ll see how God works to RESTORE that in the weeks to come as we take a quick tour through the Bible.

Part ONE finished with the picture of Adam and Eve both naked, and they felt no shame. It’s a picture of innocence and purity. Of complete openness and honesty. Without guilt or shame. Mankind in harmony with God, with creation, and with each other.

But it’s not going to last. It’s the BEFORE picture. Because Ch 3 opens with the introduction of A NEW PLAYER in the drama. The serpent. Made by God, but crafty. In Revelation, we’re told it’s SATAN HIMSELF.

Temptation

And he begins his temptation simply by asking a question. Nothing too obvious. A subtle undermining of God’s word. V1.

“Did God REALLY say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

It’s the first step. Throwing a seed of doubt into Eve’s mind. Causing her to doubt God’s word

And it’s really no different from the way he works TODAY. Just a simple mocking question. It might come from your workmate or neighbour or husband, but it’s Satan who’s blinded their eyes.

“You don’t believe the Bible, do you?”

“You really think praying DOES something?”

“Are you saying that all the other religions are wrong?”

“Why bother giving up Sundays to be in church?”

They’re only harmless questions, aren’t they? That’s what Satan WANTS us to believe.

How do we DEAL with temptations to doubt like THAT?

By BEING CHURCH together. By continuing to REMIND each other of the truth. We keep reading God’s promises. We keep sharing answered prayer. We keep meeting together. We keep LIVING God’s truth.

Because if we DON’T, we might end up responding to the doubts the way the WOMAN DOES. For some reason, her answer doesn’t get it quite right. Maybe she didn’t listen when Adam EXPLAINED it. Or maybe Adam didn’t pass it on correctly. But she adds ANOTHER condition to the command. Making it STRICTER than it actually was. V3.

God DID say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, AND YOU MUST NOT TOUCH IT, or you will die.'”

God HADN’T actually said anything about TOUCHING the fruit – just EATING it.

But whatever the reason, the snake comes straight back with the NEXT part of his strategy. This time not a question, but A STATEMENT. Firstly, A DIRECT CONTRADICTION of God’s command. V4

4 “You will NOT surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.

And then he follows that up with a statement that casts doubt on GOD’S MOTIVES. V5

5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

In other words, God’s the Cosmic Killjoy. He just wants to stop you having fun. From living life the way YOU want. Fulfilling your potential.

It’s the sort of things we say to ourselves when we’re tempted. “God doesn’t know best. I’m sure I’ll be happier… if I lose my temper, or get even, or cheat on my tax return, or my spouse, or chase after success. Or move churches. Or keep my money for myself.”

“God’s rules are to stop me being happy. He’s just MEAN.”

We’re doing nothing more than doubting God’s WORD, and doubting his MOTIVES.

And as the woman churns these same arguments over in her head. And as she looks at the fruit. At how ENTICING it is. She gives in. And eats it. And then she gives some to Adam, who eats it too.

And so they doubt God’s ORDER. They turn his world upside-down.

His design was for animals to be ruled by mankind, who in turn would be ruled by God. But in listening to the animal, she’s turning things on their head.

Now, ANIMALS set the agenda, mankind follows along, and attempts to remove God from his throne.

And God’s design was for man to be the LEADER, and the wife to be the HELPER. But Adam and Eve turn that on his head. It’s Eve who’s LEADING, and Adam who’s FOLLOWING.

Adam SHOULD have said NO. He SHOULD have told EVE not to eat the fruit. But what does he do instead? Gives in meekly, and takes a big bite.

But he doesn’t just GIVE IN. He doesn’t step in and speak up when the snake’s weaving his magic. Notice there at the end of v6. “She also gave some to her husband, WHO WAS WITH HER, and he ate it.”

Adam was STANDING RIGHT THERE as the snake was having the conversation with Eve. And SAYS NOTHIN. He just GOES WITH THE FLOW.

How many husbands and fathers TODAY don’t say anything? Just sit in the background, unnoticed? How many husbands and fathers just sit back and refuse to rock the boat. Refuse to take the spiritual lead in their family? Who don’t pull out the Bible? Who don’t suggest the family pray about something? Who won’t challenge poor choices or sinful behaviour?

It’s not God’s design. And whenever you refuse to be the leader God WANTS you to be, you’re doing nothing less than showing you’re Adam’s descendant.

The humans are revolting

Adam and Eve eat the fruit. The humans are revolting. Rebelling against God’s good rule.

Which is the essence of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It’s refusing to allow God to set the agenda of what’s right and wrong. It’s insisting on making your OWN choices about right and wrong. It’s the essence of SIN. The root cause.

And it’s the same choice EVERY HUMAN SINCE has made. The choice to be their own boss. To make their own morality. Their own good and evil.

It’s summarized well in the second box of the Two Ways to Live outline. Perhaps you know it..

2. We all reject the ruler – God – by trying to run our life our own way without him. But we fail to rule ourselves or society or the world.

Romans chapter 3, verses 10-12 “There is no-one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. All have turned away”.

We try to be independent. But we only mess things up more. And our world suffers the effects. Whether it be environmental disasters, species extinction, third world poverty, the greenhouse effect, depletion of fossil fuels, world wars – things on a WORLD-WIDE scale.

Or just the everyday divorces, fights, broken families, robberies, rapes, murders and race riots.

Our world bears the scars of our rebellious independence against God.

And for Eve and Adam, the results are felt too. IMMEDIATELY. It’s there in v7. The AFTER photo, to go with the BEFORE photo at the end of Ch 2. V7.

7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

The fruit DOES open their eyes – just like the snake said it would. And they see the SHAMEFUL ENORMITY of what they’ve done.

It’s the FIRST part of paradise that’s ruined. Their relationship with EACH OTHER. Shame and guilt and fear and secrets replace openness and purity and innocence.

And immediately the SECOND part’s ruined too. Because God comes walking through the Garden, enjoying his creation and his creatures.

But the same shame and guilt they felt with each other, Eve and Adam now feel towards God. And they HIDE from him because they’re scared.

At which point it becomes obvious what they’ve done. And God begins to question them.

Passing the Buck

And so the FIRST sin is quickly followed by the SECOND. Passing the buck. Refusing to accept responsibility for their actions.

Like a hot potato, they shift the blame from one to another. Look at V12. God addresses the man – the one he’s put in charge. But he answers

The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

First up, he tries to blame God. You PUT her here! It’s YOUR FAULT. Then he tries to blame the woman. She GAVE it to me.

At which point the WOMAN tries to pass the blame on. “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

And aren’t we STILL good at doing that? Refusing to accept responsibility for our behaviour?

“It’s okay to lose my temper, he made me do it!”

“It’s okay to cheat on my marriage, my needs weren’t being met!”

“It’s ok to speed, I won’t hurt anyone”

“Watching this stuff is ok, nobody’s getting hurt”

Judgment

But a “smoke and mirrors” job won’t work on God. He can see straight through the excuses. Theirs AND ours. And he issues his decree. Judgment for all. Curses for the creation. And punishment for his people.

The snake is cursed. Forever at war with the woman and her offspring. And at the end of v15, the declaration that the offspring of the woman will crush the serpent’s head.

For Eve, there’ll be FRUSTRATION. The incredible joy of children will now be tempered and soured by terrible pain in childbirth.

And the intimacy and love of marriage will now be spoiled by the frustration of conflict. Strong feelings of desire for her husband. But at the same time, he’ll often fail to LIVE UP to those feelings. He’ll abuse his position. And take advantage of it.

There’s a SECOND idea behind that phrase “Your desire will be for your husband” It’s to do with desiring his POSITION. As HEAD of the relationship.

The woman will fail to be content with where God’s placed her in submission. And will kick against the constraints, and try to exert HER AUTHORITY.

A picture of many marriages today.

That’s woman.

Man’s judgment is FRUSTRATION OF HIS OWN. Work, which has such potential to be rewarding and fruitful and satisfying. Will now be back-breaking, and painful. Nothing will come easily.

A picture of the relationship many men have with work today. It promises to give them identity and purpose. To give them the tools to really enjoy life.

And yet, so often, it CONSUMES men. Instead of working to LIVE. They LIVE to WORK. They don’t start out that way. At the start, it’s simply a means to an end. A means to earn the dollars to be comfortable.

But it’s a trap. Because it ends up ruling men. Controlling them. Higher and higher salary means more and more responsibility and expectation. Greater and greater demands. And they never have the time, or the desire, to spend the money they’ve earned.

And for many, they end up with no one to share it with either.

Greg Norman’s story is much too familiar. He’s Australia’s best-known golfer. On many levels a success story. An astute businessman. A multi millionaire. A brilliant golfer. A successful golf course designer. He’s popular, handsome, intelligent, well-spoken, generous.

But not long ago, he divorced his wife of over 25 years. And taken up with someone new. And the property settlement’s turned ugly. And now the SECOND marriage has gone sour.

Is he REALLY that much of a success? I wonder if that’s what he was aiming for at the beginning of his career. To have accumulated that much, but lost his family in the process.

Will he look back on his life, and regret any of his decisions?

It’s a story that’s been retold thousands of times around the world. And down through the ages. The frustration of work – that promises so much, then delivers nothing much at all.

How is that working out in YOUR life?

And the final part of God’s judgment. The final nail in man’s coffin is there from v23. Adam and Eve banished from the Garden. From the perfect relationship WITH CREATION.

And banned from eating from the tree of LIFE. And so condemned to the slow decay of death. The slow but relentless winding down, and wearing out. Culminating in the ultimate full-stop. The end to relationships. The start of loneliness for those left behind.

It’s the end of the story most Aussies don’t want to know about. They prefer their cute cartoon pictures of fruit and nakedness and naughtiness.

When the reality is this event is the second most significant event in human history. It’s destroyed our relationship with each other, with creation, and with God himself.

The No. 1 Event  Rom 5:12-21

I don’t know whether you’ve wondered, as I’ve said SECOND most significant event, what the MOST significant event is.

Romans 5 compares the top 2. Follow along with me. Over on p798. V12 starts with the claims of the number two.

sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned-

When Adam and Eve sinned, DEATH came into the world. Not just PHYSICAL death, but SPIRITUAL DEATH – separation from God, a broken relationship. A refusal to allow God to rule over you.

And Adam and Eve passed down that basic orientation to EVERY ONE OF THEIR OFFSPRING. It’s the DOCTRINE OF ORIGINAL SIN. If Adam and Eve were spiritually dead, then they could only produce CHILDREN who were spiritually dead.

We are all born with an in-built inclination to do our own thing. Born with the mark of Adam’s sin, like a large black birthmark, staining our soul.

And so we ALL sin. Every human born of a human mother and a human father is born SPIRITUALLY DEAD. Without exception.

That’s A PRETTY SIGNIFICANT EVENT.

