Genesis 41-42

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Ah yes. I knew it would come, and likely before too long.

“Oh, such a good passage,” I said. “But I just don’t feel like saying anything about it.”

“But, there’s so much there,” I replied to myself.

“Yeah, but that makes it even harder,” I say. “Pressure to point out the good stuff, because it’s so good.”

Well, I’m here, so I won the argument, fortunately.

To be honest, while these are certainly the more exciting chapters, because they are when Joseph finds his glory, they are to me less interesting. Less interesting because it is not the honor that I find fascinating. Instead, it’s the fact that the guy of the last five chapters is the same guy in these chapters.

One element worth pointing out is the time span. He was likely in his mid-teens when he was sold into slavery. By the time he didn’t sin with Potiphar’s wife and got thrown into prison he was likely in his early twenties. We are told he was anointed by Pharaoh when he was thirty. Likely he spent about 6-8 years in prison. We gloss over that in the quick moving chapters, but that’s a good amount of time. The great majority of his twenties was spent in a dungeon, where he could do little, and be little. But he kept his faith. He told Pharaoh even two years after it seemed God’s salvation again evaded him that the source of his power was God himself. Joseph held onto his faith in the darkness and depression and loss. Where there was no hope, Joseph continued to hold onto God.

That is faith. That is the faith of a man called by God, or as Pharaoh calls him, one in whom is the spirit of God.

This here is the first time we encounter anyone who is said to have the spirit of God. And the man in whom the spirit resided was a man intimately connected with suffering and loss.

But, Joseph kept the faith, and because he kept it when the timing of the Lord came to pass he was still primed and ready to serve, not corrupted in his doubts or useless in despair, but instead sharpened and strong.

In the midst of the darkness and loss Joseph became the man who God used to save not only Israel but also the whole of Egypt. Countless men, women, and children were saved from starvation because of the man who, while in prison, held onto the hope of God.

But, not only did he hold onto his hope in prison and thus find glory. Because of his shaping he relied on God so much that in his glory he maintained his humility. Before God himself he met his brothers again, and tested them, rather than merely taking a revenge he likely deserved.

In him was still a wee bit of deception (he was his father’s son after all) but this was not to force his own advantage but rather to learn in truth the character of his brothers.

He sought truth above all. He sought God above all. In the persistent darkness and in the light he sought the fullness of God, because only that hope sustained him along the way.

That is an encouragement to those of us who still sit in darkness and await the light of God in our lives. We must have faith before freedom comes and we must have faith after freedom comes. In that we will give honor to God no matter rich or poor, successful or failures.

Genesis 39-40

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These chapters are, I think, among the very most important chapters in the entire Bible. That’s an odd thing to say, maybe, because they certainly aren’t up there with some of what Paul says in Romans, are they? And they don’t come close to those final chapters of any of the Gospels, right?

Except they do. And they do in a very important way.

Joseph was a dreamer, you see. He had dreams which gave him insight into his importance. He was a favorite child of his father, who was the favorite child of God.

Then everything turned. He was sold into slavery.

But, even in this he didn’t lose heart. He didn’t give into his despair but acted within his suffering to be the best he could. He was a slave, but he was a very good slave, faithful and righteous. Maybe he saw his newfound place as God’s call in his life. Maybe he realized his own pride and saw this new status as where God was in fact leading him.

He did what he could. He did it well.

The bosses wife took notice.

And so here, after all the tales of deception and backbiting and lying among the other Patriarchs, we come to Joseph in the room with Potiphar’s wife.
Had he given in she would have kept it all a secret. He would have continued in his exalted slave position, and maybe even found extra gifts coming his way. Sure, he would have sinned, but it was for the sake of the call he would have done so. To save his life, he might have justified the adultery.

But he didn’t do it. She got made, made false accusations. Joseph is thrown into prison. Because he did what was right.

In prison he maintained his faith, it seems, again trying to be all he could be in an even lower situation, rising above the rest because of his gifts, gifts that were being seemingly squandered among criminals.

