5-15-23 Taking on Biblical Challenges

This week’s reading: Genesis 18:1-33

Hi Friends, 

     What an incredible and honorable man Abraham was! I continually get impressed by his amazing and humble heart. We will see his generous desire to show hospitality to all, as well as his continued care and concern for his nephew, Lot, and his family. We will also read about yet another reason we can clearly see Abraham was such a special Saint in how many times God appeared to him throughout his life on earth. This week, we will read about another Christophany where the pre-incarnate Jesus appears to cement the blessing of the promised child through Abraham and Sarah. And we will also see God’s patience with Abraham as Abraham bargains for the safety of Lot and those who lived in Sodom. Listen to the wonderful promise to these two faithful Saints, who had been waiting for quite some time for the appointed date that would manifest God’s blessing to them. 

“Then the Lord said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.’ Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?’ Then the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.’” Gen 18:10-12 NIV

     Hospitality. First let’s define what hospitality is. The dictionary says, “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” This often involves providing food and drink and accommodations to others that we sense are in need of such help. In Biblical times, hospitality was not only a normal custom, but an expectation. It is so important to God that He makes it a command. This is one of the many ways we can imitate God’s Compassion by showing others love and respect. Sadly, we have strayed very far from this nurturing and warmhearted act. We live in a culture that tends to stay within their own homes, and may even be afraid to step out of this comfort zone. Perhaps this is why reading this account of the generosity of Abraham is so vital to us here and now, huh? I found a well written and informative article from the ministry Got Questions?, the link is in this article that I really recommend checking out on this topic of hospitality. Since there were few inn’s where travelers could find rest and refreshment, those of the land were to take care of these needs for their fellowman, and certainly Abraham was more than happy to assist. The Bible even says that Abraham “was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.” (Gen 18:1) And why was he doing this? As Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible tells us, “and he sat in the tent door, in the heat of the day; partly to cool and refresh himself, and partly to observe if any passengers passed by, to invite them in; this being a time of day when such needed refreshment, and it was proper for them to lie by a while, and not proceed on their journey until it was cooler.”  What I want us to see here is that, Abraham most likely did not know who these Three Visitors approaching him were, before he offered to feed them and have them rest at his tent. It is not like Abraham was trying to court favor with these Angelic beings. He was simply doing what he always did, being the benevolent, kind-hearted person that he was, providing a break and refreshment for any strangers that came passed his home. Abraham first washes the feet of these Three Visitors, then runs to Sarah so she may bake some bread for them. He also runs to a servant who prepares one of Abraham’s choice and tender calves. This is important because we see he is not just offering some leftovers to these strangers, but giving of his best. Just how many lessons can we learn from this Saint, right? When we invite others to our home, should we not do likewise? Attending to our guests is such a privilege and honor. Do we see it this way? And would we dare to entertain strangers too? Listen to what Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary says, “We should not be forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares, Heb 13:2; nay, the Lord of angels himself; as we always do, when for his sake we entertain the least of his brethren.” Imagine that?! Entertaining angels without being aware of it!? (Heb 13:2) And serving God by serving the least of these. (see Mt 25:40) It is so fulfilling to pass on the blessings God has poured out into our lives by sharing them with those around us. This is as godly as life can get, as we are directly modeling the heart of Jesus Who gave all He had, His very life, for all of us. Yet here, Abraham is literally entertaining God and Angels without knowing it! (again, see Heb 13:2) Let us never forget, we are not to read the Bible just for head knowledge, but to be able to implement God’s wisdom by imitating the good displayed by all these past Saints. So I challenge us this week: invite someone over your home and seek to tend to their needs. This may include feeding them, but it should also involve giving them your full attention, as you listen to their heart, and maybe even pray with them. Not only will we be fulfilling God’s command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, but we will be bringing glory to God by loving them.

