Circumcision

Genesis 17

God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. 13 A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

Male circumcision is the removal of the foreskin from the human penis. In the most common procedure, the foreskin is opened, adhesions are removed, and the foreskin is separated from the glans.  Wikipedia

It was very hard for me to decide how to open this subject so I decided to present the Bible basis for discussion of it, and I did not rely on my own descriptive constructions to explain what circumcision is I am hoping that at the end of this blog you will have appreciation for what it represents and how it is connected to the New Covenant (Testament). It is a the sign of the covenant that God outlined for Abraham and all his male associates to submit to, all that were connected to the people group that Abraham is the patriarch of. If you read the passage above with care it instructs that even the servants, who might not be Jewish, were to be circumcised. The surgery was not optional. If any male was not circumcised, that person was disconnected from the promises and benefits of the community. A promise might look like a future possession of land and benefits might look like the provision, protection and blessing from God.

The New Testament makes specific mention that John (the Baptist) (Luke 1:59), and Jesus (Luke 2:21) were circumcised on the eight day of their lives. They were born while the Old Covenant was still in force. There is a good medical reason why the eighth day would be an excellent day for a procedure of this sort. The short and simple of it are that two blood clotting factors (vitamin K and prothrombin) are together in their maximum concentration in human blood. If you are curious about this and want to know more pull up vitamin K and Prothrombin on the internet; a little research for you. Abraham did not seem to have struck on this by trial and error or by the luck of picking a fortunate day out of a hat. According to Genesis 17 the day was not left to his discretion, God instructed that specific day. These kinds of details are a compelling reason to believe that the production of the Bible was guided by the mind of God who created us. He knows exactly how He built us and when would be the optimal day for circumcision.

Circumcision is still performed for religious reasons among practicing Jews and Muslims who count among them the descendants of Ishmael (Hagar’s son) and Isaac (Sarah’s son). Some stats say about one third of men worldwide are circumcised. There is debate about the ethics of circumcising baby boys but there seems to be certain health benefits to the procedure. In places where AIDS and venereal disease are epidemic it has an effect of reducing transmission because the foreskin not cleaned and maintained is a breeding ground for problems. There are other confirmed medical benefits but my aim is not to make the medical case here. Removal of foreskin does not affect the function of the member because skin is elastic. When the sign of the covenant (circumcision) was introduced every male of the extended household submitted to it. The event is called Brith, Berith, Bris, or Brit Milah which simply means ‘Covenant’.

In Genesis 34 there is an account of a rape which led to mass circumcision. This circumcision event of every male in the city left it defenseless for several days and in that time the city was set upon and every male was killed and the city was plundered. In Exodus 4 the Lord sought to kill Moses because he neglected to circumcise his son. In Joshua 5 before the nation of Israel attacked Jericho (the first objective in the land of Canaan after crossing the Jordan River) they were commanded to make sure everyone was circumcised, then they celebrated the Passover feast. The Romans valued the foreskin and passed laws prohibiting the removal of it. The laws were not enforced on Jews and their continued employment of the procedure made them obnoxious to others in Roman dominions; it set them apart. This created a problem for Hellenized (Greek culture) Jews. Many Games and athletic events were done in the nude and a circumcision would be obvious in those circumstances. For those who were active in sports this meant submitting to a tedious procedure to stretch the skin to restore some of the pre-circumcision look. A pious Jew should never think to be involved in sports because they did not want to have even to appearance of a foreskin and the nude look in public was not a thing to be proud of; it was a humiliation.

So I was thinkin’ this is sure an odd covenantal sign. It does involve cutting (see prior blog ‘Cutting’) but the thought of it can make a person shiver and move protectively. What message would be of such importance that a mandatory surgery at a vulnerable spot would communicate it best? One obvious message is in the passage itself. The cutting off of this useless flesh connected one to God’s blessing and God’s people. EVERY man who was not circumcised was no longer connected to God’s people. There is more to it than this though.

Bible Covenants are designed by God. There is no negotiation between the Creator and the created to establish mutual agreement because we are not on equal footing. The only power we have is to accept and act on the terms or to reject them. In the ‘Cutting’ blog God not only established the terms of a covenant with Abraham but He was the only one to walk between the cut animals because He was the only one who would perform the terms of it. In the covenant of circumcision God again sets the terms but this time the performance was to be by created beings. We have no say in what a relationship with God is to look like but we can be sure that God’s terms are in our best interest

Consider this: Circumcision is the removal of a piece of useless skin from an area that men get themselves in trouble with. A great deal of chemistry and biology is driven for and by that member. Some of our least spiritual, and most fleshly inclinations, are motivated by the animal demands of it. In Deuteronomy 10 Moses adds a spiritual dimension to the understanding of circumcision, 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. 15 Yet on your fathers did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. 16 So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.” Moses under inspiration instructs that a circumcision must occur where the thoughts and attitudes are formed. Eight day old sons are not up to that kind of insight but as they are raised they are taught the spiritual aspect of being set apart as God’s chosen people.

