God rewards dishonesty

Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land. When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, ‘I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife”; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.’ When Abram entered Egypt the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. When the officials of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female slaves, female donkeys, and camels.

But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. So Pharaoh called Abram, and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, “She is my sister”, so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and be gone.’ And Pharaoh gave his men orders concerning him; and they set him on the way, with his wife and all that he had. Genesis 12:10-20

You notice what’s missing in this account? Any criticism of Abram. Pharaoh, who acts with complete honour, is cursed, and Abram is richly rewarded – blessed – by God for his dishonesty. Same happens again, with the same trick, in Genesis 20. It seems God rewards this man twice for dishonestly using his wife as a sexual lure to take advantage of a rich man.

A table of enemies

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…Pslam 23:5a

“Hey, enemies, look at this! Look at this amazing meal my God has provided! Sucks to be you, eh? Watch me enjoy myself!”


“Welcome, enemies, to my table. Come and sit down, there’s plenty of food for everyone!”

A nasty reminder

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3

One of my paradigmatic verses; the blessing of the people of God is designed to overflow – blessed to be a blessing. How many times have I used this verse, explicitly or implicitly, in my preaching? Probably not more than the stars in the sky or the sand in the desert, but not so far off…

And how many times have I made reference to “the one who curses you I will curse”? Zero.

Sometimes this “read the text more closely” isn’t as much fun as others.


Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. Numbers 21:6-9

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.John 3:14-15

The thing about the snakes is that they were the judgement as well as the cure. The snake was lifted up in order to free the people from… snakes. Snakes, sent by God to punish the people. Is Jesus (or John) just telling us about the lifted up Son of Man saving us, or is he also quietly reminding us that the same Son of Man represents judgement…

Or even that God’s judgement always contains within it the mechanism of salvation?

Get over yourself

They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against MosesExodus 17:1b-3a

And so Moses starts the long and dishonourable tradition of religious leaders who, when their followers are concerned about the direction things are going, accuse them of challenging God. Get over yourself, Moses. They weren’t testing God. They were objecting to your leadership, ’cause they were dying of thirst. And you didn’t even seem to have noticed.

What day is it today?

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ …
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. Genesis 1:26;1:31-2:3

What day is it today? We treat this story (even in play, I’m not going take it literally…) as a description of the start of all things, as if we live in what comes after. But might it be a description of the whole of history?

For in one place it speaks about the seventh day as follows: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’ And again in this place it says, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’ Hebrews 4:4-5

They shall not – in the future – enter my rest – the seventh day.

Is it possible that we are living in the sixth day of the story, the day of creation and dominion, and that the seventh day, God’s rest, is still to come? That “the heavens and the earth were finished” is a prophecy, not a history?

How rude!

Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ Matthew 17:4-5

While he was still speaking… how rude of God, to interrupt. And to interrupt with the words “listen to him” – shut up, stop talking, start listening….

Or is the voice giving Moses and Elijah a slap down? Peter would build three tabernacles, one for each of them; Moses, Elijah, Jesus: but the voice says “this is my Son – not the other two – listen to him“…