Wednesday, June 5, 2013

To Flee or not to Flee

Today's passage:  Genesis 38 and 39
     I am struck by these back to back passages concerning fornication. I don't think it is an accident that God put Judah and Joseph's stories one after another in the Bible.  In fact, it is probably very likely that God wanted us to contrast the very marked behavior between the two.
     First we read about Judah and this very disturbing chapter concerning his daughter-in-law, Tamar.  Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, Tamar bears her own father-in-law's child.  The details are less than pretty and I would rather not delve into all the particulars, but had Judah reigned in some of his impulses, this could have been avoided.  He was not one to avoid a pretty woman, veiled or unveiled.  He ran into sin, not away from it.  He is held responsible for his actions, though he nearly gets away with it excepting some shrewd planning on Tamar's part to be sure nobody else could be accused of being the father of her child.
Joseph manages Potiphar's house
Taken from Standard Bible Story Readers, Book 4
By Lillie A. Faris
Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
The Standard Publishing Company, 1927
     Then there is Joseph.  Each and every day Potiphar's wife beckons him.  Each and every day, Joseph says no.  I'm guessing that Mrs. Potiphar was probably a beautiful woman.  I'm guessing that she probably did not dress as modestly as she should.  I'm guessing that this could have been a real internal struggle for Joseph as it is for most men who are confronted with immodestly dressed women.  Yes, ladies, I am going there, because I'm afraid, in our day and age, our society has brainwashed us into believing that if a man looks at a woman wrongly that it is all his fault.  And if he acts on those impulses, it is his fault.  But can't we help men out a little?  When a Godly man turns his head and everywhere he turns he is confronted with women who will not take responsibility for how they are tempting him with their dress, what is a Godly man supposed to do?  He probably suffers in silence many times, and will never reveal just how tortured he is, (because really, how can he tell us those things) but wishing these ladies would dress differently to give him a chance to be able to keep his mind and heart pure.  Please do not misunderstand, a man is responsible for his actions, but can't we give him a fighting chance?  We tend not to understand this, because we don't understand how men think. They think differently, and it does not make them disgusting, because God created them that way.  Armed with that knowledge, we should do whatever it takes not to be a stumbling block to them.  If you really want to gauge if you are appropriately dressed, ask your father, brother or husband, and don't get angry with them if they tell you the truth.  If they are iffy, rethink your wardrobe.
     Poor Joseph is trying to do right, and does do right, but how hard Mrs. Potiphar probably made it for him.  How many nights did Joseph have to pray repeatedly for God to cleanse his heart and mind? The Bible doesn't tell us those things, but Joseph was a real man, with a real man's instincts.  He fought them, but it couldn't have been easy to be confronted with that day after day.  In the end, though Joseph ran away, he is still punished for a sin he did not commit.  It seems a little unfair that Judah, a skirt chaser, nearly gets away with his sin, but Joseph, who leaves his robe behind in a frantic attempt to avoid sin, is wrongly convicted.  Joseph spends several years in prison for this.  That would have my justice-seeking heart outraged.  Probably the thing that I hate most is being accused of something that I did not do.  Yet Joseph, keeps a Godly attitude and earns promotions in prison.  If he had faced a parole board, he would have been given an early release for good behavior, but unfortunately, Egyptian prisons did not work that way.   His character will not go unnoticed later on though.
     I am not the type of person that likes to stir up trouble.  Really, I am not.  Most people would find that I am a peacemaker.  However, truth is truth, regardless whether you agree, and I realize that addressing women's dress is a hot button topic of our time.  All I can say is if you are really offended by this post, you might want to think about why.  I didn't even intend to go that direction but God somehow put it on my heart this morning.  So I will post this knowing the backlash and run and duck for cover and hopefully, for those of you reading this, we can still be friends. Please don't be mad at me, she says, as she pushes the send button.

