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Bible Studies For Life

Rich Elligson

Richard Elligson

Richard Elligson is Professor of Missions and Chair of Theology at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives

Session 5

November 14, 2021

CONFIDENCE AFTER WE FAIL

Genesis 16:1-5; 17:1-9

I often tell my students that there is really only one sin: pride.

It was pride that got Lucifer kicked out of heaven (see Is. 14:12ff) and got Adam and Eve kicked out of Eden (see Gen. 3). And it’s the same sin we wrestle with every day. Simply put, we want to be God! We want to do things our way.

After years of waiting on God to fulfill His promise, Abraham and Sarah decided to step out on their own and do things their way. Predictably, the result was disastrous. Three key words help frame the story.

Conspire (16:1-4). The most casual reading indicates that Sarah was the brainchild who offered her maid to Abraham (v. 2). But it was likely Abraham’s depression and subsequent complaints over the couple’s barrenness that triggered the idea. The servant Hagar had likely been with the family for ten years, probably acquired during the couple’s detour into (and quickly out of) Egypt (v. 3). The idea seemed reasonable at first. The couple were aged 75 and 85, and the possibility of having children was long gone. Besides this, as the servant of Sarah, Hagar was considered her personal property. Any children born to the servant (especially if fathered by her husband) would also be considered hers. Hence, a family, fathered by Abraham at least, would begin. Once again, there is no guidance sought from God, no attempt at caution. Sarah offered her maid and Abraham took her up on it. They decided to do things their way. For reflection: Did Sarah have the right to offer her servant to her husband? Why would she do such a thing? What moral implications does this decision bring up?

Contempt (16:4-6). What seemed like a reasonable plan led to the planned result: a pregnancy. But you can only imagine the anguish and bitterness that resulted among the people involved. This was no business deal…this was a family being torn apart by poor judgment, short-sighted selfishness, and an immoral relationship! Just as soon as Hagar realized she was pregnant, she attempted to turn the tables on Sarah. The words with contempt (vv. 4, 5) can mean anything from slighting, to cursing, to humiliating to the point of quivering. No other details are given, but the word is in the emphatic position. One could only imagine the haughty attitude and bitter derision Hagar aimed at her barren mistress. Sarah’s reaction—as predictable as everything else in this story—was to attack her husband! In verse 5 she argued that she was doing Abraham a favor and he was allowing it to backfire on her! Her final statement is harsh. “May the Lord judge between me and you” is an appeal for God to step in, no doubt in order to vindicate her while condemning him. At this, Abraham threw up his hands and turned the whole sordid mess back to Sarah. While Hagar was offered as a wife back in verse 3, it didn’t take long for her status to drop back to a servant in verse 6. Sarah’s subsequent brutality against Hagar was enough to drive her out of the household. For reflection: Do some research and see what eventually happened to Hagar and Ishmael. In what ways are Jews and Christians still paying for this sin?

Continuation (17:1-9). Another 10 years or so passed. I can only imagine the family dynamics at this point! Yet God remained faithful to His promise, even when Abraham stumbled in his commitment. While much of the original covenant is reviewed in these verses, the emphasis seems to be on two areas. First, is Abraham’s fruitfulness. His descendants will be multiplied (v. 2); nations and many nations will result (vv. 4, 6); and future offspring and future generations are mentioned (vv. 7, 8). The second emphasis is on faithfulness. Abraham is to live a blameless life (v. 1), and the promises made to him would extend to his descendants. But they too, were expected to keep His covenant (v. 9). For reflection: In light of Abraham’s pride in chapter 16, what is the significance of changing his name from Abram to Abraham in chapter 17.

Special Focus

November 21, 2021

GIVE THANKS TO GOD  

Psalm 100:1-5

We Baptists tend to be orderly people. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that all things should be done decently and in order? As a result, we have a set worship schedule to tell us when to meet, and a detailed, printed “bulletin” to preserve our “order of worship.” Many a pastor has been chastised for straying from the bulletin (Our big inside joke is that we pastors wouldn’t know what to do next if we didn’t have the bulleting to go by!). As teens, we were even taught to pray in order. The word ACTS was our reminder: A stood for adoration; C for confession; T for thanksgiving; and S for supplication. While all of this order is helpful, there are times when it tends to stifle any spontaneity in worship. In reality, the biblical portrayal of worship is a healthy mix of order (see Ezra 8, for example) and the spontaneous reaction to God prompted by His Holy Spirit. The five brief verses of Psalm 100 give one example of unbridled worship. This is not a formula for worship, but rather a jubilant mix of six ingredients. The psalmist uses imperatives, but rather than taking them as commands, the reader should hear them as encouragements to join him in worship.

