Father Abraham had a Son

(Please read Genesis 22:1-19 in your preferred Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare this study.)

Professional baseball has been played in America since 1875, but on September 14, 1990, something happened that has never happened before or since. Late in his career, Ken Griffey, Sr., who had been a key member of the World Series champion Cincinnati Reds years before, was signed by the Seattle Mariners. His son Ken Griffey, Jr. was just starting his major league career. In the first inning of a game against the Angels, Griffey, Sr. hit a home run to left center field. His son followed him to the plate and hit another home run to almost exactly the same spot. It was the only time a father and son had hit back-to-back home runs in baseball history. Ken Griffey, Jr. said later that his father greeted him at the plate by saying, “That’s how you do it, son!”

There are few joys that can compare to seeing our children and grandchildren succeed. Whether it’s on a ball field, at a music recital, in an academic competition, or, most importantly, in a spiritual setting, seeing a child demonstrate character and competence is a true pleasure. But this victory is not something that just happens. Every right performance, every victory over temptation, every accomplishment is the result of a concerted effort to prepare for the moment of challenge.

As we so often see in the Bible, this moment of high drama is written in an understated way, devoid of lurid details or a psychological exploration of the characters.  It’s easy to imagine Abraham’s feelings by projecting ourselves and our children into the narration, so we can guess at the surprise Abraham felt at the command, the dread he felt during the journey, the resolve he showed atop Mr. Moriah.

We need to remember that these things are not found in the Bible because the emphasis is not on any of the human beings, but on God.  Remind yourself that God is the hero of every historical account.  Though these verses are tense with drama, the point is that we do NOT center our attention on Abraham or Isaac, but upon God and what He is doing in them.

Just as the Bible is God-centered, so is biblical parenting.  One of places the Church and the world have erred is in making children the center of family life.  If we truly desire to have a home life that is at its healthiest and happiest, then we do the hard work of centering our focus on God and keeping Him in the middle of all we do in the home.

The best parenting is God-centered, not child-centered or self-centered.

Self-centered parenting reduces children to pawns we move about to inflate our ego.  The typical example is that of “stage parent” or expectations that children will follow their parents in choices of college and/or vocation.  Parents who are motivated to satisfy themselves through their children are prone to all kinds of abuse.

Though it sounds like a better situation, child-centered parenting is just as far from God’s will as self-centered parenting.  Children have a place in most families but it is never first place.  Children given too many choices, too much authority, and/or too much freedom are bound to be self-centered and godless adults.  A husband & wife constitute a family; children are additions to it.

The biblical standard is God-centered parenting.  It requires the most work and discipline, but provides the most joy and best results as well.

  1. Background: Isaac was the son of promise.

The promise was made in chapter eighteen when three angels came to announce to Abraham and Sarah that after decades of childlessness, they would be blessed with the birth of a son.  Biologically speaking, this was a miracle.

The promise was kept 25 years later, in chapter twenty-one, when Isaac was born.

  1. God gave Abraham a weird command (1-2).

While child sacrifice was common in pagan cultures, it was not Abraham’s practice.  For example, in Carthage, archaeologists have excavated a pagan temple to find remains of thousands of children sacrificed to false gods.

It was often a brutal, unmerciful form of killing:  hollow metal statues were heated by internal fires and then the children set in the red-hot hands of the idol.  Though we are at a time when God has not yet revealed His law forbidding child sacrifice, we can pretty safely assume it was not Abraham’s practice for two reasons: first, he had previously been childless; none to offer as sacrifices.  Second, God chose Abraham because he was a good man and child sacrifice was not the kind of thing good men did.

God knew this command would come at a high cost to Abraham.  We know this from what God said in verse two.

When He said, “YOUR SON, YOUR ONLY SON,” God is clearly not counting Ishmael, an illegitimate son born to Sarah’s maid, Hagar.  That was Sarah and Abraham’s ill-advised attempt to fulfill God’s promise themselves.  It led to bad blood (21:8-21).  It’s idiotic to think of children of “spares;” the loss of any child is great grief. Can we assume then an only child is especially hard to lose as there are no others to love?

God added, “WHOM YOU LOVE.”  How did God know this?  Obviously, God knows all hearts.  In Abraham’s heart He saw love for Isaac.  Because Abraham had waited SO VERY LONG for this son, God knew the idea of losing him must’ve been more difficult.  Add to all of this the fact that Isaac was understood to be the fulfillment of God’s promise.  It is hard to receive a blessing and then have it unexpectedly taken away.

He clarified the means of offering Isaac: “AS A BURNT OFFERING.”  Animal sacrifices were a universal part of cultures of this time, but they had not been made into law by God.  Mercifully, the animal offered was killed first; not left alive to suffer being burned alive.  The Law was still several generations away, awaiting Moses the Lawgiver.  The procedure would have been something familiar to Abraham and Isaac too, as his question later indicates.

The reader is advised in verse one that this whole episode is God “testing” Abraham and we have the benefit of history to know how it turned out.  But Abraham did not know that, so these costs were very real to him and his feelings may’ve been very intense.

God knew Abraham’s heart; we rely on the text to show us that Abraham had deep love for his sons.  One indicator is the way he reacted to Sarah’s demands that Ishmael, the illegitimate son, be sent away: THE MATTER DISTRESSED ABRAHAM GREATLY BECAUSE IT CONCERNED HIS SON (21:11).

God reassured Abraham that it was OK to send them away because his descendants would be enumerated from Isaac.  God also reassured him with the promise that He would make a NATION out of Isaac too.

His distress may’ve been the thing that prompted God to TEST Abraham in this way.  If he reacted so strongly to the loss of Ishmael, how would he react to the loss of the legitimate son, Isaac?

Let’s take a quick break for a geography lesson.  Why go to MORIAH (2)?  The name meant “place of Yahweh’s provision.”  It was so named in verse fourteen.

The word “provide” figures prominently in this passage as it affirms our trust in God TO provide all we need.  When confronted with the surprising command, Abraham must’ve wondered how God would provide descendants if Isaac would not live.  For example, when Isaac asked about the sacrifice, Abraham affirmed his faith that God would provide one (8).

Why on a mountain (2)?  In most ancient cultures, mountains were considered sacred spots.  It was on mountain tops that altars were constructed, sacrifices were made and worship was offered.

Why end up in BEERSHEBA (19)?  The name meant “Well of Seven” or “Well of Oath.”  It was the place where Abraham made a treaty with Philistine leaders to ensure his family could live peacefully in the region (chapter 21).  Having gone to all that trouble, he chose to remain there.  It was “home.”

  1. Abraham prepared to obey (3-10).

EARLY THE NEXT MORNING (3) meant Abraham practiced obedience in time.  He didn’t wait for a convenient time or procrastinate.

God promised to show Abraham the place (2) and he did (4).  This revelation happened ON THE THIRD DAY after they left Beersheba.  We should not miss this detail.  Abraham kept the purpose of the long journey to himself and must’ve agonized inwardly over this long period.  Wow!

When they arrived, Abraham kept the servants at a distance (5), perhaps to prevent their interference.

Isaac was involved but not informed in this sacrificial offering (6-8).  I don’t know his age at this time, but Isaac was old enough to reason and express himself and had clearly been on these sacrificial trips before.

He went through a mental checklist:

Wood?  Check.

Fire?  Check.

The KNIFE (a special sacrificial one)?  Check.

The lamb?  Oops.  No lamb – no check.  Did dad forget the lamb?  Seems kind of important – better ask him about it.

Abraham’s answer to Isaac’s question is a little evasive, but fits the theme perfectly: “God will PROVIDE the lamb, my son.”  Isaac apparently trusted his father, as the text makes clear that there was no more conversation about it (8).

How was Abraham able to do this?  Going by his actions, Abraham’s heart was resolved: his motive was to obey God .  Going by what Paul and James were inspired to write about this event, Abraham’s rationalization was theological: he trusted God to have the power to fix this.

Actions count and Abraham acted in obedience all the way.  He built the altar, piled the wood on it, tied Isaac up, the lifted him up on the wood and drew his knife.  That’s a lot of work to do and there is no sign in the text that he did it with a conflicted heart or mind.  He just obeyed.

  1. God blessed Abraham’s obedience (11-19).

God stayed Abraham’s hand at the last moment, sparing Isaac (11).  Rembrandt’s painting captures this moment brilliantly: the angel intervened to save Isaac.  Hundreds of years later, God would make this occasion part of His Law; in Exodus 13:1+15 he declared that the first-born were all His; a “sacrifice” that did not need to be executed because they were His already.

God explained Himself in vs. 12, 15-18.  This event not only tested Abraham’s faith, but reinforced his conviction that God would use Isaac to bring about the many descendants he promised.  The main point, however, is not about Isaac; it’s about Abraham and his faith.  Because he demonstrated to God that he did not value his son above God, God confirms His promises to Abraham:

He will be blessed (12:2).

His descendants would be innumerable (13:16; 15:5; 17:2).

They will possess the CITIES OF THEIR ENEMIES (12:7; 13:15; 15:18; 17:8).

God would bless the entire world through them (12:3; 18:18).

God provided a substitute sacrifice (13-14).  Though a ram could naturally get caught by its horns in thorns, the fact that it was there exactly when and where it was needed, that is clearly supernatural.

Abraham perceived it this way and named the place to commemorate the event.

Theologically, we’re all in favor of the sovereignty of God until we have to change our plans or until we have to recognize that when God uses someone, it’s not always with their permission or approval.  It’s comforting to know that God is in charge up until the moment we insist on being in charge.

We can’t have it both ways, folks.  Since the Bible teaches us that God does not change and that he is in charge, we all have to face the fact that it is NOT all about me.  While human beings are the pinnacle of His creation, we bend to follow HIS will, not Him to follow ours.

