Tag Archives: God’s promise

Introducing “Characters” – a series about how flawed people can still be used by God

21 Oct
Image by David Zhou on Unsplash

Who in your life would you say is a real character?  Usually we say a person is a character when they are wild, crazy, bold, extroverted, or humorous.  Maybe certain people in your life come to mind. 

But the reality is that every single one of us is a character.  We are each made in God’s image, as the very first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1, teaches us.  We are each unique, interesting and valuable, in our own ways.  Furthermore God loves each one of us.  And he loves us even when we are flawed, difficult, or struggling. 

So we are starting a series about characters, and we’re going to meet some flawed, difficult, struggling characters that God loves.  They are all found in the Old Testament stories of ancient Israel.  What we’ll see is that these characters are very down to earth.  Yes, sometimes they do amazing things, but they are also flawed.  As we study them, we’re going to find them very relatable because even though they are oftentimes considered to be heroes of the Bible, they are people just like us.  People who sometimes make terrible choices.  People with fears.  People with great potential, which they can squander.  And all people whom God loves and redeems and uses, even in spite of their weaknesses. 

Today we meet one of those characters in Genesis chapter 25, a guy named Jacob. 

Earlier in the book of Genesis, God had called a man named Abraham to leave his family and hometown and travel to a new land called Canaan, which is the area of the world that, today, we call Israel and Palestine.  God made a special covenant or treaty with Abraham saying that through Abraham, God was going make his family into a great nation that would be a blessing to the whole world.  Eventually Abraham had a son with his wife Sarah, which was miraculous because both of them were very old, and they named their son Isaac.  Isaac would grow up and marry Rebekah.  God also said to Isaac that he was going to fulfill the promise he made to Isaac’s father Abraham to turn their family into a great nation that would bless the whole world.  But you have to have children to make this happen, right?  So far, in two generations, things hadn’t progressed all that far.  Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah.  Four people. Not a very big family, let alone the beginning of a nation.  That bring us to verse 21. If you’d like, read Genesis 25:21-26.

This is the account of Jacob’s birth.  He is the grandson of Abraham and Sarah, and he is the son of Isaac and Rebekah.  He is also the twin brother of Esau, who was older, born just before Jacob. 

The imagery we read in verse 22 is important.  Even in the womb, the twins were jostling each other.  Wrestling. Did Rebekah know she was having twins?  Maybe all the activity going on in there was enough of a hint?  Or maybe the extra movement concerned her, leading her to think something was wrong. She inquires of the Lord, and he responds that she has two nations in her womb.  Ladies, how would you feel if God told you that?  Rebekah would be left wondering, “What in the world does that mean? Two nations in my womb?” Then the Lord says something prophetic.  “One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” 

This is so interesting, and it is our first clue in the story that we have a character on our hands.  God’s prophetic word is confirmed in the next few verses, which tell us the birth story.  The younger son, Jacob, comes out grasping the heel of his older brother Esau!  And that is what the name Jacob means, “He grasps the heel.”  This is a foreshadowing of much more to come. Check back in to the next post to see where this is heading.

Would your family wait 500 years for God to fulfill his promise? (Surveying the history of Israel up to the time of Deuteronomy)

30 Aug

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500  years!  What if God made you a promise; a promise to you, your family and descendants?  How long do you think your family could stay faithful to God if it started to seem like his promise wasn’t coming through?  10 years?  50?  How long could they make it after you passed away?  What would you do to help prepare them to be faithful, even after you pass away?

That scenario is essentially the historical context of Deuteronomy.  This is a story of a family that is waiting a long, long time for God to bring his promise to fruition.  Let’s take a look:

In chapter 1, verse 8, we read God saying this:

“See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  Who are these guys?  The Lord calls them the fathers of the nation of Israel.  Let’s race through the history of Israel and see if we can place these guys.

First, there was Abraham.  If you want to read his story in detail, start at Genesis 12.  Here’s the gist of it: God promised Abraham that if he would leave his home in Haran and relocate to the land of Canaan, Abraham would be father to a great nation through whom God would bless the whole world, and his family/nation would be given that land.

