Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Other Brother--by Linden Malki

Abraham's God doesn't play by the world's rules. The world, then and now, makes a big deal out of status: not what you are, but who you are.  In a world that gave leadership and power to the eldest son, the blessings and promises went to the second son of Abraham, the second son of Isaac, and the fourth and eleventh sons of Jacob.  (We find this later in the Old Testament as well: Moses, David and Solomon were also younger sons.)
Even before their birth, Rebekah received a prophetic message that her twin sons would be rivals, and the younger would supplant the elder.  Esau played into the first act of this drama when his impatience, hunger, and disrespect for his birthright set up the offer from Jacob (who probably had heard his mother's story) to trade that birthright for a pot of stew.  The next act was when Rebekah, like her mother-in-law, saw a chance to "help" God fulfill His promise--by setting up Jacob to steal the first-born's traditional blessing, and very nearly cost Jacob his life.
Genesis goes on to tell us the rest of Jacob's story--but what about Esau?  We see him three more times: once, that he married two local Hittite or Canaanite girls (pagans) and then a daughter of Ishmael (not his father's favorite person).  Then, when Jacob, who had run for his life, returned home, he met Esau, and they were reconciled.  One commentator noted that just before Jacob met Esau again, he had wrestled with an angel and had his hip socket damaged and so was walking with a limp--which could have brought pity to Esau's heart.  Then we read that he became the ancestor of a tribal confederation known as Edom, which settled to the south and west of the Dead Sea around Mount Seir above what later became the city of Petra, south of their cousins Moab and Ammon.
Four hundred years later, we see the Edomites refusing passage to the migrating Israelites on their journey from Egypt into their promised homeland.  Later they had quarrels and alliances with the kings of Judah, culminating in prophecies of doom and destruction from Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and the most poignant one--Obediah, describing how the Edomites joined the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem, looting the cities and cutting off the escape of refugees.
And then during the restored southern kingdom under the Maccabees, the second and first centuries BC, we find them resettling in southern Judah and being forcibly integrated into that kingdom and required to be circumcised. The resulting tribe became known as Idumaeans, the most famous of which was the family of the Herods. They considered themselves "Jews" and kept kosher, but were not recognized as such by religious Jews, even though Jews of Jesus' day worshipped in the restored Second Temple, completely remodeled and enlarged by the Herods.  (After Herod the Great murdered his favorite wife, Mariamne, the last Maccabean princess, and their sons, it was said that it was safer to be Herod's pig than his son.)  After the Roman conquests of Judea in 65-70AD and then 132-135AD, they seem to have disappeared into the general chaos of the region, ruled by outsiders until 1948.
The Edomites are sometimes used as a symbol of those who, though sharing ancestry, are enemies of God's people.  One day, Jesus was debating those who claimed to be Abraham's descendants. “ They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham’" (John 8:39).  Again, God cares what kind of person you are, not who you claim to be.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Giving as Worship--by Linden Malki

 What is God asking you to give up? There are all kinds of reasons why we may need to "weed" our lives. Looking at the story of Abraham and Isaac, and reading between the lines, let's look at some things that might have been going on. 

 Abraham was blessed with two sons of his very old age, but his household was disrupted by the conflict between the mothers.  (Occasionally I hear someone say, as an excuse to have too many women in their lives, that "a bunch of Old Testament characters were polygamists". Yes they were, and it normally caused trouble!)  As far as we know, Abraham loved both of the boys. However, Sarah called the shots and Abraham deferred to her—first, in using Hagar to run ahead of God, and then kicking Hagar and Ishmael out—twice. We’ll never know if Abraham could have exerted influence and power to keep peace between them all, but the end of that part of the story he almost completely lost his older son, and very possibly overcompensated with extra attention to Isaac. Islamic tradition places Ishmael and Hagar then settling in Arabia, at the site where the city of Mecca later grew up around a well that had been miraculously tapped for them by an angel. A tribe of Bedouin ran across this new oasis, settled there, and “adopted” Ishmael and Hagar. If Ishmael had instead become an ally of his brother, what might have been the historical outcome?

This is speculation on my part: Genesis does not give any backstory to the command to sacrifice Isaac. Under the circumstances, it is possible that Abraham had unthinkingly put Isaac ahead of everything else in his heart and mind—and God felt it necessary to give him a priority check. 

Loving our children is a good thing. Loving anything not wisely but too well is not healthy. Christian writer Dorothy Sayers has a character say that the real tragedy is not the choice between evil and good, but the choice between good and good. This can even become a choice between God and “good”!  What do we do when too much of a good thing throws our spiritual life out of whack?

Worship originally had at its core the bringing of offerings and sacrifices. The Apostle Paul pointed out that the key to our worship is sacrifice: “ Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

 Do we come to worship willing to give up whatever God needs us to be willing to give up?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Uncle Abraham by Linden Malki

Father Abraham had many sons--and Uncle Abraham had many nephews,and nieces, and grand-nephews and grand-nieces--
Uncles and aunts and cousins are special relationships, especially in the Middle East.
Even today, cousins, especially on the father's side, are considered the best spouses.  (There are two cousin marriages among my immediate inlaws--one has been very successful, and the other wasn't.)
In Arabic, the common word for "father-in-law" is the word for "uncle."   I have a first cousin who was a missionary doctor in Jordan,  under the Southern Baptist regional headquarters in Lebanon. The summer I spent there, I was usually introduced as "Bint Amo Dr. Lovegren"--the daughter of  his father's brother, and after my father passed away, he was considered my guardian until I married--and his wife was one of the official witness to my marriage.   Here in the US, my uncle and aunt became  surrogate grandparents for my kids, and not only did I wind up living in the same town as their daughter,  a niece and nephew of mine have lived near some of this uncles' grandchildren, in widely separated places.

Abraham knew that he could count on his nephew Bethuel to welcome his servant and help find an appropriate wife for Isaac; and Rebekah knew that her brother Laban would welcome Jacob.

I knew, growing up, that aunts and uncles were special. One aunt, who only had boys, several times sent me a red purse for Christmas, saying that every little girl should have a red purse. One of the special things about cousins is that you always have something to talk about--we've had different experiences of the same family, and this gives us a wider perspective.  I've often learned things from my aunts and uncles that I might not have learned anyplace else. Families--even good families--are not perfect, and we can also learn what doesn't work well from inside the family.

My dad and my missionary uncle were the two oldest in their family, and they were always close.  They also had two younger brothers who were in business together, and when one passed away fairly young, the other could not work with his nephews. The rest of the family were affected by the sadness of his totally avoiding them--which affected the rest of us as well.  I thank God not only for my grandparents, parents, kids, and grandkids but also for the whole web of aunts and uncles and cousins that have enriched my life in so  many ways.  One of the most special was several years ago, when our Easter message at Calvary/Northpoint was the Seven Last Words of Jesus, given by seven preachers (including me as an honorary preacher-for-a-day). The Sunday before, during a communion service, it hit me that my grandfather, father, and uncle would have been especially pleased to see my cousin Mark Lambert and I sharing a pulpit on this special day.