Archives For Biblical Reflections

What if there is no God?  Most polls today seem to reflect that the majority of world citizens believe in some type of God or universal spirit.  Why so widespread?  Perhaps belief in God, a supernatural being, became useful for early humanity to explain natural phenomena, cope mentally with their lot in life, and enforce social regulations.  And perhaps there is some truth to these explanations, as witnessed to by the multitude of gods generated by humanity throughout history.  Despite these many examples of societies developing formal belief in God, it seems that many people actually live practically as if there is no God when it is convenient for them.  After all, science and modern culture seem to fill in gaps in our knowledge the were previously explained supernaturally.  Perhaps we have reached a point in some societies where we can abandon belief in and reliance upon God if we don’t really practically believe He exists after all.

 

But I would like for you to consider some of the implications of there being no God:

If there is no God, then….

1)  How did the world come into being?

If one thinks logically about this for even 3 minutes, how could what now exists ever have begun apart from someone like God?  The only alternative is to say that physical matter is eternal, and yet everything in the observed universe is contingent upon something else for its existence.  If you give up the idea of God, then you have no idea how anything ultimately exists.  Perhaps you are content with not knowing for now.  But stop and ponder this for just 3 minutes and see where it leads you.

2)  How do you explain human consciousness and the life of the mind?

Have you ever been excited?  Depressed?  Were you aware that you were these things?  How is that possible if there is nothing supernatural about you?  How can you have a memory, hopes, and dreams?  How can you conceive of and communicate abstract concepts?

3)  There is no absolute right or wrong.

Nothing is intrinsically “evil” or “good”.  There is only what is acceptable or achievable in a given social context.  Human beings do not have absolute rights; they have only what is allowed to them by the most powerful in society.  Power trumps morality.

4)  There is no justifying reason or purpose for your existence.

There is only what you arbitrarily determine or adopt from others as meaningful to you.  What you choose to do or not do ultimately does not matter when considered in a large enough time frame.

5)  There is no life after death.

No one will be held accountable for how they lived.  There is no such thing as justice.  There is no hope or compensation for those in the world who are poor in station, the mentally and physically handicapped, and those who suffer through life.  You will somehow cease to be aware of yourself…forever.

6)  Maximum joy would be achieved through moderated pleasure, postponement of death, and trying to make yourself superior in ability or position to others in order to use them to get what you want.  For the weak, contentment with your lot in life through a drug-like apathy, entertaining your mind through media, and distracting yourself with meaningless short term goals is the only alternative to power.

7)  There is nothing special about family save its ability to help you navigate existence through mutual cooperation.

 

Many people find it hard to believe that there is a God.  They point to the existence of “random” evil and suffering, difficulties with the Bible’s portrayal of God, and discrepancies and disagreements between the Bible’s assertions and modern reality.  I find it much harder to believe that there is not a God, and I refuse to accept the resulting conclusions.

 

The truth is that there is a God, one God, who created the world and humanity as his crown jewel.  His purpose was to share his beautiful community of glory and joy with us.  We rejected his authority and chose to seek pleasure and life outside of him.  But this is self-defeating.  He is life, and there is no life outside of what he gives.  You can exist for awhile by taking advantage of his patience and perverting what he’s given you, but you’ll be held accountable for it according to the magnitude of what you have rejected.  In order to restore us to life, he became a perfect human being who in his compassion took our just penalty in our place.  He conquered death, and has opened the way for anyone who would enter life again to come through believing in, trusting, and following him.  Don’t be deceived by the 2000 years that separate you from these events – he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He is just as much king over your classrooms, computers, and companies now as he was the consummate itinerant teacher and prophet then.  Stop rationalizing him away and pretending that he doesn’t exist, and believe.

Revelation of God

Several repeated phrases:  the Lord was “with” Joseph, and he “caused” all that he did to prosper and gave him favor and steadfast love.  The evidence of God’s sovereign direction of events is on full display here, along with his covenant commitment to Joseph as a part of Israel’s family.  Perhaps the Lord being “with”  Joseph is the most encouraging phrase, reminding of the covenant, “I will be their God.”

 

Fallen Condition

Joseph is tempted to sexual immorality and adultery by Potiphar’s wife.  Complicating the issue are Joseph’s attractiveness and his proximity to the temptation.  It was also repetitive – day after day.  In the end, Joseph is framed by the deceit of Potiphar’s wife.  When she cannot have what she desires, she unleashes vengeance.

