All posts by ashleymcarmichael

Authentic :: Rebekah

When I was a child, my best friend and I used to play ‘house’ and inevitably we would always want good husbands to be a part of the pretend game. For my imaginary future, I would always say a boy in my class at school who I had a crush on at the time was my “husband”. It would change pretty much weekly because, well even as I child I had commitment issues, but also I was young and didn’t really know what I wanted. All I knew was for a perfect, imaginary future I needed a husband.

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In middle school I made a list of what I wanted for my future—an assignment in class. A list of goals, we’ll call them (and yes, outdated as they are I still have this list). My teacher asked us to highlight our top ten then she collected the list, read the top ten aloud, and had the rest of the class guess to whom the list belonged. When it came to mine, a boy I only knew by name (and because he was pretty cute) piped up and said, “that’s gotta be Ashley. It’s all about God.” I remember at the time being kind of mortified because the disdain in his tone was palpable and he may or may not have rolled his eyes. The teacher returned the list to me and I sat quietly, my face radiating a bright red thought only possible in on a Crayola crayon.

Now, I think back on that list and that moment when everything was clear. I rarely talked to this boy, but he knew my reputation and in some ways, my heart. In my heart, even when I didn’t fully see I myself, my perfect imaginary future was not about a husband, but about a life filled with God’s glory and grace—and hopefully, one day, a husband who shares my heart desires in the same way. This life is not about me, or a man, or a family, it’s ALL about God.

Sought After

Although Rebekah is not mentioned in Genesis 24:1-9, it’s pretty cool that the text shows she was an answer to a prayer. There is something beautiful about being sought after–pursued–it gives one value on a spiritual level. Abraham had just lost his beloved, Sarah, whom he buried in a cave in Hebron. She was 127, and they had spent over 100 years together on this earth. Abraham was hurting, to say the least, and he looks at his son Isaac, who was single at the age of 37, and knows that his son is hurting too. Knowing what it feels like to hurt and have no one to comfort you for the loss, Abraham comes up with a plan.

First, Abraham asked his servant to put his hand under his thigh and swear an oath. Let’s think about this gesture for a moment—there are very few people in this world who I would allow the intimacy of touching me under the thigh. It’s a vulnerable and private place, which adds to the importance and seriousness of the request: go find my son a wife–not just any wife either, a God-fearing wife.

Photo by Billy Pasco on Unsplash

Sure. No problem.

And no pressure, right?

Abraham is certain this is the right plan; after all, God promised him the land he was living in would belong to his offspring–the servant is not quite as sure. He asks a couple of questions, makes a contingency plan, clarifies instructions, and then he is willing to swear his oath. I’m not criticizing the servant by any means; no, I’m rather empathetic to the fact that the servant has more faith in his master, Abraham, than he does in the Lord. At least at first. Sadly I do this more than I’d like to admit–I place faith in something or someone when really all I need is to trust the Lord’s plan for my life. It’s embarrassing, but thankfully God is really patient with me in my struggle.

So, the servant makes his way to the “town of Nahor” in Genesis 24:10-14. Nahor just happens to be Abraham’s brother. So far he has done all that his master has asked, and I just love what his first inclination is once he arrives: pray to Abraham’s God (again, a display of faith in Abraham more than the God he is praying to)…but the prayer is….different. He asks for a specific response from the girl he approaches. He wants her to be hospitable, not just to him but to all the camels with him too. Did you know that “a camel that has gone a few days without water can drink up to 25 gallons? That’s up to 100 drawings from the well for ALL the servant’s camels!” (Archeological Study Bible footnote p.40). That’s a tall order, so either the servant has some trust issues, or he is honestly looking for the right woman and doesn’t want to get it wrong. Be specific, Lord, he asks. And I don’t think that is wrong as long as his heart was in the right place.

I may not be quite so demanding for specifics in my prayers, but I ask for validation and confirmation from the Lord pretty frequently, and sometimes my heart is not exactly in the right place. Have I mentioned my control issues? That’s why. My prayer can often go something like this: Dear Lord, please give me everything I want in exactly the way I want it. Just being honest. But the reality is, God’s not really a genie, and often what I want and when I want it is not His plan and if I’m really going to get real I’ll admit that it’s better when I stop trying to tell God what to do and simply let Him move in my life.

The fact that God answered the servant’s request almost immediately proves that this servant had a good heart–he didn’t ask because he wanted God to prove himself, he asked because he wanted to get it right.

Rebekah’s Story

I have read Rebekah’s story a number of times and I’ll be honest sometimes I sincerely sit in awe of this woman who left everything she knew because a man revealed it was her God-given destiny. I am amazed by her strength, her courage, and even her wit; though sometimes a little misguided, her destiny brought about the ultimate perfect not-so-imaginary future—a Savior who would change the world. 

No wonder the servant wanted to get it right. 

Genesis 24:15-21 finally introduces us to Rebekah—who is quite remarkable. First, she is related to Abraham. It says she is “the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah who was the wife of Abraham’s brother.” That would make Bethuel and Isaac first cousins, making Rebekah Isaac’s first cousin once removed, in case you care to track the relationship.

