3. God of Self-Disclosure

Getting to Know God Meditations:  3. God of Self-Disclosure

Ex 3:6  Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

Taken for Granted?  Do we, who are believers, take for granted what is happening in the verse above, and if you are a new seeker, I wonder if you realize the enormity of what is happening here? As a reminder to believers and to explain to newcomers, Moses is talking with God. This is Moses, otherwise known in more recent cinematic terms as the Prince of Egypt. He has messed up and ended up caring for sheep for forty years in the desert, hundreds of miles from his old home in Egypt. One day he has a strange experience. He sees a bush on fire and yet it is not being destroyed. He wanders over to take a look and at the point a voice from nowhere appears to speak to him, claiming to be the God of his forefathers.

Now here is the challenging thing. We are saying there is a God as described in the Bible and sometimes (not often) He speaks out loud. This God is a communicating God, a God who communicates with human beings – and that is the claim right the way through the entire Bible. He speaks in a variety of ways but the claim is He communicates. (If there is a God, a living Being, why shouldn’t He communicate?) Now when He communicates here, He is saying to Moses that He is the same God who had communicated with the men we now refer to as the Patriarchs, the fathers of Israel.

Sequential History: And thus we are faced with sequential history, events following on from one another, not events that are free standing, we might say, but events that have direct links. In Genesis chapter 12 we are introduced to a pagan, a Semite who originated in Ur in Mesopotamia, a man who became referred to as “Abraham the Hebrew” (Gen 14:13). The origins of this word ‘Hebrew’ are unclear but the basis means ‘cross over  or pass through’. Later Joshua said of him, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau.” (Josh 24:2-4) The river appears to be the Euphrates.

This Joshua was the army commander who led Israel after Moses eventually died. Note again there is this historical flow in what he says: Abram, who God renamed Abraham, had a son Isaac, who had two sons Jacob and Esau and God renamed Jacob, Israel. Israel had twelve sons and as their families grew and developed they became a nation we now call Israel. But here’s another challenging thing: in what Joshua says, he maintains God spoke and declared He was the reason these families, and this nation, existed. When you read the story in detail in Genesis chapter 12 on, you can see why this claim is made. It is history, but history that includes the activity of God and that activity includes speaking, as well as a number of other things. The idea of a God who stands back and just watches this world is alien to the Bible, this God interacts with human beings.

More Self-Disclosure: Now in that same account of Moses at the burning bush we find Moses going on to ask a very pertinent question, pertinent in a world full of superstition and lots of ‘gods’, Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (Ex 3:13)Now if I was just making up this story I would have God say to Moses, “Just say God sent you, that should be enough,” but He doesn’t, He says something I could never have dreamed up: God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Ex 3:14) As if that isn’t bad enough, He goes on, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’” (v.15)

Now there is a footnote in the Bible that the translators have put in, in respect of the word LORD seen there in capital letters, The Hebrew for Lord sounds like and may be related to the Hebrew for I am in verse 14.” There was a custom in the Hebrew language for names to have meanings conveyed by words with similar sounds. Put most simply, whenever the word LORD appears in the Bible in the capital letters it is shorthand for “I am who I am”. So what are we to make of “I AM”? I would suggest, in line with the rest of the teaching of the Bible that it is God’s shorthand for saying, “I am eternal – I am, I always am, I always was, I always will be – I am outside of time.”

Now if we think about this some more, it is also like God is saying, “I am utterly different from all the ‘gods’ people make up”.  Perhaps you know something of the later gods of Greece and later the gods of Rome, figures with very human fallible characteristics.  One well known atheist has said something like, “If there wasn’t a god, human beings would have to invent one, it’s what they have always done.” So, yes, the nations of what we call the Middle East had their ‘gods’ and the voice speaking to Moses is essentially saying, “Don’t even think of me in the same breath! I am the Eternal One, the One who has always existed and always will exist.” I said in the first study that philosophers will say that the definition of God has to be One for whom there can be no one greater, and perhaps we should add, who is beyond our comprehension in that He has no beginning and no end.

Limited Self-Disclosure: We have simply started, in a very basic way, thinking about the fact that the Bible shows God revealing Himself to mankind in the ways we find in the Bible, but we have to say that it is very limited. Yes, He is eternal, yes, He does communicate and we will go on to see He is very much a God of Purpose, and that is all very clear from what we find in the Bible. There is also a great deal more of Him that can be found out by reading the Bible – as we will go on to do – but the fact of the matter is that even with all of what great books of theology might say, we know very little of who God is.