Monday, June 3, 2013

I Wonder as I Wander

Today's passage:  Genesis 37
     Somehow, I have never paid attention, or never noticed this small detail in the story of Joseph.  I've read the passage many times, I've taught the Sunday School lesson, I've even seen Joseph:  King of Dreams.  But there are a few verses here to which I have never paid particular attention.  That gets my attention, because though it may seem like a small detail, if God put it there, it must have some significance.
     Jacob's other sons are in the field in Shechem, tending sheep.  He sends Joseph to go to them, to see how they are doing.  Or does he have another motive?  I ask this question, because I'm wondering if Jacob is a little suspicious of their behavior.  He tells Joseph to come back to him and let him know what they are doing.  I'm intrigued by this because of what I learn a few verses later.
     Joseph goes to Shechem which is a good jaunt from their home in Hebron, about 55 miles.  The fields there must be good for grazing.  But Joseph's brothers aren't in Shechem.  In fact, Joseph is wandering around Shechem, probably checking every field for some sign of them, when some gentleman (these are the verses I'd never really given much attention to) comes to him and asks what he needs.  If it weren't for this gentleman, Joseph would never have learned that his brothers were actually in Dothan, another 20 miles north of Shechem.  Who knows how long Joseph would have wandered about searching for his brothers?  Now what is significant about this?  Well, I read a little about Dothan.  I mean, if the brothers went there without sending word to Dad, that seems a little suspicious.  What I learned was that Dothan was not agricultural, it was a commercial town.  So what are the brothers doing up in Dothan with sheep if there is little, if any, pastureland?  That I don't have an answer for, but it wouldn't surprise me if Jacob's sons were involved in some wheeling and dealing, acquiring fortunes in the northland.  I can't be certain of this, but it does seem a bit peculiar.  So when Joseph arrives on the scene, they know they are in big trouble.  Perhaps they have had business in Dothan for a while now, maybe they have set up some sweet deals with the merchants that come through, and the last thing they need is for kid brother to tattle to Dad about their business ventures, when they should have been taking care of the sheep.  This would only fuel their desire to be rid of Joseph, so they could conduct business as usual.
Joseph, search for his brothers, is told they had gone to Dothan
Taken from Standard Bible Story Readers, Book Two
Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
The Standard Publishing Company, 1925
     And has Jacob been suspicious of where the brothers have been?  Did they get home later than usual?  Were the flocks looking skinnier than before?  Did it seem the boys had a little extra income, or did a few sheep mysteriously go missing every time they returned from Shechem, maybe part of a deal?  I don't know, but I do know that though Jacob may be old, he knows a little about scheming, and although he may not be completely wise to their plans, something tells me he knows everything is not on the up and up.  Loyal Joseph would of course report back to Dad, but this time, his brothers will prevent him.  And by securing Joseph's silence, they can continue their Dothan excursions.  Since Dothan was along a prominent trade route, it also was convenient for them to be able to sell Joseph, even if not the original plan.  Though jealousy and hate were the primary factors that led to Joseph's enslavement, the inducement of money may have been a motivation as well, because the Bible tells us that "the love of money is the root of all evil." (I Timothy 6:10)  Twenty silver pieces may have seemed like a small price to pay to rid themselves of a brother who would blow their cover.
     It's all pure speculation, I know, but I don't know why God would have included the verses about Joseph's aimless wandering in Shechem, and a man there, who happened to overhear the brothers' plans redirecting him, if there had not been something amiss.  Every verse in the Bible has a purpose, and maybe I miss it the first, second, or third time (sometimes the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth time as well), but when I keep reading and searching, I'm bound to find something new.  Thank you, Lord, for such a marvelous Book.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Family Matters

Today's passage:  Genesis 32
     Jacob is headed back to the land of his fathers.  God has instructed him in this.  There is only one small problem, actually it is bigger than small.  Esau, his twin brother, the reason he fled in the first place is living nearby.  In Chapter 31, it is evident that Jacob's scheming ways have not completely left him, and in this case that's a good thing.  He divides everything with him into two groups, that way if Esau chooses to exercise revenge, some of his descendants and belongings will survive and carry on the family name.  My immediate reaction upon reading this was, "I wonder how the groups were divided?"  Did he put Rachel, Leah and their sons into one group, and then Bilhah and Zilpah and their sons in another?  Maybe he put Rachel, his beloved, and her handmaid in the group with him and then Leah and her handmaid in the second group.  See what a mess this might create?
     Then, here in Chapter 32, he divides them further as Esau approaches and this is what struck me.
1And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men.  And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids.
2And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost.