In Acts 7, at the end of the Deacon Stephens impassioned defense before his accusers, the Jewish authorities, Stephen used the words of Moses against them, 51 “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” He declared the guardians of the Jewish religious life to be stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, and for this he was rocked to sleep. To be circumcised in heart and ears is to listen to God, not our own intellect or group consensus, and be obediently responsive to what we ‘hear’.

There is yet a more interesting connection made in the writings of Paul, who we are introduced to at the stoning of Stephen. In I Corinthians 15 we read, “50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit imperishable.” Our body is pretty important to us right now but it is a temporary situation. When we die we will discard it…..like a useless foreskin. As long as we stay connected to it and its desires and impulses we will have to answer for our rejection of God to please our flesh. While we are alive and in the flesh we choose whether flesh, or spirit, govern our attitudes and actions. Galatians 5, “16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.”  God is Spirit and not flesh (John 4:24). If we are to be His kids we must choose to walk by the Spirit. The complication is that we still live in this useless piece of flesh that exerts tremendous power over us and has already separated us from God because we all have tasted of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil and have become guilty of evil.

We live in a stressed-out world because of this battle within each person. By the time we grow old enough to glimpse behind the curtain where all of the shabbiness of humanity is revealed we have become part of the shabbiness. We all develop defenses when we see how far from righteousness (right thinking and acting) we have wandered because we have followed the demands of our flesh. For some self-defense looks like substance abuse, for others mental illness. There is a large group that lack insight and they press on into greater excess, their theory being that we should eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die. The philosophy here is that life is futile, who can understand it? They imagine death to be nothingness and therefore relief from any sense of decay, shame or guilt. If there is no God, why not be self-indulgent. The human is just a wax candle and someday we will gutter out. All this defensiveness denies God and His power. By our words and actions we have injured someone who is created in God’s image and likeness because the demands of our useless flesh were more important than doing the right thing. This is God’s indictment against us.

In the Garden Eve was deceived when Satan appealed to her flesh. Here are her reflections on his appealing line of logic. Genesis 3, “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate’…,.” John calls this rumination to disobedience Lust of the Flesh, Lust of the eye and the pride of Life. There is nothing spiritual about them. We consider and act on the demands of our useless flesh.

Justice is not rendered if a Judge forgives all the accused who come before them. When a Judge is perceived to have been over lenient there is public outcry. There really is no compensation or goodness that balances out the stain we have added to this world. It is a matter of righteousness that God renders a just sentence. As I compose these words there are things about my own life that put me right in the crosshairs of God’s righteous wrath. I can’t think about them very much without being overwhelmed with shame. God and I are not equals and there is nothing that I can offer Him to redeem myself. He knows this and He knows that I know it too. It is only good and just that I receive what is due me. My relationship to God is a miracle and it is based on a covenant that God established the terms of. It is a covenant that spiritually separates me from the consequence of my flesh because flesh and blood cannot inherit eternal life. There is a circumcision that accomplishes this for me. God prescribed a surgery for everyone who wishes to escape from the certain doom that our flesh is due. There was a cut body and a sacrificial death to establish this covenant that applies to every human. God delivered on His part of the covenant. There is a circumcision that He has required, a circumcision of our useless flesh.

Colossians 2

For in Him (Jesus Christ) all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

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Faith

We need a timeline on Abrams life to fully understand how messy faith can become. It is easy to get our bearings when we are on the mountain top and can assess the panorama but as we head off to the next mountaintop we will first have to descend into a valley where the landmarks that were so visible and obvious are obscured by trees and natural features. If our compass is God, and we rely on Him, we will make it to the next vista. Abraham’s mountaintop experience where God moved between the cut animals occurred when he was about 77 years old. Ten years later….there still is no son! There is no heir from Abraham’s loins. There is no line of continuity for descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. There is no sign of hope for a blessed future for all mankind, for the ancestor that will link Jesus with Abraham.

We cannot grow from faith unto faith (Romans 1:17) if every time we ask for a cookie one instantly appears. One trip to the gym does not cause us to ripple with muscles and become vibrantly healthy. No faith is required on the mountaintop, but the more we use the compass in the valleys and experience its unfailing accuracy the calmer we will become as we enter into life experiences where cannot quite see the outcome. I think God gives us the mountaintop occasionally because He knows that the valleys can take the sap out of us. It is not in our best interest to live on the mountaintop of an unending supply of cookies. We become independent minded and self-centered. We forget compassion, and the spirit of entitlement grows within us.

