Old Testament

Restoration and #Kidmin (Part 2)

You can read Restoration and #Kidmin (part 1)  by clicking the link provided.

After we talked about creation, Adam and Eve and their role to multiply the earth We dove right into the next part of God’s plan.

Who were Adam and Eve’s children?

The kids responded with a resounding Cain and Abel chant and I asked them another question.

Do you think that Cain and Abel’s relationship was as “good” as creation was intended to be?

NO!

Why?

The one killed the other (some kids had the names mixed up). They did see that the sin kept them from restoring creation to

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“good”. At this point I brought up another student to wrap in God’s plan (yarn) making sure that the same piece of yarn had wrapped creation, separation and  now Cain and Abel together. I made sure that the yarn was all messy and droopy because themessiness of the yarn will come into play later.

Do you think God gave up on his people after Cain and Abel?

No, because there is more stories in the Bible. The cleverness of that answer made me smile.

On to the next piece. Even though Cain had sinned against God and moved away from the goodness that God had intended He still did not give up on His people. Even though there was sin in the world God saw a family that he said would help move His plan of restoration along.

Do you know what family God looked to in order to continue his plan of restoration?

The children had a bit of trouble with the Bible timeline here, so I started to give them some hints like:

He lived on a boat

He liked animals

He built the boat

Etc.

At that point they knew that I was talking about Noah, so we read about how God came to find favour with Noah.

God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart. God said, “I’ll get rid of my ruined creation, make a clean sweep: people, animals, snakes and bugs, birds—the works. I’m sorry I made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7 MSG)

Do you think God’s people were moving closer or further away from God’s original goodness? Does this sound like the restoration that we read about in Rev. 22?

“Further” God called his people evil and they were not what God wanted, but even though God saw all the things that werekeeping His people away from His plan we still cared for us. He found one family that would help carry out his plan.

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But Noah was different. God liked what he saw in Noah. (Genesis 6:8 MSG)

“But I’m going to establish a covenant with you: You’ll board the ship, and your sons, your wife and your sons’ wives will come on board with you. You are also to take two of each living creature, a male and a female, on board the ship, to preserve their lives with you: two of every species of bird, mammal, and reptile—two of everything so as to preserve their lives along with yours. Also get all the food you’ll need and store it up for you and them.” (Genesis  6:18-21 MSG)

We brought up another child to hold up the Noah picture and again wrapped them up in God’s plan. I explained to the kids that even though people had fallen so far away from God’s plan to restore creation he still found the family that would continue to work for God and help him fulfill his plan. God took care of Noah and his family so that he could continue working on his ultimate plan.

After Noah we talked about how even though God had to restart with only Noah and his family the people still had some of that baggage in their life that caused them to still fall short of God’s plan of restoring creation to what He would call “good.”

DId you know that the next person we are going to talk about had so much favour in God’s eye that God told him that his family would eventually be as numerous as the stars and the sand under his feet?

As I introduced the story of Abraham and God’s next covenant with his people I brought up another child to wrap up in God’s plan of restoration.

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15-18 The angel of God spoke from Heaven a second time to Abraham: “I swear—God’s sure word!—because you have gone through with this, and have not refused to give me your son, your dear, dear son, I’ll bless you—oh, howI’ll bless you! And I’ll make sure that your children flourish—like stars in the sky! like sand on the beaches! And your descendants will defeat their enemies. All nations on Earth will find themselves blessed through your descendants because you obeyed me.” (Genesis 22:15-18 MSG)

Abraham believed in God’s plan for his life so much that he was willing to sacrifice his son to God. Abraham believed that God would always provide for him and God blessed Abraham for his faithfulness. God told Abraham that he would have descendants to numerous to count, but boys and girls do you think that God’s people stayed this faithful to God, or was their still sin present that kept God’s plan of restoration from coming to an end?

Do you think God’s people stayed faithful?

Even though people were still falling short of God’s created goodness He was still providing for them and telling them that He still intended to care for his people. God would continue his plan through those that showed they were faithful to him.

I will pause here and continue part three tomorrow.

Restoration and #Kidmin (Part 1)

This week I had the daunting task of teaching the whole metanarrative story of the Bible in under 25 minutes to our #kidmin students. Our theme for the weekend was restoration and we centered ourselves scripturally in Revelation 22:1-6.