The Baker and the Cupbearer joined him. They each had dreams, and it is a testimony to Joseph’s persistent faith that he was capable of interpreting the dreams. Had Joseph been lost in understandable despair he would not have been able to say anything of insight. But he listened, and he interpreted, and what he said came to pass.

“Remember me,” he said to the restored cupbearer.

“Okee-doke,” the cupbearer replied.

Years passed. No word.

I wonder how many days and weeks it took for Joseph to stop getting excited about every sound of footsteps close to his cell?

Why is this important? Because the Church never has been good about teaching what it is like when God calls a man or a woman. We look for blessings and riches and fame and success. We look for honor and ease along the way. We look at those who are broken and say, “Aha, God is not with them.” We look at those who are great and say, “Isn’t God good?”

But, here in Joseph we see the first of a pattern, a pattern that continues on in the life of Moses, and David, and Jeremiah, to the Son himself Jesus, and then to Paul, and Peter, and onwards to the saints throughout history up to our own time all of whom found God’s great call in their lives accompanied by disasters and struggles and persistent frustrations.

Joseph was called by God. Joseph was sold into slavery, and thrown into prison because he didn’t sin, and then was forgotten.

Quote:
When he summoned famine against the land, and broke every staff of bread, he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. His feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD kept testing him.
Psalm 105:16-19

The Hebrew in this verse literally is saying “the iron entered his soul”. The chains brought not only his body, but his whole being down. He was broken. Nothing he did right mattered. Everything he sought. Everything he was told. Every part of his calling was utterly denied by the reality of his situation.

That is the man called by God.

That is the pattern of those called by God, until the time comes when God does a work.

When I first realized this pattern of God was not a rejection but part of his process since almost the very beginning it transformed my understanding of difficulties, and rejections, and frustrations.

Those chosen by God may spend a while in prison. Maybe even a long while while the word of the Lord tests them. Making the choice to forget what is behind and press on to what is ahead, even and especially in prison, is where true honor and victory can be found.

Which is why I always look at those who are broken and frustrated and unable to see God’s active hand in their life. It among these that the Josephs of our generation will be found. For the fact is that God hides his most chosen warriors in the shadows until the time is ripe for their glorious participation.

Understanding this pattern, this pattern seen first here in Genesis 39-40, is absolutely essential for discerning God’s way with those he loves.

Genesis 36-38

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So Genesis 36-38… the transition from one of my least favorite God-approved characters to one of my favorites. I gotta tell you, for me Joseph is one huge inspiration. Love the guy.

Though, he didn’t quite have a great start.

But first we have a genealogy. One of the difficulties of reading the Bible all the way through is the sections that seem like boring lists. It’s important, however, to learn how to approach these sections. It may not make them interesting but it does at least help us understand the point of reading through. Whether it be the list of families, or the list of ancestors, or later on entire books of laws, there is a reason for their placement, and within them we can pluck out a few points.

Here, for instance, we are given a pause. This pause serves a couple of purposes. First it grounds the narrative in history. The characters here are historical, and have historical descendants, who the writer notes. Second it is an acknowledgment of God’s work in the life of the “other” son Esau. Unlike Ishmael who was born out of impatience, and was not the son of Abraham’s wife, Esau was fully the son and heir of Isaac. He was in all respects the bearer of the birthright. So, he was important. Chapter 35, then, acknowledges this importance. His descendants were many, and they were rulers and kings before even Israel had such.

But, chapter 37 reminds us, the story of the Bible is not about Esau. The story of the Bible is limited. It tells us only what we need to know, and it makes sure the plot stays on focus. The story of Genesis, the story of the whole Bible is about the descendants of Jacob… the guy I don’t really like.

From here on, even if there are divisions, those who descend from the called one are fully considered in the line of God’s covenant. It’s not the children of Abraham, for we are not told about Ishmael. Nor is it the story of the children of Isaac, for Esau gets one chapter here and is done. No, the Bible is about Jacob, about Israel. Genesis 37, then, can be considered the beginning of the rest of the books of the Bible. What came before was preface, in a way.

