Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Over the last few weeks we have looked at the lives of some of the biggest heroes in the Bible. We have looked at the family that started with Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob. Last week we looked at the failings of a few of Jacob's sons. Unfortunately this was the first time we have seen pride and lack of repentance get in the way of God using someone. This week we will be looking at another of Jacob's sons, Judah.
Like I have mentioned in previous posts, sometimes the stories in the Bible are a bit more lurid than we might expect. They are not as safe and sanitized as we might believe. Again this week, I will do everything I can to make sure to keep this post family friendly, but I will not enhance or take away from the what the Bible has to say.
Judah's story can't be told without a little bleed over from some of his family's stories. Judah was Jacob's fourth son with Leah. His name meant praise and his birth seemed pivotal in the jealousy between the sister wives, Leah and Rachel. During his young life he would have witnessed the conflict and schemes between his dad and uncle, the hostility between his mom and stepmom/aunt, and I imagine he would have seen a lot dysfunction. His three older brothers were all prone to rash decisions and violence and he had a younger brother, Joseph, who his dad seemed to prefer over all the siblings. While Joseph is our primary subject next week; much of Judah's Story is wrapped up in Joseph's story as well, so we will be bumping into him a good bit throughout.
Joseph was Jacob's first and at the time only son with his wife Rachel, who he truly loved. He was favored by his dad and seemed to like to gloat about it. His dad even gave him a special coat that was multi colored. This didn't settle well with his brothers. At one point Joseph seems to relish in telling all of his brothers about dream he had in which they were bowing down to him. Growing up with four younger brothers I can almost guarantee if the youngest would have told me about a dream of me bowing down to him he would have wound up with a wedgie or worse. In this case Joseph probably should have known his audience because he wound up with more than a wedgie!
The brothers felt like they had witnessed their dad favor Joseph long enough. They were tired of the little twerp walking around in his fancy multicolored coat and bragging about his dreams. So they decided to do something about it. As we have already discussed the older brothers were hot heads and were not afraid to get blood on their hands. They were cool with going ahead and killing little Joseph.
“[l]Here comes this dreamer! 20 Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, ‘A wild beast devoured him.’ Then let us see what will become of his dreams!” Genesis 37:19-20.Judah however thought of an even more sinister plan. A plan that would keep his hands clean, still get rid of his pesky little brother forever and put a little silver in his pocket. As some traders approached heading towards Egypt, Judah shared his plan.
26 What profit will it be for us if we just kill our brother and conceal the crime? 27 Come on, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites instead. We won’t have to lay a hand on him then. He is, after all, our brother, our own flesh and blood. Genesis 37: 26-27Judah convinced his brothers this was the plan to go with and just like that they sold Joseph into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. They also stripped him of his fancy coat, dipped it in goat's blood and took it back to their dad to trick him and tell him what a horrible death Joseph had suffered.
Do we look at Judah here as a villain or a hero? In theory he saved his brother's life, but he only did it to keep his conscience clear and to make a profit. We know at this point Joseph was around 17, so we can imagine that Judah is likely in his early 30's. It's hard to write this off as a stupid, youthful decision. Seems more like a calculated decision based on jealousy and greed.
The questionable decisions for Judah don't stop there though. The next event is a little unsettling, but it's historically pivotal. Let's set the scene. A few years have past, Judah is now a successful shepherd who is married with 3 sons. He arranges a marriage for his oldest so, Er, to a young woman named Tamar. All we know about Er is the Bible describes him as a "wretched human" and that God took his life. Not sure what that's all about but doesn't sound like Er was a good dude to hang out with.
Custom at the time, later becoming Mosaic law, was that if your brother had a wife and no children when he passed away it was your responsibility to marry his wife and provide a child. This was a custom that ensured the wife an inheritance and ensured your brother a legacy. With that in mind, after Er passed away Tamar had to marry Judah's next son Onan. I don't know if Onan was greedy and didn't want to share his inheritance, if he didn't want to create a child that wouldn't be considered his, or if he had some other issue, but when it came time for him to complete his husbandry duties...well, let's just go with the Biblical description and say he purposely "spilled his seed." This was a disrespectful act to his brother, his father, Tamar, and to local customs. The Bible said because of this, he died.
