January 20, 2009

"The Road Home" - Bible Study in a Year #3

(For audio in English with Russian translation follow this link to my Xanga audio blog) Today there is a cease-fire in the Gaza strip. But a temporary cease-fire isn’t real peace. Two different people groups are claiming it’s their “homeland.” But does either group really have an exclusive “right” to the land? In Crimea, we have three different people claiming it is their homeland, but that is another story…All people seem to want a homeland. It seems to be an inert need that we were born with. But is the home we long for merely land and what is the real reason for the extreme hatred and fighting in Gaza? Is there another reason for the violence between the Arabs and Jews? And what is the answer that will bring peace? Today we’ll look at the amazing answers the Bible gives for all these questions.

The book of Genesis, the book of beginnings, shows the beginnings of this conflict. Some may dispute that Abraham is a patriarch to both Jews and Arabs, but the Bible implies this and DNA evidence backs it up. In 2000, a BBC article presented a DNA study that was conducted by Leicester University of England showing that Jews and Arabs are genetic brothers. At first Abraham’s name was Abram or “exalted father” and his wife, “Sarai” which means “storage cellar”…just kidding, that is the meaning of the Russian phonetic equivalent. It really means “my princess.” Abram was 75 yrs old when God promised him children! People must have laughed! – some “exalted father!” – “now you’re gonna have children…at 75?” Last week we saw how Abram received his calling. In the next several chapters he makes some bad decisions which have various consequences. I like the way the website “Foundations for Freedom” outlines the chapters. There are three “negative detours” but there’s also one “positive detour.”

1. Place detour (Ch12) In 12.1 God promised to show Abraham the land He had promised him. In verse 7 God shows Abram the exact place promised. But in verse 10 it shows there was a famine in the land so he left for Egypt without even praying about it. What happened there was that he ended up lying about his wife saying she was his sister because he was afraid that the Pharaoh of Egypt would take her and kill him.

2. Person detour (Ch 13) In the beginning of chapter 13 there is another act of disobedience. In 12.1 Abram was told to leave his family and go but here in 13.1 we see he took his nephew! In 13.6 we see land problems didn’t begin in Gaza… In 13.8 they separate “…and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.” (13.12) Lot was attracted by the prosperity of the area near the great but sinful city of Sodom. But look at 13.18 Abraham pitched his tent but built an altar to the lord. He took time to make an altar of stone, while his own home was just a cloth tent. His heart and priorities seemed to be for God though he is prone to making mistakes. In the beginning of chapter 14 a war breaks out: 4 kings and their armies battle against 5 kings and their armies (14.1-2). But look who is a victim of the war in verse 12, Lot! - And so in V14 Abram sets off to rescue Lot. Lot, whom Abram should have never taken, got Abram into a lot of trouble!

3. Prophecy detour (Ch 15) God gives a mysterious detour into some important revelations of truth and prophecy. God uses a vision and a deep sleep to do this. First God says to him…“I am your exceeding great reward.” The greatest revelation of all is to realize that it’s all about knowing God. This is the greatest blessing of life. He is the goal of our journey and the prize. Jesus is mentioned as the door, the path, the goal in the NT, He’s everything! 15.7 - In spite of Abram’s mistakes, God confirms the “Abrahamic Covenant” of Gen 12.1-3, (a threefold promise: A land promise, a nation promise and a “seed” promise = people) Here he again promises the land (15.7-9). Abram asks – “How will I know that I will inherit it?” In order to confirm the covenant, an animal sacrifice is made (15.9) Animals were cut in half and both parties were to walk through – as a sign to show that it was a serious contract! Sometimes in our day people use the phrase "to cut a deal." But look what happens next…..Abram doesn’t walk through - a smoking furnace and a flaming torch pass through which seems to imply that it’s mainly God’s promise to Abram, an unconditional promise (V17).

15.12-13 - a deep sleep fell upon Abram.. – A prophecy is given: 400 years of affliction in a strange land (Egypt).