Taken from Treasures of the Bible (Genesis)
By Henry Davenport Northrop, D.D.
International Publishing Company, 1894
       If it had not been clear before, it was certainly obvious now.  Jacob put the people he valued the most at the very back of the line, to preserve them.  And who are the last ones?  Rachel and Joseph.  Perhaps Jacob had shown favoritism to Joseph in subtle ways before this, but I don't think there can be any disputing among the brothers as to who Daddy loved the most.  Dan, Asher, Zebulon, and Issachar must have felt especially undervalued as they are at the front of the line with their mothers.  For a moment, I thought I could argue that Jacob was only putting the oldest sons first, knowing they could defend themselves, but that can't be the case.  The oldest boys were Leah's, and they were put behind Zilpah and Bilhah's boys.  It also doesn't give him an excuse for putting some of the ladies at the head of the pack.  I only know that such blatant favoritism must have stemmed from his own Mother and Father's familial preferences.  He practiced what he had learned.  And his sons will make him pay the price for it.  It must be hard to be the example of what a Father should not do, but Jacob will learn in a few chapters, in a very difficult way, that his behavior towards Joseph   caused a lot of jealousy and even hatred among his sons.  And it probably started way before this chapter, but this is the first instance I see that a line has been drawn.  I'm not sure you can make a point more than choosing for some of your sons to die first, ahead of others. I wonder how Jacob explained this?  Or did he even bother?  Maybe he was so oblivious to how wrong this was, it didn't occur to him to explain it away.  Any explanation would have been lame anyhow, and the boys would have seen through it.  Jacob's future behavior would further cement the assumptions they make at this juncture.  Dad doesn't love me as much as he loves Joseph.  In Dan, Asher, Zebulon, and Issachar's case, "Dad doesn't love me as much as he loves Rachel's and Leah's kids."  What a terrible thing for a child to have to realize!
     Probably in every family, every child has moments when he believes his parent loves one sibling more than another.  But, in many cases this is just a suspicion that can never be proven.  I wish Jacob's sons could say the same.  Though God uses all that Joseph endures for good, and he becomes one of the foremost examples of living for God in difficult circumstances, might God have still accomplished that example had Jacob been a better parent?  Might God have been able to spare Jacob years of believing his son had died and the grief that accompanies it?  I can't answer that, but I know that God uses our weaknesses to work His purpose.  But I don't think that means He wants us to stay deliberately weak.  When we see areas in our life that we should improve, we ought to improve it.  I believe God calls us to that.  In Jacob's case, it may be a matter of seeing the weakness at all.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Too Close to Home

Today's passage:  Genesis 31
     So I've skipped blogging about a series of chapters just because of lack of quiet time. Not surprisingly, the spring forward time change brings the sun out a little earlier in the morning, signaling Youngest's wake up time.  Though I've read through the passages, albeit only a few verses at a time many mornings, the chance to  sit and write about what I've learned has been rare.  Maybe someday, I'll have the opportunity to go back and share what God taught me in those chapters, but for now, I'll start with today's chapter.
     I'm always fascinated with the relationship dynamics in the Bible.  If you think about it, they aren't too different than relationships today, and when I think about that, it isn't hard to imagine the struggles, difficulties and complications that might take place.