When some people get lost in the woods they continue to move and as darkness encroaches panic rises. A person who is lost and continues to move in the darkness is likely to experience injury or die. My uncle and I were once lost high in the mountains as night approached. We were hunting. The sun was not visible through a grey overcast and we arrived at our hunt in the high mountains of the Coast Range. We wanted to look things over before an early morning hunt so we took a little walk to look around. Without realizing it we had walked around a little knoll and were behind the mountain. It was getting dark so we started back down the hill to our van except the terrain looked unfamiliar and we dropped lower than where the road to the van should have been. I knew we were out of place and if we were on the wrong side of the mountain we would be coming upon some sheer drop-offs if we continued down in the darkness. My uncle and I spent the night under a huge log left over from the Tillamook forest fires in the 1930’s that was jutting out of the hillside. The temperature dropped into the low 30’s, the wind picked up mixed rain and snow was blowing sideways under our somewhat protective log. Cold rainwater from the hillside ran into our uncomfortable sleeping quarters. During the night we would wake up, teeth chattering from the cold, and I would carve some wood out of the bottom of the log with my hunting knife and build a little fire with some fire starter pellets that I had with me. We could only get a small fire that warmed our hands and lifted our spirits a bit. I did not have any children at that time but my uncle did and he would talk about them whenever we were awakened by the cold. He was concerned that he might not see them again. Our situation was that serious. We prayed about things and that set me at ease. Back at the van the next morning with dry clothes and bacon sizzling in the skillet the extreme danger of our situation did not seem quite so bad but I do not ever want to have that experience again. I learned something very important on that mountain that has strengthened my faith in other equally hard times in my life. If prayer is the only thing I see that I can do, then that is what I do. I try not to ‘make’ a solution to a problem that is too big for me.

……So 10 years after God cut a Covenant with Abram Sarai thought of a solution to their problem. She offered her young, fertile handmaiden to her husband so that he could have an heir, a son. Her thinking was that a son of her handmaiden Hagar, would be the surrogate for the son she was unable to bear. I am not sure what was going on in Abram’s mind about this because by God’s own testimony in scripture Abram (soon to be Abraham) is the Father of all who believe. What does an older man do when his wife offers him a younger woman and insists on it?

So I was thinkin’ if God made a promise to me under the same circumstances what would my mind set be if nothing moved for 10 years. Being a disciple of Jesus involves making choices that we cannot see the outcome of in our lives without the passage of time. Making poor choices also brings about future outcomes that we cannot see but the word ‘faith’ only applies to the making of choices that show that our confidence is in God’s thinking and not our own. We only get one life and we do not get to work through alternative outcomes. Once Sarai made the offer and Abraham agreed to it everything future that cannot be yet seen is set in motion. God did not chastise Abram for going along with Sarai’s idea, He just made Abram wait 14 more years for the son of promise.

As is still the custom in the Islamic world Sarai maintained her prerogative as the principle wife, Hagar was considered her handmaiden still, but Hagar’s pregnancy shifted the family dynamic in a way that Sarai did not expect or prepare for. Hagar was able to bear children and would eventually become the mother of the heir. If Abraham died before Sarai her future would be managed by Hagar’s son. Hagar’s own disposition changed. She began to act the role of the mother of the heir. Sarah became an abusive mistress so Hagar ran away. Her flight was checked by an encounter with the Angel of the Lord. She was told to return to her mistress and submit to her. That would be a bitter pill to swallow. The Angel also told her that her descendants would be multiplied beyond count. That might sweeten a bitter pill. Finally, she was told that the child within her was a son.

And what of Hagar’s son, Ishmael?  He and his descendants are described in prophecy in Genesis 16.

 “Behold, you are with child,
And you will bear a son;
And you shall call his name Ishmael,
  (‘God hears’)
Because the Lord has given heed to your affliction.
12 “He will be a wild donkey of a man,
His hand will be against everyone,
And everyone’s hand will be against him;
And he will live to the east of all his brothers.”

This is an interesting prophecy because Ishmael’s descendants are the Arabs and they still retain the contrary characteristics of their ancestor.

He will be a wild donkey of a man-independent to the point of being ungovernable except by force.

His hand will be against everyone-tribal, schismatic, clannish, hostile to outsiders or those who see things differently. We deplore their modern terror atrocities against the world but they are exceedingly violent against one another. Saddam Hussein, from a minor tribe and religious sect of Islam, maintained a grip on Iraq through pure brutality and when his grip was removed the majority tribe and sect ascended to power and gathered all the perks of power to themselves. That is why there is continued civil unrest there today, tribal and sectarian interests always supersede the idea of ‘common good’. Representative government will not work in the Arab part of the world because of fierce tribal and family loyalties. Modern Israel has had two existential military threats from combined Arab nation armies and they each failed because Arabs will not work under a unified command.

And he will live to the east of his brothers. Who are his brothers but the descendants of Isaac (son of Sarai/Sarah, the promised son) the Hebrews (Jews). The 7th century expansion of Islam extended Arab influence to the south and north of Israel but the children of Ishmael inhabited the Saudi Arabian Peninsula in their early existence. Ishmaelites were traveling traders and slavers early on and Abraham’s great grandson Joseph was sold to a band of Ishmaelites who made a profit off him in Egypt (Genesis 37:25-29).  Sarai’s solution was no solution. It caused distress in her own family, which continued after Ishmael was born, and it has been the source of griefs even to our day. How we should deal with the contrary behavior of the sons of Ishmael is a political problem for almost every nation of the world.