So, now Tamar has lost 2 husbands and Judah has lost 2 sons. Judah's youngest son was too young to marry and provide children so, Judah sent Tamar back to her hom until his son became old enough. Judah let several years go by; He thought a lot about how both of his sons had died after marrying Tamar and begin to doubt whether he wanted to let her marry his third son. He had an obligation to Tamar. When he sent her home, he promised her he would send for her as soon as his son was old enough, but he didn't. Judah decided he didn't want to risk his third son; to protect his son, he lied and deceived Tamar.
A few years later, Judah's wife had passed away and he was traveling for business. He was feeling a bit lonely. Tamar had grown tired of waiting and wanted her rightful inheritance. She heard that Judah was traveling to the city for business and decided to take action. Tamar wore a veil and dressed like a prostitute and waited for Judah to show up.
It had been a long time since Judah had seen Tamar and apparently with the veil on he didn't recognize his daughter in law. He agreed to give her one of his finest goats for a night together. He didn't have the goat with him so he left his "lady of the night" with his staff and seal as identification and as a promise to pay.
Judah tried to send the goat back, but no one had every seen that particular prostitute before. So, Judah thought he had gotten his night of pleasure for free. Well, he had left behind his seal and staff, but those can be replaced. As time went on, word got to Judah that his daughter in law was pregnant. This was a huge problem, even though he hadn't done his part by sending his son to her, she had not done hers and stayed pure. Now she was carrying someone else's child. That's considered adultery and she should be put to death! Judah was outraged, he commanded that she be captured and burnt to death.
Imagine Judah's surprise when Tamar presented the staff and seal of the man who had impregnated her. Here he was about to have his daughter in law put to death for a sin that he committed with her. There is a lot to wrap his brain around; he had deceived Tamar and never sent his youngest son, now she had deceived him and was carrying his child. Not only that, she had the proof of what he had done. With all the new information, Judah had to admit he was wrong and Tamar escaped any punishment.
25 It was while she was being brought out that she sent to her father-in-law, saying, “I am with child by the man to whom these things belong.” And she said, “Please examine and see, whose signet ring and cords and staff are these?” 26 Judah recognized them, and said, “She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not [w]have relations with her again. Genesis 38:25-26.
We don't see Judah let his pride get the better of him. He was well regarded in the community and could have fought to maintain his pride instead of humbling himself and admitting he was wrong. We don't see Judah seek redemption per se; but we do see a small glimpse into his heart here. The next time the Bible mentions Judah by name he and his brothers have found themselves in a tough spot.
A famine has hit the land and they have gone into Egypt to try to buy food. They did not know the brother they had previously sold into slavery had risen to become a powerful viceroy in Egypt. It was Joseph , their brother, who was responsible for disbursing the food. He recognized his brothers but they did not recognize him. Whatever his motives, he accused them of being spies. Joseph made them leave one of the brothers behind, saying he would only release him if they would bring back their youngest brother Benjamin who had not traveled with them.
Benjamin had grown exceptionally close to Jacob since Joseph's alleged death. He had stayed behind to take care of his dad, also so his dad could make sure he was safe. When Jacob heard about the viceroy in Egypt holding one of his other son's hostage he was still not convinced that he trusted the other sons with his youngest and closest son, Benjamin. The famine however grew worse and times became desperate.We see Judah step up as a leader here and we start to see how far his heart has changed since the day he agreed to sell his brother for silver.
8 Judah said to his father Israel, “Send the lad with me and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, we as well as you and our little ones. 9 I myself will be surety for him; [d]you may hold me responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then [e]let me bear the blame before you forever. Genesis 43:8-9At first Joseph seemed like he was going to uphold his end of the bargain. Once he saw the brothers return with Benjamin, he released their other brother; he fed them and he allowed them to take provisions back home to Canaan with them. However, as they were leaving, he set them up. He had one of his workers hide his special silver cup in Benjamin's belongings. As the brothers began to make their way back home with the food Joseph's people stopped them. He accused them of stealing his cup and told them if he found the cup on one of them, that brother would become Joseph's slave.
