Blind Leading the Blind

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“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

‘”This people honors Me with their lips,

    but their heart is far from Me;

in vain do they worship Me,

    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”'” (Matt. 15:7-9 ESV)

Once again the Pharisees try to challenge Jesus and once again Jesus has to correct them.  He points out that this quote from Isaiah applies to them.  The Pharisees were considered some of the most righteous among the Jews for their steadfast dedication to the Law.  However, there were many amendments to the Law that they had made from men’s interpretation of the Law that they preached as Law itself.  To make matters worse, many of these interpretations were flawed and tried to void the original Law.  Not only did the Pharisees follow this misinterpretations themselves, but they taught others to do so likewise.

Unfortunately, this practice still happens today.  We allow what we believe or feel or think to cloud our interpretations of God’s Word and then justify it with sayings like “Well, surely God didn’t mean…” or “This was written so long ago, surely it doesn’t apply…”.  Or we make up rules and regulations for the Church that were never meant to be binding on the body of Christ.  We can be like the Pharisees, “blind leading the blind”.

If only there were someone or Someone who could interpret the Scriptures for us… But wait, we have the Holy Spirit.  God sent us an Interpreter, the Holy Spirit (which also means that we have less of an excuse as the Pharisees).  As long as we rely on the Spirit to teach us what God’s Word really says, we will not be lead astray.  We will still make mistakes because our sinful nature will always insist on its will over the will of the Spirit, but we can always rely on Him to steer us back on track if we constantly seek Him.

Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His presence continually!” (1 Chron. 16:11 ESV)

Multiply: God’s Covenant with Moses

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Welcome back for another week! A day late but at least I’m here! This week we further our relationship with the Israelites as God begins to establish His chosen people.  Hope you will join us in Part IV: Understanding the Old Testament: Session 5: God’s Covenant with Moses. Multiply!

We have walked with the Israelites from their former home and slavery in Egypt, rescued from a tyrant king, saved in a most wondrous manner, and now as they all take their collective breaths on the other side of the Red Sea, they realize they have some questions to answer.  Just who is this God who has rescued them with such incontestable power? Where is He leading us?  What are His expectations of us?

At the Base of Mount Sinai

God lead the Israelites into the desert and they began to have doubts.  They no longer knew this God as Abraham knew Him.  They did not trust Him to provide for their needs.  They were afraid and didn’t know what to expect.  So they complained.  When God gave them fresh food and water, they complained about the lack of options.  Keep in mind, no one asked them if they wanted to follow.  They were just told “Follow”.  At one point, they got so upset with their circumstances, they even wanted to kill Moses.  Things simmered down for a little while, however, when they approached the mountain called Sinai.  God was going to reveal Himself and enter into covenant with them.

“Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself.  Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel'”(Ex.19:3-6 NASB)

Here God gave Israel definition.  They were now:

  1. a rescued people (they could no longer define themselves without references their redemption by God)
  2. God’s treasured possession (God brought them to Himself to keep as His own)
  3. a kingdom of priests (God’s personal representatives for and to the nations)
  4. a holy nation (set apart)

God was ready to explain to Israel how their relationship with Him would work.  Before He could do that however, Israel had to ready themselves:

“The Lord also said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, “Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death”‘”(Ex. 19:10-12 NASB).

God wanted the Israelites to consecrate themselves.  They were to be set apart, so they had to prepare themselves for this holy relationship with God.  God wanted to demonstrate the reality of the differences between a holy God and an unclean, sinful people.

Discussion Question #1: Read Exodus 19. Explain the significance of the people’s cleansing themselves and staying clear of the mountain.

Discussion Question #2: How should Israel’s encounter with God at Mount Sinai affect the way we view Him?

A Holy God and Sinful People

Here at the base of the mountain, God establishes His covenant with Moses and with Israel.  When God made His covenant with Abraham, He promised numerous descendants, gave them land, and promised to bless all nations through those descendants.  With Israel, God keeps this promise but also builds upon it.  Essentially, this covenant with Israel could be condensed into the following implications: 1) the LORD (YHWH) would be Israel’s God and 2) Israel would be God’s people.