Hagar returns to Sarai and bears her son. Thirteen years later when Abraham is 99 (and Sarai is 89) the Lord God appears to Abram again. About 23 years has elapsed from the time that God promised a miracle son and this appearance.

The prior 2 blogs, this one and the next one have a connectedness but that is not my intention over time.

Cutting

John 20, 25 So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” 26 After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

The disciple Thomas is nicknamed ‘the doubter’ and with cause. He had seen thousands fed out of a lunch sack, crippled, leprous and blind healed. He even saw Jesus ask for a change in the weather several times and witnessed instant change, but when his intimates told him that they had seen Jesus alive after the public spectacle of His death he would only believe when proof was furnished.

When Jesus was raised to life His wounds were healed but scars remain. The scars became evidence of God’s enormous power. When we come out of the water of baptism a new creation (Romans 6:1-7) we still retain evidence of the scarring that our disobedience has laid upon us in our mind and sometimes within our flesh. Sometimes we struggle with the scarring. We would wish that our turn to Jesus would erase the past and that the things that we are now ashamed of could be forgotten. The forgetting of the past and the wiping of the tears from the eyes occurs with God in the future but in this life the past and the tears are an important part of our testimony. If people do not believe that Jesus changes lives and then they see the changes that His healing brings in us, they see the scars in us, perhaps that will overcome their doubts. Here is the kicker though. If we carry on as though we do not have stinky stuff in our past we are hiding our scars and withholding testimony that many need to see. At the appropriate time parents should show their ‘scars’ to their kids.  A scar is evidence of damage and gore. Others do not need to examine in detail how we wounded ourselves with sin. They just need to see evidence of healing. Jesus’s scars came from sin, our sin, and the message of them is that God has healed us of our sin in Jesus. As it says in Isaiah, “He was broken for our iniquities.” That is good news.

Words were not enough for Thomas, he needed a sign. Abram just needed reassurance. After we have  regular experience and conversation with God we should be like Abram and just take God at His word.

Continuing in Genesis 15, after Abram received the reassurance that he needed about a promised son and affirmed that he believed God the vision continues and it is baffling. And He said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” He said, “O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?” So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. A son will appear within Abram’s lifetime but a promised land will not. God instructs him to gather several clean and healthy animals, fully mature and Abram does this. Without instruction he cut the large animals in half and the two birds that he had gotten he left intact. The halves were set across from each other and the two complete birds were also laid out opposite of each other making a sort of path between the carcass parts and the birds. We normally connect clean animals like this to Old Testament sacrifice but that is not what they are used for here. In times past I might have just blown right by this enigmatic passage and gathered the low hanging fruit of the meaning but as we all know the higher the fruit, the nearer to the sun, the sweeter.

So I was thinkin’ is there any other example of this in scripture? It turns out there is.  Just before the invasion of Babylon Jeremiah identifies a covenant violation that was the cause of God withdrawing protection from Judah (all that remained of what once was a united Israel). Jeremiah 34 18 I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not fulfilled the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between its parts— 19 the officials of Judah and the officials of Jerusalem, the court officers and the priests and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf— 20 I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life.

There are also ancient recorded inscriptions involving cut up animals. Parties involved in such covenants were agreeing that failure to perform the covenant merited the same fate as the animals used for the making of it. Perhaps at one time or another you may have heard the term ‘cutting a Covenant’. It comes from this ancient custom. Covenants generally are between two equal parties but without question Abram and his Creator are NOT equals and that explains why only God made the pass through the cut animals. This covenant was unilateral (one sided). It was God’s expression that in this covenant only one party would be under obligation to perform, God. There would be descendants through a son, there would be a future deliverance from slavery there would be possession of the land and Abram would live to a ripe old age (turns out to be 175 years).

This is a remarkable covenant as we shall see. Here is the text. 12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14 But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. 16 Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”

God appears to Abram as a kindled fire in an earthen oven. 17 It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. 1On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram. In scripture God appears as a burning bush to Moses, on a burning mount Sinai, as a pillar of fire in the midst of Israel as they traveled out of Egypt and as a consuming fire on Mt Carmel in the contest between Elijah and the pagan prophets of Baal.

The covenant involves these elements. There is the promise of a miracle son (Isaac/Jesus) who was to be the ‘father’ of a nation of God’s people. Before Abrams descendants would be forged into a nation of the chosen of God they would be enslaved and be brought out of bondage by God  (in Egypt-a picture of our sinful condition before God saves us). As a nation of God’s children here on earth there is ‘a land’ of promise that awaits (Canaan/Heaven).  God is the only one qualified to agree to and perform on such a covenant because there is not one element of it that a created being could possibly deliver on.

