Peter Misselbrook's Blog
16/01/2019 - Genesis 18:1-5, 16-33 – Abraham pleads for Sodom

The opening verses of today's passage tell us that the Lord appeared to Abraham. Abraham did not at first know that it was the Lord who had come to meet with him. As far as he was concerned it was three men who approached his tent. Abraham invited them to stay for a meal. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews may have this incident in mind when he says, "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2).

But back to these three "men": Who were they? Two of them were angels as it made plain by the opening verse of Genesis 19. The third was the Lord himself appearing to Abraham in human form, talking with him and promising that Sarah will bear a son to Abraham in about a year's time.

As the three "men" rose to leave, Abraham walked with them. The two angels went on to the city of Sodom but the Lord remained with Abraham to tell him of his plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness.

Abraham pleads with God that Sodom might not be destroyed by God's judgment. No doubt he was concerned for Lot, his nephew, and for Lot's family but he seemed also to have a more general concern for the city and its many inhabitants. Abraham is aware that the one he is addressing is the righteous judge of all the earth (v.25), and that he is as unworthy of the Lord's attention as dust and ashes (v.27), nevertheless he is bold in his prayer and persistently pleads God's mercy. Nor should we think that Abraham is twisting the arm of God. God is the one who revealed his plans of judgment to Abraham just as he had revealed his plans to bless him and many others through him. God is pleased to listen to Abraham's prayer and does respond to him in Anger. Abraham desires that the blessing he has received from God may extend to the rebellious world that surrounds him.

Note the contrast in these verses: The wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah cry out to God for judgment (v.20), but Abraham cries out to God for mercy and will not easily take no for an answer.

God has revealed his plans to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. He has not merely revealed his purpose to bless us; he has blessed us "with every spiritual blessing in Christ." But God has also made plain to us that he will not for ever turn a blind eye to the wickedness that spoils his creation. The day will come when Christ the Saviour shall return to judge the world in righteousness.

How do we respond to God's revealed purposes? Are we content to rejoice in the blessings that God has promised to us his people while letting the rest of the world suffer judgment? Surely we need to be as bold as Abraham in pleading for the salvation of our rebellious world. We need, as it were, to give God no rest but to plead that the blessings he has poured out on us might flood the entire world. And then we need to give legs to our prayers by telling others about our wonderful Saviour and the blessings to be found in him. That's what the apostle Paul did. In 1 Timothy 2:1-6 he writes, "I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people… This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people."

Lord God, judge of all the earth, we are so thankful that you have provided a Saviour for us in the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you so much for the blessings you have poured out upon us in him. May we never forget that Jesus is the Saviour of the world. May our prayers for this world and our presence in it bring many others to know the Saviour. Make us like Abraham and like Paul, bold both in prayer and in our witness to Christ.

15/01/2019 - Genesis 15:1-21 – The covenant and its guarantor

Abram's nephew, Lot, had settled in the city of Sodom. But four kings with their armies had made war on Sodom and Gomorrah and had taken its inhabitants captive, including Lot and his family. Abram had raised a private army and rescued Lot. In doing so, he also recovered all the people and goods of the king of Sodom and returned them to him. Though the king of Sodom pressed Abram to take a reward from him, Abram would not do so (Genesis 14).

In response to this, the Lord appeared to Abram and told him, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Genesis 15:1). God himself is Abraham’s inheritance.

But Abram cannot resist asking about the heir whom God has promised him. Must he be content with Eliezer his servant being his heir? No, says the Lord, you will have a son of your own. God tells Abram to look up at the night sky; his heirs will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens and will possess this land where Abram is now living as a stranger.

Abram, we are told, believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. The righteous person is the one who trusts in God and in the promises he has made – even against the odds.

Nevertheless, Abram asks “How can I be sure?” (15:8). His question gives rise to an extraordinary demonstration of God’s commitment to do what he has promised.

Abram is told to bring a heifer, a goat, a ram, a dove and a pigeon. He is to cut each of the first three animals in half, arranging the halves opposite each other in a line along the ground. As the sun went down, Abram fell into a deep sleep in which the Lord appeared to him in a vision. The Lord said, “Know for certain that your descendants … will come back here.” The covenant promise of descendants and land is repeated.

Then, in the darkness of nightfall, Abram sees a smoking brazier and flaming torch passing between the severed halves of the animals. This is the Lord – think of the pillar of fire and smoke which would later be the symbol of his presence with the Israelites in the wilderness. By this strange symbolism the Lord made a covenant with Abram (15:18), assuring him that his descendants would inherit the land.

Walking between the halves of severed animals was a recognised means of making a solemn promise in the ancient world. The person making the promise was saying, “If I fail to do what I have promised, may what has been done to the animals be done to me.” God assured Abraham of the certainty of his promises by underwriting them with his own life.

