Day 28: Yes, you did laugh

Read Genesis 18:1-15

God comes to visit Abraham and Sarah in a physical body – three, actually, and yes, it’s confusing. Somehow Abraham knows these men are God, but we aren’t told how.

He gets a meal ready.

And God speaks: “next year, … Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Again? God has told Abraham this so often it’s almost boring.

But this time he uses an audible, human voice. This time he makes sure Sarah can hear.

Sarah laughs out loud. It’s such a crazy idea – her having a child.

Sure, it’s only what she’d wanted all her life. She’d known about the promise – waited for it, helplessly, year after year. Finally, she’d given Hagar to Abraham. It was all so different from what she had hoped – such a hard disappointment.

God’s promise was not for her after all.

And now here is God saying ‘next year’.

Yeah right.

“Why did Sarah laugh?”

Why is God so interested in her? Why can’t he leave her alone?

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Well, that’s the question isn’t it?

Yes, honestly, Sarah does think some things are too hard for him – like her and Abraham having a child now. But she can’t say that to God.

“I did not laugh.”

“Yes, you did laugh.” God won’t let her hide behind a lie. He’s not like us. Our socially acceptable ways of relating don’t work with him because he has a relentless, pursuing, love.

We know he’s already forgiven Sarah because of the name he plans to give the child: ‘Isaac’, which means laughter – as if he’s inviting Sarah and Abraham to laugh with him over the craziness of it all.

But still he confronts her.

It must feel like a mean joke. Here’s God, mad at her for laughing because he says she will have a child. It’s completely unfair. What does he want? Is he trying to raise her hopes again? Why does he toy with her?

He’s not toying. He’s confronting the dragon who is with her whispering lies about what God is like and what he can and can’t do – and what he will and won’t do.

Sarah doesn’t know it but God is rescuing her again.

He means to dance with her.

Day 30: Flee for your lives!

Before you read: The angels (or God) go to Sodom where Lot invites them to his home and feeds them. Then, all the men of the city surround the house and demand that Lot send his guests out so they can have sex with them. (Yup, really.)

Read Genesis 19:6-29

This is, in my opinion, one of the darkest stories in the whole bible.

The men of the city want to gang-rape angels.

Blind to all that is good, they probably don’t know the men are angels, but that’s only another charge against them. These are men who enjoy the suffering of others. In fact, they seem to crave it. They are driven by a hunger to get physical pleasure by hurting others.

And they are pounding at Lot’s door.

Lot calls them his ‘brothers’ but confronts their wickedness. With his next words, however, we see that he’s lived too long here.

He offers the men his virgin daughters, suggesting that it would be less wicked to abuse them than the guests.

I shudder.

God acts.

I like God’s way better.

He has seen enough. The angels, like action heroes, hit the men with blindness and urge Lot and his family to leave – but they are stupidly slow. Finally, the angels physically drag the family out of town.

And fire falls from the sky.

Can you even imagine?

Far off stands Abraham, looking out over the smoking plain. “God … remembered Abraham and … brought Lot out…”

I don’t like Lot, and I don’t see why God saved him. But God tells us he did it because of Abraham, who pleaded for the righteous people. He’s doing what he promised: making Abraham to be a blessing.

Lot was tainted by sin and too attached to what God hated; but God saved him because of Abraham.

God does that sometimes: saves someone because of someone else.

When I look at my own life I realize what a good thing that is.

Day 29: “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?”

Read Genesis 18:16-33

Wow. What happened here?

Did Abraham question the goodness of God? Did he challenge God – to his face?

Did he actually make God change his plans?

“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (v17). It’s all very deliberate on God’s part. He chooses to let Abraham in on his plans. This is a new thing in the story. It’s almost as though God is asking for Abraham’s input.

Abraham doesn’t like the plan. He can’t accept that God would destroy innocent people along with the guilty. Isn’t it nice to hear a character in the story ask the author the very same questions we want to ask? And what does God do with such a bold question?

He agrees.

You’re right, he says in my words, for the sake of a few I won’t destroy the many. Then he patiently lets Abraham press deeper and deeper, bringing the number all the way down to ten.

It seems as though Abraham has guided God to a better plan.

But I’m not sure.

