Abraham fell on his face and laughed…
Sarah laughed to herself …
(Genesis 17:17a; 18:12a)
Many are happy to overlook the way God has revealed Himself in the sacred histories. They prefer to view Him through inspired statements made about Him. Then they define His actions in view of those holy declarations. This is a good principle, but we should not neglect to watch carefully to see how He interacts with people that He loves. Perhaps statements about God might be seen through the revelatory record of His relationships. For example, look at Abraham and Sarah’s unbelief. First, look at Abraham:
Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. “I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. (Genesis 17:15-19)
At least Abraham kept his derision to himself. He only spoke “in his heart.” God didn’t reprove him. God continued to declare His purposes for Abraham. Yet, look at Sarah. Really, this couple just goes from bad to worse…
He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ “Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.” (Genesis 18:9-15)
Here’s a woman who actually laughs in disbelief at God’s promise. When she’s called on it, in fear and disbelief in God’s goodness, she lies to God’s face. Why wasn’t Sarah turned to ashes where she stood? In the very next chapter (the inexorably severe judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah) we read of Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt for disobeying the word of an angel. Here, we have the inspired record: Lot’s wife’s Aunt Sarah secretly mocking God’s word. She laughed!
Not only did God not destroy Sarah, but He didn’t rescind His promise to her. Not only did God not respond in wrath, but Sarah didn’t disqualify herself from His purposes for her. In fact, the gentle reproof He offered did not even receive a penitent response. What did she say? “I did not laugh.” So, Sarah not only laughs at God’s word, but when convicted by the audible voice of God she doesn’t even have the reverence to humbly confess her fault. She denies, she maintains her righteousness. And this woman lived? What did God say? “No, but you did laugh.” I have been familiar with this story for years, but still can’t quite get over this.
This is as poignant and merciful an interaction as anything we read about in the New Testament. In fact, where else in the Sacred Text do we see this type of behavior? (I’m not just writing about Sarah, but Sarah and God!)
Have you ever received a promise that you believe was from God, but now, if it is mentioned, the very sound of it brings pain? If the LORD, Himself, was to draw near to you and restate His purpose, would you bitterly laugh? Would you mock? Have you done that? If so, take heart. He is the God of Abraham, yes, but He is also the God of Sarah.
Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” (Genesis 21:5-7)
What an incredible display of the God of Sarah’s faithfulness. Before we leave this story, let’s read the way the writer of Hebrews tells this story:
By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. (Hebrews 11:11)
Are you kidding? That’s the apostolic verdict? I am tempted to laugh…
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: Abraham, calling, children, Genesis, God, Isaac, Ishmael, judgment, prophecy, righteousness, sarah
The Sense of God’s Holiness
‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’ -Lev. 10.3
The nations are perishing and the Church is languishing for want of the knowledge of God. This generation of American souls is largely ignorant of the God of the Scriptures, and we have been too preoccupied and distracted by this world to come into that knowledge ourselves. We have preached a hollow message that bears little resemblance to the revelation of God set forth by the apostles and prophets, and the condition of our nation testifies to it.
We have made light of sin, made the faith into a mere subculture, and the cities of America remain mostly unconvinced of the reality of God. We have not demonstrated His love and purity, for we have been functioning along the lines of the world, catering to self and living under the intoxicating influences of a consumeristic society.
This story of Aaron’s sons rattles our presumptuous definitions of God, and while it may seem unsavory or distasteful to consider, it is a vital portion of Scripture that needs to be reflected on. We need to reckon with passages like this until we break into a fuller understanding of who the Lord is, for if we pick and choose passages only of our own liking, we end up forming distorted views of God. Indeed, we all see in part, but to willfully neglect an aspect of who He is according to the Scriptures is to open the gate to deception.
I believe the message of His great love must increase and be shouted from the rooftops, but if He has also shown Himself as holy, and we fail to see Him as He has revealed Himself, what foundation do we have? His attributes are not categories that we can pick based on personal preference, as if the Bible was a menu at a restaurant. His traits are intertwined and tied up with His Person, and every revelation of God given in the Scriptures is a glimpse into His great heart. We cannot discard the portions that seem less appealing. If we do that, we have created our own view instead of receiving His. At best, our revelation of God will be a partial foundation, and that is not sufficient for a life of discipleship, nor will it hold in days of great trial and upheaval. We need to be rooted and grounded in His great love and purity, walking in the joy of communion and the fear of the Lord, for this alone will fit us to glorify Him in the day of His power.
