The Story of Abraham and God’s Redemption of Mankind – Part 2

God works out His purposes through the messiness of human history.

The story of God’s redemption of mankind in the Bible funnels through one man, Abraham from Mesopotamia. I introduced Abraham (known as Abram then) and his family in Part 1 of this series of articles.

Abram’s sister, Sarai, became his wife. Both of them were children of their father, Terah, by different mothers. Terah’s son, Haran, died in their homeland (Ur). The family with Lot, Haran’s son, left Ur and and traveled to a place they called Haran in southern Turkey, just north of Aleppo Syria.

Terah and Nahor remained in Haran, but God gave Abram the direction, “Go to the land that I will show you”, and the promise, “I will make you a great nation….”, and “Through you every family on earth will be blessed”. (Gen. 12:1-3) Thus, at the age of 75, Abram and Sarah left Haran and continued on to Canaan, and Lot went with them.

When they arrived at Shechem in Canaan, God renewed the promise as Abram looked out over the land: “I’m going to give this land to your descendants.” Abram built an altar there, Then, he continued on to the high country in Canaan, between Bethel and Ai, where he also built an altar and worshiped God. (Gen. 12:7-8)

Though God had promised him twice at this point to give Abram this land, Abram continued on. They traveled south out of Canaan, into the Negev desert, and they kept going further south to Egypt because of famine. (Gen 12:9-10)

Abram remained in Egypt long enough to accumulate some wealth before he started moving again. (Gen. 13:2) It is written that Abram “traveled from place to place” when he left Egypt. He seemed to be wandering.

He traveled north again, back to the Negev and eventually back to Bethel and Ai, where he settled down. (Gen. 13:3-4) It must have been some time, as he and Lot had accumulated so many animals their herds and servants couldn’t coexist peacefully. Thus, they parted ways. (Gen 13:5-13)

Lot settled south of Canaan in the Jordan Valley. Abram remained in Canaan, and God gave him the same promise a third time: “Look north, south, east, and west of where you are. I will give all the land you see to you and to your descendants….”; and “I will also give you as many descendants as the dust of the earth.” (Gen. 13:15-16)

Still, Abram moves again, this time south about 35 miles to another part of Canaan known as Hebron. Many years pass. Abram seems to be waiting for God to do what he said, and, for the first time, Abram begins to show signs of doubt that God’s promises would come to pass, . Perhaps, this is why God promises him a fourth time: “Your own son will be your heir” (Gen. 15:4); and “I will give this land to your descendants.” (Gen. 15:18)

When Abram was 86, however, Sarai takes matters into her own hands and offers her Egyptian servant, Hagar, to Abram. Abram agrees, Hagar conceives, but all is not well in the Abram household. Hagar disrespects the barren Sarai, and Sarai mistreats Hagar so badly that she runs away. (Gen 16)

God comforts Hagar in her distress and says of Ishmael, “He will be free and wild”, but “[h]e will fight with everyone, and everyone will fight with him….,” and “[h]e will have conflicts with all his relatives.” (Gen. 16:12)

It seems that nothing is going right for Abram, and God promise takes on a sour taste. Is this the son through whom God will bless all the nations? This wild and contentious boy? Is the son of Sarai’s now despised Egyptian servant Abram’s heritage?

Continue reading “The Story of Abraham and God’s Redemption of Mankind – Part 2”

The Story of Abraham and God’s Redemption of Mankind – Part 1

As I start my third journey through Scripture from beginning to end in as many years, I am picking up on things I didn’t see the first two times through. In this series of articles I am tracing some stories in the great theme of God’s redemption of mankind through the descendants of Abraham.

Scripture is multi-layered contains many themes large and small. I expect a person can study Scripture for a lifetime and always be seeing new things. Today I am seeing something in the line of Abraham that I kind of knew already, but I am digging into it in more detail.

The intricate tapestry that is the 60-some writings of the Bible authored by 40 some different people over 1500 or so years always amazes me. That tapestry is often veiled to us, as if we were seeing it from the wrong side. Unless we see it from the side from which it was meant to be viewed, the picture won’t be clear to us.

When we read the stories of ancient people, they feel foreign to us today. For instance, Sarai (later known as Sarah) is the wife of Abram (later known as Abraham), and she is also his half-sister. (Gen. 20:12) They shared the same father, but they had different mothers.

We shudder at the thought today of a person marrying a close blood relative like that – a sister to boot! (Such close relations were later explicitly banned in Leviticus 18:9.) It was common a couple of thousand years before Christ, though. Perhaps this was due to limited spousal options and the greater distances people lived from each other.

We also need to understand that large segments of the Bible read like a narrative of things that simply happened, often without commentary. A recitation of the facts does not necessarily mean an “endorsement” of them. They simply are what they are, and we are often left to draw our own conclusions.

What we see throughout Scripture is that all people are deeply flawed, even the people with whom God found an audience. Ethical shortcomings have existed throughout every era of recorded human history. The Bible is nothing if not candid about the human condition.

