Genesis 18 – A Compassionate God

And the importance of being instruments of His compassion.

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

16 When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. 17 Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?”

“If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”

29 Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”

He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”

30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”

He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”

He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”

32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

33 When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.

First off, let’s just talk about how much flour three seahs is.  My NIV text notes tell me that’s 36 pounds!  Abraham made a ton of food.  Also, let’s talk about how long this must have taken.  If Sarah and her household have to prepare bread (which takes a few hours to knead and rise and bake), as well as slaughter and dress an animal (by hand) as well as cook it?  Hours.  So I’m thinking, if these guys came in the heat of the day, in other words mid-afternoon, they must have stayed until well into the evening.  Basically, Abraham had a dinner party with God, which is kind of cool.

But what I want to talk about a little more today is yet another example of God’s compassion.  I was always taught that the God of the Old Testament was an angry and punitive God.  For sure, there is a fair amount of punishment that goes on in the Old Testament, but even more than that there is compassion.  Again, the punishment that happens is more that of a parent correcting a child than a spiteful king condemning an unfortunate subject: He cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, but made sure they were clothed and continued to check in on them and their descendants; He set a mark on Cain so no one could further persecute him; instead of completely obliterating mankind through the flood He saved us through Noah and his family; instead of striking mankind down completely at the Babel he simply confused their plans and redirected them.  See what I mean?

Spoiler alert – Sodom and Gomorrah are about to be destroyed.  But Abraham doesn’t know this yet.  He is distressed that good people might pay the price of the wicked if God obliterates these cities.  Once again, my NIV footnotes put it beautifully: “Abraham’s questioning in vv. 23-32 did not arise from a spirit of haggling but of compassion for his relatives and of wanting to know God’s ways.  Perhaps Abraham stopped at ten because he had been counting while praying.”

And the amazing thing: God says yes to sparing the whole wicked land if there are just ten good people there.  What wonders a few good people can achieve without even realizing their impact!  Simply by existing, ten people would have saved two entire cities.

There may be some who counter this argument by saying “So where is God now in Syria? Or Yemen? Or Somalia? Aren’t there at least ten good people there?” And I unfortunately have nothing but the cold comfort of history to offer them.  Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed thousands of years ago: that story is finished and easy to be seen both historically and allegorically.  As to current or recently ended conflicts (and I’m including things like the Civil and Revolutionary Wars in recently ended conflicts), we are still in the middle of that unfolding story.  These stories are not finished:  We have people who can trace their lineage back to slaves in the 18th century (or earlier), veterans of World War II still living, refugees from Syria seeking asylum.  It is too raw, we are too invested, to gain any allegorical wisdom from these more current events. God’s plan is still unfolding.

That doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands and just say about every bad thing “it must be God’s plan.”  We should fight where we see injustices, and be living examples of God’s compassion.  This country has a lot of healing still left to do from it’s history of slavery and it’s historical exploitation of Native Americans. We can’t bring back the literally millions of people killed, but we can make space for their descendants at the table.  We can also welcome the asylum seekers who call for help at our borders. We can advocate for alternative energy, which would lessen our reliance on oil and stop adding fuel to the fire of oil-related conflicts in the Middle East but also in our own country.

What I’m saying is, we’re still living these stories.  My ardent hope is that in several hundred years we, too, can be an allegorical as well as historical story.  I hope future historians can say “The USA’s first three centuries were marred by social inequalities of almost every kind.  But the country has been a leader in global peace for just as long.”  Or perhaps they’ll say, “Global unrest was driven by a reliance upon fossil fuels in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Through the dedicated work of scientists and social activists, fossil fuels haven’t been used in over 100 years.”

One thing we can learn is from this is that I’m clearly not cut out to be a news writer.  But if you can get past my hokey headline-writing skills, just remember that these are the outcomes we are fighting for.  We are the instruments of God’s compassion.  Abraham was an advocate for the righteous in a wicked world.  Let us be the same, today.

Proverbs 02 – A Quest for Wisdom

Chosing the right path from every good path.

I have a toddler who transitioned to a big girl bed last week and has decided napping is for the birds.  Also, she is sick but still refusing to nap, which means she needs to be constantly held and my productive time has dropped to practically zero.  There’s worse things than having to snuggle my baby all day, but I am taking longer to finish new blog posts.  Here’s one I was working on earlier for just this sort of situation.  I’ll be back to Genesis on Sunday-hopefully!!!

***

My son, if you accept my words
    and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
    and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight
    and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He holds success in store for the upright,
    he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
    and protects the way of his faithful ones.
Then you will understand what is right and just
    and fair—every good path.
10 For wisdom will enter your heart,
    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
11 Discretion will protect you,
    and understanding will guard you.
12 Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,
    from men whose words are perverse,
13 who have left the straight paths
    to walk in dark ways,
14 who delight in doing wrong
    and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
15 whose paths are crooked
    and who are devious in their ways.
16 Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman,
    from the wayward woman with her seductive words,
17 who has left the partner of her youth
    and ignored the covenant she made before God.
18 Surely her house leads down to death
    and her paths to the spirits of the dead.
19 None who go to her return
    or attain the paths of life.
20 Thus you will walk in the ways of the good
    and keep to the paths of the righteous.
21 For the upright will live in the land,
    and the blameless will remain in it;
22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
    and the unfaithful will be torn from it.

