The Unchangeable God Part 1 (Gen. 8:20-9:7)
One of the basic things they tell you in marriage or any relationship-building seminar is “never say never” or “never say always.” So don’t say things like, “You always steal the blanket!” or “You never want to talk!” And the flip side is true as well: “You always serve!” or “You are never selfish!” We can’t say those things about us because we change. But we can say those things about God because He is unchangeable. It is one of the attributes of God. When we say unchangeable we mean as Grudem defines it, “God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations.”
There is a whole sermon in that statement, but for Noah and his family, God’s unchangeableness or immutability, was both a concern and a comfort. What questions do you think they had as they walked out of the ark? How do we live in this world, which is still fallen? And I’m sure they knew that they also brought sin on the ark when they entered it. And now they bring sin with them as they enter the new world. How does God want us to live? Is He going to flood us again? How can we survive in a fallen world with fallen hearts? What does God think of life? Will He flood the world again? There must have been a lot of fear and hope mixed together there. What are the things they could bank on? God gives us four things (we will look at two today) that we know will never change about God (the main actor in this story). These are some of the final lessons as we close studying the Flood Narrative. First of all,
I. God will never be defeated by sin (Gen. 8:20-22)
We saw last week that Noah puts God first as he steps off the ark and builds an altar (Gen. 8:20). Not only can he build arks (do big things), he prioritizes the little things (like build altars of worship). He is a picture of the holy worshipper that God desires of all his people. Gen. 8:21 tells us what God thought of his worship. He was pleased. Have you ever wondered what God thinks of the way you worship? Not just sing songs, but every part of our lives? And we know the only way God is pleased with us is if we offer our worship in Christ, who was God’s perfect pleasing sacrifice for our sin. So our prayers, our songs, our service, our work, our relationships all go through Christ first.
Have you ever gotten a prescription from the doctor and you look at it and it looks like your 2 year old scribbled something on a piece of paper? You cannot read it all, but it has always amazed me how at the pharmacy, the pharmacist can take one look at it (do they take classes on doctor’s handwriting?) and know exactly what it says?
Sometimes I feel like that’s what happens in prayer. We send it up to Heaven, but sometimes we don’t know what we are praying for or we pray for the wrong thing or our prayer time is so full of distractions. In other words, it is like a bunch of scribbles. But like the pharmacist, our Lord intercepts those things, seals it in His blood and says, “Father, accept this offering for my sake.” He understands those groans of our soul that no one else understands. He makes sense of our cold words and the broken heart that sometimes leaves us with no words at all. Like the high priest who would have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel engraved on the outside of his robe on the chest region, as though he could keep them close to his heart (Ex. 28:21), our Lord has our names engraved on his heart and on his hands (Is. 49:16) and is ever our mediator. And if we give our offering to Christ, no matter how it looks like, He will seal it with His blood and offer it to God the Father.
And then we get into a peek of God’s heart in Gen. 8:21. The word “for” should best be translated as “even though.” God is not lifting the curse of Gen. 3, but promising not to add to it. This is amazing and counter to what we should expect here. It should say something like, “I will daily destroy you with a flood since your heart is continually evil and since you all have seen me do this great judgment, how greater a flood should you face!” No, God responds in mercy and grace. As Richard Sibbes once said, “there is more mercy in the heart of Christ than sin in ours.”
In Gen. 8:22, God says when you see the cycle of seasons know that it is not Mother Nature, but my divine hand demonstrating my faithfulness and reliability. As one commentator Victor Hamilton says, “However irregular the human heart may be (8:21b), there will be a regularity in God’s world and its cycles.” He says, “while the earth remains,” implying one day it will not endure, but as long as this earth endures, God will be faithful. Notice again, “this promise is dependent upon the goodness of God and not the righteousness of humanity, for humanity will always languish in sin.” So I will not destroy the world through a global flood, God says. Not because we don’t deserve it. We do. But God in grace says He will not.
