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Topic: “Genesis”

The End of the Beginning

I am making an ongoing discipline out of writing up reflections on my devotions—hopefully a majority of the days each week. This is one of those posts.

Tonight I came to the end of the book of Genesis. (I would have done so last week, had I not gotten sick. Alas.) The last four chapters of the book range from the proasic details of Joseph’s dealings with the Pharaoh and the Egyptian people to the poetic content of Jacob’s blessings for his sons. As far as conclusions go, the book ends, but there is not exactly a sense of denouement: Jacob dies, and then Joseph dies; this part of the story is at an end, but there are so very many promises unfulfilled. Indeed, the ending is something of a cliff-hanger for the attentive reader, who will have in the back of his or her head Yahweh’s promises to Abraham—both that his offspring would inherit Canaan and that first they would be slaves in a different nation. There are other promises, too: of the “offspring” (or “seed”) of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head, of future kingship in Judah’s line, of blessings not only to Abraham’s family but also to the nations.

There are a few passages that highlight the God at work throughout the book as this first section of the Torah comes to a close. Jacob, blessing Joseph’s sons, speaks of Yahweh: “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, / the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, / the angel who has redeemed me from all evil…” Jacob began his journey speaking of God wholly as his father’s God, surprised to find him still present far from his family’s worship. He ended his journey aware that the God of his fathers had watched over him from Canaan to Padan Aram and back again, and then on the trek down into Egypt. Yahweh was no longer only his father’s and grandfather’s God, but his God.1

Finally, of course, one cannot—or at least, ought not!—pass over these chapters without stopping to read Jacob’s blessing on Judah very carefully:

Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth whiter than milk.
(Genesis 49:9–12)

This language is evocative in its own right, but how it grows in power as one considers the rest of the Scriptures! The glimpses of fulfillment that come in David and Solomon—too quickly shattered by their fallenness and foibles, and then wrecked almost entirely in the kings that followed in their wake—only make the longing for the real king that much stronger. And right here is the font of so much imagery throughout the rest of the scriptures, both of messianic hope and fearful judgment. It is hard to read of garments washed in wine and in the blood of grapes without thinking of sin staining Christ on our behalf and the pure white garments he has given us instead.

If Genesis ends with the conclusion unwritten, bidding us look forward into Exodus to see what will come next, this particular prophecy still bids us look forward to see what will come next. Jesus has filled it up with meaning, and the Revelation gives us a glimpse of how he will fill it up finally—but that ultimate reality of “the obedience of the peoples” awaits our proclamation of the gospel to the ends of the earth and his coming again to reign in glory. Genesis looks forward; and so do we.

Maranatha. Lord, come soon.

  1. I believe this is also this very first time that the image of God-as-shepherd appears in the Bible. The way the Pentateuch in general and Genesis specifically establishes the baseline for the rest of the Scriptures is nothing short of amazing: this kind of internal unity and consistency is hard to come by from a single author—still less the dozens who authored the Bible. 

Jacob, Leah, Rachel—This Is A Mess

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

I have ten minutes tonight, so this is going to be a quick (and probably short) set of reflections. I got to Genesis 29 and 30 this evening, and read them together since the former flows neatly into the latter. The short version is: Jacob and his family are a mess, right from the start. If it wasn’t bad enough the way Jacob left his own family, it quickly becomes apparent that things with Laban won’t be any better—indeed, they’ll be worse.

Jacob falls in love with Rachel, makes a deal with her father than he can marry her if he works for seven years. Two thoughts: (1) that’s serious dedication; (2) I wonder how Rachel felt about the whole thing. Jacob finishes the seven years, Laban throws a party, and then Jacob and Rachel go to bed. Er, except that it’s Leah. One of my favorite lines in the Old Testament, here: “And in the morning, behold, it was Leah!” (Genesis 29:25). I’m married, and I’m really not quite sure how that worked.

Growing up, I was always under the impression that Jacob then had to work another 7 years before he got to have Rachel as his wife; as it turns out, he worked those 7 further years after having her as his wife. He had both Leah and Rachel as wives within a week of each other. To any guy that’s ever been tempted to think polygamy is a good idea, the rest of chapters 29–30 could be put here precisely to put that notion to rest. You know, with a bullet to the heart. What follows is a tale of sisters who clearly envy each other and see themselves in constant competition with one another, even using their maids as a way to get offspring for themselves.

