God’s People, part 17: Tamar

Read Genesis 38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” (Ruth‬ ‭4:12‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 17: Tamar. There are many strange stories in the Bible, perhaps one of those stories at the top of the list is the story of Tamar. There are many elements of the story that are strange, and many elements that get highlighted by antitheists and skeptics alike to prove that God is nothing more than a fairytale dreamt up by simple minded ancients seeking to explain why things happen the way they do. Yet, like all things, one must first understand the context first before one can leap ahead to any such conclusion.

Tamar, like all of the women we have looked at thus far, is a woman of her times. She was born into a highly patriarchal society that valued the men over the women. What’s more, a woman who could not (for whatever reason) produce heirs to the male lineage of the family, were of no use to the patriarchal family structure. On top of that, any woman who could not produce children was seen to be under God’s curse (since this was her “natural” function and reason of exisiting) and was considered a stain upon her marriage and a shame upon her family.

Tamar’s case was slightly different, because it wasn’t that she was barren and unable to have children; rather, it was that her husband died before she could conceive a child. In that day and age, if such circumstances happened, the woman was to sleep with the next oldest brother of the husband so that the woman could bear a child. This was not so much out of courtesy to the woman (for what woman would want to have sex with her husband’s brother in normal circumstances), but a courtesy to the deceased husband who would not be able to have an heir of his own.

So, Tamar was married off to Onan, the second oldest brother; however, Onan didn’t want Tamar to have his brother Er’s children, he wanted his own kids. So he performed what is known as coitus interruptus or, as people know it today, the “pull out” method of birth control. In other words, he was having sex with his brother’s wife but “pulling out” before he could ejaculate and impregnate her (too much information, I know). The Bible says that, for doing this, Onan was seen as being wicked in the judgment of God and died prematurely.

Good news for Tamar, right? Wrong. Judah (the same Judah who was involved in selling his brother Joseph off as a slave) refused to have Tamar married off to his youngest son, for he saw her as being under God’s curse. In other words, rather than seeing his sons for what they were, namely wicked in God’s sight, he instead placed the blame on Tamar who had done absolutely nothing wrong. Tamar was told to go back to her parents home (which would have brought her “shame” upon them) and to wait until the youngest brother could marry her; however, as was indicated above, Judah had no intentions of ever letting his youngest marry this woman.

Tamar waited and waited, but Judah’s youngest son Shelah never came calling. This is when Tamar took things into her own hands. Knowing that Judah was recently widowed himself, she disguised herself as a prostitute and deceived Judah, who did not recognize her because she was not wearing her “widow’s clothes” that allowed men to know she had been married and also had herself veiled. When he called upon her “services”, she slept with him and conceived a child by him, thus eliminating her shame.

The question here for us is, why did Tamar have to prostitute herself out in order to have children? Was this fair, or right, or just? Prostitution is obviously sinful because it is the selling of sex, which is sacred, to make a profit out of giving another physical pleasure and because it exploits human beings and uses them as a means to an end (e.g. sexual pleasure). Yet, what about Judah’s sin? What about the sin of discarding a human being as worthless? What about the sin of patriarchy, which values one sex over the other? As can be seen in this story, God does not stand for such injustice and Tamar is the one who is honored by God, while Judah is the one who is ashamed.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

In the face of patriarchy, it is a brave act indeed for both men and women to embrace, rather than shame or attempt to eradicate, the feminine.” – Alanis Morissette 

PRAYER

Lord, help me to be upright and just, not valuing anyone more than another for any reason, whether it be their sex, their gender, their color, their creed or any other thing. Amen.

God’s People, part 16: Gang of 11

Read Genesis 37:18-36

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you?” (Genesis‬ ‭50:19‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 16: Gang of 11. We all know how siblings can be. My sister and I were super close; however, that also tended to make us super enemies at certain points. There are a couple of great examples that proves what I am talking about. When things were good between my sister and I, they were really good. When they were bad, things got really ugly.

For instance, the summer leading into my freshman year in high school, my sister and I used to ride our bicycles all over the place. I was trying really hard to lift weights and beef up to get on the high school football team. I just loved football. I used to ride my bike to the gym which was only a little over a mile away.’

One day, while riding my bike to the gym with my sister, I got hit by a pickup truck while crossing the road. I had thought I looked both ways before crossing, but clearly I did not look good enough. My sister witnessed the whole thing happen and she was the one who picked me up off the road and helped me to get to the shoulder. She sat me back down and then rode her bike to the nearest phone booth (remember those?) to dial 911 for help. My sister literally saved my life.

