The 10 Signs (Exodus 3-12)

I grew up calling them plagues.

Some of them are gross.

Water to blood?! The author tells us it stunk, not to mention you can’t drink it. And what about frogs hanging out in your house and in your bed at night? The flies! Millions of them climbing on your food and laying baby maggots everywhere. Gnats, dead animals and boils are all nasty.

Some of these plagues were devastating.  Crops and plants were ruined. Livestock, or to them the stock market, wiped out. And the death – the stench of death from the bloody waters, dead animals everywhere and finally the death of the firstborn.

If you are like me, you have always seen these plagues as judgment on evil Pharaoh and God’s way of forcing him to let His people go. This was an important part of what was going on, but I want to peel back the layers to see something deeper.

It goes back to Moses’ excuses when he was called to deliver God’s people from oppression and bondage. Moses says, “If I go to the Israelites and say to them: The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ what should I tell them?” (3:13) Wait. What?! The Israelites want to know about this God? I thought they knew Him? Moses was asking for an identity. The name “God” is a generic title given to all the gods – including those in Egypt. It is a catagory, not a name or description of this God. Remember, Israel has been in the pagan land of the Egyptians for over 400 years. This was important and not just for them, but for us.

The answer seems almost like a riddle in our ears – “I AM WHO I AM.” (היה – 3:14) It is the name Yahweh (יהוה) in which most translators use LORD (all caps). I think this is unfortunate because we have been given the personal name of our creator. It can be paraphrased “I am who is with you.” Wow! Just sit with that a moment. What would that mean to a people who has been oppressed? What does that mean to us when we are going through difficult times. But, I thought this was about the 10 plagues?

We are getting there.

Moses continues, “What if they won’t believe me?” (4:1)

God gave Moses signs:

  • His staff turns into a snake (4:2-5)
  • His hand became diseased (4:6-7)
  • The Nile river will turn to blood (4:8-9)

Did you catch who these signs were for? Israel (4:5)! These were supposed to build their trust in the God who is with you. Yes, they were for Egypt as well, but maybe not for the reasons you have assumed or been taught through the years.

Exodus 7:5, “The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD [יהוה – Yahweh] when I stretch out My hand against Egypt, and bring out the Israelites from among them.” 

As we move through the plagues we discover that is exactly what is happening (8:19; 9:20, 27; 10:7), including Egyptian officials who were testifying before Pharaoh! But we also learn Israel is coming to know their God.

Exodus 10:1-2, “…do these miraculous signs of Mine among them, and so that you may tell your son and grandson how severely I dealt with the Egyptians and performed miraculous signs among them, and you will know that I am the LORD [יהוה].”(emphasis mine)

We refer to them as “plagues” but they were signs to demonstrate the God of Israel is the supreme being of the universe. Read the narratives, Yahweh was not out to destroy Egypt. Death and destruction is what we tend to think about with “plagues” (i.e., the black plague). Don’t forget Genesis 12:3. Israel is established to save and bless the nations, not destroy them one by one. This God had every right to wipe out Pharaoh and Egyptians. Besides worshiping pagan gods, they had forgotten how the LORD saved and blessed their country through Joseph and his family (Gen. 45). They had turned God’s people into slaves, aborted their male children and thrown their male babies into the Nile (1:8-22). Even after all of these human atrocities, Yahweh wants to save them, not annihilate them from the face of the earth. God wants them to know He is Yahweh – “I am who is with you.”

Sometime today read Isaiah 19:16-25 and don’t skip a single verse.

The Egyptians saw Pharaoh as the presence of god on earth. The 10 signs demonstrated this was not the case. Pharaoh and his best magicians were powerless before the God of Israel. This is the Creator who brought the world into existence and reigns. “Pharaoh was, in effect, taking credit for something in which he had no part, and the signs that Moses performed demonstrated that unmasking to both the Egyptians and the Israelites.” (Sailhamer).

The last “plague” is the harshest – the death of the firstborn. The firstborn of Pharaoh was seen as a second incarnate god. His death would have meant much more than a country losing a prince. Yahweh is greater than the most powerful nations of the earth. This was a battle between the God of Israel and the gods of Egypt (12:12). And did you notice what happened when Israel makes their mass exodus from Egypt? Many non-Israelites went with them (12:38). These would have been those who had abandoned their pagan gods to follow Israel’s God.

Ironically, it is through this death plague we discover life, salvation and redemption from sin and death – the Passover (12:1-51). We will learn many more important Passover moments as we continue reading through the first testament. But it is especially important when we reach the Gospels of Jesus. At one point the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign.

The Messiah said you will be given your sign when the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights (Matt. 12:38-42). He is referring to His death and resurrection. It marks the day of salvation – not just for Israel but for Egypt, America and all the nations of the earth. The Messiah became the Passover Lamb (Jn. 18:28; I Cor. 5:7-8; I Pet. 1:19-20). He became the firstborn to die for the world so they wouldn’t have to die. The Apostle Paul would later write to a bunch of former pagans:

I Corinthians 15:54-57, Death has been swallowed up/ in victory./ Death, where is your victory?/ Death, where is your sting?/ Now the sting of death is sin,/ and the power of sin is the law./ But thanks be to God, who gives us/ the victory/ through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Let us not turn the 10 signs or plagues into horrible judgements by an unloving, non-compassionate God who bullies other nations. Being a just God, He had to deliver His children who had been crying out from the oppression and death of the Egyptians. They carried the Seed that would ultimately give birth to the Messiah. Here is our sign!

*All Scripture quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

*Blog resource: The Pentateuch As Narrative by John H. Sailhamer

Well, Well, Well… (Exodus 2:15-22)

In almost 27 years of ministry, I have done many weddings, which means I have heard several stories of how couples met. These are always interesting. But how many times have you heard someone meet their future spouse at a well? What about three people?

