Monday, May 12, 2008

Genesis 17:21

Genesis 17:21: “But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.”

In this verse, God seems to be clearly establishing a hierarchy of reward (from man’s perspective) and interaction (from His own perspective). Ishmael will be blessed but Isaac will enjoy a covenant with God. One gets blessed, for the sake of his father in this case, the other gets the full goods.

Whatever the intent of Abraham’s request of God for Ishmael, this is how God chose to respond. Man has the right to request, but God has the right to choose how He responds and what will actually happen. Sometimes we forget His right to do that. Our joy comes in believing that no matter what we think is right and what we seem to yearn in our hearts, God’s choice and decision is ultimately, in the bigger picture, the far more superior election. The Christian who learns that lesson well and early, has much to gain.

And then God gets more specific with Abraham. He repeats that Sarah indeed will give him a son, but now He adds “at this season next year.” I am writing these thoughts in a Winnipeg, Manitoba hotel room. Tomorrow I am facilitating a seminar for pastors on various aspects of church leadership. It occurred to me that in the secular world, oftentimes leaders are expected to just hold on to the big picture, leaving the details to subordinates. We often speak positively of those leaders that are always thinking and working at 9,000 feet rather than the clerks or technicians who only see a small part of a process or project. How different this is from the way God, who is indeed the Master Leader in every respect, operates. Yes, He has the big picture in mind. But He knows all the details and where appropriate, He shares them with His people. He is a God of preciseness.

As we study God’s communication with Abraham on the promise of an heir, we may well ask ourselves, “What is God trying to tell me? How many times does He have to tell me? What details do I need to have or can I just trust Him to do what is ultimately the best for me?” This is a Leader I cannot live my life without!

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Genesis 17:20

Genesis 17:20: “. . . And as for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.”

God’s goodness continues. He heard Abraham’s plea for Ishmael and responds kindly. This is another one of those incredible pieces of scripture found throughout the Bible where God almighty shows His love and kindness towards His children. Ishmael will be blessed. He will have heirs and together they will multiply greatly. This was great news for Abraham and Ishmael. As I read this account, however, I notice something else of even greater interest to me. God said to Abraham, “I have heard you.” No matter how old Abraham was, no matter what he did in disobedience to God, no matter how he laughed at and doubted what God had just told him, the Creator stops to tell him that He has heard him and He’ll act positively on His request. God has not changed. He still does this today with each of us, but as He sees fit as we’ll discover later in verse 21.

[Allow me to digress for a few moments of your reading. You should be aware that at this point in my study I discovered something most interesting. When I checked the commentaries on this entire section, I discovered that the authors are generally of two minds. Some have taken a position similar to mine – Abraham laughed at what God was saying and doubted it. He also was pleading that Ishmael could be seen as the one through whom the Covenant would come about and thus his request of God in verse 18 of Genesis chapter 17. Others equally respected commentators have taken a different view on several points. First, that Abraham’s laughter was one of joy. He laughed at the fact that the God in whom He believed could overcome the physical limitations of both man and nature and in fact give an old man and his wife, a baby child. Secondly, that his plea to God was not that God would somehow forget about the promise of another heir and bless him through Ishmael, but rather that Ishmael also not be forgotten in God’s plan and economy. Thirdly, we note that while some commentators agree with the tendency to believe Isaac’s name was chosen as a constant reminder to Abraham about his doubt, others add the fact that the name, which meant laughter, was also given as a prophetic sign of the fact that Isaac would bring great joy to his parents. Personally, I favor the interpretations I have suggested above for several reasons. The language is clear. There is no reference to Abraham being elated with the news. There is a possibility that those who support that view may be drawing on the phrase “and said in his heart” as found in verse 17. This would be similar to the idea we read about in the New Testament after the angel had told Mary that she was to bear the Messiah and scripture indicates that “she kept these things in her heart.” The evidence is not strong. Furthermore, if that were the case here, the beginning of verse 19 would not include the words, “But God said” and “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son.”

