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Happenings around Antioch

Mark Fox August 7, 2022

Where is Sarah?

Remember when three heavenly visitors came to see Abraham and Sarah, and one of them was the Lord himself? They enjoyed a big meal with Abraham that he and Sarah had prepared for them. Then they asked the question.  “Where is Sarah your wife?” This was not a location question, though that is how Abraham interpreted it. They knew she was standing right there, just inside the door of the tent, and could hear everything they said. The real question they were asking was, “What is Sarah believing?” This was another “Adam, where are you?” question. I see you Adam, hiding behind the tree and under those silly fig leaves, but I want you to acknowledge where you really are right now. “Sarah,” they were saying through the tent, “we know you can hear us, and we                                                                                                                                       want you to listen carefully to hear again the promise                                                                                                                                       of the Lord.”

The LORD speaks next and tells Abraham (and Sarah who is eavesdropping) exactly what he had told Abraham in the previous chapter. He repeats the promise that “about this time next year,” she would bear Abraham a son. This was on the schedule, and this was not a Delta flight. It was going to happen, on time. When Sarah heard that, she “laughed to herself.” She laughed because, well, she and her husband were advanced in years, and because “the way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.” In other words, because she was no longer having a monthly cycle, it was physically impossible for her to have a baby. And that was true, and that was the physical reason behind her laughter. But the spiritual reason was at the heart of the issue. She laughed because she did not believe God the way Abraham believed God. And this, I think, was the first important reason for this visit. Before God would allow Abraham to stretch his faith with remarkable intercessory prayer, he would gently confront Sarah about her unbelief. It was important for her to fully embrace God’s plan and purpose. That was needed for her relationship with God. That was needed for her relationship with her husband. That would be needed for her relationship with Isaac.

I believe this is as true today as it was then. It is hard enough when a believer marries an unbeliever, contrary to what Scripture teaches. But even for two believers, God’s desire is that husband and wife are each pursuing the Lord with all their hearts. If it is a passion for one and only a preference for the other, God will not let that go. He will visit with us to draw each toward a passion and a pursuit of him. Bonus? A growing passion for the Lord strengthens your marriage.

Notice in this text, it is God who confronts Sarah about her unbelief, not Abraham. She laughed at the word of the Lord, who then asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh?” Then he speaks the essential message of this passage: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Or also translated, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” That was the question God wanted Sarah to answer for herself. There is nothing too wonderful for the Lord, including and especially the things that we see as simply impossible. It was physically impossible for Sarah to have a baby. Not for the Lord. It was physically impossible for Mary to have a baby, and even more so, as she was a virgin. Not for the Lord. It was impossible for the people of God to escape Pharaoh’s army as they were backed up against the Red Sea. Not for the Lord. It was impossible for Daniel to survive a night with ravenous lions, or the three Hebrew boys to walk out of the fiery furnace. Not for the Lord. It was impossible for Jesus to conquer sin, death, and the grave. Not for the Lord.

You say, “You don’t know my husband,” or, “You don’t know my wife. He/she will never change. It is impossible.” Not for the Lord. You may say of yourself, “I can never be free from this sin that has me in its grip. It is impossible.” Not. For. The. Lord. But I will tell you what you must overcome, and God will help you do this. You have to come to the place where you have no more excuses and no more self-justification. When the Lord asked Abraham why Sarah laughed, Sarah finally spoke out loud and said, “I did not laugh.” She was lying to herself and to God. She was justifying herself before almighty God. She was making an excuse for her unbelief before God.

God hears all of our excuses and knows all of our justifications for sin, and he comes to us anyway. He brings a mountain of grace to exchange for our pitiful pocketful of favorite sins. He tells us the truth: “No, but you did laugh.” And he waits for us to believe him. That there is nothing too hard, nothing too wonderful for the Lord to do. Even in the hearts and minds of people like you and me.