In fulfilling this covenant, Israel needed to know what God expected of them and what the lives of God’s people should look like.  In order to help Israel understand what was expected of them as God’s people, God gave them the Old Testament Law.  “This Law spelled out God’s expectations for His people in their civil, religious, and moral lives”(190).  Beginning with the Ten Commandments, the Law encompassed over a hundred specific laws that governed all aspects of Israelite life.  “These laws were not intended to be comprehensive; they were meant to provide judiciary precedents through which Israel’s judges could make wise decisions about any issue that might arise” (190).

These laws were legally binding for all of God’s people, however, we will discover in the New Testament that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Law (Matt. 5:17) and that the Law is no longer binding on us as Christians (Rom. 6:14, Gal. 5:18).  We do not need to read the Law and try to apply it directly to our lives, however, the Law gives valuable information about the nature of God and what He intends for His people.  It would be a mistake to disregard it completely.

One thing we learn for the Law is that God wants us to provide for the poor and those in need.  We also learn that God has a right to govern His people and to direct how His created beings should act.  He determines what is right and what is wrong.

Discussion Question #3: Read Exodus 20:1–21. What do the Ten Commandments reveal about the character of God?

Discussion Question #4: What do the Ten Commandments reveal about the way God wants humanity to live?

Maintaining the Relationship

Now there are some things that we should address about the Law.  To us as New Testament Christians, we know that we are not saved by works, but by grace through faith.  However, at first glance, it seems that the Law offered merit-based or works-based salvation, as if somehow the Israelites made themselves right with God through rule-keeping and good deeds.

If we look closely however, we will see that “there is nothing in the Law that tells the Israelites that they will receive ultimate salvation if they perfectly keep every aspect of the Law. In fact, the Law itself assumes that the Israelites will fail in keeping it—that’s why the sacrificial system was included” (193).  The Law wasn’t about trying to gain status with God, it was about maintaining a right relationship with the Creator.  Something that we can relate to today.  The Israelites didn’t know how to behave like a holy people, so God gave them a tangible code of conduct that they could train themselves by and thereby live out their identity.

Discussion Question #5: Explain the difference between Israel’s keeping the Law in order to earn God’s favor and keeping the Law in order to maintain a relationship with God.

Discussion Question #6: In your own words, explain why it was important for God to give Israel the Law.

Blessing and Curse

The covenant with Moses and Israel was an extension of the covenant with Abraham with one important distinction.  Abraham did not have to do anything for God to keep His promise.  With Moses and Israel, the covenant was conditional.  God would bless Israel and make it a great nation if they were faithful.  The promise with Abraham did not ride on the faithfulness of his descendants, however, the blessings promised to Israel were based on their faithfulness.  This did not mean that Israel had to remain a sinless nation, that is what the sacrificial system was for, however, they had to maintain faithful obedience to the best of their ability.  So if Israel was faithful, they would be blessed.  If they were not, they would be cursed.

Discussion Question #7: Read Deuteronomy 28. How do these promises of blessing for obedience and cursing for disobedience help us understand the importance of God’s covenant with Moses and Israel?

A Kingdom of Priests

When we study Abraham, we learned that God meant for His blessing of Abraham to bless all nations.  With the new covenant with Moses, God intended to continue this line of blessing.  “God intended His covenant with Israel to be a blessing for every nation” (196).

Remember in our reading today, God had set Israel apart to be a “holy nation” and a “kingdom of priests”.  These terms are very important for understanding just what God was calling Israel to.  “A priest has two responsibilities: to represent a holy God to sinful people, and to represent a sinful people to a holy God” (196).  While Israel was to be “set apart” (which is what the term “holy” implies), Israel was not to stay secluded.  They were to bring God to the nations around them and represent God to them, to teach them who God was and what He expected of His creation.  Additionally, Israel was to represent the nations to God, asking God to bless the nations and make them pure.

