A Prayer God Loves

I will not let you go unless you bless me.

Genesis 32:26b  

This is Jacob’s prayer:  “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  It has to rank as one of the most unique prayers in the Bible, coming in one of the more bizarre episodes in the Bible.  

This is the story:  Jacob has lived his life relying upon himself.  He has lived by scheming and manipulating.  He has accumulated wealth, and now he is returning to his homeland with the prospect of meeting his brother, Esau.  Esau, who had been wronged by Jacob, could wipe out Jacob and everything Jacob had.  And Jacob is terrified.  Desperate.  Finally, the self-dependent and scheming Jacob recognizes his need for God.  

On the night before Jacob meets Esau, a stranger assails Jacob in the darkness.  They begin to wrestle; in fact, they wrestle through the night.  Over time, it becomes clear to Jacob that this stranger is none other than God himself in human form.  

And when God is about to leave, Jacob holds on for dear life.  He won’t let go!  Clinging to God, Jacob blurts out:  “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  

What is it about this prayer?  It sounds selfish, but God loved it and answered it.  God blessed Jacob.  

God loved this prayer because Jacob, a self-reliant schemer, is calling out to God in dependence:  “Lord, I need you.  Lord, I need your blessing.  Lord, I need your grace.  Without your blessing, there is no hope.  Lord, I won’t let you go unless you bless me.”  

Dependence.  Desperateness.  Trust.  

For proud, self-reliant people like Jacob, like me, and perhaps like you, that’s a prayer God loves.  At times, God will wrestle with us and perhaps even give us a limp, like he did Jacob, in order to show us how much we need him and teach us to call out:  “Lord, we need you.  I need you.  I need your blessing, your rescue, your protection.  Without you, I have no hope.”  

That’s a prayer God loves.

The Sacrifice of a Son

He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

Genesis 22:2    

Abraham is the greatest example of faith in the Old Testament.  And the greatest example of his life of faith is found in Genesis 22.  

Can you imagine what Abraham felt when God told him to sacrifice his son?  Can you imagine the heartache, the pain, the anguish?  

And yet, in the very next verse we read:  “So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac” (22:3a).  He doesn’t object, argue, negotiate, filibuster or delay.  Abraham obeys.  Immediately, Abraham obeys.  Abraham obeys because he has learned that God is God and he is not.  He has learned that God would take care of him no matter what.  Understanding can wait, but obedience cannot.  

When Abraham and Isaac arrive at the mountain, can you see Abraham as he slowly, somberly gathers stones for the altar, taking all the time he can, hoping against hope that God will change his mind?  After gathering stones, he arranges the wood for the fire.  Finally, the moment has arrived.  He must tell Isaac what God had commanded.  

With broken sobs and tear-brimmed eyes, he tells him.  He hugs him as if to never let go.  Tears flow freely and unashamedly, for father and son.  There’s the final, “I love you, Son,” and “I love you, Father.”  

Finally he can delay it no longer.  Isaac, too big to be forced, climbs onto the altar.  All heaven watches as Abraham grabs the knife and lifts it overhead, fully intending to kill his deeply-loved son.  But at the last moment, at the very last moment, God stops him!   “He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’” (22:12).  

Can you see Abraham now?  Sobbing openly.  Embracing Isaac.  Chest heaving with relief and joy and deep gratitude.  

Did ever a man show such childlike faith in his God, such fierce loyalty to obey him no matter what, such clear vision that God was God and God could be trusted!  

Abraham, over a lifetime, had learned to trust God.  

Two thousand years later, perhaps on the very same spot but now named Calvary, another son would be sacrificed. Except this time the son was God’s Son. And this time, the Father would not spare the knife.

Is Anything Too Hard?

Is anything too hard for the Lord?

Genesis 18:14a    

Abraham sits under the shade of his Bedouin tents in the stifling desert heat.  That’s when he notices them:  three men, just standing there!  Moved by the Bedouin hospitality of the Middle East, Abraham scurries to serve them.  

At some point it becomes clear to Abraham that one of these men is none other than God, God in human form (most likely the preincarnate Christ).  And God promises Abraham that in one year, the ninety-year-old Sarah will give birth to a son.  Sarah, meanwhile, is eavesdropping from inside the tent.  When she hears this incredible promise she laughs.  She laughs to herself in unbelief.  “No way!”  

