************ Sermon on Genesis 11:10-26 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 8, 2011
"The Account of Shem"
If you remember, we read a long list of names in Genesis 5 (and Genesis 10). Now we come to another long list of names in Genesis 11. Some of you might be thinking to yourself, "Not another long list of names."
Genesis 5 and 11 are similar in a number of ways. Both end with a key figure in salvation history: Genesis 5 ends with Noah; Genesis 11 ends with Abraham. Both lists ends with a reference to three sons (Gen 5:32; 11:26).
But there are also differences. In Genesis 5 we see and hear the repetition of a formula: "he lived ... he became the father of ... he died." Genesis 11 repeats only part of the same formula: "he lived ... he became the father of ..."; only once does it make a reference to death (Gen 11:32). Meaning what? Meaning that Genesis 5 hammers home the message that the wages of sin is death. The message of Genesis 11, on the other hand, says something about life.
What is the message of Genesis 11 on this Lord's Supper Sunday? As we will find out, it is a message of God's gracious choosing and judgment on man's sin.
God's Gracious Choosing
A Our Bible reading starts with the phrase, "This is the account of Shem" (Gen 11:10). So far in Genesis, we have seen the account of the heavens and the earth (Gen 2:4); the account of Adam (Gen 5:1); the account of Noah (Gen 6:9); the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth (Gen 10:1); and now the account of Shem (Gen 11:10).
God is doing something. That much is evident. But do you see what God is doing? God is choosing. God is zeroing in on one family and one line. God chose Seth but not Cain. God chose Noah out of all the families of the earth. And now, in Genesis 11, we see that God continues to choose. God chose Shem rather than Ham and Japheth. God chose Arphaxad of all the sons and daughters of Shem.
We go down the genealogy from Shem to Arphaxad to Shelah. Notice the next in line to be chosen by God? A man by the name of Eber. Does the name "Eber" sound familiar? Does it sound similar to another name? It is from Eber that the "Hebrews" get their name. So, we see from the beginning that God is setting apart the Hebrews as His chosen people.
B And, notice this, God doesn't choose everyone in the line of Shem. It goes from Shem to Arphaxad to Shelah to Eber and so on. Further on in the Bible we see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. But Abraham's brothers were not chosen. Ishmael, Abraham's other son, was not chosen. Jacob's brother Esau was not chosen. In fact, most of Shem's descendants were not chosen and ended up in heathen religions, worshiping idol gods.
C Why did God choose some people and not others? Why did God choose Noah, for instance? And why did God choose Shem? And why did God choose Nahor and Terah and Abraham? Why did God choose the Hebrews of all the nations on earth?
God did not choose out of merit. God did not choose because His elect are more holy than all others. If you read through the Bible, you will see that the descendants of Shem are just as prone to sin and just as likely to fall short as the descendants of Ham and Japheth. Those whom we know as Arminians mistakenly talk about God choosing on the basis of foreseen faith – namely, God foresees who will believe and chooses them. We in the Reformed tradition can talk about foreseen sin – God knows His elect are sinners but chooses them anyway. So, God does not choose on the basis of merit or holiness.
Nor did God choose His elect because they are smarter and better looking than all others. God did not make the Hebrews His treasured possession and set His affection on them because they were more numerous than other peoples for they were, in fact, the fewest of all peoples (Deut 7:6-7).
You know this or you should: election is by grace; election has nothing to do with us and everything to do with God. Election is according to God's good pleasure. And, He doesn't explain the why of His good pleasure to us. He simply chooses some people over others and we don't have a clue as to why. God sovereignly chose the line of Shem, down to Abraham, and down to Jacob and his sons.
D How does God's choosing end? In Genesis 11 it ends with Abraham, the friend of God. But that is not the end of God's choosing. It continues with Isaac, Jacob, the twelve sons of Jacob, and the people known as the children of Israel.
God's choosing culminates in Jesus Christ. He is the promised seed of Genesis 3:15. He is the fulfilment of the ages.
And, in Jesus, God's choosing includes everyone who believes in Jesus as Savior and serves Him as Lord. In other words, God's choosing is not just an Old Testament thing. The Apostle Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Ephesians:
(Eph 1:4-5) For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love (5) he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will ...Who are the chosen today? Everyone who partakes of the Lord's Supper in faith are included among the chosen.
This morning we eat the bread and drink the cup. Don't think, for even a moment, this was your decision. Because, it wasn't we who chose God. Rather, it was God Who chose us.