Read verse 19 carefully. God has a plan for Abraham, too: to raise children to be righteous and just. In fact, the promise depends on it. God plans for Abraham to become the father of a great nation – which, when you think about it, is a little bit like God himself. Like God, Abraham will need to guide, teach, and instruct his many children, and I wonder if this is why God shares his plans with him.

God is mentoring Abraham.

He is inviting Abraham to interact with him, to question him and get to know him better: his goodness, his patience, and his response to evil.

He’s also teaching Abraham about judgement and mercy, about how they need to work together. What parent doesn’t need this lesson? And so Abraham becomes more like God and better equipped to judge his own children.

Did Abraham change God’s plans? I don’t think so. I think God changed Abraham. He drew him deeper into relationship with himself, and he taught him to judge well.

Of course, to Abraham it may have felt that he changed God’s plans, and God let him feel that way.

But I think God planned all along to spare the town for the sake of ten; and he let his plans be judged and questioned – for the sake of one.

Day 19: I will make you into a great nation

Read Genesis 12:1-9

The story begins here.

I know I’ve been calling it a story all along, and it is, but everything we’ve read so far has been the introduction: creation, two trees in a garden, sibling murder, awful flood, floating ark, Noah, and Babel – all of these have been preamble, explanation: context.

They’ve given us the background we need to understand the story.

Now we know that the story is a romance. It opened with a dance: God and his human creatures dancing in the fruit-filled garden; and everything was very good.

Then came the dragon, luring the humans away, tempting them with his poisonous fruit: “You will be like God”.  The humans ate and the dance was ruined as everyone scattered to find more dragon fruit. It was not good, and it got worse: humans became obsessed with their cravings. Finally, God destroyed it all – well, nearly.

With an ark and a rainbow, he let grace in.

I said at the start that God is the whole reason for the story. Since this is true, since it is – ultimately – his story, what we need to ask as we read is: what’s he doing? What does he want?

He wants to restore the dance.

He wants the humans to love and trust him because he wants to lavishly love us back. That’s what he made us for. But we can’t. Sin has made us unable to love and trust him. It makes us want to compete with him instead.

Somehow, he needs to find a way to fix us, to cure us of our dragonish addictions.

The story is also an action-adventure. We humans are held hostage by the evil dragon and God, the hero, needs to set us free.

So here in Genesis 12 the rescue mission begins, he speaks to a man: Abram.

Before we go any further, let me say this: we don’t know everything God does – only what he tells us. We don’t know that Abram is the only person God spoke to, but he is the one whose story God uses. He is the one God wants us to learn from.

As you read about Abram, think of him as a kind of ‘every-person’. He is ‘the human’. He could be you, living your ordinary life in an ordinary world until God whispers your name.

In my words, this is what God says, ‘Abram, leave what you know and follow me. I will lavish good things on you, and through you I want to lavish good things on the whole world’ (12:1-3).

Can you hear it?

Come, Abram: dance with me.

Day 18: Let’s build ourselves a city

Read Genesis 11:1-9

“The Lord scattered them.”

And that was the whole idea.

Why did they want to build a city? So they wouldn’t be scattered. They wanted to stay together. There’s strength in numbers. They wanted fame, they wanted power; they wanted the safety of brick walls and the security of a great tower.

‘Let’s make a name for ourselves. Let’s make a tower that reaches the heavens.’

Can you hear the dragon? Doesn’t this sound a bit like, “You will be like God” (3:4)?

God sees what the humans can do. He sees that “Nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them,” and he doesn’t like it. Apparently, some things are supposed to be impossible. So he gets involved.

Back in the garden, he let the woman eat the fruit: not here.

It’s almost as though he’s not going to let their sin pile up like it did before the flood. He’s going to help them against the dragon despite themselves – as though their tendency to sin is a foregone conclusion, so now he’s doing damage control because he made that promise about the rainbow. He will bear with them; he won’t end the whole story if it gets out of hand.

No, he says, I won’t let you eat this fruit – the fruit of fame, strength, and god-likeness. So he destroys the dragon’s tool: their unity. He confuses their speech and scatters them abroad ‘over all the earth’.

Look at verse seven: “Come, let us go down and confuse their language.” Did you catch that? He calls himself ‘us’ again, like he did in the very first chapter when he said, “Let us make mankind in our image” (1:26).

