Principles for receiving God’s guidance

Read Genesis 24:1-63

A flight attendant spent a week’s vacation in the Rockies. She was captivated by the mountain peaks, the clear blue skies, and the sweet smelling pines. But she also was charmed by a very eligible bachelor who owned and operated a cattle ranch and lived in a log cabin. At the end of this week, Mr. Wonderful proposed. But it had all happened so quickly that the woman decided to return home and to her job, feeling that she would somehow be guided to make the right decision. The next day, in flight, she found herself wondering what to do. To perk up, she stopped in the rest room and splashed some cool water on her face. There was some turbulence and a sign in the rest room lit up: PLEASE RETURN TO THE CABIN. She did–to the cabin back in the mountains (Reader’s Digest [1/81], p. 118)

This story does not demonstrate the best way to make decisions in life, but this story does reveal a common dilemma that many people, including Christians, often face. The dilemma I am referring to is the problem of being sure that God is guiding us. In other words, how can you and I be certain that we are in God’s will and that the decisions we are making are the right ones?

This is an important subject for all of us since we all must make important decisions. We all must take various courses of actions and we desire an assurance that God is directing our paths. How can we sure of that divine guidance and direction? This passage in Genesis 24 deals with this subject and problem.

In this chapter we not only see God providing guidance to His people in an important matter, but we also see the conditions under which that guidance was provided. These conditions, which could also be referred to as principles, are what I will discuss today. There are four key principles that led to God’s providential guidance found in this chapter. If we follow these principles, I believe we can expect success in receiving God’s providential guidance similar to what Abraham and his servant received.

  1. The first principle for receiving God’s guidance is knowing God’s Word.

We must have a thorough knowledge of God’s will and purposes to help direct our actions and decisions. That knowledge of God’s will comes first and foremost from God’s Word. God’s Word reveals God’s plan, principles and purposes. Knowledge of these is essential to even beginning to receive God’s guidance. It is Abraham’s knowledge of God’s word that leads him to make the first step in the right direction in receiving God’s guidance.

Read Verses 1-4

Here we see that Abraham takes steps to see that God’s plan is furthered through Isaac. Isaac must marry and have children for the covenant blessings to be received. Abraham understands this, so he doesn’t sit idly and wait for God’s plan to be fulfilled. He does his part and takes appropriate action; in this case he begins to look for a wife for Isaac. Some people seem to think that receiving God’s guidance means doing nothing. For instance, I’ve known people who are out of work and yet refuse to go look for a job because they are waiting for God to provide a job. Such thinking is unbiblical. God wants us to do our part, but to do it while being guided by the knowledge of God’s Word.

This is what Abraham does! His search for a wife isn’t based on human standards or desires but is rather directed by his knowledge of God’s Word. This is why in verses 3,4 he insists that Isaac’s wife be from his own relatives and not from the local people of Canaan. Why did Abraham insist on this condition? Because he knew enough of God’s Word to know that God wouldn’t bless a marriage to a Canaanite woman. God had never specifically prohibited such a marriage at this point in biblical revelation. God had never given specific directions on whom Isaac was to marry but this did not mean that God’s Word had no direction to give. In earlier parts of Abraham’s life, God had revealed the character (wicked) and future (judgment) of the people of Canaan to Abraham. That alone was enough for Abraham to know that marrying one of them was not even an option.

In essence, Abraham was guided by God’s revealed word. He didn’t have a specific commandment from God’s Word but he did have enough information to make reasonable inferences. In other words, he could apply biblical principles to the situation. Many times we are in a similar situation – we don’t have a specific command from the Bible but we can still apply principles from God’s Word and be assured of being in God’s will. For instance, no specific rule/command from God tells me what to watch and what not to watch on TV in many cases, but I can still receive God’s guidance and make wise decisions by applying biblical principles such as purity, righteousness, etc. to the decision.

Abraham was able to take these first steps in the right direction because he knew God’s word. The same is true for us in receiving God’s direction.

  1. The first principle for receiving God’s guidance is knowing God’s Word.
  2. The second principle for receiving God’s guidance is commitment to God’s will.

It is one thing to know what God’s will is through His Word and another thing completely to be committed to doing His will without compromise. One of the conditions under which Abraham received God’s providential guidance was his complete commitment to doing God’s will. This story reveals to us that God guides us when we are committed to His will and not our own, no matter how difficult it sometimes is to do God’s will. We will see in the next two verses that Abraham displayed the commitment necessary to being divinely directed.

Read Verses 5-6

In verse 5 the servant wants to know what to do if following the principles of God’s Word doesn’t work out as planned. The servant is basically asking if Abraham will change his mind and commitment to God’s will if it appears that doing things God’s way doesn’t work. Abraham says to his servant that Isaac is not to leave the Promised Land, no matter what! Abraham makes clear that he is totally committed to following God’s will no matter what happens. I hope you respond with the same uncompromising commitment to obeying God when you are confronted with a similar situation. The only way we can be sure of God’s guidance is by being committed to God’s will above our own will. Many other Scriptures also attest to this principle. One of the best known is in Proverbs.

Read Proverbs 3:6 (In the New Living Translation this verse is translated as “Seek His will in all you do, and (then) He (The Lord) will direct your paths.”)

Many times people find themselves out of God’s perfect will because when it comes right down to it they are not fully committed to His plan for their life. They may pray, quote the Bible, and talk about seeking God’s will but in reality they are seeking God’s approval of their plan. God will work supernaturally in your life to bring about His plans, as He did Isaac and Rebekah, but only when your purpose and total commitment is to do His will!

  1. The first principle for receiving God’s guidance is knowing God’s Word.
  2. The second principle for receiving God’s guidance is commitment to God’s Will.
  3. The third principle for receiving God’s guidance is trusting in God’s Ways.

Trust is absolutely essential if you are to be led by God because you will never maintain your commitment to obeying Him and waiting on Him unless you really trust in Him. You must trust that He will provide everything necessary to fulfill His will for your life in His own way. This is what Abraham did. He trusted God to providentially provide a wife for Isaac from outside of Canaan, even though that was extremely unlikely. Abraham’s states his trust in God’s ways in verse 7.

Read Verses 7-9

In verse 7 Abraham recounts that God had made promises that included Canaan Land and offspring. Since God made a promise, Abraham expects God to keep it by supplying a wife for Isaac. His confidence is based on God’s specific word and promise, not on personal desire. Many people express a trust in God, but their trust is that God will provide what they want and desire. God honors trust in His Word!

Abraham believes that God will provide a wife for Isaac on this trip despite how unlikely this is to happen. What are the chances that Abraham’s servant can travel 500 miles, meet a qualified woman from Abraham’s own family, and convince her and her family to let her travel to a distant land and marry a man she or the family has never met? Human insight or understanding would say, “No chance!” Nevertheless, in verse 7, Abraham clearly expects God to do just this by sending an angel to providentially guide and provide. He is not trusting in his own understanding or insight but is rather trusting in God’s ways. This trust is essential to being directed by God as this story attest and the Bible also says in Proverbs.

Read Proverbs 3:5

You will not be directed by God unless you are committed to Him and trust in Him to provide for His will to be fulfilled in you life. Weather the issue is marriage, ministry, or some other life issue, we must trust God to supernaturally and providentially arrange the circumstances at the right time and in the right way.

  1. The third principle for receiving God’s guidance is trusting in God’s Ways.

In verse 8 Abraham acknowledges that it may not happen as he expects. This isn’t a lack of trust in God – just an acknowledgment that God may provide in a different manner that Abraham expects. We know that Abraham still expects God to provide a wife and fulfill the promise of offspring because he restates his commitment that Isaac will not go back to his relatives’ homeland. One way or the other God will provide for His will to be done without His people compromising on His Word!

Under the conditions Abraham stated in verses 5-8 the servant agrees to faithfully fulfill his duties. He takes an oath, to fulfill this commitment, in the culturally acceptable way of that era and location, which was to place his hand under Abraham’s thigh. So far I have shared 3 principles for receiving God’s guidance.

  1. The first principle for receiving God’s guidance is knowing God’s Word.
  2. The second principle for receiving God’s guidance is commitment to God’s Will.
  3. The third principle for receiving God’s guidance is trusting in God’s Ways.

Now for the fourth principle.

  1. The fourth principle for receiving God’s guidance is to pray for God’s Wisdom.

The servant didn’t just assume that he would recognize whom God had provided as a wife for Isaac. He prayed for guidance and wisdom. Let’s read about it in verses 10-14

Read Verses 10-14

I first want you to notice that, after a 500 mile journey on camel, the servant arrived at the perfect place to meet a young, unmarried woman at the very time the women would be coming to the well to draw water. What luck! No, what providence! God had arranged circumstances perfectly for His will to be fulfilled in this situation. Abraham’s knowledge, commitment, and trust were not in vain. God was working behind the scene.

I believe that God will direct our circumstances so that His will is successfully fulfilled in our lives if we do our part of knowing His Word, committing to His Will, Trusting His Ways, and Pray for His Wisdom.

I believe that God’s providence directed me to this church with the intent of day being the pastor. I didn’t plan it this way but God was working through the circumstances. I bet many of you can look back on your life and see evidence of God working and guiding your circumstances in remarkable ways! It is reassuring to see how powerful and wise our God is in directing our paths.

The servant realizes that this is a divine opportunity, so he prays for success and guidance in verses 12-14. Many Christians today miss God’s guidance and divine opportunities because they do not pray. Often we go through life just making decisions based on our own wisdom. We need to recognize that we do not have the wisdom to direct our own paths or to make right choices; we need to pray for God’s wisdom if we are to receive His guidance.

When I am in an unfamiliar city and get lost I don’t just guess, I ask someone who knows what direction to take. When I don’t understand my tax return, I don’t just do my best, I go to someone who knows the right answers. You and I don’t know what decisions to make in life but we can pray to the One who has the answers. We can have divine direction in life, but only when we seek God’s wisdom. We must pray expecting God to really grant us wisdom.

Read James 1:5-7

Conclusion: Next week we will start with verse 13 and see how this servant’s prayer was answered. In the rest of the chapter we will see how God, in His powerful providence, overcomes every obstacle to guide and provide the right person for Isaac. For now remember that these biblical stories are recorded for our practical application today. We also need God’s guidance for our lives and we can receive it if we have knowledge of God’s Word, are committed to His Will, Trust in His ways, and Pray for His Wisdom.

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Faith for the future

Read Genesis 22:1-20-23:20

Illustration: John Elway was for many years the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Although he was a great quarterback, his team was not that great. So year upon year they experienced losing seasons and humiliation, while he endured numerous injuries. All of his efforts and faithfulness seemed to be useless. Despite their situation John Elway did not retire but kept on enduring the pain and the failure of football. Why did he keep going? Because he had faith for the future! He believed that eventually his faith would pay off and that they would win the Super Bowl. His belief was realized in 1998 when the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 32. If he had not had faith for the future, he would of missed that experience.

In the same way we, as Christians, must have faith for the future if we are to experience the fullness of God promises. We too will experience a life of difficulties. Often there will be very little to show for our years of faith in God. We need to have a faith for the future if we are to endure and press forward and ultimately experience God’s promises. Abraham had this type of faith. I will show you how this passage from Chapter 23 reflects Abraham’s faith for the future in a few minutes.

If my research is any indication; this chapter is one of the least preached and taught in the Bible. On the Internet and in my commentaries very little attention or information was given on this chapter. I can understand this avoidance because, at first glance, this chapter seems to have little to offer in the way of practical application. A preacher or teacher could easily struggle with proclaiming a message from this text. Nevertheless, I believe that a closer look at this text reveals not only a practical message but also vital message to the Christian today.

I do not think this chapter is telling the Christian how to cope with the death of a loved one or how to engage in business practices. Some of the limited information I was able to ascertain from commentaries and Internet put much of the focus on these topics because of Abraham’s grief over Sarah’s death and because Abraham conducted business in acquiring the burial tomb. I do not think either of these topics is the main message of this chapter. I think the main emphasis of the story is that Sarah was buried “in Canaan” and that Abraham went to great lengths and cost to make this a certainty. This story is important because it shows us how Abraham actions reflected a faith for the future. To understand how Abraham’s actions reflected his faith for the future we have to understand the importance that people of that era placed on burial.