As we read further into the Old Testament, we will read that Israel often fails to meet their calling.  They often felt superior to the nations and refused to represent God to them.  Israel was not “special” because they were in anyway superior to the surrounding nations.  They were special, God’s “treasured possession”, because of the special job God had called them to, to be His holy priests.  Even though Israel failed, this did not change God’s heart.  “God’s heart has always been to restore every part of His creation, and He still calls His people to join Him in this work” (197).

Discussion Question #8: As a “kingdom of priests” and a “holy nation,” what was Israel’s responsibility to the nations around them?

Discussion Question #9: We are not the nation of Israel, but God uses similar phrases to describe the church (see 1 Peter 2:5, 9). How should God’s covenant with Moses and the Israelites affect the way we view ourselves as the people of God?

Discussion Question #10: Spend some time in prayer. Thank God for reaching down into this broken world and choosing to work in and through broken people to accomplish His purposes. Ask Him to give you a heart that is set on obedience and a passion for reaching out to the world around you.

This week’s study has helped develop my understanding of the Law and I hope that it has for you too.  I pray that you have been blessed by today’s lesson and that you will be encouraged and strengthened to go out and fulfill your own calling as a holy priest of God. 🙂

Save us, Lord!

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And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm” (Matthew 8:25-26 ESV).

The day starts out just like any other day. The crowds press and Jesus and His disciples step into a small fishing boat and push off onto the beautiful blue-green waters of the Sea of Galilee, heading for the other side.  Jesus leans back and is lulled to sleep by a peaceful breeze and the gentle lapping of the waves on the sides of the boat.  All is at peace.

As they get father and farther out, the wind becomes less peaceful and the waves less gentle as they begin to toss the boat to and fro.  The apostles look up into angry, gray-green clouds that can only mean one thing to the experienced sailors: storm.  Like the fisherman they were, they had dealt with storms before and each of them struggles to do their best to keep the boat upright.  But this storm soon proves too much for them.  They are soon overcome with waves of fear just as the waves of the sea threaten to overcome their boat.  Amazingly, the Savior is still sleeping.  They rush to His side and violently shake Him awake. Like the storm, violence overcoming calm.  “Save us, Lord” they plead, “we are perishing!”

With inconceivable calm, Jesus rises.  With disappointment in His eyes, He first speaks to His disciples, His little children, “Why are you afraid?” When the Master of the Storms is with you, what is there to fear? Then turning to the storm He speaks, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39).  The Word that spoke all of Creation into existence spoke silence and calmed the storm.  “And there was a great calm”.  All is at peace.

It is easy to perceive the physical storm here, we have all experienced the storms of nature, but if you look closely, there are actually two storms here.  One physical. One spiritual.  You can almost feel the power of the physical storm.  “The boat was being swamped by the waves” (Matthew 8:24 ESV).  The spiritual storm is also familiar.  The apostles could not control the storm.  Fear washes over them.  We often fear what we cannot control.

As there are two storms, there are two rebukes as well.  When Jesus awakes, He rebukes the storms in order of importance.  First He turns to the disciples and rebukes the storm in their hearts.  “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”  The disciples were letting fear overcome their faith.  It should have been the other way around.  With the Lord of Creation actually in the boat with them, what on earth or beyond did they have to fear?  So Christ speaks to their hearts, then He calms the waves.

The apostles were human, like us.  We, too, experience spiritual storms, storms of faith.  There is often a physical storm as a catalyst (we lose a job, or health, or a spouse), creating fear in us, causing us to doubt.  Our thoughts are consumed by the storm we are in and we cry to God, “Save us, Lord!”  God hears.  No matter how the wind howls, God hears.  However, like in our story, God often chooses to address our spiritual storm before He calms the storm outside our hearts.  He speaks to our faith, “Peace,” He says “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  When our faith in God is strong, physical storms cannot overwhelm us.  God will overcome all.

Multiply: Exodus and Redemption

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Welcome back! Are you ready for another session?  This one is a good one.  Last week we learned about God’s promise to Abraham, this week we get to see how that promise starts to take shape.  We’re in Part IV:Session 4: Exodus and Redemption, follow along: Multiply!

