For Everyone Series Goes OT

Just noticed on Amazon that the For Everyone Series made popular by N.T. Wright’s series on the New Testament is starting on the Old Testament. I have no idea how I missed this as it looks like Genesis came out in 2010. John Goldingay is authoring this series. Here is what they have out so far:

Genesis 1-16

Exodus & Leviticus

Joshua, Judges, Ruth

1 & 2 Samuel

1 & 2 Kings

1 & 2 Chronicles

If these are anything like their New Testament counterparts they will be inexpensive and very helpful. Has anyone read any of these?

Sodom and Gomorrah Excavated?

A very interesting read over at The Sacred Page about a recent presentation at the Society of Biblical Literature. The archaeologists believe they have discovered the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and hint at what they believe the archaeological evidence their shows happened to those cities.

Sodom and Gomorrah excavated

Free Genesis Bible Study Posted to the Bible Class Archive

Our Men’s class finished up Genesis last Wednesday night. I have posted the notes in the Bible class archive. This pdf covers all 50 chapters of Genesis in 17 lessons, 61 pages. Hopefully someone will benefit from these. Thanks also to Regan S who wrote two of the lessons in my absence.

Genesis Bible Class

Here is the updated summary of the Bible Class Archive’s free material:

  • 680 lessons
  • 2337 pages of material
  • 57 different series/topics

If you or anyone you know has material they would like to submit that people can download and use free of charge please point them my way. They can email me at – mattthewdabbs@hotmail.com Also, if you know any missionaries overseas that are in need of free material please point them to the Archive. Thanks.

I Cannot Do It…But God Can

A line from Genesis 41 really hit me last week and it has been on my mind. It is Genesis 41:15-16,

15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”  16 “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.'”

When Pharaoh tells you that you are to do something your first response is not supposed to be “I can’t do that!” it is supposed to be “Yes…it will be as you say.” But Joseph wasn’t under Pharaoh’s leadership and sovereignty. He was under God’s. That changed the way he understood the situation as it unfolded and put him in the proper position to allow God to use him.

I wonder how many times we fool ourselves into thinking we can do things that really can only be done because of the grace and empowerment of God. I wonder how many times I think I can teach this class or that, preach or lead something when I really should have the attitude of Joseph…these things can get done but not because I am able to do it myself…but God will make sure it happens. Going back to the previous post…if we want to be servants of God it takes dependence not independence. If we are going to be effective in ministry it is because God is behind it not because we are pushing it. If we want to be on the right track we have to pray for wisdom and discernment and not pick the route that seems best to us without praying to God for his leadership in the decision.

Why Is That Story There in the Bible? Judah and Tamar

Our men’s class has been studying Genesis. One of the big questions as you study through Genesis is why on earth is the story of Judah and Tamar stuck in Genesis 38? What makes the location of this story so strange is that it cuts the Joseph story right in half with no obvious connection. It doesn’t seem to advance the Joseph story. It seems like an unrelated aside that cuts away from Joseph, tells us something about Judah and then goes back to Joseph. If you took Genesis 39 out of Genesis you wouldn’t even miss it. The story would be seamless.

Some theories:
Some have proposed that Genesis 38 breaks away from the Joseph story to build suspense. It does and that could have something to do with why it is there. Another suggestion is that it gives us information about Judah’s descendants that will ultimately result in David and Jesus’ births. I think both of those things have something to do with why this story is told but I also think there is more to the placement of the story here than just those two things.

Robert Alter’s Theory:
In studying for this chapter I had a look back at Robert Alter’s “Art of Biblical Narrative” and he has an excellent exposition of the narrative function of this story as a part of the bigger story line and not just an isolated story with little to no real connection or way of moving the Joseph story along. Alter believes this story is actually extremely connected to the story line and is one essential (rather than disconnected) piece in moving it to the climax where Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and all is reconciled in Genesis 45.

So what is Alter’s theory? His explanation requires a small knowledge of Hebrew and I will spare you that part and give you the gist. It is all about covering things up and revealing things. In the preceding chapter, Genesis 37, the chapter ends with the brothers revealing Joseph’s bloody coat to their father Isaac. They allow Isaac to form the conclusion that Joseph was eaten by an animal and don’t reveal the fact that they had sold him into slavery. It is a grand deception, a coverup, a ruse. They are successful in their scheming. In Genesis 38 we learn that Judah had three sons. The oldest married Tamar. He died. The next one, Onan, refused to have children with her in his brother’s name. He died. The third was never given to her. Judah didn’t fulfill his obligation to provide for her or provide children for her through his lineage (presumably his sons). So Tamar tricks him into sleeping with him by disguising as a cult prostitute. He sleeps with her, believing her to be a prostitute. She secures some of his identifying person items as leverage that he will pay her. She becomes preganant with twins, one of which will become an ancestor of David/Jesus. When Judah learns that Tamar is pregnant he orders to her to be killed but she outwits him again by revealing his items, which identify him as the father of the children and make him just as guilty. Later on Joseph will also disguise himself to his brothers and his revealing of his true identity, much like with Tamar to Judah, will be a turning point in the story that advances the narrative and brings us closer to the promises of God being fulfilled.