And so, when something happens that makes us groan. That makes us realise that people are fallen and sinful. And that the world is fallen and corrupt. Someone rips you off. Or abuses you. Or abandons you. When sickness strikes, or unemployment,

When your marriage strikes trouble. And you realise it’s not the way you’d imagined it.

Perhaps even when you respond to a situation, in anger or impatience or embarrassment, in a way that shames and embarrasses you.

By all means, despair and weep and pray. But DON’T BE SURPRISED. It’s the way the world is at the moment. It’s what it means to be living in a fallen world

People WILL let you down. You WILL let OTHERS down. There will be times when life just KICKS YOU in the GUTS.

That’s the world we live in. Every human being born spiritually dead. Alienated from God.

Well – that’s not ENTIRELY true. Because there is ONE human, born of a human mother. But with GOD HIMSELF as his father. And HE was born spiritually alive. And he never sinned. Jesus Christ.

The only human being who ever fully measured up to being made in God’s IMAGE. Perfectly reflecting God’s character and behaviour. Colossians 1:15 says he is the “IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD, the firstborn over all creation”

And the NUMBER ONE MOST SIGNIFICANT EVENT IN HUMAN HISTORY is his life and death and resurrection. Because it’s the way we can move from DEATH to LIFE. From GUILT to INNOCENCE. From CONDEMNATION to FORGIVENESS. From ENEMIES to FRIENDS.

NOTHING COULD BE MORE SIGNIFICANT THAN THAT. Look at how Romans 5 proves the point. V15.

For if the many DIED by the trespass of the ONE man (that’s ADAM), how much more did God’s GRACE and the gift that came by the grace of the ONE MAN, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

Adam brought DEATH to everyone. But Jesus brought GRACE and a GIFT. What’s the gift? V16.

The judgment followed one sin and brought CONDEMNATION, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought JUSTIFICATION.

Justification. That’s about being put right with God. Having our guilt wiped away. The GUILT that comes from being HUMAN can be cancelled out by the work of Jesus.

But that’s not all. Look at V17.

17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, DEATH reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness REIGN IN LIFE THROUGH THE ONE MAN, JESUS CHRIST.

Not just a restored relationship. But VICTORIOUS life INTO ETERNITY – that’s what comes to those who are right with God.

And it all comes about because of the NUMBER ONE MOST SIGNIFICANT EVENT IN HUMAN HISTORY. The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God’s only son. The only PERFECT human. Who pays our debt, who restores our life. Who overturns the decay and destruction that first sin began.

Or, at least, he CAN for those who accept his work FOR THEM.

But that’s not all! One day, he’ll RESTORE our world. And bring in his new heavens and new earth. Of which the Garden of Eden will be nothing but a dull shadow. A pale and weak imitation.

Revelation 21 gives us a picture of it. Of our eternal home. And the point I want you to notice is how all the effects of the fall – the breakdown in relationships – are REVERSED. Man and God, man and man. Perfectly united. What Adam MESSES UP, Jesus FIXES. Rev 21 v1.

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

We ARE living in a fallen world. But Jesus, the TRUE image of God, is working on a NEW world. That’s the big idea of the Bible. And it’s a big idea WORTH BUILDING YOUR LIFE ON!

Genesis 1-2: The King

Seeing the big picture helps us make sense of the small details in front of us.

Can you tell what THIS is a picture of?

It’s a lot easier when you can see the big picture. When you can see how the SMALL part fits into the whole. (See the end of the post for the answer)

And it’s the same with OUR LIVES. We make sense of the confusing SMALLNESS of our lives when we work out HOW WE FIT IN. By putting ourselves IN CONTEXT.

How we fit into families, or into work. How we fit into society, or into church. How we fit into THE WORLD.

And since it’s GOD’S world, we makes sense of our lives by listening to what HE says. What HIS plans are for us. And we find THAT in the Bible.

But the Bible isn’t a textbook with a chapter on a range of different topics. One on God, one on Jesus, one on behaviour etc. And it’s not a guidebook with one section on being a child. Another on being a teen. Then on marrying, and so on.

And it’s not a collection of short stories either. With no connection to each other.

The Bible is “the unfolding process of God’s dealings with mankind”. It has a plot. It’s ONE STORY, with a beginning, a middle and an end.

And that’s how we can make sense of each PART of the Bible. By making sure we put it in context. Making sure we work out where each part fits into the BIG story.

The technical name for that is BIBLICAL THEOLOGY. And that’s what this series is about. It sounds difficult. But it’s really what we do naturally when we read ANY sort of literature. We make sense of a particular PART of the story by connecting it with the WHOLE.

We even do it watching TV. Perhaps you catch “Home and Away”, or “The Bold and the Beautiful” every so often. And to make sense of ONE episode, you have to work out how it fits into THE REST. Well, at least as much sense as you can make of ANY episode of “The Bold and the Beautiful”.

And that’s what Biblical Theology does. It looks at a single story. And then works out how that part fits into the WHOLE story.

And our job over the next ten weeks is to take a flying pass over the whole Bible. To get an overview of the whole story.

And that will gives us the tools to deal with EACH SEPARATE PART of the Bible. It will give us CONTEXT, and help us to fit it into the BIG STORY.

And that’s how we go about making sense of OUR LIVES. It’s as we work out what God’s story is that we find OUR place in the story. And we work out where we fit into God’s WORLD and God’s PLANS. And so we’ll get a greater perspective of who we are, and what we’re here for.

That’s the PLAN, anyway!

A story about GOD

So let’s begin. It almost seems too obvious to say. But the Bible is a story ABOUT GOD. He’s the main character. Every episode revolves around HIM.

But he’s MORE than that. He’s also the author, director, producer, set designer, and casting agent. He’s behind it, he’s IN it at every step. And he’s the GOAL and FINISH line of the whole story TOO.

A story that begins with God

And so, not surprisingly, the Bible is a story that BEGINS with God. Gen 1:1 “In the beginning, God…” Before anything else was, GOD was. He’s ETERNAL. The ONLY eternal being. Everything else has its beginning, finds its purpose, in GOD.

Transcendent

He’s ABOVE it and BEFORE it. He’s completely SEPARATE and “OTHER”. He’s TRANSCENDENT.

And, straight away, as author and set designer, he shows his AUTHORITY by SPEAKING CREATION INTO BEING.

BEFORE he speaks, the earth is FORMLESS AND EMPTY – that’s how it’s described in v2. And then he SPEAKS and things happen. Things come into existence. His words have POWER.

And as we read through Genesis 1 we see MORE about what God’s like. There’s an INTELLIGENCE about his creative power. It’s not just RAW POWER. (Like a landslide, or a tsunami). There’s order and design to the creation. Order and design that reflects GOD HIMSELF.

The FIRST three days are about bringing FORM to the formless, shapeless earth. Day 1 light and dark are formed. Day 2 Sky and water are formed. Day 3 the ground and its vegetation are formed.

Halfway through creation and the basic FORM is there. The OUTLINE.

I was flicking through the TV channels and TVS had a show on how an artist painted a painting. And she began by using a pencil to form up all the shapes. Getting the angles and the dimensions and the proportions right. The basic OUTLINE was there.

And then, once that was done, she began to fill in the shapes with DETAIL. That’s when she took up her paintbrush.

And that’s what God does in the SECOND three days of his creation. Takes up his paintbrush.

The earth began formless and empty (v2). The FIRST three days, God’s done something about forming up the FORMLESS. Now, in the SECOND three days, he’s going to do something about FILLING UP THE EMPTY.

Day 4. Light and dark, made on day 1, are given SHAPE on DAY 4. The sun, moon and stars are formed.

Day 5. The SEA and the SKY, made on day 2, get filled up with all kinds of life. Swimming and flying all over the place.

And then day 6, the land and vegetation, made on day 3, are filled up. All kinds of crawling and climbing things. Domestic and wild. Large and small.

And God looks over the whole thing, and (v25) he judges it GOOD. God is ruling over a good earth.

But God’s not finished. He’s got one final detail to the masterpiece in mind. The cherry on the top. Humankind. V26.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man(kind) in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created man(kind) in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

In those few short verses, the whole of human history is set in context. What our NATURE is. What our PURPOSE is. How we’re to relate to God. And how we’re to relate to his creation.

Right there in the very first chapter of the Bible we’re told that God made us UNIQUE out of all his creation. The only creatures to be IN HIS IMAGE. Dolphins aren’t made in God’s image, nor are horses or dogs or pandas. Old growth rainforests aren’t, and neither are whales.

To be made in God’s image means we’re like God in PURPOSE, as well as like him in NATURE.

We’re like God in PURPOSE. He rules over his creation. But he sets humanity up as second in command. As DEPUTIES. And our job is to look after and care for, and nurture his world, on God’s behalf. To CIVILISE it. To CREATE it, and SCULPT it, and ADAPT it.

But there’s also an aspect of being God’s image-bearers to do with our NATURE. God’s NATURE is relational. He IS relationship. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Eternally existing. Complete and satisfied and loving in himself. Each person complete, and yet complemented and fulfilled by the others. He is THREE and he is ONE. He is three IN one.

He says there in v26, “Let US make man in OUR image.”

And he’s made us in a SIMILAR way. In the IMAGE of that nature. Made for relationships. NOT meant to go through life SOLO. Made to be joined together. Made male and female. Each one COMPLETE. But also, made to be complemented and completed by the OTHER. By two becoming ONE.

Over in Ch 2 that joining between Adam and Eve is described. 2:23

23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become ONE FLESH.

Husband and wife – two individuals. And yet joined as ONE FLESH.

We are RELATIONAL BEINGS. And we ARE that way because that’s the nature of GOD HIMSELF. And he made us IN HIS IMAGE.

And that will have something to say to us about all sorts of things. About loneliness and friendship and marriage and singleness. And about what CHURCH should be like. It’s not good to be alone. We were MADE to be in relationships with people. Because that’s God’s NATURE TOO.

And with that final piece of the puzzle, God FINISHES his creation. And he declares it VERY good. COMPLETE. Perfectly BALANCED, and IN TUNE.

God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule.

And whatever twists and turns the story of the Bible takes from here, that’s the yardstick – the blueprint. It’s what sets THE CONTEXT for everything else.

In a sense it’s what the whole Bible is about. About God’s plans to RESTORE his creation to that FIRST IDYLLIC PARADISE. And at each point in the story we can compare where we’re at  with that blueprint.

God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule.

It’s really the THEME of the WHOLE BIBLE. The Kingdom of God. The sphere in which God RULES. God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.

It’s a chorus we’ll come back to again and again in the coming weeks. So whenever I say “Kingdom of God” I want you to think “God’s PEOPLE, in God’s PLACE, under God’s RULE.”

(What is the Kingdom of God? “God’s PEOPLE, in God’s PLACE, under God’s RULE.”)

And so God FINISHES his creation. And on the seventh day he RESTS. He BLESSES it. And makes it HOLY.

