Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Notes on Genesis


‘Genesis’ means ‘beginning’. These opening verses challenge us to get our priorities right - (a) The priority of God (1). God comes first. Before anyone else is mentioned, He is there. (b) The priority of God’s Word (3). God is the first to speak. Before any human word is spoken, there is the Word of the Lord. (c) The priority of God’s Spirit (2). All was ‘empty’, all was ‘darkness’, yet the ‘Spirit of God’ was at work, and transformation was set in motion. Here, we have God’s priorities, set out in the Bible’s first three verses - Putting God first and listening to His Word, we are to pray for the moving of God’s Spirit, ‘hovering over’ our lives to transform them. For those who make God’s priorities their own, there is a promise of great blessing (Psalm 1:1-2). It is the great blessing of knowing Jesus Christ, our Saviour, as ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23).
God speaks, and it is done (3,6-7,11). God is pleased with what He has done (4,10,12). This is the pattern of God’s original creation. It is to be the pattern of our life as a ‘new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). God speaks to us and we say, ‘Your will be done’ (Matthew 6:10). We say, ‘let it be to me according to Your Word’ (Luke 1:38). God looks on such obedience, this ‘walking in the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:16,22-23), and He sees that it is ‘good’ (Micah 6:8). In these verses we read of the separation of the light and the darkness, the separation of the waters and the dry land, and the fruitfulness of God's creation. There are lessons for us here. We are to ‘walk in the light’ (1 John 1:7). We are to let the Spirit's ‘living water’ flow in us (John 7:39-39). Walking in the light, letting the living water flow - this is the way of fruitfulness.
The Bible’s opening chapter is a great hymn of praise, emphasizing that all things have been created for the glory of God (Revelation 4:11). Nothing can be permitted to distract our attention from the Lord. He alone is worthy of worship. The creation of the ‘lights’ makes no reference to the sun and the moon. These were worshipped by neighbouring peoples. They are not gods. They are simply ‘lights’. Our worship is to be given to God alone. The waters teemed with living creatures. The land produced living creatures. Here, we have a picture of life. There is life where the living water of the Spirit is flowing freely among God’s people (Ezekiel 47:5-9). This water brings life to the land (Ezekiel 47:12). Moving with the flow of God’s Spirit, we are to pray that ‘the water of life’ will flow freely ‘for the healing of the nations’ (Revelation 22:2).
We now come to the creation of humanity, male and female. Our creation is described in a distinctive way - created in the image of God (26-27). We are different from the rest of creation. We have been given dominion over ‘all the earth’ and ‘every living creature’ (26,28). We are different from God. He is the Creator. We are His creation. Created in God’s image, we have been created by Him and for Him. Though we have sinned (Genesis 3, Romans 3:23), now - in Jesus Christ - we have begun to live as a new creation (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10). The Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1) and that ‘all things were created by Him and for Him’ (Colossians 1:16). This is the Saviour who is at work in us, enabling us to live as a new creation! Creation has been ‘completed’ (2:1). Salvation will be completed (Philippians 1:6)!
We read of ‘the breath of life’, producing ‘a living being’ (7). Separated from God through our sin, we have become spiritually dead (Ephesians 4:18; 2:1). Through the Spirit, we have been ‘born again’. This new birth is brought about by the breath of life, the wind of the Spirit (John 3:5-8). As the river watered the garden (10), so our lives are to be watered by ‘the river’ which flows ‘from the throne of God and of the Lamb’ (Revelation 22:1). As we read of the ‘tree’ which features in our fall into sin (9; 3:2-6), our thoughts turn also to the ‘tree’ which forms the foundation of our salvation - Christ ‘Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness’ (1 Peter 2:24). In our hearts, we say, ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 6:14).
We noted, in 1:1-3, the importance of getting our priorities right - God, God’s Word, God’s Spirit. Here, we emphasize the importance of these priorities. We are under God. We must remember that He is God (15). We are to obey God’s Word (16-17). Here, we learn that the act of obedience is an act of freedom. In Christ, we are set free to obey God. God says, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden’. He does not then say, ‘You are free to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’. He says, ‘You must not’. The act of disobedience is not an act of freedom. By choosing the way of sin, we show that we are in bondage. We are not free. We are the captives of sin, and we need to be set free - by Christ (John 8:32,36). We come to know God, choosing good rather than evil, as we follow the way of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:16; Hebrews 5:14).
We come here to the creation of woman. Her creation is bound up with the creation of man. She is created from man’s ‘rib’ (21-22). The ‘rib’ is taken from his side, emphasizing that man and woman are to be together, side-by-side, not one in front of the other. The ‘rib’, rather than the head or the feet, emphasizes this togetherness rather than any superiority-inferiority relationship. The ‘rib’ is close to the heart. Woman is close to the heart of man. Both are close to the heart of God. The contrast between humanity and the animals is again clear. Among the animals, there was ‘no suitable helper’ for the man (20). The animals had been ‘formed out of the ground’ (19). Humanity has come from ‘the breath of life’ (7). Like the animals, we come from ‘the dust of the ground’, but there is more: the Breath of God, created in His image to glorify Him!
We have read about the beginning of creation (1:1). Now we come to the beginning of sin. In these verses, we have temptation. Note that temptation is not sin. It only becomes sin when we do what the tempter suggests (6). Temptation comes from ‘that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan’ (Revelation 12:9). Satan reverses the priorities of God, God’s Word and God’s Spirit. God is ‘our Father’ (Matthew 6:9). Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). Satan quotes and questions God’s Word (1). He not only questions God’s Word . He contradicts it (4). Satan is spiritual, an evil spirit. We must be aware of his schemes, and , in Christ, we must take our stand against his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:11). When Satan says, ‘Did God really say?’ (1), we must wage war for God, filled with His Word and Spirit (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
Once we were innocent. Now we are guilty. The story of Adam and Eve is repeated over and over again. This is our story as well as Adam and Eve’s story. Even in the face of sin, we see something else. We see the God of love, seeking to restore the fallen to Himself. In His words, ‘Where are you?’, we catch an early glimpse of the Gospel of salvation: ‘the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost’ (Luke 19:10). Adam and Eve had lost their way. Now, God was looking for them to bring them back to Himself. In the question, ‘Where are you?’, there is the searching question, ‘What have you done?’, but there is also the passionate appeal, ‘Will you not return to me?’. This is the call of mercy: ‘Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, “O sinner, come home”’ (Sacred Songs & Solos, 414). Our loving Father is waiting patiently to welcome the returning prodigal (Luke 15:20).
Having chosen the way of sin, we are ‘naked’ and ashamed (10). The Gospel teaches us that ‘there’s a way back to God from the dark paths of sin’. We can be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. We can bring the ‘filthy rags’ of ‘our righteous acts’ (Isaiah 64:6) to God, and we can exchange them for the perfect righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Putting our trust in Christ, we need not be ashamed in God’s presence (Romans 10:11). There must be no ‘passing the buck’ - the man blaming the woman, the woman blaming the serpent (12-13). We are to confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:9). This forgiveness comes to us through the Cross where the suffering Saviour becomes the victorious Victor and the subtle serpent became the defeated devil. This is the message of verse 15: through the Cross, God has provided for us a full salvation!
Sin has consequences. Human life could never be the same once sin had entered it. The effects of sin can be seen in the whole of life. The most profound effect of sin is summed up in verse 22. We cannot reach out our hands and take hold of eternal life. There is no way to heaven which begins with the word ‘I’. We must begin with God - ‘God so loved the world...’ (John 3:16). No sinner can open the door of heaven: ‘Christ only could unlock the gate of heaven, and let us in’. Sin leads not to heaven but to ‘death’. If we insist on trying to get to heaven by our own good works, we will earn our ‘wages’ - ‘the wages of sin is death’. Come as a sinner to Jesus. Come to Him, saying, ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling’ ( Church Hymnary, 83). Look to Him alone for salvation, and know the truth of God's Word: ‘the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 6:23).
The name of Abel appears among ‘the heroes of the faith’ (Hebrews 11:14). The story of Abel is a story of grace, faith and obedience. Abel's sacrifice was a blood sacrifice while Cain’s was a fruit sacrifice (3-4). The blood sacrifice points forward - via the Old Testament sacrificial system - to the greatest sacrifice of all - ‘the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7; Hebrews 9:12). The blood sacrifice points to salvation by grace - ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness’ (Hebrews 9:22). Abel’s sacrifice was an act of faith: ‘By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain did’ (Hebrews 11:4). The blood reminds us that true faith is always faith in Christ and never ‘faith’ in anything we can ever offer to God. Abel was obedient, bringing ‘the firstborn’ to God. ‘In the course of time Cain brought some...’.
In the story of Cain, we see the development of sin. Jealousy leads to anger, and anger leads to murder. In this story, we see ourselves in the ‘mirror’ of God’s Word. Here, God emphasizes our exceeding sinfulness - ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt’ (Jeremiah 17:9). Our sinfulness leads us away from ‘the presence of the Lord’ to ‘the land of wandering (Nod)’ (16). This is the work of Satan in our lives - Genesis 4 is an extension of Genesis 3. Even in the land of wandering, the hand of God is upon us. This is the meaning of ‘the mark of Cain’ - ‘so that no one who found him would kill him’ (15). Even in our wanderings, God is waiting in mercy for us to make our way back to Him by coming in faith to Jesus Christ our Saviour. Even when ‘sin’ is a good bit more than ‘crouching at the door’, it can be ‘mastered’ through Christ (6; Hebrews 7:25).
The story of Cain and Abel is a continuing story. Abel died, yet ‘by faith still speaks, even though he is dead’ (Hebrews 11:4). Cain ‘went out from the presence of the Lord’. He became ‘a restless wanderer’ (14,16). What a contrast there is between these two brothers! For Abel, there was glory in the presence of the Lord - ‘By faith he was commended as a righteous man’ (Hebrews 11:4), he was ‘justified by faith’ (Romans 5:1). Cain was quite different. Far from God, he had no peace. He was haunted by his sins. What does God’s Word say to us about Cain? - ‘Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother... because his own actions were evil and his brothers were righteous’ (1 John 3:12). Cain’s sinful influence continues. We must be on our guard. The chapter ends with hope: ‘At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord’ (26).
