Tag Archives: Jacob

God’s People, part 39: The Levite

Read Judges 19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23 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.

LeviteConcubinePart 38: The Levite. This is one of those rare instances that a male character is not named in the Bible. While this is not uncommon for minor women characters, most of the male subjects in the Biblical stories are named and, when they are not, it is usually because they are just THAT bad. Like Harry Potter, such people are “they who shall not be named.” Pharaoh is one such character who is only known by his title and role in Egypt.

The Levite in Judges 19 is another one of those characters and, quite honestly, his story is that of a horror story. It is a macabre fest filled with stuff that would send Stephen King running away in sheer fright, and would send shivers down the spine of Edgar Allan Poe. The story is repulsive, twisted, and completely random. It is also one of those texts that have people up in arms over the “violence” in the Bible.

Prior to dealing with the story, we need to first understand what a Levite is. If you recall, many devotions back, we discussed Jacob/Israel and his 12 sons (not counting Joseph) who became the 12 tribes of Israel. Levi was one of those 12 sons and his tribe. Out of that tribe descended Aaron, brother of Moses, who became the first “high priest”. From that point forward, all “levites” were dedicated to the priesthood and were set apart for leading the Israelites in worshiping the God of Israel.

So, it is important for you to realize that this unnamed “Levite” is a priest. This priest, while traveling, takes a woman to be his concubine or mistress. That sounds priestly, doesn’t it? Upon traveling home, the priest decides to stop off at a town along the way called Gibeah. While there, an old man invited them in to stay at his home; however, trouble was brewing and what happens next is sure to curdle the blood at the very thought.

The townspeople formed a mob and came to the house of the old man, demanding that he hand over the priest so that they could rape him. This narrative is not all that different than what happened to Lot and his family. Refusing to do so, the old man instead offered the mob his own virgin daughter and his guest’s mistress, so that they could rape them instead. For raping the priest would be “evil.”

The mob wanted none of that. So, Levite (out of what I can only imagine was fear) pushed his mistress out the door and toward the mob. The author than writes, “The men of the town abused her all night, taking turns raping her until morning. Finally, at dawn they let her go” (Judges 19:25 NLT). How horrifying, right? How can a priest, a person of God, do such a cowardly and terrible act?

Well, that is not the worst of the story. At daybreak, the raped and battered woman returned the priest, who found her unconscious at the doorstep. He commanded her to get up and get going (as they were going to continue traveling onward), but she did not respond. So, he put her body up on his donkey and brought her home. Once he arrived, he butchered her body into twelve pieces and then sent a piece of her body to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Who knows if the woman was dead already or not, as the text never specifies.

This is a truly gruesome and greuling narrative. Apart from those who have seriously read the Bible, it is unlikely most Christians even know it is in there. Yet there it is, in black and white. Again, I want to remind you, the reader, that this man was a priest. He was supposed to be a representative of God, yet he chose to save himself and the household he was staying in by sending his concubine out to be raped and battered.

I am not sure what the point of this story was, except perhaps to remind the reader of just how sinful people had gotten and how society was pushing closer and closer to the need of a “just ruler” who would keep the peace and execute justice throughout the land. This story reminds us that we live in a cruel and broken world; honestly, not even pastors or other Christian leaders are immune to the reality of sin and evil. Christians, leaders or not, are prone to sin and fall short of God’s glorious standard, just like the rest of humanity. Let us reflect on that, on our own propensity to sin and put ourselves first. Then let us turn to God in humility and penitent heart.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Sin is too stupid to see beyond itself.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

PRAYER
Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

God’s People, part 29: Israel

Read Judges 2:1-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“My people bend their tongues like bows to shoot out lies. They refuse to stand up for the truth. They only go from bad to worse. They do not know Me,” says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:3)

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.

masadaPart 29: Israel. You may be scratching your head and thinking, “Wait a minute, Israel is the other name of Jacob. Didn’t we already talk about Israel?” If so, my answer to you is yes, we did. With that said, we still have yet to talk about people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or, rather, the people of Israel. While Israel, the person was a character, it should be clear to anyone who is familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, that Israel (the collective people) is a character as well. In fact, Israel in the latter sense is featured far more than any other character in the entire Bible.

Israel was chosen by God to be set a part for God’s redemptive plan in the world. Right from the beginning of God’s covenant with Abraham, Israel’s purpose was to be a blessing to all the nation so of the earth (Genesis 22:18). Yet, the struggle to live up to their divine purpose was real. Just like their forefather Jacob was renamed Israel because he had spent his whole life wresting with God and with people, the Israelites were constantyl wrestling with God and with people. The struggle for Israel, just as it was for Jacob, was real.

In Judges 2, we see Israel at its outset. One would think that beginnings ought to be inspiring and lead people into the golden years, the opposite seems to be the case for Israel. Right from the get go, Israel choose to do their own thing, rather than doing what God instructed them to do. Case in point: God instructed Israel to take over the Promised Land and drive the inhabitants out. While Israel conquered the land, they failed to follow the “driving out” part of God’s instructions. Instead, they enslaved those they didn’t kill (Judges 1:28).