Shout (v. 1). The King James uses the familiar phrase “Make a joyful noise,” but the Hebrew word denotes a shout of excitement, surprise, triumph, or jubilation. It is a spontaneous act of adoration. While simply shouting in church would be discouraged, the sense here is one of celebration. The object of such adoration is the Lord Himself, and the audienceinvolved is all the earth. This is emphatically inclusive, inviting all people from all lands to acknowledge the King when He appears. In this introductory verse, we picture many voices joining as one at the sight of the Lord.

Serve (v. 2). Again, notice the simplicity mixed with the weightiness. Service to the Lord is due; not out of obligation but out of devotion. Charles Spurgeon in his classic Treasury of David remarked, “He is our Lord, and therefore He is to be served; He is our gracious Lord, and therefore to be served with joy.”

Come (v. 2). The word come always indicates an invitation. The one doing the inviting is already present. He implores with voice and gesture to join Him. There is no mistaking the majesty implied here. The Lord is indeed already present, seated on a throne. His door is open, and His children are invited into His holy presence. To come before Him is literally to pass in front of Him, face to face with Him. While this a place of awe, the response is not a fearful quake, but a joyful song (see Eph. 5:19).    

Acknowledge (v. 3). Worship is impossible apart from the profound respect we call reverence (see Prov. 9:10). And reverence begins with a realistic understanding of who we are and who God is and putting those two truths in the right order. Here, the psalmist acknowledges the deity of the Lord: “Yahweh is God.” Where do we come in? He made us, therefore we are His. But there is no bondage here; rather the relationship is one of gentle benevolence. He is the King; we are His subjects. He is the Shepherd; we are His sheep (see John 10).

Enter (v. 4). Again, there is majesty implied. Gates provide access to the royal grounds, and courts allow a gathering to take place there. Worship is both personal as well as corporate, private as well as public. In all cases, there is a nearnessinvolved. No one on the “outside” has the privilege of worship, and no one worships in the temple without a sacrifice. And what is the offering that God longs to receive from His children? Genuine thanksgiving and heartfelt praise!

Give thanks (vv. 4-5). So what is the basis of this genuine thanksgiving and heartfelt praise?  The psalmist lists three praiseworthy attributes. First, the Lord is good (see Mark 10:18). Second, His love is never ending. Third, His faithfulness is unfailing to the end.

For reflection: As we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, indeed give Him thanks! But remember that thanksgiving is only a part of worship. What a great time (and a great psalm) to remind our families what real worship looks like. Have a wonderful and blessed holiday season! RLE

Session 6

November 28, 2021

CONFIDENCE IN TIMES OF TESTING

Genesis 22:1-14

“After these things God tested Abraham…” This doesn’t sound good for Abraham!

But there is a difference between being tempted and being tested. Adrian Rogers used to say, “The devil tempts us to do evil that we might stumble. But God tests us to do good that we might stand.” This is the sentiment expressed by James when he wrote, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). Simply put, Satan tempts us to hurt us. God tests us to help us. The story unfolds in three scenes.

The challenge (vv. 1-2). The time stamp here is very general. “After these things” tells us an indefinite amount of time has passed, but enough to allow the previous events to fade and Isaac to grow up some. Scholars have placed Isaac’s age at this point everywhere from as young as three to as old as twenty-five. But the narrative suggests somewhere in the middle. I tend to guess between 12 and 14 years of age. That’s old enough to help his father with the wood, and young enough to willfully submit in obedience to his father. Verse 2 is filled with important details that emphasize the severity of the challenge God issued to Abraham. Isaac is your son; your only son; the son that you love. The challenge is not to offer him to God, or dedicate him to God’s service, but rather to kill him, then burn his body as a sacrifice; the type of sacrifice normally required as a sin offering (see Lev. 4 and Num. 15). For reflection: If God had gone through with the sacrifice, what theological issues would arise? Would God have been just to require such a thing?

The climb (vv. 3-10). As usual, there is great significance in the details contained in the narrative. The time (early in the morning); the activities (saddling his donkey and splitting the wood in advance); the company (two young servants and his son Isaac); his destination (the land of Moriah that God told him about), all add to the gravity of the situation as well as demonstrating the stoic and stayed obedience of Abraham. Once the destination was revealed to Abraham, it was time to go it alone. The explanation offered to the servants in verse 5 is fascinating. Abraham described the coming sacrifice of his son as an act of worship. But what did he mean by the promise “we will come back to you?” Two possibilities exist: Either Abraham was being discreet with his servants by obscuring his real intentions, or Abraham believed that God would either stay his hand prior to the sacrifice or would raise Isaac from the dead afterward. The evidence favors the latter. Since God had steadfastly promised a nation through Isaac, Abraham’s true test of faith was not in his simple obedience, but whether or not he trusted God to keep His word (see Heb. 11:19). The remaining narrative describes Isaac’s reaction to what was taking place. The boy understood that a blood sacrifice was required but had no idea what would happen once they got there. His father’s explanation was elusive, but honest. God would indeed provide a sacrifice. With no mention of Isaac protesting or fighting back, one must assume that he submitted willingly to his father’s intentions. The foreshadowing of Christ’s sacrificial death is unmistakable (see John 10:18). For reflection: Looking at the entire story, what other parallels can you identify with the account of Christ’s crucifixion?