15.16 – After 400 years they would return to conquer Canaan - “For the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” They practiced “human sacrifice,” offering babies to the god of prosperity, Moloch, much like our abortion rites today (II Kings 16.3).

15.18 - Then God defines the borders of the “promised land.” - “From the river of Egypt unto the great river, the River Euphrates…” Later, in Exodus 23.31 more precise borders are given. There are different interpretations. Some believe the Nile River is referred to, others don’t. It’s easier to look at a map showing the boundaries. “Eretz Yisrael” is the holy term for the Land of Israel. Israel had the most land during Solomon’s reign but some believe it was still not the entire amount promised to Israel, that the full amount of land never has been occupied. map

4. Procedure detour (Ch 16) Abram disobeys God regarding the procedure of the promise. Sarai was impatient and in 16.1,2 offered her Egyptian concubine Hagar, as a means of bearing the promised child. Like Adam, Abram doesn’t think about it but simply follows his wife’s advice. Upon conception there is envy and bitterness between Hagar and Sarai (V5). And Sarai was harsh with Hagar and made her leave (V6). But God hears Hagar’s suffering and helps her and promises her a son. It is God who names the child “Ishmael.” (16.11) meaning “El shall hear” or “God will listen.” Interestingly, God forewarns that he will be a violent man...(16.12): “And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.” In chapter 17, God reaffirms His covenant with Abram and Sarai and changes their names to Abraham and Sarah (17.5,15) (“Father of nations” and “princess”). So people must have had a really good laugh by then! (Abraham 99 and wife 89...and still no kids!). God names the promised son Isaac “laughter”(V17.19,20), and then we see God’s promises to both Isaac and Ishmael: “Then God said: "No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.” Little by little we see these prophecies unfolding later in scripture. In Genesis 21.18 we see that Ishmael takes an Egyptian wife and lives in Paran. Paran is the Negev desert today and shows traces of settlements of Canaanite, Amalekite, and Edomite nomads.

In Genesis 25:12-16, his twelve princes are defined. Genesis 37:25 refers to “Ishmaelites” who bought Joseph when he was sold by his brothers. These 12 princes of Ishmael over time have come to oppose the 12 tribes of Israel. The Ishmaelites are mentioned later in David’s Psalms as enemies of the Jews and of God Himself. Psalms 83. 4-8. “They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance. For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee: The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes… Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah.” You see here that even the “children of Lot” have been a lot of trouble to the Israelites. These descendants altogether began to oppose Israel, the God of Israel, Jehovah and even to oppose their existence as a nation.

Though God blessed the Ishmaelites, over time they joined with different enemies of Israel such as the ancient Moabites and Edomites, etc. and this is probably another reason why Arab populations have sometimes become anti-Semitic. Though Ishmael was blessed by God, he and his descendants were not included in the Abrahamic Covenant, including the Promised Land in Israel. We see the prophecy of a violent streak (16.12) which has come to the Arabs in the form of terrorism today.

Someone asked me “Why do Christians and Jews attack the Muslims?” Look at history. It’s usually the other way around. Until Israel was declared a nation is 1948, Jews and Arabs got along ok in Palestine. But none of the Arab nations wanted to recognize Israel as a nation and some still don’t. Amazingly, each time they attacked Israel, Israel ended up with more land. In the War of Independence 1947-48, 8 Arab nations attacked Israel and yet Israel, this baby, brand new nation, won and gained territory. In the Six Day War in 1967, 4 Arab nations were against Israel and yet Israel won and gained control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The Yom Kippur War 1973 was a surprise attack by 3 Arab nations on a Jewish holiday and yet Israel ended up winning.

