Discussing Torah matters because the Torah matters

Japheth in the Tents of Shem

Noah said to his sons:
   “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem;
     and let Canaan be his servant.
     May God enlarge Japheth,
     and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
     and let Canaan be his servant.” (Genesis 9:26-27)

Noah’s three sons would disperse and come to populate different areas of the world. 

Shem would become the father of the Jewish people. This is why the Jews are Semitic. It’s a way of saying they are Shemitic, descendants of Noah’s oldest son Shem. 

Shem’s younger brother Japheth would move into the area of Europe. The area of Europe goes on play an important role in the world as it will become the breeding ground of Christianity. The Japhethites are those European Gentiles who will take the Good News of Jesus Christ to the four corners of the earth. 

Here’s what’s amazing. 4500 years ago, Noah prophesied that Japheth would dwell in the tents of Shem. My writing about this is itself a fulfillment of that prophecy. You see, I am a descendant of Japheth. And here I am studying a Jewish book, worshipping a Jewish Messiah, grafted into the people of Israel. No I am not dwelling in the tents of Shem physically, but spiritually I certainly am! This extends to any Gentile Christian as well. Together we are dwelling in the tents of Shem!

The New Testament tells of a Shemite who traveled into the territory of Japheth and went to preaching. His name was Paul, and he was a tentmaker by trade.

It is poetic that Paul was a tentmaker, because it rhymes with Noah’s ancient prophecy. The descendants of Japheth heard the Good News from this Shemite and responded in droves. They entered into the promises and the covenants and the heritage of the Jewish people. Spiritually, they came to dwell in Shem’s tent, spurred on by this Shemitic tentmaker. 

Here is something noteworthy. Noah said, “May God enlarge Japheth.” The word “enlarge” is the Hebrew word pathah (פתה). The word is not used again until we get to Exodus 22:16, but there it is translated differently. The verse reads:

“If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife.” (Exodus 22:16 NJKV)

Pathah is translated as “entices” in Exodus 22:16. Although it seems odd, think about these verses in light of our discussion. It’s almost like Noah says, “May God entice Japheth.” And what do you know––when Paul goes to Asia Minor to tell the descendants of Japheth about God, they are enticed by his message. They are drawn in. They want to learn more about God, His Son, and His Salvation. The Torah’s rule is thus applicable: if and when a relationship becomes intimate, there must be a purchase-price for the bride. Meaning: the descendants of Japheth (some of the earliest progenitors of Christianity) must be bought by God if He will entice them to be His Bride. And again, what do you know––Paul the Shemitic tentmaker tells his Gentile listeners, “...You are not your own! You were bought with a price! Therefore glorify God...” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

“May God pathah Japheth...” said Noah. “And let him dwell in the tents of Shem...”

Genesis 18 & 19: A Look at Hospitality

In Genesis 18, God appears to Abraham in the heat of the day. Abraham looks up and sees three men approaching him. Now these three men are not ordinary men, although they appear to be. In fact, they are angels sent by God. Hebrews 13:2 comments and says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it!” Here Abraham models perfect hospitality. He gets up from his seat and runs to greet these strangers. He bows himself toward the ground and says “My Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not go past your servant . . . Let a little water be fetched and wash your feet, and rest . . . I will fetch a morsel of bread to your comfort your hearts...” The angels accept, and Abraham hurries into his tent to have a meal prepared for his guests. He prepares much more than a morsel of bread. He offers them fresh meat tender and good dressed with butter and milk, along with three measures of fine flour (one measure for each visitor) baked into hot cakes. Note: Abraham’s offer is humble, but his delivery is great. His words are small, but his actions are large. The three angels are impressed as they sit and enjoy a delicious meal at Abraham’s table. In years prior, they had watched from a distance God make a covenant with this man, but now they get the opportunity to meet him up close and personally. They admire Abraham’s wisdom when he addresses them in the singular, “my Lord.” You see, Abraham recognizes them for who they are: representatives of the one true God. He is a man with spiritual eyesight, who sees beyond the physical reality. Before him are three men physically, but spiritually they are united. They come as one, on behalf of One. Abraham’s usage of the singular––“my Lord”––shows that Abraham recognizes more than meets the eye. 

Zooming out, we come to learn what hospitality is from this chapter. Our father Abraham sets the bar very high for his children. We derive 5 principles of hospitality based on his behavior. As Rabbi Telushkin explains:

Genesis 18 is important to keep in mind as we turn the page and start reading chapter 19. In chapter 19, we will see a similar set up affording the same opportunities for hospitality. Instead of Abraham, though, Lot will be placed in the position of host. Lot is a believer; he is a “saved” person. But is his hospitality on par with Abraham’s? Well, let’s see what we find. 

Chapter 19 begins as TWO angels approach the city of Sodom at dusk. Wait––just a moment ago, Genesis 18 said there were three angels. But now in Genesis 19, there are only two of them. What happened to the third angel? Well, we must understand something about angels. Angels sent by God are called to carry out a specific mission. Once they accomplish their task, they return to God for further instruction. Demons, on the other hand, like to play around. They like to poke and prod at situations just to see what havoc they can cause. Angels sent by God are not that way. Angels come into the world with an intended purpose in mind; they execute the mission in full obedience to God’s will. In the context of this story, one angel is meant to tell Abraham that he would soon have a child with Sarah. This angel accomplishes his mission in Genesis 18 and then exits the story. Genesis 19 picks up and only two angels remain. Their mission: to save Lot and destroy Sodom. Also, there are two of them because two witnesses are needed to establish any legal matter (Deuteronomy 19:15)––especially in cases of life and death. These two angels act as the two witnesses who will condemn Sodom to the death penalty. 

As the two of them approach the city, they are spotted by Abraham’s nephew, Lot, who is sitting at the gate of Sodom. Immediately there are several items to note. 

By this time, Lot has lived in Sodom for at least 15 years. 
Lot first pitched his tents toward Sodom when Abraham was not yet 85 years old. When the angels meet Lot at the city gates, Abraham is now 99 years old. So based on how much Abraham has aged, we know for sure that Lot has been involved with Sodom for at least 15 years. (You can follow this timeline for yourself via Genesis 13:10-13, 15:1, 16:16, 17:24-25.) 

Lot is likely an elder of the city. 
The city’s elders would sit at the entrance of the city, at the city’s gate. (Reference Deuteronomy 25:7, Joshua 20:4, Proverbs 31:23.) Lot has come a long way since pitching his tent toward Sodom 15 years ago! Now he occupies a dignified position in the city. I would suggest that the great war against Mesopotamia is what boosted Lot’s reputation. Two reasons: 1) Many Sodomites went to war and died in battle, so the power fell upon fewer men afterward. 2) It was Lot’s uncle who saved the city! So by virtue of his relationship to Abraham the war hero, Lot became more esteemed in the community. 

So here’s Lot sitting at the city gate when he sees these two men (angels) approaching Sodom. If we measure Lot’s greeting in light of Abraham’s greeting, we’ll notice it says nothing about Lot running to greet them (as did Abraham). Instead, Lot waits until the angels come to him. He is a city elder, after all. That is a respected position. So these visitors––they can come to him

They finally get within speaking distance. Lot, the city elder, bows himself with his face toward the ground (Genesis 19:1). Whereas Abraham bowed himself toward the ground, Lot simply bows himself with his face toward the ground. It’s interesting to compare the two. The language implies Abraham prostrated his body to the ground, and Lot politely nodded. 

Lot begins by saying, “My lords...” Plural! Recall, Abraham addressed them in the singular because he recognized their unity. Lot, on the other hand, puts more stock in the physical than he does the spiritual. To Lot, the physical is primary and the spiritual is secondary. He addresses the visitors in the plural because their physical separation is more real to him than the oneness they represent. He is physically minded. But this is typical of Lot. Take for example the time Lot decided to move toward Sodom in the Jordan Valley: 

“Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east . . . Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:10-13 ESV). 