Seriously: who does that? What woman says, “Here, go have sex with this other woman so that I can outdo my sister (with whom you are also sleeping) in our competition for having children?” Different culture, yes,1 but still: these people were a mess.

And that right there is one of the greatest comforts in Scripture to me. We have Abraham, the patriarch of the faith, followed by his son Isaac, who repeats his father’s mistakes and then gets outfoxed by his wife and son’s trickery. Then comes Jacob, who steals his brother’s blessing after tricking him out of his birthright, and the twelve sons who become the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel come out of the backbiting and jealousy between the two women he married. This is the cast of characters through whom God is planning to bring blessing to all the nations of the world.

There is a magnificent, beautiful gem that gives a hint of what is coming buried in the middle of this. Throughout all the jealousy, giving of maids, and so on, only once does someone stop and simply praise God: Leah, when Judah is born (Genesis 29:35). And where does that promised blessing come from, ultimately? The line of Judah—not the firstborn son, but the kid in the middle, who is the only one about whom there is no complaining or wheedling for more, just a simple bit of praise offered to Yahweh.

God is working his plan. Jacob’s family makes it clear that he can work it just fine with people who are a mess. And in the midst of that mess, the Messianic hope just keeps growing. Praise Yahweh.

  1. Given that Sarah uses the same tactic to try to bring about God’s promises with Abraham, it was obviously a thing that was done. It still doesn’t process to me. 

The Gospel in the Proverbs/Resurrection Twice

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for,
and by the fear of Yahweh one turns away from evil.
—Proverbs 16:6

Reading through the Proverbs, one finds gem after gem. (Indeed, the whole book is a collection thereof. That’s the point, after all.) This one particularly caught my attention tonight, though: it is as pithy a statement of the gospel as one could wish. Simple, straightforward, easy to understand, and embedded with more canonical weight than you could shake a stick at. “Steadfast love and faithfulness” are the marks of God’s covenant love throughout the Old Testament; these keywords from Exodus 34 are perhaps those most cited by the authors of the Old Testament. By Yahweh’s character-defining work, the author1 says, comes salvation. Fearing him is how we turn away from evil. When the apostles preached the gospel in the New Testament, they may not have used exactly these words,2 but this was their message: God acted in accord with his character and his covenant promises to bring salvation. Repent!

This one is going in my to-memorize list. It will be a good reminder for me as I go through my own life, and hopefully a helpful way of reminding others who God is and what he has done as well.

Reading through Matthew and Genesis in parallel is often illuminating; I expect I shall find the same to be true of other books as I continue on this path. Coming to chapter 22 of each book, I found Jesus answering his Pharisee and Sadducee opponents in the temple, and God testing Abraham by instructing him to sacrifice Isaac. At first glance, the passages could not seem less related, apart from the overt covenant themes and pointers in the Genesis passage. However, a bit more time made one particular connection stand out to me.

When Jesus answers the Sadducees on the resurrection (after their contrived question about seven brothers having had one woman as their wife with no children), he rather pointedly tells them that the reason they are wrong is that they “know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” Given the relative paucity of reference to resurrection from the dead in the Old Testament, his accusation is an interesting one (though of course he backs it up moments later by pointing to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of the living, not the dead). One of the many places the Sadducees should have seen that God will bring about resurrection is right in Genesis 22. As the author of Hebrews points out, Abraham went up that mountain in faith that the same God who had given him a son—in his old age, from his barren wife—could raise that same son from the dead if necessary to keep his promise.

The Sadducees should have seen it coming; all the pieces were there. But they knew neither God’s word, nor God himself. Given these were men who had spent their lives studying the Scriptures, this is a fearful warning to those of us who seek to know those same Scriptures.

God provided another way—not the child sacrifice so common in that day and age, but a substitute.3 Ultimately, he provided his own son, and raised him from the dead after sacrificing him on a mount. That which he did not ultimately require of Abraham, he gave himself. But Abraham’s faith was well-placed: God could have raised Isaac from the dead, and someday he will do just that. Someday he will raise us, too. But first of all, he raised his son. Hallelujah.

