Parents’ Hopes

For all aging parents who love their children and hope they will carry forward their legacy, this week’s verses in Genesis and their companion piece in I Kings are just for you. My hope is that there is something in both of these complex stories that will “turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents.” Let’s take a look.

“Abraham was old, advanced in years, and blessed by God in all things.” One of Abraham’s more challenging “blessings” must have been a deep anxiety about the security and wellbeing of his son, Isaac. It was through Isaac, after all, that God’s covenant promise of the land would pass on to his descendants. Yet, Abraham certainly knew that Isaac, living apart, had been hurt and weakened at Moriah and then upon the news of his mother’s death.

As a result, after burying Sarah, Abraham pours much of his remaining life energy into preparing his servant to find the right wife to accompany Isaac and help lead their way in the future. Abraham’s hope is powerful, yet his body is so frail he doesn’t live to see the results of the mission he initiates.

As the text tells of his servant’s work, our hearts go out to the worrying and waiting Abraham who sent him and the wounded and lonely Isaac who has yet to sense the blessing that will come his way. We enjoy the tale of Rebecca and her family, but our emotions go to the peace that will be restored to Abraham’s soul as well as optimism for the future of Isaac and Rebecca.

With the certainty of perpetuating God’s way in the next generation assured, life on this earth for Sarah and Abraham ends. Yet, we sense their enduring presence in the lives that follow.

How fitting it is that our accompanying story tells of the end of David’s life. David, too, is ill, cold, and indeed unable to become warm. Yet, he summons the energy to assure that his successor will pass on the destiny of the people.

One of David’s sons seeks to seize the throne, though it had been sworn to Solomon. Upon hearing the news of this plot, David acts immediately to effect Solomon’s succession.

In gratitude, Bathsheba bows down, prostrates herself before the king, and says, “May my lord King David live forever!” Though David dies shortly thereafter, it is true with him, as it was with Sarah and Abraham, that a person who extends God’s ways to the next generation lives on.

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A Flow of Glorious Stories

I love this verse: “Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap according to loving-kindness, break up fallow ground, and it is time to seek the Lord, until He comes and instructs you in righteousness.” Hosea 10:12.

Perhaps no verse in the Bible better illustrates the duties we bear to God and others and the love we want both to give and to get. Further, these words especially fit the flow and rhythm of living. Think of it as a cycle. The cycle of sowing, reaping, and being instructed never ends. Instruction indeed guides the next rounds of sowing. It’s true that the pattern doesn’t play out in easy or predictable ways. Nor is the way without pain. But the verse gives life purpose, and the whole of it grants peace.

The wonder of this week’s Bible portion in Genesis and its companion text in II Kings is that each of their many stories amazingly follows the cycle established in the Hosea verse. Take a look, and keep Hosea 10:12 in mind.

The rush begins in Genesis:

1. Abraham, the righteous one, though in pain and weak, shows great hospitality to three messengers who appear – feeding them, giving them water, bathing their feet, and providing them rest. In return, they give him the long-hoped-for news that Sarah, within a year, will bear a son.

2. God seeks righteousness in the matter of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham steps forward to make the plea to God that mercy and loving-kindness must accompany righteousness as a part of justice. Through Abraham’s advocacy, we understand why “all the nations of the world will be blessed in him.”

3. Lot shows courage and righteousness in very difficult circumstances in providing hospitality to the angels. They, in turn, rescue him and his family.

4. Abraham has an unfortunate encounter with Abimelech, the result of which is that God shuts the wombs of his wives. Abraham knows that Abimelech had been innocent and prays to God for mercy. In response, God opens up the women’s wombs to bear children, as He will later for Sarah.

5. Though it is right for Hagar and Ishmael to be sent away, Abraham hopes for, and God gives, saving mercy and relief to the mother and child.

6. Abraham contends with Abimelech over wells that had been wrongfully seized. Yet, to resolve the dispute, they give more than is due to reach a fair resolution. In the place they swear their covenant, peace in the name of God is established.

7. Abraham walks with his son out of duty to God, and God shows the enduring loving-kindness of assuring that human sacrifice is never to be required.

8. Abraham, nevertheless, leaves Moriah alone; Isaac leaves wounded; and it may be that Abraham never again sees Sarah. Yet, how does the Biblical portion end? It’s told to Abraham that one descendent after another will come from Milcah until a daughter will be born. And that daughter will be Rebecca. (If you know how this story ends, you should be crying now!)

Why is the text from II Kings paired with this portion from Genesis? I believe it’s because its stories also follow the cycle of the verse in Hosea, and they continue to flow right at us:

1. The widow of a righteous prophet who had helped many other prophets now finds herself destitute. Elisha, the man of righteousness in these stories, shows her loving-kindness. With God’s help and miracle, a bit of oil becomes enough oil to be sold to pay off all debts, saving the woman and her children from servitude.

2. A woman offers poor Elisha the hospitality of room and board. She is childless. Out of love and compassion, with God’s help (and as the angels rewarded Abraham for his hospitality), Elisha tells her that within a year she will have a son. She bears the son, who grows up and one day dies. Elisha, with God’s miraculous help, brings him back to life.