I adore this interaction as it shows us Rebekah’s heart in an astounding way. 

  1. She is hospitable and caring to the servant, immediately taking care of his needs. 
  2. She sees a need and doesn’t hesitate to be the one to fill the need–even if it means spending the rest of the afternoon doing a back-breaking job of drawing water from the well to water the camels of a stranger. 
  3. She is both strong, yet humble, accepting praise from the servant, but returning to her family for advice and guidance. 
  4. She is wise, confiding in her mother immediately after the exchange–no secrets!
Photo by Briana Tozour on Unsplash

Let’s back up a second and picture this scene with the servant and many camels coming to the well in mid-day when all the ladies are out and about. His arrival would have caused quite a stir! Camels would have immediately indicated great wealth, but then he places a nose ring AND bracelets of gold on Rebekah. Now, I’m not saying she’s a gold digger…no really she’s not, but I’m not sure I’d say the same for her family…

Genesis 24:22-31 shows Rebekah running to her mother’s household, and yet it is her brother (not her father) who runs out to meet the stranger. Odd, especially since later we see that her father is still alive. At any rate, Genesis 24:32-49 recaps all that has happened–from the orders of the servant’s master, Abraham, to the prayer, to Rebekah’s action and basically ends with…so, what do you think? It’s a total God thing, right?

In Genesis 24:50-53 Rebekah’s male relatives, brother and now father, respond with a resounding…if it’s from the Lord then who are we to argue? Especially since you come bearing those dolla, dolla bills, ya’ll. I feel pretty justified in this judgment consider Laban will later trick his sister’s son, Jacob, into marrying both his daughters and working for him for free for 14 years. Laban is interested in the bottom line, with a little God-speak thrown in to cover the stench of his greed. But that’s another story.

We don’t actually get Rebekah’s reaction to this proposal until we read Genesis 24: 54-61. This interaction is fascinating. The servant is eager to return to his master, but Laban and momma dearest aren’t so keen to say good-bye to baby girl (or all the wealth of the servant’s entourage). Especially worthy of note is the request that Rebekah stay 10 days or so…

Now I get why Momma wants her to stay–it’s her baby and they’re obviously close (remember, no secrets). But the brother’s motivation I question. Maybe I’m being unfair and he will really miss his sister when she leaves…or maybe he’s still thinking how to profit from this arrangement. I don’t know which it is, but either way it’s the fact that they ask Rebekah for her opinion is unusual.

But here’s the thing, asking Rebekah fulfills the rest of the promise the servant made to Abraham in Gen. 24:8. She’s not only willing, she’s determined. Along with all her other qualities, I can’t help but admire her. And given the cultural context–this points straight back to God again.

Genesis 24:62-66; 25:20 shows a brief encounter with meeting Isaac, who is not sad about this woman being brought to him (he might think she’s pretty hot). But more importantly, it reveals an important character trait of Rebekah.

Modesty. 

In a day where modesty has gone out of fashion, I find Rebekah’s response to meeting her husband to be refreshing. Her modesty didn’t change his reaction. If anything he admired her even more, and I think that’s true about the right kind of men today. God-fearing men don’t really want to see women’s bodies on display for the world. Sure, it can biologically set a few things in motion, but often those things are better saved for private settings anyhow, so being modest is a way to respect yourself, and your partner (or future partner) in more ways than one.

Decidedly Human

Like Sarah before her, Rebekah was barren (Genesis 25:21-24 ) but didn’t have to wait quite as long for the answer to her prayer. I even note that God responded directly to Rebekah, which tells me she didn’t rely on her husband’s faith but continued to grow in her own relationship with the Lord. As tempting as it is to use others’ faith as a crutch for our own faith, we will see more amazing things if we personally pursue a relationship with God and trust in Him more than those around us. After all, humans are only human.

And Rebekah was human too. She made her share of mistakes. In fact, the biggest mistake she made was in trying to make God’s plan happen in her own time and way (just as Sarah did…oh and me too).

God can use our mistakes to create great things, but it doesn’t negate the consequences that inevitably result when we prove time and again that we are only human.

In Genesis 27:5-17 Rebekah plays favorites with her sons just as Jacob would play favorites with his son, Joseph in the future! The consequences of her actions include losing her son…forever. There is no record of Rebekah ever seeing her son again (and I believe she probably died in the 14 years Jacob worked for Laban, her brother). We can choose our sin, but we can’t choose the consequences. I truly believe she had the best of intentions, but she lied and manipulated her husband and children to fulfill a prophecy that she didn’t have enough faith in God to bring about in a less deceitful way. And while God can use our mistakes to still create great things, it doesn’t negate the consequences that inevitably result when we prove time and again that we are only human.

