Genesis 15

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Genesis 15

1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own sonshall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” 17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”

I remember a lot of preacher stories from when I was a kid in church. I am referring to stories that were (I would later discover) repeated in churches all around the Bible belt because of their special evocative force and illustrative power. One of the great disillusionments of growing up in the Bible belt, by the way, is discovering how many of these stories you heard were not actually true! Even so, one of my favorites turned out to be true after all.

I probably heard a dozen times growing up the story of the tightrope walker who walked over Niagara Falls. He walked back and forth a number of times and did a number of tricks along the way. The people cheered wildly. Then he pushed a wheelbarrow back and forth across Niagara Falls. The people, again, cheered wildly! Then he asked, “Who here thinks that I could push a person in this wheelbarrow across the falls?” The crowd jubilantly expressed its faith in such an idea through loud cheering. But then he asked, “Wonderful! Now who would like to volunteer to ride in the wheelbarrow?” Then…dead silence. Complete silence!

The point of this wonderful story was clear: it is one thing to have faith and another to truly trust. Many believe in an idea but they stop short of staking their lives on that idea.

Again, it turns out this story was true! The man was Charles Blondin and his feats in walking over Niagara are simply amazing. Smithsonian.com reports that:

He crossed at night, a locomotive headlight affixed to either [end] of the cable. He crossed with his body in shackles. He crossed carrying a table and chair, stopping in the middle to try to sit down and prop up his legs. The chair tumbled into the water. Blondin nearly followed but regained his composure. He sat down on the cable and ate a piece of cake, washed down with champagne. In his most famous exploit, he carried a stove and utensils on his back, walked to the center of the cable, started a fire and cooked an omelet. When it was ready, he lowered the breakfast to passengers on deck of the Maid of the Mist…By the time he gave his final performance, in 1896, it was estimated that Blondin had crossed Niagara Falls 300 times and walked more than 10,000 miles on his rope. He died of complications from diabetes the following year. In nearly 73 years on this earth, he never had life insurance. No one, he’d always joked, would take the risk.[1]

And there you have it! “No one would take the risk!”

Let us talk about faith and trust, about “taking the risk” in what you profess to believe.

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Genesis 14

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Genesis 14

1 In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness. Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (that is, Kadesh) and defeated all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who were dwelling in Hazazon-tamar. Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim with Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country. 11 So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. 12 They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way. 13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people. 17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. 21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.”

I am a sucker for epic battle and warrior stories. I think lots of people are! Whether it is Braveheart yelling “Freedom!” or the speech of Theodin King before the walls of Minas Tirith, I get fired up at those moments. When I was in high school I memorized the epic opening monologue for the movie Conan the Barbarian and used to play the soundtrack from time to time. I can still say it. Now, to say this rightly, you have to say it in a deep and grave voice. Then you must envision war drums kicking in the moment the narrator concludes. Here you go:

Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of. And onto this, Conan, destined to wear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow. It is I, his chronicler, who alone can tell thee of his saga. Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!

Ah! Epic heroes and battles are just so thrilling to get immersed in. Genesis 14 provides us with another such scene of days of high adventure. There is bravery, heroism, and awe-inspiring courage in this chapter. But there is also more. There is deep theological movement and maneuvering happening here as well, and things of the soul happening that are even more important than the political realities playing out on the surface.

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Genesis 13

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Genesis 13

1 So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb. Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land. Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. 12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. 13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord. 14 The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17 Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18 So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.

If somebody were to make an “Extreme Makeover: Genesis Edition” television show, Genesis 12 and 13 would be where they would turn. Genesis 12 would be the “Before” and then Genesis 13 would be the big “After” unveiling! In Genesis 12, Abraham does not have a good look. He is scared, he is weak, he is concerned with himself, he puts his wife in harm’s way, and he does not think about the consequences of his actions on others. But in Genesis 13, Abraham is faithful, he is secure, he does think about others, he is thoughtful, and his priorities all seem to be in the right order.

