It’s the beginning of a new year, which means my Bible reading has brought me right back to Genesis. I start every year in Genesis and work my way through the entire Bible, ending each year in Revelation. And, as you would imagine, there’s plenty to learn, even in passages that I’ve revisited many times over the years, passages that I sometimes think I have all figured out.
Take today for instance. I was in Genesis 20, where Abraham has once again lied and said that his wife, Sarah, is his sister. (And she is his half-sister, which he tries to say later, but even the intent in the half-truth was clearly deception.) Abimelech, king of Gerar, took Sarah into his home as a result, had a dream warning him that he was a dead man for taking another man’s wife (yikes!), and promptly attempted to explain himself to God. He tells God why he thought it was okay to take her (he was told that she was just a sister, not a wife) and says this… “in the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.”
I noted this passage a few years ago as I read through it and remember thinking, “In the integrity of my heart… wow.” I began to ask myself if I, like Abimelech, did things with a heart of integrity. Did I do things with a clear conscience, with innocence, with purity? Oh, Lord, let it be so, I remember praying as I highlighted that passage and counted it as good food for the day.
Fast forward to 2020. I read the same passage this morning, skipped right over my notes, and focused on the story, not wanting the me of yesterday to tell me what I should think. And it was familiar at first. Oh, Abimelech, coming to God and telling Him “in the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” And I thought to myself, “In the integrity of my heart… wow.”
Wow. I was honestly appalled. And you know why? Because I really thought about it, about Abimelech, a pagan, fallen man coming before God and claiming his inherent innocence, the cleanness of his heart. And I thought to myself, “You are every bit as wicked as I am, Abimelech.”
I don’t know if I’m any more fallen than I was a few years ago when I read this and was so touched by it, but I suspect that I was and was just oblivious to the true state of my own heart. Well, praise God for perspective because I’m beginning to grasp, more and more every day, the extent of my fallenness. I know, here in 2020, that I am a wicked, detestable, rotten, malicious sinner. No good lives in me, and I can never ever come before God and claim any integrity of heart or innocence.
Praise God, though. Praise Him for the response He gives Abimelech, that He gives to me as well, a response that I somehow failed to get in all of its grace-filled truth a few years ago. Praise God, who said this…
“Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and IT WAS I WHO KEPT YOU FROM SINNING AGAINST ME.” (Caps mine, obviously.)
Yes, you’re wicked. You have no integrity of heart or innocence either one. And the very fact that you were kept from sin was because I, the Lord, kept you from it. Any good in you is ME.
Wow. Wow again. I’m reminded of Paul, how he talks about how his flesh wars against the spirit within him, how Romans 7 is like a tug of war between what is right and what is evil, what is so natural and what seems so impossible. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” I can feel those words. I live those words.
I’m wretched. Who will deliver me?
And Paul says it, just as God said it to Abimelech.
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
I can hear the echoes of that even in Genesis…
“It was I who kept you from sinning against me.”
In the integrity of my heart and my feigned innocence I was lost and hopeless and evil and condemned. But through God’s mercy, through what HE did and what HE does even now as He sanctifies me by the Spirit that lives in me only by faith in Jesus and the life He lived and died to give me… well, I rest in grace. I can rest in Him. I can trust that He will do what I cannot. That though I’m fallen and evil and my heart knows no good, I know HIM, because of what HE has done.
Grace. That’s enough. In Him, I am more than I was, and I am who I am for His glory and His purposes, no longer a slave to myself and my wickedness.
You better believe I had my highlighter back out this morning, highlighting the rest of the story, holding it as a treasure in my heart, and thanking God for the gift of revisiting even the stories I thought I already knew…