The writer of the Pentateuch records three narratives of important men who found their wives at a well – Isaac, Jacob and Moses. Some even include Judah (Gen. 38:14). While there are some differences with Isaac; the accounts of Jacob and Moses are almost identical. Here are the similarities of the three narratives:

  • The men journey to a foreign land (Gen. 24:10; 29:1; Ex. 2:15)
  • The father-of-the-bride is present (Gen. 24:15; 29:5; Ex. 2:16)
  • The brides-to-be are introduced as daughter(s) (Gen. 24:13; 29:16; Ex. 2:16)
  • There is a well (Gen. 24:11; 29:2; Ex. 2:16)
  • The daughters have come to water their father’s sheep (Gen. 24:13; 29:9; Ex. 2:16)
  • Shepherds have come to the well (Gen. 29:2; Ex. 2:17)
  • They save the daughters (Gen. 29:10; Ex. 2:17)
  • Sheep are watered (Gen. 29:11; Ex. 2:17)
  • The daughters run home to tell the good deed (Gen. 24:28; 29:12; Ex. 2:18)
  • The men are invited to stay (Gen. 24:31; 29:13-14; Ex. 2:21)
  • The men marry a daughter (Gen. 24:67; 29:23, 28; Ex. 2:21)
  • Sons are born (Gen. 24:21; 29:31-30:23; Ex. 2:22)

When we find this type of repetition we are meant to take notice; our ears should perk up a bit. But what does it mean? Mainly, God has led His servants to the proper wife. This is especially noteworthy in the story of Isaac.

Genesis 24:7, “The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from my native land, who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘I will give this land to your offspring’ – He will send His angel before you, and you can take a wife for my son from there.” (emphasis mine)

It all went down at a well. So it should not surprise us that the well became a romantic metaphor in Scripture (Song of Songs 4:14-15; Prov. 5:15).

Wells had other significance in the First Testament (Gen. 21:22-34; 26:31; Num. 21:16), but we are going to focus on men who came to a well and found a wife.

Have you ever heard of Jacob’s well? Fun fact: it is first mentioned in the New Testament (Jn. 4:5-6). Evidently, it is one of the few places in the Holy Lands everyone agrees was a well dug by Jacob after purchasing its land from the sons of Hamor (Gen. 33:19).

However, this well has deeper significance to us today. In the chapter prior, Jesus compares himself to a bridegroom (Jn. 3:28-29). While that is not the image given in John 4, we can easily envision the well as the place Isaac, Jacob and Moses found a bride. We find some similarities in John 4:

  • A man journeys to a foreign (Samaritan) land (4:3, 9)
  • There is a well (4:6)
  • A woman has come to draw water (4:7)
  • The man asks the woman to give him a drink (Gen. 24:14, 17; Jn. 4:7)
  • The man provided water (to the woman’s flocks – Gen. 29:10; Ex. 2:17; to the woman – Jn. 4:14)
  • The woman ran to tell the good news to others (4:39)
  • The man was invited to stay (4:40)
  • The man saves the woman (and many more – 4:42)

Jesus, the Bridegroom, has come to this well to find a bride, if you will. We often refer to her as “the woman at the well”. Not exactly the kind of person we would deem appropriate for the Son of God. She had been married several times, presently living with a man, a half-breed Jew (Samaritan) and worshipped God on a different mountain than the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet, the Bridegroom (Jesus) offers her living water from the well to all who ask. It satisfies the heart and gives everlasting nourishment (Jn. 4:14).

The last two chapters of Revelation returns to the Garden scene from Genesis 1-2. There is a new creation – new heaven and new earth. The sinless nature of the Garden of Eden is restored. The Holy City, the new Jerusalem, is pictured as coming down from heaven like a bride adorned for her groom (Rev. 21:1-2). The bride is none other than the community of believers and the bridegroom is Jesus Messiah!

At the 2nd coming of Jesus, there is a great wedding in the garden of restored Eden. We shouldn’t be surprised in the midst of that garden is a river of living water flowing from the thrown of God and the Lamb (Rev. 22:1). The banks are lined with the tree of life (Rev. 22:1). What a powerful metaphor! As the Holy Spirit and the Messianic community await the coming of the Bridegroom they invite others who are thirsty to “come!” to the well of grace and salvation (Rev. 22:17). This invitation goes out to all the world, even if your life resembles the woman at the well. Jesus loved us so much He died to be able to have us and rose in order give us life – living water from the well.

*All Scripture quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

*Blog Resources: The Pentateuch As Narrative by John H. Sailhamer

The Other Ark (Exodus 2:1-5)

Exodus begins as Genesis opens and closes – the creator God giving His people a lush and abundant land (Goshen). They are fruitful and multiply and fill the land (Gen. 1:28; 47:27; Ex. 1:7). And there is evil. A new king has come to power in Egypt who did not know Joseph. It has been around 400 years. His goal is to stop God’s goodness and blessings in the most evil of ways.

This is when God sets His plan in motion to deliver His people. . . Moses is born.

One of the interesting narratives is of Moses being placed in a papyrus basket (חבה) a floated among the reeds of the crocodile infested Nile River (Ex. 2:3). This basket, or ark, is the same word used of Noah’s ark (חבה). Both are sealed with tar and put in water, but they are slightly different sizes. One is about a yard long and the other 150 yards! Ok, a little more than slight. But the two narratives are intended to be compared. How do we know this? Because it is the ONLY time this Hebrew word is used in Scripture. Even the ark (אדון) of the covenant is a different word.

Noah and Moses’ ark (חבה) represent God’s means of saving humanity.

  • Noah’s ark saved a righteous family to continue the human race and carry on the Messianic line.
  • Moses’ ark saved a man who would eventually save God’s people from Egyptian bondage and preserve the Messianic line.

And did you catch the irony of story of Moses’ ark? The great deliverer of Israel ends up being raised in Pharaoh’s own household! When we see this type of paradox it is to show how Yahweh was doing His work in the world. No matter how chaotic, distressing or evil our lives may be, God is at work.

  • He carried Noah through the chaotic waters to the other side of safety and blessing.
  • He carries Moses through the dangerous waters of the Nile to safety and blessing.

The Messianic line eventually came to completion in the one called Jesus. Now He carries us through the waters to save us from our own chaos, evil and sin… ourselves. This is symbolized in the believers baptism.  Listen to the words of Peter as he brings all of this together.

I Peter 3:18-21, For Christ also suffered for sins/ once for all,/ the righteous for the unrighteous,/ that He might bring you to God,/ after being put to death/ in the fleshly realm/ but made alive in the spiritual realm… He also went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison who in the past were disobedient , when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while an ark was being prepared. In it a few – that is, eight people – were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  (emphasis mine)

The apostle Paul also used baptism as a symbol of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 6:3-4). When we are baptized the Messiah takes us across the chaotic, sinful and evil waters of our lives and brings us out safely on the other side for a new life! New creation! We are back in the garden in Genesis 1-2. The place were God’s blessings reside and His people walk with Him.

