When Abram went to the land God promised him, he took Lot with him even though he wasn’t supposed to. Abram had to deal with the consequences of his decision.
For Lot, there were consequences too. When he traveled with Abram, Lot prospered; he was a blessed man. However, once they separated, things turned bad for Lot. Without his uncle’s influence, Lot made some poor choices, eventually holed up in a cave he was fearful, broke, and alone – except for his two daughters, but that’s another story.
Sometimes things may go good for us just because of who we hang out with. But once we leave their umbrella of favor our positive outcomes can evaporate.
That’s why the company we keep is so important.
[Genesis 19:16-17, 30]
In the Bible, God told Abram (later called Abraham) to go to a new place. As he went, Abram was to leave behind his country, friends, and family.
So Abram left, taking with him his nephew Lot. Abram obeyed the part about going but didn’t fully comply with the part about leaving everything behind. He invited a relative to tag along on the adventure God called him to.
Abram apparently wasn’t ready to let go of everything, bringing Lot along as a companion or perhaps to maintain a connection to family. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t what God said to do.
Though we admire Abram for boldly leaving to go to a new place that God would reveal to him, only after the journey was underway, we fail to realize Abram’s obedience was only partial.
We later read that Lot’s presence caused problems for Abram. Their flocks were too big to co-exist and their herdsman bickered with each other. To resolve this constant strife, the only solution was to go their separate ways. And when they did, Lot took the choice land and Abram got the leftovers.
This grief could have all been avoided had Abram left Lot behind, as God told him.
[Genesis 12:1, 12:4, 13:5-7, 13:10-11]
Last week we talked about Simon Peter, a guy with two names. Another man with two names is John Mark. Unlike Abraham and Sarah who received new identities from God and Peter who got his second name from Jesus, the origin of John Mark’s two names seems to lack divine origin.
Perhaps his parents gave him one name at birth and his other label, a nickname bestowed by friends. Maybe he needed two names to avoid confusion with other guys named John and other dudes called Mark.
Regardless John Mark’s dual name does not seem to have any spiritual significance, but to simply be practical.
Even so, John Mark is a fun name to say.
[Read more about John Mark in “Lessons from the Life of John Mark” and “The Comeback of John Mark.”]
In the book of Genesis, God gives new names to three people.
In doing so, God is effectively saying, I’m giving you a new identity. You may see yourself according to your old name, but I see you differently. I’m giving you a new name and a new future.
Abram becomes Abraham
Sarai becomes Sarah
Jacob becomes Israel
The Amplified Bible tells us the meaning for five of these names:
Abram means “high, exalted father,” whereas Abraham means “father of a multitude” (Genesis 17:5).
The meaning of Sarai is not given, but Sarah means “Princess” (Genesis 17:15).
Jacob means “supplanter” (one who usurps or replaces another), whereas Israel means “contender with God” (Genesis 32:28).
Would you like God to give you a new name? Just ask.
One of the central characters in the book of Genesis is Father Abraham. God calls Abraham to move to a different place, a location that God would reveal to him as the journey progressed.
Because of Abraham’s obedience and faith. God promised to make him into a great nation. But the story doesn’t end there. As Abraham continues in obedience to God, God keeps promising him more and more.
Consider the following sequence:
“I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 12:2).
“You will be the father of many nations” (Genesis 17:4).
“I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you” (Genesis 17:6).
“All nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:18).
With each step of obedience, the scope of the promise increases. God’s ultimate promise to Abraham is that all nations will be blessed through him.
Why? Because Abraham obeyed God.
What might God do through us as we obey him?
Abraham, the great man of faith, did not always act that way. Once, when fearing for his safety, he lied to king Abimelech, claiming that Sarah was his sister and hiding the fact that they were married.
Assured by Abraham’s lie, Abimelech felt free to take Sarah into his harem. Fortunately, God intervened before anything happened to her, revealing the truth of the situation to Abimelech in a dream. God’s instructions to Abimelech were simple: return Sarah to Abraham and then Abraham would pray for Abimelech.
Abimelech quickly returned Sarah as instructed. He also gave many gifts to Abraham, as well as to Sarah. Then Abraham prayed for Abimelech and everything was made right.
What is interesting is that God never told Abimelech to give gifts to Abraham and Sarah. Abimelech did that on his own; God did not require that.