On the other hand, my sister (who is younger than me by two years) loved to tease me and egg me on. I remember one incident where she was throwing pebbles at me. She kept hitting me in the back with them every time I looked away and then laughing hard when I swung around each time to tell her to knock it off. Finally, I had reached my boiling point and I picked up a rather large pebble and threw it back at her, accidentally hitting her in the head.

She let out a painful wail and began to cry. I instantly knew I had messed up big time and went into let my parents know. I tried to minimize the damage I had done, saying I only “tossed” a rock at her because she was throwing them at me; however, when they came out to check on her, she had blood pouring (and I mean pouring) down her head. Her strawberry blonde hair was now crimson red. She turned out to be fine, as head wounds bleed far more than the average wound anywhere else; however, I was in trouble…BIG TIME.

Well, Jacobs sons were no different. In tough times they stuck together with the strong bond of brothers. They defended their sister’s honor when she was raped. They protected their youngest brother Benjamin, knowing that any harm to him would cause their father life-threatening grief. They weren’t evil people anymore than I was evil for throwing a rock at my sister. They ultimately loved their family, and would die to protect them.

With that said, they were also human…VERY HUMAN. And they had their serious flaws. As we will see a little later in this series, they too were tested by the rivalry they ended up having with their youngest (at the time) brother Joseph, who was that little snot-nosed brat who could do no wrong in daddy’s eyes. To top it off, the little twerp kept telling them that he was better than them and that they would one day be worshiping him and serving him as slaves. Like me, they had reached their boiling point, except they weren’t just one person; rather, they became a gang of eleven and they ganged up on Joseph seeking to literally kill him.

Thankfully, Reuben thought better of it and convinced his brothers that it would be better to put him in a cistern to leave him to die (for he secretly wanted to come back and rescue him); however, Judah convinced the other brothers to sell Joseph into slavery and make a buck off of him. It was a decision that would later haunt them; however, it was a decision that did keep their brother alive. While, their brothers did seriously sinned in the sight of God that day, God did not abandon them. They did come to realize how wrong they had been and did eventually come to a place of reconciliation with their brother. They were still God’s people despite their flaws, and eventually became the founding fathers of 11 of the 12 tribes of Israel.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” – Anne Lamott

PRAYER

Lord, forgive my sinful shortsightedness, and my emotional reactions. Restore me in grace. Amen.

God’s People, part 15: Rachel

Read Genesis 30:1-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Rachel was about to die, but with her last breath she named the baby Ben-oni (which means ‘son of my sorrow’). The baby’s father, however, called him Benjamin (which means ‘son of my right hand’).” (Genesis‬ ‭35:18‬ ‭NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

img_0807Part 15, Rachel. While Leah was the unloved and the unwanted of the two sisters, Rachel was the one who was both “beautiful and favored.” We can assume that meant that all of the boys were swooning over her, and all of the men had her in mind as a potential bride. She was the younger of the two sisters, but clearly she was the one who drew most of the attention.

Modern readers of the Bible tend to look at Rachel as the girl who had everything. She was pretty, she had Jacob trying to woo her, and she is the one who ended up with the man who wanted her. It is presumed that she, unlike her sister, never had to feel lonely or unloved. She never had to feel the cold shoulder of a man who didn’t want her, but found out he was tricked into marrying her. Rachel, the Bible reveals, was favored and we presume that being “favored is always a good thing.

I would like us to pause here for a second and give Rachel a little more thought than we usually do. Does being “favored” really equal the best possible scenario? What does it mean for Rachel to be favored? And by whom is she favored? By God? By men? By her father? What was it like to be Rachel in that dysfunctional household of Laban’s?

We tend to take pity on the one who blatantly unwanted and unloved, and we tend to look upon those who seemingly have it all with contempt. We think, “it must be nice looking so pretty (or so handsome), with that rocking body and alluring charm. She’ll never know what it’s like to be someone like me.”

Well, that’s true, she won’t; however, “we’ll” never know what it is like to be her. Perhaps, Rachel was the loneliest and most unwanted of them all. What is important to note is that, if we take the Bible verbatim, the only thing that was Rachel’s quality was that she was “beautiful”. People didn’t know who she actually was, or what really made her tick, all they saw were her sexy looks and what magnificent, strapping young lads she’d produce.

