To Abraham

Genesis 11:10-32
We have come to the end of a very important part of Genesis with this post. Just to let us know where we are, we are finishing the first eleven chapters today. That might seem like we are going to spend forever in Genesis, but that is not true. The first eleven chapters are quite a bit more dense than the rest of the book. Many sermons from now on will take a whole chapter at a time.

The first eleven chapters are all about God creating a world, that world falling into sin, and God judging the world, bringing grace along with judgment. Now today we are going to transition into the story of Abraham. Moses does this by way of a genealogy. Now, we have seen this kind of genealogy before, but this one is a little different, and in this case, the differences are wonderful for us.

In chapter 5, we will remember that the genealogy there started with the age of the patriarch when he had his first son, then it would say how many years after that he live, and mention the fact that he had other sons and daughters, and then he would die. There were ten generations from Adam to Noah. We saw that Enoch was in the seventh position, which is a position of honor in genealogies, as is the tenth spot in a genealogy. You will remember that there are two kinds of genealogies: those that go from father to son to son to son, and those that branch out. We have seen both of these kinds of genealogies in Genesis. The table of Nations in chapter 10 is a branching kind of genealogy, whereas our passage today is a straight-line genealogy from father to son. In this case, no special honor is given to the seventh spot, but there are ten generations, just as in chapter 5, and the tenth generation is something special: Abram is in the tenth generation. The chapter 5 genealogy ends in three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Our genealogy here has ten generations, ending in three sons also: Abram, Nahor, and Haran. We can see that the Lord saw the wickedness of the world increasing over these ten generations, and at the end of the first ten generations, God judges the world. At the end of the second ten generations, God also acts, but this time with grace in the life of Abraham.

There is another very wonderful difference between chapter 5 and chapter 10. The chapter ten genealogy does not mention the fact that the patriarch died. In chapter 5, Moses wanted us to remember that we are mortal, and that all mankind dies, except for that bright spot in the genealogy, Enoch, who does not die. Here in this chapter, none of the patriarchs are said to die. Of course, they did die. But the fact that Moses does not mention that fact is significant: this is the line of promise, through which death will meet its own end. The promise of defeating death goes through the promised seed of Adam and the woman. That promise will eventually end in Jesus Christ.

But this is only the end of a long process that continues in our passage. Notice several things about this genealogy: the lives of the patriarchs get shorter and shorter. This fulfills what God had said about the lives of mankind in Genesis 6:3: “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

And again, there are some interesting overlaps in ages. Seth outlives his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson Abram by 35 years. Shem’s son Arpachshad dies when Abraham is 148 years old. Shem outlives all his descendents except Eber all the way to Isaac. Arpachshad’s sons Shelah outlives Abraham as well by 8 years. Shelah’s son Eber, the father of the Hebrews, also outlives Abraham. Peleg is the first descendent not to live all the way until Abraham is born. That was in the days when the Tower of Babel was built. Immediately after the Tower of Babel incident, the lives of people got much shorter. In fact, Peleg only lives a little more than half the number of years that his father Eber lived. God does this for the benefit of mankind.

Previously, mankind was allowed to live so long that they could become unbelievably wicked. Now, they will not live so long, and thus have to remember that they are mortal, and that their lives are like a drop in the bucket compared to eternity. We have to remember that in our own time as well. Especially young people have to remember that they are not indestructible. It is quite possible to live your life ignorant of the fact that you will die. We try to shove off that realization as long as possible. We only remember when someone dies, and then we get the uncomfortable realization that we could be next. We should remember our mortality more often, so that we will rely on God’s grace more often.

Notice something else that is interesting. Most of the patriarchs have children when they are about 30 years of age. That is not true of Abraham’s father Terah. Probably this is because Moses wants to tell us that the chosen family will always have trouble conceiving children. Every single one of the patriarchs has a barren wife. Sarah is barren, Rebekah is barren, Rachel is barren. They are all needy people. Barrenness was viewed as a sort of death in the Ancient Near East. Without children, you weren’t alive. That explains a lot of things in the OT. Rachel said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die.” What she really means is, “Make me alive, because right now, I’m dead.” Hannah was willing to completely give up her first-born son if the Lord would grant her request. Elizabeth in the NT was barren for a long time, until the Lord visited her, and granted her conception. Barrenness was death in that time period.

So being given a child was just like being resurrected from the dead. When God gives Sarah a child, the Lord is giving her new life. The same thing happens with Rebekah and Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth. They are given new life. It points to the resurrection from the dead of our Lord Jesus Christ. That gives us new life from the dead. No longer are we spiritually barren. But we who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior have received that new resurrection life within us.

We are in a position of deadness ourselves. We are just like Sarah, of whom it is said, “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.” We do not have the Holy Spirit in us. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We have no life in us. We are not merely sick. We are dead. Then God comes within us and makes us alive again. He gives us a new heart, a heart of flesh and not a heart of stone. God gives us the Holy Spirit. New life is conceived within us, just as God overcomes barrenness in the patriarchal family. The fruit of that in our lives is good works, just as the fruit of God’s work in Sarai was a new baby, a rather obvious fruit. We then are called to recognize that nothing that we do is going to make us alive, but we must trust in God as Abraham and Sarah did, in order to make us well.

So where does that leave us right now? It leaves in in a wandering situation. Terah and his family are going on a pilgrimage. The trouble is that they know where they are going, but never get there in Terah’s lifetime. They have to wait on God. Moses writes this in a way that any Israelite coming out of the Exodus would understand: namely, that Abraham’s position is exactly like the Israelites wandering in the desert. They have been saved from their spiritual barrenness, saved out of the land of Egypt, but they have not come to the promised land yet. This is the same situation that the church is in right now. We have been saved from death and sin, but we do not yet have our glorified bodies, and we do not yet live in the new heavens and the new earth, which is our promised land. Moses writes this to encourage the Israelites, because Abraham does eventually arrive at the promised land, just as the Israelites will eventually enter and take possession of the promised land. But they get discouraged while they are wandering. They sin, and get themselves into all sorts of trouble. They forget about God and His deliverance, just like we do. They grumble and complain, just like we do. The call is for us to remember what god has done in bringing us from death to life, remember how God has preserved us in our wilderness wanderings, and remember that God has saved a place for us in the new heavens and the new earth. Hebrews 11:8-10 says this: “And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, for he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” May we be just like Abraham in his faith.

