Maggie’s Blog

Crazy times, isn’t it? I haven’t posted for quite awhile as my head just hasn’t been into it (blame a broken hip and a few other things!?!). And the Lord has had me on a different trip, but I’m back in the Psalms and loving it. Come with me…

A Glimmer of Hope – Genesis 40

Poor Joseph is in jail, but he bucks up and makes the best of it, showing his trustworthiness to the jailer and rising in the ranks of the lowest of low.

Enter two men who were of high standing, serving a somewhat fickle Pharoah, who became angry with them and threw them in jail. “They continued for some time in custody” with Joseph appointed to be with them. The chief jailer assigned them his best.

Then came the dreams, to both of them on the same night. Sensitive to their emotions, Joseph saw they were “troubled.” They had been in Pharoah’s court and knew how the wise men and magicians interpreted dreams, but never guessed a Hebrew slave in prison could do the same.

Before saying a word, Joseph gave the glory to God, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” While others took credit for themselves to gain position, Joseph did not.

As the cupbearer shared his dream, and the outcome was so wonderul, the baker couldn’t contain himself as he stepped forward with his similar dream. But the outcome was so different.

I can’t help but wonder what those three days of suspense were like. Did they dare believe the Hebrew slave? Did the baker cry out to his gods? Was the cupbearer elated, or fearful? After all, they did not know Joseph’s God.

And what did Joseph feel, waiting those three days. Did he fear he got it wrong, didn’t hear from God correctly? Things hadn’t gone well at Potiphar’s house – maybe this was another trap? What if it the interpretation didn’t come true?

And then it was Pharoah’s birthday. I can imagine the celebration. I wonder if the prisoners heard the partying down in the dungeon? Then the invitation came for the cupbearer and baker to join the party with the other servants…

Joseph waited in silence, in the prison.

The news came – the interpretation was true! The cupbearer was restored to his position, but the poor baker, well, it was not so good for him. 

There is a glimmer of light, of hope, in the story. Surely the cupbearer would remember what Joseph had done for him. The door was cracked. Any day now, it would open… 

Joseph had sought God. He had stepped into opportunity. He had been bold to speak God’s name. Surely he will be rewarded…

Next – Genesis 39

After the story of Tamar, we pick back up with the life of Joseph, the boy turned slave by his brothers.

Scripture often doesn’t talk about the emotional aspect of events, what people are feeling. There are hints later that Joseph begged for his life from the pit. I wonder what those words were? I wonder how he felt hearing his brothers bargaining for him, settling for a price, money exchanged. What did it feel like to be chained each day, walking for miles through the desert, possibly not knowing the language? Then the humility of the line-up, the auction as he was sold, fearing who his master would be. 

But God was in control, even if Joseph was not. God was always with him. 

Joseph must have impressed his Ishmaelite captors. They presented him and sold him to Potiphar, captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. I’m sure they would not have wanted to pass off an inferior product but wanted to sell him their best, boosting their own reputation. 

And Joseph did well because “The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man.” Even though Joseph’s circumstances were horrible, he made the best of them, looking for opportunities to serve and serve well. We don’t have any sense he gave into depression or self-pity but met challenges as an opportunities. A quick, obedient learner, he picked up the nuances of the culture and adjusted.

And others took notice: ”Now his master saw that theLord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge.”

But success comes with temptations. Others take notice and get jealous. In this case, it was Potiphar’s wife, who probably held the power in the household before Joseph arrived. She used the one power she had over Joseph: sexual power.

Joseph resisted. He knew right from wrong. And even if adultery was permitted in this culture, he knew his sin would be more than against his owner, “How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?”

But doing what is right is not always rewarded. He was entrapped once again, and in the midst of false charges, he was thrown into jail.

Favored son to slave to supervisor to jail. Would it ever end?

But God was continuing to protect Joseph. The punishment for attempted rape for a slave under these circumstances would have been death. And the jail he was placed in was probably under Potiphar’s supervision. 

