Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Humanity In Sin Part 36 - Jacob at Laban's Place

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 25th November 2007 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 29

Many years have passed since the day Rebekah left her household. When Laban recognized Jacob was his sister’s son, he immediately ran to meet him because since the day his sister left with Abraham’s chief servant to marry Isaac, she never returned home anymore.

Laban welcomed Jacob to stay with him and Jacob worked for Laban in tending his flock. Later on, Laban asked what Jacob wanted, and he honestly said he was willing to work for 7 years to marry Rachel. Laban was pleased with the arrangement. His love was really great so time passed by very quickly.

However, Laban was a dishonest man. The Bible said he cheated Jacob’s wages 10 times. Although they were relatives, he was crafty when it concerned profit and loss. Superficially speaking, it seemed that Laban had won and Jacob had lost. But from God’s point of view, He was chastising Jacob for all the deceits he had done to his father and his brother. Jacob now met another deceiver and it was painful when God allowed punishment to come to him.

He was overjoyed at his wedding night as he had waited for 7 years before he could marry Rachel, only to find out that Laban had given Leah to him. For Laban, it did not matter whom Jacob married. He wanted to solve his own issue first, that was to fulfill the tradition to let his eldest daughter marry first. Since Leah was already married to Jacob, Laban now offered Jacob to wait another 7 days before giving Rachel to him, and in return he asked Jacob to work for him another 7 years.

The household would always have emotional battles and dissatifaction from then on, as Jacob loved Rachel much more than he loved Leah. Later on both Rachel and Leah let their maidservants sleep with him in order to compete in childbearing, so as to win their husband’s love. It was not Jacob’s intention to marry Leah. Jacob only wanted to marry one woman, Rachel, but Laban gave him both his daughters. And Rachel and Leah gave Jacob another two women. So eventually Jacob had 4 women, that gave him 12 sons and one daughter, Dinah. The Bible did not talk about other daughters.

But all these 12 sons became 12 tribes of Israel. Levi was not included in one of the tribes as it was set apart for priesthood, but there are two tribes from Joseph’s sons (Ephraim and Manasseh), so completing the 12 tribes.

All the other descendants would never exceed the importance of Jacob’s direct descendants. God would call Himself by the names of three successive generations, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Seen from human point of view, Joseph had a better character than all three of them. He did not lie and deceive others. Both Joseph and Daniel were almost faultless young men in the Bible as the Bible never recorded their sins specifically. They became the best model for young people in all history. But God never declared Himself as the God of Joseph, instead He called Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as He made His covenant with them.

Abraham was the father of all who had faith. Isaac was an example of the man of peace. Jacob was the man who represents the great power of the gospel. Through Abraham, a new race was born. The kingdom that came from the 12 tribes of Israel became a representation of the rule of God. The existence of the nation of Israel became the representation of the kingdom of God. The law Israel received become the foundation of the most important laws of men. The tabernacle and temple of Israel become the most important symbolic representation of God with us. Under the Law of Israel, Jesus Christ the Son was born as the only Holy One who fulfilled the Law of God. God’s promise to Abraham that his seed shall become a blessing to all nation is a singular term which refers to Jesus Christ.

Through these people, God prepared the world for the Savior. So God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Among the three meanings, one is most important. Isra refers to the Prince, and El refers to God. So Israel means the Crown Prince of God (Elohim). So the Israel represent the Church. In Christ, we are children of God. The Church is like the 12 tribes coming together.

The book of Genesis reveals God’s creation, experiences of generations, God’s judgment to the entire world and how He elected a few to be remnant to continue a new generation. When men went against the will of God, God destroyed them. Again the remnants were formed and history continued. Finally God chose the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to represent the Kingdom of God. The Jews are the foreshadow of the Church. The true Kingdom is from Jesus Christ. The true Israelites are those who believe and are baptized into His kingdom.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Humanity in Sin Part 35 - God's Revelation to Jacob

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 18 November 2007 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 28

We have seen earlier that a spiritual family also have a lot of weaknesses. But God’s sovereignty rules. The Lord blessed Jacob before he was even born. We are not worthy to receive anything from God. Grace is based on God’s sovereign will. Grace is not to be conflicted with the justice of God. When God chooses to give grace to one and not another, it is not to be mixed up with God’s justice.

