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Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Struggle of the Seeds - Doubting the Promise

The struggle of the seeds in Scripture is not always as obvious a picture as an evil person desiring to kill a righteous person, as in the case of Cain and Abel. Quite often, the theme is far more subtle. At times, it appears in the form of a conflict born of doubt in the hearts of those to whom the promise has been made.  It should be no surprise that the devil would seek to derail God’s promise by means of sowing doubt. After all, moving people to doubt the promises and character of God is the devil’s wheelhouse. His first recorded speech in the Scriptures opened with the question, “Did God actually say…?” When we see a conflict in Scripture and suspect that the struggle of the seeds might be present, we may consider, is there a juxtaposition of faith and unbelief?

Such is the case in the story of Ishmael and Isaac. The promised seed of Gen 3:15 is carried forward by the promise of God to Abram to give him an heir in the form of his very own son (15:4, cf 12:1-7). Genesis demonstrates that God is going to give the seed of the woman—Christ—through Abram and his descendants (Gal 3:16, 29). Gen 15:6 records that Abram believed the LORD, “and he counted it to him as righteousness.” So faith is at play. Abram believes that God will give him an heir through his own son. 

The very next chapter shows this faith being attacked by doubt: Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, "Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her." And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai (Gen. 16:1-2).  

Does that last sentence ring a bell? If you’ve read Genesis extremely carefully or repetitively, it may jump off the page. It bears a striking resemblance to the LORD’s words to Adam when He spoke judgment in the garden: Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life…” (Gen. 3:17). With a simple sentence—And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai—our attention is called back to the garden, back to the first sin, back to the first doubt, and we are intended to understand that Sarai has doubted God. Just as doubt was sown in the heart of Eve, it was sown in the heart of Sarai. And just as Adam followed his wife into great heartache, so also did Abram.

Conflict immediately ensued in the form of Sarai and Hagar regarding one another with what could only be described as enmity: And [Abram] went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. And Sarai said to Abram, "May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!" But Abram said to Sarai, "Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please." Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her (Gen. 16:4-6).

The struggle with doubt continued after Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Even after God revealed to Abraham that his heir would come by Sarah (“I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her” [17:16]), Abraham expressed doubt: “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child? …Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (17:17-18). In other words, Abraham himself asks God to reconsider Sarah’s faithless plan! Sarah also expressed great doubt (18:11-15).

Yet, The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him (21:1-2). Still, the enmity continued: But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son (21:9-11). 

What an irony. By doubting the promise would be fulfilled and acting on that doubt, they created a competitor, an enemy, of the son of promise. Yet, God’s faithfulness will never be trumped by our lack of faith (2 Tim 2:13). In a response that demonstrated both His fathomless mercy and purposed determination, the LORD spoke to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring” (21:12-13).

Out of kindness to Abraham, God promised to prosper Ishmael. Out of faithfulness to His promises, He protected the line of the ultimate seed by sending Ishmael away. 

While the serpent is never mentioned in connection with this narrative, explicit references are not necessary to read the storyline begun in Gen 3:15 and concluded in Rev 20:2, 10. There are enough signposts in between to be confident that the narrative is constant in the mind of the biblical authors, who seem to be far more inclined to make allusions ("And Abram listened to the voice of his wife"than explicit connections ("the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet" [Rom 16:20]). If we read carefully, repetitively, and prayerfully with the big picture in mind, these things begin to reveal themselves to us.

Let's not miss these points about His character—

The faithfulness of God is an unstoppable train. Its destination set, it will arrive at the fulfillment of every promise made. Even the weak faith and foolishness of its recipients cannot slow it down or divert its path.  

The kindness of God is a well in the desert. In the wake of man’s attempt to sabotage His promise, the LORD not only keeps the promise, but showers care and blessing on those considered collateral damage. Those who find the compassion of Christ in the New Testament a contrast to the Yahweh of the Old Testament have not read the same Bible I have.

Where are you reading in the Word? What conflicts are depicted? Any that arise from disbelief and doubt that threaten to cut off or compete with God’s plan? How is the character of God displayed in these things?  

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Got 48 minutes?