1-5 Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed. The Throne of God and of the Lamb is at the center. His servants will offer God service—worshiping, they’ll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. Never again will there be any night. No one will need lamplight or sunlight. The shining of God, the Master, is all the light anyone needs. And they will rule with him age after age after age.

Don’t Put It Away on the Shelf

6-7 The Angel said to me, “These are dependable and accurate words, every one. The God and Master of the spirits of the prophets sent his Angel to show his servants what must take place, and soon. And tell them, ‘Yes, I’m on my way!’ Blessed be the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

I read the story to our kids while we took up offering from “My First Message” because we have a lot of 4-6 year olds that still bring their picture Bibles and I wanted to read to them from something that would be familiar to them. It went over well because many of them had this passage in their Bibles. They tended to group Revelation 21 and 22 together.

After reading that passage we dove right into the metanarrative of the Bible. Here is how I broke down the lesson.

Today we are going to learn a really big word.

That word is “restoration.”

Do any of you know what that means? (I paused and took some suggestions from the kids and some of them were close, but most of our older kids would define restoration with “restore” in it. They would say something like:

“It means that that God will restore something.”

(Back to teaching). Well, this morning I thought I better look up the definition of the word “restoration” so that I could explain it to you. The dictionary told me the following:

“A return of something to a former, original, normal, orunimpaired condition.”

That makes me think of something that God said about something he created. Do any of you know what God created and that

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He said was Good?

Many of them shouted out that God said that about creation. After telling them that they were right I asked for a volunteer to come up and help me tell this giant story. I then handed them a 8.5×11 drawing of the creation symbol that Micheal Novelli used in his “Echo the Story” curriculum that is featured in his books “Shaped by the Story” and “Enter the Story.”

I then took out a ball of yarn and asked the kids if they knew what it was and of course they yelled back yarn and I told them they were correct, but for this week it was something else. This ball of yarn and the yarn that we would be using would represent “God’s ultimate plan of restoration.” The kids then asked why the yarn was in a bag to which I explained that the bag represented all the things in the stories that were to follow that cause God’s plan to fall just a little bit short. The bag would represent all the little sins that kept God’s plan of restoration from being completely fulfilled. The goal was to see how God’s plan would go from creation, which he called good to the new creation that we read about in Revelation 22.

“God looked over everything he had made;
it was so good, so very good!” Genesis 1:31

Never again will anything be cursed. The Throne of God and of the Lamb is at the center. Rev. 22

I then took the string and wrapped it around the first child’s waist and explained that God’s plan started with something good and that his plan would continue into two very important people. The kids began yelling out “Adam and Eve.”

What happened to Adam and Eve?

ev-1.owaDid they follow God’s direction, or did they do something they were not supposed to?

The kids began to shout out that they did not follow God’s way and I explained that the next symbol represented the separation that happened when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden.

 So God expelled them from the Garden of Eden and sent them to work the ground, the same dirt out of which they’d been made. He threw them out of the garden and stationed angel-cherubim and a revolving sword of fire east of it, guarding the path to the Tree-of-Life. Gen. 3:23-24

I started to wrap the “plan” around the child that held up the “separation” symbol and asked whether or not Adam and Eve helped God’s plan for restoration, or if they had allowed sin to keep them from being with God.

The kids knew this was not what God had in store because we had read the end of the story (Rev. 22). The question I asked them is the key connecting question for the whole lesson.

Even though Adam and Eve fell short of God’s plan for restoration did God stop loving them?

They answered with no and we moved on to the next piece. I talked to them about how even though God made them leave the Garden he still had a plan for Adam and Eve and that was for them to multiply the earth with children.

 

I am going to pause the post here because I want to break up the reading for this lesson because it would be a lengthy post if I did not break it up. Even though the lesson is wordy we did manage to go through the whole restoration story in just over 26 minutes in both of our services. I also talked with many of our adult volunteers after their small group time and asked if the kids “got it” and many of them said that the explanation was clear which made me relieved because even during the lesson the question of whether or not I was clear enough to explain God’s plan to restore creation to something that is beyond “good.”

Look for part two tomorrow.

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P.S. I had some great 30 Hour Famine glasses that helped as an ice breaker for the kids right of the bat. Many of them told me to go back to my regular glasses.

