God’s People, part 24: Zipporah

Read Exodus 4:18-28

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because he had married a Cushite woman.” (Numbers 12:1 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.

ZipporahPart 24: Zipporah. There are some truly strange and unique stories found in the Bible. Usually, these stories make little sense and often draw God’s character into question. For instance, you might be puzzled at the main Scripture reading today, provided you read it. If you didn’t, I highly recommend to you that you pause here, and read it. I bet you didn’t know that God almost killed Moses prior to him even being able to pull off what God asked him to do.

Why would God do that? Seriously, I am asking that question. Why would God send Moses on a task to liberate the Hebrew slaves in Egypt and decide along the way to slay him? What’s even more dubious is that it seems to be over a technicality, over the fact that seemingly neither Moses or his son was circumcised. Surely, God would have known that was the case from the outset, and nowhere do we see God so much as asking him to get that done! It is hard to make sense of God’s character in stories like these.

So, rather than try and explain what sort of theology of God is going on here in this story, we can look toward the heroine in the story. Zipporah, the wife of Moses, intercedes on her husband’s behalf and her heroic actions save the day. Literally. There are all sorts of possible reasons for the author writing the story the way they did; however, it is in this Cushite (aka non-Jewish) woman that we see what true love and faithfulness is all about. What’s more, it is kind of comical, and certainly poignant, that the wife is the one who pays attention to the details and saves her husband from running into quite a bit of trouble. Married men of the world, take note!

So, who is this Zipporah? She was one of Jethro’s seven daughters who Moses received as his wife after he saved all seven sisters and their flock of sheep from other competing shepherds. Moses, of course, was an Egyptian fugitive, having just fled Egypt for his life after killing an Egyptian slave master.  So, there with his wife Moses stayed, raised children and tended to Jethro’s sheep.

Zipporah bore Moses two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. For most women, that would be pretty much where the story began and ended in the ancient world. One was to get married, have children, raise children, become a grandparent and die; however, Zipporah’s life did not to go as planned. Her husband, following having children with her, went up onto a mountain deemed holy by her people, and quite literally “found God.” When he came back down, he was not the same man he had been when he went up.

Once he came down from that mountain, Moses was resolute about going back to Egypt. Most of the stories have him doing so alone, with him eventually meeting up with his brother Aaron; however, the Bible makes it clear that his wife Zipporah, and their children, went with him. I would like you to pause and think about that scenario for a moment. It is one thing for Moses to travel across desert and wilderness to head back into the country he fled for his life from. Sure, that would probably result in his death one way or the other, but at least his family would be safe. As can be seen, his family did come with him and that meant that their lives were in jeopardy as well.

Who knows if Zipporah resisted the move or not, what we do know is that she did go with Moses and it was her who saved him when God was about to kill him. How did she do that, you might ask? By circumcising her children and laying the foreskin at the feet of Moses. She then pleaded with God to spare Moses, and God did so.

We need not believe that God was literally trying to kill Moses to understand the overarching point. Sometimes as “insiders” think we know God so much that we fail to listen to God’s direction, all the while “outsiders” clearly see God, and choose to follow. Praise God for “outsiders” for they give us a fresh look at who we actually are, versus who we think we are. Amen? Let us be open to the faith of other people, for one never knows when he or she might encounter a Zepporah in their own lives and be blessed for it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“You cannot open a book without learning something.” – Confucius

PRAYER
Lord, keep my heart open to learning your ways, especially if it is through the hearts of others. Amen.

God’s People, part 23: Moses

Read Numbers 20:2-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then the LORD said to Moses, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have now allowed you to see it with your own eyes, but you will not enter the land.” (Deuteronomy 34:4 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.

charlton-heston-as-moses-in-the-ten-commandmentsPart 23: Moses. We all know Moses, right? Or, we all think we know Moses. He’s that guy who had a really tall stature, with a flowing white beard. He grew up a prince of Egypt until he murdered someone. Then, fearing for his life, Moses fled Egypt and settled out in Midian where he married Zipporah (if we even remember her name), the daughter of Jethro (aka Reuel), and tended to the sheep of his wife’s father.

