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…

Reality Hits – Genesis 29-30

Jacob when from the mountaintop to the valley. I’m sure he hardly felt the miles traveling from the stone pillow to “the land of the people of the east,” where his father and the Lord had told him to look for a wife. He was elated as he waited at the well and beautiful Rachel arrived. Single-handedly, he moved the stone from the well, impressing her as well as others. And in a rare show of emotion, he “kissed Rachel and wept aloud.”

And then Laban came running to meet him, probably expecting a caravan of riches like the time before. Jacob stayed with Laban a month when Laban made him an offer he could not refuse – working seven years for the hand of Rachel.

So Jacob and Rachel flirted for seven years, and everything seemed to be going Jacob’s way…

But it seems that life catches up…

Just as Jacob had deceived Esau, Laban deceived Jacob, and instead of giving him Rachel as a veiled wife, he gave him his older daughter, Leah. Jacob experienced the same shock Esau had when he realized he had been deceived by Jacob. The tables had turned.

Life isn’t as easy as we would like it to be, even if we are walking with God. He has things he wants to teach us that only come with time. 

Eager to have his beloved Rachel, Jacob agreed to work seven more years. And then eager to go home with some wealth, he agrees to work even longer… 

And then there are lessons within the family, Leah getting pregnant, Rachel being barren. The giving of servants to Jacob for sex – hadn’t he heard of the disaster this practice was for Abraham? Why did he think it would turn out better for himself?

And then favoritism shown to children, something he had experienced in his own life. Trading sex for mandrakes? Going along with what others tell you to do, jealousy and competition. It’s all part of the world around us, and in us. 

Life lessons. It’s not easy, even with a personal relationship with God. There are still daily choices, lessons to be learned, building faith, building strength. Sometimes we make good choices; sometimes we make bad choices.

And our lives end up being the sum of choices.

Personal Relationship – Genesis 28

Back to our story of Jacob – he’s on the run from Esau’s anger. His parents sent him to Rebekah’s brother, Laban, for safety and to hopefully find a wife who was not “bitter.” At the same time, Esau married another woman, this time a Canaanite. Instead of learning from his mistakes, he was repeating them.

So Jacob was on the 600 mile journey back to the land Abraham originally left in obedience to God. But instead of having a caravan of riches like Abraham’s servant had when he made the trip to find a wife for Isaac, Jacob was alone. His deception of Esau had cost him everything.

Can you picture Jacob, alone and cold, with only a stone for a pillow? A cold, hard stone. He must have been so very tired to be able to sleep. 

And then, Jacob has his own personal experience with God.

Up to this time, God has spoken to Abraham and Isaac and told them they would become a great nation. He had spoken to Rebekah, telling her about her children. They probably told Jacob of their encounters, but we don’t have any recorded conversations of God to Jacob. 

12 And he dreamed, and behold, 
there was a ladder set up on the earth,
and the top of it reached to heaven.
And behold, the angels of God
were ascending and descending on it! 
And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, 
 “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father
and the God of Isaac. 
The land on which you lie I will give to you
and to your offspring. 
Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth,
and you shall spread abroad to the west
and to the east and to the north and to the south,
 and in you and your offspring shall all the families 
of the earth be blessed.
Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go,
and will bring you back to this land. 
For I will not leave you until I have done
 what I have promised you.” 

Jacob was a changed man!

He was filled with the awe and fear of the Lord: “He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ “

And he responded with a vow: “‘If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God.”

And he backed the vow with actions: “and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

Jacob was no longer obeying his mother, trying to trick his father, or stealing from his brother. He was no longer alone. For the first time, he had his own relationship with God!

I remember when I first began a relationship with God. I had felt him wooing my heart, asking me to respond. I had to let go of all of my “self” in order to take hold of him.  I was in awe of his love, fearful of his might. I vowed to trust him for my future, whatever that would mean. And I followed it up with actions that demonstrated my faith.

And I was no longer alone. I had Jesus, God, with me. He promised to be with me, and I believed.

And I was a changed woman!

Choices – Genesis 27

There is so much sadness in these stories, just like there is sadness in our lives. The characters are so messed up, just as we mess up.

Esau, even before he had is blessing stolen, was making poor choices. He took two Hittite women as wives, and…”they made life bitterfor Isaac and Rebekah.

I wonder what “bitter” life was like for Isaac and Rebekah? The women were from a different culture. They may have brought their idols and worship, maybe even their language, with them.  Were they undermining Isaac in his belief in his God? Were they encouraging Esau to get his inheritance? Were they whispering behind Isaac and Rebekah’s backs, giggling as they walked away?

Whatever it was, it made Rebekah say, “I loathe my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women like these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?”