Why? Because my mind cannot grasp what eternal means. I know the definition but I cannot (and you cannot) comprehend the fact of a Being that has no beginning and no end. Young searchers often want to ask such questions as, ‘Well, how did God come into being, everything has a beginning?’ I have no idea, I just said I don’t know what eternal means, I cannot comprehend it. Having said there is a great deal of mystery surrounding the Being that we are constantly referring to as God (with a capital G) that doesn’t mean we are completely in the dark, for the point is that the Bible is all about God’s self-disclosure, His revelation of Himself, and there is a lot of it – and that is what (hopefully) this series is all about. Stay with me and we’ll see where it goes, and I hope you will find it happens in a way that is satisfactory, even though it cannot answer every possible question, I hope it will answer a lot of the questions that usually arise.

Snapshots: Day 28

Snapshots: Day 28

The Snapshot: “so he proceeded to bless him.”  A blessing is a prophetic decree of good from heaven. It comes from God, touches a heart, is declared and applied by God. It is not a wish but a declaration of the good will of God and is, in one sense, general for all of us (His desire for good for His children) but in another sense unique (what He sees He wants to do for ‘me’ uniquely). We impart a blessing only as the Holy Spirit enables us; it is not a case of just wishing someone well, but an opening of the door of heaven for the good to be poured forth as he desires. How amazing that He wants to involve us, is limited by us, because He wants us to be the bringers of His good to His world. Lord, please make me sensitive of your will for those I love that I may bless them.

Further Consideration: Over the years I have had the impression that most Christians know little of blessings and curses. The classic passages of the Law that describe them are Deut 28 for blessings following obedience, then curses for disobedience. However, blessings start in Gen 1 when God blessed the living creatures (v.22) and then mankind (v.28). In each case ‘blessings’ are God’s decrees for good. In each case the blessing is “to be fruitful” and this is also seen when He blesses Noah (Gen 9:1). A beautiful outworking of this is seen in the case of Isaac: “Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him.” (Gen 26:12)

Somehow this understanding has been communicated to Isaac and so it is no surprise when he blesses who he thinks is his eldest son, but turns out to be Jacob. He clearly holds a blessing in the highest degree for once he has spoken it, he knows he cannot either withdraw it or repeat it in respect of Esau (see Gen 27:34-37).

A blessing is thus equivalent to a prophecy and of course genuine prophecies always originate in heaven, in God’s heart, and not merely in our hearts. As we catch a sense of the Holy Spirit’s prompting we may then utter the blessing that we sense the Lord wants to impart to the person before us, and life is changed.

I will often simply say to someone, “The Lord bless you,” because I know it is the Lord’s desire to bless each one of us. My daughter reminded me not long ago that she grew up through a childhood that knew me bringing God’s blessing to them. Whenever we do that we are reiterating the Lord’s desire to bring good to that person, and that opens the way for Him to do just that. We don’t do it by habit or to control but simply when we are absolutely sure that God wants good for His people.  The more we know Him, the more sure we will be of that and be able to be His channels of blessing to others.

Snapshots: Day 26

Snapshots: Day 26

The Snapshot: “Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife”. Another childless couple? History repeating itself? But thank goodness for a godly husband who prayed for his wife. But he prayed for twenty years!!!! Why did he have to wait for so long? Mysteries that will remain mysteries until we get to heaven and get answers. Until then I must learn to trust, trust that God never ever makes mistakes. Until then I must learn my part as I weave my way through the mysteries of life – with Him. Can I learn to persevere in prayer, keeping hope alive? Can I learn to trust while waiting, come to a place of complete peace in the knowledge of His wisdom and love? Is this my part as I confront some of the pains of living in this Fallen World? Lord, I receive your grace for this moment today.

Further Consideration: Prayer is one of the strangest features in the life of a Christian. I don’t mean the ‘prayers’ found in the ‘Book of Common Prayer’ but those that don’t seek to cover all the theological bases well, as do the prayers in that book that help remind us of the truths of the Faith. No, the prayers I have in mind are those that pour out of the heart that might so often summed up as, “God, please help!”

The difficulties are that such prayers may come out of total selfishness that add the word ‘me’ to that summary prayer.   Such prayer often forgets that Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Mt 21:22) and “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” (Jn 14:13) So belief that we are asking in line with Jesus will, what he wants to happen, is key to seeing answers.

