Abraham, Isaac, the Blood Path, Christ and Him Crucified

I started on a journey of exploring the story of Abraham and Isaac deeper and with more nuance with The Story of Abraham and Isaac Revisited: Introduction. The story of God’s request of Abraham to sacrifice his son, and Abraham being seemingly willing to do it, is quite misunderstood, especially without reference to the Ancient Near East context.

Child sacrifice was ubiquitous among the religions with which Abraham was familiar. Abraham would have thought the demand for the sacrifice of Isaac unsurprising among the arbitrary and capricious gods in the Ancient Near East world he knew.

The whole story is an exploration of the revelation that the God of Abraham is different than all the other Ancient Near Eastern gods. In the subsequent article, The Story of Abraham and Isaac Revisited: Here I am!, we explore the interpersonal dynamics of Abraham and Isaac that set the stage for much greater revelation of which God is.

Through Abraham’s dutiful and faithful obedience to the demand he feared would be required of him, God demonstrated His character in a way that was indelibly etched into the experience and psyche of Abraham and Isaac. God would not make the same kinds of demands as the other gods: God would provide the sacrifice Abraham feared would be required of him.

In Abraham, Faith and a Hope Deferred, I may seem to take a sideways turn off the path of greater revelation of God’s character to Abraham, but I will finish the story in this article and get the reader to that point. The ground we covered in that last article included the blessing of God that Abraham experienced, but the pall of God’s unfulfilled promise hung over him.

In Genesis 15, Abraham sought more assurance from God that the land he lived as a stranger in would really become the land of his descendants and, more fundamentally, that he would actually have descendants. Many years had passed, and Abraham was still childless.

God asks Abraham to set up a covenant with five animals of specific types slaughtered, cut in half and placed opposite each other on either side of a depression. The blood of those animals drained into the depression creating a blood path that was the stage for entering a covenant between God and Abraham.

Abraham would have known the drill. As the lesser party to the covenant, he would have gone first, signifying that God should do to him (stomp on a pool of his blood) if Abraham didn’t keep his part of the bargain. With the lesser party committed to the covenant, the greater party would seal the deal, going next.

Only Abraham hesitates. He doesn’t stomp through the blood path. He waits so long that he must drive the birds of prey away from the decaying carcasses. Then Abraham falls into a fitful and dark sleep.

Abraham may have realized the significance of the covenant God was asking him to make. Abraham was not worried so much about the commitment God would be making to him, but about the commitment Abraham would be making to God!

God comes to Abraham in his sleep, and the assurance is far from satisfying: God says the promise to Abraham’s descendants would not be finalized for 400 years! Abraham would be long dead and gone.

This is where we pick up the story. This is where we get the next revelation of the kind of God the God of Abraham is. If we aren’t tracking with the story, we won’t appreciate what happens next:

Continue reading “Abraham, Isaac, the Blood Path, Christ and Him Crucified”

Enough Is Enough: Entering into God’s Rest

God’s work has been finished since creation, but that doesn’t mean His purposes are accomplished, yet

I am listening to the BEMA Podcast with Marty Solomon and Brent Billings as they work their way through Genesis applying a more Hebrew, eastern approach to understanding and interpreting scripture. I have talked about these things in previous articles, so I will not rehash.

One of the observations made in the story of creation is that God rested on day 7. The theme of God resting can be followed throughout scripture, especially in the law of the Sabbath rest.

The writer of Hebrews says that the nation of Israel would not enter His rest because they hardened their hearts “in the rebellion” in the wilderness when they “tested and tried” God; rather, they went astray in their hearts and did not know God’s way. (Heb. 3:7-11) From these statements, we understand that God withholds His rest to those who harden their hearts, test and try God, go their own ways and do not “know” God’s ways.

In Hebrew thinking, to know God’s ways is not just an intellectual thing. It’s an experiential thing. To know is to connect personally with and to experience. Knowing is not just intellectually grasping, but becoming personally intimate with something.

God promises us that we will enter into His rest if we do not harden our hearts, if we do not test and try Him and do not go astray, but know (experience, become intimate with) God’s ways. (Heb. 4:1-2) God desires for us to enter His rest.

One conclusion a person might draw from the story of creation is that God knew when to stop creating. He knew when to rest. He knew when enough was enough, and He invites us likewise to know when enough is enough: to rest.

God’s work has been finished since creation (Heb. 4:3), but that doesn’t mean His purposes are accomplished, yet. We know, for instance, that He subjected creation to futility (mataiotés – vanity, emptiness, unreality, purposelessness, ineffectiveness, instability, frailty….”) in hope. (Rom. 8:20)

If He subjected creation to futility in hope, He did it with the expectation and purpose that the hope would be fulfilled and accomplished. The hope is that “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God”. (Rom. 8:21)

This suggests that God may have been done with His works when he rested, but His purposes were not yet accomplished. Gods rest prior to the ultimate accomplishment of all that He purposed is part of the story. There is more to the story then simply the creation.

The creation was intended for a purpose that is yet to be accomplished, and our freedom and glory is needed to accomplish that purpose and to liberate creation from its bondage to decay! But what is that yet unfulfilled purpose?