Of course, we’ll never know for sure, but perhaps Rachel’s own identity came be formed on the perceptions and expectation of others. Perhaps she only came to know herself as “beautiful,” “desirable”, and other such labels. Perhaps that she felt the only way to a man’s heart was in his bed as his bride, and the only way to be of worth was to bear him the male heirs and/or children he long desires for.

One thing is for sure, Rachel felt the pressures of being a woman in the ancient Middle East. So much so that she grew bitterly jealous toward her sister, Leah, when she bore a child. That jealously led to an unhealthy competition of who could have the most children. Leah gave birth to a son. Rachel gave her handmaiden Bilhah to Jacob so that she could be a surrogate mother. From Bilhah came two children for Rachel to raise.. Leah then, in turn, gave Jacob her handmaiden who also produced two children. Eventually, despite the feud, Rachel was able to have children of her own and gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin. Of course, by the grace of God, Joseph grew up to be the savior of his people.

Have you ever found that you were defining your own identity by what other people thought of you? Have you ever discovered that who you actually are is not who others told you that you were? Have you ever found that your own self-image was causing you to not only grow bitter, but lash out at others you perceived had it better than you? Have you found yourself far away from who God created you to be as a result? The good news is that God hasn’t given up on you, just as God never gave up on Rachel.. God is calling you to rediscover who you are in God’s eyes.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Jealousy is the tie that binds, and binds, and binds.” – Helen Rowland

PRAYER

Lord, there are things in my life (people and circumstances) that have scarred me. Heal those wounds and steer me away from allowing them to make me bitter toward or envious of others. Amen.

God’s People, part 14: Leah

Read Genesis 29:1-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, he enabled her to have children, but Rachel could not conceive. (Genesis 29:31 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

leah-1200x800Part 14: Leah. Leah was the oldest daughter of the manipulative and coniving Laban. We do not know too much about her other than what has been written about her in the Bible.  The only description of her, to my knowledge, can be found in Genesis 29:17: “Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured” (KJV). It is hard to discern what is exactly meant by “tender eyed”, but the King James Version seems to get this translation right.

The Hebrew word for tender is רַךְ (pronounced rak) and means “tender” either literally or metaphorically. By implication, it can also mean “weak”. Thus, to say someone is “tender eyed” might mean that they have weak eyes, as opposed to soft/pleasant looking eyes. With that said, because it can be taken both literally and metaphorically, different translations have rendered it differently. Here are a few more renditions of Genesis 29:17: “Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful” (NRSV), or “And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face” (NASB), or “There was no sparkle in Leah’s eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and a lovely face” (NLT).

Regardless of Leah’s eyes, and the meaning of that, what can be drawn from this is that the only thing she is being measured by is her outward appearance and/or, possibly, her abilities. The New Living Translation really drives home this by translating it to say that Leah had no sparkle in her eyes, “but Rachel had a beautiful figure and a lovely face.” So what does this imply, that Leah was ugly?

This is the problem with English translations, honestly. It is clear that Rachel is being described as beautiful; however, the text does not necessarily call Leah ugly; yet, I have seen some scholars and/or pastors interpret the text to mean just that. Sadly, however, even if it is wrong to categorize Leah as ugly, it is fitting with her lot in life that she is mischaracterized that way. After all, she seems hardly wanted by her father, who uses her like a pawn piece on a chess board, and she seems hardly wanted by Jacob. Ugly or not, Leah was unloved.

Whatever the case may be, Leah does end up married to Jacob as a result of her going along with her father’s deceitful plan (as if she had a choice). God blesses her marriage to Jacob and she bears him six male children, who go on to become the leaders of half of the tribes of Israel. She also has a daughter named Dinah. Her father may not have wanted her, and Jacob may not have wanted her, but God wanted her because God created her. Leah would go down as one of the two mothers of the Israelites! What’s more, she was the first to bear Jacob’s children as Rachel, according to the narrative, was unable to conceive. According to Genesis 29:31, Leah’s ability to conceive was a blessing God gave to her as a result of her being unloved.

The question for you is this: have you ever felt unwanted or unloved? Have you ever felt like you were being used and abused? Have you ever been mischaracterized as “weak”, or “soft”, or even as ugly? I used to get called “fatso” and “tub of lard” when I was a kid, even though I was anything but fat. That was scarring and it tainted my self-esteem and my body-image. Yet, God loved me and has shown me that, despite those scars, I am beautiful.