The ancient Israelites placed great importance in the location of their own or family member’s burial site. It was normal and greatly desired to be buried in one’s homeland i.e. where one’s family roots were. Genesis 22:20-24 reminds us that Abraham and Sarah’s family roots were in Ur. Abraham admits in Gen. 23:4 that he is an “alien and stranger” in the land of Canaan. Despite the importance of burial location, family roots, and Abraham’s current alien status he insists on burying Sarah in Canaan, even though doing so is very costly. Why?

The answer is because Abraham was not looking backward to where he came from, nor was he looking at his present situation in which lived in a tent because he did not possess even 1 acre of the promised land. Abraham’s was looking forward, in faith, to what God had promised! Thus, the main point of Genesis 23 is not what Abraham did but rather why he did it.

Abraham’s recognized and believed that God’s promises are still in the future. He had a faith for the future and therefore he acted accordingly. Abraham had received very little of God promises in his earthly life and yet this story demonstrates that he continued to believe faithfully, despite many difficulties, because he had a faith for the future. He expected God to fulfill every one of His promises. In this way, Abraham’s serves as an example to Christians today, who also have been given “very great and precious promises” that we must wait to inherit.

I believe the main lesson in this text that believers need to learn can be summarized as follows:

God’s Promises To Us Are Primarily Future Realities.

In other words, most of the great things that God has promised His people will not be received in this life. This was true of Abraham and most of the other saints of God.

All of these references from Hebrews 11 on the nature of faith emphasize that the norm for God’s people is to look forward in faith for the primary fulfillment of God’s promises. They are to look beyond the grave. They are to have of faith for the future. This is the very nature of faith, which is to “be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

God’s Promises To Us Are Primarily Future Realities.

Abraham’s recognizes this spiritual truth and therefore responded accordingly by burying Sarah in a land that they did not yet possess. Now let’s look at this passage verse-by-verse and see how Abraham’s actions reflect this certainty about God’s future promises.

Read Genesis 22:20-24

Abraham was reminded of his family roots apparently just before Sarah’s death. Her death would have reminded Abraham of how little he had actually received of God promises currently. He would also have been reminded that his death could not be very far away. This could be a very trying moment for Abraham’s faith. Certainly, this news from home would have tugged at his heartstrings and inclined him to go home to be with his family rather than wandering amongst strangers. Even today I have seen many people who retired to live in Florida, but when a spouse has died return to be with their families up North. Abraham had the opportunity to return to his former homeland, but he did not, rather he remained in Canaan – Why? Abraham had a faith for the future because he recognized that…

God’s Promises To Us Are Primarily Future Realities.

In faith he believed that God would one day fulfill his promise of making Canaan his land and his home. As Christians, we too will have to exhibit the same kind of faith because there will be times when our old life in the past pulls at our hearts. We will look around and say, “What has a life of faith in God gotten me?” or “Where are all those promises of God?” There will be the temptation to quit and go back to the way things were. That is when we need to look at Abraham’s example and keep our faith by remembering that God’s promises are primarily future realities. We must have a faith for the future. You must have a confidence in God that goes beyond even this life for the fulfillment of His promises.

Read Genesis 23:1,2

Note that Sarah died “in the land of Canaan” and that Abraham mourned for her there thus indicating that news from home had not persuaded Abraham’s to return. Even though Abraham’s was a great man of faith this did not mean that his life was exempt from great difficulties. He still had to suffer hurt, loss, and pain at Sarah’s death. When know from the book of Hebrews the Abraham was looking forward in faith to eternity, but this did not keep him from weeping at Sarah’s death. It is normal for believers to be sorrowful over the death of a Christian loved one, even though they know and expect to be with them for eternity. Stoicism in the face of the loss of a loved one is not a Christian attitude.

I believe these verses remind God’s people that, as we go through this life awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promises in the future, we will undergo difficulties. We are told this in Acts 14:22 which says, “We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” We will endure difficulties, but we can endure them in faith as Abraham’s did. Abraham did not just mourn but also reflected on God’s promises concerning the future and this is what motivated him to now make the effort to purchase a tomb in the land of Canaan. We are to do the same when we encountered difficulties. We are to have of faith for the future. We are to keep our faith and our focus on eternity because…

God’s Promises To Us Are Primarily Future Realities.

Read Genesis 23:3-9

Abraham, in faith, wishes to “stake his claim” in the Promised Land by buying a cave which was used traditionally as a tomb. The Hittites are currently in control of this area of Canaan so Abraham proceeds to make the request of them. Again, this is a reminder of how little of the promises of God that Abraham had actually received at this point. He did not even own enough land to bury his wife but rather he had to buy it from a people who were cursed by God. (Genesis 9:24,10:15) The same is true today where it often seems that unbelievers are better off than believers, but God people should not be discouraged about the current situation because…

God’s Promises To Us Are Primarily Future Realities.

The Hittites offer to “loan” Abraham’s any tomb he desired in verse 5 but Abraham clarifies in vs. 6-9 that he wishes to purchase a tomb at “full price” and therefore “own” the land. This is important because Abraham could have saved a lot of money by borrowing a burial site. Why did he insist on purchasing a tomb? Because when we borrow something it is only temporarily ours and must be returned, but when we own something it is a permanent possession. Abraham wished to express that the land of Canaan was to be his home and not merely a stopping-off place. This was an act of faith in the future fulfillment of God promises. His planning demonstrated his faith! We too are to live with the same certainty of God’s promises being accomplished, despite how impossible and distant they may seem at the present. We are to have a faith for the future because…

God’s Promises To Us Are Primarily Future Realities.

Read Genesis 23:10-20

This passage reflects a typical way of doing business in ancient cultures. The offer to “give” Abraham the cave was nothing more than a culturally courteous way of beginning a business deal. Ephron was certainly not being generous to a grieving man. In fact, the price and terms of the sale indicate that Ephron was greedy and unfair. First, Ephron insists that the cave and the field be sold to Abraham. This is important because under Hittite law whoever owned the field have to pay taxes on the whole property. Abraham’s only needed the “cave at the end of the field” (Verse 9) but Ephron gives Abraham a raw deal. Secondly, the price Ephron asks for the field is exorbitant. Many centuries later Jeremiah buys a field for only seventeen sheckles of silver. (Jeremiah 32:9) nevertheless Abraham bought the field according to those extremely unfair terms and price.

This passage is certainly not telling Christians how to do business! Why would Abraham make such a bad deal? Because he had faith for the future. He firmly believed that his descendants would own it all one day and so he was willing to invest quite heavily in the land, by faith. He was determined to pay any price for Sarah to be buried in Canaan because he really believed God’s promises. The way he or we spend our money is certainly one indicator of the validity of our faith!

In verses 19-20 we are again reminded that Sarah was buried in Canaan in a field and cave that Abraham had purchased and possessed the deed for. Both of these acts, Sarah’s burial and Abraham’s legal purchase of the land, remind us that Abraham had a faith for the future. He was not looking at his current situation but at God’s promised future.

Defining moments of our faith

Defining Moments in the Life of Faith

Genesis 22:1-19

In 101 Hymn Stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck, he gives the inspiring stories behind many of the hymns that we know and cherish. What strikes me about many of the inspiring stories behind the creation of these hymns is that many were written out of defining moments in the life of the author.

Take for instance the Hymn It is Well With My Soul. Haratio Spaffard wrote this great hymn after he lost his four children in an accident at sea. Francis Havergal is another author who wrote many of her hymns out of defining moments in her life. Havergal’s hymn I Gave My Life for Thee was written after she saw a picture that had been painted by a painter named Sternberg. The paining was a picture of Christ wearing a crown of Thorns before Pilate and the Jewish religious leaders. Beneath the painting read the words “This I have done for thee, what hast thou done for me?” Francis Havergal was so moved by the picture that she wrote a poem before she got home. When she got home, she was not pleased with the words so she threw them into the fire. The paper did not make it into the fire but is said to have floated out onto the floor and her father would later pick it up and give it back to her and encourage her to put music to it, and she did.

Defining moments are everywhere we look. We have defining moments in history, one such moment being the cross of Jesus Christ. We have defining moments in the history of the church, the great reformation being one. We have defining moments in the world of sports. As we look at Genesis chapter twenty-two we come to another defining moment, a defining moment in the life of Abraham.

Those who have any knowledge of the life of Abraham most likely have a knowledge of what takes place in the life of Abraham in Genesis chapter twenty-two. It is by far a defining moment for Abraham. It is well said that it is not just a defining moment in Abraham’s life, but it is also the high point of his journey of faith.

When we see and experience defining moments in the life of faith what we notice is that these moments come in different forms such as trials, test, and task. Defining moments in the life of faith are moments that God uses in the life of his people for a purpose and that purpose is maturity.

In our study of Abraham we have seen many defining moments in his life. The first defining moment in the life of Abraham came from his initial call to the life of faith back in chapters eleven and twelve. Another defining moment came when Abraham was faced with a famine in the land that God had promised. Then there was the promise of a child and the patients needed to wait on God to act that served as a defining moment in the life of Abraham. What is interesting about the defining moments in the life of Abraham is that they consist of both failures and victories. The Lord has a way of turning even our low points into defining moments.

The defining moment that we have in chapter twenty-two is definitely a high point in the life of Abraham, but only because Abraham would face the challenge and respond to the challenge in a manner that was pleasing to the Lord. And just as Abraham was faced with many defining moments in his journey of faith, so are we who have started that journey of faith.

Defining moments are usually moments that challenge our faith, our trust, and our obedience to the Lord, a challenge that all of God’s people will face. When we face those defining moments in our journey of faith we need to remember that the defining moments in the life of faith are divine moments.

I. Defining Moments in the Life of Faith are Divine Moments

I want you to imagine for a moment where Abraham is at in his spiritual journey up to this point. Abraham has been walking with the Lord more than twenty-five years. He has seen the Lord do many great things. He has seen the Lord faithfully protect him even during times when Abraham’s faith faltered. Most importantly, he has seen the Lord provide for him something that he thought he would never have, a son. Abraham and Sarah were able to have a child in their old age. This child would not only be a fulfillment of the promise of God to Abraham, but also he would be the heir to the promises of God given to Abraham. Abraham is quite comfortable at this time in his life. He is able to peacefully live in the region with king Abimelech and worshiping and witnessing for his God, Jehovah, El-olam, The Lord, the everlasting God.

It is almost as if Abraham has arrived in his journey of faith to some degree. God has blessed him with land and with son. But what we will notice is that the journey of faith has a final destination and that destination will not be experienced this side of heaven. That means that as long as we are making our pilgrimage there will always be opportunities and challenges that will come our way on our journey. There will always be defining moments in our journey this side of heaven.

We become aware of this truth in verse one of chapter twenty-two, “Now it came about after these things.” This points us back to the previous chapters to remind us of what has taken place up to this point, of which we have already touched upon. It also points us forward to another defining moment in the life of Abraham, as well as reminding us that Abraham is still on his pilgrimage and the Lord is still developing him as a man of faith.

The defining moment that is about to take place in Abraham’s life comes as a divine test that comes in the form of a divine task. The first thing we notice about this divine moment is the fact that is a divine test of Abraham’s faith in the Lord.

A. The Divine Test

We read in verse one, “Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham.” The author, who is under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as he writes these words, indicates to the readers that what is taking place in these verses is a test that comes from the very hand of God. The Lord puts this truth here for our benefit because if we did not know as readers that this was a divine test of Abraham’s faith we may misunderstand what the Lord is asking of Abraham. The Lord wants us to know that this is a test, but don’t think for a moment that Abraham understands this defining moment as a test, for he does not have a clue. The fact that he does not know makes this defining moment a monumental moment in Abraham’s journey of faith.

So the Lord lets the readers know immediately that what is taking place in this chapter is orchestrated by the very hand of God. The Hebrew word “Nasah” is translated with our English word “test.” Some our your translations may have the word “tempt,” but the Hebrew word “Nasah” does not have the same meaning as our English word “tempt.” Our English word has the connotation of “enticing one to do wrong.” Whereas the Hebrew word “Nasah” has the idea of testing something or someone for the purpose of proving the quality of that someone or something. In this context “Nasah” has the meaning of God testing Abraham for a purpose, and that purpose was to refine Abraham’s character so that he may enjoy even close fellowship with the Lord.