By resting from creating, he’s saying there’s nothing else to add. It’s PERFECT. He just puts down the paintbrushes, and sits back to ENJOY it.

And that has something to say to US about our attitude to the world. Despite it being fallen. It’s a good place to be. It’s a place to be ENJOYED. It’s Christian to commit yourself to working for the good of the environment, or your community. Or to enjoy nature, or the ocean. Or to STUDY it, or PHOTOGRAPH it, or PAINT it.

God sat back to ENJOY what he’d made, and WE CAN TOO.

That’s Ch 1.

Immanent as well as Transcendent

And then as we move into chapter 2, we get a DIFFERENT perspective on the Kingdom of God. The camera changes position. Instead of giving the wide angle, from the top down, big picture, it zooms in to the personal. The human. The eye level.

Like the difference between a computer game that looks down from above, and the game that’s from the view of the soldier, looking through his eyes as he runs through the battle field.

That’s what we’ve got in Ch 2. God’s creation viewed from the HUMAN level. It even uses a different NAME for God. In chapter ONE, it’s just ELOHIM – GOD. A TITLE.

But in Ch 2, he’s YAHWEH Elohim. God’s PERSONAL NAME. He’s not just the transcendent God, who’s ABOVE his world. He’s the IMMANENT God, who INVOLVES himself in what he’s made.

Instead of God simply SPEAKING creation into being, in Ch 2 we’ve got him FORMING man from the dust of the ground (v7). We’ve got him BREATHING into his nostrils. He’s PLANTING a garden.

And down in v19, he’s forming the beasts of the field OUT OF THE GROUND. And then he’s BRINGING them to Adam to name. And in v21 he puts Adam to sleep, takes one of his ribs and makes a woman from the rib.

It’s still God CREATING. He’s still just as much in charge. We’ve just got him doing it in A MUCH MORE INTIMATE AND PERSONAL WAY.

And at the end of Ch 2, the picture of GOD’S KINGDOM has been filled out a little more. God’s given the first rule to keep – v17. “Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” It’s open season on everything else. Just not this one.

That shows God’s RULE. He’s in charge. He’s setting the boundaries for what it means for his people to rule creation. GOD is the one who declares things good. Not them.

More on that NEXT week

And Ch 2 shows something about God’s PLACE. It was perfect. Beautiful to the senses.. He made it INNOCENT. With NO knowledge of good and evil. Everything was GOOD. God had MADE it that way, and DECLARED it good.

And we see something more of God’s PEOPLE. Made innocent, TOO. Naked but without shame. Because there was nothing for them to be ashamed OF.

And made male and female. COMPLEMENTING each other. COMPLETING each other.

And giving the task of NAMING the animals – exercising RULE over them.

What have we learned?

And so, as we come to the end of these two chapters, what have we learned?

We’ve learned something about who GOD is. He’s transcendent. He’s ETERNAL. Compared to his creation, he’s completely “OTHER.” Everything comes FROM him, and gets its life and identity and meaning from him.

He REVEALS himself, but we should never expect to understand him completely. Or understand how or why he DOES things.

And yet at the same time, Gen 2 paints the picture of God getting PERSONAL. Immanent. Close. Intimately involved with his creatures. It’s almost impossible to connect the two chapters as describing the same God.

And yet, isn’t that what God has done so much more clearly and intimately in his Son, The Lord Jesus?

That really is the incredibly DISTINCTIVE news of Christianity. That the infinite, eternal God of the Universe would take on frail human flesh. Flesh that bleeds, sneezes, aches and weeps. It’s BLASPHEMY to Muslims and Jews. Logical IMPOSSIBILITY to human rationalists.

But that’s what God’s done in Jesus.

John’s Gospel begins.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

Transcendent. Eternal. But then, down in v14, it continues.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

We can KNOW God, because he’s SHOWN us himself. He did it with Adam and Eve in Ch 2.But he does it SO MUCH MORE CLEARLY in Jesus. And we’ll see more of THAT in the weeks to come.

And these chapters don’t just say something about GOD. But something about who WE are.

God got INVOLVED with his creation, so we should TOO. We should INVOLVE ourselves with people. Get our hands dirty. We should be Incarnational like Jesus. Immanent.

Historically, much of the social welfare around the world began with Christians. Feeding refugees in Africa. Caring for lepers in Calcutta. Educating street kids and orphans in Victorian London. Running orphanages in Romania. Housing and retraining prostitutes in Bangkok.

Christians getting INVOLVED. Because GOD did.

How are YOU doing that?

Secondly, these chapters say something about our IDENTITY, as well as about what we DO.

We are made in God’s IMAGE. And so the Christian view is that ALL people are valuable because of that. There is human DIGNITY for those made in God’s image. Which is EVERYONE. There are no second-class humans.

And that says something unique about how we think about the HANDICAPPED, about the OLD. About the UNBORN. About people from other cultures and countries. And how we TREAT them.

This truth about humanity will inform what we think about EUTHANASIA, about ABORTION, about DEMENTIA, about RACISM.

Humanistic evolutionists say the weak are BARELY human. Being human is about contributing and communicating. Fitness to survive is what it’s all about. If you can’t contribute or communicate, then why NOT euthanize? Why NOT abort? Why not starve the handicapped to death? Put your resources where they can do the most GOOD?

But God says human beings are VALUABLE. We are MADE in God’s IMAGE. We have PURPOSE and SIGNIFICANCE. And DIGNITY.

And FINALLY, these chapters teach us something about how we RESPOND to God. He MADE us, so he DESERVES our honour and glory and respect and loyalty and service and obedience and worship.

He deserves OUR LIVES.

Rev 4 gives us a picture of the throne room of heaven. Around the throne are four creatures who represent the whole of creation. V7.

7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

But not just CREATION, humanity worships AS WELL.

9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: 11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

That’s what these chapters are teaching us, above all else. To take off our crowns. To lay them at the foot of God’s throne. In repentance and submission and adoration.

And to confess that HE is the One who deserves the acclaim and the authority. We are simply CREATURES.

But he CREATED EVERYTHING.

Genesis 42-50: Longing for home

Jake and Bernie are in England. I saw some photos during the week of their anniversary trip to Venice. It looked beautiful. And they looked like they were having a great time. At the moment they’re busy saving for the European summer – I guess they’ll be doing lots of travelling. It all sounds wonderful doesn’t it?

But Bernie’s ALSO told us about how TOUGH working in the school is. And Jake’s already changed jobs because his FIRST one was terrible. They were ripping him off.

It seems like people can go one of two ways when they do the working holiday thing. They can absolutely LOVE it, and stay for TWO years, or perhaps even stay for GOOD. Or else they can be MISERABLE. They’re lonely, cold and broke. They’re LONGING FOR HOME. And they’re back in three months.

And Jake and Bernie have had a few of BOTH sorts of experiences. I wonder whether they’re homesick. Whether they miss Australia or not. Some of the OTHER photos showed them in an Australia-themed pub on Australia Day. Perhaps they ARE homesick. Jake was in a blue singlet, and he was drinking Fosters. I’ll have to give him a hard time about that when he gets back.

You can take the Aussie out of Australia. But you can’t take Australia out of the Aussie.

And it’s a similar sort of situation we’ve got here in these final chapters of Genesis. You can take God’s man out of God’s land, but the question that needs answering is/ can you take GOD’S PLACE OUT OF GOD’S MAN?

Jacob and his family are down in Egypt, surviving the famine. Life is good, they’re being spoilt rotten. But it’s not HOME. And it’s not where God’s promised their future lies.

So, which way are they going to go? Settle down, and forget about their REAL home? Get wrapped up in the pleasures of Egypt? Look to EGYPT as the answer to all their problems and hopes. Or look to the Promised Land. And keep remembering God’s covenant. To long for home. And to long for a homecoming?

And that’s where these chapters have something to teach US. Because WE live as strangers here in THIS world. Like Aussies in England. Sometimes with PLENTY/, sometimes in frustration and bitterness.

But longing to GO HOME. Hoping for the NEW heavens and earth that God’s promised. Longing for an inheritance. Hoping and trusting for all God’s promises. For the end of pain and crying and hurt.

That’s the BIG picture of these chapters.

(pause) But on the HUMAN scale, we see a wonderful story. A fitting way to finish the book of Genesis.

The rectification of 10 brothers (42-44:13)

We pick it up in Ch 42. Joseph, you’ll remember, is in charge of the famine-relief program in Egypt. He’s the saviour God’s raised-up to look after the Egyptians.

But not just Egypt, back in Canaan, where Jacob and the rest of his family are living, the famine’s just as bad. And when Jacob hears there’s grain in Egypt, he sends his ten oldest sons off there to buy it.

But he keeps Benjamin, the youngest, at home. Because he’s the NEW favourite now that Joseph’s gone. And he won’t risk HIM.

And when the brothers arrive in Egypt (v6), they meet up with Joseph and bow down to him. Just like Joseph’s dream all those years ago. Joseph knows who they are/ the moment he sees them, even though at least 20 years have passed. But they don’t recognise him.

What will Jacob do? He COULD respond with vengeance and retaliation. That’s the sort of thing Simeon and Levi would have done. They’re at his mercy. But instead he opts for a little RECTIFICATION. He wants to put them to the TEST. To see if they’ve learned anything over the years. Learned from their mistakes. Before he lets on who he is.

First up, v9, he accuses them of being SPIES. And refuses to believe them until they bring BENJAMIN down from Canaan to prove their story. One of them must stay in prison in Egypt, while the rest go home and fetch the youngest. Just like Joseph himself had suffered.

And at this point the brothers start to realise their past is coming back to haunt them. Their consciences are being pricked. Look at v21.

21 They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us.” 22 Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.”

All that time. And they hadn’t forgotten. Which is often the way with your conscience. It won’t leave you alone. No matter HOW long it’s been.

And Joseph’s listening in, marking them on this TEST OF CONSCIENCE. And he’s overcome with emotion. He turns away and weeps. Not for the last time.

Then, perhaps because Reuben was the one who’d stood up for him all those years ago, Jacob has the SECOND-oldest, Simeon, bound, and led off to prison. And the rest return to Canaan, with their sacks full of grain.

But when poor old Jacob finds out what’s happened, he’s distraught. V36.

You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!”

At which point Reuben pipes up with a very noble offer – unless you’re one of his sons.

“You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back.”

But Jacob won’t be convinced.

“My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.”

And so, Simeon stays stuck in jail. For who knows how long. Until all the food’s gone, and the matter comes to a head. Into Ch 43, where Jacob says, Go back to Egypt and buy us a little more food. He’s put it off for as long as he can, but now he knows what’s coming. V3, Judah says, We can’t go back unless we take Benjamin.

And then he gives a personal guarantee for Benjamin’s safety. V8.

“Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. 9 I MYSELF WILL GUARANTEE HIS SAFETY; you can hold me PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I WILL BEAR THE BLAME before you all my life.