Like I said, Lot beholds the physical reality more than he does the spiritual reality. He moves his family to Sodom because (physically) it is like the Garden of Eden! It is like the land of Egypt! I mean yeah, sure, the wickedness is great and the people are corrupt, but just look at that view! It’s gorgeous! Let’s go!

Lot says, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant's house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” Lot presses them strongly, urging them to come to his house. The angels accept the offer and go to his house. Genesis 19:3 tells us, “And [Lot] made them a feast...” but what does it say he made for them? “...and he did bake unleavened bread.” 

...What? Where’s any mention of fresh meat tender and good dressed with butter and milk? Or what about the fine flour baked into hot cakes? Is there any mention of this? No. There is no mention of this whatsoever. The only detail we’re given is that he made them some unleavened bread. Compared to the description of Abraham’s meal, Lot’s meal seems to be less than grandiose. Lot’s meal seems to be closer to a morsel of bread than does Abraham’s. Note, though, the Torah is gracious. God (who is telling this story to Moses) does not call attention to Lot’s service...or lack thereof. But I think we can read between the lines and make a comparison between Abraham’s meal and Lot’s meal. The details are telling. We see that Abraham’s words were small but his delivery was great. The description of Lot’s meal is big (“a feast!”), but his delivery seems to be lacking. (...unleavened bread? Oh...thanks, Lot.)

Now Lot certainly deserves some credit. He does show hospitality to his dinner guests. It may not be on par with Abraham’s, but at least Lot does invite them into his house and offer them something to eat. He later stands up for them and tries to protect them from the men of Sodom. To his credit, Lot shows a degree of hospitality. But this brings us to thinking about two kinds of believers. How hospitable are we when it comes to inviting God into our lives?

Some believers are of Abraham’s stature: they see the spiritual world as primary and the physical world as secondary. They see God in the people they encounter. Their words are humble but their deeds are great. They run to the Lord. They worship Him with their whole being (“worship” and “bow” are the same word in Hebrew: shachah). 

Meanwhile, other believers are of Lot’s stature: there is a degree of pride involved. To them, the physical world is primary and the spiritual world is an afterthought. They make themselves available to the Lord if He will just come to them. He is invited in, yes, but only for a time they so designate––like Lot says, “In the morning you can go on your way.” In other words, “I will be your host, Lord, but only from here to here. After that, you need to go. You need to be on your way.” This kind of believer may shachah God with their head, but not with their whole being. Everything is limited. 

I suppose the question is: Are you Lot or are you Abraham? Which kind of believer are you? How hospitable are you to God? How hospitable are you to your neighbor? If I may speak personally, so often I am Lot. My hospitality is limited, not just to others but to God as well. Thankfully, God is gracious! He does not call attention to my shortcomings. But He does give me chapters like Genesis 18 & 19 to think on it, pray on it, and try to do better in the future. Now that I think about it, this is His invitation to me––to join Him in His house. 

The Animal Parade

It was man’s first day on earth, and God wasted no time at all. Summoning the animals, God instructed Adam to name what he encountered. What ensued would go on to become one of the greatest scenes in all human history: God sitting alongside man, smiling––an afternoon lesson, a planet’s worth of animals, and not a distraction in the world. Can you imagine? And to think, God spoke His words into animals, but here He invites man to speak the animals back into words. It’s an amazing exchange when you think about it.

It is even more amazing is when you consider that this exchange is an exercise that reoccurs between God and man every single day. In your case, it goes as follows: From the moment you wake up to the minute you fall asleep, God parades before you a wild variety of figures, shapes, circumstances, opinions and ideas. He invites you to name whatever you see, and He gives you full liberty in the naming department. You wake up in the morning and choose to name what you see “a day the Lord has made.” Or, maybe you choose to name it “another God forsaken Monday morning.” You next come upon something you identify as “my quiet time with the Lord.” Or, maybe you identify this as “my time to catch up on the headlines.” Later, you choose to name a certain something “miraculous.” Then again, maybe you name it “mere coincidence.” For this person, you name “a child of the King,” or, maybe you name him “a democrat” or “a republican.” The parade continues. Maybe others like to name this next one “Christian hypocrisy,” but you name it “the way God challenges me to love.” Note that whatever name you choose, that is its name (Genesis 2:19). And the process goes on, day after day: one encounter passes by and the next encounter rises up. On and on, again and again, you name and God listens.

The depth of this exercise is more than meets the eye. It is intended to be an introduction to the life that is hidden within you. Just look at Adam. Adam is told that it is not good that man is alone. What happens next? Is Eve revealed right away? No! Instead the whole animal parade happens next. And then, finally, a deep sleep comes over him and he awakes to that which was hidden within him. In like manner, it goes that once the parade is over and you have completed the exercise, a deep sleep will come over you. Upon waking from it, what used to be concealed within will then be revealed in full

God (again alongside man) tells him, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Jesus speaking, Luke 6:45). 

After emerging from the deep sleep, you will awaken to the truths of your own heart. Some may awaken to an ugly reality, but to the degree you invite God into your heart, to the degree your reality aligns with the reality of His Word, to that degree you will awaken to the most beautiful masterpiece you will ever see: the kingdom of Heaven itself, that which was hidden within you. 

“...the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21 KJV)

The Torah's Tebahs

In Hebrew, the word “ark” is the word tebah (תבה) (pronounced tay-baw). There are two tebahs in the Torah. Can you guess what both of them are?

If you said Noah’s ark, yes, Noah’s ark is one such tebah. Can you guess what the other one is?

If you said the ark of the covenant, no, actually the ark of the covenant is not called a tebah. The word “ark” in this context is a different Hebrew word, the word aron. So the question remains, where is the Torah’s other tebah

Yes! The ark that Jochebed constructed for her baby Moses, the one she placed him in before she floated him down the Nile River. Like Noah’s ark, Jochebed’s ark is also called a tebah! 

These are the only two stories in which the word tebah is used. Having this in common, God is calling our attention to a connection He is making. So let’s put these stories side by side and see what we can learn. To get started, here is the story of Jochebed’s ark as told in Exodus 2. (Note: we learn later in Exodus 6:20 that her name is Jochebed.)

Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a [tebah] made of papyrus reeds and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the [tebah] among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:1-10 ESV)

Assuming you already know the story of Noah’s ark, let’s jump in and compare the two narratives. Keep in mind, we’re looking for not just the similarities but also the opposites. We do this according to the principle of the menorah, God’s pattern for giving light. The corresponding branches of a menorah are both the same and the opposite (as explained in detail here). It’s by bringing the two together that balance is made and a full amount of light is experienced. 

Again, the word tebah is used only in these two stories. This is no accident; obviously God is up to something. He orchestrated events in such a way that the stories would align to form this menorah pattern. But what is the central truth? What larger picture is this menorah illuminating?

The central truth is one of salvation, and the larger picture is the story of your life and mine, as we come to grasp that salvation. If you think about it, our Christian life unfolds in two sort of stages. Each tebah represents Christ working in our life during each particular stage. When brought together, the two arks help us see what it means to live in Christ. Permit me to elaborate. 

When you first come to God, you come to Him in a desperate state. You’re tired of the sinful world you live in, and you’re willing to do anything it takes to be saved from the destruction and judgement you see coming.  