In chapter 37 we get to know Joseph, not the oldest of the sons of Jacob, but the favorite of Jacob. He was the dreamer.

Too bad he wasn’t a humble dreamer. He had dreams, great dreams, but no discernment. He told everyone what he dreamed. They didn’t appreciate that. Even Israel got a little disturbed.

So, when they could the brothers decided to take care of their irritation. They were violent men. Reuben seems to have mercy, though not courage. Mercy without courage often gets nowhere. Judah had a little less mercy, and a little more willingness to speak his mind. Both of them likely new what was right, but didn’t do it. They didn’t stand up. And it reflected on them later.

As for Joseph, he was beat up, thrown into a cistern, sold into slavery. I wonder what he was thinking. Did he tell Potiphar about his great dreams? I doubt it. Joseph was broken. Humbled in an instant.

And Israel was deceived by his sons.

But God had a plan. In the disaster of the family of Jacob God was doing a work, a work entirely different than before. Which makes Joseph a very curious fellow, and someone who really illustrates the way God has worked through men and women ever since.

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Genesis 32-34

I really am trying to understand Jacob. Maybe if I can get a sense of him more I will better appreciate how God worked in his life. Maybe I can see why.

I’m of the opinion that Scripture is true and faithfully relating to us actual history.

I’m also of the opinion that Scripture illustrates themes, and archetypes, and otherwise gives us models, good and bad, which we can use in our own efforts of discernment.

With that in mind I’m starting to get a feel for Jacob. Chapter 32 got me closer.

Up to now we see Jacob both understanding the call of God in his life and at the same time acting in ways which we wouldn’t exactly call upright, so that the call in his life would be furthered. In other words, I think Jacob had it in his mind that there was a responsibility to help further the mission of God. Life is tricky, and while God might have general plans, it’s up to use to be as wise as serpents in order to accomplish these goals.

Jacob did what he had to do. Not because he was evil. Because he thought he was doing the will of God, by whatever means necessary. What were mere moral standards when the will of God was there for the taking? How could it compare. Sure the truth might suffer. Or deception might be needed. But, it’s for God. The calling is at stake.

Jacob thought God made demands without giving help to meet those demands. Jacob thought God needed help, needed Jacob to accomplish the goals so that the work could be advanced. Jacob though God needed him, and that was the source of the calling.

I’m sure this doesn’t apply to anyone anymore though. Who now would actually think God needs our salesmanship or deceptions or works or anger or rhetoric or judging or leadership or shows? We surely have learned the Spirit is about a good work, that we join in rather than orchestrate.

But, maybe there are some people who think they have to manage the Kingdom for God. Maybe if I think hard enough I might be able to come up with a few times I’ve let my own gifts get ahead of the moment, because surely God was wanting me to do something.

Maybe, I thought divinity was something to grasp after, rather than submitting as a servant to God’s active work.

Maybe I’m really a lot more like Jacob than I would want to admit. No, not in the outlandish, blatant deceptions. I’d be more subtle, more hidden. Much better at rationalizing, as I can really attach a verse to it all.

God did say go out and do this, didn’t he? Truth and justice and the Christian way are at stake. I’d be failing the Kingdom if I didn’t, right?

In chapter 32, however, Jacob runs up against a problem. Esau is back. Jacob’s efforts to advance the covenant in his own way now have him facing who he thinks is an enemy. His missteps for God have placed him now in a dicey situation, where someone stronger can now respond. Jacob’s deceptions have come back to haunt him. It was a breaking of community, and this brokenness reverberates.

All throughout the stories so far we see this. Attempts to manage the Kingdom result in forming chaos. Thinking God really isn’t the God who acts results in people trying to prove themselves both worthy and capable. If God is only the God who calls he needs us, right? We have to act, because otherwise…

Until we hit the wall, that is. The wall we have formed brick by brick, each one a step we took that disturbs the peace, and is apart from God. The sins of presumption.