Justice is to be linked with God’s judgment. But often we demand that God gives us grace as He gives grace to others based on our own understanding of God’s justice. This is not biblical. On the matter of grace, it is in God’s sovereignty to give whatever He wants to whomever He wishes. He has mercy to whom He will be merciful. On the matter of judgment, God will judge based on His justice.

In the Bible we see two matters that do not seem to be related. First, the covenant of grace will come true no matter what happens. The blessings God gave to Abraham would follow Jacob. God would give the promise land to Jacob. At the same time, God would not let go of the sin His chosen one had committed. Jacob made many spiritual errors. He took blessings from his elder brother, deceived his father and did many other deceitful things. God would not just let him go simply because he received special blessings from God. As Christians we need to have balanced view on all the works of God. Else we will fool ourselves with our misunderstanding of God.

Although Isaac loved Esau, Isaac at least had some principles of God in his heart. So when Esau married Canaanite women, he was very displeased. Because he loved his son, he did not comment too much. Often times we compromise when people we like make mistakes. Isaac then asked Jacob not to marry a Canaanite woman, but to find one from his mother’s family. When Esau heard Isaac’s instruction to Jacob, he realized that he failed to fulfil his father’s wishes on one issue. Instead of repenting, he married again. Esau was after all filial. He did many things and did not realize that his father would not be pleased. But when he realized, he did not make amends of the past but rather tried to add on other things to please his father.

Esau represents many people today. Many people just want to do one more thing to please others instead of correcting the past mistake. We are lazy to preach the gospel and get used to it. So when we are asked to preach the gospel, we give excuses and just give more money for offering, and say it is not our calling. Many people know God has called them to ministry. But they have to give up high pay. So they do other things to compensate for it but they would not give up their job. So Esau did not receive the principle of the teaching. He only felt the pain of his mistake. It is very difficult for such a person to improve because his focus is to please people.

God is very strict when He first passed down some important principles to His people. When chastisement of God comes, we cannot first be concerned about our feelings or how people look at us. Aaron’s two sons were striken dead because they gave unauthorized fire at the altar. Aaron as the chief priest would have felt really bad because of this tragedy, yet God commanded him not to wail because of this. God wants us to wail because of our sin. There is no value if we are sad because of punishment.

We often never discover the correction God gives to us through difficult people He puts in our lives. We are very insensitive to our own mistakes, but sensitive to our feelings. It is because our hearts do not care about our mistakes, but we care for the praises and satisfaction from others. We are not concerned about what is right. We are not interested to correct ourselves but just want to preserve our face. So we go around in circles and never improve. Esau behaved in this manner. His solution was to marry a non-Canaanite woman. The Bible did not tell us what the father felt after Esau married again.

An important event happened during Jacob’s journey. While sleeping, he had a vision. Before the Bible is completed, God revealed His will to His specially selected people in various ways. We have to be very careful about dreams and visions because they are very relative personal experiences. Remember that the Old Testament itself spans a few thousands of years. There are not that many times of visions recorded over such a long time. It is not like today when people claim to have visions and dreams so frequently. People who get obsessed with these will find that they do not need the Bible and are not interested in the= already-completed revelation of God.

But Jacob’s dream was a revelation from God. It happened before the Bible was completed. And it was in line with the entire revelation of God. In what way is it consistent with God’s entire revelation? He dreamt of a ladder that reached to the heaven. This is the highest ideal of Chinese culture, that is, Heaven and earth be one. How can human beings have a relationship with God?

When men built the tower of Babel, it started from the earth but could not reach to heaven. But in this stairway, it came from heaven and reached down to earth. It is not something that could be achieved by men. It is God’s grace. This revelation surpassed what God has given to Abraham and Isaac. The greatest part of revelation to Abraham is the monotheistic faith and resurrection of the dead. Important aspects of Christian faith is contained in God’s revelation to Abraham.