The Babble of Babel

Genesis 11:1-9
Some people say that England and America are two countries separated by a common language. If that is true of two countries that both speak English (although our English friends would disagree that we speak English), how much more is confusion possible when there is not a common language. But there was a time when confusion of tongues was nonexistent. “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.”

We have seen last time just how divided the world is by the time Moses writes. There are different nations all over the place. Seventy nations, in fact. Now we come to the explanation of how all that diversity came about. In other words, chapter 11 happened before chapter 10. It is important to ask “Why did Moses write it this way?” The answer is that the ambition of the people of Babel looks pretty stupid after you have read chapter 10.

One interesting fact that we must keep in mind is that Noah is still alive at the time of the tower of Babel. In 10:25, we learn that the division of the world took place in the lifetime of Peleg. Noah outlives Peleg by 40 years, and most likely the tower occurred early in Peleg’s life. Therefore, Noah would have continued to be that preacher of righteousness that he had been before the Flood, preaching to all his grandsons and great-grandsons, etc. One writer estimated that if each family had eight children, assuming about 30 years for the start of each new generation, then there would be 30,000 people at the time of the tower of Babel. Nimrod was also alive at this time, since he founded Babylon, and went off to found Nineveh after the dispersion at Babel. Noah and Nimrod were opponents, then, in this whole affair. This is another example of the combat of the two seeds that we have seen already quite a few times, and will continue to see all through Genesis. Here at the Tower of Babel, we see a very strong statement of the seed of the serpent. Babel’s sin is the sin of Adam, ultimately a sin of idolatry, wanting to take God off His throne, and put ourselves there instead.

Our passage forbids us to try to achieve any kind of world unity that leaves God out of the picture. In Daniel 4:30, Nebuchadnezzar boasts about his power in just this way. This is the kingdom that he built, and that his might and power accomplished. That very day God took away the kingdom from him until he acknowledged that God gave power to rulers on this earth.

Now, there is nothing like this story in any of the stories of the Ancient Near East (ANE). The reason for that is that the ANE thought in quite a different direction than Israel did. People believed that building such buildings as these could get them in touch with the gods. The Babylonian version of this building is called a ziggurat, like the picture given above. A ziggurat is like a pyramid, only it has stairs going around the outside, climbing all the way to the top. It has seven floors, representing the seven planets and the gods that go along with those seven planets. The inside of the ziggurat is not hollow like the pyramids, but is instead filled in with dirt. On the top of the ziggurat is a temple, representing the entrance into heaven itself. It was thought that if a person climbed that ziggurat, he could have an entrance into heaven. Babylonians believed that the gods built such structures, not men. As such, ziggurats were a gateway to the gods. In fact, that is what the name “Babylon” meant in the Babylonian tongue. It is highly ironic that the Babylonians wanted to build something that resulted in having a gateway to heaven (Babel), but all they got was what the name meant in Hebrew: confusion. It was the Hebrew definition of Babel that won out in the end, not the Babylonian.

Babel was a sign of human rebellion. That rebellion showed itself in two ways: by trying to get to heaven in another way than God had commanded, and by misusing God’s good gift of language. Language had been given as a gift to mankind in order that man might communicate with one another, and mankind misused that gift by trying to put one over on God, the giver of the gift.

God had commanded mankind to multiply and to fill the earth. That is something they were not doing. In fact, they fear to do that. In verse 4 we see the real motivation of the builders: “let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Notice that they do not ask God about this project. They know that it is rebellion against God, and so they attempt this building project on their own. As Psalm 127 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” That is certainly true here. They start without God’s approval, and so they will end without God’s mercy. This provides us with a great contrast: in chapter 12 verse 2, we see God saying to Abraham, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great. In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Notice that Babel does their thing on its own, whereas for Abraham, God does it. Notice that Babel wants to make its own name, whereas for Abraham God will make his name great. Notice that Babel wants to do this for itself, whereas Abraham is to be a blessing for others. The contrast between Abraham and Babel could not be made any clearer than that.

So the people of Babel make bricks, and they burn the bricks. That means a relatively stable building material. There were no stones in this area of the Middle East, and so one had to use sand, straw and water to make bricks. This is exactly the same kind of bricks that the Israelites had to make later. But in Israel, there were plenty of stones. Stone is a superior building material to brick, because stone is not so brittle. That is the significance of the end of verse 3: they had brick instead of stone (like the Israelites had). They also had bitumen instead of the better binder mortar. They had tar instead of mortar.

In verse 4 we have the motives for what these people are doing, as we said before. They want to build this skyscraper in order that they might have a name for themselves. They want to be remembered for something. Lots of people are like this. The heroes of old, in Genesis 6 were men of renown, literally men of name. Pharaoh wanted to build towers very much like the Babylonians. He made the Israelites build the bricks. He did this because he feared that the Israelites would multiply and overpower the Egyptians. People today build many empires for themselves, whether farming, or industrial, or religious, or any number of areas. People want to be famous. That is what “having a name for themselves” means. These kind of people want to build their empire up to the heavens to defy death and God. They want to be God themselves. “There are many people even today who in imitation of them want to be remembered for such achievements, by building splendid homes, baths, porches and avenues. I mean, if you were to ask each of them why they toil and labor and lay out such great expense to no good purpose, you would heart nothing but these very words. They would be seeking to. Ensure that their memory survives in perpetuity and to have it said that ‘this is the house belonging to so-and-so,’ ‘this is the property of so-and-so.’ This, on the contrary, is worthy not of commemoration but of condemnation.” Chrysostom. You really have to wonder sometimes at the motives of those people who want to build the tallest building in the world. Are they not doing the very same thing, and for the very same reasons? Now, this story is not saying that cities are bad in and of themselves. Indeed, the story is really saying that any empire we would want to build apart from God is doing what the tower builders were doing.

