Chronological Bible 2: From Isaac to Joseph

This set of passages comes from Genesis 25-39, and related genealogies from 1 Chronicles 1 and 2. As you may recall from last week, Abraham and Sarah had given birth to Isaac, through whom God had promised to fulfill his covenant with them. I’m going to give a short synopsis of the events that happen in these passages, and then focus my comments on three themes that stand out in them: prescriptive vs. descriptive bible passages, the significance of names, and God’s promises.

Abraham and Sarah had received the promise from God that they would have many offspring, yet they were old and had had none. Sarah gave her servant to Abram and he slept with her, producing Ishmael. God told him that Ishmael was not the promised heir. Sarah then become pregnant (when she was 90!) and gave birth to Isaac.

When Isaac was 40, he went to his uncle’s house in their former land. because Abraham didn’t want him to marry in the surrounding Canaanite peoples. Isaac met Rebekah and she became his wife. They had twins, named Jacob and Esau (more on that later). Jacob later went also to the land of their relatives and stayed for 20 years. He married two sisters (Leah and Rachel) and a great competition of child-bearing began. Leah ultimately had 6 boys and a daughter, while Rachel had 2 sons. Each of them also gave Jacob their servants as wives during times of infertility and those two servants each had 2 sons as well, bringing his total number of sons to 12. These sons eventually became the 12 tribes of Israel.

Of all the children of Jacob, he had a favorite – Joseph. Joseph became a source of jealousy among his brothers and the brothers plotted to kill him, but instead sold him into slavery. Joseph ended up being taken as a slave to Potiphar’s house in Egypt, where he was ultimately wrongly accused and thrown into prison there. We’ll look at Joseph’s story next week.

Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Bible passages

One thing that people sometimes get confused about is the principal of using the Bible as a guide to life. It does offer wisdom for a variety of situations and prophecies, but there are a number of genres of literature included, one of which is history. When reading the Bible, as I mentioned last week, we must always approach it from the standpoint of it being God’s story about God’s work. All humans are sinners and their history and actions in the Bible are not always exemplary. Yet God chose to work out His plan through them anyway, even in spite of their sins and sometimes less than exemplary choices. That’s what I mean by distinguishing between prescriptive vs.  descriptive passages. Not all human activity as described in the Bible should necessarily be seen as God’s optimal design or intent. For example, when Abraham and Sarah decided to procreate through Sarah’s servant, Hagar (producing Ishmael), this was not according to God’s instructions or plan. Ultimately, Isaac, the promised heir, was born through divine intervention (because of their old age). Likewise, even though God had promised his covenant through Jacob, Jacob’s betrayal and deceit of his brother Esau did not exemplify brotherly love, but God used it to fulfill his purposes nonetheless.

The Significance of Names

Names in the Bible often carry much significance. I want to point out three ways in which to consider the names used. First, a name may be given to a thing or place to signify some particular event. The idea is that the name can serve as a reminder to future generations of that event. As an example, when Jacob was fleeing from Esau after stealing his birthright and blessing, he encountered God at a place called Luz. He saw a vision of God’s throne there and, later, God reaffirmed his covenant with him there.

And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. (Genesis 28:17-19)

Bethel means “the house of God” and its named served as a reminder to later generations of the covenant God made with Jacob.

Second, names of people in the Bible frequently serve as a reminder of the character of that person. Still keeping with the example of Jacob, read this account of his birth.

And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. and the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. The children struggled within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. (Genesis 25:21-26)

Esau means “hairy or red”, and Jacob means “heel or deceiver”. Interestingly, Jacob’s story is filled with deception. He takes advantage of his brother and trades him food in exchange for his birthright, and then later Jacob stole the firstborn’s blessing from their now blind father, Isaac, by pretending to be Esau. This prompted the need for him to flee to his relative Laban’s house, where he met Rachel and fell in love.

Laban agreed that Jacob could work seven years for Rachel’s hand in marriage, but when the time was completed, Laban deceived Jacob and provided Rachel’s sister, Leah, to him as his wife instead. Jacob then had to promise to work another seven years in exchange for Rachel.

When one hears the name of Jacob (knowing it means “deceiver”) one can easily remember Jacob’s deceptive character and how deception led to the dysfunctional marriage relationships he had.

Third, sometimes a person’s name will be changed by God simply to signify some specific promise or prophecy. The new name may mean something in particular, but frequently the new name is similar and simply is to serve as a reminder of the new work God is doing in that individual’s life. For example, Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, and Jacob became Israel, with all the name changes occurring at a crossroads or decisive turning point in God’s plan.

The Promises of God

As you may recall from last week, God promised Abram that he would make him into a great nation, make his name great, and in him all families on earth would be blessed. This same promise was reiterated to Isaac.

