Monday, January 21, 2019

Third Sons

We ended last week with a beautiful theology about first and second sons, about promises and blessings as reflected through the relationship between Isaac and his sons, Jacob and Esau, as a reflection of God's relationship with Israel and the world. 

But let's not forget that God also tends to have a soft spot for third sons. 

The first third son in the Bible comes all the way back at the beginning, of course, when Adam and Eve give birth to Seth. Cain and Abel were alright, and they certainly have their lessons to teach us, but when God is establishing the descent of the world and the fatherhood of all humanity, it is through Seth that He starts His sacred line. We've heard, of course, that God is the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, but these fathers were the sons of Seth. 

Skip ahead a little, and the next father we see with at least three sons is Noah. On the surface, it doesn't look like the third son of Noah is very blessed; it's Ham, the son who exposed his father's nakedness and became the father of Nimrod, as we looked at last week. But Ham is also the father of Canaan, which became the nation who inhabited the land that becomes the Promised Land. Which means that God has used the third son of Noah to cultivate and fertilize the Promised Land, the land He will promise to Abraham and to which He will lead the nation of Israel after its captivity in Egypt. That's pretty big.

And then we come to Jacob, who is the next father we see with at least three sons. If you follow along in the birth of Jacob's offspring, you see that the third son here is Levi, who is a son of the only wife to this point to give children to Jacob - Leah. Leah's other children were not favored; the special son in Jacob's quiver is and always has been Joseph, hasn't it? The son of Rachel? 

But Levi...Levi is the son that God sets apart for Himself. Levi is the tribe that becomes servants of God. Levi is the tribe of priests. They get nothing in the inheritance because the Lord Himself is their promise. 

Moses and Aaron come from the tribe of Levi. 

It's all very interesting precisely because it is so unexpected. We believe there must be something about being a firstborn son, and we believe it all the more after we see the Passover. The firstborn son must always be redeemed or killed; he is precious and special in the eyes of his father. And we see through Jacob and Esau/Jews and Gentiles that the firstborn is the recipient of the promise. 

And certainly, there's something about being a second son, too. It's the second son who we see again and again receive the blessing. Not just Jacob and the Jews, but even with the sons of Joseph - Jacob blesses the second son over the first, then offers the first a promise. 

But God has a thing for third sons, and we should never forget this, either. For just look at what He has done through them. 

Sometimes, I think it's easy to think of ourselves as Christians as third sons. We're not quite 'the world' (first sons) and we're no longer Jews (second sons), but we're something else...something very special to God and to what He's doing in the world. Something like...a Seth. A new chance at life. Something like...a Ham. Cultivators of the Promised Land. Something like...a Levi. Servants of God. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Promise and Blessing

You're probably familiar with the brotherly rivalry between Jacob and Esau - Esau was loved by his father, Isaac, but Jacob was loved by his mother, Rebekah. Over the years, scheming ensued, and Jacob - not once, but twice - takes what is rightfully Esau's, forcing him to flee to Rebekah's homeland under the guise of finding a suitable wife. Really, he was just trying to get far enough away that his brother couldn't kill him. 

Brothers. 

The most dramatic scene that takes place between these two pre-Jacob's flight back to Laban is the incident where Jacob and Rebekah devise a plan so that his ailing, blind father, Isaac, will bless him, the second son, rather than Esau, the firstborn. Isaac sends Esau into the fields to hunt wild game as an offering for his father's blessing, Jacob takes a goat, Rebekah prepares the goat, and Isaac eats the goat, blessing Jacob in place of Esau, convinced (though not 100%) that it is his firstborn son. 

Then, Esau comes in sweaty from the fields, fresh game on his plate, and offers it to his father, who has already given out his blessing and grieves that he has been deceived. Begging, Esau pleads with Isaac for something, anything - a blessing, too. And Isaac comes up with a promise for him. It's not, on the surface, nearly as wonderful as the blessing Jacob received, but a promise is a promise, and it stands. 

What is easy to miss in this exchange is how this interaction is a small taste of what is going on in the world around us, what is happening in the dynamic between God's people and the world. How this scene, all the way back in mid-Genesis, sets the stage for Jews and Gentiles generations later. 

Although the Jews are known as God's people, they are actually a second son. The original plan was that God was going to bless all of humanity, live with them, walk with them in the cool of the day in the Garden. He established this through Adam, then Noah, then Abraham - the plan was men all along. But sin kind of wrecked that, at least in the initial goings. 

So God's plan to bless people gets thrown off-track. By their own deception and depravity. In comes the second son. 

The second son, Israel, promises himself to be just as good as the first. In fact, you might even think he was the favored all along. At least, that's what it seems to be. And the Father speaks a blessing over the people, but it's not the blessing He wanted to speak. Then, in rushes the first son and says, wait a minute - what about me? 

The Father rends His clothes in grief. This isn't how it was supposed to happen. His blessing is already poured out on the second son; it's given to the people of God. But He cannot, in good conscience, neglect His firstborn, either. So He continues to hold a promise for him. 