Noah’s ark is the first part of your Christian journey. The tebah is Christ. In Christ, you escape the just judgment of God. Maybe in the interest of self-preservation, you leave behind the corruption of the flesh. You ask: what must I do to be saved? And then you respond to the direction you are given. And when things start happening, it is an internal experience––seen from the inside. You feel elevated in spirit. From a low, you are brought high. You know that everything––your whole life––has been saved. And God extends to you righteousness on account of your faith, as you find grace in the eyes of the Lord. Suffice to say, this describes your initial conversion. Hopefully you see how it parallels that which we noted about the story of Noah’s ark. It is a picture of when you finally get onboard and experience the Lord’s all-encompassing salvation. 

But there’s another facet of your Christian journey that comes afterward. This part is pictured by the story of Jochebed’s ark. Again, the tebah is Christ, He who carries me from here to there. But this time around, you don’t place your whole life in the ark. Instead, you give the ark a certain piece of your life that is very near and dear to your heart. With complete surrender to God, you let it go. You yield it to God. You see, this ark is less about righteousness and more about holiness. An example will help to clarify what I mean.  

Take an example from my life, a conviction of mine. I’ve been a Christian for a number of years now. I am a “saved” person. God has seen me through the “Noah’s ark” experience, so to speak. But Jochebed’s ark is a reoccurring event in my life. I am thinking of a certain aspect that doesn’t live up to the holiness that God has called me to. In this area, I cling to selfishness. It is His request for a few minutes of prayer time first thing in the morning. He wants me to surrender to Him the first fruits of my day. He wants me to put that time into the tebah, then wait and watch what He can do with it. He asks for only a few minutes of my morning; this is a small thing, I know. But it’s funny. If you saw the stubbornness with which I respond, you would think I was giving up a baby!

“But God!” I protest. “Those moments of the day are the only moments I get to myself! You know I have a full time job and a wife and a two year old! You know that that time in the early morning is very near and dear to me! That is MY time! And with MY time, I want to check the headlines and peruse Facebook. So what!” And then, from somewhere in my spirit, He politely whispers, “I wish you would trust Me. You should see what I can do with that small amount of time. A change so great it will be seen by others from the outside.” Yet so often, I ignore the kind whisper and turn the other way. Having checked the headlines and perused Facebook, I drive to work at the start of another day. Along the way, I can’t help but picture an empty tebah floating down the Nile to a place of royalty. I imagine the Royal eagerly peering inside, but again finding nothing precious there. It’s just another empty tebah, and another lost opportunity at holiness and blessing. No doubt, I need to take a lesson from Jochebed. 

Jochebed placed in the tebah one small thing: her baby Moses. Of course doing this was by no means easy! It was likely the hardest thing she ever had to do! Nevertheless, she trusted God; she let go of something that was very valuable to her. She realized that by clinging to him, she would lose him––lose him to the enemy, pharaoh. So she gave him up . . . and guess what happened? She got him back! And not only did she get him back, she started getting paid for him! There was added, unforeseen blessing involved. However! It is important to note that the baby wasn’t hers anymore. Because again, she had given him away. But you know what? I don’t think it mattered to her, because she saw that God was accomplishing something great with what she had given away. And she was getting everything she ever wanted in the meantime. 

There are times when we, too, must surrender what is ours. We do this as we pursue the holiness that God has called us to. Holiness is about being a people set apart from the world. To be set apart, we must separate ourselves from certain things we may cling to, things which may be very near and dear to our heart. But if God asks for it, He asks for it, and we need to be ready to put it in the tebah and let it go. Although it may not be easy, at least we have Jochebed’s story from which to draw inspiration. In light of her story, holiness is not about living a life of withouts. The holy life God wants for us is a rich and full life, a life with great unforeseen blessing, a life in which we get everything we ever wanted, in a way we didn’t expect. This is what Jochebed experienced; it can be our experience as well. It comes only by way of surrender, though.  

Thankfully God is gracious. He doesn’t ask us to give up everything all at once. Instead, He asks for one small thing at a time. He says to us, “I saved you with a big ark, so trust Me with this little ark. Put it in the tebah and see what happens. You will be grateful that you did.

The Ark Lands on Ararat

Mount Ararat as pictured from space

When Noah’s ark settles on Mount Ararat, there is an awesome picture we should have in our minds––even more awesome than the picture above. But the picture I am speaking of is illustrated only in the Hebrew. So quickly, let’s run through three Hebrew words and then one Hebrew letter.

When cursing the serpent, God makes this prophecy: “[The seed of the woman] will bruise your head...” (Genesis 3:15). The word for “bruise” in this passage is the Hebrew word shuwph, which can mean bruise, crush, or to fall upon.

Holding onto this thought, let’s reach for another Hebrew word, the word “curse.” In Hebrew, the word “curse” is the word arar, spelled ארר. This word is used by God when He curses the serpent, saying, “Cursed are you...”

Onto the next word, beginning with this question: Isn’t it fascinating that the Torah reports exactly what mountain the ark landed on? A general area would have sufficed, but the Torah instead tells us specifically where the ark came to rest. And that is significant in more ways than one. It tells us the ark landed on Mount Ararat. In Hebrew, the word Ararat is spelled אררט.

Notice, the first three letters of Ararat (ארר) are the same three letters that spell arar, curse” (ארר). By simply adding the letter tet (ט) at the end of the word, we come to spell Ararat, as in Mount Ararat. What are we to make of this?

To answer that question, we must know that each Hebrew letter symbolizes something. For instance, the letter aleph represents an ox. The letter beit represents a house. The letter dalet represents a door. We could go through the whole Hebrew alphabet this way, because again, every letter is a picture. So what, then, does the letter tet represent? The letter tet represents a snake! (ReferenceYou can see the letter even resembles a snake with its curled tail on the right and its head lifted up on the left:

Now that we have run through three Hebrew words and the letter tet, we are ready to look at the picture. But first, let’s frame it...

The enemy had to have been proud of himself, because humanity––God’s crown of creation––had become corrupt beyond recognition. The corruption of all fresh had gone so far that God saw fit to wipe the whole earth clean with a global flood. But before He pulled the trigger, God also did a subtle something that the enemy wasn’t expecting. He instructed a man named Noah to start building an ark. Noah, a man righteous in his generation, obediently responded to God, and his construction of the ark began. So while the enemy busied himself with the kingdoms of the world (thinking that’s where he would have the most impact in his destruction), somewhere outside of town, maybe off the enemy’s radar, there was a man hammering down one nail at a time. And even if the enemy was aware of the project, I imagine he was so drunk on his own success and so possessed by his own ambition that he underestimated the importance of one layman’s contribution to the world. If the enemy had cared enough about it, I imagine he would have called the kings of the earth to ride up on the construction site and burn the boat to the ground. But as it happened, the ark was completed, the project was finished, and God’s plan was set into motion. 

Into this ark, God gathered all the living creatures of the Garden of Eden, Noah and his family included. This ark became a kind of reincarnated Garden of Eden, in that it brought together all the life that once dwelled in the Garden. As I see it, the ark was like a capsule of Eden, the Garden in pill form so to speak. God the doctor prescribed just one dosage; God the pharmacist ensured the right cut of ingredients; God the insurer made sure it was covered by premium grace. And so the ark––this Garden of Eden––lifted from the ground and floated atop the floodwaters. No matter how deep the floodwaters rose, the ark would abound all the more (Romans 5:20). Meanwhile, the enemy looked on with helplessness. The dominion for which he had labored for so long was gone now, destroyed by this baptism of floodwater. Without the kings of the earth, without the nephilim he had produced, he had neither hands nor feet with which to carry out his desires. Suddenly he found himself to be a snake again––a lowly lonesome creature without any legs or arms with which elevate himself. For the first time in a long time, the snake thought back to God’s declaration that the woman’s seed would shuwph its head.  

And sure enough, what happened next? The ark landed on Mount Ararat. Get the picture?

