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Midweek Devotionals

Published weekly on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays.

Midweek Devotional 1/26/2016

Robert Chen

Dear Church:

GENESIS 15:1-11, 17-21

1After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." 2But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." 4But the word of the LORD came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir." 5He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be."6And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

7Then he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess." 8But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" 9He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon."10He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites."

Snowzilla 2016 is almost behind us. I hope everyone managed well enough to get some rest and reconnect with loved ones. Poor kids, another day without school. Everyday without school means everyday a little educational backsliding. Alas! 


I also hope many of you got some good reading done over these snowbound days or got to watch some good youtube videos. The one I've mentioned that's done super well is the Bible Project. See:


Books I recommend: Robert Spitzer's Finding True Happiness.

and The Soul's Upward Yearning


These are the first two books in a four book series that tackle issues that'll be helpful for you and others, especially those who are not believers but who might be open to hearing more about God. 


Another book that's helpful for understanding values that shape cultures around the world and gaining insight into how cultures change is Miguel Basanez's A World of Three Cultures: Honor, Achievement and Joy.


After you get these books, you'll need to pray for another massive snowstorm so that you can stay home and read!


For today's devotional, I offer a simple reflection:


It's all one sided!


Everything is done by God; we simply need to believe that. 


The key verse in this passage is verse 1, of chapter 15 in Genesis. The key word in the key verse is, unfortunately, mistranslated, in many of our English Bibles. Going back to the King James Version, the Hebrew magen is almost universally rendered "shield." Initially this makes sense, since the command that precedes the "shield" is "fear not" or "do not be afraid." The "shield" then is a metaphor for divine protection. And it is also true that in other OT passages the Hebrew magen is rightfully translated "shield" in the contexts of weaponry imagery (sorry about that -- saying aloud the last two words is a mouthful). 


Hebrew, like other Semitic languages (like Arabic and Syriac), is built on triconsonantal root words, for their verbs and most of their nouns. That is, these words contain three consonants. The word for "shield" contains the consonants m-g-n. What's missing in the ancient Biblical text is the vocalization -- how the m-g-n should be pronounced. The vocalization is given by the Hebrew vowel sounds, which must be added. (If you check out an Israeli newspaper, you'll notice that the vowels are missing there as well. The context of reading clues you in about how to pronounce the words in question.) 


Back to the m-g-n. If the m-g-n is pronounced "magen," then we end up with "shield." If, however, we pronounce the m-g-n as "magan," we end up with "benefactor." The change from the e sound to an a sound in the second syllable makes all the difference!


If we make the change from "shield" to "benefactor," then what follows makes better sense, "your reward shall be very great." It is a benefactor, and not a shield, who provides a reward. Abram had one benefactor already in Genesis 12 -- Pharaoh, who provided quite a lot to Abram for the sake of his wife (Gen. 12:16, "Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels"). Abram rejected the offer of a second potential benefactor, the King of Sodom in Chapter 14. 


But this benefactor, YHWH, Abram will pursue. 


And this benefactor offers Abram something beyond his wildest dreams. Verse 5, we read, "He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be."


In response to this great promise from the Benefactor, Abram responds by the only act that's available to him: he believed the Lord. 


Abram believed what he heard from YHWH. Abram believed that what he heard can happen. Abram believed that YHWH could fulfill what He promised. 


The LORD's response to Abram's faith is wilder still. God "counted" or "reckoned" Abram's faith as a form of "righteousness." No person can be truly "righteous" according to the person's effort or religious striving. Only One is Truly Righteous. A human's righteousness must therefore be derivative or must be rendered. Abram believed. That's something noteworthy for God. God credits righteousness to the one who believes. 


Later, in Romans 4:11, Abram is called the "father of all who believe" (Rom. 4:11).


There is so much here in this passage, and in verses 7-11 and 17-21 there's something deep and rich, too. (I'll get to that on Wednesday.)


Let's pray: Father God, thank you for being not only Abram's Benefactor, but ours, for each one of us. You are the great מָגַן (magan). You are the great Provider. You are the great Rewarder. Help us to be like Abram. Help us to believe you and your promises for our great future. And may our faith in you, believing your ability to bring to fruition all that you promise, bring you glory and bring us joy. In Jesus' name, amen.