Sunday 2nd July – Psalm 12
1 Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore;
those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
2 Everyone lies to their neighbor;
they flatter with their lips
but harbor deception in their hearts.
3 May the Lord silence all flattering lips
and every boastful tongue—
4 those who say,
“By our tongues we will prevail;
our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?”
5 “Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the Lord.
“I will protect them from those who malign them.”
6 And the words of the Lord are flawless,
like silver purified in a crucible,
like gold[c] refined seven times.
7 You, Lord, will keep the needy safe
and will protect us forever from the wicked,
8 who freely strut about
when what is vile is honored by the human race.
“The tongue is a fire, a world of wickedness among the parts of the body” so says James in chapter 3 of his letter in the New Testament. Here in Psalm 12 we are seeing something of that fire of wickedness that James talks about. The Psalmist bemoans the fact that all around him he sees nothing but unfaithfulness with no-one prepared to be loyal to their neighbours.
He says he only hears lies, flattery and deception around him. He hears people boast that they won’t have to account for what they say (v4). Do you ever pause before you say anything? Ask yourself if the words you are about to utter really tell the truth and are graciously given? If we are being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ then our words ought to display the truth and honesty of our Lord, words which are ‘flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times’.
The writer of the book of Proverbs in the Bible has much to say on words:-
“The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool spouts folly.”
“A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”
Thinking before we open our mouths is always wise. Let’s pray then before we open our mouths that instead of being like the people David was seeing around him, we may be able to say like Isaiah:-
“The Lord God has given Me
The tongue of the learned,
That I should know how to speak
A word in season to him who is weary”. (Isaiah 50:4)
We are going leave the book of Acts at this juncture and skip right back to the beginning of the Bible to the Book of Genesis which will give us something of the context of the whole story of humanity into which Christ came. The Bible doesn’t just see Jesus and the events around him as an interesting bit of history but as the heart and meaning of the universe. The big picture of everything is Jesus.
Because there are plenty of questions which often flood in about the start of this book which needn’t be part of these daily readings I’ve attached an introductory file for those who are interested but our readings will just be for us to keep an open ear to God in this book.
Introduction to Genesis
Before we even get off the starting line on Genesis it is probably necessary to say something about the nature of the Bible and traditional orthodox Christian belief which is that it is inspired by God in all its parts and authoritative for all Christian doctrine and life. This has been the belief of the Church in all its branches throughout history. It has treated this book and called it “Holy” (that has been on its cover from time immemorial) which means separate or special. In the middle of the 19th Century the rise of a new kind of critical Biblical scholarship emerged which wanted, in the words of Benjamin Jowett, to treat the Bible like any other book in its investigation and criticism. The use of modern scholarship and critical tools have been highly useful in the study of scripture but we will do well to remember that the traditional view is that it is NOT like any other book. Which assumption one follows can affect the way it is listened to.
The understanding and interpretation of the Bible has to begin with the question, “how is this text the work of God?” There have been some who have viewed its inspiration in plain literal fashion but that is not true for the majority of orthodox scholars. Those who hold to the specialness of this Holy Book and its inspiration understand that there are different genres of scripture – poetic, historic, parabolic, apocalyptic etc. and have sought to interpret the word out of those contexts. The Word of God and the words are connected but not in the mechanical literal sense that some would have.
How could we understand this? Think of a boy in love with a girl; he will want to declare that love in words. Now the words are not the love but they are inseparable from it. For example you cannot say that any words will do, nor even that alternative words written by somebody else will do because the boy will want to make his own precise expression of his love himself, not one suggested by another. This is why we cannot treat Holy Scripture as though we could state God’s intention in another (better way?) if given the job ourselves. No, that will not do. The Word of Holy Scripture is His Word that’s what we receive and the channels that he has chosen, are distinctively His.