 

Doubt

Much could be said about the life of Abraham, his amazing experiences and especially of his encounters with God. Perhaps this blog will circle in around him from time to time. There is an unusual account in Genesis 15 that is at the heart of today’s conversation. This chapter describes a detailed vision Abram had that defies anything that we would be accustomed to.

 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying,

“Do not fear, Abram,
I am a shield to you;
Your reward shall be very great.”

Although God has promised Abram a land, an offspring through Sarai, great blessing and the redemption of the world through his descendant (Jesus), a problem has persisted. Time has passed and there is no offspring and Sarai’s biological clock is winding down. This situation must have been central to Abraham’s thinking. Because God knows our hearts (and Abram’s) He came to address the issue with Abram. The address is in the form of a reaffirmation of the promise of a descendant. The vision is to have some disturbing elements so the Lord God tells him not to fear, that he is within the hedge of God and he will be greatly rewarded.

Abrams concern spills out. “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”  He asks what is the point of great reward if he has no offspring to leave it to? Any accumulation would go to his chief servant Eliezer (Eliezer means ‘God of help’). God does not respond immediately and the issue seems to clarify in Abram’s mind. God has promised a descendant and there is not one. Abram bares his heart, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” Abram had to face his doubt but first he needed to see that he had some.

Sometimes when God does not reply to my first appeal he is waiting for me to lay bare the unvarnished truth. He has weighed my thoughts and I need to learn how to do that myself. It is my tendency to be so focused on the outcome that I seek that premature action on God’s part will rob me of the value of the thinking and meditation in clarifying what is not fully formed in me, what is lacking. God’s non-response is a response. Have I not examined my motives or thinking carefully? Have I plainly expressed my deepest thought to Him which may reveal doubt in me?

God loves us even when we doubt but we must openly admit that we doubt and that we see it as a problem that we need help from heaven with. In Mark 9 a father brings his demon possessed son to Jesus. Any parent with a physically ill, mentally ill or addicted child can understand how it crushes the heart to see your child suffer and have no power to help them. The encounter is remarkable. Here is the account of it. 20 They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. 21 And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” There it is, I do believe….help me in my unbelief. There is no help for doubt if we cannot admit that some is present. Faith is the most important thing to God. Abram was worried about an heir. He needed to see that an heir was not what was lacking, faith was.  

So I was thinkin’, Faith is a constant struggle for humans.  It is an aggravation because it involves patience and waiting before an outcome becomes apparent and even sometimes when we do not see the outcome. Abraham did not come into possession of the promised land in his lifetime. He was being developed in his faith that what was promised would be a future reality. Our faith matures through experiences with God where we wait trusting and He delivers the goods. God has promised us an eternal future with Him through Jesus and our confidence in this good news grows, even if we do not see Jesus come in our lifetime. We work through doubt, reaffirm our trust and then God confirms that our trust was the right thing. Romans 1:16-17 says this very thing, 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous Man shall live by faith.”  No question about it, my own confidence in God’s promises within me are more firm than when I was younger. I have been through some tough times and most of those times I had to reaffirm that nothing had changed, I still trusted God, and then God revealed Himself in power. We start with a trembling faith and as we pass the tests that God puts before us, that reveal the doubts that we harbor, we end up with triumphant faith; from faith to faith.

Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.  There were no amazing fireworks, the heavenly hosts did not appear in their array. What did happen is that in this vision experience God simply reaffirmed His promise to Abram under the night sky. That was good enough for Abram.

God has never spoken to me in a vision that I know of. I have come to some understanding of things I was thinking about from scripture while I was asleep or drowsing and thinking. Although He is with me under every night sky that I see I have not had the experience that Abraham had. I have had doubts. I did not nurse them privately but I expressed them to God and I continued to read the Bible so He could talk to me in His own words. Abram did not have the scripture. What a neglected blessing it is for many people who think they can go it alone through doubt. When we eliminate listening to God from the equation there is no other source for encouragement.

The vision is not over yet. This blog will be a two part’er, maybe 3.

Flood

There is a devastating flood at Genesis chapters 6 through 9. The text (Gen. 7:20) says it covered the mountains 15 cubits (1 cubit=18 inches, or the distance from the elbow to the fingertip). Some say that as a matter of faith I should believe that the flood was a global event and it covered Mt. Everest. There is probably enough water in one form or another in the mantle and core of the earth to substantially raise the ocean level but that is a lot of water. Just as God could have created the universe in 7 literal days he is able to manufacture necessary water to accomplish His purposes. This would be a western explanation fitting the literal words of Genesis.

The passages of Genesis have come to us from ancient tribal culture using their world view, one very alien to us. As we read through Genesis we notice the phrase, ‘these are the generations of’, or something similar. Each of these suggest that what follows is from a different ancient record. Genesis is a compilation of at least 11 different ancient sources so when we read it we are reading selections from many prior books that do not exist now. I will not detail them but if you are curious go online and look up the phrase, ‘Ancient Books listed in the Bible.’ You will discover that there are many writings, no longer available (except as more recent frauds and forgeries) that are named as references in scripture and not just to the compiler of Genesis (tradition says Moses).