Another noble gesture. And a recognition of how much his father loves his favourite son. And poor old heart-broken Jacob reluctantly agrees. V14, May God almighty grant you mercy, and bring Simeon and Benjamin back safely.

Which God’s going to do.

The brothers make it back to Egypt, where Joseph’s servant brings them into Joseph’s house, and lets them wash up for lunch.

V26, Joseph comes home and they all bow down again. Joseph asks how Dad is, and then sees Benjamin , v29

his own mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.

For what STILL won’t be the last time in this story.

And when he comes back, he’s dried his eyes. It’s time for lunch. And Joseph’s got ANOTHER test for them. A test of JEALOUSY. He seats them all according to age. Which astonishes the brothers. And then when the food’s served, Benjamin, way down the end of the table, gets five times as much.

Is there still any JEALOUSY on the part of the brothers? Any chance they’ll do to Benjamin what they did to Joseph all those years ago? I can imagine a few puzzled looks between the older brothers. Perhaps even from poor little Benjamin. Struggling to finish his huge lunch.

The trap’s been set. Now’s the time to SPRING it. Into Ch 44, their sacks are filled with grain again. But in Benjamin’s sack, Joseph has his silver cup hidden.

And when the brothers are chased down, and pulled over, not far from the city. They’re SURE they’ve done nothing wrong. V9

9 If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.”

A foolish promise, but luckily, not one Joseph’s going to keep them to. The servant’s only interested in the guilty one.

10 “Very well, then,” he said, “let it be as you say. Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; THE REST OF YOU WILL BE FREE FROM BLAME.”

Another part of the test. Will they abandon Benjamin, like they did Joseph?

The bags are searched, starting with the oldest, and finishing with the youngest. Finally, the cup’s found in Benjamin’s sack. But look at their reaction. They pass Joseph’s test. V13.

13 At this, they tore their clothes. Then they ALL loaded their donkeys and returned to the city.

Perhaps there’s hope yet!

The reformation of 10 brothers (44:14-34)

And when they get back to Joseph, he gives them ANOTHER chance to abandon Benjamin. V17.

Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace.”

But it seems like they’ve learned their lesson. Because Judah speaks on behalf of the brothers. He explains the whole situation again, and that Jacob will DIE if he loses ANOTHER son. V27.

27 “Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.’

And he concludes by offering HIMSELF in place of Benjamin. V33.

33 “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father.”

The reunion of 12 brothers (45)

At last they’re thinking of OTHERS. And the rectification and the reformation of the brothers is complete. Now it’s time for the REUNION. For Joseph, witnessing a sacrifice like that is enough to REALLY set him off this time. (The start of Ch 45).

45:1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

And then he reveals himself to his brothers. The brother they all thought was dead IS ALIVE. And they can’t believe it. And they’re terrified. But Joseph reassures them. It’s a wonderful perspective on everything that’s happened. V4. Look carefully at what he says.

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, BECAUSE IT WAS TO SAVE LIVES THAT GOD SENT ME AHEAD OF YOU. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping.

And here it is in a nut-shell. Read v7 and 8 aloud with me.

7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.

The brothers blamed themselves. Yet God used their jealousy and evil to save many people. To preserve THEM as a remnant. To fulfil his promises.

The rescue of 12 tribes (46-47)

Which Joseph then goes on to organise. The RESCUE of 12 tribes. He sends the brothers back to Canaan, to fetch Jacob, and all their family and possessions. And bring them to Egypt. Where there’ll be plenty of food for everyone.

Which is what Chapters 46 and 47 describe. But we’ll jump over those today.

Other than to mention the meeting Jacob has with Pharaoh. In 47:9. And Jacob sums up his life. I don’t think he’s complaining. He’s just stating a fact. Pharaoh asks him how old he is, and Jacob replies

“The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.”

Few and difficult. That’s how Jacob summarises it. 130 might seem a pretty good innings to us. But according to his fathers, he’s a spring chicken. And they’ve been TOUGH. Mostly due to Jacob’s own trickery and deceipt.

FEW AND DIFFICULT. Compare that with how Isaac’s life is described.

Gen 35:28 Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. 29 Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years.

Old and FULL of years. Or listen to the summation of Abraham’s life.

7 Altogether, Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. 8 Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.

An old man. And full of years. Yet Jacob’s years are FEW AND DIFFICULT.

Longing to go home (48-50)

Which makes it that much easier for him to long to go home. Which is what we see in Chapters 48-50.

Things are great in Egypt. Life is easy. Food is plentiful. And it would be easy for Jacob’s family to just settle down, and become Egyptians.

But that’s not where God’s future lies. Where his PROMISE lies. This family is the family of the PROMISE. And the promised land is Canaan. And Jacob wants to make sure his sons REMEMBER it. Especially Joseph, who’s temptation to become Egyptian would be stronger than the rest.

So, at the end of Ch 47,as Jacob’s life draws to an end, he summons Joseph, and makes him promise to bury him with his fathers. Back in Canaan. Which Joseph promises.

And then, into 48, with Jacob on his deathbed, Joseph is summoned again. This time with his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. And reminds them all of God’s promise. V3.

“God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me 4 and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’

And then he takes his two grandsons, and declares them to be under God’s blessings too. Every much a part of his family as Joseph and his brothers.

5 “Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.

And then he proceeds to give them a blessing. Along with one for each of the other brothers. Some of the words of prophecy are GOOD. Others show that God delivers JUDGMENT against those of the brothers who sinned.

But the focus of them all/ is that their future lies in the PROMISED LAND. And not in Egypt.

And then, at the end of 49, Jacob dies. He draws his feet up into his bed, breathes his last, and is gathered to his people.

And after Joseph’s finishing weeping, AGAIN, his father’s embalmed, taken back to Canaan, and buried. With all the pomp and ceremony of Egypt.

And it seems like Joseph remembers his father’s words. Because, as Genesis draws to a close, and Joseph’s OWN LIFE draws to a close, he makes the same request his Dad had done. Ch 50 v24.

“I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” 25 And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” 26 So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

He died as the second most powerful man in Egypt. With all the riches and power and honour anyone could dream of. But in spite of all of that. He died with his eyes on a much GREATER prize. He died with his hope on the promise of God. To make his family into a great nation. And to bring them back to the promised land. Even though he never saw it.

What about us?

Which is where it all gets relevant for us. Because Jacob and Joseph are at opposite ends of life. One, whose years were few and difficult. Whose temptation was to lose hope. To despair. To doubt that God would ever come good. Because he was yet to see much fruit.

And then there was Joseph, who had EVERYTHING. His temptation was to be distracted by all the shiny things around him. And to forget where his treasure and his future REALLY lay.

And it’s the same with us.

Perhaps your life’s been like Jacob’s. Full of difficulty and frustration. And the promises of God seem like they’re an ETERNITY away. And you’re tempted to give up.

It’s hard to see all things working for good, when all you want to do is sit down, have a good cry and give up. Let someone else deal with all the rubbish. It’s hard to show integrity and honesty at work when everyone else treats you like a piece of garbage. It’s hard to keep serving in that ministry or job or role, when there’s no fruit to see, no one notices and no one appreciates you.

But perhaps, on the other hand, your life’s more like Joseph’s. In general, things are going FINE. You may not be the RICHEST or the most SUCCESSFUL, but you’re doing FINE.

You’re hoping for a big promotion. Or a new boat. Or an overseas holiday. Or a hot girlfriend or boyfriend. Or a top marks at school or uni.

When you SHOULD be hoping for heaven. Longing for God’s reward. Putting his kingdom and his righteousness FIRST. Have you lost sight of the riches of God’s promises because you’re gaze is taken with THIS WORLD’S riches.

Leave Egypt behind. And keep your eyes on the prize of God’s promised land. Because you DON’T belong here.

Like Jake and Bernie in England, your basic orientation is from somewhere else. And that’s where your hope needs to be.

So whether you’re JACOB, and you need ENCOURAGEMENT. Or JOSEPH, and you need a wake-up call. Look to God’s promises. And long for home.

The book of James recognises the two extremes and their dangers. And shows us the RIGHT attitude. James 1:9

9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

Both ends of the spectrum need to be viewed from the position of ETERNITY. The way GOD sees them. That’s the way to keep our hope in God’s sure and certain promises.

And look at how James sums up. James 1:12

12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test , HE WILL RECEIVE THE CROWN OF LIFE THAT GOD HAS PROMISED TO THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.

Long for home. Keep your eyes fixed on God’s promises. They’re worth it.

Genesis 37-42: Tell him he’s dreamin’

We’re shaking our heads at the horror of the Christchurch mosque massacre. At the death of so many innocent people, including children.

It’s not that hard to difficult to find someone to blame in THAT case. But what about the Christchurch EARTHQUAKE in 2011? Billions of dollars of damage, 185 people killed and many more injured.

Who do we blame then? For many people, the answer is GOD. And so they refuse to have anything to do with a God who’d let those sorts of things happen.

And while the Bible has all sorts of things to say about the subject. One thing that I DO want to say. And that directly flows from our passage today. Is that BEING A CHRISTIAN DOESN’T MAKE YOU IMMUNE FROM BAD THINGS HAPPENING.

I’m not sure if anyone has done the sociological statistical analysis. But it seems to me that God’s people are JUST AS LIKELY as anyone else to suffer tragedy, and life-threatening illness, and death of loved ones, and destruction of property. Maybe even MORE likely.

Two Dreams (37:1-11)

Case in point, JOSEPH. His story takes up nearly all of the rest of Genesis. From Ch 37 to 50. One of Jacob’s twelve sons. And in the second verse of chapter 37, we see he’s TENDING THE FLOCKS with the rest of his brothers.

And if anyone could ask the question WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE, it’s Joseph. In fact, sometimes it seems the more he does RIGHT, the MORE THE TROUBLE.

We’ve seen already, he’s the son of Rachel, Jacob’s favourite wife. And that makes him the favourite son. Especially since Rachel’s just died, in Ch 35.

So v3 of Ch 37 says “Now Israel,” that’s Jacob, loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he’d been born to him in his old age, and he made a richly ornamented robe for him.”

Which as you’d understand, made his brothers jealous.

But to make it worse, Joseph was A DREAMER. A pair of dreams who’s meaning is pretty obvious. Verse 7 he says they were binding corn out in the field, and HIS sheaf STOOD UP. And the others BOWED DOWN. And then another dream with sun, moon and stars that did the same.

And instead of just shutting up about it, he told his brothers. Which seemed like BRAGGING to them. Which just made their jealousy even GREATER.

Joseph’s dressed up in his richly ornamented robe like a prince. The youngest of the family. And, what’s more, he’s dreaming everyone’s going to come and bow down to him. It may as well be a TARGET painted on his brightly coloured coat.

A deceptive coat – 1 (37:12-36)

And in the second half of chapter 37, when he’s sent out into the fields to check on his brothers, they’ve had enough. And they want to kill him. Now Joseph might have been a bit of a pain in the neck, but he didn’t deserve this.