A brief conversation with Pastor Jason and Kyle Lamb this morning inspired me to take a brief break from our series on the Struggle of the Seeds to think with you about Bible reading.  Pastor Jason shared with me a website, containing the following statistics…

Reading at “pulpit speed,” out loud:
  • It would take 70 hours, 40 minutes to read the entire Bible.
  • It would take 52 hours, 20 minutes to read the OT.
  • It would take 18 hours, 20 minutes to read the NT.
  • You could read the entire Bible four times a year by reading just 48 minutes per day!
It’s the last one that caught my attention.  Some of us may think there’s no way to find 48 minutes to read the Bible everyday.  Here’s a challenge: Take two days and keep track of every minute you spend on Facebook, Twitter, any other social media, TV, or podcast.  Add all those minutes up and divide by two.  (That’s what we call an average.)  That number is the average free time you have everyday.  I wonder if it’s more or less than 48 minutes…

What about half that? 24 minutes? You could read the Bible twice a year reading 24 minutes a day. Do you spend that much time in the car each day? You know, listening to an audio Bible isn't cheating.

Talking to Jason and Kyle this morning, I was reminded of several years ago when I read through the Bible in three months.  It was by far my richest journey through the Bible.  There are things you pick up reading at that pace that you will never notice doing a “read through the Bible in a year” plan.  The Bible came alive to me.  I loved it.  

At the same time, there are benefits to reading the Bible very slowly.  There are benefits to reading one book over and over.

Why not try something new?  If the 48 minutes a day thing isn’t for you right now, there are other options.  Here are a number of plans on our website.

Additionally, below is a video I did a while back about my favorite way to become extremely familiar with any one book.  Whatever you choose, don’t underestimate the tremendous value of spending time in the Word!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Struggle of the Seeds - Cain and Abel

In the introductory article of this series, we saw that a theme running through the entire Bible is one that could be called the Struggle of the Seeds.  It originates with the curse of the serpent in Gen 3:15, where God declared, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”   The seed of the woman—those who belong to the Lord—would be locked in a struggle with the seed of the serpent—those who belong to the devil—throughout salvation history.  Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of this curse/promise. He is a curse to the serpent in that He came to destroy the devil; He is a promise to the faithful in that by destroying the devil, He sets His people free from sin and death (Heb 2:14; 1 John 3:8).  

Accordingly, throughout the storyline of Scripture, there are repeated attempts by the seed of the serpent to cut off the seed of the woman, the devil seeking to prevent his own demise in the coming of King Jesus. In this article, we’ll begin to look at examples of this struggle so that as you read your Bible you’ll recognize them yourself and wonder at the great power and faithfulness of God and the unsearchable riches of Christ.

The first iteration of the Struggle of the Seeds begins right away in Genesis 4 with Cain and Abel.  It seems clear from the very beginning that our first parents were looking for God to reverse the effects of the curse through the seed of the woman and to do it immediately.  It’s tempting to read quickly over Eve’s response to Cain’s birth, but it is worth considering closely: Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD” (Gen. 4:1).  The most literal way to render her statement is, “I have gotten a man with Yahweh.” She is hopeful that this son is God’s promised seed who will crush the serpent’s head. She is ironically mistaken.

The text immediately records the birth of a brother, Abel, as well as the brothers’ respective offerings to the LORD, along with this commentary on those offerings: And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard (Gen. 4:4b-5a).  Much is made of the difference between the offerings and why God would prefer one offering over the other.  The text says God had regard for Abel and his offering and not for Cain and his offering.  It is likely that God’s regard and lack thereof for the respective offerings was due to the hearts of the two brothers themselves.  Abel’s heart belonged to the Lord; Cain’s did not.  The Lord was pleased with Abel but not with Cain.

The following verses show that Cain was in a position to do what he most wanted to do, choose sin or follow God: So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Gen. 4:5b-7). “If you do well, you will be accepted…sin is crouching at the door…you must rule over it.”  We all know the choice Cain made.  He chose sin.  He chose not to be accepted by God.  He chose to cut himself off.  He killed his brother in cold-blood and was cursed for it.

He was seed of serpent seeking to cut off the seed of the woman.

Are we making too much of this—calling Cain the seed of the serpent, saying that he belonged to the devil? No, this is how the apostles read it, too. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous (1 John 3:12).  There are echoes in that verse of the enmity between the seeds, pronounced in Gen 3:15.  Likewise, by faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks (Heb. 11:4).  Cain was the seed of the serpent.  Abel was the seed of the woman.

By killing Abel, did the seed of the serpent win? No.  The devil wanted desperately to prevent the line that would lead to Christ from ever bringing Him forth.  But our promise-keeping God cannot be stopped: And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him” (Gen. 4:25).  God raised up another seed for the woman.  Adam and Eve had other sons (Gen 5:4); it was through Seth that the Christ eventually came (Luke 3:38). 