So I wonder what Isaac prayed, because we’re not told in detail, simply that he was forty when he married Rebekah and sixty when she had her children (Gen 25:20,26). Twenty years of married life and no child, so we can assume that perhaps he was wondering if he was having to walk the same path as his father, and perhaps he was growing desperate – so he prayed and prayed. Was he praying in line with God’s will? Most definitely. Why? Because he would have known of the number of times God had said to his father that He would make a great nation out of him, and that was not out of anyone other than through Isaac (see Gen 17:15,16).

Have you and I entered into everything the Lord has for us, have we got all the Lord wants for us? Perhaps He is waiting for us to come to that understanding so that we pray for what we have come to realize is God’s greater will for us. Tomorrow I’ll give an instance of this but for now, check it out, has God got more for you that you only half apprehend? When you pray it becomes clearer – then it comes!

Snapshots: Day 24

Snapshots: Day 24

The Snapshot: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac.” You are a God like all the other gods who demand child sacrifice? No I am not. Then why do you want me to kill Isaac? I don’t. But you said….  I simply said take him. But you said sacrifice him? I want you to be willing to give him up. But isn’t that the same as killing him? No, I simply want you to learn to trust me. And you will raise him from the dead? If that’s how you want to see it. Very well, here he is. Stop. But you said…. No, I said learn to trust me with those most precious to you. Then you don’t want me to kill him? Of course not, I said that. But…. Don’t you realize I love him more than you do? But…. Hold all my gifts to you lightly, don’t make them more than me, otherwise you will cheapen them. What?

Further Consideration: Our problem, so often, is that we don’t realize how much God loves us and our loved ones. A good number of years ago, when our three children were young (they are now in their late thirties) my wife had an accident. I will spare her blushes by not telling you what happened but she was bleeding – badly. We put a towel against the cut and rushed her to hospital. In the Accident and Emergency dept they instantly saw there was a big problem and immediately started work on her while I was asked to wait outside. Their problem was that they could not stop her bleeding. She had cut an artery and nothing they could do would stop it.

In a semi-unconscious state she heard their desperate urgency and realized she could be dying. Lying there while they sought to stop the bleeding she prayed and said, “But Lord, what about my three children, who will look after them?” (I could have felt offended about this except that I was passed it at that point and anyway didn’t know until afterwards what she had prayed). But as she prayed, asking for help, she very clearly heard the Lord who said, “Don’t you realize that I love them and care for them even more than you do?” And that was it. The bleeding stopped, crisis over, but a changed wife.

God did NOT want Isaac dead; He just wanted Abraham (and us) to learn something. At the end of it, Abraham named the place, “The Lord will provide.” (Gen 22:14) Here’s the thing, Mount Moriah where this happened (v.2) is according to 2 Chron 3:1, Jerusalem, the vicinity of Calvary where another son was sacrificed – for you and me. God doesn’t want your death or mine, Jesus has already given himself in our place, to carry our sin, so that we can carry on living – for ever! Some are revolted by the picture of Jesus dying for them but it is only pride that keeps us from facing our need and our hopelessness and then, as a drowning person grabbing a straw, we accept the Cross.

7. Covenant Reassurance

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  7. Covenant Reassurance

Gen 26:24    That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”

Life had been somewhat tumultuous for Isaac. For twenty years he had failed to be a father and his prayers seemed to go unanswered. Then his wife conceived and bore him twins, twins who will be in constant competition, one of them a schemer and the other oblivious of the significance of his family background. Then his father died, and he is now the patriarch, wandering in Canaan. A famine comes, and he goes to Gerar, in the south, where he gets in trouble with the king, just like his father had done before him. Eventually, “Abimelech said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.” (v.16) Affluence can make others insecure.

So he wanders the Land with his flocks and herds and finds shortage of water so, “Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham,” (v.18) but the locals claim the water is theirs, and this is repeated again and again, until, “He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarrelled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.” (v.22) He has every right to feel insecure and wonder whatever is going on in his life, but then the Lord turns up.

That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” And so we find another, “fear not’ or ‘do not be afraid’ situation, but what is the reason he is given not to be afraid?  It starts out simply, “for I am with you.”  Yes, but what does that mean? You are with me, but my life circumstances are confusing and questionable.

Ah, we need to see the words before that: “I am the God of your father Abraham.  Ah, this starts to make sense. His father would have told him of all the dealings he had had with the Lord, the unseen One who had called him to leave his homeland and travel nearly a thousand miles to Canaan, with a promise that He would end his childlessness and make him into a great nation (Gen 12:2) and would give them this land (Gen 12:7). Then there had been a most solemn covenant made (Gen 15:9-20) that the land would be for his descendants.