 

 

 

What Place Has History in the O.T. – Tracking the Debate Through Time

More notes from my O.T. History Class. This was a short outline for a presentation. This was the rough draft for my final project.

In 1651 Thomas Hobbes, in chapter 33 of Leviathan, marshaled a battery of passages such as Deut 34:6 (“no man knoweth of his sepulchre to this day,” implying an author living long after Moses’ death); Gen 12:6 (“and the Canaanite was then in the land,” implying an author living in a time when the Canaanite was no longer in the land); and Num 21:14 (referring to a previous book of Moses’ deeds), and concluded that none of these could be by Moses.

Hobbes thus begins by establishing that we cannot infallibly know another’s personal word to be divine revelation:

When God speaketh to man, it must be either immediately or by mediation of another man, to whom He had formerly spoken by Himself immediately. How God speaketh to a man immediately may be understood by those well enough to whom He hath so spoken; but how the same should be understood by another is hard, if not impossible, to know. For if a man pretend to me that God hath spoken to him supernaturally, and immediately, and I make doubt of it, I cannot easily perceive what argument he can produce to oblige me to believe it.

To Hobbes, it is manifest that none can know they are God’s word (though all true Christians believe it) but those to whom God Himself hath revealed it supernaturally. And therefore The question truly stated is: by what authority they are made law?

There is an enormous amount of biblical scholarship in this third part. However, once Hobbes’s initial argument is accepted (that no-one can know for sure anyone else’s divine revelation) his conclusion (the religious power is subordinate to the civil) follows from his logic. The very extensive discussions of the chapter were probably necessary for its time. The need (as Hobbes saw it) for the civil sovereign to be supreme arose partly from the many sects that arose around the civil war, and to quash the Pope of Rome’s challenge, to which Hobbes devotes an extensive section.

Hans W. Frei:

Long before the thought of ‘history of salvation’ became apart of historiography or theological inquiry the idea by those like Augustine was that the real world was formed by the sequences of biblical stories this covered creation to the final consumption that was to come, this included 1) man’s natural environment and 2) man’s secondary environment which is provided by himself (history or culture)

Three elements to traditional realistic interpretation of biblical stories:

Read Literal:

“The true historical reference of a story was a direct and natural concomitant of its making literal sense”

An event at this level in regards to being evidence has the best chance of becoming a reliable historical report

In a single world of one temporal sequence, there must in principle be one cumulative story to depict it

“the several biblical stories narrating sequential segments in time must fit together into one narrative.”

He sees figuration and typology as a natural extension of literal interpretation:

“Figuration was at once a literary and historical procedure, an interpretation of stories and their meanings by weaving them together into a common narrative referring to a single history and its patterns of meaning”

Must in principle embrace the experience of any present age or reader:

It is the reader’s duty to fit themselves into that world and they do this through figural interpretation

“He was to to see his disposition, his actions, and passions, the shape of his own life as well as that of his era’s events as figures of that storied world.”

His point was that such experiences, events, concepts were all ranged figurally into the smaller as well as the overarching story.  Biblical interpretation becomes an imperative need, but its direction was that of incorporating extra-biblical thought, experience, and reality into one real world detailed and made accessible by the biblical story – not the reverse.

Johannes Cocceius and Johann Albrecht Bengel:

“Tried to locate the events of their day vis a vis the narrative framework of biblical story and history, and to locate by means of biblical sayings the present stage of the actual events we experience and predict future stages as well as the end of actual history”

This was a sign of the breaking of literal meaning of the biblical narratives and the reference to actual events.  The narratives no longer provided an access to the events, they could now only verify them.

“Not only did an enormous amount of inquiry into factual truth (or falsity) of the biblical stories develop, but an intense concentration as well on their meaning and religious significance, whether factual or of some other sort”

Question becomes, Do the stories and whatever concepts may be drawn from them describe what we apprehended as the real world? Do they fit a more general framework of meaning than that of a single story?

Figural Reading:

1) Verbal or literal sense was now equated with the single meaning of statements, a logical and grammatical rule prevalent everywhere so that figural reading of the Bible seemed a senseless exception to it

2) The very attempt to read unity out of (or into) the Bible now appeared different from, if not incompatible with, the self-confinement of literal reading to specific texts

-no longer a persuasive instrument for unifying the canon

Realistic Reading:

– consists of matching the written description against the reconstruction of the probable historical sequence to which it referred.

