Sunday, August 29, 2010

Crumpets and The Promised Kingdom

Outside the laundry is flapping on the line in the hot sun. Inside we are absently listening to Sufjan Stevens’ All The Delighted People EP and contemplating crumpets.

We're some way into a whirlwind tour of the history of God's people via the Bible with Vaughan Roberts as tour guide, and are fancying a bit more of a linger around all this fantastic stuff than God's Big Picture requires. More reaching out and touching and sniffing, and even tasting.

Not quite proper questions, just a few notes from lingering, somewhat gobsmacked, in The Promised Kingdom chapter.

Genesis 11:10-30 - Trace the bloodline of Abram.
Shem - [Flood](+ 2 years) Arpachshad (+ 35 years) - Shelah (+ 30 years) - Eber (34 years) - [Earth divided] Peleg (+30 years) - Reu (+32 years) - Serug (+30 years) - Nahor (+29 years) - Terah (+70 years) – Abram

Genesis 11:30 - What is the abrupt conclusion of the genealogy of Abram?
Stops at the barrenness of Sarai, Abram's wife. Oh noes! Bloodline ends here…

Terah took Abram, Sarai and Lot and moved from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran and settled there. Ur and Haran were known as centres for the worship of the moon god (ironically called “Sin”). The descendants of Shem had no qualms about worshipping Sin (see Joshua 24:2).

So why did God call Abram and give him these wonderful promises?

No meritorious reason. Abram was not looking for God and certainly wasn’t worshipping him or pleasing him in any sense to deserve God’s promises. Totally God’s sovereign and gracious initiative in calling and promising.

Genesis 12:1-7 - What did God promise Abram?
- loads of descendants
- a great name
- blessing for Abram and through him, blessing for the whole world!

Sarai is unable to fulfil the creational mandate of multiplying and filling the earth. Yet, God will give them descendants enough to be a great nation.

The people at Babel tried to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4). But here, God will make a great name for Abram.

The Babelites were fearful of being scattered and tried to unite themselves independently of God. But here, God promises universal blessing through one man.

- the whole land of Canaan for his offspring

What obstacles seem to stand in the way of the fulfilment of these promises?
Problems in the descendants department. Plus other people are occupying the land.

Genesis 12:4-9 – How did Abram demonstrate that he believed God?
He obeyed him. He called on the name of the LORD.

Genesis 12:10-20 – How did Abram demonstrate that he believed God?
He didn’t.

What did God do to show his faithfulness despite Abram’s lack of faith
He cursed those who dishonoured Abram even though it was Abram who was deceitful! (cf 12:3).

Genesis 13:14-18 – How did God react to Abram’s patent lack of faith?
Reiterated his promises of offspring (like dust) and land.

Why does God do this? Why not just abandon Abram?
Because he promised and he is faithful.

Genesis 15 – After quite a bit of excitement, Abram is still childless and landless and questions God, asking for confirmation. Basically, “you say, I say, who confirm?” Instead of striking him dead for his unbelief, what does God do?
Reiterates his promise of offspring (like stars) and land.

And in fact, intensifies the promise by making a covenant with Abram. (Most commentators take this as a self-maledictory promise – that if God did not keep his promises, he would himself be torn apart like the animals. Not entirely convinced but regardless, this ratified covenant emphasises yet again, God’s commitment to his promises and therefore his faithfulness and trustworthiness.)

(Also, God counts Abram’s somewhat dodgy belief towards him as righteousness, even though it falters in the next chapter.)

Genesis 16 - How does Abram demonstrate his trust in God and his word?
He doesn’t. Sarai is still childless and Abram decides that if God wasn’t going to do anything about it, he would. He was 75 years old when God gave the promise first and is now 86.

Moreover, he “listened to the voice of Sarai” (cf Genesis 3:17).