From the story of Cain - taking God for granted (the opposite of grace), approaching God proudly (the opposite of faith), rebelling against God (the opposite of obedience) - , we come to a list of names and numbers. In this first part of the chapter, there is nothing of any note. Perhaps, this is the significant feature of this long list of names. There is nothing considered to be worthy of special note, except the length of their lives. What a sad reflection on the value of a life when all that can be said is this: He lived, and he died! What we must remember is this: the quantity of our years is less important than the quality of our living. How long we live is less important than how well we live. We have been ‘ the likeness of God’ (1), yet so often we miss out on this spiritual dimension. We have been ‘blessed’ by God (2) - ‘Count your blessings’.
In this second part of the list, two names get a special mention - Enoch and Noah (22,24,29). The reference to Enoch is the more memorable of the two. Enoch's life was characterized by grace, faith and obedience. The life-story of so many others could be told without reference to God. Enoch's story was the story of God at work in his life. So many life-stories end with the words, ‘he died’. Enoch's life on earth points beyond itself (24). Enoch had ‘walked with God’ (22, 24 ). Building his life upon the God of grace, Enoch had, by faith, stepped out of this present world and into ‘what we hope for’, ‘what we do not see’ (Hebrews 11:5,1). What a testimony Enoch left behind him! Not much is said about him, but what power of the Spirit of God there is in these few words! The reference to ‘the Lord’ in Noah's life (29) prepares us for what is to come (chs. 6-9).
The story of Noah is the story of God’s grace - ‘Noah found grace’ (8). Noah lived in very difficult times (5-7), yet ‘Grace found Noah’. His testimony could be summed up: ‘Amazing grace...I once was lost but now am found’ (Mission Praise, 31). Expanding on the thought of 5:29 - ‘this one (Noah) shall bring relief from our work and from the toil of our hands’ - we may allow our thoughts to turn to Christ and say to Him: ‘Not the labour of my hands can fulfil Thy law's demands...All for sin could not atone, Thou must save, and Thou alone. Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy Cross I cling' (Church Hymnary, 83). In these two statements - ‘Noah found grace’ and ‘this one will bring...’, we see both salvation and service. We are saved to serve. Once we ourselves have been found by grace, we are to seek to bring others to Christ that they also may be saved by Him and become His servants.
To view the flood exclusively in terms of judgment is to see only one side of what God was doing. As well as judging, He was also saving - ‘In this ship a few people - eight in all - were saved by water’ (1 Peter 3:20). The ark points forward to Christ ‘who came back from death to life’, Christ who ‘saves’ us (1 Peter 3:21). God was working out His purpose of salvation. In Noah’s day, the remnant of faith was very small, yet the promise of God's love was given to them - ‘I will establish My covenant with you’ (18). Even when wickedness threatens to overwhelm us, we still have God’s promise of love, ‘the new covenant in Christ’s blood’ (1 Corinthians 11:25). ‘The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7). Knowing that Christ loved us and died for us, we are to be like Noah (22). We are to walk with the Lord and serve Him.
Here, we pick up on the words of verse 16 - ‘the Lord closed the door behind them’. What was going on outside of the ark is contrasted with the haven of salvation inside the ark. What was it that made the ark a place of salvation? - The Lord. What is it that makes Jesus Christ the Source of our salvation? - God has given Him the Name that is above every name, the Name of our salvation (Philippians 2:9-11; Acts 4:12). From the ark, we learn of (a) the one way of salvation - The ark had only one door. Jesus is ‘the Door’ which leads to salvation (John 10:9); (b) the eternal security of salvation - All were safe inside the ark. In Christ there is eternal security (John 10:28); (c) the absolute necessity of salvation - Outside of the ark, there was certain death. Refusal to come to Christ for salvation leads to judgment: ‘How shall we escape...?’ (Hebrews 2:3).
Following the flood, we have this simple yet striking declaration: ‘the ground was dry’ (13). Safe from judgment! This is the message which comes to us from the Cross: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). The judgment has fallen upon Christ. We are no longer swept away in the judgment. We can stand on solid ground: ‘On Christ the solid Rock I stand’ (Church Hymnary, 411). He is our Support in ‘the whelming flood’. God said to Noah, ‘Come out of the ship’ (15). We are in Christ. He is the Source of our salvation. God has brought us into Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30). He does not bring us into Christ solely for our own benefit. We are sent out to be fruitful (17; John 15:16). We are to ‘abide in Christ’. This is the way of fruitfulness (John 15:4-5). We are not sent out alone. Strengthened in ‘the ship’ (in Christ), we step out with Christ and for Him.
‘When you see a rainbow, remember God is love’. The rainbow reminds us of the gracious promise of God (13-15). If the love of God is revealed in the rainbow, it is more fully revealed in the Cross: ‘We sing the praise of Him who died, of Him who died upon the Cross... upon the Cross we see in shining letters. ‘God is love’, He bears our sins upon the tree. He brings us mercy from above’. When we read the Old Testament stories, we must learn to see their place within the fuller Story, the Story of God’s salvation: ‘I will sing the wondrous Story of the Christ who died for me’. This is the greatest Story of all - ‘the Story of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love,... the Story of wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin’. ‘This is our Story. This is our Song, praising our Saviour all the day long’. This is ‘the Story to tell to the nations’ (Church Hymnary, 258,381,132; Mission Praise, 59,744).
What a sad episode this is! It teaches us that yesterday's victories can become today's defeats, if we do not keep close to God. We read, in Hebrews 11:7 of Noah the man of faith, but here we have a very different picture. The lesson is clear - ‘The arm of flesh will fail you; Ye dare not trust your own’. We must not look to our own strength to keep us in the way of faith and obedience. It cannot be done. We fail. ‘God can do anything but fail’. We must affirm our faith in God - ‘All my hope on God is founded’. In man, there is no sure foundation - only ‘change and chance’. There is nothing that will last - ‘only pride of man and earthly glory’ (Church Hymnary, 481,405). Can we be guided through change and chance? Yes, but we must learn from Noah’s fall - Past grace is no guarantee of present growth - , and we must keep our eyes on Jesus, ‘the Author and Finisher of our faith' (Hebrews 12: 2).
What a lot of names! Why is all this included in God’s Word? It may describe the historical context of God’s unfolding purpose of providing salvation for sinners, but what does it say to us? The inclusion of so many obscure names emphasizes that everyone - however obscure - is important. ‘God so loved the world’ (John 3:16) - not only the ‘important’ people but all people. Names are important to God. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls His sheep ‘by name’ (John 10:3). Among the many names there is an interesting reference to ‘Nimrod, the first mighty warrior on the earth...a mighty hunter whom the Lord blessed’ (8-9). First among ‘the cities of his kingdom’ was ‘Babylon’ (10). Alarm bells ring! - Babylon's rebellion! The privilege of God’s blessing brings the responsibility of maintaining His blessing. We must be ‘mighty warriors’ for God (2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:10-20).
Human pride sets itself up against the authority of God. This is the oft-repeated story of the ‘Tower of Babel’. The end of godless men is sure - ‘Tower and temple, fall to dust’ (Church Hymnary, 405). Sin can be analyzed psychologically in terms of the human attitude of proud independence - ‘let us make a name for ourselves’ (5), sociologically in terms of sin’s pervasive influence on a whole society (this was the sin of a whole society), and theologically in terms of the divine judgment which human sin brings upon itself (5-9). What a contrast there is between the Tower of Babel and the great declaration of Proverbs 18:10 - ‘The Name of the Lord is a strong tower’. In Babel there is scattering (9). In the Lord, there is safety - ‘A righteous man runs to it and is safe’. Do not imagine yourself to be strong (Proverbs 18:11). True strength is in Christ alone (1 Corinthians 1:27).
Another list of names! Again, there is something here for us - God is moving on. These many names summarize the times between Noah and Abraham. We must look beyond this list of names. We must see them in connection with His Story. History can be tedious, until we see it as His Story. From the human standpoint, things seem to have come to a dead end: ‘Now Sarai was barren; she had no child’ (30). There are, however, no dead ends when God is at work. From verse 30, we move on to 12:1-3. We read on though the story of Abraham. We learn of the faith of Sarah and the faithfulness of God (Hebrews 11:11-12). We follow the Story on to Christ, who is the fulfilment of the promise given to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:16). This is the Story of ‘the God of Abraham’, the ‘God of love’. Through Christ our Saviour, we will ‘sing the wonders of His grace for ever more’ (Church Hymnary, 358).
This is a divine Story, carried forward by God’s grace and power. God’s very great promises (1-3) find their ultimate fulfilment in the coming of God’s eternal Kingdom (Revelation 21:10). We have not reached our heavenly destination. We are still caught in the tension between obedience (4) and disobedience (11-13). We are conscious of our human failure, yet we rejoice in the divine faithfulness. We read of Abraham’s sin (10-20), yet we look beyond this to God's salvation. This is not simply the story of Abraham. It is the Story of Abraham's God. This becomes clear in the change of name. Abram (‘exalted father’) draws attention to the man. Abraham (‘Father of Many’) points to God’s purpose (17:5). Like Abraham, we are to worship God (7-8). We are to say, ‘He is exalted’. We are to say, ‘Christ must increase, and I must decrease’ (John 3:30).
Life is full of choices. Lot made a selfish choice (10-12). He allied himself with ‘the men of Sodom (who) were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord’ (13). Abraham made a godly choice, and he was blessed by the Lord (14-17). The lesson of Abraham’s choice is the lesson of Matthew 6:33 - Seek God’s glory and find His blessing. We read later of Lot’s restoration (19:29). This is ‘amazing grace’! How much better it would have been if Lot had chosen the Lord’s way in the first place! The choices we make reveal the people that we are. The worldly man, Lot, thought only of himself. The spiritual man, Abraham, concerned himself with doing the Lord’s will. The worldly man takes for himself (11). The spiritual man receives from the Lord (15). Our sin comes from ourselves. Our salvation comes from the Lord. Confess your sin. Receive God’s forgiveness.
Following an account of military conflict, we come to a passage that is full of Christ (18-20). In Melchisedek, we see Jesus. In Hebrews 7:3, we learn that Melchisedek resembles the Son of God. We read on, in verse 4, ‘See how great he is’, and, in our hearts we say, ‘How great is our Lord Jesus Christ’. Melchisedek is ‘the King of Salem (peace)’ (18), pointing to Christ through whom we have ‘peace with God’ (Romans 5:1). Melchisedek brings ‘bread and wine’ (18), pointing to Christ whose body was broken for us and whose blood was shed for us (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Melchisedek spoke of the divine deliverance from enemies (20), pointing to Christ's victory over Satan (Colossians 2:15). In this episode we see the origins of tithing. It is not a legalistic practice. God had been good to Abraham. In grateful worship, Abraham responded, giving the tenth to Him (20).