My question is, “What happened?” How does Abraham go from a bad look in Genesis 12 to a really good look in Genesis 13? The answer is found right in the beginning of our chapter.

1 So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb. Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord.

What stands between the ugliness of Abraham’s behavior in Genesis 12:10-20 and the beauty of Abraham’s faith and actions in Genesis 13 is simply this: an altar. When Abraham and Sarah came out of Egypt, Abraham returned to the vicinity of his first sojourn into Canaan, and, specifically, to the place where he had first built an altar in Genesis 12:

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

In the land of promise, Abraham had built an altar. But, as Victor Hamilton has pointed out, “Not once while he was in Egypt did Abram either erect monuments to or invoke his deity.”[1]This altar, then, means, for Abraham, faith, trust in God, a relationship with God, and obedience to God’s call on his life. Coming back to this altar after his failure in Egypt therefore means returning to the Lord.Derek Kidner sums it up nicely when he writes:

The fact that Abram rose to the occasion in faith is traceable to verses 1-4, which present his journey to Bethel as a pilgrimage…: a renewal of his lapsed obedience, not an attempt to recapture the luxury of a vision…[2]

“Extreme Makeover: Genesis Edition” hinges therefore on returning to the altar, on returning to worship, on returning to God. And it is so with us today as well. Let me ask you, is there an altar at the center of your life? At the center of your life are things right with you and the God who made you? If they are, you will notice some of the characteristics that thankfully marked Abraham’s life in Genesis 13.

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Genesis 10:12-20

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Genesis 12

10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. 17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.

“Beauty is a curse here.”

On one of my first trips to Honduras I was visiting with a family in a village. There was a little girl in this family who was particularly pretty. I had the translator tell the little girl’s mother for me, “Your little girl sure is very pretty!” The mother spoke to the translator and he interpreted for me. “She says thank you. She also says that beauty is a curse here and that life can be dangerous for very pretty girls.” He went on to tell me that, as a result of this, many mothers take intentional steps to make their daughters look plain and less striking.

It was a jarring thing to hear. Life can be very hard, very dangerous for girls and women. Perhaps beauty, in a sense, can indeed be a curse. It certainly played its part in the sad story we will read about today, the story of Abraham and Sarah’s sojourn into Egypt.

In reality, Sarah’s beauty was not, at root, the main issue. The main issue was Abraham’s fear and the unfortunate choices that Abraham’s fear led him to consider and then make. The 3rd/4thcentury Christian Lactantius said, “Where fear is present, wisdom cannot be.” This is so. Perhaps more specifically apropos is this amazing statement from Jawaharlar Nehru said, “As fear is close companion to falsehood, so truth follows fearlessness.”

Yes, fear is a close companion to falsehood. We will see this today. To fear is to panic, to panic is to scheme, to scheme is to lie. Let us turn our attention to Genesis 12.

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Genesis 11:10-12:9

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Genesis 11

10 These are the generations of Shem. When Shem was 100 years old, he fathered Arpachshad two years after the flood. 11 And Shem lived after he fathered Arpachshad 500 years and had other sons and daughters. 12 When Arpachshad had lived 35 years, he fathered Shelah. 13 And Arpachshad lived after he fathered Shelah 403 years and had other sons and daughters. 14 When Shelah had lived 30 years, he fathered Eber. 15 And Shelah lived after he fathered Eber 403 years and had other sons and daughters. 16 When Eber had lived 34 years, he fathered Peleg. 17 And Eber lived after he fathered Peleg 430 years and had other sons and daughters. 18 When Peleg had lived 30 years, he fathered Reu. 19 And Peleg lived after he fathered Reu 209 years and had other sons and daughters. 20 When Reu had lived 32 years, he fathered Serug. 21 And Reu lived after he fathered Serug 207 years and had other sons and daughters. 22 When Serug had lived 30 years, he fathered Nahor. 23 And Serug lived after he fathered Nahor 200 years and had other sons and daughters. 24 When Nahor had lived 29 years, he fathered Terah. 25 And Nahor lived after he fathered Terah 119 years and had other sons and daughters. 26 When Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran. 27 Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. 28 Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. 31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.

