Monday, March 31, 2008

Remembering Rahab

If Eve could be thought of as a good girl who gets a bad rap for bringing sin to humankind, Rahab could be thought of as a bad girl who gets a pretty good rap for courageously saving these spies. Oh, let me be clear, I’m not calling Rahab a bad girl – the Bible shows her as such. In Joshua 2:1, she is identified as a prostitute, or some translations may say a “harlot.”

Rahab was classified by her society as a “publican” which is to say she was at the bottom of Jericho’s society. In some ways, she could be thought of as powerless, forever branded by the city’s people as disreputable, no matter how badly she wished to change. In other ways, she could be seen as powerful. She knew many powerful men, but when they came to visit her, she was the one with the power. She had what they wanted, and she knew how to use that to her advantage.

She owned her own home, nestled up against Jericho’s outer city wall. She not only entertained locals, but travelers visiting the city or passing by it in caravans. This kept her aware about what was going on, both in town and around the region. She was probably among the first to hear about the Israelites crossing the parted Red Sea. She would’ve heard how they defeated the armies across the Jordan River. She knew these Israeli men were even more powerful than the Canaanite men she dwelt among. She knew from hearing them talk that the Canaanite men feared them and their God.

Their God had told them, “Everywhere you go, you will be on land I have given you … No one will be able to stand their ground against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you” (Joshua 1:3, 5). Rahab knew this. She tells the spies in Joshua 2:9, “I know the LORD has given you this land.” Then she utters the statement that reflects the faith that I believe saved her (and her family): “For the LORD your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below” (2:11).

Its interesting that Jesus later points out in Matthew 21:28-32 that harlots were quicker to repent, believe and enter the Kingdom of God than the pious religious leaders were.

So, we’ve established that Rahab was a woman well accustomed to dealing with men, including foreign men. She was good at negotiating a mutually beneficial arrangement with them. And she had concluded on her own that Israel’s God was the one, true God. Sounds like she perfectly fits the job description for what is about to happen in our story.

When the two spies arrived in Jericho, they went to Rahab’s house to stay the night. At first, it seemed odd to me that the men of God would head to a harlot’s house to stay but this was a place they would’ve been welcomed without much question. They would be viewed by others as just another male traveler staying with Rahab. Plus, God was leading them. He had promised He would not abandon them or fail them so we know that He was with them.

Only someone – the book is silent on whom, or how they knew – knew what the spies were up to and told the king about them. The king sent soldiers to go get the spies from Rahab. I once read that the law of the day prohibited men from entering a woman’s house without her permission. The soldiers were ordered to tell Rahab to “bring out the men.” It’s not entirely clear from the text if Rahab hid the spies and then allowed the soldiers in, or if they never in came in but only spoke with her at the door. I think that they never entered her home, much less searched it or her roof.

The spies, for safe measure, were hidden on the flat-topped roof in the dark, under the drying bales of harvested flax. Rahab claims to the soliders (meaning she lies) that she did not learn who the men were and she says they left the city just before dark. She effectivley sends the king’s men on a wild goose chase.

This is a spot in the story that bothers some Christian readers. Rahab lied. Isn’t lying a bad thing in God’s eyes? And it seems that is how the spies - God’s people - were spared. Did God want Rahab to lie in this instance?

I don’t think God wanted Rahab to lie. I’m certain that if He can cause the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down in order to deliver the city to the Israelites, which He did, He could’ve gotten those two spies out of there safely without Rahab lying. As we’ve concluded a few times already with the women from Genesis, God will use the free-will actions of people – both good actions and bad actions – to accomplish His ultimate will.

Rahab lies and throws the king’s men off the spies’ trail. Then she negotiates a mutually beneficial deal with the spies. In return for her hospitality, protection, city information, and belief in their God, they will spare her and her family when they come to take the city. A scarlet red cord hanging from the window of her house will be the sign to the Israelites to spare that household during the seige. Both parties remain true to their words and she is spared destruction.

Finally, Rahab is free from the society that branded her “Rahab the prostitute.” She is free to live a different life, and she chooses to live one that honors the one, supreme God. She married Salmon, a prince of the tribe of Judah. Then she gave birth to Boaz, who is the father of Obed, who is the father of Jesse, who is the father of King David.

So there is a former prostitute, a Canaanite harlot, in the family tree of Christ. That’s been a disturbing fact for some people. In fact, some religious scholars over the years have tried to redefine Rahab as an innkeeper rather than a prostitute. While she may have sometimes housed people without having sex with them, like in the case of the spies, the Bible is clear that she was a prostitute. For me, it is comforting to know that Jesus’ lineage contains a pretty racy sin nature. After all, the fact that Christ came from a long line of imperfect people gives me hope for overcoming my own imperfect family history.

God made an honest woman out of a lying harlot. He transformed this bad girl and gave her a good rep. I think that should give all of us a lot of hope!

So what are your thoughts on Rahab's story?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Reading Rahab

Hi everyone, and welcome to anyone new visiting today. We're studying the women of the Bible together online for the next month or so, and would love for you to jump in and join us!

All you have to do is come here each weekday, and either do the readings that are provided, or read the comments that are posted on those readings. Feel free to post a comment yourself too after you've done a reading.

I enjoyed all your comments on Potiphar's wife yesterday. It touches me to see so many of you posting to offer your insights, or put forth your prayer requests, or just share a piece of your authentic lives with us. And thank you for the prayers on my behalf as well - I'll certainly take those. :)

We're finally exiting the intriguing book of Genesis but there are still more surprising women to read about. Next we are reading about Rahab. So check out Rahab's story online here in Joshua chapter 2 and chapter 6.

I'll be leaving town today to speak this weekend and I'm not sure if/when I will have Internet when I'm gone. But I'll be back on Sunday and we'll talk about Rahab on Monday.

Be sure to pray for a clear mind, and a heart open to the Lord before you begin the reading.
Then post your "I read it" here once you are done.
Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pondering Mrs. Potipher

Updated Post:
70 some comments later and its official. You girls who said two weeks ago that you lack motivation to get into the Bible, or have trouble understanding or applying what you read there, have been transformed!

Yes, the book of Genesis reads like a soap opera and Joseph was a seriously hot leading man. Remember how we read that Rachel was beautiful in both face and figure? Well, Joseph had inherited his mother’s all around good looks. Perhaps Potiphar was much older than his wife, as some of you suggested. Or perhaps he had put on a few pounds once he had nothing to worry about but the food he would eat. But even if this was not the case – even if Potiphar was quite a catch himself – Joseph could easily turn a woman’s head. Especially a gal who is feeling lonely and lacking any purpose in life beyond looking good as the wife of a wealthy man.

So we know Joseph was young and well built. Also, as Hebrew and not an Egyptian, he would’ve seemed exotically different from all the other men Mrs. P knew. And that foreign accent he spoke with would cause Mrs. P to listen intently to Joseph’s every word – who can resist a handsome man with a charming foreign accent?

Plus, through out Joseph’s entire story, the Bible tells us the Lord was with Joseph. He was chosen and favored by God. You can’t miss it when someone is chosen and favored by God. You might not understand it, but you get the distinct feeling you are witnessing some form of greatness and you are somehow drawn to it. In a short amount of time, Joseph had been put in charge of the entire household, and he ran it well. So now you have a handsome man, with a charming accent, running Mrs. P’s household and effortlessly meeting her every need – but one.

I’ve never been the kind of girl to be attracted to the “bad boys.” I know some women are like that – a dangerous looking rebel in a black leather jacket catches their fancy. Not me, I always like the really upstanding guy … the handsome leader with strong integrity. So I can imagine how Mrs. P would be attracted to Joseph. I am a happily married woman but I too might find it tempting to have Joseph in my house day after day.

I’m fairly confident I wouldn’t throw myself at him as Mrs. P did, but for safe measure, I would try to avoid him. I would busy myself with other projects that interested me. I would make a more concerted effort to connect with my husband. I would get out of the house more often and meet the girlfriends for lunch so I wasn’t starved for company. And I would pray like crazy. But, sadly, Mrs. P was not a believer in the one true God.

When she first blatantly propositions Joseph to sleep with her (I’m betting there was a whole bunch of temptation and flirtation leading up to this moment that he was ignoring), he declines her with three reasons. He doesn’t want to upset Potiphar who trusts him, he doesn’t want to risk his status as Potiphar’s right hand man by taking the one thing Potiphar forbade him, and He doesn’t want to sin against God. Upstanding. Integrity. All the way.

Perhaps she saw this as an upping of the ante on a challenge she was determined to win. Or perhaps that only made her like him more. Ladies, we may find ourselves strongly attracted to a powerful, upstanding man … perhaps a man who is a good provider… or a man who is a terrific husband and father ... or perhaps a man who is a leader in our place of work or in our church … the kind of man that would never commit adultery or have sex outside of marriage. And we daydream about how great it would be to have a man like that. We imagine having him or being his. We start to flirt with him and look for ways to be alone with him. Here is the deal ladies, if we could get that man to welcome our advances, he would cease to be the kind of man that we found so attractive in the first place.