The cycle in Hosea 10:12 plays out in all these stories. We plow in righteousness. We reap loving-kindness. God continues to teach us of righteousness. And we’re blessed with life everlasting. Praised are You, O God, for the gift of this teaching.

Footsteps of Righteousness

This week we have the great treat of learning about Abraham, the father of monotheism. In Genesis, we read of his beginnings and get our first sense of his importance to us and to all people of faith. In Isaiah, we get the benefit of the prophet’s retrospective view of Abraham.

Speaking of Abraham, Isaiah says, “Who inspired the one from the east, at whose every footstep righteousness attended? He will deliver nations to him, and may he dominate kings… Let him pursue them and pass on safely, on a path where his feet have never come.”

What do we learn here and in Genesis?

First, we learn that Abraham is a man of profound and pervasive righteousness. Whether it was in his resolving differences generously with Lot, his rescuing Lot, or his refusal to enrich himself with the king of Sodom, we begin to see this righteousness in action. Abraham will pass more such tests, but we know early on that God “accounted it to him as righteousness.”

Second, significantly because of righteousness and on behalf of its pursuit throughout the world, God gives to Abraham and his seed the blessing of a covenant with both land and a mission. While his people will stray and find exile over time, there will be return, and Abraham will, through them, be “a father of a multitude of nations.”

There are victorious battles with kings in Genesis, and there’s a discussion of domination in Isaiah. What is this domination – at its deepest level?

We get a fantastic literary description of the means by which this domination will come about. “Behold! I have made you a new, sharp threshing tool with many blades; you shall thresh mountains and grind them small, and make the hills like chaff. You shall winnow them and the wind will carry them off…”

I would be curious about yours, but here’s my take: Our God-given way is principally one of righteousness. Like Abraham’s, our footsteps ought to be attended by righteousness. Like the threshing tool, righteousness will ultimately grind away all that is callous and unjust. And, it will, at least in part, be through our living righteously that God’s sovereignty spreads over the world. Then, the nations “will rejoice in God.”

Living righteously is the essential human duty in the covenant that God makes with the world’s first truly righteous man and the work He expects from all of us, his seed, who carry His blessing.

Why Noah Is Not a Children’s Story

Do you recall reading the tale of Noah and the flood as a child? Did it bother you? How could the God we worship destroy virtually all life on the earth? And, given all the destruction that has befallen the world since, what are we to make of God’s promise that He would never do such a thing again?

These questions are so vexing that they may contribute to driving some folks away from faith altogether. But should they? In the spirit of seeking understanding in lieu of giving up, let’s wrestle with the text and see what we find.

First, pay attention to the description of the world that Noah faced; it was “corrupt and filled with violence.” “All creatures behaved corruptly on the earth.” It’s hard to imagine that all creatures in the world have ever been corrupt and violent at any particular time.

Why are we being told this improbable tale? Is this simply about a transition from a primordial world to our own?

Or, in a preview of Abraham, is this about Noah showing the saving power of righteousness? Judgment will never again be made against a whole world. The responsibility for living righteously will forever fall to each of us.

It may also be that we’re now being taught that we each play a part in assuring that violence and corruption never become pervasive. And God wants to help us in that work.

Look precisely at what God says after the flood. “I will no longer curse the earth because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from youth, and I will no longer smite all living things as I have done.”

What does man’s imagination to evil have to do with anything? God presumably has always known about this inclination. After all, we were created with it. Is it possible that dealing with this reality, which is the most worrisome feature of our nature, is the core enduring issue?

God had taught Adam and Eve that actions have consequences. God had taught Cain that we must resist sin and take responsibility for our brother.

Perhaps, in the new world, we learn that our primary preoccupation from childhood must be to correct our heart from following the imaginations of evil. The teachings of all the rest of Torah are to be guidance for this work.

God begins by helping Noah right away. We’re instructed never to shed the blood of man, “for in the image of God He made man.” In other words, God is now guiding us in ways to live to prevent the conditions that lead the world to become corrupt and violent.

These expectations are featured in a new covenant God makes with Noah, which holds with all who follow him. We now have personal and communal duties to God and others.

Accountability will be for each of us. “But your blood, of your souls, I will demand [an account]; from the hand of every beast I will demand it, and from the hand of man, from the hand of each man, his brother, I will demand the soul of man.”

The text from the Prophets that is paired with Noah helps our understanding tremendously. Isaiah is consoling those who have experienced the pain and punishment of exile. They suffered greatly, but the world was not destroyed; nor were they. Indeed they are given great hope, even to be glad and to flourish.

Crucially, this is hope grounded in covenant, with Divine expectations. “All your children will be students of God, and your children’s peace will be abundant.” Further, they are to establish themselves through righteousness and distance themselves from oppression.

The God Who promised never to smite all the living and destroy the world says through Isaiah, oppression and devastation “may indeed gather together, but it is without My consent.” God will not destroy the world or us, and though there are awful perils in the world, they operate without God’s consent, and, in time, will fail.

“This is the heritage of God’s servants, and their righteousness from Me.” This is the world after the flood – God guides, supports, and holds us accountable. With God, through righteousness, loving kindness, and mercy, we can help redeem the world.