He has revealed both His “kindness” and His “severity” for a reason (Rom. 11.22). It is not merely so that our systematic theology will be accurate. He has revealed Himself in this way because this is who He is, and to know Him and love Him as He is, that alone is eternal life.
Decades ago, A.W. Tozer wrote:
I refer to the loss of the concept of majesty from the popular religious mind. The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge, and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.
…. The world is evil, the times are waxing late, and the glory of God has departed from the church as the fiery cloud once lifted from the door of the Temple in the sight of Ezekiel the prophet.
The God of Abraham has withdrawn His conscious Presence from us, and another God whom our fathers knew not is making himself at home among us.
(A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy; Harper & Brothers, 1961; pp. 6, 49)
I am convinced that Tozer’s words are profoundly true of the Church in our times, and one of the chief reasons for this loss of majesty is that we have diminished- perhaps unconsciously- the sense of God’s holiness. We need a recovery of reverence, hatred for sin, and a baptism of fire to purge us of the arrogance and strutting that still marks too many of our lives and ministries.
There are wonderful teachings on the love of God in circulation, and I pray they continue to increase as our hearts enlarge in the experience of His kindness and compassion. But we are radically lacking a sense of His holiness, and since He is both loving beyond comprehension, and holy beyond description, the whole counsel of Scripture is essential for a true knowledge of God. Passages like this from Leviticus 10 provide a crucial vantage point for our understanding of Who God is.
Aaron’s sons, along with the people of Israel, had witnessed the majesty of God at the end of chapter 9. “The glory of the Lord appeared to all the people,” “fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering,” “and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.” (9.23-24)
Without a doubt, the scene was exhilarating, and the sense of God’s mercy and holiness was overwhelming for all who were present. Reverence and joy mingled within them, and the people fell prostrate with shouts of praise and awe issuing forth. What happened next is both devastating and sobering.
“Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.” (10.1-2)
We don’t know exactly what prompted Nadab and Abihu to perform what is recorded in chapter 10. Were they trying to reproduce the elation of the previous event? Were they wanting their names to be recognized before the people, rather than being jealous for the glory of God’s name? We don’t have the answer to every question here, but we do know that the fire they offered was not authorized by the Lord. It was offered in their “respective firepans,” and its source was of men rather than of God. It was “strange” and unholy, something “which He had not commanded them.”
It was so offensive to the Lord that “fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.”
At this point it is easy for our hearts to short-circuit. We lose touch with the raw reality of the Biblical passage. We cannot fathom the thought that the very fire of God Himself actually came out from the holy place and devoured the sons of Aaron. Our view of the Lord is casual and light, and the idea of judgment is foreign to most modern believers. If the idea of God’s wrath is agreed to in a credal way, it often bears a feeling of unreality, and the idea of judgment actually touching men on the earth seems fictitious or mythical.
But that does not discount the truth of the passage, and we need to realize that this is an actual historical event. It is not allegorical or symbolic, but a true piece of our heritage in the faith. It is meant to bring to us what it brought to Moses, Aaron, and the people of God; namely, a sense of His holiness, and an awareness that He does not tolerate sin, nor any activity that is carried out in His name that misrepresents His glory.
Just when we might have blamed the event on some demonic attack, Moses gives clarity to what has occurred.
“Moses then said to Aaron, ‘This is what the LORD spoke of when he said:
‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’
Aaron remained silent.” (v. 3)
This event of judgment, which gripped the community of Israel with holy fear, is completely intertwined with the revelation of God in the Scriptures. It is just as much a revelation of His personality as was His washing of the disciples feet, His blessing of little children, and His raising of Lazarus from the dead. It is a revelation of God’s holiness, and it is one that we need desperately to recover. He is holy, and we cannot use Him for our purposes.
This hits home in a concentrated way in this present generation. Perhaps the fouls committed against the sense of His holiness are no more flagrant than in certain segments of the Charismatic Church, where charisma and gifting are often elevated while the Scriptures and the character of Christ are undervalued.