As we finish up with Genesis, we see God’s people growing and thriving.  It seems like God promise is in full swing.  However, when we enter into Exodus, we see a problem.  God’s people (now called Israelites after Abraham’s grandson) are slaves in a land different than that that was promised to Abraham.

Israel’s Captivity

Israel’s current state doesn’t happen overnight, the first two chapters of Exodus span about four hundred years.  At this point, Israel has pretty much given up hope of redemption by their God.  If God promised to take care of Abraham’s descendents, then why were they in this predicament?  God actually told Abraham this would happen:

“God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions'” (Gen. 15:13-14 NASB).

So God has not forgotten His promise, He’s right there waiting for the right time to enact one of the Bible’s greatest acts of redemption the world has seen up to this point (174).  “As it turns out, God’s display of power in Israel’s exodus is frequently mentioned in the rest of the Bible as clear evidence of God’s commitment to His people and His power to redeem” (174).

Moses’s Encounter with I AM

When we enter into the scene in Exodus, things are pretty bad.  Not only are the Israelites forced into hard labor, Pharaoh has just ordered the deaths of all the newborn boys to try to control the numbers.  There is one Israelite woman, however, who was brave enough to save her little boy.  She hid him until she could no longer do so, then made a little basket for him and placed him in the Nile river.  By God’s providence, the basket was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and she raised him as her own in Pharaoh’s palace, naming him, Moses.  No one knew at the time, but God was raising a deliverer to rescue His people from slavery.

Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them” (Exo. 2:23-25).

Great things happen when God “takes notice”.  God remembered His covenant and because of this covenant God is moved to action on behalf of the Israelites, and like His promise with Abraham, He begins with one man: Moses.

Discussion Question #1: Read Exodus 2:23–3:22 carefully. It records one of the rare instances when a human being had an audible conversation with Almighty God. What stands out to you about Moses’s encounter with God in this passage?

Moses’s encounter with God lead him to ask two foundational questions.  Although Moses was trying to get out of the work God was leading him to, these are important questions even for us.  They are “Who am I?” and “Who is God?”

God answers both of these questions.  To the first, He says “I will be with you”.  While this may seem like God is avoiding the question, it gives us an idea on where we should look when defining ourselves.  We are God’s people, pure and simple.  “We belong to Him, and there is no way that we can define ourselves apart from God. It is His presence with us that enables us to accomplish the tasks He gives us” (177). So we are who we are because God is with us.

The second question (Who are You?) God gives another answer that at first glance may seem like He is just dismissing the question: “I AM WHO I AM”.  When we look closer, however, this significant point teaches us something about God.  God cannot be defined in earthly terms. There is nothing that we know of that He can be compared to.  “I AM” is the name God gives to His people and it speaks to His eternality.  He doesn’t say “I was” or “I will be”, but simply “I AM”, now and for eternity, He never changes.

This name “Yahweh” (YHWH), I AM, is a personal name for God that is used almost three times as many times in the Old Testament as the simple name for God, Elohim (the title we saw in Genesis 1).  “The implication of this frequent use of God’s personal name is that God aims to be known in Scripture not just as a generic deity, but as a specific person with a wholly unique character and a special relationship with His people” (178).

Let My People Go

God sends Moses into Egypt and he goes directly to Pharaoh with one simple message from God: “Let My people go.”  Pharaoh doesn’t listen very well and actually increases the hardship and labor for the Israelites.  Unfortunately, this lead the Israelites to blame Moses for their hardships and lead Moses to lose heart.  However, this was only the beginning, God had a plan.  God always has a plan.

Discussion Question #2: Read Exodus 5:22–6:13. What does this passage reveal about God and His relationship to His people?

It is important to point out here that Pharaoh was considered deity by the Egyptians.  He was supposed to have authority and power over all creation.  God was about to show all peoples, Egyptians and Israelites alike, that this was not even remotely true.  God shares His supreme authority with no one.

The Passover Lamb

Now we come to the part that has the most significance to Israelite and Christian history.  God’s power was shown clearly in the first nine plagues, but it was the tenth that actually provoked Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, but he wanted to drive them out of his land.  The tenth proved God’s power over life and death.  God gave warning to Pharaoh that unless Pharaoh complied, all the first born in Egypt would be struck down.  Pharaoh didn’t listen…

Now it came about at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle. Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead” (Exo. 12:29-30).