It is there that he came “face to face” with God in a burning bush, went back to Egypt along with his brother Aaron, and demanded that Pharoah let God’s people go. After refusing to do so several times, God sent the angel of death to take all of the first born sons of Egypt, including Pharaoh’s son. Finally, the pharaoh relented and allowed the slaves to leave Egypt. But that only lasted so long, and Pharaoh ended up chasing the Hebrew slaves out to the red sea. Moses parted it and, as the Egyptians were giving them chase through the sea, Moses sent the waves crashing down on them when the Hebrews made it to the other side.

The rest is history right? The Hebrew slaves made it to Mount Sinai where Moses climbed up and received the two stone tablets carring the commandments of God. The Hebrews chose to make a golden calf as they were worried Moses had died up there, since he had been gone for so long. When Moses saw that, he threw the stone tablets at them and the earth swallowed the wicked people up. Then Moses went back up Mount Sinai to receive a new copy of the Ten Commandments, and all lived happily ever after or something to that effect.

While that summary probably feels very familiar to you, and probably feels very Biblical, it is only part of the story. Moses, as we all are, was a very flawed individual. Most of us think of his flaw being the fact that he murdered someone. The problem with that is that murder is the “unjust” killing of another human being, and Moses was very justified in killing the person he killed. He saw that individual crueling beating a Hebrew slave and he rushed in to stop that from happening. Of course, the Egyptians weren’t happy about that, but we’d be hard pressed to say that Moses was a cold-blooded murderer without just reasons for what he did.

Moses’ flaw was not murder, but was his being such a wish-washy partner in what God was doing. He was literally hot and cold. Some days he was glowing in the radiance of God, other days he was cursing God and complaining about having to take care of God’s people. What’s more, his ego seemingly new no ends. In fact, his sister Miriam and Aaron complained to God about Moses’ claim that he was the ONLY prophet of God. Miriam, herself, had the prophetic voice before Moses even was able to walk and yet her brother seemingly wrote her prophetic gift completely off (Numbers 12:1-15).

Between Moses’ hot and cold leadership, his fiery temper, and his ego we have someone who looks a lot like most of us. When he was on, he was really on; however, when he was off, he was really off. Moses certainly led the Hebrews to freedom and paved their way to the Promised Land. What he did, in that regard, was nothing short of heroic; yet, he also allowed the people to get to him and he allowed his own ego to possess him. In doing so, we find a prophet who sometimes forgot who he was speaking for and why he was called.

It is for that reason, that the Scripture says that Moses was only permitted to see the Promised Land but was not allowed to enter it. While I don’t believe that God literally kept Moses from entering the land that God was delivering them to, it’s clear that his flaws certainly had. I also believe that Moses, in his own self-reflection, understood that it was not his own doing that got them to where they were and that it would not be his own doing that brought them to their final destination. The challenge for us is to, like Moses, be self-reflective enough to see where we have fallen short and how God has provided and come through despite our kicking and screaming along the way. If we can do that, we can at least behold the glory of God before we depart from this life and leave our legacy to those who follow us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The ultimate aim of the ego is not to see something, but to be something.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to silence my ego that I might see and allow you to be. Amen.

God’s People, part 22: Aaron

Read Exodus 32:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The LORD gave these further instructions to Aaron: ‘I Myself have put you in charge of all the holy offerings that are brought to Me by the people of Israel. I have given all these consecrated offerings to you and your sons as your permanent share.’” (Numbers 18:8 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.

c4f74cd6ff4bcada231666d81c4d7b5cPart 22: Aaron. Most people, when they think of Exodus, they think of Moses going to Pharaoh and telling him to let God’s people go. They think of Moses conjuring the ten plagues that fell upon Egypt and they think of a strong, Charlton Heston-like man who lifted his staff to part the red sea. However, most probably do not think of Aaron or, if they do, they probably do not think much of him. He was just that supporting actor with a fake beard who was paid to basically silently stand by the side of Moses and watch him have all the fun. In fact, the most fun Aaron is ever seen having in the film, The Ten Commandments, is while he is caving into the pressures of the licentious Hebrews demanding orgies and the building of a golden calf.