Jacob knew he was to meet Esau, and he knew that he had hit his wall. He was never a strong man, you see.

So he prayed. The time for deception and his own efforts had hit the wall, and for the first time we are told he is praying to God in earnest pleading for salvation.

In chapter 32, Jacob was broken. In his brokenness he wrestled the angel of God, who blessed then blessed him for his persistence. In chapter 32, Jacob is given a new name. Jacob says to God, “I am unworthy of the kindness you have shown your servant. Save me, I pray.”

No longer is he Jacob, he who deceives. Now he is Israel,he who struggles with God. He saw his wall. He prayed. He was remade.

And God saved him. Esau was more peaceful than Jacob, more gracious and honoring. Esau sought the community even still.

Because Jacob prayed. Imagine what Jacob would have done had he an army. He would not have waited for Esau, but would have likely ambushed him, thinking he was saving his family, not knowing God’s salvation was even brighter and better and more thorough.

Jacob was renamed and became Israel because he had reached the end where he realized there was nothing else but to trust that God is not only the God who calls, he is also the God who acts and the God who saves.

Too bad it took Jacob that long to become Israel. Fortunately, we have his lesson to teach us before we too wait overlong and hit our own walls.

Fortunately, God is there to save us even after we do.

Genesis 30-31

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Aack, barely making it here. I wrote this earlier, but didn’t have internet access where I was, so couldn’t get it posted. Now with 23 minutes left on the 10th I can.

This section very much focuses on Jacob, really establishing him as the one chosen by God, and representative of the covenant.
I still don’t like him. But, it is an interesting. God seems so hands off here.

Everyone seeks their own advantage. Each of the characters, the men and the women, are looking out for themselves, to find the advantage even and especially when their competitors are disadvantaged. The whole community we encounter is selfish. There are bonds, but there is no community. Anything each person can do or control is used, asserting whatever power they have in a continual battle of oneupmanship.

Very unseemly really. But, I don’t get the sense they have all that close of a relationship with God.

There’s no mention of the Spirit, you see. And there isn’t a Law they have to follow. Which means they have not been given the same amount of access I have. What should I expect from them. They don’t have the understanding of the later work of God I do, and what they do know is little more than really simple commands. God says go, they go and they are blessed.

That’s all. And for them that is enough. For me to judge them all on the basis of my standards, standards which are formed by the Spirit in me and teh teachings of thousands od years of consideration of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, might make me feel better than them but it’s really inappropriate. I need to look at them on the basis of how God views them. He views them as his chosen, who are blessed for the purposes they have for this world.

At the same time I really am stuck on how much they are all seeking their own advantage. This is humanity at its most raw, really. All for one. The problems which are caused by it add to the flames and force even more competition.

God chose not to destroy the world anymore. He chose particular people to become his own people.

Destroying the world is simple really. Done in an instant. Or at least forty days and forty nights. Shaping a people, transforming them from raw to whole. That takes time. Generations. Maybe longer.

We’re still at the beginning in these chapters. But, God is doing a work, and fortunately he is significantly more patient than I am.

His primary action is to say, “Go”. For Jacob this means yet more deception. And more scheming. But, God uses that and blesses it.

Though, to be honest, I still don’t get the deal with the sticks and peeled bark. Any shepherds out there who can explain it to me?

Good night!

Genesis 25-26

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Today my reading was [url=http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=genesis%2025-26&version=31]Genesis 25-26[/url].

Another transition. Abraham dies. Isaac and Ishmael together bury him, the enmity of their youth gone. Each of them is blessed. Each of them has seen the work of God in his life. They are united by God’s faithfulness.

But the story we follow only leads down the direction of the promise. And that is Isaac’s birthright.

Jacob and Esau are born. One brother clearly better than the other, capable in all ways–Esau. The other was given the name of a Hebrew idiom for “he deceives.” Which is fitting really.