God is an ‘us’.

Even while he separates the dragon-poisoned, fame-seeking, one-language-speaking, ‘us’; he is himself part of a genuine, truly-God, ‘us’.

The scattering is not because God is against community. He likes community – he is in one. He just doesn’t like what this community is trying to do.

He scatters them. Maybe so they will turn to him instead of to one another. Maybe so they will fill the whole earth instead of just one small part of it.

The story doesn’t tell us what he is thinking or planning; only what he does.

I believe that, as usual, he wants something better for them: better than what the dragon is trying to sell them, better than what they can imagine.

After all, he has never forgotten the dance.

Day 17: Noah…became drunk

Read Genesis 9:18-29

This is an icky story.

I don’t like it.

The idea of Noah getting sloppy drunk, undressing, and then falling unconscious: it just repulses me.

Ham ‘sees’ his dad’s nakedness, and tells his brothers about it. The brothers won’t even look at their dad, instead they work together to cover him without seeing him. Then Noah wakes up and learns what Ham did and curses Ham’s son – all very strange.

As with so many of the small stories here at the start of the big story, I have more questions than answers. What does it mean that Ham ‘saw’? Of course he saw. His dad was lying there naked. But there must be more to it based on the responses of his brothers and his dad. Then, Noah curses Ham’s son – Canaan – instead of cursing Ham directly. Why?

I don’t know.

But two things are clear, so let’s stick with them: Noah gets stupidly, embarrassingly, drunk; and Canaan gets cursed.

The curse on Canaan will be worth remembering as we go on, because it will have long and lasting effects; and that’s all I’m saying now.

The drunkenness of Noah – oh, that disappoints me!

I wanted him to be better than that.

I have pictures of him in my mind: walking with God while the whole world runs after the dragon; building a monstrosity of a boat; patiently waiting weeks and months to get off the boat; and burning a sacrifice to God in a clean new world. In all these pictures he is larger than life, broad-shouldered, big-hearted, far seeing, and wise: the perfect hero.

Now I have to add another picture: drunk, and passed out in his tent. It doesn’t fit.

But what did I want, sinlessness?

Yes.

I wanted one person to be totally untouched by the craving, or at least completely triumphant over it. It would have made the story so tidy: the dragon drowns in the flood and the world is repopulated with sinless people. That’s how I would write it.

But God is writing a different story. In His, the people have evil hearts – all of them. “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (8:21). In God’s story, there is still a dragon and no one is free from his poison, not even Noah.

My story wouldn’t have worked because Noah never was sinless. Eventually, I would discover this and be shocked, my story ruined. God is not shocked. I love that about him: he is never shocked by our ugly cravings and never caught off guard.  He knew all along what was in Noah.

Yet he loved him.

Yet he used him to save the world.

Day 16: I have set my rainbow

Read Genesis 8:21-9:17

God makes a promise: never again. “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans.”

But he knows that “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” Humans haven’t changed. The dragon survived the flood, humans still crave his fruit, and God knows it.

That’s what makes this promise so shocking. He is saying that he will no longer punish the earth and all living creatures because of the sin of humankind. Humans will follow the dragon, and God will tolerate it. Humans will dirty and damage his beautiful creation, and he will let them.

It’s scary.

It’s outrageous.

It’s grace.

It’s not a careless promise. He makes a ‘covenant’ – a legal contract. God is binding himself to it. He says to us: despite all the evil you do, I will not curse the earth or destroy all life with a flood ever again.

That’s the contract.

It’s not two-sided because there is nothing creation can promise to God in return. It’s one-sided, pure grace, signed with a rainbow.

And all of this – the promise, the grace, the rainbow – come from God’s pleasure.

He smells the roasting meat and he likes it. I think he likes more than just the smell of the meat. He likes that Noah’s first act is to worship him. He likes Noah. He likes the world: the people, the animals, and the earth itself. I get the sense from verses 21-22 that he is deeply glad the whole story is not over and in his great pleasure he recommits himself to it. Then he makes a rainbow: how perfect.

The rainbow is a perfect reminder of this promise because of what it is. It’s light passing through water. The water, a reminder of sin and destruction, acts as a prism bending the light and untangling its colors so each one shows separately.