God’s salvation fell upon the head of the cursed serpent. The weight of the ark drove itself deep into wet mud of Ararat, bruising heavily its cold and slimy surface.

Even more, I like to think that the sharpest bruise done to Ararat was caused by the heel of Shem’s wife as she stepped off the ark and into the new world. For it was she who would carry forth the Messianic seed which would one day crush the serpent’s head for good.

“That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

Comparing Creation and Re-Creation

All of history pivots in Genesis 7 & 8. The flood is not simply the end of what was before. It is also the beginning of something very new. Such a pivot may be seen illustrated by a simple number exercise, a study in symmetry.

We see a chiastic structure of 7-40-150::150-40-7. It’s a menorah pattern! It balances the advance of the waters and their retreat, the destruction and the revival, the punishment and the recovery. The central stalk is God’s pass over, where He remembers Noah and the ark and saves them from the surrounding floodwaters.

As the floodwaters subside to reveal mountaintops, please understand that this is not a return to the old world. No! It is the revealing of a new creation! We’re beginning again. Think of the ark as a re-imagined Garden of Eden. The ark encapsulates man and all the living creatures which once dwelled with man in the Garden. The ark brings the ol’ gang back together again. It’s like a family reunion. When Noah and his family emerge from the ark, they are like the four rivers that emerge from Eden to water the earth. They are the four couples who spread out to populate the world. At the moment they step off the ark, history begins again. We’re witnessing the second beginning of human history in a new creation. And if we take the time to see it, what we’ll discover is that the second beginning is a reflection of the first beginning. By that I mean we will see the same elements in both accounts. Let’s unpack the parallels, those between the story of creation and the story of re-creation.

In Genesis 1, the Spirit of God is upon the water. In Genesis 8, God causes a spirit to pass over the earth which has returned to water. (By the way, “spirit” and “wind” are the same word in Hebrew: ruach). Next in Genesis 8, the waters above and below are stopped, a clear parallel to the division of waters on Day 2. Day 3 of creation tells of the exposure of dry land and the creation of plants, represented in Genesis 8 by the exposure of dry land and the olive branch. Day 4 is characterized by the luminaries which mark signs and seasons, seen again in Genesis 8:22 as God pronounces day and night, heat and cold, summer and winter. Day 5 gives us the birds of the air, and of course we have Noah releasing various birds into the air. And as Noah steps off the ark and surveys a new world, I can’t help but be reminded of Day 6, man’s first day on earth with the animals. I picture Noah standing at the foot of the ramp leading down from the ark, and the animals passing by him one by one as they make their exit. This is the second sort of animal parade in history. In the first one, man had named the animals. In the second one, man had saved them.

Standing on a new earth under a warm sun, Noah hears the voice of God. God instructs Noah in a manner that is parallel, if not identical, to the way He instructed Adam earlier in Genesis. Again we hear the command to be fruitful and multiply. Again we are told that man is made in God’s image. Then, just as Adam was given instructions pertaining to food, so too Noah is given instructions pertaining to food. 

As Genesis 8 closes, Noah, fresh off the boat, builds an altar and brings an offering to the Lord. We can’t read over this because it is among the most beautiful moments in Scripture. For a whole year Noah has had to devote all his energy to saving the animals, and yet now, immediately after their deliverance, he brings them as an offering! And as he builds the altar, we have to imagine him stacking stones smoothed and shaped by the floodwaters. Offering every pure animal on this altar, let us note that this offering is of significance for world history. As Rabbi Hirsch explains, “It is evident from many passages in Scripture that an altar of stone is a manmade structure through which the earth, as it were, ascends Heavenward. We are commanded to build the altar. It must not stand upon arches or pillars. It must be in direct contact with the ground, a continuum, as it were, of the earth. For the altar symbolizes the elevation of the earth to God through the actions of man. The constructed altar symbolizes man elevating himself above nature and exalting himself through creativity to the level of free man, so as to ascend from there to God. Thus, by building an altar to God on the earth newly restored to Him, Noah consecrated the whole world and made it a sanctuary. There, the deeds of man will join stone to stone, until the entire earth becomes God’s consecrated mountain.”

What a shift! From Genesis 6 where the whole earth was corrupt in God’s sight and filled with violence . . . to the end of Genesis 8, where the whole earth has been renewed and rededicated, made right and begun again. You can see why the flood is as much a prologue as it is a conclusion! And amazingly, the connections don’t stop here! The parallels continue into Genesis 9. Those parallels can be illustrated as follows:

Saving Sodom

Twice Abraham moves to save Sodom. 

In Genesis 14, the Mesopotamian army has plundered the city of Sodom and enslaved its people. We read, “The four kings [of Mesopotamia] seized all the goods of Sodom . . . and all their food; then they went away. They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom. A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew” (Genesis 14:11-13). Upon hearing this, Abraham moves to save Sodom in that he pursues the army, defeats the army, and returns with all of the people and possessions of Sodom (v. 16). He restores everything back to the King of Sodom, not even keeping a sandal strap for himself. Thus, the city of Sodom is saved, and Sodom lives on to see another day. 

In Genesis 18, the sins of Sodom have become so grievous that God “goes down to see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached [Him]” (v. 20-21). Abraham again steps forward to save Sodom. He approaches God, saying, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? . . . Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham bargains with God, asking Him to spare Sodom if just 50 righteous citizens can be found...then just 40...then just 30...then just 20...then, finally, just 10. God agrees to the terms, and Abraham returns home. At this point, it looks as if Abraham has done it again; it looks as if he has saved the city of Sodom once more. However, not even 10 good people are found in the entire city! Consequently, the people and possessions of Sodom are destroyed by fire and brimstone. This time, the city of Sodom is not saved. Sodom does not live on to see another day.

Note this interesting parallel:

Abraham hears the outcry of a survivor, who reaches him and tells him how dire the situation is. In a surprise attack at night, Abraham strikes at the Mesopotamians who have enslaved the people of Sodom.

God hears the outcry of the sinfulness of Sodom, which reaches Him and tells Him how dire the situation is. In a surprise attack, God strikes at the sins which have enslaved the people of Sodom. 

In both cases, Abraham does whatever he can to save Sodom (as I mentioned before). How is it, though, that Abraham manages to save Sodom the first time but fails to do so the second time? 

I think there are some key differences: 
Abraham could rescue Sodom from the Mesopotamians. 
Abraham could NOT rescue Sodom from itself.

Abraham could rescue Sodom from the injustice of their demise. 
Abraham could not rescue Sodom from the justice of their demise.

Genesis 14: The First World War

We admire Abraham the man of faith, Abraham the father of a great nation, Abraham the first Hebrew, Abraham the friend of God. But what about Abraham the veteran? Because as Genesis 14 goes to show, Abraham deserves that title of honor as well. As far as the Bible is concerned, what’s chronicled in Genesis 14 is no less than the first World War, and we’ll see that Abraham emerges from the conflict as a war hero for the ages. In fact, I contend that Abraham is like Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan. Except, in this version, it is Saving Nephew Lot

Following the account in Genesis 14, we learn that the kings of Mesopotamia ruled over their southern contemporaries for a period of 12 years. Finally, in the 13th year, the Jordanian kings rebelled against their northern oppressors in that they stopped paying tribute (according to tradition). In response, the kings of Mesopotamia united to create a massive army representing the kingdom of Shinar, the kingdom of Ellasar, the kingdom of Elam, and the kingdom of “Goyim”––literally a kingdom of nations. Advancing southward, this Mesopotamian swarm of soldiers defeated and plundered city after city. They crushed the Rephaim people, the Zuzim people, the Emim people, and the Horites of the hill country. Somewhere around the Sinai Peninsula they turned back and started marching northward, drawing a loop with their conquest so as to put underfoot as much of the area as possible. The Amalekites and the Amorites next fell victim to the sword. In no uncertain terms, the kings of Mesopotamia were making their verdict clear: we rule and you submit––period. 