Israel occupies an estimated 2% of the land the Arabs occupy. Is the violence in Gaza really about land or is there something deeper? Muslims claim that Jerusalem is one of their holy cities but the name Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran by name! There is actually a standing $1Million dollar reward by Jamal Badawi, a professor of management at St. Mary University in Halifax, Canada, for anyone who can find it. Mecca is the main holy city of Islam while Jerusalem is Israel’s main holy center. So what are some real reasons for the strife? As you read about Hagar and Sarah, Ishmael and Isaac, etc. you can see that there is a deep sense of bitterness and sibling rivalry. The Bible shows how a root of bitterness grows and spreads if not dealt with (Heb 12.15). You see people like Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran's Islamic revolution, saying Israel "must be wiped out from the map of the world." This is repeated by the present Iranian president who is creating nuclear weapons. This is the attitude of Hamas also. The only acceptable solution for them is to wipe out the Jews.

This bitterness can be seen in The Koran, written by Mohommed in the 7th century AD, which he said was given to him by an angel. It says “Two religions cannot coexist in the Arabian Peninsula.” Tabari VIII:130. "The Jews are a nation of liars.... The Jews are a treacherous, lying, and evil people." Ishaq:240. The Qu'ran,Hadith (Traditions of Muhammad), Sira (Muhammad's Biography) and the Sunnah (Islam's holy books) provide sources for Islam’s great anti-Semitism. Even recently, there is evidence that Hamas contolled Gaza has reinstated Muslim Sharia law, calling for the amputation of thieves' limbs and the crucifixion of Christians and other infidels, which I first noted at the Berean Blog. 600 years before the Koran was given by an angel, the apostle Paul wrote: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Gal 1.8) Is it possible that the angel giving the Koran was the same angel that appeared to Joseph Smith? The introduction to the Book of Mormon states that the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith in 1823 and told him where the Mormon “golden plates” were buried.

The surrounding nations attacked Israel was it was declared a nation. We see this chapter revealed in prophecy: Zec. 12.2,3:“Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. 3 And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.”

18.18-19 shows God’s promise to bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham (as He did in Messiah) and V19 shows why God showed He “may” do it, 2 reasons: 1) He will command or teach his family well and 2) He will be faithful to keep the way of the Lord. Abraham often tried to do things his own way but it seems he was gradually learning from his mistakes. Saturday we wanted to take our son out for a walk on a beautiful winter day but we couldn’t explain it to him (1 yr 4 months). He stubbornly just wanted to stay upstairs and goof around. He wanted to do things his way and it was hard to lead him to a better place.

18.20 talks about Sodom and Gomorrah. These were two of “five Cities of the plain.” At the south end of the Dead Sea is Jebel Usdum "Mount Sodom," a mountain about 3 miles wide, six miles long and 1,000 ft high, consisting of mainly table salt, like Gen 19.26 (border between Palestine and Transjordan). Some interesting photos are at this blog. other info at this site. Why did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? The “cry of sin” was heard by God, that their “sin is very grievous.” What were their sins? …basically it was an incredible violent city of homosexuals. Both violence and homosexuality are abominations to God. When Cain killed innocent Able God asked Cain “What have you done? the voice of thy brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Gen 4.10) Innocent blood cries out to God. Abortion is an example of taking innocent life. Homosexuality is also an abomination. Homosexuals will not enter the kingdom of God (I Cor 6.9). In parts of the world, such as Sweden and Canada, it is illegal to teach that homosexuality is a sin. People have been legally convicted for “hate crimes” for speaking their opinions. What is it like to be attacked by a mob of gays? Some Christians who were simply out strolling and singing some songs in November 2008 in San Francisco were given a taste of this and an unexpected detour, as shown in this video clip:

The root causes of Sodom’s problems are shown in Ezek 16.49: “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” Pride, prosperity, apathy and neglect all led towards an increasingly decadent attitude and lifestyle.