First up they’re going to kill him and drop him in a hole. Verse 19 in chapter 37. They’ll tell dad a ferocious animal ate him. See what comes of his dreams THEN!

Reuben tries to stop them, v21. And the plan changes. Just take his coat. And drop him in the hole. Which they do. At least they won’t have blood on their hands this way. And Reuben plans to come back later and rescue him.

Until they’re in the middle of lunch, and they see a camel train. A caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt with a load of spices. At which point Judah in verse 26 has an idea. Don’t kill him. Let’s sell him instead. Which they do.

But Reuben’s somehow missed out on the vote. Perhaps off watching the sheep. And when he gets back, v29, he’s DISTRAUGHT. But what are we going to tell dad?

So they get Joseph’s beautiful embroidered robe, they kill a goat, and they dip the robe in goat’s blood. And they take it back to their dad in verse 32, and they say look at this.

This is DECEPTIVE COAT NUMBER ONE. I don’t know if you’ve noticed how often dead goats and pieces of clothing come up in the story of this family. But every time, they’re the tools of deception.

Last time, Jacob fooled HIS dad, Isaac. And now, his sons do the same to him. With some clothing and a dead goat. How cold-hearted can they be!? A father inconsolable. While his callous sons look on. Not saying a word.

But turn it around for a moment, and think about it from Jacob’s position. Totally unaware of your brothers’ plans, a friendly wave as you come to them in the field; and they circle around you and they grab you. And they strip off your favourite coat. And before you know it, you’re looking up at a small patch of sky from the bottom of the well.

And it gets worse. Because the next thing you know, you’re dragged out, and handed over, a teenager… to slave traders. Heading for a foreign land.

Desperate Housewives

Chapter 38, the scene switches back to brother Judah; and a story that will make your hair curl. It’s a story we’ll have to leave for another day. But it seems to be here to CONTRAST with Ch 39. Together the two chapters make up a couple of stories about DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. One to do with Judah. Who behaves DISGRACEFULLY. And the other to do with JOSEPH, who’s the absolute GENTLEMAN.

Ch 38 is a story about Tamar. Who’s Judah’s widowed daughter in law, And she’s DESPERATE to get pregnant. And Judah mistakes her for a prostitute… and says come to bed with me.

They’re words with an echo we’ll see in the next chapter. Where we’ll see the mirror image; exactly the same proposition put to Joseph, with very different results.

Deceptive Coat #2 (Gen 39)

So on to Genesis 39, and the spotlight’s back on Joseph. And a story about ANOTHER deceptive coat.

Joseph’s been sold as a slave to Potiphar. And he flourishes. And it’s clear, isn’t it, that even though his jealous brothers have sold him as a slave, even though his circumstances are in turmoil, God is over-ruling. Somehow bringing blessing from a bad situation. V2.

2 The LORD was WITH Joseph and he PROSPERED,

As slaves go, Joseph’s an IMPRESSIVE example. Faithful, wise. Potiphar can see he’s different. Potiphar can see that the LORD’s with him, giving him success in whatever he turns his hand to. So Potiphar entrusts EVERYTHING HE OWNS to him.

And so, v6, Potiphar “left in Joseph’s care everything he had… he didn’t concern himself with anything except the food he ate.” Life’s good.

Until you hear the echo of those fateful words. The words we heard back in chapter 38. Come to bed with me. But in exactly the opposite situation. Chapter 39 verse 6, Now Joseph was well built and handsome, and verse 7, after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph, and said “come to bed with me.”

Almost exactly the words that came from Joseph’s sleazy brother in the chapter before. But now the roles are reversed. I mean, if Judah had an offer like this, he’d be in bed like a flash. If Judah was here, he’d be the one making the proposition.

But here is the one man from this whole family who’s a man of integrity. The one man who knows the difference between right and wrong. And does the right thing. Verse 8. “But he refused.”

I wonder if you’ve ever had an offer like that. Maybe it’s been flattering. The opportunity to take advantage of the moment.

Let me suggest Joseph offers an excellent model at this point. Look at this words. First of all, he’s loyal. He says no. He says, my master – your husband – he trusts me. Everything he owns he’s entrusted to my care. He’s with-held nothing from me except you… because you are his wife.

You see, faithfulness in marriage MATTERS. To throw it away betrays YOUR spouse, it betrays the person you sin WITH. It betrays THEIR spouse. And deep down we know IT MATTERS.

And Joseph knows it. And he gets it absolutely right at the end of verse 9. Because it’s more than just a matter of loyalty. He says it’s not just my boss I’d be sinning against. He says, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God.”

But verse 11, she’s relentless. Another day, when none of the other servants are around, she tries it again. She grabs him by the cloak, and she says come to bed with me! But Joseph tears himself away and he runs. Verse 12, but he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.

Can I lay it on the line very directly this morning: if you’re here today and you’re right on that borderline? Or even if you’ve crossed it? If you’re on the brink of an affair, if there’s even half the possibility of getting tangled up with someone else’s husband or someone else’s wife, listen to Joseph when he says it’s not just betraying a friend and destroying a family; it’s sinning against God. And run away.

Right through the bible, the message is the same; 1 Corinthians 6 verse 18. Flee from sexual immorality.

Perhaps that’s a warning YOU need to hear. The opportunities in this technological age are almost LIMITLESS. But don’t entertain the idea for a minute. It might be FLATTERING. But it’s just not WORTH IT. Do whatever you need to do to RUN AWAY.

Joseph ran. But his incriminating cloak stayed behind.

And from this point on, he’s going to be wondering again what he’s done to deserve such a hammering. Here’s the guy who’s been sold off as a slave by his brothers. He’s clawed himself back to respectability. Minding his own business. More than that, acting with absolute integrity. And yet look what happens. Potiphar’s scorned wife screams as Joseph runs. She holds onto the cloak til Potiphar comes home, verse 17, and lies to him.

ANOTHER case of a deceptive cloak.

She says, “This Hebrew slave you bought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran. Here it is. Look.”

And the “evidence speaks for itself”. Potiphar doesn’t stop to ask questions. And Joseph is thrown into prison.

Two more dreams (40)

Where he stays, forgotten… for two full years. But even THERE, The Lord’s with him in his circumstances (v21) AGAIN. He’s put in charge of the other prisoners, and he rises to the top of the heap again.

And so we move into Ch 40, where you read about two MORE dreams. Two of the king’s servants. God’s got a message for THEM, and for JOSEPH. Because God is the one interpretations belong to. That’s what Joseph says in v8.

For the cupbearer, God’s got RELEASE and RESTORATION in mind. But for the poor old baker, the news ISN’T so good. He’ll be HUNG.

And even though Joseph gets it 100% right. And even though he asks the winetaster to put in a good word for him. Joseph is STUCK there. Because the servant FORGETS ALL ABOUT HIM.

And it’s not until Pharoah himself has a couple of dreams in chapter 41 verse 1, that anyone gives Joseph another thought. Two long years later.

Two MORE dreams (41)

Two MORE dreams. And they’re dreams GIVEN BY GOD. Seven fat cows, grazing. Followed in verse 3, by seven of the ugliest, scrawniest, gauntest cows you’ve ever seen. The skinny cows… eat the fat cows. Verse 5, he dreams again. Same dream; but this time, corn stalks instead of cows.

And when the next day he’s talking about these weird dreams he had in the night, the Chief Cupbearer finally remembers. He says, that time I was in prison, there was this guy who could figure out dreams.

And so Joseph’s brought in. He’s dragged out of the dungeon, verse 14, and he comes before Pharaoh. And he’s about to go from ZERO TO HERO. Because even though Joseph can’t interpret dreams, JOSEPH’S GOD CAN.

And Pharaoh tells him the details. Chapter 41 verse 17 to 24, the dreams are retold. The fat cows, the skinny cows, the fat ears of corn, the skinny ears of corn.

And Joseph knows exactly what they mean. They mean seven years of prosperity. Followed by seven years of famine. Seven years of unprecedented economic growth. Followed by the recession they have to have. And through Joseph, God’s giving a warning of what’s to come. See it there in v32?

32 The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been FIRMLY DECIDED BY GOD, AND GOD WILL DO IT SOON.

This is the dream direct from THE GOD WHO REVEALS. No warning. No chance to avoid it. It’s definitely going to happen. So make some plans. Joseph says, here’s what to do. Find someone wise. And put him in charge. Store a fifth of the harvest in the good years. And disperse it in the bad years. Which is a good plan. And Pharaoh knows just the man to put in charge.

And in Genesis chapter 41 verses 37 to 40, Joseph has once again made it to the top of the heap. Pharaoh says in verse 38, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?

And the answer is no. Joseph is absolutely distinctive. His wisdom, his discernment… second to none. Because in Joseph, is the spirit of God.

A NEW coat

And so, in verse 41, Joseph’s put in charge of the whole land of Egypt. He gets the signet ring. And he gets a NEW coat. Robes of fine linen that makes his old coat of many colours look lame. He gets a gold chain round his neck. He gets a chariot. All part of the package. And he oversees the Egyptian economy through prosperity. And then through the famine. That comes exactly as he foresaw. And exactly as God planned.

The fact is, God has put Joseph through some bad times… for a good reason. Good for Egypt. But good especially for HIS BROTHERS. Who are caught up in the same seven year famine as Egypt. Back in Canaan. And they’re at the point of death. When they decide to go down to Egypt, where they’ve heard you can buy grain.

And where, as you can see in chapter 42, they bow down in verse 6 to their young brother Joseph who they’d sold as a slave. Exactly as Joseph had dreamed so many years before.

“Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the one who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.”

And Joseph recognises them; but pretends that he doesn’t. Because as we’ll see next time, he’s going to put them to the test.

But we need to jump ahead, for a moment, to the END of the story. To one of the key verses in the whole of the book of Genesis

Because the fact is, if Joseph hadn’t been in Egypt, and if Joseph hadn’t been at the right place at the right time to interpret Pharaoh’s dream… and if Joseph hadn’t risen through the ranks to the point where he could ultimately save his family from extinction; then the promises of God to Abraham, the promises of God to bless the world through this one family line… would have all come to nothing.

The fact is, Joseph’s brothers treated him like dirt. And to top it off, he spent years in prison, unjustly accused as an adulterer.

And after their dad dies in Genesis 50, Joseph’s brothers are worried. They say, What if Joseph holds a grudge against us? Verse 15. What if he pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him? And they come and throw themselves at Joseph’s feet.

And have a look at Joseph’s reply. Ch 50 v19. It’s a perspective that sums up so much of what we’ve seen these past few weeks. As human bad choices are so often turned around. As the deceivers who so desperately want to bless themselves find themselves blessed by God anyway. Joseph says to them in verse 19, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?” I’m not going to seek vengeance.

