Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Covenant 2.0, A chat with God, and Sodom

In Genesis 17, God comes to Abram again. Now, notice something that Bible Scholar D.A. Carson pointed out. We need to be careful not to think that God discloses himself to Abraham every day. These moments are spread out over a significant chunk of time. In Genesis 12, Abraham was 75. Now, he’s 99. So it’s been awhile. Ishmael is now thirteen

As God comes to Abraham, it must have been comforting. They once again reinforce the fact that God is remembering him. God is confirming the covenant that he has already made with Abraham, but as he does, he tells Abraham a little more about himself. He is God almighty. This is the first time we see the occurrence of the term God almighty (El Shadday- think the old Amy Grant Song). “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly." Here, God reminds Abraham that He is fully capable of keeping his promises. This title Almighty will be used several times in Genesis (chapters 17, 28, 35, 43, 49).

And what does the Almighty tell Abraham, that He will be the father of many nations. Kings will come from you. The covenant will be everlasting. According to verse 8, the Land of Canaan would be an everlasting possession for his descendants (keep that in mind the next time you think about the Israel-Palestine debate- God gave that chunk of real estate to the Jews). So, once again we see this land and descendants theme again. Abraham will be the father of many nations.

Now, notice three big new things that happen here.

First, Abram and Saria are given new names (I’ve used the name Abraham all along, because we’re used to thinking of Him as Abraham, but it’s not till here that Abram becomes Abraham). In the bible, names are important. Your name is more than just, your title. I’m Jonathan, but it’s just the name my parents gave me, so people could identify me. In the bible, names are more than that. In the bible, you names tell you who your greater is, i.e., who you serve. So your parents named you, or, when a conquering king came through, he might defeat another king, and rename that conquered king might be renamed (as happens in 2 kings), and that name is a reminder of who you serve, who has power and authority over you, and sets the trajectory of your life. But they also speak to what your life is about. Your mission, and purpose. Abram means “exalted father,” it speaks of his purpose, now God changes it, to something greater, he’s named Abraham, which means “father of many,” i.e., “the father of many nations.” While his status as the father of this nation is important, he will do something greater, he will be the source of the blessing of all the nations. Remember 12:3. Through him all the nations of the world will be blessed. Saia also gets a new mission; she becomes Sarah, the mother of many nations.

Second, notice that God introduces circumcision as the initiatory sign of the covenant. Circumcision was practiced elsewhere in the Ancient Near East; it was not a rite that that would have been not unknown to Abraham. Ancient Egyptians circumcised boys, but at a much older age. However, here it takes on a new meaning. It becomes the sign to Abraham and his descendants of the everlasting government that God is making with Abraham. Bible Scholar Allan Ross points out that “by this symbol, God impressed them with the impurity of nature and with dependence on God for the production of all of live. They would recognize and remember that negative impurity must be laid aside, especially in marriage, and that human nature is unable to generate the promised seed. Furthermore, as Carson notes, “This is a social “boundary markerwhich across the course of history increasingly marks the Hebrews out as differentit is so definitively established as the unique sign of the everlasting covenant that failure to comply means one is cut off from the people of God (17:13-14). Even before there is a great quantity of stipulation in the covenant, its framework, its boundary, and its symbolism are being established. Abraham wastes no time getting circumcised.

The third thing that comes from chapter 17 is that Sarah’s son, will be the one through whom the promise will come. Yes, God will bless Ishmael and multiply him greatly, but it is through Isaac that the covenant will continue. It is through Isaac that the seed of blessing for all people will continue. This is God making a sovereign choice. He will work, through his own, sovereignly chosen means.

This brings us to the appearance of the Lord to Abraham in chapter 18. Three things are front and center in this story.

First, Abraham is hoisting the Lord. Three men come. One is the lord. Abraham has intimate fellowship with God, as someone in covenant with Him.

Second. Isaac is on his way. Within a year, the promised child will come, through an old, worn out man and his old worn out wife. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. He is sovereign, and mighty, and if he wills it, it will come to pass.