Sought by God

Photo by NICK SELIVERSTOV on Unsplash

Rebekah was sought after and valued as a treasure once she was found. A gift from God. Genesis 24:8 paired with Genesis 24:57 casts an important light on ancient culture marital rituals vs. God’s will. Wives were not, as was cultural ritual, to be treated as possessions, but rather involved and respected. Then, with their consent, accepted as treasures. This is God’s will. Marriage, though the focus of Rebekah’s story, is not to be the center of our world. Significant others will not bring you ultimate joy and happiness. That’s not even really the point of marriage. No, marriage is meant to be a reflection of God’s relationship with his people. He seeks after us, and like Rebekah loves nothing more than our response to be an immediate “I will go.” Not in 10 days, but now.

All we have to do is say “I will go.”

Eliezer the servant did not have the same quality of faith as Abraham, but as he learned to trust his master and God, his faith grew. Rebekah leaned on this faith of Eliezer to help her be resolute, but she was more confident, probably because she had a personal faith to begin with. It might not be easy to trust God; we all have our own stories that affect how we interact with God, but God promises that if we seek him, we will find him. All we have to do is say “I will go.”

Authentic :: Joseph

The story of Joseph has been told in many ways from the Broadway musical Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat to children’s movies like Joseph: King of Dreams. Each adaptation focuses on the themes of going after your dreams, the dangers of jealousy and favoritism, and sibling rivalry. While all of these are very prevalent in the story, to me it is a story of redemption pointing straight back to Jesus.

Joseph’s is a tale of suffering, rejection and exaltation—foretelling the ultimate Christ who would suffer and be rejected to ultimately be elevated to the right hand of God. BUT there are some distinct differences between Joseph and Jesus, the most poignant being Joseph’s arrogance and pride which, if we’re being honest, were at the root of his suffering and rejection. Whereas Jesus’ rejection was entirely unwarranted.

And boy can I relate to Joseph! If I had a nickel for every time my pride and arrogance led to negative consequences, well, let’s just say I could probably quit teaching. Like my junior year of high school, for example. I was the ultimate band nerd and I wanted so bad to be the drum major, not because I had a deep love for all things band—I really didn’t—I can be honest with myself now, though I still hesitate to type (all that pride). I wanted to be drum major because I wanted people to admire me. I wanted the attention and the satisfaction of knowing I was the winner…and I wanted to spend time with a boy I liked prior to the audition. On the other hand, my friends who also tried out had much more musical aspirations. I won the competition, but it cost me a lot in my friendships and I had to deal with some bullying I probably wouldn’t have experienced if I hadn’t been so proud.

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

Back to the point, who exactly is Joseph? Biography tells us he’s the first son of Rachel and Jacob, but the 12th born to the family (Leah had 6 sons and a daughter, Bilhah had two sons and Zilpah had two sons before Rachel had her first—Genesis 35:23-26). The dysfunction in his background was just the tip of the iceberg. This isn’t reality TV, but it sure could be the inaugural episode of Sister Wives!

Genesis 37:1-4 and 12-14 begin the story, highlighting Joseph’s position in the family as the baby. Verse 4 is our narrative hook (lit-speak) introducing a pretty powerful conflict: 

When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

Genesis 37:4 NIV

 Joseph may be one of the youngest, but he is the favorite. And that doesn’t sit well with these grown men who have been trying to gain the favor of their father pretty much their entire lives. And we’re not talking about a couple of years between these brothers. Rueben, who was born firs, was at least a decade older, maybe even two. The dysfunction in the family is palpable in this interaction and sadly, Joseph isn’t mature enough to handle it in a way that would bring peace rather than more conflict, which we see in Genesis 37: 5-11.

Joseph’s Pride

Okay, so you have a dream that’s kind of interesting and you want to share it with your besties; that I get. What I don’t get is why Joseph thought this dream would be a good idea to share with people who already kind of hate him. Twice. And not with any kind of humility either:

Listen to this dream I had…

Listen, he said, I had another dream…

Genesis 37:6b; 9b

Note the command in Joseph’s voice as he approaches his brothers. He’s just a kid, but he’s been treated as though he is special his entire life. Probably pampered and a little spoiled. It seems as though he expects his brothers to, what? Congratulate him?  

I don’t know about you, but in my experience, there is nothing like the kind of jealousy that comes with sibling rivalry. It burrows into your heart and then spreads like a cancer destroying the good from the inside out. Joseph either didn’t see the jealousy and hate of his brothers, or he didn’t want to see it. I guess we could call it naivete, but I’ve worked with teenagers long enough to know that a good looking seventeen-year-old (Genesis 37:2) knows what buttons to push and is just arrogant enough to believe himself invulnerable to harm.

One of the most humbling verses in the Bible comes in Daniel 4:37b which says: 

Everything He does is right and He does it the right way. He knows how to turn a proud person into a humble man or woman (Msg).

These verses in context are spoken by King Nebuchadnezzar after his seven times of crazy wandering the desert–a direct result of his overwhelming pride. He speaks these words about God, recognizing the importance of humility in the face of th Almighty.