18.23 Abraham then asks God “Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked?” probably thinking of his nephew Lot. God basically says no after a long interchange and rescues Lot and his family before there is destruction. Lot who sought the prosperity of Sodom lost all his possessions. He is a picture of a believer who is saved but will have no eternal rewards. Abraham, on the other hand, put God first. Remember how he Pitched his
His priorities were revealed in Chapter 13 where it showed he pitched his tents but built his altars. (V18)

Ch 21 – Isaac is finally born! There are five ways in which Isaac was similar to Jesus:

1. Like Jesus (Isaiah 7.14, Mat. 1), Isaac was miraculously conceived. Sarah, Isaac’s mother, was 90 years old when she bore Isaac and had been barren all her life; Abraham was 100 years old (Genesis 17:17).
2. Like Jesus, Isaac was his father’s beloved son (Genesis 22:2).
3. Like Jesus who carried the cross, Isaac carried the wood for his own sacrifice (Genesis 22:6).
4. Like Jesus spending three days in the tomb before the resurrection, the journey to Moriah took three days. (Genesis 22:4).
5. And like Jesus, Isaac was meek and submissive to his fathers will. Isaac did not resist when his father finally began to bind him as a sacrifice. (More on this theme at this link)

22.8 Abraham said “My son, God will provide Himself a lamb...” and this is true Jesus, God in the flesh, provided himself as the Lamb of God. Mt. Moriah - Jews believe this is the Temple Mount, Christians believe this is Mount Calvary.
22.12 Abraham passes the test and offers his son - and then a ram is seen in the bushes for the sacrifice.
22.14 He names place “Jehovah Jireh” = God will provide. He then prophesies “In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.” What shall be seen? …The offering of Messiah, the ultimate sacrifice.
22.16 – not withholding his only son – he offered his best – do we?

Psalm 5.11,12 Verses show joy for the journey: “But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; Let those also who love Your name Be joyful in You. For You, O LORD, will bless the righteous; With favor You will surround him as with a shield.” When we trust in the Lord, we have reason to rejoice. We are weak and feeble but He is strong and able. We’re not joyful in a philosophy or religion but “in God.” God revealed this to Abraham, that God Himself is our “Exceeding great reward!” And like Abraham, God will bless us New Testament believers as well! Jesus gave eight characters of blessed people in Matthew 5.

Proverbs 3.5-8 Some wisdom for the journey: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, And strength to your bones.”
If we want the Lord to direct us on our faith journey, here’s some advice: Put all of our trust in the Lord and have some patience so he can guide you. Sarah lost patience and used “her own understanding” in offering Hagar to Abraham, and there hasn’t been peace in the Middle East since then! Give God time to work and guide.

Matthew 6.21 - “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” It has been said “Home is where the heart is…” Where is your heart today? This is revealed by your priorities in life. Vs. 19-20 show what we can focus on temporal things or eternal things. According to Jesus, eternal things are of more importance.

Mat 6.25-34 – Jesus beautifully showed how God is in control of everything, even all of nature. There is an emphasis not to worry, we can trust God for all our needs. This is valuable during our economic crisis…“Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.” …6.26: “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” Socrates once said “Worthless people live only to eat and drink; people of worth eat and drink only to live.” – a bit harsh and condescending, yes, but a good question: “Do we live to eat or eat to live?”

There is an emphasis in these scripture verses that we are to have a mindset as spiritual pilgrims in this life.

Mat 6.33 If life is not mainly about food and fashion…what are we to mainly seek then on our life journey? Seek first His kingdom and righteousness…That’s what Abraham did.
a) Hebrews 11.10 says “He looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” We tend to see things backwards, that the physical world is where reality is. But the Bible helps us understand the spiritual world is a higher reality than the physical. Our man-made cities are temporary, God’s kingdom is lasting, it has real foundations.
b) Abraham also sought and received God’s righteousness by faith. Gal. 3.6 - “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

Mat 7.13 - The “path of truth and life” - "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.” – Many don’t even believe that truth exists; their hearts and minds are closed. Unless there is a change of heart they will never even seek truth, let alone find it.

Mat 7.15 – A tree is known by its fruit“Beware of false prophets…” How do you know false prophets? Look at what they say and do…People can say “I have a message from God!..” but if there teachings are full of hatred, you have to wonder…”Is this really from God?”

