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Sometimes Faithfulness Requires Coloring outside the Lines

Abraham and Sarah sending Hagar into the wilderness
Abraham and Sarah sending Hagar into the wilderness

Peter told us that Sarah obeyed Abraham, not the other way around. (1 Peter 3:5-6) She respected her husband so profoundly that she even called him “Lord.” Can you imagine what kind of reception that would have in one of today’s churches? They would probably call the police on Abraham and report him for emotional abuse. Even so, Peter points to her attitude as the biblical ideal, saying, “Ladies, if you are Sarah’s daughters you should emulate her.” (See Mutual Submission in Marriage, part 1 and part 2.)

Peter painted a rosy picture of Sarah-homemaker and Patriarch Abe, but it was incomplete. Sarah and Abraham weren’t perfect. Far from it. They didn’t always believe, Abraham wasn’t always wise, and Sarah wasn’t always respectful. Consider the matter with Hagar.

Genesis 21:10-11 And she said to Abraham, Cast out this slave woman and her son. For the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son, with Isaac. (11) And the thing was very evil in Abraham’s sight, because of his son.

Sarah overstepped her bounds when she told Abraham what to do with Hagar and Ishmael. She had every right to make her wishes known and to give Abraham advice (respectfully and gently!), but this was neither a wish nor advice. It was a command. Old Abe would have been perfectly within his rights to tell her to take a hike.

Whatever we may think of polygamy and concubinage, God recognized both as legitimate–if not always wise–marriage. Abraham had a responsibility to Hagar as her husband and to Ishmael as his father. They needed him. He had put them in this position of need and, even if they weren’t faithful to him, he was determined to be faithful to them. He couldn’t just abandon them. The very idea is abhorrent to an honorable man!

Nonetheless, Abraham knew that Sarah was not normally given to such termagent outbursts. Instead of replying in anger and dismissing her words, he considered them and brought them to God who told him she was right. There was much more going on here than just a personality conflict between two women in the same house. Their lives were prophetic. Hagar and Ishmael had to go in order to set the stage for millennia of conflict that was necessary for God’s ultimate plans. They had to go in order to further establish a pattern of dividing sheep from goats.

My point is that despite Sarah’s flawed manner, if Abraham had refused to listen, doing what he thought was right instead of what God said was right, he would have rejected God’s promise too. God would have either made his life very much harder until he complied or Abraham would have become Ishmael, the cast out one. God would have chosen someone else.

Don’t be quick to anger, and don’t be so bound to propriety that you cannot hear truth through a difficult tone of voice.

Who Among Us Will Live?

After carrying the wood of his own death to the mountain, Isaac, a grown man, laid still for Abraham and waited for the knife to fall.

After losing their families and homes and serving the King of Babylon for many years, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked into the furnace and Daniel walked into the lion’s den.

After carrying his execution cross to Golgotha, Yeshua allowed the Roman soldiers to nail him to the wood, pierce his side with a spear, and force a crown of thorns onto his head.

After Stephen, Peter, and countless others dedicated their lives to preaching salvation and the Word of God to the world, they willingly gave up their lives in the dungeons, arenas, and fires of evil men.

Meanwhile, the userer, the unjust, the reprobate, and the cruel live freely and without fear. As Solomon wrote,

Ecclesiastes 8:14 There is a vanity which is done upon the earth: that there are righteous men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there are wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous – I said that this also is vanity.

Where exactly is justice in this world? Solomon also said this,

Ecclesiastes 12:1 Remember then thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the evil days come…

Evil days will come; they come for everyone eventually. Everyone suffers. Everyone goes through fire. But in the very end, only that which is pure survives:

Isaiah 33:10-22 Now will I arise, saith the LORD; now will I be exalted; now will I lift Myself up. (11) Ye conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble; your breath is a fire that shall devour you. (12) And the peoples shall be as the burnings of lime; as thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire. (13) Hear, ye that are far off, what I have done; and, ye that are near, acknowledge My might. (14) The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling hath seized the ungodly: ‘Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?’ (15) He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from looking upon evil; (16) He shall dwell on high; his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks; his bread shall be given, his waters shall be sure. (17) Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty; they shall behold a land stretching afar. (18) Thy heart shall muse on the terror: ‘Where is he that counted, where is he that weighed? Where is he that counted the towers?’ (19) Thou shalt not see the fierce people; a people of a deep speech that thou canst not perceive, of a stammering tongue that thou canst not understand. (20) Look upon Zion, the city of our solemn gatherings; thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a peaceful habitation, a tent that shall not be removed, the stakes whereof shall never be plucked up, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken. (21) But there the LORD will be with us in majesty, in a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby. (22) For the LORD is our Judge, the LORD is our Lawgiver, the LORD is our King; He will save us.

The world is full of trouble and sorrow, and I won’t pretend to understand why it had to be this way. There is only One who knows the beginning from the end. Put your trust in Him, not in men or political parties or ideologies.

Remember how Solomon concluded his treatise on the vagaries of mortal life:

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (14) For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

(Edited and moved from “Soil and Stone” where it was first published on February 22, 2013.)

Behold the King in His Glory

Anti-Christian forces are advancing everywhere. Muslims are pouring into Europe and America nearly unopposed. Bankers and financiers rob their creditors, debtors, and stock holders, and are rewarded from the accounts of the unaffiliated public. Politicians promise to give their constituents everything, while plotting to take everything. Unemployment, public debt, and inflation are all high. Wages and public morality are low. Times are hard, and they are likely to get much harder.