I should likely get it out of the way now and say I don’t like Jacob. I don’t like him at all. Can I say that? I hope so because I just did. The guy seems to me, frankly, to be a conniving jerk.

However, that really doesn’t matter. Whether or not I like someone has absolutely no bearing on how God uses them. I don’t like Jacob… but he’s the one God chose. The unlikable was chosen over the likable. Maybe because the likable, the natural leader, didn’t take the calling seriously enough.

But, the story of the stew and birthright isn’t what stuck out to me in my reading today. Rather it was the story of Isaac ‘s success. Isaac first off tells the king, Abimelek, that Rebekah is his sister not his wife. Like father, like son. This time, though, I had more sympathy. Clearly, this was a violent age and violent men took what they wanted through violent means. Would I be more honest if I thought my life and the lives of all my family were at stake. I don’t know. I’d like to think I wouldn’t lie. But, I don’t know.

Abimelek finds out, and in the same odd twist as before, gets mad for moral reasons. The surrounding kings are more faithful than those called by God it seems, and deliver words of moral correction to them. Those outside sometimes have a fairly clear picture.

Isaac leaves the area, finds himself a nice bit of land and re-opens some of his father’s old wells. He also digs new wells. Local herders get mad for taking the land and claim the new well as their own. All Isaacs digging work is for nought.

So he digs another well. That one is quarreled over as well. Isaac moves on. Digs another well.

No one quarrels over that one. He saw the lack of dispute as a sign. Before, instead of fighting, he moved on, and now after several tries he finds the well is safe, the land is better, and enormous blessings came his way.

So much blessings in fact that the king who had kicked him out sends emissaries to make sure there is longstanding peace.

Isaac had not insisted on one particular answer, but wandered fluidly seeking a place of peace. The promise was with God, and he knew it.

I’ve dug a lot of wells in my time. So far, there have been disputes or dryness or quarrels or otherwise signs of more movement. Yet, the place of peace remains as long as the promise of God is before me.

I just need to look for those open spaces, and keep digging new wells.

Genesis 22-24

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Today I’m on Genesis 22-24.

“Abraham!” God said.
“Here I am,” he replied.

This is it, isn’t it? This is the key bit.

I immediately thought of earlier moments.

“Adam? Where are you Adam?”

“Cain? What’s up? Where’s your brother?”

Abraham is there. He answers simply, “Here I am.”

“Who shall I send?” “Here I am. Send me God,” answers Isaiah.

“Follow me,” says Jesus. Peter follows. Then later when it seems Jesus is too much to handle and all the others are wandering away, Jesus says, “Are you going to leave too?”

“Where else will I go, Lord,” Peter replies.

That’s it. Some perceived inherent quality doesn’t matter. It’s not about leadership gifts, or money, or a flashy smile, or skilled preaching.

“Here I am.”

Then God works. But not without a bit of trouble for those he works with.

Because it’s not just a “here I am” in response to location. “Here I am” implies a whole giving over.

“Here is me”.

Abraham is a different man in chapter 22. It had been about 35 years or more since he left his homeland. For 25 years he wandered with only a promise, a promise which was becoming increasingly stale. Twenty five years knowing it was too late for anything to happen.

Yet it did happen. Isaac was born to Sarah waaaay after this could be possible. The blessing came. Twenty five years later. This reality brought Abraham to a new level. Time became a meaningless barrier. There was only faith in the God who works, and sometimes works late so that we can see that much more glory in the working.

What is impossible, is not impossible. A fact that gives a person a lot of confidence. God does work.

So what is letting go? What else is there when God himself promises and works. Even the blessings we have been given can become sacrifices so as to embrace the even better work.

God asked for Isaac. But really he was asking for Abraham, yet again, with the stakes as high as can be.

God was also going to define himself.

Child sacrifice was not uncommon. It was a precious offering to appease the god, giving up a blessing for a blessing, for ease of life or more wealth.
So, Abraham listened, following but still discovering the God who had called him out of the land into a new land.

