Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac

What would you do, I’m speaking to you parents, if God asked you to take your only child, the child you’ve longed to have all the decades you’ve been married and have tried to have a child but couldn’t, and take that child and bring him to a far mountain and sacrifice him to the Lord as a blood sacrifice? Like He asked Abraham in Gen. 22: 1-12

If it was me I think I’d either question my sanity, since God does not have His people do things against His doctrines, i.e., kill your children, or I’d wonder if it was the devil tempting me like Satin did to Charles Manson.

But the Old Testament times were different days, and Abraham had plenty of experience with God telling him to do things like leave his home and go to a land far away where He would make the land a present to him and his posterity. So I guess Abraham recognized his voice.

But, and this is a huge but, God was asking him to sacrifice his only son, the son He promised would be the heir and future of his hopes and his nation! But there is nothing in the text that gives us any insight at all about how he debated or mulled this proposal in his mind. Except that early in the next morning they set of on the journey. In other words, Abraham obeyed God.

But you have to believe he was freaking out inside, right? What father wouldn’t? But consider the relationship Abraham had with God. Think about the faith he had in the Lord. This was not just a casual belief in God. This was not a “Churchianity” like so many of us have today, where we let the impact of the Holy Spirit indwelling us barely register on how we live our lives and deal with our world. This must have been a full walk moment by moment in the knowledge of the Lord to have the faith the Lord “will provide for Himself the lamb” without explicitly being told. He must have known God would never have Abraham harm his son, so he felt completely confident that he could tie up Isaac, lay him on the alter, on top of the wood, and even raise the knife over his head ready to strike! And I feel certain that even if God did not stop him from killing his son, he knew God was able to raise him from the dead, as well. See Heb. Heb. 11:19

I’m not quite sure I’ve got that much faith! But Abraham spent a lot of time following God’s instructions wandering around the Promised Land. Sure he stumbled on occasion, telling some kings his beautiful wife was his sister because he didn’t trust God enough to protect his family. But the magnificent thing about the way Abraham did believe God was that it was absolute. He believed God and God awarded him with Righteousness because of it. Gen. 15:6 Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

And the great thing about this is that it can happen to every human being in this same way – Jesus called it being Born Again. Just read John chapter 3. John 3:7 “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.'” When He was talking to a renown Teacher of the Law this Pharisee didn’t realize Jesus was speaking out of that very Law, as He so frequently did to their blindness.

I don’t know if there was tremendous relief in Abraham when God called out to stay his knife and do not harm the boy. Maybe his faith just pegged a notch. Maybe he did break out in a sweat. Who knows. What a phenomenal relationship he had with God, to go through such a blind trail. I sure hope I can fair as well, because I these kinds of pressures don’t let up in these crazy days of ours!

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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The Truth Suppressed, God is Knowable

Romans 1:18-20
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

This is just a spectacular statement for a man to make, even for a non-scientist, a theologian like Paul. This is before such 19 and 21st century scientific thought like Special Relativity, Quantum Physics, black holes, the “God particle,” “dark energy” as detected by the Hubble telescope, and so on. A simple declaration is made first thing in Romans to lay a foundation for the rest of Paul’s premise, God was knowable by everyone. Why was He knowable? Because God Himself made Himself evident! He wasn’t the watchmaker who wound up the watch and left it to run and then hid on His creation. No, He made Himself evident. He let His creation become the evidence for His existence. And not just for His existence but for His own personal characteristics as well. His invisible attributes! Paul understood there is something about the spiritual and emotional makeup of mankind that is perceptive enough to detect the eternal and the divine nature of God through creation. And these things about God are seen clearly. It isn’t some foggy notion or a puzzle, or some convenient notion that man makes God in his own image, it is a clear part of human nature to comprehend that there is an eternal, divine God who created all things.

