God’s Acts of Providence (5)

The Chief End of Man (4)

Sojourn into Egypt

Genesis 12:10-20

SaraiAbram and Sarai travel into the great empire of Egypt seeking relief from a famine. Abram, fearing that Pharaoh will kill him in order to take possession of the beautiful Sarai, asks her to pretend that he is her brother. Just as he feared, Pharaoh took Sarai into his household as a wife, but treated Abram well as her kin.

However, an unnamed disease fell upon Pharaoh and his household. Pharaoh, guessing the deception, called Abram and accused him of bringing this illness onto his house. In a surprising act of mercy, Pharaoh allows Abram to leave Egypt with Sarai and everything that he had come with and obtained while in Egypt.

This story foreshadows the larger story of Israel’s arrival and exodus from Egypt, but with a twist. In both stories the motive for going into Egypt is to escape famine. However, in this first story Pharaoh appears to be by far the superior man morally. Even after being deceived and stricken due to Abram’s actions he sends Abram off with all that he had gained while in Egypt. In the second story Pharaoh will not let the people of Israel go no matter how compelling the moral case or terrible the plagues. Perhaps God’s hand was as much on the first as it was on the second Pharaoh to achieving the appointed end?

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God’s Acts of Providence (4)

The Chief End of Man (3)

Exposition

Abraham’s Call and Response

Genesis 12:1-9

Abraham112 1Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

We must not underestimate the magnitude of the demand that the LORD was making on Abram. He was being commanded to leave all familial love and security, all friendships, all future plans, all that was familiar to strike out into a dark, forbidding unknown.

The patriarch will begin his life and this journey with the name Abram, which means “the (my) father is exalted.” God will change Abram’s name to Abraham in Genesis 17:5 as a sign associated with the establishment of the covenant.

2And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.”

If we consider the history of the primitive peoples and their gods, we could possibly read the first six lines of this poem without too much surprise. Abram is being promised that he will be the father of a great nation. His name will be greatly honored down through the generations and all who oppose his nation will come to ruin. Is this not the promise of a new but similar nation to those that have and do exist?

But then the final lines hit us as if by a meteor: “and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” This statement makes no sense in the zero-sum world of power and plunder in which the nations existed (and too often continue to exist today).

Once again, we have been brought face to face with the radical otherness of this God as compared to the gods who were imagined to be in competition with Him. Whereas the other gods are useful tools by which to justify humankind’s most selfish and destructive desires, this God will use humankind as an instrument by which to bring blessing on all peoples of the earth.

The difference is truly stunning when considered within the context of the time and environment when these words were written. Are we not on the firmest of ground to see in this the very Hand of God at work behind such an astonishing departure from the human heart? My answer is “Yes,” and upon it I make my stand.

We must take care, though, to not make the mistake of focusing exclusively on the blessing. Yes, God will bless; but He will also curse. As we travel through the Scriptures this issue of cursing will be transformed from theoretical to terribly tangible. We must never loose sight of the fact that the same God who blesses also curses. That is, within the same God of love, mercy and forgiveness there is jealousy, justice and retribution. They exist in perfect harmony. It is only our frail, selfish, ignorance that imagines them to be in opposition.

Abraham24So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5And Abram took Sar’ai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions which they had gathered, and the persons that they had gotten in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan,

Note that Abram’s wife also begins with a different name (Sarai which will become Sarah at Genesis 17:15, both mean “princess” or “mistress”). Abram took with him all of his possessions, which included people. Why Lot accompanied Abram is a mystery, but he will play an important part in the developing story.

Thus far all that we have seen of Abram is an aged and mute follower of the LORD’s commands. Based on the previous Genesis stories we would expect perhaps a few brief narratives that provide rough insights into his character. What we actually get are a series of intimate, detailed, illuminating accounts that lay bare his, Sarai’s and their companion’s souls.

6Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

Our protagonist begins to build visible signs of the invisible faith that dwells within.

8Thence he removed to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. 9And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.

Although the words are not recorded, Abram is now actively seeking out God by calling on the name of the LORD. The relationship is now complete, with the beginning of a two-way conversation.

God’s Acts of Providence (3)

The Chief End of Man (2)

Opening Thoughts

We have set out to explore “man’s chief end.” We’ve been told that the starting point is that man is made “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” It all sounds so simple and clean. The only thing is that, when you get right down there with the people it gets really messy. That is, though God made them to glorify and enjoy Him forever, they tended to make a hash of that holy intention. The miracle that only God can accomplish is to find a way by which they end up fulfilling His plan in spite of their frailties and failures. It’s an amazing story to watch unfold.

Is it any different for us? Are our lives any less confused, any less at odds with God’s holy intention without His intervention? For myself the answer is clear – there is no difference whatsoever.

There are differences, though. When we read the story of Abraham and Sarah we are engaging with human beings as they existed approximately 4,000 years ago. And so we meet people who have not had the benefits and the baggage of that ensuing history.

With regard to the benefits, the one that shines so brightly that all others almost vanish is the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To know Him is to have access to the infinite opportunity for good as experienced through holy love. To know Him is to find an impossible forgiveness that makes everything possible, everything new. Though far too many who happily benefit from Western Civilization’s incredible freedom and protections of individual life don’t realize it, virtually all of this good flows from the sanctifying power of Jesus Christ. Apart from Christ they are withdrawing from an account into which they are powerless to deposit.

With regard to the baggage, we in Western Civilization have become a people virtually striped of our ability to comprehend the transcendent. Though we acknowledge the existence of spiritual realms and powers in our theology, our lives are tied down to this earth by a thousand threads of preoccupation, possession and philosophy. We have become aware of so much that is evil, much of which done in the name of “religion” that we almost fear our own faith. We have become so confused about moral standards, about even the possibility of absolutes that we dare not speak openly of a LORD God of absolute love, justice and holiness. We certainly don’t expect to meet this LORD God in encounters so intimate that we will later speak as if He had physical form.

Abraham and Sarah had no such benefits or baggage. They had only their lives, given as a gracious gift by the Triune God, souls wrapped in flesh, their wills intersecting with this God’s sovereign will that they would indeed glorify and enjoy Him forever.