But there is something waiting beyond whatever darkness lies ahead.

Isaiah 33:17-22 Your eyes shall see the king in his beauty; they shall behold the land that is very far off…. (20) Look on Zion, the city of our holy meetings; your eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet home, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of its stakes shall ever be removed, nor shall any of its cords be broken. (21) But there the glorious YHWH will be to us a place of broad rivers and streams, in which no galley with oars shall go, nor shall mighty ship pass by it. (22) For YHWH is our judge, YHWH is our lawgiver, Jehovah is our king; He will save us.

Beyond the waiting, the struggles, and the transient illusions of loss and failure lies peace, fellowship, learning, and prosperity. But to get there, we must repent, commit to obedience, and arm ourselves with whatever weapons are appropriate to the battle. We must be prepared to stand and fight against whatever evils may be, but we must never pretend that victory will come by our own strength. Victory is inevitable in the end–whether we see it or some future generation–but it is only inevitable because God will fight for us when the time is right.

(Originally written for Soil and Stone.)

Patriarchy and Devotion

Noah, Abraham, & David were patriarchal servants of God.You’ve heard that you can know the rightness of something by its fruit. Well, here are some stories of real life patriarchy in action.

One man threw out all good sense, and devoted his entire life to a senseless project with no gain and no practical purpose at all. He neglected his family for his obsession and eventually even dragged them down with him. He abused his wife’s trust and submissive personality by pressuring her into joining him and abandoning any semblance of a real life outside of his tyrannical grip. He denied his children any chance at a normal social life by forcing them to work non-stop for years on end. His self-serving attitude turned his family into his slaves while he constantly harangued them with self-righteous sermons about how much better he was than everyone else in the world. His harping about the evil world eventually brainwashed them all, and they ended up locking themselves away from the rest of mankind and living with animals, virtually as animals.

There was another man who went even further off the deep end. He was the worst kind of sexist, even to the point of making his wife call him “Master,” and probably making her wear a veil too. He was always telling his family how God talked to him. You know what they say, “It’s OK to talk to God as long as you don’t think he’s talking back.” Well, this guy seduced a young immigrant girl and then kept her locked up at his house where he treated her as a slave for nearly twenty years. Eventually he took this woman and the son he had fathered on her out to the desert and left them to die. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, then he told everyone that God had told him to kill his own son as some kind of perverted human sacrifice. He nearly went through with it, but there must have been some last glimmer of sanity, because then he said that God changed his mind. Well, that was the final straw for the wife that he had been dragging around and treating like dirt for decades. She left him and died of a broken heart not long afterwards.

A third man was a womanizer. He always seemed to have a new woman with him. He was a sweet-talker who could carry a tune and was always singing to the ladies. They were probably the kind of women who were attracted to power and money, but didn’t have the intelligence or the character to understand what is really important in life: complete and utter devotion from your man. This man was a thug. He was known to have killed a few men, although no one ever dared stand up to him. He actually claimed to have killed thousands, but that was just his swollen ego talking. When he was caught with someone else’s wife, he made a big deal about being sorry for it, but he kept on sleeping around with his bimbos. One day he was out drunk and causing a commotion in the streets. His wife, who had been faithful for years despite his despicable ways, saw him doing a public strip-tease in front of a crowd of women. She finally told him off and ended up locked away for pretty much the rest of her life. Meanwhile he kept on with his same old ways, even trying to seduce a young girl as an old man.

Or at least that’s how most people, including Christians, would see it today.

Fortunately, God left a record of what really happened, and most Christians are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. The real story is that Noah and Abraham and David were such outstanding men of God that he trusted them with the most difficult tasks. Noah’s wife and three sons knew from their own experience that he was unlike any other man alive. They willingly gave up their professions and their social standing in order to help him build an insane boat, because they knew that he was a man of God. The Bible says that “Noah found favor in the eyes of God.” Abraham was among the kindest and gentlest men that ever lived. He was fair and honest in everything he did, and his wife held him in such great esteem that she called him lord by her own choice. He had such an intimate and complete faith in God that he was willing to give up his own son at God’s command, no matter what the cost to himself or his wife. Sarah may or may not have left him or even died because of that event, but she understood that God’s will must always come first. The Bible calls him the Friend of God. David was a man of great passion and integrity all at the same time. He made a serious mistake with one woman, and paid dearly for it. But the majority of his life was spent in complete devotion to God and service to his country. He was the epitome of the servant king. His first wife, Michal, was jealous of God and rebuked David for his public dancing and singing to God. Her pride cost her everything. She never again had David’s respect, and she died bitter and childless. The Bible calls David a man after God’s own heart.

Don’t expect God’s ways to always be to your liking. His ways are not your ways. The obedience of one man means more to him than the disapproval of ten thousand. To serve him means to give up all claims to social status or pride. He expects complete devotion. A true man of God can never be devoted1 to his wife, because devotion can have only one object. To serve God means to be willing to give up every comfort, every friend, and every loved one. All of those things are no better than dirt in comparison to him.

Or at least that’s how Christ taught it once upon a time.

1 I am using the older sense of devotion, indicating complete absorption. In that sense, devotion to anything besides God is a form of idolatry.