God doesn’t create ugly! God creates beauty! Bullies beware: God loves the unloved! Whether you have suffered such labels, or you have labeled others in such ways, know that God always stands with the oppressed. The oppressors will meet their maker in the end, as we all do, but the oppressed are are given liberation and the blessing of the Kingdom of God as their inheritance.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Beauty is not defined in the eye of the beholder, but by the love of our Creator.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see beauty in everything and to love people so that no one around me goes unloved. Amen.

God’s People, part 13: Laban

Read Genesis 28:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “I could destroy you, but the God of your father appeared to me last night and warned me, ‘Leave Jacob alone!’” (Genesis 31:29 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Desert-arab-man-copyPart 13: Laban. If I were a betting man, of which I am not, my bet would be that most people are not aware of the character of Laban. My second bet would be that, of those who are aware of Laban’s existence in the Bible, they only are aware of Laban as being the father of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. Again, his is a story where we gloss over details to see the end result and, in doing so, we miss some pretty egregious things.

So, as was just mentioned, Laban was the father of Rachel; however, to get the big picture here we need to do a little genealogy. Laban is son of Bethuel and the brother of Rebekah. Before we go up the family tree, I would like us to head down to the tree’s base, and see who is at its roots. While the genealogy can be tedious to read, it really does play a major part in the narratives being told about God’s people. Bethuel, as it turns out, is a descendent of Shem who was one of Noah’s sons.That means, as Bethuel’s son, Laban was a descendent of Noah through his son Shem.

But now let us look at Rebekah who, as we saw earlier in this series, was the wife of Isaac and the mother of Jacob. Mentioned above, it has been pointed out that Rebekah was Laban’s sister, and Laban was Rachel’s father. If you do the math, you will discover the fact that Jacob comes to his uncle Laban for protection. While there, he falls in love with Laban’s daughter, Rachel, who is HIS COUSIN.

Marriages to cousins are not all that uncommon in human history; however, what is odd about this story is the family dynamics. Laban, as it turns out, is slimy guy who is heading up one very dysfunctional family. Of course, Jacob’s family is no less dysfunctional, but the sliminess of Laban is unparalleled. Jacob turns to Laban for help, but ends up being scammed by his scheming uncle.

Laban’s greeting of Jacob should have been the ultimate red flag. After Jacob told Laban that he had stole his brother Esau’s birthright and was fleeing for his life, Laban embraced him and said, “You really are my flesh and blood.” Long story short, Jacob struck a deal with his uncle to work for him for seven years in order to marry his daughter Rachel. Following the agreement, Laban deceptively married Jacob to his other daughter Leah, and then allowed for him to marry Rachel only if he agreed to work for an additional seven years. Raw deal, right?

Well, the drama went on from there. Laban continued to scheme and con Jacob into serving him in various ways. Over time, Jacob grew weary of his uncle and, conversely, Laban’s attitude began to grow cold toward him. Eventually, Jacob fled from Laban, who in turn chased after him in hot pursuit. He accused Jacob of “stealing his daughters” away from him! He even revealed his desire to “destroy” Jacob, but also revealed that God had come to him in a dream warning him not to lay a finger on his nephew.

Time and time again, these stories shock us when we dig deep and really pay attention at what is going on beneath the surface. Through the character of Laban, we see that God’s People (remember Laban was instrumental in the marriage of his sister Rebekah to Jacob’s father Isaac) are not always aligned with God and that they are not always the best people in the world. It is not their character and integrity that make them God’s people; rather, it is God’s grace that does.

It was God’s grace that gave Jacob the courage to get free from Laban’s control, and it was God’s grace that warned Laban not to harm his nephew. While this story has a somewhat happy ending, not all stories do. This is true for the stories in the Bible, and it is true in our lives as well. Not everyone listen’s to God’s warnings, not everyone follows God’s guidance, and not everyone accepts God’s grace. What makes a person one of God’s people is not whether or not they are perfect. No one is. We are all sinners. But what makes us God’s people or not, is whether or not we accept God’s grace, follow God’s guidance, and change from who we are to who God created us to be. Where do you stand?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY “It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.” – Noël Coward

PRAYER Lord, for the times I have not followed your guidance, forgive me, I pray. Amen.

God’s People, part 12: Jacob

Read Genesis

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For God’s gifts and His call can never be withdrawn.” (Romans 11:29 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
 Part 12, Jacob. As was discussed in the last installment of this series, Esau was supposed to be the heir to his father, Isaac’s fortune. It was through Esau that Isaac’s geneology would continue and it was Esau who was to be given the authority of his father as the head of the family. We also discussed how proud and arrogant Esau was. That was certainly his character flaw, and it was a flaw that brought his chance of claiming his birthright right down to a 0% chance.