– not only about history but also about specific historical sequences, so that they were not concerned with the unity of the canon

18th Century England:

– Relationship between revelation and theology and the problems in this concept are key

1) Rationality or credibility of the very idea of historical revelation

“Or is what is called revelation nothing more than a specific instantiation of what God had made known everywhere and all along, concerning truth and human happiness?”

“appeal to ‘mystery’ of revelation anything other than an admission that the idea itself is unintelligible, a token of that unwarranted intrusion of imagination or, worse yet, sheer ignorant superstition into matters religious which the new intellectual rigor must repel?”

2) How likely is it that such a thing has taken place?

“How authoritative, in short, how well attested are biblical accounts, especially those of miracles, since the natural presumption in a ‘scientific age’ is obviously against them?”

Debate was:

1) General credibility of miracles in a physical and historical world which was increasingly believed to be governed in accordance with natural law, conceived either prescriptively or descriptively

2) Credibility of the specific miracle accounts of the Bible, especially the NT including the claims to the fulfillment of prophecy

The plausibility of miracles both positive and negative was argued through external and independent evidence (i.e. geological evidence to explain a catastrophe over a large part of the earth for the Flood

18th Century Germany:

How and with the aid of what authority one settles the principles of biblical interpretation?

Reformation focused questions on authority and unity, Protestant questions on the detailing of the principles of textual interpretation

“The consequence of unity and universality in method of interpretation ensured unity of textual meaning also.”

The belief of a layered text such as literal, typological, spiritual, etc. was gone

Late 18th century with the help of Deism things changed,

“From now on, the harmony of historical fact, literal sense, and religious truth will at best have to be demonstrated; at worst, some explanation of the religious truth of the fact-like description will have to be given in the face of a negative verdict on its factual accuracy or veracity”

Unlike the external argument of the English the Germans was almost exclusively internal, they took a literary-historical approach

In his The Concept of Biblical Theology, Barr devotes a chapter to ‘story’ in which he notes that from the 1960s onwards he and others and others stressed the importance of story as a category in Old Testament studies. Story in this context is deliberately set against history, partly as a reaction to the emphasis on the acts of God in the Biblical Theology Movement (BTM). Story embraces material that is historical as well as that which includes myth and legend, and above all divine speech. Story focuses attention on the beginning, the progression and the culmination as more important than the historical realities behind the text. Barr notes that G. Ernest Wright and others in the BTM had already indicated the importance of story in biblical theology but he asserts that they made little of the actual story character of the Bible so that story functioned in their works more as an idea

Barr continues to see great value in approaching the Bible as story, as long as we don’t set this against historical criticism.

“That the story is a totality and to be read as such would seem to agree with the ‘holistic’ emphasis of many literary and canonical tendencies of today. But the fact that it is a totality does not mean that it has to be swallowed whole, uncritically.”

Barr,  defends taking the whole of the Bible as story. Making Genesis the starting point enables us to avoid past mistakes such as isolating the exodus from its broader narrative context. A story approach also connects with current understands of communal and personal identity.

Childs is less positive towards story and biblical theology than Barr. He discusses narrative under literary approaches to biblical theology. His major concern with narrative is that,

“The threat lies in divorcing the Bible when seen as literature from its theological reality to which scripture bears witness.”

Barr, by comparison, finds a story approach to the Bible helpful theologically in that it alerts us to the Bible as the raw data of theological reflection.

Brevard Childs levels this criticism against narrative approaches to biblical theology. In his Biblical Theology Childs includes narrative theology under ‘Literary Approaches to Biblical Theology. Referring to Barr and Frei, he says that

“initially the appeal to the subject matter of the Bible as ‘story’ served to shift the focus away from the perplexing problems of historical referentiality . . .”

Later he criticises this narrative approach because it also sidesteps theological issues: ‘many modern “narrative theologies” seek to avoid all dogmatic issues in the study of the Bible and seek ‘to render reality’ only by means of retelling the story.’  The problem can be seen, notes Childs, by the fact that liberals and conservatives agree on the centrality of narrative, but disagree on the nature of the Biblical story. Again he notes that ‘it has become increasingly evident that narrative theology, as often practised can also propagate a fully secular, non-theological reading of the Bible. The threat lies in divorcing the Bible when seen as literature from its theological reality to which scripture bears witness.

