Posted in Genesis

The God Who Keeps His Promises

Phil Congdon, NBBC, October 4, 2017

This month we commence the second stage of our study through Genesis, the story of Yahweh and His dealings with Abraham. This fourteen-chapter narrative begins in Ur, a pagan city, and ends in Canaan, a land which God promises to Abram and his descendants. This begins a series of events, experiences, and encounters that jeopardize God’s promise, take detours from the path God wanted them to go, and lead ultimately to the greatest test in God’s ‘school of faith’.

There are some awesome lessons to pick up on as we work our way through this epic story. One truth every Christian should embrace has to do with a life of faith. Anyone who knows anything about Abraham knows that he is a ‘hero of faith’ – in fact, the greatest one. In Hebrews 11, while most Old Testament greats get a passing mention, just two – Abraham and Moses – get extensive exposure. Moses gets seven verses, Abraham eight. But if you think that means that Abraham is always a paragon of virtue, you need to read Genesis 12-25 again! Here we find a man who is a champion of faithfulness one day, then a wavering doubter the next.
There is a principle of faith we can apply to our lives here. A life of faithfulness to God is not an immediate achievement; no one suddenly and totally begins living a life of faith. Abraham didn’t. Instead, God patiently and persistently led Abraham on a journey through his life, and only in the end did Abraham finally realize that nothing is ‘too difficult for the Lord’ (Gen. 18.14), and trust Him completely. You and I are on that ‘journey of faith’ – and will be throughout this life. When you experience doubts, or fall for Satan’s deceptions, remember: You are ‘on the way.’ God is not finished with you yet! God always keeps His promises.

In a way, Abraham’s life is an apt ‘blueprint’ of the way God works in all our lives. No, God is not going to make a great nation out of you or me! But just as God called Abram from a godless society, in a world where he was prosperous and content, so too God calls each of us who have responded to Him in faith to leave behind that which – in this world – seems to mean everything to us: In Luke 14, Jesus calls His followers to put Him before their families, possessions, and even our own lives! Why?

When Abram left Ur, he could not have known even a smidgeon of what God had planned for him and his descendants. The full wonder of God’s redemptive plan would only come into focus more than two thousand years later, when the Messiah, Jesus Christ, came into the world. In Him the promise made to Abraham was finally realized: In you all the families of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 12.3). The effects of Abraham’s life stretch into eternity.

God has a wonderful plan for our lives, too. In Eph. 2.10 we read that we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Did you get that? God has already ‘prepared’ good works for us to do on our journey of faith. He’s called us. We’ve responded in faith. Now our lives, as we live them for Him, can have an effect that stretches into eternity. Are you trusting Him to use your life? Is anything too hard for the Lord?

 

Posted in Genesis

Sermon Series this Spring at NBBC

Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, February 2, 2017

From February through May this year, we’re exploring the first eleven chapters of Genesis, God’s revelation of Himself in creation and the events which followed.  Today, many view Genesis 1-11 as myths – religious stories with little or no real historical truth.  We do not.  The text itself, and the way it is referred to by Jesus and other biblical writers, demonstrates that this is a record of the actual beginnings of human history.

Genesis 1-11 actually serves as something of a ‘prologue’ to the rest of the book of Genesis, revealing the sovereign power and holiness of God in creation and His reaction sin.  But also, ‘woven throughout the tapestry of the story,’ we see the thread of His grace and mercy, leading to redemption.  The ‘formless and void’ earth is redeemed, becoming a place of beauty and life.  Following the Fall, God works to provide a restoration of the broken relationship.  When sin becomes pervasive, God provides for a new beginning through Noah.  When the Babel rebellion necessitates the confusing of languages, resulting in the creation of nations, God’s ultimate redemption plan for a sinful humanity is revealed as He singles out the line of Terah, and we are introduced to Abram, who God will subsequently call to become the father of His Chosen People.  Through them the Redeemer of all mankind will come, bear the sins of the world, and finally and effectively rescue fallen creation.  As such, these chapters form the ‘seed-bed’ for the entire biblical story, culminating in the redemption of fallen creation, in the new heavens and new earth.

To get the most out of these studies together, why not start reading Genesis 1-11 on your own?  As you read, look for key words that describe God’s character, His passion, His holiness, and His power.  Truly, the stories in these chapters are a revelation of our God, and His will for our lives.  To prepare for this Sunday’s message, read Genesis 1.1-2.3.

Introductory Notes on Genesis:

As we begin our sermon series going through Genesis 1-11 this spring, these introductory notes provide a brief survey of four common ‘approaches’ to Genesis today, and my assessment of them.  There is also an overview of the literary structure, and an introduction to the first eleven chapters, which form a ‘prologue’ to the rest of the book.

Prolegomena

The study of Genesis has been burdened with more invasive approaches than any other genre in Scripture, almost always resulting in the virtual dissolution of its authority and veracity.  Prophecy, for example, is often attacked, but the options are straightforward: Interpret what is written with a literal, historical, grammatical (‘normal’) hermeneutic, or treat it as figurative or spiritualize it.[1]

But there are four approaches to Genesis which diminish its historicity and factuality.[2]  The literary-analytical approach (JEDP) sees Genesis as a collection of writings by different authors throughout Israel’s history, which were ‘edited’ into their final form in the fifth or sixth centuries B.C.

The form-critical approach examines the genre, structure, setting, and intention of each section to ‘reconstruct’ the original ‘tradition’ that is behind the text.  Scripture is not ‘divine revelation,’ but a reflection of the ‘evolution’ of ideas that developed over time.

The traditio-historical approach analyzes the compositional, historical, ideological, and psychological elements of the text to determine how it arose from ‘preliterary’ traditions.  Basically, old fables told around the campfire in prehistoric days evolved into biblical stories, with spiritual lessons thrown in.

The rhetorical-critical approach focuses on literary forms, key words, alliteration, and other devices which may signal what the writer sought to communicate.  While this kind of study can be helpful in discovering narrative and theological emphases in the text, it is sometimes used to ‘humanize’ the text, to the extent it is no longer viewed as factual history – or divine revelation, but rather the artful creations of ancient writers.

To sum up, any approach to Genesis which sees it as anything other than divinely-sourced ‘inspired’ revelation from God to man, recording true events which happened in time and space, reduces it to the level of a fairy tale, and makes any objective basis for gaining knowledge of God and His program for mankind impossible.  The creation story, the flood event, the tower of Babel, and essentially, the foundational history of Israel as God’s Chosen People, are all rendered ‘myth,’ having ‘religious value’ for those so inclined, but communicating no actual ‘true’ history, or ethical and moral revelation, which mankind is beholden to his Creator to heed.

Allen Ross concludes (and we agree):

Conservative scholarship rightly rejects the critical views that the stories were fabricated tales or idealized events told for some didactic purpose.  The narratives themselves give the impression that the events happened, and the rest of the Bible confirms this view.[3]

Structure/Outline of Genesis

The structure of the Genesis narrative is outlined by the key Hebrew word tôledôt (תֹּולֵדֹות), which is translated “account” in 2.4, but usually “generations” (5.1; 6.9; 10.1; 11.10; 11.27; etc.), as in the phrase, These are the generations of…  In more common vernacular, we might read this phrase as something like, “This is what became of…”  Each tôledôt section follows a ‘narrowing process’ – that is, the focus of revelation is honing in on an increasingly narrow subject.  Following the creation account, the focus turns to the creation of man, then the descendants of Adam, then the family of Noah, then his sons, then one of his sons – Shem, then one specific descendant of Shem, Terah, and on and on.

There are ten of these tôledôt sections, preceded by the initial section on creation.  A structural outline of Genesis is as follows[4]:

  1. Creation (1.1-2.3)
  2. Tôledôt of the heavens and the earth (2.4-4.26)
  3. Tôledôt of Adam (5.1-6.8)
  4. Tôledôt of Noah (6.9-9.29)
  5. Tôledôt of Shem, Ham, and Japheth (10.1-11.9)
  6. Tôledôt of Shem (11.10-26)
  7. Tôledôt of Terah (11.27-25.11)
  8. Tôledôt of Ishmael (25.12-18)
  9. Tôledôt of Isaac (25.19-35.29)
  10. Tôledôt of Esau, the father of Edom (twice) (36.1-8; 36.9-37.1)
  11. Tôledôt of Jacob (37.2-50.26)

Introduction to Genesis 1-11

While this is the structure that ‘moves’ the progression of the narrative forward, it does not reflect the content of the developing story.  Genesis 1-11 is the ‘prologue’ to the Book of Genesis, revealing the sovereign power and holiness of God in creation, His reaction to the fall and the spread of evil, culminating in the flood, His reaction to the rise of nations – a result of God’s division of mankind after their prideful rebellion against Him at Babel, and the singling out of Terah’s line, leading to the call of Abram.  Everything which follows in Genesis, and in the entire Pentateuch (and thus to the whole Old Testament, and ultimately to the end of Revelation), flows directly from the ‘headwaters’ of Genesis 1-11.

In these chapters, along with the revelation of God’s sovereignty as creator, and His holiness in judging evil, we discover ‘woven throughout the tapestry of the story’ the thread of His grace and mercy, leading to redemption.  The ‘formless and void’ earth is redeemed, becoming a place of beauty and life.  Following the Fall, God works to provide a restoration of the broken relationship.  When this fails and sin spreads, God destroys the world, but provides for a new beginning through Noah.  When the Babel rebellion necessitates the confusing of languages, resulting in the creation of nations, God’s ultimate redemption plan for a sinful humanity is revealed as He singles out the line of Terah, and we are introduced to Abram, who God will subsequently call to become the father of His Chosen People.  Through them the Redeemer of all mankind will come, bear the sins of the world, and finally and effectively rescue fallen creation.  As such, these chapters form the ‘seed-bed’ for the entire biblical story, culminating in the redemption of fallen creation, in the new heavens and new earth.

[1] Amillenialism (often ‘Covenant Theology’), Preterism, and ‘Replacement Theology’ all do this.  While they differ in the details of how biblical prophecy is fulfilled, they all treat future biblical prophecy as meaning something other than what the text literally says.

[2] See Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), pp.23-36.

[3] Ross, 39.  Also see his discussion in Chapter 3, “The Nature of Genesis,” pp. 50-64.

[4] Ross, 70.