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.

God’s People, part 7: Hagar

Read Genesis 12:10-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.” (Galatians‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭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 7, Hagar. What can be said about poor Hagar, a woman who most people haven’t really heard of or, if they have, they don’t know much more about her than the fact that she was Ishmael’s mom. All of the attention in the Abrahamic narrative is spent on Sarah, Isaac and, of course, Abraham. Yet, aside from all of the blessings we see bestowed upon Abraham and his family, there is a dark and tragic drama that exists in Hagar’s story.

The story of Hagar, at least where we come to know her, starts out with no drama whatsoever; rather, it is one that is filled with heartache and burden. She was a slave girl who was charged with serving Sarah. According to the Jewish midrash Genesis Rabbah, it was when Sarah was in Pharoah’s harem (thanks to her cowardly husband), that the Pharaoh gave her his daughter as a slave, saying, “It is better for my a slave in the house of such a woman than mistress in another house.” The Pharoah probably did this after falling under God’s wrath made him realize that Sarah was not single, but married to the guy who claimed to be her brother (aka Abraham).

So, Hagar might have started off with a life of leizure, but her fate was to become the slave girl of a woman who would, eventually, use her and abuse her. How you ask? Sarah had been promised a child by God, but she was barren and she was old. How could she possibly have a child at her age, and especially since she was barren? So she “convinced” her husband (I put convinced in quotation marks because, though I am staying true to the narrative, who knows how this really went down), to have sex with Hagar in order to have her child through the slave girl as the surrogate mother. So, that is what Abraham did.

Hagar, at this moment, felt blessed, because she had gone from slave girl to mother of the heir of her wealthy owner’s husband. The only problem, though she was biologically the mother, that child belonged to Sarah as Hagar was technically only the surrogate mother (meaning she agreed to give up her rights over the child). What’s more, God did finally fulfill the promise made to Abraham and Sarah by making Sarah pregnant with Isaac.

This seemed great to Hagar, because now Ishmael was no longer the attention of Sarah’s eye, as Sarah had her very own child. On top of that, Ishmael was the first born and, according to patriarchal society, the oldest was entitled to the birthright and was heir to the father. Hagar grew a bit too confident in Ishmael’s place in Abraham’s family and, as a result, drew the bitter and heated jealousy of Sarah. From that moment on Sarah treated Hagar harshly, which we can only imagine means that she insulted her, threatened her and probably beat her as well. Sarah also successfully convinced her husband to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. He agreed and kicked the two of them out of his camp, sending them out to the wildnerness to fend for themselves.

Yet, despite the multiple sins of Abraham and Sarah that were acted out against Hagar and her son, God did not leave them abandoned to the fate their owners consigned them to. Instead, God protected them and gave them food and shelter from the scorching sun. What’s more, God blessed Ishmael and, though he would not become the heir to Abraham’s camp, he did become the father of many nations. In fact, Muslims traces their roots back to Abraham via Ishmael.

Here’s what we can pull from this tragic story. No matter the tragedies in our lives. No matter what sins we commit and no matter what sins are committed against us, God never abandons God’s people. We are God’s people and God will always lead us from where we are to where God is calling us to be. There are no human designs that can overwrite God’s design for us. Have faith and trust that, no matter the circumstances, God’s grace abounds.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“When we look at Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael, we see that God’s grace can survive our three-ring-circuses of compromise, rationalization and weak faith.” – Carl Prude, Jr.

PRAYER

Lord, no matter my circumstance, my sins, or my struggles, your grace abounds. Amen.

God’s People, part 6: Abraham

Read Genesis 12:10-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.” (Galatians‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭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 6, Abraham. Even if one has never been in a church, or sat in a Sunday school class, he or she most likely knows exactly who Abraham is. He is known as the father of three of the worlds major religions, all three of those religions being the largest in the world. He is also the father of the three religions that have had the most impact on the development of the world. So, it is pretty hard to live in this world and NOT know who Abraham is.

If you were to randomly ask who Abraham was, you might get “the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.” Or, you might get “the old guy who had a child.” Or, still, you might get “the guy who took his child up on a mountain to sacrifice him because God told him to” (more on this later). Of course, you most likely would get “a person of tremendous faith.”

All of the above are true; however, the fact is that Abraham got things wrong far more often than he got things right. While he may have had faith when it came to following God’s call to leave his homeland behind, he did not have faith enough to not sleep with Hagar in order to have a male heir. His faithfulness to God was limited by his inability to remain faithful to Sarah. I am not even referring to the fact that he had sexual relations with another woman, but that he was so willing to give his wife over to be the sexual property of kings in order to save his own hide.

On top of all that, Abraham had such a faith in God that he was willing to do something that is so horrific, so unimaginable that, it is hard to justify no matter what one’s theology is. When Abraham is told by God, according to the story, to sacrifice his son Isaac on top of a mountain, Abraham does exactly what he is told, without even questioning.. He does not let Sarah know, for obvious reasons, but he takes his son and has him carry the wood to his place of death.

The whole time, Isaac is walking alongside of his dad thinking that they are on their way to sacrifice a lamb. He even asks his dad, “where will we get a lamb, dad?” Abraham responds, “The LORD will provide us one.” Nice, right? He’s leading his own son to the slaugther and Isaac is completely unaware that his dad, the one who is supposed to love and protect him, is about to butcher him with a knife and burn his flesh to appease God.