Religion in the Home, Part 1
By Charlotte M. Yonge
Illustrated by Julius Schnorr Von Karolsfeld
Published by George W. Bertron, 1913

     This chapter is loaded with family drama. Laban, that sneaky scoundrel, has been cheating Jacob for years. I don't doubt that some of this is the principle of sowing and reaping in Jacob's life for the way he deceived his own brother and father. Still, I think that at this point, Jacob has paid his dues. Jacob complains that Laban has changed his wages ten times. I chuckle to myself a little, because I wonder if dear Daddy-in-law Laban doesn't use Jacob's behavior towards Leah and Rachel as an excuse to swindle Jacob. I can just see it now. Jacob talked a little too sternly to Leah; Laban docked his wages that week. Jacob seemed a little insensitive with Rachel's yearning to have a child; Laban cut Jacob's pay in half. I don't even want to know how severely Laban might have dealt with Jacob when he had children with his daughter's handmaidens, twice. Not that Laban would have told Jacob this was what he was doing, but I can imagine a protective father conveniently using it to his advantage. No wonder Jacob is in a hurry to get back to Abraham's land. Perhaps part of his motivation is to get out of the constant watchful eye of his wives' father. When God tells Jacob that it is time to go back to his family's land, Jacob must have breathed a huge sigh of relief. Finally, I'm outta here. Now to tell the girls. It might not be as easy to convince his wives that it was time to leave Daddy behind. I'm sure they are hesitant at first, but they eventually submit. Part of me wonders if this isn't a match between Rachel and Leah. They have been struggling to be the main affection for years (Rachel usually always winning out) and perhaps this was a chance for both ladies to try to win extra points with her husband. The wife who complained about leaving Daddy would most definitely earn Jacob's anger, while the one who complied would maybe rise a little in his eyes. So maybe neither of them were terribly happy about the plan to leave Laban, but neither of them may have admitted it to avoid being the lesser wife. Then again, maybe good old Dad had become a little too overbearing and they were anxious for a change of scenery as well.
     In any case, Jacob leaves quietly, not giving Laban a clue to where he has gone.  Laban eventually catches up to him (or to be truthful, chases after him) probably intending to bring his daughters and grandchildren back, and maybe digging a sandy grave for Jacob in the desert.  Fortunately, God intervenes and Laban and Jacob make a covenant to not harm each other in the future.  Given both of their deceitful pasts, I don't give a lot of credence to this "covenant", but I'm sure the future chapters will show how it holds up.
      I wish I could expand a little more, but children wake up early even on holidays, and getting this much done amid the distractions has been more than challenging.  With summer approaching, I'm hopeful that sleep patterns (for the boys at least) will be a little later, giving me time to share from time to time.  As the daughter of a career military man, I am ever thankful for the commitment to those who have served in our armed forces, and particularly those who have sacrificed their lives for our great nation.  God bless the families who have loved ones that have paid the price.  Have a blessed Memorial Day.
     Forgive the formatting.  I spent the last half hour trying to reformat the last few paragraphs.  I somehow managed to make it the caption for the picture and without erasing and rewriting the whole thing (which I definitely do not have time to do, I just had to leave as is.  GRRRR!