We who are heirs of the New Covenant know that all of the promises of God are sealed to us through the broken body and shed blood of God’s Son. They are promises which have been secured for us at the cost of the shed blood of God himself – see this extraordinary affirmation in Acts 20:28).

And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Heavenly Father, you are a covenant making and covenant keeping God. You have promised to bless us and have underwritten your promises with the life of your own Son. Help us never to doubt you but to believe what you have said. Help us to know for certain that you alone are our very great reward and that you will surely bring us into the inheritance that belongs to all who trust in Jesus Christ.

14/01/2019 - Genesis 12:1-20 – The call of Abram

The call of Abram is God's response to Babel. From all the scattered people of the earth, God calls one man into special relationship with him.

Abram is called to leave his country and his family to follow the call of God into an inheritance that he cannot yet see. Those who try to secure a future for themselves – like those at Babel – will lose it. Those who leave their own security to follow the call of God will receive an inheritance that can never be lost.

In addition to the promise of a land, God promises to make from Abram a great nation – a people who will be God's own possession. Secondly, he promises to make Abram's name great – Abram does not need to strive to make a name for himself. Thirdly, God promises not only to bless Abram but also to make him a blessing; in him all nations on earth shall be blessed. The history of scattering and of disunity will be reversed as God's promises and his saving power reach out to people of all nations and make of them one new people of God.

God's promises to Abraham are not only his response to Babel, they are his response to the sin that entered the world through Adam. Rebellion caused separation from God, but God's call of Abram anticipates a people who will at last live in fellowship with him. Rebellion brings exclusion from the Garden of God, but God promises Abram a land (the cosmos! Romans 4:13), in which he will enjoy all the blessings of God. The rebellion of one man (one couple), brings misery upon the whole human race, but the blessing of this one man will bring blessing to all nations.

So these promises of God shape the rest of the drama of Scripture.

Famine in the land of Canaan drove Abram and Sarai into Egypt. Afraid of the Egyptians, Abram passed off Sarai as his sister and Pharaoh, king of Egypt, took her into his palace, intending to make her one of his harem. But the Lord sent plagues on Pharaoh's household. Pharaoh learnt the hard way that Sarai was Abram's wife and was quick to expel this couple from his land.

Abram had been called to follow God and to trust that God would fulfil all the promises he had made him. Through him God planned to bring blessing to all peoples of the earth. But Abram's faithlessness brought God's judgment upon others rather than his blessing.

This picture is repeated time and time again through the pages of Scripture. God's purpose for Israel, the descendants of Abram, is that they should be a light to the nations – a people through whom all nations on earth shall be blessed. But Israel's unfaithfulness leads to God's name being blasphemed among the nations (Romans 2:24).

God will need to raise up another from within Israel who will be a light to the nations and who will bring God's salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6). Only than shall it be said,

Where He displays his healing power
Death and the curse are known no more;
In him the tribes of Adam boast
more blessings than their father lost.

Lord God, in Christ you have made me an heir to the promises made to Abram. Help me always to trust in you and faithfully follow the Lord Jesus Christ, so that I may know your blessing and be a blessing to those whose lives I touch. Help me to keep your name holy; may it never be blasphemed because of the things I say and do.

13/01/2019 - Psalm 2 – God's appointed king

The first two psalms form an introduction to the whole book. Psalm 1, which we read a week ago, focused on the character of those who know God and the blessings that are theirs. Psalm 2 tells us that God will establish the rule of his king, his Messiah, over all the world. His kingdom will come and his will be done on earth as in heaven.

This psalm arises out of the history of king David who faced opposition from many of the nations around him and was frequently involved in conflict and in war. But this is also a prophetic psalm speaking ultimately of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Acts 3 we read how Peter and John had healed a lame man who had been begging at one of the entrances to the Temple. The sight of a lame man leaping and praising God gave Peter the opportunity to preach to the gathering crowds, telling them of the power of the risen Lord Jesus. This angered the Jewish leaders who hauled Peter and John before their court and with many threats commanded them to stop preaching about Jesus.

On their release, Peter and John called a prayer meeting where, we read, "they raised their voices together in prayer to God. ‘Sovereign Lord … you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

“Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.”

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’"

The apostles understood Psalm 2 to be a prophetic Psalm which finds its fulfilment in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Representatives of "all nations", the Jews and Gentiles, plotted together to get rid of Jesus, God's anointed King, his Messiah. They may have managed to put him to death but the last word belongs to God who raised him from the dead and has given to him all power in heaven and upon earth – power that had been displayed in this remarkable healing. Peter and John pray that God would continue to give them boldness to preach and heal in the name of Jesus and so continue to demonstrate that Jesus Christ is Lord.

How bold are we as Christians? Are we sometimes afraid of speaking of Jesus and of his death and resurrection; afraid of arousing opposition?