God did not give Isaac any important revelation. But coming to Jacob, God revealed the mediation between God and man. This medium is the salvation that Jesus Christ completed by the shedding of His blood. He opened up for us a new and living way so that we can enter to the throne of God.

In the Old Testament, the high priest could only enter the Holy of holies once in a year. When Jesus died, there was earthquake, darkness, and the temple curtain were torn from top to bottom. The grace of God is now upon us. Sinners can enter into holy of holies. This is not part of general revelation but special revelation. God’s revelation to Jacob shows how Jesus would be broken for our sin. Jacob was able to see this. The Son of God Himself is the intermediary between God and man.

Jacob was so surprised when he woke up. He said it was the gate of heaven. He was so sensitive and accurate. In the Old Testament, the house of God always refers to a physical building with visible art and design. But Jacob woke up, he immediately said that the place where he laid was the gate of heaven. He did not place emphasis on outward things. His primary goal was to understand the thought of God. So God was pleased with him. From the eyes of man, Jacob was merely a deceitful man while Esau was a filial son. But God sees things very differently. He wants to see how we understand His revelation and how much we seek after it. For his life, Jacob always grabbed hold of the opportunity to know the heart of God.

The temple of God is not a building. It is the place where God meets man, where we receive God’s revelation, where through the sacrifice of Christ, we gain access to heaven. Paul understood it in the New Testament that the temple of God is not confined in a physical building. Jesus Christ Himself taught that the temple of God is His body. Paul said our body is the temple of God. So there is consistency of revelation in the whole Bible. And the first person to understand the house of God is Jacob, when he fled from his brother after tricking him. On one hand, he did not escape the punishment of God because of his deception, but God’s blessings on him was not taken away.

Humanity In Sin Part 34 - Jacob Gets Isaac's Blessings

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 11th November 2007 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Some Sharing On Reformed Movement:

During the renaissance, people believed that the ancient accomplishment by the Greek and Roman empire was the most glorious. And they felt that Christianity had brought about a decline in culture. So they emphasized that culture needed to be reborn. But Christianity believes that man should be reborn. When we are reborn, we have a new life. But when we have revolution, many people will die.

Looking at the Greek art and academic thought, people wanted a rebirth of culture. But they relied on human reason as the truth to understand all things. They cast aside revelation and aimed on pragmatism, so eternity and heaven were thrown aside. The Scripture’s promises were all set aside. Although many giants during the renaissaince itself were Christians who tried to bring together God’s revelation and human culture, people were not able to differentiate them.

The 16th century Reformation is the only culture that is Bible-centered in the entire history of mankind. It is the movement that is most blessed by God as it is most in line with God’s eternal will and pleasing to God. It established most important principles, that are to be based on the Scripture, only by grace, only through faith. It relied on Christ alone and to the glory of God alone. Afterwards, the Enlightenment came about where people thought they have matured and presumed on reason as the ultimate authority to judge all things.

We need to return to the faith that is based on the Word of God. This is the only way we can maintain the faith God has given us. We need to learn to look at the lifestyle of men from the throne of God and His Word. We have to use very strict principles of God based on His revelation to see what He has to say about our lifestyle. In this way, our lifestyle is built upon the Word of God. The sovereign will of God will get rid of people who are arrogant, while continuing to draw more people towards His kingdom.

Continuing on Genesis:

Passage: Genesis 27:1-40

In business environment, it seems that those who can lie will be more successful while those who are honest will lose out. Yet, in parental education, parents ask the children not to fight and to be good, but keep seeing that those who conquer are those who are crafty. People tell children not to tell lies but often times the dishonest ones earn a lot of money while the honest ones almost have nothing to eat.

So is the content of this education useless? Does that mean we cannot make money if we are honest? Does God bless a person who gets what he wants in dishonest way? Does God bless us in secondary manner when we are honest?

