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How the Promise Plays Out in Scripture

August 21, 2013 Leave a comment

I’ve been working on self-guided lessons for my church designed to walk people through some of the seminal moments in Scripture to help others acquire a stronger understanding of the big story of the Bible. I started the process of writing some lessons on the promise of God to Abraham and His descendants, then realized I didn’t really have much of a grasp on how that played itself out from Genesis 12 through Malachi.

God’s promise to Abraham, which is the promise God is still fulfilling through us, is as follows:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and youth 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 curse you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

With this promise in mind, I skimmed through the Bible from Genesis 12-Malachi, looking for reiterations of this promise, examples of this theme, and how this promise plays out in Scripture. I skipped Job because it predates the promise. I skipped Psalms because I suspected it had more variations on God revealing Himself to nations and Israel being a blessing than I wanted  to write down. One assumption I brought to the text is that revealing God to other nations is in itself a blessing to those nations. I’m sure I missed many examples of the playing out of the promise in Scripture, but here are some things I saw along the way.

Outsiders to Israel recognize YHWH and his power because of His blessing of Israel. Abimelech recognizes God’s blessing of Abraham and his son Isaac, becoming afraid of both, asking for treaties and asking them to leave the area because God’s blessing has made them a potential threat. Jethro sees Israel has been freed from Egypt and declares YHWH is greater than all gods and sacrifices to Him. Deuteronomy mentions that Israel is blessed beyond all nations and that other nations will see this blessing by God. The Queen of Sheba sees the kingdom of Israel God blessed Solomon with and blesses YHWH the Lord of Israel.

Sometimes God’s people put on display God’s power over creation in a way that outsiders see God. The Egyptian magicians, when they see what God does through Moses say that it must be the finger of God. Elijah blesses a widow with food that doesn’t run out and the saving of her son and the widow discovers YHWH is God. Naaman the Syrian is healed of leprosy and states that YHWH is God.

One way other nations recognize the power of Israel’s God is through YHWH’s destruction of Israel for their disobedience. I only found one reference to this in Jeremiah 22.8-9. I suspect there are more I didn’t see in my skim-through, but one is enough.

After Israel’s destruction, Isaiah makes the point multiple times that other nations will recognize YHWH as Lord when He restores Israel. They will see God’s holiness by bringing back the kingdom of His people. Both the destruction and the restoration are a part of God’s covenant keeping. His covenant faithfulness put on display will be His vindication to the outsiders of Israel. Moses’ makes two appeals to God to keep His promise to Israel in order that other nations might see God’s covenant keeping.

In Exodus 19 Israel is consecrated as a kingdom of priests. I don’t recall seeing this language used to describe Israel after this point. Thinking through it, a priest is a person who does the work of God to bring others to God. Israel had separate priests to bring them to God. Presumably, for Israel to function as a kingdom of priests they would be bringing people to God who were not priests – other nations. The way Israel was to do this includes, at least: worshipping YHWH alone, following their law which was distinct from other laws and so reflecting YHWH, inviting foreigners to participate in their worship of their God, proclaiming God’s freedom, and by putting God’s blessing on display.

There are a lot of stories in Scripture about Israel and people of Israel blessing other nations and people from other nations. I already mentioned a few of these above. Joseph blesses Potiphar of Egypt and the Pharoah with a dream interpretation. Joseph then goes on to bless many nations surrounding Egypt by storing up food and keeping them from starvation during a time of famine. Daniel interprets a dream to Nebuchadnezzar, saves the wise men in doing so, and the result is Nebuchadnezzar’s blessing of YHWH.

One part of the original promise is that those who bless Israel will themselves be blessed. We see this in the story of the widow and Elijah, the widow blesses Elijah with a meal and the widow is blessed with food and the life of her son. Ruth blesses her mother in  law with her presence and so is blessed with husband, child, and becoming a full member of the people of God. Rahab blesses Israel by keeping its spies secret and is blessed with being saved from death and integration into Israelite nation. Ebed-Malech the Ethiopian saves the prophet Jeremiah and is himself saved from the coming destruction of Jerusalem.