God, knowing all things, knows that Sarah laughed and why Sarah laughed.  He responds, interestingly, to Abraham:  

The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’  Is anything too hard for the Lord?  At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18:13-14).  

God’s question “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” is etched in my mind and it echoes in my heart.  I can’t get away from it. Is anything too hard for the Lord?  

God says to me and to you:  Is anything too hard for the Lord?  Is anything too hard for the God who spoke the sun and the stars into existence?  Is anything too hard for the God who raises the dead?  

What are you facing today that seems impossible?  Do you need healing?  Do you have a teenager headed for disaster?  Do you have a marriage that needs a miracle?  Would you love to have a baby?  Do you have a hopeless addiction?  Is there a non-Christian loved one who is hardened against God?  Does your problem seem impossible?  

God’s word to Sarah is God’s word to you.  Never forget God’s question:  “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Saved by Faith

And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 15:6    

For the first time in the Bible, Genesis 15:6 clearly states how we are saved.  We are saved by believing God, by trusting God, by putting our faith in God.  

In Genesis 15:1, Abraham had attacked a marauding army and rescued his nephew Lot.  In the aftermath, fears well up.  Will they counterattack?  So God comes to Abraham and assures him of his protection.  And he repeats his promise to make Abraham a great nation.  

Abraham hears God’s promise – an astounding promise for an elderly, childless couple – and believes him.  Abraham believes God’s promise.  Abraham considered that God was faithful, that God could be trusted.  And in response, God declares Abraham righteous (right with God).  “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”  

That’s exactly the way you and I are saved.  We believe God, we trust God’s promise, we place our faith in God’s Son, and God credits it to us as righteousness.  

Salvation by faith.  This is so humbling.  We admit that we cannot save ourselves.  We cannot earn salvation.  We cannot trust ourselves to be good enough or religious enough.  Our only hope is to abandon self-trust and place our trust in a Savior.  

Faith is the same as trust or belief.  Faith is the humble trust by which we receive the grace of God.  Faith is the empty hand of a beggar receiving a gift.  It is not doing something but receiving something.  

This is God’s way.  This is the only way.  Salvation by God’s grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ.  If you have never done so, call out to Jesus, even now, to save you.  

He will hear that prayer.

Fear and Faith

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:  “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

Genesis 15:1

In the Bible God repeatedly says to us:  “Do not fear,” or “Do not be afraid.”  It is commonly said that God makes this statement or something similar 365 times in the Bible.  It’s almost like God wants us to have a reminder for each day of the year.   

We need the continual reminder because fear is so pervasive and so deadly.  Fear can sap all joy and ruin all peace.  Fear can grip us by the throat and toss us back and forth like a rag doll.  Fear is lethal!  So, over and over in the Bible, God urges, fear not, fear not, fear not.  

The very first time we hear these words is right here in Genesis 15:1.  Every time God says to someone, “Fear not,” you can be sure that the person is scared to death.  

So why is Abraham so afraid in Genesis 15?  What exactly is Abraham afraid of?  

The previous passage in Genesis 14 tells us the story.  A band of marauding kings combined their armies and attacked the Jordan Valley.  They took much spoil and many captives, including Lot, Abraham’s nephew.  Abraham responded with a courageous act of faith.  He gathered his men, set off in pursuit of the marauders and rescued Lot and the other captives.  What a bold act of faith!  

However, Abraham realizes that these kings will likely attack again.  And when they do, they will be looking for one man in particular:  Abraham!  The thought is terrifying.  And Abraham, like us, succumbs to fear.  

What does God say to Abraham?  “Abraham, do not be afraid.  Do not give way to fear.  I will protect you.  I will be your shield.  I will be your protector.  Abraham, I will take care of you, for I am your God.”  

That’s exactly what God wants you to know.  Is there a fear that has been plaguing you, attacking you, depleting you?  Then hear God’s words to you,“Do not be afraid.  I will take care of you.  I will protect you.  I will see you through.  Do not be afraid.”  

Give your fear to God.  Receive God’s peace.  Trust God’s love.

Missionary God

I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Genesis 12:3    

Genesis 12:1-3 is one of the defining passages in the Bible, for God takes one man and begins a new nation.  From this point until Acts 2 and the birth of the church, God’s plan revolves around the nation of Israel.  