There it was, a solemn covenant, a solemn promise accompanied by ritual, whereby the Lord declares this land will belong to the descendants he is yet to have. Once made it will stand and so Isaac will know of it and his children will know of it and their children and children’s children will know of it. That is why, Isaac, you can rest and be at peace in the midst of these confusing circumstances and not be afraid of them, of kings, of the peoples of the land, and of the future. The present circumstances may appear confusing, but God has promised a good outcome.

Similarly, for you and me, we have a new covenant (Lk 22:20), promised centuries before, (Jer 31:31) and now part of New Testament teaching (e.g. 1 Cor 11:22, 2 Cor 3:6, Heb 8:6,8,13, 9:15, 12:24) that Jesus died on the cross to take our sins to enable us to be justified and become Holy Spirit empowered children of God. That is our covenant in which we can be secure, so that whatever the circumstances, we know these truths do not change and thus we are part of God’s family and God is for us in them. Hallelujah!

7. Working for the long-term

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 7. Working for the long-term

Gen 24:1-4   Abraham was now old and well advanced in years, and the LORD had blessed him in every way. He said to the chief servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.”

Unfulfilled Prophecy: Before we leave the Patriarchs and Genesis, we need to backtrack and observe an episode in the life of this family that we have now seen grow to such a size it will soon become a nation. Abraham has the son of the promise and he’s had the word that God will make his family like the sand on the seashore. The only problem is that, at this time, Isaac does not have a wife.

A Distinctive People: He is living in this foreign land inhabited by ‘Canaanites’ – probably a whole group of different tribes, but not Hebrews. He knows that it is his family that God had said He would bless and he has a sense of clear demarcation from these people in this land. He has a relationship with the Lord, and they don’t. He has prophetic vision for the future, but they don’t. He worships the one true God, who he come to see is the Almighty Creator of all the world (Gen 14:18-22), they worship idols. He has come to understand that God has called him to be a distinctive people, different from all those other tribes or nations around him. He’s heard it and he believes it.

The Family Connection: So he has this problem. The only women around are these pagan, idol-worshipping Canaanites. The answer is that he must look elsewhere, and the obvious place is the place he has come from, so he sends his chief steward with the task of finding a daughter from his relatives back in Mesopotamia. It is a delightful story worth reading. For our purposes we will simply note that the servant finds Rebekah who is described as The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milcah bore to him.’” (Gen 24:47) If we backtrack we find, “Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. ….Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah.” (Gen 11:27,29) So that side of the family tree had been – Terah, Nahor, Bethuel and then Rebekah, while on the other side it had been Terah, Abram, Isaac. The former branch of the tree had an extra generation because of course Abram had waited until he was a hundred before Isaac arrived, but Isaac and Rebekah would be roughly in the same age or generation bracket.

Outworkings: So the family will be continued through the extended family and without any Canaanite pollution. Rebekah would also be aware of her similar ancestry. At the end of this particular story, Isaac has a wife and the rest, as they say, is history. The family tree continues through Isaac to Jacob and to the tribes of Israel, the nation that eventually becomes as multitudinous as the sand on the seashore! Now we may not, from our position so many centuries away, be able to identify with this (although many today do work to find their ancestry, following the family tree back) but this is God’s plan we have been considering, to bring a nation into being a) through which He can be revealed to His world, and b) His Son from heaven can come in the centuries ahead. If Abraham’s servant could not find a wife for Isaac who was sympathetic to their calling and understanding their ancestry, none of what followed would be possible.

Lessons: Now what does this account say to us? I suggest it speaks about a chosen people and today, you and I who are Christians, can say we are a chosen people (1 Pet 2:9). The word for ‘church’ originally means ‘a called-out people’ so we are also called to be a distinctive people, a holy people (1 Pet 1:15,16), a people who are different from those around us, for we are living in conformity with God’s design, God’s will. Our goals and objectives are His goals and objectives. Abraham’s expectations were that God would show the servant a wife for Isaac so together they could continue the family tree, in accordance with God’s declared will. There was a clear and distinct purpose behind his search, that would result in the continuation of the family and the presence of a holy people on earth. We, likewise, have become a purposeful people, a people who will express the kingdom of God on earth under the leading of the head of the body, Jesus Christ, who is seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven ruling and directing.