God is greater than our circumstances. God had given great promises to Abraham, yet there appeared no sign that His promises were being fulfilled. The circumstances seemed bleak, and Abraham felt despondent. Abraham was full of questions. In verse 2, he asks, ‘What can you give me...?’. This is the question of salvation. What does God give? He gives salvation. In verse 8, he asks, ‘How can I know...?’. This is the question of assurance. We ask for assurance. God gives it - the assurance of salvation, the assurance that salvation has been given and received. Where are we to look for answers to these questions? Are we to look to our circumstances? Are we to look to our feelings? No. We look to the ‘Almighty God’ (2,8). Trusting in Christ, the ‘Passover Lamb...sacrificed for us’, we receive a sure salvation (6:1; 1 Corinthians 5:7; John 20:31; 1 John 5:13).
From salvation and the assurance of salvation, we turn to Satan and the activity of Satan. Sarai came with temptation (1). Abraham yielded to temptation (2). Temptation becomes sin when we yield to it. In Abraham, we see the conflict between ‘the old man’ that he was and ‘the new man’ God was calling him to become (17:5; Galatians 5:17). He chose the way of unbelief. Listening to the voice of Satan, speaking through Sarai, he walked straight into immorality. Unbelief and immorality belong together (Romans 1:18). We must guard our hearts with respect to both what we believe and how we behave. We must not imagine that Satan will win the victory over the Lord and His purpose of salvation. Satan will try to overcome God's gracious purpose, but he will not succeed (Revelation 20:10). ‘Hallelujah!... the Lord our God the Almighty reigns’ (Revelation 19:6).
Amazing grace - this is the marvellous theme of this chapter. Abram became Abraham (5). Sarai became Sarah (15-16). What they were belonged to their sinful past. What they became was the work of God's grace. What a contrast there is between human sin and divine grace. We look at ourselves. We see sin, and we lose hope. We look at the God of grace, and we say, ‘Sin shall not have dominion. Grace is victorious’ (Romans 6:14). Abram and Sarai appeared to be hopeless cases. They had failed the Lord, but He did not fail them. He made them new people. They became the father and mother of nations. To those who do not deserve His love, God still renews His ‘covenant’, His promise of love (2). He still says, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’ (Jeremiah 31:3). In the Cross of Christ, we have the greatest ‘sign of the covenant’ (11; Romans 5:8).
Is anything too hard for the Lord? (14). We need to hear these words as God’s call to greater faith. Sarah, like Abraham, had heard God’s promises, yet ‘she laughed to herself’ (12). We can hear God’s Word, and still remain, in our hearts, men and women of unbelief. The Word of God does not benefit us when we do not receive it with faith (Hebrews 4:2). God knows what is in our hearts, just as He knew what was in Sarah’s heart (13-15). He knows the human heart, ‘deceitful above all things’ (Jeremiah 17:9), yet He continues to love us. He does not give up on us. He perseveres with us. He could have given up on Sarah as a hopeless waste of His time, but He did not. ‘The evil heart of unbelief’ is always with us, but God is constantly at work to create in us ‘a clean heart’ ( Hebrews 3:12: Psalm 51:10). 'Soften my heart, Lord’ (Mission Praise, 606).
In the face of the threatened judgment of God upon Sodom and Gomorrah, we find Abraham engaging in mighty intercessory prayer. He is not concerned only about himself and his own salvation. He is prayerfully committed to seeking the salvation of others. This is a mark of spiritual maturity - a deep concern for the salvation of sinners, leading to earnest intercessory prayer for them. Abraham drew near to God (23; James 4:8). He pleaded with the God of grace to have mercy on the city (23-25; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:3-4, 1:15; John 3:17). With a deep love for the people, Abraham prays with boldness and persistence (27,32; Hebrews 4:16). A great many people refused to honour God, yet His purpose was not hindered. The remnant seemed impossibly small. It was the beginning of blessing for all nations. ‘To God be the glory, Great things He has done’ (Church Hymnary, 374).
In Genesis 3, we read of humanity’s fall into sin. Here, we see the awfulness of human sin and the awesomeness of divine judgment. We must take God with the utmost seriousness. If we refuse to take Him seriously, He will continue to take us seriously - in His judgment! Sin leads to judgment - that’s the lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is sadness in the story of Lot. A compromised believer for whom the world had no respect, he chose Sodom. This choice brought him nothing but sin and shame - ‘and now he wants to play the judge!’ (9). The amazing thing is that God did not give up on this ‘backslider’ - ‘the Lord was merciful to them... He brought Lot out of the catastrophe’ (16,29). What a great thing it is to have God’s salvation: ‘everything we need for life and godliness’ to ‘escape the corruption in the world’ (2 Peter 1:3-5).
These are stories of deception and deceit. Lot is deceived by his daughters (30-38). Abraham deceives Abimelech (1-18). Even with the divine provision for godliness, we need to be constantly on our guard. Even those to whom we had looked for help can turn out to be a hindrance. Lot was drawn into incest. This had drastic effects - ‘the father of the Moabites, the father of the Ammonites’ (37-38)! Devotion to the Lord needs to be renewed day-by-day. Otherwise, we will be vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy and overcome by him. Abraham concealed the whole truth by telling a half-truth (12). Abraham was regarded as ‘a prophet’ (7). He ought to have lived the life of a prophet, a true life. We are to be true - the people of God.
We have here the contrast between Isaac, the child of promise, and Ishmael, the fruit of unbelief. Ishmael was born as a result of impatience, the failure to wait upon the Lord. In the birth of Isaac, the initiative belonged with God, and the glory belonged to Him. In Christ, we are the children of promise - ‘children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God’ (John 1:13). God did not forget Ishmael. There were blessings for him (17-21). The difference between Ishmael and Isaac is the difference between common grace and saving grace. Many people know much of the grace of God in ‘the common things of life’ (Church Hymnary, 457). There are so many blessings for them to count. Still they fail to appreciate God’s greatest gift - His Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Thank God for this and that and... Jesus!
Here, we see Abraham in his relationship with the world (22-34) and his relationship with the Lord (1-14). Abraham deals honestly and wisely with the pagan king, Abimelech, who acknowledges Abraham's closeness to God - ‘God is with you in all that you do’ (22). We are to be honest and wise in our relationship with the world (Romans 12:17; Colossians 4:5; Ephesians 5:15; 1 Peter 2:12). Our relationship with the world is to be grounded in our relationship with God. In the testing of Abraham, we catch a glimpse of ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). Christ is the Lamb whom God will provide (8). In verse 14, we read, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided’. On Calvary’s hill, Christ died to bring us to God, so that we might learn to live for Him in this world (1 Peter 3:18; 2:24).
After the renewal of God’s promise (15-18), Abraham went to Beersheba (19). He returned to the place where he had ‘called...on the Name of the Lord, the Everlasting God’ (33). This is a good ‘place’ to be, the ‘place’ of calling on the Name of the Lord, the Everlasting God. As we read of the death and burial of Sarah, we must remember this: the Lord is the Everlasting God. The death of Sarah took place in God's time. Her death signified that her work had been done. She had mothered the child of promise. Beyond the death of Sarah, there was the continuing purpose of God. The cave at Machpelah (23:19-20) became the burial place for Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah. We see the continuity of history, and we thank God for His continuing faithfulness down through the generations.
The servant was sent on a mission. He was ‘to get a wife for... Isaac’ (4). When Christ entered Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11), He was on a mission. He had come for His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:25; Revelation 21:2-3). The servant was not to ‘get a wife... from... the Canaanites’ (3). The Church is to be made ‘holy,... a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless’ (Ephesians 5:26-27). The servant carried out his mission carefully and prayerfully (12-14). Jesus was careful to fulfil the words of the prophet - entering Jerusalem 'on a donkey' (Matthew 21:2-7). In His journey to the Cross, Jesus was concerned with this one thing - ‘to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work’ (John 4:34). The servant prayed, and the answer was given (15-16). Not my will but Thine, Lord!
The detailed account of Isaac's marriage highlights the guidance of God. He directs the life of His people. This is our testimony - ‘the Lord... has led me on the right road’ (48). The great lessons of this story are stated in verse 27 - (a) the ‘steadfast love’ of the Lord; (b) the ‘faithfulness’ of God; (c) the guidance of God - ‘the Lord has led me’; (d) worshipping the Lord - ‘Blessed be the Lord...’. We are to seek God’s guidance, rejoicing in His love and trusting in His faithfulness. Looking to Christ, who went to the Cross for us, we are to say, with Him, ‘I have come to do Thy will, O God’, ‘I will praise Thee’, ‘I will put my trust in Him’, ‘Here am I, and the children God has given Me’ (Hebrews 10:7; 2:12-13). To those who do His will, praising Him and trusting Him, God will give much blessing - ‘an overflowing blessing’ (Malachi 3:10).
In verse 60, we read of the blessing of God upon Rebekah - ‘Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the gates of their enemies’. This refers to the long-term fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham. Through the death of Christ, the Lamb of God, ‘a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation,’ will sing the song of salvation, ‘Salvation belongs to our God ...and to the Lamb’ (Revelation 7: 9-10). This is what we must pray for in our own community. In homes where Christ has not been honoured, there will be transformation. The Lord’s messengers will be received - ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ - and the Lord’s Name will be praised - ‘Hosanna in the highest!’ (Matthew 21:9). Such blessing will be given to those who spend time with God (63; Joshua 1:8).
What will we leave behind us? What will we pass on to the next generation? In this passage of many names, there is a challenging contrast between the influence of Abraham and Ishmael on the next generation. In verse 11, we read, ‘After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac’. In verse 18, we find that ‘Ishmael’s descendants lived in hostility toward all their brothers’. In Isaiah 52:13-53:12, there is a great prophecy concerning the death of Christ. We read of His suffering, as He becomes ‘an offering for sin’. We learn also of His glorious future - ‘He will see His offspring and prolong His days’ (53:10). Unlike Abraham (175 years) and Ishmael (137 years), Jesus did not live a long life on earth (33 years), yet ‘He shall see the fruit of the travail of His soul and be satisfied’ - ‘many’ will be ‘accounted righteous’ (11).
