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Genesis 18:1-15 1
1 The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. 3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.” 6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread.” 7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree. 9 “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said. 10 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. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?” 13 Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.” 15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

clip_image040Background 2

Genesis (Hebrew: בראשית, Greek: Γένεσις, meaning “birth”, “creation”, “cause”, “beginning”, “source” or “origin”) is the first book of the Torah, the Tanakh, and the Old Testament. In Hebrew, it is called בראשית (B’reshit or Bərêšîth), after the first word of the text in Hebrew (meaning “in the beginning”). This is in line with the pattern of naming the other four books of the Pentateuch. As Jewish tradition considers it to have been written by Moses, it is sometimes also called The First Book of Moses.

Genesis contains the historical presupposition and basis of the national religious ideas and institutions of Israel, and serves as an introduction to its history, laws, and customs. It is the composition of a writer (or set of writers, who has recounted the traditions of the Israelites, combining them into a uniform work, while preserving the textual and formal peculiarities incident to their difference in origin and mode of transmission.

Biblical Truths 3

Genesis 18:1-15, Abraham experiences intimacy with God and once again discovers that God is a loving and patient God that reaffirms His covenant. We will learn from Abraham and Sarah’s reactions the proper way to react to God.

Respond to God’s intimate care (18:1-8). In chapter 17, the Lord had appeared to Abraham for the first time in thirteen years (17:1).4 Now, just a short time later, God appears again. The Lord is encouraging Abraham with His presence and friendship. The text says that the Lord (Yahweh) appeared to Abraham “in the heat of the day.” It was siesta time in the hot East and Abraham was resting at the door of his tent. Abraham did not see his three guests walking from a distance, they just appeared.

Many Bible students don’t believe that Abraham recognized the identity of the three men. However, Abraham responded by running to meet them and bowing himself to the earth (18:2). Even though the ancient Middle East was known for its hospitality, it is not unlikely that the 100-year-old Abraham would have responded with such fervor. Abraham addresses one of the men as “my lord.” Unfortunately, this translation “my lord” is misleading, since the Hebrew text refers to a title for God (cf. 18:27, 31). The Hebrew reads adonay (“LORD”) not adoni (“lord” or “sir”). The ESV, NKJV, and KJV translate this title correctly. Finally, Abraham says, “if now I have found favor in your sight.” In the Scriptures, this is always spoken to one of a higher rank. These may be clues all point that to the fact that Abraham recognized the Lord (cf. 12:7, 17:1).

It could be assumed that this might have been God, in the person of Jesus Christ, appearing to Abraham before He took on flesh and was born at Bethlehem. The Bible teaches that no man has ever seen God the Father (John 1:18; 1 Tim 6:16). Therefore, if God appeared to someone in human form in the Old Testament, it makes sense that it was the second person of the Trinity, the God-man that we know as Jesus Christ.

Abraham responds with one of the greatest lines in Scripture: “My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by” (18:3). He was eager to encounter and experience God. He wanted God to remain with him so he said, “Please do not pass your servant by.” This is precisely how the church should respond when Jesus knocks to be invited in for fellowship (Matt 25:31-46; John 6:53-58; Rev 3:20; 19:7). We ought to be receptive and responsive to His visitation. God is sovereign. He does visit His people. He fulfills His plan and program. The only question is: Will He pass us by or will He come down and visit us? Typically, God only stays where He is wanted. He is not like a visiting in-law that forces his way into our home and then wears out his welcome. He wants to visit those that seek Him and desire Him.

In 18:4-8, Abraham responds to the Lord with great zeal. He says, “‘Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.’ And they said, ‘So do, as you have said.’ So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.’ Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. He took curds [yogurt] and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.” Abraham jumps to provide service and care for his guests. He prepares a basin for them to wash their feet and he promises them that he will bring “a piece of bread” (18:5). The Hebrew word translated “bread” (lehem) can refer either to bread specifically or to food in general. Based on Abraham’s directions to Sarah in 18:6, bread was certainly involved, but 18:7 indicates that Abraham had a more elaborate meal in mind.