We believe that in the history of mankind God has chosen a particular people – the Jews – through whom to make a voice box to speak His Word to the whole world. The history of this people is the Word of God working through and in them so that His voice is heard by us and the world. The scriptures of the Old Testament are the Word with a capital W of God and they are the Word pointing to the WORD become FLESH in a particular Jew born in the time of Emperor Augustus in the little town of Bethlehem.
Now to Genesis. What we read in scripture is not so utterly different so that we will find it quite without parallel in the world, just as the loving words of a boy to his girl don’t come as a bolt out of the blue for there will be many ways in which his words will sound like things other boys might say but they are his words to his girl, unique and untransferable. CS Lewis spoke of all the pagan tales and myths throughout history as “good dreams” – dreams of the real thing, intimations in a fallen world of something the reality of which they were the shadows. They are inklings of the real thing which is the person and work of Jesus Christ.
So when we look at the Genesis stories of ancient life and beginnings we will find other tales bearing similar motifs. The Gilgamesh epic from Babylon tells us of a flood, it’s predecessor Atra-Hasis an 18th Century Akkadian epic contains both creation and flood stories, Enuma Elish another Babylonian creation epic found at Mosul (Nineveh) has, in Akkadian language, a creation like Genesis that begins with light and ends with man also the goddess Tiamat, the god of the oceans has the same etymological root as the Hebrew word for the primordial ocean tehom.
There are a number of mythic tales from pre-history about the beginnings of creation and of man however Genesis is distinctive in that it is monotheistic not pagan and has risen above all the other ancient legends and ideas as in fact God’s word to his people.
Monday 3rd July – Genesis 1:1-2:3
There are three basic questions of great importance to us all which this reading deals with. 1) Where did I come from. 2) Who am I? and 3) What have I to do? Genesis brings all three questions together here. The answer to the first question is that I came from God who is the creator of all. This is the fundamental belief not only of Christians but of many others and it is quite different from a competing modern view which says, like George Gaylord Simpson the palaeontologist, “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.” The Bible doesn’t argue with such, it just states to the contrary, “In the beginning God” and sees creation as “good”. These two views still battle for our acceptance.
Who am I? is the next question and Genesis sees Man (human life) as created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). What that means is a big subject which we will not dwell on here but perhaps we could note one thing which is the curious use of the plural both with regard to God and Man. “Let us” says the creative word followed by the creative act, “male and female He created them” which may hint that being in the image of God is deeply entwined with relationship. Mankind consists of two kinds, male and female, which together show the image of God. They are “The same but different”, and that would come to the fore when the Church began to spell out its understanding of God as persons in relationship. One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We might also remember Jesus’s teaching that a man becomes joined to his wife and the two are no longer two but one flesh (mark 10:6-8).
What have I to do? Is the third question. In other words what is my purpose, what am I here for? Two answers are given, one is to spread our shared life around the world, and the other, to hold stewardship over the creation of God (Gen 1:28). Pulling the three together the passage says ‘I came from God’, ‘I am person’, and ‘I have a caring work to do under God’. If we get these then we know where we are going.
If you are ever baffled or confused about your life, for the poetic minded among you, you might like to have a look at the poem by Dieterich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian imprisoned and executed under Hitler. It is called “Who am I?” https://abramkj.com/2014/04/09/in-memoriam-bonhoeffers-who-am-i/
Tuesday 4th July – Genesis 2:4-25
Film makers often give us a landscape view of a scene and then home in on some particular bit where the next part of the story is going to take place and Genesis Chapter 2 is quite like that compared to Chapter 1. It looks at creation in a slightly different way and from a human perspective. Part of it consists of seeing man without companion as not Man (humanity) as described in Chapter 1. We waste time grumbling over the order and nature of this companion narrative (the “where is equality?” bit). Adam appears a sort of androgenous character out of which Eve is taken so that the two become persons in relationship with one another. In the New Testament we see the Church as Eve to the second Adam, Christ, but that is jumping ahead.