Let’s just say that it’s not easy to be the brother of a hero. While we will get to Moses in the next installment of this series, I want to take the time for us to get to know is brother Aaron. While he is Moses’ brother, we barely know anything about him prior to Moses’ burning bush experience. The Hebrew Scriptures do not mention him in Moses’ birth/baby narrative. We only know, at that point, that Moses had a sister who saw him to safety to the Egyptian Pharaoh’s court and who ensured that Moses would be cared for and that her mother would be the one to nurse him. A bold move, no doubt, for a slave girl in ancient Egypt.

Aaron, on the other hand, comes on the scene when Moses pleads with God to not send him back to Egypt to speak to Pharaoh because he claimed he did not speak well. God, in order to appease Moses and ensure he would go, tells him that he will appoint his brother to him as his assistant and that his brother can do the talking. Thus, Aaron shows up on the scene and, indeed, assists Moses in negotiating (if we can call it that) God’s terms with the Egyptian ruler. What’s more, Aaron is the one who Moses hands the staff to do God’s bidding.

Yet, what Aaron is perhaps most known for is his epic failures. He is the one who caved into pressure to build the Hebrews a golden calf to worship instead of the true and living God (Exodus 32:1-6). His sons grew up to be rebellious (Leviticus 10:1-3). He was jealous of Moses’ relationship with God and complained to God against his brother (Numbers 12). Over his leadership as the high priest, arose c among other priests that resulted in the death of those who opposed Aaron (Numbers 16:25-35). His sons took possession of the censers of the dead priests.

As can be seen Aaron was far from perfect. He was sometimes weak and cowardly, and other times he was over-zealous and cantankerous. Yet, within him he also had a fiery passion for his God and he never ceased to serve, even when finding himself in the wrong. Like all human beings, he was broken and sinful; however, he was redeemed by the One he devoted his life to and, in the end, his legacy was the establishment of the Aaronites, who along with the Levites, went on to shape the worship life of the Israelites.

As can be seen, it does not take perfection to be redeemed, it takes a humble willingness to be perfected by the love and grace of God. Aaron was not loved by God because he always got it right. He wasn’t redeemed because he was an icon of perfection; rather, Aaron was loved by God for who he was (flaws and all), and he was redeemed because God LOVED him and because Aaron was willing to be loved (and perfected) by God. This is true for all of us. Let us, despite our flaws, humble ourselves and devote ourselves to the love of God our Creator, God our Redeemer, and God our Sustainer.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Loyalty and devotion lead to bravery. Bravery leads to the spirit of self-sacrifice. The spirit of self-sacrifice creates trust in the power of love.” – Morihei Ueshiba

PRAYER
Lord, humble me and fill me with a fiery passion to serve you and devote my life in your service. Produce in me, Lord, a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

God’s People, part 21: Miriam

Read Numbers 12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For I brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from slavery. I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to help you.” (Micah 6:4 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.

MiriamPart 21: Miriam. When we think of Miriam, if we think of her, we think of the girl who escorted her brother down the Nile in a reed basket. We think of her hiding behind reeds at the edge of the river as the Egyptian princess takes a peek inside the basket to see what lies in store. That’s it. That is just about where our memory of Miriam (if we even even know her name) ends.

Sadly, Miriam is not seen for who she really was because she tends to get trumped by her younger brother Moses. He gets all the credit and she gets nada, nothing, zilch. To be fair to Moses, it’s hard to not to attract all of the attention when you are channeling the power of God in such ways that an entire empire is rocked from the inside out. It’s hard not to attract all of the attention when you are parting the depths of the sea and summoning fiery pillars of protection between you and your enemies.

Yet, Miriam had true moxie. She was immensely brave, courageously daring, and a faithful prophet of the LORD. According to the Talmudic teachers, Miriam and her mother were the two midwives (operating under a different name) who refused to follow Pharaoh’s orders to murder baby Hebrew boys (Sotah 11b) and instead saved them. When, Pharaoh demanded that all Hebrew male toddlers and infants needed to be drowned to death in the Nile, Miriam helped her mother to save Moses from certain death. She followed the babe in the basket down the river and ensured he had a safe arrival to the palace of the Pharaoh.

What’s more, Miriam DID NOT simply hide behind reeds and sheepishly watch the princess pull the baby out of the basket. Instead, she approached the princess and shrewdly negotiated bringing her mother in to be the one to breastfeed and care for Moses. She did so without revealing that the “Hebrew slave woman’s” maternal connection to the child. Miriam, in her courage, did the unthinkable.