We experience the same discordant feel as we read the 2 Creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2. They are very different and have the feel of different authors altogether. Genesis is the book of the Bible that I am the most reluctant to settle on a particular view of events prior to chapter 12. Science is useful in establishing testimony about God’s activity creating and managing the material universe but God is awesome in His vastness and capability. He can do any righteous thing that He determines to do and in the manner of His choosing.

Here is the reason why it is important for us to be careful about seizing on the explanations for the creation account and the flood that we received. The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’s time had seized upon an understanding of Messiah that excluded Jesus. Their understanding was not irrational. It was just carefully constructed….up a dead end road. When Jesus declared their construction meaningless they killed Him. That is the experience that anyone faces when they do not make orthodoxy their religion. We are surrounded by a world of humans who are exposed to our Creator as He is revealed in nature. Just like the Bible is a battlefield for true doctrine (there are many ‘isms’), so is science and the very first comments on God in scripture reference His intimate involvement in the laws and structures of the universe and world.

So I was thinkin’ do I accept the words of Genesis about the flood at face value from my cultural worldview? Was the entire globe flooded? Here is a review of some of the stark comments about God’s intentions with the life He had created.

Chapter 6

The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”

 13 Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.

17 Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.

19 And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive.

Chapter 7

For after seven more days, I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights; and I will blot out from the face of the land every living thing that I have made.” 21 All flesh that moved on the earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind; 22 of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died. 23 Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.

Chapter 9

11 I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.”

This seems like a pretty comprehensive argument that the flood killed everything and every one….except for one detail. At Chapter 6, before the flood we are introduced to the Nephilim. “

6 Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward.

Look at that last line, “and also afterwards.” After what? There is no ‘afterwards’ for Nephilim if the flood is global and not local. Many hundreds of years later, perhaps nearly a thousand, 12 spies enter Canaan to prepare for an invasion and here is the report of ten of the twelve.

Numbers 13: 30-33, 30 Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.” 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” 32 So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. 33 There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

Italicized and underlined above is the answer to the words “and also afterwards”, in Genesis 6. There were Nephilim before and after the flood. How can we reconcile this? Here is one way. The Bible was not written exclusively to those of us in the western world in the 20th century. For much of human history the world view of humans was about as far as they could travel or that they would receive traded goods. We can hop a plane in the morning and be in Paris in the evening. In the ancient world there was little knowledge of the globe as we understand it. In the time we would take to fly to Paris an ancient traveler might have covered 20 miles. There was no sense of the size of things to a civilization of farmers and sheep herders. The world was as big as the necessary network of others to trade with was. Ancient writers wrote using their world view and not ours. The destruction of an area the size of Oregon would be a total destruction of the world of an ancient. In Noah’s day there was going to be a flood that would wipe every living creature in Noah’s world off of the map and no one would listen to his warning of disaster for 120 years. It would rise above every mountain and when the water and the weather subsided Noah would find himself and his family on ground several hundred miles from the Black Sea.

So why would this account be in scripture? What is the benefit to us? Are the details still important even if we conclude that the flood was not global in our sense of things? The answer is that the account is vital. God in eternity is breathtaking in awesomeness. He has taken what we see as nothing and made something out of it. The something that He made is complex and almost beyond our understanding from infinitesimally small to gargantuanly large. Even the smallest things possess enormous power (atom bomb releases energy of atoms). How beyond our description that makes God in our eyes, and yet we can grieve Him. We can cause Him huge heart hurt. Genesis 6:6, “The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” The experience that we might have with just a few children He experiences on a worldwide scale.

This passage does not present a destroyer God but a Savior God. He could have wiped the slate clean with a plague or a meteor strike or merely the movement of the death angel but he sent Noah to preach a visual warning (for 120 years he built an ark) to them that disaster was about to strike and they needed to take God seriously about it. Nobody moved an inch. They continued on day after day, week after week, sowing and reaping, giving and taking in marriage, indulging themselves and ignoring God’s warning and concern.

The flood is a picture of what happens when God warns and we do not listen but it also describes the reality of God’s desire to save the descendants of Adam. The reality that the ancient flood pictures is revealed in I Peter 3, ”18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…,.” The word ‘corresponding’ there is ‘antitupon’ in the Greek language where we get the word antitype. This passage compares the salvation that Noah and his family experienced to the one that we experience in Baptism. It is an antitype because in Baptism we go through water like the Israelites did leaving Egypt (type) and not above the water, like Noah did (antitype).

