You’ll know how the story fits together if you know why it’s called Genesis.
Genesis is a Greek word (γένεσις) meaning birth, how something came to be, the account of a family.
The Septuagint translators (c. 200 BC) used genesis to translate tô·lē·ḏôṯ — a Hebrew word meaning a record of descendants or successors. The narrator used this word at key points. Watch for it, and you’ll see how the book fits together.
Here’s a practical exercise in pastoral care, hearing people in their pain.
Wherever you care for people — family, small groups, churches, counselling — you’ll feel the whole gamut of emotions. Empathy for their pain. Disappointment with how they treat each other. Hope that they’ll sort things out. Powerlessness to sort it out for them.
We’d love to have our churches full of mature people who have the faith of Abraham and Sarah, but sometimes our people feel more like the problem than the solution. So, here’s some honest pastoral encouragement for you. Your clients are Abraham and Sarah, as we meet them in Genesis 16.
They have this amazing call on their lives to establish a kingdom that will bless all nations. Ten years they’ve walked with God in the land of promise, but they still have their old names and they’re struggling to trust God.
We’re shocked to learn that Abram is sleeping with someone who isn’t his wife. Actually, that’s not what happened, and if that’s our judgement we won’t be able to listen to them.
So, here’s your pastoral care exercise. Read Genesis 16 carefully. Observe the three main characters. Identify what they’re feeling, and what they do in response. Jot down your observations.
What’s the most important thing God ever told us to do? The answer describes kingdom life, what the king intends for his community.
The fight is on!
Jesus is in one corner. Opposing him is a tag team of Israel’s leading fighters. They’ve stopped fighting each other to bring down the people’s champion. Three rounds:
Pharisees lead the attack by testing his support for Caesar. Jesus sends them back in their corner: give Caesar the currency in his name, but he’s not the ultimate authority (22:15-22).
Next, Sadducees take a swing at his resurrection hope, but Jesus finds their vulnerability. They failed to factor in God’s power, the I AM, the life-giving Being (22:23-33).
Then an unnamed hand gathers reinforcements to bring down God’s anointed.
This fight is the final week of Jesus’ life. It’s building towards the final assault on God’s anointed. He’s been in this fight since he was born, when Herod gathered together all the ruling priests and scribes of the people to investigate this king of the Jews (2:4). Now the leaders are gathered against him by an unspecified hand (same verb, passive voice):
If Jewish people find their identity in Jacob, why do Christians focus on Abraham?
Conversations make you think, especially conversations with people who see things differently to you.
Last year, I was chatting with a Rabbi about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. She knew Christians emphasize Abraham, but for Jewish people the emphasis falls on the third person of the patriarchal triad. Jewish identity is children of Israel — literally, descendants of Jacob. The man Jacob was Israel in the first generation.
That’s why the name Jacob regularly referred to the nation of Israel in later generations, especially in poetic passages. The nation is not Abraham, but it is Jacob. Examples: Psalm 53 6 … let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad! Isaiah 43 1… he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel …
In the Psalms and latter prophets (Psalms – Malachi), Abraham’s name appears only 11 times, while Jacob’s name appears 127 times. The nation’s identity was primarily in Jacob, not Abraham.
Abraham lived his entire life for the kingdom of God.
This podcast (28 minutes) surveys Genesis 12–25 as the foundational story of the kingdom of God.
God founded his human rescue project in Abraham and Sarah. They left the region of the Babel-builders to establish a nation under God — a representative kingdom of God among the nations. The obstacles they faced are the obstacles that threaten God’s kingdom project. They trusted God, even though restoring God’s kingdom would take many lifetimes.
When I first blogged these thoughts four years ago, it became my most popular post (downloaded more than 10,000 times). Enjoy this podcast version.
What makes a great song? Lyrics that voice what you feel? Rhythm that moves you? Layers of rich harmony? Chord progressions that take you places?
A song rang out over the MCG at the final siren on 29 September 2018. It was the song every Eagles fan wanted to hear. The right song in the right moment sweeps you up and carries you like a raft on a white-water stream.
The first song in the Bible was that kind of song — the greatest victory song you could imagine. We waited 65 chapters to hear it. There’s only been one mention of a song, a song Jacob turned down. After 20 difficult years, Jacob slipped away quietly, rejecting the party Laban offered with mirth and song pretending everything is okay (Genesis 31:27). Our world is still full of escapist songs that don’t quite ring true.