One of the motives here recorded is that they did not want to be scattered. As we have seen, that is resistance to God’s will to multiply and fill the earth. There is a kind of unity that God wills in His Word. That is the unity of Jesus Christ. There is only one way to climb to heaven, and it isn’t by doing it ourselves, but rather riding on the back of Jesus Christ, who has gone through the heavens. That is the only unity that we can have today. We cannot have peace, for instance, through the United Nations. They are trying to build a foundation of peace without having God build the foundation on top of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone of the church.

That is why God laughs and mocks all attempts to climb to heaven on our own. Look at verse 5. God has to come down from heaven even to be able to see this paltry little building that man built (not the gods). God does not come down because He is near-sighted. Rather, it is because He dwells so far off from us that there is no way this puny little building will ever reach Him. Isaiah 40:22 says this: “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.” These grasshoppers can try all they want to build a temple. But it will never even begin to approach the grandeur of heaven and earth. Now, God takes this project seriously, even if Moses does not. Moses mocks the Babylonians and their puny efforts. But God is concerned about humanity. He does not want them to achieve complete independence. Understand here that God does not feel threatened by the tower of Babel. God is not at a loss as to how to deal with these people. Rather, God is concerned that the builders will try to achieve everything themselves, such that they forget God entirely. What God did was really an act of grace. People are by definition dependent on God. If they try to throw off that dependency, they will destroy themselves. So God is preventing them from destroying themselves. And so God did something better than to merely knock down the tower, which was one possible response. That would only have been a temporary solution to the problem. Instead, God did something more permanent, though not totally permanent, as we will see. God confused their language. One day, minding his own business (and not God’s), one worker wakes up one morning to find that he is watching a foreign movie with no sub-titles!

What God is saying here is that God is the only one who can determine where the gate to heaven is. That gate is Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” We cannot see God, except through Jesus. We cannot communicate with God or speak God’s language, unless we believe in Jesus Christ. One of the many reasons why Christ came to earth to save sinners is so that these boundaries between nations could be broken down, and a new unity achieved by God. It is called the church. As a down-payment on that complete unity, God gave the Holy Spirit to the church at Pentecost. Pentecost was a reversal of the tower of Babel. Instead of everyone being confused by one another’s foreign language, everyone at Pentecost was able to hear the Gospel in his own language. Jesus had commanded his disciples to scatter over the face of the earth, and bring unity in Jesus Christ through preaching and making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Great Commission spells the end of the tower of Babel syndrome. That is our call. We are to end that tower of Babel syndrome. Zephaniah 3:9-11 says this: “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering. “On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.” We are not build castles in the air, trying to reach heaven. That means we are not to try to build a kingdom here on earth, whether it is by building a farm empire, or building a reputation in some way, or by stealing from others what does not belong to us. If only we would be concerned about God’s name, then we would not be so concerned about our own. The irony is that when we do that, God gives us a new name in heaven, written on a stone, one that shall never be forgotten. We can only get it by belonging to Jesus Christ, and finding our identity there.

Now picture the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband. There is only one language in the new Jerusalem. All will speak it. Only then will the effects of Babel be completely reversed. That is what we are waiting for. We must join in the city of God, not the babble of Babel.

Acts

There are very few oustanding commentaries on this book, especially compared with the riches that are about to come out in the next ten years or so. Even so, there are a few good ones.

First-rate: Barrett (probably the single best), Alexander, Bruce, Fitzmyer, Haenchen, Marshall, Witherington, Larkin, Johnson, Longenecker. Get also the Marshall edited volume Witness to the Gospel. One should also get Dennis Johnson’s book The Message of Acts.

Second-rate: Conzelmann, Willimon, Polhill, Fernando, Gloag (op), Pelikan

Third-rate: Blaiklock

Forthcoming: Bock (BECNT), Green (NICNT), Porter (NIGTC), Keener, Longenecker (revision), Pervo (Herm), Walton (WBC), Petersen (PNTC), Holladay (NTL)

Conservative: Alexander, Bruce, Larkin, Longenecker, D. Johnson, Polhill, Fernando, Gloag, Blaiklock

Moderate: Barrett, Fitzmyer, Marshall, Witherington, Johnson, Willimon, Pelikan

Liberal: Haenchen, Conzelmann

The City of Man

Genesis 10
Saint Augustine wrote a book called “The City of God.” In that book he compared and contrasted two cities that have always vied with each other throughout history. These two cities have always been opposed to each other. They have always sought to undermine the other. They can never be reconciled to each other. These two cities are the city of man and the city of God. For us farmers, we can call it the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of Jesus. The issues are black and white between the two of them. There is no middle ground. Augustine wanted people to recognize that they had to take sides. If a person has not made a decision to be in the kingdom of Jesus, then that person is still a member of the kingdom of Satan. Today we will learn about the city of man, or the kingdom of Satan.

We have now finished with the story of Noah. The Flood is over. We have seen that sin survived the Flood through Noah and his son Ham. We even saw the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent fighting again, in the persons of Shem and Japheth on the one hand, and Ham on the other hand. These are the beginnings of those two cities about which Augustine was talking.

And now we come to a rather difficult text. There are so many names. Some of them sound like insects! You know, you have the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, and the termites! What are we to make of all this confusion of people? There is a message for us in all of this information. The first point for us to take to heart is that God is sovereign over all the nations of the world. There is not a single nation over which God does have complete control. In the entire ANE, there is nothing quite like this list of nations. None of the ANE lists have a complete list of nations, all of which come from just one man. The nations of the world are united in this respect: they are all subject to God’s rule. We see in the book of Daniel, for instance, how God directs the course of nations so that His people receive the benefit from it. In Esther, we see that “coincidences” are not really by chance, but God directs the sleeplessness of the king, for instance. Even though God’s name is not mentioned once in that entire book, God is behind everything. Ultimately, Jesus’ command to go out to all nations and make disciples is the complete statement of God’s rule over all nations. Every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth. All nations are subject to God’s rule.

