Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Longest Life

Today's passage:  Genesis 5
     This is why I love reading my Bible--I get something new every single day. Lately, I have started to read the same passage for several days in a row because Youngest has decided he likes getting up earlier with his brothers.  This has kind of put a strain on my devotion time.  Some mornings I can read a few verses but do not get to study them out before the barrage of demands from my three year old start.  This doesn't mean I don't make him wait a little bit, but if you have had little ones, you can understand that they are still learning that "no" and "not right now" are not merely suggestions.
     I am not much of a mathematician.  It was always my weakest subject in school.  I usually still maintained A's and B's (except for Algebra 2 when I could never get above a C--thanks to logarithms).  Still, I think I was pretty fortunate to be able to even achieve those grades.  If I were to take those higher math classes now, I actually think I would do a lot better, because I think I've said before, the reasoning and logic skills finally kicked in for me around 30.
     Chapter Five is filled with numbers (oh joy!).  It is astounding to think of the lifespans of this time.  Can you imagine how much history these folks witnessed?  Can you believe how many civilizations they saw rise and fall?  If I were born nearly 800 years ago, I might have feared Genghis Khan as he invaded China, respected King John signing the Magna Carta, heard about Marco Polo visiting China.  In the 1300's I might have survived the bubonic plague or read John Wycliffe's English translation of the Bible. The 1400's ushered in the age of a New World, the civilization of the Incas, and the martyrdom of Joan of Arc. Should I have been alive during the 1500's, I would have perhaps seen Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa being painted, been a participant in the German Reformation led by Martin Luther, or opposed Henry VIII and his many marriages.  The 1600's would have me reading Shakespeare, befriending Pocahontas, sailing on the Mayflower in search of religious freedom.  Merely another century later I would be in Boston's Harbor for the Tea Party, heard Paul Revere's cry, attended our first President's inauguration.  The 1800's would bring an early threat to our newly established republic in the War of 1812, the lie of evolution, and a Civil War.
The early 1900's established an Industrial Age and two World Wars.  Later in this same century I would shake my head at protesters, at New Age thinking, at being able to have a home computer that used to occupy whole rooms.  In a new millennium I would prepare for the Y2K scare, text and twitter, weep for those lost in terrorist attacks and mass shootings.  So much history in that amount of time and much more that I have not even mentioned.

     Here's the interesting thing.  Methuselah lived to be 969 years old.  His son Lamech was born when Methuselah was a young 187 year old whippersnapper .  He was 369 when his grandson Noah was born.  I imagine he was able to teach Noah a lot during those next 600 years.  Methuselah survived his son Lamech by five years.  Methuselah was alive the year of the Flood.  Did he die sometime before the Flood came?  I don't know.  The Bible doesn't even tell us how he died, but if you do the math, it is clear that he was living the year the Flood came.  Of course, the most natural thing to wonder is if he died in the Flood, because we know he was not on the Ark.  Or maybe God took him beforehand.  Maybe Methuselah counseled with Noah about the Ark, or maybe he was one of those who derided Noah for building such a foolish contraption.  It would be a very sad thing if Noah's own grandfather had opposed him in this venture.  I hope that is not how it happened.  I hope that maybe Methuselah died before having to see all that destruction.  I hope that he hadn't stubbornly turned his back on the Lord, refused to be saved in the Ark and suffered in the greatest calamity that God had ever allowed on the earth.  Methuselah lived longer than any other person in the Bible, but it begs the question that depending on how he died, whether his life might have been even longer, or if it was cut short because he had fallen away from the Creator God.  Methuselah had seen a lot in his long lifetime. I wonder if he saw rain fall for the first time or if he was delivered before the rains came.  His own father, Enoch, had followed God so closely, that God chose to take him to Heaven without seeing death.  Might this have affected a relatively young Methuselah (he would have been 300 years old-already a father, but not yet a grandfather)?  Might he have had a stronger faith knowing God had taken his father to Heaven, or a weaker one, blaming God for not allowing him to spend more time with his dad?  Did everyone understand what had happened to Enoch, or did they just think he had disappeared?   Somewhere along the way, Noah understood what God expected.  Perhaps he learned it by his great-grandfather Enoch's example, his grandfather Methuselah's influence, or his father Lamech's teachings, but Noah learned enough to please God, and apparently Noah's sons, now young adults, took up a Godly heritage as well since they took refuge on the Ark.
     I don't think it is an accident that God included all the ages of these men and women in the Bible.  He could have said straight out, "Methuselah died the year of the Great Flood", or "Methuselah died in the Great Flood".  Maybe it is just one of God's ways to get us thinking, wondering, anticipating our time with Him when we can ask those questions.  I'm glad I have some to ask.  If I'm not studying His Word, and there are many days when I'm not, I might not have any questions at all.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Great Expectations