God had big plans for Joseph, but Joseph wasn’t ready to walk into his destiny at 17. He was proud and arrogant, perhaps as a result of his father’s favoritism. There is a big difference between confidence and cockiness. God wanted Joseph to be confident of his position, but Joseph needed a little humbling before that purpose could be fulfilled.

Humbling Joseph

God uses everything in our lives to a good and fulfilling purpose. Sometimes that is hard to understand or even accept, especially when the things happening to us are terrible and unfair. Genesis 37:18-36 outlines the process by which Joseph was humbled and it came in the form of years of enslavement, punishment, and a sense of abandonment. Whether or not you agree with the brothers’ anger, I think we can all agree that they over-react! Note that there are several different plots going down here, so I’m thinking this might not be pre-meditated, but I do think they’ve been chatting about this, maybe joking, for a while until it’s not such a joke anymore.

Regardless of what the brothers hoped to get out of their evil plan, they didn’t earn their father’s favor. As with most sin, instead of gaining what they’d hoped for, they lost pretty much everything. Because that’s what sin is: a lie. We tell ourselves it’ll be worth it, but in the end all we get is heartache and usually a whole lot of guilt and shame. 

Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash

Fortunately, there is always hope even in the midst of our mistakes. Over and over again in scripture, we see this story of redemption playing out in God’s people. Proof of Romans 8: 28:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28 NIV

Sure, the brothers made a mistake, even Judah and Rueben who attempted to save Joseph went along with the plan instead of standing up to their brothers.  And let’s face it, a half sin is still sin, and they dealt with the consequences along with the others. Fortunately, as is true with us, God took this terrible sin and worked it for His purpose and ultimately the good of Joseph himself.

Because that’s what sin is: a lie. We tell ourselves it’ll be worth it, but in the end, all we get is heartache and usually a whole lot of guilt and shame.

Work in Progress

Genesis 39 picks up with Joseph’s new life. Having been sold into slavery, he thought the worst was behind him. He settled into Potiphar’s household as a humble servant…or did he? He was definitely a slave, but Joseph seventeen…maybe eighteen by now and a total babe (Genesis 39:6b). Charismatic, young, and smoking hot–not at all a dangerous combo (*sarcasm*). No wonder he needed a little humbling. While I admire beautiful people in this world, I’m not entirely sad that I am not a part of this club. Beauty comes with it’s own set of issues, and Joseph found this out the hard way. Quickly rising to a position of power and trust in the household, Joseph let’s down his guard and God uses the opportunity to finish the humbling process. 

A quick run down of the story: Joseph is Potiphar’s trusted servant, and puts him in charge of the household. Potiphar’s wife sees this yummy new slave in her home and gets the hots for him. She makes her move, and he rejects her. BUT, here’s why I believe Joseph was still fighting the sin of pride even as a slave in Potiphar’s household:

  1. Genesis 39:10 says she came to him day after day. Yes, he rejects her, but I think he might like the attention. Why? Because she keeps coming back day after day. Ladies, track with me here, I don’t know about you but when I am truly rejected by a man I don’t typically continue to pursue it. Now I’m not the kind of woman who would cheat on my spouse, but rejection stings no matter what. I don’t know that she would be quite as persistent if he had really rejected her firmly. 
  2. Joseph knows she has the hots for him, and when he enters the house and there are no other servants present, alarm bells do not go off in his head (Genesis 39:11). He’s not stupid. He knows what’s up, and he should have gotten the heck of dodge before he even came into contact with her, and yet he gets close enough to her that she can grab his cloak…AND she rips it off of him…a woman is able to take off the cloak of a built eighteen-year-old?  Something fishy is going on here.
  3. He never tells Potiphar about the advances. I know it’s not easy to take these kinds of situations to the person in authority, but it might have solved a lot of problems if Joseph had manned up and told Potiphar of his concerns from the get go. Communication is not at the top of a proud person’s to-do list. Do you know why? They think they can handle it all themselves. And usually, they can’t. 

Photo by Alberto Bobbera on Unsplash

Now I’m not trying to disparage Joseph’s reputation here, but I would like for us to recognize that he is human, and he’s still a kid. God has a purpose for all of us, and sometimes that requires that he breaks something in us before he can build us into what he wants us to be. Through it all, though, he is with us, just as he was with Joseph (notice the bookends of chapter 39: verse 2 and verse 21).

In Genesis 40, Joseph is in prison, but he has risen to a position of power (again) within the hierarchy of the prison because the Lord was with him and gave him success. When two men are cast into the prison by pharaoh, it comes to light that Joseph has been given the ability to interpret dreams.

The chapter recounts the significance of the interpretations, mostly that the cupbearer will be restored in three days and the baker will be killed in three days by the pharaoh. But I note a significant difference in the dreams from the beginning and the dreams from this chapter and the difference is in Joseph’s heart:

Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams”

Genesis 40:8b

No longer commanding that others listen to him, Joseph gives all the glory to God and God alone. 

Unfortunately, when the dreams come to pass, 

The chief cupbeaer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him. 