We are taken from the grand splendour of the creation as a whole in Chapter 1 to a particular garden and to the people God has placed there with the ‘task’ of its enjoyment and management. It is a blissful scene; it is Eden. We have a role over creation, our bodies being the interface with it that allows us to be person before God and yet creature within creation. One of Cecil Frances Alexander’s “Hymns for little children” – All things bright and beautiful – puts it so well; “He gave us eyes to see them and lips that we might tell how great is God Almighty who has made all things well”. Our bodies are that interface designed that we might be the priests of creation bringing to Him the beauty and wonder of it all and sharing in its pleasure with Him. Eric Liddell the Olympic Champion Christian missionary said, “God made me fast and when I run, I feel his pleasure”.
We know what the next chapter is going to bring us to but let’s us not rush on, let’s pause for a moment and look around this Edenic chapter where all things are as they should be.
Sometimes we get so uptight about the next step, the next day, the next month or more, that we miss the beauty and wonder around the present moment. Whatever your stage at present, whether you are sitting looking out on a sunny day or rushing along in various kinds of work, pause for a moment and experience the present and give thanks to God. W.H. Davies poem, “Leisure”, brings us to this.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
Enjoy being part of creation.
Wednesday 5th July – Genesis 3:1-24
There is always a danger of not seeing the wood for the trees in life and when it comes to God’s Word in scripture it is no less dangerous. Identifying the figure of the Serpent, seeking to work out the nature of the trees though undoubtedly of interest is not the main thing in this narrative. The main thing in this narrative is the breakdown in the relationship between Man and his creator, God. There is something in creation that suggests that rather than being a steward it might be possible to be a master. Having been made in the image of God it might be possible to become a god and how to do that will be to set the mind pondering that the creator might not have one’s best interest at heart. It is the opposite of faith in a good God.
It started with a question, “Did God say?”, led on to a direct contradiction, “you will not certainly die”, followed up by a false promise “you will be like God, knowing good and evil”. Well of course; it would be a bit like someone saying, “take this virus and when you’ve got it you will be like the doctors knowing the difference between health and illness”. Well, yes you would know the difference, but not as the doctors, you would be ill! That’s what happened in Genesis 3. Instead of being like God we have become sick Mankind, we have lost health because we have lost relationship with our maker. Taking our ability to walk our own way has locked us into captivity with death facing us. As Paul strings Old Testament scriptures together in Romans 3 he shows
‘There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.’
However this chapter of Genesis does not leave us without hope for a descendant of the woman would bring about a change (‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crushyour head, and you will strike his heel.’ V15). As the door of the prison slams shut a distant sound is heard, a promise, one which has always be taken as the first hint of Messianic rescue. It’s not much but it is enough to give hope.
Perhaps Psalm 42:11 would be a good verse to finish with:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him,
my Saviour and my God.
Thursday 6th July – Genesis 4:1-16
This chapter tells us broken relationships lead down a dark path; we should never sever a relationship.
We know after the last chapter that we have a broken relationship with God and when that happens it produces broken relationships all around. That is why when Jesus spoke of the greatest commands they were the direct opposite; to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbours as ourselves. If the head of a string doll is cut off it isn’t just the head that is lost, all the arms and legs begin to fall apart too and this is what happens when we remove God from our lives, they start to fall apart. This is what we see in this chapter.
As with other parts of these early stories there are questions we would like answers to but don’t have. For example the different offerings of the brothers – why is one acceptable and the other not? We don’t need to overly dwell on that to see that the response of Cain gives us a clue and it is what was in his heart. The New Testament says of Abel that his offering came from faith in God, he trusted God would find his offering favourable, but in Cain’s case his attitude shows demand. He requires God to find his offering favourable. His anger and resentment is seen in his face (Genesis 4:5). He expected God to respect him and his sacrifice without further ado. The fact that God was prepared to give him more than a second chance by telling him, “if you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” (v7) was not enough for him, and the evil “crouching at his door” was the way he was going to go.