He took his most precious offering, because God asked for it. Because the offering was nothing compared to the possible blessing.

Abraham was willing. He had let go of all things holding nothing too close.

That is what God sought. He sought faith, a faith that even in the face of losing all would hold on for the sake of the promise. Even being told to let go of it all would not be a problem.

Did the rich young ruler really have to sell everything to find approval? Maybe all he needed to say was, “alright, J” and be willing. But he walked away before Jesus could reply. The rich young ruler walked away, visited his wealth and said to it, “Here I am.”

Which is why we know the name of Peter and not this rich fellow.

Abraham was broken. And he was willing to hold nothing back. So he held the knife to Isaac’s throat.

Then God said, “Stop.”

Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son. God just isn’t the kind of God who wants that sacrifice.

He is the God of the living, not the God of the dead. It is not the sliced, bled, dead sacrifice he really wants. It is the living sacrifice, the sacrifice of giving our lived life over to him, willing to let go of all things for the sake of all things.

Isaac now could be the one who says, “Here I am”. And for generations his descendants would say, “here I am” until the day came when the son who was sacrificed for all could say on the cross for us, “Here. I am.”

For Abraham, being willing to let go of even what was most precious is a small burden compared with the result of his obedience. Then again, this is easy for me to see because I look forward to reading the rest of Genesis and onwards through the Gospel.

It’s a little harder for me personally because I don’t see my own end, and the promises made to me are rather impossible, so who’s to say what God will do?

We’re just not given a chance to depend on the faith of another, I suppose. I stand with the knife poised over what I want the most. Am I willing? Where am I?

Genesis 19-21

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Throughout the day, while I was working, I thought about this passage. I had read it earlier this morning but didn’t get to writing until now. Something was tickling my brain about it, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until this evening. Then I realized.

These chapters are a lot like one of those sitcom flashback episodes. Setup scenes become blurry then resolve into scenes from seasons past .

Haven’t we seen this stuff before? The Flood echoes in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham again lies about Sarah being his sister (“Really King, I wasn’t lying. She’s my half-sister. And my wife!”). A baby is born and again Hagar is sent into the wilderness where God sees her and saves her and gives her a blessing.

What is clear throughout is these are not people who have earned their blessing. They are not people who have clearly resonated the fullness of God. But, they are still chosen by God. His power to save and his power to bless and his power to destroy are evident here. He destroys that which deserves to be destroyed, and saves those who have not really deserved to be saved.

Lot is good enough, but it seems that all along the way he was a man who really got himself in bad spots. First kidnapped by an army. Then, attacked by townspeople, just before having to flee for his life. His wife gets turned into a pillar of salt, he moves into a cave, and then… well, it’s not the sort of life that we would read about in Today’s Christian Saints.

Yet, there’s a small thread running through. It’s not overwhelming acts of righteousness or exemplary moments of holiness. Rather, what I can see is more simple. The men and women who found salvation knew just enough that when God spoke they listened, and they acted. Everything else went wrong. They were obedient in the few ways God demanded their obedience.

That was all God wanted from them, so that his power, holiness, majesty, goodness, and righteousness could work through them and resonate throughout humanity.

Sort of comforting really. As long as I don’t look back.

Genesis 16-18

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Onwards to Genesis 16-18. This is one of those passages which is daunting not because I have to find something but because there’s too much. I want to write about everything, because it’s so important, and then I get exhausted by the thought of that much writing and don’t feel like writing anything. But, I want to write, and do so knowing there are other parts here which are amazing that I’m going to skip… maybe next year I’ll focus on those.

In chapter 16 we discover an interesting thing. The characters in Genesis are not particularly the sorts of people who I would invite over for a friendly dinner. Here we meet Sarai and Hagar, two disagreeable, petty, fractious women who plea for blessings then feel haughty when they get them. So far we’ve read about the more blatant sins such as murder and idolatry and lying. Here we see the subtle sins of pettiness, backbiting, arrogance, mistreatment, and disdain.