The Lion of Judah

Judah is a fascinating character.

When his brothers wanted to kill Joseph, he steps up and talks them into selling him as a slave. I know what your thinking, “With friends like Judah, who needs enemies.” But this actually saved his life (Gen. 37:20, 26-27). Judah continues the Genesis theme of life and death; good and evil.

In the midst of the story of Joseph, the author tells us about the actions of Judah (38). It almost seems out of place and appears to have no connection to the plot. Judah moves away from the family and marries a Canaanite woman. This was a departure from the restrictions Abraham had for his son Isaac (24:3).

This Canaanite woman, Shua, gave birth to three sons. The oldest was so evil God put him to death (38:7)! In that culture, you were supposed to give the sons wife to the next oldest brother. That sounds strange to us, but having a family was everything in the ancient world. This would allow her to have children and carry on the family line. Judah does so, however, while her new husband was enjoying the sexual perks, he would not allow himself to impregnate her. This was evil in the LORD’s sight because he rebelled against the legal obligations toward his brother, so He put him to death also (38:10).

Judah has one son left and the continuation of the house of Judah is at stake. He sees Tamar as a curse and stalls to keep him from giving his last son to her in marriage. Eventually she came up with a plan. It is bizarre, to say the least. She dresses like a prostitute to “proposition” Judah. You read the story, she ends up pregnant with twins. When Judah finds out, he wants her burned for acting like a prostitute (38:24-25). Tamar calls for a paternity tests, well… sort of, she brings out the signet ring, cord and staff Judah gave her in exchange for sex.

Why is this here? Judah was in jeopardy of having no one to carry on the family line. Besides having only one son left, he had children by a Canaanite. Even though Tamar’s plan was sinfully twisted, God used it for good, to preserve the seed of Abraham. Tamar isn’t a Canaanite or we assume the writer would have mentioned it.

Fast forward to Genesis 42 and 43.

Jospeh has risen to the second most powerful man in Egypt (read more about that story here). Judah and his brothers have come to buy grain during the famine. Joseph recognized them, but they do not recognize him. Judah plays an important part in the story and rises to the occasion. By his actions, he separates himself from the others, including his older brother Reuben. Both tried to save Joseph from death (37:21-22, 26-27) and both speak on behalf of the other brothers (42:22, 37; 43:3, 8). But it was Judah who spoke plainly to his father about the life and death situation if they did not bring Benjamin back with them (43:8), rather than the positive spin the other brothers tried to put on the situation (42:34). It was Judah who took responsibility for the life and death of the family by making a pledge to care for Benjamin so they could buy food.

Genesis 43:9, “I will be responsible for him. You can hold me personally accountable! If you do not bring him back to you and set him before you, I will be guilty before you forever.”

Judah further separated himself from Reuben. What Reuben offered was impressive, or twisted, depending on how you look at it. He said he would have his two sons put to death if Benjamin did not return with them (42:38). How does putting to death two of his grandsons help with his grief of losing two sons? It was Judah who offered himself as a slave to save his brother Benjamin (44:33-34) so he could return home to their father.

Judah is thinking about everyone but himself. This is in contrast to the opening account of the jealousy of the brothers who sold Joseph into slavery. Like Joseph, Benjamin was the favored child, but Judah is compassionate to his fathers love being bound up in the youngest son. It was 22 years earlier Judah came up with the plan to sell his brother into bondage, but today he is the one willing to become a slave so the favored child could be saved. That was the straw that broke the camels back, as they say. Joseph reveals his identity, the brothers are restored and they learn of God’s plan.

Genesis 44:7, “God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.” (emphasis mine)

When Jacob comes to Egypt, he sent Judah (not Reuben or Joseph) ahead to prepare for their arrival in Goshen (46:28). But it is in Genesis 49 we find the greatest honor.

Genesis 49:8-12, Judah, your brothers will praise you. Your hand will be on the necks of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. Judah is a young lion – my son, you return from the kill. He crouches; he lies down like a lion or a lioness – who dares to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until He whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to Him. He ties his donkey to a vine, and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine. He washes his clothes in wine and his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth are whether than milk.

Judah, not Joseph, is chosen as the royal tribe.

Even the psalmist wrote about it.

Psalm 78:67-68, He rejected the tent of Joseph and did not choose the tribe of Ephraim. He chose instead the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which He loved. 

The early dreams of Joseph were of his brother bowing down before him, which they did, yet that theme is picked up here to the future house of Judah – King David. We now know this had even farther reaching dimensions – a future Davidic king – the Messiah who will bring a universal kingdom!

Revelation 5:5, Then one of the elders said to me, “Stop crying. Look! The Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has been victorious so that He may open the scroll and its seven seals.”

There are so many allusions to the coming King Jesus from the Judah prophecy (Isa. 63:1-6; Rev. 19:11, 13, 15). It gives even greater significance to God saving the family line of Judah. Yahweh saved him from his evil to accomplish good.

Have you ever wondered why you have been saved from your own failures?

You can look back and see a time you could have died, become homeless, lost your family or a number of other things. What has God saved you to accomplish? It begins by growing up and taking responsibility. You can only come to this place by no longer focusing on your own self-preservation and you begin to care for the good of others. You may not believe God would use you because of some evil sin in your life. Read Genesis 38 again. Judah married the wrong woman, he broke a serious law of the land, had relations with (what he thought was) a prostitute, and almost killed off his linage. But God saved him from himself and used him to save others.

What about you?

*All Scripture quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

*Resources for this blog: The Pentateuch as Narrative, John H. Sailhamer and The Art of Biblical Narrative, Robert Alter

God Can Turn Evil Into Blessings (Genesis 37-50)

The story of Joseph opens with an extremely uncomfortable scene.

The dysfunction of the patriarchs is not lost with Jacob who was been married to two women their handmaids and had 12 sons between them. Are you keeping up?

In chapter 37, the author lets us know daddy has a favorite child. Jacob doesn’t even try hiding it and gives the special son a coat of many colors. This wasn’t a Burlington Coat Factory special you buy your kid at the beginging of the school year. This coat symbolized/ exemplified/exalted 1 son over the other 11. Not enough tension for one story?

The drama continues. . . the favored son then tells his older brothers about his dreams where they were bowing down to him. The anger and resentment (can you blame them?) of the less favored sons toward Joseph went beyond hazing. Some of them had murder in their hearts. The oldest, Reuben, tried to save him from being killed by having him thrown into a pit. Another brother, Judah, talked the others into selling him as a slave. Today we call this human trafficking, even though Judah saw it as a way to keep Joseph alive.