The five cities of the plain, however, decided to object. But each city knew that fighting alone would guarantee their own demise. So the cities banded together to form a coalition led by their five kings. As such, the Jordanians went out to meet the giant forces of Mesopotamia in one last-ditch all-or-nothing move. The great battle that ensued would come to be known as the Battle of Siddim, as they clashed in the Valley of Siddim near the Dead Sea (some even believe the valley is today under the Dead Sea!).

If I may note, in the context of this chapter, I call the Mesopotamians the axis powers. I do this for several reasons: 
  1. They initiate the war in the same way the axis powers in WWII initiated the war. Japan moved into China and oppressed the Chinese people; Germany moved into Poland and oppressed the Polish people. Here in Genesis 14, Mesopotamia has moved into the south, and they are oppressing the Jordanian people. As the oppressors, they force the conflict to happen.
  2. The king of Shinar is first to be mentioned in Mesopotamia’s line-up of belligerents. The land of Shinar is the land of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1). At the time of the war, the tower (finished or unfinished) likely remained Shinar’s world-renowned national landmark. So when we talk about the northern forces, we’re talking about the side of the Tower of Babel, a symbol of fascism and communism––where stones are replaced by bricks, where language and thought have no diversity, where the common goal is to elevate man and the state. 
These are several reasons why I call the Mesopotamians the axis powers. On the other hand, I like to call the Jordanians the allied powers. Although the Jordanians aren’t morally upright by any means, they are fighting against oppression just as the allied forces were doing in WWII. When Abraham eventually enters the picture, he operates to the benefit of the allied powers. Now this is no more than a light-hearted analogy, but it helps me relate to the story. Let’s continue...

The allied powers lined up against the axis powers in the Valley of Siddim. Now when you imagine this valley, picture a plain pocketed with pits of tar, a sort of minefield where one misstep meant almost certain death. Such was the terrain on which this great battle raged. As the fight wore on, the axis powers came to overwhelm the allied forces. The Jordanians scattered and retreated from the battlefield. Verse 10 reports that some of them fell into the tar pits, never to be heard from again. But having defeated the resistance, the Mesopotamian kings smiled at the thought of what would happen next. 

The Mesopotamians fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah, plundering the cities and enslaving the Jordanian men, women, and children. Like a plague of locusts, they consumed everything they encountered before moving on. The king of Sodom (having survived the battle) would have thought it safe to reenter the city after their departure. But when he did, he found the streets silent and the town center still. The king of Sodom realized he had become the king of nothing, as nothing at all was left of his city. 

This is how the story would have ended had God not spared a nameless man who escaped the battle and ran to Abraham (who was still Abram at the time). The survivor told Abraham everything that had happened. Genesis 14:14 reports, “When Abram heard that his brother had been taken captive, Abram led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit [of Lot’s captors].” Lot was Abraham’s nephew, and Lot lived in Sodom at the time. He was among those enslaved by the Mesopotamians. But interestingly, here in Genesis, Lot is called Abraham’s brother in the Hebrew (also later in verse 16, Lot is again called Abraham’s brother). Why is this? Well, the language may signal back to a blood covenant. Abraham and Lot, when parting ways, may well have made a blood covenant with each other. Such a covenant would make them blood brothers. And it would mean Abraham saw himself as Lot’s kinsman redeemer. Abraham would now risk everything to rescue his lost brother from the hands of the enemy. 

Accompanied by his allies Aner, Eschol, and Mamre (three Amorite brothers), and leading an assembly of 318 trained men, Abraham went in pursuit of the Mesopotamian army. When we think about Abraham’s 318 “instructed” men, we envision a special hand-selected team of fighters––Abraham’s runners-and-gunners, his shooters-and-looters, if you will. Certainly they would prove themselves to be capable warriors. But consider something else as well: they knew of Abraham’s close relationship with El Shaddai, so their trust in Abraham was proportionate to their trust in Abraham’s God. In a way, these 318 instructed men born in Abraham’s house represent the earliest church on record. Although it may sound bizarre at first, recall, back in chapter 12 we read that, “Abram went as the LORD had told him . . . Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions, and the souls they had made in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan” (Genesis 12:4-5). The phrase “and the souls they had made” is literally what the Torah says in Hebrew. You see, in Haran, Abraham was telling others about his God––the one true God. He was thus “making souls” in Haran. He was not reproducing physically (as we know), but he was reproducing spiritually. With this in mind, we fast forward a number of years and we come upon this congregation under Abraham’s guidance. I think these men were those souls Abraham made in Haran and elsewhere. Also note that later on, these same men, as members of Abraham’s household, will get circumcised, and they will enter into Abraham’s blood covenant with God (Genesis 17:13). For me, there is no doubt about it: these 318 men believe in Abraham’s God, and they trust in God’s disciple Abraham. This makes them a band of believers, a “church” so to speak. And what will this “church” do? They will engage the struggle; they will pursue and rescue the lost; they will be blessed; they will give back whatever they acquire. (This really is a church!) And they will faithfully carry out their mission even if it means 150 miles.

150 miles is how far they pursued the Mesopotamian army, because we read that they pursued as far as Dan. The area of Dan is to the north, at the border of modern day Syria. Having pursued them this far, verse 15 then tells us that “Abraham divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them (even farther!) to Hobah, north of Damascus.” Now, when we read this portion of the story, Abraham’s righthand man––Eliezer––should come to mind. Eliezer was Abraham’s #2, and guess what part of the world he came from? Damascus! (See Genesis 15:2.) So Eliezer knew this area; he was familiar with the territory. And when I imagine the scene of them planning the attack, Abraham, being a good leader, would have listened to his #2 man Eliezer. After all, Abraham was a man who recognized the strengths of those beneath him, and he was not afraid to rely on the advice of his servant. Thus working together, he and Eliezer devised a strategy to strike. 

Dividing his forces, Abraham led one detachment and I imagine Eliezer led the other. The two sides converged on the enemy in a coordinated surprise attack. We’re not given many details, so if I may take some liberty to color in between the lines. According to my thinking, they were striking the tail end of the Mesopotamian army, where the captives and bounty were kept. The stronghold of the army was probably miles up the road, spearheading the march back to Mesopotamia. But Abraham and Eliezar, having been in pursuit of the army, came from behind, carving out a hole from the back. We know that their attack came at night, so I assume they moved in stealth and took out one section of Mesopotamians at a time. Little by little, they worked their way forward until they finally came upon Lot and his family somewhere north of Damascus. In the process, Abraham’s men killed several Mesopotamian kings including the one named Chedorlaomer. How did they manage to do this? Well, the Hebrew word that describes their killing the kings is the same word used to describe Cain’s killing of Abel, or Moses’ killing of the Egyptian slave master. In both instances, it was a surprise attack: Abel didn’t see it coming, nor did the Egyptian slave master. I can only speculate that the kings of Mesopotamia succumbed to Abraham’s surprise attack.