Again, it seems Joseph did not give into discouragement and depression. “The Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him… and whatever he did, the Lord made to prosper.”

How do I handle the ups and downs of my life? 

I have to confess, sometimes, when I feel trapped, I give into my feelings. I don’t see challenges as opportunities. I wallow in my pit, feeling alone, instead of asking God, “What’s next?” 

God has never left me, even in darkness, and there always is something coming up “next.”

Doing What is Right – Genesis 38

Joseph is sold into slavery and Israel is morning for his son. Judah, one of the older sons, leaves the family and marries a Canaanite woman and has sons of his own. When we join this story, many years have passed since Joseph was sold and this takes place while Joseph is a slave in Egypt.  I can’t help but wonder if Judah left because of tselling Joseph and seeing his father’s distress?

 Anyway, Judah oldest son, Er, marries Tamar. Er “was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord took his life.” It was not fault Tamar’s fault, but she still gets blamed for it.

First, Judah’s second son, Onan, blames her and refuses to give her a child.  What he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord; so He took his life also.“ Tamar loses again, gets blamed again.

Judah, now believing it must be Tamar’s fault, refuses to give her his third son, lest he die also. In disgrace, she has to leave Judah’s family, the only family she has known as an adult, and is sent home to her home in disgrace.

What could she do?

She did not grow up in this culture. She does’t know the ways of God. But she did have a conscience and knew right from wrong.

So she took matters into her own hands. She tricked Judah into having sex with her, playing the role of a pagan prostitute, gaining proof that she would use later to prove her pregnancy.

What was Judah doing messing around with a pagan prostitute?

He was the child of Jacob/Israel. He had every opportunity to know God. But Tamar had probably seen how he was running from the Lord since selling Joseph. She knew his track record of betrayal.

Can you imagine his surprise at being outwitted by a Canaanite woman? He was in the midst of his anger at her getting pregnant only to find out it was his own sin.

God met Judah in midst of the deceit, as he says, “She is more righteous than I.” He knew his own sin, and how clear it was even to someone who knew right from wrong. It’s a lesson we see later as Judah deals with Joseph.

And Tamar?

She is one of the few women mentioned in Jesus’ lineage in Matthew 1:3 – the Canaanite woman who knew more about right and wrong than Judah who was raised in a household that was supposed to be following God.

Hmm…I wonder what my witness looks like to others who know I am a Christian when I don’t choose right?

Enter Joseph – Genesis 37

Although the account of his birth is in Genesis 30, he plays a minor role as the “favorite wife’s son” until we get to chapter 37. Now he comes to center-stage, the main character until the end of the book. His mother has already died in childbirth, bearing Jacob’s only full brother, Benjamin.

Now a teen-ager, with possibly the characteristics of a teen, he brings a bad report back to his father about the shortcomings of his half-brothers. It may have endeared him to his father, but certainly didn’t help his relationship with his brothers. Strike one.

Then Israel/Jacob made him a special coat which caused his brothers to envy him, and was a sure sign of his father’s favoritism. It says, “His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.” Strike two.

Then the dreams started coming, and with the distorted wisdom of a teen, Joseph could not keep his mouth shut. I can’t blame him – it would be pretty mind-blowing to have these kinds of dreams. But he didn’t have the filter to not hear what he was saying to the people who would be most affected. Not once, but twice! Even his father objected to the idea that he would someday bow down to his son. “So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words” until they plotted how to kill him. Strike three.

Jealousy, envy that seems reasonable when things are “not fair,” has a way of growing within us. 

So when Israel sent Joseph to report on his brothers again, the brothers were not keen on being tattled on again. Joseph was tenacious to find his brothers and report to his father. After all, he was his father’s favorite son.