Not only was Cain not the seed of the woman who would crush the serpents head, as Eve initially hoped, but he served to antagonize, throw a roadblock in front of the seed of the woman.  His murder of Abel and God’s subsequent giving of Seth signaled that this road to an ultimate defeat of the serpent may be a long one.  But God’s faithfulness in this instance was but a glimpse of His stalwart determination to bring Genesis 3:15 to bear on every page of salvation history.  He would allow nothing to prevent the eventual coming of the Christ.  Sinful men would wickedly attempt to stamp out the seed of the woman, but their deeds would only serve to bring the story closer to its glorious culmination in Christ. 

Where are you reading in the Scriptures right now?  Do you see this theme?  God moving history toward the defeat of the devil and sin?  Evil persecuting God’s people?  God overcoming evil men and even using their devices to further His plans?  God encouraging His people to trust His faithfulness?  God’s people clinging to examples of His past faithfulness to see them through current darkness?

Can you see this theme in your own life right now?  How might truth be brought to bear on your own thoughts today?  

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Struggle of the Seeds

This time of year, many believers will embark on a new Bible reading journey.  Most likely everyone who has completed a Bible reading plan has also abandoned one.  It can be a daunting undertaking.  Among the factors causing some to lose interest or traction is the conception of the Bible as a collection of somewhat unrelated material.  Of course, we may have been taught that the whole Bible has a Christological focus, but when it comes to tracing anything like a common theme through the whole canon, we are unable to do it.

This series of articles will briefly detail one such motif that serves as a framework for understanding the grand storyline of the Bible.  We might call this theme, the Struggle of the Seeds.  My hope is that after seeing it in various places, you’ll be able to identify it as you read the Bible throughout the year.  The greatest benefit will not simply be a better understanding of the Word, but a greater awe of our God and deeper affection for His Christ.

This theme appears in the very earliest part of the Bible.  Just after the man and woman gave into the temptation to eat from the forbidden tree in the garden of Eden, God spoke judgment against all three of the participants—the serpent, the man, and the woman (Gen 3).  The serpent was cursed first, but in that judgment the LORD laced a word of mercy:

 14 The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.
 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
 (Gen. 3:14-15)

V15 would prove to be a curse both to the serpent and to mankind.  God put enmity, constant conflict, between the offspring, or seed, of the woman and the seed of the serpent.  “Seed” can and does refer to both individuals and groups.  This conflict began at that moment and still influences the affairs of the world.  The seed of the woman are all those who belong to the Lord (Rom 9:8).  The seed of the serpent are all those who reject the Lord, or we could say, who belong to the devil (John 8:44; 2 Tim 2:26; 1 John 5:19).  

As v15 indicates, the seed of the serpent would bruise the heel of the seed of the woman.  So we see throughout the storyline of the Bible individual ungodly people antagonizing and persecuting individuals who belong to the Lord.  Likewise, we also see collective ungodly people (families, nations, etc) antagonizing and persecuting the collective people of God (Israel/the church).  

Yet, this judgment includes a promise of victory and salvation.  The seed of the woman will inflict a more severe blow to the seed of the serpent—it will crush the head of the serpent.  Therefore, throughout the storyline of Scripture, the godly—collective and individual—are shown to triumph over the serpent.   

The ultimate manifestation of the seed of the woman is Jesus Christ who came to destroy the devil and free the people of God from slavery to sin and death (Heb 2:14; 1 John 3:8).  Jesus is the final seed who brings true salvation; He is the demise of the serpent.  Therefore, in the storyline of Scripture, woven through the instances of the seed of the serpent antagonizing the seed of the woman, the motive of the serpent is to prevent the coming of the Ultimate Seed.  Yet, his every effort not only fails, but fully backfires, actually serving the purpose of the Sovereign Creator to bring salvation to men.  This is part of the judgment of the serpent: everything he does to prevent his own demise only brings it closer.  The book of Genesis alone is filled with this theme: Cain vs Abel, Pharaoh vs Abraham, Ishmael vs Isaac, Abimelech vs Abraham, Abimelech vs Isaac, Esau vs Jacob, and the brothers vs Joseph.  It is like a line that can be traced through to the final book of the Bible.

In this series, we will point some of these stories out, highlighting the magnificent character of God.   First, God is both just and merciful.  He cannot abide sin, AND He is faithful to His undeserved promise to man to bring salvation from sin.  Second, His sovereign rule is unquestionable.  No one can thwart His plan to bring both judgment and salvation.  If these themes become hardwired into our minds and hearts, we will not only see them throughout the Bible, but in the world around us and in our own individual circumstances—all for His glory and our good.