Genesis 40:23

Those three words, aside from “Jesus wept” might be the most devastating in the Bible. Being forgotten is the WORST. Feeling forgotten is just as bad. It would be two years (Genesis 41:1) before he was remembered and that’s a long time in prison when you had a little hope that was snatched away from you at the last second. And let us remember–he was in prison. Even an elevated position in prison is still prison and an ancient prison would not have been a great place to be. 

Genesis 41: 46 gives us a clearer indication of how long this humbling process lasted–he was 17 when he was sold into slavery and 30 when he entered the pharaoh’s service. That’s 13 years. And his response to Pharaoh in Genesis 41:16 proves the process was a successful one.

“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “But God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”

NIV

Although Joseph was in a season of waiting, he was under God’s protection and authority throughout those many years. The story ends in Genesis 41:39-40 with the fulfillment of Joseph’s original dreams. As the man in charge of 7 years of abundance, he becomes a good steward of God’s blessings and as such during the 7 years of famine he ensures the kingdom will still prosper, which leads to his brothers bowing before him in Genesis
42:6. It was a long process before we get to Joseph’s declaration and forgiveness, but it is clear that Joseph believes God is at the center of everything: trials and blessings. A true story of suffering, redemption, and exaltation that points straight back to Jesus. 

Waiting…

Having been in a long season of waiting myself, I can relate to Joseph and his 13 years of waiting and wondering if anyone will ever remember him. Although his attitude left much to be desired, he did nothing wrong to be enslaved and imprisoned, and honestly, that’s how life works sometimes. Life is not fair. But God never promised that life would be fair. However, he did promise to work things out for our good and for His purpose. The reality is we think we know what is for the best, but He always knows what is best. Even if we can’t understand it.

Photo by Sam Mgrdichian on Unsplash

Authentic :: Cain and Abel

When I was about 12, I convinced myself that my parents loved my siblings more than they loved me. My sister, I decided, was most like my mom, so logically that meant she liked my sister better than me. My brother,
being the only boy and, in my mind, a make-up for the mistake of having a second girl instead of a boy, was obviously liked better by my dad. Which left me in the middle, stuck in this mind-space and convinced I was
unwanted, unloved, and a mistake.

Now let me be clear. My parents are WONDERFUL people and they NEVER  did anything to feed this belief; it was simply the enemy attacking my insecurities as quickly as I would let him in. And honestly, I let that belief go on for a lot longer than it should have and as a result, it poisoned my relationship with God. I came to believe that God, like I projected on my parents, played favorites. There was nothing particularly special about me, so clearly, I was not a favorite.

And then I started looking at the world around me. Why did some people receive healing and others die of cancer? Why did the Smiths have four children, all taken away to foster care out of an abusive home, while the Joneses were infertile? These questions plagued me, because, it seemed, some people, good people, experienced the pleasure and blessings of God and some people simply did not. And, to me, there was no logic in the how or why, so that must mean that God played favorites, just like I believed my parents did.


Right?

Um, no. No, no, no, no, no, no. No!

Just like the enemy played on my skewed perception of myself, he
LOVES to use this argument to poison our relationship with God. But it simply isn’t true. Cain and Abel, well they prove that.

Genesis 4:1-5 begins the chronicle of the very first set of siblings. We don’t get a lot of Cain and Abel’s background; almost none about their
childhood, but it does appear as though one brother is favored over the other. 

Photo by Marcus Wallis on Unsplash

However, it’s been my experience that within the first few minutes of getting to know a person, you can usually decide how you feel about them. At least on some level. Whether that’s fair or not, I don’t know, but we make judgments about people based on their actions, words, and reactions all the time. It’s human nature. In the beginning, both brothers appear to be following the same natural direction of offering thanks to the God who gave them life, but a second glance reveals something distinct about the two: their motivations are vastly different.

Abel Gives with a Gracious Heart

Verse 3 is the crux: Abel brought the fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock (NIV). In other words, he brought the best of the best to lay before the throne of God. If we read Numbers 18:12 we are reminded that the Lord expects us to show our gratitude by giving back all the best of what we have been blessed with. Granted, the laws haven’t actually been set yet, but that’s not really the point. God sees our hearts and knows if our giving is out of gratitude for His love, grace, and mercy, or if it is out of obligation and a misguided notion that doing the right thing will earn us brownie points which we store up to prove our worth when we inevitably screw things up.

Photo by Anna Kolosyuk on Unsplash

The fact is, we can’t buy our way into God’s grace–that’s the antithesis of grace and all it stands for. Abel epitomizes Psalm 147:10-11

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor His delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. 

