Genesis: Survey

Posted on 27 March 2008

Resource for the first book of the Bible, which provide a clear and readable introduction.

A Genesis Survey

By Stephen Dray

Pastor, Ferndale Baptist Church, Southend-on-Sea

Genesis naturally divides into two sections. Chapters 1:1-11 deal with creation and fall. Then, chapters 12-50 describe God’s dealings with the patriarchs: the first ancestors of the people of God.

Genesis 1:1-13: Getting Started

How did everything begin? The Book of Genesis answers by claiming that God created everything from nothing. In the Old Testament the writers often combined two opposites to include everything ‘in between’. In this context ‘heaven and earth’ clearly embraces everything. Everything that constitutes the world as we know it was hitherto absent: there was nothing material, no shape and nothing that provided light and life.

At which point God acts… and we are faced with a mystery within what we called ‘God’. Thus in 1:2 God, the word and Spirit are distinguished: already there is a hint here of plurality within the unity of the Godhead. This feature is seen elsewhere in this chapter:

  * The word used here for ‘God’ (Hebrew, Elohim) is a plural of richness and depth.
  * In 1:26:  ‘us’ cannot be a royal plural (Hebrew contained no such notion), nor (in the context of 1:27) refer to a celestial court. It hints at the complexity that lies at the heart of our concept of ‘God’.
  * At the same time this complex ‘God’ is seen working together in perfect harmony.

The work of the Spirit needs to be noted here. ‘Hovering’ suggests both creative force and sustaining energy. The picture is of one who creates and then, ‘moment by moment’ sustains lest the creation fall back into its unformed state. Thus, this verse denies:

  * Absenteeism: God is creator but allows the world to ‘go its own way’,
  * Naturalism: the world is subject to the ‘laws of nature’,
  * Rationalism: God is not needed to explain the phenomena of the world as we see it,
  * Dualism: God is one side of a cosmos inhabited by other equally powerful divine beings.

Rather, we are taught, the omnipresence and omnipotence of God. Simply, he is the sole spiritual authority in the cosmos, he is everywhere and in complete and ongoing control of his creation.

In the following verses the ‘deficiencies’ that existed at creation are each dealt with. Thus, in 3-5 a light source is created (scientifically possible before the creation of light bearers) and in 6-13 the unformed nature of the creation is tackled before (14 and the following verses) it is inhabited.

On the meaning of ‘day’ there can be no absolute certainty. The Hebrew word can mean ‘daylight’ (5a), 24 hours (its usual meaning) or a period of time (so apparently 2:5). The latter two are more usual and the last is usually qualified to distinguish it from the second. The context may support the second especially as ‘evening and morning’ always elsewhere is used literally. However, we should be careful not to miss the main point made here, whatever our understanding of the details of the passage: God is the sovereign creator of all that has been made and he is the supreme governor of all that takes place. Thus, these verses teach:

  * Our world is an ordered world. It is not random but reflects God’s purpose.
  * God’s mercy and provision is emphasised: for all that occurs in these verses is to the end of providing a suitable environment for man to live in.
  * The passage emphasises the power of God. One trouble with much, if not all, evolutionary theory is that it makes our God too small.

1:14-25: Getting in Shape

With these verses God begins to inhabit his world. Note especially, the emphasis on the light bearers as ‘ruling’. Authority is given but it is not absolute but granted by God. Thus, these ‘highest created things’ cannot be worshipped nor sought as a means of guidance. Their purpose is strictly limited to mark out the regular boundaries of the created order. This qualifies verse 2. The whole creation is moment by moment in the hands of a sovereign God but his handling of his creation is, usually, manifested in regularity.

Note also the careful use of bara in this chapter of God’s creation of something new and unparalleled (1, 21, 27). Life does not spontaneously emerge from matter but requires a distinctive act of God.

1:26-28: The Best Bit

All that has preceded these verses has had these words in mind! Humankind is created as the pinnacle of creation and for fellowship with God! Indeed the whole of the rest of the Bible story is an account of the experience of fellowship, its loss and restoration.

Emphasis lies upon the origin of man. 2:7 will speak of man’s humble origin (‘dust’) and his/her real affinity with animate life (‘living being’ NIV). However, here (and in the following verses) the emphasis is on humanity’s dignity:

  * Distinctively formed following a unique divine conference (1:26);
  * A formation that is as intimate as it is individual (see again 2:7);
  * Unique authority is given (1:28): vice-regent of God!
  * 2:18-25 emphasises the same. Only in the fellowship of human kind does man/woman find true fulfilment. The ‘woman’ corresponds to man in a way that no other animate creature does.
  * The probation of man (2:15-17) emphasises humankind’s unique moral and religious qualities and the potential for decision-making.
  * Human life is distinctively sacred (compare 9:5f., 4:10-14 with 3:21; 4:4).
  * Uniqueness of character is stressed, ‘in our image, in our likeness’ rather than ‘after their kind’ (1:11,12, 21).

It is also important to note certain other points made here about the nature of human beings:

  * He/she is a unity: embodied life (see 2:7 again).
  * She/he is essentially body. Without the body humankind is less than human.
  * They are the image of God.

Likeness and image are almost certainly synonyms here. But what do they point to?

  * Firstly, they stress something inherent to humanity (not merely unfallen humanity (compare 5:1)). Though something is lost as a result of the fall the image does (in measure at least) persist.
  * Many argue that these words point to certain ‘spiritual’ qualities. However, it is more likely that humanity is seen as a transcription in the corporeal of the incorporeal God.
  * Others argue that the image is functional (28): it relates to what humans do. While this is almost certainly true it would appear difficult to exclude the idea of something essential to humanity.

All this emphasises that the body is inherently good and part of the image, that body and soul are not to be opposed (in chapter 3 the Fall embraced all that humankind is!) and that (immortal) embodied existence is true human existence.

Note also that we are introduced to several things in which the image is manifested: procreation (28a); work (28b,c) and sovereign rule over creation (28d). Conception, creative activity and responsible ‘manipulation’ of creation are manifestations of the image. Note also that male and female both and together manifest the image. Arguably it is only in the complexity of bisexual humanity that the image can be fully seen.

When all is said and done, everything that was created was ‘very good’: tov emphasising moral perfection among other things.

2:1-3: Taking a Breather

The precise interpretation of these three verses is unclear. However, note that it emphasises the end of God’s initial act of creation (2:2). Whether a literal 24 hours is in mind is doubtful since the contrast seems to be between two types of activity, the latter of which is still in progress. Thus the passage does not describe idle rest. God continues to work but in a different manner.

Verse 3 is difficult. Does it refer to a present ‘one day in seven’ or to God’s sabbath. Ex. 20:11 does refer it to the former but this is unlikely here. None the less Exodus uses God’s example as a basis for current practice!