And Us? The key question has to be, do we see ourselves like this? Chosen, distinctive, purposeful? We might also ask, do we do all we can to help the next generation enter such a relationship with the Lord that we have known? That means being a real and genuine example for our children to follow? We can never guarantee this, but have we done all we can do to show and share the love of God through Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered, distinctive and purposeful lives? At the end of the day it is down to our children to respond as they will, but will they be able to look at us with love and fondness, knowing that we were there for them, full of grace and wisdom? We will fail sometimes but that should not put us off saying sorry to them, and getting up and going for it again. We could add a lot more but there is plenty there to pray over and work for.

4. God’s Plan, not mine

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 4. God’s Plan, not mine

Gen 25:23   “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

Family Expectations: The awareness of being pregnant surely brings an anticipation of the days ahead, and indeed the years ahead. The creation of a family must surely be one of the greatest forces for raising expectations of the future – and also the potential for getting it wrong! How many children have suffered and been distorted from God’s design from them, by their parents own expectations. Again and again I watch young parents – and it may be the mother or the father – who works to do everything possible to provide the best for their child or children and guide and steer them to achieve something that is the image of the parents, Within the Hebrew people, there was a regular custom of giving a child a name in accordance with the hopes of the parent. The naming of the sons of Jacob is a classic of this found in Gen 29 & 30, although they tended to be to act as a reminder of the circumstances surrounding the birth. It’s not a practice we tend to follow!

But now we come to Isaac and Rebekah again. Previously we read, Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.” (Gen 25:21) For twenty years Rebekah had anticipated being a mother – it’s what wives become, isn’t it! Eventually she conceives. At long last! Well it has happened, so what will we name our child, what will they be a boy or a girl, what will they be like? These are the sort of questions would-be parents ask. But then something happens: “The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.” (v.22)

Rebekah seeks the Lord: Now I have the highest respect for Rebekah at this point (she doesn’t do so well later) because after having to wait for twenty years, she has become a godly woman. When something starts going wrong, she talks to God about it. If only more Christians today would build this into their life habits! But more that this, she doesn’t just talk at God (which today so many do in their superstitious prayers) but she enquires of the Lord, she asks Him – and then listens – and hears!  Again, oh, if only more Christians would learn to do this today! The Lord reveals to her that she is carrying twins, but He takes the opportunity of her listening heart to convey something about their future to her: “The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (v.23).

The boys named: To understand the future we need to see what follows: “When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them” (Gen 25:24-26) Esau simply means ‘red’ and ‘hairy’ so naming a poor child that doesn’t really do much for his self-esteem as he grows up! But if that wasn’t bad enough, Jacob means ‘he grasps the heel” or ‘grabber’! It was no surprise that Jacob grew up to be that sort of person!

So, although I said I admired the way she sought the Lord, once the babies have arrived – and it may be a sign of her weariness after having had twins – she doesn’t do a good job giving them inspiring names. Maybe it was a sign of what both the parents felt about God after having had to wait for Him to turn up for twenty years. I don’t know.  If they were around today, Esau’s friends would probably unkindly refer to him as ‘that hairy mutt’. Jacob, well possibly, “here comes the grabber, hold on to your toys!” Not a good entry.

Upset causes divergence: All of this is followed, once they reach the age of maturity, by a rite of blessing and it all goes horribly wrong with Jacob conning his brother out of the best blessing (see Gen 27:1-40), but this is only after Esau has already shown he doesn’t care anything about his birthright (see Gen 25:29-34). In the long term the family tree of the people of God stayed with Jacob who became Israel, while Esau went off and married a Canaanite in a peak of anger (Gen 28:8,9) and becomes father of the Edomites who became enemies of Israel so often. (see Gen 25:30, 36:1-)

God’s Sovereignty? Now the apostle Paul uses this situation to demonstrate the sovereignty of God in choosing who He will (Rom 9:10-13) but a wider reading of Scripture suggests again and again, that ‘God’s sovereignty’, while clearly being that, is in fact based upon what He sees and knows from the outset before the world is even created. how unique individuals will use their free will to choose the life they will live, and in the light of that, He chooses who will be blessed, but it is simply those who turn to Him and follow Him. Thus in the story we have been considering, the Lord knew the outcome when he said to Rebekah, “one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger,” and knew that Esau would despise his family name, care little about his parents (thus dishonoring them) and go off contrary to the declared will of God (to bless the world through this particular family) and marry Canaanites. He knew that although Jacob would start off his life as a twister, he would end up a wise old Patriarch who we see prophesying over all his boys and thus growing into a nation that God would bless and use.