Of course they found the cup with Benjamin, since Joseph had planted it there to begin with. Judah knew he could not return home without his youngest brother. He knew what that would do to his father. This is when we see Judah's true character shine through. He gives a long plea, humbling himself before Joseph and putting his own life on the line. He explains how much Benjamin means to his father and begs Joseph to keep him as a slave instead.
32 For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then let me bear the blame before my father forever.’ 33 Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. 34 For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me—for fear that I see the evil that would[k]overtake my father?” Genesis 44:32-34This is a long way from the same guy who had once sold his own brother without any regards to how that would effect anyone else. Now he was thinking of everyone but himself. He knew how important Benjamin was to his father and he was willing to make the sacrifice of staying behind himself, as a slave, to avoid causing his father any more pain, Judah's pleas did not fall on deaf ears. In fact they led to Joseph finally revealing to his brothers who he was and it led to the family finally being reunited.
Like his brothers we looked at last week, Judah had some serious flaws happening; unlike them, he had a humble heart and found God's redemption. When his brothers inheritance was taken away and their descendants were scattered, Judah was given a huge blessing by his father and his descendants became royalty.
8 But Judah, your brothers will praise you.
God's grace can transform all of us. He can change our entire family tree. None of our failings are too much for Him to bear if we will give Him our heart first.
Friday, June 10, 2016
I really struggled with my last blog I posted about Simeon, Levi, & Reuben. I have given it a lot of thought and I think the reason why I struggled so much with it is because it didn’t fit my narrative. When I started the Broken Vessels Series I think I wanted to focus on how God used broken people. I wanted to look at figures throughout the Bible and throughout history who despite their brokenness have still been used by God to accomplish great things.
My humble childhood, my broken family, my shyness, my own failures have all been reasons why I have been afraid to step out in the past and let God work through me. I knew I wasn’t a worthy vessel for him. I have recently discovered though through a lot of study and prayer that I am exactly the kind of broken vessel God wants to use for his glory. Initially I thought I would go through the Bible and pick those stories that proved my point. I think I originally envisioned doing profiles on the big heroes and showing they had flaws; and showing how those flaws didn’t prevent them from being used for God’s glory.
I believe strongly that God’s grace is bigger and stronger than any flaw or brokenness we may have. I want to share that amazing news with everyone else who is broken like me.
Somehow I was moved from high level profiles of the most famous Biblical heroes to a more in-depth study that has led me through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and now to Jacob’s family. The details have been fascinating and stories remarkable. Up to the point of the last study of Jacob’s children, the stories had still fit the narrative I had set for myself. That’s where the challenge started.
As I studied the events at Schechem with Simeon & Levi and as I studied the “relationship” between Reuben and his stepmom, I didn’t see the grace or the encouragement I was looking for. I struggled and searched to find evidence to fit my narrative and it just wasn’t there. I begin to wonder why these stories were even included. Jacob had 12 sons (13 children) and 7 of them are barely mentioned. Why include these stories of failure at all? If these stories aren’t in the Bible to show God’s grace, why are they there?
Then it hit me these stories are just as important because they speak to the need for God’s grace.
Outside of God’s grace we are all broken sinners and left to our own devices we would be forced to endure the punishment for our sins. It is God’s grace that changes this outcome.
God’s glory is amplified when he accomplishes great things through humble means. These stories in the Bible point to the heart of the sinner. We have already looked at scammers, liars, drunks, and adulterers. We will examine murderers, thieves, doubters, and sinners of every ilk. God’s grace in every case is sufficient to redeem and use these people. The difference between the broken sinners that bring God glory and those that are just sinners lies in their heart.
Despite being unqualified and having a propensity for the drink; Noah still had a heart for God. Despite doubting God’s promises and actually laughing at him Abraham had a heart to serve God. Jacob was a scammer and had conflicts everywhere he went; but his jeart was still set on following God.
Reuben, Simeon, & Levi never show their heart for God. We never see their heart ache from the sins they committed. We never see them wrestle with God as they try to make peace with their heart. They had pride and stubbornness in their heart and that pride kept them from acknowledging their sins and seeking his grace.