All nations are also subject to God’s blessing. We see here that the command to multiply and fill the earth was taken seriously by all of these nations. God gave to Noah and to his sons the very same command that He had given to Adam in the garden. And now, even after such a complete judgment as the Flood, God still wanted mankind to fulfill the original command to fill the earth with the image of God in mankind. But that command was also a blessing. In giving that command, God was also giving to mankind the ability to fulfill that command. So all nations are subject to God’s blessing as well as to His rule.

I am not going to go through every single name in this list and comment on it. That has been done by many people before me. I want us rather to direct our attention to the most important things that we can learn from the passage. This passage is divided up into three parts, according to the three sons of Noah: Japheth takes up the first 5 verses. Ham takes up the next section from verse 6 through verse 20. The descendents of Shem take up verses 21-32. We have see one important thing already: God is sovereign over all nations, both by His rule and by His blessing.

The second thing we need to see here is that Israel per se is not mentioned at all. Isn’t it interesting that, in a table of nations that was meant to be fairly comprehensive, no mention is made of the “most favored nation” of all: Israel? Only a hint is here of Israel: in verse 24-25 Eber is mentioned. This is the root of the word “Hebrew.” Moses wants us understand two things that follow from this important omission: God’s purposes for the world are bigger than just Israel. Israel always had a tendency to look down on all the countries around them, because they were the chosen nation. In fact, they would often call someone from another nation a dog, or some other kind of unclean animal. In Deuteronomy, Moses again and again tells the Israelites that it was not because Israel was greater than any other nation that God chose to have mercy on them. In fact, Israel was the smallest of all nations. But Israel kept on forgetting this fact. They kept on thinking that it was because of their might and power that they had acquired the promised land. Eventually, because Israel had forgotten who was really God, they were ejected from the promised land. So Israel was supposed to be a blessing to the nations, and instead they sat on their laurels. We are tempted to do that, aren’t we? We want to tend to those in our midst, without really thinking of those people out there who need our help.

It is interesting that there are seventy nations mentioned here. Seventy is an important number. It is the number of descendents of Jacob that go down to Egypt. It is the number of disciples that Jesus sends out two by two in Luke 10. Seventy is the number of completeness. All the nations are represented here in Genesis 10. The sons of Jacob that go down to Egypt represent God’s blessings on the people of Egypt. Israel was always supposed to be a light to the Gentiles. That is exactly what Luke means in chapter10 when Jesus sends out 70 disciples to spread the gospel. They are the new Israel that is supposed to be a light to the Gentiles.
In Acts 17 in the speech that Paul gives to the philosophers on Mars Hill, he says, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” So what Paul is saying here is that God scattered the nations in order that they might feel their way toward God and find him. But they cannot without the light of the Gospel. Paul says that God now commands everyone everywhere to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth.
In all of this, we can see that the city of man is alive and well. They are those who reject God. Even in the reaction to what Paul says, we can see this. Some mocked Paul when they heard about the resurrection from the dead. Those were the city of man people. However, others wanted to hear Paul again about this. Those that repented of their sin were those who belonged to the city of God. There is this struggle that is going on constantly.

When we deal with people who are not like us, how do we react? Do we say that they cannot be a part of our fellowship, because they are different? Paul also says that there is neither Jew nor Greek, for all are one in Christ Jesus. Do we look down on other races? Especially, do we look down on African Americans, or Native Americans? If someone comes to faith from one of those races, they have the same right to be in our church as any other Christian does. We cannot exclude them. Racism is not to be present in the Christian church. Nations are divided by sin, but are united when people come to Christ. That is the only way that nations can stop warring against each other. It is the only way that our missionary focus can remain on track.

Ultimately, the one man in whom the city of man came to its fullest expression is Nimrod. We read about him in verses 8-11. Nimrod was three things: a hunter, a ruler, and a builder. But all of this he did “before the Lord.” In this context, with Nimrod’s name meaning “rebel,” the phrase “before the Lord” probably means something negative like “in God’s face.” Nimrod’s power came by personally violent means, in contrast to how Israel got its power, which was from God. In a way, Nimrod represents the Antichrist. He is the ultimate leader of the rebellion against God. He is the leader of the city of man. He is in opposition to God, and to God’s people. Notice here that Nimrod built Babylon, or Babel, as the text says. Probably, Nimrod was a ruler of Babel when the tower was built. Therefore, we are to understand that Nimrod is not a positive figure in Scripture, but a negative one. Nimrod is against God. He was a very impressive man, though. He built not only Babel, but also Erech, an important ancient city, Accad, from which the Accadian culture spread, all of these in the land of Shinar, or Sumer. He also built Nineveh. That is a very impressive list of cities. They ultimately point to the one city of man that Nimrod built, symbolized by the tower of Babel. This was mankind trying to take God off His throne and put himself in God’s place.

Nimrod did not succeed, as we will see next week. Instead, God’s people succeeded. Ultimately, Jesus Christ would come to build a city, the new Jerusalem. The city of man would not prevail against the city of God. The city of God will eventually come down out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband.

The question for us is: to which city will we belong? Remember, there is no middle ground. Don’t put off membership in the city of God. Don’t wait until the city of man is destroyed, and you remain in it. The story that John Bunyan tells of the Pilgrim’s Progress is a story about a man from the City of Destruction, which is the city of man. He has to leave the City of Destruction before that city is actually destroyed. That is what we are to do. We are to repent of our sin, of our belonging to the city of man, and instead put our trust in Jesus Christ. As Paul says in Hebrews, “For Abraham was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” We must trust in God by trusting in Jesus, who is the chief cornerstone of that city.

If we have put our trust in God, then we have to realize how the city of man still affects us. Do we still do the things of the city of man? Do we want citizenship in heaven, but still want to cling to the perks of being a member of the city of man? Do we still want to hang on to our sin? If our membership is truly transferred from the city of man to the city of God, then we will need to make sure that our conduct measures up to the standards of the city of God. That means living a Spirit-filled life in obedience to the commandments of God. It means that we live as children of the light. The children of darkness do the deeds of darkness, which are sexual immorality, debauchery, witchcraft, envy, greed, slander, gossip, drunkenness, idolatry, bad language, profaning the Sabbath, hate, murder, lust, and any number of other sins, though that list is fairly comprehensive. Instead, we are to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, any neighbor in the whole world. We are to have the fruit of the Spirit. Live as true citizens of the city of God. That is our call.