Monday, April 8, 2013

When a Molehill Becomes a Mountain

Today's passage:  Genesis 19: 17-38
     I wish I could just skip the end of this chapter  I wish there had been a way to avoid this sordid mess between Lot and his daughters.  And when I back up several verses, apparently there was.
     The most obvious way for Lot to have avoided some of this was if he had not been a drinker.  I think Lot must have had a history with alcohol because the oldest daughter knows that if she sets wine before Dad, he's going to overindulge.  How would Lot's eldest know this unless he had a history with drink?  He is so incoherent that the verses say "and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose."  Did she spike it with something?  It doesn't appear that is the case.  He may have been drowning his sorrows because of losing his wife.  Aha!  Now there is where the real solution would have been, had Lot's wife still been alive, this would never have been able to come to pass.
Lot and his family fleeing from Sodom
Taken from Religion in the Home (Part 1)
By Charlotte M. Yonge
Engravings by Julius Shnorr Von Karolsfeld
Published by George W. Bertron, 1913
     This automatically starts the age-old argument that if Lot's wife had not been so attached to the things of this world and looked back at the inferno behind her, she would not have become a salt statue.  Let's not forget that she had left two married daughters behind and possibly grandchildren.  We don't read about any grandchildren, but that does not mean that her daughters had not borne any (especially as they would not have figured into Lot's future genealogy).  She was more than likely a grieving mother who is anguished that part of her family would not survive.  And I'm not saying that is the only reason she looked back, she may very well have been clinging to her old life.  Remember, security is a woman's number one need.  But could this have even been prevented?  Back up a few verses.  When the angel ushers them out of the city, where does he tell this family to go?  The mountain.  Why don't they do as the angel instructs?  Lot thought he had a better way.  He couldn't stand the thought of being that far away from society.  He suggests, no he begs, to enter into that small town of Zoar, not too great a distance from Sodom and Gomorrah.  I checked out a few Bible maps, and although there is no great consensus as to where these cities existed, somewhere along the coast of the Dead Sea, Zoar would have been situated at a diagonal across the Dead Sea, giving an inhabitant there a pretty good view of the smoke and destruction happening in Sodom.  I always thought that Mrs. Lot had looked back just as they had stepped outside Sodom's city gates.  But these verses make it sound as if they had already entered Zoar.  Eventually, Lot leaves Zoar, and goes where?  To the mountain, exactly where the angel told him to go at the start of all this.  Would Mrs. Lot have been able to have a good view of Sodom's destruction from the cave?  It is quite possible that might have happened, but if the angel suggested it, I'm thinking the chance of that was less likely.  The angel was probably trying to help Lot shelter his wife's anguished heart, knowing the temptation to look back at the city might be too great for a mother's love.  Lot was the one who argued, diverted, sidetracked.  And ended up in the mountain anyway, but without his wife, which prompts the whole incestuous mess that also gives rise to Israel's greatest enemies.
     As for Lot's daughters, why they would even devise such a scheme shows how little they had been taught about the ways of God.  Daddy had just offered them up to the men of the city a few short days ago, so how would this be any worse?  Mrs. Lot had perished so there was no possibility of a brother ever being born (as it appears Lot only had daughters) and now they were cut off from civilization by taking refuge in a cave.  When would they ever meet a husband?  Warped thinking I know, but they had been raised in a city of warped thinking.  Certainly the Sodom culture had rubbed off a little on Lot's daughters.  I can only say that at least they had the sense to know to get Dad drunk first.  I'm glad that Lot would never consent to this willingly while sober.
     So what is the lesson here?  Do things God's way.  When God suggests a course, don't negotiate.  He knows what is best and is trying to spare us a lifetime of pain.  Lot and the whole nation of Israel would have to live with his mistake for the rest of their lives.  His daughters would have to explain to Moab and Benammi that Granddad was also Dad. Is it any wonder that these two father nations that end up despising Israel?  Talk about dysfunctional.
     I would think that if God sent an angel to tell me something, if He thought it so important to dispatch one of His personal messengers to deliver me to safety, I might want to take his advice.  Lot ended up in the mountain anyway, but not without some loss. What I want may seem like a little thing, but it is the littlest things in my life that become the biggest problems.  If God tells me to go to the isolated mountain, the loneliness might overtake me, but I would rather succumb to that then the guilt and shame as a result of  living in the molehill.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Fire Escape