The ESV phrasing of the promise is interesting, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” I don’t know Hebrew, so I don’t know whether it should be translated “in” or “through” or something else. Regardless, one way the descendants of Abraham bless the families of the earth is by integrating them into their community. Stories of people who became a part of Israel pop up all over the Old Testament (Ruth, Uriah, Moses’ wife). Many of the commands to read the Law together and share in the Passover supper include a clause about foreigners in Israel participating in the reading of the Law and the meal. In doing so, these foreigners are integrated into the community and become a part of the nation God is blessing. People from all families of the earth become an Israelite and so are blessed by being “in” Israel.

The prophets contain one of the strongest discussions of how all the families of the earth will be blessed through Israel. This is the message of the future kingdom of Israel. These men speak about how: all flesh will know God, all nations will see salvation, ends of earth will bow before God, the proclamation of God’s freedom to the ends of the earth, all flesh will know God as savior, righteousness and praise sprouting among nations, etc. Truly the greatest way Israel could bless other nations is by bringing them salvation into a worshipful relationship with the one true God. As we know, this blessing to all nations is fulfilled in and is being fulfilled in Jesus.

If you’re interested in glancing at my list, that can be found here.

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Life As It Is

December 1, 2008 2 comments

This is what we have to deal with.  When things are rough, the temptation is to look toward life as it could be or life as we want it to be.  The desire is to divert attention from or ignore life as it is.  But that doesn’t get us anywhere.  We cannot ignore how things are; we cannot live in our dream of the future.   We can only live in the now with what we have, regardless of how painful the now is or how little what we have is.

This can be scary.  The circumstances of life as it is can be overwhelming.  There might be difficulties that seem impossible to overcome that have significant negative consequences if we do not overcome. Handling life head on is a tremendous undertaking that forces us to take tremendous responsibility for our own lives. It’s so much easier to ignore our most glaring faults and accept them as just a part of who we are, unchangeable, or minor character flaws that are okay to be ignored. It’s easier to procrastinate the work of transforming our lives by taking responsibility for our thoughts and actions. Ignoring responsibility or placing it on someone else is more emotionally simple and stable.

Dealing with life as it is forces us to deal with us as we are. This is frightening. We can’t pretend we’re someone else when we hold ourselves accountable for what we’ve done. I know I want to live in a dream world, pretending I’m my ideal self when I’m far from it. I want to minimize my flaws, accentuate my strengths, and find somewhere external to place blame for my big character flaws. It is all too rare that I take a brutally honest look at all of my worst qualities. I want to pretend I am already the person I want to be instead of admitting I’m far from “the Word made flesh,” instead I know the word of God, but in the actual life I live, I look a lot more like just another person in the world. I know a secret about you. There’s a part of you that is afraid to vulnerably reveal who you are right now to God, yourself, and others.

We have to humble ourselves. We have to come clean and lift the veil hiding our dirty selves. It’s okay that we thought our lives would be further along by now. It’s okay that we don’t have the money we thought we would, the education we hoped to have, the community we want, or the transformation that we thought that would have been accomplished in us by now. It’s okay that I messed up. It’s okay that you screwed up along the way and are not where you want to be and are not where you should be. Just because you sabotaged your own hopes and dreams by sin, sloth, and selfishness, doesn’t mean that there is no hope now. There is tremendous hope now for all that will not pretend to be someone they’re not or pretend to be better than they are. Unless you open yourself to the potential pain of failed expectations by being honest about what your life is and who you are, your future has not hope. God transforms us from where we are at, not from where we think we are or should be. We have to bring our darkness into the light in order to change ourselves and our lives. It will do no good to bring only those aspects of ourselves that are already light into the light because transformation can only happen when we humbly lay ourselves as we truly are before God.