2:4-7: A New Start

Popularly known as the second creation account, this is a misnomer. Rather these verses act as a prologue to chapters 3,4. Only incidentally does the passage touch upon matters raised in chapter 1.

4a is best understood as a title and separate sentence; the heading to 2:4-4:26 (compare 5:1 where the same ‘heading’ re-appears and, e.g. Matthew 1:1). The ‘history of heaven and earth’ is appropriate for the cosmic events described in this section!

4b-6 is difficult and every commentator seems to have his own distinct views! Probably best is the view that it refers to creation before the creation of the garden (i.e., the same events as chapter 1, paralleling 1:1-3). It could be translated, ‘At the time the Lord had made the earth and the skies, there was neither any shrub of the field in the earth, nor had any herb of the field sprouted because the Lord had neither caused it to rain; neither was there a man to till the ground, but a flood went up out of the earth and watered all the face of the ground’. This basic state of the earth is then contrasted with the provision of God for man.

Many see irreconcilable contradictions between these verses and the order of creation in chapter 1. These can be overcome if the assumption is made that chapter 2 is thematic not chronological, emphasising the creation of human beings and God’s provision for and probation of them.

2: 8-17: What a Generous God!

The details seem to emphasise historicity but attempts to identify locations are futile if the flood caused the sort of catastrophe it seems to describe. The present tenses in this section may presuppose the use by the author (Moses) of prediluvian records and the appearance of common names indicate postdiluvians re-used old names (rather like the settlers in America!).

The passage seems to emphasise God’s intention that humankind should experience (a consciously decided) fellowship with God in an environment perfectly designed for the fulfilment and enjoyment of mankind.

The shear beneficence of God is emphasised by the detail of 8-14 and before ever the probationary element is introduced. God was making it easy for man to make the choice of loving and obedient fellowship. The Fall was not a rebellion against a grudging God! Indeed, the probation was intended to encourage obedience from the heart and confirm the early humans in righteousness.

2:18-25: A True Friend at Last!

These verses have already been alluded to. They emphasise the incompleteness of humanity when humankind is isolated and indicate that true humanity is experienced where male and female in mutuality and equality (supremely in marriage) and openness fellowship together. Both are human flesh, flesh that seeks out the other for mutual fulfilment. They are ‘helpers’: a word that conveys no notion of subordination (unless it be mutual). 

3:1-6: A Cosmic Failure

In chapter 2 two commands were given to humankind: watch the garden (15) and prohibition of eating from a tree (17). Here the consequence of the failure to adequately guard the garden leads to a failure to obey God’s prohibition and this, in turn, leads to the utter ruin of humanity.

Keil provides a reminder of the condition of man at the beginning of the chapter: “The man, whom God had appointed Lord of the earth and its inhabitants, was endowed with everything requisite for the development of his nature and the fulfilment of his destiny.  In the fruit of the trees of the garden he had food for the sustenance of his life; in the care of the garden itself, a field of labour for the exercise of his physical strength; in the animal and vegetable kingdom, a capacious region for the expansion of his intellect; in the tree of knowledge, a positive law for the training of his moral nature; and in the woman associated with him, a suitable companion for help.  In such circumstances as these he might have developed both his physical and spiritual nature in accordance with the will of God.  But a tempter approached him from within the animal kingdom, and he yielded to temptation to break the command of God”.

Some see the sin described here as rather akin to that of little children stealing apples.  As a result they argue that God’s punishment is out of all proportion to the offence.  However, this is an extremely superficial reading of this passage.  This is seen when it is realised that the extent of sin is not to be confused with the act.  Men and women tend to make this confusion but essentially the Bible teaches that there is a separation between the two.  Sin is not so much in the act as the act is the result of an already accomplished sin.  Further, the character of the sin here is none other than the substitution of self-interest in place of the pursuit of the glory of God.  What takes place in these verses constitutes therefore a gross act of treason against the almighty.  Thus the seriousness of what takes place in these verses becomes apparent.

This passage also describes very effectively the anatomy of sin.  First, it sets out the progress of sin.  This is demonstrated in three ways:

  * Sin begins with a willingness to discuss, temporise and generalise God’s word (verses 1-3).  When Satan speaks he seems to use an incredulous tone of voice, amazed that God should have made even one slight prohibition.  Thus, he emphasises the negative side of God’s dealings with men.  Eve, in response, seems at first to answer the serpent adequately in verse 2, but in verse 3 it is clear that the arrow has made its mark.  It is noteworthy that first of all she says “God has said” in a manner which suggests that she is generalising His words.  Secondly, the ‘or’ in the NIV in the phrase “Or you will die” is better translated “lest” and seems to express the apparent discussability of God’s word and even suggest some doubt as to whether God was serious.  Thirdly, Eve adds “Nor touch it”.  This phrase has no parallel in chapter 2 and seems to be Eve’s almost subconscious rigorising of the word so as to make it more burdensome.  Sin is already lurking at her door.
  * Sin is seen to continue in the way in which Eve entertains the possibility that God hasn’t got man’s best interest at heart. (verse 5)
  * Sin flourishes as she embraces the gross lie of the serpent (verses 4 and 6).  This is typical of the progress of sin.

Not only does the passage describe the progress of sin but it also describes the consequences of sin (verse 6).  In a nutshell verse 6 describes the corruption of the whole person:

  * The intellect is confused and a lie eagerly embraced.
  * The will is corrupted and humanity is now resolved and committed to an alternative plan for life.
  * The passions are perverted: Eve responds out of a felt desire for the fruit of the tree.

The result of sin is also demonstrated in these verses for humankind now pursues material, aesthetic and intellectual satisfaction apart from the glory of God.

A remarkable feature of this passage is the way in which the author of Genesis recounts these events without any apparent sense of surprise.  The author is clearly a practical person not deluded by false philosophies he knows which deny in reality the true character of humanity.  However, the author is no pessimist; he knows of great moral characters and will describe a number of them in his book but he is realistic about the essential character of man’s life apart from the grace of God.

3:7-13: Devastated Relationships

These verses introduce the devastating effects of sin upon relationships.  They also demonstrate the effect of sin upon every area of man’s life.  Thus, here we notice the effect of sin upon humankind’s moral and ethical life.

  * Dishonesty, half-truth, excuse and blame take the place of those qualities with which man had been endowed.
  * Moreover, the intellectual life of man is affected.  Adam in his integrity would never have thought it possible to hide from God but sin has, manifestly, had a result over his intellectual powers.
  * Thirdly, we notice the effect of sin upon the spiritual life of man. Adam, created for fellowship with God, finds that the effect of sin is such that he seeks to hide himself from God.  Only the gracious intervention of God is able to turn him around from hiding and fleeing from God (verse 15).