Genesis 12

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. And 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. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country 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 upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.

The old line on Baptists is that Baptists think dancing is a sin. Now I personally do not think dancing is a sin, though I do think it is a sin when Idance…because I am such a terrible dancer! But, anyway, true or not, that is the old line: Baptists think dancing is a sin. There is one exception though, one time in which Baptists give a pass to dancing. I am speaking of the song, “Father Abraham.” Do you remember that song? Remember the motions that go with it? “Father Abraham” is one of those songs that gets in your head and stays there, like the “It’s A Small World” song at Disney World. If you have ever sung it, you remember it, and, to make it stick even more, somebody back in the day added little dance moves. Remember?

Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord.
Right arm!

Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord.
Right arm, left arm!

Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord.
Right arm, left arm, right foot!

Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord.
Right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot!

Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord.
Right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot,
Right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot, turn around!

On and on and on…and onit goes, until, by the end, we all look like Elaine off of that episode of Seinfeld (whose dancing George Costanza memorably referred to as “a full body dry heave”).

So there you have it: the one permissible Baptist dance, “Father Abraham.” I suppose it makes sense, though. The story of Abraham’s call should make us want to dance, for behind the genealogy and the names and strange locations there is good goodnews!

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Genesis 11:1-9

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Genesis 11

1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

Kent Hughes has passed along the fascinating and sad story of Gordon Hall. Listen:

A few years ago the Arizona Republiccarried this local profile by columnist E.J. Montini:

It is dusk. Gordon Hall stands at an overlook on his 55,000-square-foot mansion in Paradise Valley, a structure built by Pittsburgh industrialist Walker McCune and now owned and being renovated by Hall. He is 32 years old and a millionaire many times over. He stares at the range of lights stretching before him from horizon to horizon and breathes a deep, relaxed sigh.

            The lights of the city are like the campfires of a great army to Hall, who sees himself as its benevolent general. They are like the flashlights of the world’s fortune seekers, and Hall is their beacon to riches. They are, for Hall, like the stars of the firmament. And he is above them.

            He is worth more than $100 million, he says, because it was his goal to be worth more than $100 million before the age of 33…There are other goals. By the time he is 38, he will be a billionaire. By the time his earthly body expires—and he is convinced he can live to be 120 years old—he will assume what he believes to be his just heavenly aware: Gordon Hall will be a god.

            “We have always existed as intelligences, as spirits,” he says. “We are down here to gain a body. As man now is, God once was. And as God is now, man can become. If you believe it, then your genetic makeup is to be a god. And I believe it. That is why I believe I can do anything. My genetic makeup is to be a god. My God in heaven creates worlds and universes. I believe I can do anything, too.”

            He looks to the horizon, and then he looks behind him, where his great dark house seems to drift like a ship in the night sky.[1]

What an amazing picture: a huge structure, seeming to drift like a ship in the night sky, that stands as a symbol of the astonishing ego of its owner. A man believing that he can be a god, that he can grab and secure greatness and a lasting name by his own prowess and strength. If ever there was a modern illustration of the Tower of Babel, this is it! Yes, we have been here before. This is well-worn ground. And the results are always the same.

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Genesis 10

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Genesis 10

1 These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood. The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations. The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan.Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and 12 Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13 Egypt fathered Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, 14 Pathrusim, Casluhim (from whom the Philistines came), and Caphtorim. 15 Canaan fathered Sidon his firstborn and Heth, 16 and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, 17 the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, 18 the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the clans of the Canaanites dispersed. 19 And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon in the direction of Gerar as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. 20 These are the sons of Ham, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations. 21 To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born. 22 The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram. 23 The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. 24 Arpachshad fathered Shelah; and Shelah fathered Eber. 25 To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided, and his brother’s name was Joktan. 26 Joktan fathered Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27 Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 28 Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29 Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab; all these were the sons of Joktan. 30 The territory in which they lived extended from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill country of the east. 31 These are the sons of Shem, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations. 32 These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.

