Tuesday, November 27, 2018

For Unto Us is Born a Redeemer-Ruth 4:7-12

Many kinds of events draw crowds. From sports to musical performances, people enjoy gathering together when something exciting is taking place. This is especially true when a decision is involved. Think of the all the shows on TV that involve some kind of competition that comes down the decision of a judge or the audience. Think of the millions who stay up late into the night to watch election results or the finale of the Bachelor. We are people who collect themselves in groups. Such is the case in our next stop in the journey to Bethlehem. Interestingly, this stop has us in Bethlehem, only a few centuries prior to the events of that first Christmas morning. You see, there was a family who happened upon hard times in Bethlehem during a famine. This family packed their things and headed to Moab where they had better luck, at least for a while. The sons of the house married women from this region and all was working as best as could be expected when the father of the house and his two sons died. This left an aging Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth without husbands or sons and in dire straits. With no way to provide for themselves and no ability to continue the family name, Naomi decides to head back home to Bethlehem.  Against her wishes, at first, Ruth accompanies her and the two of them try to pick of the pieces of their lives as best they can and start over. No husband, no prospects, no means of feeding themselves. Starting over would be a tall order.
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Tragedy turns into a love story when Ruth “happens” to find herself gleaning in a field for scraps of food. The field, by the way, just “happens” to be owned by a potential suitor—a man by the name of Boaz—who just so “happens” to be a potential “kinsmen.” You see, when a man died and left a widow, it was up to the man’s brother or close male relative to marry the widow, provide for her well-being, and produce an heir that would inherit what originally belonged to the deceased. After Ruth’s gleaning and some very generous gestures extended by Boaz, Ruth returns home to Naomi encouraged.

Naomi finds out about all of this, realizes the possibilities before Ruth (and her) and goes from mourning to matchmaker. She hatches a late-night proposal in which Ruth would approach Boaz, reveal who she is, and, in no uncertain terms, let it be known that she is available and in need of a kinsmen to come to her rescue. The plan works and Boaz agrees to step in for her and Naomi—it seems he has taken a liking to this Moabite women gleaning in his field.

However, as with any good love story, there is a slight hitch. There is a nearer kinsmen that really has first rights to Ruth (sorry ladies, this is how it worked in the ancient world). So insignificant is this other guys that the Bible doesn’t even name him (it actually in a round-about way refers to him as Mr. So-and-so). By now Ruth and Boaz are an item, would this Mr. So-and-so stand in their way? Boaz was determined to find out and has a meeting with the guy the very next day.

After exchanging pleasantries, Boaz lays it all on the table and asks to take the man’s place as Ruth’s kinsman and redeem her out of her desperate plight. This is where we enter the story. By now, the gossip has hit the small town, people know about the budding romance and all of the important implications thereof, and a crowd has gathered in an effort to hear the decision that was made between Boaz and Mr. So-and-So. Interested in the outcome of this decision, the group has grown to many onlookers who, in their passing by, have decided to tune in and hear the result of the decision that has been made between these two men. Let us take our place among them and examine three results of the decision made between the two and how it foreshadows the greatest ever kinsmen redeemer—Christ—who comes to purchase lost sinners out of their desperate plight.

a. RESULT #1: The Practice of the Custom-4:7-8

Verses 7-8 interrupt the meeting that is taking place and draw attention to the gestures that would have accompanied the decision that was made earlier (cf. 4:6)—“Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemptions and the exchange of land to confirm any matter: a man removed his sandal and gave it to another and this was the manner of attestation in Israel” (4:7). The removal of a sandal in ancient customs was a symbolic act declaring his abdication of his own rights as the redeemer and their transfer to the next in line. In those days, the sandal was the most common form of footwear, generally made of leather and fastened with straps or laces. The act of removing the sandal and handing to another was symbolic of an exchange or transfer of goods or rights. The purpose of this legal gesture is defined with two expressions, “to put any matter into effect,” (translated, “confirm any matter”) that is to make legally binding, and “now this is/was the form of attestation/legalization in Israel,” that is to bear witness. Inasmuch as a transfer was made and inasmuch as this transfer was made among a crowd of witnesses, this seems to describe what this gesture meant in this context. Therefore, the act makes concrete the transfer of rights from one person to the next. The transfer of the sandal would have been more meaningful in that culture than it would be today. Sandals were important footwear and many did not have but one pair. To give up a sandal meant giving up half of your closet footwear, leaving you barefoot on one foot until you could acquire another. Not only was this personally taxing, it would have been publicly observed. Anyone, for the remainder of that day at least would have been able to see Mr. So-and-so wearing only one sandal or carrying only one in his hand and would have been able to understand that a legally binding deal had been made.

This gesture was accompanied by a verbal declaration “Acquire for yourself” (4:8-a recapitulation of the statement made in verse 6). With the transfer of the sandal as the final legal gesture, the official court proceedings were complete. The rights and responsibilities of redemption (concerning the deceased estate) had been officially transferred to Boaz, and he was legally recognized as the redeemer. While Boaz grows more important to us in the story with this new distinction, Mr. So-and-so, disappears from the scene almost as quickly as he appeared, heading home to live an unchanged and normal life.

b. RESULT #2: The Proclamation of the Conclusion-4:9-10

With a bit more pep in his step than earlier, Boaz closes the meeting with a passionate speech. This speech defines the significance of what just took place for everyone around him and calls attention to what they observed. Although originally Boaz called just ten elders around to bear witness, since the meeting began, many walking through the city gates had remained to watch as the business was conducted. This is why the author says, “to the elders and all the people, ‘You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon…” (4:9).  