But very sadly, Adam’s fall changed the original paradigm drastically. [Adam had the privilege to walk and talk face to face with God (in the form of Jesus).] While still able to understand all of this, mankind chooses to reject this information to one degree or another. History is proof of all that. How awful has been the impact in the life of all cultures – the rejection of this truth. The history books are filled with the awful tales as mankind spiraled downward to the worst forms of evils, as the Book of Genesis details graphically, though there have been bright spots in humanity here and there. So Paul could justly summarize his world and it applies just as much today in verse 21 and 22:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools

It is wonderful to hear some scientists today expound on the awesome discoveries made daily and give God the glory for the things fearfully and wonderfully made, but this is rare. More often one hears of the scientist who praises the god of evolution for deciding to take some particular path in development and declare how this is such a wonderful step in progress. Isn’t it great how Evolution brought us out of the slime to the lush planet we presently love and live. Yes, isn’t Evolution a fabulous sentient designer that can form all these species and adaptations and make all these decisions? Professing to be wise, they became fools indeed!

For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

The big lie. What makes more sense, that this huge, seemingly infinite, unimaginably complex universe, from the building blocks of subatomic particles to giant galaxies, would be a random accident of a non-designer, or stranger yet, a non-sentient evolutionary concept, or if a real Designer/Engineer was responsible for everything we see and sense? What if I told you your car just slowly appeared on its own eventually standing in your driveway fully formed ready to drive? How about the city you live in, that years ago it appeared fully formed with all the sub-structures, electronics, sewer, rail lines, streets, stores, everything you see, evolved ready for use; would you believe that story? Or would you say that designers and engineers had to be involved?

Yes, I thought so. Doesn’t He deserve some recognition for such a fabulous deed?

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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Romans, Paul’s Doctoral Thesis

I’ve reached the book of Romans in this year’s journey through the Bible. When you start the trip at the very beginning rather than make a lot of small side trips here and there, which is not to say there is something wrong with that, you inevitably pick up a larger picture, you gain a greater sense of the full structure of the vast history of what God has done in and with creation and mankind. You recall the old story of three blind men touching an elephant in different places, an animal they had never previously encountered and then trying to explain what the animal looked like. Without knowing how God has dealt with mankind, and inversely, how mankind has dealt with God since the beginning, it is most difficult, to say the least, what He is trying to accomplish among us. So the symmetry of the layout of the 66 book of the Bible is a beautiful thing and I love how Romans pick up right after the Book of Acts which ends with Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, still given much freedom but under house arrest. Then his letter to the Romans begins even though it was written some years before when he expressed his desire to someday visit them and impart some spiritual gift. (1:11)

In my opinion (and in my meager reading) the greatest book to come out of Christendom is John Calvin’s The Institutes of the Christian Religion. First published as a small tract in 1536 it grew to a fully developed treatise of Christian thought and Theology in its successive publications. Reading the Ford Lewis Battels’ edition (see my Resources page for a link) is an awesome experience in the study of Scripture and how Calvin’s insight of the Word is so remarkable in the sixteenth century. I don’t agree with everything he wrote, but almost.

But Paul’s letter to the Romans is the penultimate Institutes of the Christian Religion. It is quite fitting that this letter begins the Epistles section of the New Testament, and to come immediately after the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. This dissertation of the theology of Christianity, foundation, in all it nuance, how faith works, and the works it performs, is the cornerstone of Christianity itself. From this letter all the other Epistles in the New Testament gain a foothold in the mission Jesus gave His disciples before ascending into Heaven:

“These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:45 – 49

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18 – 20

In this letter Paul pours all the great learning amassed in his Hebrew days and those days after the road of Damascus when he went away for fourteen years, no doubt to study the Scriptures in minute detail to see how they all applied to Jesus Christ.

So Romans is a catechism on steroids, it is the primer for the new Christian. It is a textbook for the advanced studies student. It is brilliant! It is one of the best books to learn by outlining. If you want to know what Paul meant in the verses around 7:13 – 7:21 if he was talking about the before salvation person or that after born again person, outline the book and it will be obvious. That’s just one of my favorite examples.

Romans should be a letter all Christians should read often and cherish. It is the book Martin Luther read that captured his spirit, salvation by faith alone. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Read it and learn the real purpose of the Law. Read about one big beautiful promise because of which people from all nations of the earth could be blessed through Abraham, not just Israel. Also read and wonder about God’s own choice like the potter making the jars to keep and discard if you have ears to hear. This is an awesome book.

While I recuperate from surgery I’ll try to post some thoughts on topics from Romans that strike me as important to the church and the world.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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Why Ignore the Greeks?