Yet we have these two very different views. We must realize that Scripture is there for all of us to read, study, and reflect on. Sometimes there is no question as to what is being communicated in which all of us will come to a similar viewpoint. Other times, our interpretations may differ. More often still our ‘assumptions’ about what was really meant, or what gave rise to the statement (that is, the assigning of motive) around words we read in Scripture, is indeed human interpretation, be it yours, mine, or a famous commentator’s. One may argue that he/she supports interpretation A over B because he/she knows that commentator A was a learned scholar. Another person may argue for B because they believe commentator B is really filled with the Holy Spirit and a real man/woman of God. We should remember that scholarship does not trump God-inspired interpretation. At the same time, we must also remember that we have no inside track as to who is being definitely inspired by God or truly filled with His Spirit. That then leaves us two options. First to be aware of the various interpretations available for any given passage, from reasonably faith-based sources, and ensuring that such do not contradict other aspects of Scripture on which all agree. Secondly, to search the Scriptures ourselves, in prayer, and to analyze them in search of what God may be saying directly to us about them. It is critical for you, the reader, to keep this in mind as we continue our study together.]

Ishmael, we are told, will become the father of twelve princes and a great nation. Ishmael’s favor will be bestowed on him because of Abraham’s sake. God was saying to Abraham, “I heard you, therefore, your son Ishmael will be blessed.” God used the word “exceedingly” in reference to Ishmael being multiplied in generations to come. At face value the word implies that whatever is being discussed will indeed “exceed” something else. It is possible that God meant Ishmael’s nation would far exceed in number, one day, those of his neighbors, the nation of Israel and perhaps others.

There is no indication as to whether or not the blessing for Ishmael went beyond the promise of very fruitful multiplication and the political spheres of princes and nationhood. For example, there is no mention of any spiritual blessings, although we do know today that faith in Christ has indeed touched the hearts and lives of many of Ishmael’s descendents. Suffice it to say, that Ishmael who was born in sin, and his offspring after him, would indeed have blessings bestowed on them because of Abraham’s faith in
God. We see examples of the same thing today – children that are blessed materially or with great talent, not because of their walk with God, but because of their parents’ relationship with the Almighty. One wonders whether that blessing is perhaps allowed for the sake of the parents’ own joy.

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Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Finally, if you like what you read here, you may want to donate to my favourite charity, SCA International, by clicking on the logo below. Ken.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Genesis 17:19

Genesis 17:19: But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. . .”

In verses 17-18 of this chapter, we see Abraham having an opportunity to react to God’s words. He used it to laugh at what God was saying, to question the possibility of His statement, and even to attempt to have God view the offspring of his sin differently. God still speaks to each of us that know Him today. We all have an opportunity to react and respond to what He tells us. We would do well to examine whether or not we are guilty of the same type of reactions as Abraham exhibited in this passage. If so, we need to seek His forgiveness and commence a life of complete assurance in Whom we have believed.

Verse 19 starts with my favorite pair of words in the entire Bible, “But God.” No matter what we think or say or do, along come these two words, “But God.” And their impact becomes even greater when the third word is added, “But God said.” Watch out, for here comes the “final word” on the subject. We need to listen for and be sensitive to the “But God said” times in our life.

For starters in this case, God said, “No, Abraham, you have it all wrong.” So He repeats and clarifies the situation for Abraham. “Sarah, your own wife Abraham, will indeed bear you a son,” God seems to be telling him. God knows that some of us simply need to have His message to us repeated over and over again. And not only that, but when God speaks on the same topic on successive occasions, He often provides additional information. In this case He tells Abraham that he will call his son Isaac. Lexicographers tell us that the Hebrew meaning of the name Isaac is “one who laughs, mocks, sports, or toys with”. God was telling Abraham that Isaac will be a continual reminder to him that he first laughed at what God had promised him. As such, God wanted Abraham to always remember who God was and that he could count on His promises and word. What has God put in your life in order for you to daily remember who He is and what He has done and will do for you? Sometimes those things are there to keep us humble before God. Sometimes they are such as to encourage us before God. Whatever God has put in your life for this purpose, identify it, and treasure it as a gift from Him, even if it seems like it hurts, as I’m sure Abraham was not thrilled about having his son called, “he laughs”.

Then God goes on to say, “though because of your reaction Abraham, his name will be ‘he laughs’, I will still establish my covenant with him as well. He’s in this deal with you, and his descendants after him.” Wow, God’s goodness just keeps on coming for Abraham. This is the genealogy that God will bless. The promise will go from Abraham, to Isaac, to his descendants. What a God.

After how Abraham had reacted to God earlier, God could have been angry or He could have withdrawn from him. Instead, we see a patient God who loves Abraham so much that He takes the time to repeat and clarify His will for Abraham’s life. And in that, He includes Abraham’s son and grandchildren and their descendants after that. God has a special promise for each of us and for those that come after us. May we be as careful not to laugh at or question what He tells us.

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Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.

Finally, if you like what you read here, you may want to donate to my favourite charity, SCA International, by clicking on the logo below. Ken.