Abel gains the Lord’s favor, not for being Abel but for having a heart that seeks to delight in the Lord (Hebrews 11:4; 1 John 3: 12). But just because the Lord delights in us, doesn’t mean we will always have an easy life. We know how this story ends, and it’s not with Abel being made King of the world. No, injustice seems to triumph as Cain brutally murders his brother and Abel’s blood calls out to the Lord from the ground (Genesis 4:10). As with much of this world, appearances can be deceiving. As it turns out this unfortunate situation is just the beginning of a greater redemption story. Abel’s sacrifice, of his flock and, as it turned out, his life wasn’t a mistake. God doesn’t make those. As hard as it is for us to understand, sometimes the righteous are persecuted and even murdered, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t ‘go well for them’ (Genesis 4: 7). On this side of heaven, we don’t always see the whole picture, but Abel was ultimately rewarded. And, his life and death pointed us directly to Jesus, whose blood still cries out from the Earth to God who uses it to cleans all of us, unworthy sinners though we may be (Hebrews 12: 24).

Cain Gives out of Obligation

In Genesis 4:3 we see Cain’s sacrifice is less than worthy in the added adjective of some compared to Abel’s best. If we take a look at Deuteronomy 6:5 and 10:12-13 we see that we are commanded to love the Lord with ALL our heart, mind and strength, not SOME. The whole purpose of a sacrifice or offering is to present the best to the Lord, not your leftovers.  A closer look at the situation shows that God is not playing favorites, but drawing near to those who draw near to him. Not so shockingly, this relationship is meant to be reciprocal! So many times we are quick to discount God in our lives, saying that he’s failed us so there is no reason for us to pursue a relationship with him. But that is total crap, if you’ll excuse the crass language. Relationships aren’t built on what you get out of them, but what you put in. Biblical revelation is predicated on the breakdown of this human/God relationship and God’s constant pull to redeem us–so much so that he sent his son, who even though he gave everything we still reject on a regular basis.  

The whole purpose of a sacrifice or offering is to present the best to the Lord, not your leftovers.

Some Cheese to go with the Whine? 

After his offering is rejected, Cain sulks (Genesis 4:6-7)…like a baby. Despite this attitude, God personally speaks to Cain. He doesn’t ignore his whining as my parents would have done (with good reason—let’s just say I was a world class sulker back in the day. And if I’m truly honest, I’ll admit that I can still throw a world-class pity party on occasion). No, God doesn’t ignore him, he encourages Cain. Even though he already knows what is in Cain’s heart and the path he will choose, God still cares enough about his child to point him down the right path. Which he repeats over and over in scripture: 

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it. 

Genesis 4:7

The same command is repeated in Deuteronomy 4:40; 5:16,33; 6:3,18; Jeremiah 7:23; 38:20; 42:6; Ephesians 6:2-3. God makes Cain a promise: do what is right and it will go well for you. I love how simple this command is, and also how true. Now that doesn’t mean that all good people will be wealthy and healthy–that’s the world’s view of ‘go well’. God’s version is much more eccentric, but also more fulfilling. Cain is whining and angry because he’s embarrassed that his little brother ‘won’ the favor of God–which is ultimately the best prize there is. In the end, Cain murdered Abel out of jealousy and vengeance. His heart was hard and cold, but God’s definition of “go well with you” different from the world’s. Yes, bad things happen to good people, but this life is just a blip on the eternity radar and the best things will happen to those who love God with their whole being–even if we don’t experience it until we are in his presence. 

A Redemption Story

The story comes to a close in Genesis 4:13-17 where redemption and grace are always offered by God. Even to Cain, and, it appears he accepted (I hope). Although it’s hard to say given Lamech’s (Cain’s great-great-great-
grandson) declaration in verses 22-24 whether or not Cain changed, he at least taught his sons what it is to sin and be punished for it.

Balancing grace with holiness is tricky business. He commands our obedience as a byproduct of our relationship (John 14:15), but we can’t obey our way out of our sinful natures. One hard truth I’ve come to terms with is that I identify a lot more with Cain than with Abel. I get angry and embarrassed when I fall short of God’s expectations, but instead of heeding the advice of my father to do what is right, I sometimes rebel and do what I think is right–and that is not the same thing. And so I have to find some practical things to master the sin that is constantly crouching at my door. One thing I’ve learned works for me is having someone to hold me accountable. There is nothing quite like having a sister in Christ who knows you well point out that you are believing a lie. Yeah, it hurts, but it also makes me strive to do better. After I get over wanting to kick them in the teeth for pointing it out in the first place (kidding…mostly). 

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash2

Worshiping God the Right Way

Believe it or not, there is a right and a wrong way to worship the Lord. No, I don’t mean there are certain kinds of instruments or songs that the Lord appreciates the most. Worshiping well has to do with your motivation. Seriously, check out Jeremiah 7—In this chapter, the people are going to the temple and doing everything right, but their hearts are all wrong! It’s not having the perfect worship set or the best pre-roll and pictures, or even having an order of service that is never flawed. Worship is about having your heart set in the right place every. single. time. Knowing that all you have belongs to Him and He expects you to love him with ALL your heart, soul, and mind.  All the time. 

Worshiping and loving God means obeying his commands. Do what is right, and it will go well with you. We see this from Genesis to Revelation. We don’t obey God because we have to (grace, remember?), we obey because it is a reflection of our deep love for Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:12-18). We deserve nothing but are given everything–favored by God when we seek His heart with our whole hearts. 