These stories do not indicate that God’s grace is not sufficient. They do not indicate that his redemption is not available. These stories don’t indicate that these men were too broken for God to use. I believe strongly if any or all of these three men would have opened his heart and accepted God’s redemptive grace their story would have a different ending. There is too much evidence to deny this.
God’s grace is extremely powerful. He is able to redeem and restore even the greatest sinner; however not every sinner will turn their heart toward him. Not all sinners will humble themselves to allow God to work in them and through them.
Wednesday, June 8, 2016
So, after spending his life to that point in a state of constant conflict; Jacob began making peace. He made peace with his Uncle Laban, his brother Esau, and through a heated conflict he even made peace with himself and God (read more HERE). Even though God changed Jacob's name and his heart he still had 13 kids (12 sons) with 4 different mothers and therefore the drama did not end. We will not look at all 13; instead will focus on 2 specific incidents involving some of the family. We will focus on two more brothers in the next 2 weeks.
After Jacob and his family passed through the region where his brother Esau lived, they settled in a city called Shechem and bought a piece of property. His daughter Dinah went into the city and was raped by the son of the ruler of the city. Whether he felt guilty or whether his father was trying to make things right, the rapist came to Jacob and his family to ask for Dinah's hand in marriage.
He and his father made the case that he was madly in love with Dinah and they wanted to make peace. We don't know what Jacob would have said or done, but we know what his sons did. Simeon and Levi convinced the ruler and his son that they would be willing to allow Dinah to marry him if all the men in their family wold agree to get circumcised. If they would just do this one little thing they would live in peace together forever.
I am not sure what the procedure was then. I don't know what they used for the cutting or what they used for the anesthesia but I can't imagine it was a fun process. I am not sue what the motivation was, maybe guilt or maybe he was smitten, but the ruler and his son went along with this plan. They also convinced all the men of the city to go along with the plan as well.
As a grown man I can not imagine how much pain must have been involved in getting circumcised; especially without anything to dull the pain and with who knows what kind of tools. Apparently it hurt so bad that on the third day, Simeon and Levi were able to take swords and kill every man in the city without a fight. They didn't stop there! They also cut the tendons on all the oxen and beasts of burden in the city, rendering them almost useless. They basically looted and ransacked the city.
Part of me can't really blame them. This jerk had just raped their sister then had the gall to come around talking about how he loved her. Oh Heck NO! I can understand the desire to burn the city to the ground. This was an act of malice though. They had used deception to get the upper hand and then allowed their rage to take over. They didn't just punish the actual rapist or his father who was enabling him, they also killed lots of innocent people destroyed property, stole belongings and brutalized animals.
The Bible is full of broken people who don't always make the right choices. Another example is Jacob's oldest son Rueben. As the family was moving on after the debacle in Schechem, he took an opportunity to sleep with his father's concubine Bilhah, aka his step mother. That has a certain ick factor to it. On top of just being really icky, Rueben showed disrespect for his father and his family by his actions. While I can easily relate to Simeon and Levi, I can't really understand Rueben. I guess they weren't technically related and all, but still.
Similar to his brothers we never see Reuben have a change of heart. We are left only knowing he failed and was punished.
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
So, in the aftermath of Jacob scamming his dad and stealing his brothers rightful blessing and birthright (see the full account here) Jacob went into a bit of exile to keep his brother from harming or killing him. He moved in with his Uncle Laban, his mom’s brother. Jacob wanted to represent his mom well and wanted to earn his keep so he worked very hard for his uncle. After a month Uncle Laban felt bad for making Jacob work hard and not paying him, so he approached him and began negotiating a salary.
Jacob’s love and affection for Rachel were greater than for Leah and everyone noticed it. That led to one of the strangest deals I have ever heard of. Leah’s son had gone out into the wheat fields during harvest and brought in some mandrakes for his mother. Mandrakes were also referred to as “love apples” and apparently were fragrant if odd looking and are revered for their aphrodisiac qualities. Many of the Google search images of mandrakes look like they have faces or bodies, kind of creepy.