James Barr notes a shift in the paradigm of Biblical theology that moves from ‘revelation in history’ as the primary category to a ‘literary mode of reading.’ Story is then qualified in a literary way: narrative is a literary structure that creates a symbolic world. Or to put it another way, story is qualified in a linguistic way: the Bible offers a merely linguistically constructed narrative world. In this paradigm the historical and theological dimensions of the Biblical story are muted at best.

N.T. Wright:

In fact, the theological authority of the biblical story is tied up with its overarching narrative form. He offers a rich metaphor to explicate this authority. Imagine that a Shakespearian play is discovered for the first time but most of the fifth act is missing. The decision to stage the play is made. The first four acts and the remnant of the fifth act are given to well-trained and experienced Shakespearian actors who immerse themselves both in the first part of the play and in the culture and time of Shakespeare. They are told to work out the concluding fifth act for themselves.

This conclusion must be both consistent and innovative. It must be consistent with the first part of the play. The actors must immerse themselves in full sympathy in the unfinished drama. The first four acts would contain its own cumulative forward movement that would demand that the play be concluded in a way consistent and fitting with that impetus. Yet an appropriate conclusion would not mean a simple repetition or imitation of the earlier acts. The actors would carry forward the logic of the play in a creative improvisation. Such an improvisation would be an authentic conclusion if it were coherent with the earlier acts.

This metaphor provides a specific analogy for how the biblical story might function authoritatively to shape the life of the believing community. Wright sees the biblical story as consisting of four acts – creation, fall, Israel, Jesus – plus the first scene of the fifth act that narrates the beginning of the church’s mission. Furthermore this fifth act offers hints at how the play is to end. Thus the church’s life is lived out consistent with the forward impetus of the first acts and moving toward and anticipating the intended conclusion. The first scene of act five, the church’s story, begins to draw out and implement the significance of the first four acts, especially act four. The church continues today to do the same in fresh and creative ways in new cultural situations. This requires a patient examination and thorough immersion in what act four is all about, how act four is to be understood in light of acts one through three, and how the first scene of act five faithfully carries forward act four.

Theological interpretation will be as important as the literary or historical. Theology is concerned with claims about God embodied in a worldview – whether there is a God, his relation to the world, and whether or not he is acting to set the world right. The theological beliefs of the Biblical authors and its modern interpreters will be essential to Biblical scholarship: ‘ .  . . ‘theology’ highlights what we might call the god-dimension of a worldview. . . . As such it is a non- negotiable part of the study of literature and history, and hence of New Testament studies.’

The recovery of the Bible as one controlling story is important for Wright because that story provides the true worldview context for Biblical scholarship, allowing all dimensions of the Biblical text—theological, literary, and historical—to find full expression.

The Akedah – Comparison Between NRSV and Genesis Rabbah

Here are some notes from my Old Testament Theology class last year. I found the words of the Genesis Rabbah to be very compelling and at times it allowed for some great discussion on translating text. Enjoy.

The chapter begins with ‘and it came to pass’ where the NRSV simply begins at ‘after these things’.  The JPS ads in ‘some time afterward.’  The ‘things’ are misgivings or second thoughts of Abraham (LV:IV)  It would be these thoughts that would bring Abraham to his limit.

Verse one has two key words ‘try’ and test’.  The words ‘banner’ and ‘test’ have the same consonants and ‘truth’ and ‘validate’ accompany this.  God’s test for Abraham was one of justice and was not off the cuff.  The author is going to focus on what man does as his centre point for the exegesis.

Psalm 11:5 states that God tests the righteous and in Deut. 6:16 says that no one is to test the Lord.  The conclusion made is that the testing of Abraham represents Israel and because of this places Israel in its own history as strong and holy based upon the conclusions made of Abraham.

Verse two shares a linking between the Moriah and the Temple (LV:VII:2).  ‘Moriah and ‘awe’ share the same consonants and Moriah can be explained as the place where awe enters the world (i.e. The Temple) There is also a strong linking between the binding and the consecration with the temple. The NRSV says that God will show Abraham the mountain whereas in this text Abraham will be told which mountain to go to (LV:VII:4).  The conversation between God and Abraham provides a stronger active God figure in the lives of his people.

