Tag Archives: Jealousy

God’s People, part 22: Aaron

Read Exodus 32:1-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s People, part 21: Miriam

Read Numbers 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s People, part 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 3: Cain & Abel

Read Genesis 4:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed His approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.” (Hebrews 11:4 NLT)

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

cain-and-abelPart 3: Cain & Abel. I could not devote two devotions to Eve and Adam and not follow up with one on Cain and Able. In fact, a lot could be written about these two brothers, for there is more here than meets the eye. It would be easy for me to focus on how Abel was rigtheous and Cain was a murderer; however, I do not think the story is quite that simple. In fact, in Hebrew, there is definitely some nuance going on here.

Let us start with Abel. The English word, “Abel”, is a transliteration of the Hebrew word, הֶבֶל, which is pronounced heh’-bel ( I bet you didn’t see that one coming). It is the same word as the Hebrew word, הֲבֵל, which means emptiness or vanity; something transistory or unsatisfactory, which is often used as an adverb. I am not entirely sure why Abel is given that name, in light of his character of faithfulness in the Bible; however, the ancients did nothing accidentally.

What I love about Abel is that there is room to speculate on him. Perhaps he was given that name because of his unsatisfactorily short life due to being murdered. Perhaps he was given that name because the author wants us to recognize a character flaw in him, which all the more heightens the mysterious grace of God who favors Abel for an act of faithfulness despite his flaws. Those are two possibilities, though I think there is one that is much more likely than those.

I believe it is the author’s way of showing how sin has crept in, even into the family structure. Cain was the first born and, thus, would have all the rights and inheritance afforded to him when his parents died. Abel would only get what was left over. The human system of Patriarchy had begun to take root, and the effects of that would ultimately kill Abel and harm many others like him, as well as women who were not considered to be equal to men.

That, then , leads us to Cain, who was the first born and oldest brother. Because of his privileged position as the eldest brother, Cain expected to be favored over Abel. He felt entitled to that. Cain quickly learned that God doesn’t play favorites off of human-made systems of  oppression. God favored the younger of the two brothers and, in essence, gave the blessing to Abel and not to Cain.

This, of course, enfuriated Cain and, as we all know very well, he plotted to murder Abel and carried it out in a field when no one was looking. Cain’s entitlement left him bitter toward Abel. What’s more, he was jealous of the fact that God favored Abel over him. That jealousy led to the murder of his own brother. Yet, God proved Cain’s jealousy to be unfounded, for God never rejected Cain at all. Even after Cain murdered Abel, God still chose to show mercy and grace. The story doesn’t exactly word it that way, but the grace is certainly there. Cain got to live a full life out, and was ultimately protected by God against anyone seeking vengeance over the death of Abel.

This story is very much relevant to us today. Most of us may not murder our siblings, but we do support and uphold oppressive human systems that bring harm to others. We often do so without even realzing it and, even if we did realize it, we feel justified because our social standards favor us instead of those who are being oppressed. Think of immigration laws, or welfare, or anything that most of us don’t have to deal with, all the while being very judgmental toward those who do. The story of Cain and Abel, should teach us that we are no more worthy of favor than anyone else. God created and loves us all. If we choose to be proud and entitled, we only do so to our own detriment. For God will show favor to the meek.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Those who stand tall have the furthest to fall.

PRAYER
Lord, humble me and teach me to be meek. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Jealousy

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17 NRSV)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

FieryJWORKS OF THE FLESH: Jealousy. I serve as the pastor of a small country church in a part of New Jersey the rest of the world doesn’t know exists. One of the greatest things about the church that I serve has nothing to do with the size of it’s physical space, or the amount of the material resources our church community has, or the amount of people that come filing into worship on any given Sunday. What makes the church I serve so awesome is the gigantic heart and spirit of the community itself.

Unfortunately, church communities often don’t measure themselves by the things that God has provided for them but, rather, they often measure themselves by the things that other church communities have that they don’t. I have been in meetings in various church communities where I have heard people articulate, “If we only had a bigger worship space…if we only had a gymnasium…if we only had a huge screen…if we only had an amazing praise band and a dynamic music leader…if we only had a more hip pastor…if we only had a team of pastors…if we only had these things we could do REAL ministry in our community.”

What is unfortunate about such statements is that they are covetous in nature. When we focus on all of the things we don’t have we overlook all of the things we do have. By focusing on what we lack we end up finding ourselves wishing we had those things, rather than being grateful for all that God has given to us. We also fail to realize that we have things that those other communities lack. What’s more, rather than working to use the resources we DO have for the glory of God and the coming of God’s Kingdom, rather than using those resources to bring God’s hope, healing and wholeness into this world, we find ourselves using our limited resources to compete against other churches. Why? All because we have been consumed by jealousy.

As I said above, I serve as the pastor of a small country church in a part of New Jersey the rest of the world doesn’t know exists. We are a church of limited resources, a church relatively small in number, a church without a screen or a projector or a praise band. As for a super hip pastor…well, I will let others be the judge of that. But one thing we do have is the presence of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit and the power of Jesus Christ working within us to bring about change in our community. We have big hearts, a passion for serving others, a deep desire to worship God through servant leadership, and a desire to be agents of God’s hope, healing and wholeness. We may not have a ton of money, but we have all that we need to do the work that God is calling us to do. Rather than being someone else’s church, start being the church God has created you to be. Be authentic to who you, as a church community, are. If you do that, if you are good stewards of all that God has given you, and if you are faithful to Christ and his mission in this world, then you will be the community that blesses many as well as the community that is truly blessed.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“You can be the moon and still be jealous of the stars.” – Gary Allan

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see all that you have given me rather than being focused on the things I think I lack. Amen.