On surface, this passage raises a lot of difficult questions. But we ought to understand that before this chapter, there were already problems among Esau, Jacob and Isaac.

When Isaac was old, he could not see clearly anymore and he thought he would die soon. When we start to lose our sight and know that we have not many days left, we will remember things we ought to have done but we have not done. And we would want to set aside some time to prioritize what we need to do. But our spirituality will determine our priority. What are our priorities in life? The book “First things First” contains some wisdom regarding the importance of order. When time gets lesser and tighter especially, more proportionally we need to link the two together. The opportunity will not return and wisdom comes when we are able to grab the most important thing in an important instance.

If we spend a lot of time doing foolish things, we are really foolish. But if within a short time we can get hold of very important things, we are wise. But Isaac lacked such training. He was a man with a peaceful life. He was a man who was not willing to live a life full of challenges. Many people are like that. They prefer a life with no risk, no conflictand full of harmony.

When Isaac thought he was going to die, the first thing in his mind was to ask Esau to cook good food. So the most important thing in his life is food. The life of Isaac in the end was so simple. He wanted to eat good food before he died. Esau obeyed and went. Esau was an obedient child. If a child is obedient blindly, it is not a good thing. Also, a good leader is not a person who just wants others to obey him. If a person just wants to flow smoothly with time, how could he face difficult challenges in life?

When we think our lives are ending, is it really ending? Often times our feelings and actions are often different from reality. Isaac thought he was going to die and he was 100 years old then. But Isaac actually did not die until 80 years later.

For his own selfishness he gave a command to his son. The principle of education is such that it should not done for parents’ own good. If we teach our children in manner beneficial to us, it is not education anymore but it is taking advantage of our kids. Often mothers hit their kids because they interfere with their lives. If we punish our children out of frustration, it is not education but vengeance. It is done to solve our own problems and not theirs. So in the matter of parental education, Isaac had failed. He was a glutton and all he commanded was based on his own selfishness.

Scripture said Isaac loved Esau but Rebekah loved Jacob. When we fight for our own benefit, we cannot be blessed by the truth. Often times, great men and women fail on trivial things. The greatest among us often cannot overcome small things in life. In fact, if Isaac had rejected temptation of gluttony that day, his favorite son would not have had ended with the tragedy of having secondary blessings. If we do not prioritize properly, if we are not able to see what is primary and what is secondary, God will allow us to lose the most valuable things in life.

Esau lost his blessings but Jacob received it although it was not his earlier. Jacob was a man of ambition who would take the opportunity to obtain blessings when he had the chance. We cannot say God blesses the deceitful. Rather, in this matter, God allowed His blessings to go from people who ignore the blessings to those who truly value them.

Rebekah knew all Isaac’s plan. When Esau left to hunt, she knew it would take quite some time before he came back. She wanted to take this opportunity to let Jacob get the blessings. Here the mother used her authority to force the child to be obedient. The child was curious why the mother asked him to do what was not right. God will punish mothers who taught children wrongly. She deceived her husband with food and taught the child to lie.

Abraham lied and Isaac followed his father’s example and lied. And Rebekah followed her husband’s example and lied. Then she taught the son to do the same thing. So the spirit of lies was passed down from generation to generation. The first time we lie we remember the fear. But repeat lies shear our conscience. Do not brag on experience just because you have gone through long passage of time. You may be experienced in making the same mistakes for 20 years.

Jacob took the blessings as God preserved the authority of the leader. Everything Isaac said could not be taken back. We need to be respectful of our own status and authority or else the younger generation will despise us and fall because of us.

Jacob was deceived by his mother and afterward he became very bold in deception. He was already born with a deceptive personality. He took opportunity to use his stew to snatch the status of the firstborn. He was not clean in his dealing in the first place. On the other hand, God despises those who sell their firstborn rights. Last time it was not his scheme to deceive Esau but it just happened that he had cooked and his brother came along asking for his stew. But this time his mother taught him to do anything to get what he wanted.