My heart aches in this hour of often flippant faith, when silliness and frivolity are equated with “liberty in the Spirit,” and when anyone with jealousy for truth and reality is accused of having a religious spirit.
When I see men placing a low value on the Scriptures, or labeling anyone with passion for the Word a “pharisee,” I tremble on the inside.
When I see men acting as if they are inhaling the Holy Spirit through imaginary marijuana joints, calling it “Jehovajuana” and claiming that they are “toking the Ghost,” I am mortified at the total loss of reverence for God. There is absolutely nothing holy about such activity! It is a deplorable and scandalous example of strange and unauthorized fire.
When I see men boasting of great power and bragging about the international influence of their ministries while the sense of His holiness is absent, it makes me apprehensive.
When a so-called “revivalist” can shed his wife and marry another woman with no Scriptural grounds, only to re-enter public ministry with the blessing of well-known leaders, I am filled with concern. This has happened many times over the years, and I am wondering where the standard of truth has gone!
I want to be merciful towards all men, but there has to come a point where the gullibility and lack of discernment are spoken against. I don’t think we are far from Tozer’s description, that “another God whom our fathers knew not is making himself at home among us.”
A few of my mentors have even encountered a trend among “worship-leaders,” where they will use profanity, or do other wild and crazy things in services, claiming that by this absurdity they are “shaking the religious spirit off of the crowd.” I cannot give words to how far we have fallen.
You may say that I have a religious spirit myself, but I cannot give my soul over to these expressions of spiritual activity that militate against the revelation of God that I have received over the course of my life in God. He is holy, holy, holy, and the line of revelation from Genesis to Revelation does not alter one bit. He is kinder and more loving than we can describe, but He is pure and just as well, His judgments have already touched the earth, and He is still slated to return as both Savior and Judge.
We do need to desire “earnestly” the gifts of the Spirit and the outpouring of His power. We need to be awakened more and more to the depth of His great love and compassion. And indeed, when the Spirit of God moves in power, things will happen that we cannot explain and that take us by surprise. But what has happened to the fear of the Lord?
I am convinced that our unwillingness to come into the knowledge of God, as the Scriptures have revealed Him, has produced the seedbed for our sub-apostolic Christianity. Before the cities of the earth will be “turned upside down,” we need to regain the majesty of the revelation of God Himself. We need to turn from sin and return to the God of glory, to the Scriptures, to prayer and fasting, to worship and obedience.
We have lost the sense of His holiness, and I fear the consequences are much worse than the immediate judgment of two priestly sons. The Lord has permitted many to veer off into their own ideas of Himself, even while chasing supernatural activity, and their stupor grows heavier the more and more men make light of sin and neglect the Scriptures. A widespread famine of the true knowledge of God is even more tragic than the death of Aaron’s sons. Entire movements are chugging along without a sense of His holiness, quite at home with sin, and so intermingled with the world that there is no “distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean.” (Lev. 10.10)
We cannot rightly value the kindness and mercy of the Lord if we have diminished the bright light of His holiness and the radical nature of His hatred for sin.
We are more like the 1st-century Church at Corinth than we realize, and the word of the apostle Paul is the same to us as it was to them. He did not doubt the validity of their gifts, nor did he consider them unbelievers. But he had serious correction to give as well, for they were veering off in the wrong direction:
“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’ Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.” -1 Cor. 15.33-34
Oh, for the true knowledge of God! For the joy of communion and the trembling of reverence! The salvation of Israel and the nations, and the raising of our sons and daughters depends entirely upon the measure to which we have come into the knowledge of God, as He truly is. He kindly invites us into the purity and joy of union with Himself, for which reason we have been saved. We need to be enlarged in His love. We need the sense of His holiness. May we hear from God Himself in this hour.