Self-regard always lies at the root of pride and his refusal to accept God’s rule over him extended to his attitude towards his brother over whom he accepted no duty of care seen in those haunting words, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (v9). The truth of course is that we do have a duty of care over our fellows but when we turn from God our relationship with them breaks.
The mark of Cain rests on all who sever relationships with others. May it be a sombre warning to us all.
Friday 7th July – Genesis 4:17-26
When Cain went from the presence of the Lord ((v16) we find the development of human life and civilisation in his progeny. Perhaps at this point it might be worth reflecting on the Bible’s painting of human history compared with that of evolution. The Bible and natural evolution can co-exist but where they clash is that the Bible’s view is that there is something deeply wrong about the world – and in particular about its crown, Mankind – and the evolutionary view can’t cope with that. Evolution by natural selection can’t entertain or understand an idea of “wrong”, all it can do is describe what “is” it cannot look into the area of what religious thought looks at when it uses the word “ought”. There is no such word as “ought” in evolutionary thinking.
C.S. Lewis, in what I think is the best introduction to Christianity – “Mere Christianity” – titles the first chapter, “Right and Wrong as a clue to the meaning of the Universe”. Whenever we say something isn’t ‘fair’ we giving evidence to the Bible’s view that there is a right and a wrong. Right from the point where Cain says “I am not my brother’s keeper” we know something is wrong. From the moment of leaving Eden he becomes a wanderer symptomatic of the loneliness of Mankind who has no home. He builds a city named after his son which is the beginning of urbanisation, the start of what we call civilisation or the start of people trying to make a life for themselves but without God. Along with this we see the development of the arts and technology represented by the children of Lamech, Jabal the ancestor of husbandry and farming (v20), Jubal the ancestor of music, Tubal Cain the ancestor of technology (v22). It is the mushrooming of what we would call culture and the stain of sin spreads everywhere in it, no area of fallen human life is exempt.
The problem is not one that a person or society can grow out of, it requires an act from outside, an initiative from the God of creation and the Bible will introduce that intervention in due course. Adam in his sorrow is given another son in place of murdered Abel and through him that Saviour will come.
Saturday 8th July – Genesis 5:1-32
I have a photo here at home of my family (plenty actually) but this one is not just of four young girls, but was taken together with husbands and grandchildren; I am looking at a photo of 16. They all give us much pride and thanksgiving to God. They will all in some way or other bear a little bit of me though, gladly, much more of their own individuality.
Genesis Chapter 5 is about the family of Adam growing and multiplying. They all shared something of Adam and I wonder if you noticed what it was. Look down the verses and you will see that after every name comes a little four letter phrase – “and then he died”. It comes as a drum beat,… boom…boom…boom, tolling the truth about human life separated from God“….and then we die”. It will be the postscript of all our natural lives and yet the message of the Bible has something else to say. Let’s hear it from the mouth of Jesus “I am come that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10), and “everyonewho lives and believes in me shall never die” (Mark 16:16). If there is anything bigger or more important to human life on Earth I don’t know it. If the book of Genesis tells us anything it is that we need a Saviour from this curse of death. No-one who walks behind a funeral cortege feels that this is right, on the contrary the grief shouts out “this ought not to be”. We all know the first four words of Genesis – “In the beginning God” but the last four words in Genesis encapsulate it’s whole story: “a coffin in Egypt” (about the death of Joseph). So there it is, death, and apart from Christ we are as the apostle says, “without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). We cannot hold on to life as we have it but we can have it transformed by being joined to the resurrected One through whom death will no longer be the sting in the tale.
The following words of Jesus spoken to Mary of Bethany after the death of Lazarus are often read at funeral services- “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25,26). Sometimes the concluding words aren’t read though: Do you believe this?”. Mary answered in the affirmative. Is that your response too? I hope so. Run to Christ, do not let death be the last word about you.