And the LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” (Genesis 26:2-5)

Notice the same elements are present as in the original promise: land, offspring, and earth-wide blessing. Also notice that the promise is being offered, not because of anything Isaac has done, but because of the obedience of his father, Abraham. This is a great picture of God’s blessings to us through Jesus. His relationship with us is not because of us, but rather because of the obedience of Jesus.

God’s promise to Jacob was a bit different.

God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 35:9-12)

He promised the land to him, but this time he mentions a nation of nations, which foreshadows the twelve tribes of Israel. He also foretells the fact that kings would be coming along as well, pointing toward David and ultimately toward King Jesus.

One last promise that I’ll mention is one made to Abraham earlier (in last week’s passages), which is the setup for the next part of Genesis which we’ll look at next week. Genesis 15:13-16 says

Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.

Notice the foretelling of Israel’s future captivity in Egypt, and also of the fact that when they do return, it will be at the appropriate time to serve as God’s tool of judgment for the sins of the Amorites. We’ll look at that a bit later. I mention it here, though, simply to point out that God’s plan has eternal and long-term purposes. The new nation of Israel (to whom Genesis was originally written) needed to understand their place in God’s plan and how His plan and promises go beyond them to encompass all of history and all of the world.

Next week we’ll explore the rest of Genesis and then begin Job’s story.

For Further Investigation

Chronological Bible 1: Creation, the Flood, Abraham, and Isaac

In his book Read the Bible for Life, George Guthrie makes a point several times to encourage students of the Bible to always ask the questions “What does this story tell me about God?” and “How does this passage fit into the bigger picture of Scripture?”. The passages for this week’s readings through the Chronological Bible were packed with important concepts that I won’t have time, or take time, in this post to deal with at depth. The texts include Genesis 1 through Genesis 24 (and related genealogies from 1 Chronicles 1), from the Creation story, the sin of Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, the Tower of Babel, Abraham and God’s Covenant, Ishmael and Isaac. Considering though, the two questions above, here are some thoughts regarding the following events:

Creation

After verse 1 (discussed last week), Chapter 1 picks up with the focus on the earth, where the events of the Bible take place. All 3 parts of the Trinity are present here, with God the Father (as Creator), God the Son (God’s speaking), and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is “hovering over the face of the waters” in verse 2. The days of creation are important because they establish the 6 day work week that God will later specify to the Israelites as part of His covenant with them. Remember, the primary audience for Genesis is the recently freed Israelite nation coming out of Egypt. The days of creation are not primarily about specifying the “how” and “when” of creation, but rather identifying the “who” and the “why”. There is a natural astronomical cycle representing a month (the moon’s orbit) and a year (the earth’s orbit), but not one for our week. God reveals later, as part of the ten commandments recorded in Deuteronomy, that he intended the days of creation to be a model for our work week, with a setting aside of a day of rest to worship our God. Therefore, each week can serve as a reminder of our Creator.

I believe in an old universe (13+ billion years) and old earth (4+ billion years), and I also believe that God has built into living things remarkable abilities of adaptation. That being said, I also believe that God has specially created humans and at the very least, vertebrates, rather than setting things in motion for evolution to play out. Notice in Genesis 2 the implication of individual special creation of all these.

Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens… (Genesis 2:9)

God also specially created humans, male and female, to bear His image. I do not believe that we evolved from pre-existing creatures, but rather that God specially created Adam and Eve.

Then God said, “Let us make manThe Hebrew word for man (adam) is the generic term for mankind and becomes the proper name Adam” href=”https://www.esv.org/Genesis+1/#f8-“> in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

Chapter 2 elaborates a bit more on the creation of humans.

Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature…. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:7, 21-25)

Humans are unique among all living things because we bear the image of God Himself.

The First Sin

God placed Adam and Eve in a garden designed specifically for their enjoyment and care. He also gave them free will along with a command to not eat of the fruit of one tree (the tree of knowledge of good and evil). They, however, chose to disobey, following their own desires. Yes, Satan was there to tempt them, but they made their own individual choices to disobey. When God confronted them with their sin, he provided both a judgment (curse) and a promise. Speaking first to Satan, God said

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:15)

Note the singular pronouns used here: “He shall bruise your head”. This is pointing to a future contest in which a human descendant will ultimately conquer Satan’s attacks.

The Flood

Fast forward many generations, and we find that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Verse 11 goes on to say that the earth was corrupt and filled with violence. God chose at that point to bring his judgment on the earth through a flood, but also chose to save one family, because “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). Notice that Noah’s righteousness stemmed from the fact that he walked with God. Contrast that with Adam, who following his sin, chose to hide from God rather than to walk with God (Genesis 3:8).