Slavery, of course, profitted Israel greatly as slaves work their tails off for free; however, God did not free the Hebrew slaves so that they could go and enslave others. What’s more, those slaves didn’t remain slaves forever and the land ended up filled with TONS of people who did not believe in God and who were most definitely enemies of Israel. The end result: Israel found itself in a constant state of sin and falling away from God as a result of competing ideologies, and Israel also Israel also found itself under constant threat of attack both from within and without their Kingdom.

Unfortunately, the end result also led Israelites later on to seek to purify their kingdom. They sought to isolate themselves from any multicultural experiences, and to isolate themselves from marrying anyone outside of their own religious identity. The more trouble Israel found itself in with competing kingdoms, the more Israel felt the need to be LESS engaged with the rest of the world. While the history is a long and complicated “back and forth” between the two extremes of embracing and shunning diversity, the ultimate reality is that Israel was failing to live up to its divine purpose of being a BLESSING to the nations.

Much later in this series, we’ll see how God still ultimately finds a way to make Israel the blessing it was intended to be; however, there is a challenge for us here today. Do you realize that God created you to be a blessing to the nations as well? Do you realize that God created you to reflect the love, the mercy, the grace, the hospitality and the inclusivity of God? Do you realize that God created you to be a blessing today and always?

Instead of looking for God’s blessing on us, which was given to us the minute life was breathed into our nostrils, we should be looking to fulfill that divine purpose God gave each of us. We have been equipped with gifts to bless others uniquely. All we need to do is to let God reveal those gifts to us and then use them as God intended us to do. While we all play the part of Israel in “wrestling with God and other people”, and that is quite natural, God does not want us getting so preoccupied with wrestling that we fail to do anything else. Stop wrestling and begin to bless others as God created you to, then you will know just how blessed you truly are.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“After the first blush of sin comes its indifference.” – Henry David Thoreau

PRAYER
Lord, you have created me to be a blessing. Turn me away from sin so that I may fulfill that divine purpose you have given me. Amen.

God’s People, part 16: Gang of 11

Read Genesis 37:18-36

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

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

PRAYER

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

God’s People, part 15: Rachel

Read Genesis 30:1-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

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

PRAYER

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

God’s People, part 14: Leah

Read Genesis 29:1-30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s People, part 13: Laban

Read Genesis 28:1-5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s People, part 12: Jacob

Read Genesis

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

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

PRAYER

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

God’s People, part 11: Esau

Read Genesis 25:19-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

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

PRAYER

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

God’s People, part 10: Rebekah

Read Genesis 24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

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

PRAYER

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

To Wrestle and Prevail

Read Genesis 32:22-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NRSV)

jacob13Questioning is a huge part of what it means to be human. We as human beings have been given the ability to think for ourselves, to know good from evil, to create, to name, and to care for other things. We have been given the vision of what paradise is, of what it means to live in harmony with all of creation, and we have also been forced to recognize that reality is often times much different than our vision of utopia. It is in those moments that we find ourselves questioning ourselves, questioning humanity, questioning the created order and, most importantly, questioning our Creator.

This is especially true when we are going through our own trials. When we find that we are losing control over different aspects of our lives, or when we come to the realization that we were never in control to begin with, we find that we start to question God. When we lose our wealth, when we our loved ones, when we lose our health, when we lose our independence, when we suffer loss in any sense, we can’t help but cry out to God and question why these things are happening. What’s more, we often get angry at God and, in the process, begin to feel guilt over our anger, over our doubt, over our questioning.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we read of a man named Jacob who had stolen his brother’s birthright many years earlier and he was on his way back home to try and make amends with his brother who wanted to kill him…literally. One night, while on his way back to his homeland to meet his angry brother, a man suddenly wrestles with Jacob. We aren’t told who this man was and one can assume that Jacob had no clue who he was either. The two wrestle each other all night long and, in the end, Jacob wins the wrestling match. Realizing that Jacob had won the other man strikes him on his hip, which leaves Jacob permanently injured. Still, Jacob did not let go of the man and refused to do so until the man blessed him.

Perhaps Jacob thought the man was his brother Esau, after all, it was dark and the man happened upon him suddenly.  Regardless, the man ends up relenting and giving Jacob his blessing. After that, Jacob lets the man go and he names the place Peniel, which means, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” For whatever reason, Jacob came to the realization that the man was God, and that he had wrestled with God. Upon this revelation, God renames Jacob Israel because he had wrestled with God and prevailed.

I tell this story for all who feel guilty for wrestling with God. For all who have questioned and for all who have found themselves angry with God, take heart! You are not alone. God has big shoulders and can take our questions. God knows our hearts and understands our anger. God blesses us when we wrestle with God, because that means we are in relationship with God. We weren’t created to be mindless drones; rather, we were created to be a relationally engaged people. Who doesn’t struggle in relationships? That’s the very nature of them.

Take heart, be confident, and know that God does love you and that God does give you the space to wrestle! God has blessed you with the ability to question, to think freely, and to wrestle with God when we don’t understand why things are as they are. In fact, it is in that relational wrestling match that we will find that God has richly blessed us with a renewed assurance of our identity in our Creator, and of our Creator’s identity in us. For all who have indeed wrestled with God, stand up tall and thank God for such an awesome opportunity.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.” – Marcus Aurelius

PRAYER
Lord, you know my heart and you know that I have struggled and even wrestled with you. I thank you for having broad shoulders and for giving me the opportunity to wrestle and, more importantly, to be in relationship with you. Amen.