I wonder how many times we act in the same way, doing things that God didn’t ask us to do and that he didn’t require.
In the parable about the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus, Jesus shares an intriguing story. In it, both men die; Lazarus goes to heaven, but the rich man ends up in hell.
Desperate to spare his family from the torment he is suffering, the rich man makes a request of Father Abraham to send Lazarus back, warning those he loves. Abraham reminds him that they have already failed to heed the prior warnings that others have given.
The man persists, asserting that they would surely listen to someone who has returned from the dead. Abraham’s’ words are somber, saying “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
This was later proved to be correct. After Jesus’ resurrection, hundreds of dead people came back to life, went into the city, and appeared to many. Yet despite hundreds of formerly dead people walking around the city, only a 120 believed and were waiting in the upper room as Jesus commanded.
What happened to all the rest? They saw the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection and hundreds of the undead, but they remained unchanged.
Jesus’ prophecy was correct, that “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
Though not everyone will be convinced, some will be. I am; are you?
[Luke 16:19-31, Matthew 27:51-53, Acts 1:14-15]
Amos was a shepherd, called by God to be a prophet. His story is found in the book of Amos in the Bible.
Amos says what God tells him, but after a while, the people of Israel — the primary target of his God-given proclamations — get tired of Amos and what he says, telling him to be quiet and go back home. Interestingly, Peter, the disciple of Jesus, is given a similar warning by the authorities. Both Amos and Peter decline, insisting that they must do what God tells them to do.
At first Amos has no qualms about sharing God’s judgments regarding other nations, but he does eventually object. God shows Amos what will happen and Amos protests — and God relents. (Similar things happen when both Moses and Abraham plead with God.)
God then gives Amos another stinging word. Amos protests and God again relents.
Then God gives Amos a third oracle. This time Amos says nothing.
I wonder if Amos gave up too soon. I wonder if we sometimes make the same mistake.
[Amos 1:1, Amos 7:10-15, Acts 4:18-20, Numbers 14:11-20, Genesis 18:16-33, Amos 7:1-9]
A reoccurring statement in the Bible is “Here I am.”
This was often said to God when he calls out or speaks to one of his children.
- Twice, when God called to Abraham, Abraham responded with, “Here I am.” [Genesis 21:1 and 22:11]
- Abraham’s grandson Jacob had similar experiences. Once an angel came to Jacob in a dream (on God’s behalf) and another time God spoke to Jacob in a vision at night. Both times Jacob replied by saying, “Here I am.” [Genesis 31:11 and 46:2]
- Some 400 hundred years later, God spoke from the midst of a burning bush and Moses said, “Here I am.” [Exodus 3:4]
Abraham, Jacob, and Moses were all expectantly ready to listen to God. We need to do the same.
Later Jesus said, “Here I am” in obedience to do the will of his father. [Hebrews 10:7-9, which is quoting the prophetic text in Psalm 40:7.]
Lastly, this phrase is spoken to us by Jesus. He 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 him, and he with me.” [Revelation 3:20]
Jesus is saying that he is ready for us; he is waiting; all we need to do is open the door for him.
The Bible is chocked full of strange and perplexing tales.
One such story is when God tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. What father in his right mind would kill his son? However, Abraham is intent on obeying God regardless of the cost. Three days later we find him up on a mountain, with Son Isaac tied up and laying on the alter. With knife in hand, Abraham raises his arm, ready to plunge the dagger into Isaac. Just then, God says in effect, “Wait, don’t do it; I was just seeing if you would really obey me.” Wow, that was close. Then God provides a ram to be sacrificed instead of Isaac. Abraham proved himself faithful to God, and Isaac was spared.
Fast forward several centuries to Jesus. Jesus is himself getting ready to die; he is going to be sacrificed. Surely, he knows the story of Abraham and Isaac; every Jew knows that story. I suspect he is wondering if his loyalty and obedience to God is being tested just like Abraham, for he says, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
However, God didn’t say, “Hold on, this was just a test of your obedience”; there was no one else to take his place. It was Jesus’ job and his purpose to die for the wrongs of the world in order to make us right with God.
Jesus obeys; Jesus dies; we live.
[Genesis 22:1-14 and Luke 22:42]