Genesis 17 – God’s reply comes 13 years later when Abram is 99 years old. What’s so amazing about God the Almighty’s (El Shaddai’s) response?
Not only does he not do away with Abram, he reaffirms the promise, and not just that but also expands on it.

- people
Fruitfulness – cf Genesis 1:28 how humans were to exercise dominion over the earth on God’s behalf. Re-establishment of creation mandate?

Seems that the covenant with Abram and his offspring, the everlasting covenant, will reverse effects of the Fall.

- place (17:8a)

- under God’s rule (17:8b)

God gives Abram the mark of circumcision as a sign to them of this covenant (17:9-14).

Abram and Sarai’s names to reflect the certain fulfilment of the promise (17:5,15).

God also makes a specific promise that the covenant shall be with a son from Sarah – a son he will give her supernaturally, rather than Ishmael, the son that Abram made to force the fulfilment of the promise (17:19).

[On a side note, the promises given to Ishmael are interesting, especially since Arabs and their Muslim brothers consider themselves to be from the line of Abraham via Ishmael. See And here’s a compelling documentary “Behind Enemy Lines” by Norwegian journalist Paul Refsdal on the Taliban/Mujahideen in Afghanistan, shown on SBS Australia in August 2010. One of their brothers in arms possibly killed Karen Woo and the rest of her medical aid mission team, apparently mistaking them for Christian missionaries.]

However, inclusion into the covenant is not automatic. What must Abraham and his male offspring and household members do to be included in the covenant?
Be circumcised. Circumcision would distinguish those who believed that God would fulfil the divine promises to Abraham from those who did not.

Again, however, it seems that all these people did not need to do any other work than trust that God would deliver on his promise if they trusted him!

God does not change and neither do post-Fall humans. Several centuries later, this act of faith became any but! See Galatians 3. The Galatian Christians were being led astray by false teaching that suggested that it is not enough to believe in Christ but that they also need to fulfil Jewish law (including circumcision) to be right with God.

Galatians 3:6 - How did Abraham receive the promises?
By faith.

How do we non-Jews inherit the promises then?
- promises given to Christ (Galatians 3:16)
- those who believe are given the promise in Christ (Galatians 3:22) because they are one in Christ so therefore Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:28-29)

Paul seems to be contradicting the Abrahamic covenant, saying that it’s not that you’ll be cut off from God’s people if you don’t circumcise yourself; rather you will be severed from Christ if you seek to be justified by your own deeds, eg, circumcision. How does Paul show, by argument from Abraham, that righteousness has always been by faith and not by obedience to the law?
- the promise was made 430 years before the law was given (Galatians 3:15-18)
- no one could keep the law so the law could never have given life, in fact, the law was given so that the promise by faith could be given to those who believe (Galatians 3:22).

In what way was the gospel preached to Abraham?
The gospel is God’s promise to Abraham that through his offspring all nations will be blessed.

Why are those who have faith in Christ Abraham's true children, and therefore inheritors of the blessing?

Galatians 3:10 - What happens instead to those who "rely on works of the law"?

How might we "rely on works of the law" today?

Why is this futile?

How is it possible for us to receive God's blessing instead of the curse of judgement?

(Also happen to be doing John 3 at a second session of Just Looking and again amazed at the solid consistency of Scripture yet rich complexity of simple truths: a promise/the gospel passed down through centuries, made to a man of faith whose faith was not quite as pure as one would expect, us Gentiles being able to become inheritors of the blessings made to a Semitic man who lived thousands of years ago by being in that man's offspring, the need to be born again by believing in Jesus and trusting him, being born again by cleansing by water and given a new heart and the Spirit as promised in Ezekiel, the dire situation we who chose not to worship God are in now foreshadowed by the dire situation the snake-bitten Israelites were in when they distrusted God, and the solution then and now being itself a turning away from and corrective of the original sin (pun intended). The wonderful reversal of the consequences and curses of the Fall.)

Orin applies: good for food, a delight to the eyes, a fragrance that fills a room

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