Lord, our lips are unclean, and we live amongst a people of unclean lips. We have failed to see You as You are, but You have been so gracious to give us the Scriptures. You have been so gracious to send Your Son. You are merciful enough to send us Your Spirit and to lead us into all truth. You have been so patient with us. Would you wake us up to the reality of Your holiness? We want to turn from silliness and deception, and to come into the apostolic faith of the Scriptures. Make us a people of humility, holiness, love, and power. Let us come into the sense of Your holiness, that a line of distinction may be drawn in the earth again. Let us know You as you are, and let Your name be honored and glorified above all.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: A.W. Tozer, Abraham, Christ, demons, Genesis, holiness, Moses, prayer, Revival, worship
In Charles Finney’s account of his baptism into the Holy Spirit, he said, “As I went in and shut the door after me, it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It did not occur to me then, nor did it for some time afterward, that it was wholly a mental state. …He said nothing, but looked at me in such a manner as to break me right down at his feet. …I fell down at his feet and poured out my soul to him. I wept aloud like a child, and made such confessions as I could with my choked utterance. It seemed to me that I bathed his feet with my tears…”
I think that this description is characteristic of a genuine Holy Spirit encounter…our love for and revelation of the Son will grow and blossom. I don’t understand people who have “revivals” and conferences where they are obsessed with the Holy Spirit, but don’t even acknowledge Jesus. They sing songs about glory, power, anointing and never mention the name of Jesus. They talk about angels and miracles, visions, encounters and third Heaven experiences, but never talk about Jesus. How can this be? The Holy Spirit does not come to speak of Himself…He points away from himself to another – Jesus!
John 16:13,14 says, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for HE SHALL NOT SPEAK OF HIMSELF…HE SHALL GLORIFY ME: for he shall receive of mine and shall show it unto you.”
It is impossible to have a genuine encounter with the Holy Spirit and not have an encounter with Jesus. If you ever see this happening be very careful, because while there are many spirits in the world, there is only ONE HOLY SPIRIT!
In Genesis Chapter 24 we read the story of Abraham sending his servant Eliazar to find a wife for His son; Isaac. It is Eliazar who brings Isaac and Rebekah, his bride, together. In this story we see so many types. Abraham is a type of God the Father. Isaac is a type of Jesus. Eliazar is a type of the Holy Spirit, and Rebekah is a type of the Church. There are many spiritual truths that can be drawn out of this story, but there is one that jumped out at me as I just read this verse recently.
Even though Rebekah had never seen Isaac, she seemed to love him greatly. She chose to leave her father, mother and family to be with him. As soon as she saw Isaac, she jumped off her camel and went to meet him. When they met face to face there was an instantaneous bonding between them. There were no dates, no courting, no prenuptial agreements or arrangements…they went straight to the honeymoon.
How is it that Rebekah loved Isaac even though she had never seen him? I think you can blame this on Eliazer. I think that from the moment he met Rebekah, he began to talk about his master and brag about him telling Rebekah how wonderful he was, how handsome, kind and gentle. On the entire camel ride back to the south country, Eliazer told Rebekah stories about Isaac and described him in detail. Rebekah was infatuated with this incredible man and could not wait to meet him face to face.
1Peter. 1:8 says, “and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory…”
Verse 53 says that Eliazer, “…brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold and raiment and gave them to Rebekah…” These gifts that Eliazer lavished on Rebekah are types of the gifts of the Spirit. They were not Eliazer’s, they were Isaac’s and were a sign of Isaac’s love. Of course they made Rebekah look beautiful as well, but the real purpose was to cause Rebekah to fall more in love with her groom…and it worked! When the Holy Spirit is moving and the Gifts of the Spirit are in operation we can expect to find people falling more in love with Jesus.
But consider this: what if Eliazer had flirted with Rebekah and tried to attract her with is own charm? What if Eliazer had given her his own gifts and told stories about his own life to win her over? What if Rebekah had become infatuated with and fallen in love with Eliazer instead of Isaac? He would have been a wicked, unfaithful and seductive servant.
Paul warns us that in the last days there will also be “seducing spirits” in operation. A seducing spirit is one that would seek to divert attention from Jesus and unto itself. Where people love the gifts more than the groom there are seductive spirits in operation. Where people seek manifestations more than “the man,” there are seductive spirits at work. Any time Jesus is not the main focus, the supreme attraction, the ultimate fascination, the crowning prize and the preeminent desire – WATCH OUT! The Holy Spirit has nothing to do with it!
The Holy Spirit will always speak about JESUS, reveal JESUS, exalt JESUS, promote JESUS and magnify JESUS…nothing else and nothing less than JESUS!
“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceeded from the Father, he shall testify of me” (John 15:26).
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: Abraham, Charles Finney, Church, conference, Genesis, Holy Spirit, Isaac, Jesus, Paul, Rebekah, Revival