Genesis 10, traditionally called the Table of Nations, is a long list of names representing different peoples and nations of the earth. What are we supposed to do with long lists like these? What on earth could an ancient list of names have to do with life today? Genesis 10 is one of those passages that we might be tempted to skim over in our personal devotions. In fact, preachers have been having to encourage their folks not to skip over these kinds of passages for quite some time.For instance, in the 16th century, David Chytraeus, a German Lutheran, addressed the issue like this:

Though the genealogy of the sons of Noah that is recited in this tenth chapter seems to contain a useless multitude of names, it actually contains weighty doctrine and is for many reasons necessary for the church…[T]hose with good hearts find these things extremely useful.[1]

Yes, I agree with Chytraeus. People with good hearts will indeed find this chapter useful. I would propose that you will find it useful for two primary reasons.

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Genesis 9:18-29

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Genesis 9

18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed. 20 Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. 21 He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. 23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” 26 He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. 27 May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.” 28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died.

A couple years ago I listened to an audio book called So You’ve Been Publicly Shamedby British journalist Jon Ronson. It was, hands down, one of the most interesting things I have ever heard. In it, Ronson explores the phenomenon of public shaming, especially as it relates to the internet and social media. His basic thesis is that the internet has become what the old town square and stocks used to be in early America: the place where people who have messed up are publicly shamed. For instance, he considers the case of Jonah Lehrer, a very successful popular science writer and thinker. Lehrer wrote a best-selling book in which he fabricated some quotes by Bob Dylan. Another journalist figured out that the quotes were fabricated and exposed Lehrer, leading to his spectacular fall. Eventually, Lehrer offered a public and very muddled apology in a live-streamed forum in which, behind him, and with his knowledge and agreement, real-time comments and reactions from listeners were projected on a screen on the platform as he talked. You can imagine how that played out! Lehrer’s public shaming lead to a botched apology that was itself undercut by more public shaming. Ronson’s book goes on to demonstrate case after case of (a) somebody messing up and (b) online community’s unleashing oceans of public shame on the person, oftentimes (but not always) grossly disproportionate to the offense itself.

I thought of Ronson’s book while working on our text. I believe that Genesis 9 recounts one of the first recorded instances of public shaming: Ham’s shaming of his father, Noah. And that shaming offers a strange and fascinating context to a later attemptedpublic shaming­—the crucifixion of Jesus—that was, in fact, very different from Noah’s in very important ways. But first, let us consider Noah’s shaming.

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Genesis 8:20–9:17

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Genesis 8

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

Genesis 9

1And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

I love that old joke, “What do you get if you play a country song backwards?” Answer: You get your truck back, you get your dog back, you get your wife back, etc. Here is a little secret about Roni and me: we really love old sad country songs. For instance, we have a deep love for Vern Gosdin and his heartbreak songs as well as for a number of classic heartbreak songs from various other artists. One of my particular joys in life is hearing my wife sing aloud, say, Patty Loveless’ “Nothing But the Wheel” while driving down the road. One of our favorite sad country songs is Randy Travis’ song “Promises.” In 1987 Randy Travis released the song on his “Forever and Ever, Amen” album. It is a quintessentially sad country song. It is called “Promises” but, in truth, it should be called “Broken Promises” because the song is all about a guy who cannot keep his promises to his wife. The song begins by painting a picture of a guy who keeps leaving his wife to go party. He goes to disreputable places with disreputable people and drinks and carouses while his wife is at home. Then, when we reach the chorus, we find him at home begging for her forgiveness and making promises that he will not keep.

And I’ll make promises…
promises to change.
I’ll make her promises,
swear I’ll rearrange,
and I’ll start giving all the
love she needs, if only she
will stay.

You can feel the weightlessness of these frantic promises even when you hear this chorus for the first time. You can tell that this is a cycle and that his promises simply are not really going to be kept! Then he speaks of his wife’s assurances to forgive and stay with him and of the temporal nature of those assurances.