  1. Proverber? Proverbian? Proverbite? I’m taking suggestions in the comment thread. 
  2. This is one of the small curiosities that fascinates me about the authors of the New Testament and the divine superintendence of their work, and something I expect I’ll ask about when I get the chance: why is this central refrain of the Old Testament left unstated in the New? 
  3. Though the lamb Abraham promises Isaac never appears; it is a ram and not a lamb that takes Isaac’s place here. Curious… 

The Great and Humble God

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

He Saw Yahweh

In Genesis 18, Abraham has just finished following God’s instructions about circumcision. At 100 years old, he circumcised himself, along with his 13-year-old son and all his servants and the other members of his household, to obey this God who had called him from his homeland to a place where he would always be a sojourner, looking forward with hope to the homeland God had promised but which he himself would not inherit. (There is real obedience for you: embrace circumcision so that someone else will get the reward God promises…)

Then, sitting in the shade one hot afternoon, Abraham looks and sees Yahweh,1 standing there as a man he recognizes. At that point, this 100-year-old man (who, granted, lived to be 160 and therefore was probably like a man in his mid to late 50s physically) got up and ran to prepare a feast for his God. There are many interesting things in this passage, but most notable to me tonight was the way Yahweh came to Abraham and interacted with him throughout the passage. That is: he came as a man2 and ate with Abraham and spoke with him. Of course, he spoke prophetically about impossibilities that he was going to bring about; this condescension was not his ceasing to be God but his taking on a form so that Abraham could know him.

So here we have at once two concrete realities that continue to shape the reader’s expectations for what God will do in the future: the promise of a miraculous son born to bring about his promise, and Yahweh himself coming as a man to relate to his people.

Over the Waters

Coming after a series of prayerful Psalms, the 29th is a complete change in tone. Each of the Psalms preceding it are prayers for deliverance from evildoers and from Yahweh’s judgment on one’s own wickedness. Here, though, we have David calling on the heavenly host to ascribe to Yahweh all the glory he is due, and a crescendo of declarations of the power of Yahweh’s voice. This God of glory3 is over all, his voice thundering and shaking even the greatest things on this earth. He is worthy for the heavenly host to ascribe him glory and strength, to be worshipped in the splendor of holiness. He is enthroned in his temple; he sits as king forever.

And this is the God who walked with Abraham, who let Abraham challenge him and his judgments. The Judge of all the earth, whose powerful and majestic voice can cause an earthquake or strip the forest bare, has become one of us.

  1. This passage highlights one more reason why I prefer simply to use God’s self-revealed name: early on, Abraham calls him “lord,” but not “Lord,” which is simply confusing if you’re not paying close attention. 
  2. Apparently pre-incarnate Christ, semi- or pseudo-incarnate, which is curious, but not the point of the passage. 
  3. This relatively innocuous phrase, right in the middle of verse 3, has been one of the most important in my life. Five years ago, reading through the Psalms much as I am right now, the phrase leapt out at me, because I had no idea what it meant to describe Yahweh as the “God of glory.” A month later, my whole theological framework had been turned on its head, from the anthropocentric view that unfortunately characterizes too much evangelical theology, to a radically God-centered view that accords with the Scriptural picture of a God who is working all things for his own sake, and not because of us at all—though how greatly we benefit! 

One Day, Hopefully Soon

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Eschatology is a big word, but it’s an even bigger concept. The things to come —the things we do not yet see fully—are hard to grasp. Not so hard for us, perhaps, as they were for those who came before us. In Genesis 15, Abram1 received a number of promises. None of them were exactly easy to believe: here he was, closing in on a century old, and his always-barren wife in the same category,2 and God promises him a child from his own body. More than that, God promised him descendants that would outnumber the stars, or the sand on the seashore.

That promise has been fulfilled. In fact, it has been fulfilled doubly: first by the nation of Israel, in the course of her long history from Abraham to the time of Christ, and then through those many of us who have been grafted in since then. Just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6), so we have been counted righteous as we believe God, and now the number of those from the nations dwarfs even that of the Jews.

There is another promise there that wasn’t fulfilled, though—at least, not all the way. In verses 18–21, God promises Abram that his descendants will inherit a massive territory. Israel never did, though. The Hebrews’ national territory, relatively substantial though it was at its peak, certainly never made it anywhere near the Euphrates on its eastern edge. Some might take this an example of the Bible’s fallibility. I don’t; I take it instead as a picture of things yet to come.

This kind of eschatological situation is common in the Bible. A promise is made, and the fulfillment comes, but only in part, never wholly. Even the Messianic promises, which we often think of as fulfilled in Christ, remain incomplete. They found their first and partial fulfillment in his first coming, just as the promises to Abraham were fulfilled first, partially, in the nation of Israel, and then again more fully in the nations (you and me, unless you’re a Jewish convert), and then finally someday when Jesus returns and the New Jerusalem is here on earth.