First, God commands Abraham to leave his homeland, and then God gives him seven epic promises.  The final three promises come in verse 3.  

I will bless those who bless you. God so identifies with his friend, Abraham, that to bless Abraham and his descendents is to bless Abraham’s God.  

Him who dishonors you I will curse. To oppose God’s people is to oppose God.  Down through history Satan has fostered an anti-Semitic attack on God’s people, an attack waged by Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans, numerous European peoples in the Middle Ages, the Nazis of twentieth-century Germany and more.  All of these governments have been toppled, not because Israel or the Jews are always right, but because the Jews have a special place in God’s plan and a special place in God’s heart.  Those who curse Israel will be cursed by God.  

In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.  God’s ultimate plan was never to focus on Israel alone, but rather to use Israel to bring blessing to all the peoples on earth.  Israel was created to be a light to the nations and an instrument of God’s grace for the entire world.  God’s heart has always been for all the nations, for all the peoples.  “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  

When Jesus was about to return to heaven after the resurrection, he gathers his disciples together and charges them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  It is no longer the time to focus on one nation.  Now the focus is on all nations, so that people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 7:9) can be reached with the gospel and declare God’s glory in all the earth.  For the living God is a missionary God.  

God’s heart for all the nations of the earth means that we cannot just focus on our own country or our own people. Genesis 12:1-3 condemns narrow nationalism, racial pride and ethnocentricity.  God’s heart must become our heart and we must become globally-focused, mission-minded Christians.

A New Beginning

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

Genesis 12:2    

Genesis 12:1-3 is one of the most important passages in the Bible.  This passage marks a new beginning in God’s dealings with man.  God chooses a man, Abraham, to begin a people, a people whom God will use to bless all people.  

In verse 1, God commands Abraham to leave everything.  Then, in the next two verses God gives him seven promises – each promise pregnant with implications.  

Let’s look at the promises, four in verse 2 and three more in verse 3.  

I will make of you a great nation. Considering the fact that Abraham was 75 years old with no children and a barren wife, this is quite a promise!  But it’s just like God, who delights in doing the impossible.  

And against all odds, it happened.  In fact, the nation of Israel still exists today, some 4,000 years later, with a power and influence far beyond its size.  

I will bless you.  God richly blessed Abraham for the rest of his life.  In fact, he becomes the most important man in the Old Testament and then appears in the New Testament more than any other Old Testament figure.  Abraham is the father of the Jews and the greatest example of faith in all the Bible.  Yes, God blessed him!  

And make your name great.  Has this happened?  Yes.  This unknown man, a childless nomad, is known and revered throughout the world today, four millennia later, by Christians, Jews and Muslims.  

When we exalt ourselves (like the people of Babel in Genesis 11, who cried “Let us make a name for ourselves”), then God humbles us.  When we humble ourselves, then God exalts us.  Every time.  

You will be a blessing.  God blessed Abraham so that he could be a blessing to others.  That’s why he blesses you and me also, so we too can be a blessing to others.  You are a river, not a reservoir.  Each day go out looking for people to bless.  Go out looking to bring God’s love and hope to the people you encounter.

Dare to Trust God

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

Genesis 12:1  

Genesis 12 is one of the great dividing points in the Bible.  In Genesis 1-11, God deals with humanity, people in general.  But with Genesis 12 everything changes.  God chooses a man, Abraham, in order to create a special people, the people of Israel.  Using this people, God will reveal the Scriptures, bring the Messiah, and show the world what it means to be the people of God.  

Genesis 12 is the turning point.  Throughout the rest of the Old Testament and the Gospels, God’s plan focuses on Israel.  Only in Acts 2, with Pentecost and the birth of the church, does God’s focus shift from the nation of Israel to the international church of Jesus Christ.  

But Genesis 12 is not only a huge dividing line in salvation history, it is also a remarkable example of faith.  In the ancient world, to ask people to leave their ancestral home and all they know is to ask the impossible.  People stayed within their city walls, with their family, with their people.  But yet Abraham obeys God and leaves.  He leaves Ur, in modern Iraq, travels 650 miles to Haran, in modern Turkey, and then travels 450 miles to Canaan, in modern Israel.  

