5th January

Genesis 16-18; Psalm 5

Bible in a Year
4 minutes

Genesis 16-18

Abraham and Sarah’s flaws continue to show themselves. Rather than trusting God to provide, Sarah finds her own way of making sure they have a child. She decides what is good for herself. Abraham, like Adam before him, does not challenge his wife’s suggestion but goes along with it. 

In doing so, they oppress a poor slave girl, Hagar. Sarah takes her and forces her to sleep with Abraham to produce them a son. Then as soon as Hagar gives birth to this son, Sarah is unhappy and oppresses her some more. This is one deeply flawed couple. Here they are, oppressing an Egyptians slave. This will be mirrored later when the Egyptians oppress their descendants as slaves.

But what we see is that God is willing to use flawed people. We also see that he cares about the oppressed. He sees her struggle and promises her that her son, Ishmael, will grow into a great nation, to the point where she is able to say “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13).

God then affirms the promise he made to Abraham and the relationship he wants them to have through a covenant, a partnership. God will bless and support Abraham, and in return as a sign of Abraham’s confidence in God, he and his descendants are to be circumcised. 

What’s happening here is really clever. If we think back to the flood, the sign of God’s covenant to Noah was a rainbow. This was so whenever it rained, and the people began to fear that God was flooding them again, a rainbow would appear with the rain to remind them they can trust God.

Bring it back to this story. Abraham and Sarah didn’t trust God, and so they took things into their own hands. Using his penis, Abraham oppressed and impregnated a young Egyptian slave. God forgives Abraham and renews his covenant with him, and the sign of this covenant is that Abraham (and his descendants) must mark their penises. This way whenever Abraham looks down he will see the consequences of not trusting in God and doing things his own way. 

God encourages Abraham that he is still going to have a child of his own with Sarah. God will still bless Ishmael, but he won’t allow Abraham to claim he achieved God’s promises in his own strength. When Sarah hears of this, she laughs. Both she and Abraham are far too old for that. But God insists that by this time the following year she will have a child.

Then finally we have the first example where it looks like a human being is able to get God to change his mind. This can be difficult for some to get their head round. The problem is that God has two, almost competing, parts of his character, justice and mercy. 

Because of his justice God could destroy the wicked and remain true to he is, but also because of his mercy God could forgive the wicked and remain true to he is. What we see here is a perfect example of God’s willing to partner with humans. God is allowing himself to be moved by Abraham’s suggestions, but it is always inline with who God is. This should be an encouragement to us in prayer. God empowers our prayer by letting us ‘remind’ him of who he is.

Psalm 5

This psalm is attributed to King David, and fits into the category of Lament Psalms, but only loosely. There is much less of a focus on a specific complaint and more of a general call to God to bless the righteous and oppose the wicked. 

The structure of the Psalm mirrors itself, as we can see below. This is known as a chiasm and is very common in Hebrew literature, particularly poetry. As Hebrew poetry doesn’t use rhyming, it relies much more on repeated themes and very intentional structures.

(a) Psalm 5:1-3 - Asking God to hear their prayers

(b) Psalm 5:4-6 - God opposes the wicked

(c) Psalm 5:7-8 - But the psalmist may enter God’s presence

(b) Psalm 5:9-10 - May the wicked get what is coming to them

(a) Psalm 5:11-12 - Asking God for his protection

As all good prayers start, the psalmist turns to God and asks him to hear. To pay attention and listen. The psalmist identifies God as king. When we come to God, in everything we do, we must acknowledge that he is king over our lives.

As they get ready to enter God’s presence, the psalmist also recognise all the things that would keep someone out of God’s presence. Anyone who is wicked, who boasts, who does evil or tells lies. Anyone who is bloodthirsty or deceitful, these are all things that God hates.

God’s house is a place of abundance and of faithful love. The thing that allows someone to enter God’s presence? The fear of God (Psalm 5:7). This fear leads to righteousness, and so the psalmist asks God to help him be righteous, particularly because right now he is surrounded by enemies and just wants to retaliate.

Then the psalmist turns back to his enemies and why he wants to retaliate against them so badly. They are liars. Inwardly all they want to do is kill and destroy, but outwardly they flatter and pretend. So the psalmist asks God to make the consequences of their actions fall back on them. 

Finally, the psalmist asks for God’s protection. While those who are wicked should be rejected, may those who trust in God rejoice and be protected. God blesses the righteous, protecting them with his righteousness.

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.

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© Bryn Joslin