It is also notable that these verses indicate that alongside of a) the disintegration of man’s relationship with God and b) his own ‘disintegration’ lies, c) the disintegration of his relationships with his fellow human being.  In place of the free and unfettered intimacy of 2:24 is the shame and the attempt to hide from the other that we find in 3:7.

3: 14-24: Judgment and Grace

These verses constitute a turning point in the Biblical story.  On the one hand, they emphasise the extreme seriousness of the condition that Adam had brought upon himself and upon his world.  Alongside of this, however, is shown the grace of God.  Where humans has ruined the world and shut themselves off from God, God, for his part, resolves to take gracious action and restore them to himself.

The effect of Adam’s sin upon the world is seen in a number of ways:

  * The unending battle between good and evil that is consequent upon his sin.  This is illustrated in verse 14 and 15.
  * The woman and the man also have to suffer the consequences of sin severely.  Verse 16 has had many different explanations.  However, it would appear that the first part of the verse emphasises that pain and suffering will now become part of even the most joyful experiences of men and women.  Created to image God in procreation the woman will find suffering and even death her lot at the point of childbirth.  The second part of verse 16 has been variously understood but is probably best translated “You will desire ascendancy over your husband, but he will rule over you”.  In other words, even in the most intimate and loving relationship sin will manifest itself in outbreaks of selfish rule rather than humble service one of the other.
  * Verses 17 to 19 are particularly vivid.  They describe the bone aching labour will replace pleasurable employment.  This is described as perpetual as the man who had been given rule over creation finds the ground itself insubordinate.  Moreover, in place of the abundance of Eden will be such insufficiency as forces man to eke out a subsistence form of existence in which will need to be included in the diet in order to provide sufficient food.

Yet there is grace here too!

  * God acts in promise (3:15): declaring that one day the whole sorry mess will be sorted out by one of Eve’s descendants.
  *  He also acts in protection by the exclusion of humankind from the garden. Humans need protecting from the possibility of obtaining immortality while out of fellowship with God (3:24,25)! Imagine an immortal Hitler!

Further, the response to grace in simple trust is emphasised. In verse 21 Adam (quite remarkably) calls Eve the ‘mother of all-living’ though they have both, but recently, been cursed with death! But her seed will bring life from death and it is to the promise Adam directs his comment! It is the first statement of faith in the Bible.

4:1-7: Sin’s Sinfulness

These verses commence a section extending to the end of chapter 5 and are intended to demonstrate that the two ‘seeds’ of 3:15 are not to be understood as literally the descendants of serpents and men but morally, of those who are ‘of faith’ like Adam (3:21) and those who are ‘children of the serpent’, living in unbelief. Abel and Cain represent the first two examples of the different ‘seeds’.

Nevertheless we do well to note that this chapter introduces us to Eve’s faith. In 1,2 she recognises that the conception of Cain is a gracious gift from the Saviour God (the divine name Yahweh, usually translated in our Bibles as LORD carries this thought) and indicates her understanding of the reality and consequences of the Fall in naming Abel, a word that means frailty or weakness.

In 3-5, however, the reason for Cain’s rejection and Abel’s acceptance with God is spelt out. Verse 7 re-emphasises this in a phrase best translated ‘if the disposition of your heart is right’. Abel’s offering was willingly offered (3,4): note the emphasis on ‘firstlings’, usually the healthiest and fattest of the flock. Thus he was accepted (4,5). The implication is that Cain had a different attitude.

The difference between the seeds is also illustrated by the reaction of Cain to the exposure of his sinful heart. His half-hearted worship was condemned and he burned in his anger against God. This in turn led to his failure to respond to God’s overtures of grace and outworked in increasing antagonism to those favoured by God and, in turn, led to premeditated fratricide.

4:9-15: Grace Overcomes Sin

The ‘sinfulness of sin’ is eloquently demonstrated in these verses. When Cain is questioned by God (not through ignorance of the answer but in order to convict Cain) he responds by a flagrant lie and by denying any responsibility for others. Crucially, he seems unconcerned about God’s approach to him. This is so characteristic of sin.

Yet God emphasises the horrendous character of sin by his response. He withdraws from Cain those blessings that he might have enjoyed, even in a fallen world and condemns him to an unsettled existence.

Later, the passage describes Cain as the whimpering unrepentant sinner (verses 13-14).  These verses do not describe genuine repentance.  Rather Cain only shows remorse because of the consequences of sin.  He is motivated by self-concern and not a sense of having offended God.  He pathetically seeks to blame God (verses 13,14) and he manifests a cowardly concern for his own skin (verse 15) not a concern for having offended the deity.Yet despite all this it is important to notice the graciousness of God in this story.  It is Yahweh (the LORD) who is the subject of all the actions here.  Judgment is the consequence of a refusal to listen to the gracious word of a merciful God.  Thus, even in this passage we note (in verse 9) God seeks to approach Cain in such a way as to encourage conviction and repentance. He withdraws his blessings from Cain in order to evoke a sense of sin and need (verses 10, 12) and even in response to the godless prayer of Cain God is merciful and makes provision for a further time of repentance (verse 15).

4:16-26: A Society Gone to Seed

This passage completes the Biblical history of Cain, before the sacred story turns its attention to Seth and the line of promise and hope (4:25-29).  Such skill of composition is used here, however, to emphasise the enormous difference between the two ‘seeds’.

In this paragraph Cain leaves Eden and moves to the land of wandering (Nod).  There he begins to build a small and fortified settlement for his family who begin to multiply (verses 17-18) as children are born to him.  After seven generations Lamek is born, a man with a flagrant disregard for God.  Thus he commits polygamy (verse 19), and gross blasphemy (verses 23 and 24).

In marked contrast to Cain and his descendents is the faithful Eve (verse 25) who bears Seth.  As his family grows (verse 26) and the darkened world and curse impressed themselves even more upon the righteous, so God is sought more zealously.

It is instructive to notice how this paragraph illustrates the progress of godlessness.

  * In verse 17 we have described submission to sin, rejection of the word of God and self help
  * .  Then in verse 18 we see godliness increase, even though sometimes under the veneer of a form of religion.
  * Finally there is a sudden outbreak and rapid increase in utter godlessness, (verses 19-24).  This is seen in:

1)    Lamek exalting in his sin, in his idolisation of vengeance and in the increase in open violence that reflects a ‘low view’ of humanity.

2)    It is also seen in the absence of all restraint and the emergence of sensuality and self interest rather than adherance to God’s commands and listening to the voice of conscience.

3)    Further it is notable how technological advance is misused.  Mankind had been given a rule over the earth.  However, here technological advance is misused for personal ends.  In sum, this paragraph describes hedonism as the pursuit of every man.

