So far in Genesis we have covered the creation and fall of humanity. God created the earth by bringing order to it and then put humans on the earth to spread that order. Instead, the humans chose to do things their own way, leading to violence, death, and pollution of all that God had created.
So God decided to wipe everything out as easily as he first made it. Just as he split the waters to create life he allowed the waters to rush back in and wash away all of humanity and its wickedness. He chose Noah and his family to carry on his purpose and order as humanity was always meant to.
However, we saw that Noah and his family were just as vulnerable to the same corruption. As God described it, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Genesis 8:21). Before long humanity was just as corrupt and wicked as before.
But God had promised not to wipe humanity out again, so this time he chose to disinherit them. He would no longer be their God. Instead, he put other spiritual beings in charge of them. He would then choose a new people to be his, which is where we pick up today.
We see God choose Abram (soon to be Abraham) to be a new nation, and it is this nation that God will be God to. As we will eventually read in Deuteronomy 32, while God divided up the people into nations that his spiritual beings would lead on his behalf, the people of Israel (Abraham’s descendants) would be his people, the nation he looked after.
Now you may still be thinking, “that’s unfair, what about all the other nations?” let’s look at the promise God makes to Abraham. “In you all the families of the world will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). It’s not 100% clear yet, but here we see the beginnings of God’s plan to use Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, to be an example to the other nations to guide them back into a personal relationship with God. God leads Abraham to the land of Canaan and promises this land to his descendants.
And so the rest of Genesis is watching Abraham grow into a family, and then that family grow into a nation. What we learn immediately about Abraham is that he’s a flawed human being. Despite God promising to bless him, Abraham quickly becomes afraid of the growing famine and leaves the land of Canaan and tries to save himself by going to Egypt. Like Adam and Eve, he chooses his own wisdom rather than trusting in God’s wisdom.
He lies about his wife being his sister, trades her off to Pharaoh for a load of cattle, and then takes both the cattle and his wife back later when Pharaoh wants nothing to do with him. Just like Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Egyptians SAW that Sarah was beautiful and TOOK her (compare Genesis 3:6 and Genesis 12:15). Abraham is literally playing the role of the snake with his deception here.
However, God is committed to Abraham despite his flaws and uses Pharoah to bless Abraham. But because this blessing came out of Abraham’s disobedience, it comes with a consequence. Abraham’s new found wealth causes division between his people and his nephew Lot, who was travelling with them. The two decide to go their separate ways, which will bring its own problems.
The land that Lot chose was at war, and Lot and his family are soon taken captive as prisoners of war. Lot had greedily picked the best land he could see, and now his greed has come back to get him. In contrast, Abraham selflessly goes into battle to rescue Lot and God continues to bless him, giving him victory. This time Abraham makes sure to honour God by giving one tenth of his winnings to a priest of God, named Melchizedek.
God later confirms that he is going to give Abraham many descendants, and even though Abraham doesn’t understand how, the Bible simply says “he believes the Lord” (Genesis 15:6). This is why the New Testament writers applaud Abraham as our example for faith. We may not understand what God is doing, or how he’s going to keep his promises to us, but we can still trust and believe in him.
God seals this with another covenant, a legally binding contract. This one he seals by walking through a number of cut up animal corpses. This might seem weird to us, but this was the ancient equivalent of spitting and shaking on something. The idea was that if the one who walks through the corpses breaks his contract, may he end up cut open like they were. Again, the God of heaven and earth makes a contract with a human where he commits himself to them no matter what they do.
God then warns Abraham that his descendants will be foreigners in a different land, mistreated and enslaved for four hundred years. But God will use this to bring them out of that land wealthy, so that they might return to this land and establish themselves.
This psalm is attributed to King David, and can be labelled a Lament Psalm which make up over a third of all psalms (see Psalm 22, 44, 88, 90, 141 for examples of other Lament Psalms). Biblical lament is whenever a person takes their pains, hurts, and frustrations before God. It tends to include four steps; turning to God, bringing the complaint, making a request of God, and then declaring trust in God.
Here is a rough structure of the psalm.
Psalm 4:1 - Asking God to hear and answer
Psalm 4:2 - The complaint
Psalm 4:3 - Declaring trust in God
Psalm 4:4-5 - Wisdom offered to those struggling
Psalm 4:6-8 - Declaring trust in God
Turning to God, the psalmist’s main desire is to know that God is listening. Often when we go through difficult times, the most difficult thing is feeling like God is silent in our struggle.
It seems like they are being accused of something, and they are upset that their honour has been turned to shame, and that everyone is making up lies about them. But this person chooses to respond to these insults by putting their trust in God. While humans may accuse and lie, God set those that are his apart and listens to them when they pray.
Next they give themselves a pep talk. In the midst of this struggle, it would be very easy to make some poor decision and do stuff they shouldn’t. Instead, they should not respond out of anger but take themselves away and think through everything properly. They should make sure they are right before God and put their trust in him.
The psalmist is now beginning to pull himself out of his sense of despair. He could continue like many others, wondering if anything good will happen and begging God to be kind to them. But the psalmist knows that God’s will is already for him and has given him the joy he needs to survive.
And so to end, the psalmist makes the greatest declaration of trust in God. He will sleep peacefully that night, knowing that God is the one who keeps him safe.
Just as Psalm 3 is a prayer that was commonly read out in the morning, Psalm 4 was read out in the evening before going to bed each night. These two psalms serve as a reminder of the importance of starting and ending each day with God. It’s the greatest way to get through those difficult times.
Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.
Understanding the context of your passage is always important. BibleProject always do an incredible job of breaking down each book so you can see how your passage fits into the wider story.
Tim and Jon journey through the life of Abraham as a response to what happened at the tower of Babel.
BibleProject have done an animated recap of Genesis 12-50 to help you fit today's passage into the overarching story of Genesis.
Spoken Gospel outlines the book of Genesis and point out some of the key themes, all in the medium of spoken word.
Spoken Gospel explore how in choosing Abram God continues to fulfill all the promises he has made so far.