God has demonstrated that he is the Sovereign Lord who has determined that all nations shall become the inheritance of his Son. Every knee shall at last bow before God and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Let's not be ashamed of him but gladly tell the world of their coming King.

Heavenly Father, by your Spirit make us bold in the work of the kingdom and in proclaiming the glories of our Lord Jesus Christ. May many be drawn to embrace your Son and own him as their Saviour.

12/01/2019 - Genesis 9:18-27; 11:1-9 – Same old problems; Babel

The world after the flood was still a fallen world as God's words to Noah made quite clear.  Noah was given laws to control the violent tendencies of men (see Genesis 8:6). The relationship between mankind and animals which seemed so wonderfully perfect in the ark would soon be marked by fear and slaughter (see Genesis 9:2-3).

The fallen nature of this new creation is also made abundantly clear by the events which we read of in Genesis 9. We read of Noah's drunkenness and Ham's shamelessness; Noah's new world is going the same way as the old. In the chapters that follow we read that as men and women again increased in number so also they increased in wickedness.

Genesis 11 records how the development of new technologies was used in rebellion against God. People discovered how to make bricks and how to stick them together with bitumen. They now had the means of building up great structures from small elements. So they built a city, creating a civilisation rather than remaining nomads or subsistence farmers; they have discovered the power of working together. Now they can settle and build and have a history. So they began to build a tower in the centre of their city, "with its top in the heavens". They wanted to make a name for themselves and ensure that they have a permanent future – that they might not be scattered across the face of the whole earth.

I do not think that this is an effort to climb up to God by human effort so much as it is an attempt to displace God. They want to make a name for themselves; to become masters of their own destiny. It is the story of the Fall all over again.

But so puny is their tower that would reach to the heavens that God has to come down to see it. In judgment he confuses their language with the result that they can no longer build their city; they separate from one another and wander off in every direction. The very fate they had feared has become the consequence of their own actions.

And yes, they have secured a lasting name for themselves; that name is Babel – babble, confusion.

In confusing the language of mankind at Babel and scattering them over the face of the earth, God acted both in judgement and in grace. The divisions between mankind, fundamental to so much of the Old Testament story, is evident still in our different linguistic and ethnic groupings. It is a graphic reminder of the divisive nature of sin. It is only through the work of Christ and of his outpoured Spirit that these divisions between humankind will be healed (see Acts 2).

There are those who still think that their science has displaced God – that they can make a name for themselves and become masters of their own destiny. He who sits in the heavens laughs at their folly.

In the chapters to come we will read how God gives a name to a man and to a people, and through them begins to gather a people for himself from all the scattered nations of the earth. He is the one who will build a city for them.

O Lord, you are very great. Keep me from imagining that I can make a name for myself and become master of my own destiny. Help me to see that my hope and my secure future are to be found in the one to whom you have given the name which is above every name. Help me, together with all your people, to build up the city of God, a city that has foundations.

11/01/2019 - Genesis 8:13-9:17 – A New beginning

Noah's first act when he and the animals were safe on dry ground was to build an altar and present burnt offerings to the Lord. The smoke of the burnt offering ascended to the Lord and he was pleased. God said, "Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." (8:21-22). God recognises that nothing has changed; the human heart is still inclined towards rebellion and evil. Nevertheless God promises that he will never again destroy every living thing; there is an atoning sacrifice by which the world is saved from judgment.

In response to this sacrifice, God renews his covenant promise saying, "I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you – the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you – every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth." (9:9-11).

Throughout this section we are continually reminded that humankind, made in the image of God, remains very much part of the created order. The animal creation is condemned to judgment along with humankind and is saved along with humankind. God's promise of mercy encompasses trees and fields and the changing seasons. God's covenant is made not only with Noah but with every living creature.

When we read that God loves the world and is intent upon its salvation we really must not narrow down his love to the 'salvation of the soul'. God loves every part of the world that he has made.

Having renewed his covenant promise to Noah, God declared, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." (9:12-16).

Here is another detail that for years I had failed to notice. I always thought that the rainbow was designated by God as a sign of his covenant to remind us of his promise. But that is not what God says. Twice he declares that it is a reminder to him of his covenant promise. God remembers not in the sense that he is in danger of forgetting but rather in that he acts to fulfil his covenant promise and to save his people. Dare we suggest that New Testament signs of the covenant, such as baptism and the Lord's Supper, are not only reminders for us of all that God has done for us in Christ and promised us in him, they are means through which God himself remembers his covenant?

Faithful God, thank you that you continually remember your covenant promises and act to save your people. More than that, we thank you that in Jesus Christ you purpose to save the world and to bring all creation under his dominion. Gladly we bring you our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and we pledge ourselves afresh to your great project of making all things new.