God gave Abram a calling and a covenant. He didn’t know what to do with it, and he let the details get away from him. When Sarai suggested he sleep with her servant, rather than trusting God’s promise, Abram agreed (such a man). He slept with Hagar. History still reverberates with this.

Was it a sin? Not according to the culture at the time. Not really even according to any official standard. And yet, it was a loss of faith. It was a loss of trust and a loss of identity and a loss of hope.

Hagar saw her newfound status as a blessing and a moment of triumph over her mistress. She was lower in position, but higher now in her identity as a woman. So she began to act like it. And in her arrogance she despised her mistress, acting like her blessing was a reason to assert herself and degrade Sarai.

Sarai, whose act in handing over Hagar can be seen as humbling and generous, reacted strongly to this new situation. Abram, as passive as can be, did nothing. Did not give any wisdom or help. “Do what you want,” he said to Sarai, even though Hagar was carrying his child. Clearly he did not see Hagar as anything other than property and baggage.

Sarai did what she wanted. She mistreated Hagar.

Hagar went from pride and arrogance to humility and suffering. Sarai went from humility and suffering to pride and arrogance. Such is the ego at work, wanting to assert pain over others, humiliating them and spreading the suffering around. Hagar didn’t know how to cope or what to say under such treatment. Who could she talk to when the man in leadership refused to anything at all except passively support Sarai’s attack?

Hagar ran away. No word if she left a note or pleaded with Abram beforehand. What is clear is that Hagar’s misstep led to Sarai’s missteps and exposed them both as petty women, who sought advantage in the pain of the other.

Who was right? That’s the question I always want to know, because I want heroes and villains, along with clear ethical standards to follow. Here though, I don’t see anything clear. Sarai was wrong to hand over Hagar to Abram. Hagar was wrong to be arrogant when she became pregnant. Sarai was wrong to be arrogant to Hagar. Hagar was wrong to run away. Both blamed the other, and had valid points. They were both right. And they were both terribly wrong, causing a rift in the family, a rift that echoes in the world even to our day. They each thought being right, holding onto their rights, gave excuses for their own sins, thus pushing away any hope for true reconciliation. Community was fractured because both were right and both were wrong.

Such is pride.

But God is not overcome. Even the pettiness could not interfere. Even the arguing and pain and mistreatment caused by one woman to the other was not going to push aside the fact God did call Abram to be his special representative. Even her sin was not enough to condemn Sarai, who would still be blessed as the mother of a great nation.

Even the mistakes leading to Hagar’s involvement in this story were not enough to push aside God. Hagar had no rights. She was property of the one who was called. She was not who God had chosen. She was without any hope in anyone caring for her as a person.

Yet, God saw her. She was a participant in the covenant, even though she was not the primary focus of the covenant. In her humility, in her utter loss she was not forgotten. In her complete abandonment by those who God had called to be his servants, she was not abandoned by God who took this “mistake” and turned it into a great blessing. Hagar was poorly used, but not by God.

Hagar did not even have hope enough to cry out to God. She ran away, likely thinking she was also running away from the covenant God had made with Abram. She ran away from her support and her religion and her hope because the suffering there was too much. She was lost and far away.

The angel of the Lord found her where she was at. The angel of the Lord initiated the conversation by asking what had happened.

“I ran away,” she replied honestly.

“Go back,” the angel said. And not just this. Go back and be blessed beyond measure. Go back and realize that God is not abandoning you, that you are precious in his sight even though mistakes abounded at every point. Go back and see that God wishes communities to be whole and blesses those who endure the problems for the sake of His wholeness and purpose.

She was humbled. She was broken. She was blessed beyond measure.

She ran away and God saw her.

“You are the God who sees me,” she said. “I have seen the One who sees me.”

God is the God who sees me. Even in my frustrations. Even in my mistakes. Even when I run away and make wrong choices and offend people and seemingly run into problems at every turn. God is the God who sees me.

