Tag Archives: Abraham

The power of a conclusion

8 Feb

It’s never too late to begin to parent well.

Even if you have been a poor father and raised 10 ungodly sons.

My husband and I were marveling the other day at Joseph’s unwavering faith displayed while a slave in Potiphar’s house and then during subsequent years stuck in that Egyptian prison.

Unlike Great Grandpa Abraham, Grandpa Isaac or Dad Jacob, Joseph neither saw nor spoke with God or His angels.  But God’s hand rested on him.

  •  Genesis 39:2-4 The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.

What happened to Joseph that set him apart from his wicked, ungodly older brothers?

Here’s my theory:

Genesis 34 narrates the account of Dinah’s rape by one of pagan Shechem’s local boys. Father Jacob does nothing.  His 10 older boys take matters in their own hands and brutally revenge their sister’s honor.

Jacob had not exercised any godly influence on his sons that we can discern. After this dark chapter of family history, he could have concluded:

  • I have failed as a father for I have NOT raised my sons to know the Lord
  • Therefore, I’m a terrible father.  That’s just who I am.

I don’t think Jacob indulged the human inclination toward self-pity and paralyzing remorse.  I think the nadir in his life marks a turning point in his resolve and behavior.  What’s the evidence?  In Genesis 37 Joseph shares some startling dreams about his brothers bowing down to him.  Then during his Egyptian captivity, dreams play a major role in his deliverance.

Maybe Jacob came to his senses after the Dinah tragedy and began to take his father role seriously.  I can picture him spending hours relating all he knew to Joseph and Benjamin about Abraham’s adventures with God and then their grandfather Isaac’s experiences on Mount Moriah with the sacrificial ram swap for his own life and then how he prayed for their grandmother Rebekah to get pregnant. And then his, Jacob’s, very own encounters with God.

He would have dramatically narrated the ladder dream with angels descending and ascending to heaven, which occurred the first night on his outward journey to Uncle Laban’s. Then God spoke to him, directing him to lead the entire clan back to Canaan.  He would have explained the ‘genesis’ of his perpetual limp, trophy won during the famous wrestling match with the Angel of the Lord.  Joseph and Benjamin would have begged to hear yet again how God spared them all when Uncle Esau met Jacob’s approaching gaggle of people and herds with a small army of 400 men!  Jacob had feared for all their lives and strategically divided everyone into smaller groups.

Yes, Jacob must have drawn a different conclusion after his last parenting failure, one that changed the course of history.

Yes, he had mostly abdicated his responsibility to teach his family about Almighty God. But, he could change and perhaps influence the two remaining boys. There WAS something he could do. It wasn’t too late.

My scenario is speculative.  Yet, there is no question that Joseph WAS different from his brothers.  His character turned out to be pivotal for the family, for the Hebrews and for the world.  Had he not heard about the family’s God encounters of years past and learned about the character of God, he might not have been open to the dreams God gave him. There possibly would have been…….

  • No bragging to his brothers
  • N0 fuming jealousy that turned murderous
  • No enslavement in Egypt
  • No ruling in Egypt
  • No rescue from famine
  • No fertile cocooning in Goshen
  • No population explosion
  • No miraculous departure
  • and on and on all the way to NO birth of the Messiah in the tribe of Judah, as predicted

Why was Joseph different?  As my husband pointed out, the Bible is silent on how he learned about God, but God was clearly with him during his 13-14 as a slave/prisoner.  He worked diligently with skill and rose in the ranks wherever God planted him.  We read of neither moping nor complaining.  He strove to serve those around him, whether as a household slave, a helper to the prison boss or the number two ruler in Egypt.

My point is this: what we conclude from past failures affects the future.  What encouragement.  And what a warning about drawing the WRONG conclusions.

It’s NEVER too late to change.

If God controls the nations….

21 Dec

2 Chron 20:5-6  Jehoshaphat stood before the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the Lord’s temple, in front of the new courtyard. He prayed: “O Lord God of our ancestors, you are the God who lives in heaven and rules over all the kingdoms of the nations. You possess strength and power; no one can stand against you.

Biblical Christians accept, without pause, the fact that God controls nations.  Numerous passages in the Bible teach this.  Consider just a smattering of examples:

  • The formation of the people of Israel, created by God from one Babylonian pagan, Abraham.
  • Or God sending Cyrus to capture and subjugate rebellious Judah.
  • Or arranging for Caesar Augustus to desire a census so that Mary & Joseph would travel to Jerusalem and Jesus would be born in Bethlehem instead of Nazareth

So, my thought is this:

If God controls the nations, then He also controls individual people and events.

How else do nations run, if not by very little details!

This past year I read David McCullough’s historical account of the Panama Canal.

God worked mosquitos, personality traits of leaders, weather, and human sin all together to bring America to the point to successfully take over the construction of the canal from the French.  When the French began construction in 1881 of this, their second significant canal after the Suez Canal, no one in Washington, DC even dreamed that America would complete this project.

But there were many details that God sovereignly organized into one surprising result.

