Tag Archives: deception

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.

Deception

Read Genesis 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, NRSV)

SerpentWhen we think of the Garden of Eden, we think of Adam and Eve. We think of a vast and luscious garden filled to the max with vegetables and fruits. We think of humanity and the animal world living side-by-side in peace with one another. We think of people living in a complete and perfect relationship with God and of pure, unadulterated innocence.

With that said, let’s be honest. That is not all we think of when we think of the Garden of Eden; rather, we think of human sin, of the forbidden tree with the forbidden fruit. We think of humanity’s desire to have knowledge of Good and Evil, to be like God with the ability to judge. We think of the Eve being duped by the deceptive snake that caused the fall of humanity from innocence, from paradise, and from the grace of God.

All of this, of course, assumes that we are reading the story correctly and not reading into it our own theological understanding that has been imparted to us by people within our own traditions. On the one hand, there can be no doubt that the Garden of Eden story tells a tale of a perfect creation that ends up becoming less than desirable due to sin. There can be no doubt that paradise falls into the hellish reality that we find in our world today. There can be no doubt that the Garden narrative tells the tale of how the evil in this world came to be.

Beyond what is true in our telling of the story, we often view the serpent as the deceptive one. It is true that the snake was revealed as the most cunning (עָרוּם, ‛ârûm, pronounced aw-room’) of all of the animals. Cunning, of course, is the skill of being able to attain one’s end through deceit. So, the snake was written in as a deceptive character for sure. With that said, the snake’s deception came through the truth, that Adam and Eve would not die (physically at least) if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Yet, the snake was not the only deceptive one and, contrary to popular belief, Eve was not guilty of causing the fall of humankind. Let us note forget that Eve was never given the direct command from God not to eat from the tree; rather, Adam was. The story would have assume that Eve was told not to by Adam, but one can also presuppose that she wasn’t given much more information. Eve was deceived by the cunning serpent, but Adam should have known better.

When God finally tracked them down and asked Adam if they had eaten from the forbidden tree,Adam responded with deception of his own. “The woman ate the fruit and then gave it to me.” While that is technically the truth, it is deceptive in that it implies that the real one at fault is Eve. It is the first example of humanity throwing the other, the innocent, under the proverbial bus. People will do anything to cover their own hides, and that is exactly what Adam does. He points the finger at Eve in order to avoid taking responsibility for his own actions.

This sin does not stop with Adam but passes down to his son Cain who murdered his brother Abel and tries to deceptively dismiss himself of the responsibility of that murder. From that point on, humanity became mired in its sins and the propensity to pass the buck and place the blame on others rather than taking responsibility.

In God, there is no deception and in God we cannot hide from the truth. For those who live in deceit, the presence of God is a scary thing because it brings them into the presence of the truth, which sears their souls with their responsibility in their sins. For those who live in the truth, they grow from their shortfalls and sins into a life that is centered on God and on community.

Rather than passing the buck, they take responsibility for their mistakes, pay the consequences, and grow into better people. This path, not the former, is the one that God is calling us all to. If we follow it, if we follow the path of the truth, then we will rise above the deceit and become godly people of character and integrity and we will begin to put an end to the deceptive work of the serpent in our lives.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
You may be able to deceive yourself and others, but you cannot deceive God who is the author of Truth.
PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your truth, no matter how painful it is, so that I may live in your light. Amen.

Crying Wolf

Read Matthew 7:15-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. (Matthew 7:1)

wolf-howling-at-the-moon1In Christianity there seems to be a fear that one needs to be careful not to be deceived by the devil who will steer one away from the truth and the light of God. When I was growing up, I remember coming across all sorts of different things in Christian bookstores and in churches. I remember seeing tracts that would warn of the perils of the New Age movement, there were tracts warning against the danger of letting your children watch the TV show “He-Man: Masters of the Universe”, and that there were perils in allowing your children to participate in Role Playing Games (RPGs) such as “Dungeons and Dragons.” I have since seen similar tracts and brochures against books such as “Harry Potter” and the like.

What’s more is that fear often crosses into Christian territory as well. “Beware of false prophets who clothe themselves in words of light but are really agents of darkness.” I have seen devout Christians such as Rob Bell and others get thrown under the proverbial bus as being heretics and agents of Satan. And there seems to be some serious Biblical precedent for it, as Jesus warns, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15).

But what does Jesus mean by that? Is Jesus trying to strike fear into the hearts of his followers? Or is Jesus doing something completely different? And what do we make of that when we pair it with Jesus’ other warning, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged”, which only comes 14 verses earlier and is what starts off this section of teachings?

The reality is that, while we ought to be worried about taking a wrong turn onto a destructive path, that worry often turns into a form of “holier than thou” judgmentalism that Christians have been warned against by the one we claim to follow. So, first things first. How do we spot false teachings without falling into a group of hypocrites who judge others and lack the humility to see ourselves as the wolves in sheep’s clothing?

First off, Jesus rightly said in today’s scripture passage that you will know a tree by its fruit. We, as Christians, know what God wants from us. God want our full devotion; we are called to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, all of our minds, all of our souls, and all of our strength (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). And, equally as important, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. ANYTHING or ANYONE who leads you to THAT is producing GOOD FRUIT. After all, this is the heart of the Gospel and, according to Jesus, sums up all the Law and the prophets.

Second, if we come across something that is counter to what we find above, we simply avoid it. There is no need to interject Satan, or throw around judgments on the beliefs or their adherents. After all, judgmentalism is BAD FRUIT. We simply need to avoid bad fruit and nourish ourselves on good fruit. But to be in line with Micah 6:8, we also need to have a smidge of humility. Many people say and think differently than us, but that doesn’t make their thoughts and words FALSE. We need to be open to different angles on things without compromising on the core values of LOVING GOD and NEIGHBOR.

In the end, Jesus is calling us about being vigilant in regard to not failing to see the image of God in ALL PEOPLE, even those who express things differently than us. Jesus’ words were not to inflict fear but to caution us to remain true to the Gospel and to spark a little bit of humility in us. Let us not point the scapegoating finger at people and “cry wolf” just because they are different. Rather, let us measure the teachings we hear by the RUBRIC OF LOVE and then determine whether that is something we should or shouldn’t pursue. And let us not forget to measure ourselves and our beliefs by that same rubric!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“LOVE, not fear, IS OF GOD.” – Rev. Todd R. Lattig

PRAYER
Lord, teach me to be open to difference without judgment, and allow me to discern, even among my beliefs, the GOOD FRUIT from the BAD FRUIT.