What learned from Samson in the last five weeks is that God’s plan will be completed.  Whether we are pawns or a king, God is the hand that moves us.

In short, we need to build a bridge and get over ourselves.

James uses the account of Abraham offering Isaac as evidence to support his teaching that faith must be paired with works to be real.  We read in James 2:20-24:

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

This quote also gives us a third interpretation of the life of Abraham, how it was faith that motivated his obedience to God.  Even though Abraham could not, in the moment, see how God was going to work things out, he followed through and did everything God commanded.  That is how disciples behave: obedience comes before understanding, if necessary.

Right from the Beginning #7

(Please read Genesis 3:7-24 in your Bible.  I have used the (c) 2011 NIV for these remarks.)

Jesus calls us to be people who live in present-tense.  This is not human nature.  An average person’s anxiety is focused on :
40% — things that will never happen
30% — things about the past that can’t be changed
12% — things about criticism by others, mostly untrue
10% — about health, which gets worse with stress
8% — about real problems that will be faced
Stop trying to grapple with the what ifs¨ and let God take care of it. You simply make that long term investment in God’s kingdom day by day.
While touring Italy, a man visited a cathedral that had been completed on the outside only. Once inside, the traveler found an artist kneeling before an enormous wall upon which he had just begun to create a mosaic. On some tables nearby were thousands of pieces of colored ceramic. Curious, the visitor asked the artist how he would ever finish such a large project. The artist answered that he knew how much he could accomplish in one day. Each morning, he marked off an area to be completed that day and didn’t worry about what remained outside that space. That was the best he could do; and if he faithfully did his best, one day the mosaic would be finished.
<This information was found in Today in the Word, September 5, 1995, p. 32.  It was retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-paul-fritz-stories-anxiety-guilt-10217.asp on 11/10/16.>

The difference between right and wrong, truth and falsehood is as crucial today as it has ever been.  Consider the devastating consequences of false guilt and untrue anxiety on the human personality.  And there are larger, theological and philosophical issues at stake: we need a macro-narrative in this culture that exalts micro-narratives and is bent on extreme individualism.  Post-modernism may be a fad but people of faith need authoritative answers that set human nature in its most true – most biblical – roots.  To this end we have delved into Genesis 1-3 and complete this series with this seventh installment

  1. What was the people’s offense (3:6)?

They both ate fruit from the forbidden tree.  This verse does not describe the trees, but it does name two of them.

– The Tree of Life.

– The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

On the basis of the information given, I imagine that they were all the same kind of tree.  This would mean that, to Adam and Eve, God’s command seemed arbitrary; there was no visual reason for setting these two trees aside as special.  I believe this detail is implied in the text to reinforce the fact that our understanding of God’s commands is not required, only our obedience.  If we trust God, we obey immediately and fully.

It’s worth noting repeatedly that v. 6 shows Adam had been there all along and did/said nothing.  Though it is a detail easily overlooked, the text makes it plain that Adam was there all along: HER HUSBAND, WHO WAS WITH HER.

Are you surprised or not to note Adam’s contribution in vs. 1-5?  It was nothing.  He said and did nothing during the whole exchange between the WOMAN and the SERPENT.  He did nothing to stop her from taking fruit from the tree and eating it.  Worse, when the situation turned to him, he joined the WOMAN in her disobedience; HE ATE IT.

  1. What were the consequences of their sin (3:7-24)?

Shame (7).  Whereas in chapter two their nakedness had been a sign of their innocence, Adam and the WOMAN’s sudden knowledge of evil turned their nakedness to shame.

FIG LEAVES are the only description of the trees in the account.  Could it be that the garden was populated with fig trees? That is the reason for my earlier imaginative interpretation that there was only one kind of tree in the garden.  Later in the Bible the fig tree is used as a symbol of Israel, the people of God.  What’s important here in verse seven is that they attempted to hide their nakedness with roughly made garments, composed of what was at hand.  They must’ve been desperate for a cover-up.

Fear (8-10).  Hiding becomes a coping mechanism; they attempted to conceal themselves entirely from God.  Maybe they thought their leaf wardrobe would be like “camo” and help them blend into the trees.  Notice how the writer sets the scene of shame and a frantic cover-up in contrast to the idyllic paradise: when God arrived on the scene, He walked IN THE COOL OF THE DAY.  God called out to our parents; not because He didn’t know their location, or what they had done (He appeared immediately after their sin), but to call to them personally, in a loving, non-confrontative way.

Adam offered a lame explanation and in the process exposes his moral failure: “I WAS AFRAID BECAUSE I WAS NAKED.”  Of what was Adam AFRAID?

– Embarrassment?  It’s possible.  I know I would not be comfortable standing before God with only a salad around my hips.

– Wrath?  Adam had never known wrath – it had never been necessary before.  So, unless this came with the KNOWLEDGE gained from the fruit, I can’t see a fear of wrath motivating him.

– Most likely, death.  In 2:17 God had warned Adam that he would die if he ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Surely that was on Adam’s mind as he tried to hide from God.

Division in relationships (11-13).  God confronted Adam with the truth. Again, “WHO TOLD YOU THAT YOU WERE NAKED?” is not a question asked for information’s sake, but to draw Adam out and allow him to be responsible for his mistake and ask God’s forgiveness.  Likewise the third and fourth rhetorical questions God asked.  If we understand God’s three questions as being opportunities for Adam to repent, he failed miserably.  Sin had already driven a wedge between him and God, so when he blamed the WOMAN, he not only failed to repent, but opened the world’s first experiment in “the blame game.” So instead of fixing his relationship with God, he makes matters worse by offending his wife as well!

The WOMAN followed Adam’s lead, and blamed the SERPENT.  Comically, the SERPENT has no one left to blame and soon it will have no fingers with which to point!  This leads to rhetorical question #4; “WHAT IS THIS YOU HAVE DONE?”  (The same question God posed to the first murderer, Cain, in 4:9-10.)

Curses (14-19).  By being at the end of the line, the SERPENT lost the Blame Game and is cursed first; it is cursed to groveling & enmity (14-15).  In part 6 we theorized that the SERPENT was an animal unlike any of the other animals of creation, given powers of speech and reason but not the IMAGE OF GOD.  The divine curse also sets it apart from all the other animals created on Day Six.

Groveling.  Micah 7:17 depicts God’s wrath on pagan nations as causing them to “lick the dust like a serpent, like the crawling things of the earth.”  In the Bible, this is a way of describing total defeat.  Crawling and eating dust will be the way of life for the SERPENT for the remainder of its life.

ENMITY means that all the OFFSPRING of the SERPENT and the WOMAN will forever hate one another.  Some people have seen the last part of verse fifteen as a prophecy, predicting that Jesus would gain the final victory over Satan.

The curses on the WOMAN included painful childbirth and masculine authority (16).  Being fruitful and multiplying will come at a high cost for the WOMAN from that moment on.  God says this twice, so we know it’s important.  “YOUR DESIRE WILL BE FOR YOUR HUSBAND AND HE WILL RULE OVER YOU” is clearly not a description of God’s plan for husband-wife relations, it is a curse.

Some object that this statement is putting words in God’s mouth, trying to justify the paternalistic culture of the Bible writers.  That’s just nonsense.  God is exercising His wrath on the WOMAN for her role in this whole awful affair, not rewarding the man.  As the text makes very plain (2:24), God created the marriage relationship to be a special blessing, the two becoming ONE FLESH.  Now sin has entered the picture and marriage becomes a tug of war, a struggle for dominance with the WOMAN the loser.

The curses on ADAM were toilsome labor & death (17-19).  We’ve observed that God intended from the beginning that His people should work (2:15).   While it is a four-letter word, work itself is NOT a curse.  Instead, God’s wrath on ADAM was to make his work frustrating – it will become toilsome – hard labor and sometimes unfruitful.

More importantly, death enters the picture: “FOR DUST YOU ARE AND TO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN.”  As we’ve seen, Adam will not immediately die, but as long as he had access to the TREE OF LIFE, he would have lived indefinitely.

Male authoritarianism is revisited in v. 20 as Adam named Eve.  This is the first of the curses we see coming to pass.  Up to this point, she was simply called THE WOMAN (2:23); she had no personal name.  But in v. 20 Adam named her; this is the first exercise of the male authority God warned the WOMAN would be her due for disobedience.  The act of naming the WOMAN eve is an extension of what we saw in 2:19-20; God delegated part of His authority to ADAM when He tasked the man with naming the animals.  He is exercising the same authority here in 3:20.

A change in the function of animals: they became a resource for human beings (21).  Since FIG LEAVES do not make a very good garment, God took the skins of animals to make our parents a nice set of leather clothes.  Fancy. Formerly, animals existed for their own sake; now they exist to sustain people.  This act would draw an obligatory protest from PETA (had it been in existence) but nicety gives way to necessity.

Going back to death again, God explained in v. 22 two reasons for exiling our parents from paradise.  They now had knowledge of evil and were forever changed by it.  They could not be allowed to be LIKE God in that way and remain in the Garden.

The man was cursed with death.  If he were allowed to remain in the Garden he could continue to eat from the TREE OF LIFE and thereby avoid death.  This is NOT saying that our parents were created to be immortal and lost it – just the opposite – they were created mortal and needed access to the TREE OF LIFE to be immortal.  And so we read in Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25, THERE IS A WAY WHICH SEEMS RIGHT TO A MAN, BUT ITS END IS DEATH.  No doubt many tombstones could be marked with an epitaph that reads, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”  Like Adam and Eve, we were tempted by the appeal of sin, but failed to weigh its consequences and suffered them just the same.

A final consequence is loss in relationship with God; in this case taking the form of banishment from the garden (23-24).  V. 23 indicates that Adam would immediately begin the toilsome work God indicated in the curse: TO WORK THE GROUND FROM WHICH HE HAD BEEN TAKEN.  What irony!  The very stuff from which his life had been made would now frustrate and exhaust ADAM!