And he says this. Which are the words I want to focus on. He says in verse 20,

You intended to harm me. But God… intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done – the saving of many lives. So don’t be afraid.”

God uses the intentions of sinful men. Aimed at HURT and PAIN and REVENGE. To achieve GOOD. To GUIDE and to REVEAL. And to DIRECT.

To raise up spirit-filled SAVIOURS. And then to use them to achieve SALVATION.

This is the God who fills Joseph with his Spirit so he can endure the hard times and save his family line. In spite of their appalling track record. In spite of betrayal; in spite of false accusation; God’s actually going to use that stuff. And turn it around.

I wonder, does that remind you of another situation? Because I think it’s meant to remind us of Jesus. The one on whom God had poured out his Spirit without measure.

And while the leaders of Israel plotted against him, and while his friends betrayed him, and while he was arrested and whipped and spat on unjustly…, God uses that for good. Because the perfectly innocent one, as he dies, is taking our penalty for us. And so he saves us; price paid.

They meant it for EVIL. But God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done – the saving of many lives.

All of which we need to keep in mind when bad things happen. Because no matter how bad things get, there’s the example of Jesus to look to.

Paul puts it this way in Romans 8:28. A very famous verse. But look at what follows as well. He says, “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

And yet, so often, it’s hard to see that, isn’t it?

And yet Paul goes on to say it’s not because of our circumstances that we can be hopeful. But because of Jesus. He says, “If God is for us,” verse 31,

who can be against us? He who DID NOT SPARE HIS OWN SON, BUT GAVE HIM UP FOR US ALL – WHO WILL HE NOT ALSO, ALONG WITH HIM, GRACIOUSLY GIVE US ALL THINGS?

The CROSS is what we’re to look to when we wonder where the justice is. As we try to work out whether God REALLY has our best in mind. As we ask the question, why do bad things happen to good people? Specifically, why are bad things happening TO ME?

Paul goes on.

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies – who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God, and is also interceding for us. So he says, if that’s the case… who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Trouble? Hardship? Persecution? Famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

Nothing. Which means in the dark days, in the times when nothing seems to go right, there’s still every reason to keep going. Because Paul says you can be SURE of this. God is RELIABLE. And TRUSTWORTHY. And the cross is our guarantee of that.

Genesis 34-36: Family Matters

The Good Place is a show about the afterlife. It’s got an interesting take on heaven and hell. On ethics, and punishment and reward. And, without giving away the storyline, Ted Danson’s character has the ability to re-boot the afterlife for the humans in his care. And every time things get out of his control, he just clicks his fingers, and he gets to start all over again.

Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever get to the end of your day, and you’ve messed things up so badly, you wish you could just start again? (Click your fingers, and begin the day fresh?)

Perhaps it was an old sin you fell into again. And you’re filled with guilt and shame and unworthiness. Or you made a bad choice, and one thing led to another, and by the end of the day, it was a disaster. Or you spoke without thinking, or lost your temper. And hurt someone deeply. And you’re not sure you can fix it.

In today’s story about Jacob and his daughter Dinah, the mess and mistakes seem to reach their MAXIMUM. It’s hard to see how things could get much worse. And it’s not just JACOB. EVERYONE messes up. If ever there was a day where you’d want to click your fingers, and start again, this would be it!

But what we’re going to see is that DESPITE that, God RE-AFFIRMS THE PROMISES he’s already made to Jacob. Almost like he’s re-setting things for Jacob, and giving him the chance to start fresh. At the end of chapter 34, things are A MESS. But by v14 of chapter 35, the feel is quite different. It’s HOPEFUL. It’s like God’s clicked his fingers, and Jacob gets to start FRESH.

Of course, there are still CONSEQUENCES for sinful actions. But God’s commitment’s unchanged.

There’s a sign I sometimes see over the desks of admin or help staff. “Your lack of planning doesn’t constitute an emergency on my part.” In other words, just because you’ve messed up, doesn’t mean I have to drop everything to help you. But there’s a sense in which that’s just what God’s DOING. He says “I’ll ALWAYS be committed to helping you when you mess up.”

And that’s great news for us. Because there’s no mess up that’s too great for God to forgive. He’ll NEVER write us off.

Last week we saw how Jacob had fled his brother Esau, and gone to his uncle Laban in Haran. Along the way, Ch 28, he had a dream of a staircase up to heaven with angels travelling up and down. God appeared to him, and promised him the blessings of his father Abraham. To make his descendants into a nation, to give them the land, and that all people on the earth would be blessed through him. Jacob called the place BETHEL – the house of God. And he keeps travelling north to meet Laban.

Long story short, 20 years later, he’s ended up with two wives, two concubines, and at least eleven sons and one daughter. He’d fled Laban, and then hears Esau’s coming out to meet him. That night, once again, he meets God. Ch 32, he wrestles with a mysterious man, and refuses to give in until the man blesses him. Jacob gets a new name, Israel – because he struggled with God. And Jacob called THAT place Peniel. The FACE of God.

Ch 33, he meets Esau, things go better than he’d hoped. He’s back in the land of Canaan. But he’s reluctant to follow Esau back to Seir. And he STOPS SHORT of going back to his father Isaac, down in Beersheba. And he only makes it as far as the town of Shechem. Where, at the end of Ch 33, he buys a field and pitches his tent.

Which is where our story for TODAY begins. At the start of Ch 34, Dinah, his only daughter, goes out with some of the local women. Apparently on her own. Perhaps a campsite of eleven brothers means she’s keen for some FEMALE company.

But tragedy strikes. When Shechem son of Hamor sees her. He’s the son of the local ruler, and he’s used to getting what he wants. And verse 2, he sees her, he takes her, and he rapes her.

But then he decides he rather LIKES her. And wants to KEEP her. So verse 3, he decides to chat her up. First the sex. Then the romance. “His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob,” verse 3, “and he loved her. And he speaks tenderly to her.”

And then in verse 4, speaks less tenderly to his father. “Get her for me. Get me this girl as my wife.”

Nice piece of work. But then, in v5, the attention shifts back to JACOB. Who’s somehow found out about it. But KEEPS QUIET ABOUT IT until his sons come home.

Now when your daughter doesn’t come home when she’s meant to and you get word she’s been raped, how are you meant to react? Because the bizarre thing is, when Jacob gets the news, HE DOES NOTHING.

I’m not sure what exactly I WANT him to do. But I want him to do SOMETHING. To show that he cares.

Jacob SAYS nothing. Jacob DOES nothing. Perhaps he’s scared of creating a scene, without his sons to back him up.

Notice, from here on in, how it’s his SONS who fill the void left by Dad. Hamor comes along to talk to JACOB (v6). But it’s his SONS who take over. They come in from the fields as soon as they hear, and they’re FURIOUS. Because it’s A DISGRACEFUL THING that’s been done to their sister. And Jacob’s sons are intent on making Shechem pay. As usual with this family… in a devious way.

So Hamor turns up with smooth words. And a dangerously deceptive offer.

Hamor says to Jacob, “My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter.” (Okay, he might have gone a bit far. But let’s turn this into a win/win.) Let’s do a deal. Intermarry with us, verse 9. You’re living on the edge of town anyway. Come and join us. Give us your daughters, and take our daughters for yourselves. Settle among us. Live with us, trade with us. Do real estate deals.

Except you can see the danger spelled out in verse 20; where you get to hear Hamor selling the plan to his townsmen. He says, let’s do the deal. But the reality is, he’s PLANNING A TAKEOVER. He says, “Let’s do what they’re asking. Because then,” verse 23… “won’t their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours?”

He’s been dangling a very attractive sounding offer to the Israelites. But his plan is to absolutely ABSORB them. Til there’s nothing left.

It’s the danger of God’s people getting too close. And losing their DISTINCTIVENESS.

But notice TOO, Jacob’s sons have got a plan of their own. In verse 13, they reply DECEITFULLY – typical for this family, There’s a kind of a mock indignation, as they spell out their conditions.

They say, “There’s no way we can give our sister to a man who isn’t circumcised.” We’ll only agree on one condition. That you… and all your men… get circumcised. Do that, say the brothers, and we’ll settle among you and BECOME ONE PEOPLE WITH YOU. Otherwise, we’ll take her and go.

And Hamor and Shechem agree. And the rest of the townsmen agree too, which is perhaps even MORE astounding.

So Verse 24, every male in the city is circumcised. Which means they’re in considerable pain. At which point Simeon and Levi, verse 25, Dinah’s full brothers… take their swords. And storm the city. And kill EVERY MALE. Verse 26, they put Hamor to the sword, they put Shechem to the sword; they take Dinah from Shechem’s house, and they leave. Mission accomplished.

And then Jacob’s OTHER sons, verse 27, come and loot the city. And all the TOWN’S flocks and herds become THEIRS. And all the wealth, all the women, all the children, everything in the houses… it’s theirs. In a reversal of Hamor’s plan.

And it’s EXTREME revenge. Punishment far worse than the crime.

  • For ONE man’s lust… they kill EVERY man in town.
  • For one man’s impulsive decision to take ONE woman… they take EVERY woman in return.
  • For the one deceptive plan to take Israel’s livestock by ASSIMILATION… the sons of Jacob have taken Hamor’s livestock… by ANNIHILATION.

Terrible vengeance that goes way beyond the original crime. The exact scenario, by the way, that God’s law to Moses of an eye for an eye was meant to PREVENT. To STOP this sort of unjust justice.

And notice that we still haven’t heard from Jacob. Not a word. In previous chapters, he would have been at the front of the queue when it came to being deceptive, and putting plans into action. But Now… nothing.

But now finally he speaks. Verse 30. He says to Simeon and Levi, “Boys, you’ve gone too far.”

Well, no thanks to Jacob’s leadership, mind you. He sat on his hands for the whole episode. But he’s right. They’ve gone way too far.

Not that he’s critiquing the horrific INJUSTICE of it, mind you. Just that they’ve upset the neighbours.

“You have brought trouble ON ME by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in the land. We are few in number; if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”

He doesn’t seem to mind the huge over-reaction. The blood filling the streets. Just the CONSEQUENCES FOR HIM. Like the mother who says to her son. “Stop punching your brother – you’re getting blood on the carpet. Take it OUTSIDE”.

To which the sons reply, v31, SOMEONE had to stand up for her. “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”

And that’s how the chapter finishes. With A QUESTION MARK. Which says something, I think, about the whole chapter. One BIG question mark. What SHOULD they have done? Who DOES behave RIGHTLY?

Because there’s NO ONE who’s done the right thing.

  • Whether it’s Shechem – with no self-control, and lust in his heart.
  • Or Jacob who does nothing and says nothing.
  • Or Hamor and the townspeople, who are so greedy, they’ll do ANYTHING to make a dollar.
  • Or Simeon and Levi who make the OPPOSITE mistake of Dad. And OVER-REACT.
  • Or the OTHER brothers who knew about the plan all along. And then take advantage of the murders, and LOOT the city.