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife  hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

God promised Noah,

I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark… Noah did this; he did all that God commanded. (Genesis 6:17-18, 22)

Note that God provided salvation along with judgment. When the floods came, God himself closed up the ark for Noah and his family’s protection, and the ark lifted them up through, and in the midst of, the judgement that God brought on the inhabitants of the earth.

Abraham

Again, many generations later, with all humans now descending from Noah’s family, we come to Abram (later called Abraham). Abram is really the first point in the Bible in which we can infer specific dates. Abram lived approximately 2000 years before the time of Christ. I like to point this out because, while it seems to us that it has been a long time since Jesus’s birth, Abram was that same amount of time on the other side of this great event. Yet he was looking forward to it in the same way that we look back at it. For God promised him,

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:2-3)

Abram was looking toward the time when all people of earth would be blessed through his descendant. Notice also that the response of people to that promised blessing will determine whether they receive God’s blessings or God’s curse.

Isaac

Isaac was the son promised to Abram through whom the aforementioned covenant would be propagated. Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah after they were beyond child-bearing years (ages 100 and 90, respectively). God would have to intervene to bring this child’s conception about. Sometime after Isaac was born, God told Abraham to sacrifice him. Abraham knew that Isaac was the one God had promised to be Abraham’s heir and to further the lineage, but Abraham trusted God and obeyed all the way through to raising the knife to slay the boy. It was at that point that God stopped him and showed him the ram he’d provided to be used in place of Isaac. The passage is found in Genesis 22.

Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.

This is a beautiful picture of God’s grace and foreshadowing of the substitutionary sacrifice that God would provide for all of us through Abraham’s future descendant, Jesus!

Next week, we’ll trace the life of Isaac and Jacob and begin Joseph’s story (all from Genesis).

For Further Investigation

Remodel Progress Update

It’s been a while since I updated the status of our remodel. For those who are new to the blog, our plan is to begin full-time RV living and travel, but we have to sell our house first, which means we need to finish our remodeling efforts. The kitchen and two baths are in full swing. I’ll post before/after shots when they’re done. For now, here’s a look at our backyard – and there’s already been one trailer load of remodeling debris that’s been hauled away!

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We have hardwood floors under all the carpeting in the house. Some I’ve already “revealed”, and some is still “hidden”. As the tiling is taking place, I’m removing sections of carpet in order to reveal the wood floor which will transition to the tiles. (Also, I can’t fit large quantities of carpet in my trash dumpsters, so it helps for me to do it in sections).

The carpet that’s on the stairs (see lower right photo above) is off now, and staples/nails are all pulled. It doesn’t look too bad so far.

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Also, as I continue going through my crawl spaces, pretty interesting things keep turning up… like this dinosaur I built for one of my boys’ grade school birthday parties.

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Well, there’s the latest update. I’ll post more as we have more to report!

Chronological Bible: In the Beginning

Happy New Year, 2018!

I’m not normally up at midnight, but since I woke up from the fireworks next door (sorry to disappoint you), I thought I’d begin the new year with a new idea.

Now that I’m actually retired and theoretically should have more time available, I think I’ll write a weekly blog entry based on reading the Bible through in a year, chronologically. I’ve been reading through my Bible in this manner for several years now and find it an extremely interesting way to read the Bible. It enables one to clearly see how God’s story unfolds and how all the parts are connected.

Each Monday, I’ll review a few of the sections I’ve read that week. This one will be rather short, as I’ll just introduce the concept with the words the Bible uses to introduce itself:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)”

Such a simple, yet jam-packed statement! The book of Genesis (and the next four books after it) were written by Moses under the direction of God’s Holy Spirit, specifically to teach the young Jewish nation, Israel, about their God and His desire for them to be in a covenant relationship with Him. They had just finished over 400 years of enslavement in Egypt, a very polytheistic culture (worshipping many gods). They had witnessed many miracles and judgments on Egypt as God brought them out of slavery, and now He was fully revealing His plan for them and their future. They had forgotten much of the fundamentals about Him, so He began by reminding them that He created all things “in the beginning”.

Yes, He confirms that there was a beginning. The earth is not eternal. Neither are the heavens. Only God was from the beginning. He existed before anything else. He existed before time itself. We have learned that space, matter, and time are intricately woven together. These are not just speculations which make for fun science-fiction. They are fundamental laws of physics which demonstrate that before there was something, there was nothing. The origin of the universe is described as The Big Bang. I believe that the remarkable way in which the universe was born (13+ billion years ago!) and developed simply confirms what God already told us: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Specifically, though, God wants His people to understand something fundamental to all of Scripture. It’s as if God is saying, “You want to worship the sun? Well, I made that. You think the Earth is special? Well, I made that, too. You think ____________ about ___________? Yep, I created that.”

No matter what your mind can conceive or notice, don’t forget that God thought it first. The creation is not nearly as important/unique/wonderful as the Creator.

For Further Investigation