We read what happen next: “Then Abraham brought back all the possessions, and also his brother Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people” (Genesis 14:15-16). This is where I like to say that Abraham is like Tom Hanks in the movie Saving Private Ryan. In that epic war drama, Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks) leads a squadron of soldiers through enemy territory in search for a private named James Francis Ryan (played by Matt Damon). Miller is duty bound to find Ryan, rescue him from danger, then bring him back home. To carry this out successfully, Miller and his men must fight to maintain their own safety, as they are caught in the middle of WWII. It’s an amazing tale of courage and bravery, a story like the one we have here in Genesis 14! Abraham, like Tom Hanks’ character, leads a band of trained men through an area controlled by the enemy in search for a lost brother, his nephew Lot. Abraham is duty bound to find him, rescue him, and bring him back home to safety. But he and his men must navigate an immense war, doing whatever necessary to accomplish their mission. Just as Captain Miller struggles with the thought of risking 10 mens’ lives in order to save one man, so too Abraham probably struggled with the thought of risking 318 mens’ lives in his trying to save Lot. Just as Captain Miller is not a bloodthirsty war hawk, neither is Abraham! Miller just wants to return home where he can continue being a school teacher. Abraham just wants to return home where he can continue being a shepherd. Its like Captain Miller says in the movie, “I just know that every man I kill the farther away from home I feel.” I can also hear Abraham saying this to his men somewhere on the dusty slopes of northern Israel, as Abraham’s primary mission was not to kill but to rescue. 

Having rescued Lot and the people and the possessions, Abraham, now a veteran of war, returned home a war hero. The last portion of the chapter describes what happened next: 

After Abram returned . . . the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,
     “Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
      Creator of heaven and earth.
      And praise be to God Most High,
      who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.” But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.” (Genesis 14:17-24 NIV)

As we just read, Abraham returned from his victory and went to the Valley of Shaveh (the King’s Valley) where Melchizedek brought out bread and wine and blessed him. Note: this makes for two valleys in the same chapter. Earlier we were in the Valley of Siddim, where the great battle took place, and now we are in the Valley of Shaveh, where great blessing takes place. We are meant to compare and contrast the two valleys:

Setting them side by side, I would suggest the Valley of Siddim represents the physical realm, and the Valley of Shaveh represents the spiritual realm. I think some folks get so caught up in the first valley that they fail to experience the second valley. Which is to say, they are so dominated by the material side of life that they remain oblivious to the spiritual reality around them and within them. Ensnared by the world, they miss the activity taking place in the King’s Valley. Instead they live out their days in a kind of war zone, a Darwinistic experience of survival of the fittest, a struggle to keep what you have and maybe advance a little further. It is a materialistic worldview, but for those trapped in the Valley of Siddim, it is all they know.

Did you ever notice that Abraham accomplished what five kings and their armies tried to accomplish but failed? Indeed, Abraham (and his relatively small group of fighters) managed to defeat the Mesopotamians. He managed to cut down their kings. In other words, a lot more was accomplished with a lot less. This is a spiritual principle! But Abraham was a spiritual man. And so it makes sense that we find him in a different valley––the Valley of Shaveh––the valley that represents the spiritual world.

As I noted in the chart, the Valley of Shaveh is not without its own battle. It is just that the battle takes on a different nature. The battle is all in the mind. In this case, Abrahams mind. We see this when two kings come to greet him, and Abraham has to choose whose gift to accept. Would he accept the offer of Melchizedek, King of Salem? Or would he accept the offer of Bera, King of Sodom? Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg writes, “The story becomes much clearer when read in Hebrew. The name “Melchizedek” is a transliteration of the Hebrew מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶֿק (malki-tzedek), meaning “my king is righteousness.” The name Bera בֶּ-רַע means “with evil.” Thus, the Hebrew makes it apparent that that Abraham had to choose between righteousness and evil.

“Abraham did not accept Bera’s tempting offer and thus passed another test of faith. He did not choose between offers but rather between two paths. It was a choice between a man of matter and a man of faith, and Abraham determined the fate of the Israeli nation by choosing Melchizedek’s blessing of God” (Source). 

The King of Sodom offered Abraham all the possessions of Sodom, ie. material wealth. It must have been a tempting offer, no doubt. (Hence my saying that the battle is won or lost in the mind.) However, Abraham was wise enough to anticipate there would be strings attached, so he declined the offer outright. Instead, he chose to receive the offer of Melchizedek, King of Salem. By doing so, instead of receiving material riches, he actually gave away a tenth of everything! Abraham, you see, sought a wealth not of this world––that is, the blessing of the Most High God. Certainly, the better choice! And in like manner, a true follower of God––a spiritual descendent of Abraham––will be someone who chooses correctly in the Valley of Shaveh. 

Acts 5 and Leviticus 10: A Menorah

In Acts 5, we touch on a dramatic story. To grasp it fully, let us begin by reading the end of the previous chapter...

     Now the whole group of those who believed was one in heart and mind. No one would say anything he owned was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the emissaries were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Yeshua, and abundant favor was upon them all. No one among them was needy, for all who were owners of lands or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds and set them at the feet of the emissaries. And the proceeds were distributed according to the need each one had.
     Now Joseph, also called Barnabas by the emissaries (which is translated Son of Encouragement), was a Levite and native of Cyprus. He sold a field that he owned and brought the money and laid it at the feet of the emissaries. 
Acts 5...
     On the other hand, a man named Ananias together with his wife, Sapphira, sold a property. He kept back some of the proceeds, with his wife’s full knowledge, and brought part of it and set it at the feet of the emissaries. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, it was your own, wasn’t it? And after it was sold, wasn’t it at your disposal? How did this deed get into your heart? You haven’t lied to men but to God.” As soon as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and died. Great fear came upon all who heard about it. The young men got up and wrapped him in a shroud, then carried him out and buried him.
     After an interval of about three hours, his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter responded to her, “Tell me if you sold the land for this much.” She said, “Yes, for that much.” Then Peter said to her, “How did you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who buried your husband are at the door—they will carry you out, too!” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came back in, they found her dead and carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came over the whole community and all who heard these things. (Acts 4:32-37; 5:1-11 TLV)

As one commentary explains, “So knit together were the hearts of the people that they held all their possessions loosely and willingly shared them with one another, not because they were coerced but because they loved one another. Those who sold land and houses gave of their profits to the apostles, who distributed the gifts to those in need. Two members of this group were Ananias and his wife, Sapphira; they also had sold a field. Part of the profit from their sale was kept back by the couple, and Ananias only laid a part of the money at the apostles’ feet. However, Ananias made a pretense of having given all the proceeds. This show may have fooled some, but not Peter, who was filled with the power of the Spirit. Peter knew instantly that Ananias was lying and exposed his hypocrisy then and there. Ananias fell down and died. When Sapphira showed up, she, too, lied to Peter and to God, saying that they had donated the entire proceeds of the sale of the land to the church. When her lie had been exposed, she also fell down and died at Peter’s feet.

“It can be easy today to gloss over the holiness of God. The sudden deaths of Ananias and Sapphira served to purify and warn the church against future pretense” (Source).

With a firm grip on this story, let’s reach for another story. The story we’ll reach for is set in Leviticus 10. 

There we pick it up: 
     Now Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his own censer, put fire in it, laid incense over it, and offered unauthorized fire before Adonai—which He had not commanded them. So fire came out from the presence of Adonai and consumed them. So they died before Adonai. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what Adonai spoke of, saying:
      To those who are near Me 
      I will show myself holy.
      Upon the faces of all the people
      I will be glorified.”
      Then Aaron kept silent.
    Then Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, “Come near, carry your relatives away from the front of the Sanctuary to outside of the camp.” So they drew near and carried them, still in their tunics, outside of the camp, as Moses had said.

Holding these stories side by side, a menorah pattern is formed where one story shines light on the other story. We can see how the two sides have balancing branches connected in symmetry:

Reading Leviticus 10, we must note that Nadab and Abihu must have been very respected individuals within their community. After all, they were the sons of the High Priest. They had dined with God alongside the 70 elders (Exodus 24:9). They had free access into the Tabernacle. They were no small characters, both well on their way to impressive legacies. Nevertheless, when Nadab and Abihu came to offer unauthorized fire––strange fire”––they were struck down immediately.