Think for a moment about the taste of bitter. It’s not unbearable, just unpleasant. You want to spit it out, but you can’t.

Some relationships are like that – just bitter. They leave a taste in our mouths, but we can’t spit it out.

It makes me wonder, am I a “bitter” to anyone? Do I leave a taste in their mouth that is just off, sour, not pleasing? Are they tolerating me rather than enjoying me?

These women had a choice. They could respond to God as they learned of him through Isaac and Rebekah. Or they could cling to their old Gods, becoming bitter to those around them.

What is my choice?

Repetitive Sin – Genesis 26

Don’t you think we would learn from the mistakes of others? Instead, we seem to repeat them.

I certainly think Abraham or Sarah, or even a herdsman, had told Isaac how Abraham had offered his mother Sarah to Pharoah, and then to Abimelech. Don’t you think he was grossed out at the thought?

And yet, when he was in a similar position, filled with fear, what did he do?

He offered his wife.

When will we learn? When will we learn to not give into fear but to trust God? When will we learn to consider loved ones as precious, deserving to be protected? When will we learn to not follow the example of others, but to do what is right in the sight of the Lord, no matter the consequences?

God, in his grace and mercy, did not give Isaac what he deserved. But there was continued conflict between he and Abimelech until they made a covenant.

God, in his grace and mercy, doesn’t always give us, at the time, what we deserve. Do we see this as grace, unmerited favor, or as an excuse to go on sinning, expecting more and more grace?

When will we learn to do what is right? 

Two Brothers – Genesis 25-27

“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger.”

Sibling rivalry. 

It exists in most families, children trying to figure out who is the “favorite” and then trying to dethrone them.

And in the case of Esau and Jacob, it was obvious who the favorites were – Esau was loved by Isaac because he was masculine, a hunter, rough around the edges, a man’s man. He was born first, and despite what God told Rebekah, Isaac wanted a man like Esau to be his successor.

And then there was Jacob, his mother’s favorite, second by only seconds. His mother told him God spoke to her and he would be his father’s successor. But could he believe her? 

What Jacob lacked in strength, he made up for in cunning. He took advantage of Esau’s moment of weakness and traded his stew for Esau’s birthright. Obviously, Esau didn’t take his birthright seriously, or he would have never made the trade.

But the birthright and the blessing were somehow separated. If Esau could get the blessing, then birthright was empty.

The moment Esau was waiting for finally came. His father was ready to give him his blessing. All would be made right.

But once again, Jacob took advantage of the situation, with his mother’s prompting. He fooled blind Isaac into thinking he was Esau, so he gave his blessing to Jacob.

Oh, what regret all around!

Esau was weeping. Isaac was blessing him with what he could. Jacob ran away in fear of Esau’s revenge. Rebekah never even saw her son again.

Family relationships can be hard. Little do we realize as we are growing up, that the little things we do will set the course of generations to come. In this case, the favoritism of parents, the competition of sons, set the stage for conflict which affect us even today.

What if the story could have been written differently? What if the parents hadn’t played favorites, a united front in parenting? What if the boys had been furiously loyal to each other, defending each other before others? What if they had accepted God’s will and sought it together?

The world today would be a different picture.

What if my story had been written differently? What if I had sought God’s will? What if, instead of competing, I had been forgiving?

Is it too late? 

Servant – Genesis 24

Genesis 24 is a l-o-n-g love story. But instead of focusing on what is probably familiar to us, I’d like to focus on a more minor character, the servant.

This servant is probably Eliezer of Damascus, from Genesis 15:2, who would have been heir of Abraham’s house had the Lord not given him Isaac. Note his character: even after Abraham has his own son, he stays personally and professionally loyal to him.

 And Abraham said to his servant…
“Put your hand under my thigh,
that I may make you swear by the Lord,
the God of heaven and God of the earth,
that you will not take a wife for my son
from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell,
but will go to my country and to my kindred,
and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

Have you ever pictured where that hand must have been…in a culture where they don’t wear underwear? It demonstrates the kind of intimacy (and I don’t mean in a lustful way) these two men shared.

The servant replied on a practical level. What if the woman would not come back?

To which Abraham had an strong emotional response, “See to it that you do not take my son back there.” Abraham had spent years trusting God, leaving all he knew in his homeland. After the death of his wife, he could not bear the thought of his young son leaving, and maybe staying, undoing all Abraham had gone through to be in the promised land. That couldn’t happen!

Hearing his master’s passion, the servant made the oath (with his hand in the appropriate place). He faithfully journeyed 600 miles by camel to the homeland and then sat by a well.

Then reality hit – now what?