We saw that the world had committed the worst kind of evil, even opening up their hearts and lives to demonic invasion. God’s heart was broken. Yet God will not be defeated by human sin, even the worst kind of sin. I hope this encourages you. There is no pit so deep the love of Christ is not deeper still. And just when we secretly think we have used up all of God’s grace, we are again amazed that this God who has chosen to knit His heart with ours and though makes Him still offers grace. If you think you have sinned too much to receive grace, you know too much about your sin and not enough about God. Look at Isaiah 55:7: “let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him and to our God, who will abundantly pardon.” There is abundant pardon for abundant sin. Secondly,
II. God will always value life (Gen. 9:1-7)
With grace, God then re-commissions Noah. Coming under God’s grace means coming under obedience. In Gen. 9:1-7 God tells Noah how he and his sons are to live. This is the third time “blessed” is used in Genesis. God has always been a God who blesses His people. God blesses you to be a blessing and blessing to others means you obey Him. Obedience is where you find blessing. And He gives Noah the same command that He gave Adam to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28). He will say it again in Gen. 9:7. Remember again, this is not God simply saying, “Go make babies. Fill the planet with people.” There’s more to it. God is reminding them that they are called with a huge responsibility to fill the earth with God’s glory. Glory literally means “weight.” So fill the world with the weight of who God is. Tell them that God is the most important thing that matters. Tell them that God is the most real and most important thing about life. So make children who will be my image-bearers and image-reflectors of the glory of God.
Filling the world with God’s glory has always been God’s desire. The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) where Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations” is simply the same mandate as we find here to fill the earth with God’s glory. God wants to use us to win people over to Him and when we do that, He will get maximum glory, because that person will be another true image-bearer of Him. And we have God’s word of blessing backing us up.
But as we do that, God tells Noah here on Gen. 9:2-6 that we are to make sure our value system is in order. The order that God has established should go like this: God, humans, animals and plants. There is one God and we are not called to take His place. We are to serve God. There are also animals and plants. They are given to us to serve us so that we can serve God. Why did God put this fear and terror of man in all creatures? For two reasons: (1) For the protection of animals who will no longer be at peace with man, and (2) for the protection of man who will no longer be at peace with animals.
Notice the end of Gen. 9:2: “into your hand they are delivered.” Here is the beginning of God giving man permission to eat meat (Gen. 9:3). This is the beginning of barbeque. Thus, before this, man was vegetarian. There is nothing spiritual about being vegetarian or sinful about not being vegetarian. 1 Tim. 4:4 tells us that everything created by God is good and to be received with thanksgiving. Now you can certainly choose to be vegetarian or not, because God does not judge according to questions of food or drink (Col. 2:16). The question always is why you do what you do. If you are doing it not for personal preference, but thinking it is more spiritual, then you are living by works and that is what God is opposed to.
The point is that we should put value on the right things. We should not value animals over people or plants above animals or plants above people. Don’t mess up the order. Remember the Holy Spirit always brings order (Gen. 1:2). Notice Gen. 9:4. Why does God say not to eat something with its blood? First of all, life was in the blood in the Jewish mind (Lev. 17:11). The blood was a symbol of a person’s life. Commentator Wenham notes that “It is easy to see why blood is identified with life…a beating heart and a strong pulse are the clearest evidence of life.  This is why when we say Christ shed His blood for us, we are saying, He sacrificially gave His life for us. Secondly, God is telling us not to be like animals and eat anything that is alive.
Again, the point is the same. While we do certainly respect and value animals and plants, it is never above human life. Unfortunately, some do not get this. So we have animal rights and plant rights, which are not bad in and of itself, but it is an issue when human issues like killing the unborn, genocide, starvation, and orphans are being neglected. In some places we have people turning animals into gods and serving them, while people die of starvation. When people put value in the wrong order, it thus devalues God who put that order in the first place. When you mess up the order below you, you will mess up the order above you. God will not be your God. Animals and plants will be.
God says value human life because He does. God wants us to have life and value it. Notice in Gen. 9:5-6. A few generations before we saw Cain kill his brother (Gen. 4:1-16). Then we saw Lamech boasting about possibly killing a young man (Gen. 4:23). Right before the Flood, there was violence (Gen. 6:11-12). Remember that the people were self-destructing themselves. So God here is putting a fear of consequences here to curb humanity’s propensity towards destruction. We can get into a lengthy debate about capital punishment and the death penalty, but here simply see that God puts value of human life above all things because humans are made in the divine image. And just because God has power of our lives does not mean we do.
What is God really saying here? He is saying love me first (notice Noah did that, Gen. 8:20) and love people next. This is really the great commandment. God puts value on our lives, so we should put value in life and people in our lives. I was convicted by this. Now we could apply this and ask ourselves: Am I pro-life? How do I see the death penalty? But I want to go deeper and simpler. Here we see a God who celebrates life. He seems to find joy about people making little people and people taking care of people. Maybe this is because doing so reflects how He’s like to us. He creates us and He cares for us. I don’t know about you but I don’t live like that. Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Here are some “life” questions here in application:
a) Where do I place my value?
I think very often I value my things more than people. I had this dream this past week where I left my backpack somewhere and my laptop was inside. I came back and noticed my laptop was missing and I started freaking out. God was showing me where my values lie.