It is very important that we differentiate between test and tempt. One person has rightly summarized the difference when he said, “Satan tempts to destroy, but God test to strengthen us. ” There are some defining moments in the life of faith that come on account of the failure of our faith, that is, some God never intended for us to experience, but because of our faltering faith God would use our failure to define us. This is not one of those moments in the life of Abraham.

These divine test that come from the and of God come in the different forms, but for the most part they come in the form of troubles, tribulations, and adversity. The New Testament equivalent that helps us understand these divine test is found in the first chapter of the epistle of James where it reads, “Consider it pure joy, my brethren, when you face trials of many kinds, knowing that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Defining moments in the life of faith are divine moments is that the Lord has us experience them for the purpose of growth. That is exactly what is taking place with Abraham. The divine test that Abraham would experience comes in the form of a divine task.

B. The Divine Task

We are told in verse one that the Lord called out to Abraham and he responded, “Here I am.” The Lord would then go and give him the divine task that would be his divine test. The Lord says to Abraham in verse two, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains on which I will tell you.” As you can see this divine task that would be the divine test of Abraham’s faith was also a disturbing task.

Had the Lord not told us from the start that this was a test of Abraham’s faith then we, the readers, may misunderstand what God is asking of Abraham in this task, and many have misunderstood it. When you realize the implications of what the Lord is asking Abraham in these verses you realize that this divine task is contradictory and illogical.

What makes this task contradictory is that the Lord is asking Abraham to do something that seems contradictory to the Lord’s character. The Lord abhors human sacrifice in pagan religions elsewhere in the scriptures, why would he demand it here? We must remember that this is only a test of Abraham’s faith, one that Abraham is not aware of at the this time.

This task that the Lord asks of Abraham is also illogical from the standpoint of God’s promises to Abraham. Two great promises have been given to Abraham, the promise of a son and the promise of a land, all of which help fulfill God’s promise to Abraham of being a great nation. The more important of the two was the promise of son because through Abraham’s descendents would come the savior of the world, Jesus Christ. God was now jeopardizing his own plan of redemption with this task. All of God’s plans for Abraham and his descendants are now about to be sacrificed on the altar to God. This seems illogical.

The divine task is a test in the sense that the Lord is asking Abraham to do something that is illogical. But even more telling about the type of test the Lord was sending Abraham through is found in who the Lord was asking Abraham to sacrifice, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac.” The test is a test of commitment and love to the Lord. You will notice that the Lord emphasizes Abraham’s son, “your son, your only son.” The test is a test of commitment and love to the Lord. Abraham could not weasel out of this command by offering up his servant or even offering up his other son Ishmael. He had to offer up the son he had waited twenty-five years to be born. He had to give up the son that his precious wife was able to conceive and give birth to through supernatural means. Even more telling of the type of test this was is the phrase “whom you love.” This reveals that Abraham’s defining moment was a divine test concerning his affections and who had first place in his heart.

The defining moment for Abraham was a divine test of whether he loved the blessing more than the blessing, whether he loved the giver more than the giver. The defining moment for Abraham was whether he was willing to give up the blessings of God for God himself, whether he was willing to follow the Lord when all that was in it for him was the Lord himself.

Defining moments in the life of faith are moments where God pushes us out of our comfort zones to see if are affections are for the blessing rather than the one who blesses. Our Lord Jesus Christ never hesitated to have those who wanted to follow him count the cost of discipleship. When Jesus was asked by the rich young ruler how he could have eternal life Jesus did not hesitate to tell him that he had to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Jesus, hypothetically speaking, spoke about hating ones own family to be able to be his disciple. Jesus did not mean that we must literally hate our families, but what he did mean is that he must have the preeminent place in our affections. We must be willing to sacrifice and surrender all to follow him.

We need to be careful to limit these divine moments to the spectacular. That is, we should not think of these divine moments only as consisting of a call to the mission field or full-time ministry. The divine moments are everyday occurrences that come are way where God calls us to move outside of our comfort zone. This can come in the form of making a phone call to someone who needs to know Christ and tell them how Christ has made a difference in your life. Your divine moment could be a call to teach a Sunday School class or help your church in their visitation program or some other ministry in your church. What are usually at stake with these divine moments are our own perceptions and comforts.

God asks, “Will you serve me only when things are going well? Or will you serve me when things are discouraging? Will you serve me when the only thing in it for you is me?”

Is there a defining moment that you are being challenged with? Remember that these defining moments are divine moments orchestrated by the hand of God to mature you in your faith. The second thing we notice about defining moments in the life of faith is that they are deciding moments.

II. Defining Moments in the Life of Faith are Deciding Moments

In my defining moments, sas I willing to follow the Lord and do as he commanded and called me to do or was I willing to forsake the Lord so that I could enjoy his blessings, but not he who blesses? Defining moments in the life of faith are deciding moments; a decision has to be made. And as we see with Abraham he makes a decision concerning his test and he decides to obey the command of God.

A. Decision to Obey the Command of God

We see Abraham’s obedience in verse three, “So Abraham arose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.” What amazes me in this verse is the absent of any discussion on the part of Abraham. All we see is quick and swift obedience on the part of Abraham.

This is a great contrast when you compare other occasions in the Bible where God called men to a specific task. Take for instance the story of Moses, God called him and when he did, Moses made every excuse why God should not use him. Gideon is another example that contrast Abraham’s obedience. When the Lord called Gideon to fight, Gideon did not immediately obey, but instead insisted not once, but two times for a sign from God.

Abraham of all people knew how to help God out in situations such as this. When famine came to the land he helped God out by going to Egypt. When Sarah grew tired of waiting on the promises Son, Abraham helped God out by sleeping with Hagar. When Abraham found himself in trouble with king Pharaoh and king Abimelech he helped the Lord out by deceiving the two kings. What Abraham was really doing was not helping God out, but instead not obeying the commands of God.

But that is not the case this time. God gives him a command and there is no discussion, no offers of suggestions, no helping God out, just total obedience to the command of God. Abraham does not try to rationalize his way out of this divine moment, but instead shows his total affection for the Lord.

How would your respond to such a request? I imagine many of us, myself included would have rationalized our way out of this divine moment. How many times does God asks us to do minimal things compared to what he asks Abraham and we fail to obey. You see, divine moments are deciding moments; moments where we as God’s people have to decide to obey the command of God are not.

“When God sends a divine moment of testing in your life through means of a divine task, are you willing to obey the command of God no matter what the cost.” Abraham revealed his willingness to obey the command of God. The foundation of Abraham’s decision to obey the command of God can be found in his decision to trust the character of God.

B. Decision to Trust the Character of God

As Abraham and Isaac arrive at the place where the Lord commanded them to go, they leave the servants that came with them behind and they make their way to the place of sacrifice. On their way, Isaac is going to ask a good question of his father in verse seven, “Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and said, ‘My father!’ and he said ‘Here I am, my son.’ Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’” This was a good observation on the part of Isaac seeing that his father made sure that everything else was taking care of.

It is in Abraham’s response to Isaac’s question that we see the foundation for Abraham’s obedience to the command of God, “Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’” Here is a statement of trust on the part of Abraham in the character of God. Now, this verse does not do justice to exactly what Abraham is trusting in when he makes this statement. But thanks be to progressive revelation we learn exactly what he was thinking about from the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews where is says in verse nineteen that Abraham, “considered that God is able to raise people from the dead.” Abraham knew God’s character and that God was faithful to his word. Therefore, even if the Lord had him sacrifice his son, he believed that the Lord could raise him from the dead. Abraham trusted in the character of God and that was the foundation for his obedience.

Abraham may have thought that the command was contradictory and irrational and just outrageous, but he made a decision to love the Lord even when all he got out of it was the Lord. He made a decision to obey the Lord, knowing that he could trust in the character of a good and gracious God. Defining moments are decisive moments for the life of faith, and when God’s people decide to obey the commands of God and trust the character of God they find that these defining moments are decisive moments in the life of faith.

III. Defining Moments in the Life of Faith are Decisive Moments

The obedience and trust of Abraham to this divine moment unfolds in verses nine through ten, “Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.” All of Abraham’s hopes and dreams are about to be slain on the altar, but what happens next reveals that this divine moment was a decisive moment. This moment was decisive in three different ways.

A. Decisive in what it accomplished

First, it was decisive in what this divine moment accomplished. In verse eleven we are told that the angel of the Lord called out from heaven for Abraham and he responded “Here I am.” In verse twelve the angel says to Abraham, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know what you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” God tested Abraham and he passed the test with flying colors. At the heart of this divine moment was whether Abraham feared the Lord or not. At the heart of this divine moment was whether Abraham loved God more than he loved his son. This is a significant moment in the life of faith, that moment when God says, “do love me even when there is nothing in it for you?” When those moments come will they accomplish what the Lord desires?

B. Decisive in what was learned

Second, this divine moment was decisive in what was learned. Notice what takes place in verse thirteen after the Lord stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, “Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place The Lord will Provide, as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.” The Lord substitutes a ram in the place of Isaac, and Abraham responds to the Lord’s faithfulness by naming the place “The Lord will provide.” In the Hebrew it reads “Jehovah Jireh.” Abraham had learned the faithfulness of God throughout the years, but never like he did in this divine moment, a lesson that he learned only after he made the decision to obey the commands of God and trust in the character of God.

C. Decisive in what God did

Third, this divine moment was decisive in what God did for Abraham after he provided the ram. In verse fifteen we read, “Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord,, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed…” Do you see the result of Abraham’s willingness to give up the blessing of God for God? God blessed him. This should dispel the notion that God is our worst enemy. The life of total surrender to the Lord is a life that God blesses. When we put God before his blessings he blesses. The greatest blessings are found in the life of surrender and sacrifice.

I shared with you earlier how defining moments in the live of many of the authors of our great hymns were the source of their inspiration. Francis Havergal, who wrote the hymn I Gave My Life for Thee is probably more known by another hymn that she wrote Take My Life and Let it Be. Havergal was known as the “consecration poet.” These two hymns that I have shared with you deal with our total sacrifice and surrender to the Lord. When she wrote the words to Take My Life and Let it Be she did so after divine moment in her life. She was led by the Lord to visit a house that was occupied by five people, some of those people were unbelievers others were believers who had strayed from the Lord. She spends five days with these people praying for them and pleading to them to come to Christ. By the end of her visit the Lord was faithful to bring those who did not know Christ to him and those who did know Christ back to him. After leaving the house and reflecting upon the faithfulness of God in that situation she penned these words that as a prayer of consecration unto the Lord, “Take my life and let it be, Consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.”

God’s people are faced with defining moments every day. We are faced with a decision ever day whether we are going to give our best to the Lord our save it for ourselves. We are faced every day with a decision whether we are going to love God more than we love ourselves.

I would be amiss if I did not show you how this chapter of the book of Genesis is a foreshadow of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross of Calvary. For it was at Calvary that our heavenly Father would not spare his own son, but would sacrifice him on the cross in our place so that we could have redemption through his Son’s blood, the forgiveness of sins. For many of you this is a divine moment that deserves a decision. At this moment many of you find yourself in a divine moment that demands a decision of obedience and trust. Will you obey and trust Christ so that you can have eternal life?

Christians, after all that God has done for us, how can we not surrender all and follow him, trusting him to take care of us? What is a divine moment in your life demands a decision? Will you show your love to the Lord and put him before yourself?

 

Make a difference in your community

Genesis 21:22-34

One of the great debates consuming our society today is the debate over the separation of church and state. The debate finds its source in a statement made by Thomas Jefferson in the 1800’s concerning the “wall of separation.” Some argue that the “wall of separation” that Jefferson referred to when he wrote to Baptist in Connecticut was the separation between church and state. Others argue that the “wall of separation” that Jefferson was referring to was the “wall of separation” between the federal government and state governments. Needless to say, today we have many people spending a great deal of energy to keep the sacred with the sacred and the secular with the secular.

The problem that is often found in church and state relations in found in how the two often times view on another. When it comes to the secular, Christians often have the perspective of the government as an evil empire. This perspective is generated often times by what the scriptures declare about the secular government. On one hand, you have the state being described as controlled by demonic powers. It was the apostle Paul who said, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. ” In the book of Revelation we find the godless government at its worst destined for destruction. On the other hand, the scriptures clearly declare the government in a positive light. The apostle Paul tells us that the government is ordained and authorized by God and that Christians are to obey the authorities of the secular government for that very reason.

