Archives for posts with tag: obedience

I apologize for the lack of blog posts as of late. We have had several things come up in our family, preventing me from posting regularly. Thankfully, things seem to have settled down now and I hope to blog on a regular basis once again.

Returning to the book of Genesis, I have mentioned several times now how Isaac is presented as an ideal; an example to which we should aspire. This was certainly the case with Isaac’s patience and his trust in God. In Genesis 26, Isaac continues to be an example for us, most especially in his willingness to live at peace with his neighbors.

Genesis 26 begins with Isaac once again choosing to remain in the land God promised him and his descendants. In contradistinction to Abraham earlier and Jacob later, Isaac spends his entire life in the promised land. Despite the famine, Isaac trusts God to take care of his needs in the very land God has promised him. So instead of leaving for another as Jacob will later do (and end up enslaved in Egypt for 430 years), Isaac remains in the land God has given him and “reaped in the same year a hundredfold” (Gen 26:12). In other words, God rewards Isaac for his obedience and his patience.

But the most outstanding and exemplary aspect of Isaac in Genesis 26 is his willingness to live peaceably with his neighbors. Isaac had every excuse to be bitter towards his neighboring Philistines. They asked him to leave the land because of jealousy/envy (vs. 16). They stopped the wells previously dug by Abraham (vs. 15) and quarreled with Isaac’s servants over a well of running water they dug in the valley (vss. 19-20), as well as another well elsewhere (vs. 21). Nevertheless, when Isaac was approached by the Philistines to make a covenant of peace, Isaac gladly accepted, throwing a feast for them (vss. 30-31). In some ways, this passage reminds me of the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 15:11-32): rather than “holding accountable”the Philistines for their sin, Isaac rejoices in his neighbor making the correct decision to return and repent. This is similar to the father in Luke’s parable throwing a banquet when his exceedingly sinful son decided to return home from his riotous living. Neither Isaac, nor the father in Luke’s parable, set conditions for the one repenting, but restored them immediately, rejoicing in their reconciliation.

Yet again, Isaac, who was born of God’s promise rather than of human will, is shown as a model. Despite famine and persecution, he remains faithful to God’s charge to remain in the land he was promised. Because of Isaac’s faithfulness and forgiveness, reconciliation with his adversarial neighbor is possible and Isaac is able to live in peace. Genesis 26 calls us to live at peace with our neighbors, realizing the world God has given us is big enough for us to co-exist, even with our adversaries.

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Genesis 22 is a fairly well-known story of Abraham’s faith in God being confirmed by his willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Of course, God does not desire human sacrifice, so He provides a ram for Abraham to offer instead of his son. The moral of the story is obviously a willingness to be obedient to God, to put your trust in Him, even when it seems dangerous or absurd.

 

Many commentators correctly see a link between this story of Genesis 22 and the crucifixion of Jesus. God, like Abraham, was willing to offer up His Son for the salvation of the world. The legitimate question comes up: why would God do such a thing? Isn’t it cruel to sacrifice your son? And, by the way, isn’t it the son who suffers more than the father. The answer to these questions requires a contextual reading of the text.

 

In the ancient world, and perhaps most so in the Semitic world, the role of the firstborn son cannot be understated. Anyone who has spent time around people of Middle Eastern descent notices the great honor granted the firstborn son of the family. In the case of Isaac, although he was not what we Americans would classify as the firstborn to Abraham, for family purposes in the ancient Near East, Isaac was the firstborn, the only-begotten of Abraham from his wife, Sarah, and the heir to Abraham’s inheritance. Not only was the firstborn the heir, but the thinking in this time was that the firstborn especially (although, technically, not exclusively) continues the life of the parents. In other words, your life continues to exist through your progeny. To have no children, or for your children to die before re-producing, means your name and life is cut off for eternity (at this time, there was little or no idea like we have of life after death).

 

In this way of thinking, to allow your firstborn, only-begotten son to die means to essentially kill yourself. You are allowing your name, your inheritance, to die. You are being cut off the earth. You are making the sacrifice. So in Genesis 22, Abraham is himself making a great sacrifice. He spent 100 years childless, with no one to carry on the family name. Finally, God intervened and gave him a child, and now God asks Abraham to offer the child as a sacrifice. This would again put Abraham in the position of dying off with no inheritance, no name, no memory of him left on earth. Despite this, Abraham puts his trust in God, realizing the son he was given is not his own, but a gift from God. Abraham understands he is accountable to God for the child, and so obeys God’s seemingly outlandish command. Abraham is then rewarded and reinforced for his obedience and God reveals this scenario as a simple test of Abraham’s faith.

 

Incidentally, this way of thinking is also significant in the New Testament. That Jesus is underscored as God’s firstborn, only-begotten Son, dramatizes even more the crucifixion of Jesus. Before the victorious resurrection, it is as though God’s name, His inheritance, and the memory of Him is completely obliterated from the face of the earth.

Today’s post, in many respects, is a continuation of yesterday’s post.  Today, however, I will focus on Noah and his obedience to God.

Noah’s Obedience
Noah is introduced as having “found grace” with the Lord (Genesis 6:8). I’m sure this subject will come up again in more depth, but for now let me simply point out that the grace of God comes first–not last. In other words, the grace of God is given to us in advance. The question for us is not if we will receive the grace of God, but what we will do with it

Noah is presented in the flood story as the anti-Adam: “Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did” (Geneis 6:22). Whereas Adam disobeyed the simple commandment of God to refrain from eating of one of the trees, Noah obeyed perfectly all the things God commanded him.  Noah, whose names means ‘rest,’ symbolizes the rest we will receive in the end if we are obedient to God.

As I mentioned yesterday, we are tempted to think of God in abstract terms. We are tempted to think of faith, religion, and God in creedal terms, or in intellectual statements of faith. I “believe” in God in my head–I think or believe He exists. These creedal/intellectual notions of God manifest themselves uniquely in different denominations. We Orthodox and Roman Catholics tend to think of our faith as confessing the Nicene Creed. Evangelicals have their own “creeds,” like the “Sinner’s Prayer.”

Yet, true faith is not in confessing a creed or saying a prayer, but living a way of life. Specifically, true faith is living like Noah, obeying what God commands us to do. As James says in his epistle: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

In Genesis 6, we are confronted with a difficult reality.  We tend to think of God in abstract terms.  We also are inclined to think of God as some sort of cosmic ‘nice guy’–you know, like the teacher we have all had who was the easiest grader in the world, who liked to be ‘friends’ with the students, but from whom we learned absolutely nothing about the subject matter of the course. 

Genesis 6 presents us with a different picture of God.  Not because God is ‘mean’ or ‘angry’ per se, but because God is actually a good teacher–he may not be best friends with his students, but he challenges and admonishes them to get the best out of them.  He looks at the bigger picture, like great teachers, who know we will not truly appreciate them for another 10 or 20 years.

As one of my great teachers, Fr Paul Tarazi, used to joke, you will not see Genesis 6:6 on a bumper sticker: “And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.”  For some reason, that verse does not give us the warm, fuzzy feeling we like to have towards God.  But it does present us with a tough reality: we often disappoint our Creator because of our sin and disobedience. 

Although we tend to think of God in abstract terms, the Bible regulary assigns human-like attributes and feelings to God.  Genesis 6 reminds us we often grieve God.  It is a sobering thought, if we take it seriously; and one God hopes will lead us to repentance, NOT to despair.  As St Paul said: “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing.  For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world” (i.e. despair) “produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

We can grieve and mope and fall into despair because of Genesis 6:6, thinking God does not love us and having no hope for our salvation.  Or, we can wake up to the reality we often grieve God, and can be motivated to change the way we live our lives.  The fact God gave humanity a second chance after the flood shows that God hopes we will choose the second option–that we will decide to repent and change our lives to live according to His commandments.