Either way, the brothers must come up with a cover up story that is going to break the heart of their father. They use the special coat to do lie for them. They rip it, cover it in goats blood and let their father believe he was killed by a beast (37:32). This was evil. How can we see this any other way? Not only was this evil toward their brother, but their father as well (37:34-35).

The next chapter (39) tells us Joseph is sold to an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh. He was eventually promoted to the personal attendant of Potipher and in charge of the household. Before the next scene is unveiled, the writer tells us Joseph is well-built and handsome (39:6). This is in your Bible, folks. Potipher’s wife tries to seduce him day after day (39:10). In the midst of this, Joseph says something profound:

Genesis 39:9, …how could I do such a great evil and sin against God? (emphasis mine)

Eventually, she cannot take the rejection any longer! She grabs him and demands he sleep with her. David ran out of the house with his garment still in her hand. This is a few thousand years before the #metoo culture we live in today. And if that wasn’t bad enough, SHE cries rape (39:16-18)! Joseph is thrown in prison.

While siting in his new living arrangements, Joseph interprets the dreams of two prisoners. One prisoner would live and the other would die. Joseph asked the one who would live to remember him when he was released. He didn’t. In fact, the prisoner completely forgot about Joseph (40:23). Seriously?! Yes, this was Joseph’s life.

Are you depressed yet? Don’t be, because this narratives teaches us about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. A God who can take the evil others do to us and turn them into blessings.

  • Despite being thrown in prison for staying pure before God, the Bible say the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him. He granted him favor in the eyes of the prison ward (39:21). This allowed Joseph to have free reign of the prison, which gave him access to the cupbearer and the baker (the two prisoners).
  • The cupbearer and the baker were officers in Pharaoh’s court when they were put in prison. Joseph saw their dreams as a way out. And even though the cupbearer forgot about him (poor baker, must have been some pretty bad pastries), it set up the ideal situation. Two years later, when Pharaoh has dreams, none of his magicians were able to interpret them for him. The cupbearer all of a sudden remembers (41:9) his old buddy Joseph. This lead to Joseph interpreting the dreams and being placed in the second most powerful position in Egypt (41:38-45)! A seven year famine was coming and it would be far reaching, including the Promised Land… the land of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants. Once again, the promised Seed was being threatened – the Seed that would save humanity. God used all of these events to put His man, Joseph, in a position to prolong the family line.
  • Which brings us to the first narrative of Joseph and his brothers. Hopefully you have read these chapters. Not only is Yahweh using Joseph to save the line of the 12 brothers and future tribes, but to also bring the evil brothers to repentance. In each of these meetings between vice-regent Jospeh and his brothers, the guilt and shame of their sins were being felt (42:13, 21-22, 28; 44:13, 16, 20). The brothers sold Joseph for 20 pieces of silver (37:28) and their guilt is exposed when their money of gold and silver is discovered in their grain sacks (42:28, 35; 43:18). It was Joseph’s silver cup, put in Benjamins sack, that created the type of grief they caused their father for 20 pieces of silver (37:33-34; 44:13). Of course, they did not know it was Joseph until the final reveal. “Within the compass of the whole Joseph narrative their words take on the scope of a confession of their former guilt.” (Sailhamer)

What others intended for evil God ultimately worked out for good.

Genesis 45:5, 7-8, And now don’t be worried or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life… God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Therefore it was not you who sent me here, but God. (emphasis mine)

The whole family of Jacob moved to Egypt to survive the famine. They were given the good land of Goshen. There is plenty for all their families and livestocks. They were given the best of the land of Egypt (45:18, 20). They find safety and prosperity. They have been brought here by the Almighty God.  In many ways, this mirrors the Garden of Eden before the Fall. The restoration of the good earth and the promise to make Israel into a great nation (46:3). They will be fruitful and multiply (1:28). It is here, in Egypt, they will become the nation of God. A partial fulfillment of prophecy (15:13).

Once again we are given another “boring genealogy” in chapter 46. The list of names comes to seventy (46:27). It is the same number of nations in Genesis 10. Who cares? Right? Those 70 nations represented all the descendants of Adam.  In Genesis 46, those 70 sons represent all the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

“The writer is portraying the new nation of Israel as a new humanity and Abraham as a second Adam. The blessing that is to come through Abraham and his seed is a restoration of the original blessing of Adam, a blessing which was lost in the Fall.” (Sailhamer)

Can you see this? God wasn’t only working on behalf of Israel, but all the nations of the earth (12:3). Through the seed of this family a Savior will come to bless the world. And watch this, the descendants of Israel have already been blessing the nations!  Have you picked up on this? While working in Potipher’s house the LORD’s blessing was on all that he owned, in his house and in his fields (39:5). While in prison, the LORD was with him, and the LORD made everything that he did successful (39:23). When Joseph was made the second most powerful man in Egypt, he saved the entire country from a severe famine (41). When Jacob arrives in Egypt he blessed Pharaoh (42:7). But that would be nothing compared to what was coming.  These are powerful narratives best summed at the end of this book:

Genesis 50:20, You planned evil against me; God planned it for good(emphasis mine)

In our fallen world we experience the evil of others. There are evil people who try to take what is rightfully yours or destroy it before your eyes. There people in some of your workplaces who will stab you in the back if they get a chance. There are family members who hate and resent you with a murderous passion and will stop at nothing to make you look bad before others.

Evil people will spread false rumors about you because you will not live by their wicked way. You may even do good for others, only for them to forget about your kindness. The later part of Genesis lets us in on things we are not always privileged to know – God will use the evil of others to accomplish His good. Like Joseph, we are not sure how it will all work out, but it will/did work out.

You may spend years waiting for that day or get to a point you can no longer see a happy ending. But you continue to trust God. We are given these narratives to encourage us and to help us realize there is a good working in the midst of evil. Trust God.

*All Scripture is quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

*Blog references: The Pentetuech as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer; The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter

The Man With A Fancy Coat (Genesis 37-50)

We are reading a section of Scripture many have known since childhood. For those who grew up going to a church, you remember the flannel graphs, VBS skits and crafts about the man with a coat of many colors. Many of you can recite these stories by heart. Of course, my goal is to peel back the flannel board to reveal the depths of these narratives.  Believe me, these chapters are rich with treasures to be discovered.  This is much more than a children’s story. It is a literary masterpiece filled with suspense to the last chapter. It peels back layers to give us greater understanding of the Creator we discovered on page one.