While we don’t wish to dwell on such a scene, we cannot leave this passage without learning an important lesson about God: “just as He is faithful to keep His promises of blessing, God is also faithful to carry out His warnings of wrath” (180).

During the earlier plagues, God spared the Israelites from afflictions, however with the tenth, God required action from His people.  This was one of the first tests to see if the Israelites were ready follow God as Lord.  Only the Israelites that slaughtered a lamb and painted it’s blood on the doorposts of their homes were they spared the death of their firstborn, the Angel of Death would pass over them.  The Israelites were not spared because they were somehow more “good” than the Egyptians. They were spared because they obeyed and trusted in God.

This sets up a standard that is repeated throughout the rest of scripture, the only reason any of us escape judgement and receive forgiveness is by trusting in the Forgiver.  In order to receive anything from God, we have to trust Him.

The Jews, afterwards, celebrated this event yearly as the Passover celebration.  Years later, Jesus, Himself, was handed over to be killed during Passover as our sacrificial lamb.  We are only saved from the Angel of Death if Jesus’s blood is painted over our hearts and we trust in Him as our Lamb.

Discussion Question #3: How does God’s provision of the Passover Lamb for the Israelites help us understand Jesus’s sacrifice for us?

Through the Red Sea

Pharaoh must have been a sucker for punishment because, no sooner had the Israelites started on their journey out of Egypt, than Pharaoh changed his mind and began to pursue them.  Suddenly the Israelites find themselves cornered, with their backs to the Red Sea, just knowing that death awaited them at Pharaoh’s hand.

God still had a promise to fulfill, however, and nothing was going to stop Him from fulfilling that promise.  Nothing.  That sea was split straight across and the Israelites walked across on dry ground.  As Pharaoh and his army dared to venture into the sea after the Israelites, the sea came crashing down and Pharaoh and his army was swept away.  Israel’s God was proved to be the one true God and no one saves like Him.

Discussion Question #4: Read Exodus 15:1–21. How did the Israelites describe God’s act of redemption immediately after He led them out of slavery?

Discussion Question #5: What do God’s actions in Israel’s exodus teach us about God?

Discussion Question #6: The story of the exodus sets the paradigm for what God’s redemption looks like. How have you seen God’s hand at work in your own life?

A Forgetful People

You would think that after witnessing some of the most amazing, life-altering, faith-growing events in history that the Israelites would never falter in their devotion to God… and yet, time and time again, they forgot all that God does for them.  They actually wanted to go back into slavery in Egypt.  It seems so unbelievable to us and we are often quick to shake a disapproving head at the Israelites, but consider with me for a moment.  How often have we seen God work in our lives, known the wondrous grace He offers us, and simply forgot.  We are a complaining, ungrateful lot, just as the Israelites were.  If only we would just trust in God.  He will prove faithful again and again and again.

Discussion Question #7: What does Israel’s tendency to forget God’s redemption and begin complaining teach us about humanity?

Discussion Question #8: Make this more personal. Take some time to write about the times that God rescued you. What can you do to keep yourself focused on who God is and what He has done?

Discussion Question #9: Spend some time in prayer. Ask God to make the story of Israel’s exodus vivid to you. Ask Him for the faith to believe that He will come through on His promises to you no matter how desperate the situation appears. Pray that God would help you trust Him for your salvation.

Thank you, once again, for joining me in this study.  I always think that the journey with God is even more pleasant with company.  Let’s pray for each other this week, pray that we will remember all God has already done for us and that we will trust Him to fulfill all that He has promised us.  God bless you all!

Salty

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“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matt. 5:13 ESV)

The “Sermon on the Mount” is familiar to many of us.  Jesus is speaking to His disciples in regard to how they should act as His disciples.  Here, He speaks of salt.  Salt is a unique seasoning.  It has a flavor of it’s own, but it is best when it is used to enhance or bring out the good flavor in other foods.  If it doesn’t have it’s unique salty flavor, it cannot influence anything.