Thankfully, Joseph continued to deny Mrs. P’s advances. This is the point in the story where it becomes clear she is different from the other gals we’ve been reading. She doesn’t just momentarily fall to Satan’s temptation in the garden. She doesn’t just want to have a baby with her husband so badly she’ll try anything that the customs of the day will condone. No, Mrs. P is looking to break laws and she has had the moral error of her ways pointed out to her as well by Joseph. Yet she won’t quit pursing the forbidden fruit.

She spirals downward from there in the story. When she fears someone may have seen the uncloaked Joseph running from her room, and she fears Joseph might tell others the truth to explain, she quickly weaves a lie to place him in the wrong – her word against his. The word of Potiphar’s wife against that of a foreign slave. She’ll just have him killed, according to the laws, and thereby destroy the evidence of her transgressions.

Only I’m not so sure Potiphar fully believed his wife. Yes, the text does say Potiphar was furious when he heard his wife’s story. No doubt, he was upset at what was going on – he had a perfectly good arrangement up until now. Potiphar knew Joseph to be a trustworthy man, so this accusation had to seem out of character. Yet what was Potiphar going to do? His options were: 1) Kill a man who may be innocent, or 2) Let the man live who may have tried to rape his wife. He decided to throw Joseph in jail. And if you read the rest of the story, you know how God worked it from there to a glorious conclusion.

Upstanding Joseph was ultimately exalted, while we never hear another thing about Mrs P. I wonder, did she languish in regret? Or did she stubbornly maintain that her story was true till the end? What happened with her and Mr. P? Did she ever realize that Joseph’s God was the one true God?

I know that some of us here have experienced inappropriate sexual urges or advances. Some of us have been the adulteress spouse, or the other woman. Some of us have been the one cheated on. Some of us have been molested or raped. And some of us have fallen into an emtional rather than a physical affair. What I want to say is that there is no sexual sin that cannot be covered by the blood of Jesus. And there is no sexual wound that cannot he healed by the work of Christ.

We’ve said repeatedly in this study that God is able to take the worst of circumstances or actions and work them for His good purposes. But that is not a license to sin. And that does not mean there are not costs to sin. So let’s remember the warning that Mrs. P’s actions offer, and let’s remember the example that Joseph’s response set. And let’s trust God that His ways truly are worth fighting for and waiting for.

Old Post:
OK, girls, I've tried unsuccessfully multiple times today to post my comments and start the discussion on Mrs. P. I kept getting error messages earlier. Then I finally had a long post nearly done and lost it! So I'm thinking, I'm just going to let you all start the discussion today. Later I'll come update this post with my thoughts. But for now, take it away, girls!

Post and tell us your reactions to Mrs. Potiphar.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Reading Potiphar's Wife

I'm caught up with reading all your comments. You can't hear me, but I talk to you with each comment I read. Sometimes I "amen" your insights. Sometimes I pause and pray for you. Sometimes I praise God for how He is responding to your pressing in to read His Word. And I always thank you for each sweet comment of appreciation you send my way.

I should've made a list of all the questions you've been asking in your comments so I could try to address some of them, but I didn't and I'm afraid I've got a too much going on this week to go back and do it. I like that you all answer each other.

(Oh, by the way, I found out today that Tamar was a Canaanite, not an Israelite. She's not the only non-Israelite woman in Jesus' family tree. While God chose to begin with the Jewish people and make them "His" nation, I think women like Tamar show that His plan ultimately included calling all the Gentile people unto Himself as well. We see that happen with Jesus and the ministry of Paul.)

Just so you know, I will be leaving on Friday for an out of town speaking engagement this weekend - I'd appreciate your prayers for that event. Also, I somehow managed to sunburn the outer white part of my right eye - how freaky is that?! So I'd appreciate your prayers for healing there. And finally, I am suppose to complete the table of contents, with paragraph descriptions of each chapter, for a book I am planning. So I could use some prayer to not only get it finished, but to complete it with wisdom and anointing. Thanks so much for praying for me and each other!

Next we will be reading about Potiphar's wife. Remember Rachel and Jacob's first son Joseph? This is actually his story, in which he encounters this woman. For a little background, Leah's sons disliked their half-brother Joseph and plotted to get rid of him. They were going to kill him but Judah (yes, Tamar's father-in-law) talked them out of that and instead into selling Joseph to some Egypt-bound traders as a slave. The brothers told their father Jacob that his precious Joseph died in the field after an animal attack.

Mrs. Potiphar's brief story comes right after Tamar's story - click here to read Genesis 39. If you want to know how Joseph overcomes the outcome of his encounter with Potiphar's wife, you can continue reading chapters 40 and 41. I will link those along with chapter 39 in case you do. (And if you really want to know all of Joesph's story you can keep reading on your own through chapter 50 at the end of the book of Genesis.) But Potiphar's wife appears only in Genesis 39.

Don't forget to pray for understanding before you being reading!
Post a comment to let me know you've finished the reading and we'll discuss it on Wednesday.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Tamar's Tale

Are you noticing how much men, marriage, sex, and babies play into all these women’s stories so far? We’re often surprised to read the lengths to which these ancient sisters would go to in order to have babies. Let’s talk about marriage and babies, as that’s what’s at the center of Tamar’s tale.

First, many of you asked where the marriage ceremony was for Leah and Jacob since Jacob expected to be marrying Rachel. Marriage in their day contained three main components:

1) The parents arranged it. Remember how Abraham sent his servant to his hometown in search of a bride for 40 year-old Isaac? The father of the bride was definitely in charge of who would marry his daughter and when. Laban decided to marry Leah off before Rachel - though in a very deceitful way that gave Jacob no say in the matter.

2) The next component is the bride price. Negotiated between the groom and the bride’s father, it could include money, livestock, clothing, jewelry, or an act of service performed. For Jacob, who came empty handed, it was seven years of work. The bride price does not mean the husband is purchasing the bride like property, but rather it shows the bride’s worth in the eyes of the father and the groom. Laban deemed the first 7 years of Jacob’s work as Leah’s bride price and then told Jacob he’d have to work another 7 years for Rachel’s bride price.

3) The third component is the feast or celebration night, in which the marriage is consummated sexually. The feast was typically given by the father of the bride, as Laban did. It’s unclear if there was a separate feast for Rachel once the next 7 years of work was complete, but by then Jacob and Rachel had already slept together anyway.

I hope that that helps our understanding of how Jacob came to be hitched to both Leah and Rachel. Now let’s talk about Tamar’s marriage situation. Hers is a case of what’s called “levirate marriage.”

Levirate marriage took place when a husband died before an heir-child was produced. In such cases, the deceased husband’s brother would marry the widow and give her children that would be considered the first husband’s heirs. This was done so that the first husband’s bloodline would continue, or as the Bible says, so that “his name not be put out of Israel” (Deut. 25:6). Notice that bloodlines were deemed extremely important. This practice became part of the law of Moses (Deut. 25:5-10). If a man refused to marry his widowed sister-in-law, he would be publicly disgraced.

Tamar married Judah’s son Er (remember Judah is Leah’s son). Er does something sinful in God’s eyes and is struck dead for his sin. Er’s brother Onan then must marry Tamar. Only Onan refused to give Tamar children. He used the levirate system by taking her as wife and sleeping with her - and avoiding public disgrace. But behind closed doors, Onan cheated Tamar and the levirate system by purposefully not completing the conjugal act.

Why didn’t Onan want Tamar to have a child? In a word: greed. If Tamar had a son, part of Judah’s estate would be left to him in Er’s name. Onan didn’t want to give up any of his inheritance. Guess what? Onan then suffered the same fate as his brother Er. Deeds done in the dark are always seen by God. There is one son left but he is still too young to consummate a marriage.

Here’s the deal. Levirate custom said if no brothers are over the age of 10, then the widow can be released and free to marry again. Judah could’ve released Tamar to marry into another family. Instead, he asks her to wait on his young son Shelah, and sends Tamar back to her parents’ house to do the waiting.

Can you imagine how Tamar felt? … widowed … cheated … used. Can you imagine how this affected her reputation? Picture the stares of the other women – Poor Tamar can’t bear children. Poor Tamar, all her husbands die an early death. Poor Tamar, she’s moved back in with her parents. Poor Tamar, she’s now engaged to a little boy.

Therefore, there sits Tamar, back at square one in life, waiting for a husband with her biological clock ticking really loud. The time comes when Shelah would be old enough, but Judah never sends for Tamar. She is trapped. If she could just have a son, she would receive some inheritance and would have someone to look out for her in her old age. Yet Judah and his family cost her every chance at that. Without children, her future looked bleak, and everyone knew it, including Judah.

Tamar’s future was frustratingly out of her hands… or was it? Tamar learns Judah is traveling nearby. She devises a way to get out from between this rock and hard place she’s been stuck in every since the death of her husband Er. She will gain an heir from Judah’s family – indeed from Judah himself. Tamar poses as a prostitute, Judah propositions her, and she gets his identifying possessions to later prove he was the father should any children be conceived.