Many believe this is a story about Joseph. While Joseph is a major player, so is his brother Judah. In fact, as we race to find the conclusion of this amazing book, we are left wondering who will come out on top, so to speak. Will it be Joseph, which we easily assume, or Judah who will be given the blessing to carry on the Seed of the Messiah. The all too familiar dreams of Joseph are foreshadowing, not only about his amazing future, but even bigger things for Judah. We will explore this thought next week.

Joseph’s fancy coat is the center of the opening chapter (Gen. 37). It was a symbol of Jacob’s love and favoritism of the child born of his favorite wife Rachel. This, of course, didn’t sit very well with his half-brothers. So the coat represents the issue at hand which sets off a chain of events.

Genesis 37:3-4, Now Israel loved Joseph more than his other sons because Joseph was a son [born to him] in his old age, and he made a robe of many colors for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not bring themselves to speak peacefully to him. (emphasis mine)

Genesis 37:23, When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped off his robe, the robe of many colors that he had on. (emphasis mine)

Genesis 37:31, So they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a young goat, and dipped the robe in its blood. They sent the robe of many colors to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it. Is it your son’s robe or not?” His father recognized it. “It is my son’s robe…”  (emphasis mine)

As we have seen throughout Genesis, this narrative is filled with various plays on words and role reversals.

  • We will hear often of “good” and “bad/evil” (37:2; 44:4). The major theme is how the brothers meant their actions as evil but God used it for good (50:2).
  • Joseph finds his brothers in Dothan (37:17) and his brothers will find Joseph in Egypt (42-44).
  • Joseph’s brothers saw him in the distance and plotted to kill him (37:18). Later on it is Joseph who saw his brothers and made plans that seemed as if he was going to kill them (42:7ff).
  • When Jacob was deceived into believing Joseph was dead, he said, “I will go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” (37:35)  In the end, Jacob goes down to Egypt (where Joseph resides) where he will die (50:29-33).
  • The brothers deception lead to Jacob tearing his clothes (37:34), as Joseph’s deception lead to his brothers tearing their clothes (44:13) in grief.
  • The brothers sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt (37:28; 39:1), so Joseph devised a plan that made the brothers believe they had become the slaves of Joseph to Egypt(44:9ff).
  • The brothers did not believe Joseph would reign over them (37:8) and later Joseph reminded them he is in fact ruling over them (45:8).
  • Abraham left Ur and journeyed to Canaan (12:4-5) and Jacob left the land of Canaan and journeyed to Egypt (46:5-7).
  • Joseph was sold into slavery for 20 pieces of silver (37:28) and Joseph sells the land of Egypt into slavery (47:19-20, 25) for all the silver in the land (47:14).

Something else I’ve learned – the significance of TWO. I’m not even sure what it means other than a literary device of emphasis.

  • Joseph has two dreams (Gen. 37); two Egyptian officials have dreams (Gen. 40); two years later Pharaoh has two dreams (Gen. 41).
  • Repeating of nearly every major event – once by the writer and the other by a character in the story (i.e., the dreams in Gen. 40-41).
  • The Ishmaelites and Midianites were part of Joseph being sold into slavery (Gen. 37:25-28).
  • Twins were born to Judah and Tamar (Gen. 38:27).
  • The double themes of twos: good and evil (50:2); life and death (37-50).
  • The 12 sons of Jacob are divided into two groups: the sons of Rachel (Joseph and Benjamin) and the sons of Leah (the other 10 brothers).
  • The two plans of Joseph (42:16, 19).
  • The sons of Jacob made two trips to Egypt to buy grain (42).

You get the idea. But of all of the set of twos, focus on the theme of good and evil, along with life and death. Ask yourself, what am I learning about God?  By the way, shocker, those themes are the same ones found in Genesis 1-3. Why? What is the author trying to tell us?

*All Scripture quotations come from Holman Christian Standard Bible

*Blog resource: The Pentateuch As Narrative by John H. Sailhamer

Did Abraham Keep the Law?

This is some of what I shared with my Life Group Wendesday night in our discussion about our weekly Bible reading plan.

Some you may have picked up on an odd statement made about Abraham when God reaffirms His covenant with Isaac. It is made during an unusual, yet similar, account of Isaac leaving the Promised Land to live in Egypt. This was intended to be a foreshadowing of how God dealt with Abraham on two different occasions (12:10-20; 20:1-17). In other words, it is not here by coincidence. We shouldn’t just see this as, “like father, like son.” In fact, it really isn’t about Abraham and Isaac as it is about God. These accounts illustrate Yahweh’s faithfulness to Abraham and Isaac, and shows the future generations that God can be counted on in difficult times and even personal failures. Notice the similarities of Abraham and Isaac:

  • Both dealt with a famine in the land (12:10; 26:1).
  • Both mention Egypt (12:10; 26:2).
  • Both dwelt in Gerar (20:1; 26:6).
  • Both dealt with Abimelech the Philistine king (20:2ff; 26:8ff).
  • Both deceived Abimelech (wife was their sister) (20:2; 26:7).
  • Both were rebuked by Abimelech (20:9; 26:10).
  • Both prospered while living among the nations (12:16; 20:14; 26:12-13).
  • Both angered the Philistines with their prosperity (13:2-7; 26:14-16).
  • Both were told by Abimelech that God was with them (21:22; 26:28).
  • Both trusted God and lived in peace with the nations.

It is in the midst of this famine, when Isaac goes to Abimelech, the LORD reaffirms the promise He made to Abraham.

  • Isaac will be blessed (12:2; 26:3).
  • Isaac will be made into a great nation (12:2; 26:3).
  • Isaac will be given the land (12:7; 26:3).
  • Isaac will be a blessing to the nations (12:3; 26:3).

This is all pretty cool stuff, but that is not what got my attention.  It is what is said about Abraham in the midst of the covenant reaffirmation.

Genesis 26:5, “because Abraham listened to My voice and kept My mandate, My commands, My statutes, and My instructions.”

Wait, what?! The Law and commands of Yahweh doesn’t happen for another 400 years. Is this a misprint? And get this, it is the exact same language the writer uses of the Law of Moses.