In our present world, we are constantly subjected to the temptation of sexual immorality.  Potiphar’s wife “cast her eyes” on Joseph’s form, and the “ideal” human body is paraded before us in all the various forms of media.  Our proximity to temptation is closer than ever before, with the instant access to obscene material provided by the internet.  The temptation is repetitive, in that it is present around us day after day, as well as in its addictive nature.  Many have even been falsely accused of sexual immorality by those who have been rebuffed.  The strength of temptation is analogous to Potiphar’s wife “catching” Joseph by his garment.

Sexual immorality, according to Joseph, is a “great wickedness” and “sin” against God.  This is because God’s design for sexual expression is committed marriage between two people after the example of Adam and Eve in Gen 2.  This reflects the image of God in committed intimate Trinitarian-like community, as well as God’s committed relationship and covenant love with his people.

 

Redemptive Solution

In the passage, the temptation of sexual immorality is answered by Joseph’s integrity, refusing the temptation.  His commitment to doing so is explained in v.9; he realizes he would be sinning greatly against God.  He repeatedly refuses the temptation, and as it became stronger and she grabbed him, he took extreme measures to avoid her – he left his garment in her hand and fled the house.

Joseph knows God, and he knows that the Lord is with him and causing everything he does to succeed.  Going deeper, this must also be an explanation for how Joseph is able to endure this temptation.  Joseph’s understanding of and experience of his relationship with God helped him to maintain his integrity.

In our flesh, we are too weak to resist the temptation to sexual immorality because it is a corruption of a powerful desire.  But in the context of a relationship with God, an understanding of his design, and the experience of his presence and upholding strength, we are able to resist temptation.  This is clarified in the gospel – when we fail in this area, the judgment for our sin falls on Jesus.  We are given Jesus’ perfect record of integrity.  In the resurrection, we are given new life; the presence of the Holy Spirit strengthens us to put off sin and embrace the righteousness which God has given us.

 

Virtue Formation

Flee temptation by whatever means; preserve integrity.

The Main Point

Tamar exposes Judah’s immorality; the line of Israelite kings is marred by unrighteousness.

 

Fallen Condition

Judah – moving in with a Canaanite woman, not giving Tamar her rights, sleeping with what he thought was a cult prostitute, his daughter-in-law, threatening to burn her for immorality when he himself was far more immoral

 

Question:

What canonical purpose does the story serve?

Why is it sandwiched between the Joseph account?

What is the significance of the birth story?  Is there any besides naming?

Revelation of God

God is not mentioned directly in the story yet, but he is obviously the one giving Joseph these dreams and, when the rest of the story is revealed, he is the one working through his circumstances to direct him to Egypt.  Ironically, these dreams are what will provoke his brothers into selling him, thus fulfilling the dreams eventually.  God’s good providence and sovereignty is on display here.

 

Fallen Condition

            Family dissension and strife continue to be a part of the Genesis narrative in the family of Abraham.  Joseph’s brothers, the sons of Israel, hate him because their father loves him more and because they despise the idea of serving under him.  Stephen, in the book of Acts, points to this story as evidence that Israel has always rejected God’s chosen deliverer and been hostile to him.

By nature, we are hostile to God and to God’s work.  Our love is not like God’s love; it can be biased and express favoritism.  Instead of giving God credit for his work in our life, we can boast about our blessings before others.

 

Redemptive Solution

Joseph is in many ways a type of Christ, as will be seen in the story.  Here, he suffers at the hand of his brothers, his people.  His suffering, however, has been planned by God in order that he might be exalted and be in a position to rescue the people of Israel.  Through the suffering of Jesus, we are rescued and forgiven from our sins, and through his resurrection, we are given new life with God in his kingdom.  All of this is a work of God from start to finish.

 

Virtue Formation

We should not show favoritism among children.  We should not boast about our blessings, but express thankfulness and praise to the Lord for them.  We should patiently endure those who irritate us.

Context / Fallen Condition

            Jacob has gotten himself into a mess.  Ever since God first appeared to him as he fled his brother Esau, he has tried to survive on his cunning and trickery.  Finally, upon returning to Canaan, he has gotten into the mess of the Shechem incident (see Gen 34).  Because of the actions of his sons, the people of the land are hostile towards him.  The death of he and his people is apparently imminent.