Forthcoming Commentaries

Here is a great site, respresenting an unbelievable amount of work by Jeremy Pierce, who has very helpfully updated some of my information on forthcoming commentaries. If you want to know what’s coming out, go there.

What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor?

Genesis 9:18-29
Some of us might be wondering why I am preaching on this scandalous text. Why not rather skip it, and go on to something less provocative, like the genealogies of chapter ten. The answer is, “Read the rest of the sermon before you make up your mind.” “ALL Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” All Scripture means this Scripture as well. This passage of Scripture is useful for us. If we think that we should ignore it, then we really do not have a high enough view of Scripture. There are many things about this passage that are mysterious. I hope to clear up some of these mysteries without giving offense.

Our passage starts out by making a point about the three sons of Noah. ALL of humanity comes from Noah. This is explicitly stated in verse 19: “the people of the whole earth were dispersed from these.” There is no people group on earth that did not come from Noah and his three sons. This contradicts directly what many people think about humanity. Many people think that not everyone came from Adam and Noah. They deny the unity of the human race. Scripture is very clear about the implications of the unity of the human race. Just as we all sinned in Adam, as Romans 5 says, so also Jesus Christ redeemed a new humanity for Himself. But if humanity is not unified in its origin, then Christ could not have died for the sins of the world. Christ died for people who had sinned in Adam. Christ was a “federal head,” just as Adam was. A federal head means someone that represents other people, much like a representative in our government. The decision a representative makes is the decision that the people who elected the representative make. So also, when Adam sinned, he made that decision for the entire human race. So also, when Christ obeyed, He obeyed for the new human race that is to be found in Christ by faith. If all humanity did not come from one man, then this kind of representation would be impossible. This kind of representation is vital for understanding the incident in Noah’s tent, because Moses is asking this question, “Did sin survive the Flood?” The answer, of course, is “yes.” Therefore, sin will be passed on to all of Noah’s descendents. We all sinned in Adam, and we all sinned in Noah.

Moses asks the question whether Noah is really that man that Lamech hoped he would be. You remember in Genesis 5:29, Lamech says about Noah, “Our of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” Lamech hoped that Noah would be the one to reverse the curse that God had placed on the ground, and on Adam for his sin. Lamech hoped that Noah would be the seed to crush the head of the serpent. This story proves that Noah was not that man, and that another would be needed.

And now we come to the story itself. Now we have to see a few things first before we get to the story. First, Noah is a new Adam. Picture Noah in a brand new creation. He was the progenitor of the entire human race. Adam was tempted by eating, and Noah would be tempted by drinking. Notice the similarity in the two stories of Adam’s fall and Noah’s fall. Both involve a realization of nakedness. Both involve a covering of that nakedness. Both stories have a curse and a blessing attached to it. Both involve a kind of knowledge. The story here is a second Fall story. We must understand that in order to see its significance for us.

It says that Noah became a man of the soil. He was a farmer. Furthermore, he planted a vineyard. After the fruit had matured, Noah made wine from the grapes, and drank too much. We do not know how much he drank, whether he was extremely drunk, or only mildly so. It does not matter much. The point is that Noah drank enough to become sleepy. We know this, because of verse 24, which says that Noah awoke. Wine does tend to make a person sleepy. And in verse 21, we see that Noah was in his own tent, and lay uncovered. We do not know whether Noah intentionally uncovered himself, or whether it was an accident caused by his falling asleep.

Along comes Ham. Perhaps he wanted to talk to his father about something. He might have come upon his father by accident. But it was what he did after he saw his father that was important. The fundamental problem with what Ham did was that he dishonored his father. He disobeyed the fifth commandment, which says “Honor your father and your mother.” He is guilty of not loving his neighbor as himself. For “love covers over a multitude of transgressions.” Instead of covering up his father, or leaving immediately, which would have been less honoring, but at least no one would know about it, Ham does the most dishonoring thing imaginable. He tells the whole world (which at that time consisted of his brothers) about his father’s shame. It is important to realize also that Ham was not a juvenile delinquent at this time. Most likely, he was 80 or 90 years old. Ham knew exactly what he was doing. He deliberately told his brothers about their father, probably with scorn and derision. At this point, Shem and Japheth give each other “the look.” They realized instantly what their brother was up to. They knew that Ham knew what he was doing. Nakedness was a very shameful thing in that culture, as in ours, although that sense of shame seems to be eroding in our culture, given what people wear nowadays. But nakedness was a very shameful thing in that time period.

Shem and Japheth then decide to do the most honorable thing that they could do. They cover their father’s shame. Now, the Hebrew says “Shem and Japheth took the garment.” It was not just any old garment that they took. They took the very garment that had been clothing Noah before, and which Ham had taken out of the tent to show to his brothers. It was that very cloth that Shem and Japheth took to cover their father. Notice how carefully they accomplish this task. They walked backward, with the garment on their shoulders, and their faces were turned away such that they did not see their father’s nakedness. What infinite pains they took to honor their father! They wanted to make sure that there would be no mistakes.

Noah wakes up and somehow finds out about what Ham did to him. Probably his sons told him, or maybe their wives. But he did find out. Probably Ham thought that Noah would not find out. Sin loves the cover of darkness. But ironically, it is Ham’s sin that is uncovered and laid out for all to see. It is Ham’s sin that winds up naked and exposed. Truth always wants to come to the light. Truth has nothing to hide. But sin will be found out, even if it thinks it will not be found out. On judgment day, there will be many people whose sins will be recounted to them, to their utter and eternal shame. They thought that they got away with it. But they did not, because God sees all. Perhaps that is the best answer as to how Noah found out about what Ham had done: God told him.

