Sunday, February 10, 2008

Humanity in Sin Part 42: God Appeared to Jacob Again

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 3rd February 2008 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 35

In this passage, the only One True God revealed to Jacob His plural personhood. He said, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and buld an altar there to God (instead of “to Me”), who appeared to you when you wre fleeing from your brother Esau.” There are several passages in the Bible where God implied the plurality of His personhood.

God is the Revealer. He is also the One who is being revealed. The 3 generations, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, received revelation from the Revealer. Jacob’s weaknesses were apparent but he was also a person who consistently pursued God’s blessings.

He struggled with his brother, his uncle, his children and his God. But through it all God had preserved him. Earlier Jacob promised God that he would build an altar for Him if God protected him all the way. God reminded him of his own oath. We need to take seriously whatever we speak before God. God reminded him to fulfil his oath towards the God who revealed Himself to him.

Jacob was obedient and later on commanded his household to remove all the foreign gods among them. Here the greatness of Jacob is seen. Only 400 years later the 10 commandments was passed, of which the first was we are to have no other gods before Him. But these words already proceeded from Jacob’s lips. Before him, his grandfather Abraham had stood fast to monotheistic faith. Now God revealed Himself as the One True God through His plural personhood, Jacob understood and said to his family to get rid of all foreign gods because he believed there was only one God.

Everyone at that time has their own personal god to protect them. Jacob’s children were not as faithful as Jacob. They might have some anxiety and follow some superstitions. It is not uncommon to see parents who are godly with children who lack faith. Jacob buried all their idols. This could create a lot of commotions as people might be offended and also afraid that some disasters might happen. But Jacob was not afraid of false gods. We see later that the terror of God fell upon Jacob so that nobody pursued them (v.5). Here we see one principle that when we are fully obedient to God and bravely displayed our faith, the problems in our surrounding come under control.

Jacob’s faith was not only theoretical belief but it transformed into action. Jacob built an altar and called it El Bethel, which means God in the temple of God. It means that the temple of God is not empty, but God dwells in it. So his faith is not an empty religion, but faith given to him by the true and living God.

God told Jacob that his name was Jacob but he would no longer be called Jacob, but Israel. This is the second time God told him his name was Israel. The first time was when Jacob wrestled with the Messenger of God, who changed his name to Israel when Jacob was blessed. God reminded him of his new name, and then revealed to him what would happen in the future. Israel means the Crown Prince of God. From the day of creation God had wanted to crown us. Psalms 8 said that God had crowned man with glory and honor. We often forget we are human beings and we do not live like one. If for one instance we suddenly understand that we are human beings, our life will be lifted up. When a person live a holy and righteous life, we can see how great the honor of humanity is.

When we are born again, we are new creation in Christ. The old has gone and the new has come. We will manifest the glory of heaven and not the decadence of the world. But we often still live as though we never have a new life. If we always go back to our old self, we will live a defeated life.

Before Jacob died, he had become Israel. What about us? Do we still live as though we have never believed? May we reach abundant life through living faith in the promises of God in Christ.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Humanity in Sin Part 41: Dinah's Story

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 27 January 2008 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 34

Dinah is the only daughter of Jacob mentioned in the Scripture. The Bible does not mention whether Jacob had any other daughers. She was curious about the women of the land so took a walk there. But another man was observing her and violated her later on. Her original plan was thwarted and she lost her innocence. Many women go to the city to observe the night life and end up getting raped. That is what often happen. We plan to do one thing but something else occur out of our expectation that cause us to regret.

Beauty is an asset and a grace. But it is also a source of danger. If we are beautiful, people will take notice of us. If we are ugly, in this respect we are very safe. Grace is dangerous. Danger is all around us when we are full of grace. Dinah was not aware of the value and potential danger of her beauty and hence got herself into trouble.

God did not create all of us equally in His distribution of grace. Justice is not about equality. But to whom more is given, more will be asked. God’s grace is linked to His sovereignty. If more is given to us, God will require more from us in the future.

Shechem was not wise as he had no self-control. He succumbed to his desire first before knowing the consequence. But he was a responsible man after all. After violating Dinah, he loved her and wanted to marry her very much. Shechem’s father negotiated with Jacob to allow Shechem to marry his daughter, Dinah, and all of them could live together in their land and intermarry with their daughters.

This case is different from adultery committed by a man who had another woman other than his wife. The Scripture said if those who committed adultery should be put to death. But if a man violated a virgin outside of marriage, the Scripture said he should pay restitution and then marry the woman as wife for life.

Jacob kept quiet when he found out what happened to Dinah. But her brothers were really angry and revengeful. They were not willing to give Dinah to them. They tricked the Shechemites that they had to be circumcised if they wanted to intermarry with them. This is not in line with God’s principle because only the descendants of Isaac were the people of Israel. Shechem were taken in by their deception and due to his good reputation, the people agreed with his proposal to circumcise themselves on one appointed day.

Circumcision is a painful process. When they were in pain, Simeon and Levi, Leah’s sons and the blood brothers of Dinah, went around and killed every male in the city and plundered all their goods. This is a very impulsive act.

If we act based on impulsive emotions, we will cause greater trouble. We need the Holy Spirit to give us the power of self-control. Self-control is the most difficult thing to do.

Simeon and Levi seemed to have great victory but it was not glorious. They acted out of uncontrolled fury. They were not solving any problem but heaping up problems for the future. If we take the place of God in judgement and take revenge on our own, it will become a reason for others to revenge against us. The cycle of violence will happen over and over again. This is not wisdom but a manifestation of foolishness. We need to learn to be like Jesus Christ who submitted all judgement into God’s hands when He was treated so unfairly.

Much violence and bloodshed took place in this passage and it all started with Dinah’s curiosity. Many times our curiosity is the starting point of many disasters and we suffer greatly as a result. We will do well to take heed to control our curiosity when it is not the right time or not for us to know.