The plan was men, but in the reality of sin, the second son - Israel - steps in and takes the blessing. But God has never forgotten His firstborn, never forgotten the Garden. And He continues, throughout generations, to speak promise over men, as well. Not just Israel, but all men, all mankind. We see it again and again and again - for the sake of the world, for all the world, for all the nations, for every generation, for all, for anyone

And eventually, we see it - for anyone. Though the second son remains blessed, the first retains the promise. God brings them together in His house, in His love, and both fulfill the glory of His grace. 

It started here, in mid-Genesis, with Jacob and Esau - a second and a first son, who bear in themselves the promise and blessing of the Jews and the Gentiles, from one house. From one Father. For one Love. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Strangers in a Strange Land

God makes a lot of promises to Abraham; He seals a lot of covenants with the faithful man. But it doesn't escape our perception that most of the promises, the covenants, are really just the same promise over and over and over again - you will be a great nation, and I will give this land to your descendants. 

Actually, God wants Abraham to not have to wait for his descendants, so the Lord brings the man to the land that He promises to give him, even in his lifetime. He takes him to the place He's promised and says, "Check this out. This land, this whole land, this beautiful and fertile and great land, is going to be yours." 

But not yet.

Abraham has been promised the land - multiple times - but if we watch carefully in the story of Abraham, we see that everywhere Abraham goes in his lifetime, he's an alien. A foreigner. A stranger. The land has been promised to him, but it's not his yet, and every time we see Abraham, he's deferring to the people who currently live in the land, trying to appease them, trying to live in harmony with them. 

He never asserts his authority, never claims his promise. He doesn't storm in and declare that the land is now his. He doesn't take more than he pays for. He doesn't set up his home and push everyone else out. He's meek about the whole thing, truly meek. 

Because he believes in God's promise, he doesn't have to be anything else. 

It's an important principle for us. We are a people who like to storm into our own lives, take charge and take names. We're a people who like to claim what's coming to us and hold on tight, taking our lives in our own hands and declaring every honor, privilege, gift that we deserve. Most of us, if given the promise that something is ours, would just go and take it. 

Foreigners? Ha. Strangers? Not a chance. How could we be strangers in our own land? How can we be aliens on a piece of property that's been promised - essentially deeded - to us? It's not our fault that other persons happen to live here, happen to be in the way. This is ours, and we're taking it. 

Our complete inability to be gentle with our own lives, ravenously devouring every promise and every chance and every hope that we have, has left us completely unable to be gentle with others, as well. So while we're busy taking our own lives by storm, we're running bulldozers over the rest of the world to get it. 

All the while, usually, proclaiming the love and goodness of God. Because, you know. 

It's interesting to watch Abraham live this story. It's telling to see how he does it, how it demonstrates his great faith and faithfulness. He's the only man in the entire world, at this point, with a real home. He's the only one who has a promise to any part of the land. And he lives as a foreigner, so as not to harm those who don't have the same promise, who don't have the same hope.

It makes me wonder what our lives, our world, would look like if we did the same. What if we took the promise that we have, the hope that we have, and let it make us meek? What if we used our promise, our hope, as a reason not to act the way the rest of the world acts? What if we were so sure of our place called Home that we were confident and comfortable enough to live as foreigners here? 

We are strangers in a strange land. We always have been. The promise doesn't change that. In fact, it ought to humble us into knowing it all the more. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Remaining Righteous

One of the lesser-known characters, and lesser-discussed, in the Scriptures is Lot, Abraham's nephew. For years, Lot traveled with Abraham. They herded their livestock together. Their houses grew together. In fact, it was only when both became too wealthy and amassed houses too big that they split apart, meaning that Lot learned a great deal - and acquired a great deal - from Abraham's blessing. 

And the last time we see Lot, he's fleeing from a burning Sodom and Gomorrah, his wife tragically turning to look and becoming a pillar of salt. 

In fact, the story of Lot gets so far buried in Genesis that when we think about Sodom and Gomorrah, we think only about sin. Only about atrocity. Only about fire and brimstone. And never about Lot. 

We spend our time discussing the finer points of God's vengeance. Trying to discern what the actual sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was, as though we can narrow it down to just one thing. Some have said it must be homosexuality, as the men of the town came after the angels of the Lord who had visited Lot that night. Others have argued it was not homosexuality, but it was inhospitality that was the real issue - the town made no safe place for the angels to stay. 

The truth about Sodom and Gomorrah is that their sin was not so simple as either of these, but rather, they were perverse through and through. God called them thoroughly wicked, which means He wasn't concerned about one particular behavior over another, but had witnessed a complete turning away from Him. A complete fallenness. A horrible brokenness that corrupted every fiber in the fabric of their being. It's not that they were homosexuals or unwelcoming; it's that they were unrepentant sinners, through and through. There was nothing good left in their hearts. 

Except for Lot's. 