As this section unfolds, there is a striking emphasis on worship. [These principles are also relevant to hospitality.] Abraham demonstrates worship in three ways: (1) speed, (2) selection, and (3) service. First, we will look at speed. When Abraham saw the men, “he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth” (18:2). The text goes on to say that Abraham “hurried” into the tent to delegate the orders to Sarah (18:6). In effect, Abraham says, “Come on in, I’ll wash your feet. I’ll feed you a meal. Rest with us. I will take care of you.” But he has nothing prepared for these unexpected guests. So Abraham hurried into the tent and said to Sarah, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.” Like a wonderful, loving wife, she does just that. In the very next verse, Abraham “ran” to his servant to have the best meal possible prepared (18:7).

Not only was Abraham a man of speed but also he was a man of selection. Abraham prepared the best available food for his guests (18:6-8). He didn’t hold back his first fruits for his family; rather he gave of his wealth to others. He was a man of great generosity. The feast that Abraham had prepared could have fed a small army. The ingredients for the bread cakes, “three measures of fine flour,” are equivalent to about thirty quarts of flour, which would make a lot of bread. Depending on the breed of cow, the calf butchered for the meal could produce up to 100 pounds or more of tender veal.

Lastly, Abraham was willing to provide service. We know Abraham had 318 men in his household who were his servants (14:14), but here he himself becomes personally involved. He does not “pass the buck,”—he hastens to do this himself. Abraham sought the rest and refreshment of his company (18:4-5). He was after their best interests. So much so that Abraham was willing to make himself available to these men as a waiter (“and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate,” 18:8).

Throughout their encounter, the Lord treated Abraham as His friend. He shared an intimate occasion with him—a common meal. This was a unique privilege for Abraham. It was the only case before the incarnation in which Jesus ate food set before Him. There were certainly many other occasions on which the Lord appeared to people and they offered Him food. However, on all those occasions He turned the food into a sacrifice. But with Abraham, He enjoyed a special relationship. He sat down at the table and ate with him. God reveals Himself to those who desire Him.

Items for Discussion

  • How do most people respond to unannounced guests?
  • What was unusual about how Abraham responded?
  • What makes you think that Abraham knew the visitors and also thought they were very special?
  • What similarities do you see between Abraham’s visit and how we worship God each Sunday?
  • What parallels do you see between Abraham’s behavior and how we should behave about God and Christ?
  • What comfort should each of us receive knowing that God wanted to have a very personal relationship with Abraham and Sarah?

 

James 1:5-6
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

Background

The book of James is sometimes viewed as controversial because of its emphasis on “good works.” However, the Christian interpretation is perhaps best understood through the analogy of motion. In both the physical realm as well as the spiritual realm, where there is life there will be motion. When a person becomes a Christian, new life begins, and inevitably that life must express itself through “spiritual motion,” or good deeds. In James’ words, “What good is it … if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” (2:14) Movement does not cause life, but it does inevitably follow life. It is a sure sign that life is present. Similarly, genuine faith in Christ should always result in actions that demonstrate faith.

James is not writing about how to become a Christian, but rather how to act like one. Having all the correct beliefs about God will hardly suffice: even demons believe in God. Real, life-giving faith should produce motion, and James minces no words in describing the specific spiritual actions expected of Christians. Christian thinkers, notably Martin Luther, have struggled to reconcile the message of James with that of Paul, who so firmly warned against slavish legalism. But Paul never belittled holy living. When he wrote to carousers, such as his letter to the Corinthians, he railed against immorality as strongly as James. James had a simple philosophy: “Do not merely listen to the word …. Do what it says.” (1:22)