Why does Abraham saddle his own ass in verse three when he has two servants with him?  The answer provided is that love disrupts the natural order (LV:VIII).  This idea can be connected back to verse one as it relates back to Abraham as being strong, humble and worthy of this test.

Verse four has Abraham ‘lifting his eyes up’ instead of ‘looking up’  as well as in verse 13 (NRSV).  The strong imagery found in three days deals with the fulfillment of prophecy in the scriptures and the redemption of Israel.

Gen. 22:6 “So they went both of them together,”  It sounds very much like they both knew what was to happen. They went together up the hill in knowledge and acceptance (LVI:III:3) Verse five also states that both will come back down from worshipping.

Verse 6 and 8 have ‘walked on together’ as the ending to the conversation.  Again, an illusion to the idea that both Issac and Abraham know what is to happen.

Verse 1 and 11 have Abraham answering God’s call in the same way, “Here I am”.  This is interesting because one is before the test and the other is after.  It shows that Abraham’s trust in God doesn’t falter.

Why is the name “the Lord will provide” in the future tense in verse 14?  The author places the future tense in conjunction with the future history of the Temple.

Verses 17 and 18 give a double blessing to both the father and the son.  The use of indeed bless is the Hebrew verb written twice and this is what indicates the double blessing.  There is a switch from multiply in this text and numerous in the NRSV.

Verse Genesis Rabbah NRSV/JPS
1 And it cam to pass… (add)
2  (Genesis Rabbah has this as verse three at some points?) Take I Pray you… I shall tell you Take your son …I shall show you
3 And…saddled his ass…and arose and went to… God had told him So…saddled his donkey…set out…God shown
4 Lifted his eyes Looked up
5 come again to you We will come back to you
6 So they went both of them together walked on together
8 God will provide himself the lamb God himself will provide
9 God had told him God had shown
10 slay his son kill his son
12 Seeing you have not Since you have not
13 Lifted his eyes Looked up
14 Called the name of the place called that place
16 done this thing done this
17 multiply your descendants offspring as numerous
18 earth bless themselves earth gain blessing
19 dwelt at lived at
20 And it cam to pass… (add) Behold (add) Now…
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Jacob and Christmas Blessings

Can two walk together, except they be agreed. Or, in other words “Do two people walk hand in hand if they are not going to the same place?” This sounds like a profound theologian or a new age life coach, not a statement from a minor prophet. However, that is indeed where we receive this amazing insight into how we should view our relationship with God. Amos 3:3 gives us insight into how God expects our relationship with him to work. The only way that we can gain the full potential of God’s blessing and promises of a life filled with hope, is to agree to meet him and walk side by side with him. We can only expect from God what we are willing to input into the relationship first.  In Genesis twenty eight, Jacob must, for the first time in his life, make a personal commitment to walk hand in hand with God. Jacob needed to allow his faith in God to grow, so that he could be filled and walk in the hope filled plan’s of God. It is what we can look forward to because of a relationship with God that we will study this morning through the story of Jacob’s ladder and the promises of the Nativity.

Speaking of Nativity, this morning marks the first Sunday in the Advent season. Many churches in the four Sunday’s leading up to Christmas will focus on a different theme or attribute of Jesus. Today, marks the first Sunday, so to follow a little bit of church history we will focus on the Hope that God promises us.

O.K. so I know what many people may be thinking, how does hope or even the nativity story relate to the dreams of a young man. Hopefully with a little understanding and open minds we can allow God to guide our words and thoughts this morning. Let’s get into the text shall we.

First, we read about a journey, a solitary journey to a certain place, (Luz), but to be honest the name is not important at the present moment of the story, but come the end the name will come back to us. The important part is that he tarried all night because we read that the sun is setting. The oddity at this point is that under Old Testament culture the locals should have offered up a resting place for Jacob. We read in Judges 19:17-20 that “only lodge not in the streets … Peace be with you.” Whenever a cultural norm is dismissed in the Biblical text, we as readers need to take note because more often then not a work or the will of God is about to be revealed. So, we have Jacob hopelessly alone, abandoned, scared and fleeing, he has also been ignored by the locals. Think of how Jacob must have been feeling. most of us hate when we are stuck feeling only one of these emotions, now add on five more negative feelings and you have most off us curled up in a corner thinking the world hates us and is against us. Now we can move on because we feel Jacob’s heart.