Boaz’s concluding speech begins and ends with the same clause, “your are witnesses.” With this declaration, Boaz affirms that if ever in the future there would be any question of what had transpired between him and so-and-so, many would be able to remember what had happened and bear witness. With this in mind, Boaz summarizes two actions that had transpired. The first being the transfer of the estate of Elimelech. He had obtained the right to purchase it from whomever held it presently. In so doing, he would restore the land back to whom it originally belonged.

In the second portion of his summary, Boaz declared that he had also acquired the rights of Ruth—“moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Maholon, to be my wife” (4:10a). He mentions the land first because his right to Ruth was contingent upon gaining the right to the property. However, it is obvious from the construction of the sentence that Ruth was his primary goal. Literally, it reads, “and also Ruth, the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, I have acquired for myself.” From this clear reference, it is obvious that Ruth’s foreign status was no barrier for Boaz. Instead, it almost appears as though, because of her glowing reputation throughout Bethlehem, he relishes the idea of marrying this foreigner.

This is not unlike Christ’s redemption for the believer. Although foreigners to His kingdom because of our sin, Jesus is pleased, if not, proud, that He is able to Redeem those of the world. He has the rights to do so and is absolutely willing.

The remainder of Boaz’s speech explains the reason and motivation behind the preceding meeting. Again, it is obvious that although the estate made up the majority of the deal, Boaz’s primary consideration was for Ruth. The addition of “for my wife” creates the initial impression that his motives are purely personal. However, what he reveals next is that so much more is going on here—God is up to something bigger.

“In order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today’…” (4:10b). In Boaz’s explanation of his motivation in the foregoing legal efforts he used three significant expressions. His first goal was to establish the name of the deceased on through his own inheritance. Boaz’s second goal was to prevent the name of the deceased from being “cut off from his brothers.” This expression represents one of several for annihilating one’s honor and reputation and preventing one’s post-death existence. Boaz’s third goal is to prevent his name from being cut off from “the court of his birth place.” This decision by Boaz is intended to guarantee Elimelech/Mahlon the right to representation in the gathering of the town council. In the end Mr. So-and-so will disappear without a name, but the security of Mahlon’s and Elimelech’s (the dead) names is guarded.
Again, Boaz closes his speech as he opens it, calling those around to bear witness. He does this because he wants to remind them of their responsibility and he also wants them to take that responsibility seriously. Repetition leads to Retention. 

c. RESULT #3: The Prayer of Blessing-4:11-12

“All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, ‘We are witnesses…” (4:11a). Interestingly, there is no word for “yes” in the Hebrew language. In order to affirm something or agree, the Israelites repeated that which they conceded. Here, they say, “we are witnesses.” By affirming this role, they agree to the legal and popular obligations that Boaz had gave them through his speech and state here that they will be the witnesses he has called them to be concerning this case. However, this is not the end of their input after the covenant has been made.

With unanimous spontaneity, the crowd (made up of the ten and the many others who had gathered) erupts in a hymn of blessing that consists of three parts. First, they express their concern for Boaz by praying that Ruth be fertile—“ May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel” (4:11b). The expression “who is coming into your home” derives from the ancient customary practice of the wedding party proceeding to the home of the groom after the marriage ceremony and him formally ushering the bride into his house.

The crowd continues and prays that Ruth take her place among the matriarchs of Israel along with Rachel and Leah. This would have been absolutely unprecedented for the original readers to see a foreign woman granted such status among Israel’s finest feminine figures. As is well known, Rachel and Leah were the daughters of Laban whom Jacob married and who became the founding mothers of the twelve tribes of Israel. Leah is mentioned second in order for her name to stick in your mind and draw attention to the tribe of Judah who was associated with Bethlehem (their present setting) and was a descendant of this famous mother. Just as Rachel and Leah had built up the house of Israel, so, they pray, may Ruth build up the house of Boaz.

As the prayer continues, the crowd asks that God all Ruth, Like Rachel and Leah before her, ”to build a house” (4:11b). This phrase is an idiom which means “to have progeny, descendants, to establish a family.” The people’s invocation of Yahweh to make this possible is in keeping with the psalmist’s notion that “unless the LORD builds a house, they labor in vain who build it” (Ps. 127:1).

The second blessing the crowd voices was directed to Boaz and is constructed with two parallel lines.

“May you prosper in Ephrathah
And may a name be called in Bethlehem” (4:11c).

Because of the wide range of meanings that may be ascribed to hayil (prosper), this first line is difficult to pin down. The word can mean “to act valiantly,” “to perform honorably,” or “to show great strength,” but “to make wealth,” seems to be most appropriate in the context of a blessing associated with marriage.

Typical of Hebrew parallelism, the second line builds on the first. The phrase “become famous” (lit. “to call a name”), means to keep that name alive. It also perceives the person as living on in his descendants in the place named, which is Bethlehem here. The ancients believed that when a person’s name is never mentioned after his death, he ceases to exist.