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Mark Fox August 7, 2022
Mark Fox July 31, 2022

God Laughs

If there is anyone in the universe who enjoys laughter, it is God. How do we know God enjoys laughter? Because we enjoy laughter. And we were created in the image of God. Honestly, the person who cannot laugh needs to be prayed for and delivered into holy hilarity. The Bible says laughter is organic and healthy: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” It is ok even to laugh during a sermon, if there’s something funny. Charles Spurgeon was a great preacher but also quite a character. Some of his fellow clergymen railed against his habit of introducing humor into his sermons. With a twinkle in his eye, he once replied: “If only you knew how much I hold back, you would commend me…This preacher thinks it less a crime to                                                                                                                                       cause a momentary laughter than a half-hour of                                                                                                                                               profound slumber.”

Sometimes we laugh because something totally unexpected happens, and one place we see that kind of laughter in the Bible surrounds the birth of Isaac. This famous baby was born to a 100 year-old father and his 90 year-old wife. What? That’s miraculously funny right there. When Isaac was born, his mother said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” If you read the rest of Sarah’s story, you must admit that before this baby came along, she had a tough row to hoe. I’m not so sure that 90-year-old Sarah had much to guffaw over before then, especially for the 13 years since Ishmael came along. You can read about that in the 16th chapter of Genesis. Sarah did not even titter in that chapter.

But God changed her mindset, her sense of humor, and her name. Sarai became Sarah. Both names mean princess, and ladies and girls, you cannot be a princess without a king! God, her king, says twice in Genesis 17, “I will bless her.” He also tells Abraham and Sarah three times that they will have a son. Together. Abraham laughs at that and suggests God is confused, thinking about Ishmael. God says “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.” It’s like he is saying, “Abraham and Sarah, you like to laugh? Great, that’s your son’s name. In one year, you will really be laughing as you hold him in your arms.” No name book needed. No gender reveal party necessary. Isaac, the promised son, is on the way. The name Isaac, by the way, means “laughter.”

Someone reading this may believe in a sourpuss God who sits in heaven just waiting for someone to enjoy life for a second and, God forbid, even laugh out loud. That’s when he punishes them with a lightning bolt or even worse, a re-run of “Bill Nye Saves the World.” Nope. That’s not who God is. Iain Duguid said that many people approach God as if they were interviewing him for a job position for ‘personal deity of my life.’ If the man in the sky fits the job description, being nonjudgmental and accepting, and allows us to determine what is right or wrong—he’s got the job.” Nope. Wrong again.

God laughs at that idea.

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Mark Fox July 31, 2022
Mark Fox July 19, 2022

God Cut the Covenant

What if I told you to go home, take 5 animals you own, maybe your dog, cat, parakeet, gerbil, and goldfish, and cut them in half and lay the pieces side by side, each half across from the other? You would call the SPCA and report me, right?  But that’s what God told Abraham to do with a cow, a goat, a ram, a dove and a pigeon, and Abraham didn’t bat an eye. It was normal in those days, including in Mesopotamia where Abraham had come from, that two parties would make a covenant in just this way. They would both walk between the bloody pieces, a gruesome path of promise. They were saying to one another by doing so, “May it be done to me what was done to these animals if I do not keep this covenant.”

This day in Abraham’s life reminds us that since the fall, when God covered Adam and Eve with animal skins, requiring the life of those animals, that the covenant we have with God is a blood covenant. As the Bible says, “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” This is how a covenant was made. Something had to die, and eventually, praise be to God, that something became a Someone. The only One. The Son of God as our perfect high priest would enter the holy place, but not like a priest who entered “with blood not his own.” Jesus went to the cross as the priest and the sacrifice. God’s covenant with Abraham pointed to that.

As the sun went down, Abraham fell into a deep sleep, and a “dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.” The last time the Bible mentioned a deep sleep was when God caused Adam to go to the third level of anesthesia so he could remove a rib and make Eve. But here, the sleep comes as the covenant sacrifice is made, attended by deep darkness and great dread. Again it points us to the cross, where from noon until 3pm, the last three hours of Jesus’ crucifixion, there was darkness over the whole land as the new covenant was being cut. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The darkness and the weight of that moment we will never understand. We can only imagine such horror and be amazed at such sacrifice.