And Us? And so? Be careful with your expectations for your family. Pray your heart out for them for God to bless them and draw them to Himself but be careful not to have favourites who you spoil to the detriment of the others (as we’ll see in later studies), and don’t try and make your children something other than God has designed into them. Your child may be an artist. Let him be. Your child may be a scientist. Let her be. Guide them ethically and morally by all means, be the example we have spoken of before, of faith and righteousness, but don’t impose your image on them. Hold your expectations lightly as you pray for them daily, otherwise you may be working against the will of God!

3. It’s what should be!

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 3. It’s what should be!

Gen 25:21   Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren.

Abraham’s Unfulfilled Vision: The writer to the Hebrews spoke of Abraham, he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb 11:10) which suggests a hope or expectation that Abraham had, that out of his family would come such a community of people that, instead of living the nomadic life he had known, they would settle down with God in what would surely be a city. Yet in his lifetime that never came to be. He would have rejoiced over a future Jerusalem if he had been able to see it at its peak in say Solomon’s day. But that was yet the future.

Isaac’s Waiting: Then came Isaac, the child of promise, born miraculously when both his parents were well beyond child-bearing age. No doubt as he grew they would have shared with him their story. He now is part of the fulfillment of the start of a people who would eventually become like the sand on the seashore, so numerous you cannot count them (Gen 22:17). Isaac grows up and Abraham gets him a wife: “Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah” (Gen 25:20) Eventually, and it was very much a case of ‘eventually’ Rebekah has two twin boys, Esau and Jacob: “Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.” (Gen 25:26) If that was all you knew of the story it would be unremarkable but actually there is a verse in between which speaks volumes: “Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.” (Gen 25:21)

Isaac’s Frustrated Expectations: A quick calculation shows that Isaac had been married twenty years before he became a father, twenty years of waiting to see how he was going to be part of the fulfillment of God’s word to his father, which he later reiterated to Isaac (26:3-5). So we have a picture of another from this family tree of Abraham, Isaac, who had this sense of expectation formed by the Lord, and expectation of something that was in addition to his natural inclination and expectation as a husband. Although in our somewhat distorted world today in the West it is not always the case that husbands, let alone their wives, want children, in most societies throughout history having children is the natural expectation of being a husband or wife. In fact, apart from the natural expectation of a child to grow up and enter into a (sexual) relationship with a partner (husband or wife), this is probably the most basic expectation in the human race. So, when that expectation is frustrated, as was both the case with Sarai and Rebekah, it is especially hard, as those today know who try for children to no avail. It is often heartbreaking.

Prayer: It is in this context that we find only the third reference in the Bible to someone praying. The first instance had been Abraham who prayed on God’s instructions for Abimelech (Gen 20:17), then there had been Abraham’s servant, sent with the task of finding a wife for Isaac (Gen 24:12), and now we have just read that, “Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife.” Prayer is the natural response to desperation. We don’t know how many years Isaac waited and waited before he started praying and we don’t know how long he prayed, but it was twenty long years before Rebekah conceived and tomorrow we’ll see what followed.

Delayed Visions: But here is the thing about expectations that come, either from natural inclination or following a word from the Lord – they can be frustrated and delayed in their fulfillment. I spoke yesterday morning about a long-term vision the Lord has given me, something I have in which to play a part, and it was only later in the day I found myself gazing on the situation in question thinking, “This is never going to happen,” and I had to take hold of myself and remind myself this is God’s vision, not mine.

Delays Weary: A while later I was talking with a lovely Christian lady who had been married for 38 years to a non-Christian husband and she has anguished for him and prayed for him for that whole period, apparently to no avail. Last year they went through a particularly tough time in respect of his poor health and I found myself saying, “Would it help if I told you that I believe this last year has been a preparation for what is coming in this next year?” She answered in the affirmative, because she is a “good evangelical Christian”, a ‘strong’ believer, but I sensed in reality it went straight over her head (despite the fact that someone else apparently has recently said the identical thing), because year after year of frustrated praying can wear down the soul.

Our Delays: Many of us harbor these hopes, these expectations; it may be about wanting a child, it maybe about wanting a partner, it maybe about wanting your partner to come to the Lord, it maybe about wanting your children to come to the Lord, it may be about a desire for healing. In all of these instances, it seems, there can be frustration. Solomon apparently knew this when he wrote, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Prov 13:12) That is the natural response to this hope being dashed again and again, but to stop it killing us (spiritually at least) we need to somehow grab His grace to help keep us faithful. The enemy would seek to make us jaded and cynical, but the Lord works to deepen our faith and our confidence in him

Being Examples: I wrote fairly recently in a Christmas meditation about how Abraham was an example to us, of faith, and then how important example is. Sometimes our example can impact others, whether it be others seeing your fortitude in the face of anguish or simply they see the sort of life you live as you wait in expectation. Mostly the Bible doesn’t have a great deal to say about such situations. Peter did say, “Wives …. be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,” (1 Pet 3:1) and we could substitute for that word ‘behaviour’ the word ‘example’, and there are of course general guidelines as to how we are to live as husbands, wives, parents, children, workers, members of society etc. but that’s about it.