All of a sudden, living on his master’s faith wasn’t enough. He needed faith of his own. Like so many caught in that moment, he prayed.

“O Lord, God of my master Abraham, 
please grant me success today
and show steadfast love to my master Abraham.
Behold, I am standing by the spring of water,
and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water.
Let the young woman to whom I shall say,
‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, 
‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one   
whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac.
By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”

It’s usually in a moment of crisis, when we are alone, when we realize our own need for a  relationship with God. As the women were walking towards him, the time of truth had come…

For me, it was in a dorm room at Illinois State University my sophomore year. I had been raised in a Christian home but had doubted my faith. Someone shared with me “The Four Spiritual Laws” which begin with “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” It stopped me in my tracks. Did I believe God loves me? If so, what was I doing trying to run my own life?

Like Eliezer, I prayed. The God of my parents, and their parents, needed to show up in my life, showing me that he loved me. 

And like Eliezer, God did not fail.

The story goes on how God provided a wife for Isaac, but I love watching the servant as he gets more and more excited and animated about what God was doing in and through him. Then there was the miracle of Rebekah’s response, to leave immediately with him. Over and over again, God let Eliezer see his provision. 

I’m sure he was never the same.

Eliezer is one person I’m looking forward to meeting in heaven! We’ve got a lot to talk about…  

Death of Sara – Genesis 23

A whole chapter is given to the death of Sarah and her burial. In a culture where women are sometimes not even named, this is quite an honor. 

Honestly, we don’t know much about Sarah, although we know more about her than most women of the Bible. In many ways, she’s an average wife who for 127 years, made breakfast, fed the goats, mended the clothes, swept the tent floor. When Abraham said they were “moving on,” she packed up the tent and walked miles until they would settle again.

We do hear of her sin, like being jealous about Hagar, and not confronting Abraham when he asked her to lie about their relationship and be given to a ruler as his wife. What her feelings about that arrangement are not recorded.

And we don’t know her response when Abraham kept having crazy visions about someday being the father of a great nation while she continued to be barren. I’m sure she tried to get pregnant, doing whatever was the gossip of the day. And each month she was reminded of her failure until she was dried up with age. Even then, when visitors prophesied she would be pregnant, she laughed in unbelief. But she still went into her husband…and miraculously, conceived! 

She raised the child, probably telling him about all the promises, all the visions, all the provisions God had given them. After all, God had made it clear that Sarah was to be the “mother” of Abraham’s great nation, a nation which would bless the world. 

Isaac was not only Abraham’s son, but Sarah’s son.

One thing is clear, Abraham deeply loved Sarah. He mourned her death and wanted to make sure she was buried in what would be someday his nation’s land.

Sarah was more than beautiful; she was faithful. She was the daily kind of faithful, sharing hopes and dreams with Abraham. She didn’t doubt him, at least, not to his face. She kept his dream alive and shared her life with him.

If God were writing the Bible today, I don’t know if many of us would have our names mentioned, much less a chapter.. We’re like Sarah, trying to be faithful in daily life, believing God. We may never do anything spectacular. But God still sees us and knows of our daily faithfulness. We have our ups and downs, but he’s with us, sharing his promises.

Faithfulness counts.  

Sacrifice – Genesis 22

If Abraham thought giving sheep and oxen to Abimelech was a sacrifice, God had news for him! Just like money out of abundance is easy to give, time and affection are much harder.

God asked Abraham to sacrifice what was most dear to him, to demonstrate he believed God would be faithful to his promise “no matter what.”

Despite numerous visons and visits from God, Abraham had wandered in his faith so often, giving Sarah to rulers as a wife, taking a servant to bed with him, and so on. Now he had his son.

Was his faith in his son, or the God who gave him a son?

God wanted to know, although I’m sure he knew what the outcome would be. More importantly, he wanted Abraham to know where his faith lay. In order to do it, he asked for the ultimate sacrifice.

Most of us know the story, how Abraham took Isaac to the mountain, laid him on the altar, raised his hand to kill him when God provided an ox. Abraham proved to himself where his faith lay.

And Isaac also proved where his faith lay. He was the one on the altar, starring wide-eyed at his father as the knife was raised. I’m sure he never forgot that moment, his father was ready to kill him to demonstrate his faith.

Have you ever wondered about the conversation as they came down the mountain? Or do you think they walked in silence, each deep in their own soul, finding meaning in what just happened.

We know God was pleased. He reinforced his promise to Abraham through an angel. Abraham had been faithful.

“By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord,
because you have done this
and have not withheld your son, your only son,
I will surely bless you,
and I will surely multiply your offspring 
as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.
And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies,
and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,
because you have obeyed my voice.”      