It’s the sort of episode where you just want to CLICK YOUR FINGERS, and START AGAIN, isn’t it?

Geography Lesson

But it’s at this point that GOD STEPS INTO THE MESS. At the start of Ch 35. And tells Jacob to go… where he SHOULD have gone in the beginning. Go to BETHEL. V1

“Then God says to Jacob, ‘Go up to Bethel, and settle there. And build an altar there to God who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.'”

Back where God had promised, “I won’t leave you until I’ve done what I’ve promised.”

But Jacob seemed to have forgotten.  And so v1 suggests Jacob needs to bear some responsibility for the mess that’s happened. Maybe if Jacob had headed back to BETHEL, or to BEERSHEBA where his DAD is, or even to SEIR with his brother Esau, then NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED.

But now God enters the mess to set things right. And says, “Go to Bethel like you should have in the beginning.” And so Jacob goes. And he SEPARATES HIMSELF from the surrounding people like he should have in the first place. They bury their foreign gods, and their earrings. They purify themselves and change their clothes.

And in v6 of Ch 35, they make it to Bethel. Jacob needn’t have been worried, because God protects them. They build the altar and worship God. Like they SHOULD have done at the start. And none of Ch 34 would have happened.

Back on track

And it seems like things are back on track. It’s a FRESH START. Have a look down to v9 of Ch 35. We get the familiar refrain. God blesses Jacob, and reminds him of his new name. And then he renews his promises.

9 After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.

11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.”

It’s all very familiar. In fact, SO familiar, some scholars reckon it’s just been grabbed from somewhere else and put in here by mistake by someone way back.

But I think it’s here for a reason. It’s COMFORTING. For Jacob and for us. Like a plane that goes through a terrible storm, with turbulence that causes everyone to panic. But then the storm’s over. And when the captain’s calm and steady voice comes over the intercom, everyone knows it will be alright. That the captain’s got things in control.

It’s almost like God’s clicked his fingers. And re-set everything.

Despite the questions and the mess, the pain and the sin. THINGS ARE BACK ON TRACK. The promises are still in place.

Jacob’s disobedience has led him off target for a while. And people have suffered. And yes, there will still be more consequences for those mistakes.

BUT GOD’S PURPOSES ARE BIGGER THAN MAN’S STUFF-UPS. GOD’S PURPOSES ARE BIGGER THAN MAN’S STUFF-UPS. Which is just as well for US!

Building a Better Israel

So what do we DO with it all? I don’t know about you. But it leaves me with a nasty taste in my mouth. Jacob’s family is A DISASTER. This dysfunctional family with multiple wives and out of control kids, And yet it’s the line God brings to BLESSING.

Because one of those kids, Judah, will be the descendant of JESUS. The ULTIMATE king. The king over sin and death. OUR king.

And following Jesus, Jacob’s family will be replaced by A NEW FAMILY. God’s church. Followers of Jesus from every nation. Including us. Called to be different. Called to do our part in building A BETTER ISRAEL. A more distinct and holy and separate people of God.

And so there are warnings here. Mistakes not to make. Especially, perhaps for dads. But for sons and daughters as well.

Mistakes of DISCONNECTION when you should be connected. Which is so typical of dads. The mistake of thinking “she’ll be right” – when perhaps she WON’T. The mistake of keeping quiet for the sake of a bit of peace and quiet. When perhaps we need to be doing a bit more standing up for what’s important. And who’s important.

The mistake of NOT protecting when you should protect. Of compromise. Of abdicating your role. Of being HANDS OFF when you should be HANDS ON. All failures in fathering.

But there’s a BIGGER mistake to avoid. A lesson for ALL OF US. The mistake of BLENDING IN. When we should be remaining DISTINCT. Of letting the world contaminate and pollute you. When we should be DIFFERENT.

That’s the point for the FIRST people who heard these stories. To Israel wandering in the wilderness. About to enter the Promised Land. And God was telling them to AVOID the nations. Don’t marry them. Don’t mingle. Don’t follow after their gods. Don’t eat their food.

This happened to your ancestors. Learn from them. Be a HOLY PEOPLE.

And King Jesus tells US the same thing. Mt Ch 5. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men so that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.

Be DISTINCT. Be different. Be pure. Be HOLY.

Make your ATTITUDES different. How you TREAT people. Especially those that other people IGNORE.

Be different in the way you SPEAK. Walk away when people are gossiping, or running someone down.

Be different in how you WORK. Show integrity and patience and honesty when those around you/ AREN’T.

Parents, be different in the way you LEAD. Lead as servants. Wanting what’s best for your children. Follow the example of your Servant King.

Children, be different in the way you OBEY AND HONOUR your parents. And your teachers and your bosses and your coaches. Show RESPECT. Be HONEST. Be OPEN. TRUST their judgment as people God’s placed OVER you.

Be different in your attitude to MONEY. And to possessions. Be CONTENT. Be GENEROUS. Don’t let the world INFECT you with GREED and SELFISHNESS.

Be different AS INDIVIDUALS. Be different AS FAMILIES.

And be DIFFERENT as a people of God. As a church. If we’re serious about being DIFFERENT. Then it should affect the way we TREAT each other.

We should be REMEMBERING each other. A phone call during the week can mean a lot.

Be hospitable. Be welcoming. Be generous.

Talk to DIFFERENT people each week. Don’t leave someone standing on their own. Church isn’t just about YOU.

That’s the way the WORLD treats people. But we’re to be DIFFERENT. NOT to take on their attitudes and behaviour.

All sorts of suggestions there about how to be DIFFERENT.

But remember when you fail. (AND YOU WILL. You’ll have days where you mess up so bad you just want to hit the delete button. And start again.)

Remember that God’s commitment to you doesn’t depend on your ability to keep the commands. It’s all about what Jesus has done. Cling onto HIM. That’s the way to REALLY be different.

Genesis 28-33: Stairway to Heaven

The last couple of years have seen huge changes in society. And it seems like the Christian church has been losing ground all over the place.

With Scripture classes removed in Victoria. And the school chaplaincy program under attack in Canberra. And abortion restrictions weakened. And euthanasia becoming more accepted. And same sex marriage legalised. And LGBT activists demanding even more. And gender fluidity being celebrated and encouraged.

But what’s behind it all is SOMETHING ELSE again. It’s not gender politics, or the new atheism. Or even secular humanism. Behind all of THOSE things is SELF-DETERMINISM. People have the right to do whatever they want. They have a moral responsibility to express who they are. And it’s unacceptable to tell someone they’re WRONG, or to restrict them in any way.

Glynn Harrison, in his book, “A Better Story: God, sex and human flourishing” says that, in Western society, radical expressive individualism is the dominant way of thinking and acting.

We accept, without thought or question, people’s right to live out this statement: “I’m an individual. My true self must be known and expressed. I can DO and BE whatever I want. And no one has the right to challenge that sovereignty.”

It’s not just the young. Or the radicals. Harrison says people have grabbed the power of STORY. And it’s the plotline of almost every movie and TV show and novel. The individual who stands up for himself, and expresses who he really is. It’s the resolution we cheer for.

Where did it come from? Many people see it beginning with the flower power sexual revolution of the 60’s. But it’s now so widespread we don’t even REALISE it.

And we can see the attraction. It’s an incredibly SEDUCTIVE idea that you can control your own destiny. You can have what you want. You don’t have to DEPEND on anyone. You don’t have to ANSWER to anyone. You’re not RESPONSIBLE to anyone. It’s all about YOU. You determine right and wrong. You determine your future.

But here’s where it clashes with the teaching of the Bible. Self-determinism is making YOURSELF into GOD. It’s thinking that YOU control your destiny. When the reality is GOD controls your destiny. We’re not SELF-made. We’re GOD-made.

It’s the sort of mind-set Jacob would have fitted right in with. Because Jacob wants to be a SELF-MADE MAN.

This morning we’re following 20 years in the life of a self-made man. From rags to riches. Ups and downs. Someone who has plans. And puts them into place. Who expresses himself, and watch out anyone who gets in his way! And seems to end up with exactly what he wants in life.

But he learns some lessons. And in the end we find that despite all his plans and schemes. He’s not a self-made man at all. But a GOD-MADE man. Just like God’s been promising his family for more than a century.

Last time we looked at Joseph, he’d dressed up like his older brother, and cheated his way into his father’s blessing. And now his brother wants to KILL HIM.

So Genesis 28 verse 10, Jacob’s on the run. Heading for his uncle Laban.

Stairway to Heaven

And v 11, he stops for the night by the side of the road; and he grabs a rock for a pillow.

It’s a pretty sorry scene, isn’t it? Leaving everything behind. All the blessings he’s manipulated his way into. Family. The flocks and possessions he’s grown up with.

And it’s come to this. A brother behind him who wants him dead. Camping by the side of the road. All on his own. With NOTHING. With a pillow that feels as hard as a rock… Because it IS a rock. The only way he can go from here is UP.

But then he has a dream. He dreams, v12, of a stairway. Reaching all the way from heaven to earth.

and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And there above it stood the Lord.”

Heaven and earth are connected. And here he is/ right at the man-hole into the ceiling of heaven. The front door step of heaven. Where the angels come and go.

He gets an insight into the way the world works. With God ACTIVELY INVOLVED. With his angelic messengers busy doing his will.

And as God speaks, Jacob’s told that this important place is going to be HIS. Because God’s going to GIVE it to him.

And all the promises to Abraham are re-stated. This time for JACOB.

And, v16, Jacob wakes up in awe of where he’s been lying. And he sets up his pillow rock as a place marker. And renames it Beth-El, the house of God. Because he’s been sleeping at the front door of heaven without knowing it. And makes a vow in verse 20, and says, if God will be with me, so I get back to dad’s place in one piece, then he’ll be MY God.

Advantage Deceiver- Chapter 29

So Ch29. Back on the road. And he comes to the land of his uncle Laban; and there’s a crowd of shepherds at a well. And they know his uncle. And what do you know, v6, here comes his cousin Rachel, with the sheep. Cue the romantic music.

And when Jacob sees the gorgeous Rachel, he’s smitten. And, v10, in a romantic gesture, he single-handedly heaves the stone away from the mouth of the well, and waters her sheep.

And, v12-14, her dad Laban invites him home. Which one commentator says, is like a spider inviting a fly into its web.

Now here’s where I want you to look for the PAY-BACK. Some people would call it KARMA. But it’s really GOD bringing some justice. And teaching Jacob some humility.

Because Laban’s actually got TWO daughters. Leah, the older one, according to verse 17 she’s not as good-looking as Rachel. Who’s lovely in form. And beautiful.

Laban says, You’ve been working for me. Tell me what your wages should be. And Jacob knows exactly what he wants. He says to him in verse 18, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”

And in v19, Laban gives an answer that’s not really definite, one way or the other. Laban says, “I suppose it’s better I give her to you than some other man. Stay here with me.”