Lot, having come of age under the example of his uncle, Abraham, maintained his righteousness, even in such a sinful place. When the angels come, it is Lot who does not exhibit the sinful nature of the rest of the city. When God readies to send about His judgment, it is Lot who He spares. 

We cannot - and should not - overlook this, for the story of Lot is the story of so many of us. We are living in a world that seems wicked, perverse through and through. A fallen world that doesn't seem to care any longer about its sin or its brokenness, but seems to be pushing itself to new levels of depravity every day. 

We've seen the headlines. We've heard the stories. We've witnessed them firsthand, even sometimes in the church herself. Men have turned from God, and it's not just about one thing - it's not just about the "big" issues; it's every little thing. 

And we, who are a people of faith, find ourselves asking more desperately, more defeatedly, every day - is there any hope for us? How can we remain righteous in a place like this? 

The truth is that many of us aren't. Many of us have fallen to the ways of the world, claiming that we must play by her rules if we ever want to have anything, be anything, do anything at all here. Claiming that we have to live the way the world tells us to live because that's the only thing that works here, that's the only way to function in this fallen place. We have become just as deceitful, just as deceptive, just as depraved as the world around us, while still proclaiming our love for God and our sorrow that it "has" to be this way, that we "have" to be this way. 

But it doesn't; we don't. That's what the life of little-known Lot teaches us. There is a way to remain righteous in a sinful world, even in the most sinful world. There is a way to live above the board, to live a life holy and pure even in a despicable place. This broken world doesn't have to break us. It doesn't have to change who we are at the core of our heart. It doesn't have to draw us into its depravity. We can remain righteous. 

We simply have to choose to and then act accordingly. 

If Lot can do it in a place like Sodom and Gomorrah, how much more can we in a place like this? 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

What God is Doing

Abraham is known as a faithful man. Even as far as the book of Hebrews, deep into the New Testament, the people of God praise Abraham for his faith. We know well the stories of how he left home and went to the land that God had showed him, how he climbed a mountain with his only promised son and prepared to sacrifice him on the altar, how at every turn, Abraham believed God and trusted Him, and this trust was counted to Him as faith. 

We even know that at one point, Abraham argued with God, reasoned with Him, and seemed to have talked Him into a compromise. This happened when God revealed what He was going to do to the wicked cities, and Abraham immediately came to the defense of any who may have been righteous among them. If there are 50 righteous persons, how can You destroy a whole city, Lord? And by the end of the conversation, he's talked God down to just a handful of righteous persons. 

It's this conversation that tells us something about Abraham's and God's relationship that is crucial for our own, if we're paying attention. Something that we generally miss, but that promises to revolutionize how we, as a people of God, believe. 

And it has nothing to do with what Abraham did

Most of us think that faith is a personal journey, a private endeavor, that our faith depends upon what God is doing in us and what we are doing for God. It's a one-on-one interaction, an intimate relationship that doesn't concern the rest of the world and isn't really concerned with it, either.

So we spend our entire lives of faith trying to figure out what God is doing in us and what God wants us to do. We spend our lives preparing to travel to new lands, preparing to offer our sacrifices, preparing to climb mountains. We wait for God to tell us which lands, which sacrifices, which mountains, and we believe that this is the heart of our Christian faith. Do this well, and we will know all that we need to know about, well, anything? 

But this conversation that Abraham has with God about the wicked cities - ready? - has nothing to do with Abraham. Nothing. He doesn't live in the wicked cities. He's not trying to preserve his own life. He doesn't even travel or frequent there, from what we can gather. God has revealed to this man what He's planning to do, not in Abraham's life, but in the world. And Abraham listens with every bit the same intensity as he does when he is called to the mountain. 

This is important. Because it's what we so often lose sight of. We spend so much of our time figuring out our own lives of faith, praying for our own healing, focused on our own redemption, that we miss what God is doing in the world around us. We're too busy trying to determine what He's doing in our lives, and a lot of the time, let's be honest, it looks like "nothing." And we've started to think that God is nothing except what He is to us.  

If we would broaden our vision, however, and let God show us new things - things that He's always wanted to share with His faithful - we would start to see in a new way. We would start to see how the God that we depend upon for our healing...is healing the world. How the God we wait on for redemption...is redeeming the world. How the God who calls us to the mountain...dwells on the mountain. 

We think God is hiding from us what He's up to, we think it's some big mystery He's protecting, but the truth is that God wants to tell us more than we are often willing to hear. He wants to share with us more than we often think we care about. He didn't hide from Abraham what He was doing in the wicked cities; what makes us think He's hiding from us what He's doing in our world? 

We can learn so much about who God is and how God loves if we let Him tell us about things He's doing that have nothing to do with us

And, if we're righteous, we learn how to speak righteousness into a fallen world. Even when it doesn't seem to matter, at least not personally. 

These are valuable encounters with God, tremendously valuable. They can change our entire faith, for we get to see God in all His glory and not just in our own. We get to see Him as He is, not just as He is in personal relationship with us. We get to remind ourselves how deeply God loves the world, and this reminds us, even in our darkest moments, how deeply God loves us.