Third, this sets up the Sodom story. But there is something incredible to see here. Abraham stumbles onto something, something that will come back as a theme much later. The idea that through the righteousness of a few, the many might be covered. We live in a world of individualism, so this passage doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to us. But in the communal world of the Ancient Near east, the idea of corporate responsibility was much greater. The one resented the many, and the many, the one. Abraham inadvertently stumbles onto something here. God says, "Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know." Then Abraham begins to intercede, just like a priest intercedes, and asks a question. "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?” IN essence, can the righteousness of the fifty cover the sins of the many? And then he asks again, 45, and 40, and down he goes, till he gets to ten. And then he stops, in part, because he probably realized that even if he went lower, there weren’t ten, or even one. But he stumbles onto something. God is fully ready for someone to stand in their stead. Someone righteous… but there is no one righteous, not even one. Certainly not Lot. And so he stops, he doesn’t go to one. But what if he does go to one, and what if there was one, standing in our place? Is that enough, might it be enough?  But “there is no one righteous”, who could stand in our place? Abraham stumbles onto something that is going to move to front and center on holy week, as the sinless Son of God Christ takes our place, the one, for the many.

Now, Genesis 19 brings us to Sodom. It’s a pretty grim scene. The two angels went to Sodom, and were invited in by Lot. He seems to know that it’s not safe to sleep in the town square. The Men of the city come and say, “And they called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them." Know is from the Hebrew word Yada- which means to know intimately. They want to rape the angels. Lot, because of the laws of hospitality in the ancient world, offers his daughters (something that blows my mind), but they want nothing to do with this. At that point, the angels intervene, tell Lot to get anyone that he wants to rescue, because the city is about to get destroyed. In the morning, the angles send him out, warning him not to look back. Lots wife looks back, and is punished for her sin. This sets up one of the most sad, sick stories in the entire bible, as scripture portrays these people, warts and all. There is no condoning of what they do, the story is told in such as way, to revolt you, you are meant to see the actions of Lots daughters as disgusting and sinful.

Now, on to the subject that everyone likes to argue about. Why was Sodom destroyed? Now, you've probably heard the debate. For awhile now, the refrain has been, “Homosexuality… no, not for that”. Yes... For that. Homosexuality is the key reason (is homosexuality an unforgivable sin, or even greater than any other sexual immorality, no. Any and all sexual immorality, hetero or homo in nature, should be repented of. But there is no repentance here, times run out for Sodom, it’s sins have reached their fill, and God judges it). Look at the details of the story, and you can’t help to see that Homosexuality is the issue. The men of Sodom and Gomorrah wanted to perform homosexual gang rape on the two angels that came disguised as men. Now, is it biblical to say that homosexuality was the exclusive reason why God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? No, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were definitely not exclusive in terms of the sins in which they indulged

Ezekiel 16:49-50 says, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it. Pride and inhospitality are two of the reasons for the destruction. Homosexuality is not the lone sin. Now, many like to look at this and say, “see! No homosexuality”. But, look closer. What’s this thing, “an abomination”? The Hebrew word translated " abomination" (abomination in ESV, detestable in NIV) refers to something that is morally disgusting and is the exact same word used in Leviticus 18:22 that refers to homosexuality as an "abomination." In the same vein, Jude 1:7 declares, "...Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire (perversion in NIV, literally strange flesh), serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. So, while homosexuality was not the only sin in which the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah indulged, it does appear to be the primary reason for the destruction of the cities.

What should we take away. Four things. God is sovereign, and he acts with sovereign love to fulfill his purposes. Second, God’s people are marked to live pure and righteous lives. Different lives. Third, God judges sin. Fourth, see the hidden pointers. To Christ, to the gospel, to Abrahams greater son, Christ, the one who live the life we should have lived, and then died the death we should have died. To the one that stands in for the many, Jew, Gentile, slave, free, Homosexual and Heterosexual, men, woman, all. He offers forgiveness, cleansing, the one for the many, for the salvation of all who turn to him, and in repentance, begin to live for him and his glory.

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