Esau had mistreated his brother and already thought of Jacob as his servant, because he was the oldest (by mere minutes). He did not regard his birthright as something to be cherished and appreciated; rather, he saw it as something that he was entitled to and did not even consider for a moment that he would ACTUALLY LOSE it to his puny brother Jacob.

Yet, that is exactly what happened. Jacob bid his time and remained humble, despite his brother’s bossiness and boarish behavior. Being a sibling myself, I can only imagine the anger that raged through Jacob everytime his brother ordered him around, but he was humble and listened to his mother’s advice to wait for the right moment. That patience certainly paid off in the end.

Yet, it would be a mistake to think that Jacob was wholly innocent in this situation. He absolutely was not. There is a difference between being humble for humility’s sake, because one knows their place and appreciates all that has been done for them. It is entirely different to assume humility in order to lay claim of something that one is scoping out all along. Jacob definitely falls into the latter category.

Make no mistake, Jacob did not have altruistic reasons for being humble; rather, he was born into a status of humility and used that to his advantage in winning out over his brother. He played well the part of the meek and humble servant, so well that not even his own father thought that Jacob would do what he was about to do. He was a thief lying in the dark waiting for the right moment to take his own brother and father by surprise.

When it became abundantly clear that Jacob would not receive the coveted birthright by his father choosing him over Esau, he followed his mother’s lead in disguising himself as Esau in order to trick his blind and ailing father. Covering his arms with animal hair, he went to his father as Esau and asked his father to give him his blessing now. Even though his voice was different than his brother’s, his father fell for the trick because his arms felt like Esau’s. Thus, unwittingly, Isaac gave Jacob the blessing that was meant for Esau, and Jacob became heir to his father’s fortune, and the head of his father’s family.

This act of betrayal led to much dismay in the family, so much so that Jacob ended up fleeing the camp for his life. Esau was so enraged to hear that his brother had stolen away his birthright that he sought to kill Jacob. Because of his sinful deception, Jacob did not receive his inheritance for at least 14, but probably closer to 20, years later; rather, he spent those years in hiding in a foreign land in the househould of Laban.

Again, the Bible does state that God gave Rebeka a revelation that her youngest son would inherit Isaac’s household and fortune; however, it is hard to imagine that God wanted Jacob to pull that off in the way he did, taking matters into his own hands. Because he did things his own very dishonest way, he paid a bitter and long price. It was a good thing that Jacob was blessed with having the virtue of patience, because was really going to need it right down to getting a wife.

Have you ever been dishonest because you felt that it was the only way to make things go good for you? Have you ever cheated or cut corners to bring about what you felt God wanted you to do? Have you ever had to wait even longer for what was reward was coming to you as a result of your actions? As can be seen in the story of Jacob, it is always better to trust God and allow God to work, than taking matters into one’s own hands to force what God is ultimately doing anyway.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“There are no shortcuts in life – only those we imagine.” – Frank Leahy

PRAYER

Lord, keep me honest, even when my anxieties and anticipations dictate dishonesty. Amen.

God’s People, part 11: Esau

Read Genesis 25:19-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“My brother, I have plenty,” Esau answered. “Keep what you have for yourself.” (Genesis‬ ‭33:9‬ ‭NLT)‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 11, Esau. Every generation has its rite of passage into manhood. In the modern age, we are far more egalitarian about it and typically call it a rite of passage into adulthood, as women are considered equal and autonomous members of society. There are still rites of passage for both sexes, especially for women who traditionally have a “sweet sixteen” party; however, these are mostly for celebration only and mean very little in terms of function in society.

In the ancient world, rites of passage were very, very important. In particular, the rite of passage for a man was of utmost importance, especially for the man who held the birthright to be the heir of his father and family possessions. This rite of passage was a blessing that was given from the father to the son, almost always the first born son, in which the father blessed his son and gave his authority to him, to carry on as the head of the family and the carrier of the father’s lineage. There was no greater honor in the life of the ancient patriarchal family.

Esau was the first born of two twins, born minutes (if not seconds) before his younger brother Jacob. That means that Esau was, barring any unforeseen circumstances, the one who held the birthright to be the heir of his father, Isaac. Jacob, on the other hand, was born slightly after Esau and did not hold that birthright at all. Jacob would be, at best, second in command, and would ultimately be subservient to his brother Esau. He would be expected to do what his brother Esau commanded and would only inherit a fraction of what would be given to Esau, if anything at all.