Deuteronomy 11:1, “Therefore, love the LORD your God and always keep His mandate and His statutes, ordinances, and commands.”

Does this mean Abraham knew the Law before it was given to Israel? There is nothing that indicates that would be the case. We never read of copies of laws being carried around by any the patriarchs. However, when we pay attention to the life of Abraham, we pick up on ways he was following the Law.

John Sailhamer uses Genesis 14 as an example.  Here we find Abraham mustering up an army, with his three friends, to defeat the four kings. This was a rescue mission for his nephew Lot. After this victory, Abraham meets with the king of Sodom and the king of Salem (Melchizedek). The king of Sodom wanted to give Abraham all the possessions that had been recovered in battle (14:21). Abraham refused and made a powerful statement of faith.

Genesis 14:22-24, “I have raised my hand in an oath to Yahweh, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or sandal strap or anything that belongs to you, so you can never say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing except what the servants have eaten.”

He refused to allow anyone, except the Most High God, to provide for him. It mirrors the Law given in Deuteronomy 20:1-15, about wars with foreign nations. It talks about going to war against larger armies and not being afraid because the LORD will be with them (Deut. 20:1-3). Abraham was not afraid to go against any army, no matter if he is outnumbered. He only had 318 of his own men (Gen. 14:14). (A number reminiscent of a narrative in Judges). He only took food from the battle, as it in Deuteronomy 20:14 (NIV says “eat” instead of “enjoy”). Abraham believed his friends deserved a share (Gen. 14:24), as given in the Law (Deut. 20:14). We even find this mysterious priest-king of Salem, Melchizedek, of the Most High God. He blessed Abraham and gave praise to the the LORD for delivering his enemies to him (Gen. 14:20). Before Israel was to go to battle a priest was to address the army and declare Yahweh would fight against their enemy (Deut. 20:4).

That’s all good, but what does all this mean? Long before Laws were chiseled into rock tablets, Abraham was living in harmony with the will of God. He demonstrates what it looks like when God’s Law has been written on the heart. It was not about following a list, but trusting the One who called him out of the land of his ancestors to be blessed. Which speaks of a future promise and new covenant (Jer. 31:31-33), when God will write His laws on the hearts of His people. The Pentateuch was already pointing to that day.

Deuteronomy 30:6, The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love Him with all your heart and all your soul so that you will live.

Later on, Paul picks up this theme of Abraham as one who had a heart for God and exemplified a life under the new covenant (Rom. 4:1-5; Gal. 3:11-14). With the coming of Christ and the new covenant, the emphasis is placed on faith. Once again we are linked back to the Garden of Eden. So many see “Law” or “commands” in a negative way. We miss the point. Each day we stand before the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and decide if we will follow the Creator. Adam and Eve were told not to eat of the tree to keep them from the curse of death, which meant being separated from the Tree of Life.  Just as the first humans were depended on the Creator’s knowledge of good and evil, so are we as we approach God’s instructions for humanity. God’s Word was given to us to show us what is good and needed to regain life lost in Eden. If Genesis has taught us the importance of walking with God. Enouch, Noah and, of course, Abraham walked with Yahweh. They walked in faith and trust. None fo them were perfect, but they continued to move along the path of their Creator.  Abraham loved God, and it was out of that love and trust, he obeyed. It was not about checking off a list, but walking closer with the Most High God.

When Jesus walked the earth, the Word became flesh, and He showed us what it looked like to fully trust in the Father. He was surrounded by Scribes and Pharisees who were meticulous in following Law (Matt. 23:23), but their hearts were far from God (Matt. 15:8). Abraham kept the instructions, commands, mandates and ordinances of God, yet was not given a list of what those were. He followed out of a genuine love and trust for God. Now the Spirit of life has come in us to breathe God’s heart into ours. By the Spirit, our hearts have been circumcised (Rom. 2:29). We are baptized into the death of Jesus and raised in a new way of life (Rom. 6:4). Sin and death no longer rule our lives. God lives in us and empowers us to a life of obedience.

East Side Story – Part 2

In the last blog, we talked about the negative aspect of moving to the east. But what about people who moved from the east? Yes, that is a real thing and has a positive implication.

the-tabernacle-of-moses-onlyMost have heard about the Tabernacle. When we get to Exodus the author reveals God’s order for its construction, he does so with language similar to Genesis 1 & 2. The Tabernacle is a reconstruction of God’s good creation, and the Tabernacle is even a representation of the Garden of Eden. We will save those details for a later blog. For now, understand this was to be a place for Yahweh (the personal name of the God) to dwell. Israel is given a semblance of what was lost in Eden – the special presence of God. The entrance faced the east, as did the entrance into the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. This was the dwelling place of God on the Mercy Seat of the Ark (Num. 3:38).  So to enter, one must come from the east. Am I reading too much into this?  Let’s continue.

In the Book of Numbers, the author lays out the arrangement of the tribes of Israel around the Tabernacle as they camped in the wilderness.

Numbers 2:3, Judah’s military divisions will camp on the east side toward the sunrise under their banner… (emphasis mine)

campYou may be thinking, “So what?” The tribe of Judah would carry the Seed of the Messiah who would redeem God’s people (Gen. 49:8-12). Why is this important? “God’s redemption would come from the east and that this redemption would be a time of restoration of God’s original blessing and gift of the land in Creation. Thus God’s first act of preparing the land – when he said, ‘Let there be light’ (1:3) – used the imagery of the sunrise in the east as a figure of the future redemption.” (Sailhamer) This is also the reason the author let us know the garden was planted on the east side of Eden (2:8). It was here God intended to pour out his blessings on humanity.  Moving to the east, as we pointed out in the last blog, East Side Story – Part 1, was seen as moving away from the garden amidst God’s presence and blessings.

But that’s not all. The book of Numbers goes beyond the tribes and tells us where certain individuals and families camped.  Mainly Moses, Aaron and his sons.

Numbers 3:38, Moses, Aaron, and his sons, who performed the duties of the sanctuary as a service on behalf of the Israelites, camped in front of the tabernacle on the east, in front of the tent of meeting toward the sunrise… (see picture above)

Moses is a type of Christ – prophet (Num. 34:10), priest and king (Num. 33:4-5). Side note: Moses was not of the Aaronic priesthood, but he acted as a priest in receiving communication from God for the people, beginning at Sinai. Another rabbit-hole for another blog. So Moses (type of Christ – see Book of Matthew), and the high priest and priests (type of Christ – see the Book of Hebrews), camp on the east side of the Tabernacle. Let’s keep going.

