Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Hagar: What did happen, not what should happen

In order to get more Bible reading in, I downloaded Matthew Henry's Commentary to my Kindle and have been reading it alongside my Bible.  My plan succeeded, and I'm being fed more from the word and have been having a better attitude about life, though I will always have a long way to go.

I love Matthew Henry and his Reformed views on things, but I just could not help quite disagreeing with his views on Hagar in Genesis 16.

This is the part of Genesis where Sarai gets tired of Abram not having kids so she suggests that he sleep with her servant Hagar and have a son through her.  He does that, and it results in Hagar getting pregnant with Ishmael.  She knows this and starts showing contempt for Sarai.  Then Sarai starts abusing her, possibly giving more work to do.  Hagar gets overwhelmed and runs away.

Matthew Henry considers her running away from Sarai a sin.  I don't know if it's sin or not, but it's a perfectly natural response to her situation.  Abraham and Sarah (their later names), brought her into their marriage without consulting her.  They never talk to her or use her name.  They only talk about her and then Abraham uses her to get a son.  It is only when she runs away that God appears to her, calls her by her name, and treats her like a human with rights and feelings.  He tells her to go back to Sarah, serve her, and bear Abraham's son, Ishmael, who God will bless.  Although he is not the promised son that would be born through Sarah, he's still Abraham's son and will be blessed, too.

I'm writing on this for the second time this year for two reasons. 

1). I'm about to write about Jephthah, and Bible naysayers like to try to discount the faith by using both his story and Hagar's story.

As for the case of Hagar and other concubinage in the Bible, liberals like to say that God commanded childless women to provide a handmaiden for the man through which he can have a child.  We can't realistically expect men and women to save sex for marriage when God commanded such things.

But that was never the case.  God has never desired for a man to have sex with anyone other than his wife, whether he gives them children or not.  It was the culture in Mesopotamia to do that and one that Sarah adopted that God never commanded.  Things that our Bible heroes do are what did happen, not necessarily what should happen.  God still took the situation and used it for his glory and our redemption, but what he expressly desires is for one man to have marital relations with one wife and no more.  Adam never had more than one wife.  And Noah had only one wife along with his three sons who only had one wife each.  All the population of the earth comes from them.

And as we see in this story, God is the only one who tried to treat Hagar with dignity and honor.  Only when he did, then Sarah and Abraham began treating her the same.

2). I read this article that broke my heart.

Basically, these men on this show who are married to each other desired a child.  So one of them chose an egg donor from a catalog, used his sperm to create a child, and this woman bore the child.  The network filmed the childbirth on the show without her consent, and the men gawked at her anatomy in the process. 

I find it appalling that somebody can purchase a child out of a catalog, manufacture that little girl, and then add her to the household like she's an accessory.  Just a fashionable purse or poodle to support your lifestyle.  Meanwhile, the woman who bore the child and carried her inside her body for nine months has no rights in the process and will have no relationship with her baby.  This baby will have no woman in her life close enough to talk with as she gets older and reaches puberty.  Both mother and baby are used as objects to satisfy the desires of this richer people who are already living a lifestyle outside God's will.

It reminded me of Abraham and Sarah in their treatment of Hagar.  They wanted a child but did not want to wait on God's timing.  They just used another woman to be a surrogate with no consideration of her desires or dreams. 

But as God redeemed their situation, God can redeem this situation.  All children are in God's image and must have rights.  God can reach the two men on this TV show and save them from sin and reform them, just like he did for Abraham, Sarah, me, and you.  He can reconcile this little girl to her mother.  Perhaps they can all teach the world that sexual sin does harm people outside of those committing the sin.  Innocent people get caught in the trap and lose their dignity as humans when it goes unrepented.  But God is so merciful and can still save people such as that in bring Christ into their lives.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Judges: Gideon, a weak man from a weak clan in Manasseh

The Israelites still search for a Savior.  So far, they have had Caleb, Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, and Deborah.  All were good people who did their jobs.  And they brought Israel back to worshiping the true God.  But they all died, and the people went right back to cheating on Yahweh with gods who would allow them to get drunk and sleep around.  God rescued them from Israel and then other oppressors over and over again, but they kept going back to their adulterous idolatries.  So this time, God sent the Midianites who didn’t even let the people eat their cattle or raise prophets.  It was like working at Piccadilly on a Sunday night.  Swarms of hungry, irrational customers come, touch our pies, decide they don’t want it after all, and then give it back to you without paying for it.  And you have to throw it away because you can’t put it back on the line.  They care nothing that they are wasting the company’s food and money.  They only care about their entitlement issues.

Okay, rant over.  The Midianites were so much worse than this.  The people were starving, which let them to thresh their grain in hiding.  This led to our friend Gideon, who was found doing that very thing inside a winepress.

I have to laugh every time I read Judges 6:12 when the Lord calls Gideon a mighty warrior.  (It says Angel of the Lord, but as with all cases when the Angel of the Lord appears in the Old Testament, it proves to be so much more than and angel.  It is God himself.  And if God appears in a body, then it has to be Jesus.)

Gideon is no warrior.  He is a poor boy having to do his farming behind closed doors so the enemy doesn’t see him.  Even after God raises him in power, he makes foolish mistakes in his old age through pride.  Gideon is no warrior.

But God is a warrior.  And God will not be upstaged by anyone, which is why he likes to include unlikely characters in his plan for redemption.