Esau was a fool. He chose his own way rather than the Lord’s way. Jacob was a ‘heel’! ‘Born with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel..., he was named Jacob (Heel)’ (26). A crafty twister, a manipulating cheat, there was nothing about him that merited God’s blessing. He was not superior to Esau. Like Esau, Jacob was a sinner. Esau was not inferior to Jacob. Both were guilty before God. Why, then - in God’s purpose - does ‘the elder’ (Esau) ‘serve the younger’ (Jacob) (23)? The answer is grace, the ‘amazing grace’ of God. Grace lifted Jacob. The glory belongs to God. Grace could have lifted Esau. By grace Jacob valued the birthright (God’s blessing). His way of seeking God’s blessing was devious. Nevertheless, he was seeking for God - and God, in His grace, found him and made him a new man (32:28). ‘Wonderful grace of Jesus, Greater than all my sin!’
‘History repeats itself’. Sin has a ‘like father, like son’ quality about it - Isaac is like Abraham (7; 12:13, 20:2, 12-13), Jacob is like Isaac (7; 25:31,27:19). Grace repeats itself. God is faithful. He gives forgiveness and victory over temptation (1 John 1:9; 1 Corinthians 10:13). He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). Deceived by ‘the father of lies’ (the devil), ‘man’ denies the truth (John 8:44). ‘Let God be true, and every man a liar’ (Romans 3:4). In verses 19-22, there’s ‘the story of the three wells’ - ‘Dispute’, ‘Opposition’, ‘Room’. Things went from bad to worse, then there was progress. There is room for both, when there is no more quarrelling. Isaac worshipped God, and was recognised as God’s man (25,28). We are to be recognised as God’s people, but remember - verse 34 - even the Lord’s people can make mistakes!
The deception of Isaac by Jacob (prompted by Rebekah) is a sad episode, yet God - in grace - really bestows His blessing on Jacob. Beneath Jacob’s deceit, there was a real desire to be blessed by God. To Esau (the late arrival), Isaac says, ‘I have blessed him - yes, and he shall be blessed. I blessed him, and blessed he will remain’ (33). Once the blessing had been given, it could not be recalled. The blessing could not be undone. Power bestowed by God could not be removed. This had nothing to do with ‘Jacob’s righteousness’. It had everything to do with God’s faithfulness. The good work begun by God, will be completed by Him (Philippians 1:6). This was true for Jacob (28:15). It is true for us - ‘All the promises of God find their Yes in Christ’. To this, we say ‘Amen’ and ‘To God be the Glory’ (2 Corinthians 1:20)!
What a tangled web! Jacob has cheated Esau. Now, Esau is saying, ‘I will kill my brother Jacob’ (41). What are we to make of all this? We must look beyond the human scene. Behind it all, there is ‘God Almighty’ (3). God will fulfil His promises. Nothing will distract Him from His ultimate purpose of salvation. We look at the complex series of events involving Rebekah, Isaac, Jacob and Esau. God looks beyond all of that to Jesus Christ. He looks beyond the nation of Israel. His purpose concerns ‘the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). ‘The blessing of Abraham’ refers not only to the ‘land’ (4). There is also ‘the promise of the Spirit’ (Galatians 3:14). We are to live ‘by the power of the Spirit’, and not ‘according to the flesh’ as Esau did when ‘he went to Ishmael (the child of Abraham's unbelief...)’ (9; Galatians 4:29).
Just another night (11)? No! - this was a night to remember, a night Jacob would never forget. God came to him with His wonderful promise of love: ‘I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you’ (15). At Bethel (‘the house of God’), powerfully transformed by the presence of God - ‘Surely the Lord is in this place’ (16) - , Jacob consecrated himself to the Lord. ‘If’ (20) means ‘Since’. See Romans 8:31 - ‘If (Since) God is for us, who can be against us?’. Giving the tenth (22) - this is not legalism, a kind of repayment scheme. There can be no ‘salvation by works’. We are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our giving must always be a heartfelt expression of thanksgiving to the God of grace: ‘Loving Him who first loved me’. We are saved ‘to do good works’ (Ephesians 2:10) - not because we do good works!
The tables are turned on Jacob. The trickster is tricked! The ‘trick’ was according to the ‘custom’ that the elder daughter should be given in marriage before the younger one (23,25-26). Seven years became fourteen years (18-20,27,30). Jacob did receive his heart’s desire, but there was a lesson to be learned: Going God’s way is better than getting your own way. ‘All things work together for good to those who love God’ (Romans 8:28) - this doesn’t mean that we always get what we want. We must learn to ‘let go and let God have His wonderful way’, and to say, ‘This God - His way is perfect’ (Psalm 18:30). Out of love for Rachel (18,20), Jacob served Laban for an extra seven years. We would serve Christ better if we loved Him more. Jesus still asks the question, ‘Do you love Me?’ (John 21:15-17).
Leah progressed beyond her own concerns (32-34) to the most important thing: ‘This time I will praise the Lord’ (35). Of the many children, the most significant, in terms of God’s purpose of redemption, was Joseph (22-24). An answer to prayer, it was the work of divine grace (22). ‘Rachel was barren’ (31) yet the Lord gave her this testimony: ‘God has taken away my disgrace’ (23). We move from one Joseph to another - the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. We see an even greater work of grace: the birth of our Saviour. Rachel was to have a second son, Benjamin (24). Through Christ, God has many sons and daughters (Galatians 4:4-5). Rachel rejoiced in the gift of a son, her son. We rejoice in the gift of the Son, God’s Son. Through the Spirit of God’s Son living in our hearts, we are God’s children and He is our Father (Galatians 4:6).
Jacob was still a complex character, trying to arrange his own prosperity (37-43). There is, however, another, better reason for his prosperity - God had promised to bless him, and God did bless him (28:15). Inner desire, favourable circumstances, the divine Word - all three were present in Jacob’s decision to leave Laban and ‘go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan’ (18). (a) Inner desire - Jacob had been badly treated by Laban, and he did not want to work for him any longer (2); (b) Favourable circumstances - Jacob had grown ‘exceedingly prosperous’ (43). He didn’t need to keep on working for Laban; (c) The divine Word - Inner desire and circumstances were not enough to confirm God’s guidance to Jacob. He needed God’s command and promise (3). Let God ‘guide’ by His ‘light and truth’ (Psalm 48:14; 43:3).
As we try to unravel the complexities of Jacob’s dealings with Laban, we must remember this one thing: ‘If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the fear of Isaac (the God before whom Isaac bowed in reverence) had not been with me...’ (42). This is the spiritual dimension. We must not lose sight of this. Life can be complicated at times, but we must not forget this: God is with us. Jacob, who was renamed ‘Israel’ (32:28), confessed his faith: God is with me. Later on, the nation of Israel confessed its faith in God: ‘If it had not been the Lord who was on our side...’, it would have been disaster. ‘Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth’. The Lord is with us still. With the Psalmist, we say, ‘Blessed be the Lord’. He is the God of our salvation (Psalm 124).
Jacob and Laban were not exactly the best of friends. Nevertheless, they came to an agreement that they would not continue feuding with each other (52). Jacob prepares to meet Esau (1-21). From verses 9-12, we learn some important spiritual lessons - (a) Make sure that God is your God, and not only the God of your father and grandfather (9). (b) Confess your unworthiness of ‘all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness’ of God (10). (c) Pray to God for salvation - ‘Save me I pray...’ (11). (d) Stand on the promises of God - ‘You have said...’ (12). Jacob, soon to be renamed Israel (32:28), was preparing to meet Esau. There is, in his prayer, the way of being prepared for a more important meeting: ‘Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!’ (Amos 4:12). Confess your sin, pray for salvation, stand on God’s Word - make it personal!
At the place called Peniel, Jacob ‘saw God face to face’ (30). We see ‘the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Jacob wrestled with God and became an overcomer (28). Christ wrestled with the powers of evil, and has won a mighty victory for us. When He cried out from the Cross, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30), this was not an admission of defeat. It was the declaration of victory - the victory has been won, the victory is complete. ‘Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:57). For Jacob, crossing the Jabbok involved a spiritual ‘crossing over’. Jacob became Israel, a new man (28). After he had been ‘touched’ by God, Jacob was ‘limping’ (31-32). This was a reminder of his own weakness. His true strength was in the Lord. Wait on the Lord, and renew your strength (Isaiah 40:31).
From Jacob’s meeting with God, we come to his meeting with Esau. Before we start thinking of this as a big ‘come down’, we should note Jacob’s word to Esau: ‘truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God’ (10). Jacob is describing his meeting with Esau in terms of his encounter with God at Peniel: ‘I have seen God face to face (32:30). Before we dismiss Jacob’s words as ‘a bit over the top’, we should remember Jesus’ words: ‘as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me’ (Matthew 25:40). We are not to choose between loving God and loving our neighbour. We are to love both (Matthew 22:37-38). We honour God. We are to honour other people. The two go together - reverence for God our Creator and respect for people, created in God's image (1 John 4:20-21).
This chapter is about sin - the name of God is not even mentioned! We might well say of this chapter: ‘the less said the better’. We should, however, notice that Jacob is still turning out to be a big disappointment. Despite all Jacob’s potential (28:15-17,20-22; 32:28-30), there is still, in him, a great deal of self and not very much of the Lord. We see this in verse 30: ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me odious... my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household’. Where is God in all this? It seems that Jacob has become so preoccupied with himself and his own interests that he has forgotten all about God. Amazingly, the next chapter begins, ‘God said to Jacob, “Arise...”’. God was still calling him to higher things. What love! God doesn’t give up on us. He keeps on calling us back to Himself.
‘God appeared to Jacob again ... and blessed him’ (9). The Lord’s blessing does not come only once. Again and again, He blesses His people, leading us on to a closer walk with Him. God knows what we have been - ‘Your name is Jacob’ (10). He knows how often we have failed Him, yet still, He loves us. Still, He holds out before us a new and better future - ‘Israel shall be your name’ (10). God is inviting us to enter into a future of fruitfulness (11): ‘I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that you fruit should abide’ (John 15:16). Special mention is made of ‘the place where God had spoken with him’ - ‘Bethel’ (the house of God) (15). We cannot expect to be fruitful witnesses if we are not faithful worshippers. Listen for God’s Word. Take His Word with you - and share it with others.
Two prisoners looked out from the same cell. One saw the sunshine and the other saw mud! There are two ways of looking at every situation - 'Benoni' (son of my sorrow), 'Benjamin' (son of the right hand) (35:18). Spot the missing name in chapter 36? - God. Many never think of God (Psalm 10:4). Esau’s hardness of heart was more than personal. It has continued for generations - ‘two nations... two peoples...’ (25:23). He has ‘spiritual’ descendants too. God’s Word warns us: ‘See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of Esau’ (Hebrews 12:15-17). Salvation does not come to us because of our good works (Romans 9:10-13). Every attempt to save ourselves meets with the divine condemnation (Malachi 1:1-4; Romans 3:19-20). Thank God for your own salvation. Never feel superior because of it. Pray that hard hearts will be brought to Christ (1 Timothy 1: 12-17; Romans 1:16).