Why did Abraham obey God?  Because he trusted God.  He believed that God was the true God, that God knew best, and that God could be trusted.  So, Abraham obeyed.  

God is still looking for people who dare to trust him.  He is still looking for people who will obey him no matter what.  He is still looking for people who will live by faith.  

Will you be one of those people?  Will you be a man or woman who trusts God no matter what?

Babel and Fear

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

Genesis 11:4    

The Tower of Babel stands forever in our memory as a tragic monument to pride and fear.  

People band together to build a vast tower reaching into the heavens so that they can make a name for themselves.  Their pride is seen in their independence from God, their self-reliance, their desire for fame.  Their fear is seen in their building a tower lest they be scattered over the earth.  Rather than trust a loving God to protect them, they give way to fear, and trust their own efforts for security.  

God’s response is decisive.  He confuses their speech and scatters them over the earth.  If they stay together, their potential for rebellion and wickedness is simply too great.  The tone of God’s response is not that of a rival’s jealousy, but that of a father’s concern.  For their sake, God takes radical measures.  He does the same for you too.  

At Babel people set out to make a name for themselves.  But those who exalt themselves, God is well able to humble.  Our calling is never to make a name, but to exalt a name.  The name of Jesus.  

That is your mission:  Exalt Jesus.  Lie low and exalt Jesus.

The Battle Is Real

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.

Genesis 3:15    

Genesis 3:15 is so important because this is the first direct reference in the Bible to the coming Messiah, Jesus.  

In the aftermath of sin, God pronounces judgment on Satan, the power behind the serpent.  The judgment is the enmity, the hostility, between Eve’s offspring and Satan’s offspring.  The woman’s offspring refers to all people, including Jesus Christ.  Satan’s offspring includes people who reject God, and demonic beings.  
God also announces the outcome of this enmity.  Satan will deliver a glancing blow against Jesus, a blow to the heel, a reference to the cross.  But Jesus, by that very death on the cross, will deliver a fatal blow, a blow to the head, against the devil.  

The outcome of the battle was never in doubt.   

Be ever mindful:  The battle is real.  We ignore the battle and the enemy at our peril.  

Dr. Haddon Robinson describes the attack:  

When Satan comes to you, he does not come in the form of a coiled snake.  He does not approach with the roar of a lion.  He does not come with the wail of a siren.  He does not come waving a red flag.  Satan simply slides into your life.  When he appears, he seems almost like a comfortable companion.  There’s nothing about him that you would dread.   The New Testament warns that he dresses as an angel of light … One point seems quite clear:  when the enemy attacks you, he wears a disguise.  As Mephistopheles says in Faust, “The people do not know the devil is there even when he has them by the throat.” … He does not whisper to Eve, “I am here to tempt you.” … He doesn’t come and knock on the door of your soul and say, “Pardon me, buddy, allow me a half hour of your life.   I’d like to damn and destroy you.”  

Satan slides in.  He slithers.  He comes to deceive, accuse, tempt, condemn.  

Don’t listen!  Recognize his schemes.  Resist his attack.  Fight the battle in Christ’s strength.

Hide and Seek

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:8-9  

The first thing Adam and Eve do when they sin is hide.  They hide from God.  They hide because of their sin.  They feel guilt and shame, unworthy to be with God.  So they hide.  

How does God respond to this hiding?  Does he turn his back on them?  Fold his arms in disgust?  Give them a disapproving scowl?  

Hardly!  He does the opposite.  He pursues them.  Seeks them.  Chases after them.  It’s the first game of hide and seek!  They hide, God seeks!  

When God asks Adam, “Where are you?” it’s not a request for information.  Omniscience does not need to request information.  God doesn’t need to ask, but Adam needs to be asked.  God is drawing Adam out of hiding, ever so gently. God is wooing, drawing, pursuing.  Just like he woos you.  

Adam and Eve were hiding because of their sin.  We do the same thing.  When we sin, we run from God because we feel guilt and shame.  We are uncomfortable with ourselves, uncomfortable with others and uncomfortable with God.  So, we hide.  

How do we hide?  We hide with busyness, with shopping, with overwork.  We hide with TV, with Facebook (ironically), with travel.  We hide with humor, with sarcasm, with shyness.  We hide in a thousand ways.  