Biblical Truths 4

Verse 5. If any of you lack wisdom. Probably this refers particularly to the kind of wisdom which they would need in their trials, to enable them to bear them in a proper manner; for there is nothing in which Christians more feel the need of heavenly wisdom than in regard to the manner in which they should bear trials, and what they should do in the perplexities, and disappointments, and bereavements that come upon them: but the language employed is so general, that what is here said may be applied to the need of wisdom in all respects. The particular kind of wisdom which we need in trials is to enable us to understand their design and tendency; to perform our duty under them, or the new duties which may grow out of them; to learn the lessons which God designs to teach, for he always designs to teach us some valuable lessons by affliction; and to cultivate such views and feelings as are appropriate under the peculiar forms of trial which are brought upon us, to find out the sins for which we have been afflicted, and to learn how we may avoid them in time to come. We are in great danger of going wrong when we are afflicted; of complaining and murmuring; of evincing a spirit of in submission, and of losing the benefits which we might have obtained if we had submitted to the trial in a proper manner. So in all things we “lack wisdom.” We are shortsighted; we have hearts prone to sin; and there are great and important matters pertaining to duty and salvation on which we cannot but feel that we need heavenly guidance.

Let him ask of God. That is, for the specific wisdom which he needs; the very wisdom which is necessary for him in the particular case. It is proper to bear the very case before God; to make mention of the specific want; to ask of God to guide us in the very matter where we feel so much embarrassment. It is one of the privileges of Christians, that they may not only go to God and ask him for that general wisdom which is needful for them in life, but that whenever a particular emergency arises, a case of perplexity and difficulty in regard to duty, they may bring that particular thing before his throne, with the assurance that he will guide them. Compare Psalms 25:9;; Isaiah 37:14; Joel 2:17.

That giveth to all men liberally. The word men here is supplied by the translators, but not improperly, though the promise should be regarded as restricted to those who ask. The object of the writer was to encourage those who felt their need of wisdom, to go and ask it of God; and it would not contribute anything to furnish such a specific encouragement to say of God that he gives to all men liberally whether they ask or not. In the Scriptures, the promise of Divine aid is always limited to the desire. No blessing is promised to man that is not sought; no man can feel that he has a right to hope for the favor of God, who does not value it enough to pray for it; no one ought to obtain it, who does not prize it enough to ask for it. Compare Matthew 7:7-8. The word rendered liberally, (\~aplwv\~,) means, properly, simply; that is, in simplicity, sincerity, reality. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, though the corresponding noun occurs in Romans 12:8;; 2 Corinthians 1:12;; 11:3, rendered simplicity; in 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:13, rendered liberality and liberal; 2 Corinthians 9:11, rendered bountifulness; and Ephesians 6:5;; Colossians 3:22, rendered singleness, scil., of the heart. The idea seems to be that of openness, frankness, generosity; the absence of all that is sordid and contracted; where there is the manifestation of generous feeling, and liberal conduct, In a higher sense than in the case of any man, all that is excellent in these things is to be found in God; and we may therefore come to him feeling that in his heart there is more that is noble and generous in bestowing favors than in any other being. There is nothing that is stinted and close; there is no partiality; there is no withholding of his favor because we are poor, and unlettered, and unknown.

And upbraideth not. Does not reproach, rebuke, or treat harshly. He does not coldly repel us, if we come and ask what we need, though we do it often and with importunity. Compare Luke 18:1-7. The proper meaning of the Greek word is to rail at, reproach, revile, chide; and the object here is probably to place the manner in which God bestows his favors in contrast with what sometimes occurs among men. He does not reproach or chide us for our past conduct; for our foolishness; for our importunity in asking. He permits us to come in the most free manner, and meets us with a spirit of entire kindness, and with promptness in granting our requests. We are not always sure, when we ask a favor of a man, that we shall not encounter something that will be repulsive, or that will mortify us; we are certain, however, when we ask a favor of God, that we shall never be reproached in an unfeeling manner, or meet with a harsh response.