Here, we have human sin and divine grace. We see jealousy (11) and its effects: ‘where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice’ (James 3:16). We see God working out His purpose: ‘you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good’ (50:20). In his dreams, Joseph was given a glimpse of the ‘new thing’ (Isaiah 43:19) God was about to do. Joseph’s situation seemed hopeless: ‘cast... into a pit’, ‘sold’ into slavery (24,28). God was in this situation. Each of us is in a ‘pit’, but we are not alone. Jesus has gone into the ‘pit’ for us, and He has come out of it victorious: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? O grave where is your victory?’.  Slaves of Satan, we have been set free by Christ (Romans 6:17-18; Hebrews 2:14-15). God was with Joseph. He is with us.
‘Judah went down from his brothers, and turned in to a certain Adullamite...’ (1-2). This is the sad story of so many people: Drawn away by an unbelieving man/woman from the fellowship of God's people, the story then goes from bad to worse. A whole catalogue of disasters follows. God is mentioned in only two verses (7,10). Both speak of human sin and divine judgment. God’s Word is clear: Believers are not to be joined in marriage to unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). Lower your spiritual defences at this point, and you are asking for big trouble! Satan is ready to sweep in and cause chaos. This sad story of sin and shame stands as a warning to us. Do not rush into sinful choices. Put God first, and let Him lead you in His perfect way: ‘Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well’ (Matthew 6:33).
In chapter 38, we read of unbridled lust. Here, we read of sexual restraint: ‘how can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ (9). Sin brings complications, and so does obedience! There is, in fact, only one complication - sin. We live in a sinful world, which has no real interest in obedience to God. We must be realistic: ‘all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Timothy 3:12). Obedience and persecution - we see both in the story of Joseph. He was tempted, but he did not sin (7-9). Temptation is not sin. God provides ‘the way of escape’ (1 Corinthians 10:13). Christ is ‘the way’ (John 14:6), God’s way of escape. We go to Him when we are tempted (Hebrews 2:16; 4:15-16). Joseph was put into prison, ‘but the Lord was with him, and showed him steadfast love’ (20-21) - ‘persecuted, but not forsaken’' (2 Corinthians 4:9).
God gave Joseph power to overcome temptation (chapter 39). Now, He gives him power to interpret dreams. Here, Joseph the dreamer (37:5-11) becomes Joseph the interpreter of dreams. Joseph may be viewed as a prophet: ‘Surely  the Lord does nothing, without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets’ (Amos 3:7). As a true prophet, he gives the glory to God alone: ‘Do not interpretations belong to God?’ (8). Joseph became the forgotten man (23). For Joseph, life had become very difficult. He had known prosperity (39:2-3). Now, he was suffering adversity.  God is in both our prosperity and our adversity. He uses adversity to produce in us a heart of humility. What was Joseph doing while he was in prison? He was keeping close to God, waiting patiently for his ‘time to speak’ (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
‘After two whole years’, Joseph was still the forgotten man. Then Pharaoh had a dream (1). This was the beginning of the next stage of God’s plan for Joseph. In the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph directs attention to God: ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favourable answer... God has revealed to Pharaoh what He is about to do... God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do... the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass (16,25,28,32). Joseph spoke with divine authority because ‘the Spirit of God’ was living in him (38). God was at work in Joseph, enabling him to forget his hardship and to be fruitful in his affliction (51-52). This is the work of divine grace - a reversal of human expectations. By God’s grace, hardship and affliction lead not to bitterness and resentment but to a deeper love for the Lord.
‘Joseph’s brothers... bowed themselves before him’ (6). Remember Joseph’s dream (37:5-11)! God is fulfilling His purpose. This has nothing to do with the glory of Joseph. It has everything to do with the glory of God. Joseph was exalted to a place of honour because he was a man of God: ‘I fear God’ (18). All the glory belongs to God alone! Joseph’s treatment of his brothers seemed harsh. In verse 24, we see another side of him: ‘he turned away from them and wept’. Joseph loved his brothers. Behind his ‘harsh’ words, there was love. He wanted them to recognize their sin (38:18-33). He was paving the way for his reunion with them in brotherly love. God loves us. Sometimes, His ways seem harsh, but they are always for our best (Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12:5-11). He shows us how much our sin hurts Him so that we might see how much He loves us.
The roles have been reversed. At the beginning of Joseph’s story, it seemed that the brothers had control over his destiny (37:19-20). Now, Joseph has the upper hand. Ultimately , it was the Lord who was in control. In all the events of Joseph’s life, God had been leading him towards the re-uniting of the family through which He would work out His purpose of grace. Joseph, the man at the centre of God’s purpose, knew the God of grace and desired that others might also know the blessing of the gracious God (29). Benjamin was Joseph’s only full brother. The others were step-brothers (29:31-30:24; 35: 16-18). Joseph had a special affection for Benjamin (30). In the love of Joseph for Benjamin, we see God’s love for us: ‘My compassion grows warm and tender’ (Hosea 11: 8); ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’ (Jeremiah 31:3).
God is fulfilling His purpose: ‘the brothers fell before Joseph to the ground’ (14; 37:7,10). God’s purpose is moving towards its ultimate fulfilment: ‘that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow’ (Phillipians 2:10). As God’s purpose moves forward, the brothers are being changed from men who sold their brother into slavery to men who will welcome him again as their long-lost brother (37:28; 45:15). God wants to change us - ‘Jesus, You are changing me, By Your Spirit You're making me like You. Jesus, You're transforming me, That Your loveliness may be seen in all I do.You are the potter and I am the clay. Help me to be willing to let You have Your way.  Jesus, You are changing me, as I let You reign supreme within my heart’ (Mission Praise, 389). Bowing the knee to Jesus Christ begins here and now.
In the reunion of Joseph with his brothers, there is a great testimony to the God of grace: ‘Do not be distressed... because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life... God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God... God has made me lord of all Egypt' (5,7-9). Joseph was the pioneer. He went ahead of the others. He paved the way for them. Jesus is ‘the Pioneer of our salvation’. He will ‘bring many sons to glory’. He will welcome us as His ‘brothers’ (Hebrews 2:10-12). Jesus is also the ‘Perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2). He is leading us to ‘a better country - a heavenly one’ (Hebrews 11:16). Let ‘every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord’ (Philipians 2:11). Let it begin here on earth.
Jacob goes to Egypt. There were three factors in Jacob’s guidance: Inner desire - He wanted to see Joseph;  Circumstances - Joseph wanted to see him and his sons were going to take him;  God’s Word - God told him to go.  With God’s command, there was also His promise - ‘I will there make of you a great nation’. There was no need for fear because God would be with him (3-4). Life would not be easy in Egypt - ‘every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians’ (34). We live in a world which does not honour Christ as ‘the Good Shepherd’ (John 10:11,14), ‘the Great Shepherd’ (Hebrews 13:20-21), ‘the Chief Shepherd’ (1 Peter 5:4). In Christ, we are ‘a holy nation’. Why has God made us His ‘own people’? - ‘that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him... ’ (1 Peter 2:9). ‘The nations are waiting for us, waiting for the gospel we will bring’ (Songs of Fellowship, 539). 
Jacob and Joseph - the two stories are one. Christ and the Christian - our story is bound up with His story. Jacob reflects on his life - ‘What has it all amounted to?’. He does not sing his own praises (8-9). Let the glory be given to God and not kept for ourselves. Joseph provided food for his family (12). Jesus has provided for us something better than food (Matthew 4:4) - ‘an eternal redemption’ (Hebrews 9:12). Grateful to Joseph for what he had done for them, the people said, ‘You have saved our lives... we will be slaves’ (25). Saved by Christ, we are to be ‘slaves’ of Christ (Romans 6:17-18). We belong to Christ. We are to serve Him. We look to Him to ‘give us seed (His Word)... that the land may not be desolate’ (19; Mark 4:14; Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 126:5-6). We ‘sow’. We ‘reap’. ‘God gives the growth’ (1 Corinthians 3:6-7) !
No more fear (46:3). No more pride (47:9). Now, no more doubt - God will bless (15-16, 19-21). Let it be confidence (Philippians 1:6), humility (John 15:5) and faith (Hebrews 11:1;  Philippians 3:14). Man's way is set aside - ‘his younger brother shall be greater than he’ (19). We are ‘saved by grace’ (Ephesians 2:8). There is one way of salvation - God’s way (John 14:6). Israel was promised a ‘land’ (21). In Christ, we are being led on to ‘a better country... a heavenly one’ (Hebrews 11:16). Jacob said, ‘I am about to die’ (21). Jesus says, ‘I died and... I am alive for evermore’ (Revelation 1:18). He says, ‘I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also’ (John 14:3). No more fear, pride, doubt - Christ saves ‘to the uttermost’ (Hebrews 7:25).
Jacob blesses his sons, ‘blessing each with the blessing suitable to him’ (28). The most significant blessings are reserved for Joseph (22-26). This is not simply the blessing of Jacob. This is the blessing of ‘the Mighty One of Jacob... the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel... the God of your father... God Almighty' (24-25). God blesses us ‘with blessings of heaven above, blessings which are mighty beyond the blessings of the eternal mountains, the bounties of the everlasting hills’ (25-26). He does this for us in Jesus Christ, the fulfilment of the divine purpose within which Joseph was privileged to take his part. ‘God... has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 1:3). What blessings He has given to us - the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, eternal life (Ephesians 1:7,13-14)! ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits’ (Psalm 103:2).
It was a time of ‘very great and sorrowful lamentation’ (10). Jacob had died (33). Soon, Joseph would be gone (26). God was still there. He had been there in the past (20). He would be there in the future (24-25). Times are hard. We rejoice: ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases’. An earthly life has ended. We say, ‘His mercies never come to an end’. We cannot cope. We discover that ‘His mercies are new every morning’. Everything seems to be changing. We trust in God’s unchanging love: ‘Great is Thy faithfulness’. It seems hopeless. We say, ‘I will hope in the Lord’ (Lamentations 3:22-24). ‘Bad’ things are happening to you. Do you need to be ‘reassured... and comforted’? - ‘God meant it for good... Do not fear’. The Lord ‘will provide for you’ (20-21). Whatever happens,  remember this - God is in control, and He loves you (Romans 8:28)!