On top of that, you did hear me right in that I said that Miriam was a prophet. In Exodus 15:20-21, it is written, “Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced. And Miriam sang this song: ‘Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; He has hurled both horse and rider into the sea.’” The Talmudic teachers taught that Miriam had the prophetic gift from a young age and, judging from her moxie, it’s hard to doubt.

With all of that said, like all people, Miriam had her character flaws. Earlier I wrote that Miriam got trumped by her younger brother Moses, who took all the credit while she got “nada, nothing, zilch.” That is not just a sentiment I bring into this devotion for rhetorical reasons; rather, it seems to be a how Miriam must have felt at points. For instance, in Numbers there is mention of a bit of contention between Miriam and Moses over his exclusive claim to be the LORD’s prophet.

In Numbers, it is written that God punished Miriam for her jealousy toward Moses, but one can hardly blame her. She, after all, had saved his life and was clearly a prophet in her own right. It needs to be understood that disease was seen to be a punishment by God; however, in today’s world, we undestand that God does not inflict people with diseases. As a result of knowing the theological and historical contexts of ancient Israel, I do not believe God “punished” Miriam. She may have come down with a skin disease; however, that is not what her true ailment was. She allowed her brother’s claims to get the better of her, she allowed that to consume her, and she allowed that to rouse bitter anger within her.

When we get consumed by our pride and our insecurities, we forget that who we are is not determined by what others think. We forget that who we are is not dependent on the self-proclaimed identities of those around us, nor is it dependent on the self-proclaimed identities of those who are close to us. Our identity is defined by and dependent on God, who created us and loves us. Like Miriam, we too were given gifts and and identity in God that cannot be taken away; however, we must strive to accept who we are in God, rather than competing over who we are in comparison to each other. Miriam learned this lesson and so can we.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves.” – William Penn

PRAYER
Lord, I accept my identity in you. Open my eyes that I may come to see who I am. Amen.

God’s People, part 20: Slaves

Read Exodus 2:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Amram married his father’s sister Jochebed, and she gave birth to his sons, Aaron and Moses. (Amram lived to be 137 years old.)” (Exodus‬ ‭6:20‬ ‭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 20: Slaves. Wow, we’re up to part 20 in this series and we have just gotten out of Genesis and into the book of Exodus. Thus far, we have talked mostly about prominent people in the Jewish and Christian faiths. We’ve talked about Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, the eleven brothers who betrayed their youngest (at the time) brother, Judah, Tamar, and Joseph.

The ones of those who are not prominent are at least named and a little can be gathered about them; however, I would like this time for us to pause and reflect on a couple of unnamed people. These people were not a people of high status or prominence in life, and they certainly are not given too much mention in the Bible either. In fact, they are barely named slaves who serve only one purpose in the Scriptures: they are the parents of Moses.

We all know the story of Moses, a story that has been acted and reenacted time and time again over the years. From sweeping, classic, epics such as The Ten Commandments to animated musicals such as “The Prince of Egypt”, the story of Moses has been told in so many different ways. In fact, their names and backstory seem to be of little interest to the writer(s) of Exodus. They are not even mentioned until chapter 6, and are only mentioned their in order to connect Moses’ lineage to the tribe of Levi, who was one of the sons of Jacob. In essence, Moses’ parents were important because they connected this “prince of Egypt” to the Jewish people by birth.

But who were Amram and Jochebed? We simply do not know who they were, other than the fact that they were slaves in Egypt and that Jochebed was technically Amram’s aunt. They got married and had Miriam, Aaron, and Moses. We also know that Pharaoh had ordered that all male Hebrew children under the age of 2 be thrown into the Nile and drowned.

Jochebed, in an attempt to avoid her child being murdered in such a horrific way, but the baby Moses in a basket and floated him down the Nile river. Miriam, who was clearly older than Moses, was tasked with ensuring that her brother ended up in the care of the Pharoah’s daughter. This was a dangerous mission, no doubt, but one that she pulled off.