It makes a lot more sense to me to show that a story/narrative is very purposefully located rather than just say it is random, isolated and disconnected from the surrounding narrative. What makes it even more clear in Alter’s book is how he uses Hebrew to show just how specific these and a few other connections really are. I just don’t have the time to put that here and don’t want to make anyone snooze too quickly either.

Jacob Meets Esau – Prayer and Planning

It had been several decades since Jacob had last seen his twin brother Esau. They hadn’t left on the best of terms, unless you think fleeing your twin because you think they are going to murder you is good. Jacob is returning home and knows he is going to have to go through Esau to get there. He divides his possessions in two just in case Esau and his band of 400 men attack at least one group might escape. Then he prays. He reminds God of the potential inconsistency of his own demise with God’s covenant promises,

9 Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, LORD, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’” – Gen 32:9-12

After wrestling with an angel and getting a new name (more on that later) Jacob makes another plan…send Esau so many gifts that either his heart will be softened and he will take Jacob back or else he will have so many animals in his possession that his 400 men will be too busy tending the sheep to fight. When Esau finally arrives and Jacob is face to face with him the encounter is not at all what Jacob expected. They are reunited peacefully, even in tears. Then the greatest irony of all, Esau offers to protect Jacob and his family! (33:15)

There are a couple of things I find helpful in this story. The first is that things rarely turn out as badly as we think. Next, God really does keep His promises. Third, we depend on God but we also take initiative. This doesn’t mean we think things will turn out well because of our power and ability but I also don’t think God wants us to sit on our hands and do nothing. You can do your best and still realize it all depends on God. Fourth and probably most significant, it is amazing how when life gets beyond our control it drives us to God in completely and total dependence. Rarely are the times our faith grows the most times of ease and comfort and yet we somehow think those are the times that are best for us. That is a hard lesson to learn and it is not that I pray for difficulty…but it is helpful to know that God is at work in the tough times and that in those times our character is formed to be more in line with God’s will for our lives (if we let Him 🙂

PS – After reading in a commentary that Jacob and Esau were about 97 years old at the time of this meeting, I really can’t read the story the same ever again…no wonder Jacob’s camp moved so slowly. It kind of makes the potential clash between brothers a strange sight. Jacob tries to his Esau with his walker…Esau blocks it with his cane. Kind of funny to think about.

Jacob Wept – Genesis 29:11

“While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 10 When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of Laban, his mother’s brother, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. 12 He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she ran and told her father.  13 As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things. 14 Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.” – Gen 29:11-4

At first glance Jacob’s weeping doesn’t seem to fit the story. He is looking for a wife. He finds her and he sits there and cries his eyes out. This is not how we would write the story but it is how the story went. If you read Genesis 28 it makes more sense. Jacob is sent out by his father Isaac to find a wife. He goes to find her. God appears to him and blesses him with the covenant blessing at Bethel. Jacob finds the kinfolk (where else are you going to find a wife in the old days, right?), and right after his mighty act of uncovering the well he bursts into tears.

I don’t think this was weakness on Jacob’s part. I know I am psychologizing the text quite a bit here but it is still interesting to me why he might have cried. In a world with no facebook, email, or cell phones…he flees for his life from his brothers wrath and travels to a place he has never been…away from his beloved mother and all that is familiar…and finally finds the people he is looking for. That was no easy task. That is a stressful task and even a terrifying one. Can you imagine walking to a distant land where you have never been trying to find a specific person with zero technology? I think I might shed a few tears myself.

What is more…God was with him. As so often happens with God’s promises the journey to their completion is not a stress-free zone but is often full of barriers, trials, and tests of our faith. In the end there is relief and things “click” into place where it all makes sense. You only understand that when the job is done and the fulfillment of God’s promise is obvious.

I love reading stories like Jacob and Joseph’s because they remind us that God is faithful even when things look pretty grim. The measure of God’s faithfulness is never how things appear on the surface. God’s faithfulness runs much deeper and wider and longer than that. It is a lesson that is hard to remember and even harder to learn in the first place.