     The Three Visitors. Hindsight, of course, tells us that these Three were no mere humans. The leader of this group was the Lord Himself, and He was traveling with two Angelic beings. As I said before, Abraham had no idea what he was getting himself into. He was just being who God was creating him to be, loving, kind and generous. It was not until the Lord asked about his wife, Sarah, that Abraham started to understand Who this was standing before him. That is probably when it hit Abraham, “This is my Lord God!” Can you imagine!?! Now this encounter takes on a completely different meaning. And the meal he shares with the Three Visitors also takes on a deeper significance. It reminds me of Revelation 3:20, where Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Rev 3:20) You see, sharing a meal with someone else is an intimate, personal activity. The commentary from Barnes’ Notes on the Bible says: “The whole is a typical act representing communion between God and Abraham. The giving and receiving of a meal was the ground of a perpetual or inviolable friendship.” In others words, God was telling Abraham that they were friends forevermore. That nothing, and no one, would ever separate this friendship. What a beautiful thing the Lord is doing here with Abraham. It brings to mind God’s promise found in Romans 8:38-39 to all believers. What a relief and what a privilege and what an honor. Do we see the visitation of Jesus to this world in this light? He left Heaven and entered into this fallen world, just so God may invite us into the Everlasting Feast. The ultimate Host comes to Abraham to show us all how devoted He is to initiating and forming a relationship with the Crown of His Creation, us. God desires to dine with us every day. While He physically visits Abraham, God desires to meet us daily in His Word, through prayer and as we go about living our lives. Let us be aware, and even expectant, of God’s daily visits with us. Here’s another challenge for us this week: keep a daily log of anything you sense the Lord putting on your heart as you choose to interact with Him, and then take time to pray about it, asking God to reveal what He means. If anything happens involving that encounter, make note of how God answers you. This is important because God speaks to us all the time, but we may be so distracted, or just not expecting Him, that we do not sense the Holy Spirit’s Voice, nor do we see His hand in our daily lives. Abraham sees these Three Visitors and quickly engages with them and gets a huge surprise. May we have the same type of incredible experience too.

     The promise is coming soon. As Abraham is tending to these Three Visitors, the leader asks about his wife Sarah and then seals the promise given to these two Saints 25 years before. A lot has happened to them since that first pledge was made, but now we are getting to “the appointed time.” I mentioned in another article a while back that God’s promises often come as seeds that must be nurtured and grown before they manifest. God is the one Who does all of this because a promise does not require anything from humans. All that is left is to wait and continue to believe in the One Who promised it. And so God has grown both Abraham and Sarah to the point where they were ready to receive this promised child. It is often when we humans just cannot bring about the blessing on our own that God moves. Why? So all glory goes to Him and not us humans. I love how the Lord tells Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen 18:14) What can’t the One Who formed all we see, with just His words, do? He is also the one who created our bodies, so everything is subject to Him, even Sarah’s barren womb. Not only has she never had children, but the Bible purposely mentions that she was beyond the age of childbearing. For us today, that would be like a woman who had already gone through menopause a long while back, all of a sudden becoming pregnant. It is just not humanly possible. But again, what is too difficult for the Lord? My Friends, if you sense that God placed a desire in your heart, do not lose Faith just because He has not birthed it yet. Hope is so very vital for us to live by because it keeps us doing all we can towards that goal, yet trusting God to do that which we simply cannot do. The alternative is hopeless despair, which is what the enemy is wanting and expecting us to display. But if we choose to place our Faith in God, then we will live with Hope as we wait for God to do that which only He can do. And in the meantime, this Hope will inspire us to Love everyone God brings along our path and to live life with joy. Faith, Hope and Love. These three remain the Bibles says, because these three virtues are the way to live this Abundant Life God has designed us to live. (see 1Co 13:13) The entire point to this life, and beyond, is God, Who is Love. So the more we choose to lean on Him and live Love, the more fulfilling our lives get. And the more others, who are hungry for something more than this fallen world can offer, will want to know this God of ours too. Don’t give up on God, because He will never give up on us. Here’s another challenge for us this week: pray to God about a desire of your heart that has not yet come to be, then ask Him to show you what you can do towards that goal. Lastly, obey whatever He places on your heart, displaying your trust in Him, every step of the way. If you do not sense anything directly from God, choose to share this dream with a good and godly friend and see if God uses their words to lead you. Meanwhile, let yourself get excited about receiving your answered prayer already!