Day 4

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Since I am reading Genesis there will probably be a batch of comments on different things from it. It is probably worthwhile to talk about that first creation account. There is a beginning of all things. There is a God and He is the source of all things. He is the cause of the effect that the material universe is. In the first creation account God ‘said’, He ‘saw’, He ‘separated’, He ‘called’, He ‘made’, He ‘placed’, He ‘blessed’ and He ‘rested’. This is what creating entails. These words describe an active God almost as if He were in the kitchen ‘seeing’ the recipe, ‘separating’ the yolks and egg whites, the recipe ‘called’ for some butter, He ‘made’ a batter, ‘placed’ it in a pan, ‘blessed’ it into the oven and then sat down to watch the timer (rested). The first creation account is in a poetic form. Perhaps it was first oral history meant to be sung but certainly written to be recited.

God has revealed Himself in the creation, in scripture and in His only begotten Son and harmony should prevail in the total revelation and that is why I understand the word ‘day’ (yom) to be a creative period and not a literal 24-hour event. Perhaps God could have confined the events of one creative day to 24 hours but by the same token He could have called things in to existence instantaneously. I can resort to scripture and science to make my case if a reader is curious about this.

We have a context that is important to establish that will help us understand the sequence of the ‘recipe’ that we see in Genesis. We also have the benefit of a superior knowledge of the universe than the ancients who first learned this account perhaps as a song, or poem. In verse 2 we read, “and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” The account is written as though the viewer was at the surface of the planet and not from afar, like out in space. We saw in the blog ‘Cain’ that light appears early in the creative process. The action of the light caused a noticeable effect. God called the effect day and night. We can ‘see’ things as they progress.

Here is a quick sequence of things. A formless ocean covered earth and light, defining day and night (day one), an atmosphere that is distinct from the ocean (day 2), land and vegetation (day 3), the Sun and Moon (day 4), birds and sea creatures (day 5) and man (Adam-earth/ruddy) (day 6). The Hebrew language has several words that translate to ‘man’. We and ancient writers used Adam as a name for the first man but in Genesis 1:27 ‘Adamah’ is used to reference  both male and female. “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.” (This is useful knowledge to take into the reading of Romans chapter 5).

So I was thinkin’ why is there light defining day and night as a first creative event but the Sun and the Moon do not show up until day 4? The answer is amazing and demonstrates the Bible to be the source of divine revelation. I am going to leave a lot out of what follows because it is more important to get to the point of this but I will answer a question from any reply to this blog. The science of planetary formation and specifically of our planet is miraculous but here is the three second version. Remember our context. If we were seeing the creation as it moved along our cameras would be recording at planet surface, where the Spirit of God was hanging out.

Our universe is enormous but it is full of created material. Where material is near enough to affect other material it is drawn together by what we call gravitational force. Imagine a bowling ball placed at the center of a trampoline and a marble placed at the outer edge of the trampoline skin. The bowling ball warps/dimples the flat surface of the trampoline and the marble is drawn into the dimple. A trampoline has one plane that can be warped but around any mass of material there are infinite planes of ‘space’ that can be warped. When a meteor enters any of the planes that the mass of Earth warps at a slow enough speed it is captured by the dimple that Earth makes in space around it. This is an astonishing idea because even though space seems as though it is nothing and we can penetrate it with ease it acts like some kind of fabric, like the surface of a trampoline. It is exotic though because the fabric exists in every conceivable plane around the mass called Earth, and we can only know that ‘space’ is actually a fabric-like something that was created because of the effect of gravity that we observe and can measure.

Matter clumps up (an effect of gravity), and our solar system came into being by this design feature. As stuff careened in from space it lent its motion to the spin of a giant disc of gas and solid matter. The heavier stuff ‘sank’ toward the pull of the early sun and the lighter stuff, less affected by gravity stayed on the outer fringes of the solar disc. This explains why the inner planets are rocky and the outer ones are gaseous. Each protoplanet scooped up the nearby material  that was swirling around the Sun (gravity action) so in the early stages of the developing planet there was a virtual rain of space objects pelting the earth contributing heat and dust to the atmosphere. After a time the planets have cleaned up the dust and debris in their orbital paths by the action of gravity and here is where we enter into the account of the creation of the earth. Although the heavens are mentioned at the beginning little detail of its formation are supplied because the essential details of the first creation account are aimed at readying the planet for us, Adamah.

At first Earth is a hot, blob of molten rock and water from rocky meteors and icy ones. Constant gravitationally caused bombardment of space litter keeps things heated up. The heavy stuff sinks and the lighter stuff, water, blankets the Earth. “(A)nd the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep (waters/ocean).” The Earth is formless and featureless, empty of life, oxygen (molecules/O2) depleted but having a steaming, dusty, vapor filled atmosphere giving the effect that fog and dense cloud cover would give. Oxygen is a product of plant respiration but there is no plant life to convert a carbon dioxide heavy atmosphere to oxygen yet. And God said, “Let there be light.” At planet surface the observer would not be able to see very much. They would notice a day and night sequence as the Earth rotated but the observer could not identify the source of any light that was generated beyond an opaque atmosphere.