Lord, we thank You for Jesus – He is the Rock of our salvation.

Lord, we thank You for Jesus – He is the Rock of our salvation. Often, in our journey through life, we’re walking on shifting sand. As we walk along, we discover that it’s more than shifting sand – It’s quicksand! It’s sucking us in – and it’s dragging us down. Is there any hope for us? Is there any solid ground? Yes! There is! Jesus is “the Solid Rock” (“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness … On Christ, the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”) Lord, we thank You that You’ve not left us to fall down in our own weakness. You’ve given us Jesus, our Saviour – We stand in His strength. When we feel like we’re sinking, help us, Lord, to look to You, to find new strength in You. When we’re almost overwhelmed by the flood of unbelief that seems to be coming at us all the time, help us to come to You and receive Your strength: “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Ephesians 6:10).

Lord, You have redeemed us. You have brought salvation to us.

Psalm 74:1-23
Lord, You have “redeemed” us. You have brought “salvation” to us (Psalm 74:2,12). We rejoice in the Old Testament story of redemption (Deuteronomy 7:8). We have much greater joy when we think of Jesus: “In Him we have redemption through His blood.” This is “the Gospel of our salvation.” It is “good news of a great joy.” Through faith in Him, we “rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy.” We look forward to “the salvation of our souls.” We say “Hallelujah! Salvation ans glory and power belong to our God” (Ephesians 1:7,13; Luke 2:10; 1 Peter 1:5,8-9; Revelation 19:1).

God Wants To Bless Us. How Much Do We Want To Be Blessed By Him?

Ezra 8:1-36
The return of God’s people to Jerusalem was not simply a geographical return - moving from one place to another. It was a spiritual return. They were returning to the Lord. They were seeking His blessing (21). Without God’s blessing, we are nothing. We may have happy memories of better days, recalling ‘the good old days’. We may look back to times of blessing, remembering how the hand of the Lord was upon us. If this is all we have, we have nothing. We are no longer in the place of blessing. We need to return to the Lord. The times of blessing can come again. God gives us His promise: ‘The hand of our God is for good upon all that seek Him’(22). God wants to bless us. How much do we want to be blessed by Him? If the times of blessing are to return to us, we must ‘return to the Lord’(Isaiah 55:6-13).

Ezra 9:1-10:44
The return of God’s blessing begins with a real confession of sin - ‘our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens’(9:6). If God chooses to bless us, it is not because we deserve to be blessed by Him. It is because He loves us and wants more than anything else to pour out His blessing upon us. Despite all of our sin, God’s Word encourages us to believe that the Lord may yet ‘grant us a little reviving’. Pray that God will ‘grant us some reviving to set up the House of our God’(9:8-9). This was Ezra’s prayer. It was the prayer of ‘a very great assembly of men, women and children’(10:1). If prayer for revival is real, it will be much more than pulpit prayer. There will be much prayer, arising from the hearts of many people: ‘If My people pray... I will heal their land’(2 Chronicles 7:14).

You, Lord, are calling us to leave the pathway of disobedience and disaster and to walk in the way of obedience and blessing.

Proverbs 29:1-27
‘The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern’. Lord, there are so many people who have a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude. They have stopped listening to Your Word and they have lost interest in living Your way – ‘Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint’. For those who are ignoring You, refusing to listen to Your Word and turning away from the pathway of obedience, You have a stern Word of warning: ‘If you get more stubborn every time you are corrected, one day you will be crushed and never recover’. You, Lord, are calling us to leave the pathway of disobedience and disaster and to walk in the way of obedience and blessing: ‘Blessed is he who keeps the law’ (Proverbs 29:7,1,18). Help us to hear what You’re saying to us and to do what You tell us to do.


In Philippians 2:8, we read of Jesus going into “the far country” (Luke 15:13) – “He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” – so that we might have an even greatest Homecoming of all – Christ has been “exalted … to the highest place.” He has been given “the Name that is above every name.” What a day it will be when “at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

Lord, there is always something more to be done for You.

2 Kings 1:1-2:13 
Lord, there is always something more to be done for You. Help us never to say, “I’ll leave it to someone else” or “I’ll leave it until tomorrow.” The things that are left to someone else or left until tomorrow often end up becoming the things that never get done. Help us, Lord, to be less casual and more committed in our attitude to Your work.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Lord, we need Your wisdom. We need Jesus – He is Your wisdom.

2 Chronicles 1:1-2:18
Lord, we need Your wisdom (2 Chronicles 1:10). We need Jesus – He is Your wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30). Without Jesus, we’re fools. We may think that we’re wise – but we’re not. Jesus makes us wise. True wisdom comes from Him. When we build our lives on Jesus, we are truly wise (Matthew 7:24-27). Lord, give us Your wisdom – the wisdom that knows the most important thing: Jesus is our Saviour.

The Suffering and Glory of Christ (Psalm 22)

 * The suffering of Christ - "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Psalm 22:1).
These words lie at the heart of Christ's suffering. He suffered for us. He died for our salvation. He is our Substitute and our Saviour: "He died that we might go to heaven, saved by His precious blood." He went in obedience to the Cross so that we might be called to obedience from the Cross. He was forsaken by God so that we might be forgiven by God.
 * The glory of Christ - "I will declare Your name to My brothers; in the congregation I will praise You" (Psalm 21:22).
Christ's prayer was answered. God raised Him from the dead. Apparent defeat was turned into glorious victory. The cloud of darkness was removed. The glorious light shone through. death is a defeated enemy. Resurrection to eternal life - this is our glorious hope.
As we look at the death and resurrection of Christ, let us give all the glory to God for all that He has done for us.

Lord, when You speak to us ...

Genesis 1:4-13                                  
Lord, when You speak to us, help us to say, ‘Your will be done’ (Matthew 6:10).
‘Let it be to me according to Your Word’ (Luke 1:38) - This was Mary’s prayer. May it also be our prayer. By ourselves, we are helpless and hopeless - Without Your help, we have no hope of doing Your will and pleasing You. We need Your Holy Spirit - May the Spirit’s ‘living water’ flow in us (John 7:37-39). Thank You, Lord, for the gift of Your Holy Spirit - He gives us the power to ‘walk in the light’ (1 John 1:7) with You. Lead us in the way of fruitfulness - the way of “love, joy, peace ..." (Galatians 5:22-23).