Being made in God’s image (Gen. 9:6) means that we were created to worship and live for God’s glory, not our own. We were made to serve God and others. That means that if we try to put our own happiness instead of obedience to God, we “violate our own nature and become, ultimately, miserable.” Jesus says, “Whoever wants to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25). He is saying, “If you seek happiness more than you seek me, you will have neither; if you seek to serve me more than serve happiness, you will have both.” Do you seek self-glory and happiness more than you seek Christ? When Jesus says these “hard sayings,” it is not to make our lives miserable, it is really for our benefit and blessing.
Jesus also said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be” (Matt. 6:21). As Morris notes, “The place where we choose to store up what we value most shows what our values are deep down.” So “heart” is not simply feelings, but your total being. What takes over your whole being? What do you look at? What your head turns to is where your heart is. What do you think about the most when you have nothing to do? What is stealing your heart for Christ?
b)What makes me come alive?
Someone once said that life is what makes you come alive. What makes you come alive? Whatever it is that makes you come alive, that is what you worship. If that is what you worship, that is what you are a slave to. Is Christ your life (Col. 3:3)? As G.K. Chesterton once said, “For when we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.” We are all worshippers (watch people at a ball game or at a concert or celebrity sighting and you will see) and we can tell what we worship by what makes us come alive.
c) How thankful am I?
Author Brennan Manning says, “Let’s say I interviewed ten people, asking each the same question---‘Do you trust God?’—and each answered, ‘Yes, I trust God,’ but nine of the ten actually did not trust him. How would I find out which one of the ragamuffins was telling the truth? I would videotape each of the ten lives for a month and then, after watching the videos, pass judgment using this criterion: the person with an abiding spirit of gratitude is the one who trusts God. The foremost quality of a trusting disciple is gratefulness.”
I am so often simply complaining and whining about my life. We get up with “Oh I have so much to do!” and then start our day frantically complaining about the coffee, the traffic, the copier, the coworkers, the supervisor, the in-laws, the kids, the bills, the spouse, the mortgage, etc. Thomas Fuller once said, “We are born crying, live complaining, and die disappointed.” I really don’t want that to be my foremost quality when I die!
Look over at Romans 1. Paul shows us the reason for God’s wrath due to the downward spiral of man’s sin. He says it started with mankind rejecting the wonders of God’s creation and rejected God (Rom. 1:20). What followed this? Interestingly and surprisingly, we find that it was ingratitude! (Rom. 1:21). Lack of gratitude led to foolish thinking, which led to foolish feelings and then false worship (Rom. 1:21-23).
Do I have a complaining spirit? Remember when Adam complained about Eve after the Fall? (Gen. 3:12). He said, “This woman YOU GAVE ME.” Behind his complaining of Eve, He was really complaining about God. God it’s your fault. God, you sinned! In essence, he’s saying, God, you are not good. A better God would not have given me this woman. Pastor Jon Courson adds, “Anytime I blame someone else—be it a spouse, a parent, a boss, an employee, a neighbor—I am ultimately blaming the One who put that person in my life.”
This passage teaches us that God celebrates life and all of life is grace. As Manning says, “Gratitude arises from the lived perception, evaluation and acceptance of all of life as grace—as an undeserved and unearned gift from the Father’s hand.” So sometimes may say, “Oh, I hate my life!” And in our heart we are thinking, “I deserve better than this!” Loved ones, we better be glad we do not get what we deserve. Because in God’s eyes, all we deserve is death, apart from Jesus Christ.
Am I growing in gratitude? I want to be a life giver, not a life sucker. Being around me should reveal that I am one living by grace by a God who has given me one more day to live. Jenny and I try to do this exercise before we sleep: We ask each other, “What were the things that encouraged you today? What were your ‘highs’ and what were your ‘lows’?” It is a blessing to get to bed with a grateful heart acknowledging this God of grace has graciously given me another day to live for Him.
The point of this is not to focus on our badness. It is to focus on His goodness. The Gospel says that for ungrateful, complaining and idolatrous people who have misplaced love and lost the reason for living, Jesus came to die. It is a bad thing that Jesus needed to die for people like us, but a wonderful thing that He thought we were worth dying for (Lewis Smedes). And because He died for us, we can live for Him, with the power to be grateful, Jesus-loving people who values the things that God values. So we need a new beginning this week and new mercies, God offers that to us, yet again, because He will never let sin defeat Him.
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As quoted in http://www.proofthatgodexists.org/favourite-quotes.php accessed 4 November 2011.
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