By contrast the final two verses describe the progress of the godly remnant.  Of particular significance is the fact that Seth’s son is given the name Enoch: another word that emphasises human frailty.  This suggests that Seth’s family recognised the fundamental weakness in humankind following the fall and explains the fact that at time men began to call even more on the name of the Lord. 

5:1-32: Hope Amid Hopelessness?

This chapter presents us with several major problems.  The first is the apparent shortness of the period between the fall and the flood; less than 2,000 years.  This has raised many difficulties for many in the light of modern scientific and archaeological discoveries.  However, we need to bear in mind that scientific theories are questionable and the dating methods upon which many claims are made depend upon uniformitarianism.  Moreover, stylised “gap” lists exist elsewhere (for example in Matthew, chapter 1) although it is difficult here to believe in gaps on account of the fact that the whole list is specifically dated.  Various other observations could be made.  However, the concern here is not specifically with harmonising science and the text of Genesis.

The length of the lives of the pre-Flood patriarchs has often been regarded as incredible.  Various attempts to avoid the plain statement of the text have been made.  However, the evidence and scripture itself suggests that the world before the flood was a very different place where longer life was quite possible. Thus, neither the shortness of the period nor the length of the lives of the pre-deluvian patriarchs should be such as to demand that we place a mythological interpretation on the early chapters of Genesis.  In fact, the evidence rather points to the contrary.

The main purpose of this chapter, however, is to contrast the story of Cain and his family with the story of Seth and his family.  The author uses the same technique in both cases by using a genealogy in which certain “highlights” are included.  In particular, a marked contrast is drawn out between the two Lameks and the two Enochs.

The Sethites like the Cainites suffer under the effects of the curse (verse 29).  Notwithstanding this the life of the righteous is markedly different.  The Cainite Enoch was the father of a godless race.  However, the Sethite Enoch shows a mastery of sin, he lives a devout life in close communion with God; a relationship outworked both in his life and his family and by his hope and trust in the promise of God.  It is significant, therefore, that this Enoch is described as triumphing over death.

6:1-7: When Good Prefers Evil

Chapters 4 and 5 (note especially 4:25 and 5:3) are concerned with the distinction between the descendents of Cain and the children of Seth.  While the later, with the exception of Enoch (and Lamek?) had not advanced in their knowledge of God, yet they kept themselves a distinct distance from the Cainites.  Here this contrast is still in view since our narrative follows on from the foregoing (“and it came to pass”) and therefore it is highly likely that the phrase “the sons of God” is intended to refer to the Sethites; those who still enjoyed the favour of divine election/sonship (compare Exodus 4:22, 23, Deuteronomy 14:1, 32:5,6).  These men notice that the “daughters of men” (which is probably a reference to Cainite girls), are attractive to them and they enter into the permanent bond of marriage directed more by ‘aesthetic’ than spiritual considerations.  The consequences are then spelt out.  Verse 3 is probably best translated “abide in”: indicating the time at which humans will die.  Verse 4 amplifies the effect of the marriages described here.  ‘Giants’ is better “brigands” (in a sinful world we still tend to idolise the ‘wide boys’) and these are said to proliferate now that the Sethite line are no longer acting as “salt and light”.  This fact is more fully explained in verse 5.

Verses 6 and 7 are extremely important.

  * They indicate, firstly, that involvement in the sphere of sin inevitably leads to the degeneration of the godly not to the redemption of the ungodly.
  * They also emphasise the frightening consequences of apostasy.  When God’s people fail to live as “salt and light” the result is an intensity of evil that is traced here to its root; “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart”: an evil which now holds absolute sway “every evil”, and is habitual.  Destruction (verse 7) inevitably follows.

6:8-12: Grace Finds a Way

In the light of the foregoing story the drama of the history of primeval man has reached a point at which two vital questions must be asked:

  * How is God going to accomplish the fulfilment of his promise of chapter 3:15 for the world has corrupted itself to the point of judgment and all trace of desire for God seems to have disappeared?
  * A second but equally important question is “How then can people be saved?“  If the true character of man is now revealed (verses 6,7) how may such a one be reconciled to God.  Elsewhere, the writer of Genesis will emphasise the importance of faith in God.  However, a more fundamental question needs to be asked:  “If man by nature is so corrupt as to have no desires after God, how can he believe?“

The answer to this question is given in this paragraph when we are told that Noah found favour.  When the text says that Noah found favour or grace in reality it means that ‘grace found Noah’ for the picture of Noah presented in this section is not of a super saint who won God’s approval, but of a man identical with other sinners but one who, in his grace, God chose to be the beneficiary of his salvation.

These verses also indicate the consequences of the grace of God.  Noah is described as “a man of righteousness”; a phrase that emphasises that he became a man who was characteristically good.  Moreover, he is described as “perfect”; a word that does not mean sinless but emphasises the quality of a life lived in conformity to God’s will.  Noah, the beneficiary of grace, lives to the glory of God, enjoying fellowship with God.  Where humans failed, God in his grace has reconciled the sinner to a place of renewed fellowship with himself.

6:13-21: Devastation!

There are three questions that are often raised in regard to the events described in this passage:

  * The nature and the extent of the flood.
  * The size of the ark and the problem of accommodation.
  * The apparent contradictions that are found within the narrative.

In connection with the first point we are presented both here and elsewhere in the scripture with a clear indication that nothing before or following the flood has ever been experienced.  In the present passage, verse 17 (especially in the Hebrew) emphasises that God is going to do something hitherto utterly unknown.  Further the word used uniformly for the flood throughout this story is only ever used in the Bible of this event: so unparalleled was this event that no other “floods” could bear any comparison with it.  Thus the passage presents to us an event that was far more than simply a tranquil inundation or a local flood as it is sometimes argued.

It is also clear that the text presupposes a worldwide (even a universal) calamity.  Thus verse 13 describes the destruction of the earth, 7:11 implies enormous geological dislocation and the technical word for the flood here may refer to the waters above the ‘firmanent’ and indicate they are going to be destroyed.

Elsewhere 2 Peter 3:3-7 indicates that this was a supernatural event.  This is reinforced by several other considerations:  The length of the flood (chapter 7:19), the need for and the enormous size of the ark, and the demands of the overall context itself.  This passage comes after a picture of increasing and universal sin.  This demands universal judgment and in the context this is clearly expected (see especially verse 13).

The size of the ark and the accommodation required for all the species that, presumably, entered the ark is often seen as a real difficulty.  However, a careful study of the text resolves some of the difficulties.  The ark was in fact enormous, perhaps 450ft long 75ft wide and 45ft deep.  It was in fact a gigantic box. This would provide accommodation for 125,000 sheep: today there are far fewer species identified in the animal world.

