The Apostle Paul said, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). And what was that promise?
- Descendants and land. A people and a place.
- Greatness and blessings in general.
- Justice. Holding the world accountable for its treatment of God’s covenant people.
- And lastly, that “all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3)
In the Christian view, the church stands in continuity with the people of God from Abraham to Moses to the kings, priests, prophets and sages of the Old Testament. The various threads of the Old Testament story begin with Abraham and come to full maturity in Christ Jesus, who continues to exercise his many offices in the church until he comes again.
God is fulfilling – in a small way – part of his promise to Abraham through Christian chaplains, spiritual heirs of the patriarch who bless the world beyond the local church. Christian chaplains are a gift from the church to the world. Just as the church’s committee on relief unconditionally feeds, shelters and nurses the hungry, the sick and the injured, so our chaplains care for those with inward hungers and wounds.
Continue reading “Christian Chaplains and God’s Promise to Abraham”
Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Genesis 22:2
In the story line of the Bible, the sacrifice of Isaac represents a direct threat to God’s covenant promise to Abraham. God had promised Abraham, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” How can God make Abraham’s descendants a great nation and a blessing to the world if Isaac is dead? I can think of no better answer than the one offered by the author of the New Testament epistle of Hebrews. “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” But while that is how I approach this text theologically, it’s not how I approach it emotionally.
Continue reading “Your Son, Your Only Son Whom You Love”
In ancient cultures, the first-born son normally held the place of privilege within important families. The first born was the heir, not only of the father’s property, but of the father’s prerogatives and place in society. This pattern persisted among the landed gentry at least into the 18th century *.
Surprisingly, then, God displays an unmistakable pattern of choosing second sons in the Book of Genesis.
Continue reading “The Election of Second Sons in Genesis”
God called Abram and promised to make him a great nation with a great name.
The LORD said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:1-3)
Worldly greatness, however, is not central to the covenant. Abraham and Hagar’s son Ishmael is excluded from God’s covenant people, but God promises to make him a great nation anyway.
So Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael were acceptable to you!” But God said, “No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his future offspring. As for Ishmael, I have heard you. I will certainly bless him; I will make him fruitful and will multiply him greatly. He will father twelve tribal leaders, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will confirm my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.” (Genesis 17:18-21)
Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac will carry God’s covenant promise, and God’s chosen people will be his descendants. Isaac will the covenantal heir through whom God will fulfill his purposes in the world. Both Isaac and Ishmael, however, will be the father of great nations. God’s covenant, it seems, is not primarily a path to greatness. The covenant is about something else.
Continue reading “Covenant Inclusion and Greatness in Genesis”
When I was stationed in Korea in the early 90’s, it was common to see short, elderly Korean women bent at the waist, walking down the street with large burdens on their backs. They were carrying merchandise to market or produce from their fields and I wondered how such a small, frail person could bear such a load.
And often you would see them without their burdens as well. Many of them were still bent at the waist, unable to stand erect, suffering from decades of hard labor, poverty and the nutritional deficits they had suffered in the early post-war years. The Korean War and the years that followed were extremely hard on the Korean people. I’m sure that if I listened to these bent-over ladies describe their lives, I would hear stories of both great strength and great suffering.
In our reading from the gospel, Luke tells us about a woman who suffered from a similar ailment.
Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. Luke 13:10-11
Jesus has two ways of describing her condition. In verse 12, Jesus spoke about her weakness – which might also be translated as her illness or her disability. In verse 16, he described her as being in Satan’s bondage. And to complicate matters a little more, in verse 11, Luke says that she had a spirit of weakness.
What is the relationship here between her physical ailment and her spiritual condition? Is Luke telling us that physical ailments are caused by demonic attacks? Or is he telling us that Satan uses physical suffering as an opportunity to cause spiritual suffering?
Continue reading “For a Daughter of Abraham, Freedom on the Sabbath”