Learning from God's Word: Genesis 16-20
From salvation and the assurance of salvation, we turn to Satan and the activity of Satan. Sarai came with temptation (1). Abraham yielded to temptation (2). Temptation becomes sin when we yield to it. In Abraham, we see the conflict between ‘the old man’ that he was and ‘the new man’ God was calling him to become (17:5; Galatians 5:17). He chose the way of unbelief. Listening to the voice of Satan, speaking through Sarai, he walked straight into immorality. Unbelief and immorality belong together (Romans 1:18). We must guard our hearts with respect to both what we believe and how we behave. We must not imagine that Satan will win the victory over the Lord and His purpose of salvation. Satan will try to overcome God's gracious purpose, but he will not succeed (Revelation 20:10). ‘Hallelujah!... the Lord our God the Almighty reigns’ (Revelation 19:6).
Amazing grace - this is the marvellous theme of this chapter. Abram became Abraham (5). Sarai became Sarah (15-16). What they were belonged to their sinful past. What they became was the work of God's grace. What a contrast there is between human sin and divine grace. We look at ourselves. We see sin, and we lose hope. We look at the God of grace, and we say, ‘Sin shall not have dominion. Grace is victorious’ (Romans 6:14). Abram and Sarai appeared to be hopeless cases. They had failed the Lord, but He did not fail them. He made them new people. They became the father and mother of nations. To those who do not deserve His love, God still renews His ‘covenant’, His promise of love (2). He still says, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’ (Jeremiah 31:3). In the Cross of Christ, we have the greatest ‘sign of the covenant’ (11; Romans 5:8).
Is anything too hard for the Lord? (14). We need to hear these words as God’s call to greater faith. Sarah, like Abraham, had heard God’s promises, yet ‘she laughed to herself’ (12). We can hear God’s Word, and still remain, in our hearts, men and women of unbelief. The Word of God does not benefit us when we do not receive it with faith (Hebrews 4:2). God knows what is in our hearts, just as He knew what was in Sarah’s heart (13-15). He knows the human heart, ‘deceitful above all things’ (Jeremiah 17:9), yet He continues to love us. He does not give up on us. He perseveres with us. He could have given up on Sarah as a hopeless waste of His time, but He did not. ‘The evil heart of unbelief’ is always with us, but God is constantly at work to create in us ‘a clean heart’ ( Hebrews 3:12: Psalm 51:10). 'Soften my heart, Lord’ (Mission Praise, 606).
In the face of the threatened judgment of God upon Sodom and Gomorrah, we find Abraham engaging in mighty intercessory prayer. He is not concerned only about himself and his own salvation. He is prayerfully committed to seeking the salvation of others. This is a mark of spiritual maturity - a deep concern for the salvation of sinners, leading to earnest intercessory prayer for them. Abraham drew near to God (23; James 4:8). He pleaded with the God of grace to have mercy on the city (23-25; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:3-4, 1:15; John 3:17). With a deep love for the people, Abraham prays with boldness and persistence (27,32; Hebrews 4:16). A great many people refused to honour God, yet His purpose was not hindered. The remnant seemed impossibly small. It was the beginning of blessing for all nations. ‘To God be the glory, Great things He has done’ (Church Hymnary, 374).
In Genesis 3, we read of humanity’s fall into sin. Here, we see the awfulness of human sin and the awesomeness of divine judgment. We must take God with the utmost seriousness. If we refuse to take Him seriously, He will continue to take us seriously - in His judgment! Sin leads to judgment - that’s the lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is sadness in the story of Lot. A compromised believer for whom the world had no respect, he chose Sodom. This choice brought him nothing but sin and shame - ‘and now he wants to play the judge!’ (9). The amazing thing is that God did not give up on this ‘backslider’ - ‘the Lord was merciful to them... He brought Lot out of the catastrophe’ (16,29). What a great thing it is to have God’s salvation: ‘everything we need for life and godliness’ to ‘escape the corruption in the world’ (2 Peter 1:3-5).
These are stories of deception and deceit. Lot is deceived by his daughters (30-38). Abraham deceives Abimelech (1-18). Even with the divine provision for godliness, we need to be constantly on our guard. Even those to whom we had looked for help can turn out to be a hindrance. Lot was drawn into incest. This had drastic effects - ‘the father of the Moabites, the father of the Ammonites’ (37-38)! Devotion to the Lord needs to be renewed day-by-day. Otherwise, we will be vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy and overcome by him. Abraham concealed the whole truth by telling a half-truth (12). Abraham was regarded as ‘a prophet’ (7). He ought to have lived the life of a prophet, a true life. We are to be true - the people of God.