In case they had any notions of sneaking back in, God put them to rest by stationing angelic guards at the entrance to the Garden, armed with a FLAMING SWORD!  What they had lost because of sin, Adam and Eve would never regain.  This put them at a physical distance from God; there would be no more walks IN THE COOL OF THE DAY (8).

  1. What the New Testament has to say about the Fall.

– Regarding Adam = Adam’s sin brought death to the human race.  (See Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.)

– Regarding Eve = Eve’s daughters are subject to Adam’s sons.  (See the Apostle Paul’s use of Genesis to support gender roles in the First Century Church in 1 Corinthians 11:7-12, 2 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Timothy 2:11-15.  These passages present a challenge for moderns.  Working out a biblical and useful interpretation takes courage, wisdom, and a commitment to dialogue.)

One mom was out walking with her 4-year-old daughter when her girl picked up something from the ground and started to put it in her mouth. The mother tells what happens in her own words:
“I took the item away from her and I asked her not to do that.” My daughter quickly asked, “Why?” “Because it’s been lying outside, you don’t know where it’s been, it’s dirty and probably has germs,” I replied.
At this point, my daughter looked at me with total admiration and asked, “Wow! How do you know all this stuff?”
I thought quickly and said, “All moms know this stuff. It’s on the Mommy Test. You have to know it, or they don’t let you be a Mommy.”
We walked along in silence for 2 or 3 minutes, as she pondered this new information. “Oh…I get it!” she beamed, “So if you don’t pass the test you have to be the daddy?”
I smiled and replied, “Exactly.”
<From a sermon by Mark Opperman, Mothers: Guardians of the Heart, 6/19/2012, retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-humor-mothersday-82154.asp on 11/10/16.>

You see how misinformation gets started?  But seriously, it has been our objective throughout these series of messages to correct misunderstandings and get Genesis right from the beginning.

With that goal in view: in case we missed it in 2:4, let’s review and reassert the point of view of the author of Genesis: THIS IS THE ACCOUNT OF THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH WHEN THEY WERE CREATED, WHEN THE LORD GOD MADE THE EARTH AND THE HEAVENS.  He is writing with the purpose of accounting for, or explaining how what is came into being.  There is nothing in his mind about symbolism or allegory or other such stuff and nonsense as modern writers apply to Genesis.  Moses wrote history.  He wrote it as it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit.

That is another reason we have approached our study of Genesis as a study of facts, not symbols.  We have seen time and again that when we don’t let scientific arrogance or modernism get in the way that the facts do speak for themselves.  They present a coherent and consistent development of the origins of the human race and the world in which we live.

Right from the Beginning #6

(Please read Genesis 3:1-6 in your Bible. I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

We spent last month observing all the wonderful aspects of creation.  God made a home and then He made people to live in it.  Our parents, Adam and Eve, lived in paradise.

We don’t have any notion of the amount of time that passed between Genesis 2 and 3.  We don’t know how long our parents enjoyed their home.  But it clearly did not last.  How did we get from the creation God Himself said was GOOD to the world as we know it?

The first part of that answer is given in Genesis 3.  In what theologians call “The Fall from Grace” or simply “The Fall,” all creation goes from blessed to cursed.  Because of the sin of the first family, creation is compromised; humanity is banished from its home and worst of all, loses its close relationship with its Creator.

This Fall is staggering; hard to imagine.  What’s worse, it happened so easily, so swiftly.  The Fall is no great drama of struggle, only the disgusting and discouraging account of how our folks literally ate us out of house and home.  They exchanged the truth of God for a lie (RMS 1:25) and found out too late the terrible cost of the bargain they struck.  It was too easy.

In fact, I would say that the account of the Fall is a tale very suited for our modern age.  At the center of Genesis 3 is a search for knowledge.  The SERPENT enticed the WOMAN with the possibility that she could gain knowledge without learning or experience.  Further, that such knowledge would make her “LIKE GOD.”

The search for knowledge apart from God is one of the driving motivations of secular society in our time.  In the last three centuries science has been hijacked and misused to be the means of seeking knowledge apart from knowing God.

We hardly pause to consider whether the knowledge we find is for good or evil, whether it helps or hurts or both; we plunge ahead greedily, unencumbered by a moral point of view that we inherit from our Creator.

In the process, our knowledge has created as many problems as it has solved.  What has not changed is human nature and our tendency to misuse what we know to our own self-destruction.  Consider: we learn the secret of how to release energy from the atom and what’s the first thing we do with it?  Weaponize it. Wage war with it.

It’s clear that the story of the Fall is our personal story, it is our racial character writ small in the lives of the first family.  Let us begin our study of the Fall by owning it.  Let us learn the terrible price of sin so we will not repeat our parents’ mistake.

  1. Who/what is THE SERPENT?

The author of Genesis does not characterize or describe the MAN or WOMAN in any way other than NAKED, but he has some things to tell us about the SERPENT.  For that reason alone we should pay attention to what we learn from Genesis about the SERPENT.

It was MORE CRAFTY than the other WILD ANIMALS.  We’ll take a look at the two salient points of this description.

First, MORE CRAFTY.  The word CRAFTY can also be translated as “shrewd.”  This is an ambiguous word.  Depending on the end to which it is used, it can be a virtue or a vice.  Proverbs 12:16 & 13:16 say it is a quality wise people will cultivate, and in MTW 10:16 Jesus urged His disciples to be AS WISE AS SERPENTS, BUT AS HARMLESS AS DOVES.  When it is harnessed to do evil, shrewdness can also be a vice (Exodus 21:14; Joshua 9:4; Job 5:12; 15:5).  It is so shrewd it not only knew how to speak, but it knew how to manipulate Eve with its words.  In the Hebrew language this is a play on words: “Eve thought the fruit would make her shrewd, but she found out she was nude.”

Second, WILD ANIMALS.  We learned in 1:24 the phrase WILD ANIMALS was one of the three kinds of land animals, the group of predators.  So the SERPENT was shrewder than all the other predatory animals.  But in 3:14, God cursed the SERPENT ABOVE ALL LIVESTOCK & ALL WILD ANIMALS (including both prey animals and predatory animals), so it was also the most cursed.          Elsewhere in the Bible we learn Eve was deceived by the serpent’s CUNNING (2 Corinthians 11:3).  Revelation 12:9 refers to Satan as THAT ANCIENT SERPENT, one example of other verses where a serpent is a metaphor for Satan.

Is this a literal serpent or a symbol?  On the “symbol side,” the fact that an animal is speaking is a detail some use as evidence that the SERPENT of Genesis 3 is symbolic.  The Bible uses the SERPENT as a symbol of evil, an enemy of life, & a force of chaos (see Isaiah 30:6).  Serpents are also a biblical symbol of craftiness.  Psalm 58:4-5 goes so far as to say that a cobra may outwit the snake charmer.

God declared serpents to be “unclean” animals; not suitable as food or as a sacrifice.  More than that, they became a symbol of the MOST unclean animal; something at the bad end of creation.

However, on the literal side, in Genesis 3, the SERPENT is not identified as Satan.  The text in question should be our primary source of information to answer the question of literal intent.

Can we put all this information together to form a theory that makes sense?  Yes.  Since we have no good reason to take GNS 3 as being anything other than literally, historically true, we begin by saying that an actual animal was involved.  This animal is unlike the snakes of our own time in that it had the powers of speech and thought but did not bear the IMAGE OF GOD.  It’s horrifying to imagine a thinking, strategizing, shrewd predator, but relax: it no longer exists.  And since the rest of the Bible attributes this work of deception to Satan and calls him a SERPENT, we can assume Satan possessed the form of this extinct animal.

This begs the question, why would God create such an animal?   For the simple fact that if people really have free will, then they have an actual choice to make.  Had God put our parents in the Garden where there were no other voices, no temptations, then they did not truly have a choice, did they?

  1. What was THE SERPENT’s deception (3:1-6)?

Tactic #1 = It went to THE WOMAN as Gods commands were given to ADAM.  The command was given in 2:16-17, the WOMAN was created in 2:21-22.  This implies that the WOMAN knew the command only second-hand; Adam told her about it.  The WOMAN’s replies to the SERPENT are not precisely correct; this may indicate she didn’t fully understand the commandment.  It makes sense in a crafty way to approach the person who got the command secondhand.  They will usually know less and feel less strongly about it.

Tactic #2 = It questioned the commandment to cause diversion.  In verse one, the SERPENT deliberately misquoted God.  This is a tactic to couch the commandment in its own terms, diverting the WOMAN from the truth.  It is phrased as a question in a typically passive-aggressive way of misleading people as questions don’t usually excite opposition as much as statements.  The SERPENT was being indirect.  The diversion worked, because the WOMAN misquoted God; He did NOT prohibit touching the TREE, only eating the fruit of the tree.

Notice how this slanders God, diminishing His generosity.  God gave them access to all the other trees in the garden, but the SERPENT’s question diverted the WOMAN’s attention away from those and focused on the one forbidden tree and made God seem stingy to forbid them that one.

Tactic #3 = It contradicted the commandment; caused doubt.  In verses four and five, the SERPENT takes a more direct approach, using half-truths to deceive.

The first half-truth was the definition of death. God did warn they WOULD CERTAINLY DIE, but He did not say it would be a physical death or that it would be immediate death.  The SERPENT was half-right to say they would NOT DIE, for they did not die immediately.  As a matter of biblical record, Adam lived to be 930 (see Genesis 5:5)!

The second half-truth was the SERPENT’s promise to the WOMAN that her eyes would be OPENED.  In verse seven the text says that both their eyes were opened, but what they saw wasn’t god-like or even good; they saw they were NAKED and knew shame for the first time.