He says the rainbow is to remind him of his covenant but I ask you: would he forget? I think he made it for those anxious refugees from the ark and for everyone since – sick with sin and desperate for grace.

I think it’s for you and me, for all of us who know that God has every right to un-make us. We can look to the rainbow and remember his ancient covenant.

Light passes through rain, and his grace passes through our sin, and all the beautiful colors pour out.

Day 15: Noah built an altar

Read Genesis 8:1-20

One year and ten days: I think it would feel like forever.

It would have started out feeling safe and familiar while the whole world roared away; but after weeks and months of cramped spaces, body heat, and ripe smells; with no-where to go – I think it would feel like a floating dungeon.

Imagine: the door groans open; a sweet, flower scented breeze whooshes in; and then you’re walking down the ramp and finally standing on firm ground. Imagine the vivid greens and soft, rustling, leaves.

What would you think?

I’ve wondered if they were afraid. Did they anxiously search the blue sky for some sign of a cloud? Or were they simply like children at Christmas, enjoying the gift of a world all washed clean – renewed?

What to do now? Go for a walk in the bright, open spaces? Build a house? Plant a field?

Noah builds an altar and worships God. Yes, that makes sense: like a grateful child at Christmas who runs to her parents to hug and thank them for the gifts.

“Taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings” – oh. Not like kids at Christmas at all. Noah kills animals – the same ones he’s been taking care of all this time. That’s his thank you to God.

It’s not the first time animals are killed this way. God gave Adam and Eve animal skin for clothing. Abel’s offering was an animal and God liked it. Tomorrow, we will see that God likes this offering too.

God likes animal sacrifice, or He does here at the start of the story. This makes me a little uncomfortable. It feels barbaric, bloody, and cruel. But there I am judging God again, when really I should be grateful that he takes animal sacrifice instead of human – because it is instead of. Noah knows it.

The flood is a massive word picture of God’s power and his hatred of sin.

Noah gets it.

In the aftermath of the terrible destruction, breathing in the earth’s perfume and feeling the sun’s heat on his skin, he realizes the truth: his very life is a generous and gracious gift of God.

It’s all clear.

He is no more worthy to live than any of those who died.

Offering the animals is a way of saying, ‘It should have been me. Thank you that it wasn’t. Here is a life, for my life.’

Day 12: The Lord regretted…

Read Genesis 6:1-8

“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”

The dragonish hunger is everywhere. It turns out that Cain wasn’t the only one who failed to master it. In fact, it seems as though all humankind prefers sin to God. Adam and Eve were the first to eat the poisoned fruit and now all their children crave it.

Remember how God was so pleased with the humans at the start that he blessed us and called us very good? Now he’s sorry he made us. He’s ready to wipe us from the face of the earth.

Sin is everywhere and it has ruined everything.

“But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.” One man seems to have mastered sin. One man has chosen God over the dragon. One man will save with world: a hero. But I’m getting ahead again.

I need to back up to the first four verses of today’s reading, and tell you something: I used to seriously dislike them.

For years I ignored these verses because they challenged my understanding of how the world works, and what God allows. I didn’t like to think about ‘Sons of God’ – angels? – marrying ‘daughters of men.’

It was preposterous.

It was scary.

I decided the verses probably didn’t mean what they seemed to mean. It was just another mystery.

But lately I’ve been noticing other verses (1 Cor. 11:9, 1 Peter 3:19-20, 2 Peter 2:4-5) which seem to refer to these verses, and seem to take them at face value: angels married humans and created children of mythical size and strength. The verses are far from clear, but they make me think my skepticism might be wrong.

It might have happened.

It could be where the ancient myths of gods and half-gods come from, and it seems to have been a bad thing: it led to widespread sin.

Still, the idea doesn’t scare me like it once did.

Now it excites me. The more I learn about God, the less I fear him.

And maybe I’m still wrong. Maybe those other verses don’t mean what I think. That’s okay too.

But now, I kind of hope they do. I’d like to take these verses today at face value because they open a window – for just a second – to more: angels mingling with humans.

They weren’t supposed to be marrying – but the fact that they could

Doesn’t it make Heaven that much more real?

And close!

Close enough to touch.