Things begin to settle down and a skin of lighter rock begins to form ‘floating’ above the heavier elements that are accumulating at the molten core of the planet. This happens at day 3 and vegetation appears in this day also. The early earth must have had lush vegetation because of the warm, moist carbon dioxide atmosphere. In creative day 3 the vapor level drops, and carbon dioxide level drops being used up (breathed in) by plants. Plants ‘exhale’ oxygen and the oxygen content increases. (It now stands at about 21% of our atmosphere). These changes (because of the introduction of plants at day 3) clarify the atmosphere and allow us to see the Sun, Moon and Starry Hosts of the heavens on day 4.

How could have the ancient writer deduced this? They did not. They just faithfully recorded what God told them. On day 1 the ignition of the Sun established a day and night sequence but the light source would not be apparent until day 4 because at planet surface the Sun could not be seen through the vapor, dust from volcanic activity and meteorite impacts and carbon dioxide that filled the atmosphere in the first 3 creative days.

Cain

God said if Adam ate of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that would be the day that he died. At some point later I might work through just what that tree experience might represent but we know what Eve and Adam did with God’s command and for many days thereafter they continued to live in the biological sense. After Cain, Abel and Seth they had many other children. Genesis says that he lived over 900 years, 800 years after the birth of Seth. This is another interesting discussion but I want to focus on the account of Cain and Abel in chapter 4 because it has some interesting ideas in it about human action of will. I have a young friend who believes that based on Adam’s meal of forbidden fruit that all of mankind was rendered unable to formulate one good notion or even to grasp the need to ask for help from God unless God somehow God  reaches inside them and pushes a button or turns a knob that caused them to reach out for God. Here at the very beginning of the Bible the account of Cain’s dealings with his brother and with God demonstrate this notion of my young friend to be untrue. Human beings can make willful decisions that are contrary to God’s will. In some circles the statement I just made is blasphemy and an abomination and places me in the pool of unregenerate which should cause anyone to be careful about what they assert. Some folks think it impossible that God could or would make a creature that could defy Him. If that particular idea is true then we do not need a Bible to know God. We can wait around and if He imposes His will to change us then we are good to go for eternity but if He does not change us, by action of His will only, then we are doomed. Some people believe that human will does not exist and cannot exist. If you are in that category be sure to leave useful comments to challenge my thinking. I will reply to them because I am a learner as well as a writer. Be kind please.

So the summary of the Cain versus Abel story is that they both offered something to God and God approved of Abel’s offering but Cain’s was not accepted. In Genesis 4 it indicates that Cain got mad about this (his countenance fell). In the Hebrew language the passage is rendered to say his face burned. Here is the specific dialogue of interest. (Genesis 4: 6-7) Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

God tells Cain that he is at a crossroad. He lays out Cain’s choices, do well and he will have nothing to be upset by, but if he does not do well he is vulnerable to sin and it desires to take him down. God tells Cain that he (Cain) must master the sin that crouches near at hand. The word for master here is not the one used in Genesis 1: 26 Where God gives dominion over the earth to man (rawdaw). It is the word used in verses 16 and 18 of chapter 1 where God establishes the rule of the Sun and the Moon over day and night (moshal). Note that God did not impose His will here. Absent from this passage are actions of God to either change Cain’s heart or to not interfere at all and let Cain go on to his destruction. His words to Cain were interference but not imposed will. There are different ways God talks to us but in this account He used words of instruction and warning and then when that failed consequences.

So I was thinkin’ about why God chose to use the word pronounced ‘moshal’ instead of the word pronounced ‘rawdaw’ here. Why would God tell Cain that his mastery of sin should be of the quality that the Sun and Moon have over Day and Night (light and dark). You might see where I am going with this. In Genesis 1:1-5 it says this, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

The one thing that is not specifically mentioned as being created by God in Genesis 1 is darkness. He created the heavens and the earth and we find out about darkness just before God says, “let there be light”. Light and darkness are elemental conditions of creation but they have metaphorical value too because at the very beginning of the Bible we find them defined in opposition and light is declared to be ‘good’, no comment on darkness. God separates the two. They are not alike and cannot be commingled.  In spiritual Genesis 1 (the gospel of John chapter one) Jesus is identified as the light that the darkness cannot overcome. John 1:4-5, 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend (overcome) it. And also, John 1:9, There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” Light overpowers darkness. Do you see what it is that God was telling Cain? Cain was in a spiritual contest between light and dark and just as Sun and Moon, both sources of light, exercise rule of light over dark so Cain was to do the same.  He was not to let the dark obtain mastery. God designed human to be sons of light. John 12:36, “While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.” He tells us what He expects but He will not make our choice for us. What a disappointment Cain’s decision must have been. He killed his own brother.

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Darkness is a curious thing. The outcome for the disobedient is “outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” Matthew 22:11-13). We know it to be a place where God is not. That is another interesting blog subject.