The third half-truth was the SERPENT’s promise they would be like God.  That did happen, but it was not a good thing.  In v. 22, God explained that the first family had to be banished from the GARDEN because they had NOW BECOME LIKE ONE OF US, KNOWING GOOD AND EVIL.  The irony is that they were already “like God” in the sense that they were endowed with the IMAGE OF GOD.

The fourth half-truth was the SERPENT’s promise that the fruit held knowledge.  How symptomatic it is of human nature to hunger for knowledge without having to work for it or consider the consequences of what we learn.  The problem here is what they learned.  Before they disobeyed God, Adam and the WOMAN knew only good, by disobeying, they knew both good and evil, but that knowledge was about the only thing they shared with God.

These are examples the misuse of shrewdness to twist words to imply a meaning they were not intended to convey.  One more thing: notice the SERPENT never directly tells them to eat the fruit, nor even implies it.  It directs attention away from the command of God to the fruit itself.  This is a way temptation often works; indirectly and subtly.

Tactic #4 = It made the fruit out to be more than it was.  Note that two of the three things the WOMAN saw in the fruit were already stated in 2:9 about ALL THE TREES.  Everything God offered them was GOOD FOR FOOD and PLEASING TO THE EYE!  She added the bit about DESIRABLE FOR WISDOM under the influence of the SERPENT’s crafty lies and manipulation.

The phrase GOOD FOR FOOD sounds like a rationalization.  This is the tendency of human/sin nature to make excuses.  For the WOMAN to say it was PLEASING TO THE EYE is an example of materialism.  This is the tendency of human/sin nature to think selfishly and short-term.  The part the woman added, DESIRABLE FOR WISDOM is a falsehood.  This is the tendency of human/sin nature to prefer comfortable lies to discomforting truths.

Even though the Fall is no laughing matter, our first parents have rightly been the object of many jokes.  Here are a few a preacher can share in church:

How did Adam and Eve feel when expelled from the Garden of Eden?

They were definitely put out.

What is one of the first things Adam and Eve did after they were kicked out?  They raised a little Cain.

It has been said that Adam and Eve had the perfect marriage. That was because he didn’t have to hear about all the men she could have married;

and she didn’t have to hear about the way his mother cooked!

A Brit, a Frenchman and a Russian are in a museum viewing a painting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

“Look at their reserve, their calm,” muses the Brit. “They must be British.”

“Nonsense,” the Frenchman disagrees.   “They’re naked, and so beautiful.  Clearly, they are French.”

“No clothes, no shelter,” the Russian points out, “they have only an apple to eat, and they’re being told this is paradise. They are certainly

Russian.”

Adam and Eve had their first fight and Adam got the last word for the last time.  He said, “I’ll wear the plants in this family!”

<Let the user beware: not all the jokes at this website are as clean as these.  Retrieved from http://www.yuksrus.com/religion_adam_and_eve.html on 11/4/16.>

What can be said about our two parents?  They literally had it all, but after two deceptive comments from a SERPENT under the influence of Satan, they chucked it all away!  They were deceived, but chose of their own free will to be “like” God rather than love God.

Would any of us have done any better?  Is it possible the account of the Fall is more personally applicable than we’d feel comfortable admitting?

Here at the end of an election cycle, the application of what we’ve learned today should be obvious and relevant: don’t believe everything you hear.  Instead, do as the Bible commands and compare all claims of truth to the Word of God.  Do not be deceived by the enemy’s lies and do not surrender any of God’s gifts to temptation.

(To see the video version of this message, please look up “EBCSF” on YouTube.)

Right from the Beginning – #5

(Please read Genesis 2:1-3 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Lewis Sperry Chafer, in his book Grace, told the following story:
“One man challenged another to an all-day wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other fellow had chopped substantially more wood than he had.

“’I don’t get it,’ he said. ‘Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did.’

“‘But you didn’t notice,’ said the winning woodsman, ‘that I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest.’”

<Retrieved from http://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/5615/i-was-sharpening-my-ax/ on 10/27/16.>

This little parable tells us that constant activity is not a guarantee of success.  Workaholism is no more noble an addiction than any other addicted behavior.  To be faithful and successful, periods of work must be alternated with periods of rest.

In our study of Genesis, we have arrived at the final day of creation, a day when God did no more creating.  It is so significant that the creation account ends in this way and yet it is probably the most under-utilized passage of Scripture in the Church.  God set for us an example we are to follow by taking a day of rest following His six days of work.

In Jesus’ time, God’s people went to crazy extremes of legalism about keeping the Sabbath.  There were hundreds of interpretations of what it meant to cease from work.  In our time, God’s people have pretty much gone to the opposite extreme, where keeping a Sabbath is something virtually ignored.  We think that keeping the Sabbath is accomplished by spending an hour or so in church once a week.  In the process of cheating God, we’ve cheated ourselves out of the blessing of knowing what a Sabbath is and how to observe it in a way that pleases God.

For a year now, I’ve had an “infographic” on my desk that shows religious observation in the United States.  The data was assembled by the Gallup organization and has limited usefulness, but offers a snapshot of the religious life of our nation.

The data shows the total WEEKLY attendance of a church, synagogue, or mosque in 2014.  The state with the highest attendance was Mississippi, which notched 47%.  The state with the lowest attendance was Vermont, with just 17%.  South Dakota is smack in the middle of those extremes at 31%.  Just one third of peoples of faith honor the Sabbath on a weekly basis.  Never mind which faiths or which day of the week, lump them all together and that’s the best we can come up with.

Did God intend His people should take the Sabbath seriously?  The answer is yes.  In Exodus 20, it is the fourth of the Ten Commandments and easily the lengthiest Commandment.  In Exodus 31:14 the LORD said, “OBSERVE THE SABBATH, BECAUSE IT IS HOLY TO YOU.  ANYONE WHO DESECRATES IT IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH; THOSE WHO DO ANY WORK ON THAT DAY MUST BE CUT OFF FROM THEIR PEOPLE.”  Sabbath violators were to receive the death penalty.  I’d say it doesn’t get any more serious than that!

While we as Christians are not bound to the Law of Moses in the same way as our Jewish forebears were, the command to observe the Sabbath remains.  We are not free in Christ to ignore the Sabbath, but we are free to observe it in ways that are appropriate to us individually.

REVIEW

  1. Before creation: Only God existed (1:1-2).
  2. Creation, Day One: Separating day and night (1:3-5).
  3. Day Two: Separating sky and sea (1:6-8).
  4. Day Three: Separating the sea and the land; growing plants on the land (1:9-13).
  1. Day Four: Creating heavenly lights (1:14-19).
  2. Day Five: Creating animals for the sea & sky (1:20-23).

NEW

  1. Day Seven: Instituting the Sabbath (2:1-3).

GOD HAD FINISHED THE WORK HE HAD BEEN DOING (1).  God declared His creation VERY GOOD (1:31).  Part of what that means is that it was complete.  It was finished.  One of His purposes in instituting the Sabbath was to give His people a weekly reminder that we are creation, He is our Creator.  He is worthy of our worship and devotion.  The Hebrew word for WORK here occurs three times in this passage and is the usual word for our ordinary operations.  It’s ironic that such an ordinary word is used to sum up the supernatural work of creation, but creation is what God does.

ON THE SEVENTH DAY HE RESTED FROM ALL HIS WORK (2). The Hebrew word sabbat (“rest”) is qualified by the phrase FROM HIS WORK.  It means that He ceased the creative labors.  God stopped doing what He had been doing.

We noted last week that one of the eight things about the creation of humans was that He created us to work.  On the 7th day we learn He also created us to rest.  REST involves several things:

– Ceasing from our usual labor.

– Being inactive long enough to restore health; getting enough sleep.

– Restoring balance to our lives.  We are not just workers and this world is not our home.  We need to be reminded of our true selves and rightly ordered priorities.

– Finding a place of safety.  We make take adequate food and shelter for granted, but not all people do; observing a Sabbath reminds us to be thankful.

– Sabbath activity must serve only sacred purposes.  We have six days to live in the world; we need one to cleanse ourselves of the world’s influence and reset.

– Get back to nature: pay attention to creation, and, by association, our Creator.

THEN GOD BLESSED THE SEVENTH DAY (3).  In 1:31 God declared creation was VERY GOOD.  Of all the days of creation, this is the only one God BLESSED.  This makes it special and worthy of note.

AND MADE IT HOLY (3).  HOLY in this case means set apart to be used for divine purposes only.  Of all the days of creation, this is the only one God MADE HOLY.  That also makes it worthy of note.

BECAUSE ON IT HE RESTED FROM ALL THE WORK OF CREATING THAT HE HAD DONE (3).  One of the things we did not talk about related to the IMAGE OF GOD is assumed in this passage: one way we function as the IMAGE OF GOD is by following His example.  In this case, Sabbath-keeping is one of the ways we follow God’s example.

Half of observing the Sabbath is ceasing from doing all the other stuff that is part of our typical work week.  Here’s what God said on the subject: “FOR SIX DAYS WORK IS TO BE DONE, BUT THE SEVENTH DAY IS A DAY OF SABBATH REST, HOLY TO THE LORD.  WHOEVER DOES ANY WORK ON THE SABBATH DAY IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH.” (EXODUS 31:15).

Our Sabbath observance is taking time away from our regular stuff in order to repurpose it as a gift to God.  We cease our usual labors in order free up time.  We spend part of that time resting, more of it in righteous activity.

Our observance of a weekly Sabbath is for Rest and Righteousness.  (The BEST kind of “R&R.”)

As God RESTED, we are to devote a day to rest. This means to CEASE from the labors that occupy us during the rest 0f the week.  In every way you care to mention, we need at least a day a week to get away from all the stresses and labors that are typical to our lives on the six non-Sabbath days.  Part of the wisdom of observing a Sabbath are the benefits we derive from it.