Now this is worth some thought. Why exactly were they struck down? One thought is that they simply entered the Holy of Holies without authorization. This reasoning is sound because we read in Leviticus 16, “Then Adonai spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they approached the presence of Adonai and died. Adonai said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holiest Place behind the curtain . . . so that he would not die.” There is another line of thought, though, that asserts Nadab and Abihu were intoxicated when they went into the Tabernacle. This thought also seems valid because right after the event, we read, “Adonai spoke to Aaron saying: ‘Do not drink wine or fermented drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you go into the Tent of Meeting, so that you do not die’” (Leviticus 10:8-9). It may have been that Nadab and Abihu were drinking, got to talking, thought they had a good idea, decided to bring a spur-of-the-moment incense offering to God, and, well, crossed the line that ended their lives. While both of these readings make sense, I think another reason rings through either way. If I may elaborate...

Envision two mounds of incense on a table in front of you. Both look exactly the same. Both weigh exactly the same. Both come from the same container, and both share the same ingredients. When the mounds of incense are lit on fire, both smell exactly the same. Their fragrance is identical in every way. And yet, when brought before God as an incense offering, one is a sweet smelling aroma in God’s nostrils but the other He finds nauseating. How can this be? What is the difference?

Motive. The motive of the person bringing the offering makes all the difference. If the motive is wrong, the fire of the incense is strange, unauthorized, and unacceptable. But if the motive is pure and done in subservience to God’s Word, then the incense offering is a beautiful gift. This speaks to a principle, which is: intent precedes content, especially in God’s eyes. In the case of Nadab and Abihu, the motive was inappropriate, so their offering was struck down. And because the offering and the offerer are one and the same, the offerers were struck down as well. 

What is incredible is that God has a depth of discernment such that He can discern a difference between two fires. For the common man, fire is fire is fire; fire is all the same. But in God eyes, there is fire and then there is strange fire. He can discern the very essence of the thing. If we look over at Acts 5, it is Peter who exhibits such a depth of discernment. How so? Because Peter has been filled with the Holy Spirit! With God in him, Peter now has the ability to see into the very essence of a thing. He senses the motive behind Ananias and Sapphira’s offering. He smells strange money, as it were. So the offering is struck down along with Ananias and Sapphira themselves. (Because again, the offering and the offerer are one and the same. Notice the two of them fall dead next to their offering at Peter’s feet, hinting at the connection between offering and offerer.)

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch adds another insight. Commenting on Leviticus 10, he writes, “The fact is that when the entire nation was privileged to witness a revelation of God’s closeness, Nadab and Abihu felt the need to make a separate offering of their own. This shows that they were not moved by the true spirit of priesthood. For in Judaism the priests are completely identified with the nation. They have no standing in their own right. The whole essence of the priest is that they stand in the midst of the people, and this accounts for their standing before God. Thus, in their very “drawing near,” Nadab and Abihu were at fault” (Hirsch Chumash, Vayikra, pg. 292).

In Acts 5, we see a community who was privileged to witness a revelation of God’s closeness (at Pentecost). It is noteworthy that Acts 4 specifically mentions a Levite who had brought an offering to the feet of the emissaries which was accepted. The Levite had the means to help others, the desire to serve others, and he did so: he sold his field and gave the money. This is a perfect picture of what a priest does for his community. A priest comes forward and offers himself (in the form of whatever he has) to the community. It’s a position of leadership by service. This Levite in Acts 4 is the ideal representation of what it means to be a priest in God’s community. But then there’s Ananias and Sapphira. These two wanted to be seen as “priests,” as leaders who have surrendered their identity to the community, but then again, they wanted to separate a little bit for themselves. They sought a standing in their own right. Ananias and Sapphira were not moved by the true spirit of giving. By withholding some of the money and then lying about it, they are like Nadab and Abihu who transgressed the code of community. And so, although they were anxious to play the role of priest, their motive violated the very essence of what it means to be a priest.

Since we can’t have a menorah without fire to light it, let’s conclude with one more remark. It says in Leviticus 10 that the fire of God consumed Nadab and Abihu. Well what came upon Peter and the disciples when the Holy Spirit entered into them on Pentecost? Fire. “Tongues like fire spreading out appeared to them and settled on each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them to speak out” (Acts 2:3-4). Notice that Ananias and Sapphira fall dead immediately after Peter speaks to them. The text even calls attention to this as it says, “As soon as Ananias heard these words...” The words were an expression of the Holy Spirit, the One who had empowered Peter’s speech. So again, it is the fire of God that consumes Ananias and Sapphira just as it did Nadab and Abihu. 

To the community of believers, God is saying in no uncertain terms: 
     To those who are near Me 
     I will show myself holy.
     Upon the faces of all the people
     I will be glorified.”

Genesis 15: The Blood Covenant

Genesis 15 is among the most important chapters in the Bible. I would go so far as to say the whole Bible can be understood in the context of this chapter. This is the chapter where God and Abram come together to make a blood covenant. Now it may seem odd that something so foreign to us as a blood covenant could play such an important role in our most sacred book, but we must discard the foreignness and perceive the subject more deeply. 

Living a nomadic life in Abram’s time, you were largely on your own. Back then there was no life insurance you could purchase, no 911 you could dial, no means of security in the sense that we think of it today. Those mechanisms simply weren’t in place for a nomad living 4000 years ago. So if you (a husband and father during that time) died unexpectedly, what was to happen to your wives, your young children, to your flocks and your herds? How would you insure their protection if something happened to you? 

This is where blood covenants came into play. Historically speaking, blood covenants were practiced in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, even among the Indians in North America. Blood covenants are still practiced in some regions of the Middle East. Here, for example, you can read the account of a intelligent native Syrian who saw one consummated in a village at the base of the mountains of Lebanon.

What is a blood covenant? Essentially if two men develop a meaningful friendship, Person A (for now, William) might express a desire to enter into a blood covenant with Person B (for now, Johnson). If Johnson agrees, the two men enter into such a pact. The pact becomes a lifelong binding contract, one of insurance and protection for both parties. Upon the death of William, Johnson promises to take care of William’s wives, children, and property. Upon the death of Johnson, William pledges to do likewise for Johnson’s family and property. The covenant works on this basis: If I die, you will take care of what is mine. If I am murdered, you will track down my killer and take vengeance in my name. And if something happens to you, I will do the same in return.

When you study Semitic blood covenants, the details may differ depending on the account. Some components of the ritual may be invoked while other components are left out. Sometimes all of the components will be included. The people of that time understood what was taking place without having to involve every detail. For our purposes, let’s highlight every feature found in a Semitic blood covenant, the kind Abraham and his contemporaries knew well. 

The covenant was done in the presence of witnesses. The two covenant makers would call together their families, neighbors, and friends to witness the transaction. This meant preparations had to be made ahead of time.

Two Copies Made and Worn                                                                                               
Two identical copies of the covenant were written and read aloud. Both copies were signed in blood by each party. The copies were then sealed and put into packets or amulets. Going forward, the amulets would be worn around the neck or the arm of each party. 

Halving the Animal(s)
The men would take an animal(s)––usually something large like an ox––and they would cut it down the middle, from head to toe. They would then take the two halves of the animal and lay those pieces on the ground opposite each other. The two men would walk shoulder to shoulder between the two halves. This showed that they were united by one blood. 

A Cut Made to Exchange Blood                                 
The men would each make a cut in the right forearm, hand, or wrist. They might place a reed in the wound to suck some of the blood. (Now once the Torah was established, this wasn’t done among the Jewish people because drinking blood was strictly prohibited.) Or, they might put their forearms together, joining the cuts and allowing their blood to flow together. Either way, the wound would be maintained so as to create a heavy scar. Such a permanent mark on the forearm would indicate to strangers a blood covenant relationship. This afforded some protection, because if the stranger had malicious intent, the stranger would see the scar and wonder, Who’s got his back? Who’s this guy in covenant with? The thought is, If I rob or kill this guy, he has a goel––a “kinsman redeemer”––who will come after me. 