So Abraham, his wife Sarah, and their household leave their home and travel to Canaan.  But here’s the kicker: they have no kids.  How are they going to be the parents of a great nation?  Time drags on, and they get really old, but still they have no kids.  It seems like this “great nation in a new land” promise is becoming a big sham.  So Abraham, with Sarah’s permission, has a baby with Sarah’s servant girl Hagar, a son named Ishmael.  Sarah becomes jealous and kicks Hagar and Ishmael out.  God intervenes and arranges for Hagar and Ishmael to return to Abraham’s family.  Ishmael himself would go on to become a great nation, the father of Arabia, but that is not the family/nation with whom God would keep his covenant promise to Abraham.  13 more years go by, and still Abraham and Sarah do not have an heir. They’re in their 90s now! God steps in, Sarah miraculously becomes pregnant in her old age, and they have a son, Isaac.

Isaac grows and marries Rebekah.  You can read Isaac’s story starting in Genesis 21.  They have twin sons, Esau the older and Jacob the younger.  Jacob is sneaky and steals the birthright inheritance traditionally given to the firstborn, Esau.  Esau, as you can imagine, is really upset, and Jacob has to flee the family.  He travels to relatives where he meets his wife, Rachel.

At this point in Jacob’s story we’re now in Genesis 27.  Jacob eventually starts to see the fulfillment of part of the promise God made to Abraham, to make his family into a great nation.  How so?  Well, Jacob has four wives who bear a total of 12 sons.  Baby boom!  God then gives Jacob a new name, Israel, and we’re at the point where the new family nation should be sounding familiar.  Israel had 12 sons.  The nation of Israel has 12 tribes. See where that is going?

Jacob/Israel eventually moves his 12 sons and their families to Egypt to avoid famine.  400+ years go by. During this time, Israel as a family nation grows exponentially, to the point where the Egyptian king, called the Pharaoh, feels threatened by them, so he enslaves them.  He uses them to build great works of architecture. In the process he treats them horribly. You can read all about it starting in Exodus 1.

The people of Israel are slaves, oppressed, forced into grueling labor, dealing with genocide (because the Pharaoh was afraid they were getting too numerous).  They cry out, and God sends a deliverer. This deliverer is a wild card, one of their own, Moses, who through a miracle grew up as a prince of Egypt.  If you continue reading in Exodus, you’ll see that it takes a while, including some amazing meetings with God, for Moses to agree to this new national savior role.  Eventually, though, he steps up.

Moses visits the Egyptian king Pharaoh, who he likely grew up with. Like the movies, some scholars believe Moses and Pharaoh would have considered themselves brothers or cousins.  Now many years had passed, and imagine the awkward family reunion when Moses says to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” If you are following along in Exodus, this story is found in Exodus 7.  The Pharaoh is not keen on letting his massive labor force go, and he says, “Not a chance.”  So God steps in again and sends plagues on the land, wrecking Egypt, and finally after the last plague results in the death of his firstborn son, the king bitterly sneers to Moses, “Get your people out of here.”  The entire nation of Israel, likely over a million strong at this point, leaves and heads out through the Red Sea and into the desert. But the reality is that they are following a God they probably barely knew, a leader they weren’t sure they could trust, to an unknown destination.

That destination? The Promised Land. Canaan.  They were headed back to the land God had promised their forefather Abraham about 500 years before.  Will God keep his promise?  Starting in Exodus 12:31 and continuing through Leviticus and Numbers, you can read how they follow God’s direction via a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, Moses leading them all the way.  They have many adventures, many missteps.  There is no way it should have taken 40 years.  God allowed their journey to the Promised Land to take that long because of the nation of Israel’s disobedience.

That is the historical context for Deuteronomy. The nation of Israel has arrived on the border of Canaan, the Promised Land.  The generation that left Egypt has given way to the next generation.  The new generation of Israelites will be the ones who actually enter the Promised Land.  Not even Moses will be joining them. Instead Moses sits down to remind this next generation of God’s promises and all the family nation has been through.  More on that tomorrow as we dig into the book of Deuteronomy.