Yet, the story reports that God had a different plan in mind. God revealed to Rebekah, Esau and Jacob’s mother, that the oldest brother would become the servant of the younger brother. That means that, according to the Biblical narrative, Esau would be second in command and Jacob would inherit Isaac’s authority and fortune. Esau would be subservient to Jacob and not the other way around.

Of course, a measure of healthy skepticism is warranted here because, as we all know, history is written by the winner. Who really knows if Rebekah truly received a divine revelation from God that Jacob was to be the leader of the family or it came to be written that way because that is how Jacob and those who descended from him chose to see it. Who knows if God truly planned for Jacob to steal his brother’s birthright or if, following successfully doing so, Jacob and family saw the successful theft as being “God’s will”. The fact remains, regardless of how it actually went down, that Esau ended up losing his birthright.

Even if God did intend for Jacob to receive the birthright, it is hard to imagine that God wished for Jacob to steal it from his brother. Esau was a flawed individual who very well may have ended up disgracing his father, or not proving himself well enough to his father, to inherit Isaac’s blessing. Esau was brash and demanding. He was arrogant and thoughtless. His brother outwitted him very easily over some red stew. Esau was claiming his birthright before he even had it, and was demanding that his brother go get him the stew he was hungry for. He lacked in humility and mistreated his younger brother because, well, he could.

Jacob, on the other hand, was humble and smart. He was quiet and was willing to bide his time. No doubt, his mother Rebekah taught him to be that way with the hope that he would one day come on top. Whether that was God’s will or not, Rebekah understood that God favored the meek and the humble over and above the proud and the arrogant. She hedged her bets and, as it turns out, cashed in big league.

Have you ever been so sure of something that you’ve been arrogant in your assurance? Have you ever saw yourself better than what you actually were? Have you ever found the assurance you had to be false assurance. Have you ever been humbled from your false assurance and found yourself in a place of embarrassment and humiliation? This is the place of Esau, a place that is painful for sure; however, God did not curse Esau, nor did his brother Jacob, even when Esau wanted to kill him for the covert theft of his birthright. Esau was still in God’s plan and did eventually reconcile with his brother. If you find yourself in such a humbling place, know that you, too, can be reconciled to God and to people if you allow yourself to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud.” (Psalms‬ ‭138:6‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

PRAYER

Lord, keep me ever humble and far away from being haughty or proud. Amen.

God’s People, part 10: Rebekah

Read Genesis 24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating the wild game Esau brought home, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (Genesis‬ ‭25:28‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 10, Rebekah. Being a woman in the ancient world was certainly not easy, and Rebekah found no exception in her life. Unlike a man, she didn’t have claim to anything that was her father’s. She was not an heir to her family’s fortune. In fact, once she was married, lived her life, and died, people wouldn’t much remember anything about her aside from whose children she bore.

Speaking of marriage, she didn’t even have a choice as to whom she would be married to. That was prearranged with the father of Isaac, Abraham. The bride was not the center of the marriage ceremony, like she is today; rather, it was the groom who was. The woman was his means of carrying on his geneology through the patriarchal system. What’s more, the bride’s family had to pay a dowry, which usually included the giving of money or sale of property, to the groom’s family in order for the marriage to be acceptable.

Basically, the bride’s family had to sell the bride off, like a burden, to the groom’s family. That’s what women were considered in the ancient world. Their sole purpose was to bear children, preferrably male, for the groom and to keep the house. To fail to do so could not only result in divorce, but would be a disgrace to the entire family. This is the reality that Rebekah was born, raised, and married into. And as seems to be the pattern in these stories, she gets blamed for being barren; however, God intervenes.

Beyond that basic reality she lived in, she also was married to a man who was very much a scarred, broken, and imperfect man. The apple did not fall far from the tree when it come to Isaac. He was very much his father’s son, and so it is no wonder that he follows in his father’s footsteps and even makes many of his father’s mistakes. It is no wonder at all.

For instance, when traveling to foreign kingdoms, Isaac is just as cowardly as his father was. Fearing that he will be killed by a covetous king lusting after Isaac’s “beautfiul wife” (quite the man’s fantasy, right?), Isaac convinces Rebekah to say that she is his sister so that he can appease the king by giving her to him to have her as his sexual play-thing. Nice, right? That is exactly what Abraham did twice (at least) to his wife Sarah. Like father, like son.