Finally we get the true song, the authentic celebration. The song celebrates the moment they were released from serving Pharaoh to serve a new king. With his chariots on the sea floor, Pharaoh had no power to enslave them again. You can’t stop the music: Continue reading “The significant song (Exodus 15)”
The Red Sea event proclaimed a definitive message: God made a way where there was no way — literally through the sea (14:21-23).
Even there, Egypt’s military power pursued them: “all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen” (14:23). In ancient warfare, chariots were the equivalent of tanks: a protective, fast moving vehicle, able to outrun an enemy.
But the pathway God provided did not support chariots. They bogged down in the sandy sea floor. That’s when the Egyptians realized they were up against a foe they could not defeat: “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” (14:25).
When God’s people had passed through, Moses stretched out his hand again and the way through the sea closed. In this moment, the powerful chariots of Egypt’s mighty army become became junk on the sea floor.
Earth’s true ruler does have a way to release his world from the reign of evil and death. All the treacherous rulers and deadly weapons on earth cannot obstruct the purpose of the true sovereign, and his people.
The Red Sea event addresses the big justice question, “Can love defeat violence?” In YHWH versus Pharaoh, the power of love triumphs over the love of power.
The true ruler doesn’t need the power of an army to enforce his will. Nature itself responds to its true king. Even the sea. Even the uncontrolled places beyond human rule.
A friend was preparing to preach on this text: “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord!” He planned to say that salvation is the work of God. I can’t earn it. I can’t contribute to it. Regeneration is a work of the Holy Spirit.
Great ideas, but is that what this verse is saying? I cringed, knowing I’d misused this text too. Quietists love it: all we need do is stand still and let God act, “let go and let God.”
But the context won’t allow us to use the verse this way.
Freedom! The Israelites are no longer Pharaoh’s slaves. They’re marching out of Egypt with a new identity: the people of YHWH! Their king is present in cloud and fire. He leads them south towards the Sinai Peninsula. There they will discover his character, and covenant with him to be his people.
National leaders love to be seen out in front of their nation, leading their people. But what if your king is invisible? Released from Pharaoh, Israel has a king who cannot be seen and cannot be represented by any visible carved image. How on earth do you follow a ruler like that? Continue reading “The king in the cloud (Exodus 13:17-22)”
What’s the message of the Passover story? What comes to mind for you? Do you picture a lamb being sacrificed for the people of God to be forgiven their sins?
Would it surprise you to know the Book of Exodus never says anything like that? We can’t understand what Scripture says if we smuggle in assumptions about sacrificial theology that aren’t there.
This matters because Passover is so significant. Even today, it’s still one of the most significant weeks in the Jewish calendar, celebrating the birth of their nation. More than 3,200 years ago, God released them from serving Pharaoh, to be something new and privileged: a nation directly serving the divine sovereign, a kingdom of God.
Nine times, Pharaoh has been shown to be just another stubborn human, not the person who rules the world. His own advisors no longer find him credible (10:7). The Egyptians now have more respect for Moses than for Pharaoh (11:3).
That makes Moses’ final announcement even more devastating: every family in Egypt will lose its heir (11:5). The Egyptians will rise up to demand their king release God’s people (11:8).
It may be Egypt’s darkest hour. Hail has destroyed the crops. Now a swarm of locusts invade, devouring any remaining stalks. Crops are stripped bare. Trees denuded. Everything is ruined. Despair creeps over the land. There is no reason to get up in the morning.
What is humility? C. S. Lewis said it’s not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. But what does the Bible say about humility? How would you find out?
You could use a concordance, or run a search at BibleGateway. You’d find 60 – 100 verses (depending on your version). But there’s more to it than sticking all those verses together as a collage of humility. There’s a development in the theme as the Bible’s story unfolds. When Jesus arrives on the scene as God’s anointed Messiah, King of the kingdom, he’s such a contrast to earth’s power-grabbing rulers. God-in-a-manger is humility we’d never known. Continue reading “Humility (Exodus 10:3)”
In the modern world, knowledge is acutely focused on causation. Other cultures have not always shared this preoccupation.
Many ancient peoples attributed anything that happened to God. For example, we say, “It rained.” And if someone asks why, we explain that evaporated moisture fell when it hit a region of low atmospheric pressure. That’s not how they viewed things in Old Testament times. They never said, “It rained.” They said, “God sent rain” or “God withheld rain.” We say, “She’s pregnant.” They said, “God opened her womb” or “God closed her womb.” Whatever happened — good or bad — God was the cause. Continue reading “Pharaoh’s hard heart (Exodus 10:1-2)”