But his brother’s had other ideas, little schemes hatched in over active minds looking for revenge. I’m sure Joseph, in his naivety, had no idea of what lay before him as he walked into the trap which enfolded. First the plot to kill him; then the plan to enslave him – after all, then it wouldn’t be murder, the brothers reassured themselves, each one making compromises in their hearts.

Reality hit when they told their lie to their father, who “tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. 35 Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, ‘Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.’ So his father wept for him.

We learned later this scene ripped at the heart of the boys. Sworn to a pledge of silence, no one dared to tell the truth. After all, if slavery happened to Joseph, what would happen to them if they told? The watched, day after day, their father in distress, blaming himself for sending Joseph to find the flock, depressed year after year, until the truth would be known.

We all have secrets…things we have done we don’t want others to know about. And we cover those little secrets the best we can…for years. Oh, we may have never sold a brother into slavery, but we may have talked behind their back, been a little jealous, didn’t defend them when others talked about them?

Years later, God turned their sin into good years later. Joseph learned lessons through suffering. The brothers had their lives and hearts changed. God used Joseph to provide food for Israel’s family.

Our sin cannot thwart the good God wants to do in, through, and around us…

Esau’s Family – Genesis 36

Genesis 36 is the family tree coming out of Esau. Remember Jacob’s blessing of Esau? Jacob had been given the blessing of the bloodline of God’s nation, but Esau had been given a blessing also. God never forgot Esau.

Esau took “his wives from the daughters of Canaan” and these wives caused much grief to his parents. But since Jacob was gone for so long, Esau’s family was all his parents had in their lives. They were the ones around them when Rachel died.

And Esau made some good decisions. When Jacob left, Esau hated him and wanted to kill him, but seventeen years later, Esau forgave Jacob when Jacob came back, even embraced him and offered to escort him back to the family. Talk about life change!

And Esau went with Jacob to bury their father. He may have even been the one to bear the bad news.

And after the burial and return of Jacob to the homeland, Esau gave up his home and “took his wives and his sons and his daughters and all his household, and his livestock and all his cattle and all his goods which he had acquired in the land of Canaan, and went to another land away from his brother Jacob. Esau held up to his end of father’s blessing even after his father had died, and left the land so Jacob could inherit it.

Esau’s descendants became Edomites and are listed by their “chiefs” and “kings” which rings true with Issac’s blessing of Esau: “By your sword you shall live.” These nations have been in conflict with Israel even to this day.

God did not forget Esau, even though he was not the chosen one. Just read through all the names of his sons, their sons and their accomplishments. He has a special place in scripture without negative commentary. 

Esau made some good decisions, for which God gives him a special place in scripture. These boys were not “good” or “bad,” as we tend to polarize people and nations.

Each had their own choices to make…

A Strange Footnote – Genesis 35:8

In Genesis 35:8, there is a strange sentence in the midst of the story of Jacob and his sons I have a hard time shooting past…

Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died,
and she was buried below Bethel under the oak;
it was named Allon-bacuth.

Talk about a minor character? And yet, for some reason, Rebekah’s nurse is mentioned by name and a location was named in honor or her. Allon-bacuth means “Oak of weeping.”

There are so many unanswered questions here. This was Rebekah’s nurse, Jacob’s mother’s nurse. She may have been with Rebekah when she left her family to marry Issac whom she had never seen. But why is it mentioned here, in the midst of Jacob and Rachel’s story? And why is it mentioned at all? What was special about this Deborah?

I don’t have answers, but can only assume that she was a faithful, committed servant who made her way into the hearts of others.

Nameless throughout her own life, she is named for eternity in God’s word.

Sometimes I feel nameless, serving as faithfully as I can, not making a huge splash on this world. I don’t have hopes or desires for a location to be named on my behalf. But I’m glad for this little footnote, this little fact that doesn’t seem to fit in the paragraph, honoring a servant. God saw Deborah in her faithfulness, in how she affected others,

…and he sees me in mine.