Noah curses Ham and blesses Shem and Japheth. Three times Noah says, “Let Canaan be their servant.” Now, we must set this passage in its appropriate context. Noah is NOT saying that the Negroid race will be cursed forever, and thus this passage justifies slavery. This passage is not talking about Africans here. This passage is talking about the Canaanites. Notice that Ham is not cursed, but rather Canaan, his youngest son. Because Ham dishonored his father, Ham’s son would receive the consequences. Probably Noah saw already the tendencies in Canaan, his grandson that were so like his father Ham. Like father, like son. Moses is thinking here of the inhabitants of the promised land. Let’s not forget that Moses is writing this to the generation that is about to go into the promised land. So, Moses is here talking about the inhabitants of Canaan, NOT all the descendents of Ham, which would include Africa.

Noah blesses Japheth by using a word play. The word “enlarge” sounds just like the name “Japheth.” Noah blesses here the territory of Japheth. Ultimately, the promise is fulfilled when the Gentiles are brought into the kingdom. Letting Japheth dwell in the tents of Shem is what happened when the Gentiles were brought into the kingdom of God, when Jesus broke down the barrier between the two. There is now therefore, no Jew or Greek, for all are one in Christ Jesus.

Going back to our possible reaction to this story. If we feel uncomfortable about this story, I suggest that we see our discomfort in a new way. If we are embarrassed about the nakedness of Noah, let us remember that without God’s covering us with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, we are naked and ashamed. We are in Noah’s position. We next have to realize that Jesus suffered this same shame on the cross. Most pictures we see of Christ on the cross have a loin-cloth for the sake of modesty. Most likely, Jesus was completely naked on the cross. The soldiers divided up Jesus’ clothing amongst themselves. Jesus took wine-vinegar on the cross. Those who were of the seed of the serpent said, “Let God deliver Him, if He delight in Him.” They scorned him, even as Ham scorned his father. But those upon whom God had mercy said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The scene of Noah is replayed at the cross. But it was our nakedness, and our shame, and our sin, that Jesus took upon Himself. Most of us tend to think of the cross as a piece of jewelry. In the first century, if someone were to wear a cross as a piece of jewelry, that would be like someone today wearing a sign that says, “Enron rules.” It is difficult to think of an example today, because our society has lost most of its sense of shame. The call for us to realize our nakedness, and fly to the only person who can clothe us: Jesus. Jesus can clothe us in the righteousness that He earned, taking our sin upon Himself. That makes us right with God. We need that. Without it, we are naked before the wrath of Almighty God. We have only a fearful expectation of judgment. We can only try to hide in the midst of the trees, and say to the mountains, “Fall on us,” but it will do us no good. God’s wrath will find us out. Our sin will be exposed. Are we covered?

For those of us who are covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, there are several implications for our lives that can be gleaned from this text. The first is that the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman exist in us simultaneously. You see, both Ham and Shem came from Noah. They are both present in Noah. So it is with us. Although our sinful nature has received its death blow when we became converted to Jesus, still that seed of the serpent thrashes around in its death throws, trying to make us disobey God’s Word. It is inside us that this battle is raging. What we want is for our sinful nature to be the servant of servants. We want it to cow-tow to the Holy Spirit who resides in us. We want eventually for our sinful nature to be driven out altogether, just as the Israelites were supposed to do to the Canaanites. It is spiritual warfare. This warfare exists. It does not matter how experienced we are in the Christian life, this battle rages on. Indeed, for mature Christians, there is more temptation. It is all too easy to think that we have arrived, that there are no more battles left to fight. Then we let down our guard. Then we fall prey to gossip, or slander, or covetousness, or greed, or any number of things. We can even justify these sins in our own minds by thinking that they are not as bad as the sins of youth, whatever those are. Let us not do that. Let us keep pressing on toward the prize, for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus. We have not already attained the prize. We ONLY attain that prize when we are with the Lord.

Let me say just a quick word about alcohol, for it is in the text. The Bible is exceptionally clear about four things having to do with alcohol. The first is that alcohol is not intrinsically evil. Jesus would not have turned water into wine, the Psalms would not say “Wine gladdens the heart of man, and is a gift of God,” and Paul would not have told Timothy to drink some wine for his stomach, if wine were evil in and of itself. The Bible is clear about this. The second thing that is that drunkenness is a sin. It occurs in nearly every one of the lists in the “sin” lists of the NT. Proverbs has much to say about being wary of the wine “biting like a serpent.” Paul says that he will not be mastered by anything. The Bible is very clear about this. The third thing the Bible is very clear about is that it is very easy to abuse this gift from God. Wine is very good at loosing one’s control of oneself. It is very easy to keep on drinking. It is just here that wine can be so dangerous. We have to remember that abusing one of God’s gifts is a double slap in God’s face. Not only are we sinning by losing control of ourselves (and this usually leads to other sins), but we are taking something that God made good and twisting it to our own destruction. That is a slap in God’s face. The fourth thing that the Bible is very clear about is the context of drinking. If one is to drink, one must be aware of the “weaker brother syndrome.” This is what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians, when he is talking about food sacrificed to idols. He says that the food is not intrinsically evil. But if he makes one of his brothers stumble, then he has abused the privilege of Christian freedom. So, Paul says that if by eating he will make his brother stumble, then he will never eat meat again. That was a pretty remarkable statement of Paul’s, considering that all the meat in the marketplace had been sacrificed to an idol. You could not get any other kind of meat. The principle works the same way with alcohol. If we are in the presence of a recovering alcoholic, or in the presence of someone whose conscience tells them they should not drink, or in the presence of someone who thinks that alcohol is intrinsically evil, then we should not drink. However, those of us who think that drinking is intrinsically evil should not judge those who drink in moderation, especially if they are conscientious about how and when they drink. Neither the weaker brother nor the stronger brother should judge the other. Christian love is the rule here.

So, to sum up, we should ask ourselves, “Do we honor our parents?” Do we cover up their faults and blemishes, or do we publish them to the whole world? Or well, maybe, just to the church? Love covers over a multitude of transgressions. Maybe our parents were not the most godly parents on the face of the planet. We are still to put their deeds in the most charitable light that we can. We must honor what they have done right, and forgive them what they have done wrong. Ultimately, that is honoring father and mother. That is being like Shem and Japheth. Let us cover over their sins with a garment of forgiveness, for God has done the same for us.