Today's passage:  Genesis 18-19:1-15
     I don't have one central thought for this post, but many random thoughts strung together.  My usual approach to reading a book in the Bible is to read a chapter at a time (I rarely get to read more than that and many mornings only a few verses in a chapter).  With Genesis, many events continue into the next chapter, so I find myself reading on.  I can't believe just how much I had forgotten or had not noticed since reading this book last.  It is amazing to me how God brings things to my attention that I didn't see before. Life experiences can further color what I see in His Word.
Abraham feeds three guests
Taken from Standard Bible Story Readers, Book Four
By Lillie A. Faris
Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
Standard Publishing Company, 1927
     So my first random thought is Abraham's prayer in the last verses of Chapter Eighteen.  I always pictured Abraham looking up into the heavens as he begged God for the righteous souls of Sodom, but forgot that the Lord Jesus is standing right there beside Abraham.  The Lord has just informed Abraham that He will be destroying the city, as He sends the two angels who accompanied Him ahead into said city.  Abraham begs and pleads with the Lord to spare the city if there be ten righteous men there.  The Lord agrees to this.  We see Abraham bargaining all the way down from fifty to ten, with the Lord agreeing to each plea.  I've heard it preached on many occasions, that Abraham stopped too soon.  Had he asked God for merely five righteous, might God had spared the city for even that?  But he didn't.  I think there is a reason that Abraham didn't.  He thought that there would have been at least ten righteous there.  Obviously, he and Lot had lost touch.  At some point, Lot's tent was no longer pitched toward Sodom, but pitched inside the city itself.  Abraham could not have known the effect this had on Lot and his family.  He probably did not realize that they were not the Godly influence they should have been.  In fact, when the angels go into the city to retrieve Lot, his wife, and two daughters, that is only four "righteous" souls that could be found.  Lot's other daughters had married ungodly men (I say this because they scoffed at Lot when he told them what would happen) and did not leave with them.  So even if Abraham had pleaded down to five, God still would not have been able to show mercy because there were not even that many righteous to be found.
     Here is my second random thought.  I'm not sure why the angels have to go into Sodom.  Was it only because they were going there to deliver Lot and the remnant of the  family that would leave with him?  In Chapter Eighteen the Lord says in verses 20 and 21, "...Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me, and if not, I will know."  So was it just a recon mission or a rescue mission?  If it is simply to deliver the warning to Lot and his family, I would be very embarrassed to be Lot.  Lot has to defend the virtue of his angelic visitors from the Sodomites (by offering the virtue of his daughters), a position he would never have been in had he not chosen to live and to stay in such a wicked place.  It can be argued that someone needs to be the light in the darkness, but in this case, Lot was not being the light.  I can tell this because his sons-in-law mock when he suddenly declares that God will judge them.  Why is he acting like a righteous man so suddenly? Had he been the light he was supposed to have been, not only might they have believed his message, but perhaps would have joined him in proclaiming it.  Of course, I can't know this for sure, since Noah also was a great proclaimer and nobody outside his family joined him.  But that is the key difference, Noah's family at least believed him.  With Noah, his wife and sons (who either married godly wives or influenced them to become godly wives) and daughters-in-law believed his message and went with him.  Lot's story of his family is tragically different.
     And finally, my third random thought is found in verses 16 and 17 which  read:  "And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.  And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him:  and they brought him forth, and set him without the city."   After all that has happened, Lot still has doubts about leaving.  He lingered.  God could have left him there, let the angels depart, and destroyed him.  I don't know if God spared Lot for Lot, or spared Lot for Abraham but the Lord is merciful once again.  Maybe Lot lingered because of the children he would leave behind.  Maybe he lingered because he couldn't bear to see his material wealth consumed.  I would love to assign a more spiritual motive to his lingering, such as his heart being bereaved for the souls of the city, but I think it unlikely.  But God is so merciful that the angels take Lot by the hand and drag he and his family outside the city gates before the fire starts to fall.  How merciful is my God!  He warns Lot of the impending doom, He even gives him a night to prepare himself, and even though Lot is still hesitant, God still delivers him.
     The fire is falling all around us.  God stays His hand each and every day because there may be a Lot in some city who is still hesitant to come to Him.  He doesn't drag us by the hand, as He did in Lot's case, but He gently beckons us to receive Him.  Some may be lingering.  He is waiting for you.  I don't know when He will return.  I don't know when Death will visit any one of us, but it could be today.  Are you standing in Sodom, still deciding whether to follow the Lord, waiting on the angel to grab your hand and make it more clear to you?  I'm not sure God will work like that today, but He gives clarity in His Word.  He may not grip your hand but He can grip your heart with His truth.  Come to Him before it is too late.  He wants to be merciful.  He wants each one to receive Him.  He wants to deliver us from the fire, because He does not want us to be consumed.  He is a God of great mercy, let Him show it in your life today.
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