Today's passage:  Genesis 4
     I wonder what kind of man Cain was before he killed his brother?  It is obvious he was a very hard worker. This was after the fall, after the Garden of Eden, so the fruits and vegetables no longer grew without labor.  Cain put in the work.  He dug up the hard ground, he seeded, he watered, he harvested.  This was backbreaking work, as any farmer could attest.  This was day in and day out toiling in the field.  I don't know if Cain was assigned to this task by his parents, if his God-given skills naturally suited this kind of work, or if he just enjoyed agriculture and took it upon himself to learn how to coax the soil to do his bidding, but he achieved results.  Some might argue that Abel had the significantly easier job.  As the younger brother, maybe this was just the obvious task he could accomplish in their younger days, and incidentally kept that job while Cain kept the fields.  I'm not sure how it all transpired, but I think perhaps if I had been Cain, and I slaved away every day as he had, my nose might be put out of joint too when God did not accept my offering.
     The whole reason God would not have accepted my offering though, would have been because it was my work, not His.  My work will never be enough to satisfy Him.  My works will never purchase peace and pardon with Him, no matter how well it was done.  Abel couldn't really brag about how well he had kept the sheep, because honestly, there wasn't much to it, was there?  You feed them, you herd them, you make sure they have good shelter and you keep them safe.  I'm not saying shepherding was nothing work, but compared to farming?  I'm thinking Cain might not have minded exchanging jobs on occasion.  So when Abel offered up one of the livestock that he tended, it wasn't really a picture of how hard he had worked.  It was the offering that God required.  It may be true that Cain's produce would have been accepted if he had only offered God his best, but he wanted to give God the leftovers.  I'm still not certain God would have accepted anything but a living sacrifice.  I don't know that fruits and veggies would suffice.  I know later, God asks for different types of offerings, and loaves and other things other than animals were brought before Him, but in this instance, I think only the flock would satisfy. 

     So what should Cain have done?  Should he go to Abel and ask him to supply a sacrifice for him as well?  Would Abel have been willing to do this?  I don't know if their relationship was close or contentious. I know that Cain was a proud man.  The Bible says, "And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell."  How could God accept Abel's sacrifice and not his?  Didn't God know how hard he had worked?  Didn't God understand all the hours he put in?  And this brother of his?  What had he done? Not much, by Cain's estimation.  It seemed unjust.  It seemed disproportionate.  Surely God made a mistake and didn't realize just what was involved in managing the land.  Maybe God had forgotten, that he, Cain, was the older more responsible brother who had selflessly helped provide for his family.  I can see the thoughts swirling in Cain's head.  It just wasn't fair.  And how many times had his mother proclaimed him the savior of their family?  When he was born, she had said, "I have gotten a man from the LORD" implying that he was the accepted one that God had promised while they still were in Edenland.  How could God not accept him?  It was ridiculous.  How hard he had worked all this time, all these years, and God was going to tell him he wasn't good enough?  And worse, that Abel was?  What was going on here?
     Cain measures the rejection of his sacrifice with God rejecting him. But it is clearly not the case.  If it had been, why does God seek Cain out and encourage him to do better?  God says to Cain, "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?"  Cain would have to lay down his pride to do well.  But he wasn't willing to do that.  He wasn't willing to accept God's way, even though God's way is the only way.  He wasn't willing to recognize Abel's no-work-involved sacrifice.  Maybe Cain hadn't given God the best of what he had harvested, but it was still more than anything Abel could offer.  Sheep.  Humph!  What nonsense!  Cain was the Promised One (or so he probably thought).  Cain was the Firstborn.  Cain was the son who held all the family's hopes and dreams of deliverance.  Then to be flat out rejected.  It hurt.  It confused him.  It didn't make any sense.  And Cain never gets over it.  Instead of listening to God's warnings, instead of taking God's advice, he takes matters into his own hands.  He kills his brother.  He rids himself of the reminder that he was less.  He thinks that somehow eliminating Abel will somehow make his offering more acceptable to God.  Now who is ridiculous?  It does not have the desired effect.  God does not all of a sudden see how hard Cain has worked and say, "Oh yes, I understand now.  I do accept your sacrifice, Cain."  How Cain thinks it will work that way can only be irrational blinding pride.
     God never rejected Cain's offering on the basis that he hadn't worked hard enough.  He rejected it on the basis that no amount of work could help him.  He rejected it because it is by grace alone that He accepts us.  I shouldn't be surprised that Cain didn't understand this, because unfortunately, there are too many people today who still don't understand.  They can't see why all the good things they do will never, ever be enough to appease God.  They can't believe that all the work they have put in can never be acceptable.  They figure there must be some way to earn our way to God.  That is because they can't comprehend God's immeasurable love for us.  They can't understand a God who would sacrifice for us, instead of the other way around.  Why?  Because that is not how they would have done it.  It isn't how I would have saved this world either.  It is not how any idol or god requires salvation.  Every other religious system requires something from the believer.  Not God.  He just requires that we believe and accept His methods.  That we humble ourselves and accept His ways.  His way is to provide salvation for us.  Abel seemed to understand this.  Cain never would.  Maybe it is because he believed himself to be the way of salvation.  Maybe his parents voiced their belief that he would be their Deliverer once too often and Cain couldn't fathom that this was only his parents plan, not God's.  And there is no indication that Cain ever asks God for forgiveness or redemption.  In fact, verse 16 says, "And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD..."  Cain never gets it.  He could have, but his pride would not be overcome.  And humility is the most necessary ingredient to salvation.
     Cain was a hard worker. But it wasn't enough, not when it came to eternity.  It wasn't enough for him, and it will not be enough for any of us.  Cain never accepted or recognized that whatever holiness we pretend at, it can never measure up to God's.  The real question is, how many others will allow pride to hold them back as Cain did?  No matter what we have been led to believe in the past, our works are never enough.  Only God's work, by sending His Son to die on the cross will suffice.  It is the Abel sacrifice.  And it is acceptable.
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