     Sarah laughs. Last week, I mentioned that there is a difference between the way Abraham laughs in Gen 17:17, and how Sarah now does so here in Gen 18:12-15. We can often tell the heart attitude of the people of the Bible by the way God responds to them. We do not hear God rebuke Abraham, but we do hear the Lord comment on Sarah’s lack of Faith. Again Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary says, “We might not have thought there was a difference between Sarah’s laughter and Abraham’s, ch. 17:17; but He who searches the heart, saw that the one sprung from unbelief, and the other from faith.” There is a big distinction between laughing at someone’s words, because they are so excited and filled with incredulous joy over what has been said, versus someone thinking there is just no way that is going to happen, so they snicker at the ridiculousness of those words. But let’s cut Sarah a break here, ok? As I said above, it has been 25 years…did we hear that?! 25 years since God first promised this blessing of a child to this couple. She was 65 years old at the time of the promise and now, 25 years later…I’m going to keep reminding us of that time span because to keep believing through that long a period, is real Faith…so now, 25 years later, Sarah is almost 90 and way past any human possibility of having a baby. Wouldn’t any one of us react the same way? And do not forget that this is the first time she is hearing the promise directly from the Lord herself. Before this God appeared to Abraham, not to her. This is what would have been expected in Biblical times. The man would have the encounter, not the woman…but this is God Who honors all humans, and so He speaks within earshot of Sarah so that she may know personally that God can do anything, even move her old body to be able to conceive. God shows her respect and love by doing this, just as Jesus lifted women’s positions by purposely interacting with them too. Lifting the shame from Sarah’s life by allowing her to become pregnant was such a sweet action from God to her. And my Friends, it is a sweet action from God to us also. God desires to lift any former guilt and shame from our lives too. He desires us to spend our days here dwelling in His Grace, not under condemnation. (see Ro 8:1) The more we seek God in His Word and through prayer, the more He will lift our burdens also, drawing us into Him, so that we may have, and enjoy, a deeper and freer relationship with Him. May we laugh too, but not out of an unbelieving attitude. Let’s choose to trust the God Who can do all things. Here’s another  challenge for us this week: find ways to get so excited about the promises of the Bible that we cannot help but laugh with joy at what God is doing, and will do. And do not be afraid because God knows your heart and only wants what is best for you. (see Gen18:15) Let’s choose to hold on to Faith and wait on God’s appointed time.

     Abraham bargains with God. After the promise is confirmed once again, this time to Sarah too, the Three Visitors get up to leave. Abraham goes with them and the Lord honors him once again by sharing what the Lord is about to do to the nation of Sodom. (see Gen 18:17-19) As I researched this chapter, I came across such a great description of what is going on here that I am just going to read this excerpt from Barnes’ Notes on the Bible to us: “The reasons for doing so are assigned. First. Abraham shall surely become a nation great and mighty, and therefore has the interest of humanity in this act of retribution on Sodom. All that concerns man concerns him. Second. Blessed in him shall be all the nations of the earth. Hence, he is personally and directly concerned with all the dealings of mercy and judgment among the inhabitants of the earth. Third. ‘I have known him.’ The Lord has made himself known to him, has manifested his love to him, has renewed him after his own image; and hence this judgment upon Sodom is to be explained to him, that he may train his household to avoid the sins of this doomed city, ‘to keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; and all this to the further intent that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what he hath spoken of him.’” Abraham knows the promises God has proclaimed over his life, so Abraham is concerned with all humanity, and certainly with his own nephew! And so Abraham does what he can to save Lot and his family, once again. We can see that Abraham was aware of the sinfulness of Sodom’s people as he continues to dwindle down the amount of righteous people that might be living there. He begins with a higher number of righteous souls, as Abraham asks, “What if there are only 50 righteous people there?” Abraham knows God to be a God of Justice and Compassion, so he knows God will not “sweep away the righteous with the wicked.” (see Gen18:23) Yet as I said before, Abraham knows the wickedness of this town, so he gets all the way down to 10, and next week we will see if even that many exist there. What we can take from this is how much God loves for us to reason with Him. To work things out by talking with God about what is on our minds and hearts. To spend time trying to discern what God will do in any circumstance. And to even be daring as we interact with Him. In the end, God is our Holy Father Who deeply desires to have this intimate, personal relationship with His children. The question is do we want the same thing? Abraham does not hesitate to discuss terms with the Lord, may we be that bold as well. 

     It is good to take on Biblical challenges. Can I give us one last challenge this week? Make the time to spend at least 10 minutes just talking to your Holy Father every day this week, and see if you sense His response. For me this works best when I write. I begin with something simply like, “Good morning, Lord,” and see where that takes me. Every time I neglect this quiet time between God and myself, my life takes a turn for the worst. Negative thoughts filter in, laziness tries to over come me and life becomes listless. But oh those times when I fight to make this my daily priority, my life gets back to being so very fulfilling. Do you want that too? Then this week: 1- be hospitable to someone, 2- pray about the desires of your heart, 3- get excited about receiving the answer to that dream and 4- make sure to spend quality time with God every day. Then come back here and leave a comment on the changes you sense in your life. I know when I do any of these, it leads to more of the Abundant Life, so won’t you join me?

     Until we meet again, keep lifting your eyes to God, He’s closer than you think.

<>< Peace, Diane