An Interesting Thought on Scripture

Different passages of Scripture are clear to various generations. What might have been crystal clear to some generations of Bible-readers may not be clear to us now. Now, this has reference to the outward trappings of culture, not to the inner truth of the message, which is always clear. We ought to keep this consideration in view when people attack Scripture by refusing to admit its clarity.

Are we the judge of sin?

Here is an unbelievably profound paragraph from John Owen’s commentary on Hebrews, volume 3, pg 289 (I “translate it” a bit).

God alone knows what is the true desert and demerit of sin, and but from his declaration of creatures not any. And how shall we judge of what we know nothing of but from Him, but only by what He does? We see among men that the guilt of crimes is aggravated according to the dignity of the persons against whom they are committed. Now, since no creature knows Him perfectly (against whom all sin is committed), then no creature can truly and perfectly know what is the desert and demerit of sin but by His revelation who is is perfectly known to Himself. And what a madness is it to judge otherwise of what we do not otherwise understand! Shall we make ourselves judges of what sin against God deserves? -Let us first search out the Almighty to perfection, and then we may know of ourselves what it is to sin against Him. Besides, we know not what is the opposition that is made by sin against the holiness, the nature, the very being of God. As we cannot know Him perfectly against whom we sin, so we know not perfectly what we do when we sin. It is the least part of the malignity and poison that is in sin which we are able to discern. We see not the depth of that malicious respect which is has to god; and are we capable to judge correctly of what is its demerit? But all these things are open and naked before that infinite wisdom of God which accompanies His righteousness in all His works. He knows Himself, against whom sin is directed; he knows the condition of the sinner; he knows what contrariness and opposition there is in sin against Himself,- in a word, what it is for a finite, limited, dependent creature, to oppose itself to the authority and being of the Holy Creator, Ruler, and Governor of all things.

John

You really could go broke on this book, even more so than Luke.

First-rate: Barrett (make sure you get the second edition, pub. 1978), Beasley-Murray, Brown, Carson, Hutcheson, Keener, Kostenberger, Lincoln, Morris, Ridderbos, Schnackenburg (very hard to obtain, and usually outrageously expensive, but worth it), Pink

Second-rate: Bernard, Blomberg, Bruce, Bultmann, Godet, Hengstenberg, Kruse, Lindars, Luther, Sloyan

Third-rate: Macgregor, Morgan, Tasker

Forthcoming: Bauckham (NIGTC), Michaels (NICNT), McHugh (ICC), Thompson (NTL)

Conservative: Carson, Hutcheson, Keener, Kostenberger, Morris, Ridderbos, Pink, Blomberg, Bruce, Godet, Hengstenberg, Kruse, Luther, Morgan, Tasker

Moderate: Barrett, Beasley-Murray, Bernard, Lincoln, Lindars, Sloyan, Macgregor

Liberal: Brown, Schnackenberg, Bultmann

Of the forthcoming volumes, Michaels will be conservative; Bauckham will be moderate (and essential!); and McHugh and Thompson will be liberal.

God’s Rainbow Covenant With Noah

Genesis 9:8-17
Hope has two enemies: presumption and despair. Hope would rather imagine that the good will come. Presumption destroys hope in one direction by being too confident that the good will come. Despair destroys hope in the other direction by refusing to believe that any good will come. If we have no hope, we are of all people most to be pitied. It is easy to live without hope, though. Despair is looking death right in the face, and believing that death has won. Presumption is tearing down your barns and building bigger ones, not realizing that that very night, your life will be required of you. We are called not to presumption, not to despair, but to hope. When God gave Noah the covenant, and the sign of the covenant, God was telling Noah to hope. God was telling Noah that there would be salvation from sin when His Son came to earth. Hope.

God has just given Noah the commandments about murder in the first 7 verses. God gave authority to the civil government so that the government could prevent that kind of violence that had led to the Flood in the first place. Instead of doing violence, Noah was to multiply and fill the earth.

Now, God makes a covenant with Noah. What is a covenant? It is a contract between God and man that God initiates. It is always God who initiates the covenant. There are two basic covenants that God makes with mankind: the first is the covenant of works. That was the covenant that God made with Adam: if Adam obeyed the commandment, he would earn eternal life. This is what Adam failed to do. When Adam broke the covenant of works, God initiated another covenant, this time being a covenant of grace. So instead of Adam earning salvation by works, we are given salvation by grace. We deserve only punishment, but God gave us mercy. The covenant that God made with Noah was a covenant of grace.

Now, it is important to say here that the covenant with Noah was not a covenant of saving grace, but a covenant of common grace. The difference between common grace and special grace is this: common grace is given to all mankind without distinction. Common grace is God giving rain to the just and the unjust. Common grace is sun on the crops, life and breath to all, food, raiment and shelter. Common grace is also the church being in the world and giving the world the benefits of its work. That is common grace. Special grace is saving grace. Special grace is what happens when God changes the heart of stone into the heart of flesh. Special grace is God choosing to save some people out of the vast multitude who are headed straight for hell. That is the difference between common grace and special grace. This covenant that we are looking at today is a covenant of common grace. It is THE covenant of common grace. It is vital that we know about this covenant, because without common grace, special grace could not exist. If God had decided to destroy all humanity without exception, then there would no one to save, no one on which He could exercise special grace.

Covenants always have two participants. Here we see them both in verses 8-10. God is one of the participants. The other participant is all people, and all animals. Remember that God initiates the covenant. God never had to say any of what he says here. But God wanted to allow room for salvation to take place. Therefore, He makes room here in the form of the covenant of common grace.