Authentic :: Miriam

It’s not easy being a big sister. When I was a kid, I felt personally responsible for my little brother. Like the one time that he was being a jerk (at least from my perspective) and I felt personally responsible to teach him a lesson, so I locked him outside in his underwear (not advisable btw). Or maybe the many times I took it upon myself to lecture him in ways I really had no right to. Regardless, I felt responsible for my brother because I had been given a calling—my birthright, I truly believed, was to teach, scold, and protect this little sibling of mine, no matter the cost.

I imagine that’s just a smidgen of what Miriam felt for her two little brothers, Aaron and Moses. At a young age (maybe even as young as six), she took on an enormous responsibility—it was her job to save her brother’s life. Or rather to be God’s hands and feet as He protected this future leader and liberator of His people. This early life event shaped her into the bold and clever leader she was to become for the Israelite people, and ultimately all of humanity. But it was also the source of her greatest flaws: pride and jealousy.

Boy can I relate.

We are first introduced to Miriam in Exodus 1:21-2:8. She was just a child when she was tasked to protect her brother from annihilation ordered by the Pharaoh of Egypt. Some accounts claim that she is as old as 12, but many others consider her as young as 6. Regardless, she felt the weight of the responsibility given to her, and we can draw a lot of conclusions about her character if we examine her actions carefully.

Miriam was bold

We aren’t told her thoughts, but I can’t help but wonder what might have gone through her mind as she watched her baby brother float down the river. So close, and yet so far from her reach what could she do but cry out to the Lord for protection from whatever might have been waiting for him in the river. A special bond exists between siblings and a little bit of Miriam’s own heart floated down the river with her brother in that basket. It would have been easy for this young girl to give into the emotions that surely followed her. Fear, especially. Not only for her little brother but for herself. I seriously doubt she had a lot of free time given that she and her family were enslaved to the Egyptians. Yet here she was a young girl who should have been somewhere else following a basked down the river heading straight to the palace…and guards…and men…and dangers all too real for a young slave girl all by herself. But she didn’t let the fear control her, instead, she stepped into the risk.

Miriam was clever

As Moses neared the palace, Miriam had to think quickly and creatively to save her brother’s life. After the decree to drown all Hebrew males had come straight from the Pharoh himself, so it was unlikely he’d be a lot of help. Seeing the kindness in the princess, Miriam speaks up–coming out of the shadows and offering a plan to the empathetic royal. I can just imagine how this scene played out…

Miriam hid among the reeds where she had been watching her brother’s basket drift closer and closer to shore, giving it a push here and there to keep it moving. Then she sees her, the princess. Had she ever seen anyone so beautiful? Decked out in gold and painted face, she surrounded herself with servants, yet her heart still ached for something more. Could this princess who had everything be lonely? Even barren? Miriam didn’t know about that, but she knew a miracle when she saw it–her abba had told her all about the Hebrew Joseph who had worked is way up in the palace as second in command. Why couldn’t her brother do the same if he was raised by this princess?

Yes, I see Miriam’s creative mind just playing out the future as she steps forward and offers a solution to the princess and brings her brother back to her mother safe and sound.

Miriam was a leader

The next time we see Miriam show up in the narrative is after the parting of the Red Sea. But a lot happened in between that time. Moses murdered an Egyptian, fled the country, married a Midianite, talked to a burning bush, returned to Egypt with Aaron as his mouthpiece, commanded the Israelites freedom, called out plagues from God, and led the people out. We aren’t told that Miriam is involved, but I think it’s safe to infer that while not involved in the “male only club” of the palace, she had her own role to play. I like to think that while plague after plague came down from the palace she rallied the women and encouraged them in ways her brothers could not. 

Miriam’s leadership is highlighted for the first time when we read Exodus 15:20-21. Although Miriam’s song follows Moses’ and is much shorter than her brother’s, the significance of these verses is profound.  Miriam is called a prophetess, a title given to only a handful of women in ancient times, which meant they had charismatic gifts similar to that of men. And then she danced! Not only that, but the women followed her lead. This kind of singing is known as antiphonal. Two groups perform, one sings, the other responds. To me, this shows Miriam’s place in this exodus was not relegated to the kitchen or nursery, but front and center with her brothers.

Miriam’s struggles are much like our own

The narrative takes a drastic turn the next time Miriam is mentioned. In Numbers 12:1-16  we see her major flaws: pride and jealousy. Miriam and Aaron approach Moses and criticize his choices, but more importantly, they are criticizing God’s choices. Given that Miriam’s name is mentioned first, I hazard to guess that she’s somewhat of the ringleader in this situation; maybe said a little something to Aaron in private and then confronted Moses with a “and Aaron agrees with me” kind of thing, which may explain the harshness of her punishment on some level (when it seems Aaron is kind of off the hook). Mind you, that’s my interpretation given just how much I identify with this Miriam, regardless of how it went down, it clearly was not ordained by God. This is jealousy (which I’ll get to in a moment) for sure, but I think it also shows just how insecure she is as a female leader in the patriarchal community.

