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The Roles and Fields of Righteous Men

Every laborer has his place in God's vineyard.Four of the great patriarchs of Torah were faced with the deserved destruction of unrighteous people, and the all reacted differently.

When God told Noah that he would destroy the entire world by a great flood, he spent his days building an ark to save his family according to God’s command, but also in preaching to the lost. Even though God had told him the world was beyond saving, he meant to try it anyway. God did not rebuke him for it, and the Apostles even praised Noah for his great work as a preacher. Even so, his efforts seem pointless. I doubt that he gained anything useful from them except for a greater understanding of the debased nature of man. God killed every living person on the planet outside of Noah’s small family.

A few hundred years later, God told Abraham that he was about to destroy Sodom. The people there had never done anything for Abraham, and in fact had caused him a considerable amount of trouble. Abraham knew that Sodom was a cesspit and didn’t want anything to do with it, yet he dared to bargain with God to save the people of Sodom anyway. The remarkable thing is that God entertained this negotiation. Like Noah before him, Abraham’s efforts went unrewarded beyond the personal gain of a greater understanding of God and man. God sterilized Sodom with fire, saving only Lot, his wife, and two daughters.

Lot too, tried to save more than were only in his house. He tried to save his married daughters and their families as the angels told him, but he couldn’t even convince those whom God had told him to save. He should have been working to save the people of Sodom all along, but he waited until it was too late, and then he couldn’t even save what was once his own. Even those family members who had escaped with him would be taken away, his wife by her own disobedience, and his daughters by his own poor judgment and the infectious wickedness of Sodom that they had brought with them. Lot, too, learned something of God and human nature, but he couldn’t save anyone.

Later, Moses would be given the opportunity to save others multiple times. He tried to save Pharaoh and the people of Egypt through preaching, but he already knew that they wouldn’t listen and would be crushed beneath God’s wrath. However, the outcome in Moses’ other opportunities was different than all those previous. He called Israel out of Egypt, and they followed him and the pillar across the Red Sea to safety. He interceded on Israel’s behalf several times in the wilderness, even offering his own life, and caused God to spare them each time.

I’m not sure that Moses was such a better man than Abraham or Noah. (A strong argument could be made concerning Lot, however.) They were all great men of God. So why did Moses succeed where his ancestors had failed?

The answer is the same that must be given to the man called to be a shepherd who would rather be a traveling evangelist, to a prophet who would rather be a king, and to a hand that would rather be an eye: It wasn’t their job.

Noah’s job was to clear the land. He uprooted trees, cut sod, and tilled the soil. It didn’t matter how long he preached to the blades of grass; they would never become wheat. Abraham planted seeds in the soil Noah had prepared. He weeded, watered, and fertilized. And Lot…well, Lot tried, but in the end, all he could do was transplant a few questionable tares from one garden to another.

But Moses harvested. He arrived in just the right season, and he reaped where he hadn’t sown. That was simply his role to play. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Moses was greater than Abraham. Where would the reaper be without the sower? Moses just had a different job to do.

(Originally written for Soil from Stone, January 22, 2013.)

Hunter vs Shepherd

Everyone has a role to play in God’s plan. Don’t be afraid to be who God intends for you to be.
Everyone has a role to play in God’s plan. Don’t be afraid to be who God intends for you to be.

Genesis 21:20 And God was with the boy, and he grew, and lived in the wilderness, and became an archer.

At least on a personal level, archery is almost exclusively an offensive art. You can’t effectively defend yourself with a bow the way you can with a shield or even a pike. So it fits with Ishmael’s character and God’s prophecy about him that he would be an accomplished archer.

Like other shady characters in the Bible, Ishmael was a predator by nature. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; God needs hunters too. They can put food on the table (or the spit, as the case may be) and can take down the enemy’s king from a distance in the heat of battle. But a man who is a predator by nature may not be suitable for certain roles, such as carrying on God’s promise to send a Messiah who would take away the sins of the world.

Of course, this does not mean that Isaac was chosen for that role because of his superior character. He was only an infant. He had no character yet. Isaac was chosen to inherit the blessing of Abraham because that’s what God had promised to do. Nothing more or less. There was nothing Isaac could have done to merit God’s grace.

We all have our roles to play in God’s plan. Some of us are hunters and some shepherds; some are doctors, janitors, soldiers, or millwrights. The important thing is to be who you were called to be and not to be jealous of other parts of the body of Messiah.

(Edited and relocated from “Soil and Stone” where it was originally published on 2/16/2013.)

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.