Continue reading “Enough Is Enough: Entering into God’s Rest”

How Does the Tower of Babel Fit into God’s Plan for People to Love Him and Love Our Neighbors?

Our frustration, toil and separation from other people are not contrary to the purposes of God, but part of the plan.

The story of the Tower of Babel is included in Scripture for a reason, right? So, Why is it there? How does the tower of Babel fit into God’s redemptive plans and purposes?

These are questions we should think to ask. In fact, Scripture is designed, according the Hebrew thinking, to invite us to ask questions.

Western thinking might assume that we just take things on faith and don’t ask questions. Or the opposite: take it at face value and dismiss it when we find problems (“contradictions”) in the text.

God wants us to seek Him, and that includes asking questions of Scripture, wrestling with it, and finding answers to our questions. We don’t exhibit a lack of faith when we find problems in Scripture and ask questions.

We can hold to a high view of Scripture and admit there are “problems” in the text . Those problems may lead to some real gems in the answers they reveal.

God desires us to seek him and find him, as Paul says to the philosophers in Athens. (Acts17:27) Jesus, of course, promised that those who ask, seek, and knock will be answered, will find, and the door will be open to them. (Matthew 7:7) Faith enters when we use the problems we see as the springboard to seek answers.

I recently wrote an article on the Tower of Babel story exploring some of the questions it invites us to ask, and trying on answers that are suggested by a more eastern (Hebrew) mindset than most westerners might be adopt.

One question we might ask is: why is the story there to begin with?

We might assume the story is simply an explanation for how people became scattered all over the world in different language groups. How questions, though, miss the most important meaning of Scripture. If we stop there, and assume there is no more to know, we may be missing the most important part of the story.

A Hebrew (or eastern) mind always asks, “Why?”

I resonate with this basic practice incorporated into the BEMA Podcast because of a Jewish professor I had in college. He explained one day the difference between the western and eastern approaches to Scripture. He illustrated it with the following example.

If the universe consisted of a chair in a room, people with western minds and eastern minds would approach the chair differently. The westerner would measure the height, width, depth and mass of the chair. He would weigh it and measure the distance of the chair from the walls and the ceiling. The easterner (the Hebrew) would start by asking, “Why is the chair here?”

In my previous article, I discussed how the story is a chiasm (a type of poetry). A chiasm puts emphasis on the middle verse. In this story, the emphasis is on the people’s desire to “make a name for ourselves” because “otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the earth”. (Gen. 11:4)

Why were they concerned about being scattered? Why does God care? What is God doing in confusing their languages and scattering them?

For starters, God does not break into the story when they are making bricks. God isn’t threatened or concerned about their development of new technology. He doesn’t break into the story until they say they are going to build a tower to make a name for themselves.

We also need to be mindful, always, of context. The context here is that people are moving away from God, away from his plans. (Moving east.) God wanted them to multiply and fill the earth, but they wanted to put down roots in the plains of Shinar (Babylon) and build a tower to exalt themselves, lest they be scattered.

This was the instruction from God to Adam and Eve. It was the instruction from God to Noah. God said, “Multiply and fill the earth.”

Building a tower to make a name for themselves, in this context, means wanting to pursue their own plans to achieve their own ends. The concern about being scattered suggests they knew they were doing their own thing contrary to God’s plans for them. They might have feared being scattered because it would disrupt their plans.

Maybe they thought God couldn’t scatter them if they built a fortified tower. Maybe they were trying to make God deal with them on their own terms, in a location they established, by a structure by which they thought could ascend to God and control where God met with them.

Of course, God did exactly what they feared, and scattered them. against their wishes. But why? Was God threatened by them? Um…., no. So why did God scatter them?

I believe the answer lies partly in the fact that they were pursuing their own plans in exultation of themselves. Their plans were not consistent with God’s plans, and they knew it (thus, there fear of being scattered for doing it). 

God had other plans, and God frustrated their plans that were not in keeping with His plans. That might all seem arbitrary unless we keep asking questions and seeking answers. Why were the peoples’ plans something God couldn’t abide?

They interfered with God’s plans, but how? What were God’s plans?

Continue reading “How Does the Tower of Babel Fit into God’s Plan for People to Love Him and Love Our Neighbors?”

Christmas Thoughts: The Heart of God’s Redemptive Story is Revealed through Mary

The final woman mentioned in the lineage of Jesus is central to God’s redemptive work in human history.

I have written a Christmas series of blog posts on the genealogy in Matthew that sets the stage for the narrative of the birth of Jesus, but I haven’t finished it… until now. The theme is the redemptive work of God in human history through the perspective of the five (5) women mentioned in the genealogy.

If that last statement gave you pause, you may have a hint of the radical nature of that storyline, which is the point of this redemotive story: There are five women mentioned in the genealogy. Five women.  

The Hebrew culture was paternalistic, like all cultures in the Ancient Near East, and almost all cultures down through history (and even now). The oldest male in that culture inherited his father’s estate. Lineage was traced from male to male.

So, what are five women doing in the sacred lineage of Jesus?