The third blessing the witnesses prayed was that Boaz would become like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah—“ Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah through the offspring which the Lord will give you by this young woman” (4:12). This reference to Tamar, Judah, and Perez reinforces the impression that the narrator has been writing the story of Boaz and Ruth with Genesis 39 in the back of his mind. What does that say? This most celebrated example of levirate obligation and betrayal also involved a widow whose husband, Er, had died without producing

and heir. Failing to get Er’s brother Onan, to fulfill his levirate obligation and despairing of waiting for Shelah, another younger brother to grow up, Tamar pretended to be a prostitute and tricked Judah, her own father-in-law, into a sexual relationship . She conceived and eventually bore twin sons, Perez and Zerah. Together they became the ancestors of the tribe of Judah.

The point of comparing Boaz to Judah and Ruth to Tamar is to draw attention to the common levirate quality to their unions.  Through Tamar, whose husband had died childless, Judah had fathered Perez, who became the ancestor of a host of clans. Through Ruth, whose husband had died childless, the people prayed that Boaz might father a child who would birth a multitude as well. However, if one considers the common rabbinic hermeneutic of arguing from greater to the lesser, the reader cannot help but think that if Yahweh had given immoral Judah a double blessing in the birth of twins and if Judah flourished through Perez, how much greater are the prospects  for Boaz and Ruth. These two have been presented from the beginning to the end as persons with as people of steadfastness and uprightness.

The people that proclaimed this three-fold blessing could not have imagined how prophetic it would prove to be. Collectively inspired by the Spirit of God, they join here in a pronouncement that will eventually transpire before their very eyes. Had they been around long enough to see the fulfillment of their prayer, they would have observed the establishment of a name and a house far greater than Perez.

So What?

We catch a glimpse of this in the rest of Ruth.

So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!” So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:13-17)

Here in Bethlehem the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah is allowed to continue after being thrown into jeopardy because a godly man was able and willing to redeem a young Moabite woman. Because of his heroism, she gave birth to a son, and with that, obtained security for her and Naomi’s future. However, she also is used of God to continue the Messianic line on through David—future King of Israel—and an even greater figure thereafter—Jesus Christ—who would be born in the very same small town. This same Jesus, born in Bethlehem, would redeem lost sinners like you and me. For unto us is born a Redeemer! He loved us when we were at our worst, lost and helpless, foreign and broken. Have you entered a relationship with him? Are you living in the joy that comes from being saved from your former plight?

Monday, November 19, 2018

For Unto Us is Born the Revelation of God- Exod. 33:19-23

As we continue our journey through the Scriptures this Christmas season, I want us to consider the traveling that many of us will be doing over the next couple of months. Whether by plane, train, or automobile, trips are punctuated with helpful signs along the way that guide people in the right direction (departure lists in an airport, train stops, exits, traffic lights, etc.). Such signs help point people in the right direction as they head to their ultimate destination. In our own textual journey we have already passed two signs that in their own way point toward Christ: the “seed of the woman” (indicating that Jesus would be born of a virgin and ultimately defeat sin), and “the substitute” (foreshadowing Christ’s sacrifice for sin). As we press on, I’d like for us to consider another journey that, in many ways, is similar to our own—I’m thinking of the Israelite’s journey out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the Promised Land. Somewhere between the wilderness and the Promised Land, the people of God took an exit and stopped off at Mt. Sinai where Moses went up the mountain and received the Ten Commandments—a helpful guide that God graciously provided his people so that they might live distinctly different from the rest of the world and enjoy a meaningful relationship with the Divine. However, Moses’ extended time on the mountain with the people down below left the former slaves vulnerable to falling into idolatry (some learned habits picked up in Egypt must have been hard to break). Imagine your shock when after spending time with God and receiving the Law you return to the people you are leading, only to find that they are worshipping a golden calf! After discipline ensues and Moses pleads with the Lord on behalf of his people, God, again out of grace, calls the hebrews to continue the journey they began, assuring them that He would indeed, despite their wicked ways, continue alongside. We pick up the story in Exodus 33:19-23. After being reassured of God’s presence, Moses continues his conversation with God and is provided with an inspiring revelation of God—the kind of revelation that foreshadows the greatest ever revelation of God who would perfectly represent the Divine for all the world to see.  


Again, immediately preceding this, God has just encouraged Moses by assuring him that His presence would go with him despite the wickedness the former slaves had displayed. You might think that this would have satisfied Moses and come as a great relief, and yet Moses desired more. He requests of God “I pray You, show me your glory” (33:18a).

What is up with this request? Did not Moses witness God’s glory more than almost anyone else in the Bible? Here we have a guy who had seen the plagues of Israel, witnessed God parting of the Red Sea, light a pillar of fire, and form a protective cloud. Had not, God spoken with Moses face-to-face and had he not come to know his personal name at the base of a burning bush? The truth is, Moses had indeed seen many elements of the glory of God in the past. However, he now desired to see it again, in any form God would allow. The purpose for this request was even more assurance as they left and continued the journey. Just as God’s glory had gone with them before, Moses wanted a sign to bolster his confidence that this would continue to be the case.  He wanted to know that God was indeed still close, still protective, and still interested in him and the Israelites.

When I was fifteen, my dad was looking for a car for me. One day we came across a car that I would eventually drive for years and we took it for a test drive. I remember my dad accelerating, pushing all of the buttons, playing with all of the gadgets in the car in order to prove for himself that this would be a good car to drive in the future. It meant more to us that we could have this experience rather than just take the seller’s word for it. It was the same for Moses, although he should have trusted in what God said, He desired an experience, a special revelation of glory, in order to give him full confidence.