God Enters – Genesis 35

What a mess! Bloodshed everywhere. Stolen goods. Women and children scarred by violence. What has happened to Jacob and his family? Where is God in all this?

Then God said to Jacob, 
“Arise, go up to Bethel and live there,
and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you
when you fled from your brother Esau.”

God pursued Jacob. Jacob stood up to the sin in his son’s lives and had finally said that enough was enough. Then God spoke to him and told him to come back to him, to repent, to start over. 

So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him,
“Put away the foreign gods which are among you,
and purify yourselves and change your garments;
and let us arise and go up to Bethel,
and I will make an altar there to God,
who answered me in the day of my distress
and has been with me wherever I have gone.”

Jacob took the next step in repentance – obedience to what he knew was right. He could not bring people back from the dead, but he could take the loot away from his sons. He could finally obey God and return to the land of his father, not compromising. He could call his sons away from bloodshed and to a place where they could see him worship God – see Jacob was choosing a better way.

The result of this one step of obedience: God appears to Jacob and blesses him. He renames him, giving him a new start. He restates his promise, not only to Jacob, but Jacob’s descendants, yes – the very ones who just slaughtered a city!

The journey ahead, walking with God, is not easy. Death continues with them, even in the midst of life. Beloved Rachel dies in childbirth. Sin continues with them, as one of Jacob’s sons, Reuben, has sex with a wife/concubine or Jacob’s and everyone hears of it. And then Issac, the father of Esau and Jacob/Israel dies. Another loss. 

And for the last time, Esau and Jacob come together, to bury their father. 

Genesis 34 – Sin Out of Control

What an ugly chapter, Genesis 32. It starts so innocent and ends so violent…and yet it is a story of many lives, starting out innocent but ending very badly.

Dinah went to visit some of her friends who lived in a different neighborhood. One of the local boys saw her, desired her and raped her. He was a prince, and maybe had an inflated ego about himself and his position. He may have rationalized his behavior by “speaking tenderly” to her afterwards. Whatever it was, it was devastating to her and her family. And to make it worse, he kidnapped her, keeping her from returning to her family (34:26) 

To cover his tracks, Shechem told his father and asked him to buy off Dinah’s father, Jacob. Hamor made an appealing offer to Jacob, but when Dinah’s brothers heard of it, they wanted nothing to do with it. 

What had happened to one, felt like it had happened to all.

Sometimes it’s hard to understand a minority community’s response to injustice from a majority position. We don’t know what it was like for Dinah’s brothers to be newcomers to this land. But when Dinah was taken by force, it triggered intense feelings by her brothers as “they were very angry because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done.” In fact, their response is greater than the response of their own father who was strangely silent.

And just as Jacob had been the master of deceit with his brother Esau, his sons followed the family legacy. They convinced Shechem, Hamor and all their people to be circumcised. I would have loved to have heard that conversation! You want me to do what? But amazingly, the people went along with the deal as Jacob’s sons lied to make it happen, knowing the violence that would come out of the lie.

25 Now it came about on the third day, 
when they were in pain,
that two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers,
each took his sword and came upon the city unawares,
and killed every male…
28 They took their flocks and their herds and their donkeys, 
and that which was in the city and that which was in the field;  
29 and they captured and looted all their wealth
and all their little ones and their wives,
even all that was in the houses. 

Talk about bloodshed and horror! Talk about vengeance! Two men being able to do that much destruction – it blows any perception of reason!

Jacob didn’t approve of what they did afterward the fact, but was strangly silent when they struck the deal with Hamor. Was he blind to the compromise? Was he blind to the scheme? 

And what about those wives and little one who were taken, who saw the bloodshed? They were as much damaged goods as Dinah was. Taking the possessions was greed. And what about Dinah? She’s never mentioned again.

This chapter makes my heart so sad. Sin is out of control outside of Jacob’s family, and inside Jacob’s family.