Children were conceived, and Judah calls for Tamar’s death for turning up pregnant while still being betrothed to his son Shelah who she hadn’t slept with. He was quick to throw the first stone. In response, Tamar produces the identifying possessions, proving that Judah is the father of her unborn twins. Judah eventually admits, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah” (Gen. 38:26).

Tamar, like some of her relatives had, resorted to deceit to conceive her children when it looked like she would not have any. Also, like many of her relatives before her, God remembered her plight, and did for Tamar. God allowed Tamar's daring plan to result in conception, and she birthed Perez and Zerah. Perez would become a direct ancestor to King David and, much later, to Jesus of Nazareth.

Judah and his sons showed a penchant for sin and little concern for upholding the laws and continuing their holy (set apart for God’s purposes) bloodline. Meanwhile, Tamar was determined to continue that bloodline through her womb. God used her desperate act to ensure the tribe of Judah would in deed continue – and even one day lead to the birth of the world’s Messiah. Yes, men, marriage, sex and babies sure were important to our biblical sisters, and clearly to God as well.

I want to remind us once again as we read these women’s stories, that God uses the imperfect actions of imperfect people to advance His perfect plans for humanity and eternity. If we stop to consider that fact a moment, and how it applies in our own lives, I think we'll go through today feeling quite grateful that He does.

Post what you thought of Tamar’s brief but memorable story.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Reading Tamar

Hey girls. Are you keeping up? If not, maybe you can catch up over the weekend, or else just jump in where we're at and join us.

I wasn't going to include this next lady in our study but one of our participants said Tamar is her namesake and she really hoped that we would read her. So we're reading Tamar next and we will discuss her after Easter on Monday.

If the women up until now have rattled your brain a bit, this one is no less shocking! But her story is shorter, at just one chapter: Genesis 38. Its linked for online reading and the story starts with Judah, who is one of Jacob and Leah's sons, now grown up.

I've finished reading all your comments on Rachel and Leah and so appreciate how open you all are willing to be with me and one another - its a beautiful thing! Happy Easter, sweet friends!

Post your "I did it" here once you've completed the reading.

On Leah

I’m working my way through all your great comments. Tomorrow (Thursday) I will post the next reading, and then we’ll discuss her on Monday. Feel free to stop in here over the weekend if you want to comment further on Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah or on something another sister has said.

Ever look at one of those movie stars on the red carpet and think: I never have and never will look that good! Me too. I image that’s what Leah felt every time she looked across the room at her younger sister. There was no escaping Rachel’s beauty. Sometimes, when she was alone, Leah would braid her hair fancy, tuck some flowers in it, and pretend to be irresistibly beautiful as she danced about. However, that was just pretend … real life was different.

Leah had heard the whispers between her parents about how easy it will be to find a husband for Rachel. They never said that about Leah. Her Dad expected he would be able to demand a large bride price for Rachel. What sort of dowery would I fetch, Leigh wondered. Thank goodness, custom holds the older sister will marry first, Leah thought, because she would be so embarrassed for Rachel to marry first and her never to marry.

Sometimes Leah wondered if she would marry. Being the oldest, she'd reached the age for marriage but had no suitors. Each day as she helped cook dinner, she imaged she was cooking for her husband and she hoped God would send him to her soon.

Then one day Rachel brought home their cousin Jacob she’d found by the well. He was an unmarried, eligible bachelor! Jacob told them who he was and about the dream he'd just had that God would bless him.

Laban told Leah to be sure and be attentive to Jacob, for he was a possible suitor for her and one that Laban did not want to get away. This had to be it – her destiny – her future husband. Leah worked all day in the kitchen cooking a scrumptious meal and even dared to braid her hair with a little flower that evening in preparation for dinner. Jacob sat across the table from braided Leah and her little sister. But before the meal was even half eaten, everyone could tell Jacob fancied Rachel, not Leah. Of course … beautiful Rachel.

In a matter of weeks, Jacob and Rachel were engaged. This was not fair! Rachel was hardly even marrying age, and everyone knew the older sister is customarily married first. Laban broke custom and struck a deal for Jacob to work seven years in payment for Rachel. Laban said that would also give Leah seven years to marry. Maybe with Rachel officially “off the market” it would give Leah a chance to shine, Leah's mother reasoned. But they both knew Leah wasn’t exactly the shining kind.

For seven long years, Leah watched Rachel and Jacob exchange tender looks and loving words as they made plans. Leah couldn’t help but think that could’ve been her … that should've been her. Meanwhile, another suitor never appeared.

The whole wedding switch was her Dad’s idea and Leah prefers not to talk about it. Rachel, however, won’t stop bringing it up and won’t forgive her. “What was I suppose to do, Rachel, Dad insisted on it!” Leah would argue back. Honestly, Leah feared what would happen to her if she didn’t go along with Laban’s plan. Her father could be a hard man - both sisters knew that. Leah figured if she did go along with it, at least she would have a husband. Maybe Jacob could learn to love her.

The problem was Jacob only had one week to learn to love her before her Daddy gave him Rachel too. Oh not officially, but he sure was in Rachel’s bed nearly every night. How was her husband supposed to learn to love her with her beautiful younger sister always taking his attention away? Leah never felt she got a fair shot at Jacob. Not seven years ago when he first arrived, and not now after her marriage to him.

When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, "It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” (Genesis 29:31-32)

So Leah birthed Jacob’s firstborn – a son! Surely, he would love her now. Now he would spend less time with Rachel and more evenings with her and their son. Only that’s not what happened. Jacob actually spent more nights with Rachel, not less, claiming it was Rachel’s turn to conceive.

Leah became a lighting rod for Rachel’s anger. And that lightening grew stronger with every child Leah bore, and with each year that Rachel remained barren. In some small way Leah felt sad for her sister’s bareness, but not too much because, after all, Rachel always had Jacob. Leah tried to be a good wife but always just felt second-fiddle.

Sometimes on hot evenings as she lay awake, alone in bed, Leah would think: None of this would be if Daddy had not let Jacob be engaged to Rachel when I was still unmarried. He let Rachel steal my suitor. And she stole Jacob again when Daddy gave her to Jacob just a week after he married me. He married me first!

Leah bore Jacob many more sons, and even a daughter. She acknowledged God each time, but with each one she hoped Jacob’s heart and attention would be swayed her way. She even named her sons with that hope.

She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, "Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too." So she named him Simeon. Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, "Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons." (Genesis 29:33-34)

But Jacob never seemed to attach to Leah. Slowly Leah learned to look less to Jacob and more to God for her happiness:

"She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, "This time I will praise the LORD." So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children." (Genesis 29:35)

Rachel died while giving birth to her second son, and Leah grieved. But Leah found new hope thinking this would finally be her chance to bond with her husband. Rachel was out of the way now for good.

Only Jacob never really recovered from the loss of Rachel - and he focused his affection not on Leah but on Rachel’s two sons. As it turns out, the beauty of Rachel’s memory after death even out-shined Leah’s presence in life. Yes, according to Leah, there was no escaping Rachel’s beauty.

I’m taking some “creative license” here to enter the shoes of these biblical women and look around at their situations from their perspective. But it’s so helpful to me to imagine why things may have unfolded as they did, and what the women may have been thinking or feeling. Then I can relate to and learn from them when I find myself in similar circumstances, or experiencing similar feelings.
I’m struck today by the thought that Rachel and Leah spent so much time looking at each other and instead of seeing their commonalties, they saw the thing the other possessed that they wanted. Don’t we do that today with our siblings or women in our lives? We look at their beauty, or their children, or their husbands, or their talent, or their large home, or their ____ (you fill in the blank). And we decide we’ve been somehow short-changed compared to them. We wake up one day to find that we’re not content and thankful, but competitive or resentful -- and we feel we have a “right” to be.

I leave this time with Rachel and Leah wanting to thankfully accept myself and my blessings, and wanting to look lovingly at other women as my sisters and not my competition. I want to be content where I am at – right now, here today - while patiently looking to God to bring about whatever good plans He has in store for my future (Eph. 2:10).

Stay tuned for the next woman we'll cover.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More on Rachel

Hi Girls. I’m back after a busy day at the university. This is Easter week, so I’m tossing aside our “regular schedule” for now and we’ll probably only do two women this week. Rachel’s story has brought up so much that I want to linger here just a little longer.

Why does “popular opinion” focus on Rachel when Leah birthed the tribe of Judah? Well, to the Jewish people that is not a noteworthy distinction. And beautiful Rachel is their beloved. Lots of Jewish commentary and myth surrounds Rachel as a character of near mythic proportions. I read some in the book “Water from the Well” by Anne Roiphe – interesting, but its important to keep returning to the text to compare.

Reading an “aerial view” of Rachel’s story can raise more questions than it answers. So I wanted to go “down on the ground” and attempt to see things through Rachel’s eyes.