Esau came back wanting God’s blessing. Esau did not value the status, but just wanted the blessings that came with it. But the father said he could not take the blessing back. If we ignore important principles of life when we are given, we will be at a loss later on. If we let go of opportunities when they are here, when difficulties come there is no way to turn around. Hence we are destined to make the same mistakes over and over again.

Jacob received a lot of curses because of his deception. Do not think because God loved Jacob, He blessed him for the rest of his life. In fact, God allowed the brother-in-law of his father to deceive him ten times. It is very ironical. Jacob deceived his father once. God allowed Laban, his father’s brother-in-law, to deceive him 10 times. He deceived his father for one day, but he was deceived by his ten sons for decades. They lied to him that his favorite son Joseph had died by staining Joseph’s coat with blood. When Jacob met Joseph again, a few decades had passed.

Why would Jacob fool his father? It was because of his mother’s instruction. The mother was good in everything, except in giving this instruction to the son. God also punished Rebekah. After that event, Jacob had to leave his parents as Esau wanted to kill him, and Rebekah never had a chance to see her favorite son Jacob ever again. Rebekah already died when Jacob came back.

God is just and is not to be taken lightly. How solemnly God disciplines His own children! We need to see God’s authority, justice and severity, and not only see look at His mercy and love in unbalanced way. May the Lord help us that through His Word we learn to fear Him and follow His command. Evil will not produce goodness.

Humanity In Sin Part 33 - Isaac and Abimelech

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 28th October 2007 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 26:1-22

This is the chapter in the Bible that talked about a few important events in Isaac’s life. Isaac was better than Abraham in some aspects, but he also inherited some of Abraham’s weaknesses. Isaac loved his wife from the first day he saw her and never had another wife. He was a consistent man all his life. Before marriage, we still have our freewill to choose. After marriage, we have given away our freedom and should stay committed to our marriage.

The Lord commanded Isaac not to go to Egypt although it was a better land than Canaan. When God commanded Abraham to leave Mesopotamia, it was the most beautiful city in ancient world. God wants him to live by faith, waiting in hope for His promises. Abraham’s faith is one that moves according to the guidance of God. God called him from the most civilized place to a place where the barbarians lived, from a large house to live in tents for 100 years. Afterwards, his son Isaac lived the same way. Everything he did influence his son.

Having a beautiful wife is a blessing, but it also comes with its problems. There were people eyeing on her and it gave a lot of burden and fear. Where there is blessing, there is also responsibility. With the blessing from God, there comes a cross to bear. With boldness, we should fulfil our responsibility. Paul Tilich wrote a book on “The Courage to Be”, which says that since we already exist, we need to have the courage to face our existence. But Isaac repeated the mistake of his father. He lied regarding his relationship with Rebekah. People treated him well because of Rebekah.

One day Abimelech saw how intimate Isaac was with Rebekah. Abimelech was a man of integrity and rebuked Isaac for lying about his relationship with Rebekah. Many Gentiles respond to the general revelation of God in ways that surpass the believers. Unbelievers might become very good believers in the future, we certainly should not look down on them. On the contrary, many believers live very haphazard lives.

Should it be that a Christian lie and get rebuked by a pagan? In difficult circumstances, do we forget to rely on God and turn to our own craftiness? Can we forget our faith and begin using our own wisdom? Bible records this to show us our weaknesses so that we can learn.

God continued to bless Isaac in that land. When he gained wealth, he continued to fear God. His spirituality was not shaken by material world. But the people were not happy with his prosperity and he was asked to leave the land.

Isaac did not quarrel. He was the son of peace. In his entire life he never fought with others. He went to another place and opened another well. After he dug it, it was taken away and he gave way too. He went to another place and dug another well again and it was taken away again. He did not retaliate. Finally he moved and dug a well the third time. This last time nobody took it away from him.

These were important events in Isaac’s life. A person who is always bullied might not fall in the end. Do not be revengeful when people treat you badly. No matter how people treat you, if God wants to bless you, you will not fall. May God teach us to set our eyes on Him and all other things in the world will be secondary to us.