Once again, she’ll reassure me.
And I believe her love will cure me,
and I’ll fall asleep with tears on my face.
And I know she’s just a woman,
and her love can’t last forever.
And someday soon, I know
she’ll leave without a trace.

For, broken promises will tear her dreams apart.
Just token promises will someday
break her heart,
and for the last time, she’ll hold me
when I cry, and while I’m sleeping…
she’ll quietly say goodbye…

Promises with no weight and a love that will not last: these are the makings of a great country song. In life, however, these are painful reminders of the fickle nature of human resolve and affection. Yes, all too often human beings prove themselves adept at hurting one another with broken promises. Broken promises do indeed tear our dreams apart!

There is One, however, whose promises will never be broken. There is One whose word is secure until the end of time. I am speaking of God and of His promises. At the end of Genesis 8 and then through Genesis 9, we read of God’s promise to the whole human race through Noah. This promise is called “the Noahic covenant.” A covenant is a binding promise or agreement between either God and all of humanity or God and His redeemed people.

Let us consider this point for just a moment. Some covenant promises apply to the whole world. Some apply only to God’s redeemed people in the world. I want to show you that the Noahic covenant is a covenant, a promise, that God makes with the world at large. We can tell that it is with the whole world, and not only with God’s people, by looking at the wording and the nature of it. David VanDrunen rightly points out four things about the Noahic covenant that let us know it applies to the whole world.

First, the common kingdom established by the Noahic covenant concerns ordinary cultural activities.

Second, the kingdom established by the Noahic covenant embraces the human race in common.

Third, the common kingdom established by the Noahic covenant ensures the preservation of the natural and social order.

Fourth, the common kingdom established by the Noahic covenant is put into place temporarily.[1]

This is true. The Noahic covenant is for the whole world, not merely for God’s own people. We should therefore see it as a divine covenant established with Noah after the flooding of the earth that was intended to set parameters around the human race, the animal kingdom, and the whole world. It is, then, a kind of “rebooting” covenant, a covenant that reestablishes the ground rules. It does not offer eternal salvation. Rather, it offers temporal marching orders to Noah and, by extension, to all of Noah’s descendants, that is, to the entire world. By “temporal” I simply mean that the Noahic covenant is in effect so long as the world exists.

Let us consider, then, this amazing promise, this amazing covenant. When God decided to give promises to the remnant of humanity that survived the flood and through whom the earth would be populated, what did He say? I would like to propose that the Noahic covenant is a covenant of restraint but also a covenant of fruitfulness and faithfulness.

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Genesis 8:1-20

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Genesis 8

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of 150 days the waters had abated, and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen. At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had madeand sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. But the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. 10 He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. 11 And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.12 Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore. 13 In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. 14 In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried out. 15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. 17 Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” 18 So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. 19 Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark. 20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 

I want to propose that one of the most important words in all of scripture is found in Genesis 8. In many ways it is one of those summarizing words that captures numerous fundamental themes of the Bible and that touches on various crucially important aspects of divine truth. The word in Hebrew is זָכַר. Transliterated, it is zakar. We find it in the first phrase of our text: “But God remembered Noah…” Zakarmeans “remember.”

“How,” you might ask, “could such a very ordinary word be so fundamental and important as you claim?” To get at the answer to this question we need to understand two very important things about zakar:

  1. It is an action word and not merely a mental word.
  2. It is a covenant word having to do with covenant faithfulness.

Understanding these two aspects of zakar can help us see that we are not talking about remembrance in terms of “calling something to mind.” Rather, we are talking about God’s faithful remembrance of His covenant promises leading Him to save His people. From the human perspective we are talking about humanity’s faithful remembrance of God’s salvation of us leading us to worship. In other words:

God remembers and therefore saves.

Man remembers and therefore worships.

In these two movements of zakar—God’s downward remembrance of salvation and mankind’s upward remembrance of worship—we see the whole of life! This is why the concept of zakar is so very important. This plays out beautifully in Genesis 8.

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