 

Revelation of God

Jacob calls God, “the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”  God reveals himself to Jacob as “God Almighty”.  He is capable of anything.  He makes promises and keeps them.  He protected Jacob on the basis of his promise by sending a “terror” on the other peoples of the land so they would not attack Jacob and his family.  The Lord is a refuge for those who trust in him.

 

Fallen Condition

Jacob’s family, despite what God had done for Jacob, was worshiping other false gods and idols.  Maybe they had always done so; maybe it was the result of living among the Canaanites.  Regardless, they worshiped other gods in spite of God’s revelation.

Also, death pervades this chapter.  Jacob’s mother’s nurse dies, Rachel dies, and Isaac dies.  The curse continues.

 

Redemptive Solution

But God is actively working through Jacob’s family despite the curse.  He promises a blessed future to Jacob, offspring, land, and kings.  In the midst of humanity’s rebellion, God has chosen and called out a people for himself, beginning with Abraham’s family and continuing through Jacob / Israel.  Though we are surrounded by death, there is the hope of humanity in childbirth, looking for the offspring who is promised to crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3).

 

Virtue Formation

We should identify and put away our false idols.  Instead of worshiping them, we should look to the revelation of God and be guided by him, trusting that he will deliver us and protect us.  He will lead us into the fullness of what he has promised us.

Setting

Jacob, having fled Esau, is living among the Canaanites near Shechem.  He is waiting on the promises of God and following his guidance.

 

Summary

The rape of Jacob’s daughter Dinah incites her brothers Simeon and Levi (the 2nd and 3rd born) to trick the Canaanite people and slaughter and plunder them in retaliation.

 

Revelation of God

God is silent throughout the incident.

 

Fallen Condition

Shechem’s actions are clearly reprehensible.  This brutality is completely against the design of God in the beginning, which is one of openness, love, relationship, and covenant.  Hamor attempts to reconcile it by proposing an alliance with Jacob and sons, but this would intermingle the people of God with the pagan people of the land.  God’s promise would be threatened; he chose a specific people through which he would bring blessing, and now that people would be assimilated into the wicked Canaanites who worshiped other gods.

Simeon and Levi’s scheming and retaliation is completely overdone, going far beyond justice.  It is massacre.  Perhaps because of this, they are skipped over as fathers for the future king of Israel.  The event demonstrates the escalation that can result from exacting personal vengeance rather than seeking justice.

 

Redemptive Solution

Rather than exacting personal vengeance, we can rely on the Lord’s promise to bring his own wrath and vengeance against the wicked on his appointed day.  In the meantime, we should defend the helpless and appeal to the governing authorities for justice, as they are God’s instrument for it.  We take comfort in the fact that the wrath against our own wickedness has been absorbed in the cross of Christ, and we have received his righteousness.

Through God’s chosen people he has blessed all peoples of the world through Jesus Christ.  The nations of the world are joined together as one people by being united together in Christ by faith.  Marriage therefore knows no racial boundaries inside Christ.

Christ did not humiliate the church, but lovingly and sacrificially gave himself for her in order to present her as spotless before God.  He lovingly leads her, guides her, and cares for her.

Revelation of God

God grants Jacob favor with Esau.  Jacob erects an altar to “God, the God of Israel.”  God is no longer simply the God of his fathers Abraham and Isaac; Jacob has put his faith in God personally as his God.

 

Fallen Condition

Jacob tries to appease what he anticipates as an angry Esau with bribes.  This is a demonstration that he still does not fully trust in the Lord to protect him.  He goes so far as to deceive Esau and separate from him.

 

Redemptive Thread

God delivers Jacob, recipient of his covenant promise, from harm and leads him into the land of promise.  Jacob acquires a down payment, a piece of land as his own possession there.

 

Virtue Formation

Jacob continues as a trickster, employing deceit, and this is not commendable.  However, he follows the Lord’s guidance to the land of his fathers, and worships God.

Revelation of God

The LORD speaks to Jacob and Laban through dreams and directly.  He guides and directs Jacob, promising to be with him.  This is in accordance with his covenant promise to Jacob’s family.