So, it is no wonder that Rebekah shows a certain amount of contempt toward her husband. She, after all, bore him two twin boys. Esau was the oldest and Jacob was the youngest, by seconds. Still, in that world, the oldest (no matter how much older they were) was the heir to the father’s tribe and wealth. Esau, NOT JACOB, was the one with such a birthright.

Let’s not forget that both Esau and Jacob were Rebekah’s children; however, it should be no surprise that Rebekah’s favorite was her younger son, the one whom everything had NOT been handed. Jacob, in many ways, was like her. He had no right over his father’s things. He was left to get the scraps. He was stuck with the leftovers. He was to be his brother’s servant, not the other way around. Well, Rachel would see to it that the other way around became the ultimate reality. According to the story, she received divine confirmation from God that “the oldest of her children would serve the youngest.” Rebekah saw to it that the divine revelation became a reality.

She encouraged her son to put animal hair on his arms, and to disguise himself so that his ailing father (who could not see) would think that he was his hairy, burly brother Esau. In doing so, Jacob was able to get his father’s blessing and steal Esau’s birthright away from him. It may have been spiteful on Rebekah’s part, but she seemed perfectly fine with the result.

Have you ever acted in spite as a result of your circumstances? I know that I have. There are times that I know I shouldn’t do something, that what I am doing is wrong and sinful, but I still do it in spite of that knowledge because I am upset at the way things have played out. Of course, that is sinful behavior; however, God forgives us when we seek such forgiveness and God blesses us despite our sins when we seek to change and do what is right. God’s people are certainly not perfect, but they are being perfected in God’s love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Even in the midst of our sin, God’s ultimate plan prevails.

PRAYER

Lord, I acknowledge that in my hurt and suffering, I have sinned. Please forgive me and work your plan in and through me. Amen.

God’s People, part 9: Isaac

Read Genesis 21:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I am the God of your father, Abraham,” he said. “Do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you. I will multiply your descendants, and they will become a great nation. I will do this because of my promise to Abraham, my servant.” (Genesis‬ ‭26:24b‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

 Part 9: Isaac. We all know about Isaac’s childhood. We know that he was raised in an unhealthy household, with the bitter division between Sarah and Hagar growing more and more heated following Isaac’s birth. We know that his father and mother both, though they were people of profound faith, were flawed individuals all the same. What’s more, they were also a flawed couple.

As it turns out, the apple didn’t fall too far from the proverbial tree and this makes a lot of sense. For one, Isaac had to have been scarred from his childhood. Despite the family dynamics that were in place within his family, there is something else we’d be amiss not to mention. Isaac was approximately 2-6 years old, even older in some traditions, when his father Abraham took him up on Mount Moriah to sacrifice him to God.

The whole way there, Isaac questions his dad, “When will we find a lamb for the slaughter, daddy?” He didn’t have a clue that his father was bringing him up the mountain with the intention of using him AS THE LAMB. His father’s response to him was, “No worries, Isaac, God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice.” Now, for this to truly be “faith”, Abraham had to believe that he WOULD BE sacrificing his son to God. Why you ask? Because if he knew that God would spare Isaac, that would NOT have taken faith; rather, he DID NOT KNOW, but fully anticipated the complete opposite of that. His faith was placed in the fact that God would keep the promise made to him that he would become the father of many nations despite the fact that Isaac was no longer going to be alive.

But back to Isaac. He had to have been scarred from the whole ordeal. There is no way that he came back down from that mountain ever fully trusting his dad again. There is no way he could ever feel safe in his home. There is no way he wasn’t plagued by memories and nightmares, replaying the horrific scene over and over again in his mind.

So, Isaac was bound to be just as flawed as his father and mother, if not more so. What we do know from the Scriptures is that he at least follows in the footsteps of his father and the sin of Abraham certainly passes down to his son. This can be clearly seen in the story of Isaac deceiving King Abimelech. Just like his father, Isaac was a coward who thought of his own safety over and above anyone elses. As he traveled through the land of the Philistines, he made his wife Rebekah act as his sister so that the king wouldn’t kill him in sexual conquest. So, like Sarah before her, Rebekah was going to be forced to be a sexual consort of the king, that is until God intervened and brought a curse upon Abimelech and the Philistines.

We also see that Isaac gets into dispute over well water with Abimelech. This is not necessarily his fault, per se, but it shows the net result of sin: rather than being loving neighbors, people were becoming more and more tribal and territorial. Sin had taken brotherly love and replaced it with a “survival of the fittest” mentality. Humanity had fallen far from the paradise it was created to be.