The Jacob Discrepancy

I am not talking about the guy on lost. I am talking about the guy in Genesis who was one of the patriarchs and who got the name Israel after wrestling and angel. I have had a hard time understanding Jacob over the last few years. First there is the Jacob side of the equation:

  • His name means deceiver.
  • He trips up his brother even at birth.
  • He gets his brother’s birthright by near extortion.
  • Jacob tricks his father into giving him the patriarchal blessing.
  • Then his father gives him the covenant blessing.
  • He wrestles an angel and demands another blessing!
  • To top things off, Jacob swears an oath to God that if God will do everything God said he would do Jacob would give him a tenth in return.

Then there is the God side of the equation:

  • God appears to him in a way that we hadn’t seen since Abraham.
  • God blesses him
  • God give him a covenant blessing.
  • God makes his lineage the lineage of the covenant when by right it would have been Esau.

The apparent discrepancy between those two lists is what has thrown me in my study of Jacob. I can’t get over the fact that he seems like such a scoundrel. I have asked myself on several occasions why would God use such a deceiver and trickster in His master plan? A couple of things hit me this time around that may help answer that question that I would like to share.

First, the reason God did use such a trickster in his master plan may be the same reason Rahab and Tamar share with him the lineage of Christ. God uses the foolish to shame the wise and shows that the good He is able to do in our lives in not dependent upon our getting it right every time.

Second, Jacob didn’t have 2000 pages of scripture and the end of the story detailed out in front of him to put his faith in. He just had the promises and those promises had been on the table for some time but they still didn’t possess the land (Gen 28:4).So this is a story about faith and God is able to work with him to build his faith even though he doesn’t perfectly understand all God is up to.

Third, the New Testament also makes it clear that Jacob is the exemplar of God’s sovereign choice,

10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

16 It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”

– Romans 9:10-16

These three things help me to see there is more to Jacob’s story than meets the eye. It reminds me that God can and will work through my imperfections to bring Him glory, build my faith, and pass on the faith lineage to others. This story now makes me more and more thankful for God’s grace and sovereignty.

Seeking God’s Guidance in All Things

I was just reading Genesis 24 and one thing I kept noticing is how much Abraham and company acknowledge God in the process of finding a wife for Isaac:

  1. They swear an oath before the Lord about it (24:3)
  2. Abraham recalls God’s promise (24:7)
  3. Abraham recalls God’s orders in regard to a wife for Isaac (24:7)
  4. The servant prays to the Lord for guidance on his journey (24:12)
  5. The servant praises God for answering his prayer (24:27)
  6. The servant acknowledges God’s guidance (24:27)
  7. Laban acknowledges God’s blessing on the servant (24:31)
  8. The servant acknowledges God’s blessings on Abraham (24:35)
  9. The servant tells Rebekah’s family the story of his journey and purpose and keeps bringing up God’s involvement.
  10. Last, the servant realizes that he has been successful (24:56)

This is a reminder to me to involve God in all of my plans in a much more obvious way. This is not about asking God to bless what I have already decided to do or getting God on board with my plans. This is about asking God to guide me and help me understand what His plans are. Too often I think seeking God’s guidance is a one time deal. Genesis 24 reminds me that seeking God’s counsel is not a one time event but is a continuous process.

6 Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.  8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.

– Isaiah 55:6-12

Promise and Problems: The Story of Abraham

I am in the early stages of teaching through Genesis and one of the things that is really hitting home is the pairing of tension in Abraham’s life balanced with God’s promises. We read in 11:30 that Sarah is barren but we read in 12:2-3 that Abraham will be the father of many nations. He goes to the promised land like God told him to in Genesis 12:7 and arrives their safely but a famine drives him to Egypt…not the land God promised. So he has to leave the P.L. He goes to Egypt and ends up fearing for his life because Sarah is beautiful and he fears they will kill him. In the meantime the Egyptians greatly bless Abraham (12:16) with great possessions. He gets to go home but when he gets there he has problems with Lot so they separate. He then has to come and rescue Lot and runs into Melchizedek who blesses him and makes his name great, just like God promised would happen (Gen 14:18-21). On and on it goes…trouble and tension keep brewing and God’s promises keep shining right through and things keep working out.

Life really is like that if you know how to look for it. Abraham’s life is such a healthy reminder that God’s promises aren’t always answered in a nice, neat fashion. God wants us to have faith and often faith is best seen and grown through trouble and seeming challenges to God’s promises. The question is whether or not we will continue to believe what God has promised even when it seems impossible from a worldly point of view. 2 Corinthians 4:14-18 says,

14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.  16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

That first verse implies we are going to die. If you are going to be raised you must first be lowered. But God is graceful in giving us new life even though outwardly all the things that are seen are trying to tell us God will not keep His promises we know inwardly what the truth of the matter is. God is faithful and God will bring an eternal glory that will surpass anything we have ever known. So that is what we look for and when we do we will see it, maybe not in an instant but eventually it will shine through just like God did for Abraham.