And it shall be given him. Compare Jeremiah 29:12-13, “Then shall ye call upon me, and go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with your whole heart.” See also Matthew 7:7-8; 21:22; Mark 11:24; 1 John 3:22;; 5:14. This promise, in regard to the wisdom that may be necessary for us, is absolute; and we may be sure that if it be asked in a proper manner it will be granted us. There can be no doubt that it is one of the things which God is able to impart; which will be for our own good; and which, therefore, he is ever ready to bestow. About many things there might be doubt whether, if they were granted, they would be for our real welfare, and therefore there may be a doubt whether it would be consistent for God to bestow them; but there can be no such doubt about wisdom. That is always for our good; and we may be sure, therefore, that we shall obtain that, if the request be made with a right spirit. If it be asked in what may expect he will bestow it on us, it may be replied,

That it is through his word–by enabling us to see clearly the meaning of the sacred volume, and to understand the directions which he has there given to guide us;

  1. by the secret influences of his Spirit
    1. suggesting to us the way in which we should go, and
    2. inclining us to do that which is prudent and wise; and,
  2. by the events of his Providence making plain to us the path of duty, and removing the obstructions which may be in our path. It is easy for God to guide his people; and they who “watch daily at the gates, and wait at the posts of the doors” of wisdom, (Proverbs 8:34,) will not be in danger of going astray, Psalms 25:9.

Verse 6. But let him ask in faith. See the passages referred to in James 1:5. See Barnes “Matthew 7:7”, and See Barnes “Hebrews 11:6” to obtain any favor from God if there is not faith; and where, as in regard to the wisdom necessary to guide us, we are sure that it is in accordance with his will to grant it to us, we may come to him with the utmost confidence, the most entire assurance, that it will be granted. In this case, we should come to God without a doubt that, if we ask with a proper spirit, the very thing that we ask will be bestowed on us. We cannot in all other cases be so sure that what we ask will be for our good, or that it will be in accordance with his will to bestow it; and hence we cannot in such cases come with the same kind of faith. We can then only come with unwavering confidence in God, that he will do what is right and best; and that if he sees that what we ask will be for our good, he will bestow it upon us. Here, however, nothing prevents our coming with the assurance that the very thing which we ask will be conferred on us. Nothing wavering. \~mhden diakrinomenov\~. “Doubting or hesitating as to nothing, or in no respect.” See Acts 20:20;; 11:12. In regard to the matter under consideration, there is to be no hesitancy, no doubting, no vacillation of the mind. We are to come to God with the utmost confidence and assurance.

For he that wavereth, is like a wave of the sea, etc. The propriety and beauty of this comparison will be seen at once. The wave of the sea has no stability. It is at the mercy of every wind, and seems to be driven and tossed every way. So he that comes to God with unsettled convictions and hopes, is liable to be driven about by every new feeling that may spring up in the mind. At one moment, hope and faith impel him to come to God; then the mind is at once filled with uncertainty and doubt, and the soul is agitated and restless as the ocean. Compare Isaiah 57:20. Hope on the one hand, and the fear of not obtaining the favor which is desired on the other, keep the mind restless and discomposed.

Items for Discussion

  • What are the hardest challenges to trusting someone?
  • James tells us to ask but trust – why do both of these (asking and trusting) go together? Why not just ask or why not just trust?
  • What destroys trust?
  • Is there anything that can destroy one’s trust in God? If so, how would we as Christians counsel someone who has given up trusting God?
  • Why is it so important to trust that the story of Abraham and Sarah is true?
  • Do you have a “Abraham/Sarah story to share?

Discussion Challenge

  • How do we prepare our church so that when guests arrive, we are as welcoming as Abraham and Sarah were to their guests?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
  2. www.wikipedia.org
  3. http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=4518
  4. Barnes Notes: http://www.studylight.org/com/bnn/view.cgi?book=jas&chapter=001
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