A final observation on Noah, the man of faith, is in order. Throughout this chapter he is revealed as someone who believes and acts on God’s word in total and ongoing obedience. This takes place despite the discouragements. The length of time itself must have been a discouragement (120 years waiting for an unbelievable, unprecedented event!) as must have been his lack of success in convincing others, the enormity of the task, the mockery of his enemies and the difficulty of conceiving what God intended to do (always difficult when unprecedented!). Yet, Noah is marked by his confidence in God as sovereign and all-powerful, by his absolute confidence in God’s word and his implicit trust in God’s promises.

7:1-24: The Universality of Sin

This chapter describes the final provisions made by Noah (1-6) and then recounts the events of the flood itself (7-24). Theologically, it seeks to emphasise the universality of sin, the inevitability of judgement and its inescapable character. It indicates how unbelief is overwhelmed as the disbelieved, discredited judgement actually takes place.

There is a great deal of repetition in the chapter and this is for deliberate literary effect since it highlights the indescribable character of the judgement; no one bald statement is sufficient to describe the horror of the event. Yet alongside of judgement is deliverance: safety and security is provided for God in the midst of his judgement. It is understandable that the Scriptures frequently see the Flood as pointing forward to the final judgement; an anticipation of something still more horrendous and final.

8:1-19: Trusting God

The ‘laboured’ account of the flood continues; a Hebrew literary device to emphasise the importance of what is being described. Here, however, the focus of interest shifts from emphasising the awfulness of the flood to describing the reliability of God’s word (8:1) and Noah’s response to it (8:15: Noah waits God’s time, expectantly and peacefully: such a spirit is characteristic of the whole chapter).

Contradictions and difficulties are sometimes detected in these verses but such usually arise from an inadequate translation and/or lack of familiarity with Hebrew narrative techniques: thus, for example, there is recapitulation and 8:1-3 offers a summary statement before the same period is described in greater detail. A good commentary will resolve apparent difficulties simply.

8:20-9:17: The God Who Makes Promises

These verses introduce, in three sections (8:21,22; 9:1-7; 8-17), God’s covenant with Noah. In particular, the first section (8:22f.), describes the new order and the measures undertaken to establish it.

God’s covenant is with the whole of humanity (‘man’, verse 21) and extends to the end of the present world order (22). It is God’s charter for the present world. It introduces the sphere in which God’s redemptive purpose is to be worked out.

Yet there is no false optimism as to the reality of the situation. Though the Flood has eliminated sinners it has not dealt the death-blow to sin or to man’s sinful nature. Thus, verse 21b emphasises that sin is still:

  * Extensive (‘great in the earth’)
  * Comprehensive (‘every imagination’);
  * A problem deeply embedded in man (‘of his heart’)
  * Persistent (‘continually’).

Humanity after the flood is, by nature, no different from that before!

The answer to man’s problem is, however, hinted at in verse 21a. Though doubtless Noah’s offering included elements of thanksgiving and consecration, the context which so emphasises sin seems to demand that the sacrifice was understood to have expiatory / propitiatory elements. This means that the substitution of one life for another, to pay the penalty for sin, turned away God’s anger. And it was actually the sacrifice that secured the covenant. Noah’s act established the basis upon which God could deal with him and others.

9:1-7 describe the covenant. It is a comprehensive charter for life in the present world. 1b re-echoes 1:28. The earlier charter remains in force. However, one word is missing: ‘subdue’. This is no longer possible in the light of the Fall. Moreover, the world is now a very different place. Vegetarianism (1:30) will no longer be universally possible. Meat eating is necessary to provide sufficient food resources (3a): though animals are to be treated humanely (4).

The subsequent verses deal with humankind’s mutual relationships. Hebrew thought was observationally practical. Too much blood spilt led to death! However, God alone had authority to take life or preserve it. For a human to shed blood was to usurp the authority of God; it constituted an acted blasphemy. In relation to the animal world this man was appointed the deputy of God (1-4). Now the circumstances in which man has responsibility to act on God’s behalf in the matter of the death penalty are given. The fact that such a prerogative is given to man indicates the seriousness with which God views murder. It also indicates that the manslayer forfeits, in God’s eyes, the right to live. All this presupposes the establishment of government (5b, 6)

Finally (8-17), the covenant sign is given. The content of the covenant is re-emphasised (8-12) and its comprehensive and enduring character repeated. It is ratified in the sign of the rainbow (which may be viewed symbolically as God’s war-bow; qesheth includes both meanings in OT Hebrew). Like all other covenant signs it:

  * Ratifies the relationship,
  * Strengthens faith and
  * Is a ‘memorial to God’. In his wrath he will remember mercy.

9:18-29: Incentives and Warnings

Two important events followed the flood: the covenant and (here) the blessings and curses made on Noah’s family. Even Noah’s drunkenness is played down to emphasise them. In fact all the emphasis falls upon the fact that God continues his plans to redeem the world from the consequences of sin. Thus, the ‘line of promise’ is identified in such a way as to prepare us for 12:1-3. This is the first of several occasions in which God little by little works through an ever-decreasing remnant until the One arises to become the champion from the seed of the woman who deals the death-blow to the Devil (compare 3:15).

The missionary purpose of the remnant is, however, also emphasised (a dimension the Jews forgot): for Japheth will be blessed through Shem (compare 22:18; Isaiah 60:3).

Finally, the curse on Ham, though it has many inscrutable elements to it, indicated God’s hatred of sin (including homosexuality, so described here behind the Hebrew euphemisms).

10:1-11:32: Short Memories

The time has now come to wrap up the early history of the world. This is done in such a way as to emphasise (and compare the glorious beginnings of this section in chapters 1,2) the sinfulness of sin: a theme repeated in these chapters so as to eliminate any illusions about the seriousness of humankind’s condition.

Chapter 10 begins by describing God’s faithfulness to his promises in chapter 9 (especially 9:1,8). However, such faithfulness is then starkly placed against the sinful apostasy of men (11:1-9). In living memory of the flood and in the face of faithfulness and blessing, humankind once again seeks to become master of its own destiny. There are echoes of the garden here!

Sadly, though conscious of the disintegrating effects of sin (4c) and apprehensive in the face of the insecurity it brings, and as weak men (‘sons of Adam’, verse 5) using even weaker materials (3) they seek to become as gods (4). In reality the tower never got to heaven, only their sin. Then (note the irony) God came down to see the tower (5)! He then graciously divides them lest they do too much damage together (6ff.).

Tragically, we hear nothing of the godly. Apart for grace (12:1-3), the condition of man is depicted graphically in all its seriousness.

But where man is helpless God is merciful. Thus, first he restrains ungodliness (5-9), then, in a highly dramatic genealogy (for the tension builds up to bursting point, 10-26!), the narrative focuses upon one family (27-32). The dawn of the promise has arrived!