I am the “baby” of my family. That means I was never the first to do anything … everyone was always ahead of me in life. Likewise, Rachel had an older sister who was always the first. I can image Rachel in Leah’s hand-me-down clothes with the olive oil stain that won’t come out, roaming the fields, herding the sheep, and dreaming of a handsome man that would one day notice her - first. Enter Jacob at the well … finally, she would have her first. What’s more, even after he comes to her house and meets her older sister, Jacob still wants her – and her Daddy agrees. Life was looking very promising to Rachel. She would get married, get out from Leah’s shadow, and have her very own family – she wanted nothing more!

Only things didn’t go that way at all. Leah was the first to marry Jacob, the first to sleep with Jacob, and by a long shot the first to start a family with Jacob. That was her plan. He was supposed to be her husband, not Leah’s. And though Rachel was highly favored by Jacob, Rachel still felt she couldn’t get out from Leah’s shadow. It troubled her heart.

Her father was no source of comfort; he’s the one that had gotten her into this mess. Her husband was caught in the middle – he never intended to take Leah as a wife but was tricked. According to the text, Jacob demands of Laban the next morning: “What kind of trick is this?” “I worked seven years for Rachel. What do you mean by this trickery?” (Gen 29:25). Still, Jacob can’t cast Leah out if he and Rachel want any hope of being able to officially marry another seven years from now. Laban has the upper hand here.

While the world says, how fortunate Rachel to have a man that would work another seven years to get her, Rachel probably just felt disgraced. Her sister had her husband. And a week later, her father allowed Jacob to begin sleeping with Rachel, meaning she was now no longer a virgin but still not officially a wife either. To make matter worse, soon Leah was having Jacob’s baby. They were all trapped in this triangle.

So Rachel determined Jacob would make his home in her bed, not Leah’s. You need to sleep with me each night, not her because you’ve already given her children and you haven’t given me any yet, Rachel insisted. That seemed logical and was fine by Jacob as Rachel was his love and much prettier. Yet there had to be times each day that Jacob would interact with Leah and their sons. And surely, he felt something for Leah through all this. It burdened Rachel’s heart.

Rachel remained barren while growing more jealous of her sister, and more possessive of her husband. Rachel blamed Leah for not telling Jacob who she was before he slept with her that first time. Leah could have prevented this. She could’ve told Jacob, or dropped him a hint so he would find out the truth before anything was consummated. Rachel felt she couldn’t fully trust her sister. She refused to forgive her sister and her father for the wedding night trickery that had ruined her life plan.

Rachel couldn’t escape them, all living here at this ranch together. The whole situation drove her mad. She had so much frustration and resentment. The only time she could shake those feelings was when she was daydreaming. She’d think, If only I could have a baby … surely then I will feel better. I will raise my children differently … I would never do this to my child. Rachel - forced to share her husband with her sister - desperately wanted someone that was all hers.

Do you see the desperation that drove Rachel in her quest for a child? Do you see what drove her icy treatment of her sister? Do you see what drove her to take the idols from her father when she left? Can you find it in your heart to sympathize just a moment with Rachel?

I knew you could.

So why didn’t Rachel just trust God with her dream for children instead of giving Jacob her maid, trying to control things, and bartering her husband for mandrake roots? I wonder if she thought maybe God didn’t see her – maybe He didn’t notice her there in Leah’s shadow.

After all, God had let her husband marry Leah. God had given children to her husband and Leah. God has made a promise to Jacob to bring many blessed descendants through him, and Rachel didn’t appear to be any part of that. And she certainly didn’t feel blessed. She felt tricked. Tricked by her family. And she felt infertile, with no help from God. She believed in Jacob’s God and would pray to Him, but she wasn’t entirely sure that He saw her, or heard her, or remembered her, or cared.

Then God remembered Rachel’s plight, and answered her prayers by giving her a child. Rachel birthed Joseph and said, God has removed my shame. May the LORD give me yet another son (Gen. 30:22-24). Which He did.

One last thing … about those idols Rachel gets flack for taking. Remember this was BEFORE Moses and the ten commandments explained that God does not want us to have idols. The idols were small figurines passed down from family head to family head. Like rabbits' feet or four leaf clovers, they were meant as good luck - meaning wealth and children. Its entirely possible Rachel took them believing that they would help her have children. But notice that Joseph was already born at this point, so she already knew she was able to have children, even though she wasn’t doing much of it at the time.

Also, notice the conversation between Jacob, Rachel, and Leah in Genesis 31 right before she swipes those idols and they leave. Jacob is explaining to his wives how their father has swindled him many times. So Rachel may have taken the idols to punish her father and reward her husband. Possession of those idols could someday allow her, Jacob, and Leah to lay claim to her father’s estate, which she probably felt they deserved. Did she come clean about stealing them when challenged? No. Would you if your husband had just declared death for whoever took them?

What fascinates me is that a peace treaty was created when Laban did not find any stolen idols - what would’ve happened had he found them under Rachel’s skirt? And finally, as we’re all discovering, we sometimes sit on idols too!

I hope this helps shed some more light on "Rachel’s plight" that God remembered. Tomorrow, if time allows, I’ll post some about Leah before assigning our final woman of the week.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Beloved Rachel

UPDATED Monday night ...
Be sure to read Genesis 30:1-24 of you have not yet, as it was not in yesterday’s online readings.
At the same watering well that Rebekah met the servant searching for a wife for her cousin Isaac, Rachel meets her cousin Jacob, and thus begins an enduring love story. The romance between Jacob and Rachel has no parallel in all the Bible.

The text says that Rachel was “beautiful in every way, with a lovely face and shapely figure” (NLT). The Message translation describes her as “stunningly beautiful.” Her beauty immediately captivated Jacob. One Jewish midrash writes, “From the moment he saw her at the well, his soul was bound to hers.” And there you have it – a biblical case for love at first sight!

As soon as Jacob catches his breath, he valiantly launches into action – displaying strength, he single-handedly moves the stone covering off the well. He waters all of the flock she is leading, which belongs to her father, his uncle. This would’ve taken some time and though the Bible doesn’t record it, there would’ve been opportunity for each of them to feel the attraction between them.

While they maneuvered the sheep to the water, I imagine they likely exchanged some longer than necessary glances – their breathing rate increasing and their heart rates accelerating with each meeting of the eyes. Standing there in the daylight, surrounded by noisy sheep, stressed over his brother Esau, tired from his travels, Jacob is smitten. He cannot stop staring at this beautiful shepherdess. Pulsing with emotion, Jacob moves in and kisses Rachel. Was that a bold move or a customary greeting? She responds.

I'm guessing it was a tad more passionate than a quick hello kiss, for it’s written, “Jacob kissed Rachel, and tears came to his eyes.”

Oh, let’s just all take a moment to collectively sigh!

Being her cousin, Jacob goes home with Rachel to meet his Uncle Laban and stay with the family. (All that has happened between them so far, including the kiss, would have been within the bounds of appropritate family interactions.) After a month with them, Laban offers to pay Jacob for his work around the ranch.

Jacob declines money and suggests instead that he work for seven years for the right to marry Rachel. Work for seven years … with no pay … wait seven years without a wife … just so he can marry this gal.

Can you imagine a seven-year engagement – while living in the same house with your fiancé and her family? Seven years of daily labor and its written, “But his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days.” Oh… let’s just go ahead and sigh again!

Finally, the wedding day arrives and neighbors are invited to a big feast. Perhaps a lot of wine was consumed? When its night and time for Jacob to officially “take” his wife, he waits in his tent for Rachel to be brought to him once she has been primped and prepared by her family and handmaids. Most likely, her face was also veiled with wedding wear as she is led to his bedside in the dark. After sleeping with her, he wakes to find in the daylight not Rachel but her older sister Leah by his side.

He’d been tricked. Two people had been switched while he was unable to see the difference. Can you imagine Jacob’s rage? And Rachel’s? I imagine it might have paralleled the rage Isaac and Esau felt when Jacob and Rebekah tricked them in the same manner. Hum…

Don’t you wonder what Leah thought of all this? Was she all for it? Did she secretly crush on Jacob? Or was this all Laban’s doing? Well, it was custom to marry the eldest daughter first. Where was Rachel at this time? Did she willingly go along with this? Or was she tied up in a backroom of the house that night? Or, maybe she’d been secretly carried off and kept away for a few days?

Jacob still desperately loved Rachel, enough to agree to work another seven years to marry her. That’s fourteen years of working and serving a less than upright man for the ability to call Rachel his own. But in the meantime, Laban let Jacob go ahead and treat Rachel as if she were already his wife. And it’s written, “So Jacob slept with Rachel, too, and He loved her more than Leah.”

I would’ve hated being in Leah’s shoes. She was tangled in a love triangle – and no one seemed to want her there except her father. She was smack dab in the middle of a situation she didn’t belong in. “Because Leah was so unloved, the LORD let her have a child, while Rachel was childless” (Gen.29:31). In fact, Leah birthed four sons in a row at this time, the last being named "Judah."

