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God’s People, part 18: Judah

Read Genesis 38


“Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.’” (Revelation‬ ‭5:5‬ ‭NLT)‬‬

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

  Part 18: Judah. In the last devotion, I spent a bit of time talking about Tamar and how she was truly mistreated by Judah, the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. Prior to that, it was discussed that Judah was among the eleven brothers who ganged up on their younger brother Joseph out of jealousy and annoyance. We will be discussing more about Joseph in the next devotion; however, suffice it to say that we have not seen Judah in a very positive light up to this point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

The Lion

Read Daniel 6

“Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NRSV)

the-chronicles-of-narnia-the-lion-the-witch-and-the-wardrobe-52212a00a5e0bWe live in a culture that strives for safety. We want our churches to be safe, we develop safe zones for our students at universities, we eliminate any lunchtime activities that might not be safe, and we go out of our way to associate with people and places that share our worldview so that our worldviews are safe. We avoid talking about religion and politics at the dinner table, or anywhere else for that matter, to keep safe from opposing viewpoints. We are a culture that is mired in the desire for safety.

In fact, the need for safety has grown since September 11, 2001. The more unsafe we feel, the more we seek to FEEL SAFE; that is a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle because the more we strive to feel safe, the less safe we actually feel. If that is not the case, then it is surely the case that the more we strive to feel safe, the more the world reminds that we are not, which causes us to strive to feel more safe. Regardless, “saftey is a virtue” for many people.

The need for safety carries out beyond just what was mentioned above. It crosses over into our faith journeys as well. In churches, we avoid preaching about controversial topics in order to keep people feeling safe. We avoid having discussions around social issues so that no one is offended and everyone feels safe. Sometimes we avoid even talking about Jesus Christ because that might be too “threatening” to some or, if we do talk about Jesus, we dilute what we say so that people feel safe.

Now, you might be asking the following question: what is wrong with feeling safe? Shouldn’t we aspire to keep people safe? Shouldn’t we strive to give people a sense of security? Should we be striving to create sanctuary in our churches, and aren’t sanctuaries “safe” by definition? My response is following, are we truly creating a “sanctuary” when we create a false illusion of “safety”? I think not. If all we are doing is pulling a ruse, a wool blanket, over people’s eyes, then we are not creating a sanctuary at all. What’s more, where in Scripture is safety defined as a moral goal or a virtue?

Was Abraham safe when left home on a hunch he should follow a God that could not be seen? Was J0seph safe when he prophetically told his brothers what their future was according to a dream God had given him? How about Jonah? Where did playing it “safe” land him? How about Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Esther, Ruth, David, Micah, Zecheriah, Nehemiah, Jesus, or the Apostles? Where do you see God calling them to remain safe?

One of my favorite stories, one I can relate to, is the story of Daniel. When Darius the King put out a decree that no foreigner was permitted to pray to their God so that they could show their loyalty to the king, did Daniel choose to play it safe? No, he prayed anyway and when he was caught he was thrown into a lion’s den to be eaten alive. I think it is “safe” (pun intended) to assume that there was nothing SAFE about that situation!

Yet, Daniel was not seeking a fasle sense of security or a false sense of safety, because Daniel’s faith led him to a place where he was TRULY SECURE. Daniel’s faith led him to dwell in God, who was present with him. Despite the deadly circumstance he found himself in, he was more secure than anyone of those who complied with the king’s orders, and GOD DID NOT FAIL HIM.

Our faith calls us to face lions because the one whom we have faith in IS THE LION OF LIONS! Our God does not promise us safety, but in God we have security! Every day, as a pastor, is another day that I am called to step out in faith and risk facing the lions waiting to consume me. Somedays, it feels as if those lions have taken their fair share of fatal chomps; yet, here I stand. I am still a pastor and I am still taking my daily steps of faith in service of the ONE TRUE LION! This is not just the call of a pastor, but the call of the church! This is the call of all who call themselves Christian and who make up the body of Christ. I pray that you choose to give up safety for the true security of faith!

“The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.” – Tacitus

Lord, help me to let go of my need to be safe and seek security through my faith in you. Amen.

Unlock the Cage

Read Revelation 5:1-10

“For thus the LORD said to me, as a lion or a young lion growls over its prey, and–when a band of shepherds is called out against it–is not terrified by their shouting or daunted at their noise, so the LORD of hosts will come down to fight upon Mount Zion and upon its hill.” (Isaiah 31:4 NLT)

lion2As a lover of animals, I find it hard to utilize the animal imagery that is sometimes found in Scripture. The last devotion that was written was utilizing the image of a prowling, hungry lion waiting to devour it’s prey. While the image itself is not unrealistic, it paints a lopsided view of the animal itself.

On the one hand, it is not an unrealistic image of a lion. They do tend to get hungry and prowl around looking for food. That’s natural. To be fair and honest, humans do the same thing. On the other hand, to connect a lion to the devil takes away the natural understanding, and superimoses a supernatural one. The lion is now seen to be like the devil, like Satan, prowling around looking to devour and destroy! While 1 Peter 5:8 is a simile, people unfortunately begin to view and judge the animals as being beastly, primal, and even evil. Throughout history, certain animals have been categorically hunted and eliminated in immoral ways, with such passages in the Bible being used as some sort of theological justification.