We are blessed because Abraham was faithful.

And God was and will be faithful in his promises.

Making Peace – Genesis 21

I’ve struggled with including this story, because I feel as if we are creeping along in Genesis, but the Lord has reminded me that he put it here for a purpose. It seems so not a part of the story of the nation, and yet, isn’t that how our lives are? We’re in the middle of one challenge, when another one comes our way.

Abraham finally has his son and the promises of God feel like they are about to happen. Even the ruler Abimelech recognizes it, saying. “God is with you in all that you do.” And he wants to get in on a good thing.

But there is an issue between them. Abimelech’s servants had seized Abraham’s well. Abimelech didn’t even know it had happened. Instead of Abimelech making amends, Abraham was the one to give Abimelech sheep and oxen so that they could have peace.

I see two principles. First, God wants us to tell others when they have hurt us, especially if they seem unaware of it. It something stands between us, we can’t get past it until it is acknowledged. Honesty is a good thing.

Recently, Roger and I had a good, hard, conversation. As a woman, there have been times when I have felt “less than.” We grew up and served in cultures which reinforced the leadership of the man in marriage, of which I don’t disagree. But there have been times when Roger’s leadership left me feeling as if I shouldn’t enter into a conversation as an equal but needed to defer. Like Abimelech, Roger was totally unaware.

Secondly, sometimes God wants us to make the first move to give sacrificially to the other person in order to have peace. In this case, Abraham gave to Abimelech in a way that the truth about the well could never doubted.

This is harder than being honest. Usually, we want our wrong to be righted, to have the other person apologize, to make retribution to us. But sometimes, God is asking us to go over and beyond forgiveness, to blessing, blessing those who have wronged us.

God wants us to live in peace. Abraham planted a tree at the spot where they made peace. And he “called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God.” He knew that someday all the land would be the land of his people. But they needed peace to get to that time and place. 

Who does God want me to go beyond forgiveness and bless today?

Giving Up – Genesis 21

Sometimes it seems when things go right in one direction, they goes very wrong in another. 

Poor Hagar, who has just been hanging in there with Abraham and Sarah, raising her boy Ishmael who is about 14 at this point. I’m sure she stayed “under the radar,” not wanting to antagonize her mistress, each year hoping that maybe Abraham would recognize her and accept her son. She probably helped Sarah entertain those visitors who said barren Sarah would have a child, even at her age! She saw Sodom go up in smoke, learning a lesson about sin. She traveled with Abraham and Sarah, having little say in comings and goings, even when she saw Sarah given to Abimelech to be his wife.

And then, Hagar saw Sarah’s belly grow. As unbelievable as it was, she knew what that meant. She may have even been there when Sarah gave birth, seeing the child…seeing Abraham’s joy…seeing Sarah’s delight.

Yet Hagar knew in her heart, the good news for them was bad news for her.

And the child grew and was weaned.
And Abraham made a great feast on the day
that Isaac was weaned.
But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, 
whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing.[b] 1
So she said to Abraham, 
“Cast out this slave woman with her son,
for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” 

Who knows what Hagar was laughing about? It might have had nothing to do with Sarah or her son. She could have been laughing about a joke a fellow slave told. Whatever it was, it drew Sarah’s attention towards her. She couldn’t bear to Hagar happy, laughing. Once again, in a moment of weakness, Sarah’s jealously got the best of her.

Hagar may have heard the arguing between Sarah and Abraham, hoping Abraham would stick up for her. Instead, he was the one who brought the bad news with bread and a skin of water, sending her into the wilderness. Could this be the man who lay with her? 

In distress, she wandered, just like we do when we are in distress. The water is gone. She can’t bear to see her son die, leaving him under a tree, weeping.

She gives up.

 And God heard the voice of the boy,
and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven
and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar?
Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 
Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand,   
for I will make him into a great nation.”  
Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. 
And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. 

Interesting…God heard the voice of the boy. When his mother gave up, Ishmael must have remember her stories, who she once prayed to, who made promises to her. 

But God spoke to Hagar, telling her he had seen her boy. He is still the God who sees, and he sees that Hagar has given up. He needs to open her eyes, so that she sees – so that she sees that he is the God to provides and keeps his promises.

I remember times when I’ve given up, every opportunity around me had dried up, and I didn’t have anywhere to go. God opened my eyes, refreshed me and reminded me of his love and promises. He gave me the strength to go on.

And God was with the boy, and he grew up.
He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow.
He lived in the wilderness of Paran,  
and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt

“And God was with the boy.” He doesn’t forget and is true to his promises.

And his mother was refreshed with a sense of purpose.