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Going through Genesis with S. Lewis Johnson


My morning sermon series through Genesis continues, now reaching Genesis 29 and the story of Jacob, and this has been an enjoyable and educational time, learning more of God’s word in the Genesis stories.  Now for a few highlights from the last several chapters:

Genesis 21 is the weaning of Abraham.  Yes, that’s right — not just the weaning of Isaac, but the weaning of Abraham from trusting in his own strength.  Up till this time, Abraham has been relying on himself in various ways:  his older son Ishmael, and even his long pact with Sarah to say, wherever they travel, that they are brother and sister.  Genesis 20 showed the last of these incidents where Abraham lied to unbelievers regarding his wife.  S. Lewis Johnson points out that, based on Abraham’s statement in Genesis 20:13, he likely had lied many times about this, not just the two times recorded for us.  So in Genesis 21, after Abraham has been found out in this lie, he now must give up Ishmael, thus setting the stage for Genesis 22 in which God tells Abraham to give up “your only son, Isaac.”

Genesis 22 brought up a brief discussion of the “law of first mention,” a theological term new to me.  Genesis 22 is the first mention in the Bible of a test.  There are many other “firsts” pointed out by S. Lewis Johnson.

Genesis 23 tells us Sarah’s death and her age at death.  I had never really thought about it, but SLJ here noted that Sarah is the only woman in the Bible for whom we know her age at death.  Interesting.   As SLJ further notes, Sarah is a special example for godly women; he references 1 Peter 3, the command for women to be godly and submissive to their husbands, like Sarah.

Genesis 23 also shows us that it’s okay to grieve for our departed, that it’s normal to cry at their death, even if they have gone to be with the Lord.  SLJ has no use for the stoical, phony happy people at funerals.  Here I am personally reminded of this difference in the case of my grandmother, who was a big church-going Southern Baptist but who always smiled and acted happy at funerals.  I heard that she did that because of rejoicing that the person was now in heaven, but in certain such funerals I wonder if the deceased was indeed with God.  But Genesis 23 gives us a biblical model of Abraham, and even he experienced the true emotions of grief and sorrow in this loss of Sarah.

An interesting note regarding Genesis 25:17 —

Altogether, Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people.

Here S. Lewis Johnson notes the phrase “and he was gathered to his people,” a phrase also used to describe the death of Abraham.  He suggests that Ishmael could very well have been saved.  Though he was not the one through whom the covenant promise would come, yet Ishmael could very well have been a believer.  SLJ further notes that the situation with Esau is quite different, but Ishmael’s death suggests that Ishmael believed the faith of Abraham.  Here I looked at the texts a little further, and found that the same phrase is later used to describe Isaac’s death in Genesis 35:29.  I looked for a description of the death of Esau, but interestingly the Bible never even mentions Esau’s death, much less his age at death or how he died.  Then, in my Horner Bible Reading Plan list 2 reading for today, I noted the following concerning Ishmael in Genesis 21:20 — “God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.”  The phrase “God was with the boy as he grew up” also supports SLJ’s view.

And lastly, concerning Genesis 28:6-9, the description of Esau going to Ishmael to get another wife.  I had always just thought of this as Esau’s further rebellion, into increasing polygamy to get another wife after Jacob was sent away.  But S. Lewis Johnson sees this as an attempt, and a feeble one at that, of Esau to somehow gain the favor of his parents by marrying from his relatives.  My long-time NIV Study Bible doesn’t comment either way on it, but I checked my new MacArthur Bible Commentary, and sure enough MacArthur makes the same observation here.

Here I’ve been a Christian for many years, and generally know my Bible from regularly reading it through once a year (until recently, now multiple readings per year).  Yet until recently I had never done any in-depth Bible Study, and so I find that I’m learning even more new and interesting things.  Another great thing is that I’ve only just started with my “new teacher” S. Lewis Johnson:  there are literally hundreds or thousands more such Bible lessons to go through in the S. Lewis Johnson collection.

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