But this is not the fault of the Bible, nor is it the fault of its authors who were simply trying to convey ideas through real-life images. For anyone living in areas that are inhabited by lions, the lion poses a real threat when it gets hungry and is on the prowl looking for food. It’s a threat to people and their livestock alike. Rather, this is the fault of people who take things way to literally and interpret the Bible in irresponsible ways.

The Bible itself, actually portrays most, if not all, animals in a very balanced way. Let’s look at the lion. Just as the lion is used to represent the devil on the prowl, so too is the lion being used to represent God. In Isaiah 31:4, God is likened to a lion who will not be scared and will not cower before the Egyptians who were looking to overtake the Kingdom of Judah; rather, God will directly face them and boldy ward them off, just as a lion does against anything that threatens its pride.

What’s more, the risen Christ is called the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” who has conquered sin and death and stands ready to reign as King. There are many such references to God as a lion in the Bible and all of those references utilize the stately, the bold, and the protective power of the lion as a description of God.

Slight switching directions, but still utilizing the theme of God as the lion, we Christians tend to forget that God is our lion. We forget that we serve a God of great power and we feel that we have to prove to others (and to ourselves) just how powerful our God is. I have seen many Christians set out to be “lions” of the faith in order to guard and protect God.

Here’s the problem, God doesn’t need, require, or even want our protection. God does require us to try and prove anything and, more times than not, we not only fail in our attempt to win anyone over, we often do more damage than we do good. The heart of the Gospel is God’s power to forgive, reconcile and restore a broken world back to the paradise it was once created to be.

By trying to prove God and/or by trying to protect God, we inadvertently try to cage God in. We can only prove what we fully know; yet, we try and prove the one who is beyond our full comprehension. The reality is that anytime we try to prove God, or try to “protect” God, all we are really doing is proving or protecting our idea or understanding of God…which amounts to a false god.

The challenge for us is to be responsible in our interpretation of the Bible, and to be humble in it. It is the authority by which we found our faith; however, it is not the foundation. God is! The challenge for us is to stop trying to cage God, but rather for us to unlock the cages we’ve built so that the true LION, the true God, can come forth, rally the pride, and begin to reign in our hearts once and for all.

“Trying to prove God is like trying to defend a lion. [The lion] doesn’t need your help, just unlock the cage.” – Jason Petty

Lord, help me to stop trying to be right in my understanding, so that I may be open in my heart. Amen.


Read Zechariah 3

“Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 NRSV)

lionI just got finished participating in an observance of Memorial Day in my community. Prior to the observance that the memorial park, we start off with an ecumenical service at the Presbyterian Church in my community. This year it was my turn to preach and so, in preparation, I began by reflecting on Memorial Day, on those who gave their lives in defense of their country and its interests, as well as on our society.

Instantly two Scriptures came to mind. The first was that of Jesus being accused of being an agent of Satan by the religious leaders in his day. That Scripture can be found in Luke 11:14-17. The second Scripture is of the division that came to mind was that of Zechariah 3:1-8, where the people are divided against the new high priest, Joshua (Yeshua in Aramaic and Jesus in Greek). Though this is not the same Jesus, from Nazareth, this Jesus is experiencing people throwing accusations against his leadership as the High Priest.

This latter text is the one that is most revealing in terms of what  I want to write about today. In that text, God has it out with the people through the voice of Zechariah. “The Lord rebukes you, Adversary,” Zechariah proclaims. “The Lord, who chooses Jerusalem, rebukes you, Adversary!” The fiery prophet’s word must’ve sounded quite harsh to those on either side of the division.

There, in the midst of the division, Zechariah denonces the “Adversary”. Now, this English word may not sound too harsh on the surface; however, the English is derived from the Hebrew word “Satan” (והשׂטן, pronounced shaw-tawn). In other words, Zechariah is denouncing and rebuking the work of Satan, the Adversary, the arch-enemy of good, amid the people of Jerusalem.

One thing to note here is that Zechariah is pointing out the key function of the Adversary’s role in opposing God. This key function is creating division. While God is trying to establish the divine Kingdom on earth through unity and peace, the Adversary is actively standing in the way of us reaching God’s divine purpose through division and disunity.

How terribly tragic that is. Just pause for a moment; just pause, close your eyes, and begin to reflect on the division you see going on in the world around you. Look at the political climate in our country. For each of the political candidates out there, there is a group of people who hate them. What’s more, they hate those who support the candidates they hate.

Look at the Church, for the church is terribly divided. Now, we in the church all talk about Christ’s call for unity, about the need to “worship without walls”, and yet we divide the body of Christ over politics, over polity, over doctrine, over gender, gender identity, over human sexuality, over theology, over race, over views on other faiths, and just about every other thing imaginable.

Here’s the thing, when we get divided, we are failing to follow God and choosing to follow the Adversary. Let that soak in. When we are divided we are NOT following God or Christ, but are following the Adversary. That is not to say that we cannot disagree on issues. That is human and can be quite healthy in the life of the church. BUT DIVISION IS NOT! Our challenge is to, like Zechariah, rebuke the Adversary and choose to be an agent of unity and peace, rather than an agent of division.

If we don’t unite in Christ we are bound to fall, with the Adversary, in division.

Lord, protect me from the Adversary and keep me far from the sin of division. Make me an agent of unity and of peace and of love. Amen.