12:1-9: God Steps in…. Again

Here, or probably better at 11:27, we begin a new section of the book of Genesis that extends to chapter 50.  It is a section that in a very real way provides the introduction to the whole of the remainder of the Scripture.

In the previous 11 chapters two major features dominated, one more than the other.

  * First, there is the account of human failure and weakness in the face of a glorious destiny.  The destiny is described in chapters 1 and 2, the failure in chapter 3.  Then, in chapters 4-11 the frailty and weakness of sinful humanity is described (with very great seriousness), emphasising the sin is inescapable.
  * Secondly, also running through these chapters, is the line of God’s promise and the reminder of God’s grace. Thus there is the promise of 3:15 and the covenant with Noah.  The lesser emphasis placed upon God’s promise and grace is to be accounted for the fact that the early chapters of Genesis are intended to show that only when the seriousness of man’s condition is grasped can the grace and the promise of God be seen in all its glory.

However, with chapter 12 the emphasis changes and from this point onwards in Scripture emphasis lies upon the grace and promise of God.  In particular, the gradual unfolding of God’s purpose is traced out:

  * Through the election of a nation through whom God will uniquely reveal his word and presence.
  * In the fulfilment of the promised deliverance by means of the promised seed.
  * In the conversion of the nations so that the disunity of mankind will ultimately be restored.

In this context it is clear that the promises given to Abram in chapter 12 build directly upon chapter 3:15 and are to be seen as spiritual promises.  Unless this is grasped we will misunderstand not only the story of Genesis but large parts of the Old Testament story.

There are two great themes to be found in 3:15:

  * There is the reference to the plural “seed”; the promise of a large and spiritual seed the ultimate victors over the ungodly and
  * There is reference to the singular seed (the Lord Jesus Christ).

These two themes are taken up in the promise to Abram and amplified.  Thus,

  * In 12a there is the renewal of the promise of a spiritual seed;
  * In 12b to this seed material and spiritual blessings are promised by God;
  * In 12c Abram’s name is exalted as the “father of the faithful” and
  * In 12d the second element found in 3:15 reappears - the promise of a deliverer.

Certain other features are then addeed to fill out the description of God’s people; they will be

  * Numerous,
  * Universal (3c),
  * Victorious (3a and b) and
  * For the healing of the nations (3c).

It is important to note what this passage teaches us concerning Abram and his relationship with God.  Before God met him Abram lived in Ur.  Ur was a very prosperous city and it would appear from verse 4 that Abram was himself a prosperous, contented and successful man with a happy family life (see, also, verse 1).  He was a good and successful citizen, one of the world’s successes.  But he was a man, nonetheless, with a serious eternal problem unresolved (Joshua 24:2); he worshipped other gods.  As such he shared the problem of all humanity: a heart at odds with God through sin.

However, while he was still in that condition God spoke to Abram, calling for his allegiance, indicating to him the blessings he would receive by faith and obedience and offering him the ground of salvation in the promised seed.

Abram heard the call of God and his promises trusted and obeyed the demands of God upon him.  However, this was no simple matter for Abram and the sacrifice of leaving a successful and secure life for the life of a nomad must have made considerable demands on him.  He had, for example, to change:

  * His cultural, social and natural environment,
  * To abandon the larger family group and even some of his immediate family,
  * He had to abandon any personal security he may have built in such things and at an advanced age to obey the will of God.

The cost of Abram’s obedience to God was high.

12:10-20: Disobedience and Failure

The first nine verses of chapter 12 set before us two of the great themes of the Bible: the plans of God and the human response.  These same themes are taken up in verses 10-20 but now there is a twist in the story.  For now the response is disobedience and failure.  What then is going to happen to God’s purposes?

In order to understand the passage three matters need to be noted.

  * Even today famines occur in Palestine and they are often severe enough to make it extremely difficult to eke out a living.  How much more difficult it must have been for Abram and his large entourage in a strange land.  It was quite natural, therefore, for him to think of taking up temporary residence in Egypt since it was the granary of the ancient world.
  * In verse 11 Abram reminds Sarai of a previous arrangement made to be operative in such circumstances (20:13).  Abram had every reason to fear for his safety because beautiful women in the ancient east were as much sought after as today and when they came into a foreign land those around them were in real danger of being liquidated. 

Incidentally the reference to Sarai’s beauty at an age of over 65 is not to be seen as a problem.  There is much evidence in the early chapters of Genesis to suggest that the aging process was retarded and it may well be that Sarai’s 65 was equivalent to our late 30’s or early 40’s when many women today are still in the prime of life.

  * Abram’s word to Pharoah was a half truth, and, therefore, a lie.  The Hurrians, the race from which Abraham came, did marry their half sisters as Abram did.  Sometimes, in marrying a wife, the Hurrians also adopted her as a sister in order to improve her status.  Neither were Egyptian practises and, therefore, Abram engaged in a deliberate deceit.

Yet the purposes of God are not frustrated by human failure and folly. However, this section of Genesis 12 is intended to set before us the dangers of the life of faith:

  * Abram had responded against incredible difficulty to the call of God, so that he is rightly seen in the Old Testament as the champion of all true believers.
  * Moreover, he had maintained a credible and public stand for some time amidst the most appalling ungodliness in Canaan (verses 6-9).  Such must have called for great resources of faith.
  * However, perhaps this had been facilitated by his outward prosperity so when this began to fail (in verse 10a) the resources of his, still young, faith, were severely tried.
  *  What is more, we notice that where as hitherto when in need God has spoken to Abram or met him in a supernatural way here God remains silent.

13:1-18: How to… and How not to!

This chapter describes to us:

  * the restoration of Abram to fellowship with God and the progress of his faith by

1)    the application of the lessons learnt in Egypt and

2)    the blessing of God upon him in further revelation of promise.

  * Abram, the sometimes failing champion of faith, is compared with Lot: a man of weak and sickly faith.  Indeed from chapters 13-19 the comparison between Abram and Lot is consciously drawn out in order to offer clear lessons to the reader of Genesis.

As chapter 13 begins Abram and Lot emerge from Egypt very wealthy men.  Abram even had silver and gold which was a very unusual possession for a travelling herdsman in those days.  He had played the world at the world’s game and (with the Lord’s help) he had won.  However, it is clear from our narrative that he came out of Egypt as a spiritual failure and penitent; retracing his steps to Bethel, the last place of fellowship in faithful obedience to God.  There, he is restored at the altar of the Lord (verse 4), as the sequel (verses 14-18) makes clear: for God renews his appearances to Abram.