That Matthew mentions five women in his genealogy is truly remarkable. We might gloss over it in our modern thinking, maybe even being tempted to sneer that he didn’t include more. That he included ANY women is the the amazing thing.

I described four of those women in previous blog posts. I began with a post that sets out the genealogy in full and links to each of the subsequent blog posts. (Christmas Thoughts: God’s Redemptive Actions Through Women of the Old Testament). The posts continue in the following progression, from oldest to most recent:

  1. Christmas Thoughts: God Redeems the Line of Judah through Tamar;
  2. Christmas Thoughts: Rahab, a Foreign Prostitute & God’s Redemptive Plan;
  3. Christmas Thoughts: Ruth & God, the Kinsman-Redeemer;
  4. Christmas Thoughts: Uriah’s Wife and the Redemption Plan of God

All of the stories I have covered so far are of women from the Old Testament, showing God’s redemptive work leading up to the birth of the long awaited Messiah. The last of the woman is Mary, who gave birth to him.

This piece is inspired by Craig Keener, who has a Ph.D. in New Testament and Christian Origins from Duke University and is a prolific writer of scholarly works on the New Testament, among other things. He was interviewed recently by Preston Sprinkle on Theology in the Raw as part of a series on Christmas.

He contrasts the appearances of an angel to Zechariah (Luke 1:8-22) and to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). The passages are parallels, announcing the birth of the Messiah, but the response of the two are different. The contrast is intended, no doubt, to catch our attention: Zechariah responds with unbelief, while Mary responds, “May it be according to you word!”

The parallelism of the two passages is striking, so the difference in the responses stands out. It is meant to stand out.

Zechariah is an aged man, a priest operating at the center of the life and culture of his people, serving in holiest place in Hebrew culture: in the temple. He is male of course. Zechariah, of all people, might be expected to recognize and embrace God’s great entry into human history and the fulfillment of the long-foretold Messianic prophecies.

Contrasted to him is Mary, a young female (probably in her mid-teens), a relative nobody in a nowhere place in the eyes of that culture. She would not have been privileged to know Scripture like Zechariah She would have no stature, no power, no influence nor importance.

The contrast in status would be more evident to First Century Hebrews, but we can understand it even today. Despite the elevated stature of Zechariah, Mary is the hero of this story. She embraces what the angel says, while Zechariah hesitates in doubt at the threshold of God’s entry into the world.

Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-55) is one of the most eloquent and poignant responses to God’s redemptive work in all of Scripture.[i] Mary is glorified over the venerable old priest in the story. The spotlight is on her, and

Mary’s words also set the tone for the coming of the Messiah. She says God scatters those who are proud, but He lifts up the humble. He fills the hungry, but he empties the rich.

Leading the way to God’s appearance human history are five women who stand out in Matthew’s genealogy by the very fact that they were included at all. Their stories are at the center of God’s redemptive work and plans for mankind that He envisioned from before the foundations of the world.

The mention of five women in the genealogy of Christ, the Messiah, is no accident. In our western minds, we might tend to gloss over genealogy as a mundane recitation of historic fact. For Hebrews, the composition of a genealogy is not just about fact, but an emphasis of key facts.

The genealogy with the mention of five women sets the stage for the appearance of God. It is foundational and a central a part of that story. Take a moment to consider how utterly unusual that genealogy would have seemed at the time, and it’s significance in story of Jesus. Consider Mary’s grand response to God, and take some time to read the stories of the other women in the lineage of Jesus.


[i] And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

The 2020 Census and the Breaking Down of the Dividing Walls of Hostility

Fundamentally, Christians should align with Christ, and nothing else.

The 2020 Census reveals a story of changing demographics in the United States. It should hardly come as a surprise that the story is diversity. “Over the past 10 years, people who identified as Hispanic, Asian or more than one race accounted for larger shares of the population….”[1]

I suspect we could say the same thing about many a decennial census over the history of the United States. During the history of this country, from one census to another, we can trace the movements of people, including the Spaniards and Portuguese, the English and French, the German, the Irish, the Italian, the African, the Chinese, the Poles, and on and on.

I grew up learning that the United Stated of America is a melting pot. The news of the 2020 Decennial Census is simply the continuation of the same story that is America. It is an uniquely American story, though rhetoric in the 21st Century might suggest otherwise.

The new census may reveal a plot twist of sorts, though: a “pivotal moment”. Whereas the American story of the past was primarily an European story, the plot is tending toward greater diversity. The population of “people of color” are increasingly “younger and growing more rapidly” then their traditional American counterparts with Eurocentric origins.

The population growth since 2010 “was made up entirely of people who identified as Hispanic, Asian, Black or more than one race”. We can speculate on the reasons for this major shift, but the fact remains that people of color are increasingly making up a larger percent of the population, and that trend will surely continue.

My thoughts, as always, turn to the impact on the Body of Christ and how the Church is responding… and should respond… to the times. These times are a changing, crooned Bob Dylan in my youth….. But then, they are always a changing.

Continue reading “The 2020 Census and the Breaking Down of the Dividing Walls of Hostility”