Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Lesson 9

There is an interesting development in the book of Genesis which I doubt many noticed either in the last lesson or this lesson. When the men came and told Abram that God was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah Abram said:

(Gen 18:20-24 NIV) Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know." The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD.

Then Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?

Up until this time the question of Justice by God has never been broached. Adam and Eve kicked out of Eden no question about if it was right or not, not even the serpent had anything to say about that. Noah does not ask God what if there are some innocent people in the world about to be destroyed by a flood.

Now however justice as a concept is considered. We are moving from the Almighty God creator of everything and unquestioned ruler to a view which looks at what makes up the elements of God. Genesis 20 brings up the idea of justice again:

(Gen 20:1-5 NIV) Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, "She is my sister." Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, "You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman." Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, "Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation?

Did he not say to me, 'She is my sister,' and didn't she also say, 'He is my brother'? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands."

Genesis is beginning to become more complicated with these developments; God has to even explain Himself to the Pagans. By our standards today we would not assume that a King taking a woman against her will to be an act of clean hands and a clear conscience. But in the ancient world Kings had rights which most would equate with selfishness and power abuse. Genesis of course is just an introduction into the world we see however and its stories reflect the time and customs of those early days of Israel.

Abram lived very pragmatically according to the story in Genesis. He realized that the power of the ruler of the days could have taken his life and taken his wife and they would have still thought they had clean hands. The lesson study guide like many people seems content to be content with pointing out sin even though according to Genesis Abram could not have known that much about God. Just a few verses ago God moves through the cut animals as a sign of divination to show that the promise of the great nation is true. God is reaching to a primitive man in a primitive time in a primitive manner, yet many Christians simply assume far too much knowledge on the part of those in the stories. The Bible stories on the other hand do not support such conclusions. The stories present men of incomplete knowledge and very human characteristics, yet these are the hero’s of the faith.

With the birth of Isaac the most obvious question is why so long after the promise is the start of fulfillment given. If God had given Sara a son sooner there would have been no need for Hagar to have given Abram a son, and the conflict with the Arab nations would have never occurred. The most logical answer is that the story is meant to explain the conflict of nations with Israel. This was the method also used with Lot having incestuous relations with his daughters in the previous lesson.

(Gen 19:36-38 NIV) So both of Lot's daughters became pregnant by their father.

The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab ; he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi ; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.

As is consistent with the rest of Genesis the concept is to explain the world that Israel finds itself in. Through Adam, through Noah, and now through Abraham’s line all the nations are related. All those nations being the only nations they knew about anyway since the history is only related to the Middle Eastern region.

The Lesson States on Tuesday November 28:

Of the many Old Testament stories, this one is not only one of the most powerful, one of the most moving, and one of the most Messianic (in that we see the death of Jesus, God's Son, prefigured) but also one of the most difficult to understand. Even if we grasp that Abraham's need to display his faith (after so many repeated failures in that area), even when we understand his need to be willing to die to self and all that mattered to him—to be asked to do this by God? And to obey? Whatever else we can get from this story, it should show us all the paucity of our own faith and the realization that in the great controversy between good and evil we are dealing with issues that go far beyond what we, as sinners, can understand fully.

The story of Abraham and Isaac actually prefigures the sacrificial system of the Israelites. Of course since the story was written after the sacrificial system was inaugurated to even say that it prefigures the system may be inaccurate. It might be better to say that it is meant to connect the sacrificial system with the Patriarch. Isaac was not meant to be a human sacrifice offered by his father. The sacrifice was only meant to point out that Abraham was willing to follow God even if it meant destroying the only source for the fulfillment of God’s promise.

(Heb 11:19 NIV) Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.

(James 2:21-22 NIV) Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.

Nowhere in the New Testament is the death of Jesus in any way linked with Isaac. The story simply does not fit with the means to salvation that Jesus supplied. Jesus was not an offering to God, He was a sacrifice offered by God for our benefit. In fact we often misread the sacrificial system to think that is was something done so that God could forgive us, but this is not what the New Testament tells us. It is what church tradition over the last several hundred years tells us, but not the Bible.

Interestingly we are linked to Isaac in the New Testament. As we are like Isaac children of the promise and we though we were dead in sin (as figurative as Isaac) are raised to a new life.

(Gal 4:28-29 NIV) Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.

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