Mat 7.24 - Building a house – People use metaphors to define life "Life is like a box of chocolates.." And the Bible does the same thing – "life is like a spiritual journey,” “life is building a house,” “life is a beach” ...just kidding…that's only for Crimea! Anyhow, Jesus uses a house example to show what is lasting and real in life. Some people spend their whole lives without ever really understanding or seeking the purpose of life. If a person doesn’t have a sense of meaning and purpose, when difficult times come they will be devastated, they won’t endure the trials. This is important during our trying times. The foundation for a meaningful life is based on knowing Jesus Christ (I Cor 3.11). A stable life and a stable house is based on knowing and doing God’s word.

Mat. 11.29 – the “Prince of Peace” – a name from prophecy Isaiah 9.6 – Here fulfilled: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus offers true peace, not a temporary cease fire in the battle of life.

The false peace……They’ve tried everything in the Middle East… The “Roadmap to Peace” has led nowhere! Nothing works…but is this all preparing the way for Daniel 9.27? This shows the 7 year peace treaty the suave Anti-Christ will propose and initiate. But after 3 ½ year he will break the treaty himself, being, in reality, filled with hatred, especially for God’s chosen people. During this time of “the Great Tribulation,” many new converts will be martyred. Some verses hint Antichrist may be Jewish (Dan 11.37), others hint that he may be Syrian (Isaiah 14:24-25)

The real deal…true and lasting peace is possible only through the transformation of people’s hearts. Film “Forbidden Peace” shows real life examples of this today, where Jews and Arabs once filled with hatred for each other, have become closer than those in their own family relationships.

The Bible speaks of a time when there will be universal peace between Jews and Arabs:

"In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria... Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed is Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance." (Isaiah 19:23-25)

This won’t be by a peace treaty but by transformed lives. Isaiah 11 and Revelation 20 describe a time when Christ will reign on earth and there will be universal peace and harmony with all creation. In the mean time real peace is definitely possible between Jews and Arabs. The film "Forbidden Peace" gives some great examples of Arabs and Jews who at one time wanted to kill their notorious enemies but then something happened and now they are closer than blood relatives. There is a preview at this link. We have English/Russian version in our Simferopol library.


Abraham was called leave his family and homeland but really he was just beginning on his journey to find his true homeland. The city Lot lived for, Sodom, was consumed in a few moments but the city Abraham lived for is an eternal city, a city that has real foundations. (Heb 11.10) He realized it was not the physical land of Israel he was really seeking but the heavenly Jerusalem, his eternal home.

Deep down inside, we’re all looking for the road home. We want to find our true homeland. Deep down inside, we realize this life doesn’t really satisfy our deepest needs. We hear a new song and it may become our favorite song but after a while it loses its freshness. So many things are like this. But we have a yearning for more.

CS. Lewis once said “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” - Mere Christianity. That other world we are searching for is the eternal city Abraham sought. It’s the eternal kingdom Jesus taught about. Many are searching for the road home but they’re on the wrong path. Jesus showed that truth is very unique and the way of truth is a narrow path and few find it (Mat.7.13). Maybe you don’t know God, today would be a good day to take the first step on the path of eternal life. Simply receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.

We are all on a life journey – The question is which path are you on? Are you on the narrow path of truth and life? - or the wide path of error and destruction? (Mat 7.13)

“Home is where the heart is…” where is your heart today? Jesus said “Where your treasure is there you’re your heart be also.” (Mat 6.21) Is God your treasure and “exceeding great reward?” Is your life centered on the truth of Jesus Christ? Abraham made a lot of detours and mistakes but his heart was to follow God. Abraham pitched his tents but built his altars (13.18). Sometimes our lives get too busy and too cluttered to stay in close relationship with the Lord…If you don’t know Him, receive Him, If you know Him and are far from Him, rededicate yourself to Him today.

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