God was carrying out his promised plan to birth the nation of Israel through Jacob, and though Jacob loved Rachel, God did not ignore Leah’s feelings. He allowed her to birth half of the sons that would become the twelve tribes of Israel. And also to birth Jacob’s only daughter.

“When Rachel saw that she wasn’t having any children, she became jealous of her sister” (Gen. 30:1). Rachel was clearly the favorite in Jacob’s eyes. Hands down, bar none, she had his undying love. But she knew of God’s promise to Jacob: “Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth… all families will be blessed through you and your descendants” (Gen 28:14). And she realized Leah, not she, was fulfilling that promise.

Rachel demanded of Jacob: “Give me children, or I’ll die!” Was she just being overly dramatic – or was this an actual suicide threat? I’m guessing this was not the first time they’d had this conversation. Jacob knew he was unable to fulfill her request – only God could. But Rachel was growing so desperate that he went along with her plan and slept with her maid, despite how poorly that had turned out for his relatives in the past.

By sleeping with Rachel’s maid (a customary practice at the time), Jacob had two sons. Rachel proclaimed with the birth of the second: “I have had an intense struggle with my sister, and I’m winning!” (Gen. 30:8). Her jealousy had given way to full blown competition with Leah, as jealousy tends to do. And Leah responded by giving her maid to Jacob to sleep with as well, and they produced two sons. Sibling rivalry existed between Jacob and his brother Esau, and now he was experiencing it with his two wives, Rachel and Leah.

At one point, Leah’s son finds a mandrake plant and digs it up. The mandrake was thought to have fertility inducing powers. Rachel begged Leah for it, but she refused to give it. The two sisters looked at each other, each having what the other wanted. Each unwilling to do or say the thing that would rekindle their sisterly affection, and restore their relationship. Rachel used the only bargaining chip she had, and one Leah wouldn't want to refuse. She offered to let Leah sleep with Jacob that night in return for the mandrake (we see here just how much Rachel presided over Jacob’s heart).

The transaction was agreed upon and it is written, “God answered her prayers” and Leah became pregnant again. The mandrake does not seem to have worked for Rachel.

Rachel eventually stopped taking matters into her own hands and relied instead on prayer and God to open her womb. Then, God “remembered Rachel’s plight and answered her prayers by giving her a child” (Gen. 30:22). God did for Sarah, and God remembered and answered Rachel – in His timing. She gave birth to Jacob's son Joseph. My how we need to embrace the spiritual discipline of submission to God and waiting on His plans and timing.

Jacob completed his second 7-year contract with Laban (who had continued to trick and swindle him along they way). Then he took his family and fled Laban’s house.

Unbeknownst to anyone else, Rachel stole her father’s idols before they left. These household idols would've been like small fertility statues, thought to confer power and good luck. They were also the sign of the head of the household, meaning they would've granted Jacob the ability to legally inherit Laban's wealth  -  most of which Laban gained through Jabob's 14 years of work for him.
Laban came after them accusing Jacob of the theft. Jacob insists they are innocent and tells Laban to search their stuff and see for himself. Jacob even (tragically?) insists, “As for your household gods, let the person who has taken them die!” Hum … foreshadowing of Rachel's early death?? Rachel hid them beneath where she was sitting so no one saw them (but God). When Laban didn’t find the idols, he agreed to make a peace treaty with Jacob.

Fast forward – through Jacob traveling back home and making peace also with Esau, and then traveling on towards Bethlehem. His beloved wife Rachel is once again pregnant with the last son that would form the twelve tribes that would make up the nation of Israel. Along the way to the city, her labor begins. She has a very hard delivery and then dies after giving birth and naming her son Benjamin. Jacob set up a stone monument over his beloved's grave and its written “it can be seen here to this day” (Gen. 35:20).

Of all the matriarchs (and patriarchs) of the Old Testament, only Rachel has a street named after her in Jerusalem today: “Mother Rachel Street” (Rehov Rahel Imeynu). Also, she has a shrine devoted to her memory – the memory of a beautiful, emotional, and complex woman that so completely captured Jacob’s (Israel’s) heart. Her shrine still draws thousands of fervent, praying pilgrims every year.

It’s interesting that all of three of these matriarchs began as barren wives, and only conceived children when the Lord willed it. Think He was perhaps showing His power?

Why did God allow sons of Israel to be born to three women and not just Jacob's beloved Rachel? Perhaps He wanted or needed to diversify the gene pool? We’ve since seen the birth defects that can happen in a limited gene pool. Or perhaps He just chose to work through the actions Laban, Rachel, Jacob, Leah and the others gave him to work with.

I learned this read through that the son of Judah - who was the line of Jesus - actually came from Leah and not Rachel. Leah had seemed to be smack dab in he middle of the wrong place but God evidently did not think so! Leah - so ignored and unloved in this family drama - had a divine part to play indeed.

I don’t have all the answers to your questions or mine, but I am certain that no matter the twists and turns our lives take, the LORD never abandons His plans or stops working His will. And - like Jacob with Rachel - God's love for us, His beloved, never fades.

So, what are your thoughts after reading Rachel's story?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Reading Rachel

UPDATE: Oops! Girls, I left GENESIS 30:1-24 off the online reading selection posted yesterday - and it will be key to the discussion this afternoon, so be sure you read it if you used the online link. I've linked it here, and added it below. (Thanks, Ann.)

We left off last week with Rebekah carrying out her deceptive plot to have her youngest and favorite son receive the blessing that tradition and her husband would have given to her eldest. This results in the lineage of Jesus coming down through Jacob rather than Esau.

Part of the intrigue of the Bible is frequently it doesn’t give us all the details… explain all the motives… or provide all the answers. It can leaves us pondering and questioning – and hopefully trusting God nonetheless. Although it was God’s will for Jacob rather than Esau to get the blessing and birthright, God did not force or even persuade Rebekah to deceive anyone or do anything immoral. That was her choice, her actions.

Every woman has the God-given ability to choose what she will or will not do - theologians call this having "free will." We might expect God to only use women's moral actions, but the reality is God also uses the immoral actions of women (and men) to advance His ultimate will. Reread that sentence a time or two.

Realizing that fact can help us understand history, the Bible, and the future. It can also help us understand how God works in our lives. As followers of Christ, we can make wrong decisions (selfish, controlling, or impatient decisions for example), and God can still bring about His will in our lives. But make no mistake about it - those decisions will cost us in terms of time, stress, heart ache, and/or our relationships. Just as it did for Eve, Sarah and Rebekah.

Better to pray and wait for God to open the doors than for us to beat them down and storm through them. Abiding in Him, His Word and prayer - as we are doing together these 6 weeks - will help us discern when to wait, and when to take action and walk in what He has prepared for us.

Switching gears now ... One hot July day in the early 1970s, an 8 lb. 2oz. baby girl came into this world, nameless. Her parents had discussed names but hadn't settled on one. Her mother thought perhaps “Leah” or “Leigh Ann.” But when her father held her in his arms for the first time, he looked into her face and said, “Well, I think she is pretty enough to be named Rachel.” And so I was. Named Rachel that is. I think the “pretty enough” designation is still up for debate.

Today we’re reading my namesake – Rachel. Her story spans from Genesis 28 to the end of Genesis 35. If you’re up for it, you can read all six of those chapters. You’ll learn about what happens to Rebekah’s sons Jacob and Esau along the way. Or...

**To read just the portions that deal directly with Rachel, click here to read her selected readings online. (Gen. 28:10-17, Gen. 29:1-24, Gen. 30:1-24, Gen 31:3-20, 25-35, 43-55, Gen. 35:1-20)

Post your “I did it” here once you’ve finished, and if you’re willing, also tell us where you live – your country or your state.

PS. Some of you asked what the women’s names mean. Eve’s name means “Life Giving Mother.” Sarah’s name means “Princess.” Rebekah’s name means “Loop” or “Tie.” And Rachel’s name means “Little Lamb” and you’ll see in the reading that she was a shepherd.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Understanding Rebekah

Welcome back, are you enjoying the first week? Yesterday I had you read two chapters on Rebekah - her early years as a young woman and a bride, and her later years as a wife and mother. Her early years sound like the kind of woman we expect to read about in the Bible - she possesses purity, kindness and a willingness to do the Lord's will. But her later years seem surprising and shameful - she clearly favors one child over the other, and manipulates her husband and sons in a significant manner. Are you're wondering, "What happened here?"

I'm so glad you asked! I would love for you to read more of the Word of God in search of an answer. It will only take you a few minutes to click here and read Genesis 25 and 26, which are the two chapters in between yesterday's reading.

OK, now that you've read more of Rebekah's story you've learned some critical pieces of information about her and her family. You likely also noticed some parallels between her and her (deceased) mother-in-law, Sarah.

Rebekah is Abraham's great niece (she is the grand-daughter of Abraham's brother). When she is somewhere around 15-20 years old, she marries Sarah and Abraham's son Issac, who is now 40. At this point in time it was not considered wrong to marry within your family tree. Incest within the "nuclear family" was not practiced but cousins were deemed distant enough to marry.