II. PART #2: GOD’S RESPONSE-33:19-20

Following the bold request God responds with “I Myself will make all my goodness pass before you” (33:19a). The promises that God had made between Himself and Israel despite all that was working against it would continue to follow them into the Promised Land. While any reasonable person would no longer trust in the Israelites, God’s grace decides to keep His promise. This reestablishment of the covenant is seen here as God’s “goodness” will be made to pass before Moses—not his wrath or anger or judgment, but his undeserved, unmerited, unfathomable goodness. What an awesome picture of the love and grace of God!

Second, God says to Moses “and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you” (33:19b). Names do not necessarily mean much to us in our society, however, in biblical times, names were the representation of who someone was. When God says that he is going to “proclaim His Name” before Moses, he is really saying that he is going to reveal his character and essence (or, in other words, what he is like). This would be provided in an effort to encourage His people to be like him. In other words, he is saying, “I’m going to tell you what I’m like in order that you can learn what to be like.”
God’s third determination is as follows: “and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion” (33:19c). Both these two parallel phrases reveal much concerning the character of God. Rather than taking this as a personal word to Moses, there is a general principle that God is revealing here. God’s mercy and compassion were granted to all of his covenant people, but they are not automatically available to all other people unless they join the covenant. Put another way, God’s special mercy and compassion is reserved for those who belong to Him—it is not for everyone. For anyone to enjoy these things, they must become, one of God’s own.

Romans 8:28-“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

God’s comments were to reassure Moses that despite the wickedness his people demonstrated, both Moses and His people would receive grace and mercy because he had made them a promise. You may say, “that’s does not seem fair,” or “that doesn’t make sense” but to do so would be to question the perfect one who invented fairness, justice, and goodness. Like it or not, God is free to do as he pleases and whether or not it makes sense to us, it is perfectly proper to Him.

One illustration might be that of parenting. Good parents are naturally more inclined to extend mercy and compassion toward their own children because they belong to them. (They are also more willing to discipline and rebuke their own children). This comes from the personal relationship the parents have with the child that does not exist between the parent and just any child they don’t even know. Likewise, this special grace and mercy shown to Israel by God, while not easily explainable to us, makes sense when we realize the personal relationship He had with his children.

While God is willing to reveal his goodness, his name, his grace, and his compassion to Moses and his people, he stops there and refuses to show Moses’ his face—“but, he said, ‘You cannot see my face’” (33:20a). Full disclosure of God’s glory is something humans are not prepared to see in this life (and, quite possible, the next).  

To see God’s face would mean death. Either it would kill you to see God, or it requires death of a believer to see Him—“for no man can see my face and live!” (33:20b).  


As the conversation continues, God almost seems to be doing something he just said that he would not do—“then the Lord said, ‘Behold there is a place by me…” (3:21a). However, What God is doing here is allowing Moses to experience as much as he can without killing him. His glory is so vast and so beyond anything that everything God now instructs Moses to do in order to have this experience must be on God’s terms.   

Here Moses is instructed to stand on the rock—“and you shall stand there on the rock” (33:21b). It is incredible to reflect on how God uses the elements in different experiences in Moses’ life. We have him passing through the water, standing on holy ground, we are shown a pillar of fire, etc. It is through these concrete things that God chose to speak and reveal things to Moses and the Israelite people.

It is insinuated in the original text that the term, “the rock” refers to Mount Sinai. This was God’s special meeting place for Moses and him to have their pow-wows. The Israelites had received their Ten Commandments from this mountain and dwelt themselves in its shadow for some time (a period of time that spans over ten chapter in Exodus).  

God’s glory would not be something that Moses would be allowed to gaze upon for long. He also wouldn’t be allow to take a picture of it 😊. It would rather be something only visible for a split second as it was moving away from him—“and it will come about, while my glory is passing by” (33:22a). Therefore, if he happened to have an Iphone or Android and tried to take a picture of it, it would be a blurry image that not even the fastest high speed camera could adequately capture. 
The vantage point from which Moses would enjoy this revelation of glory is also chosen by God—“that I will put you in the cleft of the rock” (33:22b). God himself is the one planning all of the things involving this experience (probably because it is a God-sized task). God is going to provide everything this experience requires.

As God continues his run down of what is about to happen, he says something curious—“and cover you with My hand until I have passed by” (33:22c). God doesn’t really have hands, feet, a face, or a body of any sort. These are anthropomorphisms, or a way to communicate how God was going to shield Moses from the impending death that would be experience if he saw God in human terms. Only God could protect Moses from the death he would experience from witnessing the presence of God.
Following all of these preparatory measure, God says “then I will take my hand away” (33:23a). This describes the point in time in which Moses will be allowed to see the fast-moving, blurred image of God he would be allowed to witness.  
Just what would Moses be allowed to view? “and you shall see my back but My face shall not be seen…” (33:23b). Typically we don’t see much when we see someone’s back walking away from us. However, if we know the person, we can still tell who it is. Moses would be allowed to see the minimum of what was required to know that it was God he had just witness, even for a brief second. Though not a complete portrayal, Moses could rest assured that God was there in his midst.

In the past 50 or so years there has been much talk about the atom. The fundamental building block of life. Scientists have constructed diagrams and detailed pictures of what these atoms might look like. However, no one has ever seen an atom in real life because of its incredibly small size. Not even the most powerful of microscopes can capture a picture of this building block. The best they could do was arrive at a reflection or atomic shadow by which to form their inferences into the smallest unit of structure.  In the same way there is a Hebrew saying that states to see only the back and not see the face means to see nothing at all.