What we do see, despite Isaac’s failure to be fully faithful to his end of the covenant with God, is that God still remains faithful to Isaac and his family. The same is true for us. We are called into covenant with God through Jesus Christ, yet we are not always faithful to that covenant. We may be going on to “perfection” through the Holy Spirit, but we are FAR from perfect and our sin has real consequences; yet, God, who is faithful, will not abandon us to our sin, but is ever leading us to rise up out of the ashes of our sin and into the promise of eternal, abundant life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Left on our own, there is no escape from our propensity to sin.

PRAYER

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Cleanse me from my sins and perfect me in your love. Amen.

God’s People, part 8: Ishmael

Read Genesis 21:8-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And God was with the boy as he grew up in the wilderness.” (Genesis‬ ‭21:20a‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 8, Ishamel. There is nothing worse than seeing a child needlessly suffer. At the time of this writing, news is breaking about a terrorist suicide bombing following an Ariana Grande concert outside of the arena in Manchester, UK. At this point, at least 22 people are dead and dozens maimed and I just find myself heartbroken for those people. Ariana Grande, of course, is a pop star who is very popular with tweens and teens. Many of those children were at the concert alone, with their parents coming back to pick them up, which is a common practice in today’s time.

What kind of monster would do that to a child? Why would someone attack those who have barely even begun to live their lives? Why would one want to charm innocent children? These questions and more run through desparate minds as they try to make sense of what is ultimately senseless evil running amok in our world.

Yet, when we read the story of Ishmael, we barely even bat an eye. After all, he survived, right? Sure, he had his birthright stripped from him and he got thrown out to the wilderness by his father, but no harm no fould, right? It is amazing to me how we can glaze over and ignore the horrors in the Bible simply because it was done in the name of God and the presumption of God’s will.

Yet, if we pay close attention to the details of the story, Ishmael was not yet weaned from breastfeeding when he and his mother were banished from his home due to Sarah’s jealousy which was ultimately due to Abraham’s infdelity. This means that Ishmael was a mere 2-3 years old at best when he and his mother were sent out into the scorching, arid wilderness to fend for themselves. 2-3 years old! This was nothing short of a death sentence. This was nothing short of EVIL!

Yet, despite the way the author wrote it in the Bible, the reality is that God would not let that evil win. Despite the cold, heartless, cruel actions of Abraham and Sarah, God was with Ishmael and his mother. God would not let the injustice of his people go unanswered and uncountered. Instead, God provided for them. God gave them a well to drink from and, eventually, delivered them to safety. The Scriptures state that “God was with Ishmael as he grew up in the wilderness. He became a skillful archer and settled in the wilderness of Paran. His mother arranged for him to marry a woman from Egypt” (Genesis 21:20-21).

The first thing that needs to be stressed is this: God’s people don’t always get it right. In fact, God’s people sometimes get it very wrong! What’s more, even God’s people are not immune from committing attrocious acts of evil. Just because we think we are a part of the “in crowd” deos not mean that we are truly “in line” with God. God’s people often make the mistake of believing that God belongs to us. My friends, the TRUTH is that we belong to God, not the other way around; however, we only belong to God when we are aligned with God’s will, not just because we presume to know God’s will.

Secondly, it is important to make note of consistent pattern. God blesses people. People become complacent in their blessedness. Complacency leads to the belief that God belongs to us, and that belief leads people to do unjust things because they have effectively replaced God with themselves. These unjust, and often evil, things lead people to suffer in oppression. God hears the cries of the injust and aligns with them, and begins to counter the evil through prophets and others who work voice God’s outrage and judgment upon the oppressors, as well as work to alleviate the suffering of the oppressed. God blesses the oppressed and liberates them, showing the world that THEY ARE GOD’s PEOPLE.

This pattern hopefully leads to shame and repentance among God’s wayward people, but sadly that is not always the case. Ishmael’s tale is the tale of the oppressed, and it is a cautionary tale for all of us. We’ve all played the part of the oppressed, and we’ve all played the part of the oppressor. We’ve all been given God’s blessing, and we’ve all turned God’s blessing into a curse for others. God is calling all of us to recognize this fact, to break the chains of this pattern, and return to being God’s righteous people once again.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

We should aspire to God’s righteousness not self-righteousness.

PRAYER

Lord, love me, bless me, correct me, forgive me, and use me as a blessing for others.