John 12:20-22
Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast;
these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Philip *came and *told Andrew; Andrew and Philip *came and *told Jesus.

I’ve wondered at this verse, because Jesus never replies to the statement to all appearances. And it is confusing since it would seem as if Jesus would want to take His message to as many people as He could. He shared the Word with the Samaritan woman at the well when His disciples were flabbergasted that He would stoop so low to talk to a Samaritan, and a woman at that.

But instead of commenting to Andrew and Phillip’s statement about some Greeks wanting to speak to Jesus, He launches into another parable about a grain of wheat and and bearing fruit.

What gives?

Then it occurred to me what time it was. It was Passion Week. Jesus’ ministry was winding down. After a couple years of walking all around the Judea and Israel preaching and healing and driving the Jewish leaders crazy, He was finally heading up to Jerusalem for the final confrontation. It was just a few days before He was going to be handed over to the powers of darkness and scourged and crucified and be killed. The time for the giving of workshops and PowerPoint presentations were over. Jesus was getting a bit more worked up with the knowledge of exactly what was in store for Him. This intensity culminated in the mighty tension as He prayed in the Garden and the sweat dripped from Him like drops of blood. Luke 22:44 Looking forward to the torture of the Roman cohort was not pleasant as you can imagine. Even during the week leading up to the crucifixion surely had an effect on the Lord as a fully human being.

So that is why He didn’t greet the Greek delegation. He just didn’t have any time left. He had little time left to do all the things He had to accomplish before His departure. He couldn’t spend it on the Greeks who loved, as Paul found out decades later, to debate lofty philosophical ideals. Jesus had more important things He needed to concentrate His energies and prayers. And He devoted them to His disciples and to final teachings in the Temple. And reading the final chapters of His soliloquies, they were stunning deliveries, golden gifts of the Spirit from the Father to ears who were so dulled by this time. I’d have loved to have been there!

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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The Weaker Vessel

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman
1 Peter 3:7

A thought occurred to me as I read this verse. No doubt one will occur to you as well, “why would he write about such a divisive topic?” But that wasn’t my thought. Certainly though, if you mentioned this statement among a group of women today imagine the civil discourse that would ensue! You would probably only be able to imagine, as perhaps all civility may be abandoned.

When this verse of Scripture was written the place of the sexes was not much questioned in society, at least vocally or publicly. The woman being the weaker sex was probably understood since the men worked outside the home hunting/gathering/ warring and women worked inside, childbearing, caring for the family. But reading this verse today can’t be understood in those terms because society changes, times change and God’s Word has to be applicable forever.

So what really did Peter mean by the use of the phrase? Or is this one of those impenetrable sayings that Peter attributes to Paul “in which are some things hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16) though he has a number of his own? (Like verses nineteen and twenty in this chapter or verse six in chapter four!)

In the Twenty-first century there is little doubt that men and women are about as equal as they can be across the spectrum of society in many ways. And that the Scriptures call each gender to be held equally in honor and respect and love is undeniable. And that some societies need to raise the bar concerning the treatment of women with equity, like equal pay for equal work, is also undeniable. There are also the obvious differences between men and women, child bearing, emotional and psychological differences. Do any of these have a bearing on the debate surrounding the “weaker vessel” issue of this text? Or is this one of those issues best left to the end of the age when the Lord returns and we stop seeing through “a mirror dimly” (1 Cor 13:12). Personally I’m going to love the “Sunday School” class Old Testament Explained, taught by our Lord Jesus, which was begun on the road to Emmaus when the two disciples met and didn’t recognize Him, and “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27) What a fantastic course that will be!

But back to the thought I had when I read this verse from Peter. A “weaker vessel” as many translations have it, or “someone weaker,” or “most delicate partner,” or “the weaker partners.” My mind went back to the Garden of Eden when it was just Adam and Eve. God had told Adam, before Eve was around, not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, or in the day he ate its fruit he would die. We don’t know how much time elapsed between the time Eve was created until the time the Serpent tempted her at the Tree. But why did he tempt Eve and not Adam? He had to have had a rationale for selecting Eve instead of Adam to discuss how it would be beneficial to consider this particular Tree, pulling a fruit from a branch and taking a bite. Why not Adam? What did he see in Adam that made him think he would not make a successful temptation? What did he see in Eve that made her a better choice?