The prophet Ezekiel picks up the imagery to and from the east. God’s Spirit gives the prophet a vision at the eastern gate of the Temple, which faces… east (Ezk. 11:1). Notice the redundancy – it’s important. The vision is about Israel’s corrupt leaders. Then Ezekiel sees a terrifying image:

Ezekiel 11:22-23, Then the cherubim, with the wheels beside them, lifted their wings, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them. The glory of the LORD rose up from within the city and stood on the mountain east of the city. (emphasis mine)

This again takes us back to Part 1. The divine chariot-throne slowly moving to the east out of the holy city. This is symbolic of moving away from God’s presence and blessing, but here Yahweh is the one moving away from His people. Later Ezekiel receives this vision:

Ezekiel 43:2, He lead me to the gate, the one that faces east, and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice sounded like the roar of many waters, and the earth shone with His glory. (emphasis mine)

The presence of God has returned, from the east, to the Temple through the eastern gate! Ezekiel describes this moment in fantastic terms through Hebrew literature. Now the prophet is ready to reveal the Spirits vision of a future Temple.

Ezekiel 47:1-5, Then He brought me back to the entrance of the temple and there was water flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the temple faced east. The water was coming down from under the south of the altar. Next he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around the outside to the other gate that faced east; there the water was trickling from the south side. As the man went out east with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a third of a mile and led me through the water. It came up to my ankles… measured off a third a mile and led me through the water…. to my waist… measured off a third of a mile, and it was a river that I could not cross on foot… deep enough to swim in… (emphasis mine)

Ezekiel 47:8, Then he said to me, “This water flows out to the eastern region…”

26-ezekiels-templeWhat in the world?! The book of Ezekiel speaks to those in Babylonian captivity. God’s people were taken into captivity for their idolatry and immorality. This was an awful time in the history of the Jews, but these visions gave the people hope of the coming of a new king – the Messiah (Ezk. 34); a new heart – from the Spirit (Ezk. 36); restoration of God’s covenant when the Spirit comes (Ezk. 37). The vision of the valley of dry bones, pictures skeletons coming alive as Yahweh breathes life into them. Suddenly tendons and skin appear. Does this remind you of anything? The description is of Genesis 2, when the Creator made man from the dust of the earth and breathed life into him (2:7). It is God’s plan for humanity to restore His people to a time before the Fall in the Garden. The Creator will finally defeat human evil (Ezk. 38-39; Gen. 3:15) to bring about new creation.

In Ezekiel’s vision for a new Temple, it is more fantastic than Solomon’s. I do not believe this is a literal Temple, since the other visions have been symbolic, but it is to show how God’s presence will return in the Messianic Kingdom. The living water came from the. . . you guessed it. . . east side of the new Temple and fills up the land toward the dead sea – desert and lifeless – and turns it into a scene out of Genesis 1! This has always been the Creators plan since Paradise was lost. A new heaven and a new earth. A new city whose name is “Yahweh is There.” (48:35) This is the scene at the end of Revelation (21-22).

The book of Matthew takes us back to the Pentateuch and Moses. The day Jesus was born, the writer says:

Matthew 2:1-2, …wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (emphasis mine)

Jesus is the new and improved Moses. He came out of Egypt (Matt. 2:19-20) to the Promised Land. As Moses crossed the Red Sea, so Jesus crossed through the waters of baptism (Matt. 3:16-17). As Moses and Israelites wandered through the wilderness for 40 years, so Jesus wandered in the wilderness for 40 days (Matt. 4:2). Moses received the Law on a mountain and Jesus gave the law on a mountain (Matt. 5-7). The kingdom of God was coming. Jesus is the new Temple. The apostle John plasters his gospel with this imagery right out of the gate.

John 1:14, The Word became flesh and took up residence (lit. tabernacled, or dwelt in a tent) among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

We even find amazing Temple imagery at the tomb of Jesus. On that resurrection morning, Mary Magdalene have come to visit. See if you pick up on Tabernacle/Temple metaphor:

John 20:12, She saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and the one at the feet, where Jesus’ body had been lying. 

Did you see it? It’s the ark of the covenant! The two angels at each end. The Mercy Seat of God, where He came to dwell. Jesus is God!  Jesus is the fulfillment of the new Temple bringing living water (Jn. 4:10) for all who come from the east to return to the Garden of Eden and to the tree of life! Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6).

What you do with this imagery is up to you. When we understand what this means, we should all be blown away by God’s glory and presence. This new Temple is made up of all who come to the Messiah. God’s presence, the Holy Spirit, comes to reside in us (I Cor. 3:16-17). As Adam and Eve had once walked their Creator in the Garden, so walk in a new way life. If you have been moving toward the east in your life, these passages should have you running back from the east, and into the arms of Jesus. Sit and meditate on these things.

*All Scripture in this blog is from the Holman Christians Standard Bible.

*Resources for this blog: Commentary of Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Jamison, Fausset, Brown; The Pentateuch as Narrative, John Sailhamer; The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford

East Side Story – Part 1

I am a child of the 80’s. Besides Elvis, it is my favorite genre of music. One of the popular rockers of the day was Bryan Adams.  He went on to expanded his career outside the days of parachute pants, and began working on an album in the early 2000’s. One of those songs was called “East Side Story.”  It is about falling in love with a woman he saw on the East Side of town, like so many before him.  Blah, blah, blah.

There was also an 80’s movie named “East Side Story”, along with a German documentary, a set of novels and even the name of a band. Many sitcoms have used the name for an individual episode.  You may have heard of a few of these, but did you know there is also an “East Side Story” found in Scripture? As we read through Genesis, we notice this nautical direction more than once and for deeper meanings than pointing something out on a map.

We go back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve have eaten of the forbidden fruit. Sin’s consequences are being laid out, one of which, was to be cast from the Garden.

Genesis 3:22-23, So the LORD God sent him away from the garden of Eden… He drove man out and stationed the cherubim and the flaming, whirling sword east of the garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life. (emphasis mine)

The writer isn’t interested in us knowing the geographical location they were sent, but rather introducing us to a recurring theme: east. Incidentally, the garden was planted on the east section of Eden (3:8). East becomes a key word the author often uses to indicate one sent away from God’s presence.  After Cain murders Abel, Yahweh has a discussion with him about his sinfulness. It ended this way:

Genesis 4:16, Then Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.  (emphasis mine)

In my last blog, There’s Something About A Name, we talked about the sinful people who tried to build a city and tower to make a name for themselves. The author gives us an interesting detail.

