Tag Archives: God’s plan

Authentic :: Tamar part 2

A tale of two Tamars continues several decades after the story of Tamar and Judah. This time, Tamar is a princess, born to a life of privilege and tragedy. 

Tamar the Princess

Tamar had a childhood unlike any other, growing up with not only a king for a father, but arguably one of the most famous kings of all time. The King. King David.  

Photo by Ashton Mullins on Unsplash

You see, Tamar and Absalom were siblings of incredible beauty. True royalty, they had everything…including a big, complicated modern family. After all, when daddy has over eight wives (and a number of concubines), life is bound to get interesting. And, in Tamar’s case, dangerous.  

The long and short of it is this (2 Samuel 13:1-9): Amnon, Tamar’s half brother, fell in love with his half sister (recall that while this was not uncommon for the time period, it was not exactly condoned either). His friend/cousin, Jonadab , noticed how Amnon lusted after Tamar and devised a plan for some…romance…well, for some alone time at least. Amnon would pretend to be sick and ask dear ol’ dad to send his sister to cook some food for him. He wanted to eat it out of her hand, because they were so close I guess. David agreed. Tamar agreed. Tamar made the food, but Amnon refused it and sent everyone home…except Tamar. ‘Come feed me in my bedroom,’ he said. Tamar agreed, suspecting nothing, after all this is her brother with whom she should be safe. But in the height of the #metoo movement of the 21st century we see just where this is going.

As you can imagine, there is a lot going on in this story, which 2 Samuel 13: 10-19 wastes no time in getting to the crux of the story. Amnon requests Tamar to come into his bedroom to “feed him” but it isn’t his stomach that is aching to be satisfied—it’s another piece of anatomy. Tamar brings in the food and he grabs her, asking for her to sleep with him. When she refuses, asking him to do the honorable thing and marry her first (“[my father] will not withhold me from you”), he takes what he wants—forcefully and without hesitation.

Out of Control

Sadly, this is not an uncommon story in world history. This kind of violence and deception was the whole reason why 98% of the time women in a royal household were put under the protection of heavily guarded eunuchs. Regardless, the moment Amnon got what he thought he wanted, his mind and emotions changed and rather than listening to his sister’s pleas he cast her out—thereby completing her shame and dashing all hopes she had for any kind of happily ever after. What’s more, this one act would throw the entire kingdom in a state of utter turmoil as siblings see violence as a means to an end, and their father stand by and do…nothing.

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Heinous crimes, unfortunately, will always be a fact of this fallen and broken world. We shouldn’t ignore this story, we should learn from it, as we do from all that is in God’s word. Let’s face it, the hard issues like this is what we need to talk about—what we need to learn from because life isn’t easy and while intellectually we know that ‘everything happens for a reason’, that doesn’t make it any easier. But knowing that God doesn’t make mistakes should give us hope that no matter what we experience, redemption and grace are always ours for the claiming.

All Actions (and inactions) Have Consequences

No matter what, our actions have far reaching effects and once we commit to a decision—good or bad—we lose control over what will happen next. Humans like to think that we have control, or at least that we can maintain some kind of control, but the fact is human control is an illusion. Tamar probably felt that she had the situation in hand. Sure, the requests her brother made were a little unorthodox, but it is so easy to feel in control when you are safe. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am in NO WAY blaming or victim shaming Tamar for how this story plays out. I’m simply pointing out that at every moment in our lives our decisions lead us down paths and into situations that can quickly get ‘out of control’. So Tamar says yes to the first unorthodox request, because her father sent her and she loves her brother in the way all sisters should.

By the time her brother has cleared the room and receded into his bed chamber, I hazard to guess that Tamar is feeling a little uneasy. She’s been sheltered her entire life, kept under close watch by servants and eunuchs, and suddenly she is alone in a room with a man who, culturally, could be a potential match for her (as she admits when she pleads with him). Tamar must have been pretty young, still a virgin, and not yet married off to a political match, so the attention she receives in this moment from her older brother—and the heir to the throne—probably felt kind of nice at first. All young girls like to feel special and her brother asked for her specifically. So, she draws close, still feeling in control, until he grabs her and everything changes. He asks, she refuses and begs, he takea—unraveling a series of events that will change the course of Hebrew history forever. Those actions, those moments would lead to Tamar’s shame, Amnon’s death, Absolom’s banishment, and conflict in David’s family forever.

But still, God was in control—God was there even in the midst of the tragedy—but in our fallen world we can never forget that all our actions (even ones out of our control) have consequences.

Emotions are Decieving and Capricious

I hate the term ‘fell in love’, because it implies so many things about love that are not really accurate descriptions of love. Amnon used “falling in love” as an excuse to do whatever he wanted—especially when a friend petted his ego enough to remind him of his position and ‘rights’ as a son of a king. Amnon confused “falling in love” with obsession and lust—because if he was really in love he wouldn’t be impatient to ‘get his hands on her’. He would want what was best for her—even if it meant that he had to sacrifice something he valued. After all, he should know that God is love, and as a God of love, he is constantly making sacrifices for his people. If nothing else, he should have at least heard those stories. But, his arrogance overrode his common sense, which is why when he got what he thought he wanted from Tamar his love turned to hate and shame. Momentary pleasure is always fleeting. And, our actions have consequences. Amnon didn’t think about the far reaching effects, he didn’t think about Tamar’s well-being, and, in fact, he ignored what would be best for himself and the kingdom. He sought that one pleasure that he believed would make him happy, and instead it made him miserable, which is exactly what happens when we let our emotions get the best of our common sense.

Leadership begins at Home

King David is known as the man after God’s own heart, but this story just reminds me that despite this, he was still an incredibly flawed man. First, he was gullible and didn’t see any flaws in his own children. Having been a teacher for over ten years and having had my own encounters with parents—this is a common theme I’ve noticed. For some reason it is easy to see the flaws in everyone but our own kids, which is why not only did he allow Tamar to be put in such a vulnerable position, he refused to do anything to fix the situation after it had erupted into chaos and as a result his second son, Absolom (Tamar’s full blooded brother) felt the need to take matters not his own hands. David’s lack of discipline and leadership in his own family also had far reaching consequences

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When Justice Eludes

2 Samuel 13:20-29; 37 picks up the story of these consequences, which includes the death of Amnon and the exile of Absolom and the heartbreak of David. Tamar is never mentioned again, and we are left to mourn her shattered life, knowing only that her brother took her into his own household and by all appearances moved on with their lives until the time was right and then he struck. But revenge is not the same thing as justice.

Tamar’s life took a drastically different path than the one she had dreamed of, and we don’t know exactly where she ended up, but I can see two likely scenarios.

One, Tamar lived out the rest of her days in bitter mourning over what she lost.

Two, Tamar sought God in her moment of despair, because even when her brother got the revenge she so rightly deserved, the consequences remained. Justice will only be found in the safe, forgiving, reedeeming power of Yahweh. Only then could she find a new, potentially satisfying life, despite the trauma of her past.

And we are left with the same choices when life doesn’t go as we planned. Our emotions are capricious, our control is illusive, but God is constant, and it is up to us to decide if we will run to or away from God no matter what life throws at us.

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Authentic :: Mary

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary the last couple of weeks. For obvious reasons, given that it is the Christmas season and she gets a lot of press this time of year, but also for the fact that she absolutely astounds me. No, really. We are talking about a teenager who said yes to something that would radically alter her life without seemingly thinking twice about it. I’ve worked with a lot of teenagers over the years (let’s see roughly 25-30 per class, 6ish classes a year, 12 years…That’s like 1,800- 2,160 teens) and a good many of those teens do not accept authority, suggestion or direction; you tell them to do something at least 3 times with a personal anecdote about why they should and a good bit of the time (I don’t know the exact percentage), they do the opposite or at least not exactly what you advise and then come back and ask you what went wrong. Despite the permanent facepalm imprint on my forehead, all I know to tell them is: you didn’t listen.

Mary was one of those rare exceptions. The angel told her what to do and she did it. Now I’m not dogging teens, cause quite frankly it’s not just a teenage problem. It’s a faith problem and I’m not sure I have the kind of faith Mary had. Of course I hope I do, but let’s just say there are many reasons why God didn’t choose me to be the vessel that would birth his one and only son. 

Greatly Troubled

Luke has always been my favorite gospel. The man was a doctor and his logical approach to these happenings make everything seem less ‘fairytale’ and more real. He starts off the Gospel in chapter 1: 3 stating that he has “carefully investaged everything” and will write an “orderly account”. This makes my type one heart just soar with expectation—because Luke, well, he just gets me. His gospel starts from the beginning with John the Baptist before we ever hear about Mary, but then he is the only one who gives us an account of Mary’s experience. Starting in chapter 1: 26-38, he carefully documents the encounter. And clearly this is written by a man, because we are not given a lot of information about how Mary reacts other than upon hearing the news that she is “highly favored”, she is “greatly troubled.”

Her reaction to this greeting is curious, but let’s get real. No matter what this angel had said, Mary was probably freaking out. To put it in perspective: Mary couldn’t have been more than about sixteen (chances are she was younger since she was ‘pledged to be married’ and that could happen at a very young age in ancient cultures). This giagantice man-angel, who had to be pretty darn intimidating, appears to her—alone. The first thing you are going to wonder is if you had too much wine with the last meal, long before you ever register what the man is actually saying. However, the fact that the text tells us that she is reacting to the words and wondering what it might mean (vs. 29), reveals more about her character than anything else. 

When you are told you are ‘highly favored’, we can expect one of three reactions: 

  1. Blatant pride (‘Of course I am. I’m me and I’m the greatest. Who wouldn’t favor me’) 
  2. False humility (‘Oh stop it. I’m not that great, after all!’)
  3. True humility (‘Come again? What do you mean?’)

Mary wasn’t faking—she was truly humble in a moment that could have puffed her up, she wondered at what the greeting could mean. I would like to say that I’d respond in the same way to those words, but the truth is, I spend most of my life hungering after words of affirmation and when I get them I’m more on the #2 reaction where I say ‘Oh, stop’ but really I feel in my heart that I deserve every bit of that praise. I’m not saying that reactions one and two are always bad, but God certainly appreciates a truly humble heart and I don’t think he would have chosen Mary if he didn’t know that her humility was genuine. After all, we really don’t deserve any kind of acknowledgement for our ‘awesomeness’ because each and every one of us is a sinner and the only one who really deserves the praise is God. Not that we can’t appreciate others for what value they bring to our lives, but we can definitely lean more toward ‘greatly troubled’ and away from ‘proudly justified’ as we strive to be more like Jesus—or in this case, his mother. 

I am the Lord’s Servant

Again, in Mary’s response in vs. 38 I think perspective is colored by the gender of the author, but also because the author had no way of being inside Mary’s head. Yes, ultimately she said “I am the Lord’s servant” and that may have been the end of the story…but I wonder if she didn’t have a slightly longer conversation with the angel. Women—even in ancient cultures—tend to want a few more details than what is recorded in history. Times have changed, but the nature of a woman’s needs have not. I suspect there is a little more to that conversation, but Luke’s pragamtism and second hand account leaves us with the finality of Mary’s response, which, after all, is all we need to know. I’m not suggesting that she turned the angel down at first, but I am suggesting that she may have hesitated, or wept, or asked ‘why me?’ Not in a bitter, surly way, but in a humble—how could the Lord possibly think I’m worthy of this?—way. Like the first time a mother holds her first born child. She looks down at that infant in absolute wonder that not only did she help create that little human, but that God entrusted her with this little human’s life and she wonders, what have I done to deserve such a blessing? 

And the truth is, it’s not what you have done, Mary (or any of us), it’s the potential the Lord sees in us that showers us with his blessing and favor. God didn’t choose Mary because she got all A’s on her report card and swept the house the right way every day, or because she could make a perfect latke. No, he choose her because he saw her heart and he knew that she would say yes in the right way and be a conduit for the rest of his plan. Just like he sees in each of us the potential to fulfill his plan and entrusts us with what he knows each of us can be successful with. 

Each of us has a choice, like Mary, every day. We can say “I am the Lord’s servant” or we can say “I am my own servant” and that choice defines how and where our lives will run. As Joshua so elegantly puts it: “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euprhrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living..” or yourself and the gods of America, the money, power and narcisism that runs rampart in our world (Joshua 24:15). It is up to us to decide. Mary could have said ‘thanks, but I’d rather live the picket-fence life Jospeh and I had planned.’ She could have seen her pristine reputation as proof that she was still favored when she turned the Lord down, and he would have found another vessel. His plan is never derailed by our choices. But he knew she wouldn’t say no. Because she choose to serve the Lord—she chose a hard path, but the only one that would bless her in the long run: to serve the Lord no matter the consequences. 

And the truth is, it’s not what you have done, Mary (or any of us), it’s the potential the Lord sees in us that showers us with his blessing and favor. 

Community Support

The most realistic part of this account, to me, is not Mary’s response to the angel. It’s not her humility. It’s not the fact that it all came to pass. To me it’s that the second the angel left, and she ‘hurried’—ya’ll she RAN to Elizabeth, her girlfriend. Because all ladies know that when something is going to change your life, you go and find another lady who is older, wiser, and who has some experience with angel visits, and you spill your guts out to her. I love that not only did she run to her, she shared her heart. They laughed, they cried, and girls, you better believe, they sang together. Because let’s face it, 2000 years has not changed girl talk or slumber parties. There will always be secrets shared and songs sung. And boy did these two ladies share secrets: miracle babies and unimaginable blessings—promises through the pain that living in a broken world would inevitably bring. Because let’s face it: this was a happy moment that would soon be followed by heartache, judgement and hardship. Mary risked everything in saying yes to the Lord, and she knew she would need support and instead of wallowing in uncertainty she RAN to the support that God provided: Elizabeth. 