Me?  I hide by being in control.  (Or trying to be in control.)  I hide with reading, by running, by asking questions.  I hide in all kinds of ways, some of which I’m unaware of.  I hide so well that sometimes I hide from myself that I am hiding!  

How about you?  How are you hiding these days?  

Here’s the good news:  You can stop hiding.  Hiding is the core human strategy to deal with sin.  God’s strategy is better:  Confess your sin and receive God’s overwhelming grace!

First Faint Echo

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.  And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

Genesis 3:7  

In Genesis 2:25, Adam and Eve were naked and felt no shame.  They felt no shame because there was no sin.  But by 3:7 they have sinned and now they feel shame in their nakedness.  

Satan had suggested to Eve that she was missing out, that God was holding back something she needed, that God could not be trusted.  Satan lied.  

What does sin bring Adam and Eve?  Exactly what sin brings us:  guilt, shame, fear, mistrust, alienation from God, rupture of relationships, the end of all joy and peace.  In a word, sin brings death.  

So much for Satan’s promise.  

Sin may look good but it hurts us.  It always hurts us.  Mark it down:  Sin will always hurt you, sooner or later.  Often it hurts others too.  

How did Adam and Eve respond to their shame?  Fig leaves.  They tried to hide behind fig leaves.  Trust and transparency had vanished.  Barriers went up.  And ever since Adam and Eve, we have all been wearing masks, hiding, posing, pretending, running from God, blaming others.   

Our only escape is the grace of God.  God alone can tear the walls down and set us free.  How does God set us free?  It takes blood.  It takes blood because someone has to die for sin.  So God threw away the fig leaves and clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins.  To get animal skins would require death and bloodshed and sacrifice, the first faint echo of a Savior, the first faint echo of a future day when God himself would shed his blood.  For you.  And for me.

The Deceiver

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

Genesis 3:1

Genesis 1-2 gives no word of the battle.  We see God’s creation.  It was good.  God creates Adam.  Then he creates Eve.  The creation narrative ends with Adam and Eve naked and unashamed.  There is trust and transparency in paradise.  Things are very good.  

But wait!  Genesis 3 opens with a crafty snake who subtly suggests that God is not good and he cannot be trusted.  There is an enemy in paradise, an opponent of God, who turns out to be Satan.  

Satan comes to deceive and devour.  What is the satanic strategy?  Listen to his words to Eve:  “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  

Can you hear the tone, the incredulity?  “I can’t believe it!  Has God really said that you can’t eat of any tree in the garden?  How unfair!”  

What is Satan doing?  He is suggesting that God is not good.  He is questioning God’s love for Eve.  He is casting doubt on God’s goodness to Adam and Eve.  He is insinuating that God is holding back something from Eve that she really needs.  

This is still the satanic strategy.  Satan wants to devour you.  This is his strategy.  

Expect to hear the same voice in your head.  Nothing’s changed.  You will hear a voice suggesting that God is not good, that God does not really love you, that God is unfair to you, that God is hard to please, that God is in fact a cosmic Scrooge.  

Have you heard that voice?  Sure you have.  Recognize its source.  Don’t be naïve about the unseen spiritual war.  

Behind all sin is the suspicion that God isn’t very good and therefore he cannot be trusted.  This is Satan’s main ploy in his quest to ruin your life and devour your soul.  

You will hear things like this:  

“God is being so unfair in what he says about divorce (or adultery or honesty in your business or generous giving or forgiving your father or Christians marrying only Christians or pornography).”

“God is holding back something I need to make me happy.”

“What applies to others doesn’t apply to me.  My situation is different.”  

Don’t listen!  Shut your ears to the voice of the deceiver!  Stand firm in Christ’s strength!

Naked Marriage

And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2:25  

This verse, early in the Bible, surprises us.  It is so stark, so unusual.  And yet it has such power and poignancy. “They were both naked and they were not ashamed.”  What is God telling us about marriage?  

There are naked bodies and yet no shame, no embarrassment, no fear, no masks, no walls.  What intimacy!  What closeness!  What freedom!  What trust!  What transparency!  