I think of racism, out of control outside of minority communities, producing calls for vengeance inside minority communities, that lead to more calls of vengeance. I think of racism outside Christian circles as well as inside Christian circles, going round and round.

Jacob’s family, and our Christian family, needs a touch from God to stop the cycle – it’s the only solution…

Facing Our Fears – Genesis 33

And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked,
and behold, Esau was coming,
 and four hundred men with him. 

The moment of truth was here for Jacob. Would Esau take his revenge and secure his birthright? Or would God be true to his promise?

First, Jacob showed humility, repentance, to Esau. He bowed himself to the ground seven times, each time getting nearer, and nearer, to his brother.

And then the surprise – Esau “ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”

Continuing in humility, and probably fear and unbelief, Jacob introduced his family to Esau, calling himself Esau’s servant. He insisted Esau keep the gifts he sent before him, and Esau responded by wanting to escort Jacob and his caravan back to the homeland (Seir). 

But fear still must have had hold on Jacob. He refused the escort, making excuses about the strength of his children and flocks. And after Esau left, Jacob didn’t go to his homeland where Esau was, but settled in a place nearby (Shechem), keeping a safe distance just in case Esau changed his mind. The years of distrust ran deep.

Jacob came close to facing his fears, but he couldn’t let go. Wrestling with God miraculously put him face-to-face with his brother, seeing God’s deliverance in the moment. But Jacob must have had doubts that God’s grace would continue. He believed God in the moment, but not for the moments ahead.

How often do I trust God, only to see his miracles? I’m grateful, but then seconds later, I’m taking control again, doing what “makes sense” to me, doing what is comfortable for me. I forget how big God is, and what he wants to do in my life.

Sometimes I am like Jacob, stopping short of all God wants to bless me with…

Wrestling with God – Genesis 31-32

It’s not until Laban’s sons got jealous of Jacob that Jacob decides to return home. He’s known it was God’s plan since he left, since he spent the night on the stone pillow and heard from God. But he’s been busy in the “east,” having children with wives and servants, raising livestock, trying to stay out of trouble with his faither-in-law who keeps on deceiving him. All the time, learning lessons from God.

Sometimes we don’t obey until we get between a hard place and a rock. Laban’s jealous sons are behind him; Esau and his hatred are before him. Which is worse?

God’s promise is before him, so that is the direction Jacob decides to go. Tricking Laban one last time, he takes off into an uncertain future with his wealth and his wives. Hearing Esau was headed towards him with 400 men, he tries to make as many sound decisions as he can, separating his caravan to cut his losses if Esau attacks. Lastly, he sends presents ahead for Esau, hoping to appease him.

And then he was alone…and wrestles with God.

“And Jacob was left alone. 
And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.
 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, 
he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint 
as he wrestled with him.
Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” 
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 
And he said to him, “What is your name?” 
And he said, “Jacob.” 
Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob,
but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” 
But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” 
And there he blessed him. 
So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel saying, 
“For I have seen God face to face, 
and yet my life has been delivered.” 

Sometimes obedience is not easy. In fact, it usually isn’t. It comes in the face of fear, life controlling fear, that makes us want to run from obedience. 

But Jacob stood alone and wrestled with his fear. His fear of Esau was secondary only to his fear of God, of not receiving God’s blessing. He wrestled all night, until the break of day, when God overpowered him by simply “touching” his hip, causing it to come out of joint. 

Why didn’t God “touch” him sooner? 

Because it’s through the wrestling, we learn how much we want God in our lives. Jacob would not let go until he knew he had God’s blessing once again, the affirmation of who he was in God’s eyes, “face to face.” 

How much do I want God’s blessing? Am I willing to sell my birthright as his daughter for a bowl of stew, as Esau was willing? Am I willing to struggle and even endure pain for it? Or do I quit when it gets tough to follow God? 

Jacob found new identity with God, a new name, as a result of that wrestling match. And I have a new identity as well, in the salvation of Jesus Christ.