The conclusion (vv. 11-14). Here, God’s mercy steps in. Isaac is spared and a ram dies in his place. The doctrinal principle of substitutionary atonement is clearly displayed. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), and the shedding of blood is required for the forgiveness of sin (Heb. 9:22). Yet God has decreed that the innocent my die on behalf of the guilty, and that is exactly what Jesus Christ has done for us! Paul declared, “He (God) made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Peter put it this way: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24). For reflection: In light of substitutionary atonement, what did John the Baptist mean in John 1:29?

Session 1

December 5, 2021

GOD WITH US

Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-25

God is absolutely sovereign.

He never operates in a random fashion. Unlike many of us (myself included!), God doesn’t make it up as He goes, “fly by the seat of His pants” (so to speak), ask Alexa for suggestions, or Google anything looking for answers. He doesn’t second guess Himself, or fret over what may happen next. As Adrian Rogers used to say, “The Holy Trinity never meets in emergency session.” The beloved Corey ten Boom reminded us as well, “There is no panic in Heaven. God has no problems, only plans.” And so it is with our redemption. God didn’t suddenly come up with a plan to “clean up” our sin mess. Rather, in His divine sovereignty, He put the plan into place even before creating the world in which it would all come about (see 1 Pet. 1:19-20; Rev. 13:8). And the good news is, He didn’t hide it from us, but told us throughout the Scriptures exactly what He would do. Our Winter lessons look at God’s faithfulness to His promises. The first lesson unfolds in four segments.

A prophetic promise (Is. 7:14). This oft-quoted Christmas prophecy was pronounced more than 700 years before it was fulfilled. The original context had nothing to do with Christmas per se, but rather with God’s unshakeable faithfulness. Ahaz, the king of Judah, found himself in dire straits. Two rival kings were plotting to attack the holy city of Jerusalem. God sent Isaiah not to warn the king, but to inform him that the enemy kings would not prevail against him. Sensing his doubt and fear, the Lord invited King Ahaz to ask for a sign to assure God’s protection was real, but Ahaz declined the offer. In indignation at the stubborn king, the Lord promised a sign anyway; one from God’s grace alone that should settle any and all doubts the people of Israel might have regarding God’s faithfulness to carry out His word. In a miraculous incarnation, and in the fullness of time, God Himself would visit His people. Hence, His name would be Immanuel; “God with us.” For reflection: Why do you think God would offer a sign of salvation to a sinful, idolatrous people, then wait 700 years before fulfilling His promise?

A painful position (Matt. 1:18-19). Now we fast-forward to the New Testament. Unlike Luke’s Gospel, that introduces the Christmas narrative through the ladies Elizabeth and Mary, Matthew traces the lineage of Joseph and begins the narrative from his perspective. Too often overlooked as a minor player, Joseph, in reality, shines as a hero. Blindsided by the sudden news of his betrothed’s pregnancy, Joseph had every right under the law to scandalize Mary publicly, and even turn her over to the authorities to be stoned (see Deut. 22:21). But “being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, he decided to divorce her privately” (v. 19). Thus we see Joseph’s honorable character as well as the love he felt for young Mary. For reflection: Why do you think Joseph is so often overlooked in the Christmas story? Have you noticed that he is never mentioned later in Jesus’ life? Why do you think that is?

An important pronouncement (vv. 20-23). That Joseph “considered these things” demonstrates his careful thoughtfulness in dealing with the situation. Unlike Mary, who received an angel visitation face-to-face (see Luke 1:26 ff), Joseph’s revelation came through a dream. The message was concise and full of information: (1) Go ahead and marry Mary; (2) The child is conceived of the Holy Spirit; (3) He will be a son; (4) Name Him Jesus; (5) He will be the Savior. Matthew is quick to point out that this was all in direct fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 (above), even translating for his readers the meaning of Immanuel. For reflection: Why do think Mary’s angel visitation required a face-to-face, but a dream was enough for Joseph?

A proud parent (vv. 24-25). The final scene is again about Joseph. He did those things that he was instructed to do: he took Mary as his wife; he kept her a virgin to insure there was no possibility of a human father; and he named Him Jesus. For reflection: If Jesus was the Son of God, then why did God even bring a man into the picture? In other words, why do you think God got Joseph involved at all?

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