They trusted one another.  And because they trusted one another, they felt safe.  They felt accepted.  They felt secure in their relationship.  No threats, no fears, no shame.  They could trust each other with their bodies because they trusted each other with their hearts.  They were open and honest.  Transparent.  Secure.  

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  Can you imagine this kind of marriage, feeling so understood, so accepted, so safe?  

How does this happen?  It starts with trust.  Trust comes when you are always truthful and honest, when you are dependable, when you do what you say, when you are loyal and faithful no matter what.  

When you tell the truth and do what you say day by day, week by week, year by year, you build trust.  As trust builds, you feel safe.  You open your heart.  You let her, you let him, know what’s really going on inside.  You connect at the heart level.  

You listen deeply, with all your heart, because you long to understand your spouse.  And over time, you feel close.  Incredibly close.  You begin to experience the magic and mystery of marriage.  One-flesh marriage.

One-Flesh Marriage

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24    

This is the essence of biblical marriage:  leave, cleave, become one flesh.  

First, leave.  If the couple does not adequately leave, then the marriage is torpedoed from the start.  Honor your parents, love your parents, but look to each other for primary support and direction.  You are a new family.  Live like it!  Beware of undue dependence on your parents.  

Second, cleave.  The idea of the Hebrew term is permanence.  God’s ideal is marriage for life, “till death do us part.”  At the beginning of your marriage decide that divorce is not an option for you.  If marriage is permanent, if you know that you are sticking together no matter what, then it will make all the difference in how you tackle problems.  

Third, become one flesh.  One flesh means a oneness at every level – emotionally, spiritually, socially, intellectually, recreationally, physically.  The point of the phrase is intimacy, a sense of closeness.  You are soul mates, lovers, best friends.  You live life together.  You pursue a shared life.  You are alert to any signs of creeping separateness.  And over time, despite many challenges and hardships, you become close, so close you can scarcely believe it.  

This is God’s dream for every marriage – a one-flesh marriage.  This is the beauty and glory of marriage as God intended it to be.  

Make it your dream too and pursue it with all your heart!

Marriage Partners

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.”

Genesis 2:18    

Marriage is God’s idea, God’s creation, God’s gift.  The foundational passage on marriage in all the Bible is Genesis 2:18-25.  

Adam is in a paradise environment, unlike any we can imagine.  He has God above him.  He has the animals below him.  But he has no one alongside him.  No one to share life with.  

And God says this is not good.  But we immediately see the goodness of God because God goes on to say that he will provide what Adam needs, a helper.  

The Hebrew term “helper” carries no notion of inferiority.  The term refers to someone who has resources and capacities that we lack.  In fact, the term is used of God himself, who is the Great Helper of Israel.  

God is telling us that woman has capacities and gifts that man lacks.  By implication, man has capacities and gifts that she lacks.  

Here is God’s ideal for marriage:  a man and woman, gloriously different, helping each other be all they can be for God.  As Alan Ross once pointed out in the theological magazine Kindred Spirit, marriage was not given to accumulate possessions, but to develop persons.  Two equals, two life partners, each for the other and both for God.  

Perhaps pairs figure skating pictures this best.  The man and the woman are equal but different.  One is strong, the other is graceful.  One lifts, the other jumps.  Each member of the partnership is essential.  When they work together something beautiful happens.  

This is God’s ideal for every marriage.

Your Work Matters

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

Genesis 2:15    

At the outset of the Bible God gives man work.  

This means work is inherently good, not bad.  Work is not the result of sin.  It is not a consequence of the Fall.  It is not a necessary evil.  Work was created before the Fall.  In fact, God himself works.  When the Bible opens, God is at work.  Work in itself is completely good.  

Moreover, we are designed for work.  We are imagebearers of the God who works.  Work is part of our design, part of our humanness, part of the image of God in us.  We need work.  We are not fully alive without work.  

This is not to say that we need a job.  We do not need a paying job to be fully alive, but we do need work, whether this is house work, school work, volunteer work or job work.  We are designed for work.  

Our work matters to God.  Just as God cared about Adam’s work, he cares about our work.  He wants this work to be fulfilling, not frustrating.  

How does this happen?  How does our work become a source of fulfillment?  It happens when we turn our work into worship.  If we do our work for God, to please him and to honor him, then that work becomes an act of worship.  It is when we work for God that we find our deliverance from drudgery.  