And So: Being an example will not get you pregnant, just help others. That’s why some of these things feel so hard. We feel helpless to bring change, and yet we have this as yet unfulfilled hope. It is one of the hardest areas of being a Christian because you know God could step in and yet, for whatever reason, He has decided not to. So all you are left with is prayer and more prayer and a seeking for grace to maintain a right attitude. After that we have to leave it up to Him. We never said this series on expectations and hope would always be easy, and so it is important, early on, that we see just how difficult it is sometimes. The Lord knows, He still loves us, He is no doubt still working within us to bring changes in us, but He does know what we feel, and He feels it with us (see Ex 3:7). When the Lord says He is concerned by what He sees, He means it! At Lazarus’s tomb that concern was shown by tears. I believe the Lord anguishes with us, but sometimes He sees that the best, as hard as that is to receive, is to wait, and in what follows we’ll see some reasons why. Try and hang on in there while you wait.

11. Know your God

Meditations in Exodus: 11. Know your God

Ex 3:5,6    Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

Living in the day in which we live, with the entire Bible at our disposal, I am certain we take for granted the amount of knowledge about God we have at hand. It is perhaps only when we consider these early books of the Bible that we realise it hasn’t always been so. The revelation of who the Lord is came only slowly.

Moses has been carrying on his business looking after his sheep when he is arrested by the sight of a bush on fire but not being consumed. He wanders over to get a closer look and as he does so he finds a voice speaking to him from within the fire. The voice calls him by name. Who or what it is knows who he is. As he goes to get closer to it he is then told to beware for this is holy ground. Now that must have meant something to him and when the voice identifies itself as the God of his ancestors, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, it creates within him a sense of awe and he covers his face, not wishing to look directly into the flames.

Now what might it have been that provoked that reaction? Well, by designating Himself as He did, the Lord indicates that He knows that Moses has been taught about the history of the Hebrews. To say that He is the God of these three Patriarchs puts content to any consideration of who God is. He had had dealings with each of those three men and in those dealings had revealed a lot about Himself. What do those men tell us about God?

  • First, that He is a God who can communicate with human beings.
  • Second, He is a God who knows all about us.
  • Third, He reveals He has purposes for us that lift us from the level of self-centred godless sin to the level of a significant God-relating human being who can bring good to the world.
  • Fourth, He persists with us even when we are slow to comprehend what is happening.
  • Fifth, He can intervene in this material world to bring changes to our circumstances and to our very lives.
  • Sixth, He clearly knows what is coming in the future.
  • Seventh, He knows what He can do with individuals, i.e. their potential.
  • Eighth, He works in, through and around us for the good of mankind.
  • Ninth, He is the Creator who made all things.

Now most of those things came about by observing the things He did with those three men The last one came about by revelation passed on through Melchizedek to Abram (Gen 14:19,20).

He had communicated with each of them speaking about their future and the Land He promised them. Despite Abram’s fumblings with the will of God and getting into trouble in Egypt and having a child through a servant, the Lord persisted with him. Despite Jacob being a scheming cunning deceiver, He persevered with him. When neither Abram nor Isaac appeared to be able to have children, He enabled their wives to conceive. He clearly was a God who KNOWS, who CAN CHANGE circumstances and HAS STANDARDS and  PLAN FOR THE FUTURE.

The reality of all of that together with the knowledge that He is the Creator of the whole world puts Him on a very different footing to the idols and gods of other nations. Moses would have known all the gods of Egypt after having lived there for forty years and to be confronted now by a challenger to all of that Egyptian mysticism, occultism and superstition was a serious challenge. Whereas life with the gods of Egypt just went on and on with annual repetition and nothing done in respect of them seemed to change anything, the stories that had been carried down in the family of the happenings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob indicated a God who was not about mystical mumbo-jumbo but an all-powerful Being who clearly DID communicate and DID act into people’s lives to bring changes. Dealing with this God had a feeling of reality about it, whereas placating the apparent gods of Egypt just released a sense of fear and uncertainty.