Maybe it was that Adam was the direct recipient of the command and Eve was not around. Eve was dependent upon Adam telling her the information second hand. We are lacking a lot of information about their relationship. This is frustrating. We wish they had left their diary behind for us to read so we would have more insight. But the details are sketchy for a reason I think. We need to walk by faith, not by sight. We need to trust in God, not be spoonfed all the answers. It’s frustrating, yes, but that’s how babies grow up to be adults. Maybe the information Adam gave Eve was not as accurate as it could have been. Or maybe he gave her the command God gave him verbatim, but she remembered it wrong. Or maybe she was confused by the argument presented by the serpent. Perhaps the dialog in Genesis is not the entire sequence of events. Maybe it is just the salient points, the Readers Digest version. In any event, we know that Eve told the serpent incorrect information about the commandment from God (He didn’t say they couldn’t touch the tree) and I think this is what the Serpent was looking for, the wedge he could use in his negotiation to sin. Did he somehow know she was “the weaker vessel” and he took advantage of this in his manipulation of the facts??

On a side note of this temptation scene I should mention, if you wonder how could anyone possible make such a monumentally simple yet horribly tragic mistake like this I suggest you read a C.S. Lewis book, Perilandra, It is book 2 from his science fiction trilogy. There is a scene in chapter 9 which portrays a temptation that makes the Fall completely understandable and you’d see that you too would probably fail the test.

Perhaps the “weaker vessel” is the result of this temptation, Eve eating the fruit, and leading Adam in the deed that results in women being saddled with this label. Maybe it is just a part of the whole Curse problem.

Or maybe the real explanation is that there is no weaker gender, no stronger gender, as may be implied in the text. After all what exactly does the text say? “live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker . . . .” You have to notice that it doesn’t say that anyone is actually weaker. It just says that the husband is to live in such a way as if the wife was weaker. The precedent for this reasoning is a similar passage from Paul concerning husbands and wives, in Ephesians 5:22-33. Verse 25 says “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her . . . .” How does the “weaker” concept come into play? Well, definitely humans, inside the church or out, are weaker than Christ. Existing in the form of God, Christ left His glory and became man and gave Himself up to death to pay the penalty for our sins. That was living with a weaker people in love, and He left us this example for husbands to behave towards their wives. Quite a high bar to set, right? But it is behavior to be expected of husbands according to Paul and Peter. Probably rarely seen, but expected none the less. If you think I’m joking read the rest of Ephesians chapter 5 that ends with “Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself. . . .” And verse 28, “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.” If that sounds impossible its probably because we have become pretty selfish in our society. And that sin is still too prevalent in our lives doesn’t help either.

The reality is that both husband and wife are complete equals in God’s sight. There are roles assigned to each, God has assigned to the husband the “head,” but we see that has no bearing on how the wife is to be treated or with what attitude the husband is to have toward her except to mimic the love Christ has for the church, and we see what He did for her. What could be the result of such a thing as this but complete marital bliss? That and the normal tensions children, money and careers bring to every marriage.

But we really can’t escape the next phrase in the New American Standard. This version translates the text, which I’ll underline here as “live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman;” Other translations do not translate the Greek συνοικοῦντες (gynaikeio) in the manner of “since she is a woman.” You can see here how the Greek and English get translated in this interlinear view. I wonder why they omit this reference since it does seem to be implied in some way in the text? Is there some fear of raising charges of sexism? In the context of the statement there seems no issue of sexism nor degradation. The Greek word σκεύει translated as “vessel” is generally meant as the body, and it is recognized that women are generally weaker physically than men. A simple explanation of this argument is explained here.

And let us not forget the entire gist of this paragraph. Which is that honor is to be showered by the husband on the wife, and this attitude of the spouses toward each other is loudly and frequently preached in the New Testament, I’ve only briefly touched upon it above.

So regardless of what Peter may have meant by his mysterious “weaker vessel” statement, if we can’t know for certain in this life, what we can know with certainty is that we need to love one another. That commandment is never in any doubt. And the rest will be explained in the New Creation, and I will bet that the class The Old Testament Explained will be standing room only, just like its companion course, The New Testament Letters Explained.

[Last edited 11/1/2014]

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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