The classic tale is the medieval construction supervisor who asked three of his workers what they were doing.  The first worker replied, “I am laying bricks.”  He goes a little farther along and asked the second worker, who replied, “I am building a wall.”  He goes still farther along and he asked the third worker, who replied, “I am building a great cathedral for the glory of God.”  The third worker got it.  He found deliverance from drudgery because his work had become worship.  

Work for the Lord.

Sabbath Rest

So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Genesis 2:3    

God did not rest on the seventh day because he was tired.  He did not rest because he was weary.  Omnipotence does not get weary.   

Rather, God rested because he was finished.  His work of creation was completed.  But God also rested for our sakes.  We needed to see the rhythm of work and rest.  He rested for our sakes not for his sake.   

The Bible says God blessed the Sabbath.  He made it holy.  In what sense is the Sabbath holy?  Well, it is special.  It is a different day.  It is God’s gift to us, a day of rest and worship, a day to pray and play.  A day to stop working.   

God designed you for a day of rest.  A regular day of rest.  One day in seven.  Your body needs it.  Your mind needs it.  Your soul needs it.   

But the Sabbath is more than the absence of work.  It is also the presence of worship.  It is a day to live in God’s presence, a day of drawing close to God.  The reason why the weekend doesn’t refresh most people, who are just as weary on Monday morning as on Friday afternoon, is because there is no true Sabbath.  There is the absence of work but not the presence of worship.  We need our souls restored, and that only comes when we touch God and let God breathe life into our weary souls.  It comes with worship.   
This is the Sabbath:  rest and worship, pray and play.  God’s gift to you.

Be Fruitful and Rule

And God blessed them.  And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 1:28  

In Genesis 1:28 we come to the very first command that God gives the human race.  It is a two-fold command.  First, be fruitful.  And second, have dominion over the earth.  

It is noteworthy that both commands express the image of God that was stated in the previous verse.  Because we are imagebearers of God we get to share in God’s work of producing human life.  And because we are imagebearers of God we get to share in God’s work of ruling over the creation.  Both commands, be fruitful and have dominion, express our identity as imagebearers of God.  

It is also striking that the very first command given by God involves sex.  The point of the command is not sex, but children.  Have children, be fruitful, fill the earth!  However the command inherently involves sex.  When it comes to sex, God is no Scrooge. He created it!  Sex is God’s idea, God’s creation, God’s gift.  And within the context of marriage, sex is wholly good.   

The second command is the charge to rule over the earth and everything in it.  This is often referred to as the cultural mandate.  We have the privilege of ruling over creation, but our rule is not the rule of an owner, but the rule of a steward.   We rule as God’s representatives.  

This is our calling as humans:  Be fruitful and rule over creation.

Male and Female

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;  male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27    

Alone of all God’s creatures, we bear God’s image.  This tells us our identity – who we are as humans.  We are imagebearers.  We have a basic likeness to God.  We are persons, we are relational beings, we are rational and emotional and volitional persons.  We are God’s representatives on earth.  

This is the central truth about us.  We are imagebearers of the eternal God.  This gives us worth, dignity, value.  We matter.  We matter not because of our achievements or money or looks, but simply because we bear God’s image.  

If you are a human being, then this is the truth about you.  You matter.  No matter what you have achieved.  No matter what you look like or how much money you have.  No matter how you have failed or how much you have struggled, you have worth, dignity and value simply because you bear the image of the immortal God.  Nothing can change that.  

If the first two lines emphasize our identity as imagebearers, the third line reveals our sexuality.  We are sexual beings.  God did not create neuter human beings.  He made us male or female, man or woman.  

Sexuality is far deeper than the physical.  It’s far more than plumbing!  Males and females not only have differently shaped bodies, we have differently shaped souls.  

Indeed, gender is the only fundamental distinction between humans.  Other distinctions, such as ethnicity, language, race, economic status or nationality don’t really matter.  They are superficial distinctions.  But gender, this matters.  

We see this when a baby is born.  Our first question is, “Is it a boy or a girl?”  For some reason that matters to us.  Gender matters to us in so many ways.  

This is who you are.  You are an imagebearer of God, either male or female.  You matter.  To the God of the universe, the God who made you, the God who cares about you, you matter incredibly!