It’s hard sometimes to recognize that we need support outside ourselves. Our culture preaches independence and self reliance. But God did not intend for us to live life that way. In the very beginning he stated: “…It is not good for man to be alone…” (Genesis 2:18) and that rings true even today. Living a Christian life is not easy. In fact, it’s downright hard sometimes. Look at Mary: she had it all (reputation, favor, a fiancé)—and then she said yes to God and nearly lost it all. But God is faithful and the community he builds for us is meant to support us in all of the hardships that accompany saying yes to God and living counter-culturally. 

Photo by Court Prather on Unsplash

Saying yes was risky, but saying no even more so. After all, it was that one simple act of obedience that quite literally saved the world. 

Authentic :: Deborah & Jael

As a woman of the 21st century, I have a special place in my heart for strong, intelligent women who can take charge while at the same time maintaining respect for everyone around her. It’s a tightrope not many women walk gracefully. Personally, I am hanging on to the tightrope with my feet dangling beneath more more often than I balance there. 

Currently, in my Bible study, we are going through the book of Corinthians and 1 Corinthians 6 highlights the church’s responsibility to settle civil disputes among the body rather than taking one another to court and displaying dirty laundry for the world to see. The question we contemplated was whether or not we view ourselves as being equipped to solve disputes among others. After all, we have the spirit of truth dwelling in us (John 14:17), teaching us all things (John 14:26), with a promise from God to grant us ability and wisdom (James 1:5), and we have the scriptures that we study (Hebrews 4:12). So, yes we are given the equipment. But that is very different than feeling equipped to be a mediator or judge. As a teacher, I’ve had to employ these skills and sometimes I get it right, often I have to back peddle, follow up, and even ask for forgiveness because let’s face it: teaching is a learning process too.  Deborah, on the other hand, not only had these gifts, she used the gifts and had confidence that the gifts God had given her would be put to amazingly good use. 

A Woman in Charge in a Man’s World

Deborah is the woman in charge. She is the judge over the Israelite nation before the days of the Kings. Not only is she a judge (and a woman) she is also named as a prophet. Interestingly, most judges during this time weren’t arbiters as we see in today’s society, but rather commanders and military leaders. Deborah, on the other hand, is seen in the opening of Judges 4 as a more passive arbiter—sitting beneath a tree and passing judgment over the disputes of the people. If she wasn’t already unique enough, this sets her apart even more.


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Furthermore, Deborah is judge during a bad time for the Israelites. They had once again done evil in the site of the Lord and so had been sold into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan and the commander Sisera. The Canaanites were a highly advanced and technological society—with iron chariots and better weapons than the Israelites (Judges 4:1-3). Actually in a lot of ways this situation is very similar to the time the Israelites spent in Egypt. Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait quite as long for deliverance.

When we first meet Deborah in Judges 4:4-7, she is doing her job: sitting under her tree, giving out judgments. Then a prophecy comes to her. It’s time for the 20 years of oppression to come to an end! So she sends for Barak and gives him very specific instructions for how to defeat Sisera’s army and what the result would be. Actually, she confirms what the Lord has already told Barak: take 10,000 men and attack Jabin’s army and I will deliver them into your hand. 

Now, Barak had heard this direction from the Lord and then it is confirmed by Deborah. That’s some pretty amazing confirmation, so at that point, I would expect Barak to be like “Let’s do this.” Yet, his response in 
Judges 4: 8-10 is kind of odd for a man of war: “I’ll go if you go.” 

Now nothing in the prophecy stated that Deborah needed to be a part of the military campaign. And, in fact, she would probably have been somewhat of a distraction as the men would feel it was their duty to protect her rather than fight all out. So this is an odd request.

But I get it. 

I’ve had a similar conversation with God and godly people before: this is what I want you to do (says God). Um, okay (says me) but only if…


 Our hesitancy can often cause us to lose out on blessings 

This kind of negotiation sets the tone for the kind of deliverance. Deborah tells him that she’ll go, but it’ll change the outcome–all of Sisera will be delivered nto the hands of a woman. This response transitions her from a passive to an active role and we expect that the army will now follow her lead rather than Barak’s–after all he’s using her as a kind of good luck charm.

At any rate, they go to battle and the actual scene is pretty short: Judges 4: 12-16highlights that the Lord is given all the glory and Deborah is giving all the orders. Her faith spurs the men into action. 

The Song of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5: 4-5 details exactly how the Lord lead them into victory: a sudden storm causes these highly advanced ‘iron chariots’ to fail! Routed in the mud, the army flees and their military strategy is kaput.  That’s what you get when you rely too heavily on any one thing rather than in an all powerful God. The task before Barak seemed impossible…and yet Deborah knew the Lord would make a way. So, in the end, it is Deborah…and another young woman…who get the starring role next to God. Not the leader of the army. Because that is the thing about faith. Our hesitancy can often cause us to lose out on blessings God has in store for us. 

When Women Take the Lead

In Judges 4:17-22 we meet Jael, a second female character who, like Deborah, takes on a non-traditional female role. First, she appears to be quite welcoming to Sisera, inviting him in with sweet words and promises of protection. He enters because, after all, they are supposed to be allies. Instead of giving him water, she gives him milk. What a motherly thing she is doing here, nurturing this man and even lulling him to sleep. So cute! All the while, the audience here is building tension expecting what—Deborah to come in? But no, suddenly Jael picks up whatever is handy—a tent peg, and drives it through Sisera’s skull. YIKES! That is no easy task (in case you were wondering, that would have had to been a tremendous force to go all the way through the skull to the ground). Talk about subverting expectations for a climax. The prophecy came true, but certainly not in the way we—or even they (certainly not Sisera)—were expecting.


Sometimes we are called to a purpose we don’t quite understand. 


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We’re never told why Jael decides to murder Sisera. Her husband is his ally. All we know is that she fulfills God’s prophecy and is honored for this action. Sometimes we are called to a purpose we don’t quite understand. But, when we know we are following God’s will, we can rest in the knowledge that he will work it all out for our good (Romans 8:28). 

Judges 5 is perhaps one of the oldest poems in the Bible and relates the story in more detail. This song has a war driven tone and regales the history of Deborah’s people. 5: 24-27 relates Jael’s story and then we get to Judges 5: 28-30  where we see our final female character in this passage- Sisera’s mother who is waiting, in vain, for the return of her son.

Interestingly, all three female figures in Deborah’s story have motherly qualities, but both Deborah and Jael who are the protagonists are hero-ized for their non-traditional roles as they transition from passive to active participants in God’s story. To me this offers reminds me of the promise that God has equipped us ALL to do his work–not just the males. Females were not made to be minor characters, in a supporting role. They were made to help drive the plot forward, and God honors women who step into their purpose as much as he honors men. 

Leadership and Submission

The Bible tells us that females and wives are supposed to be submissive to male leadership and husbands. How do we reconcile the idea of ‘submissive’ with our own call to leadership roles like that of Deborah? Well I don’t have the answer to that, but I have some thoughts. 

The Trinity is made up of God, the father, Jesus, the son, and the Holy Spirit, helper. They are all three equally (one person, one God), and yet, they are 3 persons and each role is well-defined in a hierarchy. Jesus submits to his father (Luke 22:42), and the father sends the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). But Jesus still takes on a leadership role throughout his ministry and life. 

Submission doesn’t mean you are a doormat. It doesn’t even mean you can’t make your own decisions. Submission is merely a voluntary recognition that you are not the ulitmate authority on everything in your life. And since absolute power corrupts absolutely, being able and willing to submit is an important life skill for everyone. Therefore, women are not called to be men’s underlings, but rather to work alongside for a greater purpose: the highest authority, which is God’s. 


Feminine doesn’t have to mean fragile. 


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Feminine doesn’t have to mean fragile. Deborah and Jael both had very feminine qualities and they used these to their advantage to gain both strength and honor in their communities. And we can too. 

Authentic :: Sarai

In January I picked a word I want to apply to my life throughout the course of the next year. Sort of like a nerdy version of a resolution, but with a whole lot of prayer and supplication that the Holy Spirit will reveal a focus area for my role in God’s plan. This year the word is transform. 

What a great word, right? Transformation sounds really hardcore and meaningful and like you are going to turn the world upside down and rock it. And yes, there is a lot of that…but transformation also requires a lot of change and, let’s be honest, it doesn’t happen overnight, so patience…yeah. A whole lot of patience. 

You know what else? Transform isn’t something you do on your own. It is something that is done to you. If you know me (or have read my blog at all) you’ll know that I am a control addict. I keep giving it up only to take it back again, so the word transform was super exciting…until I realized that I have ZERO control over it. Seriously, zero. 

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Just another lesson in being super sure you are ready for what it is you are praying for, because when you ask God to transform your heart, mind, and spirit. Well, fasten your seat belt because it can be quite an awesome ride. 

I’ve never identified with Sarai more than I have this year, though she’s always been kind of my kindred spirit. Not only did God change her name, he transformed her into His princess. The Princess Diaries showed us that this is no easy task, but the cool thing about God is that he can transform anyone into His princess, even if the task seems impossible. 

Taking Control

Sarai was a daddy’s girl. 

She was a girl who had everything. A loving husband. A great place to live. Wealth (13:1). Beauty (12:11). What she didn’t have? Children. And because she didn’t have children she BELIEVED she didn’t have honor. And then, little by little she felt God taking everything she ever knew…away.

In Genesis 12:1-3 and Genesis 15:1-5 God makes a promise to Abram. He speaks with him, comforts him, and shows him the future. As Abram’s wife (and sister…well, half sister Genesis 20:12), Sarai has a share in this blessing as well. After all, it’s unlikely that Abram will become the father of many nations without a woman. Just saying. 

There’s a catch though, chapter 12 verse tells us that  Abram was 75 when he first received this prophecy, making Sari 65, and even for Biblical era, that is still pretty old to be a father/mother many times over. Frustrated, Abram continually asks God about this promise and God continues to reassure him that there is no mistake. My promises endure forever. Regardless in chapter 15 verse 6 Abram continues to believe despite the years that continue to pass him by. 

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And that’s where Sarai steps in. She believes in the promise, but there is an awful lot of stress and pressure that accompany this given that Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children (chapter 16: 1). 

In Genesis 16: 1-4 we see that Sarai is practical. At this point, most scholars agree that she is well over seventy years old, past child-bearing age, and most likely people would have viewed her as cursed by God. I wouldn’t be surprised if people have told her that continually. Have you ever seen those memes about the way people ask mothers inappropriate questions? Well, it’s not just mothers! Women who are married without kids always get asked why or what’s wrong, or even worse, don’t you want kids? People are curious, sure, but these careless words bite deep into a woman’s sensitive soul. I’m sure society hasn’t changed that much over a few melinia. People will always think they have a right to know the intimated details of your relationships and family. 

But, in most ancient cultures Sarai’s inability to conceive would have even been grounds for divorce. So, what does she do? What many women would in her situation—she tries to fix it herself. 

Girl, I feel you. This is exactly why we are kindred spirits. I’m a fixer–if there is a problem I have an overwhelming desire to fix it myself. Unfortunately, that subtracts God from the equation and, well, things never end well.

Yet, I note Abram’s response to Sarai’s plans. In many ways this is a throwback to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:6). It may have been Eve/Sarai’s idea—but that’s not how God intends for relationships to work in his paradise.

Sarai gets shamed a lot for her actions in Genesis 16:5-6, but I think we need to look at Hagar too. There’s a lot of female rivalry going on here.

If Hagar begins to despise her mistress after she finds out she is pregnant, then there is a clearly a power struggle in this house. Hagar’s pregnancy “proves” that the barrenness is Sarai’s “fault”, right? Well, sure that would be right if we believe we are at “fault” for God’s perfect timing…yikes. 

So, Hagar’s ego is fed, and she might even be walking around with her nose up in the air because she believes she is the one who must be intended for the promises God made to Abram…yikes. 

On the flip side, Sarai does not handle the situation well; she created an unhealthy home by complicating her relationships, but she could have made so many different decisions and the outcome would have shifted in a completely different direction. Let’s not even consider the first mistake, but after Hagar “despises” her, she could accept the responsibility and welcome Hagar into the family…but that’s complicated too. So all around it’s just a hot mess. 

And let’s not forget that Abram is not blameless in this either. As the patriarch, he should be the one making the decisions, especially since he is in such close communion with God. I don’t recall him pausing to ask for God’s guidance as Sarai shoves Hagar into his arms. And I certainly don’t see him stepping up and taking responsibility for the chaos in his home. In fact, he washes his hands of the matter, figuratively turning back to the football game and letting the women figure out who the primary cook in the kitchen is. 

And so, Sarai does what makes sense. She strikes back at Hagar with such harshness that her maidservant runs away…we could follow Hagar’s story, but that’s for another post. Hagar eventually returns and bears a son to Abram when he is 86 years old–over a decade after the promise is first made. 

Letting God be GOD

And then another decade goes by, and when Abram is 99-100 years old, God gives him a new name–but more importantly God outbreathes his spirit into Abram and creates Abraham…in other words, God transforms him. It took 20 years, but God fulfilled the promise in his own timing. True transformations don’t happen overnight, and I think we see that Abram was not ready for God’s promise, but Abraham is.