As God declared the day to be HOLY, we are to devote a day to righteousness. Righteousness is, in part, activity that draws us closer to God, to one another, and to a better understanding of ourselves.

Righteous activity is NOT the worldly entertainments and occupations we practice the other six days of the week.  We observe a Sabbath by ceasing what usually holds our attention to give it to God instead.

I’ve had to limit my remarks to this one passage and not the subject of the Sabbath because there is a lot of biblical material on the subject and a mountain of interpretation, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic, on what it means to keep the Sabbath.  This message serves to only begin a conversation by scratching the surface. Let’s review what we take away from this text alone.  Here are the “talking points.”

– Our practice of observing the Sabbath is based on the historical fact that God Himself rested one day out of seven.

– Of all the days of creation, God deemed the seventh most important because He BLESSED the day and decreed it to be HOLY.

– Observing the Sabbath requires we plan to REST and engage in RIGHTEOUS activity only.  To REST means ceasing from our usual labors.  To be RIGHTEOUS we replace time usually spent on our labors with time spent on ways that draw us closer to God, closer to His people, and into a more godly view of ourselves.

The experiences and teaching of the New Testament persons, especially Jesus, is that making Sabbath-observance a law just doesn’t work.  In the same way you can’t force anyone to love, you can’t force anyone to keep the Sabbath.  If it’s not there in your heart to begin with, it won’t be genuine.  If it’s not genuine, it’s not worth doing.

On the other hand, we need structure.  We need a place to start thinking about how we can really set aside an entire day for only two things: Rest and Righteousness.  While the following will sound legalistic, it’s not: it’s only a suggestion.  Our human nature is such that we need to make a rule and follow it until we do it because we love it.

STEP ONE: DEFINE YOUR SABBATH DAY

– You must set apart a definite period of time, not just “Sunday.”  Be sensitive to job and family demands.  Make it a time you can keep every week.  Make it 17-24 hours long.

– Some suggestions:

Sundown Saturday to Sundown Sunday.

Midnight Saturday to midnight Sunday.

Noon Saturday to noon Sunday.

– Specify, notify the people around you, especially your family, and ask them to help you stick to it.

STEP TWO: PLAN YOUR SABBATH DAY

– “Failure to plan is planning to fail.”  That’s human nature. Make an hourly plan of how you’ll spend your Sabbath.

– Your plan must include only activities that meet 2 criteria.

The activities must be restful or righteous; they must not be worldly or secular activities.  Let me elaborate on those criteria.

As God RESTED, we are to devote a day to rest.  This means to CEASE from the labors that occupy us during the rest 0f the week.  Suggestions: in your plan, include times to sleep.  Plan to get a good night’s rest AND take a nap.  We’re planning activity and INactivity!  Rest is more than sleep; it’s a refraining from physical activity in order to do mental/ emotional/

spiritual activity.  So, prayer, Bible study, reading and meditation are all appropriate as restful activities, especially in connection with sleep.

As God declared the day to be HOLY, we are to devote a day to righteousness.  Here we are planning the more active hours of our Sabbath.  If you are going to do manual labor, make sure it isn’t the kind you do through the week and that you are praying or serving others while you do it.  The Bible says that we are to work the other six days.  Part of our planning is to get our work done before our Sabbath so we’re not distracted by leftover work.

The primary kind of righteous activity draws us closer to God.  This would include worship, stewardship, prayer, Bible study, fasting.  The secondary kind of righteous activity draws us closer to one another.  This includes worship, fellowship, service, discipleship, witness; things that center on meaningful conversation and relationship-building.  Face-to-face encounters are to be preferred, but anything that facilitates conversation is great.  Give church and family priority.  The tertiary kind of righteous activity helps us understand ourselves and our place in creation.  This includes solitude, private prayer, exercise, journaling, Bible study, hobbies, reading, and meditation.

Refraining from all worldly entertainments and activities is one of the simplest ways to be righteous on the Sabbath.

STEP THREE: KEEP YOUR SABBATH DAY

Start with prayer, end with prayer.  Keep a record of your plan, how you did, and what you did.  Give yourself plenty of grace, but learn from your mistakes.

(If you would like to see and hear this message preached, look us up on YouTube at EBCSF.)

 

 

 

Right from the Beginning – #4

Please read Genesis 1:24-2:25 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

“Taxonomy” is the science of classifying plants and animals into various groupings.  If I were to ask you which animal you think of that defies scientific classification, what might you say?  Would you mention the duckbill platypus as an example?

The point simply is this; science has its own challenges.  There are plants and animals that overlap different categories and/or have exceptional features; classifying them can be difficult.

In studying Genesis one and two, we face a similar problem.  If we study the creation account with the intent of systematizing it, we are going to be thwarted by details that overreach our system or do not fit it precisely.

And yet, we – by faith – understand that there is a unity present, a coherent system of thought with a message God has intended for us to receive.  So we start with the fewest preconceptions possible and do the careful work of allowing the text to have its own voice first.   After we have heard Genesis as it original listeners (and readers) received it, then we adapt our preconceptions to fit what we have learned.

For example, we retain the preconception that God created.  It is, after all, a central tenet of our faith.  What we pitch is that the Bible and science have to agree.  We set aside the notion that “Creationism” must be proven (with all the politico-social baggage accumulated by that movement) and learn what we can from the text about God’s creation of the world.  We accept that the “How?” question will never be as important as the “Who?” question, and less important than the “Why?” question.

REVIEW

  1. Before creation: Only God existed (1:1-2).
  2. Creation, Day One: Separating day and night (1:3-5).
  3. Day Two: Separating sky and sea (1:6-8).
  4. Day Three: Separating the sea and the land; growing plants on the land (1:9-13).
  5. Day Four: Creating heavenly lights (1:14-19).
  6. Day Five: Creating animals for the sea & sky (1:20-23).

NEW

  1. Creation, Day Six: Creating life on the land (1:24-2:25).

First, creating animal life on the land (1:24-25).  Verse 24 reads; LET THE LAND PRODUCE LIVING CREATURES, just as it said that THE LAND produced plant life in v. 15.  That sentence made a lot more sense in verse fifteen as we all know plants grow out of the ground (generally speaking), but we’ve never planted a dog and had puppies grow in the spot.  But – look ahead – what did God use as raw material for the man?  Dirt.  Also, as science informs us, animal bodies are, chemically, minerals and water.  As we noted previously, the term LIVING CREATURES includes all animal life, whether its habitat is land, air, or water.

ACCORDING TO THEIR KINDS (24+25) develops this thought a bit.  As is usual in this passage, these three divisions of animal kind is a functional one.

– LIVESTOCK = domesticated animals.

– CREATURES THAT MOVE ALONG THE GROUND = undomesticated animals that are prey.

– WILD ANIMALS = undomesticated animals that are predators.

Second, we come to the real focus of the creation narrative: creating human life on the land (1:26-2:25).  The text relates eight important truths about the human race.

#1 = We were created in God’s image (1:26).  The Heb word for IMAGE was defined as a physical representation of something that had no physical form. This was contrary to idol-worshippers who believed superstitiously that their idols not only represented the physical form of their gods, but also contained some of their spiritual essence.

As with the rest of the Genesis account, the emphasis is on function; the function of the IMAGE is for us to represent God in creation.  God is a spirit and wants to be present in creation in a physical way, a way tangible to the five senses He gave us.  So, being created in the IMAGE OF GOD means that you and I were created to represent God in our bodies.  We are to reproduce, in daily life, the character and nature of God.

Theologians have haggled over the exact meaning of this word.  (For example, In Genesis 5:3, Adam’s son Seth is described as the IMAGE and LIKENESS of his father.  Since this is said about Seth at birth, this must refer to a physical resemblance; any similarity of character or personality would not be known for several years.  Does this assert that the IMAGE is a physical resemblance?)  I believe it’s not necessary to be specific or precise in or definition of this term any qualities that human beings possess but the rest of creation does not may be considered part of the IMAGE OF GOD.

The IMAGE is God’s intention that human beings be the part of creation that represents the Creator.  Isn’t that enough of a responsibility?  Paul linked the IMAGE with the “new self,” the life of a believer, and saw it as our responsibility to make God known.

– Epehsians 4:24 = …put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

– Colossians 3:10 = …put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

#2 = We were created to exercise dominion over creation (1:26, 28-30).  This is a delegated authority.  We do not, by virtue of being human, have any “rights” that make us rulers of creation.  Like everything else, this is a gift from God.  Though it has been misused by some people, being given RULE over creation is not an excuse for mismanaging it.  Instead, it puts us in a managerial position, responsible for taking g0od care of the environment.

The blessing “BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY” is pronounced on all LIVING CREATURES, not just the human race.  God blessed all the creatures he put on Earth; His plan was for the prosperity of all creation.

#3 = We were created from dust (2:7) and from a rib (2:18, 21-2).

The man was created from DUST.  This Hebrew word refers to dry dirt; the loose, granular stuff you and I would call “topsoil.”  It may seem contradictory that something given the honor of bearing God’s IMAGE should come from such humble beginnings: mere dirt.  I should think that’s exactly the point.

However, this “earthen vessel” was not alive in that instant.  The text tells us that the man became alive as God put His BREATH OF LIFE into it.  This phrase always refers to the breathing that all living people do, implying what God did with Adam is not just a one-time event, but is how God bestows life to all of us.

The woman was created out of Adam’s rib.  The Hebrew word for RIB is not anatomically precise.  It can refer to a single rib, the entire rib cage, or a hunk of flesh and bone from the upper torso.  Fortunately, we don’t need it to be precise because we’re not writing a book of anatomy.  The point is that part of the man’s body was used to fashion the woman.  As we will see, the stress is on their similarity, not their difference.