Genesis 11:1-2, At one time the whole earth had the same language and vocabulary. As people migrated from the east…  (emphasis mine)

The people went against God’s plan and blessing for humans (Gen. 1:28). As Sailhamer put it, “It is a scheme that contrasts God’s way of blessing (e.g., Eden and the Promised Land) with humanity’s own attempt to find the ‘good.’  In the Genesis narratives, when people go ‘east,’ they leave the land of blessing (Eden and the Promised Land) and go to a land where their greatest hopes will turn to ruin (Babylon and Sodom).”

Let’s talk about Sodom for a moment. When God calls Abram to leave his country and to the land of promise (Gen. 12), his nephew, Lot, went with him (v. 5). In the next chapter the two families separate because of the size of their livestock’s on the land. Abram gives lot his choice, which is a whole other story, and heads toward the Jordan Valley. But listen to the way the author put it.

Genesis 13:10-11, Lot looked out and saw that the entire Jordan Valley as far as Zoar was well watered everywhere like the LORD’s garden and the land of Egypt… So Lot chose the entire Jordan Valley for himself. Then Lot journeyed eastward, and they separated from each other. (emphasis mine)

These verses should draw our minds back to the Garden. Just as Eve saw the forbidden tree was good for food and delightful to look at (3:6), so Lot saw the land east as good and delightful as the garden of Eden. Both of their choices led to separation from the Creators good land. Lot moves away from the Promised Land and into the lands of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yeah, THOSE cities.

Most know the dysfunctional account of Abraham and his two sons – Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael was the result of Abraham and Sarah’s lack of trust in God to bring about the child of promise. Like in Eden, they wanted to determine what was good in their own eyes. They wanted to usher in the promise of God by their own means. Of course, this produced Ishmael. From the very conception, we learn their lack of faith created hostility and separation (16:4-6; 21:8-13). Years later, in Genesis 25, the writer prepares us for Abraham’s death. He remarried after Sarah’s death and had other children. It is interesting what the text says:

Genesis 25:5-6, Abraham gave everything he owned to Isaac. And Abraham gave gifts to the sons of his concubines, but while he was still alive he sent them eastward, away from his son Isaac, to the land of the East(emphasis mine)

None of the sons of his concubines were to share the promised blessing and were sent east. That may sound cruel, but what God was doing was preparing the way to bless all the nations of the earth.  The intent here is to see east was away from the Promised Land.

However, the east isn’t always used in a negative sense. In the next blog I will talk about the hope for those who return from the east.

*All Scripture comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

*Blog resources: The Pentateuch as narrative, John H. Sailhamer; the Bible Project guys, Tim Mackie.

There is Something in a Name (Gen. 10-12)

Last night I used this discussion in my Life Group. I thought I would post it for others who may not have heard it or are interested in the subject. It is one of the greatest turning points in Scripture, and something we should meditate on for our own lives.

The author of Genesis 10-12 uses a play on words that draws out a powerful message to humanity.  Not only that, but these chapters are significant for they both reflect on that past and look forward to the future.

In Genesis 10 we discover the table of nations.  I know, a bunch of boring genealogies of the sons of Noah – Shem, Ham and Japheth. The last linage is Shem (שם), whose name means “name.”  It is the same Hebrew word used for name throughout Scripture. I know… boring!  It gets better.

In Genesis 11 we find a narrative about the Tower of Babel. It does not take long to figure out the people were wrong for wanting to build a city and tower. But why? One clue is they were wanting to make a name (שם) for themselves (11:4).  That’s right, the same word used for Shem (שם).  It is a play on words.  In fact, we find many repeated words in this account:

  • The purpose of building a city was to prevent the population from being scattered (11:4).  They all wanted to stay together. What’s the big deal? Ironically, God scattered them in the end (11:8).
  • The purpose for building a city was to prevent the population from being scattered over the face of the whole earth (11:4).  In the end, Yahweh scattered them by confusing their language and scattered them throughout the whole earth (11:9).
  • They were given a name (שם), but not the one they were going for. The name (שם) of the city is called Babylon (11:9).  It did not mean anything great, but “confuse.”

Another significant point is the fact they migrated from the east (11:2). I am planning to write a blog on how this location is used throughout the Pentateuch.  For now, understand it signifies moving away from the promised land/the blessing the Creator gave for humanity.  They are seeking to find their own good (see blog on “God is Good” for background).  Those who were building the city of Babylon were doing so because they no longer trusted God and determined what they believed was good.  How do we know this?

Genesis 1:28, God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth…” (emphasis mine).

They were wanting to stop the Creator’s good plan for humanity to fill the earth (11:4). They had failed to enjoy, or even grasp, the good God had provided.  They were determining what was good in their own eyes (3:5). This always leads to failure.  As you go throughout both Testaments, the term ‘Babylon’ is used to portray rebellion and sin.  Even Rome was referred to as Babylon by the author of Revelation (Rev. 14:8).

But the author of Genesis isn’t finished. This narrative simply sets up the next setting – the calling of Abram (12:1-3). Genesis 3-11 demonstrates the failure of human beings. It seems as if there is no hope to return to the former glory of the original creation and fellowship with our Creator.  God will make a promise to Abraham that will ultimately change the history of the world. And among that promise we read these words:

Genesis 12:2, I will make your name (שם) great… (emphasis mine)

The people building the city were trying to make a name (שם) for themselves. Abraham, the one who will be known for his faith and trust in God, is given a name (שם) by Yahweh! Babylon and Abraham both represent the descendants of Shem (שם).  Throughout the Scriptures a line is drawn between good and evil:

  • Abraham and Babylon
  • Noah and those lost in the Flood
  • those who trust God and those who trust self
  • the faithful and the unfaithful
  • the Seed of the Messiah and the seed of the nations.
  • works of the Spirit and works of the flesh.

There is something in a name. A name will transform lives.

Joel 2:28-32, Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Acts 2:21)

Acts 2:38, “Repent…be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 4:12, There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it. (emphasis mine)

Whose name do you bare? Babylon or Jesus? Are you so busy trying to make a name for yourself in the world that you fail to submit to God?

*All Scripture quoted is from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

*Resource for this blog came from John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative.