Archive for April, 2012
So, are you tired of reading genealogies yet? Well, it seems as though the writer of Chronicles was getting a little tired of his subject matter, too, or at least enough so to give us a few more details. I find it interesting that in these chapters, we’re given little snippets of information that, to us, mean very little. Why was GeHarashim called GeHarashim? Why was the birth order of Israel’s sons so messed up? It’s all in there. We’re told about the professions and misfortunes of some of these people. We’re given explanations as to why some tribes flourished and others didn’t. There is actually a lot of information packed inside of this written family tree, but none is more intriguing to me than the contrast between a guy named Jabez and the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh.
The Jabez snippet pops up in chapter 4, verses 9 & 10:
Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10)
Two verses. That’s all we read about Jabez in the entire Bible. In fact, until several years ago when a book came out about him, Jabez was about as anonymous of a figure in the Bible as there could be. There was nothing special about Jabez – just another name in a long line of names. And yet, the author takes a moment to note something about this man and his life. And while much has been made of the specifics of Jabez’s prayer, it is his life that stands out to the author first and foremost.
The little note about Jabez begins by telling us that he was more honorable than his brothers. It ends by telling us that God granted his request. Whatever happened in between – the “Prayer of Jabez” – was a direct result of the former and honored in the latter. God seems to listen a little closer to those who are living for him.
A contrasting outcome is brought up in chapter 5. The Reubenites, Gadites and Half-Tribe of Manasseh were unlike Jabez in just about every way imaginable. They were famous, not anonymous. They were numerous and strong. They had everything going for them. God even came to their aid in battle against the Hagrites. But, unlike Jabez, they ultimately weren’t honorable – they weren’t faithful to God. And so, their outcome looked very different from that of Jabez. God didn’t expand their territory, he took it away from them. He didn’t keep them from harm and pain, he led them into it.
There is a direct link between the lives we live and the outcome that we experience. And, though God has a LOT of grace in his dealings with us, the Bible makes it very clear that if we are determined to be miserable, God will let us be. If we are hell-bent on our own destruction, God’s not going to get in our way. In fact, he may even help expedite the process a little. There is a stark contrast between the honor of Jabez that led to God’s blessing and the dishonorable people of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, whose actions led to their own defeat – a contrast that serves as a reminder that how we live our lives matters to God.
Perhaps, instead of focusing on the prayer of Jabez, we should focus on his life.
Some really fascinating reading today, huh? My question is: Did you read it all? I mean, let’s be honest, it’s pretty easy to skip through this big long list of names and not even bother reading it. In fact, we could probably get by with never reading this kind of genealogical list. And yet, I think there’s something in here for us to learn, even if we aren’t Biblical genealogists.
For me, this list highlights one of the main struggles of human beings – that we forget what we have in common. I have a friend, Dr. Rick Love, who is devoted to finding common ground among various people groups. It is Rick’s belief that peace and love (the God kind, not the hippie kind) can be found when we discover and focus on our commonalities rather than our differences. Rick leads a group called Peace Catalyst International. The stated goal of PCI is to “stimulate peacemaking between individuals and between peoples.” They do this by digging back through all the philosophical and cultural differences that have developed over time and finding one or more common guiding principles that all parties can agree on. In other words, they trove the cultural genealogies of people and look for common ancestry.
As we read these genealogies today, I’m reminded that all of the warring tribes and nations that we read about in the old testament (and indeed, those we see today) have a common ancestry – not just Adam and Eve, but Noah. Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japeth. From these sons came every person and nation that has ever existed. The great nation of Egypt was settled by one of Noah’s grandsons, as was the land of Canaan.
And so, this genealogy serves not only as a historical record of family line, which was very important in ancient culture, but also as a reminder that not so long ago, we were one people. I would imagine that someone reading these verses shortly after they were written would have hung his head and wondered how in the world things got so bad so quickly. How did things do south so rapidly?
It’s good to be reminded of our common ground. For the tribes of Israel and Judah, they didn’t even have to go back as far as Noah. They only had to go back to Israel – a man who had 12 sons. What would Israel have to say to his warring ancestors? What would Noah have to say to us?
As we stand in our modern context and declare ourselves “Pro” this people group and “Anti” this people group, have we lost site of our commonality? Particularly for Americans, as we place our stake in the ground of “Americanism,” have we forgotten that there is no such thing as a true, pure American? We are a mishmash, melting pot of cultures, identities and genealogies. We have, in our past, heroes and villains. And, the people that we seek to keep out of our country may have a lot more in common with us than we think. At the very least, they are more like our own ancestors than we realize.
Would you think twice about kicking somebody out of our country if they were your 2nd cousin? Commonality changes the equation a little bit, doesn’t it?
And so we’ve reached the end of 2 Kings. In chapter 23, it seems like things are heading in the right direction, but by the time we get to chapter 25, the city of Jerusalem is in ruins and the people are in exile. What in the world happened? Well, a couple of things took place here, in my estimation.
First, God showed that one man can’t save a city or country. This is an important pattern that I think God establishes in the Old Testament, in order to juxtapose Jesus onto the scene – the one man who was an exception to the rule. Josiah did it all right. He cleaned house. He knocked down, crushed and burnt up everything that even had the faintest hint of not being Godly. He did absolutely everything he could do as a leader to rid his country of idolatry, but in the end, it wasn’t enough.
You see, that’s the flip-side of free will (and, indeed, of freedom itself). Along with individual freedom comes individual responsibility. God would ultimately send the people of Judah into exile because he knew that even though Josiah had learned the lesson, the rest of Judah hadn’t. This fact is emphasized as we look at the kings that succeed Josiah. Without exception, they are wicked and they take Judah back to its old ways. And so, as much as Josiah tried to follow the Lord and as many good things as he did, his city was still not in God’s good graces.
The second thing that I think God is doing here is letting people know that he will keep his word. Many years ago (long before we had a child), Melody and I attended a parenting class. And while I don’t remember much from that class, one thing that has stuck with me to this day is the value of keeping your word. With kids, this means that you do what you say you are going to do whether positive or negative. If you say, “You hit your sister, so when we get home, you’re going straight to bed,” then, no matter how long it may take to get home and no matter how “normal” things are between now and then, once you get home, you need to honor your word and send that child to bed. Likewise, if you say, “We’ll stop and get some ice cream on the way home from the store,” you need to honor that word, too.
The logic was simple. If your kid knows that you honor your word at all times, then your words carry much more weight – you’re not the boy who cried “Wolf!” It seems that God wanted his “kids” to know that he wasn’t the boy who cried “Wolf!” either. And so, off to exile the people go…again. But God, as always, has a plan – one that will reveal him for who he is and will bring the people back to him.
What if everything we think we know about God is wrong? What if we’re trying to do the right thing, but we’ve completely missed it? What if my heart is right, but my actions are misguided? I was pondering this question today as I read 2 Kings 22. This is a story that first really caught me off guard last year as I was reading through the Bible at break-neck speed over the course of 90 days (you should really try it sometime!)
This is the scenario that Josiah finds himself in. He’s only eight years old when he becomes king and for his entire life plus the 50 or so years before he was born, there have been kings in power who didn’t follow God. Manasseh, who reigned most of that time didn’t simply continue the traditions of former kings. He actually rebuilt what his father had destroyed – returning Judah to the worship of Baal, the sex-rituals and self-mutilation exercises. He essentially removed God from the equation. I would imagine that by the time Josiah was born, all that remained of true Godly worship were a few stories and ideas passed down through oral tradition and told by some of the old geezers in town. And yet, Josiah somehow was able to see the truth in those stories. He was determined to follow the God that they spoke of, even though he didn’t have the whole picture.
Imagine the shock, then, when Josiah discovers that, in so many ways, he and the people of Judah have missed it. Suddenly, his men who are working on the temple discover this ancient book that contains instructions that Josiah knew nothing of up to this point. He freaks out:
“Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:13)
Suddenly, Josiah gets it. And when he does, he’s terrified. How in the world did the people who came before him NOT follow the instructions of the Lord? Well, as I’ve mentioned previously, tradition is a powerful force. “We’ve always done it this way,” sets in hard and fast. Fifty years of Baal worship had eliminated God from the minds of the majority of Judah. In one generation, study of the scripture was gone.
For us, the question still remains, although slightly nuanced. You see, we have the Bible and we know it’s full of useful knowledge and instruction from God. And yet, how often do we actually consult this book? If you started with me on day 1 of this journey and have made it this far, you can at least say that you are reading your Bible regularly, which most followers of Jesus, unfortunately, aren’t. But how many instructions are in this book that we are ignoring while we defer to how “we’ve always done it,” in our homes, our churches and our lives? What if we’ve got it wrong and we don’t even know it?
As a pastor, I am sometimes asked to offer my advice or opinions on a person’s life situation. When someone is facing a tough decision or is in crisis, they turn to their friends, family – and even their pastor – for advice. And while I am under no illusion that I have the answers to all your problems, I try to offer sound advice when asked.
It’s pretty frustrating, then, when that advice is completely ignored. And if I get frustrated when my very imperfect advice is ignored, is it any wonder that God gets frustrated when his very perfect advice, direction and guidance is ignored? But God is a very patient God and he puts up with a lot from us. He can even put up with us ignoring his direction for a while, but eventually, something’s gotta give.
In 2 Kings 18, God hits that wall…again. He’s fed up with Israel. Even the fact that they have one of the most faithful and God-following kings in history doesn’t help. Why? Verse 12 gives us a clue:
This happened because they had not obeyed the Lord their God, but had violated his covenant—all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded. They neither listened to the commands nor carried them out. (2 Kings 18:12)
OK, even worse than somebody not heeding your advice is somebody not even listening to what you are saying. These people, when given directions from God himself, not only failed to follow the instructions, they didn’t even bother to listen to what they were. And so God had to send them a wake-up call, just as he had done so many times with their ancestors in the days of the Judges.
Not only does he send them this wake-up call, but he sets up a situation in which the trust of the people of Israel is placed in the only guy around who is actually looking to God – their king, Hezekiah. The word from the Lord to Hezekiah in chapter 19 outlines God’s plan in great detail and concludes with these words:
“I will defend this city and save it,
for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.” (2 Kings 19:34)
Through the actions of God, not only were the people of Israel reminded of God’s power and faithfulness, but the people of Assyria (those who survived) were shown that human beings (no matter how strong, powerful or numerous) cannot defeat God. You have to wonder if there were a few Assyrians who made a decision that day to do a little more research about this God of the Israelites!