Daily Devotional Readings: Year Three - December

1st December: Haggai 1:1-15
'"Why is everyone saying it is not the right time for rebuilding My Temple?" asks the Lord. His reply to them is this: "Is it then the right time for you to live in luxurious homes, when the Temple lies in ruins?"' (2-4). God's people had forgotten about God. They were pleasing themselves - but they were not pleasing God! God is challenging us to think about our way of living - 'Consider your way of life' (5,7). We are to 'obey the voice of the Lord our God'. We are to change our way of thinking - 'the people feared the Lord' - and living - 'They came and began work on the House of the Lord Almighty, their God'. Let us obey God's voice. Let us trust in His promise - 'I am with you'(12-14).
2nd December: Haggai 2:1-23
'"Be strong , all you people of the land", declares the Lord, "and work. For I am with you", declares the Lord Almighty' (4). We are to work for God. When we commit ourselves to serving Him, the Lord promises His blessing: 'From this day on I will bless you' (19). To His faithful servants, God promises great blessing: 'I will fill this House with glory' (7). 'Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that, in the Lord, your labour is not in vain' (1 Corinthians 15:58). 'Who is on the Lord's side? Who will serve the King?...We are on the Lord's side, Saviour, we are Thine...Always on the Lord's side, Saviour, always Thine' (Church Hymnary, 479).
3rd December: Revelation 6:1-7:17
Christ invites us to 'come' (6:1,3,5,7) - and look at things through His eyes. With Him, we look at earth. With Him, we look at heaven. Troubled world, tremendous worship - These are the things we see when we look through the eyes of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our world is deeply troubled. Heaven's worship is absolutely tremendous. Of all our many 'troubles', the greatest is this: We are sinners, and none of us 'can stand' before 'the face of Him who sits on the throne'. Our earthly 'troubles' are nothing compared with this! There is hope. There is a way of 'salvation'. We can be saved through 'the blood of the Lamb'. If, however, we turn from Him - 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world' - there will be no hope. We will face 'the wrath of the Lamb' (4:16-17; 5:10,14; John 1:29). Will you be saved - or lost?
4th December: Zechariah 1:1-2:13
God promises to bless His faithful people: 'I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there My House will be rebuilt' (16). God looks upon His House, and He sees His glory - 'I will be the glory within it' (2:5). He sees the glory of His presence - 'I will live among you' (2:10). We read here about the Temple at Jerusalem. We read about its glory. God's Word speaks about another 'temple' and another 'glory'. Through 'faith' in 'Christ', we have become 'a holy temple in the Lord' - 'a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit' (Ephesians 2:21-22; 3:16-17). To every believer, God says, 'Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you...Glorify God in your body' (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
5th December: Zechariah 3:1-4:14
'"Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit", says the Lord Almighty' (4:6). There is only one Power by which the work of the Lord can be done. It is the power of the Holy Spirit. We must not try to do God's work in our own strength. We must exchange our weakness for His strength. We must 'wait for the promise of the Father' - 'You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you'. Great things happen when God's people are 'filled with the Holy Spirit' - 'About three thousand were added to their number that day...The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved'! Let us pray that God will 'pour out' His Spirit upon us (Acts 1:4,8; 2:4,17-18,41,47).
6th December: Zechariah 5:1-6:15
'Here is the Man whose Name is the Branch...It is He who will build the Temple of the Lord...' (12-13). These words point us to our Lord Jesus Christ: 'I will build My Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' (Matthew 16:18). How does Christ build His Church? He sends His blessing when His people are obedient to Him: 'Those who are far away will come and help to build the Temple of the Lord... This will happen if you diligently obey the Lord your God'(15). Christ is 'building a people of power'. He calls us to 'move through this land by His Spirit and glorify His precious Name'. Let us pray, 'Here I am, wholly available - as for me, I will serve the Lord' (Mission Praise, 151,229).
7th December: Proverbs 29:1-27
'The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern'. So many people have a 'couldn't care less' attitude. They have stopped listening to God's Word and they have lost interest in living God's way - 'Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint'. For those who are ignoring God, refusing to listen to His Word and turning away from the pathway of obedience, God has a stern Word of warning: 'If you get more stubborn every time you are corrected, one day you will be crushed and never recover'. God is calling us to leave the pathway of disobedience and disaster and walk in the way of obedience and blessing: 'Blessed is he who keeps the law' (7,1,18).
8th December: Revelation 8:1-9:21
Real gold and fool's gold - What a difference there is between the two! In 8:3, we read about real gold. In 9:7, we read about something which 'looked like crowns of gold'. There is a difference between the real thing and the counterfeit. There is a challenge for us here - in connection with both salvation and service. In Matthew 7:21, Jesus warns us, 'Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord", will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven'. In 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, Paul invites us to think seriously about the 'quality' of the 'work' we're doing for Christ. Is it work which will prove to be of real, lasting value? - 'gold, silver, costly stones'. Is our work superficial? Does it lack any real depth? - 'wood, hay, straw'? Build on Christ: 'Be careful how you build on Him'.
9th December: Zechariah 7:1-8:23
When people stop listening to God's Word, their life becomes 'a desolate wasteland' (7:11-14). What are we to do when we see this happening? - 'Do not be afraid...Be strong'. We must keep on believing God's promise: 'I will save you, and you will be a blessing'. We must keep on praying that our faithful witness will bring others to the Lord: 'Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you' (8:13,23). We must pray that 'the Spirit will be poured upon us from on high and the desert will become a fertile field'. 'Don't hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father' (Isaiah 32:15; Matthew 5:15-16).
10th December: Zechariah 9:1-10:12
'...See your King comes to you...gentle and riding on a donkey...' (9:9). These words point us to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Jesus is our King. Jesus comes to us. How are we to welcome our King? We are to welcome Him with joyful praise - 'Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord' (Matthew 21:1-9; John 12:12-16). Jesus our King has come to us from God the Father: 'When the time had fully come, God sent His Son...'. Jesus our King has come to us to be our Saviour: 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners' (Galatians 4:4; 1 Timothy 1:15). Christ will come again - 'with power and great glory'. 'Come, Lord Jesus' (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 22:20).
11th December: Proverbs 30:1-33
In verse 5, we learn about God's Word. His Word is 'true'. His Word is 'pure'. His Word is full of blessing for those who 'put their trust in Him'. Trusting in Him , we learn that 'His Word is truth'. God's Word is full of blessing for those who 'live according to His Word'. Living in obedience to His Word, we find that His Word makes us 'pure'. Through His Word of truth, God leads us in the pathway of holiness, Jesus prays for us: 'Make them pure and holy through teaching them Your Words of truth'. God's Word is 'more precious than gold'. May God help us to 'hide His Word in our hearts that we might not sin against Him' (John 17:17; Psalms 19:10; 119:9,11).
12th December: Revelation 10:1-11:19
'Take the little scroll and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey' (10:9). We are to feed on God's Word - the difficult parts as well as those passages which make us feel good. God's Word speaks about judgment as well as salvation. Before we can rejoice in 'the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ', we must hear about His 'wrath': 'The time has come for judging the dead' (15,18). 'Sweet and sour': We need both for a balanced diet of God's Word. We need the 'sour' - 'It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God' - as well as the 'sweet' - 'God so loved the world...' (Hebrews 10:31; John 3:16). The 'sour' - 'Flee from the wrath to come' - creates a hunger for the 'sweet' - 'the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world' (Matthew 3:7; John 1:29).
13th December: Zechariah 11:1-12:14
'They will look on Him whom they have pierced...' (12:10). These words point us to Christ's crucifixion. In Psalm 22:1, we read Christ's prayer from the Cross: 'My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?' (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). In the same Psalm, we read these words: 'They have pierced My hands and My feet' (16). In Isaiah 53:5, we learn that Christ 'was pierced for our sins' (53:5). In Revelation 1:7, the words of Zechariah 12:10 form part of a prophecy concerning Christ's Return: 'Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him ...'. In His heavenly glory, Christ will always be 'the Lamb' who was 'slain' (Revelation 5:6,9).
14th December: Zechariah 13:1-14:21
We 'call on the Lord's Name'. He 'answers' our prayer - 'I will say, "They are My people", and they will say, "The Lord is our God' (13:9). We confess our faith in 'the Lord'. He is 'Lord of lords'. The Lord is King. He is 'King of kings'. 'His Name is 'the only Name' of our salvation. His Name is 'the Name that is above every name' (14:9; Revelation 19:16; Acts 4:12; Philippians 2:9-11). We 'worship the King, the Lord Almighty'. We sing 'Holy to the Lord': 'Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come! Worthy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come! Glory to the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come! (16,20; Mission Praise, 239).
15th December: Malachi 1:1-2:17
God looks upon us in our sin. What does He see? He sees 'the Wicked Land. He sees 'a people always under the wrath of the Lord' (1:4). He looks at what Christ has done for us - 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners'; 'While we were still sinners, Christ died for us'; 'Christ died for our sins' (1 Timothy 1:15; Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3). God looks upon us in Christ - and everything is so very different: 'God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God' (2 Corinthians 5:21). There, at the Cross of Christ, we hear God's Word of love - 'I have loved you'; 'I have loved you with an everlasting love' (1:2; Jeremiah 31:3).
16th December: Malachi 3:1-4:6
God calls us to be His faithful people. He says, 'Return to Me'. He promises to bless those who return to Him: 'I will return to you'. God calls us to honour Him with our 'tithes and offerings: 'Bring the whole tithe (tenth) into the storehouse...'. When we honour the Lord, He has promised that He will honour us: 'Those who honour Me, I will honour'. When we honour the Lord with our obedience, He promises that He will honour us with His blessing. He promises to 'open the windows of heaven and pour down for us an overflowing blessing'. Satan - 'the devourer' - will be defeated. We will 'serve God'. He will take 'delight' in us. We will be His 'treasured possession' (3:8-12,17-19; 1 Samuel 2:30).