But Jacob doesn’t seem to notice. Perhaps because he’s blinded by love. V20. He serves for seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.

And so, v22, fast-forward to the wedding. The party goes well into the night. And Laban’s about to pull a switch. It’s hard to imagine. I can only think there’s a mix of wine, darkness, and lots of veils involved. But the fact is, Jacob wakes up in the morning, and verse 25 says there was Leah! (The Hebrew literally says. “And it was morning. And BEHOLD, LEAH!”)

The sisters have been switched. I mean, who’d be cruel enough to pull a trick like that? To fool someone who’s in the dark/ by switching the children around. The older for the younger?

Of course, it’s just what Jacob did with his dad and Esau.

But Jacob obviously doesn’t see the irony. He’s furious. “What have you done to me? I served you for Rachel didn’t I? Why have you DECEIVED me?”

Just what ESAU accused JACOB of.

But Jacob, who switched the younger for the older in his own family, gets put firmly in his place. Laban says, v27, “Keep THIS ONE, and I’ll throw the OTHER one in with the deal. IF you give me another seven years work.”

And Jacob agrees. The self-made man. He always wants to JUMP THE QUEUE. And now it’s costing him another seven years. And he ends up with two wives. Instead of the one wife he most wanted. And two concubines as well.

And so the seeds are sown for another whole generation of family favouritism. And potential disaster. Verse 30, “Jacob lay with Rachel also, and he loved Rachel MORE than Leah.

Meet the Kids (29:31-30:24)

And the next section is the sorry tale of what happens when you play favourites like that. Leah’s the UNLOVED wife. And Rachel the BARREN.

Which we’ll skip through with just ONE comment. It’s like a baby making competition. Both wives trying to vie for the affection of their husband. Including throwing their HANDMAIDS at Jacob as a BONUS.

And by Ch30 v24, there’s 12 sons. Who go on to make up the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel. Perhaps not the happiest mob, but they’re GROWING.

The Self-Made Man (30:25-43)

At which point, Jacob decides it’s time to leave Laban and head home. But Laban tries to change his mind. Not because of LOVE mind you – just GREED. He says in v27 of Ch30, “I want you to stay, because I’ve learned by divination that THE LORD, THE GOD OF ISRAEL, has BLESSED me because of you.”

Except, it’s interesting, Jacob seems to think it’s more HIM and a bit less God. Take a look at v29 of Ch 30, “You know how I HAVE WORKED FOR YOU and how your livestock has fared under MY CARE. The little you had before I CAME has increased greatly… and, the Lord has blessed you where-ever I’VE BEEN. But now… I WANT TO DO SOMETHING FOR MYSELF.”

Which pretty much sums Jacob up, doesn’t it? THE SELF MADE MAN. I’m in charge. I’m determining my future.

And here’s his plan. V32. “We’ll split the flocks. I’ll take the spotted and speckled goats and the dark lambs. You take the white ones. And let me build up a herd THAT way.

Now you should know by now, Laban can’t be trusted. Though neither can Jacob. But watch this. V34. Laban says, “I agree. Let it be as you’ve said. You have the patchy ones, I’ll have the plain ones.”

But then as soon as the words are out of his mouth, (30:35) he sends his sons to take all the speckled ones to a paddock three days away; so when Jacob looks for the speckled ones, he gets nothing.

At which point you get the very curious details of Jacob’s selective breeding program. Verse 37 to 42, a step by step description of the way Jacob’s going to make more spotted sheep for himself… by mating them in front of tree branches that he’s ripped bits of bark off to make them dappled.

A bit of early Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Sort of BRAINWASH the sheep into having patchy lambs by looking at patchy tree branches. (If that works, you’d better check the sort of wallpaper in your bedroom!)

It’s a kind of combination of superstition and smarts. Science mixed with magic. Because as well as the spotted stick method, the smart thing he’s doing is selectively breeding the strong ones. That’s in v41. And in the end, the weak white animals go to Laban and the strong dappled ones to Jacob.

And by verse 43, years later, Jacob, THE SELF MADE MAN, has grown exceedingly prosperous.

Heading Home (Gen 31)

At which point, it really IS time to go home. He’s been there 20 long years. And God’s spoken to him again. “Go back to the land of your fathers and your relatives, (Ch 31 verse 3), and I WILL BE WITH YOU.

I wonder if that’s a reminder to Jacob of why he’s really prospered? Because He finally seems to have worked it out. Have a look at what he says in verse 4 of chapter 31, “It’s time to go. It’s GOD who’s prospered me. V5. he’s been WITH me. V6 HE hasn’t allowed Laban to harm me.

Down to verse 12. It wasn’t my speckled bits of wood after all. He says, God spoke to me in a dream, and said have a look. Look up and see that all the goats are streaked, speckled or spotted. I’ve seen how Laban’s treated you. And I’VE MADE IT THAT WAY.

In other words, it’s not YOUR magic. YOUR cleverness. Your schemes or plans. IT’S MY BLESSING.

And Jacob finally seems to be realising it. He obeys God, and heads home. …

Except, v20, he sneaks off without saying goodbye.

He’s fled his HOME to come to LABAN; Now he’s fleeing Laban. And heading HOME. Where-ever he goes, he ends up ON THE RUN. He deceives Esau and has to leave. Now he’s deceived Laban, and has to leave. And he’s heading back to Esau. Who, as far as anyone knows, still wants to KILL him.

And, jump down to chapter 32, and I guess it’s no surprise, Jacob’s AFRAID. He’s sending messengers. He’s sending gifts. And he’s in fear and distress.

Verse 6, he hears that Esau’s coming to meet him, with FOUR HUNDRED MEN. The lynching party. And it seems like the self-made man has finally run out of plans. His bag of tricks is empty.

Verse 7, “In great fear and distress, Jacob divides the people who are with him into two groups; and the animals as well” – so at least one group might escape. Jacob thinks it’s the end. Cutting his losses. Resigning himself to losing HALF his people.

But then in verses 9 to 12 he PRAYS. I mean, I wonder if this is the point we’ve been waiting for? A prayer where, for the first time, he TOTALLY GETS IT RIGHT. Because you can’t be a self-made man. And then PRAY. The two don’t go together.

Because to PRAY is to admit that GOD is the one who changes things. Which is what Jacob realises. Because he’s finally HUMBLED before God, and before his brother as well. And the God of his fathers has finally become HIS God as well.

Read his words. V9. “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives and I will make you prosper…’ I AM UNWORTHY” – verse 10 – “of all the kindness and faithfulness you’ve shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan before… but now I’m two groups.”

And it’s NOT because I’m a self-made man. It’s not because of my clever con-jobs, or my spotted bits of wood. It’s because YOU’VE PUT UP WITH ME. And BLESSED me. So save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau… for I’m afraid. I’m afraid he’ll come and attack me and also the mothers with their children.

V12. But you’ve said, I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which can’t be counted. And he throws himself… ON THE PROMISES OF GOD.

And then he spends the night on his own. The self made man. Verse 23; He’s sent everything else across the stream ahead of him. And it’s just Jacob. With nothing except his staff. Just as he was at the START.

Have you ever been in that sort of situation? You’d trusted in all your STUFF? Perhaps it was family? Or job? Or physical ability? Or nice home? Or carefully-laid plans? You were doing very nicely, thank you very much. A self-made man or woman. But then something happened. And it all VANISHED.

Perhaps it was unemployment, or financial deal gone bad. Or illness, or divorce, or death. And everything you’d ever trusted in was STRIPPED AWAY. GONE. And you’re humbled, and broken. With empty pockets. Alone.

Except Jacob’s NOT all alone. Because suddenly, in verse 24, there’s someone WRESTLING with him… and it goes on all night. One of the weirdest scenes in the whole of the bible.

But I think, in a way, it’s a kind of EXPLANATION of what’s happened already… in Jacob’s humble prayer. And a picture – a METAPHOR- of his whole life up to this point.

They wrestle. And the man can’t overpower him, verse 23, so he touches the socket of his hip… and dislocates it with a touch. But Jacob clings on. The man says, let me go, it’s daybreak. Jacob says, I won’t let you go unless you bless me. I’m holding on.

The man says, “What’s your name?”

Jacob. The grasper.

And then the man says in verse 28, your name’s not going to be Jacob any more. No more grasping. Because now you’ve UNDERSTOOD. Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel… because you have struggled with God and with men, and have overcome.

And so that’s his name. Israel. Struggler with God. The name that passes down to a nation. Of future strugglers with God.

Look, I don’t know what’s going on. Who’s the mystery man? And Jacob’s in the dark about it as well. Except he somehow knows he’s been face to face with God. And he’s kept at it and he’s held on. And there’s no more running away.

It’s almost as if his prayer, as if by coming to the end of his own resources… he’s finally learned what it means to cling to the promises of God. That’s the wrestle he’s had for the past 20 years. And so verse 30, he calls the place Peniel, which means face of God… and he limps away into the new day… somehow a broken, but a better, man. To face up to his brother with his 400 men.

Is that a point YOU’VE got to? Have you done the struggling? The wrestling with God? The grasping for what YOU want? And how you want it done?

Perhaps you’ve got to the point Jacob got to. And you’re BROKEN? And humbled in some ways?

The reality is/ we’ve got it so much better than Jacob. Fair enough, we may not have the VISIONS Jacob did. But the New Testament says MEETING GOD is now so much clearer and easier. Because instead of grappling in the dark, instead of a mysterious ladder into heaven, we’ve got God’s revelation of himself in his son.

Turn quickly if you can to John’s gospel. Ch 1.

Jacob called the place Peniel. Because in the darkness he says he’s come face to face with God. But John says this. We’ve come face to face with God TOO. Chapter 1 verse 18. No one has ever seen God. But God the one and only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

God has become flesh once and for all… in the person of his Son Jesus Christ. God has become knowable… not by a dream of a ladder or a dark wrestling stranger… but in the word become flesh.

And Jesus himself picks up the Jacob story in John 1 verse 51. (The dream of the stairway to heaven, the connecting place between God and man). He’s calling his first disciples. Nathanael’s amazed at Jesus. And Jesus says this. He says forget the stairway. John 1:51. “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the son of man.” By which he means, I’m the stairway – the connection… between heaven and earth. I’m the One the Father’s using to bring about his purposes on earth.

Much easier than Jacob.

But in another way, the point you’ve come to is exactly the same as Jacob. Because Jesus says, if you want to know God… HUMBLE yourself… and come to me. Not as a self-made success story. But humbled in heart.

He says, Blessed are the humble and broken. The hungry and thirsty. The poor and the weak. Because I’M THE ONE TO LIFT THEM UP.

If you haven’t made the connection with God, maybe it’s time you came limping home. To the God who MADE you. Who’s CALLED you. Who’s got wonderful PROMISES for you. And a wonderful PURPOSE. Come home to the place where heaven and earth connect. Come home to Jesus.