God had allowed Moses to catch a glimpse of his glory. Figuratively this fast-moving sign of God’s back moving away provided Moses with the assurance that the Lord was still leading his people towards the promise land and it was up to them to follow Him. This experience parallels the experiences that began every major phase of the Israelite’s journey. It was the sign at the burning bush that led Moses back to Egypt. It was the sign of the many plagues that pointed the way out of Egypt. It was the sign of the parting of the Red Sea that thrust the freed slaves into the desert an out of Egyptian slavery. It would be this sign in the rock that would push the Israelites the rest of the way from Sinai to the Promised Land.

So What?

After having observed Moses’ request, God’s response, and the Diving revelation we can gleam incredible insight into the special privileges we have as children of God. Like Israel, we as God’s children can trust that God will be gracious to us and show us special mercy and compassion. While this should not make sense to us, it is because of his love for us as his kids that allows us to experience this undeserved. Likewise, we realize that God takes an active role in assuring and leading those who are on the right path, guiding them every step of the journey.

However, there is at least one important difference between Moses’ experience and our experience. Moses received a partial revelation of God that directed him and his people the rest of the way to the Promised Land. Today’s believer has been given the full revelation of Jesus Christ that guides them to the glories of heaven.

In fact, so much of the Exodus story prefigures elements of Christ’s ministry. For instance, the Hebrews went down into the Red Sea (on dry ground) as slaves escaping the tyranny of Pharaoh and come up out of the water on the other side as freed people heading to the Promised Land. Later Joshua would lead his people across the Jordan river (miraculously again) demonstrating yet another change of identity for God’s people from wandering wilderness dwellers to conquerors of the land of promise. Jesus comes much later (sharing a name with Joshua) and is baptized in the same Jordan river in an effort to instigate his ministry that would pave the way for enslaved sinners to find freedom in Christ and entrance into heaven (symbolized in their own baptism with water). Or how about this: following their Red Sea experience, the people of God wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and were tested in their faith (failing at times to keep up their trust in God). Following his baptism, Jesus wandered in a wilderness for 40 days, was tested by Satan, and passed with flying colors. In the Exodus, Moses scales Mt. Sinai and brings down the Law so that the people of God know how to live under the old covenant. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus scales the Mount of Galilee and provides a series of sermons known as the sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Therein, Christ provides his commentary on the law of God and educates his disciples in how they should live as citizens of the kingdom of God under the new covenant. In Numbers 21, God disciplines his people with a painful plague of poisonous serpents. After Moses intercedes, God instructs him to raise up a serpent on a bronze pole. All who looked at it were healed. Jesus comes into a world of suffering sinners, takes the sin of the world on himself and is raised up on the cross (“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,”-John 3:14). All who look upon the cross and trust in the one upon it are healed of their problem of sin and spared the judgment of God.

All of these Old Testament signs point to the greatest sign of all—Jesus Christ—who fulfills these predictions and is capable of leading all in every phase of their life both now and forevermore. He is the greatest revelation of God and God has given us all that we need in providing us Jesus!

Colossians 1:15-“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”

Hebrews 1:3-“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”

Are you following Jesus today? Are you paying attention to the signs that God has provided you? For unto us is born the Revelation of God! His name is Jesus and he is the way the truth and the life, no one comes unto the Father expect through him.

Monday, November 12, 2018

For Unto Us is Born a Substitute-Gen. 22:9-14

Last week we began a journey that will take us through the Old Testament in order to examine different predictions of the Christ Child—that same child we celebrate in a special way during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Last week we looked at the earliest prophecy of Christ in Genesis and learned that as soon as sin was born in the world, so too was God’s plan to eradicate it by means of Jesus. From Genesis 3:14-15 we learned that “for unto us is born the defeater of sin.” Jesus is the seed of the woman who was miraculously conceived of the virgin Mary to right the wrongs of humanity and totally destroy the program of evil led by the cursed serpent, Lucifer. Today we turn a few pages in our Bible to Genesis chapter 22 where we confront an entirely different kind of spectacle—a holy ritual that, at first, seems to spell disaster. The tension mounts in the scene we are going to observe today by means of four stages that can be witnessed in verses 9-14. As we witness observe the rising tension and finally see how the crisis averted, we will learn that “for unto us is born a substitute.” What glorious news!   

See the source image

I. STAGE 1: The Preparation-22:9-10

Imagine being 99 years old and having a name like Abram (father). Imagine that contrary to your given name, you have no children. Now imagine that God comes to you and promises that a great nation would be made from you and your barren wife! Imagine taking on a new name, “Abraham,” (father of a multitude) as a token of good faith that God would make good on this promise. Imagine that after some time (many years in fact) your barren wife give birth to a miracle child. So tickled are you by the events that have unfolded that you name him Isaac (laughter). All of this was true of Abraham and his house. You can probably guess how much this son of theirs mean the the aging couple. Sure, they were old, but having a young son would keep Abraham and Sarah young. After all, he was the beginning of a great nation.