As Christians, our influence on the world, Jesus says, should be like salt, bringing out the goodness in all people.  If we lose that influence, we are worthless, good for nothing but to be walked on.

Sometimes it can be hard to spot the Christian among the crowd.  Often, our lives do not look much different from the lives of those around us.  This is not how Jesus meant His disciples to live.  We are supposed to live so radically different that we can’t help but influence others.  When others see the salt or goodness in us, they should want that same salt or goodness in themselves.  This is our mission.

Lord, Please help me to keep my life pure so that all can see the difference and know You.  Let my influence always lead people to want more of You.

Harm from the Lord

Ernst_Josephson__-_David_och_Saul_resized“Then a harmful spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand” (1 Samuel 19:9 ESV).

Saul was Israel’s first human king.  He was supposed to lead Israel in obedience to God. Unfortunately, time and again, he disobeyed himself and lead Israel in disobedience.  Because of this, God stripped Saul of his reign and declared that Saul was going to be replaced.  When God rejected Saul as king, God send a “harmful spirit” to torment Saul.  It was often this spirit that lead Saul seek the life of David, the next chosen king.

It might be hard for us to imagine harm coming to us from our loving Father, but it is important to remember here that Saul rejected God first.  He wanted God’s blessings without having to do all the work of obedience.  It was Saul’s disobedience that lead to his downfall and his torment.  And we all know that an important part of earthly fatherhood is discipline.  Heavenly Fatherhood is no different. God will discipline His children.

God’s creation is His to use for His will.  We often speak of “free will” but many of us do not know what that means.  It means that we are given the right to choose to obey.  We are not given the right to choose whether or not we are used by God.  God will use all of us according to His will.  The choice for us is whether we are used willingly (like Abraham or David) or unwillingly (like Pharaoh or King Saul).  Either way, God will accomplish His goal.  I know which I would rather.

Another thing to learn from Saul is that Saul’s choice for disobedience not only hurt him, but everyone around him: Saul’s son, Jonathan, and his daughter, Michal, David, and all of Israel.  We often think that our sin is our own and we harm no one but ourselves, but often the ripples of our actions spread out farther than we will ever known.  Thankfully, our good choices also have similar ripples.

Multiply: God’s Covenant with Abraham

Welcome back everyone! I apologize for being a few days late on our weekly meeting. I was out of town this weekend for a very uplifting retreat.  Now I’m ready to jump back in and continue our study in the old testament.  This week we get to meet a very important figure in the Bible, important to the old covenant AND the new.  This week we are in Part 4: Session 3: God’s Covenant with Abraham. As always you can follow along: Multiply.

Although we are just getting into the Bible we start to see a pattern developing.  Man sins, they suffer the consequences, and God redeems.  Lather, rinse, repeat… However, as we pointed out in the last session, God has a plan.  Man sinned, was cursed, and God made a promise in Genesis 3 (that Eve’s descendant would crush the head of the serpent).  Man sinned, was destroyed (except for 8 people,) and God made another promise in Genesis 8 (that He would never again destroy every living thing).  Then in Genesis 11 Man sinned again and we learn about a new promise starting in chapter 12. A promise to bless all nations. This promise began with one man.

God’s Promise of Redemption

God’s plan to redeem the world began when He chose a single man, Abraham and told him:

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And 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 13:1-3 ESV).

With these words, God set in motion the plan that eventually climaxed in the death, burial and resurrection of our Savior, Christ Jesus which prompts Jesus to utter the words “It is finished”.  God didn’t wait long to create a plan to redeem the creation He loved from the beginning.

Discussion Question #1: Take some time to read and meditate on Genesis 12:1-9, 15:1-21, and 17:1-14.  What stands out to you from reading the promises that God gave to Abraham?

Discussion Question #2: What does God’s covenant with Abraham reveal to us about God?

Discussion Question #3: What does God’s covenant with Abraham reveal about God’s plan of redemption?

Discussion Question #4: Consider the biblical pattern: people sin, people suffer the consequences, God redeems. How have you seen this pattern in your own life?