10/01/2019 - Genesis 7:11-8:5 – Water world

Today we read of the whole world destroyed but also washed clean in the waters of the great flood. Noah obeyed God and built his immense boat to house himself and the animals which God had given him to preserve. Note the fascinating words, "Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark" (Genesis 7:15). It appears to be a deliberate echo of Genesis 2:19 where God brought all the animals to Adam that he might name them.

And then there is another wonderful feature of this story. When Noah and all the animals had entered the ark we read, "Then the Lord shut him in" (7:16). It is the Lord who shuts the door of the ark; the very act by which many are brought to judgment is also the act by which Noah and all with him are kept safe. The Lord himself secures their safety.

In similar fashion we read that it was because "God remembered Noah" (Genesis 8:1) that the flood subsided and the great boat came to rest again on dry land. God has not abandoned his purpose to create a world that will reflect the glory of its creator and its Saviour.

Yesterday we saw how the world was saved through the obedience of one man and that Noah points us to the ultimate Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. This theme is picked up by the apostle Peter who writes that, "God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience towards God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand" (1 Peter 3:20-22). Peter focusses on the way in which God waited for Noah to complete his task before judgment fell and that this judgment also saved Noah and those with him. In the same way the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ witnessed the outpouring of God's judgment from heaven but has also been the means by which we have been saved – brought to share in his resurrection life. All of this is symbolised in baptism. The baptismal pool is, in picture, the great flood in which we pass through the judgment of God into a world made new.

When Jesus died upon the cross,
when he was buried in the dust,
he bore the judgment I deserved –
for me, the sinner, died the just!

When Jesus rose up from the tomb
he rose as firstborn from the dead:
he broke the powers of sin and hell
and lives for me, my risen head.

And here I also die and rise,
baptised into his holy name;
with him I'm judged, with him I die –
on me the law has no more claim.

With Christ I rise up from the grave
to live for ever with my Lord;
alive to God, with this desire,
to be obedient to his word.

Father God, we praise you for the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ. We thank you that through his death and resurrection he has become the Saviour of the world. And we thank you that in your mercy you have drawn us to come and trust in him. You have remembered us and we are eternally thankful. Help us to draw others to him that they also might know your salvation.

09/01/2019 - Genesis 6:1-22 – Judgment and grace

A few pages separate Genesis chapters 1 and 6, but what a contrast between the two passages. When God first made the world it reflected his own character and glory. God pronounced it to be good, very good. And on the seventh day God rested in satisfied enjoyment of all that he had made.

But now everything has changed. The earth is filled with violence and wickedness: "And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart" (Genesis 6:6). His spoilt world grieves the heart of God and he determines to do away with it. The God of the Scriptures is a God of passion: passionate love and concern for his creatures and particularly for humankind made in his image, made to share his heart.

And love can hurt. The heart of God is grieved over a world gone wrong. He is not grieved simply because his creation has been spoilt – like a child upset when their sandcastle is trodden on. No, he is grieved at a world that no longer returns his love: the grief of a deserted lover. Nor is his judgment an act of spite; it is, if we could but understand it, an act of kindness in putting an end to a world that has lost its way – putting an end to violence and wickedness.

And here we come across one of the wonderful "but"s of the Bible. God determined to blot out humankind from the face of the earth, "But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord" (Genesis 6:8). My Hebrew teacher, Alec Motyer, used to say that when we read that "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (KJV), we need to understand that grace found Noah. God's judgment is not utter destruction; in grace he determines to make a new world with Noah as a second Adam.

Noah is to build a great boat that will be the means of saving him, his family and representatives of all the creatures of the earth; they too are to have a new beginning.

Through the coming flood the world will be baptised: it will face judgment and the sentence of death; but out of it the earth will know resurrection – all things are made new, cleansed and recreated.

Noah, we read, "did all that God commanded him" – it's repeated, just in case we missed it the first time (6:22; 7:5). Just imagine if he had not done all that was required – if he had left the ark, this great boat, unfinished, or if he had failed to take the necessary food on board. The world is saved from utter destruction by the grace of God, but it is also through the obedience of this one man.

The passion in the heart of God that moves him to judgment and mercy finds its ultimate focus in the passion of the Christ – his ultimate baptism. This is where grief threatens to tear apart the heart of God and judgment falls on a world gone wrong. Our salvation has been secured through the grace of God and the obedience of one man upon whom God's favour rests – a man who did all that the Father asked of him. The terrible act in which judgment falls upon rebellious humanity is also the means by which we are brought safe to glory. Through the cross of Christ, the Last Adam, the Lord has secured a people for himself, a people recreated in his own image. Here is amazing love, amazing grace.

Lord God, how can I thank you for your saving grace? I praise you for the perfect obedience of my Saviour in whom I am brought through floods and flames into the life of the new creation. Help me to follow him in living in obedience to all your commandments. Help me to reflect the image of your Son.

Peter Misselbrook