Here is the reality of this seemingly contradiction. God establishes the government and at times will function as God intends it to do, but at other times the secular government established by God functions as God never intended it to do. The secular Government is much like the sacred church. The church is also established by God, and at times functions as a blessing to all, but at other times the God established church acts like the devil and brings misery on many.

With all this said, how do we as Christians make a difference in a secular society? How do we impact the secular with the sacred? How do we keep ourselves from the one extreme of isolationism as well as the other extreme of secularism? The last thirteen verses of the twenty-first chapter of Genesis give us some great insight into answering these questions.

In these verses we have two characters, Abraham and Abimelech. This is not the first time that we have met Abimelech in our study of the life of Abraham. In chapter twenty we were introduced to Abimelech on account of the foolish actions of Abraham and Sarah. They lied to Abimelech about their marital situation, a lie that would put Abimelech under the judgment of God. The meeting of the two in these verses in different from the first meeting.

The meeting of Abraham and Abimelech is significant to answering the questions that have been proposed. It is significant because you have a Patriarch and a prince meeting together. It is significant because you have the sacred and the secular coming together for the purpose of good. This coming together of the two parties comes in a form of a covenant, an oath taken between two parties. The situation that is presented in these verses enables us as Christians to see how we can truly make a difference in our community. It enables us to see how we can participate in the secular without loosing the sacred. If we as Christians and as a church are going to make a difference in our community then we must first earn respect by means of your experience with God.

I. Earn Respect by means of Your Experience with God

We see this truth demonstrated in verse twenty-two, “Now it came about at that time that Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, ‘God is with you in all that you do.” The period of time between Abraham and Abimelech’s first meeting is debatable. It would seem that the period of time is about three to four years, enough time for Abraham and Sarah to conceive and have a child. During this period of time Abimelech was able to observe the life of Abraham. The conclusion that Abimelech came to was that Abraham experienced God in his life and it was evident.

The evidence of Abraham’s experience was made known to Abimelech when the two first met back in chapter twenty. Even though Abraham had deceived Abimelech and put him in a dangerous situation, Abimelech recognized the hand of God upon Abraham. The first evidence that God was with Abraham came to Abimelech in a dream. The Lord spoke to Abimelech in a dream and warned him about Sarah. He also said to Abimelech that Abraham, Sarah’s husband, was a prophet. The second indication that the Lord’s hand was upon Abraham came to Abimelech after he confronted Abraham concerning his sin. After Abimelech made restored Sarah back to Abraham, Abraham prayed for Abimelech and the Lord heard Abraham’s prayer and he healed the plague that had come upon Abimelech’s household. Without a doubt these two instances gave evidence to Abimelech that Abraham had an experience with God and God was with him. But I also imagine that over the three or four years that Abimelech watched Abraham live his life and how God blessed Abraham’s life that he knew without a doubt that God was with him in all that he did.

The experience that Abraham had with God would in turn earn him respect and esteem from the pagan king Abimelech. This is especially interesting when you realize that of all people, Abimelech had all the reason to disrespect Abraham. Abraham lied to Abimelech, he jeopardized his life and the life of his family, and he was accused by Abraham of having no fear of God. All of these things could have cultivated a deep disrespect for Abraham. Abimelech could have said that Abraham was nothing but a hypocrite who acted worse than he did, but he didn’t. The reason for such respect is found in the experience with God that Abraham possessed. God restored Abraham and God was with Abraham and he was blessing him in everything that he did. Therefore, the presence of God earned Abraham respect with the secular ruler.

The presence of God in our life, our daily experience of God, is by no means a liability in the arena of the secular, but instead it is an asset that can earn us respect and favor with those without an experience of God in their lives.

A good illustration of this truth is found in the book of Acts. After Pentecost and Peter’s great sermon many people were being saved, the church was unified, they were meeting each other’s needs, and they were worshiping the Lord every day. Verse forty-seven of chapter two in the book of Acts says the church was, “praising God and having favor with all the people.” God’s presence was upon them and the result is that they had favor with all the people. This means that believers and unbelievers alike respected and esteemed the church on account of God’s presence, on account of the experience with God that the early church had. The writer of Proverbs confirms this truth as well when he wrote in Proverbs sixteen, verse seven, “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Eugene Patterson’s contemporary translation of this verse says, “When God approves of your life, even your enemies will end up shaking your hand.”

Does the public notice that God is with you in all that you do? Have you earned the respect of those around you because your life is pleasing to God? When God is with us and the world notices, even the enemies of God will respect us. If we are going to make a difference in our community then we must earn respect by means of our experience with God.

II. Find Common Ground to Work On

The next observation that will help us as Christians make a difference in our community is somewhat of a tall order, but it can be done. If we are going to make a difference in the secular then we who make up the sacred must find a common ground to work on with those who make up the secular.

Why is this a tall order for Christians and church? We often have the mindset that if we don’t agree totally on all points of matter then there is not common ground to work on. This is demonstrated well within Christendom with the many different denominations. The reason that there are so many different denominations illustrates the fact that we don’t agree all points of matter. But it does not mean that we, as the church, cannot find a common ground to work on with other churches.

It is not impossible for churches to find common ground with other churches for the purpose of glorifying the Lord. In the same manner it is not impossible for Christians and the church to unite with the secular on common ground for the purpose of good.

Abraham and Abimelech reveal this truth in verses twenty-three through twenty-six, “Now therefore, swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but according to the kindness that I have shown to you, you shall show to me and to the land in which you have sojourned.’ Abraham said, ‘I swear it.’ But Abraham complained to Abimelech because of the well of water which the servants of Abimelech had seized. And Abimelech said, ‘I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor did I hear of it until today.” In these verse we see at least two matters of interest for both parties, matters of interest that would provide a common ground for both of them to work on.

A. Peace

The first matter of mutual interest for both parties is that of peace. Abimelech’s request to Abraham was a request for a peaceful relationship between the two since they were to coexist in the same region. Most likely the request was made out of self-interest and self-preservation on the part of Abimelech.

A little insight to the matter is given back in verse twenty-two where it says that “Abimelech Phicol, the commander of his army spoke to Abraham.” The presence of the commander of Abimelech’s army indicates that Abimelech viewed Abraham as a mighty force to be reckoned with. He most likely heard about how Abraham was able to defeat the powerful kings back in chapter fourteen and rescue Lot at the same time. He also noticed how the Lord was blessing him with prosperity and protection. H knew that Abraham and his God made one powerful team. Therefore, he would seek a covenant a treaty between the two, one that consisted of peace.

Abraham would respond to Abimelech’s request with a mutual interest for peace in verse twenty-four, “Abraham said, ‘I swear it.” This is not the first time that Abraham made a peaceful alliance with pagan kings. He did the very same thing back in chapter fourteen when he was staying in the oaks of Mamre. The common ground that the two could work on for a praiseworthy clause was that of peace.

Jesus said in his great sermon on the mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” God’s people should be advocates for peace within the secular government. One of the greatest testimonies that we have a Christians is to show a sinful and divided world that peace can be achieved if we work at it. Of course, if we the church are going to have any credibility in the secular word with peace, then we might need to begin to cultivate it within the church. The second matter of interest that would provide a common ground for prince and pagan to work on is found in Abraham’s complaint to Abimelech.

B. Justice

While Abraham has Abimelech’s ear he voices a complaint that he has concerning a certain issue in verse twenty-five, “But Abraham complained to Abimelech because of the well of water which the servants of Abimelech seized.” The verb complained means to “determine what is right. ” Abraham is pleading for justice for that is what justice is all about, “determining what is right.”

One cannot have true peaceful relations without justice. Here lies the second matter of mutual interest that the two could agree on: to do what is right. Abimelech, in an indirect way is going to acknowledge the injustice and do the right thing in verse twenty-six, “I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor did I hear about it today.” Abimelech pleads ignorance in the situation, but he corrects the situation once it is made know to him. We know this to be true not because the text tells us directly, but we know it to be true because Abraham and Abimelech would then go and cut a covenant between one another.

Christians and the secular government can come together in matters of determining what is right. Justice is a form of morality and Christians can find different aspects of morality that are of mutual interest of both the Christian and the state. In an article in Christianity Today concerning Christians in politics the author says that Christians and the state can find a common ground in the areas of common morality, civil morality, and social morality.

Christians are aliens in a foreign land, just like Abraham in this text, but that does not mean that we cannot come together with those of this world for good and praiseworthy purposes. In fact, we must find a common ground to work on if we are truly going to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. But there is a warning to our involvement that is revealed in this text. We need to find common ground, but don’t compromise you character or your principles in doing so.

III. Don’t Compromise Your Character and your Principles

It is one thing to find common ground in secular society for the purpose of good, but Christians must not find that common ground by compromising their character or their principles.

A. Character

Within these verses we have a subtle rebuke of the foolish actions that Abraham took back in chapter twenty. It was in chapter twenty that Abraham deceived Abimelech concerning Sarah by telling him that she was his sister and by not telling him that she was his wife. Abraham lied to save his neck.

The fact that Abimelech had to ask for an oath from Abraham indicates that he was lacking trust in Abraham. Abimelech says in verse twenty-three, “now therefore, swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or my offspring.” You can see from Abimelech’s words that he did not have a trust in Abraham.

Abimelech knew that God was with him and he knew that God had restored Abraham after his foolish deception, but he also knew that Abraham was capable of deceiving. Therefore, he asks Abraham to swear by God that he will not deal falsely with him. This is a significant rebuke to Abraham. This statement on the part of Abimelech is also significant for God’s people and their need to maintain a godly character.

Professing Christians have high expectations of them from the world. The world, the secular, expects God’s people to be people of integrity, people of character. Even more importantly, God expects his people to be people of integrity and character. People should be able to trust God’s people on account of their character. President Clinton when he ran for President was questioned about his character and he responded “character is not the issue.” I disagree; as Christians, character is the issue. Our credibility before a secular world is established through our integrity and character. It is one thing to find a common ground to work on, but don’t in anyway compromise your character and integrity in finding that common ground.

B. Principles

Just as important to our character is our principles. In fact, if you compromise you principles you in essence compromise your character. We can find common ground to work on, but not at the expense of the beliefs that we hold and cherish. We must be in the world, but not of the world. To maintain this position as God’s people in the community we must realize that we will need to go our separate ways on many issues on the account of our principles.

After Abraham and Abimelech made a covenant, and Abraham named the place Beersheba, we are told in verse thirty-two, “So they made a covenant at Beersheeba; and Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, arose and returned to the land of the Philistines.” Though the patriarch and the pagan found common ground to work on, the separation of the two reveals that they are still very different. You have two men and two ways.

The same is true of us, the church, we may find common grounds to work on with a secular society, but the truth still remains, we are different from the world. We have different priorities of the world, we have a different purpose than the world, and yes, we have different principles than the world has. Therefore, there will be issues that divide, issue in which the church must raise up and say “Thus says the Lord.”

The world says, “It’s a choice.” God’s people say, “It’s a life.” The world says its an alternative lifestyle.” God’s people say, “It’s a sinful lifestyle.” The world says, “It will help the economy and education.” God’s people say “It will destroy lives and families.” The church has a higher calling a calling to proclaim the righteousness and justice of a holy God. Our first responsibility is not to the authorities of the world, but to the one who has the authority over the world Jesus Christ. There are times when God’s people must tell the world, “We must obey God before we obey man.” We must find common ground to work on, but not at the expense of our character and our principles.

IV. Never Forget Your Ultimate Purpose

As God’s people get involved with the secular to make a difference we must never forget our ultimate purpose. We strive for peace and justice with the secular world for a purpose and Abraham reveals that purpose is revealed in the actions of Abraham in verse thirty-three, “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God.”

Abraham does two things in this verse: he plants a tree and he calls on the name of the Lord. Here we have a name for God that shows up for the first time in the Bible. The Hebrew name for God here is “El-olam.” In chapter fourteen the Lord was called “El-elyon” which means “God most high.” In chapter seventeen the Lord was called “El-shaddai” which means “God, almighty.” Now, the Lord is called “El-olam” which means the eternal God, the everlasting God. In planting the tree and calling upon the Lord we have Abraham doing two things, which reveal the ultimate purpose of God’s people. We have Abraham worshiping and witnessing. In doing these two things Abraham was proclaiming the truth of the one true God, God most high, God almighty, and God, the eternal God.

The tree was a reminder of the covenant, but it was also a statement of faith that God would protect his well and that the tree would be a constant reminder of God’s provision of water from that well. By planting the tree Abraham was telling the whole world about Jehovah, El-olam and his faithfulness.

As Christian involved in the secular world we must not forget our ultimate purpose to be a witness of Jehovah, El-olam to the world. But we don’t have to plant a tree to declare the faithfulness of God because God planted the tree for us. God planted a tree on place called Calvary, a tree that revealed his love and faithfulness to humanity. Christians must remember that we must point a secular and dying world to a tree called Calvary. Kings and kingdoms will all pass away and when they do what really matters is what we did with the Son of God who died on that tree and shed his blood so that we can have forgiveness of sin.

When George Briggs was governor of Massachusetts, he had three friends go and visit Israel. One of the attractions that they visited in Israel was Golgotha. As they made their way up Golgotha’s or Calvary’s slope one of the men picked up a branch to help him make the climb. When the men returned from their trip they gave the governor the stick that they had picked up on Calvary and said, “Governor, we want you to know that when we stood on Calvary, we remembered you.” He gladly took the gift with gratitude and replied to the men, “I appreciate you consideration of me, gentlemen, but I am still more thankful for Christ, who thought of me there.”

The greatest difference that we as Christians and the Church can make in our community is pointing people to the tree of Calvary. The greatest impact we can have on a community for God is by proclaiming the truth of Christ in a world that so desperately needs him.

We the church and individual Christians can make a difference in our community. It begins first by earning respect by means of our experience with God. God’s presence in our life is an asset. Then we must find common ground to work with those in the secular, a common ground that does not cause us to compromise our character and our principles. We must remember the ultimate purpose of God’s people: to point people to Jesus for Jesus can make all the difference in a community.

 

God keeps His promises

Two young girls were talking and one said she had ten pennies. The other girl looked at her hand and only saw five. So she said, “You only have five pennies.” The first girl replied, “I have five and my father told me he would give me five more tonight. So I have ten.” This little girl understood that her father’s promise was as good as done.

 

Our heavenly Father has a passion for you and me to become like this little girl. He longs for us to take Him at His Word and trust that His promises are as good as done. Unfortunately, we are a bit cynical. We live in an era of unfulfilled promises. Nations sign important treaties and then break them at will. Married couples show little regard for their wedding vows. Employers promise one thing and deliver another. At times it seems that no one can be trusted—no one is honest—no one keeps his word. Thus, we have a sarcastic phrase for our jaded skepticism: “Promises, promises!”

 

In Genesis 21:1-21, we will be challenged with a truthful phrase: God always performs what He promises. Therefore, we can trust in God because He is faithful, powerful, sovereign, and compassionate.

 

1. Trust in God because He is faithful and powerful (21:1-7). The events of 21:1-7 can be seen in three different dimensions. In 21:1-2, we see the divine dimension in the birth of Isaac. Verses 3-5 record the response of Abraham to the birth of his son. Finally, in 21:6-7, we have the jubilance of Sarah over the arrival of the long-awaited child, who is the joy of her life.

 

In 21:1-2, we see the divine dimension. Moses writes, “Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.” After 25 years, God fulfills His Word to Abraham and Sarah—the miracle child is born (cf. 17:16; 18:14). Moses declares, “Then the LORD took note of Sarah” (21:1a). This phrase focuses on God’s supreme care and concern. Other translations render this phrase: He “visited” her (NET, ESV, NKJV) or “was gracious” to her (NIV). So here we see God’s grace and compassion showcased. Notice the phrase “the LORD” is repeated twice in the first verse. The point is that this is all God’s work. In addition to God’s grace, there are three important truths that will build our confidence in the Lord.

 

o   You can trust God’s Word. Three times in these two verses there is a reference to God’s Word: “as He had said” (21:1), “as He had promised” (21:1), and “of which God had spoken” (21:2). It may have taken 25 years for this promise to come to pass but the Lord did for Sarah what He had promised—just as He always does. But the promise of a son was not fulfilled because Abraham was perfect in his obedience…he wasn’t. The promise was fulfilled because God was faithful to His Word.

 

o   You can trust God’s power. The birth of Isaac was a precise, empirical validation of God’s power. God defied nature and biology. He intervened in the bodies of Abraham and Sarah and performed a miracle. God still performs miracles today, yet many of us are not seeking God’s supernatural intervention. We are trying to control the outcome of our situations.

 

Have you ever seen a “belt-and-suspenders” man? A “belt-and-suspenders” man is someone who wears both a belt and a pair of suspenders to hold his pants up. That way even if his belt breaks, he is still covered. In other words, he has an extremely cautious approach to life. He likes to have a strategy to deal with every possible problem before it occurs.

 

While this may seem to make logical sense in the natural realm, God wants us to live out a supernatural existence. He wants us to trust in His miraculous power instead of always trying to cover all of our bases.

 

o   You can trust God’s timing. I know some people who are never on time. Getting somewhere on time is an impossibility for them. Not so with God. He is never early…He is never late…He is always right on time. In the case of Abraham and Sarah, God did what He promised, not a year early or a year late, not a day early or a day late. Now God does not operate on our timetables. Our wristwatches or palm pilots don’t rule Him. His timing may be personally inconvenient for us and it may not make sense, but it is always “at the appointed time.”

 

This means there is no point in fretting, fussing, and fuming when God does not operate according to our schedule. How much better to say, “Lord, Your will be done in Your own time and in Your own way” (Matt 6:10). Today, why not implore the Lord for new strength and divine wisdom. Patience is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). But for patience to grow, it must be tested. I have found that God repeatedly puts me in situations that require a great deal of patience. So why not just join in God’s work instead of making yourself miserable?

 

These three truths demonstrate that God always performs what He promises. His Word is timeless. However, a note of caution is in order. Not all of the Bible’s promises are applicable to all people. There are at least three questions you should ask before you decide to appropriate one of God’s promises.

 

o   Is the promise universal in scope? A promise is universal when words like “whoever” or “anyone” are used. In Romans 10:13, Paul writes, “For ‘ whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” Another example is Luke 9:23-24: “And He [Jesus] was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.’” Such universal promises are held out to anyone—anytime—anywhere, who follow their advice. When you find such a promise underline it. You may want to underline the promise in a unique color so you can easily find it as you page through your Bible.

 

o   Is the promise personal in nature? A specific promise given to someone else is not necessarily meant for you. For example, consider God’s Word to Paul in Acts 18:9b-10: “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” Genesis 15:13-16 holds another promise with a clearly marked nametag: “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. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.’” It’s tempting to claim the comfort intended for someone else’s ear, but hoping in promises that were never made to you only invites disappointment.

 

o   Is the promise conditional? Some promises are dependent upon personal action. That is, if you fulfill the condition, the promise will follow. James 4:10 is one of those promises: “ Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” The condition here is to humble ourselves before God. If and when we do this, the Lord will exalt us.

 

Another example is Philippians 4:19, where Paul writes, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” While many Christians quote this verse, this is not an unconditional, blanket promise, for the context makes it clear that this is dependent upon generous financial giving (4:13-18). So if you note a condition, make it your goal to obey God’s Word so that you can enjoy His promise.

 

In 21:3-5, Moses picks up Abraham’s response: “Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.” Verses 3-4 emphasize Abraham’s obedience. The key phrase is “as God had commanded him.” Upon the birth of Isaac, Abraham immediately obeyed by calling the boy “Isaac” (21:3; cf. 17:19). Isaac means, “he laughs” or “may He [God] smile.” The name Isaac was to stand out on the pages of history as a constant reminder to the world that, on the one hand, God’s promises are no laughing matter. On the other hand, this was a promise that was going to be a “laughing matter”—a hilarious event because of its impossibility from a human perspective. Abraham also obeyed God by circumcising his son “when he was eight days old” (21:4). This was God’s command to Abraham and His covenant with him (see 17:7-14).

 

Verse 5 concludes by emphasizing Abraham’s age (cf. 17:1, 24). The writer of Hebrews says that Abraham was “as good as dead” (11:12). And you may think you’re old! When Abraham could have been drawing Social Security payments for 35 years, he became a parent. And at the age of 113 he would enter into the teenage years with his son. Talk about challenging times!

In 21:6-7, the scene shifts to Sarah who says, “‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’ And she said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’” I imagine that every time Abraham and Sarah called “laughter” in for supper, they remembered how God had turned their laughter of disbelief to laughter of joy! Sarah becomes a ninety-year-old, nursing mother and Abraham becomes a father at 100! What a happy ending!

 

[As is often the case in life, after a mountaintop experience, one usually descends into the valley. This section records another crisis in the story of Abraham. This is one the strangest and saddest portions of the Bible. Yet, in this section we learn that we can…]

2. Trust in God because He is sovereign and compassionate (21:8-21). In 21:8-9, Moses writes, “The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned [approximately three years after his birth, cf. 1 Sam 1:22-25]. Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking” (lit. “Isaacing”). Fourteen years earlier, Hagar had given birth to Ishmael and for most of the intervening period Abraham had treated Ishmael as the heir. By now Ishmael was a teenager (15 or 16). As a growing and alert teenager, he in no way would miss the message he was hearing. His parents had often told him that he was the promised seed and now he gradually began to realize that his folks were in error. They had deceived him as well as themselves.

 

Bitterness and anger began to well up in Ishmael as Isaac, little by little, began to replace him. And no doubt the great feast and the glad speeches in Isaac’s honor caused these feelings of bitterness to reflect themselves in ridicule and persecution (21:9; cf. Gal 4:29). What he did and how he did it, we can only conjecture. But one thing is sure: Ishmael’s jealousy turned into mockery.

 

Therefore, Sarah forcefully gave Abraham an ultimatum: “‘Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.’ The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named. And of the son of the maid I will make a nation also, because he is your descendant.’” (21:10-13). Sarah was ticked off! She doesn’t want to share her husband with her servant girl. Sarah recognizes that it is impossible for a man to enter into an intimate relationship with a woman and then simply walk away.

 

The relationship that Abraham had with Hagar was more than just physical. Abraham and Hagar became one. Sex is more than a physical act; it is a spiritual act that affects the mind, emotions, and soul. The evidence of the sexual union between Abraham and Hagar was Ishmael. Not only did Sarah not want to share her husband, she also does not want to share Isaac with Ishmael. Sarah recognizes that Isaac is the promised seed (Rom 9:6-9), so she doesn’t want anything or anyone to adversely affect him.

 

Of course, all of this “distressed” Abraham (21:11-12). Yet, God reassured Abraham that He was divinely guiding Sarah’s counsel Husband, your wife is God’s gift to you (see 2:18). She is to be treated as a treasure—like any valuable gift. Draw on her wisdom and unique perspective. Nurture and facilitate her. You and your family will be blessed as a result. Life, when you speak to your husband do so with self-control. Follow Peter’s words and exude a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Pet 3:4).

 

In 21:14, Moses records these painful words: “So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba.” This parting must have been excruciating. I’m sure that Abraham never dreamed that sleeping with Hagar would lead to so much heartache and confusion. In fact, I’m sure he justified it in his own mind as the best way to make his wife happy and also to “help” God keep His promise. But it didn’t work out that way. Sarah was wrong to suggest the idea and Abraham was doubly wrong to act on it. If he had been the proper kind of spiritual leader, so much heartache would have been avoided.

 

When we compromise our standards, lower our convictions, or when we try to take a moral or ethical shortcut, it never works out in the end. Choices have consequences…and sometimes they are painful. As believers, we need to learn this lesson well. We also need to make sure that our children and grandchildren learn this lesson early in life. Choices have consequences. When we sin and confess that sin we are forgiven but the consequences of those choices often carry on. Please don’t learn this lesson the hard way. Determine today that you will learn from the experiences of Abraham and Sarah (Rom 15:4). Do not sow your wild oats and then pray for a crop failure. It is unlikely to happen.

 

Now back to our story. In 21:15-16, we read: “When the water in the skin was used up, she left the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, ‘Do not let me see the boy die.’ And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept.” Here we find the first record of a single mom in history. Like other single moms, she is without child support. All that she was given was a few gallons of water and a picnic lunch. She is now at the end of her rope. So she lifts up her voice and cries. Maybe you can relate to Hagar.

 

In 21:17-19, we read these touching words: “ God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’ Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink.”

 

Notice, it was not Hagar’s cries that arrested God’s attention, but the boy’s. It is no coincidence that the name “Ishmael” means “God hears” (cf. 16:11). As a descendant of Abraham, Ishmael was the object of God’s special care. His cries brought divine intervention. God loves children and He also desires to be the God of the outcast, the rejected, the abused, and the dying.

 

 

The following Scriptures powerfully reiterate the character of God:

o   Psalm 68:5-6: “A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy habitation. God makes a home for the lonely; He leads out the prisoners into prosperity, only the rebellious dwell in a parched land.”

o   Isaiah 54:5: “For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the LORD of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth.”

o   Psalm 34:18: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

When you have come to the end of your own resources, and you sit down to sob, remember God has a lot of options left—He hears, He calls, and He opens. I love the fact that Hagar saw the well that had been there all along. Only her tears and her fears kept her from seeing it. God does provide but often we don’t see it. Often, we’re too busy crying or complaining. We’re not looking with any hope or faith that God provides.

 

Those of you who are being emotionally or physically abused and continue in the relationship because you are afraid of the financial, emotional, and physical wilderness, pay attention to Hagar’s situation. Even though she suffered greatly, her need for support was supplied (17-21). God did not forget Hagar. Nor did He forget His promise to greatly multiply her descendants (16:10). God had compassion on Hagar’s plight and became like a father to Ishmael.

Do you believe God’s provides? Single mom, can God meet your needs? Wife who is married to an unbeliever, can God be your husband? Can He provide for you? Child or teenager who has been victimized by divorce, can God provide? Yes, a thousands times, yes!

Our story closes in 21:20-21 with these encouraging words: “God was with the lad, and he grew; and he lived in the wilderness and became an archer. He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.” God demonstrates His sovereignty and His compassion. Moses says that “God was with the lad.” Some of you have watched a son or daughter make wrong decisions and choices. That child moved in destructive directions. He or she walked away from God. You watched your child go into the desert, and you desperately wanted to stop him or her. You knew there was nothing you could do. Your heart was broken, like the heart of Abraham. But may I remind you:

(1) God hears your cry,

(2) He can open a way in the life of your wayward child, and

(3) He is with your child. You can trust God because He is a sovereign and compassionate God.

 

The Chronicles of Narnia, these wonderful children’s stories about the magical land of Narnia. In the second book, Prince Caspian, Lucy enters Narnia again and sees Aslan, the great lion. She has not seen him in a long, long time, and so they have a wonderful reunion. Lucy says to Aslan, “Aslan, you’re bigger now.” Aslan says, “Lucy, that’s because you are older. You see, Lucy, every year that you grow, you will find me bigger.”

 

Hasn’t that been the case for many of you? For many of us, every year we grow spiritually, we find the Lord bigger in His faithfulness, His power, His sovereignty, and His compassion. Why? God is always bigger than you and I could ever ask or imagine (Eph 3:19-20). Do not forget these words: God always performs what He promises. You can trust Him today. And the promises that He has given you, you can depend on all the days of your life.

 

The embarrassing reruns of life

Some time ago, I read about a pastor that preaches a sermon series every year called “Summer Reruns.” Each summer, when the attendance plummets, he preaches his most popular sermons from the previous year. You could call this, “Pastor’s Greatest Hits.”

 

As we eyeball Genesis 20, you may feel that we are having our own summer reruns! If you have been studying with us, you are about to experience a strange sense of déjà vu. Previously, we looked at a very similar account in Genesis 12:10-20. In that passage, Abraham and Sarah devised a scheme to avoid problems with Pharaoh in Egypt. Abraham asked his wife to lie and tell the Pharaoh that she was his sister.

Now, eight chapters later, the names and places are changed but the results are nearly identical. This has led some to say it really was the same account recorded twice. Yet, clearly these are two different accounts. The reason we take up this second account is because it speaks to an issue that is relevant to all of us: recurring sin. Here, we see Abraham making the same mistake again.

 

These things should not surprise us. It parallels our own experience. Aren’t there things in your own life that dog you relentlessly? Are there sins that you have taken to the Lord and said, “Never again?” Only to find yourself returning to the Lord to confess the same sin again and again. It may have to do with substances (alcohol, drugs, food). It may have to do with interpersonal relationships (gossip, anger, slander). It may be physical (some habit you can’t shake). It may be mental (lust, anger, bitterness, resentment). It may have to do with money (debt, a lust for the material, a reluctance to give to the Lord). It may have to do with time management (wasting time, neglecting time for God). Whatever the sin, I suspect you don’t have to look very far to find one or two that you struggle with constantly. Today, in Genesis 20, we will look at how to move toward victory in the embarrassing reruns of life.

 

Moses begins our account in 20:1: “Now Abraham journeyed from there [Mamre] toward the land of the Negev (cf. 12:9-10), and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar.” As we begin, we must ask the obvious question: Why did Abraham leave Mamre (cf. 18:1)? While no reason for Abraham’s move is given, it would seem that God pouring out burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah had some effect on Abraham’s ability to raise his great herds of cattle (cf. 21:22-34). Despite the logic of Abraham’s move, there is no indication that God led this decision. Apparently, once again, he took matters into his own hands and moved ahead of God. I don’t know about you but when I’ve made decisions apart from the will of God, I have invariably suffered for it. Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” In his journeying, Abraham “sojourned in Gerar.” Gerar is the capital city of the Philistines. It is hostile, enemy territory. This would be comparable to an American going into Iraq. The stage is set for trouble.

 

In 20:2, “Abraham said of Sarah his wife, ‘She is my sister.’ So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.” Why did Abraham repeat the same mistake again (cf. 12:11-13)? He was concerned about his own personal safety. He feared that because of Sarah’s beauty he would be killed, and she would be taken as a wife by violence. Quite simply, Abraham feared man more than he feared God.

 

In Matthew 10:28 Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” We can all find ourselves in situations where we are motivated by fear. Yet, God longs for us to exercise faith in Him. As the old adage says, “Those that fear God most are least afraid of men.”

 

Of course, the fear of man is merely a symptom of a core issue: unbelief. Abraham refused to trust God. If he had trusted God, he would have recognized that God was capable of protecting both he and Sarah. Abraham had a track record with God. Twenty-five years earlier, God saved him from the hand of Pharaoh (12:17-20). In this situation, Abraham did not act out of ignorance, but rather out of unbelief. Abraham’s response is all the more disheartening since he has just been told that Sarah will give birth to the miracle-child (17:16; 18:10). Now he risks the birth of the child by letting Sarah be taken into the harem of another pagan king (cf. 12:15). Behind the staging of human history is Satan himself, attempting through Abraham’s unbelief and fear to foil God’s plan for a promised deliverer—Jesus Christ!

Interestingly, the information Abraham gave was totally factual. Sarah was his half-sister. But it wasn’t the whole truth. Abram’s intent was clearly to deceive (cf. Lev 19:11). He was trusting in his deception to protect him instead of trusting in the Lord (Prov 3:5-6).

The problems with lying:

o   First, it makes it easier to do the next time. Abraham has already pulled the same stunt with Pharaoh of Egypt twenty-five years earlier (12:13). One would think that the disgrace Abraham experienced in Egypt would have cured him. But he has not faced his proneness to needless deceit and his inconsideration towards Sarah. Abraham is compromising his character and integrity. This will make it tougher to trust his word in the future.

 

o   Second, it affects and influences others around us. The sad reality is we can pass on our character flaws to our children. Abraham lied about his wife on two occasions in order to protect his own life. These events happened before his son Isaac was born. Yet, later in Genesis, Abraham’s son, Isaac, pulls this exact same stunt with his wife Rebekah and Abimelech’s grandson (26:1-3, 7). Furthermore, he undoubtedly damaged his relationship with Sarah. What message does Abraham send to Sarah as he willingly lets her go to the home of another man knowing full well what the man’s intentions are? Sin brings negative consequences. Some are external, some are internal; some are public, some are private. God does not allow His children to sin without consequence.

 

o   Third, it brings a reproach to the name of God. Abraham’s lie and subsequent exposure is an embarrassment to the name of God. Abraham compromised his ability to testify and minister in Gerar. He was supposed to bring blessing to the world…but here he is bringing judgment on them. If you are going to claim to be a Christian, please don’t dishonor that name by being a habitual liar. Honesty is not the best policy; it’s the only policy. Always remember: You may be the only Bible your friends and family ever read…and they expect you to be a person of integrity. Remember these sobering words: Integrity takes years to establish and only a moment to destroy.

In 20:3, God begins a dialogue with Abimelech. Moses records these terrifying words: “But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, ‘Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married.’” Now a dream like this will get your attention! Abimelech learns the truth about Sarah from God Himself! But what’s funny is God sounds like Guido from Jersey or Vinny from Philly. He’s going to knock Abimelech off! He’s going to “wack” him. God doesn’t play games (see Heb 10:31).

 

The reason God is so abrupt and dead serious (pardon the pun) is because He places a very high premium on marital fidelity (Lev 20:22Deut 22:22). Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (see also Prov 6:27-29). Do you hold your marriage in this same high regard? How are you protecting your marriage?

 

In 20:4a, Moses, offers a brief parenthetical comment: “Now Abimelech had not come near her.” Moses wants his readers to understand that Abimelech appears to be more righteous than Abraham. How convicting! Don’t you just hate it when sinners are more righteous than saints? After this interlude, Abimelech says, “‘Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this’” (20:4b-5). I feel for Abimelech. Two believers deceived him. Nevertheless, he did sin even though he did so unknowingly. This lets us know that sin can be committed when there is no knowledge of it and no sinful intentions. Sin is an objective matter; it is not just a question of intention. This means, we can’t say, “I didn’t mean to” or “I wasn’t aware of what I did.”

 

This is why it is so important to practice 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When we confess (lit., “say the same thing as God”) those sins that we are aware of, God cleanses us from all unrighteousness (i.e., those sins that we are unaware of—sins of omission).

 

Some have suggested that Sarah was not responsible for this sin since she was being submissive to Abraham. However, submission has its limits—we must always obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). In the biblical chain-of-command, God’s revealed will is supreme, and it overrules all other levels of authority if they are in direct conflict with God’s Word. So Sarah is guilty of disobeying God. When we obey our spouse or employer in violation of God’s Word, we are guilty of disobedience.

 

In 20:6, God seems to understand Abimelech’s plight so He gives him a chance to get out of his sticky situation: “Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.” The Lord says literally, “I, even I, kept you from sinning against Me.” Moses records this for emphasis. The Lord Himself preserved Abimelech. He restrained his normal sexual impulses. In this, God demonstrates His sovereign ability to protect Sarah and Abraham. When God’s promise of a son is eventually fulfilled, it will be clear that it was God that did the work both morally and physically. Truly, all of God’s purposes are achieved by the grace of God.

 

In 20:7, God says, “Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” Don’t you love how God gives options? Option #1: Give Sarah back and live (see Ezek 33:14-16). Option #2: Keep Sarah and die—you and everyone in your family! This is the character and nature of God. He extends grace and mercy but if we refuse to obediently respond, He offers another option. It’s as if God graciously says, “Okay, you can have it your way.”

 

Before moving on, notice God’s amazing grace: He instructed the deceiver to pray for the deceived! This must have left Abimelech shaking his head. How could Abraham be a liar and at the same time a man of God to whom Abimelech must go to receive healing and salvation? Answer: God uses sinful people to accomplish His purposes. This can be seen in the fact that while Abraham was not eager to talk about his faith to Abimelech, God was not reluctant to own Abraham as a person and a prophet. Why didn’t God keep His relationship to Abraham quiet? Wouldn’t the poor testimony of Abraham drive Abimelech away from God? Apparently, God has such confidence in Himself and His grace that He can still use broken vessels like Abraham and you and me. God does not withdraw His grace because of our failure.

 

It is so common to think that God will love us more if we perform some great work, some external achievement. But the Bible focuses on making a great heart. Here God was working with Abraham to create an unusual dependence upon Him. He does the same with us today.

 

The question of the hour is: Will Abimelech take God’s threat seriously? You better believe it! After God obliterated Sodom and Gomorrah, Abimelech knew not to mess with God. Moses writes, “So Abimelech arose early in the morning and called all his servants and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were greatly frightened” (20:8). Abimelech must have called up his secretary and said, “Cancel all my appointments, God says, ‘I’m a dead man!’” Like the sailors and the king of Nineveh in the book of Jonah (1:16; 3:6-9), the Philistines responded quickly and decisively to God’s warning. Like Jonah, however, Abraham in this narrative was a reluctant prophet.

 

In 20:9-10, the pagan preaches to the prophet. These two verses are dripping with irony. Abimelech calls Abraham and says, “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.’ And Abimelech said to Abraham, ‘What have you encountered, that you have done this thing?’” Abimelech asks Abraham three questions. The most important question is the final one. “Why?” As a parent I have frequently asked the same question in many different forms. “Why?” “What was your reason for doing this?” “What were you thinking?” “What was going through your brain?” Can you imagine what Abimelech is thinking at this moment? You’ve got to be kidding me? I almost lost my life because two believers pulled the wool over my eyes? Unbelievable!

This must have been a humiliating experience for Abraham—this man of faith, this great patriarch of the saints, this friend of God, to be confronted over his ungodly deception. Abraham had not only done what was wrong in the eyes of God, but even in the eyes of pagans. Abraham who was to be a source of blessing (12:2-3) had instead become a source of stumbling and suffering for the people of Gerar.

A grievous truth is: Often non-Christians are more moral than Christians. The Christian community has come up with Christian Yellow Pages in the hope that we can support fellow believers, yet often these believers are not ethical or hardworking. If you are a Christian business man or woman, please be a person of integrity for your sake, for our sake, and most importantly, for the sake of Christ.

 

One last tip: If an unbeliever ever rebukes you, you better listen! At least ask the question: Is what he or she is saying about me true? God does speak through unbelievers. And He usually does so as a means of humbling us. So don’t assume that because your boss, neighbor, or relative is an unbeliever that God can’t speak through him or her.

In 20:11-16, the dialogue shifts from God and Abimelech to Abraham and Abimelech. You would think that Abraham would be in a state of full-scale repentance. But there is no indication that he acknowledged or repented of his sin. In three verses Abraham justifies his deception with three rationalizations. First, he says, “Because I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife” (20:11). Abraham “thought.” He didn’t talk with God. He didn’t seek counsel. Rather, he excuses his sinful deception by saying there was no fear of God in Gerar. But the real problem was that the fear of God wasn’t in Abraham! What bitter irony! We must be careful not to judge people on appearances. Often, the ungodly are not as ungodly as one might think and the godly are not as godly as one might think.

 

Abraham jumped the gun and made a judgment error. He then tries to imply that it was an honest mistake—“no big deal.” We’re good at this one, aren’t we? We try to sidestep responsibility by pointing to our upbringing (that’s just the way I am), or by blaming the media (they are always planting sinful thoughts in my head). The truth is that we are responsible for our own decisions. Abraham may have made his decision based on a faulty premise but he was responsible for the faulty premise!

Second, in 20:12, Abraham says, “Besides, she actually is my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife.” I can just picture Abraham stuttering and stammering to get these words out. Yet, this explanation is not even helpful and it is totally confusing. What Abraham is saying is, “Look, technically I didn’t lie.” He tries to defend himself by technicalities but not by truthfulness. But a half-truth, said with intent to deceive, is always a whole lie.

 

How often do you allow people to draw the wrong conclusions or impressions by withholding evidence? Do you want to give the impression you are spiritual when you are not? Do you try to appear happy when your heart is breaking? Do you try to look sophisticated when you are desperate and despondent? Faith is facing up to reality and dealing openly with others, even when the truth may appear to put you in jeopardy or may make you vulnerable.

Lastly, Abraham even blames God for his vulnerable condition. In 20:13a, he says, “And it came about, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house.” The implication is that if God had not told him to leave his father’s house, he would have never ended up in Abimelech’s kingdom. If he had never arrived in Abimelech’s kingdom, he would have never lied. “Therefore, it’s not my fault, it’s really God’s fault.” Whether we are conscious of it or not, we often blame God for the sins we commit. Lord, if only You…

 

To make matters worse, in 20:13b we learn that Abraham coerced Sarah into his deception. He said to Sarah, “This is the kindness which you will show to me: everywhere we go, say of me, ‘He is my brother.’” Ladies, Abe used one of the oldest lines in the book—literally! “If you really love me…” We do this today.

 

If you love me, you’ll sleep with me! If you love me, you’ll lie to the IRS when the auditor comes!

If you love me, you’ll understand my need to play the field! If you love me, you’ll tell the boss I’m sick.

If you love me, you’ll put me ahead of God!

 

Yet, this is in contradiction to the message of the Bible. God loves us with an unconditional and everlasting love and He expects us to love one another with His love (John 13:34-35; 15:12).

 

The irony continues in 20:14-16: “Abimelech then took sheep and oxen and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and restored his wife Sarah to him. Abimelech said, ‘Behold, my land is before you; settle wherever you please.’ [cf. 13:8-9] To Sarah he said, ‘Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, it is your vindication before all who are with you, and before all men you are cleared.’” Abimelech gave sheep, oxen, and servants to Abraham. In showing generosity to Abraham, Abimelech was heaping burning coals on Abraham’s head (Rom 12:20). Abraham should have been giving gifts to Abimelech, because he was in the wrong. Instead, it was Abimelech who was generous (cf. 12:16). By God’s grace, Abraham did not receive punishment but plunder. Wherever he went, whatever he did, Abraham stood under God’s protection and blessing.

 

During this exchange, I wish I could have seen Sarah’s face and read her mind. She must have been thinking: a house, a car, and a few million bucks. I’m staying with Abimelech. He honors me. He respects me. He doesn’t call me his sister and try to give me away to other men. Husbands, even the greatest man of God can treat his wife poorly.

Our passage closes with these remarkable words: “Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children. For the LORD had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife” (20:17-18). What a humbling experience it must have been for Abraham to intercede on behalf of Abimelech. A deep sense of unworthiness must have come over him. It was surely not his righteousness, which was the basis for divine healing. Any time that we are used of God, it is solely because of the grace of God.

 

As we close, please notice one last thing. God reopens the wombs of the women of Gerar but He has not yet granted fertility to Abraham’s own wife. God is more concerned with the growth and development of individual believers than He is certain aspects of our lives moving forward. He wants to perfect our faith through the trials and tests of life (2 Cor 4:16-18Jas 1:2-41 Pet 1:6-9).

 

Sometimes when a horse is learning how to jump over fences, it comes to one that it refuses to jump. It sticks its ears back and its nose down; it digs its hooves in, and will not jump. What do you do in those circumstances? You walk the horse around for a while to calm it down, and then you take it right back to the same fence. If necessary you do it over and over again until finally the horse sails over the fence, as it should.

Abraham needed to learn that God can be trusted to take care of him. He needed to learn that lesson well, because there would be an exam, a test of his faith, coming up (see 22:1-19). God would take him back to the same hurdle over and over again, so that he would be prepared to jump over it with flying colors.

 

This is also true for us. Today, you may feel like giving up. Repeated failures always tempt us to give up. But that is exactly what the devil wants us to do! Therefore, focus on the goal and not the obstacles. Remind yourself that growth takes time. If you have children, you remember when they first learned to walk. How often they would fall. Sometimes they banged their head. Other times they cut their lip. But one thing is certain…they kept getting up.

We need that same kind of focus as we learn to walk by faith. There will be falls. There will be times of frustration but keep getting up! When you have drifted, come back to the Lord. When you have sinned, confess it. When you have fallen, get back up and begin again. The holy life is worth pursuing with every ounce of strength we have. May the reruns of your life be days of faithfully seeking the Lord.

Sin and the city

How many of you would like to get a tan this summer? In our society, there’s something culturally attractive about having a deep, dark tan. But here’s a sad reality. Noted dermatologist Michael Kalman warns, “Today’s deeply tanned beauties are tomorrow’s wrinkled prunes.” (Now, I’m sure he means that with all due respect.) If we’re aware at all of the research being done on the sun’s rays and the sensitivity of our skin, we know that we may one day pay a price for looking good.

 

Sin is like getting a tan. It may look and feel great today, but tomorrow it can bring consequences. In Genesis 19, we are going to be scorched with the insanity of sin! In this chapter, we will learn about the depravity of man, the judgment of God, and the failure of believers.

 

Our story begins in 19:1-3: “Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. And he said, ‘Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant’s house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way.’ They said however, ‘No, but we shall spend the night in the square.’ Yet he urged them strongly, so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he prepared a feast for them, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.” Verse 1 informs us that two angels came to Sodom “in the evening.” The evening scene is deliberately contrasted with the noontime scene when Abraham met these same angels (cf. 18:1). These angels approached Lot at the “gate of Sodom.” The city gate was the place where the civic leaders met to finalize legal and business transactions. It was a place of prominence and influence. The implication is Lot had achieved not only his material goals but also his social and political ambitions. He had arrived! Yet, at this moment he was not aware of what his earthly success would eventually cost him.

 

Keep in mind, Lot started well. In Genesis 12:4, he was a faithful member of Abraham’s entourage and trekked the full 800 miles from Ur to Canaan. Unfortunately, when Abraham selflessly presented Lot with a choice of land, he selfishly chose the lush land. Thus, he went from looking toward Sodom (13:10), to pitching his tent toward Sodom (13:12), to living in Sodom (14:12), to eventually becoming an important leader in Sodom. Lot could be a poster boy for spiritual compromise. The fact that Lot had worked his way up to become one of Sodom’s leading citizens indicates that he was no longer a threat to their immoral way of life. The people of Sodom must have said, “Lot, we like you. You were smart to give up that nomadic existence because you have the gifts of leadership that we need here. And because you are a shrewd man, we’re willing to give you a place of honor at the city gate.”

 

Take note: You do not get honored in Sodom unless you have decided to be quiet about your faith. If you are so well thought of by the world that you compromise your testimony, you have paid too much for your success. If everyone likes you, you’re probably a quiet Christian. You may be like the Artic River, frozen over at the mouth. But if you talk about Jesus Christ and are willing to lovingly call sin “SIN,” I can assure you that you’re not going to be popular with everyone. Always beware of a politician who is popular and well liked across the board—that usually means he or she stands for nothing. The same is true with a Christian.

In 19:2-3, Lot invited these visitors into his home. When they refused his invitation, Lot “urged them strongly” to enter his home. Lot would not take “no” for an answer. He did some major arm-twisting until they said “yes.” Lot knew the wickedness of his city (cf. Judg 19:18-20). Undoubtedly, he had witnessed the abusive behavior of his fellow Sodomites toward other unsuspecting visitors.

So he insisted that these two angels in disguise spend the night in his home. Unfortunately, if Lot had hoped his guests had entered his home unnoticed, he was tragically mistaken.

In 19:4-7: “Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and oldall the people from every quarter; and they called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them.’ But Lot went out to them at the doorway, and shut the door behind him, and said, ‘Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly.’” In 19:4, Moses attempts to emphasize that every man and boy in Sodom is dangerous and wicked. This seems over the top. After all, most little boys do not practice homosexual rape. How was the perversion so widespread? We may not like the answer. Evidently, the older men discipled the children in sexual deviance. Undoubtedly, there was sexual abuse in the home that caused the little boys to respond like they did. This tragic storyline continues today. In the US, one in three girls and one in four boys has been sexually abused before they reach the age of eighteen! Consequently, we live in a sexually confused society. Men, you can model and disciple your boys in purity or perversion. The choice is yours. However, if you choose the latter, your boys will turn into young men with all kinds of addictions that will alter their lives forever. Today, choose to intentionally model and disciple your boys (and girls) in purity.

Sodom and Gomorrah have become a proverbial symbol of wickedness, perversion, and moral depravity.