However, we have a great truth of God shown to us in the following verse. Jacob lies down and begins to dream, dream about a ladder to be more exact. Now this ladder is special because he sees angels using the ladder to ascend and descend from heaven – a two way street that leads from earth to heaven or heaven to earth depending on your outlook. Now, Orangeville has many two way streets, but get down to where Amy and I live in Toronto and we have many one way streets. These cause many headaches for many drivers, which leads to a vast array of horns, voices and aggravation. But, for Jacob he witnesses a flow that is uninterrupted from heaven itself, what a vision of hope! To make things even better Jacob witnesses God standing at the very top of the ladder as a witness to the work of the angels, and to allow Him access to the creation that he called good. Why is this such a vision of hope for Jacob? At his lowest, loneliest moment God shows himself to fill Jacob with a purpose, direction and of course hope for the future. God arrives to give Jacob more then a promise of hope, he is about to give him a covenant that will drastically change his life forever. This covenant is not going to be a regurgitation of a previous covenant, just fiddled with to suit Jacob, this is going to be an individual uplifting because that is how God works. That is the beautiful nature of our God and the beauty that is Jacob’s story, but more importantly for us, our story. Just like Jacob, we have been given hope as a gift from our God, a personal God that provides us with what we need as individuals partaking in his creation.

We need to be careful that when we think of our God that we do not box him into what we think his limits are. Our God is not prepackaged because he is God, his will, nature and existence beyond time is beyond our own understanding. God’s message of hope that is given to each of us is personalized to our own individual needs, just as our Christmas gifts are individualized to our loved ones.

How do we know our God is a personal God? Turn with me to verses thirteen through fifteen, as, in these verses, we can understand how God leads Jacob through his personal covenant. It also allows us to witness the amazing hope that God places in Jacob’s future. “And behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father and the God of Isaac: The land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and the south; and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places wither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” God gives Jacob four very distinct and personal messages of hope and fulfillment. The covenant that was once Abraham and Isaac’s has now been personalized to fit God’s will in Jacob’s life. God has now given Jacob what Jacob needs to thrive as a follower of God. Jacob has been filled with hope that God has a desire and need for him on earth.

The first personalized promise of God, is a promise of assurance. That God will be present in Jacob’s life, but it is more then that. God is not just present there in Jacob’s present dream-state, God will be with Jacob ALWAYS. This is God’s answer to Jacob’s feelings of desperation and hopelessness as Jacob was searching for companionship. “I am with thee and will keep thee.” This is important for Jacob, who grew up in his father’s house surrounded by a strong community of companions, but now he is alone, asleep and dreaming of companionship in the wilderness. When all is thought to be lost God comes to make Jacob aware that he will never be alone again. God gives Jacob a choice, not a command to follow and walk with Him. God allows Jacob the chance to live a life full of hope, all he needs to do is believe and make his own choice to follow him, just like we read earlier, can two walk together unless they choose to? That is the question God gives Jacob.

The second personal message from God to Jacob is the promise of land. “And will bring thee again into this land…” Jacob was rich, however in order to escape quickly and effectively he had to leave all his possessions behind, including as we can determine from the text, this included his pillow. This leaves us, the readers of the story to conclude and decipher that Jacob most have been filled with a feeling of impoverishment. Here, he is sleeping on the ground, surrounded by rocks, when he is used to nice five hundred thread count Egyptian sheets. Again, God shows up to give Jacob hope and a promise that he will once again be able to go back to his earthly dwelling place. There is more to the dream then Jacob being able to return to his earthly home, that two way ladder promises Jacob a home within heaven. Jacob will be welcomed into heaven by God and all those that love him also.

Thirdly, God gives Jacob the personal message of a hope through the promise that he no longer needs to live in shame. God tells Jacob that his shame will be lifted and that his ancestors will be like the dust, numerous and uncountable. “And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth.” Jacob receives a blessing that assures him and that can assure us, that no matter how much guilt and shame may be filling our lives, God has an answer, and that answer is life through Him. God is always willing and able to begin with us again, where we are, so that we can become agents of blessings onto others. The prophet, Jeremiah,  tells a story of a potter at his wheel working the clay even as it becomes blemished in Jeremiah 18:1-6. “And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again, another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.” Key words here are as follows: “so he made it agian… as seemed good to the potter.” Just like in Jacob’s life we can take great hope in knowing that when we become marred, like the vessel, and Jacob, we can be reshaped through Jesus. We have to remember and take to heart the following lesson though. We do not become second hand. I will repeat, we do not become second hand. We are just as clean in the eyes of God, as we were, and as the vessel is to the potter, at first creation. Once we confess our sins and repent to God we become as white, unique and beautiful as the snowflakes that will fall this Christmas season.