The most beautiful part of the story of God’s covenant with Abraham may not seem like much as you just read through it. When there was no daylight left, the sun was gone and it was totally dark, Abraham saw a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch pass between the pieces. What is going on? This was God appearing to Abraham as he would hundreds of years later to the children of Israel in the wilderness, a pillar of fire by night.

Even more amazing and important to our faith, this is a unilateral covenant. When a man and woman get married and they make a covenant with one another at the altar, and he kisses the bride and they are pronounced husband and wife, BOTH walk down the aisle together to ratify the covenant they just made. But here, God walks down the aisle, if you will, right between the bloody halves of the five animals. He makes the covenant by himself. Because there is no one greater to swear by, God swears by himself to Abram, and all of Abram’s descendants, including you and me who are in Christ, that he will keep his promise. “And if you are Christ’s,” Paul wrote, “then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” What are five of many promises we who follow Jesus Christ have from God?

He will make us a people. He will take us through trials and tribulations. He will give us grace for each moment and strength equal to the calling on our lives. He will hold our hands as we pass from this realm to the next, in peace. He will give us a home.

What a great God who loves us so!

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Mark Fox July 19, 2022
Mark Fox July 10, 2022

How to Be a Person of Faith

God took Abram outside to help the old man see the promise God made, that he would be the father of a multitude. He told him to count the stars. Look up, Abram, and number the stars! Now in my sometimes-fertile imagination, I see Abram staring at the sky and counting out loud: One, two, three… and this goes on for a long time and when he’s up to maybe 120, God says,

“Abram?”

“Yes, Lord?”

“That’s good…you can stop now, son. But as many as you could count, Abram, and many, many more, that’s how many offspring you will have.”

And Abram sighed with relief and said, “Yes, Lord.”

He heard the Lord and as Walter Brueggemann says, “God’s word was the voice around which his life is organized.” 

That’s when it happens. The linchpin verse of faith. His faith and ours. “And he believed the Lord, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” He believed the Lord. He leaned into God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength, and put all his trust in God the Lord. John Calvin wrote, “Faith is not a distant view but a warm embrace of Christ.” 

Here’s an important question. Did Abram fully understand the promise? No, and that becomes obvious later when he is still waiting for that son and agrees with his wife on a work-around solution. Nonetheless, Abram believed the Lord, and it was counted to him as righteousness.

Wait, righteousness? He was considered righteous by God because he just…believed? Come on. Surely Abram must have done something more than just believe. Maybe he prayed for 4 hours to the Lord? No. He memorized the book of Genesis, that hadn’t been written yet? No. He told 15 people about God! No. He went to the altar and sacrificed 100 rams? No. He went one whole day without doing anything wrong! No! If had trusted in any of those things, it would not have been the grace of God but his own works upon which he stood. Faith depends on the grace of God which guarantees the promise. He believed. The word means to consider something dependable, reliable, and then act on that belief. But listen! Action follows belief. It always does. “It (his belief) was counted to him as righteousness.”

Is it the same for you and me? Paul writes, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

How do we become people of faith? Like Abraham, we trust God whom we do know to take care of the things ahead that we do not know. Faith in his future grace glorifies God.

Did you know that the African impala has a vertical leap of over 10 feet and can jump MORE than 30 feet! Yet these amazing creatures can be kept in an enclosure in any zoo with a 3-foot wall. How? Because impalas will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall. Powerful and athletic…but faithless when it comes to the unknown.

Go ahead. Believe in God. Take that leap of faith.

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Mark Fox July 10, 2022
Mark Fox June 26, 2022

When Abraham was a Military Leader

Ok, I changed the Father Abraham song. Work with me, here. It now goes like this: “General Abraham, had 138 men…” Ok, a bit clunky. Let’s try this, “General Abraham had just a few men, just a few had General Abraham, and they never lost.” That’s it! Guaranteed classic. They were 1-0. But look, this is a side of Abraham we have not yet seen, right? This account in Genesis 14 is an action-packed, something for everybody, get your popcorn, feel-good story if I have ever heard one! Abraham goes into battle to rescue his nephew Lot and all the other people who were being dragged into servitude by four kings and their armies.