Now imagine that God comes to you and says, “take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Gen. 22:3). Would you do as Abraham did and immediately, rise early in the morning, saddle your donkey, gather wood, call Isaac to join you, and go? Though I question my own willingness to be faithful in the midst of such a test, Abraham was obedient without hesitation.
We pick up the story in verse 9 when “they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood” (22:9a).  Everything was prepared, that is, everything but the sacrifice. Who is the first to notice this? Young Isaac who says in verse 7, “’Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’”

I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around what took place as the sacrifice was prepared. After Abraham built the altar and arranged the wood, he “bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood” (22:9b). Remember Abraham is at this point over 100 years old and Isaac is a teenager (i.e. very capable of getting free and running away—fearing that perhaps his dad was suffering from an acute case of psychosis or dementia). However, as mysterious as it was for Abraham to be obedient to God’s unusual command to sacrifice Isaac in the first place (without any hesitation), so too is it mysterious and yet altogether true that Isaac took his place on the altar and allowed himself to be bound in preparation for the sacrifice that would soon commence.

The tension of the scene reaches its critical mass as the writer continues by saying, “Abraham stretch out his hand and took the knife to slay his son” (22:10). So much of this does not make sense. This was the promised son Isaac from whom would come a great nation (see Gen. 18) in response to the covenant promise God made to Abraham (see Gen. 12:1-3). And yet, here is Isaac strapped on top of an altar with a knife hovering over his neck. Who is wielding this weapon but none other than Abraham! Somebody stop this!!!

II. STAGE #2: The Prevention-22:11-12

Thankfully, at that very moment (even the very last second), “the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am’…” (22:11). Whew!  It is at this crucial point in the story that it becomes exceedingly clear that God never intended to have Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac. Instead, this was a test. In fact, that this was a test of Abraham’s obedience and resolve was intimated in verse 1 of chapter 22, “Now it can about after these thing, that, God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ and he said, ‘Here I am’”. Sound familiar? This familiar call occurred at the beginning of the test and marked its end in verse 11, “But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ and He said, ‘Here I am’…”.
After preventing the sacrifice from happening, the angel of the Lord provides some instructions, “’Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him’” (22:12a). In other words, “put down the knife and walk away slowly.” If Abraham did not seem bothered by the unusual request to sacrifice his son Isaac, I’m sure that Abraham had no problem following these new set of orders.

Once these instructions are articulated, the angel reveals the results of the test that Abraham had just passed with flying colors, “for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me’…” (22:12b). To fear God means to revere Him as sovereign, trust Him implicitly, and obey Him without question. This Abraham had done by following God’s unusual command without hesitation. Likewise, a true worshiper of God holds nothing back from God but obediently gives Him what He asks, trusting that He will provide. Abraham accomplished this when he strapped Isaac to the altar and nearly followed through with what God had originally instructed.
In his willingness to offer Isaac, Abraham demonstrated that he was willing to hold nothing back in obeying the Lord. Isaac represented everything to Abraham. He was Abraham’s only legitimate son, the key to the promise God had made him, and his joy. Yet even Isaac was something that Abraham was willing to part with in order to follow the Lord. Abraham passed the test that none of us would sign up to take and because of this, he was awarded with provision.

III. STAGE #3: The Provision-22:13

“Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns” (22:13a). There, just a little ways off was God’s substitute for Isaac. No longer would Isaac have to be offered for the sacrifice. God had placed a ram in their midst for this occasion.

It is here where we are given yet another foreshadowing of the coming of the messiah—this time prefigured by both the willingness of Isaac to comply with Abraham’s unusual request and by the substitutionary ram. Like Isaac, Jesus would be the willing sacrifice that was placed on the altar by His Father. Though He had the power to remove Himself from the cross, just as Isaac is assumed to have had the strength to break free of the altar, Christ followed His Father’s instructions all the way to certain death. The only difference is, Jesus was offered and sacrificed, while Isaac was spared. Abraham so loved God that he was willing to give his only son so that by trusting in Him in this way, he might honor God. Sound familiar? “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

In so doing, Jesus satisfies the criteria for another image found in this ancient story. Not only is Jesus foreshadowed in Isaac, but He is also intimated in the ram caught in the thicket. This is made clear in what is revealed next in the second part of verse 13.

 “And Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son” (22:13b). The ram was Isaac’s substitute. Because the ram was caught in the thicket and available for the offering, Isaac no longer had to occupy the place on top of the firewood.

It is here where we catch the second type for Christ. Not only is Jesus the willing and only son of promise—He is the substitutionary atonement for the sin offering. Like this ram caught in the thicket, Jesus allowed Himself to be caught by the authorities at the right time and place, and was led like a lamb to the slaughter so that He might take our place and satisfy the punishment that we all deserve. The truth is, we all deserve a fiery end for the many sins we commit. However, because Jesus went on our behalf as our substitute, we do not have to (just as the ram took the place of Isaac).
Jesus is the only Son of God and the substitutionary atonement for sin.  For unto us is born a substitute!

IV. STAGE #4: The Praise-22:14-“…Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the Lord it will be provided,’…”

The fourth stage of this saga involves praise offered by Abraham to God, “Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the Lord it will be provided’…” (22:14). God had indeed provided for Abraham—He provided a substitute for his only son and a way for his promise of a great nation to progress. However, one gets the sense from reading the whole story that this came as no surprise to Abraham. While on the way up the mountain Abraham turned to those who were traveling with him and his son and said, “stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and WE will worship and return to you” (22:5). It appears that Abraham trusted God enough to obey the Lord’s unusual command to sacrifice his only son, while at the same time he trusted that God was going to do something like this in the end so that Isaac would be spared. Now that is faith!