 

Fallen Condition

Strained relationships, distrust, and trickery continue.  Laban does not worship the LORD, but has “gods” that can be stolen and probably carry rights to inheritance.  Laban puts his hope and trust in his material wealth and blessing, leading him to exchange the worship of the true God (who clearly witnessed of himself through Jacob) for gods that don’t have any power.  He served money as his master, and this led him to cheat Jacob 10 times, because he cared more about money than family. He even sold his own daughters and devoured their money.

 

Redemptive Solution

Jacob didn’t have to worry about or put his hope in money, because God had promised him an inheritance and providentially provided for him.  Christ is the ultimate heir of the promise to Abraham, and he inherited all of God’s full blessing; everything belongs to him.  By faith in Christ and in his sacrificial work on our behalf, we can be forgiven for our hope in and dependence on money and be united with Christ as co-heirs of the ultimate inheritance.  We don’t have to be anxious about money or be led to acquire it dishonestly because God has promised to take care of our needs in the present and has made us heirs of his kingdom in the future.

 

Virtue Formation

We should not seek dishonest gain or be blinded by money.  We should seek to be obedient to God, trusting his providence, making wise decisions.

Revelation of God

God is the source of the blessing of children, and Leah and Rachel recognize this.  He is also the reason for Jacob’s prosperity, which Laban recognizes.  Because of God’s promise to Jacob, he works to bless him even when Jacob misunderstands God or tries to take matters into his own hands.

 

Fallen Condition

Rachel and Leah are engaged in rivalry for their husband’s attention and for children.  This is caused by the mess of Laban’s deceitfulness and Jacob’s mistakes.  The theology of Genesis is tightly focused around God’s promise in 3:15 for the seed of the woman to crush the serpent.  Male children are therefore vitally important, and barrenness is a disgrace and reproach because it signals that the seed will not come through that line.  This causes a desperation that leads Rachel and Leah to sinfully strive against the other, even to offering their servant-maids to Jacob.  They want the experience of blessing, as well as love and acceptance, so badly that they seek to bring it about for themselves rather than seeking the Lord’s acceptance.

 

Redemptive Solution

God has the deepest love for us, and showed this through giving his son Jesus for us.  Through his work, we have the fullest kind of acceptance possible – acceptance by God despite our self-willed alienation from him.  When we do not receive love and acceptance from others, we exercise faith in what the Lord has extended to us.  This work in us goes even farther, leading us to love and accept others.

Virtue Formation

We should not engage ourselves in bitter rivalry with others for any kind of benefit.  Rather, we should love and accept others even when we do not experience these things from others.  Rather than relying on superstitions and folklore, we should believe the Lord’s clear promises to us and trust him to work in our lives.

Revelation of God

God providentially guides Jacob to meet the shepherds and Rachel at the well.  He takes notice of Leah in her distress of not being loved as she should have been, and blesses her.  Jacob ironically gets the short end of trickery when previously he has been the trickster.  Perhaps God is using the incident with Laban to show him the negative consequences of his trickery.

 

Fallen Condition

Physical attractiveness becomes the difference between acceptance and rejection in a fallen world.  Laban, to pursue his own gain, espouses ideas of fairness but in the end cheats Jacob out of seven years and breaks a promise.  We often pretend fairness but in our actual circumstances use whatever means necessary to get ahead, as our heart desires power, status, or glory over others.  He tries to rationalize this action with a true statement misapplied, just as we attempt to rationalize our dishonest actions in a desire to justify ourselves.  [Calvin] Jacob does not love Leah in the way that a wife deserves to be loved and honored by a husband.  Because of these circumstances, Jacob becomes a polygamist.

 

Redemptive Solution

The Lord takes note of the weak and despised, and provides children for Leah.  It is her offspring, through Judah, King David will come and rule all Israel and that the Lord Jesus will come and inherit the promise to Abraham.  God’s power is demonstrated in our weakness.  In physical unattractiveness or other weakness, God desires to work to show his glory.  He promises new and glorious resurrection bodies for those who share Christ’s resurrection.

We don’t have to seek to get ahead of others in the eyes of the world, because God has promised us an inheritance in Christ that is greater than anything in the world and that will last forever.

 

Virtue Formation

We should avoid dishonesty and pursue integrity in our dealings with others.  We should love those who are not lovely in the eyes of the world.  We should pursue a pure vision of marriage – one man and one woman.  We should gives thanks and credit to the Lord when he answers our cries for help.