And so is Sarai. In Genesis 17:15-17Sarai is reborn as Sarah.

This is not done lightly! Reborn, Sarah is now ready for the promises God made. Even more importantly, Abraham is ready to see Sarah as the vessel for God’s promise and not the problem. Though she is still skeptical and cynical, God has prepared her in His timing for the next step. The motif of laughter here is evident. Abraham laughs, exhausted. Sarah laughs, mocking. They both laugh in joy and disbelief. God really does fulfill his promises. Just when you are ready to give up, He shows up.

Just when you are ready to give up, He shows up.

Photo by Ye Fung Tchen on Unsplash

Waiting on God’s Timing

Sarai had a hard time waiting on God’s timing. I can relate to that on a deeply spiritual level. When it seems like I should be able to fix it, I don’t always understand why God wants me to wait on Him, but let’s be honest. I’m not God, so there is definitely always a reason for waiting on his timing. One of my favorite verses in seasons of waiting is:

For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.

Habakkuk 2:3 

Waiting is hard. But the end result is always worth it, and looking back, like Sarah, we often laugh to see just how much God transformed us before we were ready to walk straight into his promise. 

Authentic :: Abigail

One of my favorite books is An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott. If you haven’t read it, you should probably do so. Other than being fabulous, it offers snippets of wisdom from beginning to end. The first time I read it, in high school, I held on to many of these truths because at heart I am and always will be an old-fashioned girl. So, let me share one of those little truth nuggets here for a moment…

Young men often laugh at the sensible girls whom they secretly respect, and affect to admire the silly ones whom they secretly despise, because earnestness, intelligence, and womanly dignity are not the fashion. 

Louisa May Alcott

Intelligence, dignity, and earnestness in women are underrated and have been since ancient times. An Old-Fashioned Girl was first written in 1869, but this resonated with teenage me–a nerdy young girl who tried not to care that her desire to learn anything and everything ostracized her from the crowd she had been accepted into as a child. You know, before fashion became central to acceptance. If we’re being honest, intelligence, dignity, and earnestness have never been in fashion for women. At least not all at the same time. There was even a time when intelligence in women was even considered undignified.

But here’s the thing: despite being “out of fashion”, God has always gifted women with intelligence, clothed them in dignity, and encouraged an earnestness of spirit that would seek after His heart alone. It’s this broken world that has corrupted that perception of women being little more than ditzy arm-candy for a more intelligent man. That’s simply a lie; women were designed to be helpers to be a support, to be a part of the greater plan, not to be coddled and patted on the head and desired for physical attributes alone. 

So the fact that the first description we have of Abigail is “intelligent” should be significant! 

Intelligence

1 Samuel 25: 3 states Abigail “…was an intelligent and beautiful woman…” However, this doesn’t necessarily mean she had a high IQ (she may have, I don’t know). There are many types of intelligence, and in her story we see her display many of them. The fact that the author of this story points out that she is intelligent is a detail we don’t want to forget. 

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Unfortunately, this intelligent woman ended up with a donkey of a man. In 1 Samuel 25: 3b, Nabal is described as surly, which can mean threatening, irritable, menacing, and arrogant among other things. So likely, at the very least, he was not nice to Abigail and possibly even abusive. We know that he didn’t respect others and that typically is seen in the home first. So how does an intelligent woman end up with such a man? Sadly, we don’t know but given the cultural context, it’s possible she had little choice. Marriages in Ancient times had little if anything to do with the westernized concept of love, but they were designed for unity between powerful families, political gain, or procreation. 

Still, there are plenty of intelligent women who end up in toxic relationships. Why? Often it’s because we step outside of God’s wisdom and start operating in the world’s wisdom. 

Fortunately, even in bad circumstances that we may or may not have created for ourselves, we can still be reassured that God is in control. When we seek His presence and His will, He will never let us down–not that our circumstances will always make human sense, but there is always a purpose to everything God has a hand in.

Earnestness

At the start of this narrative, Samuel has died and Saul is still on the throne of Israel. David’s army isn’t sanctioned by the throne, and having been named the future King, Saul is unhappy with David’s very existence. Conflict arises, and David becomes a great leader—of a guerilla army.  Any time an army rises up against the throne, word will spread. Quickly. This God-anointed man is fighting for his life, but fighting against an established monarchy. And people are talking about it. Before becoming a beloved king, David was an infamous rebel.  Which brings us to our story.