In fact, parents would often rather their children marry within the family than marry into another family or, what they deemed worse, another culture. So possesions, land, and people were usually kept within the larger family clan. Plus, their identity was that they had been set apart by God.

Behind the scenes God was establishing Jesus' bloodline - though we'll discover God used women outside of the Hebrew clan in this endeavor.

Issac and Rebekah's marriage starts quickly and quite well - he adored her and she was the only wife Issac ever took. I believe Issac was the only patriarch that only had one wife/lover - he was monogamous! Soon they tried to have children. That didn't work. Like Sarah, she was barren.

Issac learned a few things from his parent's mistakes (though he too moved when a famine hit and claimed his wife was his sister for protection) and he decided to go straight to God and ask for his wife's womb to be opened. Given that he was the son of (old, barren) Sarah, he could no doubt pray this prayer with great faith. God granted his request and after 20 years of marriage, Rebekah finally became pregnant when he was 60.

Her pregnancy, however, was rough and troubling and she felt something was out of the ordinary. So, like her husband had, she went straight to God for answers. She learned she had TWO babies inside and God said this about them:

And the Lord told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.”

So, God birthed a nation through Abraham and Hagar. And then again, as promised, through Abraham and Sarah. And those two sons were rivals. And now God is doing it again, only the two rival sons/nations will come from the very same womb this time - Rebekah's. (If you are tracking with me here, that means multiple nations will be against the nation of Israel.)

Imagine for a moment that you are pregnant with twins. And the Lord tells you what he told Rebekah in the verse above. Would it influence they way you viewed your two boys? Or the way that you raised them? Would you be extra proud or extra protective of the one God said would rule?

Would you think maybe God told you this so that you could make sure it came to pass?

Rebekah did not favor Esau. Did you read that description of him as a baby? It sounds like his was a face not even his mother could love. What's with all the redness and hair everywhere?

Esau grew to be a man of the wild. He loved to hunt and catch the food his father loved to eat. I imagine he was always a bit too dirty and smelly for Rebekah's taste - always dragging in some beast he had killed. Always staining his clothes with guts and blood. Esau also took wives from outside the family/culture and Rebekah did not condone that.

Jacob, however, was more mild-mannered. Not a hunter but a shepherd. He was smooth-skinned and relational. He was the baby of the family - and you know how mothers can mother the babies of the family! Jacob stayed close to the house and close to his mother's side, and she concentrated her attention and affection on him. After all, he would be the leader. God had said so.

An important thing happens in chapter 25:27-34. According to today's text, Rebekah is not present for it (except perhaps in the back of Jacob's mind). Esau arrives home from being in the wilderness and he is extremely hungry (unable to catch any food this time?) and he wants something to eat so badly that he AGREES to Jacob's proposition to trade his birthright as first born for some food to eat.

First born rights enable you to receive the father's inheritance and blessing when he dies. The ancients believed that once the deathbed blessing is spoken, there is no reversing it or diverting it from its course. It was considered powerful and irrevocable. In this case, that blessing would carry God's promise to Abraham of forming a great nation through your lineage.

Here we have two boys, twins, born at the same time ... but Jacob was trailing Esau out of the womb while holding onto his brother's heel. That means Esau was technically deemed the first born. And yet he agreed to give that title - and all it entails - to Jacob that day in the kitchen.

We're not told if the parents learn about this or not, but I gotta believe Jacob was quick to let his mother know what happened. Did she assume this was God's orchestration? God's favor on the one He said would rule? ... Was it??

As the day of Issac's death draws near, Rebekah learns that Issac still plans to pass the blessing to Esau, his personal favorite, the first child out of the womb. This isn't right, Rebekah thinks, Esau gave that right up to Jacob. Jacob deserves the blessing. Besides, God said that the younger son would end up ruling the older one. Issac is about to mess everything up. I've got to do something.

Now do you understand what motivated that sweet young girl from chapter 24 to carry out the events of chapter 27? Do you see how she, like Sarah, took matters into her own hands to ensure that God's words came true?

One thing is for sure, it wound up costing Rebekah everything - her relationship with her husband, her eldest son turned on her beloved youngest son, and her youngest son had to be sent off in hiding where she would no longer see him.

Don't you wonder how things would've played out differently if she had never heard what God said while she was pregnant? Or if she hadn't sent Jacob in to clandestinely get the blessing? I'm sure you still have some questions after reading Rebekah's story and my post - I know I do!

God heard and answered Issac's prayers for Rebekah, and God knew from the start what the deal would be with Rebekah's children. So none of this was beyond God's vision and none of it stopped His promise to Abraham or His plan to bring Jesus into the world. And nothing that happens to you or me is beyond God's vision either.

Let me hear what you are thinking and what you learned.

*Tomorrow we are "off" and then I'll post the next reading on Sunday.


Reading Rebekah

Yep, I again read every comment posted - and I understand a few of you had trouble posting your comments. I am so sorry about these technological glitches. A few gals left comments on the Please Help post, offering to try to help anyone get subscribed or posted. Technology can be so frustrating, but it is also bringing this group together from the US, Brazil, the Netherlands, Nigeria, India, Malaysia and Australia, and that is amazing!

Thursday's reading is Genesis chapter 24 and also chapter 27.

If you prefer to read online, you can click here to read it .

I might pop in here later and say a few things, but the plan is to read Rebekah on Thursday (you can post that you've read it), and then we'll talk about her story on Friday.

Pray first, and leave an "I read it" comment once you're done.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sarah's Story

I'm going to tell a little more of Sarah’s background story, so hang with me.

Ten generations have lived and died since Noah landed his ark, and Sarah and Abraham are in the land called Ur around the fertile crescent – they are childless. Custom of the day would allow Abraham to divorce her on the grounds of barrenness, but he doesn't. :)

One day Abraham hears a voice telling him to move to the land of Canaan and that he will be blessed and become the father of many. At the age most of us are thinking about retiring and taking it easy, Sarah, 65, begins an incredible journey ... a geographical, spiritual, emotional, and physiological journey. She begins a divine journey … a journey she hopes will mean she’ll finally have children.

Yes, Sarah changed her life because this God had promised to make her husband’s seed produce a large nation. She was wrapped within God’s holy, and wholly miraculous, plan to create a people that would walk the earth carrying Him in their hearts.

But life was tough in Canaan – a famine hit the land – and the couple decided to leave the place God had called them to and seek provisions for themselves. They headed south to Egypt. Arriving at Egypt, Abraham suspected the men there might kill him in order to attain his beautiful wife. So, he devises a plan and tells Sarah to claim they are nothing more than brother and sister.

She does and soon Sarah is taken into the Pharaoh’s harem. I can still recall the first time I read Sarah and Abraham’s story in the Bible more than a decade ago. I was so mad at Abraham; I couldn’t believe he would let his wife be taken into another man’s harem! Now I am able to see that he was trying to keep the both of them alive and ensure they would have plenty of food, shelter, and provision.

Sarah would be well provided for in the harem, and Pharaoh would pay “her brother” for the privilege of owning her. Pharaoh gave Abraham a handsome assortment of sheep, donkeys, cattle, camels, and servants. So it seems Abraham and Sarah had succeeded in acquiring both protection and provision for themselves. But God was none too pleased.

He immediately struck Pharaoh and his whole household with disease. Pharaoh figured this had something to do with the new woman brought into his harem and learned the truth from Abraham. And this is the point I would expect the chosen couple to be killed, or at least stripped of all their possessions, but Pharaoh feared their God and sent them on their way with their possessions. In the end, it was actually God that provided for them in Egypt.

This is where we picked up the story in our reading. It would seem that God’s plans are back on track now with Abraham and Sarah reunited and in the right place. But we’re dealing with a woman here. And women can be impatient, am I right? We can be planners and schemers, and take-controllers. When the God-promised child didn’t seem to materialize, Sarah took matters into her own hands and gave Abraham her maidservant, Hagar, to sleep with. Are your eyes rolling?

I also used to get mad at Abraham for sleeping with Hagar, but this was a common practice of the day when your wife was barren. Not to mention that this was Sarah’s idea!

You know how women can be very persuasive, and not give it a rest until their husbands comply. So Abraham sleeps with Hagar and there is soon trouble. As Hagar’s belly grows, so does Sarah’s envy. As Abraham’s attention is turned to Hagar and his child she is carrying, Sarah’s jealousy takes root. Perhaps Sarah now thought her plan was a mistake (one that could not be reversed) but was unwilling to admit it and took her regret out on Hagar.

Sarah’s pragmatic attempts to help God keep His promise brought her and the world anguish. The descendants of Hagar and the descendants of Sarah are still fighting today in the Middle East. Why did God allow Ishmael to be born? Honestly, I don’t know. I could speculate about God’s ways and His grand plans … His ability to see the future and our ability to freely choose if we will follow God or rebel. I can’t say for sure, but I do know this from our study of Eve: God can be trusted to have our best interests in mind, even when it does not seem like it. Remember?

Fast forward and Sarah is about 90. She overhears angel-men telling Abraham that she will have a child – from her own body this time – within the year. She laughs.

How will me and Abraham uh-hum, you know? How can a barren woman get pregnant and give birth, much less at this age!? This is impossible, she thought, so much so that its laughable.

When the Lord called Sarah out about laughing, it wasn’t because He is so stuffy that laughter isn’t allowed in His people. The exchange between them wasn’t really about laughter at all. It was about faith.

If you recall, she took off years ago for Canaan believing the promise God had made about her and Abraham having children – a great nation. Somewhere along the way, her faith in God dissipated, and she no longer thought this possible. Read Gen. 18:15 again substituting the word “doubt” for “laugh.”

Sarah: “I didn’t laugh (doubt).”
God: “No, you did laugh (doubt).”

But despite Sarah’s doubt and skepticism, despite her lying to God and her deception in Egypt, despite her taking matters into her own hands and then jealously mistreating Hagar, despite all this …

“The Lord kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised. She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would.” (Gen 21:1-2)

There are so many noteworthy things about the verses above. Like the fact that God was faithful even when Sarah was less than. And the fact that it shows His plans will always unfold at “just the time” He purposes.

However, what I really love in the verses above is the two words “for Sarah.” God did for Sarah. Not just for His own grand plans. Not just for the history of the world. Not just so we could study and learn from her today, but God did “for Sarah.” What love God had for this woman!

Now, again, substitute the idea of faith for the word “laughter” in Gen 21:6.

And Sarah declared, “God has brought me laughter (faith). All who hear about this will laugh (believe in Him) with me.”

Some reflection questions:

Is there some “Egypt” or “Hagar” in my life – some area where I’m not trusting in God’s provision?

Has God given me a dream or a promise that I’ve given up on? … What am I “laughing” about?

I can’t wait to hear from you - what did you feel or learn when reading Sarah’s story?

Don’t worry if someone has already posted something similar – the writing and recording of your thoughts is part of your process, so go ahead and post!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Please Help

OK girls, need to put our brains together here and help some sisters out ... several women have emailed me saying they can't seem to subscribe to the feed of my blog. I know that others of you have successfully subscribed. Can anyone more tech-savvy than I shed some light on how to subscribe to this blog? Thanks!

Isn't it amazing how you think you know a Bible story until you actually sit down and read it ... in the Bible ... all by yourself ... with an expectant heart? And then you see things you never noticed before. And sometimes you even get those goose-bumpy feelings like God is depositing something spiritual straight into your heart!

I'm excited to talk about Sarah tomorrow.
Her scriptures to read are posted below.

Reading Sarah

Wow, isn't this great? We've gotten a terrific response so far. No, JnL4God, to answer your question, I didn't really expect quite this many ... honestly I was thinking it would be great if we had even twelve, twenty-five or fifty women participate. :) But God clearly knew the need when he dropped the idea for this into my heart.

I do know from experience that a little accountability and some sisterhood can do a girl a lot of good! I feel like we could spend another 4 days together on Eve.

I've read each and every comment posted so far and I learned a few things from you too. I also loved seeing you answer each others' questions, encourage each other, and pray for our sweet sisters who are dealing with the stress of loss. That is so precious.

The next six weeks with God, you gals, and the women of the Bible are going to provide a lot of insight and plenty of fun. Leebird made me laugh out loud with her comment: "I'm sure I would have probably eaten a half dozen of the fruit just to make sure I got a good dose of whatever I thought I was supposed to be getting. I'm greedy like that! :)"

If you're just now finding this study - feel free to jump right in with us. We read one day, and then talk about it here the next day.

Today's reading is Genesis 16:1-15, Genesis 18:1-15 and Genesis 21:1-7.

Start your reading of Sarah with a prayer for God to speak to your heart and guide your understanding while you read. You could pray the words of Psalm 119:12 &18:

"I praise you, O Lord, teach me your decrees."
"Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions."

If you want to do the reading online or don't have a Bible handy, Click here to read Sarah's story online at BibleGateway.

If you are using BibleGateway, did you notice that you can click on that little sentence that says, "View commentary related to this passage"? But remember to read the verses through yourself on the first day, before reading any commentary about it. Give God a chance to speak directly to you through His Words. Tomorrow we'll talk about Sarah's story - can you wait? I hardly can!

Click by the pencil below to post your "I did it" comment once you are done with the reading.

Monday, March 10, 2008

All About Eve

If you're visiting from my Proverbs 31 Ministries devotion today, welcome! We've just begun reading through the women of the Bible, starting with Eve. If you want to jump in with us, STOP NOW AND READ Genesis 2:18 through 3:24 on Eve today. Then read my thoughts on Eve below and jump in on the discussion. Tomorrow we'll be moving on to reading about Sarah.

Great job, gals, getting the reading done. Didn't it make you smile with a sense of accomplishment to close the Bible, and post your "I did it" comment?

Well, yesterday I could hardly wait to get to today and start discussing Eve. Actually, I did my reading of and writing about Eve last week in prep for starting this project and so I've been waiting for days to talk about Eve with you girls! There is so much we could talk about when it comes to Eve, the very first woman.

She was the first woman to encounter God, the first woman to explore His creation, the first woman to encounter man, the first woman to experience marriage, the first woman to have children, the first woman to lose a child, and of course she is famous for being the first woman to disobey God.

Eve tends to get a bad rap. Yes, I know she earned it by ushering sin into mankind, and that is so very not good. But I'm just not so sure I wouldn't have done the same thing. So I'm leery about throwing stones at Eve.

You see, I too would've been tempted by the serpent's promise. I have a compelling desire to be "in the know." I don't like feeling like I'm missing out. Like Eve, I desire wisdom. And I certainly don't want to be intentionally held out on - especially by a God I'd been trusting to tell me the truth.

Satan convinced Eve that God was indeed holding out on her ... He was holding back some deliciously ripe fruit, and lying to her about the consequences of eating it. She wouldn't die, He just didn't want her to attain His status with the ability to know good and evil. Well, that last part is true. You see what Eve knew up until this point was only Good. Everything she saw, experienced, and knew was Good. What she did not know yet was Evil, at least not until she ran into the serpent and sank her teeth into that apple. Then she knew it all too well, as feelings of guilt, shame and fear flooded her. Those feelings drove her to hide from God, for she knew there would be consequences. And there were ... including being booted from the garden of goodness.

You see Eve and her husband in swallowing the fruit, had also swallowed traces of evil sinfulness that would somehow fuse themselves into the first couple's spiritual DNA. God wanted to ensure they didn't also eat from the tree of eternal life while they were in this state. In His sweet mercy, God kept Eve (and you and I) from living forever in a spiritual state of sin.

So its true, God was holding something out on Eve - knowledge of Evil. How I wish I didn't know evil. The only thing God was holding back from Eve was something not worth tasting, not worth knowing, and not worth possessing.

Do you ever wonder if God might be holding good things out on you?

Sometimes I look around and wonder why I don't have this, or why I can't do that. I guess the wise response would be to just trust God that He will provide everything I need and nothing I don't. Why does that feel so hard to settle for? Why does accepting God's ways even feel like settling? I suspect its because I have the same impulse Eve did - to have and know it all.

Do you ever fear that following God's orders fully will cost you more than you care to give up?

In Genesis 3:3, Eve makes God's orders about not eating from the tree (seem) even more restrictive than they actually were by claiming that He said she couldn't even touch the tree or its fruit. Don't we do that sometimes too ... make what God calls us to do or not do seem even more restrictive or unreasonable than it really is?

While reading Eve's adventures in the garden, I decided I want to cement in my soul the truth that I can follow God's orders with complete trust that He has my best interests in mind and at heart.

I also decided that tonight, in honor of Eve who always gets a bad rap, I'm making an apple salad with celery, walnuts and raisins. As I taste the crunchy, fruity salad - that reminds me spring is on the way - I will think: Oh Eve, how I wish you hadn't eaten that apple! But I also understand why you did. Hopefully, we'll all learn from your mistakes.

Actually, it probably wasn't an apple Eve ate in the garden but a fig - but I have no idea how to make figgy pudding!

Now it's your turn ... there is so much that can be said about Eve's story ... tell us what's on your mind. Even if someone else has already posted your thoughts.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Reading Eve

Note: Sorry this is late in posting on Sunday. I had it scheduled to post with blogger draft but it didn't post - maybe daylight savings time messed things up? Anyway, here it is. Tomorrow (Monday), I'll start the discussion of Eve after lunch so read for now and come back Monday afternoon/evening to check out everyone's comments.

Today is the first day of your decision to read the Words of God regularly for the next six weeks! We're going through the women of the Bible. If you haven't already, you can read the ground rules in my last post, called "Ready to get started?"

So, are you excited to get to it? Well, grab a cup of something warm and open up that Bible - it doesn't matter which translation.

Today's reading is Genesis 2:18 through Genesis 3:24.

If you prefer to read it online, click here and then you can choose which translation you want to see it in.

Remember, today we'll read and reflect, and tomorrow we'll do a little more dissecting and discussing.

