Sunday 16th July – Psalm 14
1 The fool[a] says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.
2 The Lord looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
3 All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.
4 Do all these evildoers know nothing?
They devour my people as though eating bread;
they never call on the Lord.
5 But there they are, overwhelmed with dread,
for God is present in the company of the righteous.
6 You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is their refuge.
7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!
“The fool says in his heart ‘There is no God’ – so begins Psalm 14 and this attitude is seen throughout so much of the Bible. As we saw at the beginning of Genesis the Holy Spirit, author of the scriptures behind the human writers, doesn’t seek to give arguments for God’s existence instead, as the writer to the Hebrews says, “whoever comes to him must believe that he exists and that he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” (Heb 11:6). And in order to do that we are encouraged to, “taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).
Alternative ways are the ways of fools, but more, they lead into darkness for to turn away from God who is the Light means to look into and walk into darkness. In this Psalm we find the Lord, looking down from heaven, seeing mankind having turned away, becoming corrupt and incapable of doing good (v3). What this turns out is a ‘dog eat dog’ society where evildoers “devour my people as though eating bread” (v5).
However David doesn’t dwell on the horror of the fools become evildoers for he knows there is another side and it is the presence of God in the company of the righteous, the God who is their refuge. He knows his present situation is one of peace under God’s protection as he prays for the salvation that is still to come. This is why Christians who live in the midst of trials and darkness are never defeated because we know what the world is coming to and it is not to be overwhelmed in darkness and evil but to seen in all its glory when “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ”. (Rev 11:15)
READINGS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
If you don’t have a bible at home you can find the readings on a website such as www.biblegateway.com or an app such as YouVersion
Monday Genesis 11:1-32
The heart of the events of this chapter is found in v4 ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’ If the last chapter was about the spreading of man across the earth we find in this chapter a plan for co-operation. The purpose for the co-operation though was not to do with the worship and praise of the creator but for the establishment of the name of Man. Although a tower is mentioned it is actually a city (v5) which is planned, the heart of it being a thing of praise to the wonder of Man. Whether the “reaching to the heavens” is meant to imply a way to become gods is unsure but at any rate it is to do with earthly and not heavenly glory.
We have seen this architectural desire on the part of peoples throughout the ages – it is noteworthy that so much of Hitler’s time was spent in planning grandiose architectural magnificence for the future Reich that he planned which was supposed to last for a thousand years. The ambition to “make a name for ourselves” can be a personal drive too where the importance of who we are and what we do becomes the over-reaching desire of our lives; it’s this temptation that Paul says “don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3).
This of course can be done in conjunction with others and the passage teaches that co-operation in and of itself is not necessarily a good thing. In a later time when Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the law the people became impatient and co-operated together in a grand scheme which became the worship of the Golden Calf. Individual pride and a sense of self-importance can grow into civil monstrosity. God’s scattering and confusion of the people was given as a temporary brake but his amazing grace was going to be seen through one segment of humanity which is seen in the account of the family of Shem taking us down to a figure called Abraham.
Just as God had chosen Noah, he was going to choose Abraham to bring the most stupendous truth to light of his grand purpose in creation and redemption. God does quietly and in insignificant ways what Man seeks to do in big strategies of self-grandeur. Out of the small and seemingly insignificant the praise of God comes.
Tuesday Genesis 12:1-20
A big reading this but one about a very important man in the Bible. Many years hence when the people of Israel entered the promised land and had their first harvest they were instructed to bring an offering of the harvest to God and in presenting it to the priest they had to recite a little narrative about their history (Deuteronomy 26) which began, “A wandering Aramean was my father ….”. The “wandering Aramean” was of course their ancestor Abraham.
The last chapter was all about the tower of Babel and man’s hubris, his desire to “build a name for himself” and a tower up to heaven. Here we see the quiet plan of God to reinstate the brokenness of man and it all begins with this “wandering Aramean”. He came from Ur of the Chaldees (modern day Iraq) and travelled with his father Terah to Haran (modern day Turkey). After his father died God told him to get on the move again, he would take him to another land and make amazing promises to him (Vs 2 & 3) about becoming a great nation and that “all peoples on earth will be blessed” through him. Amazing.
There was a slight, nagging problem: his wife Sarah was barren (Genesis 11:30). On top of this his faith wasn’t very strong for when, because of a famine, they went down to Egypt he was scared he would be murdered for the sake of his wife (Vs 12-13). If that happened where would God’s wondrous plan be?
There could be a number of things to say about this passage, the first being that perhaps Abraham shouldn’t have gone down to Egypt, after all God had told him in the land of Canaan “to your offspring I will give this land”. There again if his journey South was understandable, why was he afraid that God would not protect him and Sarah that he had to engage in subterfuge? If the plans of God were dependant on our shaky faith nothing would get done. (Is that a word to anyone?) Yes, faith in the goodness of God and his saving plans for us is good and right but we need God’s grace to both give us and stabilise us in that faith. If we fear our faith is weak, let’s remember Abraham.