 

Oh, look!  Second chapter of Proverbs and one of the early verses says we are to search for wisdom as we look for silver and hidden treasure! There again, is Wisdom as a commodity (as referenced in my first Proverbs post).  But this chapter is really calling us on a quest, isn’t it?  We are to “search for [Wisdom] as for hidden treasure” (2:4), and from there on out it reads like the summary of an adventure movie.  We, the heroes of the story, will come across wicked men on crooked paths and temptresses, carrying the shield of the Lord, protected by Discretion- which, by the way, is a way cooler word when capitalized.

But you know what this implies? It implies that we will have to walk through dangerous places.  We will come to crossroads where we must chose the “paths of the righteous” (2:20) or the “dark ways” (2:13) and “paths to the spirits of the dead” (2:18).  It is at these dangerous crossroads that Wisdom will be able to exercise her power on our behalf.

Some of these choices, to be sure, are more obvious.  Taking a newly sober person to a bar is a terrible idea.  As Jesus says in Luke 17:2, “It would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and to be thrown into the sea than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”

But some of these choices may not be as obvious.  Parenting is a great example of this.  Sometimes it seems like nothing you do is right – breastfeeding or bottle feeding?  Stopping breastfeeding at 6 months? 12 months? Four years? You’re going to get flak from somebody no matter what choice you make.  And you know what the right answer is? The one that is right for you (and in this case, your child).  This chapter doesn’t say there is only one good path, but references “every good path.” (2:9)  But sometimes, having so many options can make it harder.  These moments – when Google has fifteen conflicting answers based on which Reddit conversation you chose, when your mom tells you one thing but your best friend another, when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the possibilities – this is when  you need to be “turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding.” (2:2) Do it how you will and call it what you want: praying, meditating, maybe even just setting aside some time for list-making, but do it with intention and an open mind, and I believe God will recognize that intent.  Because, as this chapter tells us, if you “call out for insight, and cry aloud for understanding,” (2:3) then you will “find the knowledge of God” (2:5).  We live in an age of unparalleled information, but God can still help us find wisdom.

Genesis 15 – Billionaires and Felons

Everyone is deserving of God’s love.

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half.11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

God has made promises to some interesting people just 15 chapters into Genesis.  He set a mark upon Cain, a murderer, to keep people from killing him, and promised vengeance seven times over should anyone do so (Gen. 4:15); he swore to Noah, who was really kind of a social oddball, to never destroy the Earth through flood again and gave his descendants dominion over everything (Gen. chapter 9); and now he’s promising an already extremely rich guy-not exactly our typical prototype of hero-even more blessings.  Also, while not exactly a promise, he did set up Adam and Eve – the first people to explicitly disobey him – for life outside the Garden of Eden when he clothed them in skins (Gen 3:21).

So, I see rebellious children, a murderer, a misfit who later becomes the first drunkard, and the Biblical equivalent of a lonely billionaire here.  That’s just one way, and admittedly a rather pessimistic way, of looking at it.  But I list them like that to illustrate a point:  Even those blessed with direct promises from God are not “perfect Christians.”  To be fair, they wouldn’t be Christians at all back then, they wouldn’t even be Jewish yet – since these stories pre-date either religion.  But my point is this:  God cares about all of us.  And belittling others or excluding others from our Faith because they are not “good” enough is so far removed from what God wants.

I feel I’m quickly turning into an apologetic for Prosperity Theology, but even at that risk I do want to make a point of saying that acceptance goes all ways:  Do not scorn a person who has achieved success who wants to connect with Christianity.  I see individuals eyeing successful people with suspicion.  I have been blessed to meet many successful entrepreneurs in my life, and they have enriched my life in many ways.  It’s scary to reach out to someone seemingly “above” you – there is always that risk of being rejected.  I’ve definitely been snubbed myself.  But don’t scorn somebody first to keep them from scorning you.  Extend that hand of friendship.  Blessings of all kinds might be exchanged, as between Abram and Melchizedek.  If not, and they scorn you, then it’s fully on them.

Alright, enough of the “poor, misunderstood rich people” admonishments.  I just felt I had to acknowledge it.  You know who else we need to acknowledge? Everyone. Even the most abhorrent.  Even Cain, the first murderer, received protection from God.  Now, I’m not arguing for no corrective actions, as a parent I can tell you the mayhem that would ensue if there were no time-outs or toys taken away from time to time.  But again, as a parent, particularly a parent of an Autistic child, I can tell you that solely punitive actions have no lasting effect for creating good behavior.  This is why I applaud those reaching to out inmates and recently released peoples, those advocating for prison reform, and defense attorneys working on behalf of not only those in the wrong place at the wrong time but also those who have committed truly horrible deeds.  Again, God saw fit to protect Cain, even after Cain murdered his brother, so shouldn’t we also be respectful of our own brothers and sisters, no matter how misled they are?

It looks like I just wrote several hundred words defending rich people and felons…which isn’t really what I meant to do when I started this blog post, but I’m standing by it.  Because the main point, once more, is this: We don’t need to be perfect to receive God’s love.  Even Abram, the “father of all believers” wasn’t perfect – he denied his wife twice calling her “his sister” (once we’ve seen, the other time is coming up) to save his own skin.  The first time I guess I can understand…but after God sends a plague on Pharaoh’s household because of it, you’re really going to try that again? Come on.  But I digress. One last time, because it always bears saying again: No one is perfect, but that doesn’t make us any less deserving of God’s love.