Friday, March 28, 2014

Black Sheep--by Linden Malki

We've been looking  at Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as a family blessed by God.  However, in addition to this family line, there were black sheep in Abraham's family flock.

Lot, the son of Abram/Abraham's brother, came to the land that became Israel with Abraham, and lived with the family for some years. However,  we notice that when it came time for Lot to go out on his own, he chose the ungodly city of Sodom to settle in and raise his daughters. When Sodom was destroyed by the righteous judgment of God, instead of moving back to Abraham's territory, he and his daughters fled in the opposite direction.  Then the daughters took their fate in their own hands (where else have we seen this happening?) and had sons through their father--sons who became the ancestors of the East Bank tribes of Moab and Ammon.  The sons then married into the local Canaanite culture, and took on their bloody "gods" Chemosh and Molech. (1)

When the Israelites were migrating back from Egypt coming north on the east side of the Dead Sea, they asked permission of the Kings of Moab and Ammon to travel through their territory peacefully. Both kings refused, but  King Balak of Moab did more. First, he hired Balaam the prophet to curse the Israelites (which God prevented him from doing), but Balaam also suggested to  Balak that if the Israelites were to be seduced by Moabite women and participate in their pagan fun and games, God would withdraw His protection. (2)
As a result, Moses excluded the Israelites from associating with the Moabites. (3) However, God is also a God of mercy.  Who has the authority to pardon?  The one who has the responsibility of enforcing a rule--usually a judge or king/president/governor--or the injured party.  God is both, here--the Moabites were  guilty of not only inhospitality but actively working to destroy Israel and offend God. 

In the beautiful promises of Ruth 1:16-17,  a young Moabite widow not only pledges loyalty to her Israelite mother-in-law Naomi, but to Naomi's God.  God made an appropriate exception to His judgment on Moab, and not only blessed Ruth herself, but through her, Naomi, Boaz, the tribe of Judah, and all mankind, through Ruth's great-grandson, King David. 

God is the ultimate Authority, the One who lays down the principles that make His Kingdom righteous.  But He is also he One with the power to forgive when appropriate, which makes His Kingdom work.  Both sides of this coin are necessary, and both are in His hands.

1) Genesis 19
2) Numbers 22-24;  25:1-5, 31:16
3) Deuteronomy 23:3-8

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jacob's Legacy--by Linden Malki

Jacob's family moved to Egypt as seventy people, and came back as a federation of 12 tribes, over 600,000 men plus their families. (Actually, there were 13 tribal groups, as Joseph's two sons became the separate "half-tribes" of Ephraim and Manasseh, who settled on opposite sides of the Jordan River; but as the tribe of Levi did not have its own territory, they were 12 distinct geographical areas.)

As they conquered the land promised to their ancestor Abraham, they became three groups: two west of the Jordan, and one to the east. The tribes of Reuben; part of Manasseh; and Gad settled in the area known as Gilead, now part of the Kingdom of Jordan, east and south of the Sea of Galilee. They became less politically part of the West Bank tribal federations, and were overrun and taken into exile by the Assyrians as they expanded into the area in the 700's BC. This area became the Greek-speaking area of the Decapolis by New Testament times, but it is interesting that one of those Greek city-states was was named Gadara, the location of a herd of pigs going over the cliff. (Mark 5).

The West Bank tribes became two kingdoms. Judah was the family of the royal line of David. His name survives as "Jew", strictly speaking, referring to the people of the southern kingdom. Their territory was also the home of Simeon in the south and Benjamin along their northern border. It is interesting that in two places, the apostle Paul refers to himself not as a Jew, but a "Hebrew, of the tribe of Benjamin"; and that his Hebrew name is Saul, the same as the most famous Benjaminite, King Saul, the first king of the 12 tribes. The Kingdom of Judah (later Judea) remained more or less in a relationship with God, and while not all the kings were godly rulers, the tradition and the tribes survived the Assyrian attempt at conquest, the Babylonians, the Syrians, the Romans, centuries of dispersion, and now has regained a national home.

We find mention of Issachar and Zebulon fighting with Deborah against the Canaanites under Sisera. Later, the northern tribes rejected Solomon's son Rehoboam, and Jeroboam from Ephraim became the king of the tribes of the north; in fact, "Ephraim" was often used as a general term for the northern tribes. Jeroboam set up pagan idols in the north to give the northern tribespeople an alternative to Jerusalem (the capitol of the south) as a worship center. In a long and chaotic list of the Kings of Israel, as the northern federation became known, there was not one God-fearing ruler. They were conquered by the Assyrians and many of them deported to other parts of the Assyrian Empire, and lost their Israelite identities. Many of them fled to the south, but still retained their tribal roots--in Luke 2, the prophetess Anna that blessed Jesus as a baby is described as being from Asher.

Levi was the tribe of Moses and Aaron, and when Moses came down from Mount Sinai the first time to find the people having a wild and riotous party involving a golden calf, he called on his tribespeople to stop it and bring order. They were then "set apart to the Lord" and became the priests and servants of the Temple. They were given cities scattered throughout the country, but no separate territory of their own.

It is amazing that these tribal identities have survived over the centuries; there are still some Jews today who have ancient geneological records. One American author from a Russian Jewish family has said that although he personally was no longer observant he was often asked to participate in Jewish events because he had the geneologies to prove his heritage. Are we passing down a knowledge of God as our heritage?