So What?

When one considers who originally wrote this and to whom, one can begin to understand how this is rightly applied to us today. Genesis (along with Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy for that matter) were all written by Moses while those he led wandered in the desert following their incredible journey out of Egypt. Waning in the wilderness for some time had made some groan and complain about their present situation. In fact, many began to question Moses and God altogether. They doubted the Lord’s provision even though God had executed multiple plagues, signs, and wonders in their favor and miraculously supplied food and water every step of their long journey to the Promised Land. What better way to remind them of God’s enduring provision for the faithful than with this story of Abraham and Isaac? God is pleased to provide for those who completely trust Him with every part of their lives. This is just as true today as it was for Abraham and for the Israelites in the wilderness. We can expect God to provide for our needs when we entrust everything to Him through total obedience.

However, the even better news is that when God provides for those who completely trust Him, He provides His Son Jesus. Just as God provided a ram in the thicket to solve Abraham’s problems, God provided Jesus Christ for the sinner to solve his problems. For unto us is born a substitute! He is God’s only begotten son and atoning sacrifice—the stand in for us. He is ours when we surrender our lives over to Him, completely trusting and totally obeying Him with all parts of our lives. Just for a moment this Christmas season, let us pause and consider what we might give to God in a demonstration of trust to him. Would you give all of yourself? Abraham certainly did. As a result God provided what he needed and in so doing he predicts the greatest provision the world has ever seen—Christ—the substitute. This season let us be inspired by this substitute and be willing to trust the Lord with all of our lives, knowing that in so doing, we can expect to be taken care of and provided for according to his will.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

For Unto Us is Born the Defeater of Sin-Gen. 3:14-15

As we enter the thanksgiving and Christmas season, we are going to take a brief break from our journey in Revelation (a book that looks ahead to Christ’s second coming) to reflect on Christ’s first coming by means of the prophecies and events leading to the birth of Jesus in a series that we are calling “For unto Us.” The passages we are going to be perusing over the next couple of weeks each in their own way point forward to the Christ child and ultimately to the redemption that He alone provides from sin and death. In an effort to kick this series off, we are going to go back---all the way back—to the first ever prophecy of the coming Jesus.  It might surprise you to learn that the first even prediction of the coming Messiah is found as early as Genesis 3:14-15. Here, in one of the most disappointing episodes in all of the Scriptures, God shines His bright light of redemption by foreshadowing a most glorious event that we choose to celebrate this time of year. In fact, much as God was able to use the uninviting rural town of Bethlehem to welcome His only Son and cradle the God Child in the confines of a horse trough, God has always been about the business of bringing hope in the midst of despair. In Genesis 3:14-15, the blessing of God is found as the Lord issues as series of curses. Today, we are going to witness two consequences of the curse placed on the Serpent in the Garden of Eden and, more importantly, behold the hope that it spells for believers—"For unto us is born a sin-defeater!”

Image result for Smashing the serpent's head


Before we look at the implications of the cursed placed on the serpent let us ask a question that I often raise to my own kids—“what happened here?” How in the world did this mess come about in the book of Genesis? In the perfect world God created, The Lord allowed Adam and Eve free range over the planet and the free will to choose to obey His only rule—not to eat of the tree of knowledge. This one stipulation was necessary when one considers that in order for freedom to exist, so too must a choice. It was one thing for Adam and Eve to enjoy perfection. However, it was another thing entirely for them to choose God freely when given the opportunity not to.

Capitalizing on this opportunity, a tempter enters the garden named Lucifer who, again, is introduced in order to provide an opportunity for mankind to choose God over and above themselves. He approaches Eve, misconstrues God’s words, and deceives her into believing that she knew better than God. As a result, she eats of the very fruit her Lord forbade her to consume. Where was Adam? His sin was worse and maybe even first! He was right there watching the whole thing and did absolutely nothing to stop it, protect his wife, and honor the Lord’s wishes. Instead, he took a bite of the fruit himself!

Ashamed by their sin, Adam and Eve run and hide from God (I guess once you introduce stupid into the world it only goes downhill from there!).  God finds them (surprise, surprise) and after everyone takes a turn blaming each other, God has enough and begins to spell out the consequences for each party’s actions. This is where we pick up the story in verse 14. The first one to receive what is due is the serpent who instigated this entire spectacle. The first consequence of the curse dealt to him is present humiliation.

This verse is introduced with “the Lord God said to the serpent” (3:14). Though this introductory phrase is normally glossed over, consider the comparison made in these words. On the giving end of this curse we have the “Lord God” (Yahweh Elohim) whose proper name is juxtaposed alongside the one on the receiving—serpent. This is significant at least in this regard: many in this world believe that the tension between good and evil involves two opposite and equal forces (thinking that God is as good as Satan is evil). This could not be further from the truth. God is Yahweh Elohim. Satan is a snake compared to Him! The comparison between God’s exalted status and the humiliation of the snake is something that will continue to permeate the rest of this passage.

God begins by saying to the snake, “because you have done this” (3:14). Done what? Believe it or not, he has done a lot to deserve what he is about to receive in punishment. First, he was motivated to destroy God’s perfect paradise. Second, he approached the woman with the intent to deceive her. Third, he misrepresented God’s ordinance about the tree. Fourth, we was successful in getting these two individuals to choose themselves over God just as he had done in the heavens (wanting to be equal to God—see Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14). All of this the serpent (Lucifer) had done.