First Gideon argues that God has let the enemy wreak havoc on his country.  How could a good God let that happen?  And like all people who ask this question, they forget how often they have betrayed the Lord who said that disobedience of his commands, cosmic treason, would lead to death.  God is very patient with Gideon and says, “Go in the strength you have.  Am I not sending you?”

Then Gid says that he is from a weak clan in Manasseh.  How can he do anything?  God says the same thing.  Just go.  “I’m the one sending you.  I will give you power.”

This is where Gideon gets annoying.  He asks God for a sign.  Not for the last time.  God is so patient with us.  He lets Gideon go get a goat and a cake of bread to sacrifice him.  And then, this is where the Angel of God proves that he is actually just God.  He consumes the offering, making Gideon afraid of his death because he’s seen God.  But God calms him down and tells him to cut down his dad’s Asherah pole. 

Gideon’s own family was involved in Baal worship, and Gideon had to ask why God was sending Midian to Israel.  But he knew about God’s sacrifices which means, they had somehow blended the two religions, which God commands we should never do.

Does this happen today?  Are idolatrous practices so commonplace in our culture that they somehow show up in our homes and get syncretized with our Christian worship?  Do we follow horoscopes or have Ouija boards?  Do we watch shows on HBO where we know there’s going to be lots of nudity just so we can be caught up with our neighbors on the show?  Who are we trying to impress?  Certainly not God who calls us to be set apart and to worship him only and to obey his commands.

So Gideon went and tore down his dad’s Asherah pole.  The people wanted to kill him but his own dad, Joash, stood up for him saying, if Baal is god, then he can defend himself.  If not, then Gideon’s done a good thing.

So the town gave him a new name, Jerub-baal.  The man who tears down Baal.  Impressive for such a poor boy that nobody loved.

Afterwards, Gid annoys God with two signs that he will lead Israel against the Midianites.  One night he wants God to make a fleece all dewy but the ground to be dry.  The next night, he wants God to make the fleece dry but the ground all dewy.  Once again, God is very patient with this slow guy and does it.

Chapter 7

Now, Gideon gathers his brethren from the tribe of Manasseh to fight the army.  But God wants a small army, because if a huge army wins, people will say the army won and not God.  So, Gid dismisses anyone who is afraid.  But there are still too many people.  So Gid sends them to a stream for a drink.  The ones who gathered the water in cupped hands were dismissed.  You know, then ones who would still be able to see an enemy coming as they drank.  He dismissed the wise ones.  He kept the ones who knelt down and lapped the water like a dog. 

This reduced the army to 300 foolish men, so that the people would definitely know that God won the war. 

Then, before the battle, Gideon still couldn’t sleep, so he took a nighttime stroll toward the camp of Midian.  He overheard a Midianite saying that he dreamed a huge hunk of bread came and crushed the whole camp.  This emboldened him and led him to take his army and defeat Midian, making their presence flee from Israel.  They even captured the kings Oreb and Zeeb and killed them. 

I’m beginning to see that while we are waiting on Jesus to come, God sends people to lead who are weak simply because we need to keep our focus on God and not ourselves and our heroes.  From the time Jesus left this earth on his ascension until now, God has sent many people to lead the church and even lead it back from trusting in man and not God.  He sent people like Augustine who in the fall of the Roman empire reminded the people that God’s city is much better than man’s.  The Romans had a god for everything that did not keep them from falling, and the true God has given them a better home that is not of this world that they will see someday.  But he had flaws.

Martin Luther came along and led Christians back to putting the Bible at the center of theology and looking to Christ alone for salvation, not Christ plus a plethora of saints and his mom.  But he had a quick temper and said anti-Semitic things that last to this century.

Calvin took Luther’s first steps and systematized them, but even he had a quick temper.

Spurgeon is one of my heroes, but he fell for evolutionistic thinking. 

Even my most current hero, RC Sproul, had flaws.  He loved Thomas Aquinas a bit too much.

While they are all good men, they had feet of clay and we still look to he true Messiah who does all things perfectly and will make all things right.

Chapter 8

Later on, the tribe of Ephraim complained that they weren’t being used in the war against Midian.  But Gideon replied that they never offered to help and didn’t even offer to feed the troops.  They just sat back and watched.  But for now, he would not retaliate because he had to still fight Zebah and Zalmunna. 

Then all the people try to make him king, but he refuses, because as God planned, there is no way Gideon and his army defeated the Midianites.  God did. 

Just the same, there was something in Gideon’s pride that wanted to be king.  He ended up making this gold ephod (a priestly vest) that the people ended up trying to worship.  The tabernacle where God wanted everyone to worship was in Shiloh in Ephraim, and Gideon still had bad blood with them.  So he tried to worship God in a way that God did not command, which is always wrong, and will always lead to false God.  “False worships made was for false deities,” says Matthew Henry on this chapter. 

Also, he married many wives and had 70 sons.  God never wanted people to marry more than one person at a time, but having many wives guarantees a dynasty.  And he had one son through a concubine who eventually killed all 70 of those sons, making Gideon’s secret desire naught.  Plus, the concubine’s son was named Abimilech (son of a king).  And he fought for his right to be king and failed.  And the people began to follow false gods again, never learning their lesson.

But the next big judge, Jephthah, was also born to a man who slept with a prostitute.  Like Abimilech, he was ridiculed by his siblings born to wives of their fathers.  But he became a godly man, and I look forward to his story.