Registering concern or even criticism with your leaders is not a bad thing, but the way in which you go about it can be. Miriam made some classic mistakes we’ve all fallen into.

  1. She chose to confront Moses publicly in an attempt to undermine his authority.
  2. Her reasons were self-serving, not God-serving.
  3. Her motivation was rooted in jealousy, not in following God’s will. I take note that the narrative never mentions Miriam’s marriage, children or lineage. Maybe she had them and the text didn’t mention it, but as a 33-year-old single woman myself, I think this digs into the heart of her jealousy too. 

It’s important for us to understand how and why authority has been given to our leaders and to speak up when it seems those in authority have strayed from God’s purpose. However, it’s equally important for us to remember who placed our leaders in authority and to examine our motives very carefully before proceeding. Ultimately all authority on Earth is granted by God and it’s important for us to respect the authority He has enabled, but to keep in mind that we are not ruled by the authority on Earth alone, but by God’s law and if something contradicts that authority then we speak out. How we speak out, however, is important and it is on our motives and actions that God holds us personally responsible.

It’s equally important for us to remember who placed our leaders in authority and to examine our motives very carefully before proceeding.

Miriam adds value just in being herself

Some commentators see a connection between the three leaders of Israel and the supernatural provisions of God. We could take time to examine and debate the symbolism related to Moses as the provision of Manna (daily bread), Aaron to the cloud (God’s presence) and Miriam to the provision of water.  But that’s not really the point of this post. Even so, as an English teacher, I can’t ignore the fact that Miriam’s introduction begins with water (the Nile and her brother) and ends with water (she dies and water becomes scarce again) in Numbers 20: 1-2. What does this reveal to us about Miriam’s character? I don’t know. No, really, I don’t but given that nothing happens by accident, God speaks through this. To me, it speaks of Miriam’s redemption story, because we all have one and to be authentic, we should probably learn to recognize it in ourselves as well as others.

Micah 6:4 is probably my favorite verse about Miriam. God claims her as a great leader, equal to that of Moses and Aaron. Not because of the babies she bore, but because of her boldness and commitment to Him and His people. Yes, she had flaws, but she was also chosen by God for a greater purpose. As we all are if only we’d listen!

Miriam teaches us to be more authentic

Despite the odds against her as a woman in an ancient, patriarchal society, God chose Miriam to be a protector and leader in her community. He used her strengths to save an entire people group from genocide. Feminine doesn’t have to mean fragile. Miriam was fierce and bold. She seized opportunities as they arose. Miriam is proof that women can be powerful leaders when following God’s will and purpose. BUT, it is important that women and men check their motivations, know their strengths and work to overcome their weaknesses when stepping up and calling out.

Feminine doesn’t have to mean fragile.

God uses our strengths to influence our communities and families. One of my greatest strengths is my organization and planning. I have an uncanny ability to see multiple possible outcomes and plan to achieve what I think would be the best one in the most effective ways. God uses this in tandem with my heart for teenagers and while I am not always able to connect emotionally I can ensure a safe and productive environment for them to learn and grow. It has also helped keep my family in communication sometimes. Granted it doesn’t always work and my own schedule can sometimes get in the way, but that is just an example of how God uses my strengths…and forgives my weakness, because while I am great at being organized I am not exactly the most flexible person in the world and the anxiety that accompanies this can be offputting at best and a great hinderance at worst.

Which brings me back to my siblings and while it’s true that I believed, my job was to teach, scold, and protect this little brother of mine, no matter the cost, over the years I found the cost to be too great. It is hard to build a true relationship with someone when you constantly believe you are right and they are wrong. Or worse, that they should change to please you. Miriam struggled with pride and jealousy, and if I’m honest that’s where a lot of my problems in life sit as well. In the end, when we allow jealousy and pride to color the way we treat others we are getting in the way of God’s plans for our authenticity. Trying to be like someone else is not living as an image of God and this should help us improve, well, pretty much everything.

All photos are stock images from www.pexels.com and used with licensing permissions. 

Authentic

I’ve decided to start a new series of posts based on the Bible studies I’ve been writing for the young women at our church. This series is called authentic. Did you know authentic by definition means real, genuine, not copied or false–but my favorite part of the definition is the last made to be or look just like an original

Genesis 1:26-28 says:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own  image, in the mage of God he created him; male and female he created them. 

(ESV, emphasis mine)

That means God literally created us to be authentic–just like the original (himself)–with power, authority and ownership over the things of this earth. 

Stock photo from www.pexels.com

His word is filled with examples of God drawing his people back into their true authentic purpose. It is not a collection of fairy tales or outdated history. It is alive and can teach us about our lives and our own God-given purpose. These stories teach us to be authentic and remind us who the real protagonist of the Bible is. Not us, but God.

Stay tuned for the first installment (published 8/12/18)