We see a different Abraham here than the one we saw in Egypt. There Abraham told Sarai to lie to the people to save his own skin. Here Abraham is willing to risk his life to save another. He would have been justified when he heard the news in saying, “Well, I am sorry for Lot, but he made his bed in a wicked place and now even that has been taken away from him, and he with it! Too bad, so sad.” But that was not the kind of man Abraham was. He acted like Jesus did when he saw us in our captivity because of sin. He came to rescue us, and that did cost Jesus his life.

Here’s a phrase I really like, from verse 14, condensed for simplicity: “When Abraham heard…he led.” He was not passive; he acted immediately. He heard and he acted. He took initiative. “He led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.” Who are these men born in his house? We know Abraham had no children at this point, and the word used here is also translated “servants.” These men had grown up in Abe’s house and been trained by him in following command and working as a unit. They had seen and gleaned from his faith, his discipline, and his courage.  They were ready to follow him anywhere he led them, even to death.

They pursued the 4 Kings about 120 miles, and finally caught up to them. When they located the enemy, Abraham divided his troops and they attacked by night. The element of a night attack from all different sides, not standing in rows on the battlefield as war was normally waged, gave Abraham the advantage despite being greatly outnumbered by the 4 armies. But what really gave him the advantage? Abraham was the Lord’s, as God says to him, “Fear not, Abraham, I am your shield.” God won the battle, and Abraham freed the captives.

The long journey back home must have been a time filled with great laughter and rejoicing over what God had done. They could never have had too much praise for God and for the men who had risked their lives to save them. It reminded me of Winston Churchill’s great speech before the House of Commons on August 20, 1940, after the Royal Air Force had successfully defended the nation against the German Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. Here’s an excerpt.:

“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. All our hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day.”

What do we learn from this event in Abram’s life that applies to our own? 1- We will face trouble and trials in pursuit of God. It was true for Abraham, and it is true for us. 2- We cannot wait until they are grown to train them, fathers and mothers! Abram was glad for the years of training and discipline he had poured into his men when it mattered most. 3- We who follow Christ must use what we have been given to uphold His name and righteousness. 4- Best of all! God is undefeated, and we can absolutely trust him to defend his own cause of righteousness.

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Mark Fox June 26, 2022
Mark Fox June 19, 2022

Muscle Memory Towards a Walk by Faith

What a change in Abram from his fear in Egypt to his faith in Canaan. In Egypt, his fear caused him to walk by sight, not by faith. In Canaan with Lot, he chooses to walk by faith, not by sight. Abram can offer Lot any portion of the land around him because he believes in the promises of God, that God would take care of him. Allen Ross says. “Those who walk by faith can be magnanimous.”  Marcus Dods writes, “There is room in God’s plan for every man to follow his most generous impulses.” I remember Stephen Covey in his book years ago, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” making the point that some people have a scarcity mentality and others an abundance mentality. The abundance mindset means you know there is enough to go around, and you are happy with what you have and with what others have, but the scarcity mindset means that someone else’s gain is your loss, which leads to competition and strife. I would argue that Christians should always have an abundance mentality because of who our Father is. Jesus was teaching his disciples not to be anxious in anything, about life, or food or clothing when he said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

After Lot chose to go east toward Sodom, God turned his attention to Abram. I love the contrast we see here. Lot lifted up his eyes and found the most desirable land and claimed it for himself. Lot saw and took what he saw. But the LORD said to Abram, “Lift up your eyes.” Look in every direction as far as your eye can see, Abram. Look to the north and south and east and west because everything you see I will give to you and your offspring. Remember, Abram is an old man and has no children, but God tells him his offspring will be “as the dust of the earth.” Yes, Abram, if you were able to count the dust on the whole earth, every tiny particle of it, that’s how you would be able to count your offspring. Go ahead, Abram, and walk the land, all of it. Walk the length and the breadth of it because I give it all to you. Oh, believers! It reminds me of what Paul said he prayed for the Ephesian church:

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Do you see that? Christ does dwell in our hearts by faith. Christ does root and ground us in his love for us, and it is Christ’s desire for us to understand how much he loves us! How high and how deep and how wide and how long he loves us. And that it is in the process of growing in the knowledge of the love of Christ for us, the love that surpasses knowledge, but we must choose to believe with our hearts, it is in that process that we are being filled with the fullness of God. Cindy and I talked on our anniversary trip about muscle memory, after hearing that term used in a sermon recently. Muscle memory happens when you repeat an act enough times that it becomes automatic. Remember learning to drive a car and especially figuring out how to use the brake properly? What caused whiplash and required trips to the chiropractor before is now just automatic. You don’t have to think about applying the brake properly. It just happens. Muscle memory. There are so many applications for muscle memory, but here’s one I think we would all benefit from. Remind yourself daily that God is for you, that his promises are true for you, that his love for you is as unchanging as God is. And with that, remind yourself that you can be gracious and loving and kind to everyone. That you can let others be first and you can be a servant to all, just as Jesus was. Have any of us got that one down? No, but we are all in varying stages of muscle memory. Let’s practice it together. Day by day. By faith. By God’s grace!

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Mark Fox June 19, 2022
Mark Fox May 29, 2022

Don’t Settle for Less

We read in Genesis 11 that Terah packed up his worldly possession and with his son, Abram and his nephew, Lot and Sarai, Abram’s wife, headed out of town. The city of Ur was in the rearview as this band of travelers made their way to Canaan. Why? It doesn’t tell us in the text, but at first glance, one would assume that Terah just decided he needed a change of scenery. Wanted to blow the whole “moon-worship-thing” that was hot in Ur and head north to Haran and then southwest to Canaan. A mere 12,000 miles in all if they had done the whole trip at once. But see, dear reader, this is why context is the most important rule in interpreting the Bible. Context includes not just what surrounds the particular verse you are studying, but what the rest of the Bible says about that same verse or that same event.                                                                                                                    They did make it to Haran, but not to Canaan.

Question. Did Terah take his family to Haran? Or did God bring them? In Genesis 15, God said to Abram, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” You see, sometimes we think we went somewhere, but we look back over our lives and we see “No, God brought me somewhere.” Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” It is God who moves his people where he wants them to be. Can we miss it? Of course. You see that clearly in the wilderness wanderings of the children of Israel. But even then, after their disobedience, God led his people through the detours and back to the path of his will. He does that for us as well. I took a serious detour on my way to marrying Cindy, and I thank God that he loved us enough to bring us to where we both needed to be.

You read on in Genesis 11 and see that the travelers not only stopped but ended up settling in a city called Haran. Why did they stop in Haran and settle there? Lots of reasons, which possibly included the journey was long, the terrain was difficult, and Terah was getting old. It may also be that when they got to Haran, another center of moon worship, Terah missed his old digs and settled for what was comfortable. He chose the security of the known, even though it kept him in a place of compromise. If what we see in the Tower of Babel was a picture of man’s self-effort at creating a world on his own terms, apart from God, then perhaps what we see in Haran is a picture of compromise, of taking the path of least resistance and “settling” in a place that God never intended. We will see that with Lot later, as he moved close to Sodom and then into Sodom and finally Sodom moved into him. Lot settled, and the price he had to pay to get back to God’s path was enormous.

How about you? Have you settled for what is comfortable, known, or easy? Have you set aside the call of God to know Him and to make Him known in exchange for making a name for yourself?

Abraham made it into the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11, not because of money, reputation, or fame. He made it simply because he chose to believe God. To obey God. And to serve God. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called…”

Why not us?

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Mark Fox May 29, 2022
Mark Fox May 22, 2022

What Was Going on in Babel?