Because he had done all of “this” God issues this curse, “cursed are you more than all cattle and more than every beast of the field” (3:14c). Though the entire world and all of creation would suffer under the curse of God following this sin, the judgment issued on this snake would be more severe than any other beast.

Normally, people’s response upon seeing a snake is one of two extremes—love or hate. Personally, I’ve never understood a person who loves a snake because in my view the good kind of snake is a dead one in my opinion. There is no other animal I’m more turned off by than these slithery creatures. Maybe, at least here, I’m sympathetic to what the Bible says about their cursed status (me and Indiana Jones!). Throughout history, the snake has been the subject of scorn and ridicule. Only in pagan religions is it exalted and revered (see background on several of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3).

God continues and says, “On your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life,…” (3:14d). This was not the proudest posture this creature would assume—especially considering that earlier the serpent was described as “more crafty than any beast of the field” (3:1). How fitting it is that this serpent would spend the rest of his days slithering around, literally eating the rest of God’s creature’s dust. The verbs used in this verse suggest an ongoing state of affairs—i.e. from now on, the proudest creature would be the lowest creature.

Here, the justice of God is exceedingly poetic. In putting his cleverness to nefarious use, the serpent earned himself a life in the mud where no proud creature would want to spend much time at all. However, God’s curse is not over yet and if you thought the serpent’s present humiliation was bad, consider verse 15.


The second implication of the curse laid out on the serpent is future defeat. From this point on, there will be conflict between the serpent and the woman—representing wickedness and mankind respectively, “and I will put enmity between you and the woman” (3:15a). Before this ordeal the world existed in perfect tranquility. Now, conflict will ensue between mankind and evil.
This conflict will continue through the ages, “between your seed and her seed” (3:15b). Inasmuch as mankind multiplies and fills the earth, so too will evil multiply and fill the same earth with wickedness. “Seed” is often used in the Old Testament to describe descendants (this is especially true in the book of Ruth both figuratively and literally) in connection with men and their sons. However, this is the ONLY time in the entire Bible in which a woman is said to have seed. Why? Because women do not have seed nor is it their responsibility to provide seed! However, God says to the serpent here that one day a descendant will emerge solely from a woman—miraculously—who will see the conflict between wickedness and the human race come to a head.
This passage of Scripture is known as the protoevangelium—the “first good news—as it is the first prediction of Jesus Christ who would be born of a virgin woman (“seed of the woman”) and defeat the forces of evil once and for all! Leave it to God to redeem a the darkest moment in history yet experienced with the bright light of the gospel! Here, even as early as in Genesis 3, man’s failure is promised to be overwhelmed by Jesus’ victory, and Satan’s temporary failure is promised future defeat.
In many ways, from the early chapters of Genesis Jesus makes the following declaration to this people—“For unto us will be born the One who will ultimately defeat sin!” This child is Jesus Christ who is promised to come and right the wrongs that mankind brought upon itself.
This promised child and coming Savior will solidify His victory over the serpent and all that he represents by dealing a death blow to Satan’s head, “he shall bruise you on the head” (3:15c). Bruising of the head is euphemistic for total destruction. In fact, the word used here for “bruise” can also be translated “crush.” Jesus would accomplish this by means of His incarnation, ministry, passion, and glorification—demonstrating once and for all that death ‘has no sting and has been swallowed up in victory.  

1 Cor. 1:54-57-“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Though the promised victory spells complete and total defeat for the serpent, rendering his efforts to undermine God ultimately unsuccessful, Satan would be allowed to bruise the seed of the woman on the heal. This image foreshadows the crucifixion of Jesus Christ which, although a horrific spectacle of pain and anguish, was a temporary ordeal that was later eclipsed by the bodily resurrection. Jesus’ bruise was temporary, Satan’s crushing would be irrecoverable. Ultimately, the curse that God issues this serpent involves his ultimate and total demise. The only victory this serpent will ever now would come when he temporarily and superficial wounds the seed of the woman.

So What?

The serpent and all that he stands for by the end of this passage is humiliated and promised future defeat at the hands of a promised seed that will one day crush his head. To this day, Satan continues to wreak havoc on the world not as someone believes he has a shot at victory, but as someone who knows it is just a matter of time before his time is up. His only consolation is the possibility of misdirecting as many people into following his failure of a program all the way to hell, where he already knows he must to spend eternity. However, the victory of the seed of the woman is available to all who know the identity of this “seed” and as a result have a relationship with Him. Who is this seed? His name is Jesus! And 2000 years ago he was born in a small town called Bethlehem to bring salvation from the threat of sin. He is the promised victor over sin and death and the miraculous Messiah who, born of a virgin, lived a perfect life so that we could know life eternal. This is what we celebrate in this season and in every season—that God from the very instance the problem of sin was introduced, put a plan in place to save us that has everything to do with Jesus. For unto us is born the defeater of sin! Praise the Lord!

Is this something you are able to celebrate today? Is Satan’s fate sealed in your life? Are you anticipating final victory in Christ and living in light of this victory today? Or, are you still fixed in evil's suffocating grip? A Defeater of Sin has been born. More to the point, this One died on a cross--suffering the penalty of sin (death)-- and rose three days later--demonstrating his power over the grave--so that you and I might be loosed from the grip of sin and know the hope of perfect eternal life in the end.