LEAH: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulon
ZILPAH (Leah's maidservant): Gad, Asher
RACHEL: Joseph: Manasseh, Ephraim; Benjamin
BILHAH (Rachel's maidservant): Dan, Naphthali


Friday, March 14, 2014

Truth and Consequences--by Linden Malki

"What is truth?"(1)  was Pontius Pilate's question for the man standing before him on the day that the world changed.  Jesus had already answered that question: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." (2) This statement is the key to one of the most misunderstood and misused things Jesus said:  "If you follow my teaching, you are truly my disciples. Then  you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (3)
(1) John 18:38  (2)John 14:6 (3) John 8:31-32

If Truth is the key to freedom,  then untruth leads to un-freedom.  Adam and Eve learned this the hard way.  The underlying  weapon behind everything that Satan does is Untruth. When we know that God is Real; that Reality is God's Creation, then everything else is unreal, untrue, and a bad foundation for our lives.

This does not mean that God cannot use trouble.  Sometimes  Satan's knife in the back is used by God as surgery to heal and shape His people.  Jacob's lie to Isaac was what pushed him where God needed him next.  The lie that put Joseph in jail put Joseph in contact with Pharoah, where Joseph's wisdom became the saving of Egypt, and of Joseph's own family.  Absalom's lies about his father David were his own undoing, and the reorganization of David's kingdom.  Lies against St Paul in Jerusalem ultimately led him to Rome. 

This week we remember a remarkable man of God who changed the spiritual destiny of a nation. But even St Patrick had to deal with lies and accusations. One of the only three writings of St Patrick that have survived is his "Confessions", in which he deals with accusations that he was taking financial advantage of his flock: "But in the hope of eternity, I safeguarded myself carefully in all things, so that they might not cheat me of my office of service on any pretext of dishonesty, and so that I should not in the smallest way provide any occasion for defamation or disparagement on the part of unbelievers."  Patrick understood the Truth: look at a key passage from

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

his most famous prayer:
(Translation by Cecil Alexander, Dublin, 1889)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Potential in the Pit--by Linden Malki

We--God's masterpieces--have been created with amazing potentials!  We consider ourselves fortunate when everything goes well, and life is easy.  But just as our bodies get flabby and weak when not physically challenged, too many  "good things" are not always good for us . 

This week, we are looking at Joseph.  He had the good life. He was the favorite son of a loving and prosperous father. He didn't have this because of his own accomplishments.  The coattails he was riding on--literally in this case--came from being the son of his father's first love and favorite wife.
God had given him dreams--which sounded like good news, but the first thing Joseph did was perhaps the last thing he should have done.  The tradition we have doesn't say if he was naive, or bratty, or what possessed him to do what he did, but telling his brothers, who already had a really bad attitude about him, does not seem like a wise thing. 

However, God can be sneaky. He's also much smarter than we are, and is not time-bound in the ways that we are. And He knows that by ourselves, we are fundamentally self-centered and stubborn, and it often requires breaking up the world we know to make us open to change.  We don't know what was going through Joseph's mind as he faced possible death in that pit, or on that journey to Egypt, but we do know what he did: made the best of the situation he found himself in. Rather than wallowing in self-pity and doing the bare minimum required to keep the lash off his back, he accepted the opportunity to learn how to manage an estate. 

Human psychology has not changed in four thousand years! The story of Joseph illustrates something I saw on an Internet news posting yesterday:
An emerging field of psychology called post-traumatic growth is suggesting that many people are able to use their hardships and early-life trauma for substantial creative growth. Specifically, researchers have found that trauma can help people to grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and -- most importantly for creativity -- seeing new possibilities in life. "A lot of people are able to use that as the fuel they need to come up with a different perspective on reality, What's happened is that their view of the world as a safe place, or as a certain type of place, has been shattered at some point in their life, causing them to go on the periphery and see things in a new, fresh light…" (Huffington Post, 03/05/14)

God often uses the pits in our lives to get our attention and turn our smug self-sufficiency into God-sufficiency.  Yes, we can, to an extent, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, but He can make more of us than we can make of ourselves.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Seeing God--by Linden Malki

What did God want when He designed human beings?  He made us capable of great good--but also great evil. He gave us the responsibility of choosing .  We have to learn that we cannot live up to our potential for good without help--but it is available for the asking. We also have to learn that there are evil forces that will offer what we think we want, but not what is good for us. 

One thing we can learn from studying what God did with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is that it came from God's side.  It was not Abram's trying to imagine a "higher power"  we see, but a very specific "Go.."   But God didn't want a puppet; He wanted intelligent obedience and faithfulness.  In the story of Sodom, we see Abram interacting with God, and we learn something about both God and Abram.  

Sarai misunderstood God as well;  she thought that God wanted a son of Abram to build a legacy, but God didn't want a random child; he  specifically wanted  Sarai's son by Abram; just as He wanted Rebekah for the mother of Isaac's son, and both Leah and Rachel for the mothers of Jacob's sons. 

In Isaac's sons, we see a contrast between a man that God couldn't use, and one that He could.  It took God awhile to get Jacob to the bank of the Jabbok River, where He made him into "Israel."  It would be interesting to know what other conversation may have happened during that night!  Jacob got to the point that we see over and over again throughout Scripture:  "My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen You." (Job 42:3)

This, I think, is what God wanted when He made us--not only people who would listen to Him (which is important), but also people who will interact, who will wrestle with Him, who will hang tightly to Him, who truly want to see Him.