#4 = We were created to live in paradise (2:4-6, 10-14).  The word translated as GARDEN is used to refer to a paradise.  In our culture, the word “park” would be a more accurate translation; it is a place set aside for trees and other landscaping to create a peaceful nature refuge. The most prominent feature of any park is the trees and this one has two tree identified as being special.  We’ll talk about them next month.

In the ancient world, kings spared no expense in creating these kinds of spaces.  In fact, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The name EDEN is more than a point of geography; it means “abundant” and modifies the word GARDEN in the sense of “a garden of abundance.” The fact that the GARDEN is well-watered by four rivers that flowed out of EDEN is the explanation of its abundance.  What we’re to learn here is God put the man in an ideal place; of all the places on the surface of the earth, this was the best habitat possible.

#5 = We were created to work (2:15, 19-20).  Adam was not to just live in the GARDEN, he was to work in it.  He is God’s partner in nurturing the life of the GARDEN, both plants and animals.  This is evidence that it has always been God’s plan that work is central to human life.  God didn’t simply provide for the man; Adam was active, working to grow and collect his own food.  God commissioned Adam to name the animals.  This served several purposes, one of which is to show that not all work is manual labor.  God created us to do mental and manual work.

The Hebrew word for WORK is most often used in connection with labor done in service to God; in fact, some commentators would rather see this word translated as “worship.”  We need to remember that we’re all created to work and that nearly all work can be a form of service to God.  In our culture, we split work and discipleship, which often leads to a double standard; we have one set of behaviors for the workplace and another set for the church.  This distinction is somewhat false and does not express God’s plan.

#6 = We were created to choose to obey God (2:16-17). God created people with the ability to choose; “free will.”  This is also a delegated authority and the responsibility that goes with it is to choose to obey God.

We won’t go into any detail here, but will note only that God gave the man commands about work/worship and about one tree in particular; he commanded the man to leave it alone.  This was not a complicated set of commands to keep.  God’s plan was not to leave His people alone and let them figure things out for themselves.  He identified obedience as the thing that leads to life. Jesus taught that obedience is the way we demonstrate our love for God (see John 14:15, 23-24).

# 7 = We were created for companionship (2:18-25).  Another purpose God had in giving Adam the job of naming the animals was he would see that there were a male and female of each.  But the text says twice for Adam THERE WAS NO SUITABLE HELPER to be found.  The phrase “suitable helper” is one of those details I warned you about.  It is hard to interpret as it is found only here in the Bible.  The task has been complicated by centuries of misuse by persons trying to prove a paternalistic world view.

However the word HELPER is found repeatedly by itself in the Bible and is most often used in reference to God as our HELPER.  Obviously, there is no diminished status associated with this word.  A HELPER is not a second-class person.  The word SUITABLE actually means “opposite.”

So a SUITABLE HELPER in this case, is the opposite sex.  As all the animals had male and female genders, Adam needed a counterpart, a female, to be a completed species. This is true biologically, emotionally, and spiritually.  The text give a rare commentary in verse 24 when the writer sums up God’s purpose in making Eve as a counterpart for Adam: THAT IS WHY A MAN LEAVES HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND IS UNITED TO HIS WIFE, AND THEY BECOME ONE FLESH.

In case we miss the fact that God created both male and female people, the text makes it perfectly obvious in 1:27, SO GOD CREATED MAN IN HIS OWN IMAGE, IN THE IMAGE OF GOD HE CREATED HIM, MALE AND FEMALE HE CREATED THEM.  Both men and women bear the all-important IMAGE OF GOD.  In this detail alone, but also in all of the creation account, the book of Genesis shows far more respect for women than the creation myths recounted in other ancient cultures.  God wants us to know right from the beginning that male and female people are two sides of the same race.

Adam affirms this truth in v. 23.  First, he emphasized the similarity of the sexes when he said Eve was BONE OF MY BONE AND FLESH OF MY FLESH.  Second, he approved her suitability as his counterpart: SHE SHALL BE CALLED ‘WOMAN,’ FOR SHE WAS TAKEN OUT OF MAN.  Of course there are differences between men and women that continue to this day; we’re not aiming at being so “PC” that we deny what is obvious.  But those differences are matters of degree, not destiny.  Men and women are to manage creation together.

#8 = We were created pure, without any reason to be ashamed.  No less than four times (2:25; 3:7, 10-11) the account mentions Adam and even being NAKED.

In chapter two, Adam and Eve were NAKED but without shame.  The point here is their innocence.  As we observe with innocent children, nakedness is not a cause for shame.

In chapter three, Adam and Eve became ashamed of their nakedness after they chose to disobey God.  The first sin brought the first sense of shame along with it.

Different Hebrew words are used in chapters two and three.  In chapter three, the word used for NAKED is elsewhere used as a punishment, a sign of being abandoned, a penalty for sin.  Of course, that comes after the disobedience of Adam and Eve and implies that their nudity was no longer a sign of inn0cence, but something they despised and felt was a punishment; a shameful thing.

The account of Adam and Eve speaks to our personal lives.  Their experience is a symbol for what all of us experience as we grow up, the loss of innocence as we deliberately choose to do what we know is wrong.

Finally, the text revisits the creation of plant life on the land, elaborating that it was created to be food for the LIVING CREATURES (1:29-30: 2:5-6). Yes, I suppose this does imply that all animals and humans were vegetarians in the beginning.  But be of good cheer – God later approved meat for our diet (see Acts 9:9-16)!

The GARDEN depicted in today’s text was a literal place that carried a function similar to that of the tabernacle, temple, and church; it was a place to meet God.  It was a sanctuary where God’s people could go to worship Him.  In fact, what’s clear in this creation account is that the human race is the primary part of creation.  The details we’ve examined all week show that God created with human beings in mind.

God made people to take care of that sacred space and to dwell with Him there.  God said that creation was GOOD and He blessed all the LIVING CREATURES He created to live in the world.

The one thing about it that was NOT GOOD was for the man to live alone in the GARDEN.  God fixed that with the creation of the woman and everything was fine until sin entered the picture in the form of the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve.

Let’s not get ahead of the text.  The second chapter ends with the affirmation that the week of creation ended with God’s plan perfectly in place.  All was prepared for creation to work as a habitation for people.  Adam and Eve lived and worked and served God, all without any SHAME.

PREVIEW

  1. Creation, Day Seven: Instituting the Sabbath (2:1-4).

Right from the Beginning #3

(Please read Genesis 1:14-23 from your favored version of the Bible.  I have used the New International Version to prepare these remarks.)

We can approach the subject of the creation from our head or our heart. The head approach attempts to reconcile the creation account with science, delves into the particulars of text in a way to reconcile it with what we know as true and factual about our world.  One example of this approach is the ongoing discussion/debate between creationist, evolutionists, and Intelligent Design theorists.  This is one approach to accessing meaning in the creation account.  Let me share an example with you.

Biochemist Michael Behe (Darwin’s Black Box) argues that many biological systems are “irreducibly complex” at the molecular level. Behe gives the following definition of irreducible complexity:

Behe starts with the example of a mousetrap; he claims that a standard mousetrap is “irreducibly complex”. Such a mousetrap consists of:

1) a flat wooden platform to act as a base

2) a metal hammer, which does the actual job of crushing the little mouse

3) a spring with extended ends to press against the platform and the hammer when the trap is charged

4) a sensitive catch that releases the hammer when slight pressure is applied

5) a metal bar that connects to the catch and charged hammer (there are also assorted staples to hold the system together)

Behe then continues with his logic as to why this system is “irreducibly complex”:

Which part could be missing and still allow you to catch a mouse? If the wooden base were gone, there would be no platform for attaching the other components. If the hammer were gone, the mouse could dance all night on the platform without becoming pinned to the wooden base. If there were no spring, the hammer and platform would jangle loosely, and again the rodent would be unimpeded. If there were no catch or metal holding bar, then the spring would snap the hammer shut as soon as you let go of it…

A mousetrap cannot “evolve” slowly, bit by bit. All of the parts must be in place at the same time. The same with such things as DNA.

<Retrieved from http://www.jameswatkins.com/articles-2/heavy/evolution/ on 10/13/16.>

“Behe is known, besides authoring [this] book, as a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and as a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture.

<Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwin%27s_Black_Box on 10/13/16.>

That argument has been examined by persons on all sides of the issue.  Studying and discussing Genesis in this way can be very edifying and even fun.

However, that is only half an approach.  We’ve also got to see the creation account with our hearts, relying on the Holy Spirit to lead us into truth accessed by our feelings and intuition.  Allow me to share an example of truth that is accessed by means of the heart.

Lyrics to” GoD and DoG” by Wendy J. Francisco

I look up and I see God, I look down and see my dog. Simple spelling G O D, same word backwards, D O G. They would stay with me all day. I’m the one who walks away.

But both of them just wait for me, and dance at my return with glee. Both love me no matter what – divine God and canine mutt. I take it hard each time I fail, but God forgives, dog wags his tail. God thought up and made the dog, dog reflects a part of God. I’ve seen love from both sides now, it’s everywhere, amen, bow wow. I look up and I see God, I look down and see my dog. And in my human frailty…I can’t match their love for me.

<Go to http://www.wendyfrancisco.com/ to see the video.>

Even before I started this series, I have thought about ways to explain why this subject and these Scriptures are so important.  Then I came across the video and it was like God said to me, “You can’t make this important to anyone.  That’s what my Holy Spirit does.”  Here’s the connecting thought:  If you hear the “GoD and DoG” song and you have loved a dog, you get it.  If you hear the words of Genesis and you love the Lord, you get it.  It’s a heart thing as much as it is a head thing.  Yes, we’re approaching it as logically as possible, but my heart’s desire is that you feel the need to believe in creation as much as your head tells you its right.

