God stands with his flawed people (Genesis 20)

When the people on your team cause a problem for others, whose side do you take? Which matters more: loyalty or justice? There may be a hint in the way God handles us.

We’re reading Genesis as the story of the kingdom of God. As people rebelled against God’s kingship they grasped power for themselves, turning violent. The heavenly sovereign permitted earthly government to avoid anarchy, resulting in nations. To bring the nations back under his authority, God established his own nation through Abraham. But he still takes responsibility for the nations: we just saw him act against the injustice of Sodom, and now we see it again as he acts against a Philistine king. Continue reading “God stands with his flawed people (Genesis 20)”

Romans: opening and closing theme

The same phrase is the climax of the opening and closing sentences of the Book of Romans. Do you know what it is?

Paul’s letter to the Romans opens with one of the best gospel summaries anywhere. It’s a precis of the whole kingdom story, rising to a key phrase that is the goal of the gospel in Paul’s view. It’s so crucial that the same phrase is the culmination of both the opening sentence and the closing sentence of this remarkable letter. Do you know what it is? Continue reading “Romans: opening and closing theme”

What was the sin of Sodom? (Genesis 19)

The city of Sodom is an image of sin in the Bible, but not in the way we use the word in English.

In English, the name Sodom is associated with a particular kind of sexual sin. Why are we preoccupied with one aspect of Sodom’s sin? That’s certainly not what Sodom connotes throughout the rest of the Biblical narrative. Of the 48 references to Sodom, you’d struggle to find a handful that focus on sexual sin.

Continue reading “What was the sin of Sodom? (Genesis 19)”

Rescued, but restless (Genesis 19:30-37)

Lot was rescued from Sodom, but for what purpose? What did he do with his second chance?

Lot and his daughters survived Sodom, but their life was so invested in Sodom that they lost everything. He was driven by wealth (13:10-11), and now it’s all gone. All that remains is regret for the wasted years. The little town they fled to holds nothing for them. They seek refuge underground, in the darkness and isolation of a cave (19:30).

Continue reading “Rescued, but restless (Genesis 19:30-37)”

Why was Sodom destroyed? (Genesis 19:1-29)

If God wants to rescue people, why did he destroy Sodom?

YHWH’s attendants are checking out Sodom, in the guise of travellers. How they are treated will indicate whether this place is as bad as reports have claimed, whether the rot has permeated and corrupted everything.

Continue reading “Why was Sodom destroyed? (Genesis 19:1-29)”

Arguing with God (Genesis 18:22-33)

What is prayer? Does it make any sense to try to change God’s mind?

What do you do when you’re mistreated? Things get nasty when people take matters into their own hands to enforce their own justice (Genesis 4:23-24). It’s better to appeal to our sovereign’s authority (Genesis 4:26). But that only works if the king does something about the injustice.

Continue reading “Arguing with God (Genesis 18:22-33)”

Friend of the king (Genesis 18:16-21)

Why did God choose Abraham and his family? Were they the only ones to be saved, or what was his election about?

After enjoying Abraham’s hospitality, the king sends his servants on an errand while he himself stays to discuss matters with his governor. Listen to the delight in his voice as the sovereign talks with his friend: Continue reading “Friend of the king (Genesis 18:16-21)”

The king’s visit (Genesis 18:1-15)

Who were the three characters who visited Abraham in Genesis 18?

Genesis 18:1 says “the Lord” turned up at Abraham’s tent door. The next verse says “three men” turned up. When two of these “men” left (18:22), they’re described as “angels” (19:1). Who are these three figures? Men or angels? Perhaps all three are angels, with one of them speaking on God’s behalf? Or is one of these three men/angels actually YHWH in disguise? Read the commentaries on the Bible, and you’ll find a confusing array of opinions over how to understand this narrative.

Continue reading “The king’s visit (Genesis 18:1-15)”

The sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:9-27)

Circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:9-27). What relevance does it have today?

As God Shaddai establishes his covenant with Abraham for the generations to come, he asks for a response. All the males are to be marked as belonging to him, and it is a very personal marking: circumcision (17:10). It’s the sign of the patriarchal covenant (17:11).

We’ve seen the Hebrew word ʾôṯ (sign) three times: Continue reading “The sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:9-27)”

God’s commitment to rule (Genesis 17:4-8)

The covenant with Abraham is all about God’s reign.

The ruler is establishing his covenant with his nation, as yet unborn. He reveals his name: God Shaddai. He gives his servant a new name, a new identity: he is now Abraham: Continue reading “God’s commitment to rule (Genesis 17:4-8)”

Revealing the ruler: God Shaddai (Genesis 17:1-3)

God revealed himself to Abraham as El Shaddai (Genesis 17:1-3). What does this mean?

Abram has already passed through a covenant ceremony that installed him as the earthly servant of the heavenly sovereign (Genesis 15). Abram and Sarai then tried to establish the family through human means, but ended up oppressing Hagar—as human power tends to do (Genesis 16). Following that diversion, the sovereign resumes the business of establishing his covenant with Abram. Continue reading “Revealing the ruler: God Shaddai (Genesis 17:1-3)”

What about those who’ve never heard the name? (Genesis 16:13-16)

What happens to those who’ve never heard of the Saviour?

YHWH planned to restore the blessing of his reign to the nations by creating his own nation through Abram and Sarai. But Hagar did not see God in their household: what she saw was the abuse of power that is so typical of humanity in rebellion. How will the nations ever see God when his people are so unloving? Continue reading “What about those who’ve never heard the name? (Genesis 16:13-16)”

When God’s people don’t love (Genesis 16:4-12)

We saw that Abram and Sarai were culturally blind to issues like polygamy and slavery. They were still hurt by these issues.

Whenever humans have power over other humans, we end up abusing that power. Watch the power struggles that develop in this story: Continue reading “When God’s people don’t love (Genesis 16:4-12)”

Divine control? (Genesis 16:2)

It’s been a decade, but Abram and Sarai still have no child. In their culture, this was a source of great shame: without an heir, their name would die out. They had no future, so God must have been displeased with them. That’s how they (and others in their time) interpreted their childlessness. When someone had a child, God had given them a child; when someone could not have a child, God had thwarted them. Either way, it was understood as an act of God. That’s how Sarai described her situation: “YHWH has kept me from having children” (16:2).

What are we to make of Sarai’s statement?

Continue reading “Divine control? (Genesis 16:2)”

Covenant with Abram (Genesis 15:7-21)

Abram has persistent questions. How can he know that YHWH will establish Abram’s descendants as his nation in this land when Abram will be long dead before this ever happens? YHWH responds by offering to commit himself to Abram with a covenant: Continue reading “Covenant with Abram (Genesis 15:7-21)”

Faith as righteousness (Genesis 15:6)

Genesis 15:6 (ESV)
And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

This verse is quoted in Romans 4, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23. If you’re familiar with how the NT uses it, you may find it difficult to see how the verse functions in its original setting. Continue reading “Faith as righteousness (Genesis 15:6)”