I am setting the stage, here, for the point I eventually want to make about God’s plan to redeem all of mankind that weaves through the tapestry of the biblical narrative. I will have to lay this out over a number of articles.

In this article, I want to focus on Sarai and Abram and their origins. In Abram, who God renamed Abraham, God found a willing ear, and so God made His covenant with Abraham and gave Abraham a promise to bless not only Abraham and his descendants, but all the nations.

This covenant and promise becomes the central story of all Scripture and needs to be recognized to make sense of it. It is one of the biggest themes in the biblical narrative tapestry.

Continue reading “The Story of Abraham and God’s Redemption of Mankind – Part 1”

Why Would God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart? And How Did He Do It?

We are not programmed to obey God so that we are able to love Him.

The Bible is a complex and rich tapestry, but we often fail to see the patterns, let alone the overarching pattern, of it. For me at one time, it was like looking at a tapestry from the wrong side – just a jumble of threads going seemingly everywhere and nowhere, without any discernible design.

At the same time, the Bible is not safe. I found it to be a harsh reflection of me when I read it for the first time. It was dangerous.

It commanded itself to me, but I didn’t always like what I saw or felt. Primarily, I didn’t like what reflected back at me about myself.

I will never forget the day in a world religion class as a college freshman that I read these words:

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Hebrews 4:12 NIV

I wasn’t a believer then, but I could see it, and it made me feel uncomfortable. Even though the rich meaning of Scripture was veiled to me at the time it reflected back to me and probed my heart to expose the worst aspects of me.

I read in the words of David today in my reading from the Psalms:

“With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.”

Psalm 18:25-27 ESV

God deals with each of us according to our own hearts. We see Him presently “as in a mirror dimly”, Paul says, “but then we shall see Him face to face!” (I Corinthians 13:12 ESV) We see God in this life through our own reflection, which may not always be clear.

We see in Scripture our own hearts mirrored back at us, and we see God as if He were standing over our shoulders looking on. How we respond to what we see and to determines how He reveals Himself to us.

As I read through Exodus in my daily reading, I read the passage in which God told Moses he would harden Pharaoh’s heart. Moses would do miraculous things in front of Pharaoh, but Pharaoh would not be moved by them. (Exodus 4:21)

This seems odd at first blush that God would do that. How can we blame Pharaoh for his hard heart if God hardened it? Why would God even do that?

Continue reading “Why Would God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart? And How Did He Do It?”

Thoughts on the Sanctity of Human Life, Injustice and Unity in the Church in the United States

God’s desire is to save us, to have relationship with us, to renew our minds and to conform us to His image.

Reading in Exodus today, I observe that two passages in the first two chapters have poignant application to the Body of Christ in the United States today. I see two predominant lines of injustice in the United States to which the Church collectively has given its attention that are identified in these first two chapters of Exodus.

At the same time, the C on these issues. I don’t say this to condemn or to be judgmental. It’s simply a fact that I think we need to recognize soberly, honestly and humbly.

We might find many examples, but the one that comes to mind – the one that is, perhaps, most poignant in this given time – is the division between black and white and the division between supporters and and non-supporters of Donald Trump .

I know: I said one example, and it seems I given two here.  These are two examples, but they coalesce into one. The proof for that is in the statistics that show that approximately 80% of white evangelicals support Trump, and approximately 80% of black “evangelicals”[i] do not support Trump.

Now, I recognize that these statistics are sweeping generalizations, but generalizations do tell a story. There is some reflection of truth in them. I also don’t mention Trump to be divisive here. The example simply is provided for illustration.

Churchgoing African Americans can be as theologically conservative on things like what it means to be born again as white evangelicals, but their individual and collective experiences give them a different perspective on life. Their view of the world and injustice is different than their white, evangelical counterparts, for the most part, and this plays into their political affiliations.

My reading in Exodus (which I will get to) is timely because today is Sanctity of Life Sunday. I didn’t even realize it when God when I did my daily reading after I woke up this morning.

I didn’t realize it until I tuned into the Manchester (NH) Vineyard Community Church service this morning. I have never tuned into their services, until today, though I know people affiliated with them. When I set out to participate in local church service, I believe God drew my attention away to this one.

It was a great message, and I gained some perspective from it that, perhaps, God wanted me to have in writing this. With that introduction, let me explain the passages in Exodus that prompt my writing. Those texts include Exodus 1 (about the killing of babies) and Exodus 2 (about slavery).   

I will take these things one at a time and draw some conclusions that arise out of the burden God has placed on my heart over the years. In another article, perhaps, I will explain how my perspectives have changed and, hopefully, shed some light on how the church can come together in the full council of God to advance His justice and righteousness.

Before I get into my immediate thoughts, though, I need to say that I speak with no condemnation in my heart

Just as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery that he did not condemn her, I am reminded that God sent his son into the world not to condemn the world; God sent His son into the world so that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)

I do not say these things to condemn anyone because Jesus has redeemed us!