The fourth and final individual message of hope for Jacob is that he will return home. Unlike the second assurance from God this is not about feeling impoverished, this is a promise of a hope filled future that goes beyond this world, into heaven. We can read about this promise in Matthew 28:20, as it tells us that “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world, Amen.” God tells Jacob that even when he acts outside of His will God will still be there, watching, guiding and loving him. Even when we act outside the will of God, he is still there, watching over us, and it is through that kind of grace, the grace of mercy and promise, that should make us want to leave all sin behind.

When God encounters Jacob at Bethel (the name is now important, as it means house of God), Jacob grows spiritually, making the choice for the first time to personally follow God and accept full responsibility for his relationship with God. God’s promises came in the form of a dream, but Jacob’s response of worship as he built the alter to God, came in a state of waking-alertness. Jacob found that the dreamworld presented to him by God to be more convincing, more appealing and a world that was filled with hope more attractive than the world he fell asleep to. Jacob chooses promise over fear, love over guilt and hope filled future over uncertainty. We must all claim our promises from God ourselves, others cannot do it on our behalf. We need to personally step out in our faith and embrace our promise of a hope filled future. Faith is a wonderful thing, it believes that God is true, hope however, is looking ahead with anticipation for the day Christ reveals the truth. Faith believes that God is our father, hope is our anticipation and longing to be in the continued presence and revelation of God our father. Faith is knowing that we have eternal life, whereas hope is anticipating eternity. Faith is our foundation and hope nourishes this foundation and is the glue that keeps our faith together.

Just as God, the father was the source of Jacob’s hope, Jesus’ birth at nativity becomes our hope. This is the season that allows us to narrow in our focus and celebrate the birth and life of Jesus, the source of our eternal hope. We can read in John 1:45-51 of the influence of the events surrounding Jacob’s dream as Jesus talks to Nathaniel. “Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? Thou shalt see greater than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Jesus is our ladder, our bridge, and the only bridge that allows us the ability to pass from earth into heaven.

Today we can close on one question. Why is the birth of Jesus and the story of Jacob’s ladder essential to our understanding of hope? In the large part we learn best through the examples of others. If we can see how God worked in Jacob’s life providing him with a personalized plan we can look into our own lives and see how we too, are blessed individually.

Another reason why these two stories are important is that as a fallen creation we are never able to grasp the complete nature of heaven. In order to understand we would have to pass through the gates and in our humanity this is not an option laid before us. Yet heaven is able to come to earth, in the form of a baby, the perfect gift. However, heaven itself cannot be poured out into a tainted creation, so there only becomes one viable solution. God comes to us, in a manger, as Jesus Christ. God had sent many prophets, many times, but now he would do something far more shocking. He would leave the throne of heaven and walk among His creation – a king in disguise – humbled as one of His own. Now we as humans can hear, feel and experience all that is important to Him. God entered our world through the doorway called Bethlehem and our world would be changed forever. John 1:14 says this, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld of the father,) full of grace.”

As we look at the connections that are evident between Jacob, Jesus and the Nativity, I have one verse left up my sleeve. The Magi (or wise-men as they are commonly refereed to), as they followed the Star on their journey to see Jesus, would have carried the Law of Moses (the first five books of the Bible), with them. So, it is in Numbers that we read “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob.” A star out of Jacob, Jesus lying among men, who would be one of the descendants of the personalized promise of hope that God gave Jacob in Genesis 28. It all fits together like a perfectly crafted puzzle that only a God, that could provide us with perfect hope could accomplish.

We may feel alone, impoverished, fearful and even be filled with despair, but as we go through the Advent Season let’s remember the lessons from a dream and the advice of Amos. We can only walk with our Savior once we agree to personally take His hand and enter into a two way relationship with Him. Once we do that the only thing left for us is to live a life that is filled with Hope. Amen