In 1 Samuel 25:4-9, David is aware that as a perceived rebel people may not be quick to help him and his army. He sends a group of 10 men ahead of his army, instructing them to show honor and respect to Nabal as they make a request: a favor for a favor. We may be a bunch of rebels, David wishes to communicate, but we treated your shepherds and sheep with respect and dignity. We’d like for you to return the courtesy. Anything you could spare would be appreciated.

Now, it wouldn’t have been easy for just anyone to fulfill this request–David has brought an army of men with him, after all. We’re talking like 600 men. But he’s polite and requests provisions rather than just taking them from this wealthy man (which, if we’re being honest, David could have done). 

Nabal’s response in I Samuel 25: 10-11 clearly defines his character. Sarcasm drips from his voice as he insults David’s motivation and crusade. Nabal uses a series of questions in his response, but he knows who David his, and he likely knows that God has anointed him. The king, after all, is out for his head, and we’ve all seen Robin Hood enough to know that word spreads fast when you’re in the king’s cross-hairs. 

Taunting a man who is camping outside your door with 600 fighting me is pretty dumb. Oh, Nabal. However, in I Samuel 25:12-17, David is acting pretty rashly too. A classic case of men thinking a little too much with their emotions and not enough with their brains (and people give women a hard time for this flaw–but let’s be honest–men struggle with this just as much!). The phrase ‘put them on the table and measure’ appropriately explains this deadly testosterone explosion about to happen.



Photo by Daniel Fazio on Unsplash

Enter Abigail, the intelligent woman who sees the situation for what it is. Her reputation is known among her servants, who waste no time in giving her the down-low. They know who to trust, and it isn’t the donkey. 1 Samuel 25:18-31 chronicles Abigail stepping up and acting with intelligence, dignity, and earnestness. She acts swiftly and purposefully—and maybe a little recklessly. She acts quickly to save the lives of everyone in her home–including her donkey of a husband. 

But it was a little reckless, and while that word has some powerful negative connotations, in this case, she simply didn’t care about what might happen to her as long as she did her best to save the people under her authority. Because she did have authority in her home; if she didn’t the servants never would have come to her in the first place. When we consider this compared to her husband who also “lost no time” and to David who acts rashly and regrets it later, we can see the contrast between acting swiftly under God’s wisdom vs. the world’s wisdom. 

Abigail knows she’s the smart one in her relationship, but she still acts with honor and humility. She approaches David and 600 soldiers with dignity, immediately showing them respect by bowing before them…alone. My heart constricts with how this could have gone horribly, horribly wrong. But Abigail walked in God’s wisdom, and she acted swiftly without thinking about herself and God is quick to honor that. Sometimes we don’t see how he honors it in this life, but in Abigail’s case we get a glimpse.

Dignity

David did not have to listen to Abigail let alone offer her and her husband protection and peace. However,  Abigail’s speech–words empowered by God–reminding David under whose authority he is meant to operate. Humbled, he lowers his sword, takes a step back, and a deep breath, honoring both God and Abigail’s wisdom in 1 Samuel 25:32-35.

Contrast that to how Nabal responds–by getting drunk and gluttonously eating at a feast while an army starves on his doorstep. No wonder “his heart failed him and he became like stone” (1 Samuel 25: 27)–he had little heart to begin with!

Abigail is free from her terrible marriage in the end when Nabal pays for his heartlessness. And the story ends with a happily ever after…but…the text says Abigail is asked to become David’s wife…then it also says the servant has come to ‘take her.’ (1 Samuel 25:39-40). Semantics are always important, but here especially it makes me wonder: just how much choice did Abigail have in this arrangement? Sure, she bows and accepts the proposal, but why?

The world will scoff at Godly intelligence, dignity, and earnestness, but secretly they envy the confidence it gives us to live life with hope and a future

Let’s back up to Abigail’s speech in verses 26-31; Abigail certainly admires David and sees him as the Lord’s anointed. She is following what she believes to be God’s path for wisdom, but the truth of it is this: Abigail has some choice in her marriage to David, but probably not a lot given the situation and his position. Abigail is a wealthy and free woman now that Nabal has died. David is a man of war with no home, only a God-ordained promise of a future with no timeline for fulfillment. Therefore, Abigail is trading a life of comfort for a life of conflict–but she is also gaining spiritual leadership in her relationship, which to a woman like Abigail, might just be worth all the sacrifices she’ll have to make along the way.

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

As men and women of the 21st century, we have a lot of choices in the type of people we marry and Abigail’s story can clearly help us see the consequences of these choices. We should learn to make all life’s choices wisely, following God’s wisdom–not the world’s. The world will scoff at Godly intelligence, dignity, and earnestness, but secretly they envy the confidence it gives us to live life with hope and a future–holding on to every promise of God.