You will find the story in Genesis 11, and it is a case study in the sin-born desire in mankind to make a way to heaven without God. If they can. Here’s what we see in the text.

They were united. The whole earth was united by one language, which is wonderful, and will happen again in the Kingdom of God. But they moved to the plain of Shinar and there decided they would build something that would give them access into heaven. “Come, let us make bricks,” they said. And then, “Come, let us build ourselves a tower.” And finally, “let us make a name for ourselves.” So, we see that they had ambition, which is not bad. And that they were industrious, working to build something magnificent, which is not bad! God is not against industry and innovation, creativity and art. He is the creator of all of that. And we see that there was unity, which God is certainly not opposed to; he gives us grace to attain it. He wants unity for his children. So, what is the problem? It is not in what they proposed to do but in their motivation. It was two-fold, based on pride and fear.

Pride is preeminent when anyone or any group gathers to do something or build something apart from God, especially when the endgame is to build something that will exalt humanity or even save humanity. John Witherspoon was president of Princeton University when James Madison, who would become the 4th president of the United States, was a student there. Witherspoon was often quoted by Madison later as having said, “Accursed be all that learning which sets itself in opposition to the cross of Christ!” That’s the idea here. Whether it is a school or a business or a nation, or an individual, or even a church, any person or group that exalts its own desires to make a name for itself above the plan and purposes of God is headed for a fall. God’s purpose will stand.

Charles Spurgeon said, “It does not matter whether 50,000 espouse its cause, or only five, or only one. Truth does not reign by the ballot box, or by the counting of heads: it abides forever. All the tongues of men and of angels cannot make truth more true; and all the howlings of devils and doubters cannot transform it into a lie. Glory be to God for this!”

I remember a man telling me years ago that he has a plaque on his desk at work that asks him the same question every day: “What’s your motivation?” It’s a great question. The primary motivation of the people of Babel was pride.

They were also motivated by pride’s companion: fear. They wanted to find security by making a name for themselves, verse 4, “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Ignoring the commission God had given to their ancestors, which was to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” the people here wanted to do life their own way, and their greatest fear was to just become somebody somewhere who follows God but is not known for doing something great. “Let us make a name for ourselves.” The word for name is “Shem.” Jen Wilkin said they wanted to make another Shem, another way to God besides the lineage that would lead to the Savior. No, God’s purpose will stand.

God says in response, “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” and it sounds like he is concerned about the collective power of humanity. Like God Almighty is rubbing his hands together, nervous that they might indeed do something big enough and strong enough to be a threat against him. Is that it? This is what the psalmist says about this: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” God sees their evil intent, he knows their hearts, and he knows that their apostasy and wickedness are unlimited. They are hurtling headlong toward the same worldwide wickedness that brought about the flood. They have decided on their own to stay in one place and unite in their rebellion, rather than scatter and serve God all over the world. But God’s purpose will stand.

It did then. It does today.

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Mark Fox May 22, 2022
Mark Fox May 15, 2022

I Want to be Like…Nimrod?

Moses gives some extra attention to one of the sons of Cush in Genesis 10, a man named Nimrod. Another “first mention” in the Bible, because Nimrod was the “first on the earth to be a mighty man.” And then Moses adds, “He was a mighty hunter before the Lord.” That sounds like he was a great hero, and in fact there was a saying that grew up in this time, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter.” Instead of wanting to “Be like Mike,” there were boys in Noah’s day growing up who said, “I want to be like Nimrod.”  Here’s the problem. The name Nimrod means “rebel,” or “the rebel.” It can also mean, “we will revolt.” Whether Nimrod was his real name or a nickname, he was known around town as ‘the rebel,’ a man who sought power by tyranny and force. He was a mighty hunter “before the Lord.” Twice Moses tells us that, but the interpretation here is most likely negative. It means he was a rebel right in front of God his creator. We also learn that he was the man who built “Babel…in the land of Shinar.” If you read ahead to the eleventh chapter of Genesis, you will find that things did not go so well for the people there. Nimrod was a great builder, a powerful leader, and a force to be reckoned with in his day. He was much like other great world leaders down through the ages who have used their popularity and power, their cunning and charisma, to entice or force people, whichever worked, into a path that led to great destruction. Listen to what Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, wrote about this ancient ‘hero’:

“Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it were through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence upon his own power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he (God) should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! And he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers!”