We have no clue what Amram thought of this, or what was going on in their heads, because nothing else is written about them. We can only imagine the horror of thinking their baby son would be drowned in the Nile. Amram lived to 137, according to the Biblical account, but we have no idea if he was alive at this point or not. He’s simply not mentioned and the Bible explicitly names Jochebed as the “woman” who took the action to save her son’s life.

While we do not know enough about these people to speculate on what their character flaws were (which is a running theme of this series), we can instead point to the way the story is told in order to find potential flaws in us. The story only “uses” Jochebed and Amram as a means to an end, namely, to show that Moses was Hebrew and of the tribe of Levi. That serves the dual purpose of showing Moses to be both a Hebrew and the “priest” (as the Levites were priests in ancient Judaism) who was worthy of delivering the Israelites out of bondgage and back into a proper relationship with God. Other than that, they were not considered important enough to the narrative to mention anything further about them.

How often do we do the same? How often do we idolize heroes in our midst, only to ignore the unnamed or barely named, disregarded, sufferers who raised and/or inspired those heroes up? How often do we ride the stories of success on the backs of the oppressed? How often do we focus on the few who rose to prominence (only because they are prominent), to the detriment of those of whom we deem unimportant? Let us not do that. Let us see all people through the eyes of God who created them. Let us view all human beings as both important and sacred.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“The Bible has been the Magna Carta of the poor and of the oppressed.” – Thomas Huxley

PRAYER

Lord, help me to see through reading the Scriptures that you are on the side of the oppressed and the downtrodden and align my heart with you so that I stand in solidarity with them. Amen.

God’s People, part 19: Joseph

Read Genesis 37

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then [God] sent someone to Egypt ahead of them— Joseph, who was sold as a slave.” (Psalms‬ ‭105:17‬ ‭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 19: Joseph. An entire book could be written on Joseph and, as a matter of fact, the last quarter of Genesis is centered on him. Most of us know the gist of his story. He was a “dreamer” who had dreams that proved to be really annoying to his family and, specifically, his eleven other brothers. While the Bible tells us that Joseph had number of dreams, they always ended in the same way: with his brothers and the rest of his family (mom and dad included) worshipping the ground he walked on.

Sounds a bit…I don’t know…egotisitcal and heady, right? His brothers thought so and decided to murder him. Reuben suggested putting him in a well and leaving him to die (with the hope that he could come back and rescue his brother in secret). The others took the suggestion, but Judah offered one even more alluring. He suggested they not kill Joseph at all, evidently while Reuben was not there; rather, Judah suggested that they sell him off, make a profit and pass him off as being killed by a wild animal to their father. So, that is what they did, much to Reuben’s dismay. Joseph was sold to nomads who brought him into Egypt.

Long story short, it was his ability to interpret dreams that ironically saved his hide and put him under Pharaoh’s employment. Through his ability to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph rose to be the second in command under Pharaoh. It was through his newfound position and status in Egypt that Joseph found his place in the world and became the savior of his own people.

He also became the archetype for the prophet. The prophet both dreams and can interpret dreams. Those dreams tend to have prophetic implications. Those implications end up costing the profit, big league. People reject, abuse, and sometimes kill the prophet, until the prophecy comes true and the prophet (alive or dead) is respected.

Yet, what landed Joseph into trouble with his brothers was not so much his prophetic dreams, but his inability to know when to play it cool and chill out on the self-aggrandizing and boastful rhetoric. When one reads the story carefully, Joseph’s prophetic dreams are distorted by his own boasting of his status with his father.

Jacob favored Joseph more than the others, to the point where he was giving Joseph fancy clothing to wear and keeping him from having to workt he fields, while his brothers slaved away. Worse than that, actually. Jacob seemingly put Joseph in charge of his brothers and sent him out in his fancy clothing to check up on them and make sure they were doing their work efficiently. Then he was to bring the report back to his father.

Let me tell you this, no one likes a supervisor. Especially when that supervisor is one’s snot-nosed, bratty, younger brother. This enraged his brothers so much that they plotted against them. Had Jospeh humbled himself and explained his dream in a way that was less threatening to them, perhaps they would have heard Joseph out and at least given him the benefit of the doubt. We’ll never know, and God brought the good out of what had gone from bad to ugly in one fell swoop.