Once you've completed the reading,
post a comment here letting me know you did it!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Ready to get started?

I'm so excited the time has come to begin our walk together through the women of the Bible! Let's run through some details of how it will work over the next 6 weeks as we cover 3 women per week.

On Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays I'll be posting the scriptures we are to read here on my blog. You can look them up in your own Bible, or you can read them online. I'll provide a link to Biblegateway each time. Some of the women's stories will be a little longer than others, but none of them require massive amounts of time to read.

Begin your time reading with a short prayer such as this, "Dear Lord, I come to your Word seeking Your wisdom, to know Your will for me, and to know You more intimately. Help me clear my mind and focus in on this. Guide me into understanding what I read. Please draw me close and speak to me as I read and reflect on these words, in Jesus' Name."

The goal on these days is two-fold. One to get the reading done and post an "I did it" comment here. And two, to listen for God's voice as you read and as you continue thinking about this woman and her story through out your day. I don't want you breaking out the commentary books at this point (if that's even your thing), I just want you to encounter the scriptures with no preconceived notions from other people's interpretations, and nothing to sway your thoughts about the story but the Spirit of God Himself.

Feel free to write down your thoughts if you want to as you read or as you reflect. You can write down anything you think God might be revealing to you. You can write down any questions you have while or after reading. You can also write down a prayer you have in response if you want. Writing will help you internalize and remember what you are reading but realize this is optional ... on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays all you have to do is complete your reading and post when you're done. :)

Then, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we'll all come back here to "talk about" what we read, or what we feel we heard God whisper to our hearts, through our comments. On these days we'll learn from each other. If you are a commentary reader or a Greek-Hebrew Study Bible kinda girl, you can break those out and tell us what they say about our ancient sisters in Christ. I'll be posting on these days either my own reflections, or some discussion questions, or a writing prompt for our journals, or else some ideas for further reading or digging deeper. Won't it be fun to read all the comments, questions and thoughts we share?! I can't wait.

So that's the plan - 3 days each week of reading, 3 days of processing what you've read, Saturdays off, and over the course of six weeks you will have learned about the major female characters in God's grand story.

Please realize that some of your fellow sisters on this journey will be old pros in their walk with Christ, while others will be newbies. Some of us will already be reading the Bible regularly, and other of us will be looking to establish or re-establish the habit. We will be from varying walks of life, and varying theological or denominational church backgrounds. So the rules of engagement here are to focus on our common ground as mutual, imperfect Christians and sisters in Christ, and to continually season our words lovingly with grace.

Feel free to sign your first name if you want as you post comments, or your blog address if you'd like to invite people over to your place on the net. (Its OK to remain anonymous.) Won't it be great to come through this study having gained a few new cyber-friends?

As you can see, all you need is an Internet connection to participate. A Bible would be great to have - any translation you want - but you can read online if you don't have a Bible handy. Also, a simple notebook or journal would be useful to have a place to capture and process your thoughts. But all that's really required is a willingness to make the effort to draw near to God by reading the scriptures.

Are you ready? Your first reading assignment will be posted by dawn tomorrow (not that you have to get up that early to read it!). I look forward to our time together.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Thanks for sharing with me

I've been so touched by your comments on the anxious heart post. I'm thrilled to know that God's hope, through my words and experiences, reached your heart and affected your day! I truly believe that as women we have to be proactive about keeping our emotions submitted to Christ - otherwise we can say or do some pretty damaging things ... or wind up doing nothing at all because we get too overwhelmed.

Yesterday was sunny and pretty, today its cold and rainy here - the type of day that makes it easy for the emotions to slump. No matter, I turned on some warm lighting, some ambient music, and first thing today I turned my soul towards Christ. I started my day by praying for God to forgive me my sins and cleanse my soul, and to give me the mind of Christ today. I asked for help in keeping my emotions in check and for wisdom in all that I do and say today. When I start my day this way, it is so centering and grounding. Doesn't mean I never lose that center later in the day, but it does mean that I can usually get back to center more quickly if I do.

Someone commented that they have physical limitations that prevent them from walking and she wanted to know if she'd still be able to get a grip on her moods ... she asked if sitting and praying would be enough. The answer to that is a resounding YES. Prayer is a more powerful force than endorphins. That's why I listed prayer and Bible reading ahead of exercise and chocolate. Do whatever you can do ... think of it as being a good steward of your emotions ... and remember that you can always pray anytime, anywhere.

But with that said, I will echo Alyce's comment that sometimes our depression can pass a certain point and we need to seek help from a pastor, counselor or medical doctor. Never hesitate to do so.

Since its too yucky here to go outside, right now I've got Sunrise Earth on the DVD player. Search my blog for the post on Sunrise Earth if you aren't familiar with this show. At this particular time in my life I don't work the 9 to 5 office desk-job that I once did. Instead I work 4 different jobs in varying locations, including writing and editing from home where I have some control over my environment. But if I did still work at that office, I would so take this DVD to work with me to play on my computer while I'm working. Something about the sights and sounds of nature soothes us. Research has demonstrated that the sound of the ocean is the most universally soothing sound on the planet! Nature can be one of God's built-in stress relievers for us - so get some fresh air, sunshine, and views of God's green earth when you can.

Hadassah mentioned using CDs of scripture set to music in her car. I have a couple of those in my 10-disc CD player in my car. Mine came with the "First Place" Bible study books I bought. I never did the First Place program but years ago I bought the first couple workbooks with CDs in their series at my local bookstore and have enjoyed them.

I had to laugh out loud at the woman who commented that her husband sometimes begs her, "Please, take a walk!!!" when she gets all menopausal. I'm not at that stage yet but nonetheless there have been days my husband has looked at me and said, "Go do whatever you need to do to recharge your batteries." Evidently I'm not the cute, pink Energizer Bunny I fantasize being in my head!

Some of you got some really tough news yesterday, or faced some difficult circumstances this week, and I just want you to know that I have prayed for you. And I consider it an honor to do so. Don't loose sight of God, or hope in Him - and do what you need to do to keep your emotional self above water.

In closing, I thought it was so cool that the BibleGateway verse of the day in my sidebar today happens to be Psalm 139:23-24:

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Let's follow Him today in the {peacefeul} way everlasting.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

RX for an anxious heart

Welcome if you followed the link from my devotion running today with Proverbs 31 Ministries. I talked about feeling frustrated from the get-go the other day and struggling to get a grip on my emotions. That particular day it was frustration and disappointment (laced with a little selfishness I'm sure). Other days it has been guilt, or sadness, or envy, or anger, or just plain feeling emotionally hurt by someone.

In a Gallup poll a few years ago, 90% of respondents described women as "emotional." And according to the National Academy of Sciences, they're right. The Academy says, "Women's brains are wired to both feel and recall emotions more keenly than the brains of men."

Furthermore, an article in Scientific American warns that, "Women who hold back feelings of anger may end up more irate in the long run. According to new research, women experience a rebound effect when they suppress angry emotions, which can result in greater feelings of fury."

You're probably thinking, tell me something I don't know!

So what can we do when we feel our emotions getting the best of us?

Number one on my list of responses is PRAYER. Take those seemingly unruly feelings to the One who can handle them. There have been times I've grieved so deeply over the loss of my mother I could scarcely get a line of prayer out admit my uncontrollable sobbing, only to have God answer that prayer for peace and completely calm my heart in the span of a single second. He is the God of all Comfort, the Prince of Peace, and the Author of a sound mind.

Also on my list is READ the Bible. This is the one I turned to the day I wrote the "Feeling Emotional" devotion. I can renew my mind with the Words of truth, replacing my overly emotional - often irrational - thoughts with eternal reality from the Reality Maker Himself.

This next one may make some of us groan with disgust, but its proven that EXERCISE can calm our stress and get us thinking clearly again. Some time on my treadmill with upbeat music playing does me a lot of good (once I get myself there). I think Elle Woods in the movie Legally Blonde explained this one quite well when she said, "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don't kill their husbands. They just don't." :)

Which leads me to the next one, HUMOR. Everybody needs somebody who can make them laugh out loud. Laughter not only makes us feel better, but its good for our health according to Proverbs 17:22, and it can stimulate our problem-solving abilities as well.

Sometimes I just have to WRITE. Spilling my feelings onto the page of a journal can unburden my mind. And writing a letter to someone who hurt me can unburden my heart. Most of the time I decide never to send the letter, but that's ok because it served its purpose in the moment to help me think things through and calm down. Years later I still have some of those letters saved on my computer. Somehow I feel better knowing that I could send them if I decided I really needed to.

And last but certainly not least, is STARBUCKS. There's few things better than a soy latte to steady my hormones ... except maybe a vanilla soy latte and some dark CHOCOLATE. You didn't really think I could write a post on dealing with women's emotions without mentioning food did you?

If you've got any (food or non-food) solutions for reigning in your emotions on days when they're flying - please do share. Meanwhile, here's wishing us both an emotionally peaceful day.

Now that I've had my Starbucks, I'm off to pray while walking on my treadmill (just for preventative measures) ...