It is not a stretch to say that “eschatological hope”—mouthful though the phrase may be—is one of the defining characteristics of Christians. We are the people of “already but not yet” who are incomparably glad of what God has already done and impossibly hopeful about what he will someday do.

The nation of Israel got a taste of what the final fulfillment will be like as Jesus walked among them. Matthew 15 reiterates what Matthew 11 first made clear: Jesus is the one who fulfills the promises of God’s final setting things to rights—the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. But they did not see it finished. Jesus did not heal every person on the earth; we still have the mute and crippled and lame and blind among us, and all of us yet will die.

But there will come a day when he comes back, and those promises to Abraham are fulfilled in their entirety at last, and the hopes engendered by a prophet offering healing in the first century in Israel are realized. No more tears, no more sorrow, and we will worship our King and enjoy unbroken fellowship with God and one another in the New Jerusalem.

Hallelujah. Lord, come soon.

  1. Not Abraham yet. That’s still a ways out. 
  2. Has it ever struck you as slightly curious that this old woman was so attractive that Abram kept worrying about her getting taken away from him— apparently rightly given that she gets taken as a concubine twice? 

Than Many Sparrows

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Note that there are two quite distinct sections to today’s post. Don’t think you’re done just because you got to the first ‘Hallelujah’!

Thinking Through Matthew 10 Again

As I told Jaimie tonight, I have long found Matthew 10:31 to be one of those verses that is simultaneously comforting and a little funny. There is simply something a touch odd about the way it comes through in English:

Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (ESV)

Even in translations which generally prioritize a smoother reading (rather than the more literalistic approach favored by e.g. the ESV, NASB, etc.), end up with a phrase that is just, well, a little funny to read:

So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (NIV2011)

As I worked through the surrounding chapter more carefully, though, the verse came home in a way that it never had before (even if I still think, and probably will always think, that it reads a little funny in English).

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out his twelve disciples1 to do the same kinds of work he had been doing: casting out demons, healing people of their diseases, cleansing lepers, and even raising people from the dead. The comments that follow were his commission statements to his disciples. These are, notably, not exactly the cheeriest commissioning statements one might think to offer: they include not only the strong implication that the disciples would be rejected, but the promise of persecution even from within one’s own family and an incredibly heightened sense of the cost of discipleship. Following Jesus and taking his name to the nations is not child’s play, but hard and costly work.

And it is in this context that we find the somewhat amusing quote cited above—specifically, as Jesus warns his disciples not to act out of fear of man. The context makes the sentence much more serious: Jesus has just said that they should not fear men, who can kill only the body, but should instead fear God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell. He follows the statement with the promise that he will acknowledge before the Father those who acknowledge him before men… and deny before the Father those who deny him before men. The word about the sparrows, then—the promise that God cares about even the sparrows, and so much more for his children—is an enormously comforting thought when situated as it is in its context of prophesied persecution and hardship for those who follow Christ.

I am worth more than many sparrows. Hallelujah: I can proclaim Christ without fear of man.

Genealogies Are Fun, Right?

I also read Genesis 10 today. This is one of those lists of names that we generally find boring and pointless. However, if we affirm the divine inspiration of Scripture—that is, if we really believe that the Holy Spirit superintended the composition of these books so that we have everything we need, and we need everything we have—then there is a reason that there are lists of names in the Bible. I can think of several immediately: First, they are important in many cultures, even if not our own, as markers of historicity and authenticity. Second, they serve as markers for the reality that God is and always has been aware of the minutiae of even our genealogies. Third, and perhaps most significantly, they are part of the framework by which God communicates his ongoing work in history, culminating in the lists of names that come early in both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel accounts. These are not mere random lists of names; they are part of the way God made sure that everyone could see that he kept his promise.

Tonight, I noticed one more of the tiny little pieces of Scripture that goes along with that. At the end of Genesis 10, Moses makes a neat little literary move that I had never caught before: he introduces the word “nations” into the narrative for the first time. Now, that might be mildly interesting if I didn’t know where things were going—but I do. I know that in just a matter of a few chapters, God will promise explicitly to make a nation that blesses all the families of the earth through Abraham. Just chapters after that, he will use the same word to promise that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through Abraham’s seed. This idea grows ever more prominent throughout the Old Testament: God will use Israel to bless the nations. It flowers into full fruition in the coming of Christ and his commission to his disciples: to preach the gospel to all the nations. Again: God keeps his promises, and even the dry little details like genealogies fit into the big picture of his glorious redemptive work in history, culminating in Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of Adam, the son of God.