In the story of the woman caught in adultery, the Pharisees and Sadducees brought her to Jesus to challenge him, noting that the Law required her to be stoned, to see what Jesus would do. Jesus seemed to ignore them and began writing in the sand.

Some people believe that Jesus may have written the Ten Commandments out in the sand as those men stood looking on. When he looked from his stooped position, Jesus “invited” them by saying, “He who is without sin may cast the first stone.” Then, he continued writing in the sand.

Some people believe he was writing down the sins those men had committed, and they walked away silently because they realized that no one is without sin.


The wages of sin for every person is death.

When they walked away, without condemning the women, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.” Jesus didn’t condemn the men either. If they had stayed and repented, we know that Jesus would have received them, forgiven them and invited them to follow him.

God’s desire is to save us, to have relationship with us, to renew our minds and to conform us to His image.

Our sin is the reason God became flesh and died for us. He came not to condemn, but to demonstrate His great love for us and to save us from the sin that enslaves us.

One last thing before I get into what I believe God has put on my heart to share: salvation and sanctification is a process. It starts where we are. When we are born again, God begins to work in us to will and to act according to His purposes and to conform us to His image, but we start that process in different places.

One point made in the sermon today, is that “a person doesn’t have to be pro-life to be saved”. People are saved by grace; it’s a gift that we haven’t earned. There will be no exam in heaven we must perform for salvation. It’s already been accomplished for us by Christ’s death and resurrection.

At the same time, if we are born again, God has begun a work within us. He has begun to renew our minds, and change our hearts, and we have begun to learn to think God’s thoughts after Him and become like Him.

With that said, I will address the two texts I read today in Exodus 1 and 2 that speak to me about the Church, collectively, in the United States today. In writing this article, my hope is to provide some biblical basis on which we might begin to bridge the divide along racial and political lines and come together as the body of Christ. I hope to provide some perspective and understanding that will bring us together in Christ.

Continue reading “Thoughts on the Sanctity of Human Life, Injustice and Unity in the Church in the United States”

Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar: What Dreams Are Made Of?

A lion from Ishtar Gate of Babylon built by King Nebuchadnezzar II in about 575 BC.. The piece is located in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, in Istanbul, Turkey.

We all have them. I suspect that most dreams are just subconscious streams of thoughts and emotions played out in disconnected images in the twilight between full sleep and consciousness. They might be interesting to a psychologist, but we can hardly count on them for meaningful information or guidance.

Some people believe that all dreams have some meaning, and some people believe that dreams have external meaning and significance (not just internal, psychological meaning and significance). Though I question that, I don’t discount that God can speak to us through the medium of dreams.

For as much attention people give them, dreams are not a prominent feature of biblical focus. The dreams that come to my mind are the dreams of Pharaoh and the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar. One of those dreams stands out to me, not so much because of the dream, itself, or its interpretation, but the response to it.

We need a little backstory first, though. Nebuchadnezzar could be ruthless, as kings often were. When he had a dream that troubled him in the second year of his reign (see Daniel 2), he called in his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what his dream was. They were eager to interpret it, but the king had something else in mind.

The King said that he had determined before summoning them that they must tell him what the dream was and interpret it or he would them “cut into pieces” and their homes “turned into piles of rubble”! I’m sure they were a bit less eager, but they pressed him, “Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”

They didn’t understand him (or they didn’t want to understand him), so he clarified his demand again: “I am certain that you are trying to gain time, because you realize that this is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me the dream, there is only one penalty for you.” The King wanted them to tell him what his dream was. He figured if they could tell him what his dream was they could interpret it for him also.

They protested, “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks!” Still, the King had them all executed. He would have executed Daniel also, but Daniel prayed to God and was shown the King’s dream during the night so that he was able to describe the dream and interpret it.

But this isn’t the dream I want to focus on. The interpretation of the dream in Daniel 2 was benign and foretold the distant future after the King’s life. King Nebuchadnezzar had another dream that is described in Daniel 4, and the interpretation of this dream was anything but benign.

To make a long dream short, the King dreamed of a mighty tree and a messenger from heaven who called out: “Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit.” The messenger continued: “Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him.”

Last, but not least, the messenger said that this is “the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.”

Daniel was “terrified” when the king called on him to interpret this dream, and the reason becomes apparent quickly enough. The King didn’t hesitate to execute the men who couldn’t tell him what his dream was. What would he do when the interpretation isn’t to his liking?

Daniel explained it despite the terror he felt. He said the dream was a decree from God against the King. Daniel told him he would be driven away from his people to live with the wild animals until he renounced his sins, repented of his wickedness, did what is right and acknowledged God.

imagine that Daniel trembled a bit as he spoke those last words! Who tells the King to repent and change his ways?… and lives to tell of it!

But the King doesn’t have Daniel executed. He unreasonably put to death the men who couldn’t tell him what his dream was, but he didn’t punish Daniel for the extremely unfavorable interpretation of the second dream.

That puzzled me a bit previously, but I had a dream the other night, and I think I understand it now. Let me explain how.

Continue reading “Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar: What Dreams Are Made Of?”