REVIEW

  1. Before creation: Only God existed (1:1-2)
  2. Creation, Day One: Separating day and night (1:3-5)
  3. Creation, Day Two: Separating sky and sea (1:6-8).
  4. Creation, Day Three: Separating the sea and the land, growing plants on the land (1:9-13).

NEW

  1. Creation, Day Four: Creating heavenly lights (1:14-19).

God said, “LET THERE BE LIGHTS IN THE VAULT OF THE SKY (14).”  Remember from previous messages in this series the ancients’ view of the world where the VAULT is an inverted bowl placed on the surface.  The space between the surface of the earth and the underside of the inverted bowl (VAULT) was called the SKY on day two.

I will also remind you that an emphasis of the creation account in Genesis is on the effectiveness of the word of God: GOD SAID (14)… AND IT WAS SO (15).  This is affirmed in Hebrews 11:3; THE UNIVERSE WAS FORMED AT GOD’S COMMAND.

What purposes do these LIGHTS serve?  The text is not concerned with explaining HOW the heavenly lights create light; that is a concern of science.  This passage is concerned about WHY God created these LIGHTS, and so it explains the functions assigned to them.  There are many; eight in fact.

#1 = TO SEPARATE THE DAY FROM THE NIGHT (14).  This was already done on day one – is this a repeat?  No, because now – on day four – God is continuing His work of organizing what was created earlier: He is organizing the LIGHT into its various natural sources; our sun and other stars.  Another difference between days one & four: The source of the light on day one was not identified.  We guessed that the glory of God shone (this interpretation is supported by Psalm 8:1-3 and other passages that identify the stars as evidence of the glory of God).  These LIGHTS are set in THE VAULT OF THE SKY.

What’s amazing is that God has promised to restore this aspect of creation in the new heavens and earth.  In Revelation 22:5 it is written, THEY WILL NOT NEED THE LIGHT OF A LAMP OR THE LIGHT OF THE SUN, FOR THE LORD GOD WILL GIVE THEM LIGHT.  (See also Revelation 21:23.)

#2 = TO SERVE AS SIGNS (14).  In the Bible, SIGNS are miracles, supernatural acts by which God warns of judgment, motivates the faithful, and authenticates those who truly speak for Him.  The fact that these features of creation serve as SIGNS shows that God is in control; nature can be made to serve supernatural purposes.

#3 = TO MARK SACRED TIMES (14).  These are not seasons in the usual calendar sense, but “seasons” of the religious calendar; the feast and fast days that God would command His people to observe.

#4 = TO MARK DAYS AND YEARS (14).  Throughout human history the sun, moon, and stars have been used to create calendars; to literally mark time.  In the Jewish calendar, the setting of the sun marked the beginning of a new day and a month was marked by a full cycle of the moon.  The stars were used to synchronize solar and lunar calendars.  Remember, creation is all about bringing order to chaos, so creating the calendar is part of that action.

#5 = TO GIVE LIGHT ON THE EARTH (15+17).  We’ve already observed how it is both biblically and scientifically true that light is necessary for life.  This is obviously where sunlight is concerned; in the natural action of photosynthesis, for example.  On a more emotive/intuitive level, LIGHT also brings comfort, allows us to see, and symbolizes the holy presence of God.

#6 = THE GREATER LIGHT TO GOVERN THE DAY (16+18).  Why does the author not name “the sun” here?  That word in ancient languages was misused as a name for an idol.  The author avoids the word to avoid giving them any excuse to worship the sun as a god.

#7 = THE LESSER LIGHT TO GOVERN THE NIGHT (16+18).

Why does the author not name “the moon” here? That word in ancient languages was misused as a name for an idol.  The author avoids the word to avoid giving them any excuse to worship the moon as a god.

#8 = TO SEPARATE LIGHT FROM DARKNESS (18).  The LIGHT and DARKNESS had already been separated on day one.  How is this different?  It is different because now – on day four – the way LIGHT and DARKNESS is perceived and recorded is by means of these newly-made sources of light, not the original source.  The separation remains, but the reason for it has changed.  It’s as if, by closing the VAULT, God cut off the supernatural light from His glory and replaced it with a natural light source.

Remember, the heavenly lights were created to be SIGNS that signified various things.  So, even though time was created on the first day, it is on day four that God gave the heavenly lights to show all the creatures of the earth when each day passed.  They are the natural means by which we measure time and its passing.

  1. Creation, Day Five: Creating animal life in the sea and sky (1:20-23).

LIVING CREATURES is the term also used to describe land animals in the next verse (24) and Adam in 2:7.  Though humans share our origin and some of our nature with animals, this in no way endorses the idea that we are descended from them in the way evolution states.  The key difference is that people are the only creatures who were created in the IMAGE OF GOD (1:27).

Let’s look at the WATER CREATURES first.  While we normally think of typical sea animals like fish and whales and the like, the NIV correctly translates the Heb word tannin as THE GREAT CREATURES OF THE SEA.  There are five OT passages that use this word to describe a creature named “Leviathan” (Job 3:8; 41:1; PSS 74:13-14; 104:26; ISH 27:1).  Think the Loch Ness Monster.

I think the phrase ACCORDING TO THEIR KINDS shows that when Moses wrote CREATURES in the WATER, he intended to include all the usual kinds of aquatic life.  At the same time, he emphasizes this beast that sounds like something out of a dinosaur book or a book of mythology.  Why would He do that?  In all the OT mentions of the Leviathan, the point is that man has no power over the beast, but God has complete power.  As God created it, God commanded it.  Remember, the point of the creation account is not to establish HOW God did it, in the usual scientific sense, but THAT God did it, and WHY He did it.

The SKY CREATURES are specifically identified as BIRDS (20-22), though we know scientifically there other animals that fly or at least glide through the air, and some BIRDS are flightless.  In fact, I read one skeptic who thought the fact that the Bible assigned bats with BIRDS proved the Bible was unscientific and therefore false.  We’ve shown repeatedly that those two things are not the same thing.

Both sea and sky creatures are BLESSED, being told to BE FRUITFUL AND INCREASE IN NUMBER.  This blessing will be repeated for all the land creatures as well.  This blessing implies God’s intention was that His creation should prosper; He did not create it to fail, but as we read in every day but day two, God declared His creation to be GOOD.

This is important as it informs our view of creation.  As God’s children, we should understand that God our Father created all that is and blessed it with prosperity and life and called it good.  We should act in ways that do the same.

On October 12, 2016 Toyota announced that next year they will be selling their Japanese customers a little robot called “Kirobo Mini.”  It is a cute little fellow they describe as “a friend that can sit in your car’s cup holder.” Leo Lutero wrote about it for a website called PSFK.

“The Kirobo Mini is 10-centimeters tall and will bridge the gap between humans and their machines while it sits snugly inside your car’s cup holder.

“At release, the robot can carry out conversations exclusively in Japanese. Hand gestures, facial expression, and even the tone of speaking changes according to the mood of the conversation. Aside from listening, a built-in camera also lets the Kirobo Mini look at who it is talking to and identify people’s facial expressions so it can respond accordingly.

I will spare you all the details of how such a tiny device does all this.  The robot costs $387 and requires the use of an online service that costs $3 a month.  It will be available only in Japan and only at select car dealerships.

“Aside from just providing small talk, the Kirobo Mini can comment about your driving and help you navigate. Just as you pull up the driveway, the robot can remind you that a hot bath is running for you and whatever smart home appliances are activated upon your arrival.

“By providing a humanoid figure, Toyota aims to open up drivers and allow them to reveal their needs more deeply. By allowing drivers to just talk naturally, Toyota might be able to unlock what people demand from modern vehicles.”

This strikes me as pathetic for at least three reasons:

1 – In a culture already too much in love with its toys, here’s a toy that will love you back.

2 – Wearing the mask of a cute little robot, Toyota has found a way to get into the heads of their consumers.  This is a horribly cute way to accomplish a horrible invasion of privacy

3 – Robot companions will never replace human companions; how lonely must you be to have a $400 robot friend?

I feel led to consistently explain and re-explain why we are taking the time to look closely at these creation narratives.  The news of the Kirobo Mini is an illustration of a vital reason for us to understand and apply Genesis.

One side effect of rejecting God as Creator is loneliness.  If we are – as our secularized culture pushes us to accept – just accidents, random bits of genetic code that cause random bits of experience when we accidently bump into one another, then we are truly alone.

If we don’t have a Creator, we also do not have a family of believers and our blood relatives are only related as an act of chance too, so who cares?

People are killing themselves and others because they are so alone they don’t think their actions matter.  They have no higher authority than themselves, so they say and do what they please.

If God is not our Creator, then we are truly lost.  If all that exists did not come into existence by Him, then human lives and the world we share are truly trivial.  We have to get a handle on Genesis and not be distracted or deterred from this first affirmation of faith: IN THE BEGINNING, GOD CREATED.

(If you would like to view this message being preached, look us up on YouTube at “EBCSF.”)

Getting it Right from the Beginning #2

(Please read Genesis 1:6-13 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV for these remarks.)

One day, Eve was walking in the garden with the Lord. She said, “Lord, the garden is wonderful, and the animals and birds provide such joy, but I am still lonely sometimes.”

“No problem!” the Lord replied. “I will make you a man for a companion. He will desire to please you and to be with you. But I have to warn you, he won’t be perfect. He’ll have a difficult time understanding your feelings, will tend to think only of himself, and will stay out late with his bowling buddies.”

“What’s bowling?” Eve asked.

“Oh… never mind. I was just getting ahead of myself, sorry.”

“That’s OK. I think I can handle this ‘man’,” Eve replied.

“Great, I’ll get right to it!” God said, and started grabbing some mud and shaping it.

Suddenly, the Lord stopped and said to Eve, “Oh, there’s one other thing about this man I’m making for you.”