  1. The list here has at least one interesting thing in it: it unsurprisingly highlights Peter and Judas, first and last in the list respectively—all the lists of the Twelve do likewise—but it also highlights Matthew. Not just his name, but his role: Matthew the tax-collector. “Yes, I wrote this book; but no, I have no grounds for pride. Jesus called me from abusing my own people for material gain to follow him. Here we are.” 

The Hardest Passage in the Bible (For Me)

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

I find Genesis 6–8 to be some of the most challenging passages in all of Scripture. The account of Noah and his family and many animals boarding a boat and surviving a worldwide flood by the mercy of God is an amazing picture of both God’s wrath against sin and his mercy to those who call on him. I do not find the passage difficult for theological reasons, so much (though I understand why others wrestle with the section there), but for the difficulty they present in reconciling the Scriptures with the evidence of the world around us.

I have a bachelor’s degree in physics and I spend a substantial part of my time outside of seminary working as a software developer. Science is deep in my soul; the way the universe ticks has always fascinated me and the way we study the universe no less so. The combination of these pieces leaves me able to understand—far better than many of my peers—just how odd the narrative seems scientifically.

There are plenty of parts of the history that do not trouble me at all. That God could miraculously flood the entire earth is not a matter of doubt in the least. That he could miraculously carry people and animals through the flood is likewise unproblematic for me. Even the repopulation of the earth with animals from what was an impossibly small sample1 when compared to the nearly incomprehensible biodiversity that characterizes our world is as nothing for the one who made all things.2 God made the universe; he is perfectly capable of managing a worldwide flood without breaking a sweat.

The problem, from my point of view, is that—all the arguments to the contrary of Ken Ham and his fellow travelers notwithstanding—there is not a shred of credible evidence for a worldwide flood in the geological record. It is an item that must be taken purely on faith, and not only on faith but on faith that runs exactly contrary to all the best evidence otherwise available to us. For a faith that sets as its capstone the historicity of a miracle, this is troublesome.3 Granting that scientific evidence is always open to revision, the best we have right now says, “This didn’t happen.” That leaves me in a strange spot.

The spot is strange precisely because ours is a historical faith, and because I am confident—absolutely confident—that 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead, and he really is enthroned at the right hand of God the Father in heaven right now,4 and he really is coming back to set all things to rights. I believe his word, and I believe that the Scriptures are true. The historical evidence is amazing; the testimony from the internal coherence of Scripture itself is remarkable; and I and many others have personally witnessed the power of God in the lives of believers and unbelievers alike—to heal people, to deliver from demons, and to radically transform people from those who hate God to those who love him. I believe and trust in Jesus Christ.

And I have no idea what to do with Genesis 6–8 other than to continue asking questions in a posture of faith seeking understanding.5 I believe the passage, because it is the word of God, though I do not understand it yet. But—for now—that is enough. Jesus does not require that we understand every last thing, and he does not demand that we set aside all our questions; he requires only that we believingly obey him even as we continue asking in faith that he will ultimately answer us (and more, that he will ultimately satisfy us more than the answers will). And so as I continue seeking how best to understand this passage, I will also continue worshipping my risen, reigning God-Man Savior-King.

  1. Obligatory Firefly reference here: I can’t help but thing of River Tam saying, “Noah’s ark is a problem… We’ll have to call it early quantum state phenomenon. Only way to fit 5000 species of mammal on the same boat.” 
  2. Obligatory tweaking of the nose of all angrily ardent anti-evolutionists: If we assume that all animals alive today are descendants of animals that were on that boat, and think about the size of the boat and the number of distinct species of animals on the planet—including every kind of bird, reptile, and mammal—we are forced inevitably to the conclusion that God directed massive, species-boundary-crossing evolutionary diversification in the immediate aftermath of the flood, or otherwise to suppose that he simply recreated all the other species (in which case, why bother taking that particular set on the boat?). The fact that said evolution would have occurred far more rapidly than old-earth models suggest does not negate the fact that macro-evolution is all but demanded by the flood narrative. 
  3. If you’re curious: I’m an old-earth creationist, and I find the creation narrative much less difficult to square with the scientific record than I do the flood. 
  4. Is he presently reigning millennially? Heh. That’s definitely a different post… 
  5. Thankfully, I’m in good company, since I stole that phrase from St. Augustine.