Once restoration is achieved the growth of faith can continue (verses 5-13).  The first obstacle is the self same one as before.  Once again the land of promise fails Abram with what must have seemed a permanent inadequacy.  However, the reaction of Abram this time is more mature as he applies the lessons of his experience in Egypt.  With the confidence of a man who has trusted in the promise over against great odds he is able to raise the subject in a most gracious way with his nephew and offer him the choice.  Faith makes him strong no matter the odds, and he can willingly suffer loss and endure the difficult way for the sake of God’s promise.

In verses 14-18 God reappears to Abram and builds upon the former promises that had been made to him.  The victory of faith brings the encouragement of God.

Before leaving this chapter it is important to notice the way in which Lot’s life degenerates from this point onwards.  Lot had shared in some way in Abram’s call and faith.  He was, as Peter calls him, “A righteous man” (2 Peter 2:7).  He had shared Abram’s blessings (verse 5) and the buffetings.  He had shared the repentance (verses 1-4) but he had not learnt the lessons.  Presented with a choice (verse 9), one in which he ought surely to have deferred to his elderly uncle and graciously been prepared for the inferior choice, he allowed the pleasures of this world to dominate him.  Seeing the desirable Jordan valley (and verse 10 emphasises this), Lot chose it.  His divided heart became increasingly occupied with the worldly passing things so that in verse 12 (despite what we are told in verse 13), he draws near to Sodom and by 14:12 is found in its midst.  From that point onwards Lot became progressively more deserted, unhappy and unloved and for him there was ‘an aching void that the world could never fill’.  By contrast Abram, “the friend of God” increased in fellowship and blessing with God.

14:1-24: Getting it Right

This chapter continues to emphasise the contrast between Abram and Lot and to emphasise the faith of Abraham here exercised against the backcloth of international warfare and strife.  The Melchizedek incident is clearly the climax of the chapter.

The chapter begins by giving the full historical framework to the events to be recounted. The ease with which Chedorlaomer’s victory is obtained and the slowness with which the kings of the ‘Pentapolis’(five cities) react to the circling danger is remarkable.  Clearly the intention of the author of Genesis (especially in the context of this chapter) is to emphasise the impoverishing character of sin both upon nations and individuals.  Such:

  * Deprives of clear vision,
  * Undermines resolve and courage,
  * Leads to a weakness of the will (compare verse 8 and verse 10) and
  * Inevitably leads to disaster and an inability to respond to the warnings of God.

In addition the chapter teaches the illusory character of hope in this world.  Lot sought the world with all its attractions (verse 12) but our narrative indicates the end of such; the hopes prove illusory and Lot but for the grace of God and the magnanimity of Abram suffers the worst possible fate in the ancient near east - that of a prisoner of war.

Alongside of such basically negative teaching, however, the chapter also describes to us the activities of Abram and they are recounted in such a way as to reach a climax in verses 18-24.  In contrast, we have an account of the sanctifying effects of faith.  Thus, the moral character and resolve of Abram who acts with small but effective resources is emphasised: together with his personal leadership (though elderly).  Finally, whereas the early part of the chapter indicates the response of Lot to the temptations offered by compromise with the world, the last seven verses indicate how a God-fearing man responds to the same temptations.  Abraham must have been drawn by the material gain and the personal prestige that were offered him by the King of Salem, especially since it appears to have been accompanied by the possibility of his gaining standing in the land of promise where he was, at present, an alien.  However, such would have been compromise.  Such was resisted and, in its place, Abram receives the blessing of Melchizedek that emphasises God’s glory rather than Abram’s blessing.

15:1-6: The Covenant-making God

After the events of chapter 14 and the isolation that faith had brought Abram, his anxieties and fears were graciously met. God appeared to him in a vision.  This revelation is extremely important since (together with chapter 17) it offer a picture of the relationship into which God enters with all his children.  The New Testament recognises this (see Romans 4, Galatians 3 and James 2).  Note, therefore,

  * 15:1-6 describe the basis of the relationship, faith.
  * 15:17-21 recount the nature of the relationship; a covenant of grace.
  * 17:1 list the obligations of the covenant; good works.
  *  17:2, and the rest of the chapter, portray the seal of the covenant: the sign of circumcision.

Thus, God reappears to Abram amid his anxieties and gives him a further revelation (15:1) in which he reassures him and (after he has refused the offer of the King of Salem) promises a great reward.  This seems to set Abram’s mind thinking once more over the promises that had already been made to him in 12:1-3.  In particular he had been promised there many descendants.  If the hope of the world rests upon Abram’s offspring, it is natural that he wrestles with this problem (verses 2 and 3).

God’s answer is provided in verse 4 and 5 where he confirms the earlier promises and gains Abram’s trust in the fact that salvation is through the promised seed.  The spiritual consequences for Abram are then spelt out (15:6); his trust establishes him in a position of righteousness before God.

15:7-21: God Covenants with Himself… on Abram’s Behalf!

The significance of this becomes clearer when the following two things are noted:

  * In verse 18 we are given a typically Hebrew summary that, also, amplifies what has taken place in the previous verses.  It indicates that here we have a covenant ceremony.
  * The legal treaties of the ancient near east of Abram’s day (as, for example, among the Hittites) included covenants established between overlords and vassals. These were characterised by:

a)    The terms of the treaty being declared by the overlord (see verses 1 and 18-21) and;

b)    They were accompanied by a covenant ceremony (not a sacrifice) in which the two parties passed between severed animals.  This established the relationship, in its binding character upon both parties and established the blessings and curses of the covenant (compare the book of Deuteronomy).

With this in view we may look at the passage and note that God has made certain promises to Abram in chapter 15:1-6 that are reaffirmed and elaborated in verse 7 (probably contemporary with verses 18-21).  This prompted Abram to seek a sign as evidence of God’s relationship.  God graciously condescends (verse 9) by ordering the preparation of a covenant ceremony.  However, before the ceremony can take place Abram is given a dream/visionary experience in which God expands his revelation to Abram (verses 13-16).  The terms of the relationship are thus established and the covenant is ratified (13) as the LORD God passes between the pieces of the severed animals (fire was a symbol of God’s presence in patriarchal times (cp Exodus 3:2-6; 19:18; 13:21)).

Note, however, that while God makes this covenant with Abram, God alone passes between pieces of the slaughtered animals.  The covenant is, therefore, seen to be of grace since God both promises and establishes the covenant.  Not only so, the two symbols of divine presence that pass between the severed animals hint at the persons of the godhead.  God will mete upon himself the curses of the broken covenant.

16:1-16: Delay and Frustration

It is easy in a chapter such as this to lose ones way in seeking to understand its intention and meaning.  However, we need to remember the overall context of this section of scripture.  Since chapter 12 the story has been concerned with outlining the faith or the life of faith of Abram and that theme will be continued in chapter 17.  It is into this setting that the present chapter fits.  Special emphasis lies on the events that lead up to the oracle in verses 9-12 since they reveal that the promise of descendants is a miraculous promise not one to be achieved by means of human compromise and conspiracy. In this chapter Abram’s faith is seen as understandably weak but defective.