In the light of these things, we might ask ourselves two questions. Question number one: do we have a clear idea of who the Lord is by what we read of Him in the Bible, or is our reading so spasmodic and purposeless that we are left with a hazy picture of who He is and we are uncertain about His intentions toward us?  Question number two: do we place our reliance upon things or methods or whatever else of the twenty-first century in a hope that ‘they’ will bring us support and comfort and a sense of wellbeing, or do we see that everything for a sense of wellbeing comes out of a living and real relationship with God?

I ask these things because I have a feeling that the Christianity I see portrayed on ‘Christian TV’ seems to often rely on twenty-first century “you are a good person with a great potential” (which can be utterly godless and the mantra of Personal Trainers or Life-Skills Mentors).  The thing about the gods of Egypt was that they were focused on things  – rivers, animals, weather etc. etc. Moses is being confronted with a PERSON who is real, who is there, who is communicating with him and who is utterly different from anything he encountered in his life all those years ago in Egypt – and it is that which is going to be at the heart of all that is coming shortly. Not things. Not methods. Not ego-boosting words. A person! THE person. That is who you and I are confronted by in these verses and in our daily lives.

4. Against all Hope

Meditations in Romans : 4:  Against all hope

Rom 4:18   Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

We concluded the previous meditation considering the reference in verse 17 to “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” and the challenge came never to write off any person as for ever spiritually dead, for God comes and does what we consider impossible and brings life where we think it can never be. This is at the heart of Christian doctrine: God is a life bringer!

But we need to realise the impossibility that challenges faith sometimes. Paul continues, “Against all hope.” When you gaze on a dead body being lowered into a grave, there is no hope. When they have switched off the life-support machine, there is no hope. In the material, human world, there is going to be no last minute reprieve. It is finished. In an aging human body, male and female, there comes a time when child bearing is well and truly passed. There is no hope. This is what the situation was with Abraham. What made it worse was the fact that his wife had never borne a child. It wasn’t just a case of a wish for another child in old age.   The scriptural record is quite clear: “Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.” (Gen 11:30) And then God speaks. This is the bizarre thing: faith flies in the face of the absence of hope, in the face of the impossible. Humanly it’s just not going to happen – and then God speaks and says it will!

It is at this point that we have a choice: to believe God or to focus on the impossibility and declare it cannot be so. And so then we read, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed.” (4:18) It was utterly hopeless, but this amazingly frail believer did just that – he believed God. His knowledge of God was limited, he came from a pagan background, and he had every reason for not believing – but he believed!

He believed God and so “became the father of many nations.” This was spiritually true. Because he believed and continued to try having children, God enabled he and his wife to have a child in old age, Isaac, and from Isaac, Jacob and the nation of Israel and eventually into Israel, God’s Son, Jesus, and through him, children of God from every nation on earth. It was exactly as prophesied: “just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be” (4:18) quoting Gen 15:5 – “He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars–if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” That had been God’s promise and in the fullness of time that was what happened.

But Paul restates this again so that we will not forget it: “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead–since he was about a hundred years old–and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.” (4:19) Faith does not ignore the facts; it faces them but believes God. It is the attitude that says, “Yes, I can see that there is absolutely no hope of life here – but God has said there will be, so I will believe Him!” Notice the phrase, without weakening in his faith.” Faith holds on and actions follow. He might have said, “Oh, this is crazy, this is hopeless, I’m giving up this pointless activity!” but he didn’t. Paul then reinforces that: “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.” (4:20) Unbelief is the opposite of faith and Abraham didn’t allow unbelief to rise up and quench faith.

No, something else happened: “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.” (4:20) He believed and then God spoke again and again, confirming and strengthening his faith. God sees our heart inclination to believe and He comes and strengthens that resolve and speaks the word again and again into our hearts.

But it really started with Abraham’s simple faith: “being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” (4:21). It was then that God strengthened him, and encouraged him so that he and Sarah persevered and eventually gave or brought glory to God.  Yes, He is the God who brings life where there is none!

The challenge of this passage is obviously, will we believe the Lord when He speaks. We believed Him when we came to salvation for we declared our trust in Jesus, but that was just the starting place. The Bible declares a number of times, “The righteous shall live by faith”. Now, yes, that does mean that life flows to the righteous when they exercise faith and come to Christ, but it also means that their ongoing lives will receive the life of God as they exercise faith. Faith is the channel, if you like, which allows the blessing and life of God to flow to us. It is that important!