 

In 18:16-33, I addressed some unfamiliar sins that Sodom was guilty of: arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease that resulted in being unconcerned about the poor and needy (Isa 1:10, 17Ezek 16:49-50). Yet the Scriptures also mention that they were guilty of rejecting God’s Word (Luke 10:8-12), adultery, lying, and abetting the criminal (Jer 23:14), and here homosexual perversion (Ezek 16:44-59Jude 6-72 Pet 2:6-7). Thus, this passage and several others clearly identify the practice of homosexuality as sinful (e.g., Lev 18:22; 20:13Rom 1:21-271 Cor 6:9-101 Tim 1:8-10). God’s original intent has not changed. From the very beginning, God ordained marriage between one man and one woman (Gen 1:27; 2:24). However, we must be careful not to imply that homosexuality is the vilest sin. From God’s perspective, sin is sin. That means the adulterer, the pornographer, the gossip, and the slanderer are just as guilty.

 

In 19:8, Lot responds to the Sodomites with a startling suggestion: “Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof.” This offer is horrible and cannot be justified. We understand it a little more when we consider the low place of women in the pre-Christian world and the very high place of any guest in your home. It was understood a guest was to be protected more than your own family. However, Lot’s response is sick and wrong. I don’t have two daughters, I have one and I cannot even fathom what Lot is saying here. How could a father even make such a statement? It is against reason, against nature, and against love. It is against everything a father believes. How could a father make such an offer? The only answer I find to be reasonable is that sin is insane. Even though Lot believed in God, he had been contaminated by the culture in which he lived. He did something he thought he would never do because sin is insane.

 

We have all had similar experiences. Have you ever said, “Well, Lord, I want You to forgive me for this sin. I have really struggled in this area of my life. I promise You that I will never do it again.” We have all made similar commitments. Guess what we did? We walked right out the door and fell in to that area of sin again. It doesn’t make sense—sin is insane! It doesn’t operate on logical, rational principles.

In this context, Lot (a believer) says, “You homosexuals (unbelievers) are wicked; here, rape my girls!” We’re often just as crooked as the unbelievers. The world mocks us because of all the hypocrisy they see in the church…and even in our lives. Their response to us is, “The Catholic priests are pedophilias.

The mega- church pastors are involved in this or that. There are scandals everywhere. We don’t claim to be Christians. Yet, you do and you’re hypocrites.”

This verse should remind us to be especially humble and gracious as we interact with unbelievers. Peter aptly said that judgment begins first with the household of God (1 Pet 4:17). We need to take the log out of our own eye (Matt 7:3).

 

Fortunately, the sick Sodomites did not take Lot up on his offer. Rather, they told him to, “‘Stand aside.’ Furthermore, they said, ‘This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them.’ So they pressed hard against Lot and came near to break the door. But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. They struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves trying to find the doorway” (19:9-11). Lot may have had a degree of political power, but his spiritual influence was pathetic. The men of Sodom identified him as “an alien.” Instead of being the salt of the earth, Lot had become tasteless and was good for nothing, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. Ironically, the two angels prevented Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:13 from being fulfilled in their midst. As the men of Sodom were trying to break down the door, the two angels grabbed Lot, shut the door, and struck the perverts with blindness.

 

In 19:12-14, Moses writes, “Then the two men said to Lot, ‘Whom else have you here? A son-in-law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the LORD that the LORD has sent us to destroy it.’ Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, ‘Up, get out of this place, for the LORD will destroy the city.’ But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting.” In those twilight hours before sunrise, we can only imagine Lot’s frantic effort to convince his own family of God’s impending judgment. But because of his spiritual compromise, only his wife and two daughters were able to leave the city. Compromise had destroyed his testimony. In fact, Lot had lost such credibility with his sons-in-law that they treated his message as a joke. 

 

Notice that we are not told that they refused to believe Lot so much as they did not even take him seriously. There seems to be only one possible explanation: Lot had never mentioned his faith before. His words were not a repetition of his lifelong warnings of sin and judgment—they are something totally new and novel. What a rebuke to the witness of Lot. It is one thing to warn men and have them reject our message. It is far worse for them not even to consider our words as spoken seriously. The most serious moment of Lot’s life was ridiculed by his children, who in effect said, “Dad, you can’t be for real! You’re a joke!”  This is logical, though. When you possess a tasteless testimony, your family is always the first to pick up on it! Do you have a sense of urgency when it comes to spiritual matters? Do your children and loved ones know that you are dead serious about escaping God’s wrath? Do they know that you are banking everything on the person and work of Christ?

 

In 19:15-16, Moses writes, “When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.’ But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the LORD was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city.” Verse 15 strikes me so funny because the angels command Lot with the word “up.” The angels warn Lot. They tell him there are great consequences for sin but he delays responding to God. One would think that Lot would have been so overcome with gratefulness that he would have immediately obeyed the command to flee for the mountains; but urban life had its icy fingers around his throat. Lot was so attached to this present world of family, friends, power, and material things that he just could not bear the thought of leaving it all behind (see 1 John 2:15-17). He felt more secure inside an evil city than outside of it with God.

 

Yet, God still exercises His “compassion” and delivers Lot. What a reminder to you and me that deliverance or salvation and Christian growth is dependent upon God’s mercy (Titus 3:5).

 

In 19:17-23 the account continues, “When they had brought them outside, one said, ‘Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away.’ [See Luke 9:62.] ‘Oh no, my lords! Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die; now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved.’ He said to him, ‘Behold, I grant you this request also, not to overthrow the town of which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there, for I cannot do anything until you arrive there.’ Therefore the name of the town was called Zoar.” Lot is saying, “I’ll run out of Vegas, but can I run to Reno.” He just can’t shake the city life. Lot flees temptation and then leaves a forwarding address. Amazingly, the angels give Lot over to his sinful behavior (Rom 1:24, 26, 28). This is yet another example of how divine grace, not human righteousness is the basis of God’s deliverance.

 

In 19:24-25, “The sun had risen over the earth when Lot came to Zoar. [The sun motif is an Old Testament picture of God’s salvation.] Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. In the midst of God’s deliverance, we see His judgment. Three times in these two verses, Moses points to God’s sovereign initiative and judgment in obliterating these cities. He did this…it was the work of His hands. Yet, many Christians like to say, “I am a Christian, but I’m not the “fire and brimstone” type. The problem with this statement is the Bible is full of God’s judgment. Thus, whether we like it or not, we must be “fire and brimstone” Christians. God is a God of judgment.

 

In 19:26, we come across an intriguing verse: “But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” The Hebrew verb translated “looked back” signifies an intense gaze, not a passing glance (cf. 19:17). Furthermore, in Luke 17:28-32, Jesus implies that Lot’s wife returned to Sodom: “It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back. ‘Remember Lot’s wife.’” She lost her life because of her reluctance to let go of her household stuff. She was a wife after Lot’s own heart. Her sorrow over her goods so fixated her that she could not or would not move. Perhaps she decided that she would be better dead than separated from her possessions. Ethan Allen furnishings and Nordstrom’s attire consumed her. Ladies, is this a struggle for any of you? If it is, remember that all that Lot and his wife had gained by living in Sodom burned up like wood, hay, and stubble (cf. 1 Cor 3:10-15).

 

By the way, Mrs. Lot’s family never saw it happen. They had obeyed the warning about not looking behind them. Not until later did they realize what had occurred. There’s a definite lesson here about running from wrong: Even if others are disobedient, you must be obedient!

 

In 19:27-29, Moses provides a parenthetical comment for us. “Now Abraham arose early in the morning and went to the place where he had stood before the LORD; and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the valley, and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace. Thus it came about, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot lived.”

 

The substitution of Abraham for Lot in the phrase: “God remembered Abraham,” (19:29; cf. 8:1) makes an important theological point. Lot was not saved on his own merits but through Abraham’s intercession. This is the second time Lot owes his life to his uncle (cf. 14:12-14). Previously, he was delivered from capture and now from death. Abraham prays and then trusts the Lord with the results. God hears and answers prayers.

 

We are to rescue those who have sold out to Sodom. We are to rescue those who are entrenched in their sin. There are two ways we must do this: Pray and act. Lot wasn’t destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah because of Abraham’s prayer (18:16-33; 19:27-29). It was James who said that the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (Jas 5:16). In amazing fashion, God sovereignly used Abraham to accomplish His own purpose to save Lot. God loves to work through the prayers of His people. So who are you presently praying for God to rescue?

In 19:30-38, Moses records this tragic conclusion. “Lot went up from Zoar, and stayed in the mountains, and his two daughters with him; for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; and he stayed in a cave, he and his two daughters. Then the firstborn said to the younger, ‘Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him that we may preserve our family through our father.’ So they made their father drink wine that night, and the firstborn went in and lay with her father; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.

 

On the following day, the firstborn said to the younger, ‘Behold, I lay last night with my father; let us make him drink wine tonight also; then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve our family through our father.’ So they made their father drink wine that night also, and the younger arose and lay with him; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father. [There is tragic irony in this section. In 19:8, Lot had offered his two virgin daughters to be victimized by the perverts of Sodom. Now later in the same account, these same daughters victimize a drunk Lot who carried out the very act which he himself had suggested to the men of Sodom—he lay with his own daughters.] The firstborn bore a son, and called his name Moab; he is the father of the Moabites to this day. As for the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Ben-ammi; he is the father of the sons of Ammon to this day.” Nine months later, Lot became a father and a grandfather at the same time. These two nations were born of this incestuous relationship. While God dealt kindly with these nations because of their relationship to Abraham (Deut 2:19), they were a continual source of grief and conflict to Abraham and his descendants. Zephaniah 2:9 informs us that eventually, these nations would suffer the same judgment as Sodom and Gomorrah.

This account is one of the most graphic and repulsive in the Scriptures. Why does Moses include it in Genesis? For two reasons:

o   First, to reveal the consequences of sin. Moab and Ammon provide the worst carnal seduction in the history of Israel (i.e., Baal-Peor, Num 25) and the cruelest religious perversion (i.e., Molech, Lev 18:21).

 

o   Second, to demonstrate that the spiritual shallowness of parents is often duplicated and amplified in their children. Evidently, trusting in God didn’t even occur to them. This is another indictment against Lot’s failed spiritual leadership. His daughters simply mirrored the spiritual compromise of their father. Lot was able to take his daughters out of Sodom, but he was not able to take Sodom out of his daughters.

 

Later in Israel’s history, the tribes of Moab and Ammon cause numerous problems for the people of God, even to becoming the enemies of God’s people (as such they at one time were barred from entry into the assembly of the Lord for ten generations, cf. Deut 23:3). The Moabites and the Ammonites also became idol worshippers and even led the Israelites astray into idolatry (cf. 1 Kings 11:33). Yet, strangely, God at times protects the interests of the Moabites and the Ammonites (cf. Deut 2:9, 19, 37), perhaps because of His regard for Lot, the ancestor of those two nations—and God permits Moabite blood to be part of the line of the Messiah (cf. Ruth 1:4-5; 4:13, 17). But in time, God uses what was evil for good as only He can (50:20). Eventually, out of the lineage of the godless Moabite race came a woman named Ruth, and subsequently Jesus Christ (Ruth 4:18-22Matt 1:5).

 

Desperation and fear can make us do sinful things. Yet, we are not much different than Lot’s daughters. Have you ever said to God, “I must have a husband (or a wife) for my life to be meaningful”—or “I must have children,” or “I must have a career,” or “I must have good health,” or whatever? If there is anything in your life that you must have, apart from God, then it is your idol. When push comes to shove and you have to choose between serving your idol and serving God, then you will find out where your real commitment lies.

 

At this point, it is natural to ask: Is Lot a saint or an “ain’t?” (I know this isn’t proper.) The answer is: he is a “tainted saint.” In 2 Pet 2:7-8, the apostle Peter calls Lot “righteous” three times in two verses. If he had not emphasized this fact, no one would believe Lot was saved. While Lot was righteous, there is very little or no fruit evident in his life. This is an example of a believer that will be saved yet as through fire (1 Cor 3:15)—he will be saved but singed. The life of Lot shows us that it is possible to have a saved soul and a wasted life.

 

How many of us are like Lot? We’re Christians, yes. But we also want to have our part of the world. We must have our slice of the action. We feel that we can’t possibly give it up completely; that would be simply too great a cost to bear. So, like Lot, we seek instead to do our best in a hopelessly compromised situation, trying to maintain dual citizenship in the world and in heaven.

 

Believer, sin is insane! It deceives, then defiles, and then destroys. If God is calling you to forsake sin today, respond to Him before irreparable damage occurs.