A Prayer. Lord God, increase my faith in you day by day. Amen.
Wednesday Genesis 13:1-18
By Chapter 13 Abraham seems to be in a more settled frame of mind as he doesn’t try to grab what appears to be the best land from Lot but trusts God and hears “Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you” (Genesis 13:17). Our faith is never as strong as God’s promises, perhaps at times we are like that little wandering Aramean but we should remember that his God and ours is big and there is nothing impossible for him. Lot on the other hand viewed his future from a different perspective. His older uncle stood back and offered him the choice of where to go with his people and animals and Lot chose what looked the best but, ominously, v12 says, “he pitched his tents near Sodom”. He wasn’t so ignorant not to have know the reputation of the place but probably thought, as many do, that they could be near bad company and not be affected by it. In the opening Psalm the writer says, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers” (Ps 1:1). Also, “I do not sit with the deceitful, nor do I associate with hypocrites.I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked.” (Ps 26:4,5).
The apostle Paul tells the Corinthians who lived in a port city where there was a great mixture of people that “bad company ruins good morals” 1 Corinthians 15:33. We shall see in due course how things turn out with him.
Thursday Genesis 14:1-24
Well, this is a chapter for those of you who can get your tongues round the various names and places! If I can compress what is going on in this chapter it is about a struggle between the Southern peoples of the Jordan plain and the Northern Chaldean peoples in the North. Four Kings in the North under Kedorlaomer against five Kings in the South which included the Kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Northerners won and in the victory took prisoners and plunder back North, amongst them being Abraham’s Nephew, Lot and his entourage. When Abraham heard he gathered together a force to go and rescue Lot and during a night ambush just North of Damascus he succeeded. That’s the gist of the story however two things happen afterwards that remain as future spiritual references.
When returning South Abraham is met and blessed by a mysterious figure only mentioned here called Melchizedek, the King of Jerusalem and High Priest of God Most High. Abraham gives him a tenth of everything. Another figure appears, the King of Sodom, who only wants to receive the captives back and wants Abraham to keep all the plunder. Abraham declines and in forceful language says he will keep nothing that belongs to this King.
There is the start of a spiritual painting here, a sketch almost, of what was to happen in the future, it is a contrast between Jerusalem and Sodom, between the city of God and the city of the world. Melchizedek is to become the figure in the New Testament of Jesus, the great High Priest of all (Heb 7) to whom gifts are rightly given, and all the powers of this world to whom nothing is due only the sense in which Jesus speaks of the coin with Caesar’s head, “render to Caesar the things which are Caesar and to God the things that are His” (Matt 22:21). The rescue of Lot under these circumstances is an important marker for the future.
Friday Genesis 15:1-6
This chapter is a key chapter in the history not just of Genesis but of the whole Bible. It begins with the words of God in a vision to Abraham – “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Abraham, an old and childless man, however said “What can you give me since I remain childless and everything will go to my servant Eliezer of Damascus”. Being childless brought a profound sense of loss but God tells him in a dramatic way that that won’t be his lot for he takes him outside to look up at the stars and promises him a family as big as he could see.
The next verse is one which is appealed to in the New Testament by the apostle Paul and the writer to the Hebrews as well both reflecting Jesus insistence on faith for v6 tells us that “Abraham believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” This is the opposite to what the opening chapters of Genesis told us about when doubt in God came. Remember the temptation that first came to Eve when the serpent said to her “Did God say ….?” And she went on to accept that perhaps God wasn’t seeking the best for them and that taking of the fruit might be the better way to go. Trust in God is the cardinal requirement for mankind, as the writer to the Hebrews says, “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Heb 11:6). The New Testament writers point to Abraham and say, that’s where this all began (the birth of the Church). The best known verse in the Bible is this, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosever believes might not perish but have everlasting life” John Stainer’s setting of this verse in “The Crucifixion” lingers. To listen to it – click here
Saturday Genesis 15:7-20
The latter part of Chapter 7 brings a strange but profound evening scene into the story. Abraham asks God how he can know that he would have possession of the land he is in and God tells him to bring certain animals to him because something is going to happen that will act as sign and covenant between God and Abraham. What happens next is known as a ritual act of malediction, it happened when two Kings made a covenant with each other and animals were cut in two and the covenanting parties passed between the parts in a ritual act which was saying, “may this happen to me if I do not keep my covenant with you. Here, as the sun went down, a smoking firepot and a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces of the animals (v17). It was what theologians call a theophany, a visible manifestation of God.
What God was doing was making a ritual oath before Abraham that He would undoubtedly keep his promises to him and we ought to note that this covenant was not a bilateral or two sided one as the ancient Kings would do – Abraham did not pass through the halved animals – it was a unilateral covenant that God made with Abraham. We cannot keep any covenant with God but he does it for us. This is what happens in Jesus offering of himself when as the hymn writer says, “bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place, condemned he stood”. Every Easter we are spectators at the cross just as Abraham was on this night of deep darkness.