The events that take place, especially in the first part of this chapter, are readily intelligible against the background of ancient near eastern customs.  In verses 1-6 we are reminded that Sarai, Abram’s wife (note the emphasis that she was hitherto understood as being the mother of the promise) was barren.  Exercised by God’s promise (see Malachi chapter 2:15), the lengthening time (verse 3) and Sarai’s age (now 75) the sights of both Sarai and then of Abram are lowered and a customery expedient resorted to in order to “to help God” fulfil his promise.  Abram marries Hagar and the scheme seems to be working well, since Hagar conceives almost immediately.  However, she then becomes proud and Sarai appeals to Abram who disciplines Hagar by returning her to her previous slave status under which she is then further disciplined, perhaps rather harshly, by Sarai.

Hagar flees, unwilling to accept discipline, and seeks to return to her former home in Egypt.  However, God appears to her for Abram’s sake, calls her to penitence (verse 8-9) and then speaks to her the important oracle about her son (verses 10-12).  Notable is the fact that clearly he will not be the proper seed (no spiritual blessings are mentioned) though he is to be blessed (the language spoken of him would have been complimentary in the ancient near east for he is described as a restless nonconformist).  The experience does bring Hagar to penitence and she bears a son.

Clearly three lessons are taught by this chapter.

  * The exercise of faith is not easy in the face of frequent difficulties and delays.
  * We are warned about the danger of a defective faith.
  *  We are reminded of our obligation to trust in the promises of God.

17:1-27: God Steps in… Again

In chapter 15 God established his covenant with Abram.  Here it is renewed and emphasis placed upon the obligations of the covenant upon Abram.

The chapter views the covenant especially from God’s point of view and the particular part God plays in the establishment of the covenant.  As such this is very important.  In chapter 15 God had revealed himself to Abram who had responded in trust (15:6), but it was important for God to make more fully known the character of the covenant before the promise began to be effective with the birth of Isaac (chapter 21).  The first lesson was provided by chapter 16, where self help in the matter revealed itself to be folly.  Then after considerable delay (compare 16:16 and 17:1), so that the old couple can no longer have any human hope, God appears by a new name, “El Shaddai”, in which character he reveals himself as one who is able to make nature bow and minister to his grace.

God reiterates and expands the character of the covenant and shows that “life from the dead”, a miracle of grace, is required to establish the “seed” of the covenant.  To mark the new status that the covenant brings both Abram and Sarai they are given new names (verses 5 and 15).  Sarai’s name becomes Sarah and means princess or first lady and reminds her of her own place in the promises of God and their fulfilment.

Finally, Abraham with either the incredulity that sometimes accompanies faith (not unbelief) or with joyful worshipful adoration (compare 18:12) intercedes for Ishmael.  God’s response assures Abraham that his blessing will not by-pass Ishmael but that Isaac is the promised seed.

The final verses of the chapter (verse 23-27) describe the immediate and wholehearted response for Abraham to God’s word.

18:1-15: Learning Trust

The great themes of the life of Abraham continue with this chapter.  Faith is again in view.

In verses 1-15 we are told the story of how Sarah herself was brought to believe in the promises of God in order that she could take her appointed part in the design of God.  She needed to be brought to personal trust if God were to fulfil his promises (not that God is limited by unbelief, but that he chooses to act in the presence of faith) and to have the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  That God was successful is testified by Genesis 21:1-2 and Hebrews 11:11.

18:16-33: The Privileges of Friendship with God

Whereas the emphasis in verses 1-15 was upon Sarah the scene shifts back to Abraham in verses 16-33.  It is obvious that the messengers have a further task to undertake with Abraham and in revealing it to Abraham his faith is once again put to the test.  Prominent here is the theme of ‘the works of faith’ as applied to the realm of the family and prayer.

The privileges of covenant relationship are to the fore in these verses (as indeed in the whole of the chapter).  Especially, it is clear that one of the privileges of a relationship with God is friendship and such intimacy as is here seen to exist between the LORD and Abraham.  This is remarkably demonstrated in verse 17 and in the freedom with which Abraham is able to enter into “friendly remonstrance” (Candlish) with God.

However, privilege always brings with it duty or obligation and the remainder of this chapter emphasises the obligation both to the family (verse 19) and to prayer (verses 22 and following).

19:1-38: Faith Gone Astray

This is a horrible chapter, a repulsive story from beginning to end and with reference to Lot quite pathetic.  It is however a chapter that cannot be ignored.

In one respect this chapter may be seen as a climax to the story of Lot.  Throughout chapters 13-19 we are intended to see Lot as a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7), a true but weak believer.  Indeed even in this chapter clear traces of grace are discernable; he is appalled by the ways of Sodom and shows concern for his guests, he has two virgin daughters of marriageable age (!), he shows boldness to challenge his fellow citizens behaviour and he manifests a sensitive conscience (even in verses 30-38 where his daughters have to get him drunk before they can achieve their purpose through him).  Yet, alongside of the picture of Lot is that of his wife.  In one sense she is outwardly undifferentiated from him but the sequel shows that she is utterly apostate.

Lot’s downfall was not occasioned simply by the fact that he chose the plain (though that was a selfish decision), nor that he chose to live in Sodom and reach preferment there.  Rather the problem with Lot was that his nature was essentially worldly and as a result Sodom became far too attractive to him when he ought to have been seeking ‘another city’ like his uncle Abraham (Hebrews 11:10).  There is, perhaps, no gross sin manifested in Lot (unless 30-38 be regarded as such - but it was not habitual).  But Lot did live too close to worldly things.  Earthly pleasure and consideration supplanted spiritual considerations.  Lot also manifested a too immature spiritual character.  He completely failed to have that moral and spiritual character that could stand up to a place like Sodom.  He had failed to become spiritually minded and he couldn’t think clearly enough for such a place.

The consequences of such half-baked compromise on Lot proved devastating.

  * We notice that he became increasingly under the power of the present world.  Note especially verses 15 and 16 where he was urged to leave Sodom but hesitated, needing to be seized by the hand and brought out of the city.  This sort of thing never happened to Daniel!
  * Then he wheedles one last concession out of God in the face of immanent judgment (verses 17-22).  Lot must have a “little Sodom” to make life tolerable.  Even judgment couldn’t break the grasp of the world on him.
  * We also note his sluggishness in spiritual exercise.  We see this in the narrowing of the line between sin and uprightness that leads to a growing area of grey (verses 7 and 8) and to muddled mindedness.
  * But worst of all was his faithlessness that led to the unhappiness, fear and ultimate despair from which he was unable to break himself free.  Lot