It truly is one of the most horrific stories in all of the Bible. It’s easy for us to glaze over the fact that he’s about to murder his son, and focus on the faith he was displaying to do so; however, would any of us think the same thing if a modern father attempted to murder his own son because he heard God’s voice telling him to? When Abraham hears that the city that his nephew was living in is going to be destroyed, he argues with God over it and gets God to agree to spare his nephew’s life. If he could do that for his nephew, why didn’t he do that for his own son? He had faith in God, sure, but he clearly was lacking in any sort of understanding of God’s character: LOVE. Otherwise, he would have surely questioned God on the command to sacrifice his son. Thank goodness that God put a stop to it before Abraham could carry the murderous act all the way through to its grizzly conclusion.

I could go on and on regarding the serious flaws that can be found in Abraham, but to mention all his flaws is beside the point. After all, we are all flawed, are we not? Despite his flaws and shortcomings, God saw the heart of Abraham. While he often failed to perfectly live up to God’s standard, his heart never waivered in trying. He strived to follow a God. Even though he could not see God, he knew God was present with him. Because of that, Abraham was open hearing God’s voice, and he followed it to the best of his ability. That is all that God asks of us as well. While we might not always be faithful, God is ALWAYS FAITHFUL. All God asks in return is for us to open ourselves up to the direction of the Holy Spirit and to trust that, no matter what our flaws are, God’s grace is sufficient and is sufficiently working Salvation in us and through us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

While God would never ask us to sacrifice our children to “prove our faith”, God does ask us to sacrifice plenty of other things (tithes, time, talents, presence, etc.), and doing so proves our faith.

PRAYER

Lord, give me ample opportunity to grow in my faith, so that my faith may witness to you.

God’s People, part 5: Sarah

Read Genesis 21:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?” (Genesis 18:12 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 truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

SarahAndIsaacPart 5, Sarah. I don’t think that we in modern Western Civilization have a good or healthy understanding of the character of Sarah. When we think of her story we only think of one thing, her pregnancy with Isaac in old age. That is not entirely our fault because the Bible presents that moment as the crowning moment in Sarah’s life and, no doubt, it was. What’s more, we are so far removed from that ancient world, that the context is almost nearly lost to us.

If we think of anything else, regarding Sarah, we think of how she had an incredibly hard time believing that what God said would happen would come true. We almost hold that against her contemptuously, as if it isn’t completely insane to believe a woman of 70+ years was going to bear a child! “Oh, but God said it would happen,” one might contend, “and she should have believed God because God is all-powerful and can make anything happen.” Well, that’s easy for one to say, but I would reply back, “Whose god? And why don’t you start believing that God can make your grandmother pregnant, if that is so easy to believe?”

We forget Sarah’s story, and we also forget that there’s more to her life, to her worth, than her ability, or lack thereof, to get pregnant. Yet, Sarah came from a world where pregnancy was the crowning achievement for a woman. In fact, it was understood at the time to be the main reason a woman existed, to bear the man’s male child so that the family could have an heir and the patriarchy could continue. It was a man’s world, through and through.

But back to the question of “whose god?”. We forget that Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) were not Jewish and they did not always worship Yahweh (I AM that I AM). They came from a foreign land (Ur) and worshipped many gods. So, it is all well and good that Abram had this inkling to follow a new-found god, but why would that make Sarah believe that this god could make the impossible happen?

Don’t get me wrong, Sarah was far from a perfect person. She certainly doubted that God would make her, barren and at an advanced age, pregnant. She even laughed when an angel told her husband that she would conceive a child. She “convinced” her husband to sleep with her servant girl, Hagar, in order that Hagar might serve as a surrogate mother to Sarah’s “child.” She harshly abused Hagar and Ishmael out of jealousy when her own son, Isaac, was finally born. She was so jealous that she eventually had Hagar and Ishmael banished out into the wilderness where she had hoped they would die.

Be that as it may, she also was a woman who had a tough life and endured abuse at the hands of her sometimes-cowardly husband. She was barren and no doubt believed by her family to be under the curse of the gods because she could not give her husband what every good wife was supposed to produce: a male heir. She had to leave everything behind, her family and friends and homeland, to chase some crazy dream of a promised land and descendants that match the number of stars. She had a husband who, fearing for his life, sexually trafficked her to the courts of kings. Sarah’s life was not one that any of us would hope to have. It was hard, it was uncertain, and filled with much woe.

Yet, despite her flaws and hardships, God still favored this woman and richly blessed her. God did keep the promise to give her a child and God rose up out of that child innumerous descendants, including many kings of many nations. What’s more, out of Sarah came the descendant who would be the Light of the World. Sarah’s laughter of disbelief became her laughter of joy.  Do you laugh at what God’s called you to do? Do you see God’s call as impossible? Do you even know what God’s purpose for you is? Have no fear, even in disbelief and doubt, in turmoil and struggle, God’s faithfulness is never ending. Have faith and believe.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“What do you mean, ‘If I can’? Anything is possible if a person believes.” – Jesus of Nazareth in Mark 9:23

PRAYER
Lord, fulfill in me your purpose for my life and turn my laughter of doubt into laughter of joy. Amen.