Even the non-Christian deist Benjamin Franklin recognized the ‘butterfly effect’ and memorialized it with this rhyme:

“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”

Christians more easily recognize that God is the source of all these details, but where we (ME!!) fail is in applying this FACT to the personal details of our lives.  What great peace I forfeit when I fail to remember that God is in fact lovingly directing all occurrences according to His GOOD purposes.  This includes those details/events:

  • that others mean for evil (just consider Judas’ betrayal of Jesus)
  • natural disasters like earthquakes and droughts due to the Fall (‘all of creation groans in pain ‘ – Romans 8:22)

This logical gal is going to remind herself daily:

  • If God controls the nations, then He is controlling the details of my life right now.
  • If God is God, then He is good.
  • Therefore, the good God controls the details of my life right now.

That’s enough for me.

Logical Gal – ‘But it’s in the Bible!’

25 Mar

Polygamy in the bible

A discussion I overheard reminded me of a useful distinction, that of what is normative versus what is descriptive.  The term normative contains the concept of norms or prescribed ways of doing things.  Descriptive points to information, the way things are.

Logicians have a name for this error in reasoning, it’s called the Is-Ought Fallacy.  The thinking goes like this:

  • The way things ARE is the way they SHOULD be.

That’s just plain stupid. All one has to do is provide a counter-example.  Sex-trafficking is an unfortunate fact. Should that continue? Persecution of Christians is a fact….. genocide is a fact…bureaucratic waste is a fact.  Surely we don’t countenance those circumstances just because ‘that’s the way life is in 2015!’

An entire arena where these two concepts of what is descriptive (the way things are) versus what is normative (the way things ought to be) often gets muddled is the Bible.  Someone with an agenda of showing how the Bible is not relevant for contemporary culture might argue about one particular issue this way:

  • How come you’re so committed to marriage being a life-long covenant between one man and one woman?  Why even in the Bible some of those heroes of the faith were polygamous.  Didn’t the patriarch Abraham have multiply wives?  And what about his grandson Jacob?
  • Jesus didn’t own anything; therefore, neither should Christians!

If anything, the Bible unabashedly narrates shameful foibles, backsliding, and dysfunctional family sin.  And if that weren’t enough, we are served up accounts of evil kings and pompous religious leaders.  And on the other side, it IS true that the Bible gloriously showcases courageous acts of faith by men and women such as Gideon, Ruth, Paul and Mary as well as Jesus, the Son of God.  But does it necessarily follow that the Bible is telling us is ‘Be a Daniel, Be a Joshua, Be a Jesus’? Might the Bible through all these accounts be pointing to what God has done?  Yes, there are principles of righteous living that we can follow.  Nevertheless, we must be careful to sort out whom or what is being held up as part of the overall meta-narrative or grand story from actual commands that we are to follow.

A discerning reader will apply the correct lens when studying God’s Word.  Distinguishing whether a narrative is giving a rundown of what happened OR whether it is promoting a way of life or specific behavior is key.

Logical Gal asks if we are blind in our categories

11 Nov

Everything we encounter, whether a new idea, a circumstance or a person,

we attempt to categorize.  

We are particularly good and shallow at this game when we are making the rounds at a party or other social event. Ubiquitous questions such as:

  • What do YOU do?
  • Do you have kids?
  • What do you pursue in your free time?

We search for clues in order to categorize, to supply context to a person or to look for connections between them and us.  We want to know what we have in common.

What we don’t think through…… is that we are limited by the nature of our category, by what defines the members within the category.

Like the fish who is unaware of water because it’s all around, maybe we are equally oblivious to categories as yet identified.

I thought about this the other night while listening to a theologian explain how unusual the Jewish concept of Monotheism was.  The Jews developed into a people group amidst the backdrop of Polytheism.  I never considered how revolutionary this form of worship and culture must have been.  Here was a new category – to have ONE SINGLE god who was the TRUE god.  And He was a new kind of god – one who didn’t just show up physically as a burning bush or a pillar of smoke, but He was equally an immaterial god – a spiritual god.

The Jews descended from one man – Abraham. He and Sarah were initially polytheistic like everyone else in their region and era. They had no concept, no category for a monotheistic God.   I am amazed that they trusted Abraham’s encounter with this living God ENOUGH to leave civilization and journey away from their known life in the city of Ur to something and somewhere as yet disclosed or described.

My point is this – we ought to exercise a little more humility.  We might know every member of a category and feel confident in our ability to sort, to exercise triage as we encounter people, circumstances and ideas.  But what if what we meet belongs in an entirely different category, one about which we have no clue?

The question then becomes, how do we know what we don’t know?

I’m not sure if I have an answer or a way forward, but….

what I am beginning to REMEMBER to practice is to ask myself the question,

“as opposed to what?”

Applying this technique to Abraham’s contemporary  pagan culture, a 2000 BC sheep-farmer could  have pondered:

  • I have many gods – of weather, fertility, crops, safety….what other kind of god could there be? What would be totally different than a god to meet each of my needs?

Applying this technique in MY culture as a French teacher, I might ask:

  • What is a completely out-of-the box way to teach a foreign language?

Maybe the question itself is enough to eliminate some of my blindness.

Certainly worth a try!