Alone by the spring, lost and confused, I see the God who sees me. So, I return to him and his place, and am blessed.

Genesis 12-15

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Today, I’m looking at Genesis 12-15.

Callings are interesting moments. I’m reminded here of when David was chosen by Samuel. Or when Paul was knocked off his horse. This isn’t an internal decision prompted by moral wrestling. God makes a choice, and then changes the life of that person forever. It seems these kinds of choices are made when he’s doing something extraordinary.

Here, we see God shifting methods. He destroyed the earth. Noah was saved, and God promised not to destroy the earth again. But, then when humanity grows in population they seek the ultimate expression of pride as seen with the tower of Babel. So God steps in again. He doesn’t destroy, but he does create an inherent disunity. The faith of Noah simply did not pass down through the generations.

So, God begins to focus. We’re not told why. We’re not told anything of what led up to this moment in chapter 12. We’re just told God chose Abram. And we’re told Abram listened.

This latter part always makes me wonder. Even though it’s so long, the Bible really is streamlined. We’re not given insights into the broader stories that are swirling all around. We know of Abraham because Abraham was willing to follow God, letting go of everything to embrace the promise–the epitome of the man who sought the pearl of great worth in Mt. 13:45-46.

I wonder if there were others God picked. Who wouldn’t let go. Who didn’t have faith, and thus disappeared in history. That this happens we see later in the story of Saul–who was chosen, but did not finish well.

It really doesn’t matter. We’re told God chose. Abram listened, and his listening was not a moral or ethical or religious response. He didn’t build an altar or write a song. Verse 4 tells us simply, “So, Abram left.”

And that is one of the most profound moments in this entire Bible.

Abram left.

But, Abram wasn’t a model of perfection. The guy was chosen by God not because of some inherent perfection. That’s clear in verse 10. Abram gets scared. He loses faith in the God who he followed. He sees the palpable Pharoah, and he lies to him about his wife (66 years old and apparently very gorgeous).

In the big things Abram had faith. In the details… well, he stumbled a lot and seemed to think God wasn’t really in the details. Abram though the details were his responsibility. He was wrong. But, it took a while to learn that.

Of course there are times for action, as his war to save Lot reveals in chapter 14.

As a sidenote in 14:13 we run into the interesting phrase “Abram the Hebrew”. This is interesting because the word “hebrew” is a little mysterious. The prevailing interpretation these days is to see it a little like our word “gypsy”. As my footnote mentions similar words describe a propertyless, immigrant, roving group of people. By joining in with Abram such people would become participants in the covenant.

Melchizedek shows up in 14:18. He’s a very odd figure, shrouded in mystery. I wouldn’t think overmuch about him except he figures so prominently much later on in the book of Hebrews, where the writer aligns Jesus as being in the order of Melchizedek. Here in Genesis we run into what is a somewhat common occurrence throughout the Bible, and a real reminder of humility for me. The Bible is the story of a particular work of God through a particular people, and sometimes through particular individuals. The plot all along runs with the theme started in Genesis 12 and carries on to the end of Revelation where the chosen of God, seeds of Abraham, find final victory.

And yet… this isn’t the only story God is writing. Melchizedek is a priest of the God Most High, an archetype in Hebrews and a real genuine king here in Genesis. So impressive is he that Abram gives him a tithe, a “tenth of everything”.

But, we’re not told the story of Melchizedek’s past or his future. We don’t know how God called him, or what God did with him. Two different plots of God’s work encounter each other here, but we move along with only the one.

Throughout the Bible there are these occasional intersections of different stories God is writing, and different divine callings we’re not told about.

Which reminds me that I’m merely a participant. God is the one who is really zealous about saving this world and doesn’t share all the details.

The end of this section is the covenant. It is a covenant with a particular person and a particular people, who God has chosen. This choosing is is the story of the rest of the Bible.

Personally, I’m a lot happier that participation in the covenant now comes through prayer and trust. Imagine if altar calls in our era involved the process of ch. 15. Messy!