Have you ever been so sure that God was calling you to do somethng that you ended up doing it without ever pausing to wonder exactly HOW it should be done? Have you ever rubbed someone the wrong way due to coming off as boastful or self-aggrandizing? Sometimes we are doing exactly what we are supposed to do; however, we are NOT doing it HOW we ought to! When that happens we can be a hinderance to God’s ultimate plan, rather than serving it’s ultimate purpose. While God can and will bring the good out of any circumstance, let us learn from Joseph, that humility goes a long way in spreading the Gospel. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Without humility, the GOOD News of Jesus Christ looks very, very BAD.

PRAYER

Lord, give me the boldness of your prophets, and the humility of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

God’s People, part 18: Judah

Read Genesis 38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.’” (Revelation‬ ‭5:5‬ ‭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 18: Judah. In the last devotion, I spent a bit of time talking about Tamar and how she was truly mistreated by Judah, the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. Prior to that, it was discussed that Judah was among the eleven brothers who ganged up on their younger brother Joseph out of jealousy and annoyance. We will be discussing more about Joseph in the next devotion; however, suffice it to say that we have not seen Judah in a very positive light up to this point.

As mentioned above, Judah was the fourth son between Jacob and Leah (who we also talked earlier in this series). While he did not live a perfect life and did not always treat people justly, it would be wrong to only speak of him as if he were some sort of epitome of evil. Judah was, for the most part, a product of his time; however, he was also someone who would go on to become very important in the founding of the Jewish people and he was someone whom God ultimately loved despite his shortcomings.

So let us look at this man named Judah and see exactly who he was and how he became the father of God’s anointed. It was Judah, along with the his ten other brothers, that ganged up on their little brother Joseph after he flaunted how favored he was one too many times; however, while his other brothers were going to kill him, it was Judah who convinced them that it would be better to sell him off to a caravan and make a profit off of him. While this act was not completely selfless, it also was not completely heartless either.

I would like to believe, and there is no reason not to, that Judah did not wish to see his brother killed no matter how annoying he was. Still, regardless, Judah led his other brothers in doing something that was both egregious and wrong. They sold Joseph to some caravan of nomadic strangers in order to make a profit off of him and rid themselves of him once and for all. Certainly, this is not the course of action that people of God ought to take, yet they took it.

Again, in the case of Tamar, Judah acted in a way that is truly unworthy of being one of God’s people. He arranged for his oldest son, Er, to marry Tamar; however, Er was a wicked person who met an untimely death due to his wickedness. So, as was customary in that culture, Tamar was married off to Er’s next of kin (his younger brother, Onan). When Onan died as a result of his wickedness, Tamar was left childless and at the mercy of Judah who sent her back home to her family to await being married to Judah’s youngest son, Shelah.

But Judah did not intend to marry his son off to Tamar, who he saw as being under God’s curse. Instead of honoring his promise, and his cultural duty as a father-in-law, he brought shame upon Tamar and, ultimately, upon God; yet, Tamar took matters into her own hands and ended up impregnated by Judah, who was tricked into thinking Tamar was a prostitute. When Judah found out she was pregnant with another person’s child, he was going to have her killed. Nice, right? Judah expected Tamar to remain celebrate for his youngest son whom he refused to allow to marry her. Real smooth.

However, when discovers that he was the father of the children she had conceived, he did something that made him truly one of God’s people. He realized that he was the one who was shameful, not Tamar, and he recanted and begged for forgiveness. What’s more, God blessed Tamar and her children, and it is through Tamar that the Jews can trace their ancestry to Judah and, ultimately, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Even more than that, Judah became the tribe from which the kings would rise up out of.

So, while human sin is certainly messy and ugly, this story shows us how God’s plan of redemption carries on in spite of it. After all, it is from Judah that one day would come the Anointed One, the Messiah, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and the Lion of the tribe of Judah. It is from this imperfect man, and his wife Tamar, that God would ultimately bring salvation from sin and death into the world in the form of a perfect, innocent baby boy. It is through the vindication of an oppressed woman and the children she bore a man named Judah, that would come Jesus the Christ, the Word made flesh, the light come into this dark world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

God is love and, as such, LOVE WINS. Nothing can stop the redemption plan of God.

PRAYER

Lord, I repent of my sins and seek your redemption. Humble me and transform me. Amen.

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.