17th December: Revelation 12:1-13:18
In Genesis 3:1, we read of 'the serpent'. Here he is again - 'that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan'. He is a powerful enemy. He 'leads the whole world astray'. He is a determined enemy. 'Day and night', he is busy, accusing God's children. He is a defeated enemy. 'They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb...'. This is not only Christ's victory over Satan. This is our victory in Christ, the victory Christ has won for us. Why is Satan so busy? It's because 'he knows his time is short' (12:9-12). How are we to take our stand against Satan? We must listen to the Word of God: 'He who has an ear, let him hear'. We must obey the Word of God: 'This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness...' (13:9). Christ has won the victory for us. Let us claim His victory by faith.
18th December: Revelation 14:1-15:8
With 'patient endurance', we are to 'obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus' (12), This will not be easy. Satan will do all that he can to defeat us. How can we be 'victorious' over him? We must rejoice in all that God has done for His people, Israel. He delivered them from their bondage in Egypt. We sing 'the song of Moses'. Beyond the great event of the Exodus, there is something even more wonderful. We rejoice in what God has done for us - 'In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself'. We sing 'the song of the Lamb' (15:2-3; Deuteronomy 7:7-8; 2 Corinthians 5:19). We hear God's call - 'Fear God and give Him glory'. We consider His 'great and marvellous deeds'. In our hearts, we say, 'Who will not fear You, O Lord, and bring glory to Your Name' (14:7; 15:3-4).
19th December: Psalm 146:1-10 
'I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live' (2). Praising the Lord our God: This is a lifelong commitment. We cannot maintain this lifelong commitment in our own strength. We need the Lord's help. We must never forget this: 'Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain' (127:1). We are not expected to maintain this lifelong commitment in our own strength. We have the Lord's help. We must always remember this: 'Our help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth' (124:8). 'Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, the Lord who remains faithful for ever' (5-6).
20th December: Psalm 147:1-20
'The Lord builds up Jerusalem. He gathers the exiles of Israel. he heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds' (2-3). This is much more than the building of the city of Jerusalem with bricks and mortar. This is God building up His people in their 'most holy faith' (Jude 20). This is God blessing His people as they gather together to worship Him. In Christ, we are 'being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit' (Ephesians 2:22). The Lord draws us to Himself. He brings us into fellowship with His people. He calls us to worship Him: 'Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving'. He 'blesses' us through 'His Word'. He 'blesses' us in 'the Spirit': 'He sends His Word...and the waters flow' (7,12-13,18; John 7:37-39).
21st December: John 1:1-34
Jesus Christ is the Word of God. He is the Beginning. He is also the End (1-3; Revelation 21:6). He is 'the Word...made flesh. 'We have seen His glory' (14). This is only the beginning. When He returns, we shall see His glory - 'we shall see Him as He is' (1 John 3:2). From Him, there is creation (1-3). From Him, there is salvation (12-13). In Him, we receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (29,32-34). He is the Word of God, the Lamb of God and the Son of God (1,29,34). When we look at Jesus Christ, we see God - 'the Word was God' (1), 'No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known' (18). Do you want to know what God is like? - Look at Jesus (14:9). What do we see when we look at Him? - 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world' (29).
22nd December: Matthew 1:18-25
The birth of Christ is a fulfilment of prophecy: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel' (23; Isaiah 7:14). Christ is 'God with us'. He was born through the power of the Holy Spirit (18,20). He is still 'God with us', when we are 'born of the Spirit' (John 3:5). Some people do not believe what the Bible says here. They do not like the idea of a 'virgin birth'. The Bible gives no encouragement to such unbelief. Matthew simply says, 'This is the way it happened' (18). In view of the amazing thing God was doing - sending His Son to be the Saviour of the world - why should we doubt that God took things out of man's hands and worked in His own miraculous way? We rejoice not only in the miracle but also in its saving purpose: 'He will save His people from their sins' (21).
23rd December: Matthew 2:1-6
We think of this chapter as 'the story of the wise men'. It is not so much about the wise men. It is about Jesus. He is the central Character. We are not told how many wise men there were. The word, 'three', does not appear (1). We are not told their names. We wre not told exactly where they came from - just, they came 'from the East' (1). The important thing is that they made their journey. They came, seeking Jesus: 'Where is He...?'. They came 'to worship Him' (2). The wise men were led to Jesus by 'His star' (2). They were also led by the Scriptures. When asked where the Child was to be born, they answered by quoting from the Scriptures. Reading the Scriptures, we become wise for salvation as we find Christ who is 'our Wisdom' (2 Timothy 3:15; 1 Corinthians 1:30).
24th December: Matthew 2:7-12
Bethlehem was a 'little town'. Humanly speaking, it did not have any great importance. Its importance is derived from the fact that it was the birth place of our Saviour. when we think of Bethlehem, we do not think so much of the place as the Saviour who was born there. Herod says that he wants to go to Bethlehem to worship Jesus (8). Satan was speaking through Herod. Satan 'comes only to steal and kill and destroy'. Christ comes to give ' the full' (John 10:10). As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Herod was not a worshipper of Christ but a servant of Satan. The wise men worship Jesus, then they return to their own country. Their whole purpose was to point away from themselves to Jesus.
25th December: Luke 2:1-20
God is in control! Jesus was born at Bethlehem - Long before it happened, God had it planned (1-7; Micah 5:2-3). As we approach Christ's Return, God still has His plan. He is still in control. The birth of Christ is not merely an event from the past. It is also a message for the future. We look back so that we can move forward. We are fearful about many things. 'What's the world coming to?', we ask. God turns our question on its head: 'Christ is coming to the world'. From His first coming, we look on to His Second Coming - He 'will come to all the people' (10): 'Every eye will see Him' (Revelation 1:7). His Return invites us to ask another question: 'When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?' (18:8). For you, is it still 'before Christ'? Let the 'new age' begin: Let Christ be 'born this day' (11) - in your heart!
26th December: Proverbs 31:1-31
'A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies...Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised' (10,30). We are to seek 'treasures in heaven' rather than 'treasures on earth' (Matthew 6:19-21). The riches of this world will not last for ever: 'All your riches and splendour have vanished, never to be recovered... "Woe! Woe, O great city, dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls! In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!"'. There is one treasure which lasts forever - the treasure of salvation. Let us praise our Saviour: 'Hallelujah! Salvation and power and glory belong to our God' (Revelation 18:14-17; 19:1).
27th December: Revelation 16:1-17:8
We live in an unbelieving and rebellious world - 'they refused to repent and glorify Him'. In an increasingly hostile environment, we must seek to maintain our faithful'testimony'. There are many who take delight in sin. They rebel against God. They take pleasure in persecuting the people of God: 'They will make war against the Lamb'. What are we to do when we face such determined opposition? - We must remind our enemies that they will be defeated by Christ: 'the Lamb will overcome them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings'. We must remind them that Christ has given us the victory: 'with Him will be His called, chosen and faithful followers'. 'We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Nothing will be able to separate us from' His love (16:9,11; 17:5-6,14; Romans 8:37-39).
28th December: Revelation 18:1-19:10
We read of the fall of Babylon (18:2,10,16-17,19,21). We live in a time of sinful rebellion against God. This will be followed by the time of God's holy judgment. What is God saying to His own people at this time? - 'Come out of her, My people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues' (18:4). God is calling us to be 'holy', 'a people belonging to Him'. Why does He call us to be holy? Does He want us to go around, feeling 'superior' - better than the rest? No! - He wants us to 'declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvellous light' (1 Peter 1:15-16; 2:9-10). We look away from ourselves. We look to the Lord, and we say, 'Hallelujah!' (19:1,3,4,6). 'Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory' (19:7).
29th December: Revelation 19:11-21:8
Our Saviour is 'Faithful and True'. He is 'the Word of God'. He is our 'Lord' and 'King' (19:11,13,16). We are invited to 'come' to Him. The invitation - 'Come, gather together for the great supper of God' - is a call to come to Christ (19:17). We come to Christ so that we might 'reign with Him' (20:6). Coming to Christ is only the beginning. God is preparing us for something even better - reigning with Him. This is a great future - 'no more death or mourning or crying or pain' (21:4). There is, however, a Word of warning for those who refuse to come to Christ for salvation - 'If anyone's name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire'; 'Their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur' (20:15; 21:8). 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved' (Acts 16:31).
30th December: Revelation 21:9-22:21
God has given us a glimpse of a future which is heavenly, eternal and glorious: 'the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God - It shone with the glory of God'. Is this 'eternal life' for everyone? Will all people 'dwell in the House of the Lord for ever'? Will everyone be saved. Is this what the Word of God teaches? 'God wants everyone to be saved'. He wants everyone to 'come to the knowledge of the truth', to 'come to repentance'. Sadly, there are many who 'refuse to love the truth and so be saved' (21:10-11; John 3:16; Psalm 23:6; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:10). Who will be saved? - 'only those, whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life'. 'Come' to Christ - 'Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they...may go through the gates into the city' (27; 22:17,14).
31st December: Psalms 148:1-150:6
'Praise the Lord'. Psalms 146 and 147 began and ended with these words. Now, we find the same beginning and ending in each of these three Psalms - 'Praise the Lord'. Our personal song of praise to God - 'Praise be to the Lord my Rock...I will sing a new song to You, O God...I will exalt You, my God the King; I will praise Your Name for ever and ever; Every day I will praise You...My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord...I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live' (144:1,9; 145:1-2,21; 146:2) - is just a small part of something so much richer and fuller - 'Let everything that has breath praise the Lord' (150:6). May these great Psalms of praise inspire us to praise the Lord more truly and more fully.