Exchange of Names                                                                                                  
The two men would exchange names. They would take part of one man’s name and give it to the other man. So if William and Johnson enter into a blood covenant, William might be known afterward as Williamson. Whatever the combination, the two names would be merged somehow.

Exchange of Property
Property would be exchanged. Often some armor or a sword would be traded. If the men owned land, they would exchange some of their land. If the men were nomadic, they would exchange a portion of their flocks. 

Exchange of Sons 
If each party had a young son, occasionally the men would go so far as to exchange their sons, such that William would raise Johnson’s son as his own, and Johnson would raise William’s son as his own. This practice promised to bring their families together long term. 

The Covenant Meal
The men, their families, and the witnesses would eat a covenant meal in celebration of the promises made.
These are the features of an ancient Semitic blood covenant. Taken together, they provide some historical and cultural context with which to understand the events in Genesis 15. What transpires in that chapter is no less than earth-shaking. Think about it... the God of the universe enters into a blood covenant with a mere mortal! 

It should blow your mind as much as it did Abram’s. Abram wouldn’t dream of such a thing in a million years! That God would establish a blood covenant with him––something so audacious would never begin to cross his mind. How is that even possible? Because remember, the basis of a blood covenant is: If I die, you will take care of my wife and kids, but if you die, I will take care of yours. The thing is, God is eternal! He is never going to die. So such a covenant would seem very one-sided. Abram has everything to gain and God has nothing to gain. Again, Abram wouldn’t begin to suggest such a thing.          

But incredibly, God does. He initiates it! He is the one who approaches Abram! 

Just imagine what goes through Abram’s mind when God says, “Take some animals, cut them in half, and lay the pieces out opposite each other.” I picture Abram doing a double-take at the sky. “Hold up––say what?!” Abram is taken back. But he does as he is asked: he takes the animals, cuts them in half, and lays them out. What happens next? God meets His friend there as promised.

“It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces.” At the moment this happens, Abram is caught in a tardemah––a deep sleep––and he sees God in the form of a smoking oven and a flaming torch pass between the pieces. Abram doesn’t pass between the pieces; only God does. 


God seems to be saying, “Abram, I’m not going to die, so this covenant will be eternal. However you are going to die, so there’s no way you can honor the terms as I will. There’s no way you can walk shoulder to shoulder with Me. Therefore I alone will pass between these pieces. I make this pledge to you: as long as I am alive, I will take care of your children––forever, and ever, and ever.”

Why does God assume the form of a smoking oven and a flaming torch? Well what is it that these have in common? Fire. Our God is a consuming fire. But going a step further, the purpose of the fire of the torch is to give light. The purpose of the fire of the smoking oven is to give heat. God is showing us two aspects of Himself, two qualities of the covenant. Abram’s descendants––those natural born and those grafted in––will know the defining light of God’s Glory, and they will experience the refining heat of His Holiness. There’s no escaping it; it’s the nature of the One we are in covenant relationship with. We are told, “On that day the Lord karath a covenant with Abram.” God cut a covenant with Abram, and it is here that the Bible starts. 

What we find next are the components of a Semitic blood covenant:
According to two witnesses a matter shall stand (Deuteronomy 19:15). So where are the witnesses of this covenant? Who will testify to what God swore to Abram? Deuteronomy 30:19 tells us. God calls heaven and earth to act as witnesses. They beheld the blood covenant, so they will testify.

Two copies are made and worn: 
God commands Abram’s descendants to “set these words of Mine in your heart and in your soul. You are to bind them as a sign on your hand, and as frontlets between your eyes” (Deuteronomy 11:18). God commands His leaders to “write for [themselves] a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the priests” (Deuteronomy 17:18). What are they writing? What are they wearing? Their own copy of the covenant, so to speak.  

Halving the Animal(s)
Abram brings three choice-animals in the prime of their life (a cow, a goat, and a ram). He cuts them in half and lays their pieces opposite each other. Abram also brings two birds, but the birds are not cut. Genesis 15:11 adds this detail: “Then birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.” These unkosher birds of prey represent the enemy (Matthew 13:19) trying to disrupt and defile the process, trying to pick away at what is sacred. Abram drives the enemy away.

A Cut is Made / An Exchange of Blood:
When God calls Abram to be circumcised, no doubt Abram relates it to the blood covenant. The cut is not what surprises him. The location of the cut is what surprises him––not in a public place like the forearm, but in a private, intimate place. [Why circumcision?] But such is the nature of this covenant; its evidence is found in a private, intimate place. “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). The male organ is certainly private and intimate, but there is nothing more private and intimate than your heart. 

The Exchange of Names:
The covenant changes everything. Abram becomes Abraham, and Sarai becomes Sarah. Now we know that God’s personal name (as revealed to Moses at the burning bush) consists of four Hebrew letters: yod, hei, vav, hei. Notice the letter hei is used twice. (The letter hei makes the “H” sound.) In keeping with the covenant, God adds the letter hei to Abram’s name, making it AbraHam. God adds the letter hei to Sarai’s name, making it SaraH. In other words, God gives them half of His own Name! 

Here’s what it looks like in Hebrew (reading from right to left):

The Exchange of Property:
God says in Genesis 15:18, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates...” It is here, as part of the covenant, that God gives Abraham some of His land. He also gives Abraham’s family a sword, and some armor

The Exchange of Sons:
When God tells Abraham to alah Isaac as an olah, Abraham understands it in terms of a Semitic blood covenant. Since these covenants could involve an exchange of sons, Abraham assumes this is what God is referring to. So he complies. But we know the story: a substitute dies in Isaac’s place

A quick side note: God asks for Abraham’s only son. But doesn’t he have two sons––Isaac and Ishmael? How can God ask for the “only” son if he already has two sons? It’s a good question that deserves to be raised. You see, Abraham had only one son: Isaac. Abram had had Ishmael, but Abraham had had Isaac. This is an important distinction. It speaks to the truth that when Abram entered into the blood covenant, the covenant changed his very essence. He became a new man altogether (another reason why God changed his name, to reflect the change of person). So when God asks Abraham for his only son, there is only one son that Abraham has, and that is Isaac.   

We return to the subject at hand. As we know, God surrenders His only Son to Abraham’s family, and God’s Son is brought up on Abraham’s land. God’s Son says in John 8:56, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; he saw it and was glad.” This means Abraham foresaw the day God would give His Son to Abraham’s family. I think the foresight derived from Abraham’s understanding of the blood covenant. When God asked to be given Isaac, Abraham knew then that that component of the blood covenant would be involved, and that God would someday give His Son to Abraham according to the terms of exchange.

The Covenant Meal
In Genesis 15, we see the blood covenant being made between God and Abraham. But where do we find the covenant meal? We read about it in Isaiah 25:6-8:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.

It is here that we find Abraham’s family, friends, and neighbors gathering together to partake in the meal of a lifetime, a celebration of the promises made. Isaiah goes on to write in the very next verse: “It will be said in that day: ‘Behold, this is our God, We waited for Him—He will save us. This is Adonai—we waited for Him. We will rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” It’s like Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day; he saw it and was glad.” What a covenant meal this will be! When we all sit down to rejoice and be glad in God’s Yeshua! The Yeshua given to us in accordance to the blood covenant God made with Abraham some 4000 years ago.  

Adonai, You are my God, I will exalt You,
I will praise Your Name,
for You have done wonderful things,
plans of old with steadfast faithfulness.
(Isaiah 25:1)