The Covenant Confirmed

An important part of God’s promise to Abraham included what we know as the “promised land”.  This land would belong to Abraham’s descendants forever.  As we get further into the story, you will find much of the Old Testament has to do with this land and what happens in it or because of it.

After God made His promise to Abraham, Abraham asked God something that many of us often want to ask of God: he asked for a sign of assurance.  God’s response was not to smite Abraham and look for someone else to bless, He obliged him. In a rather interesting way.  God asked Abraham to gather some sacrificial animals, cut them in half and lay them out on the ground, halves facing.  Then, while Abraham was in a trance, God walked between the halves in the image of a smoking fire pot and flaming torch.

This is one of those stories that kinda makes you want to say “He did what!?” While this practice seems utterly strange in today’s time and culture, this was actually a common form of signing an agreement (or covenant) with someone.  Walking through these animals was taken to mean symbolically, that if the pact were ever broken, what happened to the animals was supposed to happen to the one who broken the pact.  It is interesting to point out that God was the only one who walked, He didn’t require Abraham to walk through the animals.  As if He plans to keep His side of the covenant even if Abraham (or his descendants) doesn’t.

Discussion Question #5: In Genesis 15, God made it clear that His promises to Abraham were not dependent on Abraham. How should this affect the way we think about God’s plan of redemption?

Creating a People for Himself

The entire plan of redemption that unfolds in the rest of the Bible is God’s fulfilling His promises to Abraham” (166). With Abraham’s family, we are introduced to a people who would later be called the “Israelites”, God’s covenant people, a people about whom God repeatedly says “I will be your God and you will be my people”.  God is giving Himself to a people to be their’s.  That right there is an astounding gift.  God is giving Himself.

Don’t forget what the original design was for Man, that he reflect God and be His representative here on Earth.  With God’s promise to Abraham, He is once again trying to restore a people who will be His select representatives on Earth.

Discussion Question #6: In your own words, explain why it is significant that God created a people for Himself. What did God want to accomplish through this “great nation” He promised to form?

The Gospel According to Abraham

We are going to see that this initial promise to Abraham was one of extreme importance.  “What we see in God’s promise to Abraham is nothing short of the gospel itself” (167).  Paul said:

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal. 3:7-9 ESV).

So when God says “In you shall all the nations be blessed”, God was preaching the gospel.  Abraham might not have seen the full extent of this promise, but through his descendants, the nations were truly blessed in Christ.

Discussion Question #7: Consider God’s intentions to bless “all the nations” through His promise to Abraham. What implications does this have for the way we view the world today?

One thing to consider here, when God blessed Abraham, He was intending to bless the world.  God’s blessing are meant to be shared.  He blesses us so that we, in turn, can bless someone else.  “When we receive God’s blessings, we should immediately look around us to see whom we can bless” (169).

Discussion Question #8: Think about the ways that God has blessed you. How should these blessings be used to benefit the people around you?

The Faith of Abraham

The faith of Abraham is often spoken of in the Bible and to his credit, God gave him this seemingly impossible promise and “he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6 ESV).  Because of his faith, Abraham was considered to be in a right relationship with God.

Romans applies this statement to us today as followers of Christ:

But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:23-25 ESV).

Paul says that the statement in Genesis was written for our benefit so that we could believe in Christ and our faith would be credited to us as it was for Abraham.  We will definitely discuss Christ further on, but we can see at this very early instance, the plan for Christ is already shaping up, and it starts with Abraham.

Discussion Question #9: Read Romans 4. Why do you think the New Testament makes such a big deal about Abraham’s faith?

Discussion Question #10: How should Abraham’s faith affect the way you think about and relate to God?

Discussion Question #11: Spend some time in prayer. Ask God to increase your faith in Him. Ask Him to make you more consistently aware of His plan of redemption and the role He wants you to play in that.

Thank you for joining me for yet another week.  As you go through the week, keep this in mind: God always has a plan.  We may not always know what it is, we may not like it, and we may not understand it, but it is always for our good.  God is good!  See you next week!