II Judgment on Man's Sin
A Our passage also speaks of judgment on man's sin. We see this when we compare life-spans. Let's start by looking at the life-spans of Genesis 5. The average life-span in the beginning was simply incredible: Adam - 930 years, Seth - 912 years, Enosh - 905 years, Kenan - 910 years, Mahalalel - 895 years, Jared 962 years, Methuselah - 969 years, Lamech - 777 years. Yet, as I already mentioned, Genesis 5 hammers home the message that they all died. Truly, as the Bible tells us, the wages of sin is death.
Is it any different in Genesis 11? Genesis 11 doesn't use the word "death" but it is clear that every person listed ends up dying. You would expect that after the judgment of the flood God could look down from heaven and find godly men, women, and children. You would expect that after the judgment of the flood God could find someone who would seek Him. You would expect that after the judgment of the flood God could find those who do good. But what does God find? What does God see when He looks down from heaven upon the sons of men? He sees that no one is righteous, not even one; no one seeks God; all have turned away; no one fears God (cf Rom 3:10-18). All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). So, everyone dies.
B Genesis 11, however, goes beyond this. Not only does everyone die, but everyone dies sooner, more quickly, than they did before the flood. Did you notice what Genesis 11 says about the shortness of life? Genesis 11 tells us that life is on the decrease in terms of longevity. Shem may have lived 600 years, but his children lived shorter lives. Shem's son Arphaxad, for instance, died so young – he was only 438 years old. As for Nahor, he was a mere youth when he died at 148 years.
We need to keep in mind what God said, the judgment He pronounced, just before the flood. God said,
(Gen 6:3) "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years."Our Scripture reading shows us the fulfilment of this judgment.
We need to also keep in mind the words of Moses in Psalm 90. Moses says,
(Ps 90:10) The length of our days is seventy years--or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
Do you see how the number of man's years has been going steadily down? From 900 years to 400 years to 120 years to 80 or 70 years. Only now, in the twenty-first century, is humankind's life-span on the increase again.
What has God done? God by His providence has made man so weak and fragile that he is "like the new grass of the morning–though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered" (Ps 90:5-6).
C Why this decrease in the years of man's life? This is another of God's responses to human sin. For three reasons. First, because a man whose time seems to be unlimited will be reluctant to repent. Because a man whose time seems to be unlimited will say "Later, Later, Don't bother me now" when it comes to faith and religion. God has shortened man's years because He wants all men to repent and live (Ezek 18:32). God has shortened man's life because He wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4).
Why this decrease in the years of man's life? Second, because a man whose time seems to be unlimited has too much time to do sin and evil. Think of all the sin and evil that could be done by a man like Stalin or Hitler or Saddam Hussein if they lived to be 500 or 600. Of course, the same is also true for you and me.
Why this decrease in the years of man's life? Third, man's days are shortened for the elect's sake (Mt 24:22). Remember the cry of the martyred saints in the Revelation: "How long?"
(Rev 6:10) They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?"How long must they wait for justice? How long must they wait for sin and evil to end? How long? A decrease in the length of man's life means the martyred saints don't have to wait as long.
D We see, then, that man not only dies because of sin but also that his days have been shortened because of sin.
When does this end? When does death end? When does life become long again? You know, or you should know. If you believe in Jesus, life never ends. If you believe in Jesus, yours is eternal life in Christ. You all know how John states this in his gospel:
(Jn 3:16) For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.This is what we celebrate in the Lord's Supper this morning. Jesus was given – He died upon the cross and arose from the grave – so we can have eternal life.
The prophet Isaiah has a very unique way of picturing eternal life. He says in his picture of the new heaven and new earth,
(Is 65:20) Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.No, this does not mean there is death in the new heaven and new earth. Rather, see this in contrast to what God said at the time of Noah about man's days being a hundred and twenty years. Instead of death, says Isaiah, there is life. Instead of limited life, there will be unlimited life.
E This life, this unlimited life, is not for everyone. It is only for those who believe. Remember what the Revelation says?
(Rev 21:8) But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.If you do not believe in Jesus you can only look forward to death and more death, endless death. If you do not believe in Jesus you can only look forward to a life that is forever disobedient, forever rebellious, and forever punished with pain and agony.
Do you see how God loves sinners? Do you see how much God wants to save them? He takes people, rebellious people, sinful people, and He chooses them from eternity to eternity to be His children. He joins them to Jesus Christ. And, they join an unbroken chain of those who are the sons and daughters of God.
We can only end by saying how marvelous, how wonderful, and how beautiful is the love of God.
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