Some Pondering About Intuition…

October 2, 2008 4 comments

I read into what people are saying.  On the phone, I hear and note the frequency and length of their pauses.  I hear voice intonation.  I notice the speed of their words.  I think about diction.  I mark overall volume in voice as well as variability in voice volume.  When we speak face to face, I not only notice things about their voice and the overall nature of the conversation, but I perceive body language.  I notice posture.  I consider level of eye contact as well as what points in the conversation they make eye contact and what points they shun it.  I notice their hand motions or lack of.  I see how close they are to me, when they back away and when they come closer.  I take all of this information, and indeed, probably more, and fit it into a system that helps me understand what a person is really saying and what lies behind what they are saying.  I do all this without thinking.

I’m not trying to impress anyone.  It’s not impressive.  Everyone does it.  That’s just what we do as humans.  We’re intuitive.  We naturally listen to unspoken words.  Well, I’m sure I had something else, but I guess I’m done… nope, I remember now.  The majority of people passively intuit during a conversation; they integrate nonverbal communication into how they interpret without thinking about it.  If any of the following sounds arrogant, sorry.

I seem to intuit more carefully and more accurately than some people.  Sometimes I move into an active mode of interpretation, where I not only take information about voice characteristics and body language in, but I remain actively aware of the information pieces and my natural interpretations of them.  To give an example: I am mentally aware that the person’s intermittent eye contact, trepid voice, and posture, in combination with what we’re talking about, means that they long to connect even though they are afraid to.  The point is, I notice the actions of the person, I notice my interpretation of what that means, and then am able to evaluate that interpretation based upon what is being said, what has been said, what I know about this person, and other cues that tell me something about what is really going on within.  Man, I’m writing a lot and not quite getting there.  I’ll try to just get there.  I actually have three separate ponderings to develop related to intuition

The first is about tricking people you’re interacting with.  For those who are acutely aware or choose to become acutely aware of how their own body language is being interpreted, they actually have the power to manipulate what others perceive to be true about them even if it is not.  Being aware of how people are responding to our nonverbal communication allows us to manipulate our nonverbal communication in such a way that it communicates something false about what is going on within us.  We can completely hide everything going on inside of us while making people feel like they know everything about us because we’re completely communicating that they do know everything about us even though it isn’t true.  Why do I even think about these things?  Because I’ve thought about doing these things.  I could.  I have.  I refrain from doing so now.  Scary possibility though, isn’t it?  To know nothing about the person you think you know everything about.

That brings mean to my next question.  When we intuit something, are we intuiting something  beyond nonverbal communication, or are we just passively processing information?  Is the conversational intuition we have merely about nonverbal communication cues?  Or when we “sense” something is true about a conversation, are we sensing something otherworldly?  I don’t know for sure the answers to these questions, but my initial suspicion is that we don’t have  an ability to intuitively sense anything other than what the person is physically manifesting.   If that is true, then our intuition is vulnerable to being foiled by those that would fool us.

Is there another way that we can know what is really going on with people when they are lying to us in every way possible?  I think so.  The answer is in the prodding of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus sees all truth.  He knows what is going on beneath this veneer of light that someone is putting forth.  If we have cultivated such a relationship with God that in the heat of these circumstances we can hear His quiet voice, we can see the reality of someone’s life even when they’re hiding it.  Of course, it is God’s choice what He would reveal, and certainly His decision to reveal it to us is not so that we know and can judge or gossip, but so that we can exhort the individual to bring the dark to light and incessantly demonstrate a love that is without condition.

Please feel free to answer any of the questions I’ve posed, and to answer differently than my superficial, brief thoughts.  Also, there’s another way we might be able to discern the reality of someone’s life – the connection of our spirits.  But my experiences with this seems to be in circumstances where either both parties are willing or one party has let his/her guard down and incidentally put their spirit out there to connect with.  An unwilling spirit may not connect, and then there would be no perception of reality.  Thoughts?

Sorry for the messiness of all this.  I wrote it in my hermeneutics class.  It’s completely unrelated.

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