God says to Noah that he will never again destroy all humanity by means of a Flood. That is fairly easy to understand. What we need to realize here, though, is that Noah would have been tempted to lose all hope. He had just seen all of humanity and all of the animals die except those that were with him in the ark. He might have been tempted to think that God would “finish the job,” and kill him off along with everything else, such that there would be no hope at all. God initiates this covenant in order to give hope to Noah. Furthermore, God promises that no matter what humanity does, God will not destroy them all. Man will not be able to sin himself out of this covenant. In any destruction, there will always be a remnant. Eventually that remnant will be Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the demands of the original covenant of works that God initiated with Adam.

In verses 12 and following, we see that God gives Noah the sign of the covenant. In verses 8-11 God gives us the covenant itself. Then God gives us the sign of the covenant. It is a beautiful sign: the sign of the rainbow. In the Ancient Near East, rainbows were thought to be the battle weapon of the gods. Lightning was the arrow, as it were. God, however, rests this battle bow and makes it point away from the earth, indicating peace. Instead of point toward the earth, threatening humanity, God makes it point away from the earth, indicating peace. God rests the bow in the heavens. Just as God rested from his work at the end of creation, so also here He rests His bow at the end of this re-creation. Notice also that the rainbow stretches out over the whole sky. That means that all are covered under its protection. But there is even further significance to the rainbow. If you are in an airplane, and are high enough over the earth, and are at the right angle, you will see a complete circle, instead of just half a circle. Someone has said that the rainbow is God’s wedding band. The rainbow means that God will not forget His promise. It is certain.

Verse 16 is very important in this regard: notice that the rainbow is primarily for God’s benefit, not ours. Moses did not say, “Every time YOU see the rainbow, remember God’s promise.” Moses actually said, “Every time GOD sees the rainbow, HE will remember.” Now, this does not mean that God forgets about this promise in-between rainbows. God still remembers. What God wants to tell us here is that the promise is certain. We can build hope on top of it. God’s promises are entirely and utterly believable.

When God remembers the covenant, it is not merely that God remembers what He promised. God’s remembering means that He thereby acts according to the terms of the covenant. When God remembers, He acts. When God remembers the covenant, He fulfills the covenant. So when God remembers the covenant with Noah, He fulfills the covenant with Noah. Remembering is acting. When God remembered Hannah and her prayer, she conceived and bore a son. When God remembered His people suffering down in Egypt, He brought them out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. When God remembered the world, he gave His one and only Son.

Ultimately, the promise that God made to Noah was the promise that the seed of the woman would in fact have a chance to crush the head of the serpent. Hope is reborn. And that is exactly what happened. Jesus Christ crushed the head of the serpent when He was raised from the dead, conquering sin and death.

We might well tremble because it was our sin that brought on the Flood. We know that what we deserve is complete annihilation. We know that we deserve the flames of hell eternally. We know that there is no hope for us outside of Christ. However, because Christ came, there is hope.

So how did God keep His promise never to destroy the world again by Flood? He saved His people Israel from the Egyptians by bringing them through the flood of the Red Sea on dry ground, while destroying the Egyptians. He brought back a remnant from Babylon, not allowing His people to be destroyed completely. He brought to earth a Savior for mankind, Jesus Christ. The call for us is to have hope in Jesus Christ. The Lord has also promised that the world is now being saved up for destruction by fire. That is what 2 Peter says. If we want any hope for surviving that catastrophe, we need to be found in Jesus Christ.

The tendency is always for us to place our hope in the wrong places. We want to hope in ourselves most of all. Thee poem Invictus says it all: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” But that is whistling in the dark. I am sure that all those who were destroyed in the Flood thought the same thing. They thought that their bodies were indestructible. There were some deaths, of course, but not many. Adam himself had not died so long ago before the Flood. There was every reason to believe that they could live for an eternity, since they lied such long lives already. They put their trust in themselves.

We put our trust in many other things as well. We trust in money. “Money solves all the world’s problems,” we think. The problem is that that is demonstrably false. Many of the richest people in the world were also the most miserable. John D. Rockefeller had suicidal tendencies. Many rock stars have committed suicide. Those who trust in riches are ignorant of the fact that riches can take wings and fly away. Riches are never satisfying anyway. The more one has, the more one wants. It is an addiction that leads to despair, the very enemy of hope. Let us not put our hope in riches.

What about power? Hitler put his trust in power. It lasted a little while. However, as Lord Acton of England said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Corruption is how to spell “coming disaster.” That is what America can expect, if they continue to ignore God’s commands and standards for right and wrong. America cannot trust in its power. 9/11 ought to have taught us that. However, we are often overly confident in our military power to solve everything.

Often we hope in pleasure. We think that all the finer things of life will satisfy us and make us feel fulfilled. This can take many forms. It can be as blatant as alcoholism or pornography, but it can more subtle forms, as well. Do we make an idol out of comfort? Do think that our house has to look a certain way, or that our clothes have to be completely fashionable? That is a subtle way of putting our hope in the wrong things.

Sometimes we can put our hope in other people. Do we think that our standing in this community is the most important thing? How do we act toward other people? Do we to anything to make sure that we are in the accepted crowd? Do we flee those people who are not in the “in” crowd? That is not what Jesus did. Jesus came from heaven to earth, exchanging communion with His Father, who was the most “in” person ever, for the community of sinners like us, who on the out and out with God. If Jesus exchanged the glory of being with God for the shame of being with us, then why can we not welcome the outsider, the alien, and the stranger who might not be just like us? Let us put our hope in Jesus, who is able to break down those barriers.

We can put our hope in our work. Many of us would probably plead guilty to the charge of being a workaholic. I can often fall into that trap. I then define myself by my work. When someone asks me who I am, I often say, “I am a pastor.” When someone asks you who you are, you might say, “I am a farmer.” Does our work define who we are? We have to remember that our status as children of God saved in Christ Jesus is the most fundamental part of who we are now. If we do not have that identity, we need to get it right away. We need to believe in Jesus Christ. We need to have hope in Him. Jesus was resurrected from the dead. He conquered sin and death. What God promised to Noah, which was that humanity would not be destroyed, is ultimately fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, which means that humanity will not be destroyed, but can come to repentance and salvation. It is Jesus’ work on the cross and His resurrection that means we can have hope in this life. Trust in Him.

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