“What’s that?” asked Eve.

“You’ll have to tell him he was here first.”

<Retrieved from http://jokes.christiansunite.com/Creation/Man_Is_Created.shtml on 10/07/16.>

We ask Genesis to answer a lot of questions, including the big ones; “How does all this exist?” and “What is the purpose of creation?” and, like that joke, the little questions like resolving the “Battle of the Sexes.”  Because Genesis is the inspired word of God, it is a reliable guide to all answers, but not all questions are worth asking, are they?

In fact, we see the writers of the New Testament turning to Genesis to solve some of the puzzles they had to solve.  Jesus and His followers took Genesis literally and seriously.  Its teaching formed the basis of their theology and that is another reason we must strive to interpret Genesis correctly, to “Get it right from the beginning.”  It is, after all, the basis for our theology too.

We observe the six days of creation are all followed by the same three-part formula:

  1. GOD SAID – the word of God is His power to make creation happen. God required no help whatsoever; He simply spoke and it happened. This phrase is followed by AND IT WAS SO, a formula repeated throughout the chapter to reinforce the fact of God’s supernatural power. His word alone is needed AND IT WAS SO.  The reality immediately conformed to His will when He spoke it into being.
  2. GOD SAW THAT IT WAS GOOD – This phrase appears on every day except day two. God approves when chaos is defeated by being organized. Creation was GOOD. That word, by the way, means that the created items were all functioning as they were supposed to.  Things were GOOD because they were going according to plan.  This Heb word can also be understood to be morally good, but it makes more sense in this context to emphasize it as “functional, orderly.”
  3. THERE WAS EVENING AND THERE WAS MORNING – this is the Jewish description of a day. As we are given no reason in the text to take these words any way other than literally, we believe that these words mean what they say. God’s power is underlined by the fact that He created all these changes in a single day.

Look for these recurring phrases as we study the days of creation in Genesis.  Pray that God will reveal all He wants us to know in this first book of the Bible, and that it will make a lifestyle difference in the way we live for Him.

REVIEW

  1. Before creation: Only God existed (1:1-2)
  2. Creation, Day One: Separating day and night (1:3-5)

NEW

  1. Creation, Day Two: Separating sky and sea (1:6-8).

God separated the waters into sky and sea by placing an EXPANSE between them.   This Hebrew word is difficult to translate.   Some have translated it as “atmosphere” in an attempt to make it sound more congruent with modern science.  This gives us an opportunity to address a few assumptions:

Modern science is NOT our authority in deciding what is most real; God is.  That means if the Bible says something and science says otherwise, we don’t assume the Bible got it wrong.  In fact, we can allow contradictory statements to exist side by side; there is no command in Scripture to reconcile the Bible with science.  Trying to shoe horn the Bible into science or vice-versa has created errors on both sides.

Like any other field of human endeavor, science is prey to trends, prejudice, errors, and other forms of fallibility.  It is temporary and ever-changing.  The Word of God, on the other hand, is eternal and unchanging.  The choice of which to trust first and foremost is obvious.

When science and Scripture agree, that’s great, but it is certainly not a matter of necessity because faith is not by sight.  We ought to see these instances of agreement as “happy accidents” and in no way base our confidence on them.

The Bible writers did not write with the same understanding of the natural world that we have.  But they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.  This means that scientific reliability is not a standard we need to use in evaluating the trustworthiness of the Bible.

Back to this word, EXPANSE (translated as VAULT in newer versions of the NIV); what the author of Genesis may have understood was that  the sky was a bowl that had been inverted and placed over the surface of the earth.  This bowl formed the solid foundation, the floor of heaven on the outside and provided a space between the surface and the heavens on the underside.

In this view, rain was the WATER ABOVE THE EXPANSE and it was held back by the bowl until such time as God saw fit to bring water to the earth (which explains 2:5-6, an otherwise challenging passage).  The WATER BELOW THE EXPANSE included the rivers and oceans.  The inverted bowl kept these two kinds of WATER separate.

The stars and other features of the heavens were believed to be like precious stones set into the inside of the bowl.  We understand there to be practically endless space between the stars, but that is not the way ancient cultures understood them.

One of the ironclad rules for understanding the Bible is to first seek the understanding possessed by those who originally received these words.  The first place to look for clues to their understanding is to draw from the text itself.  In this case, we find clues in vs. 8+20, where the emphasis is on the space between the earth and the heavens.

– 1:8 = God called the EXPANSE “SKY.”

– 1:20 = Birds fly ACROSS THE EXPANSE OF THE SKY.

These clues indicate that the best translation of EXPANSE would be “sky.” Regardless of how you understand the science or prescientific views of the writer, it accounts for the space between the surface and the heavens.  We may include clouds with rain as the WATERS ABOVE, even if the Bible writers did not understand clouds to be water vapor.

The point of day two’s creative activity is to reassure the reader that God is in control of the weather.  He created the bowl so that He could regulate the exchange of water from the sky to the surface.  This recognizes that the writer of Genesis’ purpose to have been theological, not meteorological: it is not to explain how weather works, but to point to God as the one who makes it work.

Permit me a moment on a tiny soap box: I wince when meteorologists – supposed scientists  – refer to “Mother Nature” as the origin of weather.  Such a creature is a pagan notion, an idol they worshipped and appealed to for fertility in their crops and families.  “Mother Nature” does not control weather and it is not simply chance combinations of variable conditions.  Can we agree with the writer of Genesis that God is in control?!

As we learned in part one, the story of creation is the story of God exerting His control to bring order to the originally chaotic first form of creation.  What we see here on day two is God exerting control over a resource we know to be essential to life; water.  God is acting powerfully to make the earth hospitable to life.

  1. Creation, Day Three: Separating the sea and the land, growing plants on the land (1:9-13).

Day three is a little different.  God still used separation as His means of organization, but then went a step further, and added something (PLANTS) to the new element of LAND.  This makes sense when you consider that with all three basic elements in place – light, water, and land – that God would then turn to developing them, as he does in days four to six of creation.

We see God’s organizing creation continuing on day three.  The WATERS UNDER THE SKY (on the surface, under the bowl) were GATHERED TO ONE PLACE so that DRY GROUND would appear.  Having separated them, God called the gathering of waters SEAS and wherever the dry ground appeared, He called it LAND.

Remember that THE DEEP was one of the four things in verse two that showed the creation was initially chaotic.  Now God takes care of that matter by organizing the surface waters, dividing them by placing DRY GROUND in between.  The previously chaotic waters are now organized.

Then, starting in vs. 11, God gives the LAND a job to do – grow plants.  In this sense, it can truly be said that God created agriculture on day three.  Here we see some of the “happy accidents” to which I referred earlier: points of agreement between the ancient text and modern science.

– Both the Bible and science assert that plants commonly grow on the LAND.

– Both teach that plants reproduce by means of seeds.

– Both affirm that plants bear FRUIT according to their KINDS. (What a horror farming would be if every seed were a mystery!  Imagine sowing a field and ending up with hundreds of different kinds of plants!)

These details emphasize the predictability that orderly systems have.  Science is able to observe “laws” of nature because our Creator is the One who wrote those laws! They are also indicative of God’s making the world a place suited for human habitation.

Later in Genesis (8:22), God points out the orderly aspect of nature as He created it; “AS LONG AS THE EARTH ENDURES, SEEDTIME AND HARVEST, COLD AND HEAT, SUMMER AND WINTER, DAY AND NIGHT WILL NEVER CEASE.” This promise was given to Noah, along with God’s pledge to never again destroy the earth a flood. As with all God’s promises, it is meant to reassure His faithful people that He is in control.  The world exists and acts according to the laws of nature because He keeps it that way.

These are important truths ever since Moses was inspired to record these words because our experience of nature is not always GOOD.  (Say a prayer for those who’ve suffered recently because of hurricane Matthew.)  While nature operates under observable laws, those laws don’t always operate in our favor.  When you’re on the receiving end, nature can feel out of control.

A zoo-keeper noticed that the monkey was reading two books – the Bible and Darwin’s The Origin of Species. In surprise he asked the ape, “Why are you reading both those books”?

“Well,” said the monkey, “I just wanted to know if I was my brother’s keeper or my keeper’s brother.”

<Retrieved from http://jokes.christiansunite.com/Creation/The_Monkey.shtml on 10/07/16.>

Let’s recap: in the first three days of creation we have seen God organizing light, water, and earth.  Do you recognize these as three of the essential elements in an equation that results in LIFE?  What kind of world would we have if any one of these three foundational elements were missing?  We’d have an uninhabitable world, that’s what.

What’s clear in Genesis is that God created the world as a place perfectly suited to nurture human life.  God made a home for all of us.  Scientists have shown that if a change were made in any one of several small ways, the earth would be uninhabitable.  For example, the Earth is the right distance from the Sun. It is close enough to be kept warm by an insulating atmosphere, but not so close as to suffer the worst effects of sunspots and other solar activity.

<Retrieved from http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/rose-center-for-earth-and-space/david-s.-and-ruth-l.-gottesman-hall-of-planet-earth/why-is-the-earth-habitable on 10/07/16.>

There are several applications of that truth, but let’s try this one on today: what kind of job are we doing taking care of our God-given home?  As we’ll see later in Genesis, God put us in charge of our own planet.  What are we doing to keep it clean and hospitable to all the life forms with whom we share our home?

People who understand Genesis must be serious managers of the environment.  We have the very best motivation to care for the world; to honor the One who created it.

I’m not advocating Greenpeace or the Green Party or any other worldly environmentalist group, I’m simply saying that each of us, in our own fashion, needs to contribute to the cleanliness and safety of our world.  I want to challenge you this week to honor and show gratitude to our Creator by doing something to maintain our earthly home.

(View a video version of this message on YouTube at “EBCSF.”)