OK, so Nimrod was not so mighty after all. Not in the things that really matter, not in the things that leave lasting fruit. And neither is any leader in a nation, a business, or a church, who sets aside the ways of God and the Word of God in order to get what he wants for himself.

The scary part? There but for the grace of God go I, or anyone else.

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Mark Fox May 15, 2022
Mark Fox May 8, 2022

The Deadly Danger of Misinterpreting Scripture

Noah’s only recorded words in the Bible, found in Genesis 9, were an oracle that contained both cursing and blessing and came true. In the ancient world, a curse was only as powerful as the one who spoke it. Unless the Lord brought about what was spoken, what was spoken was meaningless. So, whom does Noah curse? Canaan! “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

 

Ham’s sons were Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. Canaan alone was cursed to become, he and his descendants, a servant of servants, or a slave of slaves. Remember, Moses was writing Genesis to the wilderness wanderers, the nation of Israel that had come out of slavery in Egypt and were headed to the promised land that is populated by…Canaan! You could argue that Moses here tells them why the Canaanites are so vile and wicked, pagans in every sense of that word. If you want to see a description of their sinful behavior, which included every form of sexual immorality, you can find it in Leviticus. The Canaanites even offered their children as sacrifices to Molech, a pagan god.

 

Why did Noah curse Canaan when Ham was the one who sinned against him? We do not know for sure, but some scholars suggest it was because Noah saw these same traits in Canaan that were in his father. And though the curse is for Canaan, Ham would suffer greatly with his own shame and because of the wickedness of his youngest son and his descendants.

 

But there is a horrific problem caused by ignorance of this text.

 

Read this carefully: Good biblical interpretation brings blessings and good fruit; bad biblical interpretation brings great destruction and destroys lives. What is the rotten biblical interpretation of this passage that has brought destruction? Noah did not curse Ham. He cursed Canaan. God makes that clear in the text by telling us twice that Canaan is the son of Ham and that it is Canaan who was cursed. But misinterpretation of this text in the church in America in its infancy led to the justification of slavery. The ESV Study Bible commentary says, “This passage was wrongly appealed to in past centuries to justify the enslavement of African people, resulting in grievous abuse, injustice, and inhumanity to people created in the image of God.” If you look at a map of where Ham’s sons ended up living, you see that his sons named Cush, Egypt, and possibly Put did settle in Africa. Canaan, however, settled in the fertile crescent, the promised land, Israel, and would become a continual thorn in the people God sent there to conquer and to prosper. Canaan was cursed, not the three sons who ended up in Africa.

 

Again, misuse of Scripture can be deadly. Jen Wilkins says, “We can’t even begin to calculate the horrors that resulted from this misreading of Scripture. It goes back to a simple Bible literacy principle: ‘If you can rely on people not knowing what the text says, you can use the text to accomplish whatever evil you want.’”

 

It reminded me of a pastors’ conference I led years ago in Kenya, and one of the pastors stood in front of everyone to ask me a question about a bishop over his region who had multiple wives and had (I put this delicately) ‘taken liberties with’ young teenage girls in some of the churches he led. The pastor said to me, “The bishop has told us when we question him that we are wrong to do so, because the Bible says, ‘Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!’” I was stunned by this and told him that this man was neither anointed nor a prophet if he was engaging in such blatant abuse of God’s people, and that they had every right to touch him. Repeatedly. Ok, I didn’t suggest they hurt him physically. Just that they remove him from office immediately so that he could no longer hurt others, himself, and do further damage to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Reading the Bible is very important. Interpreting it correctly is vital.

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Mark Fox May 8, 2022